Tag Archive | God

Failure of Modern Religion

I have noticed an extreme polarization in the beliefs in our country over the past few years, with people strongly embracing individual differences, including political affiliation, social issues, and especially views regarding religion.  On one end of the spectrum, moral relativism encourages us that there are unlimited ways to reach heaven as long as we are sincere; but, at the same time, Christians vocally disagree over the gray areas, which are ultimately unimportant in the grand scheme of things.  The modern Christian faith finds itself at the center of a great deal of negativity because of this type of spiritual snobbery.  The result is that we may be scaring people away from Christ instead of loving them.

Religion is a man-made attempt to get closer to God.  I’m not sure where I first heard that quote, but I’ve been saying it for years.  In fact, this premise had been a major force in the love/hate relationship I have had with the modern church throughout my lifetime.  The church is full of humans, and humans are very far from perfect, so churches (on a local or larger scale) are therefore fallible, and prone to have problems.  The church is a realistic portrayal of our corporate need for Jesus, but we also can allow it to become an idol and thus we take our eyes off of Jesus.

I know so many people who refuse to give Christ a chance because of negative effects of the church.  I started writing this back in December when a colleague shared with me that she does not attend church because Christians are too judgmental and there are too many man made rules.  I have heard numerous iterations of this statement my entire life.  Examples include, but are not limited to: not allowing a child to be baptized because the mother was unwed, restricting church membership to those who appear to have it all together, and having “certain” sins count as being more horrific than others, when sin is sin is God’s eye and He hates all of it.

Jesus never rejected anyone because they were too bad of a sinner.  He never showed hatred towards someone who grew up with a lifestyle that seemed bizarre to Him.  Jesus pursued relationships with all people; He opened doors and encouraged others to engage.  Jesus spoke to people whom society looked down upon with mercy and love.  Consider the Samaritan woman at the well.  Jesus began a conversation with her, asking her to give Him a drink, even though Jews were not supposed to associate with Samaritans. Jesus was upfront with her about her sin, but did not condemn her.

Jesus never compromised His beliefs, but He also didn’t shove them down anyone’s throat.  Think about it…  Jesus did not chase after people to share the gospel; he let them come to Him.  He may have preached in public areas, but He never forced His beliefs on others.  When the rich, young ruler asked Jesus about how he could attain eternal life, Jesus answered his question honestly.  However, when the price was too high for this man, and he walked away, Jesus let him go.

The bottom line is this… As Christians, we need to come together on the basic tenets of our faith, those foundations which define our salvation, and we need to stop the internal finger pointing and end-fighting.  Until we do, we are a stumbling block to the lost, those who desperately need the grace and mercy that only comes from Jesus. As Christians, we should focus on loving God and loving people, helping others understand that Jesus died for everyone’s sins and that by believing in Him, we can all enjoy eternal life!

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:34-40).”

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!

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).”

Reflections of Christmas (December 25, 2009)

December 25th, 3:00 AM…for those of you who don’t know me well, I often write in the middle of the night.  My rational is that since I rarely have a chance to slow down, God messes with my sleep and uses my down-time to talk to me.  On this Christmas morning, my mind struggles to focus on one particular thing.  Mostly, I am thinking about the meaning of Christmas – the true meaning, Jesus’ birth.  But, since we’re nearing the end of December, I cannot help but reflect about my spiritual walk over this past year.  What makes me even more pensive is that we are approaching the one-year anniversary of this newsletter.  That means I’ve written eleven devotionals, but have they – have I – glorified God and inspired women in the process.

At the surface, it may seem like my thoughts are jumbled, but I submit to you, there is a definite connection between the Christmas story and our daily responsibilities as Christians.  As we embark on yet another year of our life on this Earth, let us remember the joy we feel because of Jesus’ birth, and the love of God the Father, who gave us the ultimate Christmas gift over 2000 years ago.  Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection are not mere events to consider twice a year, but really something that should be at the forefront of our thoughts every day!

That sounds great, but is that what we do?  Is that what I do?  Are sometimes my ideals simply words on a page that lack meaning and application in my life?  When someone looks at me, do they see God’s love, or do they see some self-centered woman who cannot seem to get things right for any appreciable amount of time?  Am I really progressing in my spiritual walk?  Is it that two-steps-forward-one-step-back type of maturity, or do I find myself sliding down the spiritual mountain?  I ask these questions to myself, but really, we should all consider where we are and where we’re going.  If we truly believe the Christmas story, we need to ask these questions, and, we need to be honest enough with ourselves to answer them, but without condemnation.

When I reflect over the year, I see a few shining moments where God’s love radiated from me, but I also see some moments where I must have been demon-possessed! I honestly relate to Paul when he writes, “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.  Now, if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it (Romans 7:15-20).”

I have to include the whole text to help you appreciate my thought-process.  Paul has rehashed my entire spiritual journey in this passage, including the agonizing frustration that goes along with it.  I’ve had this identical conversation with God, even taking it to the point of yelling, begging, and crying over it.  I ask Him, “What’s wrong with me?  God, come on, please help me be consistent.  Help me show Your love; help me do the things I sincerely want to do.  Why is that the more I want to show You, the more I end up disappointing You, and myself?  Why?”

Paul was able to point out that our problem with not reaching our ideals is because of sin living in us.  I don’t know about you, but looking at the magnitude of sin in my life, Paul’s words alone are not too reassuring!  I mean, sure there’s been progress in reducing my sin, but it’s an incredibly slow process, like using an ice-pick to break up a glacier the size of Greenland.  It would be enough to overwhelm me if I had to tackle this problem on my own.  But, I am comforted to know that our sinful nature is overcome because of Jesus!

And, that brings us back to the Christmas story, the true meaning of Christmas… the birth of Jesus, who would later die to redeem us.  We are completely undeserving of His sacrifice, especially considering nothing is required for us to accept His ultimate gift.  For me, this puts everything in a different light.  I’m not just forcing a mere ‘thank you’ to be polite for a gift I didn’t want.  I am truly humbled by the magnificent gift that God has given me – a gift I didn’t even realize I needed for a large part of my life!  I want to grow spiritually; I want to share God’s love with everyone; I want to honor the amazing God who loves us unconditionally.  This doesn’t mean I will always get everything right, or even come close, but I can and will accept I am a work in progress and continue persevering towards to the goal.  This year, let’s make it a daily priority to remember what we’ve been given and put God first in everything that we do.  May you have joyful and blessed New Year!

“For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled in the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).

Heart Purification

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8, ESV).

I posted on Facebook earlier that the K-Love verse of the day was Matthew 5:8, and that today’s lesson from my Aunt’s Max Lucado “Experiencing the Heart of Jesus” Bible study was on the Beatitudes. 

“Coincidences” like this tend to get me thinking….and the following paragraph from Lucado really got my brain going this morning:  “And though your heart isn’t perfect, it isn’t rotten.  And though you aren’t invincible, at least you’re plugged in.  And you can bet that he who made you knows just how to purify you – from the inside out.”

God knows how to purify you from the inside out… Why, yes, He does, even when you’re not looking for Him to!  In fact, God started working on my heart years before I was saved.   I believe this was necessary for me to fully embrace His love for me.

When I look back to the relationships and other experiences I had during college and graduate school, it was clear that my heart was non-existent.  I was closed to receiving love from others and tended to push people away when they tried to get too close.  The rational behind this could be a dissertation in itself, so I will spare you the details, but basically, I kept my heart safe, so no one could hurt me.  Instead of opening my heart to the possibility of things I didn’t understand, I hardened my heart, refusing to let anyone in.

Luckily, God slowly began softening my heart and planting seeds that would one day allow me to realize His love.

The major chisel to my hardened heart was the birth of my son.  I have learned so much about how to love by becoming a mother than from anything I have ever experienced.  Most people try to teach their children to love as they do; but, I can honestly say that my ability to love has resulted from my son teaching me!  I wish I could say that I learned the first time I held him in my arms, but like everything, it’s been a process.  Early on, I failed more often than I succeeded, but God gave me a wonderful boy, who always loved me in spite of my many imperfections as a mother.  I am grateful that my son and I are finally to a place where we can both learn from one another!

The next major chisel to my heart problem was the realization that my life was not where I wanted it to be.  I was still not a Christian, so I cannot really cite this verse as the basis for my change, but looking back, it makes perfect sense:   Get rid of the sins you have done, and get for yourselves a new heart and a new way of thinking (Ezekiel 18:31, NCV).

I knew some things in my life had to change, even before I knew I needed God.   Again, this is backwards thinking!   We should realize we need God, and allow Him to change us, but that’s not how it initially worked, likely because I did not have an understanding of God’s grace from my Catholic upbringing.  But, even though I was not seeking God, He was always chasing after me!

Slowly, my heart began to change, and I became open to loving other people and letting them into my heart.  However, as with anything new, it wasn’t a smooth process.  I ended up being manipulated and found myself in a dangerous situation.  But, despite the pain that resulted from my naïve heart, God used this experience to bring me to church, and by this point, my heart was ready to know Him.  Even though some people may not understand my feelings, I have absolutely no regrets, as this led me to learn about God’s amazing grace, Jesus’ unfailing love, and ultimately gave me eternal life!

To me, the most surprising thing is that afterwards, I did not go back to the “safety” of my hardened heart, as I would have expected, but rather I learned to trust God with my heart.  And, while the road has not always been smooth, and my humanness tends to complicate matters, I know I am headed in the direction that He desires for me. 

I’m being purified from the inside out, and as this is happening, I am able to see God more clearly.  Sounds like a win-win situation to me!

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).”

Heart Cultivation – July 10, 2009

Jesus taught the ‘Parable of the Sower’ as explained in Matthew 13:1-9, Mark 4:1-8, and Luke 8:4-15, which is the first parable told in each of the Synoptic gospels.  It is interesting to note that after Jesus shared this story with the crowd, he offered additional explanation to His disciples (Matthew 13:18-23, Mark 4:13-20), who frequently required clarification when hearing Jesus’ metaphors and allegory.  This fact, in itself, offers tremendous comfort to me, as it reminds us that the disciples were ordinary people who had the same challenges that we do today.  This can and should inspire us to live according to God’s great purpose for our lives!

The ‘Parable of the Sower’ illustrates:  “A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil.  It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plant.  Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”  (Matthew 13:3-8)

The four parts of the parable are described to the disciples in terms of how people use God’s Word in their lives (Matthew 13:19-23):

1)  The seed sown along the path is analogous to Satan snatching up the Word from the nonbeliever before it has the opportunity to take root in their heart.

2)  The seed sown in the rocky places relates to the spiritually immature believer who is initially excited by God’s Word, but when trouble comes into their life, they quickly return to the ways of the flesh.

3) The seed sown among the thorns describes a believer who becomes caught up in the worries and concerns of life and wealth, and does not focus all of their efforts on God.  In this case, the soil can produce life; it is just being used for ungodly pursuits.

4) The final seed, which is sown in the productive soil, shows how spiritually mature believers accept God’s word – they take it into their heart, understand it, their faith grows, and the results are fruitful for God’s kingdom.

If you consider how soil forms and becomes fertile for the growth of vegetation (and you likely haven’t), you will see that the process correlates to the ‘Parable of the Sower’.   Soil is not formed overnight; it takes years for a good, productive soil to develop.  It forms from the top surface downward by the weathering of rock and requires nutrients that come from plant, animals, water and air.   Its texture results from the amount of sand, clay, and silt that are present in the soil.  A soil that contains only sand, clay, or silt could not support life, and thus the most fertile soil for plant growth contains a mixture of these three textures.

More than you wanted to know about soil, I’m sure, but here’s how it all works together – and isn’t God awesome for how everything interrelates?  The soil depicted in Jesus’ parable is our heart, and its quality is related to our receptiveness of allowing God’s Word to govern our daily life.  We first must protect ourselves by wearing our spiritual armor on our exterior; then, we can start developing inwardly.  The rocky parts of our heart must be weathered by the trials and difficulties that take place in our lives.  We require nutrients, such as fellowship, encouragement, Godly counsel, and scriptural teaching in order for our hearts to soften and develop.  We must remain balanced in our faith, just as a fertile soil is balanced in texture, focusing on studying the word, helping or encouraging others, and praising God in everything we do.  The time it takes for our hearts to develop is related to our level of spiritual maturity.  This is a dynamic process – we do not have to remain stagnant in our current condition!  Our hearts can be cultivated, as our relationship with God is nurtured.  As we actively seek God’s guidance in our lives, our hearts will hold God’s Word for protection, we will grow as Christians, and produce the Fruit of the Spirit.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”  (Colossians 2:6-7)

Divine Interruptions

I’m a little stuck in my Ecclesiastes study right now, so I thought I’d take a break and travel down a different path than where I’ve been writing from. Since we finished up our Jonah study, and it’s unlikely I will be able to make the final meeting, I thought it would be appropriate to write about what I took from that study…what my own personal “divine interruption” is and how I’m progressing.

But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. (Jonah 1:3 ESV)

The story of Jonah is not so unlike my life. Jonah runs away from God because he doesn’t want to go to Nineveh. In a similar way, I have spent most of my life running from something. Insecurity used to have a huge hold on me, and kept me from fully embracing who I am. As a kid, I felt inferior around those I deemed were “better” than me. In fact, that attitude persisted a lot longer than it should have. It led me to make some really bad decisions, and not have the confidence to be completely comfortable in myself. At the time, I did not have a relationship with God, and often sought out acceptance in the wrong places.

When I became a Christian, I was a huge Angela Thomas fan. Our church started a support group for single moms and we read “My Single Mom Life”. I loved her down to earth style of writing and felt compelled to buy every Angela Thomas book I could find. One day, I came across a book and journal study called “Do You Think I’m Beautiful”, and while I totally disregarded the whole premise of God finding me beautiful or having a ‘romance’ with me, I bought it anyway and promptly filed it away in my nightstand.

In January of 2009, I was at a pretty low place in my life. I remembered the book and began reading and going through the workbook. It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed this study to better understand the patterns in my life. It seemed that a lot of my poor decisions were related to my negative self-esteem. The study was eye opening and addictive, and landed me in the pastor’s office on a couple of occasions, as I tried to come to terms with everything I was learning about myself!

By the end of the study, I felt confident in God’s love and that He did see me as beautiful. I was passionate about Bible study and became very involved in the women’s ministry in my church. I knew I was being called to help other people overcome their self-esteem issues and become empowered by Christ’s love. The problem was that while I felt changed, I wasn’t comfortable showing everyone that I was a “new creation”. It wasn’t intentional, but I was almost living a double life – I acted “Christian” around “Christian” people, and “normal” around everyone else. I truly wanted people to see Christ in me, but He wasn’t shining through me in the manner He deserved.

But, God wasn’t finished with me….

When I started the Jonah study this fall, I wasn’t sure what “divine interruption” was taking place in my life. I considered that it was being single, but that’s been my life; it’s all I’ve known, hardly an “interruption”. I prayed about it and started getting to know people at my new church. It then became clear… God was telling me that I need to be who He has created me to be, all of the time, to everyone!

I always considered myself to be “real” and “open”, but I became aware that I was afraid to show the “world” that I was a completely sold-out Jesus freak, and afraid to share my story with Christians who seemed to have it all together. In other words, I was “real” and “open” when it was safe, but mostly afraid to completely step out of the box to glorify God and let Him work through me.

This Jonah study, along with the well timed encouragement of friends, has really helped me come out of my shell. Not only do I know God loves me and has a great plan for my life, I’m willing to let Him use me in any way He desires, even if it’s scary! This isn’t to say that I won’t have periods of self-doubt or insecurity in myself or where He’s leading me, but I am committed to follow Him wherever He leads, even if that means I have to go to Nineveh!

Usually I close with scripture, but today I want to close with a passage from my favorite children’s book, “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams. Oh, I have always loved the words of the Skin Horse; such wisdom!! I look forward to a day where we can all be “real” and be exactly who God made us to be, without condemnation, guilt, or shame!

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”