Saturday, January 5, 2013

Year in Review

2012. What did God teach me? Where do I even begin?

This year was full of many life changing experiences, both "externally" and spiritually. Above all, I am filled with gratitude for the good God who is faithful in all things. When I look back and thank him for the growth he gives me each year, I am always led to question whether or not I was even a true Christ follower the year prior. In a strange way, I love the drastic, messy, humbling, heartwrenching change that only he can inspire. The Holy Spirit is magnificent.

To boil 2012 down to a few things, I would say that I have encountered specific attributes of God's character on a greater personal level. In the process, I have grown to know myself better and been pushed to surrender the deeper things at heart-level that I hold so dear.        

More specifically...

The last 12 months have shown me that brokenness is a permanent posture that all believers should embrace. I learned that it is not a passing state, but a lifestyle that means agreeing with God about who He is and who I am in light of that. I also learned that being honest about my brokenness in the context of community is a tremendous blessing. God is insanely glorified in this. It's partly how he designed the church to work.   

2012 taught also me that the word GOSPEL is really important. So many of our problems as a church and as a people are a direct result from perversions of that Gospel. Colossians 1:21-23 is so great: "And you, who were once aliented and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard..." 

To piggyback off of that verse, I learned I am already holy, because Jesus has called me as his own. I also came to the realization (for the upteenth time in my life) that following Jesus isn't about trying harder. It's about him being enough.

And grace. Glorious grace. That's what I learned this year. I wish there were more words to describe it, but it truly is indescribable. 2012 showed me that God never witholds grace from his beloved. He lavishly gives and pours it out again and again.  When I look beyond my promiscuous heart from time to time, I never cease to be amazed by the violence of his grace.

I feel so crazily blessed to be surrounded by the people God has placed in my life this year. I have met so many individuals who truly love Jesus and are excited about following him. Not only that, but I continually find myself in circumstances I would have never dreamed possible.

This year God was faithful in loving me while I graduated high school 6 months early to live, study, and play volleyball at a college I absolutely love.

This year the Holy Spirit was my guide as I had multiple spiritual conversations with my college volleyball coach.

This year, Jesus was my faithful rock in a whirlwind volleyball season that I was priviledged to play a signficiant role in.

This year, God demonstrated his goodness in the death of my pastor's young son. He has continued to reveal himself to my church body in the grieving process.

This year, the Lord was powerful in providing insight on how to love a close friend who is struggling with an eating disorder.

This year, my God was gracious in allowing me to share in a friend's wedding day and work through some changing friendships.

This year, God moved a teammate to come to church with me for the first time.

This year, Jesus prompted me to have spiritual conversations with close friends who do not know Him personally.

This year, God blessed an opportunity I had to hand out food and pray for people in the inner city.

This year, I encountered the glory of God as he faithfully worked in my life. I have no words to express how humbling that is. 

"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised." -2 Corinthians 5:14-15  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

So Others May Live

I just got done watching The Guardian. It was not the first time I saw it, nor will it be the last. Something about this film just keeps bringing me back.

The movie centers on the journeys of two U.S. Coast Guard swimmers; one is a rookie and the other a veteran. They each have their respective pasts to wrestle with as they quite literally navigate the storms of life.

At the end of the final scene, before the credits roll (don't worry, no spoilers here), the screen fades and the U.S. Coast Guard motto appears: "So others may live."

Wait, what? Excuse me while I go pull my heart out of my throat.

Four simple words. It's what Jesus did. And calls us to do.

In Mark 10:45, Jesus told his disciples, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

I like the "even" in that sentence. It's almost as if it's there to say "Look, the Son of God himself--he who is above all earthly power and any authority ever invented...yeah, him--even he came to earth for this specific purpose. So others may live."

And then there's me...cozy in my own little world, possessing not even a fraction of the glory of Jesus, doing very little so others may live. In fact, I spend more time convincing myself that I live for others than doing just that.

All of this should bring me yet again to the foot of the cross. Where I say yet again that I don't get it. And have to beg yet again for more grace to live out a life that is not about me.

I know the ultimate Life-Giver, hold His truth in my hands. How can I possibly continue with this life of thoughtful text messages and Bible verse Tweets while my friends are dying around me?

Coast Guard rescue swimmers can't save people at arm's length. They have to get in the water with them. Like Jesus did.  

I have so much to learn.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I Apologize if This Post Reaks of Bitterness

Something has been bothering me lately. Being the restless perfectionist who needs an answer for everything, I kept wrestling with it but could never put my thoughts into words. Until yesterday.

God has blessed me with a wonderful mother who regularly speaks truth into my life. While we were baking Christmas cookies yesterday, I told her what was on my mind.

"I'm so tired of the Christian world telling me that as soon as I am content, God will send me a man. It makes me mad. I don't think that's how it works."

She was confused, so I added, "You can't tell me that on the day we are born, God chooses 'the one' and we spend the rest of our lives waiting for that destiny. I think He knows who we will marry, but I don't think it's a magical dream scheme like that."

Maybe you can share in my frustration. Regardless of your gender, you might be mad too. Why? Because we've been lied to. By the world and by well-meaning Christians. A resounding sentiment is that somewhere out there, your soulmate waits. If you follow the world's agenda, you have to do anything and everything to find them. If you are a Christian, it depends on if you are a male or a female.

If you are a male, you pray and God magically leads you to 'the one.' A little bit of constructive wife-shopping at area churches or college ministries doesn't hurt. (If there are any potlucks where you can sample some of her cooking, all the better.) If you are female, you simply have to run around pretending to be content with your singleness. As soon as that happens, Mr. Right walks in.

LIES. Oh, so many lies. And I've believed them.

But my mom helped me process the truth I was fighting to verbalize. Somewhere in the midst of all that well-intended advice for singles, we lost sight of the best advice out there: We need to worship God for God.

I think that I am not alone when I say that I have sought Him for things other than Himself. At times, I have worshipped Jesus for the sole purpose of Him dumping buckets of fairy blessings upon my aching soul. I have read Jeremiah 29:11. Memorized it. Bought the bracelet. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future.'" That is a beautiful verse. But somewhere along the way, I took those words too far and turned worshipping God into worshipping his plan for my life. Instead of seeking his face, I sought the blessings I thought he promised me as part of his plan.

That, my dear friends, is idolatry. And it didn't hit me until yesterday. This whole dilemma with singleness and marriage isn't so much about contentment with God's plan. It's about how I treat His plan.

I've been told my whole life (truthfully) that God has a wonderful plan for me. He does. But the point isn't his plan. The point isn't me. The point is Jesus.

God says that he blots out our transgressions for his own sake (Isaiah 43:25). His biggest plan involves the salvation of the world. But even that isn't for us. He doesn't save us for us. He saves us for his own sake. God saves us for God.       

So at the end of the day, I don't need to worry if I am being content enough in my singleness. I don't even have to worry about Jesus' plan for my life. I simply need to sit at his feet and worship Him for who He is.

Worship God, not his plan.



Monday, June 6, 2011

Psalm 23

In elementary school, I was very fortunate to join several of my friends for "Release Time" on Wednesday mornings. Release Time was a designated hour every week that allowed for kids to be released from school for "religious" activities. (I very rarely use that word without quotations...more on that later.) It was during this hour that several kids in my group learned to memorize Psalm 23. We had these cool orange pocket Bibles that we read from and to this day, I still have the Psalm memorized (complete with all of the thy's and thou's found in the KJV.)

I recently stumbled across the Psalm again in my Bible reading and was struck by the phrase, "your rod and your staff, they comfort me." This had always bothered me, even in 5th grade when it was "thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." Growing up, "the rod" was a method of discipline I had come to dread. Why, then, did David find comfort in it?

That is when I was reminded of an older post and what Christ has been showing me in regards to his discipline. Hebrews 12 so beautifully illustrates some powerful truths.

"God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness." (vs. 10)

"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. " (vs. 11)

Discipline produces holiness, righteousness, and peace. Not only that, but it validates our relationship with God. (Because, "If you are not disciplined, then you are illegitimate children and not true sons." vs. 8) This is why both David and the writer of Hebrews urge us to take comfort in the rod of God's discipline. It is why the Bible repeatedly tells us to rejoice in suffering and persecution. It means that the Spirit is at work in us in order that Christ might become greater and we might become less. (John 3:30.)

Because of these truths, we should count ourselves both blessed and priviledged to be disciplined by Christ. It ultimately produces fruit in us and glorifies the only one to whom glory is due. We are drawn closer to Jesus as a result, and we can take comfort in His rod because it leads us to take comfort in him.

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

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Christianity and the American Dream

When the Pharisees first began to plot against Jesus, they revealed an interesting characteristic seen in many American "Christians" today. This was recently brought to my attention as my pastor preached on John 11.

Starting in verse 45 it reads, "Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. 'What are we accomplishing?' they asked. 'Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.' Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, 'You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." (John 11:45-49)

The Pharisees saw Jesus as a threat to their position and power in society. They were afraid his influence would continue to draw people until the Romans saw him as a force to be stopped. They reasoned that the entire Jewish nation would be punished as a result of this one man. Enter High Priest Caiaphas with a simple (heroic) plan. Just kill the rabble rouser! Country Saved. Problem Solved.

Jesus is so often parallelled with sacrifice. His death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice. The story in John 11 shows that the Jewish leaders were willing to have Jesus sacrificed, but it was for their own gain. They believed he must die so they could keep their power and prestige. Their purpose was entirely earthly in nature, and neither their goal nor their means were just.

The scary thing is that these guys were religious. They knew all the laws, and yet they didn't know God himself. They followed all the rules, but they were still enemies of Him. In the end, they saw Jesus as a sacrifice that would preserve their earthly goals, and they were willing to allow an innocent man to suffer injustly for their personal glorification.

The truth is that Jesus did not die so we could follow our own agendas...he died so we could have himself. He did not suffer the wrath of the Father so that we could reach our goals, and he didn't die to save us from temporary afflictions. He died to save us from eternal punishment in hell.

If we are to truly accept his sacrifice for us, it means we must also accept his purposes for our lives. This is something many American "Christians" struggle to accept. The American Dream and the whole of our society says that life should be about YOU...your happiness, your purposes, your comfort, yourself. Jesus' kingdom says otherwise. He says that if you are going to follow him, you need to lose yourself. (Luke 9:24) Jesus did not sacrifice himself so we could go on living as we please. He did not die so that we could make him an add-on while we "do our own thing." He gave up his life willingly so that we could give up ours. The Christian life is a dying life. It means dying every day and sacrificing ourselves not because we have to earn God's pleasure, but because we already have his pleasure.

If we really understood what happened to us when Jesus died and rose again, and if we really knew him and trusted his Word, we would see that the pursuit of our agendas is really missing out on true fellowship with Jesus. It doesn't make sense in light of makes sense in light of the rest of America. Shouldn't we be concerned?

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Lately I've been dwelling on thoughts about God's peace. From a personal standpoint, it is something I have been struggling with as of late, and I'd love to share some of those thoughts with you.

First and foremost, true peace comes from Christ alone. Isaiah 26:12 says "Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us." Peace is not something we bring about as a result of our own actions (no matter how righteous they are.) Peace is established by God, and any good we have done is because of his grace.

Secondly, peace is a result of the spirit at work in us. Everyone loves to recite Galations 5:22..."But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law." Peace is a fruit of the spirit. This leads into my next point.

Peace stems from a mindset, not an emotion. This means that it is something I may have to work at from time to time. Now, to be clear, this does not mean that God's peace is the result of man's effort. This is far from the truth, as we already know that true peace is found in Jesus and no one else. What I mean to say here is that peace, like all the other fruit of the spirit, is not just some feeling that we get. It is worked out over time as we embrace the truth, say 'no' to our flesh, and pursue godliness. All of this is done through Christ alone.

I think this is the toughest one for me. It is so much easier to think that peace is an emotion that just settles on us when the time is right. If this were the case, it would allow us to sit back, relax, and indulge in spiritual laziness. Praise be to God, he has much better plans for us! He knows that our emotions are fragile. That is why I thank him for verses like 1 John 3:10, which says that "God is greater than our hearts." In a similar manner, his peace is greater than our hearts because it is not at the mercy of our emotions.

Peace is the result of a heart at rest. This is where that mindset comes in. Our hearts are put to rest when we know the truth and cling to God's promises. When things go south, I am so quick to forget all that God has promised me (as if his Word isn't enough to remind me day in and day out.) Worse yet, I let my problems cloud my view of who God is and I forget about his very nature. In the words of Mark Altrogge, God isn't good only when I prosper, and he isn't true only when I'm filled up. He is not king only when I am carefree, or God only when I am well. He is good when I am poor and needy. He is true when I'm parched and dry. He still reigns in the deepest valley, and he is still God in the darkest night. This mindset requires the core of our relationship with

Peace comes from faith in the Prince of Peace. It is found when we understand who we are in light of who God is and all that he's done for us. When we look to the cross and truly understand even a fraction of what Jesus has done for us, we can take comfort in our identity in him. This is huge! Our identity in Christ is what frees us to "set our minds on things above" rather than our circumstances below. As a result, we find hope and lasting peace.

Peace is for God's glory...not ours. We reap the benefits of his grace, but ultimately, it is all for him. The goal of this is that others may see the fruit of our salvation and praise him.

Whatever you face today, don't be afraid to wrestle with God's peace. Cry out to Jehovah Shalom and ask him to quiet your restless heart. Take comfort in the knowledge his Word supplies and "pursue peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." (2 Timothy 2:22.)

"Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed." (Isaiah 49:23b)

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace." (Colossians 3:15)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Thought for the Day

There is an older song called "God-Shaped Hole" (sung by the artist Plumb) that I've been thinking about lately. The chorus goes something like, "There's a God-shaped hole in all of us and the restless soul is searching; there's a God-shaped hole in all of us and it's a void only He can fill."

The concept expressed in this song led me to pray for my unsaved friends in such a way that the "God-shaped" holes in their hearts would be filled by him. It wasn't until recently that I began to see how I have been slightly off in my thinking.

God doesn't long to fill a hole in us. He wants to fill all of us.

Saying that there is a God-shaped hole within us implies that the rest of us can be filled and satisfied except for that one hole. The fact of the matter is that nothing else can bring lasting satisfaction. Ever. God is not simply another piece of the puzzle or factor in the equation. He is to be our everything. Our hearts are not meant to be shared with any other person or thing. Christ is to be our heart.

This is where many people fall short in their faith. They try to make Jesus an add-on while keeping the rest of their lives for themselves. Rather than surrendering their hearts to him, they try to force him into a tiny mold when he is meant to consume every part of their being. Oh, what marvelous freedom we miss out on when we try to withold ourselves from him!

Deuteronomy 4:24 says, "For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God." May we never forget that we serve a God who is jealous for our love, our time, our worship, and everything that we are.

(As a disclaimer, this post was not meant to criticize Plumb's song by any means! I believe her lyrics were intended to communicate this all important truth and my intent was only to verbalize the dangers of using her song as an excuse to think differently.)