Lydia Wells

14 Years

Sometimes life is hectic and nights are sleepless and times are not quiet, and yet in that moment God finds a way to speak to me. Whether it be through friends or family or short phrases whispered by our children God finds a way to grab my heart when I simply cannot find a moment to sit and be still.

 

This week God used an email from a friend to continually bring my mind back to Him...even in the midst of inconsolable children.

 

My friend reminded me of Psalm 29 - a Psalm that this friend and I had set to music several years ago.

 

At the age of 21 reading Psalm 29 hit me like a punch to the gut, it overwhelmed me with the image of God’s power. Even a girl like me (who often “missed” things or had things go over my head) wouldn’t be able to not pay attention in the situation the Psalmist describes:

 

“The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon...The voice of the Lord flashes like lightning. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.”

 

This description of a destructive voice resulted in an unexpected feeling:  comfort.  It was a comfort in my relative youth that this booming, all-powerful voice of God was the same voice that was also  still and small. That it had the ability to get my attention in a way that was irrefutable. It could shake me. It could break me. But at the same time, it could be small and a comfort.

 

I’ve meditated on that passage for the past few weeks and my appreciation for the Psalmist’s message has only deepened over the past 14 years.

 

I read the words and am able to look back on moments of immense joy and know that it was God. I can look back on seasons filled with grief and pain so debilitating that I could barely breathe and know that it too was God - that nothing was beyond the reach of His voice. The words let me see the hand of God as I look back and encourage me as I look ahead.

 

Scripture urges us on several occasions to meditate on God’s word. The original Hebrew for “meditate” is hagah and according to Strong’s Concordance it means “to moan, growl, utter, speak, muse”.

 

That definition fits well with my life. I know there are times when all I can do it simply moan the Word in grief and pain and sorrow. There are still other times when I growl it ferociously over a loved one or a child as I pray for their salvation. And still, there are times when I simply muse.

 

It has taken 14 years, but now I feel like the Psalm is truly sinking in. Taking root in my heart. I am more able to recognize its truth in even the murkiest of earthly moments.

 

I pray for you and for myself that today we will meditate on God’s scripture. That we would practice this meditation in the simplest of ways and allow His voice to sink deeply into our hearts - whether it be still and small or shaking us to a breaking point.

 

 

Written by Lydia Wells

 

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God before me.

Sunday, Klint preached out of Acts 20 where Paul is describing his ministry. Paul is addressing elders of the church of Ephesus.

 

Think of it as a small-ish leadership conference. But one that bears no resemblance to a modern day leadership pep talk.

 

Instead, Paul’s description of his ministry and leadership reads more like a tragedy than the rags-to-riches success stories that we are inundated with today.

 

Currently, people who are considered leaders have a certain code of conduct. They tout their successes, point to their strengths...make it about them. Only THEY can do what has been done or what has to be done. When a modern day leader fails, they  often downplay or disregard it, blame the circumstances , or even blame others.

 

My guess is is that even in the early church leaders probably struggled with these inclinations. Afterall, they were only human.

 

Paul (as the Keynote speaker equivalent at this leadership conference) takes a different approach.

 

He doesn’t give his audience strategies or a list of “five things to do today” to increase their following. He doesn’t guild the lily.  He doesn’t gloss over the hard work.

 

He is brutally honest:

 

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not count my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
(Acts 20: 18-24, ESV)

 

What strikes me most about this passage is Paul’s brokenness and humility. He claims no value of his own. He doesn’t cover up the hardship. He has served faithfully, yes, but with tears and trials. He lives in physical uncertainty - not knowing what will happen next. He is certain of one thing: imprisonment and afflictions await him. He counts himself of no value. His life means nothing. He only wants to finish.

 

He just wants to finish.

 

Paul takes the conference talk template and throws it out the window. What he gives is a speech that probably brought the elders in his presence to stunned silence. It should bring us to stunned silence.

 

Paul is PAUL. He is the man that a resurrected Jesus slapped blind from his donkey and called to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. There is likely no greater evangelist than Paul throughout all of church history. Billy Graham has nothing on Paul.

 

And while I am sure that this speech was given with passion - this is a man who has been through trials near impossible for us to imagine. He doesn’t try to hide the pain, the scars, the uncertainty of his fate. He just wants to finish. He’s been given a job; it’s a beautiful calling - if only he may finish his course.

 

Have you ever been in a situation or a physical place where you just wanted to finish what was started?

 

I think most of us can relate to the feeling.

 

That awkward family dinner. A half-marathon you signed up, but didn’t train for (even though you really meant to). Child birth. Chronic or terminal Illness.

 

A moment when all the emotions and feelings and pep talks bow out. Where physical symptoms and weariness come full force. All we are left with is….nothing - just the need to be finished, for it all to be done.

 

We know that in this rock-and-a-hard-place moment, we have the decision to give up or to keep going. To push through or walk away. To bear down and do the work or to crumble into a ineffective mess.

 

So, what do we do? We create motivating playlists on Spotify. We surround ourselves with encouraging quotes and images. We visualize. We read a lot of self-help books. We join forums and chatboards and clubs. We fight through with short-lived and fleeting emotions and bursts of energy.

 

But eventually, we have to face the challenge.  We will find ourselves in this definitive “do or die” moment and attempt to force through by “sheer force of will.” And while this might allow us to continue successfully for a short time (in a minute-by-minute fashion) - after all, a child will eventually be born, the marathon ends, the illness wins;  shear force of will cannot sustain us when the end is unforeseeable.

 

Feelings. Emotions. Willpower. They will only take us so far. They are brilliant and beautiful and strong and powerful, but they fade in both the best and hardest of circumstances. They are fleeting.

 

Clearly, Paul wasn’t running off of feelings or emotions. He was tired - probably physically broken. He calls his life worthless..

 

Except...Unless...If only he could finish what God has called him to.

 

What kept Paul going? What was the driving force?

 

Knowing God.

 

Not feeling God. Knowing Him.

 

Paul was learned in the scriptures. He was a Jewish rock star. He had an amazing foundation in the Law and well, he showed it off in some of the most horrendous ways. That is until he was thrown from his donkey onto a road, struck blind, and spoken to by name by the living God, the resurrected Jesus.

 

Paul met God. Paul knew God. Paul committed to God.

 

It was not about a warm and fuzzy feeling that Paul got when thinking about God. It was a harrowing and shocking experience that told Paul all that he needed to know about God: Jesus is the Messiah. He is the resurrected Savior. He is “God with us.” He is the fulfillment of the Law. All this time, Paul had thought it was about his knowledge, his rules, his actions - but it wasn’t about him.

 

It is always about God.

 

So, when Paul finds himself faced with uncertainty, he knows that this is not about him - even if it is the kind of uncertainty that will always lead to tears, trials, imprisonment, and affliction. It’s not about what he wants. It’s not about his success.

 

Because he counts his life as nothing. Because he just wants to finish.

 

It can sound like weariness and brokenness (and there is a twinge of that in his voice, I’m sure of it), but what overpowers that small hint of exhaustion is a focus and an intention. This is not a man who is "self"-motivated. This is a man who is driven by the Holy Spirit. This is a man focused on the God of the Universe.

 

This is a man who puts God before himself.

 

God before his dreams. God before his wants. God before his safety. God before his needs. God before what others expect from him. God before his life.

 

God before everything else.

 

Leaders will often start with a mission statement or a strategy, but as markets and demographics and times shift, practices adjust as well - to avoid downturns or downright calamity.

 

Paul never waivers.

 

God before all.

 

How do we do this?  How is it even possible? This is Paul we are talking about - he was some sort of superhuman whose origin story takes place on a dirt road with nothing but a servant and a donkey and a really bright light.

 

But before that...beyond that, Paul was just a man…...  A man who KNEW  God.

 

He didn’t function on feeling, but from knowledge.

 

Church culture talks a lot about our hearts: having a “heart change,” Jesus coming into our hearts, the Holy Spirit transforming our hearts, loving God with all of our hearts.

 

We forget (or perhaps ignore) that God also requires our minds - a knowledge of his Word, a knowledge of who He is.

 

Because in those hard moments our hearts will fail us. Our emotions and feelings will tell us that we cannot do it. We should walk away. We are not enough.

 

But a mind transformed by a knowledge of God and His Word will draw on deep truths. It will turn us NOT towards who we are and what we are capable of, but who God is and what He has already done.

 

A mind transformed cannot help but put God in His proper place.

 

Before everything.

 

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Abiding

This past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, a day that marks the beginning of Lent for many churches. Traditionally, Ash Wednesday is a somber day in which one is reminded that “you come from dust and to dust you will return” or, more to the point, “Remember, you will die.”

 

Lent is a season that allows us to journey alongside Jesus towards the cross. This is to be a time of fasting and reflection - reflecting on what our lives would look like without the Resurrection - about the work that was done on the Cross. It is a sobering time that leads us, forty days later, into Holy Week and, ultimately, to the Resurrection.

 

My family and I observe this season every year. Sometimes half-heartedly, but most years we are very much in a place of needing to hear something - a place where we need to remember. We found ourselves in a place of need this past Wednesday.

 

Over the past several weeks during the evening hours, in those rare few minutes that the adults in our house have to talk about things of consequence (I.E. anything that does not revolve around Disney Princesses, Palace Pets, or whatever other marketing scheme my children have latched onto that week), our conversation has centered around a feeling of discontentment, unsettledness, uneasiness - specifically concerning the spiritual growth in our lives.

 

We feel unmet, unheard, lonely, unsatisfied, hungry, thirsty, and, in all honesty, a little angry.

 

In the past, these feelings would send me into a bit of a tailspin. I would try to make it better, force the issue, or blame someone else for simply not meeting my needs. However, an incredible therapist told me several years ago that anger is actually a God-given emotion. It’s purpose it to let us know that something is off, unfair, not right.

 

And so rather than giving into feelings of “others are letting me down” and just being angry, I have been sitting in the unsettled feelings. I allowed the soil of my soul (that has admittedly sat stagnant for a bit) to be tilled, turned over, and uprooted. It’s not pleasant, but it is freeing.

 

When we allow ourselves to be reminded of our flaws, our deep-seated imperfections, our sin, our death - we let all of that into the light. It’s unearthed and aired out. We can look at it plainly - inspecting what’s been uprooted. We can look to heaven and ask that some things in our life be pulled up and thrown into the fire.

 

The season of Lent, aside from being a time of reflection, it is a time of fasting. Many fast rich foods or wine. Some fast behaviors or earthly joys. Some get caught up in the restriction and the “emptying out” and forget that fasting for fasting sake is simply an exercise in self-discipline and self-discipline is not all we are called to. It is not all that Lent should be. Instead, Lent is a time of  giving something up with the sole purpose of allowing that new found space in our day to be employed in an activity that is LIFE giving - praise, worship, the Word, serving. A time of re-centering.

 

Lent as an experiment in self-depravation is not the point.

 

God does not want us empty. He wants us full. He wants us overflowing.

 

This Lenten season, I have personally chosen to take a step back from some social media - although I will be sharing links to my CC blog posts. The reason being that it is time consuming.  I will even go so far as to say it is LIFE consuming. It can leave me mumbling, judging, irritated, and mad. Which is not an indictment of social media, but more on the condition of my heart.

 

When I am Bored. Lonely. Desperate. Joyful. Confused. I go to the internet. I go online. There is where I will seek answers, comfort, friendship, confirmation, encouragement...Love.

 

I have found in my times of reflection in preparation for Ash Wednesday and Lent that I am incredibly unsettled because I am abiding in the wrong places. I am not ABIDING in God.

 

A few definitions of “abide” are:

  1. (v. i.) To stay; to continue in a place; to have one's abode; to dwell; to sojourn; -- with before a person, and commonly with at or in before a place.
  2. (v. i.) To wait; to pause; to delay.
  3. (v. i.) To remain stable or fixed in some state or condition; to continue; to remain.
  4. (v. t.) To wait for; to be prepared for; to await; to watch for; as, I abide my time.
  5. (v. t.) To endure; to sustain; to submit to.
  6. (v. t.) To bear patiently; to tolerate; to put up with.
  7. (v. t.) To stand the consequences of; to answer for; to suffer for.

 

Jesus says in John 15:4 that we are to “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”

 

Now, read that verse again, replacing “abide” with the above definitions.  

 

“Prepare for me, as I prepare for you.”  “Dwell in me as I in you.”

 

The Bible instructs us, encourages us, to abide in God. My tendency toward social media as a default simply does not allow me to fully participate in the Lenten journey alongside Jesus to the cross.   

 

So, I am fasting the seeking out of others online. And I’m going to try and fill that space with life-giving water, daily bread - to spend my time abiding in the Word. I want to fill that time up with God.  I want to be overflowing with Him, not with tweets, likes, and pins.

 

I believe my unsatisfied, unsettled, and freshly tilled heart will find comfort and peace there.    

 

Perhaps you find yourself some place similar.

 

Perhaps there are emotions, sins, attitudes that seem to be blocking out everything else.

 

Perhaps this is the time to allow the soil to be tilled - to learn to abide.
 

 

Written by Lydia Wells

 

 

**Christ Community does not corporately celebrate Ash Wednesday or Lent, but many of those in our body do participate in this liturgical season. Visit this link to read a blog written by Pastor Matt addressing this time of year.**

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Ordinary

It’s been cold. And rainy. If it’s not rainy, it’s cloudy.

 

The memories, excitement, and expectation of Advent and Christmas are long faded. The New Year has come. Many of us may already feel like it’s July, having waved a fond farewell to all our good intentions and New Year’s resolutions in favor of just keeping our heads above water.

 

Even if you tried to eek-out one last moment of awe and wonder celebrating the Epiphany, it came to its final close on the 19th.  The Christmas carols and Auld Lang Synes have all been sung - so what now?

 

In the Church’s liturgical calendar, we are now in Ordinary Time.

 

I’m not joking. It’s an actual liturgical season: Ordinary Time.

 

Ordinary.

 

The modern definition of ordinary is, “with no special or distinctive features; normal.”

 

So, when first introduced to the liturgical calendar, I quite literally thought that this meant, “To the Congregation and the Pastors: Go about your business. Teach topically. No special meaning here.”

 

But that’s not what this ORDINARY means.

 

W.P. Bennett gives us a little more insight into the liturgical meaning of ordinary:

“The basis for calling the time ordinary, actually refers back again to that defining quality of God as the Divine Orderer of creation.  It means that the time is ordered rather than chaotic. By identifying periods of the year through a calendar, the Church has been an instrument in God’s reaching out to bring order and system into the chaos of our world. So, Ordinary Time does not mean a “ho-hum time,” but is rather a time to reflect on how God intervenes in the world and brings his divine presence into the chaos of our life. It is a time for us to break from all the preparation and celebration of other feasts and practice our faith and relationship with God in the calm.”

 

I think that most people are like me in that we enter into a new year or new season of life with a list of goals or “to do’s” or “honey do’s.” We may have a spark of excitement about it all at first, but eventually we give way to simply checking things off the list and living in a rather habitual state.

 

How was your day?

     Normal.

 

Anything special happen?

     Ah, you know...the ordinary.

 

The normalcy of life has set in.  But I think here is where we, as believers, can live differently. Not living life by the school calendar, the fiscal calendar, the normal calendar year, but by making the conscious decision to live liturgically.

 

Many of us hear the words “Liturgy” or “Liturgical” and think of stagnant, stuffy, rote practices - devoid of meaning. But we are so wrong.

 

I think that while liturgy can certainly become any of the above, behind it is a desire to help people connect to a sacred and divine rhythm that permeates life and living.

 

God enters into the chaos and orders it.

 

God gives us rest from preparations and celebration.

 

He enters into our daily life and provides order.

 

And God’s not simply putting your life into order to suit you or to make it all work out in the end (God is not a genie), but he is ORDERING out of a sole desire to have you practice your faith and explore relationship with him.

 

Just soak in that truth for a second.

 

It’s sometimes easier for us to explore relationship and “dig in” when there’s a lot of hype and hubbub. There’s excitement and adrenaline and a bit of mob mentality involved. But to fully practice our faith and respond to God’s pursuit of us is perhaps harder in the calm places of life.

 

It may be because we’ve allowed the checklists and “to dos” break into our quiet rest.

 

It may be that we don’t do well alone, in silence, in calm, or in the quiet.

 

It may be that it’s just too intense to be quiet. To give God the space.  To let go and reflect on God, the orderer.

 

So, let’s try to sit in this ordinary time. To rest in this space of the year that God has given us between divine celebrations. To deepen our relationship, faith, and practice.

 

To get into a different rhythm that is in no way...Ordinary.

 

 

 

Written by: Lydia Wells

 

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Less is More

We are at the beginning of the Advent season...and it’s gorgeous. I love this time of year. I like colored lights and hot drinks and hearing the familiar sound of Salvation Army bells ringing outside every shop. It is a season of great Hope and giving. I have great memories of this season as a child. My mom and dad were intentional in their actions: we felt love and we understood generosity during this special season. (My mom’s love language is gift-giving and she has 10 grandchildren,  so this time of year is like her super bowl.)

 

I love Advent.

 

Several years ago when my husband and I were living out West, our church took part in something called Advent Conspiracy.

 

The gist was that we were going to participate in a conspiracy to take Advent BACK. It’s been “stolen,” in a sense, by commercialism and materialism - Black Friday and the latest gadget you just have to have. Not to mention that this buy, buy, buy mentality leads a good majority of the folks we know into some amount of debt EVERY YEAR. Think of that: It’s Jesus’ birthday. He came to set us free. YAY! Let’s go out and buy a ton of stuff (unnecessary stuff of questionable origin) and weigh ourselves down with debt.

 

We’ve got it all backwards.

 

Jesus didn’t come to connect with people commercially or materially. JESUS comes to us relationally: blessing us with his incarnation, with his time, with his physical presence. As my husband and I thought on it, we realized that our most precious Christmas memories were those moments when we were spending time and fully living life with family and friends: dancing around the Kitchen to Elvis’s Blue Christmas, that last minute 24-hour drive North to sing carols on my Uncle’s front porch, annual Christmas Day brunch in pajamas with our friends down the street, the singing of Twelve Days of Christmas around the dinner table.

 

What we can’t tell you or remember: what we got for Christmas when we were five .

 

As we enter the season of Advent and we hear Christ Community talking about the Christmas Offering, I know that a lot of us may be thinking, “I already have so many things to buy. I just can’t do it.”

 

I understand. I’ve been there.

 

But if you want to experience a very freeing holiday, let me suggest that less stuff and MORE you is WAY more meaningful to whoever you “need” to get a gift for.  

 

Invite your roommates for hot chocolate before the Christmas parade (Thursday Night). Make a Christmas card with an inside joke. Knit a sweater, draw a picture, write a story or a limerick or a song. Give someone your time - fix your mom’s computer (again) or do lawn work for your sister. Play board games with the kids in your life. They all have enough stuff - but they don’t have enough of you.

 

And if you happen to have saved any money in doing that - put it towards a worthy cause.

 

Christ Community has committed to serve Downtown Academy and every year we try to not only put our money, but also our time and our prayers and our love where our mouth is. This year we are trying to raise $15,069. $10,069 of which will go straight to Downtown Academy to help to purchase Chromebooks and curriculum, and to fund various school programs.

 

The remaining $5,000 will go to funding some needs at Christ Community.

 

If you’ve ever been at a Gathering, community group, or a men’s/women’s retreat, you’ll see quickly that this church is driven by an army of volunteers - many of whom BUY things for us to enjoy (out of their own pockets). This $5,000 from the Christmas Offering will go towards funding our ministries that are currently unfunded (men, women, college, the Grove). This will take a little (okay, a lot) of financial burden off of our ministry teams and volunteers.  A portion of this $5000 will also go to help fund our Director of Operations position. This position is currently unfunded by our church, but is one of two people pretty much running this ship administratively.

 

I cannot say how much this “less is more” attitude of Advent Conspiracy has changed my family’s view of Christmas and how it encourages us to focus our energies on making memories and serving others - rather than buying the next big toy and frantically trying to find space in the budget.

 

It’s freedom.

 

Jesus came to free us and He didn't do it with material gifts or money. He served us. He cared for us. He healed us. He got to know us. He met physical needs. He loved us.

 

That's the path we are called to follow.

 

During this season, let’s use our freedom to serve the children and staff of Downtown Academy, as well as help support to the team of people that make Christ Community a great church to be a part of.

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College Girls

Let’s be honest and talk a bit about college girls.

 

They either feel like they’ve got it all together or like their life is a trainwreck - and somehow never in between.

 

I’ve known them both. I’ve loved them both. And I’ve been both.

 

As much as the above description was written in jest (well, it is kind of a joke), I was much more often a trainwreck during my college years…a really confused, overly emotional train wreck.  

 

I came to the University of Georgia in August of 1999. I came with what I thought was a fairly good head on my shoulders (it wasn’t nearly as good as I thought), a serious boyfriend that all around me thought would be my husband (that didn’t work out), and just a boatload of sin and heart issues that I was trying to hide from everyone else (news flash - you can’t).

 

I was lucky enough to get plugged into a campus ministry relatively quickly. I made some friends and had community. I was known by a group of people. Campus ministries are a good thing.

 

I spent four years at the same campus ministry. I joined leadership and was given an environment where I could be discipled. I went on mission trips and ministered to the homeless and transient of Athens. I made life-long friendships and discovered some strengths that I could bring to the table. I met my husband. These are BIG life-changing experiences and campus ministries foster an environment in which college students can have them.  

 

BUT

 

One of my biggest regrets from my college years? The one that comes back and whispers to me often as I continue through different seasons of womanhood?

 

I was never plugged into a local church.

 

Campus ministries often create a bit of a bubble. You are surrounded by believers of the same age (give or take 5 years). You’re most often ALL college students or recent graduates. The grand majority of people there ascribe to similar theological beliefs. You probably all have a similar worship and prayer ‘styles.’ You share the same vocabulary and vernacular. You probably even look fairly similar to one another.  It’s a monochromatic and monotone experience….

 

Please, don’t confuse this as an op-ed against campus ministries. I like campus ministries. I love them. They serve a wonderful purpose. They serve the people of the campus. But, please remember, that local churches exists and they too serve an important (but slightly different) purpose. The local church serves the whole of the community and has the potential to expose you to things that may be a little different - as long as you let it happen.

 

Christ Community is entering into an exciting season when it comes to college girls (and boys for that matter). We have THREE new staffers who came on to minister to young people (high school, college-aged, post graduation). These three want to help you get plugged into Christ Community.

 

I can’t think of a better way to tell you about it than to introduce you to these three great people. We will be giving small introductions via the blog to each of these new staff members over the next several weeks.

 

First up: Elizabeth Baker, Director of College Ministry for Women @ Christ Community.

 

Elizabeth Baker (EZbake as she is sometimes affectionately referred to) is pretty great. She’s got this peaceful, calm, quirky, and (sometimes) awkward demeanor that immediately makes you comfortable. And she smiles a lot. It’s not forced. It’s straight joy.

 

She’s the new point of connection for college girls here at Christ Community. Her role as she sees it:   

 

“is to help younger women in our church follow Jesus.” To INVEST in the college-aged women of our church.

 

That can sound pretty simple, but when Elizabeth expounds on this seemingly simple idea - it comes to encompass a lot. So I’m going to try to break it down.

 

1) ELIZABETH WANTS TO MEET YOU

 

She wants to know more than your name, she wants to know who you are. We’ve never been a numbers-focused church - we focus on relationships. Just like our church, Elizabeth wants to live life with you. I think there is something fairly unique going on here.Campus ministries often rely on other students or unpaid interns who also have other responsibilities (not that it is a bad thing), which means that a lot of other life stuff can conflict with meeting and knowing the people they encounter. Elizabeth’s job description is knowing you.

 
“When I was a freshman, there were women who really poured into me and were patient with me. I am grateful for how they served me and I’m excited to be able to do that...
I’ll walk through that with you. I’ll cry about your break up with you...That’s valuable.”

 

2) Elizabeth WANTS TO CONNECT YOU

 

Here’s a big piece of my regret in not being a part of the local church during my college years:  connection to others who were not like me. Elizabeth wants to know you, for sure. But she’s not gonna stop there. She wants to get you connected to other women. That doesn’t mean that she’s gonna put you to work in the nursery or connect you to other college-aged gals (although, those things will probably happen). She wants to connect you to other WOMEN. Older women who have lived, and are living, different seasons in their faith. This is priceless. Older women bring wisdom and perspective to a situation that younger women may feel completely lost in. Get connected to a mom and you’ll get to live life with her family - kids and all. This doesn’t mean you have to like babysitting and that kids will always be around - although they will be around a lot... and they will love you, scream your name in excitement on Sundays, and love you with the kind of pure love that only a three year old’s heart can muster.

 

It also means that you get to see how families who love Jesus function. How marriages function - warts and all. How empty-nesters function. Getting to observe women of all ages in all walks of life is a precious glimpse into the struggles of everyday life, but also God’s heart for you.   Elizabeth knows this.

 

Elizabeth explains, “They show you what following Jesus looks like in ordinary life. Girls feel equipped to graduate and live post grad life knowing that they CAN commit to a church and knowing that they can commit to people and live life with people, even when it’s not always fun. I really learned how to be a family with people… I know what it looks like to commit to people because of the church.”

 

And you learn that in committing to a church, the church commits to you.

 

3) SHE WANTS TO EQUIP YOU.

 

EZBake wants to see you equipped  - not just to live life with people, but to show Jesus to people.  

 

She says it best, “I would love to really see more college students who aren’t believers coming to our church or at least having relationships [with college folks in our church]. Equipping our college kids to reach out to people on our campus, seeing more and more people following Jesus because of the [college] folks in our church feel equipped to share the love of Jesus and the Gospel...Yeah, that really excites me. Knowing that no matter where the are going, they are equipped.”

 

See, Elizabeth won’t leave it at you. She loves you. Already. But she doesn’t want to stop there. Her vision is a bit broader. She wants to help you (college girls) discover the fullness of God’s love for you in a such a way that you can’t help but share that love with the people in your life. All the people that you will ever come to meet and know - that  YOU will point them towards Jesus’ love. That’s the whole of it.

 

So, make it a point to meet Elizabeth this Sunday. I know she’s going to try and make it a point to meet you.  




 

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Authenticity at the price of Holiness

I’ve been writing on and off for the past 10 years. Maybe longer. It started out as a way to just document my life and my feelings. I never expected to write in any other capacity. I never thought my personal blog would ever be read by people who were not blood relatives reading out of duty.  I definitely did not expect that I would be writing for a church blog one day (shameless plug: Christ Community is looking for other writers...the bench is not deep, people - in fact, the bench is me).

 

I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed sharing. It’s life giving for me. And I’ve often gotten really great feedback, confirmation, edification - whatever you may call it - concerning my writing. And that’s really nice too. Because who doesn’t love praise?

 

You want to know what I hear most?

 

Thank you for being so honest.

 

Thank you for just being so open.

 

I just really like hearing something that is sooo “real.”

 

I just love your authenticity.

 

And there’s that word…”Authenticity” (I’ve even written about that word).

 

This past week, I’ve come across two different writings that talk about the Church in the postmodern era and specifically how the postmodern view (or even experience) of church has led to a mass exodus of sorts (Bible pun intended).

 

“Ranier Research found that nearly three-quarters of American youths leave church between ages eighteen and twenty-two, while the Barna Group estimates that by age twenty-nine, 80 percent of the churches population will become ‘disengaged’ with church culture. (Jen Hatmaker, For the Love)

 

So what is missing for the postmodern world?

 

“An incredibly reduced explanation of modern thought (which most of us have at least one foot in) would be : I have all the answers and so can you. This drove society for three hundred years. The shift to postmodernism began in our childhoods and absolutely defines the next generation. Their mantra is; I don’t have all the answers and neither do you.” (Jen Hatmaker, For the Love)

 

They desire authenticity.

 

The church I grew up in did have all the answers - or at least said it did. It was very black and white, and I don’t remember much confession of sin among leaders...until they were caught by someone else and forced to step down.

 

Millennials aren’t buying it - they can spot a sham. And while the Church has never been a sham, churches and church leadership don’t tend to be transparent in their struggles.

 

During testimony time when I was a kid the common phrase used to shy away from struggles past or present was, “I don’t want to glorify the sin.”  And we’ve all experienced and employed the  “unspoken” prayer request. It always seemed like the grit of life was swept under the rug. I admit that sometimes this was probably an honest attempt to have congregations focus on Jesus during a sermon instead of speculating on how the speaker or other congregants were handling their respective issues.

 

There was a disconnect.

 

Car fights on the way to church were abandoned in the parking lot for forced smiles and cheerful greetings. The opportunity for true repentance and reconciliation gave way to “keeping up appearances.” Even as a kid, I felt that I could not live up to this perfect, holy calling - even with God’s help. I thought I was too inherently flawed to be capable of pulling off this whole holiness thing. But everyone else seemed to be doing it just fine.

 

As I entered college, there was a switch in Church culture. Younger leaders who mentored me were very open and authentic. They let me know they weren’t perfect and this gave me freedom to be honest with them about my own struggles and imperfections.

 

I still didn’t see a shift in authenticity of pastors until I was well out of college. And I’ve only really seen apparent humility and authenticity in a couple of my own pastors...ever. And to see such vulnerability in church in front of people was humbling. I trusted them. I knew they weren’t perfect and that God was still working in their lives, just like he was in mine.

 

And that’s the beauty of the shared Christian journey. The beauty of authenticity.

 

The authenticity of the churches they led was apparent and people who had been burned by the “perfect churches” were drawn to this strange place where brokenness was admitted - a gathering of broken people wanting to be healed (whether that be spiritually, emotionally, mentally, or physically). We all came as we were - wanting more of Jesus.

 

I think it’s what the early church may have been like...a bunch of sinners that Jesus spoke to...just wanting Jesus to speak over them again and again.

 

This authenticity is good for us.

 

But over the past several years, this talk of authenticity (in my own circles and in the larger Christian culture) has become more common. Spend a week on social media (just looking at the statuses of your peers, friends, and Church folks you follow) and you’ll see a theme.

 

I’m just being honest.

 

Hey, I gotta be me.

 

I’m just keeping it real.

 

Just sayin’.

 

But  these conversation starters are rarely “real.”  They are not authenticators of authenticity, but disclaimers to try to make the unacceptable socially acceptable: hurtful words, grumbling, mumbling, gossip, rebellion, justification of sin...all in the name of being authentic. Instead of true humility, brokenness, and authenticity, it is more of a “letting myself off the hook for not doing the right thing” - for not seeking holiness.

 

And here’s where the authenticity train derails:

 

Authenticity is not holiness.

 

In his article Has Authenticity Trumped Holiness, Brett McCracken explores the Church’s jump onto the Authenticity bandwagon:

 

“...In an attempt to “purge itself of the polished veneer that smacked of hypocrisy. But by focusing on brokenness as proof of our ‘realness’ and ‘authenticity,’ have evangelicals turned “being screwed up” into a badge of honor, its own sort of works righteousness? Has authenticity become a higher calling than, say, holiness?”

 

This goes back to our postmoderns fleeing the church and becoming disengaged as a result of desiring depth and something more honest.

 

We are not allowed to be both a broken people and a holy people. We’ve revoked that right as a way to avoid the air of hypocrisy that has plagued the church for a good many years. But in trying to leave holiness behind, we’re getting it all wrong.

 

Whether it is out of complacency, laziness, outright rebellion, or maybe a true desire to be completely “real” and approachable to those who don’t know Jesus,  somehow we’ve turned authenticity into our identity. As if God calls his people to say, “We are an authentic people!”

 

Does Jesus ask us to be an authentic priesthood or a holy one?

 

I’m not suggesting that we conceal our sins or our struggles. I think we should be real. I think we have to admit our brokenness. It is a way for us to have confession and repentance and accountability - which are all a part of following Jesus and pursuing holiness. But I agree with McCracken when he writes, “We’ve become too comfortable with our sin, to the point that it’s how we identify ourselves and relate to others. But shouldn’t we find connection over Christ, rather than over our depravity?”

 

We can’t hop off the train at “Broken Station” and pitch a tent. We need to move on. There is sweeter ground ahead.

 

If we stay in the brokenness and the sin and focus only on how God’s grace covers, we miss out on something:

 

“Grace covers. And it covers again and again. Thanks be to God” But if we stop there, We are only telling half of the story...Receiving grace for my failures also includes Christ’s help to turn from sin and embrace new obedience.” (Megan Hill, The Very Worst Trend Ever)

 

Sin is a necessary precursor of Redemption. And we are a redeemed people. “We shouldn’t ignore or make light of it (sin). But we also shouldn’t wallow in it or take it lightly, for the sake of earning authenticity points.” (McCracken)

 

We need to move past authenticity and onto holiness. Otherwise where is the hope? The postmodern world (just like in every other era) needs hope. There are authentic psychopaths, folks - authenticity is not what makes Jesus impossible to ignore. Broken people turned into holy people doing holy things for other broken people out of love to give them a glimpse of holiness - that’s how Jesus becomes impossible to ignore.

 

That’s the goal.  Or at least it’s my goal.  Hopefully, it can be our goal.

 

Written by Lydia Wells

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No Courage Without Fear

Courage.

 

Matt’s been bringing it home (for a few weeks now) that we need to be courageous and that we can show courage even in the most simplistic and mundane of situations.

 

As a church, we’ve investigated courage as authenticity - becoming vulnerable with your whole heart for the sake of someone else. Simply being who you are for other people - risking exposure - where people can take advantage of you, hurt you. Not trying to play the self-preservation game, all for the sake of other people.

 

We tend to think of courage as the BIG moment stuff: Christians remaining in Syria or the university students in Oregon who still professed their faith in Christ after seeing others gunned down for their own professions.

 

So as we sit in the gathering, does it seem trite that Matt keeps talking about how we can be courageous in the fairly bland tasks of our everyday lives? or just by being “who we were created to be”?

 

My first reaction...Yes.

 

I was listening to the sermon this week and thinking, “But is me doing X really equivalent to someone else’s Y?”

 

And the only answer I could come up with was No...it’s not. The daily boring, faithful, and “brave” acts in raising my girls or writing this blog post are not in any way equivalent to the aforementioned tremendous moments of courage.  Me making dinner is nothing like when Orthodox brothers and sisters in Syria stand up in the face of extreme oppression...real oppression.

 

In the gathering, I was convicted a bit that I live such a comfortable life and that I am not doing something more visible for the Kingdom of God whilst raising my children. I stay at home and hug little people all day. That’s my job. It’s cushy.

 

I had no idea how I was going to once again write about courage and not feel like a fraud.

 

It wasn’t until hearing from a friend concerning a really awful event that something hit me:

 

In the big moments, we do what we know.

 

We go to a default setting of sorts.

 

Matt hasn’t harped on courage for the last several weeks because he thinks that we’re daft or slow to learn….or because he thinks that we are living lives equivalently brave to the persecuted and martyred.

 

No, Matt talks about being brave and courageous in our fairly easy, day-to-day tasks because if we’re courageous in the places we have the opportunity to be, we create a habit of courage. We build up a spiritual muscle memory of being brave, taking heart, making the hard choice, doing the right thing.

 

Ask any musician or athlete. When the adrenaline hits and it’s time to perform - in the do or die moments, if one has put in the practice, the time, and created good habits, the body goes on autopilot and defaults to what it knows best.

 

That’s why footballers still do basic dribbling drills while training. It’s why orchestras tirelessly rehearse before a performance.

 

If our basic default is courage, our spirit will default to it in the really hard moments….like rush hour traffic, game day in Athens, or even when we are facing certain death.

 

And while I could end it by simply saying, “In the hard moments, look to Jesus,” I’m not going to. Because, you’ve heard that before. You’ve heard it since day one. Matt taught about looking to Jesus as the perfecter and founder of our faith. He told us to look to Jesus who was brave for us. The idea itself is not foreign to us.

 

And while I can’t say this with 100% certainty concerning the whole of the readership, my guess would be that we’re not all living courageous lives and that the reason for that is that we think that looking to Jesus is a passive act.

 

But looking to Jesus is NOT a passive act.

 

And that’s why many of us find ourselves riddled with fear, anxiety, control issues, or feeling not like a hero. We have tried to make courage and faith passive, but it requires action.

 

Our bravery has to be honed. It must be sharpened. It must be maintained. That means discipline. It means: I sit with the Word and take strength from it. I have strategies for doing the brave thing in the little moments. I count to ten. I leave a room. I take a thought captive. I push myself out of my comfort zone when I feel led. I have people who keep me accountable and ask the hard questions.

 

I think we read Hebrews and we are so thankful and relieved that salvation IS by grace and faith and not by works.

 

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to work. Faith and Joy: these things require a re-training and a rewiring of our fallen and broken bodies and souls. Yes, salvation brings forth a restoration for our souls; but our minds and bodies default to a broken setting.

 

So, yes. We must be intentional in our faith. In our courage. We must practice it in basic and simple places. I think this is why we continue to explore what courage is.

 

It’s a bit more complicated than we may have originally thought.

 

Courage and bravery and faith and joy are not just a passive washing over of power (or at least it is not that on a daily basis). It is a balance. A tension - of the active and the passive.

 

There is no courage without fear.

 

There is no faith without doubt.

 

There is no joy without sorrow.

 

These things exist in the same space.

 

Which will you default to when you find yourself in a hard moment - when your spirit defaults to what it knows best?

 

Author: Lydia Wells

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Repentance

This past Sunday I served our kids in the Grove. I was with the Sprouts class teaching about how Jesus fed the 5,000: the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. This means that I didn’t have the pleasure of hearing Matt preach firsthand. Normally, I would listen to the sermon on Monday and let it marinate in my heart for a few days and then write something for the blog on Wednesday - now you all know my process.

 

But that didn’t happen this week.

 

This past Saturday my husband’s grandfather died. He walked this earth for 99 years, 10 months, and 3 days. So Sunday after the gathering, my family and I headed back home to spend time, reflect, remember, honor, and celebrate a man that words often come short of describing. Possibly, because Grandpa was a man of few words - but also a man of a most sincere faith and faithful service.

 

I listened to the sermon Thursday morning in a bit of a “Hail Mary” to get something on the blog Thursday afternoon. Matt’s teaching centered on several passages in Acts (2:12-41) that describe the early church and how it came to be and function. Matt ended up zeroing in on ONE point: Repentance.

 

If you listened to the sermon, Matt explains a lot about repentance. What it is. What it means. What it looks like.

 

I find it incredibly difficult at times to write or even talk about repentance in such a way that actually captures the hearts of new believers, old believers, or folks who haven’t met Jesus. We’ve heard the word “repentance” thrown around in church for years (or at least I have) and in many ways we can’t help but file it away in the “hell fire and brimstone” category of church or just ignore it and isolate it from our everyday-walked-out faith.

 

Repentance and the humility that must accompany it goes against the grain of our culture. Our culture tells us:  “Don’t apologize for your opinions. Don’t back down. Don’t show weakness or uncertainty. Don’t own your faults or failings.  Exude an air of perfection.”

 

I don’t know how it entered our culture. But it’s there: an egotistical pride and entitlement which makes repentance unpalatable. The belief that  if we admit one wrong or weakness, the the whole of our being will be marked as flawed - which would, of course, make us undeserving.

 

Well. As Christians, we should come to the table knowing and embracing the fact that we are indeed undeserving. Repentance shouldn’t be something that’s foreign to the Church, but it is something that so many churches and so many of us find foreign. And it is because we were raised in a culture that’s doesn’t like to admit it’s wrong.

 

The first time that I met my husband’s grandpa was Sunday lunch at his house; I was terrified. Matt (my husband, not the pastor) talked about his grandpa with such reverence and respect. I knew one word from Grandpa and I would be out the door - my future in the family hinged on his approval.

 

When we arrived for lunch, I walked into an old Southern home on a country road and was smacked with the smell of country fried venison. There may have been a fire in the fireplace, as Grandpa was known to have a fire on even a slightly chilly day. My memory on that is a bit unclear. I do remember that he gave me a surprisingly strong hug for an 88-year-old. He told me about some of his favorite trophies and hunts - like that time he traveled to British Columbia and had to pack out the moose whose head was now mounted above his television. The moose head takes up an entire wall in his house.

 

In his family and community, this man was a living legend. He enlisted in the Army Air Force shortly after Pearl Harbor and served in the South Pacific for the duration of the war. He returned home to his wife and they built a house across from the family home which had been standing since the Civil War. He started a business and was well-known in the community. He was a patriot, an outdoorsman, a good man, and a faithful attendee of the same church his ENTIRE life - all 99 years (excepting those during the war).

 

Lunch was always served promptly at Noon. Grandpa made his way into the kitchen at twelve o’clock on the dot without fail. The family would circle around and grace was said. Grandpa said grace….and it was in all honesty a grace that was by no means out of the ordinary. But his closing of the prayer was unforgettable to me.

 

“And Lord, forgive us our many sins.”

 

I had never heard anyone end a prayer in such a way. I was awed at the fact that the patriarch of a family would admit that HE had sin and that he would ask forgiveness on behalf of all those gathered around his table.

 

I would come to find that  this phrase of repentance was how Grandpa chose to close all of his prayers.

 

I don’t consider my childhood or my being raised in the church as anything but normal. I think my parents and those around me did a good job of showing me Jesus. But I confess that repentance was not an emphasis or even a focus in my everyday life. My little mind thought, “Of course, Jesus died for me. My parents love me to pieces, why wouldn’t Jesus give His life for me?”

 

For real y’all. This was the thought in my head for YEARS.

 

So when Grandpa prayed, it was a defining moment. It was a moment when I realized that every prayer this man prayed ended with a true repentance of sin. He felt the weight of his sin personally. And it cut him to the heart.

 

This is a man that unquestionably in our culture would be seen as a shining example. And in our current culture he would have nothing to apologize for or repent of.

 

And yet, repentance was his daily posture.

 

Repentance should be our daily posture. Honesty should be our daily posture.

 

it keeps us authentic and approachable. Have you every walked into a room filled with people who have their stuff together? It’s unnerving being the only train wreck in the room. Beyond that, repentance keeps us accountable.


 

Last night, I read an article about a pastor and seminary professor who committed suicide as a result of the Ashley Madison hack. The weight of his sin crushed him and in his darkest moment, he doubted the love and forgiveness of his family, his church, his community, and maybe even his God. How tragic.

 

Matt summed it up in his sermon - “The dysfunction - in every relationship, in your family, in your personal life, in our collective life as a church - you can trace a line back (one-to-one correlation) with a failure to be honest, with a failure to be vulnerable about what I have done or how I feel about what you have done.”

 

Confession and repentance introduces LIGHT into the darkness.

 

Repentance is the beginning of healing.

 

Repentance is a safe place. It shouldn’t be a scary place. It should not be lonely. Namely, because we are all broken people - each and every one of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and should find ourselves in a place of repentance everyday.

 

We are all sinners. From the greatest to the least.

 

A few weeks ago I wrote about how the lost don’t need perfect people, they need honest people who will walk with them in the brokenness of life.

 

So, let's admit that we aren’t perfect. Let's talk about our struggles. Let' admit our brokenness.  Let's REPENT of our sins against God and against others. And together let's ask God to forgive us our many sins….with every prayer.

 

Author: Lydia Wells

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Courage

I’m gonna confess something.

 

I did not want to write the blog post this week.

 

It has been a hard week. Aside from my general struggle with depression and anxiety, this week I have struggled not to lose. my. mind. navigating the very confusing and (at times) baffling murky waters of emotionally-charged children. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and when my children are struggling, I feel (and firmly believe with every fiber of my being) that I have permanently and irrevocably broken them. That their emotionalism is a direct result of me.

 

This wouldn’t be a big deal for a lot of people who are more rational, but being the way I am - expecting perfection in a life I can’t control - I tend to ‘fail’ (in my mind) on a regular basis. These ‘failures’ lead to more anxiety which spirals downward into dark thoughts and feelings.

 

So, I didn’t want to write. Because I feel like a failure.  I feel like a failure because I’m not perfect.  I’m not perfect because I’m broken.  Broken and in need of Jesus.

 

Jesus and maybe some therapy.

 

As I was processing all of this externally to my husband (God, bless that man), he listened quietly (again, bless). When I was finished, he waited half a second before recounting to me a conversation he had with one of our friends over lunch this past week:

 

“...the lost don’t need perfection, what the lost need is a person to walk through life with them and be honest in their own brokenness.”

 

Preach.

 

This brought me back to Matt’s teaching this past Sunday {Acts 4:23-37}.

 

I won’t recount the whole of the sermon; you can listen to it here. But the take-away for me is that God calls us to live courageous lives that take risks. Matt defined courage as, “facing your heart’s deepest nightmare’s and doing the right thing anyway.”

 

Most of us fall into the trap of hearing “courage” and immediately having visions of serving the peoples of an impoverished foreign land or founding an international organization that fights for justice or entering into a country’s violent story in order to protect the innocent….and then we all immediately feel defeated. Because you are a student at UGA or because you are a stay at home mom or because you work a 9-5 and it pays the bills and student loans - but those things don’t allow you to do the BIG THINGS. We simply can’t commit to that level of ‘’bold and courageous.’’

 

But big things aren’t the only ‘’courageous and BOLD’’ acts God calls us to.

 

Matt brought it back to what might be every man and every woman’s deepest fear.

 

Being honest. Being vulnerable. Admitting “I’m not enough.” “I need to be better.” “I need to be more.” “I need to do more.”  (If you are a woman and have a Pinterest account, you know this feeling well).

 

We are reminded that one very real form of courage is taking the risk of showing up and BEING OURSELVES. No mask. Nothing to hide behind.

 

As Matt put it, “Masks are not courage. Show up. Be yourself. Love the world. Make it better. Even in the hard. The difficult. And the scary.”

 

No “homemade bread from grain you hand-milled on the farmhouse table you built from oak harvested off your great grandfather’s barn” type of courage here...this is a “frozen pizza eaten picnic style on top of a sheet because your carpet is so disgusting you can’t bring yourself to put the pizza box on it” type courage.

 

This is letting others know that you struggle ...with depression ...with anxiety... with an eating disorder ...pornography ...relationships ...loneliness ...anger ... chronic pain ...doubt ...fear.  Letting them know that sometimes you aren’t sure if God is out there, that sometimes you have questions about your faith you feel like you can’t answer.

 

Allowing yourself to be a place of safety for others who are struggling.

 

This is struggling with and being honest about the fact that sometimes in the midst of this life you’d rather not talk to God, but you can’t help but see Him in it.

 

This is taking the Instagram filter off of your life and letting others see that life can be UGLY. Circumstances can be UGLY. We are UGLY. And that in the midst of that ugliness God has sought us out. He loves us in spite of it. And he slowly changes us. He heals the broken. He makes us whole.

 

As we begin this new season. Let’s be a courageous people. Let’s take the masks off. Show up. Be ourselves...no, the real us. Let’s love the world. Let’s make it better...even in the hard, the difficult, and the scary.

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