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Imagination

Today I was reminded how bad my ADD is.  Near the beginning of Pastor Rick’s sermon in talking about the Trinity, he mentioned that all three members of the Trinity were present at Creation.  I was mentally absent from that moment on to whatever else he said, because my mind went immediately to imagining what it would have been like to be present at Creation.
I love how descriptive so much of the Bible is.  I’m such a visual person, and much of it is written in such a way as to encourage my wild imagination.  Here is what Genesis 1:1-2 says:  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” 
Can you feel the intensity of what is about to take place?  Can you imagine the stage being set in complete darkness and the very presence of God hovering and waiting for the show to begin?  The thundering voice of God shouts for the light to appear and splashes of brilliant colors fly across the sky.  If we think that a sunrise is brilliant as it is now, can you imagine the first one?  Until then, light did not exist at all.  Then at the summons of Almighty God, it is spoken into existence.
Can you imagine the plants growing quickly from the ground, and flowers opening up to see the dawn?  What about animals rising from the dust, trying out their new legs and breathing for the first time?  Fish swim excitedly in the water as the sky grows dark for the first thunderstorm in all creation.  Wow.
Immediately in the middle of this, I thought of my favorite passage in the whole Bible:  Job chapter 38.  If there’s ever a description that causes me to fall to my knees in worship, it is this.  Please take the time to relish and imagine the pictures that God paints as He speaks these words to Job:
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm.  He said:
Who is this that darkens my counsel
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions?  Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?
Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.
Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?
Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.
What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does the darkness reside?
Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years!
Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
or seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I reserve for times of trouble,
for days of war and battle?
What is the way to the place where lightning is dispersed,
or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a path for the thunderstorm,
to water a land where no man lives,
a desert with no one in it,
to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass?
Does the rain have a father?
Who fathers the drops of dew?
From whose womb comes the ice?
Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
when the waters become hard as stone,
when the surface of the deep is frozen?
Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades?
Can you loose the cords of Orion?
Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?
Can you raise your voice to the clouds
and cover yourself with a flood of water?
Do you send lightning bolts on their way?
Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
Who endowed the heart with wisdom
or gave understanding to the mind?
Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
when the dust becomes hard
and the clods of earth stick together?
Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
and satisfy the hunger of the lions
when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in a thicket?
Who provides food for the raven
when its young cry out to God
and wander about for lack of food?”
 God goes on in His description in how He cares for all the wild animals and knows every detail of their lives.  Doesn’t this just take your breath away?    It immediately brings to mind Psalm 8:
“O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
I can’t think of anything more wonderful than the FACT that THIS GOD, who does ALL THESE THINGS would not only know who I am, but He knows everything about me, cares about every hurt that I have faced and will face, and catches all my tears and counts them as precious.  He loves me so extravagantly; I can’t even imagine.  As the sun rises in the crisp cool air of morning and the colors splash across the sky, I can hear Him saying, “I made all this for you.  Drink it in!”  What kind of love is this?
And what kind of love is this that Almighty God would see the hopeless situation of how I have rejected Him and chosen to go my own way, and would put on skin and walk on earth as a man?  What kind of love would suffer and die at the very hands of those He sought to save by His sacrifice?  Those hands that were nailed to a cross formed the animals from the dust of the ground.  The voice that cried, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing!” spoke light and life into existence at the very dawn of time.  Those eyes that looked with mercy on His accusers sees not only the depth of the oceans but also the depth of our need for Him.  So He died.  What kind of love is this?
My imagination cannot even begin to capture how AMAZING the love of God is for us.  I can’t scratch the surface of describing who He is to me, and how He has saved me, redeemed me, and proven Himself to me.  People may ask how I know that God is real, and like Nicole C. Mullen I say to them, “I know my Redeemer lives, I spoke with Him this morning!  Let all creation testify and this life within me cry I know my Redeemer lives!”
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The Only Question That Matters

Tonight I was having a conversation with a friend.  This friend of mine is agnostic, but we ended up on a spiritual topic tonight.  When I asked him who he believed Jesus was, he said that he did not know, that he hadn’t researched enough.  My response to him was this:  “Well, let me tell you, that is the only question in life that really matters.  It is worth everything to find out the answer to that question.  If you remember nothing else I tell you, remember that.” 
As we continued talking, we decided that we needed to get together and talk about it more.  As we were discussing when and where to do that, he said to me, “Ok just don’t be disappointed when I don’t convert.”  I felt so bad that he believed that was my reason in getting together.  To be completely honest, the thought of converting him never even crossed my mind.  What did happen inside of me was that my heart broke at the thought of one of my friends not knowing who Jesus is.  He was telling me that he knew he was going to hell because he had chosen not to worship God, and that he believes that God only chooses those who worship and pray.  It hurt me so deeply that he doesn’t know how much God loves him.
I sat on the couch thinking about how afraid I was to sit down and talk about this with someone.  Am I smart enough?  Do I know my stuff enough?  Then God reminded me that it isn’t about being ready; it’s about relying on Him.  Speaking of “converting” people, when did we start to believe it was our responsibility that we have to convince someone to believe in God?  When it comes down to facts, yeah I have my reasons, but it’s not those things that have convinced me to follow Christ.  My faith isn’t a bunch of stuff I have in my head; it’s the change that God has made in my heart.  That can be possibly the most difficult thing to explain, but it is the most real thing in the world.
I don’t understand God nor can I explain the great mysteries of life.  I don’t understand why things happen the way they do.  What I have found is that the God of the whole universe for some reason loves me so much that He sent His Son to die for me so that I might be able to live in relationship with Him forever.  I don’t choose Him because I owe Him my life, although I do.  The very fact that He gave me a choice to either choose Him or reject Him shows me that it’s about more than that.  I choose Him because He loves me.  He has shown me what true love is, by dying for me when I could care less about Him.  When the whole world abandoned me, He stayed right by my side.  He has filled me with greater joy than I could ever have imagined.  I can say that I love Him with my whole heart and I desire to give Him my everything because of that love.  In Him I have a reason to live and my life has a purpose.
Tonight I watched the movie “Man On Fire.”  I’ve seen it a few times and I absolutely love it.  Here is a disclaimer:  it is pretty graphic, has some language among other things, but the storyline is very powerful.  For those who have never seen it, I’m sorry, but I’m going to ruin it for you because it’s the ending of the story that gets me every time.  Here is the plot (a very abbreviated version, but the movie is definitely worth the watch):  Denzel Washington plays the part of a drunk man from the States who takes a job as a body guard for a little girl in Mexico City.  The day after taking the job, he tries to take his own life, because he sees no reason to live.  The gun misfires, and as he gazes into the eyes of the little girl, he realizes that maybe he got a second chance at life.  He falls in love with this little girl and the job became more than a job to him.  One day, several men including some corrupt police officers organized a kidnapping of the little girl.  Kresie (Washington) is almost killed trying to save her and she is taken.  Through a botched ransom exchange it is believed that the girl was killed, and Kresie sets out on a mission of revenge to all that are among the brotherhood behind these kidnappings.  After several people have died, and he works his way to the top of the chain, Kresie ends up on the phone with the leader of the whole organization, and finds out that the girl is still alive.  “The Voice” or Daniel tells him that he is a businessman, and he would give him the girl in exchange for Kresie’s life and the life of Daniel’s brother.  Kresie agrees.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch the last scene without crying.  Kresie walks to the center of the bridge between the girl’s mom and the kidnappers and the girl runs into his arms.  As they are talking, the girl realizes that Kresie will not be going with her.  Tears fill her eyes when her mom carries her into the car and she watches her kidnappers take her Kresie.  He died so that she could live.  That’s ultimate love, that someone would be willing to give their own life in exchange for someone else’s.  It’s something that we all know deep down inside of us.  You know what?  God did that for us.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is this:  “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).”  It’s not about following a bunch of rules or knowing a bunch of facts.  Everyone had that down before Jesus came.  He stepped into the middle of all that legalism and showed with His life what it all is really about:  love.  I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want that, however, that’s not my choice to make.  I don’t want anyone around me to not KNOW about that love.  I don’t want them to know me without SEEING that love.  It’s everything to me.
When it all comes down, the only question that matters is “Who do you believe Jesus is?”  I know this to be true.  I’m not out to convert all my friends or bang them over the head with my Bible.  However, I don’t want anyone to know me without experiencing God’s love for them in everything I say and do.  I don’t want our friendship to pass without me sharing what matters most to me:  my relationship with God and the difference it has made in my life.  There was a time in my life when, like Kresie, I was ready to take my own life.  However, God gave me a second chance.  He gave me a reason to live.  Out of a response to the love that He has given me, I choose to give my life for Him.  So who do you believe Jesus is?  It really is the only question that matters.

One of Those Christians

I guess something that’s been on my mind lately is how everyone else perceives Christians.  Maybe that was started by some quack out there saying the world was going to end on this date, then on this date, and now on this date.  Does the world need any more reasons to think that we’re nuts?
And when you think about it, how many of us really practice what we preach?  We talk about love, compassion, and joy yet we’re the ones laying on our horns when the person in front of us isn’t going fast enough.  We drive nice cars, live in fancy houses, and turn up our noses at those who don’t have what we do.  Surely if they followed God, they would have these things too.  How messed up of a theology is that?  And though many of us wouldn’t actually say that is what we believe, actions speak louder than words.
You see, today I spent quite a while talking to a lady who has every reason in the world to be angry at Christians.  And I understand that mentality that many people who spend a lot of time in the church can have.  Working in Compassionate Ministries can make a person really cynical if they don’t stay close to Jesus.  Sure, there are a lot of people working the system, but it’s not like they aren’t real people.  I have to stop and tell myself that every person that walks in my door is loved extravagantly by God, and no matter what their intentions are in coming, what they really need is Him.  The truth of the matter is, we’re all messed up, and we all need a Savior.  Sometimes we forget.  Sometimes we get so comfortable in our own daily lives that we forget there are hurting people outside of ourselves.  We all know that we struggle.  However, can you imagine what it would be like to struggle and not have God?
I think about some of the people that have been on my heart lately.  A lot of these people don’t know God, and quite frankly are pretty turned off by the whole idea.  I had friends texting me asking me if I survived the rapture, and telling me they were thankful I am still here.  All they saw from this “grand event” that was supposed to bring people to Christ was the fury of God’s judgment.
I was talking to a friend of mine tonight and he was telling me that something that turns him off is the people that try to beat you over the head with the Bible.  Honestly, I can’t stand that about Christians either.  Sometimes we just assume by looking at someone that we know what’s going on in his life.  Would you listen to someone who tells you what to believe before they know your story?  I wouldn’t.  There’s no way I’d believe them.  Yet we assume that people should just accept what we are saying anyway, because we’re right.  It’s cliché, but people really don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, or even take it one step further to how much what you believe affects the joy you live in.  You can have perfect theology, but until people see how that matters in your life (and also in theirs), what’s the point?  If life is only about believing facts and following rules, well, that stinks.
And to so many people, Christianity is a label.  Yeah, I’m a Christian.  Most of the “Christians” I’ve met make me want to ask, “What’s the point?”  Yeah, Christianity is a religion, and a religion can’t save you any more than a sock can.  I gave up on religion.  Am I religious?  No, and I cringe at the thought.  But I can tell you that I’m in love.
It’s true that life is about a relationship with God, but that sounds like such a weird concept to people who have only seen Bible-thumping, rule following, or label wearing Christians.  In fact, I don’t know how it could make any sense to someone who hasn’t actually seen someone live it out.  You can talk about concepts until the day is done, but until you truly KNOW God, you can’t fully understand.  And until you truly KNOW someone who KNOWS God, you have no idea what you’re missing.  You know something is, but it’s only through our lives that it makes sense at all.
And Christians are judgmental.  Honestly, I don’t think God’s wrath is half as bad as ours sometimes.  Granted, eternity is something we need to take seriously, because hell is a real place.  However, God isn’t like we portray sometimes as being vengeful and watching our every move just waiting for us to mess up.  That’s what I got the feeling that a lot of my friends thought was going to happen on May 21st.  The world was going to end and everyone was going to face God’s wrath.  You know what the good news is?  GOD LOVES US.  The Bible clearly says that He doesn’t wish for anyone to live without Him.  I think that God’s justice (or whatever you what to call it) probably saddens Him more than it saddens us.  It’s like watching your daughter go and choose a lifestyle that you know will bring her pain and heartache.  I don’t think that God becomes angry at us when we sin or do things that separate us from Him…I think He grows very sad.  His justice still has to be satisfied, and we still have to receive the consequences of our decision to reject Him, but I’m sure it literally breaks His heart in the process.
I don’t think it’s very hard to get the picture of how Christians are viewed in our society.  I’m pretty ashamed of it actually.  I don’t want to be like that.  You know what I want the world to know?  This God I know is real, and He has made a real difference in my life.  I’ve been through a lot of stuff, and through most of it, God was all I had.  He has never disappointed me.  Sometimes He has not responded the way that I wanted Him to, but I usually realize later that I had no idea what I was praying for anyway.  My life is not perfect by any means, and I’m still growing and changing.  God’s still working on me every day.  However, I have discovered the ultimate joy of living:  in relationship with God.  Call me weird.  I don’t care.
I want to be one of those Christians that really cares about everyone, and looks at the imperfections in myself before looking at the imperfections of others.  I want to live my life out of the love I have for God, and serve others without an ulterior motive in mind.  I don’t want to be friends with someone just for the intent of “converting them.”  I want to love people because God loves them.  I want to live my life for others, instead of living my life for myself.
There’s this song that I really like…the lyrics really say what I want to say.  It’s called “Could You Believe” by Twila Paris.  Here are the lyrics:
He was a friend to sinners
He was a gentle man
Beautiful, humble master plan
His voice could pierce the darkness
Quiet an angry sea
I hear Him saying follow me
I look in your eyes and I tell you these things
But somehow I know that it’s hard to believe
Could you believe if I really was like Him
If I lived all the words that I said
If for a change I would kneel down before you
And serve you instead
Could you believe
He was the Lamb of mercy
Undying hope of men
Waiting for love to come again
He is the light of heaven
Radiant Prince of peace
I Hear him saying, “Follow Me”
I look in your eyes and I tell you these things
But somehow I know that it’s hard to believe
Could you believe if I carried my own cross
If I saw that the children were fed
If for a moment I held my opinion
And quietly led Could you believe
I am meant to be a pure reflection of the truth
So above it all I pray that I will not obscure the view
Could you believe if I stood here transparent
And through me you could look in His eyes
Could you believe if you saw right inside me
and there was no disguise
Could you believe if I was really like him
If I lived all the words that I said
If it was clear that I held in my heart
What I know in my head
Could you believe, could you believe
Looking at me, could you believe
Could you believe?
You know what I want to be more than anything?  Genuine.  When my friends that don’t believe in God see me, I don’t want them to feel like they have to hold back who they are because “I’m a Christian.”  If they never come to love God, I want them to at least have experienced Him by being around me.  God doesn’t set out to judge them or “send them to hell.”  He desires for them to know Him and love Him too.  That should be the attitude that I have toward them as well.  I want my friends to know me as real.  That’s the kind of Christian I want to be.

Questions…Again

I guess I’m sitting here tonight in the restaurant…just satisfied to be around people that are familiar.  A tornado is headed our way, but I don’t want to go home by myself.  I guess deep inside I’ve been freaking out the past few days.  I have hardly slept because I’ve been wrestling with this one question that I don’t even know who to ask it to:  am I ok?
Rain’s getting pretty bad.  Now I know it wouldn’t be smart to go home.  So I’ll stay here.  There’s so much on my mind that I want to share with someone, but I can’t…not here.  Do I trust anyone enough to ask them the questions that really matter?

Awake, Aware, Alive

I’ve been asking myself this question all day (yesterday):  what kind of person do I want to become?  It’s so interesting to me how human everyone in my life becomes the older I get.  These people that I look up to are just regular people with good days and bad days.  Also, the older I get, the more I see the impact of even the smallest choices.  It can become overwhelming.  However, life can also be so enjoyable.

The truth is, I am here, and my life has a purpose.  That purpose is to live in relationship with God and as a result shine His light to those around me.  I want to be so filled with joy that God’s contagious peace and love will spread around me like an epidemic.

I don’t want to live my life defined by my fear and failures.  I don’t want to live indebted to the opinions and approval of others.  I sing, dance, and play for an audience of One.  I long for His confidence, poise and grace.  Can I be a woman like that?  I’m certainly praying so.

I want to make my life count and the minutes and hours of every day worth it.  I pray that God will use my skills, personality, and smile to bring Him glory through my life.  I want to live like this all the time:  awake, aware, and alive.

Could there be more to this life than we’ve been living?  I’m pretty sure we all know it deep inside.  Are you ready for this?  I’m divin’ in!

I Just Want To Be An Onion

Here is my disclaimer:  onions are disgusting and I can’t stand them, but they taught me a valuable lesson today.
Today for lunch I went to Subway like always and ordered the same sandwich I always do.  For some reason, the lady put onions on my sandwich today before I could catch her, and having worked in food service before, it’s always embarrassing to get something wrong so I thought to myself, “I’ll just take the onions off when I get back to work.”
Well, I got to work and I took the onions off, but you know what?  The entire sandwich still tasted like onions.  It’s like wherever an onion goes, the memory is still there as long as the thing it touched was.  I’m also fairly positive that I should keep a good three foot distance from everyone today or I may lose some friends.  I couldn’t finish the sandwich because it tasted so bad, and I hate wasting food.  As I made faces at the onions lying on the wrapper, I realized something.  I want to be an onion.
Now, I don’t mean that I want to smell bad and drive away all my friends.  However, when I think about the Christian life, I wonder how many people who call themselves Christians come and go in their everyday lives and the world around them is no different for them having been there.  If I am truly following Christ, then I will reflect His flavor strongly, so that everything I touch and everywhere I go will smell and taste like Him when I am gone.  It’s not about me changing the world; it’s about me reflecting Him.  The onion doesn’t talk the tomato’s ear off or bore the lettuce to death with its theology (because if my food started talking, I don’t know what I’d do).  However, the onion, just by being what it is spreads its flavor around everywhere it goes.
Again, I hate onions.  They taste terrible.  However, I admire the onion and what it stands for.  That veggie truly makes a difference everywhere it goes.  I want to be like that too.

Homesick

I feel like such a dork writing this, but this is me being honest.  Lately I’ve been pretty homesick, and I don’t exactly know what that makes me for admitting it.  It’s such a weird feeling for me, because this is the first time in my life I’ve ever really felt like this, at least to this degree.

You see, my home and my parents weren’t really things that I appreciated while I lived there.  All I could see was the world beyond the walls, and I resented home more than anything.  Even in college, it was about finding my wings and my place in this world.  I couldn’t see what I had.  I was so focused on other things.

Like my insecurity.  My parents are very neat and organized people, and I’m…well…not, and every time they would come to visit, I would be so focused on how much of a failure I was in keeping my place up to par.  And even in my decisions, I had this mentality of having to prove myself to them.  It is true that they are more cautious people than I and when I would present many of my “brilliant” ideas, they weren’t always as openly thrilled about them as I was.  So then I would switch into defensive mode, believing as I have my whole life that my honor in their eyes depended on my success and responsibility.  I spent so many years fighting my parents that I missed the thing I really needed most-their love.

I guess it’s only dawned on me lately that my parents love me unconditionally and are proud of me.  23 years and it finally made it through my thick skull.  It’s hard for me to understand a love that isn’t earned.  However, as I am coming to understand that God’s love for me is like this, I am realizing that I’ve had that same love all along in my parents.  It makes this whole “total independence” thing sound pretty silly.  Although I’d never want to go through high school again, I wish I would have been more thankful for the incredible blessing I had, and still have, but to a different degree.

My parents are coming tomorrow (well, today now) and all I can think about is how much I’ve missed them.  I feel so much safer when they are around, like no matter what is going on, everything is going to be ok.  It’s this whole being an adult thing; I don’t know what in the world I’m doing, and I’m so scared of everything.  There comes a point, and I’m at that place now, where I’m just so tired of having to be strong.  No matter what I’m doing, I have to be brave, and it’s exhausting.  I just want someone else to be brave for me, even if it’s just for a couple days.  All that to say, I’m glad they’re coming.

Maybe this is what it feels like to be homesick.  I guess that’s what I am.

So Today…

Ok, lame title, I know.  I didn’t know what else to call it.
So today I made two major steps in my life.  I feel like I should share them with you.  So here they are.
1.       I bought a nice camera.  Actually I ordered it, so I don’t have it yet.  However, I made the first step in making my business in photography a reality.  Here is the plan.  In a month or two I am going to launch a website that will sell some of the nature photos that I will take.  I have been taking these kinds of photos for years, but now I will actually have a camera with enough megapixels that the pictures can be blown up and still look good.  This is part of my plan for paying off my student loans early.  I hate being in debt.  It drives me crazy nearly every waking moment.  This way, I will be doing something that I am passionate about and working towards doing something else that I am passionate about…and that happens to involve number 2 as well.  So here it is…
2.       I emailed the Global Orphan Project and told them that I would love to volunteer with their organization.  After researching them and praying about it for several weeks, I feel this is where God is leading me to spend my free time.  This organization is so incredible.  You can visit their website at www.theglobalorphanproject.org and like them on Facebook.  Their store is pretty cool too…but don’t take my word for it, check it out.  It’s not necessarily what they sell…but their creativity in how they sell it.  I am very impressed with them.  So more updates in the future about this.  The passion and dream of my heart is to work with orphans and to give my life to their care, and this is my first major step toward that.  I’m so excited.
So this isn’t necessarily a brilliant blog, but more of an update on my life…at least today.  Please pray with me and journey with me.  I’m so excited to see what God will do in these next few months!

Mansions of the Heart: Chapter Eight

Ok, I am starting to blog about this before I even got very far into the chapter because I am just SO AMAZED at the wisdom of God.  I had not read in this book for quite some time, and I was feeling pretty bad about it, especially since I was supposed to be done with it by now.  However, I didn’t feel led to continue reading yet until today, when God would not let me go to sleep until I had read it.  I realized that His timing is PERFECT, as just this morning and all that He has spoken to me about had literally launched me into this mansion (the fifth mansion) of longing for oneness with Him and living in response to His love.
So much about Abigail’s story really spoke to me.  I highlighted so much of that section.  When Mary talked about listening with both ears, one ear to the person and the other to the love of Jesus for that person, I may not have understood that yesterday.  I love this quote:  “As I’ve learned to let God love me, and give myself totally to that Love, I find I can recognize the longing for Him in others and sense Jesus’ heart of love for that person.”
As she talked about being present with Christ everywhere, I understood that.  I have sensed a growing realization of His presence with me everywhere, especially at work and even cleaning my apartment.  I sense His strength and Spirit inside of me.  This part has been great, but there is another side to the coin.
I feel like in a way I have taken a step backward for the very reason that was mentioned in this chapter:  “experiencing more of God’s holiness brought with it a greater realization of [my own] sin.”  I hadn’t been able to put my finger on what was holding me back until I read it, and it clicked.  I see the depth of my need for God more, and there is a spiritually visible barrier between Him and myself that somehow, in the near future, will need to come down.
Also, something else that was brought up was that Abigail started to see “how trivial her ministry seemed.”  I am totally experiencing that right now.  I love my job, much deeper than I ever have and I put my all into working.  However, my heart longs to give so much more to God, because I see how extravagantly He has loved me.  It is so hard to be content where I am right now, when I wish to give my life and my everything to something “greater.”  She talks about a “awareness of a subtle resistance in her heart to letting God get closer.”  Yeah, that is totally where I am at right now.  Interesting how this is closer to God than the last mansion, when I felt like I was in such incredible communion with Him.
I totally understand when the author says, “The fifth mansion can be a time filled with frustrations, actually caused by our spiritual growth.”  That is the main feeling I have right now in my relationship with God:  frustration.  I am literally angry with myself for standing in the way.  It seems like the love that I want to give to God eludes me the more I want to give it and live in it.  “Work has become prayer and prayer has become work.”  Thanks, Tom.  Exactly.
It is interesting how the author uses the phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder” to describe this mansion.  I never in my life thought I would compare my relationship with God to that.  However, I find that my frustration is deep.  Not too long ago, I felt like every day I was being drawn and romanced, and it seems like now I can go for a week and not feel led or “talked to” about anything.  It seems like the concept of daily life has become so…daily and routine.  It was kind of scaring me actually.  I didn’t want my life to be routine.  I wanted to live every day like I did in the last mansion.  However, as I am reading this chapter, I’m starting to realize the purpose in going through this mansion.
The author says about this mansion:  “We desperately need intentional, consistent, and extended times of solitude and silence, where God can both minister and heal our heart, times when we can become aware of the infinite Love surrounding us.”  I was just thinking this morning at how frustrated I am that I am not “doing” very much in my life right now.  However, I know that I am right where God wants me, and it seems like I am going through a period of “resting.”  I feel like a battery that is being charged up (although it is taking a really long time to do so).  Sometimes it seems like I am sleeping or just lying in bed for extended periods of time.  It is not because I am depressed, but something inside of me (not physically, but spiritually) is very tired and needs to just rest in God’s presence.  When the author says that God is healing our hearts, that is what I feel like He is doing, although it is a much longer and more extended process than I ever thought it would be.  It is comforting to know that this is spiritual growth, and not digression.
And now we come to the questions.  First, what seems to motivate your service to others?
I would say right now, more and more the love I have for God.  That seems like something I always wanted to say earlier in life, but now I truly know what that is like.  It used to be because I wanted others to respect and admire me, but that is fading away more into my understanding of how great a love I have received and how that flows through me to others.  It is not even a sense that I “owe” God something; rather that I am blessed.
When you pray, do you spend more time talking or listening?
I would have to say listening, but I listen differently than some do.  A lot of times, my writing is listening.  I don’t generally start writing something with the end in mind.  I feel that God speaks to my heart and I write as He speaks.  I have felt this for quite some time.  In the mornings I do feel that I speak more, because I come to God asking that He would use each day for His glory and allow me the strength to do my best at every task I must complete that day.  However, in that I try to open my heart to listen from that point forward.  My speaking is a way of turning my focus to Him.
What do you long for in your relationship with God?
I would have to say that His love would be so obvious in my life that every moment I can see His fingerprints.  I want for my heart to be open to every person I meet, that God may speak into their lives and that I might truly love them too.  I want to be sensitive to the pain of those around me, and to God’s voice in what He might be asking me to do to encourage them.  The author put it best in describing listening “with both ears.”  I want to listen truly to others, and at the same time be hearing God’s voice and what He would like to say to those I speak to.
What strategy does the enemy seem to be using to cause you discouragement?
That is a good question.  I guess maybe rubbing my failures in my face.  He’s always been pretty good at that.  God’s been helping with all of this with the constant voice when I want to give up on a project or something that I am doing by saying to me, “See it through.”  Then I know that although it is painful and I don’t want to do it, I need to finish what has been started, no matter what the enemy is saying to my heart.  The enemy likes to remind me about how good I am at being passionate about something and then losing interest halfway through.  God has been teaching me that I am not defined by my past, but by how I choose to live today.  This is a constant battle in my life.

The Door

Pastor Vanderpool preached this morning about the gate talked about in John 10:1-11 and the concept of entering the gate.  He used the analogy of a door, and the theme of the sermon was this:  the purpose of a door is to shut something behind us and to open something to us.
Jesus said in verse 7 that He is the gate, that He is the door.  So the question that was asked was:  what are we shutting behind us as we enter the abundant life through Jesus?  Paul says that in Christ we are a new creation; the old has gone and the new has come.
Vanderpool told the story of a young man that is a part of our church family that underwent a horrific tragedy last year.  He was only 19 years old, and as a result of a careless night of drinking and driving, he lost his two best friends in an accident when his car hit a pole, was airborne and flew into a house and burst into flames.  He was burned in the inferno, spent months in a coma and undergoing painful skin grafts and was charged for the deaths of his friends.  He was sentenced to nine years in prison only a month ago, and I remember when this happened.  In this midst of all that has gone on, he wrote a letter to his dad about his inner struggle.  He was dealing with incredible guilt over what took place, and knew that he did not deserve to follow Christ.  Through the pain, God was able to work in his heart to let go of the enormous guilt and replace it with a passion for living abundantly following Christ.
As the sermon concluded, Vanderpool closed with this thought:  A door means absolutely nothing unless you use it.
As I was listening, I was thinking through all the things that hold me back from truly following Christ.  I think about the passionate life that I know God is calling me to live and I wonder what it is that stands in the way.  What is it that I need to shut the door on in my life so I can go forward into the life that God has called me to live?  What do I need to let go of?
First, my insecurity.  Although this has gotten a lot better in the past year or so, there are some things that I just need to decide to put out of my thoughts.  It’s not about worth, and life is not about earning something.  It is about becoming all God desires for us through His strength and power.  It is about falling in love with God and living life in relationship with Him.  It shouldn’t matter to me if so and so doesn’t approve of this or that in my life, and I shouldn’t be so focused on pleasing everyone around me.  My life needs to be solely measured and lived in the grace of God, and my heart must learn how to see through His eyes, and His eyes alone.
Second, my fear.  I have lived my life completely dominated by fear for so long.  Some fear is rational, but there comes a point when it truly stands in the way of following God.  God doesn’t always ask us to do rational things, and quite frankly, living like Jesus taught is a pretty foreign concept in our culture and world for that matter.  I need to choose to put fear behind me as I step forward in following Christ.
Third, my will.  Exercising has been a great lesson for me in sacrificing my will.  Everything inside me tells me that I have earned my keep before I even make it to the gym, but I know I must go anyway.  Five minutes into the workout, my body tells me it’s done doing that and wants to do something else.  I stay anyway.  I do this because I made a commitment before God that I would take care of myself physically.  It may sound like a selfish thing, but this is what He has called me to do this summer:  to focus on being holistically healthy before Him.  This is my act of worship.  This carries over into other areas of my life.  How often do I feel God asking me to spend time with Him, and I really want to do something else so I put it off, knowing that He’ll be there later?  How often does God wake me up in the middle of the night wanting to spend time with me, but I go back to sleep anyway?  I become so frustrated at my laziness, and every day I have been asking God to discipline me to listen and respond in obedience to His voice.  I want to put my will aside, so that even in the little things and as they become larger, I will be able to follow His will.
Fourth, my desire to not be alone.  A couple nights ago is a perfect example of this.  I had a pretty bad nightmare and I woke up suddenly and pretty freaked out.  As I was walking around my apartment, I heard a sound that continued and for some reason, I concluded that the apartment below me might be on fire.  Later, looking back on this, I probably reasoned this because that is one of my greatest fears:  fire.  As I was up, the thought crossed my mind, “I wish I didn’t live alone.”  I realized right then that this was something that I needed to give to God.  Even though I have to constantly give this to Him, some days are harder than others.  Every night before I go to bed as I pray for my future husband (if there is one), I also pray that God would make my passion first and foremost to following Him.  I want to fall in love with Jesus and truly be found in Him.  Sometimes when I wish that I could share life with someone, I must learn to take joy in sharing that life with God.
So if I could truly let go and let God, these would be the things that I would shut the door to.  And today, I choose to do that.
Now, for the other side of the coin, what am I opening the door to?  What does a passionate and abundant life in Christ look like?
This morning at church we sang the song that the David Crowder Band made popular called, “How He Loves.”  Such a powerful, powerful song.  Here are the lyrics:
And He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions
Eclipsed by glory and I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me
And oh, how He loves us, oh
Oh, how He loves us, how He loves us all
And we are His portion and He is our prize
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes
If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking
And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way
Oh, how He loves us, oh
Oh, how He loves us, how He loves us all
How He loves
The thought struck me as I walked into church this morning how I sit amongst a people that I don’t even know.  I’ve been going to this church for over a year now, and there are still so many people I have never met and I don’t even know their names.  As I thought about the deep love that God has for us, and how He not only knows the names of everyone in the world, but He also knows how many hairs are on their heads, every experience they have had, and every tear that they have cried.  He knows the longings of their hearts and the things that they’ve never told anyone.  Amidst all that, it is not just knowledge to God; it is a deep passion and love for what matters to us that draws Him in, and likewise us to Him.  It’s amazing to me to even think about.  It’s so big that I can’t even fathom.
And yet, God calls us to love as He has loved us.  Does that start with a glimmer in my eye?  Does that start with looking at a person, not as someone that I do not know, but as someone that God intimately knows and loves?  Shouldn’t that make me want to know them too?  When I talk to someone, I don’t want to simply have a conversation; I want to choose to focus my eyes between the lines, seeking for their heart, and being passionate about the things that make them who they are.  What if I lived my life like that every day?  What if I talked to everyone I meet that way?  Surely that would be exhausting.  However, when we step out in faith that God will provide the strength we need to live as He has called us to live, that is when we experience the miraculous peace that passes all understanding.  We will walk and not grow weary; we will run and not be faint.
That is how I want to live.  I want to love as I have been loved:  extravagantly.  This life is not about me, it is all about Him.
Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, and somehow we got on the subject that I want to be cremated.  She was pretty intrigued by this and asked me to explain.  It was hard to do, because I’ve never explained it before, but it’s a really deep desire of mine.
I actually have a lot of reasons for this.  First, I will start by saying that I want my ashes to be spread over the ocean.  This seems kind of funny since I grew up in Nebraska and I live in Kansas.  However, the ocean has always had a very significant spiritual place in my heart.  And someday, Lord willing, I will not live in Kansas, but somewhere a little wetter.
For me, it has everything to do with the subject of “the old has gone and the new has come.”  I have realized how much I have put God in different boxes in my life, and consequently put limits on myself.  God’s love is like the ocean:  vast and deep.  In fact, man has gone to the moon, but we haven’t even explored the entire depth of the ocean.  There is so much more to God’s love that we haven’t even known.  There is something confining about a coffin, something that I don’t believe that we were created for.  We were created to be free and to swim in the depths of His ocean of love.  If you’ve ever stood on the beach as the sun sets, it’s like time doesn’t even matter anymore.  That’s like death.  It’s really only in this life that time matters.  After it is over and the sun has set, everything freezes in time and space and there’s just peace.  The water grows calm and the light of the moon reflects perfectly over the water.  I want to lose myself in His love.  I want to ride the waves of His mercy.  I want to experience His grace that falls like rain on the open water.  I want to truly be free in Him, free from everything that kept me captive.  Just like ashes in the ocean, I want to be found only in Him.  On that final day, I don’t want to rise from a box.  I want to rise from the depths of His love.
And there’s something about water that is pure.  When things are washed in the water, they become clean.  Think about how powerful water is.  A wave crashes against a rock mightily and roars like a lion.  Everything that was once dirty and ugly is pulled out to sea to who knows where.  The castles in the sand are gone within minutes, and a new day begins.  That is like death.  Suddenly life is gone, but death in Christ is only a new beginning.  The old has gone; the new has come.  Eternity in the presence and love of God begins.  How amazing is THAT?
In one of my classes in college, one of our first assignments we had was to write in one short phrase the inscription we would put on our tombstone; one statement that we wish to define our lives.  I still remember what I wrote to this day.  I want my tombstone to say:  She loved God and others deeply.  I want love to be the defining purpose of every moment of my life.
So this is the door:  Jesus.  I choose to close the door to my insecurity, fear, will and desires and open the door to living in the depths of God’s love.
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