teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name... psalm 86:11

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

a sacrifice of thanks...

I’m learning that gratefulness is something that needs to be cultivated… intentionally and aggressively. I’ve had seasons where being thankful came easily and naturally. But then I’ve had seasons where living in gratitude felt forced and insincere. We always talk about getting to a place where our faith isn’t based on the circumstances around us, but rather on the character and promises of God. Well, I want to be at a place of gratitude that is not circumstantial either. There’s always something to be thankful for.

It’s interesting to see how thankfulness is presented in the Bible. I hate to use the word demanded because the choice is always ours in what attitude we possess… but let’s just say that, in the New Testament anyways, it’s highly recommended. We read things like:

Let us constantly and at all times offer up to God a sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15)
Always give thanks to God for everything (Eph 5:20)
Give thanks in all circumstance, for this is God’s will for you (1 Thes. 5:18)

I think the coolest depiction of gratitude, though, is how it is presented in the Old Testament. Giving thanks to God was done through making a sacrifice to Him at the temple of one of your best animals. I’ll spare you the graphic-ness of the process, but there really are some rich parallels between this Thanks Offering and cultivating thankfulness in our lives today. The animal being offered would be split up between what was burnt on the altar to God, what was given to the priests for food, and what the person making the offering would take back home with him. It was the only type of offering where you didn’t go home empty handed. You got something in return, and that something was meant to be shared with others. The one making the offering would take his portion back home and enjoy a meal afterwards with family and friends where the spirit of giving thanks to God would overflow and continue with everyone present.

Other than the animal being killed and all (praise God we don’t have to do THAT anymore!), sounds pretty kumbaya-ish, right?! But what about those seasons where saying thanks to God is painful and hard? When you don’t feel thankful? When life has the sting of bitterness? I love what one commentator said regarding the passage of Leviticus that describes these Thank Offerings-

“Notice this verse calls this the sacrifice of thanksgiving. We need to sometimes give a sacrifice of thanksgiving. There will be times when turmoil, doubts, or tragedy may rob us of our joy and we may not feel very thankful. But the thank-offering was to be a sacrifice to God. Sometimes we need to sacrifice to God- sacrifice pride, sacrifice emotions, sacrifice material goods, sacrifice time, sacrifice commitment. A sacrifice is not a sacrifice if it doesn’t cost us something.”

Being thankful really is a spiritual discipline, requiring effort and commitment. It may not be a literal sacrifice these days, but it’s a sacrifice nonetheless. That is why, with my birthday coming up, I’m challenging myself to begin year 29 in a spirit of fostering thanksgiving in my life. On my list I wanted to choose a month to write down 3 things every day I’m thankful for- so September is going to be the month. I would love it if people would join me at my table and share this meal with me for the month… lets encourage each other to have a perspective of gratitude, k?! We really do have so much to be thankful for…
I will post every Sunday my list of things I'm thankful for for the previous week... would love for others to join with me and share things they are thankful for too... whether its one thing or one hundred things! I just think it'd be a cool experience to share together... :)

Monday, August 29, 2011


For the entire second half of last week, I had the same conversation running through my head. It was a conversation with a high school girl I’d just met where she reluctantly told me she was atheist… reluctance partly because she was at a church event and partly because she has a tender spirit that was afraid of offending me. It was a short but honest conversation, mostly her talking and me listening. I've had many conversations like this before, but for some reason the mental replay of this one became more and more discouraging to me as the week went on…

For those of us who thrive on being the fixer, the teacher, the encourager… these dead-end conversations kill our spirit and our confidence. As the interaction would replay in my head, I fell into these mind games of what I could have said and how I should have responded… as if there was some magical answer that would have instantly broke open her heart for Jesus. I should know better by now than to succumb to these mind games because they only leave you feeling drained and depleted. Discouragement is not a holy place to camp out- God is the giver of life, not defeat…

This past weekend, though, I received some aptly timed encouragement that spoke truth into this area of my heart. We had small group training at church where we discussed the raw and honest realities of ministry and the things we need to remember as spiritual leaders. There were some incredible people there and I appreciated the candid dialogue of what being a leader in a ministry involves … Two things in particular spoke to me, probably because it’s the areas I experience the most frustration…

1...   Transformation of others is not our responsibility. Period. We are invited to play a part, but creating change in others is not it… neither is manipulating a need for a Savior in others. We are called to pray, to serve, to be open to God’s work in our own life and authentically live it out for others to see… but we are not the Holy Spirit. HE is the wooer of souls, the one who softens hearts and opens minds, the one who convicts of sin and righteousness. His work is not dependent on me having the right words and the correct answer in a certain situation. He is far more capable than I. And this is incredibly freeing.

2...   There is a tension between grace and truth that we need to be aware of. Both are equally important and equally needed in our relationships… if we allow one to overpower the other, then we’ve been compromised. The problem with this, though, is that we tend to fall more on one side the spectrum than the other. Personally, I tend to lean more on the side of grace… which in a weird way I always felt was the holier side… but I was reminded this weekend of the power in truth and that there are times when I could stand to be more bold in declaring it. How will people know God’s heart in things if we never speak it. For me, I allow fear to stop me because I so desperately desire for people to know my love for them… but sometimes sharing truth is the most loving thing I can do.

So this is where I’m at and what I’m learning… and I share the challenge in it with you. May we all surrender control and allow GOD’s transforming power to work in us and in others around us… may we strive to walk the balance of grace and truth… and to love without an agenda…

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I see you, I hear you...

My senior year of High School was monumental for me… it was a year of new friends, new experiences and a lot of growth. That was the year I discovered the value of true fellowship and the value of studying the Bible. I became part of a small group and we did a study on the Names of God in scripture. Through this study I fell in love with the character of God and the nearness He has with His creation. With us. It allowed me to see Him as personal and not just some distant cosmic force…

I’ve been reminded of this study… inspired to maybe do it again?!... as I’ve been reading through Genesis because so many of the names used to describe God are first encountered in this book. Genesis is a book of beginnings and introductions, so it’s only natural that through the telling of history unfolding, God’s presence in this world would also unfold. There are names like Jehovah-Jireh (“the Lord will provide”), El Elyon (“the most high God”), El Shaddai (“God almighty”), and Elohim (“Creator God”). These are names of God that I know and have clung to in the past. There is something old and comfortable about them.

This time, though, I’ve been intrigued with another name of God in Genesis… one that I haven’t really noticed before… it’s a name that Hagar calls Him during one of the lowest and loneliness times of her life. She calls God El Roi, which means “the God who sees me.” The original Hebrew connotation for the word “sees” runs deeper than mere visual acknowledgement, though. It literally means that He knows and understands in a deeply personal way. Hagar felt rejected, abused, unloved, and completely distraught… running from her past, but hopeless about her future… she was stuck. God met her in that desert place to speak to her fears and insecurities. Her response was one of awe and relief that she wasn’t alone after all. The living God not only saw her pain, but He was meeting her in it.

It’s ironic that in an age where we’re more connected to each other than ever… cell phones, email, facebook, texting, twitter… there’s still this prevalent feeling of being alone and being misunderstood. We crave relationship and we crave value. God longs to meet these two basic human needs if we would just stop running and look to Him. He is El Roi… He sees us, He knows us, He understands where we’re at and what we’re going through. We are always seen, and we are always heard. What a beautiful thing.

May we be encouraged by this facet of who God is… He is the God who sees us. He is always present… always engaged… and always wanting to answer the silent prayers of our heart.

Friday, August 19, 2011

this is the way...

just wanted to post something I was reminded of today...

Whether you turn to the right or to the left,
your ears will hear a voice behind you saying,
"This is the way; walk in it."  isaiah 30:21

am I taking time to listen for it? are you? what does God's voice sound like in your life?

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Every morning I have the same routine when I get to my desk- check the headlines, check my email, and then read a chapter of Proverbs (there’s 31 chapters and usually 31 days in a month, it’s perfect). I’ve always known there to be great little nuggets of wisdom in Proverbs, but this month I’ve been super struck with the amount of them having to do with our WORDS- both the quantity and quality of what comes out of our mouth. I have to admit, it’s been incredibly convicting!

When we’re little we’re taught that silly rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…” Such lies- words DO hurt! Harsh, critical, destructive words… or in some cases just the sheer lack of positive, encouraging words… create deep wounds in us and leave us with carefully constructed walls up. These careless words flung around are what break relationships, feed vicious cycles of pain, and often hinder people from experiencing true communion with others and with God!

There are four proverbs (12:6,18; 15:4; 18:21) in particular that have been really sobering- each of them present the idea that our words fall into one of two categories… they either hurt and kill or they heal and bring life… there is no middle ground. I know we live in a culture that promotes authenticity and tells us our feelings are valid- which they are- but this doesn’t give us a license to run our mouth on the basis of it being our opinion or our experience. Our words have power and we can’t ignore that.

Churchy answer, but look at Jesus- He is THE word. He of all people had the right to be angry and frustrated and to call people out. And he talked… a lot… and people listened. So what kinds of words did he speak? He spoke words that were full of Spirit and life, full of grace and truth. The only harsh words recorded of Jesus were saved for those who oppressed others with their words and opinions- something worth taking note of! Our words reflect what’s going on in our heart, there’s no way around that fact. When we speak words of bitterness, anger, and pride- it shows the ugliness inside US more so than what our words were intended to be about. But when we speak grace, truth, and life like Jesus did, it shows God’s work of transformation in giving us a heart like His.

So I’ve been praying for more of a filter, that I would think before I speak… and that I wouldn’t let the gossip, criticalness, and sarcasm around me influence what comes out of my mouth… because scripture clearly says that I am accountable for my words (Matt. 12: 33-37). There are a few proverbs that really resonated with me, so I’m claiming their truths and trying to apply them:

- kind words clear the air, mean spirited words just add to the drama [10:32]
- the wise accumulate knowledge before speaking rather than rambling about nothing [10:14]
- negative talk kills relationships and community [11:9,11]
- a gossip won’t be trusted with anything [11:13]
- a gentle response diffuses anger [15:1]
- gracious words are good for the soul [16:24]
- the wise count their words rather than ramble on and on like a know it all [10:19]
- irresponsible talk makes messes, but honest words can bring healing [13:17]
- your words affect your reputation [16:21,23]

May we learn to ask ourselves first if what we are going to say is kind… wise… helpful… encouraging… true… inspiring… necessary… And if it’s not, may we learn the spiritual discipline of staying silent.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

beauty out of dust...

I don’t do silence well… one of the many reasons why I typically have music playing. And as much as I love music, I love NEW music even more… where the lyrics still seem profound and inspiring because they haven’t been overplayed yet. Currently one of my new faves is “Beautiful Things” by Gungor- the tagline of the chorus simply states: You make beautiful things out of the dust, You make beautiful things out of us.

I love this. Probably because it echoes what I’ve already been learning lately anyways as I go through Genesis… there’s so much power in realizing the purpose and intentionality behind all of God’s creation. Including me. Including you. He’s constantly at work behind the scenes making beauty from the dirt and mess.

When we read how God made man in Genesis 2, it says that God formed man out of the dust of the ground. The Hebrew word for “formed” is typically used to describe what a potter does when creating and shaping a clay vessel. In college I had a powerful visual of what this means when an actual potter came to chapel to demonstrate the process for us. He began spinning and forming a giant container of some sort- it was huge and magnificent. Then halfway through chapel the thing toppled over. Everyone gasped, like a massive tragedy had just occurred, embarrassed for this poor potter whose work of art was just ruined before our eyes. But the potter just kept on working and slowly an even greater creation emerged from the clay. The final product was absolutely beautiful and something we never could have guessed from what he first started with.

He knew what he was doing all along. He had the final piece in mind the whole time he was working, even when we all thought something unexpected had destroyed his work. It’s such a tangible display of our relationship with God…

--  Sometimes he has a tender, gentle touch &
sometimes he has to apply pressure to shape us how he wants
--  Sometimes we are being built up tall and strong &
sometimes we’re allowed to collapse into a seeming mess
--  Sometimes he is smoothing areas out &
sometimes he is scraping designs into us to leave his mark

All the while, though, His hand is on us and He is standing beside us shaping us into the beautiful vessel that He imagined when he first breathed his breath of life into us. That’s what God does- He makes beautiful things out of dust. We are dust. We are being made into something that can only be explained by the goodness and grace of God.

May we not resist the potter’s touch, but rather trust what He has in store for us… may we believe that we are a vessel that displays God’s beauty… "You, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." ~isaiah 64:8

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

a time for every season...

I’m kind of new to the blog world… I tend to be a few years behind on these sorts of things… but I’ve definitely developed an appreciation for the community, the encouragement, and the inspiration that can come from reading about others’ lives and passions. There are two blogs in particular that I’ve grown fond of- both belonging to author’s that I have recently read. I have found that their journeys through life and faith have multiple resemblances to my own journey… I feel like I should be friends with them… but that’s kinda stalkerish…

A reoccurring theme for both of these writers is embracing the ebb and flow of the seasons in our lives. Funny thing is, this same idea has been apparent in conversations that I’ve had with dear friends lately too. Not necessarily knowing (or even liking) what the heck God is up to in our lives, our relationships, our jobs, our worlds… but trying to accept where we’re at and allow ourselves to fully experience the good that is there anyways. This is a hard thing to do sometimes. I think that’s why we need each other to do life with.
One of the writers has claimed Ecclesiastes 3:11 as her life verse… “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He also has planted eternity in men's hearts and minds, a divinely implanted sense of purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy…” A good reminder. A hopeful reminder.

The truth is, every chapter of life we find ourselves in has a purpose, even the tough ones. The first eight verses of Ecclesiastes 3 that lead up to this “life mantra” list fourteen diverse spectrums of life seasons- death, life, crying, laughing, holding on, letting go… we have the whole experiential gambit here. And it doesn’t say that some of these are bad and some are good- instead, it says that they each have their place. This causes tension in me, because I don’t want to be broken or mourn or lose things; I want comfort and ease. But God says that these are the seasons that develop perseverance, character, and hope in us. They help grow and mature us.

If I had to label the season I’ve been in recently, I would say it is one of wandering and relinquishing. It’s been hard and I’ve had a few breakdowns- but what keeps me going is knowing that God is not through with me yet, and this isn’t the final stop for my life. Another season is just around the corner…

May we recognize the season of life that we are in, and not only learn from it but rejoice in it… may we claim God’s promise that He will make all things beautiful in His timing…

Friday, August 5, 2011

grace & peace...

Am I just a total nerd, or does anyone else feel like they’re grieving the loss of a good friend when they finish a good book? Seriously, I find that I take my dear sweet time savoring each chapter because I want to extend the joy of reading it for as long as I possibly can. Kid you not, I avoided the last chapter of the book I just finished for a good two weeks because I didn’t want it to end. It’s called To Live is Christ and it follows Paul through Acts to glean encouragement from his life and ministry for our own journeys with Christ.

I would never be so presumptuous as to place myself anywhere near the faithfulness and service of Paul… but there is one aspect of his life that resonates deeply with me these days. Paul was a wandering soul, never quite settled- he traveled from city to city (aka church to church) leaving pieces of his heart along the trail. My past year has been a similar journey- I’ve attended and served at three churches, each one leaving its mark on my heart… mostly attributed to the students I have had the privilege to share life and faith with along the way. For one church it was a long season, for another it was brief, but a piece of my heart was left with each and I have not forgotten them even though life has moved on.

Here’s what I love and am encouraged by with Paul. Though far away, he stayed connected to those he had built relationships with… and this was long before text messaging and facebook! In between visits he would write letters encouraging them, challenging them, and continually pointing them towards Jesus. Thirteen of his letters are included in the New Testament & each and every one of them begins with the same greeting- “grace and peace to you.” Why is this significant? Because before he dives in with what’s going on in life, what they’re learning, what they’re struggling with… he brings them back to the foundational fact that in Jesus there is grace and there is peace. Everything else he could possibly say beyond that stems from these precious gifts of God.

These words- grace and peace- have become somewhat cliche and watered down over the years. At their core, though, these words represent something deeply profound that we can’t fully understand apart from Christ. Grace was a word used to describe a favor done without any sort of expectation of getting something in return. The only relationship we can honestly experience this in is with our God. Peace denoted a state of untroubled, undisturbed well-being. Again, we can only truly experience this through resting in our God.
As I finish this study of Paul, this is my challenge for myself: how can I model God's grace and peace in relationships where I'm unable to live the day in and day out with them anymore? How can I encourage those dear to me to continue seeking the grace and peace that only God can give?

So to anyone who may read this… grace and peace to you… in their truest sense…

And to my former students, and lifelong brothers & sisters in Christ… thank you for allowing me into your life and know that I, like Paul, thank God for you every day.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

making something from nothing...

In exactly 399 days, I will be 30.  How this happened, I do not know?!  In honor of this milestone birthday, though, I decided to make a list of 30 things I want to do before I’m 30.  Starting this blog was the first official item that I checked off the list. Another thing I’m excited to do is to read through the entire Bible. Now I love my beat up Bible that I’ve had for years… there’s something endearing and comforting about all the notes written in the margins, the incessant underlining, and the flakes of fake leather that chip off the cover when I pick it up and open it… but for this particular challenge I decided that I needed a new Bible, with clean, blank pages. My prayer in this task is for a spirit of newness to emerge from the not-so-new words.
I opted for ordering a key word study Bible that gives the original Hebrew and Greek for key words in the scriptures. I’ve found that there’s a richness and depth that emerges when you know the implications of the original language. All that to say… I just got my new Bible in the mail and I’m excited to start reading it.
Since I’m super ADD, I’ll probably jump all over the place, but I felt it fitting to at least begin in the beginning… with Genesis… “In the beginning God created…”  Five words in and I already see God’s goodness and greatness.  So the word for “created” is bara, which means "to call into existence without pre-existing materials"- literally speaking, it means to make something out of nothing! In Genesis 1 we get to see a grand demonstration of this as God creates the whole universe as we know it from vast nothingness. Incredible! My mind got to wandering... and wondering... what this creator aspect of God has to do with me though?
I love that our God is a God of potential... where we can only see what is, He sees what is to be. God spent three days forming the world and then the next three days filling it. All the while He had the finished product in his mind of what He was shaping, but He chose to work through a process rather than something instantaneous. I think that God is constantly in this process with our lives too, creating something beautiful out of darkness and void. He is a redeemer at the core, longing to bring beauty and purpose to where there is none. This word bara speaks hope to me. It calls me to trust in the process of what God is doing in and through me, trust that He has a plan for the areas of my life where I just see a void.  So I will wait... wait for his creation to take shape in my life... because I know it will.
May we all embrace hope for what could be... and cling to the Creator that has the ability to make it so...