magnificat
This time of year I often find myself reflecting on Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here was a very young woman, simply living, when God interrupted the trajectory of her life – her plan – with an unimaginable announcement. It’s hard to conceive what she must have thought. How she handled it all, and at such a young age? Was her attitude immediately excited expectation? Or anxious trepidation?

Can you relate at all in your life? Has God ever hijacked your plans? Your ideas of what your life was going to look like? I know I can.

Three things stand out to me about Mary’s story. Things that helped give Mary the strength to handle what was happening to her, and that can help us when the unexpected happens, when our lives are interrupted, when the inconceivable takes place:

First, Mary believed God.

And coming in, [the angel Gabriel] said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 

But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.”

Luke 1:26-29

Let us not miss the importance of the historical context here. God had not spoken to anyone in 400 years! Then within 6 months He spoke to Zechariah, and now to Mary. This was a monumental moment in history happening to this young, seemingly ordinary young girl.

Did you catch the fact that Mary was perplexed at the angel’s greeting? Favored one? The Lord is with me? Me?? It makes me wonder if she turned to see if he was talking to someone else. But then Gabriel called her by name and told her she had found favor with God.

Then he proceeded to tell her this miraculous thing was going to happen to her and that SHE would mother the SON of GOD! I mean, that is not small news!!!

38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

When I read what God says to me in His word about who I am, when I read what He has called me to be and do, when I feel His calling in a specific place and His assurance that He will equip me, I am not usually so quick to say “let it be done to me according to your word”
I wrestle…I fight…I doubt.

Let us hear a small example of what God says about you and me:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9

Do we believe it? Mary may not have felt like a favored one. I’m quite sure that she felt she had done nothing to deserve such a title. But God said it, and she chose to believe it, and it gave her the strength and the purpose to carry out the task that God gave her.

From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

Luke 1:48-49

So it is with us. We may not feel like we are chosen, royal, holy, loved. But if we are in Christ this is what God says about us. Not because of anything we have done, but because of what HE has done through Jesus. Will we choose to believe as Mary did?

Second, Mary was encouraged

Mary was profoundly affected by the encouragement and exhortation of someone close to her.

Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, who had been barren, was also expecting a child (who happened to be a pretty important kid as well!). When the angel told Mary this, she hurried to see Elizabeth and found her ready to explode with blessings!

And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry,

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Luke 1:41-45

Oh, how we need this in our lives, dear friends! How we need to come along side each other and bless each other and encourage each other in what the Lord has spoken to us! What strength and courage we find when we call out the goodness of God in one another!

Third, Mary worshiped

Mary’s response to God’s call on her life – in believing what God had said about her, and after being encouraged by Elizabeth – was to worship.

In Luke 1:46-55 we find Mary’s response, which is actually called The Magnificat, or the magnification. In Mary’s response to God, she magnified Him.

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;

for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

And his mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

he has brought down the mighty from their thrones


and exalted those of humble estate;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Do I magnify the Lord in my life? What does that mean?

Magnification is the process of enlarging something only in appearance, not in physical size.

Typically magnification is related to scaling up visuals or images to be able to see more detail, increasing resolution, using microscope, printing techniques, or digital processing. In all cases, the magnification of the image does not change the perspective of the image. – Wikipedia

When we magnify the Lord, we don’t change His actual size or strength or character, but we enlarge the appearance of these things! We increase the detail, the resolution that we see when we look at Him. And when we do this, others can also see more clearly, with greater resolution, the greatness of our God. Magnifying the Lord is not only something we do alone in our quiet times, but something we should do together.

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.

Psalm 34:3

Because God has done great things for us, and He has sent His Son to bring us back to Him, and He has given us His righteousness, and filled us with His Spirit, and given us an inheritance that we have not earned, we should magnify the Lord. Just as Elizabeth and Mary did. John Piper said, “The only people whose soul can truly magnify the Lord are people like Elizabeth and Mary—people who acknowledge their lowly estate and are overwhelmed by the condescension of the magnificent God.” Amen!

This Christmas season, let us follow the example of Mary. Let us believe what God has said about us and step into the life He has called us to live. Let us encourage and be encouraged by our brothers and sisters in Christ. And let us magnify the Lord together as we reflect on His amazing love for us!

~Kerri

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King of Kings

kingofkings

*Reflections:

The Israelites lived under the omnipotent rule of Almighty God. When He heard their cries and groanings because of their slavery to Egypt, He sent a deliverer to bring them out by amazing, miraculous acts. He brought them to their promised land, and established them as a nation. In our fallen state, we have always struggled against the lie that God doesn’t really love us or that we could do a better job with the rule of our lives. So it was with Israel.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him…“now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” 1 Samuel 8:4-9

For the next 8 verses, Samuel laid out the consequences of having an earthly king and all that this king would take from the people. Yet, they rejected the rule of the immortal, invisible, only wise God for that of a finite man.

And as the generations passed, God’s people lived within the consequences of having a man king. Once again, they groaned for deliverance. Once again, God sent a Deliverer, the King of all kings. The One who would establish God’s Kingdom here on the earth. But He did not rule as the people expected Him to. He did not come with sword and shield, but He came with love and healing, delivering people one by one, from the inside out! He did not take from His people, but He gave. He ruled by serving and ushered His Kingdom in through the hearts of men. This great King humbled Himself unto death in order to bring each one of us into His Kingdom:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:6-11

So we see Jesus, now, exalted to the highest place. There is no name that is higher than His. There is no ruler that does not bow his knee to Him. There is no earthly king that moves or acts outside of the sovereign hand of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Whom or what should we fear?

We can wait full of hope for the return of Jesus, when He will come to establish His kingdom, not only in our hearts, but on the earth. Come, Lord Jesus!

Revelation 19:11-16
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

*Response:

1. Do you ever struggle with the feeling that God’s isn’t “getting it right” when it comes to your life? I know I have! Do you relate to the Israelites who felt like they had a better plan?

2. What do you feel keeps you from surrendering to the kingship of Jesus Christ in your life?

3. What battles are you facing that cause you to fear? How do you sense God calling you to trust and believe more deeply?

Live Free. Live Loved.
~Kerri

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Sun of Righteousness

sunrighteous

*Reflections:

Imagine several days of really cold, dreary weather, where rain and clouds are constant, and you just can’t seem to get warm. Nothing feels quite as wonderful as stepping out into the sunshine when the clouds finally lift. You walk full-faced into the sun and soak up the warmth and relief it brings.

Now imagine living in a cold and dreary time spiritually. Imagine living in the 400 years of silence between Malachi and Matthew. Or even your own spiritually dark season today. Imagine the heaviness of Law keeping, the weight of your sin, your desire for righteousness but inability to achieve it, or the ache of emptiness or loneliness. All the while God seems to be gone.

Remember the words of the prophets…

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:2

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
Isaiah 60:1-2

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. Malachi 4:2

And you long for the warm light of the sun. For healing. For wholeness. For righteousness. For God.

Jesus came – the Sun of Righteousness. And as we celebrate His coming, we must also celebrate His fulfillment of the words spoken by the prophets. As He lived a perfect, sinless life, died as our once-and-for-all sacrifice, tearing the veil between God and man, and rose again from the dead, the clouds rolled back and the warm rays of righteousness streamed down to us all. He is now our source. He is the provision for everything we need.

“Jesus, like the sun, is the center and soul of all things, the fullness of all good, the lamp that lights us, the fire that warms us, the magnet that guides and controls us; he is the source and fountain of all life, beauty, fruitfulness, and strength; he is the fosterer of tender herbs of penitence, the quickener of the vital sap of grace, the ripener of fruits of holiness, and the life of everything that grows within the garden of the Lord. Whereas to adore the sun would be idolatry; it were treason not to worship ardently the divine Sun of Righteousness.”  ~ Charles Spurgeon

Although the cloudy days may still come, and the sun may seem to be hidden away, we can still go out leaping like calves from the stall because the Sun of Righteousness has risen and will never set. He is working behind the clouds to bring nourishment and life. We can live in hope that the clouds will not hide His rays for long.

Let us walk full-faced into the sun, and let His righteousness shine over us! Let us soak in the warmth, the healing, and the life that He brings.

The sun will no more be your light by day,
nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
Your sun will never set again,
and your moon will wane no more;
the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your days of sorrow will end.
Isaiah 60:19-20

*Response:

1. Have you been walking through a dark season of your life? Reflect on where you are or have been and simply write out your desires to God.

2. In what areas do you really need the healing that rises with Jesus?

3. Can you trust in the risen Sun of righteousness even when the clouds seem to be hiding His rays?

Live Free. Live Loved.

~Kerri

sun-56091_1920

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The Magnificat

magnificat

This time of year I often find myself reflecting on Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here was a very young woman, simply living, when God interrupted the trajectory of her life – her plan – with an unimaginable announcement. It’s hard to conceive what she must have thought. How she handled it all, and at such a young age? Was her attitude immediately excited expectation? Or anxious trepidation?

Can you relate at all in your life? Has God ever hijacked your plans? Your ideas of what your life was going to look like? I know I can.

Three things stand out to me about Mary’s story.  Things that helped give Mary the strength to handle what was happening to her, and that can help us when the unexpected happens, when our lives are interrupted, when the inconceivable takes place:

First, Mary believed God.

And coming in, [the angel Gabriel] said to her,

 “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 

But she was very perplexed at this statement,

and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 

The angel said to her,

“Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.”

Luke 1:26-29

Let us not miss the importance of the historical context here. God had not spoken to anyone in 400 years! Then within 6 months He spoke to Zechariah, and now to Mary. This was a monumental moment in history happening to this young, seemingly ordinary young girl.

Did you catch the fact that Mary was perplexed at the angel’s greeting?  Favored one?  The Lord is with me?  Me??  It makes me wonder if she turned to see if he was talking to someone else.  But then Gabriel called her by name and told her she had found favor with God.

Then he proceeded to tell her this miraculous thing was going to happen to her and that SHE would mother the SON of GOD! I mean, that is not small news!!!

38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

When I read what God says to me in His word about who I am, when I read what He has called me to be and do, when I feel His calling in a specific place and His assurance that He will equip me, I am not usually so quick to say “let it be done to me according to your word”
I wrestle…I fight…I doubt.

Let us hear a small example of what God says about you and me:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9

Do we believe it?  Mary may not have felt like a favored one.  I’m quite sure that she felt she had done nothing to deserve such a title.  But God said it, and she chose to believe it, and it gave her the strength and the purpose to carry out the task that God gave her.

From now on all generations will call me blessed, 

for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

Luke 1:48-49

So it is with us.  We may not feel like we are chosen, royal, holy, loved.  But if we are in Christ this is what God says about us.  Not because of anything we have done, but because of what HE has done through Jesus.  Will we choose to believe as Mary did?

Second, Mary was encouraged

Mary was profoundly affected by the encouragement and exhortation of someone close to her.

Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, who had been barren, was also expecting a child (who happened to be a pretty important kid as well!).  When the angel told Mary this, she hurried to see Elizabeth and found her ready to explode with blessings!

And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry,

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Luke 1:41-45

Oh, how we need this in our lives, dear friends!  How we need to come along side each other and bless each other and encourage each other in what the Lord has spoken to us!  What strength and courage we find when we call out the goodness of God in one another!

Third, Mary worshiped

Mary’s response to God’s call on her life – in believing what God had said about her, and after being encouraged by Elizabeth – was to worship.

In Luke 1:46-55 we find Mary’s response, which is actually called The Magnificat, or the magnification.  In Mary’s response to God, she magnified Him.

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;

for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

And his mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

 he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

he has brought down the mighty from their thrones


 and exalted those of humble estate;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Do I magnify the Lord in my life?  What does that mean?

Magnification is the process of enlarging something only in appearance, not in physical size.

Typically magnification is related to scaling up visuals or images to be able to see more detail, increasing resolution, using           microscope, printing techniques, or digital processing. In all cases, the magnification of the image does not change the perspective of the image. – Wikipedia

When we magnify the Lord, we don’t change His actual size or strength or character, but we enlarge the appearance of these things!  We increase the detail, the resolution that we see when we look at Him.  And when we do this, others can also see more clearly, with greater resolution, the greatness of our God.  Magnifying the Lord is not only something we do alone in our quiet times, but something we should do together.

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.

Psalm 34:3

Because God has done great things for us, and He has sent His Son to bring us back to Him, and He has given us His righteousness, and filled us with His Spirit, and given us an inheritance that we have not earned, we should magnify the Lord.  Just as Elizabeth and Mary did.  John Piper said, “The only people whose soul can truly magnify the Lord are people like Elizabeth and Mary—people who acknowledge their lowly estate and are overwhelmed by the condescension of the magnificent God.”  Amen!

This Christmas season, let us follow the example of Mary.  Let us believe what God has said about us and step into the life He has called us to live. Let us encourage and be encouraged by our brothers and sisters in Christ.  And let us magnify the Lord together as we reflect on His amazing love for us!

~Kerri

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The Word

theword

*Reflections:

Jesus. The Word. He was there in the beginning with God. And He IS God. It strikes me now as I reflect on Jesus being called the Word that He is, and always has been, the very voice of God.

Looking back through scripture we can see the Word, the Voice of God, reaching down to create and commune with us.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. Psalm 33:6

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision… Genesis 15:1

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain….Exodus 19:3

The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. 1 Samuel 3:21

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah… 1 Kings 17:2

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah… Isaiah 38:4

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah… Jeremiah 32:6

the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest. Ezekiel 1:3

The word of the Lord which came to Hosea… Hosea 1:1

The word of the Lord came to Joel… Joel 1:1

The word of the Lord came to Jonah… Jonah 1:1

The word of the Lord which came to Micah… Micah 1:1

The word of the Lord which came to Zephaniah… Zephaniah 1:1

the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah… Zechariah 1:1

From the beginning Jesus was coming to His people through the priests and the prophets. And then, when the fullness of time had come, the Word put on skin and came to us all.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:14a

I’m overwhelmed with the thought that from the beginning Jesus was there. He was speaking. He was coming as the voice of the Father, revealing the heart of the Father to every generation. And then He came in the flesh. The voice of God, the revelation of the heart of God Himself, walking among His creation.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:1-3a

We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came forth from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14b

Jesus, fully man and fully God, is the Logos, the living word of God. The Word is alive, powerful, and able to change us. The Word, Jesus, is eternal. As He has been from the beginning, so will He always be for eternity!

This Advent season, let us come and marvel at the enormity of Jesus, who made Himself so small and came to us to BE the Word of the Lord. The One whose name is breathed throughout all of history.  The One who is the answer for our every need. The One who reveals to us the voice of God the Father, straight from His heart.

*Response:

Have you ever thought of Jesus as the embodiment of the very voice of God – spoken into our world since the beginning of time?  

How does that truth change your image of Him?

Live Free. Live Loved.
~Kerri

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Celebrate Good Times (Like a Zambian)

Amy BardiFriends, you are in for a treat!  I met Amy Bardi back in 2011.  I was home on furlough from Zambia, and I heard about this amazing chick who, while studying Fashion and Merchandising at the University of SC, had been given a vision for reaching and changing the lives of vulnerable women in Zambia.  That same year she had founded Clothed in Hope, an organization whose mission is to empower women in Zambia through education and economic opportunity.  I highly encourage you to jump over here and read her story.  In July of 2012, after graduating from college, Amy moved to Zambia all by herself, and, with a little divine intervention and a heck-of-a-lot of perseverance, saw her vision become reality!  Amy and her sweet, still newly-wed husband, Wyatt, have just transitioned back to the States where they will live and continue to run Clothed in Hope.  I know you will love her heart and her perspective as she shares with us today.  Enjoy!  ~Kerri

ClothedinHope3

On September 12th of this year, we held our fourth graduation ceremony in Lusaka, Zambia, for eight brave women who successfully completed our Clothed in Hope skills-training course.

In the middle of a dusty compound in the urban capital of Zambia sits our Chikondi Community Center, our Home of HOPE for vulnerable women in the area. We offer free skills-training classes in sewing and entrepreneurship to empower and alleviate poverty in a dignifying, sustainable way. Women in our program have suffered the death of their husbands at 40 years old due to highly preventable diseases. Their babies have been murdered in the hospital due to corruption. They have been poisoned because they have AIDS and are “taking up bed space” at the clinic. They endure daily domestic abuse. They face hunger, uncertainty, harassment from landlords, and the list could go on and on. These are women IN our program, currently working through what will be and what is a life-changing path for them and their families (more info: clothedinhope.org).

I won’t even go into the situation of women who aren’t in our program, because the need is overwhelmingly devastating. Just imagine a mom selling her body nightly because her 6 babies are very hungry and she can’t pay rent from month to month. Not because she wants to, but because to her it seems there is absolutely no other option (…until she finds out about Clothed in Hope, praise Jesus).

This reality can seem a world away to those of us not in Zambia, even to me at times, especially now that I’m based back in the US to provide administrative and financial support to our amazing (diva-status) in-country staff.

But that Graduation Day in September struck a chord within me and started a burning in my heart, and not just one for the Zambian women facing seemingly impossible situations (since that fire’s been burnin’ for quite some time now).

As I sat at the front of our Chikondi Community Center yard under our Ceremony Tent (don’t ask, just roll with the Zambian cultural differences), I peered out over the 60+ women who have graduated from, are gradating from, or are currently enrolled in our skills training program that began as a dream in my college apartment in 2010.

The dance breaks were so fun. The skits presented were powerful yet hilarious (I love how much they love acting like “Mama Amy” with her accent and over-usage of “awesome”). But the real magic started happening toward the end of the ceremony.

image

In the middle of our dusty compound sat 8 women who have achieved much, and were dressed to the nines full of confidence and beauty. Nothing outside the walls mattered except the accomplishments of these women. Women recognized for the first time in their entire lives.

I called each woman to the Ceremony Tent to receive her diploma, a giant hug (a big deal since I’m not a hugger, but I couldn’t miss out on these hugs y’all), and a few goodies from our In-Country Staff. The reaction was contagious.

One woman, Stella, rockin’ a custom made African print dress that fit her impeccably, rose from her chair when she was called. Her hands lifted high in the air in praise to Jesus. She just froze in a moment of intimate adoration, and we were all so honored to experience that moment with her. Then as quickly as hands were raised, Stella busted a move all the way up to the tent (also cultural, but also awesome). She danced, she cheered, she laughed, she rejoiced. And when she arrived at the tent, she fell to her knees before Jesus thanking Him for what He’s done in and through her life over the past 12 months of this program, and her entire life leading up to this moment. When she rose, she threw her arms around my entire body for what could be up there for one of the best hugs of my entire life (sorry hubs).

ClothedinHope

All that, so magical. So beautiful. But the true, awe-inspiring, challenging-to-my-soul beauty began when Stella turned away from the tent to return to her seat. The entire crowd of 60+ people cheered! They shouted! They danced! They raised their hands in praise! They ran up to her and hugged her so tightly. They celebrated her with the most selfless love.

They didn’t celebrate because they knew their celebration was coming later. Some have already graduated with much smaller graduation ceremonies. Some may never graduate due to life situations calling them elsewhere. They celebrated Stella simply because they love her. When she wins, we all win. When her life is changed, we all rejoice in that.

I’m not a huge (public) crier, but tears of joy welled up multiple times that afternoon. The sheer joy these women had in the ability to celebrate each other was just breathtaking and heart-bursting.

Maybe we can write it off as another cultural thing. Everyone knows Africans (Zambians) take care of their own and are huge on community, right? Maybe it’s just how they are. But what if we look past culture to see our commonality of humanity?

That perhaps this response is Jesus-rooted instead of culturally-rooted.

I left that ceremony almost a month ago, but it hasn’t left my mind ever since.

What would it look like for me to celebrate Jesus working in and through my friends’ lives like my friends in Zambia do for each other? What would it look like for me to truly celebrate others without a tinge of jealousy or expectation or comparison?

When my best friend launches a College Women’s Connect as the women’s ministry pioneer at her church and witnesses over 40 women attend on Thursday nights, my heart cheers, but can’t my body and my voice too?! YES! PRAISE JESUS! YOU GO GIRL! I AM SO PROUD OF YOU! YOU ARE SO BRAVE FOR STEPPING OUT AND I LOVE WITNESSING JESUS WORK THROUGH YOU!

When my friend returns home from a third-world country after a really rough time adopting her two beautiful girls, I can send her a nice Facebook message, showing that I care but keeping my true celebration at a distance. Or I can scour the aisles of Target for an hour in search of the perfect presents for her and her two girls to send across the country to let her know that they’re not forgotten. That they’re loved. That though the transition is hard, I am cheering for her. Jesus is cheering for her.

How did community/friendship become such that we dial down our celebrations and over-the-top reactions for each other? Maybe we’re getting older and balloons aren’t age appropriate anymore (but they totally are). Maybe social media tricks us into believing we’re connecting with someone. Or maybe social media introduces us to these nasty things called comparison and jealousy, and we don’t celebrate each other because we haven’t received that celebration ourselves. She didn’t celebrate me, so why would I celebrate her?

We could go through every scenario and probably come up with a reason as to why we don’t celebrate each other like we could. But what Jesus has been revealing to my soul over and over since that Graduation Ceremony, is that there’s simply no good reason to not celebrate accomplishments and traits in my friends and strangers. Because He celebrates over me daily. He sings and dances over my identity, apart from any progress I do or don’t make with my personal struggles. He cheers me on as His daughter, no strings attached, simply because I am His daughter and He is so proud of me as a person, apart from CiH or anything I do. His price for me invites the most glorious celebration.

Because He celebrates over me, I will celebrate over others. Maybe even in the Zambian way because that seems to be more fun.

I will hug when I don’t feel inclined to because I know the story that a stranger just told me took a lot of bravery for her to share. I will send my friend excessive emojis and too many words in all caps when she beasts a job interview. I will tell the barista that I really love her ring, because I do, and because she deserves to be celebrated.

When I open my eyes and start looking around this world, sure there’s a lot of pain. I absolutely get that. My past year and a half has been filled with more pain that I ever thought I could endure.

But I also see so much celebration and potential for celebration. So many parties, so many hugs, so many dances, so many affirming words. We, as daughters of the King, have the opportunity to be Jesus to each other with the Holy Spirit alive within us. Why not let the celebration we feel within just explode, raining glitter on all who we come in contact with? We all know that glitter is pretty dang hard to get out of much of anything. And I would be totally fine knowing that each person carries the glitter of Jesus’ celebration with them every day, no matter the challenges ahead. No matter if it’s hunger and abuse they face, or a broken relationship, or a tough financial situation, or just a bad hair day.

Let’s learn a thing or two from our dear sisters in Zambia. Enough is enough for these subtle gestures of support. Let’s go big, go bright, go loud, and go glittery in celebration of people of the world.

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Click on the picture to visit Clothed in Hope.  Check out the mission, the pictures, the stories, and browse the store for some fabulous pieces designed and made by CiH’s courageous women!

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He is the Gift

 

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On the stage, the music begins, the story ignites with melody and lyrics, movement and nuances of character. The energy of the others there with me and those engaged from the audience thrills and drives me. It fills me with a passion and satisfaction like absolutely nothing else. I had almost forgotten. It’s been a long time. Like riding a bike it all came back to me. And I realized once again that this is what I was made to do.

This is part of my story. Part that has brought so much beauty to my life and much brokenness, much fulfillment, and much longing. You see, I was a singer from the womb! Music is part of my DNA, handed down through the generations. There are times when I am reduced to a blubbering mess over things like the musical underscore of a cartoon (and just for the record, I am not much of a “cry-er”). And I think, “My word, what is that all about?” Well, it’s the way I was made. Music moves me, like nothing else. That is why I am so passionate about worship. For me, there is no more powerful way to rehearse the truths of who God is and what He has done, to state my absolute dependence on Him, or to cry out to Him for mercy, than through music.

God made me in His image, and clearly my passion for music and the absolute pure fulfillment I feel when performing are innate, given to me by Him – part of Him. A gift given for His glory, my joy, and to serve others. But there have been times when the passion for those things became my end, my all, my only satisfaction. When I needed to perform to feel whole. When I needed the attention of performing well to feel that I had value. That is when the gift became a god.

When those good things that God puts into us become elevated to the position of THE thing, that is when the good things become god things, and we create idols.

Perhaps this is a basic struggle for all of us in this world. Every single one of us is created by God, in His image, and we bear specific gifts, specific imprints of Him, specific touches of grace meant to bring glory to Him, and fulfillment to us. Perhaps one of our greatest challenges as human beings is learning to see the gifts in us as part of God Himself. We must learn that only in seeking Him will those gifts bring true and lasting joy. Elevating the gift to become the thing we seek eventually leads to brokenness. When we seek only the gift we begin to operate in a counterfeit manner, independent from the God who crafted the gift and put it in us. In that place, temptation swells and sin lurks. The desires that God put within us can become contorted by the desires of sin.

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions (Romans 6:12).”

The Greek word here translated “passions” is epithymia, which means desire, craving, longing.

When I have craved that passion, that thrill, that fulfillment, and not sought God Himself, I’ve found myself in places I never intended to go. Sometimes the realization of it comes quickly. Other times the deception can take hold for a long time and a jolt of some sort is required to wake us. But eventually our eyes open and we look around in horror as we clearly see where we are.

For me, the jolt came when I realized that seeking and obeying sinful passion, the fulfillment it gave, and the admiration of others, had led me into a pit of betrayal. I was crushed. And when I came face-to-face with my sin, these words from Psalm 143 became my song of repentance:

“Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications! Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness! And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous…My spirit is overwhelmed within me; My heart is appalled within me…I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, as a parched land. Answer me quickly, O Lord, my spirit fails;…Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; For I trust in You; Teach me the way in which I should walk; For to You I lift up my soul…Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. For the sake of Your name, O Lord, revive me. In Your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble….I am Your servant.”

For many years I simply cut off that gift. I was afraid of it. I didn’t sing at all. The enemy of my soul was there with lies, keeping me convinced that singing made me prideful and that people would think I wanted attention if I sang. And that if I received that attention, I might slip into sin again. It was an awful feeling, but I listened, deciding that it was easier just to avoid all of it. All the while my soul grieved.

I believe that was necessary for a time – to help me gain some perspective. I needed to learn who I was outside of singing – where my value really was. God slowly began to heal me and I’ve begun to see that He is all about making things new. God doesn’t give good gifts to be hidden under bushels forever. His heart is to let those imprints of His nature shine out of us, though there may be times when we need to do some work before we are ready for it. In His time, God sent other people to speak truth into my life in this area and to minister peace and revival to my heart. He is a good and unchanging Father who desires good things for me. God was not my enemy. My gift was not my enemy. My enemy was my own fleshly desire.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change”
 (James 1:13-17).

The Greek word for “desire” in James 1:14 is also epithymia. The connotation of this Greek word is not always negative. The desire or longing can be for good things. But when those good things, which are given by God, are elevated in our lives to become things we MUST have to be fulfilled, desire for them leads us into sin and away from God, and it brings forth death.
I believe we have God-given longings and cravings. But the passions and desires of sin can quickly hijack what was meant to be good and contort it into an instrument of unrighteousness.

“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13).

We all serve something. All of us. We may serve ourselves, our careers, our families, even our independence. But the One we are created to serve is God alone. Because we have been brought from death to life by the sacrifice of Jesus, we now get to present ourselves to Him, along with every gift He has given us, every nuance of our character, every emotion, and all our history. He is not only the giver of every good and perfect gift, but also the ordainer of the perfect plan for how the gifts should be used. Serving Him is the only way to find true freedom.

I need only seek Him. He is the ultimate prize, His presence my only goal. He is not just the giver of the gift. HE IS THE GIFT.

“I am the bread of life” – not just the giver of the bread, but THE bread itself.
“I am the light of the world” – not just the giver of light, but THE light itself.
“I am the door” – not just the one who shows you where the door it, but THE door itself
“I am the way, the truth, the life” – not just the giver of these things, but THE way itself, THE truth itself, THE life itself.

For every situation, our God says “I Am!”

So, now, as I step onto a stage and feel the emotion and passion rising up for what I am doing, I can almost hear His voice whisper, “I am the music in you. I am your song.” And as I present all that I am to Him, I feel the most perfect joy.

What are those imprints of God that He has placed in you? Can you relate to having sought after the gift rather than the Giver? Have you been brought to a place of repentance and developed a desire to present yourself fully to Him?  I pray that you will also experience the absolute, true fulfillment and joy that is found in that place of surrender, and that you will begin to see more and more the evidence of God Himself shining out of you!

Live Free. Live Loved.

~Kerri

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One Thing

Meeting with God in the morning

It’s early morning.  I’m sitting and savoring the stillness.  Before the cooking and the teaching and the grading and the guiding and the “Mommys!” and the messes.  The breeze is cool and gentle.  The only sounds are branches and leaves and singing and the pop of a whip as a worker wanders the golden wheat fighting greedy birds who’ve come to snatch an early harvest.  A woman walks by, 20-liter jug on her head, baby on her back, off to draw water to begin her day’s work.  I’m tempted to grab my notebook and start listing all the things I need to accomplish today.  I need to hurry in so I can grade those last few assignments I was too tired to grade last night.  I will myself to be still.  I hear the voice of the Spirit whisper, “one thing.”

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 

She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.  But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said,

“Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone?  Then tell her to help me.” 

But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

~Luke 10:38-42

 I know we’ve all read this story time and time again, and condemned ourselves for being Martha, and prayed God will make us more like Mary.  But today I saw this story in a little different way.  Jesus didn’t tell Martha that all the preparations she was making were bad or wrong.  He pointed out that she was distracted, worried, and bothered about them.  In the end, they are good things, but they aren’t necessary things.  Only one thing is necessary.  His presence.

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:

That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

To behold the beauty of the Lord

And to meditate in His temple.  ~ Psalm 27:4

To dwell (sit, remain).  To behold (gaze).  

To meditate (inquire, seek).

His presence.

How many other things do I ask from the Lord when the only thing I really need is His presence?  His presence is the source of everything else.

I have set the Lord continually before me. 

You will make known to me the path of life. 

In Your presence is fullness of joy;

In Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16:8, 11

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Setting the Lord continually before me is abiding in Him.  Staying in Him.  Remaining in Him.  Living in His presence.  Not coming in and going out as the priests of old, but living there.  Friends, this is more than a quiet time.  This is life. 24/7.

When I dwell in Him, I find true life, true rest, true contentment, fruit that lasts.  When I behold Him I find true worship, true beauty, true sight.  When I meditate on Him I find true wisdom, true understanding, grace and truth. And when I stay here, I carry His presence with me everywhere I go.  Everything I do is now from the presence of God.  So when I choose to seek that one thing, all the other needs and responsibilities of my life will be met from the presence of God.  They will no longer be things that I am distracted, worried and bothered by, but things I can carry out with fullness of joy and with pleasure.  Oh, may it be so in my life and in yours, dear friends.

One thing.  

Living from the presence of God.

~Kerri

 

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Rejoicing through Cancer ~ a guest post

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Sharing her heart with us today is Brooke Turner, Director of Women’s Ministries at Northeast Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC.  She is a wife, mommy to 3 little angels, and friend to many! I met Brooke just a few months ago and knew instantly that this was a woman running hard after the heart of God and fighting hard to bring others with her.  We are honored to have her here and know that you will be so encouraged by her message.

“It’s Cancer”

Two words that you never expect to hear; and especially not at age 35. With one phone call, I embarked on a journey I never would have chosen.

I have breast cancer.

Today, as I write this, I’m on the eve of my second round of chemo. The first round, honestly, was more terrible than I thought. Tomorrow I’ll sit for eight hours in the chair once again, as the poison medicine drips into my bloodstream. This is the poison that will heal me, by nearly killing me.

I’m getting well acquainted with suffering in ways I’ve never experienced before.  In the past six weeks since my diagnosis, I’ve asked the Lord “how do I rejoice in my sufferings” as Paul exhorts us to do in Romans 5:3?

The Lord has whispered to my soul that one reason we can rejoice in our sufferings is because suffering, if approached biblically, can steady our souls like no other experience on earth.

I can rejoice because through this suffering, I will grow in my KNOWLEDGE of who Christ is.

In Psalm 92, I see a picture of beauty in adversity in the Cedar of Lebanon.

Psalm 92:12, 14-15:

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree

    and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

They still bear fruit in old age;

    they are ever full of sap and green,

to declare that the Lord is upright;

    He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”

In scripture, the Cedar of Lebanon is a picture of beauty, strength, and perseverance. Lebanon, which is located in the coastal region of Syria, is a mountainous region. It is notoriously dry and hot in the summer, and snowy and cold during winter. Even in these less than favorable conditions, the cedar flourishes.  snow-81189_1280

I want to be like a cedar of Lebanon. I don’t want to just SURVIVE cancer, I want to THRIVE through cancer! I can learn from this noble tree, as I desire to stand firm in my faith as I navigate this cancer journey .

What is it about this noble tree, which enables it to FLOURISH even in the harshest of weather conditions?

Well, having a black thumb myself (instead of a green one), I figured it was not wise for me to speculate on what enables these trees to stand so firm. Thankfully my brother-in-law is an arborist so I asked him. He confirmed that the root system of a tree, although unseen, is the most important part of the tree’s well-being. The roots provide nourishment to the tree, and serve to anchor and support it. During adverse weather conditions, the maturity of the roots becomes apparent, and those trees which withstand adversity do so because of their well developed root system.

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There is so much pain and brokenness in this world. Broken relationships, abuse, disease, confusion. But, our pain is not without purpose. Our suffering is not meaningless.  My brokenness is beautiful, as I see the beauty of the One who has overcome my brokenness.   Suffering, like virtually no other experience on earth, will cause my spiritual roots to be matured. If I suffer well and allow God to use it, by His grace, I will come out on the other side counting it all joy – with a fuller heart knowledge of who God is.

We are called to be ladies deeply rooted in Christ, and His Word. Deeply rooted in our identity of who we are in Him, and who He is in us. Deeply rooted for a firm foundation to anchor and establish us no matter what types of trials and hardships lie ahead. Scripture assures us that in this world we WILL have trouble.

The best way to become deeply rooted in Christ, and to stand firm in Him, is to grow in the knowledge of Him.

The amplified translation of Philippians 3:10 says “For my determined purpose is that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply acquainted with Him perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His person more strongly and more clearly].”

Paul’s determined purpose was to KNOW Jesus. Not just to know about Jesus, for in James 2:19 we read “that even the demons believe in Jesus and shudder.”

It’s not enough to know the right things about Jesus Christ. Knowing Him requires an intimacy with Him. Reading a biography of Billy Graham and knowing a lot of facts about him would be entirely different than the way that his beloved wife Ruth knew him.  In the same way, we must know Jesus intimately, not simply know a lot about Him.  

Oh, that we may we be women who desire to KNOW Jesus more than we desire anything else in life. I believe that knowing Christ more intimately and personally is life’s most worthy and joy-filled pursuit.  

Why? Because knowledge is the means by which our love and joy in God can grow. As we know WHO God is, through studying His word, meditating on it, and applying it to our lives, we experience Him in our days – and then we can increasingly love and enjoy Him, and therefore glorify Him.

I’m passionate about this topic because you are reading words of a woman who was raised in church. I was there practically every time the doors were open. For 26 years I knew a lot about Jesus, but did not KNOW Him personally. Eight years ago my life changed radically as I took my first step in a journey of surrendering my life to Him – to truly know Him.  And today, as I walk through cancer, I can say I never would have never chosen this pathway to knowing Him more. Yet, I have seen that TRULY KNOWING Him changes everything. And because of this, I can rejoice.

Through a growing heart knowledge of Christ our roots grow deep and we are able to stand firm amidst all types of adversity. This is how we are able to rejoice in our sufferings. Because through suffering, we KNOW Him.

Let’s look again at Psalm 92

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree

    and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

They still bear fruit in old age;

    they are ever full of sap and green,

to declare that the Lord is upright;

    He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”

This fruitful life which stands firm as a Cedar is not for our glory, but a life securely rooted in Christ points back to and glorifies a GOD who is steady and upright Himself. We stand firm and upright only because HE is upright.

As we grow in our knowledge of Christ, as grace and peace multiply in our lives, as we access His divine power, and as we live reminded of and transformed by His promises, our individual lives show that Christ is our true Treasure and we reflect His worth. There is no greater joy; no worthier pursuit.

This suffering? It’s worth it, that I might know Him.

His grace abounds,

Brooke

You can follow Brooke’s journey of rejoicing through cancer at www.hisgraceabounds.com.

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