Eggshells on the Shores of Grace

Eggshells on the Shores of Grace

This is an attempt to explain my testimony.
But these words are ultimately not about me; they are about Him.

“God is love” or so I sang, with an on the spot melody.
Not a care in the world but attracted to the Light that loved me.
A faith so strong, a mind so sure.

But cares came quickly, and I started to flee from the Light.
Trying to run from disapproving glares, only to run into snares.
I took my eyes off of Truth and stared at the waves I created instead.

Unintentional middle fingers and petty thievery,
Webs of lies and never satisfied jealousy,
I was only a child but able to feel condemnation upon me.

Reading words that felt like a heavy burden,
I cried myself to sleep believing I surely blew it.
Fear spread through me like an uncontrolled tumor.

I was only in the single digits, but definitely double-minded.
Unstable in all things, I was the storm and the storm was in me,
Seemingly ripped in two, torn between God and this world.

Still, a part of me kept hoping for redemption,
Believing that God’s grace might indeed be for me.
This hope was a flicker of light in the darkness of night.

That fire, though dim, stayed lit through all these years,
Long smoldering coals, never fully extinguished,
A testament to His great grace and mercy.

But my soul seemed legally blind to the grace being offered,
Able to sense light’s presence but not see what it illuminated.
Pride held me like an abusive lover, and I held it closer.

In Sunday school, I became well versed in basic knowledge,
Like one who has read about and studied the ocean,
But never been in the actual water.

Day by day, clearly definable wrongdoings matured,
Becoming more and more covert, yet with a stronger hold.
Pride was my ultimate hunger, fuel, and ulterior motive.

And in that pride, I played a warped version of a favorite childhood game,
Except instead of pretending to be a princess, I pretended to be okay.
I managed to fool some, and even myself for a time.

The masks of this twisted dress up game became thick and elaborate,
Seeming to ever widen the distance between the Creator and me.
My anxieties grew exponentially, and rest completely evaded me.

And as the years went by,
I found myself walking on eggshells
When He had called me to walk on the water.

I couldn’t fully believe that God could love me,
Every step closer to the water made me tremble with fear,
I felt I was drowning with my feet firmly in the sand.

So I tiptoed along the shores of grace,
All while carrying heavy burdens that
I was never meant to carry.

I kept pursuing the world’s glimmering pyrite,
Plenty of ‘good’ things, but never the Best thing.
But all chase and no rest left me weary and stressed.

Every day felt like more than I could bear,
But even in the darkest darkness, He was there,
He sustained me even when I couldn’t see Him.

Never once did He stop pursing me,
The Light kept calling my name in that darkness,
Through songs, sermons, and studies.

He is the hero of this story, and not me,
He gave me more than I could handle so that
He could give me more of Him.

He took that spirit of fear that paralyzed me,
He gives me His spirit to replace it.
And He is faithful when I stumble and falter.

My sin was great but He is greater,
My guilt was strong but He is stronger,
And I am His both now and forever.

When troubles and doubts come to harass me,
And the fears once again charge against me,
He is my rock, my refuge, my protector.

He began a good work in me,
And He will be faithful to complete it,
For He lives in me and I am hidden in Him.

And in His goodness, He beacons me each and every morning,
To leave these eggshells on the shore and join Him on the sea.
And by His grace alone, I can do that indeed.

Even the Hairs on Our Heads

God Knows Them All

I was recently in New York City, the largest city in the United States. His presence with me was so obvious throughout the anxiety-inducing trip, but there was a particular moment that He spoke to me to remind me of a mind-blowing fact that many of us, myself included, either don’t fully believe and/or take for granted. He also used this reminder to send some much needed conviction to my heart.

There are more than 8 million people living in New York City. Sitting in my hotel room at night and looking down, I could see countless people hurrying along the bustling streets below. From my perspective on the 24th floor, the people looked tiny and I couldn’t see much detail, even though the streets were well lit with flashing billboards and bright lights. As I sat and watched, God reminded me that each of these people, though they are complete strangers to me, has a story that He is the author of.

And of course, the 8 million people in NYC are just a fraction of the 7 billion people on the planet right now. And that is just a fraction of the God only knows how many billions of people who have lived and will live on this planet. The number doesn’t even compute in human minds.

That is a lot of people. A lot of stories. And God knows them all. He doesn’t just have a summary of each person either or see them from a distance like I did from the hotel. He knows every detail of every soul and story. In fact, He knows them better than the people themselves. Matthew 10:30 says that “even the hairs on [our] head are numbered!

How incredible is that? Take a moment to ponder it. Ask God to help you believe it as much as is possible. Know that you are loved so intimately by the Creator of all things that He knows even the number of hairs on your head. You don’t even know how many hairs are on your head! He knows your past, present, and future, and despite all the muck in your life, He loves you still.

Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
    (Psalm 139: 1 – 4)

Since God is the creator of so many stories, and we are made in His image, it’s no surprise that we are people who like stories. Our societies are saturated with them! Throughout history, people have told stories, both real and imagined. We learn through stories and entertain ourselves with stories. It’s really impossible to go through a day without hearing or reading some stories. Sometimes we become engrossed in stories that we just can’t stop reading or watching until the end. We all have certain stories, whether fiction or non-fiction, that we love to hear, watch, and read about.

Some real-life stories, like those that hit the news media and trends on social media, are well known by seemingly everyone around us. Some names, like those of our political leaders and the most popular actors are a part of our vocabulary. This widespread knowing in our technologically advanced society reaches an even higher level when a man-man tragedy, like a shooting, strikes and moral outrage ensues.

What about the stories that don’t make good headlines though? What about the stories of ordinary people? What about the stories of people in your own town or city? What about the stories of the people you try not to look at as you go down the street? What about the stories of people who don’t look or dress like you? What about the stories of the people you don’t like? Do these stories matter less since they aren’t blared on every screen? Do the tragedies and issues that strike these people mean less simply because it’s not in the national spotlight for a few days?

Of course not!

Every person’s story matters. And even more than that, every person matters. That includes the people that we intentionally or unintentionally mentally categorize as “less than” in society. And as cliché as it might be, we cannot judge a book (or person) by its cover (or outward appearance).

The kingdom of God works differently than the world. In our world, those with prestige, power, money, fame, or great talents are the ones who are revered. In the kingdom of God though, “the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). Jesus spoke to, healed, and hung out with the outcasts of society – the leper, the bleeding woman, the Samaritan woman, the tax collector, and so many other people that lived on the outskirts of society, shunned by the majority. Jesus saw them. If we are truly following Jesus, we will see them too, and do what we can to serve them and point them to eternal hope.

For me, that includes the people, especially the kids, living in the city next to my hometown in white suburbia. Growing up, whenever I heard people talk about the people in that city, it was rarely in a positive light. The city deals with the same problems that plague any urban area – poverty, violence, drugs, broken families, failing infrastructure, abuse, trafficking, etc. Many people on the outskirts seem to want to just sweep that whole city, and its problems, under the rug. God sees those people though. He hears the cries of the abused, oppressed, and hurting. He knows their names. He knows their struggles. He knows their pasts and futures. And as uncomfortable as it is for me sometimes, God has put it in me to want to know more of their stories too. He wants me to see them and love them as He does.

So as we begin another week, let us pray that God would help us to see the people around us with His eyes, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. May we also remember that He knows every detail of our own stories too, and loves us the same. May our stories ultimately point to Him, the author of them all. We are all living stories, and our days were known by God Almighty before they had even begun. All of us have dirt in our stories, but the best stories always have some triumph over struggle, some good overcoming bad, some hope in hopeless situations. We all have stories both to tell, and probably more often, to listen to. Let us live telling our stories and listening to the stories of even “the least of these.”

4 Years Ago Today

4 years ago I made a decision that I must make not just one time, but every single day of my life

Four years ago today, I recommitted my life to Christ.

Before that, I was a model church kid, involved long before I can actually remember. I went to Sunday School until I had aged out, sung in the choir, volunteered at VBS, and tried to do everything I was “supposed” to do. I had believed in God since I was old enough to verbally say so. Over the years of childhood, I had moments of doubt and faith. By my teen years though, regardless of what I was doing or not doing, my faith would more accurately be described as knowledge of God, rather than a relationship with Him. On this day four years ago, that began to change.

It was at a retreat in New Hampshire. Somewhat ironically, I was a “leader” and not a youth group kid. I was a sophomore in college trying to figure out what the heck I was doing with my life. I happened to be friends with the youth director at my church and I was well versed (pun somewhat intended) in the Bible, so she wanted me to come along as a leader. I thought I’d be helping wrangle kids, I didn’t expect to come away any different. I don’t remember exactly what the speaker said, but I remember praying to God in a way I hadn’t before and recommitting myself to Him. I came home with a rekindled faith and a renewed hope.

In a journal entry right after I returned home, I wrote:

…The strangest thing happened even before the retreat. For me, anxiety has been a way of life lately…When it came to this retreat however, I felt no anxiety…During the entire weekend, I felt an incredible peace. All I can say is that God was there. I did not feel any anxiety. It was one of the most freeing things ever.

Anxiety had been a major part of my life in the years preceding this retreat. Some days it made it almost impossible to function as a ‘normal’ adult. Even simple tasks like ordering lunch could be a challenge. A weekend without anxiety was like a drink of fresh, cool water after a long, strenuous walk in the desert.

I’m not going to say that everything changed right after that. In fact, I still struggle with some of the things I was struggling with at that point in time, including anxiety. Some days are just as hard if not more so than the times before the retreat. Sometimes I feel really down on myself that things haven’t changed as much as I would have liked. Still, God has been, is, and will remain faithful. He has shown me things in His word, given me peace in raging storms, and been a rock that doesn’t move even when everything in my life seems to be changing for the worse. In the clearer moments, I know that God will do with me according to His time and His will, not my own selfish, impatient desires. His love, power, and mercy are not dependent on me or my feelings.

The day I recommitted my life to Christ wasn’t the end. It wasn’t a one time decision fueled by the fun, excitement, and engaging conversations of a weekend retreat. In fact, I’ve had to learn the hard way that I need to make this decision every single day of my life. My heart is fickle, and many times it doesn’t want to follow Jesus. Thankfully, God’s love doesn’t shift with circumstances, feelings, or whims. Lamentations 3:22-23 says it better than I ever could:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

On this day four years ago, some things started to change in my heart and life because of our faithful, never-changing God. Many things still need to and will change. In all things, God is faithful. He who began a work in me, before I was born, on this day four years ago, and every day of my earthly existence so far, will bring it to completion. Thanks be to God.

What is Peace?

peace

Peace. We hear this word thrown around a lot. It’s sung in music, written on t-shirts, talked about on TV, and offered as a greeting. Yet usually when this term is tossed out, it is merely a wishful thought in a world filled with more violence, turmoil and hate then we can even fully comprehend or fathom.

The dictionary says that “peace” is a period in which there is no fighting, a time of security, a state of concord. The world sets this “peace” as a lofty goal on a pedestal. We are told that if we just reach a little farther, work a little harder, and hope a little stronger, we can obtain it.

The problem is that this “peace” the world gives is an unreachable hope that never lasts. Even in so-called “peacetime” eras between official wars, there is plenty of strife on the streets and in homes, much of which goes unreported and unheard except by the victims. And of course even when there is peace among governments or neighbors, there is still  inner conflict hidden within the walls of every person’s chest cavity and skull.

The world says that “peace” is a lack of conflict, but “peace” means something different in God’s word. After all, the apostles certainly didn’t live lives free of conflict but instead were faced with jail, slander, and indescribable brutalities.

Knowing full well what strife his disciples would face after the ascension, Jesus tells them “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you” (John 14:27, ESV). He takes this thought a little further in John 16:33 saying “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

So what peace is Jesus referring to, if it isn’t a life free from trouble? There are no words to adequately describe it, as Philippians 4:7 says that the peace of God “surpasses all understanding.” Still, there are words to help us identify what this peace is. Ephesians 2:14 says that Jesus is our peace. Our relationship with him, and through him God the Father, is our peace. We have been reconciled to Him and we belong to Him both in our life and in our death. No earlthy strife can take us from Him. As Isaiah 54:17 says, “no weapon that is fashioned against [us] shall succeed.”

This peace is resting in God’s sovereignty even when the storms of life are raging and chaos seems to be reigning. This is why the peace that Jesus gives is “not as the world gives;” it is a peace that remains and survives even in bitter outer conflict. This peace is sweeter and more filling than any “peace” the world tries to dish up. This peace allows us to live in freedom that only Christ can give us.

This all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Of course, in reality life doesn’t usually feel like this. Peace sometimes seems unattainable at best. Life is full of stress and worry, and I fall victim to this as much as anyone. In fact, lately my anxiety has been even worse than usual because of my dad’s recent cancer diagnosis and a boss that gets on my nerves at work. How more wonderful is it, then, to know that God’s promises and His gifts are not reliant on human feelings? He gives His peace to us as an unmerited gift every moment. We just have to accept it, and allow Him to change our focus from earthly stress to His promises.

I’m still learning to live in this peace and freedom. I will need to continually be reminded of these promises for as long as God grants me breath. Yet in these struggles, He is still sovereign and this peace is unwavering just like His love for us.

Knowing this, let our prayer for ourselves and each other be as Paul says in Colossians 3:15; that the peace of Christ will rule our hearts, even in a world filled to the brim with every type of conflict.

The Mountains and Our Stories

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I just came back from a wonderful weekend in the mountains of Maine. Looking at the mountains, everything looks absolutely beautiful. The trees, the sky, the water below, everything. That’s the big picture and it’s beautiful. As I stood in awe of this part of IMG_2300creation, I started to think about how this stunning display of nature was formed. What about all the time it took for the mountains to take their present shape or for the little seedling trees to grow into massive forests? What about all the dirt that allows those trees and all the other plants to grow? What about all the dead and rotting plants and animals that nourish that soil and make it fertile? What about all the creepy, crawly bugs at the bottom of the food chain that are bothersome to us but vital to the entire ecosystem? The mountains are a messy place when you’re at the micro level, but the big picture is breathtaking.

Perhaps our own stories are similar. Our lives have plenty of dirt. Plenty of dead things (or things that IMG_2458should die). Plenty of mess. Sin creeps and crawls in our minds and hearts. Some things in our lives (like pride, lust, hatred, etc.) need to die for better things to take place. Our lives are covered in filth from our sin. Yet the big picture is God’s glorious masterpiece that He is creating in all of His children. God meets us at the micro level, in our sin, in our dirt. He doesn’t finish there though. Over time, He grows good things in us. In time, he makes us His masterpiece.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, ESV)

We live at the micro level. We see all the dirt. In time though, and through the dirt, God does wonders. We can’t always see it from our perspective on the ground, but in the long run, God does amazing things through His people. The big picture is God’s glorious work in us.  Even the dirty, bothersome, and dangerous things have a purpose. We are a masterpiece of His design and in His time.

God’s Word: Daily Bread that Requires Chewing

Several years ago I set out to read the entire Bible in order in a year. I figured if I was going to call myself a Christian, I should read the entire thing that I call God’s word. I had read it to check it off my “to do list” of being a Christian. I succeeded in literally reading the entire Bible. I did not study it nor did I give much thought to the cultural contexts in which it was written. I did not pray about what I read nor did I ask many questions. I read the book to say I had read the book.

After officially finishing the Bible, I figured I could set it aside and maybe refer to it once in a while. After all, I had read the entire thing. I foolishly thought I “knew” at least the high points of every story. The crazy thing is, my actions were as if I ate a big meal and then decided to not eat again after that except for the occasional small snack. If I stopped eating food, I’d slowly grow weaker until I died. A strikingly similar statement can be said about time in God’s word. God’s word truly is the bread of life and should be a staple of our daily lives. Without regular time in His word and in prayer, our soul weakens and eventually, dies.

Saying that you don’t need to read the Bible or a specific passage in the Bible because you have already read it so many times is like saying you don’t need to eat food. You have probably eaten bread thousands of times and yet it’s likely you’re going to consume some form of bread again within the next twenty-four hours.

I grew up in church and therefore there are Bible stories I’ve read or heard about thousands of times. It is so easy to look at these stories now with a glazed eye. Stories like Jesus feeding the masses with a few loaves and fishes are told so regularly that it’s easy to think that we, as Christians, don’t need to re-read them or study them. During my sophomore year of college, I joined the Bible study group on campus. We have gone over some of those stories that I’ve heard more times than I can count. Yet when I prayerfully study those passages, whether alone or in a group, God often shows me a detail I didn’t notice before or gives me some new revelation. There is so much under the surface of these stories and unless we take the time to really prayerfully study them, we only scratch the surface.

Jesus himself knew the importance of God’s word in people’s lives. When Jesus was fasting in the wilderness, the devil came along and told him to turn some stones into bread. Jesus replied:

““…It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

Here, Jesus is actually referencing Deuteronomy 8:3, which refers to the Israelites. What was true for the Israelites and Jesus is true for us as well. If bread (or any sort of grain) is such a daily staple of our diets for our physical bodies, surely the Word of God is the same staple for our souls. Rather than thinking of the Bible or prayer as things to check off our to do lists, let us truly see them as our daily bread for our souls. Let us remember that bread requires chewing even in our rushed lives. Let us prayerfully meditate on each passage and word in order to get all the flavor.

Let Easter Change your Everyday

Today we celebrate Easter. We celebrate our risen Lord and Savior. Death has lost its sting and Christ is alive!

In the hustle of church, Easter egg hunts and family dinners, let us take a moment to really remember the reason we celebrate. Jesus rose from the dead! He lives forever more! He suffered, bled and died and his blood has washed us clean as snow. Those of us who trust in him will also live. The chains of sin that held us down are broken. Our shackles lay in pieces at the foot of the cross where love died. This is not something to be taken for granted. Easter is one day, but the reason we celebrate is a reason to live everyday. Let Easter change our everyday, and not just this one Sunday. After all, today is just one day. But the reason we celebrate it is forever.

Happy resurrection Sunday!

Questions

In any Christian’s life, questions will arise. Asking questions can be scary. Often these questions are complex with no easy to understand answer. In some Christian circles, the asking of questions is even frowned upon because of the tension and doubt that often accompanies such questions.

Questions are not a bad thing though. Questions are a major part of learning and growing. As young children we learned a great deal simply by asking questions of our parents, teachers, and others. In school, teachers generally encourage questions relating to course material. Having childlike faith doesn’t mean you don’t question. Children are naturally curious and ask questions. People in the Bible had questions so it is no surprise that modern day followers of Christ do too.

When we ask questions about faith related issues however, we must remember that we may not always get the answer we want to hear. Sometimes we may not get any answer at all (at least in this life). As a young child sometimes asks his or her parents a question that he or she cannot fully understand the answer to, so we may ask questions of our Father in Heaven that we cannot fully understand the answers to. Many young children eventually ask their parents a question somewhere along the lines of “where do babies come from.” Most parents are going to give a simple answer such as “from mommy’s tummy” rather than going into the details of how sex works and how a baby forms in the womb. Young children do not need to know those details nor can they fully comprehend them. The same is true for us when we ask our Heavenly Father certain questions. Some things are not meant for us to know or understand right now.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

In those moments when no simple answer is to be found, as in every moment, we must trust in God. His knowledge and understanding surpass our wildest imagination. There are some questions we may not fully understand the answers to, but we can trust that our Father knows what we can or cannot understand at any given moment and that He will work all things for our good.

The Parable of the Sower, the Soil of our Hearts, and the Ultimate Gardener

In Matthew 13 and Luke 8 and Mark 4, we read one of Jesus’ many parables: the parable of the sower. I’ve always thought of this parable as solely referring to when someone first hears the Gospel, whether it be in church, in a conversation with a friend or stranger, or elsewhere. Someone preaches the gospel and people react differently. Sometimes the receivers of the word never have a chance to grow in faith or in a relationship with Christ like the seed on the path didn’t have a chance to grow. Other times, like the seed in the rocks, people hear the message and rejoice…until trouble comes. Like the seed in the thorns, some people gleefully accept the word but the word is then choked out by the cares of the world. Finally, some accept the word and develop a relationship with God. They serve Him and preach His word to countless others.

As Christians it’s easy to assume that we are in the good soil because we have accepted Jesus. The sowing of seed, that is God’s word, is not a one-time occurrence that happens when we first learn of Jesus however. If we are truly following Christ, then the word is being sewn in us on a very regular basis. The seed is sewn in our hearts every time we read and study our Bibles, go to church or Bible study, and every time we pray. Sometimes we are too distracted by everything going on around us and the word we hear or read doesn’t have soil to take root. This is when we just go through the motions of reading the word rather than letting it sink in and applying it. Sometimes we gladly accept the words we read or hear but the stresses, worries and trials of life lead us to forget the promises God made. Other times we accept the word at church or study but temporary pleasures distract us and choke out the message we’ve heard. We are all highly susceptible to distraction and God’s word does not always fall on fertile soil in our hearts. Satan comes at us with all he has and though God is way more powerful, we tend to give into Satan’s deceptive tactics.

My good friend Layla added some more insight to this parable when I was discussing my thoughts with her. Even the healthiest of plants in the richest of soil has hard days. There are days when the plant will wilt in the sun or whither in the cold. Yet the plant still comes back, especially with the loving care of a gardener. Weeds may creep up around it sometimes but a gardener will make sure to pull them out. Like the plants growing in a garden are taken care of by a gardener, our Heavenly Father takes care of us. We can come to Him and ask Him to cultivate the soil in our hearts to receive His word. There will be times when, like the plants, we wilt under stress and suffering in this life or we begin to be suffocated by cares of this world. We still have that “life seed” in us even when we fail however. After all, God’s grace is sufficient for us in all circumstances. As followers of Christ we should of course want to grow in our relationship with God however. In order for this relationship to grow and thrive, we must allow God to cultivate our hearts and remove the things that hinder our growth in Him. Sometimes it is painful as God prunes away the parts of us that keep us from Him. Even in those times, we must trust that He, the One who formed us and loves us, knows what He is doing. Our heavenly Father truly is the ultimate gardener in the soil of our hearts.