Monday, May 26, 2014

What a night!

I wanted to share some exciting things that have been happening lately! A few nights ago I went downtown with a small group of people to share the gospel with the homeless & give them food. This is one of my favorite things to do because the risk is high enough that hardly anyone will go with us so the ones going really care. We start at 7:30pm & walk around downtown speaking to & serving any homeless person we see until about 1 am or later. I packed a backpack of bibles & we set out. We saw a group of guys sitting on a curb so we stopped to talk with them. As we were talking, some police cars sped by followed by a fire truck. One of the homeless men casually said to us, "Oh yeah before you walked over here we heard 5 gun shots." I thought to myself, "I could really die here tonight doing this" but the greatest feeling was accepting that God has control of my life. I wasn't afraid of what could happen because I knew the Lord called me to follow where he leads- even if that is among danger. It was a moment where I thought, "Wow! This is truly what it means to be a Christian! I'm putting all of my trust in God." I can't keep myself from danger all of my life if I want to give all I have for the cause of Christ. One of the guys sitting on the curb had just gotten released from jail that night & one of our guys shared the gospel with him & he accepted Christ right then!! 
Courtney (middle) praying to accept Christ! Hunter (left) shared the love of Jesus with Courtney and went church searching with him on Sunday. You wouldn't believe the smile Courtney had on his face!! I said, "Man! You're my brother in Christ now! You're no longer defined by your past! Your new life with Jesus starts right now!" I showed him how to share the gospel and he said he has so many friends that he can tell! I walked away so humbled by God's mercy and power! We're such ordinary people but God chooses to use us. 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 says, "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame to wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world & the despised things and the things that are not to nullify the things that are so that no one can boast before Him."
At one point we walked under an overpass where we met a man named Robert. We gave him a sandwich and I was hungry so I stood there with him and ate a sandwich too. In front of us were 6 lanes of interstate and cars were speeding past us. One suburban drove by and all of the windows were rolled down and the kids inside were staring out at us with a look of shock & disbelief. I imagine them wondering what in the world a young white girl was doing eating a sandwich under a bridge. Ha! Around us were cockroaches & broken glass but none of that phased me. Robert is another person just like I am & we were just 2 people eating PB&Js & enjoying a light-hearted conversation. You see, I no longer look at anyone & only see the circumstances they're in...I look at Robert & see a person who has had a rougher road than I've had & who has so much potential as a human being. We hear Philippians 4:13 all the time but I look at someone like Robert or Courtney & think, "THEY can do ANYTHING through Christ who gives them strength." Why do we only want to apply that verse to sports or talents instead of believing that yes, Christ has the power to change anyone.
We kept walking & ran into a girl named Stephanie. I said to her, "Stephanie, if you were to walk over there & get hit by a trolley & die, do you know where you're going?" She said she didn't know where she's going when she dies. She told me,"I want to get this right." I shared the gospel with her and she accepted Jesus right there downtown by the trolley track! Her prayer was so real-- "Jesus, I don't want to live this way anymore..." She gave me the biggest hug! She was so thin and frail that I just broke for her & the life she lives. But you see, what makes me any more deserving of God's love than Stepahnie? Is it because I live in a nice house or I've gone to a good school? She is a living, breathing person just like me so as a servant of Christ, I have a responsibility to tell people like Stephanie about Him. Who's to say they won't respond to the gospel & be saved? We can't count anyone out!! I'll see her in heaven forever now! When we've been there 10,000 years, I won't be thinking about the "risks" I took to share the gospel or the times I was unsafe...I'll look at Stephanie & Courtney and praise God!
 Stephanie accepted Jesus where this picture was taken.

Monday, May 19, 2014

brand new minds

I haven't had a chance to sit down at my laptop in a while! I finished high school last week and I've enjoyed having some time to reflect on my life so far. Most people see the end of high school as starting an uncertain phase in their lives where they have no clue what to do next. I don't consider myself to be in that position mostly because I know that God will make it very clear to me what he wants me to do with my life. Late last night I took a walk and I was thinking over some things and the verse "be transformed by the renewing of your mind" popped up in my head again. That verse is something I've been reading over recently and last night the Lord gave me some insight through that verse. It's found in Romans 12:1-2. Paul starts off by saying "I urge you brothers and sisters in view of God's mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices." We hear that we should be living sacrifices all the time but what stuck out to me was "in view of God's mercy." In thinking over how merciful he is to us and how his mercies are new every single morning...because of THAT it's our privilege to sacrifice our own plans for His. The fact that if we call on Him and pray for forgiveness he graciously casts our sin as far as the east is from the west! Shouldn't we desire to offer ourselves to Him after all that he does for us even after we disgrace His name daily? I remember a verse in a hymn that says, "Behold the Man upon the cross, My sin upon His shoulders. Ashamed I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers." How many times has my voice mocked God by how I have chosen to disobey Him and grieve Him by my actions? Too many times to count. In view of His MERCY on us. A mercy that we should never have the opportunity to view of THAT we offer our lives as living sacrifices. Once we're dead we can't offer anything as a sacrifice. While we're still living we have the opportunity to sacrifice all that we have for His purpose.
        Then Paul says "THIS is your TRUE and proper worship." So true worship isn't a guitar and a contemporary worship song? Paul says sacrificing your whole mind, my strength, my hands, my feet...this is what it means to truly worship the God that knit you together in your mother's womb. Something else that stuck out to me is that it says "this is YOUR true and proper worship." How many times do we rely on another person's form of worship or their relationship with Christ? I can't take credit for Billy Graham's acts of worship. When I stand before the living God when I die, the ONLY things I can give an account for are the things I myself did for Him alone. I can't say "Oh well my mom took me to church. That was sacrificing wasn't it?" We each are accountable for our own lives honoring or dishonoring God.
     In verse 2 Paul says, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed BY THE RENEWING OF YOUR MIND." I've heard this verse so many times but last night I was thinking over those words again and again. "by the renewing of my mind." We become more like Christ not by the changing of our the RENEWING. To make something new again. Our minds are made completely new through Christ. It's bigger than just a's a completely new mindset. Brand new! It doesn't even resemble what our old minds used to be! It's a total transformation! Wow. Just let that sink in.
      The next thing that really struck me was Paul saying, "THEN you will be able to TEST and approve what God's will is." So AFTER our minds have been made new, NOW we can TEST God's will? I can test God's will? What?! I was really thinking over this last night and this morning and I was thinking how do I test the Lord's will? If my mind is renewed daily by His word and fellowship with Him then I will be seeking His will and praying for His will in my life. Psalm 25:14 says, "The Lord confides in those who fear Him; He makes His covenant KNOWN to them." The Lord shares secret things with those who fear Him? AND he makes them certain of his promises? That's a lot to wrap my mind around. God absolutely reveals His will to those who have thrown off everything that hinders them and have filled their minds with what pleases Him. The idea of testing is a continual thing. I haven't just taken one test in my life. The Lord has a plan for every aspect of my life so through prayer I'm asking, seeking, and testing what His will is. As I've experienced already, the Lord will make it very clear what isn't His will. He has slammed doors right in my face and now  I fall on my knees before Him in thanksgiving for His protection in those situations by telling me no.
      The final piece of Romans 12:2 says, "His good, pleasing, and perfect will." Can you imagine God telling you when you stand before Him, "You followed my perfect will for your life! Your life on earth was so pleasing to me!" I don't even have words to respond to that. He has a perfect plan for all of our lives!! PERFECT! Seamless! Without flaw! A different perfect plan for you than for me. Wow! Talk about His mercy!! Those things have been the focus of my quiet time with the Lord lately and I thought I'd share them with you. Be encouraged, friend! I always tell my mom when she's stressed, "The Lord could come back in 10 mins so what does this problem matter?" Talk to you soon.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

lessons from the least of these

Someone asked me recently what was the incident that caused me to be passionate about witnessing and I actually have a definite answer for that question. I remember exactly what made me think, "Ok, this way of life makes sense if I believe what the Bible says." A group of us make sack lunches for the homeless once a month for a service project and we give them to a man who goes downtown and passes them out. On that particular afternoon when we finished making the lunches, the man asked if anyone wanted to help him pass them out. I thought why not? So I went. We started about 7:30 pm and I didn't get back home until about midnight. It was so cold that I lost feeling in my hands about an hour into the evening. We each had backpacks and we carried as many sleeping bags as we could and set out on foot. The leader had a wagon with the sack lunches inside. We just walked around downtown and talked to any homeless person we saw. One of the first homeless men we saw needed gloves and one of the guys in our group just took his own gloves off and gave them to this homeless man. We prayed over anyone we met and then kept moving onto the next person.  As we were walking down an empty street, a homeless man started walking toward us. We talked with him and he pulled out his ID and said today is my birthday I'm 52. It was so cold and this man was spending his birthday on the streets alone. We gave him a sleeping bag and then we sang happy birthday to him. That moment was one that impacted me because we're all just people and this man deserves love just as much as any of us do. I understand that choices probably led him to the point of being homeless but putting those thoughts aside, this man is another person just as I am and he's worthy of being appreciated. I grabbed his tough hands and prayed over him. I don't know what it's like to be homeless and I've never been to the dark places that this man had. I'm aware that there may be a time in my life that I'll be hungry and alone depending on where The Lord has me go so I prayed for protection over that man and thanked God for his life. We continued walking and we walked under an overpass and underneath were 4 tents. They were all empty but it was obvious that people lived there. Many times we put homeless people in a separate category so that we don't have to treat them like we would our friends or family. These people that live in those tents on the sand underneath an overpass are God's creation just as much as we are. God looks at them and loves them with the same love he gives freely to all of us. In fact, I think of how much Jesus truly loved the least of these. Jesus mentions the least of these many times and says the things we do for them are the things we do for Him. At one point we walked underneath a bridge where a man was lying on the concrete. His name was Jordan and he was unlike the other homeless men we met. Jordan worked at International Paper a year ago and he lost everything and his family left him. He was embarrassed and ashamed. He looked at me and said, "Why did God allow this to happen to me?" I thought of 2 Corinthians where Paul talks about being under such persecution that he couldn't endure it. Then Paul says "This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God." I told Jordan that God takes things away from us to show us that we really can do nothing without Him. Sometimes God will take away everything we have to get our attention. Jordan actually said that it made sense but he didn't like it. In fact, the Bible says it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Jordan relied on his wealth his entire life and now he has nothing so he's open to turning to God. God will break us down to nothing so that we see his power but also his mercy. Jordan could choose to harden his heart but God's mercy is shown when a group of Christians show up at 11 pm to give him a sandwich and pray for him. At the end of that evening, I went home and knew that this is what my life has to be about. If I claim to believe in a loving and compassionate God then I have to be loving and compassionate. Showing genuine love to the people that society rejects is where God's heart is so that's where my heart is. When you go to the places where they live and look in their eyes, you can't turn away from them. You have to show them that you care because God cares.

Monday, May 5, 2014

when strivings cease

Something that the Lord has really brought to light in my own life recently is the presence of idols. There's a song called "Clear the Stage" by Ross King that says it all perfectly and I encourage you to listen to it. There's a lyric that says, "Anything that I put before my God is an idol and anything I can't stop thinking of is an idol and anything I want with all my heart is an idol." I am extremely guilty of this. GPA, class rank, and running were my entire life up until two years ago. I spent every bit of my energy pouring into all of those things. If I wasn't studying, I was training for the next meet. I ran so much that I developed stress fractures in my shins & the doctor told me, "You have to take a break." He forced me to take 3 months off. I was so miserable and I knew it. I would wake up at 4:30 am and study for hours before I even went to school. I remember opening my Bible and reading how many times the word "rejoice" was mentioned in Psalms and knowing that I wasn't joyful. I would pray, "Lord, I know you don't desire for my life to be like this but I can't let go of any of it." I worshiped my own ability not recognizing that God can take my life at any second if He chooses. When I finally let go of those things, I saw how worthless they were. There's a hymn that I love that says, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace." Now I look back on how I was hanging by a thread for all those years and what was it for? Those things brought me farther from God instead of deeper in my walk. The question I ask myself often is "Am I trusting God's will?" As a teenager, I watch people throw their whole lives into relationships or talents and lose themselves completely. I did that and wasted a lot of time that I won't ever get back. I had tunnel vision about everything and I didn't have any joy. Thankfully, the Lord revealed that to me and put all of my striving to an end. Now I have such a peace in my walk with the Lord. God doesn't love me any more or less if I have talents or intelligence. It was like I would take my abilities and polish them and hand them to the Lord like, "See? I did this!" and expect Him to be glorified. God is only pleased when our whole lives are for Him not just sections.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

valued advice

I like to listen to what people have to say and I've been given a lot of advice from a lot of different people over the years. However, when my grandparents talk I really pay attention. Growing up in a Christian family I've taken note of how people I respect handle certain things. I'm generally a pretty optimistic person but about two years ago I was a little down so I went to Kentucky to visit my grandparents. My grandma lives in the cutest little white cottage behind a big white house that my aunt and uncle live in. So naturally when I found myself feeling down about life, I packed my suitcase and went to visit that little lady in the white cottage! I needed to spend some time sitting at her kitchen table hearing anything she had to tell me. We spent our mornings talking about the Bible and our family. My grandma shared her testimony with me and then she said, "Nicole, there's a passage in Mark (6:30-34) where the disciples are overwhelmed and Jesus tells them, 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.' I believe the Lord wants this to be a quiet season in your life so he can grow you." In the two years since that conversation with my grandma, the Lord has taught me so much about total dependence on Him alone...not Him plus something else. Many times, things in life get so loud and so busy that it's hard to hear the voice of God. When I find myself getting lost in my everyday life, I remember how peaceful it is to get away from everyone and just seek the Lord. The fellowship of believers is awesome and I love it but nothing can replace those times where it's just you and God. I love that Jesus specifically tells the disciples to come away by themselves. God desires to reveal himself to us in personal ways during those intimate times alone with Him. To me, that side of God is the best. The God that said "Let there be light" and it came to be cares to hear the complexity of my fears and desires? That's true for all of us. Sometimes we go through times of quiet seeking and then we realize that it was really a time of rest. The Lord gives us these seasons in our lives to show us different sides of himself so in tough times we can remember that we've tasted the Lord's goodness.             

Thursday, May 1, 2014

how extreme is too extreme?

The idea of  "too extreme" isn't something that people have the guts to verbally express to me in conversation but their faces reveal it all. Very few people haven't given me the "you really believe that?!" look at least once. My question to the believers reading this is, where does the lasting reward come from toning it down? Where does the "well done good and faithful servant" come in after living a life that always followed the crowd? I can only speak for myself but my passion for the gospel began in the times where I sat alone with my Bible, put the commentary aside, and just read what it said. I don't want to know anyone's interpretation of the Bible...I want the powerful and convicting words found in those pages to speak for themselves. Maybe you have felt the same way at some point. A thought that always crosses my mind is this- if I was still a lost person today, would anyone go even a little bit out of their way to show me the truth? Think about it. There is a church on every corner here...has anyone ever come up to you and asked you if you knew about Jesus? No one has ever asked me if I knew about Jesus outside of the church walls. That's devastating because we claim to not only know this truth but also base our whole life on this truth that could save people. I was talking with my dad about this the other day. I explained to him that the reason I'm willing to go out of my way for people is because I believe that anyone that's breathing is worth it and should at least be given the opportunity to hear the gospel. Isn't going out of "our way" the whole point of being a disciple? I know you're probably thinking, "that's right! everyone is valuable! I agree!" It's easy to agree in our thoughts but are our actions lining up? What about the people that can do nothing for us? How are we treating them? In fact, let's go so far as to say that associating with these people will hurt our reputations. What then? Read about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. The rich man is in hell and he knows there's nothing he can do but he begs, "Send Lazarus to warn my five brothers so that they won't come to this place of torment!" Can I tell you that as Christians we are those people sent to warn. That's something we can't take lightly! 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, "We are Christ's ambassadors as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God." Appeal= an earnest request or plea. God is pleading to a lost world through us. I wonder if the roles were reversed and let's say I switched lives with an much worth would a Christian see in me to tell me about eternity? Would anyone bother at all to invest in me in hopes of seeing me around the throne forever? I think about the rich man begging to have Lazarus warn his brothers and then I read the names I've written down of the lost people I know. What am I willing to do for these people to be able to see them in heaven forever?  How extreme is too extreme?