God, Life, Uncategorized, Up

What a Gift

This letter-turned-blog post was written to and for the women attending Mountain View Fellowship’s Women’s Retreat this past March, but it’s applicable for everyone.  The retreat focused on the book of James.

To my sisters at Mountain View Fellowship,

I have been cooking most of my family’s meals from my mom’s cookbook lately.  It’s a self-published one that she had printed when she was 75.  It contains the tastes and scents I remember from my childhood, my teenage years, and all the years I went “back home” for visits with brand new babies or for holidays that were always more special because we were together. Creating things to nurture and sustain the bodies of the ones I love out of this simple book helps me to feel close to her and like I’m doing something she’d be proud of.


I think about my hands making the same motions hers did when I roll out the dough that should be “thin as a quarter” for Sausage Pinwheels or drop home-made dumplings“directly into the bubbles” of a boiling pot of what will become Chicken and Dumplings. I have a couple of pictures of my mother’s hands.  One is from a cooking class we took together several years ago as she’s forming a croissant, and another is much more recent. As I get older, it seems that more times than not, when I look down at my own hands it’s hers that I see. This definitely produces mixed emotions. 😉

My family lost her unexpectedly on the 29th of November.  It was unexpected because, even though she was 82, she was healthier, spunkier, and more active than most people I knew.  Early that morning, she developed a tear in her Aorta that was bleeding into her heart.  She survived two ambulance rides to different hospitals and then several hours waiting for an operating room to open up; it was such a relief to know she had made it that far. My father and sister spent several precious hours with her awake and talking, though she was in a great deal of pain.

I was at the airport by 8am, ticket in hand, thinking that I was going to help my mom recover from major surgery in which her chest would be cracked open. I wouldn’t arrive in Houston until 2pm with a change of planes and time zones. It felt like forever, and as it turned out, it was.  As my plane was descending on the short trip from Austin into Houston, my phone went crazy with alerts.  For some reason, I felt that instead of reading any messages, I should try to call Donn. I didn’t even know if the call would go through-we were still at about 20,000 feet, but it did. Through tears, he told me that we had lost her.

God in his great mercy had me sitting next to a woman who knew Him.  We hadn’t spoken a word to each other the entire flight and I was even irritated that she chose to sit next to me on a mostly empty plane when everyone on it could have had an entire row to themselves. But she heard my phone call, and she heard me say, “Oh no…” and knew something wasn’t right.  She asked if I was ok and I said the words, “I just lost my mom… I was trying to get to her.” Without hesitating, she put her arms around me and pulled me into her tightly.  The first word I heard her speak was “Jesus…”  and she began whispering a prayer of strength and mercy into my ear as I fell apart. She sat with me after we landed minutes later and rubbed my back and prayed until I felt strong enough to stand, which took about twenty minutes. She said she’d be praying for me, I thanked her profusely, and we hugged goodbye. I never even knew her name, but I love her to this day, and I think she probably feels the same way.

As James puts it in chapter 1, verse 17, she was a good and perfect gift that came down from the Father of the heavenly lights during one of the worst moments of my life.  And that is what I pray for you this weekend and beyond, my dear sisters; that you will begin to see the Good and Perfect Gifts your Father has provided for you, even in the worst of circumstances.

First of all, you are here, in this beautiful place, with these beautiful women.  What a gift.

Whether you know Christ or not, He is here, pursuing you and loving you.  What a gift.

Maybe your marriage is going through a rough patch, you’re separated, the divorce is final, or you’re wondering if you’ll ever find someone who will commit to you in the first place-there are women here who have been exactly where you’re at and can speak wisdom into your pain.  What a gift.

Maybe you’re struggling with your finances and are feeling hopeless about things ever getting better-but you still have a roof over your head, and food on your table, and people around you to struggle with and struggle for… What a gift.

Maybe all you want is a child of your own and it just hasn’t happened, or a doctor told you it will never happen.  Your heart may be broken, but know that God is doing something in the midst of your emptiness. He’s refining and comforting you and reminding you that He doesn’t give empty presents.  Your story is not finished.  What a gift.

Maybe you avoid looking in the mirror because you’re so unhappy with what you see-whether it’s too large or too small, too much this way or not enough that way.  Maybe you feel like a constant failure because you can’t control your weight, and you feel like you’ll never measure up to the impossible standard you’ve set for yourself.  But you’ve been given this body, and it’s strong, able, and healthy- and though it may not be perfect, it serves as the hands and feet of Christ and can help and serve, minister, and love… What a Gift.

Maybe your body is broken down with illness and you don’t feel good much of the time, that you’re not half as useful to God as you could be if only you were healthy.  Maybe you live under the shadow of knowing that a disease of the body or of the mind may likely come your way, as it has to others in your family… and you’re terrified.  Remember that God can use you right where you are and he wrote your story before you were born.  You are exactly who he created you to be and he is strong enough to carry you when you are weak and he can even use your weakness to rescue others.  What a gift.

Finally sisters, remember the best and most perfect gift that came down from the Father of Heavenly Lights is Christ Himself, and we are his reflection.  Your feet have walked the same earth and can carry the same good news.  Your hands can heal, whether through touch and prayer or by preparing a meal for a friend in need. He created you and knows you intimately and can use you just as you are. He loves you so much he keeps you safe in the palm of his hand. Remember that when you look down at your hands, no matter your age, it’s really His hands you’re seeing.

If it has escaped you, know that you are not too far gone to feel real joy again-whether you’re in the midst of anger you can’t shake or grief you can’t outrun.  Your spirit can experience true peace again, even in the churning storm that may be your life. And just like coming into the family of God, all we have to do is ask Him for it. 1 John 5:14-15 (NLT) says, “And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him.  And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.”

What a gift.

I’m praying for you this weekend!

Love, Angie

God, Up


Lonely girl

If you’ve been attending MVF for the last few weeks you know we just wrapped up a financial message series.  So it seems like all I’ve studied out of scripture for the last couple of months has been money related.  But it’s been amazing how much money and our relationship with Jesus have in common.

Many of you at MVF are plugged into and serving on different teams based upon how God has gifted you and what your passions are.  As lead pastor, I serve on a lot of those teams but the one team I’m purposely not part of is the Benevolence Team. It’s because in some situations, I can have a hard heart towards people who are struggling financially.  I blame it on my former law-enforcement background, but the reality is it’s a flaw and I’m praying God will soften my heart.

Now that I’ve told you I struggle with a hard heart and setting aside my fear you’ll think worse of me, I want to tell you a story.  I recently had a conversation with someone who came into the MVF offices seeking financial assistance.  This person was behind on his bills, close to his electric being shut off, and facing evection.  I obviously asked a lot of questions like, “Are you currently working?” and “What are you doing to better your life by bringing in more income?”  Long story short, he wasn’t working or searching for a job but frustrated because he didn’t have any money.  He gave me the distinct impression that, although he wasn’t interested in earning an income, it was everyone else’s fault he was broke and couldn’t make his bills.

Anyone hearing this story would say it’s impossible for this man to get to a better place without doing his part (even if you have a soft heart).  It’s an easy equation: no work = no money.  No money = no house, heat, clothes, or food.  It’s so easy to see when it comes to our financial situation but I think the same thing could be said about our relationship with Jesus (you thought this was going to be about finances, didn’t you?).

The problem is this: both financial and spiritual bankruptcy lead to emptiness and desperation.  I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve talked to who have told me the same story in different ways.  “Jesus doesn’t seem real in my life. I used to feel like I had a good relationship with Jesus but He seems so far away now.  I don’t feel close to Him at all.”  I ask them all the same questions I recently asked the penniless guy standing in our office.  “Are you currently working at fostering a relationship with Jesus?” and “What are you doing to better your life by bringing in more of Jesus?”  Unfortunately, the majority of the responses involve blank stares.  Apparently that equation is easy to identify in our financial life but harder to recognize in our spiritual life.  See, a relationship implies that two people are moving toward one another.  If you’re not feeling close to Jesus, guess who moved (Hint: It wasn’t him.)

There’s a song I love by Daniel Bashta from about five years ago called I Want It All.  The song is about an authentic pursuit of Jesus and not settling for an emotional experience.  The phrase in that song that haunts me for days every time I hear it played is “the stench of hollowness.”  Unfortunately, this is where many Christians live there spiritual lives; in hollowness.  And make no mistake about it, there’s a stench.  It stinks when your relationship with Jesus, something that should be the passion of your life, is just a religion.  It stinks when churches, the body of Christ who is risen, are dead.  We think we’re the only ones that know we’re hollow, but believe me, even an unbelieving world can smell it.


We need an awakening; not just for us but for a lost world around us to see Jesus.  Instead of causing us to walk away from Jesus, hollowness should make us run to Him.  We need to develop a passion for Jesus; not just on the surface, but to the very depths of our being.  Are you satisfied with your current relationship with Jesus?  Do you desire something more, something real?  If you’re feeling tired of settling for religion, I want to encourage you with the words of this song:

My heart is cold and faith is weak
But I’m still looking for the real Jesus
Oh I know there’s more than this

It’s all just meaningless
The stench of hollowness
Unless You respond

Give me the real thing
Not just religion
Stir up my passion
With more of conviction

I want it all
Not just a portion
Give me Your presence
Not just some feeling

If you’re bankrupt, not financially… but spiritually, you have to put some effort into getting better… and that takes work.  Work to foster a relationship with Jesus.  Try to authentically pursue the things of God.  Ask for more of Jesus in your life.  Practice  developing a life of worship in everything you do.  And if you’ll do your part, I promise you, Jesus will fill the hollowness in your life.

God, Life, Out

Love Lavishly

Lavish: expending or bestowing profusely (verb); in abundance (adjective)

God loves us lavishly. He bestowed profusely His love, grace and mercy when we did not deserve it and when we should have been punished.  As believers, we just came out of a season celebrating the lavish love God bestowed upon us in the birth of Jesus. He left the throne and came down to live and die for those who profess Him as Savior, bearing the punishment our sins deserved and granting eternal life by faith in Him. It is because of this lavish love bestowed upon us, we can love others.

In John 13: 34-35 Jesus introduces a new concept, saying, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  What is new here is not the command to love but the command to love sacrificially. It is a deepening and expanding of the command. Jesus calls us to love just as I have loved you out of selflessness and sacrifice.

We’ve all heard of ‘The Golden Rule.’  It came from Luke 6:31, which states “And as you wish others would do to you, do so to them.” (ESV)

Initially, this might sound similar to Jesus’ commandment in the John passage, but there is a distinction. The golden rule principle is based upon the premise of reciprocity. Those who love us, we tend to love back (and the reverse: those who are harsh toward us, we tend to be harsh back). The ‘golden rule’ shows the human tendency to serve our own best interest by being kind toward others so that we receive kindness back. We gain from what we give. There is nothing particularly noble about following this principle though. It doesn’t demonstrate the sacrificial love God bestowed upon us. The golden rule is but a minimum requirement. The golden rule is not bad—it’s just not enough. Jesus goes on in verses 32 – 34 to make it clear that there is no virtue, benefit, or credit for living according to the same standard as the world. If you love those who love you, anyone can do that. If you do good to only those who do good to you, anyone can do that. And, if you lend money to only those who can pay you back, well, anyone can do that. Jesus calls us to a higher standard.

The Christian is to surpass the world’s minimum standard in the matter of loving others. The saint must also love the ‘difficult’ people and those who hate him. We are not only to give love for love, and good for good, we are to love our enemies, and to return good for evil. Love and generosity toward all; not reciprocity.

When you truly grasp your own depravity and the profuse love given through Jesus Christ, as your sin rested upon him and he hung on the cross in your place, separated from the Father to lavish grace and mercy on you, you will be able to love beyond the golden rule minimum.

You can only do the things Jesus calls you to do – love others as He loves, do good, bless others, pray for, not repay evil for evil, give without expecting a return – when you decide to follow Jesus, recognizing your own sin and need for forgiveness. You must determine you would rather be like Jesus than the ‘world.’  The world has a different standard of behavior, and the world’s way has never been God’s way. Romans 12:2 tells us not to be conformed to this world. The world would have you believe that rather than choosing love, kindness, and compassion, it’s okay to withdraw, retaliate, punish someone who has wronged you, withhold forgiveness, and only extend generosity if it will be reciprocated. In God’s economy, we are called to expend selfless, sacrificial, and lavish love.

So, rather than the minimum…

  • Invite without expecting an invitation back.
  • Give for no other reason than to bestow love. 

Additionally, when you find yourself in the midst of betrayals, social media attacks, and losses… when  dealing with wayward & rebellious children, unbelieving spouses and family members, absentee parents, in-laws, co-workers, difficult teachers, coaches and frenemies, in marriages hanging on by a thread, in unmet expectations, angry words, hurtful words, lies told about you, and miscommunications, in arguments and feuds that have lasted so long you can’t even remember how they began, in all types of situations and with all types of people… love others like Jesus loves you: sacrificially.

Never stop loving, never stop doing good.

Until Jesus takes you home…Love one another…Love Lavishly!

Author Jodi Ross is the
Women’s Ministry Director at MVF

God, Life, Out, Up

Uncomfortably Comfortable

We hadn’t made it very far. We were only about three miles outside of Strasburg when Ryan asked everybody on the bus to share why they were wanting to go on this trip. Nine of us from MVF were headed to Houston to help with hurricane relief. I sat there and listened to the rest of the team’s answers and all I could think was “uhhh, I really don’t want to be on this trip.” And I even said something along those lines when it came my turn but followed it up with “…but the best way to grow is to get out of your comfort zone, I guess?” still trying to convince myself that this was a good idea.

MVF’s 2017 Houston Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Team

I had never been on a trip like that before and to say that I was hesitant would be an understatement. I even tried to back out of it once to no avail. I had been so busy up to the point of departure that I really didn’t know anything about the trip. All I knew to expect was: new place, new people, new routine, new experience. The only things I knew for sure to expect were the exact things that were threatening the comfort zone that I was so happily living in. There was nothing wrong with my comfort zone. It was where I had spent my entire life and I didn’t see any reason to ever leave it.

But then I thought of Abraham in Genesis 12 who uprooted everything he had to venture into unfamiliar territory because he trusted God’s faithfulness. I thought of Rahab in Joshua 2 who risked her own life for a God she barely knew because she recognized His power. I thought of Nehemiah in Nehemiah 1 who had risen to prominence and lived a very comfortable life as cupbearer to the king but heard of the destruction in Jerusalem and left to go rebuild it’s wall because his heart broke for what broke God’s. These are only a few of the people we see in the Bible who were willing to step out of their comfort zones into God’s abundant faithfulness.

And then I thought of Jesus. Was he comfortable on the cross? Surely not. Every breath he took was a reminder of the nails that pierced him and the people that betrayed him.

For the rest of the 18 hour bus ride, I tried to justify to myself why I didn’t need to take a tiny step out of my comfort zone when Jesus willingly took something so extreme. John 13:12-15 says, “…He said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” The Bible makes it evident that we are not called to just “do good” or be “better”—we are called to be like Christ. If Christ had to do things outside of his comfort zone, then why shouldn’t I have to?

Houston didn’t disappoint—it was uncomfortable just as I was expecting. I left a very comfortable house in Strasburg and walked into homes of complete devastation in Houston causing my mind to be full of some form of these questions throughout the week: What are you supposed to say to these people? How do we act? What are we going to walk into today? Is it okay that we’re having a good time? Is it even normal to be sweating this much?

Being uncomfortable was something I had planned on. What I wasn’t planning on or had even considered was the equal amount of–if not more–comfort I felt throughout the week. Houston didn’t disappoint, but neither did God. He provided comfort through the homeowners we talked to. He was evident in the joy that each one of them had despite losing everything just weeks prior. He provided comfort through New Hope Church, who we partnered with while we were there. He provided comfort through New Hope’s countless volunteers who lovingly provided every breakfast and dinner for us each day we were there. He provided comfort through a man named Bruce who showed up every morning and every evening to make sure we were taken care of and He provided comfort through each person on our team.

MVF, you sent an incredible team to Houston. This team wasn’t trying to just do good or be their best selves. They were striving to be like Christ. For an entire week, I watched this team walk into other peoples homes to bust their butts for hours on end. I watched them sweat. I watched them cry. I watched their hearts break for people they didn’t even know—some of them never having even met. I watched them love on every person they came in contact with. I watched them actively be the hands and feet of Christ. And it was a beautiful thing.

Abraham, Rahab, Nehemiah, Jesus, the volunteers at New Hope and the team from MVF. All of these people had two things in common: faith in their God and a willingness to step out of their comfort zone into something bigger than themselves. It took me longer than it should have to realize that stepping out of your comfort zone into discomfort is a lot easier when you serve a God of comfort. It’s easier when we know we cannot lose. We know the outcome because we know the Victor. What more comfort could we ask for?

Are you being asked to do something outside of your comfort zone? Do it. Move forward down that unforeseen path. It may be something as simple as walking across the lobby at church to talk to somebody you would normally avoid or inviting a co-worker to lunch to see how they’re doing. Take that step because it’s when we’re moved outside of our comfort zones into places that are bigger than us with people who are different than us, that we are able to experience not only the comfort God so freely gives, but the glory he can gain.

God, Life

Getting Connected

Today’s guest post was written by Joshua Rains, who has quite the story to tell about how God is working in and through him… if you see him at church, be sure to connect with him and ask him what God is doing in his life!  Thanks, Josh, for your perspective from a single parent’s point of view!  

Josh, Bella, and Hunter Rains

In church this past Sunday, we learned about being connected. But that topic wasn’t what got my mind turning. It was a question posed during the Ask Anything portion of the service- and its answer by Pastor Hunter. I don’t fully recall the question, but it had to do with not knowing people and how to connect, especially if a person is shy or introverted? The answer given by Pastor Hunter was on point, but there are things about his answer that, as a single-parent, make it easier said than done. Basically, his answer was very simple and true: you as an individual need to reach out to others and engage yourself.As a widowed father of two younger children, my first thought was, “Yeah, that’s easy for you to say! Do you not know how many hoops I have to jump through to be able to do things like that?” Up to about a year ago, that was my answer every time. I recall the early days of losing my wife like they were yesterday: work, work, work, followed by an overwhelming sense of “oh no… what do I do now?” I decided to get back to church and get re-acquainted with the Lord (who, I thought at the time, may or may not get lost again down the road of my life). It happens… I mean it had happened to me.

So, here we are all brand new to church, and of course, the Pastor is real nice to you and says, “If there’s anything you need at all please call and we’ll see what we can do” (all true by the way). Other people may nod their head and say hello, or extend their hands for a handshake. Sounds pretty inviting, doesn’t it? Although there’s no problem, I still don’t know anyone well enough to trust them, do I?

Here is the trap that some single-parents fall into, andI know this because I did it: Once you start attending and meeting people, they’ll invite you to hang out and do things. Except, us single parents rarely take people up on it because it’s easier to build an excuse then to put the work into connecting with people. Excuses like “Oh, my kid isn’t feeling well,” or, “I have so much to do I can’t get away.” Sometimes these things are true; it’s hard to manage a house by yourself. I always had offers for people to watch my kids so I could go out and do things… the problem was I didn’t put the effort into doing it. So, how do we fix this? All it takes is time and a little effort-but don’t be like me and take way too long!

Some people already have a support system and if that’s the case, USE IT!  For those of us who don’t,  please don’t be afraid to build one! I know it’s difficult, and it might be easier for women than it is for men. But get plugged in and go have coffee with the guy you’ve been sitting next to for the past month, or take the ladies up on the half-day of shopping. It’s not as much about drinking coffee or buying things as it is about the conversation and the connection.

I know not everyone has had the issues I have dealt with in their past. But as a widow, divorced parent, or single-parent, you need to know that people in this church community care and are more than willing to help. I understand it takes time and effort, but it is well deserved. Paul spells out how to care for single parents in 1 Timothy chapter 5. Although it addresses widows, orphans, and elders, you will geta lot out of it if you read and apply it. Along those lines, starting in December, I’ll be hosting a program for single parents called “Single and Parenting”-watch MVF’s News at the View for more details in the coming weeks.

Single parents, you may have scoffed, laughed, or ignored Pastor Hunter’s remark about taking the initiative. I know right now you may not see the light at the end of the tunnel, but have faith,and know it is there. In the end, you’ll find he was right and that putting the effort and energy into connecting with others is worth it.

God Bless!
Josh Rains

God, Life, Up

There is a Bird on Your Head…


As a little girl sitting in church several (ok, many) years ago, I really did my best to listen and learn. Much went over my head, but much also stuck. Pastor Goode had so many quips and idioms. They are lodged in my brain and now, 20 years since his death, they still inform my life.  One of my favorites was and continues to be “the one about a bird”. He always said, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.

Interestingly enough, since then I have seen the same quote attributed to Martin Luther and Ancient Chinese wisdom. Oh well… in my mind it will always have come from my childhood Midwestern pastor.

You see, as a child (and to this day, if I’m not careful) I would obsess over every untrue, unkind, unBiblical thought. I would feel guilty for the initial thought, and then I would enter this vicious cycle of wondering/worrying as to why I even thought it in the first place! You can image the freedom I found in realizing that birds may circle, I have no power over that. But I can control how long they linger. Instead of worrying and watching the skies for danger, I learned to focus my energy on the “nests.” The sinful actions and patterns of behavior that were already forming in real time. The idea of doing battle with what is in front of me, not with what might come.

So fast forward several years: I am finding some victory in this area. I’m working at controlling my thinking. Things are better. In the midst of that however, I began to realize a new habit developing…that of working to control everything. It’s a struggle for me, this illusion of control.  And before I knew it, it was affecting how I viewed my Spiritual growth. “Just control your thoughts, Kelly, that’s the win!” In fact, that’s one of my favorite verses….II Corinthians 10:5 says, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…”

Right there! The Bible gave me a command to control! I was supposed to take every thought captive. Control my thinking. Control freaks unite! And don’t misunderstand me, there is much good to be gained by working to control our thinking, but I had missed out on the depth of meaning of the last line of the verse.

“…. to the obedience of Christ.”

And with that, I lose my illusion of control. I shatter the belief that I am sufficient in and of myself to control my thoughts and feelings, and instead I submit those thoughts and feelings “to the obedience of Christ,” the one who IS in control.

So that begs the question… what does that look like?  Capturing a thought and then submitting it to the obedience of Christ…  Though not comprehensive, here is how God has grown me in this area.


Taking captive the thought: Quickly identifying the thought as negative/sinful/untrue/etc. And “quickly” is important. God doesn’t command us to “harbor” the thought; to let it stew and fester and consume our time and energy and joy before we decide what to do about it. Take captive means to seize, arrest, nab, catch. Do it quickly.

and second…

Submit it to the obedience of Christ. Step one takes work  Arresting and seizing a thought is not always easy. But the work doesn’t stop there. The pay off and the true joy and peace come with submission. Submitting that thought to the grid of what you know to be true of Jesus Christ – His person, His character.  His promises. Truths like…

He loves me.

He loves _____________ (person you might be in conflict with).

He is working all things for my good and His glory.

He allows trials to purify and grow me.

He has promised His Spirit to empower me.

He has prepared eternity for me, this life is not everything.

He is sovereign.

He can be trusted.

And the exciting thing is, He is Faithful! He shows up in the middle of our struggle and His Spirit reminds us of all we have in Him. I am so thankful that He is in the business of helping us knock the nests out of our hair…


Written by Children’s Director Kelly Curtis

Culture, God, Out

Telling Your Story

In 2014, my family and I moved from Lafayette, Indiana to Placencia, Belize (just south of Mexico.)  Needless to say, it was a major transition in our lives.  Ours was a story filled with un-answered questions, faith, prayer, and utter dependance on God.  Kelly and I would spend the next 12 months starting up and managing a Glass Bottom Boat tour business and simultaneously launching a house church that grew from a couple of families to over 40 people in just a matter of months.

We got the business up and running just in time for “high season” which starts right around Thanksgiving.  Now, having a group of tourists out on a boat is fun because you have a captive audience…and I love telling stories.  Right after we’d embark on an excursion, one of my favorite things to do was give some background on the boat itself (which my dad had built from the ground up) and also share a bit about how our family ended up in Belize.

Sea n' BelizeHere’s the sad thing, though: I began to realize early on that I would share a certain version of our story.  It was a version that I had adapted in my mind. It was a version that omitted the faith, prayer, and utter dependance on God that I mentioned earlier. Essentially, it was a version of my story…minus God. Needless to say, I became very convicted. “This is ridiculous!” I thought to myself. “Why am I leaving God out of this amazing story?”

My purpose in this post is not to go into all the “why’s” of why we don’t include God in our story.  I think each of us has to self-reflect and figure out the answer on a personal level.  I do hope, however, to give you some practical tips on how to intentionally include God in your story moving forward.

Recently I was having a conversation that centered on the idea that believers need to be sharing their story with those around them. It became clear that there’s a fair amount of confusion surrounding this concept.

You see, everyone has a story. Your neighbor has a story. Your co-workers have a story. And yes…you have a story, too. People love telling stories, and this is what I’ve found after years of working with people…we love telling stories about ourselves (whether we know it or not). You may not realize it, but you are constantly telling a story about yourself. Now, the details you choose to include or omit as you tell that story…that’s what I want to focus on in the next few paragraphs.

I know it can be kind of intimidating, and even confusing when we talk at Mountain View Fellowship about the importance of telling your story (sometimes referred to as “sharing your testimony”). My hope is that I’ll be able to clarify and maybe simplify your approach with a few suggestions.

TBlog QuoteFirst, you have to figure out how God is woven through your life. I tend to think of our stories in terms of a tapestry or piece of fabric. Threads and details of life, relationship, and God… all woven together.  The final product is the cloth…the fabric of our lives. But if you look closely you can see how that fabric was made. All the over and under. All the intersecting points between the individual threads. Where have the threads of God and the threads of You intersected? What has God done for you? Where do you stand in your relationship with Him?  What is he teaching you today, this week, this year? How does He play a role in your day to day actives; in the big and small decisions you’ve made recently; in the blessings, trials, and difficulty that He’s allowed into your life in the distant past or in the here and now? These are all potential intersection points between your life and God. You need to first learn how to look closely…to identify and acknowledge those intersection points so that they can become a part of the real story in your heart and mind. So that they can become part of the fabric of your story.

If you’re struggling with identifying how God is woven through your life, talk with one of your pastors or mentors and allow them to help you think through the questions I’ve asked here.

Once you’ve identified where and how God is woven through your life, the next step becomes a bit more accessible.  It still takes intentionality, but at least you have content to work with.

In my case, I could see clearly all the interaction points of God and my life… I simply needed to start including those details in my story. So from that point forward when I shared with my captive audience on the boat the details of how my family ended up in Belize, I was careful not to exclude God from my story. I use the phrase “careful not to exclude God”  very intentionally. I didn’t preach a sermon. I didn’t share scripture. I didn’t even mention directly that I was a christian (gasp!). I simply was mindful not to exclude God from my story. And that’s my final encouragement to you. Don’t exclude God from your story.

My story ended up including a lot more faith, hope, prayer, and dependance on God than it did before. And you know what, yours can too!  It wasn’t long before people were asking me follow-up questions and I was having really cool conversations with people about my faith journey. Not everyone picked up on or responded to the “God” details that I included in my story, and that’s ok. I believe that as long as we…as long as you continue to identify where you and God intersect, and are then careful not to exclude those details from your story, you’re going to be on the right track.

God, Up

The Lesson I Wish I Could Teach

About the time I was in middle school, I found that God gave me a talent for story telling and later, public speaking. My parents probably realized the story-telling “gift” as soon as I began to talk… but that’s another blog. When I reached high school, I joined the speech team and had great success in the Creative Story Telling and Impromptu Speaking events. I’ve always had fun communicating complex ideas simply enough for even young children to grasp; it’s an essential part of what I do every week as a youth pastor.

Now that I’m a father, I’m excited to see what areas my daughter will be talented in and what kinds of gifts God has given Evangeline. I know that before too long, I get to be the dad who tells elaborate bedtime stories, teaching her lessons with tales of princesses being rescued by princes who are battling against evil, and a magical, talking ukulele… or something of the sort.IMG_0566

The more I think about the kinds of stories I wish to paint Evangeline’s dreams with, the more I’m amazed by the Bible. I marvel at this book that tells the story of God, his people, and his love for them. It’s an incredible epic, written for us to examine and test how deep God’s love for each of us really is. The further you dig, the more God reveals himself. When we begin to understand who God truly is, the more impressive and breath-taking the sight and thought of his power, love, and grace become.

This summer, I believe God has been showing me more fully the depths of his love for us. It was a recurring theme through both the middle and high school CIY camps as well as in the weekly teaching and studies I’ve been doing, the books I’ve been reading and the teachings I’ve been listening to. Everywhere I turn, I seem to run into the story line of God’s great love for us.

I’ve tried to put into words how much these lessons have impacted me and each attempt feels more feeble than the last. It seems as impossible as standing at the base of Mount Everest and trying to throw a baseball over the summit to someone on the opposite side. No matter how much time I have to prepare, no matter how much I learn, no matter how many words I add to my vocabulary, no matter how much time I have to communicate this message, it will never be enough to describe God’s great love for us.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t stopped me from trying. But honestly, each attempt has been inadequate in light of the truth that has been revealed to me this summer. It’s a little frustrating for someone who claims to be “talented” with his words! However, it’s not an option to say it’s impossible and stop attempting to describe it. For me (and for any of us) not to try would be the greatest tragedy.

Having said all of that, this is what God has been teaching me this summer:
God – The author of life and creator who breathed all that we know and see into existence; the Supreme power in the universe; the Trinity who completes all things; the architect who created a solar system and galaxy that is only a tiny part of a universe that’s so large we’ve only begun to see how much of it we cannot see; the engineer who made our own world so complex that we’ve still not explored large portions of it; the designer who created our bodies so amazingly that science is still trying to copy things that occur naturally within us….

THAT God looked down through every generation that existed before us, into the generation that we were born to, and into every generation that will come after we are gone until the Father himself sends Jesus to reclaim it all; THAT God sees every single person. He knows me. He knows you. He knows every intimate detail of every life down to how many hairs we have on our head at any given moment. And most importantly, He saw, before he breathed life in to existence, Every. Single. Sin. we would EVER commit.

Yes… before we were born he saw every time we would lie, cheat, steal, lust, hate (insert your sin of choice here), and then ask for forgiveness only to go back and repeat the same sins. He saw it all. He felt it all. Every hurt, every heartbreak, every illness, every accident, every disaster, every single death, every single paper cut and pin prick. He was there before we were. And even though He KNEW how much we would hurt Him and each other, He still chose to hand-make us and to plan out our lives. He chose ahead of time, knowing all of that, to sacrifice Himself for us. He chose to love us.

God CHOSE us. He hand picked us to be his saints to all the world. He has faith in us to be a shining light to all those around us. That means that the things we do that are shocking to us, the things that we scratch our head at and say, “Why would I do that?!?” are things that God has already forgiven. The addictions that we keep choosing again and again over Him, he has already forgiven. And not just forgiven, but already carried out the punishment for. On himself. God the Father loves us so completely that regardless of whether or not we accept his sacrifice, he has already made it.

To be 100% clear, we still have to accept that sacrifice, but once we do… we should be so thankful that we devote the rest of our lives to being grateful to God. To worshiping God. To following what he has asked us to do. But when we mess up, when we fall back in to sin, we must show repentance and remember that God has forgiven us. There is nothing too big for God to forgive, because he has ALREADY forgiven it all. All we have to do is simply accept that sacrifice, and try to love Him as completely as he loves us.

The conclusion I’ve drawn is that there are no words I possess that can possibly convey the incredible message of love and grace that exists within the pages of scripture. There are no words that can be strung together in any language to paint an accurate picture. The closest we can come is to open the pages of the Bible and read beyond the words on each page… to see the grace and love dripping from each word as we ourselves are utterly dehydrated, and drink every drop until we are full. Then we can watch as the rooms of our lives become an ocean overflowing in a way that cannot be contained with walls, dams, canyons, or even in hearts if they are empty.

I know that my stories to Evangeline will someday revolve around the grace that drips over me constantly from God the Father. I pray that someday I will find words that do justice to what God has really done for us. And if I ever find a way to teach this so anyone can easily understand it, relate to it, and grasp this impossible-to-grasp idea, you’ll all be the first to know… right after my daughter hears it in a bedtime story.

-Hunter Headley
MVF Youth Pastor

God, In, Out, Up

Spiritual Tooth Truth

Teething is no fun.  It’s no fun for parents (and grand parents!) and it stinks for the baby.  I’m watching my seven month old grand daughter go through it.  It hurts, and it’s messy in more ways than one.  I had forgotten how much drool, snot, and poop are part of teething; and everything seems to get leaky: their eyes, nose, mouth… and their diapers.  It’s a pain that affects her in such a way that she doesn’t know what she wants or what will make it better.

Any combination of the following commands are usually expressed through a variety of her whines: 
– Hold me.
– Don’t hold me.  
– Hold me, but only when you’re standing up.
– Let me stand at your feet dangerously close to the coffee table and wipe snot on your leg.
– Give me that thing.  
– Pick me up.
– I hate this thing.  Why did you give it to me?
– I’m going to lead you to believe I’m ready for a nap, while simultaneously planning the fit I’ll throw when you put me in my crib.
– Put me down.
– Massage my gums with your finger, especially that one place where a tiny dagger is poking through; I’ll be biting down shortly and make you wish you’d stepped on a lego instead. 
– Hold me, but only in a way that’s uncomfortable for you.
– Sway gently.  
– Stop swaying.  Bounce.  
– Bounce faster.
– Why are you bouncing so fast?  This isn’t bumper cars!
– Why is there a big wet spot on this shoulder?  Move me to the other shoulder.  
– Hold me while I arch into a backwards swan dive and cry, again, dangerously close to the coffee table.
– Don’t forget I’ll be waking you up at night on the schedule we kept when I was one week old- about every three hours, just so we’re clear. Several nights in a row. 
– Repeat above steps, but in a zombie-like state (for you, of course… I’ll be wide awake) and in total darkness. 

It’s hard to break in a tooth, to go through something new and painful and foreign, but it’s something my grand baby has to go through.  Especially if she wants to eat at In and Out Burger for every meal when we take her on that trip to Disneyland in a few years. It doesn’t help to tell her that there’s a big, juicy reward at the end of this journey… that it’s worth it, that teeth are cool; because it hurts NOW.Evie_FirstTooth_Border

Everyone has to go through painful, difficult things. It’s hard to look forward to the day everything is going to be right again when you’re stuck in the middle of something that hurts.  Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic after a diving accident at the age of 18 wrote, “God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”  A similar sentiment is echoed in James 1:2-4:  Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing. (VOICE)

Pain and trials were not what God planned for us at creation, but as humans tend to do, we messed up His perfect plan. It was never his will that we suffer loss, financial trouble, betrayal, grief, sudden or chronic illness, persecution, or any number of hard things we are faced with in our lives. In fact, Romans 8:26 tells us that In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (NIV) I love the way the New Century Version puts it: The Spirit himself speaks to God for us, even begs God for us with deep feelings that words cannot explain.

If you’ve ever been so low that you couldn’t even pray, did you know that the Holy Spirit was interceding for you? That Jesus himself was going to the Father for you? What a comforting thought as we deal with those things that force us to wonder if we’ll make it through. That’s where the joy is in difficult circumstances: in knowing that Jesus is right there with us, hurting for us, praying for us, and using the trial to make us look more like Him.  You might be surprised at how he ensures your pain isn’t wasted when he uses it (and you) to help someone else. And you might be surprised at how that eases the ache.

If we trust our Father and persevere, the benefits we’ll receive and the things we’ll learn as we mature will make it worth the pain. But, what does perseverance look like?  It looks like continuing to show up to church on Sundays to worship and learn when you don’t feel you can get out of bed.  It looks like waking up early before work to spend time in the Word and in prayer; these things help you pursue your Up relationship with God.  It also looks like making it to Lifegroup during the week and actually sharing with others what you’re learning and how they can be praying for you… attending on a regular basis builds your In relationships, and these relationships will offer support during tough times.  And it looks like sharing with those who don’t know the Father and don’t understand how you can have peace in the midst of your current circumstances (yep… that’s your Out relationship.)

Our lives will certainly get messy. There may be lots of drool, snot, and poop that we have to deal with along the way, and at times we may not even know what to ask for to make it better.  But we aren’t alone, and there are good things waiting on the other side, whether it’s in this life or the next. As James put it, our faith will blossom under pressure and teach us patience as we endure; we’ll be equipped to deal with whatever trials are thrown our way, and even better, we’ll emerge mature, complete, and wanting nothing.

Culture, God, Life, Up

Glory vs. Comfort

Do you live for God’s glory or your own comfort?

I think my pastor posed that question one time in a sermon. It hangs on my refrigerator but it’s been there so long I honestly can’t remember where it came from.

It hit me after an incident with one of my kiddos and the subsequent conversation about it with another mama, that too many of us live not only for our own comfort, but for our children’s comfort as well. An incident had happened with several of the girls on one of my daughter’s sports teams. And yes, my daughter was one of them. As a parent, we often don’t want to see or acknowledge our kids as sinners. I often pray that my child’s sin will find them out, though. Not because I like dealing with sin, because I don’t, but because I want it to be found out now when hopefully the consequences aren’t that deep or that long-lasting and I can help them navigate through the situation. But honestly, as a mama, I don’t always want to navigate the situation. I don’t always want to know the wrong they’ve done. Most of us don’t want to have the sins of our children reflect negatively upon us either. And we’d like our kids to be comfortable and avoid a lot of strife. I listened to the mom who told me that her prayer that day had been for her daughter NOT to be benched over the incident. There’s that comfort thing creeping up again.

This is a good mama. This is a good family.

And, she had given her daughter sound advice in this situation. She told her daughter to tell the truth and to face the consequences as they came…but her mama prayer was for her daughter’s comfort; that she would be able to play in the final game.

 That morning I had shared a verse with my daughter from Psalms:


I am by no means saying I am a better mama than my friend. I am not a perfect parent with the perfect answers and the perfect prayers. I am perfectly flawed just like the next person. And my kiddos are no angels either.  I wanted to make sure that she really had a broken and contrite heart because she had done the wrong thing and NOT because she was wanting to avoid being benched.

This was the verse I felt led to share and the lesson that I wanted to impart in this situation. My daughter is usually compassionate and she had already expressed remorse and compassion in this situation, but I wanted to drive the point further as she left that morning to talk with her coach. My prayer was not for her to be comfortable or for either of us to avoid missing this teachable moment. It was for her heart attitude. In a world where we like to blame others, justify our actions, and pretty much suffer no consequences or own up to our actions, I think I may have actually seized the teachable moment in the uncomfortable.

Of course, I would’ve liked comfort rather than having dealt with the situation at all. I would have preferred not to have been embarrassed as a parent or talked about as a family. Yes, I would’ve liked to avoid the uncomfortable, but that’s not really what we’re called to. As believers, as one who wants to be conformed to the likeness of Christ and to bring God glory, sometimes it’s going to be uncomfortable.

I didn’t set out consciously to choose God’s glory and to live for God’s glory in that moment. And maybe that’s the beauty of it. If God is conforming me to the likeness of His Son, the Spirit is working in me. The prayers that I pray about reflecting God’s glory in my daily walk are hopefully becoming more ‘habit’ and who I am, rather than conscious decisions that I make. And maybe, just maybe, these are the parts of my life that will be caught by my children; God’s glory over comfortable.

Written by
MVF Women’s Ministry Director
Jodi Ross