Friday, July 6, 2018

Oaks of Righteousness

Isaiah 61:3

Life springs from death
It’s the message of hope
Light from darkness
The beauty of new growth
In a world filled with darkness
That sometimes feels forgotten
We forget where it all started
With a tree, in a garden
When one bite of an apple
Brought humanity’s fall
When selfishness and sin
Built a fiery wall
But the story of the gospels
Isn’t one of death or greed
It’s the story of redemption
And it’s the story of a tree
It took a tree to bring destruction
But evil couldn’t stand
When another tree stood on a hill
To hold His nail-pierced hands
When the sun rose on the hill
Every single thing changed
Nothing in heaven or on earth
Will ever be the same
Because, here’s the thing-
The story isn’t over
The work of the Lord isn’t finished
It’s drawing closer and closer
The gardener is still at work
With gentle, weathered hands
He’s planting little seeds
And bringing up green plants
The water of heaven
Is powerful and sweet
The roots that he is planting
Are stronger than the weeds
When love touches broken hearts
When his power sets us free
We’re building up the garden
With strong, beautiful trees
The world is full of dark, deep soil
But he’s planting seeds of hope
Up from the darkness
The Lord is raising mighty oaks
Take off the crown of thorns, He says
I’ll give you one of leaves
From the ashy ground, life will spring
Chains broken, love set free
Strong and steady, firmly rooted
Ready for storms and flame
Oaks of righteousness rooted firmly
In the power of His name
Planted for the purpose
Of reflecting His glory
Standing high above the noise
To tell a timeless story
A tree brought evil
And changed the course of history
A tree held love
And brought the greatest victory
Now it’s our turn
To stand straight and tall
Be his oaks of righteousness
Show His splendor, meant for all

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Only Thing

"When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the prince of glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
and pour contempt on all my pride"

He is the only thing that matters.

Life is so complex. Relationships, work, even churches, can be full of conflict and confusing situations. We try to make the right decisions, follow His will. Sin and temptation threaten to lead us off track the entire time. And the only thing that matters is Him.

In the end, our richest gains will be counted as losses. Nothing in this world can hold a candle to the glory of the Lord, and nothing is worth trading.

I made a promise to the Lord recently. I told him that nothing - nothing - on this earth was worth compromising the plans He has for me. Every time a situation comes into my life that threatens to steer me 'off-track', I'm surrendering it to Him in prayer. It's a learning process, and I don't always listen very well. But every day I'm trying to life in a way that says to God, "nothing else is worth it."

Simple and profound. He is all that matters. Life is full of beautiful blessings like love and family and adventure - but sometimes we orient our lives toward Him because we think that if we do, everything else will fall into place and our lives will be better. The Lord is a good father and will take care of us, but things of this world matter so much less than things of eternity.

Today, as we reflect and remember His hands stretched out on that tree, are we truly comprehending the significance of what we are celebrating? The cross is not just a "part" of our's the only thing that really, really matters in all of humanity. In the history of our world, nothing is more important than that last breath that Jesus took on Calvary. It changed the course of human history forever. Once the Lord has touched your life and made you clean through His sacrifice, nothing is worth going backward for. Nothing.

Friday, September 8, 2017

A Lens of Hope

Harvey and Irma are some important names in the news right now. Weather bringing devastation to Houston, more weather heading toward toward Florida, and news of destruction widespread enough to pierce the 'college bubble' at Evangel University and bring a chapel full of students together in prayer for friends and strangers halfway across the country. Its a tragedy and a crisis.

At the same time across the world, it's estimated that one in every eight people is severely undernourished. Approximately 30 million people are trapped in slavery. Women across the world are still fighting for rights, children in Haiti are still starving, and in North Korea people are dying in modern day concentration camps.

If you skimmed past that paragraph, I don't blame you. It's heavy. Which is why I'll warn you; today's post starts out a little dark. It's not going to all be pleasant to read. It's kind of like the reason we don't like to watch the news - its not a very uplifting activity in today's world. Maybe that's why millennials today are often condemned for not staying up to date on current events. Some blame laziness for this trend; others blame media distrust or disinterest. While these may contribute, underneath it all remains a layer of hopelessness.

Because, honestly, it's just too much.

How is someone - specifically, a young college student - supposed to look at the starvation and slavery statistics above and process and respond to them? How is a person supposed to function normally with the knowledge that children around the world are dying with every minute that passes?

If you find out, tell me. Because I really don't know. But I think I know what we're not supposed to do, and that's what I want to tackle in this post.

The easiest response to pain and suffering in the world is the one that I think most of us have chosen. Oblivion. It's just easier not to think about it. I don't think that this response comes from a place of selfishness or not caring. I think it comes from people who are overwhelmed with a feeling of grief and responsibility that they don't know how to handle. I believe that most of the perceived 'lack of caring' we see today is simply lost hope disguising itself as apathy.

It does seem hopeless after a while, doesn't it? Sometimes, it seems like nothing is changing. We start out on our Christian journey feeling empowered and energized, praying over martyrs and lost people groups and injustices. We believe in the Lord's power to change the world. But after a while, it doesn't seem to be making much of a dent. I'm pretty sure Christians aren't 'supposed' to say that...but I also don't think I'm the only one who has felt this way.

Its in these times where faith that goes beyond feeling and seeing comes in.That's easier said than done. Honestly, I'm still learning how to build this kind of faith. I'll be the first to admit...I don't know everything. But I know that I don't want to be someone who turns a blind eye to a hurting world. I don't want to be someone who's trapped in hopelessness. Here's how I'm learning to respond to the darkness as someone who is living in the light.

Don't keep your world small. I really hate to tell you this, but ignoring problems is not making them go away. Unfortunately, it's just so, so easy. In America today, we can go about our days in blissful oblivion. In our little world, it seems like most things are okay. We can live in that bubble for a while.

But, there are millions of people around the world who can't ignore injustice; because they're living in the reality of it. And, not to scare you...but our 'America bubble' is being poked and prodded as well. I promise, plenty of trouble exists even within our red, white, and blue borders...and it's getting closer and closer to home.

Don't keep your world tiny in an attempt to ignore the problem. Even if you try, you won't be able to block out all the issues forever. I realize that looking up from your own life to the needs around you can seem like too much and threaten to drown you in hopelessness, but it doesn't have to. Here's how.

Change your lenses. As mentioned above, it's not helping to look away from a hurting world. But, it is helpful to change the way you look at it. The world views pain through a lens of passiveness. This is the way the world is. It's not going to change. My efforts are futile, there is no purpose.

But we as Christians have been given a different lens to look at the world. We get to see the world through the eyes of Jesus. And Jesus looks through a lens of love and hope and promise. Even when we don't know what to do as so much evil happens around us, we can know that there is justice and redemption coming. Amen?

When looked at with the human eye, the pain around us seems debilitating. When looked at through through heavenly glasses, in the midst of the pain we see hope. And it is that hope that steers our response.

Pray. In case you haven't noticed, us humans? We like to do things. Fix things. And when there are things too big for us to fix, we lose hope really quickly. Sometimes, we check out because we don't see any way that we could help. But there is always, always, something we can do.

Prayer seems to be considered a passive response today. When we can't do anything else, we pray. But listen to Psalm 107:28-29: "Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed."

That kind of prayer doesn't seem passive. That kind of prayer seems to shake the sky and move the waters. That kind of prayer has power.

We need to be a praying church. This world has a lot of heartbreak, and choosing to hope and believe in the plan of God might seem to bring on a lot more opportunity for...even more disappointment and heartbreak. But we have enough trust to take a strong stand; a Psalm 107 stand.

When pain and fear seem overwhelming, pray boldly and fearlessly. He's calmed the waves before...but he's also held children on His lap. The Lord's heart is breaking just as much as yours. The things that bring tears to your eyes are also bringing tears to the God that is both powerful and loving. Believe in His promises and believe in His love. Keep your eyes open, but look through His lenses. They're tinted with hope.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Freedom of Insufficiency

My life has a soundtrack.

Not a movie soundtrack that plays sad songs while I stare dramatically out of rainy windows, but a long trail of significant songs marking seasons of my life. "Hey, Soul Sister" by Train? Irrevocably linked to my best childhood friend, Kirsten. I'll never hear "Maps" by Maroon 5 without being transported to country car rides in South Dakota with the pop radio station that seemed to play the same 5 songs on repeat. The country classic"Wagon Wheel" will always sound the same way it did when picked out on an acoustic guitar by my first college crush. And "Strong Enough" by Matthew West will always bring me back to the day I hit rock bottom. 

Have you ever gone through a period in your life when you felt entirely powerless? I remember the identity crisis of my 14th summer, 3 months into my family's move to a rural area in South Dakota. Culture shock, loneliness, and lifestyle change thrown at a previously confident and accomplished teenager resulted in a confused, terrified little girl.

At first I was frustrated and angry. All the things I loved seemed to be torn away. I missed my friends and I missed my busy, bustling life. But under the irritation lay deep fear. And the day I finally acknowledged and felt that fear...I felt like it might consume me.

I had no idea what the next years of my life would look like. I didn't know if I would ever fit in or ever be accepted. I knew I didn't have the same academic and creative opportunities that I had before...would I be hindered going into college? I didn't know what to do, and I didn't know who I was. All the things that had defined me and given me confidence - popularity, academic achievements - were torn away and I had nothing.

The worst part? I had absolutely no control over any of it.

My whole life I had believed that if I could just do enough I would be fine. If I just kept overachieving in school and bubbling my way through social situations and being a good Christian girl, that was enough. I would just keep nailing the impossible standard of perfection that I held myself to, and life would turn out perfectly. Hitting that line had become my identity - it was who I was.

Until everything changed, and somehow hitting that impossible line still wasn't enough. 

And sitting at a dining room table in a house in the middle of the prairie, "Strong Enough" by Matthew West came on Spotify.

"You must/You must think I'm strong/To give me what I'm going through/Well, forgive me/Forgive me if I'm wrong/But this looks like more than I can do/On my own."

The words seemed like they were coming straight from inside of me.

"I know I'm not strong enough to be/Everything that I'm supposed to be/I give up/I'm not strong enough/Hands of mercy won't you cover me/Lord right now I'm asking you to be/Strong enough/For the both of us"

And that is the moment that I officially gave up.

I realized that no matter how much I did or how successful I was I would never please everyone and I would never be strong enough to control every circumstance. It was one of the first times in my life that the heartbreak was strong enough that I could feel actual pain in my chest. And that is the moment that I first experienced freedom. Mixed into the heartbreak was joy.

We've all gone through times when those song lyrics above seem to describe our lives. When we feel like nothing that we do will ever be enough. The usual encouragement from well meaning Christian brothers and sisters is "It's ok! You're enough, just the way you are."

Every moment of insufficiency in my life up until that summer in South Dakota had been answered with an immediate rebuttal. "NO! You ARE enough! You've got this! You can do this!" Never before until that summer had I ever had time to sit at rock bottom and bathe in the feeling of not being enough.

The truth? No one ever really believes in their heart that they are enough. That's why they have to keep being reminded. That's why we keep trying to convince each other that our best efforts have made us sufficient and complete. Deep down we know it's not true.

Without God in the equation, this realization of not being "enough" traps us in a cycle of feeling inadequate and always trying to be better, do better, seem better. But with God? It brings release. When realized in the light of God's sufficiency, the knowledge of the ineptitude of our human efforts brings freedom, not slavery.

We were never meant to be enough. We do not have to be enough. That's why God sent Jesus in the first place, friends! You are not perfect; I am not perfect. However; Jesus IS perfect. And He has called us His.

Because of Jesus we are enough in the eyes of God. Blameless, perfect, sufficient. We don't have to please everyone or be the highest achiever. We are not in control; God is. Knowing that we are in His capable hands becomes enough.

The encouragement I have to offer you today is not one you have heard often. My friend, you are not enough. Not on your own. But the Lord of heaven and earth IS enough, and He loves you in a way that is incomprehensible. Through Him we are empowered to do incredible things and overcome towering challenges. He will always be enough, and being wrapped in His hold will always prove sufficient for anything life brings our way.

"Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit..." 2 Corinthians 3:4-6a

Friday, June 9, 2017

How Does Your Garden Grow?: Part 4 - Weedkiller

Luke 8:7
"Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants."

Luke 8:14
"The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature"

When I reread this verse several weeks ago, it hit me. Hard.

Sure, I've heard it before. A lifetime of Sunday School attendance results in a lot of felt-board illustrations of the sower and seed. But the significance hit me anew when I read it more recently.

Unlike the rocky seed in the last post, in this verse the seed has taken root. The powerful, life changing seed of truth has sunk into a believer's heart...and is slowly strangled and choked.

Doesn't this verse depict perfectly, exactly what the devil is hoping for? As Christians, we don't really like to talk about the devil much. But here is the truth; the devil's goal is to kill and destroy us. Yeah, it's not nice and pretty and won't be showing up printed on a fancy background on any Instagram accounts anytime soon. But whether we want to believe it or not, it remains true. The devil is out to destroy you.

Nothing is scarier to sin than holiness. When we take the seed of truth and water and nurture it, nothing is more threatening to the darkness. The devil cannot touch us when we are under the protection of the Lord - but we can allow ourselves to be strangled and choked to death by things in our lives that we choose to feed and embrace.

If you hear nothing else, hear this: sin is a trap. Sin kills. It promises fulfillment and brings nothing but pure destruction and thorns. And once you give it a foothold in your life, it can begin to eat you from the inside out.

Is there a pattern of sin that you are trapped in? Are thorns springing from the ground and wrapping themselves around you from the ground up? Please; do not let something twisted and weak bring you to the ground when there is a stronger light urging you to grow upward.

Sin grows when we cultivate it. Just like cultivating the seed of the Lord's truth is what brings fruit, cultivating sin brings consequences. Bad behaviors are only half the battle. It's where sin starts - in the heart - where the real battleground is.

Any effectiveness that we may have as a believer - any fruit that may be trying to spring forth - can be so easily halted if we aren't proactive in the fight against sin.

For all the devil's power, the truth remains that we serve a master much higher. We don't have to be slaves to the sinful patterns that attempt to rule our lives! Forgiveness is the best weedkiller. The thorns can be torn away before you wither away.

Before forgiveness can happen, there must be confession. This is the hardest part of overcoming sin; admitting that there is a need for penance. Admitting it to yourself. Admitting it to God. Admitting it to someone else you trust.

Why is it that the last one is hardest for us? It is so hard as humans to show vulnerability to one another. But if you are engaged in any sort of repeating sin that has become a pattern and is impacting your life, bringing all the stuff that's been hiding in the dark out into the open can be the first step toward freedom.

Once we acknowledge our sin, we need to ask for forgiveness. Aren't you so glad that the Lord offers His forgiveness freely? All we have to do is ask, and we are instantly freed. Does that mean there are no consequences for our actions? Absolutely not. But, slate has been wiped clean. The only thing left is to believe this truth, internalize this truth, and live in the truth of forgiveness.

Stop fertilizing and growing the things that are trying to kill you. The only way to kill sin is to starve it, and the only way to starve it is with a heart change that can only come from the Lord. It's not a battle of will, it's a battle of surrender - the surrender to forgiveness.

Friday, June 2, 2017

How Does Your Garden Grow?: Part 3 - Quenched

Luke 8:6
"Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture."

Luke 8:13
"Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away."

My favorite flowers are sunflowers, and they have been for several years now. Not because of the color or the size as much as the memories that I have associated with them.

When I was 14, my family moved to the middle of rural South Dakota, where we lived for 3 years while we ran our family business. It was a huge change that resulted in a culture shock and a lot of lonely days throughout my middle school years. Some days, I yearned for the bustle and pace that I was used to in the small cities I grew up in . On these days, I usually hopped in the car (yes, you can get your license at 14 in South Dakota) and went for a drive.

During the summers in rural South Dakota, drought is almost the norm. As I would drive along the endless, empty highway, long, brown prairie grass surrounded me on both sides. Dead. Dry. Just like I felt sometimes, far away from so many of the things that brought me life and energy. But one day, I spotted color peeking from the grass. Bright spots of yellow among the brown. I remember a specific time when I executed a maneuver my driver's ed teacher wouldn't have liked and pulled onto the shoulder of the road so that I could get out of the car and pluck a small sunflower. I tucked it behind my ear and drive home, and I kept it there the rest of the day.

Seeing something living and bright among the dead was able to touch me in a unique way. It brought me hope. It reminded me to see the sunshine through the gray.

In a dark and confused world, how brightly pure, fresh fruit in the life of a believer shows through! We live in a world that needs light, and we have the chance to be able to reflect the light of the Lord through our lives and actions. How cool is that? But in order to stand out from the dead that surrounds us, we need to be watered; just like a sunflower (are you loving these garden analogies, or what?)!

It's really hard to reach others if you haven't taken care of yourself first. That's why they tell you in airplanes to put your oxygen masks on first in an emergency before helping others. Just as your capability to help others get air is limited when you, yourself, can't breathe; pouring out of an empty cup isn't only leaving you parched, but isn't having the desired effect on the people you're trying to reach. 

How can we keep ourselves fed and refreshed as believers? If you've been a Christian long, you know what it's like to go through a dry spell. There isn't one sure method to 'cure' this feeling, and this feeling isn't always 'bad' or 'wrong' - different seasons develop us in different ways. However, there are things we can do to put ourselves in positions where we are receptive to 'watering'.

One of our main spring sources is always God's Word. The Bible is an incredible gift meant to encourage, educate, and guide us. Spending time studying and reading the Bible opens us up to all the ways that God can communicate to us through his word. The more time we spend ruminating on sweet, refreshing truths, the more they seem to find their way into our bloodstream and change the way we look at life.

We're not meant to do this alone. Other Christians that we give the ability to speak into our lives keep us filled. Bible studies, accountability partners, even going out to coffee with a friend - simple, classic, life-giving. I challenge you to identify people you know who 'pour life'; and, if you don't have any in your life right now, find some. Your church might be a good place to start. It's worth the time and the investment.

Throughout all of this, we must take time to breathe. Get perspective. Go outside. Serve. Do something that makes you feel like you, whether that's playing the piano or doodling on some notebook paper or shooting hoops. The pace that life requires - especially for a student, like me -  is impossible to maintain without burning out. Take a breath. Time to think and time for God to speak and time to develop your passions is just as important as the next item on your to-do list. Trust me.

The best part? If we stay 'watered' and take time to grow healthy and strong in the calm times, when drought comes and everything around us starts to die we are able to stay bright, yellow, sunflowery beacons through the hopelessness. When we are filled with grace and peace and truth, we pour hope through everything we do.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

How Does Your Garden Grow?: Part 2 - Buried Deep

Luke 8:4-5
"While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus form town after town, he told this parable: 'A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up.'"

Luke 8:11-12
"This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved."

The gospel is not grass seed. Grass seed can be scattered on top of a plot of land and left there. Eventually it will work it's way into the soil. But the gospel message doesn't actually take root in a person's life if it just stays on the surface. It needs to be buried, and buried deep.

Hearing the word of God isn't enough, and even hearing and believing isn't enough. We need to allow it to penetrate our soul, every fiber of our being, and take root in the deepest part of us. That means it needs to be allowed to touch those dark parts - all the sin, all the fear, all the insecurity.

As Hebrews 4:12 says, the word of God penetrates even to dividing "joint and marrow." No part of that sounds like a surface message. If we truly want the Lord to work through us, that seed has to be planted deep enough that it touches all that we are and replaces it with all God is. 

Don't hear the message of Christ and just let it stay on the surface. Let it become you. Breathe it, work it, live it. Bury the seeds of hope and forgiveness and salvation way down deep where the roots can grow. Plants start growing far below the earth before they every spring upward, so make sure your roots are strong and come from what the Lord has planted within you.