You are so brave.

Our church has this beautiful song I love called “Mighty Warrior.”

It reminds us that our God is fighting for us. That he is victorious. That HIS name is power.

I want to remind you today that you are so brave. That in Christ, you too are a mighty warrior.

Today, I’m reminding myself I’m brave. Because a friend of mine needs our help.

Last February, when a small team of us from Elevation went to visit East Africa to document the impact we’re making together through the generosity of our church – we met a young man named Francis Kome. He was born in the Nuba mountains region of Sudan. His people are being terrorized by a dictator who is criminal wanted by the UN for the genocide in Darfur. Today I’m asking you to consider helping my friend Francis and his people.

Francis faces real fear every day. Not just the fear of failure, or the fear that I’m not smart enough, not pretty enough, or not good enough. Those are my fears. His are that his family and everyone he knows will die. At any moment. And that is a daily threat. Yet he has such a strong faith, and he inspires me. And it is my brave wish today that we will stand in the gap for my friend Francis. That we will give what we can to help him go to university in Nairobi so he can bring hope and practical help to the people of Nuba.

You can read more of his story here on a You Caring site we’ve created for him.

When you give today, we’ll send you a gift from the people of the new nation of South Sudan.

Please pray for Francis and his people. For peace. For provision. For freedom. For continued bravery and strength in the face of fear. Pray that they are reminded today that our God is a mighty warrior who is always fighting for them.

Every Friday, Lisa-Jo Baker at lisa-jobaker.com provides a prompt for 5-Minute Friday. She explains it here. The idea is for anyone to write for five minutes on a word that Lisa-Jo posts at 1 minutes past midnight (Eastern Standard Time) every Friday. No preparation, no editing, no perfectionism. And then you post it on your blog, the only rule being that you visit the blog of the person who posted before you. Today I dedicate my five-minute Friday to everyone who’s ever let fear hold them back. The word is mighty.

Lisa-Jo has a beautiful new book coming out this Tuesday. It’s called Surprised by Motherhood. My friend @LysaTerKeurst says “Lisa-Jo inspires me to look for God in every moment of my own beautiful but imperfect motherhood journey.” – See more at: http://lisajobaker.com/surprised-by-motherhood/#sthash.cS0u5CnD.dpuf

What brings you hope?

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We are not alone. There are more than 7 Billion people on the planet with us right now.

There are people in our homes, next door to us, across the street. We cross paths with people every day on the way to work, to school, to buy groceries. So why is it we can be in a room full of people and feel so alone? Researchers say it’s not the quantity, but the quality of our relationships that matters. It turns out that loneliness may be more dangerous than obesity, and an even higher risk-factor for early death than smoking.

An AARP study of adults 45+ shows loneliness has doubled. 40% of adults in two surveys said they were lonely, up 20% from the 80′s.

It turns out we need to be known. “Our very health and well being depend on our ability to form and maintain satisfying social connections with one another,” says researcher and author of Loneliness, John T. Cacioppo.

Isolation, loneliness, and discouragement can cause us to lose hope. In her recent “Crash the Chatterbox” sermon, Holly Furtick referenced the story of Leah and pointed to 6 ways we can conquer discouragement in our lives. She talks about choosing to praise – even when we don’t feel like it.

Of course my favorite point in Holly’s sermon was to “look beyond.” Seeking out someone else who needs a lift is a great way to boost our own spirits. Luke 6:38 says “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

This weekend at Elevation Church, we’ll be announcing some of our new outreach initiatives. One of them is a focus on seniors. We believe we have an opportunity and responsibility to lift up and encourage our elderly neighbors. Together we’ll be working with our current outreach partners like Hands on Charlotte and new ones like Blessed Assurance to spark and nurture new relationships with older friends.

Together, we can help others find their hope – thereby renewing our own. Enjoy this extended version of Hillsong’s “With Everything” and let your hope, rise. Tell me what brings you hope – and let me know how I can pray for you.

Hillsong – With Everything from With Everything on Vimeo.

Why gratitude?

I often feel like I’m a fraud. Because “cultivating gratitude daily” (the current subtitle of this blog) is more like a dream than it is a reflection of my life and the reality of what I’m actually doing and feeling.

But then I recall the truths God has been teaching me through his servants: “our feelings lie and we get to boss them around” (via @JoyceMeyer) and because “some of this disappointment is neurotic… worse than trivial; it is simply the sour fruit of self-absorption…” (via @JohnOrtberg) and because I’ve come to believe that gratitude changes everything – “Perspective can always adopt gratitude *and gratitude always parents joy.*” (via @AnnVoskamp) I’m “staying at it.” (via @KenJCosta)

Thankfully, the more I fill my mind with the right human voices that tell me “Don’t Stop on 6” and “Cancel the Audition” and to “Pound the Ground” and the more I get into God’s word to know HIM he guides me to remember his truths about who I am in him.

I didn’t expect this to be a daily battle (even minute by minute battle). I thought somehow that when I accepted Christ, and when I really decided to devote my life to him that somehow the enemy IN me would shut up. But it doesn’t get easier to choose gratitude over self-pity and self-absorption. It’s just better.

I’ve been in the self-pity place. In the self-absorbed place. Where did that get me? Stuck. Paralyzed. Angry. Frustrated. Overwhelmed.

I choose gratitude because I know when I do, it’s a shot at the devil. I pick up my sword and I fight the battle. I sling another stone at that loser who keeps trying to keep me from doing what God’s called me to. I pray for my husband (even though this is not what I want or how I feel or what seems natural). I pray for my children (even though they’re ungrateful, and self-absorbed and say the rottenest things) and I remember this verse:

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners,

Christ Jesus might display his immense patience

as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

(1 Timothy 1:16 NIV)

Because without Jesus, I’m just like my children.

Ungrateful. Self-absorbed. Prone to saying all the wrong things.

But in Jesus, I am Beautiful. Loved. Lovely. Encouraging. Joyful. Peaceful. Patient. Kind.

And you are, too lovely friend. In Christ you are perfect. Thank you sweet friends for sharing this journey with me.

Am I hanging with the right crowd?

It’s no longer Friday – but I promised myself I’d be intentional about blogging in 2014 – so here’s my #FMFParty (Five-minute Friday) thoughts on Lisa-Jo Baker‘s “crowd” prompt.

My wonderful husband in 2013 challenged our family to recognize the sabbath on Fridays. Since we’re blessed to be on staff at Elevation Church together, it’s our best day to spend together as a family, reflecting on God’s glory and goodness without distraction.

But it’s not easy for me to unplug. shut down. ignore the texts, emails, deadlines, and phone calls that ping at me all day. So Sean takes my phone away. Seriously.

He read a book called 24/6 in late 2012 that inspired his leading our family to “remember the sabbath.” It’s the only commandment that begins with “remember” says author/physician Matthew Sleeth - “it’s almost as if God knew we’d forget,” he says.

So on Fridays, when I could be spending time with friends, neighbors, coworkers or colleagues – I’m at home, spending time reading and playing baseball and board games with my family. We talk, we play, we get messy, we laugh. We don’t go anywhere. It’s weird, really. But I like it. I used to use Fridays to get caught up on everything I didn’t get done the rest of the week – cleaning, writing, answering calls/emails, and all manner of working.

On Fridays, my crowd is my family. And it’s just right.

From determined to devoted

My super-woman sister reminded me this weekend about how our father taught us NEVER to use the word, “can’t.” It’s not a word he would say. We don’t use that word in this house. You CAN.

This is the kind of determination I learned growing up. To jut out my chin and put up my fist and say “Yes I can!”

The trouble was my father would use plenty of other words (other than can’t) in our house that seemed just fine. The four-letter kind I learned to utter in my own frustration. This and other crazy things that happened in my house growing up led me to constantly question, “Does my father really love me?” .. because the words and the actions didn’t always match up.

Of course I knew my earthly father loved me, the best way he knew how. I’m so grateful for how he gave me so much. But I’m learning now that his imperfect love led to a lot of confusion in my little girl heart.

My dad was bullied and beat up as a young boy. So he learned to raise his fist at the world and with a long list of curse words say, “YES – I – CAN!” He was determined to live. To survive. To prove those guys wrong.

No matter how imperfect my dad was, I always admired his determination. But like any good human quality like passion, intelligence, confidence, and even courage – if we’re not rooted in the right place we will find these qualities can only get us so far. And I’m finding, they can actually keep us from the life God wants for us.

Philippians 4:23 says “I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST who strengthens me.”

I’m grateful for the opportunity to be under the teaching of the best of the best. Pastor Steven Furtick’s book Crash the Chatterbox is a must-have for anyone who’s ever struggled with the lies of insecurity, fear, condemnation, or discouragement. This past weekend at Elevation, his wife and my friend Holly Furtick preached an incredibly practical message on discouragement I know I’ll go back to again and again.

Through this consistent teaching, and studying God’s word on my own, I’m learning how instead of overcoming my fears through Christ’s power IN me, I’ve been consistently denying my fears and pushing past them in my own strength. And with two little boys and a husband and a rewarding ministry and demanding schedule – my strength is a limited resource.

Today, I’m learning how to move from being determined (in my own strength) to being devoted to the one whose resources are unlimited.

Thank you, Jesus for this day. I am a limited being. I can’t do everything in front of me today on my own. But your word says that IN YOU I can. I have to be smart, Jesus – I can’t say YES today to everything that’s placed in front of me, so I ask that you’d sift the work of my hands. Help me to discern what tasks are mine alone God – which ones I can delegate to others on this journey with me – and which ones I should push aside for another day. More than anything God today I want to know you better, and be devoted to you. I trust that as I devote my life to you, your love will overflow through me so I can bring YOUR peace, YOUR joy, and YOUR love to those around me. Thank you for first loving me. Amen.

Am I willing to listen?

My sweet mama from Spokane says I started talking in full sentences at 8 months of age and never stopped. Speaking was never a problem. Listening has always been a problem.

I’ve got words, baby. Plenty of them. And they’ve gotten my in trouble plenty of times. Like that time I pulled over at the start-finish line and told the flagman what I really thought of his abilities. Or that time I told my boss what I really thought about his criticism. And so on. And so on.

My dad used to say, “Remember to put your brain in gear before putting your mouth in motion.” I remember him telling me that maybe a dozen times.

James 1:19 says “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this; Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry…”

Quick to listen. Slow to speak. Seems like maybe I’ve had it turned around for awhile.

I’ve always admired good listeners. I’ve decided I want to be more like that.

Today I will breathe more.

Pray more. Listen more.

Why can’t I make them happy?

I am far too easily distracted. Do you have this problem, too or is it just me? And many of these distractions come because I have trouble discerning the difference between what is my business, and what is God’s.

Recently, I told our spring 2014 class of Elevation Church Interns about a dangerous prayer I often pray.

It is, “God, show me someone to love for you today.” It’s dangerous because God is so faithful. And it helps me notice the people who need a touch of his presence in their lives. But sometimes I find myself getting in the way of what he wants to do.

Jesus makes this point in John 21:21-22 – When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that I can’t make everyone happy. I can’t can’t fix everything. In fact, I can’t really fix much of anything at all on my own. This is especially true with my amazing husband and kids. Oswald Chambers talks about this in a devotion called, “What is that to you?”

Probably the worst part of my fixer mentality is thinking I really know what’s best for other people. “It takes a long time to realize the danger of being an amateur providence,” says Chambers devo – “that is, interfering with God’s plan for others. You see someone suffering and say, “He will not suffer and I will make sure that he doesn’t.”

It doesn’t mean we choose not to care. It doesn’t mean we don’t give to worthy causes, or give when someone has an immediate need that God has given us the opportunity to meet. We should do these things. It also means we should pray and be with people who are suffering. But as I learned in the Nuba mountains of Sudan, when people are in desperate need – the only thing of value I really have to offer personally, is Jesus.

“Your part is to maintain the right relationship with God so that His discernment can come through you continually for the purpose of blessing someone else.” (Chambers)

Maybe I should also be praying, “God please work in me and through me, but help me stay out of your way today.”

For more, check out these great Elevation Church sermons from the archive:

Frustrations of a Fixer, You be Jesus – Let God be God.

If you’re interested, these are a couple great books that have helped us frame our strategies in Elevation Outreach – Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts.

And for more on the work we got to do together through Elevation Outreach in East Africa watch our 2013 documentary, Beyond the Banner.