Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I wish you could see me now.

I'll admit, I do make fun of Cleveland a lot. It's just too easy: the weather, the sports teams, the river that has caught fire three times, the gray bubble of cloud that engulfs my car as I drive up 71N. However, it's really not as bad as I exaggerate it to be. Home on Thanksgiving break, I drive around familiar streets again as random childhood memories shuffle through my brain.

I often see Cleveland in the afore mentioned "gray bubble"- not so much in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense. You see, I associate my entire life lived in Cleveland with "old self" Kelsey. Ephesians 4:22 says, "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires..."  This "putting off of my old self" isn't quite that easy because, when I return to Cleveland, all these strange emotions come flooding into my heart. I am not trying to over exaggerate anything; I had a great childhood, with a loving family and anything I could ever ask for. The feeling that I'm reminded of is one that's deep in my soul...the feeling of being lost; of wondering if there was maybe a little more to life than what I knew.

The verse in Ephesians continues: " be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (v.23-24). As I went off to college and over the next several years, my "old self" was replaced with this "new self." This "old self" tends to come back when I drive into the city limits. As the verse says, I am being made new in the attitude of my mind. When I've been associating things in my mind for almost 20 years and now I'm radically changing that world view, it's not always easy, and that's ok. It's a process.

Each time I pull my car into the driveway of "old self" Kelsey it gets a little easier. I was reminded yesterday of my new self- that I really AM new and that the old really IS gone. It happened over a cup of hot chocolate...

I went to a local coffee shop with a girl that I played high school soccer with. She was a freshman when I was a senior, so I didn't know her too well. Somehow, we have kept in touch over the last few years and we decided to catch up on life.

She told me how much she looked up to me in high school and said that during her freshman year someone told her that I would write "Joshua 1:9" on my basketball and soccer shoes. She said that hearing this was really encouraging to her. I started laughing because, I wasn't a believer when I was in high school. I just thought that "quote" (i.e. Bible verse) was cool because it seemed like it applied to athletics. I shared my story with her and then I got goose-bumps as I took off my shoe to show her the tattoo on my foot...of a cross and the verse "Joshua 1:9."

I used to write that verse on my shoe with "permanent marker." But you know what? Every few months I would have to reapply the marker because it had been smeared off my shoe. Now, it's permanently inked into my skin.  I couldn't donate blood up to a year after I got that tattoo, because traces of the ink stay in your blood stream. It's not just on me, it's in me. That's how much the tattoo is a part of me now. I will never look the same again because of it.

Kinda like Jesus. "See, I have engraved you on the [top of my foot]..." (Isaiah 49:16). I'm not a marker on the side of his sandal that can be easily smeared or wiped away. I'm tattooed not only onto his foot, but into his heart.

I'M NOT WHO I WAS. Cleveland or not. I will never look the same again because of him.

"Oh Jesus, you raised me
How could I ever return
To things that you told me would burn?
When will I ever learn
That I am new..." -Jimmy Needham

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thickening the air I'm breathing.

"Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end- it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay." -Habakkuk 2: 2-3

I took a coaching education course a few weeks ago. During one of the lectures, the question was posed, "Why do you coach?" People gave various answers: love of the game, competition, to be a positive influence, to coach their children, to pass on their knowledge and talents, etc.

In one of his books, John Piper writes, "Not to aim to show God is not to love, because God is what we need most deeply. And to have all else without Him is to perish in the end. If you don't point people to god for ever-lasting joy, you don't love. You waste your life."

So, I'm sitting in this room of 40+ coaches hearing them shout out their reasons for coaching. In the back of my mind the only thing I can think of is that: I coach in order to share the gospel of Jesus. Of course, I didn't say this out loud. Most of them would have thought I was out of my mind, and some may have even told me that it's illegal (well, I've already been told both of these responses). I coach because I love the game. I coach because I love people. I coach because I have been given the passion and the gift of being able to play soccer. But, as Piper says, without sharing the gospel through all of this I am withholding the One true life-giving Love. It's actually extremely selfish not to share the gospel because it is the one thing that everyone is searching for, whether they admit it or not.

In the verse that I shared at the beginning, God is talking about a VISION. I think God gives each of His children a vision. I don't mean the kind of vision that you necessarily see played out in front of you like a movie (although, maybe!). I mean a vision of what it means for you, personally and corporately, to bring His Kingdom to earth. We are channels of His grace that he doesn't need, but chooses to use anyway. He has given each of us different and specific talents and passions to be used for His glory. The verse also mentions that the vision may be "slow." It might not always be clear to us but He says that He will show us and that it "will not lie." This vision is something that will come slowly and maybe only in little glimpses at a time...and it will be revealed to us through His Truth (the Bible) as we read and seek to know Him more.

I have been shown a glimpse of a vision. This vision is to use coaching and the silly game of soccer to love people and to tell them the Gospel that has absolutely transformed, remodeled, and rebuilt my life. I want to be a positive influence for the kids that I coach and to the coaches I coach with and against. But that's not enough. Piper goes onto say, "[God] has woven you into the fabric of other's lives so that you will tell them the Gospel. Without this, all our adorning behavior may lack the one thing that could make it life-giving." We want to be better soccer players, and to compete, and to win, and to have fun...but what we NEED is Jesus.

My life should reflect the gospel. People should see "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22) in the way that I live and coach, but without me telling them why I live the way I do and why I coach the way I coach, I am literally wasting the passion, the talents, and the life that God has given me.

I mess this vision up a lot and still don't know entirely how to "live out" this vision, but I'm learning more everyday. I'm trying to live the Truth I've been given. This is not about me and I'm trusting that this vision will "hasten to the end"and overflow from the way I live and coach to the glory of God...the only thing that matters.

Coaching to share the Gospel. How ridiculous and beautiful at the same time.

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..." - Romans 1:16

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Perfect love is holding me.

"Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like."
- James 1:23

Five years ago, this summer, I was playing on semi pro soccer team in Cleveland. We made it to the playoffs and drove down to Cincinnati to play in the first round against some team from Charlotte. I remember the day vividly. We played at a high school field and the temperature had to be at least 95 degrees, plus humidity. It's one of those games that you try to conserve your energy as much as possible and just try to make it through the first half until the sun goes down and the air starts to cool off.

My team was sitting in the shade getting our shin guards and cleats on, preparing to start the warm up. I jogged into the field house to go to the bathroom. As I was jogging back out to join my team I heard this noise coming from one of the locker rooms. I peaked my head around the corner without them noticing me. It was the team we were about to play. Someone was playing the guitar. The rest of them were standing with eyes closed and hands raised. They were singing songs about Jesus.

I started laughing to myself and thought "wow, these people are freaking weird." I went and got 2 or 3 of my teammates so I could show them how crazy these people were. We all started laughing and had some choice words to say about them. Singing about Jesus before a soccer game? What the heck is going on? Is this a cult?

After the game, in which they beat us 7-1, they asked us to pray with them. We all circled up and everyone put their arms around each other. Their coached prayed. I felt uncomfortable and I don't think I closed my eyes at all, I was just looking around at everyone thinking how weird it was that I was standing on a soccer field, angry after the loss...praying. Again...what the heck is going on? Weird.

Over the next year-or-two, God did a work in my heart & life. I'm not going into all the details here but, let's just say he completely transformed me from the inside out. A life that was "perfect" on the outside was filled with loneliness, confusion, and a 19 year old girl searching for something real. I searched in many places but couldn't seem to find it. Then I found that realness when the Jesus of the Bible jumped off the pages and became real and living, breathing air into my lungs. For the first time in my life I felt significance beyond all the awards I won and beyond all the things I could "do." In a life that was spinning out of control (only on the inside because I had to have it all together on the outside, of course), I finally found something solid to stand on. Something that was Truth. The relentless love of Jesus, through other people. A life that had come alive.

Let's fast forward to this summer. Five short years after that hot summer day. Remember "some team from Charlotte"? The Charlotte Lady Eagles. The funny part? I play for them now. Now I sing songs about Jesus before I play soccer. Weird...I know.

The reason I shared the verse at the beginning (James 1:23) is because I think it's easy to forget who I was. It's easy to forget what I was like and what I was doing & thinking before I collided with the grace and love of Jesus. I have NEVER BEEN THE SAME. Yet, I often take it for granted. I often "look in the mirror" and think that "I'm doing ok" or "I got this (life) under control."

Romans 3:23 says, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." ALL have sinned...I have sinned. ALL fall short...I fall short. So...if I DON'T see that 19 year old (lost, lonely, confused) EVERY TIME I look in the mirror, I'm in trouble. Why? Because only if I see my unworthiness can I see God's greatness. Only if I see that I am nothing without Him can I be reminded of the "grace by which I have been saved, through faith- and this not from myself, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2: 8-9).

From Cleveland to Charlotte. From loneliness to joy. From confusion to Truth. From anger to love. From persecuting Jesus to living my life for his glory.

...all in the blink of an eye...

Don't ever forget who you were before the grace of God.

Don't ever forget that your sin is no match for his grace.

"My dead heart now is beating,
my deepest stains now clean.
Your breath fills up my lungs,
now I'm free, now I'm free..."
- Charlie Hall ("Marvelous Light")

Friday, June 18, 2010

Blowing things up.

I just returned from Colorado for two weeks of the Athletes in Action Ultimate Training Camps (UTC). This year I was on staff at UTC, but I have also attended camp as a college athlete. We had two separate weeks of camp, each consisting of 100-150 college and professional athletes from around the country. During the week, the athletes learn five "Principles." The Principles teach the athletes how to glorify God using the huge platform/influence they have been given. The main points address the following questions: who or what do you worship? what motivates you? how do you deal with pain/trials? does it matter how you live your life, today? Each of these questions are answered from a Biblical perspective. Athletes are under a lot of pressure both on and off the field and most of the information/images they take in throughout a typical day are from a worldly point of view. Many of the topics addressed at camp are radically different from what our culture tells us. In a world where we are told that pride is a virtue and success and power are important, Jesus calls us to humbly serve others before ourselves.

Let me tell you that God changes lives in 7 days.

Each of the two weeks ends with a Saturday night bonfire. At the end of the first week I laid on a bench next to the camp fire, staring up at the star-filled Colorado night sky. First, I started laughing to myself because I was thinking about how, four years earlier (when I was at camp as an athlete), I laid in that exact same spot, feeling very overwhelmed and a little confused. I had never been in a Christian environment before and, honestly, I thought the people were a little crazy. Really nice...but weird. Then I started to cry to myself because I was thinking about how, three years earlier (my second time at camp as an athlete), I laid in that same spot, staring up at those same stars. My heart felt like it was being ripped into two different directions, but I finally decided that if I was going to really follow Jesus I couldn't do it half-heartedly anymore. It was all or nothing. And I chose ALL.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you the lights went on, everything made sense, and it was easy from there on out. That would be a lie. And I'm not going to tell you that I haven't messed up. That would also be a lie. But I will tell you that I have never, not for one day, regretted that decision I made. Through lots of reading and praying and crying and the guidance & patience of others, God has seriously done a miracle work in my life over the last three years. God doesn't ever let me forget who I was before He changed me and I'm very thankful for that...I don't ever want to forget, because I don't ever want to think that I don't need Him.

That, my friends, is how I crashed into the life that is truly life.

I looked around at all the faces. I only got to know a few of them, but they all have a story. Many lives had been changed, some without them even knowing it. It was awesome to be on staff at camp and to be there to guide/mentor some of the athletes. Just as other people had loved me and shown me who the Jesus of the Bible is, I was given the chance to do the same. Humbling. That's the only word, because I quickly realized that most of the issues people were dealing with are so beyond anything I could say or do. I can't "fix." That's Jesus' work. I can just love and point them to what God says is true and He does the rest.

I want to tell you stories. But there are just too many. Open up the Bible and read one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). I can tell you that those people you will read about...those are the athletes I met at camp. I can also tell you that those people are me and they are you.

It's a beautiful day for God to change a life. Thank you, God, that you don't need me but you use me anyway.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Blue eyes and the touch of freedom.

"On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, "Woman, you are set free from your infirmity." Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God." - Luke 13: 10-13

This woman doesn't have a name, but I have met her. For the sake of this post she will be named "Hope." This is a true story about how this gospel passage has jumped off the pages and into my life. Let me introduce you...

This woman (in the passage) has been "bent" for eighteen years. In another translation it says she was "bowed together," meaning she literally couldn't stand up straight. She was crippled and the only thing she could see, her entire life, was the dirt on the ground.  How painful. How degrading. How insignificant she must have felt.

For Hope, drugs, alcohol, and various forms of self-destruction were her "bent." On the outside she was perfect. A great athlete, straight-A student, 'perfect' family, and she was 'the life of the party.' On the inside...her heart was contorted beyond even her own recognition. Trying so hard to gain significance. She had faked out so many other people she had even faked herself out. And ironically (or not?)...all of this at the age of eighteen. 

Jesus is teaching and, out of the corner of his eye, he sees the woman. He doesn't stare at her with disgust. He sees her. Past the mangled mess. Into her.

Last June, Jesus saw Hope. He didn't see her the way you and I might have looked at her. He saw past the facade and into the heart that was screaming for life. I'm telling you, he saw her in a way that she felt it. 

Jesus called the woman forward. He didn't ignore or insult her. He says, "come to me." She probably couldn't see him, but I wonder if she could recognize her Savior's voice. Even more than that, he gives her FREEDOM. At this point, she is "freed," yet she is still crippled. So, what is the freedom Jesus is referring to? Kinda reminds me of another story where Jesus heals a paralytic. In Matthew 9, Jesus says to the crippled man: "Take heart, son: your sins are forgiven." The pharisees start to grumble and complain, to which Jesus replies, "Which is easier: to say 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...Get up and walk." So, freedom comes not from our physical appearance, but from the grace that only Jesus can give...for our sins.

Jesus whispered, "Hope, come to me. Your sins are forgiven." The outward destruction that consumed her life didn't stop...yet. But something in her heart clicked. Or rather, a small flame was lit. For the first time in her life, she knew what real, genuine love felt like. The significance she had longed for and searched for had finally been found. 

Jesus touches the woman. Immediately she stands up, for the first time in eighteen years. The first person she gets to lock eyes with are the eyes of Jesus. Then she proceeds with the only proper response: praising God, skipping and dancing without shame, through the streets (my own interpretation). 

Jesus walked up to Hope and slowly, over the course of a few months, wrapped his arms around her. For the first time in eighteen years, Hope began to let go. Life is definitely not perfect and not always easy, but addictions and destruction have slowly become things of the past. I have literally watched real healing, drastic life change, and freedom from things that were going to kill her. No joke.

When I talk to Hope I see a glow. It's not just is a daughter who has come alive. This is not just a story on a page. She has a name. She has a face. She is significant. 

Jesus looked Hope square in the eyes and her response was much the same as the woman. A little singing. A little dancing. A little crying. A heart and a life transformed and passionate to not just tell, but to show the world who Jesus is and how legit his healing and love really are. The small flame has become a forest fire.

This HOPE has changed my life. Look around, because I think you probably know her, and that HOPE will change yours.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." -Romans 15:13

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Desperately undone.

"As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. 'Who touched me?' Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, 'Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.' But Jesus said, 'Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.' Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, 'Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.'"
- Luke 8: 42b-48

I love this story because it's about our need. This story of the sick woman (she had been bleeding for 12 years!) is a story about us. It is also a story of the gospel: our need for Someone to save us. 

Jesus doesn't discriminate. He is on his way to the home of a wealthy ruler when he is "interrupted" by this very poor, sick woman. He doesn't hesitate for a second to find the woman in the crowd and heal her. He could have easily continued walking, ignoring her in order to stick  to his "schedule." 

Schedule...hahaha. Nothing in life is random. I think about the little "interruptions" I have in my day and how annoyed I get when my 'plan' is ruined. What a joke. These are actually divine opportunities for God to love his hurting people. 

What does Jesus do first? He heals her physically. She reaches out to grab his cloak and, the instant she touches it, her bleeding stops. Twelve years of bleeding stops in the blink of an eye. That's power. 

Verse 47 is my favorite one in this passage. Jesus turns around to find where his "power had gone out from him," but the woman hides in the crowd. Then, seeing that she CANNOT GO UNNOTICED...FALLS AT HIS FEET. The woman sees her NEED and knows that she can't hide from the King of kings. She is nervous and apprehensive, yet she doesn't say a word. What does she do? She just falls at his feet, vulnerable and exposed. So, now what does he do? He heals her soul. He calls her "daughter." What comfort and freedom she must have felt to know that she is now his. 

We may not be literally bleeding, but everyone's soul is starving. This woman is in a state of desperation. Not until we see our own need will we reach out to grab Jesus' cloak. The crazy thing is that we are desperate, but we're too busy hiding in the crowd- behind people and behind ourselves- to let Jesus heal us. 

Be relentlessly suspicious about your comfortable, satisfying life.

You'll meet Jesus when you need him as much as you need AIR.  

DESPERATION is the standard and reaching for his cloak is the only way. 

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Beautiful mess.

Couldn't God have found someone better?

I ask myself this question as I think about how often I mess up. When I actually sit down and evaluate my life- wait, that's overwhelming. When I sit down to evaluate my day it becomes quickly apparent that I say the wrong things sometimes, fail to do something when I should, give bad advice/guidance to people, make stupid decisions, etc.

I see, daily, that God uses my imperfection to bring about His perfection. It still doesn't make sense to me.

Seriously, God, why me?...

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." -Ephesians 2:10

When I was reading this passage the other day it brought two thoughts into my head. First, that God is the artist. We are His "workmanship" which, according to Webster, is "something made or produced; the quality imparted to a thing in the process of making." This isn't about me. I am the canvas, I can't make myself. God is the one who literally imparts His qualities (love, grace, peace, gentleness, etc.) into me and also through me (i.e. "to do good works").

The second thing that came to mind is that the most beautiful things about art are the quirks and imperfections in it. I do ridiculous, selfish, unloving things sometimes- no, a lot of times. Through encounters with other people, (amidst my disobedience and selfishness, even as a child of God), people are still brought to repentance. God uses me despite my personality.

But He also actually uses me because of my personality. As J.I. Packer writes, "It is a staggering thing, but it is true- the relationship in which sinful human beings KNOW GOD is one in which God, so to speak, takes them onto His staff, to be henceforth His fellow workers and personal friends. From being Satan's prisoner, you find yourself transferred to a position of trust in the service of God." He created us each with unique personalities. We have to fight against these personalities every day because we want to do what WE want to do, not what HE wants to do. The amazing thing about all this is that because of the way we were made- imperfections and all- God can use us to show His own beauty to those around us.

Bent. Chipped. Blotched. Uneven. Inconsistent. Broken.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

My heart turns violently inside of my chest.

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ...So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir." - Galatians 3:26-27...4:3-7

These verses scream two Truths to me: freedom and adoption. Right now, I want to focus on the Truth that, if we have placed our faith in Jesus, we are ADOPTED into the family of God. 

The gospel tells us that we are all sinful people but that, because of God's unbelievable love for us, He sent His son to die in place of our sins. If we choose to believe in and follow Jesus, we receive the blessing that we don't deserve. The blessing is that of eternal life, which starts now and goes on into eternity, as we worship and glorify God in everything we do. Not only are we forgiven but we are, by grace, given the gift of "sonship" or, in other words, we are adopted into God's family. God literally becomes our Father.  "We do not fully feel the wonder of the passage from death to life which takes place in the new birth till we see it as a transition, not simply out of condemnation into acceptance, but out of bondage and destitution into the safety, certainty, and enjoyment of the family of God" (J.I. Packer). Because of this adoption, Christianity is not a religion but an actual, meaningful, loving relationship. 

The knowledge of this love and acceptance through adoption should radically change us and it should bleed into every facet of our lives. Without this adoption, we are orphans- lost and confused. With it, we are given a new identity as a Child of God- and now God treats us as if we have done everything Jesus has done. In the words of Tim Keller: "We are given freedom from liability and rights as sons. If we only think Christ has pardoned us and removed legal liability we are only "half-saved by grace" (requiring us to earn and maintain God's favor and rewards)...but Jesus also gives us the blessing he deserved- we are received and welcomed as heroes." 

Isn't that crazy? God sees Jesus INSIDE of us. We become His "sons" and have access to all the blessings and all the joy that radiates from such a Holy God. The only way, I think, to understand our adoption is to continually see how sinful we are. God requires humility from His children. The second we lose our humility is when we either stray from our Father and His grace, or we turn to "religion" and rule-following. Either way, we become our own savior, trying either to fill our void with an idol or trying to earn our way into the Kingdom by being 'good' and never 'messing up.' Both of these roads will lead to destruction and they will tear us apart. 

Which brings me back to grace. It is by GRACE we have been saved and it is by GRACE that we continue to live and change from the inside out. I just can't get over how amazing it is that God "will not leave us as orphans" (John 14:18).

Instead, He stands on the front porch. As we humbly walk up the driveway, knowing that we can't do it on our own nor with the help of any drug/person/achievement/etc., ...He walks out to meet us- not to reprimand us or say 'I told you so'- but only to HUG us. A loving Father waiting for His messed-up child to come home. Yet, when He looks into our eyes, He sees the beauty of a pure heart. 

"Grace taught my soul to pray,
And pardoning love to know;
'Twas grace that kept me to this day,
And will not let me go." - Unknown

(The previous thoughts were inspired by: "Knowing God" by J.I. Packer and the "For Freedom..." Bible study on the book of Galatians, by Timothy Keller.)