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Seeking the Kingdom

I have been dealing with a lot of restlessness lately.  Anybody who has been in ministry understands this feeling.  I know that God is working on my heart and is preparing me for the next step.  I have been trying to stick close to Him and listen.

I have been wrestling with this concept of the Kingdom of God.  I struggle to wrap my mind around what that is.  When I went to lunch with my cousin today, he told me what I sensed that God had been telling me all along:  “What is the Kingdom of God?” is the most important question we could ever ask.  It is more important than our success, our families, or even ourselves.  It is more important than our desires, safety, or comfort.  How we participate in the Kingdom of God is the purpose of our lives.

I have been engaging some people that I trust on this subject to try to understand what the Kingdom of God is.  I am diving into the Scripture, because that is basically the whole point that Scripture is trying to make.  It is the message of God, the Good News for everyone:  that we can be a part of SOMETHING LIKE THAT.  Please stay tuned for more thoughts on this subject.

I want to be a part of the Kingdom of God and I refuse to settle for anything less.  Jesus compares it to a lot of things, and one of them being a pearl of great price that a man sold everything to buy.  I want God’s will to be worth my everything.  I want to be willing to sacrifice what I think I “need” for Kingdom purposes, because the Kingdom of God is not about ME.  It is about SO MUCH MORE.

God is speaking to me.  I am doing my best to listen and be obedient.  Please pray for me as I try to discern God’s direction and plan for the next step of my life.  Also, if you have not wrestled with this topic before, I invite you to please journey with me!  There is no greater subject to talk about.

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I’m Lenting With A Purpose

The topic of Lent is an interesting one, and I don’t claim to know a whole lot about it.  It is one of my goals to learn its purpose and origin over the next few weeks.  One of the MAJOR weaknesses of the Evangelical church is that we aren’t taught much about church history and tradition, and that is a shame!  I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Catholic churches, because even in the little bit that I have learned, my faith has grown so much richer by participating with the Body of Christ in the traditions of the Church.

A time of the year that holds so many possibilities for growth is Lent, and so often we give up candy or coffee for 40 days, and everyone around us suffers until Easter.  We end the days grateful to once again have that substance we love, totally missing the point.

This year I have decided to take my personal Lenten season to a whole new level than I have before, and I am sharing this with you, and posting my thoughts in this blog as accountability.  I hope that you will be blessed.

As I have looked over my life, the one MAJOR thing that stands in the way of my relationship with God is my being busy.  I have a tendency to say “yes” to every little invitation, and before I know it, it’s 11:30pm, I haven’t spent time with God, and I couldn’t stay awake if I wanted.  God is crowded out as every little activity is crowded in, and I am exhausted, drained, and discontented with my life.  I am starting to realize that I have been living in a lose-lose situation.

For Lent, I have decided to FOCUS.  I am going to focus on spending time with Him:  listening, growing, reading, praying, becoming, etc.  I want to tune out the other voices of “you SHOULD do this” to learn to discern God’s voice in what He is asking of me.  Ministry opportunities are all around us, and those of us with servants’ hearts unconsciously fall into the trap of feeling the responsibility to single-handedly change the world.  However, being part of the Body of Christ means learning how to be a team player with others, encouraging those around to take part, and truly playing the role that God created us to play.  I realized that my “savior” mentality was standing in the way of obeying God over all the other “good” voices out there.  Like I know the voice of my friend when she calls me on the phone, I want to be able to recognize God’s voice in the crowd and follow Him first and foremost.

I have also committed to focus on building deeper relationships with those around me that sharpen me in my walk with God.  Because I am always so busy, I know A LOT of people, but only VERY FEW people well.  If the idea of community was so important to God, then it needs to be important to me too.  There is so much joy that comes from deeply loving others and being deeply loved that I have been missing out on.

I really desire that this time will set a pattern for my life in developing boundaries and using my hours and days well.  I don’t want to fill my days with activities that only wear me out and make me wonder where my life has gone.  I want to live life as it was intended, to the fullest, and with Divine purpose.  I see my schedule as my weakness and something that needs to be seriously evaluated.

Please don’t be offended if you want to go to the movies with me in the next few weeks and I say, “No.”  I do not see this time as a meaningless activity, and I am not cutting these things out of my life forever.  I am attempting to refocus my time, tune in to the voice of God, and learn how to make the most of the activities I choose to do with my time so that in the future my life will be balanced, consistantly watered, and full of purpose.

Please feel free to join me on this journey, and share your thoughts and stories about Lent as well.  Let’s dive into this together!

Who I Want To Be

Today I have really been nudged by God to evaluate where I am and who I want to be in Him.  I think the thing that I am most afraid of is becoming comfortable or complacent in my walk with God.  I don’t want to come to the point where a day is just another day.  On the contrary, I want to see every day as an opportunity for living this great adventure in the presence of God.  I want my relationship to be vibrant, active and contagious, and I want to always be open to His interruptions.

Although there are certain things I would like to have, like the gifts of organization and hospitality, that is not how God made me.  More than anything, I want to be who God created me to be, and I recognize that I cannot become that person without opening my heart completely to the work of the Holy Spirit.  I want Him to have total control of my life, that He might transform me to be more like Himself.

Several months ago, I sat down and wrote out a list of characteristics that I prayed God would develop in me.  I recently read over the list and decided I wanted to share this list, but also expand it.

I want to be a woman who is:
-Full of the Holy Spirit
-Courageous no matter what life throws at her, choosing to be strong in the knowledge that in the end all pain and fear and sorrow and tears will be vanquished forever
-Transparent about her struggles and weaknesses so that God can speak without hindrance to those around her
-Obedient to God no matter where He takes her or how much she doesn’t like it
-Joyful through the good times and bad
-Patient through uncertainty and suffering
-Victorious in her attitude because God not only has won the victory over evil in the end, but also today.  He is stronger than any enemy.
-Passionate about life and loving others
-Connected in every way to God’s heart and how He loves every person in the world.  She shows no prejudice or preference but truly sees through God’s eyes.
-Brave to try new things or to work hard at something that does not come naturally
-Content with what she has and who she is created to be
-Drawn to those who are hurting and makes it her life story to show them hope from the One who is our hope
-Perceiving of things that are not as they seem
-Wise in every decision made, every word spoken, and every thought conceived
-Fun and sees the humor in life
-Responsible with every trust given to her
-Trustworthy in promises
-Honest in every way
-Interruptible to respond to the needs of others
-Becoming always more like Jesus AND
-Growing always into the purposes and vision for which God created her

Wow.  Now that is the ultimate woman, right?  I think most of us would agree that we’d like to be this description, but what an impossible goal!  I would agree that this is impossible if we take it upon ourselves to become this woman of integrity.

Let us suppose for a moment that it is possible to display these characteristics.  Actually, I know it is possible, because I have known a few people who have.  How do we do it?  Well, let us shift our focus a little bit.

Galatians 5:22-23a says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

No doubt we could come close to quoting this from memory (maybe not all of us in order).  I used to take this list and one by one set these characteristics as goals to develop in my life.  Eventually, I grew frustrated because the more I wanted joy, the harder life became and the more I tried to be patient, the more the irritating things started coming into my day.  I was fighting a losing battle.

I then took a much closer look at the verse and saw it said these things are the fruit of the Spirit.  It doesn’t say they are the seed of the Spirit.  Fruit comes as a result of a tree growing big as it is watered and cared for.  We are the tree, dependent on the life-giving water of God to survive.  God created us to bear fruit, and the more we tap into God’s living water, the better that fruit will be.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are a natural result when a relationship with God is active and vibrant.  Therefore, our focus is not on the fruit, but on the Spirit who gives the tree life.

Psalm 1:1-3 says:
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on His law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.”

I want to be like that.  I want my delight to be in God.  I want to be constantly watered by His streams of life.  So many times I have run so hard for so long that I have grown tired and become discouraged.  However,the author of Psalm 1 says that a tree that is watered constantly by the streams of life has no withered leaves and produces “fruit” in season, at the exact time that God desires.

Who has God created you to be?  What kind of fruit is your life bearing now?

I want to be a woman of integrity.  Although I am not there yet, I deeply desire that the characteristics mentioned earlier will define who I am at all times and in all ways.  This is only possible by seeking after God with all my heart as I delight myself in Him every day.  I pray that the fruit of my life will be rich and life-giving to all those around me.  I want to invite others to come over, that they may “taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8a).”

This is who I want to be.  As this journey of seeking the heart of God continues, this is my pledge:
“I will sing to the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
as I rejoice in the Lord (Psalm 104:33-34).”

To Be Beautiful

This past weekend I cut 11 inches off my hair.  My cousin also colored my hair and I experienced a pedicure for the first time in my life from an official salon.  I even bought a dress and some earrings.  Not one of these things (apart from the earrings) is normal for me at all, and I’ve always struggled with the whole concept of “a beautiful woman.”

For much of my life, I believed I was ugly.  I believed I was worthless and unfit.  Somewhere along the line I believed a lie that threatened to consume me.  My idea of beauty was whatever I was not, and it was not until last March that I learned a truth that changed my life.

I have been a “Christian” since I was 9 years old.  I grew up in church.  “Jesus Loves Me” was a song we sang nearly every week, but I guess I figured Jesus loved me because He had to, or because He apparently loved everybody else, and He didn’t want to leave me out.  Where in the world did I come up with that?  However, it was so engrained in me, that it took quite a bit of work to purge that lie out of my system.

Because every girl (and I think this generalization is true) wants to be beautiful, it leads us to ask the question, “What is beauty?”  We look at magazines and TV shows and see the perfect hair, body shape, and eyes and think, “Wow.  What would it be like to be beautiful?”  Is that really the kind of God we believe in, that He would create a few things beautiful and the rest something to despise?  If God is holy and wonderful and awesome and beautiful, and if WE ALL are made in His image, then maybe our idea of the beautiful has become a little skewed.  Especially for my sisters out there, I really want to share with you a timeless truth that I have learned.

YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.

God created a masterpiece when He made you.  No one else that has ever lived or will live is quite like you.  He has given you a complex personality, the ability to dream, and gifts to make it happen.  He believes in you more than anyone could, despite all the reasons why you believe you can’t do anything.  Nothing that you could ever do could take away His love for you.  Even if you never love Him back or accept His love for you, He will always love you.

We can’t control many of the situations that have come to us.  A lot of people in the world are stuck feeling cheated by life and they live every day in this victim mentality.  There is nothing that sucks the beauty out of someone like a person who is stuck in the pain of her past and cannot move on.  On the other hand, there is nothing more beautiful than a person who has been through the fire and allowed God to transform her life into a true reflection of Himself.  God is the very essence of beauty, and the closer we become to Him, the more we take on His characteristics of beauty as well.  And might I add, this is a beauty that only grows richer over time as we grow closer to our Lord, and the years and wrinkles of time can never take it away.

A year ago this month, I was able to walk away from a 10-year battle with depression.  God truly healed me from a pain that ran so deep that I could not imagine living without it.  Since then, it has been a journey of learning how to discern between the lies that I have always believed about myself and the truth that God has spoken over my life that He loves me.  God loves ME?  Why would He do that?  The only thing I’m good at is messing things up…or so I thought and have always believed.  God’s love breaking through in my life has truly made the difference in showing me how God sees me, and consequently how He sees those around me.  Going through all this has taught me how easy it is to believe the ugly lies of the world and reject the beautiful truth of God.

God made you beautiful.  He doesn’t just want to show you how to live with the hurts of your past; He wants to heal you of the hurts of your past.  He wants you to know Him, to experience life with Him, and to understand what it’s like to be radically loved by Him.  Take it from a girl who was picked up from the ground and lifted out of the pit of seemingly inescapable darkness:  if there is anything in life worth knowing and experiencing, it is the love of God.  And believe me, I would never go back.  What would it take for you to accept God’s love for you?  God created you in His image.  He created you to be beautiful.  Accept the incredible gift He is offering you today and start the journey of falling in love with the Author of love.  It is in Him that you truly shine.

When Trust Is Hard

So I had a really rough day.  It wasn’t like anything bad happened.  The struggle was in my spirit and peace was the last thing residing in my heart.  Big decisions are coming up, and I thought I had clear direction, but now I’m not so sure.

It’s amazing how quickly plans can change.  I think I could handle about any change of plans that God might throw at me, if I at least knew what the change IS.  It’s this restlessness…this sense that something big is on the horizon, and I don’t have a clue what it is that is DRIVING ME CRAZY.

Sometimes without thinking, I start to believe that my life is mine and I start making plans.  Then God interrupts them, HE ALWAYS INTERRUPTS THEM and reminds me who is God after all.  I gave Him my life and told Him to do whatever, and so He took my life and is doing whatever.  Why in the world am I fighting Him?

I feel like I’m free falling.  I am scared to death.  I am at a point in my life where God could literally do ANYTHING.  Am I ready?

I do not struggle to trust God when I know where He wants me to go.  I know He will provide.  The point when trust is hard for me is when the Great Unknown lies before me and my planning and goal-making personality is left confused and wondering what is happening.  I struggle to trust God to speak to me when He desires.  I struggle to wait when I feel like the time is so meaningless in between.  It’s the mystery of God that overwhelms my mind and heart.

As I am writing this, I remember that Francesca Battistelli has a song called Time In Between.  The lyrics have totally been a message from God to me:

You were there when your Father said, “Let there be light.”
You obeyed when He whispered, “Son, you have to leave tonight.”
To spend nine months in a mother’s womb
Three days in a borrowed tomb

But it’s the time in between that brings me to my knees
Knowing You came for me, and all that I can’t be
I’m amazed, so amazed and I thank You for the time in between

Don’t take much for this crazy world to rob me of my peace
And the enemy of my soul says You’re holding out on me
So I stand here lifting empty hands for You to fill me up again

But it’s the time in between that I fall down to my knees
Waiting on what You’ll bring and the things that I can’t see
I know my song’s incomplete, still I’ll sing in the time in between

So many ways Your love has saved the day
And I’m grateful for them all

But it’s the time in between, the middle of two thieves that says everything
It’s the reason I believe, I’m amazed, so amazed and I thank You for the time in between
Oh, Lord, I thank You for the time in between.

God, I lack the courage to trust You right now.  I am struggling.  I hate being lost.  I hate feeling out of the loop, but You have shown me that some of the most meaningful things happen in the in between times.  Help me to learn to wait on You.  Help me learn how to hold onto Your peace even in the silence and confusion, when trust is hard.  Use this time to grow character in me, that I may become a woman of true integrity and beauty.  I thank You for the time in between.

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