The Quiet Time Conundrum

I never liked “time-outs.”  I never ever liked to take afternoon naps as a kid, and I never ever liked “quiet times.”  I was always on the move, causing both a ruckus and a headache for my parents and teachers one day at a time!  I was so terrible at sitting still and I talked so fast that the words coming out of my mouth couldn’t actually keep up with the thoughts flying through my head.  My parents thought I had ADD, while my grandma on the other hand, believed that my “motor-mouth” problem was due to my heightened intelligence and elevated IQ (way to go, Grandma).  Some days, mom would look me straight in the eyes with a serious face, and she’d put her hands on either side of my head and she’d say, “Sam, FOOOOCUUUS.”  And after laughing and doing a few “cool down laps” around the house, I would finally focus.

Honestly, not much has changed since then.  (Except for the naps thing, I actually enjoy taking naps now.)  But this week, I got to housesit for my aunt and uncle, and I got to spend some awesome quality time with my cousin (when she wasn’t spending the whole day in school).  That meant tons of time alone… in an empty house… with not much to do… and an overactive brain that doesn’t know when to shut itself off.  OH, THE HORROR. Little did I know, God had a purpose and a plan for me in this “quiet time” madness.

If I can manage to pray for more than 5 minutes in one sitting, it’s a big deal… because it never happens.  Usually my prayer life consists of short random prayer thoughts throughout the day, like, “Oh Lord, where did I put my keys? I know that You know where they are… Father, give me patience to drive in this flippin’ Miami traffic, the worship music playing in my car isn’t helping anymore, and I am about to bust out of here and walk home…. God, I pray for the kid’s in my moms first grade class, please calm them down and keep them FOCUSED because she might murder one of them, and I don’t want my mom to go to jail because she’s a great teacher… Father, thank you for hot showers and comfy beds and yummy food.  Love you Lord, In Jesus name, Amen.”

Yeah.  The second I try to go deep with God, I blank out.  I forget the names of all of my friends and family members who may or may not need prayer, I forget all of the bible verses that I had memorized, and I forget all of the things that I needed to talk to God about in the first place.  The struggle is real.  To help me combat this struggle of distraction and forgetfulness, I began journaling my prayers.  That helped a ton because I love to write and it keeps me focused.  It also allows me to go back and cross off prayers that God has answered which is super encouraging!  I also stopped trying to come up with fancy words while I pray, which really made a difference in my prayer life because my prayers ended up making more sense and they began to sound like a real life conversation between two people (with real people words).  Lastly, I told fear and shame to go “take a hike” because they were hindering me from being able to get real with God.  Fear and faith can’t both thrive in the same place.  So I said, Sayonara and Adios to those lies from Satan.  This week, I got real with God.  (So real, that it got to the point where I cried multiple times on my aunt’s carpet and spent some quality time in fellowship with their pet peacock, Kevin who didn’t judge me for my puffy red eyes or for my runny nose.  Thanks, Kevin. Mad respect.)

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Also, God showed me a few cool things that I really want to share with you guys because maybe I’m not alone – and maybe you struggle with this stuff too?

The power of prayer has nothing to do with me or my fancy words.  God is the powerful one in this relationship. He makes things happen and He sets things in motion.  He brings freedom, understanding, clarity, and wisdom.  He comforts and protects and provides.  All He wants is for me to trust Him enough to muster up the courage to actually say something to Him about what I need (and what I am thankful for).  My help comes from Him, not from how eloquent my prayers sound.  Once I realized that my prayers weren’t about me, I finally had stuff to pray about.  I could praise Him, thank Him, and ask Him for things.  It freed me up to enjoy God without worrying about being judged for how I sounded.

Jesus promised that troubles and tribulations would come, but He also promised to help us overcome them all.  I learned that having a nervous breakdown every now and then (especially while talking to God) is okay.  There’s no law that says Christians aren’t allowed to be upset or angry from time to time (just don’t let that lead to sin).  In fact, the Bible says that God keeps track of our sorrows and tears, and that He records those moments in His book (Psalm 56:8).  This just means that God is very aware of our meltdowns, and He doesn’t condemn us for them, He sympathizes with us instead.  Believe it or not, God gets it.  He is big enough to handle my mood swings, He is loving enough to walk me through the rough patches of my life, and He is gracious enough to not take my “moments of emotional weakness” personally or hold it against me.  I love God for that.  When I learned how to cry in front of Him, I also learned how to let Him love me in those moments.  When I get free, He freely comforts me and He strengthens me by reminding me of how strong He is on my behalf.  Then my meltdown stops because I remember who my Father is.  If God (the Mighty Warrior and Creator of the Universe) is on my side, then what the heck do I need to worry about?

When I am weak, He is strong.  No, but for real.  There have been so many times when I’ve tried to hide my weaknesses from God because I thought that He’d be disappointed in me.  I was ashamed of my sinfulness, and I didn’t think that the Holy of Holies would want to even look at me – let alone converse with me – but, I was so wrong.  The Lord showed me that His light shines through my cracks.  In the areas of my life where I am weak, God is strong for me.  He’s supposed to get the glory in those moments, but if I try to hide my cracks and my flaws, that makes me a hypocrite and it makes God a liar.  He chose me as His own before I was even born – already knowing who I would become and what I would do.  He took into account my wrong turns and my mess ups before they even happened, and He said, “I still want you despite all of that.  I’ll clean you up and make you righteous in time, but I want you as you are now.  I love you and you are so precious to Me.”  That kind of love is hard to wrap my mind around, but it also compels me to go out and tell the world about it.  Unconditional love is a gift that no human being should ever have to miss out on.

So, this week was full of me, myself, and My King.  At first I was so intimidated by the copious amounts of quite time that I had to endure, but God slowly began to change my heart and my mind about it.  Now, I’m really starting to appreciate the quiet moments in my day.  Way back when (like two weeks ago, ha), I couldn’t pray for more than 5 minutes at a time, but now I sometimes skip lunch because I get so consumed with talking to God about anything and everything in my “jam-packed” brain that I actually forget to eat.  That’s unheard of.  I love food, almost as much as I love my family (but not quite).  The coolest part is that as I pray and read God’s word, He answers.  Whether it’s through a verse, an overwhelming peace in my spirit, or through a phone call or text from a friend that comes at just the right time (shout out to Jocelyn for your perfectly timed messages). He always answers.

Will I still shoot up random short prayers to God throughout the day?  Heck yeah.  All the time.  Because I need Him all the time, and because He’s always with me.  When you love someone and want to get to know them better, you spend more time with them… and my relationship with my Heavenly Dad should be no different.  It’s a learning process and there are hard days when I don’t want to open my journal or my mouth, but the more I learn about how awesome my God is and about how much He cares for me… the more it makes me want to talk to Him.

I think the most challenging part of this love walk/prayer journey is going to be letting God speak while I just sit and listen.  (Still working on that with my momma too.)  Luckily for me, love is patient…

 

It Takes A Village (To Raise a Missionary)

There is an old African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  But, over this past year, I’ve realized that it also takes a village to raise up and send out a missionary (especially a crazy and injury prone one like me).

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I was raised by a hard working, soccer playing, and joke telling dad who always has a knack for putting others before himself.  I was raised by a generous and caring mom, a teacher who has such a great love for her children – both blood and in her classroom – and who has an incredible ability to influence and inspire the people around her.  I have grandparents that taught me how to serve, how to pray, and how to go above and beyond for those in need.  I grew up in a community where your skin color didn’t determine your worth, where everyone spoke a different language, and where little girls could play sports with the big boys.  I was constantly surrounded by people that loved me, and I was given plenty of opportunities to succeed.  None of that had anything to do with me.  I didn’t pick my parents, I didn’t pick my neighborhood, and I didn’t pick my talents.  (Lord knows that I wish I could sing.  Unfortunately, for those who ride in the car with me – I can’t.)

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So, my job is to make the most of what I’ve been given.  It’s my responsibility to use my gifts, talents, and abilities for God’s glory.  He gave me everything I have, and He gave it to me freely, in love.  So how can I show my gratitude and how can I give back to a God who already has everything?  I ask myself daily what it would look like to live a life surrendered to God, and I think 1 Peter 4: 8-11 sums it up quite nicely,

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.  Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.  God has given each of you a gift from His great variety of spiritual gifts.  Use them well to serve one another.  Do you have the gift of speaking?  Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you.  Do you have the gift of helping others?  Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ.”

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Frederick Buechner eloquently said that, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  I’ve learned that my life isn’t just about me.  My experiences, my wisdom, my failings, my abilities, and my successes are all meant to be shared with others – to bring growth, freedom, wisdom, love, understanding, and friendship.  Every single one of us is unique, we all come with a variety of strengths and weaknesses, gifts and talents, and passions and desires.  Not to mention, we are all created in God’s image.  So when I meet someone new, I am given the opportunity to experience God in a whole new way as well.  While I grow closer with others, I also grow closer with Him.  I get to see a different side to who He is, and I get to learn something about His heart that I never would have known before.

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We are all different, and I want to stress that different doesn’t mean wrong, it just means different.  (Hallelujah for that!)  We all have something to bring to the table, something of value to be shared and spread far and wide.

Now to bring this blog full circle…

I am going back to South Africa.  I am going to put my feet to my faith, and actions to my words.  I want to make a difference, I want to change lives, and I want to bring hope and love to the people in this world that need it most.  But like I said earlier, I can’t do this alone.  I need your help.

As a missionary, my mission is my job, my donations become my salary, and my workplace becomes my home.  It’s a 24/7 lifestyle that doesn’t have an expiration date.  It’s risky and exciting, and I couldn’t imagine doing life any other way!

So here come the logistics.  I have a charity visa that allows me to do volunteer work in South Africa, but that means my only source of income must come from the money I raise here via donations.  Before I am allowed to head back overseas in March, I need to have at least 50% of my total required amount to live for a year in SA in the bank.  (Just to give you guys a quick example, it costs $25 to pay for electricity, $35 to buy groceries, and $450 to pay for my rent… every single month.)  I will need about $1,000 monthly to cover absolutely everything to live in South Africa for this next year, which is pretty incredible because of the exchange rate.  So any amount helps – big or small, even if it’s a $5 monthly donation or a one time gift of $15- I can put it to good use!

I always struggled with guilt when it came to asking others for money, but I quickly learned that if I don’t ask, I won’t receive.  Wayne Gretzky was right when he said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  I also learned that by asking, I am giving others a chance to participate in the awesome work that is happening in South Africa and the awesome things that God is doing (rather than selfishly keeping the experiences to myself), and that’s pretty cool too!  The Lord has taught me so much about His faithfulness through the donations that I have received.  It’s been a challenging experience for me, but it’s one that has grown my faith and trust in Him in more ways than I can describe.

So I am taking a shot, and I’m humbly asking…  Will you come alongside me on this journey?  Will you walk with me through the dark places?  Will you help me to share hope and love and grace with the brokenhearted and hurting in South Africa?  If so, let’s do this together, as a village and as a family.  Even though you may not be with me physically on the mission field, you play a significant role in everything that happens there.  Through prayer, donations, and encouragement, things get done – great and life changing things!

I want to thank you all for the love and support that you’ve continued to give me as I walk this journey.  Through all of the up’s and down’s and triumphs and difficulties, I have never once felt alone.  Thank you.  Lastly, I want to end this super long blog post with a passage from one of Paul’s letters (Philippians 4:10-17).  His words connect with all of the emotions and thoughts racing through heart and mind so perfectly, and my hope is that it will connect with you as well.  He writes:

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.  As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this. Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. I don’t say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness.

If you would like to make a donation online, please visit:

http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/

If you want to donate by mail, then please make a (tax decidable) check payable to Shepherds Staff and write my account number #6020 in the memo section, then mail it to:

Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators

6739 Academy Road NE, Suite 320

Albuquerque, NM 87109

 

Preparing for a Porn Conference: This Christian’s Walk on the Wild Side

I never thought these words would ever come out of my mouth, but here it goes… In exactly one month, I will be attending a porn conference in Vancouver, Canada.  

Now before anyone freaks out – or rushes over to their cell phones to call my parents and tell them that their 24 year old daughter has fallen off the deep end – let me tell you why I will be attending this conference.

First things first: Jesus loves porn stars.  No, really – He’s crazy about them.  He doesn’t just like them, He loves them.  And you know what else?  Jesus loves people who watch porn too.  Yes, you read that correctly.  While I was in South Africa this past year, my faith and knowledge of “who God is” was challenged immensely.  I realized that His love ran deeper than I ever could have imagined and that His healing power was greater than I ever could have anticipated.  He is a God of inclusion, and His arms are always open to receive anyone who runs to Him (no matter how dirty or how sinful that person might be).  Isaiah 59:1 says, “Listen! The LORD’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call.”  

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Jesus had a talent for drawing in the people that everyone else pushed away.  The whores, the murders, the diseased, the liars, the cheaters, the arrogant, and even the dead.  Not only did he draw them in, He made it a point to chase after them.  When the religious leaders looked at a deadbeat or a criminal, they saw a waste of space – but when Jesus looked at them, He saw a daughter or a son who needed restoration and freedom.  If Jesus, brimming with perfect holiness, was willing to walk into the most dimly lit and shameful places of the world to find the people who needed Him desperately, then I must be willing to do the same.

Only God can turn our ashes into a thing of beauty.  The Lord has an amazing way of redeeming our pasts.  He can take something that was once ugly and disgraceful and He can turn it into something worthy and full of hope.  It’s my turn to get free with ya’ll.  I had a really bad porn addiction in high school, and I had an incredible talent for hiding it from the people closest to me (which meant that no one knew I needed help).  I used porn as an escape, as a coping method, and as a way to “take the stress away” until it finally began to consume me.  Some serious damage was done.  My perception on love, sex, and “healthy relationships” became completely disfigured, I felt so much shame and guilt that I started to lash out on my family members and I distanced myself from God, and I started buying into the lies that I was worthless, broken, and most definitely gross.

BUT GOD.  Those are two of my favorite words in the universe.  But God… put me back together.  He reached out to me when I was deep in my self-made pit of despair, and He pulled me out and grabbed ahold of me (despite the fact that I had no strength at the time to hold onto Him).  Romans 5:8 says, “But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”  He cleaned me up, set me free, healed my hurts, and He told me who I was in His eyes: valuable, beautiful, righteous, blameless, cherished, loved, and most importantly… His.  He’s given me a heart to reach out to those who struggle like I did, to reach out to the women who think they aren’t worth something (or someone) of value, and to reach out to the brokenhearted and abused.  He had taken the messed up pieces of my past, and He redeemed them for His glory and for my benefit, and let me tell you… it’s the greatest feeling in the world! Now, I get to find others who are in need of hope and healing.  I get the opportunity and the honor of sharing the love of Christ with those who have never experienced love before, and it’s all because of His mercy and grace.

Even though this trip (with Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale and xxxchurch) will only last for a short week in February, my mission to create change and to bring hope and love to others will last for my entire life.  It’s not going to be an easy journey.  It will be dark one, a dangerous one, and the fight will be a spiritual one.  Sex trafficking, prostitution, and pornography are all over the world.  The battle is a big one, and it’s one that ends in death, both spiritually and physically, for so many.  I was recently challenged with the thought… “What would happen if I loved those people (the johns, the strippers, the porn stars, the addicts, and the pimps…) as much as Jesus loves them? How might the world be different?  

I’ve decided to give it a go and find out.  Partner with me in prayer and with steps of faith.  Let’s be bold together as a community (all over the world) and as a united church.  We are commanded by God – Who is the Mighty Warrior fighting on our behalf – to not be afraid, so let’s be strong and courageous, and let’s inspire change. Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Nothing is to hard for Him.”

If you’d like to donate and support me in this fight, please visit:

http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/

[Be]loved – A Poem

Hi all.  I wrote a little poem for you (but mainly for me).  Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our past mistakes do not define us, so I wrote this as a little wake up call.  I wrote this poem to remind me of my name, which is Beloved.  And I wrote this poem to remind others of who God has redeemed them to be … which is loved and blameless.

(*I need to get free real quick: This poem comes from the deep places of my heart, so it’s a bit scary sharing it with the world.  Literally sweating as I sit here typing this, haha.  My hope and prayer is that God will be stronger than my weaknesses, and that He will use these words to make an impact, even if it’s only for one person.  Enjoy it.)

 

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[Be]loved

Oh lust, my old infatuation, my persisting temptation,
I can still remember the way that you tasted.
So sweet on my lips, but your taste was short lived – I continually craved it.
I could never get enough of you.
You dominated my thoughts, you would catch me off-guard, and you had me persuaded.
You coerced me with your words while seducing me with your eyes,
And you know what, it worked – I was fascinated.
Constantly hooked on a feeling that penetrated me deeply, it was so stimulating.
You made me feel things that I’ve never felt before,
Igniting sparks within me that made me want more.
And together we explored a new world that was full of adventure and so much allure,
But what I remember the most… was feeling remorse.

Oh lust, you betrayed me.
You served me your glorified lies on a fancy plate of strife, and I digested them gladly.
I believed you when you said you loved me,
But that was nothing but a fantasy, a fake idolized reality.
While I was sharing my heart, you were shamelessly committing perjury.
You stole a piece of me and that piece was never yours to keep.
Incomplete and lonely,
That’s how you left me – haunted by those old and dark memories.

You got bored, said farewell, and you left me to fend for myself.
But I have news for you lust, Someone else found me…

That’s when You showed up, dearest Love.
You set me free and You confronted my lust,
You uprooted the lies that were planted in my head,
And You watered my soul with the truth instead.
“I will be faithful and make you Mine,” You said.
“I will show you mercy and grace despite your mistakes,
And wrapped tightly in My arms, you’ll always be safe.
I will call you precious, beloved, and treasure – My very own design.
And My love for you will endure until the very end of time.”

So I asked my dearest Love, “Why did You choose me?
I’ve been broken and used and I’m terribly sorry,
But no matter how hard I try to get clean, my body feels shameful and filthy.
How can you love me, a girl marred by impurity, worn down and weary?
How can you want me?  I feel so guilty… so unworthy…”

Then You spoke, dearest Love, and I heard Your voice.
You spoke gently and softly, but clearly.

“How beautiful you are My darling, how beautiful!
You have captured my heart – it’s indisputable.
Nothing can separate My love from thee, not lust, not doubt, nor the deepest depths of the sea.”

Then my dearest Love said to me, “Tell the world and share our story.”
So there it is, my testimony – written in rhyme, bold yet brief
About a girl who was lost, but came to believe.

And if you’re someone who is struggling to see
Why a perfect God would love an imperfect girl like me,
It’s simply because of His Son who died on the tree.

A death He died so lovingly – unlocking the chains… setting me free.

To Sin Less or to Be Sinless: That Is the Question

Sometimes, I get so tired of being a Christian.  Literally, I get exhausted to the point of needing multiple power naps a day.

This week I finally decided to sit down and ask myself, “Why the heck do I feel this way?”  If the Christian life is supposed to bring freedom and abundant joy, then why do I constantly feel worn out and enslaved?

I finally got the answer.

For so long, I believed that being a Christian meant that it was my duty to “sin less.”  I don’t know if anyone else has tried that, but for me, “sinning less” is absolutely draining.  It usually lasts about 5 whole seconds from the moment I wake up, and then it’s all downhill from there.  Heck, I’m pretty sure I even sin in my sleep.

But here’s what I learned (and this may sound radical so bear with me).  Jesus never ever asked me to “sin less.”  He asked me not to sin at all.  Jesus never demanded progress, He demanded perfection.  After Jesus taught the famous beatitudes, He said in Matthew 5:20, “But I warn you — unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Oh, snap.  If my salvation is dependent on my level of perfection and my good works, then I am in big trouble.  (Houston, we have a serious problem.)  I can tell you right now that, even as a missionary who’s walked with the Lord for just over 8 years, I do NOT measure up.  I will fail the test of righteousness every single time, and that’s a promise.  So if Jesus demands perfection, (and if I am an imperfect person) then how is the Gospel “good news?”

Here’s where I got my answer.

In Matthew 5, Jesus was preaching to the Jewish people.  He knew His audience from the inside out.  He knew their thoughts, their hidden agendas, their traditions, and their mindset.  Jesus knew exactly what He was teaching, and it must have sounded insane to those with listening ears.  The Pharisees were some of the most legalistic, religious, and obedient people alive in that day and age.  Jesus knew that no one could be as righteous as them in terms of lifestyle.  They set the tone for perfection.  The Jewish Pharisees were only concerned with the external appearance of their actions, but Jesus wasn’t stupid.  It is written in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord doesn’t see the things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” 

Jesus was making a point.  He saw what was hidden in their hearts.

Their obedience to the law wasn’t good enough.  They still fell short because their hearts were impure; every good thing they did was tainted with nasty sin.  But before I get prideful and start judging those guys for being so ridiculous, Paul makes it very clear in the book of Romans that we all fall short of the glory of God too.  In Galatians 2:21, Paul says, “I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless.  For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.”

Halle-flippin-lujah.  There’s hope!

Then it hit me (like an overly pumped up soccer ball to the face).  I realized why I had been so tired.  I was trying to live in perfect obedience to a law that I was never required to keep.  The law condemns me every time I try to live up to it.  All it does is reveal how sinful I am.  I was trying to work harder, seem wiser, look purer, be better… and sin less.

When Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished,” and Jesus always means what He says!  If He says is it finished, then it’s actually finished!  It’s done.  I like to think of it this way:  Imagine me walking up to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and finger-painting smiley faces all over it.  Then imagine me looking him straight in the eye and saying, “Check this out Leo!  Doesn’t your painting look so much better now?  Talk about a masterpiece!  Those smiley faces are flawless!”  I could’ve just as easily slapped him in the face.  (And I do the same thing to God every day when I try to add to the finished work of the cross.)

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Does that mean that my salvation is a “get out of jail free card?”  No, God is (and will always be) a representation of perfect justice.  Someone had to pay the price for my disobedience and my unrighteousness; a debt was still owed.  Jesus took the punishment that I deserved by living a perfect life that I couldn’t live.  He fulfilled the law that I could never fulfill (Romans 3:23).  He nailed my sins to the cross (Colossians 2:14) and died a terrible and shameful death in my place (2 Corinthians 5:21).  He loved me enough to meet my unreachable requirements of perfection, knowing ahead of time that it would cost Him everything.  This is the Gospel.  This is good news.  This is love.

Let me share one last thing that convicted me this week about the character of God.  The man on the cross next to Jesus in Luke 23: he didn’t have a holy resumé to hand over to Jesus, he didn’t try and convince Jesus that he was good enough to enter heaven, and Jesus never gave Him a penance requirement before he died.  The man’s belief was enough.  The man recognized his sin and his need for a Savior, he acknowledged Jesus as his only hope, and he called out to the Lord in faith.  And Jesus saved him.  That is grace.

Just like the criminal on the cross, I was justified (undeservingly), and now I am being sanctified.  The good works that I do now are not what make me righteous before God.  Instead, those good works are responses to the love and mercy and grace that I have received from Him.  They aren’t the means of my salvation, they are the outflow of it.  God loved me while I was a mess.  He saved me when I had nothing to offer Him, and that’s what makes grace so amazing.  C.S. Lewis said it this way, “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

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So now, instead of wasting my time trying to “sin less,” God calls me to believe that I am sinless.  And instead of growing tired and worn out from failing to measure up, God calls me to rest in the fact that Jesus measured up for me.  I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Steve Brown:

“The good news is that Christ frees us from the need to obnoxiously focus on our goodness, our commitment, and our correctness. Religion has made us obsessive almost beyond endurance. Jesus invited us to a dance… and we’ve turned it into a march of soldiers, always checking to see if we’re doing it right and are in step and in line with the other soldiers. We know a dance would be more fun, but we believe we must go through hell to get to heaven, so we keep marching.” 

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Finding My Identity In the Midst of Idolatry

“Your pain could be God prying open your life and heart to remove a gift of His that you’ve been holding on to more dearly than Him.”  – Tullian Tchividjian

Let go.

Two words that are simple to understand and simple to write.  Two words that can change a life – for better or for worse.  Two words that have caused me to lose countless hours of shut eye during these past few weeks (maybe even months). Two words that instill a deep desire within me to sing a particular song from a particular Disney movie at the top of my lungs.  “Let it go, Let it go…” 

Letting go is hard.  It almost always requires a step of faith, a burst of courage, and a heck of a lot of discipline.  Three things that are nearly impossible for this 24 year old girl living in South Africa to muster up simultaneously.  So what’s the big deal?  Why is the struggle so real?  Well, God has asked me to let go of the one thing that I love most.  The one thing that I may have started to love more than Him…

Soccer.

Agh.  Just typing that word out on this page gives me a nasty stomach ache.  I’ve played soccer since I was 4 years old; it fills my life with passion, purpose, and pride.  It’s a part of who I am.  I am “Sam, that girl who plays soccer.”  But you see, that’s the problem…

About halfway through my soccer season this year, I started compromising.  My identity became: athlete.  My value was being measured by what my coaches and teammates thought of me, and my worth was determined by how well I performed in each game.  My standard of integrity declined to appease my friends, and I had forgotten the real reason why I stepped out onto the field in the first place.  Not to prove myself.  Not to please my parents or my peers.  Not to impress my coach or the spectators.  Not even to stay in shape.

I played to worship.

So, God challenged me with a question, “Samantha, my beloved daughter, who do you play for?”

My response:  “Not You, God, at least… not anymore.”

His response: (*with a smile and a gentle nudge) “So what are you going to do about that, My child?”

My honest response: “Agh…”

I used to think idols were artifacts of the past.  Golden statues that people bowed down to and danced around, but little did I know, idols are alive and well today (especially in my own life).  It’s so easy for me to idolize people, meaning that I depend on them to fulfill my needs for love, security, comfort, and affirmation.  I didn’t realize that my Heavenly Dad (who already offered me all of those things perfectly) was being replaced by counterfeits, by things and people that can never satisfy me.  And I think this truth hurts Him more than it hurts me.  He has a love for me that is so wide and so vast.  He has a desire for me to know who I am according to Him and not according to the fleeting opinions and imperfect judgements of this world.

My friend Rencia shared some wise words with me the other day.  We both were fighting this same battle around the same time, and she spoke these words to me with humility and conviction, “Sam I haven’t just been committing idolatry with God, I’ve been committing adultery against Him.” 

Woah.  Her words hit me hard. If am supposed to be in a committed love relationship with the Lord, then He is supposed to be my everything: my source of joy, my provider, and my strength.  And I’ve been cheating on him with men that can’t love me unconditionally and with material things that can never satisfy.  Not to mention, I’ve been taking the abilities and talents He freely gave me, and I’ve been using (and abusing) them for my own selfish gain.  These things have taken God’s place in my heart, and it’s left me feeling insecure, empty, and desperate (things He never intended for me to feel).

So, with 5 games left in the season, I have to walk away.  Do I struggle with the thought that I can just “tough it out, suck it up, and finish?” Yep.  Do fears and worries  constantly flood my mind as I step out in faith? Oh, yes.  And as I battle with the concerns that my teammates will hate me, that I’ll be deemed a quitter, and that I will regret my decision to step back, I also know that God is faithful and that His promises are true.  So, during this season of separation and extra spare time, I will walk hand in hand with the God of the universe who calls me His.  I may try to run ahead of Him when I think I know the right way to go, and I may try to unlink my interwoven fingers from His when I want to go faster or further than He intends, but I find rest in knowing that He will always be patient enough to put up with my rebellious shenanigans.  

Who knows?  Next season is an entirely different story, and by that time, my heart may be in the right place to play again.  God knows the desires of my heart:  to serve, to marry, to play, to teach, to laugh, to adventure, and to grow (just to name a few things).

So for now, while I am confronted with this difficult season of sacrifice, I will do my best to “let go” of the fears and worries that come from this world, and I will choose to hold on to these unshakable truths instead:

Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Deuteronomy 31:8 Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Why Terrible People Make Excellent Missionaries

I was listening to a sermon this past week and heard this quote:

“Christianity is beggars telling other beggars where to find bread”  -D.T. Niles

What a profound quote for a struggling legalist like me to hear.  News flash: I am not a baker of christianese flavored breads (even though sometimes I’d like to think so), I am merely a beggar amongst a variety of other beggars seeking out a piece of bread from the only Baker who can offer it. The best part: the bread is free. (And who doesn’t like free bread, I mean really?)

My thought process used to go like this:  I was Sam the girl who struggled, but now that I know Jesus, I am Sam the girl who doesn’t really struggle anymore. I am Sam the girl who is “saved,”so I should sin less, fail less, and ask forgiveness… less.

What a complete load of junk. 

My initial thoughts on being a missionary involved me needing to get my life together, needing to be good enough, holy enough, or wise enough to serve in another country.  Because if I had the nerve to want to go and tell hurting and bad people about Jesus, I needed to do my best to be like Jesus…

I had it completely backwards.  It will always be impossible for me to be the “Professional Spiritual Chick Who Never Screws Up.”  To be a good missionary, I need to be bad.  Does that mean that I go out and seek ways to purposefully sin like a maniac?  No, I do that just fine on a day to day basis without even trying.

If someone doesn’t see the need for Jesus in my own life, then why would they want to invite Jesus into theirs?  I must be honest about my sin, because if I’m not then I have no right to talk about the Savior who came to die for it.  As Paul (the chief of sinners) so eloquently puts it in Romans 3:23: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Confession time.  Every now and then, I really enjoy pulling out my “Measuring Stick of Holiness” to measure the differences in how short I fall compared to how short others fall.  Well guess what, the distance I have fallen from God is no different than the drunk guy down the road, the murderer on death row, the guy who cheated on his wife, the pope, or Mother Theresa (yeah, the last two are sinners who need Jesus desperately too).  We have all fallen equally short, I am no less or greater of a sinner than anyone on this earth.

When I was addicted to porn and sexual immorality I needed Jesus, when I struggled with alcohol, lying, cursing, and self esteem issues I needed Jesus, but here’s the kicker: Even though I am a Christian now, I STILL need Jesus.  I will never stop needing Jesus.  So, when I walked into Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale for the first time when I was 17 years old, I was openly admitting to the world that I had some serious sin issues.  I walked into that church because I was a terrible person who needed help. I had finally found a place where no one had their lives together, no one was blameless or worthy, and no one claimed to be holier than thou. It was my new dysfunctional family.  But as I journeyed deeper into the Christian faith, I realized that everyone, myself definitely included, began to hide behind masks of fake perfection. When I attended church on Sunday (Holy Hour), I was on my best behavior.  I tried to meet everyone’s expectations by pretending that everything was fine and dandy when deep down I was falling apart. I would think to myself, “I know Jesus, so why am I still sinning? Why am I not fixed yet? Why am I not perfect?”

The church, the 10 commandments, and short term mission trips were never supposed to fix me.  I was never meant to be “fixed,” I was meant to be saved.

Jesus came to rescue me. He loves me, period. End of story.

It’s not “Jesus loves me BUT….” or “Jesus loves me ONLY IF I DO X,Y, and Z…”

No.  I am perfectly loved, I am completely forgiven, and I am rescued… period.

Here in South Africa, this means that people need to hear me confess.  As a daughter of the King this makes me unique because I have the ability to confess without fear since nothing can separate me from His love, not even my own sin (thanks to Jesus.)  They don’t need to hear me say things like “Oh bless your heart dear child let me pray for you.” They need to hear me say things like, “Yeah, I understand, I lived it, I struggle with the same thing.”  The truth brings freedom, and when I am honest about who I really am (which is a girl who is still a hot mess and who still needs saving from Jesus every second of every day), then it becomes less about me and more about the Savior of the world.  In my own life, the men and women who left the greatest impacts on me were the ones that took off their masks and showed me who they really were from the inside out. They showed me their sin, their flaws, and their need.

When I take off my mask, Jesus doesn’t freak out or run away.  He is not ashamed of me. He already knew what He was in for the moment He took my sins with Him on the cross.  He knew, and He chose to follow through with it.

There is a girl in Cloetesville that I am about to journey with who desperately needs to discover Jesus, but she doesn’t need Jesus any more than I need Him.  I plan on walking beside her and pointing her to the one who saved me from myself.  I plan on getting my hands and feet dirty because, hey, Jesus loves dirty people. I have no idea what this adventure will look like, but I am willing to take off my mask and get real with this girl.  I am willing to admit that I don’t have my life together, just like her, and that it’s okay! Jesus never said that I needed to get my life together.  He just asks me to come as I am and He asks me to believe that He is enough.  He asks me to trust Him and know that He is Good, that He is Gracious, and that He is God.… and with all of this being said:

Pray that I can peel back the many layers of my life, that I can meet this girl where she is at, and that I can point her to the One who rescues. Pray that I can see her the way God sees her, as my equal. Pray that Jesus will use me despite myself to love on this girl, and finally, pray that He will be glorified, in whatever way that looks like…

Fight the Good Fight

After a month of experiencing the beauty of South Africa, I have finally been faced with some really ugly truths.

My eyes are being opened wider to the pain and the struggles that so many people have to deal with each day.  I have seen fist fights break out in the streets, sons and daughters getting cursed at and abused by their careless parents, little children going to school barefoot with empty stomaches, and teenage girls who will do anything for just a tiny bit of attention.

And those are just a few of the issues that occur on a day to day basis.  In the States, when I was growing up in elementary school… my biggest worry was if my socks matched my headband.  My biggest struggle was deciding if I wanted my Dad to make me Pop-Tarts or Waffles for breakfast.  Priorities, right?

It’s one thing to see images of hungry and impoverished kids flashing across a tv screen, but it’s an entirely different thing to coach alongside a girl who’s little sister is struggling with thoughts of suicide because her mom constantly doesn’t feed her and tells her that she’s going to amount to nothing.  It’s an entirely different thing to walk into a team meeting and find out that my friend has been stabbed and robbed the night before.  It’s an entirely different thing to see toddlers with runny noses and scars on their bodies sitting alone on the side of the road because no one cares what happens to them.  The worst part is that this is normal life for these kids, this is what they know, it’s all they know…and that breaks my heart.

I realized that the battle isn’t against the irresponsible parents or the messed up South African government (google: load shedding and you’ll see what I mean.) My battle isn’t against the drug dealers who sell to children or the men who rape the women living in the townships.  My battle is our battle, and it goes far beyond the physical things of this world (Ephesians 6:12).  If we know God is good, then we must know that there is also evil that will counteract that good.  The enemy wants to hit God where it hurts by taking away the one thing that He loves most.

And when I sit and think about who or what that one thing is… I realize that it’s us.

It’s His children.  He gave up everything just so we could know Him.  Jesus died for us so that we could have a free and loving relationship with the Father who gave us breath and life and grace and love and peace.  If God had a heavenly refrigerator, our pictures would be all over it (pinned up with cute little heart magnets because He’s that awesome.)

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Our battle is a spiritual one, and it’s sometimes harder to spot in America because as “American Christians” we are less open to the spiritual realm and more open to the rational one.  We tend to see a homeless deadbeat alcoholic wasting away on the streets with our physical eyes, but we can’t seem to see that same person as someone who is desperately seeking love and acceptance but just can’t catch a break.  Walking down the streets of Cloetesville, I can see spirits of Fear, Depression, Anger, Rebellion, and Addiction.  These spirits grab on to the hurting and the lost for dear life, reeking havoc and destroying their lives, but there is one Sprit Who is greater.  There is one Spirit Who has overcome this world and Who is strong enough to set people free.  Jesus was able to cast out demons with less words (Go!) than it took Him to calm a storm (Peace! Be Still!), THAT’S how strong my God is!

I can freely love my neighbor (the good, the bad, and the ugly) because His perfect love has cast out all of the fear in me (1 John 4:18).  I wont stop fighting on their behalf because Jesus never gave up fighting when He was pursuing me.

So…it’s time to put on our armor and fight back.

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? Psalm 118:6