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Friday, June 22, 2012

Thanksgiving All Year: 431-440

I'm not gonna lie, this has been a challenging week for me, at least mentally speaking. I feel like I've been barraged with an onslaught of doubts and attempts at discouragement from the enemy, and resisting him can be a little bit draining. I'm sure it doesn't help that I'm a melancholy, an over-thinker by nature, and therefore I have more thoughts in an average day to take captive to the obedience of Christ than many people probably do. God has been extremely faithful to me throughout this time of testing, though, and looking back over the past few days, I can see that every time I chose to resist doubt and to trust Him, He almost immediately followed my decision with some form of encouragement to spur me on. I tend to be a control freak, and I can say without hesitation this is something God has been chipping away at in my life over the past year... I am determined not to fail this "demanding control" vs. "trusting God" test one more time! Though it is extremely challenging at times, I am really grateful God is working on this area in my life!

As I look back over this past week, I am thankful...

431. For a fun afternoon/evening with the girls at the lake.

My friends can be quite silly but that
just makes me love them all the more!

432. For beautiful sunsets.

433. For Pastor Eric's leadership in our Sunday morning young adults group... Somehow the questions he asks as we read through Scripture help me to see past the preconceived notions I've developed growing up in the church (which may or may not accurately reflect Scripture) and shed some of the baggage that keeps me from understanding the Gospel more clearly.

434. For an amazing dad to celebrate on Father's Day.

435. For recognizing progress in my attitude about certain situations in my life.

436. For the beauty in getting a glimpse of how God has gifted different people in our fellowship group.

437. For the sound of wind chimes.

438. For God's grace in giving me specific encouragement -- from His Spirit, from friends, from one of the youth girls I shepherd (youth ministry is not just a one-way street!), and from time with my Thursday afternoon "Living the Gospel" discussion group that reminded me of the bigger picture of life and of God's limitless power and infinite love -- to help support my faith as I choose to stand firm in it, resisting doubt and discouragement.

439. For little Caleb.

440. For the faith that God will carry on to completion the good work He begins in His children, whether circumstances look favorable for that to happen or not.

I pray as your faith faces challenges you will choose to stand firm and trust God no matter what kind of waves may be crashing around you! He will see you through! Have a great weekend, friends.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

I realized a while back that I neglected to write a special blog post for my dad on his birthday -- which made me feel pretty terrible considering I'd even written a birthday post for Owen Wilson, of all people, haha -- so I decided I'd write a post for my dad on Father's Day instead! Well, I almost forgot to do this, too, but fortunately I remembered before it was too late!

I love my dad. For starters, he ALWAYS takes care of any issues I have with my car. I know practically nothing about cars, and he knows quite a bit, so I am so thankful he provides for me in this way! He is also the epitome of the camera-carrying dad, documenting E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. If we've done it, there's a picture or a video to prove it. We give him a bad time about it, but I can't imagine him being any other way. It's who he is, and I can't help but love it!

For as long as I can remember, my dad has been probably my greatest supporter in whatever I do. If something brings me joy, then it brings him joy. This isn't true only for me, but for anyone in my family. My dad is a family man to the core. He would do ANYTHING for any person in our family, there is no doubt in my mind. I don't know that I've ever met anyone else so devoted to his family. When I think of unconditional love, I definitely think of him. I am SO thankful for this! He is truly a reflection of my heavenly Father in this way.

I couldn't imagine having anyone else as my dad. I have been truly blessed with both of the parents God gave me... I wouldn't trade either one of them for anything.

 I love you, Dad!!!

The Gospel of the Kingdom

God has been showing me so much over the past few months that I want to write about, yet I'm not even sure where to begin. I guess I could start with the Koosh ball. You may remember me referring to this a while back... Cassidy came up with the idea that all the various behaviors we try to foster as Christians are like all the tiny ends that protrude from the center of a Koosh ball. Unfortunately, we too often focus on getting all the "ends" right without having any central connecting point holding them all together. This central connecting point, Cassidy began to realize, is a Biblical worldview.

A couple months ago Cassidy shared with me (and with our youth shepherds, and on his Facebook page, and so on, haha) a really incredible 18-minute video of a message by Chuck Colson that has completely revolutionized my understanding of the Gospel. Colson very simply and succinctly describes the story of the Bible in four acts that answer the questions every worldview seeks to address: Creation (Where did we come from?); Fall (Why is there sin and suffering in the world?); Redemption (Is there a way out?); and Restoration (Why am I here and what is my purpose?).

Colson addresses the fact that we tend to tell only half the story -- the parts about the Fall and Redemption. That was quite enlightening to me, and it also made me stop and consider the fact that when I think of evangelism I tend to think of starting out with the message that we humans are all depraved... It's not that that's untrue, but it dawned on me how ridiculous that must sound to someone who isn't familiar with the whole story. I think if I'd never heard it, I'd ask why in the world God created a race of depraved people. Well, He didn't. In the beginning we were not depraved; in fact, God called His creation good.

In addition to this oversight, I'm afraid we tend to miss the real point of what comes after Redemption. I feel like we emphasize that people are to live moral lives in accordance with the Bible, but we don't really give a reason why, other than pleasing God. However, I'm coming to realize that the reason God wants our obedience is that the things He calls us to do are designed to restore His original good design for our lives.

Case in point, I've always struggled with jealousy and anger. When God's Word directs me to avoid these things, it's not JUST to appease Him; it's also because His original GOOD design for me (being that man was created in His image) was to reflect the beautiful qualities of HIS character such as mercy, patience, forgiveness, and grace. As He restores His good design for me, His design for those around me begins to see some restoration as well, as they encounter His qualities in my life rather than my own sinful ones. See how this works? It's pretty amazing...

Now, as these ideas have been sinking into my thinking, I've also been reading the book of Luke, and something that's been standing out to me is how many times Jesus mentions the kingdom of God, and specifically sharing "the good news of the kingdom." For probably my whole life as a Christian, the idea of the "kingdom of God" has seemed like some sort of mystery to me. I'm not exactly sure why except that I don't really remember hearing it emphasized or even really talked about or described in church growing up. Last fall when I was taking the Perspectives class, however, one thing I learned was that the kingdom of God is literally the king-dom, or reign, of God... Well that's really not such a complicated concept after all, is it?

When I apply that concept to Jesus' preaching of the kingdom, it all makes sense... We're called not simply to live moral lives but to enter the king-dom of God by submitting to His reign in our lives so that He can restore us to His original good design by transforming us to make us reflect Christ! And as we allow Him to reign in our lives, we bring glimpses of His kingdom to the world around us, showing what things were meant to -- and one day WILL -- be like!

I was sort of dumbfounded as I kept coming across the phrase "the good news of the kingdom" in the book of Luke, because when I think of the good news (or GOSPEL), my immediate thought is of salvation, not the kingdom. And granted, salvation is a CRUCIAL part of the Gospel... Without it, there is no entrance to the kingdom. But suddenly it dawned on me that perhaps we as the church have been staring at the door, or the gate, for so long, we've forgotten that it leads to something. We cannot afford to bypass the message of salvation, but likewise I certainly would hate to spend my life missing the message of the kingdom it ought to lead to!

Realizing all of this has quite simply revolutionized my faith. I am EXCITED about the Gospel in a way that I never have been before -- probably because I never fully understood it before! I understood salvation but I was TOTALLY missing the point of representing God's kingdom and partnering with Him in bringing restoration of His original good design for His creation wherever and however I can as I live out my days on earth. Life has MUCH deeper meaning now!

This morning I read the passage where Jesus says to seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you. I really feel like I am learning what it means to live that out. I still have my own personal desires, and they are still planted deep in my heart. But my desire for pursuing God's king-dom in my own life and thus bringing glimpses of it to the world around me is stronger than any other desire I have for probably the first time in my life. And I'm finding that as a result, I'm growing in my ability to trust HIM to "add all these things" to my life.

This is not to say that I've got everything figured out now, or that I've mastered submitting to God's reign in my life, because I definitely haven't. But my perspective of life is definitely becoming more clear, and my heart is definitely finding greater fulfillment and joy in seeking HIS king-dom than it has ever found in trying to pursue my own!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Thanksgiving All Year: 421-430

Welp! I made it back just a week after my last post, so that's good! I've had two or three other blogs in mind to write this past week, it just hasn't happened. Hopefully soon!

This week I am thankful...

421. For the chance to celebrate the marriage of two friends last Saturday... I think because they, like me, waited a long time to find the right person, this ceremony had special meaning for me. I could not be happier for Michelle and Andrew!

Michelle and Andrew only met a little over a year ago after
Michelle began attending our church and joined the choir!

422. For good friends with whom to enjoy the wedding.

423. For the Thompson family... For their understanding (and sharing) of the message of God's Kingdom, for their friendship, for the opportunity to celebrate Tara's birthday and Zack's graduation with them last weekend, and for the fact that God has been sustaining them through a recent season of trials.

424. For these ladies who are among some of my dearest friends (and for my sweet nephew, of course).

me, Erin, Rebecca, and Dana... and of course little Caleb!

425. For this group of men, for their friendships, their hearts for God, and their ability to make me laugh FREQUENTLY.

Jon, Luke, Zack, Cassidy, Ben, and Alex

426. For the Steinhardt and Bain girls ~ some of the most beautiful I've ever known, both inside and out!

Lauren and Nicole on the left; Natalie and Lauren in the middle;
and, of course, me and Ashley on the right

427. That our young adults group officially has campsites reserved for a weekend trip to Yosemite National Park in August!

I haven't seen this in person in over four years... CAN'T WAIT!

428. For Sonic tater tots.(YUM.)

429. For extra money made pet sitting.

430. That God has had me in a "cocoon" of sorts for the past few months, a season of rest and transformation, in preparation for all the things He has prepared for me to do this summer, especially over the next four weeks. Part of me feels slightly overwhelmed, but most of me just feels ready and EXCITED!

I apologize for the short post but I am headed up to the lake this afternoon with some friends... Guaranteed this outing will make next week's thanks-giving post!! Happy Weekend!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Thanksgiving All Year: 391-420

Oh my. I'm not sure what happened over the past few weeks, but my poor blog has definitely been neglected! Three weeks behind on thanks-giving? SHEESH!

Today as I reflect on the past few weeks, I am thankful...

391. For opportunities to share a home-cooked dinner, a profoundly encouraging message by Louie Giglio, and good conversation with family and friends.

392. For a spontaneous adventure (a six-mile walk after dark) with two of my best besties.

(aka picking up trash along the way)
at our unintended destination,
Jack in the Box, 2.5 hours later

393. For fish tacos (something I NEVER would have expected to enjoy) and similar dishes.

394. For a lovely Sunday afternoon downtown with Jessie Marie.

395. For cool community art projects.

Chalk was provided so anyone could add something to the board.

396. That "the heavens are telling of the glory of God," especially when we witness things like a solar eclipse.

See it in the clouds?

397. That Phillip Phillips won American Idol!!!! Thank you, America, for once again confirming my theory that we love guys with guitars.

398. For the final song Phillip performed on the show, "Home." Very Mumfordesque. I love it.

399. For the opportunity to house sit for one of my absolute favorite families to house sit for. I love their house, I love their back yard, and I love their dogs. I happen to love the family, too, they just naturally aren't a part of my house sitting experiences, haha!

looking down at the house from the top of their hill
looking up at the hill from the backyard ~ LOVE the waterfall!
 400. For a fun Saturday morning with Ashley ~ yummy breakfast at House of Bread, coffee from Purple Bean, and a spontaneous drive up to Donner in the snow. (Yes, I said snow. Welcome to Memorial Day weekend in Reno.)

Donner is SO beautiful!

401. For unbelievable encouragement from the Lord during my quiet time a couple Saturdays ago, and for His perfectly clear confirmation of recent direction in my life.

402. For Louie Giglio's Passion DVD series. I've watched Fruitcake and Ice Cream five times now, and I recently watched Indescribable for the first time... and the second time, both in the same day.

403. For the beauty of God's creations in nature.

404. For a ridiculously easy, and tasty, recipe for crock pot chicken tacos...

405. ...and for friends with whom to share them while sitting around the table talking and laughing.

Silly geese!

406. That I got to catch up with Alina over lunch a couple weeks ago.

407. For a productive day off on Memorial Day in which I cleaned out my car and got caught up on my finances.

408. For fun dinners with Krystal before fellowship group recently.

409. For new friends.

I've known Krystal (middle) for a long time but have only recently
started getting to know Patricia (right). Love them both!

410. For a fun time at U-Swirl with the 2012 graduates and the young adults group after Senior Recognition.

Beautiful ladies, goofy guys! Love 'em all!

411. That Cloe' is going to Santa Cruz with the youth group this year for the first time!!!

pizza and game night with Rebecca, Ash, and Cloe'

412. For the folks from our young adults group who showed up on just a few hours' notice to clean the Thompsons' house to help the family get ready for Pastor Eric to come home from nearly a week in the hospital.

413. For Cassidy and Erin's hospitality in having us over for pizza and a movie after our "cleaning party."

414. For a nice, relaxing lunch with the family while Erin's sister was in town last weekend.

415. For graduation parties.

celebrating Tia's graduation

416. For a gorgeous full moon last weekend.

417. That I serve a God who is in the business of restoration.

418. For the gift of spending every Wednesday with my precious nephew.

That one on the right is my new favorite!

419. For a new group that's meeting weekly this summer to go through How Now Shall We Live by Chuck Colson and to discuss Christianity as a worldview.

420. For John Malkovich's performance as Lucien Laurin in Secretariat.

Okay. Let's hope I don't go another three weeks before I do this again, because I really don't think anyone cares to read through a list that's thirty items long, haha! Have a great weekend, folks!