Tuesday, March 30, 2010

He had risen. And because of that, so had she.

It just so happens that the chapter I'm currently on in "the Blue Book" is titled "Resurrection"... just in time for Easter. Coincidence? I think not. Thanks God.

The last few days have been rough. I ended a two year relationship because I felt like that relationship was no longer pointing me towards Jesus. It was just as heartbreaking to me as it was him, but I know that the Lord's hand is in it, and we will both be alright.

My childhood best friend had a baby yesterday, 4 days before the 3 year anniversary of her dad's death. It's been emotional... a strange balance of celebrating new life while still mourning the loss of a father and friend.

And in the midst of all this, it's given the message of Easter some sweet significance. Yesterday I was reading in John, chapter 20... 11-18. This is when Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene outside the tomb. After reading this yesterday, Mary's pain was so real to me. The thing I love about the Blue Book is that it also gives you some "outside reading" excerpts to relate and connect with the scripture you're reading. Yesterday's was awesome. Here's what it said...

The silence was deafening that early morning as she stood, gripped by a love that would not release her. Everyone else was gone back to their homes and their families.

"How could they forget so quickly?" she thought as she stood in the first light of dawn, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Did they not feel it too... the love? If they did, how could they leave?"

Her heart would not allow her to go, so she stayed--as near to him as she knew how. Was she waiting, was she hoping, or was she simply doing the only thing she could--to be near the place he was last near? She would rather be near him than anyone or anything. So she stayed and cried, longing to hear her name from his lips once more.

And then suddenly the voice... it startled her. Looking through the tears she could not see who it was.

"Have you seen him?" she asked. "Do you know where he is?"

It wasn't until he uttered her name that she recognized his voice, and at its sweet sound everything in her was raised to life again. It was Easter, you see... and he had risen. And because of that, so had she.

I love that. It truly paints a picture of Mary's love for Jesus, and her pain in losing him. If you've ever lost someone close to you, you know what that feels like. I remember when my friend Shea's dad died, me, Shea, and our friend Ashlee went down to his hangar where he kept his airplane. We sat there among all of his stuff, just being near where he had last been near, and we talked about him... sometimes laughing, sometimes crying. And I love how the story above says, "or was she simply doing the only thing she could--to be near the place where he was last near. She would rather be near him than anyone or anything." I can relate.

And the most significant part of that is the second sentence. She would rather be near him than anyone or anything. She longed to be where Jesus was. I think about the places where I long to be to feel God's presence. Worshiping with my church family. Sitting in the sun in the mountains of North Carolina, where I first fell in love with Jesus. At home with my sisters and my parents. We all have places where we feel most near Jesus, and we long to be there. Right now I'm in a place where I want so badly to be near Him, because my heart hurts, and it's too much for me to deal with alone.

But the next part is better. Jesus says one word... "Mary." And as Jim Branch writes in his version of the story, the sweet sound of his voice raised her back to life again. I think about those moments I've had... when I've been in darkness, and God does something to say, "Sara"... and I'm raised to life again. The last words of Jim's story say, "he had risen... and because of that, so had she."

There's pain in loss. Whether it be a breakup, a death, or whatever. Jesus felt it. Mary felt it. We all go through seasons of feeling it... but we are all risen to life, eternal life, all because Jesus felt the greatest pain of all time. He felt all the pain of the world, past, present and future, in one moment on the cross. I can't imagine.

All this being said, I found encouragement in this story, because I know that although I'm in pain right now, God is faithful. That doesn't mean that I am miraculously healed of all the heartache, but it means that as long as I continue to draw near to him, there will be a moment when I hear him say my name, and I'm risen to life again.

In the meantime, I am so incredibly blessed with people in my life who point me towards the Lord... to encourage me and lift me up in prayer. They are the tangible love of Christ in my every day life. To those people... thank you. You will never know how much you mean to me.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

my chains are gone, i've been set free...

Lately I have learned how incredibly freeing it can be to bring your weaknesses to the light and embrace them as an opportunity for God to use them for His glory. I know this is a repetitive theme of the blog lately, but I have to share what happened last night at bible study. Brittany asked me to lead, and at first I thought, "well, this should be interesting... I have to come up with some profound something in a little over an hour." Then I realized what an arrogant ass I was to think that I would be the one speaking... I needed to pray about how God could speak through me. I began to pray through what God wanted us to talk about, and here's where he led. Last week I had been reading in 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, when Paul is talking about boasting about his weaknesses, because "God's power is made perfect in weakness." So long story short... as a continuation of what that passage had been doing in my heart, that's what we focused on last night.

God did an amazing thing. We literally dug up our deep-rooted issues and shared them with one another, and we prayed for each other, and it was incredible. The Holy Spirit moved in some amazing ways... and He did it in the midst of us bringing out the darkest things about ourselves... these deep corners of our souls that we needed to be freed from. Because forgiveness is only the first half of our salvation. After that comes restoration... and that's why we have to daily return to the cross and give our weaknesses to Jesus.

Last night I saw the truth of 2 Corinthians 12:9, "I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me," displayed in such a sweet way, through 6 girls sitting around a table at a coffee shop. It was powerful and humbling, and I will never forget it. Thank you, Jesus, for that moment. Thank you for a group of girls to be real with. To hold each other accountable to daily return to the cross and humble ourselves, and become more and more every day the women that God has created us to be. I am daily amazed at the ways that the Spirit is moving in Jonesboro... on ASU's campus... my heart is changing, and it's been painful and freeing at the same time.

If you're reading this, I want to encourage you to "boast about your weaknesses." Bring them to the light and let God use them. Return to the cross daily. Be who God has created you to be.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

shine your light--people notice.

Today in my News Reporting class we were discussing the new Arkansas Lottery Scholarship. My professor was explaining how she is opposed to it, because most people who are awarded it end up dropping out of school, and those who qualify for it and are going to actually finish their degrees aren't staying in the state to go to school anyway. Somehow that led to an argument on whether or not you need a college degree "to live a good life." My professor said, and I quote, "You will live a burger-flipping life if you don't go to college these days." Can't say I completely agree with that, since one of my best friends didn't finish school, and he is in full-time ministry as a worship pastor. My professor also said that "living paycheck to paycheck sounds too stressful, and she wouldn't be happy if she had to do that." So basically, most of our discussion concluded with the idea that money+status=good life.

I sat there listening, and I chimed in here and there, if nothing else to make the point that my dad is in ministry, we've never had much money, definitely lived "paycheck to paycheck," and I have a great life. For most of this discussion, I was just listening and thinking, "what if all of these people knew Jesus?" How different would that talk have been? If we had all said, "you know what--God provides. Regardless of education, class, race, gender... nothing is beyond him." Because that's what I was thinking, but I know I was the only one in the room with that perspective. I sat there thinking, gosh, I really wish everyone knew Jesus. What a world that would be. Although I guess that would be heaven.

JR has been preaching a lot about the Kingdom lately, and how we're supposed to bring the Kingdom to our world and be a living testament of the truth. I've been trying to challenge myself to do that. Today I had a moment when I was able to see that people actually notice when we're shining a light that they don't have. I was in the production room, working on the sports page, and my editor said, "Sara, you are the most light hearted and happy-go-lucky person I've ever known." Another one of the editors chimed in and said, "I know, I wish I was like that. How do you do it?" The truth is, it's Jesus. And the cool thing is that they SEE that. They don't understand it--it's something that they know they don't have, but they want it. That really challenged me to shine that light all the time. People notice.

And the reality is, people notice when we're claiming a faith but not looking any different than anyone else. That's something that Christians don't take seriously enough. People are watching us to see how we react when life gets hard. There's a song by Hillsong called "Desert Song" and the last verse is so powerful. It says:

This is my prayer in the harvest, when favor and providence flow.
I know I'm filled to be emptied again, the seed I've received I will sow.

I love that song. I wanted so badly to play it in class today and say, "this is why you don't need to worry about money... this is why God is so much bigger than any worldly thing that you think can make you happy... my God is the God who provides." This song is the reason that as Christians we don't need to lose our joy when life gets hard... we have a reason to sing. And when we shine a light at times when most people would exude darkness, people notice. And they say, I want what you have.

Take a listen yourself...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

bound by the law

I had dinner with a friend tonight and it was one of those meetings when conversation was just so rich. We got to talking about some high school girls that she leads a bible study with and just how growing up in the "Bible Belt" has made them so bound by the law. As "grace" has been the theme as of late, (and as God would have it) we started talking about the law vs. the grace of Jesus Christ. I happened to be reading in John chapter 1 this morning, and verses 16-17 stood out to me:

"And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

The gospels tell the story of Jesus... they're the truth given to us on how to truly live as a Christian. In order to be like Christ, we are to look at what he did. Now ask yourself this question: do Christians do a good job of that? What if we were to take away the gospels? What if Jesus wasn't the messiah, if he hadn't come to save us? The scary thought is, I think a lot of Christians would still look the exact same way. Because we're so bound by the law that we miss the point. Jesus came to rescue us from that. He came to give us a gift that completely changes the world, and for whatever reason, we still concern ourselves more with all of the legalistic stuff. Sure, there's a place for that. I believe there is a healthy balance. But the problem is that we don't display grace in the way that we are called to. We don't live like our lives are a sweet gift from God, being thankful and joyful always. We're too worried about how many "religious events" we can cram into our week, or any other deed that we think may make us LOOK like a "better Christian."

When did we lose sight of the humbling fact that Jesus died so we could live? When did we stop trying to live like him and start making our own rules? JR made a great point in church Sunday morning. He said when Jesus was on earth the sinners flocked to him and the religious wanted nothing to do with him. Now, 2000 years later, the religious are "all about" Jesus and the 'sinners' want nothing to do with him. When did we begin to make him look so unattractive? Why do we not wear his grace in a way that makes people want what we have? And what will it take for us to stop worrying about petty legalistic things and start doing what Jesus showed us and what God calls us to do? To go after the lost, and be a living display of Jesus Christ's love for us through the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.

I wonder what it will take for us to obey his Greatest Commandment. Love God. Love others. He said that's way more important than the 10 commandments that he gave Moses.