A Dangerous Prayer

I recall sitting on my bed, years ago, praying a prayer I had often prayed, “Lord, make me more like Jesus, I will follow you wherever you lead me.” Isn’t it funny how we are quick to prayer in these ways, without first counting the cost of what we are asking?
All throughout the biblical narrative people’s faith grew, because of suffering. God brought something great about through their life in the midst of deep trouble and affliction. Why would I think He would operate any differently with me or you? Why do we treat disappointment, tragedy and hardship as the curse of God and not a blessing from His hand? Quite frankly, it’s because we want an easy life.
We think, God why? Why are you allowing me to walk through such pain and difficulty? What is the purpose God? Please take it away! When all the while, it is the very thing God divinely appointed in our lives to make us more like His Son.
As Mary was minding her own business one day, an angel appeared to her. At this time she was a virgin, around the age of 13, pledged to be married to a young man named Joseph. To a first century Jew, the betrothal period was a binding agreement between the two parties that they would be married, not like our modern day engagements. To break off the engagement, one would have to literally file for a divorce. The marriage wasn’t made official until the couple consummated the marriage through sexual intercourse. This means, Mary was a virgin, awaiting the day she would become Joseph’s wife. Then, in walks Gabriel, an angel sent from God, to give her a message that would literally turn her world upside-down.
I wonder if Mary prayed similar prayers to mine? God, I want to be more like you. I will follow you and be obedient to you no matter what! I bet she did.
The angel Gabriel said to her, “You who are highly favored (in the original language it means “filled with grace”) the Lord is with you. There is so much within that statement that if we gloss over it, I think we miss a great application for our own lives, because what comes next is quite shocking. Mary is told she will have a son, the power of God will come over her and she will give birth to the Savior of the world, Jesus. Mary will maintain her virginity, because of the power of God will awaken within her womb a child, but can you imagine the talk around town? People would not understand, I’m sure they would shame her, not believe her and want to publicly disgrace her. Mary would become the centerpiece of the town gossipers, the people of Nazareth would stare with judging looks as she passed by them. Yet, Mary says, “I am the Lord’s servant, let it be unto me according to your word.”

I wonder if Mary ever struggled with the reality of her blessing? I wonder if she ever felt like maybe her blessing was a curse when folks started to whisper and judge her? I wonder if in those moments she went back to the promise made to her when Gabriel greeted her. “You who are highly favored, The Lord is with you.” Is that not the promise for all of us who follow Jesus as we walk through seasons of suffering?
What if we started to view our suffering as a blessing from God instead of a curse? I’m certain Mary pressed deeply into the grace God favored her with in those moments where others tried to shame her. I’m certain she remembered the simple yet profound phrase, “Mary, the Lord is with you.”
Today, I want to offer a similar sentiment to you. If you are walking through a season of suffering as a Christian, do not fight God over it, embrace it as God’s gift to you to make you more like Jesus. As you do this, your faith grows, and your heart learns the peace of trusting in the one who is leading you. Always remember, “The Lord is with you,” Amen.

An Unexpected Encounter

Last night, the unexpected happened.

I had the joy and privilege of speaking at the Galesburg Rescue Mission. God led me to speak on fear, something He’s been dealing with me on the past couple of weeks. I shared from Exodus 14, where the Israelites crossed the red sea. After I was finished speaking a woman came up to me, sobbing uncontrollably and collapsed into my arms.

I said, are you afraid? She said, yes, very afraid. I asked what it is that she’s afraid of? She said, my parents never wanted me, and so they beat me, my ex-husband, he beat me and now I’m pregnant and I’m scared.

She then said, I’m not supposed to be here. I asked her what she meant by that, if it was to not be at the rescue mission or here on this earth and through deep tears she said, here on this earth.  My heart broke for her as she put herself in the fetal position, rested her head on my chest and began weeping, uncontrollably.

At this point one of the counselors had come back into the chapel and I told her everything this woman had shared with me to make sure she was getting the help she needed for what she was dealing with. As I held this woman, I couldn’t help but think I was holding a child; a wounded child, who was never loved growing up, who was told they were a mistake. This lie was confirmed to her over and over again through multiple beatings and neglect.

I couldn’t help but think that many students come into our youth ministry feeling the depth of a similar pain, because they have parents who have chosen not to care for them or have experienced deep and dark pain because of neglect or some other family issue.

We can’t let this continue to happen. We have to stand the gap for these hurting children. We, in the church, must become their family. We must care for the vulnerable and speak a different message into their hearts. We must be a source of healing and restoration, through Jesus, to their wounded souls.

This woman and I prayed together, she was nestled in my arms with her head on my chest. I was doing my best to extend God’s love to her in a tangible way. As I prayed, I wondered if there were very many people in her life growing up who she felt safe enough with to allow them to hold her. I was thankful she felt safe with me, but saddened at the same time wondering who had failed her as a child growing up.

I know not everyone is going to share my same burden for hurting teenagers, but I would ask you to pray about how God might use you. Ask God to open your heart to them, so that you can show them Christ’s love. It will take a whole church to accomplish such a great task of adopting these children who come from the outside into our church family, but through God’s strength and Christ’s love, we can accomplish such a task and see lives changed. I just don’t want to be holding one of my youth group students in 15 years, sharing the same heartbreaking story that will have crippled their lives, just as it had done to this woman.

Please pray for this woman. Pray that she would find her hope and identity in Christ. She said she knows Jesus, so please pray that she would find healing for her wounded heart and become a new woman, in Jesus name.


JH Collide: A Powerful Movement of God

Wednesday night at JH Collide Youth Group we witnessed God moving in the hearts of young people in mighty ways. We saw nearly twenty students get up, with true bravery in their hearts, to share their stories of how God had been working in their lives.
One young girl said, “before I started coming to Collide, I felt really alone and like no one cared about me, but since I’ve started coming, I no longer feel that way, because I know that God is always here for me.” Another young man said, “I thought I was a mistake, but since I’ve started coming to Collide I realize that I am not a mistake, because God has shown me that.” Another girl, through deep tears shared a similar story of deep depression and sadness, feeling as though she was a mistake, but after coming to Collide, soon found out that God loved her. Many students got up, and through many tears, shared the hurts they are experiencing through deep family struggles. It gave me great joy for them to say, but I know now, that God is with me even though; “my mom has cancer,” “they thought my dad was going to die,” “I lost my brother,” “my parents got divorced,” “I felt alone and unloved.” Their stories were so raw and so real, their hearts so tender.
Many students shared of how they came to know Christ this past year at Collide, had started reading the bible and had started genuinely following Jesus. I see a hunger in their eyes to know Jesus more. It’s not games and food that keep them. It is the power of God and the ministry of the Holy Spirit keeping them connected and coming back each week. At the start of the year we saw around 25 students each week. Then, towards the end of the year we averaged around 40. This past Wednesday night, 57 JH students showed up, not because of games and flashy programming, but because our students know Collide is a place to experience God, grow in their faith and be loved; even in their struggles.
At one point in time, a young man was crying after sharing his story, so two of the high school guys who were there serving got up to go and talk with him and pray with him. That gave me such great joy to see Kendell and Jonathan Svoboda praying with that young man. I am so proud of those young men.
It’s in moments like these when I can’t help but praise God for the work He is doing in and through our youth ministry. I am forever in awe of His greatness and I humbly place myself at His mercy as we seek to help these students find peace for their troubled hearts. I am so thankful for the adult leaders at Collide who have sacrificed so much to love on these young people. I am forever grateful for their partnership in ministry. Thank you Mike, Barb, Erik and Haley, Rusty, Cara, Debra, Leslie, J.P. and Britteny, Mark, Jonathon, Kelli, and Beth.