Friday, December 19, 2008

From "Streams in the Desert"

I would LOVE to say that I wrote this, for I have in fact had these very thoughts. However, someone beat me to the keyboard, and penned them first. It is my heart all the same.

“This will result in your being a witness to them.” Luke 21:13

Life is a steep climb, and it is always encouraging to have those ahead of us “call back” and cheerfully summon us to higher ground. We call climb together, so we should help one another. The mountain climbing of life is serious, but glorious business; it takes strength and steadiness to reach the summit. And as our view becomes better as we gain altitude, and as we discover things of importance, we should “call back” our encouragement to others.

If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back—
It will cheer your heart and help my feet along the stony track;
And if, perhaps, Faith’s light is dim, because the oil is low,
Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.

Call back, and tell me that He went with you into the storm;
Call back, and say He kept you when the forest’s roots were torn;
That, when the heavens thunder and the earthquake shook the hill,
He bore you up and held you where the lofty air was still.

O friend, call back, and tell me for I cannot see your face;
They say it glows with triumph, and your feet sprint in the race;
But there are mists between us and my spirit eyes are dim,
And I cannot see the glory, though I long for word of Him.

But if you’ll say He hears you when your prayer was but a cry,
And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky—
If you have gone a little way ahead, O friend, call back—
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.

I have gone back and forth on the argument that we were "created for fellowship." I am highly skeptical that the God of the Universe, who is perfect in and of Himself, got lonely one day and said "I'll create humans to keep my company." However, once He saw that Adam was insufficient by himself, it is clear to see that Gos did create another, woman, for fellowship.

I have never been one to enjoy solitude. I don't like being by myself. It's quiet. Still. And often, disconcerting. (It is only disconcerting at night because.... I am still afraid of the dark.) I have found that it can often feel the same in some places and seasons of our spiritual journey.

It has been in the valleys, those desert trudges, that the only solace and comfort I found often lay in the testimony of another who had walked where I then sat. If it were not for fellowship in those times of intense and almost paralyzing loneliness; if it were not for the insight and perspective of someone who had forged the same trail and come out on the other side alive, my doubt, my fear, guilt and shame, I believe, might have overtaken me. In the same way that weary wanderers see mirages and hallucinate in the desert, I took began to see false images and believe the lies of the enemy.

But praise the LORD! I was never alone. In fact, I was surrounded by friends and even family that had seen such darkness; experienced such seasons. But it is only because of this that comfort and encouragement could be had: Confession. It is only when, in desperate humility, one allows their prideful walls to fall and exposes their weakness that strengthening can come.

Ironic, isn't it. It is a beautiful mystery that absolutely captivates me. I wonder what the Church could be, what the Bride of Christ would look like, if we simply let our hair down and openly admitted to our stuggles. I have a feeling that a radiant beauty would emerge that would penetrate every heart and every mind, unbeliever and saved alike. Because at the end of the day, if the unbeliever doesn't confess and the believer doesn't confess... what difference can we possibly make?

Matt Chandler, the head pastor at the Village Church in Dallas, says it this way: "It's ok to not be ok." The first time I heard that, I felt as though he were speaking to me (via podcast). I felt a freedom, liberation, and peace that I had not known before that time.

The second part of that statement says this: "But it's not ok to stay there." We won't stay there, if we know that someone else overcame.

So if you're ok. Great.
If you're not ok. Great.
Whichever you are, keep walking forward, but call back.

Friday, December 12, 2008

TOMS Shoes Video

Hey Y'all!
I don't know how many of you have heard about TOMS Shoes, but it is an awesome organization. Below is a link to their website where you can learn more about what they do and how they do it. Most of all, I want you to watch the video that will appear on your screen when click the link below.

Friday, December 5, 2008

To love...or not to love.

So, all my friends keep getting engaged. And married. No babies on the way that I know of… yet. While I am genuinely happy and excited for them, I can’t help but be slightly overwhelmed by the whole idea. Marriage, last time I checked, was a life-long commitment and thus a fairly LARGE decision that promises to change your life forever, for better or for worse. There are aspects of it that sound appealing, but to be perfectly honest, it scares the living day-lights out of me.

I don’t know if it stems from a fear of commitment or a fear of being hurt. Perhaps a combination of the two. But it’s the latter that really gets my panties in a wad.

You know the saying “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”? I don’t know that I agree with that. I am fully aware that this makes me sound a bit bitter and cynical, but I am truly trying to come from strictly “romantical” sense of the phrase. (I am also fully aware that romantical is not a word… I don’t care.)

Is it better to have loved someone so whole-heartedly and lose them, than to remain fully intact? Have you ever seen or spoken to someone after a break-up? They are devastated. They render themselves ruined. They lose appetites. They lose interest. They lose focus. They lose themselves.

They are wounded, defensive, and often times embittered. They become hard. They become calloused. Or, they become desperate. And they run to anything and anyone for attention and the shallow allusion of love.

I understand that, to a certain degree, this is a stereotype. So, let’s say that the previously described, hypothetical person does not exist. Let’s assume there is another person having experienced the same loss.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity and misery, they look at each relationship as a “learning experience.” They take from each person lessons that they learned and were able to grow from. Each person with whom they shared themselves and conversely took from, they used as an opportunity for development, knowledge, and understanding.

Does that sound romantic? It is a more tolerable and less emotionally taxing way to deal with the losses, to be sure. But, how long will that last? How long can one say to themselves “Our time spent together was productive in that I now am/can/have ______.”

How long can you share such experiences, such moments in your life with so many people before you realize… you would have preferred the consistency, comradery, fellowship and faithfulness of just one?

Do you not leave a part of yourself behind with each person? Do you not have less uncharted territory of your soul to offer? Is there less of you that has not been seen and shared with someone than not? Is it crazy of me to want to reserve, hide, and protect places of my heart and crevices of my soul for only one person? Because when push comes to shove and someone up and walks away, taking the intangible pieces of your heart with them… what do you do? How to respond?

Do those elements of your being that you so freely gave away grow back? Or is it that they never left but are simply bruised, losing the radiance of their former untapped glory?

On a highly personal note, I don’t think that I, Meredith, have the gumption for such transitions because of my innate and unrelenting attachment that subconsciously and viciously develops over a short period of time. I am someone who, through no understanding of my own, has the ability to grow emotionally and sentimentally attached to strangers, much more my friends or a man that I may be interested in.

And this is something that is very hard to deal with. Something that complicates, for me internally, the whole idea of relationships is my seemingly uncontrollable attachment. It is one thing to be unaware of your weakness until after the fact, but it is entirely different to be SO aware of it, knowing that it is inevitable. This foreknowledge creates fear and trepidation.

I know that, in an earlier post, I committed to ignoring such fears and taking the dive because it would be worth it. Turns out, that’s easier said than done.

I’d love some opinions on the matter. I would love to be proved wrong.

5 Favorite Things

Alright, I have been tagged by my lovely cousin Katrina (lovingly called "Trina") to list my five favotite things. For your reading pleasure:
1. Jesus- not a "thing" but my Savior and my only true satisfaction on this earth.
2. My friends and family- fellowship with them is my favorite way to spend my time
3. Cooking.. and then eating what I cook
4. Music
5. Coffee
6. Pedicures
7. Movies
8. Nature
9. Working out
10. Bubble baths with candles, Michael Buble in the background, and a good book.

I am fully aware that this is more than 5 things. But here's the thing: I have more than just five favorite things and this is MY blog and I can write whatever I want. I can break the rules on MY blog because on MY blog there are no rules. Yeah... so there.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

From "Streams in the Desert"

He went up on a mountainside by Himself. ~Matthew 14:23

One of the blessings of the old-time Sabbath day was the calmness, restfulness, and holy peace that came from having a time of quiet solitude away from the world. There is a special strength that is born in solitude. Crows travel in flocks, and wolves travel in packs, but the lion and the eagle are usually found alone.

Strength is found not in busyness and noise but in quietness. For a lake to reflect the heavens on its surface, it must be calm. Our Lord loved the people who flocked to Him, but there are numerous accounts in Scripture of His going away from them for a brief period of time. On occasion He would withdraw from the crowd and quite often would spend His evenings alone in the hills. Most of His ministry was performed in the towns and cities by the seashore, but He loved the hills more and at night-fall would frequently seclude Himself in their peaceful heights.

The one thing we need today more than anything else is to spend time alone with our Lord, sitting at His feet in the sacred privacy of His blessed presence. Oh, how we need to reclaim the lost art of meditation. Oh how we need "the secret place as part of our lifestyle!" Oh, how we need that power that comes from waiting upon God!

It is good to live in the valley sweet,
Where the work of the world is done;
Where the reapers sing in the fields of wheat,
And work till the setting sun.
But beyond the meadows, the hills I see
Where the noises of traffic cease,
And I follow a Voice who calls out to me
From the hilltop regions of peace.
Yes, to live is sweet in the valley fair,
And work till the setting sun;
But my spirit yearns for the hilltop air
When the days its' work are done.
For a presence breaths o'er the silent hills
And its sweetness is living yet;
The same deep calm all the hillside fills
As breathed Olivet.

Every life that desires to be strong must have its "Most Holy Place" into which only God enters.
~Ex. 26:33

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Convicting Challenge

Due to my impressive lack of blogging/technological know-how... you will need to copy and paste the link in order to watch the video that I would have liked to have posted directly into the blog. Anyone who knows how to do such things, should leave me a comment with easy to follow instructions.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Peaks & Valleys

We have all had them. Mountain-top moments. Times and seasons in your spiritual journey that are drunk with the presence of God. The Word is alive, beating, breathing, and bleeding the power, love, and truth of the gospel over your soul. Your life’s meaning becomes crystal clear.

Colors are brighter; fragrances more potent and alluring, nature is suddenly singing “Holy! Holy! Holy!” Fellowship is sweet, encouraging, and fruitful. Relationships bloom with the beauty of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Everything; all aspects of your life are completely and utterly in perfect unity.

Then, out of nowhere, and for some unexplainable and unapparent reason… it all ends. Abrupt. Unwarranted.

Suddenly, sunrises are no longer welcomed. Silence is preferred over singing. Being alone is more comfortable than being in the company of friends. Joy seems a distant memory. And despite all your efforts; you can’t reason your way out of it.

At least, that is the way it happened to me.

Senior year of college is somewhat of a blur, for multiple reasons. For starters, it went by much too quickly. The fact that it is over is baffling to me. Secondly, fall semester and spring semester were spiritually polar-opposites.

Fall semester was the mountain-top experience I described earlier. Everyday was bright whether the sun was out or not. Every time I opened my Bible it was as if God transcended the heavens to come and sit next to me, translating every word into a language that spoke with passion and purity to my heart. The semester flew by, easily and with little or no stress. Only bliss. Only happiness. Only fun.

Then something happened over Christmas break. I literally woke up one morning and realized… I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Worse still, I didn’t know who I was. I had an identity crisis.

The entire spring semester, right up until graduation day, was a long, fierce battle for my sanity. I felt my faith deteriorate at the speed of light. Questions that I had never asked before suddenly drowned me. People I had criticized in the past for their lack of understanding, I suddenly identified with.

To say that I “struggled” merely scratches the surface. I was overwhelmed to a point of confusion and sorrow that I had only heard about. I was distraught and anguish burned within me… I felt completely alone. Deserted. Forgotten.

How could what I had and who I thought I was disappear? Had I tricked myself into believing I was someone that I had never been? How could I have grown so disillusioned with reality? How could I become so desensitized to my spiritual state of being?

Looking back at what, thus far, has been one of the most stretching experiences of my faith walk yet, I can not help but smile. Perspective will do that; because I can see now what I could not then.

The lessons I learned I don’t plan on forgetting.

Lesson One: Turning to others will not get you anywhere.
I am a highly relational person. Being able to confide in and identify with someone, on some level, it critical to me. It should not be a surprise to you then that during this season, I felt as if I could not talk to anyone. How could I? I didn’t know what was wrong; I couldn’t explain my own feelings because they seemed to have no source. Who in their right mind could relate?

Lesson Two: Sometimes God doesn’t speak.
This was the hardest lesson by far. I came to find that there are some things that He is able to teach us that don’t need words. This too went against all my natural inclinations. How was I able to stay close to a God that wasn’t responding to my prayers? How could I follow after a God that wouldn’t allow me to hear His voice?

Lesson Three: He is faithful.
Such a simple statement. It seems to say so little, but it encompasses so much. In the midst of every emotion; at the end of every question…there He was. Steady. Stable. Sovereign.

When I finally felt myself give up; when I finally decided to accept that this Walk was not going to be easy and conceded failure, I suddenly felt completely enveloped in grace and cloaked in comfort. I felt life breathed into me again.

I had to learn to walk again. I had to learn to let go and trust that when I lost my balance, He would catch me. So, with every new step, He spoke to me what each struggle was, why He allowed it, and how He would use it for my good and His glory. Everything I felt and fought was purposed. Go figure.

I was never lost. I was never alone.

So bring on the peaks. I like to climb.

Bring on the valleys. I’ve learned to crawl.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Look at the clouds! They’re so beautiful!

This is not just a statement. The above title is actually an excerpt from a song I wrote when I was… ready? Three years old.

The following lines went something like this:
You can see Shamoo! And all the dolphins!

Prodigy child… I know.

Despite my severe lack of musical gifting, that song came to mind the other day while I was driving to work at sunrise. I have seen sunrises all over the world, quite literally. I have been blessed with ample opportunities to travel extensively, but I have yet to find a place that has the consistency of breathtaking sunrises as much as Colorado.

Something dawned on me (yes I know, cheesy, but that’s how I role) when I was watching the sun explode over the horizon and light up Pike’s Peak like the fourth of July.

One of the (big) reasons that sunrises, and sunsets for that matter, are so spectacular is because of the clouds that are often in the way. I don’t know the exact science behind the chemical and biological makeup of clouds; how they are formed; what makes them disintegrate; what makes them big and bubbly or what makes them think and wispy.

All I know is that were it not for their apparent obscurity, we may give little or no notice to the power and majesty of the sun. We may not recognize the radiance and brilliance of the sun’s luminosity if it did not have something to shine on or shine through.

Consider with me if you will: as 6th graders we are told numerous times, “Don’t look directly at the sun.” Why? It’s more than our human eyes can behold. If we were to stare at the sun, our retinas would all be but singed. Our sight would be compromised. Our vision would become blurred and distorted. It is simply too much for us to absorb.

But, through lenses of clouds, that which is damaging about the sun is filtered and what remains is that which is intoxicating. Colors that can not be replicated. Patterns that can not be imitated. Scenes of seemingly endless expanses of skies that intoxicate the soul, romance the mind, and whisper to the heart of an artist that has been inspired by his passion and desire for his love. He creates such scenes as a way of describing the splendor and beauty of her; his bride. Words scarcely do her justice and no picture could capture all that lies within her heart that has hypnotized him.

I am a hopeless romantic…. Hopeless.

There is another way of looking at the same sky. This is way is a little less whimsical but to me, just as radiant and lovely.

As I stated earlier, clouds are obscurities. They are molecular occurrences that detract from a blemish free blue vastness. It is for this reason that many people complain when they appear. “It is cloudy out,” It is overcast today.”

I wonder if clouds are not more than just puffy pillows that float aimlessly. I wonder if perhaps, clouds are meant to reveal, literally and metaphorically, mysteries about the nature, character, and love of God. Could it be that we dismiss them too quickly as being purposeless accidents of high and low pressure systems?

What if, instead of being instigators of shade vs. sunshine, they were in fact the providers of promise? Stick with me…

A verse that has become as real to me as my slightly burnt tongue (thanks to my tea) is found in Romans 8:28 which says “He works all things together for good to those who love Him.”

What if clouds are those things in our lives that for a time obstruct our view of God? What if they are those things that seem to block out the sun altogether? What if they are those things that bring more shade than sunshine?

Ok, one more step before we reach the top…

If that’s the case, look back at where we have come from. Clouds were those things that we first stated are instruments used to glorify God, radiate His splendor, and magnify His power. So, if that is the case, wouldn’t the clouds in our lives result in the same beauty once the sun comes out? Will they not also become illuminated with the same essence? They too will glow in hughes that defy description.

So perhaps the next time you see sunrise or sunset, think of that thing in your life that seems to be eclipsing the sun and remember that, in God’s sovereignty, when the time is right, He will shed His light through it and good will flow fourth.

I wonder if this made any sense to anyone?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Poet Poser

The gentles breeze ruffles my hair
The fragrance of nature is subtle
Rays of light slip in and out of clouds
Warming my cheek like a kiss
Lying on a blanket of cool grass
I float between dreams and reality
Eyes closed, the melody of singing birds
Stills my soul
I feel you close, by my side
But I awake and am alone
For that brief, sweet moment
My rest was complete
Discontented yet again
I rise to start the journey over
I’m learning that those stops
However frequent or short
May be meant to teach and change me
But the sting? The open wound?
Will there be a time when, at the stop, on the mountain top
I will have a companion for the journey down?
Perhaps, but if not
I will simply walk faster
If I be alone, I’ll run with total abandon.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Hard Heart No More

I rediscovered something about myself recently that I already knew। In fact, I have known for a while.
It’s one of those things that I won’t deny। I can’t. It’s too obvious.
I’m guarded.

Not guarded as in shy or reserved. In fact, most people would say I’m the opposite of shy; loud (unintentionally), outgoing, and boisterous at times.

But, like the shy person, I have developed ways in which to hide my insecurities. I guess everyone has.

My lovely mother pointed this out to me yesterday. On the one hand, I appreciate the fact that she spoke truth into me. Of course, I was immediately defensive and offended. “I have my reasons,” I thought to myself.

On the other hand, who likes to have their flaws pointed out? Who wants to deal with their baggage?

Then I heard the Lord ask “Why do you want to carry your baggage around?”

My deeply intelligent and oh-so-holy response: Because I’m comfortable with it; I can control it. And I can use it an excuse; a defense mechanism of sorts to ward off potential threats of… *fill in the blank*.

Picture with me if you will someone unknowingly digging themselves into a deep hole. That’s me. Moving on.

A girl from college once told me “Meredith, be careful you don’t guard your heart so much that you make it hard.”

I think I’m closer than I ever meant to get. And I’m not sure how I got there. So, instead of trying to pick apart my past, I’ve decided that I want to move forward with my future.

So I’m starting with prayer. A lot of prayer. Asking the Lord to soften my heart. That in and of itself is a harder prayer than I though it would be.

The one thing that I have noticed about being guarded is how scared I am. And I am tired of being scared. Because once I get over one thing, something else comes up.

Change, vulnerability, and the like are persistent things and I have run out of places to hide.

So, with fear still intact but with the decision to ignore it, I’m going to go out on a limb and do new things, trust more people, and try not to live out of my planner.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Flattering Morning

I woke up refreshed this morning. It’s amazing the difference a good night’s rest will make.

I was out of coffee this morning which gave me the perfect excuse to go to Starbucks and get a “grande, sugar free hazelnut, no-room-but-a-dash-of-soy-milk, Americano.”

I got to the office at 6:55, chatted with our lovely receptionist and then headed up to the fourth floor of our Global Ministry Center (a.k.a. world headquarters).

The lights were off, cubes were quiet, and I was contently sipping my coffee as I checked my personal email accounts.

As I opened my school account, I came across an email from Liberty University.
We at the Liberty Journal have heard that you’ve been working at Compassion International. We feature many alumni stories and are very interested to hear yours. If you are interested, send me an email back about what you are doing now and what your job at Compassion International encompasses.

I could hardly believe it. It could be that I was a lucky draw for a hat of recently graduated names. But this is the second email that I have received from Liberty stating that they have heard about what I am doing here at Compassion.

My first email came from Johhnie Moore, one of our campus pastors. He personally wrote to tell me that he had heard about me and what I was doing and wanted me to know that he was “proud of me.”

The Lord has an incredible and mysterious way of letting us know that He sees us where we are and hears us when we call. More than that, He knows when we need a little encouragement; a sign or word of affirmation that what we are doing is in fact what He wants us doing.

Our God is an intimate God. He’s more than caring; He concerned. He’s enthralled by us.
He pursues us. This is the most precious truth to me right now.

I am wanted. I am desired. I am seen as a treasure being sought after, fought for, and defended.

I am made worthy because He sees me that way. I have done nothing to deserve it and I am freed from earning it. I have been blessed with the gift of value and significance because He said so.

It’s a beautiful day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Music of the Heart

For those of you who know me at all, you know that I have an affinity for music. Not because I sing well or know how to play an instrument, although I wish I did. No, I take pleasure in music because of the way that I come to identify with it.

Perhaps I am even misleading in this. I identify and take pleasure in the word-pictures that are sung to a moving melody. The confessions, metaphors, and lyrics that are gently said, nearly whispered, in harmony and to the rhythm of an acoustic guitar or piano. There is something indescribably pure and innocent about music that I find solace in.

There are a handful of specific artists that seem to sing my life song. Songs that sing of enraptured joys, struggles, triumphs, the pains of growth and refinement, and the hope of plans yet to be realized.

Songs seem to be the conversations never had; feelings never expressed and therefore never understood. Instead of digging up the assortment of various past experiences, songs are the allusions but the not admissions of reality. Personal triumphs and tragedies. Loves had and loves lost. Moments of clarity and spiritual freedom followed by intense confusion and imprisonment to darker truths.

So why the seemingly unnecessary breakdown of songs?

Because it is the most intimate and lovely way of coming to the realization that we are not alone. Whatever we have faced in the past, are in the midst of now, or will soon come to terms with, chances are someone else has been there. There is someone, not physically but emotionally connected with us in that moment; in that place. Our thoughts, feelings, fears, and hopes are met by the company of strangers.

Strangers that soon become confidants because, without saying it, they encapsulate what we are unable to communicate. They identify. Through the notes they choose to pin and the tones they choose to sing, they echo the emotions that lack description. They give substance to the intangible.

Not only is it an incredible talent, but it is a priceless gift for those who receive.

So that is why music is something of a treasure to me. It is that elusive, formless, and beautiful thing that brings the knowledge of being understood and heard.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cliché, but true.

“You can’t out-give God.” We have all heard it. Every pastor says it during the part of the service when they take up tithes and offerings. It a trademark line; a way of convicting (or convincing you) that if you give to the Lord, He will give back to you.

For the longest time, before I actually started tithing, I thought it was “scammy;” a little on the disingenuous side.

And it bugged me.

“How can they say that? How do they know that the Lord will give back?”

Come to find out, my naivety was based on inexperience. Having started to work (for a living) this summer I decided to tithe, predominantly out of obligation and Biblical mandate, not because I wanted to. I also thought it would be a good way to test the theory.

*It should be noted that I don’t recommend this attitude. I’m simply being honest about where I was/am.

The first Sunday that I gave was particularly hard. With financial independence being only a few weeks old, I had suddenly and brutally realized the true value of money; how hard you had to work to earn it and how quickly and easily it seemed to be spent. I’m a frugal person by nature, so when I refer to spending money, I mean on basic necessities.

As I wrote the check, my hand shook slightly because the amount which I wrote the check for was the same amount that I needed for gas, groceries, etc. Every other way that I could be using it suddenly came to mind and it made it that much harder to release into an offering plate.

The next day, Monday, as I drove to work, I glanced down about every 30 seconds to see how much gas I had. I had more than enough. But I wasn’t really looking at the gas gauge to see how much gas I had. I looked at the gas gauge in attempt to estimate how much money it would take to fill it up after every passing mile.

Irritated at myself for being more concerned with money that I would have thought, I asked the Lord for the strength of faith to trust Him, to rest in His goodness. Turns out, that is a lot easier said than done.

At the end of the day, I was on the phone with my mom catching up on the day’s events at home and among family.

“By the way,” she started, “I put some money in your account because I know how much driving you are doing and I know that gas is expensive. I just don’t want you to worry about it.”

I was speechless. I barely uttered a “thank you” for I was trying not to cry. I didn’t know how much she had deposited. It didn’t matter.

About an hour later, curiosity got the better of me and I checked my account online. Resting in the left column was an amount that was exactly double the amount which I had tithed.

I feel that elaborating on this will only dilute it. I don’t think I need to explain.

Good is good. He is faithful. End of story.
They were just like us

Have you ever read your Bible like a fiction novel? I don’t mean to imply that you should or that it is not completely true and non-fictional. It is conclusively the infallible word of God. I simply mean that sometimes, taking a step-back from the pre-determined and instructed form of studying it may grant us the perspective that is more potent and penetrating to our emotional souls than to our spiritual minds.

My favorite books of the Bible are more filled with characters and testimonies of the human struggle than with world history. For example, I prefer the gospels and Psalms over Numbers or Deuteronomy. I suspect that many may agree, but allow me to explain why.

Within the gospels is the story not only of our Savior, but of the men that followed. His disciples consisted of a collection of fishermen, tax-collectors, doctors, and writers. Normal. Average. Not particularly special for any other reason than the fact that they were called and responded.

That being said, I often find it encouraging to read the accounts of Jesus’ miracles (feeding the five thousand, healing the lame, giving sight to the blind, ascending into heaven, etc.) not merely because of the signs and wonders of our God, but because of the response of his followers.

Doubt is not something that is new to our generation or to our culture. It is not something that is unique to you or me. It is in fact something that Jesus’ disciples struggled with. It is something that they dealt with in the midst of his presence!

Example: Matthew chapter eight, beginning in verse 23, Jesus and His disciples are boarding a boat to sail to the other side of the sea. When a “great storm arose” (ESV) His disciples woke Him up saying “Save us Lord, we are perishing!” (ESV) Only slightly dramatic.

What I find unbelievable is their lack of belief. Only a few days earlier, they had witnessed Jesus heal dozens of lame, sick, and diseased. More specifically, Jesus had gone to Peter’s home and healed his ailing mother. So why the lack of perfect, unwavering, faith? They were human.

In His midst, at times His only witnesses, they still fought and failed to believe completely without any doubt who He was. They heard Him speak, they watched Him die, and they ate breakfast with on the shore after the resurrection, and still the struggled. What a beautiful picture of God’s grace and patience with those He loves. Never condemning nor condescending for the inability to be filled with full assurance of faith.

It was not just His disciples who fought their flesh; the list includes David, the man after God’s own heart and John the Baptist, Christ’s forerunner. Let’s dive a little deeper.

The book of Psalms is one of my favorite books because of the display and of unashamed emotions, thoughts, and feelings felt by one man. Not only did he labor and toil in his faith walk with his God, but he was utterly honest and transparent about the state of his heart and soul. I think it is a beautiful mess; a lovely Pollock-type painting that reflects the magnificence and splendor of a God that can take anything we have and all that we are and shape it and make it into something that ultimately brings glory and honor to Him.

If He can take David, a lying, adulterous, murderer, and use Him to display His love, grace, and salvation to the nations, then I too am salvageable. And so are you.

John the Baptist, a giant in the faith was also human. In Matthew 11:11, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” (NIV) No questions about it, he was a remarkable man. But he was hardly treated as one, and his faith faltered because of it.

In Luke 7, beginning in verse 19, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus if He is in fact who He says He is. Lying in wait in a prison cell, mere hours from his unexpected execution, he began to question. Theologians, who contribute to the online source, provided the following commentary about doubt:
Often doubt brings reflection and growth. Such is the case with John's inquiries about Jesus. Not only does the Baptist get an answer that calls for his reflection, but Jesus uses the inquiry to help others consider anew the roles John and he have in God's plan. The psychological adversity of doubt carries the seed of real growth, when the answer is sought from God's perspective.
Lastly, let’s look at Peter. Ah, Peter. Perhaps one of the more famous disciples for reasons that don’t include steadfast faith or rational judgment. It’s for the very reason that he is my favorite. Here’s a prime example why: Matthew 14:28-30.
Peter is with the rest of the disciples on the boat on the fourth watch of the night. Jesus, who had sent them ahead, decided to meet up with them… on the water. As He comes walking out onto the waves, the guys flip out and scream “It’s a ghost!” (ESV)
If I were Jesus (everyone breathe a sigh of relief that I am not) I’m pretty sure I would roll my eyes and think to myself, “I probably could have picked better followers.” But in His patience, He calls Peter to walk out onto the water and meet Him. At this point, Peter jumps into the water and begins walking toward Jesus.
You would think that this miraculous event would have confirmed to Peter that Jesus was in fact the Son of God, which should have done away with all doubt. But leave it to Peter to get spooked by… the wind. In verse 30 it says “When [Peter] saw the wind he was afraid and beginning to sink, he called cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’”
Reading this story makes me want to laugh in Peter’s face and scoff at just how silly he was. But I can’t. None of us can. Because we have all done the same thing. We are all like Peter.
In case you haven’t made the connection yet, let me let you in on something that I have recently discovered. If you (myself included) feel as though you need only to witness a “miracle” or need to literally and audibly hear the voice of God speaking to you in order for all doubt to be gone… you’re mistaken.
Jesus’ disciples lived, breathed, and tasted three years of ministry along side Jesus and were still unable to stay convinced. Be encouraged in this as I am: The weaknesses in their faith did not hinder Gods love for them or His patience with them. Instead, He continued to lead them and use them for His glory. Bottom line: God’s notoriety is not as dependent upon us as we think. In fact, He doesn’t need at all. Instead, He grants us the honor and privilege of being used by Him to bring Him praise.
No matter how many times you begin to sink when you see then wind, He will continue to reach out His hand and pull you up. Over. And over. And Over…
The Great Game of Spiritual Chess

Sunday was a great day. For a lot of reasons. For starters, the weather was absolutely stunning. Crystal clear blue skies that were merely intensified by the spectacular rays of sunshine that seemed to brighten everything they landed on; the warmth of the sun on my cheek as I sat outside with a friend over lunch felt like a gentl kiss, romancing my whole spirit. It was intoxicating. It was a great day to be in the house of the Lord, praising Him with His church, His bride.

Church was another reason that the day was extraordinary. We had a guest pastor…from Texas. I don’t know if I have ever mentioned that I am from Texas. His southern twang and use of distinctly southern adjectives and phrases made me feel right at home.

Now, I have been told on a number of occasions that I don’t sound like I’m from Texas. A fact that I am proud of. However, I do appreciate the southern draw, especially when I am far from the motherland.

The weight of his sermon and the Lord’s message through it was more comforting and encouraging then the way that he spoke. And that is the point of this blog.

It should be noted that much of what I am about to write is not my own idea or logic, but simply a recollection of what I heard and what the Lord showed me.

The sermon was entitled, “God Needs You.” When I first read the bulletin, I was alarmed to say the least. “No He doesn’t,” I thought to myself, “He’s God. He doesn’t need anything or anyone.” As he began to introduce himself and the sermon, he quickly got to his first point which was “God doesn’t need you.”

I furrowed my brow and cocked my head to the right. “What’s with this guy? Of all the pastors in Texas, and we get this guy?” Harsh, I know. But I’m being honest. He went on to untangle the figurative knot that he tied and suddenly what he said started to become clear and convicting.

Before the Lord can work in our lives, move in us, change us, speak to us, and teach us what He wants, we have to be willing. We have to invite Him to do so. In order for Him to act, we have to make the first move.

God is a gentleman and He is not going to force Himself on us. Matthew 7:7 is a prefect example of this concept. It says “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (NIV). We must be the ones to move first and “ask,” “seek”, or “knock.”

When we ask Him to speak or show up, He will because He was invited. When we seek Him through His word or through prayer, He will be found because He wants us to want Him.

In the same way that He knocks and waits for the door our hearts to be open, when we knock on His door, He will answer it. But why would He open a door that has not been knocked on? We must knock first.

Asking, seeking, and knocking all imply a certain amount of faith; a belief that when we do those things, He will in fact respond. One example that illustrates the importance of even the smallest faith on our part is found in Mark 6:5. Jesus returns to his hometown, but their unbelief and lack of faith kept Him from performing miracles there.

Did it physically keep Him from performing miracles? No. While He was fully man, He was simultaneously fully God. He could have done miraculous signs and wonders to convince them, but He chose not to because they did not think that He would or that He could. Bottom line: unless you believe that He can do what you ask, He won’t.

The last thing that the pastor elaborated on was, to me, the coolest part. When we do our part, which is natural, God will do His part, which is supernatural. He has not asked us to do or accomplish more than is humanly possible. But when we do as much as we can, He will do so much more than we knew to ask or pray for!

In Mark 16, beginning in verse 17 it says “these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will ….lay hands on the sick and they will recover” (ESV).

Let’s break it down. If you lay your hands on a sick person and pray for healing, the physical act of you laying your hands on that person does not heal them. But it represents the faith that you have that God can heal them. So when we act on faith, He then will act in His faithfulness. He will be the reason for healing because by His supernatural power, He can heal them.

All this to say, Sunday was a good day.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I like to work out. And due to some extensive knee surgery in high school, I like to stick with the elliptical. Despite the fact that my gym has roughly seventy-two TV’s, they are never turned to any channel that I find interesting enough to keep my mind off my work out. Listening to music doesn’t help my attention span either. Talking with someone is my preference, but my lack of oxygen prohibits me from having a conversation much longer than three words. So how do I pass the time?

I have started listening to podcasted sermons on my ipod.

It has proven to be the best way to hold my attention and focus. Not only does is not get boring (because I haven’t heard them before like the songs on my play list) but I can actually work out longer because I am no longer constantly looking down at the clock on my machine. I’m concentrating on what is being said. Who knew?

A few days ago while “elliptizing,” I was listening to a sermon called “Hands and Feet” by Matt Chandler at The Village Church in Dallas, Texas. And something hit home… hard.

He was reading out of Matthew 25:31-40; pointing out that Jesus’ miracles were primarily preformed around the poor and the needy, those whose faith was their only possession.

In verse 31, Jesus is describing for his disciples the way in which believers and non-believers will be divided at judgment and on what basis they will be welcomed into the kingdom. In verse 35 he Jesus says, “I was hungry and you have me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…” (ESV) It goes on to say that the righteous will answer “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and gave you drink.”

You all know what He says next. “Truly I say unto you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (ESV) I know that this may not be a new verse or a revolutionary concept, but stick with me. Where Mr. Chandler went from here was profound.

Most would read that passage and immediately think, “Ok, I have to do more; if feeding the hungry and clothing the naked is what is going to get me into heaven, then I need to pencil in my volunteer time at the local Salvation Army this Saturday.”

But again, we all know that you can not work or earn your way to heaven; Christianity is not a works based faith. So it would appear as though we are at a cross-roads. But in fact we are not.

We are at the very intersection where the law and grace meet. Turn left and you live for yourself. Sure to grow tired, worn, and eventually defeated, for the law leaves no room for error.
But turn right and you die to yourself and will be raised with the glory of Christ. And it is at this resurrection that something extraordinary happens. As Mr. Chandler described it “the way out of works-based mentality is this: doing what comes naturally when the gospel penetrates your heart and changes your spirit. It is not something you will or can do in your own strength, power or will, but is instead a natural outflow of progressive sanctification. It will happen because God has control of your whole being and He has changed your heart, mind and desires to reflect His.”

As this word began to sink in, I peddled slower and my heart rate began to stabilize. Then I realized, “If I want to be more like Christ, if I want to do His will, serve His people and be obedient with everything that He has blessed me with, than He will reveal to me what that looks like gradually as my faith grows and my dependence on Him deepens.”

If all of our questions and wonderings were answered or made clear in one sitting, why would anyone still feel the need to seek Him? They wouldn’t need to. There would be no need for relationship.

It seems as though I can not escape this lesson: In everything, no matter what, at all times, seek to know Him more and He will provide. He will provide us with the strength to do that which we can not do ourselves which is to display and reflect His goodness and grace more clearly to others. We are to be living testaments but all too often we get in the way; we speak up when no words are needed.

Matthew 7:16 says that “You will know them by their fruits.” (NASB)

As hard as it is for me (ask my boss), I am finally learning to shut up. Because at the end of the day, what I have to say is of no consequence. Instead I’m finding that what I have heard and learned from the Lord, will pour out of my life if I am fully and humbly surrendered and it probably won’t be verbal. It will flow forth as physical and spiritual necessity to be obedient to what I know.

Comfort in Company

I take comfort in being able to identify with people. I like knowing that I am not alone. For example, the other night while my roommates and I were watching the Olympics I randomly spoke up and asked, “When you moved into your first apartment and really broke ground for your independence, were you nervous? Were you anxious at all about how it would all work out and whether or not you really had what it took to do it?”

The looked at one another and smiled (they are both slightly older and therefore much wiser). With simple nods and loving explanations they recapped their first-time apartment experiences.

There is something about knowing that you are not the first one on the boat headed down a new river that is reassuring. You put in and push off into calm and fluid waters; gently flowing forward with soft ripples tenderly breaking the glassy surface. Yet, it is inevitable that rapids will come; turbulent waters will approach, especially when it rains and the waters rise. More than being afraid of the rapids, I tend to be afraid that I am and will be the only one to face those particular waters.

I have never been one for white water-rafting. I don’t get a thrill from putting myself in potentially dangerous situations. Ironically though, every time I have gone (and by that I mean, pressured to go), I always end up having a great time. I think there are several reasons for this.

For starters, there have always been eight to twelve other people that I know in the boat with me. So, if I end up going overboard, someone is going with me. Secondly, we have always had an experienced guide who had traversed that very river numerous times. He knows every nook and cranny of the waterway; where the placid and temperate areas are that are good for rest, the areas to avoid, and most importantly, he knows what rapids are coming up and when. He has plowed through them countless times and understands where and how to steer into them. That’s right; into them.

By steering dead ahead into a rapid, you will get shot through to the other side with little help or need from you own paddle. The strength and force of so much water will carry the boat, and its occupants, over the boulder(s), which create the rapids.

If you steer to the side though, chances are your boat will get caught in an undercurrent and you will get sucked into the rapid. It’s not a guarantee that you will flip, but it will take an enormous amount of power and team work from everyone in the boat to get the boat up and out of the crevice. Is it doable? Yes. It is difficult? Yes.

But the guide instructs, calling out commands and directions, telling the people on the right side of the boat to paddle one way and the people on the left side of the boat to paddle the other way.

I remember going down a river with class four rapids (they are measured on a scale of one to five; five being the biggest). Our guide would not tell us how many rapids we would face or when they were coming until they were nearly in sight. It was smart of his part because if I had known what I would be facing from the beginning, I would have jumped overboard and swam ashore.

I think it’s the same with God. If He showed us everything we would encounter along the way, we wouldn’t stick around to see how He would carry us through it. We wouldn’t enjoy the ride because we would be distracted with what laid ahead. We would not enjoy the quiet places; the parts of the river that are meant for swimming and picture-taking.

When turbulent waters do come though, He sits calmly in the back of the boat, steering and instructing us as to what we are supposed to do with our own paddles.

One thing about white-water rafting that is inevitable is getting wet. Outside of the mandatory splash fights, you will most likely get wet when you conquer the rapids. If I had to choose a part of the adventure that I enjoy most, that would be it. Getting splashed.

It is initially shockingly cold. But, on the back side of the rapid, when the water evens out and you can coast, it is so refreshing. As the trip goes on, it eventually evaporates, but not without relieving you from the heat of the sun. It serves a purpose. It renews and revives excitement. It energizes your spirit; it awakens your senses.

When you look back at what you went through, you can smile and breathe a sigh, not relief, but of belief. Belief that your guide, your God, was there, piloting your boat and your life. Never alarmed or overpowered, but in total and complete control. When you turn back around to face the front and gaze out on the water, rest assured that in the same way he steered your way through the previous rapids, He will continue to guide you in the future.

He has no reason to jump ship. He is neither afraid nor unaware of what’s to come. On the contrary, He has permitted the boulders to fall where they may and He plans on using the rough waters to mold and shape you, to strengthen you faith and forearms. The paddle He has equipped you with, His Word, will cut through any water and will propel you forward in the way you are to go.

As quickly as the rapids come, they pass. You are on the other side before you know it and you are one rapid experience stronger, more assured, and confident that you can handle the rest of the river. Not because you and your paddle saved the day, but because your guide knew where he was going and how to get there.

So grab your paddle, strap on your life-jacket, and jump in the boat. Get ready for the ride of a lifetime. And remember, you’re not alone.