Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Chains Are Gone

For the past couple of weeks, a war has waged in my heart: a war between the Spirit and my flesh (which has found an ally in the whispered lies of the enemy). I have lived between the tension of grace and shame. There have been moments that I have gratefully sought shelter in the shadow of the Cross and moments that I have tried to climb up on that Cross and blasphemously become my own messiah.

As I sat the other night listening to traditional hymns and carols sung in worship (as was their original intention), the words of the songs washed over me. One song in particular was Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone). As I sang the words, the enemy (and my heart) condemned me saying, you can't sing those words honestly...you still have some pretty heavy chains.

But then...

Grace spoke. The Holy Spirit shut the mouth of the enemy and my heart. He said, yes, your chains ARE gone. Jesus, God wrapped in flesh, Emmanuel, came and lived the life you should have but couldn't and died the death you should have but won't. And that's not all. He rose and intercedes for you even now.

"for whenever our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything." (1 John 3:20)

AND HE KNOWS EVERYTHING.

He knows the filth I've thought. He knows the self-righteousness I've felt. And yet He does not condemn me!

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:1 - 4)

My chains ARE gone!
I HAVE been set free!
My God MY Savior has ransomed me!
And like a flood, His MERCY reigns...
Unending love, amazing GRACE!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sudan - Part Two



While in Sudan, we had the privilege of working with Bishop Taban. He and his wife, Grace Ann, were a blessing to know. Their love for the Lord and for the people of Sudan and beyond was convicting. They have a vision for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Through the network of their churches and ministries, they are empowering people all over Africa to spread the gospel by loving orphans, training pastors, educating the people, funding clinics, creating jobs...the list goes on and on.

Will you pray that the Lord would bless and increase their work there? Will you pray how you can help the people of Sudan? Here are a few ways you can help:

Aid Sudan - make a donation or buy a radio by which people may hear the gospel

His Voice for Sudan - help build an orphanage

Actions Speak Louder - purchase a great song and contribute to His Voice for Sudan

His Voice Global Silent Auction - attend this event which will feature a screening of the documentary The New Sudan

video

You might be wondering what Matt is wearing in the photo at the beginning of this post. While we were in Sudan, Matt was officially made a bishop. There was a ceremony and everything! It was a huge honor. We were humbled to be a part. Here are a few more photos of the ceremony:



Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving

I hope to finish the series on Sudan I started well over a month ago! Until then, I just wanted to share some thoughts about Thanksgiving 2010.

Thanksgiving Day 2009 rocked our world when Matt suffered a seizure and soon after we discovered he had anaplastic oligodendroglioma (malignant brain tumor). As I laid my head down to sleep that night I couldn't have imagined what yesterday, a whole year later, would look like.

It was so...normal.

Not long after Matt was released from the hospital and rehab, I remember lying in bed wondering what the new "normal" would be. I longed for the old "normal."

Yesterday was beautifully, wonderfully normal. And, I thank God for that. I thank Him that I've known the new normal and the old normal. I thank Him that I can appreciate the sweetness of predictability because I have felt Him sustaining me in the unsettling of the unimaginable happening.

Thanksgiving Day 2010 may have been boringly predictable for you or frighteningly not. My prayer is that you would know the Rock who is unshaken. There is nowhere else for us to stand.

"On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

George Clooney on Sudan

I'll be back soon with more from our trip to Sudan but in the meantime I wanted to share this interview with you:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sudan - Part One



There is almost so much, I don't know where to start. Forgive me if I struggle to make sense. The beginning of a story seems the most natural place, so I will do just that.

Matt's first few rounds of the current chemotherapy protocol was tough. It laid him out for a couple of days. This reaction prompted him to cancel all but two previous engagements on his fall schedule. There were some huge opportunities and events that he had to unfortunately decline. This all happened in the spring. At the end of June, we found out there were some openings on a Village Church team trip to Sudan. With an historical referendum coming up in January, we knew this would be our best shot at visiting this country. We accepted the positions only three months away from the departure date.

There was a part of me that wasn't sure it would pan out for me. Maybe it was that subconscious piece that protects my heart from pain. I really wanted to go.

As the trip details starting to take shape, I realized I would be among three women who would be teaching a women's conference--a first for our sister church in Sudan. I would not consider myself a teacher. Honestly, I just don't know if I am or not. I've had very few opportunities to exercise that gift. I am much more comfortable singing or leading worship. However, even that comfort has come with a decade of using that gift. Either way, I was needing to prepare to teach biblical womanhood to a group of women with whom I had little in common culturally. I knew I could get by with sharing thoughts about biblical womanhood with women whose lives looked like mine but what on earth would I have to offer these women??

I felt the Lord saying to me (often through others) that He had prepared me in advance and would give me everything I would need. He delivered.

My friend Dawntoya Thomason and I (the third woman was unable to make the trip) taught 20 Sudanese women biblical womanhood 5 hours a day for 5 days. Teaching stretched and challenged me more than anything I'd ever experienced in such a short amount of time. I have never felt the Lord nearer. In the States, I can start off with time in the Word and quickly go on with my life, "leaving" Him at my dining room table. In Sudan, I had to depend on Him for every word, every breath, every step. I felt Him upholding me constantly. I am grateful for your prayers because I KNOW they were working something amazing! In our first session, two women came to faith. Praise the Lord!

Though we had to communicate via interpreter, the Lord communicated His truth to the hearts of our hearers. They were so grateful to receive instruction. It was life to them. Simple truths that we who've grown up in the church take for granted were treasured gems to these women. Knowing they were created in the image of God brought new meaning to their life. Knowing they were created for the glory of God brought greater purpose to their everyday. Knowing they were created for fellowship with God brought a profound peace.

I want to share with you a few of these faces. Will you pray that the Word taught to them will have found fertile soil in their hearts?




There's still much more to share. Stay tuned...

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sudan Sneak Peek

I'll be posting thoughts and more pictures from Sudan but I wanted to just give you a peek for now. These sweet girls live in an orphanage close to where we stayed. They are precious.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

300 Days.

Exactly 300 days ago, life as we knew it was forever changed.

300 days ago, I wasn't sure how many more days I would have with my husband.

300 days ago, I wasn't sure of the quality of those remaining days.

300 days later, my healthy, whole husband and I are boarding a plane for the other side of the world.

300 days later, we are preparing our hearts to refresh the saints and shine the light of the gospel in Sudan.

300 days ago, God was good and did good.

300 days later, God is good and does good.

May He be forever praised!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sudan

A week from today, Matt and I will be heading out for 12 days of teaching, loving on and learning from the people of south Sudan. Our church, The Village Church, has become a partner in spreading the gospel in Sudan with a local church there. We will spend our time encouraging and refreshing the saints. Matt will be teaching the pastors theology and pastoral care. My dear friend Dawntoya and I will be teaching a women's conference on biblical womanhood and visiting a nearby orphanage.

On a more personal note, just before Matt's surgery in December last year, we received a humbling picture of the church in Sudan literally on their knees interceding on his behalf. If we can offer anything to these sweet brothers and sisters, it will not compare to what they have already given us! We are grateful and I can't wait to express my gratitude personally to them.

I share this news with you for two reasons: (1) that you would commit to pray for us before and during our trip (September 22 through October 3) and (2) if the Holy Spirit leads, that you would contribute financially to our team. There are ten of us making the trip. One of our team members is recording artist LeCrae. He has posted a link to make financial contributions through the web. If you feel led, please follow this link and scroll down to the bottom of the blog entry (which I highly recommend reading!) until you see "DONATE HERE". Remember that no matter what you are able to contribute (constant prayers to $1 to $1000), each "gift" will be equally accepted joyfully and gratefully.

Thank you in advance!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

He is Able

Grateful.

That word pretty much sums it up.

Thank you for your prayers and your words. We feel carried by the Holy Spirit through the prayers of the saints!

I am grateful to know there is no evidence of recurrent tumor in my husband's brain.

He, the Lord our God, is able!


The Superfluous Shoot

The gardener's sharp-edged knife promotes the fruitfulness of the tree, by thinning the clusters, and by cutting off superfluous shoots. So is it, Christian, with that pruning which the Lord gives to thee. ~ C.H. Spurgeon

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." John 15:1 - 2

As Matt's fourth (? I've lost count!) post-surgery MRI is only hours away, I've been hit with a curve-ball of anxiety. Until now, I've gone into each scan, appointment, or meeting with little fear. I'm not sure what's different this time aside from two things:

1. With the exception of the first MRI (in the ER after his seizure) and diagnosis, we've gotten nothing but good, hopeful news. I am so grateful for this and am asking and wanting to believe Matt's complete healing. However, it's as if there is a part of me that is waiting for the other shoe to drop. There's a little whisper saying, it really is too good to be true.

2. The Lord is wanting to expose the lie, however small, that I am believing. Let me tell you what the lie is NOT first.

The lie is not: God will not heal Matt. I believe the Lord can and will heal Matt but even if He doesn't heal him on earth, he will be perfectly healed in heaven.

The lie is this: God is not good and He does not want my good.

This is the lie that tripped up Eve in the garden. This is the lie that has plagued humankind ever since. This is the lie the Father exposed through His Son on the cross. "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay his life down for his friends." How can we not see through this lie? "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things?"

So, the Lord reveals the lie that a small part of me still believes. He uses the anxiety to remind me to be rooted in Him and His truth: if He is for me, what can be against me? He prunes the branches. He gets rid of the "superfluous shoot."


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Norah's First Birthday

On May 29, 2010, Norah turned one! Hopefully, since her first year is behind us, I will be making more contributions to this blog. Thank you to all who've continued to read and comment despite my meager entries!

I wanted to share some snapshots from Norah's party. It was a garden theme thus we celebrated in my parents' garden. Three-digit temperatures had yet to smother us...how I am dreaming of those days!

My parents and Matt's parents, sisters and their families joined us for a sweet little celebration. Our roommate Stephanie made the cupcakes and smash cake. She is incredibly talented and enjoys baking (hint, hint...shameless plug).

Norah's name means "light/torch" or "honor." She has been a huge
bright spot in the past year. Her smile lights up our world and we are honored to s
hepherd her little heart to trust in the Savior Shepherd who loves her even more than we do.

Norah, you are a joy to love!




Thursday, May 20, 2010

Memorials





Have you ever anticipated an event, got there, experienced it, knew something monumental was stirring in you throughout it but were left with just a vague impression of all that had just transpired?

Maybe I'm the only one.

In my walk with Christ, there have been times when the Lord has whispered, savor this. In the moment, I can cognitively acknowledge its preciousness but my heart hasn't quite wrapped around it. I can tell myself, okay, one day, this is going to mean something beyond what it's meaning to me right now.

In the Old Testament, the Lord had His people, the Israelites, set up memorials to remind His people of all He had done for them. You'd think they'd just remember if it was such a big deal. But, not unlike myself, they got distracted by needs, wants and a deceitful heart that would lead them astray into trusting men instead of God. They forgot how perfectly the Lord delivered them from their enemies and provided for all the needs and wants. Since He knew them and knew that would happen, He was adamant about constructing a memorial as a physical, tangible evidence of His faithfulness.

Today, I glanced down at my phone and noticed the date: May 20, 2010. Ten years ago to the day, I was a part of an event that I knew would become a memorial in my heart but, at the time, hadn't quite had my heart wrap around it. I remember thinking it would be something monumental but had no idea how the Lord would flesh it out in me personally.

Ten years later, the Lord gave me a picture: a road, not so level in some places, winding, well-beaten with monuments marking every quarter mile or so. It was as if I heard Him say, that's the way you've come, that's the life you've lived, and the monuments are distinct evidences of My faithfulness to you...see what I've done? ...see how much I love you?

May 20, 2000 was one of those days He plucked from among many to show me His faithfulness. I couldn't grasp all that He was showing me that day, but looking back I can see it went beyond one day...beyond just me. It stands now in thousands of hearts among hundreds of other memorials to proclaim God's faithfulness. He was faithful then. He is faithful now. He will be faithful forever.




Monday, April 26, 2010

The following is a blog post I wrote a couple of weeks ago for my friend Donna Stuart. She leads a ministry called Masterpiece. She is a dear friend. If you are a young woman, 18 - 25 years of age, I cannot commend her ministry enough to you! For more information, go here.

"Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities." Isaiah 53:11

"And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, 'Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but your, be done.' And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground." Luke 22:41 - 43

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1 - 2

Have you ever felt the weight of your sin? Maybe you had secret thoughts in your heart, thoughts that never saw the light of day, thoughts that hadn't resulted in action (yet), that were suddenly found out? Have you felt the crushing heaviness? The shame? If you haven't, I pray you will. And if you have, take heart, it is God's sweet mercy.

As I read the verse in Isaiah, I couldn't help but picture Jesus in the garden praying, knowing and seeing (as Isaiah says) what was before Him. Yes, the act of crucifixion was excruciating, not to mention the beatings and betrayal he endured, but in addition to all of that, He took on our iniquities. He bore the weight, the heaviness, the shame of our sin. He became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). Imagine feeling the gravity of your sin times every person you know. It is but a small fraction of what Jesus felt.

He knew what was before Him. He saw it. He saw my sin. He saw your sin. He felt the immense weight of it. And yet it says "for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross." And, that His soul would "see and be satisfied." How is that possible? It's possible because Jesus saw further than our sin. He saw what His enduring the cross would purchase: a people for Himself, called by His name, made for His glory, no longer seeking their own glory, captives set free, sinners made righteous.

Sin is real. It is heavy. It costs. On this side of heaven, it is going to happen. We will seek comfort and value in our idols instead of the one true God.

But...

There is Jesus. He is the Author: the cross and what it purchased is His idea, His story. He is the Perfecter: He will squeeze each idol out of our hearts, we are to but trust and obey Him.

What does it look like to trust and obey Him? First John 1:9 says "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Sister, do not let the heaviness of sin weigh you down to the point of defeat. If you are in Christ, there is no defeat. Confess your sins to Him. Find a sister in Christ whom you trust and confess to her. Dig into the Word. Flee temptation. Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you strength if even in fleeing you are met with temptation. Lastly, but importantly, thank Him. Praise Him for seeing the agony before Him and enduring it with joy and satisfaction.

Father, I thank You for giving Your perfect Son. Jesus, thank You for laying Your life down fully knowing what that would entail. Holy Spirit, help me to abide in You. Cleanse my deceitful heart, so prone to wander. Thank You for the body of believers in which You have set me to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. May You be glorified.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Like the rising sun that shines/from the darkness comes a Light/I hear Your voice and this is my/awakening..."

I can't help but imagine this scene when I hear those lyrics from the new Passion project::Awakening::

Lazarus.
Draped in graveclothes lying in the deep dark tomb.
A light pierces the pink veil of his eyelids.
He can't help but try to peek through the strips of linen to see what source could radiate such incandescence.
The grogginess of death's slumber begins to melt but still refuses to relinquish it's residue.
Until.
"Lazarus, come out."
At that point, there was no wondering.
No veil.
No residue.
No question.
His Lord had spoken.
Called.
Commanded.
This was Lazarus' awakening.

There are two awakenings. One that, Lord willing, happens on earth: when our souls are transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the beloved Son. This is the most important awakening. If there is not this first one, there is not a second...at least not a second that is unto Life.

The second awakening is glorious in a different way than the first is glorious. In this awakening, we follow in the footsteps of the Preeminent One, Jesus--He who has gone before us. Then, we will know as we are fully known. Our eyes will see Him.

In only a few hours, we will be celebrating a brother's second awakening. He is there. He knows as he is known. His eyes see Him.

His family mourns. His friends mourn. But we do not mourn as those who have no hope. We mourn with a groaning hope. Waiting for the second Awakening.

(for information on our friend and how you might be able to help his wife and two young children, go here )

(for information on the song, go here )




Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thank you, Eric Gorski...

...for writing a tender, accurate portrait of our family in this season of life.

I know I might have a few new readers linking from his article featured in various news outlets. Please know that you are welcome here. As you can imagine, our lives didn't just start three months ago. Feel free to browse our blog...to flesh out the picture drawn by Eric's words.

Thank you for stopping by.

~Lauren

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Pray for Passion

Thirteen years ago, a college student sat among many his age stunned by the answer to the question, "For whom did Christ die?" He would never be the same. (For the answer to that question, read John Piper's article or listen to his sermon . Note: I do not wish to enter into a theological debate so please refrain from sending comments that would stir up a discussion to that end. Thank you.) In that sermon, the Lord used His humble vessel, Pastor John, to lay a foundation for what was to come for the young man and his future wife and family. For, if the Lord had not so powerfully spoken through him--if Louie & Shelley Giglio hadn't invited him to speak--if the vision of Passion had not been cast, we wouldn't have had ground to stand on when we heard the words, "brain cancer."

Now, I know God could have used a myriad of mouthpieces but He sovereignly chose the Passion Conference in Austin, Texas in 1997. Two years later as a college Freshman, my heart was set aflame to say "Yes, Lord...whatever You have for me, my answer is Yes, Lord." At the time I had no idea I would be saying, Yes, Lord. I will walk the path of brain cancer with my husband for Your glory and my joy."

"Yes, Lord, walking in the way of Your truth, we wait eagerly for You; Your name and renown are the desire of our souls." Isaiah 26:8

So, I ask you to pray. Pray that there will be another young man, another young woman whose view of God is much too small--whose foundation will not be enough on which to stand when their world falls apart--whose purpose in life is the eternally dismal "American dream" instead of the infinitely joyous joining with the saints for the advancement of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Pray they will be utterly ruined. For His glory and their joy.

For more information go here.