Sunday, November 23, 2014

Five things I want my teenagers to know about being a disciple of Jesus

I read an article by Stephen Ingram last week that challenged youth ministries to look at whether they were equipping their students to be disciples or simply trying to convert them to Christianity.  Good question, right? While he quoted Luke 14:25-33, I was curious about the Bible's distinction between being a believer and being a disciple, so I did a little more research.  I ended up taking a handful of Scriptures with me to Sunday school this morning and we spent some time looking at them and talking about what it actually means to be a disciple versus someone who believes in God.

If I could share five things I hope my girls remember about being a disciple of Jesus, it would be these:

1) Belief is in your head.  Discipleship is in your hands and feet.  Believing in God is great, but it's what you do with that belief that counts.  Being a disciple requires you to move, to act, to follow wherever Christ leads.  (Matthew 7:21)

2) Discipleship begins with a choice.  In some denominations, that choice is made when a person professes their faith and chooses to be baptized.  In others, the choice is made at the time of confirmation.  For people like me (who never truly had a choice about baptism as an infant or confirmation as a teenager), the choice might be made later in life.  But no matter when the choice is made, becoming a disciple means making a conscious decision at a specific point in time to follow Jesus no matter the cost. (Matthew 28:19-20)

3) Discipleship will cost you something.  It's impossible to follow Jesus and continue living your old life at the same time.  Maybe He'll ask you to re-prioritize your time or relationships, or perhaps say goodbye to habits, pride, or possessions.  Regardless of what the cost is for you, it will require you to turn from your old ways and embrace a new life.  (Matthew 4:18-22, Luke 14:26-27)

4) Discipleship produces fruit.  While it's possible to believe in God and keep your former lifestyle, people will start to notice a change when you decide to really, truly follow Him.  The fruits of the Spirit will flourish, love will guide your actions, and God will be glorified.  (Matthew 7:15-23, John 13:35)

5) Discipleship isn't easy, but it's worth it.  Leaving your comfort zone is scary.  Sacrificing your plans and sense of identity can be painful.  It's often hard and isolating and uncomfortable, but if you're willing to let go of the life you have, you'll find a life greater than any you could have imagined.  (Mark 8:34-35, John 8:31-32)

Although the requirements to be a disciple are fairly simple and straightforward (follow Christ and obey His commands), living them out and doing it well is something very few of us master. The important thing is to keep trying.  Make the choice every single day to follow Him.  Live in a state of humility and repentance.  Place loving God and loving others above all else.  If you do that, you'll find that as you grow in your relationship with Him, you'll also grow as a disciple. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rachel Held Evans, live and in person!

Sometimes God answers a prayer by giving you exactly what you asked for, and sometimes He answers it by giving you so much more.

I was first introduced to Rachel Held Evans about a year and a half ago when the women from my small group decided to read her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood * over the course of a summer.  I was immediately drawn to her writing because she had me reaching for my dictionary in one sentence and laughing so hard I cried in the next.  The book made such a strong impact on me that I then spent 13 months studying it with my high school girls' Sunday school class.  Between our book club, prepping for Sunday mornings, and writing/editing the study guide I created, the book hasn't left my night stand since the day I brought it home.

If you know my story, you know that God recently lit a fire under me and told me it was time to start getting serious about my writing.  Although I have a handful of curriculum resources in the works, it was the Biblical Womanhood study guide that He first urged me to finish. And when I hit a dead end because I didn't know where I could go with it, He made it possible for me to ask Rachel herself. Face-to-face.

Only God, y'all.... Only God could have orchestrated this weekend.

After learning that Rachel would be speaking at a church in Birmingham, I jumped at the chance to take my girls on a road trip.  Literally jumped. Up, down, and squealing inside because it felt like everything was about to come full circle. We made plans and loaded up the cars, excited for a chance to meet the author we'd spoken of on a first name basis for nearly two years.  Oh my goodness, Rachel just wrote about that on her blog!  Did you see what Rachel posted on Facebook yesterday? You know how Rachel would feel about that...

I think that deep down, we were all hoping for a chance to say hi and maybe get a group picture. Really, I just wanted the girls to meet her, and if the opportunity arose, to ask about the study guide. That's the part in my prayer when God started laughing. It might just be me, but He seems to be doing that a lot lately!  I have no idea how the entire room wasn't swarming around her, but after a few minutes of mingling with everyone else, she made her way over to us and just... settled in.  Each person in our group got to connect with her individually, and our conversations totaled nearly an hour. We laughed, we exchanged email and blog addresses, and as all good Southern friends do, we talked college football.

I admired Rachel Held Evans the writer before Sunday, but now I can honestly say I admire Rachel the person.  She spent so much time talking with the girls, affirming their passions and taking a genuine interest in their stories that I was truly blown away.  Watching her with them meant far more to me than getting to meet one of my favorite authors.  It meant far more than walking away with photos and signed copies of her book.  It meant far more than her encouragement regarding my own writing projects (although I'm super excited about those opportunities, too!). 

As I said, this was a weekend only God could have pulled together. Thank you, Rachel, for using your gifts to make an impact in the world- through both your written words and the ones ones you chose to speak even when you didn't have to. Your "groupies from Columbus" had so much fun visiting with you!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Book Review: Jodie Bailey's Quilted by Christmas

Failing to recognize our own worth impacts us far more than we realize.  For Taryn McKenna, it meant keeping people at a distance, harboring a secret for more than a decade, and failing to trust in God's love.

In her October release for Abingdon's Quilts of Love series, Jodie Bailey weaves a tale of forgiveness, redemption, and relentless love.  When an 18-year-old Taryn finds herself on the receiving end of accusations that she's needy and manipulative, she vows to keep to herself and no longer bother those she loves.  She slowly builds a wall around her heart, and aside from her grandmother Jemma and cousin Rachel, refuses to let people in.  It's safer that way.  Her secret is safe, she's safe, and most importantly, other people are safe-- from her.

But when her high school love, Justin, comes back to town and Jemma lands in the hospital, Taryn has a hard time keeping up her strong front.  Suddenly she finds herself in need of security, and the only person around to offer it is the last one she wants to find it in.  By surrendering herself to Justin's renewed desire for friendship, Taryn learns that she really is worth loving after all.  And by opening herself to the love of those around her, she also learns to accept the One who loved her first and loves her best.

Jodie Bailey consistently creates characters who are multi-faceted and believable, and Taryn, Justin, and Jemma are no exception.  Even if we don't carry a secret as big as Taryn's, all of us feel as if we don't measure up in some way.  God's unconditional love is big enough to reach all of us, no matter what our past may hold.  Justin is the friend (and boyfriend!) we'd all like to have.  He's always there, but never pushy; always lightening the mood, but loving with sincerity.  And Jemma?  Oh, Jemma... Modeled after Jodie's own grandmothers, Jemma is bold and feisty, always telling it how it is.  These characters will warm your heart, and their story will keep you reading late into the night. Quilted by Christmas* is a delightful book that will get you in the holiday spirit quicker than Jemma can whip up her famous caramel cake!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Five things I want my teenagers to know about prayer

Aside from Scripture reading, prayer is one of the most fundamental spiritual disciplines.  Without it, a true relationship with Christ is all but impossible, yet an active prayer life is something many Christians struggle with, myself included.  What is it exactly that makes us struggle with something so simple?  Is it the feeling that we have nothing to say, or no time with which to say it?  Is it the feeling that it doesn't matter if we do or don't say anything?  Is it a fear of doing it wrong?  Each of these excuses are just that- excuses- and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can begin to tap into the abundant life God has for us.

If I could share five things I wish my girls knew about prayer, it would be these:

1) Prayer is nothing more than a conversation.  We've all heard this before, but what does it tell us about how and when we pray?  Think about your best friend and all the ways and reasons you talk to her.  There are quick texts sent when you don't have a lot of time.  There are gab sessions over coffee when you need to vent or get advice.  There are late night, how-would-I-ever-survive-without-you, heart to hearts.  And just as there are lots of ways to communicate with your best friend, there are lots of ways to communicate with your Savior.  You don't always have to talk to Him on your knees at the altar, but you also can't maintain a relationship with one-liners.  Balance is key.

2) There's no such thing as a bad prayer.  I think this is where many of us get stuck because we listen to the "professionals" on Sunday and know that our eloquence will never measure up.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone asks for a volunteer to pray out loud at a gathering, and after the prayer is said, someone says "Good job" or "That was great."  This implies that there are less-than-great prayers and nothing scares us away from something more than a fear of failure.

3) God's big enough to handle your honesty.  Sometimes we avoid praying because we think we've got to be in a good place spiritually- full of faith and joy and ready to praise.  And while God enjoys our good moods, He can hang with the bad ones, too.  If we're hurt, angry, confused, or worried, He already knows, which means we might as well talk to Him in the midst of our frustration.  Any relationship worth having is grounded in honesty, so don't try to hide from Him when you're feeling less than your best.  Lay it all out there and know He'll handle it with grace.

4) Prayer isn't a selfish act, but we gain more than we think when we do it.  Praying to thank God for all He's given you?  You'll start to notice how very blessed you are.  Praying to praise God for who He is?  He'll reveal even more of Himself to you.  Praying to ask for help?  You'll begin to see His hand in so many ways, regardless of how things turn out.  Praying on someone else's behalf? You'll find it easier to trust them into His care, and strengthen the bond between you to boot.  Prayer opens you up to the work of the Holy Spirit, and changes you from the inside out.

5) Just because you don't hear a response doesn't mean you haven't been heard.  I'm pretty sure all bloggers everywhere have the same secret.  We love getting comments on our posts.  Even though we aren't doing this for fame, we do like knowing that people are reading our words.  And when we write and write and write with nary a comment, it can get a little discouraging.  Prayer can be the same way.  If we feel as if we're doing nothing more than talking to the ceiling, it's easy to ask ourselves why we bother doing it in the first place.  Paul, however, writes in Ephesians 3:12 that because of Jesus, we can approach God with confidence.  We don't have to wonder if He hears, or cares, or even wants to listen.  He wouldn't have given us His Son if His plan was to ignore us.  He did it to make a relationship possible.

Prayer isn't something that's meant only for the spiritually mature.  There's no right or wrong way to do it, and you don't have to get up before dawn.  Just say what's on your heart, and watch how He responds.  Come confidently, and know that He's waiting with open arms.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


In the nearly two decades since I made the decision to one day adopt children, I've come across hundreds of stories of families who have done just that. Blogs, websites, books, TV shows, YouTube videos... our media-saturated society is certainly not lacking in its ability to advocate for, well, just about anything. But aside from a former student whose mom adopted a baby girl from Russia, I've never been on the inside of one of those stories until recently.

Some very close friends of mine made the decision back in the spring to become foster parents, and have been blessed to care for a 3-month-old baby boy since the day he came home from the hospital. And although I've learned a whole host of things from walking their journey along side of them, what God's really pressing on me involves a story parallel to theirs, yet divinely intertwined.

The precious baby who entered our hearts and lives with a mere five hours' notice also has two older brothers who had been in a different placement up until two weeks ago. When their last foster family could no longer care for them, the boys were placed with a couple who just happens to be friends with many in our church community, including the family caring for their brother. Since we'd already fallen in love with the youngest of these boys, the opportunity to meet the older two was highly anticipated to say the least.

Unlike the arrival of their brother, we knew the older boys were coming for a full week before the transition occurred.  This is nothing at all compared to the years-long wait involved with international adoptions, but God had a lot to teach me even in such a short span of time.  From the moment we heard the news, there were text messages exchanged, prayers said, hugs given, and help offered.  It wasn't just a young couple waiting anxiously; it was an entire community.  And throughout that week, one thought kept running through my mind.... If only those boys could know how much we long for them to be a part of our lives.

It's an easy parallel to make, and one that might seem cliche' to some, but have you ever thought about how much God longs for YOU?  If you grew up in church or have been attending for any length of time, you've heard how He loves you and longs to be in a relationship with you.  There's a big difference, though, in knowing something and living like you believe it.  What would it be like if we lived into the love He offers?  What would we do if we truly believed that His love was without limits?  How would we respond if we knew the love came, not because of anything we did or might do, but simply because we're His?

The day those boys entered their new family was a day to celebrate.  We cried at the sight of their pictures, and we eagerly looked forward to the day we could hold them in our arms.  They were surrounded by love and prayers and support before they ever saw our faces.  They were wanted for no other reason than because they were children of God.

And we, also being His children, are wanted as well... wanted, and longed for, and loved more than we could ever know.