Today I was adding new music to my iPod for my commute to work and I started exploring the songs of JJ Heller. I'd heard a few, but I wanted to hear more.
One song in particular struck me immediately. It is entitled, "Who You Are." It describes the lives of individuals who are going through trying times; life isn't looking the way they thought it would, and they are in pain. In their sorrow and confusion, they admit that they don't know what God is doing. I can still hear the chorus ringing in my ears, "I don't know, I don't know what You're doing. But I know who You are
We can get through a lot when we know who we are walking through it with. When we are sure. 100% certain. No doubts. We don't have to know everything in every situation, but we do have to know one thing for sure. Who is it that walks with me?
The most heart-wrenching time in any relationship comes when one offends the other to the point where the offendee begins to not only take offense at the wrong doing, but to go so far as to question whether or not he really knew this friend in the first place
. This sense of betrayal is a common theme in movies. We've all heard lines like, "I never even knew you." or "Who are you, anyway?
" It feeds into our innate fear of trust. Our fear of giving ourselves completely to another person. There is always the risk that the wool is being pulled over your eyes, that what you wanted to believe about your friend, or lover, or parent, or mentor isn't actually true. That's when the walls crumble down around you and the way out seems bleak.BUT, what if you knew? What if you never had to wonder? What if you were absolutely certain that the character & capacity of the one you put your trust in was ROCK SOLID?
How many more confusing times could you make your way through together? How many perceived offenses could you see past? How much deeper could the water get without you panicking? How much higher would the mountains be that you could climb with him beside you? It is almost impossible to fathom, if you have been repeatedly burned in your earthly relationships... that this kind of trust could exist.
When JJ Heller sings, "Who You Are," this is what she is singing about. She is reminding herself and all of us that we can
know God. His character is described vividly and consistently in the Bible and we can count on him to be who He says He is. Every. Single. Time.
Circumstances will change.
God will not.
*This is cheating, because it is really better when you open your own Bible and pray your very own prayers and let God show Himself to you PERSONALLY, but - if you need a jump-start, a crash course in the character of God - this is a good place to start
Not one moment that we spend reading the Bible, praying, listening to godly men and women teach and share, acting on what we learn, not one single moment is wasted. Over time, each of these acts becomes a building block in our relationship with Jesus Christ. His character IS rock solid. But in our fallen human state, having encountered unpredictable and untrustworthy people time and time again, we don't come to put our full weight on Him over night. It comes in time. It is built by experience. Give Him a chance. He will prove to be exactly who He says He is, and that knowledge can make the sun rise after even the darkest of nights.
"You are capable, competent, creative, careful. Prove it."
That was the fortune hidden inside my cookie on Friday night at the local Chinese restaurant. I had to laugh. I once heard my Dad jokingly say that my first words were, "Prove it!" I'm naturally a questioner and an analyzer. A truth-seeker. I want things to make sense and to be backed up by logic and facts (life of the party, I know). On the other side of that coin, if something can't be proven, I often have little time for it. I'm not a big fan of philosophical discussions or "what ifs" (much to the chagrin of my visionary, possibility thinking husband). This fortune, turned the magnifying glass back at me though. If I am who I think I am, then I should prove it, right?! It should be backed up by predictable actions and decisions that become "facts" about me and my character.
It is such a blessing to have people in our lives who do what this fortune cookie did for me... remind us of who we are and challenge us to live it out. It is even better to have His Word written on our hearts reminding us of who God says we are and how He's already proven it!
2 Corinthians 5:17 - "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed way. Behold, the new has come!" ESV
Galatians 5:1 - "For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." ESV
Ephesians 5:8 - "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light." ESV
The reality is, I don't have to prove anything to anyone, and no one has anything to prove to me. God has proven what is ultimately true. It is now up to us to walk in that truth. Daily.
Last night a storm came through our town, it continued through most of today bringing strong winds and blowing snow. My husband was sick, so he slept upstairs in our bed and I crashed on the couch, only I couldn't really crash. I just laid there for hours listening to the sound of the wind rushing around our house and through the trees. I heard the creaking of the front porch swing. I felt the strangeness of "perfectly still air" indoors knowing that just on the other side of the window, the door, the exterior walls, the air was anything but still. It was violent, powerful, unstoppable.
I immediately formed a mental picture of the protection of God while the storms of life rage all around yet inner peace is maintained supernaturally. I thought I'd spend some time today writing about that beautiful stillness in the storm. But when I sat down to write, I knew there was more to the story, or at least a different angle. Some winds we are not supposed to be sheltered from. There is a wind we are supposed to be right in the middle of, enveloped by, changed by.
The winds of this world, Jesus can still. He proved that on more than one occasion with his disciples on the sea. Sometimes he demonstrated this power by his words, rebuking the wind and the waves, and other times by his mere presence (Matthew 4 & 6). It strikes me, that when Jesus instructed His disciples that He would have to leave them to return to the Father, but that a helper would come - that the helper was ushered in by a violent, rushing wind (Acts 2). Wind leaves little doubt as to power. Unseen power. Every power on earth was created by God and is less powerful than God, a pale glimpse of what He is capable of. The sun in our solar system is unbelievably bright, so bright we cannot gaze directly at it for very long without fear of damaging our eyes, but we are told that when we are in God's presence in heaven there will be no need for a sun to provide light and warmth. God will BE our light. Unfathomable!
It is only fitting then that He should demonstrate a greater wind as well. A wind that brings life and not destruction. A wind that can distinguish between that which should remain and that which should be blown away within the soul to make room for that which should reside there. I am feeling that now in my own life. Feeling the aches and pains of old soul scars acting up, as a fresh wind prepares to blow through and bring about some needed changes in my life. As Christians, we are not able to live comfortably, happily, unscathed while holding on to things that do not belong in our souls - sinful attitudes, actions, desires. They eat at us and the pressure mounts, reminding us that these lesser gods have no place in our lives. And yet, if we insist on them for long enough, God will allow us to batten down the hatches of our hearts, boarding up the open places - and effectively QUENCH the wind of His Spirit. We haven't beaten Him or overpowered Him if we do this... we have rejected His life-giving work.
This song, by Keith Green expresses a desire to remain wide open for the wind of God's Spirit to blow through our lives and do the work it was created to do. I used to sing it in college and it comes to mind frequently. May I ever be grateful for and open to His Mighty Rushing Wind.
Rushing wind, blow through this temple,
Blowing out the dust within;
Come and breathe your breath upon me:
I've been born again.
Holy Spirit, I surrender; take me where you want to go.
Plant me by your living water,
Plant me deep so I can grow.
Jesus, you’re the one who sets my spirit free;
Use me, Lord; glorify your Holy Name through me.
Separate me from this world, Lord;
Sanctify my life for you.
Daily change me to your image,
Help me bear good fruit.
Ev'ry day you're drawing closer;
Trials come to test my faith.
But when all is said and done, Lord,
You know it's been worth the wait.
Jesus, you’re the one who set my spirit free;
Use me, Lord; glorify your Holy Name through me.
Rushing wind, blow through this temple,
Blowing out the dust within;
Come and breathe your breath upon me,
For I've been born again.
I've lost nothing, personally. Not a family member or friend. Not even a community member or a friend of a friend. Yet, my stomach churns and the tears flow.
I find myself asking... Do I get it now? Do I recognize the frailty of life? Is this what it takes to wake up a 30-something wife and mother to the reality that she will eventually lose every relationship and every earthly thing - either when they pass on to eternity or when she does?
Everything on this earth can and will be shaken. Do I really understand that now? If I do, how then shall I live?
Is this a wake-up call to YOLO living? You do only live once, after all.
Is this a wake-up call to pursue a cause? Gun control? Anti-gun control? Better care and more options for those with mental illnesses? Surely some action should be taken, after all.
Is this a wake-up call to love my family more fully? Do I need to become more involved in my son's school? Devote more time to family activities? Visit relatives more frequently? Family is important, after all.
Is this a wake-up call to be more observant? Do I need to pay closer attention to the people around me who may show signs of being unstable? Should I think back on every person I've known through the years and see who might fit a profile? After all, If I don't notice, who will?
Over the coming days and weeks, Americans will be encouraged to do all of these things by a variety of people we have likely never met nor will we ever meet - newscasters, political figures, heads of movements - and we may even be challenged to examine some of these things by our own family and friends. We are awake now, and when you are awake it is time to get up and do something.
So what shall we do? How shall we live in a world where horrible things happen without a single warning? Here are some suggestions the Bible offers for living "fully awake:"
1. Know God. At the end of the day, everything in this world can be shaken and taken. Make it a point to know the only One who cannot. There is no excuse for not getting to know Him. Romans 1:20 NIV: "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." The unshakable, unchangeable God of the universe invites you to know Him: James 4:8-10 NIV - "Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up."
2. Be Kind, Forgiving and Joyful. Pray and Give Thanks to God. Once you know God and you are steadily learning more about Him more, you inevitably want to know what He wants from your life. What is his will? 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18 - "Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."
3. Spread His Hope, Lovingly. Don't keep His light to yourself. The world is a dark place. Don't just be glad for the Holy Spirit's unquenchable flame in your life; share it with others. 1 Peter 3:15 NIV - "But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."
We can do these things, and by God's grace, though outwardly we may be wasting away as the world turns on, inwardly we can be renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
It will take people who are being inwardly renewed day by day to keep up the good fight - to live life knowing we only have so many days on earth, to respectfully and passionately pursue causes worth pursuing, to love our families selflessly, and to be truly observant and mindful of those around us.
"For this reason it says, 'Awake, Sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." - Ephesians 5:14
What in the world goes on inside our brains any way?
Could there possibly be anything more complex on the Earth than the human brain? It controls our breathing and bodily systems without us even being aware or focusing on those things. The brain is where we process numbers, letters, language, emotions, theories, philosophies, and ideas. It is where we ponder purpose, meaning, and God. We talk about the "heart" and "matters of the soul and spirit" but all of these are processed in the brain - as far as I know there is nothing in my chest or abdominal cavity that is contemplating love, friendship, hatred, sin, or sacrifice... nope, just oxygen, blood, and the Nutter Butter I just snacked on.
I was recently doing some research on the work of the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex of the brain, specifically looking at scientists' observations of the threat/reward impulse and what some call the "Amygdala Hijack
." Fascinating dinner conversation, I can assure you. As scientists observe the brain's activity during different scenarios, they have noticed several consistent patterns:
- Your prefrontal cortex is where logic and reasoning happen.
- The prefrontal cortex is a small portion of your brain.
- Relatively speaking, if the prefrontal cortex was capable of holding 1 square foot of information, the rest of your brain - where subconscious thought and processes occur, apart from our awareness - would hold a Milky Way Galaxy amount of information.
- When you take in stimuli (sights, sounds, sensations, tastes, odors), its first stop in the brain is the thalamus. If the thalamus perceives the stimuli as intense it bypasses the rational prefrontal cortex and sends that stimuli straight to your limbic system (where you amygdala resides).
- The amygdala regulates what scientists call the freeze, fight or flight impulses to threatening or exciting new stimuli. Basically, it is survival mode, and it floods the brain with electro-chemicals that take effect immediately. Heightening our senses with a readiness for action to preserve ourselves.
Here's the deal, the amygdala gets hijacked, and rightfully so, when someone cuts us off in traffic and we are afraid we are going to crash, when we slip near the edge of a cliff and nearly fall, etc. Basically when our lives are at risk. Here's the deeper deal, the limbic system is also subconsciously creating physical reactions in us for social survival
too. It reacts strongly when things like: our status, our ability to predict the future, our sense of being in control, our ability to feel relationally close to others, or our sense of fairness are threatened.
Before we can ever have a rational thought about these things, our brain has established pathways for classifying something as good or bad in relation to these areas.
This is fascinating to me. Science is great! Observing the world around us and even our own bodies and functioning is worthwhile, however, observation of what has been created alone, cannot bring full understanding - in fact it can lead us astray unless we seek the wisdom of the creator to temper it with.1. Science observes: Status is important to people's happiness.
If the brain perceives that social status is being threatened, it reacts strongly. If the brain perceives an increase in social status, being elevated above others, this is desirable. Brain scientist's answer: Elevate yourself.
Seek ways to minimize the threats to your status and maximize the opportunities to get ahead of others. The Bible says: Status belongs to God alone.
We are to reject impulses to elevate ourselves and rather humble ourselves
and allow God to exalt us in due time as He sees fit. (James 4:10, Psalm 145:3, Philippians 2:3
)2. Science says: Knowing the future and living in certainty brings feelings of comfort and security
(increases in dopamine). Brain scientist's answer: Proactively organize your life to reduce uncertainty
, plan, plan, plan.The Bible says: The future belongs to God alone
. He alone knows what it holds and He alone is the source of lasting comfort and security. We are to trust him and release our claims to knowing the future
. (James 4:13-17, 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
)3. Science observes: Having choices and a sense of control is vital to mental health. The Bible says: Releasing control and choosing God's will is vital to spiritual health.
The most important choice is choosing God and that choice leads to relinquishing control, not grasping on to it. (Joshua 24:15, Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 4:1-2, 1 John 2:17
)4. Science observes: Being in relationship with other people and having safety in those relationships frees you to think freely.The Bible says: Offer your friendship to those who may have nothing to give you in return.
Relationships are important and safety in relationships is good, but they aren't all about what's in it for us. (Ephesians 5:21, Romans 12:13-16
)5. Science observes: Do what you can to pursue fairness in your world to reduce your feelings of threat.The Bible says: Life isn't fair because sin is a part of our world.
We need not feel threatened by a lack of fairness because we serve a just God who will right wrongs perfectly in time. We pursue justice, not to make our own path easier or straighter, but to aid those who cannot help themselves.
We do not demand fairness for ourselves because we know that if we were treated fairly, ultimately we deserve death. (Deuteronomy 32:4, Romans 12:17-21)At the end of the day
, we are not bound to the inevitable chemical reactions of our brains. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 NIV says, "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgement. 'For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?' But we have the mind of Christ."
One of the ways scientists have observed to avoid the long lasting effects of a hijacked amygdala is to reframe your reality and experience. As Christians - God has given us a frame for our worldview with which to talk ourselves off the ledges of life. It is given in His Word. Let's fill our minds with the truth of scripture and in doing so re-train our brains to perceive what true threats and rewards really are.
Then we will be ready to take risks, look outside ourselves for fulfillment, sacrifice freely, and basically have a life that counts for something, not just a life that is comfortable.
That's all I have to say about that.
A couple of weeks ago, I told my son a story
that helped renew his faith in God's existence. It got me thinking. How do I know God exists? I have no idea how long this post is going to turn out to be, but I'm going to pour out from my heart whatever comes to mind from my personal experience that reassures me that I know MY GOD exists
. I am going to focus on ways that are personal to me, this isn't going to be an academic or intellectual endeavor this time around, although the evidence is staggering! (Check out the references at the end of this post for more information on the more universal evidence pointing to God's existence
.) These reasons are all mine. You could refute them in a million ways, and explain them away, but it won't take away from my joy or my confidence. My hope doesn't rest on these experiences, (that hope comes from the Bible and the Bible alone) but my faith has been strengthened by them along the way.1. I have been protected from COUNTLESS mishaps as a naive younger woman that cannot be explained. I should have been harmed. Period.
2. I once read my Bible one morning and then went to work and shared what I had learned with a co-worker who sobbed, telling me that she had randomly opened her Bible that very morning in desperation and read the exact same portion of scripture and got up bereaved because she didn't understand it. I had, unknowingly, interpreted it for her, and it spoke directly to a situation she was going through that I was unaware of.3. I have woken up in the middle of the night with crystal clear ideas about ministry that I couldn't have come up with on my own.
4. I have been offered jobs and promotions that my own knowledge and skill set could not have commanded on their own.5. My soul has been saved. Of that I have no doubts.
6. I have a strong desire to be in church with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Every. Sunday.7. I have had just the right friends at just the right times in my life.
8. My heart rate accelerates alarmingly whenever I am in a Bible Study or Sunday School class and I feel like I am supposed to speak up about something. Whatever comes out of my mouth in those moments is passionate and very different emotionally than any other context where I might share things with a group.9. There has been more than one occasion in my life when I needed a certain amount of money and God has provided it either to the penny, or above and beyond.
10. When we moved across the country (at God's leading), we left before our house had sold. We got a solid offer 100 miles before our car crossed the border into the new State we would be living in.11. When our foster daughters were brought to our home, I experienced the most unbelievable feeling of peace and a sustaining energy that I had never felt before. I sensed God's pleasure and His provision.
12. I have been able to forgive offenses that would have haunted others for decades.13. When my son uttered his belief in Christ and asked for forgiveness of his sins at the tender age of 6, he said and did some very specific things that made my heart sing and tears roll down my face. I had been fearful that he would attempt to make that decision too early in life and that he wouldn't really understand it and that I would be plagued with doubts. I have never doubted the reality of that experience for him.
14. I felt compelled to spend some time in intensive research of a specific portion of the Bible. My husband agreed to me being away from the house for 3-4 hours a day for a month as I studied and wrote. When it was all said and done, we didn't know what I was supposed to do with the final product. We prayed about it. Four months later a friend called and asked me if I would speak at weekend women's retreat at her church. I had already prepared for it and I didn't even know she was going to ask.15. My husband is not the man that I spent my college years looking for, and yet he is completely and utterly perfect for me in every way possible. He came into my life unexpectedly and in a desert place (literally).
16. Many times when I read the Bible I find myself getting very excited or weeping, or compelled to act on what I've read. This book was written by men who lived 2,000 years before I came on the scene, who lived in a very different cultural context. There is no other book I have this reaction to.17. Two of our foster daughters' mother was in a coma and very near to death. I taught them to pray for the first times in their lives and we daily prayed for her recovery. She bounced back.
18. My son has an inner joy and an adaptability that we could never have instilled in him on our own. It is a gift from God that has sustained him through a lot of changes.19. My parents moved to Southeast Asia as missionaries before my son learned to crawl. I prayed that he would somehow be able to bond with them and love them well even though the distance couldn't have been greater. They never spent a Christmas, Thanksgiving or birthday with us for the first 8 years of his life. As an 11 year old boy, he LIGHTS UP at the thought of spending time with them and loves them deeply as though they lived down the street.
20. I am rarely without a song in my heart.
These are a few of my faith-builders over the years. They are not yours. They aren't the bottom-line proof of my faith in God, but they are the icing on the cake. Looking for more concrete answers to your questions about God:
1. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry
website - go here and click on "Questions."
2. Evidence That Demands A Verdict
- a book by Josh McDowell
3. Give Me An Answer
website - by Cliff Knechtle
Or - pick up a Bible - say a prayer telling God you want to find Him - seek out a Bible believing church to start attending - and see what happens:"You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." - God.
Bikes were made to ride! I knew this from a young age, but I also knew, that riding them could involve crashing and injury, and that knowledge kept me learning to ride a bike until I was almost 10 years old. I am a late-blooming bike rider, and this is my story.
My brother rode his bike like a speed demon from a very early age. My father, knowing my intense fear (and my stubborn nature), refused to buy me my own bicycle until I bit the bullet and learned to ride one of the bicycles the family already owned. He also refused my insistence on training wheels altogether. (Remind me to tell you someday about how he made me learn to drive in a stick-shift car on a hilly road, during the time of day when the sun was right in your eyes...he wasn't big on coddling, shall we say.) Well, in my mind, the bikes in our shed wouldn't do at all. They were too far off the ground! I could fall, I could get seriously injured! So, I dug my heels in and just refused to learn.
That was all fine and dandy until ALL of my friends had mastered the art of riding a bike and we all started to get old enough to be given a bit more freedom. Suddenly, my friends were out riding their bikes around the neighborhood and to each others' houses to visit and I was being left behind. One day a friend who was unaware of my non-bike-riding status, knocked on my front door and invited me to ride to the park. I panicked. Without thinking, I said, "Sure! Just let me get my bike." I purposefully went to the shed and pulled out a bike and then proceeded to WALK IT ALL THE WAY TO THE PARK while my friend rode beside me very slowly, totally perplexed. I kept insisting, "I just feel like walking today."
The truth was that I didn't at all feel like walking. I wanted nothing more than to hop on that bike and ride alongside my friend with my hair blowing in the breeze, but I was afraid I'd crash,fall, and bleed. The truth was, I probably would fall. Most people do when they learn to ride a bike, right? My fear wasn't irrational, it had just become too large in my mind.
Can I fess up right now? This still happens to me to this day. Oh, I learned to ride a bike alright (with minimal bloodshed, thank-you-very-much), but fears can still become inappropriately large in my mind if I let them. There are legitimately concerning things in this world, don't get me wrong! We are all bound to take a tumble or two (or 10) financially, with our health, in our relationships, at work, at church, in service to others, at school, the unknown is vast and the likelihood of coming through life unscathed is nonexistent. So what is a girl to do? Fake it? Pretend to take risks while always keeping one foot safely on the ground? Not an option - we aren't fooling anyone! Everyone can see when you are walking the bike and everyone knows it isn't because you "feel like walking." You are afraid. Admit it. Confess it. Ask God to help you through it.
As someone who is currently and has in the past navigated some pretty treacherous terrain in life, let me tell you - the ride is worth it.
Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you."
"You and I are in little (our sins excepted) what God is in large." - A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.
I am pondering this quote today. Genesis 1:27 tells us that we were made in God's image. With the exception of our sin nature, the stuff that makes us up is a minute version of the stuff that makes up God. That is worth a few moments of reflection, and could even change the way we view ourselves and others forever if pondered with the proper weight!
If you are single, you have probably been asked what you look for in a potential date/spouse. If you are married, chances are you've had a single friend ask you what they should look for in a mate. How do you answer? Our laundry list of desirable traits might read like this:
- a sense of humor
- good with children
- spiritually mature
- attractive (to you)
- a good communicator
The list could go on and on. Look back over the list for a moment. Is there any trait that does not apply to God? God embodies the most complete, perfect, holy version of every trait that is attractive to us in another human being. The qualities in others that draw us to them, are the very qualities of God; the qualities that God himself possesses in FULL MEASURE.
The challenge that comes with this knowledge is three fold:
1 - To view God accurately - not to withhold from him in our minds the very characteristics that we admire in others, not to downplay His perfection or His ability, not to make Him something that He is not in our thoughts - something that is on the same level as what we have observed here on earth. He is entirely other, beyond what we can fathom in His perfection.
2 - To view ourselves accurately - not to beat ourselves up for having emotions (our God experiences emotions), not to accept a lower standard when a higher one has been set by our Creator, not to see ourselves as greater than we are - no matter how much we excel in a given trait, God is greater still to the nth degree.
3 - To view others accurately - to admire their positive qualities without elevating them to the place of demi-god in our minds, to expect and hope for the best in others because we know they are made of "god-stuff," just as we are (even if they aren't demonstrating it for a season), to refrain from judging them for the qualities that are lesser developed in them than in ourselves - to quote a former Sunday School teacher of mine: "Comparing my vertical leap with my neighbor's is pretty foolish if the moon is the goal." No one can can jump to the moon and the few inches that I may have over my neighbor in my vertical leap is a pretty ridiculous comparison when I consider the actual goal. (Thanks for the illustration, Doug Bridges, I've never forgotten it.)
The lyrics to this song say perfectly some of what I have just stumbled through trying to explain, I hope it blesses you and increases your scope of who our God is and how great He is:
"Some of us have turned over more new leaves than Central Park! David called on God instead, to create something entirely new within him
." - Fresh Faith
, by Jim Cymbala
The beginning of a new school year feels a lot like January 1st to me. The calendar year may not roll over and the ball in Times Square may not drop, but there is definitely a sense of freshness and new possibilities. I remember, as a college student, setting goals for the school year that mainly involved dropping the bad habits I'd picked up in the previous semester... I committed to more studying, more time in the Bible, more phone calls home, less skipping classes, less Ben & Jerry's, and less procrastination. Somehow, just like New Year's resolutions, those commitments didn't last long.
I love this quote from Jim Cymbala in his book, Fresh Faith
. It is a great reminder that God is willing and able to recreate us, not just repackage us.
So, my prayer for all of us, especially those returning to school in the days ahead is the same as David's "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me
." Psalm 51:10 NIV.
Here's to a great school year marked by the kind of changes that only God can create!
The next two weeks will be filled with goodbyes for our family. As our move date rapidly approaches, each time we see someone now, we aren't sure whether we will see them again before we move, so we end up taking a bit more time and a bit more care when we say each goodbye. The students at Lock Haven University have a special place in our hearts. I first opened my own heart wide to them all when I arrived in Lock Haven several weeks before the rest of the family in 2009. I remember attending the first New Life Student Fellowship meeting of the school year and introducing myself as the wife of their soon-to-be Campus Minister. I remember telling this group of strangers to feel free to call me or Facebook or just stop by the house I was staying at any time. I invited the girls to come over for dinner one night and told them to be sure to RSVP so I'd know how many to cook for. Their unique way of responding is now a cherished memory documented in the picture below. To say I loved it would be the understatement of the century. I loved that I had opened my heart to them and they responded by showing me that they were so grateful that I had.
Whenever we open our hearts to others, we take a risk. We risk rejection. We risk being hurt. We risk learning things about ourselves or them that we didn't want to learn. Certainly, there are those who we initially open our hearts to that end up becoming people that we need to be careful with. Jim Cymbala, Pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, says it this way in his book, Fresh Faith:
"Don't you know how to say no? This is not your house! You don't have the right to let in everyone/thing that wants to enter."
Pastor Cymbala is refering to the fact that, as believers, our hearts are God's dwelling place, and that when He takes up residence, He also takes up ownership. We don't get to choose who we let in and who we keep out any more. He decides. "You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price..." 1 Corinthians 6:20 NLT. Sometimes we agree with Him. Other times we don't. The result should be the same: obedience. We can't keep people at arms-length any more just because they are different or difficult. Nor can we continue to allow others to remain close to us and sin in the way they treat us or interact with us (emotional/verbal/physical abuse, causing us to stumble,) without speaking up. We have to love them enough to set up boundaries that keep them at an appropriate distance to encourage their healing and repentance and not enable their sinful tendencies in our relationship.
Many more times, however, we will open our hearts and be rewarded as a result. Sometimes through finding a kindred spirit, other times by learning lessons we needed at just the time we needed them. Sometimes by finding a catalyst for our own maturity, other times by being able to help another along on his/her journey. We have found all of these things in our relationships with students and friends here in Lock Haven. As we prepare to move, we will once again, open our hearts wide to the people in our new church and city, and wait expectantly to see how God asks us to respond to each and every one.
Until then, we will spend the next two weeks, reassuring those who have a special place in our hearts just how precious they are to us and how very privileged we have been to walk with them these few years. We don't regret opening our hearts to any of you one bit!