Jimmy Needham Concert & A Lesson on Appetite

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Exactly a week ago, April 9, I attended the concert of one of my most favorite Christian artists (and since that day, speakers): Jimmy Needham. If his name doesn’t ring a bell,  go to the end of this post and watch him sing my favorite song of his, “Forgiven and Loved.” Seriously, stop.  However, if you do know him and have heard his music, you’ll know he’s really blessed and wonderfully gifted. I said gifted because not only is his music entertaining and pleasant to the ears, but it’s also very heart-stirring and mind-activating. Jimmy (yes close kami? Haha) is currently on his “Guy, Guitar + Gospel Tour,” and I was so thrilled he dropped by Manila. The fact that the venue of his concert was at our very own church, CCF, made the event even more thrilling (because I feel so at home at that place, even with its magnanimity). To say that I was blessed that evening would be an understatement. Convicted and pierced are the more appropriate terms.

Before I continue sharing my concert experience, I must confess something. Prior to the concert, my relationship with God was pretty lukewarm. Two weeks have already passed since my second semester ended, and yet I still carried with me the habits I formed during my stressful days: an ‘okay, not-so-on-fire’ quiet time, a lack of passion and interest to pray and study Scripture, and the obsession with my self and my thoughts and desires. I promised God and myself that I would make it up to Him (to us) for the lost time and revitalize our relationship. I made up a list of things to do and goals to accomplish to keep my life in check. “As long as I remain consistent in doing these things, I will be successful. God would be happy. I’ll be joyful again, just like before.” Yeah right. On the night of Jimmy Needham’s concert, I was, yet again, proven  wrong.

One of the things I appreciate about Jimmy Needham is his love for Scripture. Towards the latter part of his concert, he shared with us his testimony, his walk with the Lord, and a passage from the Old Testament that really struck him the most. He loves the Old Testament so much, calling it the book for train wrecks. 😀 I agree with that nickname, because that was what Israel and man in general was. Stubborn train wrecks always being rescued by a loving and faithful God. Jimmy also went on sharing that the problem of most people today, especially Christians, is not a problem of doing, but of being. Within the heart, not the hands, lies the issue. Man’s issue with the living God is more than just a mere judicial problem of doing or not doing, but that of desire. How did he come up with that conclusion? Jimmy quoted the verse from which he gathered this insight, in Jeremiah 2:13:

“For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.”

“Broken cisterns that can hold no water. The problem of Israel was not that they weren’t good enough. Israel’s greatest sin was that it did not desire the Living Water. They had no appetite for God.” (Needham, 2014)

When he said this, I was shocked. It was my first time to hear the verse, but already my heart connected with my mind. Our problem–our biggest problem–is a lack of appetite for all things Heavenly. This really struck me the most because…I have a huge appetite. Caveman’s, actually. Not for God, but for worldly things.

Sure, I love God. I do. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” I show my love for Jesus by obeying Him. I don’t obey Him so that I would love Him, but the other way around. Obedience is an expression of love. I know this. By God’s grace and the power of His Holy Spirit I am applying this, albeit very imperfectly, and I am striving to love Jesus more and more each day.

However, to look at my love for Jesus from the “appetite perspective” was a totally different story. Do I desire Him? Do I crave Him like I would with bacon, peanuts, and a romantic relationship with a loving, Christian guy? (yes you read that last part right. I’m human, too,  you know. It so happened I was female.) Was I willing to go on a spiritual feast everyday just so I can savor the richness of God’s Word and the loveliness of His presence?

The answers to all my questions, sadly, was a big fat no.

I loved God and obeyed Him, but oftentimes my obedience was a mere routine, “because God says so.” Because I would be a bad leader if I didn’t. Because I would feel like a hypocrite. Because it won’t be worth it if I don’t obey Him. All these reasons are valid, helpful even. But after Jimmy Needham brought the appetite issue, I realized there was more to God than just obedience. He really, really, really wants a relationship with me. God did not create creatures that would just obey Him; He created rational and social creatures that would love Him back and enjoy Him for all eternity.

Satan knew that if he introduced something overtly evil to us we would have just laughed at him, so he used something we love the most, use the most, and crave the most: FOOD. I was talking with my discipleship group two weeks ago, and I told them of my observation, how the food industry has been so prevalent in our lives today compared to a few years ago. There are over 25 million posts for #foodporn and over 2 million for #foodstagram on Instagram (most likely that also means 25 + 2 million posts on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other social media sites). Food is a basic human need. God gave us food for our enjoyment. Solomon himself said that eating and drinking is a gift from God. However, we’re human, and we have a knack for messing things up. We make curses out of  gifts because we place them above the Giver. We are more than willing to sacrifice our appetite for a life of inexhaustible joy for that of a temporary life and depraved existence. No wonder a lot of us (myself included) do not get to experience the abundant life Jesus promised.

Appetite for Jesus–wanting Him, craving for Him, desiring Him–was my greatest problem. Jimmy Needham helped me realize that. Thankfully, he didn’t just end with pointing out the problem. God is a restorer, not a demolisher. He breaks down for the intent of building up again. Trying harder, being good, coming up with a better plan were not plausible options. What then? Simple.

GRACE.

To be honest, I felt uncomfortable when Jimmy brought up the subject. That was what I least deserved. I’m like most people in that I find grace hard to accept because I feel strongly about the need for reparation of my sins. I fear falling on one end of the scale,  licentiousness, abusing grace, without realizing I fell on the other end: legalism, abhorring grace. Grace, if it is to be true, demands complete surrender and total acceptance and at the same time, realizes true life transformation. Actions are important, but only after the gift has been received. For a person who loves gifts and whose second first name is Grace, I found it surprising I was rejecting grace. It really is for the undeserved. God was handing out to me because HE LOVES ME. He loves you. When Jimmy Needham started singing “If I Ever Needed Grace,” I tried hard not to cry. I failed. Grace and my tear ducts made a contract I wasn’t aware of. On that evening, as I sat there and allowed God to work His magic, I felt at rest and at peace. I was home.

Our appetite for Jesus has to be constantly fed because the enemy competes for appetite for him. We must not surrender to the enemy. Trying hard to be goo or coming up with a “new and all-improved” program won’t do the trick. Coming to Jesus and feasting on His presence will. That’s what Jimmy Needham did, and that’s how God set him free from the bondage of pornography. I believe that’s how He’ll also set me (and you) free from a life of depravity, sin, loss, and just mere existence.

Truth be told, I still struggle with appetite–both physical and spiritual. Who doesn’t? God is good; He’s always willing to take me in when I humble myself before Him. I believe He’ll do the same for you. If you ever needed grace (and I bet you do), He will always be willing to give it to you.  All you need is a humble heart and a contrite spirit.:)

 

How’s your appetite for Jesus? Craving for Him lately? You don’t have to wait for the next sale or purchase a coupon online to avail of the buffet because He’s always available for the taking. 

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” – Jesus Christ (Revelation 3:20)

 

PS: Sharing with you guys photos to the concert. I went with my brothers, Josh and James, and my cousin, Jared. My other cousins and friends were there, too. Jimmy Needham you’re the best! 🙂

With camille

With Josh_Jimmy Needham

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Craving Grace: A Book Review

Craving Grace by Lisa

For Lisa Velthouse’s whole life, Christianity had been about getting things right. Obeying her parents. Not drinking. Not cursing. Not having premarital sex…..But after two decades of trying to earn God’s favor, she found her faith was lonely, empty, and unsatisfying. So where does a “good Christian girl” turn when she needs answers? More discipline, of course: fasting! For months Lisa managed to fast, but the result seemed to be that suddenly she was falling short in everything else. Then, one night at a wedding, she denied herself the cake but broke an even bigger promise she’d made years before–falling in such an unexpected and world-rocking way that it challenged everything she thought she knew about God and herself.

Have you ever encountered a book that almost perfectly described your current situation and feeelings? Your awkward, humorously stupid, and at times, downright sinful moments and emotions? I have. And it’s called Craving Grace.

I first read a Lisa Velthouse creation seven years ago when my cousin lent me her copy of Saving My First Kiss. At that time I was a tween, awkward, innocent, and relatively simply in every way possible, and I honestly did not understand a big part of the book, except for the fact that the author (who was the same age as I am now) made a vow to God to safeguard her purity, especially that of her lips.

In this not-so-tell-all but completely honest memoir, Lisa Velthouse described her struggle with a seeming lack of romantic activity in her life, understanding God’s grace, keeping her hands off chocolate sundaes and brownies, and dealing with failure. A whole smack of heart-crushing failure, especially for a woman who seeks to have everything in place so that she would not make God sad. While reading this, I felt joy in knowing that someone else’s reality and struggles are similar to mine, and even more joy in confirming that everything I’m experiencing now is part of God’s great, big, and strange plan.

Objectively, I thought Craving Grace was mature, intelligent, funny, and heart-tugging. Although there was no particular or singular story that was supposed to be follow throughout the book, I always found myself wanting to turn over the next page and read on (and I read even if I had a thick-load of other school readings, which were mostly boring. HAHA)  I also liked the fact that the arrangement of the stories and events was not chronological, but thematic, and the theme was, the ever-deepening understanding of a child of her Father’s amazing grace. I also appreciated Ms. Velthouse’s choice of words and use of language because it entailed going to the dictionary to search for literal meanings and looking into my heart and mind for deeper ones (which is why I thought it was intelligent). Lisa Velthouse didn’t just write her story for the sake of writing it (a mistake a lot of memoirs unfortunately commit); she wrote for the sake of change–for herself and her readers.

So why did I say I identify with this book so, so much? Because while I was reading it, I was at the point of my life where I struggled with God’s grace, love, Word, truth…and just God Himself. I also struggled with fasting (I am eating my 5th or 6th serving of peanuts for the day. :O)  I couldn’t understand how I, the professing smart, intelligent, organized, and “I-have-it-all-together” girl, could eat too much food, watch too much TV, think vain thoughts, become so utterly selfish, fail academic requirements, and hurt the people I love the most (and who love me even more). In some parts of the book, Lisa Velthouse told stories about her experiences with sheep and how much she wished God didn’t compare her with sheep, which are downright stupid, helpless, and stubborn animals. She really got me when she wrote the following lines on page 145:

My preference–and my default mode–is to go on believing I am mostly good, just occasionally misguided. It is soothing to me, this illusion that I am not small and insignificant…that I am not undisciplined and unprincipled….that the core of my character is not at all ugly or awkward or unseemly….

She helped me accept the fact that I am an awkward, stubborn, and helpless sheep that is loved, cared for, and protected by a good and gracious Shepherd. She helped me understand even better that, while God hates sin to the core, He loves the sinner, and more importantly, to those He calls His children, He does not rest nor does He get fazed by failure and trials until His kids are perfectly aligned to His will for them.  She made me crave grace and search for God’s sweetness without shoving it at my face. Grace, indeed, is beautiful. 🙂

Ms. Velthouse, thank you for sticking to God in spite of the struggle, and living on to write your story about His grace. 🙂

As for YOU reading this right now, go grab a copy of Craving Grace: the book every person who ever failed in life and searched for God and continues to seek revival and hope should read. 🙂

Special thanks to OMF Literature for publishing her book here in the Philippines! :) Our God is indeed Jehovah Jireh! :D

 

Coming Clean

I grew up thinking that the Christian life was an uphill adventure. Every year, life gets tough as your faith muscles are being flexed to their maximum capacity, but whatever happens, you’re always improving. God only knows where I got this absurd idea, and now He tells me to delete it from my system because not only is it wrong, it’s deceiving.

The Christian life is not an uphill adventure. It’s a struggle-packed, roller coaster mess, but beautiful nonetheless.

I received Jesus into my life seven years ago, in February 2006 at the age of 12. Although I grew up in a Christian home, it was only after the Holy Spirit entered my life and started working in me that I felt, experienced, and knew what it was like to be really Christian. I developed a passion for reading and studying God’s Word. My quiet times usually lasted one to two hours. I served in various ministries and tried almost each one–tech, music, Sunday School (we call it NxtGen in our church), hosting, ushering, and retreat organization. For the first four or five years in my walk, I felt like God and I were the closest of friends. Sure, I fell every once in  while. I struggled with self-control, discipline, loneliness, a very mild case of depression, and self-esteem issues. Nevertheless, I really saw God’s hand at work in my life, and I felt His power work in and through me. I stuck to God’s Word like masking tape on paper.

Then I started drifting away.

I don’t remember how The Drift started, but I know when it started: when I let my heart, instead of the Holy Spirit with my knowledge of God’s Word, dictate my actions. Feelings usurped the throne; the Holy Spirit and the mind was deposed. Instead of guarding the heart, I let it take the lead. I behaved and acted on impulse.

There was a time last year when I had ill feelings for a certain brother in Christ for no apparent reason! I just didn’t like the way he spoke because I thought he was pretending to speak good English when he occasionally spoke with wrong grammar. I served God with him with these feelings because I did not surrender them to the Lord.

There were times (and sometimes I still do) avoid the gazes of my friends (except the really close ones) and people I know because my heart told me: “They might think you’re feeling close. Don’t greet ’em. Wait for them to call you.” So I looked the opposite direction when a person was heading my way or looking towards me and avoided them instead of making their day extra special with a smile and a sincere “Hello.”

When I’m with friends, I pretended I was a health-freak. I ate healthy food, said I exercised regularly, and counted calories. I did do those things, but I did not tell them that I also binged almost every night, had regular guilt trips to the fridge, and failed almost all my “healthy living” resolutions.

My mind brimmed with me. I’m pretty sure my mind got sick of me. I meditated on the things I wished I had–clothes, shoes, a successful career in the future, a thick checkbook, a desirable boyfriend…the list never ended. Materialism became my philosophy.

The worst side of me appeared at home. You are who you are in your comfort zone. There were weeks when I did nothing but watch television, eat gluttonously, and yell at my brothers to stop eating the snacks that were supposed to be for our baon (packed lunch), when I myself ate them. I played Pharisee pretty well. When my parents made lambing to me and asked me to massage them, I hesitated, but eventually agreed with great reluctance because “I had to ‘pay’ them back for what they did.'” In my head, I questioned what I was doing: Why was I being forced to serve them? Shouldn’t service be done voluntarily? I resented massaging them for 15 minutes, but I never hesitated to ask my Mom for my allowance and my Dad to pick me up from school. Moreover, when they told me to do simple errands for them, it’s either I delayed doing them or thought of things I should get in exchange for doing their errands for them. The list could go on and on. The perfect girl wasn’t really perfect after all.

I realized that something was wrong and that I was not being Christlike when, one night (which was last night), I grew tired of it all. I grew tired of watching too much TV, eating too much junk food, hurting too much people, and leaving myself hurt, depressed, confused, and worst off than when I started. I kept telling myself that I want CHANGE, but CHANGE wasn’t happening. I tried going back to my healthy living resolutions, character-building books, and all the other things I thought would help me bring the change I wanted. Most of them failed, and the others worked only for a short period of time. Where do I turn to? Then suddenly, sentences formed in my mind.

“You were bought with a price. It was for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, and do not be enslaved again by a yoke of slavery. I did not save you to waste your life on worthless things, Jenny. Wake up! You are a child of the living God. Don’t waste your life away. Come back to Me. I love you so much, daughter! Come home, please.”

A thousand times I failed Him, still His mercy remained. Still His grace enveloped me. Still His love welcomed me with open arms.

Last night, I repented. Today, I come clean. I’ve been meaning to “come clean” a few weeks back, but I suppose God did not put the words in my mouth until I have been truly broken and humbled. The girl who thought she was  steadily “pressing toward the goal of her upward calling in Christ Jesus” has really, been stuck in the mire but was too proud and too egocentric to see her dire and depressing predicament. She forgot she was in the state grace, which was accompanied by power. She gave up the power she had access to to gratify the passing pleasures of her sin.

I wrote this and shared my experience, hoping to encourage those who have fallen behind and warn those who are standing strong, that they may watch themselves or they, too, may be tempted. I learned three things. First, starting out perfectly does not mean you end up (or continue) walking perfectly. You trip, stumble, and fall. The Christian life requires hard work! It’s true that God is the one at work in my life, but He refuses to work alone. He wants my cooperation. He wants to teach His stubborn daughter responsibility and obedience, and He can only do that if He gives me work to do.

Secondly, it takes only a small lie to deviate you from the truth should you choose to entertain it. Do not give the devil a foothold! One of Satan’s widely used tactics is Messing With Our Minds. What’s our defense? God’s word! Those times I struggled and refused to come clean before God were the times when I neglected my quiet time and study of God’s Word. Never, ever neglect your quiet time! It may just be your greatest defense for a day of combat against the Deceiver.

Thirdly, the heart is DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS AND IS DESPERATELY SICK (Jeremiah 17:9, emphasis added). It’s not just sick–it’s DESPERATELY sick. This is truth. Forget about the “follow your heart” philosophy movies, songs, and celebrities advertise. It’s the worst piece of advice in the planet. To follow the heart means to allow it to hold the reins of your will and make your decisions for you, instead of you directing it towards making Godly decisions. The Holy Spirit taught me that I should drown my heart with Biblical truths via the mind in order for it to get used to following Him.

However, the greatest lesson I learned from my troublesome experience is not any of the things I just mentioned. They are nothing compared to this: God really, really does love me. Gently, sweetly, benevolently, passionately, mercifully, graciously. He is one of a kind. He did not give up on me, leave me, or forsake me as He promised. He disciplined me because I belonged to Him. He broke my legs and carried me through the consequences of my actions because He was my good Shepherd. I can’t thank Him enough for giving me the nth chance. God is indeed good, and I testify to that!

If you’ve been standing firm in Jesus, praise God for you! Just be careful, and keep walking by the Spirit. 🙂

If you can relate with me, and you’ve been struggling for some time now, know that there is HOPE. Forgiveness and restoration is readily within your disposal. But here’s the thing: you need to repent. God made it clear to me: once I returned to Him, I will do, think, and speak on His terms. I will work according to His timetable, His will, and His plan for me. Jesus desires not just to be your Savior, He also wants to be your LORD. He asks simply this: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. To do that, you must repent or make a 180-degree turnaround to Jesus. He can and will transform you! But you have to let Him. You have to admit, as I did, that you failed and need help, and that you don’t know everything. As for me, I had to accept the fact that I won’t be completely perfect as long as I’m in my earthly body, and that I was going to be perfect on God’s terms and in His time, not mine. (As a self-confessed perfectionist, this was hard to accept at first).

Forget perfect. You are being transformed.

Forget uphill. You’re in for a rollercoaster ride filled with ups, downs, and occasionally, loops.

Forget pride. Get rid of it and repent. Saints need repentance too, you know. 🙂