Tuesday, January 31, 2012

For All the Single Ladies

Originally published November 2011

There's nothing sadder to me than a woman who doesn't embrace her singleness.

Society tells us singleness is a mark of shame. There's something wrong with us if we aren't currently dating someone. For a woman, purity equals prude, and being a prude causes you to become a crazy cat lady. The world wants us to label every relationship. In a relationship? It's complicated? There's probably an app for that. I want to challenge this perception right now.

Let me tell you what being a single girl does not mean. Being a single girl doesn't mean that God hasn't given me a real desire for marriage. It also doesn't mean that I don't still struggle with frustrations when it comes to guys. As people in my life can attest, I vent just as much as the next girl about how confusing relationships are. Being a single girl doesn't mean that there aren't times when I get annoyed with God for the feelings I have and can't seem to get rid of. It doesn't mean that when I care about someone, I don't feel agonized over what might have been. Being a single girl doesn't mean not feeling anything.

Let me tell you what being a single girl does mean. Being a single girl is a gift. It is a rare and (according to statistics) often temporary opportunity. God has put in us in a prime spot. At what other time in our lives, are we free to go out and disciple our girlfriends and not feel concerned about neglecting a husband or other marital obligations. Before all the married ladies get annoyed with me, let me clarify that I realize that you married set go out as well, but I'm sure you would be the first to admit that it's different as a single woman! God wants us to embrace this time of singleness for a reason. 

As a surprising as it might sound, I think Paul makes a good point for the single set.

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
-1 Corinthians 7:32-35

We have been given an opportunity to be holy in body and spirit and fully devoted to the works of the Lord. Take a moment and think about the people in your life. Are there other single women that would benefit from you wisdom? Are there younger women who would benefit from your example? Chances are, God is waiting for you to embrace this time so he can utilize your many gifts and talents for a kingdom cause.

I know this may not be easy to accept. I know some of you are frustrated with God. He's given you this crazy desire for marriage, you've accepted that call, and now he seems so far away. You feel like you will be alone forever. If you're really honest, you've probably been that girl who wanted to throw something at a sickeningly happy couple and spend too much time listening to Adele. Let me encourage you. I don't believe that God has given you these desires to torture you. I honestly believe that he is preparing you for a something more than you ever dreamed of. Ultimately, a God blessed relationship can add tremendous joy to life. However, the greatest love story on the planet could not even begin to compare to the love of Jesus. Cheesy church answer? No...

As a fellow single girl, let me encourage you to tell God how you feel. He already knows anyways! He longs to fill that hole in your heart. He wants you to have LIFE and experience the abundance and joy that he has planned for you. This means running to him instead of a guy. Ask God to help you recognize how much he loves you. Let's begin to change the perception of singleness. Let's embrace the idea of purity in ALL AREAS of our life.

Psalm 26 is such a beautiful declaration of everything that I want to reflect in my own life of singleness. Let's allow this to be our perception.

Vindicate me, O LORD,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
 Prove me, O LORD, and try me;
test my heart and my mind.
 For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in your faithfulness.

 I do not sit with men of falsehood,
nor do I consort with hypocrites.
 I hate the assembly of evildoers,
and I will not sit with the wicked.

 I wash my hands in innocence
and go around your altar, O LORD,
 proclaiming thanksgiving aloud,
and telling all your wondrous deeds.

 O LORD, I love the habitation of your house
and the place where your glory dwells.
 Do not sweep my soul away with sinners,
nor my life with bloodthirsty men,
 in whose hands are evil devices,
and whose right hands are full of bribes.

 But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity;
redeem me, and be gracious to me.
 My foot stands on level ground;
in the great assembly I will bless the LORD.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Disappointment and Frustration?

Is it okay to feel disappointed or frustrated in your walk with Christ? I was talking with a girl this week who was told that God wouldn't want her to be upset, so if she was feeling that way about something, then it must not be what God wanted her to do.

I think anybody who has been living in this world knows that's not true. I struggle with my own feelings of disappointment and frustration. Something happened this week that caused me to just be very disappointed. I thought God was leading me in one direction and I was really excited about it. In one conversation with somebody all my hopes for that situation were completely destroyed. I was disappointed.

As I was praying about it, I told God that I hoped He understood my frustration. I trust Him completely. I know that if this wasn't part of His plan, then there's something else He's preparing me for. But I have a heart. I'm a girl (meaning I have emotions) and I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed and a little discouraged. I was a little ashamed of that. I kept praying about it and I started reflecting on similar biblical instances of disappointment.

She said to them, "Don not call me Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very biterly with me. I went away full and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?"
-Ruth 1:20-21

Therefore I will not restrain my mouth, I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain n the bitterness of my soul.
-Job 7:11

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
- Psalm 13:1-2

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
-Matthew 27:46

That doesn't seem like a bunch of roses to me! Even Jesus felt tormented as He was on the cross. Walking with Christ is not a magic pill. Troubles, frustrations, disappointments don't just disappear. There are countless examples in the bible where people felt that way. However, there is something that makes this whole post not seem like chronic depression.

And Jesus came and said to them,"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all the I have commanded you. And behold, "I am with you always, to the end of the age."
-Matthew 28:18-20

I love Psalm 13. The first four verses are David lamenting in his frustrations. Verse 5 is what I have to repeat to myself:

"BUT I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me."
-Psalm 13:5-6

Altogether, I know God understands my frustration. I'm certainly not the first person to experience such emotions. The important thing is not that I face these emotions but that I remember God's providence in the midst of them. No matter the situation, there is always a reason to worship Him. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Women and the Bible

Originally published September 2011

Women in the bible have gotten a bad rap. Paul used to drive me crazy as a young, naive, God-driven female. What's up with all the "don't talk in church" and "no braiding your hair" business? Someone finally told me to slow down and study the things I was fervently denying. Turns out, Paul didn't scare all the ladies away with his masculine ego. I highly recommend David Platt's recent teaching titled "What about women, Paul?" He does an excellent job of explaining those scriptures in their historical context as well as applying them to modern times.

So once we realize that Paul was not a he-man woman hater (just  a little rascals reference there) we really can begin to see the importance of women in Jesus' time and for the church today. 

I was recently reading through the book of Mark. I began reading the passages about the Crucifixion of Jesus and something struck me a little differently.

There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
-Mark 15:40-41

The disciples had all abandoned Jesus in fear. They were scattered. They were in hiding. These women had been with Jesus and the disciples for some time. They had traveled with them caring for all their needs. This was who was with Jesus as he hung on the cross. This group of women continued to care for him. They prepared his body for burial and got quite a surprise when they were on the way to the tomb on the third morning.

This is not a coincidence. This is not a mistake. These women were mentioned by name for a reason. This shows us that women are a valuable part of the kingdom of God. We love, we nurture, we bring beauty to the world unlike anything else. Each woman has a part to play in God's plan. We don't know the extent of what these women actually did. I like to think they were there providing for the disciples physical needs (food, mending clothing, etc) but also their spiritual needs (being a nurturing, kind, confidant). Whatever their service, they meant something.

I told a group of middle school girls a couple of weeks ago, that God made each of them a woman for a reason. I firmly believe that. God has a purpose for each one of us. With our trust in Him and His divine guidance, we can fulfil our purpose (which I suspect is exceptionally beautiful!)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pure Love

I sat by myself in a local coffee shop. I was trying to find a few minutes of solace in the midst of a very hectic week. I was perfectly content to be left alone and shut out the world. 

I'm sitting there reading when I notice an elderly couple come in the door. The woman is in a wheel chair. Her psychical appearance showing the deterioration of age and probably another physical condition. Her husband, a tall, strong man, (wearing a very retro pair of converse sneakers) navigated her to a table and made room for her chair.

The husband proceeded to order two coffees and a pumpkin muffin. I watched as he brought her a coffee and a straw so she wouldn't have to bend to reach the cup. He carefully cut up the muffin for them to share. As he was handing her the muffin, she beamed at him. I don't know if I every understood what it looked like when someone beamed until that moment. She smiled and her eyes showed the soul of a younger woman, in love with a man. 

The whole scene made me want to cry. Not out of sadness, but because I knew I had just witnessed pure love. Through all the trials that I assume this couple faced together, he was still there for her when she needed him and she loved him. 

As I go through my week, I am continually reminded that I and so many other people have no idea what pure love looks like. We like to pretend we have it. We spend all day thinking about that guy and obsess over whether he flirted with us or not, but we really miss this part of it. 

I watched this couple for a long time. I felt like I was invading a sweet, simple moment between them. He was her husband. He was willing to care for her in the good times and the bad. Through all their history together, he knew that she was his and he was hers. There was no option to leave. They were committed to each other. 

This is how relationships should be. I know so many people (I used to be one of them) who are cynical towards love. They think it's a temporary emotion or that two people cannot be together forever. I think this attitude comes from the fact that we haven't experienced pure love. More precisely, we don't recognize the pure love in our own lives.

I love this passage out of John

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.
-John 15:12-14

Not only is Jesus telling us that He loves us, but He is also commanding us to love each other in the same way. Isn't this where we fall short? Are we striving to love each other in the same way that Jesus loves us? It's hard to love on people!

The truth is, it's impossible for us to ever match the love Jesus showed us by laying down His life for us. In my own life, I know that there are areas where I need to strive to "love better." I know that there is a pure love that I work to show. How have you seen pure love demonstrated? How can you demonstrate this love in your own life?

I don't know the name of the elderly couple I watched today, but they taught me a valuable lesson on what pure love really looks like.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Am I Enough?

I've talked about love before (usually to my own embarrassment). This time, I just wanted to share something that God has put on my heart in the hope that it can inspire you.

If you're like me, you have several friends on facebook, twitter, etc. that are in the early stages of dating. We all know that couple, the ones who share their love with each other and all their friends on facebook. The ones who love to love each other and make sure the rest of the world knows it. We all have somebody like that. 

The truth is they used to annoy me. Their "gushiness" would cause me to roll my eyes and quickly change the page. It wasn't a question of whether I liked the couple, whichever one it was at the time. I'm sure that's probably what kept me from blocking them completely. Honestly, it wasn't them, it was me.

Whenever I saw a couple in the midst of their dating-honeymoon period leaving little sentiments on each other's walls, it would make my heart ache a little. That further annoyed me because I've always been outwardly fine with the way my life was. I'm the one who's always telling girls not to look for validation in men. 

"Is it me?" I would think to myself. I would start thinking of where I was in my life (a twenty-something, college grad) and the fact that I've never really been in love, and I'd get a little frustrated. Yes, everyone says there's someone out there and I really believe them, but that frustration still creeps in. 

One night in particular, all those insecurities came back after seeing another "love exchange." I shook my head and allowed myself to get annoyed. All of sudden, God said

"I love you. Aren't I enough for you?"

Completely true! He kind of caught me off guard actually. Of course I knew He loved me, but did I allow myself to forget?

I smiled. I'm not ashamed to admit (and if you know me at all you shouldn't be surprised) that I teared up a bit. How quickly I forgot that the God who created everything (I mean EVERYTHING), including all the things I find beautiful, treasures me above all of it.

I spent some time talking to God. I've prayed about these feelings before, but this time I just wanted to talk. It may sound silly and I can't begin to describe it but I spent time allowing His love to fill me up.

I really treasure the time I spend with God. I'm not saying that my own insecurities don't try to resurface again, it's a constant process of surrender. I can say that when they do, I try more and more to stop and listen to God tell me I'm beautiful, wonderfully made, and His true delight.

Monday, January 23, 2012

I am Crazy

It was so cool to read back through this post and see how far God has brought me! Originally published August, 2011

Craziness has been the theme of the week.

People have told me I am crazy.

I've told myself I'm crazy.

The whole idea is crazy.

Maybe I should start at the beginning.

God has been working in me for a long time. I've known that He's been calling me to do more. I've shared that before.

 I recently found myself at a crossroad.

I could either stay where I was, sink into complacency, and, frankly, be disobedient to what He was calling me to do, or I could step out in faith and embrace God's plan.

I quit my job today.
[Start the crazy music]

I haven't made this decision on a whim. I have been earnestly praying and seeking God's direction in every part of my life. He really convicted me that I wasn't doing what He had called me to do. I know he wants me to serve completely.

Want to know what's really crazy? Through my job, my bill for grad school shrank from $4,000 to a little over $900. Not anymore. I've had to really work everyday to trust that God is going to provide a way for me to fulfil what He's called me to do.

Last night, I was facing all the thoughts of doubt all over again. I had to stop and pray. PRAY HARD that God would remove the doubt and give me the direction I needed.

I woke up early this morning and put on a new dress. I decided that if I was going to face my boss, I would at least look nice!

I drove up to the school and went right into her office. I sat there, completely unsure of what exactly I should say. It's hard to describe this whole journey to someone.

I started at the beginning (usually a good place to start).

A funny thing happened.

She completely understood. She was excited for me. She related completely to what I was saying because my journey was so similar to her own.

Start the tears!

We both couldn't help but get a little overwhelmed at God's amazing love. They were happy tears. They were tears that came from the realization that God's completely crazy for loving me. Messed up, confused, doubting ME!

A lot of people don't understand my decisions over the past few weeks. I can't really explain it to them. All I can say is that I'm committed to following God's direction 100 percent. I won't try to fight His plan anymore. I've proven that I do a terrible job of controlling life on my own.

"You're crazy," they say.

Yes I am.

Truth is, most (if not all) of the people who followed Jesus were crazy! It took Noah over 100 years to build the ark! What do you want to bet that plenty of people thought he was crazy! Moses wandered the desert for 40 years! We know his people thought he was crazy.

I couldn't help but think of the disciples this week.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
-Matthew 4:18-20

At once they left their nets and followed him.

I wonder what people thought of these men? They just leave everything right there and go off with Jesus. Sounds pretty crazy to me.

In the end, I know that God will be with me through this entire journey. He's been with me up until now and I know He's not going anywhere.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Problem with Church

Originally written July 2011:
I've heard a lot of discussions lately about the problems facing the American church. There are many varying opinions as to why the church is struggling with being effective. I'm not even close to being a theologian or any kind of brilliant commentator on the subject, but I do have an opinion. Do you know what I think is the problem with the church?
The people.

The people inside the church pose the biggest problem. When the world is broken, tired, and hungry they should be able to come to the church. The church is supposed to be the one place where people should be able to find love. Instead, we fill the church with people of "our standards" and quickly pass judgment on anybody that doesn't come up to that level.

I was reminded of this again on the Kingdom Builders trip when one of our awesome adult leaders was "sized up" by the leader of one of the other churches. How sad is that! Even on a mission trip where we're supposed to be serving and showing the people of the community the love of God, we can't even get past our own ignorance to realize that there is no "model Christian." I love the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. It's reached widespread acclaim, so you may have heard of it. In one part Chan says:
“We need to stop giving people excuses not to believe in God. You’ve probably heard the expression ‘I believe in God, just not organized religion’. I don’t think people would say that if the church truly lived like we are called to live.”

That's convicting isn't it! Are our actions as a church, the things we value, the people we pursue, the things we say to each other, preventing people from knowing the amazing love of Christ? I have several friends who are set against church because once upon a time, somebody who was a "Christian" said something or did something to them that cut deep. I can say from personal experience, some of the deepest pain in my life came from people in the church.

This worries me. I think about the way Jesus was with people. He had the audacity to sit and eat with the tax collectors, the harlots, and the Gentiles! He frequently called out the Pharoses for sitting in the temples and standing on "organized religion."

Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to
where he was baptizing, he said to them:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
And do not think you can say to yourselves,

‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out

of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.
The ax is already at the root of the trees, and
every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

-Matthew 3:6-10
Can we pause for a second and recognize that Jesus just called the religious guys a "brood of vipers?" When I try to think of something unpleasant, a bunch of crazy snakes would probably do it. Jesus is telling them that God is ready to get rid of anything that does not produce good fruit. If the church has become ineffective and is producing gossip, lust, anger, and jealousy, does this mean that God is ready to cut it off?

I don't write these things out of anger. God has already done so much in my life. I've met some of the most amazing and influential people in my life through the church. I write more out of concern that we'll forget that there are still people out in the world that we should be pursuing! We have to realize that the people don't always look like our children, our friends, or our neighbors. All of this really came to me when I was reading in the book of Acts.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.
And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything.
Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else."
-Acts 17: 24-25
Jesus did spend time in the temples. However, most of his life was spent out in the world. I pray that God will help me be aware of the needs outside of the church. The Lord of heaven and earth does not live in temples built by human hands.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Complete Surrender

Originally posted July 1, 2011

What is complete surrender? We talk about surrendering our lives to God very often. I always understood the idea and thought "sure God, my life is yours. If you want me to do something, just let me know." I've been thinking that way for awhile. That is, until a couple of weeks ago........

A couple of weeks ago, I met someone who really inspired me. I doubt this person even realizes the impact they had on me and I don't really know how to tell them. Suddenly, I began reevaluating my life. Was I completely surrendered to God? Was there some part of my life that I was stubbornly holding on to in order to run it myself.


It's a hard reality to face. After a lot of prayer and contemplation, I realized that I had not surrendered my ambition. My future.

School has always been a very central part of my life. I've always been very good at it. All the time I've been in school, I've been working toward my future career. I wanted to be an accountant. A good accountant. I realized that my goals weren't about money. Instead, I realized that what I really wanted was recognition. It all started to make sense! I enjoyed the challenge of school because I secretly enjoyed the recognition that came from doing well. I thought of my future career as a chance to do something big! I'm not sure I can accurately describe the feelings I had when I realized this:


I realized that something had to change. In other words, I had to change. I knew that I needed to surrender my future, my plans, and my ambition to God.

But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, "You are my God."
My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!
Make your face shine on your servant;
save me in your steadfast love!

Psalm 31: 14-16

In a way, it's liberating to surrender my future to God. I know his plans always turn out WAY better than my own. He's proved it to me time after time, there are just times when I don't remember. At the same time, I feel like a freshman just starting college. I have no idea what I'm doing!

That's okay.

I can't say that I don't sometimes revert back to the planning and worry, but everyday God is showing me what it really means to surrender fully to his will.

I'm looking forward to every minute of living in his plan.

I really like this picture. I took it without really thinking about it one day after a summer rain. It's refreshing to see evidence of God's love right outside my front door!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Beginning

It's hard to believe I've been blogging for three years. What started as just trying to find an outlet for all my thoughts soon became a record of all the crazy things God is doing in my life. It became apparent that my blogging had moved beyond recipes and weekend ideas and now centered on what God has been showing me in my daily walk with him. This new blog is the same me, simply a different focus. Over the next few weeks, I will be reposting some things that I wrote throughout the year on my other blog.

First, I wanted to share a little bit about the inspiration for the title of this blog. Over the past few months, I have been reflecting a lot on what it means for God to work through me. One of the biggest struggles I have is trying to do everything on my own. It's a mix of pride, fear, and insecurity. It's something God has been showing me a lot about. It's those times when on my knees fervently asking God to forgive me for once again making something an idol, for pushing him away when I'm frustrated, or simply begging him to move and help me remember the joy of my salvation, that I start to begin to understand what 2 Corinthians 4:7 means:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
Jars of clay were cheap, insignificant vessels that were sometimes used to hold valuables but were usually used to hold garbage and human waste.

So why am I calling this blog empty jars? Well, I'm glad you asked.

Those nights when I've been on my knees praying fervently about something, God teaches me something. The most valuable thing I've learned over the last few months is that it's not until I empty myself of
that I can truly begin to be used by God. Do you see where I'm going? I'm that jar of clay. On my own, I'm insignificant. I am cheap. When I empty myself of me, I am an empty jar that is waiting to be filled by God. Nothing I do is significant on my own. I'm not writing this blog for validation or to make myself feel better. I want to share the awesome power of God in the context of my life.

I heard it put this way, "when your dream dies, God's dream is able to takeover."