Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Big Picture.

Have you ever tried walking around with a pair of binoculars to your eyes? If not, you’ve saved yourself an embarrassing moment. But if you have, then you will know that it causes you to bump into things, arms outstretched to avoid pressing your face into someone or something awkward. You probably looked like a drugged up zombie walking around in the dark. Binoculars are made to magnify your vision, to see far distances clearly. However, when misused, you’ll be looking at the wrong things in great detail all the while obstructing your view of things that you really should be taking into account. This silly image is very accurate to the way we sometimes walk through life. Magnifying all the wrong things while ignoring the things that if we saw clearly, would save us a lot of grief.
Matthew 6:22-23 says "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

It is crucial that we not only see clearly, but that we see all the right things clearly, because our perception determines our choices, our direction and our actions. If we see clearly, then everything falls into place. If we see clearly, we understand the heart of God.

I’ve noticed that when bad things happen to us, our natural response is to scrutinize the situation, looking into the bad and magnifying it, blowing it out of proportion to attempt to figure out why it happened, who was at fault and what to do next. However, that self-centered reaction obstructs the big picture, the picture that God painted for us. When this happens, our sight is narrow. Zooming into the negativity and self-pity that leads us to miss the true heart of God. Yet, when we remove those binoculars, and see the big picture of what God is doing in our hearts and the grand plan that He has for us, we are able to see how minute the moment of pain is, whether we know the exact purpose of the trial or not, we see the beauty of the whole painting.

However, spiritual binoculars aren't always a bad thing. Sometimes, God will call us to evaluate ourselves, to improve and to remove the sin and pride and stumbling blocks in our lives. However, it is important not to stare at the same thing for too long, or the bad will become imprinted in our minds, and the enemy will jump at the chance to play the guilt game or the ‘you’re not good enough’ card. Magnify and remove. Don’t stare.
Taking the binoculars and actually using it the right way, by looking at the distance and keeping your eyes zoomed in on the goal will encourage you and keep you focused on the race. To see the heavenly rewards of keeping your integrity and fighting with everything you have for the One who gave everything for you. That’s the big picture for all who follow Christ. To live, fight, and die for the cause of Christ.

So I guess all I’m trying to say is, when you feel discouraged, step back and look at the beautiful painting that God painted uniquely for you. If you’re tired, then take off those binoculars and look to your side, to find the comfort and support of the Holy Spirit guiding you and helping you every step of the way. If you are feeling weighed down by guilt and shame, stop staring at yourself and look up at the empty cross. And if you feel lost, then lift your head to see the Lord waiting at the finish line, arms wide open, waiting to say “Well done, my good and faithful servant”.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sick days are sometimes God's way of saying "Seriously woman, just take a break".

My older brother and I led a summer discipleship program at JFC for 5 weeks in July. I found myself deeper in the word and more in tune with the Holy Spirit than ever before. We had our biggest outreach yet, and a student run service while Ben and the crew were out pushing buses up steep slopes and scratching their heads against rocks at the beach in El Salvador. Oh, not to mention leading over 2000 people to Christ in one day and planting countless more seeds in the hearts of thousands of total strangers.
Though some very incredible things happened, some very excruciating events also took place. Anthony Jarrett, age 19, passed away on June 29th, 2009. Even as I write this, I find myself unable to put together adequate words to describe how great of a loss it was and is in the hearts of the great number of people touched by Anthony’s life or how great of a victory it was when Anthony entered the pearly gates of Heaven. I can only imagine the sound of rejoicing and singing as a Hillsong United conference times a million, with Jesus shredding the guitar with Anthony.
For lovers of Jesus, for those who have given their lives to Christ as Anthony did, death is the final victory in our individual lives, it's the exact moment when satan's constant attacks and tempting ceases and when our spirits experience the fullness of the true freedom and joy that we were meant to have from the beginning of creation, in the garden of Eden.
We will miss you Anthony, until we meet you again soon. We can jam together again.

July was without a doubt one of the most eventful and exciting months of my life (so far, I expect things to get crazier) and one that has grown me in tremendous ways through God’s grace. Red SD has forced me to become a big sister to 26 kids, 15 hours a week for 5 weeks. And I loved it. It’s amazing how many new convictions God had for me in that month alone. When people are watching, we act differently, and yet Jesus is watching all the time.
Something that I kept noticing in the lives of these students was that they wanted to get closer to God, they wanted to obey, they wanted to do right and become incredible vessels for God, yet they seemed to lack the confidence. Though they knew what they wanted to become, the part of actually changing the pattern was just too much. It was simply frustrating.

James 1:22 says “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”. That’s ridiculous. To love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind is like saying count to infinity twice (Only Chuck Norris can do that.) When Jesus said to the adulterous woman “Go and sin no more”, it sounded like he was saying ‘go hold your breath…forever’. These things are impossible to attain…without God. These things are impossible to obey…without a constant and intimate relationship with Christ Himself. You can have the strongest will power, the greatest mind, and the most annoyingly righteous accountability partner, and still be unable to “go and sin no more”.
As Judah Smith said in his message at NYLC, when Jesus said that, it was a neon sign, pointing straight back to himself; bright flashing lights that said “Come to me, and give me everything”.
He said “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corith 12:9). He knows full well of our deficiencies and our inadequacies and our paucity. He knows full well the darkness in the corners of our hearts and the mold in the back of our minds. He knows our past and our present, yet he chooses to focus on our future, on what mighty warriors we can and will grow into when we take the paths he has marked out for us, with those bright neon signs posted periodically along the way.

*To listen and obey.* I believe that it becomes hard to listen, when we don’t think that what we hear applies to us. So the first step is humility. *Do it yourself, or He’ll do it for you.* But the second and more frustrating part, is the dreaded four letter word – Obey. How?
I find that when I come to a fork in the road with signs that say “The right way” and “The wrong way”, the wrong way always looks like a nice scenic walk with flowers and butterflies. The right way on the other hand, is a tightrope above a deathly dark abyss. And yet, it’s when I am reminded of what’s on the other end of the tightrope, that I place my foot on the rope and hold fast to the hand of God. The answer to the question ‘how?’ is vision. It’s to know why you obey. To know what you risk when you don’t obey.

So here are 7 reasons to obey God:
_ It benefits You. God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him.
_ It blesses God. Obedience is an act of love to the One who deserves it most.
_ It strengthens our faith through experience. “Taste and see that the Lord is good”. Obedience will prove God right.
_ God sees the big picture. You don’t. Proverbs 3:5
_ You never know who you’ll impact for the kingdom of God when you obey.
_ You never know who you won’t impact for the kingdom of God when you disobey.

When we see, in clear view, the damage that disobedience will do, we wouldn’t go that way. When we lie, we often say to ourselves “It’s for the good, it won’t hurt anyone”. But the truth, the ‘clear view,’ is that lying hurts people, breaks down trust that takes years to build back up and marks us as an untrustworthy person. There is always consequence to sin, but in a society that glamorizes and glorifies sin, how can we see clearly to know why we do what we do as Christians?
Read the Word.
Pray and wait upon the Lord.
Humble yourself.
And KNOW that the Lord is worthy of ALL of us. -Less of me and more of You-. If nothing else motivates you to obey, let this be it: *That we owe everything to Christ.* We have no right to a ‘good life’, no right to judge, no right to hate, no right to gossip, no right to human approval, no right to a comfortable home, no right to do what we want, no right to waste time, no right to be treated ‘fairly’. Just as Jesus gave up all of his ‘rights’ on the cross, we give up ours when we entitle ourselves as followers of Christ.

There is no half way. It’s either hot or cold. Light or dark. Yes or no. Obey or disobey.

Until you experience the rewards of obedience, you can’t even begin to imagine the things that God has in store for you. It keeps getting better. God never disappoints. He never lets you down.
So if you’re just starting on your journey of obedience, just know that it’s hard when you start, but it generally gets easier as your faith grows in proportion to your obedience. Remind yourselves of all the times God pulls through and shows you why He told you to talk to that person, or to stop watching that TV show, or to pray for that specific person. Don’t forget.

Be hopeful and persevere. Romans 5:5 “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
Never Give Up. Because He’ll Never Give Up On You.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

I'll try to keep this short...

Rev. G. H. Williams marched with Martin Luther King Jr. He has been pastoring for over 60 years and is still going. He was arrested with King 18 times for civil rights purposes. He was the first colored man to walk into a white restaurant. He was the first black face that was arrested for trying to make a reservation at the Holiday Inn and his children were two of the first children to walk into a white school. He's 84 and still young.

And I got to hear him speak :).  

He challenged us with a question. He said "What, and how much, are you willing to sacrifice for your future?"
He didn't mean 'How hard are you willing to work so that you can live the life you want?'. No, he has seen, heard, lived through, witnessed and tried too many things to ask a shallow question like that. 
What he meant was "How much of yourself are you willing to lay down, how much are you willing to suffer, be persecuted and rejected, ridiculed and criticized, torn up, beaten down, discouraged and ignored, for the sake of the souls in this fallen world?". That's what he meant. 

Funny thing is, we live in America. We have it easy. We're big, over-fed, over-indulged, over-'free' babies. We say it's hard to be a christian in a time like this - all the while sitting in one of our 300,000 churches, sipping starbucks. We worry about our reputation while believers in Nepal and Nigeria fear for their lives. We worry about how that other church is doing better than ours while a three person under-cover bible study is a tremendous blessing in another country. 
I used to pray 'God use me, I am willing' without REALLY having a clue what i was willing to do. Faith without works is dead. Now I pray "Lord, Show me what breaks your heart, and let it break mine." I order for your heart to grow, it has to  break first. And if you SEE through God's eyes the things that need to be done, and KNOW the desperation, you'll know the WHY. And as Jeanne put it; "He who has a WHY to live for can withstand any HOW". 

A washcloth, a toothbrush and a dime. Those were the things Rev. G. H. Williams and King put in their pockets to prepare for another time in prison. They KNEW, yet they still did what needed to be done, just as Christ knew the price He was to pay, and went all the way anyway. A washcloth, a toothbrush and a dime. I think that's part of what Jesus meant when He said 'You must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me". Follow Him, carrying the very thing that will take you to your grave on your back. While the crowd saw Jesus carrying the cross and mocked him, Jesus knew the beauty and power of the cross. He knew the end of the road he was walking. We know the power, the truth, the love and the reality of  the Gospel, so let us deny our selves, and take it to the grave, for everyone to see. 

Report on NYLC

National Youth Leaders Conference in Dallas, Texas - March 30th - April 2nd. 
To say it was 'worth it' would be the understatement of the year, no, the decade. 

With Ben's (my youth pastor) motorcycle accident and the chaos that followed it, updates and information on the trip was obviously sporadic. But I believe that through that, God selected a couple of us to meet Him there, along with around 2700 Jesus Freaks who have dedicated their lives to Christ and to further Him kingdom. That alone was amazing. To see Trinity Church filled with people much like myself encouraged me greatly, by allowing me to see that not only did God have a huge, young, passionate army around the US, but that they too faced the same struggles that I used to believe I faced alone. 

We left on the 29th. The 12+ hour drive was a comfortable one and consisted of strange conversations and hours upon hours of the movie game. We discovered some interesting 'points of interest' in Texas and encountered some strange sights. Two dead cows, a herd of antelope, a truck ripped in half by a tree, a town named Chilicothe and...a herd of camels. (And a 'herd' of ants! Lori, you know what I mean.) No joke. We were sober, I swear.
Lori and I were blessed to be able to stay at Courtney's sister's apartment. They were so good to us, and so was their dog, Sonic. On Monday the 30th, we celebrated Ben's birthday by going to watch Monsters Vs. Aliens and eating at Saltgrass steak house before finally heading over to Trinity Church. 
Ben and Holly were privileged enough to have Jeanne Mayo (titled the best Youth pastor in the world) as their youth pastor back when they were my age. And RED is privileged enough to have the product of Jeanne's mentoring as its youth pastors. In my opinion, they're some of the greatest spiritual parents in the world. So for me to be able to hear my youth pastor's youth pastor speak was exciting and eye-opening. 

We parked in a sea of cars and made our way to Trinity Church; a HUGE building perfect for what God had planned for those three days. As soon as we walked in, Ben and Holly were swamped with old friends and acquaintances. I had no idea that my youth pastors were famous. As the rest of us pretended to be as famous as our leaders, we found our reserved seats (which we got through Ben and Holly's acquaintances) and waited for 'whatever'. I doubt that any of us had any clue what we expected out of the trip or what God would do - if anything at all. I think most of us were there because 'Ben said so'. 
And then it began. 
It was as if God had dumped bucket after bucket of wisdom on the entire church, and the speakers (Jeanne Mayo, Ed Young, Chris Hill, Joel Stockstill, Judah Smith...) were the buckets.
I can't even begin to tell you the overwhelming revelations that were shown to me just that first day. Jeanne spoke about how Jesus is our security, and our main audience. The thoughts of the righteous are right and how Jesus won't do anything until you work with him. Not only did she speak to us, but I think she threw a tombstone at satan's face when she said 'Now I don't give the devil too much attention because to find him, I have to look under my feet'. She said things like 'He who has a WHY to live for, can withstand any HOW' and 'Never let your feelings tell you how to feel'. 
i was familiar with the next speaker, but the last time I had heard him, I didn't KNOW God. Greg Stier, from Denver, Colorado spoke about the Gospel and how it means 'good news' and how we so often show it to people as simply 'you're a sinner'. Stier said 'We have 20 minutes left - we're on the clock', 'All roads lead to God - all to judgement and only one to forgiveness'. One that hit me hard was 'They're deaf to us because we're deaf to them'. How long have we suffocated people by shoving the Bible in their face with a 'I'm right, you're wrong' attitude and not Christ's attitude of pure, unconditional love?

The messages felt like a waterfall of ice cold water waking me up from my mediocre christianity. What kind of walk was I walking? I struggled to read the Bible every day and I'd hit a wall. I distinctly remember God telling me to love Him more, right before the trip. I asked Him 'How? How can I grow my heart?' and He answered 'Know me more'. Could God possibly have more for me? Could He be even greater than what i knew already? It was too good to be true. Right?

"You think this is all I've got? Think again. You've barely made a dent in knowing me. I have called you higher than you can see, deeper than you're comfortable going and further than the destination you've circled on your puny little hand-drawn map. I wasn't kidding when I said that I had a plan for you that day you first heard my voice."

I fell asleep praying and woke up praying. I was starving for God's word and itching to share every drop of encouragement and expectation God had given me to every one I knew. I still am. My mind has been constantly on my Savior and I'm praying that I will be able to discipline my mind to do that for the rest of my life. 

The entire conference, Ben had been limping around because of the motorcycle accident. His hip was slanted - one side of his pelvis was higher than the other because it was pushed up when he hit the Jeep Liberty. As a result, his left leg was an inch shorter than his right, causing him to never be able to stand with both legs straight. One night, one of the bands (Desperation Band or CoryEvans Band) played 'Healer'. As Ben was worshiping the Lord, he changed the position of his legs and found that they were the same length. His hip had moved down, and had become level with the other. Now try to tell me that Jesus can't do miracles. Though Ben is not entirely fixed, I know that he will be. God is good and that's a fact. 
The last night of the conference, our group was standing around the table where they sold each sermon for $8 a CD. We wanted to buy four or five on our church budget so that we could let others listen to it and learn from it. As we discussed which ones to buy, we eventually became frustrated and decided to postpone the purchase until we talked to Pastor Bob back at Jubilee. As we turned to leave, the man standing behind us said 'Hey, what do you need? I'll cover ya." Ben insisted that it was okay and that we were simply going to order them later, but the man was persistent. He said 'I've been standing here and I heard God tell me to bless someone with this. I'll get you the whole package." He slapped his credit card down on the counter and buys us the $200 pack with over 70 services. In shock, we received the flash stick. Um, did I mention that God is good?
There was not a single minute of those 3 days that I was not overwhelmed by the love of God. Not only that, I was blessed enough to witness a miracle and an awesome blessing by a total stranger. 
And how could I leave this out, I got to meet the drummer, Keyboard dude and guitarist/vocalist of Desperation Band. I think me and Justus peed our pants a little. Not only were they awesome musicians, it was obvious that they loved God with all of their hearts. OH, and I got a hug from Jeanne AND Sam Mayo, probably the holiest people I've ever met. 
That was my crazy trip to Texas. Yeah.

Here's a bonus for you guys. (haha) >>

Here's an analogy that God gave me at starbucks the day after I got back. I asked Him "Lord, How do I keep this fire burning? I always seem to be asking you to re-light my passion." And He said:

"In order to keep a fire burning, what do you do?
You gotta know WHAT pieces of wood to add and WHEN to add them.
If you add good, dry wood, you'll have a good flame, but if you add weeds and thistles, you'll get a smokey, little fire. Not only will you not be able to see clearly, but you will burn other people's eyes and drive them away from you. No one likes to sit by a smokey fire. 
The fuel that will keep you burning is my Word and your time spent with me in prayer and worship. But things of this world- gossip, slander, lying etc. will only blind you. 
WHEN do you add the fuel? Consistently. All at once and the fire will be put out. You can cram your brain with scripture all at once but if you have so much that you can't take any in, you'll just get confused and that's when satan will mess with your mind the most."

I'm working up a furnace and maybe I'll start a forest fire someday. I knew being a pyromaniac wasn't ALL bad. :) 

If I go on any more, I will never stop, so I'll stop the ranting here.