This year: Dream Bigger, Start Smaller by Steven Furtick

greaterword-2I’m pleased to feature these encouraging words from author Steven Furtick today. Wise advice for the new year.

I’ve met a lot of people who knew what it was to burn plows and set  out to live for God but didn’t know what to do next. They prayed, they  made a commitment—and they got stuck. As a pastor, I’ve seen it over and  over again. As a man trying to live for God, I’ve experienced it over  and over again.

I’m guessing you’ve made plenty of resolutions about stuff you needed  to start doing or stop doing. Maybe you were going to start praying or  reading your Bible more.

Or maybe you were going to stop smoking or boycott carbohydrates or  stop looking at pornography or stop saying mean things about family  members behind their backs. Maybe you decided to break away from a  relationship you knew was unhealthy for you.

The way I see it, there are two major reasons why well-intentioned people like us get stuck after we burn our plows.

One, we don’t think big enough. Two, we don’t start small enough.

I’m not trying to talk like Yoda here. Thinking big enough and  starting small enough are two sides of the same coin. So I not only want  to motivate you to dream bigger dreams for your life. I also want to  challenge you to take realistic steps of obedience that can actually  make God’s vision come to pass.

After all, our God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask  or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). It is true that we often settle for dreams  and visions that are far less than those God has for us. And He wants  us to experience much more. If I didn’t believe that, the title of this  book would be Samer.

So of course God wants you to believe big—it’s in His very nature.  I’ve devoted my whole ministry to inspiring people with this truth.  Preacher Dwight L. Moody made a statement that I love: “If God is your  partner, make your plans big.” That way of thinking makes my heart race.

But we’re not going to see God’s bigger vision fulfilled in our lives  just because we spend more time thinking transcendent thoughts. We  don’t attain greater things simply by lying on the couch and  concentrating on the possibilities of a better life. Alas, sitting for  thousands of hours with my headphones on listening to Guns N’ Roses and  imagining I was Axl Rose didn’t translate into my being the lead singer  of the world’s most dangerous rock’n’roll band.

You do have to be willing to think big. But the active ingredient of  God’s greater work through us is our willingness to start small.

I want to show you an incredible image in one of the first main-stage  miracles Elisha performs after Elijah departs and leaves the ministry  in his successor’s hands. It demonstrates the principle that small steps  and hard work precipitate a move of God. That human action prepares the  way for supernatural favor.

It comes from 2 Kings 3, and it goes like this:

King Joram is ruling over Israel during the years when the kingdom is divided. When the king of Moab rebels against him, the frightened king enlists King Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Edom to help him. Their combined military force should be fearsome against the Moabites—but they almost immediately run out of water for their armies and animals. Now they are preparing to face a terrifying foe while facing an even more terrifying fate: dying of thirst.

Par for the course in Israel’s history, the crisis drives King Joram  to look for divine help. He isn’t desperate for God, but he is desperate  for a solution. King Jehoshaphat asks if there is a prophet who could  consult God for them. A servant reminds him of Elisha, the artist  formerly known as Mr. Plow. So the three kings and their entourages go  looking for Elisha.

Elisha confirms to the kings that water will flow from Edom by the  time the sun comes up the next morning. Their armies and their animals  will have plenty to drink. The drought is almost over. God is going to  deliver Moab to His people just as they prayed for. Hallelujah,  somebody?

But he tells the kings to take a small, ludicrous step first.

This is what the Lord says: Make this valley full of ditches. (verse 16)

Why would anybody in their right mind dig ditches to hold rain that isn’t even in the forecast?

Because that’s the way faith works. When you know God has promised  you greater things, you don’t wait for a sign to appear before you  respond. The kings wanted a miracle. They would get their miracle. But  first they got a work order: This is no time for the power of positive  thinking. Tie a bandanna around your head and pick up a shovel.

It would have been great if all the army had to do was sit around  thinking hydration-related thoughts or had a few guided exercises to  help them visualize the water. But that’s not how God operates.

It’s as if God says, “If you really believe I’m going to do what I  told you I would do, get busy. Show Me your faith, and then I’ll show  you My faithfulness. Do your part. If you will do what I asked you to  do, I will be faithful to My word.

“If you’ll dig the ditches, I’ll send the rain.”

The entire nation must have pitched in and dug all night, because  they got it done. The next morning the water arrived. As promised. As  always. The newly installed ditches were full of water, the armies and  animals were refreshed, and the joint army easily overtook the Moabites.

I think Elisha used the process of ditch digging to teach Israel this important paradox of great faith:

Only God can send the rain. But He expects you to dig the ditches.

It really comes down to this: What small steps and practical  preparations is God asking you to make for the greater life He wants you  to live? What ditches is He asking you to dig?

You can’t expect God to entrust you with a big dream if He can’t trust you to make a small start.

You can’t have the apostle Paul’s walk with God overnight. Big dream.

But you can pray ten minutes a day beginning tomorrow. Small start.

You can’t entirely mend a broken relationship overnight. Big dream.

But you can have a conversation and open the door, write the letter, make the call, say, “I’m sorry.” Small start.

If your kid is far from God, you can’t bring him back overnight. Big dream.

But you could start praying for him every day. Small start.

Notice what Elisha doesn’t say; he doesn’t tell the kings to dig one ditch. No singular ditch digging on this prophet’s watch.

Instead, make this valley full of ditches. Plural.

Believe that God is going to send a lot of rain.

If we really believe God is an abundant God, ready and willing to  bless our lives in greater ways than we could ever imagine, we ought to  be digging all kinds of ditches. In our relationships. In our careers.  In our ministries. In every area of our lives, there ought to be  heavy-duty equipment on site. Moving dirt. Making preparation.

And we ought to dig ditches using every means available. We can dig  ditches with our words. With our prayers. With our expectations. Even  with our thoughts.

How many ditches are you willing to dig? How deep will you dig them?  You’re not digging alone. And it’s not in vain. God has a downpour  scheduled in your near future. The deeper you dig, the greater the  rainfall has the potential to be.

Adapted from Greater by Steven Furtick with permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

Saturday smiles: So this is Christmas edition

I’ll admit, I was not terribly looking forward to Christmas this year. It was the first time–ever–that I haven’t been with my extended family for Christmas, and only the second time (the first time being when he was in Iraq) that my husband has missed his family’s get-togethers.

Needless to say, we were both a little bummed at the way things have worked out this year. By next week, we’ll be home for “the holidays,” or what’s left of them.

So I was surprised at how good our Christmas was. It started on Sunday with our annual “White Christmas” viewing complete with cookies and egg nog. Our son wholeheartedly embraced the eggnog tradition, proclaiming it a better drink than hot chocolate and our daughter was inspired by the dance moves and twirled and tapped her way through the living room for two days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then on Christmas Eve, we attended our church’s candlelight and communion service, the first time we’ve been able to attend it because we’re usually at our home church in Illinois on Christmas Eve. It was lovely and inspiring and I found myself blessed and joyful in spite of how I was feeling earlier in the day. And our daughter took communion for the first time. It wasn’t something we planned, but we talked with her about it and later she told us: “The bread is Jesus’ body. The juice is his blood. And he died.” That pretty much sums it up. We have further reason to nurture her faith.

My husband and I did the whole put the kids to bed and then wrap presents and play Santa gig. We have a new appreciation for what our parents endured all those years.

And it was all worth it for the joy of Christmas morning. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even though most of what “Santa” brought the kids was toys we had in the attic that other people have given us, the kids were thrilled. “Santa brought us so much stuff!” our 3-year-old son repeated. We spent the rest of the morning in our jammies, watching the kids play with Barbies and Ninja Turtles. We video called with the grandparents then headed over the river (there was no river; more like a mountain) and through the woods (it is sort of wooded) to our friends’ house for Christmas dinner. What an enjoyable time we had there! Later we collapsed into Christmas exhaustion and welcomed a snow/ice storm the next day.

In the days after Christmas, we have eaten too many Christmas cookies, and I, personally, have indulged in more coffee than is probably healthy. We are packing and preparing for a trip west to see family and friends. And hoping for better days to come in the new year. And if not better days, then better attitudes to face whatever the days may bring.

Christmas blessings to you, all.

One thing I’ve never had to worry about when interviewing for a job

I’ve had my share of job interviews in my working years: at a radio station, a movie theater, college newspaper office, two daily newspaper companies, a bus magazine, a curriculum company, a non-profit. Never in all of those interviews did I have to worry about becoming a slave.

Overworked? Yes.

Underpaid? Yes.

Unappreciated? Yes.

Fired? Yes.

Enslaved? No.

That’s Anna’s story. anchiliexodusroad

Investigators working with The Exodus Road met Anna and Sophia, two European women, working the streets in Southeast Asia in the fall of this year. Anna was promised a job in Southeast Asia–maybe it was cleaning houses or being a nanny–and an income that would support her and her family. She arrived to a much different scenario.

A sex trafficker took her passport and said she owed him $5,000 (US) for the ticket and her housing. To “work off” her debt, Anna and Sophia now work a red-light district in Southeast Asia making about $50 a night. Even if Anna could work off her debt, the scars–physical and mental–of the abuse she has suffered will follow her.

ER-crowd-night

She just wanted a job. To help her family. To escape poverty.

Now she is trapped, forced to sell herself night after night to pay a debt to her captors.

Anna and Sophia’s stories have been documented by The Exodus Road investigators but pursuing a case against the traffickers is in the hands of local non-governmental organizations. The Exodus Road can provide funding and personnel in pursuing this case to conviction. In the meantime, two girls wait on a street corner, cigarettes in their hands, wearing tall heels or trendy high-tops, mini-skirts and make-up, trying to catch the eye of a Western tourist or a local passing by, looking for drinks or fun, parties or sex.

Click here to find out how you can help The Exodus Road help girls like Anna and Sophia.

Man! I feel like a woman: Review of A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

In my Shania Twain phase, years and years ago, I remember a song by this title (Man! I Feel Like a Woman) that, intentionally or otherwise, suggested a woman who wanted to “do what she dared” had to let loose and, essentially, act like a man.

biblical womanhoodI was never one to notice sexist messages or inequality. Recently, though, I’m seeing it everywhere, thanks in part to influences like Rachel Held Evans’ new book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. (Like the kid in The Sixth Sense tells Bruce Willis, “I see dead people,” I feel like telling those I meet, “I see gender inequality!” I’m sure that wouldn’t be awkward at all.)

I stumbled onto Rachel’s blog when one of her posts was referenced in a class my husband was taking at seminary. He left the link open, I read it, and I went back for more. Then a friend quoted from her first book in a sermon, and I decided to subscribe to her posts. She was talking up the release of this, her latest, and the premise intrigued me. In it, Rachel sought to live out in a year all the biblical “rules” in the Bible regarding women. She called her husband “Master,” she kept quiet in church, she slept in a tent on her front lawn during her period. And while she has been highly criticized for making a mockery of the Bible and womanhood, I found her year of biblical womanhood a courageous act on behalf of all women.

Rachel takes one for the team, not to mock women or the God who created them, but to elevate women to their equal standing with men. Through her year of living biblically, she honors women by reclaiming Proverbs 31 from the “to-do” list it has become and exposes gender bias that has become unequivocal truth in some denominations.

I laughed out loud while reading the book. I cried reading stories of South American women who have lived hard lives to save their families. I read passages out loud to my husband when I was moved, tickled or outraged. (I was all three.) In one case, this was to my benefit. After learning that Jewish men are the ones who memorize Proverbs 31 and recite it in celebration of their wives, and that “woman of valor” — eshet chayil, in Hebrew — is a blessing, my husband has started to say this to me for little things I’ve done or for no particular reason at all.

Whatever you’ve heard about this book, good or bad, you’ve got to read it yourself. Rachel is witty, passionate, honest and serious about the Bible. Which is why she wrote the book: to free women from misconceptions about their roles in God’s kingdom because we’ve taken the Bible literally when we shouldn’t have.

On her blog, Rachel honors women of valor regularly by sharing their stories. You can find the series here.

This is one takeaway I have from the book: honoring women for their acts of valor, whatever they may be. So, don’t be surprised if I shout Hebrew at you or randomly hail you as “woman of valor.” Because we’re sisters and we need all the encouragement we can get.

When the world doesn’t end

The world didn’t end on Friday; that’s old news now, so it seems Christmas will come after all, and most of us will live to see 2013.

Oak Tree on snowy Fields at Sunset

Andreas Krappweis

A new year. Full of promise.

Except that while people were watching and waiting for the world to end (or not) on Friday, my husband and I were dealing with another blow to what we thought was the plan for our family.

I had been awaiting a second interview for a promising, exciting job, which was not a sure thing by any means but which gave us hope that maybe we could move and get out of this financial, spiritual, emotional rut we’re in. On Friday I got an e-mail and instead of anticipating a second interview, I found the door slammed shut with the words “we are not able to offer a position to you at this time.”

After the initial shock, Phil and I have rebounded and regrouped a little but we still find ourselves lost for direction.

And this is so not where I wanted to be. Especially at Christmas and on the cusp of a new year.

Today, on Christmas Eve, I am painfully aware of my condition.

Poor.

Needy.

Broken.

Helpless.

Empty.

And not unlike God-become-flesh, fullness of God in helpless babe, as the songs say.

How, on earth, could Almighty God become a helpless, dependent baby?

The answer resides in heaven.

And though I am all of the above, I have hope.

Tonight our church serves communion as part of its Christmas Eve service, a service our family has never attended because we’re usually home in Illinois by now. And I am so looking forward to it because of this:

“Jesus fills us with more and more of himself in the Eucharist to free us from being quite so full of ourselves in the rest of life.” — David DeSilva, Sacramental Life

Or as John the Baptist said of his relationship with Jesus: “He must increase, I must decrease.”

I don’t know what the new year holds for us, and maybe that’s a good thing. I spent most of this year clinging to expectations and recovering from disappointment when they went unmet. This year, I pray my expectations will consist of one word: Jesus.

“And he will be our peace.” – Micah 5:5

Saturday smiles: Christmas spirit edition

We’ve been slow to get in the Christmas spirit this year, so I feel like we’re packing a lot of our favorite Christmas activities into this week leading up to Christmas. The kids and I made Christmas cookies on Thursday and more today. Last night we had a family dinner night out of the house then drove around looking at Christmas lights. I finished the shopping for the kids yesterday. My husband’s picking up a few more things today.

The kids made these cute ornaments at storytime yesterday. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They make great additions to our tiny tree. (And if it weren’t for library storytime, we might not do any crafts at all. I lack the patience gene required for doing crafts with my kids.)

And this really has nothing to do with Christmas, but Phil worked late one day last week and stopped at the discount grocery store to grab a treat for me. He knows me so well.

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And our Christmas cards are not yet in the mail, so here’s a preview. It might be more like a New Year’s card. What can you do?

Joy From Us Holiday
View this season’s most popular holiday card designs here.
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Letter to a stranger: How you can encourage a hero

Next month, a team from The Exodus Road will travel to Southeast Asia as part of their work rescuing children from sex trafficking. During that visit, they also plan to deliver letters of encouragement to the investigators who do the front-line work of rescue: posing as customers, collecting video evidence, and all the while putting themselves in danger for someone else’s freedom. Here’s an open letter of thanks and encouragement to an investigator. If you’d like to write your own, the address and instructions are at the bottom of this post. Deadline is January 5.

Dear investigator,

I don’t know you. We’ll probably never meet. But your work, it inspires me.

In a world full of darkness, you are a light.

In a world quickly losing hope in humanity, you are living, breathing hope. ER-flower

You are courageous and committed, going into places few of us will ever see or would ever want to. You go willingly where others have gone unwillingly.

You stifle your own fears to get the job done. You offer life and rescue to those who have given up on both.

You choose to go in with no guarantees of your safety or success in your mission. And still you go.

You will never be publicly recognized as a hero because you work undercover. And still you go.

And half a world away, I am grateful.

Words from another letter, written centuries ago, seem appropriate for this letter as well: “Do not become weary in doing good.” The good you do changes lives.

I humbly send these words to encourage you, wishing I could do more to strengthen your resolve. You do not carry this burden alone.

Keep fighting for rescue where you are. I will do my part where I am.

And together, we will shine a light on the darkest parts of the world.

With great thanks,

Lisa

Want to write your own?

Handwritten letters can be mailed by January 5 to:

The Exodus Road PO Box 7591 Woodland Park, Colorado 80863

OR submit one online. The crew at The Exodus Road will translate your letters, if necessary, and hand-deliver them in January.

The Exodus Road blogging crew has more than 60 members. If each blogger and four readers write a letter, the team will send more than 300 letters to investigators in the field. Will you be one of the four?

Here are The Exodus Road founders Matt and Laura talking about why this is important.