Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Made to Run.

The highlight of high school was my cross country and track teams.  We were all best friends, had great coaches, and had the best team comradery I have ever seen.  I loved running with these girls.  Hold on, that needed caps.  I LOVED running with these girls. We pushed each other, but we weren't competitive with each other.  We ran as a pack, encouraging each other even during the races.  And we were fast.  

At certain times of the year, I swear I can still smell cross country and track season.  It takes me back to the determination before meets, the focus I had, the seriousness of the race for me. And for a brief moment I think I could just take off and run two back to back 6:00 minute miles.  

This was me before a race.

Actually, this is more like it:



 Although my mile times have changed, a bit, a lot, whenever I read this verse it puts me back on that hot, black track at Ballard High School.

Hebrews 12:1 says,
"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."

If you are a Christian, if you have accepted Jesus' love and made him your Lord, then you are meant to be running a spiritual race. But I know that, at times, we find ourselves on this proverbial track, at the starting line, sitting on our tush.  And we just can't seem to get ourselves up and moving! We just can't seem to make a movement, as if we are paralyzed.  I know that sometimes it's fear, like I talked about here.  But, according to God's word in Hebrews 12, there are other reasons why we might feel slow, or immovable. 

Check out the second part of verse 1 in two different translations: 
"let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles." NIV  
"let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely" ESV

If you are feeling unmotivated, or sluggish, towards Jesus and this race He created for you, maybe you need to take a look at what could be weighing you down, or tripping you up.

I'm not talking about literal weight, I'm sure you caught onto that. But Hebrews says that, along our Christian race, there are encumbrances and sins that slow us down.  There are weights that trip up our feet, and hinder us from the race Jesus has for us.

 When I was a teenager, my constant struggle was vanity.  I was obsessed with my body.  I wanted so badly to be pretty, and skinny. I knew that God loved me, and I knew without a doubt that he had me on the track to run for Him. I wanted to tell others about His love.  But Satan knew my weakness, and he would throw the distraction of my body and my weight at me, and it would distract me from running my race.  

Now, 10 years later, standing in the same love and purpose of God, I want so badly to run unhindered for Jesus! I pop out of bed in the morning with motivation and excitement to get out there and tell everyone that God's love changes everything!  And so I sprint off into Denver, or cyberspace, or youth group, but I start worrying what people think about me.  I start comparing myself to the other women around me.  and SMACK. I find myself tripped up, facedown, on the track of life. 

Ever been there? (Somebody say yes, please.)

What is it for you?

Is vanity hanging onto your ankles?  

Do you have a growing list of enemies and hatred or anger could be hindering your ability to run for Jesus?

Are you trying to run two races at once--the race for Jesus, but then the race for popularity or a boyfriend? (It's kinda impossible to run two races at once, huh?)

If you are a daughter of God, He has placed you on the track and He has a race for you.  When we understand how loved we are, and what great purposes He has for us, we MOVE! We run the race of faith, with our eyes fixed on our coach and motivator, Jesus. 

Because he ran the race too.  With YOU in mind, Jesus left heaven, and came to earth. He knew that he would be rejected, doubted, and ridiculed.  But with YOU in mind, He came anyway.  He came and He served. He pointed to God and He made a bridge between sinful us and Holy God. With your face in his mind's eye, He laid down his own life, allowed himself to look like a fool, was beaten, and He became that bridge for us.  

That was his race.  He knew the joy on the other side of obedience, he knew their would be joy at the finish line.  So he ran his race, he endured it. He endured being shamed, he ran through curses, and hostility, and loneliness.  He ran his race.  For you, sister. 

Because He loved you.

And because of that, we can run, girls!  We can run our race! Let's throw off everything that slows us down---comparing ourselves, gossip, and vanity.  Let's strip down to our running gear.  Let's clear the track of distractions---popularity, boys that distract from Jesus, or perfection.  And let's move.

On your mark.get set. 


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Let's Fight: Fighting the Good Battles as a Teenage Girl.

My mind and heart are full of you today.  I think of you, dredging through the hallways of your high school or middle school, as if they were trenches on a battle field.

I know that you are fighting a battle on every front.  There are battles for your heart, for your soul, and for your mind at every turn.

I know that there are battles on the outside.  The battle of school and sports and work press in on you, weighing you down and replacing your joy with anxiety.  There is the ongoing fight with Mom or Dad about your attitude, the drama and cat fights with your semi-friends, the annoyance of siblings or coworkers.

Yet, the battles within seem to be an even great duel.

You know that you are supposed to stand on God's promises, to stand in His love, (much less to make a difference in your world), but the knocks and blows of peer pressure or distraction just keep you down.

You hear that Jesus loves you, that He is with you, but when another semester has started and you continue to fight a silent loneliness, depression, or apathy, it's hard to remember His love, right?

Maybe your battle is just fear of a fight.  You don't believe you have the courage to fight this world's temptations, your own thoughts, or the lies that have made a home in your head.  And so you turn, 360 degrees, nervous and trembling, believing that if you did actually fight on any of these fronts, that you would immediately fail.

Maybe 2014 has began with guilt from a year of failure. You know you lost more battles than you won last year.  You lost to lust, vanity, selfishness, and comfort.  Perhaps you are face-down in the mud because of the weight of your failure.   You know how you are supposed to act, but for the life of you, you can't seem to win the battle over your own sins. (I'm with you girls.)

Maybe God has recently awakened your heart to not only His love for you, but His purpose for you.  And now that you have found yourself fully employed in the Kingdom of God, your heart is pumping with excitement and dreams and a willingness to do whatever God asks.  But right on the heels of a great work of God is the opposition from the world.  And you are fighting daily--fighting to believe in God's strength, fighting to be understood, fighting to complete the mission God has called you to.

Or, perhaps your fight is against an inner disease.  A disease of the heart--doubt, anxiety, isolation.  I know many of you look in the mirror and misunderstand what is looking back at you.  You see a girl, maybe too fat, or too flat, or too plain.  You see a girl, maybe too rebellious or too weak or too insignificant to even engage in a battle.  You are so unsure of yourself that you believe it would be best to not fight at all, just to throw your hands up in the air and not fight these battles of a daughter of God.

Girls, do you know what God sees in that mirror?

Yes, he sees you as beautiful and unique.  But there is more to it, an identity with way more depth than just being attractive! God sees a fighter!  God sees His daughter, that he loves very personally, a daughter that he treasures and understands!  And He comes next to you, in front of that mirror, and he says:

"Daughter, we got this. I know the battles are many, and long.  You feel tired, or defeated, or guilty.  But we got this.  I am here, with you.  So be strong and courageous! I'm going to fight for you, daughter, because I love you more than your imagination could even dream up.  So let's do this--take on 2014 with my promises, with your identity based on how I see you.  You will not fail when you fight with me, and for me.  I have plans for you, plans for you to fully jump into a life of purpose and adventure, plans for you to change this world. You are not alone, I hear you and see you.  So be strong, in my love.  Be courageous, I built you to be a fighter."

Girls, God made us to be victorious, to be conquerers.  I know that, as girls, it's often just easier to not fight.  To just take the easier road, go with the flow, just live with a poor self-esteem rather than fighting the lies.  It's easier, at times, to chose the mundane routine of adolescence, rather than jump into the battle and adventure of God's calling.

But when we fight the good fight, when we fight to discover who we are in Christ, and we fight to be all His love has called us to be, we find a satisfaction and joy that can't be defeated.

I'm praying this for you today. You are adored by our God.
So go kick butt.

1 Chronicles 28:20
"Then David said to his son Solomon, "Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God, my God, is with you.  He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished."

Exodus 14:14
"The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still."

Sunday, December 22, 2013

To the Weary Teenagers Looking for Hope---At Arapahoe and Beyond

A gun went off at a local high school last week.  Lives were lost, responders and press flooded the area, fighting for space among the parents and pastors frantically searching for their children. 

It has been only eight days, days that have moved at the pace of frozen mud.

And here you are-- surrounded with lit up trees, candy canes, and nativity scenes. But maybe the lyrics of "joy to the world" fall flat.

Perhaps you knew Claire, or Karl.  Maybe you were hiding in a closet at Arapahoe, or your brother goes there, or you were one of my coworkers and you had to keep your composure while you stabilized the victim.  Perhaps you are a mom of a friend of a friend of someone who knows…somebody affected.  

Maybe you have a different pain altogether this Christmas. Perhaps it's something dramatic and public, or just as heavy but private--the weight of depression or loneliness. 

Whatever your heart's pain , Christmas is this week for all of us.

What do you do with that? 

What do you do if the carols, and garland and cookies only make you feel more defeated? If it only reminds you that you don't feel the merriment of Christmas, that you don't feel the childlike security that often accompanies this time of year?

I don't have some great wisdom.  I'm not a psychiatrist, or a counselor. I'm merely a mother who is putting off laundry because my heart is heavy for the hurting today.  And the last thing I would tell you is to just crank up the Christmas Spotify a bit louder and pull yourself together.

But what if, this Christmas, we looked a little deeper into the nativity story?  What if we freed ourselves up from this pressure to feel happy and, instead, looked inside the manger for something more than happiness?  What if we looked deep into the nativity scene to find hope?

"A thrill of hope!" the weary world rejoices!

So, weary world, let's look into the manger, and see that the nativity is a much bigger story that our childhood traditions may declare.

Because in the manger is the God-child, who left a worthy home, to meet us where we are.  

Our Creator, left his throne, to jump into our pain.  

He was taking his first step on his journey to the cross, where he would conquer death, once and for all.

As this baby made his first home in a dirty, scratchy feeding trough, could he have been displaying that he was entering into our mess?  Into our fallen world, full of murders, and cancers, and broken hearts. 

As he welcomed the shepherds in his first hours, was he showing us that he has a heart for 'the least of these?' That he sees us, even if we feel unimportant or forgotten?  Was he promising to be our gentle shepherd and beckoning us to listen to his voice?

As the Messiah-baby drew in the wise men from a far country, could he have been hinting that his love would be for ALL the world?  Not just for the Jews, but for us too? And that if we seek Him, in our despair and depression, when our walk becomes a crawl, we will find Him.  

Weary world, there IS a thrill of hope.  There may not be a lot of happiness right now, perhaps not even joy or peace.  But deep within Bethlehem is the promise of hope.  That this baby Jesus was coming to make all things new.  And when we can feel hope, even just a mite of hope, it carries us through the valleys.  When we know that Jesus WILL make all things good.  

Weary Littleton, weary world, the hope giver appeared on Christmas, and the soul felt it's worth. You are loved.  You are seen, and understood.  The only hope for us is within the manger.

So fall on your knees, in tears or praise.  And as time passes, your hope will grow.  It will again produce joy.  

Romans 5:5
...and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Stretch of a Lifetime.

Last night at youth group, my hot husband spoke about the sick woman who reached out and touched Jesus' cloak and was healed.

This immediately took me back to 7th grade.  Not exactly a time in my life I love to re-live.  Why, you ask?  

Well, my hair was especially frizzy that year, and orange.  And no matter how hard I tried, I was always about 10 months behind in fashion, just enough to look kinda pathetic. And I was just weird and insecure enough to make a fool of myself around the boys that I liked.  Like standing too close and staring too long.  (Go ahead. Laugh. I can't see you.)

I am sweating from the memories. 

But that has nothing to do with this Bible story.  Sorry 'bout that.

As much as I hated junior high, the cliques, the mean popular girls, my Payless shoes, I loved one part of junior high.  The physical fitness testing.  Twice a year, in PE, we would do a number of tests, and they would rank the entire class of girls.  I LIVED for that week, every year.  I trained and trained for the mile, the sit ups, the pull-ups. But the hardest test, for me, was the sit and reach.  You sit down, put your Payless shoes in this box thing, extend your legs and sssttttrreetch. 

It burned.  So bad.  And I wasn't good at it.

Stretching can be painful, huh?  

This women, who's story is found in Luke 8, made the stretch of her lifetime.  See, she had been sick for 12 years.  She had been bleeding for over a decade! But what made her situation even worse is that Jewish law saw that a woman who was bleeding was considered unclean.  They were supposed to stay away from everyone! They were an outcast, rejected by the public.  Now it's one thing to be kinda rejected once a month, but for this woman--it was constant.  For twelve years.

But Jesus was in her area. Perhaps she had heard about him, that he was healing the sick, turning their religion on it's head, and changing lives.  Whatever she knew, she had at least a mustard seed of faith in him, that he could change her situation. 

So she breaks the law, and goes out where the people are crowding around the Teacher. Perhaps she was shaking from fear of being caught, or trembling from adrenaline.  Maybe the hope that was in the air from this Jesus guy was pulling her out of her home and into the multitudes with her barely thinking about it.  And she's on the ground, maybe because of weakness, maybe because she wants to be discreet.  And Jesus is just out of reach….so she stretches, from her toes and her heart and all the way to her fingers she stretches…..and she touches Jesus' cloak.

And maybe it burned a bit.  To stretch that far.  
And maybe it was scary, to take such a risk.  To throw all her hope into this Healer.

Because stretching can be painful, huh?

But it was worth it.  Because the Bible says that when she touched his cloak in faith, she was healed.  And the next thing she knows, she's face to face with Jesus.  The God-man who saw her, knew her, and changed her life. 

She would no longer be a reject, a hurting nobody.  Because in one moment, Jesus healed her body and her heart. 

Girls, if you stretched out, with whatever amount of faith you have today, what would happen?

If you stretched out your faith, towards Jesus, what would happen?

What healing would you find?

Has the world labeled you as an outcast? That you are not good enough? Are you sick with fear? Insecurity?  Is it pain from your family dynamics?  Do you believe that you are 'unclean' because of your bad choices, your bad reputation, too unclean to come to Jesus?

What is in your heart that keeps you from living a full, abundant life? 

What if you stretched out, for Jesus, girls?  I can tell you that the same Jesus that stopped this woman's bleeding, can heal your heart.  He sees you, even if you are down and practically on your face, like this woman.  He loves you. If you reach out, you'll find Him.  He will lift you up, teach you anew who you REALLY are, and give you purpose.

It might hurt.  But it's worth it. 

Sister, stretch out for Jesus, with all you got.
Because when we do, we come face to face with Him, with his truth, his love, and the abundant life he has for us.

You are loved girls. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Final Study on Hagar: The Hope on the Other Side of Being Seen by God.

This week we have taken a close look at the life of Hagar.  If you didn't read the previous 2 posts, I would suggest you read this and this first, or grab your Bible and read her story in Genesis 16 and 21. Hagar was a wallflower, turned runaway, turned reject.  Due to tough circumstances, (as well as some bad decisions) Hagar finds herself in the desert twice, needing to be saved.  Both times she is found by God, and given hope, life, and purpose.

From the past two studies, have you related with any specific element of Hagar's story? 

So, now, you know her story. But there's a couple more powerful lessons that God has tucked within her pages of Genesis:

When Hagar ran away, and God found her, was she out in the desert looking for God?

No, I don't think so. Girls, God initiates with us.   He searches for us, no matter how far we have run away.  He doesn’t wait for us to become religious, or overcome our bad habits. (Nail biting, anyone?!)  And once we have come to know Him in a personal way, the pursuit doesn’t stop.  He keeps chasing after us, through all of life’s ups and downs.

What does that make you feel towards God?  

Hopefully you feel loved! And comforted!
But, I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that some of you reading this are out in an emotional and spiritual desert right now, and you would like to be left alone in that desert.  You don't really want God coming after you--perhaps you are mad at him, or you are just done with him and church, or perhaps you don't even realize that you are in the desert. There is so much I could say to you, but for now, I want to remind you that he chases after us with love.  Psalm 103:8 says, 

"The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love."

I love how The Message translation describes this verse:

"God is sheer mercy and grace;
    not easily angered, he’s rich in love.
He doesn’t endlessly nag and scold,
    nor hold grudges forever.
He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve,"

Girls, God will never force you to return to him, or return to doing life the way he desires, but he will never stop chasing you.  He is faithful, and loving, and desires that you see him, and receive his love.

What did the angel ask Hagar when he first met her? (Genesis 16:7)

Now, rewrite it as if God is asking you the same question:

Where have you come from?  Where have you been? HE knows, The Lord sees you.  He knows what this past year has looked like.  He knows how deep your pain is. He knows the depth of your loneliness. He knows your guilt.
Where are you going?  What's your plan? Don’t head for Egypt, like Hagar.  Egypt symbolized the world's solutions--success, a boyfriend, a diet. The world’s solutions won’t fix your pain. 
Also, God doesn’t want you to sit in bitterness, anger, or hurt.  He says “Get up! I see you! I will help you.” And he JUMPS into your pain! He wants to intersect you on your runaway path, because he is a relational God that adores you. 

Alright, one more gem from this story that I just LOVE. Both times that God met her in the desert, where was she? What was she close to?

Water, right? Is there anything more needed when you are lost in the desert?!  You can be sure Hagar was physically parched in each of her journeys.  But it didn’t compare to the thirst of her soul.  This was a subtle promise from God.  In one interaction the God of promises ends her heart's drought!   God became Hagar’s refreshment!  He was promising her comfort, rest, relief, and restoration.

Ladies, do you know what a dry soul feels like?  Do you have a parched heart?  Sisters, nothing will quench that thirst except Jesus.  There is definitely that temptation to sip from the water fountain of the world!  Boys, popularity, our figure, sports, grades.we sip from these 'fountains' hoping that they will satisfy our thirst. (What is your go-to fountain?) But they will only leave you with more of a longing. Ever been there?

We can drink from the fountain of Jesus, gulp down his love and satisfaction, and be changed. Jesus promises us satisfaction. Just like he did with Hagar. Don't look back at your past--full of failures or pains.  Don't look forward, into the world's solutions for life. 
Look up. 
Look straight up.
And you, like Hagar, can discover the hope that’s on the other side of being seen by God.

Girls, you are loved. 

"I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you." Jeremiah 31:3

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hagar: Part II, Wallflower-turned-Runaway…turned Reject.

Welcome back! We have only heard half of Hagar's story--her story of pain, drama, and conflict, but eventually--love and healing.  If you missed the first day of the study, read this first.

Now fast forward with me about 14 years. Hagar, the wallflower-turned-runaway, is living with Abraham and Sarah again. A lot has happened in these years.  You could open up to Genesis ­­­21 to see where we are in the story. But long story short, Hagar has a 13 year old son, Ishmael, and Sarah—finally—has her child of promise, Isaac. Sarah and Hagar butt heads again so Abraham sends Hagar and her son away.

As if rewinding a horror scene, Hagar is back in the desert, with no plan!  And this time, she has her young teenage son to care for.  What was that trip like for them? Was she thinking back to 13 years ago?  When she was seen by the Lord?  (It's a good practice to regularly think back to  a time when we experienced God in a  big way, times when we saw God move) Was she remembering when he gave her purpose and promises? 

At what mile marker did Hagar lose hope?  At what point did fear creep into her mind, thoughts of despair...depression.  

Hagar’s story gets worse before it gets better. Verse 15 says “When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him, for she said “Do not let me see the boy die.” And she sat down and cried.

Hagar and Ishmael have been kicked out of their home.  They are cast into the wilderness.  And when the Nalgenes are empty and they begin dying of dehydration, Hagar gives up.  (Ever given up? On God? On yourself?) She has a headache, she’s dizzy, her body wouldn’t allow her to make tears that she wants to release. So she gives up. She places her son, who is probably as big and she is, under a bush, probably a thorny bush, so that he won’t get eaten alive by wild animals.  Ishmael must have been pretty weak, pretty close to death to not fight his mom, to not try and go with her.  Can you imagine being Hagar at this point? And then she half walks, half stumbles to a spot a few hundred yards away so she doesn’t have to watch her son,  die a horrible, slow death.  

(I know, I know.  This is bleak.)

But God. The God who SAW her years ago is now back, and he says that he hears them! The Bible says, “God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”  

Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.  The Lord finds her in the wilderness, not once but twice! He brings her to a well, not once, but twice, and provides for her.  So Hagar gets up, fills her wineskin with water, and gives it to Ishmael.  And they survive!

From the first day of this study, what did Hagar name God? What did that name mean?

She named him, “You are a God who sees.” The God of everything sent out a search and rescue mission for her,  he called her by name, and he saved her. 

God is so patient with us.  He is so good to often remind us what we already know about Him. Hagar had 'met' God as "the God who sees me", but her tough situation (understatement) made her forget it. Psalm 9:10 would have been a great verse for Hagar:

"Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you."

Do you believe that God sees knows you, and understands you?

Do you believe that God will search for you—until you give your heart and life to him?

Do you believe that God is near, and loving? Or do you believe that the desert you are living in is too far for God to come get you?

He never forsakes us, girls. Never.

What great thing did Hagar do to get God’s attention?  

That's a trick question.  Hagar didn't really do anything to earn God's attention.  Neither do we! Romans 5:8 says  "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

 Do you believe this?  Do you really believe that you don’t have to earn God’s love or favor?  (or earn it back)

Let’s see if we really believe it.  Fill out the chart below: (I got you started…)

Sins you just can't shake:
1. Gossip

Traits you wish you had:
1. Compassion

Imagine that for 6 months you NEVER once did anything on the first list.  Do you believe that God would love you more? Imagine that for those 6 months, you exhibited the traits on the second list in abundance.  Would God be more pleased with you?

Now switch it up.  What if in the next 6 months you really sucked? :)You only displayed the list on the left, and the list on the right became a faint memory? Would God walk away?  Would he love you less?  Would he be less likely to come meet you in your emotional or spiritual desert?

No. and No.

If you are saved, if you have given your life to Jesus, asked him to be your Savior and Lord of your life, then God’s love and favor will not leave you.  Our salvation is not based on us, it is based on God’s grace and love.

When we are seen by God, it changes everything. 

Girls, Soak in the truth that God sees you.  Our God is not far away, he is near, he is with you.  Even in the wilderness, like Hagar. Nobody loves you, understands you, or hears you like God.  He is with you.

Our worth is not defined by the world.  We live in a broken, messed up world.  But God has a way of jumping into our pain! He has a way of intersecting us on our runaway paths, like he did with Hagar.  Will you let him take your brokenness and make it beautiful?  

Are you a wallflower that nobody sees? Are you a runaway of sorts?  Is your heart dry, like a desert?  Are you beat up and rejected?  Hagar was all of these things.  But God redeemed each situation, with his love. 

We have one more day to study Hagar, stay tuned!
You are loved, girls.