March 31, 2010

Burn Out Brighter

Live, I wanna live inspired
Die, I wanna die for something higher than myself
Live and die for anyone else
The more I live I see this life's not about me

Don't wanna leave this world knowing I breathed in vain
Looked out for myself, so sorry, so ashamed
Don't wanna leave this life knowing I barely tried
To chase down all my dreams that I hid away on the inside

"Burn Out Brighter" - Anberlin

This past weekend I had the privilege of being part of the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, SC with some amazing girls. There were over 40,000 participants in the race - it was such an awesome experience!

Looking at the aerial shot, it reminds me of how wonderful it is to be a part of something bigger and greater than myself.

It is too easy to believe that I am the center of the story . . . that it's all about me. My priorities topple over, and I become too focused on my circumstances (and those things I think I need to be happy). And let's face it - just like the Motion City Soundtrack song, the future freaks me out. I let fear and worry about provision take the wheel without even realizing it.

God has been gently reminding and directing me of where I need to be. My job is to cast my cares on Him, focus on getting to know Him and to align my life with His purposes and His kingdom. When I am doing this, I find that He gives fulfillment and everlasting joy that nothing in this world could ever provide (and that He takes care of me and provides better than I could have done on my own). His plans are infinitely better than anything I could come up with on my own . . . living for Him and His purposes - living for something so much greater than myself brings amazing freedom and joy.

The church is such an opportunity to be part of something greater. I'm so thankful that through our church, we have the opportunity to be on mission for God, to be committed to living for greater purposes. Not only to do life with other people (let's face it - life is better when shared), but to desire to see this city transformed, lives renewed, to be an extension of the Gospel to our community. We get to see God work in our city, we get to see Him work through our friends and our church. We get to be a part of what God is doing and we get to know Him more which is such a bigger blessing than the accumulation of stuff or status for myself.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
[Matthew 6:33]

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
[Psalm 37:4]

Plus . . . if God is for us, who can be against us? If we align ourselves with His plans and His will for this world, we can be confident and secure - after all, God is sovereign and we know that His purposes prevail.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!
[Ephesians 3:16-21]

March 22, 2010

Island In The Sun

Sometimes I just don't know how to start a blog. I can't even think of a clever song title to match my writing right now. So I'm just gonna title it . . . the name of the song I'm listening to currently. Anybody remember myspace and how when you blogged you could put "currently listening to" on there? Too bad you can't do that here, or on facebook. I digress.

Well, I just want to say how wonderful it is to see God continually working, renewing, transforming, redeeming and restoring our lives.

Everybody has landmarks (or hopefully should) in their lives, or milestones of where they've seen God tangibly work . . .

For me, the biggest story is from about 3 years ago when I was definitely running from God and His will for my life, chasing after what I thought I wanted, but being openly rebellious and in pursuit of self-fulfillment.

I've always looked back on that time - I consider it my Egypt that God delivered me from. He lovingly pursued me (as stubborn, blinded and rebellious as I am) through it all and delivered me from certain devastating circumstances. I was on a path headed in the wrong direction . . . God removed certain things, re-arranged the external details, and put me back on the path towards Him.

It's funny because I've always thought of it and prayed - thank you God for taking those things out of my life, and for delivering me from those circumstances. Thank you for re-arranging the external.

It's always what's around us, the physical, tangible things that we see first. It's entirely too easy to get caught up in our circumstances, as I know I've been doing lately.

But what He's been opening my eyes to lately is how it's not just the external details. What's more important is that through that time and even now, He is rescuing me and working out my salvation. He is continually working in me, delivering me, restoring me.

I see how wayward my heart was during that time. He orchestrated my circumstances and rescued me from a situation, but the more important work was what He was doing internally.

It's really amazing to have my eyes opened to the bigger picture . . . I feel that I have a better handle on what He's been doing in my life, which naturally allows me to give Him more glory. I can see that it was nothing that I did or deserved, even my faith is a gift from Him - the entire process was God's doing - and I am so thankful.

I don't think I'll ever cease to be amazed at the way our Savior pursues us and draws us back to Himself . . . and how nothing can ever separate us from the love of God through Christ. I am so thankful to have this tangible time to look back on to see a powerful example of God's grace. He was telling me - your salvation was only the beginning. I GOT you. Nothing you do can ever change that - it's you and me now. And what a beautiful, mysterious relationship that we get to have with our Savior. I can't stop thinking about it . . . how He's never going to leave my side, even in the moments where I can't see Him - even in the moments when I'm running and rejecting Him.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
[Romans 8:38-39]

Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

. . . My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one."

[John 10:7-16, 27-30]

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

[Isaiah 40:11]

Again - when you ask God to reveal Himself to you, He will deliver - and then some.

God has also been reminding me that my job is to seek Him through His word, focus on my relationship with Him, His purposes and being obedient. [Matthew 6:25-34, Proverbs 3:5-6, 1 Peter 5:7] I don't need to worry so much about my circumstances - I can leave those details to His loving care. It's funny how life gets in the way sometimes and your priorities/viewpoints get totally skewed. I am so thankful for God's amazing grace, boundless love, endless faithfulness, continual sanctification and patience. It is a mystery I will never comprehend in this lifetime.

March 11, 2010

I've said it once, I'll say it again . . . when you pray for God to reveal Himself, and when you sincerely seek Him, He delivers.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

[Philippians 4:4-7]

It's funny how you think you understand something, or you think you've learned something . . . only to return to it later, and have God teach it to you all over again, or at least gain a deeper understanding.

Lately, I've had my eyes opened to a lot of sin . . . some of it mentioned in my last post. Another thing I was doing without realizing was that I was becoming so bitter, angry, and discontent with my circumstances. And wanting to trust in the fact that my circumstances are temporary . . . gaining more comfort from that rather than trusting that no matter what, God is walking with me and seeking Him first.

When people have talked about the peace of God . . . when I've read scripture about it, heard sermons about it, I think I only halfway grasped it. I think it's too easy for me to just try to pray, "God give me peace" and not meditate on Him or His word . . . or for me to just close my eyes really tight and say three times "I have peace, I have peace, I have peace" and then run off, not trying to go deep or spend time with the God of peace.

I wasn't really getting it. The peace of God, as Paul is talking about it, is not a nice little thought you repeat in your head like magic. No, no no . . . and walking with God does not always change our circumstances. Just because I have Christ does not mean He's going to wave a magic wand and give me the things that I want (or think I want).

It means that He's walking with me every day . . . which does not always change my suffering or my circumstances, but it changes how I go through it.

My biggest problem in life is my sin. If God has rescued me from this through Christ, everything else should dim in comparison. If I know that I am totally at peace with God through Christ, if I know that nothing can separate me from the love of God, then my other problems don't take over my life or change my joy or contentment, if those things are found in the Lord.

J.D. has said before in his sermons:

. . . that what we really need is the God of peace. Would you rather have peace in the storm of your life without Jesus, or would you be content to go through the storm with the God of peace?

-Peace is not so much the condition of the waves, but the presence of the master of the waves in the boat with you.
-You know that whatever happens, you will be OK because Jesus in the boat with you.
-So the only way to have peace is not from getting something from God, but having peace with God.
-When you believe that life's greatest possession is God, you have a moderation in life - In Christ we have something better than anything life can give and death cannot take away . . . knowing this makes it so that the lows in life don't devastate you and you don't depend on the highs to make you happy.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[Romans 8:35-39]

I mean take it from Paul . . . did walking with Christ change the fact that He was suffering in jail? No. But it changed the way he went through his circumstances.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
[Philippians 3:7-9]

. . . for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
[Philippians 4:11-12]

It's as if God is once again opening my eyes for the first time. I feel like these things should have been clear to me before, I can't believe that I haven't fully grasped it before. And maybe I have, but my sin clouded my thoughts and my understanding . . . and now I'm re-learning these things. I'm glad that God is more patient than I am. I'm thankful that He is ridiculously faithful to me and gently teaches me these things, even when I am stubborn, oblivious, and chasing after the wrong things.

March 6, 2010

What it is to Burn

It's funny how easily I forget things . . . like how my heart seems to be caked and encapsulated with dirt. It's easy enough to dust it off and feel sufficient for a while, but you can't brush off the dried filth in my valves, hardened vessels and obstructed coronary arteries. I need some invasive procedure for that. Good thing Jesus knows how to revive me . . . because I can't do it.

Anyway . . . I'm recognizing how easy it is for me to ignore and push away certain issues. Certain themes, struggles and sins seem to resurface and help me to realize how much I truly need a savior. Helps me to realize how full of wrath I am by nature, how wretched I truly am - more than I like to acknowledge on a daily basis.

Why is it that it's so much easier to stereotype people, to build up walls, to callous my heart, become bitter and prideful?

It's funny how time makes you more distant and removed from a person, experience or situation. It really makes it easy for you to water someone down, to make them out to be a faceless, emotionless jerk . . . and then from that, you create a stereotype or a prototype . . . using my past wounds as a weapon against an entire genre of people. And that's not really fair, now is it?

It's funny how you become so removed . . . only to revisit concrete, objective things from that time period . . . and then you realize that you were wrong. That person did care, and they weren't the stereotype you made them to be. That puts a crack in my wall . . . which is starting to disintegrate.

But it's a good thing. I want to be wrong. My stereotype is very harsh, dismal and hopeless. It causes my pride to hypertrophy, and that it very sinful. I want to be robbed of my pride, of my stereotypes, of my hostility. Jesus didn't die so that I could be hateful or build walls.

Jesus is the one who dissolved hostility . . . God reconciling Himself to us. If God has shown me such mercy, love, and grace . . . and if scripture teaches oneness in the body of Christ, then it makes sense for me to follow suit. I am called to be an ambassador of Christ, which entails a great deal of love and acceptance, not hostility or stereotyping.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility . . . His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.
-Ephesians 2:14-17

March 2, 2010

We Need A Resolution

Things are starting to get better . . . I think.

By no means am I ever going to fully grasp everything about God in this lifetime, but I can see how He has been growing me, changing me, sanctifying me and revealing Himself to me.

Thank you to those who read and commented on this blog, or talked to me about it in person. I love talking over, thinking through and digesting this stuff with the people God has placed in my life. I know that God works through us and can reveal Himself more through each other.

It's just funny how you can have a specific viewpoint or way of thinking for the majority of your life that becomes disrupted . . . or waved away like a cloud of smoke. Definitely unsettling at first, but incredibly enlightening and even freeing.

I can be really bad at articulating my thoughts, so bear with me.

I don't want to make the big decisions in my life - I want God to call the shots and then direct me there. However . . . if I am living my life for God, seeking God, and evaluating decisions biblically, I should be able to make choices/decisions in freedom and confidence. And I am coming around to see that it's more loving when we have that freedom versus a specific, limited course that has been predetermined.

The traditional view of an individual will, while it still is something that calls to me, can be rather restricting and rigid. What if God did have a very specific, detailed plan for my life that was either the center of a target or tightly coursed map? Well, there is GREAT potential for me blowing it (more like guaranteed that I'd blow it). There is also no flexibility . . . and it makes it seem like God can only work in my life if I'm in this very tight parameter (which seems to put a limit or leash on God's power and sovereignty). But God is bigger than that. He can certainly weave together the details of our lives, whether we're living in Raleigh or Los Angeles.

I still believe that God provided the friends, community, church and job that I have here in RDU. Do I believe that He would provide these things if I lived in another city? yes. That goes against the traditional view of an individual will, if you think about it. But the newer view of God's will says that if I come to a place where I need to make a choice, I should evaluate these choices in light of His Word and the lifestyle He is calling me to, and then freely choose. So - living here or in California. If neither one is morally wrong, I can go whichever way I want and trust that God is going to be with me in either place. I would still trust Him to provide me with a job, friends, church, place to live, food on the table . . . no matter where I was, and I believe He would do so. I see how this is much more freeing than the "target" or "dot" view.

Moreover, the traditional/target/dot view is not supported by scripture, as the book I previously mentioned is pointing out. Yes, scripture states that God is our sheperd, loving father, provider, redeemer, but that does not mean that He has a specific, tight course that I have to figure out. Plus . . . it would be insanely hard for me to even find this specific, individual plan. I don't have the capability to even find something like that - like a needle in a haystack. AND that's putting waaaay too much weight on my abilities - presuming I even have the ability to find some hidden specific plan.

I also realize that I think in extremes, in black and white. It's something about myself that I think is highly entertaining, but dangerous.

I tend to think that either God has predestined and ordained every step and breath, or that He is not working in my life at all.

I'm not saying that God doesn't know my every step and breath, because He does. I'm saying that there's a difference between Him being omniscient and having a bunch of puppets/robots on the earth, where one has no free will or ability to choose in any decision.

I'm coming to still maintain that yes, God did place certain people and circumstances in my life - He does provide for us when we ask (well, and even when we don't ask, hah) - but He does that no matter where we live or work, etc. But there's a difference from seeing that God placed an awesome roommate and group of people in my life, versus the idea that He created me to specifically live here and be friends with these specific people . . . like it our destiny, and if I hadn't lived here, I would have missed God's plan entirely.

Maybe God created me and He's working in me to sanctify me and conform me to the likeness of His Son, as scripture states . . . and in that, things are falling into place. He has given me skills and desires, and allowed me to work as a RN, and given me ministry opportunities - but who's to say those things wouldn't have fallen into place if I decided to be a barista at Starbucks (well, I'd rather do indie coffee) or a school counselor? I did like the idea that God wanted me to be a RN and specifically called me to this profession and my specific workplace, but I'm seeing freedom in this new viewpoint.

I really appreciate what Brent said in response to my last post:

"Your questions are based on the idea that God needs to work on the external cirumstances in order to guide your life on the path He has laid out for you. But can't he just as easily work out the details of your life by working in the internal aspects of your faith, character, and holiness? If God's ultimate purpose is to transform us into the likeness of His Son, then where we live, or what job we have, or who we marry probably won't be the determining factor on whether or not we work out His purpose in our lives."

I think that brings a lot of clarity. Talking to Christen and Julie last night also helped me sort out my thoughts and start see this in a new way as well. Thank you guys (and to Brent and Lacey for commenting on the first post as well!) for sharing and for your insight. I know we're never going to have all the answers, but I do feel a bit refreshed and liberated over this whole thing. Not to say I'm done wrestling with this by any means (hey, I still have to read that book), but things are starting to look better.
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