When the Sun Bursts Through

•November 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest  and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.  As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. -Acts 9:1-3

Saul (or Paul as he was later called) is one of the greatest before and after stories of all time. He went from acting as the head of a movement to eliminate Christians to following Christ whole heartedly. He went from being the hunter to the hunted. And he went from being hopeless to being filled with the Giver of Hope. And it all changed for him one day on the road to Damascus in the form of a bright light and the prescence of God.

The other night, I was driving home from work on the New Jersey Turnpike. I had just hit parking lot-like traffic, and I was staring out over the meadowlands (a really pretty stretch of marsh land that runs parallel to the highway). Suddenly, the sun began to set. The sky burst into oranges and reds and the sun, which had previously been tame, was a burning globe that became bigger and bigger as it dipped into the trees. I frantically grabbed for my camera and thanked God that I had run into the traffic that was allowing me to take a couple of pictures of that beautiful moment.

That’s when the whole Saul/Paul thing started to make sense in the context of “hope”. If you’ve been reading, you know I’ve been blogging about hope for about a month now. The subject has captured me and overflowed into my life in fantastic ways. It has helped me get through a crazy week at work, it’s helped me keep my head held high through other disappointments…and it’s made me jump up and down with joy at the blessings I’ve seen in my life.

Well, sitting in that traffic, watching the sun and thinking about Saul, I thought of the moment when he encountered God on that road. You know, the sun had been up in the sky the whole day while I was at work and I never once gave it a thought. It was keeping me warm, giving the light I needed to function and just generally brightening my day. But I never acknowledged it. Similiar to Saul, it took an epic moment to wake me up to the prescence of something amazing.

Saul wasn’t missing out on a piece of creation like the sun. He was missing out on the CREATOR! And my sunset would have had nothing on the blinding light that stopped Him that day. Saul needed a wake up call…bigtime. He needed to know that the path he was pursuing was hopeless. It was a dead end, plain and simple. It took the literal voice of God calling down to him to show him that his life was empty. And after that encounter, he was able to get on his knees and allow God to fill him with hope.

I needed that sunset. Because it reminded me that I serve a God who is bigger than anything I can face. It reminded me that, sometimes the lines feel blurry in life. It’s hard to make good decisions, hard to live up to people’s expectation, hard to live up to your own. But when things feel so blurry, so confusing, and when life just feels hard, suddenly God’s truth bursts though. Telling me that I’m loved, that’s my steps are guided by my Father God, and that He’s forgiving me for my mistakes and giving me hope for a future in Him.

Even after Saul became Paul, a follower of Christ, he struggled with his shortcomings. He wondered why he did things he didn’t want to do and couldn’t seem to do what he wanted to do. He experienced the feelings I experience every day. And he, too, realized that he served a  forgiving and hope-giving God.

I am so thankful for those truths, God’s truths,and the moments when they come bursting through…like the sun.

Happy Birthday to…me!

•November 3, 2010 • Leave a Comment

24 years old…it feels ancient and yet really young at the same time. Jim tells me I should be happy because it’s a composite number. I think I should be happy because I get to eat lots of food and open presents (what can I say).

I find that I make resolutions more often on birthdays than New Years Eve. Birthdays make me evaluate the past year and look forward to the new one. So here are some of my thoughts on the big 24 and what I hope I see a year from now when I once again evaluate.

My reading- I always say I’m going to commit to doing my quiet time. And I go through great times of commitment and really lousy times of laziness. It needs to stop. I mean honestly! So I’m hoping I can turn the page on the past and move into a season of investment. Investing in God and His Word…and seeing it change me.

My music- I need to get back to writing. Recently, I was frustrated when I was overlooked for a worship opportunity. And I realized that I was losing track of what God is calling me to do. He’s not calling me to pursue what I believe to be my path. He’s asking me to trust that He has a path for me…so I need to be obedient to what I KNOW He’s called me to do. He’s called me to lead worship at my church, empower and release other leaders, and [the part I’ve been neglecting] writing music. I think my commitment to getting into the Bible more is going to help me in this area…no better why to get inspired!

My actions- I’ve been talking a lot about volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen. I talk a good talk. It’s time to live it. This goal is simple…just do it!

My love- I’m getting married this year. The truth of that blows my mind! This time next year, I’ll have been married for about 7 months!!! (ahhh!) So I want to spend time examining how I can be a better fiance, a better wife, a better friend. Jim deserves the best…he really does. I want to stay commited to the little things that make life great: day trips, surprise cards in the mail, holding hands during the church service…all the little things I call “love”.

Anyway, I’m sure you’ll hear about some of those goals as I try to live them out. After all, that’s one of the reasons why I write: to work out life…the good, the bad and the ugly…and hopefully, more often than not, the beautiful. Because life serving Jesus is just that…it’s beautiful.

I mentioned food…I like to eat food on my birthday. And every day. So I close with this: a picture of the birthday cake my coworkers bought me. It was so much fun to blow out a candle right smack in the middle of my day. I got a close up of the icing flowers with my cell phone camera:

 So that’s it…off I go for more food…Hey! That’s my red velvet cupcake!

Hope Fulfilled

•October 11, 2010 • 1 Comment

Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. –Ruth 1:16b

 This week, one of my best friends in the world had a baby girl. The minute I got the picture text with the big announcement, I thought of the concept of hope (it’s been consuming a lot of my thoughts lately!). I remembered me and my friends working in an After School Care program when we were in high school and how she, even then, never stopped talking about wanting to have kids someday. She never stopped wanting that, even as we went off to college, as she met the guy she would eventually marry, and as they began their lives together. She never stopped hoping, and this little baby represented that hope fulfilled.

 For Ruth, one of my fav ladies from the Bible, life was all about hope. Shortly after she got married, her husband got sick and died. And her father-in-law and brother-in-law died too. Suddenly, she (along with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and her sister-in-law) found herself a widow. I can only imagine a tragedy of that proportion. To add even more to the burden, Naomi told Ruth that she had decided she was going to move back to her home country. Naomi’s decision would prompt Ruth to make one of her own…one that would change her life forever.

 Every one of is faced with the same choice Ruth was at some point in our lives. Because her choice ran deeper than just making a big move. By moving with Naomi, she was moving to a place that worshiped “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. She was choosing to move into a relationship with Him. In the end, we all get to choose: move into a home built by God or move into our own “house of cards”…the unstable structure that we would like to think we’re strong enough and smart enough to build ourselves. But Ruth recognized that a house of our own building can only stand so long. And she made a wise choice: Naomi’s God would be her God.

 With that decision, Ruth pulled up stakes and followed Naomi to her hometown, Moab. Keep in mind that these two women traveled there with little to no hope of supporting themselves. They existed in a world where men held all the financial and social power. These ladies, these widows, were all alone…well, unless you cont having the God of the Universe on your side!

 Ruth, who has all the makings of a Hollywood heroine, was brave, innovative and hard working. According to a cultural law, widows were allowed to go into the fields and follow harvesters, picking up what they dropped. Anything that she could grab off the ground was hers to keep. It was a crazy way to survive, but it worked.

 I thought of Ruth yesterday, when Jim and I went apple picking. There were a lot of apples in trees, but it seemed like twice as many were on the ground. Ruth would have had a field day in that orchard!

God certainly provided for Ruth and Naomi through that law, but He wasn’t done yet. It turned out that the owner of the field fell for Ruth! One day, he spotted her working in the field…he invited her to lunch and their love story shifted into high gear. Eventually, Ruth popped the question to Boaz (haha or at least that’s the way I read it…read the book yourself to get the full story!). They got married, and had a baby.

 But their story didn’t end there. Ruth and Boaz joined the history of the universe…because Jesus eventually came out of their family. Their great grandson was King David, and Jesus comes from the line of David! It’s amazing how these stories of hope are tied with Jesus, even in the Old Testament.

 Ruth realized in her moment of tragedy that there was a God big enough to provide for her every need. It wasn’t easy, but she left her comfort zone in hope of finding a new life, serving her new God. She discovered provision, purpose and maybe even a little happily ever after. All because she dared to hope.

 Today, I look back at Ruth and her fearless following of hope and at the present and my friend’s joyful fulfillment of hope. And I look to the future, when God will reveal to me even more results of hope than I’ve already seen…what a glorious hope! What a glorious God!

Just a Couple of Bends in the Road

•October 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I graduated from college about 20 months ago. At the time, I had really high hopes for walking into a fantastic job immediately. Between my Communication Arts degree and my love of writing and leading worship, I assumed that one path would emerge and I would step up to the plate for my moment.

I have to smile thinking back on that season of anticipation. Even after I finished my last class and couldn’t find a job for a couple of months (even Target wasn’t hiring! Come on!), I was so full of hope. I was writing every day, coming up with new ideas, fully believing I was in preparation for something unbelievable.

Now, let’s be clear before I go forward. I am just about as blessed as they come in so many ways. A) I have a job. B) The most amazing man in the world just asked me to marry him. C) I have the best family a girl could ask for. D) I’m leading worship in a Church that is growing and moving in the Lord.

So it’s not really fair of me to moan and complain. But I do want to be honest. My job has been tough for me. It’s hard to have a heart full of ideas and inspiration and go to work and hand out samples of food to people. And if you’ll allow me to have my momentary pity party, I’m still waiting for the moment when a job falls into my lap that I can really sink my teeth into. I want to give my life for Jesus, to commit my work to Him, and I feel like my 40 hours a week aren’t doing that right now.

Some days, I really have to force myself to look back to a year ago, when there were simply no boundaries to what I could accomplish. A couple hundred days can do a lot to make you forget that feeling.

The reason why I bring this all up is because as I studied Jacob this week, I began to see a lot of parallels to the way we all go through our lives. I’m so excited to share my thoughts with you all, and I hope you get as much out of it as I did.

Last post, I invited everyone to read the same passage I did. If you haven’t, just shoot down and read it off my blog before you move forward…everything will make more sense.

I’m not going to get into crazy details, but basically, Jacob ran away from home. He deceived his father, stole from his brother, and took off before Esau (aka his older brother) had a chance to kill him.

So Jacob is on the run, and he stops one night to sleep. He has a dream in which the Lord promises that “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring”. Can you imagine how Jacob felt when he woke up? I would assume he was pretty ecstatic. Suddenly, his life had a purpose. He had great things ahead of him.

Well, as often happens in life, things didn’t go quite like Jacob planned. Pretty soon after his dream, he ran into the love of his life. Her name was Rachel, and she was beautiful. He decided to marry her. Only problem was, her dad was a crazy person. So Jacob was forced to work 7 years in return for marrying Rachel. The 7 years went by, and long story short, Rachel’s dad tricked Jacob into marrying her sister, Leah. When Jacob realized what happened the next morning (thanks for nothing, veil that covered Leah’s face and lack of electricity!), he immediately went to Rachel’s dad. And he got good news: sure, he can marry Rachel, but he’s gonna have to work another 7 years for the privilege.

Fast forward a bit: Jacob eventually got to marry Rachel. He had a lot of other issues throughout his life, but he also had a lot of encounters with God. During one, God renamed him “Israel”. He got to go back and see his brother and he became the head of a nation. And eventually, Jesus was born out of his family many years later. God’s promise that all of the people on earth would be blessed through Jacob was fulfilled. If he hadn’t kept persevering, hadn’t kept hoping that the dream he had was true, Jesus couldn’t have come from his family. The Savior of the World wouldn’t have been from the line of Jacob.

It’s amazing how life can make us forget our dreams. I believe that God plants in each of us specific gifts and talents, and that He also gives us dreams of how we can use them. He does it for a purpose. He has a plan. So keep the hope. I’m committing to renew my hope in an active way. In an effort to start using my gifts, we sang one of the songs I wrote during worship this week at Church. This blog has been a huge part of me using my writing for ministry. And I’m trying to live each day noticing God’s blessings in my life and believing for more fulfilled promises. No story is the same. But Jacob’s reminded me that sometimes, we’re just a couple of bends in the road away from a victory.

Doing My Homework

•October 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” -Genesis 28:10-17

I’ve been mulling over the story of Jacob all week. And I’ve been really busy. This week has included smiles, victories, tears, defeats, and a lot of in between. Hope Boot Camp is whipping me into shape! I’m not quite ready to post all my thoughts about Hope and Jacob, but I wanted to give everyone a chance to read what I’ve been reading.

I love the retelling of Jacob and his dream. It occured right in the middle of a very bumpy and eventful life, and it really changed Jacob forever. So check out the verses above, think them over, and by then, I should be ready to share a bit more!

Cliffhanger…

Our Hope Endures

•September 23, 2010 • 1 Comment

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

Is anyone out there like me? Hoping for things they can’t see quite yet, trusting for a future that may seem unbelievable to other people, dreaming dreams that are bigger than “reality”? I think most of us are that way. If I could venture a guess, I would say every human being who walks this planet is hoping for something. We were created that way.

Hope…it’s something we should never, never lose. Goodness knows there are times and moments when we all want to give it up, when we feel like things aren’t working out like we’ve planned. But letting go of hope isn’t a solution. I can promise you that.

I’ve been thinking about writing this all day, and as I turned the concept over in my head, a song from Natalie Grant came to mind: “Sometimes the sun stays hidden for years, sometimes the sky rains night after night…but our hope endures”. Even when things don’t look so bright, God is still the God of hope.

Over the next week or two, I’m going to make a study of hope. Here’s the plan: I’m going to delve into the lives of three people from the Bible and their stories. Then I’m going to end my little “hope bootcamp” with a look at some other people close to God’s heart: us!

I thought a lot about what stories of hope I wanted to chose from the Bible. And the more I thought, the more obvious my choices became: Jacob, Ruth and Paul. Looking for a sneak preview? Here goes…

Jacob was a guy who ran away from home and ran into a father-in-law who could be described as “horrible” at best. He also literally wrestled with God…like fist fight with the creator of the Universe! But he came out of it all with a new identity and a future no one could have seen coming.

Ruth (who by the way is one of my favorite ladies from the Bible) lost her husband, moved to a foreign country and scrounged for food to feed herself and her mother-in-law. In the end, she found a new love and began a journey that would eventually lead to the birth of Jesus.

Paul went by the name ‘Saul’ for a long time. And Saul spent pretty much all of his time killing Christians. But one day, God put a little detour in his path. Saul became Paul and he discovered the hope of following Jesus instead of trying to destroy Him.

There is a common thread among these three, and it runs right through to us too: their hope -our hope- endures. My prayer is that hope overtakes each of us this week. Let’s start expecting great things from God…we might not be able to see the promises being fulfilled yet, but there is a God way bigger than us working out the details as we share this post right now.

Until next time…

Communion

•September 19, 2010 • 2 Comments

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” -Luke 22:19

I grew up in a church where “This Do in Remembrance of Me” was carved into the Communion table. It referred to Luke 22:19, and it drew from the moment when Jesus was eating with his followers and friends right before He began the journey to the Cross.

Probably, these men, the disciples, didn’t fully understand what receiving that bread and wine from Jesus meant. They couldn’t see in that moment that Jesus would very soon allow his body to be broken and blood to be spilled so that they could have life.

We recognize through Communion what they had not yet realized. We look back on what they had not yet experienced. And in the same way that they did, we recognize what it means to be in the presence of our Savior.

Miriam Webster’s Dictionary describes the word “communion” as Latin from “communio” which means mutual participation. Webster goes on to describe the Christian ritual of communion but also defines the word as “an act or instance of sharing” or “intimate fellowship or rapport”

The other morning, Jim and I had a chance to eat breakfast together. We were excited, since it’s not often we get to see each other before work. We cooked breakfast at my house and sat down, talked, laughed and just launched our day in the best way possible. It’s one of the things I most look forward to for when we get married…living in the same house and sharing breakfast seems like a fairy tale.

At this moment, I’m going from laptop to stove, while Jim and I prepare a slow cooked Sunday meal. Again, I can’t wait until we’re married and we can make a habit of this kind of thing.

We both love to cook. And it’s one of our most special things we can share. But really, it doesn’t matter what we’re doing as long as we’re together.

And that’s what Jesus desires from us. That’s the other side of the communion coin. It is so important that we remember the Cross, that we take Communion the way Jesus asked us to. But it’s also unbelievably important that we commune with our Savior in a more “everyday” way.

It’s Biblical that both forms of communion should be a part of our lives. From Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to the disciples to us, God desires to invest in a relationship with His kids. If He didn’t, Jesus would have just come and died and went back to Heaven. Instead, He made friends. He fished. He ate. He listened. He talked.

College was my first experience with secular education. I remember walking to class and praying “Well, it’s just me and you, God.” In those 4 years, I developed the most important friendship a person can have: one with the God of the Ages. I went to Him with me needs and worries, my joys and victories, my desires and dreams…all of it went to my friend, my Savior.

Life changes. You “grow up” (though Jim swears I’m a 5 year old at heart), you meet a guy and fall in love, you get a job. But what I pray never changes is my communion with God. It is so precious. Pulling out my Bible and investing in some time with the one I love and who has always loved me, talking to Him, confessing to Him, praising Him…that is a form of communion that I cannot live without.

Both are important. Both will change You. And God calls us to both.

This do. These do.