Ann Lovell

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Travel light with me in 2015

It’s an overplayed biblical cliché: life is a journey, a race, a marathon. But it’s true: God calls each of us to a journey — a journey of relationship that involves obedience, surrender and adventure.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God. But only he who sees takes off his shoes. The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

How will you respond to God’s call to the journey? Will you travel light by laying aside those things that hinder you (Hebrews 12:1)? Will you choose “comfortable shoes” that prepare you to take the Gospel of peace to the hardest to reach places in your community and around the world (Ephesians 6:15)?

Over the next 52 weeks, I hope you’ll join me on a journey to discover the missional lessons found in a chronological reading of God’s Word. Resolve with me to be the Jesus follower who sees the bush afire, gasps at the glory in the common and commits to the adventure of relationship with the God who calls you.

Save the blackberries for another day.


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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Three reasons to end a tradition

This week a Christmas tradition came to an end. The buttermilk fudge we made turned out perfectly: pure sweet creamy deliciousness that we didn’t have to eat with a spoon. Thus we thankfully ended a 15-year streak of a runny, gooey mess.

As our family grows and grows up, we have other traditions that are coming to an end as well. While I’m sad for some of them to go, I also realize that change is inevitable. Sometimes, for the sake of our physical and spiritual growth, we set aside traditions of the past with good reason. Here are three good reasons to set aside tradition:

1.    When the tradition dishonors God
Jesus told the Pharisees in Mark 7:6-8, HCSB, “These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men. Disregarding the command of God, you keep the tradition of men.” He also said to them, “You completely invalidate God’s command in order to keep your tradition!”

Traditions that enslave, oppress and encourage false worship must be set aside for the truth of the gospel. Jesus had harsh words for the Pharisees for enslaving the people with legalism rooted in religious tradition. Instead, the gospel of Christ is rooted in a relationship of love with our Creator that translates to loving those around us and seeking God’s best for them. If you practice a tradition for the sake of tradition itself, it needs to stop. Now.

What traditions do you keep that invalidate God’s commands? 

2.    When the tradition facilitates pretense
We all want to portray ourselves in the best light possible, but sometimes our traditions facilitate pretense, causing us to be dishonest with ourselves and with God. 

Again, Jesus criticized the Pharisees for this type of behavior: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation” (Matthew 23:18, NASB).

Pretense facilitates an “I’m OK. You’re OK” mentality that keeps us from admitting the truth: we are all sinners trying to make sense of the messed up world we’ve created and of which we are a part. Pretense denies our need for a Savior. 

In what areas of your life are you pretending? 

3.    When the tradition stifles the work of the Holy Spirit
The prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 43:18-19 HCSB, “Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to the things of old. Look I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” 
Tradition can keep us from allowing the Holy Spirit to do a new work in our lives and the lives of those around us. When we adhere to tradition too strongly, as the Pharisees and Sadducees did, we can miss the Messiah living among us. 

 What “new thing” does Christ want to do in your life in 2015? 

Let Him do it. Now.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"The smaller the coffin, the heavier it is to carry ..."

This week, Taliban militants in Peshawar, Pakistan, stormed into a school and massacred 145 people. By the end of the hours-long seige, 132 students, 10 staff members and 3 soldiers were dead. Pakistani defense minister, Khawaja Asif told CNN, "The smaller the coffin, the heavier it is to carry. ... It's a very, very tragic day."

Two years ago on Dec. 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza stormed through the doors of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 children and six educators before taking his own life as police arrived.

As the world reacts to the massacre in Peshawar and families in Newtown and Peshawar manage their grief, the prayer I wrote two years ago in memory of the Sandy Hook massacre is just as relevant today. May God give us peace.

Dec. 19, 2012

Father, I pray for the families of Sandy Hook. I pray You will be with them in their grief. I know, Lord, that You are close to them because You promise to be close to the brokenhearted. I pray that those who know You will cling to You and that those who don’t will turn to You. For all of them, Lord, I pray that You will heal their broken hearts and bind their wounds.

The words of Matthew 2:18 have been hauntingly close this week, Lord. I hear the cries of “Rachel, weeping for her children,” refusing to be consoled. Father, it was into this kind of world that Jesus came — vulnerable and targeted for death by a crazy king who felt Your threat to his power. Yet, Lord, through the Father’s grace and protection, You survived. You grew to adulthood, lived among us and gave Your life for us. You did not die as a child at the whims of a king but as a man by the purpose of God. And because You came and lived and died and rose again, You are here with us now in our brokenness and grief, in the midst of yet another tragedy involving the innocent.

Father, I pray for the children who survived. In this world gone mad, may they come to know Your love, Your peace, Your security and Your purpose for their lives. May they grow to be strong. May this tragedy define them only to the extent that they seek You and grow into men and women who can be a force for good in this broken world.

Father, I pray for the parents, teachers and community of Newtown. Comfort them in their grief. Give them the resilience to rebuild. Lord, as they face funeral after funeral this week, I’m sure many are praying, “Lord, if You had been here, my child would not have died.” Father, I feel Your tears as You hear their cries. But just as you comforted Martha in the death of her brother, Lazarus, I pray that You will comfort them. Remind them that You are the resurrection and the life. Remind them that in You we can live abundantly, even in the face of suffering, carnage and death. You give us hope, Lord, when all seems lost. Help us to trust You. Help us to believe that somehow what others intended for evil, You planned for good to bring about the saving of many lives.

Father, I am looking to see what You will bring about through this tragedy. May wrong fail and right prevail. I am thankful You walk among us. I am thankful You never leave us.

In Jesus name, amen.

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong, And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail,
With peace on the earth, good-will to men."
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Failed fudge, broken nativities and other Christmas traditions

Kirk Cameron recently took some flack (at least from some of my friends) about his “advice” to moms “to keep the joy in Christmas.” In plugging his film, "Saving Christmas,"  on his Facebook page, Cameron’s most offensive statement appears to be this one: “Let your children, your family, see your joy in the way that you decorate your home this Christmas, in the food that you cook, the songs you sing, the stories you tell and the traditions that you keep.” 

Well, Kirk, we have some traditions in our family — traditions that have crossed continents, climates and cultures and survived every season of our lives. Here are a few:

Failed fudge.

Every year, I make a batch of fudge that doesn’t set up. It isn’t that I want the fudge to fail. It just does — every single year. And every single year, the four of us get out our spoons and enjoy the runny mess — every single bite.

Baking disasters. 

Every year, I embark on a plan to make home-baked goodies for neighbors, friends and colleagues. I plan to bake dozens of cookies and make several types of Christmas candy. The enthusiasm lasts through about a dozen cookies and one batch of failed fudge when I decide it’s too much work (and cleanup). So, we abandon the project; eat the fudge with a spoon and resort to gift cards for only our very closest friends (sometimes).

Broken nativities.

A pig joins the party
But perhaps the most significant Christmas tradition we share as a family are the broken nativities we display each year. I’ve collected nativity sets since the early days of our marriage and living overseas added extra flair to the collection. I have a set from South Africa that includes a zebra and an elephant. In a set from the Philippines, the wise men are riding water buffalo. My set from South Korea includes a hand-carved pig — an animal I’m not sure was actually present in that Jewish stable all those years ago.

But without a doubt, my favorite piece is a white ceramic shepherd, part of a set my mother-in-law gave me years ago. In 2004 in the parking lot of the John Sevier Baptist Church mission house in Knoxville, Tennessee, that little shepherd lost his head in an unfortunate spill. Rather than throw him away, we glued his head back on, and he joined the host of other pieces in my various collections that have been chipped, broken and glued back together through our many international moves. My husband once joked that instead of writing on the nativities the date we purchased them, we should write the date they were broken.

The decapitated shepherd
And that’s why I love that shepherd. He shows up at the manger every year just as I do: broken and stuck back together. He reminds me how very much I need a Savior. He reminds me that my brokenness is the reason Jesus came. At the manger, I don’t have to pretend I have it all together. I can simply worship the God who became flesh and lived among us. At the manger, it isn't about me. It's all about Him.

So, this year, while the rest of the world hustles and bustles to create the “perfect” Christmas, I hope I’ll see you at the manger.

I’ll be the one with the cracked head, eating fudge with a spoon.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

A World AIDS Day remembrance: Three ways to lose your heart.

Dec. 1, 2010. World AIDS Day. I stood on a busy sidewalk in northern India. Cars and trucks whizzed by on one side. On the other side, an open sewer and a high, concrete wall separated me from a catacomb of brothels — a den of human trafficking, oppression and violence against women.

Until that morning, I hadn’t known World AIDS Day existed. Until that trip to northern India, I’d had no “real-life” interaction with AIDS patients. I knew only what I’d read or seen on TV. But on this day, AIDS had a face, a name and two small children.

Her name was Ajunta.* She was 27 years old. Her husband had died of AIDS a year before. Given her illness and her status as a widow in Indian society, she had no means to feed her family. To earn the cash she needed, she turned to prostitution.

Then, two Indian pastors visited Ajunta, hoping to learn more about how to minister to HIV patients. They shared the gospel with her, and Ajunta became a follower of Jesus. She was baptized and began sharing Jesus with other women like herself — women in desperate situations.

Ajunta’s story rocked my world and changed the direction of my life and ministry. Ajunta, I realized, was a woman just like me, simply trying to provide for her family. Her story brought my soul to its knees.

And as my soul cried out for justice, God spoke. He used the conversations with Ajunta and her friends to compel me to begin a gospel-focused ministry among exploited women in the Asian city where I then lived.

God also has used my experience with Ajunta to allow me to share with countless faith groups in the U.S. how they can be involved in ministries to exploited people around the world. He is bringing His people together to “speak up for those who have no voice.”

So, on this World AIDS Day, in honor of Ajunta, here are some practical steps you can take to help hurting women:
1. Pray.

Oswald Chambers said, “Prayer does not equip us for greater works — prayer is the greater work.” Pray for exploited women as if they were your daughters, sisters, granddaughters or nieces. Ask God to open your eyes to the exploitation around you and lead you to minister in your community and across the globe.
2. Learn.

Investigate ministries in your community and around the world that are helping hurting women. Find the gaps and determine if or how you can meet those needs.
3. Go. 

Once you identify the needs, get involved! Take the first step. Visit a women’s prison. Provide a meal at a women’s shelter. Teach English to a refugee family. And don’t limit yourself to U.S. borders. Take the risk to travel overseas to hotbeds of exploitation and oppression. Serve alongside Christian workers who are striving to offer help and hope to exploited people who have yet to hear the name of Jesus.
This World AIDS Day, begin the journey to be an “ambassador of reconciliation” among those who are lost and dying. Let God rock your world with His heart for the hurting among the nations.

*Name changed.

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