Glory, forever

My favorite part about my church camp years wasn’t the outdoor activities or the service projects or even the bonding time with girls from my church…it was always the music!

There is one song that sticks out in my mind as I write this, the bridge and chorus of which goes like this:

“Take my life and let it be
All for You and for Your glory
Take my life and let it be yours
We sing

Glory to God, glory to God
Glory to God, forever
Glory to God, glory to God
Glory to God, forever”

So long ago, I sang these words along with everyone else during worship. I find myself coming back to that now, wondering if I really understood the power within what I was saying.”Glory to God”…easy right?

What has been on my heart lately is glorifying God when working to better His kingdom. Ultimately, bringing others to Christ, volunteering and other acts of kindness – doing good things – is about God, and generally we say it is “all for His glory”…but it sure feels great when you get some of the ‘glory’ too.

If you knew me in high school, “glory to me” sounds more like it.

One big aspect of my personality is that before becoming more stable in my faith, I had a tendency to manipulate people. I’ve always been really good at reading others, which is an excellent skill to have, but also a dangerous one. 

Accepting Jesus as my Savior didn’t my thoughts and desires and turn them a complete 180° right away. As I grew, I constantly struggled with the desire to share my faith just to get attention and recognition for myself. Sometimes, my intentions in offering advice or caring for people were skewed – remember, I was good at saying the right words. This caused me to very poorly love some people in my life and ultimately lose valuable friendships – eventually some people in my life could see right through me to my true intentions: to glorify myself.  

I loved hearing things like “you’re the best Christian I know” or “you’re such a good person” and believe me, I heard those words more than a few times. 

But later, I also heard words like “you’re such a hypocrite”. 

And were they wrong?

Looking back on the years of growing I have experienced, especially the last year and a half of being in college, I can freely admit that that was who I was. It hurts to know that I could be so unkind to others and have so little respect for the sacrifice that Christ made for me on the cross that calls me to love others unconditionally.

But I am not that person anymore!

As I have grown in my relationship with Him, God has really just broken my heart for the people in my life who don’t know Him. I touched on this a little in my post, Think Again. Sometimes when I think about it to much, I find myself crying over the brokenness of the people in my life. It has become less and less about me and I have realized that even if my intentions had been pure, I could never even hold a candle to how incredible God is and how infinitely He should be glorified.

I guess what I am saying is that I just want the people in my life to know Jesus. I want them to know that they are loved, that they have value and it isn’t found in friendships or popularity or school or creating an identity for themselves. I don’t have any desire for the affirmation that I used to receive, I’ll take the harsh words if it means that God is placed on a pedestal and I am humbled.

One day, we will bow at the feet of the Lord of the Universe up in Heaven. There will be no more pain or hurt and all glory and honor will be His, for endless days.

Until that day, I pray our hearts break for those around us who don’t know Christ; that we would be fearless in our pursuit of Him.

And that we would no longer live a life for our own glory, but for His.

Take our lives and let them be yours.

Think Again

If you read nothing else on this page today, I want you to read this: without Jesus in it, life is hopeless and empty, even if it doesn’t seem to be.

I got a taste of this first hand this a few months ago.

On my dad’s side of the family, I have two cousins – a brother and sister who are close in age to my brother and I. We have basically grown up together, although more recently have moved apart a little and seen one another less because of busyness.

When given the choice between a family event and a retreat for Cru, I wanted so badly to choose the latter. I would have built relationships, had intentional time with God and just have had fun. But ever since I realized that both of these events fell on the same weekend, I knew where I was supposed to be, and that was Middleton, WI, with my family.

My cousin has apparently gotten in with some bad friends, friends who encourage her to party and in turn her grades have slipped. Who knows what else she has done! She has become cold, cruel and painfully disrespectful to her family. As a recent high school graduate, she wants nothing more than to get out of the house and have the “college experience” – not taking into account that going to an out of state school will leave her in deep debt.

She’s never been much for conversation, but now things were even worse. There were so many things I wanted to say to her, but I just couldn’t find the words. Her parents obviously had a strained relationship with each other, not to mention their relationship with her.

I’m not really sure why God wanted me there instead of enjoying quality time with my Cru family. I hurt more after this weekend in May than I had for a long time. All I know is that I was there for some reason, whether or not I ever see the fruit of that.

As an outsider looking in, all I could see was how empty and broken this home was, and I felt the weight of those things too. At one point during the weekend, I cried in the bathroom; at another, I went downstairs to blindly watch my brother and other cousin play video games. I felt like more of a “broken vessel” than I could have imagined. All I could think about was how my cousin had found her worth in something that wasn’t Jesus, and how much I wished I could change that but felt helpless to do so.

By all worldly standards, my cousin was doing great. She fit in and I would describe her as popular based on the people she knows and hangs out with.

But to God? Hmm.

I’m not saying a life without Jesus in it can’t be somehow good. By some stroke of luck, one can spend their whole life never seeking the Lord and be perfectly content. For some people, its not the life struggles here that cause them to seek God, but the eternity in hell that poses a problem.

Maybe those who turn to partying and friendships that lead them astray truly are happy in life. Maybe families who are all breaking a little at the seams manage to be okay without Christ.

I wouldn’t know.

But, I do know this. Whether or not you feel like you need God, you do.

I’ve seen it time and time again, not only in my own life, but in the lives of others.

God takes lives who are lost, people who have turned to partying or substance abuse, people who have depression or anxiety, those who are questioning their identities, those who have turned to relationships and sex to fulfill them, families that are falling apart; He can take every last broken piece, even in those who don’t know their own brokenness, and make them wholly and entirely His.

 

It’s not about religion, but a relationship. And like any relationship, it takes a little work.

But its worth it.

Because we ALL need Jesus.

 

 

The photo above was taken by my friend Desmond, whose photography I now have permission to use on my posts – talented guy!

Welcome to the Family

A few weeks ago, as a result of someone in my life being curious about Christianity, I reached out to others I knew for advice: I asked them what they thought the most important things to tell someone new to a relationship with Christ would be.

You know when you’re expecting something good but you get something more awesome than you could have anticipated? Yeah, me too.

All their thoughts were just too good not to share, so here they are!

Advice for New Christians (and reminders for ‘not-so-new’ believers too!):

“Above all, seek Truth. Once you find that, everything else falls away. And God’s word is ultimate truth, so trust in that and seek Him. All Jesus said we have to do is knock, and the door will be opened. So all you have to do is knock, and Jesus will come the rest of the way to pursue your heart.”

” 1. Being a young believer is the sweetest, yet sometimes the most difficult time in your walk, but every difficult time you encounter, The LORD brings you a step closer to Him and His plan for you! Never stop praying. Talk to God when you don’t understand something. Tell him about your heartache, your hopes, your frustrations…everything! He wants to hear from you. There’s absolutely NOTHING you can’t go to Him with. 2. You are going to fall short. We really all are, and we will until we take our last breath. But man, let me tell you, life with Jesus is a life I never thought I could have, until I did. Your eyes are opened to literally a new world filled with love from the LORD and the Holy Spirit. It’s not all easy and smooth, but when you hold tight to Jesus, everything you thought was impossible is super teeny tiny now. That’s God. He has power. 3. BE loved. Crack open a Bible, reflect on the love you are freely given. Ask God the big questions. You are never alone. Find community, and even though the world and it’s temptations feel bigger than this whole God thing, they are truly not. HOLD FAST, because you are never being let go of, unless you choose to let go.”

“Congratulations, you just made the best decision of your entire life. But it’s not a magic potion, life will still have its usual ups and downs. But this time, you have something worth fighting for. God will stand before you and behind you as you walk through each day. It will be hard at times, but cling to Jesus and the hope he has now given you. In the end, it will always be worth it. You are redeemed, you are a new creation, and you CAN do this. You are worthy. You are loved.”

“Becoming a Christian is one of the biggest decisions you can make. It’s laying down your will, accepting imperfection and loving without bounds. Confusion and questions will come, you’ll doubt, but rather than give up, search. Search scripture, many of the people of the Bible doubted too, and they leaned closer and asked God themselves. ‘I do believe, but help me with my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24)”

“Always try to surround yourself with fellow believers; people who will build you up, encourage you, keep you accountable and help you grow in your faith. Always try to read your Bible when you can. It is like “daily nutrition”, the more you ‘eat’, the quicker you’ll grow. Search for Him in all areas and aspects of your life, and ALWAYS give Him the glory! Learning to trust God is hard at first, but it makes your faith stronger. You have to have patience and faith in His plan for you. He will never let you down and we can always count on his promises. When you’re faced with a decision, God’s Word is the place to go! PRAYER, that’s a big one. God loves when we talk with Him. Always put Him first in everything you do and decision you make.”

I hope that whatever walk of faith you are at right now, whether long time believer or never even considered Christianity, that this advice will inspire you in some way. Blessings!

Dear Younger Me

Dear Younger Me,

Where do I begin?

If I could go back and fix some things, let me tell you, I would.

But first I need to tell you, it gets better.

You won’t always be stuck in this place of not knowing who you are or what to pursue. I’m not saying that I know what I’m doing (trust me, I don’t) but I am closer.

You will survive middle school. It may seem like hell now, but it’s nothing you can’t handle.

But I am going to warn you, people you thought were friends won’t be. As much as you try to be popular, you will get shoved out of your “friend group” not once, not twice but three times in the course of middle school. Part will be your fault, but you can embrace your mistakes and learn from them, which is what you do.

For awhile you’ll pray every night to a God you aren’t sure is even there that he will send you a best friend who you can do everything with, someday you will find your place and friends who are real.

It will take a long time, but that little acne-ridden girl who didn’t know who she was meant to be will grow up in time, and she will turn into a strong woman who knows her place and only that it is found through Christ.

High school will be better than middle school.

You will find two people you think are your best friends.

You will have boyfriends together and go to the mall to hang out. It will be fun, you will wonder why you hadn’t experienced this before. You’ll have lame little parties and drink soda and watch horror movies and feel like you belong. Even here is not your place.

People change, and when you give your life to Christ after sophomore year, these friends will continue to pull you away and eventually you are going to have to let go of them. They will worship other idols: drugs, their boyfriends, their bodies.

Speaking of that, you will give something away to a boy sophomore year. It will hurt alot and you won’t think you will ever be okay again. It will, I can promise you. It may be hard to trust men for awhile, I’m still struggling with this, but know that you can hold out for a man on fire for Christ – you are worth that.

It will be okay.

There will be some really good parts of high school, too.

You will make friends, some that may even last forever. You may not always get along, but that best friend you prayed and prayed for comes in the form of three amazing women you will grow close to your junior year and they will stay by your side throughout the rest of high school. Hold on to them.

Musical will be one of those good parts, too. You will learn to be more confident in yourself, something you are probably lacking in. Come age 18 when you no longer have that, you will miss those days of caked on makeup and showers at 1 am to attempt to get the hairspray out of your hair. It will be so worth it. And the summer after high school you will find yourself home alone watching the Sound of Music and crying on the couch because you miss it that much. Cherish those memories.

Band will be even better. It is one of those things that will annoy you sometimes, but you will miss like a piece of you is gone when it is over. When you think about it hard enough, your heart will start to ache and you’ll have to look at old photos to remember every moment. You’ll try out for colorguard your junior year and senior year will be dedicated to it. You will do as much as you can for your director because you wish with all your heart that even though she hides it, she wasn’t so stressed out. At your final band concert, she will even present you with her director’s award and when you get home that night you will cry happy tears because you didn’t even realize that your bossiness and organization was actually helping others. You will meet people, grow close to your directors and have lifelong memories from the mere four years you had in the group.

You will decide to go to college, and your senior year you will tour a few places. One you will love, one you will hate and one you will end up at. You are in the right place, so don’t worry. You won’t know what you want to “be when you grow up”, and it will stress you out a lot.

All the people in your life will be encouraging and you will find your path (hopefully, I am still stuck at this point). You will want college to be a time of learning about yourself and if you persevere, it will be.

Fast forward to today. You will be sitting near the cafeteria at your college, drinking a chai tea latte that you bought at Starbucks this morning and glancing up every once in awhile to see a wall filled with old photographs of former professors. A vending machine will be humming beside you and the sound of students playing ping pong echoes from a room near you. At this moment, right now, you are truly content.

You don’t have it figured out. Not even a little bit. Tomorrow you may not be so happy, that’s how this works. But right now, right here, you know that despite all your mistakes, all your screw ups and your falls, God has got you. It took awhile for you to figure out, but somehow it was perfect timing. That God you prayed to in middle school is real and true and he is there. He loves you and he has brought you to this point.

Trust Him with everything you have. When you are feeling lonely a week in to college, it will be okay to pour your heart out to the only one who can heal it, He will carry you through everything.

Every moment up to this point, every temptation and every tear, every moment you weren’t sure you wanted this life any more, every time you couldn’t contain your excitement and every smile – they were all worth it.

Continue to embrace a relationship with God, continue to be kind to people even when you don’t want to. It will be okay and you will be better for it.

Don’t settle for less or sell yourself short in any way. You are worthy of happiness, whether that means waiting or taking chances.

Dear younger me, it gets better. Don’t give up on God, or on yourself.

You’ve got this.

 

Narcissistic Ignorance

“You think you’re so perfect because you go to ‘Jesus Club’.”
“Manipulative.”
“…it’s narcissistic ignorance to assume that my religious views are any consequence of you.”

Words that should have hurt me because they came from people I believed were my friends. In some ways I wish they would have, it would be easier to just believe them.

                                                       But I don’t.

I am never going to sit here and tell anyone that I am perfect, especially not because I go to church or bible study. Why? Because I am so so so so far from it. I lust, I am selfish and stuck up at times. I am conceited, judgmental of others when I don’t want to be. Most of all, I am human and I will be the first to admit that I am unworthy of a relationship with Christ.

                                             That’s the point, though.

There is only one who is perfect: Jesus. “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.” 1 John 3:5 NIV. The cross makes us worthy of His forgiveness and love. Sometimes, claiming that you are forgiven because Jesus died for you sounds the same as claiming your own perfection to some people. If you are able to recognize that you are in fact a sinner who is undeserving of God’s love, then the words of others mean little.

Call it “narcissistic ignorance”, call it whatever you will. If being in love with Jesus constitutes insults then so be it.. There is joy in persecution; it could push you away from God or if you remain faithful it will bring you closer to Him. I, for one, will not let it push me away.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me.” -Matthew 5:11

Guard Your Treasure

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot firm from evil. {Proverbs 4:23-27}

I want to talk about something really important to me: purity.

In a society governed by sexuality and immorality, it is nearly impossible to tell what is right and what is wrong if you are not grounded in the Word day in and day out, which quite frankly I don’t know many people who do, certainly not me as hard as I try.

Today I would like to focus specifically on purity.

Purity covers a large spectrum of values, but the most obvious is sexual purity, or refraining from sex until marriage. As a sacred act, it is vitally important that we remain abstinent for our future spouses and our own well being.

But just because you haven’t done ‘it’ yet doesn’t excuse you from staying pure. I used to know someone who preached purity, but she dressed in inappropriate clothing and did other sexual things with her boyfriend. Am I the only one seeing the problem here?

Purity covers our eyes too.

Looking at another person with lust, dressing to show off our bodies, watching pornography or simply talking about things that are not appropriate that leave images in our minds is just as important. Finally, as the verse above says, guard your heart. By keeping your eyes on Jesus and not allowing Satan to tempt you into impurity, your heart will be grounded in faith. This means praying or reading your bible when you feel tempted, instead of falling into that temptation.
Purity is what sets Christians apart, especially with the world like it is today. We are God’s people, in whom the Holy Spirit lives and it is important to honor God with our bodies and minds by staying pure.

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”