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Unity in God’s Great Church

Let me be united with all who fear you, with those who know your laws. – Psalm 119:79 (NLT)

As Christians we are called to be ONE CHURCH. Although we may meet in several different buildings in several different locations and learn from several different teachers and preachers, we are supposed to be one church. If we are called children of God, then we are siblings – brothers and sisters in Christ. Aside from the Lord, there is nothing more powerful than a family united in Him. Unfortunately the ‘church’ today seems to have misconstrued this concept somewhat (I am aware that this is a very general statement). Chris and I just got back from taking a group of our college students to the Passion 2013 conference in Atlanta, Georgia. There were so many wonderful teachings and speakers but the one I want to remind myself of at this moment is the powerful message we heard from Judah Smith on community. He spoke about how our God, by His very nature, is based on community – he is three persons, Father, Spirit and Son. Singular in character and in nature but plural in person. Distinguishable but indivisible. Since we are called to reflect His image, we are called to be just that: distinguishable but indivisible. Judah said that without community, our world will not see God. We are called to love the church because we love God. That does not mean love OUR church – it means love THE church. The church was designed to be united – as human beings we have distorted this into a church that looks and often acts divided. When we are divided, we are vulnerable. Judah used a great illustration from a show he had seen during ‘Shark Week’ on the Discovery Channel – they did an experiment to see if sharks went to a lone seal more readily and more confidently than a pack of close-knit seal. You can guess what the outcome was – they obviously went for the isolated seal and destroyed it in a matter of seconds. This can so easily happen in the church. If we become competitive, territorial, defensive, pushing other churches away because we’re doing our ‘own thing’ we can destroy what God so lovingly designed for us – a unified church. When Jesus returns it will be to ONE Bride, not many! So what does that mean for us on a practical level? Does it mean we instate membership at several different churches and hop between them, not able to commit to actively serving at any one? No, of course not! But it does mean that we can decide to love the church as a whole, to steer conversations that could easily turn critical into positive ones, to encourage those around us to build up their own local churches instead of constantly networking people to join ours. A verse that I’ve been pondering as a result of Judah’s message is 1 Thessalonians 5:11-13. The verses before hand talk about how nothing in this world is stable and everything is beginning to be shaken up. As Christians we will need to be alert and awake while others are sleeping because we do not belong to the night or the darkness. Then verses 11-13 say this:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing. Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. – 1 Thessalonians 5:11-13 (HCSB)

To me, these verses just scream unity in the church – encourage, build up, give recognition, regard them highly in love, be at peace. There are so many things we can do but it has to start in the heart – if this is something that you struggle with, pray that God would change your heart to love THE church and not just YOUR church. If we are not unified, we are totally vulnerable to the devil creeping in and destroying the pure and beautiful vision for Jesus’ Bride.

Discouragement

I get discouraged fairly easily. It’s usually because of something I’ve done, a mistake I’ve made, saying something I should not have said or my lack of faith in general. It is easy to be discouraged. My frustration is that it does not take much to discourage me and I feel like I should be more durable. I’ve discovered that the key is to intentionally shift my thinking onto what really matters and that is the fact that while I’m not perfect, God’s grace is completely sufficient for me. Much of my discouragement comes from putting too much emphasis on what man thinks and not enough emphasis on the gift that is grace. This past week Chris and I visited a church in St. Louis, Missouri where Terry Virgo was preaching. Terry spoke on grace and one of my favorite things that he said was that grace is not just a cleansing, it’s a completely new identity which means that not only have we been washed of our sins but we have been given a brand new evaluation of ourselves which no one else can challenge. Terry was saying that just as Paul says in the first part of 1 Corinthians 15:10 “But by the grace of God, I am what I am…”, the grace of God makes us who we are and therefore we don’t need to wallow in our discouragement. Terry challenged us with a question: Is grace changing you and freeing you? We are not to waste the grace of God, it has been given to us freely and we need to make a habit out of stepping into that grace all the time – especially when we get discouraged. If grace is not changing and freeing you, then you are wasting God’s gift to you and because of that you will not experience the joy that comes from it, nor will you be able to glorify God in the way that you were intended to. Every now and then I have to remind myself that God’s grace is a gift that I can’t earn, it’s a brand new identity that has been given to me, and I have no reason to be discouraged. So my challenge to you today is that when you’re tempted to reject the new identity you’ve been given through grace, don’t! Be encouraged that you no longer need to dwell in discouragement but that you can step into the grace of God and live in light of that!

What a week! Edition 4

This week has been great, we’ve been preparing for our big trip to Europe, spending some quality time together and we even went to prison! We had the most amazing opportunity to go to Craggy Maximum Secuirty Prison and play music for some of the inmates. Several people responded and the music was so pumping, a light fixture fell out of the ceiling!

My new hat for our trip

At Brixx Pizza in Asheville before seeing Men In Black III in 3D!

Cookin out at the house! We had steak, chicken, fresh corn and Greek potato salad

Planting veggies on Memorial Day

Craggy Prison

What a week! Edition 3

My week in photos (plus some that I forgot from previous weeks!):

Mr. and Mrs. Buckner! So beautiful.

Bridesmaids! Shanna (left) and I

We took Gibson and Leila to the lake, this is us around the campfire.

They had a bath….

They loved being on the pontoon

Warning! Blistex Revive and Restore

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Blistex Revive and Restore

I would like to warn anyone who is considering buying the new Blistex Revive and Restore lip balms: don’t do it! I was super excited about these cute little tubs of blistex but it has turned out to be such a nightmare! I bought them Friday afternoon, and woke up on Saturday morning to this:

Saturday morning

For those of you who don’t know me/don’t see me on a regular basis, my lips are plump but they’re not that big! They are swollen and I could really give Angelina a run for her money! I told my husband at least I know I’ll never want Botox! It has gotten increasingly worse and this morning my lips are throbbing, peeling, stinging and look like this:

Tuesday morning

I had been slathering them with copious amounts of vaseline, but that clearly isn’t working so my plan of action today is to leave them alone and see if they will heal themselves. The skin is so sore and sensitive that I don’t want to add anything that they could react to further. Any advice for a hurting lady?!

What a week!

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This week has been an interesting one! It has been finals week at school (last day of the semester tomorrow!!!).

Chris noticed how stressed I was about finishing up with papers and things, not to mention my whole immigrations process (I’m having to renew my greencard!) so bless his sweet heart he surprised me last weekend with a trip to a beautiful country style lodge in Georgia! It was so lovely to get away and just be together. We even went to dinner at the same restaurant where we celebrated our first anniversary as a married couple. The amount of shoes that I took with me for one night was so impractical, and that made it feel even more like a mini vacation! I finally got to wear my black pencil skirt that I bought online at www.forever21.com for just $5, and I paired it with my leopard print platforms from Target with which I am obsessed at the moment.

Shoes for a night!

In other news, one of our best friends in the world Savannah graduated from university with a degree in nursing and we were so honored to be able to attend the ceremony, see her receive a special leadership award and hear her speech! We are so proud of you Sav! I think it is so important to celebrate in others’ successes and to acknowledge the hard work of the people around us.

Kylie, Savannah and I

Kylie and I

Even the boys had fun!

The other highlight of my week was getting to hang out with our sweet goddaughter, Stevie who belongs to Chance and Kylie. She is such a beam of light and happiness, when we hang out nothing else matters except having fun! I am constantly in prayer for her that she will grow up to love everybody around her and that she won’t lose her sweet innocence and zest for life!

Stevie!

Fear vs. God

To fear is to eliminate God from the equation. Now I’m not saying that God isn’t always with us, but sometimes we take Him out of our situation, whether we mean to or not. I have had some fear and anxiety problems over the years and I experienced a taste of that again recently. I was driving down the road one night and as fear tried to grip its ugly claw around my heart I thought, “Where is God in my fear?” “Where is He?”. It’s more of a rhetorical question as I knew, obviously, that He had never left my side but by allowing myself to fear I had eliminated God, His promises, and His power over all things from my situation. This was not something that Satan had done – it was my own heart that had ‘forgotten’ to acknowledge God, His promises, and His power over all things as I allowed fear to grip me. You see, we may not always have a choice over what happens to us, or what has happened to us in the past, but we have a very real decision to make when it comes to how we react. If our hearts eliminate God from the equation it automatically gives fear permission to take over. If we train ourselves to keep God at the forefront of everything the roles are reversed: fear is eliminated and God has the permission to take over.

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