What’s the Purpose?

Today I was in the middle of a grammar lesson and one of my students sighed dramatically and exclaimed, “What’s the purpose of this?!”

A valid question, to be sure. But when attempting to teach 25 children about misplaced modifiers, it is difficult to explain the relevance of such work early on in the process of learning it. The truth of the matter was that I couldn’t effectively and efficiently explain why this lesson was important. He needed to trust that it simply is important, and in time, he would see why.

In getting slightly frustrated with this boy, I was reminded how God works in the same way, and to Him, I must sound like this irritating child who just couldn’t do the grammar exercise without being explained it’s importance.

So often God instructs me with His Word or His Holy Spirit and I don’t understand the purpose of His instructions. I become bothered by the lack of explanation He provides and my trust dwindles.

When this happens with my students, I, rather exasperated, remind them how well they did on the last exam because of this kind of practice, or I remind them that I graduated with a degree in English and that they can trust me that reading the assigned book will indeed make them more educated human beings.

Then I am humbled, thinking of myself in my student’s place, sitting at my own little writing-desk which God has called me to, complaining about the lack of direction in the open-ended assignment he has given to me. How many times has God saved me? How does it usually work out when I break away from His will and do my own thing? Has He ever allowed me to fall from grace and has He ever left me with plans which hurt me?

 I am reminded that in order to learn something new, you have to trust the masters of the craft. Just as my students can trust me as their guide when writing a reflective essay on internal racism in “The Bluest Eye”, I need to trust God in the work he has for me to do. When my students trust in the process of writing, they soon realize it’s value when looking at the end product. With God, it is just the same.

Since I am seeking to do His work, I have to trust in His process if I want to see the product that He has in mind.

Lately I have been wondering what God’s got up His sleeve. I hear His voice calling me to specific projects and even to avoid specific people or activities, but I don’t know what the purpose is. I feel like that dramatically exasperated boy in class– too wrapped up in the world to open his eyes and see the big picture, or too self-concerned to trust that there even is a big picture to see.

One of His latest assignments, among others, is to plant a garden. My friend gave me a starter kit vegetable garden and it has been sitting in my kitchen looking cute and taking up valuable space for about two weeks. I also have two bags of soil sitting on my porch also taking up space and looking… well, not so cute.

I could not explain to you why God wants me to plant a garden. I even expressed to my husband today how I’m not sure I enjoy gardening at all, and how I would really love to like it, but I’m not sure I do, and anyway, I’m so busy with work and church obligations, and housework and you know, being alive, that I just don’t think I have time for planting things…Well, that may be true in my mind, but to God, I am just that obnoxious student who always vocalizes frustration with not understanding the point of reading such an “old” book!

In short, I am a disobedient and disrespectful child when I question God’s purpose, even if it is in a simple assignment such as planting a few tomato plants. But if I cannot obey God in the small commands, how can He trust me with larger blessings? My students cannot write a full essay until they know how to write a sentence, and if they practice their addition and subtraction, they can soon divide and multiply.

If I want my gifts and blessings from God to multiply, I must do good with the small responsibilities that God grants, even if I don’t understand His purpose. For, as He says, “my thoughts are higher than your thoughts”(Isaiah 55:9); I am not meant to understand His ways, and if I did, He would not be a God worth obeying.

The all-knowing-all-seeing Lord tells me through His Word: “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land”(Isaiah 1:19)…. and in the case of crop-growing, that promise may be very literal.

What assignments is God giving you these days? How have you learned to trust Him without always knowing His purpose?

Prayer Makeover: Part II

Last week I spent some time going over the rules or conditions of prayer. These five rules were not my own, they were found explicitly in the Word of God. If you remember, I used quite a few different books of the Bible to demonstrate God’s instructions about prayer.

This week, for Part II of our Prayer Makeover, I want to go into the process of prayer, and we will only be looking at one book of the Bible. So, (clears throat) please turn your books to Matthew 6, verses 5 to 8. You can go ahead and bookmark the page, because we’re going to be here for a bit…

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Here Jesus tells us a few things about how we should pray…. Well, first, He actually tells us how not to pray. We can’t be doing it out in the open for all to see. Now, does this mean we can’t pray out loud before a meal with our family? Does this mean that we shouldn’t pray in our small groups and group bible studies and prayer meetings with friends? Not necessarily.

See, the hypocrites that Jesus is talking about used to get all dressed up to go out on the street corner and shout out prayers that they could have just said at home in their pajamas. But they didn’t do it to talk (much less listen) to God. They did it so that other people would look at them and think, “Oh, look at that holy person! How faithful they are! They are so righteous! I love they way they pray!”

This is why Jesus says that these people have already received their reward. They get credit for their prayers from the people that hear them (the people that the prayers are actually for). These prayers are not for God, so God does not give them a reward in heaven for their windy, wordy, empty prayers.

Jesus warns us to not be like those people, who keep babbling, thinking that they will be heard because they keep on talking and talking and talking. When they do this, Jesus, implies, their words loose meaning, but they also insult God in the process; they are treating Him as if He doesn’t already know what they need! Our God knows everything! He knows what each and every one of us needs better than even we do! 

Now, back then, as I said, these people would go out to the town square to shout prayers to the Lord. Today’s equivalent might be praising the Lord in a Facebook status, or tweeting Bible verses. It all depends on the intent. If the intent is that you really truly think God is checking his newsfeed on “the Book of Faces” (as my husband so cleverly calls it), and so you want to let him know you’re a “fan” of His, then fine! But most of the time we post and tweet those things to make sure other people see them, not to make sure God sees them …. and honestly, I’m guilty of this too… so let’s all work on this one!

I remember being in a college prayer group when I first got saved. Each time we got together, we would talk about the Word and how it was working in our lives, then we would ask for prayer requests. After that, we would do what I like to call “Popcorn-Prayer” (this is the teacher side of me coming out!). One person would start praying, then after they had finished, another person with pick it up and pray as well, and then, after some silence, another person would pray… and so on and so forth until the last person prayed and we all would say, “In Jesus’ Name, Amen!”.

I would sit there with my eyes shut, not really listening to the others, but instead I would be rehearsing my prayer! I would think about what things to say and how to phrase things, and I would review the prayer request.

Now, to be honest, I don’t think I did this in order to be praised on Earth for my holiness or beautiful prayers. I think I was actually nervous about praying in front of other people because I was a new Christian, and I really didn’t know how to pray! 

Luckily Jesus actually tells us how to do that too…

He tells us to go to our room, close the door, fall to our knees, and pray in secret. This way, our prayers are only for Him and Him alone. We are not doing it for show and our reward will be saved for us in heaven rather than being wasted here on Earth with compliments from others.

So, now we have some general guidelines about how to pray, and we have Jesus’ direct words about how not to pray. What do we do now?

Practice!

  • Take instruction from Jesus and go in your room and talk to God, listen to Him too!
  • Keep a prayer journal that you can revisit throughout the day. Write about what you’re thankful for. Write about what you’re sorry for. Write about what you need or what you know others really need. Write about how incredible God is. Write about the questions you have for God.
  • Read the Word and speak the Word. God loves to hear His Word repeated back to Him, that’s why Jesus always quotes scripture. Read the Word, memorize verses, and speak them aloud in your private prayers. God will surely speak to you through them to give them new meaning and application to your own life.
  • Work to see God everywhere! When you are constantly aware of God’s presence, it’s much easier to speak to Him and listen to Him throughout the day. You won’t have to routinely rattle off a prayer during your lunch break at work just to fit your prayer time in if you are constantly communicating with God, whether silently or aloud. And remember, communication is a two-way street!

Next post, we will still be in Matthew 6, so keep that bookmark in your Bible or internet browser! We will take our prayer time to the next level with the “model prayer”

See you soon Saints!

Prayer Makeover: Part I

Recently I have been feeling… blue.

I think it’s got to do with a lot of things.

My husband’s out of town and I miss him. It’s getting darker outside faster. I’ve got a TON of work to do that keeps me busy… but kind of lonely. I’ve been tired…

But I think the real source of my certain shade of melancholy is rooted in my prayer life. Lately my prayers have felt weak, hard to muster up, and they’ve been lacking… gusto. I need to reexamine prayer.

In short, I need a prayer makeover!

For this next set of posts, I thought I’d explore the idea and practice of powerful prayer, it’s stipulations, it’s process, and it’s outcomes.

First, I want to take a close look at the stipulations or rules of prayer.

Now, before I was a true Christian, I totally still talked to God all the time. I never followed any rules about my prayer though, so all I did was talk; I didn’t listen. Communication with God is a two-way street. I didn’t realize that before I was saved. And if someone where to have told me that there were rules for prayer, I would have told them that they were “squashing my spirit” and “limiting my spirituality”… whatever that means. My problem was that I did not read the Word of God (the best place to really listen to God), and because of my lack of Christ’s actual words, I did not abide in Him (which is actually the first rule!).

The Five Rules of Prayer:

  1.  John 15:7 tells us specifically that if we want our prayers heard and answered, we must abide in Christ and Christ must abide in us. What does ‘abide’ mean? Abide means to accept or act in accordance with. So. We must accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we must act in accordance to His will and way, and in order to do that, we have to know and study His word. In short, our obedience to His word is highly important when we pray. And because of this fact, guess where we will learn about how to pray? …yep! The Word!
  2. In 1 John 5:14-15, God tells us to pray as if we have already received, which is an exercise which strengthens our faith. We need to pray, knowing that God will answer. Why would we ask for something from someone we didn’t think would answer? We need to be confident that our prayers will be answered because we know that our God is faithful.
  3. In the same verses (1 John 5:14-15), God also tells us that we must ask according to His own will. This is exactly what Jesus did when He prayed in the garden of gethsemane :  Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42. We need to be aware of the fact that God knows what is best for us, and so pray that His will be done rather than our own, which is limited by our own lack of understanding and selfish desires. (Also, if Jesus prayed that way, we probably should follow suite).
  4. James 4:3 tells us that a hindrance to answered prayer is greed. If we wish to spend what we receive on our own lusts and pleasures, God will be less likely to hear, much less answer your prayers. Psalm 66:18 explains that if we cherish iniquity in our hearts (in other words, if we have sinful intentions), then our prayers will not be lifted up. Now, sometimes we will make a mistake and pray for nasty things (revenge, excessive wealth, worldly power…). In time, God will reveal to us that our wishes are sinful and with the maturing of our faith, we will learn to pray in a selfless and grateful way.
  5. The last and most important stipulation on prayer is one that I never knew about before I became a Christian. You can find it in John 16:24: It is that we must pray in Jesus’ name. As believers in and followers of Christ, and because we belong to Him, we can ask in His authority and on His merit. Just as the Father answered Jesus’ every prayer, so He will answer us when we ask in Jesus’ name.

Now, you will notice that these rules of prayer are not my own. This is how God’s Word–The Bible– actually tells us how to pray.

To sum it up:

In order for our prayers to be heard and answered, we must abide in and accept Christ as our Savior and read his Word, show our faith through our confidence in prayer, pray for God to do His own will before our own, rid any sinfulness from our hearts and especially in the words or intensions of our prayers, and finally, we must pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior

In my future posts, I want to explore the process of prayer even further, in an attempt to strengthen my own prayers and deepen my relationships with the Lord. I also hope that you too will be strengthened and that your own prayer life will grow deeper in the love of Christ.

Jesus tells us that (after these previous stipulations), all we need to to is… “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” John 16:24

 

I’m trading my blues for the joy that is completed by answered prayer.

 

Will you join me in doing the same?

Vomiting Up

Okay, let’s get straight to the nitty-gritty, nasty truth:

I’ve been a struggling bulimic for 6 years.

Vomit has been something that I’ve grown accustomed to during my long bouts with this awful disorder, and I realized something today. My own vomiting is causing me to be vomited.

So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth.”Revelation 3:16

Lately, I have not felt like the “hot,” “on-fire,” or at the very least “smoldering” follower of Christ that I know I need to be. However, I have not truly felt the fear of being the very unattractive and undesirable lukewarm one whom God was so quick to rid Himself of. And while I have been keenly aware that bulimia has been robbing me of my relationship with Christ, I never really made this connection:

Each time I vomit, God does as well. What is He vomiting up? Me. 

In all honesty, these words have shaken me from a long naive coma in which I was feeling more passionate about work and what food I could get rid of instead of how close I could get to my God. I know I have been turning lukewarm. Each time I place my own insecurities and the old, foolish, deadly disorder I have before God, I am turning even more distasteful and tepid.

My wonderful husband put it in a metaphor which was far less graphic:

If you are a Chemistry major, or in a Masters program, or working on lead role in Hamlet, you can’t just spend two hours a week with your lab work or dissertation or script. You would probably spend extensive hours everyday focusing on and studying your subject of choice in order to become an expert. It would be your priority, not something you do just once a week.If we aren’t totally focused, if we are putting anything else above our goal, we’ll fail the test or drop out or get stage fright.

If we want to follow Christ and be holy, we should be the same way about Jesus: we should study him daily and think about him constantly, not just one a week on Sundays. We can’t be lukewarm about our faith and just spend our spare time on Him. He wants our entire focus, as if He were as important as a Chemistry exam, or a Masters Degree, or a staring stage role. (Because honestly, here’s a little secret, He is even MORE important than ANY of those things!)

If we aren’t totally sold our for Christ…. we’ll get vomited up.

To be honest, I don’t like reading about vomit, especially in the Bible. It stings a deep, fragile, and sore place in my heart.

God could have used a host of other words in that verse or even a host of other metaphors, but He didn’t. He chose to use a graphic, descriptive, violent, forceful metaphor.

Just like deep down, I don’t really want to vomit up any of the food I eat, I also really, really don’t want to be ejected, spewed, or vomited from His presence. I want to abide in Him. I do not want to grieve Him or give Him anything but all my focus, all my love, and all my life.

He deserves nothing less and, right now, as I struggle with my own terrible vomiting-up, I deserve nothing less than being vomited from His mouth.

Luckily, no–miraculously, our God is one who loves us. And because of Christ, we do not receive what we deserve, but rather we are forgiven…

Are you or have you ever struggled with lukewarmness? What are you putting before Christ that you need to give up?

Voting like God wants us to

So, I don’t know if you know, but Election Day is coming soon.

A little further away now that we’ve had to set our clocks back, but as a Christian, or better worded, as a follower of Christ, it’s important to know what we are voting for the fast approaching November 6th.

But, what does the Bible say to us about voting?

Now, some of you, I’m sure, think the pulpit is no place to discuss political questions or voting, but actually, the Bible touches upon this subject a good deal more than we might think. Many say that faith and politics just don’t mix, but actually, that little anecdote is not in the Bible.

To be fair, I too believe that a pastor or church leader should always respect differences of opinion within the church and the Christian community, especially in political matters, as opposed to taking advantage of his place of leadership to endorse a particular political candidate. This, however, does not mean that we do not have obligations as Christians in regard to politics.

As the election approaches, here are several Biblical principles for Christian voters:

1. Pray about it.

Paul urges us that, “… prayers… be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” We are to pray for leaders, no matter who they are, as long as they allow us to follow Christ and be holy. I don’t know a President so far that has not allowed me to do this. Do you? Okay, so pray for your President.

From studying scriptures, it is clear that God raises up leaders and deposes them according to his pleasure and according to their own morality. “He sets up kings and deposes them.” (Daniel 2:21) And God listens especially to the prayers of his children and grants their requests whenever they can be reconciled with his will.

I know that my church, and thousands of other churches are praying about this election. We are all asking God to help us elect moral and godly leaders. At least we should be. God has better judgment on such matters of leadership than we do, so we should seek his help in choosing our leader.

2. Get out there and vote!

I mean, aside from the obvious reason that we should take action in this National Election, here’s why: Jesus says, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”. We give to government what it requires (as long it is not in violation of God’s will).

We live in a republic whose form of government requires the involvement of its citizens for its success. So part of our Christian obligation to Caesar as citizens of the USA is that we participate in the political process, at least by voting for the candidates we think will be best for our country.

I know… sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged. Especially in an Election where bad-mouthing occurs, and it’s hard to tell who is telling lies at what time. But keep in mind that there never have been or will be any perfect candidates for office. Even the Kings that God appointed in the Bible are all flawed in their own way. David slept with another man’s wife, then had him killed in battle because he got her pregnant. Solomon put Hugh Hefner and his Playboy Bunnies to shame with the size of his Herem (and here we thought Clinton’s  leadership scandal was outrageous!).

We vote for who we prayerfully consider to be the best man for the job, and as Christians, we have an extremely important job as voters. Jesus says to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.” It is we Christians who especially act as salt to our culture, preserving it from rot and decay.

John Adams, one of the signers of the Constitution and one of our early Presidents, wrote, “We have no government armed in power capable of contending with humans passions unbridled by morality and religion…Our constitution was made only for a moral people.”

George Washington asserted, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to a political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

The founding Fathers of our country recognized that morality and religion… I like the term “faith” better than “religion”, but nonetheless, both of these are necessary supports to the success of our government.

3. Choose wisely and Biblically.

It’s easy to just say, “Well, God’s got it under control, so I’ll just take a back seat here and vote for whoever. God’ll work it to good; He always does.”

Well yeah, you dummy, but then you’re not being an instrument in His plan! You might as well not even be a Christian if you’re not going to allow yourself to be used by God, and to be used by God, you’ve got to be wise in your decisions.

Besides, it’s true what they say; our leaders are to some extent a reflection of the people. But it is also true that the people oftentimes become a reflection of their leaders. Remember King Ahab, arguably the worst king in the history of Israel, and God said that Ahab “provoked me (God) to anger and caused Israel to sin.” (1 Kings 21:20-22)

Make no mistake, whoever we choose as our leaders will have a dramatic impact and influence on the country as a whole. So Christians must choose wisely, starting with taking a look at what the Bible says about the hot-topic issues in the Election.

WARNING!! Some of these issues may be controversial to the modern day reader. They may make some upset and angry. And another warning: I’m not going to apologize for it.

This is what the Bible, the Book of Truth, says about these issues, and if you are a Christian, as I am, you should believe what the Bible tells us.

So….. Here it is. Don’t say I didn’t warn you:

  1. We need a leader who will encourage, accommodate, tolerate the Christian religion, not hinder or prohibit it. There is now a hate crime legislation which may eventually make it illegal to preach against homosexuality or abortion.
  2. This is what I was warning you about ….. Okay, there is a Biblical family structure. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. God intended marriage to be between a man and a woman. I’m not saying that gay marriage HAS to be illegal, but I’m saying our leader should also respect the Christian beliefs about marriage.
  3. We need a leader who will value human life from conception till death. God is the God of life, Jesus is life and both are very much against the taking of human life, especially when it did not do anything to deserve death. In short, you’re not God, so don’t play God.
  4. We need a leader who places a value on justice and fairness for the oppressed and the poor, both of which get plenty of attention in scripture. Jesus says feed the poor at your table, give to those who ask, and take care of the sick and homeless.
  5. At the same time… we need someone to lead us who will encourage personally responsibility for one’s life, for the willingness to work and take care of one’s self as one is able. Thesselonians tells us that if a man won’t work, then neither shall he eat.
  6. The writher of Proverbs tells us that, “when the righteous rule, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan”. We need to choose a righteous leader.

We need to consider these issues when listening to the debates. We need to consider them when walking to the polls…. but if you notice, all of these issues in the Bible do not point to one specific candidate. Republican are pro-life, but they aren’t real into helping the poor. Democrats are all about providing for those who need it, but they also say it’s discrimination to preach against homosexuality. Other parties have their own views… none of them align exactly with Christ.

That’s why we have to pray and consider wisely. It is not an easy choice.

4. Put God’s Kingdom First.

Salvation from sin will never be found in human politics; it will only be found in God’s kingdom. This is simply to say that any of our society’s problems will never be solved by electing new legislators or passing new laws. The human heart must be changed, and only God is capable of that.

So yes, we do have political and civic responsibilities as Christians! But our primary work is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christ is the only cure for sin and all the ills that come from sin: poverty, perversion, crime, greed, lust, sloth, and yes, even extreme and irresponsible debt.

Most of you who read my blog are citizen of the US, but i do know some readers hail from other parts of the world. Our citizenship of God’s kingdom is what unites us all, for it is eternal and the benefits of being a citizen in that kingdom are literally out of this world.

We can’t change the course of our human history, Jesus already did that for us and He’ll be the one to do it again. What we can do, is pray, vote, consider wisely the current issues, and put His Kingdom first. We can be instruments of God’s righteousness and impact our country.

I’ve been Drowning… Unnecessarily

Did you know that the biggest challenge with rescuing a drowning victim is the likely fact that they instinctively will fight against their rescuer? Neither did I, but now we both do.

The sheer panic and fear is so great that they can’t stop themselves from flailing (which, by the way, is one of my students’ vocabulary words that they tell me is not in the Dictionary…. look again students…).

But trying to snap them out of it (the drowning victims, not my students)—to awaken them to their need to simply relax and lean into the arms of their rescuer—is nearly impossible.

Well, over the past few months (since it’s been that long since I have written), I have realized that I’m that girl who’s drowning.

Let me explain.

One of the most wonderful things about God is that you can lean on him no matter what. He will always be there to catch you. Sometimes it is not exactly in the way we would picture it. In fact, it’s usually not in the way we would picture it. But He is our rescuer no matter how deep or shallow the water.

Another truly wonderful thing about God is that he calls us into deep, uncharted water with Him…. 

*clears throat*

Turn to Luke Chapter 5 with me.

When Jesus first met Simon, Simon had been fishing all night long, but to no avail. The Bible doesn’t say it directly, but I believe that God made it so that those fish were too slippery that evening, because the next day Jesus used the entire dock to teach thousands of people that morning. He couldn’t have done that had Simon filled it with tons of fish. God had another purpose for Simon’s fishing dock.

Sometimes God thwarts our own plans as well. He doesn’t do it to punish us, or demand penance. He does it because our plans are too small and His plans are bigger than our worldly desires and intentions.

I promise I’m getting back to the drowning metaphor, just go with me a little longer.

So after Jesus teaches the huge crowd, he tells Simon to go out into the deep water and cast out his net. Simon starts to explain to Jesus why that seems like kind of a crazy idea. He tells Jesus that they have been fishing all night and in the shallow end (the way every fisherman fished during this time), and that going into the deep water at midday just didn’t seem right…. BUT he tells Jesus that at his command, he will do it.

There’s the key.

Simon had been through it. He’d been fishing all night with nothing to show for it. He was tired, hungry, and embarrassed. And he’s about to go do something so silly that all his fishermen friends will think he’s even more of a crack pot than he seems. But he does it anyway. Because Jesus told him to.

And lo and behold, what does Simon find? His nets are bursting with fish! He can’t even bring all of the fish onto the boat!

Jesus messed up Simon’s plans in order to create a testimony for him, then he rewarded his faith through obedience with the treasure Simon was seeking in the first place! 

The piece I really want to grab onto in this illustration is the fact that Jesus called Simon out into the deep. He took him into uncharted, deep waters in order to test his faith and require his dependence, and then He helped him not only survive, but He helped him thrive! God calls us to do this in our lives as well. He calls us out into the deep water so that we cannot touch the bottom, so that we cannot keep our heads afloat, no, not without his help.

The thing is, many times we start to get this whole “drowning” mentality even before He calls us out to the deep.

We like being in the shallow water.

First of all, it’s warmer. It’s clear, so we can see the bottom and we can see any fish or pieces of rock or floating seaweed that get in our path. But most importantly, we can stand in it without fear or threatening waves. We depend on no one but ourselves in the shallow water. We do not need help breathing because out heads are far above the water. We do not need help standing because our feet touch the bottom. We can handle ourselves in the shallow water.

But when God calls us into deep water, when He demands our heart and faith and life, He is not going to let us stand alone. No, He needs us to lean on Him in order to stand so He can use us in the way we were created to be used, and He makes sure of it by taking us from the comfort of ankle-deep water.

But don’t you know? You are much better off with Jesus in deep waves than you are without Him standing alone in the shallow pools, even when He dunks us under that water. Like baptism, He puts us in over our head. We can’t see, we can’t breathe on our own, and we don’t even know which way is up. We fight going deeper down and we fight coming up for air. We fight our one and only Help. But don’t you know? It doesn’t matter how much farther in over your head you go once you’re underwater in the first place!

God will come, with rescue breathes or an air tank, or some goggles, or whatever it is you need out there in the deep. You just have to relax and accept His help.

…. See, I say “you”, but I really mean “I” or “me”. Remember, I’m that girl who’s drowning.

I’ve been fighting against Christ’s calling for me, almost without realizing it. I know that if I just surrender to it, I’ll discover that rescue is only breaths away. But I also know that if I surrender to it, I might just discover that God needs more of a testimony in my life… and I know enough to know that will be difficult.

My fear is that He has given me too much to handle, or that He’s squashing my strong personality. My fear is that I’ll fail or that I’ll become a boring mold without uniqueness or beauty.

I realize how ridiculous this is. First of all, it’s a guarantee that God will give me “too much” to handle because He knows that’s the only way I’ll ask for His help in prayer. And God has made me strong, beautiful, and unique, so following Him would never make those traits disappear, but rather be augmented in His light.

I’ve been thinking to myself, “I’ve got this God! Don’t you worry about me!”

But in reality, I’m fighting against His help, thinking I can swim downwards and get air from the sand.

Fighting His will is too exhausting to be good for me. I know that if I let go and give in, if I cease flailing, throw my arms upward, and let His current take me under, I know His Grace will find me there and that I’ll be stronger for it.

I’ve been a drowning girl flailing around, trying to escape the very one who holds my entire life’s breath. And that…. well it’s just kind of silly. So I’m going to stop drowning out there on my own and start being Saved with Jesus Christ, my life boat.

 

What deep water is God calling you to? Are you fighting His Help? What testimony has God created in your life? 

Truth: I am a weirdo

“Those who are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the son of man will also be ashamed when he comes in glory of his father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38

There are times when I feel that being a Christian makes me weird. In a world where it’s encouraged to devote your entire life to making money and having fun, my life choices and opinions seem to contradict with the general population, oftentimes making me the awkward Jesus-freak at the party.

Yes, at times I feel confused and outcast when I find myself the only Christian in a group full of people who seem to despise anything remotely religious.

And I’ll admit, there are dark moments when I feel tempted to hide my true beliefs in Christ’s words simply because I don’t want to offend other people or be the odd one out.

Reading Jesus’ words here in Mark have deeply convicted me. I do not want to be ashamed of my Savior! I do not want to blend into an adulterous and sinful nation, even if it means I feel completely outcast.

In reality, Jesus himself was an outcast from the rest of society (that’s why they crucified him). But he shown brightly and stood out like the city upon a hill that he calls us all do be.

I too, am called to stand out and be marked as different. I am a child of God in a world that attempts to make gods out of celebrities’ photoshopped images; of course I am going to seem a little strange to the majority of people.

I am deeply proud of my God’s work, even when I don’t fully understand it. I love my Savior Jesus Christ and will never be ashamed of his unique holiness nor will I shy away from the high standards he holds me to as his follower.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” Mark 8:34-35

I am a follower of Christ, therefore my life is not my own. My choices are lead by my God and so may look ridiculous in the eyes of many. But since my life is not my own, I do not live it to seek approval of the world–what good would that do me in the end?! It’s Jesus’ approval that I truly desire.

This is not an easy teaching: to place your entire identity in someone that you have not met face to face yet.

But the weight of the world is much heavier than the weight of his cross, the cross that he already carried for us.

I would rather love Jesus and be a weirdo than be accepted into any social group on this earth.

What about you? Is it ever hard for you to admit to those around you that you live for Christ? Do you ever feel yourself hiding your faith or feeling ashamed of your unique calling? How does Mark’s passages speak to you?

Exploring why I write and why I sometimes just don’t

So, it’s been a while.

I must admit, life has gotten a little strange lately, but that’s not the real reason I stopped writing for a period of time. I think it had to do with a lot of things. I’ll go into them.

One was that I was struggling with my faith quite a bit during my job application and interviewing processes. I had been praying non-stop about getting hired and was even quite sure that I would get a specific position at a specific school, but as per usual, God’s timing was different than mine.

Still, I was rather depressed. I slept a lot, didn’t run, didn’t eat much, and was quite miserable to speak with, I’m sure.

I had been offered a position at a middle school, only to learn after 4 sequential interviews with other middle schools that I was not qualified to teach 6-8th grade. I also had made plans with a principal that I met at the Healthy Schools Campaign, but he ended up just not showing, and he didn’t call me back. I couldn’t help feeling a little like a 7th grade girlfriend getting stood up at the movies. Dumb.

In short, I was kind of a mess for a little bit. I felt God was holding out on me and I was having a hard time mustering up the faith to believe that he would still take care of me.

I rescheduled my interview with Harlan Community Academy for the Friday I left for Moline to run the Bix with my family. I drove to the city from Bloomington, only to get a flat tire about a block away from the school.

There I was, pretty skirt and high heels, the only white girl around for at least a few miles, changing a tire on the corner of 95th and 113th.

When I finally got to the interview, it was well worth the trouble. I met the principal, met some of the other staff, and did a bang-up job with answering the prescribed questions that they ask every person who steps foot into any CPS office. After that, we chatted about sports, disciplinary issues, AVID, and new attendance incentives.

It was the best interview I had been on.

I was still feeling rather down throughout the Bix visit and the camping trip in Colorado, although the prospect of a job at Harlan was exciting to me, and I had a new kind of hope.  Could this be the place for me? Was God calling me to the Roseland neighborhood in Chicago?

It was day 3 of the camping trip that I got the call from the principal of Harlan, offering me a position. I felt my heart expand in my chest and my whole body seemed to be tingling with an odd sensation of accomplishment and blessing that I couldn’t speak for a few moments.

Long story short, I took the offer and our family celebrated that night.

…but I still didn’t feel that depression lift much. Instead I was weighed down with the heaviness of responsibility and the reality that I would be teaching a subject that I had no real experience teaching. I suddenly felt unprepared and small. God had given me the job, but was I good enough for it? First I didn’t have faith in God’s timing, and now I didn’t have faith in myself.

This is why I haven’t been writing… well, at least one of the reasons why I haven’t been writing. I felt caught up in my own head and worries that I didn’t see the use in rattling on about other things on a blog. I also needed some time to work things out in my head and get ready for some big changes.

A second reason that I didn’t write was because I felt that my posts were pissing people off rather than lifting them up. Along with positive feedback, I have received a few more negative comments about my blog subject matter, and, while I want to make clear that I welcome such comments and encourage people to call me out on whatever it is they wish to bring to my attention, I don’t think I was emotionally stable enough to see them clearly for a little while.

Lately, it seems social media is exploding with tolerance, acceptance, and civil rights issues. There has been a huge push to fight judgment from others due to some of the political and social “hot-buttons” in the news as of late. Many Christian writers have spoken about homosexuality and many liberals have written about gay rights and Christian’s unjust ideology. I have recently hit on a few sensitive topics myself with my last few posts, and I recognize that there is much to be said about all issues from all sides.

Before I posted again, I wanted to re-examine what I truly believe the purpose of the blog is for. 

I know clearly that Jesus said not to judge and never to try to take the speck of sawdust out of your brother’s eye, when you yourself have a plank in your own.

My gray area comes when I am trying to determine the right course of action or what I believe, or even attempting to guide others in areas I feel convicted to. For example, if I search my heart and read my bible and then see that, as the bible states, I must have no hint of sexual immorality, then I will choose not to read certain books, watch certain movies, or wear certain clothing. Since I have decided not to read or view certain things before having experienced them, some would say this is me being judgmental of such things. 

I believe that I have the right to pick and choose what I want to subject myself to, but I will agree that none of us here on Earth should be allowed to condemn others for such actions. I cannot look down on those who choose to dress a certain way or choose to read certain books, and this blog is not a place to begin to judge people.

Paul explains very clearly, the steps to follow when a fellow Christian is living in sin or has sinned against you and none of those steps involve posting a long essay for all the world to see.

That being stated, there is nothing wrong with me finding out what my own sins are and also what causes me to sin. It is even okay that I write about it on this blog, however, I do see the error in “preaching” on a blog about why other people need to obtain from certain things or about what others are doing “wrong”.

This blog is not a personal diary, but it is also not a pulpit to preach from.

It is more of an exploration on what it means to be a follower of Christ when it is inevitable that all will fall short of the glory of God. 

With my blog’s purpose reinforced and my new job underway, I feel a lot better about coming back to the blogging world, after almost a month-long hiatus.

Thank you to my readers, however few or many of you there are, for reading, commenting, and making me examine my thoughts and my heart. 

And thank you most of all to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for making me wait for his blessings so that the testing of my faith produces endurance and strength. I am the woman I am today because of you and I pray that I continue to grow in the direction you lead me in.

I am not lost. I am here. Here with you.

On giving up…

let it go…

You may have heard people say things like “never say never” or “never give up” (woops! I just said “never” three times!), and they might sound like very motivated and dedicated people who inspire you beyond belief.

But the truth is, there are times when “giving up” is exactly what we need to do. Giving up will make us happier, healthier, and most importantly, more like Jesus.

There are probably a hundred things we hold dear that we don’t even realize are killing us spiritually.

Here is a list of 10 of them:

1. GIVE UP YOUR NEED TO ALWAYS BE RIGHT

To some of us, the idea of being wrong is terrifying. So much so, that even when it’s clear we’ve made a human error, we’ll never admit to it. There is always a price to be paid when we don’t let this one go. It might be an honest friendship, or even a job, or it might be that we loose our family’s trust entirely. Isn’t it worth it to just let go of that need to always be right?

Through James, God tells us that we must admit when we have done wrong or are wrong: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed”. James 5:16

Do you want to be healed?

2. GIVE UP YOUR NEED FOR CONTROL

I’ll be honest; I struggle with this one…. Proverbs 3 tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.”

This means that we really don’t have any control over our own lives. We can’t even count on our own capabilities of understanding the world. We have to be willing to give up our need to always control everything that happens to us and around us. It actually takes the pressure off us if we know that things are out of our control!

The next time you feel like you’re obsessing or worrying over something that you can’t do a thing about, just breathe and know that you’re in good hands; God’s hands.

 3. GIVE UP ON BLAME

This is similar to giving up on control.

When we allow others to have power over us in their ability to make us physically do things, emotionally feels certain ways, or mentally go somewhere in our own minds, we put ourselves in a position where we may end up blaming someone else for our own situation. This is never helpful.

Even when people have done wrong to us, we must never blame them. What did Jesus say when the Jews killed him? Oh that’s right: He said, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34.

God tells us in 1 Peter 4:12 and James 1:2-4 (sequentially), that we should not only expect hardships and persecution, but that we must be joyous in each strenuous situation:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

4. GIVE UP YOUR DEFEATING SELF-TALK

Okay, this one I’ve been struggling for a long, long time, especially in regards to my body image and a few eating disorders floating around out there. Here’s what we need to understand:

God made us in HIS beautiful, glorious, incredible, and perfect image.

And how beautiful is this?

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be”. Psalm 139:13-16

In Isaiah 64:8, we learn that God has formed us like a potter does to clay. If we made us and we are the work of his hands, then how can we critique God? Who are we to say the pot needs new handles or a different shape?

Now, if you’ve done something wrong, then it’s okay to feel convicted by your actions, but this lasts only for a time. And frankly, it’s not God’s voice that’s telling you you’re no good; it’s Satan’s.

 Who do you want to listen to?

5. GIVE UP YOUR LIMITING BELIEFS

This one is clutch for Christians.

Do not doubt what you can or cannot do, about what is possible or impossible.

Philippians 4:13 tells us that “I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me.”

There is also a ton of stuff in the bible about doubting and having little faith. If you’re doing to doubt Christ, you cannot follow God. So stop limiting your beliefs with logic or hearsay.

It may not be logical; that’s why they call it FAITH.

6. GIVE UP COMPLAINING

Ephesians 4:29 tells us to “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

And don’t forget when James says in Chapter 5, Verse 9, “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”

Then God gets a little angry in Numbers 11:1:

“And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.”

There are plenty of examples in the New Testament, when Jesus gets downright annoyed that his apostles are always “grumbling to themselves”. It does no good. We really are doing ourselves a disservice by complaining. When we talk about something, it gives it life, and do we really want to give life to the most annoying things in our lives?

Probably not. So just stop talking about it. Really.

7. GIVE UP THE LUXURY OF CRITICISM

I don’t even have to add to what Jesus says in Luke 6:37-42:

 “Stop judging others, and you will not be judged. Stop criticizing others, or it will all come back on you. If you forgive others, you will be forgiven. If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving — large or small — it will be used to measure what is given back to you.” 

  “What good is it for one blind person to lead another? The first one will fall into a ditch and pull the other down also. “ 

 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eye; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

‘Nuff said, right?

8. GIVE UP YOUR NEED TO IMPRESS OTHERS

Stop trying so hard to be something of this world just so that the world will like you. Jesus doesn’t work this way.

Jesus tells us that if we are a friend to the world, we are an enemy to him. If we are impressing those around us, our treasures are here on Earth rather than in Heaven with him.

If we receive our reward here, then no reward awaits for us after life is finished.

In short, we need to impress Christ, not other people. Other people don’t hold the key to our immediate future, or ultimate Salvation.

9. GIVE UP THE PAST

Jesus was arguably the most present person who ever lived. He did not look on past sin in anger, and he did not let his anxiety of future events change his ability to be focused on life within the present moment. In turn, God wants us also to let go of any past wounds or bitterness we hold onto. He wants us to look for his presence within our daily lives, and press on, forgetting what lies behind us.

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

If Paul let his past failures and wounds affect his journey by hanging onto them, he would never have been the great writer and teacher that he was through Christ. He would never have pressed on, determined to overcome future battles and struggles.

Our own memories can sometimes paralyze us. If we want to be like Jesus, we have to let go of the past and be newly created by him everyday. And this happens in the moment.

10. GIVE UP ATTACHMENT

First of all, Jesus tells us that rich men rarely enter heaven, so right there you should be thinking of freeing up some space in our pocket book by giving to those in need.

He also tells his disciples not to carry anything with them when they go out to evangelize; He doesn’t want them to be attached or dependent on anything except The Lord.

Now, this is extreme, but perhaps we are called to be a little more extreme in our faith…. When we are attached to the things of this world, we are essentially creating idols, which God hates. And his hate is fierce.

Galatians 5:19-21 reads,  “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Idolatry can also look very much like love. I have been guilty of holding those around me up on pedistals that only God deserves to be held upon. This also makes me have extremely high expectations because… well, unknowingly, I’m expecting these people to take the place of God.

If we idolize our spouses, for instance, we will also end up demonizing them because they won’t live up to our high expectations—expectations to fill places and heal wounds that only Jesus can.

When we attach ourselves to our jobs, our house, our car, our clothes or even our family members, we are placing our identity in things that have absolutely no meaning in comparison to what our identity should be placed in: Jesus.

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Galatians 3:26-27

If our identity is in Christ, then nothing can alter who we are in him. Nothing can touch us!

What are some other things you need to let go of? What is God calling you to give up?

Stepping it up

So, news flash on Claire’s personal life for a sec:

Last year’s STEP-UP Fellows (can you find me?!)

I am currently working with an urban education teacher preparation partnership with Chicago Public Schools and Illinois State University. It provides an intensive live-in internship for undergraduates working towards becoming urban educators and community workers. It’s called STEP-UP.

I had this internship last year and it literally changed my life.

Currently I am on staff for STEP-UP and I have a feeling it may be equally life altering.

Today, somewhere in between meeting with the GADC and St. Sabina’s Employment Resource Center and visiting all of Auburn-Gresham incredibly welcoming (and entertaining!) host families, I found myself thinking about all the strengths and qualities that my team, an incredible group of educators, posses.

This job–heck, even the internship–is very demanding and could be considered high-stress. It requires long hours and constant work, but also continuous self-exploration, intrinsic motivation, and an other-worldly  kind of collaboration that I have never before experienced here on this planet as of yet.

I started thinking about all these demands, and I then surprised myself.

You see, usually when I am in a situation where I have a lot of pressure and stress on me, I freak out and stress out. But this time I’m not doing any freaking or stressing.

I looked at the team of people I am working with and it all made sense.

I could go deeply into all the reasons why I am incredibly grateful to be working with each of them, but that would be a terribly long post. I’ll keep it short. The most important thing you need to know in order to understand happened last night:

It’s 10:45pm, we’ve all been up since at least 6am and have been working pretty much non-stop with no dinner break. You would think that energy would be low and people would be drained, grumpy, and snippy. But no! Yes, each of us feels tired, but it’s that good kind of tired that leaves you with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. The energy is lower, but still very  positive.

The stress and frustration that could easily come about from the late hour and the little kinks that have come up in our planning is replaced with a shared patience and love from the group as a whole that I can’t explain in worldly terms. But here, I’ll try: These folks got my back, and I got theirs’! Why worry?! 

My affection for my own team got me thinking about Jesus’ Team: the 12 Disciples. 

In my last post I picked apart the meaning of the word “Disciple” and since then I’ve been contemplating and reading about what it truly means to be one.

What are the demands and skill-sets needed to fill the job description of one of Jesus’ 12? 

In the next few weeks, while I continue to work within my own job’s high

demands and long hours, and while I monitor our intern’s progress and skill-sets, I want to explore what it truly means to be a Disciple of Jesus Christ in this current world.

I want to send in my resume to Jesus so I can apply for the position of Disciple. I want to get the job, and I want to discover how to ROCK IT!

…… Okay, maybe not exactly like that.

But seriously, what do you think? What makes a “good” Disciple? What would be the job manuel for a Disciple of Christ? If you were offered the job (and you are) would you take it ( or…. have you taken it)?

Look out for more posts on this topic to come in the upcoming weeks!