Thursday, November 29, 2012

When the Rubber Meets the Road...

Do people look at your life and know Jesus is real?  

It's a question I keep asking myself.  I think it is a question we all need to ask ourselves if we are Christians.

I was raised in a Christian home and have been in a myriad of churches all of my life, but this past year has taught me more about faith than any that have come before.  

Shortly before God called Bryan to plant Church@The Square, we went to an Acts29 bootcamp for church planters to find out the "inside scoop" on what church planting was really like from the inside.  We heard stories of victory and stories of despair.  I listened to wives in the women's track share about being tested and describe their personal stories to support their husband's in his calling.  So, when God made it clear to Bryan that he wanted him to start a church, I felt confident about where we were going and felt like I had an idea of what was to come.

I knew the basics.  It wasn't going to be easy.  We were doing something financially risky.  Our marriage would be tested.  Our children would be challenged.  In the end, we had to believe losing everything for the sake of the Gospel was really no loss at all, even if our church didn't succeed.  I knew that.

Fast forward over a year later, living it is a new story.  It's easy to have faith when you know how life should play out.  It's not easy when life derails and chaos becomes the norm.  Consistent schedules have long gone out the window with retirement plans and a nice emergency fund.  I have had to decide whether I really loved Jesus enough to be ok with life unpredictable and bank accounts not lining up neatly.  Do I love Jesus enough to sacrifice my comfort and settle for thrift store clothes over trips to the mall?  Do I love Jesus enough to forsake my pride and give up caring about what others' think to follow Him well?  Do I love Jesus enough to eat bean soup one more time this week because it stretches our grocery budget further?

By no means do I think we are martyrs, that's not my point.  By living in the United States alone, that places us in the category of the wealthiest people in the world.  Any sacrifices we make here are pathetic compared to what many global missionaries give up daily, but I'm not them.  I'm me.

Giving up anything that I value is uncomfortable and tests my allegiance.  

Christian brothers and sisters, we cannot serve God and money.  Jesus made that clear.  If you're not actively fighting to serve God instead of money, I can guarantee that you aren't serving Jesus.  Remember, Jesus said that the road to eternal life was narrow and those who find it are few.  Following Jesus isn't the way we naturally drift.

I really do like Christmas and Christmas trees... I'm just trying to help you see a bigger picture here!

Ok, so what's my point?  As Christmas approaches, it's easy to get caught up in consumerism and holiday frenzies.  I feel the pull.  It's fun, it's light hearted, but most of it is pointless.  

As Christians, if the way we celebrate Christmas looks exactly like the way an unbeliever celebrates Christmas, something is off.  

Something is very wrong.  If we truly believe that Christmas is about celebrating the greatest gift God has ever given mankind, Jesus, we need to reevaluate how we spend this season.  We don't need to rack up our credit cards buying things to impress people we don't even like.  We don't need to pump our kids so full of the Santa hype that they completely miss out on Jesus, the only one who can really satisfy their hearts.  We don't need to pack our schedules so slam full that we run ourselves empty and are unable to enjoy Jesus at all.

Here's what I am proposing:

Boycott EVERYTHING.  (Definitely Just Kidding!)

1) Recenter your Christmas around Jesus.  Be creative.  Use an advent calendar.  I don't care how you do it.  Just do it.

2) Don't get caught up in an American Christmas.  I'm not saying that you have to throw away every Santa and Frosty the Snow Man that you own.  I'm not.  We're not supposed to hide in dark holes to escape our culture.   Live in it, but don't let it own you. In our house, we don't play the Santa game.  We teach our kids about the real St. Nicholaus and how he was a courageous man who loved Jesus and was a giver.  We don't teach our kids that Santa is evil or that they needs to spill the beans to all of the other kids around them that Santa is a hoax.  We simply just don't make it a big deal.  We make Jesus, the God of the Universe, coming to the world as a baby a huge deal.  Why?  Because, He is.

3) Simplify your Christmas.  How much?  Simplify your schedules, your traditions, your giving, your life until Jesus is easily seen and celebrated.  That will look different for every family.

4) Give generously to someone in need.  Pray about it as a family.  Use it as an opportunity to worship God for giving us Jesus.  This may be to someone you know or someone you don't.  It has meant different things to us different years.  God will direct you to choose wisely.

The bottom line... I don't believe in legalism.  I don't think hiding from Christmas will teach your kids anything about it all.  I don't think you should only give your kids three gifts each to teach them how to be grateful.  I don't think you have to run every time you see a Santa in the mall.  I don't think you have to stroke out because you can't buy every person you know a Christmas gift.   I don't think you have to plug your ears every time a secular Christmas song plays in Walmart.  I don't think we need to burn Christmas trees.  I happen to like Christmas trees very much and plan on driving around with our kids to look at Christmas lights like we do every year.

I do believe people need to see Jesus in our lives.  I do believe how we celebrate Christmas can either show people that Jesus matters a lot to our family or that He really doesn't matter at all.

As we plug in the Christmas trees, eat our gingerbread men, and sip our egg nog lattes, let's live in such a way that people know Jesus is real... not just another Packaged Santa Claus.  Jesus has rocked our world and has turned it upside down.  

Luke 2

The Message (MSG)

The Birth of Jesus

1-5 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was pregnant.
6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

An Event for Everyone

8-12 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
19-20 Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Free Christmas Preschool Ideas

I've been browsing the internet this morning for ideas on doing some Christmas preschool activities with my almost 4 year old kiddo.

Here's a blog offering a great freebie packet.

I also found some other fun ideas for family nights on the cheap.  Look at this idea!  I love the creativity.

What are your favorite resources for craft planning and preschool activities?  Are you hooked on Pinterest too?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

One of God's Greatest Blessings This Year Was...

I know, I know, I know.  I've promised to share my incredible flaxseed hair gel recipe on here.  I've promised to do a review on Once a Month Cooking.  I've promised to share my journey with Devacurl and so much more.  I will post about them.  I really will, but there are so many things that are so much bigger that have been stirring in my heart lately.  So, forgive me... again.  I will get around to those things one day.

But, wow, oh wow! It has almost been a year since our family began this journey diving in full time with the church plant.  You can read my post about that last year here.  We have had some serious ups and some serious nose dives down.  It has been a journey and a season like none other.  And God... He has just been so faithful, so intensely evident, and His grace has completely saturated this past year.

This past Sunday, Church@The Square was packed out.  Providentially, the setup team had tried a different setup arrangement, so we were able to fit everyone who came into the BSU building where we are meeting on Sundays.  It was one of those services where every technical glitch imaginable happened, but God's Spirit just kept moving and stirring us as we worshiped together.

As we closed the service singing and praising Jesus, I couldn't help but tear up thinking about how God has brought our church family together.  What began as an idea has taken on flesh and is thriving and living just as Bryan and I had hoped and prayed.  If you walk in our church doors, you'll notice that our setup is very bare bones, because we are channeling all of our resources into making the Gospel known near and far away.  You'll see that there is no cookie cutter norm of how anyone should look, because we have faithful white haired folks full of wisdom to younger thug looking guys with tattoos.  We are all praising Jesus.  God is weaving a beautiful tapestry of people together to proclaim His name all along the Gulf Coast and farther.  Wherever we go, wherever we live, wherever we work, that is our mission field.  We are learning to be intentionally on mission and to leverage our gifts, skills, mistakes, and resources to making much of Jesus and to making disciples.

Seeing the church grow and thrive, Bryan and I just sit back and rejoice at what God has done.  We know every misstep we have taken along the way.  We had so many plans on how to reach out, how to let people know who we were and what we wanted to do that never happened.  During one of the most crucial stages of launching the church, God completely sidelined us with my tough pregnancy with Pax.  Now, I believe He did it, so we would just watch in awe and worship now.  We can't take any credit for what has happened.  We just get to rejoice and raise our hands in adoration to the Savior who is still saving lives and redeeming brokenness in our world.  In a city where many people are considered unchurched and turned off by church, God is working powerfully.

Folks, the Gospel isn't just a story.  It's a breathing, powerful testament of how the God of this universe madly and jealously loves you so much to send His precious Son Jesus to die to save you from your sins and restore you to what God created you to be.  It's about Jesus defeating death by rising from the dead and about Jesus inviting us into His Story so that the entire world will know how good He is and how only He can makes us whole.  It's worth giving your life for.  The Gospel changes you from inside out.

This year, watching Jesus awaken dead hearts to life and making the lame walk again has been priceless.  Jesus is alive.  His Church has a reason to stand together and rejoice.  God is doing something incredible in Gautier.  Jesus is making Himself known.  I am so very thankful for all of the roads that led us to Church@The Square.  May God continue to use us for His glory dear church family.  May we be united in Jesus and love each other and those around us so well that people know Jesus is alive.  You are dearly loved by God and us.

Happy Thanksgiving Church@The Square!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Grace Kissed Life

Good things are coming!  When I started this blog, my intentions were to write to keep all of our friends and family who aren't near up to date on what was happening in our lives as Bryan became the pastor of a small church here on the Coast.  I linked a handful of emails to my blog then posted on facebook to let people know when I had written something.  I really didn't think many people were reading what I wrote.  I mainly just wrote for myself and God.  I call writing my "free therapy."  Writing out my journey helps me process what is happening, and it brings me closer to God.  It helps me appreciate what He is doing in the good and the bad.

Well, imagine my surprise when years later, I begin tinkering with my blog's layout and click the stats button.  I about fell out of my chair when I realized how many people from all over the world were reading my blog.  I internally freaked, panicked, then stared at the screen in awe.  It completely blew me away that my daily struggles and wins would attract that kind of attention.  It's a God thing.

Why He's given me this voice on the internet?  I have no clue, but I do know this.  I love to write.  I love to be creative.  I love to be artsy.  I love to share about Jesus and how my story is playing out His.

Happy at the sandbar with Boo and Bean... my favorite place in the world!

For those of you who have been following for a while, you'll notice I have been updating the blog's look and have renamed it to "The Grace Kissed Life."  Why rename it?  Mainly, I wanted to protect my family's privacy a little more with the wide spread of readers that I have inherited.  Also, making it more professional allows me to have more opportunities to share my posts and become funded by companies that want to take advantage of the number of readers that follow me.

Why the name?  Why "The Grace Kissed Life"?  Well, my first name is Anna, and in Hebrew, that means "graceful."  If I can say anything of my life, it has obviously been touched by God's unmerited favor (a.k.a. grace).  I think as you read along, you'll see that trend too.  God's grace covers me.

As for this blog, my hope is to share snippets of my life's journey with you so that you see how beautiful Jesus is and how well He takes care of His own.  

I'll be sharing tips and ideas of how we are able to live well on a small ministry salary.  I'll share my struggles as I figure out how to be a Godly wife and mom.  I'll review products and resources as opportunities present themselves.

Thank you for being a cheerleader.  Thank you for often praying for us, crying with us, and having a good laugh with us.  You're not a creeper (I think).  We want you to celebrate life with us.  Welcome to the Grace Kissed Life.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Learning to Walk Again

This weekend signified a huge shift in our household.  Pax has begun the journey of becoming a walker.  Therefore, nothing... I mean nothing is safe anymore.  Our house has become one huge obstacle course, and our little guy has danced, side stepped, and stood to his heart's content.  We have heard thud after thud after thud as our Boo has practiced standing and stepping alongside anything that could hold up his weight (or not).  We have all cooed and smiled and urged our brave man along.  Not once have we scolded him for not doing a better job.  We've applauded and cheered as if he was breaking world records in babyhood.  His struggles and efforts are our joys as he conquers one developmental milestone at a time.  Watching Paxman grow is a joy.

Showing off his skills at church Sunday.

This past month I have been making traction in studying Biblical womanhood and applying those truths to my life.  It's been a hugely difficult transition from being a business oriented mom to a family oriented mom.  I have stumbled and fell more than once, and I have struggled with discouragement off and on because this shift has not been natural.  I LOVE my family, but it is so much easier to love ME.

I am convinced living life Biblically is impossible to do without the Spirit's help.  Jesus told us His path was straight and narrow and that few find it, but in our pseudo-Christian culture, it's easy to believe that Christianity is the norm.  It's not.  Being a Christ follower isn't a checklist of going to church, following a few moral guidelines, and giving a tithe.  It's hard.  It's messy.  It means losing everything for the sake of the Gospel, so that we can find Jesus is everything we really need.  Living Biblically will cost you.  That's why so many people listened to Jesus' teachings then walked away.  Remember the rich young ruler?

Since my last blog post, I've been challenged over and over again through unreal spiritual warfare about the decision I have made to live out the Gospel through loving my husband and children well.  And no, I don't throw around that term "spiritual warfare" loosely.  However, when we follow Jesus head on and leave this world behind, we are dangerous.  We are a threat to Satan's kingdom.  There is no one closer to rocking this world for the glory of Christ than the person who chooses to follow Jesus and abandon everything they used to worship instead.

The struggles are real.  Putting flesh on this decision has been uncomfortable, self-denying, and honestly at times quite terrifying.  I'm not in control anymore.  I like control.  I will say that God's grace has proven more faithful than I have ever known.  His Presence has been evident more powerfully than I have ever known.  His mission has burned in my heart more brightly and clearly than it has in years.  I am feeling in sync with His Spirit.  I have peace.  That is priceless.

What is this looking like in our daily life?  Our home life is shifting from a place of chaos and disorder into a place of peace and joy. I've been decluttering and simplifying our home and our routines.  I've discovered that excess takes up energy we don't have, and we want our lives to be about the Gospel- not stuff.   My relationship with Bryan is better than it has been in a long time.  We are actually spending quality time together when we put the kids to bed.  We've limited our tv time to one show a week, and we spend our evenings together actually connecting instead of just vegging out.  The changes with the kids have been remarkable.  I mean they are 3 years and 7 months.  I didn't expect one month to affect them much, but it has.  They are happier and more at peace together.  Because I am not investing my best energies into websites and graphic design, they are getting the attention they need to thrive and develop well.  Abby's attitude has improved hugely, and she is learning how to love her brother well and see him as a joy instead of a burden.  Maybe she's learning from my example?  Ouch.

We haven't arrived at perfection.  We won't.  It's about the journey.  It's about the effort of learning to walk as Jesus would have us walk.  It's about learning to carry our cross, so that others would see how great He is... not how amazing we are.  The cost of becoming a Biblical woman in an ungodly culture is high sweet sisters in Christ, but the cost of missing this is even higher.  Just like we applaud Pax right now for learning to take his first steps, I know God applauds us and cheers us on.  He isn't expecting perfection, but God does demand obedience.  I pray that this blog will encourage many of you to begin your journey in following Christ no matter the cost, even if Dave Ramsey wouldn't approve. :)

Here's a link to the study I just completed on Biblical Womanhood if you're curious and want more info.

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