Friday, May 8, 2015

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Monday, May 4, 2015

Tickling My Ear

Here are two songs that have become anthems in my life. Enjoy a great start on this week!


 "Let it Be" by Christy Nockels  Take a small glimpse into heaven, my friend.




"Forever" by Kari Jobe  The resurrected King has rendered sin defeated. Forever He is glorified!! Rest in that. And listen to the words spoken - and go glorify His name!

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Friday, May 1, 2015

On Obedience (but really on surrender)


Whenever there's a change in my life, without doubt, God always calls me to obedience. The process of obedience can be rough, and filled with gut-wrenching moments of surrender.

Surrender is a heavy word. It's laden with many meanings and implications. It produces raw emotions and exposes deep fears. Because the process of obedience often starts with surrender, it's easy to get lost in all the chaos that happens in our heads.

We all have those dark corners - those recesses in our hearts where we grab onto our fears and we huddle in those dark places, trying to shield those fears and our false, shaky sense of  control from the One who sees all.

We seem to think that if we give God those easy parts of our hearts, then that's good enough. That He'll be pleased with that. At least He has that part, right? We'll give Him the other part... later.

But He is not pleased with just a part of your heart and your life. He redeems whole lives and creates new creatures in Christ. Why wouldn't He want your whole heart?

Why do we think we can shield our fears? Why won't we bring those fears to light? Why won't we give up our false sense of control? Why do emotions assail us and fight for dominance in our heart? Why does Truth seem to so quickly fade away, and the lies become louder?

Friends, we're trying to fight a battle that is NOT meant to be won in our own strength!

The only One who can truly handle your fears, emotions, struggles, and pain is the One who has redeemed you and called you out of darkness into His healing light. Those fears that you try to build cardboard walls around so that God won't be able to see them - they will fail.

Eventually, we have to stand before our Father, vulnerable and emotionally bare, and let Him see us. And love us.

His love is exhausting. Think about it: His love is intimate, thorough, all-seeing, steadfast, and joyful. He loves each one of us with this same love; a love that relentlessly pursues us, even into the dark recesses of our hearts.

He calls us by name, and He calls out those fears by name so that we can truly find freedom in Him.

So those battles you face against your fears? You're not meant to fight them alone in your own feeble strength. God is our protector - He will fight those fears with you, and I promise you, you will be blown away by His love and comfort in the midst of pain and heart-wrenching emotions.

Yes, you will most likely have to go through the pain of exposing those things locked up in those dark places of your heart. Yes, you will most likely weep and scream at God because it hurts so very much.

BUT, God will protect you, guide you, hear you, and heal you. He will comfort you and quiet you with His love. He will restore joy and hope, and you will stand amazed in His presence. Don't trust me, though - trust Scripture. His promises are there. Seek them out and watch how God will reveal His character.

Obedience is key in our walk with God. And surrender allows the locked, dark places to be filled with His light, and then we can experience true freedom in Christ. Surrender and obey God's direction on your life - you have no idea the wonders He has in store for you! Scripture says that you can't even imagine what He's doing, and that applies especially to when it seems like He's doing nothing (Hab. 2:5; 1 Cor. 2:9).

Be encouraged - in the turmoil of so much heartache (especially around the world), He is there providing love and comfort through Christ. We can trust Him to protect us and guide us through life's murky waters and greatest struggles. He will astound us in how He moves in beautiful ways even in the darkest days.

Keep trusting God, my friend.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Reflections from D-Now

D-Now 2015 - all 260+ of us!
It's well over a week since D-Now has ended. It amazes me how fast it flies by. I got about 5 hours of sleep each night, and I'm sure the girls in our home got less than that!

It was a phenomenal weekend. To see our girls think deeper on what constitutes a local church and the doctrine and theology behind that was a blessing to watch. It can be struggle to try to wrap our minds around a "new" (to us) idea, and I'm so proud of our students for plugging in, digging deeper, and learning more about God and His great purpose for His Bride, the Church.

As you can see above, our group this year barely fit onto the stage. It is a blessing to think that all those grey shirts (leaders) are people that I had the privilege to work alongside with for the weekend. That sea of blue you see? Those are our precious students!  Over 200 students attended and heard the gospel that weekend. Praise God!

As we taught on the local church and looking at my girls, I was struck by the differences between how I was spiritually raised and how they are growing up in church and in faith. I grew up in a very traditional, ritual, works-based faith, where everything we did in church was measured by our works. Checking off things we're "supposed" to do, being "good," and hoping that was enough to gain entrance into Heaven. What a heavy burden!

I didn't become a believer in Christ until I was 15. Yes, it was still a young age, but most of my girls have been raised in a believing church. They have heard the Gospel since they could talk! So my burden each week is how do I present the Gospel in our lesson in a way that will make them think and reflect, rather than shrug it off? 

Repetition is key for learning. The Israelites had feasts, festivals, laws, rituals, buildings, stories etc that would remind them of who God is and what He has done for them. They always had visual and auditory reminders of their patient, loving God who was always at work to redeem them. 

We're simply called to speak the Gospel into our lives. We don't have to come up with a new twist or story-line to engage others in the Gospel. We just need to speak it - and speak it repetitively. What is so fascinating is that the Gospel is a constant and all-inclusive Story that relates and redeems each of us, who are all very unique. The Gospel is deeply personal while being thoroughly applicable to all people of all nations. Incredible!

Ultimately, we're called to be faithful and obedient to the God that loves us enough to send His Son as the perfect sacrifice that covers our sins. With that perspective, who can't get excited about speaking the greatest News anyone could ever hear?!

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

An Adult in Student Ministry

D-Now 2014
This weekend will be packed with God's Word, a growing number of students, food, laughter, prayers, conversations, and, in my home, a gaggle of giggling gregarious girls. (Like my alliteration?)

It's Disciple Now (aka D-Now), folks! And I love it because it's a vital part of our student ministry at Richland Creek Community Church.

I'm writing about the importance of student ministry. However, quite selfishly I admit, I am particularly writing this to share with you its importance in my young adult life.

Had you told me even 5 years ago that I would (still) be in girls ministry to middle school girls TODAY, I would have turned white as a sheet and started backing away from you while laughing nervously (and perhaps a bit maniacally). I had no intention of ministering to middle school girls. They were, in my mind, scary.

But God determined otherwise!

The sweet girls I used to work with.
Three and a half years ago, He laid on my heart a burden to become involved with ministry. And He did this by allowing me to work with a family who had middle school girls. We clicked - I loved being with them almost on a daily basis, and their friends were wonderful, too. I realized that middle schoolers aren't THAT scary - they're really quite fun, imaginative, curious, and hilariously funny. (It helps that I have a very silly, goofy sense of humor to relate.)

God helped me to see the gift He had given to me through these girls. And, after seeking His direction, I finally mustered enough strength to ask if there was a place for me to serve in my church's student ministry. I was pretty certain that all positions were filled and I, with no experience in student ministry, would be seen as ill-equipped to serve.

But God had a plan, you see.

I was almost immediately put with another young adult, Shelly, who I had known for just a short time. We made a great team, and she was patient with me as I navigated the waters of finding who I was as a leader. I made many mistakes and let my fears take over way too much, but through her gentle guidance, she helped me to grow and get better.

Me, Ally, & Sam -
crazy as always!
This past October she moved to Florida to be a girls ministry leader, and there's no one better for that position than her. Which left me with the task of stepping up and manning (womanning?) this group of girls on a weekly basis. Praise God for Samantha and Ally! They have become wonderful co-leaders with me!

Here's what I've learned: God gifts us with special skills to carry out the tasks He gives to us, and He puts others in our lives to help direct and sharpen us. If it wasn't for Shelly, I would still be floundering around in my insecurities in leadership. If it wasn't for Pastor Alan and his leadership team taking a chance on a scared 20-something to invest in their students, I wouldn't have developed the skills that I didn't even know I had.

God allowed me to fall madly, deeply, head-over-heels in love with the girls I minister to. If you ever get me to start talking about how much they have impacted my life and how much I love them, you would see me reduced to tears. It's so hard to convey how much they mean to me, and how deeply they have impacted me in my own walk with Christ.

Just a few of my girls whom I love dearly. (And yes, that is me with blue hair!)
God has given me a greater burden for the lost through student ministry. I've seen my girls struggle with Scripture - wanting to keep digging so that they can understand what God is saying. I've seen my girls struggle with finding the assurance of their salvation. I've seen my girls come to know the saving love of God through Christ and become my sisters in Christ. I've seen my girls grow in prayer, in boldness, in understanding, in maturity - and they've made me grow in most of those same areas, too. Awesome!

And I sit back, thinking over all this, and it occurs to me that I have done NOTHING in my own power. God works out His plan through us, and we have the honor to be a part of His plan and to witness Him working. It is astoundingly humbling.

My challenge to you is: discover how God has gifted you. With His direction, pour yourself into something that will stretch you and challenge you. You'll be amazed at how He works in your life!

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Friday, March 6, 2015

The Drop Box - Movie Review


Most have not heard about this movie, but the stories that it tells and of its filming are both heartbreaking and heartening.

In Seoul, South Korea, Pastor Lee is literally fighting for the lives of little ones. In a culture where babies are easily discarded due to societal pressures, Pastor Lee has built a Drop Box - a place where mothers can give away their babies instead of leave them discarded out in the elements to die. Some children that come through the Drop Box are babies of teens who cannot care for them because they face harsh treatment from family and friends (some are even beaten), and other babies are given up because they have disabilities - both moderate and severe.

Pastor Lee, his wife, Jong-rak, and many volunteers hustle day in and day out to care for 15+ children - most with varying disabilities, and his own 26-year-old son who is bed-ridden. Usually, the Drop Box will receive one baby per day, and sometimes even more. As soon as a child is delivered to the box, Pastor Lee will rush and retrieve the child, then immediately pray and offer thanks to God for saving the child's life. It is a beautiful picture of the value of life.

Both Pastor Lee and his wife are getting older (Jong-rak called him a grandpa) and he is facing numerous health issues - most importantly dealing with diabetes and high blood pressure. Because of the nature of his work, a restful, full night's sleep is often unheard of. Still, he refuses to give up on his mission - the children are far too precious to him.

The film is honest in all viewpoints and reveals several criticisms of the Drop Box. These critics argue from standpoints ranging from law-based reasons (babies not being registered according to South Korean laws) to ethics-based reasons (encourages parents to be irresponsible by giving them an "out" from raising their child). The general consensus, however, is that it's at least helping by protecting children's lives. Still, Pastor Lee is faced with many hardships.

The director of this documentary, Brian Ivie, originally wanted to film this so that he could get a nod at Sundance Festival. Instead, he met God in brokenness and his life has been changed forever. He now understands compassion for the orphans and greatly admires Pastor Lee for his work.

It opens a great conversation for Christians - caring for the orphans and widows. There's been a movement in our American society over the past few years regarding adoption and foster care. More families are willing to foster children and that leads to their "forever homes." Did you know that if just a third of our evangelical churches fostered or adopted the orphans here in America, there would essentially be no more orphans?

What I appreciated about this movie was that, in spite of hearing the stories of those children and the hardships that Pastor Lee and his family faces, this film does not intentionally play with our emotions. Instead, it presents the story as it is: a humble man and his wife willing to follow Christ's call on their lives, and opening their heart to dozens of beautiful children. The impact this family has is inspiring, convicting, and astounding.

Pastor Lee prays that one day there will no longer be a need for a Drop Box in Seoul, South Korea or anywhere else in the world. I don't know about you, but that's definitely a prayer I can join in on. See this movie  - you'll be thankful you did!

If you have seen The Drop Box, I would love to hear your thoughts! What impacted you the most?

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Monday, March 2, 2015

A Letter to 21-Year-Old Me (10 Things I've Learned in the Past 10 Years)

Dear 21-year-old Stefanie,

Let me start off by saying that life is funny and fickle sometimes. It's also sometimes hard and confusing. But, wow... life is amazing, too.

Being 21 means you are a full-fledged adult on the cusp of setting the world on fire with your dreams and ambitions. You have full responsibility of all your choices and actions, and you have the freedom to do, explore, and be who you are created to be.

But there are things you don't know yet. Things you don't understand or won't appreciate until you go through them. I'd like to share 10 pieces of wisdom I've learned in the past 10 years:

1. You may not achieve your greatest dreams. 

And that's okay. Your dreams will change as you change. Your 20s are all about learning about who you are and the God who created you. Just because you don't achieve your dreams does not mean you are a failure. It means you're maturing and realizing that all your dreams are not necessarily reality. Reality is what God has called you to do in this moment. Not 10 years from now. Be faithful NOW, and surrender your future to Him - that's where it belongs.

2. The struggles you struggle with now unfortunately don't always disappear. 

They change and become a bit easier to bear, but rarely go away. That's the downfall of sin - we're always at war with sin and its effects. And some of those effects are "thorns" in our sides: struggles we live with until we're finally in Jesus' arms.

Don't worry and don't be anxious about this - God is gracious to allow us to see progress in our lives. Not only that, but He uses our struggles for His glory and for the comfort of those around us. The sins and struggles that we do conquer become part of our story, and He uses our stories in marvelous ways. Trust me, you'll be blown away!

3. Newer, harder struggles surface. 

And they are harder to bear. This is why reading and memorizing Scripture, along with prayer, are so vitally important. It's also why family, friends, and fellowship are vital as well. Your family understands - your parents have been through VERY similar things. Find friends who will support you even if they don't understand your struggle (more on this later). Plug into a church where they challenge you to keep believing even when you feel like your faith will fail.

4. It's okay to be completely honest with God.

This took me years to finally understand, but believe me - it makes life so much easier. Stop wearing your mask. Take it off before God so that you can start to live the authentic life you yearn for before others. God already KNOWS. He knows your hurt, your anger, your jealousy, and deepest desires.

And please hear me when I say this (because if you believe it sooner, it will help with a world of hurt): you are NOT forgotten. God has not forgotten you and your desires, I promise. He truly has the best in store for you, even when you don't understand why and you yell at Him to tell you, but He remains silent. Patiently silent and loving. Be honest - process your anger: weep, scream, wail, whatever - but never forget that He sees you and knows you deeply. Fall into His arms and dig deep into Scripture. You'll find peace, because He promises that you will.

5. Surrender is a daily, on-going, never-ending, mind-numbing process.

It's true, I'm sorry to say. I wish it was a one-time thing, over and BAM! done with, but it's a daily process. A process that you will never perfect, but you dig deep and continue trying. That's why we're called "living sacrifices" - if we were dead, then we'd just lie there on the altar. But no, we're living sacrifices, which means we try to crawl off the altar All. The. Time. We have to keep dragging ourselves back to the foot of the cross and surrender.

Some things will be easier to surrender than others. Your deepest, unfulfilled desires? Yeah, those are extremely hard to surrender. But honestly, where better to place them than in the hands of the One who created you to have them? He will fulfill those desires in His way and in His time.

6. You don't have as much control as you think you do.

Despite what the world tells you, you are NOT in full control of your life. You may make your plans, but the control was never meant to be in your hands. If it was, where would trust and faith fall into play? How will you learn patience, compassion, humility, and surrender? Again (and this becomes a repetitious lesson in your life), God has your best in mind and you are not forgotten. You just need to learn to let go and trust Him.

7. Friends, and all they bring with them, are beautiful chaos.

Why chaos? Because we all bring chaos into each other's lives. Some define it as drama. It's because we're selfish, sinful people striving to imitate a selfless, perfect God. And we fail - a lot. We have to ask for forgiveness - a lot. We have to have hard conversations - a lot. But we laugh - a lot. We grow - a lot. We bless each other - a lot.

So find friends who are worth the chaos. Choose friends who love imperfectly, yet strive to do better. Choose friends that you can pour into and who can pour into you, so that you sharpen each other and challenge each other to grow in your walk with Christ.

One of the most important things? Choose friends who you can reveal your heart to, without fear of rejection or judgment. And you become that friend, too.

8. Get involved - you are not a one-woman island!

I know the temptation to hole up in your room with Netflix will be great, but there's so much more life to be lived! Be spontaneous! Go on an adventure! Ask questions and be curious! You live in a beautiful world!

Get involved with ministry. Don't wait until "you're ready." No one is ever fully "ready" to dive into the unknown waters of ministry. It's scary, challenging, time-consuming, and sometimes frustrating. But you grow to love it, I promise. Those who you minister to will steal your heart and you'll gladly give it away because it is rewarding, challenging, and beautiful. You are equipped for exactly what God has given to you. And you will learn and grow as you pour into others.

9. Wisdom is costly.

Remember when you prayed that prayer in college about seeking God's wisdom and wanting to become wise? That was a costly prayer. Wisdom doesn't just appear. You dig for it, and it's more valuable than money, power, etc. You also have to experience growth in wisdom, and even 10 years later, you've still got a long way to go.

But don't give up. You'll make mistakes and you'll fail, but keep growing! Stop worrying about how others view you and instead concentrate on your Father. Your worth is found in Him. You are the daughter of a KING! Be excited about that and let that pour into everything you do.

10. Never, ever forget the greatest Love that changed your life.

Nothing in this life will compare to knowing and having a relationship with God. Not marriage, not ministry, not friends or family - nothing. You may still be single, but that does not mean you are less of a woman or are unworthy of love. You have experienced the greatest love through Christ's sacrifice on the cross. And you have the promise of life with Him in eternity. Think on that love! Talk about that love! Share that love!


And through these 10 simple bits of wisdom, you'll see that everything is okay. Yes, you'll experience the loss of loved ones, the fear of vulnerability, the heart-breaking moments, the loss of friendships, and the hard times that drive you to your knees in desperation for your God.

Oh, but what life to be lived! You'll see the beauty of friendships, cry over family members being saved, marvel at prayers answered, laugh until every inch of you hurts, and yet you still continue to carry on laughing. You'll take beautiful pictures of your friends, grow closer to your parents even when you move away, get a graduate degree (I know, I know... you said that will never happen - guess again!), fall in love with ministry and the girls you meet, be astounded at how God changes your heart and life, and you'll see that He truly does marvelous things in your life and in those who surround you.

To the 21-year-old me: God's got you in the palm of His mighty hand. Get ready for a wild ride!


Love,
31-year-old me

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