Friday, May 13, 2016

Grace Upon Grace

John 1:11-13; 16-17
“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood more of the will of man, but of God…For from his fulness we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

So you chose me, Abba. You actually want me. Me! All you want, is all of me—a sinner, a rebel, a slave to my flesh—but never has that ever changed the way you look upon me. My brain will never be able to understand that. Why do you want me? Don’t you see my flaws? Don’t you see my weaknesses? Don’t you see all of the times I have turned my back against you? Don’t you remember being beaten, mocked, spat on, and then murdered, by people who have the exact same heart as me? Certainly I was not in the crowd, but I might as well have been. Yet, none of this matters to you. You have chosen to forget, chosen to cleanse and erase all of my shortcomings, and all of my many mistakes. It’s not that I am perfect now. It’s not anything I have done, really. It’s you. It’s love. It’s the power of forgiveness that looks upon a wretched creature like me, and sees all that I could be. You know my fears, insecurities, doubts, and all of my brokenness, but you choose to look deeper. The deeper you go, the more darkness you will find. Yet, it seems that the more you invade my heart, the more grace is given, the more joy is released, and the more hope I can see. Am I broken? Yes. Beyond repair? No. No, I am not too damaged, or too far gone, never for you. Now I am being broken and undone in a way that I have not felt in such a long time. Freedom. The brokenness your light is creating as it pierces the darkness, is setting me free. The chains are falling off. I am still a slave, but a slave unto a new master. My flesh is still my default. It wants to curse, instead of bless you. It wants to rebuke you and run away, but my spirit cannot seem to get over the fact that you chose me, and for that I will crucify my nature, daily. If anyone would want me, if anyone would want to dine with me forever, if anyone would want to walk hand in hand with me, if anyone would want me to be their beloved child, their precious daughter, than they deserve all of my devotion and love. You don’t deserve someone like me, and I don’t deserve a Father like you, but I guess that is why this relationship works. You don’t see the dirt in me. You know that I am but dust, a jar of imperfect, incapable clay, but you call me your own. You take these ashes and transform them into something beautiful. No matter how many times I run, and no matter how many times I fall, your love never ceases to chasten me; you never stop saving me. My soul will sing of who you are, Jesus. You are my Abba, my Father, my Beloved. I don’t deserve such a Savior. I cannot promise not to fail, slip up, and fall. All I can promise you is that there will forever be more brokenness to fix, but that is okay. That is perfect, actually, because it just proves how I need you. Oh, how desperately I need you inside of my heart, doing what only you can do. 
So grace upon grace? Yes, truly all is grace. All is light. All I see is you. 

“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of, for to have been thought about, born in God’s thoughts, and then made by God, is the dearest, most precious, and grandest thing in all thinking.” -George MacDonald

Application: My application is to post this IBS. Not just on my blog, but on my Facebook too. I was encouraged recently to be bold with the ministry God has entrusted me with, and I know that this is what God is asking me to do right now. So I will embrace vulnerability, and be brave, even in the simplest of ways. 

Pursuing His Presence

Psalm 105:3-5
“Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgements that he uttered.”

I am currently sitting on the couch at our home in Kenya, all alone, fighting off a fever. If I am being totally honest, Kenya is not where I want to be right now. My heart longs to be wrapped up in the arms of my family and friends once again. I want to dance again, every single day. I want to attempt to bend candy canes at the candy store. I want to belt out songs in the car with my closest friends. I want to walk along the ocean shore, and see the mountains every morning that I wake up. I want to feel my fluffy little puppy licking my hand in the morning, and I even want to see my twenty one year old, evil cat. I want so much, but do I want what the Lord has for me? He has done some pretty incredible things the past year, and even more amazing things the past five months I have been on this adventure. A year ago, I was preparing to graduate high school, dance in my last recital, and move on to the bigger and better things awaiting me at college. I did not know that one missions trip to Antigua, Guatemala would change the course of my life forever. I did not expect to move to Guatemala, and then half-way around the world to Ongata Rongai, Kenya, teaching fifteen classes every week to some of the most precious children I have ever met. I was supposed to pursue a career in occupational therapy, and help people with disabilities. Instead, God brought me here, where I am able to hang out with people with disabilities every single Wednesday afternoon. The faithfulness of God. Have I already forgotten the incredible work He has done in my life? That He would even think of choosing me and using me is far beyond my comprehension. I am unworthy to live such a life. I am unworthy to teach kids about Jesus, and I am unworthy to be in Kenya, Africa. What have I done to deserve such favor from God? And yet, here I am, wallowing in self-pity, wishing I was back at home living my comfortable life, completely forgetting the wondrous works the Lord has done. I am but dust, a mere pile of useless ashes, but in the hands of God, my life is transformed into something beautiful. I find purpose, joy, peace, and hope, oh what hope I have found in a life surrendered to the Father’s will. Unfortunately, none of this has been easy for me. I want to be in control of my own life. My heart wants to seek the Lord, but my flesh wants to seek myself. There are times that I wonder what would have happened if I had rejected the call of the Lord on my life. I wonder why God took me away from home, my family, friends, dance, my career. I wonder if my life would be better doing what I originally wanted to do. I wonder why God had to strip me away from all that I have ever known, to teach me more about Him. Maybe I am the only one who thinks this way, but I am confident that all twenty one of my teammates feel this same way sometimes. It is our very nature to question the work of the Lord. It is our very nature to doubt His hand, when nothing He is doing makes sense. I want so badly to be okay with not knowing. I see the Lord bringing pieces together, but the jigsaw puzzle still remains unsolved. I don’t know why God brought me here, and my heart longs to see this puzzle complete. I want to know why me, but in this time of my life, God has not given me many answers. 
The why, however, is not the question that matters. The question that I must face every day is, can I be okay with not understanding the ways of my Father? Do I trust Him, and is He enough for me? I long to answer yes, but no, not on my own, not a chance. I can’t finish the next six months without Him. It has to be me leaning on Jesus, resting in His grace, and reaching for Him. My heart has to seek the Lord, because He quite literally, is the only thing that I have. My heart need not despair and be overwhelmed with anxieties, why’s, and what if’s. “I would have lost heart had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage” (Psalm 27:13-14). It is all a matter of who I am following. If I follow my heart, and seek my ways, then I will likely drown in pity and sorrow. If I follow God, however, I find a cause for joy, a reason to hope, and a purpose that is far beyond myself. His presence is enough, and daily he draws me into the Holy of Holies, just to talk to me, and hold me. I cannot conceive all that His mighty hand does, and I if I were able to understand, He would not be God, but a manmade idol, trapped in a box. What is truly wonderful, is that He doesn’t ask me to understand, all God asks of me, is to be present in His presence, be still and know that He is God, He is in control, and He will never fail or forsake me. On a day of great discouragement and despair, I have found the greatest encouragement and strength. Great are you Lord! My heart will seek you and rejoice. In the chaos, in the mess, in the uncertainty, one thing remains: Jesus. He is all that I need.

Application: Today, I will be present in His presence, continually coming to sit at His feet. I will spend this day to read, pray, listen, and meditate on the faithfulness of my Father, instead of seeking the will of my flesh. 

Letting God be God

Ecclesiastes 11:5
“As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.”

God sure does have a funny way of speaking to us the very words we need to hear.  A year ago, I was given the opportunity to speak at my High School graduation. I only had a few weeks to prepare, and I had no idea what to talk about. I knew that my purpose was not to go onstage and make a fool of myself. I didn’t want to go up and brag about my ‘accomplishments,’ my class, my teachers, or even thank my family and friends. It was all too overdone, too cliche. All I did know was that God had given me one last opportunity to speak, not only to my classmates, but to their families and friends sitting in the crowd. It was a moment that I did not take for granted, and an opportunity that I was not going to waste, or abuse. One day, the words began pouring out of me, and I grabbed my notebook and pen, scribbling down everything that was popping into my mind. It seemed like the speech came out of nowhere, but truly, it came straight out of the heart of God. Certainly they were not my words, or thoughts, but His. 
The message He gave me was based around a song entitled, ‘Emphasis.’ The chorus cuts right to my heart every time I hear it. It says: “Was it all just a grain of sand in an hourglass? The smartest thing I’ve ever learned is that I don’t have all the answers, just a little light to call my own. Though it pales in comparison to the overarching shadows, a speck of light can reignite the sun, and swallow darkness whole.” Light. Light illuminates, radiates, reflects, casts shadow, awakens, and eradicates darkness. To us, it is nothing more than a flip of a switch, just another thing in our control. We choose to sit in darkness, or stand in light. We choose to flip the switch on, or off, and we don’t think twice about our decision. But how often, oh how often, we do this to the Lord. His light never ceases to shine, and with His spirit living inside of us, we have access to that everlasting, ever radiant, ever bright light. So why do I place a shade over it constantly? Why do I turn off the switch and not think twice about it? Solomon knows the answer. It is not unintentional or accidental, it is purposeful, though I believe many Christians have grown oblivious to it. We cover up the light within us, because we don’t understand what God is doing. “…you do not know the work of God who made everything.” We don’t know what God is going to do with the light inside of us, and it scares us half to death. We ask God to take us deeper and lower, and to make us bold and bright, but we doubt that He even knows how to take us there, and that He will give us everything we need to accomplish His will. Yes, we finite human beings doubt the infinite, Creator God. We fear and hide. Remember Jonah? Jonah was so afraid of the calling God had placed on His life, that he tried to run away from God. He did everything he possibly could to escape God’s plans, all because He didn’t understand. We poke fun at Jonah all of the time, failing to realize that we are Jonah, every second of the day. We are always running away from the call, not towards it. I tried to run too, but God gave me a word a few months earlier, that kept me walking in his steps. God told me to be okay with not knowing, to live passionately, and love persistently. I had no idea that this speech I was giving was really just for me. In a few short months, God would take all of my plans and slide them off the table. He brought me to Guatemala, and now Kenya, and for what? Honestly, I don’t have an answer to that question. I don’t know the why yet. I don’t know why God’s plans were different than mine. I don’t know what He is doing in my life. Truly, there is not one aspect that my mind has begun to conceive, but I can’t forget how faithful, how steadfastly constant, my God is; I want to be that kind of a daughter to Him, and no matter how much I don’t understand, I will always know who God is, and that has to be enough. I have to let God be God. I need to let Him be everything, and me, nothing. I was reminded often in training that I must keep the main thing, the main thing. The main thing is not the why, it is not me and what I can do, in fact, it has nothing to do with me. The main thing is Jesus. That’s it. It’s Him, always. It is His light in my being, His fire in my bones, His breath in my lungs, and if I give in to Him and let Him completely take over, there’s no telling what He will do in and through me. So I must learn to get over myself, get over fear, stop brooding over the ‘impossibilities’ and uncertainties, and let God work in ways that I can’t understand. Those are the ways that take people’s breath away. Those are the ways that bring people to their knees. Because no matter how uncertain our lives may seem, when they are resting in the palms of our Maker, nothing is uncertain, all is steadfast. 

Application: I desperately need this as a daily reminder, therefore I will write out this verse, as well as this saying: “be okay with not knowing, live passionately, and love persistently.” I will hang it up in my closet so that I see it everyday, and an reminded to let go, and let God be God. 

My Greatest Support

Psalm 94:18-19
“When I thought, “my foot slips,” your steadfast love, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” 

If I am being honest, the first three weeks of living in Kenya have been so hard. I find myself surrounded by people, and yet feeling utterly alone. The mornings have been my greatest battlefield, and a lot of times I choose not to fight. I wake up wondering why in the world God brought me half way around the world, wishing I could be back home, where everything was comfortable and so much easier. Even when I go back home in late October, my life will not be any easier. A lot of changes are happening, and I have no idea what adventure awaits me next. Sometimes, I have myself convinced that my future truly has no hope, that there really is nothing to sing about, but God, it’s a lie, and I know it is a lie straight from the mouth of the devil himself, so why am I believing it? Why won’t I let you be enough for me? I hear you calling out my name, asking me if I trust you, but it has become such a battle to say yes. Job 15:11. “Are the comforts of God too small for you?” Are you not the God of the universe that made the land and the sea, the moon and the sun, the stars and the sky, man and animals, and every living wonder? You are the God that I cannot escape, for your presence is all around me. And although I am convinced that you have plenty of other better things to be doing, you still come to me, consuming me with your love, and overwhelming me with your simple desire to know and save me. You have never let me down, you have never failed me, and you never cease to pursue me. What do I have to fear? Why do I waste my time doubting the only thing that is consistently constant, and forever faithful, in my life. You are even faithful in the songs that I sing. Just as I was feeling so alone, a song called, “Met by Love,” played through my headphones. The bridge says, “We can run straight into your arms, unafraid, because every time we need you, we’re met by love. We can lift our hands to heaven, full of faith, because every time we worship, we see your face.” Your steadfast love is my greatest support. Thank you Jesus, for counting me as worthy enough to die for. Give me beauty for ashes, light for darkness, life for death, joy for sorrow, and healing for pain. Take me deeper still, and allow me to reach the limits of all that is humanly possible, so that you can do the seeming impossible in my life. I entrust my life in the palm of your hands, the most perfectly skilled hands in all the earth, knowing that you know exactly what I need, and I don’t, and that is okay. I never am alone, you find me. “God’s goodness is the great support of sinking spirits…God’s comforts will reach the soul and will bring with them that peace and that pleasure which the smiles of the world cannot give, and which the frowns of the world cannot take away.” -Matthew Henry

Application: I will remind myself, every time I am feeling low, that God is the greatest support of sinking spirits. I will look back at my list of things I am grateful for, and reming myself of His goodness to me.

Dead Faith

James 1:22-27
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

A dead faith is worse than no faith at all. I have this saying written on the top of James, and usually I gloss over it, not ever giving it a second thought, but today it has me thinking. I know so many Christians who say they believe in God, but don’t live by what His word teaches. They view God, not as a friend or a father, but as a judge, a creator, or a ruler somewhere far off in the sky. I understand why they feel this way. I grew up in the church and pretty much lived there three days a week, I attended a Christian school, and went to a Christian dance studio. My life has been surrounded and consumed with the Lord since I was a little girl. It was hard not to become numb to Him, because many times, I felt like God was being shoved down my throat. My life was built around mountain top experiences, and spiritual highs, lasting for a few weeks, and then seemingly disappearing out of thin air. There were two, week long camps every year, multiple worship nights, and study after study. The problem? I depended on those retreats, conferences, and nights of worship, to carry me throughout the whole year. I knew that God would break me during those times, and reveal himself to me in a powerful way, and I expected him to, but I believed that that was all I needed; just one “God experience” per year. But that one “experience” faded away in a matter of weeks, and it was not enough to get me through the year. My idea of a relationship with the Creator of the Universe was skewed. God is not something to be experienced, God is my friend, He is my father, my protector, my guide, my counselor in the morning and night, and the one being who knows me, even better than I know myself. He sent his son to die on the cross, so that I could have the opportunity and joy, of getting to know my Maker. Jesus died, because He longed to know me, love me, and be in communion with me, until we one day meet face to face. This is what so many people lack, and it is the same thing I lacked for years: communion. God is near, and James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” To live in communion with the Lord, is to be vulnerable with Him, and to pour your heart out before Him, allowing Him to see all of the hidden ways buried in the depths of our being. We have to let Him rip off our masks, so that we can finally see God for who God is, and us for who we are not. Only then does God’s word truly begin to cleanse us from the inside out, renewing our minds, and transforming our hearts. We begin to sincerely live out the word of God, being hearers and doers. The years of knowledge finally travels from your head, to your heart, to your hands, and your feet, and God becomes the heartbeat of everything you do. I don’t need mountaintop experiences to sustain me anymore, because God takes my breath away everyday. His grace is all around us, whether it be in the giggle of a child, the song of a bird, or the sounds of rain in the middle of the night. Be intentional. Look for glimpses of God all throughout the day, write them down, and remember. Remember why you believe in Him. Remember why you love Him, and you won’t be able to keep yourself from living and loving the way He so faithfully did on earth. 

Application: This week, I will write down the glimpses of God that I see throughout the day, and mediate on the reason why I love the Lord so much.