Monday, August 1, 2016

How to be Healthy

The other day I decided to go on a run in the rain. While I was out there, breathing in the fresh scents of the trees, feeling the water droplets on my face, and hearing my own breath - I felt alive. I ran past another runner on the trail of the lake, and we both smiled at each other, as if to share in this mutual feeling of joy that comes from running in the rain. That previous morning, I had enjoyed a sweet time of encouragement with the Lord. Though the situation we face is a difficult one right now, in my time of stillness before Him, I felt overwhelmed by his great love and encouragement.

I realized that day how the Lord has taught me quite a lot about what it means to be "healthy." And I guess, I feel compelled to write this because I believe there is so much falseness out there for what it means to be defined as a healthy person. There is this subculture arising that is obsessed with extreme exercise and dieting. So I thought I would write this post, about what I believe the Lord is revealing to me of what it means, actually, to be healthy - READ: NOT skinny, NOT muscular, NOT anything overly focused on the physical, but some ways in which He changes our inner being. The habits we can choose to increase His influence in our lives and decrease the negative impact of certain things in the world. In Ephesians, the Lord encourages us to "Be very careful then how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is." (5:15-17)

So here are a few things/habits I have adopted or removed over the past couple of years to be more careful with how I live, to make the most of every opportunity, and to better understand the will of the Lord (by the guidance of the Spirit!). May this help you to think of your own habits and encourage you to be more proactive on examining your life. So that you can make decisions that will strengthen your wisdom and faith in the Lord.

5 Ways to be Healthy:

1. Do not think about being "healthy!"

What do I mean by this? Well basically, just what it says... don't THINK so much! Now, this is something I want to learn more, definitely. But I do believe this health-obsessed culture is quite un-healthy actually! We are human beings who were created to work hard, to eat and be satisfied, to let our bodies rest. I really believe obsessive thoughts on being healthy hinders most people from actually becoming healthy! Much of who we are starts with who we are in our hearts and minds. If our mind is preoccupied with thoughts of working out, being healthy, denying ourself such and such food - sooner or later we will be simply exhausted. I know this from experience, friends. Worse yet, if our hearts focus on our bodies and this physical world alone, we will end up quite empty. That can lead to a myriad of other things. So instead - please, think and allow your heart to be preoccupied with things of greater value.

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God" Colossians 3:1-3 

2. Commit to prayer

There is really not any other way to a "healthy" lifestyle than to commit yourself to talk with the Lord. This is obviously directed to brothers and sisters in Christ. However, I say this because I know there are many followers of God who can easily get sucked into thinking exactly the same as non-believers, and I believe that is very un-healthy! For the church to think and live life exactly as the world does, but only with a Christian cap on, misses the point completely. We ought not think as the world thinks, and our eyes should be focused upwards as we live our lives. I think some have misunderstood the line of "Well I am not of the world, but I am still in it!" and use it as an excuse to allow the Narrow Way to be just a bit wider. Let us not be like this! Let us be real and true. Let us be people who commit to pray to the Lord and allow His Spirit to teach and shape us into the ones we really are in Him. This I believe, is the key to real and full health (I am not talking physically now, but spiritually and in a form that is eternal).

3. Make the world your gym 

Okay so I used to be a gym-goer (gasp!). It actually was not until I moved to Northern Ireland that I explored the world of activity outside of a gym and found that it is so beautiful. You can miss so much if you keep your activity limited to fitness equipment and weights. The Lord has given us all the desire to work and be active, he has given us life - not only physically but spiritually! I know our culture today encourages certain methods of training as "better" or more "efficient," but I don't believe this is true or good. Find out what you enjoy, what gives you energy and is fun for you! Obviously, I understand that I live in Norway and its one of the most beautiful and active countries, so I know if you live in Texas and its 110F the last thing you want to do is run outside. But what I mean is, don't feel you have to be something you are not. Not only in training, but in life! We all have different gifts, skills, strengths, weaknesses, bodies, looks, etc. (Think of 1 Corinthians 12 and the various yet important parts of the body). So take the time to find out who you are in these things - so you can use your strengths, acknowledge your weaknesses, and have peace in the one you are.

4. Get rid of your iPod... and your TV. 

Okay, okay, now I have lost some of you. But wait!! Hear me out. These two things were a leap for me (and one of them just recently as I lost my iPod and have been forced into this realization!). And yet...this is actually important and its something I want you all to think about. The impact of TV and music and media in general is HUGE, massive in fact. The decision to remove television from my life was one of the biggest and most fruitful decisions I have ever made. Now I don't want you to box me in as an ultra-conservative Christian at this point, for those who know me, I hope you see that my desire first and foremost is simply to a live for the Lord and to know Him. I am willing to do whatever to encourage that to fruition. Our time is limited, and for those who work and are involved with friends/family, you know the hours are quite few actually. There is so much more that we could do with our time than to sit in front of a TV screen. But more than that practical end, there is so much more to gain when we are not allowing ourselves to be constantly bombarded with the spirit of the world that comes through lyrics and messages of certain music and TV shows. I am going to take it a step further (if some of you are still with me...) and say that we ought even to be careful with that which we deem "Christian" or holding "Godly values." I mention this, because I have some dear friends who believe this - and I understand the mentality because I grew up in it and I know it is hard to think outside of. However, just because something has a Christian label or Godly values does not necessarily mean it should get the "green light" to have an influence in our lives. All I want to say, is THINK friends! Be careful and acknowledge the impact the music and television you listen to and watch has on your lives. The last thing I want to do is to build a wall of hostility about this within the church, but merely want to encourage you to stop and pray to the Lord about this and just ask the question - "Is what I am listening to and watching beneficial for the Kingdom?" and be willing to take the step, no matter what it means, when you get an answer.

"Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" Psalm 139:23-24

5.  Have a friend!

The Lord has placed a great desire and longing in our hearts to love and fellowship with Him and others. This is not always easy and I don't mean to use the buzz word "community," but in this world it can be easy to isolate ourselves. Especially with social media and crazy work hours and busyness, at the end of the day all you want to do is sit and watch TV for hours (okay sorry I won't go back to that) ... but we were made for more! Obviously, this will look different for different people. If you live in the US you likely live near some kind of church that has small groups and all sorts of activities - if that is you, I say be careful not to turn church into merely a social/relational activity and remember the point of it all (to have relational activity with the Lord!). For those of us who live in Europe, or at least for me in Scandinavia, it might not be so easy to find strong Christian fellowship. BUT take heart! The Lord is always near. Remember the classic and so good song -- What a friend we have in Jesus, all our griefs and sins to bare, what a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer! Can we find a friend so faithful? Who will all our sorrows share! Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer! What sweet sweet truth this is. My second greatest friend is my husband. He helped me to see things for how they were, was stern with things that I needed to let go of, and continually encourages me to be strengthened as a child of God. If you are able, find one or two people who you can really be honest with. People with whom you can share your weaknesses, who can learn who you are, and can encourage you to pursue a "healthy" life of faith and righteousness. However, more importantly than even that, continue to pursue and turn to the greatest friend you have - the Lord, who can always be called on and found.

I hope you can find encouragement in these 5 things that I have learned and that I believe has helped me to become more "healthy" in the way that I live and think and who I am in my heart. I still have a long way to go in my pursuit of a "healthy" or better yet, Godly, lifestyle. But may we all be willing and proactive to turn our eyes from what is seen to what is unseen and so find that which truly makes us alive and well - the love and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! 

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Narrow Way

The Way is narrow and difficult. We know this. We are told that the righteous will have trouble. We are told that we must carry our cross and follow him (saying it and not even realizing the magnitude of such a statement). So why then, do we get so distraught, so upset, so frustrated and confused, when things do not go our way? When life is hard and we feel tired and in some ways, disappointed? 

I feel this is our tendency, or at least mine. We read about the Israelites, traversing through the desert after the Lord has redeemed them from brutal slavery. They had cried out to God for Him to rescue them, to be taken out of the oppression of the Egyptians and He does just that! He rescues them and He works mighty wonders by His hand and He shows His power and sustaining love for them, not just in taking them out but from the weeks and months before where He shows Pharaoh who is really in control. But then…only a couple of chapters later we read about these Israelites, whose prayers had practically JUST been answered and what are they doing? They have the nerve to whine to God! They say “God where are you? Have you left us in the desert to starve?” (cue whiny voice) and later when He does provide they complain about a multitude of other things: demanding meat instead of the miracle manna that God provides, demanding a king because well…everyone else has one. And we read this and we just think come onnnn, are you really so ungrateful?! Did you really already forget the saving grace of the Lord who redeemed you from slavery, has provided food for you, is leading you day and night, AND has promised to take you to a land flowing with milk and honey? And we just want to reach into the story and shake them and say “wake UP!”

And then…oops. That is kind of like us too... isn’t it?

The Lord has brought us out of slavery. He redeemed us from all that brought us down and the lies of this world. He has provided for our every need. Even better than the Israelites of that time, He has now given us His very own Spirit, right within our hearts, by which He leads us day and night. He has promised to take us to a land, a New Earth, flowing with milk and honey and eternal joy. And how do we respond? A few chapters into our lives, when we grow parched from the toil of the desert, when our own selfishness and ignorance clouds our perspective, we completely forget all that the Lord has done for us and is still doing and we say “where are you, God?” “Have you left us here to die?” 

Someone shake me so I can wake UP!! 

How far this response is from the one that the Lord desires. Several times in my life, in my journey with the Lord, I have had this ignorant response. If I am honest, I have not been able to hold on to the perspective I ought to have in the deepest trials and frustrations of my life. In fact, I tend to be very black and white with my faith in these times. If the Lord is silent..MAYBE he doesn’t even exist! MAYBE this is all a lie! I did grow up in church after all, and I have this question and that one and that one. And I must find answers or ELSE I might walk away forever! Yes, maybe I will do just that…

But oh Praise my Heavenly Father! He never lets me get too far. He pours out more grace to me than I deserve, I must truly admit that. I feel ashamed just admitting this kind of response I have had, but it is true. Am I the only one? ... But the thing is, I have tasted the goodness of the Lord. I can never go back. There is nothing in this world that I want, nothing that appeals to me outside the glorious love and friendship and majesty of God. So in my Father’s incredible patience, He shows me little by little, again and again, that HE does hear, even my cries of ignorance, even my cries of frustration and hurt. I have before become tired of faith and have tried turning my back on it, but that has brought nothing good and never does last so long. So I realized, I must have a different response. I will not be like the Israelites, who as soon as Moses was out of sight for longer than they were comfortable, decided they would make themselves a nice, shiny golden calf. And they would worship that calf and be happy like the rest of the world who worships such things… No, I will no longer have such a response because (like the Israelites) that really never got anyone anywhere. So instead, in the times of parched desert land, when I feel exhausted, frustrated, and wondering “Where are you God?” I have decided to continue and really commit myself to the Lord, even still.

And so, I will even more come to the Lord. And cry out to Him. And let Him know my frustrations and hurts and longing to feel His safe place of refuge that He promises for all who come to dwell in Him. I will read His Word and ask for His Spirit before I do so. I will get on my knees, head bowed and I will talk to the Lord, and do my part. And I will wait for Him to come. In His way, in His timing. 

Do you know what I have found?

When I do this, He does come. He IS a place of refuge for those who seek the power and safety of being in the palm of His hand. Recently, I have been reading through the Psalms knowing it is a sure fire way to find living water when my soul is weary. And though I have read through these scriptures many times, and the lines are familiar, there was something I noticed this time while reading. I noticed, that David and I have some things in common. He can be a bit black and white too, actually, a person of extremes. One minute, he is crying out to the Lord “Where are you?!” “Don’t you hear my cries?” “Do not be silent any longer!” and the next line He is praising the Lord, talking of the love relationship He has with His God, and saying that he will place his trust in the Lord! So I saw, that though I might tend to be a bit black and white, a person of extremes, both sides do not have to be in opposition. I can have BOTH cries - “God, where are you?! Do not be silent!” AND “God, I will trust you. And I love you because of who you are!” 

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 
Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? 
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. 
YET you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. 
In you our ancestors put their trust, they trusted and you delivered them
To you they cried out and were saved
in you they trusted and were not put to shame." 
Psalm 22:1-5 

I find great relief and peace in this. That I can still trust the Lord, and be on a journey to grow in knowing Him, and be in a loving relationship with my Father while I still am so far from complete understanding or perfection. But that is why it is called “The WAY.” It is not “the finale” or “the finish line” (yet, at least). 

But I am encouraged to feel affirmed that I AM in fact on The Way. Why? Because it IS hard, and dare I say, at times, even feels like carrying that cross. It is full of burdens and frustrations as I seek to follow the Lord with my whole being, with everything in me. So, like David I cry: 

"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." 
Psalm 51:10-12

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Blessed Assurance

Perfect submission, all is at rest, 
I in my Savior am happy and blest, 
Watching and waiting, looking above, 
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love. 

As I sang this, alone in my room, this morning I felt so overcome with blessed assurance and felt a sudden urge to write about this assurance in God which He has faithfully stretched and shaped and molded over this past year.

There have been a lot of changes in life, to say the least. Getting married, moving to Norway, moving back to Belfast, and now looking for work as an "immigrant" (because yes I am one of those now..). It has been a lot to handle and process and come to terms with. I used to think I could take anything, I had moved so many times I was "used" to it. And then I got hit with the reality that you can never get "used" to moving countries, you just cant, it is hard in different ways and it is never a smooth, easy-going process. Yet through it all, I am reminded that the Lord never gives us more than we can handle (even if it sometimes feels it is) and He always leads to His glory and our good. I know this is true because I have experienced it again and again, and He is always faithful, always always always, and again and again and again...

So this is a post to praise my Father who I love and adore. Who bears patiently with me when I whine and complain and cry out to Him. Who never ceases to teach me and lead me on His path, which though it is narrow is beautiful and wonderful and I would not trade it for the world (literally). It seems every year is challenging in different ways. This year held difficulties with transition, health, fears and doubts, and through it all I have been brought to a place where I see that within sorrow there really can be great joy. And it is SO true that when we turn our eyes on Jesus, all things really do fade away. My husband, Mikael, and I have decided to take a detour from our reading in the Old Testament to study Revelation within this time of our lives where there remains so many uncertainties about right now and the future. I have been job searching for two months now and next year we do not know whether we will be in Belfast, Norway, America, or China... and so it might be easy that our perspective slowly dwells on here and now and the world we are in. But this perspective is not how it should be for us, we ought instead to have a heavenly perspective.

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:1-3

It has been challenging to reflect on the adoption of this perspective. I want to learn how to really have this outlook and to truly set my eyes on things above. As I was reading through Mark, I came to the parable where Jesus talks about the seeds which fall in various terrains. When I got to the part where he describes those who fall on good soil but are choked by the worries of life that they cease to bear fruit, I felt an immediate blow to my heart and got on my knees to ask the Lord that it might not be so with me! I recognize that it is so easy for me to worry about the things of this life. Obviously, things of the world have to be thought about and recognised as we live and work here, but I want to learn more what it is to have my mind ruled with a different focus and a heavenly hope.

So Mikael suggested we go through Revelation, to be reminded that this world is not our home and to read and be encouraged by the King and Kingdom to which we belong. Y'all. (wow I have not used that word in awhile..) But really, y'all. Revelation is really beautiful. I know it is a book that is often seen as intimidating or confusing or whatever, but really, please take the time to read it. For "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near" (Revelation 1:3).

What a glimpse it gives us into the Heavenly things. To a vision of the Son of Man: "He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance" (Revelation 1:16). To our citizenship in the Kingdom of God: "The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name" (Revelation 3:12). To the King of Heaven: "The one sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones - like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled his throne like a rainbow" (Revelation 4:3).

What a glorious, glorious hope we have! It might not be any time soon that I feel settled in this life. I might remain jobless, I might always be a foreigner, I might always feel some level of discomfort or instability, but if that means I can be continually reminded of the fact that this world is not my home, and truly learn what it means to have a heavenly perspective, then I praise the Lord for His grace to lead me to a reward such as this which is far greater than any comfort or job could grant me. May I learn more what it means to be a Citizen of Heaven while abiding in this world "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory" (Philippians 3:20). 

And one day I will join the voice of the saints who day after day and night after night kept saying "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty - the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come" Revelation 4:8.

Yes, Blessed Assurance indeed!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Purpose of Life

Alright. I am at Clements (Belfast's local coffee shop), I have my americano and I will blog. I tell you what, I really fell into a writer's block. Blame it on the move abroad. Blame it on busyness. Blame it on the weather. Whatever way - I am back! I have so many thoughts and so much that the Lord has been teaching me these past six months in Northern Ireland. It was hard to choose what I might write about on this return to the blog world. There have been many small daily teachings, God's voice clearly speaking to me, and experiences of His glory but I have come to one over-arching realization while I have been here. You would think I would have had this realization long ago, and maybe I did in a sense, but it has not come to full fruition until now and what a glorious realization it is.

The realization of the purpose of life. 

This was a big question for me years ago. I remember various times that the question was raised in my mind, "What is the point of all this?" Often said in frustration, post-heartbreak, friendship fallouts, or work overload... What. Is. The. Point.

Wow. I just had to stop and think about one specific time that I asked this again and again. As an 18 year old at the end of high school. I remember walking through the halls feeling completely empty, completely uncertain whether there even was a point. That emptiness, my "intellectualism," my border-line atheism was the chain that held me at the start of college when the Lord found me and set me free. Though I have raised that question since then, what a joy it is to look back and think of the transformation and freedom of the Holy Spirit and that I never have to experience such emptiness ever again. Hallelujah.

I think why I feel so pulled to write specifically on this is because I have had several conversations with believers that make me wonder what they feel is the purpose of life. Certain way that decisions are made, motives are explained, and even the way that the Lord is talked about makes me think that many of us believers actually have different ideas to the point of it all. Statements have been thrown out like "good job, you are making a difference, and isn't that what it's all about?" or "it is all about God's plan for your life" or other things that I cannot remember but raised some internal alarms when heard. Well, are those things what its all about? I was not so sure. Often I think we talk the talk and walk the walk and yet never spend time with the Lord who should be making that talk and forming that walk. The greatest tragedy I think will be when acts that appear "righteous" will fill our lives so much so that we convince ourselves that this is what its all about, and yet we will one day meet God and He will say "I never knew you."

My heart aches thinking about such a tragedy.

For if it is true that this world is passing away, that we have nothing on our own to give, then what is the purpose of it all? I will never fully understand the Lord, the Creator of the Universe who crafted the speed of light and supernovas which are at such a scale that my mind cannot even comprehend. Yet as I walk with Him daily and by His grace are given more and more insight to His character it seems to me that we have twisted what its all about, have twisted it to focus on ourselves, on this present world, on everything but His Kingdom and Glory. But is that not what the Lord tells us it IS about? His glory - His Kingdom.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glorywhom I formed and made. Isaiah 43:6-7
So where do we fit in all of that? We see over and over that the Lord is a God of relationship and He desires relationship with His children. What a glorious truth that is. Though I can never love Him or honor Him or obey Him the way He is worthy to be loved and honored and obeyed - He says He delights in me still. When I came here I left everything- my job, my family, my home and everything that was familiar. Maybe it was through this emptying that it took me moving to inner-city East Belfast to see that the purpose of this life is simply to know and love God and through this to bring Him glory. How easy it is to complicate this truth. The world so easily distracts us from the amazing fact that we can have an immediate, personal, deep relationship with the God of the Universe who is loving and precious and full of overwhelming goodness!
Now this is eternal life—that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent. John 17:3
I do truly believe that the point of life is NOT to do good, to make a difference, to do work in excellence, to live in community, to minister, to be holy, to spread the Gospel. Hear me - all these things are good but I do not believe they are the sole or highest calling. Take any of these things away and you still have redemption from Christ; God's goodness still reigns. I can find God when I am not good, when I am not making much of a difference, when I am lazy, when I am alone, when I fail to be holy. I may not find victory in this world and yet I can rest knowing that there is victory in Jesus, that I will receive the reward of victory if not in this life than most definitely in the next. How? By knowing God.
And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. Romans 27:8
What an awesome freedom we have as children of God! How light our burden to know that when we have knowing and glorifying God as our focus and purpose we are released from the pressure of self-sufficiency or fear of not meeting others' expectations. If God is for us who can be against us? Better yet: when we place knowing and glorifying God as our first and foremost priority what do we find? We find that we are better able to do good. By His Spirit, He can use us to make a difference, to do our work in excellence, to fellowship with others, to be so eager to talk of our love and joy in Him that the Gospel comes out in conversation. Nothing is forced, nothing is done out of a false heart, nothing is done by our own strength or pride. All God, all by His Spirit, all by our relationship with a holy and active Father.

Lord how wonderful are your ways! May your praise be ever on my lips and your goodness always on my heart. Transform me God that your purposes will become my purpose, your ways my ways, your glory my holiness. That in all this life I might come to know You so you are glorified now and forever. Amen. 
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 27:38

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Is Doubt a Bad Thing?

Wow, yeah. So it has been quite a long time since I have written. There has been a good amount that has happened since my last blog and there were often times that I considered writing an update. I think my mind has just been so full with thoughts and life has been so messy in transition that I couldn't even bring myself to write.

I'll be honest - this time abroad has been extremely challenging for me. I actually want to apologize if I have made it appear to be nothing but grand, that "eurolife" is nothing but perfection with tea and biscuits, beautiful architecture, and pain au chocolat (though all those things are delightful!). I think it is pretty much built into social media to only portray the good in life, which I guess makes sense because how could you even picture hardship? (Minus the people that post facebook statuses angry at their boyfriends or prayer requests etc.) ANYWAY, I realized that I was portraying my life here as pure rainbows and butterflies when my friend messaged me about how it appeared that I was settling in wonderfully and enjoying Belfast etc. etc. in which I had to respond with the truth that actuallllly, I was having a really hard time.

So for those who want an update and for those who want a life lesson, luckily a life with the Lord almost always provides both. I am not 100% sure why this time around has been so difficult. I actually expected it to be a smooth transition, as Belfast is not as different from America as other places that I have lived. Yet I have been challenged and stretched here in ways that I did not anticipate. In reflection, I guess it maybe has to do with me coming here on my own whereas in the past I traveled with other Baylor students or interns or exchange students etc. The project I am working with is brand new so there are inevitable challenges and unknowns to the start-up of a new initiative. Then there's other miscellaneous hardships and all of this has inevitably allowed a lot of my insecurities and questions to surface.

Sometimes I just have to laugh at myself, remembering conversations before I left about how I was anticipating some loneliness at the beginning, prepared that it would surely be different than my expectations, and that I knew I would inevitably struggle some in transition. Yet here I am - faced with all of my premonitions and I'm crumbling! Oh how we can never be fully prepared on our own. I have said in the past and stand to this now, that in the midst of struggle we can either run from God or draw closer to God. The Lord is teaching me now though that even in times of doubt, in questioning, in crying out; even if we feel as though we are running from God, that God knows our heart and in the end His will is accomplished and He will draw us back to Him. We can never be far from the love of God.

So I took advantage of the Belfast Central Library and checked out John Pritchard's book "God Lost and Found." It has been such an encouraging book for me in the midst of personal darkness. I want to be vulnerable and honest with everyone that I felt my heart growing in frustration and was facing a lot of doubts in my faith AND through this I have learned that sometimes doubt is okay. I think at times believers can get uncomfortable by people who have questions, we much prefer just to agree with one another, quote a popular Scripture verse, throw out some Christian lingo, say "I'll pray for you," and boom...we move on. But I believe the Lord desires that we go deeper with Him, and to go deeper with Him sometimes we have to ask hard questions. Now, that doesn't mean we will always find the answers or even that we will experience peace, but I believe that as we continue searching, asking, seeking God that He will grow us in wisdom and ultimately will use us for His glory.

"A sense of being on a quest is part of this model of pilgrimage. 
We can never have the Christian faith caught in a jar and put on a shelf. 
It must remain an exploration until the end of our lives." 
- John Pritchard

Just as the Lord promises us abundance of life, Scripture also promises hardship within it. This can only mean that full abundance comes from both blessings and hardship. We are told to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith (2 Tim 4:7). Through suffering, God can create in us a new mental and emotional landscape. Sometimes, we have to be submerged before we can re-emerge with Him again. After all, was this not what Jesus himself had to do?

Just as Jesus cried out "My God, why have you forsaken me?" there will surely be times in our life as well that we face seasons of doubt. That is when our faith comes down to commitment. I felt so shaken when I would cry out to the Lord and would feel nothing in return. I felt like I was talking to the walls, uncertain whether God was even near. I wanted to feel His presence, I was praying that He would allow me to feel Him near. Anything God! A rushing sensation, a bird chirping, a quiet moment of peace...give  me something! But I got nothing. So if God promises that He IS near and He dwells right within me, then what's the deal? I realized though, that my desire for a physical reaction was reducing God to my expectation, as if God is here only to serve my spiritual need. I believe the modern-day church is guilty of an over-emphasis on this experience in worship, creating an atmosphere that advocates that its somehow better to have some mystical encounter with God than just to be in a simple room of believers singing as one, as if God should only appear in some magical way or through physical chills. The truth is though, that authentic experience of the Lord often comes in the mundane of daily life. In the smile of a child, in the display of a sunset, in the smell of the forest - as Creator he is immersed in all things. We can experience the glory of God in all that surrounds us if only we slow down and open our eyes to recognize it.

"It is often in places of fragility and vulnerability that our journey back to an awareness of God begins. When we have lost our spiritual bearings it may be that we should have recourse to some form of desert. When everything else is stripped away and it's just you, nature and God, nature may well respond and reveal the secrets of her Creator" - God Lost and Found 

In seasons of frustration and doubt our faith often comes down to obedience and commitment. Like a relationship that has passed the honeymoon stage, the newlywed bliss, the newfound love of young parenthood, there reaches a season when love is simply love because you are committed to that person. It is not always Cloud 9, a butterfly in your stomach, or giddiness in your cheeks - it is a commitment of a different kind of depth and beautiful in its own sense. A unique intimacy undervalued by our society which is more taken by the thrills and the frills. Just like Jesus asked his three closest friends to "remain here, and stay awake with me" (Matt 26:38); He asks us to do the same. It may not be the popular thing, but our task is to stay, whether we feel His presence or not.

"The doubt of the believer is like the roots of a tree searching down into the depths of the earth, going in entirely the opposite direction to that of the tree. But only because those roots are deep is the tree secure from the blasts of winter. Shallow roots would be ripped up. The deep roots of doubt, going apparently in the opposite direction to faith, are actually a guarantee against immaturity and the premature shipwreck of faith. To have entered the zone of dark doubt is to have had to face the demons, the negative arguments, the wondering 'if this was all folly,' and to have found an accommodation, a way of staying in there." - John Pritchard

The older I get, the more experiences I have, the greater the tests and challenges I face, I realize that there are many things in life that cannot be captured or certain. Many things take time for reflecting, discussing, leaving for awhile, deepening, etc. I like to have things figured out, but I'm finding that this is not God's design. God's design is that we must come to him for our daily bread, always coming, always trusting, committing our lives to a never-ending relationship with God. How refreshing it is to praise a Saviour who cannot be figured out, who is not so small to fit into my logical mind, to be plugged into a formula, or to be reduced to one simple answer. The complexity, vastness, wonder of God is the very thing that keeps me coming back day by day. The more I learn the more I love, the more I hurt the more I depend, the more I thirst the more I am filled and I commit to new teachings every day. It is a wonderful life, though not vacant of hardships.

One of me and Mikael's favorite hymns to sing together is Day by Day,
and the words are always an encouragement to me:
"Day by day, and with each passing moment, 
Strength I find to meet my trials here, 
Trusting in my Father's wise bestowment, 
I've no cause for worry or for fear. 
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure, 
Gives unto each day what He deems best. 
Loveingly it's part of pain and pleasure, 
Mingling toil with peace and rest"

I encourage you to embrace a life like this. Not of stale faith, one that simply places a label over a life but has no implication on how you live or how you think or how you feel. Not of black and white faith that claims to know the truth of every word of the Bible, as if we can ever fully know what God's intent was behind this or that. Not of surface level faith that only follows the crowd at church or the words of the pastor but never seeks to personally know more about the Lord in one's own life, never allows the Spirit in, never surrenders to a personal journey towards wisdom and Christ-likeness. And hear me out - I'm not making doubt some kind of virtue or desiring that you indulge in questioning, but simply that you should not fear going there, not fear going deeper with a God who calls us to follow Him into the depths.

"Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt and even at times without despair, 
believe only in the idea of God, not in God himself."
 - Miguel de Unamuno 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you" Psalm 39:7

I write this with a sad and heavy heart at the end of my last day here at the CooperRiis farm. This interim project in North Carolina was challenging in ways that I would have never anticipated. It is truly fascinating what you learn about yourself when you live and work in the same place. You realize your own selfishness when you face the challenge of serving people 24/7. Extend that to serving those who do not always want to be served or loved, and who face deep mental is just not easy. I walk away from this time having grown tremendously in flexibility and adaptability. In my role, I was pushed to be a chameleon and I grew a lot because of it. 

One of my biggest challenges at CooperRiis has been learning how to stand for Christ in an organization that is not faith-based. As a ministry student it was quite easy to talk about the Lord in conversation, in relationship, in many aspects of daily life. Throughout my summers, I often worked in a faith-based organization or got plugged into some kind of faith-based mission work. This was the first time that I was led to serve missionally in a secular organization. Moreover, a therapeutic community which tends to acknowledge Eastern beliefs and shy away from Christianity. I have noticed that conversations involving faith are extremely sensitive and can easily arouse some kind of controversy. There seems to be a lot of hurt and resentment towards the church. With this reality, I have learned just how difficult it can be to stand for Christ in a society that categorizes you as "religious" and ties jaded philosophies and stereotypes to that label. 

"They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator...Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them" Romans 1: 25, 32

While I had some experience with opposition in the past, I started over-thinking my approach. Just how could I maintain boundaries, remain respectful, not come off as condemning; while still bringing glory to the Lord in all of my work and still stand for truth? I am a pretty vocal person, so as time went on and I fell more quiet in an attempt to respect boundaries, I started to get frustrated with myself. I was frustrated by this pluralistic mentality that I seemed to constantly face. "You believe what you believe, and I'll believe what I believe and all will be fine." But no! That is not fine with me - because if I truly loved those around me then I would not just sit back and watch as they walk towards the edge of a jagged cliff. If I am filled to the brim with joy and life I cannot just keep quiet as though it does not exist. Just like when someone is in love and they seem to take every opportunity to bring up that person ("The sky is so blue today" "My boyfriend's favorite color is blue..."), I love to bring up Jesus and to see and acknowledge how the Lord is undeniably in nature, in people, and in situations. 

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse" Romans 1:20

I remember a conversation I had within the first few weeks of being at CooperRiis. I was cleaning the dining room with another intern and he started talking about his perspective on our community. "But I would do things a little differently. What is healing without the saving power of Jesus?" I was profoundly impacted by this statement. Without the hope of the Cross what hope do any of us have on our own? I feel a sting deep in my heart when I talk to residents about their dreams and their vision for the future. Residents and many others in this world are completely uncertain of their purpose in life. Their dreams and goals extend only to what the world can offer - money, career, relationships - all things that can come crashing down and leave people feeling hopeless. Oh if only more would take hold of the freedom that is offered in Christ! Freedom which raises life from death and allows those who are lost to be found. 

"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy." Psalm 103:2-4

As time went on, I continued to struggle with this issue. It probably did not help that I was also reading through Acts about the boldness and courage of disciples who spread the Good News; who even in the face of rejection simply brushed off their sandals and continued. And here I was, feeling so paralyzed by the dynamic of the therapeutic community I was in - unable to find a balance of my desire to be respectful and loving but still confident in faith. While I processed this internal battle and prayed for direction, I realized my desire for control seeping in. I was trying to find some formula rather than trusting the Spirit to guide me in every situation. The Lord may open opportunities for us to speak up, but there are also times that the Spirit will lead us to be still, to be silent. There are times that we would be more of a barrier to the Gospel if we were to speak up, then if we simply met each person where they were and loved them with no condition. I must remember that it is not my responsibility to save the world for that has already been done. I am simply a vessel for God's Kingdom. His plan will be accomplished with or without me. He can use me only when I surrender to His leading. I am not to evaluate my effectiveness but am to trust that the Lord will grow seeds that are sown according to His purpose. 

"But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, 'You are my God.'" Psalm 31:14

I leave here knowing that many still walk in darkness. As I stared out my window this morning, tears poured out for each of the lives here on the farm. For those who know me, you know I am not the most emotional person - and when I do cry it is usually something related to myself: I'm in pain, someone broke my heart, or I am frustrated with myself. This time, my tears were tears of genuine sorrow (not pity) out of love for each resident - wanting them so badly to find hope in Jesus and escape the shadow of death. How I pray that they do not just find healing in self-realization, or a career goal, or whatever else - but that they would find real life in Christ. I have never felt such a profound desire for others' salvation. I have never felt so genuinely desperate that people who are lost be found. Yet I have to trust that the Lord is above me, He is working out His plan for the glory of His Name, and He will open eyes to the truth and grant life to those who accept it. In every place I go I will face those who will reject this gift that is offered to them. At the end of the day, all I can do is love God with all my heart and all my soul and all my mind and trust that He will use me as a vessel to live out the Good News in love, for others and for His Kingdom. 

"He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." Psalm 23:3

"Everything from Jesus' parables, to his healings, to his controversies, to his warnings and all of that, the reason they were telling this stuff is not just that it was good advice for them in their own day but that it actually mattered, that it actually happened. And if it hadn't happened you're into a totally different world-view.. A world-view which is about ideas, which is about self-realization, hugely popular in our culture just now, 'discovering who I really am.' For goodness sake, Jesus didn't come to help me discover who I really am. He came to tell me who he knew I really was and to do something about it - And that's much better news" 
- N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, The Case for Christ

Friday, May 23, 2014

So You Graduated

"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." 1 Timothy 4:12

Oh graduation! Such a beautiful time of celebration: senior pictures, graduation parties, and sad good-bye songs. The grand finale of 12+ years of school. You have crossed the finish line and been handed that hard-earned diploma.

It is hard to imagine that it has already been a year since I graduated, since I stepped across that imaginary line into the “real world.” It seems to have flown by and yet when I look back a year ago today I see that a lot has happened and I have learned a great deal.

This time is such a pivotal time in life. The year after college is hard for a lot of reasons, some of which were a surprise to me. This precious time can be a time to draw near and intimate with the Lord, but it can also be a vulnerable time that leads people astray. So, I thought I might share some things that I learned within my first year of this “real world.”

1. I desire community. My entire life up until graduation, community has pretty much been handed to me on a silver platter. As students, we are surrounded by community. We are in classes with people around the same age, with similar life struggles, and who often come from the same socio-economic class and culture as we do. Boom. Friendship.

…Then you get out into the real world. You move for a job or a friend or a boyfriend or an adventure. Suddenly, you find yourself in a big pool of people who are all different ages, in different life stages, have different beliefs, and different priorities. You quickly find that it is not as easy to build community as it was freshman year of college when you literally became friends with someone after 5 minutes. The reality is that the people around you may not be looking or even wanting your friendship. They will probably already have their friends, their family, and their hobbies that take up more of their time than they even have. So you come in excited to build relationship and are met with rejection or apathy. You go to work, come home, and want to explore your new life but not necessarily on your own. So you hop on Facebook and you stare at the faces of everyone else that seem to live perfect, happy lives surrounded by tons of friends. As the loneliness comes over you all you think is “man, I miss college.” This will happen, and that’s okay.

Loneliness is something that can make or break you. In Scripture, we are told that as believers we are guaranteed times of loneliness. ("I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation." Jeremiah 15:17) We should anticipate it, because unfortunately while many may believe in God or claim some form of spirituality – majority do not have a personal relationship with the Lord. It can be difficult to find other authentic believers to befriend. Yet the Lord can use times of loneliness to draw us further into intimacy with Him. What a sweet, sweet time it is to rely less on the church or other believers for our faith and to draw deeper and deeper in dependence on God. On the other hand, this desire for community may lead some to seek it where they can find it – and that usually means settling for friends who may not be believers, going out and doing what the world says you should do in your 20s, and following a path that leads to a lot of emptiness and probably eventually…further loneliness.

Take the time to seek community in healthy, Christ-filled relationships if at all possible. Yet be aware that it is going to take time and when you face the loneliness that is sure to come allow the Lord to find you in that place and fill you with His living water. I promise nothing compares.

"Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'" Lamentations 3:22-24

2. I am a breed of the “adventure” culture. I have noticed something about our generation. Many of us are beginning to rebel from the societal ideal that tells us to get a job, open a 401k, get married, settle in the suburbs, and retire at a ripe old age of 65. More and more, I see people getting out and taking the time to travel, go on adventures, and experience other cultures. Now, I do not think there is anything inherently wrong with any of these things. In fact, I am excited to see how our culture will grow as our generation develops eyes which are widened to the outside world. The motive is what I fear. The idea that “God is adventure” or “I must do big things for God!” The desire to seek these things just as a way to oppose the system; and say “Ha! Take that society!”

What I have learned is that the Lord is present in both the big and the small. I am no more righteous if I serve with an indigenous tribe than if I serve my family in our suburban home. There are many ways that the Lord can use us for His glory – one way is no better than the other. Some of my greatest Jesus moments this past year have been in simple daily tasks; a conversation with a stranger while getting lost; scrubbing a toilet alongside a resident; singing hymns in my car; taking in the stillness of each morning. The Lord is in every experience if I allow Him to be, if I acknowledge Him and ask Him to walk with me through each day. 

So I want to apologize for the times that I have emphasized adventure or huge events to be the biggest moments of glory in my life. The truth is - I experience glory in the small details of every day. Maybe I do not talk about that very much because well…it might be boring to hear about those things. But I want to be careful not to neglect the truth of the simple joy that comes from being a child of God each and every day, no matter how exciting or mundane that day may be. You do not have to go on an adventurous safari trek in Africa or an Amazonian mission trip to find the Lord – He is there, within you, and every day is an adventure when you get to follow and surrender to a mighty and incredible God.

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" 
Colossians 3:23

3. I do not have it all figured out and I do not want to. I am a girl and I like timelines. I like to have things planned and know what is coming. This also means that I often fall prey to a waiting game. I get so excited for whatever step is next that I fail to live fully on the very step that I am actually on. Life can easily become a never-ending waiting game. By my last semester, I was so ready for graduation that I was pretty much zombie-mode those last few weeks of waiting. When I graduated, I was so excited to move to Indiana. When I was nearing the end of my time in Indiana, I was just ready to be back in Texas. When I was back in Texas, I was just excited to start my first job. Then comes waiting anxiously for marriage and kids and on and on and on I go. That mentality was exhausting! 

All the big moments and transitions of life are great, and I love how the Lord has placed everything in its own timing. He prepares us for every stage in our life, and when we are ready to move to the next we will know because He will guide us there. Yet again and again I try to take my timeline into my own hands, under my control. I do not think the blame is all on me though. As a college grad, be prepared for that golden question “So what is your plan now?” My new favorite answer is “My plan is to have no plan.” I love taking the opportunity to share about my desire to grow in my trust of the Lord. Yes, I still have my responsibility to work hard, to steward the resources God provides for me, and to be wise in decisions. However for me it is very natural to over-plan, but it is not so natural to let go and trust. So that is where my focus is: to trust the Lord, to surrender, to let go of my plans and follow His will.

"But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations." Psalm 33:11

There is sad news though, unfortunately the Lord will not just lay out His plan for you so that you can anticipate all that will happen in your life. He is not going to tell you what age you will marry, or when He will open that job opportunity for you or even what is coming in the next season of your life. It is frustrating, it is hard; yet it is also beautiful how the Lord would set it up in such a way that requires us to come to Him daily. He provides just enough for our daily bread. I come to Him daily and every day fall more in love and more in faith. He teaches me how to have peace in the unknown, confidence in the future, and fullness in the present. His daily fellowship is fully satisfying and I want nothing more than to soak in it and enjoy it and love others because of it; plan or no plan. 

It is still definitely a process that the Lord is teaching me – and I do not claim to not have my to-do lists or ideals, because I do. Yet I choose to focus on slowly letting go of the control I still claim over my life and allowing God to take it all. So while society, friends and family, and even your own mind will encourage you towards a 5-year plan; be prepared to be flexible, anticipate change, pray for a heart of boldness and obedience for when that change comes; take one day at a time; and enjoy it. 

Congrats graduates!