Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pushing Onward

This is going to be a short one :)

Looking forward into 2013, I see opportunity. A chance to make a difference for Jesus. When we think about this upcoming year. Let's forget the thoughts of, "What will this year bring ME?" and focus on, "What can I do this year for HIM?" This life is not about us. Do everything possible to reach those in need while there is still time. You never know what day could be your last.

Always,

Jaci

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When Bad Things Happen


Human beings like to point fingers. Especially when something horrible happens. After an earthquake, mass shooting, car accident, stock market crash, or anything else difficult; people tend to place blame. “It’s God’s fault.” “It’s because we need better gun control.” “The doctor made a mistake.” So many excuses, rationalizations, arguments. The truth is, none of those are true. The fault lies in us. Yes. Each and every one of us. It’s because we are sinful, horrible human beings. To the core. Everybody sins (Romans 3:23). Sin is the root of all evil. Evil is the father of tragedies.

Well, isn’t God in control? Shouldn’t He stop bad things from happening? God can do anything, absolutely. He knows all, He is all powerful. All day, every day. He also wanted humans to be individuals, not robots, and gave us freedom, the freedom to choose. We chose the path of sin.

We want it all—to live in a world of perfect peace and harmony, but still live in lust and lies. It just doesn’t work like that. The more sin that is in the world, the firmer Satan’s grip on it. The thing is, we hate the idea of God taking away our freedom of choice (John 3:19). So what is it that we want? Pleasure or peace? Tough one.

I mean, there is a way to get both, but not in this lifetime. Trusting Jesus as the Lord of your life, accepting his grace and mercy is the only way to get it all. You’ll still be a sinner. Every day. But Jesus’ sacrifice will wipe your slate clear and allow you to experience the perfect peace that is in Heaven. Bad things will still happen (on Earth) but you will have a guide showing you the path to glory (Isaiah 30:20-21 & 2 Corinthians 4:17).

God is so holy and pure, he cannot be in the presence of the kind of inherent evil we, as human beings, possess. And to God, sin is sin—whether it's murder or a "white" lie. That’s why he sent his perfect Son to die a painful, tortured death as a sacrifice for every single thing you and I have ever done wrong. We might not understand God’s wisdom, but He is truly good (Job 35:26). We might not be able to stop sinning, but he sacrificed it all to save us from what we deserve (Romans 5:8).

Always,
Jaci

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A New Holiday Outlook

I have a hard time with holidays. I love all of the lights, decorations, and festivities. But I have a hard time finding joy in them. Not because I'm some sort of a Grinch. I just miss my family like crazy. November and December these past few years have been darkened with pity parties rather than cheerful celebration. An empty ache of loneliness creeping inside of my chest, building up until it bursts forth into a full-blown sobfest.

The thing is, holidays, especially the Christmas Season? Not about me, believe it or not. I know, I know. Hard to grasp. News flash! Christmas. Is. About. JESUS. Woah! Who knew? It's not about gifts, it's not about carols, it's not even about family. It's supposed to be about the birth of our Lord and Savior. The human birth of the only One able to save the world from sin (like my selfishness). I should be out sharing the news with the world! Not wallowing in self pity, eating copious amounts of junk food, and watching sad movies.

The craziest part is, that empty feeling of loneliness I hold so dear to my heart during the holidays? Not nearly as horrible as the ache of a lost soul reaching out for someone to save them. There are so many hurting people out there, looking for answers. Filling up their lives with work, drinking, sports, sex, television, drugs, whatever it is that they are making the lord of their lives, but still not feeling whole. I would rather spend a lifetime of lonely Christmases than go back to a time when I didn't have the peace and love that Jesus provides.

So this Christmas, I ask that you take a moment and ask God, "What can I do for YOU this year?" I'm not saying you should quit all of the wonderful traditions that make this holiday a joyful season for you. I'm merely suggesting that we, as Christians, live a little more like Christ, and think a little less about ourselves.

If the empty ache of loneliness is touching your life, if you're searching for the only One who can bring you true peace and joy; I have good news. There is Someone who can fill that void. And there are a bunch of great places to tell you about Him. Churches in the next few weeks will be having extra services to accompany the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. Check one out. If you're in Billings, my church rocks socks and will be having services at 10a.m. Sunday the 16th and at 4p.m. Monday the 24th at West High. You should check one out. It could certainly change your life! :)

Always,
Jaci

Monday, November 26, 2012

Standing Firm

Taking a risk, as long as you are sure it is God's plan for your life? Best thing you could do. Both for your faith as well as your life in general. Some might see quitting a full time job with great benefits as idiotic. Not that I didn't have a back up, Old Navy promised they would give me as many hours as possible over the holiday season. But living on $8-ish an hour? Whew. Talk about scary! Feasible, but not terribly pleasant. So I left Verizon and prepared to buckle down on my spending for a couple of months. I applied at a few places, and immediately started getting calls to set up interviews. Confirmation that I was doing the right thing? Absolutely. Not even one week after my last day at Verizon, I got a call offering me a full-time position at the local newspaper. WHAT?!?!?!? I left a job that was completely unrelated to my college education, stepped out on a limb, and landed an opportunity to do what I went to school for? Thank you, Jesus! Amazing, truly amazing!

I realize, sometimes life gets scary. God asks us to do some pretty tough stuff, not just to test us, He really does have our best interests at heart. What is is that God is asking from you right now? To leave your job? Move? Become a missionary? Live publicly for Him? Go back to church? Witness to those around you? Give up a bad habit or addiction? He isn't asking these things of you to make your life miserable. He wants to make it fulfilling. Think about it. Is avoiding His will for your life really satisfying? Where has running away from Him gotten you? When I was in college, living my life for me, I was daily choosing to do the opposite of God's will for my life. Living for the moment, doing what I wanted, ignoring the quiet knocking at my heart. It was miserable. I didn't know it then. I thought I was having fun. Parties, boys, friends. I was on top of the world. But when I was alone, I was sad. Just sad. I spent all of my time trying to ignore my misery. Constantly texting, calling, cyberstalking everyone I knew; all to distract myself from how utterly alone I was. No amount of drinking, schoolwork, social interaction could bring joy. There would be moments of happiness, snippets of fun. Laughing at a party with a friend, but the moment they left I would look around. See the stains on the carpets at the hockey house, empty bottles, vacant stares, sticky everything. Stumbling, crying, puking. Walking in on a "friend" having sex with the guy I was seeing in a bathroom. More crying, driving home, waking up wondering how I got there. The moments of pleasure were not worth the horrible feelings of regret and loneliness. Avoiding God does nothing but make life harder to navigate. Maybe you aren't as extreme as me, maybe the only thing God wants from you is for you to take a few moments of every day to worship Him. Believe me, whatever He wants from you, no matter how inconvenient you may think it is, is worth it. The comfort, peace, and joy found in living a life for Jesus is longer lasting than the fleeting happiness of living for yourself. What does God want from you? Why do you keep running? It's time to stop, listen, and take the leap. The rewards, whether they are on Earth or in Heaven, are worth the risk.

Always,
Jaci





P. S. Cindy's feet. Karisa's guitar. That is all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Moment


Stop. Look around. Soak it in. Find something that inspires awe in you. Something simple. Like a moment in time. For me, it was sitting cross-legged on my bed, about to fold laundry. Marked by the smell of lotion, iPod playing worship songs. Something completely normal, in the midst of chaos. A week of last days and first interviews. Filled with missing family, enjoying friendships, regretting mistakes. The everyday hustle and bustle of a busy life. Then a moment. A reminder that God is in control. He knows the plans he has for me, even if I can’t see exactly what His intentions are at this point. In the midst of chaos, a moment of normalcy. No matter how many things are going on, there is still laundry to do, things to be written, people to be reached. When life gets crazy, rely on God. Have passion for these moments. Revel in them. When we stop and take a second to listen, to escape our hectic lives, that is when He speaks to us. He comforts us, lets us know He is with us...in moments like these.

Always,
Jaci

Monday, November 12, 2012

Take Heart


Distant music pulls me from a deep sleep into the land of half-aware. To my left, a light flashes in the dark, the music coming from it. I reach for it, and it falls away from my hand. Desperate to know what it is, I follow. A burst of pain and shooting stars fill my head. Fully awake I realize, the object is my phone, and my forehead just met my bedside table. It’s 5:30a.m., I’ve slept for 4 hours, and now it’s time to do set up at church.

This weekend was a lot of things, it was hectic, exciting, impactful, COLD, life changing. It required much planning, organization, dedication, and prayer. The thing that stood out to me is how much COURAGE it took, from everyone involved. It took courage for the Skull Church crew to step out and plan an event in a town with no Fresh Life campus; for the volunteers to brave a snow storm to get to Bozeman. The MOB crew showed courage by walking up to perfect strangers and inviting them to the event. The 57-ish new Christians that walked forward during the invitations this weekend had the most courage of all. They were willing to stand up and show the world that they wanted to make Jesus the center of their lives. With society as it is today, all of the hostility focused on Christians, it is hard to publicly make that stand. As Christians, God will stand by our side, all we have to do is stand for him. Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

God gives us peace when we leap out in faith. If we choose to have courage, and follow his will, he provides us with a calmness and assurance. From my own personal experience, selling everything I owned and moving back out to Montana alone was terrifying. I believed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was what God wanted me to do; it was still scary. I followed his path, and he comforted me and cast away my fears. Just today, I gave my resignation notice at my job. My income will be taking a sizable hit. The way of life I’ve become accustomed to will completely change. Change is good. It teaches us lessons. I’ve recently been placing too much importance on worldly things, things money can buy. Money is by no means a bad thing, but I know I need to learn that true joy comes from above. I’m afraid of what the next few months will bring; but I am at peace, knowing it is all in God’s hands.

Be strong, take heart, God knows what is best for us all.

Always,
Jaci

Friday, November 2, 2012

Leaving the Comfort Zone


Hey ya’ll! So, it’s been a whirlwind of a week. Decisions being made, lives being changed (hopefully), and a little bit of pain. A few weeks ago I was fasting and praying about the direction of my life. I didn’t know if I was supposed to continue living in Billings or head back east to be near my family. I wasn’t sure what God was calling me to do for Him. All I knew was that I needed to live for him, publicly. Opportunities arise when Christians allow themselves to be pulled out of their comfort zone and used. Enter Fresh Life MOB crew.  My church has an outreach program called the MOB. We get training on how to talk to strangers about our church and Jesus, and then do so. It’s pretty cool, really. One of the activities the MOB will be doing this winter is going door to door and just simply serving people. We aren’t going to be knocking on people’s doors and shoving our beliefs down their throats, that’s not a effectual way of witnessing by any means. We will knock on their door, invite them to church, then ask if we can rake leaves or shovel for them. Showing God’s love, through serving. The MOB also goes to highly populated areas and simply hands out invites to Fresh Life. No pressure, just an invite. If someone starts to ask us questions, OF COURSE we will answer them and hopefully lead someone to Christ.

So we’ve got this awesome concert/service coming up in Bozeman next weekend called Skull Church. Hawk Nelson will be there Friday night, Leeland on Saturday, then Leeland will lead worship at church on Sunday in Billings. SO stinkin’ excited! You have no idea. Anyways. With this upcoming event, and the opportune timing of Halloween, we decided to do some MOBBING on Wednesday night. It was incredible. Seriously. We walked a couple of blocks with a few hundred trick-or-treaters, and invited as many as we could with our With the Wild Beasts cards. There was a group of teenagers that were curious and asking questions, as well as one other man and woman. Mostly, people were in a hurry to get in, get candy, and get out. It was a great experience over all. Things started dying down (haha, Halloween, get it?) around 9:30p.m. and we decided to head downtown. Best idea ever. We were actually pretty nervous about it, thinking drunk people were probably not the best people to invite to church. Boy, were we wrong. We had some of the best, most intense conversations with people smoking outside of the bars.

It’s amazing how many truly lost souls came from a “churchy” background. James, the guy Tiffany and I talked to the most, mentioned how he had gone to church for a while in Florida. He said he felt as if he wasn’t welcome there. Why, you might ask? Because he has tattoos and piercings. Well waddaya know? A good ¾ of our church has tattoos and piercings. James and his friend were incredibly interested in the idea of a church that asks you to come as you are. We don’t want you to stop drinking, stop smoking, stop doing this, stop doing that, and THEN come to church. Come now! Be screwed up, be a mess! We ALL are! If something in your life needs to change, Jesus will help you change it. But don’t let that stop you from having a relationship with Him now! You can’t receive help from someone unless you let them IN to your life. Jesus loves you, He loves me. No matter what you’ve done, what you’re doing, what you’re going to do. Absolutely NOTHING you can do will change the fact that He loves YOU. Nothing. That’s amazing. As humans, our love is so fickle. It’s entirely dependent on what someone can do for us, how that person treats us, even how we’re feeling any given moment. Jesus loves each and every human being on this earth irreversibly and completely. The problem is, so many people won’t let Him in. So many people believe in God, but aren’t willing to give themselves to God. I’ve been there.

In college, I believed that God created me, but I didn’t want to open up my life of sin and invite Him into it. I was partially ashamed. I didn’t want Him to know what I was doing. Foolish, of course, seeing as He knows everything. I was also afraid of giving it all up. I thought I was too bad, had done too much for Him to forgive. I was afraid that I would give up my sin, but wouldn’t be accepted back into God’s love. Then I wouldn’t have anything. Crazy, the things we allow Satan to trick us into believing. Turns out, the longer I said “No” to God, the easier it was, and the more it hurt Jesus. All He wants is for us to know that He loves us and to let Him in. That’s it. Have you ever had your heart broken? Loved someone, and had them not love you back? It’s tough. Really tough. Now think about how much more it hurts for Jesus. He is rejected each and every day by those he loves, those he DIED for. Ouch. The sin in our lives, the things we’re ashamed of, He loves us in spite of. It hurts Him to see sin in our lives, but no amount of sin can keep him from loving us.

A lot of people believe in God. I did, but I didn’t have a relationship with him. I didn’t want him to be a part of my life. I even knew, that if I died, I would be going to Hell. That terrified me, but not enough. I figured there would always be tomorrow, then I could get things right with God. I got lucky, I lived until that tomorrow. The joy of a changed life is indescribable, unreal. I have peace. I was like Eeyore, darkness following me every step I took. Now the clouds have cleared and grace has taken their place. Having a relationship with God, that’s the ticket. Simply believing that there is a God? Not enough. Even Satan believes in God. Will he be spending any quality time in Heaven? Survey says? No.

These are the things people need to hear, these are the things we shared with anyone seeking answers on Halloween. The conversations were deep and meaningful. I really hope to see James and his friend on Sunday. That would be AMAZING. On my way home, I realized, this is what I’m called to do. God wants me outside of bars, in parks, or knocking on doors—blessing people’s lives. He wants me here, in Billings, Montana, at least for now. This is where I’m the most challenged, where I’m forced outside of my comfort zone. It was an amazing high, followed by an instant low. I parked in front of my house, grabbed my phone and saw the face of my beautiful nephew, Greyson. And I cried. Hard. I miss my family so much. So very much. They’re the most incredible people in the world, and I love them. Sometimes what God wants from us is hard, but the blessings that come from following His will are unbelievable. If even one person is saved because of the sacrifices we make, the glorious celebration in Heaven will be well worth any momentary heartache we experience in this temporary home.

Always,
Jaci

Sunday, October 21, 2012

We All Wanna Be Loved


So it’s been a long week. That whole having a stomach virus and staying in bed for two days thing really put a damper on my invites. I still got some inviting done, no worries. Nobody I invited showed up, but hey, just have to keep trying. Right? I did learn that some of my co-workers have been reading my blog. Yay! You guys are awesome. I hope you like it! Also. Come to my church with me. It rocks socks! Seriously. Pastor Levi talked today about a dude in the Bible getting “camel jacked” and robbed. He’s original that’s for sure.

Right now we are going through a series called With the Wild Beasts. It’s all about temptation and how to resist it and know when you’re being tempted and all that jazz. It’s impactful, to say the least. One Levi’s points today focused on how Satan loves to make us feel inadequate. He uses our insecurities to tempt us. Makes us feel like we are nothing. It kind-of tied in with something I’ve been thinking about and wanting to write about. Women. We’re insecure…about everything. Our faces, our weight, our wardrobe, our eye color, our income, our friends, at one point or another we’re insecure about it all. One of the biggest things though? Boys. They can drive us to do the dumbest things. So many girls are perfectly willing to lose their entire identity to get a certain guy to just notice her. Why? Because we’ve been brought up to think that a romantic relationship with a man is the end-all be-all in life. There is nothing more important in life than to get married to the perfect man, have a perfect family with exactly 2.5 children (where’s King Solomon when you need him?), drive the perfect SUV, and live happily ever after. Darling, that ain’t NEVER going to happen. The perfect man doesn’t exist.

Now let’s explore an interesting trend I’ve noticed. My lovely friend Brook is reading a series that I forced upon her. In the first book a boy and girl fall in love. Typical teen read. They live in a dystopian society and plan to make a run for it together. As they are escaping, they’re caught. The boy sacrifices himself and forces the girl to continue on without him. A beautiful tragedy. In that moment, he becomes her hero. He gave up his own life so that she could experience freedom. Has anyone watched any of the Twilight movies? Self-sacrificing vampire man falling in love with a self-centered human girl? (The books are better.) Edward would do ANYTHING to protect Bella, right? How about Divergent, Matched, The Uglies, The Hunger Games, so on and so forth. Different stories, different characters, different settings, the same concept. The heroine always has a hero to protect her and sacrifice himself for her. Every little girl growing up wants a hero. I was recently giving a guy friend advice about women, and that’s exactly what I told him. She’s looking for a hero. Remember the horrible shooting at the movie theater in Colorado? There were three men in that theater that sacrificed their own lives for their girlfriends. Melted my heart. Now, if I had a boyfriend, I wouldn’t want him to die. I just want to know that he would throw himself in front of a bullet for me if necessary. It’s just common courtesy. That story made women across the nation swoon and tear up, maybe even slap their husbands/boyfriends/brothers/etc. Why? Because that’s what—deep down—every woman wants. A man, out of his undying love for her, to be willing to sacrifice his own life and save her. HEY! Does that sound at all familiar? I think I’ve read a story like that before somewhere. For God so loved the world, maybe? Hey ladies! It’s already been done. There’s already this amazing, wonderful, perfect man who DID die for you. YOU. His name was Jesus. He died because of his undying love for you! For real! How awesome. We don’t have to search any more.

It’s funny how the theme prevails even in secular young adult fiction. From the Bible to Twilight, we all wanna be loved, loved, loved.

And I’m not saying there aren’t wonderful men out there. They just aren’t perfect. My step dad is an incredible dude. He works hard, plays hard, loves hard. But at the end of the day, he still leaves coffee rings on the end tables. He’s human, he’ll never be perfect (though he is about as close as they come…and yes…I am trying to get an awesome Christmas gift this year). I’m just saying to the single girls: don’t throw yourself away for a man. Find the right one, not just anyone. And for the married ones: cut your dudes a little slack. He’s not Jesus. ;) Just kidding. But really, find your worth in God, not man.

Always,
Jaci

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Off To a Poor Start


Here I am to tell you about my failure. Not that I didn’t invite anyone to church. I did. But I also missed the most opportune moment to invite someone. To set the scene, I was having a miserable lunch break. I had called ahead and ordered a wonderful Southwest Chicken Caesar salad from Salad Creations, and after a day of fasting, boy was I excited. So I drive to the Salad Creations on King Avenue, frustrated with slow drivers who weren’t willing to take a few risks, and end up waiting in line for 5 minutes. The boy at the counter informs me that they hadn’t gotten any calls, that I must have ordered from the store on Grand. All the way across town. Perfect. Fifteen of my thirty minutes of lunch break have already passed. How am I supposed to get to where my food is waiting for me and still get back to work on time? Not going to happen. But I can’t just let the food I ordered go to waste. So I drive across town. Call mom on the way and complain to her about how simply irritated I am. She tells me it’s probably just a spiritual attack. I agree. I know it seems silly to feel like I’m being attacked by a screwed up lunch break. But you have no idea how important food is to me! Plus, Pastor Levi mentioned that he always has a really rough day the day after a spiritual high. That was today for sure. So anyways, on the phone with mom I mention that I had intended to invite whomever I got my lunch from today to church. But I decided that I was simply not going to have enough time. Ha.

I get to Salad Creations and the guy is still making my salad. That’s fine. I’m going to be late from lunch anyway. So we talk about my lunch fiasco, and laugh about my idiocy. I watched his fun white chef hat bop around. (Is that a thing? Bopping around?) He gives me a free fountain drink because he feels bad for me. I leave.

Guess what? I had time to talk about Jesus. Sure thing! Did I? Nope. And I promise you, I thought about it while I was in there. So why didn’t I do it? Oh. You know. Because he was cute. I didn’t want him to think I was like, A JESUS FREAK or anything. Plus, I mean...who wants CUTE GUYS GOING TO THEIR CHURCH????? Ridiculous.

So anyways. That’s my failure for the day. I was wracked with guilt the whole way back to work. Thumping my forehead against my window while eating my salad and driving with my knee. Be glad you weren’t on the sidewalks in Billings this afternoon. The guilt ended up working in my favor. I invited a couple of my customers to church (honestly don’t know if I’m really allowed to do that). BUT! I am going BACK to Salad Creations next week on my day off and inviting that guy! It’s going to happen.

Also, my wonderful, beautiful, amazing roommate listened to one of Pastor Levi’s messages with me last night and is now going to check out his podcasts online! Now she has to, because I posted it in my blog.

In other news, GO TIGERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Always,
Jaci

Monday, October 15, 2012

Answers in Fasting


I had a dream last night. I was falling. One hundred and nine stories to my death in an elevator. There was a boy with me, probably 10 or 11.  He had light brown curly hair. Like Shirley Temple hair on a boy. It was beautiful. He was screaming. I wanted to reach out, hold him, ask him if he knew Jesus. The force of the fall was so intense that all I could do was lie on the ceiling of the elevator. And sing. The only song I could remember was “This Little Light of Mine”.

Falling is my biggest fear. Falling dreams are the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had. I used to have them all of the time. It has been probably 10 years since the last one. I couldn’t figure out why, all of a sudden, I had one again. At first I thought it was because of how little control I have over my life right now. How confused I am and have been about where I am meant to be, what I am meant to do. But then I took a deeper look at what I was feeling during that fall. The song I was singing, the longing to know if the boy would be going to Heaven, the peace I felt about halfway through. The point wasn’t the falling, the point was that my end was near and I hadn’t taken the time to reach anyone for Christ. It’s true of my real life as well. With every passing day, the end draws nearer. I find myself too busy, too caught up in my own life to concern myself with someone else’s eternity. Sure, I have a fish on my car, go to church, small group, volunteer at events, invite people (sometimes), but what am I really doing to reach out to those around me? I’m playing it safe, inviting people I know really well or people I know are already Christians to church. I tell people that the greatest thing about my church is our focus on outreach. It truly is. As a Christian, my biggest passion should be for reaching those who are lost. But when it comes right down to it, I am afraid. Scared that people will make fun of me, reject my invitation, change their opinion of me. But shouldn’t I be more scared that those same people will never find the love of God and peace that he provides. Shouldn’t I fear that the people I love will one day find themselves in Hell? Seriously. Talk about getting priorities straight.

My mission is to invite one person, each and every day to church. Then write about what God is teaching me each day. The good moments, the bad, the embarrassing. I’m pretty good at making a fool of myself, so it should be fun. This may not be the most interesting blog for some people out there, but it will do its part to keep me accountable.

I had decided to spend today fasting and praying for insight into what God wants from my life. Where he wants me to be, what he wants me to be doing. Part of the answer came quickly. Writing. He wants me to be writing. But not just any writing. He wants me to be writing for Him, about Him.

He answers. Always.