A War Between

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Working at summer camp is like being under a microscope inside an incubator.Everything seems like a bigger deal than it really is: all the issues are magnified, and problems between people heat up. Personality differences surface, stress creates conflict, and I get the opportunity to clearly see my ugly sin-nature every day. Yay me…

Camp tends to show you who you really are, and sometimes it’s not pretty. So far I’ve learned that I am an emotional control freak. But, I would rather rant about an issue than actually try to solve it, particularly if it involves confrontation. (Sound familiar to any of you?) I’m not very good at giving things to God and resting. Minding my own business is hard.

But, there are moments when I am a loving, generous, caring woman with a true servant’s heart. Moments when I feel God’s Presence and listen to His voice, when I get to pray with people and share Jesus’ love. It’s like two versions of myself are at war in my heart. Wait, didn’t Paul talk about that? Yes, he did, in Romans 7.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing… For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:15-25

I can totally identify with Paul right now. When life is smooth and things are going my way, it’s easier to think that I’ve got it together, that I’m not that bad, and that I can do it on my own. But when life gets bumpy, and I lose control, I see a side off myself that shocks and horrifies me. The other night I could literally feel the battle. I was in the middle of an emotional rant to my “safe person” and the Holy Spirit started poking me and telling me to stop, but my angry sin nature was telling me it’s fine. Agh!! So hard!!

How can there be these two Christy’s living inside of me? Who am I really?

I know that I’m a sinner, a wretched mess, but I am also a forgiven child of the King, blameless because of Jesus and filled with a power that is not my own. How is this possible?

Welcome to the backwards, inside-out, impossible Kingdom of Jesus Christ!

There really is a war happening inside of us every day. Working at camp just happens to magnify it for me. And you know what? That war isn’t going to stop until we see Jesus face to face and He gives us new sinless bodies. It’s a process, friends, and it’s not easy. But there is good news: we do not have to fight alone!

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Which brings me to this question: what if it’s not actually about fighting our sin nature? What if it’s about surrender? If we surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit, He will fight for us! But that’s the hard part. Surrender is hard!

Ranting feels good. Those people are wrong. Where is the justice? Someone needs to do something! And I’m supposed to let go and surrender?

And like that, we are back to the battle, the war waged in our own hearts…holding on or letting go. Will we let go of control and allow the Holy Spirit to take over? Allow Him to change us? To give us power to live like Jesus?

It’s a constant battle for me right now. A battle that is in my face thanks to an awesome place called summer camp. 🙂 If I stop and think, I know what I desperately want. I want peace and joy despite my circumstances. I want to laugh and live and love with a passion bigger than me. That kind of life is only found in Jesus…and it’s worth every fight to surrender!

 

 

The Secret of the Miracle of the Christian Life

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I slipped into the bathroom stall and closed my eyes, cherishing the momentary quiet. “Holy Spirit, I have nothing left.” The words came out more of a sigh than a prayer. But, as soon as they left my mouth, I felt Him speak to my heart.

“It’s okay, Christy. I never run out.”

There it was: truth that made me smile and shake my head, and put tears in my eyes.

As believers in Jesus, the Bible tells us that we have the very God of the Universe living inside of us, able to give us strength, energy, love, life, everything! (Seriously, take some time to read Ephesians 1:13-14; 3:14-21. It’s amazing!)

We just finished our first week of Freddie’s Friends camp. Almost seventy special needs campers spent four days and three nights with us. Not only do most of the campers have medications, most of them are on multiple medications. We had two health officers this week, one for the guys and one for the girls, and it was still overwhelming!

We did a lot of serving this week! Lots of care giving, not always the most glamorous kind. Our cabin leaders pushed wheelchairs, gave sponge baths, wiped adult bottoms, and cut up food. It was not easy for any of us, but it was good. We were able to love people our culture discounts. We served like Jesus, but we weren’t alone!

Something amazing happens when you get to the end of yourself and watch Jesus carry you the rest of the way. I’m sure you could work Freddie’s Friends week in your own strength, but it would be miserable…exhausting, irritating, frustrating, nearly impossible. But when Jesus (the Holy Spirit) is living through you, there is joy even when you are helping with showers, peace that doesn’t make any sense, and energy despite limited sleep.

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A selfie with one of my favorite campers.

“The secret of the miracle of the Christian life.” That’s what I once heard it called, when Jesus lives through us. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never experienced it before. Paul even had a hard time. He touches on this concept all the way through Romans 6,7, and 8 and finally says this:

“But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you…” Romans 8:13-14

Why is this such a secret? Why aren’t more of us living this way? How do we get there, to that place where the Spirit gives us life? I think it starts by recognizing our own weakness. This is easier when we actually FEEL weak (like during Freddie’s Friends)! It takes humility to admit our weakness, and it is hard. We have to be able to say, “I can’t do it” and ask for help.

But how do we actually walk in the Spirit (Romans 8:4)? How does this miracle of the Christian life happen?

I’m pretty sure it’s by faith! I don’t really know how to explain it, but I know how it happens for me.

Coming to the end of myself is like reaching the edge of a cliff. It is impossible to reach the other side alone. Jesus says, “Trust me. Step off the edge; I will carry you.” I know I cannot do it by myself, so I choose to believe Him, and I let go. Inexplicably, instead of falling, I fly. 🙂 Not in my own strength or power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. I know it works like this, because I have experienced it over and over.

If we really have the Spirit of God living inside of us, why do we often wait until we are empty to ask Him to fill us?

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Why do we do anything in our own strength? I truly believe that there is SO MUCH more to be had than the boring, work filled, religious Christianity that we accept as normal. What if we all stopped trying to live in our own power, and allowed the Spirit of Jesus to fill us, carry us, and flow out of us to a lost and dying world?

Maybe ANYTHING would be possible!

 

To Be “Like Jesus”

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Staff training week is almost over at camp. I’m not there full time yet, but I’ve been working on the health clinic and getting it ready for summer almost every day.

Summer camp is like a bubble and an incubator at the same time. Everything is stronger and more vibrant, both the good and the bad. You live with this giant family all summer. People’s flaws, and idiosyncrasies, and annoying habits are in your face constantly, and they drive you crazy. You learn to give grace, forgive, and let things go. But, your flaws, idiosyncrasies, and annoying habits are also in other people’s faces constantly, so you learn humility, how to apologize, and that maybe you aren’t always right.

It’s too hard to do by yourself, so you learn to lean on each other and ask for prayer and help. You learn what it means to rely on the Holy Spirit for power and wisdom, and God becomes real as He fills you in unexplainable ways. You get to watch God use you and it feels absolutely amazing!

I recently wrote in my journal, “I’m taking a break from doing church stuff all the time (my husband is an associate pastor), to go and be the church this summer.” Working with other Christians for a common purpose, growing together, building relationships, serving, pouring yourself out…that’s summer camp! What if that was also normal life as a Christian?

I was sitting on my porch early Saturday morning with my Bible, journal, and a cup of coffee, thinking about this last week…about how amazing it felt to pour into others and watch God work through me. It’s exhausting, and sometimes incredibly frustrating, but ultimately it’s awesome! I got to thinking about Jesus and what His life on Earth looked like. And then it hit me…what if this is what the Bible means when it talks about “being like Jesus”?

Usually when I hear about how we need to “be like Jesus” a list of do’s and don’t’s follows. But what if it’s actually totally different? What if it’s not about attaining perfection (something we already have in Christ) or performing correctly…what if it’s about loving Jesus and loving people…what if it’s about pouring our life out for others…building relationships…serving…loving? Thinking about this made me cry! Then I remembered the verse in 1 Corinthians where Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” I looked it up.

It’s in 1 Corinthians 11, the first verse. So, I backed up into chapter 10 to see what Paul was talking about. Guess what?? It’s about doing everything to glorify God and reach others with the gospel! Look at these beautiful words:

“So whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to the Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Cor. 10:31-11:1

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I’m sure that you could make this legalistic if you wanted to…turn it into a list of things you have to DO. But that’s not what it’s supposed to be about! It’s about doing everything with the purpose of loving God and bringing Him glory, and then loving others so that they can find true salvation and a relationship with Jesus! And THAT, I believe, is where we start to find joy, peace, and life that is really LIFE.

I don’t know about you, but when I stop focusing on making myself happy, and I ask God to give me His eyes and heart for others…when I surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to flow through me…when I live my life seeking to help others find Jesus…that is when I taste a tiny bit of heaven. My heart is full to overflowing, and I laugh and cry, and know that this is who I was meant to be. What if that’s what it means to “be like Jesus”?

Unexpected Grace

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Reblogged from last year with some new pictures!

I was a couple of hours early, despite the fact that I had gotten lost on the way. The dirt road slowly crunched under the tires of my red ’91 Ford Probe. Turning the corner, I took my first look at the place I would call home for the summer…an open grassy field, a cluster of cement block cabins painted “army barracks beige”, an old farm house, and some tall trees. It wasn’t much to look at, but this humble little summer camp would end up changing my life.

Disillusioned with legalism and starting to realize I may have been brainwashed, I still showed up at PRBC in my ankle length skirts, waist length hair, and a long list of standards and beliefs. I came to camp thinking I was going to be sharing Jesus with children. I had no idea that I would find grace, freedom, and “normal” people who loved God with a passion I didn’t know was possible.

Since I was two hours early, I helped the full time staff set up the staff lounge for our training week. I look back with a smile and a shake of my head, wondering what they must have thought of me. They were so gracious and kind, so non-judgmental!

Staff training! I get nostalgic remembering the old, white, plastic tables set up in a U shape in the musty, slightly drafty staff lounge. We sat there for hours each day learning everything we needed to kno, our Nalgene bottles on the tables, twirling chewed pens in our fingers, flies buzzing in the window screens. They were some of the best days of my life!

Here I was, thrown together with all these “normal” young adults, sticking out like a sore thumb, and they just accepted me. They might have asked some questions, but they never rejected me or made me feel like I was different or not “part of the group”. Acceptance was not something we (the people in my “cult”) were good at. We could judge and condemn and alienate with the best of them, but graceful acceptance was a foreign concept. It felt incredible!

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Literally my first week of camp, Freddie’s Friends, a week of camp for the Challenged.

Summer camp challenged me, stretched me, and strengthened me. I had a lot of firsts: listened to Contemporary Christian music (rock beats were bad), watched a PG-13 movie (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), made friends with boys, and decided to go to college.

I had been given a false definition of grace during my teen years. We were taught that grace was the desire and power to do God’s will. My summer at camp taught me that grace was something God gave me because He wanted to, even though I didn’t deserve it.

As I realized that God wasn’t waiting for me to perform before He blessed me, I let go of silly rules and found freedom. I clapped and swayed to contemporary praise music and discovered a worship that I didn’t know existed. Believing in people’s acceptance of me, I let my crazy side come out and participated in skits and planned pranks. Boys became my friends as we hung out, talked, and even flirted. I bought a couple of pairs of capris (gasp!). I experienced freedom!

Before camp ended, another girl and I went to the mall and got our cartilages pierced. Upper ear piercings were looked down on in my old circle. I wanted mine pierced to remind myself of what I had learned, so I would remember not to judge others and that I was free. (Ironically, I was literally chased through Cedar Point after camp by a “friend” who felt the need to confront me about the worldliness of my decision.)

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Second summer at camp. Look! I’m wearing shorts!!!

I would never have imagined it that first summer, but that little camp has been a consistent part of my life for the last 14 years. I eventually met my husband at camp (a long and funny story), got engaged to him while working at camp, had both of my children at camp, and last summer returned to work full time as the health officer

I’m going back to camp again this summer (my kiddos can’t wait). In fact, staff training starts this week! I don’t know what will happen to my blogging over the summer. I want to keep it up, but we will see. If I go dark for a while, you will know why. 🙂 Please pray for me, that I will find many, many opportunities to share the beautiful message of Jesus, encourage people to KNOW Him, and have a wonderful summer in the process!

 

Embracing Our Sin

Oh wow, guys. I am a truly awful person!

That’s not how this blog post was supposed to start. I had my post finished, scheduled to publish tomorrow at 7am, and was talking with my husband before bed. I decided to read it to him. And guess what? He wasn’t a fan. Hubby decided to make a few critiques and we got in a nice little argument. And then I got stubborn, and irrational, and trashed my post (which WordPress fortunately saved for me anyway.) We continued to fight while getting ready for bed, and then enjoyed some stubborn silence in the dark. I was doing a great job making excuses for my actions, words and attitude. Then it hit me: this was a great introduction to the point I was trying to get across in my article! I rolled my eyes at God’s humor, practiced embracing my sin, hugged and apologized to my husband, and got out of bed to tweek this blog post.

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The truth is, all of us are a sinful mess. There is nothing that we do, apart from Jesus, that isn’t affected somehow by sin. So glad I could be your example! Ug!

It is incredibly painful, to come to that place where you look at your own heart and life, and realize there is nothing good inside of you, that all of it is tainted by sin. Even worse, there is nothing we can do about it. It goes against our natural pride to admit it, to accept it.

If you are like me, we tend to justify and excuse our sin. “My husband was being rude and inconsiderate, so he deserved what he got.” That’s just a taste of what was going through my head… Agh! It sounds so much worse in writing. But it’s true, we want our issues to be someone else’s fault, we want to feel vindicated, and we want to pretend it’s not wrong.

Or, we like to cover up our problems with a good coat of pretend perfection. I didn’t have to tell you about what a jerk I was tonight. I could have just smiled and said nice Jesus things in this post. I could have made you feel bad about yourself, but made you think I had it all together. We do this. We try to fake out the people around us. We even try to fake out God. Guess what? It doesn’t work!

What if we stopped making excuses, stopped pretending, and just embraced our sin?

What do I mean by embracing our sin? I DON’T mean that we just accept our sin, and live in it, and make excuses for it. I DO mean that we become honest about our mess, with ourselves, with others, and with God. Why?

Because Jesus is the most beautiful when we are the most broken. We cannot fully appreciate Him when we are trying to be perfect on our own or when we are attempting to justify our sin. When we see our desperate need, then our salvation comes alive! Because there in the wreckage, Jesus meets us and offers us forgiveness, life, and a relationship with Him.

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I love these words from my friend, Richard. “I was broken, broken down to the reality of how much I needed a savior. I was just as bad as the most vile person imaginable. Like Jesus says “looking at a brother with hatred, is the same to God as murder”. Strangely, I found hope in that thought. It was like I could quit “trying” to be good. So I surrendered.

What stops us from getting to this point?

Why are we so reluctant to face our sin?

Maybe our sin is what’s stopping us from dealing with our sin. Maybe we are too prideful to want to admit it, and too selfish to want to stop it. Maybe we are too self-absorbed to realize that what would truly satisfy the cravings of our heart is a genuine relationship with the God who created us.

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I want to learn to embrace my sin.

It’s pretty easy to look inside my heart and see that I am broken (as I so clearly demonstrated for you tonight). I’m FAR from perfect, more of a royal mess actually! So, what do I do about it? I could look at my sinful heart and become depressed or discouraged (that’s really pride). Or I could start making excuses and try to ignore my mess (pride again). But, I want Jesus!

I want to embrace my sinful state (yup, that’s who I am) and fling myself at Jesus.

One day Jesus was talking with some religious leaders who thought there were pretty good. An obviously sinful woman came in and was scandalously loving on Jesus, crying over his feet and anointing him with expensive ointment. The religious leaders were horrified, but Jesus had this to say, “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:47

It’s not like any of us only “sins a little”, but sometimes we think that’s true. And as a result, our love for Jesus is small. Seeing our sin, the very depths of the yuck in our heart, the secret things we struggle with, the thoughts, motives, etc…and realizing how lost we are…accepting and embracing that as truth…well, that makes us love Jesus MORE! I don’t know about you, but I want MORE!!!

I am going to stop pretending, stop making rules, stop justifying, stop making excuses, and just ask the Holy Spirit to show me the truth about my sin. And then when I see it, and am horrified, I am going to run to Jesus: to the cross where He died in my place, and to the empty grave proving His power over sin and death. I’m going to throw myself on Him and His mercy, believing that I am forgiven, that despite what I see, God seems me blameless through Jesus. I am going to LOVE Him, and keep getting to know Him because I CAN!!!