By kimberlygallagher

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spend this year with Jesus

[cross-posted to www.stepforwardtoday.com]

This is not the typical goal-setting, list-making, organizing-your-life type of stuff that you normally read at the beginning of a new year. Whether you’re at the top of the mountain anticipating all that 2019 has waiting for you, or you’re trying to lift your hands in worship from the trenches of brokenness, the key to this next year – and really, the rest of your life – is to take it step-by-step, second-by-second, with God…not just “God with us at Christmas,” but every day. This year: Prioritize deepening your spiritual life.

Walk with God Every Day
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NIV)

  • What are your first thoughts when you wake up? Are you dashing out of bed into the day without any minutes to spare? Even if you can’t set your alarm earlier, make it a habit to tune your thoughts toward God. Thank Him for this new day and ask Him to walk with you through it. If you have concerns, doubts, fears, tell Him. If this is new for you, stick a reminder on your bathroom mirror or other go-to spot to help you recognize God first in your day.
  • As you go through the rest of your day, can you see Jesus with you? Sitting in the chair next to you? How about the passenger seat of your car? In your meeting at work? Working out with you? What would you say to Him? What is He saying to you? God is with us 24/7, but since we can’t visually see Him, use your imagination to picture Him next to you.
  • What time of day is best to call on Jesus? Every second! He’s walking with you and He wants to hear from you. Any moment is a good one to call on Him, talk to Him, thank Him, and bring your needs before Him. He is “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24).

Make Your Decisions with God
“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.” (Isaiah 58:11)

  • No decision is too big or too small for God. If you’re making a decision about anything at all, ask God for His wisdom and guidance…and then be prepared for His answer. He will direct you and inspire you – but you must also be open to His plans and be willing to change yours accordingly.

Practice Being in His Presence
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)

  • To love God and follow Him is to know Him and make time for Him. In addition to walking through the day with Him and consulting Him, the best way to deepen your relationship is to spend time with Him. The silence can be uncomfortable, but simply resting in His Presence is powerful. Maybe you would enjoy sitting in a comfortable spot or going for a walk. There’s no right or wrong way to spend your quiet time with Him…and if you find yourself nodding off, don’t feel guilty; discipline takes practice.

Embrace the Power of His Holy Spirit
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

  • As you’re walking with God daily, consulting Him, getting to know Him through His Word and spending time with Him, rely on the power of His Holy Spirit. It’s His strength that will get you through difficult situations and allow you to take the risks He wants you to take to accomplish His plans and explore the gifts and talents He’s given you.

If you want 2019 to be different, if you want to take charge of your life, if you want to see real change, spend this year with Jesus. If you have questions or need help deepening your spiritual life, reach out. I’m not an expert, but I’m here to walk with you!

Pursuing God with You!

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a tapestry of hope

September 9, 2018 was the day individual accounts of broken stories of restoration multiplied exponentially through the body of Christ and became 1,000+ touchpoints of conversation as Heartland opened its first-ever creative arts exhibition, “Broken Pieces.”

Displayed on panels and tables throughout the lobby, more than 30 works were presented in poetic form, captured on film, pieced together with ceramic tiles, intricately woven with yarn, brushed on with acrylic paints and oils, sculpted, collaged, and drawn with pencil.

Theme aside, these somewhat fragmented displays of artistic works taking up space where comfy couches were normally located could have been placed anywhere except for one defining feature: the exhibit cards. Suddenly, simple white cards bearing the typical piece description became a megaphone for the healing work of Jesus. With one glance, personal trials, struggles with mental illness, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, homelessness, hopelessness, and death multiplied out from darkness to light as every individual’s internal monologue touched 1,000+ lives every time someone read an exhibit card.

2 Corinthians 4:6 says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

God took a simple display of themed creative work and turned it into a tapestry of restoration and hope. Like a stained-glass window, all the panels and tables of artistic broken stories were held together with the love, healing and grace of Jesus.

The Enemy wants us to keep our broken stories, deep hurts, and struggles to ourselves so that we remain isolated, but through the Power of God’s Holy Spirit and the saving work of Jesus on the Cross, there is no limit to what He can accomplish in us and our relationships with others when we make ourselves vulnerable, authentic, and transparent.

1 Corinthians 12:24-26 says, “…But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

The Broken Pieces exhibit is just one more example of the transformational work God can do in our lives when we allow our stories to be used by Him.

Have you experienced Christ’s love and healing in your own broken story? Are you still trying to make sense of everything that’s happened in your life, or are you losing hope? If any of these ring true, please reach out!

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unpack your bags

[cross-posted to www.stepforwardtoday.com]

As part of my fun and curious quest to read the Bible chronologically, I recently read through the book of Leviticus. Quite honestly, I slogged through the book of Leviticus. The entire book is about all of the rules, sacrifices and procedures required to be clean before God — or make atonement for sin — and it completely sets the stage for the time when God would send Jesus to be the ultimate sacrifice for all sins, putting an end to the Levitical system.

I’m a very visual person, so as I was reading, all of these unwanted pictures about what was happening were running through my mind. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be the priest, and I thought about how fearful and dejected the people must have been: “Is this animal an acceptable sacrifice for my sin? Did I follow the right number of days or the right type of sacrifice to be purified?” Can you imagine the burden of living like that every single day?

Many times I asked myself, “Why am I reading this book?” because I was pretty certain God would be cool with me just skipping it. “God, I know you had a plan here, but really? Like this is what you came up with?” However, I knew if I kept reading, there was going to be some little gem in there that God was going to speak to me through. By the time I got to chapter 26, I was beginning to doubt that this gem existed in Leviticus, but then, there it was in verses 12 and 13:

“I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.”

What a great illustration of what God is doing in our lives TODAY. Maybe your response looks like mine: “Yes God! YOU walk with me daily. Through the power of Your Holy Spirit and by the grace and mercy shown me through Jesus Christ, I am no longer a slave to sin or any part of my past. Because YOU have broken the chains of my bondage, I am new…transformed before You.”

I encourage you to be fully free in Jesus Christ. And if you have a personal relationship with Christ but you’re hanging onto some stuff, I encourage you to take the baggage of your past hurts, disappointments, stress, lack of confidence, negative feelings, and root causes of your addictions and hand it all over to God. You can stand tall with your head held high (Lev. 26:13), knowing “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).

Let me know how I can help you on your journey of being continually transformed. We’re in this together!

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unraveling = freedom

[cross-posted to www.stepforwardtoday.com]

The song starts, “You unravel me with a melody…”

While singing those words during worship last month, the word “unraveled” stuck with me. Various images came to my mind like when a hanging thread gets pulled and an entire seam comes apart, or when soft threads start to separate and create a hole in a favorite sweater. But we sang, “YOU unravel me” — YOU, God, unravel me. My trusty Google search produced this definition:

Isn’t that interesting? Let’s look at the first part of the definition: “undo” or “untangle.” The idea of unraveling is much more acceptable when we’re talking about fabric. We, as people, usually try to appear “put together” – not “undone” or coming apart in any form. But something beautiful happens in the purposeful unraveling of ourselves: like threads separating, unraveling creates space.

Loosening up the threads of our lives like our tightly wound personas, our impossibly busy schedules, our death grip on the things and people that are important to us, and our sin entanglements provides space for us to breathe…reflect…become free…and trust in God and experience Him more fully.

The second part of the definition reads “investigate, solve, explain, unscramble.” The action of unraveling ourselves and walking more purposefully with God draws us closer to Him. As we dive in deeper, He draws us closer and we achieve a greater understanding of His mystery, love, power and holiness.

So, how do we become unraveled? What does that look like? Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Examine your schedule. Is every activity necessary? Why? What can you delete?
  • Examine your lifestyle. What is important to you? Who are you trying to impress? Why?
  • Examine your secrets. Are you willing to give them up? God already knows about the hidden sin areas of your life and loves you outrageously. Talk to God and reach out to a pastor for help.
  • What other areas can you look at?

Unraveling = freedom. Like threads separating, we too can create space in our lives to more fully experience God and share the outrageous love of Jesus with everyone around us.

Unravel with me!

did God make you a musketeer?

Last fall, I did the unthinkable: I became a binge-TV-watching couch potato, diving into all three seasons of the BBC adaptation of “The Musketeers” – and my newfound habit was supported by an entire global community of Twitter peeps hashtagging the same series. I was not looking for “God moments.” My only aim was to satisfy my curiosity about the love story between Musketeer Aramis and Queen Anne — and I did, and experienced all the brilliantly crafted stories, characters, action, costumes, and chivalry. It was a fantastic cinematic work, and surprisingly, peppered with quite a few “God moments” (just like God to show up when you least expect Him!).

I want to share with you one small moment in episode 1 of Season 3, so spiritually monumental that I couldn’t let it go — in fact, I rewound it multiple times because I was so awestruck by what was happening. [SPOILER ALERT!]

By the opening of the third season, Musketeer Aramis had been serving as a monk for four years, living up to the vow he made to God at the end of Season 2 that he would dedicate his life to God’s service for saving the Queen, and himself, from death for their treasonous affair. When the monastery comes under attack, Aramis is unexpectedly reunited with his Musketeer brothers —and reconnected with his purpose. After the monastery is secured, we find Aramis standing in the upper balcony of the chapel, talking to God, considering his future. He says:

“I thought I understood Your plan. Now You seem to be showing me another path. In the middle of all the danger and excitement today, You were closer to me than at any time in all my years here. I’ve never felt so… ALIVE. This is what You made me… [smiles in revelation]… a Musketeer.”

Stop! Was this character just standing there having a conversation out loud with the invisible God? And was he just in the middle of seeking and understanding God’s purpose for his life?

I love this scene because it points out very simply and beautifully how we can talk with God and how we can hear from God. I also appreciate this complex and imperfect character mirroring our own devotion to God, our own struggle with sin, and yet persevering to constantly seek God’s will. Let’s explore that for a second.

Aramis had been a conflicted character throughout the series. On one side he was a man of faith completely devoted to God, often seen praying or reading his Bible, and even his uniform reflected his minister status. He was loyal to the King’s service and his fellow Musketeers. He was merciful in battle and showed great compassion to the disenfranchised in need of justice, and even the criminals brought to justice by the Musketeer’s hand. And yet, on the other side, Aramis was drawn into forbidden romantic relationships, with Queen Anne being the most consequential and life-altering.

Conflicted, complex, imperfect Aramis represents Everyman (let’s just say Everychristian) because we, as Christians saved by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, are all imperfect, complex and often conflicted. Any one of us could complete this description:

[INSERT YOUR NAME _____________] is completely devoted to God, often seen praying or reading the Bible, loyal to friends and family, a fantastic employee, etc. and yet, drawn to [INSERT SIN STRUGGLE____________].

We can be shocked, dismayed, or judgmental about the choices made by Aramis, but if we’re honest, we are all struggling with vices, choices, and addictions that we need God’s help to overcome, whether in thought or action — and those struggles can be a stark contrast to our love for God.

Here are some points we can take away from Aramis’ prayer:

  • Prayer is just a conversation with God. Prayer takes on different methods and forms. I’m not an expert, but the big idea is to communicate with God daily. Whether you bow your head in a private place, speak out loud while you’re washing dishes, or end up on the floor in brokenness, God wants to hear from you. “The Lord is near to all who call on him…” (Psalm 145:18)
  • God has a mission for YOU. Since this is not 16th century Paris, God is probably not calling you to be a Musketeer, but whether it’s a nurse, doctor, architect, social worker, police officer, teacher, software engineer, janitor, chef, actor, or a million other roles, God’s mission for you is important, and it will encompass the skills and abilities that he has been preparing you to use. Much like Aramis rediscovered the joy and passion in serving God as the Musketeer he was equipped to be, God will equip you for what He’s calling you to do, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
  • You don’t have to be involved in ministry or be “spiritual” to be closer to God. Every day is an opportunity to nurture and deepen your relationship with God by spending time with Him, relying on Him, reading His Word and listening for His voice. If you can take a retreat week/weekend to spend extra focused time with Him, you may be surprised at how and what He speaks to you, but the most important part is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)
  • God’s calling for you can fulfill your deepest passions. It’s not God’s desire for you to sleep-walk through life. He created each of us with passions and abilities. Similar to Aramis realizing the point at which he felt most “alive” was relying on God in his role as a Musketeer, the place where your passions and abilities intersect with God’s plan for you (and meet the needs of His people!) is an unparalleled “sweet spot” that will allow you to experience God in a deeper, more passionate way. “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11)
  • God’s mission for you can change. God has a plan for you in all seasons of life. As Aramis said, “I thought I understood Your plan. Now you seem to be showing me another path…” God will show you His plans “when you seek Him with all of your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13), whether you seek him in the upper balcony of the monastery, the shower, or the middle of your living room floor.

If this article is sparking questions in your mind like “How can I hear the voice of God?” “How can I know what God is calling me to do?” “How do I know what I’m equipped for?” I invite you to begin a conversation with your pastor or ministry leader. None of us involved in ministry have it all together — it’s just our passion to come alongside you and help you discover God’s work in your own life.

Join me on the journey!

the shoreline of perspective

[cross-posted to www.stepforwardtoday.com]

[VIDEO CLIP]theshorelineofperspective

Standing on the shore, looking out at the expanse of water and sky – nothing but water…sun…clouds…and the whooshing sound of the waves as the tide goes in…and out.

Breathing in salty air…breathing out life.

Clearing my mind.

Clearing my soul.

Gaining perspective.

Sometimes God places us on the shore – to rest and retreat away from the crashing waves of chaos that push and pull at us: – that space of creative silence where we can’t generate content or pour ourselves out. That place of perspective and discernment where we don’t speak, but instead tune into what God is speaking to us.

This unexpected shore of perspective might be a job change, an illness, a shift in family dynamics…some life event or situation that causes us to step back and take stock of the situation, to reprioritize and reconnect with what is important.

“Since we live by the Spirit let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)

Sometimes we feel sidelined on the shore.

Sometimes we feel passed by on the shore.

Sometimes we feel alone on the shore.

But the shore is a vital part of our walk with the Lord. If we live our entire lives walking on the busy, crowded water of our mission, or tossing in the chaos waves of the storm, we will miss what the Holy Spirit can only say to us in the quiet, decluttered spaces.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

Stillness, retreat and silence are all necessary parts of our relationship with God. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily details of the task or mission, and even easier to make those details about the things we want instead of what God wants for us. Spending time in stillness and silence draws us closer to our Creator, deepens our faith, strengthens our relationship with Him, and reminds us that His plans are greater than what we can understand in our limited knowledge.

Time on the shore of perspective is time to allow God to bring the components of our lives into focus so that we can head back into the water with His Purpose, to let Him accomplish what only God can do.

#endhumantrafficking

[cross-posted from my facebook page]

“What’s on your mind?” facebook asks me, inviting me to update my status even when I need to finish a project right now. Well, friends and “facebook” I’ve had a really heavy subject on my heart for a few days now, and it’s one that I’ve posted about before. It’s the heart-pounding, blood-pressure-rising, instant-headache-inducing, gut-wrenching, sickening problem of human trafficking.

And it’s everywhere.

Whether you live in the inner city, the ‘burbs, or a ranch in the country, there’s no escaping these crimes against the innocent.
Sure, you can look the other way and pretend that it doesn’t exist, but the fact is that girls – from elementary school through adult age – are being taken and forced into a “life” of sex, drugs, porn and prostitution.

Not exactly dinner conversation.

Look at your kids, or your nearest relatives, or kids’ friends. There they are: loved, happy, playing with toys and friends, going to school, dreaming, with their whole lives in front of them as it should be.

Not so for so many whose lives have been completely shattered. And, really, it’s so stomach sickening when you think about these little girls, as young as age 9, being forced to have sex multiple times a day for $4 each in Brazil, in the slums right outside of the Olympic arenas. And then there are the drugs that are forced on them.

And not just in Brazil and Bangladesh but right here in the U.S. and in our backyards. It’s the same – just more expensive.

So, why am I sharing this? What can any of us do? Well, I’m still figuring it out for myself, but I made a list to get us started…

1. Raise awareness about human trafficking, just like this post I’ve written. Share this post with your audiences. And, as awkward and disgusting as it is, talk about it. The more we bring the darkness to light, the greater chance awareness leads to rescue for the girls and women that are suffering.

2. Pray – for the innocents that are suffering and for the organizations and rescue teams that work in these difficult places. Some of these organizations are World Vision USA, Polaris, Rescue:Freedom International, Meninadança, Operation Underground Railroad, A21 , Rahab Ministries, Medina County Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force.

3. Get involved – Organizations are always looking for volunteers.

4. Give – There a bunch of non-profit organizations that are fighting the war on human trafficking and they always need financial support.

5. Sponsor a child and save a generation from trafficking. World Vision USA comes to my mind first because our family just had the opportunity to walk through the @World Vision Experience: Into The Margins Heartland Community Church over the weekend.

6. Keep your eyes open and report suspicious activity to local law enforcement or national authorities.

7. When you’re out with kids, keep a close eye. If you send them for an errand (getting in a line to buy an ice cream, etc.), or you let them go to the public bathroom by themselves, or countless other scenarios, be aware!! Where are the exits? How crowded is the area? Who are the people nearby? How close are you if you need to step in? I realize this may sound ridiculous, but traffickers often work in pairs and they know when a child is vulnerable. We want to raise our kids to have these independent reward experiences, but safety must come first.

8. ??? I’m sure I’ve missed a hundred ideas but hopefully this post will help get the conversation started. If we all pray one prayer, have one conversation, pay a little extra attention, and ask God to open our hearts & minds, He will use us, and it will make a difference. Why and How? Because girls are being rescued and God is changing hearts, and piecing the wreckage back together…even in the darkest places.
‪#‎endhumantrafficking‬ ‪#‎humantrafficking‬

I glimpsed the heart of God

I caught a glimpse of my mom earlier. She went home to be with the Lord three years ago and there are so many little circumstances and random things that happen that remind me of her.

Earlier tonight I was tucking in our youngest, who is 6 years old going on 20. She was all cozy in her blankets, holding onto her snuggle elephant, saying, “Mommy, I love you sooo much. I don’t want to grow up and I’m not going to leave you, and I don’t want you to ever die.” I reassured her and told her how special she is, and how excited I am for her future and the plans God has for her.

Her bright smile lit up her eyes. It was one of those sweet, cuddly, nose-to-nose moments where your heart just spills over with joy for this sweet gift in front of you.

That’s when it happened: In that short moment, I caught a glimpse of  my mom and it was as if my mom and I were in the same body.

In an instant, I saw my mom’s smile and the joy on her face as she looked at me with such happiness and love — which was probably a million times throughout our years together, over the smallest of things and mostly for no reason at all, just because. And that’s exactly the same way I was looking at my mini-me as she spoke to me some of the same things I would’ve said to my mom when I was small.

Children mirroring parents. It’s awe-inspiring and a little frightening how much we learn from each other without even trying.

Not only did I experience my mom’s love for me on another level, but I glimpsed the heart of God.

We, as parents, and our parents, and generations before, pour out love for our children as unconditionally as we possibly can. How much more does our Father God love us?

For as much as our hearts overflow when our children say, “I love you”, how much more do we bless the heart of God when we worship, adore, praise, and share our hearts with Him?

Be encouraged that God is in every second of our lives, constantly watching over us, constantly walking with us, and constantly loving us even when we feel unlovable, even when we run away, even when we mess up.

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God…”
— 1 John 3:1

 

worship

forward in love and worship

[cross-posted to www.stepforwardtoday.com]

We step forward in love

…Our hearts overflowing in thankfulness for the mercy and grace we’ve been given. Rescued from the pit of death we deserved, we have no choice but to say, “Yes God. Use me.”

We step forward with our gifts and talents

…Using everything we’ve been given to point people to Jesus. We sing, we sweep floors, we take tickets, we serve coffee, we design buildings, we engineer sidewalks, we direct traffic, we run companies, we discover new formulas, and we take every opportunity to say, “It’s not me. God makes it all possible.”

We step forward in faith

…Pushing past the blinding fear of failure and mockery. Our heart beating out of our chest, palms sweating, we make the phone call, we put in the application, we set up the meeting, we take the class, and we say, “OK God – I trust You.”

We step forward in worship

…Our hands lifted high, with all that we are, we surrender and we worship our King, our Redeemer, our Savior. We say, “I love you God.”

 

YOU are a Disciple

[cross-posted to www.stepforwardtoday.com]

Whatever your age, circumstances, etc., if Jesus is your Savior, you are the next generation of Apostles. You are a Disciple of Christ. Just as Jesus prayed for all Believers in John 17 (reference below), He has prayed for you now:

Verse 20 “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.”

Jesus is praying for all new Believers that will hear the Gospel Message. And how will they hear this message? Through YOU, through me, and countless Believers as we share the Good News of Jesus Christ and His saving work on the cross – a message spread as far as God gives us reach.

Another part of this prayer that struck me was verse 24, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”

Jesus longs for us to be with Him. Do you long to be with Him too? Does your heart ache for a dying world?

May we have that same love and longing for our families, our neighbors, our co-workers and people all over the world as we seek to live our calling as the next generation of Disciples.

————————————————
John 17 – Jesus Prays for All Believers
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.