Wednesday, October 1, 2014

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” ~ 2 Cor. 5:17

Did you ever wish you could change your past? Do you ever think that maybe what you've done is the worst thing and that there is nothing that can change and you're doomed to be a "bad person" for the rest of your life? I think we all have moments in our past that we wish could be different, that we wish we could be better or do better.

I don't know if you know this about me, but I have a soft spot for villains and "bad guys." Like Heathcliff from the book Wuthering Heights, Lex Luthor from the TV show Smallville, or Regina and Rumplestiltskin on the TV show Once Upon a Time. What I have is hope for them - hope that if they received a little more love, affection, affirmation...then they might be able to rise above their evil nature and become good. We all want love and sometimes when we don't get it, some choose to seek out attention in negative ways. Some choose to hurt other people, some choose to hurt themselves.

We are created with a deep desire for love. God made us this way and in a perfect world we would receive this love easily. But our world is broken and sinful and often we don't receive love from our parents and our family or friends the way God intended. We feel lost and alone and unloved. We seek any kind of attention and "love" that seems to fill our need. Or we turn hard and bitter and lash out at anyone who tries to get close. We feel love is a lie and not to be trusted. All of this can lead to choices that we might come to regret.

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.” ~ Romans 3:23-24

But there is hope - and His name is Jesus! God loves us - individually and unconditionally - and even though our world is broken He created a plan to allow us to come back into relationship with Him. By the life and death and resurrection  of His only Son Jesus, we are able to confess our sins and accept His sacrifice in our place and have that loving relationship we've been searching for! Isn't God good? He's made a way for our past to be forgiven and forgotten and for us to have a hope and a future.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” ~ Isaiah 43:18-19

The experiences of our past may be difficult and we may wish that we didn't have to go through them. But God can use all of our experiences and bring good. Sometimes through the ability to share with someone that they aren't alone - that they aren't the only one. Sometimes our struggles help us to realize that we can't do something on our own and that we need to depend on God. Every single thing we go through helps to shape us into the person we are and how we deal with those experiences helps to determine who we will be.

“This is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.” ~ Corrie Ten Boom

“It’s the hard things that God really uses. The things we hate going through, the things that push us to our limits. When we look back, we may never want to go through the pain again, but we’re grateful for the results.” ~ Jeri Odell

“But if I would show the good that came of it I must talk about things other than the good.” ~ Dante

When we come to discover that we aren't capable on our own, that we need something more...and we realize that what we need is Someone more, that is when there is light at the end of the tunnel. When we can see God for Who He is and we accept the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. It isn't about doing something or working hard or becoming "good". All we have to do is plop our messed up, hurting, scarred and unloved selves in God's open arms and say "I'm sorry. I need You. I love You." We aren't expected to be perfect, we don't have to be "fixed." It's not about what we do, but about what God will do in us.

"Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up. The opposite may be true: We may not be able to get it together until after we show up in such miserable shape.” ~ Anne Lamott

“God loves you not because of who you are or what you have done but because of who he is. Our behavior does not impact the heart and character of God. We think that on good days, God is proud of us; and in our not-so-attractive moments, he loves us less. This is applying human logic to the heart of God, and it will always come up short. There is life-changing truth in the message of these three little words: God loves you!” ~ Sheila Walsh

As we turn over our lives to God, and turn over our past, He begins to work in us and the more we trust Him the more like Him we'll become. As we come to know God by reading His Word and speaking to Him through prayer we start to see how much He loves us. As the more we feel His love, the more we will want to chose to do those things He calls us to do. Not because He will love us more, but because we love Him more. Just like in our relationships with other people - when we love someone we want to spend time with them, to do special things for them and with them, we want to shower them with our love and attention and affection. And no one who loves us - even those who love us a lot - can ever love us as much and as unconditionally as God loves us.

I read this quote somewhere (wish I could remember where) and it's been taped to my computer at work ever since as a daily reminder:

God didn't even love you....He so loved you.

Not - "Oh, I guess God loves me, even though I did this and that and I fail and I'm not perfect and so on and so on..."

But - "God loves you soooooooo much, not because of anything you've done or not done, but just because He's chosen to."

We will never be perfect and we will make mistakes and fail sometimes. But what happened in our past, once we've asked God for forgiveness, is gone. We don't have to worry that He might bring it up again to throw in our faces when we fail. Satan will do that to us...he'll try to convince us that we aren't truly forgiven. That we can't possibly do good or get better. But we have to remember that he is a liar. God forgives and, even more amazingly, He forgets.

“If God forgives us we must forgive ourselves otherwise it’s like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Once we give our lives to God, we will still have struggles. We will still be tempted and we may sometimes succumb to temptation. The key is to admit our failure, ask for forgiveness and move forward. Give it to God and then let it go. We will face difficult experiences, we may feel overwhelmed by our fears and doubts, but if we remember to turn to God, to remember that we can depend on Him, then we can have a firm foundation. God will never leave us, even when we feel alone - He is always there.

“Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.” ~ 1 Peter 4:12-13

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry” ~ Psalm 10:17

God works everything together for our good. The bad times, the hard times, the good times - all of it works together to create in us the purpose He has for our lives. And through it all, we can depend on the truth that He loves us. He loves us completely and unconditionally. It's never dependent on what we do or do not do. It's all Him and when we know we are loved, we can be who He has made us to be. We don't have to be afraid, we don't have hurt ourselves or others, we can rest secure in the love our heavenly Father showers over us day after day.

“Jesus never fails to see us with love, even though we have scars of sin and a rumpled nature that shows in our stutter-step faithfulness.” 
~ Our Daily Bread devotional 3/15/13

“God told them, ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love and more love! And so now, I’ll start over with you and build you up again,’” ~ Jeremiah 31:3

Our past does not have to define us. God can take the experiences we've had and turn them around for His good and His purpose. He showers us with His overwhelming and unconditional love and fills the empty places in our lives and heals the hurts. Once we know how much He loves us, we are able to overflow with that love onto others and toward God. We can be a new creation in Christ - we can turn away from our villain status and become a hero. That is the power of love - God's love. We are made new. What an amazing gift!

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for the wonderful gift of Your incredible love. Thank You for making the sacrifice of Your only Son so that we can be reconciled to You. Even though we may not always be proud of our past experiences, thank You for the ways that You use our past to teach us, to draw us closer to You and to share our lives with others. Thank You for your gift of forgiveness. Help me to desire Your will for my life, to trust You when I feel afraid and to remember that You are in control and that You love me. For those who feel that their past is too bad, that they are too "villain-like", that Your forgiveness can't possibly apply to them - help them to see the truth. Help them to see that You do love them, that You will forgive and forget, that Your grace is sufficient. Thank You for loving us. We love you too. Amen.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

“Our Lord is great…we’ll never comprehend what He knows and does.” ~ Psalm 147:5

Do you ever struggle with understanding God's will? Of course, on one hand we all know that there is absolutely no way to understand God's will or God's plan. He is so much more than we can imagine and He is not limited by our understanding. On the other hand, we all try at times to figure out what He should do or why He does some things. Most of the time, I just try to let go and be content with the fact that I can't know or won't know and He is in control.

“I had to be willing to live inside the mystery…Some things in life will never make sense. They won’t be made right or explained. At least in our lifetime. They float around in a swirl of mystery. I wanted God to explain all that mystery to me before I agreed to trust Him. But I discovered it doesn’t work that way. He is God, and He doesn’t have to explain anything. When I understood that, then I could surrender to Christ and step inside the mystery instead of stand back and resist.”
~ Robin Jones Gunn

This reminds me of a conversation Josh & I were having on Friday night. We had dinner with our beloveds and the topic of conspiracy theories came up. This is fascinating stuff for Josh and he really gets into it. It's not a favorite topic of mine, but I was trying to explain to him what I think about it. Yes, conspiracies and cover-ups exist and while it is interesting to discuss and research we will never know for certain the answer to questions like - who killed JFK? was Marilyn Monroe killed or did she really commit suicide? did aliens land on earth and exist in Area 51? etc. We won't know the answers because people don't want us to know and maybe we shouldn't need to know everything. I can be frustrated that I don't know the answers, or I can just let it go and trust that it's in my best interest to not know. And in regards to conspiracy theories, sometimes I just don't care enough to research or ponder. It's kind of like God's will - we can't know everything even if we want to and we can either be frustrated or just be content to trust Him.

"God wants us to realise His sovereignty. We are apt to tie God up in His own laws and allow Him no free will. We say we know what God will do, and suddenly He upsets all our calculations by working in unprecedented ways; just when we expected He would do a certain thing, He did the opposite. There are unexpected issues in life; unexpected joys when we looked for sorrow, and sorrow when we expected joy, until we learn to say, all my expectations are from Thee." ~ Oswald Chambers

God works in mysterious and, what can seem to us, contradictory ways. He is gracious when we would be judgmental. He is loving when we would be angry. He allows us to hurt when we want Him to heal. He can see the big picture that we are incapable of seeing from our limited perspective. He moves in our lives in ways we don't understand and can't imagine. Most often we can see more clearly looking back the hows and whys of things we have to go through - and sometimes we never understand but we have to choose to trust that even in our inability to understand He is in control.

“Consider what God has done: who can straighten what He has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.”
~ Ecclesiastes 7:13-14b

“The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem to be much worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.” ~ Elisabeth Elliot

Learning to be content in our circumstances and learning to trust God even when we don't understand...that is difficult. That is something we learn our whole lives. And just because we get scared and forget to trust doesn't mean we failed forever. It's then that we put our hand back in His and say "I trust You." I struggle with this a lot. I do believe that God is in control and I do trust that He has a plan. But when troubles come, as they always do, I tend to get worried and scared and wonder what in the world I am going to do. I take my eyes off of God and try to succeed on my own...and always fail...and then I am reminded that He is in control, that all I have to do is trust Him.

“Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?” ~ Psalm 113:5-6

 “By Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible.” ~ Colossians 1:16

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher that your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” ~ Isaiah 55:9

Do you ever think about how big God is? How majestic and amazing and incredible He is? He has always existed. He created everything. He created us and knows every intimate detail of us. He knows how many hairs are on your head. He loved us so much that He sent His only Son to come and die for our sins and be resurrected so that we could have the opportunity to be with Him forever. Everything that we see and understand - He knows. Even the things we don't understand and don't see - He sees them and knows them. He is so much more than we can imagine or understand. It can be overwhelming, but in the best possible way. Because He is so big and He is completely in control we are able to rest in Him...we are able to be content. But we have to trust Him.

“You can’t always see God’s purposes in every season, but you can always have His peace, His presence, and His promises.”
~ Christine Caine

"According to the wisdom of this world, God seems to be haphazard. He is not calculable in His providence; He works in ways we cannot estimate. If we try to work things out in logical ways, we are apt to find that suddenly in the providence of God a great upheaval comes we had never calculated on." ~ Oswald Chambers

“God is not a man, so He does not lie. He is not human, so He does not change His mind. Has He ever spoken and failed to act? Has He ever promised and not carried it through?” ~ Numbers 23:19

It's incredible to look back at ways that God has provided. Things that don't make sense or that shouldn't be important. Like the unicorn stuffed animal that I wanted as a child and God provided through the relationship of a man who recycled trash with the neighborhood who noticed and set things aside for him. I didn't NEED a unicorn, but how blessed I continue to be knowing that God heard and provided a simple child's heartfelt prayer request. Or how God provided ice and a chair with a back in the midst of training camp - just when I needed it and even before I thought to pray about it. God knows everything about us. He knows the things we are afraid to imagine or ask for in prayer. He knows the things we're scared to admit. He knows our fears and our joys and our struggles. 

“Our stories affect one another whether we know it or not. Sometimes obedience isn’t for us at all, but for another. We don’t know how God holds the kingdom in balance or why He moves a chess piece at a crucial time; we might never see the results of His sovereignty. But we can trust Him when He says press on, cling to hope, stay the course. He is always at work, even if the entire thread is hidden. I might just be one shade of one color of one strand, but I’m a part of an elaborate tapestry that goes beyond my perception.” ~ Jen Hatmaker

One of the ways I see God's hand at work is in my best friend. We've known each other for 21 years and in those years we've had our ups and downs. We fought over the same guy, we went to different schools during our senior year in high school, we struggled with growing up and growing apart, and though we've had some pretty difficult times apart, God has always brought our lives back together. I don't understand why this one relationship has been able to break and hurt and then heal and grow even stronger so many times but I know it's simply due to God at work in the two of us.

Over the past few years, I have seen a change in my best friend. Something I had prayed for, but to be honest wasn't sure would ever happen. I always loved her as she was and did my best to be the best friend possible. But in her now I see a depth of love and trust in the Lord that has truly been a miracle. It's not that life has gotten easier - in fact, she's had many struggles. But she trusts God with her life - she has sought forgiveness from people she hurt and forgiven people who had hurt her, she frequently asks for prayer and often gives such good advice and Godly wisdom and it just blesses my heart. I have always been grateful for her friendship and I am doubly thankful for the ways that I've learned more about God through her and the ways He keeps drawing our hearts together as friends and sisters.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” ~ 1 Corinthians 2:9

I think God just loves to go above and beyond our wildest imaginings...He must get such joy from blowing our minds. And even when we experience difficult things that make us question God, we have to remind ourselves that He is God and what He knows we may not be able to understand but He does and all we have to do is trust Him. Yes, it can be hard to do this...but when we do we can have His peace. We like to have control...or think we have control. But really it's an illusion. What we can trust is God - He is faithful, He is love, He is God.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God …will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7

“O LORD, You know what’s good and bad, what’s better and worse, what’s best and worst – may my prayer be as You wish it to be.”
~ Thomas a Kempis

Last week, a coworker shared this wonderful illustration at our monthly staff meeting. Whenever we tell someone we care about "I love you", they usually will respond with "I love you too." Well, since we know that God loves us and is always telling us "I love you", then we should respond with "I love you too." I'm definitely going to try to remember this...maybe you will too.

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for being trustworthy and faithful. Thank You for being so much more that I can possibly imagine and for designing this beautiful world and all that is in it. Help me to remember to trust You even when I don't understand or whenever I'm scared and feel alone or worried. Bring reminders to mind of Your faithfulness so that I remember to place my complete trust in You. I know You have a plan for my life and I want to trust You to fulfill that purpose in whatever ways You desire. Thank You for loving me. I love you too. Amen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

“Be patient. God isn’t finished with you yet.” ~ Philippians 1:6

I'm having trouble figuring out my new beginning. I know God brought me through the past few years for a reason. I know that the struggle and controversy and deep study was important. I have faith that there is a purpose. And like the title of this post, I'm trying to be patient because I know God isn't finished with me yet. Ultimately, I know I'll spend the rest of my life learning about God, drawing closer to Him, and finding new and deeper ways to know and love Him.

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell

As expected, I went through a lot of emotions on this journey. I was angry, I was hurt, I was confused, I was heartbroken, I was sad, I was mad. I didn't want to leave a place where I felt at home, but as weeks passed it felt less and less like a safe place. I felt a desperate hunger to read the Bible and know what God had to say about the topics I was struggling with. I felt an (unwanted) need to study theology and read books that didn't appeal to me generally. As I studied and read and pondered and prayed, I kept feeling like there was some kind of future purpose for all this. Some way to share what I had gone through and how it affected me. In a lot of ways, this blog feels like the fruition of that feeling of purpose. But perhaps there is more.

“God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.” ~ Psalm 51:10

“Beginnings hold the promise of hope, the expectation of the new and fresh. They are a chance to start over or anticipate.” ~ Nancy Ortberg

God is big on new beginnings. He is in the business of taking us from where we were to the places He wants us to be. He is more than capable of turning the pain of our past into the promise of tomorrow. The Bible is full of stories of people who messed up - some of them big time and some of them what we might consider small or not at all - who God chose to use for His purpose and for His glory. While we may not be able to understand why God does the things He does, or why He chooses to use our broken, messed up selves, we can cling to the knowledge that He is faithful, He is in control and He is God.

“Perhaps…the most important thing is to keep on; not to be discouraged however often one yields to the temptation; but always to pick yourself up again and ask forgiveness.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“When God forgives, He never casts up at us the mean, miserable things we have done. ‘I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins.’ A cloud cannot be seen when it is gone.”
~ Oswald Chambers

I mess up. I make poor choices. I hurt people who I love. I don't usually intend to do it, but I let my selfishness get in the way of being loving and forgiving. I am definitely not perfect. But when I mess up, I go to God and ask forgiveness. He is ready and willing to forgive and even more forget. He never brings up our past. We do that often enough on our own...and definitely Satan likes to bring up our past and tries to make us believe that God couldn't possibly truly forgive, let alone forget all the terrible things we've done. But he's wrong...God does forgive and God does forget.

"Never limit God by remembering what you have done in the past. When you come into relation with the Reality of Redemption God creates something in you that was... never there before; it is the active working of the life of God in you; consequently you can do now what you could not do before." ~ Oswald Chambers

“Though I fall, I will rise again.” ~ Micah 7:8

It can be hard...perhaps it even feels move forward from our past. And we will never be perfect. We will always mess up. We will always need forgiveness. We will always have to begin again. But if we put our life in God's hands, we know that we are in the best possible place. He wants to make us new. He wants to work in our lives for good and make good things come from our life. Even from our past. We just have to keep trying...keep trusting...keep depending on God to see us through. And He is faithful and He is trustworthy and He is dependable and He loves us.

“We don’t always succeed in what we try – certainly not by the world’s standards – but I think you’ll find it’s the willingness to keep trying that matters most.” ~ Mister Rogers

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”
~ Mary Anne Radmacher

God knows everything about us. Even the things we think are hidden - He knows. He knows the things we share willingly with Him or with others. He knows the things we want to hide - from others and sometimes from ourselves. He knows our emotions, our struggles, our hurts, our fears. He made us and He knows us intimately. And the only reason we can move forward from our past is because of Who He is and what He has done for us. Without the sacrifice of His Son and the resurrection that followed, we would never be able to measure up...we can't measure up. But Jesus stands in our place - His righteousness makes us righteous in God's eyes. And when we believe that, we can be free to live a new life in Christ.

“The God of the universe, the one who holds the stars and the moon in place, knows everything about you and loves you with unprecedented abandon. He knows the good, the bad, and the ugly. He knows the things you are proud of and the things you hide. He knows it all, and he invites you to come just as you are and live the dream he has for you.”
~ Sheila Walsh

“…you are adequate because God is. So whether you are feeling not-good-enough or comfortably adequate in yourself, the Lord knows and he is able. You are a servant of a new covenant – not a law-based, do-it-yourself kind of faith, but a grace-based, Jesus-already-did-it kind. This faith is based on his finished work, not our work yet to be done. So let me encourage you to lead from that place, a place of dependence, a place of freedom, a place of complete security.” ~ Emily P. Freeman

God has a plan for our lives. He knows what He wants us do. He knows what choices we will make. He knows when we will mess up. He knows when we ask forgiveness. He knows how He will make beauty from ashes. It doesn't always makes sense...especially when we're in the midst of pain and suffering and hurt...but if we can just place our faith and trust in Him and His plan we can have joy.

 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”
~ Ephesians 2:10

The below verse is another version of one I mentioned earlier...and it's like a prayer. I'm praying it for me...and for you.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit away from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” ~ Psalm 51:10-12

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for Your forgiveness and Your plan for my life. Thank You for taking the pain of the past and making it into a beautiful future that shows Your goodness and grace. Please help me to depend on You, to remember that I'm always in Your presence, to never give up and to keep turning back to You when I fail. Thank You for Your salvation and help me to live for You. To obey. To live and move and have my being in You. Help me to be as gracious and forgiving toward others as You are toward me. Help me to trust You for the new beginnings You have for my life. Thank You for loving me. I love you. Amen.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

“Mercy triumphs over judgment!” ~ James 2:13

I've struggled a lot with this post. I tried to write last week, and several times this week, but for one reason or another I haven't been able to write. Honestly, part of it is fear. This topic strikes close to the one that caused us to leave our last church. There is fear about what people might think. There is fear about rocking the boat.

“The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.” ~ Proverbs 29:25

I know I shouldn't be afraid. I know what God has shown me in His Word and the study He's had me on for the past years. I know that people's opinions aren't as important as God's opinion. I probably should read my post about fear and being afraid again. Here's the link in case you struggle like I do. More important than my fear or worry is the truth of God - He is loving, He is merciful, He gives grace. These things are true - amazingly wonderfully true - all the time!

"Among the lost souls in hell there is not one that can say, "I went to Jesus, and He refused me." It is not possible that you or I should be the first to whom Jesus shall break His word. "This man receiveth sinners," but He repulses none. We come to Him in weakness and sin, with trembling faith, and small knowledge, and slender hope; but He does not cast us out. We come by prayer, and that prayer broken; with confession, and that confession faulty; with praise, and that praise far short of His merits; but yet He receives us. We come diseased, polluted, worn out, and worthless; but He doth in no wise cast us out. Let us come again today to Him who never casts us out." ~ C.H. Spurgeon

This idea that Jesus will accept us if we go to Him, confess our sins and ask forgiveness, and allow Him into our hearts and lives - I always believed that. I've known that since I was 4 years old and accepted the Lord. I've never questioned that belief or wondered about it. But...the following idea was raised by someone in a position of authority..."It doesn't matter if we accept Christ, but if Christ accepts us." It immediately raised concerns for me. It immediately upset me. It immediately caused me to question and doubt even more strongly the words this speaker had been saying for months.

“God told them, ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love and more love! And so now, I’ll start over with you and build you up again,’” ~ Jeremiah 31:3

“God’s arms are always extended; we are the ones who turn away.”
~ Philip Yancey

God loves us and seeks a relationship with us. His arms are open wide and willing to accept us if we just let go and give our hearts to Him. We don't have to be afraid that we are too bad, too broken, too messed up or too sinful. If we confess, God will forgive. It is as simple, as profound, as incredible as that. He is in charge but we have to humble ourselves. And once we ask forgiveness, that sin is gone, forgotten, never to be brought up again.

“When God forgives, He never casts up at us the mean, miserable things we have done. ‘I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins.’ A cloud cannot be seen when it is gone.”
~ Oswald Chambers

“Cry for help and you’ll find its grace and more grace.” ~ Isaiah 30:19

Sometime in high school, I learned a simple description of the difference between grace and mercy. Grace is getting what we don't deserve. Mercy is not getting what we do deserve. These meanings have stuck with me and while I probably have sometimes taken their importance for granted, in the past few years I have been so grateful and humbled by God's amazing grace and mercy for us. He doesn't have to give grace, but He chooses to. We deserve judgment for our sins and our disobedience, and yet He has incredible mercy. Such amazing love!

"Meditate a little on this mercy of the Lord. It is tender mercy. With gentle, loving touch, He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. He is as gracious in the manner of His mercy as in the matter of it…It is great mercy. There is nothing little in God; His mercy is like Himself—it is infinite. You cannot measure it. His mercy is so great that it forgives great sins to great sinners, after great lengths of time, and then gives great favours and great privileges, and raises us up to great enjoyments in the great heaven of the great God…It is unfailing mercy. It will never leave thee. If mercy be thy friend, mercy will be with thee in temptation to keep thee from yielding; with thee in trouble to prevent thee from sinking; with thee living to be the light and life of thy countenance; and with thee dying to be the joy of thy soul when earthly comfort is ebbing fast." ~ C.H. Spurgeon

Here was part of my struggle - someone in authority was telling me that I was a terrible sinner who could not be assured of my salvation, that it was only through strict obedience to described interpretations of Scripture and essentially hard work that I could try to prove my faith and even then it might not be true faith. This contradicted everything I had been raised to believe, everything I had come to believe in my own walk with God. But it sounded so true and Biblically supported. I was conflicted and I was lost and I was upset.

"It seems to me that we are far too willing to short sell grace in order to obtain a set of rules that will "prove" our devotion."
~ Darlene “Dee” Parsons (in this article)

"Look back over your own history as revealed to you by grace, and you will see one central fact growing large: God is love. . . . In the future, when trial and ...difficulties await you, do not be fearful; whatever and whoever you may lose faith in, let not this faith slip from you:
God is Love." ~ Oswald Chambers

The best thing that came out of this time of confusion and anger and hurt was my deeper faith and trust in God. I sought truth in God's Word. I prayed and I listened for God's direction. I sought the guidance and wisdom of strong Godly men and women that God had placed in my life. And I looked to the truth of what I already knew - God loves me, God saved me...I am His and He is mine...I am accepted in the Beloved...I am a child of God and nothing can change that truth.

“I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus.” ~ Philippians 3:12-14

God has done the true work. I am nothing without Him and His wonderful grace and mercy. I am a sinner who doesn't deserve anything but judgment...and yet God is gracious, He is merciful and He loves me. He loves you. No matter what you've done, no matter what you think about your worth - God is waiting for you to see His wide open arms of love and to confess your sin and let His truth and grace and mercy fill your heart.

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:9

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
~ Hebrews 4:16

I'm not perfect and my relationship with God is a journey that I will be on forever. I've learned that just because someone is in a position of authority doesn't mean that they are the ultimate authority...the ultimate authority is God. I've learned to depend on God study His Word and seek His direction in my life...I'm learning to not be afraid. I've learned what I believe and why I believe it. I've learned that growing involves struggle and conflict. I've been reminded how much God loves me and it makes me want to be sure that you know that God loves you too.

I heard this song for the first time at my cousin Brandon & his wife Leyate's wedding last September. Theirs was a beautifully heartfelt rendition by their friends during a time of worship in their wedding ceremony and I just sobbed as I was reminded just how much God loves us.
He does love us...oh how He loves us.

Dear heavenly Father, thank You, thank You, thank You for how much You love us. Thank You for Your amazing grace and Your incredible mercy. Thank You for the many things I've learned about You. Thank You for teaching me and surrounding me with people who help draw me closer to You. Help me to do the same for others. Please help me to not be afraid. Help me to place my complete trust and faith in all circumstances. I love you. Amen

Monday, August 25, 2014

“Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called children of God!” ~ 1 John 3:1

It's incredible how much God loves us. He knows us, inside and out, and He loves us. He knows every good and bad thing we've ever done or thought of doing and yet He still loves us. He sees our brokenness, our selfishness, our anger, our fear, our sorrow and grief, our questions and accusations our joy and our vulnerability and through it all - all day, all night...forever and always - He loves us. He loves me. He loves YOU! Isn't that incredible?!?!?

“God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” ~ St. Augustine

“The truest measure of God’s love is that He loves us without measure!”
~ Bernard of Clairvaux

Your life - with all of its ups and downs - is important to God. Nothing else in the world is more important to Him. He is capable of knowing us intimately and being available to us at any time for any reason. Each one of us, all the time. It seems impossible, but nothing is impossible with God. He is more than we can imagine and although the world is immense, He knows every single bit of it. And He chooses to know us and love us.

“God’s love is meteoric, his loyalty astronomic, His purpose titanic, his verdicts oceanic. Yet in his largeness nothing gets lost; Not a man, not a mouse, slips through the cracks.”~ Psalm 36:5-6

“He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name.”
~ Psalm 147:4

Nothing is unseen. Nothing slips through the cracks. Every tear, every laugh, every fear, everything is seen and heard by our amazing loving God. We may not always understand why He seems silent or why He seems to not answer our prayers. But we can have faith that God is always with us and whether we understand now or not, He has a purpose for everything.

“It’s a mistake to think that we have to be lovely to be loved by human beings or by God.” ~ Mister Rogers

“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high and how deep His love is.”
~ Ephesians 3:18

“God loves you simply because He has chosen to do so. He loves you when you don’t feel lovely. He loves you when no one else loves you.”
~ Max Lucado

No matter what we've done in the past. No matter what we've been doing. If we confess our sins to God and ask for forgiveness - it's gone. Forever and always. Never to be brought up again by God - completely forgotten. He knows we aren't perfect and He doesn't expect perfection. He wants us to love Him. He wants us to listen to Him. He wants us to know Him and spend time with Him. Just like we want to spend time with the people we love - God wants to spend time with us. And if we love Him as well, that means we should want to spend time with Him. We should want to learn all we can about Him.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”
~ John 3:16-17

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” ~ Romans 5:8

God loved us so much that He sent His one and only Son to earth, to be born as a baby, to live a sinless (yet tempted) life, to die on a cross and to rise again on the third day and return to His Father's side in heaven. He did this because He loved us so much. Only through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross are we able to appear blameless and holy before God - Jesus stands in our place and His holiness makes us holy. When we accept this truth, we are able to know that one day we will be with God in heaven. And when we know that truth, and see the example of Jesus, we know what we should do. Love God and love people. It is truly that simple - not always easy - but that simple.

“Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with Him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of Himself to us. Love like that.” ~Ephesians 5:2

“If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” ~ 1 John 4:11

“The best use of life is love. The best expression of love is time. The best time to love is now.” ~ Rick Warren

I think that more than anything else I've learned in the past year, I've been amazed by how much God loves us. I knew this of course, and it's never been something I truly doubted or even questioned. But in our time at our previous church there was a lot of focus on how terrible we all are, what great sinners we are, how high the standards must be, how hard we have to work to be faithful and obedient, and much more. But there was a severe lack of love, of grace, of mercy - and while the law is truth and we are sinners - God's love is truth as well. God's grace is much more than we can imagine. His mercies never come to an end.

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’” ~ Lamentations 3:22-24

What I feel now is freedom. Freedom in Christ. To be who He has made me to be. To spend my time studying and learning about Him. To feel deeply in my heart and soul how much He loves me. To obey because I love Him and not because I'm afraid. I feel confident in resting in His love and knowing that He will always, has always, and will continue to always...always...ALWAYS love me. And it's true for you too. I want my life to show His love - to show it to others so that they know how much He loves them. I know I won't always succeed, but I want to keep trying to live in this truth and I hope that you can live in this truth too.

God loves You...really, truly He does. More than you can imagine. If God had a wallet, your picture would be in it. If He needed a refrigerator, your achievements would be displayed. We are His much loved children and there is nothing we can do that will ever stop Him from loving us. His love for you far exceeds anything you can imagine or have ever experienced and it is never-ending.

“I lavish My love on those who love Me.” ~ Exodus 20:6a

“Father, teach me to love with the love of Christ that others might see Your love reflected in my care and concern for them. May Your love drive and dominate my responses to life and to others.”
~ Our Daily Bread devotional 7/30/14

Dear heavenly Father, Thank You for loving us so much. Thank You for sending Your Son to die on the cross for our sins so that when we accept You and Your sacrifice we are able to be with forever in heaven. Thank You for loving us like beloved children and thank You for loving us enough to place boundaries in our lives. Thank You for the times when we feel blessed by good things, and thank You for always being with us especially when we are drowning in difficult times. You are our amazing Father and Savior and I am so thankful for Your constant presence in my life. Help me to always be aware that You are there and to never forget to run to You with everything good and bad in my life. Thank You for always listening, for always comforting, for always wanting to spend time with me. Help me to remember to make time for You - to spend my time praising You, listening to You, reading Your Word and being with You. Thank You for loving me even when I don't succeed. Please be with those who read this blog - help them to know how deeply You love them, help them to make time to spend with You and for those who don't know You - open their eyes and their hearts to You. Help me to love others like You love me - especially those who can be difficult to love. Help my life to reflect Your love and for people to see You in me. I love you. Amen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

“I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” ~ Psalm 139:14

It's almost my birthday. I love my birthday. My parents have always made a big deal about birthdays and they remind us that this was the special day that God chose for us to be born and it's a big deal and it needs to be celebrated. We always got to have whatever meal we wanted for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We always had streamers and balloons that were put up the night before...we had to go to bed early "for no reason." My parents always spent as much as they could and we received multiple presents for our birthdays. Always a mix of fun and practical gifts - clothes, toys, books, etc.

I was born on my Auntie Terrianne's birthday (my Mom's best friend) and we have almost always celebrated our birthday together. My niece Katelyn was almost born on my birthday and even the year I was the same age as Auntie Terrianne when I was born, but she arrived two days prior - guess she wanted her own day! :) The first year I went on a mission trip - out of only 20 people on our team there were four of us all born on August 28! Different years, but still pretty amazing.

One of the things you may not know about me is that I don't really like attention. I prefer to stand in the shadows and I love to listen. This always causes a bit of a struggle with my birthday because I always want to celebrate with a party and all my friends and family...but I get shy and nervous about the attention. I even felt this way about my wedding but there's not much you can do about being center stage when you're the bride!

“You are a very special person. There is only one like you in the whole world. There’s never been anyone exactly like you before, and there never will be again. Only you. And people can like you exactly as you are.”
~ Mister Rogers

This is one of my very favorite Mister Rogers quotes. I think it's something we all struggle with. I'm very thankful to have parents to have always told me how special I am, not only because of who I am, but more importantly because of who I am in Christ. But I know there are so many people who didn't have loving parents who instilled that sense of specialness in them...and even though it's simple, this quote speaks to the heart of so many people.

“The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.” ~ Proverbs 29:25

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” ~ Oscar Wilde

I do think that part of my fear of attention is fear of what other people think and that's something I know many of us struggle with daily. There is part of me that feels confident about who I am and thinks that I don't need to worry about what others think. But then, there's another part of me that worries about how I look, or wonders if my opinions or thoughts would be upsetting to someone and so I keep them to myself, and so on and so on. Applying the truth that only God's opinion matters is an ongoing journey and I really don't expect to ever be perfect at it.

“Be careful not to turn others’ lives into the mold for your own. Allow God to be as creative with you as He is with each of us.” ~ Francis Chan

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” ~ Galatians 6:4

“Never make a principle out of your experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you.” ~ Oswald Chambers

It can be all too easy to look at someone else's life, at their walk with Christ, at their gifting and think that we should be like them. But God made us all unique and He has unique plans for each of us. The way He made me - my personality, my emotions, my talents and gifts, my interests, the way my mind works - all it blends together to make me uniquely gifted for certain things. And He does this with every single one of us. ALL of us. And although He might sometimes do things similarly, it doesn't mean that He has to do the same thing every time. We have a wonderfully creative God. He made so many variations of colors, plants, flowers, animals, rocks, seasons, smells, foods, and the God who loves that much variety, loves to use as much (or more) variety in His favorite creation - people - Us!

“Each person in the world is a unique human being, and each has unique human potential. One of the most important tasks of growing is the discovery of this uniqueness: the discovery of ‘who I am’ in each of us – of ‘who I am’ in relation to all those whom I meet.” ~ Mister Rogers

“But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the LORD God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.” ~ Psalm 73:28

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD.” ~ Psalm 19:14

Part of the process of learning who we are is learning about the One who made us. As we read through God's Word, we discover Who created us and what He has created us to be. We learn the things that are important to Him - to love Him and to love others. We learn about the world He has created, the people He has chosen and the sacrifice He has made for our sake. The more we learn about God, the more we know how to please Him with our lives. We learn Who He is and Whose we are...and as we learn to listen to His leading, we can discover who we are meant to be.

“Part of what it means to be created in the image of God is that each person has his or her own story, giftedness, and calling. I cannot find mine by looking at yours. Your story may inspire me or warn me, but I should never use it to determine my own.” ~ Nancy Ortberg

“Only let each person lead the life that the LORD has assigned to [her], and to which God has called [her].” ~ 1 Corinthians 7:17

We do learn from each other. Most of the Bible is full of stories of other people's lives and experiences and we can learn a lot. Sometimes we learn what not to do, sometimes we learn what we should do. But each person has their own unique story and God has a plan for each of us. As we draw closer to Him through study and prayer and discussion, we can begin to determine the plans He has for us. And all along the way, the only thing we need to do is focus on Him. Love God and listen to Him and do what He asks. Be who you are - who He made you to be.

“God made you as you are in order to use you as He planned.”
~ J.C. Macauley

“O LORD, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways…For You created me in my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
~ Psalm 139: 1-3, 13-14a

One of my very favorite Amy Grant songs is called "All I Ever Have To Be." It is such a beautiful and simple song and every time I listen to it, it makes me cry. All the lyrics are meaningful, but the last verse is my favorite.

"All I Ever Have To Be"
When the weight of all my dreams
Is resting heavy on my head
And the thoughtful words of help and hope
Have all been nicely said
But I'm still hurting, wondering if I'll ever be the one
I think I am - I think I am

Then you gently re-remind me
That You've made me from the first
And the more I try to be the best
The more I get the worst
And I realize the good in me is only there because of who You are
Who You are...

And all I ever have to be is what You've made me
Any more or less would be a step out of Your plan
As you daily recreate me help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do what I can find
And all I ever have to be
All I have to be
All I ever have to be is what You've made me
~ Amy Grant song by Gary Chapman

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for my birthday. Thank You for creating me and making me who I am. Thank You for the wonderful parents, family and friends that You have placed in my life and the many ways that they have loved me, taught me - especially about You, and been a support and encouragement in my life. Thank You for having a unique plan for my life - for each person's life. I pray that those who seek You and Your plan will come to know You and follow Your plan for their lives. Thank You for not expecting more of us that what we are and for loving us in spite of the many ways we mess up and fall down. Thank You for the sacrifice of Your Son - for His willingness to die for our sins and for the miracle of His resurrection so that we may have true freedom and grace. Thank You for loving us. I love you. Amen.

PS - Last week, I talked about hurting my back and being in pain. Praise the Lord my back is almost 100% healed. Every day I've felt better and I am so thankful for the blessing of healing and I wanted you to know.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

“May He strengthen you, in His glorious might, with ample power to meet whatever comes with fortitude, patience and joy, and to give thanks to the Father.” ~ Colossians 1:11-12

So I'm in pain. I don't like pain. I'm pretty sure no one likes pain. I am thankful that this time the pain seems to be less than in the past. But constant pain is painful, and irritating, and frustrating and seems to overwhelm everything.

I hurt my back on Sunday. I've done it several times in the past 4 years or so. Each time similar in some ways, and different in other ways. It does seem as though this time the pain is less intense and easier to deal with. But it's still hard and I don't like it.

Once again begins the process of icing, resting, stretching, resting, icing. Walking carefully, not making sudden weird movements, feeling incapable of standing up straight, hurting no matter what position I'm in. Seeing the chiropractor more often, not being able to work a full day, not being able to sleep soundly all night. Being dependent on my husband, my family, my friends, my coworkers to help out when I can't do what I should be able to do.

“We’d all like to feel self-reliant and capable of coping with whatever adversity comes our way, but that’s not how most human beings are made. It’s my belief that the capacity to accept help is inseparable from the capacity to give help when our turn comes to be strong. It can sometimes be difficult to ask for support when we need it, but having someone we can count on to stick with us through the tough times can make those times much more bearable.” ~ Mister Rogers

Needing help. Crying in pain and wondering why. Realizing that some people deal with this all the time, not just for a few days or weeks once in awhile. Like my mom who has lupus and fibromyalgia and is in constant pain yet rarely complains about it and always has a smile on her face and praises to God on her lips. Like several of my friends who also struggle with fibromyalgia or other "quiet" diseases like that - things that aren't apparent on the surface.

It seems so unfair all the things we have to deal with - all of us has something. Some times it's easier to see or put into words - like back injuries, or cancer, or a broken leg. Sometimes it's more hidden - like depression or anxiety, or emotional pain. But we all have struggles and we all make choices about how we deal with those struggles. Choosing to believe that God is still in control when we struggle is difficult...and sometimes it feels impossible.

“Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.” ~ 1 Peter 4:12-13

I find myself all too often settling into the "Why" zone - why am I hurting? why do I have to go through this? why didn't I move more carefully and avoid hurting myself? It's usually later, after throwing myself a pity party that I get reminded (often by my mom) that we can still choose joy. No it isn't easy, but choosing to find the joy, choosing to depend on God, choosing to have faith is always the better choice.

“There is absolutely no experience, however terrible, or heartbreaking, or unjust, or cruel, or evil, which you can meet in the course of your earthly life, that can harm you if you but let Me teach you how to accept it with joy; and to react to it triumphantly as I did myself, with love and forgiveness and with willingness to bear the results of wrong done by others. Every trial, every test, every difficulty and seemingly wrong experience through which you may have to pass, is only another opportunity granted to you of conquering an evil thing and bringing out of it something to the lasting praise and glory of God.”
~ Hannah Hurnard

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry” ~ Psalm 10:17

It's not that we can't cry out to God when we are hurting - we can! He is always there and He will never leave us. The trouble comes when we settle into the pain and let the hurt and the bitterness and the distress take us away from trusting Him. When we choose to place our trust in Him, when we choose to place our hurting and our pain in His hands, when we choose to let go of the right to feel bad - then we can have peace, we can have joy and we can have hope. It doesn't mean that our pain will disappear or that we won't struggle. But we won't be alone. We can rest in His arms, feeling His love surrounding us and reminding us that He is faithful and merciful and He will never leave us.

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’” ~ Lamentations 3:22-24

“Take courage; offer Him your pains incessantly; pray to Him for strength to endure them. Above all, get a habit of entertaining yourself often with God, and forget Him the least you can. Adore Him in your infirmities, offer yourself to Him from time to time, and in the height of your sufferings beseech Him humbly and affectionately (as a child his father) to make you conformable to His holy will.” ~ Brother Lawrence


I'm definitely not perfected. I try to remember to focus on the good and not the bad. To see my pain as a reminder to turn to God. As a reminder that I am not alone, and that I can't do it all on my own. That it's okay to depend on others for some things. That it's okay to take time to rest. That my hurt and pain is often the best way God has of getting my attention and putting my focus back on Him. It's a process and it's one I'll be on my whole life. But it's worth it to be closer to God. And He is faithful. He has healed my back before and I have faith that He can do it again. Yes, it's harder to believe that He may not heal my back...but I'll try to trust that He knows what is best and to try to praise Him through the pain.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
~ Psalm 46:1

Thank You, God, for the miraculous ways You have worked in the past. Help me to remember Your power and faithfulness when I can see only trouble and difficulty. ~ Our Daily Bread devotional 8/9/14

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for always being there. Thank You for providing me with a loving family and friends and coworkers that are so supportive of me and helpful during this time of pain in my back. I ask that if it's in Your will, that You provide a full and complete healing for my back. I thank You for the times You have healed me in the past. I pray that You grant me peace and comfort and patience if it is not in Your will to provide healing. I pray for those people in my life who are also hurting in any way. Give them healing, give them patience and joy, comfort and peace. Help myself and others to come alongside them with support and encouragement and whatever else is needed. Thank You for being in control and never being surprised. I am so thankful for Your love and sacrifice. Thank You for loving us. I love you. Amen.