I was hanging out with a group of little children the other day, and watched an interaction between a 5 year old and a 2 year old that made me laugh at the ridiculousness of the moment, and then God spoke directly to my heart about idols and my own ability to lose focus on the blessings of God. Let me start from the beginning. There was a bucket of toys, mostly trucks and cars and toy planes. the 5 year old, lets call him johnny, started playing with them as so the 2 year old, lets call him sami,  wanted to play as well. now it would be great to say that they both picked trucks and cars and played happily but were are talking about humans with a sin nature born into them . . . Johnny has his toys and Sami reaches in the bucket and of course picks what quickly becomes the only truck Johnny wanted: "But that is my favorite truck, that is the truck i always want to play with, that is MY truck" now i really wanted to stop the conversation here and reply with; "if this was your favorite truck why did you now pick it out of the bucket when you took your other 5 trucks?" but knowing that reasoning with a 5 year old is a bit pointless i let the situation play out before me.

Sami was as happy as could be with his array of trucks and cars that was before him, but Johnny, while he had the an entire bucket of cars, and the cars he had selected before Sami even arrived to play, he couldn't get his focus off the that one truck.  Johnny even started to manipulate the truck out of Sami's possession. "Sami, look at how many trucks i have! if you gave me that one truck then i would give you all these and you could have more." "I have the best truck and an airplane Sami do you want an airplane?" "i would give you this plane if you for that old truck"

It seemed as though Johnny couldn't enjoy himself or find anything to play with because he was so focused on getting the one thing he wanted? that truck that he didn't want till someone else had it...He spent his entire play time trying to scheme and plan a way to get back what was never his, growing in frustration and anger until he put all his other cars in the bucket and walked away.

I couldn't help but laugh at the ridiculousness of this moment. no sooner did i laugh to myself and thank God that i am no longer 5 did God response by reminding me that i am more like a 5 yr old then i would like to admit. "Jeniffer-- don't you get your mind so fixed on your desires that you miss the blessings i have for you?"

It was embarrassing . . . actually . . . humbling. I so wanted to believe that i was so far beyond being 5 and wanting what i can't have because i can't have it. but i am not. instead of enjoying all the blessings i have around me (from people, to things, to time, to resources) i get focused on that thing i want... somedays it is a husband, some days it is an ipad, somedays it is a family, some days, it is a couch, somedays it is a social circle, you name it at some point i have wanted it....and i have wanted it more than what i have. which makes "it" an idol; a thing that is neither good nor bad but has been desired with more passion then my desire for God.

it is as that point, the moment i can no longer see the incrediable outpouring of God's blessings in my life, that i have lost focus. That i am choosing to place what i don't have over what i have been freely given. My heart is so focused on what i think i need or desire that i am choosing to live in a place of brokenness when wholeness and abundance of joy is mine.

hiding your faith??

i am sitting in Fido, next to two men, well actually a boy and a man. They are busy discussing the boy's desire for a future music carreer. He wants to be a christian artist, without being a christian artist. the boy wants to express his faith with out being "outed" by his audience. how interesting it is to me that his greatest passion in music is to Glorify God and present his faith as a message to others to grab a hold onto. and yet his mentor is trying to tell him to "temper his message" so that other don't feel like he is preaching to them. I have been studying idols over the last few weeks and how often we are told truth in a way that we are deceived. follow me here for a moment. We are given, told, or presented truth but the way that it is presented is skewed just a bit so that the conclusion we come to is actual a lie or falsehood. Thus we can back the evidence that lead us to a false belief with scripture that has been taken out of context or paraphrased in a way  that you don't notice.

Back to my current situation... this boy is seeking wisdom from a man who is most likely a great man who is well intended. To his credit he is giving great advice when it comes to how to practice and prepare for a showcase. But in the midst of all of this great advice is the attack on the truth of Christ. There is nothing this mentor is tell this boy that is not truth but the way he is saying it distracts this boy from his greatest desire to speak Christ from his message.

It has taken everything in me not to look at this boy and tell him, Christ is in you! let Christ shine! don't be afraid to label yourself a christian. Yes some of your fans will be offended but the truth of the Gospel is offensive to those who deny Christ! But do you really want to live for Christ while hiding your faith?

the voice of God

students often ask me how i hear the voice of God. WOW! i wish that was an easy answer. I so desire God's voice to Shout from the heavens. That every thing he speaks for me started with my name and end with "this is my will for you, Jeniffer, know that i am God." Ohhhh... how much heartache would be avoided if God's voice was that clear. But it is not, and so we must interpret the thoughts that run through our head and sort through the busyness of  our mind to find the clarity of God. God makes it clear in scripture that he is NOT a God of CONFUSION, but one of peace and lucidity. so what does it mean when we don't understand what he is asking...maybe just maybe he is asking us to wait, to not move until we have clarity because in the waiting he refines our hearts and our minds. so that when he brings about his hand of blessing and his still soft voice speaks we will recognize his voice!!! after all isn't that what he says: "they will know my voice"

I am convince that sometimes we get so impatient in the waiting we stop trusting and listening to God and start to search for the fruition of our plan, our desires. This is the moment that SATAN can launch his greatest attack. He will speak to the desires in your heart as though he is God, He is after all the great deceiver. Satan walks in the open door and ushers in the very thing God is asking you to wait for, but because you have waited a bit and you are more about the waiting ending than pressing into the one who is asking you to wait, thus you see Satan's promptings as God.

You have the ability to interpret your circumstance to mean anything you desire. But that is NOT what God has for you because when you walk outside of the will of God knowingly or unknowingly you are walking out of the protection of the hand of God. so how do you know that you are interpreting your circumstances incorrectly...

1. seek wise counsel from people you know will tell you truth -- if you are only talking to specific people because you know they will support your predetermined choice you are not seeking wise counsel --If you are with holding specific facts from your circumstances because you are afraid of the response they will receive you are not seeking wise counsel. -- in both of these cases you are manipulating the flow of information to seek affirmation and not allowing God to direct you, it will make you feel good because you will be affirmed in your choice, but it will further open the door for Satan and block off a pathway for God to speak to you.

2. search your own heart for your desires --even in the greatest confusion i believe people know if they are being honest with themselves, the the spirit of God living in them will rise up and create a great uneasiness to warn you if you ask him too.

3. lastly and most importantly: read scripture and pray -- your choice should line up with the word of God. -- you should have the peace of God in your heart about your choice even if you don't completely understand the details. -- remember if can blocking out the voice of wise counsel you can also block out the truth of scripture and the voice of God. Having "peace" alone is NOT confirmation that you are in the will of God.

Remember scripture says that we must take every thought captive, meaning they are not all ours. we must capture our thoughts, hold them, examine them before God and determine: is this our thought, God's word for us, or is the part of the great deception. Look and listen for the promptings of God in small things (i feel like i should help that person.... I really want to go sit over there today..... I think i need to go to school early today.... i want to write her a note....) and you will begin to recognize God's voice in the big things (yes i should go to that college, i should apply for that job...).

God is speaking to you... are you listen to him?

God is good

i am convinced that the power of prayer is not so much in the swaying of God's heart to our cause as it is in the aligning of our focus and efforts with God's heart. God knows the promises he has made to us, and he is forever remembering us. There is nothing that comes into our life that he is not keenly aware of, and prepared to bring about blessing from the tragedies. I say this with hesitation as i know there are some who read this and think how can the death of ___________ be a blessing, or how can my illness be a blessing, or how does _______________ ever become good?? I have walked through enough life to know that sometimes the depth of darkness feels as though it is crushing you beyond your ability to survive. As i look back on my life i can honestly say i have made some poor choices and i have been the victim of others poor choices, and while i would never want to relive those i would never want to live my life without them. They have made me who I am today, they have given me a depth to my relationship with the Lord that i could never have achieved with out suffering. I also know that i would have been crushed under my heartache if it had not been for prayer. For the peace that surpasses all understanding that was imparted to me as i held onto the truth that God had not forgotten me, that he was at my side, that he knew every thought, that he captured every tear, that he had a plan, and this...this moment... this tragedy was not a surprise to him. Nor did this tragedy have the power to thwart God's plan for my life.

I don't know why God allows some evils to exist or some extreme cases of suffering to occur... i can't see good in all tragedy, and i don't understand how people can physically survive some of these evils. . . But i know, I believe and i stand firm that even in the midst of these horrifying evils...God is good.

There's Got to be More...

this past week i spent in ROME, GA with the youth group from FBC Augusta! it was an incrediable week. Check out some of the photos from this week!

FBC Augusta

watching the packing of a dirty infection

it is hard to put into words the joy it brings me to spend a week at camp with students who are actively seeking the Lord. These students were at all different levels in their faith, some not sure if they believe and others wanting a deeper relationship with the Lord and still others who are longing for their friends to understand the fire they feel inside. Watching students of all levels dig deep into their souls to expose both their faith and doubts is a beautiful thing to me. This groups of students is unique to me, i have been able to speak at their events multiple times over the last 2 years, and each time i notice an incrediable vulnerability in them. I believe this is due, in part, to the investment of their leaders.

Some of their leaders are parents, college students and others are the age of their grandparents, yet across the board these leaders are out on the rec field, dancing during morning fun sing, dressed up like super heroes, hanging at the 80's party, speaking into the lives of the students, and praying for them. There is not a student that goes untouched by a leader, this takes such intentionality and purpose. It brings me great joy to work with them.

a little encouragement... HOPE

I have the amazing privilege of working in ROME, GA this week with FBC Augusta, GA  youth camp 2010! This is my second time with the group for a summer camp. I was so impressed my first year to watch how well the leaders loved the students and how much they desired their Growth no matter what it required of them as leaders, from early mornings to late nights to strange games and Tye-die and soap sculptures. . . Today i spent part of my day on the ropes course watching students attempt to climb a HUGE tower on very small ropes or a wiggly swinging ladder. it was amazing to me to watch these students conquer the task laid out before them. for some it was the challenge they waited all summer for, while others started up the ladder and you could quickly see that this was the last place they ever wanted to be in life.

It breaks my heart to see a student start up a ropes course element only to stop just a few feet from the starting point and say ok i'm done... let me down. I am convinced these are the students who believed before they ever put the helmet on, that they were not able to do it. From the beginning they never believed in themselves.

then there are those who make it almost to the top only to stop a few feet short from completion, as though all their efforts have been poured out and there is no more drive or hope left in them.

And then there is rare student who is determined through all their doubt and fear that they will complete the task. As though it is a battle for life and death and maybe in someway it really is that important, because they know that if they don't complete this task, the seed of doubt will grow in them and forever limit their abilities to believe they can do more then they think.

while all of these students were present in our group there was one thing that transcended all of their thoughts. . .  the POWER of encouragement. it was as though a few words from those at the bottom of the tower could change the outcome of the one on the tower. just at the brink of giving up another team member would yell some encouragement upward to the tower and the climber would begin again or be energized for the moment. the end result. . . more success for a greater number of students who needed to see success in their lives.

i can't help but parallel this to often are we ready to give up and then someone comes along and offers us what we do not have...HOPE.

God's beauty:

Its scientific name is Eucalyptus deglupta, but it’s also known as Rainbow Eucalyptus, Rainbow Gum, or Mindanao Gum. I see it as one of the many ways God reminds his children (us) that His creativity is beyond our imagination or understanding! For God desires to wow us, simply by being him.

a heart's life from death

I enjoy traveling for many reasons, one being the people i meet in the airport, on the plane, in taxis, at starbucks, at events, the more random the location the more interesting a person i meet. I enjoy meeting new people and finding out we have something in common... and not the typical "oh yes i liked that book" or "we are both headed to the same spot" more random like "so i was in a movie that was filmed about your hometown" or "i have been to that town to ride the steepest vehicular incline".  but what i truly enjoy about meeting people is what they teach me. I sat with a man on an airplane this week whose father recently had a heart transplant. this to me is amazing (not that i sat next to him but the transplant). This gentleman told me that his father is living as a much younger man now that he has been given a new heart and that he can see a difference in the "life" this new heart brings him compared to the broken old heart. Now living with this strong heart he can see how weak his old heart really was.

To think that God created our bodies in such away that we can replace the old broken parts with new ("the old has gone the new has come" has such a bigger meaning) and that our bodies work with this new part. Then i thought about the details of a heart transplant. . . all the nerves that needed to be connected just right and the vessels that need to match. the details that are important to this astound me. but there is a thought that is even more mind blowing to me then the details of placing the heart in a new body... in order to have that heart for the new body someone had to give his life so that the heart would be available. A person had to choose to give his very body to people he didn't know upon his death so they may have life. but my thoughts on not on the choice to give (though i strongly support organ donation and believe we should all do it, because really why do we need to keep our organs after we die)

my thought is more on the life that is granted... how must it change how you live to know that your life is a gift of someone who died to grant it to you. i know they didn't lay down and die at your feet so they could give you their life, but most likely they were not expecting to die on the day they did. and the truth still remains you have a heart (or other organ) because the donors is dead.

your life is from their death.

if this was a reality for you, would you live in a way that is worthy of that person's death? would you cherish life knowing that you were given a second chance?  the thought: " i am alive and well because someone choose to give me life" would roll around in my head daily.

as i pondered these questions over the last few days i was drawn to one answer. . . I have life everyday because of the death of one man and one God who choose to sacrifice his physical body on a cross that he may restore my brokenness and great me life in the midst of sin and death. Why then do i live as though this life is my own? why do i live as though i am still broken? Why am i hesitant to grab the victory that Christ has granted me?

the river, environmental pressures and my gum

earlier this week a friend and i decided to spend a few hours kayaking on the Chicago River, yep the river that runs through the city and the river that they dye green for St. Patty's day (and the one that remains green for weeks after). it was a beautiful day and for the most part an uneventful trip down river, minus the moment in which a tug boat operator (captain?) asked us to just play around a bit up stream so he wouldn't run us over with the barge he was pushing (did you know tug boats don't tug they push...just a little random fact for you) Part of what we noticed was the incrediable amount of filth, trash, and debris in the river. We would see who could find the most random object floating in the river, from the "how did that get here" to the "why did that get here" to the "i don't want to know that is in here". I even found a grapefruit, but opted not to eat it.

then we came upon it . .  . the aeration station. Large tubes that blew air through the water from the depths of the water. At first it looked like we drove through someones bubble bath then after the foamy top cleared the water was pristine. not for long but in the 1/2 mile that followed this aeration station the water was clean and the fish plentiful. The very thing that gives life to water (AIR) had completely changed the environment nearest the source, however you travel to far from that source and the debris begins to reappear the stagnate water films over and wildlife is not so active.

let me make a quick tie to life really obvious in this moment; when we remain close to the life source (Christ) we have an environment, a personality if you will that is completely different then the pressures of the world that surround us. but as we navigate life away from our source we begin to cave to the environmental pressures that surround us.

no matter how much we try, through our own power to beautify ourselves, we will fail. and when we fail we will succumb to the pressure around us. what do i mean by this? take a look at the picture below. What do you see?

a factory? pollution? if your good with details you may have seen the life saver. but do you see the beauty? no this isn't some artistic interpretation this is hidden beauty. ok let me help you out. . . see the brick posts on the right and left side. there is an iron fence running between them and every so many feet there is a planter box of red and yellow flowers. can you see them now? there are 5 in this picture... ok i know it is not the greatest picture in the whole world (remember i took this from a kayak) but they weren't that easy to see in person either. .  . why not. because the ugliness that lies behind this attempt at beauty over powers us. the reality of everything else over powers the attempt to beautify this.

as i sat there thinking of all my attempts to beautify parts of my life that are simply sinful it happened.... I succumb to the environmental pressure that surrounded me.  i am ashamed to even type it. my mother would be so disappointed. it has taken me 3 days to post this blog because of it. here i am sitting my kayak both convicted of attempts to cover my sin with unnoticeable beauty and at the same time impressed that someone would put all the effort into attempting to add beauty into a spot that looked hopeless (that is a whole different sermon) and then . . .

i wish i could say it just happened that i didn't even think about it that it was involuntary that if i had thought about it i would never have done it .... but i can't say that because i did think about it and i did weigh my choices and i choose wrong...even when i knew it was wrong i some how justified myself into thinking it was excusable because of the environmental pressure.... i spit my gum into the river.

the adventures of Faith....

i never thought i would be a dog person...ok truth be told i was adamantly against dogs...definitely against  the purse puppy. not that i hated them, they way some people HATE cats. But i would NEVER own one and the whole fashion dog thing was not at all me. I even attempted to make my own protest against purse puppies by buying a bunny… but that backfired. My bunny Keylime… was miniature bunny so I could fit her in my purse and thus make a big statement about people who carried dogs in their purses. But having come up with this brilliant idea and acting quickly I forgot the importance of research . . . and my mini loop-ear bunny grew to weigh over 10lbs! ( I needed to buy a mini loop eared dwarf rabbit. Oh the importance of a single word.) ummmm not so much a purse bunny more of a bowling bag bunny… who didn’t like to be carried.

Last year a transition happened in my house as the bunny moved out (don’t worry she is in bunny heaven with a family friend) and in moved FAITH.  My very own clothe wearing, 4lb, purse puppy, with a sparkly collar!

Over the last year I have come to LOVE purse puppies, and especially mine.

It makes me laugh to know her name is FAITH (there is a story to why, that I will share at some other point) , and I know she smiles, and I love when she cuddles on the couch with me, and I wish I could sleep as much as she does, and mostly she teaches me the importance of FAITH, true faith in Christ, and what relationships are all about!

This is simply her intro to you; in the future I will share the Adventures of Faith and lessons learned!