To Know Him

As our church congregation has journeyed through The Story, our pastor has presented intentional sermons that connect God’s story to the story of His people. One such story recently drew my attention and it was that of Moses and his encounter with the burning bush.

God first spoke to Moses through the burning bush as a way to reveal Himself to this man who would serve Him. You might wonder why God chose this extraordinary way to speak to Moses, but perhaps, as Pastor Tim pointed out, Moses really didn’t know God all that well at this point. In speaking from the burning bush, God certainly got Moses’ attention.

This particular message drew me in simply because of this concert of what it means to know God. I grew up in a Christian home, and I was baptized and became a member of my home church. I asked Jesus to come into my life at summer camp at age nine, and throughout my childhood and teen years I was involved in the Sunday school and youth programs. Church and Jesus were a large part of my life. I thought I knew Him simply because my parents served the Lord and I went to a Christian school. It wasn’t until I went off to college that I truly made my faith my own and began to know Him more intimately.

On Friday nights during my freshman year, I had the dorm room to myself. My roommate lived really close to campus, so she went home on the weekends, leaving the room quiet and sometimes rather lonely. I began a Friday night tradition in which I would sit in the center of the big, braided rug that covered the floor. I would pray and talk to God out loud; there was no one there to overhear me, and I found I was able to communicate openly and freely with Him. I can honestly say that in my entire adult life, I cannot recall another time when my prayers flowed so effortlessly and I felt a close kinship with my Creator. I have found times of intimacy since, but nothing can match that season of my life.

I began to truly know Him then, and my faith became strongly rooted in Him. It was then that I began to refer to Jesus as my best friend, and that hasn’t changed to this day. I find that I know Him the best in the dark, quiet of my bedroom when it’s just Him and I before I fall asleep at night. It’s the only time where the world slows down enough for me to linger in His presence.

I often compare my relationship with Him to the most intimate of connections. Now, everyone has friends and family whom they truly love; these are the people we call when we have good news or bad news, when we need a shoulder to cry on, or when we need to ask a favor. These friends and family members are the real deal— so much more than any Twitter follower or Facebook friend. These online acquaintances are just that— acquaintances— and we can’t necessarily rely on these people to stand by us in the nitty-gritty. Even though some of these online friends might be friends and loved ones, for the most part, we “friend” or “follow” people to make a business connection or to meet mutual friends.

Much is the same when couples meet online. On the surface level, matching criteria seem to make all the difference in establishing a connection, but it isn’t until the couple meets face-to-face that real life begins in the relationship. In my experiences as a single woman, I have found a am quite choosy when it comes to finding the one God has set aside for me. I am seeking someone who will love God more than me and will be willing to serve alongside of me in wherever God may lead; I also want to serve alongside him in whatever God has called him to do and to be a support to him as God would want me to be as a helper of mankind.

One day, I want to look back and find that I truly know my spouse in a deep and intimate way. I don’t want to settle for just anyone, but I want to find that one person who completes God’s plan for his life and mine. The same holds true for my relationship with the Lord; I refuse to settle for a mediocre relationship; I want to strive for true love and intimacy that reflects that I truly know Him better than I know myself.

An Altered Dream

In our journey through The Story, my church family and I found ourselves in the midst of Joseph’s progression from hated younger brother all the way to Pharaoh’s second-in-command. When we first meet Joseph in the Scriptures, he is a spoiled, seventeen-year-old, favored by his father but hated by his brothers. Joseph was one of two sons born to the woman his father loved most, so as a result, he showed favor to Joseph.

At one point, Joseph tells his brothers that he had a dream— that eleven stars along with the sun and moon bowed down to him. His brothers laughed at him, thinking this dream ridiculous, for they found it hard to believe that anyone— them included— would bow before their younger brother. Joseph had a dream, but no one else supported that dream, and as a result, I’m sure Joseph faced many moments of doubt in wondering if this dream would ever come true.

One day, Israel, Joseph’s father, sends Joseph to check on his brothers as they work, and before the day is through, Joseph finds himself thrown into a cistern and left for dead. But the story does not end here. One of his brothers speaks a bit of reason, and instead of leaving Joseph to die, they decide to sell him into slavery. Joseph then travels to Egypt and begins his service to one of Pharaoh’s officials, Potiphar.

Meanwhile, Joseph’s brothers plot how they are going to deceive their father in making him believe that Joseph is dead. They slaughter a goat, dip Joseph’s coat of many colors into its blood, and then they present the bloodied coat to their father. Israel has no doubt that Joseph was attacked by a wild animal and is now dead.

But again, the story does not end here. In Egypt, Joseph has become a trusted servant in Potiphar’s home. He is given authority to manage every aspect of the household, but there is one giant problem— Potiphar’s wife. Everything comes crashing down for Joseph when he is accused of trying to compromise his master’s wife, so he is thrown in prison.

But even in prison, God honors Joseph and is with him. With God’s help, he manages to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, and after a span of a few years, Pharaoh himself has a dream. Joseph is remembered for his success in interpreting dreams, and Pharaoh summons him from prison. Joseph tells Pharaoh that his dream speaks of seven years of plenty for their land and crops, followed by seven years of severe famine.

In response to Joseph’s interpretation, Pharaoh appoints Joseph as his second-in-command, assigning him the task of preparing for the approaching famine. Pharaoh’s dream becomes reality as seven years of plenty come over the land, but then the famine comes— a famine so severe that is felt in Canaan where Israel and his sons reside.

Israel sends ten of his sons to Egypt to buy grain, and it is then that they meet Joseph— only, they are unaware that this official is actually their brother. Through a course of events, Joseph is shrewd with his brothers; he recognizes them and calls them spies, yet, he does not reveal his identity to them. He sends his brothers on their way, holding one of them prisoner until they return, bringing his brother Benjamin with them on their return to Egypt.

It isn’t until his brothers return with Benjamin that Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers. He tells them that what they meant for harm, God meant for good. He was appointed second-in-command to Pharaoh so that lives might be saved in Egypt and beyond. So in the end, we find that Joseph forgives his brothers, holding nothing against them for the harm they intended to cause him.

As I read the story, I wondered if I would be able to forgive my brothers if I were in Joseph’s shoes. I have never been left for dead, sold into slavery, or accused of compromising someone’s spouse, but I have been wronged and I know what it feels like to feel cheated out of something. Such was the case last year as I found myself letting go of a lifelong dream.

Early in 2011, I was approached with the possible opportunity to expand my music career. I was excited to potentially record, distribute, and perform my songs on a larger scale, and I found myself on the brink of fulfilling my little-girl fantasy of being on stage and singing for crowds— maybe even being famous.

But in many ways, it was as if I was teased with the idea of the dream— like it was swung before me on a string and I just couldn’t grasp it. The deal fell apart before my eyes before I really had a chance to see any of it come into play. I was crushed, and I found myself in tears because I wanted to see this dream come true more than anything!

For about two weeks, I was confused, hurt, and downright depressed. I wondered what I would do now that I had little or nothing left on the horizon. But God works in mysterious ways, and He was preparing my heart to accept His dream for my life— a higher platform than I had ever imagined.

My pastor called and asked me to meet him for coffee so we could talk. It was then that he told me what had been on his heart recently; he wanted me to consider accepting a part-time position at the church, leading music and participating in the worship ministry. I had been applying for worship and music jobs at churches throughout the past year-and-a-half, but each job interview had led to a dead end— either it wasn’t a good fit for me or I wasn’t the right fit for a particular church. But when I considered FRC— my home church congregation and the place where I had first begun to spread my wings as a worship leader— I just knew it was right.

I took the time to pray about it and truly consider what this opportunity would look like, but there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this was the next step for me. God had opened up the doors, and I was walking through them.

Now a year later, I am serving at the church, and it has truly been a blessing to lead God’s people in worship. I am honored to have been a part of forming OneVoice, a group of women who are committed to singing praise to Him with a transparency that humbles me every time we lead in worship. I truly love my job, and I can’t imagine doing anything else at this season in my life.

A few months ago, I was reminded of the opportunity that had fallen through earlier last year, and I found myself taking a huge step backward. I didn’t want to think about where I could have been if I had walked through that door, and I thanked God that he had diverted that path so I could now lead at FRC. At one point, I was asked if I was angry at the people who had played a role in drawing a close to my childhood dream, and although I was hurt, I could honestly say that I wasn’t angry. I had come to a place where I had felt God’s blessing on my life and what I was doing, and no other dream for my life could hold a candle to the joy and peace I had found in serving at FRC. Did I forgive those who were involved? Yes, I can also say that I have forgiven and moved on. Although my experiences were nothing compared to Joseph’s in the book of Genesis, I can now relate to what it feels like to relinquish a dream, only to have God step in and create something so beautiful that there is no comparison in the greater scheme of life. I think of this as the altered dream, for although things didn’t pan out like I had planned, God’s dream for my life was much greater than I could have ever imagined.

And He Said…

In our journey through The Story, my fellow church members and I have been given the opportunity to explore the Scriptures in a new and exciting way. A few weeks ago, we were reminded of the story of Abraham, Sarah, and their promised child.

Those of you who are familiar with Abraham’s story know that God had promised him that his descendants would one day be as numerous as the stars. Abraham believed in this promise, but yet, there was one major problem; Abraham and Sarah were beyond child-bearing age and this promised child had not appeared. In fact, at age 75, Abraham had not yet become a father. So Abraham and Sarah decided to take matters into their own hands. Abraham slept with Sarah’s servant Hagar, and the servant girl later became pregnant.

But Abraham was soon reminded that Hagar’s child would not be the child of the promise. God would bless Ishmael, but Abraham’s yet-to-be-born offspring would be the true heir and the father of many nations. In time, Sarah became pregnant and gave Abraham a son; they called him Isaac. Abraham was close to 100 years old at the time of Isaac’s birth, but God was faithful to His promise in His own time.

As we read through Abraham’s story at Sunday morning worship, our pastor brought up an interesting thought. Throughout Abraham’s lifetime, God often spoke to him voice-to-voice as if the two were having a conversation. Pastor Tim related that we as ordinary people don’t often feel that God speaks to us. We don’t audibly hear his voice, so it’s hard to comprehend that He would actually talk to Abraham like He had in Biblical times.

Pastor Tim shared a story about his wife and how she often tells of conversations she has had with the Lord. She will frequently recount her experiences by saying, “Jesus and I were having a conversation, and He said…” Then she will proceed to relay what He said to her.

Now, for Pastor Tim and I (and many others, I’m sure), we’ve never actually heard Jesus speak to us in an audible voice. But I have heard or felt a knowing or sense of discernment within me as if Someone had spoken directly to my heart. Such an experience has happened twice in my lifetime thus far. I have shared these experiences a few times before in “Cassie Contemplates…”, but I would like to conclude this post by sharing what God has said to me over the years.

The first of the two experiences took place in a restaurant parking lot just hours before my first big concert. I wasn’t feeling well; in fact, I had a terrible cold that had weakened my voice to the point that I figured the concert would come off sounding terrible. I began to pray in that moment that God would clear up my voice or somehow make it so I wouldn’t sound so horrible. I was disappointed; I wanted everything to be perfect, and I knew many friends and family were coming to the concert and they were looking forward to a good show. So much planning had gone into the evening that I couldn’t stand the thought of my cold ruining it all.

It was then that everything became quiet around me, and I knew that I was not alone in that car. God was there with me, and I could feel His words deep in my heart. “Since when is any of this about you?” I discerned. “Tonight you will sing for Me, for I gave you a voice to sing in the first place.”

My friend Amy and I often refer to this particular circumstance as the moment when God hits you over the head with a proverbial 2×4. His whispered words to my heart certainly got my attention, and I went into that concert that night with a new perspective. I was attentive to His message and how He was speaking through me through every song and spoken word.

The second time I heard His voice was actually at another music-related event. I was competing at Immerse in Nashville, Tennessee, and I had made it to the semi-finals. I sang my song “Footsteps” for the judges, and throughout that performance, I managed to forget that I was being judged. I was simply singing as if I was back at my home church or doing a concert at the Hazelnut Tree. Suddenly, the competition was no longer important, and I felt this with certainty as I finished playing and made my way to the front of the stage to be critiqued.

To this day, I cannot recall what the judges said in relation to my performance; I only heard His still, small voice speak to my heart. “Cassie, I have called you to serve through music, but not here.” The message was so clear that I couldn’t shake it from my memory; it was so clear, in fact, that when Carrie and I stood to wait for the finale results, I told her that I wasn’t going to make it to the next level; I was done in the competition. Of course, she tried to tell me to keep a positive attitude and to not give up, but in my heart, I knew that I had just sung my last song at Immerse.

Today, just over two years later, I can still hear those words whispered to my heart as if I were still in that classroom at Belmont University. Although it took me quite awhile to understand His plan, I have now found my place in music ministry. I did not continue in that competition, nor did I move forward with a record deal. Instead, I am joyfully serving at FRC and leading the congregation in worship. When God said that I would not be serving here, as in a music competition, I can only assume that He had FRC in mind for me all along the way.

Consider today what God might be saying to you and where he wants you to be. Be still and listen for His still, small voice; sometimes we are so consumed with the crazy routine in our society that we don’t take the time to just listen for what He has to say. Listen, my friends, and know that He will show you what path you should take.

In the Beginning

A few months ago, a friend posed a question on her Facebook page: If you could have witnessed any event in the Bible in person, what would you have liked to see?

I quickly realized that this wasn’t an easy question. I grew up reading the Bible and hearing the stories, but there is so much that I would have liked to see with my own eyes. I wondered what it would have been like to see the parting of the Red Sea or the star over Bethlehem at Jesus’ birth. I would have loved to be at the tomb with Mary on the day Jesus rose from the dead. I would have much rather witnessed Resurrection Sunday than the crucifixion; for I think it would have been unbearable to watch Him suffer in my place. But perhaps I could have been one of those who came to Jesus for healing; it would have been an incredible experience to have Him touch my eyes and for Him to be the first thing I would see clearly.

But out of all of these experiences, I think I would have liked to witness creation the most. I have so many unanswered questions when it comes to this monumental part of God’s story, and there are many debates about Christianity that are centered on creation— probably because our human, finite minds cannot comprehend this amazing display of His power.

I have always been drawn in by light, and I have loved to watch the sunrise or sunset because I can clearly see the large sky and the colors created by the sun and clouds. So to be standing there in the empty expanse of darkness and hearing God speak, “Let there be light” would simply be incredible.

But creation wasn’t complete with just the light. Next came the separation between water and sky— two elements in our world that often seem to have no beginning or end. The horizon goes on forever and our oceans are so vast they separate countries and go on for miles and miles.

On the third day, God created our source of food and vegetation. This was the first element of growth on the earth, and I marvel at the number of varieties of fruit, vegetables, and plants that we have at our fingertips today in our grocery stores. Imagine what it would have been like to be there as God created them. What is remarkable is that God didn’t just create fruits and vegetables, but He made each to contain seed so that the growing cycle could continue.

And then on the fourth day, God created the sun and moon and set them in orbit. What an incredible experience it would have been to witness that first sunrise or to sit under that first full moon!

Then God created the birds and sea creatures— the first living things beyond the plants and vegetation. Even though I haven’t seen many birds close up, I have always marveled at how they can fly over the earth; those birds would have been the first to see the world from their lofty place in the sky. How amazing it would have been to hear the sound of their tweeting— probably some of the first sounds of music on this earth!

And then on the sixth day, God created the animals and other creatures. Now, I’m going to be honest and say that I’ve never really been one who was drawn to animals. I did not grow up with pets in the home, I’m allergic to cats and dogs, and I have always been afraid of dogs. But I do have to admit that God was certainly creative when He gave life to each creature; think of the great variety— everything from elephants and bears, cats and dogs, and mice and bees. Even at the time of creation, each animal had its purpose and reason for populating the earth.

And then the most incredible thing of all happened: God created mankind. Adam and Eve were created in God’s own image and lived in communion with Him in the Garden of Eden. He created mankind to rule over the fish, birds, animals, and other livestock so we could eat and truly live. This was the time during the creation account when life was as perfect as it would ever be. Sin had not yet entered the world, and God said that it was good.

I think I would have liked to be there in the beginning to see the world formed by our Creator. I don’t know about you, but I’m figuring it would have been the most tangible way to see God at work and witness His incredible display of power.

I’d be interested to know what event you would have liked to witness in the Bible. Feel free to comment below. In the weeks to come, I will be walking through my church’s journey through The Story, which is a 31-week study of the Bible in chronological order. Next week, I will share some thoughts on Abraham and God’s promise. Stay tuned!