Encouragement

I have to say first that I am sooo grateful to be able to post this. This is an email that a friend of mine sent me the other day, and it really blessed me and hit home with me. It was a big encouragement, and I hope it can encourage you, too. I was also really blessed to get permission from this person to post this, too. 😉 Here is what they said:

 

“So I am reading this book called Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and I read something that just made me so happy and also made me think of you. So I was thinking about how we both struggle with feeling like failures and worthless beings sometimes and I was thinking how we also both tell ourselves the truth, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Well, I read the following, ‘God has willed that we should seek and find his living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.’ It’s like this, Lauren, God made us that we would need our brothers and sisters in Christ to uphold and encourage one another. One can speak the same words of truth to oneself as someone else speaking the words of truth to an individual, but it will be ten times more encouraging and strengthening when it comes from a brother or sister in Christ than when one is trying to tell one’s own. God made it so that we would need one another to build each other up. It is important to preach to ourselves the truth of the Word, but we were are not a people meant to dwell alone in our own heads with our own thoughts and words. When God adopted us into his family he meant for us to dwell together in unity and to bear each other’s burdens and to encourage one another. And this is why we also need to be willing to bear our hearts to one another, so that we can help one another and be an encouragement to one another.

God is so good to give us a family in him! He doesn’t want his children to be alone ever. That is why the church is so important.”

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Thanksgiving in the Hard Times

I found this article today I thought was worth sharing. In my last post, I talked about hard times. Those are the moments when rejoicing and giving thanks are farthest from our minds. We see nothing to be thankful for, nothing to rejoice about. However, after reading this article (which I will share with you momentarily), it reminded me of things to be thankful for in those moments. Since I’m posting, I thought I’d share a few verses about thankfulness anyway.

 

http://www.biblestudytools.com/blogs/mark-altrogge/12-things-to-thank-god-for-in-the-midst-of-affliction.html

 

Heb. 12:28: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken,1 let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe”

Col. 4:2: “Devote yourselves to prayer,1 being watchful and thankful”

Col. 3:15: “Let the peace of Christ1 rule in your hearts, since as members of one body2 you were called to peace.3 And be thankful”

 

Trust, Faith, and Hard Times

Hello; me again. After having just come through a couple of the hardest weeks I’ve faced before, I thought I’d just jot down a few thoughts about those dark moments in our lives. Because if they haven’t already, they will come. In our teen years, we face a lot of different trials, and fight a lot of various battles. But even as youth, we do have hard times. And as Christians, we need to know how to properly respond to these. Therefore, this post is more of a reminder to me than anything else. This might seem like a bit of a darker post, rather than a light, upbeat one. I’m not going to apologize for that; these are my honest thoughts, and sometimes we need to hear these reminders over and over again. Sometimes, the most cliché things can bring home a truth that we’ve known in our heads, but not our hearts.

There are days when we are just fed up with life, when we just can’t handle it anymore. I know the dark thoughts that run through our minds in these times – believe me, I’ve had most of them. I know what it’s like to question God, because I’ve done it. It’s in those moments when you’re locked up in your bedroom, when your heart is aching so badly that you can’t even cry. When there are so many lies you’ve hammered into your head, when there’s so much pressure and stress. When you’ve taught yourself that you’re worthless and a failure, and the world is better off without you. That’s when you feel like you want to just quit, when you don’t want to go on. And most of the time, the last thing that we want to hear are those clichés that people offer: “God’s good, He knows what He’s doing.” “There’s always a sunrise after the dark night.” “It won’t last forever.” “Trust in the Lord, He’ll take care of you.” “God’s always there, He’ll never leave you.” Those are not a help. I’d much prefer someone to wrap their arms around me and just let me cry, than to have the “God is good” cliché stuffed down my throat to keep me quiet.

But the worst part of it, if you will, is that they’re true. When I’m in a dark moment, I don’t embrace those things as truths, but the fact remains. The Bible clearly says that He takes care of those who trust in Him – it’s the truth. God is sovereign; He does know what He’s doing. He will never leave us, or forsake us. And that’s what I don’t hold as hope in my heart when I’m struggling.

That fact convicts me about my trust in God. One of the things that gets me is how quickly I’m willing to say that “God is faithful”, when I’m in a good mood, when things are going well for me. When I’ve lost so much and I’m grieving, will I still say that God is faithful? When I don’t want to wake up to another day, will I still have trust that in His sovereign glory, He has a plan for me? As Christians in this day and age, we are so quick to sing about God’s love and His faithfulness, as long as we’re in a good spot in life. As soon as misfortune or tragedy hits, suddenly all this faithfulness and love is out of the picture.

People, this should *not* be how it is! If we say that we trust in Him, that we trust in His faithfulness, in His love, then we should never doubt it in any situation. In good times and bad times, we should always be able to say, without hesitation or doubt, that God is faithful. It doesn’t always look that way. In the moments when He seems so far away, when life brings more pain than joy, when our hearts are heavy and broken – His faithfulness hasn’t changed. He is an unchanging God; His faithfulness is not dependent on ours. Because we are humans, we aren’t faithful to the Lord as we should be. We shouldn’t use this as an excuse, but we have to come to terms with how we actually, truly behave. We cannot honestly call ourselves faithful to God. But regardless of how we treat Him, He treats us with His unconditional love and endless faithfulness.

Again, my honest response in the hard times convicts me of my trust. Obviously, my trust isn’t where it should be, if I’m doubting Him in those moments. (To clarify, “questioning” and “doubting” are two different things. If I question, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I doubt. It’s okay to question God; but it’s not okay to doubt Him.) I think of Job, one of my favorite characters from the Bible who underwent hardships, and serious depression. His response to trials is moving. How many of us would “fall to the ground in worship”? (Job 1:20) He lost everything, and never “charged God with wrongdoing” (v. 22). That’s not my immediate response. And yet, this is what we should strive for. He trusted that the Lord “gave and the Lord has taken away” (v. 21); ultimately, that He was in control. We tend to lose sight of Who is in control when we hit hard times.

I think also of the apostle Paul, who, even before execution, had faith that the Lord would rescue him “from every evil attack, and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” (2 Tim. 4:18) He had faith and trust even to the end. When he was sentenced to death (can you imagine a harder time in your life than waiting to die?), he never doubted. He truly had trust in the Lord.

I don’t know that I’ll ever have strength like Paul, or be “blameless and upright” like Job. But regardless, I have the obligation as a Christian, who has given my life to Christ, to trust Him with the life that He has given to me and that I have given back to Him. I have to have faith that He is in control, even though it seems cliché. Those cliché truths have lost their meaning with how frequently and flippantly we use them, but they still remain truths. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to have faith in the darkness, but that’s why we are called to live by faith and not by sight. (2 Cor. 5:7)

More Blessings

Tired of hearing about my blessings? I’m not. It helps me feel better when I start feeling sorry for myself, to see how God has been there even when I haven’t stopped to take the time and pay attention. Writing them down here is a way that I can share those blessings with others. So here are a few from the past couple weeks.

  • Having to write apologetics speeches. Looking up evidence and content for various, sometimes very difficult, questions is incredibly wonderful.
  • The knowledge that God has not left me even in the incredibly hard, stressful times.
  • Earning a good reputation in certain circles
  • The possible beginnings of friendship at speech club
  • A guy being nice to me at biology today after I’ve been an invisible fly on the wall for a few months
  • Glasses to see with!
  • A good piano competition and safe travel across states
  • A great piano teacher who pushes me hard to do my best, even when I have no motivation
  • A busy schedule. I normally would not chalk this up as a blessing but rather a curse; however, it keeps me occupied and keeps my mind focused on important things.

My Thoughts on Legalism

Today, I want to touch on a topic that frequently gets ignored in my circles. Partially, because it tends to be prevalent in my circles. 🙂 I want to talk about legalism. This is a topic that has become increasing concerning to me over the past couple of years, and I want to do my best to talk about it with objectivity and not in a judgmental way. I come at this certain brand of legalism with my own biased opinion that has been formed from past experiences, and as time goes on, it only builds. So, I apologize if it comes across to some as bashing legalists or is read in an overly negative context. I find it important to think about, however, and here are my thoughts concerning it. Legalism is defined as “pertaining to law”, and the kind of legalism I want to discuss is that which we Christians have adopted.

Allow me to give my background. The church where I actually began to grow in my faith was very legalistic. (It still is.) It is strictly KJV-only, pants on women are frowned upon, and CCM (contemporary Christian music) is portrayed as being wordly and against scripture, although no scriptures were ever suggested to support this. Having said this, I am incredibly grateful for what this church did for me, at least the first year of my attendance there. As those of you who have followed this blog for a long time know, I was not heading in a good direction when I first began attending, and this church pointed me onto a better path. I needed to hear what they had to say when I first started going. So please, don’t think that I’m trying to bash that church. I still love the people that I knew there, and it really helped me to grow.

However, as time went on, and I began to develop my own faith and foundation, I began to find myself disagreeing with small things in the teachings here and there. Those small things grew until I found myself consistently aggravated by certain teachings and proclamations of “truth”. I was most irritated by the way in which these “truths” were delivered. While some of these things are not doctrinally critical, there was an attitude of spiritual superiority that made them harder to swallow.  For example, the KJV is the only inspired version, drums are evil, homeschooling and courtship are the ONLY way, and that is the way it is. No one questioned it or looked to the Bible for confirmation.  I completely understand and respect a church’s right and decision to not allow certain things into the church.  I even see the need for that.  And I’m not even saying that I disagree with all of these things.  But, I am very opposed to presenting one person’s opinion of what is right as a scriptural truth when, in fact, some of those opinions are not biblical, and even sometimes open to the leading of the Holy Spirit through personal conviction.

As a result of this experience, I find that I now struggle with heading down the path of completely rejecting all legalistic rules and attitudes. I don’t want to do that, but I find that it’s my natural response to legalism. In a strange way, I’m forming my own brand of legalism. I’m insisting that I’m right, that they’re wrong, and in truth, I’m not really any different than the legalists that I’m condemning when I do that. I’m being legalistic about my own standards. And I don’t want to do that.

My dilemma lies in the middle ground. I do believe that it’s possible to not be at either end of the spectrum, but I haven’t quite reached that yet. I still explode whenever someone proclaims that CCM cannot honor God, for example. However, I think the middle ground can be obtained. (Just for the record, I don’t usually like finding middle grounds or basing things off of personal conviction – it makes it seem like I’m just finding an excuse to believe whatever it is that I want to believe. I don’t mean any of this in that context, however.) For example, I do listen to CCM. I don’t think that CCM, in general, is wrong. As I’ve stated before here, I don’t think that all CCM is God-honoring, but there are some amazing, convicting songs that I believe very much so honor and worship Him. But at the same time, I do love some hymns. I play hymns on the piano; I listen to them on my computer. I listen to both of these types of music, which one is proclaimed wrong and one of them is proclaimed to be right. There is a middle ground for these things. I just struggle with reaching that.

I am naturally a very (verrrrrry) stubborn person. My natural response to legalism is usually to shout/scream, and verbally explode to certain friends and family members. (Did I ever mention that I’m also really dramatic?) I’m not joking. And I know that this is extremely wrong. I struggle with having a graceful response to legalism. But I know that I have to find a way to deal with it in a God-honoring way.

My consistent dilemma is that the type of peer group that appeals to me most is often associated with the type of legalism that I find so offensive.  I had some very dear, close friends at that church that I went to, and all but one of them had embraced this legalistic thinking. They supported the church’s teachings on CCM and KJV.  (I use those two particular examples because they were two of the most outspoken ones that aggravated me.) When it came to doctrine, we were all pretty consistent, and there wasn’t much conflict there. I still loved them and we all got along perfectly fine, but I always knew that I could never talk with them about certain things because we were not in agreement.

So, what do I do? The kinds of circles that I want to be involved with have, to all of my experience and knowledge, that legalism that makes me go crazy. But at the same time, the churches that are more in line with my thinking produce  peer groups and atmospheres that are not conservative enough for my preference.  And I frequently find that the people in those circles don’t match up with what they preach or proclaim to hold to. I honestly can say that I feel like a one-of-a-kind, special edition of person in regard to the beliefs that I hold. I’m pretty sure that only my mother agrees with me on the things that I struggle with. (Although she doesn’t explode at legalism like I do, good for her!)

The most important thing for me to remember in light of legalism is not to take the defensive, offended side and retaliate against legalistic teachings/mindsets with sharp words of retribution. How does that show the love of Christ? How would that make a difference? I’ve admitted, and I’ll mention it again, my natural response is not very God-honoring. I need to work past that. My immediate reaction is to point out why the other person is wrong, usually a little too bluntly and without any grace or understanding. My personality doesn’t work that way. But if I’m going to try to combat unbiblical legalistic teaching, my response cannot be to strike a blow with the same rigidity that they uphold in their own teachings.

Does anyone else struggle with legalism? How do you respond?

Who He Is

As I type this, I’m looking out the window at a beautiful day. I’ve got my Bible and theology books spread out on the desk before me, next to my mug of tea (which I’m trying to learn to like). I’m in the middle of working on apologetics speeches, but as I am, it’s suddenly hitting me how much of a mystery Jesus really is.

I’m looking at Luke 18:17, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” When I first look at this verse, my immediate interpretation is that we are to accept the kingdom of God without question, with the innocence and ignorance of a child. On further thought, children ask questions all the time. They’re always inquiring, always curious about everything.

What did Jesus mean when He said this? What was He trying to imply? Was His meaning even in line with either of my thoughts?

I think of the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debates. Why would God put just enough evidence for either side to claim, so that churches would be divided and people turn against each other, arguing their points for centuries, and centuries to come?

I think of the virgin birth that I just wrote a short speech on. There are three main, significant reasons why the virgin birth of Christ is essential to Christianity; but unless you were to really research it, you otherwise wouldn’t give much thought to the essentiality of the virgin birth. And yet it holds so much meaning to our faith.

The meaning and significance of the incarnation? How could Jesus be both God and man? If God is infinite, how could He limit Himself in the person of Christ? How do you respond to the statement, “Heaven is only a state of mind”?

Are you prepared to answer any of these questions? How much about your own faith do you really know?

All these things testify the mystery of who Christ is to me, of how much more there is to Him than we think of. We slap the label of “a good, loving, merciful God” on His name, but do we stop to marvel at how great He really is? He gave us parables with hidden meanings, and seemingly simple commands with amazingly powerful truths buried deep inside. His words are filled with so much depth and meaning, a true reflection of who He is. I find it amazing.