There are a couple men who attended June's Summer Sabbath walk, all pursuers wanting more of God. One of them is this week's guest author. His name is Paul; and upon first meeting him a handful of years ago, he seemed a bit intimidating to me. I guess this was true on terms of his physical size and the serious demeanor he was carrying that day. Initially, it made me wonder how friendly he was. But it didn't take long for me to realize I had nothing to worry about. Very quickly it became clear he was self-effacing, hilarious, generous, compassionate, fiercely protective of those he loves, tuned to society's outcasts, a mold breaker, and a warrior in training. He is one who is not ashamed to seek the Father's heart and let that emotion show. He is very intent to pursue Christ and invests his life in young people in selfless ways. He adores his wife and is not afraid to push past fear to love deeply. I'm honored to be his friend. Hope you enjoy reading Paul in the way he shares about the exhausting burden God was prompting him to release to Jesus. May you come to the last and final event for summer to release the burden you are carrying! Sign up on the calendar page!
A Heavy Burden or a New Heart: You Choose, by Paul Stack
Many people I know get a bad taste in their mouth when the word “church” comes up, and that bad taste usually results from bad relationships. These people had an ugly experience with a church member or staff, and decided they wanted to get out and not return. Peter Scazzero, a well known pastor in New York City and author of "Emotionally Healthy Spirituality", faced this problem many times with his congregation and in his own life. In a video session about his book, he shares his struggle of leading a growing church: “People were changing, but they weren’t changing deeply. Deep beneath the surface was not changing.... Something was deeply wrong. People who called themselves ‘Christians’ were not enjoyable to be around and often judgmental.”
Overtime, he began to realize that if he didn’t develop a way for himself and the church to be deeply transformed, the church was going to die, as was his soul. He was internally spent, tense, on-edge, and dealing poorly with family and church relationships. As he became more clear of what was at stake, he came to believe that the church in America will die out if the members inside the church don’t learn to love deeply. He also came to believe that only way to learn to love deeply was to develop a rich interior life.
Scazzero’s conclusions ring true for me, and that is why I believe in the mission of the “Into the Waters” ministry. Gina’s gift of a Summer Sabbath Walk experience was a wonderful tool to help grow my connection with God and to develop my love for him and others.
During the Sabbath Walk, we began the day with a guided meditation while walking around a gorgeous park. The time in nature put me in a place to hear God clearly: I stopped thinking about what I had to do that day and that week and took in the stream, the breeze, the chipmunks, all the beautiful things I often neglect to notice (if I’d only slow down to see them!). After the walk, Gina led us to reflect further on Proverbs 20:27 from the audio recording:
“The breath of man is the lamp of the Lord that sheds light on one’s inmost being.”
We reflected on God’s desire to know and transform the deepest parts of us. I thought a lot about how my past experiences shaped me to believe that I was responsible for other people’s feelings and actions. This belief has been one of the most painful and poisonous lies that has influenced my life and relationships. It can lead me to resent my wife when she doesn’t reach her fitness goals; I’ve believed that if she doesn’t accomplish those goals, it’s my fault. It can cause me to nag and pressure the students I lead in high school youth group to share the gospel with their friends, often in ways that make me and God sound like harsh, demanding task masters; I’ve believed that if they don’t take meaningful social risks and invite their friends to church, it’s my fault. It can push me to repeatedly ask my friend who struggles with depression if he’s gone to church, made any friends, read the Bible, and many other “helpful” suggestions (which probably sounded like passive-aggressive commands); I’ve believed that if he doesn’t overcome his bout with depression through my friendship, it’s my fault.
God never intended me to carry this kind of responsibility on my shoulders; his yoke is supposed to be easy, and his burden is supposed to be light. However, I’ve held on to these destructive beliefs and taken on a demanding and exhausting burden in the process. This is why I need to develop an interior life with God: if I want to be a truly empathetic, patient, stable, and loving follower of Jesus, I need to learn to let go of the ugly habits and attitudes He wants me to release. I’ve been judgmental, controlling, and manipulative plenty of times in my life. I know the cost of neglecting my inner life well.
As we continued reflecting on this Proverbs verse, I received clarity on people I needed to apologize to and relational shifts I had to make. For example, I decided to pray for and encourage my wife in regards to her fitness goals, but leave the choice up to her as to whether or not she goes to the gym. God’s light burden for me in this case is to support my wife, not to control her into good behavior. These realizations about ways to surrender my controlling and overly-responsible tendencies to God have continued. I still face regular temptation to be slip back into old habits, but I’ve made plenty of progress since the Sabbath walk. I also stopped offering “suggestions” to my friend struggling with depression and have asked more questions about what his experience has been like. I apologized for the times I’ve tried to control him, and he forgave me. Our friendship has become more honest and enjoyable for both of us.
Bottom line: when Gina invites you to something, go to it :)
All joking aside, developing your inner-life to deal with your bad attitudes, unhealthy relationships, and poisonous beliefs is one of the best decisions you can ever make. A lot is at stake. What if the first words that came to people’s minds when they thought of you was “patient” or “gentle” or “consistently loving”? A life based on the deep change that God offers will make you much more like Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I want to work with, go to church with, and be best friends with someone who is like Jesus.
This Friday and next are entries from a young married couple who attended the event on June 16th. Their words share their heart on seeking God and how time in His presence nourished their mind and soul. I hope you enjoy hearing their perspective and consider attending the next event on Saturday, August 4th. You can sign up on the Calendar page.
Today's post is from Jacqui. She is a beautiful soul, a "20 something" woman I met several years ago through her "then fiancee, now husband" Paul. It was evident in my first interaction with her that she was passionate about Christ, pursues His heart, and believes prayer is as essential as breathing, i.e. salve to her soul. Over the last couple of years, I've seen her grow and transform more fully into the child of light she is. She's clung to God and believed for more. She has a consistent trait of being vulnerable, believing in the radical life Jesus offers, and investing in God's Word. These 3 things come across as the bedrock of her life strategy. Jesus is her ROCK and she's following His Spirit by faith, pursuing "God-deposited" dreams like becoming a Certified Life Coach and investing in the lives of women coming out of sex trafficking. She would add she "believes in the power of mentoring and community, married the most amazing man in October 2016, loves Jesus with something fierce, and always wants to be eating a donut." To learn more about Jacqui, visit www.thrivelifecoaching.org. Hope you enjoy her perspective and accept the challenges she poses!
by Jacqui Stack-
“Dance on fear.” A few years ago, I received a beautiful gift of a framed piece that an artist had drawn of a little girl dressed in a light pink ballerina tutu lifting an arm in the air and extending one of her legs – an expression of complete freedom, peace, and joy! This gift was so precious to me because this is the image Jesus gives me repeatedly when I am soaking in His love for me, escaping to His presence where there is fullness of joy. There I am as a six year old girl with my two front teeth missing and those straight silky bangs that lay flat across my forehead, with my long pin-straight hair thrown into a messy bun that sits on top of my head. I’m dressed in a tutu that makes me feel like a beautiful princess, and all I want to do is laugh and try leaping across the tall grass that is almost as tall as I am. Everything has a soft, warm, golden colored filter, dressing everything around me: the grass, the sky, the trees surrounding the meadow I am playing in. And then there’s a man, gentle, with his arms fully extended – his eyes are smiling at me and gesturing for me to come dance with him. I do. He lifts me up and embraces my hand in his and twirls me around while I laugh and soak in that feeling of pure joy while the sun is setting. This is the place where I can dance with my Maker, my complete safe place, for hours. This is where I can dance on top of fear. (And boy do I have a lot of it that I have to choose to fight every day).
I am amazed with what Jesus can do in us when we seek relationship with Him with our whole heart (Jeremiah 29:13). There is something that He begins to reveal through images and words and community and silence if we begin to practice having shameless audacity to ask Him for what we need. This concept was introduced during the Into the Waters Sabbath Walk: shameless audacity to ask Him for what we need. Yikes! That’s selfish on our end, isn’t it?
I don’t remember the last time I approached the throne of my Maker in a way where I was absolutely convinced he was going to give me His absolute best. And yet, He commands that of us because he longs to be gracious to us (Mark 11:24; Isaiah 30:18).
I loved approaching Him with confidence – shameless audacity! I asked boldly for him to heal the areas of my life that feel hopeless: a painful relationship with a sister, and a desperation to fulfill the “perfect wife” role and never feeling enough. I have the fear that I will go through another suicidal ideation episode, and that I will never get out of my current job into one that fulfills me and brings me life. I fear that I only love God for what he gives me instead of loving him for who he is sometimes.
I began to pour out my heart’s desires to Jesus because through Gina’s guided questions during the Sabbath Walk, Jesus unraveled things within me that were sitting dormant in my thought life. Old memories floated to the surface, painful words from loved ones I held tight to understand my identity, and bold requests that I was afraid to pray. Shameless audacity! That is my what my little six year old self is teaching me to have.
When’s the last time you have experienced fullness of joy and complete freedom from fear? When is the last time you prayed with shameless audacity?
I can see that there is a craving for an emotionally healthy spiritual life, but a lack of knowledge of how to pursue a consistent quiet time with God where that can be discovered and developed. During the Into the Waters Sabbath Walk event, there was guided quiet time, space to hear Him with pointed questions like “ask God to reveal any lies that you believe, or thoughts that exhaust you.”
There is something beautiful waiting to be taken when we prioritize God in our lives. Life will not get slower, easier, less stressed or more convenient. If we are not choosing to incorporate him into our busy days, we will not choose to incorporate him into our lazy days. I admire my little six year old self who wears tutus, loses track of time, and dances in the golden fields with her Father. I also know that each of you have your own inner child that desires deep connection, to be parented, to be known, and to express your authentic self in a way where you are unconditionally loved. There is no love like the Father’s love – it is unparalleled to any kind of love we will dream or imagine because it does not exist in people to people relationships – only in glimpses.
So, I leave you with a challenge: Make movements to create space to practice courage and shameless audacity with your Maker. Into the Waters is a great place to start!
And being a life coach, I love to end with a question that you can unravel with yourself: What is your shamelessly audacious request that you have been holding back from the Father? Why? What does “dancing on fear” look like for you?
Guest Blog: "the exact place I found myself almost 9 years ago..." - Psalm 118:17
This week's post is from a woman I met last year through a church event. Since, I've paid attention to her FB posts; and have seen she is a woman who honors and loves God. Stephanie has boldly proclaimed him and given Him glory in the midst of weaknesses, blessings, and life as a single mom of 4. We met for coffee recently and I asked her to pen a post. I hope you enjoy what she shares below. I hope you take it as an encouragement to spend time falling into God's arms. May you consider coming to this Wednesday's "Worship-prayer" session, October 5th at 7pm at Webster Recreation (read participant's feedback from the 1st session here and event details HERE). Or maybe even consider an event tomorrow with Angie Smith at Browncroft Community Church (details here)
To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances; To seek Him, the greatest adventure; To find him, the greatest human achievement. - Augustine
post by Stephanie Maus -
I’m pretty confident you may have found yourself in this state of confusion; you open the fridge to find something to fill your hunger and yet nothing seems right. If you are as crazy as me, you open the fridge again and nothing has changed since you looked five minutes ago! And then there are times you may binge on everything you see and are only left with an upset stomach and discomfort to show.
Dissatisfaction. Disillusionment. Disappointment. Even Despair.
We have all been there. “I had hoped it would turn out this way.” “I had placed my future on that.” What do we do when the ache won’t be filled? Where do we turn when we have exhausted all other options?
This is the exact place I found myself almost 9 years ago. With many financial losses, a failed marriage, and struggling to raise my four small kids on my own, I was left to see the raw me. The me that hopelessly needed a Savior. The me that couldn’t hold it all together anymore. But what happened as some of the worst days of my life were the very thing that God used to set me free.
You see, I grew up as a “good Christian girl.” I could quote scripture, lead Bible studies, share the gospel and follow a “straight line.” I could tell you what the Bible had to say about just about anything and feel confident that I had a chapter and a verse to back it up. I led worship at church, wrote songs about God and ran women’s church events. But one thing I lacked. I didn’t know the depths of me. I didn’t know by experience how prone I am to wander. I didn’t know my heart could be full of bitterness, anger, and paralyzed by fear of a God I didn’t know how to trust. That is, until the day God saved me from myself.
One day, in the perfect storm of events in my life God literally brought me to my face in my living room. There was in me a pain no medication could cure, a loneliness no person could fill, and a depression I couldn’t shake. I despaired of my life and was rapidly bleeding and dying spiritually. The hisses from the enemy were clear and loud. “ Where is God in this?”, “You have been living a lie.” “If this is Christianity, why stay?” I was weakened in my spirit and body and told God, “I am out. Thanks for the ride, but this will be the last time I talk to you and I don’t even care!”
Silence. Moments of what seemed to be unending silence.
And then came the sweetest of memories as fond whispers in my soul….
“Who made you?” Was the question coming from above.
“God made me.” I sobbed
“Why did God make you?” Another tender and pressing question.
“God made me and all things for His own glory.” I said, slowly.
Wait. What? God made me and all things in order to make much of Him? How can this be true? How in the living world could God use this mess of a woman and this mess of a situation to show His goodness to me and others? It was almost like a promise and a dare from Him.
From that very minute I made a statement to God. “Ok, if I am really your responsibility and you are saying you can show some kind of good to me and others through this darkness, I will trust you for today. That’s it. Just today!” A measure of peace and reassurance swept over me that I had never experienced before. My spirit sought out something comforting outside of myself so I turned to familiar passages in the Bible and Psalm 118:17 jumped straight out of the page. Psalm 118:17- “I shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord.” I didn’t know much, but I knew that I knew this verse was for me. Somehow, someway, I would one day tell about this. Not what great things I have done, but what the power of Jesus had done in me. A new rush of belief blew in.
I hungered for more of what I was getting from Him so I asked him for a scripture that I could cling to. If my life were going to continue I would need to believe and live what the scriptures said. One scripture turned into two, which turned into a whole journal of truths I needed to cling to in order to stay afloat. Everywhere I went I started carrying scripture so when anxiety or despair reared its head I attacked it with a new thought and a new perspective. Before long, I was asking Him to help me to believe the scriptures and started using them as prayers. I told Him that I had no belief on my own and He would have to infuse any faith He wanted me to have. The Bible became His love letter and I started to get so hungry and thirsty for what He would show me if I took the time to seek Him. These special spaces with Him in the morning were something I longed for. Some days I couldn’t find anything special from His Word, but I made a commitment to Him to show up every morning willing to listen and be still. I not only needed Him, I wanted Him. He was becoming the Lover of my soul.
I would just sit in church and cry. I couldn’t sing or teach but I could get the kids ready, show up and cry. This was also His gift to me. Having no real place, bringing nothing to the table but allowing Him to speak Words of hope was again making me realize his unconditional love and how graced and valued I really am.
I also knew I needed to allow a few safe friends into my life who could speak truth as well. It is a humbling but healing thing to show others your true need and let them know you are not Ok. The Holy Spirit used the love, service, generosity, and faithful prayers from God’s family to help me to see His greatness. This started a journey of believing in the power of prayer and giving that I hold fast to until this day!
I believe we all long for authentic intimacy with our Creator but sometimes we are afraid to be honest with ourselves, others, and most importantly, Him. Sometimes we would rather hide behind the ‘what I should be’ rather than give Him ‘what I already am.’ We compare the Lover of our Souls to the best love that we have experienced here on earth. It is like, He is ‘Great, but not enough.’
Nothing could be further from the truth.
God is not just “great.” God is not an app to put on our phones. The Holy Spirit is not like my best teacher, best parent or best friend. He is other. He is above. He is matchless and He is the main, beautiful point of life.
That thing? That longing in your soul? That soul ache and fixation that nothing seems to fill? We look in the “fridge” in our lives and binge on media, careers, relationships, status, materialism, pleasures, or anything that seems to scratch the incessant itch.
That is a God created spot. He invites us in to a place that has room for needs only He can meet.
“This is the essence of sin, and the story of all our lives. We have all set our hopes onto something or someone we thought was really impressive and important. Something we thought would really make us happy . . . money, another person, a position. So we examine the thing. We lean on it a little bit. We test it. We taste it. It seems good. We respect it a little more, so we lean on it a little more. Pretty soon we trust enough to place the full weight of our soul upon it, and then . . . crash. We end up disappointed. Despairing. Why? Because it wasn’t God. And everything crumbles under the weight of worship except God.”
― Matt Papa
Do I have all the answers and live a life now free of questions, tensions, or selfishness? Most certainly not. But what happened on that day and since was a new shift in my relationship with God. We are all in process and I am a recovering Pharisee who intensely still needs Jesus. The difference is that now I experience the beauty of Him and know where my source comes. Seeing the troubled and scary parts of me made me want to quit until I fell into the arms of a God who is loving enough to not walk away, strong enough to carry my weight, and powerful enough to keep pushing me forward with His grace.
Maybe your story isn’t like mine. Maybe your struggles, past, and perspective are very different. That is okay. A few things unite us all, every one of us:
We all live in a broken world and experience heartache, loss, pain, and suffering of all varieties.
We will all face our lack of control at one point or another in life.
We all have a desperate need for Jesus (whether we recognize it or not.)
We all have a choice to follow Him or to stand on the sidelines critiquing those who do.
In the words of St Augustine to our God: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they find rest in you.”
So if you are tired of “still not finding what you are looking for”, there is hope. It’s just around the corner where your knees bend and your heart bows to Jesus and His great love and exclusive purposes. Don’t settle for anything less than what you were created to be.
Ask Him for humility and admit you are not the point of why the world was created.
Be brave, and trust that He can meet every one of your thirsty needs as you keep coming back for more.
And lastly, be gut wrenchingly honest, pour out your heart to Him, ask Him for the gift of faith, and find yourself held by a love that will not let you go.
---Stephanie Maus is a single mom of four wild and wonderful kids (15, 14, 12, and 10) and a business owner of her in-home hair salon called Renew. She currently enjoys leading Bible studies out of her home in Webster NY and teaching Women’s Sunday School class at Pittsford Community Church as well as one on one mentoring. Her joys include beaches, running, laughter, heart to heart talks, reading, and music.
I am so thrilled about this week's post! My 25 year old niece wrote it. Blessed to have her staying with me for a short season. Been a true joy to watch her spring up and unfold like a flower! If you have family that you've been praying for, let this post encourage you to persevere. Don't give up! I've been praying for many years for my family and to see her awaken is truly a reason for praise! Certainly I don't take credit for her; God deserves all glory. But prayer is joint venture with our Holy King; Him depositing his heart in ours and we pray accordingly. We rejoice in seeing resurrection life manifest in others! Be blessed in reading Amber's post! Be challenged to seek Him! ~ Gina
by Amber Williamson- For the last several years, the passion in this psalm has reverberated in my heart. The thought of a man longing for someone in such a way that the imagery of fainting was the best descriptor, struck me as profoundly beautiful. Meditating on that image opened a floodgate of questions: Why didn’t I have that longing for God? How could I make myself feel that way? Could I change how I felt about Him? Did He even want me to approach Him the way King David did? Did I have to earn His audience? And so on the questions continued. Irreversibly unsettled, I began my quest to answer the questions.
Night by night, I stayed up into the AM, mining through the seemingly endless theologies that were available online. My Amazon account became a monster to my monthly budget as I omnivorously purchased everything available on Kindle’s ”Christian Spiritual” bookshelf. I would take everything I read and compared it to the Bible. When I wasn’t reading I would fall asleep to the voice of a myriad of pastors and theologians on podcasts.
Day by day, I visited church after church, interacting with one denomination after another. I joined bible study groups, small groups, recovery groups, attended prayer meetings, volunteered my time at church functions and attended weekend services. I reached out to individuals for time outside of church. We shared the questions we had about God and brainstormed answers. I annoyed people by talking about God so much.
During this time, I encountered many earnest people who, like me, participated in the church programs and faithfully served as they were taught. I sensed the same aching hearts working hard to power smiles. Many of these friends bravely admitted that they were still slaves to addictions and insecure hearts. I knew they were earnest because I had my own share of brokenness that I was simultaneously striving to mend. We were all committed though, waiting for the breakthrough and the answers.
Something was missing.
I knew it had to be connected with God somehow, but my studies and Christian involvements weren’t giving me the answers. I felt like my quest had only brought more questions and I was terrified that I was missing the point. My growing list of questions and opinions of who he was only made me feel further from him.
Then one night, I heard a song. It was a Father’s Song by Steffany Gretzinger, titled “Out of Hiding.” As I listened, it released something and I began to weep. When the song ended, I realized that I was sick for intimacy.
I had left his audience to go find the answers when what I really needed was his company.
The year that followed that night became a season of recovery- a lot of resting in His presence. I remember driving home from work one day (a few months after I heard the song) having unknowingly relapsed into my fearful earn-His-favor ways, when I heard in my heart “You are sick.” It sounds strange to hear, but it was the best thing I could have acknowledged.
I was sick for him. I was malnourished and starving for time in his presence. I realized that this wasn’t just going to be a season of spending time with him. It was going to have to be a lifestyle. Since then, it’s been a full transformation of how I live. My endless purpose and desire is for deeper intimacy with him-I believe it’s what we are all made for. This means that I get to make scary sacrifices for that space. I get to let go of what makes sense. I get to give up efforts that other Christians would have me burn out for. I get to let go of having to know all the answers. I get to let go so that I can hold onto him.
And the reward?
God’s presence is the most desirably beautiful, sacred, sublime, lovely, and safe place I can be. He is literally my refuge.
As spend time in his presence I am healed. I leave his audience braver, stronger and more secure in my identity. I leave with sweet secrets and special nicknames. I leave with questions too, but now they are wrapped in wonder. I leave with him still with me. Since this has begun, I have continued to walk in increasing victory and joy. It’s easier to admit fault and let him remake me as I continue to experience his genuine interest in my freedom. My time with him never gets old. He continually shatters my expectations.
We are all made to know him like this.
Think about it.
What is the only thing we can truly give to the God who has everything-the Daddy who has all the tools and the toys? Ourselves. We can sit on His lap and tell him we love him. We can cry and sing to him. We can wrestle with him. We can dance with him. We can tell him thank you.
We are made to want to stay a little longer with him. John 4: 23-24, Matthew 4:4
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Prayer is Gift!
Hi my name is Gina; and I'm the founder of the ministry. My 25 year journey with God has been centered on immersing myself in the safe relationship God offers, learning about the power of surrender, and praying for His life in greater measure!