3.11.2014

Presence

You know the moment that someone meaningful to you walks into the room. You don't even have to see them because you sense them. Their presence is there before your eyes meet or the tone of their voice vibrates into your soul. You sense their precious nearness and your heart warms in expectation of sharing time with them.

Presence.

It's what all of us crave. We all seek it. Social media has created a vacuum of presence in our society. We've learned to be "present" in a room while connecting via text with friends, replying to a Facebook message or two, tweeting 140 characters of pithy-ness at some idiosyncratic corner of pop culture, liking a few Instagram photos and possibly pinning a recipe... all while sitting in the same room with other human beings. It is sad. We have learned to live a distant life in an uber "connected" world. It has become normal and even comfortable to hide behind screens and busy schedules.

And yet, we still crave presence. We need it. We need it from people. We need to be seen... to be heard... to be understood... We need to offer our presence to other people. We need to look someone in the eyes... listen to the cry of their soul... and comprehend who they are. That is part of being human. We were designed to trust one another. We were created for intimacy. One of the greatest gifts we can give to another person is the gift of our presence.

Deeper still, there is a Presence that we need more than that of anyone else. That Presence belongs to the One who knows us better than we know ourselves, Our Creator and Father. His Presence is Real... He is the Realest place to be in the world. He makes Himself available to us. In fact, His Presence pursues us. How often do we wish someone would pursue us... long to be near us? Our Father does. He does not pursue us out of insecurity, but out of a deep love for what is His. He offers us ALL of Himself and He desires ALL of us. He wants us to come to Him with unveiled faces.

Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. 2 Corinthians 3:16-17 (MSG)

Ironically, we fail to even recognize this Presence... His Presence is nearer to us than our next breath... He is as present to us as we allow Him to be... as present to us as we are to Him. Sometimes it takes effort to be aware His Presence. It requires a stripping away of those things in us that are afraid. A stripping away of self-sufficiency. A stripping away of unprocessed emotions. A stripping away of pride. A stripping away of unbelief. A stripping away of what appears to be real. And, it requires desperation...hunger... willingness... for the safety of His Presence.

Carve out space in me, Spirit of God. Cultivate in me a greater capacity to hear You... a sharper sensitivity to Your Voice... May I cherish Your Presence.


1.22.2014

On Having an Undivided Heart

"Humans have a remarkable capacity for self-deception."

I read this statement in the book The Life You've Always Wanted by John Ortberg as I was preparing to teach. And it struck me...pierced me, really.

Ortberg includes this statement in his chapter called The Undivided Life - in which he discusses the importance of living in the pursuit of one thing. He talks about the role of scripture in helping us maintain an undivided life.

In the process of reflecting on simplicity or undivided-ness of heart, he discusses two antonyms of this concept - multiplicity and duplicity. Multiplicity basically means that we have two natures warring inside of us. One nature longs to do what is right, while the other longs to do what is carnal or sensory or emotionally pleasing. Duplicity is this idea of having mixed motives. For example, you say you want to give to the poor out of the goodness of your heart, but you really just want the tax write-off. How tricky the human heart can be!

That night...right after teaching my class... I realized something... I often do things out of multiplicity or duplicity. I live in a state of comparison and multi-tasking... striving to control the outcomes of life... while all the while, I am telling myself that I am trusting God. Manipulation toils below the surface of my heart... wondering how can I make things happen my way. Or, I say I want to be close to God ... or a person... and all the while, I'm hiding... only revealing the parts of myself that are "in control." I only allow people close to the parts of me that have been properly put in place. I only let God deal with the parts of my heart that are "holy."

But God... He longs to reside in ALL of me. He longs to restore ALL of my soul (mind, will & emotions). He longs to make me whole. He wants to remove the walls that separate the "good" and "bad"... He brings people into my life to help Him deconstruct those walls. And I run. And I hide. And I pretend that I'm being vulnerable the whole time.

It's only when I allow His Word to begin to penetrate those hard places in my heart that I find the freedom to be fully His...undivided. It's only then that His Love can fully cover me. He never forces me to embrace this work... He waits patiently for me to invite Him into the divided-ness of my soul and to bring the wholeness we both long for...

Today, I say... in full trust... into my heart, Come into my heart, Lord Jesus... Come! Do what You do & BE who You Are!

12.17.2013

Advent Reflections: True Peace

You ….
Our Creator God
The One who weaves together
sound & silence
land & sea
flesh & spirit
Our Father God
The One who is
Love
Provision and
Wholeness
Our All-Knowing, Ever-Present God
The One who sees & hears all things
You.

will keep…
Hold steady
Preserve and give longevity to
Protect from alteration or deterioration

in perfect
Especially suitable
Ideal fit
Complete – lacking nothing essential

Peace …
A state of friendship
At rest
Quietness of spirit
A deep knowing that all will be well
The emotion of faith

those …
People
Men & Women
Boys & Girls
Children of God
Us

whose minds
thoughts &memories
patterns of thinking
words & actions
intellect
feelings & desires
concentration


are steadfast,
fixed
firm and unwavering
in purpose, loyalty or resolve

because they trust in
Rely on...
Integrity,
Strength,
Ability
Surety of
Live in confident expectation toward

You!
Our Mighty Fortress
A safe place in the midst of life’s storms
Our Bridegroom
The One who sees us as who we are becoming –
and not as who we once were
Our Soon-Returning Victorious King
The One who has overcome
Sin & death
And conquered the enemy
You Are.
Immanuel
God with us
The Prince of Peace
You ARE our Peace

Isaiah 26:3

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in You!



Original Writing by Rachel Leonard
for 20Twenty/Evangel Temple Advent Series

12.09.2013

On Timing & the Time Warp of Transition

Right now, I should be writing something else... in fact, I should have already written it a month ago... but my heart is so full of emotion at this moment. All I can think about is writing this.

Transition. It is coming. In some ways, it can't come soon enough. But in most ways, it is coming way too soon. The only thing consistent in life is that it changes. As I ponder the many transitions in my near future, I find it ironic that life doesn't just stop and then start again in a new place with new opportunities and new people. No, once all of the decisions necessary for change have been made,,, I enter a time warp... a season called transition. Within this space, I begin saying goodbye a little bit every day until I finally say goodbye for the last time.

Then, I drive away. Car full of all the stuff acquired in one season... tears streaming down my face... singing and praying at the top of my lungs... and I drive. The drive - in and of itself - is a transition. Somehow a car full of memories and the open road in front of me become my escort to the next place.

When I arrive, I begin saying hello. Hello to people, places and dreams that I've been pursuing. The excitement that helped me make the decision to say goodbye returns and gives me the courage to say hello... and hello...and hello....until the new place is no longer new.

Transition is no stranger to me. In fact, part of me relishes the feeling of transition. It is part of my calling.. to sojourn.. to start new things... to prepare soil and plant seeds. But tonight... oh tonight, my heart aches. Truly. It aches deep down inside and I can't seem to get to the bottom of the ache. I love this place. I LOVE THESE PEOPLE. I have deeply loved this season. I have grown. I have been challenged. I have overcome. I have failed. I have begun again. I have found the contentment of staying... and staying ... and staying. I want to stay. And, yet, I know that staying will only be delayed obedience... or prolonged disobedience?

Somehow in the time warp of transition, new things begin. And why shouldn't they? Life goes on. It's a phenomenon that I continually forget about until I am reminded. Just because I move on, does not mean everyone else stays the same. Perhaps, that is the ache I feel in this moment? The ache of letting go... walking away...

I am good at closing doors when I leave. It's easier that way. A closed door does not beckon me to return like an open door does. Yet, this time, it seems that my Father knows best... and He is opening doors as I leave. When I try to close them, His hand gently holds them open - and He whispers... let it be.

I don't like unresolved ... anything. It's like a dissonant chord. I can't stand unresolved feelings... unresolved situations... unresolved relationships... I like the closure. I like the false feeling of bein in control. I'd rather know that something is over... than face the uncertainty of what it could become... or the pain of what may die. But, of course, the lesson of this season has been learning to embrace the mystery of God... to trust Him... to embrace His timing... and to be vulnerable. I hate that word. I hate the angst that it creates in my soul. And yet, somewhere deep inside of me... I long to live free and vulnerable... to embrace life fully... to embrace people fully... without fear. And, thankfully, His Spirit enables me to be vulnerable. Yet, perhaps, this is why I like closed doors. An open door means that I face the possibility of being rejected or forgotten. An open door means someone or something else can close it on me.

So, here I am... staring at this lovely little space I call mine, wet-cheeked, enjoying the lights on my Christmas tree and the stillness of this moment.  And I am making a choice - I will savor this season. I will embrace the time warp that is...transition. I will trust that when I say my final goodbye and my first hello... Immanuel, God with me, will still be with me just like He has always promised. I will trust that the doors He leaves open will be OK. And that the ones He closes will be fine too. I will expect great things and know that in it all... He is good. He is faithful and He is strong.

Bless the Lord, oh my soul, find rest in Him.

7.01.2013

Initial Reflections from Madrid

Me, standing outside of ancient Toledo

Many of you know I just returned from a 10 day trip to Spain. MANY thanks to those who supported and prayed for me on this trip!! Every time someone asks me about how my trip went, I find myself bombarded with 1000 memories, so many different emotions and thoughts – and then all I can say is, “It was great.”

Spain is a beautiful country – rich in history and diverse in culture. My breath caught with each turn through the streets of its cities – an architectural feast for the eyes. The streets of Madrid billow with savory scents and the metro resonates with languages from over 80 nations. The world lives in Spain!

Spain is ancient. It was ruled by the Visigoths, the Romans, the Ottoman Empire and then the Catholic kings. The apostle Paul mentioned Spain (Rom 15:24, 28) as one of his hopeful destinations. Although the Roman Catholic Church claims he did, there is no historic evidence that he ever made it to Spain. And, it is one of the only nations in Europe without a documented revival.  “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” and Spain sanctioned his journey. In the same year 200,000 Jews were expelled from the country.
Mint Tea & Arabic Lessons

Today, it has a population of 47.27 million people – 80 nations are represented within its populace, including over 600,000 North African immigrants. Most people are agnostic or atheist – there is also an ever-increasing population of Muslim believers. Only 1% of the population identifies itself as knowing Jesus. One percent. You could spend all day wandering through Madrid and not pass one person who knows Christ! This knowledge made me feel like I was running a marathon through molasses.

I met some incredible people. A young Moroccan mother of two left a deep impact on my heart. She was always warm and friendly – greeting me in Spanish (both of our second language) and kissing my cheeks three times (the traditional Moroccan greeting). One day, she taught our team some basic Arabic and made us some Moroccan mint tea… she also shared her faith with us. She is a devout woman with true conviction and a desire to please Allah. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Cornelius (Acts 10). My prayer for my new friend is that in her desire to serve God, she will find a relationship with Jesus.

Throughout my entire trip the Lord continually led me to this one passage – Matthew 9:35-38. For the first few days of the trip, verse 36 kept coming to mind “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” On our third day, we spent some time in a prayer room overlooking La Puerta del Sol, one of Madrid’s busiest plazas, and as I looked out over the plaza – I saw hundreds of people wandering in different directions – and I began to weep. In verse 37-38, Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” This was the resounding message of this trip for me…

Jesus, the world lives here… but where is Your Light?
Awaken the hearts of Your People, send more laborers to Spain.
P.S. CAN I GO??

La Puerta Del Sol - "Sheep without a shepherd"



Outdoor mall in Madrid

10.13.2012

It is well.

Tonight, I walked out the door at dusk. I had stayed much later than I'd planned...again. It's been a week of working late. So, I was definitely tired. As the glass door opened to the sidewalk, the sun was almost set and only a corner of the sky was pink. The air was damp and laden with the chill of fall- my favorite season. Stepping out into the evening, I stopped ... and inhaled deeply. Peace rolled over my soul.

In the same moment, I was suddenly conscious of music. It sounded like it was coming from the restaurant-turned-mission/soup kitchen that is part of the organization I work for. The song was familiar... one that often resonates with me, yet the words were temporarily escaping me. I meandered toward the sound as if being pulled by a magnet. I reached the front of the mission and corner of the street where I realized the music was coming from somewhere else. My eyes glanced across the street and propelled my feet, along with my ears, toward the little park couched between two old edifices. It looked like an outdoor worship service and I, on impulse, was going to join the party. I scurried toward the gathering. But thankfully, just before I entered the little gated area, I realized - this was no ordinary worship gathering. No, it was a wedding...and the bride was seconds away from making her grand entrance!! I was about to barge in, uninvited, to a quaint wedding in the park... just in time to up-stage the bride herself.

Awkward moment impeded, I quickly redirected my steps across the street. Safely on the other side and being tired, I should have headed toward my car, but I could not. I was enraptured by the hymn being boldly brandished for all of C-street to hear. I stopped in front of a store front across from the park, leaned against a pole and listened. The blissful couple, unaware that I was a bystander to their moment of covenant. I took in the twinkling white lights entwined in the vines above the bridal party.... and I listened. The bride arrived at the front and the band continued to sing.

In that moment, I could not help but recognize the deep meaning of the music intertwining with this moment of covenant for this happy couple. Instead of the traditional bridal march, this bride had chosen to make this moment less about her...and more about proclaiming a very simple truth... "It is well with my soul." It is well... even outside of the circumstance of this blissful moment. The promise of this old hymn saturated deep into the dark moments of the past, as well as, the challenges of the future. This couple was boldly proclaiming God's sovereignty over their relationship - past, present & future.

In that moment, I was overcome- overcome by the sweet Presence of Jesus... the Faithful One... the One who gives me the grace to remain faithful to the calling over my life. He reminded me... I am not measured by circumstances, roles, titles or others' approval... My worth and my peace of heart flows out of a deep knowing... I am His and He is mine... I am His Beloved.

My evening ended with the gentle reminder...
Because He is...
It is well.


10.07.2012

Hanging out in the Kingdom... Reflections on [BEing] Called

It's been a while... [Be forewarned, this will be long]

I have not given myself much space to process "what's really going on."

Since July, life has been such a whirlwind. A whirlwind of answered prayer. A whirlwind of transition into new things. A whirlwind brought on by over eight months of waiting... eight months of significant questioning... eight months of living in what my dear friend, Stephanie Nance, would call the "thickness of time"... eight months of embracing the Mystery of God.

In June of 2011, I moved from my home state of Kentucky to Springfield, MO- a town that I never planned to live in. I came here with plans. Plans to become, plans to overcome, plans to come into my own. And yet, by November, everything that brought me to town... came to an abrupt halt. I lost my job. I decided not to continue my seminary journey. The only thing keeping me in this little town was the Holy Spirit and a deep heart commitment to a community of young adults. I was bound to seeing God move within this community... Over the following eight months, it has been this community that God has used to surround me... to comfort me and to shape me. I have held tightly to the conviction that I am part of something beyond myself...

On the first of July (2012), I moved into a new apartment with a new roommate. On the last day of July, I began a new job. The third week of August I began graduate studies. The first week of September our community went from one service to two...and then two weeks after that, we went to three!! ALL of these events were fantastic! However, that is a LOT of change in two months.

Let's just say, I have been feeling a little overwhelmed. And, the one thing I love most...investing in people... has suffered the greatest. Sad day. I have actually felt like becoming a hermit. Crowds have become something I literally ... dread. Sincerely sad day!

Balance. Haha. It has always been elusive to me... but right now, I keep striving to find some way to achieve something close to it.

Last week, I realized something saddening. I am working a job... so that I can go to school to become trained in something I already love to do (Write)...so that I can afford to... are you ready for this ... Serve in ministry!! Tadah!

I hate the expression LOL-laugh out loud- how often do people actually laugh out loud when they type that? But, just now...I did laugh out loud... it was not a happy laugh. No, it was a little cynical. This is a cycle... a familiar merry-go-round of discontent.

What's funny... the most satisfying seasons of my life have been when I am barely making any money...when I barely have any time to just "BE"... Abnormal times. Times when my world is UP-side Down. During those times, my main focus was simply being sold out to BUILDING God's Kingdom...

I am SO incredibly grateful for what God has given me in this season. I am grateful for a job...not just a paycheck, but a job serving in an organization whose focus is restoring lives... BIG plus! I am grateful for the opportunity to study... I love learning new things!! I am grateful to have a cute, cozy little apartment... and money to buy food and cook for others. I am grateful for friends who love me and care about me. I am grateful for a family that loves me beyond my oddities and quirks... I am grateful for normalcy. After all, that IS what I've been wanting...right?

There is nothing wrong with the normal things of life. Really, actually, I think there is something wrong with me. Why do I always find myself here...longing for this elusive state of having normalcy & yet being sold out, actively BUILDING God's Kingdom? I'm not really sure what that means

The other day... I was reminded of another season in my life. During this season, I became angst (big surprise)... my feet began to itch... my heart ached to "be where the people are.." (go ahead, sing the Little Mermaid song... you know you want to :-) I just did!) The angst arises out of this sense that I'm not DOING what I'm called to do... this feeling that I'm just "hanging out in the Kingdom." I don't want to become too comfortable. I'm afraid of developing a lazy, welfar-ish, sense of entitlement. Reveling in God's favor...and squandering it... when there are people dying.... without ever knowing about Jesus, let alone, knowing Him!

What am I doing with Jesus? There is this fear that I am like that servant who took his one talent and went and buried it. And when the Master returned, he had nothing to show for his wealth, except that which he had been given.

Over the past six years, I have wrestled with what it means to be "called." When I was ten, I heard God speak my name... I felt Him close... I heard Him ask me to follow Him and to care for His sheep. And again... over and over... throughout the years, He repeatedly reminded me of this calling.

I don't know how to describe it. It's like when your best friend asks you to do something... when you promise to take care of their child or pet... you feel a deep sense of responsibility to carefully attend to their request. (BTW, this metaphor is weak). I have always felt like I was called out...to be sent. Yet, my prayer for the past six years has been to be planted... to BE like the tree planted by the water. That is what is happening... and yet, I am discontent.

And I cannot help but wonder...is because I am called...to be sent, not planted? This is a deep and agonizing question. I do not know just how to answer it. I most often feel like a round peg in a square hole.

I was talking to a friend last night and I told her that I had always felt called to serve overseas... and the strangest things happened... she was surprised! She never knew that about me. Um, weird, because all of my life...that one thing has somehow defined me. Shortly after she left, I found myself feeling concerned. Have I forgotten who I am called to be. AM I BEING WHO I AM CALLED TO BE?

Or... am I just hanging out in the Kingdom? ? ? ?... ??? ... ???