loving all our neighbors.

About six weeks ago in my psychology & culture class, we were assigned our groups for a project that we would be doing which focused on topics relating to social justice. For this project, each group would need to partner up with an organization either in our local community or on our university’s campus, in order to fulfill the project’s goal of helping spread awareness & education on these various topics.

My group of six partnered with our university’s Muslim Student Association, and the topic we chose to focus in on was religion, specifically, religious minorities and the stereotypes & misconceptions associated with Islam. Through out the course of this project, we attended meetings, as well as a couple of events during Islam Awareness Week, which occurred this past Tuesday through Friday. The events my group attended included a hijab workshop, as well as a talk given by a professor about the Shia and Sunni Muslims.

Yesterday, my group visited a local mosque to attend & observe a service consisting of prayer and a sermon, or, “Khutbah,”  followed by a Q&A.

This psych & culture class in and of itself has opened my eyes so wide & taken me out of my comfort zone all semester in ways I never expected a class to, and yesterday was no exception. As much as I would love to sit here and write that my decision to go to this mosque was one that I came to easily, that would be a lie. I wrestled a lot with my decision to go or not to go, mainly because, honestly, it made me uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable with the idea of wearing a headscarf, feeling as though doing so would be conforming to an aspect of a religion I don’t personally believe in. I was uncomfortable with the idea of going & being in a house of worship that I was so unfamiliar with. I was uncomfortable getting so up close & personal with a religion that I don’t practice & know so little about. These thoughts and feelings made me feel like a horrible person, but I’m not going to invalidate those thoughts & feelings or leave them out of this post, because it was all part of the process of me deciding to go. Though I understood all along that wearing the headscarf would be out of respect for their faith & that I would never even begin to think to be a guest in somebody else’s house of worship only to be disrespectful by not wearing the appropriate attire, and I knew that going wouldn’t somehow make me stop believing in Jesus or make Jesus mad at me. etc, the idea of going to a mosque simply just made me a little nervous. My initial thought was “I’m Christian – why would I go?” And that very question was the one I wrestled with the most, along with “why wouldn’t I go?” Something in me would not let me just say no or yes without first wrestling with the possibility of both. And so, I prayed, I talked with a couple friends, & I reached out to a pastor of mine. Because going would be pretty far out of my comfort zone, something I had on repeat in my head was a saying he told me, which was to, “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Welp, that was exactly what I did yesterday. And honestly? There was not one ounce of comfort involved, so, aI simply chose to bask in the discomfort, and I am glad I did.

While my anxiety was vicious & I wish I could say I felt peace which surpassed my understanding as my pastor graciously prayed for me to have, I didn’t feel much peace, but that’s okay, and the reason I think that’s okay is because I realized, the whole time I was waiting to feel peace and comfort about going or not going, I was neglecting to remember that that is not at all what the Christian walk is about. It’s not comfortable. In fact it is seldom comfortable. I look down everyday and I see this bracelet that has not left my wrist since making it back in January, and its purpose is literally to remind me to ask God to take me and use me, whether it’s comfortable or not. Therefore, I have no business getting upset when he does just that. I’m allowed to be scared, but I need to try to do it scared. And so, I did.

 

cubablogg

I kept my nerves and my hesitancy to myself around my group members, but before we got out of the car upon arriving at the mosque, one of them expressed to me that he himself was nervous, in which I simply replied, “same” (while I, of course, was internally jumping for joy at the fact that someone else was feeling what I was feeling).

We walked into the mosque together as a group and were warmly welcomed and told how their Friday services usually go. We then placed our shoes on the shelf and entered the room where the prayer & sermon would take place. Upon entering that room, the women were directed to the back right of the room, behind a tall curtain, and the men were directed to the front of the room. We, the women, were then given headscarves to put on, and those of us not participating in the prayer were asked to sit towards the corner, so as not to get in the way as they carried out their prayer(s).

Was I comfortable? No. But I went & stayed through the service, through that not so fun feeling of discomfort, and left the mosque feeling glad to have gone, and eager to process it.

See up until an hour or two before we left for the mosque, I still was not sure I wanted to go, so, it goes without saying that I definitely wished that I had had somebody there to tell me Ashley, just go or Ashley, just don’t go, but I’m smart enough to know that none of my friends or mentors are dumb enough to tell me that & make it that easy for me, no matter how much I want them to. However, I think God did nudge me a little to go, through one of my group members. Our group met up before the service to go over our PowerPoint presentation for Monday, and during our meeting, we got to talking about the religions that we each individually belong to. After talking about that for a bit, one of my group members looked at me and said, “You are the only open minded Christian I have ever met.”

I thought to myself, “Alright God, I see you.” Also, “No pressure or anything.”

By this group members words, I was reminded of my call as a Christian, let alone as a future pastor, to be a witness for Jesus and who he is. I can’t effectively do that if I am around people who are similar to me all the time. I can’t do that if I reject people who belong to various different religions and I cannot love all my neighbors if I dismiss a select few of them for what they believe or don’t believe. If God put me in this group in which I am the only Christian, and in this class in which I am 1 of 2 Christians, that’s an opportunity to be a witness for Jesus by being like Jesus and showering them with the love of God — not an opportunity to add to the hypocrisy or hate or close mindedness that they have already experienced enough of from Christians. I know full well that I am no perfect embodiment of what a Christian is supposed to be like & I probably makes God roll his eyes at least 5 times a day, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t strive to imitate Jesus around everyone I encounter, but especially in the presence of people who have lost hope that such a Christian exists. I took this group members comment seriously, even knowing that I am not as open-minded as I should be or as I want to be someday. I also took it as a reminder of my responsibility to imitate Jesus more than I try to imitate a religious person who shoves a set of rules down people’s throats to follow.

So yesterday, I went, & I went for a lot of different reasons. I went to educate myself, to see with my own eyes how those of Islamic faith worship. I went in hopes of maybe helping to eradicate this belief that all Christian’s are intolerant of hearing beliefs different from their own. I went to face my feeling of discomfort for the sake of growing & having my mind opened. I went to show as much kindness as I could to those there, whether they worshiped Allah, Jesus, or no god at all.

I am not going to sit here and try to act as though my faith is really not all that different from that of my Muslim brothers & sisters, and I do not know everything there is to know about their faith, or my own faith for that matter, but I do know that my faith teaches me to love my neighbors – that means my Muslim neighbors, my atheist neighbors, my Christian neighbors, my neighbors of all races, ethnicities, genders, and socioeconomic status’. If I can get just one thing right in my walk with Christ, I pray that it would be that – loving other people unconditionally just as Christ himself did.

I am finding that the more I learn, the more questions I have. And I like to think that’s a good thing. I’m so lucky as to have people in my life who are willing to either answer those questions that I have, or simply wrestle through them with me, and I really urge you reading this today to find people in your life who can do the same for you, because it’s really nice to know you’re not alone in the confusions, frustrations, and questions you have.

I could definitely write more about this experience, but I am still processing my visit and am still processing this project and class as a whole, so that is all of the writing I’ll leave you with (for now). My hope & my prayer would be that as a society & as a world that consists of different cultures, individuals, and religions with similarities and with differences, that we would be able to reach a place of seeing one another for who we are, differences and all, and being okay with embracing just that, understanding that differences do not have to equal division. I am as guilty as the next person for allowing differences and my discomfort with unfamiliarity to stand in the way of embracing all people the way I should. We’re all imperfect & are going to mess up, but that’s no excuse not to try. So I’m preaching to myself just as much as I am to you when I say, go out of your way to learn about someone different from you. Educate yourself. Do your research. Expand your knowledge. And get comfortable being uncomfortable.

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humility.

This past Sunday, I had the joy of preaching at the church I attended back when I was a freshman in college. (If you would like to hear the sermon, you can click this link)

Following that morning, I made a post on Facebook with a couple pictures, as well as a caption expressing my gratitude to God for this call and opportunity, as well as gratitude to this dear church for welcoming me back. There were a number of uplifting comments made on this Facebook post from people of that congregation who were there and heard me preach, and yesterday, someone referring to those comments jokingly said to me, “you’re going to get a big head!”

I laughed along with them and responded in so many words with, “I pray that I do not!”

I took time later to pause and think about this person’s comment though, because it was a joke about something that I have (seriously) always been very aware and careful of. People are always so very kind and quick to share their uplifting thoughts about the sermons that I have preached, and it is a blessing to have such feedback – while I am quick to acknowledge how unworthy I am of such compliments, I also acknowledge how it would be very easy for me to let such comments, or compliments, get to my head. I would even be lying if I said I haven’t let them get to my head before. (surprise I’m human)

It is human nature to let compliments get to our heads every so often, because as humans, we desire to be looked at and talked about in a positive way, so, when that happens, we hold on tight to those words. Now, please be assured that this post is not intended to convince you to not feel good about yourself or about what you have accomplished. You should be proud of yourself when you succeed and reach goals that you have worked hard for. Humility is simply important so that you remember Who gave you the ability to achieve such goals and receive such compliments, as well as Who you are aiming to glorify and serve. As Christians, humility is important because we are not here to serve ourselves or to receive praise.

The sermon that I delivered this past Sunday was about how we are all children of God, and how knowing this truth humbles us. It humbles us because we are all children of a God whom we can do nothing apart from. Nothing at all. This is something I have continuously held tight to, especially since becoming more involved in ministry, because without him, I would be 100% incapable of doing the very thing(s) I am called to do; the things I love to do and am passionate about doing. The truth about being a child of God is humbling because if it weren’t for constant reliance on that very God, I couldn’t do any of what I do. It is also humbling, as the sermon stated, to know that we are each children of a God whom we can do nothing apart from because it gives us a different, better, perspective. It helps us see ourselves as imperfect people whom a perfect Savior died for, and it helps us to see our neighbors in this way as well. As the scripture reading above says:

Who, then, are you to judge your neighbors? You are just as in need of God as they are!

We are to be humbled by the fact that we need God just as much as the next person does. None of us can or will succeed in this life as disciples if we are not constantly relying on God. It is just not possible. If I tried to write sermons, lead, write, or do anything else without reliance on God, I would fail. I would fail at my call to be a disciple and I would fail at what truly matters and that is spreading the message of Jesus through my life. If I did it on my own strength, and not on God’s, I wouldn’t be doing God’s work. I would be doing my own work. And what reward in heaven will that get us? (hint: none)

I would never tell someone, “oh please don’t compliment me” that’d just be silly. But I have to say, my heart sings more when one of my fellow brothers or sisters comes up to me and tells me about how they were able to apply the message back to their own lives, or that it encourage them to go disciple. To me, God should be getting the compliments because he’s the one who’s equipped me and he’s the one who spoke, which is why I admire pastors who respond with, “praise the Lord” when someone compliments their sermon. (That’s something I’ve been trying to do more of!) I know that some of the most memorable times having preached have been when someone has come up to me in confidence after the service in tears and shared with me how God spoke to them through the message that day. See, that is all him. He knows what his people need. He knows not only what they want to hear but what they need to hear. I only know so much. That’s why relying on him for these sermons is so important. I had/have nothing to do with how people respond to these messages, and that is what’s humbling.

See, the acknowledgement that we are mere vessels is what humbles us and allows us to see ourselves as imperfect individuals being used by a perfect God.

I don’t preach or do ministry for myself or for the compliments that I may or may not receive along the way because those compliments (and criticisms for that matter) are fleeting. If I ever find myself with the mindset that I do do it for such reasons, I pray God would help me to step back in conviction and refocus myself on him. But I only do this because God was crazy enough to choose and call me to it and my life would simply have no purpose if I weren’t serving God with it.

Something else that helps us to be humble is acknowledging, not our imperfections, but rather, acknowledging how incapable we would be without him and his grace. I have trouble even attempting to think about what life would be like without him and his grace, probably because life would be pretty darn dull. But because we have the privilege of knowing him and having witnessed / experienced his grace, we are able, but only by him and his grace are we able.

I have to laugh thinking about my (in)capabilities and how incredible God is to continuously extend his grace. I like to picture God laughing at me, his child, who loves to death what he has called her to do, yet his child who is is still anything but professional/worthy. For kicks/for this post, I’ll give some examples of how humility does sometimes mean laughing at how imperfect/ridiculous we are:

If you’ve known me long enough, especially since I first heard God calling me to ministry, you know this: those mic’s you wear when you preach that go around your ear, and sometimes both ears? I hate them. I love everything about preaching and leading church, except for those little things. They get tangled in my hair, wrapped around my arm, stuck on my clothes, they knot my hair, if I move an inch while speaking it muffles. If people in the congregation knew how much much effort (and not church words) went into putting that little mic on, they’d know there is absolutely nothing professional about me. Or that I never dare wear wedges or heels when I preach because I’m the clumsiest person you will ever meet and would likely fall and break my neck in the middle of the service if I did attempt to wear them. It is by God’s grace I haven’t broken more than one bone. It is by God’s grace that he called this ridiculous kid at age eighteen to pursue ministry for him. I’m so incapable. But it makes me laugh, and it makes me grateful to have a God I can rely on to help me be capable.

It is hard to be humble. I know that and you know that. There aren’t many instructions in the Bible that are easy to obey, but living with and for Christ sure makes them easier, friends. That I know, and that I want you to know.

As I have grown as an individual, as a disciple, and as this mini preacher, it has become easier to respond with humility to compliments, encouragements, and positive feedback, because as I have grown, I have also realized more and more my desperate need for God in order to do all that I do. I could never do it out of my own strength. God is the One holding me up, strengthening me, placing words on my heart, helping me put one foot in front of the other. Without him,  I could do nothing. Without him, my neighbors can do nothing. May we all carry ourselves and treat one another with that acknowledgment: that really we are all in this together. We are all in desperate need of God. Without him, we can do nothing.

Prayer

Lord, we thank you for the grace you extend to us each day. We ask you for the wisdom and humility to know that everything we do should be done to give you glory or not ourselves. Help us to remember that every good and perfect gift we have received and will receive comes from above. We ask that you would give us the mental strength to know that we have no business judging our neighbors when we are just as in need of You as they are. We love you, we praise you, and we ask all of this in your Son Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

like a clay pot, we must also go through fire

These past couple of months, I have been preparing for an admissions interview, which will enter me into the process of becoming a certified candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church. This process before my admissions interview involves working through an inquiry guide, which helps me discern and talk about my call to ministry.

A lot of you knew that already, and a lot of you also know that I am in the midst of transferring from one university to another. I attended Liberty last year, and without going into more depth than necessary, I transferred because of the university’s beliefs surrounding women in ministry.

I recently told my pastor that while my experience at Liberty is a rather big part of my call to ministry, it is something that is difficult for me to talk about, and is therefore, something that I would rather not be asked about in my upcoming interview. However, I know I am going to need to talk about it, for the sole reason of it being such a big part of my call story.

After I expressed this to my pastor in our most recent meeting, he walked over to his bookshelf where he grabbed a clay pot. He had me touch this piece of pottery, and of course, it was hard; as hard as a rock.

He then went on to talk about fire – similar to how clay pots have to be put into fire to become strong and solid, people do as well. We are not put into physical fires as these pots are put into kilns, but God sometimes allow us to be put through trials, which may present themselves to be as bad as fires.

Isaiah 43:2 was a verse that came to mind as I reflected on this;

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you. (NRSV)

We find in Exodus 3 that the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a burning bush – the bush itself was not consumed by the fire; it was ablaze, yet it was not consumed. 

My experience at Liberty hurt me in a variety of different ways, so I can confidently compare that experience to a fire. However, this fire did not overcome me and it did not consume me. It didn’t do so because I had and still have a God who has authority and power over every circumstance we face in this life. God may have allowed me to go through this trial, but he would never allow me to be consumed by it, and he wouldn’t allow a call that he has given me, to be taken away by man. No; I endured that fire.

You see, a clay pot must be put into fire and made solid before it can be filled up with water, or something else. If you tried pouring water into that pot without it having gone through the fire first, it would be a sloppy, muddy mess. However, because this pot had been through fire, it was hard, strong, and able to be poured into. Because I went through what my pastor and I referred to as a fire, and became stronger, I am able to be filled up with the Spirit, which then enables me to pour myself out to those around me. And so, I’m able to look at my experience at Liberty as something that may have been a fire, but a fire that did not consume me, just as the fire did not consume the bush in Exodus.

Think about an experience, day, time, or moment in your life, where you found yourself amidst a fire; you found yourself struggling, drowning, and unable to keep your head above the water. Instead of remembering it as a negative time in your life, try looking at it with eyes that have been opened wider, and with a heart that has grown stronger because of that fire. Try thinking about how the gift(s) God has given you have been strengthened or affirmed through that fire you endured. If you attempt to do those things, you will then make room for the Holy Spirit to come in and work in a way that is able to help you own that fire as something that hurt you, but something that has since made you stronger.

I know doing that is not as easy as it sounds, which is why I do want to acknowledge the difficulty of looking at fires in this way. It’s hard; really hard.

It’s hard to think back on any negative experience you’ve had in life, and find the light or silver lining. It’s hard to see God in those difficult times, and if you’re like me, you struggle to bring your mind back to the dark places you’ve been in life. I can’t talk in depth about the experience I had at Liberty without becoming teary eyed, which is why I avoid it. But what good does that do? We all know it’s hard. But I also know personally, I’ve seen and I see God, slowly but surely, helping me think about and talk about my time at Liberty in a way that comes across as grateful – I’m grateful for that fire. I’m grateful for it because I firmly believe I wouldn’t be as adamant, passionate, or genuinely in love with this call from God, if I hadn’t spent a year of my life literally fighting for it, and discerning it. God knew I needed that year, and it’s difficult for my mind to grasp sometimes; that God allowed me to go through such a difficult season, but it’s not so difficult when I remember God was with me and is with me in every season, including the difficult ones. He was with me in every challenging and bumpy step of the way last year. He was with me in every conversation I had with people who tried to convince me I was ‘sinning’ for wanting to be a pastor. He was with me when I took tests with questions that dismissed my call because I am a woman. He was with me through out the nights I cried until I had no tears left because I couldn’t understand why people were being so hateful toward me for something God had called me to do. He was with me when this fire led me to doubt whether or not I was even called to begin with. He was with me then and he continues to be with me during the healing process, and beyond.

You all, God is always with you, even in the fire, when it feels as though he is not.

Now I am able to see the gift that is this call to ministry, clearer than I would have if it weren’t for this fire; the fire that tried but did not succeed in consuming me.

I am able to think about last year with a mind that has been mentally strengthened, and I am able to speak about last year with a voice that has progressively become more and more confident. I am able to talk about this fire as an experience that helped affirm, strengthen, and ignite the fire in my soul to preach God’s word and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

As I was walking out of my pastor’s office, he told me to think about the ‘fire’ we had talked about, so today, I was able to sit back and reflect – really reflect on that fire, and the strength I gained from having gone through it. In doing so, I came to the realization of a couple different things, but mainly, just that I am grateful that something so negative, is every day being transformed into something so very beautiful; my call to ministry story.

I believe I will be able to walk into my admissions interview in a couple of months and speak about my call, including the part about Liberty, with confidence and assurance that God was and is at work. He was at work in the midst of that fire last year, and he is still at work within me, as I continue to be made stronger, just as that clay pot is made solid and strong after enduring the fiery kiln.

I never thought to compare the fire I endured, to the way in which a clay pot endures fire in order to become solid, able to be poured into. But that clay pot sitting there on my pastors shelf is capable of being filled up because of the fire it went through to make it strong, and I, Ashley, am capable of being filled up with a Spirit that enables me to live out my call, because the fire I went through made my heart, mind, and soul like a solid rock. Almost as solid as our Rock who is Jesus Christ.

So I urge you, brothers and sisters, to think about the fire(s) you’ve endured. Maybe there’s a fire you’ve been through that you’re trying to avoid thinking or speaking about. Maybe you’re still fighting through a fire, and struggling to keep it from consuming you. Take heart, okay? Know that if God has anything to do with it (which he does) you will not be consumed by the fire you are in, or the fire you were in.

The fires we face in life make us strong enough to fight through them, knowing God will strengthen us, but they also make us weak enough to acknowledge our need for Jesus in every single moment.

 

 

 

 

 

God is love, love is love

I want to start off by saying I know this is a very, very heavy and important topic of discussion which is why I am putting 100% of my effort into writing this post with a respectful, loving, and compassionate heart. While I know this topic is also very controversial, I, and I’m sure many others, have had a very heavy heart since the shooting in Orlando took place a couple weeks ago and although I waited a while before touching it, God has been stirring up a wide variety of thoughts concerning this event, and I wanted to share them via this post.

I don’t know enough about the reasoning behind this shooting to go into much detail about that – whether an act of terrorism, an act out of hate toward the LGBTQ community, or both – I want to touch more on the aftermath of this event.

Brothers and Sisters,

I think for starters, we have forgotten the greatest commandment – to love our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We aren’t doing that because if we were, we wouldn’t be forgetting the second greatest commandment Jesus gave which is to love our neighbors as ourselves. We know what love is and what it looks like because of God, so if we’re not loving our neighbors, it is evident we are not loving God.

While there was (much) hate surrounding why this event took place to begin with (with the acknowledgment that this shooting was an act of hate) there was still so much hate after the shooting took place. It broke my heart to see so many people arguing about why this happened, who it happened to, attacking one another on both sides, and it was even worse simply thinking of the families and friends of the victims and how their lives had just been completely altered.

This event was one of many that blatantly revealed once again that we do live in such a broken world that is in desperate need of Jesus, and in need of love.

Something that gave me hope, however, and something that made me and many others see light in the midst of such a dark event, was the love being poured out by people to the community that had been greatly affected by the shooting.

All over Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, there was love and support spewing from people via posts, tweets, and articles expressing deep condolences, sympathy, and pure love to the LGBTQ community. It was a very beautiful thing.

Whether you’re reading this as somebody who believes homosexuality is ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ I want you to put your beliefs aside for a second and reflect for a moment on how beautiful it is for so many people to come together as one, and pour out their love and support to those affected by such a horrific tragedy. After this shooting in Orlando, people sent love via the internet, but there were also so many vigils of people coming together as one, remembering the lives that were lost. People were united and while the reason for these vigils was heartbreaking, it revealed that there is this hope. There’s this hope that is Jesus – he’s coming back someday, and until then, we can show this broken world that is so full of hate what the love of Christ looks like. We do this by loving and being kind to all.

There was so much love after this shooting occurred and I’m not so close minded as to believe all of that love stemmed from people who believed in a greater God, but I have a mind that believes love is love.

God is love. As long as we, as Christians, are showing love to one another, we are showing God to this world. We can and will make disciples by the ways in which we love one another.

I know a lot of Christians believe homosexuality is a sin. I know a lot of Christians believe homosexuality is not a sin. Either way, you are called to love. As Christians, we are called to love. We’re called to love everyone. We’re called to live a life like Jesus, and the best way we can do that is by loving the people Jesus loves (hint: that’s everyone)

Instead of judging or hating them, even if and when we disagree, we must love. Jesus encountered people he didn’t agree with all. of. the. time. He encountered people who hated him. He encountered people who thought he was ‘wrong.’ He encountered people who didn’t believe him when he said Who he was. He never once acted out of hate.

If we, Christians, are trying so hard to be like Jesus, why do we act and speak out of hate so often?

It is not our job to judge our neighbor. It is not to hate our neighbor. Our job is not to exclude our neighbor. It is not to condemn our neighbor. It is to LOVE our neighbor!

It seems as though, we, as Christians, have gotten so wrapped up in who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong’ we have forgotten the God who rights our wrongs and loves ALL without bounds. We spent so much time worrying about how other people are or are not living like Christ that we, ourselves, forget how to act like Christ. We spend too much time judging others and not enough time remembering it is GOD who will judge us and everyone else in the end (…that’s not something to take lightly) We hate and we don’t love. We get angry and we don’t forgive.

We need Jesus Christ. We need His love. We need to show his love.

We really, really need to stop with the judging, you all. We need to stop judging other people based on their beliefs, their skin color, their denomination, their gender, their sexuality – we need to stop. God is the Judge. Leave all of that work to him. He has the final say on who goes to heaven and who goes to hell anyways! We do not decide that – we’re so imperfect, thank goodness we don’t decide such a thing. So why do we insist on going about our lives as though we have the same authority as God?

One thing (out of many) that I love about the United Methodist Church is that the UMC makes it known that all are welcome at Christ’s table. All are welcome because of just that – it is Christ’s table. It is not the Methodist’s table, it is not the Baptist’s table, it is not the Pentecostal’s table, it is not the ‘perfect people only‘ table (because if so, there’d only be one seat at that table and that would be for Jesus of course)

The table is open. Our doors are open. Our sanctuary’s are open. Our hearts and our minds need to be open.

At the United Methodist General Conference this year, the topic of homosexuality was discussed greatly and there is still much conversation to be had surrounding the controversy, but my goodness, it made a lot of people think (and pray) including myself, and considering we as United Methodist’s are known for the saying “open hearts, open minds, open doors,” I couldn’t help but constantly bring myself back to how we have Christ’s open table at communion where all are welcome – all are welcome to receive Christ – why can’t those in the LGBTQ community be welcomed and loved just as much as the next person?

Everyone is capable of receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ if they accept it.

Everyone. 

I am writing this for a number of reasons and I am not one to write posts regarding heavy topics such as this, but I felt convicted and my heart was burdened. As somebody who has wrestled with this topic on both ends of the spectrum, I just keep coming back to the love we are called to show to all, and how Jesus, the most perfect person ever known, loves everyone.

I know I’m guilty of judging other people and I’m guilty of not loving as much as I should – I’m guilty of acting like anybody but Christ.

I’m not perfect. None of us are. Jesus, however, was and is perfect, and while he has not called us to be perfect, he has called us to love all.

So many people think ‘hypocrites’ and ‘judgmental’ when they think of Christians, you all, and that is not the message we should be spreading. That is not the message Jesus came to spread.

Once again, we need to remind ourselves of the greatest commandment there is – to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. If you do that – if you really are in touch with God and devote time aside to spend with Him, I believe it is much, much easier to follow through with obeying the second greatest commandment to love your neighbor.

This is because God is love. If you love God, you need to love one another.

My prayer for the future of the Church, the future of this country, and the future of this world, is that we may constantly be reminding ourselves and reminding others of Jesus’s love, because that is how the world will know of the amazing Savior we follow.

 

I live for these moments.

Have you ever seen something so beautiful, you just had to stop and either take a picture, or just simply stand in the presence of that beauty? Have you ever loved someone so much, that simply saying, “I love you,” and kissing and hugging them just wasn’t enough? Have you ever felt so loved, that you almost felt undeserving of that love, because it was such an incredible feeling?

Tonight, I experienced what it’s like to feel that. That overwhelming sense of security, peace, passion, and love.

I had just gotten back into my dorm after the fire alarm unexpectedly sounded, sending us all out of the dorm building by the hundreds. (I live on the first of 8 floors) (yeah, I know)

I got back to my room to the sound of my Spotify which was still playing from before the fire drill. The song, “Beautiful Things” was playing. I left my room once again to go get my towels and sheets out of the dryer, and when I returned, Spotify was half way through “I Surrender All.” (AKA my favorite hymn of all time)

I flopped on my bed, and at that moment, felt the most at peace with life and with Jesus that I have felt in a long time. I felt so calm. So relieved. So filled with God’s grace and love.

I live for moments like that.

I live for the moments where I can be at peace with whatever the Lord has done and might do. Moments where I can say, “yep, I’m surrendering this to you, because I don’t have a clue how to handle or process it.”

I live for the moments where I can put my full trust in God, and not worry about his plans falling through- because I’m told by Him, the Almighty God, that they will not.

I live for the moments where I can sit in complete silence, yet still not feel alone, because I have Jesus right there with me.

As I was lying there on my bed, having this incredible sense of calmness, I couldn’t help but smile. I KNOW! That sounds like the cheesiest thing ever, but you read RIGHT!

I smiled. Alone. In my room. Because GOD IS JUST THAT GOOD.

I couldn’t help but think about everything he has done for me. All of the exciting plans he has ahead for me. All the plans he has yet to show me. I thought about all that he has already done with my life. All the people he’s touched through me and all the accomplishments I’ve made BECAUSE OF Him.

One thing I really thought about, was the fact that God truly did know what he was doing when he placed me at Liberty University. There were and are so many misconceptions, so many assumptions, so many lies about this school, and I believed them all before I came here! I believed every single one, and if you were to ask me during my junior year of high school, I would have never listed Liberty as one of my options when applying to schools. But I’m here, and I couldn’t be happier. How crazy is it to know that God works in such mysterious ways like that? Even during my senior year of high school, second semester, I didn’t even want to go to Liberty at all. I was completely against it. I even acted almost as though I hated the school, and I hadn’t even fully experienced it!

Who would have thought that God would place me here?

Despite my thoughts, opinions, and beliefs about this school- regardless of how much I resented  just the idea of attending, “Liberty University,” God had other plans.

God knew I would end up here. AND I LOVE THAT.

I love that no matter what we think, and no matter what we do, God already knows what’s going to happen. He already knows where we’re going to end up.

Being able to simply lie in bed and be surrounded with comfort and peace, knowing that Jesus is so good to us, and that we’re able to just think about and be grateful for everything he’s done in our lives thus far. That is so incredible to me.

I live for these moments, you all! They are so good! So worth it. So reassuring. So comforting.

This is what it is like to experience God’s amazing grace, and boy is it amazing…

I urge you, in the midst of your busy schedules. In the midst of the stress, frustration, work, and confusion, I urge you to pause. Stop. Take a break from all of those things. Those things that are blinding you from seeing how good God is, and how good a life with him can be, even amidst the obstacles you’re facing and will face.

I urge you, no matter how busy you are and no matter where you are in your walk with the Lord, just pause, and take a moment to be alone with Him, and feel his warm embrace, because I can tell you right now, it is worth it. To feel his delicate, yet strong and powerful arms around you, holding you up so that when you fall, he will be right there to catch you.

I urge you to take a moment to stop during your day to day life and simply be with God.

It makes such a difference.

It’s only a few minutes, or heck, it could just be a couple seconds. All I know, is time spent with God is time that is never wasted. Don’t be too busy for God. He’s never too busy for you.

Make sure you’re carving out a couple moments here and there throughout the day, to bask in His glory, and his beauty, his promises, and his love.

I can guarantee you will not ever regret doing so.

If God doesn’t calm your storm, He will calm your heart

Don’t get me wrong- this is tough.

It’s hard when you’re struggling and God seems to be nowhere near you. It’s hard when you’re going through something and just can’t seem to catch a break.

This quote about God calming your heart came to life for me the past couple weeks.

The adversity I’ve been faced with since I came to college regarding being a woman pursuing ministry, is no secret. I’ve written about it, I’ve talked about it, I’ve complained about it.

It’s been tough. But thanks be to God, it’s NOT tough anymore!

I see what God was trying to do. I see why he allowed these people to make these comments. I see why he placed me at Liberty. I see why he made things happen the way they did.

Being discouraged and degraded for my passion left me upset, confused, and distraught, but I know why this all happened.

Saying this trial I endured was a storm would be an understatement. It had me feeling and thinking all kinds of things. It made me want to give up, break down, and it made me angry. When I say angry, I mean angry.. think, smoke blowing out of a cartoon characters ears, angry.

It’s funny though, because out of all the anger, frustration, and tears that stemmed from this particular situation, I never once thought about transferring. I even had people, adults, ask me if it was worth it. They asked me if I thought I should find another school. But those things never crossed my mind. That’s how I knew there had to be a reason.

There was a reason.

Through all the tears, the conversations, the prayers, the meetings, the scripture, and me trying to understand, God calmed my heart.

I finally got to the point where it didn’t bother me anymore.

I know the people who believe women shouldn’t preach, be pastors, or teach. But I also know God.

I know what He’s calling me to do and I’m going to do it, regardless of the storms I face.

This whole trial went on from the very first week I was here at school, up until now- my second month here.

God didn’t calm the storm.

He calmed my heart.

Because I do not respond with anger, hatred, or fear when I hear discouraging comments about women preaching and being pastors, I am able to instead gain understanding. I’m able to learn what these people believe and why. I’m able to dive into scripture and learn more about Jesus (and the fact that Mary Magdalene was the one to go and tell the news of Jesus rising from the grave) (cough cough GIRL POWER)

As we talked about in my biblical worldview class this past week, two Christians can disagree and both be right, and they can also disagree and both still be Christians.

We are not always going to agree on these things. That doesn’t matter, and that doesn’t give anyone the right to be rude or attack another person for not having the same beliefs as them. I’ve experienced that, and while it is not a good feeling, I know that’s also not how God would want me or anyone else to react.

God didn’t calm the storm, and I’m not sure how long it will be before he does- who knows, maybe I’ll be faced with this storm through out my whole time in ministry, but that’s okay, because I’m only 18, and I’ve already learned and experienced all of this. I’m mentally stronger because of it. I’m prepared because of it. I’m familiar with more scripture because of it. And I’m even more confident about my decision to pursue ministry because of it.

God didn’t calm the storm. He calmed my heart. And I have to say, I think I’m more thankful for that than I would have been if he had calmed the storm.

If he had simply calmed the storm right when it came, I don’t think I’d be able to sit and listen to someone completely dismiss the Church I grew up in without getting angry. I don’t think I’d be able to have someone tell me straight to my face that they don’t think women should preach, without responding in a spiteful way. I don’t think I’d know half the scripture I do now.

But because God did decide to calm my heart, instead, I’ve been able to have genuine conversations with professors about this issue, even if we have different views. We’re able to agree to disagree. I am able to turn to the Word and what HE says, instead of turning toward anger or someone who’s just going to tell me those people are wrong, or “don’t know what they’re talking about.” They do know what they’re talking about, they’re professors. They’re just simply more familiar with a denomination that I am not. And we interpret scripture differently. Everyone does.

I’m thankful God allowed me to encounter this storm, but I’m even more thankful he calmed my heart, so that I could open this heart of mine and gain knowledge, understanding, and strength from it.

So. if you’re in the midst of a storm, any type of storm, and you feel as though God has abandoned you, or he’s not hearing your prayers, try looking for signs that he’s trying to calm your heart, instead.

He’s not going to leave you hanging. He’s not going to abandon you (there are so many scriptures on that)

God won’t leave you alone during a storm. He will be by your side, and I know sometimes that doesn’t feel like enough, and you just want Him to calm the storm, but remember he is Almighty and he knows what he’s doing- he is enough.

Trust him and trust that he is going to calm that storm that you are facing- it may not be right away (in fact, it probably won’t be) but he’s going to help you and heal you and strengthen you and maybe he’ll calm your heart, instead of your storm.

all of my days are held in Your hand, crafted into Your perfect plan

I love this. I saw it while scrolling through Tumblr last night (as I do every night) and I couldn’t help but smile, because that’s just such a cute quote. It’s so comforting.
Last night, before I saw those words on my timeline, I had just finished helping a friend talk through some worries they had about the future, and about life in general. This person was so concerned about making a wrong move, going down the wrong path in life, and they were really just questioning God and where he was.

It’s so easy to forget, especially on the harder days, that God has US in the palms of his hands. Every single morning when we wake up in bed, with goop in our eyes wanting to shatter the alarm clock into a million pieces, it’s God’s doing. He’s the reason we wake up each morning. It’s a huge blessing, and sometimes we forget that. We forget that waking up every morning isn’t a must. It’s not something we are entitled to. It’s not something we even deserve. It’s something that is given to us. God gifts us with a brand new day, each morning when we wake up.
And just think- during every single one of those days we are given, we are being held by God. God is in control of each day. HE is the one who determines how that day goes. HE is the One who holds the day.

Each day we encounter, is part of God’s divine plan for us. God has made this incredible plan for each person here on earth, and each day we are here breathing He is crafting that plan and perfecting it. He is the author and perfector of our faith and of our LIVES.

No, that doesn’t mean life should be perfect. You’re still going to struggle. You’re still going to be discouraged. You’re still going to stray away from God. You’re still going to fear. You’re still going to face obstacles. You’re still going to question and be confused. But you have to remember, God is the one who holds you. Who holds each day you live. Who has divinely crafted this incredible, wonderful plan for your life.

We’re not always going to know what exactly God is doing. We’re not always going to feel comfortable- God is going to throw you completely out of your comfort zone sometimes. That’s his way of getting you to grow, and strengthen your faith in Him.

You’re not always going to understand what God is doing, but that’s okay. That’s where trust comes into play. You have to trust God, even when it’s hard. Even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when you want to use your free will and go against what God is trying to tell you. You have to trust that He knows best, and that he will do what is actually best for you. A lot of the time we may think we know what’s best for ourselves, but we don’t. That sucks to hear, but it’s true. God (and your mother 9 times out of 10) knows what’s best for you.

So the next time you start to worry, or become anxious because you don’t have all the answers, remember God.
What about God’ you ask?

Just remember Him.
Remember the promises he has made to you- the work he has created in you will be carried out until the day of completion. Remember how he promises to love you and care for you always. Remember that HE has a plan for you that is far greater than the plans you have for yourself. Remember how many times he tells you to not be anxious, because HE is in control. Remember how many times he tells you to NOT be afraid, because HE is with you.

Remember God.

He holds each day you live. He has crafted the extraordinary plans for you which He has created entirely for you.