December 30, 2014

peace . . . in any season

It's a little late to write a post about Christmas, but as I was sitting and reflecting on the season, I couldn't help but write.

It's easy to be disillusioned at Christmas, isn't it? We watch hallmark movies and have warm fuzzy memories and want everything to be just right . . . as if every dysfunction and broken dream will become mended on December 25th.

I don't know about you, but it's freeing when you realize that Christmas doesn't mean perfection.

We dream of harmonious family gatherings, giving or receiving the perfect gift, and the anticipation builds. 

And these are good things! Don't get me wrong. Togetherness and fun gifts and all of the events and "things" (i.e. baking too many cookies) that come along with the holidays are great and I love them.

But let us not make those things the "ultimate" thing or the focal point. That they wouldn't make or break our Christmas. I think all of would agree that there is some degree of dysfunction in our lives - with or without the holiday season. Christmas just heightens your awareness of family weirdness, unmet longings, and unfulfilled dreams.

The greatest thing about Christmas is the news that God came to be with us. Broken humanity. He sees us, loves us, and has drawn near. He has made a way for us to know Him.

It's true - Emmanuel - God with us.

As one pastor said during our Christmas service, suffering and pain doesn't mean God has forgotten us. The good news is that God will never leave or forsake us . . . and He walks with us through brokenness, disappointment and shattered dreams.

He sees us through difficult seasons, all year long. He is the reason we can have peace, regardless of our circumstances. 

I pray that you know Him . . . and that you will press deeper into the gospel and comfort His presence brings any time of year.

September 22, 2014

Psalm 25

I was reading Psalm 25 this morning, as part of the She Reads Truth devotional (it's awesome, if you haven't checked it out!) and this verse stood out to me:

Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.
- Psalm 25:6

There is something disarming and comforting about the fact that God's mercy and love are "from of old." 

It reminds me of Ephesians 1:4-5, which states: "he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love  he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ . . ."

If this really is true, that means that God was determined to love us even before we entered this world. Before our parents even entered the world. Before everything. 

That means there is nothing we can do to outrun God's love, nothing we can do to remove His mercy and grace - even in our darkest of days. If He determined to set His love on us before creation, why do we think that we somehow hold enough power to remove or change that love?

September 19, 2014

The mystery of grace

This post is long overdue . . . last month I decided to delve into the world of cake baking and decorating, which has been a whirlwind - and this blog fell to the wayside (oops). 

I wanted to share about this awesome book that my bestie has let me borrow - Extravagant Grace by Barbara R. Duguid. 

It's hard to wrap your brain around grace. I find it difficult mostly because I am hard-wired for works and performance . . . when I think I'm nice and productive and doing well spiritually, I feel like everything is great. When I fall into a pattern of sin, see the ugliness in my heart and am too rushed to have a real quiet time, I feel not so great . . . as if I need to pick myself up by my bootstraps and try harder. I feel like a "bad christian" - as if my performance is what keeps me in good standing with the Lord.

I thought for a long time that falling into a pattern of sin or having habitual sins meant that something was devastatingly wrong with me. As if I needed to be victorious over my own sins and just get over that bad habit on my own. How could I be a leader if I wasn't perfect? How could other people look to me when I struggled? How could I be a Christian and still battle these sin patterns?

In this book, Barbara explains that there are certain sins that the Lord - in His grace - allows us to struggle with for years, maybe even this lifetime. We never can quite gain victory over them. In those struggles, we see that we are never beyond needing His grace. Even the apostle Paul wrestled with sinning against the Lord and not being able to do what he knew was right (Romans 7). 

The beauty of this is, the more I see my sin and my inability to pick myself out of it, the greater Christ becomes to me. I see that He knew humanity's sin and our wickedness, yet He still moves towards us to love. He is not surprised by our sins and our struggles. He loves us despite those things and even counted it joy that He would call us His own after suffering in our place (Hebrews 12:2).

The fact that Christ loves me, adopted me and will never let me go (John 10:28-29) . . . all while knowing how much and how far I would fall is nothing short of miraculous. I am surprised by the selfishness and pridefulness of my heart, but He is not. If you are in Christ, He has called you into covenant, lasting relationship and nothing can change His love for you. Even when you commit sins that you never thought were possible, His feelings toward you do not change. 

I was listening to this sermon by Dr. Byran Chapell where he is talking about God's grace and His grasp on us . . . and I will leave you with some nuggets of wisdom:

He says,

And we know we can fall, and we know that we fail, and we know we are faithless at times, but God says, though we are faithless, he abides faithful. “My grasp isn’t enough to hold you, God,” but his grasp holds us. It’s the double grasp of the Father and the Son by which he says, “I not only have the ability to save you, but to keep you.”

Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th century preacher said it this way. He said, “As a believer, you may fall on the ship of faith, but by Jesus Christ you do not fall off the ship of faith.” We are held by him.
Fault does not change relationship. And what God is saying through his Son is that when we have heard his voice and we, by hearing who Jesus is and having believed that, are made one with him, we are grasped by the Father and the Son. We’re part of the eternal family. And we may fail, but that doesn’t change the relationship. He holds us.

And the reason that you and I have to hear that and receive that is too much can happen in life, our failures, the failures of others, the abuse that we experience, the trials that we go through, the hurt that we can’t get rid of. We have to hear through all of that cacophony of the noise of this world the words of Jesus that say, “You are mine. I gave myself for you because you are precious to the Father and I will not let you go.” And that’s what gives us home. It allows us to be sustained in a world where the heartache can sometimes be so great and beyond our ability to cling.

August 7, 2014

not a piece of cake

I love my job. I love my co-workers. I even love to bake them cakes ;)

The place that tests my patience more than anywhere else in my life is at work.

If you work at a teaching hospital, you know what I mean.

I was particularly struggling this week . . . with new med students, new interns and a new fellow in the unit. Take a busy day in the ICU, add a bunch of new and different personalities, plus other stressors . . . and things start to get complicated. 

Anywho, I caught myself becoming impatient, irritated and frustrated. In the moment, I tried to dissect these feelings and get to the bottom of it all - why am I feeling this way? 

There were a lot of stressors, but what I really needed was some perspective. Who am I working for? Do I truly care that this person is looking at me like I'm an idiot? Whose opinion of me truly matters?

I had to remind myself of a couple truths.

1. God extended grace and patience to me when I was His enemy. Does this move me to extend love to difficult people?

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son . . . 
- Romans 5:10

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved . . .
- Ephesians 2:4-5

2. Who am I working for? I am not working for the approval of man, no matter how many letters are behind their name. I am working for God, and His approval is what truly matters . . . which, because of the gospel, is based in grace, not on my performance. So even when I am grumpy, have a bad day and don't treat people the way I should, His feelings towards me have not changed. 

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men . . .
- Colossians 3:23

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 
- Ephesians 2:8-9

I still struggled, but having a tiny glimpse of perspective helped me to push through. I have to remind myself daily to keep falling on His mercy and grace! Isn't it funny how, when we ask God to give us patience (or any other good character for that matter), He usually puts us through a trial . . . but it's all to change us and grow us.

July 21, 2014

trusting God . . . daily

He said to them, "When you pray, say: . . . 'Give us each day our daily bread.'"
Luke 11:2-3 (emphasis mine)

I have been reading through Luke as of late, and this morning I came across Luke 11, which focuses on prayer.

Something that jumped out at me was this instruction from Jesus to pray for daily bread.

What does this look like for us as Christians? He is pointing out that we are to live in a state of continual dependence on God. That God is our daily provider. Day by day. Sometimes moment by moment.

It is so easy for me to forget that everything I have comes from the hand of the Father. If you stop and think about it . . . what do you have that He has not given to you? Even the ability to wake up in the morning . . . down to the air in my lungs, it's all from Him.

How quickly do I forget and start to live as though I'm self-sufficient and in control of my days?

This manifests itself the most in the form of anxiety and fear.

Just last night, my mind started to wander and those "What if" questions started to populate my thoughts. What if I have to find another roommate? What if all my friends get married and the only people I can hang out with are ten years younger than me and I can't relate to them?  What if I have nothing to do and no one to see on the weekends?

How quickly I can run away with my imagination! I know that other women struggle with this. I was listening to a sermon last week on fear, and Veronica Greear was talking about how we do this - we imagine the worst possible situation and then freak out over it.

We have to reign our emotions and our imaginations back in. What is reality? If I stop, I can see that God is taking care of me right now. Today. He has not called me to go through a time of having no friends, or having to look for a new roommate. He has provided so abundantly and He is upholding me right now. He always has. Even when I did not know how to provide for myself, He knows.

Veronica also pointed out that when we go to these places in our minds, God's grace and power is not available to us. Only when we are called to go through trials does He give us exactly what we need, only when we need it. Of course you don't feel equipped to handle it now - He's not calling you to go through it.

I have to trust that God is going to provide for me daily. So if I do have to go through a time of wilderness or aloneness, I can know that He will be with me, He will carry me, and He will sustain me. It's not my job to figure it all out now - that's not where He has me right now.

July 18, 2014

Florida recap

the real reason I flew: free biscoff!

golf cart joyride

the manly bonding

beautiful cupcakes by my mom :)

Happy Birthday G'ma!

I hope I look this good when I'm 80

Last Friday I flew to Florida to celebrate my grandma's 80th birthday.

It was a super short trip - Friday morning until Sunday morning. It was fun to be reunited with family that I haven't seen in almost 2 years. 

A few of my favorite things from the trip . . . watching my dad and cousin enjoy each other and bond, going to 4 different grocery stores in one day (no joke - we kept forgetting things), my grandma being with her 3 kids all together, and seeing her get rowdy during a game of dominos where she kept harassing my dad. Quite entertaining. 

Just when I start to think that I'm a fairly calm person, God puts me on a plane . . . and it all goes out the window. The funny part is, I was listening to a sermon - on fear (and why we don't need to fear) - when the plane was descending to RDU. We hit an air pocket or something and I thought, this is it! we're going down! my palms were sweaty and my heart rate shot up. Juuuust kidding guys - being on a plane can bring out the worst in someone. :)

July 1, 2014

when you're in the waiting

As a follow-up on yesterday's post . . . 

Sometimes, you are called to a season of waiting. What are some reasons for waiting, and how can we practice this season well?

I never have any original thoughts, so I would love to just share some resources I've found to be helpful on this topic. 

"In ministry you will be both called to wait and also find waiting personally and corporately difficult. So it is important to recognize that there are lots of good reasons why waiting is not merely inescapable but necessary and helpful."

5 Ways to Wait on God Well - Relevant Magazine

"We need to take a step back and take a look at the bigger picture. It's not about what we think will satisfy us now, but what God wants to do in us, for us and through us later. When we remember that immediate gratification is not the goal and God has our greater interests at heart, we can faithfully continue to wait and trust Him."

A few months ago, J.D. gave this message: The Insanity of God. In it, he speaks about how it's a pattern in the Bible to see God give people a calling, and then immediately places them in a waiting time. J.D. encourages us not to waste this time of waiting - it's where God teaches us patience, where God shapes our character.

And lastly, a quote from Blackaby in Experiencing God:

You may think of waiting as a passive, inactive time. Waiting on the Lord is anything but inactivity. While you wait on Him, pray with a passion to know Him, His purposes, and His ways. Watch circumstances and ask God to interpret them by revealing His perspective to you. . . By waiting, you shift the responsibility of the outcome to God, where it belongs. 
Waiting on Him is always worth the effort. His timing and His ways are always right. Depend on Him to guide you in His way and in His timing to accomplish His purpose.

June 30, 2014

when it hurts to hope

One of the dangers of having an afternoon to yourself is the temptation to bake a cake for no reason . . . and that was me today. However, I resisted the urge . . . and instead ate my weight in watermelon. Because if you're going to have 10 servings of something, it's better that it's a fruit and not baked goods, right? Right.

Do you ever have dreams that just don't seem to be working out? 

That door that seems to stay closed, no matter how persistent your prayers. Unmet desires that just won't be subdued.

Are you ever tempted to just let those dreams die, because it just hurts too much to keep hoping?

I have been wrestling with this lately. I have tried to suppress my heart's longings, but it only causes me to become bitter. I have tried to play tricks on my mind in order to make those desires disappear, to fool myself into not wanting things. Somehow, it doesn't work (surprise).

So what now?

A friend of mine challenged me on this. She asked me, "Did God ask you to let that go?"

I had to admit - no, He didn't. It's just too painful to hope, to dream, to have unmet desires. So I want to just give up.

It is a good exercise to stop and ask ourselves:

- Is this desire selfish?
- Is it an idol in my life? (has it become an "ultimate" thing? - something I could't imagine life being happy or joyful without?)
- Has God told me to let it go?
- Is He instead asking me to trust Him deeper, including to trust in His timing?

In her book (which I've referenced before - it's that good) Better Than My Dreams, Paula Rinehart states:

It takes such courage to stay awake to a possibility - to keep bringing a hungry heart back to God, over and over, until he says it's time to let go. It takes faith to believe that if God says no to a good dream . . . it means God is up to something that will, eventually, have his glory written all over it. I find that trusting God with my life often leads to a place that's exhilirating and yet oddly painful at times. Indeed, it can hurt to hope . . . The paradox here is that while it may hurt to hope, the dangers of not hoping are far worse. 

She goes on to write about how we should not live with low expectations or let these dreams die, but instead keep running to God. To process life with Him, even in our disappointments. To be real with God, to struggle through these things with Him. That your life is part of a bigger story, even bigger than the dreams and plans that you have.

It can be tempting to just work these things out on our own, or to run away with our emotions . . . but as Tim Keller has said, "Every single emotion that you have should be processed in prayer."

It's so much easier said than done . . . but let's keep hoping, keep running, keep struggling, keep trusting that God is good - even in disappointment.

June 23, 2014

bold and confident

I have been meditating on a few of God's promises lately . . .

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry,Abba, Father.” 
- Romans 8:15
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.- Hebrews 4:16 
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9 

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace . . . - Ephesians 2:13-14

It is such a simple . . . yet astonishing and miraculous truth, to know that we have full access to the Father. That we can have a personal relationship with the one who created the universe.

Because Jesus did everything necessary in our place, we now have all the benefits of being God's adopted children. We are told that we have been brought near to God, and that we can cry out to Him as our Father. 

We don't have to clean ourselves up, get our act together, or get that one stubborn habit under control first. 

He invites us as we are - as we are! - to just come. 

We don't have to follow a ten-step program, be in a certain building, be "good enough," or go through someone to get to God. Jesus has done everything necessary to bridge the gap. 

On the cross, He declared It is finished! (John 19:30). That means there's nothing you or I could add or take away from salvation, from grace, from His invitation to come into relationship with Him.

I cannot express how much this truth has changed my life. How comforting and relieving it is to know that you are welcomed, fully known and fully loved - despite all of my sin, my flaws, my daily struggles. 

Reflecting on this helps me to see more of what Paul meant when he said, Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:8)

Yes, Jesus is the greatest treasure.

June 13, 2014

calling to mind

If there's one thing I'm taking away from the book "One Thousand Gifts," it's the power that a little perspective change and gratitude can have.

The author kept a log of what she was thankful for . . . even in the daily, mundane, ordinary. Little signs of God's hand in her life, blessings.

It calls to mind how God is involved in the smallest details of our lives.

I also read a book on prayer a few years ago that suggested writing prayer cards for different areas of your life . . . with a few specific prayer requests that you're presenting to God at the time. I kept a handful of those cards and pulled one out the other day. This card is almost two years old, and God answered every prayer that I had written down. It was amazing and encouraging to see how God has worked in such tangible ways. To call to mind those things as well.

I was inspired to start doing this again . . . to keep a journal of specific prayer requests, as well as the little things that I am thankful for on a regular basis. That way my eyes are opened to the hand of God even in the most "dull" moments . . . and I can look back and see how He has carried me and answered specific prayers.

I will share a glimpse of my "thankful" list . . .

- scent of gardenias and honeysuckle
- summer thunderstorms
- airplane noise
- the smell of laundry as I pass through a neighborhood on a jog

June 9, 2014

remembering, thanking, trusting

I finished reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp yesterday. Chapter eight particularly stuck out to me.

The whole premise of the book is to see God's gifts, presence and grace in the daily, in the mundane, and even in the trials and sufferings in this life. To be thankful, to have a changed perspective.

She writes about battling anxiety by surrendering it in prayer, remembering God's goodness, being thankful and trusting God with the future.

Here are a few nuggets:

And trust is that: work. The work of trusting love. Intentional and focused. Sometimes, too often, I don't want to muster the energy. Stress and anxiety seem easier. Easier to let a mind run wild with the worry than to exercise discipline, to reign her in, slip the blinders on and train her to walk steady in certain assurance, not spooked by the specters looming ahead. Are stress and worry evidences of a soul too lazy, too undisciplined, to keep gaze fixed on God? To stay in love? 
Thanks is what builds trust. 
Every time fear freezes and worry writhes, every time I surrender to stress, aren't I advertising the unreliability of God? That I really don't believe? But if I'm grateful to the Bridge Builder for the crossing of a million strong bridges, thankful for a million faithful moments, my life speaks my beliefs and I trust Him again. 
Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks. Remembering frames up gratitude. Gratitude lays our the planks of trust. I can walk the planks - from known to unknown - and know: He holds. I could walk unafraid. 

remembering with thanks is what causes us to trust - to really believe.

If I stop and reflect on all the ways that God has carried me, all the ways that He has provided for me, I am reminded of how trustworthy He is. I am reminded of His character and His provision. That gives me momentum for the future . . . while it is unknown, I am reassured that I am safe in His care. 

How has God blessed you and provided for you? Stop and reflect on this . . . how does it help you to move forward?

June 2, 2014

Walking by faith and having a crisis of belief

This book. Super good. Our small group is going through it right now, and I am going to be really sad when it's over. I feel like everyone in group is learning a lot, the study is not burdensome and I honestly look forward to going through each week.

This past week focuses on walking by faith and having a crisis of belief. 

Christians are called to walk with God . . . and having an ongoing relationship with Him requires us to trust Him, even when (or especially when) we cannot see what He is doing.

When circumstances start to become difficult, will we trust God and seek after Him? Will we exercise faith, believing that He is who He says He is? Will we continue to go to Him for direction and provision, even when we can't see? Or will we go our own way, trusting ourselves, our resources and our perspective instead?

No matter what stage of life you're in or what difficulties you are facing, you can apply this to your life.

Here are some nuggets from this week's study:

Faith is confidence that what God promised or said will come to pass. Sight is the opposite of faith. If you can clearly see how something can be accomplished, more than likely, faith is not required. 
We forget that when God speaks, He always reveals what He is going to do - not what He wants us to do for Him. We join Him so He can do His work through us. We don't have to be able to accomplish the task with our limited ability or resources. With faith we can confidently proceed to obey Him because we know He is going to bring to pass what He purposes. Jesus indicated that what is impossible with man is possible with God (see Mark 10:27). The scriptures continually bear witness that this is true. 
What you do reveals what you believe about God, regardless of what you say. When God reveals what He is purposing to do, you face a crisis - a decision time. God and the world can tell from your response what you really believe about God. Your trust in God will determine what you do and how you live.  
A crisis of belief is not a calamity in your life but a turning point where you must make a decision. You must decide what you truly believe about God. 
There are times in my life where I have faced this crisis of belief . . . did I trust that God would provide, or would I turn the other direction and miss out on what He had for me? Things that only He could provide, like when I had to raise support for a mission trip to Nicaragua. I was in a position where I had to trust God . . . I was forced to depend on Him more fully.

Where have you faced this turning point in your life? It's not a one-time experience, God will continually bring us to places where we are humbled and must rely on Him. When God comes through in the way that only He can, it strengthens our faith and our relationship with Him.

I recently went on a trip for memorial day with a ton of other singles. When I came back from the trip, I was struggling with discontentment and fearing that online dating is the only way I will ever find someone.

I believe God used this study to speak to me in that discontentment. I had to stop and realize . . . these thoughts and my anxiety are showing me what I believe about God. I am believing that He won't provide, or that He needs my help (and the internet's help) in this area of my life.

The way I live reveals what I believe about God. Once again, He is calling me to trust Him when I cannot see how He will provide. In every season, God is calling us to walk by faith and come to that crucial point . . . will we rely on our resources and abilities, or will we turn to Him with open hands?

May 23, 2014

on being a nurse: when it hurts

During my commute to work, I pray that God would use me to bless the people I will come in contact with, namely my patients and co-workers. I don't always know what that will look like until God puts me in certain situations (and sometimes I don't even know if I am being a blessing - just being honest!).

Being a nurse will put you in unique settings and circumstances . . . it allows you the opportunity to walk with people as they face suffering and grief head on. 

Facing the loss of a loved one, the loss of hopes and dreams and what could've been. Facing the losses that death, disease and trauma bring.

I have been a nurse for six years and these situations are never easy. Honestly, I typically do not feel well-equipped in these moments. In these times, I am forced to rely more on God - which I am thankful for. I know I cannot do my job unless He is working in and through me.

I faced such a situation earlier this week. I started off my day wondering - what if I fall apart in front of my patient, when she needs me to be strong? What if the family sees me cry or get choked up when I try to speak? What do I even say? What can I say?

I knew that nothing I did or said could change their circumstances. But how could I offer support? What could I actually do to benefit them in some way?

I will tell you that I truly believe that it is an honor and a privilege to be a nurse. It is an honor to walk with people in the midst of deep heartache and pain. To share tears, to listen, to be present.

It is sweet of God to give me patients who are believers. I know I can offer them something more in these moments of grief. 

I can encourage them to hold onto God and His Word, which never fails. The Word of God is living, His presence and promises are the only thing that will not crumble under the weight of suffering and the trials of this life.

This very firm foundation will carry them through the deepest pain of their life. When I can give people scripture and words of encouragement, I feel like I can actually offer something. Something that will last, something that can give hope in the midst of loss. 

There are many other things we can offer in these moments . . . the comfort of having support from family, pastoral staff, a cool cloth or a fresh pillow (as simple as that may sound) . . . if I can offer anything that might bring the slightest bit of relief, if it can make a difference, then I am so thankful.

The journey of grief and loss is one that our patients and families take . . . and it is one that is not without challenge when you are the nurse caring for them. It hurts to have your heart open, but I am so thankful for the opportunities that God has given me to care for people during these times.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit
Psalm 34:18 
The Lord is near to all who call on Him
Psalm 145:18 
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;  
 and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, 
    and the flame shall not consume you. 
Isaiah 43:2

May 18, 2014

Sweet weddings

Did I ever tell you that I love weddings? Because I do. :)

Yesterday my sweet friends Amy and Jeremy got married and it was beautiful. And fun. A perfect mix of both.

I loved getting to be a part of this! It was also so sweet to be reunited with old friends and to spend time with them over the past few days leading up to the wedding.

I was honored to be involved in baking cupcakes for the reception, as well as just getting to see how everything came together.

Thursday I went over to Amy's apartment to help decorate/assemble the cupcakes. Her family and friends tackled 260 cupcakes in 2 1/2 hours. I would say that's an accomplishment.

Another thing I loved about her wedding is that they did it all themselves with the help of family and friends. The decorations, setting up/tearing down, flowers, music, cupcakes and SO many other things that I'm sure I'm missing.

It was beautiful to watch friends and family rally around this couple to support them, to work together to do the preparations and decorations and so many things surrounding the wedding. I just kept admiring this and being thankful that I got to see something so harmonious.

I also kept admiring Amy's poise. Every time I saw her, she seemed so calm and went with the flow. It was also priceless to see the excitement she and Jeremy had to be with one another.

Yay weddings :) Yay friends, yay family, yay homemade and beautiful things.

May 16, 2014

reflections lately

If you haven't listened to this album yet, you should. It is beautiful and full of Gospel truth and God has used it to melt my heart.

I was listening to Brokenness Aside and Your Glory / Nothing But the Blood this week and it reminded me of Isaiah 6 and Tim Keller's sermon titled, "The Gospel and Your Self."

The prophet Isaiah has an encounter with God that leaves Him undeniably changed. Tim Keller talks about moving from seeing God as a concept to God as a reality in your life, as Isaiah did. 

He says:

What is the difference between concept and reality? It’s a matter of glory (weightiness). 
God as a concept is lighter than you. When you bring God as a concept into your life, you shape it. It fits in around your existing patterns. It doesn’t move you around. It doesn’t “quake” you.  
If you believe in God and it just hasn’t changed you very much, it’s just a concept.
A God concept can’t change your beliefs around. It just fits in with your existing beliefs. 
Basically, we don’t believe in God in such a way that He comes down and re-arranges our beliefs. 
When the real God comes into your life, when you get into the presence of the real God, things give way in your life to His glory. Things that you’ve always believed and you believe very deeply are changed by His word, because God has more glory than your beliefs. He can change things that you think. And also, instead of God fitting into your agenda, God becomes your new agenda. He radically changes our priorities.

Your agenda, my agenda, apart from God, is to have a very safe, tidy little life. And to watch your back and to be careful and to hedge your bets and to look out for number one. God says bravery, self-sacrifice, sacrifice your individual needs because I’m more real than your individual needs, I have glory. 
When God the reality comes into your life, all that stuff starts to change. Every single person who’s really met God is aware of a time when God went from being a concept to being a reality. Has that happened to you? Do you know when that was?
Isaiah 6 is such a beautiful passage that points to the Gospel in a powerful way. Seeing how God draws us near, humbles us, shows His glory to be so beautiful . . . and atones for our sin when we had no merit, no way to earn His favor.

My life is yours
My hope is in you only
My heart you hold
'Cause you made this sinner holy

Your glory is so beautiful
I fall onto my knees in awe
And the heartbeat of my life
Is to worship in your light
'Cause your glory is so beautiful

"Your Glory" - All Sons & Daughters

May 8, 2014

what contentment is not

Several weeks ago, someone made a comment to me about my singleness that slowly evolved into mild anxiety about where I am in life. Am I doing enough? Am I going to suddenly wake up at the age of 50 still single and it's all my fault because I didn't try hard enough or go to every single social event?

A few days later, I met with a sweet friend who spoke truth and encouragement to me about this. If I really believe that God is sovereign, than I can rest instead of worry that I'm somehow missing out in life. It's all about His purposes and His plans, not my personal agenda or timeline, anyway. I can also rest, knowing that He is a kind and loving Father, and He will provide for all of my needs. I don't always know what that will look like, but I can trust that He is going to carry me through life and that His ways are better than my own.

Anyways, when I was questioning my whereabouts and direction in life (i.e. do I need to rearrange my life in order to be chasing men), my friend asked me - what would you change about your life?

I honestly answered her - I would change nothing.

I really truly enjoy my life. So I'm not dating anyone and there are no prospects right now. I'm OK with that. Is that completely weird and alien? I have a wonderful job, a wonderful roommate, friends, volunteer work and other hobbies that keep me busy . . . I know that God is calling me to know Him more and the most important thing is my relationship with Him, not a particular status, relationship, position or achievement level.

It reminds me of a sermon that I've mentioned at least once before - "Learning Contentment" by Beau Hughes. At one point, he says:

What are you afraid to be content about because you believe God will leave you there if you grew content? 
So many singles I talked to at the singles conference were actually afraid to nurture a heart of contentment in regards to their singleness because they were afraid that God would just leave them there if they became content in singleness.

We are afraid that if we are content, then God will leave us in our same circumstances. It seems so silly, doesn't it? Yet, I would be lying if I told you I never had this thought.

It's OK to be content with where God has you, and it doesn't mean that God will just leave you in your current stage of life. God is always teaching us to depend on Him and trust Him in a deeper way . . . whether that's in a season of waiting or a season of transition and new circumstances.

May 5, 2014

a simple exercise in preaching truth to yourself

I am thankful for a faith that requires me to engage my mind and my thoughts . . . and practically apply truth in day-to-day life.

Sometimes, I just want to float through the day . . . to live based on my feelings or emotions (which is super dangerous if you are a woman :) ).

But that is no way to live, since our emotions are fickle and my mood can change in the twinkling of an eye, for no apparent reason. 

You and I must make a choice . . . a choice to either listen to our anxious thoughts and feelings, or a choice to speak the truth to ourselves. We have to be proactive and take action, not just float through the motions. We must engage with the truth of the Gospel.

As Paul David Tripp says, "No one is more influential in your life than you are. Because no one talks to you more than you do."

There is a post at desiring God on this topic, and the author states:

In our sin, we constantly find our responses to life in our fallen world to be disconnected from the theology that we confess. Anger, fear, panic, discouragement stalk our hearts and whisper in our ears a false gospel that will lure our lives away from what we say we believe.
The battleground, says Tripp, is meditation. What is it that is capturing your idle thoughts? What fear or frustration is filling your spare moments?
Will you just listen to yourself, or will you start talking? No, preaching — not letting your concerns shape you, but forming your concerns by the gospel.
Tullian Tchividjian also writes (link here):
Because we are so naturally prone to look at ourselves and our performance more than we do to Christ and his performance, we need constant reminders of the gospel. 
Day by day, what we must do practically can be experienced only as we come to a deeper understanding of what we are positionally—a deeper understanding of what’s already ours in Christ.
The hard work of Christian growth, therefore, is to think less of me and my performance and more of Jesus and his performance for me. Ironically, when we focus mostly on our need to get better we actually get worse. We become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with my effort over God’s effort for me makes me increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective.
We can daily press deeper into the cross and apply Gospel truth to the untouched areas of our lives. To combat lies and feelings with the objective truths found in scripture. 

A friend challenged me with an exercise that has benefitted me greatly over the years. She asked me to think through and write down - "What lies are you believing right now?" Followed up by, "What scripture disproves this?" It is a practical way to confront the lies that can so easily sneak up and interject themselves into our lives.

May 1, 2014

open hands

From Him and through Him and for Him are all things . . .
- Romans 11:36

Ohhh, it has been too long.

But I am back :)

For now, at least.

Anyway . . . a friend of mine recently talked about living with open hands. Living in a way where you are fully yielded to God, not withholding anything from Him. Your hands are not clenched tightly around any area of your life, because nothing is off limits for God. He can take and give freely.

If I fully believe that God created me, has drawn me to Himself and is the one who sustains, guides and fulfills me . . . then how can anything be off limits for Him?

Scripture says that all things were created by God and for God. 

That causes me to ask . . . what am I living for?

Am I living for the one who created me and saved me? Am I fully available to Him? Am I finding my fulfillment and purpose in Him? 

It frees me from living for my own agenda or timeline. It changes my perspective.

My small group is going through a study called "Experiencing God." I read something this morning that goes along with living this way:

God will start to make Himself known to you simply as He would to a child. As you respond to Him in childlike trust, a whole new way of looking at life will begin to unfold for you. Your life will be fulfilling. You will never sense an emptiness or a lack of purpose in your life. God always fills your life with Himself. 

April 17, 2014

never alone

Then all the disciples left him and fled.
Matthew 26: 56
for the joy that was set before him endured the cross . . .
Hebrews 12:2 

I don't know if it was the awesome #SheReadsTruth devotional I read this morning . . . JD's sermon from the weekend on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, or Tim Keller sermons about the events leading up to Jesus' death . . . but it all just hit me tonight.

When I feel alone . . . when I am lonely because of my circumstances, God gently reminds me that I am not truly alone.

Jesus faced ultimate rejection, ultimate separation from His Father . . . and even His best friends and disciples abandoned Him in His hour of need.

Jesus was more alone and forsaken than I will ever know . . . all so that I would never have to be.

Even if friends reject me, people betray me . . . even if I remain single for this lifetime, I am not alone.

God gives us such a beautiful promise . . . that He will never leave or forsake us if we are His (Hebrews 13:5). That is more precious than anything this world can give us or death can take away.

I feel like my words are not eloquent in this area, so bear with me ;) but it is in God's Word that we find restoration for our souls, so I would encourage you to dwell there.

When Jesus started to cry out, he didn't say, "My friends, my friends!" "My head, my head!" "My hands, my hands!" He said, "My God, my God." On the cross, Jesus was forsaken by God. He said, "My God." That's the language of intimacy. To call anyone "my Susan" or "my John" is affectionate. And biblically, "my God" is covenantal address. It was the way God said someone could address him if he or she had a personal relationship with him. "You shall be my people, and I shall be your God." 
"My God, you have forsaken me." . . . this forsakenness, this loss, was between the Father and the Son, who had loved each other from all eternity. This love was infinitely long, absolutely perfect, and Jesus was losing it. 
Jesus, the maker of the world, was being unmade. Why? Jesus was experiencing our judgement day. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It wasn't a rhetorical question. And the answer is: For you, for me, for us. Jesus was forsaken by God so that we would never have to be. The judgement that should have fallen on us fell instead on Jesus. 
At the moment Jesus Christ died, this massive curtain (in the temple, separating the holy of holies) was ripped open. The tear was from top to bottom, just to make clear who did it. This was God's way of saying, "This is the sacrifice that ends all sacrifices, the way is now open to approach me." Now that Jesus has died, anybody who believes in him can see God, connect to God. The barrier is gone for good.  
If you see Jesus losing the infinite love of his Father out of his infinite love for you, it will melt your hardness. No matter who you are, it will open your eyes and shatter your darkness. You will at long last be able to turn away from all those other things that are dominating your life, addicting you, drawing you away from God.  
- Tim Keller

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