Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I Quit

I quit! I declared to my mom. My track coach was out of town for spring break and we were running with the high school coach who was known for being tough. Quitting lasted as long as it took my mom to march me back up to school and apologize to the coach for my actions. I finished out track that year begrudgingly.

How often do we run the race of this Christian life and declare "I quit!" Or we mope and drag our feet complaining about our rough lives. That's the mess I've been walking in. Sunday I laid down at the altar at church to pray and had no words. My heart was so heavy and worn I wasn't sure what to ask for. I felt an arm come around me and one of my college girls began to pray over me. The flood gates opened and I bawled while she prayed for me.

I knew I was at the end of myself. Paul Tripp says "true righteousness begins when you come to the end of yourself because you give up on your own little kingdom." My husband and I got home Sunday night and he began to poke and prod on my heart in ways I hate. He said things I knew were true, but did not want to hear.

Yesterday morning I sat down begging the Lord to refresh me and renew me. I read She Reads Truth and the Lord reminded me of that spring break morning when I declared I quit. And gingerly as only He can, He asked me, "Ashlee are you going to quit or are you going to keep running this race I have set before you?" The words in Hebrews 12 that stood out to me were lose heart. That word lose means "to dissolve, grow weak through exhaustion." My heart is so exhausted. I realized I had lost heart.
Yet Paul spurs us on in Hebrews 12 to consider Jesus who endured so much. Fix your eyes on Him the author and protector of your faith. And I realized my eyes have not been fixed on Jesus. My eyes have been on been on myself, the rough road ahead, sorrow, etc. My eyes were everywhere except on Jesus.

When I fix my eyes on Jesus, everything melts away. Things don't disappear, but they don't hold on to me so strongly. No matter where you are today, maybe life seems unbearable, maybe you are ready to quit, let's stop, take a deep breath and fix our eyes on Jesus.

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Hello, I'm a Pharisee

I stood during the invitation and searched the crowd for my friend. These thoughts raced through my head “I sure hope her heart was open to that message and it convicted her. I wonder if she will go up front and pray. Goodness that message was just for her.”

In Luke 18, a Pharisee and a tax collector both went to the temple to pray. They prayed two very different prayers. The Pharisee prayed like this to himself “God, thank you that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” The tax collector, unable to even lift his eyes prayed “God be merciful to me, the sinner!”

I am that Pharisee
I so badly want to tell you that I am like the tax collector, but I know I am the Pharisee.

Continue reading this post I wrote for Transform Student.
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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Digging Up Dandelions

Feeling crushed I hung my head. My heart hurt, worried, knowing my words would not be well received. This part of ministry hurts for a people pleaser like me. I sent my husband a text telling him about the conversation. He encouraged me telling me I did the right thing.

My head spun with lies spurring on the disappointment. Why does this bother me so much? Why am I seeking their affirmation? The lies grew: If they don't love you, this ministry will fail, you will fail. 

God is trying to get my attention; there have been too many “coincidences” lately. To many times the enemy has whispered what a failure I am because so-in-so was upset with me or so-in-so was avoiding me. The Lord is telling me to dig deeper and deal with the heart issue. 

It’s not enough for me to confess I am a people pleaser, I must dig deeper. I cannot simply acknowledge there is a problem and move on as if it does not exist.  I must get to the larger issue governing my heart. I must get to the root and dig it out.

I am reminded of my mother who taught me to dig up dandelions. “You have to make sure you get the root,” she would say. “If you don’t get the root, the dandelion will just come back.”

My people pleasing heart is a lot like a dandelion. I want to just pluck off the top part thinking it will solve the issue. And for a while it works. On the outside everything seems to be fine, the dandelion seems to be gone. Yet the weed grows back and the root is even stronger than before. 

Have you ever seen a dandelion root? They are long and root deep. My mom had a special tool that was long and forked at the end. You stuck it down in the ground and pushed back and forth. The ground would loosen, the top soil would pop as it detached from the root. Then the entire dandelion (flower, leaves, and stem) would come right out of the ground.

It’s time that I dig deep, loosen the soil of my heart, and figure out where that root goes in my heart. I’ve got to dig up that deeply rooted dandelion that has sprouted in my heart.

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Helping College Students Find a Church Home

Each week, as I left a new church I called my dad. He would ask me questions: what did the pastor preach, was it solid, how was the music, was there a place for me to get connected, etc. Each week he held me accountable which forced me to rise out of bed and keep trying until I found a church home. Eventually I found a place I called home for four years. My dad's accountability was key to getting me there.

My husband is the college minister at our church. We don’t live in a college town. Our college students are a mix of those going to community college, working, or are trying to figure out what is next. We have two main groups of students: students who are here and students who are away. Our away students go off to college and only participate in our ministry during breaks. At the beginning of each summer our church promotes high school graduates into our college ministry. We spend the summer loving on this new group of students, knowing some of them will leave at the end of the summer. We want the students who leave to plug into a church while they are at school.

You have heard the stats about college students leaving the church.  Barna tells us that 50% of Millennials who grew up in church have dropped out. Aware of the disappointing stats my husband began questioning how our ministry could actively help our away students. How do we help them and encourage them to find a new church home?

My husband devised a plan to help connect our students to a home church while they are away at school. He created a Find a Church Workshop and Lunch.

The Purpose:
To help new and existing college students plug into a church where they go to school and gain confidence and knowledge of how to find a church to visit. Ultimately we wanted them to walk away with three churches to visit the next three Sundays. 

The Process:

  • We began by gathering vital information on our students: college name, and contact information. We gathered information for several weeks and my husband announced the event and asked them to sign up for the lunch/workshop.
  • We hosted the workshop after church on Sunday (a day and time they would already be at the church).
  • Someone checked students in (to validate the schools represented and verify attendance) and gave them a packet of cards (see below).
 
  • We ordered lunch (a real lunch, not pizza).
  • After lunch we broke up into schools. Each school had a leader who helped students personally search out churches on laptops. The school leader taught students how to look at church websites for important doctrinal information, basic schedule and opportunities, and church staff. After looking at several churches, the student chose three churches to visit. They wrote down their choices on their cards. As students left, they gave one copy to my husband (the far left) and took the other copy with them (the middle and far right).
  • As follow up my husband contacted each church on each student’s list. We hope this effort will pave the way for our students to get plugged in quickly.

What We learned:

  • In general students are afraid to visit a church by themselves. (Haven’t we all felt that fear?)
  • Students don't know how to pick a church to visit. They have never had to choose a church or visit a church. There are so many options it is overwhelming, so why even try?
  • Students may not have anyone else in their life encouraging them to go to church or holding them accountable.
  • It’s our role as their home church to help them see the vital importance of plugging into a church while at college. If we love them, we will help them get plugged in and hold them accountable.
  • When someone else was excited about a potential church, the student got excited too! They began to really own the process at this point.

Improving it Next Time:

This was our first year to hold this workshop, so we learned several lessons:
  • Recruit more school leaders who actually went to that school. That was our desire this year, but it didn’t quite work that way.
  • Provide a time of training for school leaders. We want to intentionally train the school leaders on searching churches, what to look for, etc. Our leaders each had personal conversations with my husband about what he wanted them to do, but we believe a training time would be helpful to get everyone on the same page.
  • Give away free stuff. We would love to bless our students with some school supplies: notepads, pens, folders, etc.
  • Pour into the group who is staying. We encouraged our students who were staying to come and fellowship together.  Next year we would like to talk about how they can get plugged into our ministry and our church as a whole. We want them to see how they can be an active part of the body of our church, not just someone who shows up each week. 
How are you helping college students get plugged into a church?
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Friday, August 1, 2014

Worship- What You Find Your Worth In


Occasionally I get the pleasure of guest writing for the student ministry of Precept Ministries International. Today is one of those days! Join me on the Transform Student Ministry blog as I discuss what we can learn from Abraham about worship.
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Thursday, July 24, 2014

God Answers Specifically - My Get to the 7 Story

My pastor, John Meador, is preaching a series on prayer. He encouraged us to share stories of answered prayer. This is my Get To The 7 Story.

The first summer after we were married Greg enrolled in EMT classes. He told me he wanted to be a fireman. At first I was excited, but my gut (we will call that the Holy Spirit) told me something was off. I began to pray for my husband knowing he was walking with the Lord and listening for His will. Every time I a warning bell went off I prayed.

My husband and I met serving together in youth ministry. He won my heart with his desire to serve Jesus and love people. When we started dating I questioned if he was called into ministry. Every fiber of his being seemed to be made for it. I asked Greg whether he was called to ministry, he always told me he knew God had not called him. I knew other people wondered if Greg was called into ministry as well. It seemed like everyone thought he was called into ministry but Greg himself.

I began to pray “God, if you have called Greg into ministry, would you please make it clear to him. God I believe you have, but he does not. God, would you make it so clear to him, so clear that he cannot miss it. God, even if you have to give him dreams. If it is not your will, would you please change my heart and give me a peace.”

It seemed like I prayed that for him every day. ALL SUMMER LONG. Greg struggled in his EMT class, but continued to press me that he was supposed to be a fireman. I kept praying and didn’t ask any questions. OH BUT HOW I WANTED TO! How do you ask “Hey love, so is the Lord calling you into ministry yet?" I didn’t see any fruit of my prayers, no glimpse that God might be dealing with my husband.

Then one day Greg said “So, I think I will talk to our youth minister and apply for one of the open positions at the church” I gave him a bewildered look and asked “WHAT?? He has begged you to do that. You have always refused. What's different now?” Greg replied “Well, I think God might be calling me into ministry.” And THAT friends is my husband. Casually telling me he felt God calling him into ministry like he was telling me about the weather. I almost fell off the bed. Trying to not be too excited I asked “So what makes you think God is calling you into ministry now?” Casually he replied “Well, I’ve been having these dreams about preaching and teaching and preparing lessons. I have had them over and over again. I think God is trying to tell me something.” My jaw hit the floor and I stared at him stunned at the what he said.

It hit me that God had answered my prayer VERY SPECIFICALLY.  I asked that God would give Greg dreams if He had to. DREAMS. I realize that is such a weird way to pray, but God answered it. He gave my husband dreams over and over for weeks. God had already confirmed His call on Greg’s life through so many people. Yet God clearly confirmed Greg’s call to ministry.

I finally fessed up and shared with Greg what I had been praying. I confessed I never had a peace about him being a fireman. We were both amazed by the specific way God answered my prayers.

I know God could have spoken in a million different ways, but His specific answer spoke to Greg and confirmed God’s will to me. I have remembered that confirmation when ministry is hard, when I am weary, or when my husband doubts his call. I cling to this memory as I pray for direction knowing with confidence He will answer. I am grateful that God not only answers prayer, but answers so specifically that we cannot miss it.

Want to learn more about prayer? Curious about what it means to Get to the 7? Head over to John Meador’s blog to learn more.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Change - When My Heart Needs Reviving

I am not sure I will ever get used to change. It stirs up a frenzy in my soul. I love order and change brings what feels like chaos.

Why then would the Lord place me in a ministry with constant change. College ministry is unlike many ministries of the church. There is a perpetual flow of people in and out. People plugged in and people moving on. We aren’t promised six months and definitely not four years. Mostly, the change that happens is healthy and good. Yet my soul screams NO!! Stop!!

I am grateful for my husband in these moments. He often is charged with helping me down off the edge. Last Sunday he held my hand and led me to the front of our church to pray. I shared with him earlier that  morning I felt angry and bitter about the constant change in our lives. Not at people, but the constant ripping out of my heart. As he prayed over me the tears flowed.

The next morning, I sat down, telling Jesus how desperately I needed Him. Feeling weary and worn  I sat at His feet. I opened my Bible and began my reading for today. And these words struck me hard:

“I am exceedingly afflicted; Revive me, O LORD, according to Your word.” Psalm 119:107 
 
And I cried out to the Lord “God I need you to revive me.”

I imagine, that I am not that different than most people. I am not the only person who loathes change and clings to order. We all have moments that feel like affliction. As I study Psalms 119 I cannot help but see a reoccurring theme: the Word revives us. That word revive means “to sustain life, revive from discouragement, faintness, or death; to refresh, restore to life, to cause to grow” I must stop and ask myself: Where do I seek to be revived when I am empty and worn and weary. When the change overwhelms my heart and again breaks it to pieces, where do I go? And I cannot help but see, the life I seek, the restoration my heart desperately needs can only be found in His Word.

I am grateful for this Truth. And I pray I will earnestly seek the Word to revive my heart. To restore life so I can love well knowing when they leave, my heart will break once more.
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