Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Coffee & Crafting

Last fall the girls from my college ministry and I had a day of Coffee and Crafting. My friend Heather organized a day of crafting she calls Create Christmas. Heather picked out half a dozen crafts that could be made for $5. Heather described Create Christmas like this "You see, I love to craft. I love to teach. I love to give gifts. Mix it all together and you have one of my favorite things I do all year." You don't have to be a crafter to have fun at Create Christmas. With each craft there were easy to follow instructions. I used Create Christmas as a fun event for my college girls I called Coffee and Crafting.
We started off Coffee and Crafting at our local Starbucks. We loaded up on caffeine and enjoyed sweet conversation. 
After getting fueled up, we drove over to my friend Heather's church which was the site of Create Christmas. When we got there the fun was already underway. Heather is a pro and Create Christmas was organized beautifully! We signed in, got our instructions, and got to work. 
We spent the entire day crafting. Each of Heather's crafts were easy to do and fun to make. I think we made almost every craft.
I went with the full intention of making gifts for my friends, but I ended up making decor for my bedroom (sorry friends!). Once we were finished our crafts, we checked out and paid for the number of crafts we made.
Our first Coffee & Crafting was a major success! I can't wait for next year! 
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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Deeply Rooted Lies

Wearing glasses for the first time, I walked down the hallway of my school. I wondered what people would think and was terrified of what they might say. Cliché phrases were floating around in my head, taunting me. A boy I liked looked at me and said “So when are you going to get contacts?” For my junior high self, these words demolished the way I viewed myself in glasses. The word UGLY immediately appeared tattooed on my forehead. I went home that day and told my mom I NEEDED contacts.

Over a decade later those words still ring in my ears.  The wound is fresh in my heart. I don't wear my glasses unless I HAVE to and when I do my UGLY tattoo resurfaces.

I never realized this was silly. It was rooted deep in my self perception. Those words were wrapped around my heart and mind so tightly I believed it to be true. My husband noticed my glasses insecurity when we were dating. He dug deep and asked me hard questions. He sweetly encouraged me and told me he thought I was beautiful in my glasses. Ashamedly I admit I did not believe him.  

Recently my insecurity reappeared when I needed new glasses. My new glasses came in and I prayed they would look okay. As I headed to church the insecurity of my junior high self rushed back. The taunting voice reemerged. My husband hugged me tightly and told me how beautiful I looked. I still wasn’t sure. I felt self-conscious. It returned the next day when I went to work. Will they like them? I wondered. No matter how many times I heard how great they looked my self-consciousness and insecurity grew.

I finally wondered…What is wrong with me? Why did words spoken more than a decade ago still hold so much weight? I began to dig into my heart. And the UGLY truth came out.  

I realized my wounded heart rejected God’s Word. I chose to walk in insecurity and self-scrutiny. The wound never healed because I continued to believe it. And sin was exposed in my heart. I thought I walked in truth, never realizing I lived in a lie. I recognized that I doubted Psalm 139:14 “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well” and  altered it with “except when I wear my glasses.” I lived in the lie so long I didn’t know what was true.

I wonder, how often lies are allowed to fester in our hearts and minds? Do we perceive our rejection of God's Word? How do we deal with deeply rooted lies? God's Word gives a clear answer:

Recognize the battle going on. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us to “be of sober spirit, be on alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Remember the war is not a fleshly war. 2 Corinthians 10:3, tells us “ though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.” Ephesians 6:12 reminds us “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Stand firm against the enemy. Ephesians 6:11,13 reminds us to stand firm “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” &; “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

Take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

Run to Jesus and His Word to replace the lies. Romans 12:2 tells us “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Only Jesus and His Word hold the power to transform our minds, hearts, and lives. We cannot transform ourselves, He must do it!

The battle is real. I know it well. Are lies rooted deep in your heart?  I encourage you to dig deep and deal with them. Stop permitting them to grow and fester. They do not belong in your heart. I know it’s messy and it hurts. Seek Jesus, He is faithful to overcome. He is bigger and greater and stronger than any deeply rooted lie.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Prayer that Changed Everything

Tears streaming down my face, I rocked on the deck in the early morning, Bible and journal in hand, begging God to move.  I was desperate, my heart had been ripped out.  All of my hopes and dreams had come crashing down. All I had left was to beg God to intervene. Over and over I repeated, God please change his mind, God please change his mind. It felt like God was silent yet God in His sweet gentle way met me in that rocking chair. He gently asked me “Ashlee, are you willing to hear no?” I brushed off the feeling with dread, fearful of what it would mean for God to say no.

A few days went by, there I was on the back porch, kneeling on the hard concrete, a sheet of rain blasting on my face. The wind blowing all around me. Rejection freshly gnawing at my heart.  Again I begged over and over “God please change his mind!” Once again God met me and sweetly whispered in my ear “Ashlee, are you willing to hear no?” And I knew what He was asking me to do. Yet I clung so tight to my hopes and dreams and desperately wanted God to put the pieces back together. I knew what God wanted, yet I was afraid to let go. I was afraid being willing to hear no meant He would actually say no. And that would just ruin everything. And there on that porch, I opened up my hands and I cried out to the Lord and I gave it all over to Him. I told Him, that even if the answer was no, that it was okay.
I woke up out of a dead sleep that night and I heard God speak so clearly I would have swore to you He spoke audibly to me “Ashlee, let it go.” That was all that He said and I knew exactly what that meant. For days I had asked him to change the mind of someone else and I knew without a doubt, that God wanted me to change my mind.  I went back to sleep sure of what God told me, my heart heavy.  
God is NOT my genie.... 
Up until that point I had treated prayer as Aladdin’s lamp and God was my genie. Yet God taught me a vital lesson. Sometimes His answer is no. I do not always get what I want when I pray, because God is not a genie waiting there to abide by my request. Instead, He is the Lord God Almighty, who reigns and rules in my life. I submit to Him, He does not submit to me.
What I want MAY NOT be what HE WANTS. What HE wants is BETTER!
God also taught me that what He wants is not always what I want. What I thought were my hopes and dreams were really nothing compared to what God had for me. In fact what He had planned for me was better than anything I could have ever imagined. 
 It changed the way I Pray. It changed EVERYTHING...
And it changed me. It changed the way I viewed God and the way I approached Him. It changed the way I seek Him and even the way I pray. I desire changed from "God do...." to "If your presence does not go with us do not send us up from here" Exodus 33:15. In stead of telling God what to do I began asking Him where He wanted me to go and what He wanted me to do even who He wanted me to date. And I began to wait on Him and His presence instead of trying to make things happen.
You see, I am quite the control freak. I want things to be my way (all the time). And for the first time in my life God said no in a very big way. It left me lost and confused. I wasn’t sure which way was up. All of a sudden the story of my life was completely blank. I was headed into my senior year of college with no clue where I was going or what God wanted. So I began to seek Him more than I ever had before. I began to seek His will before I did anything. I began to ask Him to make His will clear to me, so clear that I could not miss it. And He did, He called me to ministry, and seminary, and a state I never would have chosen. His plan was really so much better than the one I desperately clung to on the porch with the rain and the wind beating around me. 
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Friday, March 7, 2014

Grace in Hard Seasons

Grace: the merciful kindness by which God, exerting His holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues

This description of grace utterly blows me away. I have been in a hard season of ministry. I have fought the Lord the entire way. I have argued, asked God to take it away, asked God to take me back, tried to fix it on my own…oh the list goes on.

As I studied Ephesians 2:4-7 this week, I was smacked in the face with this definition of grace. God through His grace exerts His holy influence on believers to strengthen and increase their faith, knowledge & affection of Him. As I read this definition over and over, all of a sudden things became clear. The disconnected pieces of what God was teaching me suddenly fit together. And God gave me a glimpse of His grace. Just not the kind of grace I am used to.

Hard seasons are an act of His grace. The grace of refinement.

God allows the hard seasons as an act of His grace in my life. Paul Tripp said: Many times we are moaning in the midst of ministry and wondering where the grace of God is and we are getting it, the grace of refinement, not the grace of relief.” Oh, how I have asked for relief. And His sweet gentle answer to me is NO.  No, this is for your refinement. My grace is sufficient to you.

You see refining grace is not the kind of grace I am used to. I am used to the grace that saves and I am used to the grace that covers sin. But refining grace hurts, it exposes, it’s harsh at times. Refining grace is difficult to swallow. It is goes against what feels natural. Yet it is the grace that forces me to deal with my sin, reminds me of my need for Him. You see His saving grace is also His refining grace. They are one in the same and cannot be separated. The same grace that covered my sin, is the same grace that continues to expose my sin. It draws me to repentance and in turn transforms me into His likeness.

Hard seasons remind me I need Jesus

I am confident that I need the hard season to see my need for Jesus. My lack of power allows me to see the One, who redeems and is my only source of hope. My hope cannot be in what I know, how great I think I am, or success in ministry. Hope is only found at the feet of Jesus. Hard seasons remind me how desperately I need to hope in Jesus instead of myself and that is His grace.

As I think about this grace of hard seasons I am reminded of Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10 "And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." And I know I must stop, remember I am weak, and seek to find my hope and delight in Jesus. He is what I need. He is the grace in the hard seasons. 
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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Passion 2014 the Recap

I walked into Passion with a heavy heart. All the weight I had been carrying for weeks weighed me down topped with Houston traffic and the fact I had not eaten. (Side Note: When I am hungry I turn into a different person. A not very nice person. If you have seen this side of me, you know what I mean.)

During the first session they asked us to talk to and pray with people around us. They asked us to share what we wanted God to do during Passion. All I had been thinking about and praying about was what I wanted God to do in others. As I listened to what the others shared I knew my prayer is that God would show me what He wanted from me as a leader this next year. You see all the struggles and weight of the past few months have left me asking “God am I doing something wrong?” “God what do you want from me?” “God what changes do you want to see in my life and the way I lead?” These questions have been difficult for me, because they have made me deal with my humanity, my desire to think I am right, and my selfish pursuit to be liked and moved by others.

So I decided to ask God to speak to me at Passion. I had spent all week asking God to move in others hearts. My heart needed mending and encouraging. I needed God to meet with me and show me where He was leading me. So I asked God to move in me and speak to me. And boy did He ever show up.

First Up there was Francis Chan. Now I have heard Francis speak before and was really looking forward to hearing him teach. God showed me several things during Francis’ teaching.

  • First God reminded me of the simplicity of His Word. Francis simply walked through 2 Peter 1:1-7. He didn’t have fancy points, and (gasp) there was no alliteration. And God sweetly reminded me where my focus needs to be. To simply and straightforwardly teach the Word.
  • God also reminded me that I need to be willing to persevere in life and ministry. Recently, things have been hard. And God reminded that I must choose to keep going and that He would give me the strength to do it.
  • Finally God showed me that I must be willing to fight for brotherly affection with other believers. I know this in my head, but I am not sure I have really been living it out that well.

Beth Moore followed up Francis. I have never heard her speak. I did a couple of her Bible studies in college, but wasn't sure what to expect. Beth stepped on the stage so fired up I thought she might actually catch fire. God really opened my eyes to several things, but one thing in particular. Beth spoke out of 1 Tim 6:11-16, she focused on what it means to fight the good (or beautiful) fight and compared it to ugly fights. God used Beth to remind me that the good fight is the fight of sound words (the Word of God). He also showed me how easily the enemy can encourage toward fighting each other that we do not fight the good fight.

Apart from these two messages that really stuck out to me the Lord showed me some big things about how He wants me to walk as a believer and lead the girls He has called me to lead.

  • Humility must be my desire. When everyone else had bowed their head in prayer I watched both Francis Chan and Beth Moore cry out to God on their knees. I watch music leaders stop singing and just get on their knees before the Lord. And it totally blew me away. God reminded me that a position of humility is on my knees before Him
  • I need my friends. God reminded me this by sweetly placing my college roommate and one of my very best friends there at Passion too. Sometimes I can get so busy doing ministry that I forget to have a life, friends, or anything apart from the ministry He has placed me in. And sometimes I just need to be with my people. People that get me, encourage me, talk about things other than what is going on in the ministry. If you are my friend and I have neglected you, I am sorry. The Lord has reminded me how much I need you and how much I need community of my own. So, can we be friends again? Yeah, I’d like that.
  • It’s not my job to fix problems in our ministry. Oh, believe me, I WANT TO. In my flesh I believe I have everything it takes to fix people. The Lord showed me this as I painfully watched two of my girls heavy with conviction from the Lord, praying and waiting for God to help them have strength to mend what was broken. The Lord really hammered this in when walls finally came down and one of my girls looked at me and said, this is not your problem to fix, we need to fix this with each other. All I could do was walk away and pray. I cannot tell you how overwhelmed I felt hearing them laugh together. My eyes are welling with tears remembering that sweet sound.
  • The Lord must pour into me so I can pour out to others. I know this to be true, but I have really lived it out the last few weeks. I have been walking with Jesus. I have been in His Word. But I’m not sure I was open to the Lord really pouring into me. I am reminded how necessary it is for me to continue to walk in ministry and life. I need Jesus, yet sometimes I walk around like I don’t. Like I have it all together. I believe that is why He has allowed me to walk around with so much heaviness, so that I would finally come to the breaking point, so I would let it all go and just ask Him to speak to me, lead me, pour into me so I can continue to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. 

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mumblings from the Valley

Tomorrow my husband and I leave for Passion. We are taking with us 21 college students. And to be quite frank, it feels like the enemy is closing in. I’m not sure what God is going to do this weekend, but it must be big. So big that the enemy is working to distract us, make us angry, make us feel tired. And here I sit today: tired and cranky. It’s a beautiful picture isn’t it? Just trying to keep it real friends. I feel  so worn. I feel like I am sitting in the midst of the valley along with the much and the mire.

Tonight I will sit down with a group of college girls and teach Ephesians 1. God has been beating me up all week with this lesson. We got iced out last week, and I know that was God’s plan. I needed another week to steep in this truth and for God to poke, prod, and expose me.

This morning I walked across the street to my gym to shower at 6:40am (because our water had been out for almost 24 hours due to a water main break). The Lord reminded me that I am blessed and that He is faithful. He reminded me that He is moving and working even when it seems the enemy is winning. He is calling me to seek Him hard and trust Him with the details.

At work, I preset dessert for a luncheon and God met me as I listened to the musicians warm up. I pushed back tears. The musicians had no clue how they ministered straight to my soul. God sweetly reminded me who He is and who I am in Him.
Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour's love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all
I needed to be reminded of this truth today. I needed God to whisper and encourage me.

A text from my college daughter asking for wisdom. I know my answer seemed too simple. She wanted me to give her the right words to say. Instead I told her to pray. I shared with her how God is showing me we need to talk less and pray more. Prayer is more than enough. It is more powerful than we believe.

You see there are days when the enemy seems to be closing in and we fear that he is winning. Yet I know, we serve a great warrior God. And He is moving and working. He is there as a protector. And God calls us to faithfully trudge on against the flow of the craziness, trusting Him. He calls us to stand firm in His truth, believing He is enough.

So here I sit in this valley, weary and worn, yet knowing I am not alone. The enemy seems to be closing in. Yet I know God has not forgotten me. He continues to meet me, encourage me, and shape me. So I stand up, dust myself off, and plant my feet hard in the Rock who is my Firm Foundation. I wait for Him to tell me what He wants from me. I wait for Him to take my hand and lead me on. Knowing He has a plan and is working all the madness out for good. Knowing that the enemy can never defeat Him, because He is the Great I Am.
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