Monthly Archives: September 2011

Thunder and Lightning

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Our God is amazing. I know I don’t need to tell you that, you know it just as well as I do. And yet, sometimes you realize it all over again… Right now, I’m sitting in a dark room, windows on both sides of me, looking outside at an intense thunderstorm. Lightning brightens the whole sky. The rain and wind is crashing right at that point where it’s almost scary it’s so powerful. Awe-inspiring. Breath-taking. And to get to witness such a powerful display of might within the protection of dry-wall and glass… what a privilege. Here I am, mere feet away from slanting rain and howling wind, watching water repelled before my eyes. Thunder that sounds like it’s cracking the sky apart and lightning so bright it’s blinding, but I have nothing to fear. Why should I? It’s just wind and rain, thunder and lightning.

Kirsten (one of my leaders) sang a song tonight she wrote based on Psalm 33, and the chorus really resonated within me: “Our soul waits for the LORD, He is our strength and our shield. Our soul waits for the LORD”. The concept (truth, really) that God is my Defender is wonderful, in the
literal sense, to me. There have been so many times in my life where I felt defenseless. Hopeless. Helpless. Like no one was on my side. Where was my rescuer, my hero?

This afternoon I was pulled back into some of those memories, and they’re easy to get lost in. But through this storm, God is reminding me of the words to a song we sang on Sunday. It’s a well known song, sung in churches across America. But this past Sunday God used it to speak to my soul, and tears of speechless gratitude and awe brimmed in my eyes:

“My Savior lives. My Savior loves. My Savior’s always there for me. My God, He was. My God, He is. My God, He’s always gonna be.”

God is, always has been, and always will be for me. It doesn’t make the painful reality any lighter to bear, but it’s enough to shift my eyes from the paralyzing chaos around me to Him. It’s enough to change hopelessness to joy: the resolute assurance that God has neither lost interest in nor the power to handle my problems. That’s the purpose that drives me on. That’s the difference that gives me the strength to choose to take another step. And another. And another….

More than just twiddling those thumbs…

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You know you’ve got a spiritually-gifted teacher when even his rabbit trails are revolutionary to you. Today we were going through the life of Abraham, and Professor/Pastor Randy somehow managed to link Genesis 17 with 2 Peter 1:5-7 (don’t even bother trying to understand how. And men think women’s minds are inexplicably complicated…)

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.

There’s a lot in that verse, but God used Pastor Randy to illuminate one special word for me: perseverance. Often translated as “patience” or “endurance”. And here’s why: the greek word, hupomoné, is literally translated as “remaining under”.

If your anything like me, that doesn’t make any sense. When I think of patience, I see someone sitting on the couch doing nothing. Just waiting. I think many of us often equate patience with the absence of action, at least on some level. We flash back to Christmas at 6 years old. We’re staring at our growing pile of presents, wanting with every fiber of our small-yet-powerful beings to tear into our gifts. And what does mom say? “You’ll just have to be patient”. So we sit, at the foot of the tree, just staring at gaudy wrapping paper. Patience is somehow ignoring that part of your brain that’s screaming, “Can’t it be Christmas already?!”

But let’s entertain the idea that God may mean more by “patience” than becoming overly familiar with Christmas tree lights. Picture instead a body builder. He’s laying there on the bench press, struggling with the weight of the bar-bell, but he’s keeps it up. Or, you could say, he stays underneath it. It may hurt, but he knows the its only way he’ll get stronger. That’s patience. Bearing the load, staying beneath the weight of whatever God gives you. It’s staying strong as a single Christian when you really want to be married, knowing that God is using this time to continually transform you into a better future spouse. It’s enduring while your homework load seems to be only increasing, knowing that God is not only strengthening your mind, but your character and your work ethic as well. It’s staying steadfast on your knees while life is hurricane-ing around you, fixing (more like locking) your eyes on Jesus, knowing that God has neither lost interest in nor the power to handle whatever is raging around (or inside) you.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men struggle badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up on wings like eagles, the will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40:28-31.

Be patient. Persevere. Endure. Bear it well. Stay beneath.

One foot in front of the other

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So remember that prayer I prayed Friday night? Well… Fast forward about 36 hours. It’s 7:30 am, Sunday morning. I’m lying in bed, in that not-quite-ready-to-face-the-day-just-yet state, pondering one thing: conflict resolution. Yep, not even two days later and God’s already given me an opportunity to practice and learn.

Let’s back up a bit (a week to be exact) for the setting of this “conflict”:

Again, it’s Sunday morning. GCBI (my school, Great Commission Bible Institute) requires its students to be involved in two ministries throughout the week, and I decided that morning to try out the Sunday morning children’s ministry. I was already volunteering for the Sunday night ministry; might as well give another dose of children a shot, right? Well, the teaching method of the Sunday morning program was very different from that of Sunday night’s, and as the morning progressed, I found myself thinking, “You know what, this isn’t really for me. I tried it out, not a great fit, I’ll just let the leaders know and move on. No big deal, right?”

But then there was that moment: The moment at the end when the ministry leader asks you, with light shining in his/her eyes, “Will I see you next week?” (insert hopeful smile here). It was like a scene in a movie; I heard my mouth say, “Yeah, sure!” while my poor, mute mind was yelling out in slow-mo “Noooooooooooooooo!”. Sadly, no one else heard the slow-mo voice, and before I knew it, I had volunteered myself for something I didn’t really want to do.

So, one week later, we’re back in my mostly-conscious state, contemplating my “conflict” dilemna: Internal conflict. The leaders of the children’s ministry were as sweet as could be; my problem was within myself (angel on one shoulder, demon on the other).

Usually I handle such conflicts like this:

“Jessi, I know you don’t want to serve in this ministry, but maybe your heart’s not in the right place. After all, ministry is not about you! It’s about glorifying God and serving other people. Besides, they really need me and I can do it. In fact, I did a pretty good job. If the only reason I’m not going to do it is just that I don’t want to, then I should just buckle down and meet the need. I can’t base my actions on feelings; if I act in accordance with right thinking, my feelings will fall in line afterwards.”

But I as I laid in bed I remembered something the ministry leader told us during Orientation: You should only serve in a ministry if you want/feel called to; God and the people you’re serving will be able to tell if you aren’t. And my mind was made up: I was going to handle this internal conflict differently. I was going to say no.

But then another question came to me: When? and, even more importantly, How? I could: A) Just not show up. They’d get the message, right? They might not even miss me. The leader probably forgot anyway. B) Poke my head in 5 min before they started and quickly explain myself. Or C) Be good to my word. Help out that week and, afterwards, tell them, “I tried this out, and I’m sorry, but it’s just not a good fit for me. Thank you for this opportunity!”

By God’s grace, I picked C. And it proved to be harder than I originally thought; I liked that Sunday morning more than it’s predecessor. But I had made up my mind: I wasn’t going to base my actions on feelings, I was going to follow through. No chickens here.

And I did. My heart was hammering, my mind was racing, and I had to concentrate on steadying my voice (I’m a baby, I know. But we all have to start somewhere). But, I did it. And the leader was gracious and understanding and thanked me for my help.

So, why am I telling you this? On our first day of Orientation, Pastor/Professor Randy told us a novel/simple concept. We all want to be in the right place at the right time when God presents us with those big decisions. Which school to go to. Who to marry. What house to buy. You name it. But the only way we can expect to be in that right place is if we make the right little steps to get there. Finish your homework on time. Work on inner beauty (1 Pet 3). Know your needs/wants. You get the idea. As I have been thinking about Sunday morning, I have realized I made one of those little steps. It doesn’t seem like much, because it really wasn’t. It was just one step. In the right direction. I can’t expect to handle any sort of major conflict (and we all face them sooner or later) if I can’t win the battle in my own mind.

So here I stand, one step further ahead. There’s nothing quite as exciting as seeing God answer prayer and empower you to live according to His will. Even if it’s as “simple” as saying, “Thanks, but no thanks”.

With “C” comes “G”

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I prayed a scary prayer last night…. I prayed that God would use this year to teach me how to handle conflict, His way. Not my way, not my family’s way, not the easy way or the culturally appropriate way. His way. Have you ever had one of those moments? That quiet, shaking-in-your-boots moment when you realize that you could either keep on keeping on the way you always have, or you could take a deep breath and just let go. Jump off. Hand over the keys. Welcome the unknown. Scary, isn’t it? Terrifying, really.
But there’s another side to reliquishing control, the exhilirating side. I love rollercoasters (and, for those of you who know me, you know that when I “love” something, I LOVE it.) My fellow coaster junkies would tell you that a coaster’s appeal is the very feeling of having no control. You don’t know what’s coming, you don’t know if you can handle it, but you know that other’s have done it before you and made it out alive, and so you gotta do it. That’s the same concept. I don’t know what’s coming, what kind of conflict I’ve let slip into my life. I don’t know how I’ll handle it (the scariest part). But I also know that countless thousands have encountered conflict before me, and they’ve done so in a Godly way. If God could empower them to respond His way, why wouldn’t He with me? I just gotta stay on my knees and plant myself at His feet. With conflict comes growth.

So here I sit. I’m buckled in, the bar is pulled down tight. All I have left is that prayer we all pray in such situations… “Oh, God. I’m in for one heck of a ride. Just keep me alive, ok?”  And here we go…

Ready or Not…

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Have you ever experienced this? You have some crazy experience (missions trip, conference, fill in the blank) and you think “This is so revolutionary. I’ll never forget what God just taught me! How could I?” And then you go back to ordinary, whatever that is, and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t think of that profound message that was coursing through you earlier. This is especially apparent whenever someone asks you, “So, how was camp?” “Uhh…. It was great!” (insert cricket noise here). Gotta hate it when your own brain leaves you hanging.

That’s my motivation behind this blog. I don’t want that to happen here (here being my year-long Bible school), and I know that it easily could. Between school, work, church, working with the children’s ministry, our church’s version of small-groups and getting to know my 11 other classmates (pray for me. 9 boys and 3 girls living in community for 9 months) it would be easy to not put in the effort of really chewing on what God’s putting into my heart. I’m here on purpose, and I know God wants me here. He’s gonna speak to me and do things in me, He already has. I don’t want to miss it, forget it, let it just slip through my fingers.

And you, brave reader, are contemplating joining me on this journey. I can’t promise anything. Right now I’m all excited, but I also know myself. I kind of a perfectionist, so this concept of just having my thoughts on “public paper” is a bit alarming. But I’m ok with that. I want to come to the point where I can write down my thoughts without having to come to some nice conclusion, because you don’t always have one.

I don’t know what this will end up looking like. But I’m thinking this is something God wants me to do. Go with me on this: Does God teach you something solely for your own benefit? Does He transform you just for your own sake? Or, perhaps, could He want your transformation to impact someone else too? Now, I’m not saying that I have some amazing, life-changing knowledge that I must bless the rest of mankind with. But I can’t help but be excited at the idea that while God is working with me on something, He could be with you too. It’s exciting enough to change my processing format from journaling to blogging. So, here we go! Are you ready?