My aunt died last night...

My Aunt Shana died of cancer last night. She's been struggling with this for two long years. We went to the hospital to see her Saturday. She couldn't even move, speak, or even open her eyes. All she could do was hear us say we love her. She would try to talk to us, but you couldn't make out what she was saying. Even at death's door, Heidi Klum would be jealous. My aunt was so beautiful, God's closest thing to perfect.
I have never been so close to death before and actually understood it. Her breath was shallow, her abdomen swollen from the tumor, she couldn't see or speak or move. She was being fed through a tube. Her husband and 4 children were all tired of crying. My uncle said, "God bless her, she fought the good fight, that she did."
April, her oldest daughter, was in Rome. She had to fly home early when she got the news and rushed to the hospital. She brushed her mother's hair and six minutes later my aunt died.
It seems so unfair. Why her, God? She's never said a mean word in her life! Why her family, God? Her youngest isn't even married yet....Why couldn't You let her live to see him happy? Why not let a murderer die in her place? Why, why, why?
I don't see how anything good could come out of something so terrible...death so close...hearts so broken. But I don't see a lot of things. I can be at peace because God sees everything. Aunt Shana is with God right now, in paradise, free from the cancer that plagued her before. She's free. And I'm going to see her again, I know. It doesn't heal the wound completely, but it makes you feel a little better.
So, what does death mean for us? To be honest, I am scared of death, of pain and of feeling myself shut down, of coming to the end of the road. As a Christian, you might think that you're not supposed to be scared of death. Don't. It's OK to be scared, just remember where you find life. God doesn't fade away, so when you give your life to Him, it's in good hands. It can't ever fade and you'll have it forever.
"We do not want you to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again so we believe that God will bring with jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him." - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." - Revelation 21:4


Got Wisdom?

Wisdom is hard to define. It's not just knowledge or "smartability", but it's something more. The dictionary defines a knowledgable person as "one who knows a lot about something". But wisdom is said to be "one of four back teeth which grow when you are an adult" and "intelligence/common sense".
Now, wisdom is a lot different from being a wise guy, a "person who pretends to know more than anyone else". Bragging, being a know-it-all, or pretending to be wise really isn't wise at all. In Ecclesiastes, the writer totally denies earthly wisdom as amounting to anything. In fact, he curses it. Only wisdom from God lasts, and only He can give real wisdom.
Read James 3:13 with me.
"Are there those among you who are truly wise and understanding? Then they should show it by living right and doing good things with a gentleness that comes from wisdom."
Whoa, hold up. I have to prove that I'm wise by living right and doing good things? And believe me, God, my wisdom isn't always gentle. So now what do I do?
"But if you are selfish and have bitter jealousy in your hearts, do not brag. Your bragging is a lie that hides the truth. That kind of 'wisdom' does not come from God but from the world. It is not spiritual; it is from the devil." (v14-15)
Wait, I thought wisdom was truth, not lies! You're right, wisdom is made up of things that are true. That's what real wisdom is! Truth! The living Truth! Wisdom isn't being smarter than everyone else, and it isn't acing your grades or even knowing the Table of Elements or whatever those funky science ABCs are.
Some scientists are so wrapped up in finding the "truth" that they've lost sight of it all together. It's standing right before them, but they refuse to look in the right direction. Jesus is truth; God is truth. God invented truth and wisdom, therefore he is the source of all wisdom and the source of all truth. We can't fool ourselves into thinking we are so wise, because the only true wisdom we have comes from our Father.
"Where jealousy and selfishness are, there will be confusion and every kind of evil." (v16)
Read that again, out loud. It's a super important verse.
Do you see what I'm getting at? When we search for wisdom and truth apart from God, in order to bring glory to ourselves, "there will be confusion and every kind of evil". Whatever we find out on our own is false and dangerous. We can't be wise if we are confused. So if we do anything to prove ourselves better than God or prove we don't need Him, we fail miserably, and the whole world is watching.
So how can we get real wisdom without getting into trouble?
"But the wisdom that comes from God is first of all pure, then peaceful, gentle, and easy to please. This wisdom is always ready to help those who are troubled and to do good for others. It is always fair and honest. People who work for peace in a peaceful way plant a good crop of right-living." (v17-18)


A Really Big Deal

Often we take sin lightly. "I know I did this, but I’ll do better next time, right? Besides, it’s just a little sin. It won’t hurt anybody."
The truth is: even the tiniest sins are a huge deal. And the more you sin, the easier it will be to sin even "bigger" next time (same with lying) and do something you’ll really regret later.
When Jesus was up on the cross with all of the world’s sins on his shoulders (that’s the sins of the Roman soldiers, the Jews, King Henry VIII, Mother Theresa, Hitler, Zac Effron, and YOUR sins), God turned His face away. God just couldn’t look at that much sin in one person, even if that person was His Son, Himself. God hates sin, so that makes it a really big deal.
Luke 22:34 – "But Jesus said, ‘Peter, before the rooster crows this day, you will say three times that you don’t know me.’"
Now read out loud with me Luke 54-62. (Go ahead, read it. We can sit here all day.) Can we summarize that story?
Random Woman: "Hey, aren’t you the one who hangs out with Jesus?"
Peter: "Jesus who?"
Weird Guy: "Yeah, you’re like his groupie or stalker or somethin’!"
"Groupie? I don’t even know the guy. And stalker? That’s kinda creepy…"
Superstitious Man: "You’re one of them."
Peter: "MAN, I am NOT!" (To get the full effect, say it with a surfer accent, stressing the "man"-ness.) Ooh, self-denial.
"AT ONCE, while Peter was still speaking, a rooster crowed." (Luke 22:60b)
Peter didn’t say, "Stupid rooster! What is he yapping about?" Oh no, Peter got the message immediately. It’s like if you did a really bad sin (3 times!) and right in the middle of it, a siren goes off. "SINNER ALERT! SINNER ALERT!" He couldn’t deny that.
Here’s the biggie: the heart-wrenching, oh no what have I done moment. I’m so incredibly sorry! I wish I could take it all back! I’d give anything!

"Then the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter." (v61)

Can you imagine…you’ve just denied your relationship with Jesus – with God! – and he turns to look your in the eye? He’s being whipped and is in tormenting pain…but he picks you out of all the faces and focuses on just you…looks at your directly with the most sorrowful eyes ever…. Can you image? Your Savior, your KING, has just died for you…and you deny it all? And He cares so much about you that all the pain is forgotten in that one still moment where it’s just you and Jesus.

I’m sorry, Lord. I am so, so sorry.

"Then Peter went outside and cried painfully." (v62)

Peter didn’t take his sin lightly. He knew exactly how terrible it was, and we was sorry. Not just the half-hearted, grumpy "sorry" that your little brother gives you, but a real, true, genuine apology.

Right now, as you’re sitting here imagining Jesus’ perfect face, imagine Jesus looking into YOUR eyes like he looked at Peter. Give Him an honest apology and be completely broken by Him. Ask God to show you any sin in your life that is breaking His heart. God will forgive you and give you the strength to change.

The happy ending? Peter and Jesus made up. They both were so close to each other and loved each other so much that not even sin could separate them anymore. Jesus forgave Peter, and Peter continued to be His faithful servant.
You have a happy ending with Jesus, too. In fact, your happy ending is just beginning.


The Outsiders

When you go to school tomorrow, take a look around you. What do you see? I bet there are some pretty interesting people out there that you see every day. What about that girl with the bad reputation? Or the guy with the bad complexion? Or that small group that dresses, well, like weirdos and walk around looking self-absorbed? They're the outsiders who make us feel uncomfortable.

But do we just write them off? Isaiah 42:3 describes an outsider as a "bruised weed" and a "smoldering wick". Neither sounds nice, and neither is of much use. God is telling us that people whom society sees as worthless are really important to God. He created them. He knows their hearts.

This school year, try to look at the "outsiders" at school with Christ's eyes, and reach out to them.


So I Am Happy

"So I am happy, and I will continue to be happy. Because you are praying
for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ is helping me, I know this trouble will
bring my freedom. I expect and hope that I will not fail Christ in anything but
that I will have the courage now, as always, to show the greatness of Christ in
my life here on earth, whether I live or die. To me the only important
thing about living is Christ." Paul in Philippians 1:18-21


Being Utterly Simple

"I know you might think that's boring, but I think it's the boring stuff that I
remember the most." - Russel, the kid from Pixar's movie UP

I hate being bored. Doesn't everybody? I mean, there are a million productive things we could do, and yet none of them seem worth any effort. We'd rather mope around all day.

But the truth is: everything we experience becomes part of our life. Imagine your experiences as the fabric of your life. All the threads are different colors, and alone they would be drab, but together they weave everything we've learned, and that's beautiful.

"The real test of friendship is: Can you literally do nothing with the other
person? Can you enjoy together those moments of life that are utterly simple?
They are the moments people look back on at the end of life and number as their
most sacred experiences." - Eugene Kennedy

Do you have a friendship (or relationship with boyfriend/girlfriend/parent) like that? Do you consider that relationship special? Honestly, I don't see why my friends adore me like they do. ;) I mean, we do some pretty cool stuff, but often we just sit around doing nothing. And yet, it doesn't make me value our friendship any less. In fact, I find that just being in the prescence of someone I love is special, no matter what we're doing.

The big question...
Is our relationship with God like that? Are there moments in my relationship with God where I can just "chill" or "hang" with Him? Imagine you and your best friend sitting on my bed just enjoying being with each other -- now imagine that best friend as Jesus!

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there is a time for everything. So we know there's a time to pray and read our Bible and tell our friends about Jesus and go on mission trips -- because all those things are great. But there's also a time for just relaxing, resting, and enjoying simply being in God's presence. Sometimes I get frustrated in the silence. But ya know what? The silence is special. It's special because it's me and God just chilling with each other. We don't have to do anything. You could enjoy the silence as God's way of clearing your mind; or you could listen to His voice. Just be still, be patient, be quiet. God does speak to people and He will speak to YOU!


Getting ready for church...

I love my church. I know some people get really bored during church, and I guess I sometimes do, but I have an awesome youngish pastor with silver hair who makes weird vocalizations during his sermons and it keeps you awake. His wife is amazing, beautiful in and out, with 3 precious little kids.
My mom leads worship and I sing in the praise band. It's really fun to get to do something together with her like that, especially something that serves the Lord.
Church is my chance to dress up. Ok, so I used to refuse to wear anything but jeans to church, but I have changed my ways. I get to wear dresses or skirts, slacks, and nice blouses all from Macy's. I know, I know, it may seem vain, to look forward to church as a time to be ultra-chic, but it's how I express myself.
I'm involved in nursery as well as the praise band. I used to be involved with the AWANA program as well, but we only had that running for 2 years. Next year we may start up again. I acted in skits and stuff every week.
My dad runs the children's ministry. He's got a blog with most of the skits he's written. They're really good, so check it out.
Our church is reallyreallyreally small, but it means everyone knows each other really well. We're getting a new building soon; they're working on putting up walls and stuff. It's going to be awesome!
Ah, youth group! Me and my friend Hannah make up the youth group, and her mom is the youth leader. So that can show you the size of our church. We're going to get a lot more kids soon, though, when we move into our new building.
So, that's my church, in a nutshell. I guess this was my way of thanking God for all the wonderful people He's put in my life...and I'd like to hear about yours. So, what's your church like? Who inspires you? Does your pastor make weird facial expressions? I wanna know! Post a comment.


Why the World Hates Christians

Why does the world hate Christians so much? It’s hard to understand. Here are the answers to clear things up.

- Christians aren’t controlled by the media. We live by different standards. When the media dominates the world, it can change our political views, our faith (or lack thereof), our fashions, what we believe about sex, and more. Christians are people who choose not to live by the media’s standards but instead by God’s holy standards. Since we don’t have to be controlled by the media, the media doesn’t like us.

"If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is what the world hates you." (John 15:19)

- Christians live for a greater purpose. We as Christians live for God. Our purpose is to glorify Him in everything we do. The world teaches us that we have no greater purpose; that we are here to seize the fleeting joys of money, sin, and sex, trampling on other people to make our way to the top, if only for a second. But is the world’s "top" really where we want to be? Because Heaven is a whole lot higher.

"If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing." –Jesus, from John 8:54

- Christians go to Heaven. This paradise is beyond anything we’ve ever imagined. Nothing is better than living with our Creator and Savior for eternity! There is no sin in Heaven, so it’s perfect. The world tells us that Heaven is just a dream. They teach us that life doesn’t get any better than this – well, Hell – we’re living, so we might as well go with the world’s flow because it’s all we have. But that’s not true! We have something more to look forward to.

"They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one." (Hebrews 11:13,16)

- Christians live for a higher authority. God is the final judge, the final king. What He says goes for us. We are to respect the laws our worldly leaders make for us, but if they contradict the laws God has made for us, we are to use God’s Word as our final authority.

- Christians can do the impossible – with God’s help! God tells us if we have enough faith, we could even move mountains if it would benefit God’s kingdom! There are countless true stories where miracles have been preformed by God’s people – that includes YOU! Jesus did tons of miracles in His life on earth. Check out Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (the Gospels) for 4 different accounts of His miraculous, world-changing, revolutionary life!

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (1 Philippians 4:13)

For what other reasons does the world hate Christians? Do you think it is somehow good for us that the world hates us? Why or why not? Which is more powerful – a sinful kingdom or God’s kingdom? Feel free to post a comment telling me what your ideas are.


Can He Hear Me?

Have you ever felt like something that's really important to you isn't important to God? Like, if you struggle with your self-image. There are starving kids in Africa, so how could God be concerned with how you look? For me right now, it's the death of pets. That issue is really close to my heart, but it seems so small compared to the wars in the East. God couldn't possibly have time for something so small as a kitten.
I've tried to live my entire life as a prayer. I try to pray constantly, silently to myself about things that just happened. While I like it, at the same time, I get disappointed a lot. I pretty much like how I look, but some days you just feel down, ya know? On those days, when I look in the mirror and don't like what I see, I think about taking it to God -- but then I don't bother. He's too busy for that kind of stuff. I mean, what matters is the inside, right?
I get frustrated with math a lot. I mean, every day. Even when I understand it, it's just too much: too much to handle, too time-consuming, too hard. But why take it to God? He wouldn't listen. He wouldn't understand. He doesn't have to wake up to hours of math every morning while still trying to recover from bedhead, morning breath, and sleepless nights.
But I think that I sometimes picture God in the wrong way. He can help me cope with loss -- while guiding the persecuted Christians in China. He does care about my appearance and what I think about myself -- just as much as he cares about someone with a terminal disease. He will help me get through math, while at the same time healing those suffering from more traumatic happenings. He's a real-life Superman with absolutely no weaknesses -- He's everywhere all at once and cares about me just as much as he cares about the King of England or Billy Grahm or the President or more imporant people than me. I'm His Creation and He cherishes me. When I gave my heart to Him, my cares became His, my worries became His worries, my sorrows now His.
This is something all of us need to realize and be reminded of. It's something you can take home and really work into your daily life. Cast all your cares, worries, and sorrows on God. You belong to Him. You are His cherished creation, and He will ALWAYS be with you.


I could use some prayer...

Living in the country, things get eaten often. One of our young cats (the sweetest cat ever, more like a dog actually) didn't come to the barn to be fed today. I looked all around our property but there's no sign of him. I know I seem like a little girl, asking you to pray for a cat, but this is what's on my heart right now and...yeah. It would break my heart to think of him hurting, lost, or in someone's belly. If you could pray that he comes back home, that'd be great. Ugh. I'm such a little girl, but this is important to me.



Chosing the Healthy Choice

Did you know – the longer you eat healthy foods, the easier it is to resist a hamburger? Did you know – the longer you stick with God, the easier it is to resist sin?
With the busy lifestyle many people have today, sometimes we forget to take it easy and do something good for ourselves. You’re on the go a lot. You have places to be, people to see (and, of course, you’re texting 24/7).
A hectic lifestyle really takes its toll on your health when it comes to food. Some people cram so much into their day that they don’t have time to sit and eat a home-cooked meal with their family. Fast food is easy and inexpensive because it’s typically made with cheap ingredients, like high-fat meat and other content with unhealthy fats and cholesterol. According to The State of Our Nation’s Youth, 7 out of 10 students say having a good meal means eating something cooked at home, not eating out or bringing fast food or take-out home. So this means that even though we have a better option (eating at home), many people still choose to take the easier option, even if it may cost them in the long run.
It’s the same thing with faith. So many people know that there’s something more to life, but they take the easy route (a life without God) even though it will cost them in the long run. Just like the fat of yesterday’s French fries will stick with you (you know what I mean!), sin sticks to us and stays with us unless we live our lives for God.
Instead of going the easy – but unhealthy – route, why not make 2 changes in your life, starting today?
1. Eat more home-cooked meals around the dinner table with your family.
2. Chose God over your other options in your day to day life.

In 2 weeks, tell me – in the Comments or Chat Box – how you’ve been sticking to those changes and what the results have been. Like good home-cooked meals nourish our body, a good Christian life nourishes the soul.


Mountain of God

My iPod was on shuffle and happened to land on a song I hadn't heard before. The words jumped out at me. What they sang was so true! I just had to share it with you.
Third Day's song Mountain of God says, "I must go through the valley to stand upon the mountain of God."
Isn't that so cool? Whenever you're in a low point in your life (a valley), if you follow God's path for your life, you reach the mountain of God (a high point in your life). Believe it or not, God doesn't just give you three strikes and you're out. He continues to offer forgiveness again and again. He continues to guide you even though you've screwed up many times before. He longs for you to be near Him.
"Even though the journey’s long
And I know the road is hard...
Well, the One who’s gone before me
He will help me carry on
After all that I’ve been through
Now I realize the truth
that I must go through the valley
to stand upon the mountain of God."

We've talked before about trials and tough times in your life and what they amount to in the end. It's not just mumbo-jumbo; people actually change when they face trials. Some of them handle it better than others. When you're in a rough spot, you have a choice. Will you continue to live in sin, following a path that leads nowhere, and eventually die, never having made it out of the valley? Or will you rise above your challenges and become stronger, change your course and follow God's path, the narrow path that leads to eternal life (the mountain of God)? It's your choice.
"Thought that I was all alone
Broken and afraid
But You were there with me
Yes, You were there with me
And I didn’t even know
That I had lost my way
But You were there with me
Yes, You were there with me
‘Til You opened up my eyes
I never knew
That I couldn’t ever make it
Without You

1. Can you think of names for some of the "valleys" you've been through? What decisions led you to be there? Or were they out of your hands?
2. If you have been on the Mountain of God (having a deep relationship with Him) what choices led you away from Him and back down into the valley?
3. What is keeping you right now from reaching the mountain of God?
4. Ask a Christian adult that you admire what it was like when he/she had an exteremely close relationship with God. Did the relationship die quickly? Or is it still going?
5. What can you do so that you will never leave the mountain of God?

Thirsty for more of the song? Click here for the complete lyrics, and be sure to check out Third Day's Mountain of God on iTunes!