Blogs…

Serve in obscurity?

…rather than make a name for myself, make His name known…

“He must become greater; I must become less.” – John the Baptist

“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John…” – Jesus

Have you ever considered the meaning of these words? What does it really mean to become “less”? And, how is it that of all the people Jesus chose to commend it was John the Baptist, an obscure, well-worn man living solo in the Judean wilderness? Why is it that Jesus didn’t sing the praises of Abraham, Moses, or David? Jewish tradition holds all three in high regard.

As I attended a local women’s conference this last weekend, I was confronted to reconsider these words. The theme of the weekend was “Finding Your Voice.” It centered on developing our intimacy with Jesus so that we could truly find our voice whereby we could live out our purpose in this world.

Sitting in the auditorium, listening to the message, one thought kept coming to mind, interrupting my ability to focus on the message being given… Sure, I guess I need to find my voice… I was telling myself… But what if God would rather I focus on His voice being heard?

My mind trailed deeper down the rabbit hole of that line of thinking… Rather than being known, what if it pleased God more that I be unknown? Or be known completely only by Him? My good works, my heartaches, my quirks… Rather than make a name for myself, seek to make God’s name known? Rather than advance my own reputation, advance God’s? And, then came the zinger of a question… Am I willing to serve God in utter obscurity?

*Gulp.*

Pondering such questions, I began to consider those who have answered that question in the affirmative… I mean, how long did Mother Teresa go about her business of caring for the poor, diseased, despised, and wretched before the world took notice of her noble work? How many others do the same in our day? Would I be willing to do such work without acclaim?

Coming back up to reality, the struggle is real… In all honesty, the answer is, “no.” (Besides, if I was keeping record, I’d already say I’d lost since I’m so connected through social media.) Nonetheless, I not ready to disappear into the void of anonymity, comforted solely by the fact I’m completely known by God. Yet, I know that that is every Christian’s call…

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:3-4

And so, the thought deepens… What if true freedom is really found by losing oneself? Isn’t that what Jesus said…?

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” – Mark 8:35

AND…

“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” – Luke 17:33

Alright, so, to lose our life is to gain it? And to seek to make something of our lives for our own sake is actually to lose it? It sounds so contradictory… Yet, I can imagine the freedom and joy it can bring… To not be bound by other people’s expectations or approval… To be unbridled by your own fears and uncertainties… Free to do what is right when it’s not popular because you’re unconcerned with your standing and secure in who you really are…

You are His.

To live in full color…

…risk stepping out to be who you were created to be… rise up and answer your calling…

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Growing up in Western Washington, there were many a gray day. Even if it wasn’t actually raining, the skies were white with overcast clouds. Though the rain gives that area it’s lovely green color, without the sun to shine on it, one can feel like it’s a pretty dreary place.

Recently, the thought came to me about how life can sometimes feel that way… Reality and the things that make us feel so “alive,” can seem hidden by some fog of responsibility, or obligation, or simply, the monotony of life.

Back in the 90’s, a movie came out that at first glance seemed to be entirely filmed in black-and-white*. Starring Reese Witherspoon and Tobey McGuire, this brother-sister duo found themselves transported into the brother’s favorite 1950’s TV sitcom. The premise followed a “Leave-it-to-Beaver” type family living in a small town where everything was predictable and “safe.” Being that the sitcom followed the birth of the television, it aired in black-and-white rather than color. Similarly, the movie began in gray-scale scenes…

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As the brother-sister duo move throughout the movie, they begin bringing attitudes and behaviors from their own generation, nearly fifty years later. Suddenly, the predictable story line becomes disrupted, throwing the town in which the series is set off kilter. Before you know it, everything begins to fall apart… Characters deviate from expected behavior, going off-script and begin to dream…

Scenes shift from only black-and-white, to stains of red, orange, blue, green… By the end of the movie, each scene is entirely in color, none of the black-and-white shades remain. Predictability has vanished, boring has been wiped out, what was lifeless has disappeared…

It got me thinking… What is it to live life in full color?

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Earnestly, I’ve yearned to “fit-in,” seeking after the life everyone else around me appears to be living… Working the “9-5,” attaining the “husband, house, 2.5 children and a dog” lifestyle preached to me from the pulpit and the TV.

Yet, the more I’ve sought this life, the more it’s alluded me. Furthermore, even that which I have attained has left me feeling more lifeless than I expected. This “life” became boring, predictable, even frustrating. As if, the more I strove to be like everyone else, the less I became like everyone else and the more lifeless I felt.

But to live in full color…! That is the life I long for…

To live in full color is to be fully alive… To feel every breath in your lungs… To rub the lint between your toes and feel its plush fiber… To gaze out across the valley and see a sunset that leaves you speechless… To lose track of time playing games with children, laughing all the while…

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Not many routine things bring such joy, such life, such color as these… And yet the adult within me struggles to make those things a priority… But if I’m to live the rest of this life, it’ll only be worth it if I’m living in full color.

So, let us take risks… Risk trusting Yahweh to care for you as you follow His leading… Risk your reputation or friendships sharing about the reality of Jesus in your life… Risk stepping out to live the life you were created for no matter how much money you will make, how much others oppose it, or how much you fear failure… Risk getting lost in the little moments that bring you joy, whether that be painting the ocean shores, creating a melody on ivory keys, throwing a frisbee to your furry friend, or playing tic-tac-toe with a five-year old… Rise up and answer your calling…

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“I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” – Jesus*

“[God]…richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” – 1 Timothy 6:17

*Pleasantville (1998)

*John 10:10

pcs: all sc, except Pleasantville clip and vintage TV set

Always becoming…

…in the midst of determining our goals, we are already becoming someone or something…

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Backyard at the house I used to live in was a sturdy apple tree. None of us were quite sure what kind of apples it grew. But one thing was certain, this tree excelled at fulfilling it’s created purpose: to bear apples.

Every weekend in Spring, a swath of apples at varying stages of ripeness blanketed the grass beneath the tree, waiting for someone to come and take notice. It wasn’t long before collecting the apples made it to our weekly “chore list.” Each of us soon discovered the need to operate with strategy if we were to dispose of them efficiently and save ourselves from back pain.

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Despite the fact that I always seemed to finish the chore with a throbbing back, my time spent beneath its branches always yielded life lessons as proliferous as the apples themselves…

Through the seasons of time, a tiny seed in the ground grows and grows until eventually it becomes a tree. A robust trunk shoots out of the ground stretching to the blue skies above. Spindly branches stretch from side to side, concealed in green leaves quivering in the breeze. As Winter turns to Spring, little buds begin to develop, ever bigger with each passing day. Until all at once, you begin to see the beauty of the fruit.

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But what kind of fruit is it?

In a healthy tree, it will become nutritious, pleasing to the eye as well as the body.

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In a tree diseased by harmful cankers, pleasing fruit is sure to bring poison to the human body.

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A tree becomes a tree over time. And over time, it produces fruit. But what kind of fruit will it be?

Similarly, we all began as little children… Seed from our parents that would one day bear fruit of our own. And whether we’ve strategized about the fruit we want to bear or the kind of “tree” we want to become, we are all becoming something.

For the longest time, I’ve spent countless hours trying to “figure life out.” Most specifically, figure out MY life. What am I to do with it? How can I please God? How can I get the things I want out of life?

Recently I realized that even in the midst of being “stuck” in this season of “figuring things out,” I’ve been becoming something, or rather someone. Right under my nose, I’ve been becoming who I am. It got me thinking that though I may never have life “figured out,” if I am faithful in the day-to-day, pursuing my goals piece-by-piece, even on my way to a destination, I already am someone. I already am bearing some kind of fruit.

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And so, as I consider this happy little apple tree, going about her business of stretching her branches wide so that birds may perch on them and sprinkling apples on the grass for the squirrels, I, too, ought to go about my business of bearing good fruit and fulfilling my purpose of being a human being. Let us consider our fruit… What kind of fruit are you bearing as you grow into yourself?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” – Galatians 5:22-25 –

pc: all Sarah Coffey

One step at a time…

…you can only eat an elephant one bite at time…

So, over the last month or so it’s been more difficult to find the motivation to get outside and go running. Earlier this week, the sun came out and I knew it would be a good day for getting a run in. It was still a bit nippy, as we’re still coming out of winter here, but with my recently purchased running gear, I knew I would be able to stay plenty warm.

Getting home from work, fatigue was already setting in… I don’t want to go on a run. What if I skip a day? An internal dialogue began between the part of me that wanted nothing more than to be lazy and rest at home, and the ambitious part of me that revels in reaching personal goals… Well, Sarah, if you skip today, you’ll have to make it a priority for tomorrow… And what if tomorrow you don’t feel like running? Or what if it’s a stormy, cold day? Hmmm… This inner dialogue between me, myself, and I continued for about a half hour. Finally, as my tummy started rumbling for dinner, I decided I’d better go and get it done. So, I donned my gear and hit the pavement.

As I ran down the street, and noticed that my pace was slower than usual, I kept telling myself how it was good for me simply to be out there. It’s not about speed or pace, but perseverance. It’s not about winning any medals, but simply keeping going…

I’ve come to realize that life is the same way. The mundane tasks of the day-in-day-out of life hit us and we get bored, apathetic, discouraged, unmotivated… We want something exciting, something memorable, something glorious… But that’s not real life. While there will be highs and lows, often we’re simply running on level ground…

I was reminded of the quote I once heard about how to eat an elephant…

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” – Creighton W. Abrams

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We need to take it one step at a time. You can’t do everything at once, but you can do one thing at a time, and after finishing, you can move on to the next thing. As Saint Francis of Assisi was quoted as saying,

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

So, the next time you feel overwhelmed by the mundane tasks of life while still wishing to see your dreams come true, remember to take it one step at a time…

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – James 1:2-4

And once you reach the top, that’s when you get to see the view…!

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pc: Sarah Coffey, Hungary, South Africa; Darek Hollis, Macedonia

Enough through Jesus…

…simply believe in the One He has sent…

If you’re like me, in the hustle and bustle of today’s world, you often find yourself overwhelmed… Overwhelmed by the day-to-day tasks vying for your attention, while simultaneously agonizing over the oughta’s and shoulda’s to reach personal goals…

Social media has afforded the ability to vastly over-share small snippets of our lives, the “highlight reel,” as some have called it… And in scrolling through our activity feeds, we’re left feeling inadequate… We begin believing, perhaps even subconsciously, that these “highlights” are the sole experiences of our friends and acquaintances… Smiling faces, professional achievements, carefree vacations… As if you’re the only one who experiences life’s ups and downs…

So often, it has left me wondering, am I enough? Am I doing enough? Is my life enough, in God’s eyes?

Jesus was once asked what one must do to do the works God requires…

“Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.‘” – John 6:29

WHOA. To simply believe in the One God has sent! THAT is enough.

And, knowing all too well our human tendency to try to work out our salvation, Paul the apostle reminded us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of Godnot by works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

When Jesus offered Himself up for us on the cross, He accomplished all that was needed and declared, “It is finished.” – John 19:30

Tempting as it is to try to EARN God’s favor, rest in the simple truth that it is enough to simply believe in Jesus. That His perfectly lived life paid the ultimate price on our behalf… His sacrifice was for the sin of every person throughout all of history! Wow. Trusting in His finished work is all that is needed to be enough before God.

Paul made it clear and simple…

That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.'” – Romans 10:9-11

So, it’s not a matter of achievement, a matter of feeling, or a matter of other’s perceptions of us… Believing in Jesus is enough…

“…your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:3b-4

pc: Sarah Coffey, Ukraine

Always found…

…no matter how lost we feel, God will always come find us…

For the last year, I’ve been relying on one set of earbuds for all phone conversations and listening to audio tracks during my runs. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that the actual ear pieces fall off pretty easily. Time and again I’ve taken them out of my purse or pocket only to find one earpiece missing.  Inevitably, I’d begin the frantic search, rummaging through my bag or stooping down on all fours, scouring the ground for that little black knob.

Every time one falls off, I expect it to be the time I finally lose the earpiece for good. One time, I even flew all the way to Washington State with only one earpiece. I’d figured it fell off while I was on the plane, lost amidst the seats somewhere. I mentally prepared myself to buy a new set.

But to my chagrin, as soon as I got back to Utah, I discovered the earpiece safely hidden amidst the pattern on my rug. It wasn’t until I sat down and felt something squishy beneath me that I even found it.

With the number of times I’ve lost and found the earpieces, it gave me reason to pause… How is it that I haven’t actually lost these for good? How is it that I keep finding it after thinking it’s been lost?

In my mind, it’s been nothing but a little miracle that I haven’t had to buy a new pair. It’s as if there was some magnetic pull, keeping the earpiece in my vicinity… It seemed like there was nothing I could do that would cause that piece to be lost for good… And, in kind of a reverse way, it brought to mind God’s pursuit of us… That no matter how far we run, how deep of a hole we’ve dug for ourselves, or how lost we feel, we’ll always be found by God…

Speaking in a parable, Jesus Himself likened His Father’s love and concern for us to that of a shepherd keeping a mass of sheep…

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” – Matthew 18:12-14

Do we think that we are so far gone in the midst of our own mess that God cannot or will not come after us?

“’Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the Lord, ‘and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 23:23-24

God is in constant pursuit of us that He might lavish His love on us and that we might know Him intimately. And once we are found, there is nothing that will separate us from His love…

“…neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

And so, I want to remind you that whether you are basking in the sunshine atop the highs of life, or traipsing through the darkest valley, or feeling lost and hidden in your own mess, know that there is One who will always go looking for you, One who won’t give up until you’re found, One who will never forget you…

“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; [you] are ever before me.” – Isaiah 49:16

*pc Sarah Coffey

Keep running through the pain…

…the pain is only temporary, so keep on going…

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship…” – 2 Timothy 4:5a

Usually my runs are pretty uneventful… I might run by some barking dogs, kids riding bikes, or people cleaning up their yards… And most of the time, I feel pretty good throughout the course of my run.

One time recently, about halfway through my run, my stomach began to act up… As it jostled around with each stride, I began to feel sick. A rare occurrence for me, I began to think through what I’d eaten that day that could have contributed to this feeling… coffee, cereal, leftover rice and stir fry, too much sugar…? Nothing too unusual jumped out.

Despite the fact that my tummy was unhappy with me, my arms and legs were all too raring to go. They could have gone all day if not for my complaining tummy.

I was inclined to stop, but as sometimes happens, I expected the pain to go away. I needed to keep running, to run until the pain subsided, until I came to the end…

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I’ve increasingly found the same to be true in life. Now, I know this is not exactly an earth-shattering concept… But I sometimes have to remind myself of this fact…

So many things are thrown into our way as we run through life… unexpected, painful things… a bittersweet divorce, the loss of a child, illness and injury, painful loneliness, overwhelming anxiety… it’s difficult to keep on running… to find the motivation to stay the course…

Though this has been a blessed season for me, it’s also been one of the most difficult… On many occasions, I’ve felt in deep despair… it’s been almost a daily battle to keep running this race called “life” as regrets, “what ifs,” and anxiety about the future have landed in my path…

But just as that run taught me, I must run through the pain… WE must run through the pain…

At the beginning of track season as a kid, each run brought on the pain of side aches as I’d been out of practice for a season. Eventually, as I kept coming to practice, day after day, and as I kept training for race day, the side aches eventually went away. Before I knew it, I could run with ease and eventually I even got faster!

In life, we must also run through the pain… Eventually the pain will subside as you get stronger… Show the pain it cannot have you… It will not consume you… You will outrun its grip on you. Before you know it, either the pain will cease to exist, or you’ll find yourself at your intended destination. No matter how long the pain lasts, we must remember it won’t be forever… There are days filled with joy and delight ahead of you… Don’t give up before you can experience them… After the storm comes the rainbow; beauty comes from the ashes; rain makes things grow… Keep on running, my friend… You’re not alone; I’m running there right along with you…

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7

“…[stand] firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings…” – 2 Peter 5:9

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pc: Sarah Coffey, Zambia, Victoria Falls, Zambezi River