Sunday, April 12, 2020

The True Joy of Easter

What a morning. I've had the incredible privilege to worship in song and teaching three times, including a sunrise service. Normally, that would feel like a burden, but today? Today I can't get enough.

Growing up in church, Easter was always just assumed to be a special day. But, I never really understood why. All the important work was done on the cross, right? It was cool and all that he rose from the dead, but so what? Every song that crescendoed at him rising from the grave perplexed me.

By the grace of God, I've been a Christian pretty much all my life. But, as any Christian who's been at this for long enough can tell you, there is always something you don't understand, and always some new facet of the gospel that God is teaching you. In many ways, my college years were not just for higher academic learning, but deeper theological growth. During that time, the Spirit of God started pulling weeds and nurturing seedlings that had been neglected. It's an ongoing process, and I'm so grateful for it.

Around that time is when I started getting serious about Easter. WHY did everyone make such a big deal about this Resurrection thing? (Remember, this event was, for me, simply a given fact. I grew up with it, and my intellectual familiarity with it meant that it did not feel all that strange to me.) I worked my way through the Gospel of Mark one Spring semester, and during Holy Week I read accounts of the respective day's events across all four gospels. With all that lead up beforehand, feeling like I was getting to know a beloved story character (and remembering that he was a real man with real friends and real family)--with all that, I finally began to feel the weight of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday. The sting of his betrayal. The anger of his mistreatment while on "trial." The soul crushing grief and anguish of his death on Good Friday. And then the emptiness and loss and longing on Holy Saturday.


And then! Then!! HE WAS BACK!!! The best friend, the wisest teacher, the kindest heart, the purest soul, the Son of God, the promised salvation had come BACK!!! The joy was so overwhelming! He would never die again. Happiest day!!! I had asked and sought, and I praise God for that truth and inexpressible joy that I found.

That was one of a few events around that time in my life that I can point to as being truly pivotal in my understanding and love of God. Easter has never been the same, though it is usually not as intense an experience as that time in college. But I'm still learning, and the Spirit continues to nurture truths that I've known in my head for years, coaxing them to grow deeper into my heart.

Today, because of churches livestreaming during quarantine, I had the privilege to hear the resurrection story three times, each time presented by a different person with a slightly different perspective. I'd like to share what the Spirit showed me this year during today's Resurrection Sunday sermons.

  • "Jesus didn't just die for us, he ROSE for us." The cross and Christ's death is crucial. But the story doesn't stop there. Everything Jesus does is to glorify God by making a people who worships the One True King in spirit and in truth. That applies to his resurrection, too.
  • Because of Christ's resurrection, we have a living hope. That hope never fades or fails, and is never at risk of being taken from us. (1 Peter 1:3-9)
  • The hope which is so secure is this: Jesus is the firstfruit of a new creation (1 Corinthians 15:20). Our hope is that we are, and are becoming, and will be part of that new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Because of that, every aspect of our lives is being transformed, past, present, and future. And in the last day, the transformation of God's creation will be completed, down to the molecules (Philippians 1:6).
  • Jesus died to settle our eternal debt. He rose to begin fulfilling the promise of salvation and new creation. He ascended to sit at the right hand of God, a place of honor, power, and favor; in his new place, he continually intercedes for us and grants us access to this place of unprecedented favor with God. Not only that, but at Pentecost following his resurrection, he sent the Spirit of *God Himself* to live inside of us, to give us power to be active participants in the glory of God's kingdom, and to make our lives full to the brim for the glory of God.

Wow! What a wonderful Savior!!


Brothers and sisters in Christ, I hope that some part of my story speaks to you. I hope you felt something new in your heart that increases your joy in our incredible Lord and Savior.

And to those of you who may not know what in the world I'm talking about, or understand why all these Christians make such a big deal over Easter, to you I say two things. First, wow, thank you for reading this far. Second, if you have questions, I've got ears. And, God willing, I might even have some answers.

Happy Resurrection Sunday, everyone! He is risen!!!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Single Doesn't Mean Alone

There's a lot to be said about the freedom of being single, especially in the Church. I get to save a good bit of my money, which means I can help support various endeavors from my local church. There's not much pulling on my time, which frees me up to volunteer. Need someone in the children's church last minute? On it. Somebody needs to stand guard at this door and say hi to people? Not my thing, but yeah, I can help with that. Invest in someone younger in the faith? Yep, I've got the time to do that, too.

Plus, I get the incredible opportunity to learn what love and service and "doing life together" looks like in a platonic way. I have the space to invest in deep friendships and learn what it means to live in community with others. I get to learn what that community paired with my singleness feels like, and be empathetic and supportive of my fellow brothers and sisters who for whatever reason are not married. Maybe they're still hoping and waiting, maybe they've chosen singleness for its own sake, or maybe they're attracted to the same sex and have chosen to live single in obedience to God's design for gospel marriage. (I realize that last bit may step on some people's toes, but it's my blog and that's what I believe.)

Married people do all this, too, of course, but from what I've observed it's a lot more challenging for them. There's the bills and the kids and the house and the marriage itself that they've got to keep pouring into. Marriage is a beautiful picture of Christ and his bride (the Church), but it sure looks hard to do. And it takes up a lot of resources, both tangible and intangible.

For all these beautiful opportunities singleness affords me, I would be lying if I said I was fully content with it. I can think of a few reasons why contentedness eludes me, but the fact remains that there is a sense of loneliness that constantly threatens my sense of identity. It tells me I'm unlovable, that I wouldn't be worth a good relationship anyway, that no one should care how I'm doing, that I'm doing fine on my own. It tells me that alone and isolated is what I deserve and all I should ever expect. The pain of those whispered untruths makes me just want to curl into a ball and wrap my aloneness around me like a blanket, as if covering myself in it will somehow make it more comfortable.

Praise God that my walk the past 10 years has led me to local churches that so heavily emphasize being in community with other believers. Not just as a social club (though those are fun, too), but a group of diverse individuals who come from all walks and share a common faith in Jesus Christ, Son of God Almighty. There's a level of excitement when I meet someone who shares similar interests with me (where my Hufflepuffs at??), but there is something profoundly deep and joyful about meeting someone who loves my God for who he is. It's something holy, which means "set apart." It's the kind of deep connection with others that I crave as a single woman. And thank you God that I don't have to be married to experience that kind of connection and share in that kind of love and joy with someone else!

I have been blessed to be part of several such gospel centered communities, in multiple states. I have grown so much because of the love of Christ lived out in a variety of ways, from all kinds of people. The group that showed me how to bring corporate worship into a small group setting, and what it looks like to invest in a particular population in as many ways as possible with all devotion. The one that helped me raise money to go to grad school by donating yard sale items and helping me organize said yard sale. The one that showed me how to continuously and actively engage in the lives of my sisters in Christ. The one that even now encourages me to embrace the kingdom of God and follow wherever the Spirit has laid a path for me. And a hundred other friendships and blessings I'll never forget, but are too many to mention here. I thank God for all of you.

I am single. And when I am very honest with myself, I want to not be single - I would enjoy having someone to partner together with me to love God and for us to grow in our love for Him and for each other. But I also rejoice in my singleness! Because there is incredible treasure to be found here, and because single does not mean alone.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Getting Focused

I wanted to throw out some thoughts from the day. Twice, in completely different contexts, I heard the message, "don't get distracted"/"stay focused." There were other motifs surrounding that theme, but that was the gist of it both times. And the point both speakers were trying to make was to stay focused on what's actually important. Because let's be honest, we can all get laser-focused on the wrong thing and totally miss the point.

So what's that important thing? What do we stay focused on?

With very simple things, like skill acquisition, the focal point is whatever the purpose of the skill is. Not just performing like you would for a talent show -- performing with an understanding of each facet and the overarching context of why you are doing that skill in that particular way. Anyone can take a picture, but a photographer has the understanding to make it something excellent. Anybody can learn to shoot a basketball into a hoop, but true skill means you also know how to get around the opponent's defense and set up your team for continued successes. The focus is not just the skill itself, it's whatever the point of the skill is: art, athletic victory, music, etc.

Let's expand beyond the relatively simple. Skills and hobbies are great, but they are themselves subject to an even bigger focal point. Why are you taking pictures? Why are you playing basketball? Why do you play music? How you define that ultimate focus is up to you, but it will determine how you perceive everything in your life. It is the True North that you will be (and already are) navigating by.

For me, my True North, my focal point, is the kingdom of God. This means that Jesus is my King, and that I am one of his subjects, and I follow my King's orders and reflect who he is to those around me. The ultimate focus of my skills and hobbies are (ideally) centered on that. Maybe not always in a directly obvious way, but the "vibe" of how I do things and why I do them should always reflect that focus.

Tangent Time...
I know monarch language is a little out there for some of my readers, so think of it this way: Every nation has a "vibe" to it, if you will, and that vibe is set by its governing power and the response of its people to that governing power. Tyrannical dictator and frightened people? Scary vibes, not great for tourism, people escape if they can. Warlord who won a rigged election, with rebel factions in the populace? Danger and civil unrest vibes, no travel zone, lots of refugees. Group of bickering politicians ruling over populace with no greater enemy than themselves? Self-centered vibes, great for tourism and money-spending, people mostly settle for the way things are.

Then imagine this: A unified voice in leadership, with impossible wisdom to both exact justice and extend mercy, indescribable love for his people, unmatched power to protect his kingdom (and its citizens) from all who would harm it/them, and literally all the wealth (both material and immaterial) in all of creation to offer his citizens. His people know they're valued and loved and safe, and they show that to each other, and invite others in to experience it, too.

My Point Is
My point is that life has a point. All life does, not just mine. But since I can only speak about my experience of that, I'll reel it back in to first person. My focus for life is being a Kingdom Citizen. There are a lot of ways to get distracted while I'm about that purpose, because let's be honest, life is messy and it's really much easier to just focus on myself. But if I keep my eyes on the real goal, it colors how I view the messiness and even the tedium of boring everyday stuff. It's usually not easy, but if you're able to look at and through the thing in front of you to what lies beyond, it makes a world of difference. I think it's important to not ignore what's going on in front of you and around you, but if you allow yourself to focus only on them, you'll often find yourself going miles off course.

It's worth clarifying that losing focus and getting off track is never the end of the journey. Just because you drove for hundreds of miles to the west or slowed to a crawl doesn't mean you can't start going north again. It just means you'll have spent a lot of time and emotional and mental resources going the wrong way. It happens.

I tend to get pretty heady when I have time to think, and I had a lot of that today. Writing this post close to bedtime probably hasn't helped my coherency. Maybe some of this made sense to you and challenged you to stop getting distracted and renew your focus. Maybe it all only makes sense in my own head! But on the chance it helps someone else, I wanted to share my thoughts. I'd also like to share this encouragement: You can always renew your focus, no matter how distracted you got. And if you are my brother or sister in Christ, no matter what got you distracted and off course, no matter how long you wandered for, you can always come home.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

20 Things for 2020

Catchy vision-casting post, engage.

Hyperspace from the Falcon's cockpit

While I may not be much of one for New Year's Resolutions, I do like to think ahead and fantasize about what might be accomplished in the coming year. Because coming up with 20 things was challenging, I decided to divide up my thinking across the 8 dimensions of wellness.

  1. Ask for help more.
  2. Get a travel card. I want to go abroad, and racking up travel points is a great way to make that happen.
  3. Read what I have. Definitely guilty of buying more books when I still have almost an entire shelf of unread books. Maybe this will be the year I read those books, instead of buying more.
  4. Stay consistent with paying off student loans. It's a marathon, and slowing down just drags out the misery.
  5. Make friends here. This looks to be a year of settling down somewhat, which means it's time to put down a few roots and make some friendships outside the workplace.
  6. Host a game or movie night. Something I've wanted to do for a while, and just haven't done. (Not solo, anyway.)
  7. Pray more. I've never done this consistently. But it makes a difference in me when I do it, so I'd like to actually, you know, do it.
  8. Read my Bible more. And listen to what it's saying.
  9. Get faster at documentation. I have a few ideas for how to speed up my process, they just require a little prep work. (Obviously the repetition goes a long way, but even faster would be even better.)
  10. Get to work. Find something I truly care about in the profession, and put actual effort into making it better.
  11. Cook more. I'd love to add 10 new recipes to my repertoire this year, so I can keep myself alive and in decent health.
  12. Drink more water. It's not that I don't like water, I just really really struggle to make myself drink it regularly.
  13. Explore nearby. There are some amazing sights around here, and I'd like to actually go see them at some point. Plus it gets me outside.
  14. Take more pictures. I've got this great camera that I hardly ever use.
  15. Learn how to take good DSLR pictures, manually. That fancy camera takes even better pictures when I set the parameters myself! Just gotta learn/remember how to do that...
  16. Find a sewing class. Online or in-person, I am so tired of spending 90% of my time trying to figure out how to interpret patterns or instructions, and then making them happen.
  17. Grow edible food this Spring/Summer. I've grown things before, but they weren't very good. Not gonna stop me from trying again, though!
  18. Organize my craft closet. It's like a bomb went off...
  19. Put up my wall art. They're just gathering dust, while my walls look so boring.
  20. Display my knickknacks. We've all got them. Little trinkets that we collect from experiences, friendships, and hobbies. They may take up space, but they help me feel grounded.

Do you see anything that's been on your mind to do this year? If not, what's something else you're hoping to accomplish in the next 12 months?

The True Joy of Easter

What a morning. I've had the incredible privilege to worship in song and teaching three times, including a sunrise service. Normally, th...