Praying for Saul

You are a young woman in a smoldering town. Clinging to your robes are your beloved children. Your husband was just killed for refusing to bow down to the militants who are pointing guns at you now. 

They are demanding that you renounce your faith in Jesus Christ of the Cross and praise Allah. Your life and that of your children are forfeit if you do not. But, you know the truth. Your life is forfeit even if you do cave. As a woman, you will be raped to the point you crave death. Then, to make an example of you, these Enemies of the Cross will either strap a bomb to your chest or that of your children, and send you to a crowded mall to tear apart the fabric of society. Your children will not escape just because you renounce your Savior. They will be raped, beaten, and given guns to kill others. Perhaps like that poor woman from the town next to your’s, the last thing you will see is your precious son pulling the trigger of that rifle and ending your life. 

You refuse to cave. 

Kissing the faces of your beautiful children, you tell them to be strong. That God loves them and that you do too. You look into the eyes of the vicious leader of the pack, and see the eyes of the handsome young man who walked 10 miles to flirt with your cousin. Neighbors and old friends are in this group of ISIS soldiers, people who frequented your husband’s shop and broke bread with you. Now their hands ran red with the blood of their friends while their eyes raged hate. 

Quoting your Savior, you pray in a loud voice that seems to be amplified, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Looking at these men who you once knew to be gentle friends, you say with a smile filled with peace, “I forgive you. The God of the Cross loves you more than you can hate. You may kill me, but he will still love you. I pray you find him soon.” 

The bullets ring out from the man’s gun, and your last thought is that you and your children will be standing in front of God before your bodies will even hit the ground. While hate may have taken your bodies, it didn’t take your faith. 

What is your first reaction to this fictional story? It is hard to read, probably as hard as it was to write. This story, while not based on actual first hand accounts, is similar to what is happening in the Middle East wherever the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria  (ISIS) soldiers go. Centuries old Christian towns are being razed to the ground, Christians are being forced to renouncing their faith or being killed, many times they are still being killed.

No matter what religion a person professes, if they oppose ISIS they are often tortured and killed.  Numerous Muslims are also being killed if they try to protect their Christian neighbors or are from the wrong tribal group.

If you look at the International Christian Concern group on Facebook, post after post is about the men, women, and children who are literally meeting the sword point at the hands of ISIS who demand they “Praise Allah or die!”

While I have not yet had my faith tested at sword point, I know thousands of my brothers and sisters have died because they refuse to turn their backs on their Savior.

We are told by Jesus that the world will hate us for loving him. That what he suffered would be our lot if we decided to follow him. He suffered the worst agony a man could while hanging on that brutal cross, suffocating to death.

But, even as he gasped for breath, he forgave the very men who were killing him.

That is what we must strive for. Instead of being like Simon Peter eager to use his sword at the soldiers,  no matter how hard it seems we are to lay down our lives.

Instead we are called to be more like Ananias who was called by the Lord Himself to Damascus to show a blind and stumbling man the way to God. Saul was a zealot, the most righteous of the Pharisees, and he self-righteously and perhaps gleefully carried out the executions of those who professed to follow that man who proclaimed to be the Son of God. It was his duty to weed out the blasphemy.

But, one day, Christ asked Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?” In other words, why are you killing my followers?

Can you imagine if God called out a man, a devout man, from the camps of the enemy? A man that who is known for his zealous religious beliefs to be confronted by the very Savior whose followers he is actively killing?

God has done it already! So be praying for that Saul in the ISIS camps. Pray they will listen to the voice and visions that are calling them away from Allah. Pray they will be confronted by the horror they are creating. Pray that God will create massive change throughout the hearts of the enemy.

Pray for ISIS. Not that they will be killed, but that they will be changed. That they will find Jesus Christ and accept him as their Savior.

Pray for the Pauls in the making. That they may speak loudly of the love of Christ to what was once their own followers.

Pray for the Ananias’ who are being called before the very men who would kill them. Pray for their steadfast faith that they will stand firm in the face of fear.

Only God can do the impossible. Only he can change hearts. And he will.

The young man looked at the bodies of the woman and children he had just killed. The words she had spoken reverberated through him, shaking him to the core. 

He didn’t understand these Followers of the Cross. How could they still smile in the face of death?  They weren’t the first to die by his hand. Nearly all of them had died with dignity. A dignity that he never saw on his fellow soldiers. There was a certain peace that he could see on their faces that never made sense. 

A month later, the young woman’s voice still echoed through his mind. He hadn’t slept well since. He kept seeing a man in white who kept beckoning to him. 

The young man didn’t want to listen to the dream man, but he was curious about him. After they had busted down the door of another Christian family, he had found their Holy Book, prominently on the table where the old husband had died. He had been reading it whenever he could, even slipping it into his Quran cover.

He was starting to believe that the Christians might have had something. He was starting look for this man in white. He was hesitating to pull the trigger now. And eventually he stopped. 

God was calling him out to change the world.

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His Language is Spoken

I had the extreme pleasure of attending Joni and Friends’ first ever Global Access Conference recently. I am still struggling to put into words what I learned and to describe who I had the joy of breaking bread with while learning about their ministries around the world.

One thing that I can say with all certainty though, is that God is moving mightily among these people whom the world considers worthless.

I’ll be talking about it for some time, I am sure. I’d love for you to enter into the conversation with me, and perhaps it might get you thinking about your own church as well as your own interactions with those who are disabled.

The first topic we will look at can be found in the panel session I attended called “Learning to Speak Their Language,” which was about how to interact with children and adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

One of the attendees asked a question that is a common query in churches: “What if they can’t understand the Gospel?”

The panelist, who was a mother of a child who is non-verbal due to autism, said something that really struck me: “The Holy Spirit knows his (her son’s) language.

What a beautiful response! It totally wiped away any scientific, theological, or medical argumentation regarding what is human knowledge (in my mind). It brings it down to the most basic of beliefs–God knows my heart.

Theologically, we have decided that there has to be a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ where we verbally recognize that we are sinners and are in need of God’s forgiveness. In many instances, when someone says they want to believe, we tell them that they need to repeat after me, an example of such a pray can be found on The Blessing House website: Lord Jesus, I come before you and confess that I am a sinner. Jesus, I believe that you died on the cross, and that Almighty God raised you from the dead. I pray that you forgive me of my sin, and be my Lord and Savior. In the name of Christ Jesus I pray this request. Amen

This is based off of verses such as Romans 10:9 Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

We must first acknowledge that while having a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ is not wrong, it is not Scripture based. The only prayer that we are told to pray is the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. There is no description of the prayer that we are supposed to say in repentance and acceptance of God’s forgiveness. There are no motions that we are supposed to do, no assigned person we are to do it in front of, nothing we are told to do but: Confess and believe.

Now, it does say to confess with your mouth. This can be a hang up for those who are non-verbal due to illness, or some form of disability. But, it doesn’t have to be! Because, as God tells Moses, who is attempting to get out of the duty that God has set before him, in Exodus 4: The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”

To echo the mother at the panel session: God made you and he knows your language. He knows your language even if you have never spoken before. No matter the language your heart speaks, God created it: Sign Language, Hiri Motu, Korean, Inuktitut, and English or the roughly 6,500 other languages in the world. The story of Pentecost in Acts 2 is proof of that:  There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

Why do we put human limitations on what God can do? Why do we make rituals take the place of the beauty of God’s encompassing love and forgiveness?

God knows your heart.

No matter your ability, God knows you. If you in your heart of hearts ask for God’s love and forgiveness, I cannot deny your salvation because you didn’t come to him the way I did. It is not my place to deny your salvation. It is my job to love you as a beloved child of God, and teach you the Gospel so you can know him.

Even if I believe that you might not understand, I am still tasked with the duty to tell you of God’s love and sacrifice to save YOU. Because when you stand before God’s throne, you will be judged just as I will, no matter the limitations that humans have placed on you. God will judge your heart to see if you have been made clean by his Son’s blood.

The Holy Spirit speaks your language and it is love.

So, to all the Christian believers out there, I urge you: Do not hesitate to reach out and speak God’s love to all you meet. No matter if you think they might or might not understand, God knows their heart. Do your duty with love and tell of God’s sacrificial love.

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Why the Shepherds matter

Last week, I mentioned the Wise Men and why I believe they are important to the Nativity narrative.

Today, I thought we would discuss why the shepherds were at the birth of the Savior.
Once more, God did not call the priests or the kings to come to the manger. Rather, he called the lowly shepherds to come and give witness to the miracle of the Messiah.

Why is that?

Shepherds were the working men of that generation.
They travelled far and wide to find good feeding grounds for their large flocks.
They held no sway in the courts, no power in the synagogues.
They may have had only minimal education, as they would not have been near a synagogue, or destined to teach in one.
Depending on how many were in charge of their flocks, many of them might have gone weeks without seeing another shepherd, as they roamed.
They were protectors of their flocks. They watched for predators and thieves, they sought out the lost sheep and worked hard to find them fresh water.
These men would have been alert to any change in their flock.
They would not allow one to straggle away, but would seek them out to bring them back into the midst of the flock. If one faltered due to an illness, they would have brought them up to their own shoulders and carried them to the place of that night’s rest.
These men would have known the exact number of sheep in their flock and would have accounted for each, numerous times during the day.

Why did God choose these men to be a the birth of His Son?

We do not know who the shepherds were that bowed before the Child. We do not know how many they numbered as that is not mentioned either.

But, we do know that an angel of the Lord came before them. “Do not be afraid, for I bring good news that will cause great joy for all the people. For this day a Savior is born in the town of David; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:9-12)”

Then they saw and heard the great host singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those whom his favor rests. (v14)”

And these shepherds went. I highly doubt they would have left their flocks alone, as that was their livelihood. And really, could you imagine these men who just heard from angels, doing Rock/Paper/Scissors over who got left behind to tend the flock while the rest went to see the Savior? I don’t think so.

I always like to imagine that these flocks flooded the small town of Bethlehem as these shepherds hurried to the manger. It was at night, and the awe inspiring vision of angels descending from heaven was still burned into their retinas, perhaps the sheep led the shepherds that night to their Savior. Or it could just be my writer’s imagination filling in the details.

I honestly do not know what happened to the sheep, what the shepherds did when they saw the Child, or what happened to them after. They did tell the story after laying eyes on the family, and people were amazed. But, what did they say? The common man would have believed them, but would have the teachers and priests?

The shepherds matter because they would have been culturally insignificant.

God does this numerous times throughout the Bible. He chooses people with no power in the courts or temples; women, slaves, Gentiles, and ultimately the low man on the working totem pole, to tell of his glory. He chooses these people to see glorious wonders; angels, the Risen Lord, prophecies and visions. They are chosen because God is not just the God of the rich or those who are proud, rather He is for the forgotten and belittled.

God sees no distinction in the worth of a human. That is why the shepherds matter to the Nativity narrative.

He chose the common man to be the first to lay eyes upon the King of the Jews. No gifts to give, but perhaps the warmth of a flock of sheep that huddled together. They would have stepped in to that humble room, in their rough clothing, without having been primped for the encounter. They would have come as they were.

The shepherds matter because they are representations of the Jewish common man who sought the promised Messiah.

The shepherds matter because they are representation of the common person who seeks.

The average person is not going to come to God with gold and knowledge, rather with humbleness and brokenness and with nothing to give.

The Wise Men showed that God was for every human- not just the Jewish– no matter their background.

The shepherds show that even if you are not rich or learned, God is for you as well.

There was no mistake in who God chose to be there. Each person had a distinct purpose.

Those who He denied entrance to is also very important. Riches will not save you, nor will knowing all the ‘right’ answers.

The priests thought they knew when the Messiah would come and that He would come as a warrior to save them from slavery.

The Messiah came as a baby instead nestled in hay, to preach peace and forgiveness.

The priests refused to see the truth because it didn’t follow their specifications, much like churches today.

The Wise Men saw the truth in the star and believed in the prophecy. When they laid eyes on the Baby Jesus, they saw God.

King Herod was not chosen because he refused to give over power. He was fearful of any ‘King of the Jews’ rising and winning the power from him. That is why he ordered the slaughter of hundreds of little boys, echoing the Pharaoh of Egypt’s play when Moses was born. It was not done in power, but rather fear, much like the governments of today.

The shepherds did not have power, nor did they seek it, rather they saw truth in a humble home. They saw a baby in a manger who would one day be king. They saw God choosing to lay in hay, rather than sit on a throne.

They saw power wrapped in humbleness.

There is a purpose for why God chose certain people to come see His Son. For Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Savior of all Mankind is a shepherd as well. He seeks out all who are lost, gathering them to him. He protects them from evil and finds safe places for them to rest. When they are weary and can no longer walk on their own, Jesus puts them on his shoulders and carries them. He knows each by name and knows when one wanders away. He seeks each out.

Is it any wonder that God chose shepherds to be the first to see His Son?

Luke 2: 8-20
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[c]

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 ButMary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Why the Wise Men matter

I’ve always been curious about the men who came from the East. 
Imagine the scene: an undisclosed number of men studying numerous prophecies, the stars, and other occurrences in nature.They collected bits of information for years. They knew about the prophecies of the Jewish people, even though they weren’t Jewish themselves.
Suddenly, a star is noticed to be rising in the West, and they set out to follow it.
While we don’t know exactly how far in the East they were, church tradition says that at least one might have been a black, probably Ethiopian, and perhaps another being of Asian decent. How the tradition started I’m unsure, though later on the name of Magi became known as followers of the 6th century Zoroaster, which seemed to reach beyond Persia to Asia.
Either way the important thing here is, the Magi were not Jewish. 
These men followed the prophecies of a people they were not of. 
These men traveled a long distance to bow down in front of a king they would not be ruled by. 
These men were Gentiles. 
They were not only the first Gentiles to lay eyes on the King of the Jews, but also the Savior of the world. 
The Magi were men who were astronomers, fortunetellers, magicians, and seers. 
In the Jewish culture, those who practice star study, or anything related to magic, are seen as practitioners of evil, due to the very laws that God put down for them. 

Deuteronomy 18:10-11 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.

But, who are the very people God chooses to see the Savior of all mankind? The very people he warns his nation against.
That is why the Wise Men matter in the Nativity story.
According to Jewish culture these men should have been killed for practicing magic, instead they gave gifts to a baby who would grow up into a man who would be killed to forgive sins.
Their sins.
This is why the Wise Men matter.
These men would have traveled home to study the stars yet again, to wait for more of the prophecy to unfold. I wonder if they knew thirty three years later when Jesus was crucified. If they realized that the baby they saw in a humble home in Bethlehem, was the very one that was paraded though town being tortured and mocked.
These men though would have traveled back to their homeland, telling of the prophecy and the star. Of the virgin mother and the God-man child. They would have told of the truth seen in the stars and how they heard an angel speak to them.
What did they think when King Herod went after all the little boys? When Israel ran red with the blood of children, because of a king that feared being disposed?
Men who saw things in the stars, met the God who created them, born in the body of baby boy.
Men who practiced magic, saw miracles in a new star rising and angels warning them.
The Wise Men matter because they were the first Gentiles to see the Messiah.
The Wise Men matter because they were chosen to be in the presence of a God they do not know.
The Wise Men matter because they, rather than Jewish royalty or priests, saw the truth in a star, and followed it.
The Wise Men matter because they believed in the prophecy.
These men who came from the East have always fascinated me.
I hope you might look at them with some of that same fascination.
As a Gentile who is in love with the Savior, I’m thankful for their part in the Nativity story.
Merry Christmas!

If you would like to learn a little more about what the Myrrh, Frankincense, and Gold mean that the Magi brought to Baby Jesus, jump over to my friend’s blog where she recounts a fascinating sermon she heard: heidibay.wordpress.com 

Matthew 2 New International Version (NIV)

The Magi Visit the Messiah

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with giftsof gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.



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Joni and Friends Camp revisited

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It’s been nearly a month already since the first day of camp. Time has been slipping through my hands as I had to quickly start packing up my apartment and making the move home. (This is a story for another time. God‘s doing something big, just don’t know what yet! 🙂 )
I promised at least one more post, if not more, on what I learned and experienced while serving at the Twin Rocks Joni and Friends Camp in August. I still seem to be struggling with the right words to use. I keep using “Beautiful”, “Amazing”, “Awe-inspiring.”
Weak words for the depth of life I felt there.
It is interesting trying to explain what I saw to people. There are two types of people I interact with, much like anyone who deals with disabilities. There are the people who have a ton of experience with disabilities because they live it, breathe it, speak it, and touch it everyday of their life. Then there are those who have little to no true interaction with any person who has a disability.
It is easier to talk to someone who has some experienced with the disabled culture, than one that has not. It’s because they themselves have interacted with the beauty of simple acceptance in the midst of worldly discomfort. The ‘Typicals’ (people who are not disabled) may not have ever been in a place to communicate with someone who they deem to be ‘different.’
At camp, it wasn’t about being different. It wasn’t about being normal, bizarre, ordinary, strange, regular, or extraordinarily. It was not about what you were like, how you acted, how you spoke, how you moved, how you dressed, or who you knew. This camp was not about what you could do for me, or what I could do for you.
This camp was extraordinary for the simple fact that it managed to strip away all the worldly distractions somehow and boil it down to the most simplistic view I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.
You are human and you are loved by God.
That is what this camp was about. In the midst of taking care of the child who was disabled or giving the one on one personal interaction desperately needed by a typical sibling, there was this life affirming belief being shown. “I love you because God loves you.” 
Many parents have had to struggle with ‘well-meaning’ people who see their child as being less than human. They almost have to fight for the right, so their children can be seen as a human being. At this camp, they didn’t have to fight to have their child noticed and accepted. They simply were, with open arms.
Each family as they entered the campground, was welcomed with shouts of joy and personalized banners. Their Short-Term Missionaries (STMs) were the first to meet them when the doors were opened. All this excitement for people who are for the most part quietly shunned by the outside world. Acceptance was given before they even got out of the car.
I had the chance to see a little bit of what the STMs did to get ready for their campers. Families had filled out a detailed questionnaire about what the camper’s special needs were (disability, allergies, medical, behavioral etc), what they like in ways of activities, interests, favorite colors, and any other piece of information (such as fears) that can help the STM get ready. They then had a small lecture that was an overview of typical aspects of that disability (Such as ‘most’ people with Down Syndrome, Autism, quadriplegia, Cerebral Palsy ect… might react like this:…)  But, it is also driven home that every person we deal with is an individual. We cannot put them in a perfect box and expect them to act the same way as every other person with that disability. That is not how the world works. That is not how camp works.
A good portion of STMs meshed well with their campers, others had what might be called difficult campers who didn’t interact well. Mostly this was due to certain aspects of their disability. One story that was related said that a STM who had a particularly difficult camper, had a horrible week. But when he was asked if he would serve again, he said, “I would have the worst week of my life so they can have the best of theirs.” That is the type of attitude that most STMs had. I think that is what made the difference in how the camp felt.
Even I was embraced by the acceptance of the camp. As part of the leadership, I was entering into what I saw as a tricky position. I needn’t have worried. I came into the camp as at the request of the director of the Southern Oregon chapter of Joni and Friends. He had come to my seminary to talk about the ministry for the class I was leading last spring. We had continued to communicate and I eventually was prompted/persuaded to step way out of my comfort zone and serve at the camp.
Best decision of my life.
The director and his wife, along with the rest of the leadership were extremely helpful and so eager to put me at ease. These people have been working together for the last four years and here I come to participate as an administrative assistant with no clue about what I was doing. There could have been the usual cliquish attitude of them creating a united front against the newcomer, instead there were smiles and hugs.
This translated into the actual camp where veteran campers welcomed me equally as any new camper. They were excited to see a new face and eager to make me love it.
They succeeded.
I can’t wait to get the chance to go back. I have no clue where I might be in a year or what I might be doing, but I have a strong feeling that God is going to clear the way to make sure I am back there come next August.
Joni and Friends camp, a place where everyone is loved.

Matthew 25:34-36: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Highly recommended links:

For families who are interested in learning more about the Family Retreats please go here —}   http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/for-families/
For people interested in volunteering your time and money please go here—}
http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/for-volunteers/

If I spoke to the graduating class…

On Friday, I will finally be walking across the stage to receive my long awaited Master of Divinity diploma. I am finally about to start a ‘new’ chapter in my life. What is on that next page I haven’t a clue, but I am eager to turn it. On that end, I was thinking about what I would say to my graduating class if given the chance. So I thought, maybe I would share it with you instead. 

To the graduating class of 2013, congratulations! You have finally made it! Take a deep breath, you deserve it.
Let us take this moment though to thank those who have helped us through this journey. Our professors who have spent so many hours offering us wisdom and praying for us, to the supporting staff that helped us make sure we stayed on track with our credits as well as dealt with the headache of loans. To our parents, spouses and families, who have sacrificed their time, their money, as well as putting their dreams on hold so that we can complete our schooling. To our churches, who have prayed over us, helped us perhaps financially, but also offered many chances for serving. These are the people who have helped us become who we are now. God has given us these people to guide us and sharpen us on our spiritual path. Remember to thank them for their presence in our lives. God has blessed us with these people and has used them to make us grow.
We have been forced to go through tests, trials, perhaps even a bit of tribulation to get to this point. We do not know what is truly awaiting us as we leave this school. There are the plans and dreams we have to change the world or at least our little part of it, but we do not know the grand plan of God. We have our ideas, but ultimately where will we land?
We might feel like we fail if we do not find the job of our dreams right out the door of school. Or we feel ashamed that we are only working ‘a simple service job’ when in fact that is a good job to have at that time. Just because we leave these halls with pieces of paper that says we are Bachelors and Masters does not mean that we earn the right to be given the perfect job out of the gates. We must sweat more, bled a little and shed some more tears before we can take our places among those with experience. We got the book knowledge now it is time that we gain the wisdom of experience.
We will learn by actively doing and we will be putting into use that which we know the theory of. We will learn humbleness by failing at what we think we are  experts of, we will learn trust by relying on our fellow laborers to complete their jobs. We will learn respect by working under demanding employers who don’t give us free passes because we’re Christians. We will learn the strength of our faith when we work alongside nonbelievers and we will hopefully learn to love God more.
Life is not easy. We do not have all the answers. There is only one person, one divine person who has all the answers. God does not just give us just the questions but the answers too. Every answer is in the Scriptures. We must study, learn and keep the answers deep in our hearts. God is in control of our lives. he might lead us to certain difficulties so that we can grow into the child that he knows we are.
We will fail. We will break. Some of us will stand back up and try harder, others of us will stay broken and become angry at God, as if he is to blame for what we are going through. He is not. We are sinners who cause more harm to ourselves than any other person. Sometimes we will fail to pay attention to God’s guiding, other times we will outright refuse to do what God wants much like Jonah did. But just as in Jonah’s story, God will work through us despite ourselves.
So I encourage you fellow graduates, life will be hard but it is worth it. Give it your all, because God will use you where ever you land. What might seem the wrong time and the wrong place for you might just be the right time and place for a miracle of God. You are a tool in God’s toolbox, make sure you are sharp at all times so that you can be used for his glory.
It isn’t about what I can do, or what you can do. It isn’t about how smart we are, how talented, how daring, but rather about what God is doing through us. It is all about him. We just have the blessing of being part of his plan. This should be a freeing knowledge. It is not under our own power that we will accomplish anything. We will get our strength, our determination, and our faith from God.
We cannot truly fail if we allow God to lead us.
Romans 8:28 & 30- And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose… And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
So, on this day of celebration, remember to give thanks for the work God has done in you. Give thanks for those he has put in your life, because they are the ones who sharpen you. Give thanks for the trials that will make us grow and for those things that will strengthen our faith.
We are about to walk into a new journey, it will be scary and it will be awesome. My prayer for us as we go forward is that we are ready, that we make ourselves available for God to use us to our fullest potential. It will be a wild ride and it will be worth it. Are you ready? 

Breaking the Christian Bubble

For the last 6 years I have been living in what is termed a Christian Bubble. Everyone on campus is Christian and believes in the same key ideals as me. I work and go to school in the same area, and before this year, I lived there as well. Not only that, when I went home to my parents, I was surrounded by more Christians because I was with my parents and then went to church. If it wasn’t for my grandparents and extended family, I would be totally surrounded by like-minded believers.
While this isn’t bad, it’s not good either.
When you always surround yourself by like-minded people you forget how to communicate with those who don’t believe as you do.  We get so used to hearing the Christian language and vocab being used that we forget that not everyone speaks it.  When this happens we start to become judgmental of those we are suppose to be sharing God‘s love with.
I was reminded about this wonderfully in the ongoing story of my injured foot. I am always willing to speak to anyone who wants to, but I haven’t had to have an extended conversation about faith with anyone beyond my own family who are non-believers.
I’ve been having to go to physical therapy twice a week to work on my foot (tomorrow I’m going to have an MRI to see if there is more damage than first thought 😦 ) because it’s not healing that well. But, the guy who is working on my leg is….interesting.
There really is no other word for this guy. He is simply interesting. He says he’s from a Catholic background but isn’t practicing. He’s a divorced 33 year old and according to him a co-dependent personality and he was in a new relationship within weeks of his divorce because of that. He’s an ADHD extrovert without a lot of verbal boundaries.
To say the least, I’m not bored in physical therapy!
The second day with him, he asked how long had I been dating my boyfriend? To which I did my usual- Don’t have a boyfriend, never have.
This seemed to horrify him.
He asked “Does that mean you’re a….”
Me- “Virgin? Yes, it does.”
To which he said, “I am so sorry.”
As if it’s horrible to be 27 and a virgin!
As if I should be ashamed by that title!
I’m not. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
He wondered if I felt like I had missed out on something huge, because he said he would have. I said no. Then he wondered if it was a religious thing, to which I said it’s part of it but it’s not the full reason.
What has followed after that appointment are more bizarre conversations about politics, religion, family, school, my boring life (his words) and other odd topics. Almost all of them end with him shaking his head either in pity or possible disbelief. He doesn’t understand it. I’m a novelty to him because I’m not ashamed of who I am or what I stand for, I’m not trying to make excuses for what I believe. I simply believe.
I also don’t judge him. A lot of friends and family members are a bit horrified by my stories, a few have suggested I report him,(to say the least my dad wasn’t too happy about the whole virgin conversation….) But, this is life. This is what outside the Christian Bubble looks like. It’s messy, crude, and bizarre.
He has asked me questions about the Bible that if I had come out and judged him in that first meeting, I would never had heard.
I am of the firm belief that judging someone has never caused them to turn to God, rather it makes them angry and bitter towards Christians. There is a reason why Christians have such a bad name. We are known as a hypocritical group that is judgmental and lies about our own sins. We condemn the world while not cleaning up our own mess.
My Grandma had a saying, “Don’t go cleaning up someone else’s porch until you clean under yours.” You can probably figure out that its based off of Matthew 7:5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
I am not perfect. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I’m selfish, I’m given to bouts of depression and anger, I like my food a little too much, I have a sarcastic snarky self that makes appearances on occasion and so many more things…No, I’m not perfect.
I also believe that I don’t have the right to judge a non-believer by the same standards as I hold myself to. They don’t understand that what they do is spiritually wrong because they don’t believe the same ideals as I do.
All I can do is be myself and pray over them.
Many of the people who are uncomfortable with my ideals are those who know what they are doing is wrong but aren’t ready to change. So be it. If it bothers them too much they will leave, it won’t be because I verbally abuse them by judging them. I will love them, because ultimately they are my brother and sister in the world, and hopefully, some day they will become my brother and sister in Christ.
That all to say, I am still meeting with my physical therapist who keeps me on my toes, both figuratively and literally, and while I am in major pain when he is working on my leg, I slowly introduce him to the God who is waiting for him.
I am breaking this Christian Bubble around me because it doesn’t do me any good. Yes, I can minister with love and compassion to other Christians, but it doesn’t bring anyone new to the church. We become numb to our own salvation when we don’t get to witness and be part of the salvation story of a new believer.
They are the flaming branch to a smoldering fire. They are the flowing water to a parched desert. New believers revitalize us and gives the church a new revival.
Break the Bubble! Bring them in! Go out and talk to the Goth, the Buddhist, the Muslim, the Atheist.  Stretch your thoughts and work your prayer muscle. Our faith isn’t suppose to have easy answers. We are suppose to be wrestle with the hard questions that the everyday person is living with.
Have you broken the Bubble yet?
Romans 1:14-17
 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”