All my sins are stones

Last night I was driving back to Virginia from visiting my family for Thanksgiving, and out of the blue, God’s grace hit me. It made me tear up and smile all at the same time. I’ve heard about it a million times, and I’ve been trying to force myself to accept it, but yesterday it just happened.I wasn’t even trying, I wasn’t even really looking for it, but there it was.

There is a song by John Mark McMillan called Sins are Stones. I’ve heard it probably 15 times, and I’ve sang along with it, but yesterday I took the time to actually listen to the words. McMillan is a master of imagery, in my humble opinion, and in this song it’s pretty evident that he’s a lyrical genius,  “All our sins are stones in the bottom of your oceans. And all our filthy stains have been washed away.” As soon as I heard these words, I just got this picture in my mind of God taking all of my sins, my lust and greed and jealousy, and He looks at them one by one. Then He takes each of them and ties them to giant rocks and puts them in a boat. He gets in the boat with them and sails out to the middle of the ocean and one by one He drops them in and watches as they sink below the waves, down to the depths of the ocean floor, never to be seen again, and suddenly it feels like I have new life. I feel lighter… more free.

I had been sitting in my car, driving the back roads in condemnation mode, and when I least expected it, God’s grace and love filled my lungs. Am I a sinner? Yes! Am I going to continue to fall short? Yes! But the beauty of it is that even when I stumble and fall, God is taking my sin, tying it to a stone, and throwing it in the ocean. He is washing away all the filthy stains that my sins cause. Not that I now have license to go and sin, but instead when I do, I will not be overwhelmed and crippled by guilt, I can accept God’s grace and forgiveness. I still strive for righteousness, but when my humanity overwhelms me and I fail, God covers me in His love and not only forgives me but He erases the sins of my past from His memory. I am free. “By the blood of a son, I have overcome the grave.”

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Trust

Come with me to a time and place very very very long ago. The scene is a dessert… the characters are Abraham, his wife, and God. God makes Abraham a promise, a promise that went against logic. He promised Abraham a son. This might not seem very far fetched, but you see Abraham was around 100 years old, and his was wife was not only old, but she had never been able to bare a child before. You would think that this would be the part where Abraham would doubt God’s promises, but something incredible happens and he doesn’t. This man trusts that God is a God who keeps His promises.

Romans 4:20-21 says, “No unbelief or distrust made him waver (doubtingly question) concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong and was empowered by faith as he gave praise and glory to God, fully satisfied and assured that God was able and mighty to keep His word and do what He had promised.” Despite the “facts”, Abraham never lost faith. He trusted God, and trusted that He was able and mighty to keep His word. The really cool part, at least the cool part for us, comes in verse 23. In verse 22 it says that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness, and then 23 says, “But [the words], it was credited to him, were written not for his sake alone, but [they were written] for our sakes too. [Righteousness, standing acceptable to God] was granted and credited to us also who believe in (trust in, adhere to, and rely on) God, who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” So, in other words, when we trust in God no matter what is going on in our life, He credits that to us as righteousness.

Abraham had times where he really trusted in God no matter what. After his son was born God told him to go sacrifice Isaac, and Abraham agreed to do it. He started up the mountain, son and fire wood in tow, he had his son ready to go. That takes real trust. He had to trust that God had promised him that He was going to make him the father of many nations, and that couldn’t happen if his only son was killed. So he trusted that God was going to provide another way. And what do you know, God says, “Stop! See that ram over there? I want you to use that instead of your son.” Abraham trusted, and God provided a way!

I need to learn to apply this in my own life. No matter what is going on, no matter how broken I feel, or lost things seem, my God is able and mighty to keep His word! I don’t have to be afraid. I don’t have to wonder. I don’t have to be filled with unbelief and distrust, I can be fully satisfied in Him, and in His promises. That is the place I want to live, in the land of peace and trust and satisfaction.

fear no more

Fear is a crippling emotion, that is sent straight from satan himself. He uses this emotion to manipulate us and manipulate the way we perceive reality. He tries to make us believe that there are things in life that are worthy of our fear, but God tells us the opposite. God says, “Do not fear, for I am with you. I’m going to strengthen you and hold you up. I have not give you a spirit of fear, but of love instead, because love is the opposite of fear.” And yet, we allow fear to overtake us.

This is an emotion that I know all too well, an emotion that has often gotten in the way of relationships and of opportunities that God has had for me. For the past few months I’ve felt so much freedom from this emotion, I’ve felt God’s peace overwhelm my heart and my life. But just like with other struggles, sometimes it tries to come back and rear it’s ugly head, and last night was one of those times. I was sitting in a starbucks, waiting for Monday night bible study to start, feeling a little down and a little overwhelmed by my fears. But then I did something different than what I used to do, I searched God’s word to find things that were good and pure lovely, things that would speak truth into the deepest parts of my heart. This is when I came upon 2 Timothy 1:7, which says “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well balanced mind and discipline and self-control.” I knew this verse by heart, I memorized it in song form when I was a kid, but who would have thought all these years later these would be the words I would need the most.

The fear I felt was not of God, nor was it reality. It was based on something non existent. Instead, reality is that God has given me power to overcome my struggles and fears. He has given me a spirit of love, which means that fear cannot exist. He has given me a calm and well balanced mind. He has given me discipline and self-control. What new freedom that brings, what an amazing promise that is. I don’t have to live in fear. The end. No ifs, ands, or buts, I live in love.

The Old is Gone

Elaine has a really comfy couch in her office, and the lights are soft and dim, so I don’t feel like I’m being interrogated by the police. I feel at home and at ease in the tiny room, and it makes it easier to open up to her. She has pictures hanging on the walls, and books lining every shelf. It feels like organized chaos, which is a lot like my life, so naturally I feel comfortable there. She’s a more soft spoken lady, and she is teaching me to embrace and appreciate silence, instead of rushing to fill the “dead” air.It’s a lesson I need to learn.

Last night I sat on her comfy little couch, and started sharing my insecurities and fears. Feelings of rejection, of not being enough for people. Fears that in the end, most people leave.

“What do you think the root of these are Sarah?”

“I honestly don’t know,” I said, trying to rack my brain.

“Think back, think back to even when you were just a kid,” she said.

“Well,”I paused for a second and then said, “there was this friendship I had when I was in elementary and middle school. Have you ever heard the phrase, two is company and three is a crowd? Well, that was my life. I was friends with these two girls, and we were “best friend”, at least I thought we were. But I quickly discovered that I was often left being the one on the outside. It left me feeling lonely and inadequate, even jealous. As a kid, I didn’t realize that’s what I was feeling, but I can see it now. That was my first experience feeling like that, but it wasn’t my last.”

“I’m sorry that happened to you, I know that’s a hard thing to experience at a young age,” She said, her tone filled with kindness and compassion.

“Yeah, I guess I’ve experienced that a few times. I have the tendency to be the pursuer in my friendships, at least a lot of the time. I think I see a lot of my relationships through the lens of that 10 year old who was left out, and I don’t know how to change that.”

We sat in silence for a moment, then Elaine said, “Sarah you have to remember, you aren’t that 10 year old anymore. You are a 23 year old woman, with a full time job, and a busy life overflowing with people. You have to change your filter. You are different than you were before.”

That was an “ah ha” moment for me. She was right, I’m not 10 anymore, and I am certainly not who I was then. God has changed me, and made me new. He took me on a journey to bring me closer to Himself. I’ve experienced joy and heartbreak. I’ve experienced freedom and pain. I’ve got to change my filter.

I think most people have the tendency of doing this. We have a bad experience with a professor, so we automatically assume that most professors are that way, so we go into our interactions with with the filter that says, “I’m going to hate this, and I’m going to leave angry.” Or we date a jerk, so every time we go into a relationship, we have that filter, and we might just think, “they are probably going to be a jerk.” We allow the pain of the past to keep us from joy in the present. We aren’t who we used to be. We aren’t the high school girl with self-esteem issues anymore. We aren’t the 15 year old kid who got picked last on every team. You see, God is doing something new. He is changing us and creating us into someone who looks more like Him. So as we grow closer to Him, we change. And as we change we have to switch our lens. We can no longer live in the yesterdays, but instead embrace the todays and tomorrows with joy and passion, remembering “I am not who I was.”

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!”
-2 Corinthians 5:17

Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough

A few years ago I experienced my first real heartbreak. I had been dating this guy, I thought I loved him and that he loved me. I thought we were going to be together forever and I was sure that he was who I was supposed to be with. I was young and stupid, and I think I drank the christian university koolaid. The common theme at school is, “you must get married as soon as possible, so hurry up and find your husband before you shrivel up at the ripe old age of 22″. As a young and impressionable freshmen I bought that line of crazy, so when I met Garrett and he made me laugh I fell for him. At first everything was great, we had so much fun together and we enjoyed one another. But we made a mistake. We got too serious, too fast and the result wasn’t pretty.

As I mentioned earlier, I was young and stupid, so I got pretty attached pretty quickly, which I know now was a rookie mistake. Instead of concentrating on developing our friendship, we concentrated on figuring out when we could get married. Even writing those words made me cringe. They say hindsight is 20/20 and I simply couldn’t agree more. I was in wedding la-la land, and so I didn’t even notice when he began to pull away. The idea of breaking up wasn’t a thought that had ever crossed my mind, but I look back now, and the signs were all there. There came a point where he just stopped caring about me, and it showed. I’m not sure how I missed it, but I did. He stopped caring, and I started trying to make him care more. It was a disaster.

There is a theory in communications called the punctuation theory. It means that we believe that communication and relationship begins and ends with us. So, for example a woman nags her husband because she thinks he is withdrawing, so he withdraws more, so she nags him more and he withdraws more, and so on and so forth. It’s this awful cycle, and we don’t even realize it’s happening. That was me. I nagged, he withdrew, so I nagged more, and well, you get the picture. In the end we ended. In the end, he didn’t really care like I thought he did. And in the end, my heart broke. But you know what, that’s ok! Heartbreak is a part of life, and break-ups happen. People change, they aren’t always who you thought they were, and that’s ok. But I can’t pretend that back then, it didn’t hurt. But like God always does, he used the pain and turned it into something beautiful.

That whole situation started my journey towards a loving God. I already knew who God was at this point, but this journey showed me how loving he really was. You see, God knows and wants what is best for us. Sometimes, that means we have to experience painful things, which isn’t what He wants but in the words of Relient K, “the end will justify the pain it took to get us there.” There are lessons that can only be learned through the pain, and sometimes to free us from what isn’t from God it’s got to hurt.

One day, I was driving on the local highway thinking about all God had taught me that year. I do some of my deepest thinking in the car. I was thinking about how if I had stayed with Garrett, life probably would have been ok, it would have been good enough I suppose, but my God loves me SO much that good enough wasn’t good enough. He wanted something better for me. He wanted me to live a life for Him that exceeds any expectations I might have. He loved me enough to not give me what I wanted in favor of whatever it is that He has for me. God has placed some crazy, awesome, and ambitious desires in my heart, and if I stayed with G, I think those things would have been seriously hindered. It would have been easy to fall into what is comfortable and become complacent in an ordinary life. But I was created for extraordinary. I was created for more than just comfort. I am confident that God wants to use me for something big, and in order to do that He had to take away what was good enough so I could have what is great.

Don’t settle for what is just enough, because God wants more for you than that. I’ve seen that over and over again in my life in so many different ways. God takes away what I think is good to give me what is better, and He is doing that for you in your life today. Embrace what is best, for it is the best thing to do.

 

Who He Is

I am constantly learning more about the character of my God. He isn’t who I used to think He was, He’s bigger, and more loving. He wants good things for my life, He wants to use me and set me free from the bondage that enslaves me. He is strong and loves justice. He is kind and loves mercy and showers me in grace. He is Yahweh Yireh, my provider. He sees my needs and meets them above and beyond any expectation I might have. He provides in big and small ways, but He always comes through. Not always how I expect, but that is part of the beauty of it. He is my Yahweh Nissi, or my banner. This means that He fights for us, for our freedom! He is the source of our victory. He is constantly fighting on our behalf, to bring us closer to  Him and to keep the devil from stealing us from Him. He is jealous over us and protects us as a shepherd protects his sheep. He is Yahweh Shalom, our peace and comfort. In times of distress or confusion, His presence stills my soul. He is Yahweh Shammah, which means the Lord is there. In moments of loneliness, in moments of fear, He is there. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He goes before us leading the way to everlasting life in peaceful eternity with Him. This is our God. He is all of these to all of His children. As I think on who He is,  and as I fill my mind with the life giving characteristics of God, I can’t help but smile. I am overwhelmed by who Him, by how much He loves me. Isn’t that an amazing thought? He loves us. The creator of the universe loves us fully, completely, and unconditionally. I must often remind myself of these things, lest I forget and allow myself to be bogged down by life. It’s easy to forget that God is my banner, and is fighting on my behalf on those days that I feel especially attacked by the devil, and by my weaknesses. When rent is due, and I hardly have any gas in my tank and I don’t get paid for a few days, it’s hard to see that He is Yahweh Yireh. But He is, and when I dwell on those things, my life is at rest and I can breathe in a giant sigh of relief. I bring to mind His goodness, and His mercy and love, and in those moments I am made free. The chains of self doubt and condemnation are broken, and lens through which I see life changes. We are free, we are loved, and no one, and I mean no one, can take that away.
“For I am persuaded beyond doubt (am sure) that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things impending and threatening, nor things to come, nor powers. Nor neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

Forget the Former Things

I love those moments, where something happens in your life, that reminds you that you aren’t who you used to be. That moment where you realize that slowly but surely, you are changing and God is doing something in your life. I had that moment a few days ago. I had found out some news that at first had me feeling a little discouraged. It’s easy for me to get into self-condemnation mode, where I pick myself apart, and list off all the reasons why I am probably the worst. I basically seek the reasons why people probably don’t really like me very much. So usually when something happens that seems to “confirm” that I’m not enough, I go into emotional autopilot and I allow a damper to be put on my day. I whine, and complain, and pout and the lies begin to seep in. But this time was different. I had the words “don’t accept lies” echoing in my mind, so when I began to hear, “It’s because there is something wrong with you. If you were better, they wouldn’t have done this.” I was able to fight it, and block it. Instead of reacting like I normally would, I began to dwell on things that were good, and pure, and lovely. Instead of going into panic mode, I felt a peace wash over me. I remembered the times that God had provided for me in the past, and it reminded me that He would absolutely provide for me again in this present “trial”. Suddenly I could see that the lies were obviously untrue, and that the truth was and is that God loves me and wants good things for my life and that He wants to provide for all of my needs and that just because one door closed doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with me, nor does it mean that God isn’t going to provide. It just means that He is going to provide in another way. Today I am rejoicing in the fact that God is changing me. Today I am clinging to Isaiah 43:19… “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 wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” I am forgetting who I was and seeing instead, who God has created me to be.