The Cross = Love

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13 (NIV).

As a writer and aspiring author, I’m somewhat of a fan of stories. 

Ok, I’m going to be totally honest with you guys – that’s an understatement. I love stories; like really love them. I was that kid who went to the library every weekend to get new books to read all through grade school. You know the kid I’m talking about.

The one who brought books with them wherever they went. Who would sit on the steps at recess to read the new book in their favorite series. Who stapled very-homemade looking stories together and illustrated them herself with her crayons. That was me, I was that kid. And today, I’m pretty much a grown-up-version of that kid. 

I have a pretty wide range of stories that I have read and loved, but some of my favorite stories are the ones that focus primarily on the friendships and relationships between characters. Not just romantic relationships—but relationships in general. Stories about friendship, and commitment, and sticking by the people who matter most through thick and thin. Stories that give us hope, and show us the better side of humanity.

I think the reason that stories like this have always stood out to me is because there is something inside all of us as humans that longs for this. To have someone in our corner who has seen us at our best and our worst. Who knows us better than we know ourselves. Who will always stand by us, through the thick and thin. Who loves us unconditionally.

We were wired for this kind of extravagant love—however, too often we can try to look to the wrong place to find it. 

So many of us try to fill this need with our relationships with those around us. Maybe we look for it in a particular friendship. Maybe we look for it in a clique, or the approval of a certain group at school. Or, maybe we look for it in a dating relationship—believing that if we can just have our happily-ever-after with the perfect rom-com soundtrack, all of our problems will dissolve in an instant.

However, none of these relationships will be able to satisfy us in the end. Sure, they might be great and they might bring us some sense of happiness, but they will never truly fill the need that we were created with—to know and be known by our Creator. No story that we hope to create or recreate can ever compare to the greatest story ever told—the story of a God who came down to save a world that was broken and shattered and completely without hope. 

Jesus was with God in the beginning, when they (as a Trinity, along with the Holy Spirit) created everything in the world that we see and know today. Every blade of grass and every branch on a tree. Every cell and every particle. Every fish in the ocean and every bird in the air. He also created the first humans (Adam and Eve) and had perfect communion with them, until they broke God’s law and brought original sin into this world—separating an entire human race from a Holy and perfect God. But even still, He loved us far too much to let us stay lost, and broken, and in chains.

He took on the sin of the entire human race and offered Himself as a final sacrifice so that we could be welcomed into God’s Kingdom. He loved us so much that He couldn’t bear the thought of spending eternity without us—even suffering on a cross to give us life. And it is in His death and His Resurrection that we find life, love, purpose, and everything that we were created for.

I know this is a familiar story to many of us and I know that this is something that many of us have heard time and time again. But it is still something that is so important to remember—perhaps, especially during Easter week, when we remember and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, and the sacrifice that He made for each and every one of us.

If you are reading this and you are already a Christian, than I want to encourage you to never stop seeing this story with fresh eyes, and sharing this hope with a broken world.

If you are reading this and you have never heard it before, than I want you to know that God loves you so much and desires a personal relationship with you—all you have to do is let Him in.

If you are reading this and have somehow been burned by the church or by Christians who have acted less than Christ-like, than I want you to reconsider your ideas about God—and not hold God responsible for the things that people do. To know that God loves you and is still pursuing you—and wants you to see Him for who He really is.

Whoever you are reading this, God loves you. 

And this, to paraphrase Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas, this is what Easter is all about. 

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“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 (NIV). 

 

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Perfect

“I got a couple dents in my fender. Got a couple rips in my jeans. Try to fit the pieces together. But perfection is my enemy. And on my own I’m so clumsy but on Your shoulders I can see. I’m free to be me.” – Francesca Battistelli, Free To Be Me.

I was approximately nine years old when the song Free To Be Me, by Francesca Battistelli, first aired on the radio. My family was just starting to listen to the local Christian radio station around this time, and immediately, I resonated with this song. I felt like  Francesca Battistelli had written those lyrics just for me. Ever since I was young, I have always struggled with perfectionism.* And, in some ways, it is still something that I struggle with from time to time today.

To give you all some context on this, I’ve recently discovered that I’m an Enneagram 1w9. Ones are notorious for being perfectionists, and they tend to set extremely high standards for themselves. On the surface level, this can look like a good thing. I’ve never drank or used drugs, I’ve always made pretty decent grades, and I do my best to be kind to the people around me. These are all good things. The not-so-good thing is how, at times, I’ve made my faith about me more than God. How I’ve sometimes put my worth in what I’ve done rather than what Jesus has already done for me. How I put weights on myself that Christ never intended for me to carry.

A couple of years ago, back when I was still in high school, I read a book about this by Emily P. Freeman called Grace For The Good Girl. I wrote about it in a previous blog post, here. The author, like me, has struggled with perfectionism for most of her life. She writes, in one part of the book, describing her struggle, “When bad girls perform to get their needs met, they get in trouble. When good girls perform to get the same thing, we get praise. That is why the hiding is so easy for us. We work hard, we do right, and we try not to ruffle feathers. And even if we do all that by the strength of our own selves, we tell ourselves it’s okay. It seems to work, therefore it’s acceptable.It is not wrong to try to do the right thing, and follow God’s ways and His heart to the best of our ability. The problem occurs when we put our worth in what we do rather than who we are in Christ. When we rely on ourselves rather than relying on God.

Here’s the thing guys, Jesus did not come so that we can make a couple small behavior adjustments and throw Him into our backpack along with our grades and our accomplishments. He came to completely wreck our lives with His love and make dead people alive! To quote Emily P. Freeman once again, “The story of redemption and healing is that Jesus came to exchange my not-good-enough with his better-than-I-could-ever-imagine. He came to trade my life for His, my weak for His strong, my ashes for His beauty. He longs for each of us to receive the gift of Himself.” It is only when we fully grasp this truth that we can really experience the fullness of God’s power and the freedom that He intended for us to have in Christ.

If any of you are like me, and struggle with perfectionism, I want to challenge you to sink more into Jesus. To rely on His power more than your own. To realize that this journey with Jesus is so much grander than to-do-lists and checklists and trying to be good. To fall in love with Jesus and live your life as an outpouring of that love. To realize that grace is not simply the thing that we experience at salvation, but the thing that carries us and sustains us through the rest of our days and the rest of our life. 

To live faithfully, clinging to Jesus every day and every moment. 

Bringing your best, and trusting God with the rest. 

Loving God and loving people every step of the way. 

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*Full disclosure: I’m also a tad clumsy. So I can also admittedly relate to that part of the song.😉   

How about you guys? Do any of you struggle with perfectionism, or trying to win the approval of God and others? If so, feel free to share about it below! I’d love to discuss this in the comments! 

Brave Faith

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20. 

Over this past weekend, there was a huge Christian revival that took place in Orlando, Florida called The Send. The purpose of this revival was to revitalize a generation to go out and share Jesus with their high schools, colleges, and communities. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend in person, as I got sick that same weekend, but I was able to watch it through a livestream, and it was pretty incredible. Thousands upon thousands of believers – all ready to impact the world for Christ. 

Let’s be honest, it can be all too easy to stay in our foxholes as Christians, never venturing out to do the one thing that we have been called to do as Christians. It can be so easy to play it safe, and miss opportunities that God might be giving us to share His love with those around us. For many of us, it can be hard to even know where to begin.

How can we share Christ with a world that is too often hostile towards our faith?

In many ways, this will look different for everyone. God has placed us all in a unique set of circumstances with a unique call to share the Gospel. Some of you reading this may be being called to full time ministry – as pastors or missionaries in a third world country. Others reading this may feel convicted to be more open about faith at their high schools. Still others may read this and think of a co-worker, or a friend, who does not know Jesus. We may not all feel called to share our faith in the same way, but there is one thing that I know and believe with absolute certainty. We are all called to share our faith in some way with those God has placed into our path. 

This could be as simple as telling someone that you’re praying for them. Or, inviting them to church for a special event. Sometimes God will call us to share our faith in a way that is outside of the ordinary but often, it will just be through acts of everyday faithfulness and kindness. If we continue to keep our eyes on Jesus, and follow Him wherever He might lead us to go, I fully believe that He will show us exactly what we are called to in this season and this chapter of our life. 

Therefore, I want to challenge you to boldness. I want to challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone and be the light that God is calling you to be. Matthew 5:13-16 says,

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

God is calling you to make a difference right where you are.

God is calling you to share His extravagant love with the world.

God is calling you to be the change!

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“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13 

How do you feel that God is calling you to share Him with your world this week? Feel free to comment about it in the comments below – I’d love to hear how God is working in your lives!😃✝️❤️

Faith Moves Mountains

Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.” – Mark 11:23 (NIV).

Faith. It’s a topic that we hear about often, but often struggle to live out in the real. It is the thing that calls us to trust when there seems to be no way. However, in spite of all of this, faith is the very essence of the Christian walk.

I once heard a quote that said, “If you’re prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God.“* Now, obviously God hears all prayers, ranging from the prayer of a seven year old girl in her bedroom to the prayer of an elderly man on his deathbed. However, there is something that I believe we, as believers, can take away from this quote. Too often, it is easy to keep our faith limited—boxed almost. Trusting God for some things, but hesitant to prayer about others. Somewhere deep down, we fear that we might just pray the prayer that is ‘too much’ for God to handle. 

However, as believers chasing after the very heart of God, I believe God is calling us to something more radical. 

Over the past year or so, God has been challenging me in my faith. As someone naturally prone to mini-panic-attacks about the future, God has been continuously leading me to live out the words of Philippians 4:6-7. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (NIV). He has also been challenging me to lean more on Him (rather than myself. Proverbs 3:5-6 y’all!) and have more faith for seemingly impossible things. Faith that God could literally heal someone on the spot. Faith that some of the most far off places (e.g. college campuses) could have mass revivals and dedications to Jesus. Faith that the most lost people we know will come to a saving faith in Christ by our example and the example others.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (NIV). Furthermore, in Matthew 19:26 (NIV), it says, “Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  (NIV). 

We serve a God who we cannot see, but whom we can trust. A God who has a track record of performing miracles—such as breathing the world into existence and rising from the dead on the third day. Who is in authority over all of the forces of nature, and has a power beyond what we can imagine, but who loves us infinitely—more than we can even imagine. As Christians, we serve a God who we believe in through faith—who calls us to an even greater faith as we grow and mature in our walk. 

This week, I want to challenge you to a greater faith. To a faith that truly believes God can move mountains—even the mountains in your life! I want to challenge you to have faith the size of a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20) and believe fully in God’s presence and power in your life. I want to challenge you to a faith for the impossible.

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*Just looked this quote up. It’s by Mark Batterson. 

We Are Family

I wrote this post a while back for The Recovering Legalist, and since my blogging has been a little slow lately, I decided to repost it onto my blog. This is a topic that I’ve blogged a little about in other posts, but that I wrote about in depth in this one. 

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What does it mean to be a family?

Ask ten different people and you’ll get ten different answers.

To some, it’s the parents and siblings that they were raised with. To others, it’s their current family unit that they’ve created for themselves, through marriage and procreation. Still to others, it’s a grandparent or relative who raised them.

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Family is a concept that is embedded deep within the human heart. We all long for a place to belong and feel at home.

A place to kick off our shoes after a long day.

A place where we can be fully ourselves—quirks and all.

A place to love and be loved.

Society tells us that family is limited to those related to us through blood or marriage.

The Bible on the other hand, tells a different story. When ­asked about His brothers and mother in the book of Matthew, Jesus turns previously held assumptions about family upside-down.

“Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”(Matthew 12:48-50)

Jesus broadens the definition of family to include every believer who has been washed in the blood of Christ and saved by God’s amazing grace.

You are my brother. I am your sister. We are one giant family connected through the blood of Christ. Whatever your experience with your biological family, you have the guarantee of a family in Christ. This concept is reinforced throughout the New Testament, as familial language is repetitively used (1 Timothy 5:1-2, Hebrews 13:1, Philemon 1:15-16). The Bible even goes into detail about how to live this out, instructing us time and time again to love one and other and walk with fellow believers through times of trouble.

We live in a world that is starving for love. Look no further than the local news station to find that divisions between people are running rampant. This should not be so among believers. If we want to love a broken world, we must start by loving each other. Despite our many differences, we are one in Christ. This point is presented beautifully in Galatians 3:28. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Imagine how amazing our witness for Christ would be if we truly lived out Jesus’ vision for believers. I have seen the concept of family practiced vividly in the Christian blogging world and pray that this becomes a reality worldwide. No one should ever feel left out in the body of Christ. The first thing that a person should know when the walk through the doors of our churches is that they are loved. When Jesus hung on the cross, His arms were spread wide open, embracing everyone willing to come and follow Him. We are called to live as a reflection of that, and live out God’s radical love here on earth as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Connected as one big, crazy, awesome, beautiful family of believers.