This wasn’t my plan

A common question people ask me is when did I know that God had called me to Sweden.  The first time I heard this question, I wanted to say, I’ll let you know when He does. As I look back on the path I have been on, it has been amazing to see how God has lead me. The reality from my perspective was that there were simple daily choices that just made sense. None of these choices came with neon lights saying God is calling you to go to Sweden and reach the unreached people groups 🙂

So what did happen?

I remember the season of deciding to follow Jesus during my college days. I can remember situations that taught me there I was not above falling with any types of sin. Learning how to read the Bible and hear God’s voice. Deepening a relationship with Jesus verses just an activity list of do’s and don’ts.

As I had the opportunity to teach public high school students algebra and geometry, we started a youth group by accident. While the Holy Spirit was stripping me of masks dealing with internal healing, He taught me how to live life with those far from Him. Perspectives was a course I got to take that opened my eyes to the reality of the mission of God from Adam and the burden that we are still not done began to grow. It was during these years I realized the amount of times it talked about Jesus’ return in the New Testament and a burden for the bride of Christ increased. I felt like the Spirit showing me how we were not ready for His return. I began to journal the desire to Know Him more and make Him known.

I began to look into the opportunities to study the Bible more in depth. Through a contact through a friend I learned about Columbia International University. Reading their website and their logo, there was no question that God was already at work orchestrating this path. Everything just made sense. I had no plans to go, I thought I would just take a class. Then the financial aid office called me and told me they would give me a scholarship if I came as a full time student. I hadn’t even applied for financial aid yet. Six weeks later, my car was packed and I was driving to Columbia, SC for the first time.

This wasn’t my plan. This wasn’t my calling. It was just what made sense as He led me. I can remember starting to come to Riverbend. I can remember the day I heard Robbie preach on the Great Commission. Sure I had heard that before and I was all about it. But Robbie said something specific that the Spirit engraved on my heart. Let us not be about contributing to the Great Commission. Let’s be about finishing it. That brought a new focus and intentionality. I mean that is our ultimate purpose. It was also at Riverbend, where Acts 1.8 was talked about as part of our DNA. Living out the gospel locally, regionally and globally. As I got to know more about the culture of this network of churches, I witnessed men and women who simply loved Jesus and wanted to live on purpose with a heart after God’s own. I made the choice to want this for my life as well. As a body of believers we can see how God is using us locally in Lexington, SC, locally on USC’s campus, locally in the refugee, immigrant and international student ministries, locally through the pre-school and well you know better than me all that God is doing in and through you. Regionally, the work at Allendale, the work through LINC projects and our network of churches in the southeast . And then globally. We have an incredible privilege serving with many missionaries all over the globe. I am excited and humbled at getting to be a global piece of Riverbend.

In 2008 after I had just gotten hired to work with college students through Riverbend, I sat across Robbie’s desk and he said, “We have just gotten back from Sweden and have decided to commit to a 5 year partnership.  One of the key aspects of the church planting vision is to help establish and equip a college ministry. Why don’t you take a team there next summer? And wouldn’t it be great if after 5 years, we could put boots on the ground there?!”  For the next three years, I had travelled to Luleå 7 different times. The five different teams that I brought, I was always thinking who would God raise up to send here long term. There were many possibilities.

October 2011, I was leaving a prayer meeting with the Luleå students and as I walked my heart was just broken for the need and the spiritual need that existed there. I was talking to God and said, “You are doing so much here it is hard to not get to part of it.” God answered, “You can go if you want.” I said, “really?” He said, “Yes.” Is was an opportunity to say yes I will go. Nothing forced or manipulated. It is just what made sense.

Fast forwarding to now. I have just moved to Stockholm. Never thought I would live here. Never desired to live. This is just where the path has lead. There is no question in my mind it is where I need to be for right now. With the 160,000 refugees currently seeking asylum in this country, the face of Sweden has changed and this is the window of opportunity we have right now, today, to make a difference in reaching the hardest to reach people groups who have become my neighbors. There are over 100 nationalities in this area. The local high school started their learning swedish as a second language to students age 16-20…150 students showed up from the middle east. We had 40,000 afghani boys between the ages of 14-16 show up in the last eight months with no family.

I have not received my calling to work with muslim ministry.  I have not received my calling to work refugees. I have not received my calling to work bi-vocationally. I am simply living out being a disciple and making disciples where He has put me. It is just what makes sense.

Sweden continues to get to be part of the globally vision from Acts 1.8 and now that meaning has gone to a whole new level. Not only do we get to take part in seeing God reawaken Europe, we get to love, serve and equip immigrants with the gospel to take back to their villages where we may never get to walk. We truly are living out a global vision to finish the Great Commission.

Yes God, have your way with me. You know how to best display your glory through me. I trust you to guide my steps. And let’s get this mission checked off!

Obstacles to Opportunities

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart: I Have overcome the world.”  – Jesus

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with  you all” – Paul

What are the obstacles you are facing? For me the obstacles I am facing are coming from different directions. There are the ones that are posed by those around me, the culture, the enemy, the resistance I see as I push forward with the vision that the Lord has put in my heart. There are the obstacles of my flesh where I fail to do what I know I ought to do and obey the Scriptures. The obstacles of what I must deal with by heart and injustice that affects me like the loss of a loved one to early.

How are we handling the obstacles?

Isaiah 26.3&4 states, “You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.”

I am learning the connection between peace and prayer. Peace is not something I can make happen and manufacture in my own strength. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit that grows as I sit in His presence and engage the Spirit to transform me. Peace comes when I surrender my mind, my emotions, my situations & circumstances before Him and focus on what I know to be true.

Jesus has overcome the world. I am learning that obstacles are the avenue for the Lord to shape my character, to display His glory and to strengthen community. Let us take time to praise God and thank Him for the obstacles that He has allowed to enter as to take away the sting of the enemy. Let us praise God for He has overcome every obstacles and there is nothing that He cannot handle.

Would you take a moment right now to list out some of your current obstacle? Ask the Lord to take each obstacle and turn it into a great opportunity to advance the gospel and therefore the Kingdom of God in your city. Ask the Lord to renew the joy of your heart, to forgive you for any unbelief and doubt, and to increase your faith. May we anticipate the testimonies of what will be as we wrestle in prayer trusting Him.

Denying self and seeking Him

Happy Friday. This morning I wake with the reality of the battle for control. I have had a weak of being struck with my need for self-discipline in every area of my life. The truth is that I know I want to live a life pursuing holiness, yet the battle exists to deny what I know is true and give into laziness, self-indulgence, self-protectiveness, etc. And in light of temptation, the Holy Spirit shows up and shows out in seeing me through, granting victory and has not left me once. Nor have your prayers. Money, health, time with our Saviour, physical temptations, attitudes and thoughts, I am very aware, as an answer to prayer, that I can sin my selfishness, pride and arrogance surface. I am asking the Lord to reveal my sin that I may be changed. Sitting in the verses of the fruit of the Spirit as a confession as well as a petition and seeking the beatitudes as my desire is to engage the Holy Spirit to transform me from the inside out that I would reflect the nature in Christ. Not something manufactured by my efforts but my submission to Him. I am learning more how when I am operating out of my perception and strength, the rise of fear of failure and rejection influence my thoughts and attitudes. Jesus’ example of emptying Himself and living fully is the path I choose. It’s just amazing to continue to see the paradox for my flesh as it is still convinced that it must fill myself up knowing that the result is emptiness. I hold fast to the truth that I cannot follow Jesus and remain the same. Praise the Lord!!! May He change my priorities, my passions, my direction, my desires, my actions and my values. I don’t want to settle for a man-made imitation when I can experience the real thing. Holy Spirit come and fill us this day with a fresh anointing of our Spirit that we may hear Your voice and respond as You lead. We Your servants are listening. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Learning as I try

I remember the feelings of urgency in wanting to make up for what I had sometimes felt as “lost time” all the while trying to find my footing in a new land with a new language and a new pace. As I met people who loved Jesus and enjoyed fellowship, I grew in excitement on what the Lord would do these coming years and the privilege He has given me to run with those I was meeting. I had a vision, a picture of how God was leading and now it was time to hop in the trenches and learn how to take steps toward that end.

What was the need? I started to meet with a group of people who loved Jesus, yet I quickly learned about the discomfort and insecurity most had when it came to sharing why they believe in Jesus. I thought to myself, okay great, here is where we need to start. We must grow in confidence and competence in sharing our story and God’s story with one another so that we can increase boldness to share it with others far from God. I was excited and felt that everything was clear.

Yet nothing was working. I tried breaking down simple tools. I tried demonstrating. I asked questions. I was laboring. Was this the reality I was supposed to accept? Was I suppose to chalk this up to cultural differences? I sought Jesus on what to do. How do you equip people? Aha. Is that the right question I need to be asking? I felt like God saying to me, who does the equipping?

In the beginning of Mark, Jesus’ first words state, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” I realized I had a group of people who didn’t know how to follow Jesus. We can’t manufacture ourselves to be fisher’s of men. The Holy Spirit must have room to that work in us. As God led us to take the focus off of being equipped as fishers of men and moved it towards the Father’s heart, a beautiful reality unfolded. We were all falling in love with Jesus. Students were enjoying their relationship with God reading the word, wanting more time in prayer and even fasting. And as the Holy Spirit taught us to follow Him, we had more opportunities to share our faith as life was happening.

We still need tools. Yet I am learning the necessity to cultivate a culture whose motivation is for following the King.

Addition or Multiplication

I’m continuing the lesson of what do I labor towards. I have found that I have often settled for spiritually nice conversations, but when I step back and look at the bigger picture all I see is something that was nice. How do I labor towards movement? When I read through the gospels, I am struck with how often Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven. A little over 100 times these phrases are used. Only twice, does Jesus mention the word church. As I sit and observe our Father’s heart, I am learning more about what it means to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. I am realizing that as believers it has become almost uncomfortable to talk about the Kingdom of God, a way of living as citizens of heaven. It seems that it is easier to live in a way to avoid offending people instead of filtering decisions through what might offend God. 

There are two specific examples that have been helping me learn this lesson. The first is about a college ministry. There was a group of students that owned the vision, that were excited to take steps to see God do a work on their campus. It was great to learn how to help guide them, but not push. Yet I never taught them how to raise up new leaders. I never taught them how to cultivate a culture in such a way that there was a standard of living as a believer, a citizen of heaven, that would multiply themselves into the next group. Now within two years, what is left? There is a group who have nice activities yet no spiritual maturity and really no idea how to help another person grow spiritually. We can invite people to activity, but there seems a loss at how to invite people to Jesus.

The other example is about a student we will call Mary. She received Christ with joy and gladness. She began to grow. Yet she never learned how to feed herself. She never learned how ask life questions through the Scriptures. Now she has walked away from living a life in relationship with God. She has a positive attitude toward God and Christianity, she knows she has had an experiment with God. But she can’t feed herself.

What am I laboring towards? Am I willing to give up temporary feelings of success for a stronger foundation of disciple-makers? What steps can I take to see multiplication become part of our DNA rather than something that feels opposed? I want to live for the Kingdom of God and not for what will perish.

Ouch! Why are you poking me?

My flesh wants to avoid this conversation. Let me hid, escape, by numbed by entertainment. Let me rationalize my life. I need to create neatly wrapped packages to cover the areas of my life with general statements that are acceptable to this environment. I need to stay in step with the culture, then I will not lose any ground. I will keep up. And once I have this under control, that I can look at some of those questions and deal with some of that other stuff. I can handle this. Yup, my flesh wants to avoid this conversation. Aren’t I doing enough? I have made sacrifices, don’t I deserve a break, some recognition of what I’ve done right? I am doing right things. Haven’t I managed my behaviors well? Doesn’t my life look good, the good christian playing its part? Let’s through our checklist. Yup, do that, and that. I did that. Well, I can always improve with that, but this is a journey. Nobody expects me to be perfect. It’s okay for me to be in process. That’s why Jesus died right? So I’m doing alright. Oh flesh how you are so good to deceive me. Keep me blind. Keep me naive to the path you lead me on. I may struggle with this and that. I probably could show more self-control with what, but it’s under control. No need worry. Overall I am good. I got this. My intentions are right, good and pure. Okay, good. Got that settled. Just need to breath to move forward.

What? Did you someone say something? Spirit is that you? Ouch! Did you just poke me? What’s up with that? Aren’t you happy and well I am managing this life? Doesn’t it look good? What? You want to open up this package. Why? Because you love me. Spirit, we just wrapped it up. Don’t you like the ribbon? Did i hear you right? You don’t want it wrapped? Why? But that feels messy? Isn’t it better for people to walk into a clean house then to have my stuff lying everywhere? Huh, it’s that important to you. Well, sure I respect your opinion. But what if others can see inside? What if those questions I don’t know about are revealed? Or, what if those fears and emotions I don’t know how to deal with start spilling out? What will happen? I think we have done a good job keeping the lid on so why create a mess if we don’t have to?

We have to? You want to teach me something? Well of course I trust God. If I trust Him, I can open this box? I don’t understand. God wants me to be a good example and live well. Opening this box doesn’t do that. Ouch! I don’t like it when you poke me. Well of course I want to live in freedom. Then I have to open the box. Okay I don’t get it. But how about we do this. Let’s revisit this on Saturday. That way, if the box really needs to be opened, we can do that with no one around and have time to put it back together again. That’s a good plan right? What? Why? I’m not whining. You want to start now? heavy sigh. Well yes I trust you, I’m just nervous. Okay, well flesh we can do this. Let’s take a minute to prepare ourselves and create a strategy so we can feel okay about this. Okay, Spirit I think I am ready. But let’s move slow and start with the ribbon. What? You want me to wait. Oh okay, do you want to change your mind? No…ouch.  What is that? You want me to open that one too? What? and that one? Okay now you are just getting carried away. Yes of course I trust God. But God said He would never give me anything that I can’t handle. What? That’s misquoting Scripture? Spirit you are just confusing me. You want me to let you open the boxes? I don’t feel good about this. Now I feel like you have created another box I have to wrap. I need order in my life and I can’t keep going with all this talking.

Thank God for this Friday

I just got back from church, thankful I went. I feel my own time with the Lord this morning was distracting. All these thoughts and pretend conversations were coming to mind w/ every member of my family. I finally cried out to Jesus, help me! I can see and explain past hurts, unresolved issues, wrongs that have been done, but to what end. where is peace for the mind? only in Christ. On this day, I felt like the Lord has brought to mind everything that only He can handle and deal with. As He hung on the cross and looked up to heaven, he said Father forgive them. What is it like to live with such compassion and awareness of eternity that you hold no emotion against anyone? a security in the Lord, an awareness of eternal separation from God, a love that goes beyond our comprehension. This morning, I felt like God asking me would you hold something against someone else b/c it makes you feel justified? There is so much I don’t understand. There are so many relationships that I do not have control over. The only thing I have control over is the choice of surrendering to Jesus and trusting Him with every emotion. That I would live with love, forgiveness and compassion, grace and mercy. Just as He loved, and is loving me, may I love others. Forgive me as I forgive others. I can say the Lord’s prayer so easily, but am I truly living it out? I am broken, imperfect and wanted to be justified. But who I am. At church after reading Mark 15 the pastor spoke from Romans 5.6-11. He started with a quote from John Stott-“Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.” In Romans it describes us as weak, ungodly, sinners, and enemies of God. Allowing the reality of my true nature a part from Christ to sink in allows me to desperately cling to the cross and be so grateful for the gift of salvation that was made possible on this day of remembrance when Jesus Christ willingly died for our sin and clothed us new.