How the Bible Came Alive For Me This Summer

This post may surprise you. As I write my reflections on my unforgettable summer, I am surprised myself at what has happened over the past three months of my life. After graduating from Indiana Wesleyan, I had a few more classes I had scheduled to finish while in Israel. After May, a month of preaching and leading musical worship in Michigan, my classmates and I began a journey from Chicago to Amman, Jordan. For the month of June, we would be exploring the Holy Land and learning about everything from the context of the Bible to the current issues at hand in Israel today.

The reason I wanted to go to Israel was a popular one: to see the Bible come alive in my life. Many people I’ve talked to have said that is why they want to go or why they have traveled to Israel themselves. When the opportunity to travel was presented to me two years ago, I was practically packing my bags for this trip. Ironically, I didn’t pack for the actual trip until the night before… Nothing could have prepared me for the summer I have just experienced and I want to share what God has shown me with you as I’ve been challenged by this passage in Matthew 25:

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more…”

I truly feel like I have been made rich with experiences this summer. The blessing of being able to travel across the world and around the country this summer is a gift from God, and I want to give back to Him what He has given me by sharing His goodness with you. If I didn’t try to multiply the ‘talents’ God has given me, I feel as if I’d waste what was entrusted to me. So, here we go. I will try my best to paint a picture of three of my favorite moments in the Holy Land.

A9E863D3-5F94-4F9F-BC41-F8F644FFDC93

The first moment I realized I was in the Holy Land was when our group stood on Mount Nebo, where Moses stood to look at the Promised Land. From Dan to Gilead, we could see the vast plains, the Dead Sea, the opportunities for vegetation, and surrounding mountains. It was breathtaking to see how big the Promised Land was. It was only 21 miles away from where Moses stood on the Mount, yet he could not enter into this promise. In Deuteronomy 32:51, we read that Moses could not enter into this land with the Israelites because,

51…you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel.”

I cannot imagine standing at this spot and seeing the promise that this land held for the future, knowing I would never step foot into it. It was only 21 miles away! That day was so moving to me because it reminded me of the call to be faithful in every moment, for the future will reap the benefits of our faithfulness. This was the prayer I wrote down that day: “God, I never want to miss out on your promises.” 

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

What you see above is the Sea of Galilee. We did boat across this Sea, which is more like a lake in size, and read passages of Scripture about Jesus’ ministry here. He walked on this water, He took a nap in a boat that ventured through this sea’s violent storms, fished, and did miracles along many of its shores. When our group arrived to our resort on the southern shore of the Sea, we raced out to the water after scarfing down our dinner. We were like little kids on vacation, wanting to play in the water and do nothing else. The excitement was impossible to contain as we all laughed and shouted and smiled when we ran into the water. I took this picture to try to capture the moment. The sky looked like a warm blanket. The water was warm, but not too warm to be unbearable. I felt content just standing and looking at it. As the sun set, I looked around at where we were, eyeing the shores all around the Sea. We were at the Sea of Galilee! It was surreal.

One of my favorite moments of my trip was the encounter I had at the Sea of Galilee with a stranger from Europe. We started having a conversation on the dock where some friends and I sat. The conversation wandered from our travels to school to politics to America and more. While I was talking to this lady, I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to talk about Jesus. I couldn’t ignore it and couldn’t forget it. During this 45 minute encounter, I mentioned Jesus and how I’m studying ministry, but didn’t feel that was what God was asking me to do in full. I kept thinking of a quote from a wise evangelist I know. He once said, “Some people have never been asked if they want to follow Jesus.” But fear crept in and I didn’t ask her. I prayed with her and she walked back to shore.

I looked out to the Sea of Galilee and instantly thought of the moment when Peter called out to Jesus while He was, just casually, walking on water. Peter wanted to go too. When he did, he doubted, taking his eyes of Jesus. Peter sank. As I stared at the sea where this actually happened, I knew that if I didn’t ask this stranger this question, I’d be like Peter who dared to step out of the boat, but sank because of doubt of what God could do while out on the water. I prayed that if this lady was still on the shore, I would go and talk to her again. She was there.

We talked for another hour and I learned so much from her! She was a knowledgable business woman who had so much experience around the world. After all we had talked about, I eventually asked her if she’d ever been asked if she wanted to follow Jesus. She’d never been asked before. When I heard her say that, I oddly felt peace, knowing that I had been a vessel for God to plant a seed and my feeling like I had to go back and talk to her was for a purpose. I didn’t pray with her to follow Jesus right then and there, but I felt called to challenge her and to pray for her beyond our meeting. She told me the next day her group would go to the Jordan River and two of the people in her group would be baptized. When I heard that I knew God had asked me to ask her this question before a day she could possibly make a decision to follow Jesus and be baptized. I continue to pray for this stranger and am so amazed at this encounter I had with the Sea of Galilee as the backdrop.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem was the one location where I could not help but weep when I saw it. This tomb is where many believe Jesus was buried for only three days. With a crack on the side from some unknown earthquake, there is evidence for this being the spot but no one really knows for sure. That did not matter to me as I stepped inside and outside of this tomb. As I stood on the inside and look down to where Jesus’ body could’ve been, I wanted to just sit there and reflect. Then a thought occurred to me: “Jesus didn’t stay here long! I shouldn’t either.”

When I stepped out into the light, I was overcome with gratefulness that this tomb was empty and Jesus now lives. I sat on a bench in front of this opening in the wall and watched the rest of my group step in and out of the tomb. Each one, I know, follows Jesus and has been made new when they became believers. When I saw them walk out of the tomb, it was the most beautiful picture of the Gospel I have ever seen. Because Jesus walked out of the grave, SO CAN WE! 

 

These three moments were my favorite memories from this once-in-a-lifetime trip. I learned so much about the land in which Jesus walked and the land where Biblical stories take place. It is so crazy for me to think that I saw many of these places that the Bible mentions! When I read God’s Word, I now have a different understanding of the topography, the landscape, the cultural norms and the people. I truly feel rich in experience.

But the Bible, surprisingly, did not come alive to me while I was in Israel. Yes, I see it in a new light and understanding, but it was when I came home that God truly revealed the power of this holy text. 

In the month of July, I had the privilege of traveling with an Indiana Wesleyan University summer ministry team. For three weeks I worked with amazing  middle school and high school students in Indiana, Oklahoma, and Ontario, Canada. Serving in different roles, I learned A LOT, but my favorite role was being a counselor in Canada.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

There were six middle school and high school girls in my cabin; three pairs of sisters! It was such an interesting mix of girls. It took a few days for the group to mix together and be comfortable/friends with everyone. This group showed me how interesting family and friend dynamics can be in this kind of situation. They also showed me the harsh reality of Generation Z. These girls did not know the classic, simple Bible stories that I had grown up hearing everyday of my childhood. I faced this reality one afternoon during free time at camp.

Four of the girls in my cabin, my co-counselor, and I sat in the lounge of the camp and tried to find a board or card game to play. The only game with all its pieces was a Bible Trivia game! I asked the girls to quiz me and my co-counselor because we have both studied the Bible in college. The girls looked overwhelmed, saying they wouldn’t know any of the answers to the questions. I blew off their fears and wanted to try and play this game. As we quizzed each other, I was shocked to discover how little these girls knew about Bible stories. They asked who Moses was, who Noah was, what the Garden of Eden was, and about Jesus’ miracles that they had only vaguely heard about.

You would think my heart would sink as they asked me these questions, but my heart quickly was lifted up when I realized the opportunity I had to share many truths of God’s Word with these girls for the first time! After traveling to the Holy Land where I saw where Moses looked out at the Promised Land and the places Jesus did miracles, I got to share with these girls what happened in these accounts and what it looked like when I was there. They were wide-eyed and curious to know more. One of the high school girls had a twinkle in her eye that I will never forget. She asked the most questions during that hour we all sat there.

A few days later into the week, three of the girls in my cabin went forward to the altar during a call to the students to be spiritually disciplined when they went home. I approached them afterwards and asked why they went forward and were crying out to God. They all told me that every year, they’d go to camp but leave and never live out their transformation at home. My co-counselor and I prayed over each girl individually, praying for boldness and the power of the Holy Spirit to be evident in them when they would go home. As we finished our prayers, the girls went back to our cabin for an hour of free time. For some reason, I was the last person from our cabin to make it to the room. When I opened the door to our cabin, I saw God’s Word come alive.

All six of the girls sat in each of their beds with their Bibles opened to Genesis 1. They all smiled at me as I walked inside.

I asked them, “What are you guys doing?

They answered, “We want to start at the beginning!”

For the next hour, our cabin read Genesis 1-3 aloud, asking questions and seeking to understand the text together. Many of you may think that Genesis would be a bad place for these girls to start tackling the Bible, but I was so glad they chose to start here. These girls didn’t really understand what sin was and why there was a separation between God and humans. I got to explain what sin is and why Jesus came to die on a cross because of darkness in the world. They continued to ask questions in amazement. In that entire hour, I never read a single verse aloud. The girls in my cabin desired so much to read the words aloud that they kept volunteering to read the next passage. One of our high school girls read chapters 2 and 3 because she didn’t want to stop reading it.

The Holy Spirit’s presence was so real to me in those moments as I sat in a hot, stuffy cabin in the woods, hearing these young girls passionately read God’s Word to each other. It was such a privilege to sit back and just listen as they read because it gave me time to think, “This is God’s Word coming alive right in front of my eyes!”

I had just traveled to Israel, the Holy Land! That was where I expected to be most moved by Scripture. That was where I thought I’d be forever changed by the power of God’s Word because I was looking right at the scenery! But to my surprise, it was coming back to North America, inside a cabin in the middle of Canada with six middle school and high school students, where I saw God’s Word breathe life into dry bones. The transformation these girls wanted to see started with knowing God better through His Word, and it has continued as they are back home now.

We don’t have to go to Israel to see God’s Word come alive in our lives. I would tell anyone and everyone to go to Israel because I feel so much more rich in my understanding of God’s Word, but I wouldn’t say that reading Scripture over there is any more special than reading it at home. Everyday that I sit down to read my Bible, I feel closer and closer to my Creator. I feel His presence with me in Michigan, in Indiana when I’m at school! His Spirit is with us wherever we go and the Gospel is being spread to the ends of the earth. You and I see His Word come alive everyday when we choose to sit down and read it, choosing to then live it out.

Like I said before, I share this because I feel immensely rich in experience. God deserves the glory for what He has so generously given me. I’m praying that these experiences I’ve shared with you not only encourage you, but inspire you to keep your nose in the best book I’ve ever encountered. We need God’s Word everyday. It breathes life into dry bones not because of the book itself, but its Author.

img_8786.jpg

Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

What I Took With My Diploma

I am always taking notes on my phone when I hear good ideas, quotes, or think of ideas myself. After graduating from Indiana Wesleyan with my undergraduate degree in Christian Ministries, I tried to reflect on all that I have learned over the past 3 years. There are so many things to remember… so I started looking at these notes in my phone. Whether they said it or quoted someone else, these quotes from amazing people I’ve been able to meet and know during my college years are what I take with my diploma:

 

“Your future waits for you, don’t wait for it.” -Aberra (an Uber driver from DC)

“Don’t ask for advice from someone you wouldn’t want to trade places with.” – Kami Pentecost 

 

“Jesus didn’t grasp onto His position in Heaven to do the Father’s Will.” – Tyler Shirley

“My chickens bring me so much joy.” -Zach Coffin 

“Holiness is not seeking an experience but fully seeking Christ.” – Dr. Jonathan Morgan

“Commitment to God transcends any worldly commitment because it requires everything.” – Jim Lo

 

“My God is so big. I need to lay down.” – Makayla Rimes

“Never cancel an event.” – Eddy Shigley 

 

“No matter what part of the journey you joined us, thanks for being here.” – Paul Meany

“If serving is beneath you, leading will forever remain beyond you.” – Charlie Alcock 

“What’s going to make you stop acting like a Christian and start being one? ” – Dave Ward

“Forgiveness is not a feeling.” – Patty Bray

 

“God whispers to us in our successes, but He shouts to us in our pain!” – Brian Houston

“Well loved people love well.” – Anonymous

“If you live a life of integrity, it’s not tiring to have people watch you live your life. It’s exhausting when you’re faking it.” – Anonymous

 

“If God answered every prayer you prayed in the last month, how many people would enter into the Kingdom of Heaven?” – Chad Schepers 

 

“We must aim to put more into life than we take out.” – J. Oswald Sanders

 

 

The Best of Company

Some nights I reflect on the day I just experienced and am so grateful to have spent my time in such good company. After meeting with old friends, mentors, and spending time with my family, I truly appreciate the people in my life. But I often find that those days in good company don’t measure to other days I’ve spent in the best of company. It is the days that I haven’t taken the time to be in the presence of the Lord that I’d like to go back in time and do differently. My days are completely different when I spend time with Him.

Hebrews is a great book in the Bible that encourages me in my faith. There are so many pieces of wisdom in each chapter that I often only read one chapter at a time. I could write down thoughts for an hour on just one chapter. This morning, as I continued in this book to Hebrews 6, the author seemed pretty blunt in what he was saying to his audience. This letter was to encourage people in their faith and help them hold on to what they believed in. One verse says this,

 

“So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding…” (Hebrews 6:1)

 

I read this and stopped to question why the author would write this in his letter. He wasn’t out to condemn people and make them feel immature in their faith. No, instead he wanted so badly for God’s people to move forward in their faith because he knew of the blessings that come from a growing trust in the Lord. He had incredible hope when he put his trust in Jesus and he wanted these people to experience the same thing.

 

We can experience this hope when we choose to seek Him more and more in our lives. We should always want to be growing in our faith as Christ followers. Let’s not settle, but continue to learn more and more about who God is. The more time we can take to learn about who God is, the more we can be like Him in our everyday lives.

 

The words of this letter highlight God’s promises that come to those with faith and endurance. Hebrews 6:19 says,

 

“This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls”.

 

I read this and see the hope we have because of the God’s promises. He wants to give us so much. If we knew just how much He has planned for us, we would want to sit with Him for hours upon hours everyday and just listen for a glimpse of the future plans He has. Why don’t we? Why don’t we want to spend time listening for those promises and plans? He has promised you life when you receive Jesus Christ into your heart. He has promised you life after death because of what Jesus has done on the cross and on Easter day. He has promised you blessings after obedience because He delights in giving to His children.

 

The words I read this morning reminded me of the strong and trustworthy anchor I have because of the hope God has given me. In a world with many problems, many arguments, and many situations that bring a loss of hope, I hold onto the fact that my God has redeemed me and the world for a bright future. Because I was able to spend time with Him this morning, I am ready to take on the day with the hope I have in Him.

 

This post was meant to be very simple because I believe spending time with God is very simple. If you don’t know where to start, open up the book of John. Read a few chapters and take notes on who Jesus is; His character and His actions. Get to know the One you follow and aim to be like. The only complication comes when we choose to come up with excuses or don’t give God the time of day. I encourage you to take some time reading His Word and pouring out your heart to God in prayer today. He is waiting to spend time with you and you will walk away being thankful that He is in your life.

Plant Your Feet Before Moving Forward

Imagine your life as stepping stones that lead to a final destination. You can see the stone you are standing on and a shadow of the one ahead. There is only a glimpse of what is to come but you know it is there, awaiting your arrival. The rest of this picture is dark. Around you, all you can see is trees because you are deep in a forest trying to find your way through. You can hear the wind gliding against the trees and the sound of wildlife. What you cannot hear is any sound of human life nearby. You are walking this path of stepping stones on your own. Your destination is close, but you are oblivious to how many stones it will take to get there because they are hidden from your sight.

This picture is the story of my life. As a person who loves to know what is going to happen next and to plan for it, I struggled with this scenario for a long time. Throughout high school I tried to find who I was in my future. My career, my location, and my relationships were the areas of my life that seemed to have the answers of who I was becoming. While these things can tell a lot about who we are, they are not who we are.

A loss of identity can get us way off track from where we need to be. When I talk about where we need to be, I mean that sweet spot where we know we are doing what we were made to do to the best of our abilities. Isn’t that what we love? Being able to do what we are naturally good at for a greater good and purpose? Finding that purpose and fulfillment in our lives is so important, especially at a young age. Finding success in our passion is something we strive for in years of schooling and training to become what we have dreamed about becoming throughout our short lifetime. The question we want an answer to is ‘How do we get to that sweet spot’?

Let’s go back to the stepping stones. I believe this picture was given to me by God to help me see how to reach my goals in life. It is a reminder, everyday, that my sweet spot is not ten stepping stones ahead of me. My sweet spot is where I am now. The stone where my feet rest is my calling and my purpose today, tomorrow, and everyday until it is time to move onto the next stone. I first need to plant my feet before I move.

I’ve learned from so many wise mentors in my life that my future is decided everyday by what I decide to do on the stone on where I stand today. Living today like it is my last but also as a launch pad for the dreams I strive to see become reality. There is a combination of both that get us to our goals.

For the first time in my young life, I feel like I am exactly where I need to be in order to fulfill my purpose in this life. The gifts and abilities given to me are being used and grown for a better purpose than just myself. I say this not to lift myself up but to lift up the One who’s plan excites me everyday. My Heavenly Father has guided me to this place in life to where I can see success in ministry and things He calls me to do because I allow Him to do immeasurably more through me than I could ever do by myself.

A wise woman once told me that the greatest success in Christian leaders has come from not just listening to God, but listening to God and doing what He asks. It is as simple as that. Hearing from God is one thing and for those of us that have heard from God, it is amazing, right? It is amazing to hear from God clearly because His plans are so good! But how we measure our success is not in how much money we make with our gifts, how many people see our success on TV, how nice of a house we own, or how good we feel about ourselves when the day is done. Our success is measured in our obedience to Christ.

When we choose to be present on the stone on which we stand, we learn to live for the moments that are fleeting. Instead of worrying about the next step, we plant our feet and look around at the view we may not have noticed before. Instead of moving ahead too quickly, we stay in the place where we can see clearly and not a place we have to walk around blindly. If we move too quickly, we may find ourselves stumbling in the dark.

Let God reveal your next step. Let Him walk alongside you in the journey of reaching your goals in life. Have dreams and have ambitions but let God get you there. His gifts are your gifts. You are made in His image. When you know your Father better, you will better know yourself and the gifts He has given you. Every good thing comes from Him. There is so much goodness He has in store for you not just in the future, but where you are right now.

Think back to the picture of the stepping stones. Where are you now and where do you want to be someday? At the end of your life, what do you want to be known for? Think of your ultimate goal, what is awaiting you at the end of your stepping stones. For me, I see a cross at the end of my path. When I think of the person I want to be and become, I think first of how I can pick up my cross daily. That is my goal every step of the way. I pray that as a Christ follower this can be your goal every step of the way as well.

Continue on the journey that you have embarked on, young traveler. Take the time to stop and smell the roses in the forest. Don’t look back at the mistakes. Only look, for a moment, at the times that made you grow stronger. Be careful not to stray from this path because the Light is showing you this path for a reason. This path teaches you patience, faith, hope, joy, and contentment. Don’t lose sight of it because it leads to good things.

Man of Sorrows

I want to begin this blog post by stating this: it is okay to not be okay. Sadness is something we all deal with. It is real and brings us to dark places. But often we hide our sadness under a smile or shade of happiness we applied to our faces that morning. We may think there is no time or space for our sadness amidst the busyness we have signed ourselves up for. Our schedules are jam packed, we get little sleep, and we have so many people to please. Has anyone ever felt this way?

I go to a Christian university, and love the community that I have the privilege to live in. But something I’ve noticed is when life is difficult and heavy, we think we have to have it all together. It feels to me like sometimes as Christians, we think there is no time in the day to deal with struggles or loneliness or grief or sadness. We know the verse in Ecclesiastes 3:

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”

But how are we dealing with the heavy burdens life brings our way? I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: If I’ve learned anything this semester, it’s that it is okay to not be okay.  I’m confident in this because of a verse in Isaiah 53:3:

“He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief…”

Jesus was the Man of Sorrows. He came on earth to die for all humankind; billions of people who knew and didn’t know Him. He fought for our salvation by carrying our burdens and sorrows to the cross. All of the pain, sin, and darkness of the world was placed on His shoulders for a world that had turned away from Him. He knows sorrow. He knows pain. He knows sadness.

These past three weeks have shaken my world and opened my eyes to how we deal with pain. My grandma passed away, three weeks ago now, to be with the Lord in Paradise. She was ready to be in the Lord’s presence and it gave me peace knowing she passed peacefully. God gave me the incredible opportunity to see her the night before her passing; to tell her how much her testimony and love meant to me. It was a beautiful time because we know that because of Jesus, she is now healed and complete in Him. Now separated from suffering and darkness, she is living in the light of Christ.

I live with seven other girls in a suite at my school. I love them all dearly and again want to thank them for their comfort and protection during my time of grieving. A community that is full of compassion helps bring healing to hurt.

On the day of my grandma’s funeral, my phone blew up with messages about another one of my roommate’s grandpa passing away. The hurt and pain that I was feeling was no longer just mine. My dear friend got to see her grandpa before he passed, but still came back to school with the loss of a loved one.

Our dorm room was feeling the weight of loss and grief that week. We were shocked by these two losses happening so close together and dealt with it with as much grace as we could. And to our surprise, another wave came rolling in. My roommate got a sudden phone call a few days later with the unexpected news that her grandma had passed in her home. I cannot tell you the heaviness of that day as we carried on throughout our classes in disbelief. We kept asking each other, What is happening to our room?

Many tears, many hugs, and many prayers later, we all rallied around each other in community for the loss we continued to feel for each other. The love I felt for these friends grew so much in those few days.

As I write to you now with a heavy heart, I write of the news that another one of my roommate’s great-grandma has passed away suddenly. Another shock that seemed too much like routine in our room. The heaviness and weight of loss still rests on our shoulders as we grieve for our dear friend and roommate.

This time will always serve as a memory, definitely not a fond memory, of how we deal with loss in a broken world. I hold onto that verse in Isaiah to remind myself that Jesus was the Man of Sorrows. He came and suffered with us and for us. He understands loss. In the book of John, we’ve all memorized a small verse in John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” I remember this verse because Jesus mourned when he heard of his friend Lazarus’ death. He felt pain. He knew what it was like to lose someone to death. He was human, like us. I look to Him during this time of loss.

God does not like death. He mourns with us and calls us as the Church to deal with loss together. He does not want us to be alone. I hold tightly to Him in a time of deep sorrow and am thankful for the community He has given us in His Church. Thank you for support and love from those that have heard about what has been happening over the past few weeks. We appreciate your prayers in this time. Not just for comfort, but for protection in a time where much seems lost. We hold on to the promises of the Lord and trust that He will bring blessings out of sorrow and pain.

Psalm 23:4,6: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. … Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

2 Corinthians 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”

Fear For Breakfast

I am a breakfast person. Coffee, french toast, bagels, bacon… the works. If I were to pick one meal of the day to eat for the rest of my life, it would be the first meal of my day. You have probably heard people say breakfast is the “Important Start To Your Day” meal. It “sets you up for success or failure”. As a very independent person, I never wanted to believe that something other than me could determine how my day was going to look. I thought no matter what I ate, I would be able to turn my day around through my attitude and strong will. But food is a funny thing. What we consume affects every aspect of our lives. It not only affects our physicality, but our mentality and spirituality.

I’ve been very conscious of what I consume this summer. So conscious that I even gave up unnatural sugar for one month. For the month of July, one month of the year where ice cream becomes my actual friend, I stuck to a diet that consisted of vegetables, meat, nuts, little grains, and little fruit. There were snacks here and there without sugar I would find and treasure. You would be surprised at how much food has added sugar to create an addictive taste!

What I noticed during this month was how much more energized I was during the day. I wasn’t depending on coffee or naps to keep me alert. The days didn’t feel too long or drawn out. I wasn’t day dreaming about going to bed early that night. It was a wonderful thing to actually enjoy my day and the company I was with because my body was feeling energized and capable of anything! All because I was conscious of what I was consuming.

So yes, I am a strong advocate for healthy consumption. It determines a lot and gives us a launch pad with energy for the day. Breakfast is emphasized by health nuts because a good beginning promises a strong end. If I start my day by eating a donut, I might just feel like a donut at the end of the day. Donuts still look good on the outside but lack a significant substance to contribute to one’s health on their insides. If I don’t benefit my health on the inside, how can I be my best self without the energy to do so?

What we consume can change everything. It can change our thoughts, opinions, attitudes, and struggles. And in a season of political importance with many decisions to be made, we need to talk about what we are consuming on the daily.

We are in a culture where we are constantly consuming fear. We eat it for breakfast. We are exposed the moment we wake up and unlock our phones. It creeps in our dining rooms and kitchens when the TV chimes in from the living room. We discuss it in our break rooms and cafeterias. It even comes back around when we gather for family dinner after a long day of work and school. How do we escape this fear when we are constantly consuming it?!

Living in fear is like living with cancer and not doing anything about it; allowing it to creep into every part of us to affect all that we do. It is burdening and toxic to those around us. Fear can be passed down from generation to generation because of the unexplainable influence it has on us. Why are we so easily taken over by fear?

Just like consuming food, we consume many things the media tells us. The media tells us that we should be afraid for the future of our country. The media tells us there is no hope. The media tells us our leaders will ruin our lives and bring despair to future generations. Without going into a political rant, I want to give you a reminder this morning.

Our hope is not in a politician. It is not in a law or an amendment. Our hope is not in fair pay for all. Our hope is not in equality. Our hope is not in man. Humans have messed things up since the beginning of time. Why is now any different? Why do we think now is the time to find some person we can depend on to “save” our country?

Our hope is in Jesus Christ and He is who we look to for these issues we face and so desperately hope to fix. We can hope for equality, fair pay, good laws, and good politicians. We cannot hope in these things. If life hasn’t already smacked you in the face with this truth, let me tell you this: Life isn’t fair! Things don’t always go our way and yes, there are many problems our country and world faces today. We are constantly being confronted with new problems that seem to make our hearts sink again and again. But let us not forget the constant that has always been and still remains to be our hope and salvation.

Jesus Christ is a man worthy of our faith and trust. He is the Son of the one who has a plan to ultimately glorify Him and His people. When there are times of trouble, He tells us not to fear. He has the final say and the ultimate victory in the end.

I once heard someone say, “Fear did not come from the Lord. So where does it come from? The devil. We don’t want anything from the devil! Give it right back to him and receive the courage and strength from God. He has much greater gifts to give than the devil.” If we are to be like God, we cannot hold onto fear because it is not of God. As His people, we must practice trusting in Him and not letting fear cripple us. It is how we can see this world change.

Let us not fear tomorrow! Let us not fear today. Don’t constantly consume messages of fear that want us to tremble and look to temporary things for a distraction. Those things are of false hope. Instead look to the one who wants to guide us through this mess of a world to our final destination of union with Him. That is the hope we can hold on to. That is the hope that should wake us up every morning and energize us to serve others in our lives and be our best selves.

Let’s consume His hope before we are faced with fear. Wake up and open your Bible first before opening your phone. Let’s have more conversations about solutions than about the problems. Pray instead of worrying, and pray without ceasing. And learn how to trust in these times. Learn how to lean on Jesus who is in control of the end of it all.

Don’t be crippled by fear. It is something this world wants us to hang onto. But God commands us to not fear. He instead commands us to be strong and courageous. I’m sure you’ve heard a verse like that before. It is time to start living it out!

Trust in Him and point to Him; our hope and our salvation. Jesus Christ is Lord of all and has conquered sin. Let us remember that in times of trouble.

 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” Proverbs 12:25

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

A Generation That Gets It

July sixteen, two thousand and sixteen is a historic date for America. It is a historic date for our generation. A historic date for the Church. In Washington D.C. there was a gathering of hundreds of thousands of young people who desire to see change in our nation and our world. I reflect on that event today because it has not and should not stop. The spirit and purpose of this gathering continues admits darkness, it’s Light shines through.

The roots of all the problems our world is facing comes from brokenness. We’ve seen how dreams, people, and lives have been shattered because of the evil we see happening like a daily routine. There is hatred that cuts through like a knife in our society. Now we face division in our communities, in our nation, and in our world. We all have come face to face with this reality and have to decide how we deal with injustice. Imagine you knock over a beautiful vase that has been passed down in your family for generations. It was so priceless and so precious to your family because of its history. The pieces that now lay scattered on the ground were once so beautiful when they were together. Today as we face division and hatred, we face this question: How do we deal with the broken pieces scattered across the floor? How can we see beauty when there is so much brokenness?

The One that can bring these pieces together is not a politician, not a pastor, not an entrepreneur, not a motivational speaker, or even a billionaire. There is One who humbly came to this earth from paradise to see beauty rise from the ashes of our world. One who saw the broken pieces on the floor and became the Way to bring them back together. His name is Jesus, Jesus Christ. He is the living Son of God who desires a relationship with everyone and restoration for our lives!

I’m telling you, friends, that Jesus Christ is the only One that can bring these broken pieces, us, together.

Together 2016 was appropriately named for the need in our nation. This gathering of people ages 14-22 represented a generation that wants to see beauty out of brokenness. Hearts were longing for unity in our nation, not out of selfish ambition, but out of love for others. I have never experienced an event so unified and moving.

 

It was such an incredible privilege to represent my generation at this event. A high school student and I, two ordinary people, had the opportunity to pray over our peers about the issues we know we face. I cannot begin to explain to you how overwhelmed I was with the Holy Spirit’s presence that day. From preparation backstage to walking out and seeing the sea of people next to the Washington Memorial, I knew that God was there and He was speaking clearly to us about the future He desires for us.

 

IMG_7913.JPG

 

 

God used so many incredible communicators to preach the Gospel at Together. Many big names took the stage to remind everyone why Christ followers hold on to Jesus as our hope. His story of redemption was declared so that our stories would be changed. With all the stories we constantly hear in the media that make our hearts sink to our stomaches, we were reminded of a story that we need to be sharing more than anything else! The Gospel needs to be communicated in whatever way, shape, or form God has called you to share it. Especially as a young person! Your voice and your influence can inspire this nation to come together in a time that evil has designed for us to flee from unity. This message was preached boldly on the stage that day for our generation to hear.

While inspirational leaders are used by God to communicate His Word, it wasn’t the people onstage that shaped the event. People like Tim Tebow, Christine Caine, Francis Chan, Hillsong United, and Lecrae didn’t bring people together. They were simply leaders and communicators to usher us into the presence of God. And it was so humbly done. These names were talked about, not highlighted. It was Jesus’ name that was lifted higher than anyone who was apart this event. That is why Together 2016 was like no other event I’ve ever experienced.

When Jesus is the reason for a gathering, in the hearts of those who organized the event as well as those who drove miles to get there, lives are radically changed. God does so much more than we could ever do or ask for.

Our generation gets it. We understand that there is brokenness and problems that don’t point to any logical solution. But as I saw hundreds of thousands of Christ followers stand together in our nation’s capitol just few weeks ago, I was reminded of our solution. Our solution is to point to Jesus Christ. As a generation that longs for justice, longs for peace, and longs for love to conquer hatred, we need to continue to stand together under Jesus’ name to see beauty rise from brokenness.

Let’s give Jesus the broken pieces and see restoration in our land.

2 Chronicles 7:14- Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.

Deuteronomy 30:3-13-  3 God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered. 
4 No matter how far away you end up, God, your God, will get you out of there 
5 and bring you back to the land your ancestors once possessed. It will be yours again. He will give you a good life and make you more numerous than your ancestors. 
6 God, your God, will cut away the thick calluses on your heart and your children’s hearts, freeing you to love God, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live, really live. 
7 God, your God, will put all these curses on your enemies who hated you and were out to get you.
8 And you will make a new start, listening obediently to God, keeping all his commandments that I’m commanding you today. 
9 God, your God, will outdo himself in making things go well for you: you’ll have babies, get calves, grow crops, and enjoy an all-around good life. Yes, God will start enjoying you again, making things go well for you just as he enjoyed doing it for your ancestors. 
10 But only if you listen obediently to God, your God, and keep the commandments and regulations written in this Book of Revelation. Nothing halfhearted here; you must return to God, your God, totally, heart and soul, holding nothing back. 
11 This commandment that I’m commanding you today isn’t too much for you, it’s not out of your reach. 
12 It’s not on a high mountain – you don’t have to get mountaineers to climb the peak and bring it down to your level and explain it before you can live it. 
13 And it’s not across the ocean – you don’t have to send sailors out to get it, bring it back, and then explain it before you can live it.

 

 

First Things First…

“You got so much to do and only
So many hours in a day.”

-Billy Joel

These words written by my good friend Billy are so true. Time is fleeting. It is constantly slipping from our fingers. Middle school feels like it happened a week ago. High school flew by right after I blinked. Here I am at the end of my first year of college… Now THAT is weird. Time goes by so fast. We know that. We live that. But we still have problems managing the time given to us. There are games, practices, homework assignments, papers, family events, school events, church events, birthday parties, dentist appointments, coffee dates, etc. They all fill up our schedule and keep us really tired.

What is the solution? Cutting things out of our lives? Trying to say “no” more  when people ask? Losing sleep to get more things done? Drinking six cups of coffee to stay awake?

Scheduling our time is important and should be considered a discipline in our lives, but there is a far better solution. Something greater than stressing about what needs to get done. Something greater than setting five or ten alarms on your phone to remind you of what is coming up next. We can do what Jesus claims to be our first and greatest task:

The Greatest Commandment

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

 

Let me explain myself.

 

If our first job is to love God, I look at all the worries of my day and think of how small they are to the powerful God I have a relationship with. Because God is a Provider, Friend, Listener, Healer, Redeemer, and Guide for us. Having God on our side is the best thing we can have to face our day. Not only for our benefit but for the benefit of the world around us, for His Kingdom. If He is all we got, we have got everything we need to do what we are called to do everyday. He is more than enough and will provide our every need. Having His guidance will help us keep our sanity and cool when there seems to be so few hours in the day.

He is Provider because He is Father. His love for His children transcends all boundaries and barriers we may face in this life. His love wants to carry us through our struggles, hurts, and stress. So loving Him first, growing in relationship with Him first, will affect the rest of our day to day lives. Being filled up by Him each day can be enough for us to face our day and find the strength to continue on. He can support us more than coffee, more than sleep, more than the things that we go to for refuge. Those things are not even close to the power of of the Holy Spirit and the Father’s love for us.

Think of your very best friend.  That person in your life who carries your burdens with you, listens to your problems, and wants to do everything in their power to support you through your struggles. God wants to do that for you and more! He wants to do that for us. He is doing that for us as a Heavenly Father. His love shows how He wants to be in the center of every part of our lives; good or bad. That means the chaos in our lives as well.

So each day, when you wake up to take on new challenges, first things first… Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind. Your relationship with Him matters much more than your paycheck or your deadlines or your social life. Make each day worth it by letting Him take control and lead you through the busyness. His love never fails and will not fail you when time is running out. God values your time and wants to help you use it wisely while you have it. He is Provider, Giver, Healer, Redeemer, and Friend. Love Him first.

A Dream of Freedom

I had a dream the other night that everything in my life was being controlled. I was in bondage and imprisoned to someone who controlled me. My money was his, my job was his, my friends were his, my relationships were his, my wardrobe was his, my time was his, and my words were his. I was constantly aware of where he was because he was always there, watching to see that I did what he wanted.

This dream became a nightmare as I kept falling deeper and deeper into the bondage of a sort of slavery to this man. It was terrifying. Every move I made had to be done just the way he wanted. I feel suffocated and shaken by the grips of this captivity. And it all felt so real.

I woke up from my  nightmare in the middle of the night and started contemplating what I would do. Because I was still half asleep, I still thought the dream was real. Even if it wasn’t, that feeling of captivity was still fresh on my mind. I felt unsafe and unsure of what to do.

As I started feeling more awake, I started thinking about what this dream meant. Why was I having a dream about an evil man controlling my life? I had never experienced anything like this before. It didn’t relate to anything in my life. But God showed me that it had everything to do with me and my story. It had everything to do with many of our stories. We all can relate to this story of slavery to an evil one.

Before I became a Christian, I was a slave to sin, fear, and the devil. I was constantly being tempted and drawn to things that were meant to kill and destroy me. The evil one doesn’t care about my well being. He only wanted to steal my happiness, joy, and ultimately, my soul. The bondage I felt in my dream was representing his grip that he had on my life. But that was all before I turned to the One who set me free.

As I lay in my bed, contemplating how I shake this horrible feeling of my dream, I asked myself, “How do I break free from this evil?” And in my tired daze, I said to myself, “Jesus! That’s how!”

I know it was only a dream. This may sound silly to you. But that simple reminder of what I’ve been saved from was a game-changer for me during this Easter season. Do we actually realize what we’ve been saved from?

The world can often shield our eyes and make sin look like the good guy. It can make the lifestyle of living in slavery to sin look like freedom! Like we can do whatever we want. But once we step back and think of the devil’s motives behind the lifestyle he wants for us, we see how true this verse is:

John 10:10

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…”

Being reminded of the captivity of sin has made me see just how significant Easter is for us! For me, I am reminded of how Jesus showed His love for us and set us free. I believe I had this dream to remind me of what I’ve been saved from and what I am now promised.

This dream was about the promise of freedom. Freedom from pride, abusive relationships, racism, sexism, sex trafficking, addictions, illnesses, fear, abandonment, physical pain, past mistakes, doubts, and loneliness. The only One with the power to give us freedom from these things is Jesus Christ. Through His death and His resurrection, we now have the choice to choose new life with Him that is apart from our bondage and our past. His act of love for us created a new path to leads to life.

John 10:10

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

We have so many problems in our world and in our society. There are things we can cry and complain about and be disgusted with and angry about. But I’m telling you, your only hope and only solution to these things is Jesus. Because of what He did on a cross, we know that Jesus conquered sin and the devil so that we no longer have to live with those things anymore. He has the power to free us from the chains of our slavery to sin today!

You don’t have to be enslaved to the devil’s standard of money, careers, friends, relationships, wardrobe, time and talk. He wants you to let all of these determine your joy when we know that ultimately, these things don’t fulfill us. The enemy keeps telling us that they will. He has no problem with lying to you. All he wants is for you to be entrapped to live his way with these things.

Jesus Christ wants you to have an abundant life. We see that through what He did on the cross. This season of celebration is important because it is a game-changer for all people. We now have a way to escape bondage and run in the gift of freedom. I am so thankful that Jesus saw us in our captivity and longed to set us free. He didn’t just talk about it, He did something about it. He did something we remember thousands of years later. It’s that important to us and this world.

He is risen! Get excited about what He did for you. Don’t worry so much about your Sunday outfit or Easter meal or Easter baskets as much as you simply celebrate Jesus and what He has done. He has set you free and longs to free the rest of the world from captivity.

He has a dream of freedom for all people. I hope you do as well. Tell the world of what Jesus had done!

1 John 5:12 

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Luke 24

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”

 

Why We Do It.

Last weekend, on a Sunday night, Marion High School opened it’s doors to 300 people who came to worship the Lord at an Enlightened event. In the small city of Marion, Indiana, we saw hundreds of students being serious about their faith in their school. God spoke to us about helping those in need and being the ‘Good Samaritan’ to our peers in our schools. The people you’d least expect were called to step out and be courageous for the Lord. We were empowered and inspired by the testimonies and songs shared by high school students from this school. This event changed the atmosphere at their school and in this city. We praise God for speaking to us so clearly on March 13, 2016 at Enlightened Marion. What started at a school called Byron Center High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan is now an event happening in different schools and students who strive to bring Christ on their campus. What a joy it is to remember where we’ve come and where we are going!

God had a plan for Byron Center High School since before time began. He knew that Enlightened would be planted there as a seed only to grow into more schools, more states, and impact more young people’s lives. He knew that lives would be saved, people would be called into ministry, and lives would be restored in His name. The number of people who showed up to the testimonies shared were no surprise to our great Father. He made us to move and work for His glory. As students gathered to worship two years ago in a high school auditorium, we felt the atmosphere change in that building.

It was worshipping together with brothers and sisters of Christ that changed our perspective on how we are to worship. We weren’t worshipping in our comfortable box with the people we knew well in youth group. We were praising our Father in a high school with hundreds of other high schoolers from many different schools, homes, and faith backgrounds. It was Jesus that brought us together and it was Jesus that was glorified.

The reason I believe in Enlightened is because I long for the days when I can worship my God with my peers in uncomfortable situations. I long for the day we can go out of our comfort-zones and give God all we have because He deserves that and more. It was incredible to experience a worship time that wasn’t about us for a change. It was great to look around the room and see people truly moved by God not the songs. God’s hand is over this ministry and I know He is continuing to see His plan unfold in the years following that first event.

The definition of event is, “a thing that happens, especially one of importance”. We remember events and we look back to them. Can you remember the first time you went to school? Or the day you got your license? If you’re a Christian, do you remember the day you turned your life around and gave it all to Jesus? Do you remember those significant moments in your life? Of course you do! They are things of importance that have changed your life forever. They change the way we think and act and speak. They give us new perspectives and new insights on how to be better and become the person we always strive to be.

The most important event to me is not Enlightened. It is not when I first learned to ride a bike or drive a car. The most important event that has affected my life deeply was Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection three days later. Yes, I realize I just gave you two events but they go hand in hand! Jesus didn’t just die, He rose from the dead! And when He did, He saved us from sin and death. That is good news and that is the reason we do everything. It is the reason we have thankful hearts. It is the reason we go out of our way to help a neighbor with a chore. It is the reason we give to the homeless and abandoned. This good news is the reason we wake up and take on the day with a different mindset. It is the reason Enlightened started.

Enlightened is a ministry started by high school students that is devoted to supporting and equipping high school students to lead an event full of worship and story telling at their school for their community. These events are for high school students to encourage their peers to be the salt and light in this generation. We focus on schools and hold these events at schools because we believe, as students, that it is the biggest mission field God has given us in this season of our lives. There is a story to tell; the event where Jesus died for our sins has affected our lives. We need to share this event with our friends! Because if we know how great our lives became after we experienced Jesus in our lives, we know we ought to share it with the rest of the world. The Gospel gives us a mission to go and tell the world. We want to invite our peers to join us as we live for this mission!

Why young people? Why students?

Students are cool. Students are passionate. Students care a lot about what they choose to care about. And students have more power in this world than they know. I had the privilege of working alongside many students in planning Enlightened events. I got to see how God has gifted each one of them to contribute a special part to Kingdom Work in their schools. Some students loved talking to people so they greeted students at the doors of their event. Other students loved technology so they ran the slideshow for lyrics and videos during their event. There were even some students that took on the responsibility of raising money for materials needed for their event. God used every single person on each Enlightened Crew (the whole group of student leaders) to leave a prominent impact on their high school’s campus.

Enlightened birthed and grew because God planned for students to do big things for Him. We see Him continue to call and equip high schoolers to lead Enlightened events at their schools now. The process is not easy. It is not a road easily followed. But it is a good road, because through it all, we get to experience God’s work in us. His provision through the planning process of an event is surreal. From financial issues to filling in spots for a team, God provided. He is the Provider, and we’ve seen why He is called Provider.

God has a plan. And for now, Enlightened is continuing to grow and seek out opportunities to reach the Gospel to young people everywhere. We love what we do and we are so thankful that God allows us to be apart of the journey.

Matthew 5:13-16  

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town build on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.