Let Me Feel You Shine

So beautiful and warm…

Nothing into something

It’s easy to feel like we have nothing to offer.

It’s easy to feel like we are a nobody.

Hebrews 11 talks about the “heroes of faith” in the Bible. One of the main focuses of this chapter is Abraham. He is probably one of the most faithful people in the Bible, and God used him to be the father of a whole nation.

But the cool thing about Abraham’s story, is that he wasn’t anybody special until God chose him. And he probably didn’t know how big of a “hero” he was when he was in the midst of his story.

In the same way, God has an awesome plan for you and me. We might not be the father (or mother) of a nation, but we each have someone we can reach, something we can accomplish. We might not know right now that what we are doing is important, or that we have an impact on someone. We might not think we are important. I might not think I matter that much. But God thinks I do, and he can make me into a somebody. He can take my nothing and make it into something.

There’s a verse in Romans about Abraham and how God used him. I like how different translations put it, so here’s a few:

As it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you,” in the presence of him who he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. (NASB)

That is what the Scriptures mean when God told him, “I have made you the father of many nations.” This happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing. (NLT)

We call Abraham “father” not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody. Isn’t that what we’ve always read in Scripture, God saying to Abraham, “I set you up as a father of many peoples”? (MSG)

Romans 4:17

I don’t tend to read the Message version very much, but I like the way it gives a different perspective on things sometimes. I like the way it continues on in the next several verse:

Abraham was first named “father” and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding not to live on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples.
Romans 4:18

Abraham “dared to trust God.” Do I dare to do the same? I just need to give God my permission to take my nothing and turn it into something–“with a word.”

What a challenge.

It’s easy to feel like we have nothing to offer.

It’s easy to feel like we are a nobody.

And we are.

BUT.

If we give ourselves to God. If I give myself to God, he can take my nothing and turn it into something. He can take a nobody and turn them into a somebody. Somebody that brings others to him. Something that brings him glory.

And all we have to do is let him.

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Game changer

Being raised in a Christian family, going to church, Bible studies, youth group, the whole deal, I always grew up hearing the concept of God as our Father. I have maybe even taken it a little for granted. It was never a concept that bothered me or didn’t work for me; my own father is great and I’ve had plenty of good father-figures in my life. God as my Father makes sense. He’s the one who ultimately takes care of me and cares for me. He is my protector, my direction. But most importantly, as children of God we have constant, immediate access to God. We can go directly before him as his beloved children.

But all of that is only true because of Jesus. Because Jesus, God’s Son, came to our earth as a man and died for our sins, removing our separation from God.

After Jesus’ resurrection, he speaks to Mary in the garden. He tells her to go and find the disciples and pass on a message:

But go find my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.
John 20:17

Throughout the book of John, Jesus refers to God as his Father over 100 times. But it’s always his Father. Jesus’ Father. But now, not only is God Jesus’ Father, he is our Father. From that point forward, we are given access to God. We are given that relationship.

In the Old Testament, there are few times where God is portrayed as a Father, and many of these are referring to a general concept of God as the “father” of the nation of Israel. But Jesus takes it to a much more personal level. Now we individually are children of God. It’s not just for Israel, it’s not just for a nation, it’s for each and every one of us.

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Once again

Once again I look upon the cross where you died,
I’m humbled by your mercy and I’m broken inside.
Once again I thank you,
Once again I pour out my life.

It’s Easter week, the time when most Christians focus on the death of Jesus and of course his resurrection. Many of us may not think about the cross and it’s significance any other time of the year (though we probably should). This song makes me think of that. Once again, Easter comes around, and I look at the cross where Jesus died. Once again, I am filled with this amazement at what Jesus went through. For me. He poured out his life for me, and I should do the same for him.

A few years ago, the worship pastor at our church wrote a beautiful song about the cross. It’s chorus is simple, yet so powerful.

To the cross I surrender.
By the cross I am free.
On the cross hung my Savior for me.
Thank you Jesus for the cross.

(Check out Mike’s song here!)

It is to the cross, to Jesus who gave his life on the cross, we surrender our lives. We surrender our personal plans, our agendas, our selfish desires, and our sins.

It is by the cross that we receive grace and freedom. No longer are we bound by the punishment of sin, by the looming threat of death and condemnation (Romans 6:23). Jesus took all our sin on that cross, and now when God looks at us, he sees Jesus instead of our sin.

Jesus did that for each and every one of us, because he loves us. It’s one of the most over-stated verses of the Bible, but that’s because it says this so perfectly: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

Why am I not more thankful in my every day life for the cross?

–One side note: the great thing about Christianity is that, though the cross is amazing and meaningful, that’s not where the story ends. The real ending is the empty tomb. And that, ultimately, is what sets our faith apart. There is hope, there is a future, the story doesn’t end here at the cross. It continues on today.

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You make beautiful things

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.

All this pain, I wonder if I’ll ever find my way.
I wonder if my life could really change at all.
All this earth, could all that is lost ever be found,
Could a garden come up from this ground at all.

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.

All around, hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You.

You make me new, You are making me new.
You make me new, You are making me new.

Spring is a time of beautiful things… of beautiful things coming up from the dead ground. I can look out in my yard and though most of the grass still looks pretty dead, there’s new, green blades popping up all over. The most beautiful shade of green, full of life and hope.

I just started a garden in my yard. Right now it’s just a square of dirt. I need to wait a few weeks for the weather to warm just a little more so I can plant some flowers. I’m excited to see some beauty grow out of that brown patch of ground.

Spring is a good reminder that, just like God makes beautiful things out of the “ugliness” of winter, so he makes us into beautiful things, no matter how “ugly” our life might be.

I was reading the story of Peter denying Jesus after Jesus has been arrested and is on his way to death (Luke 22:54-62, and other places.) Peter probably felt absolutely terrible about what he had done, probably felt like he could never do anything right, probably felt like he had completely destroyed the best thing he had in his life–his relationship with Jesus. But you know what’s cool? Peter goes on to do some pretty amazing things with his life and for God’s kingdom. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people come to know Jesus because of Peter, he performed several miracles, and helped start what has become the worldwide Church.

When the people question Peter about his association with Jesus that night after Jesus has been arrested, Peter is scared and denies Jesus. The next time Peter is under pressure about Jesus, in Acts 4, he speaks out with boldness. The difference? Peter has been filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus has made him new. He has a fresh start. He is ready to take on the world.

Out of chaos, life is being found in You.

Beautiful Things, by Gungor. 

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See the potential

I like how Jesus always sees the best in people. Because that means he sees the best in me.

He sees our potential, who we could be, and the best parts of ourselves that we sometimes miss.

In John 17, Jesus prays before going forward with the night that will end in his death. He prays for himself, for his disciples, and for future believers. I particularly like the way he prays for the disciples:

I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know everything I have is a gift from you, for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.
John 17:6-8

If you read the gospels, particularly John, the disciples don’t seem to be the sharpest tools in the shed. They are often selfish, confused, and argumentative. Jesus has pretty much told them everything they need to know and they still don’t get it, even up to the last minute. But in this prayer, Jesus sounds pretty confident in his disciples and in their belief foundation. If you read the book of Acts, sure, the disciples do some pretty amazing things and win many people to Christ (though they’re still not perfect all the time, but that’s ok), but they have not shown themselves to be that yet. Even in the hours following this prayer, many of the disciples flee, hide, and even deny they knew who Jesus is.

Yet Jesus could see their potential. When he prayed for them, yes I’m sure he knew they would have doubts, but he also knew that they had all the knowledge they needed within themselves and he could see what they were capable of.

In the same way, I believe that Jesus sees my potential– even when I’m at my worst. When I’m not living my faith to the fullest, Jesus doesn’t give up on me, rather he shows me where I’m missing out. And just like Jesus prayed for the disciples then, I believe that Jesus talks to God about me. In Hebrews it talks about how Jesus is our intercessor, taking our requests before God. Jesus is our access point to God; it is in his name that there is power.

This thought both encourages and challenges me. It encourages me to know that even though I’m not perfect and never will be, Jesus sees me in the best possible light. It also challenges me, however, because I know that Jesus knows I’m better than this. At whatever point I’m at in my life, Jesus knows that I have more potential. The good news is, I’m not on my own. He wants to help me reach that potential. Like a good teacher helps their students get the best grade they can and pushes them to learn more, so Jesus does to me.

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Remember, give thanks, and trust

In the class I teach for our preteen students (4th & 5th graders) on Sunday mornings, we have been walking through the books of the Bible since January, usually doing about 2 weeks at a time. We just made it to Nehemiah, so we have nearly finished all the “history” parts of the story of the Israelites. A common theme throughout the Israelites’ history is a failure to continue obeying God followed by reminders of  God’s provision. But those reminders aren’t just stories to think about, .

Somehow, I’ve always missed the personal application that lies there until I read one of the devos from One Thousand Gifts. The author made me realize that remembering with a thankful heart the God of yesterday creates trust in the God of tomorrow.

In memory, the shape of God’s yesterday-heart emerges and assures of God’s now-heart and reassures of His sure beat tomorrow. And for the first time I see why the Israelites are covenanted with God to be a people who remember with thanks. It is thanksgiving that shapes a theology of trust, and the Israelites bear witness and I see. 

Isn’t this what ultimately Jesus asks of us in the Last Supper? One of the very last directives he offers to his disciples, the one of supreme import but one I too often neglect–to remember. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Remember and give thanks.

Remember and give thanks.

I’ve been doing that this year without really realized that by being thankful I was building my trust in God. I even wrote about it at the end of last year. Because I had so much to be thankful for, I could clearly see how God had provided for me and would continue to do so.

So why don’t we think about that every day?

Whenever we start to face something difficult in our future–whether it’s tomorrow, a few months ahead, or next year–we should immediately give thanks for what God has done for us so far. We should remember all the grace and care he has given us, because when we do so, we will build trust in what is to come.

The Israelites memorized the Scriptures and were given so many reminders of God’s provision (the entire book of Deuteronomy, for example) so that they would continue to trust God with their future. Many of the Psalms are just recounting the miracles of the days of Moses, because God took care of them then and has not changed.

I need to look back on my own life more often and see the miracles he has done for me–the big and the small–and constantly remind myself to give thanks. Not only are you a happier person when you have a thankful heart (if you’re focusing on the good things in life, life seems pretty good), but you’ll also find yourself trusting God more.

I definitely want that in my life–more trust. More reliance on God. More faith that he’s got my future in his hands.

So I give thanks.

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The Only Way

Fresh Air Friday.

Passage: John 14:1-11

Point: The biggest difference between Christianity and many other religions hinges on John 14:6. Jesus declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me.” There are no other options, no other paths to God. Throughout the surrounding verses a couple words come up a lot: know & believe. These are verbs, action words. Not only is Jesus the only way to God, but it’s our responsibility to believe in him and to come to know him. We have to take action. We don’t have to work hard to be good to be accepted by Jesus, or to memorize all the Scriptures and laws, but we do have to believe.

Besides being the way to the Father, Jesus’ statement means a lot more, and it may mean something different to each of us. To me, when Jesus tells me, “I am the way,” I hear him telling me that he’s my direction and purpose, both here in this life and eternally. He is my access to the Father. When he tells me, “I am the truth,” I hear him saying he is the answer to everything. Although the world tells us “truth is relative,” this is not true. Jesus is the truth. And when Jesus says, “I am the life,” he shows me images of a fulfilled life with a reason for living. Jesus is my future in heaven eternally, but he is also my source of life here on earth. As we will read in John 15, Jesus also refers to himself as “the vine,” and apart from him we can do nothing. Only through Jesus can we live life abundantly and fully.

Ponder: What do Jesus’ statements mean to you, personally? “I am the way, the truth, the life.” If you have taken action and believe in Him, are you also willing to share this faith with others around you?

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Hope does not disappoint

A few weeks ago, my Pastor said something that I found very interesting and has stuck with me. He said that, in the original Greek, the word we see as “hope” in the New Testament actually meant “certainty.” It wasn’t “hope” like “I wish for something to happen.” Hope meant “a strong and confident expectation.”

In our English, you might say “I hope something happens” or “I expect something to happen,” and expect obviously means you are far more certain. But in the Greek, hope is expectation. Hope is certainty.

That really changes how I view and interpret a lot of verses. For example:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope certainty that you have. 1 Peter 3:15

May the God of hope certainty fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope certainty. Romans 15:13

We have this hope certainty as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. Hebrews 6:19

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope certainty of righteousness. Galatians 5:5

So that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope certainty of eternal life. Titus 3:7

Not that I necessarily have doubts (I mean, maybe sometimes I do, who doesn’t?), but what I love about this change is that our faith isn’t built on a wish for something to be true, it is built on a certainty that something is true. “Give the reason for the hope that you have” does not mean “give a reason for the wish that you would like some story in the Bible to be true.”

“The God of hope” means that God will follow through, because he is a God of promise and certainty. And he gives us the Holy Spirit that we also may be filled with this certainty.

This “hope” is what we anchor our soul to, so it better be something strong!

And we do not have a “hope” of eternal life–we do not wish it will happen, we do not simply desire that this is our future; we know that God has given us eternal life. That is our “hope,” because it is our confident and strong expectation.

If you think about it, that is why “hope” is a word often used surrounding springtime; we don’t simply wish that spring might come this year, we know it will come. Some years it comes more slowly than others, but we always have a confidence that, eventually, the weather will change. The flowers will bloom. The grass will grow. The trees will have leaves again. And new life will come out of the “dead” world around it.

And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:5

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Be Thou My Vision

As we are finally entering into the spring season, after a very long and cold winter, I am excited for the changes. I look forward to warmer weather, to blue skies and puffy clouds, to green grass and leaves on the trees, and of course flowers coming into bloom. I find, however, that it can be easy to not notice these glimpses of beauty, to completely miss them, in the big and small things each day. We become so focused on our task at hand or where we are going to next or even just staring at our phone instead of looking around at God’s beauty.

The gospel of Luke tells a story of the man born blind, and Jesus says, “What do you want me to do for you?” And of course the blind beggar says, “Lord, I want to see.” I have been blessed with physical sight, but my prayer is still the same:

Lord, I want to see. I don’t want to miss it. I want to see your beauty. I want to see your creation. I want to see you all around me. 

I’ve always loved the song, “Be Thou My Vision,” especially when you think of it in the context of wanting to truly see.

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me save that thou art.
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

I want God to be the lens through which I view the world, to the point where nothing else matters except him. That in all I do, day or night, I am thinking of him and seeing him in the world around me. Because, after all, he is the Creator of it all, the designer of all beauty that exists.

So why don’t we give him credit? Why aren’t we paying attention to it?

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Where would I be?

Last week during our time of staff prayer and worship, our music pastor gave a few thoughts on how grateful he is for the redemption that God gives us, and how few people actually appreciate this gift of God. Mike said, “I don’t know where I’d be without God.” I’ve always had a hard time with that. I wasn’t sure I could actually say that about my life. But then I started thinking… I guess where I can look back on my life and see God is that he kept me safe from terrible things that might have happened. I don’t have much of a “testimony,” and people have told me before that that in itself is my “testimony,” but it never really clicked until today. Because I came to know Jesus at such a young age, I didn’t make choices that I otherwise might have made.

So, really, I could be anywhere (other than here) without God. Right now, I work at a church with kids doing something I love, with the person I love, who is an amazing man of God.

Maybe I do have reason to be thankful for redemption.

I’ve always felt like I don’t quite have the capacity for appreciation of grace that people with “a testimony” have. And maybe I still don’t. Maybe I can’t ever be quite that thankful, because I don’t know what I was spared from. My perspective is just a little different. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have any capacity for thankfulness.

Maybe God knew I didn’t have the strength to go through a lot of hard things. Maybe God knew I wouldn’t come to faith another way…

But maybe it really is all about choices and free will.

I started looking back on my life, at the choices that affected me, and there’s honestly no surprise I turned out the way I did.

A lot of it has to do with my parents. My parents each made the choice at some point in their life to follow God. They made the choice to make God an important part of their family and pray with their kids. They made the choice to take their family to church. They made the choice to give us a Christian eduction and, in doing so, protect us from the world. They made the choice to fill our life with Bible studies and church programs and summer camps to the point where we didn’t know anything else was normal. They made the choice to find a church with a youth group where we would thrive even though it meant sacrificing their own opinions on church for a few years. They made the choice to guard our hearts and minds by being aware of the music we listened to and the movies we watched. They made the choice to stick it out when they went through a hard time in their marriage (and that’s one of the things I’m most grateful for–I think a divorce would have destroyed me and my faith). They were far from perfect, but they made all these choices to give us the best childhood they could.

In the midst of all that, I had to make my own choices. I chose to have faith for myself, at a very young age. I chose to stick with that faith as I continued to grow up. I made many choices along the way about the friends I hung out with, the activities I involved myself in, the movies I watched, the music I listened to… And not that I always made the perfect choices, but somehow the sum of all that got me through my childhood and teenage years “safely.”

So I suppose my testimony is one of redemption and grace after all, even though it’s harder to find in my story than in the stories of others. God led my parents and me to make choices that otherwise could’ve sent me down a totally different path of life. So, I can indeed say, “I don’t know where I would be without God.” Because I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be here.

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