A Day with Jesus

This past week, Pastor Tim opened his sermon with an interesting question: how would you react if you found out Jesus was going to come and live with you?

I could honestly say that I was excited by the question. Jesus has always been my best friend, and even though I cannot see Him in the flesh, I have clung to Him throughout my life for His love and direction no matter what I am going through. I think it would be incredible to spend some quality time with my best friend where we could talk face-to-face.

I wondered what that kind of closeness would feel like with Him actually dwelling with me. Scripture talks about this closeness as God dwells with His people, making Himself known to those He loves as they seek Him with their whole heart.

Recently, I have been thinking about this concept a great deal as I have found a renewed passion for pursuing a deeper relationship with Him It all started when I was sick a few weeks ago and I felt very much alone. I knew that I had friends and family that I could call at any time, but even so, I felt very isolated in my little apartment. I talked to Jesus often in prayer as I asked for healing and relief from the intense loneliness. I found myself worrying quite a bit, and with each negative thought that entered my mind, I did my best to give it over to Him. I read Scripture voraciously, particularly portions from Psalms and Isaiah— just drinking in His words of hope and promise.

As my week at home progressed, I began to emerge from both my physical and spiritual illness. I felt closer to my Best Friend than I had felt in a long time, and I wanted even more from our relationship. So as I contemplated Pastor Tim’s question, I found myself wishing that I could actually spend time with Him face-to-face.

If He came one day and knocked on my apartment door, I would invite Him in and give Him something to eat. Then I would ask Him to come to the office with me, and perhaps we would sit together on the piano stool and just worship together. And then we would head over to the Fountain Teen Center, where I volunteer, and spend time with the youth who walk through our doors after school and on weekends. We would spend an ordinary day together in service; I don’t think I would do anything differently or change my routine just because He came to visit in the flesh. I would simply be glad to have Him at my side, even if it was only for one brief day.

But even though He is not here with me, carrying on a conversation face-to-face, He is still present. As I said before, Scripture tells us that He longs to dwell with His people. I am thinking of the promise contained in Psalm 139:7-10:

“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.”

I also consider Revelation 21:3: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”

Christ, through the Holy Spirit, longs to dwell that closely with people like you and me. I, too, long to be so close to Him that I truly know Him. I have a long way to go in this lifetime before I can say that I walk that closely with Him. I am doing my best to trust Him in all circumstances and come to Him in prayer even in the most difficult of times.

But I also need to remember to come to Him when everything is going well— on those ordinary days when I go to the office, practice for leading worship, and volunteer with the youth in our community. I love those late-night conversations that I have with my Best Friend in the quiet of my bedroom as I recount to Him the events of my day— even though He knows everything before I speak— and I thank Him for the many blessings He has bestowed on my life. It’s a journey that needs to be experienced day by day— a day with Jesus whether He is here in the flesh or held closely within my heart.

All Choked up (Repost)

Yesterday, during our worship service at FRC, Pastor Tim talked about the importance of inviting the Holy Spirit into our time of worship. He encouraged us as a congregation to set aside some of our preconceived ideas and traditions and reconsider how we participate and contribute to worship. In response to what was spoken yesterday morning and the time that followed for me leading worship at the piano, I would like to offer up this re-post from February 6, 2012 I think it speaks to my heart as a worship leader within the local church setting.
Music has the power to speak to the emotions, and it’s a universal language that needs little or no explanation as it touches the heart. A person doesn’t have to be a musician to be affected and drawn in by music, but for one who loves music with a heightened passion, sometimes a song is all it takes to create an unforgettable moment.
I have experienced this very thing on more than one occasion, but within this past year, I have witnessed the incredible power of music as a confirmation of calling on my life. Many of you know about my recent graduation from Crown College with a Masters in Ministry Leadership. The journey to obtaining the degree was an incredible opportunity, but I can honestly say that I learned more about music and ministry outside of the classroom.
I began an informal internship at First Reformed, my home church, and took part in leading praise and worship and participating in the worship band. Gradually, I was given more and more responsibility until I began to fall into a routine of commitments. I was comfortable at First Reformed, but even so, I knew the volunteer hours would probably not amount to a paid position. So I began to put my name out to other churches who were seeking a music and worship director. I had several interviews and even more application submissions, but never once was I hired. I was feeling overwhelmed and generally unwanted.
But then I was presented with an opportunity almost too good to pass up. If I moved forward, I would be able to expand my music career and audience by leaps and bounds, and it seemed that God was opening the necessary doors so I could embrace this new avenue. But just as I started to become comfortable with the idea, the door practically slammed in my face. I was rejected again, and even worse, I felt I had used my home church to my benefit in my pursuit of the wasted opportunity.
You see, my church had hosted a concert to support this venture, and we had decided to move forward in order to celebrate my recent graduation from Crown. Everything had come together smoothly, but something still wasn’t right. I was performing on that stage and telling stories about my music, but everything seemed to fall flat. As I moved into my second-to-last song in the program, I felt the Holy Spirit tugging at my heart; “Let them sing,” I discerned. At first, I wanted to object. We didn’t have a PowerPoint lined up for that song, so the words would not be projected. How could the crowd sing along if they couldn’t follow the words?
But even in the face of doubt, I invited the audience to sing along with me, and they continued singing well into my final song. We sang Chris Tomlin’s “I will Rise” and Jennie Lee Riddle’s “Revelation Song” with such passion that I felt tears building in the back of my eyes. Often, I wanted to stop singing just to hear the crowd worshipping without me holding them back.
This incredible moment was never far from my memory as I walked away from the lost opportunity and tried to immerse myself in work and commitments. The only thing that really kept me going was my continued work at FRC. The congregation was a wealth of support for my music and ministry, and I felt so loved and appreciated. Then, in late July, came the greatest surprise of all; FRC wanted to hire me on as Music and Worship Director!
I didn’t have to contemplate the offer long before I jumped headlong into pursing the position. There was a great deal of ground to cover in preparing for my official start-date, but all the while, I had immense peace about the decision. Confirmation of my calling was not long in coming.
There is certainly nothing like hearing “Shout to the Lord” sung with such intensity that the church walls practically resonated with the sound one morning at worship. Again, I wanted to stop singing at the microphone just to revel in the moment. My eyes fill with tears when I consider the formation of my praise and worship team, OneVoice, and the commitment of four women who are willing to worship in song. I marvel at the many ways in which God has used me and the other musicians at FRC to lead our congregation in worship, and Sunday morning worship services will never cease to bring a smile to my face. It makes my work at the church more than just a job; it makes it a call to action and a true joy— even as I fight back tears once more. I’m all choked up, but it is here that worship and music collide.

After His own Heart

This past week, I have worked to move past my mid-winter blahs and into a more enriched and vital time in service to my Lord. I have found such sweet comfort and joy in spending time with Christian friends and learning what it truly means to trust Him with my life and my future. I have a long way to go, but I am finding that the journey forward into the unknown is much better traveled with trusted friends with the Savior leading the way.

It seemed fitting that Pastor Tim’s sermon from The Story this week was exactly what I needed to hear and take in during this season of my life. For the next two weeks, we will be examining the life and kingship of David, who the Bible tells us was a man after God’s own heart. Pastor Tim asked us to talk with the person next to us in the pews and consider what this phrase meant. What does it look like for a person to be known as someone after God’s own heart?

My first reaction to the question was to say that a person after God’s own heart would be someone wanting to be like Him more than anything else. Others spoke up saying that this person would have to be obedient, strong in character, and his will lined up with that of God.

As I listened to the sermon, I thought about my own life. Would someone ever be able to say that I was a woman after God’s own heart? Almost immediately, I came to the conclusion that no, this probably could not be said of me. If the past few weeks have taught me anything, I am a frail child of God with limited trust in Him and a great deal of fear. I am a control freak, always wanting to know what is on the horizon and needing a plan to make my way through each new challenge.

Acts 13 tells about David— that he was a man after God’s own heart who did what God wanted him to do. He was obedient and did his best to model God’s character in every aspect of His life. He could have turned away in fear, but instead, he stepped out in courage and killed the giant. He could have taken the opportunity to kill his adversary, Saul, but instead, he simply cut off a piece of his garment when the king of Israel was most vulnerable. David was fallible and human to the core, but above all, He had God at the center of his life and this was evident in the way he lived his life. He lived as one who was close to God and was intimately acquainted with His ways.

So in the coming weeks, I seek to take the first steps in drawing closer to Him. Today’s service really brought this aspect into focus as we sang songs like “Draw me Close’ and “Come to me.” The way in which I truly feel most close to Him is when I am in His Word. Recently, I have found myself clinging to verses like Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”; Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future;” and Philippians 3:13-14: “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

These verses have reminded me that God is in control, He holds the future, and that I must focus on what truly matters: running the race and receiving the prize in Christ Jesus. Just reading His promises has strengthened me and given me a peace like no other. Will I still face trials and fears of many kinds? Yes, I probably will. But will God be with me? Yes, he absolutely will!

So it is my mission and goal for the weeks, months, and life ahead of me that I seek to be a woman that is after God’s own heart and is rooted in His Word. It is only in being close to Him that we can truly live this life in faith and act out the calling that He has on our lives. I have a great deal to learn, just as we all do, but the journey will be that much sweeter with God at our side.

Moving on

Each year as the hectic but also joyful Christmas season comes to an end, I find myself a bit saddened. Suddenly, the schedule is no longer so tight and there isn’t much to do. For someone like me who is driven and constantly moving toward some goal, the month of January often seems rather bleak.

On Christmas Day this year, I came down with the flu, and I spent the next ten days or so feeling under the weather. My unscheduled time alone gave me a lot of time to think— I’m finding way too much time to think. I began to contemplate my future, and I found the unknown rather terrifying. The fear and realization that I was very much alone in my little apartment came crashing in on me, and full-on depression set in.

I spent the next few days just trying to feel motivated to do something. But there were no events planned, nothing pressing on my work schedule, and I just felt empty and without purpose. It wasn’t until I met with some friends on a recent Sunday evening that I came to the root of what was truly at the center of this “junk” I was dealing with. It all came down to trust; I simply wasn’t trusting God with my future enough to live my life without an overwhelming sense of fear and despair.

As I have shared in my recent posts, my church family and I have been walking through a book called The Story. I have been blogging through this journey over the past few months, and this week, I was scheduled to talk about Saul and the people of Israel and how they had begged God for a king to lead them. I found I related to the story, for often I just want to be led by someone. Often, I am the leader of the Bible study, the leader of the music team, the leader of the organization. I just wanted to sit back and let someone else lead for a change.

That’s when I focused on a key concept: I was being led. God was and is my Leader, and He has and will continue to do amazing things in my life. I’m thinking of the time in Exodus 14 when God had Moses part the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape the advancing Egyptians. The Israelites walked across the sea on dry ground with a wall of water on each side. Wow! Talk about incredible deliverance! And then as the Egyptians moved to pursue the Israelites, the sea closed over them and they perished.

My thought as I was reminded of this story related to my faith, or rather, lack of faith. Why I am so terrified of the future? Why do I feel so alone? God is always with me and He is mighty to save! Sometimes, I get so frustrated with myself for not trusting my Best Friend. He knows what is best for me, and I need to hold on to His hand no matter what life throws my way.
I am reminded of Exodus 14:15-19 as I close, and I feel as if God could easily be speaking these words to me as well as to Moses: “15 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”
God did gain glory that day and everyone was assured that He was God. He told the Israelites to move on that day in faith, and that is exactly what I intend to do in the new year. It will be a day-by-day journey that will surely have its set-backs, but I will take it step-by-step.