You’re Surrounded

What are you surrounded by? The world and its negativity, despair and hopelessness? Or the Lord and his songs of deliverance and his steadfast love?

What are you surrounded by? The world and its negativity, despair and hopelessness? Or the Lord and His songs of deliverance and His steadfast love?

Have you ever examined your life and realized that you are not the person you want to be? One thing leads to another and all of the sudden you become a person you don’t like. For me, the circumstances of my life lead me to becoming very cynical towards the things of the Lord. I found myself questioning the importance of prayer, questioning the Lord’s desire to be involved in my life, and more.

Almost a year of doubting the Lord sent me to a very dark and lonely place, and I knew that something needed to change. I knew the answer was confessing my frustrations to the Lord, prayer, and reading scripture, but I found that every time I went to read scripture it just didn’t mean anything to me. The words didn’t speak to me like they used to and that was incredibly discouraging. For me, that just seemed like more proof that the Lord didn’t really want anything to do with me anymore. However, a couple of weeks ago, after months of slowly realizing some changes needed to be made in my life (and after a long talk with my awesome mom), I was finally honest with myself about where my relationship with the Lord had ended up, and I was finally able to give up some burdens and begin praying and reading scripture again.

Today I’m thankful for a God who doesn’t give up on us.  I’m reminded of when Jesus says to Simon Peter in Luke 22:32, “I’ve prayed for you; that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” I’m thankful that I have been prayed for, that my faith has been strengthened, and that my God has patiently awaited my return.

Today I read Psalm 32, and its truth hit me like a ton of bricks.

Psalm 32
1 Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?
-Corrie Ten Boom

3 When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was dried up
as by the heat of summer.

When we keep silent, when we push the Lord away and when we ignore the Lord His hand seems heavy upon us because our guilt troubles us. We refuse to give things up to the Lord, and instead we cling tightly to our problems which become burdens that are too heavy for us to bear. God brings these things to our mind; He keeps them on our heart and conscience so that we can’t throw it off. He doesn’t leave us in the midst of our problems, in fact it is quite the opposite… His hand becomes heavy upon us so that we don’t forget to offer up our burdens to Him.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me.
-C.S. Lewis

6 Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.

If we pray “while [the Lord] may be found,” let’s remember that the throne of grace is always open and the Lord can be found at all times when we call out to him. And when we are constantly in conversation with the Lord we find that we are strengthened by Him, so that when the mighty waters rise around us we won’t be overtaken by them. When I think back on the last year, I know that I wasn’t prepared for the flood that was coming my way.

It’s a bad idea to wait until you are in the middle of the storm to start looking for your life preserver.
-Christine Caine

7 You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

The Lord is our shelter, and he protects us when trouble is near, but he also surrounds us with songs (some versions say shouts) of deliverance! This is exciting to me because the world surrounds us with despair and hopelessness, but the Lord brings JOY, HOPE and DELIVERANCE! He provides a way out of the desolate life the world offers.

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or it will not stay near you.

I think these verses are amazing for a couple of reasons. First, I love that the speaker changes to the Lord, speaking to us in first person. Saying that He will instruct us and teach us and lead us in the way we should go. That He will counsel us with His loving eyes always on us. You see, friend, it is not in His character to leave us in the dark… He wants to lead us, and he wants to do it the easy way! But so often we are stubborn mules who won’t stay near the Lord unless we are bridled. If he must use the bit and bridle, He will. But he instructs us to not be like the horse or the mule, but to stay near him and listen to his teaching, and he will lovingly counsel us.

10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love
surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!”

These verses give us a reason to have joy. The wicked do have many reasons to be sorrowful, but the Lord’s steadfast love SURROUNDS the one who TRUSTS in Him. He calls us to REJOICE, to be GLAD in Him, and he prompts us to SING for joy.

Thank you Lord for speaking to us through scripture. Thank you for surrounding us with songs of deliverance, and for surrounding us with your unfailing love.

*The quotes I included aren’t just random quotes about prayer, they are all quotes that I heard at one time or another during my time of ignoring the Lord that used to be convicting, but are now encouraging 🙂

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Sometimes the opportunities the Lord gives us seem scary, and sometimes the outcomes are hard to imagine, but I'm learning to trust Him more & more. Please continue to read if you would like to know more about how to partner with me in ministry for the next year!

Sometimes the opportunities the Lord gives us seem scary, and sometimes the outcomes are hard to imagine, but I’m learning to trust Him more & more. Please continue to read if you would like to know more about how to partner with me in ministry for the next few months!

This spring, I will be spending a lot of time planning for the NKU/South Africa Team of the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s summer leadership experience for students called Experience 1:8. Its title comes from Acts 1:8 which says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

I had the opportunity to go on this trip as a student last summer, and this summer I am in charge of planning a trip. I have 5 students on my team, and we will be ministering through Mainstreet Baptist Church in Alexandria, KY as well as heading to South Africa for two weeks. There we will be ministering in Sweetwaters village and Tabitha Hope Center orphanage.

Sweetwaters is a Zulu village that has been hit hard by AIDS. There are a lot of child-headed households in Sweetwaters, this means that the children (anywhere from ages 5 and up) have to take care of their younger siblings. The Feeding Center gives food to the children who are the heads of their households in order to help them take care of their families. We will be putting on a Holiday Bible Club for some of the children who live in Sweetwaters.

The Tabitha Hope Center is an orphanage. All of the children are from Sweetwaters but have been at Tabitha their whole lives because they were abandoned as babies. 75% of the children there have AIDS. We will be putting on a Holiday Bible Club in the morning for younger kids, and in the afternoon for older kids (kids are age babies-11).

A third way that we will be able to serve is through the delivery of BGR Buckets of Hope into the village of Sweetwaters. Tabitha Ministries makes house visits to people in the village who have bedridden illnesses (these could range anywhere from strokes to AIDS). We will visit 3-6 homes on one or two days to deliver these buckets which have many different things to help their care-takers to take better care of their loved one. Another way we will serve these people is by presenting the gospel message to the ill person and their caretaker. Often in their culture people believe that they are sick because they have sinned, but we get to tell them that God has not forgotten them and he loves them.

…………………….

I would like to ask two things of you. First, please partner with me in prayer. There are several ways that you can pray for me:

  • Pray for the students on my team, that they will be spiritually prepared for a hard summer of ministry.
  • Pray for the people we will encounter, that the Lord would prepare their hearts to hear the gospel message, and that we would be able to see lives eternally changed this summer.
  • Pray for boldness of the students to share the gospel and the willingness of others to listen!
  • Pray for the rest of our plans for the Africa portion of the trip, that things would fall into place.
  • Pray for safe international travels.
  • Pray for team cohesiveness, that we would be able to work together well and love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ!

Thank Him in advance for answering prayer, and for providing the funds for me to be able to follow His call on my life.

The second way that you can help me is by supporting this team monetarily. The team goal is $20,000, and so far the students have raised a little over half of this number. Since I am coordinating the trip, I have to raise at least $500 for my trip, but keep in mind that gifts of any size will help this team to thrive in doing God’s work for us, and any amount I raise over $500 will help immensely in funding the trip as a whole. I trust that The Lord knows the needs of this team, and as He provides for the flower and the sparrow He will provide for us. Will you take part in God’s Work with us?

You can give easily online at https://app.mobilecause.com/vf/MissionsNKU/CaitlnEllis. If you don’t feel comfortable donating online, checks can be made out to NKU BCM (with my name in the memo line) and sent to NKU BCM at 1 Nunn Dr, Highland Heights Ky 41099.

Gifts are tax deductible. Please print out a copy of your processed personal check for tax purposes, and if your check for support is $250.00 or more, you will receive a tax acknowledgement from the BCM for your records as required by the IRS

Thank you for praying for me as we continue on this journey, and for praying about supporting our team.

**Edited on 4/13/15 to reflect changes in my opportunities for this upcoming year. Thank you for understanding!

Thank You!

A Summer for the Books

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(I realize that in telling people about my summer, there are those who would like to hear the short version, and those who would like to hear the long version. So, with that being said, you may now choose. You are welcome.)

Short Version:

At camp I was able to impact the lives of kids through worship, bible study, and daily interaction, hopefully making them think differently about the importance of missions, and the importance of their personal relationship with Jesus.

In Africa I was able to see the gospel truly reach across oceans, language barriers, and lifestyles to let them know that God cares for them, He has not forgotten them, and he can provide for their physical and spiritual needs.

Overall this summer I grew in my personal relationship with Christ through community with believers, service to others, and daily time with God to learn of his vast love and deep compassion for all people.

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Long Version:

Looking back on my summer experience it’s hard to believe that just like that… it’s all over. After two months of living every day out with a group of at least 12 other people by my side, it has become difficult to re-learn normal life. Now, I won’t have to wait at every restaurant for at least an hour, I won’t have to consult a group before going somewhere, and I will be left to my own thoughts throughout the day… when all restaurant stops have taken forever, everything has been a group decision, and peace and quiet has been hard to find for the last 60 days.

60 Days. I was skeptical of the kinds of relationships you could form with strangers in 60 days. It’s funny that now I can say the strangers I spent 60 days with are my family.

We ate every meal together, we went everywhere together, we took a 17 hour plane ride together, we ministered together, we experienced a new culture together, we worshipped together, we learned together….. Together. Togetherness is actually a pretty biblical concept. Colossians 1:16-18 says that all things are held together through Christ.

16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church.”

How did my team develop such “togetherness” in such short time? Because Christ was at the head, leading us every day.

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For our first month together, we were in charge of running “Mission Adventure Camp” which is a camp for Girls in Action (GAs) and Royal Ambassadors (RAs), and funded by the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU). The purpose of this camp is to teach kids about the importance of missions. We did this through bible stories like ones where Jesus calls his disciples, by showing videos about the worldwide need for the gospel, and by bringing in Missionaries and Missionary Families to teach the kids about where they live and how they share the gospel there.

One of our favorite missionaries from this summer is named Jimmy.  He has been in Senegal for several years now living among the people, learning their language, and reaching their community for Christ. When you think of missionaries, you would imagine that maybe Jimmy had been a Christian all his life and probably felt his call to missions when he was in high school. But Jimmy is a self-proclaimed “Good Ole Kentucky Boy,” (and if you have met him you would agree with that title 100%) he was not saved until he was in his 30s, and after being a Christian for only a few years he surrendered his life to missions. Jimmy’s story is so encouraging. The Lord can use anyone to reach the lost and Jimmy said it the best himself, “The Lord does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” Jesus’ disciples were described as “common men,” so I’m not really sure where we got the idea that missionaries have to be ridiculously smart and put together. We are all called to be missionaries.

At camp we had a memory verse that the kids were to memorize by the end of the week. It was Matthew 9:35-38:

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every illness and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had deep concern for them, because they were beaten down and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 So ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.’”

At camp we may have gotten tired of this verse, but once we moved on to our time in South Africa pieces of it kept coming to mind.

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The picture of Jesus going through all the towns and villages was one that struck me. In South Africa we had the opportunity to work in 3 different neighborhoods (towns, villages 😉 whatever you would like to call them). First we worked in Pietermaritzburg where we stayed in an orphanage and put on a Holiday Bible Club for the kids. All of the kids have either been affected or infected by HIV/AIDS, but my teammate MJ says, “you wouldn’t believe it knowing how happy and silly they are, or by how much trouble they can get into.” Each one of the kids has a tragic story, but the Lord rescued them through a lady named Gayle.

Gayle started Tabitha ministries years ago when the Lord showed her the need to care for orphans affected by AIDS in the village of Sweetwaters. She was obedient, and when she asked Jesus what to call the ministry, he said “Tabitha.” Gayle was curious why he would pick this name, so she went to her Bible and discovered that in Acts 9:36 it says, “36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor.” And I must say, Tabitha Ministries does a lot of good, and certainly helps the poor.

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A branch of Tabitha Ministries also provides for the people who live in Sweetwaters. They run a food distribution service for the needy, but especially for child-headed households. Sweetwaters has been heavily impacted by HIV/AIDS, and many of the kids have had to step up as the leaders of their families because their parents have passed away from the disease. We did a Holiday Bible Club for the kids in the area, which was predominantly Zulu-speaking. The language barrier was difficult, but it did not stop us from ministering to the people there. It also gave us the opportunity to develop relationships with the translators. (We originally thought that we would have 2 translators, which would make teaching veryyyyyy difficult, but when we showed up that first day at Sweetwaters we had 7 translators. The Lord provided!)

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We also had opportunities in Sweetwaters to deliver buckets for Baptist Global Response (BGR). These buckets are for people who are bedridden from any kinds of diseases ranging from AIDS, tuberculosis, to strokes. The buckets are filled with things that help them to be more comfortable, and help their caretakers take better care of them. Some of the people we had the privilege of visiting were already Christians, which gave us the opportunity to encourage them in their faith and remind them that the Lord has not forgotten them, but we also had the joy to see two salvations from our four visits in Sweetwaters.

After leaving Peitermaritzburg, we stayed in Durban and did a Holiday Bible Club in a neighborhood called Mariannridge. The neighborhood was ravaged by gang violence and drugs less than 10 years ago, but the Lord has been working in the hearts and lives of people there, allowing us to be the first outside group to come and work in the neighborhood. Most of the kids that we worked with have come from rough backgrounds. We found it difficult to keep their attention, but I think we each had plenty of those sweet moments that reminded us why we were there.

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We also had the opportunity to go on a few house visits there in Mariannridge, with the joy of seeing one salvation in a man named Charles. Charles has had a stroke and is unable to move or speak. The bed was sunken in where he had been laying, and he could hardly lift his head to look at us as we walked in. Jessica was going to share a Psalm with him to encourage him, but she felt moved to ask him if he had ever heard of Jesus. We were all wondering how she would hold a conversation with this man, considering he was unable to speak. It was then that she sat down on the bed next to Charles, grabbed his hand, and the Holy Spirit prompted her to ask him to squeeze her hand if he had heard of Jesus.

Charles did not squeeze her hand. So Jessica asked him if he would like to hear about Jesus, and if he did want to hear, to squeeze her hand. That time…he squeezed.

Jessica was then able to lay out the entire gospel for him. She talked about who Jesus is, how he came to the Earth to live the perfect life that we cannot live, so that he could take the punishment of death that we deserve, and he rose from the dead so that we can live through him.

Then Jessica asked him if he would like to hear more, and Charles squeezed her hand and shook it. So then she told him more about how we have sinned, and God can’t stand our sin, but he loves us so much that he made a way for us to be with him through Jesus. We need Jesus in order to be with God forever. We have to accept that we are sinners and need God’s forgiveness, and we have to believe that Jesus came to pay for our sins. We are to live our lives for him.

Then she asked him if he would like to do that, and accept Jesus into his heart. He squeezed her hand and shook it like crazy. So then she explained that even though he can’t talk out loud, God can still hear his thoughts, and God loves him and knows everything about him. So she prayed over him, and he prayed in his heart.

This was the most powerful moment of my trip. While I was in preparation for this summer and all summer long I had been praying to see salvation. I just wanted to see the power of God at work to see someone’s eternity changed. And while I was in that room watching Jessica minister to Charles I was almost moved to tears. In maybe five minutes, Charles went from never hearing about Jesus to being with Jesus forever. With the most sincere squeeze of a hand, Charles stepped into eternity. I can’t wait to see Charles in heaven, to talk to him, and to hear from him what those moments were like.

On our last night, we were invited to a grill-out (or a “braai”) at Jeff and Laura O’Loughlin’s house. The O’Loughlin’s are a missionary family who live in Durban. They went above and beyond to serve us, help us, and love on us during our time with them. They taught us about rugby, the dos and don’ts about being in the city, and they basically chauffeured us everywhere so that we wouldn’t get lost :). But there in our last time together (we laughed so much… just like always when this team gets together), Jeff said that in his quiet time that day, the Lord spoke to him through a verse that he felt perfectly encompassed our time in South Africa.

Do you remember the verse that I said we learned at camp? Yes, by this time most of us on the team had forgotten it too. It is Matthew 9:35-38 and again, it says:

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every illness and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had deep concern for them, because they were beaten down and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 So ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.’”

This was the verse that Jeff shared with us. I think everyone on the team would agree that that moment was one we won’t forget. It was so meaningful that Jeff shared that with us. What a joy it is to live out scripture, and what a privilege it is for the Lord to validate us in that, through Jeff.

I don’t think I will ever forget Matthew 9:35-38. And I know I won’t forget this summer.

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Perfect is Something I am Not

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I have struggled with the beginning of my “lasts,” as I just registered for my last fall semester at NKU. I have struggled with being a “people pleaser.” I have struggled with being self-centered. I have struggled with low self-esteem, and lying, and sometimes being downright rude. I guess you’ve gotten the point by now, I am not perfect.

Perfect is something that I have never been, even though sometimes my “squeaky clean pastor’s daughter” vibe leads people to believe that I am. And, I have always strived for perfection…which is something that has left me empty, unfulfilled, unsatisfied, etc. But that is because perfection is something our human flesh desires that is solely for our own selfish gratification.

Ok, great. Now what?

A few short weekends ago I got to hang out with 7 freshman girls, and we got to really dive in to discuss what we hold on to that helps us find short-term satisfaction. We talked about grades, boys (of course), and all kinds of things… but I like to encompass all of the above in saying this: I have been trapped by striving for perfection.

When I was in high school and I began to dig into the word and I was learning new things every day from the Lord, there was one thing that was still missing. I prayed that I would be in the Lord’s Will, but only because I didn’t want to screw up my life. Even though I was doing the right things and seemed to be going the right direction, the motives of my actions left me empty.

My problem was that perfection was spelled out for me in Proverbs 31. In this passage we see a woman who is beautiful, wise, she knows how to run her house, she knows about trading and how to make a profit, her children love her, her husband seems like a cool guy and he praises her. I would read this and be like, “dang… I want to be like her.” She’s got it all together!

I missed the most important part of the passage. Verse 30 says, “A woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Regardless of her other qualities, her most praiseworthy one is that she fears the Lord.

That’s where we should begin. Our fear/love/admiration of God leads us in the right direction. For the past month, I have encountered Romans 6 and 7 almost every week from different pastors, teachers, and mentors. Do you think the Lord is trying to tell me something? 🙂

Romans 6 calls to our attention that we are either a slave to sin, or we are a slave to the Lord. Ew, a slave?? I don’t like the sound of that. Well, too bad. We are bound to something whether or not we like it. But, I think I would much rather be a slave to the Lord. When He is our master the Bible says our yoke is easy and our burden is light. However, Romans 6 cautions us against taking the easy road.

The easy thing to do once we have recognized God’s unending grace and mercy is to continue going on sinning. Why? Because we are not under the law, but under grace! However, even as slaves of the Lord we are called to obey.

16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

-Romans 6: 16-23

I once heard someone say it this way: The reason we find it so difficult to follow the Lord is because we can’t imagine what it would be like for someone to be “over us” as our master and have our best interest in mind. The only thing that we get from living in sin, apart from God, and those things that we are ashamed of, is death. What do we gain from obeying the Lord and living in righteousness? Eternal life!

That is the gospel. However, the gospel should not bring about “behavior changes.” It should bring about a heart change that ultimately turns your heart towards obedience, and leads to righteousness and holiness.

The problem is that Satan still can gain footholds in our lives in those areas that we allow him to. Whether that is grades, relationships, or in my pursuit for perfection; he can use any good thing for a sinful desire. It is an ongoing battle.

89 Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
91 Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
94 Save me, for I am yours;
I have sought out your precepts.
95 The wicked are waiting to destroy me,
but I will ponder your statutes.
96 To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.”

– Psalm 119: 89-96

Father, thank you for loving us enough to give us your laws so that we can know the way to live, and so that we can recognize our sin. Thank you for being faithful to forgive our shortcomings, and for sending your Son to meet that standard that I can’t meet. Lord, I delight in you and I am so glad that you have rescued me and have saved me from perishing in my sin. I pray that I would not be limited by pursuing earthly perfection, but that I would find joy in obeying your commands. Amen.

Confessions of a Christian Bully

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The other night I was asked to share my testimony and I was a little caught off guard, so I bounced around my story and I shared little tid-bits of what God has taught me throughout my life, but I avoided what I’m going through right now; mostly because I was still kind of in the middle of it.

This semester, I have been more intentional about praying every night and getting in His Word than I have in a long time, and what’s frustrating is I’ve still never felt farther from Him. So, I increased my bible time. I increased the amount of worship services I go to. I lead worship at the BCM, just hoping that I’ll feel His Spirit again. And for a while, I haven’t. I didn’t know what was wrong. I thought I was sincere in everything, so I didn’t understand why I felt like His presence had left me.

I’ve been noticeably in this dry place for almost two months now. But those close to me probably didn’t know it. I still think that God has been faithful to use me and continue to speak to me through His Word, but I can’t really say that I have felt His presence.

Until Saturday night, when God finally took the scales from my eyes to show me what He had been teaching me through this time.

I love the lost… I can love non Christians all day. But I have to admit to you that some of the people in my life who annoy me the most are Christians. I thought I was doing a good job of keeping that to myself. Then, in two days’ time, multiple people confronted me about the way I had noticeably played a role in making them (or others) feel in a negative way.

The first person spoke to me Friday, and I didn’t respond too well. Honestly, I was pretty sure she was wrong. I really didn’t want to pursue a relationship there, and I was pretty sure she just needed to get her head on straight and realize how nice I am.

The second one though…. It was Saturday night and I got a huge slap in the face. Actually, no one really said anything to me when it hit me. I just had this feeling wash over me of shame, and guilt, and I really felt like I was too deep in to even fix it. I really just wanted to run away. I curled up in a ball, pulled my blankets over my head, buried my face in my hands, and wept.

I cried a lot, until I didn’t have any tears left, and I shouted to God, “Where have you been?? How did I even get here?” I really didn’t understand how I could love Him and love others so much, and be genuinely seeking His face and reading His word, and still have ended up in a place that did not glorify Him at all. And then God told me “Caitlin, I love you. But you aren’t loving all of your Christian brothers and you know it.”

Immediately I thought of a passage in my favorite book, 1st John:

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”

1 John 2:9-11

I can remember reading that verse a while back, and being like I don’t know about that… I’ve never really experienced where my relationship with other people can affect my relationship with God.

However, for the last two months (maybe even longer at this point who even knows) that is where I have been. But I was blinded. I didn’t even see where I was going or what I was doing because I was in the darkness (how scary is that?). I’m just thankful that He is faithful to forgive. So that we can forgive ourselves, and others can forgive us.

Up until this point, I’ve been keeping my relationship with God and my relationships with others separate, but that really is not how it is supposed to be. According to Ephesians 4, there is a very direct correlation between how we treat our Christian bothers and sisters (the body of Christ) and our maturity in faith.

15Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work…

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin:” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Ephesians 4: 15, 16, 25-32

Honestly, this has been huge for me. For a while, whenever I would read scriptures like these, or my closer friends and mentors would point out what I was doing, I would just blow them off. I knew the truth but the devil had a huge foothold in my life: annoyance. I allowed myself to blow people off because they were annoying me. I would say, “I love that person, I really do, but they just annoy me, I don’t know why.”

Do you know why they annoyed me? For no good reason at all except that I believed the lies that Satan told me about them. Lies such as:

  • She thinks she’s better than you
  • He isn’t worth your time
  • He doesn’t speak to you, so he probably hates you
  • She is too weird
  • He just tries too hard
  • She is too similar to you

Now all I want to do is apologize to everyone that I have hurt, and tell you that I love you so much. Genuinely, I do. God has given me that love because clearly it’s not a natural thing for me. But 1 John 4 clearly tells me that loving my Christian brothers and sisters is the most important thing, not only in my personal relationship with Christ, but in my ministry to non Christians.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

1 John 4:7-12

Thank you Lord for sending your Son to die for my sins. Thank you for loving me, and teaching me (the hard way) about how loving others effects my relationship with you. Thank you for your forgiveness. Thank you for continuing to teach me and make me complete in You. Amen.

Romancing

romantic

So can we just talk about romance here for a second.

I was reading a book called “Captivating” the other day, by John and Stasi Eldredge (and by that I mean I only got through about the first 30 pages…. I’m not much of a reader). It’s a book about the desires of a woman’s heart and how the Lord designed us, and sometimes I kind of liked it, but other times it just made me feel… I don’t know, weird and I didn’t like it. I don’t think that’s the way this book is supposed to make me feel… and who knows, maybe it would have gotten to a good point later in the book, but I didn’t really care to find out.

For most of the book (I mean, the small portion I sampled), Stasi talks about her love story with John. How special he made her feel and how it felt so nice to feel wanted. And all I kept thinking was “Well, ‘Stasi’ that must be nice. Must be nice for you.” But I’m not bitter.

While Stasi is unpacking what “the heart of a woman” looks like she discusses our need to feel rescued, wanted, romanced. To which I said, “Wrong again, Stase! I do NOT need no man to ‘rescue’ me, ok? Like no, I am just fine here thanks very much.” And then again, sometimes it would be nice if some big muscle-y man would just swoop in and pick me up (which would be interesting, I feel like I gained some weight over the holidays), and whisk me away to some faraway place (preferably a castle, if not we can just stay in my dorm at NKU).

But seriously, when I was reading, I was thinking like yes, I want to be married some day and I want to submit (ooh scary) to my husband and I want to be a Proverbs 31 woman. I want so much more than just to be “romanced.”

But then, I got to thinking about what my past relationships and almost-relationships have looked like. There wasn’t all that much “romancing.” I would just show up, he would be there, we’d talk, exchange numbers, maybs hang out some, probs kiss a little, and then he’d be gone before things got too serious. I have a history full of almosts and yes, regrets.

When people ask me how my semester went I tell them about classes, my grades, my new job and my wonderful friends. And when they ask about my love life (usually expecting an interesting story, I used to have all kinds of good stories to tell), I laugh and jokingly say, “Nah, nothing exciting. No one loves me.” And it is technically true… there is not a boy here right now who is in love with me.

And if my romantic relationships with earthly men were any indication of the way God feels about us, then I would understand why we shut him out. But the good news is that he loves us so incredibly, unbelievably, irresistibly much that he could never and would never treat you as poorly as some people on earth have treated you.

Recently, someone asked me about my love life, and I used my stock joke saying with a laugh, “oh, no one loves me.” And something happened. I have only heard God audibly a handful of times, but this time was one of my personal favorites. In a loud whisper I heard him say, “Caitlin… You can’t say that…. I love you. SO much.”

The greatest love story, the most wonderful romance of all time, is between us and our God. He always has your best interest in mind, and he never intends to hurt you. He intends to grow you, strengthen you, and help you become the person he created you to be. All because of how intensely he loves you.

Have you ever read John 3:16? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not parish but have eternal life.” If you grew up in church you have it memorized. I’ve heard it so many times that if I ever happen to be reading that part of scripture I probably skip over it… but then I was listening to a Podcast (yes, it’s hip these days) by Judah Smith, a preacher from Seattle.

He spoke of this verse in a way I’d never thought of it before. You see, this verse says “For God so loved the world.” Right off the bat we see that it isn’t about how much we love God, but about how much he loves us and he SO loves us.  We could never love him enough to thank him for what he’s done for us, and we could never love him enough to deserve what he was done for us, but he SO loves us. He loves us so much that he sent his son to die for our sins. Because of Jesus, we can be forgiven, and we can gain eternal life.

But in the way we understand relationships, we think “No way, this can’t be good. God, I cannot hold up my end of the deal here. I need to fix myself up before we can get into this relationship. I’ve got all kinds of stuff to fix, and then we can be together, but I am not a good person. This will not be healthy for you if we get into this right now.” But that’s just it, God knew we wouldn’t hold up our end of the deal. He knew we couldn’t fix ourselves on our own. That is why he sent his own son to live a perfect life and die for our sins. Because we couldn’t do it, so God made a way for us that leads to forgiveness.

So, remember earlier when I said I didn’t need a man to rescue me….. Well the truth is I do. I need Jesus. I can’t do this life on my own, because I need Jesus. Have you ever felt like everything is going wrong? Your grades are sucking, your work sucks, your friends are boring, and nothing can make you feel better. I’ve been there, I have. And the only thing that ever makes it any better is when I think about how God loves me. He so loves me. Things will get better because His plan is better than mine, and all things work to the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

It sounds weird. It actually sounds crazy…. But that’s because it is. God SO loves you. So what do you say?