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For a while now, I’ve had a strong desire to pick up people at bus stops or on the side of the road and offer them a ride. This little goal of mine has always been met with negative feedback due to the obvious danger it presents, but it something that I fantasize about nonetheless. It seems like such a great opportunity to talk with a stranger and show love in a very tangible way. Being a teenage girl, however, this isn’t the wisest of things to do.

Last night, I was finally faced with the chance to cross this goal off my bucket list. I was with three guys with whom I had just led worship at a church in Detroit, and we decided to go grab a bite to eat at TacoBell before heading home. We went in, and another man stepped in the doors after we had all sat down. He took his food to go and walked out the door. About fifteen minutes later, our group finished, threw away our trash, and decided to head back to our church to put away some equipment. When we stepped outside, the man whom we had seen some time earlier was standing in the parking lot looking frazzled. Apparently, he had borrowed a friend’s truck and it had randomly broken down. He asked for a ride, and I leaped at the opportunity.

After moving random chord sheets, a stack of worship CDs, my SCS sweatshirt, and a pair of boots to my trunk, I let the man into my car and had Ian, one of the guys that was with me, jump into the backseat. With my keyboard taking up the majority of the space in my small Scion, the man had to pull his knees towards him to fit into the passanger seat. He smelled like smoke, talked with a weird accent, and swore a bit, but I was SO excited to be helping him. He talked about his day, complaining that his phone had died, his car wasn’t working, and then his friend’s car broke down. He insisted on paying me $40 for driving him. I tried repeatedly to make him keep his money, but he just stuck it in the port on my dashboard and told me to give it to “God”. I played the Passion 2010 album the whole time we were driving, and I turned it up when we had a break in conversation. I don’t know that he listened. I don’t think he cared all that much. I would do it again regardless.

I often over analyze things, and I think differently than many people. Whenever I meet a new person, I immediately wonder how they think, what hardships they might be enduring, and what encounters they’ve had with God. It’s crazy that God designed every aspect of them and is trying to reach them at that very moment. It’s even crazier that, as a follower of Christ, I am called to be a tangible representation of Him. In our every interaction, we either build people up or tear them down. We are given a chance to breathe life into individuals around us with simple words and acts. I don’t often put myself out there. I am too insecure, selfish, arrogant, or just plain lazy. We are called to act though. We are called to live out our faith. We are called to live radically for Christ.

Instead of having a bucket list that features things like “own a motorcycle”, “go skydiving”, and “raise a puppy that dominates at agility competitions” (Yes, those are all on my unwritten bucket list…), shouldn’t my one goal be to surrender everything to Christ? I’ll still always have those little goals that I dream about. I’ll still be thrilled when I finally own an australian shepherd and I train it to be incredible at agility and fly ball. However, the goal of loving Christ the way He has called me to love Him should be my highest priority. It is a life-long journey. I find things in my life everyday that I realize I need to change. There are so many areas where I need to practice submission, discipline, and patience. It’s interesting that the more I try to give up to God, the more freedom I actually find. I find liberty and joy by surrendering my control. If I wanted to have the most exciting life possible, then my bucket list should simply say, “surrender every single thing to God.”

Driving home a couple of days ago, I had the Hillsong album ‘This is Our God’ blasting through my speakers. Desert Song came on and I was struck by one of the lines. I have spent a lot of time dissecting this song and finding scriptural references for the things it says, but I had always passed over this particular phrase.

“And this is my prayer in the battle/ when triumph is still on its way./ I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ/ so firm on His promise I’ll stand”

As I chewed on the thought of being a conqueror for Christ, an odd image filled my mind that left me feeling simultaneously convicted and excited. I am conceptually aware that there is a spiritual war being fought, but I don’t respond to this fact in the way that I should. The way I see it, I am a soldier on the battlefield surrounded by warriors in white in black. As both sides are fighting, I am often very neutral about whose side I am on. Dressed in a neutral hue of gray, I stand dazed on the field. In my right hand, I hold a white flag high above my head, but in my left hand, I cling to a small black flag of which I cannot seem to let go. In some selfish, arrogant way, I think that both teams are fighting over me. I waste so much time being unsure of which side I should fight for that I don’t notice my own teamates being captured around me. I don’t run after the people clothed in gray who are being slaughtered and torn apart by the soldiers clothed in hopeless black. I watch them die because I am too fascinated with my little black flag to drop it and fight. I watch my own friends throw down their white flags, but because of my own fear of getting hurt in the battle, I simply stand and watch.

How can I be so focused on stupid idols, my little black flag, that I don’t even flinch when I see my own friends getting attacked in battle? How can I be so lazy that I don’t run and stand by their side? How can I care so much for my own comfort and image that I am willing to watch people with no teammates by their side walk straight into a sea of black, and not even bother to run over and stretch out my hand to help pull them out!? Even worse, how can I hold up both flags at the same time and try to fight? When I engage in a conversation that is centered around gossip, aren’t I running onto the field with a black flag held high? Aren’t I pulling my teammates down with me? I am such a useless warrior when I can’t even commit to one team!

However, the conviction I felt as these thoughts swept over me with painful clarity was immediately followed by a sense of irrepressible joy. I already know who wins the battle! When I focus solely on Christ, he can grant me the strenth to run on the battlefield with His name held high, and I can be conqueror for Him. I am running into war knowing that my team has already won. Not a single thing out there can hurt me. Not one bullet can puncture my armor. Not one swift swipe of a sword (alliteration… ahhh) can possibly bring me down. So, why would I ever consider standing on the field with two flags and an unsure expression? I want to be a selfless warrior who fights with joy for the Father that loves me and offers me protection and redemption. I want to be a true conqueror in Christ.

31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:
   “For your sake we face death all day long;
      we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

If I am a conqueror, what have I to fear?

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10b)

I love the game Team Fortress 2. I go through phases where I play it for hours a day. The purpose of the game varis depending on which server you join, but for the sake of a soon-to-be-mentioned analogy, let’s say that I am playing Capture the Flag.

When I join a CtF server, I am immediately informed of the objective of the game. I am told that I need to break into the opposing team’s castle to steal their “intelligence” and return it to my base. I must work with the other players on my team to achieve this goal, and we will all be awarded with points if we succeed. I click on a door to join a team, either Red or Blue. After just a few minutes of playing, one thing is made quite evident: not everyone on my team has the same objective. Through my Logitech speakers, I can hear the obnoxious obscenity of a 12 year old boy who thinks he’s cooler if he runs around insulting “noobs” and objectifying women. He does not care about winning; he feels as though he’s won every time he gets a laugh. Then there are the snipers. Oh, the snipers. They accomplish nothing for the team other than killing opposing snipers. Honestly, all of them could be removed from the game, and the rounds would play out quite similarly. The snipers’ only goal is to get lots of kills. They don’t care about the intelligence. They feel as though they’ve won every time they look through the scope and click a millisecond faster than their opponent. (Don’t get me wrong, the sniper is one of my favorite characters to play in TF2!!) Also, there are hackers. They find their way into impossible places and just stay there to show off their hacking skills. They feel as though they’ve won every time someone asks them how they got there, but they aren’t getting the team any closer to the intelligence. Lastly, there are the achievement-seekers. They kill mindlessly just to try to get achievements. They don’t care about capturing the flag unless that is a required aspect of an achievement they are trying to get. They feel like they’ve won every time a trophy appears above their head announcing that they are the proud recipient of yet, another achievement. The truth is, though, they aren’t winning.

I’m not sure how far I can stretch this analogy, but bear with me nonetheless. As believers, followers, and mimickers of Christ, we are called to live and think in a spiritual realm while surrounded by a physical world. Earth is not where we belong, and in some incomprehensible way, it is not as real or as important as the world that we can’t see. It’s almost as if it is a video game in which we control a character. The goals of this game are somewhat unclear if we don’t know who to believe. We hear advice from our friends, family, televisions, billboards, teachers, and all outlets of media and advertising. We are told to work hard, make money, find people who accept us, gain fame, earn respect, maintain power, get/give love, etc. We are all trying to figure out how to “win” at the game of life–to find what brings us joy and fulfillment.

If we love God, then we acknowledge that He brings us more joy than anything else. If I love God, then money loses its appeal. If I love God, then all of the things that are tempting to pursue in the game of life would become meaningless. If I really do love God more than anything else, then I could lose my home, my mind, my friends, my family, and every penny in my bank (which is not many) and still be satisfied because the ONE PERFECT THING remains. He always will be there. If I love God, then I would sing about Him all the time. I would declare His truths to the world, even if it meant that I was regarded as gullible or crazy. If I love God, then I’m guaranteed to “win” at life because He’s already given His love to me. So often, however, I try to gain achievements and snipe random players, neither of which are drawing me any closer to succeeding. Even though I know exactly what the objective is in this life—to seek and love God with everything I am—I often get caught up in the game. But if I love and worship God, then I have to commit to having Him as my number one priority above everything else.

“Worship is simply about value. The simplest definition I can give is this: Worship is our response to what we value most. That’s why worship is that thing we all do. It’s what we’re all about on any given day. Because worship is about saying, “This person, this thing, this experience (this whatever) is what matters most to me…it’s the thing I put first in my life.”… As a result, worship determines our actions, becoming the driving force for all we do” (Louie Giglio, WIRED for a Life of Worship).

So here’s the challenge I’m facing. If I love God, then every single thing I do on Earth should be to glorify Him. If I TRULY love God, then it won’t just be my ideas and intentions that put Him first, but it will be every single thing I say and do. I will seek to lose all desires for things that I know won’t last. I’ll eventually log off of Team Fortress 2, and when I’m playing the game, that thought is always in my mind. We’ll all be “logging off” of life soon (in the great expanse of eternity, our years on Earth are so little…) and everything we do here to gain extra points or kills or respect (analogously speaking, of course) will have NO VALUE FOR US IN THE END.

There is a quote that I think acts as a great source of conviction and awakening as to what I actually pursue in life. I feel like I often love God for His “stuff” instead of being madly in love with HIM alone.  I heard a sermon on it at my old church a few months ago, and then I came across it again in the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. It is a quote by John Piper in his book God is the Gospel, and it forced me to consider what I am truly pursuing, what I truly worship.

“The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?”

So if I love God, then everything changes. I don’t ever need to be disappointed or feel empty because a life seeking after our perfect, righteous, beautiful, creative, glorified King is the most fulfilling life I could ever consider.

This is a poem I wrote last year, but it still describes my view of God pretty accurately…

I’ve spent many of my nights

gazing up into the heavens,

skeptical of stars

despite the scientific evidence.

I know what all those speckles are

and their gases that burn within,

but my heart still jumps and marvels

with the awe it can’t keep in.

I know those stars exist

but they seem too far away.

My mind’s left fried and jumbled

with the words my heart can’t say.

And sometimes, God, I see You,

the way I see a star:

so beautiful, so marvelous,

yet so distant and so far.

My soul longs to understand

how You can shine so bright,

how while surrounded by such darkness,

You’re still my Guiding Light.

I’ve learned to know You as a fact,

mastered You as a science,

but when it comes to trusting You,

I feel my slight defiance

to the fact that I cannot begin

to ever understand

Your purpose and your power,

my future You have planned,

the balance You maintain

of holiness, perfection,

mercy, grace, unfailing love,

justice and correction.

So here is my surrender

of every question in my mind:

You’re so beyond what thoughts can hold,

You’ll never be defined.

I fall now, Lord, onto my knees

to worship you tonight,

for when surrounded by such darkness,

You’re still my Guiding Light.

And sometimes, God, I see You

the way I see the sun:

surrounded by Your light and warmth,

You are the only one

that my soul longs to be filled with

Your love is all I see,

not just speckles in the darkness,

for God, You’ve set me free.

I don’t believe in Santa Clause. When I was 5 years old, I sat my dad down the day after Christmas to share my skepticism with him, and he did not fight to defend one of America’s greatest fictional characters. I don’t believe in the easter bunny, the tooth fairy, or the dangers of opening an umbrella indoors. I’m not a gullible individual. I don’t easily give myself into the values that advertisements and media try to sell. I don’t have any superstitious habits or unjustifiable fears, unless, of course, you’d argue that spiders and knives aren’t both legitimate things to fear, in which case I would say that you are very, very wrong. All that to say, I’m somewhat of a cynic when it comes to having faith in things I can’t see, touch, or prove through science.

And yet, I believe in God.

I accepted Christ into my heart when I was five years old. I went to Macomb Christian (only in Kindergarten), and all of the students were taking part in a big assembly. The speakers were handing out teddy bears to everyone who accepted Christ into their heart, so I prayed a short prayer and received the ultimate gift… a teddy bear. I honestly don’t think that I received salvation in that moment, and I came to the same conclusion many times throughout my childhood. I accepted Christ into my heart 17+ times, simply because I was afraid that I hadn’t gotten it right the first sixteen times. Anytime an especially talented speaker encouraged his audience to accept Christ, I ran up to the steps of the stage and prayed fervently, hoping that this time it might stick.

The fear I felt towards the prospect of hell as a child makes it seem like I didn’t love God, but I did. I loved him more than anything, except maybe my parents and my brother. I have vivid memories of sharing bible stories with a girl named Michelle in elementary school underneath a giant tree at recess. I told her about Noah, Jonah, and Abraham. I told her about Jesus. I could not hold in my excitement about how incredible my God was. MY God. He didn’t seem far away back then. I didn’t have any trouble knowing that He was holding my hand when I walked to school. I asked my first grade teacher if she knew God, and she told my parents that I needed to learn to only talk about religion in appropriate settings. As an innocent first grader with her eyes set solely on Christ, I endured persecution. No, it was nothing traumatizing or life-threatening. I don’t think it even hurt my feelings that much, but it was persecution nonetheless.

I am now a senior in high school. I’ve been blessed beyond measure. I went to public school from first to sixth grade, but have spent the past 6ish years learning about God, both in a theological sense and in an applicable way. Everyone around me believes, or claims to believe, in God. I talk about Christ daily. I talk TO Christ daily. I lead worship multiple times a week and hear sermons equally as often. God should be the most real thing in my life. He should be, but He’s not. I should be able to love God with the unhindered passion I had as a child, but I often struggle to do so. I should endure harder, more trying persecution, but I only ever receive praise for my relationship with God. I should be sacrificing for God, but I am only giving to Him what is convenient for me to give. I give Him my time and many of my thoughts, but I struggle in giving Him 100% of me.

Why don’t I believe wholeheartedly in the most incredible Being in my life!? How could I not run to Him when He is my EVERYTHING!? I’m learning to find Him. I’m learning to notice Him.

I’ve come to a realization, and it’s shaken everything I thought I believed. I used to think being a Christian was just about trying to serve God. I don’t think it is anymore. Believing in God is SUCH A BIG DEAL!! If one truly believes that there is a God, that He created everything, and that He sent His son as a sacrifice to save us from being eternally seperated from Him and His perfection… HOW CAN THEY NOT CONSTANTLY CELEBRATE!? If God is real, then everything is different. If God is actually real, then not one single thing that I pursue in this world matters!

If I believe in God, then how can I not love Him!? And if I love Him, then how can I not pour my heart out to Him!? And if I pray to Him, how can I not listen to what He’s said to me!? And if I listen to all that He’s said, then how can I not obey!?

But I’ll never be perfect. I’ll never obey all that He asks of me. So, by the transitive property, I’ll never believe in Him? No. I’m going to mess up, even if I do believe in Him and love Him. However, I will constantly be fighting against my desire to rebel against God. I’ll find true joy in Him, and Him alone. How exciting!!! It is beyond incredible to know that, if I believe in and love God, then I will be able to find joy in every circumstance, because He never changes. God is a perfect constant, and I need to pursue Him with every inch of my being!

If I DO believe God is real, then I won’t care about anything else. I won’t be foolishly prideful because I’ll have to recognize that everything that I’m blessed with comes from Him. I won’t waste time caring what others think of me. I won’t be afraid of how the world judges me. I won’t be able to stop myself from proclaiming to the world that my God is more awesome than anything any human has EVER experienced.  I won’t chase success. I won’t chase money. I won’t fight for respect. I won’t corrupt my mind with dumb movies. I won’t fill my conversations with inappropriate jokes or cutting comments. If I believe God is real, then I won’t care about anything else. If I believe that God is sitting here next to me, reading this blog, then I won’t waste time wondering what people will think of me when they read it. If I believe that God is sitting enthroned above, then I have nothing to fear. Nothing! Not one single thing.

My Father is stronger than anything else ever. My Father, my Creator, my Saviour LOVES me. And if I believe in Him, I wouldn’t be able to help but love Him too!

Random Thoughts, Organized