Monday, February 23, 2015

Why I Don't Like How People Use These Words

This is a Bible. A giant book of cats is not.
Bible.

Virgin.

We know what these words mean. The world uses these words in a different way than their definition.

And I hate it.

Like seriously.

There are certain phrases you'll hear thrown around a lot containing these words. You probably can name a handful of them yourself. Like the Cat Bible. Or the popular show, Property Virgins. These terms seem to be becoming more and more popular in our culture.

On Amazon, for example, I found more than a dozen cookbooks with "Bible" in their titles.

I hate the way these terms are used in these titles/phrases.

It cheapens the meaning

The Bible isn't just a book of wisdom. It's the infallible, God-breathed, sacred teaching of God Almighty Himself.

A virgin doesn't just refer to not having done something before. Rather, it specifically refers to someone who has never known another person sexually. Someone who, instead of falling into the temptations of the world, has chosen to keep his or her body pure until marriage.

By using these terms in the way the world has started to use them, it devalues them. When we refer to books containing inordinate amounts of information as "bibles," we start to lose our wonder, awe, and respect for the Word and the One Who wrote it. When we use the word virgin to refer to anything someone hasn't done before ("Oh, I'm a homework virgin"), we scoff at the gift God's given us to give to our husband someday.

You might read this and think I'm overreacting. Or nit-picking. Or getting into the legalism pool. But if we as Christians make light and use these words regardless of their true meaning, how can we expect anyone to take them seriously?

How can we expect someone to hold the Bible as the truly sacred book it is when we boast the Mac N' Cheese Bible on the same shelf?

How can we expect our friend who's struggling to keep sexually pure with her boyfriend think it's worth it when she hears the word "virgin" dropping from our lips as we say we've never worn a pair of heels before?

I'm not saying we should go bashing people who use these terms. They've been conditioned by the sinful world they live in. But I am saying that we as Christians should not partake in the world's shameful speech. We should not make light of these words.

A Bible is God's holy, incorruptible Word.

A virgin is someone saving him or herself for marriage.

And that's it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Why I Love Meditating

Doubtless you've heard of it. Meditation features in almost every TV show/movie that has an eastern flair or character in it. It's a huge part of New Age practices, and abounds in yoga.

It's also in the Bible.

More on that in a bit.

Meditation has gotten a bad rep from the way people practice it, but it has many benefits. For me personally, I notice I am more focused and calmer on days I take the time for it.

And unless you think I've totally gone off the deep end of sanity into some miry pit, check out the Psalms. At least a handful of them talk about meditating (especially Psalm 119), though not in the way we hear it described today. Rather than the common "empty your mind" nonsense, the Psalms name something specific we are to fill our mind with: God's Word.

You see, meditation as described in the Bible is really just a fancy way of saying focus on/think about.

Meditating on God's Word is useful. Meditating on nothing and letting any little thought float around in there is like jumping into a garbage truck and expecting to come out squeaky clean in the end.

So of course, we don't want to practice meditation the way it's normally taught. Emptying your mind is never a good thing. If you're thinking of nothing, you can bet your last pair of fuzzy socks that Satan's going to take care of that. Instead, let's follow the example of the Psalms. Here's what I meditate on, and recommend you do the same.


1. God's Word

"My eyes are awake through the night watches, That I may meditate on Your word." 
~Psalm 119:148 NKJV

Meditating on God's Word reminds us of what He has already done, what He's capable of, and what He's promised to do. It reminds us that we don't have to worry, because He's bigger than our problems. It reminds us of how much He loves us, and how He's working everything out for good toward us.

See why I find it so calming? How can we be stressed when we remember those things?

I like to especially focus on verses such as Proverbs 3:5-6, Philippians 4:13, Joshua 1:9, and Hebrews 13:5.


2. What God has already done in your life

"Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you." ~ 1 Samuel 12:24 NKJV
  
Samuel spoke this to Israel at Saul's coronation, and imagine how differently things may have worked out if the people had listened to him! 
No matter how horrid you might think your life right now, no matter what kind of mess you're in, if you think hard enough, you can remember something awesome God did in your life. God worked it out so I have a part-time job. There's lots of people without even that much. God helped me find some pretty awesome friends. God gave me a pretty amazing family.

Think about how much worse your life could have been. God saved you from that. And if your situation is pretty amazing right now, this exercise should be easy.


3. What God is like

"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits" ~ Psalm 103:2 NKJV

Think about it. When you're constantly reminding yourself how mighty, strong, kind, loving, forgiving, powerful, wise, comforting, and merciful God was, is, and will continue to be, it's hard to get into a funk. It also makes it easier to know what you should be doing (hint: if God is the same now as He was a thousand years ago, you can be pretty sure the Ten Commandments still stand, let alone the teachings of the New Testament). Don't remember all his attributes? Psalm 103 is a good place to start (it also talks about a lot of things He does for us).

Just take a few minutes a day and try it. I usually try to meditate a few minutes in the morning and the evening, to get myself ready for the day and to unwind before going to bed. See how you feel after trying it for a few days.

What are some of your favorite verses to meditate on? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

6 Things I Need to Remember

Some days are a breeze. Others are hard. Like today.

There's a lot of stuff going on in my life right now ("Yeah yeah, Christy, join the club." I know, you all have a lot going on, too). And honestly, sometimes I get drained from it all. Like today. I came home late from work with a bad headache and a bunch of things to get done, only to have some unexpected things pop up. My to-do-list won't be finished today.

Days like this, when seemingly nothing goes my way (I admit, hyperbole, but hey, that's what it feels like), I can feel like a failure. Like somehow I messed up this whole life thing (yep, cue drama queen).

On those days, and honestly every day, there's a list of things that I need to remember: 


1. God loves me.

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, 
in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
 ~ Romans 5:8 NKJV

Isn't it amazing, that our God loved us so much, He was willing to die for us? And He paid the price for our sins before we even acknowledged His existence. Jesus died for people who mocked and ridiculed Him, for people who thought He was a fool. It takes great love to give up your life for a friend. Jesus died for us while we still counted Him the enemy.


2. God renews my strength.

 "He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.  
Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall,  
but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."
 ~ Isaiah 40:29-31 NKJV

Even when I'm exhausted, God can give me the strength to carry on. It might not mean that I get every thing I wanted to get done finished, but it does mean I'll have the strength to get done everything that needs to be done.


3. God provides for my needs.

"Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or 
‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. 
For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." 
~ Matthew 6:31-33 NKJV

The unsaved worry about how they are going to survive, because they don't have the assurance we have in Christ. Even when it seems dark, He'll provide our needs (if you still have doubts, just read the rest of Matthew 6, and search the web for George Mueller).


4. God is my shield.

"As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him. For who is God, except the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?" 
~ 2 Samuel 22:31-32 NKJV

Nothing can come against me and cause me harm without God's permission. 


5. God forgives me.

"As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." 
~ Psalm 103:12 NKJV

Even when I mess up big time, God is willing and able to forgive me. He loves me no less, and there is never a cap on the number of times He forgives me for my sins.

6. God is my guide.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;  
In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths."
 ~ Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV
 
God guides my steps. He doesn't leave me to try to figure this whole life thing out by myself (praise Him for that!).


We all have crazy lives at times. Some of you may be going through a rough patch as well. Please remember, God will give you the strength to get through. He defends you, loves you, provides for you, forgives your faults. He guides you into the way He wants you to go.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In Control

I just finished reading a novel that was really good but extremely sad. In it, the main character and her family were in a horrible car crash, her parents dead on the scene, and her little brother and herself seriously wounded. As the novel plays out, her brother dies as well.

As she is in a coma, the novel is told through her eyes first as herself and then as she sees things in her comatose state. Stricken with grief over her family's passing, and in such bad shape herself that she would need quite a few reconstructive surgeries, the girl battles between whether she wants to fight for life anymore, or whether she wants to give up and die. Because according to one nurse, it is the girl's choice whether she lives or dies.

While the author did a beautiful job writing the story (except for the swear words, that is), there were a couple of things I disagreed with her on. One of them was this idea, that we get to choose our own destiny.

Because although we choose several things in our lives, who to marry, where to go to school, whether to accept Christ's sacrifice, we don't control our destinies.

God does.

In the book of Job, we get a glimpse of just how much God is in control of things. Satan approaches God, and accuses Job of only being faithful because of all the stuff God's given him. Satan insists that if Job lost all his wealth and kids, he would curse God instead of fearing Him. Later, Satan is adamant that, if Job was diseased and suffering, he would turn his back on God.

Of course, if you've read the book of Job, you know the end of the story. Job stays faithful (though admittedly gets a little whiny and woe-is-me, but honestly I don't know anyone except Jesus who wouldn't have in his position), God gives Job's "friends" a spiritual slap in the face, and Job gets more stuff than he had before, including ten more kids.

But have you ever noticed before that God had to give Satan the okay? Satan didn't come charging in, and say he was going to do all this crud to Job and there was nothing God could do about it. He had to wait for God's permission.

Even bad stuff can't happen to us without God's allowing it.

Of course that begs the question: why on earth would God allow all this crud to happen to Job? Why does He allow bad things to happen to us?

Why do we struggle with illnesses?

Why do we get passed over for opportunities we would love to have?

Why do we have trouble finding jobs?

Of course, there's always the possibility that we're suffering because we were stupid and did something we shouldn't have. Suffering can sometimes be chastising to bring us back to God.

But barring that, if we've searched our souls honestly, and God's not telling us to wise up and shape up, there's really only one reason God lets us suffer.

To work it out to our good, and His glory.

Remember Job? In the end, God's glory was revealed to six people (not including Satan, who obviously must have already known God was so awesome). Job's friends, who God rebuked. His younger acquaintance (they never mention when he happened along, so supposedly he came with the other guys), who also learned his view of God was rather flawed. Job's wife (you don't hear her telling Job to curse God after that).

And of course Job himself.

Job learned just how great his God is. Job got to see first hand that God had never forsaken him, though He did allow Satan to kick Job around a bit. He learned that, ultimately, God held his entire world in His hands, that all the time he was suffering, God was working it out, shaping his destiny.

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman, was a beautifully haunting story, which almost had me in tears (and I'm not a crier by any means). But unlike Mia, who was burdened with the choice of whether she would die or live, our destiny isn't controlled by us, but by One greater.

And honestly, I'm quite happy it's that way.

Empty Thank Yous?

So today, as I woke up twenty minutes before my alarm went off, I was laying in bed praying, and when I got up, I realized something. I do not know how it had never struck me before, at least not quite in this way, but it was a little shocking at first.

I am, by nature, a very ungrateful person.

Even though I say thank you a lot.

It's super easy for me to forget everything I have in pursuance of my goals. Searching for a full-time school counseling job? I'll forget to be happy I substitute teach for two different districts. Feeling sick and achy one day (like today)? I'll forget that only two years ago I was so sick I wasn't able to work full-time. Frustrated and angry at my five-year-old, slow-running-at-times laptop? I'll forget that there are many people who don't even own desktops (something that would be devastating to me as writer). Yeah, #firstworldproblems anyone?

It's so easy for me to forget that, even though I want all these things, I have it pretty good right now. I want to work toward the future, but I can't forget about the present.

And even though I say thank you, and think I'm grateful for what I've got, I've come to realize that often they're empty thank yous.

Because even as I'm saying it, I'm wanting more. Even as I'm thanking God for the breath He's giving me at this moment, I'm wanting that shiny bauble dream to happen.

I don't think it's wrong to work toward goals, or to be super passionate and spend most of your free time on them, as long as we aren't consumed by them to the point of forgetting what God's given us right now.

When reaching our goals turns us bitter against what we have, where we're always searching for what we don't have and finding our lives lacking, that's when it becomes a problem.

When we begin living our lives for our goals, instead of for God, that's when they become a problem.

I have so much be to thankful for. And yet I often forget it, and fret about what I don't have. I want to be more, accomplish more, have more.

But here's the thing: unless we learn to be grateful for what we have now, we will always want more.

Unless we realize that God gives us exactly what we need, when we need it, and that we have so much already, we'll never be satisfied when we reach our goals. It will always be more, more, more...

So I'm trying to be more grateful today. I'm trying to remember that what I've been given, what's been entrusted to me, is quite a bit of awesomeness. If this isn't your struggle, great. But if it is, if you find yourself wishing you had things, endlessly working toward goals that have become gods, please, just stop and think for a minute.

No matter how bad you have it, when you think about it you probably have it pretty good.




Monday, January 12, 2015

Boatside



Let's talk about someone you've probably heard a lot about. Peter, the apostle, the guy who was ready to chop off an ear for Christ (sorry, van Gogh, guess you didn't think of it first), and then a few hours later was swearing he'd never heard of the Man.




Pastors preach a lot about Peter. There's a lot of life lessons we all get to learn from Peter's failures. I feel like he has the greatest number of embarrassing stories told about him in the Bible. Then again, he didn't kill anyone or sleep with anybody who wasn't his wife, so maybe he doesn't quite have that position all by himself. But we hear a lot about him.

We hear a lot about his lack of faith.

Like that time Jesus walked on the water, and when He came aside their boat, the disciples were all afraid. Then Peter, gathering courage, asks to be allowed to come to Jesus on the water. Jesus lets him come, but Peter sees the waves...

We know the rest of the story. His heart quakes within him, he starts sinking, and Jesus has to pull him out of the waters. And our pastors all tell us pretty much the same thing: poor, faithless Peter. If he'd only trusted Jesus...

But Peter had a lot more faith than a lot of us do.

Sure, he may have botched the whole thing by looking at the waves, instead of keeping focused on Christ, but he had the faith to step out of the boat.

So many of us are still in the boat.

We know there's something God wants us to do, because it's been gnawing at us like termites in a log, but it's going to be hard. It's going to be Herculean in nature, a feat we can't possibly do on our own. It's going to be practically like walking on water.

So we stay in the boat where it's safe, instead of taking the plunge. We stay cowering under the comfort of what we know, instead of stepping out into the storm.

Peter may have taken his eyes off Jesus, but we never have our eyes on Him to begin with.

We're too busy watching what the world does, what the world thinks. Instead of hearing Jesus say, "Come," we hear the crashing and roaring of the world saying, "That's crazy! You're insane! Why would you think you could possibly do that?"

And you know what? The world's right. You can't do it. But He can.

When Peter stopped focusing on Jesus and His strength, he started to sink.

When we trudge along in our strength, we sink.

But when we rely on His strength, like Peter, we can do the impossible. I mean, come on, Peter walked on water when he kept Jesus as his focus.

Don't stay in the boat. Get thee out into the storm.

It might be safe in the hull, but isn't being in the center of His will so much better?

I'm not saying it's going to be like strolling on the beach during a balmy summer morning. It's going to be hard. You're going to be scared. And that's okay. I'm scared too. There have been so many plunges I've had to take, and to be honest, most if not all of them were hard, hard, scary, chest-tightening-why-on-earth-am-I-doing-this types of plunges.

But when I look back, I haven't regretted a single one.

Because all of them took me toward Jesus.

So, if there's something you've prayed long and hard about, something you know without a doubt God wants you to do, please, do it. Risk it. But don't stop there. Don't sink like Peter. Keep praying, and focusing on Him. Because no matter how hard it is, you know it'll be worth it in the end.

I'll be jumping out of the boat with you, as I work on some big projects this year, many of them I'm quite terrified of, if I'm honest. I can't get them done on my own either.

But we don't have to work on anything alone. God is there, calling us, helping us do the impossible things, just like He helped Peter walk on water.


So what is God asking you to step out of the boat into?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Beginnings

I love the week between Christmas and New Year's. I mean, absolutely, positively, LOVE it. It's a week I usually spend cleaning (yeah, I love cleaning, it's weird, you can say it), getting a last few things done, and of course spending time with my family and friends. It's a time of dreaming, planning new goals for the year ahead, and just taking time to realize how far I've come over the past twelve months.

Basically, I love the new start. All the times I failed over the past year are about to be shoved behind me as a brand new year breaks forth. A new year to go places, meet new people, to set new goals and reach them, a chance to try again on the goals I missed the year before.

A new year to grow in my relationship with Jesus Christ. To become more like Him. To know Him better, to learn to trust Him more as He works in my life to bring me to where He wants me to be.

You may have heard about a book in the Bible called Lamentations. It's not preached from a lot, and I haven't heard many devotionals about it. Basically, the prophet Jeremiah wrote it during one of the toughest times in Israel's history. Babylon was decimating the kingdom, Jerusalem was top on the hit list, and the people were in misery.

But even then, they were able to make a comeback. Jeremiah writes: "Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'Therefore I hope in Him!'" (Lamentations 3:22-24 NKJV). 

We don't have to wait for a brand new year to make a fresh start. God's mercy and grace towards us are new every morning. No matter what you may be going through, what choices you've made, God can bring you back from it. God can help you start anew, any day, any time. 



Father, thank You for always giving us another chance. Help us in 2015 to grow closer to You and to serve You better. Mold us after Your image. In Jesus' Name, Amen.