Favorite

This is going to be a short post, and I apologize, but this week was quite busy for me. =)

While I work a little harder at better time management, I really want to encourage you to read Philippians 3.  I quoted part of the chapter in my post last week, but the entire thing is actually incredibly encouraging and basically sums up what being a Christian is.

So grab your Bible and take a little time away from the computer screen.  I read this passage over and over and over and it never fails to encourage me and help set me back on track.

Life can get frustrating sometimes, and we can feel insufficient, unprepared, or doubtful.  But that’s why God gave us His word.  Maybe the passage that encourages you the most is found a completely different part of the Bible.  Sometime in the next few weeks, I’m going to do a post that revolves, in part, around Revelation 21:3-4, which is the favorite Scripture reference of one of my good friends.  It’s an incredibly beautiful and encouraging part of Scripture, but it’s also different from the one that encourages me most.

I think what really gets me about this every time is Paul’s HUGE amount of faith and determination.  He made some big statements.  He wouldn’t just be passively saying “Well, I guess I’ll trust God on this one.”

At one point, he says, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me- the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

Wow.  I consider my life worth nothing to me?  That’s a huge statement.  And it’s a lot of why I like Paul so much.

But what jumps out at you?  What encourages you?    I pray that you can find a verse that can encourage and inspire you as much as this passage does  to me.

Again, here is part of Philippians 3:

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)

Written on My Heart

“How can a young man [or woman] keep his way pure?  By living according to Your word.  I seek You with all my heart; do not let me stray from Your commands.  I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.”  Psalm 119:9-11

Everything that I write in this blog is based off of what I’ve learned from my life and from the Bible. If you read closely enough, you can probably guess which verses are my favorites.  But the Bible is meant to be more than an interesting collection of history or a quick reference as a source- it’s meant to guide our lives.  God told the Israelites to write His laws on their hearts and bind them around their necks.  We’re meant to keep His word close!

That being said, I wanted to share a few of my favorite verses with you.  Take your time- read them and really think about them.  It’s easy to skim through long Bible passages or little collections of verses (like this one), but this is one of the greatest ways that God talks to us.  And I find that I can almost always find something new in a verse that I’m looking at for what seems like the thousandth time.  No matter what, it will serve exactly the purpose that God wants it to, whether that be comfort, encouragement, strengthening, reminding, and sometimes even condemning.

The verses below have been God’s way of holding my hand and guiding me- of setting me back on the right path.  I hold them close to my heart and am working on memorizing the ones I don’t know already.  There’s a couple of really long ones, but that’s because it’s like my situation with that one chapter of Mere Christianity- I really just want to quote the whole thing.

So take a look!  How can you use these words from God in your daily life?  How can they encourage you, not only out of an upsetting time, but encourage you to action, as well?  How can they help make you more like Christ?  And these verses aren’t just random bits of greatness- their context is just as inspiring and helpful.  For example, Philippians 3:12-14 is one of my favorites, and I’ve memorized that bit, but I eventually want to memorize all of Chapter 3.  It’s all come to mean that much to me, and I want it written on my heart.

~

“Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins in proclaimed to you.  Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.  Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.”

Acts 13:38-41

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to hurt you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.’”

Jeremiah 29:11-13

“So keep up the courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as He told me.”

Acts 27:25

“It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

1 Corinthians 13:7-8a

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:12-14

And lastly (for now), Romans 8:28-39:

“I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me- the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

Acts 20:23,24

“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.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.

“What, then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all- how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus, who died- more than that, who was raised to life- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shal trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: ‘For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Over and Over

Fear.  It’s pretty intense, and I do my best to avoid it altogether.  The New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”  I’d like to summarize it as just an unpleasant emotion caused by a belief that something is impending.

I’ve commented several times on how last year was a difficult or bad one for me.  I definitely took on way too much, but towards the end of the year, I realized what had been driving most of the difficulty.  I was really afraid.  I was terrified of the future, or of what was “impending.”

I had a lot of good experiences last year- getting a great internship, hiking in a beautiful area, and living in one of the nicest places on campus.  Those things were great, and I wish I had appreciated them more.  But instead of sitting back and praising God during such situations as the Leonid meteor shower, I was worrying.  I was afraid in my deepest core.

I later jotted down a few of the questions that heavily flooded my thought process.

“Why am I…?  Why don’t I…?  What if …?  What if…?  What if…?  What about when …?”  The questions didn’t get me anywhere- they only fed the fear.

I think it’s because of this that, as I’ve been told, “Do not fear” is the most common command in the Bible.  DO NOT FEAR.

Easier said than done, and maybe that’s why we needed to be told so much.  God said it over and over in the Old Testament to the Israelites as they went through some tough, tough times.  We know that when God exiled the Israelites somewhere, or had them roam the desert for 40 years, or let Joseph wind up in a well while his brothers plotted his doom, that everything was going to work out fine.  I think we often forget that these things happened in real time.  It wasn’t just a few pages in a book.  It was real life often for years at a time.

Isaiah 43 is a great example of this.  The passage I’m about to reference is bookended by passages scolding Israel for being “unfaithful,” “blind,” and “deaf.”  In the midst of all this, God says “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine,” and “Do not be afraid, for I am with you” within five verses.

Then Jesus repeats the same command over and over again in the New Testament!

Obviously, and unfortunately, we can’t eliminate fear on our own.  But what’s really exciting is that the Bible explicitly tells us how we can do so.  The Bible doesn’t always tell us exactly what we should do in that tricky relationship, how exactly we should go about telling our parents some news that they don’t want to hear, what exactly we should wear, or a number of other things.

What we do get from God’s word is: “DO NOT FEAR.”  And in the seemingly inevitable event that we do become afraid?  There it is in 1 John 4: “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear.”  And in the same chapter, to further clarify, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (all emphasis added)

Perfect love drives out fear.

I know.  At some point this summer, after months of praying for wisdom and peace, I realized that I wasn’t scared anymore.  I was working at a wonderful summer camp, and on the last night, we often show a video presentation with pictures from the week.  I almost always cry, but for different reasons.  I was bracing myself for a good cry because that camp is truly my happy place and I didn’t want to let the peace that I’d found in that week go.

Then I realized that something was a little strange.  I was going to miss camp, but I wasn’t scared of letting it go.  I wasn’t scared to leave the place where I knew I was happy and content and to go out into the unknown future.  What ifs weren’t bothering me.

“That was maybe the most content I’d felt in my life and there was NO FEAR.  Probably because God’s perfect love had driven it out,” I explained later.  “I’m sitting here now and I’m not scared.  I can’t tell you how good that feels.  I’m ready to charge into life and go where God wants me.  I’m not afraid.  I’m not afraid of [all of the things that hurt me so much before].

“It’s entirely possible that God is prepping me for what is going to be the worst year of my life.  But I truly don’t believe that I’m just on a ‘retreat high.;  This isn’t in my head.  It’s in my heart.  So even if this year makes last year look like a walk in the park… I’ve got the wonderful love of my blessed Redeemer way down in the depths of my heart.”

I’ve got good friends who will listen to me talk about my life for a long time. =)

Is fear holding you back?  Are you afraid of death, or change, or loneliness, or abandonment, or failure?  Are you scared of the unknown, distressed by the uncertain impending? God’s perfect love is the only thing that can truly, truly eliminate it.  I’m sinful, and I know that fear will probably sneak back into my life.  It has already tried.

(It’s sneaky!  You’ll be thinking, “Oh, I’m just a little anxious because of blahblahblah,” or “I’m worried that suchnsuch will…”  My preferred example came when I missed an opportunity to talk to a friend that I won’t get to see for a while.  I was pretty upset, and was about to say “I’m just scared that I won’t get to talk to them for a really long time.”  I only got through “I’m just sca-“ when I realized what I was saying.  It wasn’t a blatant thought of, “I’m displaying fear now, which God told me not to do, because I’m concerned about the occurrence of something that isn’t certainly happening.  I’m going to let it keep me from being content and purposeful in my current circumstances.”)

I know that fear doesn’t have to be there.  It’s one of those things you just have to keep reminding yourself of and to bury deep deep deep in your heart.

“Do not be afraid… O little Israel, for I Myself will help you,” declares the Lord in Isaiah 41.

And hear God’s word, coming from John 14, shortly before Jesus’ death on the cross: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

p.s. There’s a great song by the band NEEDTOBREATHE called “Something Beautiful,” and it was my heartfelt prayer when I recognized what a huge role fear had started playing in my life.  Here’s the music video!

What are the odds?!

What was the chance that a New York woman would win the $1 million lottery prize twice?  1 in 3,669,120,000,000, according to the Associated Press.

What are the odds that you’ll be struck by lightning? 1 in 280,000, says the National Lightning Safety Institute.

What is the chance of becoming a celebrity, particularly one leading a double life?  One in a million, figures Hannah Montana.

We often look at things that seem outlandish or far-reaching and marvel at the chances.  Or we worry and Google how likely it is that certain bad things, like plane crashes or lightning strikes, will happen to us.  But in doing so, we overlook some of the more simple things and take them for granted.

What’s the probability that I’ll wake up tomorrow morning?

How likely am I to receive an encouraging hug sometime this week?

What are the chances that I’ll feel content three months from now?

The thing that really got me going on this whole topic struck me when I was walking around campus one day.  People often walk in groups with their friends, and every once in a while, you’ll get stuck behind some adorable couple holding hands.  I started pondering about one particular couple in front of me and was struck by how many things would have to work together in order for them to be a couple.

This, of course, led me to think about the probability, or lack thereof, of forming any positive relationships at all.

“How do people become friends?!” I later asked one of my best friends.

“Uhhhh…” he started.

“First of all, you have to like that person.  You have to be willing to accept their personality and not mind their faults.  You have to be able to talk to one another.  You have to have something in common,” I started ranting.  I think he was starting to laugh at me at this point.

“And THEN,” I said anxiously, “they have to like you back!”

My mother was less impressed when I shared my marvelous discovery with her.  “It’s not all chances and probability,” she said, reminding me- God has every second of our lives planned out.  If he doesn’t want something to happen, it won’t happen.

If I wasn’t meant to be as close with my former roommate as I am, she would have been incredibly annoyed with my constant singing and humming (as opposed to eventually joining in).  What are the chances that we’d share so many of the same interests and that we’d be able to have the wonderful hours-long chats that we do?  Who knows?  You can’t really put numbers and ratios on a specific plan that God has.

So I suppose it doesn’t matter what the chances are.  I could have a terrible chance of getting a scholarship that will help me pay my way through school.  But if God wants me at a particular school, chances and odds will be thrown by the wayside and it will happen.

This is a little bit alarming at first.  If something that we consider “bad” is going to happen, it is 100% going to happen, and there’s not much we can do about it.

But what I’ve found encouraging is that looking at these probabilities is a wonderful reminder of our all-powerful, all-knowing God.  There’s no odds or chances with Him.  There’s just truth and there’s just trust.

A popular song that I love has been playing frequently on the radio lately.  The lyrics speak of a man who is waiting to find the love of his life.  And he’s excited about it!

The second verse starts:

“I might have to wait, I’ll never give up.

I guess it’s half timing, and the other half’s luck.

Wherever you are, whenever it’s right,

you’ll come out of nowhere and into my life.”

I’m always changing lyrics to songs so I can sing them to fit my life a little better (it drives my sister crazy.  One band’s song about a “first kiss” becomes “We can never get too much of all of our Savior’s love, and if I had it my way, we would all give thanks and say ‘Wooo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oooo.’”  I really like the “woo” part, but none of the other original words.)

Anyway, I always change the aforementioned popular song to say something along the lines of, “I guess it’s half timing, and the other half’s trust.”  I know it sounds like I don’t know the words, but I agree with half of the sentence and not the other.  It’s definitely partially timing- just not mine.  And it- whatever it is- isn’t happening haphazardly or as some random collision.  It’s happening because the creator of the universe decided it would.  And I need to trust that He’s got it right.  He got me out of bed this morning.  And through about two decades of life.  And into college. And into different exciting opportunities.  And into the wonderful circles of friends and family that I have, whose unconditional love and support made me ponder the probability of them liking me at all, much less that much.

He’s got it all worked out.

So what’s the probability that God’s good and perfect plan for our lives will be put into action? 100%.  What’s the probability that I’ll always trust Him?  Mmm, it’s significantly smaller.  But I should.  And it’s really comforting to know that I can.

Welcome Back!

Welcome BACK, everyone!  I had a great summer break- got in some work, some relaxing, and a good deal of thinking (of course)- and I hope you had a wonderful break as well.

I’m very excited about the things that we’re going to share together over the next few months.  There’s little notes all over the place with post ideas that I came up with at random times.  Here’s a very vague preview: Odds, Shot, Arms, and Addition.  I definitely don’t have the next six months or so planned out, but those are little hints of some of the things that God has taught me recently.

One of my dearest friends told me a little while ago that she has a theme verse for this year, her first year of college.  It’s Isaiah 43:18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  God is talking to the Israelites here, but we can still find hope in these words today!

Last year was not a good year for me.  I struggled with a huge amount of fear, though perhaps not in the sense that you may immediately think.  I’ll post about it later.  Anyway, it was a difficult time and while I’m glad to have grown from the experience, I’m very glad that it is over.  And not only is it over- a new, amazing thing has begun!

Now, I’m not really sure that the Israelites were kicking off a new school year and God jumped in and announced that this was a time for something new.  Maybe you’re not in school, or maybe last year was great for you and it’s looking like this is going to be another awesome year.  To top things off, fall isn’t thought of as much of a season of growth and new beginnings.  Rather, it’s the time that things die.  But sometimes things need to die so that something can grow.  And new births and beginnings or not, fall is a new season.

Every day is another opportunity for us to not only receive blessings from a God who loves us tremendously (earlier in the same chapter of Isaiah He says, “You are precious and honored in My sight, and… I love you”), but to love Him right back and bring glory to Him.

I don’t have to dwell on the pain or trials of last year, or even of yesterday, because I have a lot to look forward to.  So do you!

Let me know if you have any prayer requests for this year, whether it’s related to school or not!  I love hearing from readers through both email and comments, so feel free to write either.  Have a great day!