Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Love Letters

This is a sort of short-story I "accidentally" wrote last week. I was reading Ecclesiastes and felt compelled to write about how without God the gifts we have on earth are meaningless. Then it turned into how God pursues us, even as we do our best to ignore or shut him out. How we persevere through the race he's laid out for us, and how it tempers us to be more like Him. And that with Him, everything finally has a point. I apologize for the lack of editing, and hopefully it will be something I refine or edit better in the future.


You are going on a roadtrip from the east coast to the west. You are trying to find and see for yourself this person. He has contacted you repeatedly...he has sent many, many letters.

These letters, they'd always show up. At first you just threw them away. Then, you got annoyed enough to finally read one. The message inside..it was so tender, so romantic, so beautiful, but you were too jaded to realize that all the promises the letter contained were true.

But he kept sending them anyway. They read, with increasing urgency, to please come find him, see for yourself that the promises were true. He sounds like a conspiracy theorist, telling you of all the proof that he and his promises are real: "the roses you love? I made them, they were created especially for you," or "that Christmas bonus? Who do you think made it possible for the company to be so profitable and softened the bosses heart?"

You think he must be crazy. These things just aren't possible. And he sounds more than a little creepy. Always following you around - he seems to know exactly where you've been and exactly what you need and exactly when you fall and get into trouble. In fact, you get into big trouble. You're in a terrible place, and the situation seems beyond all hope. You're afraid, hurt, and completely alone. You're alone, except..you think just maybe, "If I call out, he'll listen. He'll help me." You think to yourself, "I know I've never wanted or needed your help before. But I do now, and if you don't show up, the situation is impossible to get out of."

And as soon as the thought crosses your mind, he has sent help your way. He made the impossible possible. You don't know what strings he pulled, can't imagine how he did it - but you now have this miraculous hope, that everything will turn out fine.

He keeps sending the letters. Only now, you're writing back.

First, you thanked him, asked him how he did it. You had more questions, would even occasionally ask for things. At first, you only asked for things for yourself, but then you found yourself compelled to ask things for others. You saw that they were in need, and you knew he was able to help them. He had taught you how to love. Finally, you were having a conversation with him, a relationship with him.

You long to actually meet him in person. This relationship has gone on years and years now. The letters always come: sometimes you're waiting by the mailbox for them anxiously awaiting a response. Other times, you fall away, you get busy and let the letters pile up, unread. But the letters always come.

Eventually, you decide to ask him, "..Can I come to see you?" He replies, "Of course, I've been waiting for you to ask!"

"But how do I get there?"

"I've been sending you directions all this time. First, you needed to want to come. As desperately as I've wanted to see you, you had to want to come to me. I'll keep sending you directions. My letters will find you wherever you go, wherever you are. Gather these letters, my words, then head west. It's not going to be an easy trip, it's hard to get here. And once you're here, you can't go back. People will call you crazy for leaving everything you know to find me, and for believing that impossible things are possible, because you know I can make them so. Please, I promise you... it will be worth it! The challenges and trials of the journey will perfectly prepare you; as you persevere, you will become more mature and complete, not lacking anything. You will learn the truth that sets you free from the chains of where you are now. Love others as I have loved you. You must do all these to make it through the arduous journey. The purpose at the end of the trip, being here, letting me finally hold you in my arms, and tangibly knowing perfect peace and love - it will all be worth it."

So you begin packing. There isn't much you need really, and he has promised to provide for you, as he always has. Your neighbors, friends, family, some do call you crazy. Some are crazy enough to want to go with you. You've shown them the letters, and they've started to write too.

You head out on this journey. Sometimes the company you're with changes, sometimes they have different directions than you do. You part ways and promise to meet again when you get there. Sometimes, the directions don't make sense at all. You're not heading straight there, as you once imagined you might. No, that would be too easy! He's leading you through the long, scenic route. Sometimes through the rough neighborhoods, sometimes in the prisons. He tells you what to do, what to say, and to not feel silly when you say, "He sent me."

The road is both hard and easy, ugly and beautiful. It's hard because it's physically, emotionally challenging - and yet easy, because all you have to do is follow his instructions. The ugly parts are heart breaking, because he's showing you the broken, sad parts of the worlds in desperate need and poverty. But it's beautiful to see the faith that blossoms and the love that comes even to these dark places as shining lights. All of these take you closer to him, so you continue to dive head-first into whatever direction he provides. You rely totally and completely on him, even and especially when it would seem uncomfortable, impossible, or suicidal to do so. So you take the easy with the hard, knowing that you must do both to get to him. The impossible tasks simply provide an opportunity to watch him work and do the impossible.

You thoroughly enjoy this roadtrip. There's much to see and do, and he's taking you everywhere. You've become very rich in unimaginable experiences that only he could have led you to and through. You realize that if you didn't know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was a purpose and end to this trip, it would have quickly become tiresome. If there was no promise of something worthwhile at the end of the road, you would have left a long time ago. It would have all been pointless as chasing after the wind, and about as successful or rewarding. BUT. You're enjoying the little things he puts into your path and sends you, because there is a point to them, to the whole trip. Without the directions he's been providing, the whole trip would have been insane and pointless. You'd be driving around in circles, and there would be no ultimate point to any of the wanderings. None of the journey by itself would bring you closer to this man who sends you love letters.

When the journey gets too hard or seems pointless, he reminds you, "Blessed is the person who doesn't fall away on account of me." He reminds you that everyone gets their own, personal directions - and that sometimes these are hard or seem unfair. He tells you not to give up hope, even when he's leading you places that are especially hard and dark. Because you are never alone, he is with you always, and he greatly longs to be you in person.

So keep on, keeping on. Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, pressing on toward the ultimate goal and prize - to be safe in his embrace finally. You find strength through him, his constant letters, always finding you, still knowing exactly where you and your heart are.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Working for God is Easy

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." - Luke 10:38-41

When I first read this passage as a new believer, I was indignant. I was often that way when reading the scandalous stories of grace presented in the New Testament. I had immediately identified with the Martha in the story. I am the older sister, I am the one who's always the planner, the one doing all the work. I even had a little sister, who I of course thought of.. "my sister has left me to do the work by myself.. tell her to help me!".

Now, coming back to it again with a fresh experience as a visitor in someone else's ministry, I also have a fresh perspective on Martha.

The people of the ministry I got to visit tonight were without a doubt, passionate, driven, motivated to pour out on the young adults at the halfway house they minister to. However, Martha was in charge, not Mary. There were things to be done and keeping us busy, we were preparing a Christmas dinner for the house, the worship, the bible study, the gift giving. There was a well-planned agenda, and assignments, and handouts. Which by themselves aren't terrible things, these are useful in assigning tasks. But Martha was too busy being in charge to encourage others to speak, or challenge them to get out of their comfort zones and really talk to kids. There was another visitor to the ministry helping that night and she stayed in the kitchen the whole time, saying "I'm really more of a behind the scenes person." It seemed everything was too planned out. It almost seemed like a struggle against the Holy Spirit in the effort of sticking to 'the plan',

I do not dare to say that this was anything but a successful evening - however it was done, the Holy Spirit did move some kids ("That was nice of them.. they didn't have to come all the way out here to do this"). And it is my pride that I am trying to quash when I think to myself, "they could have done that better this way..". Who am I to judge what tool to use?

I completely confess to being a Martha myself. I can get possessive over my tasks, I want to control things to make sure they're done right, I want to plan to the nth degree. But I am trying desperately to be more like a Mary. Working like a Martha makes working for God very hard and tiresome. Working like a Mary makes working for God easy.

Instead of being possessive over my tasks or ministry, or even the success that I get to witness, God gets the glory. Being possessive over the work often makes you lose sight of why you're doing it in the first place. When it's only you completing the tasks (because you're possessive and don't let God help you), then of course the work is difficult and exhausting, because you are doing the work alone! When you let God own the work, however, it becomes easy.

If I try to control things to make sure they're done right, what if I'm denying someone else the opportunity to pour out onto the needy, as I know I enjoy doing? I need to remind myself, it's not the task on earth here that's important, it's the relationship with Jesus. Mary was lauded for choosing 'what is better'. She chose to strengthen her relationship with Jesus instead of preparing a meal. Really, putting both into perspective - the food doesn't really matter, does it? It's an earthly need that will always be there. Jesus was not always going to be on earth - maybe Mary realized that as she poured out perfume on Him to prepare Him for His burial (John 12:7-8). Either way, she had clearly made her priorities heavenly, not earthly.

And when the Marthas want to plan to the nth degree, we are not planning on God showing up. We are in fact planning that He WON'T show up. What sort of faith is this?? James 4 reminds us that it is not our will that plans and predicts tomorrow, but "if it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." Our plans are silly. Why would we choose to rely on them, when we could be relying more faithfully on God to work out the details?

I keep coming back to: "But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made." Even though Martha had a very respectable purpose - preparing a meal for Jesus and his disciples - her busy preparations were keeping her from actually knowing Jesus.

As we get into the holiday season, do we let the preparations of the holiday keep us from reveling in the purpose of the holiday? We celebrate Christmas to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Surely, our Savior could care less about plastic reindeer in the front yard and 20 colors of wrapping paper if it meant we were putting those things instead of celebrating and worshiping Him. Do these things, but only if they are not distracting you from the true and Godly reasons for our festivities.

I pray that I listen to the wisdom I am led to write - that I can hear the "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (Ps 46:10). I pray that in my preparations for Christmas, I do no lose focus of why I prepare.

It is a crazy thing in this world to plan on God showing up. But, this is really the only thing we're called to plan.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

God's Timeline

"While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked. "This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor." Aware of this, Jesus said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. "I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. Matthew 26:6-13

This verse isn't nearly as shocking as it should be to us. We readily accept Jesus's statement of "preached throughout the world" because that's exactly what happens today. I imagine that when Jesus first said it 2000 years ago, it was actually quite scandalous.

At that point in time, Jesus' ministry was relatively small. There were people in many towns, a few small countries, but only on one continent. How big did the people of Jesus' day think the world was? Certainly they must have guessed or known it was larger than the nations surrounding Israel. Today we know the world is huge compared to the relatively tiny amount of land that represented the sphere of influence in Jesus' earthly days.

The profundity of Jesus' claim that the gospel would be preached throughout the world cannot be understated. And today the Gospel is being preached throughout the world. What does this say about how God operates? Not only does He measure time in ways we can't comprehend - I'm inclined to believe that He has also provided us with the tools so that we are physically able to travel and communicate across the world to share the Gospel. As James 1:17 reminds us, "every good and perfect thing is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows". In fact, so much has changed in the world since Jesus's days on Earth. But has the Father changed? I find it comforting to know that He is the same God today as he was all that time ago.

So we are now remembering a woman who poured perfume over Jesus, in an act of adoration and faith in her savior. 2000 years later seems unimaginable to us that we are able to have this piece of history. In what seemed an impossible promise, Gods timeline and the way He works has made it possible for us to honor this woman.

If He can make this impossible promise come true for this unnamed woman, it seems to me that is quite capable to make the impossible come true for those of us who honor God as she did.

  1. She gave greatly to God. The very expensive jar of perfume she poured out was no doubt worth much. The disciples complain it could have been "sold at a high price".

  2. She gave and believed, even when it seemed senseless or wasteful by others. "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me."

  3. "She did it to prepare me for burial"This woman listened to what Jesus had been preaching, that he would be die and come back in three days, and believed that he spoke the truth. She was of great faith.

If we are to be the recipients of scandalous promises like the one of Matthew 26:13, we need to live our lives and our faiths as this woman did. We need to trust His timeline for us, even when we can't see for ourselves how He is working in our lives.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Seeing yourself as God sees you

1 Praise the LORD, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things

so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

Praise the LORD, my soul.

Psalm 103:1-18

If someone tells us we are worthless once, we might brush it off.
If someone tells us we are worthless twice, we might start to get angry.
If someone tells us, over and over again, that we are worthless.. we might actually start to believe them.

In the face of a person in front of us, telling us we are worthless, how do we combat that? Fortunately, we are not alone. We have a creator who loves us fiercely. We have a creator who doesn't care where we've been, what trouble we've got ourselves into, what we've done, or even what we will do. Or rather, He doesn't care about our sins because they can never separate us from Him or diminish our worth in His eyes.

Psalm 103 sings of how God forgives our sins, heals diseases, and redeems us.
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,

Nowhere in the Psalm does David sing that we will not ever sin. He does not sing that we won't need healing. He does not sing that our lives won't need redeeming. We are going to need all of these things, because on Earth, this side of heaven, there is sin, trial. All of us at some point in our lives find ourselves spiraling towards a pit. It seems bottomless. We look up, but we can't see light. We think we've gotten in so much trouble, we've done too many bad things, we can't see an end to our misery - we can't see our redemption. David does not sing that this won't happen. But, he does sing that when (not if) we find ourselves in this pit, we WILL be redeemed.

God doesn't see you as most people on Earth see you. Here, people often have labels. People misjudge, make assumptions. People can be jaded and unmerciful, unwilling to forgive or look past our inevitable flaws. God looks past our flaws, He forgives our sins, and he sees us without them. When God looks at us, He sees the best side of us. He sees us as someone worth loving. He sees us as someone worth sacrificing everything for - including his Son - to save.

When it comes to self worth, I don't think it matters where you are, what age, what gender, what circumstances or condition you find yourself in. Regardless of where they are from, all of them have trouble seeing themselves as worthy. Seeing themselves as God sees them: someone worth everything.

As I write this, it's in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning. I'm excited about visiting the juvenile detention center tomorrow, and I wanted to have a study prepared for them about self-worth. It occurs to me that we have much to be thankful for. I pray that God speaks through me and helps me to see the kids I'm ministering to as He does. And that He can show these kids to look at themselves the way God looks at them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Heart Update - Part III

It's been an interesting week or so, to say the least.

On 11/9 I went into heart surgery. Ran up the stairs to pre-op instead of taking the stairs, just because I could (and it would be awhile till I could again!). I felt completely prepared to go into what I like to call my "minor surgery". I was able to remain light-hearted with those I met at the hospital that day, from the receptionist who checked me in to the surgical team who would be taking care of me. It was interesting to see them all shocked that I wasn't falling to pieces. In fact, I told my surgeon he was running next year's Marine Corps Marathon with me and the team I've started putting together.

The night before, Ed Hunt had given a very powerful message. One of the important take-aways was to memorize scripture, so it's immediately available to you to fight fear, doubt, temptation, etc. So that night I made sure I memorized Philippians 1:20. "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death." I really didn't imagine how useful that would be over the next several days. For almost a week, I haven't been able to read because the pain meds wouldn't let me focus on type. And there were a few times I was in so much pain, or couldn't breathe, and the only thing I could do was recite that verse again and again. I couldn't have been more thankful for the timeliness of Ed's message and that I have been equipped with the Word, even though I haven't had my Bible.

During my recovery, I've been so blessed as well. In the hospital, I often had more visitors then I could handle. I wanted them to stay longer, but I could only stay awake so long against the pain meds. My recovery itself is going unthinkably well. I had surgery Tuesday, was able to move to a chair by Wednesday, was walking around very well by Thursday, and Friday they sent me home. I keep having to remind myself to take it easier, but I confess to getting a little restless. Monday I even made it to church - although I began to realize my limits when I couldn't stay awake during the message. My small group was a little shocked to see me there on Monday night - and it's sort of crazy to think that a little think like heart surgery couldn't keep me from missing church. I have yet to email Todd and Ed, the teaching and campus pastors at Frontline, respectively, but I can't wait to share how their messages have helped me through the past several weeks.

I'm forcing myself to take it easy and miss small group tonight - which pains me, because I love the fellowship with these ladies. Also, now that I'm able to stay awake longer, and read and write again, at least to an extent, I feel like I need to get back into the Word. Which is really what I was looking forward to during this time off anyways. It's been very easy for me, back under mom's roof as I recover, to not make my time with God a priority. I hate to admit it, but I have a tough time standing strong in close proximity to my family - of them I'm really the only practicing Christian. God is not a part of everyday life in this house, so it's an added hurdle for me to set God as a priority in my day-to-day when no one in this house does. Pray for me to have more compassion for my family, and patience as I witness to them. Pray also for my recovery, and that I can recover here. It's been tough to sleep since the surgery, and I'm having trouble eating. I pray that I can use this time to myself wisely and invest in the areas I need to or that I've been neglecting.

All in all, I'm still unimaginably blessed. I could only be this confident going to and from heart surgery knowing I have a great and faithful God, and that He has put many brothers and sisters in Christ in my life.

I should also mention - the aneurysm was 5.8cm when they finally removed it. It was 5.5cm back in only mid-September. It's incredible that I made it to surgery, considering that I'd cave and run occasionally. I thank God for making it clear to me that everytime I had "caved", I got sick or injured and couldn't run afterwards. I find it incredible how well He provides for us, and how perfect His timing is. It's quite humbling to realize your life is completely in His hands. I pray that I am adequate in sharing this incredible testimony He's given me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Heart Update - Part II

I wish I could articulate everything that's happened over the past several weeks, days, and these last hours leading up to heart surgery. On the whole, I've felt eerily calm going into what I'm now calling my next crazy adventure.

The book of Philippians has been what I'm constantly returning to. It's been a battle of spiritual warfare, as doubts and fears are constantly being planted in and try to grow. But I keep returning to Paul, and the Word as a weapon against these doubts and fears. 4:6-7 keep me stable, and replace the doubts and fears. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

4:12-13 remind me that my God is with me in any and every situation. And whatever situation I get placed in, He will work it to an ultimate purpose. So I should be content knowing that there is always God's hand at work in my life.
12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

1:12 reminds me that this is an opportunity to witness and share the gospel. And I should share the hope I have with others.
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.

Even in prison, Paul advances the gospel through how he deals with his trials. Even in prison, Paul is content. Even in prison, Paul is not anxious, but at peace.

I would covet your prayers. The safe surgery and recovery, but specifically for me to continue use this as an opportunity to witness to others, and strengthen my own faith as He carries me over this trial.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Justice and Mercy

"God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." Romans 3:25-26

Yesterday at my church service they played Benton Brown's "Jesus You are worthy". The refrain at the end is "justice and mercy". And for some reason, I suddenly got what that song meant.

Justice and mercy seem like a contradiction when together. I googled them together trying to find the song, and half the hits (that weren't about the flyleaf song) were about the contradiction. This one is from about.com:
True virtues are not supposed to clash - at least that is the ideal. Our personal interests or baser instincts may at times conflict with the virtues we are trying to cultivate, but higher virtues themselves are always supposed to be in harmony with one another. How, then, do we explain the apparent conflict between the virtues of mercy and justice?

But "Justice and Mercy meet on the cross".

How was justice served when Jesus died on the cross? Justice was carried out on ALL the sins of the world, all at once. All sinners and sins were punished. Fallen man was summarily punished for his depravity. And since we can agree that we've all fallen short of perfection, we've all sinned, that none of us is perfect - we can probably also agree that we deserve such justice served against us.

Then the mercy: We deserved punishment. And punishment was meted out... but not on us. Jesus mercifully put himself before us on the cross, receiving punishment we all should have borne and be bearing now. But we received grace instead of punishment, mercy instead of justice.

An excerpt from Philip Yancy's "What's So Amazing About Grace?" really hits it home:
"I agreed that the notion that a man could go to a store where a group of unarmed human beings are drinking soda pop and eating moon pies, fire a shotgun blast at one of them, tearing his lungs and heart and bowels from his body, turn on another and send lead pellets ripping through his flesh and bones, and that God would set him free is almost more than I could stand. But unless that is precisely the case then there is no Gospel, there is no Good News. Unless that is the truth we have only bad news, we are back with law alone."
In this except, Yancy is recounting a story of pre-civil rights era America, where a white man armed with a shotgun killed several innocent African-Americans. The crazy concept here is that both have opportunities to get into heaven.

God doesn't differentiate between our sins. Jealousy and gluttony are no less sins than racism and murder. Both sins put the sinners clearly on the fallen side of the law. If God can't forgive a murderer, than someone who's guilty of jealousy can't be forgiven either. But God does forgive jealousy, and gluttony, and racism, and murder. He is capable of forgiving all sins. Romans 10:10 tells us "For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." Paul tells us earlier in Romans 8:30 "And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified."

So the idea that a victim and his murderer could both end up in heaven is appalling to us. But not to God. If both have believed in their hearts and confessed with their mouths, they are saved. We have to believe that we can't be "too bad" for God's love. And if we are able to believe that we ourselves can't be too bad for His love, we also need to believe that others can't be too bad either. We must remember two keys parts: "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."; and "[all] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Romans 3:23-24

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

James I - wisdom

So often I find myself praying to God for discernment, for an indication of which choice to make - for wisdom.

The first lesson on wisdom that James teaches us is that we should ask for it.
James 1:5 "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." James also tells us in this passage that when we ask for it, God not only can give us wisdom, but he wants to do so! He's only waiting for us to ask for it, and He can't wait to pour it out on us, to share his knowledge with us:
Matthew 7:7-12 "For everyone who asks, receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"
We must know that God provides! His knowledge is something he craves to share with us, and when we receive it, we'll be better able to glorify Him.
Proverbs 2:2-5 "If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding...then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God."

Proverbs 2:9-10 "Then you will understand what is right and just and fair - every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul."

So we must know that when we ask for wisdom, God provides it in abundance! The second lesson James teaches us, is that we need to believe that God will provide this wisdom when we ask for it - and that we need to authentically live this belief in our actions:

James 1:6-8 "But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."

So praying to God for wisdom is not merely being revealed to this knowledge, but a commitment to obey what God reveals to you. The imagery of the sea changing directions because of the wind - it illustrates for us that we cannot ask for God's wisdom one day, and then follow the world's wisdom the next. We need to be grounded in our faith, and stand firm on our foundation of Christ.

Ephesians 4:14 "We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in the deceitful scheming."

When God provides you wisdom... use it! Would you refuse or misuse a gift? "Wisdom is not just acquired information but practicing insight with spiritual applications". In other words, we cannot ask for wisdom, for help, and then refuse it. We must apply the wisdom gifted from God.

We can't just pray that God makes good choices for us, and that's what James 1:5 is about. God gives us the wisdom to choose between right and wrong, but He can't make the right choice for us. We must pray, ask God, for the wisdom to discern the good, Godly choice for us, even if following that choice means the trials and suffering outlined in James 1:2-4.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Purpose for Trials

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
-Romans 8:28-30

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
-James 1:2-4

What is crazy faith? Thanking God for your suffering.

It's an indisputable fact that our lives have trials, failures, and suffering. The scope of them range from stubbing our toe to disease and open heart surgery, from ungrace to persecution, from lapses of judgment to lapses of character. Just when you seem to be handling one trial, another pops up. This is life.

Again, like with many things of God, He presents us with choices. He presents us with gifts we must choose to accept and sometimes even struggle to obtain. Just like we choose to accept grace, we can choose to accept our trials as gifts.

So I should thank God for these obstacles? It does sound crazy, doesn't it? God, thank you for giving me a disease that I must persevere through. God, thank you for putting the looming heart surgery over my head. God, thank you for putting people in my life that let me down. Yes, and with complete seriousness, thank you for these trials.

We can either let our trials defeat us, or we can defeat them by allowing our trials and struggles to make us stronger. I have an auto-immune disease that eats away at me and necessitates surgery if I'm going to live. I could let this disease and surgery defeat me, I could let it limit my life and enthusiasm for it, I could let it make me miserable. But instead of consciously choosing this outlook and life of misery...I choose hope, courage, and faith in God. Absolutely verses like Php. 4:13 carry me: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me", or Rom. 8:31: "If God is for us, who can be against us?". I choose a life of hope in Christ over a life of death in despair. I choose life over death. That's why I run half-marathons; and each one completed, each mile finished is a blessing and testimony to Christ that all things are possible when you leave these things up to faith.

Not all of my trials are so visible or physically painful. Some trials are very personal, relational trials. I don't think I would have come to Christ had I not been through a messy, unGodly, and even sinful relationship with an ex-boyfriend several years ago. "The man who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." (Gal. 1.23) Your biggest spiritual failure is God's greatest testimony for you to share. I can clearly point this personal low in my life and trace it to how I am saved today. Only God could take our messes and make something glorious out of them.

Without my trials, I know I wouldn't be the same person. I don't think I would have accepted Christ. And I'm positive I would be miserable, unsatisfied, and alone. Are you kidding me? Absolutely I thank God for my trials! I pray to God that I have the strength to make it through them, the wisdom and faith to believe that something so great I can't imagine are on the other side. I remind myself that these trials shape us to be more like Christ. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Heart Update

I've been learning more and more how God is visible in our lives. I've been seeing first hand how he's been working in my life. I'm finally realizing the fruits that God has for us when we banish fear and live by faith alone.

I have a dear, dear friend and mentor (you know who you are) who has something called God sightings. I can hear him groaning inwardly, because the analogy can get a bit hokey when you try to explain it. When ever God sightings are explained to a new person in the bible study, they're explained as the visible acts of God. Just as when the wind blows through the trees, you can't see the wind, but you can see the leaves move. God sightings are pointing out when the leaves shakes and saying "God has been here!"

If you know me or have read some of my previous posts, you know I have an aortic aneurysm next to my heart and aortic valve. You probably also know that I run - a lot more than should be possible given the heart. I had a CT scan completed in August. When I measured the scan myself, the aneurysm had grown. Which naturally prompted me to have a not-so-minor freakout. I tried getting an appointment with the heart surgeon, and eventually was able to get some time with him, but only after my half marathon on Labor Day weekend. I was able to get him to at least look at the report from the scan tech, and got some mixed news: according to the scan technician the aneurysm was stable, but he could not possibly condone me running, let alone racing a half marathon.

Of course...I ran anyway. Praised God the entire way, thanking Him for every mile. It was really hard not to praise Him when I kept passing the 413 team, with Philippians 4:13 on the back of their T-shirts. "I can do everything through him that gives me strength". Being able to run, despite it being physically impossible or dangerous, makes me feel invincible. So this is what it feels like to place yourself entirely in God's hands.
"If God is for us, who can be against us?" Rom. 8:31. I see this as tangible evidence of God. So here's my God sighting - I was able to run the race last weekend, not only comfortably, but even crushing my old record - and I'm still around to tell you about it. This is something not possible without God.

Today, I finally had the appointment with the surgeon. At this point, he had looked at the scans himself, and like me, he had found that the aneurysm did in fact look bigger than 6 months ago. He's amazed that I ran the half-marathon last weekend and that I'm just fine. The end result of the appointment...I am getting another (more detailed, more expensive) type of scan this afternoon. If this scan shows that the problem has gotten worse, we're doing surgery. Probably really soon. If this scan shows that the problem has not gotten worse, then I'll be allowed to run again. The big relief out of this appointment was that the doctor has taken away the nebulous "limbo" option where he won't perform surgery but I'm not allowed to run. It's almost a relief to know that I could be having surgery soon - it'll mean I won't have to put my life on hold indefinitely while we wait. I'm not allowed to run until I hear back from the doctor again... which should only be a few days, so hopefully I can handle that!

The whole experience of having this condition... I am constantly reminded of James 1:2-4 "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." Because of the adventures I've had with my health, I've been able to live on the edge... leave myself entirely in God's hands in ways I would never have been able to otherwise. It's been quite the feeling knowing that its perfectly possible you could die at any point in time. That has really placed a sense of urgency on me to make peace with God, others, and myself. If you were going to die tomorrow - would you leaves things undone? Relationships unmended? Adventures left unstarted or unfinished? Since you should know you "can't take it with you", that things are here today and gone tomorrow, why would you not be generous with what you have? You can't keep it. Why should I toil away at a job that does nothing to help or save people when I could be doing something that does? What am I waiting for?

This condition has forced me to place myself in God's hands, and the way that Grace has been poured out on me is absolutely overwhelming. To hear that I'm getting prayers from all corners, and to be so constantly reminded that I've got people rooting for me...well it's been such a blessing. I couldn't be more thankful that there's so much love out there.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Watch Out

I only have the energy and mental capacity for a short post today. WOW am I looking forward to a relaxing holiday weekend!!

Watch what you pray for. First, you have to know that God always delivers on righteous prayers. Are you ready for that? Do you believe that God is going to deliver?
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault. James 1:5

Second, now you know he's going to graciously pour out whatever you ask for (He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" Romans 8:32). So when we pray for Godly change in our lives, we had best be prepared to accept the opportunities God hands us to bring about change.

A number of people have reminded me lately of the movie "Even Almighty". The scene they mention is always the one in the diner - when God reminds the wife of Evan of her prayer from the beginning of the movie. God reminds her that he doesn't just make it happen - he presents opportunities for you to choose to make it happen.

So we pray to God. God presents us with the opportunity to take his gift. Then we have to choose to accept it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Shedding fear

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly as I should. Eph. 6:19-20

Today I think I've learned something really amazing. It's been another example of how we are broken down only to be lifted back up and rebuilt into something stronger:

This weekend, certainly this Monday morning, I had been feeling woefully inadequate. It was like I was being flooded with insecurities and fear. I felt so insufficient. I felt like a giant screw-up. Like I was ruining the good things I had been graced with, like my job, the relationships with the people God has put into my life. I just didn't feel good enough. I didn't feel like my best was good enough. I didn't think I was good enough.

But I had church this evening, and I'd been looking forward to it all weekend. I came in with a better attitude than I had sported for most of the day. I was nervously excited about the small group leadership meeting; I confess as we were circled around discussing our roles for the next eight weeks, I began to let a little of that doubt and fear back in... am I good enough? Can I handle this?

Even right before the message started, I get a phone call from my heart surgeon's office - finally! - and scheduled an appointment for about 2 weeks away. So I have about a million worries, fears, and doubts running through my head and heart as I sit back down to listen to the message. Then tonight's message really tore my heart out.
We have a necessary fight against sin

But before we can take up with fight, we must reject fear. Fear has no place in such an important battle.

So I know if I shed this fear, it will make me stronger, to fight sin.

If I shed this fear (the fear of failure, of not being good enough) it will make me stronger. I make myself vulnerable to make myself stronger. You must shed the fear to expose the Spirit that God has placed inside you; you can't let fear cover up the Spirit of God.

The pastor speaking tonight was literally answering my inner monologue from earlier today: "Reject fear - the fear of failure, of not being good enough. There is no need to have this fear. You can't go into battle against sin with this fear".

First, we must know that we have a necessary fight against sin. Much of Romans 8 talks about lining yourself up on clearly one side or the other: Spirit vs flesh, peace vs sin, life vs death. It also outlines a sense of urgency - if we don't take the fight to sin, sin will still attack regardless if we are prepared or not. ("So then brothers and sisters, we are under obligation...to put to death the deeds of the body" (sin) Romans 8:12 NET). Romans 8:12 tells us we must "put to death" sin, that we have an obligation to wage this good fight. If "put to death" are not clearly fighting words, I don't know what else would be. So we arm ourselves with the word (Eph. 6:17, "take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God").

Second, embracing fear means we can't embrace the Spirit.
Romans 8 is very black and white. There are no clever gray areas for people to wait on the sidelines. You, personally, are being attacked by sin, and you, personally, can just sit there and take it or accept the aid of the Spirit who is here to fight on your behalf.
Romans 8:6-7 tells us "the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so." If accepting the Spirit of God means life and peace, then the other side to that coin would be a life of death and fear without the Spirit. 1 John 4:18 tells us "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love."
So with the Spirit, we do not need to fear. Romans 8 makes it very clear that sin and flesh are what brings punishment and fear, whereas the Spirit of God brings life and peace and love.

Do I get it yet?? I can't possibly accept BOTH the Spirit of God AND the fear that comes from the flesh. If I shed this fear, I can finally choose the side I need to be on - the side that includes the Spirit of God, life, peace. Fear gets in the way of accepting the Spirit. Its something that resides between you.

So you reject the fear. Get it out in the open and expose it. Let go of the pride that keeps you from sharing it, and humbly make yourself vulnerable - to the Spirit of God, and the life and peace that comes with it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Have you ever had one of those days...where the beginning and end seem so different, it seems impossible that they came from the same day? My Sunday started out rough. I confess to skipping a service in church that day (I watched online) because I wasn't feeling myself and needed the extra rest. I responded to a few messages, started getting excited about the day, and then was literally off and running from there on out.

The weekend's events had given me much to think about, and the running always seems to focus me and remind me of what's really important. I knocked out an easy 11 miles and all that time with me, an iPod, and a treadmill really got me relaxed and focused. It gave me time to think about how I was vulnerable, yet fearless. My health makes me vulnerable, but I'd also let my lack of relationships with friends and family and even with Christ at times put me into vulnerable positions. Without this external support, I was vulnerable to doubt, temptation, a number of nasty things. The message this morning at McLean was on dealing with temptation, but it struck a note on me when it mentioned that surrounding yourself with a biblical community of support was a great weapon in healing and avoiding temptation. I'm beginning more and more to see the truth of that.

My next stop (after a quick but very necessary post-run shower) was to McLean Bible Church for my small group leader interview. It was great to be able to connect with a person over there. It was more like pouring my heart out and showing who I was; making myself vulnerable and sharing my history and testimony, but doing so fearlessly. I've found that humbling yourself, making yourself vulnerable, being completely honest with others by being completely honest with yourself, has been life-changing. I've also found that this is how you build or rebuild relationships with one another. "Love must be sincere.". Romans 12:9

Short version, the interview went well and I'll leave the details and action items to another post. Baahh action items.. you can tell I've lived in DC too long.

Afterwards, I decided on half a whim to deliver a small gift to some friends I had lost touch with over the past few years. One of them - thankfully! - was home, and I was able to catch up this evening. What I really loved was that our conversation was so God-centered. It had been far too long since we had been able to have such deep discussions about our faith and future and trials and hope. Mostly because we had let other things get in the way (at least I know I had let other priorities and hurts sneak in and sabotage my relationships).

By Monday, it had really struck me what it meant to be honest with myself. I had been honest with myself Sunday, when I realized there were things left undone with friends. When I honestly looked back at my feelings for what they were, I was able to recognize the divisions with these relationships for what they were, and attempt to repair them. "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law." - Romans 13:8. If I am honest with myself, then there is no room for excuses or justifications for putting off mending these relationships. I would have felt like I was sinning by not addressing something I knew to be wrong. "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone". Romans 12:18

Being so honest with myself has been like turning a light on in a room. Look, the emperor has no clothes! If I can be honest with myself about my own shortcomings, then there's no reason for me to try to hide these from others or even feel ashamed about my shortcomings in front of others. We have all sinned and fallen short. Again, I think by being openly vulnerable, and showing that we have weaknesses, and are human, we can break down the barriers that people tend to naturally put up between one another. Because if we're to get to other people through their barriers, we have to first tear down our own.

When we tear down our barriers, then we can begin to exchange gifts to one another. Encouragement, love, hope, faith..."I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong - that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith." - Romans 1:11-12

Saturday, August 21, 2010

People will surprise you

The past twenty-four hours have been one of those learning experiences you'll never want to pray for, but you feel better have come out the other end of of it.

Yesterday late morning I went to go get my heart scanned. This scan will determine if I am a current candidate for surgery (it's all explained in more detail in my last post (Hope II, Miracles).

Basically, instead of waiting until I can get an appointment with the surgeon for him to examine my scans, I decided to pop the disk in from my morning's scan myself. I had watched my doctor's look at and explain the scans every 6 months or less for the past 6 years, so I figured I had a fair idea of what I was looking at.

Unqualified as I was, I looked at the scans anyway to measure the aneurysm now, and the copy 6 months ago. Short version, I measure my recent scans to show that it has grown at least 3mm, perhaps more given my conservative measuring. Since this shows a clear increase in the size of the aneurysm, and my surgeon said that ANY growth would warrant surgery...well, I started freaking out a bit.

It was in the midst of my freaking out that I found out a few things about myself and the others around me. The response when I said I needed help was overwhelming, and humbling. It was quite an experience to realize I'm not alone and there are people out there who would drop everything to make sure I'm okay.

After that rough day, capped off with running 6 miles, a few teary phone conversations, and most of a pitcher of sangria with a friend that night, I woke up this morning finally feeling at peace with what is going on, or rather at all the confusion going on. All of it made me realize God was in control the entire time. He puts people in our paths that we will need later. He humbles us when he throws wrenches into our detailed life plans (or are we throwing wrenches into his plans..?). And he gives us all of these so that we are equipped, whole, and mature people in Christ:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." - James 1:2-4

My next morning was spent at the Loundon County Juvenile Detention Center. In the strange calm I was experiencing today about my health, I dove right into it. (Literally, I tackled Kishore (of Hope Wells Up Juvenile Prison Ministries) upon walking in the multi-purpose room where the kids were gathered). He introduced me to the only two girls that were currently being held and immediately I fell back into my wild, crazy, goofy self. I wanted to put these kids at ease and let them know that I was there to listen to them, support them, and love them, regardless of why they were put in there.

The Saturdays at the detention center sort of go like this: Kishore's there early, talking to kids, and the volunteers start trickling in. At first the kids are still congregating in their own groups, and are even sometimes visibly shy or uncomfortable talking to these strangers. Then we circle around Kishore for the worship service that he leads with a mic and guitar. The volunteers try to sit immersed in some of the groups of kids - I warned the poor kids in front of me that I sing loud and off key, so they better sing loud enough to cover me up. As the volunteers start clapping along, the kids will too - by the second chorus of the first song they begin to realize they are in fact allowed to enjoy themselves.

After worship, the whole group circles up and bibles are handed out. Today we had 11 of the 17 kids choose to come to church instead of the alternative activity (that day, "current events"), and with about 8 volunteers, we had a nice large group. We each read some of Romans 1 around the circle. We get through the passage, and of course this chapter ends with "God's wrath against mankind" - at first that's all the kids focus on. Eventually most of them are speaking up and out with questions, and we went from Romans 1, to the concept of the holy Trinity, to everyone being forgiven.

We then broke into small groups - all the while the kids easing more and more into conversation and feeling more comfortable about speaking out. When I finally got to talk to the two girls again as part of our small group (the two girls, me, and four other volunteers), they seemed a bit more at ease with us and with talking. We got to hear about their stories, their hopes, or rather why they felt hopeless. It was only about another 30 minutes I got to talk with these girls one on one - but what I wanted to reinforce to them was that they were loved and cared for. I kept internally thinking about my experience the night before, and the overwhelming response I got from people who cared about me. Now that I had that confidence that there were people out there like that for me, I could convey that confidence to them: that they had similar people, friends, family in their own lives that loved them, prayed for them, and cared for them. Before we wrapped up (or were kicked out, due to strict time schedules set for the kids), the more quiet of the two girls admitted that she didn't know what to think of us at first and was afraid, but that in the end, she was glad we came. I made sure she had my phone number and email (I even peer-pressured the other volunteers to do the same) and that they could contact me for any reason at all. Since we had read Romans 1 as part of the larger group, I re-read Romans 1:12 for them: "That you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith". I wanted them to know that they were each other's cheerleaders, and it was important to surround themselves with people who would support them and reinforce their good decisions - and prevent them from falling into the same cycles of in and out of juvi.

Everything considered, from the ups and downs of this weekend, I feel pretty good about where I am. I recognize that God is in control, and he sets things up the way he does for a reason. Our trials make us stronger, and equip us to pour the grace given to us back on to others.

The prospect of heart surgery now doesn't seem as scary as much as it does exciting. I don't know what will happen, and the fact that I have been presented an opportunity for such change is amazing. God never just gives us these changes, but presents us with opportunities to make the changes happen.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hope, Part II (miracles)

"For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."
Romans 8:24-25

I feel like this verse has a number of different applications to the way we address that which we cannot see and touch. Let's say I have a car that is sitting outside my house. It started yesterday. It started the day before that. This car has been reliably starting for the several years I have owned and driven it, and I've got no genuine reason to believe it won't start tomorrow like every other day I've turned it on. Would I say "I hope my car starts tomorrow?" Likely not. Hoping my car starts tomorrow when I know within a 99.999999999% chance that it will start is not hope. This is "hope" that is seen and it is obviously no hope at all.

But don't we do this with our faith some days? Do we not say, "I'll believe it when I can see and touch it"? But if we are not hoping for something crazy, but rather something predictable, then it doesn't require faith to believe in, now does it? It simply requires some deductive reasoning and cleverness, and magically, we're our own gods, because we made what we hoped for come to pass.

Faith and hope really go to together when we hope for something crazy. I would call it a crazy hope when there is no way this could happen without God showing up. How often do we try to do things that we know would fail without God there? Do we ever try REALLY crazy things?

Let me share some of my own personal story here. I have an ascending aortic aneurysm. It's essentially a ballooned out artery immediately next to my heart. It really is as scary as it sounds - it's a very serious condition and I shouldn't be able to do much given this at all. A few years ago, when I was about 22, I was in for a regular check-up and they measured the aneurysm - it measured at 5.9cm (keep in mind, the operative begins back at 5.5, and I was well past it). Needless to say, my doctors, my mother, and myself - we all freaked out. I was a wreck for over a month while waiting to get an appointment with the surgeon again. As I was sitting in the middle of my bible study group, I was a broken person, without hope - I really thought that this could be the end of my life. My bible study group, my church, they prayed over me, broken and hopeless as I was, that I would be healed and the aneurysm would shrink. Aneurysms don't just go away or shrink on their own; I accepted their prayers, but I couldn't bring myself to hope for something impossible.

After a month of literally heart-wrenching waiting, I went to see the surgeon again. The aneurysm that had formerly been well within operable range at 5.9cm was now 4.9cm, outside of a range that required surgical intervention. There was NO WAY this could be possible. The surgeon attributed the "error" to a mis-reading of the previous scan. There was no other answer that made sense to him. There was no other way to explain what had happened without God.

There is much I should not be able to do, especially given the fact that I have this time-bomb in my chest. But now I have learned that I am invincible with my hope and faith in God. After that frightful, scary, and hopeless month of waiting to find out if I'd have surgery, I took up running. In the past six months I have already run over 500 miles, including 2 half marathons. I have climbed up the Manitou incline and run on the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado. I have motorcycled from the 'burbs into DC during rush hour traffic. I have realized that I can really do anything when God is with me. Many of the crazy or stupid things I do would be difficult under normal circumstances and should be impossible under mine; and yet I hope to complete them anyway. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31) We know that God can provide us with anything - it's never a question of capability. If you really believe He spoke us into existence, then why don't you believe he can perform the impossible - miracles? And if we have this great God on our side, who seriously thinks they can stand against God and win? Who seriously thinks that there is a task we cannot perform if God wills it?

This is crazy/faith. Without God, these things I do would be crazy. With God, it is simply faith.


This Friday, my aneurysm will be scanned again for my 6-month followup. This is a crucial scan this time around because if the aneurysm has grown, it will produce a clear pattern of growth over the past 18months that will warrant surgery. If this scan displays a smaller or at least stable aneurysm, then I will likely be able to put off surgery for at least another 3 years.

I'm not sure what to pray for, to be perfectly honest. "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18) I'm trying to remind myself that it's really not a big deal in the scheme of things, and could in fact be an opportunity. While it's a risky surgery, I'm now at a point in my life where I'd rather have it over with and enjoy the time off to figure out what I could do with my new life. If it's stable, I'll continue to be monitored regularly and continue to have the prospect of surgery weighing over me. I think I will pray that the aneurysm is gone completely. This isn't "possible" - there is no way this could be true...unless God showed up. I think I will pray that God shows up.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." - Hebrews 11:1.

What do we hope for? What do I hope for?

"But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." - Rom 8:25

There's a lot that I hope for... much of it I don't think I deserve. I hope to love and be loved. I hope to have the courage to dive into ministry and leave "safe" behind. I hope I can learn the "secret of contentment". I hope to learn how to be satisfied with who I am and what God has given and made of me, and not want for anything else.

"Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy"
-1 Peter 8

Often we let doubt be the other side of hope. We let the devil creep in and turn what we hope for into doubt. We let him turn our hope - a pillar of our faith - into something that makes us ashamed. Like we're ashamed to hope for something, like we don't deserve it. When we abandon hope, we abandon God - we call Him a liar because we're telling Him we don't believe he'll grace us with what we're hoping for.

"I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body" - Phil. 1:20

Now this is some crazyfaith. To believe in ourselves, to trust in God that He made us, saved us. We banish doubt and fear, and let hope and trust in. What if we let ourselves stop getting in the way of ourselves? What if we stopped doubting and started hoping?

"But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does" - James 1:6-8

We must have hope that God's forgiveness will really be graced to us. We must have hope that he really will give us what we ask for when it is Godly, and faith that he can deliver it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What is your life?

Our plans are silly. James 4:13 tells us as much:

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life?

What is your life??

From the moment we are born and start to grow up, are family and culture has a plan for us. We go to all our school and graduate. We go to college, we meet a nice girl or guy. We graduate college, land a plum job, and marry our nice girl or guy. We have kids, and continue plucking away at our jobs until we retire.

I can't count how many friends and acquaintances I know where this "checklist" has been faithfully checked off and whittled away over the years. This checklist is imposed on us by our parents, our family, our culture... they all measure our success by how we measure up against this checklist.

Have you graduated school? Good work, son, you're on track. Why can't you go get a good job, (you know, one like the one your aunt has)? Have you met a nice guy yet? No? Well obviously you're doing something wrong, go back and fix whatever it is you've messed up, so you can get back on track.

I want to know where God is in this checklist, and where we start listening to His plan for us instead of our own.

You are a mist for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins".

Jesus calls us to follow him. "Come, follow me, and I will make your fishers of men". At once, they left their nets and followed him. (Matt. 4:19-20) In James, we are told that if we know the good we ought to do (follow Jesus) and don't (live our own culture-based lives), we are sinning.

So what do we do to reject the culture and its demands of us, and embrace what plan God has for us?

Personally, I find myself at the point now where I am ready to run away from what culture wants. I know it will be hard, and I know my family will be disappointed in me for getting off of track of my "checklist". My hardest part now, is to listen to God, and really hear and listen to what His plans are for me now.

I find myself thinking then ever that God has bigger things in store for me than climbing the corporate ladder. He never makes it easy too, because the empty corporate ladder dangles in front of me; if I want to take it, I've got a very secure well paid job, possibly an executive position waiting down the near future. I am good at what I do here. But is this where God really wants me? How am I glorifying Him by climbing the corporate ladder? I've been working here for a year and a half now, steadily getting better at my job, and becoming indispensable. However outside of work, I had stopped looking for a church, stopped making time for friends - the only thing I invested myself in besides work was running. Now I'm beginning to realize that while I've been investing myself in work, I've turned into an incomplete person who thinks she doesn't need God, friends, or family. If this is what I turn into by being a successful scion of our popular culture and completing my "checklist"... then I don't want it. Give me poverty and hunger, take away my job and security, if only it means I'll be a more Godly, whole person.

Like I said, I've packed my desk in my head. Now I'm just waiting for the opportunity to serve Christ in the way that He's planned for me. I pray that when I hear Him calling, I'll recognize it and follow.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Safe and Content

Safe and Content. These words usually follow one another in our common vernacular. To be safe, secure, is to be content. Contentment follows all of your circumstances lining up to outline a secure place for you - whether its your home, job, family, etc. But Biblically? I'm not sure if these words really belong together.

I listed to a message today about contentment that was centered around Phil. 4:11-19.
"...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength....My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."

So while in prison Paul writes to those in Philippi that he has learned how to be content. I'm not in prison, in fact I'm living comfortably, have employment, a family that loves me, and yet I am incontent. Part of the message included an admonition to be thankful for what we do have, rather than resent what we think we're missing.


Now what about safe? Paul was certainly not safe or secure, and yet he was content. I think my personal issue with what is 'safe' at this point in my life has little to do with physical comfort or security. I am concerned that my life is too 'safe' - that I am too afraid to venture away from a comfort zone I am already familiar with. What could I be missing out in life because I am unable to see a path out of this comfort zone?

I've already mentioned that I don't think my current job is where I need to be right now. But it is there, and while I have it, I am secure and I have everything I need to live comfortably. So I suppose my biggest question for myself, is why do I feel the need to flee my comfort zone? Is it because I feel like the grass must be greener somewhere else? Do I want a new life because I think think I lack contentment with my current one or because I think it's too safe and God has more out there for me? Can it be both?

For me, it's get's down to the issue of patience. I want to invest in new opportunities, but I want these to grow right away. I want to control my circumstances and watch things change before me. I SHOULD wait for God to present me with the opportunities He has planned for me. I confess to being impatient while waiting for my life to change.

Now I need to ask God to teach me to be content while I wait in Limbo, not knowing where He wants me to move, or even if He wants me to move. To be content while I wait for Him to show me what I should be doing right now, and if it is my current occupation and circumstances, that I am content with that as well.

It's funny how when we stop looking for something, we find it. I had given up on looking for something, had settled in, and decided that the best course of action was to let what might happen, happen. God would put it in my path when I was ready for it. And so when I stop looking, and I feel caught unprepared, God drops it in on me. Now I don't know what to do with myself. It's such a nascent thing He's given me to take care of... I can't bring myself to trust that it's real. I always find doubt creeping in to tell me that it's not really there. Now, I again need to find or learn patience as I wait for this thing to grow from something new and small, or if it doesn't grow, I need to learn contentment.

I realize that's cryptic... but my job, my life, whatever my purpose is, I suppose I need to stop looking. When you stop looking, is usually when you find things. I pray that by not trying to control my own circumstances, I can make room for God, and for Him to drive my circumstances.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Do you wake up, and have your mind racing ahead of you as you peel yourself out of bed? Ok, I totally admit my first thoughts are about why, oh why, is my alarm going off this early. Two or so snooze buttons later I eventually get off and running and the mind is racing.

So my train of thought as I prepare for work this morning was how I needed to be living for myself. That probably sounds as weird as it looks on the page... what I mean is that I've got to get my own to-do list started, and start tackling my own goals and dreams. And boy, do I have a laundry list.

So most of today was spent about contemplating this laundry list...
....Get back into shape on piano so I can really enjoy playing with the worship teams again (gosh do I stress out about not being good enough).
....Write a book about my journey, my health challenges, where my hope comes from, and how my faith makes me feel invincible.
....Stay healthy, run... do all the races and marathons I can possibly run.
....Dive into ministry. Build people up (Eph. 2:22... in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit).
....Build relationships with people. Learn to accept their grace and help, learn how to bestow my own grace and aid.
....Travel EVERYWHERE and take agabazillion pictures of it all. If God creates so many beautiful places for us, how can we be content to see only our small corner of it? (Rom. 1:20...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...)
....Get trained as a medic so I can be tangibly useful on a missions trip.
....Go on a missions trip! (Or several!!)

And all the while glorifying God and following Jesus.

As I'm contemplating this laundry list of what I REALLY want to be doing, I'm stuck at work, trying to focus on what's in front of me. Instead I'm putting out fires and giving attention to all the little short term things that pop up. The several projects at work that all are 'priority', making sure I'm in school and set for next semester, trying to stand up my new account for my health insurance, grocery shopping, errands, clean, figure out why the car is making these funny noises and how I'm going to find the time and money to get it fixed. Quickly my day got overwhelming. And frustrating, because I'm realizing that I'm spending all my time and energy on things that don't really matter, at least that don't really matter to me.

This all makes me think that I need to prune away the things that are keeping me away from my "laundry list".
"A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' 'Sir', the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.' (Luke 13:6-9)

Luke 13 also tells me three years. A period of "ample opportunity". A prescription of patience, because no sturdy tree grows that way simply overnight. A good tree takes time to strengthen. I realize three years is not the golden rule, what's important is the lesson implied. But when do I cut it down? When do I abandon my pursuits as fruitless and go on to something more worthy?

My health only leaves me with so much energy through the day. I have good days and bad days, and I never know which is coming up next. So I try to maximize the time I have when I do have energy. Only there are so many distractions present, and these consume the precious energy and time I do have, leaving me little to devote to things that really matter.

If you were to live each day like it was your last, would you really be worried about the trivial things? Or would you try to work on your own laundry list? Live like not a single minute is unimportant or expendable, (Matthew 25:13, "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour").

The plan for now... patiently await God's plan. Invest in other trees that could grow fruit, and wait for one to bloom.

Waiting. is. not. easy.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Seeing God through the iPhone

This past weekend, I up and went off on a 12-hour roadtrip on short notice. I decided Thursday morning what a crazy amazing idea it was, (by Thursday night I thought I was just insane), and left early Friday morning. I was able to borrow a sleeping bag and tent on short notice, threw some stuff in a bag, and left with pretty much only my iPhone and google maps app to guide me.

Now I was given a general direction (north, to New Hampshire), and new how to make my first steps. I had driven north through Baltimore dozens of times and considered it pretty familiar, safe, easy to get to, not much chance of getting lost... sort of a comfort zone if you will.

As I started to get out of familiar territory I found I needed to rely on my iPhone more and more to get me where I needed to be. I looked at the long list of unfamiliar directions it provided me, and I promptly ignored it. Even with my iPhone, I still managed to screw up and get off track (I refuse to count how many u-turns I had made that weekend). When I got through Maryland, I thought it would be safer to just stick to I-95 because I knew it would get me there eventually - so I took the scenic route through Philly instead of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. I completely ignored my iPhone and detoured. Despite this, it was willing and able to tell me exactly where I was, and how to get to New Hampshire from there. Often it involved a completely different set of directions than when I started: when I detoured through Philly, my updated directions had me go through back roads in Pennsylvania to get to the New Jersey Turnpike. I had trouble again not much later, and ended up stuck in New York - and still my iPhone provided the navigation I needed to get back on track. Eventually, I had made it to New Hampshire and I was clinging to my iPhone to give me the step by step directions I had now learned it reliably provided.

Is this not exactly how God guides us through life? We feel like we don't need Him when we're in familiar territory. We neglect to reference his Word to get us through the familiar because we can get by, by relying on ourselves and man around us. As we begin to step out of our comfort zone, He provides us directions. But often we don't listen, or think that we know better - and the only thing ignoring Him does is get us lost. So we're lost, alone, and the only hope we can see is by listening to God. The only other option is to stop moving and give up. But really, how appealing an option is it to remain stranded and separated? What if when I got lost in the middle of Massachusetts, I had just stopped my car, and called it a day? Doesn't that sound lame?? I'd be hundreds of miles away from any family, friends, jobs, or home, and nowhere near where I needed to be. Do we do the same with our faith? Do we give up or stay put, even when we know we need to be somewhere else?

His directions may sound crazy or complicated, but they reliably take us from off track, to back on. It may take us several tries, and we may get off track again - either we're not listening or we don't understand. Each and every time God is there to navigate us back to His path for us. The path changes depending on where we fall, and we learn from our experiences and use them to guide us. The point is we're always trying, always moving forward. We're relying on God to keep us moving in the right direction. We may not know where we're going, but we need to have faith that God is there, and that with Him we can never really be lost.

Monday, August 9, 2010

from the top

I don't know about you. But I'm one of these types of people who wants to do about a million different things. There's always a bunch of thoughts running through my head: things I want to do, places I want to go, ah-ha moments that I need to write down before I forget them. So maybe I can do a little of all of that here.

Let's focus on the crazy of crazy/faith for a moment.

Less than a month ago, I took an amazing vacation cruise through the Caribbean. What made it amazing was that I met a person there who blew my mind. He was one of these types that really get you to open up and think about what you're doing with your life. I was able to talk with him about my faith - the same faith I had put on a shelf about a year ago.

I came back from that trip feeling completely unsatisfied with the person I was at home. I realized that my job was my entire focus and purpose. Now that I had let faith back in my heart, I realized how unsatisfying it was to not be doing something that really mattered or touched people. I realized how scared I was that my life had become so empty, boring, and predictable. I'm only 24, and yet I've been presented with a 20-year plan at work. I'm terrified to feel like I'm on train tracks - if I keep doing what I'm doing now, I know exactly where I'm going to be in 20 years and it scares the crap out of me.

In short, I desperately crave change and adventure. Life and work here are unsatisfying, yes, but it's also what I know: it's comfortable and safe. If I want the change I so crave, I need to dig deep down, and reach way up to find out where my crazy faith is. Venturing off into the unknown is scary business, and it's only possible with my Lord Jesus. Who else will point me in the right direction, pick me up when I fall down, and provide for me? Too often we try to be our own God and decide what we should do or be without asking him. Or we try to rely on conventions of man to provide for us, like jobs, health insurance, etc.

Here is the crazy/faith: Rely on God. Go jump down the stairs, knowing that He's going to catch you. Go off and help somebody when it's inconvenient or dangerous, knowing that he's going provide for you and keep you safe. Go drive somewhere without a map or directions, knowing that God provides the tools and signs, and will work out the details.