The Calm and the Storm

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I went on a prayer retreat a month ago. Three days in the woods, off the grid. Obviously I was not without technology. I did, however, avoid iMessenger, Email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Otherwise known as “death,” to the common teenager.

Behold, my supplies for a successful “come to Jesus” meeting:

Yes, all of the essentials for a few quiet days in the woods. It was lovely! Really, all I needed was coffee and my Bible. Everything else was icing. I had everything I needed for a trip that would renew my strength and refresh my vision.

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My time alone with Jesus began with a realization. I had not been drawn to a place of seclusion so that I could sleep and take long baths (although I did both, a lot). I was there because God was ready to speak and I needed to listen. If this wasn’t hard enough, it soon became clear that I was brought to that very place for a little bit of introspection.

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Tenderly, God began to remind me of His goodness. He reminded me of a very specific moment in time, when I worked in Germany. It was my first year and I was seriously under funded. I had little to live on, but it almost never bothered me. I would have lived on the couch in my classroom if I had to. For the most part, this only limited how often I was able to purchase a Döner kebab (look it up). However, the issue became much more serious at the end of the year. I quite literally ran out of money. I had nothing in my mission account and I had very little in my bank account. A TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission) finance member warned me that my account was low, but I only had a short period of time to do anything about it before the money was gone.

After a couple short weeks, TEAM contacted me to let me know that I was out of funds and had to return home. I informed them that this wasn’t an option. The yearbook project I was in charge of was far from complete. More importantly, I didn’t have money to purchase a plane ticket either. I had nothing. Leaving was the worst option, but I couldn’t even afford that.

My dependence upon the Lord became obvious. There was NOTHING I could do for myself. So, I prayed. I fell to my knees and then to my face. I prayed long. I pleaded. I cried. I knew it was in His hands, but I was desperate.

In about a week’s time, many people stepped in and donated enough money for me to finish the school year. One donor in particular, who means a lot to me, provided a large chunk of the funds that I needed. Yet God was making Himself clear. He was my provider.

This wasn’t the last time I had to learn this lesson when I lived in Germany. The same thing happened twice more. By the second time, I had learned to choose joy. I very publicly told all of my friends, family, and supporters that I was out of money but I would be ok. I praised God and I waited to see what He would do.

God always came through for me. This is what He reminded me of, when I first began to meditate, on my retreat. There was more though. God reminded me that I was ALWAYS just as dependent upon Him. I have nothing apart from Him. Any thought of “earned” wealth or talent was an illusion. Everything was His. He could provide the funds I needed to return to Germany at any moment.

The next morning, God reminded me of His grace. I flipped through scripture and meditated on sweet promises from the Lord. If I had access to a tattoo gun, I would have made these passages more permanent. I was overwhelmed by the truth God was putting before me.

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I didn’t know where to go from there. I had so much on my mind. Many things were unclear about the position I was in- finances, relationships, and ministry. I had already made decisions that I was unsure about. I had more decisions to make that I needed clarity in. I needed so many answers. I wished God would just write everything out for me. He didn’t do that, of course. He did, however, tell ME to write. As I wrote, thoughts started to take shape and God’s message to me became very clear. That’s when God brought this passage to my attention…

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In that moment, my prayers began to change. I began to ask different questions. I had no doubt that the Spirit was leading my voice. I had the courage to ask questions that I didn’t even want the answers to.

First, God reminded me of the way I longed for Florida when I lived in South Carolina. When I lived in Germany, I longed for South Carolina. When I spent holidays away from friends and family, I longed for both homes. At that moment, I sat in Florida discontented. I longed for SC and I certainly longed for Germany. No place would satisfy me. God’s first rebuke was that I needed to be content where I was for the moment.

The second rebuke was much more harsh. God called my attention to the fact that my prayers had been egocentric. I had fooled myself into thinking that I was being selfless, because I was choosing obedience. As an obedient servant, I had committed to returning to Germany for long term ministry wholeheartedly. Since that initial step in obedience, I had spent little time in prayer about the spiritual condition of Germany and a LOT of time in prayer about my financial condition. I lost sight of the purpose for which God was calling me. He made it VERY clear that He did not need me to save the lost in Germany. Only He could do that. My presence there was not essential in His plan for the salvation of Germans. He could accomplish His purposes without me. Therefore, it was my roll to remain in prayer on behalf of the Germans and on behalf of those who were already being used by God in that country. He won’t move me until that becomes consistent in my life.

Third, and harshest of all, God showed me that I did not truly love lost people. Even now, I am ashamed to type this. What kind of missionary doesn’t truly love the lost? I have spent time with people that don’t believe what I believe these last 2 years. My lack of love for each of them was put before me, all at once. I have been apathetic.

My obedience to share the Gospel and to love people had led me down the right path. My actions were not coming from a place of desire though. They were instead coming from obligation. I have liked all of the people God has placed in my life and I have wished them well, but I did not truly loved them by God’s standards. I was fooled into thinking that I had, because my actions were different from those around me.

These revelations and rebukes led me to a few different courses of action. Most importantly, I decided to spend my time focusing on praying for Dresden, instead of raising funds to move there. This requires more work in keeping up with my team leaders, the news, and current events. This wasn’t meant to be a challenge that I would take on by myself though. I felt that I should ask others to stand with me in prayer. For this would be the most effective way to reach Germans for Christ.

I’m sure I will have a great deal to share soon. For now, please join me in praying for Germany and for the spiritual condition of Europe. God is at work there and I’m excited to be a part of it in any way that I can. Are you?

 

Tune My Heart

This morning was a rough morning, not unlike many others as of late. Only a precious few know that I’m currently struggling with depression and anxiety. It’s a battle I have fought more than a few times in my life. It runs in the family. It’s familiar. Yet, I still haven’t found the best solution. I have tried my best to deal with the issue appropriately, but I have often acted my worst in the midst of trying to find balance. Before balance has been found, friends have been hurt, annoyed, and confused by my erratic behavior. In response, drama is stirred and I develop legitimate feelings of hurt, anxiety, and confusion.

This morning I woke up fighting. From the moment I opened my eyes, I was engaged in another mental war. My soul found reason to despair. I spent hours praying and trying to use truth to extinguish the fire of hurt and anger which was easily started by a small spark. I did just about everything I could do to make myself happy. I watched a TV show that I loved, ate something tasty, reminisced with a dear friend, prayed, and tried to read my Bible. One verse into Romans 12 and I had to stop and pray again. I just felt like the words were sliding off of me. I couldn’t hold them.

In that moment, Matt Maher’s song Lord, I Need You came to mind. I found the song on my iPad and began to weep as I listened to it on repeat. Every stanza brought more tears. This song became my cry before the Lord. These were the words that I could grasp. 

Something happened. I was having a cathartic moment and I felt Jesus meet me there. I didn’t feel happy. I still don’t feel happy. I felt content though. I imagined myself curled up in His lap, like a child. I just needed His embrace.

The song changed. I don’t know how. I had it on repeat. Lord, I Need You had already repeated a few times. Unexpectedly, Come Thou Fount came on. Before I could change the song back, the words “tune my heart to sing thy grace” rang out. Suddenly I had some clarity. My depression and anxiety were not simply a chemical imbalance, although it had certainly played a part. God was tuning my heart to sing of His grace.

I had just played bass through a 2 hour band practice, a couple of nights ago. Our guitarist was a young girl, whom I love very much. She’s talented and fun to be with. Our time together was no different on Tuesday. We laughed together and worshipped together. The practice was not without annoyance though. Her guitar kept slipping out of tune. She had just replaced the strings. The constant tuning we all endured was to be expected, but it slowed us down more than once.

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This morning, I realized that my heart had some new strings. I have been wading through areas of my life that I had been content to leave in the dark. Like new strings, I kept finding myself out of tune. Others have had to endure my tuning with patience. It has been a process though. Tuning does more than fix the horrible sound for the moment. It trains the strings. After the strings have worn a little, and tuning has stretched the strings, the need to tune comes about less frequently.

The retuning pulls the strings hard. They must be tight. When the tuning finally sticks, the result is beautiful. There’s a bright ring to the new strings that could no longer be heard with the old ones. As an amateur guitarist, this process has always caused me to keep my old strings on longer. I have made the choice to live happily with the dull sound of the old strings, rather than go through the constant retuning struggle that must occur when new strings are installed.

This year, I got tired of my old heartstrings. I ripped them off and applied the new set, with the help of friends and mentors. These moments of tuning have been hard. Stretching. Yet, I am confident that God is doing a work in me. He is tuning my heart to sing of His grace.

The need to tune is constant right now, but it will soon happen less frequently. His story will ring out in a fresh way and I will be better for the process.

This Is Normal

I love my iPhone. I am not ashamed. It’s like a digital Swiss Army knife! My iPhone contains so many valuable tools. One of my favorite, among many, is my bank app. Not only does it allow me to see my bank history easily, but I am able to cash checks and make digital transfers without leaving my recliner. No bank lines. No tellers. No car trip. It’s amazing!!

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I cannot tell you how many times I have had to deposit my paycheck as soon as it was received. Publix deposits my paycheck directly into my account, but my church hands me a paper check. As soon as it’s in my hand, I sign it and digitally deposit it. Why? Well, I’m usually down to about $5 by that time.

(Please don’t send me emails about money management. My time is split between 3 jobs right now. 2 of them pay very little and 1 of them pays me nothing.)

A couple of weeks ago, I digitally deposited 2 or 3 checks. Without thinking about it, I signed my checks with “Lexi McNair,” instead of “Alexis McNair.” The checks usually go straight into my account, as useable money, right then and there. Occasionally the bank withholds part of the amount, until the check clears. On this day, however, NONE of the money went straight into my account. I needed the money pretty badly, so I was a little panicked. I blamed myself for the problem right away. I signed the checks wrong. This MUST have been my mistake. Surely it was my mistake. I thought: “Why did you do that?!” and “You’re always in a hurry Lexi!”

I called the bank. The customer service rep I spoke with was not very understanding. My questions seemed annoying and unwarranted. No, it did not matter that I had signed “Lexi” instead of “Alexis.” (I realize that this was a dumb assumption, but it’s the only thing I could think of). No, there was no problem with my account. No, the fact that I would have to wait for the checks to clear, before having access to the money, was not unusual. What WAS unusual was the fact that I had access to my uncleared checks as soon as I deposited them, in the past.

The woman I was speaking to wasn’t very friendly, but I appreciated that she was able to shift my perspective. Of course I could wait a day or two for the checks to clear. It was silly, and very millennial of me, to expect access to that money immediately.

I have lived long enough to know how things “used to be.” I have stood in line at a bank for multiple reasons. I have received and filed bank statements. I have waited more than a few days for a check to clear. I have even gone to the bank to speak with a manager about an account issue, when customer service wasn’t a telephone call away.

When I spoke to the customer service rep, in this recent situation, I had to laugh at myself and say “calm down Lexi, this is normal.” The phrase echoed in my brain, like a cliche flashback sequence on a Disney Channel sitcom. “This is normal,” “This is normal,” “This is normal.”

Today the sentence was spoken by my missions advisor/mentor. He didn’t have to tell me to calm down, but he kept saying “this is normal.” This is the moment in which I had a flashback to the check cashing scenario. For you, this is a flash forward.

Carl was not referring to cashing checks, of course. He was encouraging me. He was saying that the length of time it has taken me to raise funds, for long-term missions in Germany, was normal. It had not being feeling “normal.” In fact, I felt like I was the only one who had taken this long to get funds together. Most of my friends, from missions orientations with TEAM, already raised their funds and have headed to the field. So a year seemed like a “normal” length of time for raising funds. For me, that year has come and gone.

If you are a member of Generation X, or earlier, you probably found my check cashing scenario humorous or even bothersome. Maybe it invoked head shaking. “Here we go. Another millennial that expects everything to work instantly, like a microwave.” You would be absolutely right to feel that way. My impatience with technology was ridiculous and very telling of the mindset of my generation.

My fundraising experience is no different. Yes, we are talking about months and years, instead of days, but the concept is the same. Missionaries who were able to raise funds quickly were fortunate, but their experience was not necessarily “normal.”

Young people who are opening their first bank account will see their digital money moving options as “normal.” They won’t know any different. Similarly, I am a new missionary. I don’t know any different than what I have seen. Facebook countdowns, blog posts, GoFundMe challenges, and Mailchimp send outs have been normal fundraising tools. They have brought funds into my missions account in a matter of days.

It’s normal to wait a couple of days for a check to clear. That’s the way cashing checks used to be, with little exception. It’s normal for a missionary to take longer than a year to raise money for a long term assignment. Well, at least we can say that it’s not uncommon.

The Lord is teaching me patience, among many other things. Please know and appreciate that this is the journey I am on. Things have not changed. I know that I am called to Germany. Moving there will change my entire life. The process is currently doing that as well. But now I wait.

I Won’t Be Here For That

Friends: Are you going to renew your theme park passes for 2016?

Me: No, I’ll be leaving for Germany soon.

People: Are you going to get your own place?

Me: No, I’ll be leaving for Germany soon and don’t want to furnish a place I will soon leave.

Friend: Do you want to go to the upcoming women’s conference?

Me: Yes, but I won’t be here for that. I’ll be in Germany.

Co-workers: Are you going to try to move up from being a bakery clerk?

Me: No, I don’t plan to be here long. I’m moving to Germany soon.

Westwood staff: How long do you think you will be here? How long can you commit to the student director position?

Me: I have no idea. I’ll gladly serve here until I am sent.

It’s official, I’m done setting deadlines. I don’t even feel that I can say “soon” when people ask me when I’m leaving for Germany. The truth is that I have no idea. Fundraising deadlines I have set for myself have come and gone with the seasons. Friends and co-workers have mentioned plans for things in the future. I have listened, with excitement, and said “I probably won’t be here for that.” That response never seemed unreasonable. Yet, I feel foolish about it now. I should have been careful with my expectations. 

In many ways, being in the US longer than I had hoped has been a great blessing. I’ve had the incredible opportunity to invest in the lives of students and friends here. I’ve even had the privilege of others investing in my life. That could not have occurred, had I gone to Germany in my own timeline. Yet, there is a frustration and a guilt that lies beneath. 

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(Video recap of the youth retreat we had this summer: https://vimeo.com/171882065)

The team that I will be joining in Germany has hoped for my funds to come in. Whether or not they share my frustration and disappointment, I imagine that they do. Even though I am trying to commit to a lifetime of service in another country, I feel the need to move forward faster. I can’t decide if a year and a half of fundraising is a long, appropriate, or short period of time. Fellow missionaries have shared “encouraging” stories about how God provided their funds within a short period of time. These stories have left me with two feelings. The first being comfort. I’m comforted by the fact that God will provide when the time is right. He is the one who called me to this and He will send me when the time is right. The second feeling is insecurity. I begin to wonder what is wrong me with me. I ask God: “Why won’t you send me?!” I’m so willing.

I hate to admit this, but I recently found a huge error in my financial planning for Germany. I have a budget sheet which I fill in with all of the monthly donation commitments I receive. Every time someone gives a verbal commitment to fund me, or gives a donation, I update the spreadsheet. A graph of my progress is automatically calculated. It’s fantastic! However, I recently learned that I’ve been filling it in all wrong. I’ve been marking my one-time donations as annual donations. One time donations help me cover moving expenses, my language school, my travel funds, and my backup funds. Annual and monthly donations collected now (before leaving for the field) also contribute to that fund. However, the main purpose is to secure my future income. An annual gift of $1,200, for example, would be counted as a monthly donation of $100. The funds collected now go to my one time goal of $24,000. I cannot leave the US without reaching that goal. I am also unable to leave until I have 100% of my monthly funds.

A couple days ago, I updated my spreadsheet and found that I had 85% of my monthly funds promised. I was ecstatic!! After correcting my error of recording one-time gifts as annual gifts, I found that I was only at 65%. I had been telling people for over a month that I was at 75%. So now I have taken a step backwards, seemingly. Talk about feeling defeated! I’m trying to regroup and make new fundraising plans. I’m waiting on the Lord and trying hard to trust in His timing, but I’m frustrated with myself. I can’t escape feeling like I haven’t done enough. Yet, I am not sure where to go from here.

This is where I usually conclude my post with a positive outlook and/or a biblical perspective. Unfortunately, I’m still living in this tension of trusting God but feeling like a failure. I don’t believe these two are mutually exclusive concepts. I’m sure I haven’t done as much as I should have to raise the funds. On the other hand, I’m not really sure where to go from here. So, I’m waiting for God to lead. That’s all I can do.

Spiritual Mamas

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I have several mamas in my life. Cindy McNair is the woman who has had the joy, pain, pleasure, and chore of raising me. I can assure you, however, that it DOES take a village. The number of women in my life that have had a profound influence on me extend MUCH longer than this blog. I would like to call these women my spiritual mamas.

My spiritual mamas have been there to listen, advise, teach, guide, and model what it means to be a woman after God’s heart. They’ve humbly offered their victories and their failures as examples that I can learn from. My spiritual mamas, like my own mother, have endured my endless chatter, heard my complaints, and have even seen me at my very worst. Instead of reprimanding me and making me feel small, they have encouraged and challenged me. 

I would not be the woman I am today without the community of women who have surrounded me with love. I am richly blessed beyond what I can express. If there weren’t so many of you, I would be tempted to reach out to all of you, individually, with a hug and a rose today. You are each very beautiful and special to me.

Not all of you have children of your own. I hope that young women (like myself), who are currently in your proximity, were able to hug your neck today and share words of encouragement. We need you. Your vulnerability and strength were not wasted on us. 

Happy spiritual mamas day to you all!

(If the age issue bothers you, you can consider today spiritual older sister day 😉.)

Knowledge is Power

Raphael_School_of_Athens(School of Athens- If you get it you get it. Sorry if you don’t.)

“Knowledge is power.” This popular phrase is attributed to the famous British philosopher Francis Bacon. Other variations of his phrase are: “wisdom is power” and “knowledge is His power” (referring to God’s power). Any translation of FB’s Latin will lead you to his conclusion that God’s Word and God’s creation reveal His power. A study of history and science, paired with diligent study of scripture, could/would open our minds to the power of God in a way that we could never merely understand through daily observation.

Romans 1:20 states that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” At a glance, this passage from the apostle Paul might seem to say that we don’t need to study to know God. God is obvious. This is truth. Yet, a deeper look only teaches us more about God’s eternal power.

I am continually surprised by the schism of scientists, historians, and the religious. As if our fields of study were exclusive and hindered by the other. Indeed, they are not. Learning more about the human body, animals, and nature has obviously changed our understanding of history. Any forensic show proves that point. Yet, people groups of various religious categories seem critical of the scientific method. The idea of having a testable hypothesis seems to threaten their faith. Because what is faith? “Faith is the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see “(Hebrews 11:1). I think Galileo addressed this issue best when he said: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” Faith is important, because we cannot know all things, but it does not excuse us from using the very faculties God has given us.

The other side of the coin is this: “science is not our only means for accessing truth.” This was recently stated by a lesser known, but highly respected, professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT. (Click HERE to read the rest of his article about science and the resurrection). Historical record is also an important means for truth. In today’s world, we don’t reject history. We just do our best to interpret history through our own worldview.

What does this have to do with power? Knowing God more completely, through every sense, reason, and intellect He has given us reveals His power. The human body, for example, is beautiful to the eye and easily observed as an amazing work of art. To look deeper and see how EVERY bit of our body works perfectly to maintain life puts me on my face before God, in absolute awe of His brilliant creation. Likewise, when I read my Bible, I feel enriched by truth. When I dig deeper and understand the cultural context, the real meaning of the original language, and fit each passage into the framework of the entire Bible and the history of the world, I’m in tears. I’m overwhelmed and I can’t get enough!

In today’s world of resources, we have no excuse for laziness. In 2 minutes, we could download an app that explains the anatomy of the human body. For $12.99, we could upload the Archaeological Study Bible to an e-reader. In 20 seconds, we could Google free resources for just about any field of study. It’s all right at our fingertips. The question is, are we using our resources to learn/access God’s power?

Just this morning, I was reading from the book of Esther and I decided to Google “Cyrus and the Diaspora,” on my phone. Instantly, I found myself entangled in an article posted on The MET website which made mention of the cuneiform tablets found amid the ruins of ancient Nippur. These same tablets were mentioned in the notes section of my Archaeological Bible, which I had open on my tablet. In my lap sat my leather bound Bible. Every resource I opened pointed back to the historical authenticity of a story of God’s sovereignty.  My heart burst with excitement!

Day by day, I have to challenge myself to be a student of God’s Word, a student of life. Knowledge IS power. It’s God’s power. We could spend our entire lives gaining knowledge, but it’s meaningless without Him. Every field of study comes alive when we have a relationship with Him. He is the one who gives life and purpose. The more intimate our relationship with God, the more clearly we see his eternal power and divine nature. Being a student of life and a student of God’s Word only increases that intimacy. It’s not enough to be an observer.

Proverbs 1:7- “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

 

Go Be

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Go to the Nations. Be the body of Christ.

This is the motto of The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM). The idea is simple. We are a group of people that have committed to leaving our home countries, for the sake of the Gospel. We recognize the global need for the message of Jesus (Romans 3:21-31) and believe the message is most effectively received through relationship. Therefore, TEAM focuses their efforts on being the body of Christ within foreign countries.

GOing involves a certain amount of sacrifice. It means we must leave the comfort of our home, our culture, and our loved ones. It means going on adventure, engaging with a new culture, and making a new home. It’s exciting! It’s not without it’s challenges though.

BEing is about existing. A huge part of missions is simply existing in another culture. Christians worldwide are meant to be a witness where they live and move. Missionaries exist as ambassadors of Jesus in a culture that is not typically aware/accepting of Him.

While this motto of going to the nations and being the body of Christ is particularly fitting for our mission, it is not an exclusive challenge. All believers are called to go (Matthew 28:28-20). They may not be called to go across the world, but they are meant to go to their neighbors- across the street, at work, and in their community. It’s about being intentional in our relationships.

In that sentiment, I am selling red leather bracelets/bands which bear the phrase “Go Be.” They are meant to serve as a reminder to be intentional about leaving our comfort zone for the purpose of living incarnationally among those who don’t know Christ. All of the profit will go directly into my TEAM account for long-term missions in Germany. This product will help me go. Please show your support for what God is doing in Germany by purchasing this reminder for yourself and sharing my link with others.

http://www.leximcnair.com/merch/

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UPDATE: My sending church just finished a series on the book of Jonah. I have been convicted by this book every time I have studied it. This concluding sermon was particularly challenging. If you are willing to be challenged to have a missionary mindset where you live, work, and play, click HERE.