New Year's Resolution

Looking at a new year ahead, countless eyes are wide with wonder, hearts giddy in expectation, arms open to embrace unknown opportunities, wills set in firm resolve to realize resolutions. Futures are bright. Hope is high. Plans are set. But with all of our glorious plans, dreams, and resolutions for personal success,
How many of us have "death to self" on our list?
Most of us, if we are honest, live on this earth with the innocent objective to achieve greatness, to make a mark on our world and impress it with our own unique, special qualifications and talents. We have goals set for ourselves: to finally graduate from college, to get married, to become the next business entrepreneur, adored performer, idolized instructor, even an impressive agent in ministry. Success and glory seem to be behind all of these ambitions.   
But with the recent passing of the Christmas season, “Christ” being the key word, I was startled by the thought that Jesus lived to die. "Crucified ... You lived to die ..." I contrasted all of my grand ideas about my future with the simple yet profound life of the Savior, whose end-goal was, ultimately, death. And what shocked me most was His audacity to suggest the same end-goal for me. The kind of death He suggests? A death to my flesh, to my own self-will.
Me? Die to self? With graduation waiting in the spring, with so many ideas of what to do with my life? Grad school? Ministry? Internship? Places unvisited, people yet unmet, words yet unread, unspoken? Death? Carrying a weighty cross? With all of my fantastic concepts of becoming, however, of discovering who I am as an individual, Jesus reminds me with the utmost gentility the true answer to finding myself:
“If anyone desires to come after Me,
let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
For whoever desires to save his life will lose it,
And whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
Reading this, I had the tendency to say, Wow, Jesus, these are hard words. Of course, that was my fleshly reflex. Looking closer, I realize that God Himself is bidding me close to His heart, desiring to impart a most precious secret to a richer, fuller life. “For these seeds to give birth to life, first they must die.” If only I would die to myself, partaking in gritty and glorious self-sacrifice, I am promised a most valuable treasure: a piece of the very heart of God. And a life more overwhelmingly full than I could ever imagine.
I took a step back and asked myself, Am I ready for such a challenge? Am I willing to get up each morning with the purpose of casting my own desires aside, stooping as Christ did to the feet of others, denying His very self to come to the aid of an ungrateful people? Who deep down are but blinded souls, children of God with the chains of unbelief coiled about them, waiting for a Savior to set them free? Lord, I said, I don’t have the kind of humility You had. I lack the love and compassion You so liberally distributed. I lack the heart of joy that drove you to dedicate Your love for sinful people like me. God, I can’t do it.
But He knows I can’t. He knows that, because of The Fall, I have the unfortunate privilege of owning a less than perfect body and a human nature prone to doing things my own way. If I was forced to face such a task alone, I dare say, I would not even be tempted to look the offer in the face. Yet I find more promises from my Lord:
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you …”
“… how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
“And I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you …
For everyone who asks, receives …”
I can only accomplish such an end-goal through His Spirit, His love for all the world,
His heart—oh, His most precious, loving heart—inside of me. And it’s all mine for the asking. I merely must have the boldness to ask.
For any who want more out of this life, who are weary from failed promises of the past, who desire to shine like the stars, may I make a suggestion for a New Year’s resolution? Die. Deny yourself. Inhabit Calvary’s cross. Emulate Christ. D.I.E. I know these are tough words. I know that the duty of a writer is to practice what he or she preaches (and to be honest, I get a little scared just thinking about it sometimes!), I know it sounds slightly morbid, shocking, and not all that appealing, but I trust my God when He gives such an invitation. He has never asked too much of me. And He would never ask me to do something that He would not help me with, nor something that did not end up in anything but good (Romans 8:28; Matthew 6:33). Such is the work of the kingdom. Such is the glory of heaven. Such is the grandiose stuff the heart of God is made of.  
And when we really think about it, what other choice do we have?
Scripture taken from Matthew 16:24-25; Acts 1:8; Luke 11:13,9-10; NKJV
Quoted lyrics taken from "Above All" by Michael W. Smith; "Baptize My Mind" by Jon Foreman


The Purpose of My Life

I love it when I listen to songs I haven’t heard in a while and really pay attention to the lyrics. I had a line of this song stuck in my head the other night and realized that it fit so perfectly in the context of my life. And I haven’t listened to it in years! But the words are beautiful and ever pertinent today.
The song’s called “Purpose of My Life,” written by a very talented Lindsay Morton from Colorado, and it tells the story of a cloud—yes, a cloud. The cloud certainly does not think it is very important, but it knows that it has brought life to so many things on the earth by giving of its precious rain. It can never stay in one place for very long, nor can it linger to watch the growth of the plants it waters, but wherever the wind blows, it follows, and it has faith that the seeds it pours out upon will grow tall and beautiful.
How like us as Christians.
These are the full lyrics to her short, folksy ballad:
Purpose of My Life
Drifting above this world
Pouring out my love
Watching things that seem so little
Grow high into my,
Into my sky
But the wind will blow me away again,
And I will have to drift along
After watering the seeds that God planted—
This is the purpose of my life
Nothing special or significant
I go unnoticed most of the time
But all the things are so beautiful
That I’ve helped grow
But the wind will blow me away again
And I will have to drift along
After watering the seeds that God planted
This is the purpose of my life
Though I love the seeds,
I’ll only linger there a while
They are a part of me,
But I must go and bring things,
Bring things life
But the wind will blow me away again
And I will have to drift along
After watering the seeds that God planted
This is the purpose of my life
And as I’m writing this, it appropriately started raining outside. God is so wonderful.
We may not see visible evidence that we are affecting anybody, but we remain the fragrance of Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)
We may not have visibly attractive lives from the world’s point of view, but God has us right where He wants us and has great plans for us. (Jeremiah 29:11)
God has us in strategic places around the world so we can make intercession for those people He ordained for us to pray for and talk with. (Acts 1:8)
You may think, what’s special about being a student? What’s so special about working at Starbucks for minimum wage? Why have I lived in the same city for twenty-something years? But the truth is, if you weren’t a student in your specific classes, or an employee in your particular workplace, or still living in the specific community or neighborhood you have lived in for a lifetime, who else would reach the people you interact with on a daily basis?
Since the beginning of time, God knew the people you were going to come into contact with. He thought to Himself, “Oh, my darling child needs a Savior—I will send *insert your name here* to be a light to them.” And you may only be a part of the seed-watering phase of the operation. Then God may call you out to another place to reach other people. Like a cloud, you can only drift along with the wind of the Spirit.
You may never see the work God will do in those people in your lifetime. Oh, but when you reach heaven’s shore, and God hits “play” on the film documenting the grand scheme behind your life and those lives whom you have touched, you will stand back utterly amazed, mouth agape, and praise your God forever and ever. That’s what heaven is all about, right? Our God is so awesome and worthy of praise. He’s got crazy, mind-blowing plans for us. How undeserving we are! But how gracious God is toward us!
Case in point: trust in Him, you little cloud.
You have a great purpose for your life. You may go unnoticed, you may feel like nothing special or significant, but have faith that God is indeed using you to water His seeds. And one day, our faith shall be our eyes.
How exciting it is to be a cloud.

“Will we allow Him to help Himself to us, or are we more concerned with our own ideas of what we are going to be?”

~ Oswald Chambers
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
~ Ephesians 2:10 NIV

"How refreshing to know You don't need me,

How amazing to find that You want me ..."

~ Casting Crowns




Jesus, My Life-Long Companion

“Listen to Me, O house of Jacob,
And all the remnant of the house of Israel,
Who have been upheld by Me from birth,
Who have been carried from the womb:
Even to your old age, I AM HE,
And even to gray hairs I will carry you!
I have made, and I will bear;
Even I will carry, and will deliver you.”
~ Isaiah 46:3-4

I was driving on the freeway the other day, sick with worry, almost delirious with fear about my future, and ashamed of the way the day had gone. (Do you ever have those days where the flesh just takes over?) There I was, helplessly seated behind the wheel, traffic looming before me and nowhere else to go. I was feeling so lonely and guilty, so trapped in my little car, and in the midst of these emotions, I suddenly realized the cause.

I was running from God.

A great deal of my life has been spent running—from myself. I have always had some excuse to despise myself, to drown in depression, and to think that my life and everything I did in it was one giant mistake. I was stuck in the mentality that I cannot do anything right, and even if I did, or tried, it always turned into something wrong. And suddenly, it hit me that all of these negative emotions could be traced to one thing: my narrative of God.

My "narrative" of God is literally what I think about Him, how I view His nature, and how that will determine His course of action in my life. Sadly, I viewed God as a person who praised me when I did something right and shunned me when I did something wrong until I could get my act together and “serve Him” again. Oh, how wrong this mentality is! How this narrative had driven me to sorrow, to shame, and being fearful of my own shadow! In this narrative, I cannot possibly do anything right. No wonder why I felt so depressed!
Then God reminded me of these truths about Himself. Never have I heard His voice so clearly before. He reminded me that ...
He is full of grace.
He is merciful.
He is my best friend.
He is my Maker.
He is intimate.
He loves me.
He suffered and died for me … while I was still messed up.
And He would do it all over again.

I realized that we have nowhere else to turn in this life than into His arms. Who else can possibly understand us the way He does? Who holds our tears in His hands and listens undividedly to our broken hearts with compassion? I can’t think of anyone else on earth who could hold me in their arms while I cry my guts out and understand my heart.

He understands.
Oh God, He understands!

He knows the depth of our pain. He sympathizes with the things we go through and doesn’t ask questions. He doesn't need our excuses. He doesn't want them. He doesn’t blow us off when we need someone to talk to. He listens. And He does not only listen to our barely-beating, broken hearts. He fixes them.

And I love God’s balance. He doesn’t spank me and tell me to get a grip. Yet He doesn’t allow me to cry my eyes out forever. He hears me, He lets me cry, and then after sitting in His lap with a giant box of tissues and a cup of tea (I cannot wait to taste the tea in heaven!), He wipes my tears and gives me the strength to walk again. He holds my hand. And He carries me.
I just love that image, don’t you?

I don’t have to worry about a thing. He’s got me.
And He’s got you, too. Forever and ever.

Please take advantage of the best friendship of your life. Nothing else can ever compare. Don’t expect it to. And a strong encouragement to my single friends: celibacy is the most beautiful time of your life because you have the opportunity to grab a hold of the best love of your whole life, to seize God Himself with both hands. It is the best time to make God your everything.
Single or not, grab hold of Him today. He is the best friend you will ever have. And you will know Him for the rest of your life.
Satisfaction is waiting.



With Exceeding Joy

Do you ever wonder what God's smile looks like? I've never actually seen it with my own eyes, but my heart will often catch glimpses of it when I read certain passages of scripture. Like this one:

Jude 24 & 25

Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling,
and to present you faultless before the presence
of His glory with exceeding joy,

To the only wise God our Savior,
be glory and majesty,
dominion and power,
both now and forever.

*italics mine

I have this image in my head of my second grade self putting on a pair of roller skates for the first time. Wait, which is scarier -- ice skates or roller skates? Probably ice, but since I never mastered that, I'll stick with roller skates. Anyways, I can remember sitting on the bench with my roller skates on, watching all the kids skate around the roller rink with perfect ease, me being too afraid to join them.

But imagine God calling me, or you, out onto the rink. You have no experience, no coordination, and just a nasty sense of fear plaguing you. But, you take His hand. You become a Christian. He takes you out on the floor.

I don't know about you, but often, I let my faith look like the pitiful picture of me hugging onto the wall, taking timid little steps, possessed by an overwhelming fear of falling down. I am deathly afraid of stumbling into sin, giving way to temptation, or falling into a transgression -- so much so, that I cannot even move.

Guess what? As long as you're holding onto the wall, with both hands even, you're going to fall. Because you're trying to do it on your own ability! But remember that God is at Your side. When you hold onto His hand, He will never let you fall. I think of my dad, the strongest earthly dad I know. Whenever I would start to trip, I could just feel the strength in his arms lifting up my own, helping me get in the groove again. How much more my heavenly Father?

When you're in your Abba Father's arms, He is more than able to keep you from falling.

Ah! Isn't this such a wonderful promise? And not only that, when our work here on earth is done, no matter how many times we think we've blown it or messed up, He will present us spotless, faultless, without blemish before His glory -- with exceeding joy. It is His joy, His desire to make us perfect before His throne, so much so that He will do everything in His power to keep us from falling. Can I get a hallelujah?

I can see the smile on my dad's face when at long last, he can watch me dancing on the skating rink with complete ease. And I cannot wait to see God's glorious, beaming grin when He presents me before the throne as one who has done no wrong. Wow.    

To God, who alone is wise, belongs all of the glory and majesty, and all the dominion and the power, now and forevermore. Amen!

* And I would hate for any of my words to distract your reading of this passage. I encourage you to just sit with these verses, meditate on them, and let God speak His own message of hope and encouragement to you. I just thought I would share what they meant to me. But He writes a different story upon each one of our hearts!


Just an Observation ...

It is a fascinating thing to have been created in the image of God.

Really. Think about it.

And it is even more fascinating to observe aspects of human nature which reflect that image.

 For example, think of your reflexes. I was sitting at my desk doing homework, books piled up in every direction and clutter abounding. It was no wonder that my coffee cup began to run out of elbow room, and ever so gradually, it was shoved to the edge of the desk. Suddenly, the inevitable happened: it slid off the precipice of ebony. In one quick motion of pure instinct and adrenaline, I reached out to catch it. Luckily, I succeeded and avoided staining my bedroom carpet! How marvelous are our reflexes?

 Such an instance reminded me of our sweet God. I thought, if I have been created in God's image, with His attributes, and I have this incredible human trait, then He too must have uncanny reflexes, even more so than we do. Then He gave me a visual image in my mind of how quick He is to reach out His mighty hand when He sees me stumbling. When He sees any of His children falling, in an instant, without a moment's hesitation, He reaches out to catch them. And He never fails. Oh, how wonderful to trust a God who keeps us from falling and meeting a destructive end! Praise God for His amazing reflexes!

 And what powers that reflex? His love for us.

 “For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.” – Psalm 116:8

 Have you observed any human traits that have made you think of the way God works?


Are You Killing Time?

I hate the times in my day when I have just a little gap of time before moving from one task to the other, or driving from one place to another, whether it is as excruciating as an hour or as frustrating as 20 minutes. But I absolutely hate trying to find things to do to kill time. Those are the times when a smartphone might come in handy (dare I even say it) so I could just surf the web for a little while. For those unfortunate times when I didn't bring a book with me, what else is there to do but twiddle my thumbs or chill in my car? Idle time for me is like pulling teeth.

One afternoon, I was at home, almost ready to drive away to God knows where, and I had to kill about 10 or 15 minutes of time. I groaned as I thought to myself, Well, I can always just log onto Facebook, however pathetic that sounds. But as I reached for my laptop and opened the lid, some kind of supernatural reality hit me. Hard. I can't really put it into words, but all of a sudden, I remembered God.

I remembered that God is always around me.

I remembered that He created the universe.

I remembered that He created me.

I remembered that He loved me.

I remembered that He gave His very life for the idle moments, for the moments that hang in the balance, the moments I need to "kill" -- for in those moments, He desires to speak to me. And vice versa. He rejoices for the moments out of our busy lives when we look around and say, Wow, I have nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to talk to.

God inhabits those moments.

It is these very moments that we were created for.

We were not meant to stress ourselves out, to make ourselves so busy, to hurry out the door to beat the morning traffic and scurry to make it on time to our 9 to 5 shifts. We were not meant to become glued to our computer screens on social networking sites. We were not meant to be bent over our smartphones all day waiting for a new text, a new facebook notification, a business call, even a message from a boyfriend/girlfriend. So since when did we make these things so important, so consuming of our time?

And I complain about the moments when I have time to kill?! Sounds to me like I've been mercilessly slaughtering time already with these pointless pursuits!

Okay, I'm not saying I need to quit my job, sell my car, ditch my phone, or dump my boyfriend (my figurative one, that is). What I am saying is that I want to start living for the moments I was created for: time alone with my God and Savior, my Maker and Husband, the One who died for the time which I am so anxious to kill.

If I ever have a moment of down-time in my pathetically busy day, I would so love to do what this verse says: "Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)

To do what this verse says is to stop, pause, be still, and remember. Remember who God is. Remember what He has done. Remember that He is great, that He will be exalted among the nations and in the entire earth. Remember that He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. But most of all, remember that God is love. And that's not just a petty cliché. That statement packs a powerful punch. Read His Word, His love letter, and you'll see what I mean.

I want to check my time. I want to live my life the way it was meant to be lived. I want to spend every spare moment I can praising the God of time or engaging in precious, timeless conversation with Him. He is the reason I live, after all. 

Are you killing time? Or are you using it for its true purpose?

"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life ..."
Genesis 2:7

"Know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves ..." 
Psalm 100:3

"For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name ..."
Isaiah 54:5

" ... Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands."
Isaiah 49:15-16   


A Little Poem From God's Great Love Letter

I just finished the book of Hosea in my devotions (and I may just read it over again, it was so enlightening!), and I happened to look back at a passage I highlighted in chapter 11. This may be one of my favorite poems by none other than my favorite poet: God Himself. Passages like this remind me that the Bible is one long love letter from God, the lover of our souls. He is by far the most forgiving, gentle-hearted, romantic Person I know.

Verses 3 and 4 of Hosea chapter 11 read something like this (God is speaking):

"I taught Ephraim to walk,
Taking them by their arms;
But they did not know that I healed them.
I drew them with gentle cords,
With bands of love,
And I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck.
I stooped and fed them."

This is by far the sweetest, most precious piece of poetry I have ever read -- and it was written by God Himself. More than that, it was written for me, His child. It was written for you. It was written for all the children of Ephraim, or Israel, whom He loved and loves to this day so dearly.

I love the tenderness of the image conveyed in the first two lines. Have you ever observed a parent teaching their young child to walk? It is one of the most precious things you will ever see. The parent takes the little toddler by the hands ever so gently, and with a loving voice, coaxes them to take those revolutionary steps forward. How incredible that God does so with us! He is there to help us walk through each new step of our Christian faith, because our little legs can certainly be unsteady sometimes. He holds our arms, guides us, and will be ready to catch us should we fall.

He draws us not with the chains of bondage, but with gentle cords, with bands of love. Have you ever heard language so sweet? This is God's message to us! He is all gentleness and love. And He draws us; He does not force us, screech at us, or use invectives toward us. He takes the yoke off of our neck; He does not put it on. He sets the captives free (Isaiah 61:1) and takes away all of our burdens (Matthew 11:28).

And the craziest image may be in the last part of verse 4: He "stooped and fed them." Can you imagine? The God of the heavens, the Supreme Creator of the universe, the omniscient Being who reigns over all the earth with omnipotence, stoops down on His knees to feed us? The Almighty God humbles Himself by bending down to give us nourishment. What is His nourishment? He feeds us with His love, His Word, His kindness, His mercy ... the list is endless. What kind of God is this? It causes me to remember one of the most touching scenes of humility in the Bible: Jesus washing the disciples' feet in Matthew 13.

Once again, we see this image of God stooping, for Jesus is indeed God manifested as a man. It boggles my mind each time I think that when we look at Jesus, we look into the eyes and heart of God Himself. The God of the universe stoops down at the feet of His disciples and proceeds to wash their dirty feet, feet that had trampled down dusty roads, feet that had stepped in mud, in filth, in sin, in flesh, in carnality. He stooped down and lovingly washed all the grime off, to cleanse them. He wanted so desperately for them to be a part of Him, to be united with Him in friendship, to have His righteousness. So He washed their dirty feet. And He wants to do the same for us each and every day.

God is love -- the pure, unadulterated definition of love. How crazy is that?

What's your favorite love poem from the great love letter that God has written to you?



Question: Do you fear God?

There are two basic definitions of the word fear:

First definition:
a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid. foreboding, apprehension, consternation, dismay, dread, terror, fright, panic, horror, trepidation, qualm.

Second definition:
reverential awe, especially toward God: the fear of God. awe, respect, reverence, veneration.

It's funny--I couldn't help but notice that the first definition is so much longer than the second one. And what words! Trepidation, horror, panic! Most of the time, I'm bound to the first definition of fear. Panic attacks run in my family, so for no reason at all, I can all of a sudden be gripped by an intense, all-consuming fear--and most of the time, that fear really has no basis at all. Fear is a crazy thing. And did you notice the part of the definition that says, "whether the threat is real or imagined" (emphasis mine)? We can be panicked out of our mind over essentially nothing!

But look with me at the second definition of fear. It's so short. And there are basically only four words that describe it: awe, reverence, respect, veneration. So when asked, "Do you fear God?", these are the words that should come to mind.

Have you ever noticed that when you are caught up in the presence of the Lord, whether immersing yourself in His Word, worshipping with abandon, or listening for His voice in prayer, you just feel a sense of ... awe. And often the word awe is paired with the word wonder. You feel as if you have looked into the face of God, and you think, "Wow ...." Yes, complete speechlessness is a common symptom. It's like, "Ah! God! You're amazing!" And in that moment, nothing in the world can penetrate the walls of the tabernacle you have created to worship God.

It's a shame we have abused the word "awesome." We go around all the time saying, "Oh my gosh, that's awesome!" It's our immediate go-to word. But when we look at it closely, the word "awe" is in there. Awesome literally means "inspiring awe." It is an overwhelming feeling of reverence! I cannot think of anything that deserves the feeling of awe like our great God. 

The two definitions of fear are inversely proportional to one another. When you are gripped with the anxious kind of fear, you fear God less--or rather, you forget who He is and lose confidence in His character. When you fear the Lord, however, the other kind of fear dissolves. Perfect love casts out fear, as John says in 1 John 4:18. And guess how John defines love? "God is love." I John 4:8 When we become lost in the character of God, when we recognize His greatness, how faithful He is to us, how He delivers us out of every tribulation, we are caught up in the fear of God. And we lose the other kind of fear completely.

I was reading in Daniel this morning, chapter 3. You all know the story. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego refuse to bow down to the giant idol that Nebuchadnezzar sets up in his backyard. Why? Because they feared the Lord God. And you remember what happens when they get thrown in the furnace. A fourth person walks with them in the midst of the fire, causing Nebuchadnezzar to proclaim, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him ..." Daniel 3:28, emphasis mine. 

Some of you may know that when Angel is capitalized, it usually refers to Jesus Christ Himself. I happened to be reading in my brother's super cool study Bible, and I looked up the cross-references in the margin for the word "Angel" mentioned in that verse. The first one it gave me was Psalm 34:7-8, which states, "The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them." Ok, that's pretty amazing, I thought. I couldn't help but notice that the word "encamps" was also a word for cross-reference; it took me to 2 Kings 6:17.

Let me set up the context of this verse. So, the king of Syria was planning an attack on Israel, but there was a spy, a "man of God," who kept reporting where the king of Syria would set up camp. Funny thing is, the spy never had to leave his own location. He was a prophet. Yep, that spy was none other than Elisha, and as one of the king's servants described him, "Elisha ... tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom." So the king panicked and sent out a massive army to find Elisha so he could stop him for good. So his army "came by night and surrounded the city." (verse 14).

Well, Elisha's servant woke up early in the morning to find a crazy huge army camped right outside the city: horses, chariots, the whole enchilada. So he runs to Elisha and freaks out, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" (verse 15). I think I'd do the same thing. But Elisha speaks very calmly to his servant in the next verse and basically says, Eh, I wouldn't worry about it. There's more of us than there are of them. Um, excuse me, Elisha? What's that supposed to mean? How do we possibly outnumber them?!

Here's the kicker: verse 17.
"And Elisha prayed, and said, 'Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.' Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha."

Bam! Ah! That is so cool! I don't know about you, but I flipped out when I read this verse! It's ... it's ... awesome! That's because our God is awesome. Yes, "the angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him," and this is the picture that God gives to describe that. His angels watch over us all the time. And we have the greatest Angel of all to protect us: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Yeah, we'll still freak out every once in a while. We're human. One human trait, I think, that we all share is forgetfulness--especially when it comes to things of God. We become fearful when we forget who God is and all He has done for us. That is why we need to constantly remain in His presence, praying, spending time in His Word, saying once in a while, "God, thank You for who You are. I love you." When we fear the Lord, and behold Him with awe and wonder, He "drives the dark of doubt away," of fear, of anxiety. The fear of God is a beautiful thing. 

Do you fear God?  


If I'm a Christian, Then Why Do I Keep Falling into Sin?

"My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs on my head; therefore, my heart fails me." ~ Psalm 40:12

I'm a perfectionist. So whenever something goes wrong, or not according to plan, or I make a mistake, I become easily distraught. This is especially the case with sin.

Because I'm a Christian, I automatically think that, since I am striving to attain the righteousness of God, I am supposed to be perfect. Of course, I still sin, but not anything too extreme -- it's not like I'm a "transgressor" (*gasp of shock*) or anything.

And yet, like a dog returning to its vomit, I find myself committing the same sin. Again. And again. And again ...

Waking up this morning afflicted with terrible thoughts, realizing that I was falling into the same sin that I have struggled with for a long time (and just when I thought I was making real progress), I fell into despair. When I read Psalm 40:12 in my devotions, I was able to relate to every word. I felt like a hopeless failure, not able to lift her head up, much less look at the face of God. I thought to myself, "How long am I going to make this same mistake? Aren't I supposed to grow as a Christian and overcome these sins? I must not be a very good Christian!"

But, like the faithful Father He is, God spoke these words very clearly to me:

Noelle, being a "good Christian," as you call it, does not pertain the amount of times you sin. Being a Christian is growing more confident in the realization that when you sin, my grace will cover it. Being a Christian is believing in the power of my blood. Being a Christian is drawing upon my grace and mercy each time you stumble. Being a strong Christian is remembering that through my death on the cross, I have taken away the penalty for your sin. This does not mean, my child, that you will not sin. You are made from the dust of the earth. Yet you are filled with my breath, crafted by my hands, and I have redeemed your life from the pit of Sheol.
My love, if you do not believe that my sacrifice has cleansed you from the consequences of sin, though you still stumble, if you do not believe that my grace is sufficient for you, then my death may as well be in vain.  

Take heart, dear reader. For those who fall into sin hear God's gospel the loudest and clearest.

When I go about my life without qualm or shortcoming, how easily I can fall into the mindset that I am acheiving righteousness all on my own! When I fall down, I quickly become angry that I let myself trip in the mud again when I was supposed to be so perfect! But when I lie there on the ground, the dirt of sin all over my face, my dear Jesus walks over to my side, lifts me up off the ground, lets his cleansing tears fall onto my face, and says to me tenderly, "My beloved, I alone can cleanse you from your sin." And then He embraces me with His grace, the dirt rubbing onto His own robe.  

When you sin today (and yes, you will sin), embrace the gospel message in its entirety. Sometimes as Christians, we forget that the gospel still pertains to us, too. It fuels the very life we live! To forsake the gospel message and its healing power is to forsake Christ.

Remember, fellow sister or brother in Christ, that "it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8), and "the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). Walk in the light that He is willing to forgive us every time we sin. That's what His sarcrifice was for.

And dance in His never-ending grace.

"... As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us."
Psalm 103:12

"But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more."
Romans 5:20


When Trials Come ...

Sigh. I love trials, don't you?

Ok, I pretty much sounded like someone whose brain has a screw loose. I mean, who in their right mind likes trials? And truth be told, while we're actually in the trials, we certainly do not.

But looking back at them, oh, how marvelous they are.

Trials and difficult times are not fun. They are certainly not something we all pine for. I think it would be pretty shocking for a Christian to pray, "And Lord, that you would bless me with a hardship, a trial, something that rocks me to my core and brings me to my knees weeping. Thank You!" Yeah. Right. I don't think that would be me.

But I am reminded of a song by MercyMe, in which the lyrics say,

Bring me joy, bring me peace / Bring the chance to be free /
Bring me anything that brings You glory /
And I know there'll be days when this life brings me pain /
But if that's what it takes to praise you /
Jesus bring the rain ...

Oh, what faith! What devotion to God! Would it not bless God's heart for all of us Christians to pray, "God, I don't care what it takes for me to fall on my knees bringing praise and glory to Your Name. Send joy, send peace, but if it be Your will, oh God, send the rain."

It is so true, though, that the result of trials is utmost praise to the Father. After passing through the flames, we look at ourselves and realize that we have been refined -- we shimmer like gold. We become closer to the Father. And we praise Him for it! My dear saints, trials are not pleasurable. At times, they can be downright devastating. But I pray that you will have the strength to endure and the faith to know that something incredibly beautiful will come out of it.

And take heart! For those Christians that go through trials are the ones whom God is using! Like Jesus says in John 15:2, "... every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit." So not only are trials a sign that you are bearing fruit already, but they are a promise that you will bear even more fruit than before!

I think of a young man who somewhat illustrates this point. He was a basketball player on my brother's team in high school, way back when. He was a pretty solid player. He was a decent shooter, but he owned at defense. That was his strength. Overall, the coaches valued his playing, and he was greatly admired by teammates and peers.

When all of a sudden, the worst happened -- and injury to his leg left him completely incapacitated and unable to play ball. For a long time.

I am sure he cried out to God in agony, wondering why he would be left out an entire season due to such an injury. He loved the game so much! And it was because of this passion that he started doing something amazing. He would sit down on the floor of the gym (not in a chair--on the floor)and shoot hoops. With pure arm stength. All day long.

Day by day, the muscles in his arms toughened, he became stronger overall, and his shooting accuracy rose even higher. So by the time he healed up and came back to play, he was unstoppable. He had become the ultimate player. Not only did he still maintain his incredible defense skills, but he had the shooting ability as well -- better than anyone on his team.

It is truly amazing how God can use something like that injury in our lives and make us so much better than we were before. If the young man had not been unable to use his legs and play ball, he would not have sat on the gym floor all those hours shooting hoops, increasing his strength. But because of that, he came back better than ever before and became the star player of his team!

My brothers and sisters, "Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience, but let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing." (James 1:2-4, italics mine) Ride out the storm. Let God do His work. Let Him shatter the clay so He can build it into something bigger and better. Then you will be perfect and complete, lacking NOTHING. What an amazing promise!

And don't be ashamed if you feel weak, frustrated, or depressed during such a time. We are still flesh. God is still our Great High Priest who sympathizes with our every weakness (Hebrews 4:15). He knows trials are hard! All He wants us to do is to have faith in Him, to not forsake Him, nor forget His love for us.

Believe. There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

"I will bring [them] through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My Name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'This is My people'; and each one will say, 'The Lord is my God."
Zechariah 13:9


When Satan Tempts Me to Despair ...

This semester was going to be the best I had ever known. I was super excited to meet up with friends I had not seen during the long intercession, I was plugged back into my amazing Bible study on campus, and I was once again reunited with my beloved sorority sisters. But most of all, God was shining back into my life after a long period of darkness and drought. I was beginning to see Him again, for who He really was. And I finally understood something: I am here to give Him glory.

Even Valentine's Day passed beautifully. Normally the day brings much sadness for me, but this year, I was completely enamored with my God and incredibly joyful for all the things He has done in my life. And day by day, I spoke unto Him this simple prayer, "Jesus, I count everything as loss if only I can know you and serve You more. All glory be unto Your Name. Increase so I can decrease."

And no sooner did I pray this prayer when the storm hit. Hard.

The devil knows how to get to me. When he wants to attack me, he goes to one place: my mind. So for two consecutive weeks, he made my mind a battleground. And it took all my strength within me just to survive. He whispered lies and thoughts in my head all the time, almost every minute of the day:

Why is this God of yours so deserving of glory? Isn't He such a glory-hog?

So why haven't you done anything for Him lately, huh? You said you loved Him. Why aren't you showing it?

How could God use someone like you. Look at you: a miserable failure. You've messed up too many times.

You know the one reason why you don't have a boyfriend? Because you don't deserve one. You're not pure enough. Nor are you good enough, or ever will be.

God's not on your side. Look at all the things He's withheld from you. Look at your friends around you, having so much fun, doing so many things. Don't you want to be like them?

God is not real. You made Him up. Nor is the Bible real. Why do you believe this stuff?

I could go on. But these thoughts have been plaguing me for a considerable amount of time now. My first reaction was, "God, I prayed to You, asking You to empty me of myself so I can bring glory to Your Name! So why is it now that I can't even worship anymore? All the gifts you recently revealed in me--why can't I use them? It takes me all the energy I have just to hold on. What's happening, Lord? Where are You?"

Then it hit me in the face. God was not inflicting this pain upon me.

I was being attacked by Satan himself.

Why? Because he is deathly afraid of any Christian opening their lives to give complete glory to God. The number one thing Satan hates is when Christians bring glory to God's Name. Because the devil wants all the glory for himself.

So whenever you find yourself in a place where you cannot lift your hands in worship, where you cannot find a reason to glorify your Savior, when you cannot understand why He must be exalted, don't let the enemy win. Even if you do not seem to have the strength, worship God anyway. Because He is still worthy. Because the enemy is a fool and a fraud. Because if we do not praise God's name, the rocks will. (Luke 19:40)

All Christians know the adage, "I'm standing on the promises of God," but to be honest, I did not really grasp the gravity of this phrase until this trial. And I have been a Christian for some time now! But it is these promises that bring us back to the Savior when we do not want to give Him the praise He deserves. Promises like,

"But those who wait on the Lord will renew their stength ..." Isaiah 40:31

"You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You." Isaiah 26:3

"For I know the thoughts I think that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and hope ... And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:11,13

"But those who seek the Lord will not lack any good thing." Psalm 34:10

"I will never leave you nor forsake you." Deuteronomy 31:6

"All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28

"See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands." Isaiah 49:15-16

I could type up so many more promises that God has given to us. There are just too many. But this is our God! This is why He is deserving of praise. He is a Father, He is love, He has saved us from a dreadful fate! He has given His very life for us! Satan knows that God is worthy of all glory - he once lived in heaven, remember? And the glory that dwells with God Almighty is so great that Satan wanted it all for himself. So he would do anything -- anything -- to keep us from praising and worshipping our God.

So when your heart's not into it, when you are struggling with trials and tribulations, just trying to make it through each and every day, remember to stand on the promises of God. Remember all that He is, how much He has brought you through, When the enemy has got you down, when he tempts you to despair, recognize that he is tempting you. "Lest Satan should take advantage of us; we are not ignorant of his devices." 2 Corinthians 2:11

And in the end, read Isaiah 14:12-21. It makes me laugh every time. You'll see why.

Hang in there all of you who may be struggling in spiritual warfare. And remember this most encouraging truth: the enemy only attacks those whom he is genuinely afraid of. He doesn't bother with the lost souls of the world - they're already his. But those who pose a legitimate threat to his reign he does his best to dispose of. So count it all joy when you go through trials! It means that God is still for you, and that you are still for God. Rest assured, He will do incredible things to those who give their heart entirely to Him. In the end, it is all about God's glory. Between God and Satan, there is no contest. Trust in the Lord's strength.

Because with God's strength and power, Satan gets his butt whooped every time.


Love: The Reason We Exist

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." -- John 3:16

Why are we here? Love. That is the reason why we were created: for companionship, to love God and to be loved by Him. Think about it. Jesus, God in human flesh, said,

"For God so loved the world--"

Okay, stop right there. He loves the world. The entire world! Yes, that does include us, His chosen children, but that also includes everyone else. Everyone! Think of all the faces you see every day in your workplace, on your college campus, even in your family. He loves us ALL.

Yes, He takes especially good care of His children, those who believe in the Name of Jesus, just like a father or mother will show preference to their own children here on earth. I mean, would you love someone else's kid more than your own son or daughter? Of course not! You can love other people's children, sure, but your attention goes primarily to your own flesh and blood. In Matthew 12:49-50, Jesus tells us who His family are:

"Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother."

Awesome, right? We all have the opportunity to be a part of God's famliy! And He wants a big family--the more, the merrier! But if we, His children, do not grasp in our own hearts that God loves the classmate who cusses, the uncle with an alcohol addiction, and the coworkers who gossip about who they've slept with, we will be tempted to be bitter and judgmental. After all, they too can become a part of God's famliy.

I have to warn myself sometimes not to become like a spoiled adopted child who forgets where she came from, to the point of being cold and unwelcoming to another adopted brother or sister entering the famliy. God loves the WHOLE world. That's everybody.

Are we going to be vessels of God's love for the world? The WHOLE world?

"We love Him because He first loved us." -- 1 John 4:19

We didn't earn God's love. We didn't choose in our sinful nature to love Him. He loved us first. He gives His love freely to those who believe. And He longs to give it to the rest of the world too.

Love. It's the reason we exist.

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." -- Romans 5:8