The phoenix is one of my favorite symbols: It’s a mythical fire bird which consumes itself in flames and rises renewed from the ashes. It doesn’t do this just once, but many times, so that it lives on and on. It reminds me of the beautiful passage from Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. . . to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit… (Isaiah 61:1, 3 ESV)
I can’t help thinking about this creature and these verses on this first day of the new year, as I say goodbye to 2015 (I won’t miss it at all), and look forward to a brand new year. I woke up today and it was as if I had new eyes too see everything; I had hope and joy for the days ahead like I haven’t had in quite some time—maybe ever. Today truly is a new day; all the days before are gone, and they cannot tell me who I am or hold me back from where God is leading me. I am ready to leave those ashes behind, no looking back, for the beauty and the joy of walking with the Lord in His all-consuming fire.
It is a happy new year indeed.
I haven’t felt much of the “Christmas Spirit” this year, and I’m not really sure why. This season of my life has been tough in general, but usually Christmastime brings great joy: All the lights and shiny things, giving the gifts, sharing the good food and good times… This year not so much. But today, I spent some time with a friend helping her get things ready for her Christmas, and when I went home and was mulling over all these things, I came to this:
Why do we celebrate Christmas? I know the Charlie Brown answer, but really—why do we care that a baby was born in a manger a couple ago? We could talk about Isaiah 9, John 1, the story of his birth in Luke…
The story of this baby is a wondrous and beautiful one, full of angel praise and mysterious dreams. But this is really only part of the whole story of who Jesus is, and this is what matters. What makes this story worth telling is what happens after Chapter 1.
This baby born became a man who died, who lived again and received his crown as The King.
Jesus is the fulfillment of every promise of God; He is the Word made flesh; He is the embodiment of the Love of God that always was and always is and always will be. He came as a human child to grow up and become who he really is, and to fulfill the promise of reconciliation and to bring new life, so that we too could grow up and become who we really are, and become the fulfillment of God’s promise of Love to those around us.
When people talk about having the “Spirit of Christmas all year round” (thank you A Christmas Carol), they’re talking about unconditional, extravagant, beautiful, Capital-L Love—the kind of Love that God lavishes on his kids, the Love that Jesus himself is the absolute greatest proof of—not because he was a little boy born in a barn, but because he is the Son of God, who chose to die and rise again, to fulfill God’s promise to all his kids: The promise that He Is who He says; the promise that you are everything He says you are, and you can live this great story He’s written about you.
PS—If you’re breathing air, God considers you His kid, and all of this applies to You. ❤
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And Now, if you need a little Christmas Pep, enjoy this Happy Christmas song:
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You don’t understand how much I love you.
You don’t understand how the joy I felt as soon as I had conceived of you in my mind drove me to form you, or the way your first breath and cry made my heart swell and my feet dance. Nor can you fathom how excited I was when I made the earth and everything in it, knowing one day, the perfect day, you would walk in it. I saw you before you were, and I couldn’t wait for you to become—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
You can’t imagine the sorrow in my heart, knowing I’d given you the gift of choosing everything I Am, but that you would reject it—reject Me. I raise the sun even when you aren’t looking and I never get tired of searching for your heart, nor of opening mine to you—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
You don’t know just how far I reached through space and time to pierce the darkness that blocks My light from your view, to shatter the boundary between your heart and my love, to offer you My hand, forever. I will never give up on you, no matter how far you run or how deep you dive, no matter what you say to My face or what you do when you believe My back is turned to you—I never turn my back on you—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
My heart sings when you turn to me, when your heart reaches for mine, when your spirit worships in truth. You reach up to Me, and I am already there with you; you cry out to Me and I have already heard it. You bask in My presence and let My love overflow in your being until you think you should burst, but this is only a glimpse, a taste of my passion for you. I made you for Myself, and all that I make is good. I know who you are, I wrote a wonderful story about you, when I dreamt of you before the foundation of all things. I made you out of faith that you are able to be and to do all I imagined you could—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
At night, and especially in the rain, everything can look very different. Streets you’ve driven many times look unfamiliar, the lines on the road become hard to distinguish among the many reflections from streetlights and businesses, and even though you know where you’re going, suddenly it seems like getting there has become more challenging.
This will be honest.
A friend of mine recently asked me why I seem to have changed so much in the past few months, and I realized tonight (while driving home, in this midsummer weather bummer) that part of it is because my life has become very unfamiliar to me. A lot of changes have happened in my life in a relatively short span of time, and I have been grasping for something that feels like the way things were; something familiar, from what I think of as a good time in my life. Even though it’s the same road I’ve been on, a turn somewhere brought me into the night; the lines on this road are harder to see amidst the distractions and deceptions coming from the side. I feel alone on this road, and I’m nervous about driving it. Suddenly the path I was sure of has become foreign and even frightening. Suddenly, I feel like I don’t know where I am.
I realized the things I’m grasping for are times and seasons and places that I have passed through, but can’t get back to, or things that aren’t here yet that I keep hoping will be. What I’m missing, what I’m really looking for, is something unchanging. I hunger for that place that can be reached from anywhere I am—I want the peace, the quiet stillness, the presence of my Father.
I’ve also realized the quiet is something I’ve come to dread. All my fears find a voice there, and all the worries begin to shout in the silence, and the many things I feel I must do to keep occupied suddenly seem so very important. I ride the wave of the clamor right past the secret place into more chaos, and the things I do just to keep busy really just keep me cluttered and confused. Then, when the desire to meet God in my prayer closet becomes so strong I might actually act on it, I feel guilty or ashamed for having put Him off, and so continue to put Him off (which totally fixes the problem..?). Yet in the times when I find that place, and the voice of the Lord breaks through with a blast of peace, I remember the comfort of His presence and the joy of His word. He is the solid ground I’m looking for while this ground seems unstable. He is the light that shines without distortion, though the night is dark and the rain is heavy. When I live by His presence, I find the road I’m on to be one I’m able to travel, regardless of how hard it is. I am reminded that I’m not driving alone, either in my own vehicle or as the only vehicle on this road.
I am also reminded in these times, when I allow the Holy Spirit to refresh and strengthen me, that there is no time or place in life when I can’t seek Him. Another friend of mine was recently talking about “getting to that place” where she can find God again, and when I opened my mouth to reply, the Spirit came out and said, more or less: “You don’t have to get anywhere. Find Him where you are, because He’s seeking you where you are.” How often we think we must be a certain way, or change certain things, or find a new circumstance, before we feel like we can come into His presence again. God is always where we are, right there with us. Certainly He wants to lead us into new places—but it’s impossible to be led by someone who isn’t there, so how can God be elsewhere? This brings a whole new dimension to that familiar phrase, “Be where you are.” You can’t live in either your past or your future, for better or worse. You’re not what you were, nor what you will be, but you are, here and now—and so is God. Find Him where you are, without fear or shame, without regrets, without reserve; and let Him find you, every part of you. Whether you feel completely lost or completely on track, seek Him; He already knows the road you’re on.
So I never watch Church TV, but this morning I turned on some TV Church programs, just because. I ended up flipping through a couple, all with good, smart, biblically-sound teaching. I ended up on a channel with a Youth Pastor who was preaching something different, and I noticed a trend: the “grown-up” church teachings were all about little nuggets of wisdom and power that can be mined out of the Scriptures and applied to everyday life, but this youth service was all about how God loves. This Youth Pastor was talking about how, of all the weapons in God’s heavenly arsenal, the one He chose to use to save humanity was Love; he went on to to talk about how God saved him from his pit, how God is not angry or disappointed in everyone, how He loves. And it struck me as odd that the message of God’s love should be reserved for the young and the new believers, as if it is something to be moved on from in favor of “higher” teachings.
Now there is certainly a maturity that must be developed as one grows in the Lord. In Hebrews 5, the writer talks about how those he writes to should be graduating from basic teachings, from “milk” to “solid food.” The love of God is foundational to living a life following Him; He doesn’t make sense without it. The basic, foundational things should not be discarded, however, but built upon. God’s love never becomes obsolete, as if one could spirtitually upgrade past the need for it. To the contrary, as one grows in the Lord, the knowledge of His love should increase rather than diminish–as if the God who is Love could ever change.
My Pastor has been talking recently about how we are like dogs in that God has given each of us a passion to pursue that one thing He made us for—like a dog has a passion for chasing a ball. A person in the Lord is like a well-loved dog: we aren’t afraid of not being fed, we’re content to just be in the Master’s presence, and we certainly come running when He picks up our ball. But so many of us forget all the love of the Master and instead live like distrusting cats. We hide, we avoid the Master; we cry out for fear of not being fed, or of being left alone, or of being locked in or out of the house. It’s because we forget just how much affection God has for us, how much He loves us.
Deeper understanding and a more mature mindset are certainly part of growing in the Lord, and we must lay aside immature ways of thinking and put down misconceptions. But God’s love is not something anyone can grow out of; it’s something we’re supposed to keep growing in. So don’t forget the basics you are building on: “For God so loved the world…”
So many people, when they think about approaching God, imagine something like this:
But God is actually more like this:
God wants to be with you.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.[…] (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
God is Love.
He Loves You.
He is The King; He is mighty, powerful, and worthy of honor. But His everlasting, unconditional love must be understood first; without it, He doesn’t make sense.
I was talking to my very good friend last night about my current life situation(s) and all the uncertainty that comes with, and she remarked that “Limbo” seems like the story of my life right now.
Oh, that is the most apt description of my life I have ever heard.
My autobiography could be titled “Limbo” with the subtitle, “How low can you go (and still trust God)?”
(I know that’s mixing metaphors, but it’s still true.)
In the past year I have started college solely by financial aid, lost my job, been unable yet to find a new job, had to move out of my lovely apartment and in with a friend (who is absolutely wonderful, by the way); and just today I found out that a class I took this quarter may be worthless as it pertains to my degree requirements. These are a few of the recent major happenings of my life and, needless to say, I am stressed.
I’ll admit it, this post is a little ranty, but I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way.
My favorite passage in Scripture when I first got saved was Matthew 6:25-34; you could call it the “Do Not Worry” mini-sermon (it is part of the portion known as the Sermon on the Mount). Jesus says that no one should worry about anything: if God feeds sparrows and clothes flowers, both of which are virtually useless, then He will certainly take care of a person’s every need; if one seeks Him first, that person will be supplied from heaven. It is certainly true, and I believe God keeps His promises, but man is it hard!
I feel like I am going through training on how to be Paul: “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:11-12).
Some may say I should think about people in other countries, especially those experiencing actual persecution for the faith. It is true: I can’t hold a candle to their suffering. When I look at the things other people go through, it makes me seem downright “whiny”. A wise woman once said something to effect of, “We don’t get to decide what is a big deal to someone else.” We can’t compare our own suffering to that of others.
After writing all of that, I am reminded of this: God Is Who He says He Is, regardless of circumstance or experience. He Is faithful, He Is love, He Is power.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
His plans for our welfare don’t mean we all get a Ferrari and a house on the coast. His plans for our welfare mean everything will be taken care of, even if it’s not the way we imagined or planned: I didn’t plan on being an unemployed student, while seeing many of my friends happily married, some with kids, able to pay their own bills.
God’s plans are also for His glory. What seems hard to us on earth—finding a job, finding a mate, breaking addiction, leaving the past, fighting through illness, mastering emotions—all of this is easy for God, not because it is meaningless, but because He is God. Jesus lived on the earth: he experienced the hard life first-hand—he even asked God to not have him go to the cross… But he went, because he trusted God, and God said that was the only way that Jesus could be The Way.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Romans 8:18 (Paul)
We can’t compare our sufferings on earth with those of others, because what tears the heart of a person can’t be measured by other people. But when I look to heaven, not as a coming thing but as something that is here now—as Jesus said, it is in our midst—then my hope is restored; there is glory to be revealed to us, and also through us:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
God has something amazing to bring through us, to be witnessed by those on earth and in the heavenly realms. Some of those in the heavenly realms include the enemy, who hates us and will do everything he can to get our eyes off God and on what’s wrong, and he’s good at it. But my God is greater, and I know my story isn’t over yet.
…we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
I know that His love is big enough for me to tell Him how I really feel; I know He holds me, and I know He is leading me. So after I’ve flopped down and complained, I get up and brush off the dirt and follow after Him, and I know He’s still smiling at me.
I have found that lately I am increasingly fond of the sky. I just love looking at it. I’m fascinated by the colors and textures and light and movement: even if the sky has certain patterns and tendencies, it’s never the same. I always think it’s beautiful, no matter what the weather is like.
I was driving along minding my own business, admiring the sky in such fashion, when all of a sudden God showed me something about healing:
It was an overcast day (which isn’t odd for Washington), so the sky was covered in a rolling blanket of pale gray clouds. I then saw a little rift in the clouds, and the sun shone through, warm and bright, for a moment, and then slowly the clouds rolled over the light and covered it again.
It struck me then that the light didn’t go anywhere, but it was only blocked from view. That is when God began to show me this is how it is when He heals someone: if the physical world we live in is the shroud of clouds, then healing is when God gives us a glimpse of the realm of heaven. It is only a glimpse, because even if someone’s body is completely and perfectly healed here on earth, it will still keep on being alive and therefore aging and changing; since that person still lives in this fallen world, they may still get sick with a cold or encounter some other health issue. Ultimately these bodies weren’t made to last forever. Healing, like many of the things God does, is a taste of eternity.
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Scripture doesn’t say whether or not Jesus then attended to the “multitude” of other people who were there awaiting healing, but I think it is safe to assume he did not. Some people may be wondering why, if God can heal them, He chooses not to; they may even think it’s because He doesn’t love them. God’s love for us is as great as He Himself is great—all of His being is consumed with love for us! Healing is a display of His glory and power, and while it is wonderful for the person being healed, it isn’t just for them but for everyone else who sees it or hears about it as well. While God does heal out of love, it is not the proof of His love. The proof of His love is His Son, who went to death on a cross on our behalf, and who returned to life in power to give us power and hope for today.
. . .[H]e himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. . . .having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. . .
Even if someone has an infirmity that isn’t yet healed, they can still experience a taste of heaven every day. When we seek to know God more, to live in His presence, listen to His voice, and act on what He says and reveals, we are not only experiencing heaven ourselves, but we then bring it with us wherever we go. If someone is consumed with the healing they don’t have, however, they can never experience the fullness of joy and life that God intends for them. An infirmity, like everything else in this world, is only temporary; it will all pass away when the world passes away.
I am not suggesting it is easy, but I am asserting that your pain, your handicap, your illness and your hurts are not your true identity: You are a beloved child of God! His plans for you are enormous, and through Him you are able to overcome all things. We should pray for healing for each other, as Jesus commands us to heal in the power of the Spirit he gives us. But healing is more than just relief or even performing a cool miracle: just as everything we do or say by the Holy Spirit, it is about bringing heaven on earth—letting God have His way for His glory. One day, when “the grey rain-curtain of this world is rolled back,”* we will be completely healed, forever. Yet as the light of the sun never disappears but is only hidden by the clouds, so is heaven present here and now, though we only catch glimpses of it.
Colored pencil & oil pastel on hot press board. *Please don’t copy or save this image*
This is a project I had to do for an art class, actually: a musically-inspired piece.
The song that I chose is “Like and Avalanche” by Hillsong United.
I strongly encourage you to listen to the song as you consider my work:
Feel free to turn it up!
All the elements of this picture reflect aspects of the song, or at least how it affected me at the time. I’m certain that if I did another on the same song, it would look very different.
I have always loved this song since the first time I heard it. While it’s called “Like an Avalanche,” it makes me think of tidal waves. God’s presence and love is like the song: it is gentle and beautiful and joyful; but it is also powerful and fierce, and can overwhelm you with little warning. Grace is more than “unmerited favor” or even forgiveness of sins; grace is the power of God in the life of one who believes Him to be who He says they are, and to live as He has called them.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” —Ephesians 2:4-7
“For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” —Romans 5:7-10
This week I had to pick a topic for my final paper in my Argument & Persuasion class. As it turns out, the one I picked specifically because it is not a huge controversial issue turned out to incite quite the debate in my group when it was my turn to share what I had. I don’t like confrontation, so I immediately qualified my (weak) view by stating that I was thinking of picking a better topic anyway. My teacher was there at the time, and replied thus:
“Not writing something because people might not understand you goes against… well, writing!”
I realized that the saying goes beyond writing; it’s never about whether or not people get what you’re saying or doing. It’s about following through with what God has told you, and leaving the rest up to Him.
But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
Acts 4:19-20 (ESV)
There are chunks of scripture in the book of Ezekiel, in both chapters 3 and 33, where God tells him that if he is given a message for others, but when he tells them they don’t listen, then it’s their problem; but if he doesn’t tell them at all and they fall, then it becomes his problem, since it was his responsibility to warn them. We also are given words to speak and assignments to complete, and while God is sovereign and will ultimately have His way, what might we be missing out on in our fear and disobedience? Where might heaven not be opened and territory not taken for the kingdom? Or who might have to go on in the same way, waiting for someone else to speak up in faith while they suffer?
I have recently been at the receiving end of a faithfully delivered word which caused much turmoil in my soul. My friends who spoke to me made sure I understood that they couldn’t not share what they heard because of their love for me as a friend, and because of the immense love of God for me. It is, afterall, out of love only that God gives any message; His desire is for us and not against us. Another faithful friend was helping me process these things, and reminded me of this: It’s only when everything is shaken that the things which can not be shaken are revealed, and we are able to stand firm.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Matthew 10:34 (ESV)
Pastor James spoke this weekend of those who are assigned to stand firm even to the point of death. Those people can only stand because they have allowed the Lord to make their foundation strong and their lives bold, and to remove all hindrances and blockades in their lives. Some of us are meant to shake things up; some of us are sent to bring war to places the enemy has been content in. Some of us will stand until we are cut down in the body, but we all will rise in the Spirit, even as Christ rose, to life true and eternal. If our lot is the Kingdom of Heaven, which never fades, then what on earth is there to be afraid of?
This is the question that every person who has ever lived on the earth has been born with. It’s the question that is implanted into the hearts of every human being ever created. We are always trying to answer it, because the answer to our identity determines our actions, and we want to know, “What am I here to do?” The question is always preceded, even unconsciously, by, “Who am I?”
I am a child of the Living God (Acts 17:28); I am called to His great will and design for my life, which is too big for me to define (Ephesians 3:20; Psalm 139:6); I am the woman He wrote in the story of my life long before I was born, before the earth came into existence (Psalm 139:16); I am full of fire and power to accomplish everything He has said I can do (Ephesians 6:10-13), and His word never fails (Isaiah 55:11); I am royalty, the daughter of the King of Kings (Romans 8:14-17); and I am His Beloved (Song of Solomon 2:2), part of the Body and the Bride of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13,27; Revelation 21:9-11).
Who are you?
If you don’t know, you should find out.
As Pastor James Sheen says in his blog*, “You can’t escape it. It’s already in you. It’s the pressure of a purposed soul.” We are who God says we are, and we always have been; it’s time we started acting like it.
“But that is not the way you learned Christ!–assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceiful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
The “new self” can really called the “original self,” the person that God wrote before He put you on the earth. Any identity you are living by that does not match who God is and what He says is an identity imposed upon you by the enemy. It may be all you have ever known. But the enemy works to destroy you from your first breath. Why? So that your life will not come to the full fruition of everything God intends to manifest through you; so that you will never see all God has for you, and that God will not be glorified in your life. God didn’t keep it a secret when He made you; He is proud of you, His beloved masterpiece, and He told everyone, just like He did with Job. A very good friend of mine maintains that “we are all Job,” and I agree. So the question now is this: Will you be the justification of all God’s bragging about who you are in Him, or will you let that story go unlived?
Find out who you are, and then live like you believe it.
*Pastor James Sheen’s blog: http://believe2day.com/2013/02/14/why/