Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Year's Journey

Once again, Sunday's sermon really moved me.

Garner talked on Mark 2:13-28 focusing on how the gospel is proclaimed 3 times, twice by Jesus and once by Levi. Garner really pushed us as a church to think about what we are doing in our life to proclaim Christ to others.Are we just talking about Christ to fellow Christians or are we going to other sinners and outcasts as Christ did?

Christ has changed me heart when it comes to evangelism. I mentioned in an earlier post a little big how Point 11 (specifically Keith Chancey) changing my heart towards spreading the gospel to others. I will give a brief history and look at what God has done in my life for the past year specifically.

The first time I heard about evangelism was on a mission trip in New Orleans. I grew up Presbyterian and evangelism was not a word we used at all in my church, but on this mission trip we were living and working through a Baptist ministry and they were offering an evangelism workshop. All the adults were laughing and joking about evangelism. So in my mind I translated that into "Okay, evangelism is something wrong and ineffective and therefore stupid to do." This is not to say that is what the people around me were actually saying, but we Presbyterians generally do not evangelize, we may create relationships in order to discuss Christ, but even then in all the years I went to CPC I never had a feeling that I needed to tell others about what Jesus had done on the cross for everyone.
So, fast forward to my sophomore year of high school. I started attending a Bible youth group (and later the church) and one night at youth group that youth pastor gave us a crash course on how to use an Evangi-cube and we hit the streets. I was absolutely terrified, we went door to door and asked people if we could talk to them about Christ. My group seemed to only get people whom had already accepted Christ and just listened to help up "train." Suffice it to say I once again transferred this memory in my mind as a evangelism is obviously not a good thing to do because I am uncomfortable. Through most of my high school career I avoided evangelism like the plague. From becoming physically sick before a ski trip where the main focus was evangelizing on the mountaintops with strangers to scoring low on evangelism for a spiritual strengths test, I kept telling myself I was not made to evangelize therefore God won't mind if I just never talk about Christ to anyone.

Oh how wrong I was. Fast forward to last summer when I went to Point 11 with the youth group I was interning with. Keith Chancey changed my entire look on spreading the word of God simply by how he spoke about telling others about Christ. He was excited, it was natural, it was an overflow from the love he had received from Christ. He really questioned us on why we hesitated to tell others, to hide such a beautiful and precious gift as knowing Jesus Christ is. Why do I want to hide this life from people when I have committed my life to Christ? This really shook me and opened my eyes to how beautiful it is to tells others of the being who changed my entire life story. I had hope that I could actually tell others about Christ.

I am going to insert a side note here: I do not like the word evangelism because I think in society it has a horribly negative connotation. In Matthew Jesus says "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:16-20) It is easy to take parts of this passage and only act on those parts and we call it evangelizing. But I think the whole passage is what spreading the good news is to people. It is not just going into a crowd and telling them they are all sinners and need to repent right in that moment, neither is it telling others what they need to do better in their lives, and neither is it getting large numbers to preach to. For me and what I believe the Great Commission is, it is getting to know people of every walk in life, sinners who don't know Christ and sinner who do know Christ, it is having open conversations with people about Christ and explaining that we as humans can never reach Heaven and God on our own, none of us are good enough because we sin, but Jesus Christ, God's Son was sent to be the ultimate sacrifice that wipes away all the sins every human being has committed and we need to understand and acknowledge that Christ did this and we need God in our lives to try and live like Jesus Christ did on this Earth. I think the Great Commission calls us to walk alongside one another in this journey of life, not just share the good news and walk away hoping that each person we meet keeps walking toward God. True, some people we may never meet after we talk about the good news, but if there is an opportunity to walk alongside them and show them just how beautiful God's love is, I think we need to make that a #1 priority in our life above all else, this being discipleship.

Okay, I will continue with my little history story.

So I went back to college and became more aware of people around me, who I was hanging out with, what my actions looked like to others, etc. I was still scared about this new insight I had and I allowed pride to make excuses as to why I was not asking others what their spiritual journey was. Fast forward to Winter Conference. For one of the day's activities we were going to do flash mobs all over Ft Worth and then go into the crowds and talk to people about Christ. Once again, I got a little (okay very) nervous and really had to pray and talk with my group about my feelings towards sharing the gospel to strangers. My group was headed to the Stock Yards (where I had been before, so luckily I knew the layout) and Mary (the one who always pushes me out of my comfort zone) paired us up into groups of two to go around and talk with people. Believe me, I would see a group coming toward me and I would make an excuse in my mind about why I should not start a conversation with them (they have kids, they look like they are in a hurry, I am too scared at the moment, etc.) Until finally I saw a man and his dog and I thought "Perfect, I can go up and pet the dog and just slide into conversation with the man" with Renee my partner right beside me, we struck up a conversation with the man for a good 30 minutes. No, I did not lead him to Christ, but that was the first time I really felt the Spirit was leading the conversation and I felt so pumped afterward! Throughout the week the speakers all brought up how evangelism should not  be a "have to" mind set, but rather "I need and want to tell others about this because I cannot contain this joy within me!"

Once again, I went back to TU, and overtime I realized also that evangelism should not be a job or something I make myself do, if I am living in and with Christ, then spreading the good news is just telling others about what Christ is doing in my life, it is not a sit down and have a conversion discussion, it is on going, it is different with every relationship and moment. Garner really reminded me of that this Sunday and how society and humans (cause let's face it, we all mess up, even when it comes to telling people about Christ) have made evangelism really negative and hypocritical. I am so happy that God has changed my heart 180 from what I thought evangelism is to how excited (still a little nervous) and humbled I am to learn what God sees as spreading the good news.

I apologize if this is a little confusing or disoriented, I am still learning (and always will) what the Great Commission is and how I should overflow with the good news of Jesus Christ. I am not trying to say "This IS what God means" because what I have thought God is saying has changed over time because I have tried to take out what society and my selfish heart have tried to tell me the definition of evangelism is. I am just beyond grateful that God has stripped away most of my preconceived notions and shown me a little bit of his knowledge and truth of the Great Commission.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Diving Below the Surface

I can't sleep. Maybe it is because of the 4 hour nap this afternoon or the coffee I had at 10:30 at night, but I cannot sleep. I think it has to do with my spirit more than some caffeine kick.

While trying to fall sleep I started to think about facebook. No, not about my next awesome status or what walls to post on, but how much I can dislike facebook.

Hear me out, I love me some facebook stalking and being able to learn things about people I may not always keep in touch with, but I really dislike this "social" media. Because I think it only touches the surface of everyone's life. Yes, I can post statuses about what I am doing, post photos about what is going on in my life, but the way things shall be read is entirely up to the facebook world. I have really disliked people friending me from my Summer Project purely because I think people will get a bad image of who I am on facebook because it is easy for people to read into things without knowing my voice and my personality. I also can easily judge people from the little posts they make on facebook. I added people though because I did not want to not friend them and then explain why I did not wish to, but none the less I have been really conscious of reading into others facebooks and also being conscious of what I am posting. I do not try and post horrible things or anything like that, but it is hard to know one's voice behind a facebook post until one actually meets face to face and gets to know the person. Facebook only touches the surface. I can like certain statuses and comment on things in facebook because I know that person beyond their wall and I have a personal relationship with them and know why they post things and what their voice is behind their status.

In society it is really easy to just get to know someone on the surface. Social media, division of work and life, everything is essentially compartmentalized into subsections and interactions can easily be one dimensional. People prefer knowing the surface because it is not painful, it is not draining, it is not vulnerable. It is like a book, one can look at the cover and deduce so much from the cover and the title, the literal surface of a book. But once one starts reading, it is hard to stay unattached (I am talking about a really good book, not fluff work). We become involved and enticed into the story, a part of us becomes involved in the story plot. Once we know the book, it is hard not to have a strong emotional tie to that book, whether we love it or despise it, the book has a place in our heart. But not before we opened the book, it was only once we became involved with the book.

I can be very judgmental and I know it. I call it being critical but really at the core it is me judging. When it comes to movies, books, people, situations, I can be harsh. I am usually really quick to judge things I only know on the surface. I take my personal biases and I can apply them to the subject and come up with a quick decision about the situation/subject. Usually I am less judgmental if I know the subject deeply, I look at all sides of a situation and can deduce my biases and understand why I have a certain emotional reaction to the subject. Not so if I only know the surface.

Sunday Garner (my pastor at Legacy Bible) talked on the passage in Mark 2:1-12 where the paralytic is lowered in front of Jesus. Garner pointed out how Jesus first said "Your sins are forgiven" not "You are physically healed my brother!" Jesus looked beyond the surface of the physical problem and immediately saw the heart and desired for the heart to be healed. How beautiful! God is continually looking at my heart and desiring that my heart be changed. I have struggled with my weight for a while now and very recently I have been consumed with thoughts about how I can change my body and imagining how happy I shall be when I finally can be a full human being. (My thoughts being that my weight is holding me back from fully being human and participating in life. Really just an excuse for me to not live life to the fullest.) Sunday I was so convicted that God is not worried about my physical surface self, but that my heart is completely his and no other idols. Jesus saw the true problem when he saw the paralytic, not just the surface problem, for the heart is so much more important than being physically unable to walk. While being physically healed and fit is fine, God sees that these things cannot and will not make us truly happy. A beautiful heart will allow for us to find joy in every situation, not just when the self is satisfied.

I am going to try and be conscious of not judging others because each of us has more below the surface, problems, emotions, histories that cannot be seen on the surface. This also compels me to get to know people more deeply because I am very use to asking surface level questions and keeping the relationship on the surface level where no one can get hurt, but also no one can really open up and deepen the relationship. I truly want to know others' heart and also for people to know mine, because then I shall be loving others and living life to the fullest as God has called me to do. I have been consumed with being surface level perfect when God is reminding me that 1. I shall never be surface level perfect because I am imperfect as a human and 2. The only way I shall really be happy is by allowing God to work on my heart and develop me into a deeper human being with more depth and love for others, He can't do that on the surface of me, but through my heart I can allow God to transform my surface into His image, but only by Him invading my heart.

The surface is not really that great, why not dive in and see what all is beneath the surface? I know my surface isn't so great but I hope I am a more interesting once one gets below the surface, and I know others have beautiful depths and life stories that go beyond the surface. Jesus saw this in the paralytic, and He sees it in all of us.

Summer Adventures

I have not written in a while! Midterms, finals, moving into a beautiful rental house, it all seems to take up too much time! (Also that I allowed it to take precedence in my life, which is something I am becoming more aware with my walk with Christ.)

I have been home with my parents and since college stresses are but a dim memory, I am starting to think more and more about my summer project coming up.

Can I just say, God is too wonderful! I never imagine what he has in store for me (and I never deserve it) especially when it came to Orlando Operations Summer Project. Let me start all the way at the beginning because I can see God in pretty much every moment leading up to now.

After Winter Conference (which completely transformed my life) a couple who volunteers with TU Cru kept encouraging us to go on Summer Project. I had been inspired from Fall Retreat but I knew I had a few options for my summer and I thought I would apply, but I really was scared and insecure about the whole thing. But I continued to encourage others to sign up and do it. Mary, my mentor finally told me "Elise, you cannot keep encouraging Summer Project unless you yourself apply also. How can you keep telling others to go and do it and yet sit on the sidelines?" So, I started looking at all the summer projects and there were so many I wanted to apply to! Mary, being the greatest mentor ever, encouraged me to choose a summer project that put me out of my comfort zone and that I think about myself, not all the trips my family was going to take this summer, not which friends were going where, but where should I go? I first applied to Seattle Prison Ministry, but I originally did that because it fit my sociology background, I had always wanted to go to Seattle, and it fit right in with my family going to California and Colorado later in July. Perfect! Oh wait, this is all in my comfort zone. I really prayed about it and did not feel right about applying for this project.

I kept looking around at summer projects, should I go stateside or to another country? Is it paid? Do I need a paid project? How much does it cost? All these questions did not seem to help the overall narrowing down of choices. Mary once again stepped in and reminded me "Elise, you are trying to choose from the best of the best, God will take you where He needs you and it will be wonderful." This helped me a lot, because earlier I had been stressing about whether or not I would choose the wrong project. One day looking at projects I saw Boston Operations, it sounded interesting and also uncomfortable, but I knew some friends were applying there also, so I looked at Orlando Operations. It was generally the same but in Florida. So I decided to apply there (my other two options I put down were London and Seattle, allowing God to take me where He needed, stateside or not). Within 2 weeks I talked with the assistant director, got my application in and was accepted. It happened so fast I became a little scared that I had chosen the wrong one, yet God opened the doors for me to go so quickly! Orlando Summer Project was going to be from June 10-July 30 which happened to be when my family would go to Colorado, but I would miss going to California. I saw this as me not trying to fit within anyone else's schedule, but following my own. I had not really conversed much with my parents on my exact summer plans, only that I would be applying to some Summer Projects and potentially some other jobs. They actually found out when one of the directors called my house, so that was an interesting conversation to start with "Hi mom, yup I am going to Orlando for the summer, thoughts?" In my mind the next huge obstacle was support raising.

Support raising is when I send out letters, emails, phone calls, etc. and ask people to join me on my ministry team. Usually it is through monetary support and prayer. I had never in my life asked people to help me raise $3100 dollars. I truly knew I could not do this on my own, I had to give it completely over to God. There was always a side of me that worried that it would not happen and I knew I could not ask my parents to give me that kind of money, so what would I do? I sent out letters and emails to people who had impacted my life through ministry and fellowship and I then waited. My first worry was I had to raise $1000 by April 30th (I sent out my letters around March 20th) and I just did not see how that was going to happen. By April 1st God had raised $1000 dollars for me to go on project. By April 23rd God had raised the entire $3100. WHAT?!!! This was not my doing, I do not believe I said anything so empowering to people that they immediately emptied their pocketbooks to donate everything they could. But let me tell you, people whom I thought would not give much were the ones to give more than I imagined and I kept going to God in praise, because it was His work that was done, not mine. God moved a few people to donate a lot and when I reached my initial goal the money dwindled, but I see this as God providing for my needs, because I need $3100 to get to Orlando and He provided all of that.

This season of raising support was so humbling because right before sending out my support letters Alex (a volunteer for Cru and Mary's husband) taught on Luke 12:22-33 which centers around worrying. This has been a sin I have struggled with God over because I think it plays into my sin of needing control. Support Raising was something I definitely was worrying over about since I got accepted, but that lesson made me realize there was nothing I could control for to actually help with raising support. I knew of nothing I could do except send out the letters and emails and wait. I had to step aside and allow God to work in people's lives because if I even tried to step in I knew I would make a mess of things. By stepping aside I saw God work in huge ways and I would not have seen that if I tried to be God in my life.

Raising support was a huge experience for me (and still is!) and I do not believe I am done. Now I am asking the Lord to provide as much as He needs me to get. (When I raise over it can go toward support raising money, my flight, a stipend at the end, and even to help others on my project who may not have raised it all.) I especially ask that if there if someone on my project cannot raise all the support, that God use people in my life to give so I can give to my project team. God has blessed me with just raising this incredible amount in a month, and I hope the next month God inspires people He needs to give to me or others on my team so that we all can do His Glory in Orlando.
I admit while it is easy to sit aside and say this, many a time I get frustrated when I see no letters in the mail, but then I have to step back and realize, God is doing this all, He hasn't stop but neither is He going to over-provide for me. He will give me exactly what I need, nothing more or less. I really do not care to get a paycheck at the end of the summer because I usually try and make money for my needs to be met that summer, not to save for college, and God is doing that but raising the support for me to go and work at International Headquarters.

God keeps going even with all he has done! I have been praying to be uncomfortable in Orlando, especially in the job I work. I got an email a few days ago telling me what my job would be. I will be working with the US Department of Development. Specifically, I will work with a group who is studying Destino (our Latino branch of Cru leadership) and how to help with support raising. We will be doing a lot of sociology (specifically qualitative data gathering) in looking at cultural aspects, to group interactions, etc. I am so excited and scared at the same time! God found a position in Headquarters that uses my skills I have been learning in college (which I did not expect at all because this project suggests people be graphic designers, financial, business, computer science majors, not psychology sociology double majors) and also have me use it in ministry! At TU the sociology department and psychology department are very much worldly centered and not Christ centered, so I will be able to see another side of both fields with Christ in the middle of it all. I am scared so much because this puts me beyond my comfort zone, I am use to the classroom setting and discussion, but going out and really seeing studies first hand? That will be incredible! I truly did not expect this type of internship to open up in Orlando, but God knew!

God has made His face known to me again and again through all of this, from choosing a project to preparing my heart for this adventure. I am forever trying to be mindful and prayerful about this adventure for I know God is going to do wonderful scary things in me and I just want to be open to His Will for this summer, not mine. Summer Project, I shall be with you in 30 days!!!