September 16, 2014

The God of Identity


From Natalie: I've been a long time reader of my friend Gennean's blog, Loved, not Lost. She has a heart of gold evidenced in her wisdom, love for Christ, and her spirit of encouragement towards others. Recently, Gennean's been involved with the Unveiled Campaign too--which I'd encourage any of you ladies to go check out. She keeps things simple and beautiful, so I hope you enjoy having her here this week! 

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Over the last few years I have learned that one of my personal and deepest passions is for people to understand and find their worth and identity in the Lord.  It makes sense that I would care so deeply about this, considering it's something I struggled with quite a bit throughout my high school and college years (and continue to grow in). It wasn't until recently, though, that I realized there is so much more to this identity thing than I thought.  In the last few weeks, I have found myself immersed in the Word, spending countless hours in books and sermons focused on identity, so here are a few, albeit broad, things I have learned along the way.

We, as a flawed people, have the unnerving tendency to rely on ourselves, rather than the Lord (uh, hello Israel).  Because of that, we allow what we think about ourselves--including the things that we hear and see and let others influence us to believe--to shape our identity and thus overpower who God has already told us that we are:

Chosen.  Loved.  Redeemed.  Free.  Worth it.

Identity all begins with this: if we would just believe that God really is who He says He is, and that we really are who he says we are, we would see and experience so much more on this side of eternity.  We would more fully live out His calling on our lives; we would have full confidence and assurance in who we are and what we were made for; we would see miracles and get to be a part of those miracles; we would play a larger role in crazy Kingdom expansion because we would be relying no longer on ourselves, but on Him in us and the Holy Spirit's power through us.  It is all an issue with misplaced identity.

And the thing is, if we really let the reality of who He says we are to infiltrate every part of our being, we would do what God has laid out for us to do.  We would manifest Jesus.  Fear would not stop us.  Doubt would not cause us to question.  We would walk into new places with supernatural confidence, boldness, and strength by His power and His Spirit. Y'all, this--all of this--it's real.  And it is available.

So how can we "get there?"

1. Believe what the Word says
2. Study Jesus
3. Know we are His
4. Live like Him

If only we just did that.  Sadly, we limit ourselves, and in doing so, we limit God.  He has given us the Holy Spirit that we would step out and do things in His strength so that only He could get the credit and glory, much like Jesus did, because we have access to the same Spirit that Jesus had.  We can do the things that Jesus did.  Don't believe me?
"Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." John 14:12
If we only saw ourselves with "unveiled face" (2 Corinthians 3:18), believing all that the Father has said we are and made us to be... man, I really do believe that the Kingdom would be ignited and spread like wildfire upon the earth, and we would not only see it but be a part of it.  It all begins with rooting our identities in Him.  Believing Him.  Studying His Son, and living like Him.  And I am in the same boat as many of you: hungry, ready for more, and just starting to see these glimpses of His glory.

You, my friend, are born for the Kingdom to flow through you; born to be absolutely overwhelmed with God, in such a way that there's no turning back.  Only pursuit.  Only moving forward.  There is no need to be frightened by intimacy with the Father.  Seek Him, know Him, believe Him.  There you will find your identity--who you are, what you love, what you born for--in Him alone.  Root yourself in who He already has said that you are, and live out His calling on your life by His power and strength.

This is a good life, friends, and He is so worth it all.

September 9, 2014

The God of the Lonely



I've had the great pleasure of getting to know Elle not only through her blog but also through Skype over the last year. She's such an amazing, godly woman, and she has a deep love for good books and traveling... lot's of traveling. I feel like every time she shares about a recent trip that in some small way I got to go with her. She is incredibly gracious and thoughtful, as well as one of the most adventurous persons I know. Be sure you go read her blog and follow her along at beautiful hope (click here)!
“Our hearts are lonely till they rest in Him who made us for Himself” ~Elisabeth Elliot
Loneliness is the guest that no one wants to welcome in, yet all have hosted her at some point. Singleness, losing a loved one, and relocating to a new city are but a few times Loneliness has knocked on my door unwelcomingly. While I wanted to duck under the window, turn off the lights, and hope she’d walk over to the neighbor’s door, I have learned a lot from this unwanted visitor.

Loneliness can feel like a desert with no refreshing stream in sight. For others, it is a stinging reminder every day as they walk back into an empty apartment. In different seasons of loneliness in my life, I remember tear-soaked pillows and raw, honest prayers questioning what in the world God was doing. I remember the self-pity as well as the jealousy of other’s seemingly brighter circumstances. I remember feeling isolated and forgotten. But what I remember most, is that I was not really alone because I was under the watchful care of the God of the Lonely.

Here are three lessons that God has taught me in the seasons of loneliness that helped me see meaning behind the pain of being alone.

1. God sets the lonely in families (Psalms 68:6).

I have story after story of the way God has placed trusted community in my path at exactly the right moment. He surely has set me, the “lonely” of Psalms 68, within a family of Jesus-followers in so many seasons of life. His presence never left me, even when my eyes shifted from looking to Him to looking towards all that I did not yet have.

During grad school, I was anxious about the future and felt like I did not have anyone to confide in as I was also dealing with pain from the past. I was living alone in a studio and would wonder if anyone cared or noticed me. I had many friends and family three hours south in my hometown, but on those lonely nights, they felt hundreds of hours away.

God opened doors for me during that season, replacing despair with hope. I started attending a community group through the church I attended, moved in with five awesome Christian gals, and went through Biblical counseling in a group setting. These beloved people all helped me through some really difficult days and were witnesses to the amazing, redeeming work God did in my life.

Upon graduating grad school and moving closer to my hometown, I moved into an apartment about thirty miles north of my family and friends. I was anxious and lonely as I dealt with the new rigors of being a pediatric nurse practitioner in a rural, low-income community. Unbeknownst to me, I moved in next door to a girl who would become a great friend. We swap recipes, occasionally surprise each other with flowers or groceries, stay up and talk through difficult topics, pray for one another, and share clothes. I think God surely has a sense of humor, because we’re both nurses, our personalities are extremely similar, and we even look alike! Our landlord has trouble telling us apart and we are constantly asked if we’re sisters when we hang out in public. God knew the prayer of my heart to have someone nearby as I moved to that apartment and provided the perfect friend!
  • Think about it: Who can you reach out to in their season of loneliness? How can you help carry the burdens of those around you who struggle with loneliness?

2. Loneliness is a way God can get our attention.

C.S. Lewis said that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” How true is this for the pain of loneliness? In your time of feeling alone, do you typically spend more time in prayer and Bible study? I for one spend less time. My heart seems to build a brick wall that attempts to keep out any Truth from entering in. But when I use the time of loneliness to draw nearer to God, His presence is felt. Not that He ever left us (He promises “I will never leave you nor forsake you”), but loneliness can get our attention focused on Him if we fight the urge to look at other distractions.

I am often tempted to look to other things, such as becoming a social butterfly, watching hours of TV, aimlessly perusing blogs or Facebook, and spending money on things I do not need. He is what we need in times of joy, but especially in times of loneliness.  He is what will fill the aching hole of loneliness.
  • Think about it: What is God trying to teach you in your season of loneliness? Is it about His all-sufficient providence? Is it about His unfailing love? Fill your mind with Bible verses and passages that remind you that God is near and will not leave you (Is. 41:10; 1 Peter 5:7; Josh. 1:5; Heb. 13:1-25, Phil. 4:6-7). Pray through these verses. Journal them. Talk with other girls and older women about what you’re experiencing and ask for prayer. Ask for accountability if you spend too much time on aimless activities or distractions.

3. Jesus was lonely too.

It is often easy to focus on Jesus’ divinity and skim over His humanity, but Jesus experienced the same hardships and pain we do. Throughout His ministry on earth, Jesus encountered loneliness. He was deserted by followers because His teachings were too difficult (John 6:66), His disciples fearfully ran away when He was arrested in the garden (Matt. 26:56), and His own siblings made fun of Him (John 7:3-10). But, He felt the ultimate abandonment when He carried the weight of the sins of the world on His shoulders and died for what we deserved. He became sin and for a brief moment, was separated from His Father, crying “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” (Mark 15:34)

What did Jesus do when He was lonely? He prayed and He obeyed the Father. He did not fall into a cycle of self-pity (and if anyone had a right to feel a little sorry for Himself, it would be Jesus! He was blameless, yet tortured for our sins!) but rather, praised His Father by word and deed.

Jesus endured loneliness, so He knows the pain of abandonment. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). We can cry out to Him and know that He will understand and love us during our seasons of loneliness.
  • Think about it:  Why is it important for us to believe that Jesus was lonely too? How can this affect your prayers during your loneliness?

Allow me to end with a prayer by Elisabeth Elliot, who wrote a book on loneliness that has helped me a lot (The Path of Loneliness: Finding Your Way Through the Wilderness to God). As a young woman, Elisabeth Elliot penned this prayer in her journal, not knowing that many years ahead would be marked by loneliness. May it be a battle cry in the midst of your present or future seasons when Loneliness comes knocking on your door. I am not saying it’ll be a breeze and you’ll want her to stay an extra few weeks. But I will say that even if Loneliness seems to linger on your doorstep, you are not truly alone. Battle that lie with God’s Truth. As Christians, we serve a God of the Lonely who knows what we are going through and will walk us through it, step by step.
Perhaps some future day, Lord, Thy strong hand
Will lead me to the place where I must stand
Utterly alone.

Alone, O Gracious Lover, but for Thee;
I shall be satisfied if I can see
Jesus only.

I do not know Thy plan for years to come,
My spirit finds in Thee its perfect home,
Sufficiency.

Lord, all my desire is before Thee now,
Lead on, no matter where, no matter how –
I trust in thee
~Elisabeth Elliot

September 2, 2014

The God of Wonder


When I think of wonder I think of G.K. Chesterton. Among many of his incredible writings on the Christian faith, he talks of the lenses of wonderment God's people ought to see through:
The world is not lacking in wonders, but in a
sense of wonder. ~G.K. Chesterton
There are parts of nature I'm not a fan of... like camping. But there are other aspects that I love to drink in. I love bouquets of flowers freshly picked, daisy chains that remind me of my early care-free childhood days. I love the sounds to be tuned in--cicadas buzz, streams bubble, leaves rustle--and the sounds I tune out. I love orchards and gardens I can sneak food from, a view of a waterfall or at the top of a mountain, toes buried deep in sand, and the fog that follows fall all around the globe as it goes. Nature is all so complicated in the dozens of systems God has orchestrated for it flourish, and yet we step back and see simple, pure beauty in it. 

Or think of babies. Is there nothing more wonder-filled then a newborn sleeping? Put a sleeping baby in my arms and everything in me will conveniently get absorbed in this little one. Everything else in the world can wait. Count the steady breaths-one at a time; count the fingers and toes--each have their own unique print that no one else in the world has fashioned before or ever will. And at times I sit and think about what babies must dream of. They sleep so much that first year, they must dream of so much. Really, when I get to heaven I'm going to ask God about that.

The world is weary and tired, and forever stuck with moving onward at a high speed. "Stop and smell the roses" feels like forgotten sage advice.

Nothing is so small or so insignificant. Nothing so plain or wallflower-like in any form on the canvas of God's creation. Will we put on the spectacles to see it? So many people go the majority of their lives never noticing the insurmountable wonder around them. It's grievous how often we spend our daily lives not in awe.

I think God gets in awe just as much as we do with the things of this earth. Better yet He gets in awe of His children because He created us--His image and own likeness is forever engraved on our hearts. And it's He who woos our hearts towards the glorious--we find and seek it, display it and show it; He is glorified and turns and smiles over us. Mankind is the greatest thing He's ever made and He is in awe of His own handiwork, His own craftsmanship.

Let wonder and awe swell in you.
God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. ~G.K. Chesterton

August 26, 2014

Be Back Soon


I'm really trying to push my peddle to the metal for the month of September with my student teaching and portfolio, so over the next four weeks I'll be MIA here on the blog, but the blog will not be taking a hiatus. I've asked a handful of my blog friends to help me out, so starting next week, and every Tuesday for the upcoming month, one of them will be posting for the blog's upcoming series: "The God of ___________." All of these bloggers have become what I consider real friends now over the past couple of years as we've chatted over the phone, via snail mail, Skype, and more. If you're a long-time reader, you'll probably recognize them, since many of them have blogged here before. And I think they're going to really be an encouragement for you. 

I'll be back to posting come October, but until then, you're more than welcome to follow me along on Twitter. Sometimes people tell me I should post of my personal daily life, but my response is always, "Well... that's kind of what I use Twitter for." If that's what you're looking for, then join me there.

August 25, 2014

Heeding the Inner Prodding

A handful of weeks ago I found myself at our local library picking up orders and perusing shelves like I do nearly each week. But that day was different. The specific branch of our city library I tend to visit is located in what's considered a nice neighborhood, surrounded by houses the spell out middle to upper class families to onlookers clearly. I was totally caught off guard to see him sitting in the farthest corner of the children's section, hunched over, weeping, muttering to himself words in a foreign language I do not know. I spotted his bags at the end of an aisle a few feet away in a poor attempt to hide them I believe.

I didn't go over to him, but I hovered in a section of a library I normally don't visit, pretending to read the titles off of book spines. Nothing in me cared about Beatrix Potter in those moments though. All I could think about was him. He didn't appear to be that old, but his red eyes, and sweaty clothes (it was in the 90's outside) spoke of an exhaustion no man should know at such a young age. All I could think about was the wrecking the Holy Spirit was doing in me.

I ended up leaving after nearly a half hour of briefly scanning picture books. I left and wept in my car, and still have a hard time not crying when I see his face in my head weeks later. I've hated the feelings, the thoughts, the questions that God's been prodding me with since then, because people, I SHOULD HAVE DONE SOMETHING.

I should have called someone from church who'd be equipped to help him. I should have rummaged through my car for granola bars or gone up the street to buy him a meal. I should have given him the cash that I had sitting in my wallet at the bottom of my purse. I should have had the guts to look him in the eyes, smiled, and said good morning--I should have had  at the very least acknowledged his existence and presence in that moment, because there's no telling how many people have just overlooked and ignored him.

I should have known better. While I've never been homeless myself, I've found myself in some scary financial situations before, and they were just enough to give me a small taste of what others have to go through in a far greater weight and reality. (I'm not claiming I understand such a position fully, so don't read into that that I'm comparing my situations to theirs... but I do know a bit about the kind of fear and depression that descends over a person and their life in the midst of hardship. We're different, but alike too.)

And I should have heeded the Holy Spirit's voice telling me to do something in that half hour.

But I didn't, and it's made me physically ill every time I think of the scene. It's one of the worst feelings ever, and it's teaching me never to ignore that inner prodding again. I hope and pray--beg--I listen and act next time (as well as be better prepared). And I hope we all do this: Open our eyes, listen, and act. That we learn to be hands and feet of Jesus towards all.