5 Minute Daily Devo · Essay · Let's Talk About Purity

For God So Loved The World

Cross

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NASB

It has been a long day, but it’s all okay because tonight I’m making tacos! Just kidding, tacos are not fixing anything except stopping my stomach from growling.

It has been a long day, but it’s all okay because God loves me and He takes care of me through everything. Sounds like a Sunday school answer, but I mean it down in the depths of my soul! I hope I never get over it and I hope I don’t become content to keep it locked up inside myself.

I’ve been really busy, and I still have a lot of reading/researching I want to do for my next, slightly longer post on purity.

So, for today, I planned to find a verse that went along with what I said yesterday. I’ve been thinking about it this afternoon, and I just felt convicted about this verse.

I mean, this is the verse that everyone knows. I usually think of it as “the Sunday school answer,” but this is Jesus explaining the story of God’s love for mankind!

I don’t know if I could find a better verse to tell you simply about God’s love for you. God loves you so much that He wants to pursue a relationship with you even though it cost Him a great price.

Let’s re-examine the verse “everyone uses.” Let’s look at it with fresh eyes. You are loved by the God of the universe! What a huge claim we can lean on!

—Liz

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Essay · Let's Talk About Purity

What You’re Worth

Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20 NASB

If purity is about “much more than not having sex outside of a biblical marriage relationship,” then why do we emphasize it so much when we talk about purity?

I think this verse gives a pretty accurate answer. Purity is hard when it comes to any kind of sin; but, when it comes to sexual immorality, it will drag you down in ways that other sins might not.

But, before I go too much into that, I want to tell you like I frequently need to remind myself of the fact that we were bought at a price. Our freedom was purchased by Christ and no expense was spared.

When it comes to this particular kind of sin, I think–at least I know this is true for a lot of women–it often comes down to feeling valued. It’s easy to reach for another person to make you feel valued when you feel alone and unloved, but that’s not going to give you a lasting feeling of worth. Especially when it’s not in the right kind of relationship, and, honestly, even when it is the right kind of relationship it might not.

Trying to find your value in the eyes of a fellow imperfect human is always going to be disappointing at one point or another.

People will always fail us, but God never does. 

When I find myself earnestly and obediently seeking God’s will, pursuing a relationship with Him, and spending time in His word, I begin to see my worth in His eyes.

It breaks me. How could He love me like that when I mess up so much? How could I be worth that much to Him? But, His word tells me it’s true. His love for me is so great I can’t wrap my head around it. His desire for a relationship with me made Him say “I’ll take your place. I’ll take all your sin. I’ll die for you so that you can be forgiven.”

What?! Who does that for their enemy? That’s who I was before He saved me because God cannot tolerate sin, and I was stained by it down to my core. (If I’m not convincing you of what a big deal that is, just watch this video. It moves me every time I see it.)

That’s why I pursue a lifestyle of purity. I was bought with a price. I want to live out my faith because of the mercy God has shown me, because I want to share with others that “Hey! you are valued by a perfect God too!,” and because I want to be an example for other believers.

When I fix my gaze on Christ, I remember how He paid the ultimate price for my salvation.

I see that I am worth that much to Christ.

It makes me more and more aware of the abundant life He wants in fellowship with me, and at that point, sin and immorality are revealed for what they truly are. Destructive lies sown by the one who wants to steal, kill and destroy–who wants to rob me of the joy I have in fellowship with my God because, since God has bought me at a price and claimed me as His own, Satan cannot snatch me from His hand.

Today, I’m telling you: flee immorality because you were bought at the ultimate price. You are worth so much to Christ! Don’t buy into sins that will only bring you heartache and will never satisfy you, but cling to the One who has called you precious, valued, and loved beyond measure.

–Liz

5 Minute Daily Devo · Essay · Let's Talk About Purity

Transformed and Renewed

Romans 12-1

 

When it comes to living out a lifestyle of purity, this verse is especially challenging. It calls for me, as a believer, to walk in complete obedience to God and in a totally different direction from the rest of the world.

If you don’t think that’s hard try to do it perfectly for a day.

However, this verse also tells us part of the “key to success”–for lack of a better expression–in accomplishing that. I’m supposed to be “transformed by the renewing of [my] mind.” That takes place in earnestly seeking God’s presence through reading God’s word, through prayer, and, frequently, through godly counsel from other believers.

When I get that right, when I allow God to transform me and renew my mind with His presence, I can follow in obedience and in purity because I am better able to discern His will through His word and my growing relationship with Him.

Take a look at your heart and your faith. Have you allowed God to transform you and renew your mind? Are you conforming to the world instead?

You are only one step away from that transformation and renewal. What’s holding you back?

–Liz

Essay · Let's Talk About Purity

Defining “Pure”

To kick this off, I want to start with something really fun. What is it? you may wonder in excited anticipation. It’s definitions! Hurray!

Okay, it’s not the most exciting thing in the world, but I’ve learned that in any text you’re working with you often have to dissect the terminology the author uses. The same word can mean very different things to different fields.

I’m going to take baby-steps, here. First baby-step: defining things.

In a regular, old dictionary (I actually googled it, but I think that still counts), “purity” is defined as: “freedom from adulteration or contamination; freedom from immorality, especially of a sexual nature.”

In the Oxford English Dictionary “purity” is: “the state or quality of being morally or spiritually pure; sinlessness; freedom from ritual pollution; ceremonial cleanness; innocence; chastity,” and so on.

It’s a state of being separate from contamination, or things that make something unclean.

Throughout the Bible, purity is depicted as existing in a state just like that—set apart from the sinful/impure things of this world. Many those verses deal with sexual immorality, but that’s not the big picture.

Let’s go back to the verse I posted yesterday.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8

I decided to look up some of the Greek to dig deeper. So, here’s what I found about this verse almost word by word (if you’d like to check out where I got my translations you can follow the links for each word, and this link for the whole verse. Also, I’m not a Greek scholar. If you see that I’ve made a mistake here, feel free to message me about it!):

“Blessed”

This is the word “makários” which “describes a believer in enviable (“fortunate”) position from receiving God’s provisions (favor)—which (literally) extend (“make long, large”) His grace (benefits).

“Pure”

Something that is “spiritually clean because purged (purified by God), i.e. free from the contaminating (soiling) influences of sin.”

“in heart”

This figurative use of “heart” refers to “‘the affective center of our being’ and the capacity of moral preference (volitional desire, choice…); ‘desire-producer that makes us tick’…i.e. our ‘desire-decisions’ that establish who we really are.”

“for they shall see God”

Which means “to be admitted into intimate and blessed fellowship with God in his future kingdom.”

So, altogether: Blessed are those who are separated from the sinfulness of the world down to the affective center of their being, because these people shall be admitted into intimate and blessed fellowship with God in his future kingdom.

But, don’t miss that God is the source of that blessedness because of His huge outpouring of grace and His action in purifying us.

Obviously, combing all those definitions into one sentence is slightly overwhelming and a little clunky (but hopefully I’ve helped make a little more sense of this verse!).

It can also be overwhelming when thinking about putting that into practice.

“How do I stay separate from sin down to the center of my being?!”

It begins with our belief in Christ. Take a look at 1 John 3:3:

“And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

For those who believe in Christ, who follow Him, and have their hope fixed on Him, we can be considered pure because of the sacrifice He made for us—because He has covered our unrighteousness with His righteousness.

I also looked up the words in this verse, and “just as He is pure” really caught my attention. When John says this, he’s stating that we can be like Christ just as He exists in a state of being pure. This phrase “is pure” was compared to when Jesus said “I am the way” or “I am the light of the world” (John 14:6; John 8:12)  Who He is is pure, just like God is love (1 John 4:16). Wow!

There will be times we make mistakes, but His blood has paid for all our transgressions, and through His righteousness we can also be pure before God.

Now, there’s still the matter of living out our beliefs here on earth, which we’re going to get into in the coming days in discussing purity, but this is where it starts.

Being pure down to the center of ourselves is something only God can initiate because we are totally ensnared to sin until we come to Him for salvation. We can only be pure by accepting Christ who paid the debt for our sins.

But what an awesome gift salvation is, and how blessed are the pure in heart!

—Liz

 

Essay

Thinking Outside the Box

Hey all! It’s finally Saturday after one looooong week. Hopefully you’ve had a productive week and you’re doing well!

What I want to talk about today is something that is very dear to my family’s heart: Operation Christmas Child (OCC for short)! Maybe you’ve heard of it, or maybe you haven’t (until now that is!), but I believe it’s a great program for kids who may not otherwise get a Christmas gift—or, as some of the follow-up videos reveal, kids who have never been given any kind of gift like this.

When I was younger I used to think: “ugh, shoebox time again! How does this possibly make a difference? It’s not even that good of a gift… And I don’t really want to go to the dollar store to buy stuff for it.”  Let me tell you, it makes a HUGE difference. It’s a big deal. My perspective has changed a lot since I thought those things, and now I’m trying to pack one more box every year I participate!

If you’ve never heard of it, or at least not in detail, here’s what happens:

  1. You pack a shoebox for a boy or girl (of an age range you choose) full of things from toys to toiletries (things like bar soap, toothbrushes, and combs) and pay a small fee for shipping your box (It’s $9 this year).
  2. The box goes through processing where volunteers make sure everything in the shoebox meets the guidelines OCC sets up (no candy or food, no war related toys—toys made to look like weapons or military figures—or items that are otherwise not appropriate according to the guidelines you can read about here) and replace any items that are not appropriate with appropriate ones.

If you do pack a shoebox please, please, please check these guidelines because it’s no fun to get a nearly empty box because the person who packed it didn’t make sure their items were okay—it’s not hard to follow the rules, either. Plus, it just makes everything smoother if you double check before you send them off!

  1. The boxes are then shipped out to various parts of the world and are eventually delivered to a child of the right age and gender. When they get their shoebox they also get to hear the good news of the Gospel!

You can read about all this and even see some follow-up videos from kids who have received shoeboxes by exploring some more on their website.

I have had the opportunity to volunteer at one of the processing centers in Atlanta, Georgia and it’s such a great experience! (I’m hoping to go again this year with a group from our church, but I’m packing shoeboxes, regardless). And, let me just say, these shoeboxes are really treated with care. They take regular short breaks from processing the boxes to pray over them and the children who will get them, to share a devotion/encouraging word with all the volunteers, and give an update on how many shoeboxes have been packed.

It’s one of those experiences where I couldn’t stop thinking: “this is something that God has His hand in!” Even though it’s a human organization, and I’m sure if you look hard enough you could still find places where it’s not quite perfect, they display what the church is supposed to be about!

These shoeboxes are a simple gift. It’s nothing fancy. It’s not the latest phone, tablet, maybe not the best toy that all the kids in your area have, and it doesn’t suddenly make all their issues go away; but, it’s still an answer to a child’s prayer and it’s still a display of God’s love for some kids/families/people groups who may feel forgotten or who have never been shown love in this way.

I mean, if you really need more of a reason than sharing a little love and joy with these kids, we see in scripture that Jesus wanted to spend time with children and even told his disciples that they needed to have a childlike faith. Children were an example for grown men by the kind of faith they had in Jesus (Luke 18:15-17). The prayers and desires of these children—even the small things like wanting a baby doll or a teddy bear—are important to God and Samaritan’s Purse is just one way that God may choose to answer them, to show them that they are so loved and cared for (Luke 9:46-48).

It’s not about “We’re better than you and you need our help because we’re better and smarter” it’s about “We’re coming in love to share what we’ve been blessed with and we want to serve you where you have needs. We want you to know that you are loved and valued.”

There are so many of the follow-up videos and testimonies that feature kids saying things like: “I never had my own toothbrush” (y’all, let that sink in… never had their own toothbrush!), “I got a shoebox and in it was the Bible I prayed to God for,” or “I got [insert a very specific item that they have prayed or hoped for] and I was so happy/blessed to receive it!”

For some, this gift changes their entire life because through it they come to know Jesus. One of the testimonies we’ve heard this year was told by a girl who described how she counted each item she received and thanked God for it every night for years.

Don’t think that these little boxes don’t make a difference!

Maybe it’s difficult for us to see—at least I know it can be for me—because of where I live. I know I have been given so much, and often I’m not impressed by simple gifts. I don’t celebrate a toothbrush when I get one. I don’t count everything I’ve been given like I probably should.

Instead, I catch myself wanting to have the latest and greatest and nothing less. I get disappointed when I don’t get as many gifts as other people do for birthdays or Christmas. I’ve been so convicted about this watching those videos and hearing the testimonies of these children because I already have so much!

The gifts that I get for Christmas or other occasions are gifts on top of how I’ve already been blessed, but frequently I look at it from the perspective of “you don’t love me enough if you don’t get me exactly what I want.” This isn’t something I actually say out loud, but it’s a greedy thought that can be found lurking in the back of my mind. And how sad is that? that I don’t recognize that what I already have is a blessing? I’m not saying this to try to guilt you into packing a shoebox, but, I mean, if the shoe fits, maybe we should put it on so we can go out and get a different pair of metaphorical shoes to wear… like “cheerful giver” shoes instead of “guilty giver” shoes!

Really though, I don’t want you to feel guilty as much as I want you to recognize that, if you’re like me, you have been given so much and maybe don’t see it for the blessing it is. The fact that we’re alive and breathing, the fact that you can read this and go about doing what you do every day is a blessing. If you’re a Christian you also know that the fact that God shows us grace and mercy every single day is also a HUGE blessing.

That does not mean that my life is “all honey and no bees” because I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. However, regardless of the difficult struggles I do have, I know I need to change my point of view from “I want more stuff than that” to one that’s more grateful for what I do have. And, take that even a step further to think “how can I use what I’ve been blessed with to bless someone else?”

Packing a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child is a start for that kind of change in my life, but that’s not where I want to stop. In 1 Chronicles 21 David mentions that he will not give to God that which costs him nothing. Although the context is a lot different from the kind of giving I’m talking about with these shoeboxes, giving—being a generous, cheerful giver like God requires of us—will always cost something. Honestly, I want it to!

Real love for others requires more than the “nice gesture” of giving from your excess—where it doesn’t really cost you much because it was just something extra. It’s more than throwing a couple quarters that were hanging around in your cup-holders into the Salvation Army collection buckets outside stores during the holidays. It’s giving your time, energy, effort, and heart to others without any kind of discrimination or holding back. It’s giving like the poor widow does in Luke 21:1-4. Do you know how hard that is? It’s hard.

But, if Jesus gave me everything He had, and all I have is because of Him anyway, how can I possibly act like giving and pouring all the love I am capable of because of God’s love for me (1 John 4:7-21) into the lives of others is optional?

So, think about packing a shoebox! You can even do it all online if you’re not somewhere that you can take it to a collection center or are otherwise unable to do it yourself by going here! And think about other ways you can give to others in your life.

If you do, or even if you don’t/can’t pack a shoebox, please keep these boxes, the people involved in the whole process, and the children who will get them in your prayers!

And thanks for taking the time to read this long post!

—Liz

Chronological Study · Essay

New Construction

Construction
(image from Canva)

Something exciting (and slightly terrible) is happening in my neighborhood! Dun, dun, dun! It’s new construction. Maybe it’s not “terrible” per se, but it’s a little inconvenient. I remember when the house I live in now was under construction. It was not all that fun.

I think that this is a good comparison for our lives as Christians. I believe that there are so many wonderful things about our life when we are following Christ’s example. There’s a joy there that I didn’t have before—that I don’t have when I follow my own ways as a fallen human being. But, Oh my goodness! the construction project.

We see something like this throughout Exodus (and in pretty much every book of the Bible) where God is shaping His nation—His chosen people—into what He wants them to become. Think of it sort of like our building codes. They aren’t always what we want—sometimes they seem excessive or a little ridiculous and inconvenient to our plan or our time constraints—but they are intended to hold the builders accountable to a standard that produces good houses and safe houses (at least, that’s my general understanding).

When we come to believe in Christ and turn our life over to God, the Bible says that we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Where, before, there was a sad little lean-to of a life, God essentially bulldozes it over and breaks ground for new construction. But, after we come to Christ, we still have to resist sin. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just disappear overnight and never trouble us again. We are constantly in a war against our sinful nature as we try to walk according to the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).

So, that’s where sanctification comes in. That’s the process by which we become more like Him as we grow in our faith, become more disciplined, etc. (2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1). Now, we will never be perfect here on Earth because we’re still imperfect human beings, but we are meant to become more like Christ as we go along. It’s a process. Our faith is something that we live out and grow in throughout our life.

So, to get back to the construction analogy, we are constantly under construction as God leads us to follow His “building codes” for our life. Maybe you’ve heard the song “He’s Still Working on Me?”

Because God doesn’t want us to stay the way we were, and because He wants us to be more and more like Christ, we must change. And, again, it’s not something that happens instantaneously, although I do believe that there are some instantaneous changes that happen in our life when we do first come to Christ. But, if everything were instantaneous and we suddenly became “practically perfect in every way” in the way we live (as opposed to how we become “perfect” in God’s eyes because of Jesus’ blood and forgiveness for our sins when we’re saved), honestly, I feel like that sort of change would cause us to miss out on some of the important aspects of our relationship with God. Wouldn’t we become more “robotic” than humans who have the free will to choose a relationship with God over sin?

(just as a small disclaimer: this is somewhat of a complicated topic, and I’m not claiming to have all the answers here as much as I’m working through this part of my faith–maybe like you are, too? The issue of free will is definitely a difficult thing to puzzle together in any case)

Sometimes it’s frustrating, because we want the house to hurry up and get this thing built already (!!!). Sometimes, we don’t meet the inspection requirements and have to work things out over a longer period of time than we wanted. It’s a process, but it’s intended to bring about a better result through tests, inspections, modifications, building, etc. While it’s not always fun, I can tell you that most homeowners who have gone through the process of building a home can likely attest that it is worth the results when the builder knows what they’re doing… and, trust me, God knows what He is doing!

So, just remember that you are a vessel under construction; and when you are tempted to try to rush the project, remember that God is taking you through a process of growing, learning, and discipline to become something much better than you were before. He’s still working on all of us!

—Liz

Chronological Study · Essay

The End of the World as We Know It

End of the World
(photo from Canva)

So, I found myself with a few minutes of free time today and I’m done with almost all my homework (insert confetti here). I thought I’d take some time to write a little about some stuff that’s been on my mind over the past couple days.

 

I’m going to discuss Exodus 7-12 in sort of a broad sense in this writing, but I won’t specifically cover everything that happens in these chapters. Mostly because it’s a lot of material, but also because what I feel like writing about lends itself to the overarching theme and not necessarily to the specific plagues and the exchanges between Moses and Pharaoh.

In any case, it seems like I’ve seen a lot of posts circulating about the end of the world. Especially after the solar eclipse. Some of these claims are religious based—in fact, I’m even taking a literature course on the Vikings and I’m learning about the way they think the world will end too (*spoiler* Ragnarok was a bad time for Norse gods). Some of them are scientifically based. Although they are not necessarily accurate in either case. Nevertheless, I find that sometimes these can sometimes seem scary or be a little distressing for several reasons.

“But how does this relate to Exodus?” you may ask. Thank you imagined audience member! I’m glad you asked!

In this part of Exodus, the Israelites might have found themselves also experiencing some fear for what probably seemed like the end of the world as they knew it. They had been praying for God to deliver them, but it turns out to happen in a way they probably hadn’t anticipated.

After all, there are a series of destructive events taking place, and, even though this isn’t something I experienced personally, I feel like it would have been easy to give in to some anxiety or stress—maybe even some of the “the end is nigh!!” kind of panic.

Plagues involving mass amounts of frogs, insects, blood, and death? I might be a little concerned.

To be totally honest, the events around the Second Coming of Christ have always been intimidating to me. The book of Revelation is an intimidating study because of all the figurative language and it’s not exactly a “feel-good” book to begin with. Except the part where everyone who has been saved is united with God in heaven, but that’s beyond “feel-good.”

The idea of all the bad things that are going to happen during this time (in whatever order things actually take place) are always scary to me. This is one area where I struggle to trust God because the “waves” just seem so huge (Matthew 14:27-33). It may not be frogs, flies, or blood, but extreme persecution and the actual end of the world are still distressing to consider.

And, sometimes, it makes me feel very insecure in my faith to see people saying/posting these “this is how the end of the world is going to happen…” synopses with claims that “I’m not afraid at all! I’m ready!”

umm… I don’t feel ready? Can you give me another run through on the safety instructions here? Do I use my seat as a floatation device in the event of a water landing?

But, considering all this, I think that there are a few ways to take these things and ease some of the worry that might pop-up:

One: Always, always, always do some fact checking. And, by “fact checking” I mean look at what scripture says about the end times, and be careful to consider who you look to for a deeper explanation/commentary on this topic.

One thing that is especially important to keep in mind regardless is that Jesus tells us that no one knows the hour when He will return except the Father (Matthew 24:36-44). So, right off the bat we can probably ignore any specific dates that people throw out. If Jesus doesn’t even know, then Mr./Ms./Mrs. Whoever (even Dr. So-and-so) does not know no matter how much evidence they throw at you.

Two: When it comes to this book of the Bible, it gets a little tricky. Revelation and other passages related to the Second Coming of Christ are a little more vague in places than other aspects of God’s Word (like on tithing, for example). We seem to only get a general idea of what’s going to take place, in some respects. And, maybe it’s just me, but sometimes not knowing can create some doubt and uncertainty.

However, like the Israelites in Egypt during the plagues, we can put our trust in God who has proved that He is faithful to His people. There is nothing that we can do to earn His love through works, because He loved us while we still had enmity between us because of our sin (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 5:6-11). All we have to do is accept the gift of salvation and allow Him to be the Lord of our life. We can trust that He will take care of us as His adopted children (1 John 3:1-3; Romans 8:16-17).

Even with some of the vagueness or details that simply don’t make sense to us right now, we can look to God’s nature (David wrote numerous verses on God’s faithfulness. Psalms 36:5; 57:10; 89:5,8,33; 92:2; 100:5; 108:4 are just a handful), and all the examples that the Bible gives us of how He cares for His children, and let go of the worries we have.

Three: Ultimately, I think this can also be a place where we need to grow in our faith. It can be a place we need to work on trusting God more. There are going to be many times where we don’t have all the answers. In these instances, (and at any other point really) we need to work on turning our anxieties over to Him instead of letting them be a chink in our spiritual armor (Philippians 4:6-7).

That doesn’t mean that we never have any concern for the future, but that we come to a peace through our growing relationship with God where we learn that we can trust that—regardless of what happens and what we don’t know or understand—God will take care of His children.

And, I think it’s worth stating that peace doesn’t always mean the image of tranquility and perfect calm that I typically default to. In fact, if we look at Jesus I’m fairly certain that when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane He didn’t have a tranquil experience even though He had a peace and assurance that, despite the fact that He was about to die a horrible death, He was in the will of His Father and, ultimately, everything was in—and had never left—God’s control (Luke 22:39-46).

Likewise, this is a chance for us to work on honesty with God. This is something that I don’t always take advantage of. Sometimes I try to put on a good face like I would if I were talking to another person. “Oh yeah, I totally trust everything You’ve said. I have no doubts! Not one!”

But, that’s not true of anyone who believes in anything.

For example, if you think about sitting in a chair, you sit in it believing that it will hold you up; but, maybe there is still a small possible doubt that pops into your head from time to time that this chair could break and you’d go crashing to the floor. Now, considering the information that this is a chair with sturdy legs, it’s skillfully constructed, and you recently sat in the chair with nary an ominous creak or wiggle, it isn’t a reasonable doubt that it might fall apart. It’s just a possible doubt. (this idea is something that was mentioned in a podcast by J. Warner Wallace that I was listening to recently, although I’m not sure which one. Regardless, you should check them out!)

Instead of acting like we don’t have any possible doubts, or even some reasonable doubts in our minds that we haven’t explored evidence for, we can come to God in honesty and say “hey, I’ve got some doubts about this…” and we can pray for guidance and discernment in finding some resolution to these issues, or, with those possible doubts, that God would help us with our unbelief—that we would trust Him more.

Again, there are times we won’t have all the answers. However, in these times, I think it helps to reflect on the nature of God. Look at some examples similar to our own situations. Ask someone who is maybe a little wiser (and trustworthy!) for advice on the matter. Go talk to your pastor (if you don’t go to a church ask a local pastor you trust). Check out some resources on websites like Stand to Reason. Talk to someone more mature and knowledgeable in the faith. And, always look to scripture.

 Four: Does this change our mission as believers? Yes, and no. I don’t believe understanding all the details of the book of Revelation is necessary to fulfill what God has asked of us. While I believe that we need to read it and understand in a general sense, knowing explicitly what is going to happen in the last days would not change the fact that I need to be spreading the Good News of the salvation that God extends to us. What it does do is give me a sense of urgency and provides some degree of accountability.

If we look at the parable of the virgins with the lanterns (Matthew 25:1-13) who were waiting for the return of the groom, the fact that they didn’t know all the details of his return doesn’t change their purpose. The ones who were wise in the waiting and prepared appropriately for his return by having extra oil were ready for His return and were allowed into the wedding banquet. The ones who weren’t diligent in his absence and in their waiting? They missed out because they weren’t ready and they were locked out of the banquet. (Matthew 25 continues to give more of these parables to explain the importance of always being ready)

We as Christians are in their place. We have been given a mission, and provided with our own “lanterns” to take care of. We don’t know how everything is going to happen in crisp, detailed, high definition, but we do know that our savior is going to return and we know that it could happen at any moment. That means we should be diligent in the waiting, spreading the truth and serving God until that return.

And, I would rather be found working for Him when He does return than not, so, what’s stopping me? Where do I need to focus more on serving and less on being served? It’s not that we should try to earn God’s love, but that because of the love He has given us we are driven to serve in return.

So, maybe this helps you all who are reading, too. Hopefully this finds you on a good, productive Monday, in any case!

—Liz


(and, obviously, credit for the title of this piece goes to that R.E.M song that’s stuck in my head now… and maybe yours too… sorry)


 

Chronological Study · Essay

Making Bricks With No Straw

bricksDoes anyone else get really frustrated with life? for possibly a week at a time, occasionally? I mean, it’s difficult when people/nature/what-have-you is consistently messy and you carry around all the baggage around it. Why can’t everything be in order and less messy? And why do people not listen like they should? It seems as if the people who need to listen the most are usually the ones who are so resistant and unwilling to give any thought to what you have to say.

I think social media brings this out in me a lot. As much as it is a tool—or, at least has the potential to be used for a tool—it can be extremely destructive and it can steal our joy. Regardless of your religious background, sometimes the last thing you need is to check Facebook again.

But, really. Why are things so frustrating sometimes? I feel like I have been consistently frustrated both with myself and others recently. I think in part I can blame it on me checking social media too much, maybe I’m a little too sensitive to things, and probably the weather and school have a lot to do with it too (not to mention this cold I’m getting *sniff sniff*). There’s a lot going on in the world that we have to be frustrated about, so maybe it’s not totally unreasonable for me to feel this way.

In Exodus 5-6 there was a lot of the same frustration going on. Moses and Aaron go to approach Pharaoh with God’s message. They even say “The God of the Hebrews has met with us,” let us go do what He wants or He’s going to strike Egypt with plagues (5:3).

Pharaoh does not let them go. He’s stubborn, and, it’s much to the detriment of the nation of Egypt.

But, wait, does this chapter say the Hebrews were affected, too?! Yep. They had to make bricks without being provided straw. They suffered because of Moses and Aaron’s request. At least, that’s how I would view it if I were in their shoes.

The situation that these men—chosen by God to help deliver his people out of slavery—were in seems counter-intuitive. After Pharaoh refuses Moses and Aaron (he’s actually obstinately saying no to God Almighty which is not a smart thing to do), he increases the Israelites’ workload, intentionally making their lives harder.

Now, the million-dollar question: Why would God allow all these consequences to take place when He could make it so that they could walk out of Egypt unimpeded at that very moment?

I don’t think there is one answer, but one that stands out to me with the way I’m feeling right now is that God wanted them to grow a little in their faith. (Now, there are other reasons for what God does in Egypt that we find in scripture, but this is what I’m going to address presently)

One phrase that keeps echoing in my head is one my pastor says frequently: “the faith that can’t be tested can’t be trusted.”

Often, I think God puts roadblocks or tests in my life just to let me know where my heart is focused. Unfortunately, a lot of times, that isn’t on Him like it should be. Sometimes it’s on a wrong note, on something I messed up and won’t stop playing over in my head, something someone said that offended me, worrying about what I’m going to do in the future, you name it. It’s often an issue of lacking trust and using worldly “eyes” rather than fixing my gaze and trust on my Provider.

It can be discouraging. Especially when what I want is to follow Christ and to share the truth. It is a daunting task that we are called to do in love. I mean, how do you not get frustrated sometimes when you’re trying to do a good thing but someone won’t accept it? It’s like trying to give your friend the one thing they’ve always wanted, but they refuse to acknowledge the present.

I think the first important step is to take a break from this world by getting in God’s word. Even Jesus—who was fully God—was intentional with the time He took to get refreshed by spending time with His Father.

Another phrase that has stuck with me recently is that “our ministry should come from the overflow of time spent with God and not from our cups” (I’m not sure who the credit for this quote belongs to, but I cannot take any credit for that wise advice).

In other words, we come to love, to have peace in ourselves, to listen better, and, in general, just meet needs in the right way by looking to the source of perfect love, perfect peace, to the God who listens intently to His children and can meet all our needs in exactly the way they need to be met. We have to come to God first and be filled with Him, and then from that we can see people/circumstances/frustrations and setbacks in the right way and address them properly.

For example: we wouldn’t want our surgeon to be more worried about what he or she was having for dinner than on the fact that they’re trying to remove our appendix. We want them to be knowledgeable, to spend time refreshing themselves on the proper procedures, and considering our specific situation so that they can take on any complications that might occur. If they don’t take the proper steps to prepare themselves to perform a procedure they could be easily flustered by a complication and unable to meet the demands in front of them.

In any case, we as Christians need this “prep” time and we need it for our own spiritual/mental/emotional health so that we can pour into the lives of others.

I think it’s also telling that in the same section of scripture where Jesus says we will suffer in this world, He tells us how to get over this by pointing out that He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

Following Jesus will not eliminate all your earthly difficulties (not to mention the constant war we wage with our own sinful nature), but keeping the right perspective can give us peace in difficult circumstances because we can trust that God, who delivered the Israelites out of Egypt after a point in time where everything seemed to be going wrong, is going to take care of His people now, too.

Maybe, if you’re also feeling frustrated, this is a moment in our lives where God is calling us to reevaluate how we do things. How are we loving others? Communicating the truth? Do we need to kill our pride?

Go look to the source of perfect love to see how you need to change to better reflect His love and truth. And, don’t be discouraged when you encounter “stubborn Pharaoh” situations.

—Liz

Chronological Study · Essay

Decrease

Ah, the first weeks of school! Such a relief to parents, but such a downer to students who have enjoyed some amount of freedom over the past couple months. I have to say that college doesn’t really change that very much. It’s nice to have a little added freedom in having your own vehicle and being able to leave after your classes, but then you’ve got bills and assignments and it really catches up to you. So, it’s really bittersweet, I guess.

My first two weeks of class have gone pretty well. I mean, as well as I can hope for when I had been dreading them for about three weeks. So far, I like all of my professors and they seem fairly nice. We shall see how this semester turns out!

The Chapters that I’m going to deal with today are in Genesis—Psych! It’s Exodus 1-4. (I’m not very funny, I’m sorry)

In these chapters one of the things that stands out is that God is concerned for His people. It says that at least 4-5 times (2:23-25; 3:7-10, 16-17). Considering that—in the New Testament—Jesus saying things two or three times emphasizes that He’s about to lay down the Truth, this seems important.

God has compassion on the Hebrews, and this is a group of people who can be a little flaky just like the rest of us. Even though they may not “deserve it” in comparing them to the standard of perfection that God established (this is something that we all fail to meet because we are fallen, imperfect people), He still doesn’t want them to suffer in Egypt. He hears the Hebrews’ cry and remembers the covenant He established with Abraham and his descendants.

Furthermore, this is an opportunity to distinguish His chosen people from all other nations, to demonstrate His awesome power, and show that He is who He says He is—an omnipotent, righteous (but also personal/relational) God.

So, He puts a rescue plan into action. He chooses Moses to be a major player in the way He leads His people out of slavery in Egypt.

But, Moses is not quite on the same page—at least not at first. He has a small pity-party when he realizes that God means to use him.

God, the Creator of the universe, comes to Moses in a burning bush—which, weirdly enough, isn’t being burnt to a crisp—and says in some detail what He wants Moses to do and that He’s going to be with him the whole time.

(It’s not too often that I’ve read in the Bible where God seems to get this detailed. I mean, with Abraham, God told him to go to a land that He would show him, and then He told Abraham that he would have a son and the entire world would be blessed through him.

That doesn’t mean that Moses was better or anything like that, but the fact that God gives him a step by step account of what’s going to happen seems like it says a lot about both (maybe) the anxieties that Moses had and the compassion that God had for His people in spelling out this detailed plan for their rescue.)

Honestly, I find myself in the same place frequently. I don’t see a burning bush or hear an audible voice, but I do have scripture that tells me the end of the story and what I’m supposed to be doing on this earth. I also have the world around me that testifies of God’s existence—that He is who He says He is.

These things should be able to satisfy the doubts I have. I have a Creator who wants a personal relationship with me, He’s provided the means to do just that, and, on top of that, He’s given evidence outside of the Bible that I just have to investigate a little to find (although, I encourage everyone to do a serious investigation into areas that you’re interested in or that maybe you struggle with).

But, I’m just like Moses. Or Peter walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33). Or any of the countless people who have ever found themselves in front of God with a command to go and be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16).

I look at the obstacles. I look at how I’m not good enough and how I can mess things up really badly and really quickly. I look at the obstacles in the culture around me. How people won’t want to listen to me. How they don’t want to change and the Gospel is offensive.

Why would God choose me? Why would He choose Moses?

When Moses starts to get down on himself (and essentially questions God’s plan), God has one of those “mic-drop” moments. He tells Moses: “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Exodus 4:11-12).

Moses continues to protest his own abilities, though, saying: “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else” (4:13). So, God concludes (it actually says that His anger burned against Moses when He said this in 4:14-17) that his brother Aaron can speak for him.

I wonder if, later on, Moses kicked himself a little considering all God does and because of the relationship that develops between God and himself.

What I learn from Moses is that too often I am focused on those negatives. If we are focused on what we cannot do, we will miss what God can do through someone who is willing to fully submit to God’s will and follow His lead.

I totally relate to Moses, because for a long time I’ve felt like God has been calling me into some form of ministry. But, I am so scared. I am not a very “social” person. I’m not very good with words. I am hesitant to take the lead most of the time. I like to be behind the scenes and not be the person who speaks up to testify about who God is in a face-to-face conversation because I’m intimidated by that challenge. At the same time, every single mistake I’ve ever made looms so large in my mind when I start to warm up to the idea of serving somewhere full-time.

I think about the obstacles more than I think about God’s ability to overcome even death. How small are my obstacles compared to God?

Serving God requires faith and vulnerability. I mean, sometimes going where God leads can feel like jumping off a cliff and trusting that He’ll provide the parachute. I understand why Moses hesitates and tries to get God to send someone else.

But, when I look at the relationship God established when Moses finally started to really follow Him, I want to surrender to His will and jump off that cliff (okay, it’s a loose analogy).

So, I’m surrendering to the mission field. (I guess that’s kind of a big deal in a good way, but it feels like jumping off a cliff) I’m still working through all those doubts and questions, but I am trusting that God—the same God who was with Moses—will be with me as I go where He calls me.

I think it’s funny because I remember telling my mom in kindergarten that I was going to be a missionary. I remember thinking that out of every career in the world, nothing would be more important to me than ministering to people. And, that’s not to say that you have to be a missionary to do this, because as Christians we are all called to share the good news. Every area of your life is a mission field, and I’m trying to work on living that out too.

In fact, my “ministry” (and every Christian’s ministry) starts with the day I was saved and it is not something I should compartmentalize into “ministry time” and “my time.” I want all the time to be “God’s time” because I want to share the Truth to those around me. If I believe everything the Bible says, I should want to do this with urgency because people’s souls are at stake.

I think what sums it up best are the words of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). And this verse is extremely difficult to live out. There is so much temptation and opposition to living the way God has called us to. This world is so opposed to submission to God’s authority and to accepting salvation even though we crave exactly what God offers us in a relationship with Him.

This verse doesn’t mean that I’m called to decrease into nothingness in life, but that the ways that seem right to me, my own plans and my pride would become less as I follow God in everything that I do. He becomes more to me than myself, and I become more concerned with proclaiming Christ than in making a name for myself.

I’ve got to keep looking at my life, asking: “Where do my own plans and pride need to decrease in light of the life He has called me to live? Where do I need to work harder to listen and be filled by God’s Truth instead of my own anxious thoughts and cares? Where do I need to become less so that He can become more?”

Because, at the end of the day, God doesn’t want a place in my life, He wants my life. He is a God who is jealous for the people He created (Exodus 34:14). He wants to be my priority.

Hopefully, I’ve made some sense here. It’s been sort of difficult to pare down my thoughts on all this and to write recently. If you could keep me in your prayers as I’m working towards going into full-time ministry I would really appreciate it! I’ll be keeping you all in my thoughts and prayers.

—Liz


IMG_4891
Another picture from Eleuthera. Please keep everyone on the islands and in the States who are about to be affected by Hurricane Irma in the next few days in your prayers.

PS: I just wanted to say that everyone who has been affected by the hurricanes is especially in my prayers, and I encourage everyone else to be on the lookout for opportunities to serve/donate to those who have lost so much. I’ve been convicted about the need to give/serve because of what James says about faith and works (James 2:14-26). What good is our faith if we aren’t trying to serve and reach those around us who have needs to be met? The damage from these storms is probably going to take a long time to recover from, so, if you are unable to currently give to meet physical needs for these people, be praying about how you could serve in the future.

 

Chronological Study · Essay

Defies Expectations

IMG_4890
(another of my friend’s pictures from when we were in Eleuthera–from one of the construction projects)

As we close out Genesis with Chapters 48-50, we get almost a summary of all the God has done in this family. One thing is clear: God consistently defies expectations. He takes chooses people that do not make sense and goes above and beyond what they could hope for.

In chapter 48, Israel is near death and begins the process of blessing his children. An interesting thing happens when he blesses Joseph’s two sons. To start with, Israel adopts them, or, Joseph’s children are blessed as if they were Israel’s. I don’t totally understand all the intricacies of blessing one’s children in the Old Testament, so I can’t exactly comment on all the significance of this, but what happens next is also important.

When Israel places his hands on Ephraim and Manasseh, he blesses Ephraim as if he were the firstborn instead of Joseph’s actual firstborn, Manasseh (48:14-20). Is anyone else thinking “here we go again!” like I am?

But it gets more interesting in Chapter 49 where Israel blesses the rest of his sons. Despite that Reuben, his firstborn, should have received the bulk of his blessing, Israel focuses on Judah and Joseph instead.

Now, Joseph I think we can understand, but Judah? not so much. Nevertheless, Israel chooses to focus a larger portion of his spoken blessing on these two sons. Israel’s blessing on Judah even gives us some foreshadowing to Jesus’s incarnation (49:8-12). (Let’s just take a second to appreciate how crazy it is that this was something that had been prophesied from the very beginning of civilization. That’s so many years! So many!)

Finally, in the last chapter, we see Joseph assure his brothers that he is not going to seek revenge, again. I mean, parts of the reading come across like opposite day that we had in elementary school.

So, what’s the point? Does God just like to disappoint the firstborn son of every family since Abraham’s children? And, does He enjoy psyching people out? I’m going to say “no” to the firstborn question and “more no than yes” to the other question.

What I get out of these verses is something that is another main theme of the Bible: God uses the weak things, and the foolish things, to shame the strong and wise (1 Corinthians 1-26-31). In our weakness and deficiencies God reveals His perfect power and provision to us (2 Corinthians 12:5-10). He shows that there is nothing that He cannot accomplish through someone who is willing to follow Him.

And, as Paul says, He shows that He will accomplish His plan in exactly the way He intends—blessing who He desires to bless—and not any other way (Romans 9:14-33). It brings up those questions about fairness (again), but (again) I will say that no one really deserves any grace (Romans 6:23); and, God—being the author of the story (Hebrews 12:1-2; and the Potter to our clay in Romans 9:14-33)—knows exactly what needs to happen and who needs to do it. In Ephesians 1:3-6 it even says that God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world; furthermore, He knows us because He’s the one who formed us, like David says in Psalm 139.

In application to our own lives, I think this means that we quit worrying about who deserves what because of how religious they are, or who they are as a person, and focus on surrendering fully to His will and not our own understanding (I know I’ve said that a lot, too) (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Maybe you feel doubt about your own abilities to serve, or that God can’t use someone who is really messed up (just wait for what Moses is going to do in Exodus!). Those things are not what define us. Our difficulties are God’s opportunities to shine through in our life (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). That means that anything we have struggled with in our life, can be turned over to God, and, in His strength, He can make it into something that will glorify Him. Joseph says multiple times in these closing chapters that what his brothers intended for evil God used for good because Joseph followed Him wholeheartedly (Genesis 50:18-21).

He can take your broken pieces and turn them into a beautiful mosaic, He can fill the places you’ve been left empty, and He can shine His light through the cracks in a broken life. God loves every person on this planet, but I think He really loves using an underdog to reveal just who He is to the world.

Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we could ask or think according to the power that works in us—to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

—Liz