Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Center of God's Will

Psalm 40:8 "I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart."

It's 12:37 AM. I'm sitting at my computer, staring at the screen, wondering how to explain all the thoughts that are racing through my mind. The last month has gone by so quickly I feel like I've barely had a chance to think and sort through all the thoughts in my mind.

I went on a walk today, hoping to get some clarity of mind, but all I could see was a packing/to-do list scrolling through my mind. So this is an attempt to sort through everything in my head. Writing it out always helps me.

I've told people some details about the school that I am planning on attending and I've received various reactions from people. Some people think it's weird that I won't have internet access while I'm there. Some people think it's weird that I won't be able to date while I'm there for the next three years. So I just want to write out my thoughts about the school where God has called me to attend.

When I was twelve, I fell in love with the state of Texas. But it wasn't just that I thought the state was
Sunsets at Bible School
beautiful, I fell in love with a little Bible school nestled in Central Texas Hill Country. All of my older siblings went to this Bible school and so I got to visit several times throughout my teen years.

This Bible school is very small. About thirty students attend this school, so the atmosphere is very much like that of family and community.

But what struck me about this school was the devotion and the passion I saw in the students. These were some of the godliest and most committed young people I had ever come across. They devoted hours every week to studying and meditating on God's word and prayer. But what I noticed about this group of students is that their eyes shone with joy, their souls burned with truth and their hearts were full of God's love. They weren't boring. They weren't dull. They weren't locked away in closets studying all hours of the day and night. They were so in love with Jesus Christ that it wasn't a chore for them to read their Bible, it wasn't work to meditate on scripture, it wasn't tedious to do Bible study. They had learned the secret that if they died to themselves, Christ in all of His beauty and glory would come and dwell within them. They weren't perfect angels, but they knew that they had a perfect God who was still working on them.

The environment there is unlike any other that I have ever experienced. There is a light about this place and peace. Part of what provides this almost surreal environment is the limits that are placed on outside distractions. There are rules put in place during the semester to limit the distractions of internet, tv, etc. but it is so beautiful to go to a place where seeking God is more unhindered and there are less distractions calling your name. It's okay to have a period of your life where you have solid rules set in place that help you to spend more hours with the Lord.

And now, I find myself preparing to attend this college for myself. I don't care if people think it's weird and has weird rules. I don't care if people think that no-internet is a bit extreme. It's fine if people think the rules are strict. Strict rules are sometimes good for you. And I know that God is going to use this next chapter in my journey so much. I've seen how it's changed my siblings and how it's changed the lives of my friends who have attended there.

I'm okay with the fact that I'm not allowed to date for the next three years. I can just spend that time focusing on my relationship with God. That's okay with me. I can wait.

I'm okay with the fact that I won't have internet connection and unlimited phone time. There is a time and a place for drawing aside to seek God with less distractions and a greater focus. The internet has a lot of good things to offer, but as we all know, it can be easy to wast time too. So I'm fine with the fact that I won't have internet access because I'll be more motivated to work on studying the Bible and I'll have more time to spend in prayer.

There are many godly people in the Bible like Elijah or John the Baptist or even Jesus who spent time alone with God in the middle of a bare wilderness with no distractions, just their Creator. And God still provides "wildernesses" or periods of set apart time for us to spend time with God. Wildernesses are not the most fun places to be, they can be difficult and wearisome, but God still gives joy and He draws near in those times. This school is in the middle of literal wilderness and I feel so incredibly blessed that God is giving me several years to slow down the pace of this crazy world and go off to the "wilderness" to seek Him. My God is so good to give me this special set apart time just to listen to His voice and to learn.

So I don't know if my mind is any less jumbled, but one thing is clear: I have never heard God's voice so clear and without a doubt as I did when I was told that this was the place I was to go to school.

So sure, school is grueling. I'm going to have to learn how to die to myself more and more, and that won't be comfortable. But I feel peace knowing that I am at the center of God's will.

"Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass." (Psalm 37:3-7)

Monday, June 29, 2015

To My NCFCA Friends

Dear Fellow Competitors,

Five years ago when I was a shy, nervous and awkward twelve year old, doing speech and debate was the most challenging thing I had ever tried. I remember my first few tournaments. I didn't really know anybody and I had no friends there. I would have never dreamed that I would meet my very best friends in the whole world through speech and debate. I had no idea how much you guys would all mean to me. I had no idea that God would use you guys in my life so much. And I had no idea that saying goodbye to you all would be so incredibly hard.

I want to keep this brief or I know I'm going to start crying and I really don't feel like doing that right now. So thank you for the fellowship. Thank you for the crazy conversations we had when we were all tired. Thank you for the respectful arguments. Thank you for the joking around. Thank you for not thinking it was weird if I cried if I was having a hard day. Thank you for smiling at me when we walked past each other in the hallway. Thank you for praying with me outside of my room. Thank you for providing me with an incredible environment to grow in my skills, but also to grow in the Lord. Because of you, I've had the best years of my life. Some of you I got to know very well, others of you I had smaller, shorter interactions, but it doesn't really matter. All of you left an imprint on my life and you've given me so many memories that I'm never going to forget.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for changing my life, for showing me how to smile when I'm disappointed, to find fun and enjoyment even under pressure, for long talks late at night, for words of encouragement you offered and for all of the things that you guys taught me.

I know that you've been told countless times that you are going to make a difference in the world, let me join in and agree. I've seen how dedicated and passionate you are to what you believe in and I am convinced that God is going to use you all to make an impact on the world. You guys give me so much hope.

You are an incredible group of people and I cannot even begin to say how much I am going to miss all of you. Thank you so so so so much for your friendship, your competition, and for all the love and the memories that I'm going to have with me for the rest of my life.

Okay, maybe I am going to cry anyway. I hope you can see how much I mean the "thank-you's" amidst all of the emotional "sappyness" :) But may God bless you all as you continue to serve Him. Thank you for being the crazy, wonderful people that you are.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Look Up

Today the phrase “look up” came to my mind. So I decided to search the Bible for the phrase “look up” and there are only a handful of verses in the Bible that have that phrase, but there is one thing that they do have in common and symbolism behind m
any of the verses is just beautiful.

Here are the verses:
Gen_13:14 And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:

Psa_5:3 My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

Psa_40:12 For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.

Mar_8:25 After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly.

Luk_21:28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.

All of these verses have the context of darkness or evil holding you down, but then when you look up at Him, you find that freedom, that restoration.

In the example of Genesis 13:14, Abram and Lot had just dealt with a large servant disagreement/quarrel by parting ways. I'm sure that that was a physically and emotionally tolling time for Abram because dealing with conflict is basically, a lot of work. Dealing with conflict can cause your feet to begin to drag and it can make your head hang in
discouragement. But in this verse it says that after the two had separated ways, God said to Lot, “Lift up now thine eyes”. That phrase has a lot of significance! God is saying, stop looking down, stop looking down at yourself! (Interesting note, looking down at the ground or looking down often means looking down at one's self) So God told Abram, “Quit focusing on yourself and how you feel. Completely move on from what has happened and lift up your eyes and look at the place that I have given you.” The symbolism of this verse is very extraordinary, actually. When we are mired down in discouragement, it is so easy to look down and not look out at the promises that God has given us.

In the verse Psa_5:3 it says “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” Morning is the time of day that comes after nighttime. Morning and night have a lot of allegorical and spiritual properties to them as well. Morning is often used to describe a new beginning, a time when God's mercies are new and we have a fresh new chapter to begin with. Night is often considered a time of difficulty, temptation or evil and overall struggle. And so the psalmist specifically points out that we will hear His voice in the morning, after the night is over, calling us to look up, to turn away from our discouragement, to turn away from our fear, or temptation, our difficulties, and turn to Him. We will hear his voice and we will look up.

Mark 8 also paints another beautiful picture, illustrating the same concept. A blind man was brought to Jesus and those who brought him begged Him to lay His hands on the man and heal him. This man was living in physical darkness, trapped in a chasm with no light. Unable to walk about on his own, unable to see for himself, unable to see the light even if he wanted to. He was a prisoner in his own body, unable to get away. And Jesus spit upon his eyes and asked the man what he saw. The man replied that he could vaguely see moving objects but that they were very blurry and distorted. This could have discouraged both Jesus and the blind man, but it says “After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly.” Jesus had the man look up and his eyesight was restored so that he could see clearly. In the same way, as long as we are looking down at ourselves, we are blinded, caught up in ourselves, unable to see anything beyond us. And when Jesus guides our head to look up, we are restored so that we can see clearly. Looking up gives us a new perspective: rather than looking at ourselves, we look up into the face of God. And looking up into the face of God changes your perspective more than anything else.

In Luke 21, God talks about a time of persecution when Christians are hated, pursued, and cast out by society. Verse 26 says “Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” This sounds like a terrifying time for any Christian. A time that would press you and shake you down to the core, testing your endurance and trust in God. But verse 27-28 once
again highlights the beautiful theme that has run throughout all of these verse, that even in the midst of darkness when all we can think about is ourselves and our own problems, God gently turns our gaze upwards once again. “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” I don't need to add anything to that, because it says it right there.

There are many other verses that talk about lifting up your head, gazing up, etc. but these five verses that contain the phrase “look up” really fascinated me because of the similar idea that they all express with the very different and yet so eloquent analogies. They all remind us that when our circumstances want to pull us back or our sin or temptation want to mire us down, we are to look up – look up and be saved, redeemed, renewed, and given a fresh perspective on what matters more than all of our problems: God and His plan for our lives.