Thursday, November 24, 2011

God's Puzzle: Afterward

{Forgot to post this last night - sorry! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day :) }

Honestly, I feel at the moment as though my future is a big question mark. God taught me at the beginning of this semester that I am to be in submission to His will for my life – that I am His, not mine. I don’t think living that out will always make sense to me or to those around me.

One may ask why I took all the time to write this all down tonight/this morning [Nov. 16/17] when I have papers I should probably be working on. Simply speaking, the answer is that I needed to. This is how I process stuff. I’ve been meaning to do it for months, as I said, and tonight I felt like it was the right time to sit down and actually do it.

Tonight (Wed. Nov. 16) didn’t go at all like I thought it would – just goes to show that God’s got plans for us we don’t always understand. But I don’t regret a moment of it, which is sadly pretty unusual for my life this semester.

If you’ve read all 3,400 words of this monologue, you most certainly deserve a medal. If you make proper application (involving applicable comments on each post), I will try to get you one ;-)

But really - please do let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

God's Puzzle: Part 6

October and November have been tough months for me. I’ve allowed myself to stress about nearly everything. I’ve not done a couple of [small] homework assignments. Most papers have been done the night before or day that they are due. For a multiplicity of various reasons, I didn’t go to a single church service at my church here in Siloam Springs between Sept. 11 and Nov. 6. Most of those weekends I was out of town, but a couple of times I chose not to attend.

The lesson from these trying past couple of months—although I am only just now recognizing it—is that it is not enough to say “yes” when I hear the question “Do you trust Me?” or to say “I am Thine.” I must make the choice, through God’s strength, to live that out in my actions if I am to find the rest and the satisfaction in life that I learned last spring is possible.

The process of learning this hasn’t been easy…October’s musings filled 16 pages of my journal…but standing here I am thankful to be able to look back and finally see that there has been a lesson in all the hiccups I feel like I’ve been through. Again, I don’t feel like talking about it in detail here…it’s still too recent I guess. To some extent, God used spring semester to ground me in His love—the summer to teach me that He is trustworthy—September to show me what He calls me to—and October and November have been something of a test to see if I am ready to live it out.

And frankly, I’ve failed quite a few times. Because even with the past 11 months of learning, I still forget. The weekends of Oct. 9 and Nov. 5 were, honestly, horrible. Last weekend was amazing. This weekend may not be so great because I have one paper due Sunday night and two others due Monday. But I have the tools to succeed – well, one tool really: God’s strength. If I choose to trust Him and to work diligently, I can do well. I don’t have to be stressed. God is faithful – it is up to me to live in recognition of His faithfulness.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

God's Puzzle: Part 5

While last spring was all about love and the summer was all about trust, this semester (when I’ve been paying attention) has been about surrender. I say “when I’ve been listening” because I haven’t been doing all that great a job at it. But God is STILL faithful, even then.

Spiritual Emphasis Week in chapel was what picked up from the ideas that had started in August and really brought home the idea that I am a slave to Christ. Singer Michael Card came and talked to us for three days – and I was very blessed by his ministry to us. I tried to write a post about it that I realized at the time didn’t nearly do it justice.

This semester I am learning the importance for me of making time to be still before God. To process and reflect on what is going on in my life. Frequently, those times happen when I escape my dorm room and go to one of my growing number of retreat areas. Being outside and in communion with God works within my soul at a deep level – and that’s important for me. I’ve also started occasionally picking up small objects as mementos – like the memorial altars the Israelites built.

Anyhow, that’s what I did a few days after the slavery blog post – spent time out at the Hundred Stairs praying through some things. I also rode my bike out to a state park in Oklahoma where I spent all day Saturday Sept. 24 enjoying being out in “the wild.” A lot of that time didn’t have anything particularly spiritual about it – but it was a relaxing and refreshing experience. The next day was my birthday – the big 21. I was blessed by the love of several friends that day, and the Gathering that night dove-tailed well with the lesson on surrender I had been learning.

On Sept. 28, I bought one of the necklaces made by women in Africa that were being sold to help them earn money. I didn't think of it at the moment I picked it out, but I soon felt nudged to use it as a daily reminder that I am not my own – I am God's. I have worn it most of the time since then, and often as I put it on I am thinking about the fact that I am a mere vessel in the use of my Master. "I am Thine" has been the recurring thought of my heart in the weeks since. Not that those weeks have been easy – they haven't.

Monday, November 21, 2011

God's Puzzle: Part 4

Last summer was a lot like a roller coaster. I had many high points and more lessons – but I also had some deep lows and griefs, mostly from my main job. I don’t talk about particulars because I feel that would be gossiping. Suffice it to say I am no longer under any illusion that parenting is an easy job. I did post about it on a general level here.

The big picture theme for my summer was that my home church services were alive in a way I had never experienced before. I actually felt that they were profitable – that I wasn’t just going through the motions to be there. Now, that is not to say that they weren’t good before. I think the change was more in me than it was in the church. But I was thankful for the new me who appreciated church at a deeper level than before. I posted about some of the church services here and here.

Also, while the spring semester’s lessons had focused around the fact that I am loved and accepted by God, the summer focused on what that means on a very practical level. Over and over again all summer, I heard the question in my head: “Do you trust Me?” No matter how bad I thought things might be, no matter how hard it was, that question was the center. And God never failed me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t fail, but God was always there for me when I was willing to turn to Him. At the beginning of August, I wrote a post about it that also started hinting at what the theme of the fall semester would be. Another post expanded more on the theme.

But as part of the summer, God had another reminder planned about His love. The college group at my church went through Tim Keller’s Prodigal God video series. We also spent a relaxing weekend with our leaders at a lake house. While there were still struggles even there, God led me to read 1 John 4 focusing on love. There’s so much in that chapter about God’s love for us – I would encourage you to read it if you’re ever discouraged…or even if you’re not. It’s a convicting reminder that we are called to love as we have been loved, and that we do not need to fear anything because “perfect love casts out fear.”

My summer ended with an emotional rollicking kaboom – and although I was somewhat excited to come back to college and see all my friends I was already starting to dread what will happen after I graduate. After all, I was half way done! Which is why this semester's lessons have been so perfect.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

God's Puzzle: Part 3

Back on February 6, a girlfriend’s brother had been killed when a gun he was cleaning went off. On April 12, a family friend’s husband had been found dead at his parking garage. He was, I think, in his early 30’s. Both of these deaths were somewhat shocking to me. I wasn’t especially close to either man, but it still weighed on me. Then, on April 18, I heard that another girlfriend’s boyfriend had been killed in a private plane crash. They had both graduated from the Air Force Academy the past May and were hoping to get married soon.

It really hit me hard. There had only been one other time in my life where I had known someone about my age who had died – and that was someone I didn’t know very well. Now, all of a sudden, three young men in the prime of their lives had been suddenly snatched away. After a long Tuesday night, Wednesday morning was a down time. “I just felt so tired & weighed down & overwhelmed,” I wrote in my journal the next day. A trip to the prayer room for a good cry ended in God’s peace flowing in and covering over my fear and sadness.

On May 10 I blogged again about that day and also about the rest of the spring semester. Twice, on April 21 & 30, I had been flooded with joy and a more real sense of God's love than I had ever felt. As I remember writing somewhere, "I was blessed by the Holy Spirit, without even consciously asking for Him."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

God's Puzzle: Part 2

About a week later, the next event came, again, from my Student Leadership class. I had just gone through a couple of crazy homework weeks, evidently. I was getting use to working as News Editor for the campus newspaper (which involves working in the office for 7-9 hours every Tuesday night), so that was a big adjustment. Anyhow, I had failed to do any of the reading for the Wednesday afternoon class – which was, ironically enough, about the dangers of over-committing ourselves. And so, to put that into practice, I proceeded to skip the small group time of the class and instead go out to the 100 stairs—one of my best retreat places on campus—and think, pray, journal, etc.

God had already rescued me from a bit of my own craziness and volunteering to stretch myself too far. I had applied to be an RA and to be the HSP secretary, but by God’s grace I thankfully received neither position. Most of my journal entry that day (March 9) was praying that I would focus on God and on what was truly important rather than all the stuff I thought I could do to make the world a better place. The lesson was simple and clear: “Be Still & Know.”

Spring Break came and went, much too fast for my liking. But even in that, there was a lesson, which I blogged about. It was one of the rough patches that have still come up even in this Spring of my relationship with God. To use something more recent to explain it – last week I read through papers on C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters as part of my work study TA job. One of the temptations many students referred to was what Lewis had Screwtape label the “Law of Undulation” – that our lives are full of peaks and troughs. It is in the troughs, Screwtape wrote, that humans can learn the most and that the most danger to a demon’s plan can occur.

So yes - I have still had rough times since January. But now there is a deep underlying peace and certainty of God's love and involvement in my life that I didn't feel as much before. I especially came to realize that the next month when the full weight of a series of tragedies hit me.

Friday, November 18, 2011

God's Puzzle: Part 1

{Checkout the prologue from last night if you haven't seen it :) }

It started, oddly enough, with homework for a class. I took the Student Leadership class, and we read a book by Henri Nouwen entitled “In the Name of Jesus.” I wrote in my journal about it on Jan. 23 – and although it caused me to end up crying again this time the tears were not tears of frustration that God didn’t seem to be meeting me where I was. Instead, this time the tears were more of repentance for my sin that was blocking me from the good God had in store for me. I was finally beginning to gain a more correct perspective. It is never a question of if God loves me. He does! “Only He is capable of loving me despite my failings,” I wrote. “Not even I can do that. Only He is capable of keeping me out of my deep, self-made rut.”

Two days later, Jill Briscoe came to speak in chapel for Spiritual Renewal Week. She talked about people losing their spiritual edge. As I had been standing there singing (I think before she talked…but I’m not positive), the thought had come to my mind – “What I do is not a question of earning God’s love. I don’t need to earn it. He already loves me, no matter what. Salvation really is a gift – I really can’t earn it. Anything I do for Him is a gift of love.” That reminder/realization was the beginning of my personal revival. Yes, of course I knew that in my head before that moment. But I hadn’t been living it out.

From there, everything kind of started happening at once. There’s no way I can compile a record here of everything I feel God has taught me in the months since then. Early on, when I was first intending to write this post, I wanted to call it “God doesn’t work in a vacuum.” On a frequent basis throughout last spring, I would have what I’ve come to call “Lessons of the Day” (LotD) that usually get put onto my Twitter account (Esther0925). Although it seems odd now looking back that such a drastic change would happen so quickly, I kept thinking of things that applied to what I was going through and that I believe have been promptings of the Holy Spirit. I kind of feel as though I’m walking a thin line here, because I don’t believe I have received some sort of “special revelation.” At the same time, I think God has been teaching me and I want to share what I have learned with others in the hope that God may use it in their lives as well.

The only bad thing about my Twitter LotD’s is that when I look back at them I frequently have no context. But on Feb. 24 I tweeted: “Lord, teach me how to love You. First and foremost, You alone. My life will never truly work out until You are at the center.” That weekend was the women’s retreat that I talked about a bit earlier. It was the next big step in the process. The subject was authenticity. I’m not going to write much about it here because it was an intensely personal and reflective time that, frankly, I’m not willing to be vulnerable enough with the world wide web to put here. Suffice it to say I filled up 8.5 pages with notes in my chapel notebook and another 8.5 pages of reflection in my journal. Again, I closed with a prayer that September’s rereading showed had been answered. “I pray that You would continue to quicken my awareness of You….Refresh me with Your presence each moment, I pray.” And as the days and weeks continued, He did.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

God's Puzzle: Prologue

I’ve been meaning to do this post for at least six months. This is going to be a {hopefully} brief post {imagine that red text is crossed out – brief...who was I kidding!} simply tracing what God has been teaching me over the past year – because it’s been an amazing time of growth for me.

First, a bit of background. This isn’t easy for me to admit – but I’d have to say that during most of high school and the first year and a half of college my spiritual life was, for the most part, stagnant. I had plenty of head knowledge about God, but I felt an almost complete lack of any real relationship with Him. And I desperately wanted that relationship. There were plenty of times I would shut myself into my room and cry at nights because I didn’t feel God and I wanted to so badly. It never made any sense to me. God wants a relationship with me, right??? Then why don’t I seem to have one if He wants it and I want it? I don’t have the answer to that question – but this post is going to focus on the growth I have had since then to a time when I have felt that relationship in a more real and tangible way than ever before. Yes, I know feelings aren’t everything. But I am human and feelings are part of the equation.

This next part is a bit out of place, but it will help explain things. In February of last year, one of the JBU professors spoke at the campus women’s retreat. She talked about knowing God in three ways: Intellectually, Experientially, and Affectively (Emotionally). As I wrote in my journal reflecting on that, “I’ve known about God intellectually all my life, in a growing sense. I would say that I started to know Him experientially when we went to China. I saw and experienced how He provided for us in the years afterward, and there were things like the NO, LA {New Orleans, Louisiana} trip too. I’d say I really started knowing God affectively once I came to JBU and especially this semester. Things like chapel and The Furnace and then everything this semester has shown me a side of God I hadn’t really thought about or connected with before.”

So anyway, in September 2010 I wrote my first post on this blog after a year of silence. It’s like the prologue to everything that has happened since. Let me just say here that it has been so important for me personally to write about what God is doing in my life. It can be so encouraging to go back and look through what I was thinking and feeling and see how God has been faithful in answering my heart’s cry – even when I felt at the time as though He wasn’t listening.

I didn’t blog or really journal much again until December. When I finally did journal, it was an entry full of the frustration I expressed in my “background” paragraph above. My sophomore fall was a tough semester – not because of difficult school work, but because of apathy…about everything. I ended with a plea to God that He would “grant me the ability to rest & trust in You and to STOP trying to live it out on my own.” When I reread that in September, it struck me that God answered that cry the next semester – Spring 2011, the semester that has honestly changed my spiritual life.

[Please note – all of this was written late night/early morning of Nov. 16/17. I’m just breaking it up into sections and posting it during the next week or so, so that maybe people won’t feel as overwhelmed by it….

The title comes from the fact that it seems each lesson and event has been a puzzle piece that has fit perfectly into the bigger picture of what God has been doing in my life.]

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Next Time"

“Next time when I go through high school, I’ll take advantage of that opportunity.”

“Next time I’m a college freshman, I’ll lay a better groundwork of study habits.”

One problem with those thoughts – there’s not going to be a next time. As a new 21-year-old, I’ve passed that phase of life…and I won’t be going through it again. Nevertheless, the number of times I think to myself “next time around, I’ll get it right,” is rather amusing. I keep remembering after I’ve thought it that my high school/childhood days are over – there is no going back to do it again.

No, I don’t think those thoughts because I believe in some sort of re-incarnation. It’s just that I have this idea in the back of my head that I’ll get another chance at life…that I’ll be able to change how I’ve lived. But life doesn’t work that way.

The thought popped into my head today. As I reflected on this silly tendency, I realized that if nothing else it’s a great reminder of the importance of stewardship. It’s true – we only get once opportunity to live our lives. Once a minute is gone, it’s gone. We’ll never get back that hour, week, month. Every moment is a precious commodity that doesn’t come with a second chance.

I struggle with the practical application of this concept sometimes. There are times I want to kick back and doing something mindless for recreation – watch a show from my favorite TV series, play a little computer game, read a fictional book for fun. But at other times I can’t help but question the wisdom of doing that – that’s two hours I wasted on something with no eternal value whatsoever…and the time slipped away so fast.

I don’t believe we always have to do something that’s considered “spiritual” like read the Bible, sing worship songs, or pray. But it’s also important to remember that we can never get back those moments we spend on more trivial matters. Once they are used, they’re gone – forever.

But there is an available next time…“Next time I have a free evening, I’ll choose to call a friend instead of staring at my computer screen.” “Next time I have 30 minutes between meetings I’ll get ahead on my homework so I don’t have to freak out as much.” Those are the moments we still have control over – let’s choose to use them wisely.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

True Freedom: Becoming a Slave

“The only way to ever find true freedom is becoming Christ’s slave.”

“Scripture doesn’t offer us a choice of freedom – only a choice of who our master is.”

The chapel speaker spoke in a gentle tone, often making fun of or downplaying himself. But his message was strong and went right to my soul. For three days earlier this month, Michael Card taught during Spiritual Emphasis Week at my school, John Brown University. His topic was slavery and how we are called to be the slaves of Christ.

In our American culture, we like our freedom and independence. We’re like the Jews of Jesus’ time – we don’t want to be told we’re slaves (John 8:31-36). But as Mr. Card pointed out, we are all in bondage to something, whether we like it or not. In our natural state as humans, we are born as slaves to our flesh and sin. The only way to become free from our human bondage is to instead submit ourselves to slavery under Christ.

Christ has given us an example of what the Christian life is to look like. He came to earth not as a king, but as a slave. He consistently demonstrated this in His time on earth. We are told to follow in His example (Phil. 2:5-11).

The apostle Paul recognized this. In his letters, he constantly uses slave language about himself and when writing about salvation. For example, Mr. Card said, the word for justification has its roots in being bought or redeemed at the slave market (if I remember right).

Submitting ourselves to slavery in Christ brings us into true freedom:

-- from Impurity

-- from the Law

-- from Fear

-- from Seeking Human Approval

--from Judging Others

--from Quarreling

“We are called to give up our choices and live in submission to our Master!” Mr. Card said.

I desire that freedom – I’m tired of trying to have my life all figured out…tired of trying to fit the mold of what people expect of me…tired of trying to be in control. But that doesn’t mean the process of submission is easy.

The hardest part about surrendering and living in submission to my Master Christ is that He doesn't stand over me like a physical slave master, with a whip in His hand to punish any disobedience or straying. Instead, the call to submission is a gentle voice:

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

It’s about getting my priorities straight and fixing my eyes on the goal. It’s about choosing one vision and staying focused. It’s about submission.

After a summer of being brought back over and over to the concept of trust, it’s as though I’m being called to the next step: total surrender. I am not called to change the world. I am not called to greatness. I am called to serve, following in the footsteps of my Master, the servant of all.

Some other quotes from Mr. Card’s talks:

“All self-revelation I find in the Scripture is centered in Christ. He defines me.”

“If your calling doesn’t look like foot washing, it’s not your calling!”

“Saul was ready to kill for his religious convictions, but not ready to die for them…when the religious leader fell to the ground, he came to his senses as a slave.”

“When Jesus knew He was about to be exalted by the Father, He chose to serve His disciples. That’s not a normal human reaction!”

“After His resurrection, Jesus should have been waiting on a throne to receive the disciples’ worship and adoration. Instead, He made breakfast for them.”

Some of Michael Card’s songs:

A Better Freedom

The Basin and the Towel

God’s Own Fool

Monday, August 22, 2011

Prosperity or Sacrifice?

God has really blessed me this summer. It’s been an amazing time of growth for me, and in some ways I don’t want it to ever end. Of course, I know God can continue teaching me at college and I have faith that He will. But it’s still a bit hard to say good bye to my home friends/church/town again.

Today was my last Sunday at my church for a while. Church is one of the ways God has revealed Himself to me recently. I hate to admit it, but before this summer I often felt like I wasn’t gaining much from the services. Over the past few weeks, that has changed. Each Sunday morning has been like a feast of delicious insights that individually have a place in the whole of what God is doing in my life.

In the past couple weeks, God has brought hymns to my mind which remind me of the lessons I’m learning this summer. This morning (and thus the concepts in this post) built on my last post a couple weeks ago. While I don’t believe hymns are inspired in the same way Scripture is, God often uses them to speak to me. Today the hymn on my mind was “Is Your All on the Altar?

Reading the words of that hymn, I couldn’t help but think it sounded a little backwards. It almost seems to be saying, “You deserve the best in life. All you have to do is lay everything on the altar, let the Spirit take control, and then you’ll have the rest of your life exactly like you want it.” That doesn’t sound like much of a true sacrifice to me. One of the verses talks about having “peace and contentment alway[s]” and being “free from all ill.” I don’t think so. That’s not what God promises us!

Last Sunday, Mr. Deffinbaugh (the “pastor” at my church) talked about how we tend to expect Jesus to pamper us. Jesus didn’t come to the earth to make my life easy. He didn’t come to die so I could get what I wanted. He came to make me like Him, to give me a relationship with the Father. That hymn may have meant having peace and contentment in God’s plan…and it may have been referring to free from any eternal ills. But on a surface level it almost seems to be offering a prosperity gospel, once you’ve sacrificed. I don’t see that as what we are guaranteed.

I like things to be cut and dried…but they rarely are. Usually, on any issue there are at least two views and the truth/ideal is a balance between the two. The pendulum can swing back and forth to either extreme, but where you really want to be is in the middle. This issue is like that. On one side are the prosperity gospel people, who say that once you’re a Christian you will be showered with every material blessing imaginable. On the other side are those with martyr complexes, who seem to think we have to earn our salvation by suffering and never having anything good in this life.

Naturally, neither extreme gives the whole picture. The first is wrong because while we live in this world we will face hard times, fight sin, and suffer from the effects of the fall. In John 16:33, Jesus told His disciples “In the world you will have tribulation.” The early Christians did not have an easy life, and we should not fool ourselves into thinking we deserve one either. The second view is also wrong. While it’s true that life in this world isn’t easy, that doesn’t mean God cannot bless us. He is sufficient and adequate for all we need. And we certainly don’t earn anything when we deny ourselves.

In conclusion, I think we typically tend to error on the side of expecting God to bless us physically and materially. This morning Mr. Deffinbaugh mentioned that we should look to God for the fulfillment of our spiritual needs, not just our physical ones. He also warned us against imposing our wants and how we think things should be onto God’s Word. So while American Christians could use a few tutorials in living sacrificially, we need to watch our motives. We shouldn’t give things up expecting to be blessed in this world as a result. And we should remember that we can never ever do anything to merit the gift of God’s grace.

It’s an interesting dilemma – and I certainly don’t think I totally understand the balance. I would love to hear your thoughts about the matter J

Monday, August 8, 2011

My Summer Trio: Love, Trust, and Faith

God’s work in my life these past few months has been so amazing. It’s a huge blessing to me. This summer, He’s kept bringing me back to the concepts of love, trust, and faith as He continues teaching me to seek after Him and Him alone.

I’d say my biggest lesson from this summer has been: If I really have faith in God’s awesome, unconditional love for me, I will choose to trust His plan for my life.

Trusting God is sometimes difficult for me. I’m the kind of person who likes to have everything planned out and to know exactly what’s going on. The bad part is that life is rarely that simple.

I want to have faith and to be able to relax in knowing that God will bring to pass what He has willed for my life. Verses like Jeremiah 29:11 are a big encouragement. But as I go about my day-to-day life, it’s so easy for me to start building my day dreams and air castles (I have a good imagination that sometimes gets the best of me).

I often start dwelling and focusing on my picture of what I want my life to look like—how perfect my husband and kids will be, what an amazing impact I’ll have on the world, etc. It’s so easy for me to get carried away, planning out detailed scenes of my future life. All of which takes my focus off of where it should be: on Christ and what will glorify Him and bring about His kingdom. In other words, I tend to be proud and selfish when I try to plan my life.

Even when I recognize that and am not painting my day dreams, I tend to worry about the future. My college graduation is two years away, but I am already a bit nervous about what I’ll do after that. I fret about how God could possibly get me from my current circumstances to where I want to be.

This morning in church the men during the open worship service were talking about rejoicing in the Lord, from Philippians 4. I was sitting there, fighting the distraction to think about a future relationship with my “ideal guy” – and all of a sudden the thought hit me that God does not promise me what I see as a perfect life. There’s no guarantee that my life will be a fairy tale.

What I am called to do is to follow in the footsteps of my Savior. His path did not lead to the American Dream. It led to the cross. In becoming like Him, I am to die to myself and my selfish aspirations. It is only in following whole-heartedly after Christ that I can find true satisfaction and can fulfill the purpose God has placed within my life.

Giving up the control I like to imagine I have over my life isn’t easy for me. Trusting in what I cannot see doesn’t come naturally to me. But God keeps showing me His love and gently speaking to my soul: “This is how much I love you. Doesn’t that give you every reason to trust Me?” He continues to show me glimpses of His character. Everything He is doing in my life is like a giant puzzle, and I keep finding more pieces and fitting them in with what I have been learning.

The head knowledge is all there. It’s my unruly heart and my fleshly habits that are so willing to yield. I don’t know what the future holds—there’s no way I can. But I know Who holds it, and I can find rest in Him.

Sitting there in church, a line of a hymn came into my head – “King of my life I crown Thee now, Thine shalt the glory be.” I looked it up in the hymnal…the title? Lead Me to Calvary

Dying to myself isn’t fun. But I have tasted of delighting in the Lord, I have felt His love for me, I know He has a plan for my life—All I am called to do is to trust and to take each step in faith. To Him be the glory.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lessons from a Church Blackout

This morning at about 8:30 as I was getting ready for church, I heard a loud boom and all the electricity at my house cut off. We guessed a transformer had blown. I couldn't help but wonder what it would mean for the services at my church, which is right across the street from my house.

A few minutes later I walked over to find, as I had expected, a mostly dark church. Random lights were on in some areas, but the air conditioning was off in the whole building as were all the auditorium's lights and speaker systems. We still had the worship service (which at my church is an open-service style) and, I think, most of the Sunday school classes...but the nurseries were dark, hot, and empty; the warmer balcony was almost deserted; and the teaching hour was cancelled.

Even before the service started I couldn't help but think about some ironic/eye-opening reminders. During the 75 minute service, more things kept popping up in my mind. So here they are - lessons from a dark church.

1. We're Spoilt. Yep, that's right. We Americans are spoiled little brats accustomed to a particular level of comfort. Honestly, even before I knew about the lack of power I had considered not staying for the teaching hour because I didn't feel the best today. I took a pain reliever because my scraped hand from yesterday has been giving me grief.

Is it fun to sit in a huge room with no air conditioning and a bunch of other people in the middle of a Texas summer? No, but think about churches in other countries. Places like India, where they probably get just as hot and never have the AC luxuries we do, but where they still gather week after week because they want to.

2. "Singing and Making Melody" (Eph. 5:19). Without the PA system or the computers to run the slides, our opening singing time was a bit more challenging. But honestly, I liked it better. Without the speakers increasing the volume of the instruments, I could hear the actual singing. While I appreciate the work the musicians put into playing, it was fun to actually experience singing together as a church body....although I must admit our church definitely shouldn't make a recording...some of us can't sing exceptionally well ;-)

3. "Let the Little Children Come." This one ties into the last one. With the little kids not being in the nursery, they were in the service instead. And I loved hearing one little girl (probably age 3 or 4) belting out the choruses on the songs. I sure didn't mind the couple times a baby cried either. But that may just be because I love kids :)

4. Be Real With Me. It was an interesting phenomenon...but with no PA system, no AC, and no lights other than sunlight coming in windows and doors, the whole atmosphere of the service seemed more relaxed, less "put-on," and more real. Several men took off their suit coats. The sharing seemed more off-the-cuff. We laughed more. It just felt nice. Usually, men walk down to the lecterns because that's where the mics are. The rest of us sit in our pews, separated by the distance, however small, and hearing the voice over the speakers. There's almost a disconnect between the person talking and the congregation---something I didn't realize was there until I recognized that it was gone today.

5. Jesus as the Light of the World. In God's timing, the opener had previously planned to share from 2 Cor. 4:4-6, which talks about how the gospel is a light to us in a world of darkness. One of the songs we sang was "Shine, Jesus Shine," a song which I have really appreciated since I first heard it on a friend's favorite CD eight or nine years ago. As we were singing the song and as various men got up and shared about different ways Christ is our light, I couldn't help but think about it. He is the Light, the fuel, to banish the darkness of the world. We are to be like lamps or like mirrors, carrying or reflecting the power of His gospel.

So there you have it - a few things you can learn at church, even without power. Honestly, I think every church should have a blackout Sunday once in a while. It has the capability of serving as a good reminder of our blessings and breaking us out of the routine-ness that is always a danger in our spiritual lives.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I have FAILED..................But God!

Guys, I need help - I need prayer. On Friday at work I flared out in anger at these boys that I really do love as though they were my little brothers.

I try not to talk about the challenging details of my work all that much because I don't want to complain/gossip/be self-praising by talking about everything I deal with. Suffice it to say that both boys are sinners just like the rest of us and often want their own way just like I do.

On Friday I ran out of patience and blew it. I was truly sorry for what I had done within two minutes, but the damage had been done and we had a rough hour or so. Thankfully by the end of the day our relationship was in better shape again.

Nevertheless I felt incredibly guilty for what happened, and still do to some extent. I have confessed that what I did was very wrong and said I am sorry. I know that Christ's righteousness covers this sin and failure just as it covers all of my sin. But it's hardest to forgive myself. How could I have let this happen???

Honestly, my flesh just responded to the child's actions like he has responded to me repeatedly in the past. But I'm not supposed to act that way. I'm supposed to be the Christian who has limitless self-control in responding firmly and yet kindly to a little sinful child, trying to guide him toward building a better character. But on Friday, my self-control failed me. In responding in anger, I not only damaged my relationship with the boys, I also marred my Christian witness. It was that thought that brought tears to my eyes when i had some time alone to think it over.

I think the problem is that I have been trying to do this in my power. I have failed to fully recognize the spiritual warfare nature of my work. Satan doesn't want me to love these boys unconditionally. He wants me to fight back in anger. I ran out of patience because I wasn't relying on God's power to work through me. I have failed to cover my work in prayer - daily, hourly, even moment by moment.

What I do is not easy. As Friday's happenings clearly showed, what I want to do is impossible unless I'm relying only on God's strength. That's where you all come in. I'm asking you to please pray for me, whenever you think of me. Please pray that I would not try to love and teach these boys out of my own strength, because that will fail miserably. Please pray that God will give me wisdom in how to respond to trying circumstances. Please pray that I may in some small way show these boys the love of God.

In the end, if nothing else, my experience with the boys constantly reminds me to be thankful for God's entirely unconditional love for me, for us. In our sin, we act just like these two boys (Eph. 2:1-3). But God loved us even when we were unlovable, when we hated Him, despised Him, spat in His face (Eph. 2:4-10). And even now, when I make choices that grieve Him deeply, He still loves me, always.

I am not God. I knew that, of course, but Friday reminded me of it once again. BUT His power is available to me, when I choose to live and act through the power of His Spirit instead of in my weak and fleshly attempts. May it be so in my life - tomorrow, next week, next month.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Great Morning to be in Church :)

Oh my, today’s been AMAZING and it’s only 3:00 in the afternoon! My God is so gracious and so amazing and so patient. He just keeps opening my eyes wider and wider and teaching me more and more!!!!!!!!

It started with the worship service at church this morning. My church here has an open worship service, where any men in the body can stand up and share whatever is on their hearts. Typically in the past it hasn’t always been all that meaningful to me…but the problem has been with me and not with what is being shared. But this morning was different. I could see how what each man said fit together and applied to me. It had meaning and wasn’t just something that seemed lifeless.

Before I really get into today, let me back up and say that not too much exciting had happened spiritually in my life since my last post. Other than one weekend of conviction and regret turned to praise, my spiritual walk had hit the summer slump I had expected. I’m reading through a chronological Bible in a year, but I have mainly been just going through the motions. Today in church was different – it was alive.

Our opener started the meeting by reading Hebrews 10:11-22 about how animal sacrifices could never truly cleanse people from sin, but how Christ’s sacrifice does provide complete and final cleansing. I love Hebrews so much. It’s definitely one of my top five favorite books in the Bible. In this passage, I especially like verses 19 and 22: “Therefore brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” He also read from a hymn that summed it up nicely, though I can’t remember now which hymn it was!

The next man read from John 15:9 and talked some about how Christ loves us with the same love which the Father has for Him. We can’t begin to comprehend exactly what that love is like, but some of the words that came to my mind to describe it were: eternal—limitless—unchanging—perfect.

Another person shared a story from his childhood about how he broke his toe, an injury that took six months to heal. He kept limping even after it healed, however. He tied that idea into Hebrews 9:14—Even though we have been completely cleansed by Christ’s blood, we sometimes still walk with a limp of sin. But God has cleansed us in order that we may serve Him. This is how I feel a lot of the time, and I had a similar limping experience when I bruised my foot badly last month.

After he shared, it was as though I heard a voice inside of me whispering “Keep Listening. Keep Seeking. Yearn for Me and I will fulfill you.” It’s so easy to be distracted by our failures, our busy life, whatever. But the only solid place and the only place of no regrets is when our focus is on God and His will for our lives.

Referring to Exodus 14 and 15, the next man talked about how even though Israelites had just seen God perform amazing miracles in Egypt and the Red Sea, they put their focus on their physical needs rather than remembering that God could easily provide for them.

Another man read Jeremiah 31:27-34 (which I love!) about how God remains faithful even when we are not.

Lastly, we did a responsive reading that included Hebrews 10:14, and it struck me. The verse talks about how Christ has “perfected forever” (past tense/completed) those who “are being sanctified” (present tense/ongoing). It’s so hard for me to get my mind around that….I am completely perfect in Christ, and yet there is this daily, ongoing choice to live in it or not.

Looking back and trying to recapture that sense of what I was learning this morning is difficult. In some ways, it makes me worry that I’m turning into an experientialist… that I’m basing my spiritual health on these experiences that I’ve been having. I know that having the experiences isn’t enough. I believe that spiritual experiences are valid, but they must always be based in God’s Word and revealed truth. Also, I shouldn’t just live for the experiences. I should live out what I learn in my daily life. The practical application is always harder to accomplish than the feelings of joy and spiritual understanding. But as I choose to continue seeking my Savior’s face, I have faith in Him that I will grow in my knowledge and in my walk.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Love and Joy

A lot has happened since my last post. It was a challenging last six weeks of the semester, but at the same time it was a time of learning and growing and being blessed by God. I am so very grateful for those weeks. So here’s an explanation of what I mean. Hopefully in the next couple weeks I will be able to back up and blog about what God taught me earlier in the semester too.

The first couple weeks after Spring Break were filled with the usual ups and downs of life. Then, on April 18 as I was working in the library an old friend started chatting with me on Facebook. She told me that our mutual friend’s boyfriend had died in a private plane crash that evening. My attitude took a nose dive with that information. It was the third time this semester that a young man I know has suddenly died. As that realization sunk in, I felt weighed down, depressed, and fearful. Never before had I been so aware of death’s blow, and I worried where it might strike next.

On Wednesday the 20th it was still weighing heavily on my mind, combined with other things too. I posted on my Facebook: “I'm tired. Tired in body, mind, spirit, the whole deal. I am so ready for this week, this semester to be over. And yet there's two more days. There's 2.5 more weeks. And even then, life won't necessarily get any easier. Lord God, please show me how to live in Your strength. Teach me to trust and rest in You. 2 Cor. 4:16-18.” I felt overwhelmed and just wanted to be done with everything.

Due to a variety of factors, I felt what I really needed was a good cry. I went out to the prayer room in the Walker student center. Sitting in the dark on the floor by a small cross, I sobbed for a while, trying to pray—trying to make sense of how I was feeling and why this was happening. As I sat there I asked God to send His peace because otherwise I knew I couldn’t make it through the day. Almost immediately, my sobbing stopped. My prayer was answered. I continued sitting there for a few moments reflecting & worshipping.

After I went back to my room, I updated my status: “His grace is sufficient. His strength is made perfect in my weakness. Praise be to His name.” I also included a quote from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: ‎"Trials never end, of course. Unhappiness and misfortune are bound to occur as long as people live, but there is a feeling now, that was not here before, and is not just on the surface of things, but penetrates all the way through: We've won it. It's going to get better now. You can sort of tell these things."

The next day was Maundy Thursday, so in chapel we had a Tenebrae service. Afterward, I went back to my room and did some journaling. “There’s so very much I take for granted,” I wrote. “Sometimes the curtain is pulled aside and I get a glimpse of the bigger picture, putting things into perspective. But it’s so easy to turn from that window and focus on the snow globe of my life, with all the minor details and the flurry of my life—typically created by me.”

I then felt a call to surrender my hopes/dreams/expectations of life to God—to submit myself more fully to His plan for my life. After spending some time praying through that, I was flooded with a feeling of joy, more than I ever had been before. I hadn’t realized I was missing out on joy in my life until it came pouring in. Thus, my Easter weekend was a good time of relaxation and peace, unlike last year when I had been super stressed and very tempted not to even go to church.

The next Saturday, the 30th, God gave me another time of wonderful communion with Him. I felt called to go out to the hundred stairs at 9:30 or so. It was dark, but the weather was nice. I was able to just spend time worshipping and resting in Him. I felt wrapped in the arms of His love, and I felt beautiful in His sight. Again, I was flooded with God’s joy. Walking back to my room I wanted to sing and dance and shout and skip. I had a huge grin on my face – so big I felt a little silly.

Sunday the 1st was the last Gathering. I went since the speaker was my Passion Group leader. The time of worship beforehand was particularly meaningful to me. We sang one of the songs I really appreciate – “Yahweh.” Later that evening as I again journaled, I could see how much God has done for me recently. Contentment. Faithfulness. Trust. Those are some of the lessons He has been teaching me. And then also giving me greater experiences of His love and joy than I have had before.

My God is amazing. I am so thankful to Him for this past semester. It’s been so tough at times—but I have learned so much. Through His strength, may I continue to apply it and live by His power and for Him alone.

As I wrote this post, a couple songs that played on my mp3 player really seemed to sum up this post: “Come People of the Risen King” by the Gettys and “Come Let Us Worship and Bow Down."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What I'm Learning

I’ve waited far too long to do this. For the past two months or so, God has been teaching me a lot. And I’ve been meaning to sit down and blog about it, but it hasn’t happened. But I need to take the time to do this. And today, after writing two news stories, doing today’s homework, doing tomorrow’s homework, and doing half of Wednesday’s homework (all of which didn’t amount to all that much), I am going to do it.
I’m going to start with the most recent saga, because I don’t want to lose any of the details by waiting to do it. It started Saturday evening and is still unfolding. Saturday, Nathan and I spent all afternoon and evening at a track meet. While I had a great time surprising & seeing old friends, my spirits went down with the sun. The realization was hitting me that my week of Spring Break was over…that the next day I would have to return to college…that I hadn’t done everything I wanted to.
The weather turned windy and cold. Darkness stole over the field. I shivered uncontrollably, since I had failed to check the weather and bring a jacket. At the same time, the sunburn of my stupidity caused my arms, neck, and legs to radiate heat. My hand’s poison-ivy-type affliction had been inflamed by the heat of the early afternoon. In short, I was miserable.
Arriving home, I ate super with my family – the last supper we will have together until mid-June. I went to take a shower, eager for its noise to stifle the sound of the sobs I knew were coming. I’ve felt like this so many times before. Depressed by what I haven’t gotten done. Downtrodden by the seeming uselessness of what I do with my life. Wondering why God seems so far away. Questioning why this happens to me over and over and over again.
Earlier that morning, I had met Mrs. Stewart for breakfast so we could catch up. And one of the things we had discussed was C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, and how we rarely think about the evil part of the unseen realm. That night, sitting in my bedroom and still fighting the urge to cry, I realized that part of what I was feeling could be a spiritual attack. I prayed, asking God for the strength to live for Him and Him alone so that I wouldn’t feel these nagging regrets so constantly. While I still didn’t want to head back to college, I was able to move past my pity party and get myself packed up and ready.
After a restless night’s sleep, I woke up to once again face reality. Nathan was delivered to the airport to return to USAFA in Colorado Springs. And I decided to go to church with my dad and mom rather than face the questions at my home church. God knew that was just what I needed. Throughout the worship time before the sermon, He spoke to me through the songs as the tears flowed down my cheeks. “Rest and trust in Me, My child,” He said. “I am the only source of satisfaction.”
The pastor spoke from the letter to the Laodiceans in Revelations 3:14-20. He said the problem with that church was that it was useless to Christ. In order to be of any use to Christ, the body of believers must maintain an open door in their relationship to Christ (vs. 20).
As my parents and I drove through the gloomy, chilly, misty weather to North Texas where I’d be catch a ride back to school, my heart was singing of God’s faithfulness. It was well with my soul, even if circumstances were not exactly to my liking.
All those happenings of yesterday don’t mean that today has been easy. On the contrary, I have battled more gloomy chilly weather, fought with technology, and felt overwhelmed by the rat race of school. But I know deep down inside that there is a better way, IF I take my eyes off what I see and focus on Christ. Doing all things for His honor and glory alone is the only way to find satisfaction and contentment in this life. Everything else is like chasing after the wind. May it be true of me through His power and to His glory alone.