Imagine This…

Imagine you are a warrior that sneaks your way into a rival Kingdom. A Kingdom that you despise. Loath. Hate. You are praised by your people for infiltrating the Kingdom, and you are glorified for mocking the rulers of that nation.

While in the realms of the Kingdom, you make it a point to break every rule, resist all authority, and destroy all you can.  You degrade the people, you rob and destroy and disrespect. You murder all who try to stand up to you.  You take great joy in ruining all that you can find within the Kingdom; disgracing the authority and criticizing the nation. The longer you terrorize the nation, the more you are praised by your people.

After years of evading capture, antagonizing the locals and degrading all authority, you are finally caught red-handed. You are seized by authority and brought before the rulers of the land.  You are soaked in the blood of those you have murdered and robed in the garments you stole and the jewels you confiscated. You are guilty, beyond a shadow of a doubt. And the penalty for your crimes is death.

Not a simple and swift death. A gruesome, humiliating, painful, slow death.  A death that kills you before your life is taken–a death that degrades you, pains you, rapes your dignity and spirit in a calculated, excruciating manner. This is your penalty. This is how you will die.

But as you kneel before the rulers of the nation, head hung in shame, awaiting your gruesome verdict, you feel a hand rest on your shoulder. When you look up you see the Prince of the Kingdom has risen from his throne and stands in front of you before the King. Before your fate can be sealed, the Prince takes a stance in your favor.

“Take my life, instead,” you hear the Prince say. “I will die in his place.”

You are stunned. Confused. Speechless. You had never met the Prince before this moment. You had never spoken with him or done anything for him or done anything for his people. Choking back tears and stumbling to catch your breath, you ask a humbled ‘why’?

The Prince simply replies, “Because I love you.”

Though you can see the King’s heart is broken, he nods in approval and your life is spared.

The Prince dies in your place.

A gruesome, humiliating, painful, slow death.  A death that kills him before his life is taken–a death that degrades him, pains him, rapes his dignity and spirit in a calculated, excruciating manner. This is YOUR penalty. Yet this is how HE dies–even though He did nothing wrong. He simply offered to save you.

After the Prince’s death, you stand face-to-face with the King again.  Your clothes are no longer blood-stained. You have been bathed, fed, cared for and groomed. You stand in front of the King–a King who has just watched his own son die in your place–free of all charges. You are found innocent. Acquitted on all counts.

Then, something unique happens. Rather than being escorted from the Kingdom and taken back to your people, you are welcomed to stay. Not simply to stay in the land–you are welcomed into the Royal Family. Your life is not only spared, you are invited into the castle and crowned as royalty.

After everything you did to their Kingdom and their people, they forgive you. They call you one of their own. You sit in the Highest Court.

Humbly, you hang your head in shame and again ask why…

“Because we love you,” the King replies.

“What did I do to deserve this freedom? What did I do to earn it?” you ask.

Nothing.

“…then why?”

“Because we love you.”

*****

Did you enjoy that story?

Does it sound familiar?

That is love.

That is salvation.

THAT IS THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST.

*****

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

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Fearless Failure

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline.” –2 Timothy 1:7

What is your biggest fear?

Think about it…what scares you?

Are you scared of snakes? Spiders? Heights? Are you scared you won’t be able to provide for your family? Job instability? Financial insecurity? Are you scared of the bullies that degrade you? The men that hurt you? The tears you may cry? Are you scared of injury…what about death?

Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. Everyone is fearful of something. No matter if you are a 300 lb. lineman, a 3rd grade ballerina, a 57-year-old business man–or anyone in between–we all face fear. When I sit back and think about the things that have scared me over the years, I can’t help but notice a pattern. Whether directly or indirectly, all of my personal fears are linked to one topic: failure.I think the majority of our fears are rooted in the same thing–the fear of failure.  The fear that we will let down the people around us, the fear that the people around us will let us down, the fear that we will let down ourselves.  So many things are so very scary…

When I was very young, I was haunted by the fear that I would be kidnapped and hurt. Granted, I grew up in the early 90’s, an era when child abductions hit the media like a firestorm. To make matters worse, my parents went to church with John and Patsy Ramsey, the parents of JonBenet Ramsey. For those of you who don’t know, the JonBenet Ramsey murder was one of the most publicized unsolved murders of our time. JonBenet was 6 years old. I was 7 years old. When a 7 year-old hears things on the news and sees her parents so emotionally invested in the tragedy, it is hard to wrap your head around the complexity of the situation. So, my mind only went one place–I am next. The “bad guys” are coming for me. Almost nightly I would have nightmares that I would be taken and that nobody would help me or find me—that my parents would fail at protecting me.

Through my young schooling, I was fearful of getting bad grades.  I wanted to be the best that I could possibly be, and I wanted to make my parents as proud as possible.  I have always been a perfectionist, and I have always been competitive.  I was reared under a sister who was brilliant–literally, a borderline genius. (This is a girl who was kicked out of her second grade class for arguing with her teacher that negative numbers did, in fact, mathematically exist and that the teacher was incorrect in teaching the other students that 5 could not be subtracted from 3. Seriously? I was the kid that was kicked out of my second grade class for sniffing glue, getting dizzy, falling backwards out of my chair and hitting my head on the whiteboard. Haha. This is also the girl who would play “the classroom game”  with me when we were little and try desperately to teach me about exponents and exponential factors…I was 6. She couldn’t understand why all I wanted to do was dance to Spice Girls when there were derivatives to learn!) To say the least, we were very different, but growing amidst her brains and my competitive spirit, it fostered a desire in me to be better, to be smarter, to be the best. And, later in life, any time I failed and didn’t do as well as I know I could have on a school assignment—I failed myself. And, in my eyes, I failed my parents.

Fast-forward through a decade or so of fears and failures. To list all the times I’ve failed would take another decade, so I will simplify by saying that I’m a failure. Aren’t we all? And while my fears and failures molded and shaped me, the worst was yet to come. For the sake of saving time and space, I will not rewrite my testimony (you can read back in the “My Story” portion for details) but I will share with you my most epic fails.

In high school, I feared non-conformity. I feared a lack of control, and I feared judgement. I feared food. I fell into an eating disorder that crippled me, consumed me, defined me. In highschool, I failed myself.

In college, my father failed me. My hero, my best friend, my everything. He feared…he failed…and he fled. On January 3rd, he put a gun to his heart and pulled the trigger. In college, my father failed me.

That year, I feared the pain I felt. I tried everything I could to fill it. I drank, I partied, I lost myself. I feared the darkness and I feared the weakness. I failed to hold my own head high. That year, I failed my innocence.

Later on, I feared for my own life. I failed at driving. I wrapped my Jeep around a tree and feared I would never be saved. I choked on blood and hung broken and battered. On that drive, I failed myself.

Between those points and since that time, I’ve failed and failed and failed.

How do you recover from a life defined in failure? How do you emerge from a life constrained by fear?

We will FAIL constantly. Others will constantly fail us. We will fail others, and we will fail ourselves.  The people around us will fail, circumstances will fail, expectations will fail. You will fail at reaching goals, your friend will fail at supporting you when you need it most. Marriages will fail. Job opportunities will fall through and fail. The stock market will fail, the government will fail. Your boyfriend/girlfriend will fail to provide you with the love you need. You will fail at filling your emptiness with drugs and sex. You will fail tests, fail deadlines, fail budgets. We will slip, and we will fail.

BUT GOD NEVER FAILS.

In the days of my youth, God comforted my worries.  He worked through my parents and protected my heart. God Never Failed.

He calmed my worries over grades and school. He blessed me with the desire to persist and to learn. God Never Failed.

As I battled with bulimia, He clung tight to my body. He protected my health, and nourished my soul. God Never Failed.

As I stared at my daddy’s lifeless body, He wept alongside me and lifted me up. God Never Failed.

As I battled depression in a drunken stupor,  I gave pieces of myself away to boys. But God fought for my purity like a relentless warrior, and though I was battered and broken, He held my virginity with poise. God Never Failed.

As I hung upside down and choked on my blood, He appeared to my heart and found His way in. God Never Failed.

I tell you all this to inspire your hearts! Life is hard. So hard. And we’re really bad at it. We are fallible humans and we mess up constantly. We fail and we fear. We fear and we fail. But as it says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jesus Christ DID IT! He came and He lived so perfectly. He never failed. And He never will fail. He died for you. He died so that you can ALWAYS be given new life! So that you can ALWAYS start fresh, clean the slate, and turn a new page.  As he hung on the cross, your fears and your failures were nailed to the cross alongside Him! When we accept Jesus Christ into our hearts, we accept a spirit of POWER and LOVE and SELF-DISCIPLINE! We welcome a spirit of forgiveness and grace and second chances!

We serve a God of second chances…we serve a God of LIFE! Alone, we are nothing. We are failures and we are bound by fear. But in CHRIST, we are infinitely strong! We are indestructible! We are SAVED!

What is there to fear?!

At the end of my days, I don’t want people to say that I lived a fearful, timid life. I want them to say that my spirit was POWERFUL in Christ, that I LOVED like Christ, and that I was SELF-DISCIPLINED through Christ.

How will you be remembered…?

What Does It Look Like?: Godly Men (part 6)

Picking up again, let’s continue to dig into what it looks like to be a Godly man. I realize this study is taking quite a while, so I am going to begin to pick up the pace a bit. After all, I am still eager to break down what it looks like to be a Godly woman, as well as what Godly relationships should look like! There is so much, still, to cover. However, I appreciate you all continuing to follow. The feedback I have been receiving from both men and women, alike, has been so beautiful.  I am humbled in your interest and so affirmed that the words decorating this blog are inspired by and blessed by God.  So, if you are just joining, take a look at parts 1 through 5 of this study before you read this portion. But here goes…

“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to but one wife, temperate, self-controlled…

…respectable, hospitable…

Chivalry is dead. How many times have we heard this saying?  It’s become an all-too-familiar mantra in our society.  But who’s to blame? Who’s responsible for the murder? Are the men to blame…or the women? And is chivalry truly lost–or is it harbored in us all, stifled by the norms of our culture–left unlearned and uncultivated?

My opinion: I blame the women. And I blame the men. But I don’t blame them for the death of chivalry–I blame them for giving life to the silly phrase. For exacerbating the problem.  For giving in rather than rising up and requiring more. Is chivalry dead–no. Is it wounded–MOST DEFINITELY. And who’s truly to blame for that–Satan.  Before you dismiss me as crazy, give me a chance to explain. You may find that I support your side of the argument, after all.

Throughout this entire study of what it looks like to be a Godly man, one of the most prevalent reoccurring themes is that living for the glory of God is NOT easy.  I’m not trying to fool anyone here.  It’s tough stuff striving to live a righteous life.  We fail a lot; both men and women alike.  We are fallible, we are human. That’s our nature.  Fortunately, we are saved by grace. And every time we fall, God gives us the opportunity to stand up, brush ourselves off, and start fresh with a clean slate.  We can never fail too many times, His love is unconditional.  He is always prepared to forgive us and always proud to love us. That’s what Jesus Christ’s sacrifice did for us.

So why, with all that said, do we not capitalize on that forgiveness and that grace?  It is offered to us in limitless quantity. Yet when we stumble and we fall, we settle for a life in the dirt.  Is it guilt that binds us? Is it fear? Guilt and fear aren’t in God’s dictionary–so why do we allow them to be in bold in ours?  This portion of the 1 Timothy verse addresses a man’s responsibility to be respectable and hospitable.  Two terms that many may argue are framework terms to define chivalry. They are powerful requirements, they are character attributes that take work and commitment.  Yet God calls us to strive for them.  So why do we settle for less?–because Satan makes anything “less” SO much easier.

It’s no secret that our society’s view on manners and behavior have drastically changed over time.  Men used to open doors for women. Now women kick down doors for themselves. Men used to court women patiently and lovingly. Now Vegas offers quicky-weddings and quicky-enullments in a package deal. Women used to respect themselves enough to hold on to their purity until their wedding day. Now we have middle schoolers pressured to have sex to feel accepted and popular–to “keep up” with society around them.  I don’t mean to be crude–I mean to be REAL.

I’m going to be painfully direct, blunt, and straightforward here. So if you don’t want a harsh reality check then skip the next two paragraphs.  This is going to call out men and women, alike–no one is safe. Men: get over yourselves and man up. For real, man up.  Stop settling for what’s easy. Stop settling for what’s temporary and fast because you don’t want to put work in.  You’re weak if that’s how you function through life.  The quick-route requires low integrity, low discipline, and low self-esteem.  I don’t care if that’s what the rest of the world praises and exaggerates.  I don’t care if that’s what your friends or your teammates or your buddies are doing.  Grow a set and be different.  Set a better example.  Stop numbing yourself and be a REAL man. There’s no more “This is fun now while I’m in college, I’ll man up later when it matters…”  Man-up now. It matters NOW. You have the power to be a real leader.  You have the power to inspire. You have the opportunity to experience grace and be strengthened in Christ.  Stop trying so hard to control it all on your own–you’re not good at it.

Women: it’s not all the men’s fault.  We are just as big of messes as they are.  Stop making it easy for them. Stop settling–better DOES exist.  Stop giving to the temporary and start valuing yourself.  Snap out of the self-esteem issues–there are people that are much worse off than you.  There are people who are truly suffering.  You comparing your beauty to other women’s beauty and then giving yourself up to men in order to feel desired–it’s a tired routine.  You are worth a King’s life.  Start living like that carries value to you.  Start living like it matters to you that Jesus Christ died for you.  We are fallible humans that are easily tempted. Stop teasing men.  How can we expect them to treat us with chivalry and respect and hospitality if we are tempting them and teasing them and inviting their imaginations to wander?  If that’s what makes you feel better about yourself, I feel bad for you.  Have some self respect.  If you want more from men, there has to be a give and take.  RESPECT THEM BY RESPECTING YOURSELF, FIRST.

Satan is having so much fun with our world.  He is tearing it down, bit by bit, and celebrating our society’s slide towards heathenism and self-obsession.  What adds fuel to his fire?–When we confirm his corruption by feeding into phrases like “Chivalry is dead.” Chivalry is NOT dead.  Nor will it ever be.  They may be few and far between, but there ARE men out there who are striving to live righteous lives.  There ARE men out there who are holding fast to what the Bible asks of them and who ARE respectable and hospitable…and temperate, and self-controlled, and faithful, and all of the above.  Have those men lived perfect lives? NO! Have they never slipped of failed or denied Christ? Of course not! Nobody is perfect.  But there are men who desire to be BETTER.  I believe that with my whole heart.  If you are one of those men, you have my respect. You may be different…you may stand out…you may not be accepted as easily because you make different choices than the average man.  There is NOTHING wrong with that.  In fact, celebrate it! Because YOU are a real man–and you will be rewarded. I can promise that because our King promises us that.

Stay encouraged, men. Fight the good fight of faith.  And stay encouraged, women.  The less we settle, the more it requires of men.  You deserve the best, so require the best.  Don’t let that self-worth waver.  Men and women, if we want to improve this world, if we want to be a generation of change and righteous growth, we HAVE to require MORE from one another.  We HAVE to hold one another responsible and we have to be unashamed of standing out–no matter how much scrutiny or doubt or criticism we fall under.  Chivalry is very much alive because the words of the Bible are very much alive–nothing should ever shake our belief in that.

(to be continued…)

In the Aftermath of Easter…

I’ll warn you from word one: today’s post is a cry of my heart. I’m sitting and letting my fingers do the talking. If you care for what my heart cries out for our King, read on. But if you are comfortable putting God in a “box” and have no desire to step out of your comfort zone, then these words are too beautiful to fall on deaf ears, and you might as well click away from this page now…

I apologize for not posting yesterday, on such a beautiful Easter Sunday.  I would have loved to have taught on the meaning of that day. That one day–the most beautiful and passionate and celebratory day in our eternity. The day that changed everything–the day we were freed.  I had no access to a computer or to the internet. I would love for that to have been my excuse for not writing, but to be completely honest, I’m not sure I could have typed a word, anyways.  You see, when I was not rejoicing, I was in tears. When I was not celebrating, I was on my face on the floor. Though the festivities of the day carried on like everyone else’s Easter Sunday, my heart was in a different realm. I’m not sure I have ever had such an emotional reaction to such a simple day…but this year, Easter held new meaning to my soul. And as fulfilling and joyful and overwhelming as that emotion was, my tears were exacerbated by the state of the world around us.

You see, this past week was a week of growth. A week drowned in the Word. Reading, studying, reading, praying.  Every time I opened my Bible, I learned more about the grace of our King and the heart of our Savior than I have ever known before.  Understand, it’s not like I intended to spend my Spring Break with my face pressed between the pages of my Bible, but my spirit sparked a thirst. If any person on this Earth ever tries to tell you there isn’t power in the Word, they are lying and they are cowards.  If you discount the words that drown the pages of the Bible, you are foolish.  Because there are words between the covers of that book that have the power to stir your heart and change your life and convict you to the fibers of your being. LET THEM.

When I woke up Easter morning, I felt the heat of emotion stirring in my chest more violently than it has since the day my dad died. A heat that pressed its way up into my throat and inspired a violently joyous cry. A humbled, broken, gracious cry that boiled in my heart. I laid in bed and tried to pray–but how do you adequately thank a God that is SO REAL? How do you thank a King that DIED for OUR SOULS?! What words do you construct to thank a God that DID IT! That made the ultimate sacrifice and fulfilled His Word? Who rose from the dead and redeemed our hearts and showed his face and showed the scars on his hands and smiled upon us and LIVED?! How do you sculpt a prayer that is adequate and encompassing and passionate and ENOUGH?! I couldn’t. The greatest I could do was cry out. To vomit the passion that was leaking from my heart in the form of joyous praise.

HE LIVES! HE LIVES! CHRIST JESUS LIVES TODAY! HE IS RISEN!

Don’t read those words with a settled heart. That HAS to stir something inside of you! That HAS to warrant a response! That HAS to ignite a fire in you so passionate and real and hot that you cry out! Do you understand the magnitude of that grace?! YOU DON’T DESERVE IT! I DON’T DESERVE IT! NONE OF US DESERVE IT! But that’s just it. That is the point. That is the GRACE! We are sinners and we are gross and we are prideful and we are arrogant and we are materialistic and we are selfish and we are everything He taught us NOT to be, but He still loves us enough to offer us salvation. What? What?! I can’t even wrap my head around that. He STILL died for us. He died for the men who were murdering Him. He died for them because He loved them. And He loves us. He loves you.

If anyone in this world has ever made you question your worth or your value, they know nothing. If anyone on this earth has tried to tell you that you aren’t worth it, or you aren’t good enough, or you aren’t valuable enough, they are fools. If YOU have ever tried to define someone’s worth by the standards of this world, YOU are a fool. Because to JESUS CHRIST, you are worth HIS LIFE. YOU. In all your flaw, in all your sin…you are worth EVERYTHING. There is nothing you can do in this lifetime to prove your worth to Him. There is nothing you can do in this lifetime to affect the love He has for you. Because IT IS DONE. He did it. He knows it. Your worth hung on a cross and rose from a tomb when everything in the world said it couldn’t. Your worth is miraculous. Your worth is limitless. Because your worth is in Christ. Whether you know Him yet, or not. He knows you. He already died for you.

A man willingly endured unbearable torture and was crucified for you. Can you say that about anyone else in your life? Can you name another human being that has lived without flaw and has died for your heart and has risen from the dead to prove to you God’s love? I can’t. I can’t say it about my mom. I can’t say it about my dad. I can’t say it about any human being on this earth. Because NO human being compares to our King. So tell me, WHY DO WE PUT THIS KING IN A BOX?! Why is it that when the Saints win the Super Bowl, this city erupts in celebration and brags about it for a year?! But when a child tries to pray in school, we have legislation passed to silence him? Why is it that when everything is going great in life, we are so quick to tweet a ‘God is so good!’? But when adversity is thrown our way, we are suddenly lost and confused and want to question His power and spew hate to others? Why is it that when Easter rolls around everyone’s facebook status is so quick to proclaim a shallow faith and the other 364 days out of the year, we forget what He did for us? WHY IS THIS CULTURE SO COMFORTABLE MAKING GOD “FIT” WHERE WE WANT HIM TO?

Newsflash guys: it doesn’t work like that. I couldn’t stop crying yesterday because, yes, I was in awe of His grace. But another reason I was brought to tears is because of how utterly empty our love for Him is in return. I’m guilty of it, too. And I’m disgusted with myself.  Look around—we want to idolize celebrities and celebrate sin and base our worth on our wallets and base our value on what the media tells us we should be and strive, strive, strive to have more, more, more, and nothing is ever enough. HELLO–wake up! HE IS ENOUGH! End of story. “The American Dream” is a load of crap. Yeah, I said it. What this society prizes is a load of crap. Because what this society tells us is that we aren’t adequate enough. And that there is always MORE. And that we don’t have enough. And that we are defined by our roles–that we are defined by our jobs and our social status and bank accounts and our beauty. WRONG. SO very wrong. Don’t you get what He did for us? We are defined by HIM.

How can we look ourselves in the mirror after what He did for us, and still “box” Him into an hour and a half on Sunday? We “box” Him into holidays–Easter, Christmas, etc. We “box” Him into tweets and facebook statuses when we want all our friends to know we achieved something great. We “box” Him into jewelry and fashion and design when it’s all the rage to wear crosses. We “box” Him in everywhere He is convenient for us. We are foolish. Every one of us.

I want to see 50,000,000 hits on a YouTube video worshiping Christ–not one worshiping Lady GaGa. I want to see people tweeting #humility and #grace and #worship and #Christ–not #winning. I want to see people sacrificing their time and their money and their efforts to the poorest and the hungry–not to cosmetic surgery and newer cars and bigger houses. WE NEED TO GET OVER OURSELVES. AND START LIVING RADICALLY FOR OUR KING!! He doesn’t fit in your “box”. He never will. He is infinite and we have no right to question Him. No right to “box” Him. No right to stifle Him.

We are NOTHING compared to Him, yet we are EVERYTHING to Him. Think about it…