My Life Verse

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Presence of God

The Presence of God is such an incredible thing for those of us who believe in God and have a relationship with Him. It's indescribable. Unexplainable. Every once in a while I will get a taste of the Lord's presence and I want more of it. People define the presence of God in different ways. Some say it is an awareness that God is never not around- knowing that He is always there for me. Others say it is ultimate peace. Another person said It's like a hot shower- once you get in it, you don't want to get out.

The Presence of God is something that is fairly new to me. I don't recall hearing much about it throughout my Christian life. But more and more it is something on my mind, and it is real to me. I get it. I find it amazing. I want more of it. The Presence of God may look different to each person. I believe we enter into God's presence whenever we are praying, reading the Bible, listening to worship music, going to church, and worshiping. I personally think the most effective way to enter God's presence is to put on some worship music and sit at His feet. Just sit or lay down being still before God. Quiet your heart. Let Him speak to you instead of pouring out your heart to Him or talking His ear off. Stop focusing on your problems and struggles and fix your eyes on the problem solver.

The Vision of the church I attend and call home, Vista Assembly of God, pertains to the presence of God. It states: Our vision is simple...restful increase! There is an increase that we can make happen in our lives that comes from hard work, effort, stress and struggles...that leads to an exhausting life. But then there is an increase that goes beyond our efforts, that only God can bring...but that comes from a place of rest...resting in Him! I believe when we enter the presence of God, we open ourselves up to this restful increase. Rest comes from being in His presence.

I am currently attending the 4:23 School of Transformation at Vista Assembly of God and tonight's topic of discussion and lecture was The Presence of God. I would like to share with you a little bit about what I have learned from this class.

In the Old Testament, the presence of God was literal. It was represented through theophanies, an actual appearance of God. "The angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush." Exodus 3:2 It was also represented through the Tabernacle, a mobile temple/church. It was also represented in manifestations, which are different ways in which God revealed Himself that was not an indwelling of the Spirit. However, God's presence was made available to us through Jesus according to Matthew 27:51 "Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom..." The symbolism of this meant that God's people are no longer separated from the presence of God. This truth enabled a reality that God is now with us. "Behold, the virgin shall be with a child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God is with us" Matthew 1:23 It also means God's presence is no in us. "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" 1 Corinthians 3:16

"You will release what it is you are most aware of" -Bill Johnson

So, you ask yourself, what's so great about the presence of God? Why would I want to enter into His presence? Let me tell you (Notes courtesy of Pastor Rudy Topete) The presence of God gives us Blessing and Freedom. *In order to gain these understandings, we need to build a history with God.

1. There is Joy in His Presence: "You show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At your right hand are pleasures forevermore." Psalm 16:11  and "You have made known to me the path of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence." Acts 2:28

2. There is strength in His Presence: "...But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God." 1 Samuel 30:6

3. There is wisdom in His Presence: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all generously and without finding fault, and it will be given to him." James 1:5

4. There is peace and rest in His Presence: "And He said, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." Exodus 33:14 and "And the priest said to them, "Go in peace. The presence of the LORD be with you on your way." Judges 18:6

What is the purpose of God's presence in our lives?
1. To set us apart from the rest of the world (See Exodus 33:15-16) *People should see our actions before we say anything. We are to be living testimonies of Christ Jesus.
2. To give us blessing and freedom (See scriptures above on peace and rest, wisdom, strength, and joy)
3. To give us power (See 1 Samuel 4:5-7) *Power is the primary ministry of the Holy Spirit and power comes with responsibility.

How do we stay aware of the presence of God?
1. Find joy in loving God and not loving the disciplines themselves (See Matthew 22:29, which speaks to the people who were studying the word of God but didn't make it align with their heart; See also Matthew 6:5 ; Deuteronomy 4:29 We are to seek Him, not His hand or what He's doing in our lives.
2. Live free of an offended heart (See Matthew 11:6) *Sometimes we get offended by God because He didn't do what we wanted Him to do
3. Don't focus on what He is not doing, focus on what He is doing. (See Matthew 11:2-3)

We lose an awareness of the presence of God when we focus on what God is not doing.

I conclude with a beautiful song by Kim Walker of Jesus Culture and Bethel Church. She has a phenomenal voice and she is led by the Holy Spirit during worship. Kim sings about loving the presence of God and I pray that you are able to listen to this song and enter into His presence today.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I'm Thankful For: The VanCleave Family

This month helps us remind us to be thankful. I would like to start making tributes in my blog for people I am thankful for and share with you a little about them- how we met, what I think of them, and why I'm thankful for them. Starting with: The VanCleave Family

Disneyland 2009: Me, Kathy, Matt, and Lily (missing their newest addition)

How we met: I met the VanCleave family in 2005 when I was a freshman in college. My friend Brittany invited me to the church they recently started that was college-aged. I wasn't really connected in a church anywhere, so this was a great fit for me. Kathy was pregnant with Lily at the time and Matt was the pastor at the church called Cephas Road. I began attending "Book Club", a small group of co-ed peeps meeting once a week studying different Christian books. Shortly later they had their first daughter, Lily, who I soon began caring for as a nanny.

 I'll never forget the one night at Book club when Matt had something to share with the group. He didn't end up sharing and I think I emailed with him jokingly saying something like It's not like you'd be moving or anything anyways, right? Come to find out...that's exactly what happened. The following week he shared with the book club that he accepted a job as a Youth Pastor in the Bay Area. I was heartbroken and super sad. I loved this family so much so that I went to the degree of looking into schools up north so that I could move closer to them. I didn' realize that them moving would cause me to find a new church and begin growing in my faith like never before. All this time Matt and I had been meeting and he was mentoring me and speaking into my life. In the process, I became Lily's nanny as Matt commuted and Kathy continued working down here. Eventually, they sold their house and moved up to the Bay area. I have been extremely blessed to have continued my relationship with them and I consider them family. I've been able to visit them about once a year and within the past two months see them when they've come down to San Diego to visit. God knows I need me some VanCleave time :)

I want to share a little about each person in their family and then share some pictures from over the years.

Me and Matt at Disneyland watching Kathy and Lily ride Dumbo
 Matt: Matt is such an influential man of God in my life. He is my old pastor, my mentor, my friend. He is wise. I've always looked up to Matt and admired how he leads his family, how he loves his wife, how he fathers his children. I am very thankful to have known Matt VanCleave and continue to have relationship with him and his amazing family. I remember meeting Matt for coffee a few times to seek guidance. I don't actally even remember (I have a bad memory, lol) what we met for or why, but one thing I will never forget. Matt told me when I was dating my high school boyfriend of 5 years, about 2 1/2 years into our relationship (can't believe I let it linger so long), that if my boyfriend wasn't going to church at the time, what would change that 10 years from now? It hit me hard but it made sense. He basically encouraged that I break up with my boyfriend at the time. He told me he wanted to tell me that the first time we met for coffee, but he knew he needed to gain my trust in him first. (Now, that's wise!) I also remember when I was not passing my tests for the Teaching program and Matt texted me saying: Maybe God has a different plan for you. It was really difficult to read and think about, but I knew that this is what triggered me to get on my knees and cry out to God, seeking His plan for my life, asking Him to help me pass my tests if it be His will that I become a teacher. Matt has been there for me countless times. He's taught me so much. Matt is a great example of a man of God, who cares deeply about the lives of those around him and invests deeply in strengthening their relationships with God and others. Matt will be the person doing the ceremony when the day comes that I get married because he means so much to me. Matt has been such a blessing to me. Love you, Matt!!

Kathy: Kathy is an amazing woman of God. She is like no other. Kathy has such a calm-spirit and there is such a sense of peace that you feel when around her. Kathy has also been there countless times for me. She always answers the phone right when I need to talk. She never fails to be a great listener and knows I'm very chatty. (You know how they say, "chatty kathy", well, in our case, it's always "chatty, katie") Kathy has encouraged me over and over again. Kathy and I have one thing in common: we love sweets- Ice cream in particular :) So, without fail, whenever I visit them, we get frozen yogurt and or ice cream. Kathy knows me so well and loves me for who I am. Kathy is such a loving mother and wife. She submits to her husband. She cares for her girls to the best of her ability. I have had a lot of experience with child care and thought maybe I'd learn through my experiences how to parent my children, yet I have learned so much from Kathy. Kathy is so sweet. She also genuinely cares about others around her and their relationships with God, just as her husband does. She genuinely cares for her family. She genuinely cares for her patients. (She is a nurse practictioner) Kathy always makes me smile. :) I love spending time with her and she is such a blessing to me! Love you, Kath!!!

Matt, Kathy and I at a friend's wedding in San Marcos...shortly after they moved

Matt and Kathy: Matt and Kathy have been such an example to me. I look up to them dearly (have I said that enough yet?) They have shown me what it looks like to have a God-centered marriage. They have taught me how to parent your children in such a way that I've never seen before. They have such a calm-spirit about them that is so refreshing. They are a true picture of being one. I ask Matt something, and if I go to Kathy for advice, she will respond with the same thing. ;) I have never seen them argue or yell at each other. (And I've spent significant amounts of time staying with them each time I come visit over the past few years) Their communication seems so simple and easy. (I suppose that's what happens after 10 + years of marraige..but I kid you not, their relationship with each other is very unique) There is noone like them and I love them so much. *Thank you Matt and Kathy for being there for me so much and for showing such a great example to me in so many ways.

Matt + Kathy = Lily  Oh, how I love Lily. I've had the pleasure of  watching Lily since she was about 10 months old and now she is almost 6 years old! Lily and I have so much fun together. She is such a joy to be around! Lily always finds something to laugh about or says something funny. She is super cute! Lily has her own personality. She is so active and loves to be doing something. Lily is very unique. I love Lily so much! :) Lily loves to dress just like me as you can see in the picture below from my last visit.   


And then came Amryn: Amryn was adopted into the VanCleave family almost one year ago. (This Christmas) She is absolutely adorable and she came from Ethiopia. Amryn fits right into the VanCleave family and is also a joy to be around. She smiles and laughs often and is very intelligent. Amryn is very blessed to be part of such a loving family.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pray for Kofi

Please pray for Kofi. Kofi is a man I met during the five weeks I lived in Ghana. He is a man of God. A teacher at a local public school. A tutor at the Orphange I lived at. Kofi is not just any teacher, he is a great teacher, who doesn't "cane" (beat with a stick) his students, which is very uncommon. He came over a few times when I was living at the Orphanage to tutor some of the kids who lived there. He has a big heart for teaching and for children, which as you know I do, too so I can't even imagine being in his condition.

I was somewhat clueless to many things in Ghana when I lived there and honestly remember seeing Kofi come over to the Orphanage to tutor, but I didn't know him personally that well. I will never forget one day when I was walking home from church with all 23 kids from the Orphanage and one of the kids told me we needed to go to their teacher's house. I remember being confused but did as directed and went with the flow. People in Ghana are so kind and welcoming. They said the teacher wanted us to pray for him. I didn't know anything about him or what had happened, but willingly stepped into his small house. We all somehow managed to fit into this very small room (probably about a little smaller than a standard living room here) He was laying down in the position of the picture above and I was saddened to see the condition of his knee. I was still unsure as to what exactly happened and I didn't even really understand it all. But, I knew this man had faith in God, wanted to be healed, and was hindered by whatever had happened to his leg. He could not get up or move except sit up a little as pictured above. He was stuck in a very small room with concrete walls and nothing to do. I began praying for him as all the children surrounded, bowing their heads to join me in prayer. I asked one of the kids from the Orphanage to pray for their teacher and one of the older boys proceeded to do so. The presence of God was in this tiny room and it was such a special moment to be able to pray for this man with ALL the kids at the Orphanage by my side. These kids really love their teacher and tutor. I was blessed to be part of such a neat experience, yet still heartbroken for this man. He had incredible faith in God.

Today I talked with Becka, my friend I met in Ghana who was volunteering at the same time at me at the Orphanage. Becka is such a great friend becase she always gives me the updates from Ghana since I was lame and didn't get anyone's contact information before I left. Becka shared with me today that Kofi had to have his leg amputated today. I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or bad thing because I thought maybe he'd be able to be more mobile now. Well, I was wrong. Becka said it's a bad thing because it means he is in a lot of pain and unable to get the further treatment he needs. I thought he could simply use crutches or a wheel chair or something, but duh Katie, he lives in Ghana, not America. Becka quickly reminded me that the resources are not easily accessible and the finances are slim to none in regards to receiving the real support he needs. This broke my heart.

With Kofi's amputated leg and condition that he is in, he is unable to teach and tutor, basically preventing him from working. That means that he is hindered from many things- his finances, his job, and using the gifts God has given him. It also means the the kids at the Orphanage are without a tutor, meaning they are not receiving the best education possible. I cannot even imagine the sorrow he must be experiencing. And here I am, focusing on my problems which entail trying to figure out God's perfect will for my life and battling with my time. What a wake up call!

Please keep Kofi in your prayers. Prayer is the best thing you can offer someone. For strength. For peace. For encouragement. For him to continue to dig deep in His relationship with God through terrible circumstances. For miracles. For God to provide and direct the finances and ability to receive a prosthetic leg so that He can live a normal life again as a teacher, tutor, and man of God. Thank you for your support.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Just Me and God

Most of you who know me can see that something has greatly changed in my life over the past several months, more specifically since I returned from Ghana, Africa. It has been a challenge for me to even describe how or what happened in me there and since I've returned to the States, but hopefully blogging again will help you better understand where I'm at in life.

This concept of Just Me and God honestly began about 9 months ago when I first began attending Vista Assembly of God, my current home church. Before I even walked into the church, God told me "Katie, it's just me and you. Don't worry about anyone else or anything else. Just focus on me and you." I remember very specifically walking into that church for the first time and feeling quite uncomfortable. I had never been to a church like this before. (It is a pentecostal church) The lights were dimmed, it was sorta smokey like a concert, people were speaking in tongues and saying "Thank -You Jesus" a whole lot. I sat in my chair and asked God to speak to me as I heard the worship music playing and people singing. It was then that I heard God tell me "Katie, don't worry about finding the right church, just seek me in Spirit and Truth". I didn't even know what that looked like but I wrote it in my journal, of course. ;)  After the service I remember running into woman who was going to be on my team for Ghana and she asked me what I thought of the service. I told her exactly this "I am very uncomfortable and I have never been to a church like this, so I'm not really sure to be honest." And she told me I need to rebuke Satan and the lies this week.  Rebuke, what the heck does that mean? I thought to myself. Later that week, I looked up the definition. Rebuke: to express sharp, stern, dissaproval of; reprimand. I remember thinking: I don't have that in me. I'm not even stern in the classroom so how am I supposed to be stern with the enemy? Eventually I learned that it's not in the way you say it but in the belief. I don't have to sternly tell Satan something, but I have to speak my dissapproval of it to him and believe he will flee during my prayer.

Before the first time I attended Vista Assembly:

I found out that nobody I know can make it Sunday. A friend offered to go with me, but I believe God wants me to go alone. He wants me to be bold and brave. .

After the first time I attended Vista Assembly:

Wow. I am amazed at the pwoer of God. I feel overwhelmed  by what God is calling me to walk into and how He's speaking to me. I know He wanted me to be there today. I felt uncomfortable because it was a new environment and you feel a little out of place when people are jumping around and dancing and the Spirit of God is present in a way that you haven't ever experienced before. God told me, it's Just me and Him today. Nobody else around, nothing else matters. I stepped out in obedience bodly and bravely. Maybe that was His purpose for me today. Baby steps since I'm not a jumper. I think I'll just bury myself in His word, reveiw the passages the pastor talked about, and continue to press in.

I was very uncomfortable at this church on that first Sunday, but that certainly did not stop me from going back. God continued to draw me there and week after week, I kid you not, every single sermon aligned with exactly what I was going through following my first time. I knew God wanted me to be there. I didn't want to move forward into what God had for me just yet because I was fearful of the unknown and I wanted to be even more sure than I already was. Sometimes as Christians, God makes it very clear as to what He wants us to do or where He wants us to be, yet we fight Him because it's His way, not ours and we aren't ready to let go of our way. Or we find ourselves scared of what is to come even though we know we serve a faithful God whose ways are far better than ours. I experienced both of those during this time. Eventually God spoke to me so strongly that I had to obey. I like to say it was as if I would be slapping God in the face if I ignored all that He was revealing to me by not moving forward.

I continued on my journey with Him at Vista Assembly of God and received the preparation I needed through His Hands and Feet Christian Ministry prior to my departure to Ghana, Africa for about three months. God's timing, ability to align things in our lives, and provision for us according to His will amazes me daily but even moreso when you are pursuing Him with all that you have and walking into the things He's called you to do. I experienced this firsthand. There is SO much to share but I seriously cannot even get it into one blog post and aspire to include it in a book one day.

Alright, back to Just me and God...I'm sorry I got a little side tracked :) Since that moment that God shared that with me, I have grown tremendously in my relationship with God. I have learned that my relationship with Him is the most important and valuable relationship in my life. When I was in Ghana, I had to rely on God like never before. I felt alone. I felt discouraged. I felt overwhelmed. I felt confused. I didn't know why I was there and I was trying to be a light to the non-believers who were volunteering at the Orphanage but I didn't even know what I was doing there so it discouraged me even more. Finally by week five (my last week there) I learned how important it is to be in communion with God. I had to wake up at 7am daily in order to get quiet time in with the Lord, free of interruption. I learned that I have always been expressive about my faith and God, yet I do not truly know Him or my identity in Him. I learned that I had no problem telling people I love God, but I didn't even know His word or the general Bible Stories. I understand I can't know everything, but it is very important to me to have a solid foundation of my faith before going out and telling people about God. I must first believe in Him and receive Him as well as His word before I can expect others to do the same thing.I must rebuild my foundation on God in order that it won't be shaken when others try to trample on it or disagree with the decisions I am making because I love and serve God. I've had my share of difficulties with persecution and felt hurt by things people have said to me since I've returned from Africa. It hasn't been easy trying to describe what God is doing in me and how this second trip to Africa changed me when I don't even completely understand it myself, but one thing remains. It's all about Just me and God. No matter what, my relationship with God is the most important thing to me and I am currently learning how to solidify my faith by rebuilding my foundation on God. I am also finding my identity in Christ.These things take time and effort (discipline), which is also why I have spent less time with others and more time with God since I've returned from Ghana.

I challenege you to evaluate your relationship with God. If you are a believer and you are walking with God, is your relationship with Him the most important and valuable  relationship you have? Are you remaining connected to him daily and not letting your circumstances dictate how your day goes and how you view God? Are you seeking to please Him or please others? These are tough questions that I've also had to evaluate in my walk with God and learn for myself.

For a while I fought with God about this new season I've been in since I returned from Ghana. I didn't like being an introvert instead of an extrovert. I didn't like saying no to things because I knew I needed fellowship with God. I didn't like keeping to myself and not sharing with others what God was doing in my life. But just because I didn't like it doesn't  mean I didn't persevere. I chose to push through, to keep my head up, to pursue Him, even if at the time I did not understand His purpose in all of this. Once I quit fighting Him, I let go and let God move in my life as He intended. I learned as He revealed to me in many different ways that the season I am in is so essential and key for my faith as well as what He has planned for me and so I joyfully accept it now rather than try to avoid it. And I also recognize that some people may not understand this season that I'm in,  the changes that are going on in me, and the calling that God has given me and placed on my life, and I am okay with that. People don't have to understand everything. But, I would hope to receive their support knowing that my heart is after God's, and I'm simply following His lead for me life and walking by faith.

I'm going to end on a scripture that has really helped me get through any difficult times when I've felt discouraged by others opinions or lack of support of what God is doing in me and where He leads me. A friend of mine gave me this scripture and it has blessed me so much. ATTN: PEOPLE PLEASERS: This verse is key for you:

"Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ." Galations 1:10