Playlists and heart conditions

Jason Upton is quickly making his way back up to the top of my iTunes “most played” list.

If your playlist says anything at all about your heart, then I think something very good has been going on in mine. You know how some artists somehow manage to capture all of the thoughts, dreams, and ponderings of your heart? He’s definitely been the one I most identify with lately. And he’s also pretty much all I’ve listened to for the last week or so.

The Holy Spirit has used his songs to strengthen my heart – reminding me that even when everything in my life is unknown and nothing is certain, that God Himself is my sure, steady Rock and Redeemer. Furthermore, his music reminds me that life isn’t about me. Life is about being pursued by God and in turn, a pursuit of God Himself. Apart from God and a relationship with Him, we have no life.

I had several conversations yesterday that were very instrumental in continuing to shape my understanding of this season of my life and what God’s doing in me. The first was great because my friend drew my attention to the fact that all that is going on in my life simultaneously is happening with purpose. God is allowing there to be a great amount of uncertainty in pretty much all the major areas of my life because He’s definitely, without a doubt, asking me to increase the level of trust I place in Him. Think of any major area of life – yeah, I probably have no idea what God’s doing in me there, other than that I know that there’s nothing that’s sure except for God Himself.

The other conversation was also beneficial, but in a different way. It was another reminder that even the things in life that should be the most certain, just aren’t. And maybe they’re not meant to be in the sense that I want them to be.

There’s a line in Jason Upton’s song “Just Like You” that says “I’ll risk it all if You’ll make me just like You.” It’s an amazing line and is one that definitely I can relate to, but it struck me that we really risk very little. And what we risk is of no real eternal consequence. We risk our finances, our career path, our security, our rights, and many times our dreams. But when you really consider the value of those things to eternity, we find that they pale in comparison and we’re faced with all of our childishness, our grasping, our selfishness, and our inherent lack of trust.

My favorite song of Jason Upton’s is called “No Sacrifice.” I highly recommend it. It’s been a song I’ve clung to for years.

“To you I give my life, not just the parts I want to
To you I sacrifice these dreams that I hold on to

Your thoughts are higher than mine
Your words are deeper than mine
Your love is stronger than mine
This is no sacrifice
Here’s my life

To you I give the gifts
Your love has given me
How can I hoard the treasures that you’ve designed for free?

Because
Your thoughts are higher than mine
Your words are deeper than mine
Your love is stronger than mine
This is no sacrifice
Here’s my life

To you I give my future
As long as it may last
To you I give my present
To you I give my past

Because
Your thoughts are higher than mine
Your words are deeper than mine
Your love is stronger than mine
Your thoughts are higher than mine
Your words are deeper than mine
Your love is stronger than mine
This is no sacrifice
Here’s my life”

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Character Close Up: Esther

You might have just rolled your eyes at the subject of this post. I know that a couple years ago, I definitely would have.

I used to view Esther as just another focus of women’s Bible studies. I thought she was overhyped just because there were so few women who are the major focus of stories in Scripture. I lost track of how many times I heard about her at summer camp break out sessions for girls, in jr. high Bible studies, and in youth group discipleship programs. So when one of the girls in my small group asked if we could study the book of Esther almost two years ago, I have to admit that I was more than a little disappointed. I thought I had left Esther behind in youth group.

Not that Esther didn’t inspire me – she did – but I think I thought that “if I perish, I perish,” while inspirational, was all there really was to Esther. I wanted to do a study that was “substantial” – something that would change the hearts of these girls forever. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There’s definitely a reason that the book of Esther was included in the Bible! After leading a study on Esther for the girls in my Gathering small group and really digging into and studying the Scripture, Esther now definitely stands close to the top of the list of Biblical characters I want to emulate in my life.

She was totally amazing. God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose her to help deliver the Jews, and He didn’t just choose her and throw her in – He stayed with her and empowered her and taught her so much about following His will.

The character traits that Esther shows throughout her story are these: an intense commitment to prayer and fasting, absolute and immediate obedience to the leadership placed over her, radical submission to God and to His plan, and an extreme desire to change her world and save not only her generation, but an entire people. Her statement “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) could stand alone in testament to her faith – but it doesn’t have to because she actually lived it out.

Her story would terrify anyone – she was a beautiful orphan taken away from her uncle Mordecai and all she’d ever known (2:8). This had to have been scary and seen (at least at first) by Esther as a negative circumstance  – after all, she was young, probably had plans of her own, and the king was known for being quick to anger, irrational, egoistic, had a harem, and had banished his previous (and probably pregnant) queen.  All of these are negative, but Esther takes it all in stride .  She acts in wisdom, gains favor, and lets God position her for greatness though she knows nothing of the drama to come or her role in it (2:9).  Her trust and obedience is amazing.

While reading Esther, I get the sense that she had a sense of what God would call her to do and did it – she ran  “so as to take the prize” (Eph. 3:12-14). We see Esther throwing off the weights (insecurity, fear, discontent) and running her race faithfully. Esther prepared herself to meet the king for a YEAR (2:9).  She could have become frustrated and maybe even asked “God, why am I here?  What are You thinking? Why aren’t You using me?” God was teaching her to wait. Esther was so wise – she asked for what Hegai advised – she was in it to win it and to please the king.  Otherwise she’d be just another concubine.  She wanted to be his wife (just as an aside – you want to learn how to talk and relate to a guy? It takes wisdom. Read Esther).

Esther is crowned queen and is queen for FIVE YEARS and it’s NINE YEARS total before God’s purposes become clear and she recognizes God’s strategic placement that brought her to the palace (4:12-16).  Once it is clear, she doesn’t cling to her position, her crown, or her life. Instead, she’s willing to lay it all down and potentially give her life for her people. She fasts and prays for wisdom, and then acts.

Esther gives us a model to follow when we feel God is asking us to do something difficult –

  • Calculate the cost
  • Set priorities (others before self)
  • Prepare (Esther fasted and prayed, and got other people involved in the process)
  • Determine a course of action and move boldly in the direction God has called you to follow.
  • Esther and Mordecai do not despair or just wait for God’s intervention – they recognize their positions hold purpose.

Esther has the most compelling ending I can think of – because her obedience a WHOLE NATION was spared certain death and destruction – her life made a difference.  The Jewish Feast of Purim was established to celebrate Esther’s life and to remember her bravery and obedience to God.

I’m not certain that I would react as Esther did and that’s one of the reasons I want to cultivate the patience, wisdom, and faith we see in her life. I feel like if I were thrown into a situation where I was torn away from my family and sent to be a concubine to a crazy king, I might be more than a little upset with God. While that particular situation is highly unlikely, I want to learn to handle difficult circumstances with grace and to never blame God for where He might decide to put me or what He might ask me to walk through.

Esther is a Biblical example of someone who learned to suffer well and to let her suffering shape and develop her character. Her life should definitely make us question how we handle difficult circumstances and how we can develop the same character attributes that we see bringing her favor with God and with men. God is just as sovereign and strategic in our lives and it’s important that we recognize that. Each of us is being shaped and placed exactly where God wants us to be and our actions echo into eternity as well. Esther is the perfect person for me to study again as I’m asked to step back, cede my life again to Christ, and simply obey.

Thoughts from a snow day

I find out a lot about myself when I look at how I spend my time. I typed something in a conversation the other day that hit me pretty hard once I looked at it again. I said, “Sleep always trumps food. Wait no, sleep trumps everything except God.” And then I realized that all too often, even sleep trumps God in my life. And then… when I take a deeper look I realize how much pride I struggle with… the idea that I’m somewhat in control is probably one of the hardest things for me to let go of. I find that I let it go and then somewhere between there and here, I’ve unknowingly picked it back up again. It determines how I behave, how I spend my time, and where I place my trust.

Pride. Sin. They keep me from God. I know that He’s completely sovereign… that He holds my life in His hands, allows each breath I take to provide oxygen to my lungs and has all of the hairs on my head numbered, but so often I question His timing, His plan, and the path I’m walking down.

Change. There’s very little I hate more than change. Especially if it’s life-altering. I recognize also, that change is good and that without change we die… but these recognitions don’t make it any easier to make the leap. I find that when I’m faced with it I begin to shut down on the inside… I tell myself it’s ok, that I’m ok, and that the distrust is merely preparation for the inevitable losses that will occur.

I’ve been this way my whole life. I’ve never been able to dive head first off of a diving board or do a cartwheel. And I think it’s because I’ve always been too worried about protecting myself – as if I could add even a second to the days I’ve been allotted (Psalm 31:15, 139:16).

Fear is a lack of faith. And its sin. We so clearly see that in the life of Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter’s an ordinary guy who displays extraordinary faith at different points in Scripture – He leaves his job to follow Jesus at just His words, “follow Me” (Matt. 4:18-19), walks on water out to meet Jesus at the word “come” (Matt. 14:28-29), and understands who Jesus really is before many other people do (Matt. 16:16, Mark 8:29). However, Peter is so often reactionary and easily swayed instead of unmovable in his faith. He starts to sink when he is distracted by the wind and the waves (Matt. 14:30), he cuts off a soldier’s ear when Jesus was arrested (Matt. 26:51), and then swears he never knew Him when he’s associated with Christ later (Matt. 26:69-75).

All of this to say: I find myself feeling a lot like Peter today. I feel like sometimes I wake up to the fact that I’m walking across water and I can’t make it on my own – I will certainly drown unless saved by grace. These times, the times when I recognize how very much I need Jesus – the times when my total insufficiency comes to light and all of my pride is exposed – this is how He keeps me close. In His overwhelming goodness, He walks me through change often so that my own heart is exposed and I’m forced to come to terms with the fear residing there. Without the grace of God, I’d be off always doing my own thing… forcing doors that aren’t supposed to open and clinging to things that I should gracefully let go of.

Ryan shared Acts 16:6-10 with me the other day:

“6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down lto Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul3 had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

The message here is great and I love the way he put it: “They kept moving. God closed doors. They changed directions. God closed doors. They went a different way. God showed them what they were to do.”

I was also reminded of Matthew 6:25-34 today:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?7 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, jeven Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

I’m learning to leap. I’m learning to let go. I’m learning to trust completely, all over again. All because of this truth: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16)”

Character Close Up: Mary, the mother of Jesus

Happy New Year! It’s a new year and I haven’t blogged in far too long, so I have a lot of writing to catch up on. Although I haven’t done the customary “New Year’s post” yet, I want to jump right into a series of posts I’ve been thinking of writing on different people seen in Scripture who embody character traits I want to develop in my own life this year. I think it’s a good way to set a path for spiritual growth this year and I hope that the Lord will cultivate the strength of character in me that I see in these men and women of the Bible.

This holiday season I found myself thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus, a lot. Maybe it’s because Dad always reads Luke 2 before we open our gifts on Christmas morning. Or maybe it’s because every time I encounter her in Scripture, I see a young woman with inexplicable faith in the face of impossibility and unfailing trust in the word of the Lord. She’s obviously favored by the Lord and entrusted with a precious gift – the Savior of all mankind – to carry, give birth to, and raise in the ways of the Lord. And she doesn’t balk. She doesn’t run from change. She isn’t embittered by the responsibility given her or the sacrifice required. She does question (thankfully, because if I had to stop questioning everything, I’d probably fail miserably) – but at the word of the angel, she’s willing to lay down her plans, dreams, reputation, and even her relationship with Joseph to be obedient. She was always willing to follow (she understands spiritual leadership) – she left her home and followed Joseph to Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-5), then Egypt (Matthew 2:13), and then to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23).

Just thinking about that gives me chills. I honestly can’t imagine being called to do such a thing. At the same time, we’re each called to follow the Holy Spirit, and while we won’t be asked to raise the King, it’s likely that we’ll each, at some point in our lives, be asked to the do impossible (at least in the natural realm). And when asked, I want to respond as Mary did. As believers we’re all called to do exactly as she did – Jesus himself said so in Matthew 10:37-39 –

“37 If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (emphasis mine).

Two of my favorite verses about Mary are found in Luke.

Luke 1:38 “Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

Luke 2:19 “but Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Thankfully, Mary wasn’t perfect. She questioned Gabriel (Luke 1:34), was upset with Jesus when he wandered off as a child (Luke 2:48), demanded the attention of Jesus while he was busy ministering (Luke 8:19), asked Jesus to perform a miracle just because a wedding ran out of wine (John 2:3), and probably was a typical woman in many ways. Despite this, her life is an incredible example of one lived in obedience to the Holy Spirit.

Three things I think I can learn from Mary are 1.) to be available to be used by God (and to hold everything in life – even my life itself – with open hands by remaining willing to give up everything at any time), 2.) to be responsive and obedient to the Holy Spirit, and 3.) to firmly hold onto God’s promises.

joy in contentment

We’re working our way through Philippians in small group right now. It’s such a beautiful book. It’s not called the “book of joy” for no reason. Paul’s writing from prison, yet the book overflows with joy, contentment, and praise.

I’m jumping ahead of my small group by several weeks right now, but God’s really speaking to me today about finding contentment in Him alone. It’s an interesting thing to have the Lord say to you, “Yes, I did promise you that… but the fulfillment of My promise isn’t what you should be looking for. Look for Me, seek Me, desire ME first. And the promise will then be released.”

[Philippians 4:4,6-7,11-13

4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

6Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.]

It’s true. Regardless of any promise the Lord ever makes me, it is He that is the greatest promise and the best gift, and thus should always be my first and greatest desire. It reminded me a lot of something God said to me two years ago – that restoration can never come in the form of a person… restoration is something God does in our hearts.

In the same way – the promise may come in the form of a person, thing, situation, etc… but ultimately, God Himself is the promise. God makes lots of promises and He has never failed to keep even one. Think of Abraham and Sarah and the promise of Isaac. Even at the moment in which it seemed to Abraham that he was about to lose his long-awaited son who was promised by God, he chose to trust… knowing that God had promised him a heritage in Isaac, and understanding that God was sovereign, had a magnificent plan, and would never break His word. This the faith spoken of in Hebrews 11 – faith that believes even when it doesn’t see or understand the plan, and it was this kind faith that landed Abraham a mention in what is referred to as the faith hall of fame: Hebrews 11:8.

All throughout Scripture God reassures us of His trustworthiness. I love Habakkuk 2:3 – “But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.”

Hold on to God’s promises. They’re true. But hold tightly to Him first. His promises come about in His perfect plan. They are never delayed. We have to seek and find the balance between asking God to “rouse Himself” on our behalf like David does in Psalms, reminding Him of His commitment to us, praying our our desires, and simply choosing to rest, trust, and find contentment in Him alone.

Wait on the Lord

I love the wisdom of the people who have walked with Christ ahead of me. I’ve long kept a large and growing collection of quotes that I love to page through often. They range from funny to incredibly profound.

Below are a few of the many that really jumped out at me this morning as I was just glancing through. One of the most astonishing things about the Christian life is that despite a multitude of individual circumstances, perspectives, and the fact that believers have lived through completely different eras, cultures, and countries – the basics of life in Christ are the same. The requirements have never and will never change. We’re all called to trust God with absolute abandon and to hold fast to His word and His word alone. Complete dependence, limitless faith, and total reliance on the Cross and His grace are our only hope.

I hope these words speak to you as they do me and that they serve to increase your faith in our amazing Creator:

“What is it to us how our future path lies, if it be but His path? What is it to us whither it leads us, so that in the end it leads to Him? What is it to us what He puts upon us, so that He enables us to undergo it with a pure conscience, a true heart, not desiring anything of this world in comparison of Him? What is it to us what terror befalls us, if He be but a hand to protect and strengthen us?” John Henry Newman

“God has wisely kept us in the dark concerning future events and reserved for himself the knowledge of them, that he may train us up in a dependence upon himself and a continued readiness for every event.” Matthew Henry

“God is God. Because He is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will, a will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.” Elisabeth Elliot

Also see: Isaiah 30:21, Philippians 4, Isaiah 42:16, Psalm27, and Isaiah 46:11b.

Have Your Way

 “Have Your Way” lyrics from Britt Nicole’s new CD – The Lost Get Found

Feels like I’ve been here forever,
Why can’t you just intervene,
Do you see the tears are falling?
And I’m falling apart at the seams,
But you never said the road would be easy,
But you said that you would never leave.
And you never promised that
this life wasn’t hard,
But you promised you’d take care of me,

So I’ll stop searching for the answers,
I’ll stop praying for an escape,
I’ll trust you God with where I am,
And believe you will have your way,
Just have your way,
Just have your way,
My friends and my family have left me
I feel so ashamed and so cold,
Remind you take broken
things and turn them into beautiful

So I’ll stop searching for the answers,
I’ll stop praying for an escape,
I’ll trust you God with where I am,
And believe you will have your way,
Just have your way,
Just have your way,

Even if my dreams have died,
Even if I don’t survive,
I’ll still worship you with all my life,
My life, yeah,
Whoa, oh, oh, oh
Whoa, oh, oh, oh
Whoa, oh, oh Whoa, oh
And I’ll stop searching for the answers,
I’ll stop praying for an escape,
And I’ll trust you God with where I am,
And believe you will have your way,
Just have your way,
Just have your way, yeah
I know you will,
don’t forget,
Whoa, oh, oh
You love me,
Have your way, Yeah

____________________________________________________

I first heard this song on Sunday while I was driving to church. Mom bought me the CD for my birthday and I’ve had it on repeat since then. It sounds like a sad song, sort of. But I love the hope it holds. Most of the song didn’t resound with where I am right now, but the chorus is incredible:

So I’ll stop searching for the answers,
I’ll stop praying for an escape,
I’ll trust you God with where I am,
And believe you will have your way

Sometimes I ask too many questions (I’m told I could be a reporter) and I fear I approach my quiet time with God in the same manner – constantly full of questions about life, the Bible, relationships, etc. and always asking for guidance and answers. Last night, at the Gathering, John encouraged us to not just talk at God, but to actually pray and I was convicted. John said that no friend, even a best friend, wants to sit and be questioned or have problems thrown at them non-stop by a friend who just gets up to leave as soon as their high priority to-do list has been made known. I love helping people, but when I don’t feel valued for who I am and not just for what I can do, a to do list becomes really offensive. God, even understanding my humanity, has to feel the same way. I’m a words of affirmation person – Even if I know, I still have to hear how people who are important to me feel about me. Looking at Scripture, it seems that God operates the same way. So, I’m going to endeavor to set aside time to really value God, to love Him…. and also trust Him with exactly where I am, in this time and in this season. He’s sovereign, and He will have His way. That’s the most comforting thought of all.

You can listen to Have Your Way here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1i5Pd60DsFE