Belonging

homeYesterday, we said farewell to our Pastor, Paul Mills, and wished him well as he and his family begin the next chapter in their journey. As I prepared for the service, I placed a travel pack of tissue in my pocket, and went easy of the application of my mascara. I assumed that there would be lots of tears as Pastor Paul spoke his “Last Words” (his final sermon series for us). I pictured a sorrowful service with tears and memories of the past 8 1/2 years of service. What I got instead was far different. I knew as the worship team started the first song that this service was not going to be about a sad farewell, but rather it was going to be a celebration. NOT celebrating the fact that we were losing (or getting rid of) our beloved Pastor. Celebrating all that God had done through him for our church family. Worship started with an upbeat song that was loud and happy…and it included the entire congregation jumping! It was an amazing display of God’s people jumping for joy and happiness. I was simply blown away by such joyful worship. The remaining worship was powerful (for lack of the right adjective to describe it). It was during this time of worship that, for me, the tears came. Not sad tears…but tears of peace and comfort. Tears that come from begin overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was incredibly moving. Worship truly speaks to me. Seeing a room packed full of people with hands raised to God fills me with peace. Hearing voices of all ages singing praises to our God fills my soul. Being so filled with the presence of God became so overwhelming to me that the emotions came out in the form of tears. And then – as if that were not enough for one day – Pastor Paul delivered a beautifully spoken message about love. His words were heart-felt, but not weepy. For a farewell sermon, I thought it was just wonderful. He combined some memories from the past with wishes and thoughts of our future with a new pastor. It made my heart happy to be there and to be a part of such a special service. It made me joyful to be a part of a church home. I am so thankful that I serve such a loving God who knows our needs so intimately, and fulfills them as he knows we can accept them and truly appreciate them. Brian and I had prayed for such a long time to find a church home. Not just a place to attend church…but a church home complete with a church family. After such an amazing service, I was overwhelmed with joy to belong to such a loving home, and a welcoming family. I am thankful to God for giving us somewhere we belong, and I am confident that God will guide our future as a church family as we welcome a new pastor.

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Experience His Love

cross“May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”  ~Ephesians 3:19

This verse has recently become my favorite verse. I know that I have read it many times in the recent past, but in the last week it has become so meaningful to me. And the more I read it, the more I see how packed it is with so such rich meaning and beauty. The first part that I really love talks about experiencing the love of Christ. God doesn’t want us to just know that we are loved. He doesn’t want us to just feel that we are loved. God wants us to experience his love. I love that idea. Its so much more than a feeling…stronger than an emotion…it is an experience. And even as we experience it, it is too much for us to understand fully. It is not like an earthly love. Its a supernatural love from our creator – the one who created us and who created love. THEN – only after we have experienced this love – THEN we our complete. Hmmm…so earthly love does not complete us. Not love from our spouse, or kids, or friends, or even brothers and sisters in Christ. The love of Christ is what completes us. Without experiencing that love – we are not complete. But when we do experience that love, we are complete with ALL the fullness of life. This is the abundant life that Jesus promised. It’s why he came. John 10:10 says “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” We are just going to “get by” in this life. Jesus’ love completes us and grants us that fullness of life. So, we experience His love (even though it’s too much for our brains to understand), we are made complete not only with a full, abundant life, but also with POWER from God. So a full life, and power from God. Power to live out our lives, power to overcome struggles, power to fight the enemy, power to love others through their sin, power to spread the gospel, power to fulfill the plans God has for our lives. The promise from God to be made complete with His power is overwhelming to me. Being complete with His power means that there is NOTHING out there that is bigger or stronger than my God. With his power in my I can accomplish all that he has in store for my life – no excuses. God would not call me to serve him, and then not equip me with the tools to do that. To think otherwise is to short change God. As we experience the love of Christ, we are made complete. Life becomes a full, rich, meaningful life. We share in the power that God has for us. Rather than feeling God’s love, or knowing that he loves us, choose to experience His love in your life.

The absence of light

candle-frame2I love the energy and excitement that surround the educational process. I love learning. I am passionate about reading and writing. I love the idea of sharing what I know with others – and even better – teaching others how to think and learn for themselves. I teach middle school English/Language Arts so one would think that I would be as happy as a clam that I get to do what I love every day. And I will admit there are flashes of those truly wonderful, teachable moments. But lately, I have just been drained of my passion and love for teaching and for learning. It makes me sad. I wish I could re-capture some of the excitement and figure out how to pass it on to my students…but lately that has not been the case. (I’m a little embarrassed to admit that – but I have to be transparent – or I should not even bother to blog). During one of our amazing early morning conversations, Brian helped me really get to the heart of why I have been pretty miserable lately at school. It’s not about kids who misbehave, or administrators who seem to be out of touch. It’s not even about parents who are practically non-existent in the lives of their children. I’m certain those things occur everywhere. The revelation that I had this early morning was that it is just dark here. There is no light. There is so much brokenness and hurt and pain that light has a hard time shining through. And when a glimmer of light seems to shine through, it is quickly extinguished. I try not to write negative posts – and I’m not trying to throw myself a pity party about my work situation. Again, I’m just trying to be real about life and about the hardships and struggles. Matt Chandler, in his latest message, spoke about people who “pretend” things are ok and great – just so they will appear to be further in their walk than they really are. I don’t want to be one of those people who pretend all is well and that I am positive all the time and that nothing gets to me because I am a strong woman of faith. Rather, because I am a strong woman of faith, I can be real about life and problems and darkness, and know that God meets me where I am and loves me for who I am. I pray daily that I could be a light to someone here in my school. But reality hits me that it may not look the way I think it should. I know in my heart that some people occasionally stand in just a glimpse of the light in me…but I feel that most of the time, that light is swallowed up by the thick darkness of the world in which I work. It is my prayer now and going forward that I do not ever relent in my desire to shine. That I do not ever let the darkness of the world snuff out the candle I carry. And that I commit to memory that there really is NO such thing as darkness….it is just the absence of light. May my light NEVER be absent in this place.

Saved and Called

holyHoly – consecrated or set aside for sacred use; standing apart from sin and evil; characteristic of God

This post has been on my mind and in my heart for a very long time. I have just had the hardest time focusing my thoughts and words so that it all didn’t come out like a bunch of stream of consciousness ramblings. (Which it will most likely be anyway). The subject of holiness has become very important to me over the last year of my walk with the Lord. From what I see of some people around me, it is their priority as well. But to others – it seems to be just one of those “churchy” words…and that makes me sad. In 2 Timothy 1:9, Paul says, “But join with me in the suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy life.” (emphasis mine). We all know – and truly appreciate – the God saved us part. We willingly accept that free, undeserved gift. But in the SAME breath, it says that he called us to a holy life. Saved us AND called us to a holy life. Yes, the gift of salvation was free, and nothing we can do can pay for it…but God calls us to be holy. And because of our love and devotion to him – that should be the life we want! All throughout scripture we are instructed to live holy lives. We are told that without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). We are to live holy lives, NOT impure lives.(I Thessalonians 4:7). We are told to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God (Romans12:1). In my opinion – and my limited understanding of the word – it is NOT a choice. We cannot go on living the way we used to live – chasing our sinful desires – and be covered by the umbrella of grace. Now, I know that we ALL will stumble and fall and sin and need that grace…for the rest of our human lives. So, I am NOT for a minute saying that God expects perfection out of us and if we can’t be perfect we should just give up. I know that we are constantly begin transformed and renewed. The process of sanctification is just that – a process. But I can honestly say that I have seen and known people who knowingly choose to live the way THEY want to live – and then just say – “I’m covered by grace!” Again – I’m not a Bible scholar – but something tells me that this is not God’s picture of holiness. I heard a pastor the other day comparing the desire to live a holy life for God to the desire to please and love on your spouse. The longer you are married, and the more deeply you fall in love with that person, the more you desire to show your love for them by doing things that please them. So should our love with and for God be. The longer we walk with Him, the more we should love him and WANT to please him. The Bible says our lives should be holy and pleasing to God. So, it doesn’t mean we have to be perfect. We don’t have to worry about if we are good enough. God knows our hearts and he will see our desire to be holy and he will give us the strength we need to be holy. In his book “Jesus is …” Judah Smith says it (much better than I am doing) like this…”When we stop being insecure about our performance and instead trust in Jesus finished work, we are free to live a new kind of holiness. It’s a holiness that is internally motivated, a holiness powered by love, not guilt.” So, IF our hearts are truly seeking and desiring to live for God, then he will help us. Sadly, many hearts are using the idea of radical grace to dismiss to call to be holy. I know that grieves God and as believers it should bring sorrow to our hearts as well. Jesus did an amazing work for us. He was sacrificed, not so that we could use his name to cover our sinful lives and desires – but so that we could become holy citizens in his kingdom. “He suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood.” (Hebrews 13:12). My intent through this post is not to come off as some “holier-than-thou” Pharisee, casting judgment on those around me….not at all. But honestly, my heart breaks for what I see out of some of my very own “brothers and sisters” in Christ. Sin should make us truly sorrowful – NOT because we get caught – but because God loved us so much, even while we were sinners, to send his son to die for us. It should be our desire – our greatest desire – to live a holy life for such an amazing act of love like that. “Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from our sin.” (I Corinthians 1:30). As we strive to be holy, it is NOT to earn our salvation, that was already paid for. It is really (this is my humble opinion) to live lives that show our adoration and love for our heavenly Father.

“Our fight against sin is noble and good, but make no mistake; we are not fighting to become righteous. We are already righteous. We are simply learning to live outwardly like the people we are inwardly.” Judah Smith

Help us Father to live holy lives, to be ever so grateful for your mercy and grace, and to never forget the sacrifice you made for us through your son. Let us never misuse or abuse your grace to chase our own sinful desires, but rather let us walk humbly in your love and seek to be true conquerors through you.

Life to everything, Light to everyone

“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” ~Hebrews 4:12

I am going to try and not come off too “preachy” in this post, but I can’t make any promises. I feel so strongly about this topic that it will be hard for me not to “should” on you. I apologize, in advance if…wait – no, I don’t apologize. I am not sorry for being passionate about this topic. I was raised in the church. My daddy is a preacher. I have always owned a Bible. (Back in the day – it was straight up KJV…but now I own several different translations.) Since I found my own relationship with Christ I feel like I’m pretty good. (Kind of funny since it doesn’t really matter how good I am in God eyes, I don’t have to earn his love – but that’s another post.) I have listened to countless sermons that have to do with the Word of God and how it is his guidebook for us. It is divinely inspired. It has story after story that help us see how to live our lives. I even recently came to understand that some books of the Bible are prescriptive, while others are descriptive. (Thank you Matt Chandler for that lesson). But the biggest thing that I can say about the Bible, about this living document that speaks to us, is that is really “works” best if we spend time in it…DAILY. Notice, I did not just say it works if we “read” it daily. Or if we memorize verses from it daily. We have to spend time in it. Read, listen, pray, re-read, accept new ways to understand things we thought we already had figured out. Reading our Bibles should NOT feel like a chore that we have to check off our To-Do list every day so that we will make God happy. Spending time in God’s word is something we GET to do – with our heavenly Father. And if we really clear our minds and our hearts and set aside time to dive into it, it is amazing the things that God reveals to us. I can honestly say that since I began devoting time every day to dwell in the scriptures, my life has drastically changed. I’m not talking changed like some of the false-teachers (Uh-hmm – Joel Osteen) claim – like I will get a new house or my dream job because of what I do for God). I’m talking about real, inside, to the depths of my soul changed. Like, I can feel the Spirit moving and guiding me through the passages as I read and ponder them. Each day when I open up the word, it is precious time spent with the Lord, and each day I gain wisdom and understanding of how much He loves me. I am his beloved. So much so that he left me a living word to guide me and reassure me, and inspire me, and correct me, and speak to me, and teach me, and to give me hope! I have read verses over and over – and then one day – one of those same verses will take on new life for me – based on what God wants me to hear. If you are a Christian and you are not spending time in the word (not just checking off your daily reading plan) you are missing out on ALL that God has for you. I passionately urge you to pray about it and try and read the Bible with the idea that you are listening for the Spirit to speak through the pages. There is so much to be learned from this gift from God. I have been thinking about this blog for a few weeks now and have just now gotten around to putting my thoughts out here. In the meantime, I just heard a sermon three days ago about this very subject (that was my “nudge” to go ahead and post this). In the sermon the Pastor used the illustration of when Jesus was in the desert and the devil was tempting him. Now, this is a relatable story – even if you don’t think it is at first glance. We ALL face temptation every day of our lives. Some days it’s every hour of our lives. How did Jesus face his temptation? He drew upon his knowledge of the scripture to combat the evil. Each time he told the devil, “It is written…” One thing I never thought about – Jesus reading scripture. He learned from the teachers in the temple. He read and studied and memorized scripture. So – if Jesus did it – read his scriptures – shouldn’t that be a pretty good example for us?!? The other take away here is that we should respond to temptation like Jesus did…”It is written…” And if we are not spending time in the word – how do we even know WHAT is written. How often do you hear someone throw out a quote of some kind and claim its in the Bible? Do WE know what is written? When we face temptation do we use this powerful tool we have been given to run it off? I speak so passionately about this because I have seen the transformation in my own heart – from spending time with God in his word. I have seen it change my husband as he spends more and more time in the word. We are told in 1 John “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in Him.”  We have to be IN the word in order to OBEY the word. This book gives light and life to me in my everyday walk with God. It is God’s wisdom and his love given to us.

The Word gave life to everything that was created , and his life brought light to everyone.” ~John 1:4

My word for 2014

My word for 2014 is perspective. I can honestly say that I have thought of that word very often during the first few weeks of the year. Especially today. In my last post I talked about the weight-loss journey upon which I’ve embarked this year. It’s going well. I’ve gotten into a good routine with my eating, been drinking lots of water, and have been trying to get some exercise in. Since our temps have been ridiculous, I have had to resort to finding some indoor activity. Brian and recently acquired a treadmill that had been just taking up space in my parent’s garage and I have spent some time on it. Today I was feeling very motivated and decided to spend an hour walking and listening to Matt Chandler’s latest podcast. I changed into my sweats, got my headphones adjusted perfectly, turned the treadmill up to a decent pace and got moving. For approximately 17 seconds. And then the treadmill quit. Stopped. I was NOT a happy girl. As a matter of fact I was livid. I kept thinking…this is awful. I can’t believe this happened. My afternoon is ruined. In the midst of my temper tantrum I decided to go ahead and hit the grocery since white death is apparently on its way again. Still fuming mad, I mad my way up and down the crowded aisles of the store, ready to run over anyone who got in my way. And then it hit me…like a punch to the face it hit me. All morning I had been praying for the Blair family, whose young son was just this week diagnosed with cancer. The pictures of him at the hospital and the updates about his prognosis were in my heart all day and I was tearfully praying for comfort and strength for this special family. So here I am upset – livid – about the fact that the treadmill died and I didn’t get my workout in…and right here in my community, a family had just been dealt some devastating news about their toddler. My perspective was so far off course. I was so caught up in ME and my selfishness…and people I know have just had their world turned upside down. Life is really about perspective. This reminder humbled me and made me feel downright silly. But it also made me very aware of the way that God is so busy at work on me. He reminds me daily that I am his beloved by nudging me (and by nudging me I mean slapping me silly) with words, thoughts, and reminders. I am so thankful for my word – perspective – and for God keeping me in check.

This is about me

When I first decided to try this whole blogging thing, I wanted it to be a way for me to express myself and my growth in faith and life. As I have begun to find my voice in all the areas of my life, I have realized that one word that has followed me through much of my recent past is “authentic”. In this blog – and in my everyday life – my goal is to be authentic. I want to be real. The real me God created me to be. With that authenticity must come transparency. I don’t only want to post about the great things in life, but also the trials and hardships that we face (I have done my share of that). But now that I’m struggling with something that’s pretty personal to me – now is when my resolve to be transparent is truly tested. But I’ve got to be real. Otherwise I shouldn’t be blogging. So…I have never been a fan of resolutions. Why? Because I’m a failure – and resolutions point that fact out to me every time I make them. Come on – don’t judge me – we are all failures at some thing.) This year, though, I knew it was time to make a change in my eating habits. I did not necessarily make a New Year’s resolution – I knew that I had a weight issue before the holidays – but also knew that trying to make a lifestyle change during Christmas was a great way to ensure failure. So here we are at the beginning of a new year, none of my very limited wardrobe fits, and I am heavier than I have ever been in my ENTIRE life (yes, even when I was pregnant). Something has to change. I have been so careless with the junk I have fed my body and I have NOT made exercise a priority and it has all caught up with me. I know this did not happen overnight, but the feeling of being completely out of control came over me at all once and for the last few days has nearly crippled me. So, a few thousand tears later, a few pity parties later, a few self-depricating fat jokes later, here I am…ready to be real about it all. I am miserable with my weight and size right now. I don’t really think of myself as being especially vain, and as I type this about how ashamed of my weight, I feel a little shallow and superficial. I know that God loves me for the person who I am. And I know that beautiful doesn’t mean skinny, and I know that my friends and family love me just the way I am…but this is about me. This is about the way I feel each and every day when I look in the mirror. This is about the lack of energy I have. This is about looking around the corner at 50 and thinking about the years I have left on this earth – and being healthy enough to enjoy those days with my husband. It’s time to get real. I believe that God wants us to be good stewards of not only the material blessings he has given us – but also of the earthly bodies that he has given us. Shamefully, I have been more concerned with the instant gratification that comes along with a butterscotch sundae than I have been with taking care of my body. I honestly believe that God is at work in all of this. I think that he has really allowed me to feel the weight of this struggle (that was an awful pun) and has let me sink this deep to get my attention. I have come to admit that I am powerless to control my life, and I am ready to turn this battle over to God. Is it wrong to seek His strength in even this area of my life? I don’t think so. I think he stands ready and waiting to help us overcome any and all of our hurts, hang-ups and habits. I can’t feel guilty for asking for his strength in my battle with my weight…I need him to see me through this! My will power is NOT enough, I need me some God power.

So…today, my brand new scale flashes 175 pounds. Here is where my journey starts…with God as my guide. I fully know that if I try to do this on my own I will fail. I need my family and friends to celebrate my successes with me, and to pick me up when I fall (and to knock me over if I pick up a butterscotch sundae). And I need my God to supply the will and the power when I don’t have enough on my own. It’s time to be real. It’s time to rely on God to help me in this, the way I claim to in every other area of my life. I can do this…WE can do this.