May 27, 2010

Dying to Live

One of the things I love about the Bible is how it is so full of paradoxes. Statements that at first glance may appear to be an oxymoron, but through closer examination expose life changing truths that could only be revealed by God Himself. One of these life-changing statements can be found in Mark chapter 8, where Christ tells His disciples & the surrounding crowd “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?"

Over this past semester, God has really been challenging me through this idea. Am I really willing to give up my life in order to follow Christ?  The day that really made me think about this was when we had our Day of Prayer at school; we spent about 8 hours praying for members of the persecuted church across the world. These are people that are beaten, imprisoned, & even killed simply because they claim the name of Christ & follow Him no matter what the cost. In America, we are lucky. We don't have to worry too much about suffering through any physical harm for sharing our testimony or attending church. But yet we're still afraid because we have so much pride & fear of what people will think about us. So that's where it comes back to the big question: Am I willing to die to myself, my wants, desires, plans...everything I think I need in order to follow Christ through anything?

As I kept coming back to this question, the Lord kept bringing me to two examples of Christ-likeness in the Bible. Stephen & Paul both exemplified what it means to be Christ-like in life & in death.

In Acts 7, Stephen boldly proclaimed the gospel & the people he was speaking to got so angry when confronted with their sin that they stoned Stephen to death. In his last moments he fell to his knees & cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” ...Sound familiar? Let's take a look at Christ's last moments before His death on the cross. In Luke 23, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Christ died as an innocent man to take the punishment for our sins. Stephen died proclaiming the truth in love to a crowd of people who had never heard the gospel. Both of these men were killed for no fault of their own; they both died for the sake of others. And they both asked God to forgive the people who murdered them. "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Neither of these men died for people that loved them, they died for their enemies. "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5)  Do we as Christians have this kind of Christ-like love?

Paul is another example that just really stands out to me in Christ-likeness. One of the things he said just really struck me. In Romans 9, Paul says "for I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers." Paul was willing for himself to be separated from God in order for others to come to know Christ. That is pretty powerful when you think about it. People who have never had a close relationship with the Lord will not be able to relate to this, but for those of you who know the deep love & peace that can only come from knowing God, you know how incredible Paul's statement is. There is only one other man that I can think of in all of history that was willing to give up His intimate relationship with God in order to save many & that was Christ Himself. We sometimes read God's words in Hebrews 13:5 in a hurry & never grasp the depth of His promise to us: "I will never leave you nor forsake you.Perhaps we don't grasp the full meaning of God's promise in this verse because we have forgotten another verse--Mark 15:34, when Christ was hanging on the cross for my sins & your sins. When God's own SON cried out in agony as He took on the weight of our sins & was separated from His Father's holiness. At the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God loved us so much that He was willing to be separated from His own Son in order to be able to promise you & I that He would never leave us or forsake us. Christ was willing to be separated from His own Father in order to save you & I! Isn't that crazy?! "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" Here's another paradox for you found in 2 Corinthians 8: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich."   Jesus Christ was willing to leave everything He had in heaven in order to come to earth as a man to take the blame & the punishment for everything that we have done. He gave up everything He had for us. He was willing to be separated from His Father for us. Paul came to the point where he was also willing to be separated from God, all for the sake of others. Would you be willing to give up everything? Your relationship with God? His love? Eternal life? All for the sake of others? 

I know that the Lord is still continuing to work on my heart in this area & is daily showing me ways that I am still selfish, but it has been so incredible to see how God blesses when you truly do just obey & follow Him. Another crazy-awesome paradox in that passage is this: When we give everything to the cause of Christ, we don't lose anything! In fact, we gain everything!! "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him." I'm not going to lie to you; there are times that having faith in God can be very hard. Sometimes God chooses to lead us through very difficult situations. But He is faithful & He does reward those who seek Him & seek to do His will. It is always worth it. So here's my challenge to you this summer: Take up your cross daily & follow Him. Be faithful in the little things. Trust Him in everything! And don't get discouraged or feel guilty when you fail; God understands our human frailties & He always forgives us no matter how many times we fail. It doesn't do any good to focus on failure because wherever your focus is, that is most likely where you will end up again. Keep your eyes on Christ, even when you fall. 

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." ~Hebrews 12:1-2

May 19, 2010

Summertime!!! =)

Hey everyone! Well, I'm all finished with my first year of college; crazy huh? I think so too =)
Finals week was absolute madness! I usually get around 5-6 hours of sleep on an average night, but that wasn't happening for finals. Lol! Thank the Lord, His strength is always sufficient & all of my finals went really well. The hardest thing was saying goodbye to all of my friends! Although knowing that most of them would return for the fall semester makes it a little bit more bearable, it is always hard parting ways.
 Friday night, a group of us grabbed a guitar & went out to the soccer field onto one of the shelter's roofs & did some stargazing, sang songs, gave testimonies about what God had done in our lives this year, & prayed for God's blessing over the summer. It was incredible! One of the guys, Joel, had just gotten saved 2 weeks before, & it was so amazing to hear his testimony about how God had pursued him through everything. God is so good!! Saturday was graduation & also one of the hardest days I've had in awhile. I had to say goodbye to my best friend & I don't know when I'll see her again. Ashlee has been such a huge blessing in my life; the Lord definitely knew that I would need her as a friend during some of the more difficult times over the past year.
She always has a smile & is always pointing me back towards the Cross in every situation! It was always great to just get together & pray, or chat, or just encourage each other in the Lord. I have a reason to take a road trip to California! Haha! Actually...well, I can't let you all in on that yet ;) That possibility is still pretty far in the future, & I'm still workin' out the details. Lol!

I am very excited about this summer though! I have a little bit of a break this week, but the craziness will begin this weekend. I'll be in the pool for about 12 hours of training over this weekend & then 12 more hours the following weekend. Yeah, my workout routine at school was successful in keeping the dreaded "Freshmen Fifteen" away, but not so successful in keeping me in lifeguarding shape. Lol! So I have to get back into that. Then on Monday I will be going down to the Wisconsin Dells to watch my niece for a week. My sister & her husband are opening a new Culvers, so they will be super busy! I am soooo excited to spend time with my beautiful niece!! I haven't really been able to see her since I've been at school, so this coming week should be great . Hopefully my sister will be able to get some time away so we can catch up too =)
The rest of the summer I would appreciate your prayers; I will be teaching swimming lessons & lifeguarding pretty much full-time, tutoring Muslim women (pray for witnessing opportunities!!), & I am also hoping to start a Bible study with the girls in my youth group. The Lord has opened many doors this summer & I am so excited to see what He is going to accomplish for His glory! I hope that I will be able to keep you all updated & also find time to share some of what the Lord is teaching me. I know I've been saying that forever, but I think I will finally be able to carve out some blogging time. Haha! I hope that you all have a great week & an even better summer. Don't waste your "free" time; look for ways to serve  our Savior!

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me." Philippians 2:12-18

May 10, 2010

Lunchtime Visitors

One day last week during lunch, a yell went up from one of the tables: "Bear!!" Sure enough, a mama & three cubs were wandering around outside of the dining hall. Haha! It's called Northland for a reason =) This isn't a great picture because it was taken on a phone, but you get the idea. 

Happy Monday everyone!

May 6, 2010

May Madness

Can I breathe yet? Lol. Here we go again, I’ve been neglecting my blog & now I’m going to try to catch you all up on some of the things that have been going on. To make it easier, I’ll just stick with recapping the past couple of days. =)
This past weekend was pretty hectic.  Saturday Northland held an event called “Springfest.” It is basically a day where they put on carnival games, basketball & volleyball tournaments, & several preaching sessions as well. We had beautiful weather & a great turn out of over 800 teens & sponsors!! I was able to be a teen representative for my youth group back home; they brought about 40 kids up for the weekend. It was great to catch up with some of my friends & also spend some time getting to know some of the younger girls as well.

Bob Roberts was the evangelist that preached that day & he gave 2 clear presentations of the gospel & there were quite a few salvation decisions made. Praise the Lord!! Then, for his third session he spoke about Paul & the importance of selling out completely for the gospel. It was a great day & I pray that the Lord will continue t work in the hearts of everyone who attended.
Springfest wrapped up at about 6:00 p.m. & my friend Stephanie & I hit the road. I had a concert that I was playing piano for the following day, so I was making a quick trip home. It was so great to spend time talking & we were able to tell each other all about what God has been doing in our lives over these past few months. Steph is heading off to BJU in the fall, so I will miss her dearly!

Sunday I was able to go to my home church, which is always great. I miss my church family! Then from there my parents & I headed down to the Heyde Center for the Arts for the concert. I played Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G minor, & it went pretty well. I’m never totally happy with how I play, soooo we’ll just leave it at that. Lol! But it was a great time. I got to spend time with my family, & it was especially good to see my brother, Jeremiah. He just got back from Iraq a few months ago & since I’ve been in school, I haven’t been able to see him too much.  It was great to hang out & eat some DQ together….on that note, I highly recommend the raspberry truffle blizzard: Delicious!! Haha =) I had to say goodbye though, & I believe that was the last time I will see him until Christmas =(

By Monday, I had spent roughly 60 of the past 72 hours awake & extremely busy, so my energy tank was running extremely low. I had been selected to play Chopin’s Valse in E minor later that day in the Honors Recital & I was stressing out…a lot. The Lord has helped me a lot with performing these past few months & I’m usually not too nervous playing in front of people. Monday, however, I was sooooo scared! It was a concert featuring only 13 of the music majors & we were playing (or singing) in front of all of the Fine Arts faculty & staff, all of the music majors/minors, & many of our friends & peers. So I’m exhausted & my nerves are short anyways, & I was supposed to play second to last….do you see where I’m going with this? Lol. Yeah, I didn’t do nearly as well as I could have & I got very upset with myself initially, but I’ll save the whole story for another blog post because God taught me a few lessons through it & I won’t try to cram them all into this post =)

So today & tomorrow are the last days of class; it is so crazy! Then this Saturday I have piano exams (please pray!) Then next week we have finals. Dun dun DUN!!!!! (That was scary music, in case you couldn’t tell….it’s kind of hard to type scary music. Haha!) I’m praying that I will just remember half of what I’ve learned! Lol. Anyways, I better skedaddle!  I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. Thanks for stopping by!!