Sunday, August 16, 2015

What is Love?

I've been in love.
A few times.

Am I married? No.

Am I in a relationship? No.

I'm thankful that doesn't mean there's something terribly wrong with me.

I've been in a 4.5 year relationship and a 4.5 month relationship both of which could have led to marriage and were both moving in that direction. I essentially ended both of them. Why? They weren't right. Was it hard? Extremely. A couple of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

Those of us who are single and wanting to get married one day often look back at these attempts and see them as a failure. We assume we did something wrong or if they had just done x, y, or z right, we would have been "successful." That's because we some times only see that marriage equals success.

I will admit that those were some of my first thoughts.

None of those relationships were "failures" but lessons learned on the adventure that is life.

It's fun to look back with hindsight and see how silly you were or how blinded you were but also see just how much you've grown.

God has been taking me on a journey to discover more about love and how skewed my vision was. Do I have all of the answers? No. But to start, God took me to 1 John chapter 4, mostly verses 7 through 14:

"7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world." (NASB)

Based on this passage, what is love? Love can be defined as three things:

1. God is love.

God is love not in the simple way that we think about love. God is love in a way that is unfathomable, incomprehensible, and indescribable. God's nature. His essence. His will. His works are primarily love, unconditional love. This love is shown and manifested through the Gospel.

2. Love is the Gospel.

The gospel is the good news that God became man in Jesus Christ. He lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died, in our place. Three days later, He rose from the dead, proving that He is the Son of God, and offering the gift of salvation for all who repent and believe in the gospel.

God sent His Son to save us from the death we deserve because of our rebellion as sinners. He took our place, purchasing our freedom that we may know God and love Him. How do we know God and grow in our relationship with Him?

3. Love is intimacy. 

As Christians, we are given the Holy Spirit to be our helper and our counselor (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit is God abiding in us that we may know Him intimately. It is through this intimacy that love is perfected. Why is it that it takes God's love being in us for it to be perfected? 

Here's where I think it gets real interesting. It is through this intimacy and the fruit of the Spirit that we see evidence of God. The first fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22 is...? Love! Coincidence? I don't think so. In 1 John 4:7-14, John is talking about God being love and that love being manifested in the sacrifice made my Jesus on the cross for our sins, the Gospel.

(Side note: In 1 Corinthians 13, love is also defined. Verse 4 starts, "Love is patient; love is kind..." There's two more fruit of the Spirit right there!)

What does the Christian faith start with? When do you actually become a Christian? It is when someone repents and believes Jesus is the Son of God, lived the life we should have lived, died the death we should have died and three days later rose from the dead. Essentially, the Christian faith starts with the Gospel. If love is the Gospel, then wouldn't it just have to make sense that the first fruit of the Spirit is love? Because once you understand the Gospel, you begin to understand love.  

If you haven't caught on, this post isn't really about my love life. I think what we can do with a passage like this is help spread the news of what love truly is. The Gospel. Especially with what we see happening around us in the world today with race issues, ISIS/terrorism, gender confusion, homosexuality, abortion, and so on. Too many people are being shot, killed, or mutilated out of an inaccurate and unhealthy view of what love is.

We can become fearful, defensive, offensive, reactive, passive, aggressive, etc. but what about becoming loving? Joyful? Peaceful? Patient? Kind? Good? Faithful? Self-controlled? How do we love one another if we don't know what that truly means because we don't know what love really is?

God is love. Love is the Gospel. Love is intimacy.

Let's talk about the Good News and spread a little love around instead of hate. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

God Knows What We Need

I love mornings/days when I have time to myself to just sit and listen to music and let it sink into my soul.

This morning I've had the You Make Me Brave by Bethel Music Spotify playlist playing on my phone. No one is home so I can just sing out to my heart's desire. Don't get me wrong, I'll still sing when others are around, but there's just something about being alone and letting go, unashamed of the notes your hitting (or not hitting). I have a cold so my voice is struggling, but that's the beauty of headphones, especially noise canceling ones, they drown out your voice.

Music is the primary way through which I connect with God. I'm thankful He's not worried about what my voice sounds like. I'm thankful He's just listening to my heart and that He hears it more clearly than anyone else. I get tears of joy just thinking about it. To know someone knows you so deeply and intimately and still loves you all the same is mind blowing. This is why I love creating this safe space in which I can pour out my heart to God through music. Whether I am singing my heart out or just letting the lyrics sink in, both are therapeutic and healing to my heart and spirit.

God knows what we need; He knows what we want. He promises that when we rest in him, He will give us the desires of our heart. Who better to rely on than the one who created that heart and knows inside and out what it needs? I feel like God's prompting me to ask you what you are trying to hide from Him inside your heart? What are you holding onto? Take some time to sit in silence and let Him speak. It's such a sweet process to surrender everything and allow God to fill that space with His love, grace, mercy, and tenderness.

This is a word to myself as well as anyone to ventures to read this. We could all use more quiet time, alone with God, to search our souls and rid ourselves of what hinders us from truly knowing God. We are more wicked and flawed than we dared believe and more loved and affirmed than we ever dared hope. It's the beautiful message of the gospel. We're so messed up, but God loves us so much, He saved us from death. Step into His presence today. Step into the freedom He's offering. Step out as a new creation. You're beautiful. You're loved. You're exactly who He made you to be. May your day be favored and my your heart be stirred.


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It's That Time Of Year

It's this time of year that we look back on the year and think about the things that transpired.

It's the time of year we think about our regrets.

It's the time of year we think about our successes.

It's the time of year we consider who we are and who we truly want to be.

We get nostalgic, existential, introspective, inspired, motivated, determined, maybe depressed, excited, goal-oriented, ready to take on the world. But for how long?

I'm a fan of introspection and self-reformation, but I often wonder how successful it is when it only comes, for many of us, one time during each year out of which we make resolutions that we fail to keep. I don't tend to set resolutions because I don't feel like I need the start of a year to motivate me to change things.

But when we do set resolutions, some times I don't think we're realistic with ourselves in the goals, so we set ourselves up for failure. So if we choose to make resolutions for the coming year, make sure they're because you truly feel this is something that is going to better who you are/your health or the lives of those around you. If this time of the year motivates you to make some resolutions and you truly want to be successful, I would encourage to only set a few, say 2 or 3, that are realistic and have an accountability partner to hold you to them and encourage you. But I'm not here to lecture you or give you a lesson about goal setting.

The best thing we can do for ourselves during this time is choose to love more. Think about the events that this last year encompassed and think about areas in your life where you can love people better. I'm sure there are things you regret doing or saying or wish you hadn't experienced, but those are done and gone. Let's not get hung up on the things we can't change and rest in the fact that there's new mercy every morning. In many cases, I truly think the solution is just we need to love people more or love people better.

There are a handful of things I can think of from this past year that I wish I didn't do or say or decide but I can't take them back. I've tried. But I can't, and all I'm focused on is loving God and loving people better. I'm excited about this new chapter in life as a campus missionary and thankful for all of the people who have chosen to partner with me! I'm looking forward to the new adventures, new friends, and new experiences that 2015 holds as well as all that stays the same!

Happy New Years! May God bless you because He loves you, not just because it's a new year. :)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Fast Food Front

Has anyone else noticed the trend among fast food restaurants to upgrade their buildings to look fancier and more modern?

Over the past couple of weeks, as I've been driving around Atlanta, I've seen McDonald's, Wendy's, and Arby's restaurants that have upgraded looks. McDonald's and Wendy's seemed to be the ones to start the trend a few years ago. But I just kind of think it's funny. It's like they're saying, if we build a better looking building, that suddenly makes our food fancier and healthier. The sad part is it's probably worked in the minds of many Americans considering the vast amount of fast food we consume.

This got me thinking though. How often do we try to only change what we look like on the outside? We get makeovers. We use make up. We get a new "style." We cut our hair. We grow out our hair. We grow facial hair. We shave off facial hair. We get plastic surgery. We act a certain way to fit in with a specific crowd. We do whatever it takes to fully invest in looking the "right" way that we think will truly represent who we are, or, probably more accurately, who we want people to think we are. Especially in Western culture, we are bombarded with images of what is the best way to look and how to better your image if you aren't happy with what you got.

But how much time do we spend transforming what we look like on the inside?

I'm going to let that resonate for a minute...

How much time do we spend transforming ourselves on the inside? By this I mean, how much do we pay attention to our character? How much do we pay attention to how we're loving people? How much are we paying attending to the condition of our souls? 

If we really want the outside to "look better," we need to focus more on changing the inside first. I don't think it's a coincidence that the Bible has so many verses about transformation and how it's about an inside out transformation, a transformation of the soul, of the heart, of the mind. It talks about the good things we'll do and how we'll do these and love people better as a result of this change that comes from a belief and inner transformation by the penetration of the Gospel.

If we try to just change our actions and what we look like, we're just a fake fa├žade putting on a front like these fast food restaurants. These food chains may look nice and clean and inviting from the outside, but the contents that await inside are not good. They may taste good, but they are not good for you. I don't think I really need to go into all of the details of how bad fast food is for you.

So what are you afraid of? Let's be authentic. Let's look at our inner selves. Let's examine what's truly there, not what we hope is there. This can and will be painful. But the result of rooting this out and breaking through it with the help of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Heavenly Father produces such a sweet love and a sweet bond if you let it.

Press in. Press on.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Shake It Off

I'm not the biggest Taylor Swift fan, but I have to say there are some songs of hers that I enjoy. I was in the car on the way to an MPD appointment this morning when Swift's song "Shake It Off" came on the radio. I was tempted to change the station but for some reason felt like I should keep it on.

I'm pretty sure the premise of the song and what she, or whoever did, wrote it for wasn't really intended for the purpose I now enjoy it for, but God spoke to me through the pre-chorus and chorus:

But I keep cruising
Can't stop, won't stop moving
It's like I got this music
In my mind
Saying, "It's gonna be alright."

'Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
Heart-breakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake
Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

So often I, and other Christians, get caught up in doing or saying the right things that we can find ourselves being anxious about our actions and how others are perceiving or reacting them. We get bogged down by things of this world that we forget to look up to the Father and learn to enjoy everything in the exact season in which He has us. 

But because of what Christ did by dying the death we deserve on the cross, and the justification we receive because of it, we should develop a "shake it off" attitude. Death was defeated, and I should walk from a place of victory! That should inspire us to keep moving, shake it off, shake of the weight of the world, and do a little silly dance because our Heavenly Father loves us and has already won the war! 

I felt this morning like God was saying, "Daughter, I know things aren't perfect, and they never will be perfect in your sight, so quit worrying! I got you and I love you! So shake it off and do a little dance! I love to see you smile!

How does God speak to you? How have you met with Him today? 

I don't know what you need today, but God wants to hear about it and He wants to show you a new way He likes to communicate with you. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Be Still

It's a new season in many aspects of my life. For one, this is my first fall season without being a volleyball player or coach. Believe it or not, I am super OK with that. Don't get me wrong. I have loved playing and coaching volleyball, but it has consumed my life for the past 13 years of my life. (Nerd alert: It's ironic and not by my purpose that my first season off is after 13 years, as 13 was my jersey number and has shown up in many significant ways in my life.) I am excited for a season not in the athletic world in either of those roles but as someone who can cheer on current collegiate athletes and challenge them in their relationship with God.

Secondly, I am entering a new career as a full time campus missionary, and I couldn't be more excited! I have unofficially worked in campus ministries for the past 4-5 years of my life in some regard, and it has been truly rewarding. After graduating with my Master's degree in May this year, I sat down to really think about what I imagined doing with my life and what I couldn't imagine it without. I considered several different options, but when it came down to it, campus ministry is what I realized I couldn't live without. After going to Every Nation Ministries' School of Ministry (see my SOM blogs for more info about that) this summer, this became even more clear and my heart grew more burdened for the campus.

In order to make it to my job, I am in the process of building a partnership team (many of you may know this as raising support, but, for us, this is truly about asking for people to partner with us in the Great Commission, not just be a dollar sign to pay the bills). I was so ready to get started from the first day of the school. We started reading the book The God Ask, and it ignited by passion. So, of course, once the school was over, I was chomping at the bit to get going. However, there's one little detail of being officially hired that had to happen first. It took some time for this to happen; I just got the word on Friday!

Throughout this waiting period, God really was challenging me to do one thing: Be Still. My mind was racing about all the things I wasn't doing, and I often complained about being bored. I'm thankful for my family, boyfriend, and friends who reminded me that I should be enjoying the time I had to relax and not worry about anything yet. God kept bringing this verse to mind, "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).

God is bigger than anything we could ever go through. He has gone before us and has not forgotten us. He is active and He is loving. We can have confidence that everything will work out in the right timing even if it doesn't look like our timing. We are wicked and flawed people who think we have all the right answers. But the good news is that we are loved and affirmed by a God who wants a deep relationship with us. He knows us inside and out and knows what's best for us.

I really love these times when God challenges me to go deeper in my relationship with Him and trust that He's taking care of me. God has done some amazing things in my life this summer, and I can't wait to see what He has in store once I get to the campus!

If you would join me in big prayers and BIG FAITH as I build my partnership team, I would LOVE that! I look forward to sharing more of the great things God is doing and how your prayers are being answered!

What is God challenging you with today?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

SOM Weeks 6 - 9

The School of Ministry was an amazing experience! It has been a crazy yet relaxing few weeks since it ended, but here's how the last few weeks went!

During week 6 of the school, we were tasked with a preaching assignment. We could choose any topic we pleased and had 6 minutes to deliver it. I chose to preach on James 2:19, how understanding a healthy fear of God changed my life, and how we should inspire others to a faith-filled life. I think it went pretty well, but I can always find things I can do better. It was a great experience and has helped me gain more confidence in my abilities to teach and preach the Word!

Week 7 was MPD week. This entailed others not in our class joining us for a week of learning what partnership development means and how to build and maintain it. As employees as campus ministers, we raise a financial partnership team (most people know this as raising support) that is our monthly paycheck. I'm really looking forward to this process and allowing others to join me in the Great Commission and all the great things God is going to do on the campus!

Week 8 was back to normal classes. Stephen Mansfield, a well known author and former pastor, came and talked in depth for half a day about most of the world religions. It was really fascinating! We also had a day of talking about how to reach athletes on campus, which I definitely found interesting with my background. We finished out the week with ministry event planning in which we got into groups and were assigned a fake event to plan. We took half of the day to plan and an hour in the afternoon to present them to the class. We critiqued each other about things we might have left out or why we planned to do certain events. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed working with my classmates. This made me really excited to get back to the campus and start planning! 

Week 9 was pretty slow as things were winding down. We finished up some classes and had our final exam, which was AMAZING (which probably sounds weird). The way they format the final exam is in a competition between three teams. There are several rounds, each with different stakes, and the final grand prize is a pot of money for the team to split. My team dominated of course! :)
The winning team = Quart of Salsa; Tongues of Fire!

We had a final graduation ceremony and dinner that Thursday and then finished up a couple of extra things on Friday about our job descriptions and house keeping events, such as writing thank you notes.
 ENC Director Nick Jones, SOM Director Paul Barker, and I at Graduation!
Forrest, Joe (the guys I drove around this summer - we became known as the "The Three Muskateers"), and I with their host family at graduation!

THANK YOU so much for your partnership and giving me the opportunity to go to the School of Ministry this summer. It changed my life forever and has confirmed God's calling on my life as a campus missionary. 
SOM Class of 2014 (Best Class Ever a.k.a. Pastor Paul's favorite class)