Friday, December 23, 2011

relaTional reFreshment

relationality is a word that i think i might have just made up. i like saying it better than "being relational" more like it's a qualitiy. i want to have relationality: to be intentionally relational. 

but why? why is it something to be desired? 

well today i have had one of those moments. i went to coffee with let's say a new real friend and we talked about the value of being relational. we talked about our lives. we were relational. we didn't have an agenda or task to be accomplished. we shared stories, ideas, and ended with prayer. it was refreshing. that is something i always walk away with from those moments: feeling refreshed. that is one huge reason i want to have relationality. 

you see God is creative. He created us and He did so in a way that makes us all different when it comes to ideas, experiences, mindsets, knowledge, attitudes, dreams, etc. so when we begin to be relational and dive a little deeper, below the surface, we get to see something different. we aren't looking into a mirror. we aren't talking to ourselves. we are diving into a pool of new, different refreshment. through their stories, thoughts, laughs, struggles, passions, and prayers we get to see a new piece of God's creativity. and that is refreshing. 

fresh. it's a word that brings life. it's like a breath of new air. 

if i don't step outside of myself then i will become the opposite of fresh. i will be stagnant, old, the same thing. when i am all that i know, when my thoughts are the only one going through my mind, when my stories are the only ones i hear i become stuck. i become a pond with stagnant water. no one likes that. you want a fresh river with new water flowing through, full of life. 

so when we become relational and dive into new waters, we walk away refreshed because we experienced new life. we saw a new side of God's working in this world. a new perspective. new stories. new dreams. it's beautiful. 

my challenge is for you. don't be afraid to go below the surface. don't just be at the same place doing the same thing and call it bonding or friendship. have that plus getting to know people for who they are. what is the dna of their story? what brought them to the place they are now? how has God changed their life? what are their passions? what do they struggle with? what do they love? and then be willing to share the same things with them. take a dive together and come up refreshed. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

it's unbelievably beautiful

if you know me well then you know that i don't exactly come from a Christian family. this was something that presented as a challenge to my faith in the beginning. i was discouraged. i used to separate my faith from my family and avoid the topic with them. i didn't like them making fun of me. i didn't like defending my faith because i didn't know how to then. 

alot has changed since then. 

two of my older sisters and mother regularly go to church. through the Spirit's prompting we started meeting as a small group. this has helped strengthen our relationships as a family of believers not just blood. we dig into God's love. we take in His grace. we share and we pray. oh how the Lord has bee moving! 

when i started going to church i had to sit with my friend's family and other kids from youth. i now get to sit with my family. i get to worship next to my mother and sisters. i get to hear them praise Jesus. that was a vision that was far from my imagination in the beginning. it is reality now. somehow, someway the Lord has made sure to shine through my life so that my family does not see my actions without seeing Him. that is beautiful. i used to be intimidated because i was younger than them. now the Lord teaches me in order to share the knowledge with them. 

i have two little sisters as well. i honestly didn't know how to be a big sister that influenced them for Jesus. but the Lord works in our weakness, that's for sure. one sister went to summer camp this year and has started going to youth. she is shy and we haven't had deep conversations about Jesus, but the door has been opened. 

my youngest sister. well i have never really had much of an opportunity to share with her about Jesus. see, she is 7. the gap means that we haven't lived in the same house together much. she has been so young and not thinking about anything dealing with God. oh but on saturday things were different. Caroline wanted me to take her and her friend to see the Christmas lights at the Down's house. i was a little reluctant, but decided to be a cool big sister and take them. 

we parked and watched the lights. at one point there was a picture of the cross in lights. i asked them if they knew what it meant (Caroline's friend goes to church so i figured i'd get an answer) and they answered "Jesus." that question, the one that i didn't know was coming out of my mouth when it did turned into the gospel. in a grass field parked in my dad's truck i shared the gospel with my sister. we talked about everything and continued to do so as we drove home. when we got home i explained why we celebrated Christmas. we went into the house, i grabbed my Bible, we sat together on the couch, and i read her the story of Jesus' birth. the next morning as i walked out of my room i found her reading the Bible i left out. she picked up where we left off. she then joined me for church as we celebrated with our Christmas spectacular. at the end of the service Caroline raised her hand representing that she wanted to submit to Christ. she repeated the prayer the pastor lead everyone in. you see the night before i had told her that you had to make the choice and pray to Jesus. she told me that she couldn't remember everything you needed to say so i told her i could lead her through it if she wanted. well at church when she raised her hand, i looked at her and said that the pastor was going to lead her in prayer just like i said i could do . she said ok and proceeded to pray. 

i can't say that caroline understands it all. i can't say what really happened in her heart or what is going on now. but i can say that the glory goes to God. He is moving in my family. these beautiful moments are not your average moments. they have eternal fruit. and boy are they beautiful. i am blown away by the fact that the Lord chose me. He chose me to follow Him in a family that was not. and through His power, truth, grace, mercy, and love He is making Himself known among their hearts. He is strengthening me everyday. why He chooses to use me i will never figure out or understand. but i am so glad that i get to be a part of it. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stupidity brought Purpose

Every now and then I am prompted to write things in my journal and the way I write them it is as if I am writing for someone else to read. When I go back and read these types of entries I feel like I should share them. Maybe someone needs to read it, maybe several need to, or maybe the Lord just wants me to be willing to share things that aren't so warm and fuzzy all the time. Whatever the reason I feel as though these next few thoughts are to be shared. There aren't too many people that I have shared these things with as I am sharing them now. Take it or leave it, but it is my life.

Journal Entry from October 25, 2011: The Purpose of Life

"Everyone thinks that question is the hardest one. What am I meant for? Why am I here? What is my life supposed to mean? Everyone has their own answer. People think everyone is here for something different. People either take the question incredibly serious or blow it off. Those who take it seriously may worry and fear if they are left without an answer-What's going to happen to me? Those who pass it off with a shrug of the shoulders do so because they don't want the burden. They want to live the way they want to live.

I used to worry. You see, we as humans want to feel important. We don't want to come and pass as if we never existed. We want to be wanted. We want to be needed. If we don't have any of that then why even come into existence? This is a big world filled with many people. If I don't stand out then why be here?

Before I knew who Jesus was I was afraid to die. I had heard of Heaven and Hell. I had heard of different people giving different explanations of what would happen after death. I didn't know what to believe. And because of that I was so fearful of death. Where would I go? What would happen? What if there is a Heaven and I don't get in? I was a good person right? Sure I would make it to Heaven. The only thing I was certain of was that I was not certain about life after death. I didn't know if there was a God out there and if there was, what was he like?

Because a good friend practically bugged me into going to church when I was 14 I was told things that completely changed my life. I heard about God. Story after story of all these things He had done with humanity. He created us and continued to interact with us. He loves us. No matter who we are or what we've done, He loves us. Then I heard something new to me: Jesus. Jess came and lives a sinless life only to be beaten and hung on a cross. But why? Because between us and God was a sin that kept a Holy God from an unholy people. By Jesus living a perfect life without blemish He qualified as a sacrifice that could cover it all. What needed to be taken out on each person through God's Holy judgment was all laid on Jesus. His blood covered my sin and washed me clean. And that stands for all. The wall was broken and we were promised eternity with God. From the day we acknowledge Jesus as savior and submit to His authority until the days after physical death. Those days are all promised to be spent with the Creator of this universe. That includes a home in Heaven.

After hearing these things. After coming to know Jesus as  real and true, not a character from a book. After being confronted with the Truth. I knew Jesus as my savior and bridge to the Father. After that I was no longer afraid of death. I was secure. I had no more reason to worry, question, doubt, or fear.

Yet, just because I knew my end was secure didn't actually mean I knew why I was living. My ending was much bigger than I ever knew, but I couldn't help but fall into thinking that I, and my life, was so small. I still didn't know my purpose. I went through life with more satisfaction after giving my life to Jesus. However, I never let go of the idea that I was insignificant in this world. I didn't know my purpose. And that left my mind open for many different thoughts:
"There is no reason for me to be here."
"No one would care if I was gone."
"I'm not even sure people actually like me."
"If I died I doubt anyone would go to my funeral."

I allowed those thoughts to cycle through my head for a long time. I didn't think it was odd. At that time I thought everyone thought like me. I would get distracted from those thoughts time and time again. But they never left. I allowed them to stay in my mind. They made a home in my thoughts. When things would get frustrating or I felt insignificant to other people they would yell at me. 

One day I allowed those thoughts to be the only ones I heard. I believed that I had no purpose and that the world would be no different, maybe even better, without me in it. Over and over these thought went round and round to the point of leading me to the kitchen. I opened the silverware drawer, grabbed a knife, and placed it against my flesh. At that moment I heard something different: "Ashley What are you thinking? You are significant to me and I created you with a purpose. Don't do it. Let go and come to me." The Lord broke through and showed me something outside myself. 

I had been ignoring the thoughts and truths of the very One that created me. I had been listening to every other thing about what my life meant. But they did not create me. They didn't draw my design. How could they know what I was meant for? Just as no one but the creator of an invention can state its purpose, no person can tell me mine that is not God. 

"What is the purpose of life?" is no longer a tough question. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came to build a bridge that offered reconciliation between us and our Father. And while Jesus founded the bridge, added to it is every person who chooses it. Those who acknowledge Jesus' gift get to play a part in it. When my life was made new in Jesus I was given a purpose. I am to glorify God in all I do in order to point others to Him and the bridge that connects them. When I gained new life in Jesus my life became part of something so much bigger. While my life may seem small compared to this world and just an instant in time, it plays a part in the very thing that created time itself. Jesus is above all. My life is in Him. His purpose is now my purpose. So my life doesn't just come and go. My life contributes to something eternal.

I am not here to wander through life. I was not an accident. My life is not meaningless. My life is being used by Jesus in a worldwide epidemic of souls being saved and reconciled with the Father. Talk about purpose. Talk about significance. I get to be a tool through which Jesus speaks, acts, and reveals truth. When I let go of my life that was limited to my ideas and abilities I was able to live into the life designed for me.

So don't be like me when I was young. Don't let outsiders define your life for you. People change their minds and sway with emotions. They get confused and deceived. You are going to let that determine who you are? Don't do it!

The purpose of life- to know God and to make Him known.

Live into that. Until you seek that first and do so with your whole heart, you will never know what the looks like in immediate details. Your purpose for the day will not be revealed or accomplished until you know the purpose of your life. So don't worry about today. When you know what all is supposed to be lived for you will know how to live today. Let every small thing point to and align with your ultimate purpose and you will see it all amount to the greatest of all things. Each small act of life that lines up with knowing God and making Him known is actually not small at all; they become eternal. Knowing the big picture brings significance to all.

Seek to know God- He is eternal so you will never grow bored, but placed in a stance of awe continuously. Seek Him and you will find Him.

Make Him known to all- this will overflow out of knowing Him. His heart is for every heart. When that is what you know that is what you will see to do. He is so incredible that you won't be able to stand knowing there are people who don't know Him.