Archive | October, 2010

All Other Ground is Sinking Sand

20 Oct

The spiritual valley is undeniably one of the most torturous places to be. When we allow the lies of the world to penetrate our minds and infect our hearts, the cancer of unbelief runs rampant in our lives. We’ve all been there at some point in our walk with the Lord. We’ve all spent nights lying awake in our beds, desperate to feel His presence, yet feeling nothing but the cold sheets around us. We’ve all read the Word and waited in expectation for His revelation, and heard nothing but our own thoughts swirling around inside our heads. We’ve all prayed prayers to “the wall,” so to speak. It can be one of the most frustrating experiences of our lives. I’ve been there, and if you’re there, my heart and my prayers go out to you. But it doesn’t have to be this way…

So how do we climb out of this spiritual quicksand?

Well, when dealing with natural quicksand, experts agree that following these simple steps can help save your life.

1. Remain calm.

2. Shed excess weight (i.e. remove your backpack or jacket).

3. Be still.

4. Swim with slow, deliberate motions toward the last known bit of solid ground.

These same steps, oddly enough, translate perfectly to breaking free from the quicksand of doubt.

1. Remain calm. Fear, anxiety, and stress are not of the Lord. They are personal attacks from the enemy attempting to further ensnare you. Don’t believe Satan’s lies! Just because you are struggling spiritually does not make you: unsaved, a horrible sinner, a failure, unworthy of God’s love, exiled from your community, judged by the church, etc. It simply means you are struggling. (Check out Genesis 32:22-32 to read about Jacob’s very own struggle with God.)

2. Shed excess weight. What is weighing you down? Carrying things like guilt, hidden sin, addiction, unforgiveness, bitterness, old wounds, etc. certainly makes it difficult to climb out of the pit. As it says in Hebrews 12:1, let us “throw off everything that hinders us” so that we can “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Bring these heavy burdens before the Lord, surrender your illusion of control, and allow Him to lighten your load.

3. Be still. In Psalm 46:10 it says, “Be still, and know that I am God!” The Lord is calling us to a place of total surrender and complete trust in Him. He is asking us to release our white-knuckled grip on our finances, our success, our relationships, and our very lives, and just be still. He is begging us to stop striving and start resting in His awesome power. This stillness of spirit is an extension of the childlike faith our God desires to see in His sons and daughters. As young children rely solely on their parents to meet their every need, so we should rely solely on the Lord.

4. Swim with slow, deliberate motions toward the last known bit of solid ground. When was the last time you felt the presence of the Lord? Was it during a powerful quiet time spent studying His word? Was it during a one on one conversation with someone full of the Holy Spirit? Was it in a moment of worship at a church service? Grab onto these experiences – they will anchor your faith. And whatever it may be for you, find your way back (a la Hansel and Gretel) to the last place your spirit felt right at home. Dig deep into the eternal truth of the Lord through reading His Word. Get connected with strong believers who can lift you up and encourage you. Find a church home where there is a community of people passionately pursuing the things of God. Write a journal. Pray. Fast. I assure you, that when you move towards God, He runs towards you.

Lastly, I urge you to put your trust in truth, not in fleeting and fickle emotions. Though we feel the things we feel with such zeal and passion that they often seem to be defining of reality, they are felt through a grid we have personally constructed based on the sum total of our life experiences. We, as humans, can not understand the concept of eternity and our perceptions of life and God and love and truth and time are all skewed. When you don’t “feel” God, remind yourself that He is far more than a feeling. He is truth.

In Christ alone my hope is found.
He is my light, my strength, my song.
This Cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace;
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease;
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied.
For every sin on Him was laid,
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay.
Light of the world by darkness slain.
Then bursting forth in glorious Day,
Up from the grave He rose again.
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me.
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand.
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand.
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me.
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand.
‘Til He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

-“In Christ Alone”

Many are Called, but Few are Chosen…

19 Oct

I’ve been meditating a lot lately on the idea of God having a “chosen people.” Recently, when speaking with a friend, I was asked the following question, “If God loves all of His children, why are only some of them called His ‘chosen ones’?” It’s a good question, and at the time I didn’t really have much of an answer for it. The idea of God picking favorites didn’t sit well with me and my mind was struggling to find words that could adequately articulate the truths I knew in my heart about my Lord. So I hit my knees. I prayed and asked the Lord to pour clarity over my mind, and He was faithful as ever…

In Matthew 22: 14 it reads, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” This commonly quoted line of scripture follows the parable of the marriage feast.

In the parable, Jesus speaks of a king preparing a beautiful wedding for his son. He sent out his servants to invite his community to the celebration – but they would not come.

The king again sent his servants to invite his friends to the celebration, further explaining to them the extravagant measures he went to in order to prepare such a beautiful feast for their enjoyment. Again, they wrote him off, making light of his invitation and going about their day. Some were especially hostile and murdered the king’s servants.

The king could not tolerate such vile actions against his people and destroyed the murderers and burned their city, saying “The wedding is ready, but they which were called were not worthy.” (Matthew 22:3-8)

This depicts the reaction of the Jews, the called people of God, to the coming of their Savior, Jesus Christ. They ignored the lavish love that God invited them to partake in, rejecting His great mercy and showing violence to His children. As a result, the Jewish people suffered greatly.

But the king did not stop there. He greatly desired to share the beautiful feast he had prepared with people interested in partaking. So he sent his servants out again, this time inviting anyone they could find.

This represents the Lord extending His invitation to experience eternal life to the Gentiles. The call was no longer exclusive only to the Jews, but to all people everywhere.

And the guests came. They came in droves and the wedding was “furnished with guests”. But when the king came in and saw the guests he noticed a man without a wedding garment. He had the man tied up, taken away and cast into “outer darkness”. That’s not quite the happy ending to the fairy tale wedding I anticipated.

So what, then, differentiates a person between being “called” and being “chosen”? The invitation is clearly for all people, but Jesus says that only a few get to experience the beautiful wedding celebration He has prepared. At this point many people point the finger at God, asking, “Why, if He loves all His children, would He not choose all of us?” But the blame is not His…

The difference between being called and being chosen is what WE choose to do with the call we receive.

God has done His part. He has prepared the way for us to come to Him by sending His son Jesus to die for us. He has commissioned His servants to spread the Good News and to invite all of His children to sit at His table and feast with Him. He has been whispering in your ear since the day you were born to put on your wedding dress, consecrate yourself and meet Him at the altar. Will you answer that call? If you do, I assure you, you will find yourself among the chosen ones, sitting at the banquet table with the Lord. You, my friend, are chosen.

Meet the Gray Family

13 Oct

Though you could hardly tell from her tiny figure, Jennifer and Shannon Gray are expecting to have their third child any day now, and today I had the privilege of photographing their beautiful family. But there is more to the Gray family than their striking good looks. Their two children, Jordan and Noah, were fabulous, cooperating with my every request, and Jennifer’s lovely mother even pitched in to help out. The couple, married for eight years, is deeply in love – not only with each other, but also with God.  Both are passionate believers in Jesus Christ and are actively involved in their local church. In a society where families are crumbling to pieces all around us, it is such a blessing to see a young family thriving on the grace of the Lord. It is my prayer that God would continue to bless the Gray family with a double portion of His love and presence, and that they would be a shining example to their community of what a family built on the foundation of God looks like.

Meet Fionah

8 Oct

During my senior year in high school I discovered one of the most heinous injustices the mind could possibly fathom – the invisible children in Northern Uganda. I stumbled upon the non-profit organization, Invisible Children, while browsing the web and my heart broke as I watched videos and read stories of thousands of children being abducted from their homes and forced to fight a senseless war. These children are ripped from their homes, beaten, drugged and threatened. They witness horrific acts of violence, often watching their own family members slaughtered by the army they must now fight for. My spirit groaned as I saw these vulnerable children abused, and my heart cried for justice. I had to do something…

So I started an Invisible Children club on my high school campus. We met once a week to discuss ways that we could spread awareness about this issue and raise money for the cause. We partnered with Invisible Children’s school reconstruction initiative called Schools 4 Schools, where schools in America compete in the race to raise money to rebuild schools in Northern Uganda, offering these children an opportunity at bettering their lives through education. Our club designed and sold t-shirts and bracelets and held fundraising events. At the end of my senior year we had raised well over  $30,000 to donate to the reconstruction of Sacred Heart Secondary School in Gulu, Uganda. As a token of appreciation for my efforts, Invisible Children sent me a photograph of the students standing in front of their beloved classroom. I have treasured this picture and kept the girls of Sacred Heart in my prayers for the last three years. But that’s not why I’m writing…

Last night, the college-aged church community I am a part of (Crave) held a special service – a service in honor of the “forgotten” in this world. The evening was filled with worship, art, live dramas, and an inspiring message by our Pastor Brad Baker, calling us to be the Lord’s ambassadors of justice. The final event on the schedule for the evening was a screening of the latest Invisible Children documentary. As a made my way towards the theater, I was stopped dead in my tracks as I spotted familiar words at the Invisible Children merchandise table. The words “Sacred Heart Secondary School” were screenprinted across a cute gray t-shirt. I had to ask… So I walked up to the volunteer working the table and asked her what the significance of this school was that it would be printed on their shirts. She informed me that the guest speaker after the screening was an actual graduate of this high school. My heart leapt. “Could I meet her?” I asked. “Of course.” she replied.

The volunteer introduced us and I explained to her my connection with the project. She stared at me, open-mouthed, with tears welling in her eyes, pausing for a moment before wrapping her loving arms around my shoulders. “Thank you,” she said. “for giving me a future.” Speechless, I smiled at her and hugged her back. We chatted for awhile and I asked her about her life. She told me that she lost both of her parents, leaving her orphaned at a young age. She moved in with her aunt, who forced her to work tirelessly, never once showing love or affection to her. Fionah’s dreams of an education were being crushed. Until she heard about a scholarship program through Invisible Children. She applied, got accepted, and began attending Sacred Heart Secondary School in the fall of 2007. Invisible Children has not only paid for her education, but also provided her with a Ugandan mentor  who loves her deeply and cheers her on through life’s struggles. She is now 22 years old, attending college at Gulu University and majoring in Public Administration with dreams of becoming a human resources manager. She has an intimate relationship with her Savior, Jesus Christ, and a strong desire to help other orphans like herself.

Fionah’s story is incredible. She is an overcomer. She is strong. She is joyful, radiant, and beautiful. She also likes boys, and hip hop music and has dreams of her wedding day. She is so much more than just a charity case in a distant land. She is my friend – a friend that I was so blessed to meet, thanks only to the faithful love of our Father.

Words can’t adequately express my joy in meeting Fionah. There’s something so exciting about seeing the fruits of your partnerships with the Lord. It encourages you to move forward. But the truth of the matter is that often our fruit goes unseen. Often times we write a check or pray for someone or share the Gospel, and we never get to see with our own eyes the redemptive powers of God unfold. Let me encourage you! Every time you partner with God, He will redeem. Every time you follow His call on your life, you are playing a role in bringing His Kingdom to this earth. When you move with God, you can change the world.

The Mountain: A New Understanding of Intimacy

2 Oct

In Matthew Chapter 17, Matthew tells the miraculous story of the Transfiguration where Jesus revealed His glory to His disciples Peter, James, and John. The scripture tells us that Jesus’ “face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as light.” (Matthew 17:2) What an incredible sight to see! Jesus had disclosed His inner divine nature before their very eyes. But Jesus didn’t stop there. “Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus.” (Matthew 17:3) Could you imagine? I can just picture Peter, James, and John as their jaws hung low, their eyes widened, and every hair on their body stood on edge. Their faith must have grown exponentially in that moment, being in the presence of Jesus Christ, in all His splendor, and two of the most God-fearing prophets in history. Peter was so elated that he exclaimed, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Matthew 17:4) Peter longed to live on the mountain, the fullness of the glory of the Lord bringing inconceivable bliss to his spirit. And rightly so! We were all created to long for more, to desire to be in the permanent presence of the Lord. This world is only our temporary home. Who wouldn’t want to take up residence on the mountain with the Living God? But Peter had work to do…

I have lived the last six months of my life on the spiritual mountain, so to speak. Nearly every hour of my life during my Discipleship Training School with Youth With a Mission involved the conscious and passionate pursuit of God. On top of my own commitment to discipleship, I lived in a community with hundreds of other intensely committed people, most of whom had sacrificed nearly everything this world has to offer to be there. Being in such an anointed environment coupled with relentless pressing in to the Lord, brought my level of sensitivity to His presence to an all-time high. I heard His voice regularly, as He spoke words of direction, assurance, and love to me. I felt Him close to me, as I waited for Him in the prayer room and worshipped Him in songs of praise. I experienced new levels of freedom in Christ as He continually refined my character and reminded me of my identity. My faith soared and, much like Peter, I would have been content to live on the mountain forever. But the Lord summoned me home to Orange County, California, commissioning me to be a missionary in the one of the hardest places to share the Gospel – one’s hometown. (Matthew 13:54-58)

Though I was overjoyed to see my friends and family, I felt a tiny whisper of unrest in my spirit. I had again left the ease of the reservation and entered the tension of the battlefield. Knowing He is my only lifeline, I pressed in deeper than ever. And, as always, He was faithful.

On Thursday, as I pulled into the parking lot of Saddleback Church’s Refinery building to attend my usual college-aged service (called Crave), I said a quick prayer, asking the Lord to reveal Himself strongly through the service. I surrendered any expectations and walked in.

And the Lord blew my mind.

Our pastor, Brad Baker, delivered a powerful message proclaiming the Good News of God as our Healer. Worship was incredible, the fruits of the Spirit were evident everywhere you looked and the glory of the Lord rained down on everyone present. Towards the end of the service, Brad invited us to raise our hands if we needed healing and we, as the church community, prayed healing over each other.

And people were healed! I’m sure many more stories will pour in throughout the week, but I’ve already heard of: healed backs, mended hearts, and pain vanishing from knees.

As the band played the final worship set, college students across the room lifted their hands high and shouted to the Lord, unashamed and unrestrained from social pressures. As I saw the mere beginnings to my wildest dreams for this community take flight, I thanked the Lord over and over for His faithfulness. And He whispered this truth to my heart…

“Daughter, you never left the mountain. I am your unshakeable mountain, and I will be with you wherever you go.”

Certainly there are environments in this world where the conditions are right to experience the presence of the Lord, and those places are incredible places to be. But true intimacy, the kind of intimacy that we ought to be desperate for as believers, has nothing to do with a place, a song, a community, a message, or anything else for that matter. True intimacy comes when the believer has experienced for themselves the reality of Jesus Christ as their Savior, and pursued Him tirelessly with everything they have. True intimacy is a marriage of your spirit with His, an unbreakable bond, the only thing that lasts for eternity.