Thursday, January 31, 2013

Prayer for Bringing the Brokenhearted to Jesus

Today I echo this prayer from Scotty Smith on the Gospel Coalition. I highly suggest checking out his prayer blog, and also checking out the Gospel Coalition in general. I am thankful for the truths in this prayer and for our Lord who hears our prayers.

The Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Dear Lord Jesus, I’m increasingly grateful for all the reasons the Father sent you into the world. When I look in the mirror of the Word, I’m thankful that you came to set me free from my imprisonment to sin and death and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. In the gospel I hear you singing these words over me: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). I have no righteousness apart from yours, Lord Jesus.

When I look at places like Haiti, Calcutta, and Darfur, I’m so thankful that you came to preach good news to the poor—not just good news concerning spiritual poverty but also the good news of a kingdom which provides food for the hungry, clean water for the thirsty, shelter for the homeless, advocacy for the marginalized, family for the orphan.

When I look at systemic evil in the world—human trafficking, the idolatry of greed, an ideology of terror, the pornography industry, to name a few—I’m so thankful that you’ve also come to proclaim the day of vengeance of our God. No one is a greater champion of justice than you, Lord Jesus. One day, all the pillaging weeds of unrighteousness will be replaced with mighty oaks of righteousness—”a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isa. 61:3).

Today, Lord Jesus, I’m also deeply grateful that you’re close to the brokenhearted and that you save those who are crushed in spirit. To your throne of grace, I bring friends who just miscarried their third baby; a single mom who recently discovered her cancer has returned; a pastor who finally snapped under the weight of too much criticism and stress in his church; friends whose son continues to act out so destructively; yet another wife who has discovered her husband’s affair. I cry out to you on behalf of all of these friends.

Lord Jesus, no one was broken in heart and body like you, no one was crushed in spirit like you, and you did it all for us. I praise you that you comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve—that you bear our burdens and give us more grace. Oh for the Day when we will forever be done with a spirit of despair and will only wear the garment of praise. So very Amen I pray, in your kindhearted and compassionate name.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Is God's Heart Really That Big?

Sometimes I have a difficult time conceptualizing how big our God really is. I ask myself questions like...
... How can God know me and each of my roommates so personally and individually?
... How can He love the entire world... even the people groups who are completely unreached?
... Why does God care about me when there are innocent women being sold into the sex trafficking industry?
... How can He fully understand the complexities of each human being, but then also the communal dynamics?
... How does He remain faithful to those who hate Him? 

Is God's heart really that big?

This morning I was reading the Old Testament book of Jonah and the greatness of the Lord's heart became a little more evident.

God loved, pursued, and knew Jonah personally. He cared about Jonah and had a plan for him personally. He called Jonah to the city of Nineveh and He had purpose for him there. He provided for Jonah individually. "Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine" (Jonah 4:6). God made a vine grow specifically for Jonah just to make him more comfortable... that is specific and individualized love and care.

And God feels that way about us individually as well... He loves us. He pursues us. He knows us. All individually.

But God also cared deeply for the Ninevites. The Ninevites were not exactly the world's most do-good people. In fact, the book of Nahum says that Nineveh was guilty of evil plots against God; exploitation of the helpless; cruelty in war; and idolatry, prostitution, and witchcraft. Nineveh was a truly wicked city, yet God loved them deeply too and asked Jonah to preach there. The Lord asks Jonah, "But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" (Jonah 4:11). He cared about all 120,000 people of Nineveh despite their wickedness.

In our world today, God is concerned with the thousands of evil-doers that are hurting our world. He cares about them despite their wickedness. And that is really hard for me to swallow or to imagine, but...

Our God really does have a heart that big.

He is greater than this world and He is greater than our hearts (1 John 3:20). He is greater than all I can comprehend.

He is great enough to love me individually and great enough to love those doing evil.

And for that, I am glad. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

God is Jealous for Chapel Hill

I've come to the conclusion that I live in a pretty unique place. I say I live in Chapel Hill these days because it's where I attend school and spend the majority of my time.

It is a town of immense diversity. The people that call Chapel Hill home come from all walks of life. The university is the heart of the town and gives it vivacity in the school season. The university is one of prestige, which often leads to many intellectual thinkers. Chapel Hill beckons students, professors, scholars, researchers, doctors, and scientists from all over the world. Chapel Hill is also a part of Research Triangle Park which is home to some of the brightest people in the world... needless to say, it is an intellectual environment (more often than not, over my head). Chapel Hill is also in the south, so it has it's southern charm and it's traditional southern folk. It is a fairly wealthy town, yet there is also a large homeless population. It is a majority liberal town, but there is definitely a population of staunch conservatives. It simply, is diverse.

It is unique and there are all sorts of people here from all walks of life and I do truly love Chapel Hill.

There is nothing better than Carolina blue skies and game day.
The Bell Tower
The Old Well: a Carolina tradition
Sunsets never looked so good.
There is one thing that has saddened me over my four years here though and that is that God's heartbeat does not beat very strong here in the people of Chapel Hill. The open and intellectual mindsets have pushed Jesus to the side in many cases. Chapel Hill is home to one of the world's leading Biblical scholars who is also an atheist and it is a place where intellectual doubts run rampant and people question God because of all their intellectual doubts. There are several churches here in Chapel Hill from all denominations and some of them are truly life-giving churches and others have inevitably turned into Sunday morning fashion shows and life competitions. Do not get me wrong, there are many faithful and strong Christians in Chapel Hill, but they are most certainly in the minority. I live with some of the most passionate Christ-followers that I know, but still, Chapel Hill sometimes seems lifeless when in it comes to Jesus.

But it is slowly changing.

I have attended the Summit Church the past year and a half and have grown to truly love the mission of the church. The motto of the the Summit is "Love God. Love each other. Love our world." I feel the presence of the Lord when I am there and I have seen some amazing things come from the Summit. I feel blessed to be a part of that community.

I heard that Summit was launching a Chapel Hill campus at the beginning of the fall and was beyond excited. Come to find out, it had been in people's prayers for over four years. I had previously been driving 25 minutes to get to the Briar Creek campus in Durham and it was awesome to know that where I attend church would now be in the town I live.

East Chapel Hill High School was chosen as the meeting place location for the Summit in Chapel Hill. That is the school where I lead Young Life and spend multiple hours during the week with my high school friends. I could not have been more excited for the doors that were opening.

And this past weekend the Chapel Hill campus launched. There were two services on Sunday morning, one at 9AM and one at 11AM.

The Lord did many MIGHTY things that morning. More than 1,100 people attended church in both services combined. 1,100 people... individuals... hearing the gospel preached. There was one rather large, yet awesome problem to have: 200 people were turned away from the 9:00AM service because the auditorium's capacity was maxed out. Wow, God, thank You for bringing so many people out to hear Your word.

As all of the volunteers realized that people were not being able to attend the service we began to pray... praying that they would come back to the 11:00 service and they they would still feel loved and welcomed despite the predicament.

While we were praying all together one man prayed some words that rung so deep into my inner being that tears began streaming down my face. He prayed for East Chapel Hill High School and the students there. He prayed that Jesus would come alive in the hearts of the high schoolers that attend the school where the Summit is being held. He prayed for all of the high schoolers that I have been praying for since I got placed at East three and half years ago. And I cried when I heard that prayer being prayed because it was one that has been on my heart for so long and it was so comforting to have a man pray for those students when he is not even in ministry with them.

Worshiping the Lord and hearing the pastor preach in East Chapel Hill High School brought so many tears to my eyes. The Lord was doing MIGHTY things in that place.

And there was life in East Chapel Hill High School and there was life in Chapel Hill.

After church a girl that I know well at East and who attended the service texted me and said, "It's the first time I've felt God at East and the Lord has done so much." Praise Jesus!

The thing is... it is not about large numbers, or about the Summit, or about the pastor, or about all of the things that went into making church happen at a school...

It is about God. It is about the Lord who loves His people and who sent His Son to die on a cross to save them. It is about the gospel and the life that it gives. And it is about the individuals who get to hear about Jesus' immense love from them. 

My God, He is jealous for Chapel Hill. And so am I.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Fear of Insignificance and a Really Broken Heart

The other day I woke up with a sinking feeling in my stomach. I could not figure out why or what it was that was bothering me. I sat there befuddled.

But then I realized what it was... I was scared... and still am. I am scared of living an insignificant life.

Going into the last semester of my college career, I am facing a future of decisions. I am beginning to consider what I want to be doing next year and where I want to live. There are so many thoughts that go through my mind every single day and the thought of making an actual decision is simply nerve racking. 

But the one thing I do know: I do not want to live an insignificant life and I do not want my passion for Jesus to ever stop increasing.

But I am scared that I will wake up in 20 years, living a mediocre life, with a faint heart for Jesus, behind a white picket fence, living a very typical life. Don't get me wrong, I am not against white picket fences, but I am surely against a life that is not fully intoxicated with Jesus and that is not centered around Him. I do not want people to only realize that I am Christian because I go to church on Sunday mornings... I want it to be evident by the way that I live my life and the way that I love the people around me.

I am scared that the decisions I make will slowly lead to just an average life. Not intentionally, of course, but that it just kind of happens.

I am scared that I will somehow get stuck in a Christian bubble with blinders that has somehow missed the gospel and that my life will be merely centered around what is "best" for me.

The more that I have recognized this fear inside of me, the more that it has shined light on another fear tucked even deeper inside my heart... the fear of a broken heart.

I am not talking about a broken heart that comes from a boy who said something not very nice that can be cured with best friends, cookie dough, and a few tears. I am talking about the kind of broken heart that turns your stomach upside down and that leaves you in utter desperation.  It is the kind of broken heart that demands action and response... that kind of broken heart, yea, I am terrified of it. 

I was fifteen the first time I remember my heart being broken in that kind of way.

It was at Walker's house my sophomore year of high school that I first watched the original "Invisible Children" documentary. I remember watching the film with Paige and we were both utterly disgusted and torn to pieces. We were horrified that young children were having to walk many miles every single evening in order to avoid abduction by the LRA and lives were being completely obliterated in northern Uganda over this intense conflict. The facts and realities were devastating and my heart broke and I was only fifteen.

That year Invisible Children was putting on multiple rallies throughout the country in order to raise awareness about the tragedy going on in Uganda. The nation-wide rally movement was called "Displace Me." Over a million Ugandans were displaced from their homes as a result of the wars, and the rally was a demonstration to bring awareness to that. The "Displace Me" demonstration involved sleeping outside, with only cardboard, one bottle of water, and saltine crackers. Paige and I, with out fifteen-year-old broken hearts, were insistent upon going.

The closest "Displace Me" event was happening in Washington, D.C. on the Mall in front of the Washington Monument. We begged and begged our parents to be able to go. Danielle, Walker, and Gill decided that they wanted to come as well. Finally, after a lot of convincing, my dad and Paige's dad decided they would chaperone our efforts and accompany us to D.C. as we slept outside (thank you, Dad :))

It was an extremely moving event and I loved every minute of it. I had never slept outside before (not even in a tent), but that night was the night. We slept outside with 6,000 other people and with some little bits of cardboard. We gave up our water and saltines and in order to get any of it we had to walk a certain distance. It was a humbling experience for my fifteen year old self.

My heart was truly broken at that time. I remember talking about going beforehand in my class and some of my other peers could not wrap their head around why I would actually care to do something like that. It made no sense to them and they said that it sounded "stupid" to them. But to me at the time, it was the only way that I knew how to act in response to my broken heart.

But since those high school days, I have become afraid to have my heart be broken like that again. I am afraid to have my heart truly broken because it requires action... and those actions do not always make sense to a lot of people.

I am scared now to really ask God to break my heart for what breaks His because I know that when it breaks, like reallllllly breaks, that it is going to break hard. So hard that it might fall to pieces until I act in response and actually do something... and that's scary.

I am terrified of what the consequences of a really broken heart might be.

I know that when my heart really breaks it's going to cause me to want to do things that people just do not understand and that quite frankly will not make sense to the average person. I want to love beyond my means and that simply just does not seem sensible all the time. 

Truth be told, my heart has started to break for a lot of different things. We live in a broken world and the results of that brokenness are everywhere... the sex trafficking industry, the school shootings, the millions of orphans worldwide, and the high school girls with absolutely no concept of self-worth... it is everywhere. Those are just naming a few.

But if my heart really breaks for all of those things I am afraid of being told that I am trying to do too much or that my dreams are too big. I am afraid of people telling me that I am crazy. I am afraid that I will be forever single because my life will never align with someone else's life.

I am so scared of letting my heart hurt that much for all of those different things that I am starting to erect little walls in my heart to keep me from feeling too much. I noticed the walls this past semester when I was in my Holocaust History course. I realized that I was able to effectively distance myself from the material so that I never felt too much. I noticed them again this past week at Passion when we talked about the 27 million people enslaved in the world... the little walls kept me always slightly disconnected so that it hurt and I was moved, but not to the point of total desperation. I was frustrated that maybe I just had a heart of stone... but then I realized that I was more terrified of what it meant to have a heart of true flesh.

But now when I am staring the millions of women being trafficked for sex in the face, I am utterly disgusted and appalled and my heart yearns for those women to know how much they are loved and valued by their Heavenly Father. My heart is desperate for Jesus to do something.

I feel the walls coming down, slowly but surely... they're crumbling and it's terrifying.

Fortunately though, the broken heart chases away the insignificant life.

I am reaching the point that I am realizing that I am going to have to ask the Lord to really break my heart for what break His and when He does I am going to have to be obedient in taking that action.

And when I am being obedient to Jesus then my life will have significance and that passion for Jesus will not die out.

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and to provide for those who grieve in Zion--to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor." -Isaiah 61:1-3 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Goodbye Lists, Hello Jesus

There is something beautiful about a New Year... something intriguing, sparkly, delightful, and refreshing.

It is often the time that people make their New Year resolutions and make their vows to do all sorts of things... get healthy, start a new hobby, be more organized, etc. And there is something exciting about that time... visions are cast that portray new lives that are more engaged, passionate, healthy, bold, and wonderful.

That is beautiful and rejuvenating, but this year, that is not me.

Yes, I do have things that I would like to accomplish this year. Yes, I have some goals that I have in mind. Yes, I do want to be healthier. The truth is, there is always a list of things that I would like to be... there is always something that I want to improve on.

Truth be told, I made a list of 50 goals, hopes, and dreams for 2013. I'm pretty content with them too. Some of them are exciting, some are challenging, and some are just silly.

But just recently I glanced down at the list and a realized: I cannot live by a check list.

Since I can remember I have lived by a list... a list of things to do, a list of things I need to do better on, a list of things I want to accomplish, a list for everything.

All of those lists have left me feeling pretty defeated because the list never ends and I somehow am never good enough. The desire for perfectionism that is deeply rooted in my heart controls the lists and it never fairs wells.

So for 2013, I will not be living by the list and all the things I need to work on. I am going to focus more on dwelling in the love of the Lord and letting that revolutionize my life, rather than all of my lists.

At the end of 2013 I want to be able to say that I know Jesus more than I do today. So if I am going to have a "resolution" for 2013 it is going to be: know Jesus more. I want to experience life with Him even more and I want to continue seeking His will for my life. I want to know more of His love for me and His love for the world.

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." (Colossians 1:15-20) 

There is something intimately magical and mysterious about who Jesus is and I want this year to be about knowing Him even more. "Knowing Jesus more" does not necessarily fall into a SMART (Specific.Measurable.Attainable.Realistic.Timely) goal, but that's okay with me. Knowing Jesus more will be the thing that forever alters my life, not all of my lists of things to work on.

I am saying goodbye to the list of improvements that need to be made. I am saying goodbye to the unreachable goals of perfection... but I am saying hello to knowing Jesus more.

I am truly excited for this upcoming year. It is going to be one of enormous change and huge milestones. It is the year of graduating from college and the year of beginning to pursue something that I love. It's going to be wild and it's going to be challenging, but most importantly, it's going to be full of Jesus.