Conviction.

As much as I hate it, I do honestly love when I get really convicted of something in my life. Now  try to understand me when I say this. I don’t like the actual conviction. But I do like the change that comes with conviction. You may be reading this and not understand what I am saying so let me simplify it. We- you, me and every other person on this earth- try to live our lives as we see fit. We might try to be good. We might do our best. We might not love God. We may deeply love God. But there comes a point in all of our lives where God convicts us of sin, where we feel that “gut feeling” or uncomfortable knowing within that something isn’t right. It might be shame. Guilt. It might just be outright knowing that you are doing something wrong. The reason God convicts us isn’t to ruin us or make us miserable. It isn’t to point out the wrong just for fun. God deeply and tremendously loves us and it grieves him when we are living in ways that hurt us, even when we may not realize that we are indeed hurting ourselves. It grieves him when we live selfishly, foolishly, recklessly, painfully, vengefully, lustfully…the list could go on for a long time. So God graciously convicts us so to lead us in the right direction.

I have had such moments in my life. Moments, that when faced with conviction, I must decide to continue to do as I do, or make the changes in my life that I feel (or rather am being convicted of) need change. To clarify, conviction isn’t always bad. Often we think of conviction as something bad, but sometimes it might be the deep conviction and knowing of what we know God wants from us or for us which may require obedience. But for the sake of this blog, I simply speak of the conviction that humbles. The painful, uncomfortable feeling or knowing that something I am doing (behavior) is grieving God’s heart. The reason conviction will actually work is because I love God and simply knowing my behavior breaks his heart, breaks mine as well. Tonight I had one of these moments where I want to change some things in my life not because they are wrong, but because of my love for God and my desire to ultimately live to honor him.

 

Below is a link to a video podcast from my church and a snippet of the message. Please take the time to watch this sermon.

 

Here is the sermon: The Book of John: Clear Expectations

“The task Jesus has given, the expectation of christ looks like he is calling us to be perfect. it looks like he is calling us to not mess up to not screw up to not have mistakes…especially if you read this like a normal religious person like its a call to obedience. but here is what i think…

Jesus is not demanding or calling us here to obedience. He is not saying you must obey me to prove your love. he is calling us to a deeper love for him and the result of that will be obedience. Jesus is not calling you to a new law. Jesus is not calling you to more rules. He is calling you to an invitation to a romance with him that when you fall in love with him and devote yourself to him, the natural response of devotion to Christ is that we easily obey what he expects of us. But all the legalists and the religious people have gone ‘wait I thought this was on my own effort? I thought I had to work this hard, and pray this much and give this much and serve this much to prove my love for God.’ But Jesus isn’t calling you to do more. He is calling you to be more. To come along with him. He is asking you to love him more.

I want to grow in my depth of love for Jesus. If you have an issue with unrepentant sin, your issue is actually an issue of love. If you refuse to surrender your temptations…your issue is not just your flesh, its your heart towards God. Sinning against the Lord should grieve us because we love him so much.”

 

Crazy faith. 

Guys…I wanted to say something to all of you that I hope is encouraging, challenging or whatever else.  Honestly, I’m posting this because I have no reason to brag. This year, 2016, has absolutely stunned me. Shocked me. Surprised me. Let me tell you about it. 

For those of you who don’t know me, which is most of you, this year started for me as a still new resident to TN, barista in search of a new job, former pastor lost looking for ministry, financially desperate, and at a complete loss for words as to what to do about anything. I started this year, along with my church, in a 21 day fast. My prayer focus in that fast was for financial provision, a new job and life direction. One of my biggest prayers was for God to make it happen so I couldn’t get the credit. And thats what he did. I sit here, still stunned. Still amazed. Still wondering if I’ll wake up from a dream. Sparing you a chunk of the details, in March I signed up for a class with my town simply to learn more about it and the police/citizen community. During that process I felt such an impression on my heart, one I couldn’t explain, to apply to the police department. I didn’t think it would happen. I wasn’t the ideal candidate. After a 4 month process of being investigated, doing various tests, all the while still being broke working at Starbucks, I got an interview with the Chief. My interview with the Chief fell a week after the executions of the officers in Dallas (5) and Baton Rouge (3). Those attacks solidified my decision to continue forward. I can’t exactly explain why. It just felt like I had to do it. Right before my interview with the Chief, I prayed for God to make it clear and open a door which only he could open. Well…I got hired on the spot in my interview with the Chief which almost never happens to anyone. In September I started training which ended last Thursday when I graduated. During the academy I served as the Chaplain for my class, praying with them and for them. God opened doors I couldn’t imagine. God challenged me in ways I didn’t know he could. He still is. 

So here I am, a few days before the end of the year humbled and stunned by God’s goodness, favor, and absolute leading in my life. God made this all happen for me. It started with a fast, and this Sunday I begin a new one to start 2017. 

I wanted to share all of this is because I wanted to encourage you all to continue trusting in God and his steadfast love. I truly know how it feels to be desperate and lost and feeling without hope. I know what it feels like to be wandering without direction. But I have seen God’s favor after YEARS of feeling lost, alone, and desperate. He is faithful. He is steadfast. If you find yourself tonight or whenever feeling anything but God’s love for you, know he is with you. You might need to continue to persevere and endure where you are and what you are doing. You might need to step out in faith. You might need to make some radical decisions. Heck, you might find yourself thinking you’re crazy (like I did) because the thing God is calling you to seems crazy. Be obedient. He has your back. He is doing something, even if you can’t see it right now.

1 second

Its amazing how quick life can change. How one moment can literally change the direction intended.

I’ve been pretty silent on social media altogether lately for the sake of my new job. I have chosen the route of speaking less and sharing less as to not put myself in a place that could even slightly or possibly compromise my job. The last several months have been some of the most refreshing and equally challenging months of my life. I have had to trust in faith more than ever before. So that’s where I’ll begin instead of with the moment that could have changed it all this week.

Back in March, I began the quiet process of hopefully becoming a cop. After the long process of deep background investigation, interviews, a PT test, a physical exam, a psych eval, and more, I was given an offer of employment. The biggest thing about it was that, for one of the first times in my life, I knew God was leading my steps. He was making it happen and I didn’t need to force things to happen or make my way. He was opening the door. Like I said, this season of my life has been one that my faith has grown so much because I have seen what God can do for me. I know God has plans for my life, and this has been a curveball for sure, but one I haven’t even come close to regretting.

The past six weeks I have been in training, most of which at the academy. I had no idea what to expect getting into this profession and how to prepare myself. But I knew that I wanted this, to do well, to push through and to be the best I could be. Above all I wanted to honor God in this job and the training to get me there. He had made a way for me to get this far so I wanted to trust him with the process, including the training and academics. Honestly, all of the training so far has brought a mix of emotion- exciting and exhausting, challenging and shaping- and in the midst of all of it, I have had a peace that I believe can only come from God. Whatever happens, He’s got my six.

This week, everything could have changed. This story for me could have looked very different. During this week, the cadets all had a qualification needed to pass in order to continue. For me, I was one second away from potentially not passing (largely because I had a 10 second penalty for a stupid mistake). One second. Its amazing how one second later and I could have packed all my things and needed to figure out the next step for me outside the academy. I have had humbling moments before in my life but this one takes me toward the top. This one is among those moments I won’t forget because it was an almost game-changer for me. I won’t forget it because I had to see other peers and friends of mine leave the academy for good. I won’t forget it because this one moment reminds that God still has chosen to help me to stay there. He isn’t done with me there yet. He still has me in this place that I am convinced he called me to.

Until God sees me to completion or moves me onto something else, I want to be faithful and disciplined with where he has placed me. That was the reminder I kept telling myself all week prior to my qualification. It gave me a weird peace. Of course I will still a little nervous, but I had peace still. This whole adventure and journey so far has brought me to a place of faith I have never been. Its brought me to a place of trust in God-that if the God who created everything, who has chosen to love me, who has chosen to direct my life and to lead me is with me all the time, why not trust him with everything? He knows what he is doing and I don’t need to worry. That moment, hearing my score, and seeing how close I was to a different direction, will remain a moment that I am humbled and thankful.

Whatever may be going on in your life, whatever struggle, difficulty, uncertainty that you face, I just want to challenge you with one thing: trust God. You may be a person of faith or you may not be. But I know I have seen God work in ways I can’t fathom. I know that without him, my life would look very different and I wouldn’t be where I am now. God loves you and cares for you more than you know. You matter to him. You are loved by him. And he is not done with you. Step out in trust and faith.

Before we throw stones

It seems like America is unsure of what it cares about. It seems we are at a loss and wandering around trying to figure this all out. Recently we were split on our opinion on the gorilla zoo incident. For a moment we were all enraged, either at the zoo or the parents. Just this week another incident happened where a child was taken by an alligator into the lake the child was playing now. Again, a debate of what the parents should have done differently yet weirdly enough there was no outcry for the 4 gators killed in the attempt to find the one that took the child. I guess animals don’t matter as much if they’re not in a zoo…not really part of my discussion here but still something to think about.  My point is that we as a nation are constantly finding things to argue and disagree about yet painfully ignore bigger and more threatening issues. By no means do I want to belittle the incidents of these two children or the lives of the animals. By no means do I want to dismiss other things. What I do want for us to realize is that our nation is walking on some dangerous  grounds when we see incidents like this and decide to sling judgment, hate, even just an opinion that happens to be the loudest voice. What we have created is a culture that wants to please everyone, offend no one and pretend to think that that’s actually a viable option. All of this got me thinking even more with a recent event in the news. I was already aware of some of the situation and case. But suddenly everyone figured out because, of course, it went viral on the Internet and specifically on social media like Facebook.

It seems, enraged again, we as a nationa got caught in what looked like a unified anger at “the system”.  A rapist was given only 6 months of a sentence that usually gets a decade or more.  But before we continue, lets first discuss the facts. Let’s get on the same page then see where we are at.

A rapist, named Brock Turner, was caught in the act of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. He was caught by 2 grads students and then physically held until the authorities arrived. Even with the victims statement and the statement of the two witnesses, along with the conviction decided by a jury, he was given 3 felonies that would send him to 10-14 years in prison, the judge chose to listen to the father of the rapist. He described his son as a good boy, great athlete and shouldn’t be punished for “20 minutes of action”. The judge chose the lesser sentence…in fact among the smallest sentence ever for a rapist convicted of 3 felonies. When the court cases as revealed, the nation seemed to go nuts online. Everyone was posting articles and statements and videos of the case. Mug shots and statements of death and hatred were slung. I had so many friends posting hat he should be given the death penalty, that he’ll become someone’s sex toy in prison and learn what it feels like to be brutally assaulted and sodomized. I had so many friends say so many things.
But there’s more.
We can probably almost all agree hat Brock Turner and other rapists deserve prison time and proper justice. We would probably all agree that the crime was heinous. We would probably all say rape is bad. Let’s check ourselves, though,and see if we truly can say we live in opposition to the rape culture we are seemingly surrounded by, the very rape culture that gave this judge the ability to give such a light sentence.

We have become so quick in our culture to sling stones of judgment and hate and criticism yet are we really in a place to do so? I mean….are we really?

When the incident of both the gorilla/ zoo  and the gator/kid took place, everyone was suddenly the world’s best parents and said that they could never possibly make such a mistake. Of course I have opinions and would hope I could never have such a thing happen to my child. But last I checked I’m neither a parent nor perfect. Those parents will never forget what happened. So stop beating them up and love your kids as best as you can.

When the Brock Turner case became public, everyone suddenly was an attorney, counselor, executioner or tough guy. What bothered me about this case specifically was that everyone agrees rape is wrong but not everyone is living in a way to terminate the rape culture. If we truly cared about it at our core we wouldn’t allow for the other elements of the rape culture to continue. Need some examples?

  • Movies or shows that glamorize rape
  • Jokes about rape
  • Objectification of men and women through things like the adult industry, sexualized ads, etc.
  • Victim blaming
  • Slut shaming
  • Saying “boys will be boys”

You see, unless your life reflects the true desire and behaviors that align with wanting the end of the rape culture, then you are in no place to throw stones to Brock Turner, his parents, or the judge. I don’t say this to at all state that this case or others aren’t important. In fact, I believe that they are so important that we need to have more conversations about this. I can tell you one thing: I am absolutely fed up with the hypocrisy in our country, and even the Church, when it comes to the rape culture. If we really cared about stopping rape, stopping assault, ending the attitude, removing excuses, then we need to truly make some changes. When we glamorize rape in TV shows or movies, when we have advertisements and commercials that objectify and even subtly show domineering behavior, assault, or abuse, when we have campus rapes that aren’t being reported because schools “deal with them from within”, when we have fraternities where guys treat sex like an amusement park but sororities that do the same are deemed sluts, when we have such a large sex industry which is heavily connected to trafficking, when the Church talks about sex only as negatives avoiding the beauty of God’s design, and when we have magazines and media that create a pop culture that continually treats sex like pure recreation or experimentation, can we really say we are surprised and truly angry when a rapist is only given a six month sentence?

My point is not that complex. Opinions matter. Your voice matters. But more than anything Truth matters. And sometimes what really needs to happen is conviction and humility need to knock us on our knees and show us where we are wrong instead of casting stones at other’s mistakes or insufficiencies.

Thankfully, each day, I try to take on the challenges, mistakes, failures, good, bad and everything in between with the perspective of Jesus working in me showing me his love and life and redemption before me.

Empty seats. 

I started crying today in church. Not during a song. Not during a sermon. But a video. In fact I write this as I sit in the back of the auditorium of the middle school my church is renting out. I started to get teary- eyed watching the video about our new building….our dream coming true.  I’ve only been going to my church here in TN for a year now. I’ve only been around these people for a year. But in a year I have seen something that is rare and authentic and true. 

Lives changed. 

Currently we are in a school because we simply could not fit in our building anymore. So many new families, couples, kids, singles, soldiers, and more. So many people who have been coming to this church not because it has good music (it does), not because it has a funny preacher with great sermons (it does), not because it has a community (it does). People have been coming here because Jesus has changed their lives through this church. 

It’s not a life-change forced by rules and doctrine. It’s not a life-change because you need to live a certain way. It’s life-change that has been brought on because people have found truth, life, redemption, restoration, and freedom in Jesus- his love and forgiveness. 

So why was I getting a bit emotional? As the video aired this morning showing a glimpse of the new sanctuary and the many more chairs, tears came to my eyes. Think of the people…the people that can come to know who Jesus is because we as a church are making room for them. Think of the people who might find freedom from addiction, help in their marriages, wholeness in healing, family in their loneliness, community in isolation, identity in their confusion. Jesus loves every single one of us so much that he died for you and for me. He died to bring forgiveness and restoration to anything could face. Your past doesn’t define you and your mistakes don’t disqualify you. Jesus loves you! Jesus loves the people who will fill those yet-to-be-built empty chairs. Jesus loves the struggling single, the suicidal soldier, the crumbling marriage of the couple who feels hopeless, the awkward and adorable children, the stripper from the local club, the police officer, the teacher, the homeless, the transgender, the gay, and the whoever else might find theirself in those seats. 

Those empty chairs, the dream coming to fruition, is God’s heart. Not to be a bigger church or have a larger building. Not to have a name or nortoriety. Not to have it all. But to be a place of small and humble beginnings that God used to bring people in wholeness, fullness, healing and hope in Jesus Christ. A place that reaches a city and an Army post because every single person in this city and on that post matter. Those empty seats aren’t an expense, they’re an opportunity for someone to have their life changed because of Jesus’ love. 

“Your past doesn’t define you and your mistakes don’t disqualify you”- Kelly F. 

We need to be better than a rape culture.

I can’t even begin to express my feelings in something as short as this blog to explain how angry, sad, and broken I am for our culture today. We, America, have a long history of having the wrong opinion, wrong action, and poor judgment when it comes to rape and assault.  We have allowed for generations to live and die without having something substantial to show for having action and justice for victims of rape.  This needs to change. Now.

I have found myself at multiple times wanting to write something about this subject. But I usually find myself too upset or too angry to coherently write something capable of getting my thoughts across. But tonight, tonight I am here and ready to say something. We have created and endorsed a culture that glamorizes violent sex, rape, trafficking, prostitution, and assault. The very fact that we need to have this conversation shows how far we really are in this ugly pit.

Don’t believe me? Here are some examples…

  • movies like 50 Shades of Gray– manipulative and exploitive relationship
  • rape fantasy porn
  • phrases like “I’ll rape you in this game”
  • slut shaming (but boys will be boys…right?)
  • making jokes about rape
  • thinking its cool that celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence had her privacy betrayed so the world could “enjoy her” a bit
  • when we allow and enjoy songs like “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and endorse the thought that its okay to have blurry vision about consensual sex and possible rape
  • victim blaming

I could honestly make a longer list but there’s the gist. We have collectively taken such a light stance on rape and assault that we don’t even realize the tragedy taking place in our society. Just today pop-star Kesha was denied in court her request to terminate her contract with Sony because she claims a producer assaulted her. I don’t know Kesha. I don’t know her alleged attacker. But what I do know is that her right to remove herself from a place that she finds unsafe was denied. She will be forced to work alongside the producer over and over.  What I find most sad about her case is that, it being so public, will probably prevent so many victims of rape and assault from coming forward because the justice system has failed her, so why would it work for them?

Less than 2% of all rapes are reported with an even lower percentage for men reporting their assault. Women and girls are terrified of their attackers. Kids are petrified of their molesters. Boys and men feel humiliated because in society’s eyes they are less manly for having been assaulted, and even worse if their victimizer was a woman. Yes men can be raped by women too.

What it needs to come down to for us in our American culture is that we need to have a paradigm shift in our society. Enough is enough. Too many rapes happen. Too many victims stay silent. Too many victims lack justice being served. And too many rapists are set or kept free. We need to stop the jokes that make light of rape. We need to stop supporting porn (its all unhealthy) but especially rape fantasy porn. No more crying wolf because of regretful sex.  We need to learn that consent is vital in a sexual relationship. If consent is not given on either party…then don’t have sex. No means no. Silence means no. Yes means yes. We need to stop glamorizing artists/music whose lyrics not only glamorize but endorse rape, assault, abuse, etc. Snoop Dog (Snoop Lion?), Nicki Minaj, Robin Thicke and many others but just to name a few. We need to realize that as much as we have embraced something like the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, we are also embracing the objectification of women. We need to stop it. Stop it all. We need to understand that even if someone has given sex before, it is also their right to refuse. We need to understand that regardless of what a woman or man, boy or girl, is wearing it does not mean it is the right for the taking. Enough with the victim blaming. Enough with the objectifying. Enough. ENOUGH. ENOUGH!

 

We need to be better than this. We are better than this because we were created for more than this.  Do your part to better the world around you. Is this really the world we want our children to grow up in? Is this really a world you want to live in? No. Speak up. Act. Do something. But don’t sit around and allow for this rape culture to continue. Not on your watch. Not on mine.

 

 

 

 

Valentine.

This time of year brings out a few different types of people. There are the couples, excited to share their love with one another. There are the bitter singles who hate the holiday because they are mad about their own relationship status. Then you have the indifferent category- the ones who regardless of being in a relationship or not could care less about the day. It is in fact, just a day. And I beg the question…could there be more?

A culture is brilliantly marketed with commercials, flower/chocolate companies, lingerie ads, and more, all the while enticing couples to do something or give something  to the one you love.  What I find so tragically sad about this is that the marketing is in fact only for one specific day. Really? We really want to encourage couples to show their love once a year? Well the advertising isn’t exactly doing that, but it sure is close. We live in a world that cares so much about satisfying our need. Think about the ads around Valentine’s Day. How many of them aren’t sexually charged or about giving something just in order to receive something? Tell me it has more than this.

Between “free communication” weekends with eHarmony, Match.com and similar dating sites, it seems as though love equates relationship status, not love equating….well, love. At the same time, there are so many singles that are bitter and angry because of lacking a relationship. Many will drink away their loneliness, while many others will engage in porn, while still others might eat their feelings and spend the night in a bitterness binge on Netflix. Valentine’s Day is just a day, yet so many people find themselves feeling utterly alone.  Why can’t they be happy?  Why can’t they have someone special?  This assumes that being in a relationship equates happiness. And it also assumes that happiness is a standard for life (I’ll explain).

Then there’s me. The single who doesn’t care. There are plenty of people who don’t actually care about this holiday. You know something? I have never actually celebrated Valentine’s Day…at least not romantically. I  would love to be asked out for a cute date and to be treated special. Who wouldn’t? But my happiness is not contingent on how someone else treats me. My happiness is not contingent on anything else in this world. I know I matter and have value and worth because of God. Period. Its that simple. Everyone needs to know they matter.  Like I said, I would absolutely love to be asked on a Valentine’s Date with a fancy restaurant, flowers, chocolates, and maybe dancing. Yeah, I’m a romantic. But you know what? It’s okay.  Unlike culture, I’m not looking to get laid, get gifts, or anything else that this holiday heavily influences. I’m just me content with where I am.

I commend the couples that go and celebrate. Go! Have fun with your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend! Be romantic in your own way. Make the night special. Get each other gifts, or chocolates (or cake?), or whatever else you feel like. Let me challenge you with something here: put your significant other first.  Instead of caring about what you’re getting, what you want…maybe surprise them by making the night all about them. Heck, if you know they’re already doing something for you, do something else for them later in the week. But make it about them, not you. Show them a love that is selfless, worthy, and beautiful.

For those of us that are single, please for the love of God, stop whining and being bitter. Yes be sad if you really are, but stop being angry at the couples who are actually happy and enjoying their relationship, and the night devoted to “love”. But please please just stop. Do something that betters you that day. Go volunteer. Go have a bro-date or a girls day. Go hiking. Camping. Do something that gets your mind off of single life and have fun. Events like “Night to Shine” by the Tim Tebow Foundation are fantastic because its a Valentine’s event that doesn’t care about your age, weight, body type, relationship status. It simple cares for you to know you matter.  Do something that still puts others first.

I end with this. Know that no matter what, God loves you. You matter. You have value. You are worthy. No relationship, one-night-stand, hookup, Tinder swipe, pornographic image, or (dare I say) healthy relationship will have bring satisfaction or happiness, at least not long term and most definitely not joy like that God can bring you. He loves you so much.

Messy, vulnerable, baby Jesus

So Christmas is here. Soon we will be tearing apart the presents that were wrapped in attempted, not necessarily succeeded, beauty. The stress of it is most certainly here for so many. Family is in town. Maybe some travel. Others have house guests. We have our trees, whether natural or fake. We have our piles of presents. We have our Christmas villages and Santa Clause. Some parts of the world will have snow. I love Christmas. I love Christmas music, cheesy Christmas movies, decorations, ice skating, peppermint…pretty much anything that has to do with Christmas.

Yet in the midst of the Christmas season- holiday season for that matter if we go back to Halloween and Thanksgiving, we lose something. Even for those of us who are “religious”, faith-based, when we attend church, midnight Mass, or something else during this season, we often miss something. I think of something from a movie I find to be hilarious, though to many, they might find this scene sacrilegious. There’s a scene in Talladega Nights where, at the dinner table, there is a comical and ridiculous discussion on how to pray to Jesus. One claimed that he prays to grown up Jesus. Another prays to “6 pounds, 8 oz dear Lord baby Jesus”. It makes me wonder…

When people think of Jesus, even at Christmas, he is often thought of as the Jesus who died on the cross. We forget he was a baby first. We forget that he was vulnerable, exposed, dependent, bloody, uncomfortable, and messy. Jesus was a literal baby. He was born to a woman, just like any other person born. A C-section was not an option. He was born vaginally, where his mother had no pain killer, no doctors, no nurses, no ice chips. He was born and in his birth, the mess followed. There was blood, a placenta, possibly feces from Mary, as that is common for women as they deliver their baby. He was covered in the same amniotic fluid and blood that any other baby would be covered in, only he didn’t have a nice bath and towels to get cleaned. I imagine Mary’s screams being heard in the fields and houses nearby.  I imagine the pain that she would have had, delivering a baby with nothing but will and body.  I imagine Joseph nearby probably freaking out like any dad would be.  I imagine a very messy, very noisy, very painful, very uncomfortable, and yet all the while, very beautiful, powerful moment of history.

Baby Jesus was born.

I think it was on purpose that God chose to let Jesus enter this world painfully, in mess, and in vulnerability. You see, I believe God chose this to be the story of salvation because God wanted the world to see that he gets it…that life is messy and painful. I think God wanted to show Mary and Joseph that his story is bigger and better than we can fathom or understand. Rather than Jesus showing up as a man who had no life experience in relationship to everyone else, he, instead, came as a baby…a baby that pooped, peed, cried, and slobbered depending on Mary and Joseph to take care of him, just like any other baby.

nativity3

This world is very very messy. It is broken. It has so much pain. Moments, sometimes longer for others, challenge us. We are faced with hardship. I believe the Christmas story- the reason we actually go buy the presents, decorate trees, and attend services- completely and fully relates to our realities of brokenness, pain, and mess. Jesus understands and knows and wants to be part of your story. This Christmas, I pray and hope that you don’t pass it without thoughts on Jesus and the truth of his love for the world. Jesus could have chosen to not come. Jesus could have chosen to come as a man and not relate to us. Jesus could have ignored us altogether. Instead, he came in such a way that he truly and deeply knows our struggles and our pain. He knows our mess. And he is aching for you to recognize him. So many people ignored the star that showed over Bethlehem that first Christmas night. Kings and commoners ignored Jesus- the Messiah, Emmanuel, creator, and comforter, but more than anything, the king…the only King that can bring salvation, healing, restoration, and redemption. He can cleanse our mess, restore our brokenness, heal our hurts, and give us a hope.

Messiah.
Savior.
Emmanuel.
Prince of Peace.
Wonderful counselor.
Redeemer.
The Light of the world…

In Him, and only Him, we have life. True life.
Don’t miss Him this year.

In the darkness of the road…

This time of year seems to make everyone reflective and nostalgic.  With Thanksgiving, everyone wants to list things they are thankful for. Christmas is always seemingly about family. And New Years is about new chapters in our lives. I find myself here tonight, on Black Friday, reflecting on a whole lot more than the turkey I ate or the family I spent time with. I didn’t go shopping- never have on Black Friday. Instead, holidays for me sort of create a different internal response. I don’t typically share this with most people, but I want to be vulnerable with you tonight.  For me, as much as I love Thanksgiving and Christmas, I find them to be increasingly harder with each year passing.

I struggle with my desires and wants and yet try to be content with what have. I am nearing 30 years old at this point and spending holidays with family and friends also just reminds me of the family I don’t have. There are usually people at some point who I don’t know at holiday events who will ask the inevitable question of who my husband is or what he does.  In finding out about my single-hood, people are quick to either remind me of the “you’ll meet him at the right time” encouragement or they’ll try to do a setup.  Neither of which are helpful or wanted.  I don’t get to share the holiday moments with a husband or kids. I don’t get to make memories and create traditions.  I love my family, don’t get me wrong, but I want more. I always have. I want to be married and have the inconvenience of choosing who to spend holidays with. I want the hassle of preparing my own house for the holidays. Holidays for me at some point remind me of my lack.

And yet, it doesn’t quite end there. While everyone talks of careers and time off, retirement and tenured, I struggle with debt that is suffocating and sucking the life out of me. I get frustrated with the holidays, especially Christmas, because in my heart I want to bless others and make people feel special, buy them what they need or want, yet wrestle with what I can actually do.  Between parties, gift exchanges, Christmas presents, meals to prepare, and even traveling, I fight with myself with what I can or should do, and yet wish I could do more. And of course, along with the question regarding my relationship status, I am also asked what I do for a living.  Well, I pretty much work my butt off for just above minimum wage so I can pay off debt that I got for two degrees yet am not getting hired by anyone to actually use. Its a frustrating, sometimes infuriating, place to be in when I don’t have an answer to that question. What I do have is the knowledge that I’ve been rejected by hundreds of jobs while working multiple/overlapping part-time jobs, not using my degrees, and yet still struggling to make ends meet. Struggling with needing and desperately wanting a job that is utterly fulfilling doing what I was born to do.

What I realized, and have been processing, over the past 24 hours, is that life is just really really hard sometimes and there isn’t always a solution or formula.  Sometimes, we just get knocked down over and again. For the past year especially I have felt like I can’t catch my breath. I looked up previous posts and saw that I wrote 3 other posts regarding car and financial issues in the past year, with this being part of the 4th. (Previous posts: Shattered Lights and Black Ice, Cracked Windshield, The Life I want)  You see, last night while driving home from dinner at my sister’s, my car decided to die rather rapidly in the middle of the unlit road as I was going 45mph. As my car died in the “suicide” lane, I sat in my car fighting tears and the desire to just yell as loud as possible. I sat, with my hazard lights flashing, in the darkness of the road just angry and lost. The moments before my car died, I was praying for breakthrough in areas of my life…those frustrations written just earlier in this post. I was praying specifically for God to grant favor financially for me. I feel like I’m busting my butt but not getting anywhere. I also was praying to God and telling him (rather honestly) how I am sick of being single (let’s be clear: I’m not desperate, I desire marriage- there is a BIG difference). I was telling God how lonely the holidays can be and how it’d be nice for that area of my life to change. I know that may sound stupid, but sometimes, we need to be honest with ourselves and with God about our wants and our needs.

Last night, I had wants, but definitely had needs.

I sat in my car stuck…and angry. I was angry even though my sister, brother-in-law, neighbor’s father, and my dad, showed up and towed my dead Jeep out of the darkness of the middle of the road. I sat angry at yet another financial thing that I knew I couldn’t pay. I sat angry that I just can’t seem to win. For a moment, I almost wished someone hit my car enough just so insurance could take of it. You see…desperation can make us crazy, but that desperation should still be towards Jesus. In all of my anger and frustration, my tears and my yelling (yes I was yelling at God rather angrily last night too), God was not offended nor was he absent. He created us with emotions- to feel things. But regardless of what we face in life, we need to turn to Jesus. He is not offended by our anger or our sadness, our bitterness or burdens, our brokenness or our weakness. He loves us tremendously and wants us to come to him as we are.

When I got home and into the silence of my bedroom, I broke down. Weeping. Angry. Upset. Broken. Frustrated. Lost. Everything all in one. I was mad at God for everything- my job situation, my finances, my job rejections, my singleness, and more.  I went into work this morning still frustrated and mad. Still broken and lost. But as I continued to silently pray, my attitude started to slowly shift.  My situation hasn’t really changed too much from last night. Yes, I got my car fixed and the finances of it were worked out. But I still have the same other things- the things I was praying about in the moments before my car died. And yet…I still serve the same God who has provided for me before, who has kept me from things not out of anger or overprotection, but because he understands the things I cannot see. I still serve the same God who has proven his love over and over again. I may be struggling and dealing with my own needs and wants, but my God is with me. I am human and these emotions and wants and needs won’t just disappear. But God is unwaveringly faithful. For that, I can and will thankful.  I serve a God who wants me to bring him my desires and wants, and trust him with them, even if my timing or outcome isn’t as I see fit. If I believe he is who he says he is, than my weariness can be lifted and my head held high on that simple fact.

Jesus and Jihadists.

There have been so many heartbreaking things lately to happen. So much suffering. So much hate. There is no way to avoid hearing about the hurting happening in this world.  There is no way to avoid hearing about the evil. Lately, it seems the world’s greatest named enemy are Jihadists and terrorist groups. They are doing a great job of instilling fear and terror across borders and around the world. Between beheadings, bombings, mass shootings, public executions, and other threats, the world is hearing and seeing their evil.  What broke my heart this weekend was seeing some more news about more evil and pain through terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad.  So many lives lost.  So much hurting and pain.

Something struck me through the many social media posts I saw. So many posts were blaming refugees for the attack specifically on Paris. So many posts were calling for immediate airstrikes. And still others were full of grief. What became all the more clear to me in light of the events that occurred over the last week around the world, is that this world needs Jesus. I may sound like a broken record, and frankly I don’t care. Jesus is the only Hope, only Redeemer and only Savior of this world. Whatever brokenness, whatever evil, whatever pain, whatever tragedy we face, he is our hope. Our everything.

 

That goes for everyone. The Gospel and love of Jesus Christ is radically, completely and totally inclusive. In light of the recent events, this could be a very hard pill to swallow: Jesus loves Jihadists.  11906265_195480400790708_347100879_n

I am sure my last statement is not a popular one, but it is a Biblical one. Jesus came to this Earth to save the righteous only, right? No! Jesus came to bring healing to the broken, freedom for the captive, forgiveness for the sinner, redemption for the evildoer. People who encountered Jesus weren’t the same after.  They lived differently. Jesus came bearing a message that would weigh heavy for all of eternity because it was one that included every person. He lived and died for the forgiveness of this world, for every single person.  It is a painful and hard, and even unwanted, to hear that the Good News- the Gospel- is even for the terrorist.  I am not saying that justice on Earth doesn’t need to happen nor am I trying to nullify the evil done. Earthly consequences are often necessary and unavoidable.  I am just trying to convey a message that Jesus died for: a radical love that loved the enemies, the adulterer, the murderer, the liar, the gossip, the slave, the free, the parent, the child, the homosexual, the straight, the old and the young.

This radical love is one that I want to be better at. I want to be someone that can live out a love that is so radical that I can forgive the terrorist. Why? Because Jesus wants even them to turn from their evil and live for Him. I want to be someone that can love someone who may never return that love. I want to be someone that kneels and weeps and prays for those that hurt me and persecute me. I want to be someone that embodies so closely the character of Christ, that people see Jesus first in me.

I would love to be there the day that a Jihadist- a terrorist, a murderer, adulterer, whoever- meets Jesus. The day their life changes. The day that might be forgiven. The day they take ownership of their sin and claim redemption in Jesus.  I understand that the likelihood of me actually seeing that take place is slim, but I want to be sure to pray. To remember to pray for the hurting as well as the offender.  I want to remember to believe that redemption is possible for anyone, even if its on the other side of eternity.