Trust & Go: The Year 2016

2016. //

I am convinced that if you will wait for the Lord's timing and the Lord's provision, you will experience the truth that "God will liberally supply (fill to the full) your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." (Gerard Long in "Awakening to God")

Oh, how chilling it was to read these words, among pages of my own journaling, during the first month of the year! I began 2016 seeking God more than ever before through a 21-day social media fast, which quickly transformed into a month long break. Never before have I experienced what I experienced during that month. God did some crazy amazing things: answering prayers, revealing over and over the same messages and Scriptures, drawing me closer to Him, and even preparing me for probably the greatest tragedy I've ever experienced thus far in my lifetime: the loss of my grandmother. Losing her was a horrible experience and one that made this year probably the toughest one yet, but I stand today stating with full confidence that I would not have been able to handle this tough loss in my life if it weren't for the Lord preparing my heart during that fast.

I asked God to reveal a word or two during this fast that would define my 2016, and by the end of the month, He sure did! Through all the trials during the fast, as well as my constant prayers and concerns about my future with college/a career path, God put the word "trust" in my head not long after the fast began. He revealed again and again that I was in a waiting season, and that He would not delay to provide His best and to reveal the next step for my future at HIS timing. I just had to trust that He is in control, that He is on the throne no matter what comes my way.

But He didn't stop with the word "trust". Seemingly in every book, daily devotion, everywhere I read, the word "go" would pop up! He surely seemed to be calling me to go and make a difference this year: to pray for and reach out to the lost, to stand up and be bold, to let go of my fears/shyness, and to walk out in faith and fulfill the calling He has for me. To go and LOVE on people!

Sure enough, He moved in crazy ways during my 2016. He revealed my career path an hour before the fast would end, and slowly but surely guided me to the college I would attend during the following year. Concerts, prom, and fun events filled the concluding months of my senior year. He spoke to my heart about writing letters to children in poverty through the Compassion program (something that ended up happening only through the hand of God!). Multiple scholarships were provided, and at the last minute, after praying every week of my senior year, I was announced salutatorian of my high school class. This was something that I asked God only to provide if I could bring glory to Him, and if I would be able to handle the fears accompanying speaking in front of several thousand people on graduation night, and sure enough, He provided the words, the peace, and all that I needed! Lots of speaking and opportunities to leave my comfort zone seemed to encompass much of the last few months of my senior year.

Summertime brought a season filled with lots of fun memories and unforgettable trips, a busy summer that I'm not at all used to having! Theme park fun for a friend's birthday, a graduation getaway with a different friend aboard the Disney Cruise, attending my church's Freedom Fest concert with a new friend of mine, and meeting up with a close, godly friend and her family for the third time ever (we originally met online!) in her home state of West Virginia brought a summer of not only a ton of fun but one that also brought me out of my comfort zone once again, forcing me to place more and more of my trust in Him! It was a summer of transition, a short but memorable season between the high school and college years, that I will never forget.

Sure enough, the college years would begin, and I would find myself at the local college I was already attending during my junior and senior years of high school through the dual enrollment program. While God revealed throughout the year that I was being called to finish there for my AA degree before I transfer to a university, I did not feel confident until I actually began the semester. An extremely heavy workload made it the toughest semester yet, but the experiences I was able to have and the ways God moved assured my wondering heart that I was where He was calling me to be. Having classes with some of my closest friends, as well as meeting and interacting with new people (as well as people from the past) made the experience at the college itself an exciting time. I really began to overcome a lot of fear and shyness this semester, as I took on the challenge to love others, and worked on making time to say hello and engage in conversation with those in my path. While I spent the majority of the semester studying and doing homework, as well as in the classroom, I spent my Fridays dog sitting, and one weekend in particular, I attended a Meredith Andrews concert. This was totally another provision from the Lord, as I won a pair of VIP tickets through a radio station on an exact day where I had less homework, and more of an opportunity to go. While the crowd attending this event was tiny, the concert was probably the most impactful one I've experienced yet! God continued to speak to me about waiting on Him about certain situations in my life, and about letting go so I could fully seek Him. What I loved most about this semester though is the Bible study group I began to lead with a few friends on campus, and how God has been moving through that. He called me to "go" this year, and it didn't hit me until recently that He's been helping me do just that!

These are a few of just the big things God has provided in my life this year. It's been a tough, stressful year for my family and I, but nonetheless, there has been so much good as well. I've grown so much in my relationship with God, and have learned to trust in Him and depend on Him more than ever before, but there were also days where I stumbled, days where He wasn't my everything and days where I didn't feel any closer to Him. It's during these moments that I'm so grateful for the grace and love of Jesus Christ, which He so willingly gifted to each one of us when He laid down His life on the cross.

Wow, what a year! Looking back, I'm in awe of what God has done around me, in me, and through me these past twelve months. His still, small whispers of "trust" and "go" clearly defined this year in ways I never would've imagined. I cannot wait to see what He has in store in 2017!


It Was An Ordinary Night

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  
Luke 2:16

It was an ordinary night, in an ordinary stable, filled with the ordinary smells of any common barn. Two ordinary people living an ordinary life. Just some ordinary shepherds out in the fields, tending to their flock and doing their ordinary work. Everything about that first Christmas night was ordinary, except for the baby lying in the manger.

You see, that baby would one day grow up to be anything but ordinary. He would be conceived in the womb of a virgin. After thirty years of life, He would leave His ordinary job as a carpenter and take up His ministry. He would perform miracle after miracle, healing the blind, the lame, the sick, and the hurting. Despite that He was the King of kings who left His Heavenly position to become one of us in this broken world, He lived as a humble servant, seeking to fill the needs of others rather than be served Himself. He would one day die the worst of deaths on the cross. Beaten, bruised, crushed, and killed, He died so that we could live. He died because He loves us with a love that is greater than any pain, greater than even death itself. He died because that is the reason He dressed in flesh and walked onto this earth. But the most extraordinary thing about this extraordinary King was not only His willingness to die for the sins of mankind, despite that He had all the power to take Himself off the cross. It was that death could not keep the Son of God down. In three days, He would rise again. In three days, He would declare victory over the grave.

This man was anything but ordinary, yet He came into this world in the most ordinary of settings. And the same goes for each of our lives today. Just like God showed up in the most extraordinary way through some ordinary people in some ordinary places, He also shows up in the ordinary parts of our lives. We may doubt His presence, and be blinded to His movement. We may feel like our lives lack purpose, that our brokenness is more than we can bear, or that God is not doing anything through us. Yet God uses the ordinary to create the extraordinary. He uses ordinary people like a young girl named Mary, some shepherds in a field, and people like me and you. He uses the ordinary places you encounter on a regular basis to fulfill His plan and His purpose. He shows up in our most broken moments, moving in our hearts and collecting every tear. When we don't feel like He is moving, He is doing more than we realize. When we doubt His presence, He is alive and moving all around us. When we forget that He has a plan, He is in the process of fulfilling His master plan for our lives.

God uses the ordinary to create the extraordinary. Whoever you are, in whatever situation you are in, He is moving. He can do amazing things through you and around you, whether you are sitting at a classroom desk, working at your job site, or just doing the simple, mundane tasks around the house. All the little, ordinary things in your life are a part of a purpose that only He can see.

That baby lying in a dirty stable was God's extraordinary plan in the most ordinary of places, through the most ordinary of people. Without Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the stable, even the full inn and the fields the shepherds worked in, the Christmas story would not be the same. God used each of these people and places in accordance with His perfect plan. Trust that He can use the ordinary to create the extraordinary in your life too!

God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are... 1 Corinthians 1:28


A Semester as an Ethics Student: Truth in a Moral Relativist World

The fall semester is over, and what a journey it has been! Despite an extremely heavy workload, I have had such an enjoyable experience at the college this semester, from fun times with friends to interesting classes to the ways that God has showed up and moved in an unbelievable manner. It has been a blessing! Not only that, my faith has grown, and this growth is of course attributed to the ways God has worked on my heart and to daily personal time with Him, but also in other ways as well. One such way is my Contemporary Ethics class. 

It's unusual to take a college class and walk away with a strengthened faith, but this semester has been anything but usual, and I am so grateful that I decided to take this class despite the fears that accompanied me walking in. Ethics is ultimately a class about morality, and learning how to use modes of reasoning to back up a particular stance in a contemporary ethical issue. My fabulous professor covered a different ethical issue each week in class, after we read the text and wrote our essays backing up our stance on each issue. Of course having to write a paper pretty much every week usually meant me cramming to write it the night before/morning of, as my schedule was booked solid with papers, homework assignments, and tests on a weekly basis, but nonetheless, my writing skills grew, and my ability to reason and to reason well strengthened significantly. 

So, with that being said, I figured I'd share some things I've learned in this class that may just strengthen and grow your faith too!

1. I've learned that morality cannot be discussed without God, as God is the ultimate standard of morality.

At the beginning of the semester, we had to write a paper discussing our moral compass and worldview in the process of making moral decisions. Here's a portion of that paper, and what I have held onto when taking a stance on each ethical issue throughout the semester:

    In a world driven by constant change and independent thought, the standard of morality is too often considered temporary and subjective. People forget what they know to be true and turn to the idea that what is wrong for one person could be right for another, or vice versa. However, this idea of subjectivism is dangerous. My moral compass is rooted in the ways and character of Jesus Christ; without having a Biblical worldview, a true standard does not exist in evaluating whether a choice is morally right or wrong.
    Under this worldview, God created Heaven and earth, and mankind was formed in His image. There are moral laws that God commands for His people to obey, but due to the first sin of Adam and Eve, the world is now sin-filled and broken. No one is considered righteous in the sight of God through their own doing, because every single person has disobeyed His moral law at some point. Thus, Jesus left His high position in Heaven and humbled Himself, coming into this world as a human. He died the most horrible of deaths on the cross, not because He did anything wrong, but because He took the punishment that every other human deserves as a result of sin. Three days later, He rose again, declaring Himself the Son of God and defeating sin and death. Everyone can be forgiven and made righteous in the sight of God, but only through Jesus and what He has done.
    When facing a moral decision, many turn to their own version of what morality, or truth, is to them. But, truth doesn’t differ from person to person, but is one Person: Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The ultimate standard of morality, Jesus is the only One who has never done wrong. He is the only One who has ever walked this earth in holiness and who can completely obey God’s law. It is only through Him that God sees me as righteous and “morally good”. He is the standard of perfection. His righteousness covers my own unrighteousness.
    Therefore, my ethical decision making is dependent upon who Jesus is, and what God says is morally right. I am not considered “righteous” or “morally good” in God’s eyes by what I believe is morally right or wrong, or by my own works. Morality is not subjective; it is not up to me to decide what morality is, but it has already been determined through God’s law, which is found in the holy Word of God. So, I should seek to obey God’s law, even though I’m bound to disobey His commands; Jesus died for me so I could be forgiven when I do. Thus, in the face of making moral choices, I turn to the Bible, a reflection of the only standard of morality, Jesus Christ. I ask myself: “In this situation, what would honor the Lord and most imitate the character of Christ? What would Jesus do? What does the Bible say about this particular decision?”.

Ethical relativism has become the norm of this world. Truth is no longer absolute, and sin is justified because of the idea that "what is wrong for one person may be right for another". I've learned that the truth of morality can only be found in Jesus, and I've grown more on fire about standing up for truth in a moral relativist world!

2.  I've learned that ethical decisions are not always black and white. They involve searching the Scriptures, and seeking the heart of GOD. 

Some ethical issues and moral decisions are clearly black and white. It's easy to state in the case of abortion that taking the life of a baby in the womb is absolutely wrong, as even before the moment of conception, God has thoughtfully and carefully designed a plan for our lives, and surely considers each person a human who has value and who has a future filled with His amazing plans. However, issues like the practice of capital punishment were not so much a black and white matter. It's in these big ethical issues, along with the little moral decisions we must make on an everyday basis, that we must search the Scriptures and seek God and His heart and ways. It's not always black and white, as morality can get complicated. But we can view these moments of having to make a difficult decision as an opportunity to learn God's ways more fully and to seek Him to understand what He desires for our lives.

 3. I've learned why I believe what I believe, and the viewpoints of others.

This class has opened my mind to the sticky issues of morality and what others believe about certain ethical issues. It has allowed me to understand the viewpoints of others and to be able to fully support my reasoning for why I believe what I believe, and to be able to share that with others! It is so important to research, but not just research your side of an issue. Research it fully. If you're pro life, research the issue of abortion completely. Understand why you're pro life, and why others are pro choice. Examine the problem at large. And of course, this goes back to point 2, which involves searching the Scriptures and seeking the ways of God...again and again and again! We ended the class with an ethical topic of our choice, and as a shelter volunteer and animal lover, I ended up writing and presenting the issue of animal welfare/rights. Because of my research and studying of the Scriptures, my perspective of the idea of animal rights completely changed, and I continued to grow more passionate about the welfare and ethical treatment of animals. It's amazing what a little research can do!

It's a faith enriching process to be able to back up your beliefs, and to understand where others are coming from. I'm grateful to leave this semester with a greater understanding of many of the big ethical issues in our nation and world, to know why I believe what I believe, and to have grown in my knowledge of the Word, of my understanding of God, and in the thought processes of others.
If you're in college (or if they offer it in high school), take an ethics class. Regardless, research the ethical issues at large! This class has been a call to researching the ethical issues that pop up in my life or when advising others who are facing ethical decisions, and to be able to hold fast to knowing and sharing TRUTH in a moral relativist world.