“Consider Yourselves”

Everyday, I am overwhelmed by the weight of God’s grace in light of my utter depravity. Without Christ’s blood covering my sin and without his perfect atonement on the cross, I would be stuck trying to earn my worth and salvation, falling short every time. All of this I am well aware of. But there is a distorted belief permeating many churches today that must be corrected in order for Christ to receive the full reward of his suffering.

You see, we are “sinners saved by grace.” Yes…but this phrase communicates more than the wonderful fact that grace saves. It also implies an identity that actually no longer applies to people once they believe in Jesus. Because when people believe in Jesus, their old identity: “sinner” is replaced with a new identity: “saint”.

Let’s explore this a bit. In Romans 5, it explains how the first Adam (Eve’s husband) disobeyed God and brought condemnation upon the entire human race. It then explains how the second Adam (Jesus Christ) obeyed God by living the perfect sinless life and brought justification and salvation to all mankind. “For as by the one man’s disobedience, the many were made sinners, but by the one man’s obedience, the many were made righteous” (Romans 5:19).

So what was our primary identity before Christ’s death? Sinners. And after? Righteous. Completely holy and blameless before him. Saints.

It’s important to understand this fact: Christ’s death and resurrection carry the power to change our sinful identity and his Spirit working in us carries the power to change our sinful activity. Our inner rebellious tendencies and our outward rebellious actions can change. Our wayward nature and our wayward ways can change.

Romans 6 explains how our baptism into Jesus literally fuses us with him in his death and resurrection, which means that in every way that sin no longer has power over Christ, sin no longer has power over us. “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self has been crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that you may no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:5-7).

Whoa! Do we get this? Jesus died so that the power of sin would no longer entangle us in any way. So that we would walk in the same glory and “newness of life” (v. 4) that Christ did in the resurrection. So that sin would disappear from mankind and we would be “holy as He is holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

I didn’t know this growing up. I often walked out of church feeling more guilty and sinful than when I walked in. A sinner saved by grace, emphasis on the sinner…

Resonate with anyone? I’ve discovered that the trick in gaining a truer perception of your identity in Christ is to take inventory of how you “consider yourself.” Do you consider yourself a sinner who will never be able to escape that same sin you’ve been struggling with for years? Or do you consider yourself a son of God who is holy before him, being sanctified daily?

Scripture talks a lot about how to “consider yourself:”

  • “You must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).
  • “From now on, therefore, we consider no one according to the flesh…For our sake he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:16, 21).

Notice that in these passages, we are NOT to consider ourselves as those who are sinful or who live in the flesh. On the other hand, we ARE to consider ourselves as those who are living in alignment with God and who embody his righteousness. That’s life-changing stuff. Especially because we become who we think we are.

Get this: Christ died so that you could be free from seeing yourself in a condemning negative light. Part of the glory God receives is from you being able to look at how messed up you are and yet knowing that Christ’s perfection covers you. After all, God looks at you and sees Jesus. Do you look at you and see Jesus (or at least someone being changed more and more into his image everyday?)

So when we do not “consider ourselves” correctly, it’s almost as if Christ’s death and resurrection meant nothing. If I do not believe and embody the truth that my old self has been crucified with him and that I am no longer enslaved to sin, then it’s almost as if the cross was ineffective. So seeing yourself as righteous before him is not prideful, but rather honoring to God because it’s what he died for!

So am I a sinner saved by grace? Yes. But an even truer statement would be: I am a saint made righteous through the blood of Christ who is being transformed daily into his likeness through his victory over sin.

How will you “consider yourself” today?

Joy = Strength

Over the past several months, I’ve discovered a whole new meaning to the common Christian phrase, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” One day while I was listening back through some old recordings of prayers that I’ve received from people over the years, I noticed a consistent theme…almost ALL of them talked about joy! The people praying over me would say things like, “You are the Lord’s joyful one!” or “The joy of the Lord is your strength!” And for a while, I just glanced over these things thinking, “Oh that’s nice…joy…whatever.” I’d always just lumped joy together with other “Christiany” themes like faith, love, and hope…

My friends, today I would like to pose to you the idea that joy is not just another one of those happy feelings that all Christians “should” have…instead it literally carries the power to overcome. It is a weapon against the enemy in times of trial, a fortress of encouragement when fiery darts are flying, and a vehicle for victory!

James 1:2-4 – “My dear brothers, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy for you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance and let endurance have it’s full effect so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Wow…do you want to lack NOTHING?! I do!

What if we began to see every situation in our lives, whether positive or negative, as an opportunity for God to deliver us further into his love and divine purpose? What if we actually began to believe that “God is able to work good in every circumstance” (Romans 8:28)? What if we were literally able to “be unafraid of bad news” (Psalm 112:7)? Then frustration, complaining, discouragement, depression, and fear would be nullified.

In every situation, God has an agenda and the enemy has an agenda. The question is, who are we going to choose to partner with? Are we going to partner with God in our circumstance, choose joy, and see it as an opportunity to strengthen our character and faith to walk in a greater measure of the calling to which we have been called? OR are we going to partner with the enemy in our circumstance, choose bitterness, despair, and discouragement, and further sever our relationship with God and others? It really is up to us…

Because joy is a choice. Do I have to be ruled by my emotions and feelings? What if I learned to laugh because it was right, not necessarily because i “felt like it?” If I can stop laughing, then isn’t it possible for me to start laughing whenever I choose? Now, I am not talking about fabricating my feelings. I’m talking about having the ability to root my feelings in something more true and eternal than my circumstances.

If faith is a choice, then joy is a choice that I make by faith. Not enough money to pay for school? Rejoice in the fact that you will get to see God’s provision! Still waiting for God to bring that special person into your life? Rejoice in the fact the you are loved infinitely by the God of the Universe! Fighting with a friend? Rejoice in the fact that you get to grow in your conflict resolution skills! As it says in James, we rejoice because we can become stronger with everything that is thrown our way!

Is it really possible to access this kind of strength through joy? It is now! (Now that Jesus has come! And now that He has given us His Holy Spirit!)

JESUS brought joy into the world

  • It was prophesied in Isaiah 61:3,7 that the Messiah was to bring “the oil of gladness” and “everlasting JOY.”
  • John leaped for JOY in Elizabeth’s womb when he encountered Jesus in Mary’s womb (Luke 1:44).
  • The angels announced, “I bring you good news of great JOY that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).
  • Jesus’ dying wish was that we would have the full measure of his JOY within us (John 17:13)!!!

The HOLY SPIRIT gives us unlimited access to that joy

  • “For the Kingdom of God is…righteousness, peace, and JOY in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
  • In Acts 13:52, the disciples were “filled with JOY and the Holy Spirit”
  • The fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace, patience… (Galatians 5:22).

Joy is from the FATHER

  • “In your presence O God there is fullness of JOY…” (Psalm 16:11).
  • “He who sits in the heavens laughs…” (Psalm 2:4).
  • May the God of hope fill you with all JOY and peace as you trust in him” (Romans 15:13).

I am a living breathing testimony that this kind of joy is possible, even amidst the difficulties of life. Over the past couple of months, I went through an unexpected trial season. But because I had been studying these truths about how tough situations are simply incredible opportunities to rejoice and grow in steadfastness, I was able to access greater measures of his JOY than ever before. People were baffled by it! By all worldly standards, I should have been devastated, but I wasn’t. As one of my friends points out in his blog, “The joy of the Lord isn’t a powerful testimony when everything is going well, but when everything is going horribly!” http://indagatioveri.blogspot.com/2013/10/a-spirit-of-joy-and-thanksgiving.html.

The fact is that Jesus brought joy into the world, and when He left, He gave us full access to it through the Holy Spirit who lives and dwells in each of us! Woohoo! Be strong in joy and bring on the celebration!

Mind of a Saint

About two years ago now, I was in a valley season. And in that valley season, I experienced a powerful time of prayer where the Lord encountered me…I was a complete mess afterwards. Ruined.  The kind of prayer where a group of people surround you, lay on hands, and wait on the Lord to speak. And as these people spoke the heart of the Father over my life, I heard about the life, joy, and destiny that was available to me. And yet it all felt out of reach.

Almost immediately, they could sense this in the Spirit and began to give me strategies of how to achieve the freedom and fullness that Christ died for me to have. And these strategies focused primarily on the MIND.

They highlighted 2 Corinthians 10:5, which says that we are to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” They said that when the enemy speaks over me and tries to take me into the darkness, I need to take every thought captive and replace it with His truth…that when the condemning thoughts come, I can just say “No! Worthlessness and self-condemnation be gone! Because I belong to Jesus Christ and I am approved, cherished, and loved by the Father.” They told me to write this truth on my heart, on post-it notes all over the room! and then no weapon formed against me shall prosper.

They asked for freedom in my mind. For the breaking off of self-condemnation. They asked for the Lord to remove the tentacles of the enemy that try to drag me down. For the silencing of the accuser’s voice over my life. For the securing of my heart in His love. I can’t say that I began to experience transformation that day… but I can say that the prayer they prayed set in motion something that I cannot even begin to understand. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have the divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)

I can say with exploding joy and excitement that TODAY I am experiencing true freedom in my mind. Don’t get me wrong it didn’t just show up miraculously. No. Over the past two years, I have been training my mind to think His thoughts, to meditate on His truth, to memorize His word. And when I say training…it felt like boot camp.

Because when you first become aware that you do not have to be a victim to whatever thoughts fly into your brain, a battle begins to rage. Against old thought patterns. Against the lies you still believe but no longer want to. Against the whisperings of an enemy who wants you to remain powerless, small, ashamed, isolated, and unloved.

2 Timothy 1:7 – “He has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” Love is the opposite of fear. And if the spirit of love is also the spirit of power and a sound mind, then the spirit of fear is also the spirit of powerlessness and a weak or divided mind. Tracking with me? Read the verse again. God, through the blood of Jesus Christ, has cut off the spirit of fear which used to throw our minds into the enemy’s lies and has made available to us the spirit of love which has the power to give our thoughts steadfastness on His truth.

So the first step was realizing that the mind of Christ has been made available to me (and believing it). The second agonizing step was learning to recognize which thoughts where from the Lord and which ones were from the pit of hell. The third step was asking God to replace the lies with the truth (constantly…everyday…for months…and years). The fourth step was drawing on the Lord’s strength for perseverance when all I wanted to do was give up (because I saw how deeply rooted in old thought patterns my mind was…and how far I had to go). And the fifth step was slow gradual levels of freedom in my mind!

Today, I can say that the battle is still waging but I have victory! The enemy will never give up whispering words of insignificance, hopelessness, and accusation. After all, he knows that the power of “Christ in you is the hope of glory.” No, he will never give up the war for your soul, BUT there is victory through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. There is power to not be enslaved by sinful thoughts. There is power to believe the radical nature of God’s love for you. There is power to walk in the hope of your Kingdom destiny.

If you’re at the beginning of this battle, this is meant to encourage you. Victory in your mind is possible. No, more than that…it’s your blood bought right! Your inheritance! It is Christ’s exceedingly great joy to see you living in the fullness of the life and peace He paid the ultimate price for you to have. When was the last time life and peace reigned in your mind? Romans 8:6 says that to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. When the Kingdom reigns in your thought life, these things are the natural overflow.

I’ll leave you with some closing thoughts. Jesus can only reign in your life to the capacity that you allow Him to reign in your mind. That’s right. Whether this is an easy message for you to hear or not, you choose your thoughts. You can choose to believe, “I am ridiculously loved by the Most High King” or “I am worthless and will amount to nothing in this life.” No one else (except you) can determine your thoughts. Yes, the devil tries to insert thoughts, but they have to get past your mind in order to land in your heart.

If, by the grace of God, you can build a system in your mind to identify these wayward, deceitful thoughts and submit them to the truth of Christ before they have the chance to affect your spirit, you will be a victor instead of a victim. You will be a saint robed in righteousness instead of a sinner destined to feel guilty forever. You will be a light in the darkness. And you will live in the fullness of His love, demonstrating God’s goodness to a hurt and broken world. But it’s up to you. What will you choose to think?

“If you want the mind of a saint, you have to accept the calling of a saint. You are called to be righteous. You are called to be holy, and God will give you His holiness as a gift.” – Graham Cooke (Mind of a Saint)

Supernatural Provision

The Lord is calling me out onto the waters. The great unknown. Where feet may fail.

He is leading me into a season where security, especially financial security, is something He’s asking me to trust Him with fully and completely. To the world, not getting a full time job (or even a consistent part time job) may seem irresponsible, lazy, and foolish. But I am no longer trying to impress the world. If I live to save face, I deface Christ. And I refuse to let that tragedy play out in my life.

I just moved back down to Iowa to start establishing a ministry that reaches out to college students who attend various college campuses in the area. I am working with a wonderful couple who has 30+ years of experience in ministry and a passion for seeing God’s presence and power transform young people. This is an exciting season, but also one that I approach with great honor. The Lord has told me that this is a training and equipping time!…one that will be filled with moments of glorious joy, but also moments of great growth as this local mission field prepares me for the international mission field!

That being said, building a ministry from the ground up doesn’t usually lend itself well to a reliable means of income… BUT I would like to invite you into my story as I testify to a central, yet seldom realized, facet of God’s character: All-Sufficient Provider. After all, He has loved and redeemed us in order that He might “show us the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).

Supernatural provision is something that Christ died for us to have. We were never meant to live in lack. Before the fall, Adam was given the wonderful responsibility to “tend” the garden. He didn’t have to pull weeds or do anything to make the fruit grow on the trees. He had the privilege of simply enjoying God’s full provision. But with the fall, came the curse of original sin which included laboring, toiling, and working the land. In Genesis 3:17-18 God says to Adam, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you. In toil, you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles shall it bring forth for you…”

This is known as “the curse of thorns.” Many Christians still live under this heavy curse, unaware of the abundance available to them. But there is good news! “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13). Christ literally took the FULL weight of the curse of thorns upon Himself and set us free – “twisting together a crown of thorns, they placed it on Him” (Mark 15:17). Not only did He take care of sin, death, and sickness, but He also took care of poverty and lack. 

Join me as I discover the overwhelming goodness of God. It all started when I traveled down to Bethel Church in Redding, CA and attended one of their weekend services. I went forward for prayer and told the lady to pray for some things that had been on my heart. I honestly don’t even remember what I asked her to pray about now, because immediately the Spirit led her to pray for something completely different. She said, “Wow, God is going to meet your every need. He is bringing great provision into your life. Financial provision. He’s saying, ‘Alyssa, you have nothing to worry about. You can trust me with this.'” Whoa. There was no way that she could have known that I was heading into a summer at an unpaid internship. Or that I was heading into a year of full-time ministry. But God did. And my tears showed it.

This summer, God did nothing but prove Himself faithful to me in this area. One early Sunday morning in July, I was driving to church, and what started out as a light pitter patter of rain turned into a torrential downpour. My windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the rain, and I literally feared for my life. I took the first exit I saw off the highway and pulled up under the protective roof of a gas station. As I sat there, I realized that my gas tank was almost empty. My first thought was, “Well, this is convenient. I can just fill up now, since I have to wait here ten minutes anyway for the storm to pass.” Then I remembered that I didn’t have enough money in my checking account to fill my tank all the way, and in my spirit, I heard God say, “Wait.” I asked, “What do you mean ‘wait’? I won’t have enough gas in my gas tank to get to work tomorrow morning if I don’t fill up.” Again I heard the word, “Wait,” and I knew God was asking me to rely on Him rather than on my own attempts to provide (which would have fallen short). So I looked down at my gas gauge and saw that I had just enough gas to get to church and back. So I waited to fill up.

When I got to church, God was reminding me of different scriptures on provision that I had been studying:

“Give and it will be given to you. Good measure pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be placed into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)

“And my God shall supply every need of yours according to the riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, but whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Corinthians 9:6)

He also reminded me of something I heard in a Bill Johnson sermon the day before that said, “The first time God ever supernaturally provided for you, you lost the right to even begin a thought pattern based on lack/what you don’t have.” Wow… That means that I am charged with the responsibility to continually renew my mind so that every thought lines up with the truth of God’s character. Not an easy task, but one well worth pursuing. This prompted me to start making a list of all the times God had provided for me in the past and to continually meditate on those things. When I had completed my list, my heart was filled with thankfulness. I had created an “inventory of blessings” that I could draw on anytime the lie, “You don’t have enough (fill in the blank)” came into my mind.

Then, suddenly I was reminded of something that had happened the day before: I had been reading through one of my old journals with a couple of friends and randomly found a $20 bill in it. I didn’t know where the money had come from…the only thing I could think of was that someone must have given it to me for missions. Thinking about that triggered a memory of someone else giving me an envelope with money in it for missions. Sure enough, I looked and found an envelope with $60 more. I then had $80 all together.

This put me in a tight spot. I had an empty tank of gas. And I had $80 in my hand that I knew was NOT for me, but rather was designated for building God’s Kingdom. So, I started asking God, “What do you want me to do with this money?” And right away, He reminded me of a friend who was leaving in about month to do mission work in Tanzania at an orphanage. He said, “Give the money to Kelly!” I thought to myself, “That’s perfect! I’ve been wanting to give her money ever since I heard about her trip!” But I didn’t want to just give $80…I felt like God was leading me to give her $100. So now, not only did I still have an empty tank and couldn’t get to work the next day, but I was also in need of $20 extra to finish off the donation to Kelly…so I put the $80 in an envelope with her name on it and decided to wait on God to bring in the rest of the money.

Despite the apparent “lack” however, I was in complete peace, trusting that God would provide according to His perfect timing as He has done so many times in the past. As I type, it is still hard for me to believe this happened…but that night, around 9:00 pm, right before I was going to bed, my mother walked in and handed me a small bag that had come from my aunt. She said, “This is from your Godmother, there’s a little gift inside with some money. She said God just put it on her heart to give this to you.” I peeked inside and sure enough, I pulled out a $100 bill.

Whoa. How could this be? Not more than 5 hours after I had decided in my heart to give $100 to God did He faithfully give it back! “Give and it shall be given to you.” Wow. “Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Incredible. His Kingdom principles actually work! They do! I was able to go to the gas station the next morning, fill up my gas tank completely, and was handed two $20 bills in change! This meant that I could complete the donation to Kelly AND that the $20 I gave to her out of the $100 could be my “tithe” back to God.

At the heart of tithing is the idea that everything I have is the Lord’s and giving Him the first 10% is simply giving back to Him the best (and first) of what He’s given to me. A sermon I had recently heard also talked about how the 10% standard was part of the Old Testament law, and that now under the grace we enjoy in the New Testament, we have the privilege of giving over and above that amount. So giving back to God 20% (instead of 10%) of the $100 He gave me was an honor!

And this is only the beginning. This year, I will have to depend on God more than ever before, especially for His provision over my life. But I rest in perfect peace. I remind myself of what God has promised and what Christ has accomplished. In response, I am humbled by the privilege of being His beloved daughter and excited for the adventure of letting Him be my Good Daddy.

My Call to Filmmaking

Over the past couple of years and months, God has been clearing the fog that used to hang over my future. Now I realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have a great destiny in Him. And though I know that who Christ has made me to be is much more important than what He has designed me to do, I also know that identity is ultimately meant to lead to great Kingdom influence.  In other words, my “who” is to empower my “do.”

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

And I can get excited about my “do” because God is excited about my “do.” One of the biggest bummers in life is when God has prepared a person (from before the foundations of the earth) to release the glorious power-packed potential of the Kingdom…and they never walk it out. I believe that finding my destiny is not only about figuring out what makes me feel most alive, but rather is ultimately about others – about allowing my “do” to create more “who’s.” The faster the people in my sphere of influence realize their identity in Christ and share it with others, the faster the earth begins to look a whole lot like heaven.

All that is to say, that I’m getting stoked about the purpose and path that God is laying before me. At age 23, after searching for many confused years, I feel like I am finally beginning to “walk it out.” Here’s the story of how I found my destiny:

As a kid I would make funny videos with my cousins when we would go up to the cabin each summer. (I can safely say that our series of “Ghostbuster” movies will never be released to the public). I loved the shooting and editing process – I could sit for hours upon hours at the computer, sometimes even forgetting to eat. But I never conceived that my “career” in video would ever go beyond that. I studied sociology and religion at Luther College for four years – getting a great academic education, but all the while suppressing the creativity inside of me. Then, during my junior year of college I studied abroad in South Africa and God began to change the course of my life.

I was working at Masiyile Secondary School in one of Cape Town’s biggest slums. As part of a course, I started an after school program where I taught the kids how to use a video camera, and together we created a documentary. As all of this was unfolding, I came across the website: butterflyfilms.co.za and something happened that I will never forget. I read the caption: “Butterfly Films is an independent filmmaking company that specializes in promotional storytelling through film. We believe that the most powerful way for any organization to engage with the world is by telling their story through the powerful medium of film. We tell people’s stories in a simple yet emotive way, inspiring curiosity and a desire to learn more…” And as I realized that they were harnessing the power of video to empower non-profit work, break poverty, and release justice, the Holy Spirit rushed upon me like never before.

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I was weeping as God said, “Alyssa this is what I’ve created you to do, but do it for my glory.” All of a sudden, I knew how I could use the gifts He’d given me to expand His Kingdom – through film! Even beyond telling stories of non-profit organizations (like Butterflyfilms was already doing), I felt like God was saying that He wanted me to tell stories of various missions and ministry organizations…to use video as a witnessing tool for the message of the gospel…to break the bonds of hopelessness, poverty, and despair.

But then I started arguing with God. “God, this is ridiculous! After all, I’m about to be a senior in college and I haven’t taken a single art class or film class. This is crazy!” And then I heard Him let out a reassuring laugh and say, “This is only the beginning. You have no idea where I’m going to take you.” Oh man… It was like one of those times when someone sees something in you that you don’t see in yourself, and somehow you begin to see it too.

Wow… So fast forward to the following school year (my final year of college). I decided to take two art classes and a film class. LOVED them! At that time, I had also been introduced to a missions program called the “World Race,” which goes to 11 countries in 11 months – and some of the racers were creating videos and posting them on their blogs! (Here’s one racer whose videos inspired me: http://johnfrankdieguez.theworldrace.org/?category=All_Articles) I had a second experience with the Holy Spirit that was similar to the first. God’s Spirit touched a deep chord within me as I felt my spirit cry out, “God, I want to make films like that for you!” And I could feel His smile.

In the months following graduation, I came across a book called, “Dream Culture,” which prompted me to start making a list of all the dreams that I had in God. Though it was hard to start the list, once I started I couldn’t stop. Some things that I included ranged from: buy a nice camera to… start a faith-based non-profit organization that uses the medium of film to empower ministry. Writing down these dreams had, in a sense, made them more tangible, but several months passed and I hadn’t taken a single step in the direction of these dreams.

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Then something happened in February that jolted these dreams back into focus. I had been invited on a free trip to Kenya. Yup, you heard me right. God supernaturally provided me with the opportunity to return to Africa for a second time. I was traveling with a wonderful lady named Joyce who sponsored a couple girls through Compassion International Nairobi. (She was one of the host families that I stayed with the previous summer when I was a day camp leader, and I had only known her for three days before she invited me to go to Kenya with her – all expenses paid). How does that happen you ask? God. He likes to set up divine appointments.

During my time in Kenya, I saw many wonderful and difficult things and met many self-sacrificing people. But God met me in a very special way that I never expected. It started on our final morning as we arrived for one of Compassion’s graduation ceremonies. For some reason, my spiritual senses were heightened that morning as we climbed out of the car and met a group of Canadians who were also there for the ceremony. Shortly after we shook hands, I had a strange feeling that God was up to something, and I waited in anticipation to see what the day held.

Sure enough, a few moments later, three of the guys began to set up film equipment! “Wait… really? What are these guys up to?” I thought to myself. I got up the courage to walk over and ask some questions. It turned out that they were part of an outreach media team from a large church in Canada and they were using the power of film to share about the huge difference that Compassion was making around the world. They wanted to use the video to get their church more involved in the program and to give Compassion a way to expand their ministry.

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Whoa. This was uncanny. Up until that point, I had never actually seen people using film for ministry. I’d seen videos on youtube that were similar to what I desired to create, but never had I actually seen people on the ground filming (and doing it for their job!) Coolest thing ever. So naturally, I asked if I could follow them around like a puppy that morning and just watch them do what they do. They were extremely friendly and said that I could indeed shadow them and ask as many questions as I wanted! That experience alone was one of the single-most confirming experiences of God’s call on my life! As the ceremony began, I was brought to tears at the thought of my Papa Daddy setting all of this up just to re-energize the call He had placed on my life about two years prior. From the first call in South Africa to the confirmation call in Kenya, He had made my destiny clear: film + missions.

That prompted me to finally follow up on one of the dreams I had written down months before: buy a nice camera. Again I protested God a bit. “Lord, I don’t even know what camera to buy!” But shortly after that, the Lord made it clear that I had no excuse, because one of my good friends named Toby was an expert on cameras and could give me all the advice I needed. He even let me borrow his camera for a period of time to get a feel for what it was like to use a DSLR camera for video. And this is where it gets really good:

At the end of March, I was planning on going to Guatemala on a mission trip with some Luther and St. Olaf students and there was an undeniable nudge in the Spirit to buy a camera. Then, just two days before heading out of the country, God made the impossible possible… my friend Toby told me that he was thinking about upgrading his camera and would be willing to sell me his camera, mini tripod, memory card, and case for half of what he paid for it. What?! Are you serious right now God? Sure enough, I had the camera in my hands as I boarded the plane. I made good use of our insanely long layovers to basically learn how to run the camera! Struggle fest. Despite my insecurity, I did lots of shooting while in Guatemala. Another friend and I named Jordan combined our footage after the trip, and together we created the following video: http://vimeo.com/65532936.

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A couple months later as I was asking God what I should do with my summer, I felt a clear calling to pursue a practical training in filmmaking in a ministry context. As I was researching different opportunities, a friend of mine brought up the possibility of getting an internship with River Valley Church – the church that my family just recently started attending. I had been to several of their services and events and knew that their video work was of superior quality and similar to the style that I was hoping to produce myself…so I applied.

During the interview process, I found out that one of their big deciding factors was based on seeing examples of past work that I’d done in video – so naturally, I sent them the link to the Guatemala video! But here’s the kicker: Had I not stepped out in obedience and bought the camera before leaving for Guatemala, I wouldn’t have been able to create the video, and wouldn’t have had anything to submit with my application. But because I did, I was accepted to the River Valley Leadership Institute (RVLI) and am now spending the entire summer working in their video department! http://rvli.org/ 

I get to work with three of the coolest guys on the planet – super chill and hilarious, yet geniuses when it comes to filmmaking. As an intern, I have the privilege of working closely with my ministry mentor Tom who has been helping me get up to speed on all the basics of filmmaking! Working with the video department has been awesome because I get to see the entire creative process, go on shoots with the crew, help set up equipment, and gain experience with the editing software. I’m receiving tons of free training and experience that I do not even know how to begin to thank God for! 

My tool belt is no longer empty.  This summer has been about God equipping me to step into the fullness of the dreams and purposes He has placed in me – about Him showing me how to walk out my “who” and my “do.” I have found no greater fulfillment in life than knowing who I am in Jesus Christ and knowing how I have been designed to carry forth the message of His gospel!

God’s Desire to Dwell With Us

“Why God? Why?” I ask Him as I read verse upon verse about His desire to “dwell with” His people. What do I have to offer to the God of the Universe that He would simply long for and delight in my presence? Have you ever been away from a good friend for a time and you developed an ache simply to be with them? Perhaps not even to talk about anything of importance, but simply to be in their presence? Maybe that’s kind of like God’s longing for us…except that we are the most unfaithful, untrustworthy, backstabbing friends that exist. Hmmm… so I guess I’m back to the same question. Why God? Why is your desire to be with us?

Several religions speak of a god of love and mercy, and yet also see that god as somewhat distant. Though this god may be presented as caring, there is often a quality of “high and mightyness” that essentially says, “I’ll look down on you from here, where I am at home surrounded in my own holiness and maybe one day I’ll think about letting you be with me up here if you’re holy enough.”

When we take a look at the God of Christianity presented throughout Scripture – from Genesis to Revelation – however, we get a very different picture. First, we see God “walking in the garden” with Adam and Eve calling out, yearning to draw near to them (Gen. 3:8). A personal God. One who desires relationship. Of course, we know what happens next – in their choice to eat of the fruit, they partner with the evil one and sin makes it impossible for God to relate and dwell with His people in the manner He had originally desired.

This desire and longing is so strong, however that God finds a way to dwell with his people – even though they are broken, sinful, and idolatrous. We see it first in Moses’ days when the presence of God dwells in the tabernacle, specifically the ark. Even amidst the Israelites’ disobedience, God declares His desire to be with His people! “I will make my dwelling among you…And I will walk among you and I will be your God and you shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:11-12).

In the wilderness, David catches a glimpse of this deep longing of the Lord’s heart and says, “I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob” (Psalm 132:4-5). God calls David a man after His own heart for a reason – now get this: because God’s heart is to dwell with man and David is willing to do anything to make that possible! He ends up designing the temple, though He never gets to see it completed.

Once the temple is built, Solomon declares it “a place for (God) to dwell forever” (1 Kings 8:27). The temple is a more permanent physical dwelling place for God’s presence, built with precision and extravagance, yet it too is destroyed (a couple of times!) Will the presence of God find no lasting dwelling place among man? Will the desire of God’s heart go unsatisfied?

Then in the New Testament, God tries something new. He sends His presence in the likeness of sinful flesh – in the body of His Son Jesus to eat, sleep, live, and breathe among his people. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” (John 1:14). His temple at that time is no longer a physical building, but the earthly body of His Son. Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).

God desires, however, that once Jesus ascends to heaven, He will still be able to dwell among men. The new mode He chooses do this is the most personal and intimate up to this point – though He no longer personally walks among people in the flesh, He decides to personally dwell with and in their flesh” through the Holy Spirit (John 14:17). Revolutionary. Through the cleansing blood of Jesus, now the people themselves “are the temple of the living God” (2 Corin. 6:16).

Now as we become like David, a people “after God’s own heart,” a desire for others to know Him is kindled and burns within us. Why? Because each new heart opened to Him is another temple where He can dwell. In co-missioning us to “Go and make disciples,” Jesus is essentially saying, “Go, and make more little temples where God’s presence and glory can dwell.”

Folks, this means we have the Shekinah glory of God residing in us! Just as it did in the tabernacle. Just as it did in the Temple. Just as it did in the body of Christ. Ha, but if I’m looking at my own life, I don’t know if I’d say this glory is what people see most of the time. BUT: This is not an opportunity for self-condemnation… to say “Woe is me, I’m so sinful and God’s light isn’t shining through me as it should.” It is an opportunity to rise to a fuller expression of the knowledge, glory, and beauty I already have living within me and that can’t wait to be released into the earth.

Listen though – this potential isn’t able to be realized until I participate. Did you get that? God has made my potential clear, but it requires my participation. It requires that I take initiative and claim authority over the ways that the enemy has been stealing, killing, and destroying God’s glory in me – whether it’s through sin, discouragement, bitterness, etc. Bottom line: whatever masks His glory in this temple cannot stay. (And just as Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers in the temple, He will have zeal over anything that keeps me from perfect oneness with Him).

And why does He want this oneness? This “withness”?  I guess I’m back to my original question… Why does God desire to be with us? Though I don’t understand it fully, I suppose it comes down to this: He created us. He delights in us. And He loves us so much that He wants us to share in His glory. And we will when He returns, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling place of God is with men, and he will live with them…” (Rev. 21:3).

Dreamers Arise

It’s official. My spirit is waking up. It had been dead for quite some time (something I articulated in my previous blog) and until just a couple months ago, I didn’t know how to wake it up. Probably because I didn’t understand why it was dead in the first place. Now that I am breathing again, now that Jesus Christ in all His glory has loosed me from the pangs of death, I realize what the problem was.

I had been “normaled out.” Little did I know, the dream stealer called “normal” had crept into my life unannounced and tried to nab my destiny. I lived my entire life coloring in the lines and regurgitating information like a robot and meanwhile, some of the most precious gifts that God gave me were stolen without my permission: Imagination. Creative expression. The ability to DREAM. Poof! Gone.

At the end of the summer, which I must confess was one of the most difficult summers of my life, I stumbled upon a book that suggested making a list of my dreams. Having just graduated from college and with only a vague sense of my purpose in life, I thought, “Why not? What do I have to lose?” I started with small things like: learn how to swing dance, run a half-marathon with my dad, buy a nice camera. And soon I couldn’t stop: touch the nations, start a faith-based non-profit, use spoken word poetry, film, and art to expand the boundaries of God’s Kingdom!!! I filled five pages of my journal front and back and still wanted to add more.

Suddenly I realized something profound. I wasn’t meant to be “normal.” In fact, as a daughter of the Most High King, I was not designed to blend in, but rather designed for influence. Normal doesn’t influence, but rather is influenced. Normal people don’t define the flow, but rather the flow defines them. If the current goes one way, so do they. If the world moves in fear, so do they. My heart aches, just knowing that there are billions of people on this planet destined for significance in the Kingdom of God that 1) don’t know that they’re significant, and/or 2) allow someone or something to steal their God-given significance. Instead, they arrive at “normal.”

Before the world began, God had dreams and purposes that He wanted to breathe into the earth. To do that, He wrapped them in your physical body and created you. Tragically, somewhere along the way, the dream stealer convinced you otherwise. He attacks your worth and whispers insignificance over you because He is afraid of the authority and influence that is already written into your DNA as a believer in Christ. The powers of hell cringe every time a new child enters the Kingdom, every time a new dream is birthed into the earth. The demons trembled when you came out of your mother’s womb. Why? Because through the dangerously unique combination of gifts that God has given you, He is planning to creatively express His nature. And in doing so, He is planning to reclaim ground for His Kingdom. And believe it or not, the devil doesn’t like losing ground.

So I faced the question: Are you willing to allow the enemy to steal, kill, and destroy the beauty, influence, and love that God desires to release through you to draw people to Himself? I was not. Instead, I had to start agreeing with His ideas about me. I had to refuse to believe or entertain (even in my thoughts) anything that came up against what He has declared over me in Scripture. I had to refuse to let the father of lies twist convincing arguments in my mind about why I don’t matter. I had to recognize that through Christ, I have the authority to choose whose ideas about me to agree with.

Choice. I now make a choice everyday to agree with God’s truth about who I am. I meditate on what He sings over me no matter what I feel or perceive with my physical senses or emotions. I refuse to be normal, and instead I dare to dream. Because dreams are tools that help mine the gold that God has already placed in me. Dreams bring God’s ideas about me to the surface where I can agree with and live from my identity and His purposes.

The key in dreaming with God is intimacy. Once you get close to the Father’s heart and He begins to define you and tell you why He created you: 1) You get wrecked by His delight in you, and 2) You agree that the impossible things He’s singing over you can be accomplished in the earth through your hands releasing Christ’s power and love.

Self-centered? No. In fact Christ Himself centered His life around destroying anything that got in the way of His perfect love for you and His perfect plan for your life. If you don’t know who you are, how God sees you, and what He’s created you to do, you fail to reap the full reward of His suffering on the cross. So from the place of intimacy with God, I am beginning to dream again. He is calling a new generation to shine with His glory. I’m in. Dreamers arise.

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