Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Return to Me

Return to Me...
Oh, how I love that movie.
Have you seen it?

The plot of the movie is about this man, Bob, whose wife suddenly dies, while the other main character, Grace, was waiting for a heart transplant. Because of the death of his wife, Grace receives her heart. Later on, Bob and Grace happen to meet (of course) and they end up falling in love (duh!), but Bob doesn't find out till later that Grace has his wife's heart. The news of the transplant comes as a shock at first, but later its becomes a neat connection between them. In a sense, his deceased wife returned to him through Grace.

What a unique story line, huh?!

This past week we finished reading the whole Bible in a little over a year. We ended in the book of Malachi, in which one repeated phrase stood out to me. Maybe it stood out to you, too.

"Return to me." Not only did this phrase appear in this one book, but also in Joel, Zechariah, Nehemiah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Clearly, this has something to say about our God.

1) He is not forceful, because if He were, we would never stray in the first place.
2) He longs to be in relationship with us.
3) He is consistent and doesn't give up on us.

Going back to #1. God is love and with love comes freedom. He allows us to make our own decisions in hopes that we will follow Him. Love is not forceful.
Since He made us in His image, with the intention to be in relationship, of course, He desires that we would want to be in relationship with Him.
Because He is faithful and loving, He doesn't stop pursuing us and the potential relationship we could have, but never forcing us.

The Israelites had an issue with staying in relationship with God. They had a tendency to ignore and stray away from Him. We see throughout the Old Testament how badly that broke His heart. He wanted so badly to be in relationship with Him, but it was like a one-way relationship. You know the friendships that seem to be one-way and not two-way. You may feel like you are doing all the work, but the other person isn't doing anything. It doesn't feel good, huh?

God felt that way. He wanted it to be a two-way relationship and He stills wants that for us today. 
Maybe in the past, You felt real close to God. You were reading your Bible everyday. Your prayer life was at an all time high and your heart revolved around His heart, but some where along the way, something changed. Maybe  not intentionally, but maybe for one reason or another, you fell out of your groove.

God says to you and me, "return to Me."
"I have always been here for you and I will never leave you, but please return to Me."

Just like the heart of Bob's wife returned to him through Grace, it's never to late for us to return to God. He made us in His image, to be in relationship together. He wants so badly to be in a two-way relationship instead of a one-way. 

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Honoring MLK Jr. including everything he stood for

Martin Luther King Jr.


Today is the day when we remember an incredible man. Martin Luther King Jr. is the epitome of standing up for your beliefs in the face of adversity. He had every reason to hate, but with every word and action, he spoke love. He truly embraced Jesus' teaching, "love your enemies." He challenged people to go against the grain of what society taught and live by what Jesus commanded...justice, equality, love, nonviolence and community.

Whenever we think of MLK Jr., "I have a dream" often comes to mind and what a wonderful speech it is, but I really like his speech, "Our God is Marching On!"
 Check it out (below)!

Today I want to tell the city of Selma, (Tell them, Doctor) today I want to say to the state of Alabama, (Yes, sir) today I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world, that we are not about to turn around. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir)

Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. The burning of our churches will not deter us. (Yes, sir) The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The wanton release of their known murderers would not discourage us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) Like an idea whose time has come, (Yes, sir) not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. (Yes, sir) We are moving to the land of freedom. (Yes, sir)

Let us therefore continue our triumphant march (Uh huh) to the realization of the American dream. (Yes, sir) Let us march on segregated housing (Yes, sir) until every ghetto or social and economic depression dissolves, and Negroes and whites live side by side in decent, safe, and sanitary housing. (Yes, sir) Let us march on segregated schools (Let us march, Tell it) until every vestige of segregated and inferior education becomes a thing of the past, and Negroes and whites study side-by-side in the socially-healing context of the classroom.

Let us march on poverty (Let us march) until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat. (Yes, sir) March on poverty (Let us march) until no starved man walks the streets of our cities and towns (Yes, sir) in search of jobs that do not exist. (Yes, sir) Let us march on poverty (Let us march) until wrinkled stomachs in Mississippi are filled, (That's right) and the idle industries of Appalachia are realized and revitalized, and broken lives in sweltering ghettos are mended and remolded.
Let us march on ballot boxes, (Let’s march) march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena.

Let us march on ballot boxes until the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs (Yes, sir) will be transformed into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens. (Speak, Doctor)
Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until the Wallaces of our nation tremble away in silence.
Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until we send to our city councils (Yes, sir), state legislatures, (Yes, sir) and the United States Congress, (Yes, sir) men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.
Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march. March) until brotherhood becomes more than a meaningless word in an opening prayer, but the order of the day on every legislative agenda.
Let us march on ballot boxes (Yes) until all over Alabama God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor....

The battle is in our hands. And we can answer with creative nonviolence the call to higher ground to which the new directions of our struggle summons us. (Yes, sir) The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. (No) There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. But we must keep going....

My people, my people, listen. (Yes, sir) The battle is in our hands. (Yes, sir) The battle is in our hands in Mississippi and Alabama and all over the United States. (Yes, sir) I know there is a cry today in Alabama, (Uh huh) we see it in numerous editorials: "When will Martin Luther King, SCLC, SNCC, and all of these civil rights agitators and all of the white clergymen and labor leaders and students and others get out of our community and let Alabama return to normalcy?"

But I have a message that I would like to leave with Alabama this evening. (Tell it) That is exactly what we don’t want, and we will not allow it to happen, (Yes, sir) for we know that it was normalcy in Marion (Yes, sir) that led to the brutal murder of Jimmy Lee Jackson. (Speak) It was normalcy in Birmingham (Yes) that led to the murder on Sunday morning of four beautiful, unoffending, innocent girls. It was normalcy on Highway 80 (Yes, sir) that led state troopers to use tear gas and horses and billy clubs against unarmed human beings who were simply marching for justice. (Speak, sir) It was normalcy by a cafe in Selma, Alabama, that led to the brutal beating of Reverend James Reeb.

It is normalcy all over our country (Yes, sir) which leaves the Negro perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of vast ocean of material prosperity. It is normalcy all over Alabama (Yeah) that prevents the Negro from becoming a registered voter. (Yes) No, we will not allow Alabama (Go ahead) to return to normalcy. [Applause]
The only normalcy that we will settle for (Yes, sir) is the normalcy that recognizes the dignity and worth of all of God’s children. The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy that allows judgment to run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Yes, sir) The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy of brotherhood, the normalcy of true peace, the normalcy of justice.

And so as we go away this afternoon, let us go away more than ever before committed to this struggle and committed to nonviolence. I must admit to you that there are still some difficult days ahead. We are still in for a season of suffering in many of the black belt counties of Alabama, many areas of Mississippi, many areas of Louisiana. I must admit to you that there are still jail cells waiting for us, and dark and difficult moments. But if we will go on with the faith that nonviolence and its power can transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, we will be able to change all of these conditions.

And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man. (Yes)

I know you are asking today, "How long will it take?" (Speak, sir) Somebody’s asking, "How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?" Somebody’s asking, "When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?" Somebody’s asking, "When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, (Speak, speak, speak) plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, (Speak) and truth bear it?" (Yes, sir)

I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, (Yes, sir) however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, (No sir) because "truth crushed to earth will rise again." (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (Yes, sir) because "no lie can live forever." (Yes, sir)
How long? Not long, (All right. How long) because "you shall reap what you sow." (Yes, sir)
How long? (How long?) Not long: (Not long)
Truth forever on the scaffold, (Speak)
Wrong forever on the throne, (Yes, sir)
Yet that scaffold sways the future, (Yes, sir)
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.
How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. (Yes, sir)
How long? Not long, (Not long) because:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; (Yes, sir)
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; (Yes)
He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; (Yes, sir)
His truth is marching on. (Yes, sir)
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; (Speak, sir)
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. (That’s right)
O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant my feet!
Our God is marching on. (Yeah)
Glory, hallelujah! (Yes, sir) Glory, hallelujah! (All right)
Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on. [Applause]

I hope that we continaully be inspired by this amazing man's legacy!
I know he made Jesus proud :)

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changed His mind

Do you think that God changes His mind?
Plenty of places in the Bible tell us that God had planned to do something but then decided not to.

In the book of Amos, it tells us a few times that God changed His mind.
Weird to think about, right? 
I think we or I, have grown accustomed to the idea that God has everything planned out and doesn't change His plans. 
So what do we do when we come across verses like...
 "So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people." Exodus 32:14 (He was going to destroy the Israelites, but Moses interceded and God granted them mercy.)
"The Lord changed His mind about this. “It shall not be,” said the Lord." Amos 7:3
"The Lord changed His mind about this. “This too shall not be,” said the Lord God.Amos 7:6

On the contrary, there are other verses say that He will not change His mind. Perhaps in the context He didn't, but that doesn't mean He won't ever change His mind like in Amos.

In the book of Amos, the Israelites were living recklessly. Their arrogance took over and therefore, caused them to live selfishly. All that mattered to them were their desires. It was a time of war. A time of power. A time of violence. A time of greed. 
So of course, God was upset. He was disappointed that His people weren't living the way He wanted them to. They weren't living in peace. They weren't taking care of the poor. 
They were craving power.

Therefore, Amos was trying to warn them of God's judgment. He was saying, "Hey, you've been warned...don't you want to change your ways! God is not happy."

Side note: Do you ever think of God as happy? Sad? Joyous? Mad?
Often, I think we picture God is a blank slate with no emotions, but I argue that.
Throughout the Bible, emotions are portrayed.

Anyway, Amos becomes so desperate for the people. He yearns for redemption and salvation from the locusts God would send. So guess what he does?
He prays. He asks for forgiveness. He cries out to God (chapter 7, verse 2).

You know what happens?
Because of Amos' petition and God's grace, God changed His mind.
"This will not happen," the Lord said (verse 3). 

Side note #2: Clearly, God hears our prayers. Our petitions can make a difference. Good thing, we aren't puppets on a string for God or our prayers would mean nothing to Him, but clearly they do. There is power in prayer.

Just like Jonah 3:10, "When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would [a]bring upon them. And He did not do it." God has planned to act upon His anger, but decided not to.

Continuing on in verse 5, Amos again tells God to stop and not send the fire that would destroy everything. God follows with, "This too will not happen." He had changed His mind once again (verse 6).  I don't think God would ever plan something good, and then decide to do something bad instead, because He isn't bad! 

The book of Amos ends with hope. It foreshadows Christ's coming and proves God's lovingkindness and grace can overpower our mistakes.
Chapter 9: v13 ‘There is a time coming’, says the *Lord.
‘A person will be ploughing a field.
He will catch up with a person who is harvesting the crops.
A person will walk on *grapes.
He will catch up with the person who was planting the *grapes.
New wine will run down from the mountains.
It will flow from all the hills.
v14 I will bring back my people, Israel, from *exile.
They will build again the cities that people have ruined.
And they will live in those cities.
They will plant fields of *grapes.
And they will drink the wine that comes from them.
They will make gardens and eat the fruit.
v15 I will plant my people on their own land.
I will not pull them out again.
This is the land that I gave them.’ This is what the *Lord your God says.

It reminds me of times when I get upset or disappointed and I may say things that are not in my character. Later on, I realize that I was emotional and my real character would not act that way.

God was disappointed in His people. He wanted so much more for them. If only they would listen, things would work out. He was upset and rightfully so, but thank God, His grace is unstoppable. All throughout the Bible, we read about God's judgment, but it seems to me that His grace always win, because He is good. He is loving. He is gracious. He is redemptive.

Like I've said many times before, His grace shouldn't be an excuse for us to live the way we want to live, but His grace should move us toward the love He wants us to live out. 
Jesus is the prime and BEST example, that although we were still sinners, He still died for us. 
Gosh, how amazing?! Redemption is a beautiful thing. We see it played out through the pages of the Bible. 

In the stories where God changed His mind, it shows us that prayer is meaningful and that He is good.
 His grace wins.
It definitely doesn't mean that He is not faithful or loyal because He changed His mind.
He is faithful all the time and He could have changed His mind about sending Jesus, but He didn't. 
Praise God for that!

This week we finish our reading plan by  reading through Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

see you in the light

Earlier, I went outside to sit on the deck and read. The sun was shining so bright in the house and I decided that some vitamin D might do me some good. 
Not to mention, the past few days have been gorgeous so why would I stay in the house?!

While I was reading, I got distracted by my engagement ring. 
The sun's rays were hitting it perfectly, making it shine and glimmer in the sunlight.
I love my ring. I think it is pretty all the time.
It's simple and delicate with a pearl enclosed by two tiny diamonds. 
In this moment, however, I couldn't take my eyes off of it.
Of course, this made me think.

When was the last time you looked at person and saw them in the light of Christ?
Do you tend to see people's flaws before you see their attributes?
Do you focus on the darkness of the heart or the lightness?

Even though I tend to be an optimist, I'll admit that there are times when I look at a person's flaws rather than their strong points.
I'm not proud to say it, but it's true.
Instead of zoning in on the imperfections, we should gaze on people through Christ's light.

We are all made in the image of God so why would we look at people in any other way.
Of course, we make mistakes and are imperfect, but we are all given strengths and talents.
When we start to observe people in the darkness of their weaknesses, we eliminate dignity and respect.
Jesus always treated people with respect. He looked at people with hope and saw them in the best light.
Why would we look at people any differently?

This year and all the years to come, let's see people for who they are and what they can be, instead of what they aren't. 
Let's behold people as Christ's light shines upon them, removing any imperfection and shining on their goodness. 

This week we are reading through the book of Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, and Nahum.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

It all changed in a second

Yesterday marked the last day of college football. 
The top 2 teams, Auburn University & Florida State University, ended the season with a nail-biting game.
The favored team, Florida State, won, but Auburn definitely made them fight for it.

I love football. It's my favorite sport to watch. I like the energy, the community, the cheering, and...
the suspense.
It may not be the same as a suspenseful action movie, but since it is a game, there is always the unknown.
We may be able to predict the winner. The statistics might show who is a better team. One coach may have better credentials than the other, but in the end, we all know that anything can happen.

A lot can happen in a second.
One minute a team can be leaving the other team in it's dust, and the next minute, the game could be tied.
The quarterback throws an interception. The kicker's foot lost traction. The receiver fumbles the ball.
None of these players planned on it, but the worst still happened.
I think it's interesting how at the end of a football game during the interviews, the winning team often says things like, "We came here tonight believing we would win" and "We knew from the beginning that this was our victory." I'm pretty sure both teams go into the game feeling that way. Maybe they don't, but I think its a given to go into a game confident, right? 

It makes me think of life.
We practice. We hope. We expect...
and it doesn't come.

We have all the credentials, all the right skills, and all the confidence, yet we're left blindsided by the nonexistent job. 
We have the right amount of money and great real estate agent, yet left without the dream house.
We exercise everyday and eat more than the recommended amount of veggies and fruit, yet left with an ugly diagnosis.

Whether it's a football game, one of the 3 scenarios above or anything else, they all stink!
Sometimes life takes a turn for the worst.
What are we to do?

However tempting it may be to just throw in the towel, we can't.  
We have to keep going.
A football team can't just stop playing after an interception and walk off the field.
The game still goes on.

Although they may walk off the field with their heads hung, they still have the support of their fans and the guidance of their coach. 
They can turn their mistakes into teachable moments. 
They can use it as a motivation to practice harder.
They can rest in the truth that no matter how hard they practice and plan, there is still a possibility of a loss. 

Unfortunately, life can present us these seconds that turn our world upside down.
When this happens, we must turn to God. He is by our side every step or second of the way. 
We must remind ourselves that no matter how much we plan, life can still throw us a curve ball.
At the same time, we should look into the future knowing that even though there may be seconds that turn our world upside down, there are also seconds and moments that can turn it right side up. 
The birth of a child. A new job. Healing. 

There are always going to be game changers in this game of life, but we can rest assured that God is here for us. He is our strength. His mercies are new each morning. He gives us hope even when everything around us looks hopeless. 

This week we'll be reading through the whole book of Daniel, as well as the whole book of Hosea. 

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Friday, January 3, 2014

Holding on or letting go?

Well, it's been awhile since I've posted...I hope everyone is doing well!
I'm hoping to get back into more of a routine with posting this year.

A little update on my health:
In the past 2 years, I have had under 5 symptoms for the first time! That's pretty amazing considering I've grown accustomed to about 20 symptoms!
So my doctor decided to stop IVs for right now, but keep my PICC line in just in case we need to go back to IVs.
That means, I'm on oral antibiotics right now to help kill the cystic bacteria and soon I'll be working on the biofilms (those nasty bacteria create a film so it makes it hard for the medicine to kill). Last but not least, this past Saturday I woke up with zero symptoms! Praise God! Project GET BETTER continues! 

While I was reading today, I couldn't help but notice something outside. 
It was a beautiful day today. Light blue sky, few white clouds and a nice breeze, but that's not what caught my attention.
There was a big, red leaf hanging onto a branch of a bare, dead tree. 
It was holding onto the thin branch for dear life.
Tossing, wrestling, flapping, and whirling was the dance of this leaf.
I wanted to scream out to the leaf, "Just let go! I can tell you're struggling, just let go!

It made me think of this past year and the new year that is among us. 
Just like the pretty red leaf that caught my attention, we often hold on to things in life. 
Some things are better to hold onto than others.
We should hold onto our loved ones, memories, and values, but a lot of times we hold onto things that make life harder to live. 
Just like the leaf, I know that I've struggled to let go of things that only weigh me down. 

Holding onto things like regrets, hardships, unhealthy relationships can exhaust us. They can make us weary and bitter, in turn stealing the joy from life. I think it's interesting how hard it can be to 'let go' sometimes.
Why is it that our fists clench tighter and our hearts grow colder to the things that make us miserable?

I'm not really sure why it works that way at times. Maybe it's because we are emotional beings. 
We feel things so easy. We hurt so easy. We hold on so easy. 
 We often get wrapped up into the emotions of it all. 
The feelings seem to take over and we get caught up, forgetting the possibility of freedom and hope that can come from releasing our tight clenched fists and turning them over to God. 

So this year I challenge you (and myself), to let go of  the hurt from 2013 and years past. 
Let them fly away just like the struggling red leaf and look up to God in thankfulness for freedom from burdens and new beginnings!

"Every man should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page. Take up one hole more in the buckle if necessary, or let down one, according to circumstances; but on the first of January let every man gird himself once more, with his face to the front, and take no interest in the things that were and are past."
- Henry Ward Beecher

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