He Shines Brighter

pulpit rock

Pulpit Rock, Colorado Springs Colorado

(I went to Colorado over Spring break, so the next few posts are going to be written out of what I saw and learned about God while there. All you have to do is take one look at the mountains to learn something new about our Creator.)

It was midnight and 36 degrees out. There we were, Colorado air filling our gasping lungs, as we made a not-so-simple climb up Pulpit Rock. We kept going despite that we couldn’t really see the next step in front of us. Personally, my legs were burning just as much as my lungs (this was the second mountain to climb that day) and I was just praying I wouldn’t trip over a rock on the way up.

It was worth the climb. Once at the top we could see the city lights for miles. There was a river of yellow, orange, green, and red, all flooding the night. As far as I could look I could see lights. We sat at the top, silent and completely mesmerized as we stared over the city.

Then I looked up.

It was a clear night and to say the stars were stunning is not enough. Sure, the landscape out before us seemed brighter, but those orbs of burning gas, millions of light years away, weren’t the least bit intimidated by their competition. Did you know that the Milky Way contains something around 400 billion stars? There’s also 170 billion galaxies that we can observe, each with their own billions of stars in them. That’s more than all the grains of sand from every beach and desert on earth. It’s crazy.

The city that so caught our attention was built by man — and it took years. Those billions upon billions of stars were spoken into existence by God Himself…and it took less than a day.

~

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man. . .His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” Revelation 1:12-16

Man can build his cities and shine his lights, filling the night with an artificial brilliance, but Jesus, none can ever outshine you.

“Hungry”

Two years ago I had an experience that has changed the way I see the human on the side of the road holding a sign that says, “Hungry”. I sat in the car, with my groceries in my lap and passed by a woman holding that little sign. I knew right then I was supposed to give her some of what I had but I came up with a few good excuses and my roommate and I drove on by. That night my heart was burdened, I felt so convicted, and I spent the next few hours looking up every verse I could find about giving to the poor. This one struck me pretty hard,

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18).

I was nearly dumbfounded. If you withhold your compassion and your possessions from your brothers and sisters then the love of God is not in you?? There I was, desperate to be found abiding in the love of God (John 15:9) and now I found out that this meant giving to those in need. There’s obviously tons of more verses on the subject, but I think the one that so clearly portrays the Lord’s heart is Isaiah 58:6-8,

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness[a] will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”

That night I made a promise to the Lord, one that I have need His grace to keep. I told Him that whenever I saw someone in need and I had something to give, I would give it. It’s been a journey walking this out and I certainly haven’t done it perfectly. Sometimes all I had to give was an orange, but I believe it is something. The reason I’m writing about this is not to earn your admiration, it’s actually to call you to do this as well, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not just because the Bible tells us to, though that ought to be sufficient, the reason is that in the last few weeks I’ve noticed something different in my heart. Something’s changing (and I want you to experience it for yourself). You can only brush hands with the broken, look into the eyes of the lost, and share your food with the starving for so long before something in your heart changes. It’s a slow process, but eventually handing them a bag of food while you’re sitting at a stop light won’t be enough. There’s stories behind those sad eyes. There’s a name behind the cardboard sign. Your heart will start breaking and the question, “Lord, what else is it that I can do?” will begin forming. I haven’t got that answer yet, but I think it’s a beautiful thing to be drawn into the heart of the God of compassion, learning His thoughts and emotions for the people you’re touching–though only for a moment. It’s such a beautiful place to be, knowing the emotions in your heart weren’t there a few months ago, that this new strange thing called compassion is now in you as a gift to be given to others. It’s a simple charge I give you. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars every month, but you might have to go out of your way sometimes. You don’t have to put yourself in dangerous situations, but you will have to get used to being pushed out of your comfort zone every once in awhile. All it really takes is a heart that’s available. It won’t look the same every time and you won’t always have something to give, but when you do, don’t let the enemy steal your treasures in heaven by talking you out of it. 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Learning to Play Again

My fingers are stiff, they don’t know what they’re doing. I am rewiring the connections in my brain with the ends of my fingertips. Working all my muscles and straining my memory–painfully slow.

Its arduous and rather unrewarding at first. But there can be no shortcuts. The foundation is the most important part of a house. If there’s one thing I’m learning its that all the good things come slow and with some pain, because hidden underneath the decision to say yes again and again is real desire. You know, people never quit at something they really want. Not if they want it enough, that is.

Those stiff fingers, not-so-deftly moving, never really with precision, are teaching me something. They’re teaching me patience. And the joy of persistence. And the little old saying, “slow and steady wins the race”. And the hope of words like “someday” and “breakthrough”.

cropped-photo1.jpgThis does not come naturally, nor has it ever really been a dream that I’ve held onto. I almost laugh when I look at the mountain ahead that I must climb. I’m ill suited for this journey, not prepared in the slightest. The amount I know versus the amount that still lies untouched, uncharted is overwhelming.

It’s absurd, nearly, and that’s why it’s a challenge. Its not something I have to do, which is why it’s a joyful decision to make. It’s mine. I don’t have to do this, and it’s my freedom to choose. So I get to.

He’s going to use this. He’s going to use this to teach me about himself. For this task I need humility; I need the ability to ask for help. For this I need a teacher and I need to be willing to learn. For this I need divine grace, upon which I must be dependent, for anything done in my own strength is worthless.

I really can’t do this one. My will is gonna give out on me eventually. But I hear his invitation, it’s why this is the only thing I haven’t given up on yet.

He’s going to teach me patience and endurance. He’s going to teach me how to dialogue with him in the process. He’s going tear out my pride, let all the selfish things die, and then resurrect me. All the ‘greats’ had to take a road like this. The saints all started somewhere. Maybe this is mine. Maybe I’m a masterpiece in the making and I don’t yet know what form I’m taking.

Of this I’m sure, it will take years. Are these simple fingers still willing?

I’m learning to play again.

Only Victors Feast

I’m sure you can agree, sometimes trusting God is hard. When there’s mountains before us (those big challenges we face), its easy to question the goodness of the Lord. We think, “Why would He lead me THIS way? Doesn’t He know I’m terrified?”

Something I learned this week is how much we truly can trust God’s leadership. It was simple really. I was sitting in my car in the driveway with the windows down; the little bit of sunshine and the stillness of the moment was too good to pass up. I realized that, despite a little nervousness at the obstacle ahead of me, I wasn’t afraid. Not like I used to be when facing similar things in the past. I whispered to Him, “I really can trust your love“.

Over months and years we build a history with the Lord. Well actually, He builds a history with us. Despite that He doesn’t have to prove Himself to us, He does time and time again. Day by day He proves that His love really is good, that His motives and intentions are pure and that He can be trusted.

Here’s just one example of this.  While sitting there in the car I was listening to a song by Loud Harp, called “Steadfast Love”. One lyric, from a Psalm I’m sure most of you know, stuck out. “You prepare for me a table, in the presence of my enemies.”

It struck me that God doesn’t prepare a table for us in the presence of our friends. Its our enemies we sit before, whether they be people, situations or emotions. In our lives we face giants of difficulty and pain, like our very own Goliath, and we ask, “Why God? Why would you put me up against this enemy?“. But do you want to know the reality of the matter?

Only victors feast.

If God has prepared a table for YOU in front of your enemies, then you already have the victory. Only victors feast. Like me, your enemies might be called, “past failure”, “inadequacy”, and “fear”. You might be up against these giants (and others) but the ultimate statement of victory is to feast before them. God has prepared the table, He has spread the feast, you’ve been invited not just into a battle but into a victory.

This means that just because you’re standing before Goliath, God hasn’t steered you wrong. You might be thinking He’s crazy, that He doesn’t know what He’s doing, or that He really isn’t trustworthy. But only victors feast. You are right where you’re supposed to be, even if its difficult. No its not comfortable, but comfort is not where the feast has been laid. In the presence of your enemies God has secured the victory and He will receive all glory from as you rise above and overcome because of His blood.

Let that be your hope and strength today. The end of the story is written, the victory is secure, you ARE going to make it.

The Beauty of “Together”

“The music is soft, our hearts are raw, we come needy. As the melody plays we each find strength to sing. Quietly at first, but with each added voice our courage rises. I believe it. ‘How great your love is for me’. We believe it. Together we find faith to sing it. We’re reaching and we’re feeling the love of God and for a moment we are unified. One heart, one voice, one mind, agreeing with truth.” (1/26/15)

Its beautiful, experiencing the love of God corporately. We each come in the room with our own burdens to lay down. We have tired eyes, broken hearts and broken bodies. Some barely have the strength to lift their eyes, others are hanging onto one verse for dear life. Others have learned to sing through the pain. On our own, we won’t make it.

We sit down in those gray chairs and put our eyes elsewhere. We breathe in deep and let the peace of God minister to our hearts. Together we are able to believe, together we are able to sing. “Woah oh, woah oh, how great your love is for me”.

We need each other. The faith of one brother can give courage to another. Its moments like these, sharing a song, that can change so much. Suddenly its not just me with all my problems and worries trying to sing. Brothers and sisters are singing it with me and now its not so impossible to agree.

14 “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,[c] 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19

Waiting

Its a Monday night and I don’t know what to write about. I have no new revelation, no song in my heart or cool testimony to share. I just have me–raw emotions, a little messy at the moment, and kind of unsure of what the Lord is doing in my life. Actually I’m just. . .waiting.“What am I waiting for?” My frustrated heart asks. “What do I really want? What about the promises? Do I even want them anymore?”

Waiting makes you reevaluate what you’re waiting for. It purifies your motives which means either your direction is changed or your resolve is even more strengthened.

Vulnerability time: lately, I’ve found myself despising the things I thought I was waiting for. Not because they’re bad things, they’re actually all good and Biblical, but my heart is so unsatisfied with the thought of what they will bring.

For instance, I think about going into ministry, I think about being a pastor, shepherd, teacher, or leader. I think about having influence, seeing people get saved, revival, healing, miracles, etc. I look at what “fruit” might come from my life, from the training I’m getting and the trajectory of the path I’m on. Its important to have a life vision and to look forward but I am beginning to dislike my version of “forward”. I look at all of it and deep down my heart says, “I don’t want it.”

They are all really good things, but still, I’m not content. Maybe I should be, but I’ve always had the ache in my soul that says, “there’s something more”. I don’t want my version of the future because I don’t see a heart that’s alive. I see accomplishment and activity but I don’t want to be dead inside while doing it.

Wrestling through these feeling has been confusing. It has made me think that I should reconsider everything I’m doing. I’ve been saying things like, “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life” and all the while growing more and more discontent with what I’m studying. I’ve been wondering if I should even be doing children’s ministry. Obviously backing completely away and saying no to it all is the extreme option. Yet, even if I decided to do different type of ministry or to go back to college and get a degree or to get married and be a stay at home mom (all plausible options) I think if I looked at them long enough my heart would come to the same conclusion – “I don’t want it”. I don’t want any of it.

Those things, though good, are not what my heart was made for. They’re not the thing my heart is crying out for. I have an ache that won’t be satisfied with a calling or ministry assignment.

Right now I think the Lord is using the waiting to ask– “what do you really want?” He’s pruning away at my divided heart and is producing a cry that says, “I only want you God.” Its not that I didn’t have that cry before, it was there, but now He’s testing it. He’s seeing if its real. Not for His sake though, He knows what’s real and what’s fake. He’s testing it for my sake. He’s letting me choose and be sure in my decision.

I’m not living for a job description. The “future” I’ve made up in my head isn’t that satisfactory. I don’t want to spend my life chasing my version of anything. I don’t want to be working toward some end goal in ministry, simply chasing fruit.

I’ve always thought about my future as “getting somewhere and finally being something.” Well, I’ve explored all the ‘somethings’ I could be and I don’t want any of them.

If He’s not my goal then I am lost.

(Disclaimer: I’m not having a life crisis. Please don’t worry about me.To be continued, for sure.)

3 Things Church History has Taught Me

(The following is a blog written for my Church History class which I am making available for you to read. Enjoy.)

1. God uses imperfect vessels to carry out His perfect plan.

For example, throughout the growth and history of the church we see many apologists, bishops and monks who served the Lord with genuine fervor. They did not, however, have everything figured out correctly nor were they perfect in their practice of Christianity. The early church got all sorts of things wrong, such as the idea of “apostolic succession”, the use of relics and penance in the official church as well as intertwining Roman politics with church offices. On the other side of things, monk’s who were celebrated for having saintly lives believed in asceticism, some to the point of causing fellow monks to die. None of this stopped the perfect plans and purposes of God. The church grew and blossomed, genuine conversions took place and the gospel began spreading to the nations. It is easy to have a harsh view of the past now that we are more “enlightened” than they, but we must realize even those who got it wrong were used by God.

2. Authentic Christianity has a cost.

Looking at the Western Church today one would think Christianity was merely an activity or hobby, similar to that of the Sunday afternoon football game. Most Americans profess to be Christians, even church-goers, but how many today truly hold the same faith of those who suffer persecution and martyrdom? In the times of the early church the true test of faith was whether one would denounce their faith in the face of suffering or not. Though persecution was not widespread or continuous through the rise and fall of Roman Emperors, there came a point where many professing Christians had to pay the price of their faith. They considered it the highest joy and honor to be a martyr and bravely faced their suffering. This meant there was a price to pay; Jesus instructed His followers to take up their cross and follow him, many doing just that.

3. Jesus alone will be able to rightly combine religion and politics.

History has a bad rap sheet when it comes to combining the church and state. Long term it has rarely been successful, though there might be benefits here and there. For instance, Constantine legalized Christianity, making it easier and more popular to become a Christian. This however led to a watering down of the gospel and a weakened faith. Later as the Papacy grew in power and with the crowning of Charlemagne as the “Holy Roman Emperor” the state began to corrupt the church. Theological decisions were made according to who had the most sway with the emperor, church offices were bought and sold instead of given to worthy leaders and “indulgences” were given by the Pope in order to persuade the people to join in the crusades. Religion and politics will only be successfully joined together under the sovereign rule of Jesus Christ. Until then, men will continue to fail at it.