Archive | September 2012

The Importance of Community – Ecclesiastes 4:9-16

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord not quickly broken.

Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. For he went from prison to the throne, though his own kingdom he had been born poor. I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place. There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 4:9-16).

I have been putting off writing this, partially because I was afraid it would end up being a little controversial due to the upcoming presidential election. I am also in no hurry to tackle Ecclesiastes 5, as it will be very humbling to unpack! However, today, a friend posted something on Facebook along the lines of where I wanted to take this, which served as my encouragement to “Get ‘er done”.

It’s interesting to consider where my life could have gone. My college fiancée and I were very involved in student government and local politics. I was on the path to become a politician’s wife! I am grateful that God had other plans for me at that time, even though I wasn’t actively seeking Him. Looking at my beliefs now, that lifestyle would have been disastrous!

I’m not very politically savvy, and I do not really identify with a political party. I see politicians as highly fallible, as “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. I support small government, and personal responsibility, rather than increased legislation. I cringe when a new law is made whenever something bad happens because a citizen failed to consider the consequences of their actions. I believe our moral authority should come from Christ, not lobbyists or legal precedence. I believe in the role of community to meet the needs of society, rather than social programs, which are easily manipulated and corrupted.

The importance of community is what I take from this passage. Everyone needs someone else to pick them up when they’re down, to provide warmth when they’re cold, to fight side by side against common enemies. Government can only do so much, as it is not Christ-centered. We should form authentic relationships to meet the needs of others, and to put those needs ahead of our own. That’s the biblical definition of marriage, but perhaps it should be taken further, towards all humanity. If all Christians attempted to model Jesus’ love towards others, our societal problems may be reduced. Sure, it wouldn’t be perfect, as we live in a fallen world, and there will always be people who take advantage of others, but it’s an ideal worth striving for. God showed His mercy for me by sending His son to die for my sins; the least I can do is offer that same grace to other people in the world!

We will never solve all of society’s problems, but as Christians, that’s not what’s important. Our charge is to love God and love others, and even though it may seem our individual efforts are futile, God is watching our actions and knows our hearts. We are to live our lives to glorify Him and that includes sharing His love with the world.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to those who were near. For through him we have both access to one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:14-22).”

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Living in the World

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2 ESV).

My personality is unique. I’m very open and try to appreciate others for who they are, no matter their sins. I’m pretty successful at this, even with acquaintances and strangers. People generally feel comfortable being their true selves around me, and find no reason to hide anything. This is a very good thing…usually!

A problem can result when other people take my acceptance of their beliefs as my personal agreement with their decisions. I’ve never walked in the other person’s shoes, so I have no right in judging them. But, I have walked miles in my own shoes and know where God is leading me.

Since I’ve been on this trip, a couple of “weird” comments have been made by others that concern me greatly. I’m somewhat comfortable with expressing my beliefs, but fear these people’s thoughts represent the “status quo” for society. Considering the frequency of such remarks has been increasing in my life, this must be true!

Before I go into specifics, let me warn you that this is going to get personal really fast! You may not want to know this much about me or my struggles. I’ve been told that I should come with a warning label! This is it; you’ve been warned!!

Let’s start with last night. I decided to have a couple of beers with my colleagues, but I arrived at the bar earlier than the others. I ordered a beer, sat down at the bar, and the man next to me struck up a conversation with me, as frequently happens. It was completely harmless and innocent. When the others arrived, a colleague of mine asked me why I didn’t “go for that”. I initially thought she was joking, but I quickly learned she was serious. I explained that I’m not like that and don’t want to hook up with a random person. She then said something that disturbed me greatly….”No one has to know.”

I laughed and said, “This is me we’re talking about, everyone would know because I can’t lie or hide something that serious.” I tried to explain what I was looking for in a relationship and that I was not going to compromise that, but I don’t think they understood.

This morning, the group was talking about dancing, and since they know I enjoy it, they showed me a YouTube video of a hot, new Latin dance. I remarked that I would not be comfortable performing that dance socially, but it’s something I could enjoy with my husband, if I were married. A comment was made – “Isn’t that what dancing is for, to have fun with random people?” It is, but I feel some dances are too intimate to be shared so casually. Think back to the movie “Dirty Dancing” – this is your dance space; this is mine.

In society’s eye, I have become a prude! Anyone who has known me for any amount of time would have to credit (or curse, depending on their perspective) God for this transformation. I used to think just like everyone else seems to think…but I don’t anymore.

Maybe I’m ultra-sensitive and vigilant in this area because I know all too well the slippery slope that you face when you flirt too close to the line. I’ve even learned that being upfront and honest with people may encourage “challenge” in the wrong man’s eyes. This is all very dangerous and I’ve yet to meet a non-Christian who understands. Perhaps my mistake here is in trying to justify myself to someone who may never get it.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many Christians who seem to get it either. Many are married and haven’t experienced the pressures and societal “expectations” of single adults. I’ve also met single Christians who choose to ignore sin in this area of their lives, and others who have never had the opportunity for temptations or are not interested in “such things” at all.

It’s really too bad that sex is such a taboo subject in the church and many people are uncomfortable talking about it. I really believe that if we Christians are open about our struggles, it would show that this is a common issue among single adults who want to honor God in their actions, and still want to enjoy life to the fullest! It would also make it easier for everyone to be on the same page, and allow for compassion and grace.

Honestly, I’m not even completely at peace with God’s teaching regarding sex and marriage. I’ve come a long way, but I’m not there yet! A friend of mine recently got married for the second time and they decided to wait to have sex until their wedding night. I fully respect and admire their devotion to God, but I’m not convinced I could be that strong!

Now that I think about it (and you’re reading it here first, as I never considered this until this precise moment), maybe this is the reason I avoid relationships, especially with Godly men… Part of me feels guilty that I have these struggles and not having a pristine past makes me feel unworthy of their love. But, more than that, I know I could never be successful waiting to have sex until marriage (something that may never happen) in my own strength…and I’m not completely sure that I want to. It sounds terrible that I would want to deliberately be disobedient, but unfortunately, that’s where I am. I may have subconsciously decided that it’s safer and easier to be alone, date casually (where sex isn’t an issue), or most horribly, get involved with men outside of God’s will. In all of these ways, I am showing my lack of trust in God…and that’s a huge problem for me!

I feel God is asking me for complete trust and obedience in this area and that’s scary for me…but like I said yesterday – if He brings me there, He’ll bring me through it. So, I really need to get over this issue completely…and maybe once I do, I’ll be more comfortable being “different” to “the world”.

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body (1 Corinthians 6:18 ESV).

Oppression, Control, and God – Ecclesiastes 4:1-8

Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind. Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business (Ecclesiastes 4:1-8 ESV).

Oppression is defined as a prolonged cruel or unjust exercise of power. It is a control tactic where people put their personal agendas ahead of what’s best for society as a whole. Oppressed groups can be because of race, sex, religious preference, or essentially any differing of opinion between people. It seems the more successful some people are in their efforts, the more oppression may actually be encouraged. You’re likely familiar with the expression of how it’s lonely at the top. This is because man’s attempts to be prosperous on his own could alienate the people who surround him. Man may view success as being “by any means necessary”. Without compassion and meaningful relationships, those who are oppressed and the successful who fight their way to the top may both find themselves alone.

Does this imply that pursuits of success should be avoided? No, but as Christians, we should stop working in our own strength and allow God to pick our battles for us, in society and in our toil. We should focus on God being the center of our life, and try not to become god to ourselves or others. We need to serve God completely for His glory, not our own personal gain.

I have written about this before, but I think it deserves a second mention. I’m generally pretty slow when it comes to realizing that God is trying to tell me something important!

As I’ve previously mentioned, I am an incredibly passionate person in everything that I do. I fully submerge myself in my hobbies, my church, friendships, and most importantly, my career. I want to give my absolute best effort to make a difference in everything I do. I don’t believe I do this selfishly or for the wrong reasons, but perhaps not everything I do is completely Christ-centered and it should be. There have been times that I have become discouraged or burnt out trying to make a positive difference and that may imply that I am working outside of God’s will for me at that moment.

My career tops the list where I experience this frustration! While sitting through “Death by Power Point” training today, everything clicked perfectly for me! I was reminded that I work for an organization that I am not going to change. There’s too much history; it’s too large; there are too many managers, too much politics… I’ve known this for a while, but it’s hard for me to accept. Let me say it again – There’s nothing I can do to significantly improve my employer! Trying too hard to “fix” my organization will only result in backlash towards me.

Should I find a new career, one that I can exercise more authority over? No, God led me to this position in an amazing way. There were so many bizarre “coincidences” and all of the timings related to my job change fell perfectly into place. I am completely at peace with everything, and God is carrying my through all of my work challenges. His hand is all over this!

Should I give less than my best effort at work? Absolutely not! My work is meaningful and deserves my total focus and commitment. It may not be perfect, but I am definitely making a contribution to society. I should give it my all for 40 hours per week (plus any mutually agreed upon overtime); but, I should not lose heart because I cannot “fix” my organization. I also feel that God is not leading me to be on the fast track to management within the organization. As long as I do my best in my current capacity, that is enough!

I should look to God for guidance as to where to focus my passion and endless energy. Some of His answers may be work related (especially regarding a colleague of mine whom God has placed in my life), but there is so much more to my life than my career.

I feel that God is leading me to become more involved in my family, my friends, my community, and with “strangers” through ministry. The time I am not working should be spent investing in the lives of others, especially my son. All of this should be done prayerfully and completely under God’s direction – because if He leads me somewhere, He will bring me through it. God has shown me time and time again that He is faithful. While I have come a long way in submitting to Him, I know there is more that I can surrender. I’m ready…

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD (Isaiah 55:8).”

Living in the Moment – Ecclesiastes 3:16-22

“Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to once place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him (Ecclesiastes 3:16-22).”

This passage can be easily taken to be depressing, if you let it…. I mean, who wants to consider the fact that we are born, and then we die? This passage may also be overlooked, as it is written outside of the lens of Jesus. The writer questions whether the spirit of man goes upward, but the question is not clearly answered in the book of Ecclesiastes. As Christians, knowing our salvation is guaranteed, we may feel we know more than the writer, and ignore his words.

Many Christians are constantly looking forward to heaven, and I think that’s an appropriate response to our salvation. However, I don’t think we should give up on the present while we contemplate eternity. Our time on earth is truly a gift, and as I’ve previously mentioned, a way to prepare for heaven.

I have spent a large portion of my life living for the past or the future. I’ve let guilt about my past mistakes and my dissatisfaction about unfulfilled dreams waste precious time for too long. I’ve spent countless hours imagining what life could be like if certain things would happen, not even considering if my ideas were remotely in line with God’s plan for my future. All of this is meaningless in the grand scheme of life. I cannot change the past, and I cannot predict the future. The only chance I have is to live each day the best way I know how.

When we moved, I started becoming more intentional about living in the present. I still don’t have this completely down, but I feel I’ve come a long way. I have been trying to build boundaries to keep negative influences from hurting me or controlling me. I have had to accept that some people I love may never understand me, my experiences, or my beliefs. And even though it hurts, I must let go of the negativity related to this truth, which continues to pull me down. I can still love these people and pray for them, but I cannot change them or expect they will want to unconditionally accept me for who I am.

I am more comfortable with the woman I am becoming, and I’m able to be completely myself and open with whomever I interact with. I am less afraid that being me will alienate other people from me. I trust that God will bring people into and out of my life in His timing, and will not let my concerns about the future affect my actions today.

My relationship with my son has improved dramatically because it’s only the two of us and I no longer have any excuse to neglect my responsibility in being the best parent possible. I can admit to my son that I do and will continue to make mistakes, but try to make the best decisions I can at the time. I feel he has grown tremendously in the past year, and is on track to be a compassionate, self-sufficient, and confident man.

I am embracing talents that I had previously given up on when others took control. I no longer need their approval to know that I am doing a good job. While it makes me feel good when people appreciate what I’m doing, as long as I’m glorifying God in everything I do, that’s the only satisfaction I need.

I am taking responsibility to learn how to do trivial things that I’ve avoided because other people were better at those tasks than I was. It doesn’t matter if my home is perfectly decorated, my dinners are gourmet, or if my fashion sense is impeccable. I will give everything my best effort, and that’s good enough for me.

It’s so freeing to make your own decisions and completely own your life, regardless of what other people think. Do I make mistakes? Every day! I often say too much, sometimes not enough, and frequently the wrong thing. My actions don’t always coincide with my intentions. I’m far from perfect when it comes to parenting, keeping house, and fitting in with certain groups of people. I find myself having to apologize a lot, but those apologies are heart-felt and sincere, not simple words with nothing to back them up. God is continuing to mold me into His desire for me….something better than I could ever imagine!

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6:34).”

Make a Joyful Noise (June 3, 2009)

There is an endless song

Echoes in my soul

I hear this music ring

And though the storms may come

I am holding on

To the rock I cling

How can I keep from singing Your praise?

How can I ever say enough?

How amazing is Your love?

How can I keep from shouting Your name?

I know I am loved by the King

And it makes my heart want to sing!

(Chris Tomlin)

Music ministers to my soul; it speaks to every fiber of my inner being.  I can completely find myself in certain songs, where the lyrics seem to illuminate all of the vulnerabilities I possess.  I’ve always had a strong connection with music, although I’ve spent the majority of my life with a terrible fear of singing or playing the piano in the presence of other people.  God has made amazing progress in this weakness of mine, and I am so grateful for the confidence I now have to ‘make a joyful noise’ when worshipping Him!  It doesn’t matter if your pitch is not perfect (like mine), singing songs of praise and worship can be an amazing way to communicate with the Lord.

Natalie Grant is one of my favorite artists, and I love all of the songs on her Relentless CD.  The bonus track on the CD is a cover of “In Christ Alone” by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty.  I fell in love with her version of the song the first time I heard it.  My favorite verse is:

No guilt in life, no fear in death;

This is the power of Christ in me.

From life’s first cry to final breath,

Jesus commands my destiny.

No power of hell, no scheme of man

Could ever pluck me from his hand.

Till he returns or calls me home,

Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

These lyrics serve as my comfort in times of struggle, and strength in times of weakness.  They help remind me that God is in control of everything and that no matter what happens on earth, I will spend eternity in His presence!  Several months ago, this song was our anthem for choir and I was thrilled to sing these words with all of my heart behind them.

A couple of days after our pastor talked about not becoming complacent at a church business meeting, Matthew West was a guest on KLOVE radio.  His testimony about having vocal chord surgery before releasing the album Something to Say is powerful.  However, it was a story that he told about a young fan’s commitment to his song “The Motions” that brought tears to my eyes.  Ryan McAfee was an 18-year old fan of the song, and posted the lyrics to “The Motions” on his Facebook page as a plea for accountability from his friends.  If you’re not familiar with the song, let me share the chorus with you:

I don’t wanna go through the motions

I don’t wanna go one more day

Without Your all consuming passion inside of me

I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking

What if I had given everything?

Instead of going through the motions.

The day after Ryan asked to be held accountable to these lyrics, he was killed in an automobile accident.  There were several thousand people at Ryan’s funeral, and “The Motions” was played.  At the funeral, 15-20 people came to Christ as a result of Ryan’s love for Jesus.  What an incredible testimony of a young man who God continues to use to bring people to Him even after his untimely departure from this world.  This song has become one of my favorites, since it rings so true in my ears.  I want my time on earth to have an impact on others, just like Ryan.  I don’t want to spend my whole life asking what if…  In the words of Aaron Shust, from the title song of his upcoming CD being released in August 2009:

Can you take over, take over

Can you take over me?

I’ve been here over and over

Came over on my knees

I’m moving closer and closer to where I want to be

When you take over, take over

Can you take over me?

Doing Good and Loving Life – Ecclesiastes 3:9-15

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-15 ESV)

A while back at church, we were asked to fill out a ‘spiritual maturity survey’. The church wanted to gauge where their discipleship progress was, but although not mentioned on the survey, it was clearly looking at the four levels of spiritual maturity: infant, child, youth, and adult.

It may have been easier to not look at the survey from that lens, as my take-away was very disappointing. Since the survey was designed to be a snapshot in time, the questions were to be answered in the immediate present. This meant that all of the questions related to being ‘consistently involved’ in ministry at church, or mentoring others to serve in your ministry at church had to be answered negatively. On the surface that may seem like I am backsliding, but in reality, I’m learning that it takes time to become involved in a new body of believers.

When I changed careers and moved in July 2011, I assumed that I would just immediately fit in my new environment, like I had in my previous life. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. It takes time to become established in anything that you do. Everything… friends, church, work, life! This can feel very disheartening, if you let it! And, I’ve let it…. But, I finally feel that I am turning a corner, and these verses help give me perspective.

Everything that happens in life, whether good or bad, is designed to bring you closer to God. We should enjoy life, but not in isolation; we are to connect with others in everything we do. However, when other people come into the mix, problems may result. Personalities might clash; people might be misunderstood; feelings might get hurt. This is a chance that we take anytime we embark on a new journey, and only time can improve the situation.

I do feel that I am often misunderstood. I think that’s why I enjoy writing; I can reread and edit every thought until the message I am trying to convey is delivered. I have a feeling that people who only read my blog have a better understanding of me than people I see every day. I really don’t like this, as I wish everyone could know my heart and realize that I truly want the best for all people. My mouth and my humanness tend to complicate everything, especially because I am open and straightforward. I do not know how to “play the game”. What you see is exactly what you get.

Most of my really good friends have known me forever. I am an acquired taste, I suppose. I treasure those people who truly get me, and sincerely wish that other people would give me a chance before simply writing me off. Sometimes I feel that people don’t understand me because I look at life differently than most. I try to see the good in everyone and often befriend people who sit outside of the “clique”. I want to love everyone, regardless of how I am treated.

Some people say, “The only person one can ultimately trust is oneself”. I have never subscribed to this theory and while it continues to cause problems, I tend to trust others too quickly and forgive too easily. I sometimes think life would be much easier if I held grudges, hated, and guarded my heart better. But, that isn’t me…

Someone once commented to me that I help the wrong people. I should be doing things for the people who give to me, rather than people who do not. I admit; I do help others who may not “deserve” it and cannot pay me back for it. I try to help those who truly need it, rather than those who simply expect it. Personally, I think that’s what we are called to do.

My decision for how to live and who to love tends to open myself up to problems and judgment from others. I’m learning that this is okay, as it could be just a fast-track to spiritual maturity, which is great considering I have a really long way to go! Life is the practice ground for eternity. God places people and situations in your path to help you grow closer to Him. Even though it seems I get it wrong more times that I get it right, I pray that my motives remain pure and my heart is always in the right place.

I am learning to forgive people for letting me down, and hold myself to a higher standard than I hold others. When confronted with difficult situations, I am trying to use the pain to examine myself and grow closer to God. I need to be better at turning the other cheek when people accuse me of doing the very things they are doing to me. I need to only be concerned about my growth and leave it to God to convict other people.

I would rather follow God by loving others and hopefully encouraging them in some way. A life filled with unsuccessful attempts being involved in the messiness of others is better than remaining alone in my glass house. I suspect I will continue to befriend people that may defy logic and reason. I trust that God is leading me in that direction, He will continue to carry me through the process, and He will ultimately be glorified as a result. All I have to do is seek Him and feel my way towards Him. He is right there waiting for me…

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, (Acts 17:26-27 ESV).”