Archive | February 2013

Never Say Never (September 14, 2009)

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whichthe world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14)

October has turned into such a pivotal month in my life. I’m not sure why – maybe it’s the return of normalcy to the school and work year after a hectic summer; maybe because the temperature is just beginning to chill; maybe it’s the gentle transition into the holiday season. I can’t put my finger on it, but clearly the last two Octobers have taught me an important lesson – never say never!

Take a brief walk with me!  On October 18, 2007, my son and I were enjoying dinner and kid’s bingo at a local restaurant, when a chance encounter with a family from our church would soon change our lives.  This family invited my son to visit Awana at their church. I knew of Awana at the time, as my aunt had spoken very highly of the program, but I never really understood the purpose of useless memorization.  However, I was open to the possibility that my son could benefit from learning to memorize, since he had just begun kindergarten.  As someone who struggles with memorization, I saw Awana as a purely academic endeavor.

I made it incredibly clear that night that my son was welcome to try Awana out, but I did not want people to try and ‘convert’ me.  I was Catholic, and after years of falling in and out of favor with my faith, I knew there was no benefit to my attending church.  Church was filled with hypocrites and spiritual people who would not understand me; God and I were doing just fine with our relationship, I reasoned.

My son attended Awana and loved it, so I registered him, reminding everyone my position about church had not changed.  No one pushed me; they were friendly and great with my son, but never crossed the line with me.  One month later, I found myself as a back-row church-goer when a friend of mine was going through a disastrous period that affected both of our lives.  Shortly after, we met with our pastor and I re-articulated my feelings on church.  Our pastor remained true to his beliefs, but never pushed me.  The rest is history, as you can tell.

God continues to show me that church is not perfect, as it is made up of fallen humans, just like me.  But, He has shown me that a few bad apples shouldn’t spoil the barrel.  In other words, the benefits of attending church strongly outweigh the negatives.  Fellowship with other believers, an organized, systematic way to keep studying the Bible to continue spiritual growth, an opportunity to serve, etc. – these are the reasons that I need and love church!

I wish I could say the story ends there, but last October, I allowed myself to fall a little.  Granted, my personal standards had improved, and this particular altercation would never have bothered me in my non-church days.  But, as a growing Christian, filled with the Holy Spirit – it was painful!  To this day, I don’t know what happened, other than spiritual warfare at its finest.  I was traveling on business, and my week was difficult.  It was at a time where I was getting complacent in my faith; the novelty had worn off.  I was starting to lose my enthusiasm and drive.  It was a hard week and I remember saying to a colleague, “I am a Christian now and I would never…”  Cockiness and pride at its best!  Acting like I, little ol’ me, had any power in overcoming sin.  Do you ever notice that the more you try to show someone that you’re different from who they think – the more you prove their case?  I suspect you know where this story is going; the “I never” happened and the conviction the Holy Spirit sent my way was enough to last a lifetime.

Luckily God has a sense of humor, or rather purpose, in His plan.  Last October, immediately after I was convicted like never before, the topic of my Bible study was faith.  At a time when I wasn’t feeling like I had any, faith was our topic of discussion.  Amazingly, God used this to show me that even mature Christians had similar struggles to mine.  It was an eye-opening experience for sure!  And those hypocrites I feared so much?  I learned that while there are bad people in every organization, many of those hypocrites that I feared were no different than me – people trying their best to walk with God, but not always making the progress they’d like.

God’s even given me the perspective of those who mentored me, by allowing me to interact with people who have the same beliefs that I once had.  I’ve even learned that memorization is not so terrible, and can help with spiritual warfare.  As long as I remember to put God first in everything, I find that my walk is infinitely easier and my relationship with God is headed in the right direction.  Being prideful and saying that dreaded word ‘never’ is simply an open invitation for temptation or for God to lovingly remind me who is in charge!

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The Sovereignty of God

“We like to think that we’re in control.  But, we’re not.  God is.  And God must be sovereign in order to be God.  If anything holds any sway over Him, if one atom is rebellious to His will, if one bit of knowledge is unknown to His mind, if one force is unbending to His desire, if anything prohibits Him from accomplishing His plan – He is no longer sovereign.  And if He’s no longer sovereign, that which is able to oppose Him is greater than Him – and He is no longer God.”  -Mary Kassian, from Knowing God by Name

Week one, day five of this semester’s women’s Bible study… The name of God we were learning about was “Adonai Yahweh”, Sovereign Lord.  We could have spent an entire semester on this one name, and that still would not have been enough for me to fully embrace this attribute of God.  But, we glossed over it in the last ten minutes of our time together, and it’s been on my heart ever since.

When you consider God’s sovereignty from a superficial standpoint, it is perfectly easy to accept.  God must be sovereign if He is really God.  Everything in the Universe must be subject to His control.  If God is not sovereign, He cannot be God.  However, when I read the above paragraph from our study, the intricate details of His sovereignty became clear, perhaps for the first time.

If God is sovereign, which He must be in order to be God, every aspect of life must be completely under His control.  Everything!  Not one minute detail can be left up to chance.

Can this be possible, especially from a loving God?  What about the bad things that happen in life? What about the choices I make, especially the ones that God would not approve of?  What does this mean regarding my free will?  And, if God’s sovereignty is this complete and personal, how I do I feel about it?  How should it make me feel?

I’ll start with free will.  I definitely believe that God gives us the power to make decisions that may be in line with or opposed to what He desires for us.  Free will goes hand-in-hand with having faith in God.  It is completely intertwined with temptation and sin, and is required to have a maturing relationship with God.

Free will began in the Garden of Eden, when God allowed Adam and Eve to choose to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Their decision to give in to temptation changed humanity forever.  Another example is salvation; if there was no free will, we would not have to personally accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior in order to be assured salvation.  I must independently use my own free will to trust that Jesus took care of my sin problem on the cross.

I am also given freedom to live my life as I see fit, even when God cringes at my poor decisions.  However, because God is all-knowing, He knows what our decisions will be before we make them and those decisions are part of God’s overall plan for our lives. Even when our decisions are opposed to God’s desire for our lives, He allows us to make them.  God loves us so much that He does not want to force us into submission; rather He gives us the freedom to choose our way or His way.  And, while He knows how we will respond, He loves us enough to give us ample opportunity to choose Him.

But, if God is so loving, why would He allow bad things to happen that were not directly a result of my poor decisions?  This is one of the hardest questions to understand, and the answer is not always easy to swallow.  The truth is, because of Adam and Eve’s decision to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths (Genesis 3:7).”  Their lives were made much more complicated; they were expelled from the garden, and we have been living in a fallen world ever since.

God never promises us an easy life on Earth.  In fact, He promises just the opposite.  Jesus says to us, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”  Life is hard; life does not always make sense; it’s not fair, but because of Jesus, we have reason to hope.  He has overcome the world, and by believing in Him, we can spend eternity enjoying endless joy, peace and love, together with our perfect God!

The bad things that happen in life, whether caused by influences outside our control, or our own poor decisions, provide us opportunities for our personal spiritual development.  If life was easy, and everything was perfect, I would not need God; I could be completely self-sufficient!  But, because our world, including my little corner of it, is completely messed up and incomprehensible, I realize that I need God to direct my steps.

By trusting God with my life, I give Him the opportunity to bring beauty from my pain, and help me see past my selfishness.  A great example of this comes from the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers, and later forgiving them and providing for them.  Joseph said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:20-21).

It is amazing that God will take the bad things that happen in my life and use them for His ultimate plan!  If one person can see the impact God has made on me and because of that, chooses to trust in Jesus for their own eternal life, then the pain I have felt will have been worth it. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV).

The sovereignty of God can bring us complete freedom, if we allow it to.  Since God knows everything that is going to happen, and it’s already part of His eternal plan, there’s nothing we can do to mess everything up!  That should allow me to not get caught up in the poor decisions I have made, or the bad things that have happened in the past (or may happen in the future).  If it were not for the things that have happened in my life, I would not be the woman I am today.  I will continue to be shaped by my experiences, and I pray those involve a deeper level of trust in God.

God’s sovereignty should completely free me from guilt, shame, anger, worry, and fear, if I let it and should bring complete peace in the fact that nothing will happen that is apart from God’s will for me.  If I have learned anything thus far in life, it’s that God is worthy of my trust, and truly has my best interests at heart, so giving complete control over to Him should be an easy decision!

“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country.  I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it (Isaiah 46:8-11).”