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A Father’s Love (Reflection for 9/18)

“For the LORD will not cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief,
he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
or grieve the children of men”
Lamentations 3:31-33

ROTD:   God’s reactions to our actions are always perfect.

Why?
This is one of the hardest things for anyone to grasp. Why would a God who is so good send trials? Why say no? Why delay the fulfillment of our prayers? Why is there still consequence?

There are many factors into these, but we can look at at least one aspect here in Lamentations. The narrator speaking in chapter 3 is a man who has directly felt the wrath of God, who has seen his punishment firsthand. The best way to explain this, I think, is with an illustration we all can understand.

Parents. (Yes, this is where I am going with it. Hear me out.) As kids, parents have rules for us to follow. They love us and inspire us and better us as people, but there are still rules of the household. What are the worst words you could ever hear when you got caught breaking one of those rules?

“Just wait till your father gets home”.

Terrifying. Because you knew that there was some type of consequence to your action. And dad gets home, and punishment is doled out, and reconciliation occurs as you tearfully swear to neverevereverever do it again. But of course you do. And the cycle continues.

Look at the nation of Israel throughout the whole Old Testament. They are constantly disobeying God, leaving His commandments, following other gods or people, complaining, whining…and then when God acts accordingly, they shape up. And so it continues. To read, it looks like Israel is really, really, stupid. Just follow God and it’s all good!

But don’t we do the same thing?

God is our Father. He is also a perfect Father. So while many of us have had horrible, terrible experiences with parental discretion here on earth, we need to be able to look past those to see what God is doing. Because we constantly are disobeying Him, sinning, blowing off His words, not talking to Him, trying to do life without Him. We disobey our Father all the time.
“He does not afflict from his heart” is such a cool statement, because it shows that God doesn’t bring punishment because He enjoys it. He brings correction to discipline us, to grow us, to help us to better understand Him and draw closer to Him. And, thanks be to God for His Son, we have the ability to turn around, repent, and continue to follow hard after Him.

Being a Christian does not mean that your actions no longer carry weight to them. God is love, yes, but He is also righteous and just, holy, mighty (for more on that, click here). What the speaker realizes is that all of the correction we receive from God comes out of a place of love, not evil sinister joy. Punishment doesn’t last forever. The trial you are going through does have meaning and purpose. All things do. So if God is trying to teach you to let go of some recurring sin, it might hurt a bit when that sin comes to light in the worst possible way. Or if He is trying to grow your patience, life might become quite stressful for a time. Finance and trust issues? Money might be a little tight for a while. We may not always understand the method, or the timing, but we MUST KNOW in our hearts that God knows perfectly how we learn and what we need to push us forward. These things always move us toward a deeper relationship with God, if we let them.

Now, I realize this leads to some bigger questions that have harder answers. Why do people suffer in general? Why is this world full of evil? My sister got raped, is that part of God’s plan? Why do babies die? How much does God send, and how much does He allow to happen to us?

These are questions that I have heard over the years, and some I struggle with to this day. We will dive into some of these later on, and look at the different aspects of God’s relationship to us, and sin’s affect on the world as a whole.

For now, though, rest in this: That just because it seems like God is angry at you, He’s not. He derives no joy from our pain.God loves you more than you can fathom, and with love does come discipline, and correction. Anything that God is using to teach us and correct us-any trial ,situation, person, circumstance-is done in love. We just have to open our minds and hearts to see it as such.

Prayer:

Lord, we do not always understand the means and ways that you work. We struggle to grasp that a loving God can also punish and correct and discipline. God, help us to know that you love us. Help us to recognize Your hand in our lives, in every situation. We pray for forgiveness, for we know we are a sinful, messed up people. Show us where You are at work in us, and correct us in whatever way you see fit. However loud You have to shout to get our attention, do so. However fall You let us fall before we face our eyes to You, let us. However much You have to strip away from us in order to build us up correctly, break us down. Whatever You need to do, do in our hearts today.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

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One Life Left… (Devo, January 14)

 “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
-Mark 8:34-35

     You ever notice when you are playing a video game, or some sort of computer game, and you get down to that last life?
And it seems immediately at that moment, everything that could possibly happen begins to happen. You run into that one enemy, that jump you can’t make, you run out of ammo, you get beat up, and you eventually lose. Happens all the time.
The same thing definitely happens to us in our lives, but with more at stake. We only have one life left. And we try so hard to establish ourselves in the fashion we think will best keep us and preserve us and our memory, our legacy. And yet it always seems like there are things that get in our way. There is always that one last step, that last jump, that last enemy. And we destroy ourselves trying to attain this “life” that we think we need to have. We lose our real lives trying to gain these lives we think we need.  But there is One who has life to offer-life and life abundantly, pressed down, shaken, and running over. He has the ability to give us that fulfillment we desire, that peace, that joy, that security, that LIFE.

     The reason He has this ability, however, is where we falter a little bit in choosing this option. Because Jesus is this man. Jesus has this ability, this authority, because He gave up His life completely. He gave up what he could have had. He could have been a King, He could have brought down legions of angels and ruled on this earth, and been the most powerful man on the face of this earth. He could have had all the riches He desired, all the popularity He wanted. But He gave it up. He lost that life, and His actual life, so that we could gain life. But the life He has for us-this real, rich, vibrant life-can only be attained by being like that Jesus. And it’s a hard road. It’s hard to give up the things that we work so hard for, the things we are so comfortable in, the things we think will make life better. Our own life is the hardest thing for us to lose.

But when you do give in. When you realize that you’ve tried everything and you are down to that last life, that last shot, and you have nothing left, that the life you thought you wanted really is destroying you…
Don’t let it destroy you. Simply give it up.
Give it up into the arms of Jesus, daily. Let Him take all your worries and your fears and doubts.
Pick up YOUR cross, pick up this new life that you have taken up.
And follow Him.
That cross is gonna feel cumbersome and awkward and heavy.
But it has everything you need to not only survive, but be alive. 

Will you pick up the cross of Christ today?

http://bible.com/116/mrk.8.34-35.nlt

What Is Truth?

    Truth is something that has been debated since the world has begun. What is truth? What makes something true? What is that concept of truth even? It’s a hard one to explain. Merriam-Webster defines truth as “sincerity in action, character, and utterance” and “the state of being the case….the body of real things, events, and facts”. Basically, the idea of truth consists of things that are right and real and…well…true. It’s incredibly difficult to define in human terms. Nowadays we have many different venues of truth. Truth, today, seems to  have two meanings. There are the truths we take for granted-gravity, math, the Earth is round, and we have tides and wind helps birds fly. That kind of stuff.  Physical truths. We also have moral truths-which today, are defined as whatever makes you feel “right” inside, whatever makes you feel good.  What’s true and right for me may work for me, but not necessarily for you; you have your own set of truths and values that you live by. It’s relative and subjective and it depends on the person.

However, this is a belief I don’t particularly subscribe to. You see, my truth is a pretty simple one. I believe that Jesus is truth. Yes, Jesus. In both physical truth and moral truth, the answer is Jesus. In John chapter 14, Jesus says “…I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” To me, that says it all. Jesus is my truth-and not only that, He is THE Truth. So because of that-what things are true to me?

Things like loving my neighbor, and my enemy. Things I believe like that you shouldn’t discriminate, or have sexual biases.  My belief that we shouldn’t have capital punishment-that Jesus still loves those criminals, and so should I, and we should try and help them rather than just take a life. My belief that EVERYONE has a right to life. That marriage is between one man and one woman.  How I feel that we SHOULD do things to help the poor and disenfranchised. That we should not be making fun of anyone for their perceived shortcomings and flaws, because we all have our own. These are things that are true to me, but they are true because Jesus has said them, and He is Truth.

Now, that may sound silly to some. I mean-not everything has to do with religion, right? We have things like science, and math that are true. Two plus two equals four and you don’t really see Jesus in that at all.  Plus, there’s no way one man could be Truth. Jesus didn’t discover gravity. Newton did. To say Jesus is Truth for things like addition is silly. And to say He is the way morally, is wrong! There are many good teachers and philosophers that all had their own take on how we should live. To say His truth is the only one is putting him on a very high pedestal-saying that everything he ever said, and did, was right and correct, and that nothing else should ever be considered. He was a man! We all mess up; to give him that credit is not right.

For me, however, I see things differently. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, fully God and fully Man. He was capable of sin as a man, yet He lived perfectly and died on a cross because of His life. His blood was spilt so that I could be set free from the sin and bondage of this world. To me, this is truth. There are ways of thinking out there that are true, to an extent-but they lack Jesus, and therefore are not Truth.

I believe the way I was brought up is the biggest influence on why I believe Jesus is Truth. I was raised by a Christian mother and a not-so-Christian father. The way she taught me led me to just know that God was real, that Jesus did love me and that His commandments were true. Later on in life, my belief in Him was put to the test. I went into a period where I was torn between following God and the pressures of society around me. My friends were not the greatest influences, I was depressed a lot, I listened to music that told me things contrary to what I had been raised to believe. I believed that lie that as a kid my parents wouldn’t understand the things I went through, and therefore remained silent as I hurt inside. The kids at school said they would be there for me-but slowly, they pushed me out of their circle until I remained hanging on, at the fringes. Later on-my junior year-My parents were divorced. My mother spiraled into depression and told me she didn’t believe in the God she raised me to believe in anymore. For her, life was too much and last summer she gave in to the lies that sometimes, a bullet is the best way to end the pain. This would be enough for most people to give up on believing in only one truth. Trying to follow that while everything falls apart around you? It may have been a better idea to go and just find what truth made me happy. God obviously didn’t do anything for my mom. He couldn’t be the true way if He drove people to kill themselves and was so hard to follow and please, right?

The individualistic nature of the culture I’ve grown up in was a huge pressure. I see it everywhere-I have to be my own man, to do what I can for myself and make my own way. This past year, I took that mentality into some serious consideration on a cold night as I debated on whether my own way ended in sleep. I wanted control; I wanted to be able to make a decision for once. But it was at this point that I realized that God was the only thing that remained true in my life. It was my belief in Him and what His son did on the cross that kept me from following my mother last year. It was my belief that the life He lived, and the death that He died, was enough to pull me through anything. It had before. It pulled me through middle school depression. The truth within the covers of that Bible was enough to keep me searching, seeking some form of solace through freshman and sophomore year. It was enough to get me through divorce and hospital visits and my mother’s suicide. And the Truth that is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, was enough to keep me safe and let me cry out my sorrow, instead of shooting it or hanging it and ending my own life.

So, God is my truth. From Him all things flow. The ideas that we have about the things that are true all stem from His true nature. Things like being loving. Having joy-real joy. Being a patient person. Being a kind person, a good person. Faithfulness and integrity in word and deed. Controlling one’s self. Loving your neighbor as yourself. Helping those who can’t help themselves. Being empathetic. These are all truths of the human condition, yes? These are things that are good and right and we all accept. As humans it’s just accepted that you help someone who needs it. You do good and good will come back to you. You be selfless and loving and kind and merciful and correct a friend when necessary. These things all come from God. And things like science, math-the things that we just believe are so concrete-who came up with these ideas? Who gave us a brain? Who gave us thought? Where did our conscience come from? The leaps and bounds we make barely crack the surface of why the sunset just inspires feelings of immense awe and joy in our hearts. We think we know all this and discover it ourselves, but really we are just given a glimpse of how great and vast our God is. So the truths that seem at odds with Christ? He made them. To say that belief in God is the opposite of science is ludicrous-He made it. God is my physical truth and my moral truth. He is my everything.

Romans 11:36 says that “For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen”. This is my truth. All that is good in this world, and all that is right and true to me, comes from my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Watching Your Words, Day 12: Honestly, What’s Good Honesty?

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     It is a hard, hard thing to be honest about your feelings. I have learned this. I don’t know why, but I get myself into numerous situations where what I’m feeling, in that moment, is something that completely contradicts whatever is going on and will undoubtedly make things worse. Put on top of that that the situations are often high-stakes, it’s a hard thing  to be honest.
     Where is the line where being open and honest stops? Is it ever okay to keep your feelings inside, sometimes, for the sake of the other person? I don’t know.
This is one thing that I struggle with, honestly. 

Get it? 

     1 Peter 3:10-12 says that “For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (ESV).  This is speaking, of course, to the sin of lying-and I believe that when one doesn’t tell the truth, it is the same as a lie. So in this regard I feel it is wrong to lie, and lately I have been focusing on being more honest-actually admitting when something is wrong, or telling someone how I really feel. But then this gets me into trouble too (it’s situation specific, but nonetheless). On the whole, however, I feel it is better to be honest about my emotions than to deceive someone. I think my problem goes back to my lack of tactfulness. I do not know how to be honest without being brutally honest, which is a problem. I think, that if I learn how to be honest in a more loving manner, things will go better for me. 
     For example. I was in a discussion with someone and they asked me if I wanted to work it (a difficult situation) out. At the time, I honestly wasn’t sure, and I said so. I made sure to say that it was just in that moment, but I really couldn’t answer one way or another. The person was upset by this, and I felt at a loss. I didn’t want to lie. But I don’t want to hurt people,either. I think that overall it worked for the best-I talked myself through it, got some sleep, and today had a decision that was more favorable. I have been learning that honesty is very valuable to people. I just have to learn how to tell the truth in a more uplifting, positive way. But this goes back to my last blog-sometimes, the truth just hurts. And in that case I can’t feel TOO bad, because I was being truthful. 

     I have no resolution to this, and I am not sorry. Honestly, I have way more questions about this than solid answers. It’s a topic that I am going to have to just learn about, and from, as I grow in life and with different experiences. I do know, however, that I want to be an honest person. I just need to figure out how.