December 30, 2009

seeing isn't believing

Listening to Danny Franks on Sunday convicted me/reminded me that while it's easy enough for me to open up scripture and read (or sometimes skim - yikes.), I need to study and meditate on God's word - and one good way to do this is by reflecting and writing.

I can get in a streak of writing in my journal for a while, then I just get lazy/"busy"/forgetful. It's when I write about my readings that, as Danny said, the text really comes to life. God reveals so much to me when I'm spending time unpacking and digesting His word. I not only can gain understanding, but insight - and discover how I can actually apply what I'm reading to daily life. I can see God most at work in me when I'm investing and soaking rather than skimming.

I write all of this to encourage anyone reading to do the same, and to preface this post.

So I read 1 Samuel 17 this morning, which is the story of David and Goliath.

It's funny sometimes reading these stories in the Old Testament - even though I know the outcome, I still get a little bit captivated and nervous for David.

So, as a little bit of background (and paraphrasing) . . . the scene is this:

The Israelites and Philistines are about to have it out. Each army is on one side of this valley, and they're waiting to see who's gonna make the first move.

So then, this over-9-feet-tall gargantuan dude, covered in armour, well-fitted with weapons comes storming out of the Philistine camp with a giant smirk across his face. He's all like - Aight. I gotta deal for you fellas (well, he was a little more insulting than that). If one of you little Israelites is bold enough, come step up to this pretty line and fight me - mano-e-mano. If you can kill me, we'll all become your servants. But if I win, then you will become our subjects and serve us. Now . . . who want it?!!

And of course, what is the Israelites response?

On hearing the Philistine's words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.
[1 Samuel 17:11]

Can you see their hopelessness and fear? How it must've gripped them - and I'm sure they felt doomed to fail. They looked around at their army, their resources and then compared it to that of the Philistine's.

But this went on for 40 days. So every day, this giant was prancing out before the Israelites, taunting them with his size - daring someone to step forth.

Again - despair, fear, hopelessness must've paralyzed Saul and his army.

Well, God has a funny way of using the most unlikely people to do His work and display His love and glory.

So this random kid (and he's actually been anointed to be king, but Saul doesn't know that yet), David, comes traipsing up to the camp to check on his older brothers and get a report on how this whole war thing is panning out.

And he sees this punk Goliath, defying the Lord, shouting at and mocking the Israelites. Somehow, he gets the idea that he's gonna take this dude down.

So . . . he proposes the idea to Saul, and Saul's like - no way man. You haven't even hit puberty. But David's like - hear me out! I watch over my dad's flock, and one time, a lion snatched up a sheep . . . so I marched over there and took it out of his mouth. When he turned on me, I killed the lion. And it happened with a bear too. So if God delivered me from a lion and a bear, surely he'll deliver me from this giant.

So Saul's like - fine, have at it.

So, Goliath takes a good hard look at David and laughs to himself . . . and continues to taunt and curse him.

"Come here," he said, "and I'll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!"

David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give all of you into our hands."
[1 Samuel 17:44-47]

And we all know how the story ends - David, wearing no armor and carrying nothing but a slingshot, launches one stone into Goliath's dome and it's over.

I'd like to point out a few things about David and what we can learn from this. David didn't see as the other Israelites in the army did. He wasn't crippled by fear, and he didn't limit God's ability to work by his ability to see. (the abilities and resources he saw before him). He saw this battle as Almighty God versus a human Philistine, not tiny David versus the all-around champion and giant Goliath.

Once he saw this battle as the Creator of the universe versus a creation, it was clear who was going to come out on top.

He had amazing faith. He stood very firm and confident that God was not only going to deliver this Philistine into their hands, but the entire Philistine army. It was obvious to everyone that David didn't stand a fighting chance against this dude. However, David wasn't relying on himself or his resources (I mean, he didn't even have any) at all. He was relying fully on the Lord.

So David . . .

-recognized that this was God's battle, not his. He fully trusted and relied on God to do everything. He saw that God was much bigger than Goliath, an army, or any form of weapon.
-didn't rely on what he could see (his circumstances), his abilities, resources or strengths.
-was completely fueled (and very firm) by faith, not fear or pride.
-was at rest, fully confident in what God was going to do.
-went into this for the Lord's fame and glory, not his own.

What if we all had faith like David's? What if we had the same trust, ability to rest and stand firm with confidence in all areas of our lives?

What if we quit freaking out because of the horrible scenarios we picture in our minds when we think about the future? What if we quit worrying about the future based on our limited viewpoint, current resources and circumstances?

What if we trusted that God was going to win the battle in our lives, whatever it may be? (our doubts, lack of faith, future plans, personal flaws, baggage, wounds, heartaches, desires, hopes, dreams, fears, struggles, shortcomings)? That it's ultimately His war, not our own. Knowing that He is going to take care of us, just as he took care of David and the Israelites.

December 29, 2009

Random

As I am working to train for an 8k or 10k this spring (that's right . . . I upped my mileage), I can't help but draw a few parallels between daily physical training and my daily walk with God.

I think I could go on and on, so this list is not all-inclusive . . . just what popped into my head first.

1. I'm in this for the long haul. This is gonna require persistence, patience and consistency.

- If I'm gonna do this right, it's requiring behavior change - on a daily basis. If I'm only doing this for a get-thinner-quicker scheme, it ain't gonna work. If I'm going to be successful in completing a 10k, I've got to condition my body - over time. I can't go from 0 to 10k overnight.

- Sanctification is a life-long process. It takes time. God is working in me every day - and thankfully He is gracious and patient enough to walk with me and guide me every single day. Over time, I can see Him transforming me and revealing Himself to me. But I also must be seeking Him daily and communing with Him daily - not just once a week at church or Bible study.

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.
-Philippians 1:6

2. I'm going to face the danger of a plateau effect, distractions, laziness or my ADD-ness.

- I cannot become complacent in my walk with God. Just as I should not have the same spiritual maturity I did two years ago, I can't only run two miles one day and expect to complete a 10k the next day.

-There will be times that it will be hard to get back on track with my exercise plan, or times that obstacles get in the way of me spending time with God (the struggle to prioritize life, distractions, ADD-ness and laziness factor). But it's when we persevere that we grow and change.

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
- 1 Peter 2:2-3

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly.
- 1 Corinthians 1-3

3. If I lose sight of my goal or prize, I'm susceptible to losing motivation or just going back to my old ways.

- Just as training for a race gave me new perspective, purpose and drive to get in better shape, if I lose sight of my first love, I will fall back into my old patterns of destruction and despair.

. . . let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
-Hebrews 12:1-3

those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
-Isaiah 40:31

December 28, 2009

More Than A Woman

As much as I hate to admit it, I struggle with the issue of beauty.

I hate it because I don't consider myself very girly at all.

If I'm being honest, I don't feel beautiful unless I get dressed up, do something with my hair, put on heels and makeup. Which hardly ever happens anymore. I used to go out with my girlfriends in college and get dressed up, but for some reason I don't do it often enough now.

I also don't feel beautiful unless someone tells me that I am . . . but if it comes from family or other girls, it doesn't count.

When I was in a relationship, I felt beautiful. When my ex told me I was pretty, I believed it.

. . . but other than that, I walk around, believing that I am generally unattractive and moderately invisible, just a random chick under the radar, unnoticed.

I guess I could blame myself, for mostly wearing jeans and t-shirts, and usually not wearing very much makeup.

Why is it that we as women struggle with this? And who defines beauty anyway? What does it mean to be beautiful? Is it subjective . . . as they say, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder"?

God created us in His image . . . and He is both beautiful and captivating. Is that why we long to be so? Did God put a desire to be beautiful in women?

. . . or is it a result of the fall? When God told Eve, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." [Genesis 3:16]

Does that mean that we, as a result of sin, are cursed to desire the praise and approval of man . . . and this is why we want to be seen as beautiful? So that we will be acknowledged, accepted and sought after by a man?

Or, again - are we meant to be beautiful? Is it placed on us by God?

Or is beauty just another idol and evidence of my sinful condition?

Well . . . clearly this is not a new issue or struggle. The Bible speaks of beauty . . .

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
-Proverbs 31:30

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.
- 1 Peter 3:2-4

So what should we be more concerned with? The fading and fleeting nature of outward appearance, or the unfading beauty of inward appearance and character as Godly women?

I was also reminded of this today, reading 1 Samuel . . . when God is about anoint David as the new king, and Samuel thinks that David's brothers look more fitting than he does, but God tells him . . .

"The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
- 1 Samuel 16:7

If the only one whose acceptance and approval of us matters, God, looks at our hearts and inward appearance . . . where should more of our time and energy be focused?

And I'm not trying to write off outward appearance altogether. After all, if I end up getting married, my husband better find me attractive and vise-versa. It's just a matter or what is more important, and seeking God's opinion on stuff like this.

Beauty is definitely a struggle for us as women, but to know that our Father loves us unconditionally, no matter what we're wearing, how much we weigh or if guys find us attractive.

I also find that when I struggle with beauty, I'm seeking the approval and acceptance of man. But man was never intended to give us validation or reconciliation. Plus, it's inevitable that we'll all get saggy in some places later in life.

If we find all of the approval, validation and satisfaction from Christ . . . which is the only source of lasting joy, refuge and life, our need to be found beautiful will be in His eyes.

December 24, 2009

the first noel

I wanna dedicate this blog to Linus and Charlie Brown . . . in all the Christmas specials and movies, at least Linus knew the true meaning of Christmas.

I've been singing a lie for 24 years (or less . . . I'm sure I wasn't singing/listening to this song when I was one.):

The first Noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds
in fields as they lay;
In fields as they lay, keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.

PAUSE - come on, people. Who wrote this song? Do you really think that sheperds would be out chillin' (well, maybe literally) with their sheep on a cold winter's night?

They didn't have carhartt, north face or columbia jackets back then . . . not even under armour. Plus, (as watching a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory reminded me) - our celebrating Christmas sort of conveniently coincides with an old pagan holiday around the winter solstice. Christians just happened to merge what we know as Christmas with this in an attempt to Christianize it (if that's even a word). All that to say, Jesus definitely wasn't born in the winter time.

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the east beyond them far,
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.

And by the light of that same star
Three wise men came from country far;
To seek for a king was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.

This star drew nigh to the northwest,
O'er Bethlehem it took it rest,
And there it did both stop and stay
Right over the place where Jesus lay.

Then entered in those wise men three
Full reverently upon their knee,
and offered there in his presence
Their gold, and myrrh, and frankincense.

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
That hath made heaven and earth of naught,
And with his blood mankind hath bought.

The rest of the song is totally legit. I really do like this song, I just think the beginning is funny. I mean, amongst all of the myths and random stuff that we have during this season, you'd think that we would at least get the songs about Jesus right.

an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us."

-Matthew 1:20-23

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests
."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

-Luke 2:8-15

. . . I really like what Zechariah prophesies about after the birth of John The Baptist concerning Jesus:

"And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace."
-Luke 1:76-79

Merry Christmas :) . . . I hope everybody takes time this season to reflect on what and why we really celebrate.

December 18, 2009

an addendum to bitterness

This is an addendum to the post titled "hide and seek" . . .

And let me start by stating that I have no original thoughts. Just in case that wasn't known.

It's so easy for me to become bitter and cynical when I am in a period of waiting, or when something in life has disappointed me. In this case, it's guys and my desire for relationship and marriage.

Plus, when all you've known is a failed relationship, when all you see is guys that are not interested or just too immature . . . when all I know about sex is what the media portrays (and clearly, it's very unattractive) . . . when I have a million fears about relationships (which I'm sure consist of a lot of misconceptions) . . . it's so easy to become angry and frustrated.

Maybe I just haven't seen enough of what it's supposed to look like (a healthy relationship/marriage), or maybe I'm just becoming hardened by a period of waiting.

God is going to provide, whether that means one day getting married, or that He will give me peace about the whole thing and take my desire for marriage away.

In the meantime, how do I prevent this process that has already started? Well, J.D.'s message last week stuck out to me on the issue of waiting and bitterness.

What if there was a purpose to the waiting? What if it's not by chance or an accident that I'm single? What if God is developing me, shaping me, working though I don't realize it . . . and that there are crucial things about me He needs to change in this season of my life?

Am I going to harbor bitterness or trust God with my future?

If I become tired of waiting on God and take things into my own hands, I could be aborting work that God is doing in me right now.

Plus . . . I need some strengthening of my faith. If I'm not firm in my faith, I will not be firm at all (Isaiah 7:9).

. . . if I'm not more firm in my faith, how can I say no to bitterness?

I need to relax and remember that God is never late. He is in complete, loving control of our lives - over our paths, over our provision, over our desires and hopes and dreams. I need to surrender my bitterness and trust that what He intends for my life is far better than anything I can try to come up with . . . whether that involves marriage or not.

Sometimes the hardest thing for us to do is to rest in Him . . . and to know how much He loves us and is sovereign over every situation.

Just to know that God is doing something in each of our lives . . . to have faith and confidence in that . . . to quit trying to fit the puzzle pieces of life together on our own efforts . . . just to rest, and trust.

December 16, 2009

Seasons

I will be the first to admit that I do not like winter. (and it's not even winter yet).

I love the spring and summer . . . tank tops, mini skirts, beach trips, driving around with all of my windows down, soft summer nights, being able to do almost everything outdoors, the fact that it stays light outside after 8pm . . .

But I gotta say - I'm glad God gave us seasons. I think if it didn't get so cold and dry in January & February, I wouldn't appreciate the warmer months. Honestly, I'd get sick of it being the same temperature year round. And there are different things to enjoy in each season, not just my favorite ones.

There's something beautiful in waking up and seeing the sun with a huge halo around it because of the clouds covering the sky. Hot soup, chili and coffee taste so much better when it's freezing outside. Even certain music sounds better when it's cold outside.

And God gives us seasons in our life. If we didn't go through struggles, I doubt we'd appreciate the good times. If we didn't go through waiting periods, would we appreciate His goodness when He answers our prayers? If we didn't have the winters in our lives, could we delight in the spring as much?

December 15, 2009

beautiful

Can I just say what a difference purpose and intentionality can make?

This really stood out to me, of all places, at the gym.

For the longest time, I was running and working out primarily to burn calories and drop weight I've gained since college.

But a few weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to run a 5K in the spring . . . so then my runs started to have a purpose and intention - to build endurance for a future race.

I actually respect my body when I'm trying to train and prepare, versus trying to destroy it out of hatred for the sake of a number I see on the scale.

Now my intent at the gym is to see a higher number or mileage on the treadmill, not the length of time I spend on it . . . which really can make a difference. Before, I was so frustrated with lack of progress and change - but for me, there's not too much motivation when you're working out in hatred to punish yourself . . . I was left feeling like I was hitting my head against a wall. I'm much more driven (not to mention with a healthier attitude) when I have a bigger purpose to the gym.

So all that to say - what a change having purpose and different point of view can have. I want to apply this change of perspective to all areas of my life, not just my fitness regimen.

We can truly make a difference when we do things with true intention.

December 7, 2009

Hide And Seek

I don't know how to transition into this subject, so I'm just going to catapult into it.

I hate how our society and culture is so overly saturated with sex.

Our media worships sex and the god of beauty.

Every time I'm at the gym, my eyes naturally gravitate towards the 10+ TV screens suspended from the ceiling. MTV, lifetime, daytime soaps are always on - and it's always sex. I either try to divert my gaze, or just run in front of the sports channels instead.

One day I walked into the break room at work, and "vanilla sky" was on - and of course, I had to walk in during the sex scene between Tom Cruise & Cameron Diaz. One of my coworkers was talking to me, and I attempted to turn my back to the TV, but it was still in my peripheral vision. Normally I would've turned it off, but I guess I thought it would be too awkward to interrupt her to walk over and turn it off.

Turn on G105 (or any popular radio station) and lady gaga or britney come on - "poker face" and "3" . . . I need not say any more.

And it's not just that the media is showing people making out or hinting at the idea of sex. The lyrics in these songs and that scene in vanilla sky are pretty graphic. They reveal too much to me. Shows on MTV (and other reality shows) have girls jumping all over these guys . . . and practically having sex with their clothes on.

I recently saw commercial for dolce & gabbana watches on TV - and it was pretty much the epitome of britney's song, if you catch my drift. Once again, a little too graphic.

The songs by britney and lady gaga aren't portraying monogamous, heterosexual relations, either. So . . . not only is it too graphic, but it's also skewed and disfigured.

I feel like I've been over-exposed to sex, and it's not been intentional. I feel like I already know way too much, seen too much. I feel like porn is all over the radio and TV.

I liked it better when sex was something . . . mysterious and beautiful. When it actually had significance. When people valued it.

And you wonder why girls think that it's no big deal anymore. That it's ordinary. That they are ordinary. That it's something they want to give up, asap. That so many people are just throwing it everywhere.

I liked it better when I knew enough to look forward to it one day, to discover and enjoy with my husband.

Now I just feel like I've been over-exposed and it's left a bad taste in my mouth.

It makes me not want to have sex. Just so I won't have to deal with it. Because honestly, it looks ugly, sloppy and animalistic - at least the way it's being portrayed. Like it's not even worth it.

I'm still trying to believe that God created it with purpose, beauty and meaning. I want there to be mystery. I don't want to know everything. But I'm having a really hard time doing that.

It's like taking a perfect rose, throwing it in the middle of a landfill, dousing the landfill with the contents of a septic tank, stirring it up, then steam rolling it, put a little flame-thrower action in there . . . and then fishing out the rose and offering it to me. Do you think I want that? No thanks.

November 30, 2009

Let Me Clear My Throat

Short and sweet . . .

I'm now reading 1 Samuel, and I gotta say it again - I love the Old Testament.

Times have changed greatly, but God's character remains the same throughout.

When God first calls Samuel, scripture says:

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
[1 Samuel 3:7]

So here's this kid who's been raised under a priest, and God is calling to him . . . even though he does not yet know God.

And by the end of the chapter, Samuel is older and he's known all throughout the land as a prophet of the Lord.

The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.
[1 Samuel 3:21]

This verse jumped out at me because of the second half of the sentence: "He revealed Himself . . . through His word."

There you have it. God reveals Himself to His people through His Word. Well, if that's not something that has stood true throughout time. I need to remember that. On the days where I don't feel like opening my Bible. This is God's way of communitcating and revealing Himself. How else can I hope to know my creator if I don't delve into His Word?

November 13, 2009

The Nearness Of You

About 5 minutes ago, I was driving down Marvino towards it's intersection with 70. This big Chevy Tahoe (you know, the cars that closely resemble boats due to their size) was exiting a gas station and about to merge onto the street . . . he got into the suicide lane and failed to notice (or care about) my little black Honda - so instead of pausing, it almost hit me.

So, I honked. I mean, my car was about to get side-swiped . . . it wasn't intended to be a malicious honk, it was a "hey-do-you-see-me?-please-don't-hit-me-because-I-have-the-right-of-way" honk.

Well, then we both turn right on 70 (with him behind me), and this Tahoe proceeds to speed up, jump in front of me, hit the brakes, and flip me the bird.

I suddenly felt the urge to vomit. Maybe it's because I don't get this kind of reaction very often on the road (it's only the second time I've been flicked off . . . that I know of), angry/mean people upset me, or maybe it's because I had just gone running and probably still had coffee in my stomach.

I rolled the windows down, felt the wind in my face, and listened to Frank. (Sinatra, that is). That calmed me down well enough . . . but I still felt sick.

Then I started to think . . . if something as insignificant as road rage gets me upset . . . how much more does our sin make God sick?

No wonder our sin removes us so far from our Creator. Yet, He was still compassionate, gracious and forgiving to the Israelites back in Moses' day. Much more than I am . . . or can even comprehend.

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin . . ."
-Exodus 34:6-7

"I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high."
-Leviticus 26:11-13

November 6, 2009

Broken

Last night, I had one of those dreams that are so scary, they wake you up.

Lynn & I were about to go to Central Asia to do missions work, and I thought to myself - I should tell my parents where I'm going, that way if something happens at least they'll know . . . but it's not like they'll be able to come over here and rescue me . . . but I didn't tell them.

The next thing I know, we were over there and this huge dude comparable to Andre The Giant grabbed both of us by the wrist and asked why we were over there . . . I had to lie and tell him that we were just over there as tourists on vacation. Then of course, he takes us away, and I remember looking at Lynn like - "oh crap, what do we do now?" and not being able to talk to her about it. And I remember thinking - I should've told my parents where we were going.

Then we were in the hallway near a big room, like we were outside of a high school gym or something . . . and I was wondering what was going to happen next. There were other people there by now, and then this huge door opens to the gym and there are all these people inside of it, and they start talking about how they're going to slice people's arms open (probably ours). I remember thinking - holy crap, this stuff only happens in movies, but now it's real . . . and wondering if torture was going to make me lose my faith.

That's when I woke up.

Can I just tell you HOW THANKFUL I was to wake up in my room, in North Carolina, in USA? I hate it when you wake up and you forget where you are . . . and it takes you a few minutes to realize that your dream was actually a dream, not real life.

I just thanked God that it wasn't real . . . and that I live in a place where I'm free to worship, free to pray in public, free to talk about my faith in public . . . and that being tortured or kidnapped is not something that I have to walk around fearing on a regular basis.

And it makes me feel so spoiled. I take this stuff for granted EVERY day. I walk around and forget about the freedoms that I have.

I also get distracted by the day-to-day stuff . . . I turn to things other than God for security, value and worth. I get lethargic in my walk with Him, and lose that fire and passion. I forget my first love. It's so easy to walk around and forget that you need a Savior EVERY day. It's not just a one-time deal and you wander around the rest of your life alone.

Every. Single. Day. I need someone to save me from myself and from everything.

This dream also made me wonder - what would happen if I did get tortured for my faith? Or if I had to watch someone I love get tortured for their/my faith? What would I do? Would I remember what Paul says in Romans about NOTHING in this life being able to separate us from the love that is in Christ . . . and how to die is gain? Would I think about Paul in prison, singing worship songs? Would I remember David talking about how God's love is better than life itself? Or would I be so caught up in the pain that I would forsake everything?

Once again, I am reminded that I need a Savior every single day . . . and that I'm more saturated with sin than I like to acknowledge.

October 29, 2009

More Than Useless

I want to save the world. Really. I want to see massive change and transformation.

Most days, this is a huge burden for me to try to take on. Yet, I get on this high and feel like I can do anything - or at least be part of a movement. I really do want to see change, and I get really passionate about being a part of something bigger.

Then . . . for some reason or another, I find myself losing energy, momentum, vision. Maybe it's the day-to-day grind, the endless distractions or a fog of apathy.

As a result, I feel worthless, useless. Like nothing that I do or say matters or has impact on anything.

I was reading AP magazine and something said by Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman caught my eye:

"Every day you're alive you change the world. It's true. The things you do and say today will have lasting results. There is a part of you that lives on long after you die."

I stared at the page for a minute, and then sort of mulled over his statement this afternoon . . . and I might just have to agree with him.

Every person who has been in my life, or who I've crossed paths with, has made an impact on me. It's too easy to be unaware of the influence that people, actions and conversations ultimately have on us - no matter how insignificant or small they seem at the time.

I started to think about what kind of person I'd be if I had been an only child. I'm sure that I would be a little more self-centered, close-minded and uptight if my sister was never born. The way I was raised would have been totally different, and who knows if I would be as close to someone who is so different than me. So . . . it's fair to say that my sister has had significant influence on my life - the way I was raised, my character, and the way I see the world. Even if my sister never changes the world single-handedly, she has made a huge difference at least one life - mine.

Friends, enemies, family members, neighbors, classmates, teachers, bosses, coworkers, acquaintances . . . all have the ability to shape us, change us, challenge us. From my mother to the cashier at Target . . . each person, each interaction - makes a difference.

So this must mean that even if I can't change the world overnight . . . I still have the ability to make some sort of impact. Just something to contemplate.

October 14, 2009

Fever

God has drenched my heart in lighter fluid and handed me a flame.

Driving on 1-40 last friday with my sister, I had the privilege of seeing this billboard:

Needless to say, it sparked some good conversation between us . . . which continued throughout the weekend.

My sister was very honest with me about her frustrations with organized religion, churches, and people who call themselves Christians.

People who judge and condemn her without trying to get to know her. People who tell her that she's going to hell because she has tattoos. People telling her that she's going to hell because she has a pet snake. Because she believes in creation and evolution together. Because of the way she dresses.

People who take the Bible out of context and choose to use it as a weapon. People who shout hellfire and brimstone on anyone who doesn't fit the mold or agree with everything they say.

At a time in her life when she most needed the church, they recoiled from my sister, turned their back and withdrew any acceptance or support from her.

Her stories made me think of things my ex-boyfriend, who is agnostic, told me.

His experiences were not unlike hers. People judging him before they got to know him, encountering Christians who were fake-nice - perhaps with a hidden agenda.

He was in a church where he heard the pastor say - it's not enough to have faith, you have to make other people believe.

He was also frustrated with Christians who lived under the religious facade - people who thought they were better than him because they warmed up a pew on a Sunday morning and made themselves look beautiful on the outside.

These things not only enrage, but bring great sorrow to me.

How many people turn away from God because of churches and people who call themselves Christians? How many people are being fed lies and deception? People will give up on their search to know their creator because of experiences like my sister's and my ex's. How many people are scarred and burned the same way they have been?

These are the people that my heart is burdened for . . . that my soul is stirred for.

It's time for a change . . .

The church should be a place where the wounded and the weary can find rest. Where the lost and seeking can find refuge.

I want to be part of such a church - if she can exist.

A place that has open arms - calling to the abandoned, the beaten, the burned. A place that is non-judgemental and non-threatening. Welcomes you as you are. No hidden agenda.

A place where it's OK if you have questions and doubts (after all, I still have questions and doubts - and so did the people in the Bible - what kind of faith would we have if we never questioned?).

A place where you don't have to fit the mold, and you don't feel pressured to have it all together.

A place where people don't look at you funny for your blue hair, tattoos, strange clothes or current circumstance - they see your value as another human being. A place where you're not a project or a number - people genuinely care about you.

If you have a pet snake, if you like vampires and books by Steven King, who cares? If you're from a different socioeconomic status, different background, different ethnicity, that does not change things either.

We're all in the same boat, on the same playing field.

A place where we accept you as you are . . . and invite you to learn with us, to grow with us.

A place where atheists, agnostics and the searching feel comfortable. A place where your questions, fears, doubts are all welcomed. Where you are encouraged to be seeking.

We want to hear your stories, your journey and your frustrations.

I want to be part of a church that my sister, my ex, my old roommates and old co-workers would want to come to. A place where people who don't look like me or think like me want to come. And not only do they feel welcomed and accepted, but they feel like they belong.

So . . . what now? I want to see communities and lives changed, renewed, redeemed. I want to see cities transformed. I want to be a part of it.

It's not enough for me to sit here and dream, blog and read books by Donald Miller and Rob Bell. I want to take action. I want to move.

I want to see this become a reality. I want to look back in 10 years and say that 2009 was the year that God started a movement.

October 8, 2009

If You Believe Me

How easy is it for us to believe that we have to "have it all together" before God will look at us?

I don't know about you, but I find myself forgetting that God saved me before I even acknowledged Him.

God saved the Israelites from Egypt before they had their act together (wait, did they ever have it together, really?) He called Moses to lead a nation when he was just a sheperd (and a man who was "slow of speech and tongue" Exodus 4:10).

He radically transformed the life of Saul when he was persecuting and killing christians . . . did God wait for him to get his life on track before He saved him?

The law does still pertain to us, but it's in an outflow of thanksgiving and sacrifice to our Savior that we follow it . . . the law is not a means to attaining salvation or reaching God.

He loves us and rescues us right where we are.

It's so easy for me to go back to my legalistic tendencies . . . or to think that God will withdraw from me if I don't follow all the rules or do all the right things. That's when I need a healthy kick in the butt to remember that he loved me and saved me when I was dead . . . he intervened and rescued me when I was lost, deaf and blind.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
-Ephesians 2:4-5

For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
-Romans 5:10-11

October 2, 2009

Hot N Cold

I'm not even 1/4 of the way through the Old Testament, and it's breaking my heart.

When Joshua is reaching the end of his life, he calls the leaders of Israel and gives them final instructions/encouragement:

"Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left . . . you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now . . . The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. So be very careful to love the Lord your God . . . you know with all your heart and soul that not one of the good promises of the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed."
-Joshua 23:6,8-10,14

And yet, a generation or two later, they proceed to forget . . .

After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to his own inheritance. The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel . . .

. . . After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist . . .

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the Lord's commands. Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.
-Judges 2:6-7,10-14,16-19

Only this far in the Old Testament, I've seen story after story of God's people rebelling and rejecting Him, only for Him to have compassion on them and deliver them from whatever circumstances they have managed to get into. It brings me to tears to see this . . . and then I realize that I am just like the Israelites.

Time after time, people are driving themselves into destruction and the Lord is rescuing them, proving His love for them. And yet . . . what do we do? Spit in His face and turn to our own, short-sighted ways.

I don't get it. I keep on asking "why?" Why does God do this? Why is he so patient, forgiving and compassionate? It's like a tragic story of unrequited love - between a Creator and His creation.

He spoke everything into existence. He didn't just create our world and mankind, He created solar systems, galaxies and far more than we can even see or imagine. He could have vaporized our planet and started fresh, perhaps with a less rebellious race . . . and yet, He doesn't. He keeps calling us back to Himself, displaying His love over and over.

Out of all the universe . . . He chooses to dote His affections on a miniscule planet called Earth and the most stubborn, idiotic and rebellious of all creatures.

I don't think I'm ever going to get it . . . but that makes grace all the more amazing - the fact that I can't wrap my little brain around it. That's both humbling and comforting.

After all, He does say:

"my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." [Isaiah 55:8-9]

September 25, 2009

Hit Or Miss

I got up this morning, made my weekly errand run . . . in the car, I put my ipod on shuffle and proceeded to skip every song that played for more than 2 seconds.

At the gym, I find myself yawning while on cardio machines. The songs on my workout playlist that used to make me run until my lungs lost elasticity now bore me.

I eat the same thing for breakfast most mornings . . . and end up hating it.

All of this has got me thinking . . . routines are not always such a good thing. Especially when we so easily grow tired of the same stuff over and over, get bored, ADD, etc.

I don't think that we were made for the ordinary, the predictable, the day-in, day-out. At least I don't want to live that way.

Maybe that's why throughout the Psalms we repeatedly see: "Sing to the Lord a new song," (33:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1)

It's not sing, "the same old song", "the song you sang yesterday - the song we sing everyday", "that one song, you know, the one that goes like this," . . . it's a new song.

Maybe God is calling us to break free from the routines that bind and bore - not only in the way we worship Him, but in all areas of life.

Yet, we are so easily content to stay comfortable and live in our set ways . . . how can we overcome this?

September 21, 2009

Livin' On A Prayer

On the day the Lord gave the Armorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:

"O sun, stand still over Gibeon,
O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon."

So the sun stood still,
and the moon stopped,
till the nation avenged itself on its enemies . . .

The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!
-Joshua 10: 12-14

I can't help but feel astonished/overwhelmed by this passage.

First of all, this happens right after the hailstone episode . . . God has already done astonishing things for Joshua and Israel in their battle. I mean, more than could have been expected, imagined or asked for (at least in my mind)!

And now Joshua is really stepping the line with his prayer. He doesn't meekly ask or suggest, it sounds like he is commanding that the planets and stars freeze in their tracks.

I mean, where did he even get the idea to ask for this? He was pretty creative . . . and daring.

And God honors this audacious request. It actually happens . . . Joshua gets the light of the sun and moon for almost another day.

I don't think I really have words to capture how I feel about this event. I just picture the scene in my head, and my jaw drops. God surprises me and really blows my mind - a lot.

Could I, in Joshua's shoes, have done the same thing? Do I have the same confidence or boldness when I come before God with my struggles and requests?

Better yet - do I expect great things from God? Or are my prayers simply mediocre, small, meek, limited? Are we praying halfheartedly? Do we doubt that He is able? Do we really trust and believe that He will do more than we can ask for or imagine?

Are we limiting His power by praying too small? What parts of our lives are we holding onto, not surrendering to Him in prayer?

How can we pray like Joshua? What does that even look like?

Maybe it's healing for the obliterated spirit. Maybe it's the skeptic gaining the ability to trust. Maybe it's the atheist seeking their Creator. Maybe it's employment in this economy. Maybe it's turning a city upside-down. Maybe it's having our eyes opened for the first time.

September 19, 2009

Call To Arms

So Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army, including all the best fighting men. The Lord said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you."

. . .

As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them from the sky, and more of them died from the hailstones than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.

-Joshua 10:7-8, 11


The Bible might look innocent sitting on my kitchen table, but it tends to be a little more action-packed than I give it credit.

To me, this scene is like something out of Transformers or X-men . . . can you see Israel in an all-night march to ambush their enemy? Can you see Joshua's face as he leads them into battle, putting all his efforts into trusting his Lord, unsuspecting of what's coming next?

I bet Joshua thought it was all up to him and his army to win the fight.

If I was in Joshua's shoes, my eyes would have lit up with the hailstones. I would have stopped dead in my tracks - in shock, surprise and awe. What an awesome reminder that God is fighting for us . . . and that it's ultimately God's war, not ours. Did you see in vs. 11 that more of the enemy died as a result of God's hand than Israel's?

God calls us into action and enables us to do so . . . but sometimes we think that it's all up to us. That we have to pull ourselves through the week, our struggles, burdens . . . . that we are fighting alone, trudging though this mess that we call life.

But you know what? Sometimes we need to see hailstones. Sometimes we need a reminder that the creator of the universe is calling the shots, that He cares more about us than we realize, and that He is fighting for us.

What areas of your life do you need to see God's hand in? Where do you need to see hailstones? Are we limiting His power by believing that we're in this alone, and trying to fight by ourselves?

[Disclaimer: I have no original thoughts . . . J.D. preached an awesome sermon on this a few months ago - you should check it out.]

September 17, 2009

holla back/guest blog

Yesterday, altpress.com posted a guest blog by Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love On Her Arms (which is an amazing organization - check them out at twloha.com). Reading their mission statement helped inspire me to get started on the music outreach that's beginning at Summit. I have copied & pasted his blog here because he has positive, challenging (even missionally-minded) things to say and I support him and his work.

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If someone gave you a microphone and a stage, what would you say and what would you sing? Whether the crowd was 10 people or 10,000, what would you make with the moment?

I was going to write a letter to the frontmen--the folks who sing in bands. I was going to say that there should be a system or some classes where they would be reminded that music is a very special thing; something not unlike a miracle, rich with history and the potential to move people and change lives. They would learn about urgency and honesty, the value of a moment and a song's unique ability to cause people to feel, to remind them that they're alive and that life is worth living.

And it crossed my mind to say those things because lately, it seems like there's been moments when everyone is forgetting. I'm bored with watching guys play to thousands of people and it feels like everyone says the same thing in saying nothing: "How you motherf****s doing?" is followed by a request for the world's largest circle pit. Congratulations. You are the fourth band in a row to say the exact same thing.

Are you kidding me? You beat the odds by making it and they hand you this electronic thing that makes your voice louder and that's the best you could come up with? That's what you wanted to tell the world? The stage is sacred. It's above the ground so that people can see the magic when it happens; so that people can see something bigger than the sum of its parts; something louder than the same dumb joke, brighter than the latest neon trend. Tell us your story. Show us your heart. Remind us of our own. Point to something. In the silence between songs, point to something that matters, some question or problem that steals your sleep at night. Invite us to be part of the solution.

But maybe the lessons are not just for the guys with microphones. Maybe this stuff applies to all of us. It's been said that all the world's a stage and that maybe we all have some kind of influence and opportunities to say real things and move people. The stage in front of the crowd is this obvious place where it happens, but maybe it's true that we each have our songs to sing and venues to play. We each get a few people who listen and a few people to listen to. We each have our jobs and our schools and all the places where life happens. We live in a world filled with needs and opportunities. Every person has a story. There's plenty of room for meaning, depth and change. Don't buy the lie that says there's only room for jokes and it's cooler not to care about anything. The bar has been set way too low. There's room for magic and inspiration. There's room to live a better story.

The show starts now. alt

Jamie Tworkowski is the founder of To Write Love On Her Arms, a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. Since 2006, TWLOHA has responded to 100,000 messages from over 100 countries. They've also given $500,000 directly to treatment and recovery. Tworkowski will be speaking at universities across America this fall. Visit www.twloha.com for more info.

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On a side note, TWLOHA is starting chapters at universities across the country - you can find out more information on their facebook page. If I was still in college, I would jump on that opportunity. How cool would it to see a chapter started at UNCW or one of the campuses here at RDU?

September 13, 2009

I'm So Sick

Desperation,
Devastation.
All I truly know
Is isolation, self-damnation . . .
"Rabbits Are Roadkill On Route 37" - AFI

I'm so sick,
Infected with where I live
Let me live without this,
Empty bliss, selfishness
"I'm So Sick" - Flyleaf

Everybody knows about teenage angst, wizard angst, several other kinds of angst, but I am here to talk about something I'd call YP angst.

YP = Young Professional = single, out of undergrad and in your 20's.

We are young, without spouses or family. If we are employed, we haven't been at our job long enough to be truly committed.

Nothing is tying us down . . . which can open the door for loneliness and isolation.

I feel like I'm floating in the wind, without a home. It's amazing how you can feel completely and utterly alone in a crowded room.

Did I mention how awkwardness pervades this season of life?

I am so thankful for the community and friends God has given me. However, friends and roommates cannot have the same commitment and intimacy as a spouse and family.

If I wanted to drive to California tomorrow, no one would have to know. I could leave this area at any time. Would it even matter?

Satan knows me better than I give him credit for. He knows my weaknesses, and how easily I believe him when he tells me that I am alone, unloved and worthless.

------------

On a more positive note, I would highly recommend having a roommate if you don't already. Talking to mine helped my emo cloud lift a little bit earlier today.

I do love the freedom and flexibility of being single. I do want to be part of a church plant, so being single opens doors that might not exist if I was married or had kids. However, there's no denying that I get in a funk about it from time to time.

September 12, 2009

Head Like A Hole

I first heard this song about 3 years ago . . . mainly because AFI did a cover of it. (who's surprised?) Anyway . . . I thought that it sounded good, but once I listened to the lyrics I wasn't sure how I felt about it. It goes like this:

god money, I'll do anything for you.
god money, just tell me what you want me to.
god money, nail me up against the wall.
god money don't want everything, he want it all.

No you can't take it,
No you can't take it,
No you can't take that away from me.

Head like a hole.
Black as your soul.
I'd rather die than give you control.

Bow down before the one you serve,
You're going to get what you deserve.

god money's not looking for the cure.
god money's not concerned with the sick among the pure.
god money, lets go dancing on the backs of the bruised.
god money's not one to choose.

"Head Like A Hole" - Nine Inch Nails

However, I appreciate it now. What is this song saying? It would seem that NIN is exposing the love of money for the false god that it is . . . idol, functional savior, if you will. Money and all the posessions of the world appear so enticing and glamorous . . . but will ultimately bring about destruction. I mean, does a loving god go "dancing on the backs of the bruised,"?

It would seem that this song could actually hold some Biblical truths. (don't throw things at me yet . . .) Solomon, Jesus and Paul were preaching this very thing thousands of years before NIN even existed . . .

Whoever trusts in his riches will fall . . .
- Proverbs 11:28

Whoever loves money never has money enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
This too is meaningless.
-Ecclesiastes 5:10

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
- 1 Timothy 6:9-10

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
- Matthew 6:24

"For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame."
-Philippians 3:18-19

It's funny to me how a lot of the time, secular artists, or people who want nothing to do with God have the same pain against society/our worldview that God does.

Across The Night

You know . . . the Old Testament is pretty cool. I thought it was scary at first, but the more I read it, the more I learn about God's character (especially His redemption and patience) and how he consistently used people who are just as messed up as I am. Word.

. . . and good thing I like it, because it's kind of big and I'm going to be in the midst of it for a while (I'm trying to read the entire Bible . . . which may take anywhere between 5 and 90 years).

So Joshua is this dude who takes over when Moses dies, leading Israel into the land that God promised them 40+ years earlier. The first thing that God tells Joshua is to be strong and courageous, He'll never leave or forsake him, and that he'll succeed as long as he stays within God's will (Joshua 1:6-9).

In Joshua 3, the Israelites are on one side of the Jordan River, in Shittim . . . and they need to get to a place called Gilgal. I'm looking at a map, and really the only way to get there is to cross the Jordan, unless you want to trek waaayyyy down and loop around the Dead Sea. I'm pretty sure they didn't have bridges back then.

So what does God do? He tells them to cross the river while it's at flood stage.

He tells Joshua:

"Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: 'When you reach the edge of the Jordan's waters, go and stand in the river.'" (3:7-9)

And sure enough:

Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away . . . So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. (v. 15-17)

I wonder what went through their heads when they first heard what they were supposed to do. I wonder if Joshua lost any sleep over it, wondering how the Israelites would take it when he told them the news. I mean, these are the same people who, after seeing God deliver them across the Red Sea and obliterate the Egyptians, started whining about being stuck in the desert.

But you know, God didn't need the priests to get their toes wet. He could've teleported them across the Jordan if He wanted - He created the earth and physics, so He can do whatever He wants with it. But He told them to take that first step, to stand in the Jordan . . . just like He told Moses to put his hand over the water before He parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14:16).

God is going to work in our lives and through us. But sometimes it requires a bit of trust, obedience, and for us to get our toes wet.

We can't just sit at home and pray for hours, expecting God's blessings to be brought to our doorstep by the pizza delivery boy.

He wants the best for us, but it requires a little bit of action on our part . . . that first step into the water. Sure, it's scary - but if we were 100% certain, where would faith and trust come in? Would that really display God's glory?

August 31, 2009

right here waiting

I would like to say that coffee is a catalyst for writing. Maybe it's that I feel ├╝ber trendy if I sit in my apartment drinking coffee and tapping away on my MacBook, or maybe it's just the caffeine that makes me focus.

Regardless, I would like to say that there's a thing or two I've learned about Jesus, and I would like to talk about one of them.

See, one of the funny things about Him is that while He was on earth, He didn't act how people thought a Messiah would, the way a King of Kings would. He didn't spend all of his time befriending the religious leaders, the rich, the beautiful, or the prominent in society.

He actually spent a lot of time with the religious leaders criticizing Him for who He did spend time with.

He befriended tax collectors, fishermen and "sinners," (Matthew 9:10) he healed and forgave an adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), the physically, emotionally and spiritually sick, the old, the young, a thief (Luke 23:40-43), the outcasts, the destitute, the marginalized and overlooked people in society.

So why should I be content or think that I'm doing good if I spend all of my time in Brier Creek or stay in my comfortable christian bubble? Jesus didn't instruct His disciples to form a posse, move into a frat house and spend every waking moment together. He had them split up, spread out and reach people (Acts 1:7-8, Acts 8:1).

Jesus calls us to leave everything behind and follow Him (Matthew 16:24, Matthew 19:21; Mark 2:14, Luke 14:25-27) . . . and I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean to stay in our comfortable lifestyles, routines or complacency.

And yes, it is my default to stay in my comfortable life . . . how easily satisfied we are to live the dream broadcasted by society . . . work hard and make enough money to get by, settle down with a spouse, have a few kids and a dog and a white picket fence . . .

Somehow, I think that God wants more for us. Why are we content to live without passion? I want to live radically. I don't want the ins and outs of complacent religious activity. No, I want a life transformed, revitalized, re-vamped and turned upside-down by the call of Jesus.

How easy is it for us to only befriend those who look like us, talk like us, and run in our same social circles? How often to we notice the marginalized? And if we notice them, do we actually make an effort to talk to them? Or are we too comfortable and safe in our bubble to take that step? Aren't we limiting God's work in our lives when we do this?

Jesus calls us to leave everything behind, to not be lukewarm (Revelation 3:15-16) . . . He also says that He has come to give life to the full (John 10:10) - and I think that can mean not boring, too comfortable, or stagnant.

Maybe this means living among the marginalized. Maybe this means moving across the country or the world to be part of a church plant. Maybe this means investing time meeting the needs of those hurting in our community. Maybe this means figuring out what our passions are, and putting them into action versus just talking about dreams or waiting for "one day" to actually do something.

I want my eyes to be opened to the broken, the hurting, those I've overlooked. I want to reach those who are searching, who have misconceptions about God, who would never set foot inside a church. I want my life to point to something greater than myself, and I don't want to live according to my own comfort or desires.

August 29, 2009

breaking the legs of sheep

Man versus himself
Man versus machine
Man versus the world
Mankind versus me

The struggles go on
The wisdom I lack
The burdens keep piling
Up on my back

So hard to breathe
To take the next step
The mountain is high
I wade in the depths

Yearning for grace
And hoping for peace
Dear God, increase!

"Every New Day" - Five Iron Frenzy

Fear of man will prove to be a snare,
but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.
-Proverbs 29:25

Sometimes . . . or perhaps 95% of the time, I wish I wasn't human.

I wish that I didn't struggle with the same things over and over. Well, I guess I wish I didn't struggle or wrestle with sin, period. But . . . then I'd be dead. And I'm not dead yet.

The fear of man . . . a funny thing, isn't it? God has brought me a long way in this struggle . . . from being painfully shy in high school and part of college, to fighting for acceptance of my peers once I moved to a new area . . . and feeling depressed when I felt rejected. We are always looking for something outside of ourselves to give us validation, worth, and identity, aren't we? My biggest struggle was trying to get this from my peers. Well, somewhere along the way I got hit upside the head and God showed me that the only acceptance I truly need is from Him . . . and the only validation and fulfillment can come from a relationship with Christ.

People were never designed to tell you who you are, to complete you, or give you worth.

While I know this, I still find myself struggling. Why do I want so badly to be liked? I've been hanging out with people long enough to realize that not everyone is going to like me, I'm not going to like everyone, and there are plenty of personality differences to go around.

Yet, when I want to be friends with someone and it's not reciprocated, I feel upset. When I get more excited to see someone than they are to see me, I tend to feel stupid.

Why is this? Is this just a reminder of my sin and my pridefulness?

Solomon knew what he was talking about (well of course he did . . . he was Solomon) when he talked about the fear of man being a snare.

Perhaps this is just a reminder to me that I am still very much in need of a savior. I am broken and sinful. Just like the Israelites and Hosea, I keep chasing after idols or other lovers in efforts to find fulfillment and satisfaction . . . all the while the only one who truly loves me continues to pursue me and be faithful when I am not.

A lot of the time, we find ourselves in a wilderness . . . worn out and wounded after chasing these things. It is in this place that we can most clearly see God - when the things of this world have left us broken and empty. Sometimes it's only then that we can truly see how faithful and steadfast He is . . . and how He is the only one who can redeem us, give us identity and life.

Sort of tying into this is an exerpt from Don Miller's Searching For God Knows What:

"Imagine how much a man's life would be changed if he trusted that he was loved by God? He could interact with the poor and not show partiality, he could love his wife easily and not expect her to redeem him, he would be slow to anger because redemption was no longer at stake, he could be wise and giving with his money because money no longer represented points, he could give up on formulaic religion, knowing that checking stuff off a spiritual to-do list was a worthless pursuit, he would have confidence and the ability to laugh at himself, and he could love people without expecting anything in return. It would be quite beautiful, really."

August 17, 2009

keepin' your love lockdown . . .

In my quest to know God better, I become very aware of how much I do not fully understand or know about Him . . . and the incredible amount of wisdom I lack.

The good news is, I discover how much more wonderful He is than I previously believed. My assumptions or preconceived notions of Him are much less loving and compassionate than He truly is.

One of the concepts that I struggle with the most is grace. I've talked about it, probably blogged about it, sung about it, read about it . . . and yet, it's on the top of the list of things my stubborn heart won't accept on a deeper level.

I am afraid that if I go out and do something stupid, that God's love for me will change . . . that He'll withdraw from me, withhold blessings, punish me and change His plan for my life.

This proves to me how I still do not understand God's true character and how I base my view of Him on the way humans tend to behave or treat each other.

The good news is that the Bible is a continual story of God's love for humanity (which is a love that I will never fully grasp or comprehend - see Ephesians 3:17-19) and He reveals Himself and teaches us of His true character in His word. God's love is not like our love. Our love is conditional and fluctuating. His is steadfast and unconditional. (Psalm 103:8, Isaiah 54:10, Romans 8:35-39)

When we come to salvation, Christ doesn't hand us a golden ticket, pat us on the head and say "congratulations," while shoving us into the storm of life without so much as a life jacket.

He promises to never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8) . . . He says that He is the sheperd and we are the sheep, that no one can snatch us out of His hand, and He gathers us and carries us (Isaiah 40:11, John 10:27-30).

He is the author and perfecter of our faith and promises to complete the work He has begun in us (Philippians 1:6).

He rejoices over us when we come to Him, and uses the parable of the lost sheep and the prodigal son to illustrate this. He gave His life for us when we were dead in our transgressions and running from Him. (Luke 15, Ephesians 2:4-9)

God even calls us His beloved children (John 1:12, 1 John 3:1-3).

Furthermore, just think about the characteristics of a relationship (a healthy relationship, that is). You don't just slap the person five and say "see ya!" after you've met them. You continue on with them - you spend time investing in them, you work through problems, you grow closer over the years.

If we are in relationship with Christ, how much greater is that then of human relations? If we can say that we are in a relationship with him, just the word "relationship" should tell us that He's not going to leave our side or forget us - and He promises to never let us go.

He doesn't force Himself upon us - He asks that we love Him with everything we've got (Matthew 22:37-39). He allows us the choice between Him and the world. If we seek Him and draw near to Him, He will reveal Himself to us - which is greater than any of the other blessings that come from His hand (James 4:8, Proverbs 2:4-8, Matthew 7:7-8).

Shoot, if He gave us life for us before we even were born, shouldn't that be enough assurance that He wants to be with us, no matter what the price? Won't the truth of the cross permeate our hearts and minds? This should cause us to rest, knowing that Christ isn't going anywhere.

And life experience tells us, too. I know that in the peak or rebellion, Christ was pursuing me and calling me home. He ultimately rescued me and then blessed me more than I could have asked for. (so, I saw that He did not turn away from me, nor did He withhold any blessings or change His plan for me!) That should tell me of His grace and unconditional love. Yet, how easy is it for us to forget these things? We get too caught up in the day to day grind and our present struggles.

It's humbling when we realize that we really don't have it all together. There is so much that we don't know, understand or accept. But there is a joy in that - we have so far to go, but how much will we gain from getting to know Him more! We should never be satisfied with our present knowledge of Him and the Gospel. God does not call us to be stagnant or complacent.

If I knew everything, I'd be dead. God created us, He knows that we're human and lacking - we are not even called to rely on our own understanding. He wants to be with us, He wants to teach us, guide us, bless us, lead us . . . and He wants us to seek Him daily, die to ourselves, love Him and love others. We can rest knowing that this is a lifelong process - and our Father will lead us each step of the way in patience, love and grace.

If mercy falls upon the broken and the poor,
Dear Father, I will see you, there on distant shores.

And off of the blocks, I was headstrong and proud,
at the front of the line for the card-carrying, highbrowed.
With both eyes fastened tight, yet unscarred from the fight.
Running at full tilt, my sword pulled from its hilt.
It's funny how these things can slip away, our frail deeds,
the last will wave good-bye.
It's funny how the hope will bleed away,
the citadels we build and fortify. Good-Bye.

Night came and I broke my stride,
I swallowed hard, but never cried.
When grace was easy to forget,
I'd denounce the hypocrites,
casting first stones, killing my own.
You would unscale my blind eyes,
and I stood battered, but more wise,
fighting to accelerate,
shaking free from crippling weight.
With resilience unsurpassed,
I clawed my way to You at last.
And on my knees, I wept at Your feet,
I finally believed that You still loved me.

Healing hands of God
have mercy on our unclean souls once again.
Jesus Christ, Light of the World,
burning bright within our hearts forever.
Freedom means love without condition,
without beginning or an end.

Here's my heart, let it be forever Yours,
only You can make every new day seem so new.
"On Distant Shores" - Five Iron Frenzy

August 10, 2009

What is love? (baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me no mo' . . .)

I love my days off.

I love getting up early, cooking breakfast, savoring my coffee while reading and journaling. I love playing Pandora (and inevitably buying new music from itunes) for hours as I mosey around my apartment in my pajamas or gym clothes. I wish I could just stay home all day, drink coffee and write. I think it would be fun to write a book.

I love the abundance of time to myself as a single person. I love to use this time to get to know the Lord better.

I was driving around the other week and thought - "God, it's so easy when it's just you and me. I'm the only sloppy one, I'm the only retarded one in this relationship."

Because you know relationships with other people are messy - unless you never get past the superficial (and what good is that?)

We think everyone is nice and perfect until we really get to know each other.

But you know what? God made man in His image (Genesis 1:27) . . . which means that He made us relational, since He is relational. God loves relationships and community. He does His work via these relationships. God created relationships. He commands us to love each other as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).

But what the heck does that mean? What is love? I don't know about you, but after 24 years, I sure know how to put my needs above others, and I know how to serve myself. It's natural for us to "look out for number one." Shoot, everything in our culture screams for us to put ourselves first and to depend on ourselves.

Well, I'm pretty darn sure I'll always struggle with how to love others and have healthy relationships, but Paul gives us a little insight on what Jesus was talking about when He told us to love people:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
[Philippians 2:1-8]

And on a lighter note, life is better when it's shared. Especially when it prevents you from eating an entire pan of blueberry cobbler in one night.

July 30, 2009

oh my . . .


. . . I think I'm onto something.

If anyone knew me in 2006/2007 . . . one of the main things they knew about me (or perhaps one of the only things) was that I loved, loved, loved this band called AFI.

I fell in love with them Summer of '06 and the madness began. I saw them 5 times in 4 different states that year, even driving from Wilmington, NC to Albany, NY in one weekend for a show. I saw them in NC, MN, NY and SC. I accumulated T-shirts, posters, put stickers on my car, joined the fan club, got a tattoo, even met my ex because of one of their shows. They have 7 albums, so I very easily listened to them every day.

I was involved in InterVarsity in college, and while not everyone knew my name, they did know who the "AFI girl" was. The main reason I had a myspace account at the time was because it was the only way to subscribe to their blog. I could bring AFI into any conversation. In November '07, I found out that they were working on their 8th album and I got so excited that my roommate told me - "I've never seen anyone get so excited about anything! I thought Jesus was coming back!"



Over those years, I started to feel God convicting me about the obsession. I was rather consumed. There were a few areas of my life that I needed to be in control of. My music preferences, who I dated, and how I spent my money. I told God that I would give Him everything . . . except those teeny little things. I was lord over those areas, and I was convinced that I knew what was best for myself.

What I didn't realize at the time was that I was buying into the worldview broadcasted by society, I think I was defining my own worldview, and I was trying to make God fit into it, putting Him in his nice little box . . . telling Him what He was or wasn't in control of.

I was listening to this music every day that focuses on the human condition, rage, and despair. It very much is inwardly focused, and only allowed my anger and depression to be expanded and justified, not healed. I went to shows and got life from watching the band perform. I still maintain that they put on the most amazing show . . . but I was taking it (not just the shows, but the band and the music) for more than it was . . . I was in essence, worshiping them.

Well, over time I started to be awakened. We don't always realize how much we are being affected or influenced by what we choose to listen to, watch, read, look at online, etc.

God is the one who can fill the holes in our hearts and heal us of the human condition (and oh, how He longs to do so!!). He sent his son purely out of love, to bring us closer to Himself and give us life . . . yet how we keep chasing after the things of this world to give us what we think we need - when they were never intended or designed to do that.

"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10)

God wants our despair, pain, anger to be healed - not for us to dwell on these things and wallow in them! He wants us to rest secure in His embrace . . . and to know of His great love for humanity.

So, this is why I say Skillet > AFI. Skillet rocks hardcore, but they sing of the truth . . . and they point to life. So does Relient K, Underoath, Red, Flyleaf, Fireflight, and many others. You don't have to be K-LOVE to be worshipful and truthful.

AFI has released the date of their album debut . . . but I didn't flip out like I did in '07. Their website has some promotion where you have to join twitter to get more information. A few years ago, I would have been signing up for twitter and doing anything to get more information about what they're doing. But today, I am free from that obsession . . . and I think I'll just chill until September to hear what's next.

There is nothing wrong with AFI . . . or going to shows, or listening to secular music - it's just being aware of how much it affects us, and what we allow to control us. I still have a keen liking for AFI and I would love to see them live again - just through a different set of eyes this time. Just appreciating them for their music, rather than proclaiming undying devotion for a group of humans might be more healthy.

God ultimately wants better for us than we even want for ourselves . . . and He wants us to know Him - really know Him - not to just try to make Him fit into our worldview or put Him in our boxes. So . . . listen to Skillet and take a peek at that Bible . . . it might even be better than a live show, I'm just sayin.

July 27, 2009

My own worst enemy

Last night I read over a few of my old Facebook notes, some of the posts on this blog and it hit me . . . the downfall of the public blog.

I look back on a note I wrote 6 months ago, and I smack my forehead.

I thought I understood or knew what I was talking about, but I didn't. I wrote about concepts with the pretension of full understanding/knowing, but in reality I had only begun to grasp them.

Such is life, I suppose. It's like how when I was a teenager, I thought I understood everything there was to know, and that I knew better than my parents. We all know that is a lie.

Anyway, I feel like I get hyper, passionate and ultimately too eager to express my thoughts . . . which can be a downfall. If I publish these thoughts in a blog or note, then everyone can see what an idiot I was 6 months ago (or even now). (that's what I meant by the downfall of the public blog)

BUT, it also humbles me, which is good.

God has truly opened my eyes in the past week. I feel like I am gaining a fresh understanding of the Gospel, of the relationship He longs to be in with humanity . . . I could go on for hours. I basically feel like a new Christian.

I want to write about what I'm going through, and what God has revealed to me, but I am afraid of expressing my thoughts and epiphanies too prematurely - in effects that I will regret publishing them - that I will smack my forehead and mutter "idiot!" in a few days, and then delete everything in frustration.

The knowledge of God and the Gospel is too vast, too beautiful, too mysterious for any of us to truly capture and fully (and I mean fully) understand. I know that I can't. I feel like I'm just beginning to really get it . . . but I have a long way to go.

This is beautiful in the sense that it affirms my human-ness, the fact that my mind is much smaller than God's, and that it humbles me.

In the end, I suppose it is indeed a good thing if we can look back on where we were 6 months ago and laugh or smack ourselves at how we thought we had it together . . . when in reality, we were kind of clueless. It means that we're making progress. And it's very humbling.

July 24, 2009

Don't go breakin' my heart


Yesterday I went to the Warped Tour . . . and more than anything, it left me heartbroken.

There were definitely hundreds, probably thousands of kids roaming the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater yesterday for nearly 12 hours, listening to more than 50 bands from multiple genres and visiting tents of organizations/sponsors from Peta to Trojan to To Write Love On Her Arms.

In between songs, lead singers from the bands would use the time to interact with the crowd - whether that meant shouting every profanity and obscene word known to man (today the tour was in FL, where you're not allowed to swear, so they had to "get it out of their system" yesterday), or how Underoath's Spencer testified that their band stands in the name of Jesus Christ (as he does with every live set, which is one of the reasons I hold them in high regard).

Some frontmen used the stage as a punk-rock pulpit, preaching in between songs about what their music stands for, why they support the music community and why you should believe in yourself and go for your dreams. Senses Fail frontman Buddy Nielsen preached more on the latter, and on life.

He told the crowd how the band built themselves from nothing and only depended on themselves. He also spoke about how you should, "treat your family and friends with passion and respect because they're all you have in this life." He continued to profess that we should all be trying to find happiness and bliss because it's not only the most important thing in life, but it's what life is all about.

Oh, Buddy. I wanted to tell him that he's missing it. There is so much more.

We are far too easily pleased, too easily convinced and decieved.

So . . . if finding happiness is the pinnacle of existence . . . and what Buddy is telling these kids is that it can be found in having a successful band (or dream career in that case), having a microphone, or by having family and friends? That's it?

Oh, how the world seduces us - telling us that if we only accumulated enough wealth, had the dream career, lost the weight, had the perfect marriage and family, were popular and well-liked, had the right house and the right cars, drank the right coffee - then we would truly be happy and complete. We run after these fleeting things of the world that will ultimately leave us more empty and void than we were before we pursued them.

How long before the beauty fades and the novelty wears off? How long before the luster and glamour vanishes? How long before our spouses, our friends, our possessions and even ourselves let us down? When do we stop buying into the lies and worldviews broadcasted by society?

What will it take for our eyes to be opened, for us to realize that we were created for more? That the one who brought us into existence has been right here all along, pursuing us? He wants to rescue us from this bondage, to provide for us, protect us, heal us, shower us with His love and blessings. He can give us something so much better than anything this world has to offer. He is the only giver of life.

After all, Jesus does tell us, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10)

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives . . . " (John 14:27)

God created us . . . we were made to be in perfect union and relationship with Him ("all things were created by Him and for Him" - Colossians 1:16), but The Fall destroyed that - leaving a gaping hole in our hearts. We so quickly turn to the pleasures of this world in efforts to fill that void, but He is truly the only one who can mend it. And how He longs to fill that space, if we would just look to Him!

Driving down I-40 last night, billboards reminded me of how this society tells us what we need to be happy . . . advertisements for colleges, employers, plastic surgeons, gyms, banks - all promising to bring fulfillment in one way or another.

Truly, Peter still stands correct when he writes, "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8) I know that I am just as guilty as the next person to turn to music or food or the gym to give me comfort . . . when what I really need to do is seek God first.

. . . man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
-Deuteronomy 8:13

May the God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope . . .
-Romans 5:13

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
-Colossians 2:8

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.
-Romans 12:2
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