Saturday, January 10, 2015

New Eyes

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT)

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:16-17 NLT)

I recently accepted the fact that my primary spiritual gift is that of Shepherd. In the past I discounted it mostly because I didn't understand it. I assumed Shepherds were soft and sweet and full of mercy. They can be, but mostly, they see God's followers with different eyes than most and they work to bring unity and love to the followers entrusted to them. 

I have spent the last 5 years developing gifts that I perceived as more important or gifts that brought me more 'importance,' but in 2015 I am spending time developing my actual gifts. 

To no surprise, as I opened myself up to the Holy Spirit's teaching, God is faithful to reveal today an area of growth - not in one verse, but in two. 

He's challenged me to remember that I was a nothing when he rescued me and he has shown his glory in my life in amazing ways. And there are people all around me that I may dismiss, but he wants to do glorious things in their life that will draw thousands to him. If I will look at them with His eyes and plead with them on his behalf, He will do exceedingly more than I could ever ask or imagine!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Small Piece of a Great Story

"All these people (Abel, Enoch, Noah, & Abraham) died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland." - Hebrews 11:13-14, 16
As I read this today, I was reminded of how short-sighted I can be, what a short-sighted culture we live in. For Americans, fame is the ultimate idol - to be esteemed, well-known. We aren't content to fully live out the small, but significant piece of God's plan that he has designed for us. Instead we strive to live out our own plan. We think we know better than God or, worse yet, that he leaves it up to us to figure out his plan for our life.

But that wasn't the case with the heros of the faith listed in Hebrews 11.

God came to Noah in a dream with a very clear plan to save the world - down to the exact dimensions of the ark. God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. Joshua was simply taking over where Moses left off. David was sought out my Samuel (even though his family dismissed him). Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus - in route to persecute Christians.

I've often wondered why God chose these people. What was so special about them? And I've often tried to be "special" like them - in the true spirit of the American culture. Because, heck, if you are going to be a superstar, why not be a superstar for God!?!

The problem is, God isn't looking for superstars. He's looking for people who simply believe He is who he says He is - and live their lives accordingly. Like is says in Hebrews 11, the great heros of the faith recognized that they were a part of God's bigger plan. 

Abel gave his very best to God. Why? Because his heart was filled with gratitude for a God who had given him His very best.

Noah believed God even when what God asked him to do seemed ludicrous. He believed that God must have a bigger plan and he willingly participated.

Paul believed that Christ's salvation wasn't just for the circumcised Jews, but for all nations and sacrificed his life to spread the Gospel throughout the Roman empire.

Abraham left everything he knew based on a vague promise from God - nothing but God's word that somewhere there was a land for his people and somehow Abraham and his old wife would produce the people God would bless. Abraham believed God was leading them to a "better place," a place that would benefit all of humanity.

What 'better place' is your heart striving for? Abe had the benefit of moving towards a physical location, but he also believed God's promise of blessing - that the entire world would be blessed through his family.

This theme carries past the bible, too. John Wycliffe believed God desired all men to interact with the Holy scriptures and learn the character of God for themselves, not just through the religious leaders. William Wilberforce believed God for a world where men and women would not be disgraced by the tyranny of slavery. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed God for a world where his kids could be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. 

These men (and countless others) fixed their eyes on a better place - on Heaven, yes, but also on a greater reality than the one in which they lived. They understood at their core, that they were part of God's greater plan - even if it was an unknown sliver of human history. They gave every minute they had on earth to help the people around them see and experience this greater reality. And most of them died before seeing the full ramifications of God's plan in their lives.

Unfortunately, our current culture doesn't lend itself to call this kind of faith out of us. When we are self-promoting, we are missing our greater purpose: to bring Glory to God as a part of his great plan to save the world. But Abraham's culture and Paul's culture and MLK's culture didn't lend itself to their work either.

That gives me great hope that God not only might, but WILL use my desire to love and serve him to bring about a greater reality for those around me. I don't have to see the bigger plan to know I am part of it. I can simply believe that everything God has called me to is important to his greater plan. I can rest on the faithfulness of God throughout history to have faith for things I hear him asking me to do - both great and small. It's not up to me to manufacture, I can simply trust God. You can, too.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mantor Madhouse Christmas Letter - 2014 Edition

 Merry Christmas from the Madhouse!!

Christmas is in full-swing at the Madhouse - we've made dozens of cookies, decorated our Christmas tree, pulled all of my nutcrackers out of storage, and experienced Andi and Ryan's Christmas programs! It's hard to believe it's already December, though.

As always, this was an adventurous year for us - with broken bones, job changes, new family members and several trips to see family. Here's a few of the highlights:

  • January: Garrett and I celebrated a dozen years of marriage with a surprise overnight at a local bed and breakfast.
  • February: Mantor Kids, Inc. released their first production:
  • March: Andi re-injured the growth plate in her elbow - cast # 2 for her and Garrett's grandpa passed away so we headed to Iowa for the funeral.
  • April: Andi fell off her bike, breaking her arm - cast #3
  • May: Ryan celebrated his 8th birthday and his 1st spiritual birthday. I left my job at Photizo.
  • June: We announced the arrival of 4 new members of the Madhouse - Rizer, Amy, The New Guy, and Steve (our beloved Rats).
  • July: We took two family trips: home to Iowa for a Sandhagen Reunion and a vacation day at King's Island amusement park near Cincinnati. Hunter took time to turn 16!
  • August: Ryan and Leigha tried their hand at Cross Country - and discovered they aren't really runners.
  • September: I started a new job for the state, brought back an old family tradition of a day at the apple orchard and celebrated my 34th birthday.
  • October: Garrett turned 34 and Leigha turned 7. I introduced my kids to Mrs. Arthur's Fart-Fart Halloween cookies.
  • November: Andi turned 12 and we visited friends in Kankakee for our former church's 75th Anniversary.
  • December: Andi had her first band concert and Garrett was MIA most of the month, working 16 hour days.
Hunter: Hunter is the proud owner of a driver's permit and asks to drive us around - his sense of direction is improving (as in, he now knows Frankfort has a Walmart). He went out for track this year, but opted not to do cross country. He helps out in the kid's department at church and runs tech for his youth group. He also experienced his first college visit this year. He's looking at small, Christian colleges in the area where he can prepare to be a pastor. It's delight to watch him learn who God is and who God says he is. For a 16-year-old Junior, he's pretty amazing.

Andi had a rough year with broken bones and being diagnosed with migraines, but all the while her same sweet spirit prevailed. He adores kids and has started a pretty lucrative babysitting business. On Sundays she also helps out in the kids program at church and recently stepped in to helping out in the cafe. She joined the youth group this year and has made several new friends. At school, she is in 6th grade and continues to do well - mostly A's all around. She was named Panther of the Month on her birthday because she's awesome like that!

Ryan is still as wild and adventurous as the day he was born. This year, he decided to grow his hair out, much to his grandma's dismay, He's still our household gardener and has dove into a love of Pokemon this year with his best friend, Matthew. He continues to develop his creativity and innate curiosity - at school, this landed him a spot in the gifted class. Although he occasionally gets in trouble for throwing lettuce in the lunch room, he does well in 3rd grade. 

Leigha loves to have the wittiest comment in the room. You can often see her little mind spinning as she compiles just the right comeback! Beyond her whit, her language and math skills keep her doing very well in 1st grade - she earned Panther of the Month in August. She tried cross country this year, but decided she prefers to play with her dolls and friends than sweat. She has her own unique, sparkly sense of fashion and enjoys expressing her creativity in her clothes and in various art projects.

Garrett finished another year of work at Toyburg as the Inventory Manger, Facilities Manager, all all-around go-to guy. At church, he continues to lead a life group and serve as the Frankfort Campus Tech Director. When he can find some spare time, he still loves to play board games with friends. This year he added several new games to his collection, including Coal Barron and Hannibal. He's a little addicted to "new game smell."

Abbie switched jobs this year. I get to walk each day to work and home for lunch. Currently, I am a Communications Specialist for the Cabinet of Economic Development managing their social media accounts. At church, I also switched serving roles, recently becoming the Frankfort Campus Arts Coordinator, which basically means I make sure our weekend services happen. I still lead a LifeGroup of amazing women I affectionately call "the Squirrels."

For Christmas, we'll be heading back to Iowa to see all of our family. We are especially excited to be at the Sandhagen Christmas Eve celebration for the ornament exchange. 2015 proves to be another adventurous year for us as I plan to go back to school to finish the master's degree I started when we moved here. It will also be Hunter's last full year at home before heading off to college in 2016 (Leigha is already plotting to take over his room). Our biggest hope, though, is that Andi has a cast-free year! One thing is for sure, it will be a year full of laughs and silliness!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Do I Matter?

As part of my assigned reading for a leadership development class I am part of, I am reading Axioms by Bill Hybels. It's an invaluable collection of leadership principles he has gathered over the years as the Lead Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. One of his axioms has left me thinking for quite a while.

30. Pay Attention to Greetings and Goodbyes

The basic premise of this axiom is that people need to know they matter - really know. 

I've been in settings (usually as a low-level employee) where upper management SAYS we matter, but you couldn't tell that by the actions (or lack of actions). I'm sure you can sympathize based on your own experience. People know when they are getting lip service. That isn't the biggest problem.

As I am learning what kind of leader God made me to be, this quote from the book hit me hard.

“Bill, everyone who works for a highly motivated leader carries with them a low-grade concern that that leader is going to use them and then toss them out. They worry that aside from getting the leader's agenda done, they're not at all necessary. Deep down, they simply want to know that they're more than just a cog in someone else's wheel.”

Beyond the leadership implications of this, I am left to ponder a bigger question. If we tend to view God in the same way we view people of authority in our life, does most of the world walk around feeling like a cog in God's wheel? Do we (me included) believe the lie that what we do really doesn't matter to the grand scheme of things all the while dreams and immeasurable impact pass us by? And as leaders in the Church, how do we help people see the Truth for who God uniquely and individually made them for?

It's a question worth pondering.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Willow Pilgrimage

Nearly six years ago, in mid-October 2008, I visited Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL. I had been sent by my employer to Willow's Reveal Conference to learn about their study and how it affected churches. I had never been their before (ask me about my fun story getting there), but was excited to experience a church I had heard a lot about (good and bad).

The conference was good - the best worship I had experienced to-date, Bill Hybles was an AMAZING communicator, and the facts of the study were fascinating. But something deeper was going on in my heart that I couldn't explain. God was starting to move in a heart that was giving up hope in her marriage, her calling, and especially giving up hope that the local church could actually help. I couldn't put words to it, but something was going on. 

During the conference they explained four groups of people at Willow: Seekers, New Believers, Growing in Christ, and Christ-Centered. In their description of the last group, I heard God say to me, 'Abbie, you love me, you just aren't wholehearted.' I knew it was true, but I didn't know how to change it. 

The next spring, I decided to go to Seminary and that summer we moved to KY. The whole time, I knew I was seeking to become wholehearted!

On a Wednesday night in late July as Garrett and I were church shopping, we visited Quest Community Church in Lexington. As I walked into the auditorium, I saw their mission statement along the far wall:

'Transforming unconvinced people into WHOLEHEARTED followers of Jesus.'

It took my breath away and I remember thinking, 'If they can deliver on that, I am ALL IN.'

Five years later I am both WHOLEHEARTED and ALL IN. I recognized Jesus for who he really is and received his forgiveness and new life on August 26, 2009 and am now a leader at Quest, giving the best hours of my day to help build a community where lost, hopeless people can encounter God like I did!

And tomorrow I get the unbelievable privilege of going back to Willow Creek with my church's leadership team to attend the Willow Creek Association's Global Leadership Summit. It feels like a pilgrimage home for me! I am honored to be able to go and can't help but get my hopes up for the next thing Jesus might say to me this week. My last trip changed everything for me. Why would this one be any different!?!