Toes

unnamed

It’s another one of those blustery Spring days. Outside, a powerful wind tosses the trees and turns the clouds a deep indigo that usually signals storms. This is my favorite kind of weather–when the clouds pile on top of one another and you can feel the extra charge in the air…something brewing. I’m inside, listening to the song “Toes” by Lights, a song I discovered two years ago today–the day my husband asked me to marry him.

April 20, 2015 I was in my parents’ house, listening to the same song, watching black and green clouds build outside my window and feeling anticipation in the air. I didn’t know yet that Tim was going to propose later that evening, but I knew that was the next step for us, and the words of the song seemed to fit perfectly with the season of unknowns and possibilities that defined the season ahead.

Oh you capture my attention

Carefully listening, don’t want to miss a thing, keeping my eyes on you. 

Oh, you capture my attention

I’m anticipating, I’m watching and waiting for you to make your move. 

Got me on my toes. 

As with lots of songs that really mean something to me, I find myself singing it to God, as a prayer, an anthem, one of those journal entries of my heart that He can see.

The more I think about it, my whole life could be summed up this way–on my toes–literally. Living every moment to its fullest, not wanting to miss anything that God was doing. When I was a child, my parents taught me that each day was a gift from God. I remember once telling my mom how blessed I was just to know that God had made me. The excitement of life’s possibilities were often overwhelming to me, sometimes keeping me up at night, often causing me to break into wild, silly dances where I would twirl or prance around the living room on my tiptoes for no reason. Life was just that exciting, and I just had to express my joy. I was charged. And God did that.

Now as an adult, I still feel like I’m on my toes, waiting on God with my questions in hand, but often with a very different attitude. There have been times where I’ve allowed the imminent struggles and speed bumps of life to slow me down, dampen my enthusiasm, and even cloud my view of God. Often, I find myself approaching God with an attitude that’s more cynical than hopeful.

I need to regain that childlike wonder. Because after all, God hasn’t changed. And when He reaches in and plucks those chords in my heart, I feel everything coming alive again and I remember, yes–this is what I was made for!

Why not live in that place always? Not ignoring the stresses of life, but responding to them in a way that demonstrates my expectant worship of God and my certainty that He is writing a wonderful story, painting a gorgeous picture, scripting a beautiful song.

John 7:38 says that when we know God and keep His Word, out of our hearts will flow rivers of living water–the Holy Spirit. We have everything we need to live in this place of hopeful anticipation.

God, ignite me. Let even the unknowns and unexpecteds of life turn to joy as I anticipate what you’re doing.

Oh, You capture my attention

I’m anticipating, I’m watching and waiting for You to make Your Move

Got me on my toes. 

 

–Song credit: “Toes” by artist Lights, album Siberia.–

 

Advertisements

Spoiler Alert…

It happened again. I sat in the movie theater, barely seeing the preview of the Olympics flash by me because I was so captivated by the song blasting through the speakers. I’m shocked at how the very words and warnings we need to hear as a culture are consistently flooding our iPods, theaters, and TVs, and we still don’t seem to get it.

Fellow Christians, have you heard the words of Katy Perry’s single “Rise”?

Listen…really, and consider what we’re up against.

“I won’t just survive/Oh you will see me thrive

Can’t write my story/I’m beyond the archetype.

I won’t just conform/no matter how you shake my core,

‘Cause my roots/they run deep.

Oh ye of so little faith./Don’t doubt it. Don’t doubt it.

Victory is in my veins./I know it. I know it.

And I will not negotiate./I’ll fight it. I’ll fight it.

I will transform.”

I’m stunned yet again at how God can shout His Truth, using the voice and talent of someone who doesn’t acknowledge Him (that I’m aware of).

This was back in the summer, obviously, since this song was used as a TV spot for the Olympics. But I don’t need to reiterate that we are embroiled in a battle that goes far deeper than the crunch of extreme sports. Whether we’d like to acknowledge it or not, we are faced with the eerie potential of a leader taking office who will likely detonate what has been simmering beneath the surface. We’ve seen it coming…or maybe we haven’t…a mounting opposition to the Gospel and those who choose to live it out loud.

But this isn’t a political rant as much as a cry for the sleeping children of freedom to awaken. And I don’t just mean Americans. I mean those of us who have been brought from death to life, who know the Freedom that comes from being filled with the Spirit of God–the Founder of Life and True Liberty. The words of Perry’s song give voice to what’s in my heart and what I’m hearing resound from believers across the nation.

This is not a political battle. It’s a spiritual one. We’ve known this all along: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against…the powers of darkness in the heavenly places” Ephesians 6:12. But it’s more apparent now than I’ve ever seen it–all across the world. Darkness is becoming more and more manifest in broad daylight, stripping off its masks and pretensions, no longer hiding its design. But what happens when the sky darkens? The stars shine brighter.

“The path of the righteous is like the dawn, shining brighter and brighter until full day,” Proverbs 4:18.

Listen to the words of this chorus:

“When the fire’s at my feet again

And the vultures all start circling/they’re whispering,

‘You’re out of time’

But still I rise.

This is no mistake/no accident

When you think the final nail is in/think again

Don’t be surprised/I will still rise.”

This is not the time to negotiate. This is not a time for compromise. And this is certainly not a time for panic and defeat. This is the time to keep our windows open, like Daniel, and pray to the God of heaven, Who is not planning on abdicating His Throne simply because a “progressive” culture does not favor Him. I believe God has so much more for this country and we, His People, should not be ashamed. We should not be full of anger, fear, and strife. We have the opportunity to stand firm in our faith and resist the enemy, knowing that these same kinds of trials are happening to our brothers and sisters all over the world (1 Peter 5:9). This is a time for unity. This is a time to stand.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what the future holds for this country, for the world, for me, even. But I do know one thing–two, actually. God is still God and He will never quit or be deposed or voted out. He still has a Plan and He’s calling His People to wake up and shake off our slumber to be part of it. Otherwise, we will be scattered by circumstances and live in confusion and despair and disillusionment. That is not how we were meant to live.

I want to encourage everyone who believes–it’s not over. No matter the outcome of the elections. God is not going anywhere, and nor should we. Remember it’s not so much about who you are as it is about Whose you are! I don’t know who our next president will be, but I do know the One Who is Victorious: Jesus the Great I AM. My God. My King. And that is a Victory celebration I know I will get to take part in.

The Word of God is clear. “Today, when you hear His Voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15).

“In the final days, flattery will corrupt those who abandon the promise, but those who know their God will be strong and take action (Daniel 11:32).

We serve a Mighty God and He is among us. He will never leave us or forsake us. That’s why I titled this post “Spoiler Alert.” Because we know the ending of all this. Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our Faith. If we keep our eyes on Him, we will always win.

“As for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast Love, answer me in your saving faithfulness” (Psalm 69:13).

***VOTE THIS WEEK! AND PRAY! PRAY WITHOUT CEASING!!!***

Friendship in the Fear

first-leaves

It’s late September in northern Illinois and we are slowly dipping toes into Autumn. A few trees are adding yellow caps and red tassels to their branches, while others are waiting for a real cold snap to signal their surrender.

I recently heard a brief online message by worship leader and songwriter Melissa Helser about the trees and how they lose their leaves and surrender to barrenness for a long, dark season. She talked about how she sat staring at the bare hardwood trees in the dead of winter and God asked her if she ever expected the trees to be nervous about losing their leaves, afraid that they would never bloom again in the spring. Of course she hadn’t. Because the trees instinctively “know” in their roots that spring always comes and they will bloom again in that season.

How much more should we trust the One who created times and seasons and who has made us in His Own Image? This was the point of Melissa’s message…since we have the ability to know God, unlike the trees, shouldn’t we be able to trust Him, wait on Him?

I don’t know how many times I’ve had to remind myself to wait on the Lord. Not just as a spiritual activity but a way of life.

Psalm 25 is one of my favorites and the other day when I was reading, the words stood out to me with fresh truth. “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust. Let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you will be put to shame….make me to know your paths, O Lord. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation. For you I wait all the day long.”

The first thing that I noticed was that we have to lift up our souls to the Lord. We have to make an effort to place our trust in the Lord, and call to our minds how He has “dealt bountifully with us” in the past (Psalm 116). This is where we’re different from the rest of nature. Nature trusts God by instinct, without even “realizing” it. We can trust God by choice.

I also noticed that no one who puts their trust in Him will be put to shame. So it is only when we are placing our trust in things other than or outside of God that we find ourselves “put to shame”, disappointed, let down.

But the revelation that specifically blessed my heart, the words that spoke to me personally, came from Psalm 25: 12-14.

“Who is the man (or woman) who fears the Lord? He will instruct them in the way they should choose. Their souls shall abide in well-being, and their offspring shall inherit the land. The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He makes known to them His Covenant.”

I realized that these verses specifically address each of my top fears. That is what is so special about being told to trust God. He isn’t speaking generally. We can trust Him with the tiniest details of our lives because He knows us inside and out. The fear of the Lord is where we find our safety, our identity, our security. The fear of the Lord is when we have such a clear, solid picture of our Lord that we no longer wonder who we are. We start to think of life in terms of God’s thoughts about us, rather than our thoughts about Him, or ourselves.

So back to the specific fears these verses address. And I’m sure these are not entirely unique to me.

  1. I am afraid of being lost. I don’t like not having a plan/purpose and I’m often afraid of losing my way, coming to a crossroads and not knowing which way to go. In response, God says that the one who fears the Lord will be “instructed in the way he/she should choose.”
  2. I’m afraid of being soul-sick. I’m afraid of living depressed or sad, afraid of living with a smile on the outside while carrying around a weight inside. I’m afraid that circumstances will change how I feel and I won’t be able to get the good feeling back. But God’s Word tells me that for the one who fears the Lord, “his soul shall abide in well-being.” That is the meaning of the song “It is Well With My Soul”. It’s referring to a peace that goes beyond circumstances, assuring me that I can be well, no matter what–and not just when I feel well. I can be well, and live there.
  3. My last fear is more of a recent one, growing as I get older and draw closer to the season for having children of my own. I worry about what kind of world I’ll be bringing them into, how to prepare them for what they will encounter. But God says that for those who fear the Lord, “their offspring will inherit the land.” In other words, there is a future for the children of one who finds their security, identity, and safety in the Lord.

I am always amazed at how Scripture speaks directly to our experiences, letting us know that God knows what we face, He understands our fears and is acquainted with the temptations we deal with–and He has provided the way out. “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him and He makes known to them His Covenant.” God desires relationship with us, for His Truth to make a clear difference in our everyday lives.

The lesson of the leaves and the trees is so much bigger for us…we can be involved in the process of trust and receive His Words as coming from a God who wants friendship with us. When we do this, the Glory and Power He puts inside us is unmatched by anything in this world.

 

Peace with God

Doing a little devotional study on Romans 5, and thought I would share some of it. The whole chapter is spectacular. Seriously, if you’re feeling run-down or even just need to remember what it means to follow God and be a Christian…read Romans. Just sit down and read it, and let it soak in that this is all really true and really available to us! It’s amazing!

Romans 5 begins, in vs. 1: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Side-note: sometimes we get discouraged reading Scripture because we think that we have to devour huge portions every day, understand every word, and memorize it all verbatim. There is merit in reading whole chapters in one sitting, or committing verses to memory. Absolutely! However, there is also a lot to be said in just one verse of Scripture, and we so often brush by the individual verses, forgetting how crucially they contribute to the whole. If we take time to meditate on one single verse and really ask the Holy Spirit to show us what’s being said and reveal Himself to our hearts, we will find ourselves being fed, and I believe over time we’ll develop a greater awe of the Scriptures. In addition, this often helps me to memorize larger portions of Scripture, beginning one verse at a time and really thinking about what each one is saying.

This was my prayer as I read through Romans 5:1 and looked up some commentary on it.

God, thank you for providing us with this Peace through Your Son Jesus Christ! Jesus, thank you for breaking down the wall of hostility with Your own flesh and blood. God, may we never take this lightly or forget that this Peace that passes all understanding and guards our hearts and minds is only in Christ Jesus.

And it isn’t a passive peace, a casual acquittal that justifies us in court, and then lets us walk, unaware and unaffected.

This Peace in Jesus offers Relationship. It necessitates Abiding.

So help us, God…help me…to walk in Your Peace and never let it go by turning and going my own way, because apart from Jesus, I have nothing.

But in Him, I have everything!

 

Humanity can rejoice because God has made the way clear and has invited us to be His Friends.

Rejoice with me today, believers! We are Friends of God!

 

Perspective of Purpose

267

It is truly wonderful to sit in God’s Presence. He is always with me of course, but as a Christian, I have the delightful privilege of seeking Him, stewarding His Presence, taking time to quiet the distractions of this world and purposefully pursue Him. Thanks to Jesus and His finished work on the Cross, there is nothing stopping me from approaching the Throne of Grace to find Mercy and help in time of need. But more than that, I come to receive Him! I want to bask in greater measures of His Peace, probe the depths of His Love, and be filled with all His Fullness on a deeper level. I read once of a painting that depicted a waterfall, gallons and gallons of powerful water tumbling over the rocks, unstoppable and unquenched. The title of the painting was: “More to Follow.” God is like that. With Him, there is always more!

The other day, I was just sitting with Him. Some soft music was playing but other than that, it was just me and my Savior. I don’t do this often enough, but I’m always amazed at the result of getting still long enough to be enveloped in His Presence…to the point where all I’m thinking about is Him. How wonderful it is to be filled with this Being of Love and Glory, perfect Safety and genuine Power. There’s so much in this world that I cannot embrace, cannot endorse, cannot fill myself with. Even most entertainment sources have to be viewed through an inner filter. But to be filled with the One who created me…it’s pure bliss, because I can accept and receive all of Him, and be accepted and received completely in return. He’s the reason I love standing by the sea, or any large body of water. The sense of something so much bigger than myself, something staggering in its beauty and yet unsettling in its power…that’s the feeling I get when I’m with God. And I haven’t even come close to all of who He is. Everything about His Character shines with Love and His Arms are outstretched to embrace me. The natural response of my being is to serve Him, to be one with Him in everything He is doing.

How differently I feel when I take my eyes off of Him and look at the wind and waves of the world around me. When I look around through a fleshly perspective, I am daunted and even resentful of the challenges facing believers today. My American upbringing smarts under the injustice and unfairness coming against Christians in colleges, high schools, and places of business, not to mention politics. I have come close to resenting the fact that I have to be alive at a time when the world is so volatile, and I’ve been angry that I have to watch long-cherished freedoms eroding in America before my eyes. I have resisted, not wanting to raise a family in this kind of world.

Some of my desires are good. I want to see God’s Kingdom advancing in the world around me. I want to see Justice and Peace and Mercy reigning in the public arena, rather than the injustice, cruelty, and decadence that are exalted today. I want to see God move in power and draw many people to Himself, because there is no life outside of Him. These are all things Christians should want and strive after.

But another part of me is selfish. I want to live undisturbed, even unaware. There’s a part of me that would not really mind what is happening in the world as long as it didn’t affect me or cost me anything. The change that takes place in my heart when I’m focused on God, letting Him renew my perspective, is considerable.

In Scripture, we are told not to be surprised when trials come against us as believers.

1 Peter 4:13-16 tells us: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His Glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the Name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of God’s Glory and Power rests upon you….let him not be ashamed, but glorify God in that Name!”

As an example of this, look at what the Bible says about Moses in Hebrews 11:24-27:

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the People of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.”

One of the results of being filled with God’s Spirit and spending time in His Presence is an increased oneness with His Heart. It is only in His Presence that we cultivate a heart that desires His Will and is pained over the things that grieve Him. He is absolute gentleness and tenderness personified, and yet when you come close enough to feel this, you can also sense the power of His Righteous Anger against sin. It’s not condemning. It’s understandable. His Righteousness cannot tolerate sin and darkness, and His Love burns to see people not swallowed up by it. When we spend time with Him, we are armed with the same kind of passion.

As I was sitting with Him that day, I was freshly awestruck by how people are changed through interaction with Him. Think of the people in Scripture: Abraham became a father of nations, Jacob became a prince (Israel), Joseph became a ruler, Moses became a shepherd-deliverer, Gideon led an army to conquer Israel’s enemies, David became a giant-slayer and king, Esther became a queen who helped save her people. It never ceases to amaze me. The more I thought about it this time, though, the more I realized that when these people came face to face with God, they also came face to face with His Purposes—and always through difficult, even unfair circumstances. I’m sure Joseph wasn’t happy about going to Egypt in the first place. Moses resisted leading the Israelites out of Egypt. And Gideon was hiding from his enemies when God sent an angel to recruit him.

We often tend to focus on the glory surrounding the lives of biblical figures, and the success their lives represented. But what happened right after these biblical heroes had an encounter with God and were sent off on His assignments? They saw evil. Their eyes were opened to wickedness and they couldn’t stand silent anymore. They felt God’s Holy Indignation against evil and were sent out in God’s Power to stand against it. God’s assignments looked different for each of them, and they will for us too. We can only stand in God’s Power, but the point is we were meant to stand.

We were not meant to hide out, hoping to preserve our personal comforts, while ignoring what God is doing in the world around us. Sometimes God spends time preparing us in places with little conflict. (Moses and David both spent time as shepherds before being sent out by God). But like Moses and David, we were meant to move beyond the “wilderness seasons” and embrace the destiny He is calling us to. Again, that will look different in practice for each of us. But when I draw near to God, I realize that there is a bigger picture and God wants me in it. I realize that God chose me and appointed me to go and bear lasting fruit that will impact my generation. I understand that God set me where I am for such a time as this. And the more time I spend with Him, the more I see that it is a privilege to stand with Him in His Purposes.

 

(Above photo: Beth-Shean, Israel, 2013).

More than it seems, these dreams…

Sunset 1The world we live in continually exalts achievement, finding your impact, and living your dreams.

As a Christian, I delight in the same possibilities, believing that God has plans for my good and has specially designed me to make a unique mark on the world, a mark that bears His Name and makes Him known! However, life doesn’t always seem to play along. Why do we often come to seasons of life where our dreams don’t seem like they’ll ever be realized? Why do we not get certain things we prayed for? And specifically for Christians, where does the concept of “dying to yourself” fit with the idea of fulfilling our God-given dreams and aspirations?

I’ve been seeing a recurring theme around these questions lately, not just in my personal Bible study, but also on social media and in books I’ve read.

It is a biblical reality that in order for Jesus to be King of our hearts and lives, we must die to ourselves—to our way of thinking and living before we accepted the Lordship of Jesus. However, in light of this reality, there is something very important we have to keep in mind: the purpose of this “death.” Remember, God is the Author of Life and all life flows from Him. He is the Fullness that fills all in all. God never allows something to die just for the sake of death. Recall that He didn’t allow Jesus to stay dead. Death on the Cross was not Jesus’ whole story. And it isn’t ours either!

After being resurrected from the grave, Jesus sent us His Holy Spirit so we could live through Him! And this new life isn’t just indicative of heaven. It is a new life that begins here and now! Needless to say, dying to ourselves is not the whole story!

So what happens when it feels like our dreams have died or we find ourselves scrambling to keep up with or make sense of a life that doesn’t look much like we planned (or prayed for)?

For an example, I think of George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s famous character in the black-and-white film It’s a Wonderful Life. You’ve probably seen the movie at least once around Christmastime. George is a talented, charismatic, likeable man with big dreams and a strong moral compass. However, his attempts to live out his convictions seem to continually steer him away from all the things he dreamed of doing…going to college, traveling the world, becoming an engineer. George becomes increasingly frustrated until the pivotal point in the movie when, faced with utter ruin and bankruptcy, it seems as though he has sacrificed all of his dreams for nothing. It takes an act of God, literally, to show him that his life has not only been worth something, but has actually fulfilled much—a truly wonderful life. But moments before he will start to realize this, George is standing on a bridge, contemplating suicide. This is a harrowing picture of where the enemy wants us when our plans go awry: defeated, despairing, believing that it was all worth nothing and God doesn’t have a plan for us.

Hence one very important truth that we have to keep in mind: God is NOT a dream killer. He’s not a killer of anything, for that matter. He is Life itself. Everything in our lives hinges on His utter and constant Faithfulness. The Bible says that He planned things for us to do before we were even thought of…not works to earn salvation, but talents and gifts, good things to do throughout life, ways to partner with Him during our lives and bring Him glory. Many Christians know the all-time favorite verse, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

But consider the verses immediately following that one. “Then you will call upon me, and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek Me and find Me. When you seek Me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the Lord…”

The ultimate goal in finding our life’s work, the fulfillment of our dreams, is to connect with God. Our dreams and aspirations, our talents and gifts, are all conduits through which God can display His Glory and bless the world. But, like all of life, they must be given to Him first. And often, in the course of our lives, we see certain dreams fade for a season or take on a new face that we don’t recognize. It’s hard not to feel lost when this happens. It’s hard not to paint a picture in our minds of what our lives should look like or how our dreams will be fulfilled. And there’s nothing wrong with having plans. But if God redirects that plan, do you come undone? Was your hope and trust in that plan or in God?

These are tough life questions, but the way we respond to them will determine the quality and impact of our lives.

So what is happening when we start to feel like George Bailey? (I realize that sometimes we get to certain places in our lives due to poor choices we made, but God is the ultimate Redeemer, and He is never caught off guard or struggling to keep up with our lives.)

What I am mainly talking about here is that point where you feel like your life is just not turning out the way you wanted, like your dreams have been put on hold. (And this seems to be a fairly common place for people to come to. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people describe their lives this way.)

At this point, we must first remember the character of our God. We have to seek Him in order to discern His will, but He is not trying to hide it from us.

If our dreams seem on hold or out of the picture for a season, one of two things is happening.

Either God is fazing a particular dream out of our lives completely in order to make room for something better, something we might not have thought to choose, but something He intended for us to do in His Strength,

Or God is allowing a dream to “die” in the sense that we thought it would be accomplished, in order to raise it up again in the right time to be more than we could have ever fathomed.

Think Joseph in Genesis. His dreams of power and position seemed to die when he was sold into slavery, but God used him and his gift of interpretation to bless not only his family, but the whole known world and the future of Israel…something Joseph would never have pictured on his own.

The point is that dying to ourselves is only half of the equation. Colossians 3:10 continues with the other half. “You have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.”

Remember, the gifts and talents inside you were placed there by God and can best be used by God. Everything you desire in life can be traced back to God, and finds its fullness in Him. God has not forgotten you or your dreams. Don’t give up on them. Bring them to Him. Seek Him and you will find yourself in the process. The goal is to delight in God, finding your purpose and your hope in Him. And holding fast to His Promise: that as you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you, and will give you the desires of your heart.

 

*****Disclaimer*****

In these Christian-living posts, it is never my intention or plan to become a preacher or point fingers at any particular person. These posts simply reflect what God is teaching me in a particular season or something that I came across in Scripture that impacted me. They are meant to encourage readers to turn to the Scriptures for new perspective in their own lives. This kind of sharing is part of what it means to be a Christian. In Colossians 3:16, we are encouraged to celebrate the truths in Scripture and spur each other on to focus on the Truth Himself, Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, for me, these posts represent part of what it means to be a writer. As Sheila Walsh puts it: “I’m not one who writes as an expert on a subject. I’m one who writes out of a hunger to understand.”

So please feel free to comment if you have any questions or need clarification on anything, but know that I’m writing from the middle of the journey.

Featured Fun Facts

Face photoToday, I felt like writing, but didn’t know exactly what to post–something that unfortunately happens way too often for me. 😉

So I thought I would share a few fun/unique facts about myself…well, 20 things, so you can get to know me a little. It should be fun. So here we go.

  1. When I was about 10 years old, I would write journal entries and address them to myself!
  2. From the time I first heard River dance when I was little,  I have been captivated by Irish music. It still has the power to either make me cry or want to get up and dance.
  3. When my friends and I played Pocahontas as kids, I was always John Smith haha.
  4. Never had a pop-tart until I was in college. Thanks, “healthy snack bar!”
  5. At three years old, I prayed with my mom for a pony ride, and a pony literally showed up at our door a few hours later!
  6. I get so excited in bookstores, I probably burn calories because my heart pounds so hard!
  7. I never enjoyed or watched Disney movies as much as I do now.
  8. My first “crush” that I can remember was Han Solo.
  9. Joseph is hands-down my favorite Bible story (other than everything about Jesus)
  10. I was saved as a young child after seeing the “Jesus film”–told my parents I wanted to give my life to Jesus.
  11. My historical family background is delightfully varied, including, but not limited to German, Hungarian, Sicilian, and Irish.
  12. Four foods that literally elevate my mood and cheer me up: pasta, popcorn, fruit, and milkshakes.
  13. Just recently, I almost cried while crossing a mile-high bridge in the mountains…not a heights person.
  14. Breakfast is probably my favorite meal…cereal, eggs, bacon, pancakes, sausage!!!!
  15. I love thunderstorms
  16. From the ages of 9-12, I tried to write my own little knock-offs on American Girl stories. I called them Great Girl stories. 😉
  17. My favorite book as a school-aged kid was A Little Princess. 
  18. Hiking and running are my two favorite forms of exercise, since I haven’t danced in a while.
  19. I have visited Israel: I saw the cracked mosaic floor of Pilate’s bathhouse, walked the Via Dolorosa (the path Jesus took through Jerusalem to the cross), and stood on the steps where Jesus preached–the whole megillah!
  20. I still have my childhood stuffed animals and dolls…they’re in waiting for my future children.

I may add some more another day, but this was fun! Thanks for tuning in, everybody!

Right to Write

 

 

 

wheat.jpg

They wanted me dead. 

Twenty years had passed but it had really happened. My brothers had sold me as a slave. It was the reason I was here, in Egypt, instead of in the tents of my father in Canaan. If it had been up to my brothers, I would have been dead. I had suffered terrible things over the years, but none of those had killed me. God was the reason I’d lived.

In case you didn’t recognize the story of Joseph in there somewhere, those are a few lines loosely-based off a book I wrote in first-person about his life. You all probably know the outline of the story: hated for his dreams, Joseph is sold into slavery by jealous brothers and God raises him up to save Egypt and Israel from famine. In the excerpt above, Joseph thinks back over his life to the one moment that changed everything for him…the moment he realized his brothers were actually selling him into slavery. From his vantage point in the palace of Egypt, second-in-command to Pharaoh, it would have been easier for Joseph to see the “bigger picture”, but the day he was sold into slavery, I guarantee you he wasn’t seeing God’s Hand at work. In that moment, he was only seeing his life being snatched away from him, dramatically altered forever.

I have recently been enjoying (and challenged by) the book Life Interrupted, which explores the reality that within what we would label our greatest setbacks, God has hidden meaning, purpose, and restoration. Each one of our lives is part of a much bigger picture. In this book, Bible teacher and inspirational speaker Priscilla Shirer (star of the movie War Room) points out that those who are able to embrace God as Author and Finisher of their Faith, recognizing His Right to write their stories, end up starring in the greatest stories ever told. And what’s more…they end up inspiring others to pursue a life with God. As Shirer puts it: “Your life is God’s Story being told, and His Character being displayed….It’s quite possibly the best story that some people will ever read” (43).

The story of Joseph is one of those for me.

I cannot fully explain the lifelong fascination that I’ve had for this story. From playacting as a child to finally writing a novel (which I’m still editing), the biblical account of Joseph has always been a part of my life. Over the years, God has taken it from the level of a child’s understanding and has been drawing out the life lessons one by one, bringing new levels of understanding and meaning to them as they apply to my life in different ways.

From a writer’s standpoint, every story has to have an inciting moment, a break from the everyday life of the character that draws that character into the circumstances that will form the main part of their story. As a writer, an author, I have the power to set a particular scene, establish a status quo, and then take the main character out into the unknown for purposes that I can see, even though the character can’t. What’s great about writing from the perspective of a biblical hero is that I have the whole story outlined from start to finish in Scripture and I get to flesh it out. However, what’s profound about this particular style of writing is that I get to live through the moments when it didn’t make sense for the character. The in-between years when Joseph struggled through slavery or sat in prison or pondered his options…all of that is the meat that fills the novel.

I get to come face to face with what we sometimes gloss over in the biblical accounts. And it continues to change my life.

 

For a long time, Joseph would probably have said that the moment he was sold into slavery was the worst moment in his life. However, because we see the end of the story in Scripture, it’s easier for us to look at it as the turning point that would ultimately position him for what God wanted him to become. A painful road…but one that God redeemed and worked for good, changing the whole world as a result.

It’s easy to see that in Joseph’s story, once you’ve read it.

But what about yours? What about mine? Thank God, I don’t have anything in my life that compares to what Joseph went through, but I can’t write through the details of his story without pondering the implications God has for my own. Priscilla Shirer condenses this thought into a piercing question: “What if your most compelling story could only be written with the ink of your latest interruption?” (36)

Like Joseph, we all want to be used by God, but we want to be the ones who decide how He uses us. We want the story of our future to be based very closely on our past and what we are comfortable with and used to. Joseph was pretty sure his dreams were from God and he was pretty confident that he knew how they would play out. His doting father would promote him to head of the family, and his brothers would have to pay homage to him. Simple. A human plan. Small and select. Inward-focused. Predictable. But God’s Plan for Joseph involved more than just Joseph.

This is not to say that God won’t ever build on the backdrop of our past. But just as Joseph had to learn to depend on God outside the safety and security of his father’s attention, we all have to lay down what we hid behind in the past and allow God to write our stories. Actually, it’s His Story, written through us.

Shirer says: “Neither our legacy nor the lack thereof determines our…significance. It is God’s calling and our willingness to obey. That’s it” (41).

When I think about how much I have personally gleaned from the story of Joseph, and how widespread the story is, it’s amazing to think there were probably moments in his life when he resented the way things were going. Times when he felt like his life was being wasted. But the greater reality of Joseph’s story makes me rejoice and marvel. He was not just a forgotten, rejected brother living out the consequences of his broken family.

He was “a child of God in the center of a divine intervention. And a whole people group was about to feel the power of what that meant” (Shirer 43). If that was true for Joseph, it’s true for me! I serve His God…the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and who is the Author and Finisher of our Faith. Authors don’t start a story and throw in a little conflict just to leave it that way. There is always an ending…a finishing point. God has invested His Own Glory and Name in those of us who are His Children by virtue of Jesus Christ. God is not going to give up on our stories, because they’re His. Just like we are His. We have free will though. We get to choose whether we will partner with Him in this or not. I am sure there were times when Joseph resisted or questioned God. I’m positive.

But I’m also certain that there had to be a time when he decided to go with God. To take the only step that would save him, and surrender. And the rest of his life unfolded into a brilliant story that included the fulfillment of his dreams, the salvation of the known world from famine, and reconciliation with his brothers–a story only God could have written.

And it’s been told and retold so many times. It has been an exciting adventure and privilege to tell this story yet again, because it’s more than a story. It showcases the unmatched Greatness and Goodness of God even against the backdrops of undesirable circumstances. It represents the choice I’ve made, and still make, to let my life reflect the Honor and Glory of the greatest Author of all time.

 

(If you are interested in the book I referenced, Life Interrupted by Priscilla Shirer, check it out! It’s amazing!)

http://www.amazon.com/Life-Interrupted-Navigating-Priscilla-Shirer/dp/1433670453

 

High Priest of Hope

“We see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” -Hebrews 2: 9

On Good Friday, (and all year round hopefully), this is the truth that we celebrate and marvel at…that Jesus, the Son of God “partook of [our] flesh and blood,” and sacrificed Himself on the Cross, “that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who…were subject to lifelong slavery.” –Hebrews 2: 14-15.

What we don’t often consider, I think, is the reality that Jesus’ whole life was a sacrifice. The incarnation itself, God becoming man and dwelling among us, was the first offering, and was followed by a life wholly laid down, completely submitted to God the Father. Many times, Jesus Himself said that He only did what He saw His Father doing, but lately, as I am rereading the Gospels, I am amazed over and over again at just how surrendered Jesus was.

When He was baptized by John in the Jordan and began His earthly ministry, He was 30 years old! Which means that twenty-nine years of living as a poor carpenter in a back-alley town and submitting to earthly parents and restraining His Power had come first.

After He was baptized, He was led immediately by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Not exactly a rewarding or fulfilling time for the beginning of a ministry. I know there’s a part of us all in Western Christianity (because I’ve seen it in my own life) that tends to despise wilderness seasons or seasons of trial and testing. At the very least, we view these times negatively and look forward to when they’re over. It’s hard to view them as necessary or something God would lead us into…but the Bible says that was Jesus’ first destination: the desert of temptation.

All throughout the Gospels, the pattern continues, with clarity and precision. When the Bible says Jesus “got into a boat,” or “crossed over to the other side,” or took His disciples to a specific town, these are not meaningless fillers. Jesus spent as much time as He could in prayer and His actions were directly influenced by the Father. So much so that He was willing to go to the Cross, even though He asked if there could be another way. The Father and His Will was constantly on Jesus’ lips and in His heart. When He raised Lazarus from the dead, He thanked the Father for the opportunity to show the world the oneness they shared and the Power He had been given. In John 12-17, Jesus pours out His heart to His disciples over the Passover meal, explaining how the Father loves Him and therefore loves all who follow Him, desiring to be one with them as well. Jesus even hesitated to reveal His status as the Messiah until the proper time, when He could explain to the disciples what the Messiah was “sent” to do. “No one takes my life,” He declared, “but I lay it down of my own accord.” Even when He was betrayed and arrested, Jesus spoke of the Scriptures being fulfilled and submitted to His Divinely-planned Destiny.

So…how is this to be inspiring to us? Laying aside any plans or agenda of your own to submit to God at every juncture, even to death. Does this sound robotic?

Well, it’s not. And here’s why.

“For it was fitting that He [the Father], for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to Glory, should make the Founder of their salvation [Jesus] perfect through suffering.” –Hebrews 2:10

This is how we know that God doesn’t expect a mindless robotic devotion, or even a fatalistic resignation to His will. The Son of God became a man, subjecting Himself to all the trappings of human flesh and blood, earthly time and space, and the particular frustrations and injustices people deal with, individually and corporately.  He submitted, not only to the Cross (His ultimate Destiny), but to a life of continued trust in the Father in the midst of all the temptations and trials that are typical for the human race. Why?

Hebrews 2 goes on to explain one of the reasons why He became a Man, rather than saving us from a distance.

“For surely it is not the angels He helps, but the offspring of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” –Hebrews 2:16-18

Earlier in this chapter, the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is NOT ASHAMED to call us brothers! He submitted to the Father in the midst of the same rigors that we face and He stands ready and willing to help us do the same. He asks all because He gave all. When He says, “You are my friends if you do what I command,” He is not merely giving a command. He is also our motivation and our forerunner! He has been where He is asking us to go. He paved the way for us, down a road we never could have traveled alone…the road to God! He is not just waiting at the end for us, cheering us on, but through the Holy Spirit, He is also in the trenches with us, enabling us to live surrendered lives and walk in the path of full joy that comes from oneness with His Father and our Father.

When Jesus commented that it was difficult for a man distracted by riches to enter the Kingdom of God, the disciples wondered aloud how anyone could be saved. Everyone has distractions and temptations in their lives. Every one of us is surrounded by things that compete for our hearts and attentions. But Jesus’ answer reveals once again that He is the Answer!

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible!” –Mark 10:27

Jesus, our Great High Priest, is the One who makes it possible for us to die to ourselves and live to God. He is the One who fills us with His Spirit, and clothes us with His Likeness, so that we can live victoriously, even in the midst of daily stress and strain. We who have a “heavenly calling” are told to “consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him…faithful over God’s House as a Son. And we are His House if indeed we hold fast our confidence firm to the end and boast in our Hope.”–Hebrews 3:1-6

This Good Friday, let’s hear every command from the mouth of God as an encouragement from the One who was humble enough to be “made perfect through suffering.”

Let us hear the Love of the One who has been where we are–the Father who sent His Son to bridge the gap, and the Son who prepared the way and sent His Spirit so we could abide in Him always.

“The Glory that You have given Me, I have given to them, that they may be one, even as You and I are One.” –Jesus, in John 17:22

 

 

Thinking with God

190I’m reflecting today on what it means to think God’s Thoughts with Him. So often, we neglect this privilege, but just think about it—we are specially designed to carry God’s thoughts, to dream with Him, to have hearts after His own heart. No other creature on Earth has this ability, this potential. But now because of Jesus, it’s more than just potential.

So often, we act as though being saved or “born again” is a solitary moment that happens and then it’s over. We said the magic words and now we’re going to heaven, and yet we either go back to the way we were living before, striving in emptiness after things that are passing away, or we struggle throughout life because we can never quite attain the victory we know should be available to us in Christ.

It was never meant to be that way. Just picture the analogy itself. When a baby is born, its life and journey is far from over. The birth is only the beginning of a beautiful process of learning and growing. So how much more would a spiritual rebirth into God’s Family mean a process of learning and growing…being conformed daily to the Image of Christ; learning to look like Christ the way a child learns to exhibit the characteristics of his parents; growing to take hold of full potential?

God delights when we look like Him. He was pleased with David because he was a man after His own Heart. It was this Heart that gave David victory. David was able to defeat Goliath because he was so one with God that when God moved, David sprang into action. Over and over, God accomplished His will for Israel through people like David, people who carried His Heart and would do all His will. Now, because of Jesus opening the way to the Father, and pouring out His Holy Spirit, this Heart is available to all of us who believe!

“Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God….born of God.” John 1:12-13

“He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with the Lord…Christ in you, the Hope of Glory.” 1 Corinthians 6:17 and 1:27b.

This is the awesome privilege we are designed for—when we receive Christ as our Savior and Lord, we get to receive God’s Life in us. God’s resources are at our disposal, in Christ. We get to dream God’s dreams. When we delight in Him, His desires become our desires, and that’s how He gives us the longings of our hearts. Our motives and priorities change. We develop the ability to refuse sin, to take thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ. Compassion stirs in us, opening our hearts wider and enabling us to do greater things than we would’ve done on our own. (And these greater things are not just greater in terms of size, but impact.) Whether we plant or water, God gives the fruit, and we get to experience being a part of God’s plan.

Let’s not neglect this wonderful privilege and great pleasure.  We have the mind of Christ. Let’s surrender today, and ask Him to help us walk out the glorious reality we were made for.