Subtitled: This Is My Church, My Family

The Salvation Army is first and foremost a church. It’s the church I was born and raised in, the one in which I dedicated 10 years of full time ministry. It will always be a part of me, but it’s not the focus of this post. You see, for 18 years I have been ministered to by Apex Community Church. In February 2000 I was a freshman trying to figure out life at Wright State University. My friend Renee invited me to the young adult ministry at her church. From the first moment I walked into the ministry of Apex, I love it. People my age worshipping God! A speaker who was young and fun but also a fantastic preacher. As my college years rolled on, God blessed this little group and it flourished.

In January 2003, God allowed this former young adult ministry to open its doors for the first time as a new church plant. It was around this time that I had to physically stop attending due to various reasons, but my heart never left. Even during my own ministry, as I gave to the people God had ordained for me, I was being refuelled by the podcasted sermons of Apex. When I was back in Dayton on vacations I would still attend as I could and always felt the sense of coming home when I walked into the large sanctuary with an ugly orange carpet.

In July 2013 I left full time ministry. Suddenly, I found myself without a home, without a car, without a job. At the age of 32 I was back to living in my parent’s house. It was just like being that young freshman trying to figure out life again! But God was exceptionally good to me – blessed me with a job, a car, and in time, a condo complete with mortgage payments! And one other thing He blessed me with? Apex.

When I moved back to Dayton, the choice of church was a no-brainer! This community wasn’t just my church, they were my family. I immediately got plugged into my then-boyfriend’s House Church. These people loved me without knowing me. Eventually, they grew to know me, and still they loved me! When my romantic relationship ended I found myself in a temporary house church before finding a perfect fit with the (now named) Great Commission House Church. I had switched from Sunday Gathering Services to Saturday night and got plugged into the prayer ministry. There were significantly less people attending on Saturday but the faithful (and even not-so-faithful) attendees became family. Bill who would always ask me about my beloved Seahawks. Steve and Naomi who were my co-prayer ministry partners. The large sanctuary with an ugly orange carpet was filled with faces that became so dear to me.

Life settled into a routine, though that is probably the glossy word for a rut. I had my pretty compartmentalized life: work. Home. House church. Exercise. Quad. Saturday service. Time with my biological family. In truth, I loved my life. I still do.

But God in His wisdom shook things up at Apex last year. So much so that the sermon series for a few weeks was honestly called, “Welcome To Our Mess!” This church, this family that I had grown to love was rock at its very core. This is my journal entry from around that same time.

“There are moments on every person’s journey that force you to stop and take stock of your life. One such moment happened at 6:10 on a Sunday evening. Though I had seen something coming for about eight months, when the battle began, everything changed. My entire world shifted. The first 24 hours were brutal. The attack was a complete surprise both in tactic and intensity and truthfully, I am not sure we [as Apex church] were well prepared.”

But in retrospect, God was doing a great and mighty work in my church, my family. Continuing from my journal, “[In a short time,] people were repenting. Lives were being transformed through confession. Prayer and compassion and grace were the primary weapons being used against the enemy. The Holy Spirit was moving and working and Satan had to be getting overwhelmed. And even today, though the battle still has its moments, little hot spots here and there as with any large scale attack, already people are celebrating The Lord’s victory.”

The Lord Is Victorious.

The last 18 years have been a crazy journey in my life as well as that of Apex Community Church! Moments of great and glorious celebration. Flourishing ministry. There have also been missteps along the way. Yes, even times when foundation are shaken, but here is the truth: Apex wasn’t built on people, it was, is, and will forever be built upon the Solid Rock.

And that is why I feel so privileged to call Apex not just my church, but my family.

Subtitled: A Waddling Christian

My Mom’s favourite animal is the penguin. Truthfully, I never think about penguins much until it snows. Well, it snowed here in Dayton today. Not much but enough to cause a major number of traffic accidents and probably just as many slips and falls. Thus my semi-regular winter reflection of penguins, and more specifically, their waddle. [Go head, picture it in your mind – cute aren’t they!] Waddling is more gliding than walking. It’s about staying grounded versus stepping away from the surface. Though not all, most penguins have to icy conditions to navigate. The ground is solid per say but as figure skater Alexei Yagudin once said, “ice – it’s slippery!” Penguins have adapted to this and thus know how to stay upright – ground your feet and waddle along, don’t try anything fancy!

On most days, we as human don’t waddle, but simply walk. We assume there is going to be a solid foundation where our next step is. We don’t actually think about walking until something comes in our path that makes us take notice- winter, for example. When the ice is there, no longer are we assured of our steps, so we take caution and “waddle” to make sure we stay grounded, upright, and physically intact. We know that when it’s slippery out, as long as you don’t try anything fancy, you should be fine.

Can I take this imagery one step further? How often as Christians do we fail to ground ourselves in God? There we are just walking, skipping, or even running merrily along our lives. We take for granted that He is the solid path beneath us and at some point stop relying on His stability because we’ve learned how to navigate this path – we believe we can do it all on our own. We just need to touch base every measured distance to say that we have connected back with our firm foundation. In time, we place more reliance on our own abilities than on His.

Is this making sense?

How much better off would we be if, instead of relying on ourselves and just coming in contact with the Saviour periodically, we waddle. Making sure to ground ourselves in Him every baby step of the way. Keeping our foundation sure by staying as connected to Him as possible. Knowing and relying on Him, instead of ourselves, to keep us standing tall, standing strong. I think that is what I want to be.

People may think I am weird or funny, but I would rather be a waddling Christian grounded in Him than anything else. I pray my desire is to stay connected to Him as much as humanly possible. To know that when the way is slippery, I can keep moving forward easier knowing that I waddling with Him and not skipping merrily along on my own independence.

So I leave you with two questions: Are you a waddling Christian? Do you desire to be?

Subtitled: Fear Not

As we reflect on 2016 and turn our gazes to 2017, someone asked “what have you learned this year?” I really took that question to heart and have pondered it. I could easily summarize 2016 as simply “weird” but that doesn’t really give me guidance for the future. So walk with me here for a bit…

We mourned many deaths in 2016. It seemed each time you turned to the news someone was unexpectedly passing away. But in the midst of mourning, new babies arrived. Lesson learned? Don’t get caught up in the dark but always search for the light. We need to embrace the feelings we have but not stew in them – if we get stuck in the sadness and depression that comes with death then we can easily miss the joy and happiness of life.

Another lesson I learned this year? There’s often more than meets the eye. Rarely is life merely on the surface. Most of the time there are layers upon layers that need to be peeled away to get to the heart matters. This can be a very painful and messy project, but living deep is so much more rewarding even if it’s harder. Yes, we could live the easy life of superficiality but in all honesty, that’s not really living.

For me this was also a year of unexpected discoveries. If you know me at all, once I find something I deem worthy, I am passionate about it (my glossy word for obsessed.) In spring I started taking tennis lessons. I signed up with mostly a “what the heck” mentality, but quickly discovered I enjoyed it and spent every Tuesday/Thursday for 18 weeks on the court! (Please do not mistake this for being good…) Over the summer I discovered “Me Before You” and devoured both the book and movie many times over. The beauty of this is that roundaboutly it brought reconciliation and closure to a situation that had shadowed over me for years. By November I was thoroughly obsessed with a musical group called “Veritas.” (If you’ve not listened to them yet, please, please, please, do so!) I saw them live and was absolutely captivated and will be seeing them again in 32 days (not that I’m counting…) Just this week I fell in love with a triple-threat by the name of Juan Pablo Di Pace. His voice is incredible and his acting and dancing are on par too! Looking forward to more from him as well as more discoveries in the year to come!

It was also a year for completely new things too. I bought my condo last summer, but this year brought a rambunctious addition: my cat Sir George. He is a delightful little thing even if sometimes a little annoying and my three year old niece is enamoured with him! Speaking of nieces, I am now an Auntie again. Elizabeth Angela arrived earlier this month and she’s a wonderful tiny bundle of joy. I was baptised this year which will probably surprise many of you, but alas, when I joined a baptist church, it was a natural progression thereof. Concurrent with that I found a new “house church” (a form of “small group” with lots of depth) that I absolutely love. I call them family because I truly feel like that is what they have become.

So what have I learned this year? Well, I guess my answer is: fear not. Things definitely don’t always go the way we hope or plan. There are countless lessons and surprises along the way. It’s how we roll with these changes that shape who we are as individuals and in the bigger picture, as a society. If we cocoon ourselves away and never love, never learn, never grow, never take the chance to succeed or fail, then we will never live. I’m not saying abandon all reason and wisdom, but embrace the life He has granted you and “fear not” for what is to come. It might just be so much better than you possibly could dream.

Subtitled: Ode to Christian Music

A friend posted these lyrics by Hillsong United this morning:
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Saviour

I posted a little heart and commented, “Love that song.” But only after auto correct changed it from “Live that song.” Almost instantly I thought that maybe “live that song” would be a more appropriate response!

You see, worship music isn’t meant to be just heard, but lived. Christian music isn’t intended to be background noise on the way to a destination – it’s part of the destination! The music before the sermon, the radio that buzzes in the car on your way to work, the iPod that blares out while you’re running on a treadmill… these are all part of the destination because unlike secular music which might have the power to change lives, solid Christian music most definitely does have that power to transform! When we stop “loving” it and start “living” it the world changes, families change, individuals change.

Lest you think that I am merely talking about what might be categorized at “modern” music, let me illustrate with the well-known classic:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind, but now, I see

You have probably sung this countless times in your life, I know I have. Yet, does that last line of the first verse challenge you? “Was blind, but now, I see.” For myself I fear that at times I still live blind. God wants to show me vivid colours of what could be but I quite frankly like my shades of grey with only pops of colour. There are times when the dark hidden chambers of life beckon me back and admittedly, at times I have found escape in them. Life can see easier in the lost darkness than the found brightness of light.

Christians, it’s time we stopped disrespecting song writers, musicians, and God Himself with trite words sung in patterned tones. It’s time we started reading the song lyrics, being challenged by them as much as any sermon. It’s time we move past “love that song” to “live that song!”

Subtitled: A New Use

I love Christmas: the trees and lights, the smells and sounds, the stories and traditions. The Christmas story out of Luke 2 is as familiar to most as the words to Frosty the Snowman or White Christmas. We’ve heard it year after year. We know it. It’s not new so what new can we learn from it? Well I believe there is always something to be learned from scripture. The Bible is about challenging us to grow, to live, and if we merely listen to “same old story” then we don’t get challenged. But our lives are different than they were last year. Our perspectives have changed if ever so slightly because of the experiences we have had over the last year. I like looking at things from new angles. So as I read this passage a few weeks ago something leaped off the page in a way it never had before.

Picture in your mind the nativity scene: you have Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus of course. Some shepherds and animals around the perimeter. Some wise men bringing gifts. Yeah, I think that about covers it. Here’s the point I want to focus on though. In the idyllic picture, Jesus is never standing up and running around. He is where? He is lying in the manger. You’re probably saying yeah, and?

Well there is an and. One of the focal pieces of any basic nativity is going to have Jesus in the manger but in reality, this is the part that probably makes the least bit of sense. By definition, a manger is merely a trough in a stable designed to hold food for livestock. Let me put in 2016 terms. It’s a large pet feeding bowl. “Oh yeah, that is the perfect place to put a sleeping baby!” Said no one. Ever. It would be absurd to put a baby in a pet food dish! And yet, God looked at this large feeding box and said, “Yes! Perfect.”

Let me take this thought one step further. Imagine the manger could talk. For some odd reason I hear him as a New York City taxi cab driver. “Hey Lady! You want to put what where? I am a manger. I hold food for animals. I do not do babies. That is seriously not what I am designed for.” And in truth, the manger would be right! That is not what it was initially designed for, but that is the beautiful thing about God. He can use us no matter what we are because He is the original creator and He knows what we are capable of, even if it seems absurd to us.

Did you catch that transition? Let me bring this home. We are all mangers in a way. We all have a use, an original intent. What we are good at. What we know. What we were designed to do, to be. It’s our talents, our strengths, our “spiritual gifts” if you will. We might have our particular act of service that in our minds is the one thing that we’re “supposed to do” because that is what we think we are solely designed for, the way we are supposed to be used by Him. But I think sometimes this limits us. Like the Brooklyn accented manger we say, “Hey God! You want me to do what? I’m just me. I am only good for [fill in the blank].” We forget that God can take ordinary objects and repurpose them for His use because He designed them. He knows what they, and we, are capable of.

If the manger had spoken up. Said that is not my job, that is not my use, that is not what I am good at I am quite sure Mary and Joseph would have found another place to lay the newborn Christ. But the manger would have lost out on being a part of history. If we don’t allow God to stretch us, to repurpose us. If we get stuck saying, “but that is not what I am designed for!” then He just might find someone else to take our place… but in the process, we might miss the biggest blessing of our lives. As we journey through this Christmas season and look to 2017, my challenge to you is this: Allow God to use you as He sees fit. Don’t get caught up in what you think you are supposed to be, supposed to do. Don’t fall back on what you have always done but allow Him to do new things in and through you. You might just find yourself the central piece of someone else’s amazing story.

Subtitled: Little Kindnesses

Most people break an arm, or a leg, or a foot. I however, never liked to be “normal.” Nine years ago this week I broke the only bone I’ve ever broken in my life. My elbow. Let me repeat: elbow! Seriously, who does that?! There I was on a Monday morning walking through the chapel of my church on the way to my office when I tripped and face planted on the floor. The only thing I remember thinking on the way down was “don’t hurt your face!!” so I put my arms in front to shield the fall. I tried to brush it off as no big deal until the staff handed me a pen and said, “write your name.” Needless to say what followed was not my name but a trip to the ER.

I had become quite dependent upon being independent and all of a sudden without the ability to use my entire right arm, and especially, not drive I found that I was stuck. Luckily this momentous event happened in the small town of Marietta, Ohio. With my connections to various club, organizations, and the businesses in general, I was fairly well known in this community of 14,000 people. So even though my family was four hours away, the people of Marietta became family, and quickly rallied to my aid.

I only lived a few blocks from the church so I had the ability to walk to/from work each day but had no means of going to the grocery store, driving to the doctor/surgeon or my physical therapy appointments. I couldn’t even wash my own hair! So my new family stepped up. Once a week the local taxi service would drive me to/from the grocery so I didn’t have to live merely on take-out delivery. One of those “mom and pop” stores on the main street of town would allow their employees to drive me to/from my various medical appointments. The hair dressers along the route from my office to my house allowed me to stop by once or twice a week to have my hair washed and blow dried. Probably the most frivolous and yet significant kindness came when an employee from that same “mom and pop” store came over to my house and helped me decorate my Christmas tree. You see, I adore Christmas. I have been called an “original elf” and “Santa’s daughter” but my staff and without a tree and the ability to put it up, I found myself getting sad and depressed.

Why do I write all this? Because this week I was reminded that grand gestures are great, don’t get me wrong, I love them, but most of the time it is the little kindnesses along the way that mean the most. Sometimes we get so caught up in thinking we have to do these big and over-the-top things for people when in fact, sometimes what they want or need most is simple. For me in those weeks of recovery, I didn’t need anything big – I needed food. I needed clean hair. I needed a Christmas tree.

It’s Christmas. It’s the season of grand gestures. But as you go about your day, don’t forget to look around you for opportunities for little kindnesses along the way. What are the simple things that you can do for others? You might be surprised to find that it’s not hard to make all the difference in the world to someone.

Subtitled: Brokenness & Compassion

Admittedly, I am an emotional person. I’ve often thought of myself as a bit tender-hearted (if humility will allow me to self-diagnose this.) Often my heart just breaks for the people I see around me. I have this need, this compulsion to want to “help” and “fix” what I see as broken. I think as Christians we all have this need to differing degrees. As I drove home from church tonight I was thinking that if Christians lose this ability to feel compassion for those around us, we lose everything. When we stop caring, when our hearts stop breaking, then we stop carrying out the mission He has for us.

This pondering reminded me of a song I used to sing years ago. The chorus goes, “Except I am moved with compassion, how dwelleth thy Spirit in me? In word and in deed burning love is my need; I know I can find it in thee.” More recently I’ve been singing, “Heal my heart and make it clean; open up my eyes to the things unseen. Show me how to love like You have loved me! Break my heart for what breaks Yours; everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause as I walk from earth into eternity.”

From the beginning of time, the first of Genesis, God gave away His heart to His people. His love and grace knows no end. Even when humanity screwed up royally and consequences were inevitable, God delineated punishment with compassion. Time and time again He has tempered wrath with love, with grace. At no point in history has God given up feeling for His children. At no point should we give up feeling either.

In a world where we are inundated with brokenness, we cannot allow it to desensitize us. When our hearts stop going out to the hurting, we lose the ability to display Christ to the world around us. I guess the challenge for this post is to stay tender, show compassion each and every day. This isn’t always easy, but it’s the only way to reach a lost and lonely world that desperately needs to feel the warmth of the Son.