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[Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." -Jeremiah 1:5]

"Isn't it reassuring to know that God has a plan for us, just as he did for Jeremiah? Not only does God know the number of hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30), but he also knows the purpose he has for our life and for the people our life will touch.

    Can we imagine a bleaker picture than the opposite-that we are here by random chance and will die and dissolve back into the nothingness from which we came? According to this perspective, the universe has no purpose and no plan; it exists in cold indifference.

    Some physicists predict the universe will perish in one of two ways. Either the density of the universe will not be enough to sustain its expansion, causing it to collapse, or the universe will expand forever, causing all matter (down to the molecular level) to eventually disappear. Both scenarios predict a universe that dies with the same purposelessness with which it was born. In this theory of the universe, a human life has equal purposelessness. If life ends when we die and our soul does not live on, we are truly insignificant.

    However, God offers us something different: life with purpose. One of these purposes is to have a personal relationship with him that honors him and gives him glory (Deuteronomy 14:1-2; Isaiah 43:7,20-21). We can even be assured that the difficult times in life are not without purpose (Romans 8:17, 28).

    Although God's plans for us may not seem as grand as those God created Jeremiah for, God has important plans for our lives, TOO. Everything that happens, from our birth to death, is part of his grand design. We were not born of chance but of intention. Far from meaningless, our lives are instead rich in significance. So, as the Lord told Jeremiah, "Get yourself ready!" (Jeremiah 1:17)."
-Lee Strobel (emphasis added)

 
 
[I hope you all had a wonderful, family and friend-filled Thanksgiving. Though we should be thankful 365 days of the year, I do appreciate gathering together for the specific purpose of thanksgiving.]

If my title attracted you, maybe you’re a lot like me. I have always claimed to have an awful memory. Most times, I lived up to this claim! I’m sure many people in my life would gladly share stories with you of my forgetfulness. I’ve accepted this as “who I am” and have willingly used it as an excuse. 
Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right
You’ve heard that one before, but isn’t it true? If you actually take time to study the human brain, we are capable of SO much more than we are currently doing. I’ve learned about this, but it’s so much easier to apply to someone else’s life…certainly not my own!

I mentioned the James Bible study a few weeks ago. In this study, Beth Moore gave 5 levels/challenges for the study. The fifth and most difficult was to memorize the book of James. As she said this, the rapid beat of my heart and the prompting of the Holy Spirit convinced me I needed to do this. You see, two-ish years ago, Duncan and I committed to memorizing the book of James. Let’s just say…we started. We’ve attempted a few more times. But I think I allowed myself to let it slide because of my “bad memory.”

But sometimes, you just get a little fire in you and decide that enough is enough. It’s time to take on the challenge!

 
Here’s James Chapter 1:

So bare with me...it's definitely not perfect!

Beth Moore has a strategy for memorizing that I tried to follow. She uses an acronym with the word “abide.” AH! I was a little giddy when I saw this part of the challenge, too. If you have “favorite words” like I do, you’ll understand what I mean.

“Abide” resonates deeply with me. I think of John 15. I think of remaining with Christ and walking with Him through whatever life may bring. I think of the Holy Spirit whispering this word to me time and time again. I just love this word. Abide.

…And what better word for memorizing scripture than this one? It’s perfect. 

So here it is: 
A = Ask. Ask God for the ability to memorize and to have His living Word in us. He wants to give it to us. When we memorize, the mind is captive to Christ.
B – Believe. Believe you can do it! In the captivated mind we find a power we never knew was possible. God’s Word is set up for memory work.
I – Increase. Increase the portion you are memorizing each week. When memorizing chapters, you must treat them differently than verses. She recommends printing out one chapter at a time and laminating it. Set goals that work for you. Don’t leave it open-ended, and be willing to extend the goal if you need to. Plan on one chapter per month, several verses per week. The first week you will memorize several verses, then the next week you will review the previous verses while memorizing a few more.
D – Determine. Determine to set a time every day to practice. Practicing requires discipline. She practices while exercising, setting her page in front of her on the treadmill.
E – Enjoy it! Even if you don’t get every single word, the Word is accomplishing something in you. The Word sets us free when our thoughts get caught in the muck.

To you with the bad memory, I hope you find this encouraging. You can change!! Praise God for that!

 
 
I stumbled across this blog a couple weeks ago and found some valuable marriage advice. But today, there is a message for everyone. For you! Read her blog and watch the humbling video, and I know you'll be blessed because of it.
From Joy:

"..Sharing brokenness with one another is a gift. 

By showing our brokenness to one another Jesus and His power can more clearly shine through. When we keep it to ourselves, try to clean up our story, our sin, and only show our beauty to one another, that is what they see.

Our beauty. Beauty that is man-made and hollow.

But when we take the brave step of sharing our ugliness, our pain, our broken pieces, then His beauty can shine through, and it is truly beautiful.

He gets the glory of a life redeemed. Not us..."

 
 
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What goes through your mind as your eyes scan these pictures?

There were many things I wanted to write about today...but I'm just going to keep it simple:
Picture 1: Handwriting & memorizing the entire book of James
Picture 2: Same as picture one with the addition of necessary caffeine ;)
Picture 3: Notes from one of my bible studies

Why am I showing you this? Well, I've been studying the book of James with a group of wise ladies from the church. We started back in September and we're wrapping up next week. So you're thinking, "and...you're point?"

I realized the more I study & learn, the more I become hungry to study & learn!  These pictures may look overwhelming, or it may remind you of homework, but they remind me of my past few months wrestling with God's Word.

It has NOT been easy. Read a few lines from James, and you'll understand what I mean. Many times I've opened the Word feeling a little insecure about my lack of knowledge  & wisdom. 
But, James says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt..." As I've been doing this study, I've been learning to ask for wisdom in it, and thanking God in advance, knowing he will give it.

I'm excited to continue studying like this, even when this bible study is over.
 There is so much to learn and God is always ready to fill our lives with His truth, but first we must throw ourselves in it!

I hope you'll open the Word, immerse yourself in it, and see for yourself how God works in your life because of it!
 
 
We’ve been talking a lot about community. Duncan talked a little about what it is, what it looks like. He keeps referring to Acts 2:42-47 and “the fellowship of the believers.” Have you looked at it? Because…you should. 

Do you remember what truly creates community? A common bond, focus, or purpose. Ours is Jesus Christ and without Him we would not be pursuing community at all. In fact, I wouldn't even be typing this blog for you right now. So, JC is what brings us together. The Holy Spirit is what works within us as we meet, allowing us to grow. If we know Jesus, then we have that in common. Our meeting together is not in vain—it has purpose.

I was thinking about this community. Not just in our specific church, but everywhere I've been. It flourishes when people are devoted. Devoted to prayer, to studying God’s word, and to each other. In our youth group it grows when we come every week, when we're actively involved, when we're seeking friendship with each other, and when we desire to know God more.

But what are things that break this up? That stop it from growing?

One that I’ve come across on a personal level is FEAR. Fear separates. It shrivels us down to a pile of mush, unable to do anything. Let me explain.

I've had a fear of friendship. That sounds weird, right? Well, my fear has been the vulnerability that comes with friendship. What do I mean by this? Well, the idea of being truly known by people, allowing people to see the good AND bad. I've been consumed with what they think of me and wanting more than anything to be the perfect, friendly, relatable person. But deep down I was afraid to truly get close to anyone. They might just see that there's really nothing to me. That I'm not all that fun. That I'm pretty boring to be around after awhile. They might just see that I really don't have it all together.

So, naturally this fear kept me from becoming “too” close to anyone. I had plenty of friendships. Some went deeper than others…but few knew the depths of me. There were very few that I felt comfortable with…comfortable enough to share the good, the bad, and the U-G-L-Y with.

Do you ever feel like this? Do you have days where you desire deep, intimate, God-centered relationships? These are the kind that are rich, that have depth. They are real to the core. I have felt like this a lot.

Not only have I desired them, I have also witnessed intimate relationships such as these. For example, Duncan has many friends. But he has some that are just different. I have seen them laugh together, pray together, cry together (VERY manly tears of course). They confront each other in love. They talk about what God is doing in their lives, what He’s teaching them. They talk about their struggles instead of covering them up. They rejoice together. They celebrate each other. They are intentional. They also have more fun & laughter than most people I know.

Have you seen this before?? Seeing their friendship reinforced my desire for deep-rooted friendships. I long for them.

But.

I have realized and come face-to-face with what’s keeping me from these. I keep myself from these authentic relationships because I’m fearful. I care too much what others think.

All while I think I’m “appearing” a certain way to people, I’m missing out on the richness of true, intimate relationships.

Let me tell you something. This fear that I have, and whatever fear you may have, is a lie. Did you hear me? It’s a LIE. Satan wants nothing more than to keep us from living a life in the fullness and FREEDOM of Jesus Christ.

As I asked a friend to pray for me, I’ll share with you her wise response:

"I will be praying against Satan's attacks of fear against you in regard to relationships. I know he puts that there to keep you from experiencing Jesus' love through others. So, just know and trust that Jesus WANTS that for you. There is no room for fear in His name and Satan can just get out of here! :) I've definitely experienced similar fears and it takes a lot to let go of them and overcome them, but it's always so neat and humbling to see the ways that the Lord helps us get to that place!"

So with that, I want to encourage you. As this community we call youth group grows, I pray that you’d ask God what’s keeping you from true friendship with others. We don’t want shallow relationships with each other. We want depth. Richness. Honesty. Authenticity. Intimacy. I pray that you won’t cover up your fears, but that you’ll lift them up in prayer. Maybe you’ll even ask your community to pray for you. Because, remember, those fears are lies. They intend on separating you from what is good. And if you do what I did (believing those fears) you will not experience God’s gift in friendships.

Thankfully, God hears our prayers and requests. There is no fear in Jesus’ name. If our main focus is Jesus, then his Spirit will unite us. And he will allow us to overcome ALL fear, no matter how great or small!

 
 
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Simpson Park Camp
I have left you hanging for awhile. Maybe you're still wondering the answer to my question: Why Jesus? Wait no further...


Why Jesus? What is it about Him that captures me so?

-I believe Jesus made Himself known to me at a young age. No matter what I filled my life with, no matter the popular friends I hung around with, the boy I liked, the image I sought after, the race I trained for, NOTHING quenched my thirst like my dear Jesus. There was a moment at the end of my senior year of high school, after chasing so many empty things, when it was as if God said: Are you done yet? Do you finally believe that nothing else will satisfy? I remember vividly crying out (literally), my heart screaming YES!!!! I get it, Jesus, I get it. 

-So, not only did Jesus make Himself known to me, He captured my heart at a young age. He desired me before I desired Him. And MORE than I desired Him. I would get a taste of his love and knowledge and become SO hungry for more.

_Why Jesus? His truth NEVER fails. He is truth. In this world of confusion and false wisdom, His truth is always absolute, always right, always the better way. I find myself craving His truth in this confusing and broken world.

-NOTHING compares to my Jesus. Not one thing. Not status. Not marriage. Not family. Not wealth. Not success. In fact, two nights ago Duncan and I were at Simpson Park Camp for the fall retreat. Late at night we sat on top of a hill looking over the camp. The full moon made everything light up. We sat there in awe of God, of his direction, of his blessings, but most of all we sat there in awe of WHO He is. Jesus satisifies and quenches every thirst. We both said that He satisfies better than marriage does, better than we as husband and wife could EVER do. That is a powerful statement. But it's true: Not even my incredible husband can compare to my first love: Jesus.

-Through Jesus, I see. There's a quote that goes something like this: I believe in God like I believe in the sun. Though I cannot see it, I can see everything else BECAUSE of it.

-Regardless of how I'm feeling, what I'm thinking, or what I'm doing, He NEVER changes. His thoughts don't change, His feelings don't. Though I wake up every day with different emotions, my God is steadfast. This means that the same things he felt toward David, Moses, Paul, He feels toward me today. He cannot change. Praise God that He isn't an emotional roller coaster like I am.

-Why Jesus? Because HE is the LIVING, TRUE, & LOVING GOD. He is not a mere thought or story created by humans. And this, He has proven.

At the Simpson Park Retreat, Brad Moss preached on Psalms 34:8. "Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him." Essentially, he dared the teens to "taste and see." He promised that they would not be disappointed. Friends, I can tell you that I have tasted and seen that THE. LORD. IS. GOOD.

Taste and See for yourself...I dare you.

 
 
My heart was heavy yesterday as I learned about the death of Rebecca Brownlee, a beautiful girl from my home town in Ohio. Two nights ago, her car flipped, taking her life. She was not a close friend, hardly an acquaintance. But I have vivid memories of her in Spanish class: she had a smile that radiated, a look that glowed. But more than any connection I had, my heart was heavy for her close friends and family. My facebook overflowed with the thoughts and prayers of all these people, most of which were asking "why?"

Death. It's the one thing that's inevitable. It's the thing that makes people question the purpose of life. It makes us spend time truly contemplating why we're here. Death hurts. Whether someone believes in God or not, losing someone just plain hurts. There is emptiness without them and I believe the more we experience this, the more we realize this world cannot be all there is.
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Last Sunday, Pastor Rick Dake gave a sermon entitled, "Why Jesus?" and I've been thinking about it ever since. He pointed out that we are so willing to talk about why we love certain restaurants, certain sports teams, etc. We are so quick to be an advertisement for these things, sharing why the food is amazing or why a specific team is best. We know all the reasons. Then he posed the question: "But why Jesus? What do you tell people when they ask you that?" It's often harder for us to express the answer to this question, or sometimes we say it's too "personal." I admit that I've fallen victim to these excuses.

Why Jesus? I've known him and followed him for quite some time, but this question still made me contemplate my true intentions. Why Jesus? Then I hear about the death of Rebecca Brownlee, and my heart is heavy. I am reminded that there is so much brokenness in this world. So, why Jesus?
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 I will respond to this question in my next blog. Until then, I'd encourage you to answer this question for yourself.
-Contemplate why we are truly here at this exact moment and time.
-Consider who Jesus is and what that means for your life.
-If you follow Jesus, why? Do you know? Do you understand?
-When the inevitable happens (death), where is or what is your hope? Do you have any? Why?

This week I finished the book of John. Read through it and consider what it means to follow Jesus. Why Jesus?