Thankful List 2019

Hey guys! It’s that time of year again. The time for turkeys, stuffing, and family-get-togethers. It is also the time of year when I typically blog about how God has blessed me and worked in my life this year. So without further ado, here is my 2019 Thankful List!

Jesus – I have been a Christian since I was about nine years old but every year, I continue to get more wrecked by His love. This year, I have experienced Him in so many incredible ways and I have had more and more opportunities to share His love with others, which has been absolutely amazing! I have grown a lot in my faith in 2019 and I can’t wait to see how God works in 2020!

Friends – God has truly blessed me beyond measure with the people he has placed in my life. Two years ago, I was in such a different place and struggling to make friends. But today, I can honestly say that I am surrounded by an incredible group of friends who have encouraged me and helped me grow in my faith. I am thankful for the people who have stood by my side and been there for me through the good times and bad.

Family – I am thankful for my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, as well as my spiritual family. These are the people who have seen me grow and these are the people who have shaped me as a person. There’s no way I would be the person I am today without their influence on my life.

Memories – I am thankful for all of the cool memories found within the moments of this year. I am thankful for a surprise pizza run with a group of friends from church on my 21st birthday. I am thankful that I got to participate in two conferences—both which were beyond amazing. I am thankful for the small groups that I’ve been in as well as the two that I’ve co-led this year. I am thankful for times with friends, books that I’ve read, and the classes that I’ve had the chance to take this year, which brings me to my next point…

My Education – I am finally at the point in my college career where I’m taking classes that actually pertain to my major (a double major in Education and Biblical Studies with a minor in Creative Writing). I have had the chance to take an education class as well as some really cool Bible classes. I am thankful for the opportunity that I have to get a college education, even with the grind of homework and finals.

My Church – I am thankful to be a part of a vibrant church body that is passionate about seeing people grow in Christ and reach out to the lost in our community. I am thankful for all of the pastors, leaders, and people in general who have helped me grow. And, I am thankful for the leadership opportunities that I have been given this year—to lead small groups and speak at my youth group. These things have truly been incredible and major blessings.

Food, Water, and Shelter – These are such basic things for so many of us here in America, but they’re also things that so many people go without. We should never take them for granted.

Books – I guess this one shouldn’t come as a surprise from someone whose Instagram name is “authorcourtney1” but this year I’ve had the chance to read so many amazing books – both fiction and nonfiction. Some of my top favorites are Jesus Is, Life Is, and Love Like Jesus by Judah Smith, Crash The Chatterbox and Greater by Steven Furtick, Two Weeks by Karen Kingsbury, and The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon.

Personal Growth – As probably most of you know, I’ve dealt with OCD and anxiety to varying degrees since around middle school, but this year, those things have lessened tremendously. It’s been a process for sure, and I can’t say I never struggle with this, but I’ve gotten a lot better about handling it (all glory to God!!!) and it is far less severe than it used to be. I have also become more confident, more outgoing, and more genuinely at peace with life.

Freedom – Again, something that many of us take for granted, but that we should all be thankful for.

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How about you guys? What are you thankful for and how have you see God move? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below!!

Relationship > Religion

Our righteousness doesn’t depend on our present performance but on Jesus’ finished performance.” – Judah Smith. 

I’m going to be honest with you guys. I’m sort of a huge fan of lists. I’m not kidding. I have a list for practically everything. I have a bucket list. I have a list of goals for the semester. I have a list of people that I need to buy presents for every Christmas—that I strategically check off as I go. I also have a to-do-list, which usually isn’t a bad thing, but lately, it’s sort of turned into one.

You see, almost every day I make a list of goals that I have for that day—read my Bible, study for tests, write an essay for school, do some chores, prepare for youth group on Wednesday night…it’s sort of my way of keeping my head on straight and reminding myself to do all the things. However, somewhere around halfway through the semester, my list-obsession started to catch up with me

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Somehow, in the midst of it all, God wound up on my to-do-list. 

Somewhere along the way, I began to turn my time with Him into something to ‘check off my list’. Something that I’m ‘supposed’ to do. But if you think about it, this isn’t how we see any other significant relationship in our life. We don’t think of spending time with our parents or our friends as something that we ‘have to do’ to check off of a list. It’s something we get to do. It’s quality time with the people closest to us.

This is the kind of relationship that God wants with us. It’s about more than just reading a chapter in the Bible or trying to pray for a set amount of time (one of my Christian professors literally told me to do this). It’s about encountering Jesus’ love on a daily basis. It’s about nourishing a close intimate relationship with the God who laid down His life to save us. 

A while back, someone asked me a good question prompt for this blog—about how to put God first in our lives. And at the time, I wasn’t sure how to answer outside of the basics of having a daily quiet time with God. But lately, He has been reminding me that it’s about so much more than that.

He’s been reminding me that He knows every detail on my soul and every longing in my heart and every hope buried deep inside of me. He’s been reminding me that even on the days when I feel off or the moments when I struggle to feel Him, He’s still there! That He doesn’t want my works. He doesn’t want my ‘perfection’ (as if that actually exists anyway). He doesn’t want anything from me except my whole heart. He’s the only thing that can truly fill me—He’s the only thing in this world and outside of it that can truly satisfy!

Here’s the thing guys—God doesn’t just want to be first in our lives. He doesn’t just want to be the first thing we check off when we wake up in the morning, before we go to school or work. He wants to be in every part of our lives! He wants to be the one we go to at our lowest low, and the one that we praise through our highest mountaintop moments. He wants to be with us at our jobs, in our relationships, and in every part of our day. 

When we approach God with a “checkmark” mentality, it can get exhausting really quickly. But when we approach God with everything inside of us, and just show up and say, “God, you already know all of this—but this is where I’m at right now. The good, the bad, and the ugly” It brings us more life than we can ever even imagine!

But somehow, even for those of us who are seasoned Christians, it can be so easy for us to forget this. It can be easy to forget to approach God with a mindset of relationship and exchange it for works. It can be easy for us to forget how present God truly is in every moment is, and how great His love is for us. It can be so easy for us to get so lost in ‘being a Christian’ that we lose track of Christ Himself.

This week, I want to challenge you—if you haven’t reflected much on it lately, to remember how great our Savior’s love is for you!

How His sacrifice on the cross isn’t just the thing that forgives us from our sin and saves us for all eternity but the ultimate act of love and the ultimate bridge between God and humanity!

How He is the only one who can truly bring us life, and purpose, and true fulfillment—and how our relationship with Him is about so much more than a checklist!

Set a fire inside of my soul that I can’t contain and I can’t control, I want more of you God. – Jesus Culture

“But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” – Jeremiah 20:9 (NIV).

 

Godly Confidence: Embracing Your Identity In Christ

“Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39 (NLT). 

We live in a culture that consistently feeds us the lie that we’re not enough.

Whether it be from Hollywood, magazines, or toothpaste ads, we are told time and time again that we should be prettier, thinner, smarter, cooler, or otherwise different from the person that we are. Time and time again, we are fed an ideal of ‘perfection’ from our culture—and too often, we have accepted this lie as truth.

Recently, I posted to my Instagram account asking for suggestions for future blogs and video blogs, and one of the suggestions that I got was to write a post on loving yourself. And this got me thinking—what does this look like for us as believers? How do we, while following the Biblical principal of taking up our cross to follow Christ (Matthew 16:24), love ourselves the way that we’re called to as Christians?

I believe this starts with looking to who God says we are in Scripture, and planting our identity firmly in Christ.

From the very beginning, we are shown that we have innate worth simply by existing and being. In Genesis 1:27, we read, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (NIV). Each one of us is created in the image of God—which means that each one of us bears the mark of our Creator.

Furthermore, in Psalm 139:13-14, King David writes, “You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and wove them all together in my mother’s womb.[aI thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it! How thoroughly you know me, Lord!” (TPT). Each one of us is created wonderfully complex, from our unique personalities and passions to our outward appearance!

I remember times during my teenage years when this truth didn’t always line up with how I felt. There were plenty of times when I felt awkward (who doesn’t as a teenager?), gawky, and like I totally broke the mold of how a teenager ‘should’ be.

I was pretty tomboyish. I was obsessed with all things books and words (still am, as you’ve probably figured out). And a lot of my interests fell more into the old lady category than the teenager category (hot tea…Hallmark movies…cats…the whole nine yards). But the older I got, the more comfortable in my skin I became. Slowly I learned that everyone has things that make them unique—and I learned to own the person that God has created me to be. To embrace my quirks, rather than run from them.

If you can relate to any of this at all, I want to challenge you to fully embrace what God has said about you. Not just on a head level, but on a heart level. To see that God has bestowed you with so many incredible gifts and talents and ways that you paint your own unique colors onto the canvas of this world. To show up fully in your sphere of influence knowing that God looked down when He created you and said ‘It is good’. To drown out the voices of the world that tell you that you have to be different to be accepted, because in Christ you are already enough!

In the words of a quote by George MacDonald, “I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.” 

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How about you? What are your thoughts on living out your identity in Christ? I’d love to hear your input in the comments section below!❤️

Hope: In A Broken World

Hey guys, sorry it’s been a little while since I’ve posted! Between summer classes, work, and church activities, my calendar has pretty much been booked to the max. However, I’m back now with a topic that I have been thinking a lot about lately, and that I feel strongly that the Lord has put on my heart to share. I hope it speaks to someone today!😃

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Hope. It’s only four letters, but it carries with it so much meaning. So much beauty. It is a word that inspires images of joy. Images of a more peaceful world. Images of more love, and less famine. Images of a nation filled with people who genuinely care for each other; regardless of ethnicity or the color of their skin. It brings to mind a better future—filled with less of the problems that we see in the world today. There is a reason the word has been used in charity organizations and political campaigns alike. Deep down, we all long for a world filled with hope. Deep down, we all know that hope is what this world truly needs.

However, for many of us, hope is something that seems allusive or out of reach in the world today. When we turn on the news, we see images of crime, famine, and hate. We see a world that frankly, looks anything but hopeful. For some of us, we need to look no further than our local high school or college to see living, breathing, people who seem all but hopeless. People who are fighting their own personal battles. Maybe financially. Maybe relationally. Maybe physically. Sometimes, a combination of all three.

I have always been affected by the stories that I hear around me. If a friend tells me about something they are struggling with, I want to do everything in my power to encourage them. If I hear about a worthy cause, or a group of people who are struggling (people living in poverty, with an illness, etc. etc. etc.) I want to do everything in my power to help them. I think it’s safe to say that this is the case for a lot of us. As humans, we are naturally affected by the stories we hear in the world around us. As humans, we are affected by those whose situations look hopeless. However, as Christians, we also posses the one thing that can truly bring them hope.

I remember when I first started college, feeling so affected by the condition of the world around me. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who seemed lost and broken. When I felt small and way too outnumbered to truly make a difference. Part of me was tempted to shrink back. To escape into some TV drama or another. To just survive—rather than do the very thing that God called me to do, which was to be bold. At one point, pushing past fear and trembling, God called me to give a speech about my faith in a class where a student was openly Wiccan. Needless, to say, this wasn’t easy, and I was sort of terrified but it proved to be an incredible experience in God’s faithfulness—and as the class went on, I saw him slowly develop a genuine interest in Christianity—even nodding with interest as I read Bible verses in various other speeches that I presented. This still remains one of my most memorable experiences in my college journey thus far.

And, this was just one part of the lesson that God has been continuing to teach me throughout my journey of faith, and my journey through college. That as Christians, we have the hope that this world is desperately longing for.

It is far too easy to be silent. To let fear dictate us and stop us from doing the one thing that we have been placed on this earth to do. To believe that this world is too broken, too far gone, too far beyond hope. To forget the words of John 1:5, which says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (NIV). 

I don’t know about you, but I want to bring hope to the broken and light to the darkness in this world.

I want to live in such a way that it points back to the One who has put breath in my lungs and given me life.

I want to exude joy, hope, and love even in places that seem to lack all three of these.

I want to be everything that Christ has called me to be, and never miss an opportunity to share His love with the people He has placed around me. 

If you are going back to school soon, I want to encourage you to look like hope in the place where God has led you! To never be afraid to step out in boldness, and share Christ with those around you. If you work somewhere, I want to encourage you to love your co-workers and boss and live in such a way that it points back to Jesus—and “work as if you’re working unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). Wherever we go and whatever we do, let us never be afraid to reflect the hope that we have.

Let us never let fear hold us back from sharing this hope.

Let us never let fear hold us back from sharing this love!

“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.

– Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)

Holy Spirit

“God has a constantly flowing river whose sparkling streams bring joy and delight to his people. His river flows right through the city of God Most High, into his holy dwelling places.” Psalm 46:4 (TPT).

Growing up, I always loved the water. 

I always loved the feel of it against my skin. I always loved the refreshed feeling that I got after a good swim. I always loved swimming, floating, and simply sitting in the water and the coolness that surrounded me as the sun shone down upon my head. Heck, I still love all of these things, and find swimming to be one of my personal favorite forms of exercise.

However, when I was younger, I used to be desperately afraid to dive.* 

This used to scare me because it meant that I would be fully immersed in water. It scared me because I was going down head-first into something that is semi-foreign to humans (at least, compared to fish and other sea creatures). I was scared because in one simple move, it was a plunge into the unknown. It was scary because it required me to surrender to the water, and loosen my grip on the human tendency of grasping for the familar—of grasping for control.

For some of us, our feelings towards our faith could be the same. Much like with diving, growing in our faith requires us to loosen the reigns on being in control. It requires us to surrender, even when we don’t understand. It means fully submerging ourselves into the presence of the Holy Spirit on a day to day basis—and sometimes, letting Him lead us in ways that don’t make sense to our finite minds. It requires us to leave a ‘safe’ version of Christianity where we talk about faith, yet rarely live it, and be fully set on fire for God’s Kingdom. 

For so many of us, the Holy Spirit is the part of the Trinity that seems the most confusing. We can picture Jesus, and we can sort of picture God, but when we try to picture the Holy Spirit, many of us wind up with something that’s not much more personable or tangible than the Force in Star Wars. We know that He lives us (1 Corinthians 3:16) and we know that He is somehow part of the Godhead (The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), but we miss the significance of the Holy Spirit’s power in the life of every believer. And, in the process, we miss the incredible things that He wants to do in and through us.

However, Romans 8:5-9 shows us just how vital the Holy Spirit is in our lives. It says,

Those who are motivated by the flesh only pursue what benefits themselves. But those who live by the impulses of the Holy Spirit are motivated to pursue spiritual realities.[e]For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set controlled by the Spirit finds life and peace.

In fact, the mind-set focused on the flesh fights God’s plan and refuses to submit to his direction,[f] because it cannot! For no matter how hard they try, God finds no pleasure with those who are controlled by the flesh. But when the Spirit of Christ empowers your life,[g] you are not dominated by the flesh but by the Spirit. And if you are not joined to the Spirit of the Anointed One, you are not of him.[h]”  Romans 8:5-9 (TPT)

When we continually seek out God every day, and seek His will in every situation, the Lord will guide us and direct us through the power of His Holy Spirit. When we immerse ourselves in God’s presence through daily prayer, reading the Scriptures, and everyday faithfulness, the Holy Spirit will help us to be victorious in the battles that we face in our lives.

He will help to live out our faith. He will help us to love that person that drives us crazy. He will help us to fight against ungodly thoughts when they clamor for space in our minds. He will help us to live intentionally—with God’s Kingdom as our mission. This is not to say that we won’t face trials and temptations, but we will be better equipped to fight these battles and come out of them stronger on the other side.

The Holy Spirit is not an abstract theological doctrine. He is not some strange force that we cannot know or understand. He is not scary and He will not lead us into things that are ‘strange’ because that is not in His nature. He is God’s power inside of us. A part of the Godhead that equips us, and bestows a passion for God’s Kingdom. And when we immerse ourselves in His presence, or choose to ‘dive’, if you will, He will give us more love, joy, and peace than we could have ever dreamed of or imagined. 

All that we have to do is take the first step.

All that we have to do, is dive. 

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How about you? How have you experienced the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

*In case you’re wondering, I eventually conquered my fear of diving.😉    

Stronger

“Beloved friends, if life gets extremely difficult, with many tests,[a] don’t be bewildered as though something strange were overwhelming you.[b] Instead, continue to rejoice, for you, in a measure, have shared in the sufferings of the Anointed One so that you can share in the revelation of his glory and celebrate with even greater gladness!” – 1 Peter 4:12-13 (TPT). 

Strength. It is a virtue that is valued and prized by our culture. It is a word that you see on the front of tee shirts in stores or on people that we encounter every day. It is something that many of us strive for, and something that very few of us think we have. However, as Christians, we don’t have to fall into the trap of trying to be strong. We don’t have to approach the trials and temptations that we face from the well of our own strength.

Because, we have a God who is strong, even when we’re weak. 

Over the past couple of months, this is something that God has been teaching me, in particular. By nature, I have a tendency to want to appear strong. To want to appear ‘OK‘ even when I’m not. To want to approach life with a smile when I’m having a legit breakdown on the inside. But lately, God has been showing me (even if I already knew it on some level) that it’s OK to come to Him broken in prayer. It’s OK to still have questions—and not know the end of the story. I don’t always have to be strong and I don’t always have to be brave because I serve a God who is strong enough for both of us (yes, I know I practically quoted a Matthew West song there).

So often as Christians we are told that when we are praying, we’re going into war. That we’re warriors, raging against the powers of darkness. But that is not all that prayer is. It is also going to your Heavenly Father and your friend. It’s telling Him the things that are really on your heart. It is being totally honest and real with a God who loves us! It doesn’t always have to be super-spiritual and it doesn’t always have to sound pretty and Christian-ese.

God doesn’t only care about the spiritual matters of our life—He cares about every matter of our life! The things that matter to us also matter to Him. That girl who is tormenting you at school. That person that you can’t quite get out of your mind. That test that you’re super freaked out about. God cares about all of these things and more because He cares about you!

And the times that we face temptation? We don’t have to fight those battles alone! Ephesians 6:10-18 says below. 

“Now my beloved ones, I have saved these most important truths for last: Be supernaturally infused with strength through your life-union with the Lord Jesus. Stand victorious with the force[a] of his explosive power flowing in and through you.

11 Put on God’s complete set of armor[b] provided for us, so that you will be protected as you fight against the evil strategies of the accuser![c]12 Your hand-to-hand combat is not with human beings, but with the highest principalities and authorities operating in rebellion under the heavenly realms.[d] For they are a powerful class of demon-gods[e] and evil spirits that hold[f] this dark world in bondage. 13 Because of this, you must wear all the armor that God provides so you’re protected as you confront the slanderer,[g] for you are destined for all things[h] and will rise victorious.

14 Put on truth as a belt to strengthen you to stand in triumph. Put on holiness as the protective armor that covers your heart. 15 Stand on your feet alert, then you’ll always be ready to share the blessings of peace.

16 In every battle, take faith as your wrap-around shield, for it is able to extinguish the blazing arrows coming at you from the Evil One![i]17–18 Embrace the power of salvation’s full deliverance, like a helmet to protect your thoughts from lies. And take the mighty razor-sharp Spirit-sword[j] of the spoken Word of God.

Pray passionately[k] in the Spirit, as you constantly intercede with every form of prayer at all times. Pray the blessings of God upon all his believers.” – Ephesians 6:10-18 (TPT).

We do not have to fight our battles alone. We do not have to rely on our own strength or our own ‘godliness’ to fight the enemy’s arrows in our minds when they start coming our way, because we have the strength of God living in us, always available to us when we need it.

We don’t have to rely on ourselves when we face situations that seem too great to handle, because we have someone greater and more powerful walking with us through every season of our life.

We don’t have to listen to voices of insecurity or self-doubt because we can choose every day to speak what God says about us over ourselves and choose to listen to His truth over the enemy’s lies.

This week I want to challenge you to fully press into God’s strength. To go to Him and just pour your heart out to Him. To resist the temptation to be strong and allow yourself the grace to be completely honest before God. To come to Him as a Father—and cry out to Him in the times that you face trials and temptations. 

There’s a song by Laura Story that I believe perfectly captures what I am trying to say in this post. Hopefully, it speaks to somebody today.🙂

“God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge! You’re a proven help in time of trouble—more than enough and always available whenever I need you. So we will never fear even if every structure of support[b] were to crumble away. We will not fear even when the earth quakes and shakes, moving mountains and casting them into the sea. For the raging roar of stormy winds and crashing waves cannot erode our faith in you.” – Psalm 46:1-3.