Inked

Tatoos.  I don’t know how you feel about them.  Some feel they are okay to have.  Others disagree.  But this isn’t about that.

People get tattoos for many reasons.  For some, they choose a beautiful artistic piece, as an expression of some part of themselves.  Others choose a word that inspires them and gives them hope.  Others choose the name of a loved one, a physical declaration that the person is a part of them and forever etched on their hearts.  Whatever the reason, the tattoo is always permanent.  The person is marked forever.

In Isaiah 49:6, God tells us “I have written your name on the palms of my hands.”  Can you just stop for a minute and consider how amazing that is?  The God of all creation has chosen to mark Himself forever with your name.  He is permanently branded by you.  He sees you as an expression of Himself.  You provoke His love and tug at the strings of His heart.  You are a part of Him forever.  He has chosen to love you forever and will never forget you.

When Jesus died on the cross, the nails went right through His hands.  The scars they left were permanent.  And over each of those scars your name is written.  The biggest expression of His love happened the moment He gave His life so that we could be reunited with Him.

See before that moment we were marked too.  Marked by sin.  Marked by guilt and marked by shame.  He allowed Himself to be marked, to erase ours.

“God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

Lift Up Your Voice

In Matthew 25:14-30, we find the story of a man that goes on a journey and entrusts his wealth to his servants.  You may already be familiar with it.  To one man he gives five bags of gold, to another two and to the last, one.  When the man returns, he finds that the man with the five bags has earned five more and the man with the two bags has gained two more.  But the man with the one bag had dug a hole in the ground and buried it.  The man commends the servants that invested the money wisely, but he calls the last man wicked and lazy.  He gives that bag of gold to the servant with ten bags, knowing that he uses his resources wisely.

A while back, God really began to speak to me about the way I compare myself to others.  I do this alot when it comes to ministry.  Ever since i was 13, I have wanted to work full-time teaching young people about Jesus.  I have been blessed to have several mentors that have helped me to grow toward this goal and I am extremely grateful for them.  However, I have been guilty of looking at other leaders that I admire and disqualifying myself because I don’t look like them.  When I speak I don’t sound like them. My brain doesn’t process things like them.  I’m different.

This insecurity has especially come into play with public speaking.  If you want to be a youth minister, you have to learn how to talk to youth, publicly.  I have always hated public speaking so developing this gift has been a struggle.  I watch other people speak and they seem so confident.  When I have to speak, my nerves go wild.  Alot of that nervousness comes from my fear that people will not accept my voice, because it is different from what they are used to hearing.

You probably struggle in different areas, but I would say most people struggle at one time or another with the need to compare themselves to others.

So how does this relate to the story of the man with his bags of gold?  God has revealed to me that whenever I try to be someone else I am burying my gold in the sand.  God has made me different on purpose.  My voice is different and it’s supposed to be.  When I spend all my efforts trying to be somebody else, I leave the gifts and the potential that God has given me largely untapped.  In that way, I leave all the resources He has put at my fingertips wasting away.

God has given me and you a voice.  The purpose of that voice is to speak out to the world the message of love and grace that He has made known to us, with the unique personality that He has given us to speak it with.  There are people that you can reach with your voice that I can’t and vice versa.  That’s why God calls us a body, all the parts need each other.

Stop wasting your time wishing you were somebody else and lift up your voice!

Behind the Music

Music is an incredibly powerful force.  Music allows us to express emotions that we can’t express with words and is highly spiritual in nature.

Lately, I have been fascinated by the power that music has over us.  We will embrace just about any message if it is wrapped in a good beat.  It’s crazy!  I am a 90’s girl at heart and there are certain songs that I sang along to for years and have just now discovered the meaning of.  How many of you remember the song “Sonny Came Home?”  It is about a girl who burns down the whole dang town to “make a few small repairs.”  Creepy!  “Semi-charmed Kind of Life” is all about taking drugs.  They reference Crystal Meth right in the song.  Both songs sound so upbeat!  A friend of mine and I were talking about how one day she found herself jamming out to what seemed like another upbeat song, when suddenly she realized the refrain was “Slip the noose around your neck.”  Whoa!  Too much.  How about that girl power anthem by Alicia Keys “Girl on Fire,” when Nicki Minaj jumps in singing “The Spirit of Marilyn…telling me to come with her, underneath the comforter and she brought a gun with her.”  Why do we accept these things as so normal?  What if these words weren’t set to music, but were said to you in a conversation?  Would your reaction change to one of alarm and concern?

This past Sunday, we had the superbowl.  Katy Perry performed and there was a surprise performance by Missy Elliott.  Missy began singing her “Work It ” song, a song replete with vile and pornographic sexual imagery.  But the song has a sick beat.  I am convinced most people never actually stop to pay attention to what songs are really saying.  We have become so desensitized to what the Bible clearly calls wickedness and sin that we don’t even blink an eye.

Music not only reflects our culture, but it also assists in shaping our culture, especially when it comes to children and youth.  We don’t think anything of it when the songs we listen to are filled with references to drugs, violence, sexual perversion and degradation of women, but we get all bent out of shape when the people around us begin to exemplify those same values.

Music was created by God as a means for us to express our worship and adoration of Him.  Along the way, people began to use music as pure entertainment.  I will admit that I do not listen to Christian music exclusively.  However, what I am beginning to notice is that some of this “entertainment” is actually slipping into the realm of worship…the worship of darkness.  Much of the music that is being played puts sin on a pedestal and glorifies disobedience to God.  Gradually overtime, sin and perversion has become the new norm.

Whether we are promoting darkness or light, our worship is doing warfare.

In 2 Chronicles chapter 20, we find the story of Jehoshaphat when he goes to battle against the Moabites and the Ammonites.  As they go out to battle, Jehoshaphat appoints men to sing praises at the head of the army.  As they begin to worship, an incredible thing happens.  The army that was coming against them destroys one another.  When Jehoshaphat’s army finally arrives at the place that overlooks the desert, they see a vast army that has been utterly defeated.  Their worship defeated the enemy.

My fear is that much of the music we mindlessly listen to actually empowers and advances the causes of the enemy. My fear is that as we continue to glorify sin and disobedience to God through our entertainment choices that a generation of young people is being destroyed right before our eyes.

My point in all of this is that we can’t be mindless consumers.  Although all of this may be the forced new “normal” that has subtly pushed it’s way into our society, it simply cannot be our normal.  I am challenging myself to rethink what I accept as normal and to push myself to view the world around me through the eyes of Jesus.  I am challenging myself to use my choices and my voice to amplify His message of love, hope and grace, in a world full of brokenness, sin and hate.

“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you  fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.” Romans 12:2 MSG

 

A Heart of Prayer

Since this year started, I have been compelled to pray in a way that I never have before.  As a Christian, I have always prayed, but my prayers are much different now.  Lately, I have felt this urgency to pray all the time for friends and family that either don’t know Jesus or do but have walked away from Him.  Every day, I have been praying scriptures over my loved ones and declaring the Word of God over their lives.

Recently, I took part in the most powerful worship service that I have ever been a part of.  We met in a small room.  There were no special lights, no fog machine.  There was one acoustic guitar, unplugged.  The speaker opened the mic for prayer and a 10 year old boy walked up to the front of the room.  Tears flowed from his eyes and his voice cracked as he began to cry out for his family and his best friends that don’t know Jesus.  As he spoke, the spirit of prayer and intercession fell on everyone in the room simultaneously.  There was not a dry eye in the place as one by one people began to cry out for their loved ones.  I’m talking teenagers.   Some sobbed at the microphone praying for the drug addicted and the homeless. Some even confessed unforgiveness towards family members praying for reconciliation and restoration in their relationships.

I watched the same teens that I pray for begin to pray for their own family and friends with passion and intensity.  I was so moved by all of it.  I really believe that God is at work in our families, our social circles and our communities.  At times I have been discouraged, feeling helpless in the midst of other people’s pain, but lately God has been clearly demonstrating to me that our prayers are truly powerful and effective.  In the place of prayer, we get the opportunity to partner in what He is doing in the lives of those around us.

Philippians 4:6-7 tells us, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need and thank Him for what He has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”  We don’t need to worry.  We can relax and leave things in His control.  As we leave our requests in His hands, He causes His peace to flood our hearts.  And with that sense of peace comes the confident expectation that God is moving on our behalf, not only in our own lives, but in the lives of those we love.

 

Getting Your Hopes Up

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12

Hope.  At times, my hope is tugged at, poked and prodded at. There have always been circumstances in my life that have carried with them the familiar lie…there’s no hope here.  Nothing will change.  Things will not get better.  Might as well give up.  Maybe you are familiar with that lie too.

Hope.  It’s the confident expectation that something good will take place.  Where does this confidence come from?  This expectation?  I know the verse like the back of my hand, “For we know all things work together for the GOOD of those who love God and are called according to His purposes” Rom. 8:28.  Jesus has made a way for us to always have hope.  He is our constant and our steady point.  He never changes and He never gets tired of loving us.  You are continuously on His mind and He is ALWAYS praying for you.  He desires the very best for you and is committed to finishing the awesome work He has already started with you (Phil 1:6).  Does that mean we won’t experience pain?  No, but it does mean that He will use even the hardest circumstances to bring about His good in our lives.  He brings beauty through our pain.  He breathes into us His strength in the midst of our struggling and suffering.

God is just good.  Simply put.  His love liberates us and He gives us identity in Him and purpose.  In Jesus, even our problems have purpose, because through them we grow to be more like Him.

Hope.  Hope it is what enables us to be patient in affliction.  We can have patience knowing that God is working behind the scenes.

Hope.  It is what enables us to be faithful in prayer.  We pray knowing that He hears us.  We pray knowing that if it matters to us, it matters to Him.  We pray knowing that He is faithful to answer.

Hope.  It’s the cord that we can hang unto when we feel like giving up.  It’s what keeps us going, because we know that better days are in store and that God has never left us.  He is always right by our side.

“And this hope will not lead to disappointment.  For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His Love.” Romans 5:5

You are Loved

You are loved.  Loved in the truest sense of the word.  Loved down deep to your core.  Your loved in your weakness, in your insecurity, in your fear.  You are loved.

Just think about it.  The God that created the universe and breathed life into your being says that you are valuable and worthy to be loved.  When you look at yourself, do you see nobility?  Because that is what you are.  You are the  child of the one who created the universe at the command of His Word.

To be clear, not only does He love you, He is IN LOVE with you.  Yes you.  Passionately in love.  He calls you the apple of His eye and His treasured possession.  He rejoices over you and finds delight in you…His Bride.

When you accepted His Son, Jesus, the Father accepted and adopted you into His family.  His love is everlasting and He has crowned you in His steadfast mercy.  He satisfies you with nothing less than His abundant goodness in the hour of your deepest need.  Nothing can separate you from such a love as this…Not trial or calamity or any strategy of hell can tear you apart from so great a love.

This love never leaves you.  It takes root within you, growing and blossoming in such a way that it transforms you from the inside out.   He calls you by a new name.

Our Father has engraved your name into the very palm of His hand.  He will never forget you.  He could never leave you behind.  His love takes your darkest hour and illuminates it with His light, using the very things meant to destroy you to make you stronger still.

Every day is a new page in our love story with our creator. Beloved, you belong to Him.

Blank Space: The Problem with Taking Dating too Casually

Blank Space is the title of Taylor Swift’s latest single.  For the first few weeks after it was released, I blared it on my radio.  It was my jam.  But the more I started paying attention to the lyrics of the song, the more I realized that Tay Tay’s song portrays what is wrong with modern day casual dating.

The song pays tribute to a litany of trainwreck relationships and presents love as a game we play, in which the players inevitably always get hurt.  It highlights the fact that oftentimes we begin relationships on false pretenses with people we only know superficially.  The players appear as a daydream in the initial stages of the relationship, but are soon exposed as the true nightmares they really are.  The relationship itself appears to be a rose garden, until one by one the thorns are uncovered.

Our casual attitude towards dating is summed up in this one line: “I got a blank space baby and I’ll write your name.”

Interesting fact about me.  I have never dated anyone.  Although there have certainly been guys I have liked and guys that have liked me, for whatever reason the stars never aligned and circumstances never led to a relationship.  Alot of it has to do with my approach to relationships.  I don’t take it casually.    I have never allowed myself to become too interested or emotionally invested in someone I didn’t think I could trust.  I feel I need to really know a person, before I even allow my brain to go there.  Does this person respect me and other females in their lives? What are their values?  What are they passionate about?  Is this the kind of person I could see myself marrying someday?  Getting to know these kinds of things about a person takes time, which is why I strongly encourage friendships with members of the opposite sex before rushing into premature dating relationships.  You can weed out alot of wrong choices that way.

I have certainly made my mistakes when it comes to interacting with guys.  There have been times I misjudged situations and invested too much of my heart.  There are other times when I have been too guarded and have needed to be more open.  It’s a balance.  But there is an important principle at work here.

Your heart is not a blank page to be written on all over by people that were never worth your energy or time to begin with.  Your heart is a treasure to be cherished and protected.  It says in Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.”  Although it is God who ultimately watches over our hearts, we need to show some care as to whose hands we are willing to put our hearts into.

I don’t subscribe to the view that says my relationship history needs to be a long list of ex-lovers and nasty scars.  Using a little wisdom and discernment goes along way in relationships.  Having standards is not a bad thing.  At the end of the day, the right person will always be worth the wait.

 

You Do You Boo

You ever struggle with just being yourself?  I do.  Let me first say though, I love me.  I know who I am and I know what I stand for.  I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses.  I know all of my quirks and when you add it all up, you get a pretty awesome package.  But still I struggle with being me.

Why?  Because not everyone else loves me.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am a pretty pleasant person to be around and I don’t have any enemies that I know of.  But throughout my life, I have noticed that alot of the people I interact with only love parts of me.

Let me explain.  I can get a little crazy.  Not like girls gone wild crazy, but goofy, silly, acting a fool crazy.  Ask any of my friends and they will tell you that I am the queen of practical jokes.  I put people through torture inventing new ways to prank them.  I recall one time I was meeting up at a restaurant with a few of my roomies.  I arrived before them, put my coat down and headed to the restroom.  When I came back, my roommates were there interrogating the waitress.  The poor lady.  “Where is she?  Is she hiding under one of the tables? Tell us!”  It was a proud moment for me.  Anywho, some people really love that side of me, the fun-loving, light-hearted side of me.  However, some of these people start to squirm and get uncomfortable when they see the other side of me come out.

The other side is the serious contemplative side.  If you haven’t yet noticed, I am passionately in love with Jesus.  My relationship with Him is the most important part of my life.  He ranks number one on the seat of my affections and my life’s goal is to grow more in love with Him daily.  I process everything in light of my relationship with Him.  I think deeply about things and I love having deep conversations about Him.  Some people really love and appreciate the deeper side of me.  But some of those people look at my goofy side and think it’s immature and juvenile.

So I run into this issue of people embracing one side of me but not the other…anyone else go through this?

God has put a handful of people in my life that have really embraced all parts of me.  I have friends that see even all of my weaknesses and still think I’m amazing.  That has always been incredible to me.  I look at some of my weakest moments and think to myself, why do you want to be my friend?  But these people are true treasures and they stick by me, through thick and through thin.

The point of all of this is that I can never please everyone.  Take it or leave it but this is who I am.  Read what God has to say about me and you:

“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb.  I thank you, High God- you’re breathtaking!  Body and soul, I am marvelously made!  I worship in adoration- what a creation!  You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body;  You know exactly how I was made bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.  Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.” Psalm 139 :13-16 MSG

God knows everything there is to know about us and He loves every part of us.  He loves ALL of it.  He loves all the intricacies, all the quirks.  He knows the passions that make your heart beat a little faster and He knows what makes your heart break.  He knows it all and He not only loves you, but He is in love with you.  He knows our weakness, but He never sees us in light of that.  When He sees our weaknesses, He sees a platform for His goodness and His strength.  He knows who we are in this present moment and He knows, by His grace, who we will become.

In short, don’t sweat it.  You do you boo.

 

Trust: One Step at a Time

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in Him;  though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” Psalm 37:23-24  NIV

Our lives are a series of steps.  We can’t progress to the next step in our journey until we complete the step that we are on.  We move in and out of seasons and transition into different phases of life.  That’s how it works.

I don’t have a problem with this.  I like the idea of moving in steps.  I just want to know what the steps are.  I just want to see the whole staircase.  I want to have the assurance and the peace that comes from knowing where I’m headed.

My heart’s desire is to please God with my entire being and my entire life.  I want to make the right choices so that I can follow the path that He has for me.  But I battle with the fear that I’ll make the wrong choice and mess everything up.  It’s funny to voice my fear out loud, because then I realize how ridiculous it is to assume that I am powerful enough to mess up God’s plans.  Pretty sure that the God that created the universe isn’t biting his nails hoping that I don’t mess with His flow.  Nonetheless, it’s still something that I worry about and stress myself out over.

My fear of messing things up stems from the fact that I doubt my own ability to hear from God clearly.  Maybe some of you feel that from time to time too.  The thing is that God is bigger than all of that.  His power is greater than our weakness.  When He speaks into our lives, His greatness is able to push back the limitations of our own human frailty.

And HE IS A GOOD GOD.  He is good.  Period.  Why do I think that a good God would see my heart to please Him and allow me to stumble around in the dark anyways?  He wouldn’t.  That’s just crazy talk.

Lately, I have been clinging to the promise that He will lead me.  This is an interesting season of transition for me and I have no clue what anything is going to look like for me when it’s all said and done.  But I do know that He promises to walk me through it.

I love what God says to us in Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”  God never loses sight of us.  He is there for every step of the journey.  We always have His complete attention.

In my relationship with Jesus, God has only revealed to me one step at a time.  He does this to build my trust in Him and my confidence in Him.  If I knew the whole blueprint, I would arrogantly assume that I could handle it on my own.  To spare me from my own stupidity, God, by His mercy, reveals only one step.  In this way, I am ultra-aware of my need for Him and my dependence on Him.

When I begin to allow worry to creep in, thinking about what the next year, month, week and even day is going to look like, I sense Jesus asking me, “What about today Theresa?  Can you trust me with today?” I usually have enough sense to realize God is going to help me make it through the next 24 hour period.  He tells me, “Let’s start there.  You and I, together, are going to make it through today.  And the thing that you are worried about, when we get to that point, I’ll be right by your side helping you through that too.  But for now just be here with me in the moment and trust me.”

Trust: Losing Control

In my previous post, I talked about my control issues.  I always want to know what’s happening and how to control my circumstances in a fashion that appeals to me.  Unfortunately, nothing goes according to how I think it should go.  Such is life.

As I continue to grow in relationship with Jesus, He requires more and more trust of me.  I feel like He also entrusts me with more.  Each step of the way, I get little glimpses of what’s in store.  It’s always a little blurry and I can’t make out any of the details, but if I squint my eyes, I can make out more and more of the complete picture.

The problem is that with each glimpse and promise I receive from the Lord, I go nuts.  Not understanding that what I have is merely a piece and not the full puzzle, I set to work.  Somehow I get the idea that there is something I can do in my own power to bring about the fulfillment of the promise that I am seeking.  When things aren’t working out, I become disillusioned wondering if I ever heard the promise right to begin with.

The thing is that God doesn’t let me in on His plan so that I can achieve it by my own work or strength.  He let’s me in on a plan that’s too big for me to comprehend and so beyond me that I could never accomplish it on my own, so that when the promise finally comes to pass there will be no doubt in my mind that all the glory belongs to Him.

I’m not alone in my struggle.  Abraham and Sarah did the same thing.  In Genesis 12, God makes Abraham a promise.  At 75 years old and with no children, God tells Abraham that He is going to make Him into a great nation and that through His lineage all the people on the Earth would be blessed.  It tells us that after receiving this promise, Abraham and his family relocate to Canaan.  10 years later the couple begins to get antsy.  Doubt creeps in.  Nothing has happened and their promise has gone unfulfilled.  Sarah gets to thinking that maybe it’s time to take matters into her own hands.  Maybe it is up to her to assist God in the process.  You might know the story.  Sarah gives Abraham Hagar, her slave, to sleep with and Ishmael was born.  You can read up on all the details in Genesis 16 and 17, but Sarah’s strategy causes alot of heartache and pain.  Tensions run high.  Jealousy runs rampant.  At the end of the day, Abraham and Sarah have a son, but they also find themselves in the midst of a complete disaster.

We are told that when Abraham is 99 years old, approximately 14 years after the Hagar debacle and 24 years after God gave Abraham His promise, the Lord appears again to Abraham.  It was time for Him to set His plan into motion.  It was time for God to do by His glory, His power and His strength what Abraham and Sarah could not.  He was going to cause Sarah to have a son, even though she was old, like reallllllllllly old.  Abraham would be the Father of many nations and God would keep His everlasting covenant between Him, Abraham and all of Abraham’s descendants.  That means us.  Through the lineage of Abraham, Jesus would be born, the Savior of the world.

God showed Himself completely faithful.  He is the keeper of promises.

What are some of the promises that God has given you?  Before you go into panic mode, plotting and planning over how to accomplish those things in your own strength, consider the faithfulness of God towards Abraham.  Abraham had to wait many years before Isaac came along, but God’s purposes prevailed.  He is always on time.

For me, all this means that I need to let go.  I need to set my eyes on Him.  I need to be conscious of His goodness, His faithfulness and His unchanging love for me.  I need to realize that His plans for me are far greater than I can comprehend and I can’t even attempt to accomplish any of it on my own.  I need to give Him the reigns.  I need to lose control.

“But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33