As the deer…

“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.” Psalm 42:1

My pastor was talking about this verse the other day.  He said, “Those who pant for God are the ones who have tasted of God, and those who have tasted of God will not be satisfied with anything else.”

Why do I drink from broken cisterns?

Lord, in the midst of everything else, let me taste of Your goodness.

Let me be addicted to Your Living Water.

Let me never again settle for less.

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Confessions of a Church Brat

I’m a church brat. I’ve grown up haunting the halls of my Bible church, attending summer VBS, racking up the gold stars in Sunday School. It’s never been tough for me to talk the church talk. I know what the little old church ladies approve of, and I know what they frown at. It’s not overly difficult for me to please them. I know the church lingo and I know all the Bible verses…or, at least, the ones in the AWANA handbook that earn you badges.

And today, I realized that my affinity with churches in general and mine in particular lands me square in a potential category that I never associated myself with: the Pharisees and hyper-religious Jews in Romans 2-3.

Like the Jews, I have the Word of God in my possession. I don’t even know how many Bibles are in my home, in English, Spanish, and even Greek, leather-bound and hardbound, hefty commentaries and little pocket New Testaments. I’ve been taught in God’s ways since before I can remember. I’ve read through the Bible several times. I knew all the books of the Old and New Testaments from a young age. This isn’t boasting…it doesn’t have anything to do with me or my choices. It’s just how I was raised. Like the circumcised Pharisees, my upbringing and teaching was chosen for me. The blessing of knowing God’s Word was not one I sought out, but God was gracious enough to give it to me freely.

So what am I doing with this great gift? It’s not enough just to have the Word of God in my head and hands. Does it affect the way I live? Has it transformed my heart?

There aren’t a lot of young people in my small congregation. In fact, most of my friends had very different upbringings than me. Some have alcoholic or drug-growing parents, others had virtually no mothers or fathers influencing their young lives. They grew up making their own decisions, independent when they still needed guidance. A lot of them took this free reign for all it was worth and made some pretty bad choices. They wouldn’t be able to tell you if “Hezekiah” was a king or a book of the Bible, and could probably list about three of the Ten Commandments, even though they’ve doubtless broken a good number of them. So should I, the little church girl, sit in judgment of them? Because I grew up getting trucked to AWANAS, does that make me better than them? Because I have a head full of knowledge, does that make me more acceptable before God?

It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. Romans 2:13

I know the truth about God. But unless that truth is a reality in my life…unless I am living and practicing under the influence of that truth…then my knowledge means nothing. Unless Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and I am a disciple of His, then whether or not I read my Bible signifies nothing. And I can go to church every single Sunday of my life, singing every hymn and sitting in that pew through every sermon, and it will be absolutely meaningless unless the truth found in the Word of God has penetrated my pride and transformed my sinful heart.

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth–you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?

Romans 2:17-21

Unless this redemptive work has happened in my life, then I’m no better off than my pot-smoking, beer-drinking classmates. In fact, the Bible says that I am in a worse situation, because I have no excuse. know the truth, but I’m not living it out. I know the Bible and I know God’s standards, but I am choosing to ignore them. My friends are ignorant of God’s Word, but I am not. I know what He commands, and so if I willfully disobey, I am the greater sinner.

But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. Romans 2:29

Do we choose to follow God’s Word or do we go along with it in appearance without ever truly following God from the heart? Many kids who were raised in a church reject God in high school or college, ignore everything they know, and live without any concern or regard for His commands. Maybe you have not rebelled to this extreme (or maybe you have), but perhaps you are rebelling in a different way; in the quietness of your heart as you sit in that Sunday pew. You walk the walk and talk the talk but you’ve never truly surrendered your life to Christ. You judge others and pride yourself on the good things you do, and the bad things you don’t do, rather than understanding your position as a sinner deserving death and in need of the grace of God. You want all the glory for yourself, not for Him. You want to be the star of your own show, rather than being passionate for God’s glory.

Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. Romans 2:27

 If this is you, you’re on the same boat with your unsaved, unchurched friends. You’re a sinner and you need a Savior. What will it take for you to turn to Him?

Maybe you’re not sure of where you stand. You sure don’t enjoy being called a Pharisee, but you realize that your life could be called hypocritical. You’re more afraid about what people think than about what God thinks, and the good opinion of man means more to you than the approval of God. You are concerned that the way you act in church is only skin-deep and your heart has not experienced any real change. It is good to examine yourself to ensure that you are in the faith. Ask God to show you the true state of your heart before Him. Pray that He will make your sin real to you, and your need of a Savior.

There are good kids and church kids and there are bad kids and rebels. But apart from Christ, we’re all equally condemned before God. When we turn to Jesus and ask Him for forgiveness, then there aren’t any church kids and bad kids anymore; we’re all just saved sinners, undeserving recipients of the matchless grace of God, standing holy before Him not on our own merit, but because of the righteousness of Christ.

Church kid, you have the truth. What are you doing with it? Are you living by it and finding life and life abundant, or are you eating and drinking judgment on yourself? The choice is yours. Don’t be lulled into passivity because you’ve been baptized and do all the right things. As 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Are you living for the approval of men, or is your heart focused on pleasing God? These are the kinds of questions we church kids need to be faithful to ask ourselves.

Hungry all the Time

In 1999, Ana Carolina Reston crossed the stage in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  At thirteen years old, she had just been named Queen of Jundiai, the winner’s sash draped around her slender figure.  Her mother and father, watching from the audience, beamed with pride.

“The other girls were podgy and had bottoms,” Mrs. Reston stated, “She won because she was slim and elegant.”

But in 2004, when Ana Reston answered a casting call in China, she was told she was “too fat”.  So by 2006, standing at 5’8″, Miss Reston weighed only 88 lbs and had a BMI of 13.4 (the World Health Organization considers a BMI of 16 to be starvation).  She died of complications related to anorexia nervosa and bulimia at the age of 21.

She was the second model to die from anorexia-complications in the year of 2006.  The first, Luisel Ramos, died of heart failure after living on a diet of lettuce and Diet Coke for three months.  Miss Ramos was participating in a fashion show and had just walked off the runway when she fainted and suffered a heart attack.  She was only 22.  Her sister Eliana, also a model, died in 2007 of malnutrition.

What is even more tragic about stories like these, is that these women are among the standards of beauty in our society.  Every little girl wants to be beautiful, and they look to models and celebrities to set the bar for that beauty.  Women like Ana, Luisel, and Eliana.

Anorexia nervosa is characterized as a psychiatric illness.  Sufferers develop an eating disorder, an extreme paronoia of obesity or weight gain, and an unrealistic perception of body weight.  Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by “binge” eating and subsequent purging.  Both are often accompanied by fasting and excessive exercise.

The increasing prevelance of these disorders in our society has got some people saying, “Enough is enough and this is madness.”  But not everyone agrees.

After reading an article in Newsweek about pro-anorexic (“pro-ana”) groups, I searched on Facebook for groups related to anorexia.  I was so saddened to see a number of pro-ana groups.  Some were listed under “Beliefs & Causes”, others under “Beauty”, still others under “Food & Drink”.  Many had default pictures of skeletal supermodels, called “Thinspiration”.  Members as young as nine asked for “fasting buddies”.  “Remember nothing tastes as good as thin feels!” one member wrote on a group wall.  Others offered tips for weight loss, or excuses to use on concerned family and friends.

Obsession with beauty is nothing new.  Every culture in every era of history has been concerned with physical appearance.  The standard of beauty may differ from society to society, but the pursuit of it is a universal human passion.  Our Heavenly Father acknowledged this in 1 Samuel 16:7; “Man looks on  the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

Many people call anorexia nervosa a disease, and perhaps it is.  But, in another way, it is a symptom of a much larger disease.  We starve ourselves in the pursuit of something more than attention and beauty.  We are looking for worth and love, purpose and meaning.  We are looking for something to fill the huge hole inside of us.  Those who suffer from anorexia are no different than the rest of us in their longing to fill this emptiness; they only differ in their attempt to do so.

Anorexia nervosa is essentially a hunger, and it is a hunger which cannot be satisfied.  Not just a physical hunger for food, but a hunger for perfection, satisfaction, worth, attention, and acceptance.  But it is a neverending hunger.  No number on the scale is small enough; a pair of jeans sized 00 is still too big.  Men and women literally starve themselves in their efforts to lose weight.  They look in the mirror, and where others see thin, emaciated skeletons they see obesity.  It is a tragic picture of the struggle existing in each one of us apart from Christ; an insatiable, unquenchable longing for more.  We’ve seen it in celebrities and billionaires and even our beautiful, successful friends and neighbors who “have it all” and yet are always searching for that elusive happiness.

Why is nothing good enough?  Why is there no body perfect enough, no man or woman loving enough, no friend loyal enough, no luxury satisfiying enough, no lifestyle good enough to make us happy?  Why are we constantly wearing ourselves out in this incessant, unending pursuit of something better?  We are we constantly trying to end this ravenous hunger inside of us, and why are we always empty, no matter what we do?

The reason is because we are looking in all the wrong places.

In my high school health class, I had to spend a lot of time studying anorexia and related eating disorders.  My textbook said that being anorexic meant being hungry all the time.  But the strange thing is, we are all hungry all the time.  We are hungry for love.  We are hungry for purpose.  We are hungry for a relationship with our Maker.

This is natural.  Just as our bodies were designed to be fueled by the consumption of food, and we experience pain and hunger when we deprive ourselves of that nourishment, so our souls were designed to need a relationship with Christ.  Without Him, we are hungry.

What are you trying to feed this hunger with?  Maybe you struggle with an eating disorder, or self-injury.  You may try to fill this emptiness with a relationship, or a sport or talent, or a search for wealth and success.  You may search for it in drugs, or sex, or alcohol, or partying.  Whatever your pursuit, whatever your distraction, you know better than I do how unfulfilling it truly is.  Before I surrendered my life to Christ I thought that material things and relationships with other people could make me happy.  But they always left me empty.  Only Jesus Christ can satisfy the hunger that only He was meant to appease.

Dear friend, there is so much pain and sorrow in this world.  You know this first-hand.  Whatever your struggles are, I beg you to bring them to the feet of Jesus.  He is faithful.  If you need someone to talk to, or if you have questions, please feel free to email me (Keely) at sisterskeepersjournal@gmail.com.  I would love to talk with you.

 

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;

and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,

and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;

hear, that your soul may live…”

Isaiah 55:1-3

New Desires

I no longer have any desire to settle.  I no longer want to retain what I once considered so precious.  You changed my desires.  I am proud and I am stubborn, but You made it beautiful to surrender.  Whether I am humiliated or not I lay down my arms. Whether others mock me or not I am Yours.  I am nothing…You are everything.  I must decrease, You must increase.  So show Yourself glorious through me.  Because here I am, Lord.  All Yours.

 

Show me how far the east is from the west…

I know You’ve cast my sins as far
As the East is from the West
And I stand before You now
As though I’ve never sinned, but today
I feel like I’m just one mistake away
From You leaving me this way.

Why, Lord?  Why do you put up with me?  My miserable failings and hardened heart?  I long to be close to You and I long to love You as You love me and I long to worship You as You deserve.  And yet I am so distracted, so self-centered.  I want to hunger and thirst for You, and yet I am so callused, so disinterested.  How it must break Your heart.  I sin over and over and over again.  I fall, I fail, I turn away, I stumble.  I curse, I cry, I am angry towards the One who loves me.  How do You keep holding me?  How do You keep loving me?  Why don’t You give up on me?

I know You’ve washed me white
Turned my darkness into light
I need Your peace to get me through
To get me through this night
I can’t live by what I feel
But by the truth Your Word reveals
I’m not holding on to You
But You’re holding on to me
You’re holding on to me

Is it true that nothing I do keeps me?  Is it true that You could not love me any more, and will not love me any less?  You promise me that no one will snatch me from Your hand (John 10:29), and I guess that includes me.  Even I don’t have the power to pull myself away; no matter what I do, You will find me, You will draw me back.  Because You are faithful, because You are good.  I’m overwhelmed by my sin; You remind me of the cross.  Paid in full, You whisper to my soul, and I am washed with peace.

Jesus, can you show me
Just how far the East is from the West
Cause I can’t bear to see the man I’ve been
Come rising up in me again
In the arms of your mercy I find rest
Cause you know just how far the East is from the West
From one scarred hand to the other.

Remind me, Jesus.  Remind me of the cross I beg You, Savior.  Show me that the pain and suffering You went through was not for nothing.  Show me that the blood You shed was not in vain.  It washed me clean.  I stand before Holy God on Your merits, as though I never sinned.  My sins are seperated, as far away as the east is from the west.  They are on the bottom of the sea, stricken from Your book, no longer charged against me.  I am free.  And it has nothing to do with me…it has everything to do with You.  You, and Your scarred hands.

 

-Lyrics from “East to West” by Casting Crowns, The Altar and The Door

Undeserving

This is all I know

Hands are shaking here

Voices in my head

Light is nowhere near.

Deep within my tears

Your face is all I see

You know my deepest fears

Your love is pulling me.

  

Surprised beyond my dreams

To see You standing there

The One I hated so

The only One who cares.

Mountains start to fall

I’ve never been so free

I fall in love with You

Because You cherish me.

  

 

Savior of my soul

I feel Your mighty love

It doesn’t matter who I am

Your beauty is enough.

And when this life is past

I’ll walk into Your light

I’ll sing because You live

I’ll live because You died.

Making Memories

Last night I was driving with my softball team to our play-off game a few hours away.  Our drive was really pretty, past rolling hills covered with evergreens and quirky small towns, in the heart of California’s logging country.  We’d all been through the area before, so there were lots of familiar places outside our windows.

My friend’s dad, who was driving, pointed to one: a small resturant alongside the road.  “Your mom and I went there once,” he told my friend, “Right after we were married.”  We were already quite a ways from home, and my friend laughed.  “You drove all the way out here just to have dinner?  What a waste of gas,” she teased.  He smiled.  “It wasn’t a waste of time,” he said, “For a romantic dinner.”

This impacted me because last year, she died of cancer.  My friend’s mom was young, energetic, and a vital part of our small community.  We were friends with their family.  She had a loving husband and two young children.  No one expected that she had pancreatic cancer, and her passing away was very sudden and very hard on us all.

Maybe a long drive to some hole-in-the-wall eatery may have seemed like a waste of money and time.  But I think my friend’s dad cherishes this memory, more than all the “productive” days surrounding it.

With all the senior year, last minute stress in my life right now, it’s hard to see a moment that I don’t spend getting my portfolio ready, finishing up classes, applying for scholarships, getting ready for college, or searching for a summer job as being even slightly redeemable.  Can I afford to hang out with my little brothers and sisters?  Do I really have time to go to their baseball and softball games?  My friend needs to talk, but my paper needs to be written.  Which is more important?  Should I skip discipleship group this week and finish some health class homework?  Do I go on vacation at the beginning of this summer with my sister or house-sit for some friends?  In our never-stop, crazy world, these questions are confusing.  Some would say that the time we spend should be used for material gain and worldly advancement.  But I think God is more pleased when we build relationships with those around us.

There’s a balance in everything.  It’s not wrong to cross items off my to-do list, and hanging out with friends can’t always be my top priority (even though sometimes I wish it could be!).  I have to be a responsible steward of my time.  So do we all.  But now and then, we all need the simple, old-hat reminder of what really matters in this life.  And it’s not a degree or a paycheck or a diploma…it’s glorifying God and loving others.  The relationships we build with the people in our lives are so important.  The time we take to show them how much we care is not wasted.

That means I can listen to my brother talk about baseball.  I can hang out with my sister.  I can call my best friend.  I can have a long talk with my mom.  I can go to work with my Dad.

Because when all the deadlines are past and all things I’m stressing over now are forgotten, I will still cherish those same relationships.  And the memories I have of these years won’t be so much about grades and portfolio presentations, but about spending time with those I love.

 

I’m gonna love you like nobody loves you

And I’ll earn your trust makin’ memories of us.

-“Makin’ Memories of Us”, Keith Urban