Weighing in on the Value Scale: Humbly Looking to Christ

img_20180308_151333378_hdr.jpgWhen I was a kid, I was told I was fun-loving. This is a compliment–except when you’re told you’re fun-loving instead of hard-working. And when you’re told you can’t make it through life unless you learn to work hard. Then, when you’re told you’re fun loving, it ends up meaning, to you as a child, that you don’t know how to work hard.

So as a kid, I was convinced I was not a hard worker and that I was not going to make it through college–or life. But I ended up at the community college anyway. And, by some miracle, I started receiving As on my assignments. Slowly the world became a different place as my teachers encouraged me. They told me I was smart, intelligent, dedicated, and competent. They believed in me.

Slowly I believed in myself. I grasped the idea that, if I was a good student, I might be able to work hard (even if I wasn’t inherently a hard-worker). So I kept it up and put in great amounts of effort to define myself as a good student, as a conscientious individual, as a hard worker. It’s great to be confident, to believe in oneself, because we all are valuable. But recently it’s dawned on me that there are different ways to define value.

0303170743 - EditedThis semester I was offered a great opportunity with Cornerstone University: I got picked as one of a handful of students to present in front of the school in a “Celebration of Scholarship” event. It was an honor, and I was honestly delighted. I would have the opportunity to put forth a great deal of academic effort and then share something I was passionate about with others. I was excited to be granted a role in this event. It was another way to prove to myself my academic ability.

But as I prepared for the presentation, things didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped. My research got delayed, my results came back late, and I couldn’t interpret the responses. I was in turmoil. I spent hours trying to figure out the statistics part–most of which was spent figuring out how to get Excel online to work with me. I downloaded add-ons, I watched YouTube videos, I read “how-to” instructions Googled online. This was dedication. I can’t stand doing any of these desperate measures I was going to. But I was willing to put forth great effort to do well in this honorable opportunity.

But after a few hours of this, I still wasn’t getting anywhere. On occasion, actually I was making mistakes that messed up my data and required me to spend time re-entering the data. While I wasn’t moving forward, some of my effort moved me backward.

Hence I did what any desperate girl would do: cried for a few hours.

It was through all of this that I realized my pain and stress related to this project was so intense because I was using this project to define me. In fact, lately I’ve been using my academic strength to define my worth. I’d been finding value in my academic success. I didn’t think I could do well in school. When I received the pleasant surprise that I could, I put too much value in that.

While it’s great to take a healthy pride in my strengths, to let my academic strength define my worth is to cut myself short. God loves me with a relentless love regardless of anything I do. Sure, I can delight him by using my gifts and talents for his glory. But my A person's hand holding up a roll of dollar billsvalue does not come from these things. My value comes from his unchanging, unbreakable, uncomprehendable, infinite love for me. When I can learn to rest sure in this constant love, I can have his peace that surpasses understanding for nothing that the future holds can affect my value or my worth in his eyes.

What are you using to define your worth?

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When Time is Irrelevant: An Analogy of God’s Perspective

jan-kahanek-184676-unsplashWhen I was in high school, I attempted to write an adventure novel. Admittedly, it was quite cliche; the King died, and this peasant boy discovers he’s actually the prince (hidden in a foster family to preserve his life in the time of war). He doesn’t inherently want to, but for the sake of the nation, he must fight for his rightful place on the throne. I had lots of struggles and even more fun writing it, even though, honestly, it’s pretty darn bad.

However, it was this experience–of being an “author” and creating characters–that enthralled me in another analogy, one that I found in C. S. Lewis‘ book MiraclesI cannot fathom how God can care about each individual out of the millions and millions who have lived, can listen to each of our prayers, and can know my name before I was born. alessandro-cavestro-559170-unsplash.jpgDude, God has a lot on his hands. Even if I dismiss all the other people who have ever lived or ever will life, right here and right now there are more than 7 million people alive. That’s a lot of people for God to be intimately, constantly working with.

But C. S. Lewis said it like this: life is like an adventure novel with a complicated plot and many characters and with God as the author. To the characters in the novel, everything seems to happen in time, in succession, and without breaks. We wake up in the morning, go to work, keep house, interact with others, eat, and sleep with no breaks. Even if we take breaks, life is still going on.

But the author of the book doesn’t see time at all the same way. The author of the book is free to be working on a script for BethAnn and to stop, put down the pen and think. He can think for “hours” about this one sentence of BethAnn’s life. He can pause time for her and plan a great many specific details. He can decide where she’ll work, who she’ll interact with, what she’ll say three chapters from now.  For as long as he desires, he can consider his character, what she thinks and how she feels, even though the book has so many other characters. He can do that because he’s the author. She’ll never be aware of this pause in time, but the author can make it last for as long as he desires.

And the author isn’t restricted to working through the book sequentially, the way the18424132_1209085189217242_3477933893854710313_n.jpg characters are in the finished project. He is welcome to skip from the fourth chapter to chapter 22. He can move ahead or behind and life for the characters will never be changed in the published book.

Quite obviously the way time works on earth is not at all the same as the way time works for God. This is a very abstract concept, but imagining God as the Author of the book that we’re living right now helps me to start somewhere.

Friends, our God is so great, he is beyond understanding. Let us praise the God of the universe who, in ways still unknown to us, is always with each and every one of us–his dearly beloved.

Where do I belong?: Defining Our Purpose on Earth

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My boss is like a baby; he screams and wakes me up every half hour.

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

She was like a magnet: attractive from the back, but repulsive from the front.

I like analogies. They can significantly clarify things that would be otherwise excessively complicated to understand. One thing about being a Christ-follower is that the God we seek after is way beyond our understanding. When I come across a good analogy related to my faith, I like to savor it. While reading Francis Chan’s Crazy Love this week, I came across an analogy worth sharing regarding how we should see ourselves in the world.

Chan said to see the whole of time as a film. Not the whole of time as in your lifetime, but the whole of time as in pre-Genesis 1:1 to post Revelation 22:21. In this film, any Christian would have to agree, God is the main character. The film follows the story of His creation Image result for billy grahamof the world, the Fall, and the conflict following. Slowly the plot builds to a integral part where God sends His own son into a deprived world where His son eventually sacrifices His life because of His love for His creation. Although we’ve not yet reached that point, we know how the film ends as well.

In this whole movie of life, each and every individual created gets to play a part. Some people get more screen time: Moses, Joseph, Paul, even Billy Graham and Martin Luther, others are no less important, but most don’t get to spend as much time on screen. So we’re all extras in a big film about God. But that’s it. We’re extras.

If you were an extra in an actual film, you would undoubtedly play the film for your family and friends and exclaim in excitement for that 2/5ths of a second when you can see the back of your head in the corner of the screen. Your mom or your best friend might get excited with you, but, for the most part, nobody is really going to care about your “big debut.” Similarly, in life we often get waaaaaay too caught up in ourselves, convinced that those 2/5ths of a second was what the film was made for. But it’s not.

David says it well in Psalm 39:clock-3179159_1920.jpg

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
    and the number of my days;
    let me know how fleeting my life is.
 You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
    the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
    even those who seem secure.”

This is the attitude we need to retain. We are not the main character and we should not live as if we were.

But, at the same time, that shot needed extras to be complete. The whole story of good and evil on the earth couldn’t be played out without characters–without the extras. While we need to, in humility, remember how small we are, we also need to remember, in awe and the same humility, that we were created with a purpose. We need to remember that, though our life is so short, every breath we breathe is valuable. We matter to God. He sent His son to redeem us. Even extras have specific parts to play.

But even then, our parts as extras are always to bring glory to the main character.  If we do not serve our purpose of directing audience attention to God, we are useless within the film. But if, through living our everyday lives and doing our minor tasks, we point people in Pocket Watch, Time Of, Sand, Time, Clockthe direction of God, how perfectly we are fulfilling our 2/5ths of a second on the film.

So friends, you matter. You have a purpose. But life is short. Use your 2/5ths of a second to bring glory to the Hero of the show. In doing so, you will be faithfully making your 2/5ths everything that it can and should be.

The Comparison Game: Cutting Ourselves Short

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I have a few secrets. One of them (that I don’t even think my family knows) is that I admire tap dancers. Like I seriously do. As a six-year-old, I watched Michael Flatley‘s Lord of the Dance, and my jaw dropped as I fell in love with the art. Even watching the tap dancing in Singing in the Rain cultivates a desire for that ability. This admiration and jealousy extends to a great deal of other sports as well. A few years after being introduced to Lord of the Dance, I saw ski jumping in the winter Olympics. I was inspired. If I watch any sort of gymnastics or tumbling, I’m taken…And I want that skill!

While aspiring to be a pro tap dancer or Olympic ski jumper are so “out there” that they’re humorous, some of my other jealousies aren’t as funny. My sister has skill at dressing nice and she can look super on-point. Me? I have no idea. Maybe that’s why I wear an over-sized I-don’t-quite-know-what-it’s-called shirt-like thing that I found on the side of the road and decided to add to my wardrobe.

Related imageI’m also an action person. I get an idea in my head and I run out and start it right here right now. That has it’s benefits, but can really backfire when I’ve got three different baking projects going on in the same kitchen. (Did I mention that I get bored with said projects far too quickly and that I don’t normally even start the clean up process until my baked goods are in the oven?). Another sister, on the other hand, can keep house like a perfect, organized, wise woman should be able to…

I doubt that anyone could honestly say he or she doesn’t occasionally covet another person’s talents, skills, jobs, or opportunities. However, something Andy Stanley said in his sermon series titled Comparison Trap intrigued me. He mentioned that, while there are always things we envy in others, there is never a time when we would completely trade who we are for everything the other person is.

When I thought about that, I found it to be true. I love Eliza’s sense of style and Tessa’s sense of organization, but I wouldn’t trade my sense of adventure and positive passion for either of these. There is too much about me that I would have to give up in order to gain someone else’s positive traits.

18402114_1697171093629904_5370602383642028268_o.jpgAnd, when I consider trading all I am to gain all that someone else is, I pause and discover that there are a lot of things God has gifted me with that I wouldn’t like to trade–and that the other person isn’t quite as perfect as I may have thought in the first place… When we envy someone else’s talents and opportunities, we do ourselves an injustice and only consider part of that person.

What I’ve learned from Andy Stanley’s sermon series then, is that other people have downfalls and struggles too. God may have gifted others with talents and opportunities, but sin has reached us all. There is little point to envying another person’s life simply because of an obvious positive trait.

Secondly, I’ve learned that I’m not so bad off after all. I have failings, shortcomings, things that I’m ashamed and embarrassed of. But, in the end, I’m grateful for who God has made me. I’m thankful for the personality he’s given me and I would never trade everything I am for everything someone else is…because God knew what he was doing when he carefully crafted me.ben-white-170529.jpg

There are always people who are going to be better at certain things than you are, but you have talents and gifts that make you better in some areas than other people. To jealously covet other’s talents is to unfairly ignore the gifts and qualities that the Holy Creator of the universe specifically picked out for you.

I Don’t Know How: Living Life Without the Answers

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Last night I lay in my bed, staring absentmindedly at the white-washed concrete ceiling hovering two-and-a-half feet above my bed. I was trying to have a conversation with God but, admittedly, it felt somewhat one-sided. Like all college students, I would certainly consider myself to be very busy. But, at the same time, as a single college senior, unsure of what this summer holds (let alone what next year has in store), I have a ton of flexibility and freedom and, considering all, time. That being said, I was trying to get a feel for what God might want me to do.

I know that the most valuable, fulfilling, and exciting life is one of growing in faith and living life the way God wants me to. But this was the third time this week I’d tried having this conversation with God and I wasn’t feeling any more confident. I regularly read my Bible, pray, go to church, volunteer, reach out to others, and try to encourage people. But right now, I’m really not feeling very filled-to-overflowing with Christ-likeness.

So, here I stand, praying to God, but still feeling limp. Jason Gray verbalizes some of my feelings in his song, “I don’t know how.A silhouette man outstretches his arms looking over a valley of fog in Chaing Mai as the sunrise-or-sunset turns the sky orange

“I wanna believe but I don’t know how
Trust what I can’t see but I don’t know how…
When the troubles come my way
I wanna walk by faith but I don’t know how

“I wanna be clean but I don’t know how
I wanna live free but I don’t know how
It feels like I can’t escape
The shackles of my shame
I wanna break away but I don’t know how ”

I wish I could write a paragraph here explaining that I found out how; a section exclaiming the quick-and-easy get-close-with-Jesus method that will work for everyone. Wouldn’t that cause a revival?! But the truth is, I still don’t know how. But, at the same time, however, I can realize that just because I don’t know how doesn’t mean I can’t still be growing anyway. And just because I don’t know how God is fixing “it” doesn’t mean he isn’t.

18423792_1754039561279573_8317050167611247718_n“I have no choice
But to cry out for You
Please help, cause I’m helpless now
You hear my prayer
When my whole world comes unglued
I know You can fix it, but I don’t know how
I don’t know how”

I often don’t feel like I’m growing. I often don’t know how to grow. But sometimes we need to walk by faith and I believe I have reason to trust God even when I don’t know. So, in humility, I will continue to pray, continue to seek after him. I don’t know how to grow, but he does. And he is in control.

Captured by Shame: A Reminder to Live Free

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A five year-old-girl hurries forward carrying a large dish of green bean casserole toward the dinner table where the rest of the family is waiting for her before they pray for dinner. Crossing the line from the kitchen to the dining room, she trips and for a split second the green bean casserole hovers in midair. The next second, however, the casserole is strewn across the floor, an ear-splintering shattering ensues as the dish follows the path of the casserole.

The girl looks up slowly, terror painted clearly across her face, tears quickly forming at the corners of her widened eyes in the moment of silence that follows.

“Honey, it’s okay!” The mother stands up quickly and pats the daughter reassuringly on the shoulder as the family pitches in to clean up. For the rest of dinner, though, the child refuses to eat and instead hunches over, arms wrapped around her head, face planted into the table, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Related imageOr travel with me for a moment to India one hundred years ago when Amy Carmichael is devoting her life to saving Hindu temple girls from a life of prostitution. Going to great lengths, Ms. Carmichael brings a particular girl back to the shelter of her home. While the rest of the rescued girls help around the house laughing with each other, singing songs, and rejoicing in their freedom, this girl huddles in the corner so ashamed of her past that she cannot lift her face to see the opportunities around her.

Friends, we are freed. The God of the universe sent his son down to earth to die for our freedom. For you and for me, Jesus died. Like the girl who broke the casserole dish, we are forgiven. Like the Hindu temple slave who was rescued by Ms. Carmichael, we were once slaves, but now we are free.

Galatians 5:1 states, “ It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” How very much I struggle with shame. I am so ashamed of the kind of Terra Firma freshman-orientation leader I’ve been this year. I’m ashamed of the not-joyful attitude I’ve had lately. I’m ashamed of what I haven’t been and done with my time.

These things may be legitimate. The five-year-old did break the dish. The Hindu was a dino-reichmuth-85708temple slave. But we are changed. We are no longer slaves. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, italics mine).

Just as it pains the mother to watch her forgiven child cry in shame at the dinner table, and just as it stabs Amy Carmichael’s heart to see her freed daughter still living like a slave, so it hurts our Father when we let shame beat us even though he has sent his son to die for our salvation.

Friends, hear this: when you allow shame to define who you are, you are not practicing humility or giving yourself what you deserve. Instead you are scorning the death which has set you free and rejecting the joy that the Lord desperately wants you experience. 

Maybe you’re like me and would immediately claim that you aren’t letting shame define you. But, unless you’re awaking every morning with the realization that you are truly a son of God, an heir of the Creator of the universe, and that you are no longer a slave (so long as you are truly saved), then you are still cutting yourself short.

How readily we forget that God can use broken people, and, so long as we are handing our brokenness over to God, let me remind you wholeheartedly, you are doing something right. Be confident in who God made you to be.

“So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” Galatians 4:7

The Best Days of my Life: Always.

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My legs burn as I peddle madly on the stationary bike. Kicking the peddles is about as close as I can get to kicking my problems. My frustration is going to come out in either sweat or tears and I’m hoping it will all be the former, so long as I push myself hard enough.

Last semester this experience became a weekly occurrence as I had a weekly job which reminded me of my shortcomings, frustrations, and feelings of failure. But I was back to it at the beginning of this semester as well, as my plans for an internship fell through and I was caught in a whirlwind of being unsure of my plans, afraid of my future, and aware of my inadequacies.

In times like these, I sometimes long for the security of middle age, when I’m settled in a career or in a family and I have an idea of where I’ll be a year ahead. At that point, I’ll IMG_7374know who my friends are, I’ll know what my job is, and I won’t be constantly checking my grades. But this perspective is more subconscious than conscious, because, when I really think about it, I do not want to wish middle age upon myself right now.

There are so many blessings college life entails: the random weekend adventures, the opportunity to devote oneself to learning, the constant action, the environment of energetic spontaneous young adults, the nights going to bed when I want to without having to put any kiddos to bed…

Doubtless, the future holds great adventures and (hopefully!) there will be a point in my life where I don’t have so many unknowns. But, as I’ve written before, the last thing I want to do is pine for the security later years will bring and ignore the countless blessings right in front of my face right now.

Jason Gray wrote a song titled “Best Days of My Life” which grasps this concept so well. The whole song is worth listening to, but my favorite line is,

“Every step along the way
I know You’ll never leave my side
Whatever the season I can say,
‘These are the best days of my life.’

Life now might scare me. I might not always appreciate the uncertainty of it all. But at the same time, there is so much adventure in this time of life. There are so many things I love about learning, so many things I adore about being here at Cornerstone. And, through it all, no matter what stage of life, I know that God is with me.

“the good times and the hard times were the best times I ever had18447548_1209092089216552_4674075823915041457_n.jpg
Cause You were beside me, above and behind me
Lovingly leading me home”

So this year, I want to, at some point in every day, stop and realize that–in every season of my life–these are the best days of my life.

P.s. Is the background too dark?