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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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. 

Change

It’s that time of year again.

The time of year when leaves change along with our wreaths. When we pull out our sweaters and jackets and head over to Starbucks for a Pumpkin Spice. When stores put out their Halloween and Christmas decorations side by side. And when the weather finally starts to cool down to something more tolerable.*

For most of us, this is a change that we welcome. It’s exciting to bring in a new season and all of the activities that come with it. It’s a pleasant change—one that we mark our calendars with and anticipate until the day of its arrival. It’s the kind of change that we as humans actually like. However, as most of us know, there is another kind of change as well. One that is far more disruptive and far less pleasant.

And for most of us, this is the kind of change that we could do without. 

I’m going to be honest. I’ve never been the kind of person that welcomes change. I thrive on schedules and routines and things staying the same. I’m what some people would call a ‘creature of habit‘—and in most cases, I avoid change like the plague. But sometimes, change is exactly what God uses to help us grow. And that’s what I want to talk about in this post. 

A while back, I posted a quote to one of my old blog posts that I believe is fitting here. It reads, “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”- C. S. Lewis. In order for God to be able to use us, He has to first grow us as people. And often, the way that He chooses to grow us, whether we can see it at the time or not, is through change. 

This growth isn’t always easy. Sometimes it looks like a breakup, or a change in jobs. Sometimes it’s a difficult season where we can’t see a clear path. Sometimes it means graduating high school or college, and moving onto the next chapter of our lives. These kinds of things are usually really hard—but they’re also some of ways that we grow the most. And God never takes something away unless He has something better for us down the road.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” As Christ-followers we can have full confidence in God’s plans for us, and that He knows what He has in store for our lives—even when we can’t see the big picture. We can wake up every morning believing and declaring God’s goodness, and knowing that He is a God who never changes, and who we can always turn to and lean on in times of trouble. And He is the one who guides our path, even when we can’t see where it leads. 

Because of all of this, I’m slowly getting better at handling change. I’m learning to trust and have faith in what I cannot see. I’m learning what it means to leap—even when it feels like I’m going to fall. And I’m learning to embrace life fully—whatever it chooses to throw in my way.

This week, I want to challenge you to face change head on.

And trust that our God, who is a good, good Father, has great plans for us in the midst of every season and every change. 

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“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lordwhose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8. 

How about you? Have you ever gone through a difficult change in your life? If so, how did you get through it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below! 

*Or as my friend says, unless you live in the south—in which case, “you’re still wearing shorts and taking your bf to the beach”. Quote courtesy of Jenna. Hi Jenna.

 

 

Guest Post – Because He Is, I Am

Hey guys,

So…I have some good news and some good news (you were expecting me to say good news and bad news, weren’t you?)! The first piece of good news is that my life is finally getting back to normal and I should be back to my regular posts next week! The second piece of good news is…this week’s post was written by my good friend and sister in Christ, Julia Carvalho! 

Julia and I met back in April at a Bible study at my church and she’s legit one of the coolest people that I know! She also has a lot of wisdom – so I’d strongly advise you read on! You won’t regret it!

So…let’s all give a big round of virtual applause for Julia! 

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It is only when I know who God is, that I know who I am and discover the purpose and calling that God has placed upon my life.

“’But what about you?’” Jesus asked. ‘Who do you say that I am?’

Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’

Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah…And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.’” (Matthew 16:15-18).

So, who do I say that Jesus is? He is gracious and compassionate. He is holy and awesome. The works of His hands are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy. He is good. He is love. He is my anchor when life gets rocky. He is my mountain, my safe place. He is my fountain of living water. He is light—shining into the darkest parts of my life. He is peace. He is joy. He is patient, even when I make the same mistake over and over and over again. He is my shield, my refuge. He is my Savior—bearing my burdens daily. He is with me, holding my hand in every moment. He is my king, my friend, my father.

And because I know who He is, I know who I am. Because He is my father, I am His child and I reflect His image. Because He is strong, I am strong. Because He is peace, I am filled with peace. Because He is a leader, I can lead in confidence knowing that He is going ahead and paving the way for me. Because He is brave, I am brave. Because He is a rock, I am a rock—stable, unwavering, faithful. Because He is patient, I am patient. Because He is beautiful, I am beautiful. Because He is confident in who He is, I am confident in who I am and who He created me to be. Because He is, I am.

And it’s in the quiet moment when I am declaring who He is, and I am being reminded of who I am, that He whispers to the depths of my soul my purpose, my calling. It’s a path that only I can walk. A calling that only I can fit into. A purpose that only I can fulfill, because He has created it uniquely for me, just as He has created a unique purpose just for you.

So, who do you say He is?

Scriptures referenced:

Psalm 11:4,7,9; Psalm 34:8; 1 John 4:8; 1 John 1:5; 2 Peter 3:9; Psalm 68:19-20; Isaiah 26:3; Psalm 36:8-9; Colossians 3:15; 1 Peter 5:7; 1 Peter 1:8-9; Romans 15:13; Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 10:46-52

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If you want to hear more awesomeness from Julia, be sure to check out her vlog, Jewels From Jules! Just click through the link below and subscribe to her channel! I promise that you’ll love it!😃

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2OKlYvzTybAOgwkxUzzG2g

 

Salt And Light

“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 

If you’ve been in church for a while, it is more than likely that you’ve heard this passage before. You’ve probably also heard variations of it – with faith-based tee shirts and song lyrics by Christian bands and artists. But what does it really mean to shine your light? What does it look like to impact people for Christ at your school, work, or area of influence? 

In short, shining a light means being bold. It means stepping out of your comfort zone and letting others see that you’re a Christian sold out for Christ. It means being open about your faith, and sharing it through your actions and words with those around you. It means offering to pray for a co-worker who’s struggling, sharing your story to encourage others, and being aware of the needs of those around you—even when you feel as though you are at a deficit. It means daring to be brave through God’s grace and strength in us.

This has been something that I’ve been thinking about and praying about a lot over the course of the last couple of months. It has been one of the many things that God has been speaking to me about and something that I’ve been striving to make more of an effort to do—both in my writing and in my day-to-day relationships and interactions with the world around me. Little by little, I’m learning how to be more bold—stepping out in faith and being brave for Christ in my actions and words.

It can be so easy to get caught up in the status quo. To get so caught up in the things of this world that we loose track of the one thing that we are ultimately chasing after. It’s easy to stay quiet—and keep our light hidden under a bowl. But as Christians, we are called to something greater than this. Something big, and scary, and wonderful, and amazing all at the same time. We are called to boldness for Christ. We are called to take risks in sharing our faith for the sake of His Kingdom. We are called to look a little crazy sometimes, as we seek to live to change lives through the power of the Gospel.

And as Christians, we are never in this alone. 

In John 14:15-21, Jesus says, If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, to give us courage, peace, and bravery as we seek to live for God. He does not leave us alone to fend for ourselves—He is always with us. And if we continue to press into God and seek His will, the Holy Spirit will lead us in ways that are beyond our wildest dreams. He will bring us closer to who God intended us to be and guide us towards living confidently for Him! And He will help us to be bold for Christ and make an impact on the lives around us.

We don’t know everyone’s story. There’s an old quote that says, “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” There’s another quote that says, “You may be the only Bible someone ever reads”. There are so many people in this world who are hurting and broken. There are so many people who are looking for hope—and something to hold onto. There are so many people who have the wrong idea about Christianity—and feel that they can never be good enough for God.

In a world filled with the wrong voices, we are called to be a bold voice of love. We are called to show people what it really means to be a Christian. That it’s not a list of rules and orders. It’s not a contract with an impersonal god. It’s not a life without joy. It’s an invitation to a table where everyone is welcome. It’s a joy beyond reason. It’s a a heart for the broken, the outcast, and the marginalized. It’s a love that changes our lives.

This world will someday fade away, and it will take with it our possessions, our accomplishments, and awards. The one thing that will never fade away is the souls of the people around us—and the difference that we make in their lives. I don’t know about you, but I want to invest my life into something that will matter. I want to make a difference and leave a legacy—something lasting, that moths and rust can’t destroy.

I want to shine with my life. I want to be bold for Jesus. 

And, I want to challenge you to do the same.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9 

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A New Church And An Answered Prayer

Recently something pretty big has happened in my life that I feel compelled to share with you. Something exciting, that I feel is deserving of a post all its’ own. 

My family has found a new church. And I absolutely love it. 

My parents and I have tossed around the idea of trying another church for a little while now, but have never actually made the move to do it. We all really liked our home church, but had a trouble connecting, and it was so small that it was often hard to make friends. But two weeks ago, we actually did it. We boarded my dad’s car and headed to a new church—ironically, one that was only a couple of miles away from the church that I grew up in.

Naturally on the way there I felt a typical mix of excitement and nervousness that comes with trying a new church. Will I like it? Will it be any good? Will the people there be nice? Thankfully, once we actually got there, all of my fears were dispelled.

Within a couple of minutes of being there, I could tell that this church was vibrant and alive. That this was a church filled with love, sincerity, and faith. 

It was also a church that was really diverse—something I’ve rarely seen in most local congregations. This church was filled with people of every race and age—all coming together for a common purpose and faith; something that I’ve always seen the ‘Church‘ as being, but that I was seeing for the first time in a literal church building.

Within only a few short moments, I witnessed friends laughing and talking amongst themselves, was greeted by a lot of really nice people, and saw young people actually participating in the service—many who were up on stage in the band during worship or greeting newcomers at the front door.

Oddly enough, I wasn’t an anomaly as a young person in church—I was the norm, surrounded by both people my age and people older and younger than me. In this church, I witnessed solid friendships between members—some, who seemed to have little in common on the surface aside from a common faith. I saw the beauty of what the church is, and has always been, displayed right before my eyes. And I nearly lost it.

For years, I’ve dreamed of being part of a church like this. A church that lived out the meaning of the word ‘church family‘, and where anyone was immediately welcomed in. Where it didn’t matter if you were young or old, and where everyone felt equally at home. Where I could learn, and grow, and belong—along with other believers who would support me in my walk and who I would support in theirs.

Finding this church was an answer to prayer, and as I sat through that service, I felt closer to God than I had in a while. It was like I felt Him right there in the building—revealing to me that this was exactly where I was supposed to be right now.

I’m going to be honest, this past two years have been rough—probably more so than I’ve let on in this blog. I’ve struggled with major changes in my life and moments of heavy loneliness and anxiety. And at times, it only seemed to worsen in public settings. There have obviously been good points in my life as well, but the last couple of years out of high school have by no means been easy for me. Deep down, I’ve longed for something stable—a place where I could actually plant down roots, and connect with other people my age. Something like my new church—and by extension, new college Bible study, which I tried last week and absolutely loved. Something like a church family. 

Through all of this, God has reminded me of His faithfulness and love for His children. I’ve also been reminded that even during the times when I’ve felt the most lonely, I’ve never been alone. God has always been there for me and He’s always had a plan for my life. I was simply in a season of life—one that I feel is coming to an close even as I type this.

If any of you reading this are in a similar season of life, take heart. Life has a way of getting easier, and God has a bigger plan for your life than you can see right now.

Keep holding on and keep pressing on in your faith.

Who knows? You might find an unexpected blessing just around the corner.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” – James 1:17 

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A Prayer For Christmas

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This Christmas let us remember the reason for the season.

Let us, in the midst of the cooking, the wrapping, and the shopping, take some time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.

Let us reach out to others, remembering to put them before ourselves and helping those who are less fortunate.

Let us pray for the homeless, the veterans, those away from family, and all those who have situations much more difficult than our own.

Let us remember those closest to us, and spend some time with friends and loved ones as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Let us never take anything for granted but be thankful for what we do have, as we anticipate a new year filled with hope, resolutions, and promises.

Let us take some time to enjoy the little moments, those small nameless moments that get pushed aside for the glamor of Christmas, because someday those small moments won’t be so small anymore.

Let us remember those we miss, be thankful for those that we do have, and move forward with the hope and knowledge that someday we’ll be see our deceased loved ones once again.

Let us put aside our busyness, our stress, our fear, and our worries, remembering that in the midst of all of the stress of life, we have a Savior who understands, and a peace in the midst of chaos.

Let us deck the halls, enjoy our Christmas dinner, exchange gifts, and surround ourselves with love, because this season only comes once a year.

And, despite the fleetingness and busyness of this season, let us keep its spirit in our hearts, so that in some ways, this holiday may last all year long.

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And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, see, the angel of the Lord came on them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said to them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you; You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:8-14