Turning Point


Yesterday, I sat before my youth pastor with an audience of 100 others. I watched a man who influenced my life in unimaginable ways, influence some of my church’s body in just an hour. He brought up a time period in his life when youth ministry seemed futile. It just so happened that it coincided with the years I spent in his youth group. Listening to him bear his heart about this dark period, I couldn’t help but think about the light he shed on me.

First, I understand where he was coming from. I could look back and see his desperation. Nevertheless he touched my life, and I am sure he touched many more, he just couldn’t see the fruits of his labor. I came into his youth group as an outsider. And I was a homebody; I had absolutely no desire to spend a weekend, much less a week, away at a camp with my fellow peers. It wasn’t that I was bullied or felt some sort of negativity from them; I just didn’t feel like I was a part of their group. I know this was partly because of my lack of enthusiasm to join them on their outings. But despite my non-existent efforts to “fit-in”, my pastor made me see we were all a family. A family under the headship of Christ.

While I grew up in a family of faith and I am tremendously fortuitous to have parents who led me to Christ, I remember a specific Sunday morning when my youth pastor caused a turning point in my faith. Up until this Sunday, my faith was about me. It was all about me. Where was I in my relationship with Christ? Who was God to me? How did He effect my life? I was blissfully unaware of the world around me and their lack of faith.

In our youth fellowship we sat in rows while our pastor stood up front and delivered the message that day with us interspersing questions and comments. It was something I had come accustomed too. I am not one for change. One Sunday, I walked in and the chairs were in a massive circle. (There were quite a few us in the youth group.) I felt odd going and finding a spot in the circular stage. As Baptists we like our routines and we love our designated chairs. Slowly the circle filled in with students. And then our Pastor took a seat. I don’t remember how the session got started. And I don’t remember how it ended. But I do remember one thing He said, that has affected my life ever since.

He looked around the room, slowly and very quietly–almost making eye contact with each one of us. Then he told us to do the same. I remember thinking, why am I looking at all these people. I see them every Sunday. Then he began to speak in a very calm voice (which was unusual; he loved his corny jokes).

Look around this room. See your friends and your peers. One day you’re going to die. Will you see everyone in this room in heaven? [Pause] Chances are, you might not.

I am sure he phrased it some other way, but this how I remember it. And that day, my life changed. I felt secure in my salvation, but now I was worried about everyone else’s. I had never thought to think about what choices other people made and how it effected their eternal destination. Being the self-centered 15 year old that I was, my thoughts always focused on me. But my pastor changed that. That day he opened my eyes to see that I wasn’t the only one in the room. He showed me that people I loved might not join me in eternity. It was a dreadful discovery.

In the days to come I began telling everyone I knew and cared about that they needed Jesus. I was like a new Christian sharing my new found love once again. I am positive that I didn’t go about it in the right ways. And I am certain some people that I was absolutely insane, especially my fellow teenagers. But despite my inability to properly share my love of Christ to others, my pastor had awakened a fire inside of me. One that to this day is still burning.

That one statement put my life in a whole new direction. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have become a Religion major. I wouldn’t have the friends that I do. Probably wouldn’t have married the man I did. And I wouldn’t be pursuing the career I am.

It is amazing how one person, with just a few words, can change your life. I ask you today, to thank someone in your past or your present who has pushed you to be a better person. Thank God that He put them in your life. And remember you could be that person, for someone else. Guard your words and know that every syllable that exits your mouth is influencing somebody, positively or negatively.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

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Praying for Strangers


Recently I heard a message from the Holy Spirit. Oddly enough this happens quite a bit; however, my active response is not wildly rampant. But this time I was with a fellow believer and an amazing friend. She is someone who always encourages me in the faith and gives me strength when fear overwhelms me. She stands firm in her knowledge of God as Creator and Savior and when fear creeps in she knows she is a child of the King. So when we were out a lunch the other day, and I felt the Holy Spirit urge me into action, I simply told her and voiced my fear of doing what it asked. Her presence alone gave me the courage to follow through.

We walked into On the Border with nothing but hunger on our minds. Having waited for Caitlyn’s sister to arrive it seemed as though starvation was around the corner. It was past the lunch rush hour and despite the party of 10 in front of us few people were there to eat. The hostess looked tired and ready to go home and appeared a bit irritated that she had yet another table to seat. Once a table was found for us it took no time for our waitress to tend to us. When it comes to servers she was more prompt than I was used too. Absorbed in my hunger all I could think about was ordering an appetizer. I just barely caught the servers name before “queso dip” left my lips.

After consuming an ungodly amount of cheese and chips my hunger subsided enough to take notice of those around me. The wait staff had dwindled down and just a few servers remained. Being a waitress in the past I knew this was the hour that you either loved or hated. You loved it because you got a ton of tables and made the most tips or hated it because it dragged on slowly and you were counting down the time to leave your shift. If our waitress was dreading it, she showed no lack of enthusiasm. The four of us ordered our food with recommendations from Jasmine (our server).

When our food arrived, we did what any good Christians would. We held hands and prayed. We thanked God for the food we were about to consume and the company we were currently being blessed with. We asked for safe departure and a week that would honor Him. When we finished praying, I looked up. Jasmine was watching us pray. She waited until we had said “Amen” and then brought us requested sauces. At this moment the Holy Spirit spoke to me. I heard Him talking while diving into a plate of refried beans. Despite the small burden He placed on my heart in that moment, I said nothing to my meal mates. We talked and ate. We were having great conversations about theology and church’s purpose. It seemed there could not have been a better crowd to share my burden with.

While Caitlyn’s sister and her friend were talking to one another, I leaned over to Caitlyn. In a soft tone I told her God wanted us to pray for Jasmine. “I’m a bit uncomfortable with this,” I said, “but you’re with me and I know that together we can do this.” Looking back now, I wonder why I didn’t fear how Jasmine would respond to this request. All I could feel was nervousness, but couldn’t pinpoint the exact cause. Certainly my subconscious was worried she’d say no and be offended by our offer. We were close to the end of our meal and Caitlyn asked me, “Should we ask her now.” I responded, “No, let’s wait until she brings the check.” Not sure why this came out of mouth, Caitlyn agreed.

When our checks were sorted out, Caitlyn was about to open her mouth and ask Jasmine, but I felt that it was me who needed to ask. After all the Spirit had prompted me to do it. I looked Jasmine in the eye and hesitated not.

“Is there anything we can pray for you about? Perhaps there is something going on in your life that you wish someone to go to God on your behalf?”

I was sure that I had ambushed her. At any moment she was going to turn and run from this table of Bible-pushers. But instead with tears in her eyes she said, “Yes.” She than began to unload on us about financial worries and relationship woes. She held nothing back. When she finished talking, my mouth opened with no control of my own.

“Do you mind if we pray over you here at this table? Could we just lay our hands on you?” Without saying a word she nodded and held out her hands. The five us gathered in a circle holding hands and Caitlyn opened us in prayer. At this point I was shaking; a bit of nervousness and awe in God’s amazing providence. Caitlyn’s words dripped out of her mouth like honey. Every single one held great meaning and seeped with mercy and love. I could not have said a better prayer. It was certain that the Holy Spirit was talking through her. She told her through this prayer how much God loved her and how He would take care of her. She asked for God’s guidance and love on Jasmine and thanked Him for bringing her into our lives. Once she finished I began to prayer over her relationship with her new fiancé.

I had just been telling Caitlyn the day before how God has blessed my marriage. Before my wedding day and my vows, I had no idea what to expect from my Creator through my marriage. In the past year I have been amazed by the blessings He pours on us everyday. I made it clear in my prayer that God would bless her marriage if they would make Him the cornerstone. We finished our prayers and looked up to see a weeping woman. I now knew why we were to wait to the end of the meal. The restaurant was sparse and her co-workers out of sight. I realized God wanted us to have the privacy for Jasmine.

She looked at us and thanked us whole heartedly for praying for her. She told us how we weren’t initially her table. One of her co-workers was exhausted and over-sat and had begged Jasmine to take us off her hands. Jasmine did. She said we weren’t meant to be seated at her table. She knew that God had a hand in something so simple as what table at the restaurant we were to sit. I left that place on a spiritual high. It was an unmatched feeling to be used by God. And I never felt so uninhibited, trusting in Him with my all.

I share this story with you today because I want you to be encouraged. I want you to respond with the Spirit pushes you. I want you to know that no matter the outcome, God is in control. I want you to know that He ordains even the little things in your life. God is good. He is powerful and He is full of mercy. He loves you more than anyone else and wants you to lean on Him. I leave you with Psalm 46 (NIV).

1 God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.[c]

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Be still, and know that I am God


“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

Sometimes the Holy Spirit is loud and impossible to miss, but most of the time He whispers softly and we begin to question whether we heard Him or not. I know that at times I believe I feel His presence, then moments later I am second guessing myself. Thus I do not follow through on the command I thought I had. I am not sure what exactly causes this phenomenon, but I have a few guesses.

1. Sin.

Due to the nature of our fallen world we have a broken line of connection between us and God. I know this is certain, for Jesus is our bridge. But even after we cross over that bridge sin brings many obstacles to our path. Thus the sin of pride or lust or envy holds us back from a clear connection and we are only hearing broken bits and pieces; so when we believe we’ve received a message we question whether we heard it right.

2. Satan.

The arch-nemesis of Christians. Notice I said Christians, not God. God has no undefeatable enemy. But Satan uses people like pieces in a chess game. He urges us in directions that are contrary to God’s great plan. Thus when we receive a message from the Holy Spirit he wants to mess it up or have us misunderstand it.

3. Lack of time spent with God.

This is a big issue. Many of us that call ourselves Christians only attend church on Sunday and then we forget about God until the end of the next week or our next crisis. Some even only feel the need to remember God on Easter and Christmas. Now do not misunderstand me, if you don’t attend church regularly, it does not mean you are not a Christian (though I highly recommend finding a faith family). However, church or wherever your Christian family is, is a good way to stay tuned in to God’s direction. But the number one way to spend time with your Creator is to read your Bible. He has written us a beautiful letter that gives us glimpses into the character of God. While we can never comprehend Him fully until we meet in paradise, we can learn many of His attributes and plans for this world.

I urge you to remember these three things and know that there is something you can do to improve your line of communication with the Creator of the Universe.

1. Prayer
2. Read His Word.
3. Fellowship with other believers.

God loves you and wants you to know it. Talk to Him, hear Him through His letters, and see Him in those that love Him.

 Recently the Spirit spoke to me. Read more here.

 

Jane Doe


This past Sunday, my best friend Caitlyn shared her story of The World Race with our Sunday School class. I was responsible for teaching on July 13 but I knew that Caitlyn would be in town. I and I am sure many others have been touched by her story. I felt that it would be a disgrace not to have her share her memories and burdens with my spiritual family. While Caitlyn and I brainstormed what all she should talk about the Spirit touched our hearts in a call for prayer. Caitlyn choose 10 kids she met on the race that had a special place in her heart and we printed their pictures with there names and other identifying information on the back. After Caitlyn shared her story, we gave each of the members of the class a child to pray over and challenged them to lift these children up to God for the next 30 days. Below in the gallery is each of the kids and their names. I ask you to join us in praying for them.

While the members of the class received these kids with their names and personality quirks, Glenn and I received a Jane Doe. She is a beautiful Nicaraguan girl. She looks about the age of four. The only thing we know about her is that she lives in the slums. She may have never heard the name of Jesus. She may not know what it means to be loved. She may not foresee anything good for her future. But today I will pray that none of these statements stay true for her lifetime.

janedoeGod,

I lift this little Nicaraguan princess up to you. I pray that your guiding hand is on her every moment of every day for the rest of her life. Send someone to her that will show her your love and grace. Pour your mercy on her. Help her to rise out of her situation and glorify you all the days of her life. Bless her greatly. Let her identify you as her Father and King. Let her know she is loved by you and that your love holds no comparison. Give her the strength to get through each day. And God, if she has a family, let them find you. Help them to turn to you in their earthly life. Let them love one another as you love them. Show this beautiful little girl she is of value. A greater value than she may ever find here on Earth. She is more precious than gold and emeralds, more perfect than a diamond. Bring her a great peace and help her to grow into a graceful woman that will one day point others to you.

In Jesus Name I Pray,

Amen

 

Psalm 130


Dear Friend,

Why would God give you such a strong thirst but place no drink in sight? Why would He give you a taste of decadence but allow you no more? I don’t know the answers to these questions. But my heart tells me that while you are in the valley now one day you will be on top of the mountain. You need to see through His eyes.

It can be so difficult to live an “ordinary” life when all your senses have lived the extraordinary. You’ve seen God act in such ways that it amazed you and made you crave more, but now it feels as if He is silent. I want to assure you that He is not. Every step you take, every heart ache, every struggle He is with you.

God is directing your every step. Even though life seems mundane now, its just a lesson to be learned. I cannot tell you what you are being taught, but I can tell you that the teacher is amazing. In fact, He is flawless. I know that you will come out of this prepared for the next extraordinary step.

I only ask this of you, wait for Him. Wait for God. I know this world doesn’t condone waiting. We are about getting things done now and doing it ourselves. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that waiting for God is the best way to go. I know that it is hard. Possibly the hardest thing in life. But when He shows up you will be astounded. You will be blessed.

I love you more than you know. But He loves you more.

Sincerely,

Your Sister In Christ

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
   Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

Advent Season


On my Facebook I have been posting an advent calendar everyday and will do so until December 25.  I wanted to share with everyone on here the first seven days. It can be so easy to get caught up in the gifts and food during this holiday season. It is important to dwell on the sacrifices Christ made. Without him this season would not exist and there would never be reason to celebrate.

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Jonah or Patrick?


Today in Sunday School we relived the story of Jonah. It begins with Jonah, a prophet, being called upon by God to witness to the Nineveh people. This is very unusual. Before the story of Jonah when God addresses a prophet it is to call his own people to repent; that is the people of Israel. These people were not of God. They were more accurately God’s peoples’ enemies. Time and again we read of them and their wars with the Israelites.

Nineveh is the capitol of Assyria in Jonah’s time. In the books of Kings and Chronicles we find gruesome battles between the nations. Jonah is likely to have had friends and family members murdered by Assryians. He probably had friends with treacherous stories of the people. The feud between Assyria and Israel was not some childish nightmare, but rather a real life holocaust. The Assyrians were known for their violence. At the entrance gate of Assyria they placed the heads and skulls of their defeated enemies. It was a source of pride for their dominance.

Thus when Jonah was told by God to enter the city of Nineveh and teach them the ways of God, Jonah ran in the other direction. His hatred for them was greater than his love for God. Eventually Jonah made his way to the city of Nineveh albeit through a large fish for part of the journey. But even after entering the city and having the Ninevites yield to his warnings, Jonah was still angry at God. How could he save such a savage people?

But today I learned of another man in a similar situation during the fifth century. He is a man that was born and raised in Britian to an aristocrat family. Very well to do. At the age of 16 he was captured by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland to be a slave. The Irish were seen merely as barbarians and their capture of a teenager would attest to this assumption. During his enslavement this boy grew into a man of God. We know him today as Saint Patrick. His father was a deacon in the church and attending the Roman Catholic Church was a necessity to their status. Despite Patrick’s attendance, God was not a priority nor a reality to him.

But while he was a slave working the fields of a mad-man he knew that God was all he could turn too. In his own writings he declares to praying 100s of times a day and night repenting of his childish ways. After six years under an earthly master, his heavenly master calls upon him in a dream. He is told that a ship is waiting for him and he needs to run for freedom. 200 miles and days later he finds a ship at harbor and is brought back home to Britian. But upon his return God calls him again.

This time God tells him to go back to Ireland and save the people who captured him. Unlike Jonah, Patrick heeds to this call and becomes a Christ-like figure to the barbarians of Ireland. His story is unbelieavble, yet happened and evidence is still seen today. A country who had never heard of a loving, self-sacrificing God got to see his traits with their very eyes through Patrick. I encourage you to read more about him and his story.

I tell you of these two people to ask, who will you be? Will you be Jonah, full of hatred, so much so that you cannot trust God? Will you see God’s work and mercy in action and cry out in disatisfaction? Will God have to throw you into a treacherous trial to perform what he asks or you?

Or will you be Patrick, grateful to be alive and know that your Savior loves you? Will you heed God’s call and run towards your enemies? Will you save those who destroyed you? Will you be joyous at the work of God and his mercy towards those who persecute you?

I know many times in my life I have been Jonah. It is our natural tendency to fall into his steps. But my prayer for myself and for you is to be Patrick. I want you to overcome life’s difficulties by leaning on God’s grace and love. People will hurt and disappoint us, but it is our duty to obey and trust God. For he will never hurt or dissapoint. He is faithful to you, if you are faithful to Him. Let not your pride make you stumble, but humble yourself before God and know that you are no better than your enemy. For each of you is human, full of sin and in need of God’s great mercy.

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Days of the Week


Today is Friday; 98% of the world’s favorite day. For years it was my favorite day too. School was done for the week, then work was done for the week, and it brought such freedom. But now I am an adult. Twenty-four, married and running my own business. God has blessed me greatly. Nevertheless Friday is no longer the end or beginning of anything for me. Most of the time it just means that when I wake up on Saturday, Glenn will still be in the bed. But he works for a race team, so travel does occur. So occasionally I don’t even get that. I work on Saturdays a bit. I have clients to please and money to make and if I don’t have anything else to do, I will be at my desk making graphic masterpieces.

I say all this not throw Friday under the bus but to tell you my new favorite day of the week. Sunday. This is not at the top of the list for most people. Most people get depression towards the end of this day looking into Monday. And then Christians get up early to go to church. And while this is definitely something we should celebrate, most of us are a bit angry that Sunday is comparable to M-F because of the early wake-up. One day a week (Saturday) is just not enough sleeping in time.

Stereotypically I’m in love with Sunday because of my church. It’s not just my church though. Sunday is a day where Glenn and I get to go into our hometown and spend the day with family and friends. It’s the day of the week that I don’t spend in front of a computer. The day that I feel the most loved. I receive love from my church family, from my parents, from my new parents and my siblings. Not to mention we spend pretty much all day with Ivy Dog.

But in this development I’ve discovered more than just a ranking of the days of the week. I love Sunday because I love being loved. Regardless of the opinions of the world, everyone is yearning to be loved. We want to know that someone accepts and enjoys who we are. We don’t have to perform any miraculous actions, we just have to be ourselves and that is enough. This love is really difficult to find. And those of you who have it, you are blessed. For those of you who feel like it is unreachable, it is not.

Christians, as God’s representatives on earth we are to be the ones loving. God did not give us his Spirit to judge, condemn or hate. He gave it to us to love. We are to love as He loved us FIRST. I see too many people of the faith turning from those who need our love the most. Or instead of turning we condemn. That’s not your job. You are not God. You are his adopted daughter or son. He asks you to love. They will know we are Christians by our love. This is what we are called to do. Instead we are known for our judgments, our closed minds, our unreachable expectations. This may sound radical, but it’s not. 2000 years ago Jesus preached the same thing and he was God, he had the power to condemn and judge, but what did he do? HE DIED. His wretched murder happened so that he could love those who killed him.

So no matter who you are reading this know that God loves you. Know that I’ll love you. I won’t be perfect. I am human and I make mistakes just like you do, but I will do my best to love you with my all. So when we Christians fail remember we’re human. We have just as many flaws as the rest of humanity but hopefully we are striving to love you. So look for our love and look for God’s. You will find it. Humanity may disappoint, but God will not.

PS: Want some more unconditional love? Get a dog. :)

The Kitchen Table


This weekend my mom and I traveled to Atlanta to retrieve some family heirlooms. We stayed at my Papa’s house (Mom’s Dad) and heard stories of family members who have long since left this earth. It was enlightening experience to hear about the people who I’ve come from yet never met. In the nature versus nurture debate, nature was winning.

The main reason we ventured down south was to obtain my great grandmother’s kitchen table. She is still alive at age 96, but is unfortunately not able to live in her own home anymore. With her heavenly home getting closer, her children thought that it was time to sell her house. But the items within were to be passed to us, the great-grandchildren.

Having recently engaged in the married life, Glenn and I needed a sturdy kitchen table. Having only been to granny’s house a few times in my life, my memory lost me at what the table looked like. My mom gave me few details and I just accepted that I would take it despite its appearance. Honestly I was envisioning a 1950’s vinyl top with bright-colored cushions. I don’t know why this was what came to mind when Granny’s style was never in this direction.

We arrived in Atlanta Sunday evening and I found a beautiful, scratch-less, wooden table. Small enough to fit in our dainty breakfast area, but also large enough to fit six settings. But the best thing about this table is its history. I can only imagine the conversations it’s heard, the food it’s held and the hands that have been placed a top of it.

Of the stories my Papa shared with me this weekend, I know that this table has character. Hands have been held around it; God has been thanked above it; and delicious meals have been consumed on it. I am looking forward to the memories we will make around the table. The dinner parties, the children raising and many more blessings.

I encourage all of you to sit down with your family elders and learn from where it is you come from. Their wisdom is important, but their memories will bring life to you. Whether good or bad each person that has come before you has made an impact, a reputation for your name. Learn who they were, respect them or choose to be different from them. But remember without them you would not be here today.

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They are a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck.

Proverbs 1:8-9, NIV