Monday, June 13, 2016

Georgia On My Mind

These past few months have been rough.

I lost my apartment and moved back in with my mom, my small group/Bible study dissolved, and I began to question what in the world God has planned for this now-30-year-old single lady. Certainly this wasn't it, right? Longing to regain independence, feeling hopeless about my finances, wondering if I was at the "right" church for me, succumbing to anxiety and depression, considering quitting photography for the umpteenth time, knowing darn well that I have much more to offer than I'm actually giving - but how, where, when and to whom?

I was able to escape my inner turmoil for a bit when Mom and I went on vacation to New Mexico at the end of March, which I absolutely loved. It was there that I started to wonder if I should abandon my home of three decades and move out of state. Of course, it would have to be arranged by God, because how would I even go about doing that? I love The Salvation Army and wouldn't want to give up working for such an awesome organization. Could I keep my job somehow?

One night in Albuquerque, I posted in a national Salvation Army Facebook group for my "counterpart" colleagues (employees in other states who do similar work - website, social media, etc.) to share if they've ever transferred their job within the Army. When asked where exactly I wanted to go, I responded that I honestly wasn't sure but probably somewhere in the West or South. I also mentioned it was something I would consider in the next year or so, certainly not expecting what would come next.

Within 24 hours, I was invited to apply for jobs at The Salvation Army in California and Georgia. In a whirlwind week, I completed initial interviews, with agreement from the West and South that I was a top candidate for both positions.

I went from crying on the floor in my mother's house just a few weeks prior, desperate for God to make a move on my behalf, to being presented with two amazing options for new life. Interestingly enough, the last time I cried on the floor was during the only period I lived out of state (very briefly in Brooklyn), and that day also led to new life - my salvation.

After much prayer and counsel as well as follow up interviews, I thanked California for their consideration and decided to pursue the job in Georgia. It has been a long process - 2 months from when the position was first presented to me, to when I recently received an offer and accepted. I am tentatively moving down during the last week of July and visiting the Metro Atlanta area this coming Saturday, June 18th through Wednesday, June 22nd to hopefully find somewhere to live.

I'm both excited to start a new chapter and terrified to leave all things familiar. New Jersey is home and always has been. I even have a freckle shaped like it on my nose! But staying in my comfort zone is a surefire way to stay stagnant - which is exactly how I've felt for the past several years. I have to believe that God has a greater plan for me; one that may feel uncomfortable for a while (I'm already prepping my family to receive weepy phone calls) but will launch me into my destiny and help refine the woman of God I desire to be.

It's very fitting that this past weekend was an annual church retreat in Ocean Grove. I really needed time with the Lord, away from all the details of my upcoming move. Not only did I worship more freely than ever before (and man, did it feel good!), but I also had a vision of me of Jesus dancing in a field. This may sound weird, but it actually felt like He was my boyfriend - which is a label I've never used for Christ, though others have, and I totally get it now. The vision was all about trust and being in love with someone who can truly take care of you. Falling into someone's arms who can and will hold you up. If I could unflinchingly trust Jesus that much in all areas of my life, imagine what it would look like! If I were to learn on Him and not myself, surely things would skyrocket past my wildest dreams. This relationship is what I want to carry with me down to Georgia and for the rest of my life.

Here's to answered prayers, friends. Here's to new beginnings <3

"I'm learning that it is more valuable to step out in faith for God to use me than to hide away somewhere in my Christian walk where I won't risk a bump or a bruise." -Chrystal Evans Hurst

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Struggling to Have Hope

(Message given at The Salvation Army New Jersey Division devotional time on Thursday, March 3, 2016)

I'm gonna keep it real with you all - I don't even feel qualified to speak at devotions today, because I’ve been in such a spiritual rut lately. Here we are, in the middle of Lenten season, looking forward to the hope of Easter, the hope of the resurrection, and I’m honestly struggling to have hope at all.

My life was recently turned upside down a bit, as I lost my apartment and have been experiencing some trouble finding another one in my budget, in a safe area. And not only that - but I really don't even know where God wants me to live. So, I'm temporarily back at my mom's, which is not where I expected nor wanted to be as I quickly approach my 30th birthday. I've been angry, disappointed, anxious, confused - pretty much any negative emotion you can think of. I've also been completely unmotivated to read scripture, pray or seek out prayer, which is very unlike me. I feel like I'm losing a bit of myself each day, which is kind of embarrassing, because it's not like I'm at the end of my rope. I have a wonderful job, great family and friends, but sometimes when the routine you're used to is rattled, the uncertainty overshadows the good. The fear overshadows the truth. Can you relate? Has your world ever been turned upside down and left you wondering how you’ll move forward?

My dad tells me that I'm actually in a wonderful place, because God can do anything now. He could set up a home for me anywhere - all I need is faith in Him. Which my spirit so desperately wants to have, but it just doesn't right now. So, what do we do, when we as Christians struggle to believe? In preparation for today, I found myself scouring the Bible for people who have been in my position of discouragement. Have you ever done that? Have you ever said, “Ok, God. Speak to me, show me a story that relates to my life right now”? I needed to know that someone else felt the way I feel and came out of it with hope. Turns out, I landed on not just one person but many - the Isarelites wandering in the desert.

I can relate to them on several levels because I am:

  •     Feeling lost without a home of my own
  •     Longing for the way things were
  •     Questioning God's work in my life
  •     Straying from Him into worldly idolatry
  •     Anticipating delivery into my "Promised Land"

I certainly hope I don't wander around for the next 40 years. Can you imagine what that was like? It hasn't even been a month for me, and I feel hopeless. Lost for 40 years? The Israelites started to complain dramatically in Exodus 16:3 saying to Moses and Aaron, "If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death."

Now, this is silly, but true - several of my family members and friends thought that my former apartment wasn't a great place to be. In no way can I compare where I lived for 3.5 years to slavery in Egypt, but I find myself longing for it, just like the Israelites longed for their former not-so-good situation. My apologies if this grosses anyone out, but one of the features of my apartment was a fly and worm infested shower. I'm sure most people wouldn't have lasted a week with that, let alone a few years, but oh, what I wouldn't give to shower with flies and worms again! Seriously! The Israelites had food a'plenty in Egypt, and I had peace a'plenty at my old apartment, even with my roommates of the insect kind. When you're feeling desperate, the past looks pretty good, right? I'd deal with A, B, and C if it means being home. If it means being safe and ironically more comfortable and canceling out my current situation. Have you ever longed for the past, even if it wasn't so good?

Back to scripture - the Lord heard the cries of his people and provided manna for them to eat and water to drink, and they were still cranky. The Lord has provided me with everything I need during this time of transition, and I'm still cranky. Like the Israelites, I've turned elsewhere for help. When things aren't changing as quickly as we’d like them to, it's easy to spring into action and try to take care of everything ourselves. The Israelites did this in Exodus chapter 32 by creating a golden calf to worship. God noticed and told Moses, "Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’"

While I'm not physically bowing down to an idol, I am seeking out money to save me. If I can't afford a good apartment, what can I do? Maybe I'll cut this expense or eat cheaper food. Maybe I'll seek out a second job, anything to get more money, because if I had it, I could find a place tomorrow, and everything would be ok...These are the things that I can do. But I'm not meditating on what God can do. He's saved me twice! Once physically in an accident and again when I asked for salvation. Money has never saved me. Ever. Looking to it now is foolish. What is the golden calf in your life right now? Be honest with yourself. What do you look to for help instead of God?

What I need to do (and we need to do) is be less like the Israelites and more like Moses. He knew God had made a promise and would stick by it. He regularly communed with the Lord and made bold requests. In Exodus 33:18, Moses says, "Now show me your glory." Just like that. Hey, you know me, you know my heart, so reveal yourself to me in a big way. And God does! Have you ever prayed, "Lord, show me your glory. I'm in a rut right now, and I need to see you. I need to know you're working my life out for good"?

However, what happens to Moses? After years of wandering, the Promised Land is finally drawing near, and the Lord says in Numbers 20:12 - "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them." Oof. After all that? The most righteous among them won't even get to experience their new, glorious home?

What does that mean for me? In this season, as I struggle to believe, am I robbing myself of blessings because I don't trust in the Lord? Have I already missed the right home for me?

The answers honestly might be yes. How can I expect God to be on my side if I'm not on His? If I'm wandering, doubting, seeking help elsewhere...

There's Good News for that. There’s Good News for me and for you.

The Bible teaches us that it's ok to feel discouraged, because life on Earth isn't perfect. It's ok to feel like God isn't near in your desert, because He still is anyway. It's ok to struggle with faith, because so many did and are and will - and praise God, He will prove Himself. If He makes a promise, you can bet He'll stick by it. And He's promised to never leave me - even if I stray from Him. He brought the Israelites into the Promised Land, and He will bring me to my new home, too, wherever that may be.

I urge you today that the next time you're in a spiritual rut like me, don't throw in the towel. Stay in the game, seek out truth, search for stories you can relate to in the Bible - they will be there. Ask God for help to believe. Wait in faith to see what He does. I hope to have a wonderful glory story for you next time. Until then, be blessed, and let's pray.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Great Expectations

Happy New Year everyone! Are we all eased back into work and the daily grind? Some more than others? When I was praying about what I should speak on this morning, the word "expectation" came to mind. With each new year, it seems we all have hopeful expectations, right? This year is going to be different. My financial situation is going to change, my relationships will improve, fill in the blank. There is a bit of magic in the air at midnight because expectation is high.

I spent the week leading up to New Year's making plans with friends, taking advantage of shortened work hours and expecting a fun few days. Not so much. Five different people cancelled on me over five days in a row. And one of them was a date I was really looking forward to! I went from hopeful expectation to big let down.

A little more lighthearted - I was speaking with a friend the other day who expected to receive a specific Christmas gift. Her sister asked her, "What would you like for Christmas?" and she responded, "an iPod." But instead of 16 gigs, she received 16 shirts from her sister. Sixteen shirts! But expecting what she asked for wasn't unrealistic, right?

When our expectations aren't met, we're disappointed. The joy gets sucked out a little. Life teaches us over and over again where we should not place expectations - namely, on other people. Will my friends cancel on me again in the future? Absolutely. Will I cancel on them, or let them down in another way? Sadly, yes, I will. Can you always expect to receive what you ask for from another person? Not always.

This is why our great expectations should be focused elsewhere. On the only person who can actually meet them - Jesus Christ. The one true God. With Him, we are taught that we will not be disappointed. He is always available, always faithful, never wavering. He is, in many ways, what we can't be, at least not while we're fallen. And that's why our eyes should be fixed on Him.

What can we expect from God? I'm thinking of an often quoted and favored verse from Jeremiah. Do you know it?

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -Jeremiah 29:11

Forget your plans. God's plans are so much better, and if you can believe that and expect Him to pave the way in your life, you will find peace.

Wait for and confidently expect the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for and confidently expect the Lord. -Psalm 27:14

We can expect God to show up in our lives! He won't be silent, he won't be sedentary. That's just not His nature.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. -Psalm 62:5

We can expect one of my favorite pastimes - rest. And something no person should go without - hope.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. -James 1:17

He doesn't change! But so many things do right? Living situations, jobs, relationships. We can't expect them to stay the same forever, but we can expect God to be the same incredible Father He's always been.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. -Matthew 7:7

Have you ever prayed expectantly, and had that prayer come true? I really need to start praying like that. Rather than my usual meek plea, I want to present bold requests with faith. That's my resolution for 2016.

I subscribe to daily emails from Rick Warren, and I loved what he said a few days ago - "God wants you to dream big. He wants you to base your dream not on what you think you can do but on what you think God can do. He wants you to use the imagination that he gave you, because dreaming big honors him. It shows faith. It shows trust."

So! As Christians, lovers of Jesus, we can expect:

  •     A prosperous future
  •     God to show up in our lives
  •     Rest and hope
  •     That God will never change
  •     Answered prayers

We know our expectations of God can be high, and He'll still blow them out of the water! But let's go back to the people in our lives. What should we do when they don't meet our expectations, or when we don't meet theirs? We should do as Jesus does to us - listen, forgive and love. We're going to be let down countless times, and we'll let others down, too. The good news? There's grace for that. A grace that we can share with everyone. Let's do that this year.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year

I've been waiting for things to change for a while. Hoping and wishing that something electric would be injected into my life. Reflecting on times when that happened, longing for them.

I've been passively waiting. I haven't actively sought out what I'm looking for. I haven't taken leaps of faith. I've barely even prayed about it.

On January 1, 2015, I had an overwhelming sense that it was going to be "the year" when something good would happen. I don't want to be ungrateful, but the truth is, I've felt like the past few years have been fairly wasted. I live in the same isolated, fly-infested apartment. I haven't been able to save a dime. I've meandered from church to church. I continue to question whether or not I should be a photographer. I wonder if I will ever meet someone.

Yet, the worst - My relationship with God is pretty sparse, Bible reading practically nonexistent, service at the minimum. How am I actually living out this life that I claim to lead?

The past two weeks have been shameful. I've willingly fallen into sin and done little to get out of it. "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it."

You may recall that I visited Resting Place's prophecy room about two years ago and was completely rocked. It is so incredibly powerful to hear through other people what God wants to say to you. Especially when you have trouble hearing Him for yourself.

Boardwalk Vineyard is currently wrapping up a prophesy weekend, and I was able to sign up for two 15 minute slots of ministry yesterday morning. As much as I wanted to arrive expectant, my spirit was distracted. Nevertheless, God surely spoke, and I know it's important for me to write out what was said.

During my first session, a few pray-ers from The Barn spoke words of comfort over me, assuring me that this will truly be a new year - one where I must trust Him, step out in faith, walk hand in hand with God and record what He's doing, so I can look back at it when I'm discouraged. One woman saw me as a big green pine tree (green is the color of life) on a cliff, with Christmas lights and a star, shining over a large land.

My second session was with a man I've never met and Darlene, who I'm grateful to know. She has been an important part of Shore Vineyard for many years, my former (and forever in my heart) church home. I've always been fascinated by Darlene's uncanny ability to connect with God. I remember being on a retreat some years ago, and she told a few of us ladies about how she was communing with God that morning, quite literally like she was talking to a friend right in front of her face. She talked to him, and He responded? She could hear Him? Since that moment, I've wanted to the same fluid, natural relationship.

The sanctuary was bright and peaceful, Jersey Shore light flooding the windows. If I wasn't expectant at my first prayer session, I definitely was now. And thanks to my Dad, smart enough to record this one on my phone.

"The Lord showed me a picture of a tranquil pool. I feel like the Lord gave me a glimpse of your spirit. I think God has created you to be one who specializes in or has an extraordinary gifting in the realm of tranquility and the deep peace of God, which is wrapped up in the love of God. Out of that arises beauty, a deep appreciation and love for the beauty of God, and the beauty of creation. I believe you are a creature of God, a creation of God who is intended to create beauty. I see artistic anointing on you, and I would encourage you to follow out nudgings of the spirit that come into your heart - thoughts, directions and projects that come into your mind that have to do with artistic endeavors, to reveal the beauty of God through creative arts, one kind or another. This will be an expression of the Kingdom, whether it's explicitly Christian or whether it's artistic expression that flows out of you, that blesses many and is a pointer to God's own beauty, to God's own creation. I would just encourage you in this realm of life, in this dimension, I think as you give yourself to it, there will be great inner satisfaction - that you'll be in touch with an aspect of your destiny, which will be very fulfilling in you." -Bruce

Well! This harkens back to what was spoken over me in the prophesy room, yet I still fail to believe it. I know that God has put me on a path to be a photographer, but there is such immense fear and anxiety that comes along with it, that I find myself not wanting to photograph at all. It's certainly easier to ignore a calling than actually work toward it. I purchased 12 photography education books - one for each month of this year - and I'm already fearing that I won't actually read them. I've also had a few personal photography projects cross my mind that I haven't acted on either. If this is truly what God wants me to do, why are there so many roadblocks? If this is truly my destiny, why aren't I over the moon enthusiastic to do it?

"I saw you with this candle. You were dressed in purity and holiness, and you were walking with this candle in the darkness. I see Jesus walking just beside you. The two of you have been walking through this place that needed the light that you were bringing. Now, He's opening a new door, where there is light all over, lots of light for you. You're going to see new things now that the two of you walking through the darkness with just that one candlelight couldn't see as well. Maybe you didn't even see He was right next to you, because His light was there with you. But now, you're going to see more. You're going to see more that as Bruce said, your creative gifting and anointing is going to be able to transfer for others to see it as well. It's not just going to be through your art. It's also going to be through your writing and your speaking. Because you have been in places that other people have been, but they didn't have the light to understand it. The understanding of some parts of your life is gong to come to you in this new light and brightness." -Darlene

I love to write and speak, and I've always been quite good at both. The fact that I rarely use either is rather sad. I wonder how many gifts go unused in the church. I was really touched by Darlene's vision, because as I mentioned above, the past few years have just felt dark, stagnant, unproductive. I know Jesus has been with me the whole time. I truly know that. But we just haven't done much except wander around. If He will illuminate my life and understanding this year, give me clear vision and direction, I know that joy and productivity will be unstoppable.

"Are you a singer?" -Bruce

And there it was. Last weekend at church, Ali Mac (worship leader) asked me the same question, and just as out of the blue. My answer to both friends was, "No, but I wish I was." Ali asked me to try and harmonize with her, which I failed at miserably, yet her even asking me to try tugged at my heart strings. I told Bruce I've always wanted to sing. If there was something I didn't do well, a gift that I wish I had, it would be singing. Music was such a huge part of my life for many years, but not in that way.

"I'm so glad you said that, because one of the words of knowledge that the Lord gave me last night while I was praying was that somebody was going to be anointed for music that had never had it before. So, I declare that in the name of Jesus as a word of knowledge that is coming true at this moment. That He's given you now an anointing for music that you've never had before. An opening of your voice, an opening of your mind, a opening of your ability with your body, whatever is required, whatever music He's calling you to. You're going to have such an anointing that people will think you've had education in it, when it's been His gift to you. You know, there have been men and women in the past who couldn't read, and God gave them the gift of reading. Men and women who couldn't paint, and God gave them the gift of painting. You wish and prayed that you would have that gift of music, and it's coming right now to you." -Darlene

"I also want to enlarge that word to you - songwriting, as well. I just feel like there may be songs that you write that you will sing, and songs that you write that others will sing. And you'll rejoice that you've been able to offer the songs, but others have expressed them." -Bruce

I lost it at this point. "That would mean so much to me," I choked out between tears. The Lord knows I wish I could sing and have tried before. Every now and then, I'll have a good note. I remember one time in particular at Shore Vineyard, I was lost in the moment during worship, and it was as if my lungs and throat opened like they never had before, and a loud, joyful note came out that actually scared me in the moment! I thought wow, that was me? I wish I could sing like that all the time! I've struggled over the past 24 hours to really let this sink in and believe it. Could God do it? Absolutely. But I'm honestly skeptical. Twenty nine years of mediocre singing, and suddenly, I'll be writing and performing songs? A dream, indeed. Could it really come true? What should I do with that now? Break out the ol' keyboard?

"I'm getting two other words for you. One is radiance. I feel like that word radiance is a word that contains within it a kind of movement. The motion is from the inside out. Not only do I think there's a radiance of Christ around you, and I think that was confirmed by the vision of you walking in an abundance of light. I think that was Jesus next to you, but it's also Jesus within in you, radiating out. The second word is acceleration. The ministry that's within you, the Kingdom of God that's within us and flows out - that's the radiance part. And I think now, there's a season of acceleration that's starting to happen very quickly, like a gate is going to open. You're going to move forward very quickly on things. And when that happens, you'll be synthesizing a lot of information and leading and promptings that will be coming in. It will really be timed like the gate is open for the racehorse. And the racehorse flies out of the gate, takes off, and everything within that horse is going. I think you're entering into a period when you're going to be radiating God, and all the gifts within your own personality are going to released, and you're going to run the race." -Bruce

I love the word radiance. If there was one word that could describe me or my life, man, I'd like it to be that. And hallelujah! Accelerate away! That's what I've been waiting for. I've been waiting to fly out of the gate toward my destiny. To stop putzing around and actually act. Forward motion. Please, please let it be so! I've been tired out of boredom. Let me be tired out of productivity.

"In the name of Jesus, we seal these prayers, these words that were spoken. We thank you for healing the memories of the times when she was walking with one candle, and she didn't know that Jesus was walking with her. Thank you for all that you created this beautiful woman to be and the plans that you have for her future. Thank you Lord that you've gone before her in all things, and you're protecting her and watching over her. As she walks now into more light and more giftedness and more talents, and even her music ministry, that she would remember who gave it to her. You say you did not choose me, but I chose you. And now, the desires of your heart have caught up with my desires for you, and I've actualized it in this realm. In Jesus name, be blessed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." -Darlene

"A final word came to me - narrative. Narrative is speaking out, and I feel like what came then was storytelling." -Bruce

I told Bruce I call myself a visual storyteller as a photographer.

"I think part of what God is going to be doing during this acceleration period of light that you're going to be entering into, is that particular ability will be ramped up." -Bruce

Double confirmation on the photography. Drats. I almost cringe when I hear it, because of the fear and intimidation. I'm going to really need some help to get past all of that.

So, what now? We've learned that I have giftings in photography, writing, speaking and now music? I'm really only utilizing the first. In what capacity would He have me pursue the others? I have so many questions. In the midst of all this, I really need to lock down a church family. That's my number one at this point. Irony is, I'm so confused and torn about where I should be that I didn't go to church today. Listening and writing this out and praying about it was my church this morning.

God, please send me confidently without question to the places you'd have me, to the opportunities you've laid out for me. Help me to find a church home, get plugged in and use my gifts there for your glory. Help me to make an impact for your Kingdom on a daily basis. Help me to get out of this several year slump and illuminate my future. Help me cast aside my skepticism and faithfully believe that what you've said is true. Lord, I need a lot of help that only you can give. Please come near to me in 2016, and may I come near to you. Amen.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Jesus I Never Knew

This is one of the best books I've ever read and may ever read. It's clear that Yancey did extensive research and soul searching to produce this head-scratching, heart-opening text. I admit to forgetting who Jesus is, forgetting what He's done and continues to do, even though I am living proof of His grace. Yancey presents simple yet overlooked characteristics of Jesus that I never really took the time to meditate on until now. There are so many gems in this book - only a few are below, but they struck me especially. If you get a chance to purchase this book (or want to borrow mine), you definitely won't regret it! Believers and non-believers alike - get to know this God we all think we have pinned down.

According to Jesus, what I think about him and how I respond will determine my destiny for all eternity.

Other people affected Jesus deeply; obstinacy frustrated him, self-righteousness infuriated him, simple faith thrilled him. Indeed, he seemed more emotional and spontaneous than the average person, not less. More passionate, not less.

One day miracles seemed to flow out of Jesus; the next day his power was blocked by people's lack of faith. One day he talked in detail of the Second Coming; another, he knew neither the day nor hour. He spoke eloquently about peacemaking, then told his disciples to procure swords. His extravagant claims about himself kept him at the center of controversy, but when he did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up. As Walter Wink has said, if Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.

The Master of the universe would become its victim, powerless before a squad of soldiers in a garden. God made himself weak for one purpose: to let human beings choose freely for themselves what to do with him.

The more I get to know Jesus, the more impressed I am by what Ivan Karamazov called "the miracle of restraint." The miracles Satan suggested, the signs and wonders the Pharisees demanded, the final proofs I long for - these would offer no serious obstacle to an omnipotent God. More amazing is his refusal to perform and to overwhelm. God's terrible insistence on human freedom is so absolute that he granted us the power to live as though he did not exist, to spit in his face, to crucify him. All this Jesus must have known as he faced down the tempter in the desert, focusing his mighty power on the energy of restraint.

I believe God insists on such restraint because no pyrotechnic displays of omnipotence will achieve the response he desires. Although power can force obedience, only love can summon a response of love, which is the one thing God wants from us and the reason he created us.

This quality of restrain in Jesus - one could almost call it a divine shyness - took me by surprise. I realized, as I absorbed the story of Jesus in the Gospels, that I had expected from him the same qualities I had met in the southern fundamentalist church of my childhood. There, I often felt the victim of emotional pressures. Doctrine was dished out in a "Believe and don't ask questions!" style. Wielding the power of miracle, mystery and authority, the church left no place for doubt. I also learn manipulative techniques for "soul winning," some of which involved misrepresenting myself to the person I was talking to. Yet now I am unable to find any of these qualities in the life of Jesus.

He has nearly inexhaustible patience with individuals but no patience at all with institutions and injustice.

Jesus did not mechanically follow a list of "Things I Gotta Do Today," and I doubt he would have appreciated our modern emphasis on punctuality and precise scheduling. He attended wedding feasts that lasted for days. He let himself get distracted by any "nobody" he came across, whether a hemorrhaging woman who shyly touched his robe or a blind beggar who made a nuisance of himself. Two of his most impressive miracles (the raising of Lazarus and of Jairus's daughter) took place because he arrived too late to heal the sick person.

Like a bell tolling from another world, Jesus' promise of rewards proclaims that no matter how things appear, there is no future in evil, only in good.

Human beings do not readily admit desperation. When they do, the kingdom of heaven draws near.

"I find it strangely heartening that the Bible remains offensive to honest, ignorant ears, just as it was in the first century. To me, that somehow validates its significance." -Virginia Stem Owens

"If anyone proved to me that Christ was outside the truth...then I would prefer to remain with Christ than with the truth." -Fyodor Dostoevsky

He brings to the surface repressed sin, yet forgives any freely acknowledged sin.

Perhaps prostitutes, tax collectors, and other known sinners responded to Jesus so readily because at some level they knew they were wrong and to them God's forgiveness looked very appealing.

Jesus proved in person that God loves people not as a race or species, but as individuals. We matter to God.

Jesus never met a disease he could not cure, a birth defect he could not reverse, a demon he could not exorcise. But he did meet skeptics he could not convince and sinners he could not convert.

"Jesus' healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only true 'natural' things in a world that is unnatural, demonized and wounded." -Jurgen Moltmann

I have marveled at, and sometimes openly questioned, the self-restraint God has shown throughout history allowing the Genghis Khans and the Hitlers and the Stalins to have their way. But nothing - nothing - compares to the self-restraint shown on that dark Friday in Jerusalem. With every lash of the whip, every fibrous crunch of fist against flesh, Jesus must have mentally replayed the Temptation in the wilderness and in Gethsemane. Legions of angels awaited his command. One word, and the ordeal would end.

"Anyone can be sentimental about the Nativity; any fool can feel like a Christian at Christmas. But Easter is the main event; if you don't believe in the resurrection, you're not a believer." -John Irving

God has always chosen the slow and difficult way, respecting human freedom regardless of cost. "God did not abolish the fact of evil: He transformed it," wrote Dorothy Sayers. "He did not stop the crucifixion: He rose from the dead." The hero bore all consequences, yet somehow triumphed.

In many respects I would find an unresurrected Jesus easier to accept. Easter makes him dangerous. Because of Easter I have to listen to his extravagant claims and can no longer pick and choose from his sayings. Moreover, Easter means he must be loose out there somewhere.

By ascending, Jesus took the risk of being forgotten.

God has not absconded at all. Rather, he has taken on a disguise, a most unlikely disguise of the stranger, the poor, the hungry, the prisoner, the sick, the ragged ones of earth: "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me." If we cannot detect God's presence in the world, it may be that we have been looking in the wrong places.

"First we meditate on Jesus, and then we go out and look for him in disguise." -Mother Teresa

When Jesus departed, he left the keys of the kingdom in our fumbling hands. 

Our real challenge, the focus of our energy, should not be to Christianize the United States (always a losing battle) but rather to strive to be God's kingdom in an increasingly hostile world.

If the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church, the contemporary political scene hardly offers much threat.

History gives ample precedent for legalism and also for decadence. But how does one hold to high standards of moral purity while at the same time showing grace to those who fail those standards? How to embrace the sinner without encouraging sin? Christian history offers few facsimiles of the pattern Jesus played down.

I must admit that Jesus has revised in flesh many of my harsh and unpalatable notions about God. Why am I a Christian? I sometimes ask myself, and to be perfectly honest the reasons reduce to two: (1) the lack of good alternatives, and (2) Jesus. Brilliant, untamed, tender, creative, slippery, irreducible, paradoxically humble - Jesus stands up to scrutiny. He is who I want my God to be.

It is through the Servant's wounds that we are healed, said Isaiah - not his miracles.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

One Thing You Can't Do in Heaven

Not gonna lie, I don't even remember reading this book. And I don't see it in my personal library, so who knows when this happened...Oh, December 31, 2013. Yikes! That really shows how much I've been neglecting this blog! Reading over what I marked nearly two years ago, I'm very convicted. Like to the point of anxiety. I definitely don't witness as much as I should, and this author seems to feel like what we call "living a Godly life" isn't enough of a witness. Actually getting in front of, speaking to and engaging with people is witness. Anyone else feel like they fail in this area? ...Anyone else wanna go out and witness with me sometime?

"It is of great importance that the sinner should be made to feel his guilt, and not have the impression that he is unfortunate. Do not be afraid, but show him the breadth of the divine Law, and the exceeding strictness of its precepts. Make him see how it condemns his thoughts and life." -Charles Finney

"To be laughed at is no great hardship to me. I can delight in scoffs and jeers. Caricatures, lampoons and slanders are my glory. But that you should turn from your own mercy, this is my sorrow. Spit on me, but oh, repent! Laugh at me, but, oh, believe in my Master! Make my body as the dirt of the streets, but damn not your own souls!" -Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Do you realize that when you get rejected in the name of Jesus, God has rewards waiting for you in Heaven that will make any earthly reward seem like chump change? That is truly amazing.

Let's not separate ourselves from the lost, but take our light into the darkness and watch the Lord work in amazing ways.

If you decide to date rather than court, why does a date have to involve going to a movie or a party? Why can't a date consist of going to a mall to witness?

Too many times believers worry what others think. However, when we are witnessing to people, what is the worst thing they can do to us? They can kill us and send us to Heaven. Is that such a bad thing?

If you are not eternal friends, are you really friends at all?

"Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you are not saved yourself. Be sure of that." - Charles Spurgeon

As a believer, you have the Holy Spirit living within you to help you understand God's Word (1 Corinthians 2:12). You can comprehend spiritual truths that a lost person can't.

Therefore, before you leave your house, it's important to pray that the Lord will lead you to lost people during the day, and that He will soften the individuals' hearts before you even begin the conversation.

"What's your email, phone number or address, so when I find the answer, I can get it to you?" This allows me to follow up with people.

"To be a soul winner is the happiest thing in the world. And with every soul you bring to Jesus Christ, you seem to get a new heaven here upon earth." - Charles Haddon Spurgeon

We can know where we will spend eternity. That is very important in witnessing. If we know that when we die we'll go to Heaven, does it matter what a lost person does or says to us as we share our faith? No, it doesn't. Don't ever forget that as you boldly make your stand for Jesus.

One of the biggest lies Satan tells the lost is that they will be good enough for God on Judgement Day. If they helped an old lady cross the road, thew a few dollars into the collection plate, had the best-kept yard in the neighborhood, etc., then they will be just fine on Judgement Day. Do you see how the Law works to break through that lie?

When a person is born again, his life changes. It certainly doesn't mean that we become perfect when we get saved; there is definitely a sanctification process, as we grow in our faith to become like Christ. But there must be a desire to change, or there won't be any change.

A great statement to use with both saved and lost people is: It doesn't matter what you believe, it matters what is true. People need to think about truth rather than just belief. I might believe the earth is flat, but it isn't. I might believe the sky is green, but it isn't. I might believe you will send me a thousand dollars, but you probably won't! We must help people distinguish between their beliefs and what is true.

Here is one of the arguments I use: "Adolf Hitler killed six million of God's chosen people. So as long as he believed in his heart that it was an ok thing to do, then it was definitely ok to do, wasn't it?"

Every time you see a shirt, you know it has a creator. Every time you see a watch, you know it has a designer. Every time you see art, you know there is an artist. Every time you see order, like twenty Coke cups in a row, you know there is an orderer. When you look around the universe, what do you see? You see creation, design, art and order. If every other thing has a creator, a designer, an artist and an orderer behind it, why would you not think that there is a Creator, a Designer, an Artist and an Orderer behind this universe?

There have been more than 25,000 achaeological finds relating to people, places and events in the Bible, and not one has contradicted anything in the Scriptures.

If you can believe the historical and archaeological evidence for the Bible, why don't you think you can believe the spiritual part of the book?

I point out to people that when the Bible was written, 25 percent of the content predicted future events (eg. Micah 5:2, Zechariah 11:12-13, Psalms 22). And every single one of those prophesies has come true in the minutest detail, except for the few remaining prophecies about the return of Jesus Christ to earth. Statistically, there is no way that man can predict the future with 100-percent accuracy. I then as people, "Who is the only one who can do this?"

Even Darwin stated that the fossil record should contain millions of transitional forms to show that evolution is true. Interestingly, the fossil record doesn't contain a single transitional form! It contains only complete kinds, but no transitional forms.

Why are there no missing links today? We see only whole dogs, cats, horses, birds, etc. We do not see creatures that are half cow and half whale, or half dog and half cat. They just aren't there.

Evil doesn't prove that there is no God; it only proves that there is evil.

Love by definition demands a choice. We can choose to love our parents. We can choose to love our spouse. We can choose to love our kids. We can also choose to love God, or choose not to love God. The evil that we see around the would is because people choose not to love God and obey Him. If we truly believed that people were made in the image of God, we would no do the things that we do to other people.

There are hypocrites in the mall today, and it didn't stop you from coming to the mall. There will be hypocrites in the restaurant tonight when you and your girlfriend go out to eat, and it won't stop you from going there. So why in the world would you let hypocrites stop you from finding out about the one true God who loves you unconditionally and wants to forgive all your sins?

If you want to become a better evangelist, fall more in love with Jesus.

Remember that if you are not fishing, you are not following.

During a battle in World War II, General Douglas MacArthur said, "The enemy is in front of us. The enemy is behind us. The enemy is to the right and to the left. They can't get away this time!"

The people I meet who are continually fired-up for Jesus are those who are doing the work of the Lord. They are active in their faith: They work at homeless shelters, witness to the lost, write school papers from a Christian perspective, visit prisoners, etc. They are putting wood on their fire. And if you do this continually, not only will the fire not go out, it will grow larger. God doesn't want us to be mere campfires; He wants us to be bonfires, raging infernos for Him. Keep doing the things of God, and your passion for Him will stay strong for the rest of your life.