My Life Verse

marriage counslingWe sat in the stranger-Pastor’s office. Me feeling like a giant cloud was hanging over us both, ready to be burst open at any moment, raining down all the blame, and him feeling… well I didn’t know for sure. But I was almost certain that his head was full of all the ways I was screwing up, was a crazy wife, and with reasons to leave me. I knew they were all there, just bubbling at the surface, waiting for the time to just explode and leave me with the aftermath to wade in until I could find some kind of self-pity pool to sit down in and cry about it.

Our first marriage counseling session seemed to be the best place for all of this to come out into the open.

…but to my surprise, no such downpour occurred.

It turns out that marriage counseling is not a place they make you go to before your relationship falls apart.

It turns out, I have a very loving husband who wants to not just be “okay”, like I keep asking him if we are, but more than just “okay”… He wants us to be thriving.

This, I recognize, is far beyond my own understanding. How can I trust that a mere mortal will love me and cherish me until I die when I know myself to be so unlovable and sinful? How can He or I know what will happen in the path ahead? What if something happens and he just can’t do it anymore? What if I’m just too much? What if even God can’t do anything with me? Where’s the guarantee?

It is times like these when my sinful, yes, sinful insecurities rise up from the deepest, darkest places of my doubtful heart and I start to want to control the situation–whatever the situation might be. I am looking for ways that I (me myself) can get a grip on my life, and I forget to trust the God who controls all, knows all, sees all, and has the master plan.

I believe that God created the Bible, through the hands of others, to be the manual for our lives. He had us as individuals in mind when He wrote it. I know He knew me and knew my struggles, sins, hurts, loves, and desires when He wrote this:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heat and lean not on your own understanding. In all ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

This is my Life Verse.

In this verse, the Lord admonishes me to trust Him, something I have struggled to do all my life. He tells me that He never advises me to trust myself, men, institutions, medicine, formulas, or experiences; He advises me to trust Him. His desire is for me to lean on and into Him, not to rely on myself. For, as I well know, when I rely on my own knowledge, I am confused, anxious, and insecure of the future.

Instead of looking for ways to control the situation or searching for my place in society or people’s lives, God urges me to acknowledge His existence in the world. He implores me to acknowledge His hand on my life and the lives of others. If I keep my eyes on God, He promises that He will make my path straight, regardless of if I know where it leads or what is on the way.

The Lord God wrote the Bible with each of us in mind. He knew what verses we were going to read at what time and He placed them there to guide us, encourage us, and be a light to our lives.

This verse is my verse. It will be a light to my darkness when sinful anxiety and fear threaten to crowd out my joy.

What is your life verse?  How does this verse encourage and uplift you? How is God speaking to you personally through His word?

What happens when we die, and does it even matter?

musingsRegardless of who you are, how old you are, or how you lived your life, you eventually will die.

Encouraged? I thought you would be.

Many people have contemplated about what happens to us after we die. Many are Christian, many are not. It seems all humans have an idea about how things should or should not be after we leave this world.

This, of course, brings about many questions: Will we be married in heaven? Is there a Purgatory? Who controls where we go? Do we have the same body when we leave this earth? Do we stay dead until the Savior comes back? Will we work in heaven? Is there really a hell?

The Bible says a bit about what will happen to us when we die, and what heaven looks like, but truly, it is very convoluted to the point that many have vastly different interpretations on what goes on in the afterlife.

And for once, I’m not here to discuss what the Bible says about this matter.

Today I want to ask you all an important question:

Does what heaven looks like really matter?

Jesus commands us to bring his Kingdom here on Earth. So why are we all obsessed with what heaven looks like or what will happen to us when we die?

To me, if one is concerned about the afterlife, it means one of a few things:

  • One: that person is clearly unsure of their salvation.
  • Two: that person does not trust that God is good enough to have fulfilled His promise to prepare a place for them.
  • Three: that person does not see a purpose in this life on Earth.

Now let me address all of these:

  • One: if you truly believe that Jesus is the Christ, the divine Son of God who is part of the trinity that is the whole God, then you are saved. You don’t need to worry about your salvation.
  • Two: if you believe that God is good, then you don’t need to worry about what heaven looks like. Simply trust that God will make a place for you that is better than you could ever hope to imagine, then move on.
  • Three: you were created to bring Christ to the world. This is why Jesus died for you: to bring His divine Kingdom to this world and make it a reality by living righteously and with great faith. This is an important mission that you need to not wish away into non existence or unimportance.

So, to sum it up, I’ll use Jesus Christ’s own precious words to us in Matthew 6: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear… Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?…But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

And in my own precious words: Stop focusing on the afterlife when Jesus has given you the gift of life to live NOW. Talking of and arguing over what happens after death is pointless and insights controversy that is unnecessary, and rather distracts from bringing the Kingdom here in this life.

We need to trust God. If He wanted us to know exactly what was going to happen to us when we die, He would have provided more details. My guess is that he probably wants us to have faith in His promises:

 “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:3)

You’ll be where Jesus is. ‘Nuff said?

Yeah, I think so.

Gasp! The church isn’t perfect?!

But… if the church isn’t perfect, then who is?!

A few weeks ago I found myself at a meeting in the church. Everything was going fine: we were praying, talking, taking prayer requests, offering our personal experiences, and sharing ideas about what the Lord was doing in our lives. All of the sudden something happened. An argument sprung up over how the voting of new officers should be done. Women were yelling, being snippy, acting stubborn, rolling their eyes, accusing one another, and attacking one another. It was out of the blue, and I wasn’t sure how to react.

Now, first let me preface that this church is my first church. I’ve gone to other churches before, yes, but I have never been an active member of the church nor have I been a follower of Christ for more than three years. This has been my only experience of what a church is and what people who belong to Christ do.

With this in mind, imagine my reaction to a mean-spirited argument arising out of a seemingly harmless church meeting. Some (who have perhaps been in the church a little longer) may expect as much, I mean, we are dealing with sinful people here. Some might join in the argument to defend the “Godly” side. Some may simply roll their eyes and begin praying a self-righteous prayer, thanking God that they are not like “those people”. Others may pray an earnest prayer that the Lord would intercede in this disagreement and peace would be restored via Christ’s will alone.

Now, what do you expect my reaction was?

Yep… I started crying. Big fat tears rolled down my face, my cheeks were red, my eyes puffy, my nose running.

Imagine a group of women arguing, then the youngest, whitest, newest member starts balling her eyes out like a little baby. I was extremely embarrassed to say the least. I ran into the bathroom with two other members trailing worriedly behind, the rest left in dismay, no doubt discussing what might have set off the new girl.

Between heaving sobs and behind the bathroom stall door, I explained in rather childish terms, what had made me so upset.

“I just (sob sob sob) don’t understand (snif sniff) why people of God (cry cry cry) are so (sniff sniff) mean to each other (uncontrollable sobbing)!”

Dramatic and laughable (and I do invite you to laugh at me as well!) as it is now, this rather mortifying experience taught me something very valuable. The church is not perfect.

Gasp! It’s not?!

I know. It’s taken me a while to digest as well.

Before this moment, and even a while afterwards, I had been under the impression that other people were either good or they were bad. I found this manifesting in the way I read the Bible as well. Stories like the book of Esther confused me. Is Esther good or is she bad? She presumably sleeps with a man before being married to him and she lies about her heritage until her people are being killed. She doesn’t sound like a super admirable gal, but God does use her to help save His people.

This “imperfection” is is way more than just the book of Esther too. David, after being declared a man after God’s heart, steals another man’s wife, gets her knocked up, then kills her hubby by putting him in the front line of battle. What the heck Dave!? And Solomon, the love child of David and Bathsheba, decided to leave his beautiful wife to go build temples to other gods for his millions of concubines. Even Jesus’ apostles do some pretty stupid petty stuff. So, my question is, how are these people the people of God? Shouldn’t these people be better than that?

My mentality was the same for people in my church. Why are they being so mean? Aren’t they here because of the Lord? If Christ is the leader of their life, why are they speaking to one another so disrespectfully? Shouldn’t these people be better than this?

The answer is yes, they should be better than that, but they aren’t.

And it’s not just them. I also should be better than I am, but I’m not. This answer seems oddly simple: we are, as humans, imperfect. We are not good. We are sinful.

Romans 7:15-20 says it best: I do not understand what I do... For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing...”

Keep in mind, this is Paul, arguably one of the most Christ-like examples in the New Testament besides Christ himself. If even he does not do the good he knows he wants to do, and he is extremely Christ-like, then how can I expect my fellow church members to be perfect at doing good?

This is not to say that we just allow people to do whatever they want, speak harshly, and live sinfully. By no means! But when sin happens, because believe God, it will happen, we need to respond as people who understand that only Christ is perfect. This allows us to be forgiving and merciful to those who disappoint us or leave us in dismay, and it also exalts the name of Jesus, His power, and His utter goodness.

To expect this kind of perfection from anyone else but Jesus takes away from God’s role in our lives, and it also leaves us continuously disheartened and dissatisfied in other people.

As you can see from my tearful reaction not but a few weeks ago, I am still learning this lesson each and everyday, especially since I have now become a member of a church. The Church is beautiful and I love mine, but we must not fool ourselves into thinking a group of sinful people will be perfect and holy simply because they gather in the name of Christ. Guard your hearts, have realistic expectations of people, and understand that Christ is the ONLY one who is good.

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.

More than you can Handle

Have you ever hear the phrase “God won’t give you more than you can handle”?  

The idea that God won’t ever give us too much is a very comforting big, fat, lie.

God WILL Give You More than You Can Handle.

I’ll admit, before I came to this conclusion, I felt comforted knowing that God would never allow anything to happen that I could not “handle,” whatever that meant. Things would always be manageable and I’d always be okay.

The truth is, the Bible doesn’t ever mention anything at all about giving or not giving us more than we can handle.

The verse that some Christians could possible confuse with this phrase is 1Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

The key word here is “temptation.” Here Paul promises  that God will not allow us to be “tempted beyond our ability.” God doesn’t say He won’t give us what we can’t handle. He says we won’t be tempted beyond our ability.

So…. you may ask. What’s the difference? What is “our ability”? Well, the second half of the verse, I think, helps answer that question: “but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Our “ability” is attached to the way of escape that God offers us each time we are tempted to sin. This exit door is what helps us resist and escape it. But more importantly, our ability is measured by our maturity in Christ and our reliance upon the Holy Spirit.

God certainly does allow us to experience more than we can handle, though.

Jesus was given more than He could humanly “handle.”

He prayed that God would take his awful fate away from him, but he added the important words “but now my will; your will be done.”  He was then beaten, crucified, and died an excruciating death. He did so without sin, however, because while he was tempted, he knew the “way of escape”. Still, God game him way too much for anyone to handle.

Like He did with Jesus, God will inevitably allow us to experience more than we can handle. Maybe it’s in death of a parent, or a spouse. Maybe it is watching a life-long dream drift away. It could be soldiers who watch their friends die in combat. Little children and siblings born with mental illness, or physical handicaps. Or may it’s simply God calling you to a very difficult career, financial stress, a draining job, or a very lonely period of time. Any of these things might be more than we can handle… but that’s the point.

Christianity is not the guarantee of an easy life, but the abundant life.

It makes us uncomfortable to think about suffering loss and God allowing that loss. (Don’t get me started on Job.) But God wants desperately for us to cling to Him, to hold onto Him for dear life sometimes, (as we are drowning). Without Him, we would drift away into nothingness. We will suffer greatly, at some time in our life, that’s a guarantee.

And it is because of our  sufferings and through our sufferings that we can become more like Jesus:

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Philippians 3:10

I want to know Christ and, if sharing in His sufferings is one way, then bring it on! Paul also tells us to rejoice in our trials and tribulations of any kind, for the “testing of our faith produces endurance”.

I gladly accept the fact that God will allow me to experience such pain and difficulties that I will be broken under the weight of these burdens. Then I can look to my Lord, the lover of my soul, and cry out to Him, knowing He is the only One who can save me.

I do not want to buy into the lie any longer of naively believing that there is some magic limit or glass ceiling on suffering. There isn’t, and we demean the power of Christ’s sufferings when we assume there is.

If we are do be like Him, we must suffer like Him, and then turn to only Him, only our Lord and Savior. He wants us depending on Him. When are we ever more dependent on Him than when we can’t handle ourselves?

Do you think other followers of Christ will suffer for believing the lie that God will never give you more than you can handle? How is God pushing you to lean on Him more in your life?

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? 

From Crisis to Christ

Hello world,

Again I have neglected to update for a bit of time, but I assure you all that I have good reason.

Instead of reflecting on my convictions, I was packing up a life and moving to another location. Dennis and I just now got settled in our new home in Roseland, a community on the South Side of Chicago. It took us eleven hours to  pack  up in Bloomington, and a half an hour to get all of it moved into the house thanks to our Chicago neighbors across the street.

Cookie, Robert, and Dominique were the helping hands we needed back in Bloomington when we attempted to move heavy boxes full of books and oversized chairs down our steep staircase and into the U-Haul trailer.

It is a completely different world here. Our sense of community and our definition of neighbor has already changed quite a lot, and we have never been more aware of the fact that we are white and middle class.

In Bloomington, we definitely lived in a lower-income part of town, and crime (as in theft) was fairly high, but  it was not the same as Roseland. I am not even sure how many people live the house across the street, but it is enough that all have to share a room with at least one other person, if not more. I have already heard gun shots not too far away, and I know that most of the students I will be teaching have had at least one loved one lost due to the violence that has run rampant in Roseland.

Before anyone begins to worry about us or our safety (or sanity for that matter), I want to tell you that I truly am not afraid here. In fact, I have never felt braver, and it’s not because of me. No, not at all. God has called both Dennis and myself to this community and we have no doubt in our minds that this is where we will do His work. Now, on the other hand, our fearlessness will not cause us to loose our senses. I am quite aware that we must be much more aware and alert and cautious in a neighborhood such as ours. So don’t worry; we’re not eager to become martyrs out of stupidity.

Nevertheless, we have been met with some skepticism and raised eyebrows, but God has been so good in these past two days, which have been incredible!

Dennis and I were on a quest to get involved in a church. We had met and hung out with the neighbors and we had recently gotten prayer from our former church members, and were ready to get connected and tapped into what the Lord was doing in Roseland. We headed up to meet Ms. Pearl of the Roseland Community Day Care Center at Christ Temple Cathedral. The children were all supposed to be napping, but were rolling around on their cots making eyes at us and playing with their sheets. Ms. Pearl had to get up and scold them several times and one little girl even lost the privilege of having sheets on her cot!  Meanwhile, Ms. Pearl pointed us in the direction of Roseland Christian Ministries  as well as the Agape Center. She shooed us away to go meet Brad and Mark at the Agape Center, and we went on our way.

We were greeted at the Center with smiles and great advice once we introduced ourselves. Ms. Pearl was right when she said there were more than a handful of other white people living in Roseland (something she described as “amazingly enough”). She was also right in telling us that it would feel very familiar to us, but to not simply stop looking for a church home there. This place did seem familiar, and it wasn’t only because most of the people there looked like us; there was a sort of comforting and comfortable sense that I felt, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

Dennis and I were remembering one of our first conversations when had just met. We spoke about how neither of us ever wanted to get comfortable about our lives. I think we meant that we never wanted to settle or get complacent with our current situation to the point where we were never taking risks or pushing past routine.

Now, that has come to mean something completely different to both of us. It means living a life for Christ rather than for ourselves. We are called to die to ourselves so we can truly be God’s hands in whatever situation he puts us in.

One of the Pastors at Christ Temple said it really well:

In a community where crisis is everywhere, where death and destruction are common day occurrences, and we are pushed to the breaking point as a church, we must remember that God controls all and he even controls evil. He puts us in difficult situations for a reason because he knows that when we reach our breaking point, that’s when we have our break through and call upon Jesus to save us. When we reach our crisis, we push past and receive Christ. 

So many people in the Bible were pushed into crisis: Elijah, Moses, Job, Ester, Ruth, David, and especially Jesus. And they all were put there to display the Glory of God. See, many times, the Preacher said, we think of our troubles and crises as the Devil. We are going through temptation or struggle or hardship and we assume that the Devil is attacking us, that Satan is on our back and we’re pressed down by him.

But in reality, it’s all God. What Satan means for evil, God means for good. And we can be rest assured that it will always be this way for believers and followers of Christ Jesus.

So no, I am not afraid of this new life that we are thrust into. I am not afraid of this violent community nor the responsibility of being a full time teacher for the teens who live here.

When I have Christ to guide me, and God’s calling to keep me here, I have everything I need.

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.

“I hate the world!”

How many of you are like Linus over there and totally hate someone? Okay, maybe not hate, but how many of you “severely dislike” someone in your life? It could be a co-worker, a classmate, your boss…a member of your family…

Chances are, there will be some people in your life that you won’t really like. It’s natural right? We’re all so different and sometimes those differences just get in the way….

Okay, another question: How many of you hate all people as a whole?

… Unless you’re a moody teenager or an endangered species, you probably answered “no” to this question. I mean, how can we make a generalization like that?

All people? Well, I’m a person, so no way!”

People often times love humanity and are despicable towards individual human beings. It’s easy to love everyone as a whole because it’s a generalized notion of who people are as a species or a community. It’s a whole lot harder to love our neighbors as individuals, especially if we know them really well.

But the Bible tells us that we must hate the world and love our neighbor. We are supposed to have  great contempt for humanity as a whole, but great love for the individuals who enter into our lives.

Some may object, saying “But God loved the world didn’t he? He sent it only son here!”.

Well, that’s true… which it why it’s difficult to understand why we are called to hate the world that God loves so dearly.

A look at two passages of the Apostle John reveals this intrinsic tension.  On the one hand, as the former argument references, John writes, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).  On the other hand, he tells us, “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him” (1 John 2:15).

The issue is clear. We are in the world, a world that God loves, and a world in which we have a purpose.  And yet we are not of this world (we were created by something divine, not the the mundane earth), and we should guard against falling in love with this world.

The New Testament often uses the word “world” (“kosmon” in Greek) to refer to culture, or the results of human activity and creativity.  Obviously these different uses also have different connotations:

1.) The first is neutral or maybe even a positive one:  World is seen as the created order, including the actual physical earth (Matthew 24:21), the people living on it (Matthew 4:8; John 12:19), human life (1 Timothy 6:7), and the target of the disciples’ mission (Matthew 5:14).  Though sin entered into this world by the Fall, it and its inhabitants are seen as God’s beautiful creation.

2.) The second usage has a negative connotation.  World consists of human things controlled by Satan, in open rebellion against God.  The earth and its inhabitants are seen as involved in a cosmic struggle between spiritual forces due to sin (Ephesians 6:12).  In this battle, the sinful world didn’t recognize Jesus as God when He came to this earth (John 1:10), so it, as a whole, is an evil place due to its imperfections.

Are things clearing up a little?

Now there are a few typical responses that occur when Christians read passages like those that I just referenced.

First response: opposition and separation.  

The history of Christianity is filled with examples of this response.  Early Christians rejected Greco-Roman culture, declaring it idolatrous and corrupt.  The monastic movement of the Middle Ages pushed for complete withdrawal from the world.  Many Protestant sectarian movements–the Brethren, Mennonites, Anabaptists, Quakers, and also the Millerites –also embraced this approach.

Those who choose this route, I am confident, do so with a sincere belief that they are living out the Word of God.  Their sincerity should be respected.

However, the Bible does not mandate a complete withdrawal and isolation from the world. We are created to be social beings, and it is within a society or a culture that we live, work, worship, and witness.  At most those who break away from the world simply develop a different culture or subculture.  More importantly, this response implies that sin is caused by the world, whereas the Bible teaches that sin begins within the mind.

Second response: assimilation.  

This position assumes that culture is basically good.

Stressing peace and love, cooperation and communication, this approach allows the gospel to be interpreted, understood, and embraced in a multitude of ways.  In the process, the essence of the gospel becomes compromised and suddenly we get Christ as the “great moral teacher” rather than the Lord of life and sole Savior of the world.  Thus, Christianity becomes an all-embracing humanitarianism;  there is blurred distinction between the realms of God and Satan, propped by a moralistic humanism which poses a case for universal salvation…. and we all should know that is NOT what the Bible teaches.

But how do we understand culture, community, and our commitment of faith? Where do we draw the line between the demands of society and the kingdom of God?

In order to engage critically with our surrounding world, we must balance four biblical approaches to it:

1. Separation from anything openly contrary to God’s revealed will.

2. Affirmation of everything that is compatible with God’s revelation and original plan for humanity.

3. Transformation of individual human beings to become unified with God’s principles.

4. Contribution to the surrounding culture through elements that benefit humanity and enhance life.

And in order to see the world this way, we must seek our wisdom from the Holy Spirit and God’s Word so we may allow God to guide us in our choices rather than let our own selfishness lead our worldly conquests.

Doing God’s will where we are

In Mark 5:1-20, Jesus frees a man from an evil spirit. Afterwards, the man wanted to follow him,  but Jesus told his new follower to return home–to his own culture–and share the good news with his family and friends.

Here is the key to a Christian understanding of culture: Be a follower of Jesus where you are. No matter the situation, no matter the people you are surrounded with (who you might dislike). We are called to love those individuals, even if we hate the torn-apart world that surrounds us and effects us.

As Reinhold Niebuhran American theologian and commentator on public affairs, noted: As Christians we “… are forever being challenged to abandon all things for the sake of God; and forever being sent back into the world to teach and practice all the things that have been commanded (us).”

 

How do you, as a follower of Christ, live in this world and survive in today’s sinful culture? Or am I way off? Is our culture not evil at all?