Staying Connected to the Church

Saturday mornings have been reserved for Life Group for 3 years now. Prior to Covid, we met at the coffee shop, gave heartfelt hugs, shared Biblical truths being revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, prayed for hard seasons, and enjoyed being together. It has been a pleasure to facilitate this group of women whom I’ve grown to love so dearly – ladies from all age ranges and walks of life. Their devotion to Jesus and desire to serve Him is deeply inspiring. 

So when Covid-19 landed and things had to shift, it was hard. I missed Sunday morning church services but just as much or more, missed my physical interactions with these ladies. We didn’t let it stop us from meeting though. Those who didn’t know how to use Zoom graciously learned, even though it was difficult for some, and we continued our conversations around our study of Ruth every Saturday until we were finished. Even when we would have been taking a break over the summer, we decided to go ahead and do a book study on the Holy Spirit together, extending our meetings and accountability into the summer months. We knew how important it was to stay connected during this season. 

I’m so thankful we were able to shift to virtual meetings but it still doesn’t completely replace the in-person experience. It’s what we (mostly) have right now, so we must learn to adjust and continue our growth despite the challenges ahead. 

As we continue to face this battle and see that quite possibly, we could be in this for longer than we thought originally, I’ve learned a few things that I would like to share with you. These are just a few ideas of ways to stay connected to the church during this season.

  1. Find or join a virtual life group

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Whether that be through your church or a group that you put together with mutual friends, being intentional about spending time together is crucial. Study a book of the Bible together or do a Bible-based book study – anything to encourage accountability. I have learned however, that because of the less intimate settings, it is more difficult to feel like you truly belong. The technology keeps us from being able to share as much and you may not feel as if your voice is important. Because of this, remember to show grace to others and understand the limitations but also…

  1. Connect with a mentor. 

“A wise man will hear and increase in learning. And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” Proverbs 1:5

I’ve been praying for years to find an older lady with whom I can have consistent conversations and study with as I learn. Last year, the Holy Spirit led a precious lady to join our life group. She quickly became someone we all looked up to and has since become my mentor. When our life group finally did take the break we normally have, I asked her to continue meeting with me and do a 1:1 study together. I cannot explain how important and treasured this time with her has been and I thank God for this gift. If you cannot find a group to join, find one person with whom you can meet weekly and study something together. This accountability helps me to stay focused and on track as I walk daily with Jesus, study, and pray. In virtual-land, it’s also nice to have more time to audibly process learning and discuss and pray about more specific life situations.

  1. Find someone you can disciple. 

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-10

Early this year, I had the privilege of helping one of my life group members take the first step in surrendering to Jesus and following Him. It was such a sweet moment. But I was quickly reminded of what God had been teaching me about discipleship through the Great Commission. The first step is wonderful but what was I going to do to help her grow in Christ? Through that experience, I found a strong discipleship curriculum, pulled in another lady from our church, set up weekly meetings, and we started working through what it means to follow Jesus. We have finished our first 13 weeks of a full 52 week curriculum and it’s been so rewarding! I have seen passion for Jesus that has re-ignited my own passion and have loved being able to walk beside these two girls as they fall deeper in love with Him. 

If you aren’t finding a group or a mentor, start one! Get a few like minded friends together and decide what to study. Hold each other accountable. You don’t have to be a teacher or even a natural leader to do this. You only have to be willing.

This season is hard. It’s hard to stay connected to our church family. It’s hard to keep our relationship with the Lord strong and active. But I’ve learned that in the hard seasons, God reveals our weaknesses. And if we’re listening and willing to follow Him, He can use this as a way to not just keep us steady in relationship with Him but to help us grow and thrive.

I know there are other great ways to stay connected – what are you actively doing during this season to keep your relationship with God and others strong? 

The Blessing of Uncomfortable

My husband and I decided to go camping for our anniversary a few years ago in March. When someone says they are going “camping,” it could mean many different things. When I say camping, I mean grab the tent, air mattress, some blankets, the propane camp stove, an ice chest with food, fire starter, and the “chuck box” with everything we need to cook and clean dishes. With packing complete, we headed a few hours out to a State Park, found a great spot to reserve, and set up camp. This was going to be amazing!

As we started setting up our tent, I began to get cold. It was nearing the end of the day and the sun was setting. When we finished, I was ready to find some heat so we went to a nearby town to have dinner. I hadn’t thought about the temperature much before this trip because during the day, it had been nice! I now started to realize what lied ahead of us… COLD.

As we drove back to camp that night, we discussed how cold it was going to be and how to handle it in our tent. We had no heat source other than the warm bodies of each other, some clothing, and a few blankets. When we arrived, we immediately went to our tent. The wind outside was a little too chilly to even sit around a fire. It had been a long day and we were ready to go to sleep anyway. 

We crawled under our blankets and held each other tight, waiting for the night to pass. 

That night was absolutely miserable, reaching a temperature in the low 20’s. I was so cold I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to move so my body started hurting from laying in one spot for so long. I had a thought to get up and put on more clothing. I had a nice soft jacket that was really warm across the tent in my bag. But I didn’t want to get out of the only warmth I had to go get it. So I laid there for hours, in my misery. Around 4am, something else forced me out of bed. I needed to go to the bathroom. So I got up, put my soft jacket on and some other clothing, and made the trek outside to the campground bathroom. Brrr……

When I returned, I crawled back into bed and snuggled next to my husband who’d been patiently putting up with me all night. I begin to feel a bit warmer. In fact, the extra clothes I had retrieved during my brief trip across the campground made me more comfortable. I still wasn’t as warm as I would have liked but it certainly was better than it was. I wondered why I hadn’t taken the step to become more uncomfortable for the chance at finally being able to rest.

Recently, our Life Group has been doing a study on the Holy Spirit and I’ve realized that I will do just about anything to create a comfort zone. But you know what? My comfort zone is not where I’ve heard from the Holy Spirit most clearly. It’s in the moments that I’ve been uncomfortable. It’s in the trials of life. It’s in the times that I choose not to let fear smother me but rise to overcome it with Jesus’ help. It’s in the cold nights and hard seasons. 

So why do I resist moving so much? Why do I nestle in, satisfied with where I am? 

Do you experience this as well? When is the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone:

  • to reach for a lost soul?
  • to listen to someone who needs you when you are busy?
  • to do something for your health that is hard but beneficial?
  • to step out on the stage and sing praises to Him?
  • to volunteer to help in your church even though you’re busy?
  • to start writing from a prompting in your spirit?
  • to pray with the lady at the restaurant who is crying even though you don’t know her?
  • to walk into a Life Group or join virtually even though you don’t know anyone?
  • to tell someone about what God has done in your life?

And those are just the little things. You could be called to sell all you have and follow God’s leading full time into missions, or quit your job to follow a different calling He has on your life, or something else. Whatever it may be, big or small, there’s one thing we can be sure of – If God calls you to do something, He will equip you. And when you start living this way, you will see that in the middle of the uncomfortable is where you will find the greatest reward.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25

The Strength of Togetherness

It was just one of those weeks. A hard decision, season of change, tears shed, past mistakes showing up again, people hurting, depression looming, sleepless nights. I sent a text to a few friends that I was not well and to pray for me. I also told them I couldn’t talk right now. You know that feeling? To talk means to face my feelings and lose control of the emotions I’m trying so hard to keep in check. At this point, if I do that, I might fall into that abyss of depression and never return (dramatic huh?). I don’t know about you but when I am struggling, my first natural reaction is to isolate myself. 

“Come on Angie, pick yourself up. The enemy is fighting you and you need to stand your ground. Arm yourself with My armor. You’ve seen Me perform miracles time and time again and I will do it again.”

I meant to look up the verses on the armor of God but was in the middle of work and had to get back to it. So thinking I would do that later, I dismissed it for now. 

A few days later I was preparing for my Life Group and I opened my Bible. Guess where it opened to? Exactly on the page where it lays out the armor of God. I had forgotten to go back to it but apparently this is really important for me to get right now. 

I read through it a few times – belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with the gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the spirit. And then I saw what He wanted me to see – there was no protection for my back. So, no turning and running away from the battle at hand. Face it, stand firm, armed with His armor, and He will be with me.

But I also noticed something else too as I read about the breastplate. It protected the chest in battle and Roman soldiers were to face forward, side by side, so that the armor only needed to protect their front. 

Not only do I need to stand firm and face the enemy to protect my back, I also need to have my friends beside me, locking arms, armed with the same armor. Otherwise, I’m still vulnerable to attack from behind.

Whoa.  

As I consider this passage in Ephesians 6, and what I am learning, I realize again how important it is for us to have a tribe of believers around us, locking arms, fighting with and for us. Our strength comes when we are together. It’s important to not isolate yourself when times are hard but to reach out to those you know will lift you up in prayer and stand strong with you. When we become isolated, separated from the church, is when our backs are vulnerable and our weak spot exposed. 

God created the church for many reasons. One of them is to do battle together against the evil one. Despite all seasons, good or bad, let’s hang tight together! We need it perhaps now more than ever. 

My One Word for 2019

Life for me is a whirlwind of emotions. 2018 held its fair share of laughter and tears, joy and sadness, hope and despair. I drew closer to Jesus. But the closer I draw to Jesus, the more I am attacked. The more I am tempted to worry and become anxious. The more my past is thrown in my face. The more I am tempted to be self-centered, afraid that if I don’t speak up about my own needs, they will get lost in a sea of servanthood. And I will be lost forever.

It sounds dramatic, doesn’t it?

And though it sounds ridiculous as I write it, this is why I do what I do. This is the whole reason I started writing about transparency. Let’s just all be real. Because the struggle certainly is.

As I considered my One Word for 2019, I thought about this turbulency in my life. I wanted an all-encompassing word to describe letting go of what is wrong in my past and the current pain it still causes others, what is wrong in my family and marriage, serving others when it seems I don’t receive anything in return, releasing the struggle to get everything accomplished that is on my list, praying to let go of worries and trusting the Holy Spirit to prompt me if and when I need to act, in His time.

That is a big list. What word could possibly address all that’s messed up in my inner world?

As I shared with my oldest son my dilemma and described to him this list, as soon as I finished he simply said “Peace.”

Could this be? I hadn’t even considered this particular word. But as he said it, it settled deep in my soul. I felt tears sting my eyes at the truth of it.

I need more peace. My emotions, inner battles, thoughts. They need a huge dose of the peace that passes understanding.

“Thank you son. That is exactly what I need.” And I remember how God can use the youth of today just as much as He can use us.

Matthew 8:23-27

‘Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”’

As I started reading passages that address peace, I came across this often-read story of Jesus and his disciples. A few things stood out to me.

  1. These are Jesus’ disciples. They’ve followed him into the boat. They trusted him to lead them. And still, at the first sign of a storm, they faltered in their ability to trust him. The storm was sudden and their first reaction was fear and unrest. Isn’t that how it usually is in our lives too? I want better. I want peace to rule so deeply that the sudden storm doesn’t worry me at all. I’ve followed Jesus into the boat and I’m trusting Him with the storm.
  2. Jesus slept and didn’t immediately act. The storm doesn’t mean Jesus should immediately take action. It also doesn’t mean we should immediately take action. Sometimes, He just wants us to be at peace despite the high waves, swirling winds, and rocking boat, understanding that the winds and waves obey him. That he is in control.
  3. Jesus calmed the storm after their request. I wonder what would have happened if the disciples would have had faith. Was the request wrong? Absolutely not. We should always bring our requests to Him. However, the motive behind the request was to calm the storm so they would be safe.They didn’t think they would be safe in the middle of the storm.  It revealed a lack of faith. I want my prayer to be more on the side of “Father, help me to trust you. Help me to grow through this storm. And if it be your will, it would be great if you would deliver me from it. But above all, may your will be done.” And I want to truly mean it. I wonder if I can ever get to that point. It’s easy to think I can when the waves are calm. But what happens when they’re not? I’m trusting God this year to help me grow in this area.

When life becomes turbulent, I’m going to be seeking PEACE. I can already feel the difference God is making in my life this year simply from the first few weeks of praying and reading about it.

What about you? What word do you want more of in your life this year?

Return to Haiti – Part 3: Just Build the Road

Shoni Glasscock has been a close friend of mine since we originally embarked on our first mission trip to Haiti last summer. As bunkmates and morning devotional partners, we formed a bond that would not be broken and have continued growing in Christ together in ways I can hardly believe since that first trip. God used her to speak life and leadership into my life and I am changed for the better because of her presence. I asked her to write this section of our story and she so beautifully articulated what ended up being the theme of our week – Just Build the Road. This theme, spoken by the Holy Spirit to Grant Jones, another of our team members, will stick with us for a lifetime and be held as one of those moments in time that can only be explained by encountering the authentic, sweet, presence of God. Using an excerpt from Grant’s journal, please welcome Shoni to the blog today.   ~Angie


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“Ladies and Gentleman, now that we have you onboard and seated we regret to inform you that we have been notified by the tower in Dallas that we will be in a ground stop upon arrival there so our takeoff time has been delayed by one hour…”

You have got to be kidding me.  That was the thought running through all twelve of our minds as we sat on the plane at the Fort Smith airport.  Quick calculations in our heads told us what we already knew in our hearts – an hour delay would mean that we would miss our connecting flight to Miami which meant there was no way we would make our flight the next morning to Haiti.  This was just the latest of what seemed to be a never-ending string of battles trying to keep us from reaching our final destination – a tiny village on the coast of Haiti where many of us had left a piece of our hearts just a year before.

Our hearts were ready, our minds focused. We’d built prayer teams, and support groups and bonds among ourselves. Yet while we didn’t speak it, there was something else building within us that we wouldn’t fully acknowledge until we finally made it to Haiti…

Fear and Doubt.

It had been 100 days since we had our hearts broken. 100 days since we sat in a room at the church and were told, “I’m sorry it’s just too dangerous for you to go right now.” Civil unrest in this country we loved had forced the cancellation of our mission just 2 days before we were to leave and there was no timetable for when or if we could return. 100 days of uncertainty and wondering if we’d ever get to go back and build upon those relationships we’d formed with families so near to us.  100 days that seemed like an eternity because we had already been preparing for this trip for 7 months.  Then word came that yes, FINALLY, we were cleared to go! Dates were set, a week in October where somehow it lined up that all but one of our original team was available to go.  Our spirit was renewed as we started to pack and plan. Then the attacks came.

For one of us it was a family health crisis, one the painful resurfacing of past mistakes.  One of us was dealing with a move, a new job and trying to find their way in the world, one of us wondered if we were even qualified or equipped to do God’s work.  Some of us were just wondering why – why am I going on this trip? Is it just an excuse to “go do something for God”? Among the questions asked of us were “why don’t you just send money?” and, “Are you actually making any difference?” Then on October 6th, another huge blow, as a 5.9 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti just days before we were scheduled to leave.  We were left wondering yet again if we’d get to go, what we would be facing when we got there, and if this would change our mission. As we faced every one of these battles, many of us found ourselves asking if we should even be going.  Fear and doubt crept a little deeper into us, slowly and almost unnoticed, until we found ourselves sitting on that airport tarmac thinking, “you’ve got to be kidding me!”

After what seemed like an excruciating amount of time on the runway, our captain announced that we would be departing Fort Smith. One ungraceful sprint through DFW and a very uncomfortable few hours of rest on the floor of Miami International and we suddenly found ourselves on a bus, departing Port au Prince airport headed for the Mission of Hope campus in Titanyen.  The excitement was palpable – we’d actually made it to Haiti! After our long bus ride, made longer by a roadblock, we arrived at the MOH campus sweaty, tired, hungry, and most of us wondering if the scheduled strategic village time was even going to happen. Once we were settled in and fed, it was decided that we would indeed head into Labodrie to begin our ministry.

We entered our village with excitement and anticipation. Those of us who had been here before eager to see the changes from last year, hoping to see familiar faces of families we loved. The new team members just ready for whatever God laid before them with open hearts. What we encountered was far more than any of us expected.

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As we moved toward the back of the village where many new homes have been built over the last year, we encountered a group of Haitian villagers working with shovels and they asked if they could share their story with us.  It was explained that just that week, the road we were on had been expanded to allow for more homes to be built. While this was a blessing the road was just a simple dirt road so when it rained, it became muddy and impassible making it impossible for people to get to work, school, or to see doctors if needed.  They told us how as a village, they had pooled their resources and funds to purchase truckloads of rock mixed with more dirt to pour onto the road in an attempt to make it better. They asked us if we had any ideas on how to fix this problem.

The truth was we didn’t – not here in Haiti. In the US, the solution would have been simple. Have the road paved, add concrete, rent a road grater; the solutions and resources would have been endless. But here on this dirt road in an impoverished country the answer wasn’t that easy.  Yet standing there before this group of villagers, as the guys in our team picked up shovels to help ease the burden of the work, the purpose of our battles and the timing of our trip suddenly became clear.

Just Build the Road.

Just as almost none of our original plans to get to Haiti had been carried out as we had planned, our initial plans for the afternoon was diverted in an attempt to meet this village’s needs in a real way. We didn’t have the answers for them. We weren’t sure how to best help them. But we knew in that moment that we would do whatever we could to walk beside them in their struggle and help however we could.

How often do we, as Christians, feel that we are inadequate because we don’t have all the answers? So often we forget that the problems aren’t ours to solve and the battles aren’t ours to fight. We consistently look at the end product and think we’ll never be able to achieve that, realizing that we don’t in our own strength, have all the resources to get there. We do not know how to solve or heal the hurt within people, but we can place their interests above our own and we can know it’s not up to us to solve.  It is up to us to let God’s will and work within us. It is our job to give Him room. To pick up a shovel and help someone build a road. Whether that road is a physical road like the one we built that day in the village or a spiritual one to the Fathers heart.  Let God bear the fruit, let us pick up the shovels and find our contentment in all He has already done and promised to do and nothing less. The gospel is our Hope.

It’s not our job to bear the fruit.

Fight the battles. Build the road.

Let God carry people across it to schools, to churches, to conversations that may alter the course of their life and in some small way the course of eternity. Always remembering that our “not enough” in the hands of our God who is more than enough will achieve victory. You just have to be willing to pick up the shovel, and build a road.

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