Can God Really Forgive Me?

By Ellery Sadler 

“She who is forgiven much loves much.” Luke 7:47

Jesus tried to explain to His disciples the upside-down rules of eternity. God didn’t come to the world looking for semi-good people to make them all-the-way good. He came to save the hopelessly lost, the desperate, broken people with torn up lives and worn-out bodies and transform them into His own likeness.

We live in a culture that worships perfection – perfect pictures perfectly curated, posted on perfect timelines. Lighting just right. Angle just right. Life just right. But life isn’t like that and we are not perfect. Only when you experience some of the grit and messiness of life, do you experience the depth of Jesus’s love and the miracle of His grace. You are never too far gone for the grace of God. 

Of course, this isn’t license to go out and sin. Paul talks about this in Romans chapter 6 saying: “What then? Shall we go out and sin that grace may increase? Of course not. We have died to sin; so how can we live in it any longer?” Grace isn’t a license to sin, it’s a license to live – and to live in freedom. Grace gives us freedom from our past, freedom from our sin (not freedom to sin), freedom from guilt and shame and bitterness.

Grace is freedom.

SEE MORE at 700 Club Interactive 

6 Reasons We Are Called to Pray

By Ellery Sadler

Prayer is simply a conversation with God – a union of your soul with His heart. Sometimes it can be frustrating though and the guidelines either seem too rigid or nearly non-existent. Exactly how do we pray? Why should we pray? And when we do, how do we know that God hears us?

This is not a complete list of the purposes of prayer, but here are a few of the main reasons we are called to pray.

  1. Seeking God’s Face

“Seek the Lord your God with all your heart, and you will find Him.” Deuteronomy 4:29

One of the most incredible gifts of prayer is seeing the face of God. When you seek not just His hand, but His face. It’s the desire to know Him – His heart and His nature and His will. Sometimes we short-change our prayers and fill them with just our words, when one of the best things to do is to listen. God is speaking. His voice is a quiet whisper on the wind and if we are too busy talking, sometimes we miss it. So take a few minutes to sit before the throne of grace in silence, listening for His voice, seeking His face.

  1. Renewing Your Strength

“Look to the Lord & His strength. Seek His face always.” 1 Chronicles 16:11

In the chaos of life, there is only one place that promises perfect peace: at the feet of Jesus. When we look to the Lord and His strength, He fills us with His spirit. In our weakness, we realize how desperately we need His strength. Prayer is the place where our spirit is renewed.

 

SEE MORE at 700 Club Interactive

 

Your Calling Doesn’t Define You

By Ellery Sadler via Relevant Magazine 

I have not written an article in over a year. My keyboard has been silent. My brain has been busy with work during the day and too lazy after 5 o’clock to sit down and be creative. The thing is, a year and a half ago I would have told you I was a writer. My calling was to write. After all, I have seven novels sitting in nice, neat folders on my desktop and pages of unpublished article ideas.

But what do you do when you’re a writer who can barely string 140 characters together for a tweet? What happens when your calling falls on its face and refuses to be resurrected? For an entire year. No stories. No blog posts. No articles. Nothing.

You learn that your identity is not bound up in your calling. You learn that you need Jesus.

 

SEE MORE at RELEVANT MAGAZINE 

What a Love Story Really Looks Like

{Guest Article by Gaby Triyono}

We all know the typical cliché love stories that we see many times in movies – guy meets girl and they both happen to have the same interests, personalities that click, and a charm that attracts each other. We picture in our minds that a true love story is when we find our perfect match – our soul mate – that we have been dreaming of every night.

Now, this is probably true, but only in the beginning of a love story.

So what is a true love story? From my own experience, it is definitely not what movies portray or what we dream about.

When I first dated my boyfriend things went perfectly. All we wanted was each other, and we could simply gaze at one another all day long. We were at that point in our relationship when we both wanted to do whatever the other person wanted to do.

Sounds like a typical love story right? But just a month ago, I really started to question if I was in the right relationship. My relationship just didn’t seem to fit with the typical “love story” that I had always pictured. We have been dating for almost 2 years now, which isn’t that long, but it was long enough there was a point where I could see our love story start to fade away.

He started getting into his hobby collection and playing games, while I started getting more involved with church activities. I liked going to the mall, he didn’t. He liked to stay at home, I liked to go out. I loved to talk and ramble about my revelations with God, while he wasn’t always the perfect listener.

The fact was, we were two different people. And if we did have a similarity, it was the fact that we both would get mad when things didn’t go our way.

I was desperate for our old love story to come back, for us to have passion for one another like before. I yearned for his support and understanding which seemed to only get worse. But it was in my devotion time with God, when he spoke 3 words that really changed my relationship.

Love is patient.

God showed me that love is patient – it always hopes and perseveres for the best of the other person. Love is willing to wait everyday in hopes that the other person will change. This is the kind of true love story that God had planned for each couple to live; to have a love that shows how God loves us.

Psalm 136:1 says, “God’s love never fails.” How is it possible that God’s love will never fail? Because His love is a love that is patient. He patiently waits for us in hopes that we will change and love him more. His arms are always open to welcome us on that day when we will run into his arms. God will never give up on us because his love is always waiting and believing for us to come back to him.

This is the love that a true love story should have – a love that will never fail, and one that cannot fail.

How can love fail when it never ceases to give up on the other?

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails..” If this is love, then how can love fail? True love was never made to fail. Through my relationship, God really showed me what a true love story really is.

A true love story is not when two perfectly matched people come together, but rather when two different people come together and try everyday to be a perfect match for one another.

Love is a choice and commitment to choose to love the other. Love is not a result of an emotional bonding, but rather it creates an emotional bonding.

Emotional love feelings were never made to last forever, but the kind of love in 1 Corinthians 13 was made to stand forever. A year ago I made a huge mistake and thought my boyfriend would never forgive me for it, but he stood by me and still chose to love me. He chose to be patient and hope for the best of me.

Today, by the grace of God I have been changed, and changed for the better. True love is one that loves unconditionally. God reminded me that now it is my turn to be patient, because that is what love is. My boyfriend and I now try everyday to please one another and grow in Christ together. Because of my new perspective on what love is, our love story has definitely changed.

It takes both people in relationship to choose to love one another for a relationship to thrive. We will never be perfect for one another, but we will never stop trying to be perfect for one another. So remember, this is what a true love story really is: messy, imperfect, but committed and beautiful.

 

Gaby is an ordinary girl who has a big heart for the Lord. Her passion is to inspire others to walk in Christ. Check out her website here.

If I Don’t Feel Called, Should I Still Go?

{By Ellery Sadler}

It would be nice to have a message directly from God every once in a while, wouldn’t it? Handwriting in the sky telling you which job to take or who to marry or which mission trip to go on or whether or not you were cut out for this thing called faith. It would be nice to be called. To feel called.

And sometimes that happens. Sometimes you’re one of the lucky few to get a specific call from the Lord, probably not audibly, but so deep in your soul that you can’t ignore it. A calling that leads you to chase Him across the ocean to the bare brush-covered lands of Africa or the grey, city streets of New York, or to the backroom of a film studio in California or into the arms of a little kid in foster care who needs a home. Sometimes His calling is as clear and repetitive as your own heartbeat. He leads you, step after step, heartbeat after heartbeat.

But what if He doesn’t? Or what if it feels like He isn’t?

What if you don’t feel called or led or inclined to do anything great or grand or humble in His name? What if one mission trip looks as good as the next and you don’t care where you go? Or if you go at all? What if one girl is great and the other is great too? What if both jobs seem like solid choices?

The answer is: they both are probably great. Great girls. Great jobs. Great mission trips. Great decisions to make. But you have to make the decision.

I was struggling with this with about going on a mission trip. Somehow it feels like mission trips should be hyper-spiritual decisions, something that needs glaring neon lights pointing you in the right direction. But I didn’t get those lights. I didn’t get that feeling of destiny waiting for me on the other side of the ocean. And I wondered if I should go at all. My first thoughts were maybe this wasn’t right, maybe I wasn’t being led, maybe this wasn’t my job. Fast-forward six weeks and I still didn’t feel anything different. But maybe this trip wasn’t supposed to be all about me? I just know that I am called to love people, and I think that calling means people on the other side of the world, as well as in my neighborhood.

You can’t waste your life waiting for a warm fuzzy feeling from God.

You can’t wait for Him to constantly pat you on the back, telling you you’ve made the perfect choice. Because most of the time, there won’t be a perfect choice.

If you marry Andy, there will be times you might wish you’d married Peter. And if you marry Peter, there will be times you might wish you’d married Andy. If you go to Honduras, it probably isn’t going to be any easier or more perfect than if you go to India.

If faith was all about feelings, it wouldn’t be called faith.

You get to choose. The fact that you get to choose is a gift. It’s called free will and God gave it to you so that life would be rich with real love and real purpose and real relationships. So choose.

This is not to say you shouldn’t be wise and seek God while making your decisions. You should. You need to. Talk with your mentors. Pray. Talk with your close friends. Pray more. Make a list of pros and cons for each option if that’s your style. Consider carefully your options and seek counsel. See if your decision is aligned with scripture. If you’ve done all this, and have peace that you are making a wise decision: make the decision.

Don’t let the devil dissuade you from loving people in Jesus’s name simply because you haven’t felt the feeling you wish you would feel.

Feelings have no intellect. Emotions are not based on Truth. Your decisions need to be.

You can’t go wrong loving people like Jesus does. You can’t go wrong honoring God, whether that’s as a med student, a lawyer, a photographer, a missionary, or an artist. Don’t let indecision paralyze you. Don’t let fear of stepping outside of God’s ‘will’, keep you sitting in the bleachers.

Bleachers will bore you to death.

Sitting in the bleachers slowly disintegrates your faith. Faith was meant to be lived. To be messy. And dirty. And beautiful.

Honor Him. Love others. And move forward.

 

 

The One Way to Never Waste Your Time

{By Ellery Sadler}

I saw this picture on my Instagram yesterday. And it made me wonder, how much of our spiritual life is all about that like button?

Instagram christianity

Maybe instead of scrolling through our Instagram accounts, we should put the phone away and pray. Maybe our lives would be more Christ-like if we stopped clicking like and starting living love. Maybe we would have more opportunities to be love if we stopped staring at a screen.

I realize there is some irony in that last sentence, as I sit here staring at a screen writing this and will probably sit at my computer writing research papers for the rest of the week. But I have discovered something fascinating in the last few months: time spent in prayer is never wasted. No matter if you use words or can’t even speak. No matter if it is five minutes or an hour.

The one thing you can be sure of in life is this:

Any moment you spend talking to God is etched into eternity.

I’ve never found anything else like that. Yes, there is value in school and work and vacations and sleep and doing life. But the one way to never waste your time is to pray. Pray while you drive. Pray while you write. Pray while you take a walk. The conscious inclusion of Christ into the minute moments, the mundane routine of your day turns an ordinary week into a holy experience.

This is the reason why a banker who prays for each of her clients can have an eternal impact that is as equally valuable as a missionary on the other side of the globe.

This is why your job is never more holy, or more spiritual, than you are.

You are on a mission every day, all year round. One of the most fascinating ways I have found to be more mission minded is to pray for the people I come in contact with.

Maybe the guy at the 7-11 with tattooed hands and tired eyes is one prayer away from hope. Maybe the painfully thin girl at the grocery store is one prayer away from healing. Maybe the businessman running the red light is one prayer away from a life changing decision.

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about, be kind.” – Wendy Mass I love that quote, because it is so deeply true. It is one of the reasons Humans of New York is so compelling. We are stories in the making. Each person you pass on the street or awkwardly avoid eye contact with in the elevator is an open book. And when you pray, you get to change the trajectory of their story.

You can to breathe life and hope and joy into the pages of their life.

So instead of clicking like on some picture about prayer on Instagram, let’s turn off our phones and look up and actually pray for the people around us. Each person you meet is an opportunity for prayer. Each prayer is an act of obedience and an opportunity for change.

Praying Christians are powerful.

Adulting Basics

{By Taylor Turner}
Life gets real – fast. High School: over. College: graduated.

Then the reality of life settles in. Initially you feel the weight and responsibility of being an adult; and soon thereafter your parents get really smart very fast – and I mean really smart almost overnight. Trust me on this. They seriously become the smartest people on the planet and your biggest resources and fans for quite practically everything (thanks, mom and dad).

Then the ‘adulting’ symptoms begin to appear. From cutting the lights out when you leave the room because the bill hits your bank account at the end of each month (its now a chronic habit of mine) to realizing that your bank account is not a bottomless pit of Benjamins.

As I get older, it is becomes even more clear that life is full of rewards and responsibilities. Money has a component of both. Money: one of the most powerful tools in the world, for good and bad. Everyone understands that you must use a hammer to put a nail in a board – not a screwdriver. When we know how to use a hammer we reap the rewards of getting that nail in the board. It’s the same with your finances: you can’t spend more than you earn – except our buddies in Washington, D.C. have “legally” monopolized that in the Department of Stupid. In short, we only reap the financial benefits of money when we take responsibility and use the right tools.

The first thing to do is write your financial goals down – on paper.

Trust me it helps. Take five to ten minutes and think about your goals for this year: want to save for a trip to the Bahamas for the weekend or a road trip to a state near you that you have never visited, start saving for the car you have always wanted, or it could be as simple as saving money for a rainy day. It can be any goal but make sure to write it down. It will help.

Your goals are written down – now for the easier part. Although this part takes consistency, it is easier because most people never make the time to figure out their goals in the first place. The next part is keeping track of your goals. Thankfully there is a multitude of free software tools available exactly for this. Since I am just a tad bit nerdy, I use excel; and although I love it, it is definitely not something that everyone will find helpful. Here are a couple programs that I have found over the past year which are user friendly: YNAB, HomeBudget, EveryDollar, or Mint.

Life is what you make it: you have to take it by the horns and get ‘er done.

By setting goals for yourself, you will already be far ahead of the pack (most people never think about this) and by following through with your goals you will be setting up yourself and you grandchildren to reap the rewards of you some time to lay out your goals. As one well-known gentleman says, “live like no one else right now so that later on you can live like no one else.”

How to Find Your Purpose In a Noisy World

{Guest Article by Gaby Triyono}

Who do you want to be one day? What do you want to do in life? What is your dream job? These are all questions that many of us have been asked since high school, and maybe even until now. But did you know that you don’t need to come up with your own dream job or choose someone else’s dream?

Did you know that you were actually made with a unique hidden purpose?

I lived my whole school life trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life. My elders wanted me to be a doctor, my parents wanted me to be a lawyer, and the list just went on. I went through college and took career test exams that were suppose to detect which careers would match me best.

All these efforts were done to find that perfect dream job, my purpose for life. At the end, I decided to choose business marketing only because it seemed like a safe major that couldn’t go wrong. But even after choosing my major, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Many would ask me what do you want to do in life?

I really didn’t know.

My answer to them would be, I want to own my own marketing company, or I want to be a marketing coordinator for Amazon, or I want to be a business consultant for Deloitte. My answer would continuously change based on the current job availabilities out there. I thought my purpose would be limited to the options I see in this world, or the job labels that were out there.

It wasn’t until about a year ago that I finally found my purpose in life. And not just any purpose, but a unique purpose with no job labels.

I found a purpose that I didn’t have to make up about because I was created for it.

You were created for a purpose that only you can fulfill, a purpose that God made you for. Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I made you in your mother’s wound, I chose you. Before you were born, I set you apart for a special work.”

God made everyone with a special purpose, a special work that can only be completed by you. Don’t neglect the dreams that God has placed in your heart, and if you have not found it yet, do not give up because you do have one.

So how do you find your special purpose?

First, by finding your unique gift from God. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.”

You have been given a special gift from the Holy Spirit to help minister to others and fulfill your assigned purpose from God. But before you can find your purpose, you must know your gift or talent from God. You can’t have dreams and aspirations without first knowing what you’re passionate about and what you’re gifted in. For instance, you can’t have dreams to be a famous chef until you have found your talent and passion in cooking.

You must go and find your passions from God. My God-given dream is to be a writer, speaker, and author will inspire others in growing their love and faith in God. Back in college, I didn’t have any dreams that were inspired by God.

I didn’t know what my purpose in life was because I hadn’t yet found my passion in God.

But after putting myself out there and trying different things, I finally found my gift and purpose from God. We will never know what we are good at or what we love until we try it. If you’re a good cook, you probably didn’t know it until you tried cooking. None of us were born knowing what our gifts and purposes are in life. But just because we are not aware of our gifts and purpose from God does not mean we do not have a God-given purpose in our lives.

God has special plans for all of you, so go out there and find your hidden purpose from God. Try different ministries, serve others, get involved in your community, and see where God will take you. You don’t have to make up a destiny for yourself because only God’s destiny for you will give you a life to its fullest. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you”, says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and future.” Your great purpose doesn’t come from you, it comes from God.

We will never live satisfied lives if we try to be someone who we were never created to be.

God has set you apart for a special purpose – will you find that special calling?

gaby triyono

 

Gaby Triyono is an ordinary girl who has a big heart for the Lord. My passion is to inspire others to walk in Christ. You can read more of her writing at her blog LivingRevelations.

 

Why You’re Afraid to Pursue Your Art (And What to Do About It)

{Guest Article by Mark Casper}

When I was a kid, I was fearless. No hill was too steep, no tree too high. Ok, so maybe my dad was a safety freak and made me wear a six-inch-thick Styrofoam helmet whenever I rode my Big Wheel. But still, when it came to life, nothing seemed too risky or too dangerous. I didn’t care about the opinion of others, or about the consequences of failure. I lived fully and whole-heartedly in every moment.

But a funny thing happened as I got older: I became less and less inclined to do anything that could result in failure, rejection, or mediocrity. I even shied away from pursuing things I was supposedly gifted at, like writing. It just seemed too risky, like putting all your chips on the table.

The Fear of Failure

The uncomfortable truth is, I’ve spent most of my life either seeking the approval of others or fearing their disapproval. This is especially true when I’m faced with the thought of a new artistic endeavor. I’m haunted by certain questions:

What happens if I fail? What if no one likes what I’ve created? What if no one buys my art?

As a result, I often avoid the project altogether, preferring the safety and comfort of thinking about what could have been if I had really tried. I know I’m not alone here. Most of us try to justify ourselves by our performance, so we’re terrified at the thought of failure.

art and the gospel creative christians

The Safe Route

Ironically enough, sometimes we’re even afraid of pursuing the calling we have a natural ability for. At first this seems counterintuitive—you would think pursuing your gifts would be the path of least resistance.

But I’ve found that it feels much safer to do things I’m not naturally good at or haven’t put much time into. For those reasons, I give myself lower expectations in these “ungifted” areas. Failure isn’t as soul crushing because it wasn’t “my thing” in the first place (see my performance on the golf course for a real-life example of this).

This is the biggest reason why I’ve been afraid to write. Since I have some natural ability in it, I expect more of myself. I fear what will happen if I actually pour my heart and soul into a piece of writing. What if it gets rejected? What if people say it’s garbage? What if someone is much better? If I’m not approved or affirmed in the very thing people say I’m “good” at, where does that leave me?

The Gospel and Your Art

In my counselor’s office a sword hangs on the wall (intense, I know). Beneath it lies one of my favorite quotes from the film Braveheart:

“All men die. Not every man truly lives.”

Whenever we listen to our fears and cease to pursue the risky art we were called to create, we cease to truly live. And the only way we can find the freedom to recklessly pursue our art is to place our identity, worth, and value in something else–namely, the gospel of Jesus.

Though our culture tells us that our identity comes from our performance, the gospel tells us that our identity stems from Jesus’ performance. Because I trust that Jesus lived the life I should have lived and died the death I should have died, I have been adopted into God’s family. The Father now looks at me with a smile and says, “You are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Do you see what this means? If your identity doesn’t come from your work, you are free to live, love, and pursue your art whole-heartedly, knowing that your worth, future, and identity are perfectly secure in Christ. You are free to fail. You are free from having to prove yourself to others. You are free from comparison. You are even free to produce your art in obscurity, knowing that whatever becomes of your life’s work is the perfect, loving will of your Heavenly Father.

Consider this quote (one of my all-time favorites) from Donald Miller’s book, Searching for God Knows What:

“Imagine how a man’s life would be if he trusted that he was loved by God. How he could love his wife easily and not expect her to redeem him, he would be slow to anger because redemption was no longer at stake, he could give up on formulaic religion, knowing that checking stuff off a spiritual to-do list was a worthless pursuit, he would have confidence and the ability to laugh at himself, and he could love people without expecting anything in return. It would be quite beautiful, really.”

So friends now I put the question to you: how would your life and art be different if you had nothing to lose–if you trusted that you were completely loved by God?

 

mark casper

 

Mark Casper is a writer and graphic designer who lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife. Find him online at markrobertcasper.com and on Twitter here.

 

 

Yes, It Really Is All About You

{By Ellery Sadler}

is christianity all about you
Christianity was never supposed to be a game of comparison.

Me against you. You against Peter. Peter against Rachel. Rachel against Susan. Susan against John.

As I was driving home in the dark, I was thinking about all the things that other people were doing that sounded so much cooler than what I was doing. Mission trips. Published books. Beautiful pictures. Traveling the world. And what was I doing? Spending my days cranking out schoolwork, painting, and trying to keep at least one or two of my New Year’s resolutions past the first three weeks of 2016.

I sometimes I use my time driving to pray. First because I happen to have a lot of time spent in the car and second because there are only so many things you can do while driving. So I prayed, basically saying:

Dear God, I would like a cooler life. ASAP. Please. Amen.
Thank you so much.

And then it hit me like a tractor-trailer going the wrong way down 64. It isn’t about comparison. Christianity isn’t all about the other Christians or the other people I wish I were more like or am glad I’m not like.

It’s all about Jesus. And it’s all about me. Because Jesus is all about me.

In the hurry and busy and chaos we call normal, I forgot about the miracle of Jesus. I forgot that even if I was the only person on the planet ever to be created, ever to sin, He still would have come to die for me. Me. And if you were the only person on the planet, He would come to die for you. In fact, He did.

One of the biggest things we’ve forgotten about Christianity is the truth that God. Loves. You. You specifically. You uniquely. Only you. Just you. All you.

There is no part of you that He doesn’t love.

He doesn’t just love the lovely parts about you or the talents that you have or the way that you perform under pressure. He doesn’t just love the way you serve or the way you laugh or the way you are when everything is fine. He loves the deepest part of your soul. He loves the unlovely part of you. He loves all of you. Can you fathom that?

Can you wrap your mind around the truth that there is someone who loves the worst part of yourself? The nagging, complaining, impatient, stressed, selfish part of you?
Since before He even thought about creating the world, He thought about you. He’s loved you since before time was even conceived. He has loved you since forever.

Sometimes, I think we need to be reminded of that. It isn’t all about your performance. It isn’t all about your success. It isn’t about the way you look. It isn’t even about the number of people you help or serve or the ministry you volunteer at or the art you create or the business you build. Those are all wonderful things, and God cares about them infinitely more than you could imagine. But most of all He cares about you.

Let’s live like it. There is no need to shrink from greatness. There is no need to worry about failure. Failing is ok. The biggest failure of humanity led to its greatest salvation. There is no need to sit back and watch the world go by. Dive in. You are loved. Loved with a love so powerful a single breath of it created life. We don’t need to compare. We don’t need to be in competition with each other. We don’t need to try to impress anyone.

Our hope is sure. Our life is sure. Our future is sure.

Because Jesus is all about you.

 

 

 

Have You Seen God Today?

{By Lana Jackson}

“Our word is a kaleidoscope of wonders and divinely engineered realities, fitly joined together to showcase the greatness of God . . . I know we think of this world as fallen and hopelessly trapped in evil—and so it is. However, even under the curse of sin, Planet Earth remains breathtakingly beautiful. The creation is, in fact, the very handiwork of God. From Heaven’s view, our planet is literally filled with the glory of God.

We have no perspective of the miracle of life itself; its substance so surrounds us that we fail to see it as unusual. But biological life is anything but typical. It is utterly the rarest thing on this side of the universe. As far as men can discern from their space probes and telescopes for billions of light years in every direction, life exists only on Planet Earth, this teardrop from the eye of God.

So, my question to you, O seeker of God, is this: Have you looked with God-honoring eyes at the creation surrounding you? Have you seen God’s glory today?

– Francis Frangipane, “And I Will Be Found By You”

I want to see God. I know, only dead people see God. But I REALLY want to see God and experience his glory in some tangible way, on Earth, while I am fully alive and in my right mind. And I just have this anticipation that it will be any day now, that I’ll go to say a prayer, or go for a walk, or I’ll go to sleep and have a dream, and CRACK ‘A SLAM the Spirit of God will appear to me in some marvelous vision and completely ruin everyday life for me!!

I’m afraid to admit this, but I’m a little bit jealous of folks like: Moses, Abraham, Isaiah, David, Habakkuk, Solomon, Zechariah, Paul and the John the Apostle. All these guys are noted in scripture as having seen God’s glory. [See: Exodus 33:18-23, Acts 7:2, Isaiah 6:1, Ezekiel 3:23, 2 Samuel 6:2, Habakkuk 3:3, 2 Chronicles 7:1, Zechariah 1:8, 2 Corinthians 12:2, and Revelations 1:12-20.]

I suppose it’s a little silly but I want to see the glory of God, like they did—I actually think about it. A lot. And it’s not because I’m obsessed with having supernatural experiences, to the best of my knowledge I’m not a weirdo . . . probably.

I just feel this way because I want my worship of God to be complete.

I want to see God high and lifted up so that I can worship him in the way he deserves. I want to see Jesus as he is so that my prayer and devotional time will be a natural response to my utter captivation of his being, instead of the work and routine of Bible study. I want to see God so that the beatific vision of him will eclipse the 10,000 lesser problems I’m currently dealing with. I want to experience God’s glory because I’m exhausted trying to dodge the enemy’s flaming arrows—spiritual warfare makes me tired and cranky.

I just know that if I could see him, really see him as he is in all his glory, my life would be different . . . I would be different. I know you feel the same way too.

Yet, this quote above forces us to realize that while we’re sitting here waiting to be caught up in the third heaven, we have forgotten to consider that at this very moment the glory of God surrounds us.

Paul said in Romans 1:20 that the eternal power of God and his divine nature are “clearly seen,” and can be understood through what has “already been made,” so that men are pretty much without excuse in claiming that there is no God to worship.

If the heathen are without excuse, then what’s our excuse for not seeing God’s glory?

If the glory of God can clearly be seen based on what’s already down here, then maybe we don’t have to stand on top of a mountain and beg God for his glory to pass by, like Moses did. Maybe it’s already passing by and we’re just not seeing it. Or, maybe we don’t really want to see it because it’s not happening the way we want it to.

This reminds me of one of my favorite scenes, from one of my favorite movies called “The Prestige.” In the film one of the main characters explains the three parts of a magic trick, at the end of the explanation he says:

“Now you’re looking for the secret [to the trick]. But you won’t find it because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.”

This made me realize, perhaps I’m not really looking. I want my experience of God to be some magical explosion of glory because I don’t have time to settle down, ignore the FOMO and be still long enough to see the magic he’s trying to show me—right now. I just want to be dazzled . . . and quickly.

But you can’t expect to see God’s glory if you’re always rushing about, or closed up indoors, or distracted by problem-solving every difficulty you encounter, or preoccupied by some mind-numbing exercise in futility like cleaning out your email.

There really is magic in our world, don’t laugh because C.S. Lewis would totally agree with me!

To see the magic – to see God’s glory – you must position yourself to see it.

You can’t expect to experience God when you give him whatever time is left over at the end of the week, when you’re burned out, the bills are all paid, despondency from daily trials sets in, and you’ve become distracted by leisure on your weekend days.

You have to look up at the sky, at the end of a very long day and realize that the sunset appears to be a series of strategically placed brushstrokes, strewn across the sky in what appears to be 11 different shades of orange and pink.

You have to notice the oddity of squirrels when they dart across your lawn. How are they able to move so fast with such little feet? How do they get their tails to be so fluffy if they never brush them?

You have to look at a newborn baby and wonder how something so little, so utterly defenseless and delicate can even make it past their first year of life?

You have to look at the married couple in the line behind you at Target and marvel at how a man and a woman can love each other at all, when people are so messed up and human emotions seem to fluctuate on a minute-by-minute basis.

You have to run your hands through the grass and consider that they were made in the shape of blades and not circles.

You have to ask God random questions in your prayer journal, like: Why are bald eagles bald, does it make them more aerodynamic?

You have to make time to ponder things like flowers that can thrive in bitterly cold temperatures of -20 degrees Fahrenheit—Edelweiss anybody?

You have to consider what Mark Batterson says in his book “In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day,” that your best thoughts about God, on your best days, fall 13.7 billion light years short of God’s thoughts. Apparently, astrophysicists have discovered that the farthest galaxy from ours is at least 13.7 billion light years away (it’s probably even farther than that now).

All of this is glorious to me . . .

So here’s my thought, instead of waiting for God to blast me with some rhapsodic theophany, or a sublime vision maybe I should just start paying attention to things that are actually happening around me. I mean if God wants to give me a rhapsodic experience of his glory, he can definitely do that, but maybe I don’t need it. Now that I’m looking for God’s glory intentionally, it just seems so pervasive in all of life.

His glory sticks out, like a red-head in a sea of blonde people—you just can’t miss it.

What I’m saying is that seeing God should be a normal and obvious experience, because his glory is just so everywhere.

I think Jesus would agree with me too. Jesus constantly drew his experiences of God the Father from the natural world around him.

He told the disciples to “consider the lilies” in Luke 12:27. And he used many parables about things like farming and sheep to explain the Kingdom of God. He didn’t preach on fancy pulpits, instead he took his disciples to hilltops and lakesides where they could see and encounter God in his creation. And Jesus often sought refuge from the demands of life in quiet places, mostly gardens, most specially the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:2). I’m sure he probably laid on the grass, alone, starring up in the night sky (sans light pollution) counting stars and pondering the vast, majestic beauty of the Father whom he loved.

Jesus was resourceful like that, he knew how to seek the supernatural in the natural. If Jesus learned how to do this while he walked our Earth, we can learn how to do this too.

This is our privilege as children of the Most High, we have the unique ability to see the magic in ordinary days. We have the gift of seeking God on Earth, while he may be found and everywhere he may be found (Jeremiah 29:13-14). God promised us that if we look for him with our whole hearts, he would let us find him. He promised. He promised.

So, have you seen God today?

 

My Way of Making 2016 the Happiest Year Yet

{By Ellery Sadler}

Have you heard of people picking a word for the year? Generosity. Focus. Contentment. Rest. It’s a way to set the tone for the year and refocus yourself when sometime about March you forget all your New Year’s resolutions.

I like the idea and I’ve done it for a couple years myself, but this year I couldn’t think of the right word. No word really stuck out to me. No Bible verse jumped off the pages. But as I looked back over 2015 and thought about what I’d learned through the myriad of experiences: making new friends, learning how to connect with high schoolers, serving with Young Life, running on little sleep and lots of school, letting go of the past, traveling – one thing stood out to me: I am blessed. You are blessed. I used to think of being blessed as outward expressions of God’s favor: success, happiness, safety, health, family. But being blessed goes beyond the things that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. We’re each blessed in different ways, and most of the time it isn’t in material success.

Blessed does not mean being happy. Blessed means being made holy.

Every experience, every breath is a blessing, a holy consecration of that moment of time we call life. Every moment can be counted a blessing if it is viewed in light of God’s desire to make us holy by giving us the holy experience of life.

Whether you’re panting after running a marathon or using an inhaler or slowly taking your last breath – it is a blessing. Because being human is an incredible gift. It is an unfathomable gift to be brought into being, to be created.

A lot has happened in the last year and looking ahead, I couldn’t pick one word that encapsulates what I think God is calling me to. But I had an epiphany yesterday. (Driving for seven hours in the car often leads to epiphanies, just fyi.) And I knew my word for the year would actually be a phrase.

It’s a G I F T.

This is the motto I want etched across every adventure, every heartache, every friendship. It’s a gift. It’s a gift to be love to someone else and be loved yourself. And it’s just as much a gift to feel heartache and disappointment and pain. Because there is no greater gift that the human experience. Yes, it’s messy but it is also unbelievably beautiful. And gifts are meant to be opened, enjoyed, and shared.

So open life. Fling open the doors of your heart and love with a reckless, crazy kind of abandon that makes people wonder who told you it was ok to invest in people like that. Stretch wide the corners of your mind and broaden your horizons. Read and learn and travel and educate yourself. Open your apartment or dorm or home and invite people in for a meal, a conversation, a chance to connect.

So enjoy this year, enjoy it to the fullest. I think there is often a misconception that enjoying something is selfish. Enjoying something is worship. It is an expression of gratitude to the giver. So enjoy this year because the One who is giving it to you is worthy of your worship. Enjoy random walks in the rain. Enjoy your little cousin’s silly jokes. Enjoy your classes. Enjoy your late nights with friends. Enjoy the smell of summer. There is no room for guilt in a heart that is grateful. Breathe in and enjoy what you’ve been given.

And share your blessings. People say blessings should be counted, and they should. But more than hoarded in a numbered list in your mind, they should be shared. So scatter blessings this year. If you’ve been blessed with a great sense of humor, tell your funny stories – this world needs a little more laughter and a little less stress. If you’ve been blessed with a car, give somebody a ride that doesn’t have one. If you’ve been blessed with enough room, let a friend crash on your couch. If you’ve been blessed with a wonderful family, invite your friends over and share it.

Gifts were never meant to be just received. Gifts are to be given away.

So that is my resolution for the year of 2016. It’s not something fancy. It’s not really something that can be checked off of my list of things to do. It’s just acknowledging what I’ve been learning: every single moment – whether happy or sad, whether ordinary or crazy – is a gift.

my goals for 2016

And that is the way I want to live in 2016.

The One Thing You Need to Remember Heading Into 2016

{By Lana Jackson}

“But as for me the nearness of God is my good; I have made the LORD God my refuge that I may tell of all your works.” –Psalm 73:28

Be encouraged. Jesus is near to you. He wants you to be near to him. This Christmas season is a reminder of how God became near to us, when Jesus Christ was born into our world. At that moment everything changed. The Son of God, became the Son of Man, so men could become sons of the Living God.

new year resolutions

God the Father, the Creator became Immanuel, God with us. God with you. And in doing so he gave a part of this creation (i.e. humans) the right to become his relation, to become related to him as his children—sons and daughters. As John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

What other part of the creation has that privilege?

Who else has that right to move from being a creation to a relation?

Does a tree have the right, does a lion or a bird? No. It’s just you, it’s just for you.

It is as if, Jesus left heaven and went camping on earth, and decided to pitch his tent right next to yours. His tent became your refuge—the safe place to go when the world outside raged around you. This is the love of God: he comes to where you are so that you can be where he is.

He pitched his tent next to yours so you could have access to him. God loves you, he loves you . . . You are the one he loves. He is near you, so very close to you. And his nearness is your good.

Don’t forget to remember.

If You Only Do One Thing This Christmas, Make it This

{By Lana Jackson}

I like driving around my neighborhood at Christmastime. I love seeing how creative some people can get with lights—simple pleasures in life, right? Well, what I love even more are the manger scenes that some houses or churches put out on their front lawns. Every year, I drive by them and smile and think, mhmm nice to see some of us know what Christmas is really about. And then I keep on driving. And driving. Easily missing this little nugget of goodness contained in that manger scene—that God came into our world in the form of a child.

I know, I know what you’re thinking. Duh . . .

That’s what I thought too, until God showed me something really cool as I was reading my bible in my cubicle, on a very odd Wednesday morning. I say it was odd because I don’t really like Wednesdays, there’s something really weird about them. Anyway, I was flipping around in the scriptures trying to find something to read, you know the magic 8 ball devotional method—I don’t recommend it, but the Holy Spirit obliged and God showed me this:

“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built?

It’s a clip from 1 Kings 8:27, the scene where Solomon is praying at the dedication service for the temple he had built in Jerusalem. In his prayer, he’s basically asking God this rhetorical question: “umm God, quick question, how is it that you can be contained in this building we have made here when there isn’t even room enough for you in the vast expanse of the cosmos?”

Interesting point King Solomon—great question. That guy, he is so smart.

So that got me thinking, if there isn’t room enough in the highest heaven for God, because his glory and magnificence are so exceedingly massive, how could God contain himself in a baby?

At this point, I’ll just stop. I won’t even attempt to answer this question with some kind of jedi mind-trick theology. I don’t know how God did this. None of us really knows how this could even be possible, God becoming a child? We know about the Immaculate Conception of course, but the inner workings of how God pulled this off remains one of the most profound and beautiful mysteries of the Christian faith. With of course the second greatest mystery being that in God’s mathematical gymnastics 5+2 = 5,000 with a remainder of 12 (see also: ‘The Feeding of the Five Thousand, Matthew 14:13-21). I digress.

Instead, what I will share with you is the train of thought that followed as I made this Christmas discovery about God being contained in a child, here’s what I was thinking:

An unwed teen mom. Her fiancé. A baby in a manger. Holy scene. All the feels. Smile. Keep walking. But wait, contained in that child are depths of forever, multiplied by infinity. Inside this child is a Savior of whom it is said, that his face is like the sun shining in full force (Revelations 1:16). A being so dreadfully powerful, breathtakingly divine, and utterly holy that he dwells in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16).

Unapproachable. Light. What is that?

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You know Jesus, some people say that the reason you were able to turn water into wine, was because when the water saw you, it’s Creator, it blushed. Whoa. Is there any truth to that explanation?

Anyway, I think I understand now Lord, how Solomon felt when he said: “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaves cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built?”

And yet, you contained yourself in human flesh as a baby. And yet, you walked our earth as a man. Constraining yourself to things like time and space—creations that should be in submission to you, which you allowed to become containers for you.

Could you really dwell on earth God?

Yes. And he did. He contained his glory in the tiny heartbeat of an infant, who would become a man that would give up his life to bring many lost sons and daughters to glory. A man who would not only absorb the brokenness of the world in his body, but would absolve the world of its sins with his blood.

How does a Deity, whom the highest heavens cannot contain, contain himself in human flesh?

No wonder the grave couldn’t hold him—heaven can barely contain him.

I guess you would call that a Christmas miracle. I call it inconceivable. But just because I cannot conceive it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It’s just so far above me—like a fourth grader trying to understand the artistic complexities of the Sistine Chapel from a poster in his art classroom. I look at it and smile and think, this is awesome but I’ll never get it and so I move on because . . .

“It is possible for the most majestic and beautiful things to lay overlooked and hidden and forgotten because of its incredible superiority amidst the commonness of its surroundings—that we don’t recognize it, it’s too above us. And we walk about it unknowing, darkened, and unaffected simply because of the superlativeness of its beauty.” – Tommy Nelson

I don’t have anything against fourth graders, I promise. I just don’t want to be like that—you know, unaffected? I don’t want to move on from the manger anymore. I don’t want to forget the complex beauty that lives there.

 

 

The Inconvenient Truth About Pursuing God

{By Ellery Sadler}

Pursuing God goes beyond Bible study. It goes beyond service. It means facing the inconvenient truth that on your own, you aren’t good enough. And remembering that day in and day out. But even more than remembering you aren’t enough, to pursue God well, you have to remember that He is.

It is so easy to ease into apathy; so convenient to stay where we’re comfortable. The issue is, when we’re comfortable we feel like we’re in control. When we feel like we’ve got this thing called life figured out – we’ve got a great girlfriend or a job we love or good grades – we begin to feel like we don’t need God. I mean, hey, we’ve done pretty well on our own right?

Wrong.

Oswald Chamber’s, in his devotional My Utmost for His Highest, dares his readers to pray to be desperate for Jesus. I like a challenge, so I accepted his dare and began to pray that God would make me desperate for Him. I didn’t exactly realize what that would entail. Desperate means frantic, at your wits end, when you’ve tried everything and nothing works, when you have nothing left to lose. It’s that creeping feeling in the pit of your stomach when you’ve done your best but it isn’t enough. Being desperate for Jesus still means being desperate.

So I prayed. I didn’t feel anything change. My grades were still good, my freelance writing job was going well, I was making new friends. Hey, this whole desperately pursuing God thing wasn’t so bad after all. I kind of imagined giving Mr. Chambers a smug smile. But I love this about God: He never does what’s expected. I pictured some sort of instantaneous change in my soul when I prayed to be desperate.

But instead, it was a slow growing realization that I am not enough on my own.

I’m not superwoman. I can’t juggle twenty things without getting crabby and stressed. I don’t know how to always have joy. I haven’t mastered the art of finding peace. I don’t know how to love people like He does. Slowly, I realized that the things that I thought made me who I am, were not mine at all. They were Jesus in me. Joy? Without Jesus, forget it. Peace? Without Jesus, it’s not happening. Serving? Without Jesus, I want some applause for my ‘servant’s heart’. Courage? Even with Jesus, that’s a struggle. I began to see that I am not enough. I can never be the best version of myself, unless I am actively, desperately pursuing God. Without God, I am nothing.

Pursuing God is scary. Not because God is scary – He is beyond amazing – but because I am. Because human nature is. I was beginning to see that I had become so comfortable in my relationship with Jesus, that it wasn’t really a relationship at all. It was kind of just co-existence. And God deserves more than that.

He deserves our entire being, our entire heart, our whole desperate, messy, gloriously insufficient existence.

To pursue God well, you have to admit you need Him. You need Him every single day, not just for the big moments, not just when there is a crisis, not just when that promotion comes up or that final exam is due, but in every nitty-gritty, detail of every ordinary day. It also requires faithfulness.

Pursue means to shadow, to chase, to trail, to hunt, to practice.

A shadow never leaves its object and we are to shadow the Father. A hunting dog doesn’t stop trailing until it finds its prey. A musician doesn’t stop practicing until they have mastered the piece. This is how we are to pursue the heart of God.

Pursuing God means continually investing in your relationship with Him. It means understanding the deadly power of apathy and fighting against it. It means seeing God in everything, look for Him constantly because He never disappoints.

Most of all, pursuing God is understanding that He is more than enough.

 

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