This past week, our pastor introduced a new way to look at the season of Lent. He encouraged the members of the congregation to give up something if they chose, but he also gave us the opportunity to consider doing something different to commemorate the forty days leading up to Easter. I decided to take up the challenge and committed to engaging in a particular spiritual discipline each week from now until Easter Sunday.

This first week has been spent in solitude and confession. I knew this discipline would be a stretch for me. I live alone and have a great deal of time to myself on the evenings and weekends; as a result, the apartment is very quiet… sometimes too quiet. So if you were to stop by for an unannounced visit, the radio would be streaming from my computer or a movie would be droning on in the background.

Even though I spend a great deal of time to myself, most of that time is filled with background noise just to make the quiet seem not so unbearable. When paired with my busy schedule outside the home, it makes for one action-packed, noisy day. I could be taking the time to pray, engage in God’s Word, or waiting for Him to speak to me, but instead, I am too busy singing along with the radio and distracted by the stories blaring from the local news.

So in order to practice solitude this week, I committed to turning off the TV and radio. I even walked to and from work without my iPod and ear buds. At first, it was uncomfortable to be surrounded by silence, but in time, it became a refreshing change of pace.

I read an article late in the week that resonated with this idea of solitude and getting away to spend time with the Lord. In RCA Today, a publication of my church denomination, Louis Lotz writes about Mary and Martha, two sisters who were present during Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Martha was a doer— busy in the kitchen and constantly serving, wanting everything to be perfect for the Master. But Mary was quiet, prayerful, and reflective— content to sit and learn at Jesus’ feet.

Although the writer of the article asks the reader not to consider whether they are a Martha or Mary, I couldn’t help but put myself in a category. In many ways I am a Martha. Although I am not usually the one in the kitchen serving dinner, I am a doer— organized, focused, motivated, and driven by my commitments. But in many more ways, I think I am a Mary— drawn in by Theology, music, the arts, prayer, and meditation. As the article explains: “All of us are both of them. All of us, male and female, have a double first name, and it is Mary-Martha.”

The article also talks about this action-packed, anxious world, much like I described when I outlined my busy, noisy lifestyle. I was greatly impacted by the danger the writer considers in letting Martha overshadow Mary: “The danger in our active, anxious, achievement-oriented world is that your Mary part will be snuffed out entirely. No time to listen, to think, to read, to pray. No time to be, because there is too much to do.”

In simple terms, I was letting the Mary in me slip away… until I engaged in solitude this past week. I recognized how incredible it felt to simply sit in the quiet of my apartment and engage in communication with Him. I wasn’t always praying or meditating; sometimes I was reading or catching up on emails, but always, I had a listening ear for what He might be trying to say to me.

I don’t know what the coming weeks will bring as I explore the other spiritual disciplines during Lent. But if this week has been any indication, I think I am in a good place— a place where I am open and ready to receive whatever He might bring my way.

Recharge and Reboot

There’s nothing more frustrating in this modern computer age when there is an Internet outage. I returned from lunch one day last week, launched Internet Explorer, and impatiently watched the status bar inch along the bottom of the screen until I was informed that my page was “not found.” “What!?” I remember saying out loud. Figuring it was just a fluke, I refreshed the page and tried again— still nothing. It was then that I closed Internet Explorer and reopened it— yet again I was told that my page was not found. What was going on?

A few moments later while on the phone with someone, I was informed that the local Internet provider must have had an outage. Computers at the local library and other businesses were having trouble getting online, so I quickly assumed that my computer issues were related to this supposed outage. At first, I was frustrated at the inconvenience, but as I sat down at my desk to look through some Bible Study materials, I was actually relieved that I didn’t have to go online.

You see, I have spent the past two weeks beginning preparations for the leadership forum I direct each summer. I have spent countless hours on the phone and over email just trying to keep up with the correspondence. This Internet outage, though terrible in its timing, actually afforded me a brief vacation from the incessant communication.

Now, I’m not complaining about my work at YLF or even wishing for a vacation; it’s just that the Internet outage taught me something, making me slow down and take a moment to recharge my batteries.

It made me think of my relationship with Christ and how sometimes life can be so busy that we often don’t stop to simply terry in His presence. But I have found that when I take the time to simply talk to Him or listen for His still, small voice, I am overwhelmed with His love and peace. So today, I ask myself and all of you— if being in His presence is so rewarding, why do we often consider Him last on our list of priorities?

In today’s hectic culture, everyone seems to be rushing around with their devices: cell phones, iPads, and Kindles. We make phone calls, read books, and listen to music— all on our portable devices, sometimes to the point where the battery dies. In order for the device to work again, it must be plugged in and recharged.

Sometimes, when I’m talking on my cell phone and the battery goes dead in the middle of the conversation, I find myself frustrated, especially if it’s an important phone call. I find myself running to plug my phone into the wall so I can finish that all-important conversation.

What if we came to God, that desperate to recharge our spiritual batteries? What if, instead of railing at the computer during an Internet outage or racing to plug in a dying cell phone, we ran to Jesus instead? I have talked often about my late-night prayer time with my Best Friend, and I think of this time as recharging my spiritual batteries— setting aside the day just passed and preparing for the coming challenges of tomorrow. It is only when I come to Him in prayer that I feel fully equipped to face whatever is on the horizon.

I encourage each of you to consider your relationship with Christ and what it might look like to recharge and reboot. Choose today to “plug in” and spend some time with the One who holds our tomorrows.

Nineveh (Repost)

May 7, 2012

I had fought against God for too long. For several months, I had prayed for ways to reach a friend’s heart with the message of the Gospel, but every time I had the opportunity, I shied away. “That’s too hard,” I would say to Him. “I can’t do that.” I had pictures in my mind of Brent, the main character from my book The Promise. Throughout the course of the book, Brent dedicates himself to reaching out to J.C. and investing all he has to give in hopes that she will one day choose to accept Christ into her life.

I created Brent’s character, and in many ways, his personality mirrors mine in real life. But time after time, I shrank back from reaching out to this friend, which was vastly different from Brent’s approach to life and service. I wondered why it was so difficult for me. What was holding me back?

A Bible Study member compared my attitude to that of Jonah from the Bible, and to a certain degree, I had to concur. God had called Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and preach about God’s coming judgment. But in his hatred toward the city, Jonah decided to flee God’s plan instead of willingly moving forward. Although I did not possess hatred for my friend, I still decided to flee the task before me. But why? Was it fear of the unknown, fear of inadequacy, or indifference for the lost soul?

Immediately I knew it was not indifference; I cared for this person a great deal, and I wanted nothing more than to see them come to Christ. So it had to be fear— but why was I so afraid? As I was praying over the matter in the dark of my bedroom one night, I slowly came to a realization. Like Jonah when he was cast into the sea and swallowed up by the wale, I felt like I was sinking and floundering in the face of the overwhelming task before me. I didn’t know what to say to this person or how to lead them to the truth so they could understand. I knew they needed to hear the message, but I felt far from adequate. I was certainly no Brent Hollister, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to face the emotional and spiritual battle that was sure to be ahead of us.

But I couldn’t rid my mind of my friend’s face, and I knew that if I gave up on the mission, this individual would be lost to the rising waters of grief and sin. I had to reach out, and I knew it was my duty no matter how difficult the task. So I took a deep breath, and with tears streaming down my face I spoke these words aloud: “Okay, I’ll go,” I said. “Just help me know what to do next.”

It was then that I remembered my friend’s last words at the conclusion of a recent phone call. “I’ll call you some time soon and we’ll reconnect.” It was then that I knew I should wait for the phone to ring; I wanted my friend to be ready and willing to talk on their own terms, and I prayed that God would start preparing their heart for the upcoming conversation.

It was a long wait, but finally the phone rang. I was standing in my kitchen, and as I listened to my ring tone play, I said a quick prayer for guidance as I practically ran to pick up the phone. I was ready for the coming conversation, and like Jonah, I was finally prepared to serve. God had patiently come alongside me and had never given up on me despite my reluctance and stubbornness. In the end, Jonah and I both had our own agendas that were drastically altered by God’s ultimate plan. In my own journey to Nineveh, I found renewed friendship and hope for a soul in need of Christ’s love. Jonah, too, found God’s sovereign will in his travels to Nineveh. Sometimes, it takes a willful heart, raging seas, and the belly of a wale to make God’s will known to His reluctant children.

Wise Counsel

It was about this time two years ago when I began the pre-production process for my book The Promise. I was attending graduate school during that season of my life and my schedule was busy and quite hectic. Publishing a book should have been the last priority on my list of commitments, but I was determined to release the book some time in the mid-late Spring.

My publisher was offering an incentive deal if I submitted my manuscript by March 31 of that year, and I was determined to follow through. My editor was on the same page with me, and I think she was just as excited to see The Promise finally released. You see, the book had been ten years in the making, and I just couldn’t wait another moment to make its release a reality.

My father, however, was more than a bit reluctant. He and my mother had been helping to manage my career, and I have always consulted both of them before making major decisions. In fact, Dad helped me settle on Infinity as my publisher initially, and my mother made sure I had the proper funding lined up to maintain my website. I had already published two books, and although I hadn’t found a great deal of financial success in my work, I considered my writing to be something I enjoyed too much to relinquish so easily.

When I told Dad about the publisher’s incentive, he had several questions up front. Was the publishing package they presented going to offer me anything new? What about a marketing plan? Would my book be distributed through all of the usual avenues— Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.? Why was I so set on publishing now? Couldn’t it wait until I was at least done with school? Had I considered the financial burden this would create for me? I hadn’t made any significant profit with my other two books, so would this time around be different in some way?

I took all of his questions into consideration, but frankly, I was just too excited, and I wanted to publish as soon as possible. Dad and I talked it all through until finally we came to an agreement. I moved forward with the publishing deal, submitted my manuscript by March 31, and the book was available online by the end of April.

I tell this story as a reminder of the value of good solid counsel. This past week in his sermon, Pastor Tim talked about seeking out counsel from our elders and others in authority. There is something to be said of the solid advice someone can give once they’ve been there, done that. Pastor Tim asked if anyone had the experience of brushing aside someone’s advice and simply going our own way. I can definitely say that I am stubborn to the core, but I can honestly assure you that I have always been one to consider advice before making any big decisions.

Earlier, I talked about seeking my parents’ counsel at various milestones in my life, and I think this will be true of me as I move into the future. Although I am confident as I move forward in my ministry and career, there is a large part of me that is still uncertain. At times, I feel like I am stumbling forward, step-by-step, floundering in this thing called life. I am afraid that one misstep could make for a great deal of pain and heartache; of course, I don’t want to go to that level, so I will make every effort to cover all of my bases as I seek out advice from others.

I love my women’s Bible Study and the wealth of accountability it brings to me. Interestingly, I am the youngest in the group, but yet, I am the leader. Oftentimes, I feel less than qualified to lead this group spiritually, but it is at these times that I feel the most loved. It is as if I have ten mothers in the room with me, each of the women providing their own unique perspective on what I might be facing in life. Their counsel is beyond valuable to me, and I don’t know what I’d do without them.

But it is here that I consider the greatest counsel of all. Even though I value my parents’ counsel and the advice of the women in my Bible Study, nothing compares to listening to the voice of my Savior through the Holy Spirit. In past posts, I have talked about taking the time to simply listen to what the Lord is saying to my heart. If one takes the time to read the Word and listen to what God is saying, there is a wealth of counsel at a person’s fingertips. Just look at the book of Proverbs, which in itself is wisdom written down for all to see.

As I sign off this week, I am going to leave you, the reader, with a challenge. I encourage all of you to take just a few moments of your day to read even a few verses from Scripture. If you’re seeking wisdom in this season of your life, perhaps you could start with some of the Proverbs. If you are up to the challenge, please know that I am striving right alongside of you. Since the New Year, I have been taking a few minutes every morning to read the lectionary posted from the Reformed Church in America’s Facebook page. This in addition to my daily devotions has been a beneficial way to internalize Scripture in a whole new way. Perhaps you may want to study the Bible within the span of a year, reading particular portions day-by-day until you read all the way through. Either way, seek to read a little each day. Together, we will be seeking out the greatest counsel of all.