The Lord Has Brought Me Safe Thus Far

Somehow this year absolutely flew by and now I’m sitting looking at it in retrospect.

For as much as I enjoy reflecting and considering what I’ve learned from the past, I’m learning more and more to look forward to the future.  2011 is going to hold some big changes for me and those close to me.  As I said last year around this time, I don’t know exactly what’s coming throughout the year, but I know that God is in control of whatever it is.

That brings me to my New Year’s Resolution.  I typically don’t make resolutions, but rather try to resolve to do something whenever I first realize that it needs doing.  I don’t think we need to wait for a new start.  But this “new start” of a year is timed quite perfectly for my 2011 Resolution: “TO NOT FEAR, but rather TO TRUST GOD.”

I’m also planning on exercising more and working hard at school, but “the resolution” eclipses my other plans.  Trusting God over embracing fear has been a big theme in my life lately, and I suppose that it is indeed something that I have resolved to do.  I’ve decided and I’m willing and ready to work for it.  I’m in this to win this! (As always, this inspiration here comes from Philippians 3.)

What do you need to do in your spiritual life?  I’m planning on praying more about areas on my life on which God wants me to set my mind and heart to work.  And like I said, we don’t only have to do this once a year!

I love the hymn “Amazing Grace,” particularly the last verse, but the two verses below have been very poignant and moving to me lately:

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far
and grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

According to a couple of books about early evangelism and the song itself, “Amazing Grace” was first used in a congregational meeting on January 1, 1773.  (I just learned this today!)  I like to kick of my new year with a song (surprising, right?) and I think this year, this will be my song.

Welcome, 2011!  I can’t wait to see what God has in store.

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More than a Story

I’m sometimes slightly terrified by the power of technology today.  I was emailing my mom from my iPod one day when I realized just how insane my actions were.  I was pushing an entirely flat surface, and somehow the particular places that I was pushing were forming words, and somehow those words were traveling to another entirely flat screen (within seconds!) for her to read.  Crazy, crazy stuff.

Well, someone decided to mix such craziness with the story of Christmas, and this video is the result.

It’s an interesting take.  I think that this same organization does a lot of different twists of the Christmas story, perhaps to try to connect with a variety of groups.

But I was thinking as I was watching this video: the coming of Christ, exactly as it happened, was incredible.

Somehow it hadn’t occurred to me until a few months ago that at one point, Jesus Christ was inside a small mass of cells.  I always think of baby Jesus in the manger, and how humbling being in a manger was, but I forget that Mary probably wasn’t just pregnant with nothing for nine months.  There was Someone inside of her in very, very tiny form.  That’s just mind-blowing to me.

The first time I saw “The Polar Express,” I cried.  It doesn’t take much for me to cry in movies, but this time probably appeared especially ridiculous.  There’s a part in the film where Santa takes off in his sleigh in the midst of lots of sparkling lights, a gigantic and beautiful Christmas tree, and a LOT of cheering elves and some children.  The graphics in the film are amazing, so this scene is particularly incredible- enough so, apparently, to move me to tears.

But here’s what was behind the emotion: God did so many more amazing things in one chapter of the Bible than Santa could dream of doing in a whole movie.  And He’s still doing those amazing things today.   He’s been behind troubled people’s songs of joy for centuries.  He’s been creating what we ignorantly call “coincidences” for millennia.  “For nothing is impossible with God.”

Christ’s coming is more than just a Christmas “story”- it’s an incredible expression of love.  Sometimes it doesn’t really hit you until you go back to His word and you read how long people waited, how many promises His coming fulfilled, how faithful Mary was, and so much more.  The verses below are one way of summing it up:

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will called him Immanuel- which means, “God with us.”’”

– Matthew 1:22-23

God with us.

Have a very merry Christmas, everyone. =)

In Christ Alone

I love going camping.  I love the quiet.  I love when I’m up late studying or finishing something, and there’s only one light on, and it’s just quiet. If I disturb the silence, it’s with a very soft prayer or an equally soft song.  I have a little list of songs that I play for such situations- soft, slow ones like Mika’s “Over My Shoulder.”

But I this one of my favorite peaceful additions to silence is a cappella.  I always lobby for a cappella whenever we’re singing around a campfire or something like that.  There’s something beautiful about the purity of just our voices.

Today I had one of those little quiet moments.  I was sitting in my bed, fiddling with something, and thinking about my “Why I’m a Christian” series.  And then I was singing.

“In Christ alone, my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song.
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace!
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease-
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, who took on flesh;
Fullness of God in helpless Babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.

‘Til on that cross, as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied,
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay;
Light of the world by darkness slain.
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again.

And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me.
From a life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand.

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand.”

I think that song beautifully sums up what my faith really is about.  It’s amazing to know that God heard me singing every word to Him. =)

I hope you enjoyed my little series- let me know if you have any questions or comments!  For those of you making your way through finals week, I’m praying for you!  Try to take a little quiet time in the midst of your studying and paper writing and just remember and praise.  So much has been done for you . You are so loved.  Have a wonderful end of the semester!  And for everyone else, have a wonderful end of the week!

p.s. Adam Young (the musician and the adorable behind “Owl City”) is also quite taken with this song.  Check out his blog post about it- he did a late-night recording of the song and posted it along with a beautiful post.  His blog is an amazingly inspiring and an encouraging one to read!

… Because I Want to Be Made New

“When I made up my mind, and my heart along with that

To live not for myself, but yet for God, somebody said,

‘Do you know what you are getting yourself into?’”

–  Relient K

I majored in psychology because I want to help people.  And I really enjoyed AP Psychology and found it fascinating.  That is why I became a psych major.  Two simple reasons.

Today I gave a presentation to a group from the lab that I work in detailing a study that I have been working on with a graduate student researcher for the past four months.  I had to write a literature review explaining what research had already been done on the topic, describe the study in detail, and then explain the results of our statistical analysis and other things we gleaned from the study.  The months leading up to this presentation were filled with data coding, presenting for the study, calling potential participants, reviewing tapes, and running statistical analyses.

Next year, I’m going to have to do something similar, except that the research will be from an idea that I developed and will culminate in a thesis, which may or may not be 50 pages long.  Then I’m going to go to grad school and write a master’s thesis and a dissertation, and do a clinical internship.

When I said that I wanted to be a psych major, I did not know what I was getting myself into.

I became a Christian when I was four.  Life was pretty simple then, and once more, I did not know what I was getting myself into.  I knew that God loved me, and that only He could truly forgive my sins.  I knew that I wanted Him to be a part of my life.  But I suppose you can’t truly see all that He’s going to do until He does it.

It would be one thing if being a Christian were just judging everybody and acting like you’re better than everyone when you’re actually extremely hypocritical, which is how many Christians are portrayed on television.

But being a Christian is actually hard work.  It’s challenging.  But it’s effective.  As you probably know if you frequently read my blog, one of my most favorite Bible verses comes from Philippians 3 and reads, “Not that I have already obtained all this or 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.”

I’m a work in progress.

The Relient K song that I quoted at the beginning of this post continues, “When I finally ironed out all of my priorities, and asked God to remove the doubt that makes me so unsure of these things I ask myself, I asked myself: do you know what you are getting yourself into?”

I still haven’t ironed out all of my priorities- there are definitely times when God should be at the forefront of a decision I’m making and He isn’t.  But like I said, I’m learning and I’m growing.  I can see the effects of His work in my life- I’m less sarcastic, I’m more forgiving, I’m not crippled with fear whenever I think of my future.  And it seems like the more I accomplish, the more I realize is left to be done.

It’s daunting to think that I’ll never be perfect the entire time that I’m on this earth.  It’s frightening to think of all of the things that are wrong with me.  I always say that it’s a good thing that God doesn’t show us all of our flaws at once, because that would be incredibly overwhelming and depressing.  But it’s encouraging to think that the Creator of the universe is invested enough in little me to not only make me better, but to use me for His perfect plan even while I’m still incredibly messed up.

Sometimes it helps to try to look at it from God’s perspective.  Suppose you write a book and you fill it with amazing illustrations and the most beautiful story of all time.  Then someone breaks in, changes a bunch of the words around, rather corrupting the story, and scribbles all over the pictures and hovers the book over the fire, threatening to drop it in and destroy it forever.  You jump into the fire, saving the book from a terrible fate.  You survive what the book would not have, but the book itself is still in a very sorry state.

At face value, it isn’t worth much.  But over time, you fix bits of the story back to the way they were supposed to be.  You smooth out the crumpled corners of the fragile pages.  You perfectly erase the deep marks across the illustrations.  It’s a trying process, for you and the book.  (Let’s suppose it’s terribly painful to have words moved around.  It’s like dragging a splinter from one part of your body to another to move a word.)

The book can still share the fixed part of its story, even as you work out the rest of its flaws.  Its useful, and as you work, more and more of it becomes clear, as you intended, and useful.  But it’s not easy.

At one point in their song, Relient K switches from the perspective of the Christian to the perspective of God, singing: “I love you, and that’s what you are getting yourself into.”

I’m a Christian because someone, namely Christ, loved me enough to save me and work to make me new, even when it hurts and even when I resist.  I can see it happening, as I mentioned before.  And I know it can’t be me.  As much as I sometimes want to say that I powered through something or that I could probably handle everything on my own, I know that I can’t. God does things that are blatantly out of my control, and they’re things that make me better.

What have I gotten myself into with this refining fire?  The unending love of a forgiving and loving Savior who is making everything new.  And as it says in Revelation 21, “these words are trustworthy and true.”

… Because I am Weak

I am a Christian because… I am weak.

One of the many criticisms that I’ve heard of Christianity is that it is a “crutch” for people who just can’t handle the world on their own.  But I’d like to suggest that we all can’t handle the world on our own.

I’m posting this a little later than usual today because I have had a ridiculous amount of tests and papers and projects due- they’ve had me running all over campus and not sleeping enough, but also been rather thought-provoking.  (Then again, this is me that we’re talking about.  I find pretty much everything to be thought-provoking).

But let me give you some examples.  I’m taking Anatomy and Physiology right now, and we study each of the body systems and discuss how they work.  The last slide of the lecture notes is usually the same- it’s about the development of the system.  My professor discusses how the system develops prenatally and in infancy, and then includes some information about how the system changes throughout the lifespan.  I’ve grown to almost dread these last few slides because they always end with a description of how the system falls apart as we get older.  Our senses weaken… our muscles shrink… we essentially gradually fall apart, which would be incredibly depressing if that was all that we had- if there was nothing else to live for.

So physically, we are weak.

My other example comes from the paper that I wrote for my dance seminar.  (Do you like how random the classes I’m taking are, compared to one another?  I’m a girl of many interests that don’t always obviously go together.)  We had to write about what aspects of our culture, society, and heritage influence our dance.  I brought up how prevalent technology seems to be, but then pointed out that a good part of the world’s population doesn’t have access to iPods and Facebook accounts.  Even though we’re not connected with them through the Internet, all of us that are healthily functioning have the joint human experience of emotion.  (I went on to talk about how the effects of emotion on dance.)

We’re not invincible.  We get hurt emotionally just as we do physically, and experience emotional pain just as we do physical pain.  We’re weak.

One popular artist wrote a song called “Forever,” in which he says in the chorus, “It may not mean nothin’ to ya’ll, but understand nothing was done for me.  And I don’t plan on stopping at all, I want this [stuff] forever.”

I, of course, change a whole bunch of the words, but in particular change part of the chorus to “understand much has been done for me.”  I didn’t control what family I was born into or how intelligent I am or who my friends are.  When you think about it, we have control over very little.  I work in an infant studies lab where one of our studies involves children choosing between one of two toys.

We always tell the toddlers that they’ve made “a lot of hard decisions!”  For them, it just might have been.  They had to come and sit and watch a perhaps boring presentation and then make a bunch of choices!  Yes, they got to choose the toy, but the researcher set the toy in front of them.  Their parents brought them into the lab.  They couldn’t have made their “hard decision” if they hadn’t been helped.

The same goes for us.  We think we’ve got it together- we think we worked things out just because God didn’t appear in a dramatic puff of smoke and switch things around in a physical form right before our eyes.

It’s definitely reassuring to know that someone who loves me is in control and is carrying out a plan that is good.  It’s actually reassuring to acknowledge that I am weak.  But being a Christian isn’t just about weakness; it’s about finding strength in Christ.  His strength is so much more than our own, regardless of how strong we think we are.

As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 9, “[God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.