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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

City of Stars (Be Brave, Part 5)

Okay, okay I finally watched La La Land last night. I'm sure I'm the only person on the planet who hadn't seen it. I loved it! And, a discussion of the main themes of the movie seems a fitting close to my Be Brave series.

For the few of you who haven't seen it, the story centers around two inspiring artists trying to make it in LA. Emma Stone's character, Mia, leaves the small town where she grew up to try and make it as an actress in Hollywood. Ryan Gosling's character, Sebastian, is a jazz musician that dreams of opening his own jazz club. The movie is a progression of their walk together and separately as they navigate the failures and successes of pursuing one's dreams.

At first glance, it would seem that the bravest act performed by Mia is leaving her home town to pursue her dreams in the big city. But, as the movie progresses, it's clear that the real bravery and courage is found in pushing through the rejections and the fears. She ebbs and flows between fearing failure and success. In the end, you also see the reality that is realized that sometimes success and the path to achieving one's dreams doesn't always look as one expects.

Some people think that pursuing the dreams God has placed on your heart is foolish and only for the young. And on one hand, those thoughts are true. But, I truly believe that God places dreams and desires in our hearts so that He can use each of us in unique ways as we live our lives. Yes, doses of reality are important. We can't blindly follow our dreams. We have to release expectations and know that following our dreams includes heartache, rejection and it certainly never turns out exactly as we plan it out in our heads. But, that's true maturity- pursuing our dreams with a healthy dose of reality. It also requires tremendous bravery to pursue our dreams in spite of the loss of expectations and in the face of failure and rejection.

My 7 year old daughter struggles with a lot of fears and anxiety. This weekend we went on our yearly lake trip with dear friends. She really struggles to jump in the lake and enjoy all the water sports that the other kids do readily. But, this weekend she pushed pass a lot of her fears and tried things she's never tried before. I was very proud of her. But, it's hard not to feel sadness sometimes as I see all the other children try new things with such willingness and trust. Every time she approaches something new, she has to push through so much fear and it's so hard to watch. It's easy to look at the other children and label them as brave while labeling her as fearful.

But, my sweet friend made a very profound point this weekend that I will never forget. Myla is actually the bravest one. The other children are being children and living life as most children live life- with reckless abandon and trust. Myla has to push through so many fears and anxiety in order to do the same activities. And, that's true bravery- facing your fears head on and conquering them victoriously.

I'm not so different than my daughter. I have dreams that God has placed on my heart and I want so desperately to pursue them. But, I also have so much fear and anxiety. As I pursue my dreams, I have to face head on my fears of failure, success and rejection. The easy route would be to push away those dreams and live complacently day in and day out. But, God is calling you and me to be brave. And, to live bravely means naming our fears and with His help, conquering them so we can be the men and women He wants us to be for His glory.

A look in somebody's eyes
To light up the skies
To open the world and send it reeling
A voice that says, I'll be here
And you'll be alright

I don't care if I know
Just where I will go
'Cause all that I need is this crazy feeling
A rat-tat-tat on my heart

Think I want it to stay

City of stars
Are you shining just for me?
City of stars

You never shined so brightly 

(City of Stars, La La Land Soundtrack)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Story of Jarena Lee (Be Brave, Part 4)

Because it's the last week of school, I haven't really had time to blog. But, God keeps bringing me new stories of brave Christian men and women. I couldn't help but share this story of Jarena Lee. As the first African American female preacher of the Gospel, she bravely broke down so many barriers in order to be used by God in His Kingdom. I am so privileged to know her story and pray that I can be half as brave as her as I follow God in my own life.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Rahab, More Than a Prostitute (Be Brave, Part 3)

What picture comes to your mind when you think of a person who is brave? Who comes to mind when you think of a person who does great things for God? Do you think of a great saint or famous Christian leader? It's funny how sometimes our picture of who God uses differs from the person whom God actually uses.

Our story today comes from the book of Joshua, chapter 2. At this point in the history of Israel, Moses has just died and Joshua is now the leader of the Jewish people. It is also time for them to enter the Promised Land. There was one problem, though. They knew they were called to move into Canaan and that it was their inheritance from the Lord, but there were some great nations already inhabiting it. Israel was a large group, but compared to the mighty nations of Canaan, they were feeling a little wimpy. So, Joshua decides to send 2 men ahead into the land to spy on the nations in order to create a plan of conquest.

The 2 spies come to Jericho first. And, they lodge at the home of a prostitute named Rahab. Okay, the first question you might be asking yourself is why were they in a prostitute's home? We don't really know. Maybe they were weak and lured in? Maybe this was common practice for out of town guests? Maybe they knew they couldn't just walk into any home seeking lodging because they would be found out, and staying at this home was a good cover? No matter their reason for being in Rahab's home, we quickly learn that they are were where they were supposed to be in order to fulfill their mission.

They are quickly found out. The king of Jericho learns there are spies in his city and someone has revealed their location. The king shows up at Rahab's home and commands her to hand over the men. She lies and says the men have been there but have escaped. Now, we could discuss for awhile the moral implications of whether Rahab should have lied, but suffice it to say Rahab knew she was to protect these men and she puts her life on the line to save them.

Why? Why did this woman, a Gentile and a woman of disrepute, risk her life for two spies from an enemy nation? In Joshua 2:8-13 we learn why, "Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father's house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 

The story of what God had done for His people had obviously spread throughout the region. The news had spread to Jericho and people were obviously afraid of what Israel could do with God on their side. But, Rahab goes a step further. Instead of just trembling in fear of Israel and their God, she moves from fear to belief. The stories of Israel's deliverance drew her to faith in the One True God. And, her faith led her to action. She takes the spies into her home, hides them and lies to protect them because she knew that their God was mighty and powerful and would protect her because of her working on their behalf.

And, that is just what God does. The spies promise to protect her and her family when Israel conquers Jericho. She helps them escape and later in the story we learn that when Israel marches into Jericho, they keep their promise and Rahab and her relatives are the only people spared in the city. Because of Rahab's faith and her brave actions, God spares her and her entire family from destruction.

But, that isn't the last time we hear of Rahab. In the genealogy of Jesus listed in Matthew 1, we see Rahab mentioned. She became the grandmother of Boaz who was King David's great-grandfather. Because of her faith and courage, Rahab becomes a part of God's larger plan. She's listed in the line of Jesus, the Savior of the world. Rahab, a prostitute, is used by God to save His people. Wow!

So, what does this mean for me and you? We may look at our lives and think God could never use me. I am weak and flawed and full of baggage, God could never use me. Lies! God loves to use the weak to do great things. That's exactly who He wants to use. He uses those of us who are weak and flawed, but full of faith. He takes our weaknesses and makes us strong. He heals our pasts and our flaws and gives us great courage to do great things. All He asks for is willingness. 

"For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Who am I? (Be Brave, Part 2)

Most of us know the story of Moses and how he led the nation of Israel out of captivity in Egypt. He is viewed by people of all faiths as a man of great courage. He took on Pharaoh, arguably one of the most powerful leaders in the ancient world at that time. But, we often forget Moses' story that led him to that point.

Moses grew up in the household of Pharaoh even though he was an Israelite. Remember? Moses in a basket as a baby being found by Pharaoh's daughter? Even though he was an Israelite, the people enslaved by the Egyptians, Moses was raised as an Egyptian. One day, as a young man, he sees a fellow Israelite beaten by an Egyptian. In a moment of anger and retaliation, Moses kills the Egyptian. And, out of fear of Pharaoh, he flees to Midian. In the rural town of Midian, Moses is brought in by the family of Reuel and becomes a shepherd (Exodus 2).

One day, while tending to his father-in-law's sheep, he sees a bush burning but the fire is not consuming the bush. Out of curiosity, he approaches the bush and instantly hears the voice of God calling his name. Moses then hides his face because he was afraid. God begins to describe His plan to Moses. He'd heard the cries and groanings of his people and had a plan to rescue them. God wanted Moses to be an integral part of that plan (Exodus 3). God didn't NEED Moses to fulfill his plan, but He desired to use Moses as a co-laborer with Him as He worked out His plan for His people. 

But, Moses' response to God isn't one of excitement and courage. His reaction is a litany of excuses. He says, "Who am I?" (Exodus 3:11) Who was he to go to Pharaoh and take on the whole nation of Egypt? God encourages Moses saying, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (3:12) Instead of being encouraged, Moses gives another excuse. "What if they won't listen to me Lord?" "What if they question who I am and my authority?" 

God responds to Moses excuse and says, I am who I am.” And he says, “Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you.’” (3:14) And what does Moses do after being told that the Lord would be with him and that he would go with the authority of God backing him up? He gives ANOTHER excuse! He says that he knows the Israelite elders won't believe him. God then gives him a variety of signs to be displayed so that they will believe Moses (Exodus 4). And again, Moses gives another excuse. This times he says that he is not qualified for this task. He explains, as if God doesn't know Moses from the inside out, that he couldn't speak well so clearly he wasn't qualified for such a great task. 

At this point God reminds Moses, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” (4:11-12) And what is Moses' response? Please send someone else!!! For good reason at this point, God becomes angry with Moses and tells him that he will also use Aaron to help Moses complete the task. This satisfies Moses and he goes.

Oh, how I want to judge Moses. He lacks so much courage and he doesn't take God at His Word. If God spoke to me and wanted to use me in such a way, I would jump at that responsibility. But, in reality I do the same as Moses. When God calls me to do something BIG for Him, I often respond to him with excuses about why I can't be used by Him. Honestly, it's not because I'm lazy but because I'm a coward. 

I use excuses like "Who am I?", "No one will listen to me.", "I'm not smart enough, good enough or qualified enough." I'm scared and lack courage. Ultimately, in those moments, I don't believe God when he says He will be with me and will qualify me. God calls me to be courageous for Him, but not by building up courage on my own. He wants me to be available to go when He calls, but He wants me to lean on Him to BE BRAVE and of good courage. I'm not meant to take His call and then lean into it on my own strength trusting in my own abilities. I'm meant to hear His calling, respond with "I'm here God!" and then move forward trusting in His ability to qualify me and make me brave.

"God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called." Christine Caine, Undaunted 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Go! And, I will show you... (Be Brave, Part 1)

In our first 8 years of marriage, David and I moved 7 times. 7 times in 8 years!! (Thankfully, the last 8 years we've stayed in one place. Praise Jesus!) Every time was hard and presented its own set of challenges. There is a good reason why "change in living situation" is high up on most stressful life event scales. Whether you move across town or across the country, moving stinks. There's just something about taking the entire contents of your life, packing them up, moving them to a new spot and unpacking them in a new place that can wreck you. It's the very definition of upheaval. That's not even accounting for the other changes involved in moving- new job, new neighborhood, new friends, new church, etc. etc. etc.

Every time we've moved, we've felt called to where we were going oftentimes not knowing completely what would be waiting for us on the other end. When we were first married, we made the big move from College Station, TX to Fort Worth for David to begin his career and for me to begin the first step in God calling me into ministry- seminary. Talk about stressful! We were newly married and new college graduates beginning our new careers and new studies. In the midst of the stress and upheaval, we had to trust that we heard God clearly and we had to be brave.

Our next major move was cross-country to Atlanta. On the surface, we were following the call of David's career, but in hindsight, we can see that God was calling us to Atlanta because He was calling us to a new life and a new plan. Describing all the ways that we can now see God's hand in moving us here would take more words than a typical blog post can afford. But, suffice it to say, God had a big plan and we had to step out in big faith. It is so hard to leave your family, your country (and yes, I said country because for us Texans, Texas is a different country), your friends and your community. But, we had to trust God to make us brave.

When I think of big moves from a Biblical viewpoint, I think of Abraham and Sarah. In Genesis 12, God says to Abraham, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land I will show you." (vs. 1, ESV) God didn't say to Abraham, "Here's a picture of your new house and your new friends and your new land. Isn't it beautiful?! Look at all I will give you and at all the blessings you will receive. Here are all the intricate details of your new home. Now, don't you want to go?" Nope. He says, "Obey me and then I will show you what I have in store. I promise you blessing (vs. 2) but I'm not giving you all the details right now. You just have to trust me. Be brave. I am with you."

God calls all of us to new things, whether large or small, continuously throughout our life here on earth. And, most of the time the path is fuzzy and the endpoint is no where in sight. We have to remember that when God calls us to "move", He always promises to be with us even if He doesn't plan to give us details. As you read Abraham's story, you see how often God appears to him, guiding and redirecting him, as He leads him into new life. God wants to do that for us, too. Our end of the deal is to obey and to bravely trust that He will be with us on the fuzzy path, guiding our every step.

"Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 (The Message)