Thursday, February 19, 2009

Shedding Your Old Life

Growing up in a Christian home definitely had its advantages; I wouldn't trade it for anything. One of the advantages was that, as a young kid, I learned that the Bible was true, Jesus was ruler over all, and that our lives were to be lived for Christ, and that's it--no questions asked. Even through my "rebellious" years...I had those truths instilled in me. I know this wasn't the case for everyone, so I'm praying for compassion and understanding when my fellow Christian friends act like (or sometimes flat-out say) they miss their old lives and are gripping on to their past like a 90-year-old grips the steering wheel while driving in the rain.

In Galatians, we are called to be crucified with Christ and thus give up our past and our old life, take up our cross and follow him. It's definitely never expressed as an easy task. Dying to our old lives can seem impossible at times. Our old lives, our old friends, our old activities, our old traditions--those can be hard to give up. They bring us comfort and change can be difficult. Part of the resilience to even acknowledge a religion or a God (i.e. atheists) stems from not wanting to give that up or be accountable to our actions.

Let's take a look at what our "comfortable" old lives symbolize: selfishness, pride, an eternity of punishment and separation from the one true God who gave his life for us. Is that really a life worth hanging on to? Is that true comfort? Does hanging on to an old lifestyle really bring joy and satisfaction? Is being one person on Sundays and another person on Monday through Saturday really a fulfilling lifestyle?

Any change will take time, discipline, and patience. Anything that's worth it does. Seek first God's kingdom and a joy beyond comprehension will be shown to you! A real, honest, perfect joy from the only real, honest, and perfect person to have ever lived.

"For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."-Galatians 2:18-20 (ESV)

Don't rebuild what you've torn down!

(*By "old life", I'm referring to life before the realization that Christ is sovereign and our lives are for his glory, not our own. It is the life that some continue to lead after the realization, just with an underlying guilt due to consciousness.)

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Power of Prayer

In The Holiness of God, a book by R.C. Sproul, the point is made that before the death and resurrection of Christ, not even Christians had access to God. "The moment Jesus was slain, the instant the Just One died for the unjust, the veil in the temple was torn. The presence of God became accessible to us. For the Christian, the 'No Access' sign was removed from the gates of paradise. We may now walk freely on holy ground. We have access to His Grace, but even more, we have access to Him."

In our sinful state, all we deserve from God is his wrath. As we know, Jesus stood in our place and took the punishment for what we deserve. Not only do we now have eternal life, but we have access to the presence of God in our current lives.

God yearns to have a personal relationship with us. We are his children and he's passionate about our lives. So what does a personal relationship look like? It might seem odd to compare it to any relationship we have here on Earth. Usually we can pick up the phone and talk to someone we are in a personal relationship with. We can grab coffee, shoot them an e-mail, give them a hug, whatever it is. We can't really do any of those things with Christ, but it's still so important to maintain a personal relationship. In my opinion, the most powerful way to do that is to be in constant prayer.

Carolyn McCulley said, "[God] didn't just make us all and then stand back to have a good laugh. He is Lord over his creation, lovingly ruling over all things..."

Being in prayer and communication with him, even over things that we may feel are insignificant, is so important! He cares and wants to hear from us. This is something that I struggled with and continue to need to remind myself.

"Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit."-James 5:13-18 (ESV)

Pray in all things!

(Mark Driscoll had an excellent sermon on prayer--click here to listen.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Detrimentality of Gossip

The Lord has really been speaking to me in a multitude of different ways lately. It's funny the ways that he works to get our attention. Sometimes I feel like sermons, chapters of books, and blog posts are written just for me. There's a book that I'm reading with a friend, and we both swear that a chapter was added to address the last 6 months of my life, even though it was written a few years ago. Hey, it could happen. :)

In my devotional time, I've been reading James (one of my favs- I can't read it enough) and I was struck by this verse: "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless." -James 1:27 (NIV)

This is pretty powerful and there is not room for much negotiation. James 3 goes into much more detail about taming the tongue.

Proverbs 12:18 says, "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."

Gossip and slander are detrimental in general, but especially for the church.

Everywhere we go, we are to be a representation of Christ. Non-believers should see the way we act and speak and know there is something different in our lives- something they desire to have as well. How are we representing Christ if we are talking negatively or behind the back of someone made in his image? How can we be inviting friends to church one minute, then participating in the latest gossip the next?

Obviously nobody is perfect and situations arise where we lose control of our tongues. I am definitely guilty of this. I let my emotions override my desire to glorify God. In realizing that, I pray for the ability to refrain from gossip and glorify the Lord in all ways-especially through speech.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Undeserved Favor

As I've mentioned before, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around God's magnitude, holiness, love, grace, mercy, and so on. I feel like I'm not worthy, and I'm absolutely not. But the fact that I still experience all of God's goodness and that his mercy is poured out on me and his love is present in my life is a lot for me to take on sometimes. I struggle with the fact that I can't repay Christ for what he's done for me and what he continues to do for me. 

We live in a world that is pretty much give and take. We give hours of work, we get a paycheck. We give money, we get groceries and clothing and a place to call home. We earn much of the abundance we receive, and how much you get is correlated (in most situations) to how much you give. 

This is not the case with Christ's love.

Recently, some wonderful things have been happening in my life and I've been struggling with not feeling worthy of these things to be happening. What did I do to deserve these things? Surely they're too good to be true and they will be wiped out from underneath me shortly. I haven't done anything to deserve the Lord to bless me.

What he did for us over 2,000 years ago cannot be repaid by anything that we do. It was and is a gift of a life that will be eternally spent with him. I was struggling with this concept recently and my friend told me that what I was struggling with was pride. It seemed weird that she would use that word, considering I was telling her that I feel too sinful and too disobedient and unworthy of God's blessings. That doesn't sound prideful...but it is! It's thinking that Christ shedding his blood on the cross wasn't enough to pay for MY sin. It might've been enough for this person and that person, but it wasn't enough for me. She used this analogy, which really cleared it up for me:

Let's say a husband brings home a bouquet of flowers to his wife. He's so excited because he wants to show her how much he loves her and he wants her to feel happy and cared for. When he gets home and gives her these flowers, she responds not in joy, but in sadness that she hadn't done anything nice for him to deserve this gift. She has nothing to offer him in return. He tells her that it's ok- it's a gift and he wants her to just take them and not try to repay him, but she insists on wallowing in the fact that she didn't have anything to give in return.

Psalm 107:21-22 tells us how to rejoice in thanksgiving:

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.

Living our lives in a way that glorifies and honors God is the best way that we can show him thanksgiving for what he's done and what he continues to do in our lives. I pray that, in everything I do, God is glorified and praised.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Be Joyful Always

At the beginning of this year, I decided that the resolution I was going to work on the most for the year was to be more joyful. I can't really say whether or not I have or haven't, but I've been praying for it and prayer works.

I was talking with one of my "mentors", and I was talking about my week and he said, "Where are you finding your joy?"

Yikes! I had never thought in those terms before. I know what makes me happy and what makes me sad...but I never thought about those things being where I derive my joy. Joy that comes from the Lord is unwavering, because he is unwavering. If we find our joy in the Father who loves us, will never forsake us, created us fearfully and wonderfully, and has a zest for our lives that goes above and beyond our own, then we will be constantly joyful. Finding our joy in earthly things will lead to disappointment, frustration, and discontentment. Can you name even ONE earthly pleasure that is constant and never changes or becomes less pleasurable? I can't.

My friend posted a series on Biblical Joy on his blog and it's been really helpful to me (over and over and over and over and over). I definitely recommend it!

Paul is my favorite Biblical figure, mostly because he is joyful in situations where I know I would be a whiner. In Philippians 4, he says (while chained to a Roman guard):

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

If Paul can find joy in this situation (that is far worse than anything I've had to face), I think it's plausible to be able to do the same thing. 1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us, "Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances." (ESV)

I pray for the discernment to know when my joy is coming from somewhere else, and for the wisdom to find my joy in the one who will never falter in his promises.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mark Dever Quote

I just wanted to share a great quote from Mark Dever. Dever is the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist church in Washington D.C. and is currently speaking at a Pastor's Conference. You can watch the video of him preaching on the need for evangelism here.

In his message, he said (amongst many other GREAT things):

The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian:
When a non-Christian is convicted of sin, he sides with his sin.
A Christian sides with God, against himself.

The idea of us siding with God against ourselves is so awesome to me. With Christ, we can do anything- even battle our own demons that dwell inside of us and cause us to sin. The imagery is beautiful.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Soup Kitchen

On Saturday morning, a group from my church (and my AMAZING friend, Katelyn, who is always generous and willing to tag along with me) went to a soup kitchen about 10 minutes from our church to serve the surrounding people in need.

Honestly, I'd never been to a soup kitchen before and I had no idea what to expect. I'm a morning person, but the idea of waking up at 6:30 on the weekend wasn't too appealing to me. Saying that now is so disgusting to me, but I'm being honest. The night before, I was praying that this would be a good experience and would take us out of ourelves for a little while. Be careful what you pray for because God is powerful! ;)

We arrived and everyone was already shuffling around and getting ready for the flow of people. Everyone who was there to volunteer was either court-ordered or they needed community service hours for school. We were the only group that was there just because we wanted to be there. There were tons of volunteers, which was great. We wiped down tables and chairs and then started to organize the donations. I don't know exactly how helpful we were in the beginning; they pretty much have their duties down to a science (many of the volunteers are there weekly).

The real experience began (for me) when the people started to flow through. Our group was lined up, ready to serve. The guests are not allowed to touch anything for health code reasons; we scooped their eggs, we poured their syrup, we handed them their jelly.

In my judgemental human nature, I had expected most of the guests to look haggard, like they had slept in a box on the street and hadn't shaved in months. (Again, I'm not proud of this fact but honesty is key!) I was totally wrong. What really struck me about this was that many of the guests looked like they could be my dad. I saw my friends, my family, and myself in all of the people that we served. This could be me. This could be my mom. This IS somebody's mom. This isn't the life that they wanted or expected to have. They don't want to be at a soup kitchen having a meal, possibly their ONLY meal of the day.

There was a young girl there, probably 8 or 9, and she was probably the most polite girl of that age that I've met in a while. I wanted to take her home. This girl is wearing handed down clothing and probably has next to nothing compared to what her friends and peers have, and she's thanking ME for pouring her syrup. I should be thanking her for making me see what a selfish brat I am.

It's only by the grace of God that I am not in their shoes. It's only by his mercy that my family doesn't struggle as much financially as the guests there do. This is life. There is a world outside of iPods, name brands, and reality TV shows. I'm so thankful that my prayer was answered 100 times more powerfully than I had expected.

At first, I was really worried about being patronizing. I felt like the fact that we had to hand them everything and they couldn't touch anything was looking down on them or something. I snapped out of it and remembered why we were there. I was also reminded of Colossians 3:23: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men."(NIV) We were there to show God's love and God's glory. How am I showing God's glory if I can barely look these guests in the eye? So I slapped on a smile and kept serving and it ended up being an amazing experience overall.

For anyone who is interested, the soup kitchen we went to is called Someone Cares in Costa Mesa, CA. If you are local, they accept donations (food, clothing for all ages, and books) on Fridays.

"If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered."-Proverbs 21:13 (NIV)