You are of Infinite Worth

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“How can I say no?” my mom asked, “You wouldn’t love me anymore.”

My mother and I had recently experienced a small but significant breakthrough in our relationship after 11 years of dissent and contempt.

Throughout my entire childhood, I had always been on Mom’s team. Dad was seen as the enemy. Although Mom first recruited me to her side as a playful gesture, she eventually sought me as her actual teammate during her fights with Dad.

But Mom was also on my team. That meant that I got to have everything I wanted: scooters, bikes, expensive food, and phone-after-phone-after-phone. Even when Dad passed away and my relationship with Mom turned sour, her giving and sacrifice never ceased. In fact, it doubled and tripled—especially after a bad fight. I don’t think I ever heard her say the word, “No,” even when she was deeply unhappy about something. This was the usual pattern: I’d ask for something superficial (whether it’s new clothes or going to the mall), she would make a face of disapproval, grab her keys, and drive recklessly to wherever I wanted to go to express her disapproval. But she wouldn’t say, “No.” She thought that having no personal boundaries meant being sacrificial and loving.

I learned later on that her definition of love meant giving ceaselessly, even out of bitterness. She allowed other people to invade her boundaries because she feared that communicating her needs would make people love her less. She loved me, but her motivation wasn't love. It was fear. She grew up thinking that her worth rested firmly in the hands of others—not herself and certainly not God. As a result, she often felt out of control and had frequent breakdowns because she didn’t understand her own self-worth and couldn’t protect her own limits.

Pretty soon after my dad passed away, Mom labeled me as, “The disobedient girl your dad warned me about.” I was suddenly no longer on Mom’s team—I was the enemy. Yet, I still got everything I wanted because my mother couldn’t say, “No.” She only threatened to kill me and then kill herself whenever she reached her limit. If this was what I thought of love, no wonder why my self-worth diminished by the time I reached 10th grade!

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“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don't recognize that we are God's children because they don't know him” (1 John 3:1).

I love that John’s letter begins with the reminder of our intrinsic worth as God’s children. I learned this immediately after coming to faith, but I hadn't internalized it until recently. God had been working on restoring my sense of worth for the longest time. He knew that it was damaged, even though I tried tirelessly to convince myself that my self-worth was fine and I didn’t need any useless reminders.

At that time, I didn’t recognize what was in my ‘well’ of worthiness. My well contained my accomplishments (I was a fresh Berkeley graduate), my handsome and meek boyfriend, my financial freedom, and my seemingly bright and successful future. Since all of those things made me feel worthy, I naturally lost myself when all of it came to a screeching halt. My Berkeley education couldn’t get me a high-paying job, my financial freedom was compromised, my sweet and meek boyfriend became traumatized and defensive, and my future seemed as uncertain as ever. I was so unhappy with life that I thought even God had abandoned me. Well played, life.

When I lost every treasure in my well of worthiness, I slowly became unhinged. My inherited lack of boundaries began to show. I controlled other people but I couldn’t control myself. My anxiety and depression spiraled out of whack, and I landed in the mental hospital for 72 hours on suicide watch. Never did I understand my mom’s anxiety so well until my own self-worth collapsed.

Since then, the Lord had been patiently and sweetly helping me heal by reconstructing my well of worthiness. I slowly surrendered to Him the breakable, temporary things I once held onto so tightly, one by one, as I learned to trust Him. I imagine the process looking something like a little girl handing over to her father her secret stash of treats, one candy at a time, even though she really, really wanted them. Full-blown tantrums included. Still, the treats gave her cavities, so she decided to hand them over to her wise parent albeit reluctantly. What happens when the little girl handed over her last treat?

She didn’t get a broccoli in return. She got a huge hug and a, “I’m so proud of you!” from her father. I’m currently at the hugging stage and it feels amazing. I wouldn’t trade another treat in the world for my heavenly Father—especially when both of us endured so much to get to this point.

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I love how patient God is with me. I wasn't forced to empty out my well, even though I could imagine how frustrating it must've been for Him to see me stumble over my own naivety. God pursued me for years before I finally gave up and trusted Him. Similarly, He's not going to control you like a robot. He will wait patiently until you realize that the things that currently compete for your self-worth aren't even worthy for that position.

Little by little, God restored Himself to His rightful place in my life. My accomplishments, relationships, success, and future hopes and dreams now pale in comparison to how happy I am to be loved by God. I was tested again yesterday when I felt hurt by someone who was previously at the center of my well of worthiness. Before, I would’ve felt betrayed, enraged, and unworthy, but yesterday, I immediately remembered who was in my well. Surprise: not this person! The only person who belongs in my well of worthiness is God. It doesn’t matter what other people think of me because my self-worth is in what God thinks of me, and I’m pretty sure that He thinks I’m adorable!

That settled it. I felt joy bubbling from within so I took a stroll down Brand Blvd to soak in my newfound source of confidence—my heavenly Father beaming down from above.

well-of-worthiness

So, I want to ask you this today: What is inside your well of worthiness? Is it your ambitions, accomplishments, go-getter attitude, or optimism? Is it your boyfriend, girlfriend, children, parents, friends, or bosses?

All of these relationships and ambitions are inherently good, but when they get dropped into your well of worthiness (either on accident or on purpose), they become the very thing that defines you. And let me tell you something sad: one day, that thing might just disappoint you, and you will be left in pieces because you’ve literally lost the very source of your identity.

No one was designed to give you your identity except for God. Your well is eternal. Nothing in this world can fill it up and make you feel truly fulfilled. Even if you’re happy with what’s in your well right now, it’s not immovable. Life will happen and people will change. Allow God to empty your current well of worthiness and fill it with Himself. Only then will you be able to experience lasting joy and peace even in the midst of trials.

wells-dont-have-layers

It’s also important to note that there aren't any layers to our wells. Something is either in or out. There shouldn’t be any room for anyone else, besides God, to occupy this well. The human heart is such that as soon as we allow something to define our sense of worth, it overshadows what God thinks about us and we become paralyzed with the fear of losing our self-worth. Our breakdowns, insecurities, and unhealthy entitlements all result from putting the wrong things in our wells.

If the only thing in your well is God, you can always be sure of your self-worth because His love for you isn’t subjected to circumstances or moods. His love for you is unchanging. You’ll find it easier to empty out your well and surrender it to Him once you discover that He is trustworthy. Can I say a prayer for you? Let's retreat into a quiet corner, away from all the noise. Take a deep breath. Let's pray.

Dear Heavenly Father,

 There's nothing I want more than for us to experience peace, joy, and freedom in your name. Please help us to empty out our wells and fill it up with yourself. Inhabit our identities and give us full confidence in you. Lord, you are so good and you know our needs before we even realize it. Please continue to pursue us all the days of our lives. We want to get to know you more and fall deeper in love with you. Grant us healing and wholeness, in your name! Amen!


Feel free to answer these reflection questions in your journal:

1.   What’s inside your current well of worthiness? (Or what makes you feel worthy?)

2.   What life circumstances influenced your well of worthiness? (Or how did you get to this point?)

3.   What does God say about your worthiness? Refer to 1 John 3:1, 1 John 3:12-14, Isaiah 49:14-16, and 1 Peter 1:18-19.

Should Women Preach? – A Response to John Piper’s “Desiring God” Blog

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Women preachers and apostles have been the popular topic of Christian debate for centuries. On one hand, we have the famous passage, 1 Timothy 2:9-15, telling us that women shouldn’t even speak in church, let alone teach men. On the other hand, we have passages like Acts 18:26 and Romans 16 showing us that Apostle Paul approves of women holding church leadership positions and teaching men.

When merely read on surface-level without proper exegesis (that is, the critical interpretation of Scriptures based on its historical, situational, and cultural significance), it’s easy to point out the inconsistencies in Apostle Paul’s letters. My purpose of writing this response to Desiring God is to provide a deeper analysis of Paul’s letters, in light of what was happening in Ephesus when he wrote to Timothy. I know that Desiring God and its founder, John Piper, has earned an incredible amount of respect and influence over both new and seasoned Christians alike. My hope is that by addressing this “half” of the story, the men and women who follow Piper and Desiring God will give women a chance at pursuing the same vocational callings as men.

The Modern Church Mothers

There are incredible female pastors, church planters, deacons, and apostles who have lived out their vocational callings by the anointing and favor of God—with or without the approval of men. Some of whom include Christine Caine, the Hillsong pastor and founder of the A21 Campaign, Aimee Semple McPherson, the founder of Foursquare Church, Laura Lentz, Serita Jakes, Susan Norris Fitkin, and a great host of other anointed female individuals who operated from a place of faithfulness. We can measure their anointing by the quality of the fruit that they bear. God and God alone qualified these women, not their skills, intellect, womanhood, or anything else that might contribute to their long-held positions. My heart is that we can learn to acknowledge these women as called and qualified by God, rather than dismissing them as rebellious or confused about their callings. From the Godly impact that they bore and continue to bear, we have more than enough evidence to see God’s anointing in their lives.

Examples from Piper’s Blog

However, based on my understanding of Desiring God, the blog would highly disagree and disapprove of the women above. When asked whether women should preach, Piper reasoned, “I find the general concept of leadership (emerging from the wider biblical picture of God’s order of creation) to be the most helpful in determining which speaking roles are suitable for men and women.” In other words, he believes that it would be healthier for the church if men were to lead from the pulpit and women were to support his leadership instead. His views on biblical manhood and womanhood don’t just apply to church positions, but also to societal vocations. When asked if women should be police officers, he replied, “If a woman’s job involves a good deal of directives toward men, they will need to be non-personal in general, or men and women won’t flourish in the long run in that relationship without compromising profound biblical and psychological issues.” While I agree (and science supports) that men and women have stark psychological differences in the way we give and receive information, some vocations require the breakdown of personal boundaries. Say, if a man were to rob a home and he is caught by a female officer, it wouldn’t matter whether or not she violates his manhood by cuffing him or even tackling him. He’s simply not in the position to complain. If the officer were to be a man, that male officer would certainly be attacking the robber’s manhood as well. So, the point isn’t manhood or womanhood, but simply doing the right thing according to your vocational calling. When the uniform comes on, so to speak, the responsibilities overshadow the person’s gender. How silly would it be for a woman to not pursue her call to justice because she is afraid of harming a bad man’s ego?

Here are a few more instances where Desiring God authors answer “no” to women apostles and preachers:

·      Can a Woman Preach If Elders Affirm It?

·      Can a Woman Preach If Elders Affirm It? Audio Transcript

·      Why Not to Have a Woman Preach

·      Women Teaching Men — How Far Is Too Far?

·      Should Women Become Pastors?

·      How Should A Woman Lead?

It should be noted that with this response, I don’t wish to condemn or divide; rather, I simply want to provide more understanding. I noticed that all of these articles used 1 Timothy 2 to support their arguments, but none of them provided any insight as to what 1 Timothy is, why it was written, and who it was written for. If an uninformed Christian were to read these articles, they would think that 1 Timothy was a book directed towards all readers, across all cultures and generations. To provide more clarity, we will dissect 1 Timothy according to its genre, intent, and setting.

A Brief Background on 1 Timothy

1.     The genre: 1 Timothy is an epistle, which means it’s a letter from an Apostle.

2.     The intent: Paul wrote the letter to Timothy to thoroughly guide him on how to handle the uproar of false teachings at Timothy’s church in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3-4).

3.     The setting: Ephesus is a large city in Asia Minor, well known for their female cults who worshipped the goddess of fertility, Artemis. In fact, the goddess was known as “Artemis of the Ephesians” both in secular works and in Acts 19:28. The female-dominated cults often had high priestesses reigning in large temples. These cults and cult leaders would spread false beliefs and idolatrous worldviews to the citizens of Ephesus. The whole passage of Acts 19:23-41 tells us that there was a riot in Ephesus when Christianity began to spread because the influence of Christ had become a threat to their worship of Artemis.

In addition, Gnosticism also largely influenced the people of Ephesus. Gnosticism taught that Eve existed first and was innately superior to Adam because she represented the spirit, whereas Adam represented the ego. Gnosticism separated the spirit from the mind—the former being transcendent over the latter. (Sources: TheRoot, Gnosis.org)

4.     The state of the church: There were false teachers (1 Timothy 1:3-4) who borrowed teachings from Christianity but were not spreading God’s truth (1 Timothy 1:7), and there were lawlessness and sexual immorality (1 Timothy 1:8-11). This is congruent with what we know about Artemis worship and Gnostic teachings.

A Closer Reading of 1 Timothy 2:8-15

Now, knowing that Timothy’s church was negatively influenced by these two blasphemous false teachings, and that Ephesus had many female cult leaders and occultists, let’s explore 1 Timothy 2:8-15:

“In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy. 

And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do.

Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result. But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.”

In this passage we see Paul correcting several Artemistic and Gnostic influences. First is the emphasis on how women should dress in the church settings. Ephesus, being overrun by so much moral corruption, economic boom and spiritual downfall, was a place where men and women focused much on their appearances and not their inward characters. Paul wanted the women to steer their focus on the right things, since they were highly influenced by the culture of debauchery.

Next, we see Paul telling Timothy how to fix the issue of having rampant false teachers: he says to simply “not let women teach men nor have authority over them.” Still, he doesn’t tell Timothy to excommunicate the false teachers. He allows them to still “learn quietly and submissively.” These women were still allowed to learn even though they had been spreading idolatrous teachings and negatively influencing the church.

Then, Paul corrects a popular Gnostic teaching by stating that Adam was born first, not Eve. Paul was not saying Adam was born first and was therefore more authoritative and bore more responsibilities than Eve; he was correcting the Gnostic belief that Eve was transcendent over Adam. If Paul were truly saying that the order of creation implies a given hierarchy, then the animals would surely have the most authority of all since they were created before us. However, based on the context, hierarchal authority was not the point that Paul was trying to make to Timothy. He was just correcting a string of false Gnostic teachings.

In the next section called, “Leaders in the Church,” Paul describes church leadership roles in depth, addressing the importance of self-control, restraint from debauchery, and teaching capabilities for male leaders (1 Timothy 3:2-3). Paul uses only the “he” pronoun, understandably, because the last thing the church of Ephesus needed was more falsely-led women assuming more leadership roles. The influenced women already created enough chaos within the church. Paul was directing Timothy on how to reestablish a sense of order.

Knowing that Paul’s intent was to reestablish order to the chaotic church in Ephesus, I’m convinced that he was not making a blanket statement for all of women everywhere. Desiring God’s blanket-statement conclusion does not make sense in the context of Paul’s letter to Timothy. If we exegete the situation of the church and the cultural context of Ephesus, we can see that Paul was not telling all women everywhere to stay quiet in church settings. The women in Ephesus were spreading false teachings—they were lucky they were not excommunicated, but still allowed to learn in silence.

Paul’s “Shout Outs”

To truly see Paul’s stance towards women, the best way is to compare Paul’s letter with his other writings. Let’s take it from the same author.

In Romans 16:1, Paul begins by commending Phoebe, “who is a deacon in the church of Cenchrea.” He explains that she was “worthy of honor among God’s people” (Romans 16:2). Next, in Romans 16:3, he sends his greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, his “co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus.” We learn that Priscilla and Aquila are a ministry couple, and in Acts 18:26, we even see the couple correcting false theology together. Furthermore, in Romans 16:7, Paul sends his greetings to Andronicus and Junia, who are debatable apostles. Due to the vague Greek, we’re still unsure whether or not they were highly regarded apostles or highly regarded by apostles. Either way, based on this incredible commencement of female teachers, deacons, and leaders, we can get a better picture of Paul’s attitude towards women in church leadership positions.

His stance and tone were completely different from what we observed in his letter to Timothy—precisely because Romans was written for a completely different cause to a completely different audience. In 1 Timothy, where Paul discourages women from leading or even speaking, Paul was addressing very specific problems in Timothy’s church. In Romans 16, Paul clearly did not think it wise for all women everywhere to “learn quietly and submissively,” or to not “teach men or have authority over them,” as he stated in 1 Timothy. Priscilla was recorded in Acts to have corrected a man’s understanding of God. The other women Paul mentioned—well, we have good evidence to assume that they didn’t stay quiet, either.

Paul’s Conclusion on the Power of Grace

Aside from Acts and Romans, Paul also emphasizes on the significance of Christ for Christians who are operating in the world and in the church. In Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, which was influenced by Jewish traditions, he hammered on the idea that God’s grace makes us all new. Therefore, in Christ, societal hierarchies are meaningless. We are all one in Christ.

Unfortunately, the Galatians began placing the laws above everything else, even above the grace of God through Christ (Galatians 2:14-21). In Galatians 3:25-28, Paul says, plainly, “And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Emphasis made by me).

Certainly, one could look at this and say, “Paul was merely talking about our intrinsic worth and salvation in Christ. Both men and women are equal in worth and are saved in Christ alone, we know that.” However, if the person simply dismisses Paul’s claim to total freedom and equality as only referring to salvation, not church vocations or roles, then that would be grossly undermining the power of Christ. Through Christ, all ungodly societal norms are abolished.

In Genesis 3:16, God set a consequence for all women when Eve sinned. He said, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” In Christ, we don’t have to choose to live under the consequences of the fall, but we can live life to the abundance; life as God intended. Eve was created to be Adam’s helper, and the word “helper” in the original language was ezer kenegdo. God used this same word to describe Himself in relation to us 16 times in the Old Testament, and God Almighty isn’t just our sidekick. He is our counselor, provider, friend, and so much more. Similarly, Eve—Adam’s ezer kenegdo—wasn’t subordinate to him in her role as his helper. She was his friend, his other half—his equal. They shared responsibilities. They enjoyed life without worrying about who should lead who because they were both led by God. After they sinned, however, they exposed themselves to an everlasting power struggle.

If we were to truly heed to the consequences of the fall rather than heed to the grace provided to us by Jesus, would we not be like the Christ-dismissing Galatians? Paul states, very clearly and determinately, that we do not have to live under the consequences of the fall anymore. In Christ, we are all one: equal in giftings (as we see Paul suggesting by naming the multiple leading women in Romans), equal in worth, and diverse in nature.

Conclusion

Paul’s recounts of the great leading women in the early church, along with our knowledge of the Prophetess and Judge, Deborah, the entrepreneur who funded Paul’s ministry, Lydia, and countless other instances where God and Christ abolished gender norms for the sake of His glory (Luke 10:38-42, John 4, Joshua 2), it is unreasonable to continue taking 1 Timothy 2 out of context and reserve a church position—any church position—to be only for men. If a modern woman, such as Aimee Semple McPherson or Christine Caine, can do such great works from a place of faithfulness for the glory of God, shall we not spur her on and recognize her as a church leader/planter who was called by God?

Based on the all-redeeming power of Christ, the second birth who saves creation from the consequences of sin, we can safely assume that the Lord calls both men and women to carry out a variety of leadership roles in the church—and He would be the one to qualify them, not their behaviors, great knowledge, or sex.

What are your genuine thoughts on the topic of women pastors and apostles?

The God Who Uses Suffering

The narrative of the world states that we should live purely to find happiness. This narrative leaves no room for suffering to fulfill its purpose in our lives. Suffering, at its best, is to be tolerated—and at its worst, to be avoided at all costs (even at the cost of one’s own life). You see, when happiness becomes our be-all and end-all, it’s incredibly difficult to conjure up the will to live when all of our happiness is replaced by suffering. In this article, I will introduce you to a more excellent and hopeful truth than what popular culture would lead you to believe.

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I find that the secular logic tries to reason with the theological, claiming that all suffering is pointless because an all-good (omnibenevolent) and all-powerful (omnipotent) God cannot possibly allow suffering to exist if He is real. Their general conclusion is that He must be manmade, which makes all suffering completely random and purposeless.

But such a shortsighted narrative provides the individual with little to no consolation in the midst of his or her seemingly meaningless suffering. If the whole point of living is to be happy, then what place does suffering have in the framework of our journey to happiness? According to this logic, suffering is absolutely meaningless. God simply allows it to happen because He either can’t stop it, don’t care enough to stop it, or that He doesn’t exist. Even the more seasoned Christians fall into this way of thinking, precisely because it is so alluring. Who wouldn’t want to be happy, after all?

Unfortunately, if you keep gritting your teeth, demanding that God’s sole purpose must be to make your life as pleasurable as possible, then the God you serve is a genie—not the all-loving and all-knowing God of the Bible. To truly trust God is to trust that He is in full control of your terrible situation, and yet He is not obligated to meet your expectations. If He grants your wishes and meets your expectations every time, He wouldn’t be able to exceed them.

world-narrative

In 2015, I experienced the worst anxiety attacks I’ve ever had because of relational and situational stressors. During an anxiety attack on the freeway, both my hands and the back of my head went completely numb, crippling my ability to drive. I managed to pull over, gathered myself together, and drove straight to the hospital using only my palms because my fingers were still immobile. The hospital transferred me to the psychiatric ward to be detained for 72 hours on suicide watch, although my experience in the ward was even more traumatizing than the event that triggered my anxiety attacks. The first person who greeted me while I was still strapped to the stretcher in the middle of a flickering hallway was a middle-aged, schizophrenic woman who thought I was there to question her faith. It was a terrifying experience, to say the least. I shared a room with two other women, one of whom was incredibly violent at night. There weren’t any doors to the restroom; only curtains. I heard so many curse words in the restroom and smelled foul smells each night. I left that ward more anxious and afraid than I was when I first came in. Little did I know, God had already prepared for me two of the most restorative and profound friendships I never could have fathomed.

purpose-to-suffering

Because of my suffering, I was able to confide in two girls, Karen and Pisacha, who both became instrumental to my spiritual and emotional healing. I had wounds way before the anxiety attacks crept in, but God exposed my wounds for the sake of bringing me deeper into my relationships with my sisters and with Him. I replayed my traumatic situations countless times over in my head, and each replay led me to the same conclusion: I can honestly say that I would not take away my traumatic experiences, even if I were offered the choice, because the relationships I formed during those gut-wrenching times made the suffering worthwhile. If I hadn’t gone through what I’d gone through, Karen and Pisacha would still remain mere acquaintances. I wouldn’t have known the extent of their character and compassion. I wouldn’t have shared so many tears, revelations, and deep prayers with them. The suffering was worthwhile because I became closer to them than anyone could get to another human being.

Now, if I would be willing to go through the extreme trauma just to be closer to my sisters, how much more should I be willing to go through suffering to be closer to my God? That’s the point that many of us constantly miss. When disaster strikes, we become so focused on the problem itself that we forget about the relationship that can be forged with God through the suffering. We keep refusing to acknowledge the truth that suffering can lead to hope, repentance, and a deeper understanding of Him.

Christians who buy into the world’s narrative on suffering will have a heart-wrenchingly difficult time reconciling what they think they know about God’s character with what’s happening to them. Having experienced this torment myself, I can attest that it is better to not believe at all than to believe in a secularized God, who exists only to serve us and to do our bidding.

If you’ve fallen into this anguish, let me remind you once again of the truth that the world so often rejects: The all-good and all-knowing God has always used suffering to fulfill His great purposes. In the Bible, every instance of suffering has been used by God to fulfill a certain purpose. Even the story of Job, the most melancholic story of suffering, served a greater purpose. From his undeserved sufferings, Job gained deeper knowledge of God’s power and love like never before. Job learned that the all-good and all-loving God would allow His children to suffer to give them a greater glimpse of Himself.

sense-of-suffering

Yes, it is true that some sufferings seem senseless. When we observe children sleeping among flies in Aleppo or frantic parents trying to revive their precious, starving babies in East Africa, it is incredibly hard to see how any good can possibly come out of such tragedies. These extreme stories are oftentimes used to support the “If God is all-good, why would He let this happen?” argument. But this argument ignores the other essential part of God’s character: His omniscience. People assume that just because they cannot perceive any possible greater purpose for the suffering, God can’t possibly have any great reasons for it, either. Such remarks are masked by genuine anger and confusion, but are actually rooted in natural human arrogance.

Let’s make one thing clear: God doesn’t take pleasure in our suffering. He loathes it. But, as a perfect parent, He allows it to happen for our own good. Sometimes, we can’t perceive His reasons in the moment; He only reveals it to us in retrospect. Other times, we might not know the reasons even until our deaths. Remember how God allowed the great John the Baptist to be beheaded without knowing whether or not he truly fulfilled his purpose? God did not live up to John’s expectations because He wanted to exceed it. John the Baptist might have died with unanswered questions, but I imagine that he would understand it all once he met God face to face.

Likewise, we might not know all the answers, but we know the half that matters—the half that will carry us through difficult times. As Romans 8:28 proclaims, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” All we need to know is that God loves us and He will make everything work out for our own good—even if times are looking hopeless. Only through suffering will we learn to fix our eyes on Jesus, who will offer us everlasting peace that transcends all understanding.

 

What Does the Bible Say About Anger?

Anger, on its own, is neither sinful nor virtuous. The concept of anger could be a little vague to Christians because the Bible teaches us to not act on rage, yet shows multiple incidences of angry, Godly characters—even Jesus. This is because anger is a tool, not a smith. The person inflicted with anger could either choose to take rightful action or vengeful action. What we see in Matthew 21:12 is a depiction of Jesus’ righteous anger. Out of their extreme disregard for God, the people in the temple took advantage of their captive audience and turned the temple into a greedy marketplace. Out of righteous anger, Jesus drove them out and overturned the tables and chairs of the various salesmen. To better define the term, “righteous anger” is simply heightened sadness and disappointment at a tragic or ungodly event, such as terrorism, blasphemy, and causes of extreme poverty.

As Christians, it is okay to be angry because of injustice. Feeling angry is not “bad.” What you choose to do with the anger will determine its effect. If you’re angry because of jealously, entitlement, or other insecurities, be sure to not turn your anger into a weapon. That’s when it becomes sinful. Take a look at these 10 relevant passages on the topic of anger to help you make the right decisions in the heat of the moment:

1. Ephesians 4:26-27 – “And don't sin by letting anger control you. Don't let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.”

2. Ephesians 4:31 – “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.”

3. Proverbs 29:11 – “Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.”

4. James 1:9 – “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.”

5. Colossians 3:8 – “But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.”

6. Proverbs 16:32 – “Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city.”

7. Psalm 37:8 – “Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper--it only leads to harm.”

8. Proverbs 14:29 – “People with understanding control their anger; a hot temper shows great foolishness.”

9. Proverbs 15:1 – “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”

10. Romans 12:19 – “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, "I will take revenge; I will pay them back," says the LORD.”

From these scriptures, it is clear that God does not want us to act sinful out of anger at all, but rather leave the vengeance to Him. Although it is extremely difficult to keep our cool when there are so many injustices going on, refrain from using your anger as a weapon to destroy. Instead, find peace in the comfort of God’s promise to make things right for you. 

How to Be a Great Friend

Congratulations! You’ve found your way to this article. That brings joy to my heart because it shows me that you want to live out your God-given calling the right way! If more Christians actually took the time to assess their friendship, perhaps more people could’ve fallen in love with God. But let’s not focus on that – what matters is that you’re here and ready to learn! Alright, here goes.

A Great Friend Listens

Ah, yes. It’s the old “listen before you speak” spiel. Except without the speaking. When you’re there to listen, genuinely engage. Don’t listen half-heartedly while you silently conjure up a clever response. Listening takes a lot of humbleness and humility. It is the act of placing others above ourselves; giving them the safe space they need to tell the truth without judgment. You don’t need to talk in order to change their hearts. People who simply need to confide in you only need the comfort of your silent empathy (unless otherwise stated, of course). Pastor John Mendez wrote a great piece on listening, which you can find here.

A Great Friend Tells the Truth

When it’s a fitting time to reply, let your friends know the truth of God’s heart. Yep—not your own two cents. That’s not telling the truth in love. True truth is God’s truth. If you don’t know what to say, simply refer to the Word and get your response from there. Please keep in mind that this does not mean referencing Bible verses left and right at someone who is struggling or hurting. Sometimes, nothing could be more unfeeling. You can speak the Word of God naturally, without citing the book, chapter, and verse, and I promise you that it would still remain the powerful Word of God.

A Great Friend Protects

Protecting your friend doesn’t always mean physically. One of the most conventional ways to protect your friend is from slander. If your friend is a nonbeliever and your group of Christian friends speak of him or her as though he or she is a lost cause, it is right for you to gently defend. A great friend always hopes. Another common way to protect your friend is to protect him or her from your own thoughts. This is tied to the next point.

A Great Friend Always Assumes the Best

Andy Stanley explains in his book, The New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating, that we are often left with ‘gaps’ in our time apart from others. For example, if your friend promised to show up to church with you but ditches at the last minute, he or she leaves a ‘gap’ for you to fill. You can choose to either fill this gap with good thoughts or malicious thoughts. Either way, these are your thoughts to own. The Godly way, of course, is to assume good thoughts about your friend. Give him or her the benefit of the doubt – always – and you will finally attain peace. “Always?” you ask, “Even if I know deep down that person is just lazy?” Yes, even so. And this is why: It will do your friendship no good if you feed yourself malicious thoughts about the other person. Even if you know he or she cannot righteously justify his or her actions, assume that your friend’s heart is simply not ready. This is often the truth of the matter.

A Great Friend Allows Mistakes

Like I’ve mentioned in my previous article, our friends and family are not extensions of ourselves. They have their own desires and reservations. If God Himself doesn’t want to infringe on our boundaries by giving us free will, we should model after Him and do the same for others. After you’ve told your friends the truth in love, let them exercise their free will. If you interfere with the process by taking on the consequences for them, they shall never learn. Allowing for mistakes is the only way to love others. Don’t worry, God will surely supply you with enough patience (and reminders) to give room for error.

A Great Friend Forgives

How many bitter people out there win people to God with their bitterness? Zip. Nada. None. And that’s exactly why we don’t want to be that kind of friend. When my group of middle schoolers were asked, “What makes a great friend?” their responses varied from “Someone who is supportive,” to “A person who listens.” Not one of them would ever in their right minds say, “Someone who doesn’t forgive.” Yet, most of us fit into that category. Our traumatic memories keep us entangled in the past sins of others. However, we are called to be kind, compassionate, and forgive as God had forgiven us. No matter the offense, you must forgive because that is the only way to change people’s hearts. After all, it was His kindness that led us to repentance.

A Great Friend is Gentle

One of the greatest attributes of the wise is gentleness. Gentleness includes being thoughtful with your speech and being sensitive with your actions. A great friend doesn’t use force to make something happen. Gentleness is not weakness; never forget that. My sister once taught me that gentleness is power under control. To be gentle is to know how to control yourself for the benefit of others.

A Great Friend Does Not Envy

Finally, this is the point that blows us all out of the water. Great friends are not envious of others. A great friend seeks to give, not to take. Envy takes the life out of every celebration. That means that you should look for opportunities to celebrate your friends’ victories. Be competitive at it! The same way you’d want your loved ones to celebrate your victory, be even more eager to celebrate theirs! That’s what separates an insecure friend from a Godly friend. A Godly friend is already 110% secure in Christ, so he or she is brimming with joy at the success of others.

Here is an important note to remember as you attempt to be a great friend to others: It is okay to mess up sometimes. The most important thing is to keep referring back to the truth and try again. Loving others the Godly way takes practice. If you haven’t made the connection yet, I’ve taken these principles straight out of 1 Corinthians 13. To be a great friend, you’ve got to learn to love like God loves. By investing time, energy, and self-restraint in loving others the specific way in which Christ loves you, you will win souls for the kingdom of God.

How to Share the Gospel

With a topic as broad and touchy as sharing the Gospel, it’s no wonder why so many Christ followers recoil when it’s “their turn” to share the Good News to others. One common view of this, which I don’t recommend, is to look at people as sales pitches. Yes, you’ve read that right. If you haven’t heard it before – which is unlikely – then now you know why so many churches appear business-like: They are ran by business values.

Although I believe we can use our business skills to glorify the living God, viewing our friends and family as potential sales pitches is immoral, unloving, and brings zero glory to our heavenly Father. Even if this approach works, it still counts as taking a major shortcut. We don’t want to be “businessmen in Pentecostal suits.” Our circles of influence aren’t potential customers, they’re souls waiting to be loved and stewarded. Reducing them to sales leads takes away their humanity and erodes the calling God had placed on us: to live in a way that wins people and brings them into relationship with Him.

So, what does that mean for the well-intentioned Christian who’s eager to share the Word? It means that it will take time and ongoing investment. People are not simply extensions of our wills; they are their own individuals, with their own desires, agendas, and reservations. It takes a lot of time and patience to establish trust. Diving into this new venture thinking that it only takes one or two coffee dates to win a soul is terribly misleading for both parties. Try to put yourself in the shoes of a nonbelieving friend. Would you want to be viewed as a ‘project’ to conquer, or a sales lead to convert? Chances are, that would be insulting to you. The same goes for everyone else.

No one wants to be anyone’s project. Everyone appreciates true, genuine friendships. That is what you’re called to do as a disciple of God – establish loving, genuine friendships with the world and be the bridge in which they can meet God. This is why we shouldn’t push people towards the cliff before we’ve established a bridge with them; they will feel betrayed and close themselves off from us. People won’t understand why we’re pushing them towards such a huge commitment when they’re simply not ready for it. I have a close friend who led a nonbeliever into a sinner’s prayer on the first meeting. Needless to say, they never hung out again. By being consistent, steady, and genuine, people will ultimately come to know that your bridge is safe and sturdy enough to cross. They will do this on their own because the Holy Spirit is constantly at work in them.

“But how do I even begin telling people about Christ?” you might ask. At first, mentioning the big JC might be a little awkward for some and a deal breaker for others. Unless you know that your friend is a person of peace (or a person who is open to hearing about God), refrain from overwhelming them with your religious speech. Even if it is done out of pure motives, not respecting the boundaries of others is a sure-fire way to guarantee rebellion. Be sensitive to your level of closeness to the person and share the Gospel accordingly. If there is no bridge built, the only thing your friend will see when you speak of the Almighty God is a silhouette of a faraway, idealistic fantasy. That’s because they don’t know Him close up yet because you haven’t done your job of building the bridge. If you’ve already established a firm friendship with others and the time is ripe for you to tell them about Christ, start with an invitation. For example, you can say, “Hey, are you free this weekend? Would you like to check out my church? I’d love to introduce you to my friends!” Please keep in mind that this attempt will be a lot more successful after you’ve proven that you’re a trustworthy friend.

Often, being Christ to our friends doesn’t even involve us mentioning His name in every opportunity we get. ‘Preying’ for someone who’s at his or her weak point to interject the Gospel can be a very insensitive and unloving move. Just be a true friend and approach him or her without ulterior motives. Your friends will grow to know God as they grow to trust you. Offer prayer, but don’t force it. Always pray for those friends on your own, as we know that our faith can move God to soften hearts.

To share the Gospel successfully, you’ve got to invest time and share your life with people. You’ve got to learn how to be a great friend. If you don’t know what that entails, here is a complete list of attributes of a Godly friend. There are no easy shortcuts to sharing the Gospel. That’s why it’s imperative that you actually have a relationship with God yourself, so you can confidently make your faith public. The light that you have should not be hidden or only expressed when you see that it’s the ‘perfect opportunity’ to inject the Gospel into someone’s wounds. By making it known, on your own platforms, that you are a follower of Christ, your friends and family will already know who you stand for. All you’ve got to do now is build solid bridges.

15 Bible Verses About God’s Love

Everyone needs an encouraging reminder sometimes! Here are 15 bible verses about God’s amazing love (NLT):

 

1.    Ephesians 2:4-5 – “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God's grace that you have been saved!)”

2.    Psalm 86:15 – “But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.”

3.    John 3:16 – “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

4.    Romans 5:8 – “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

5.    Psalm 147:3 – “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.”

6.    Psalm 103:8 – “The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.”

7.    1 John 4:19 – “We love each other because he loved us first.”

8.    Isaiah 53:5 – “But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.”

9.    Psalm 103:13 – “The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.”

10.  Lamentations 3:22-23 – “The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.”

11.  1 Peter 5:6-7 – “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

12.  1 John 3:1 – “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don't recognize that we are God's children because they don't know him.”

13.  1 John 4:10 – “This is real love--not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”

14.  Job 34:19 – “He doesn't care how great a person may be, and he pays no more attention to the rich than to the poor. He made them all.”

15.  Zephaniah 3:17 – “For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs."

These are just a few of my favorite verses on His love. The whole Bible is one giant love story, so leave a comment below with your favorite verse about God’s love!

How to Speak Life

Have you ever met people who suck the energy out of others as soon as they open their mouths? Or people who would provoke a situation until it becomes more hostile than necessary? Those individuals fail to see the value in speaking life to others.

“Speaking life” simply means to speak out of a pure motive, with the intention of benefitting the hearer of your words. The Bible says, “[O]ut of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). This means that the words we say are clear reflections of our hearts. If we speak poison or hostility, it is a pretty good indicator that our hearts are full of bitterness. If we speak with honesty and gentleness, it indicates that we have godly and wise hearts.

To speak life, you must be wise. Those who are dead set on foolishness will refuse to see the value of wisdom. To truly be wise, you’ve got to develop a deep respect for the Lord—or, as the Bible calls it, “The fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 1:7).

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The book of Proverbs is perhaps one of the best books to teach wisdom, so we will explore it in depth. Proverbs 15:33 says, “The fear of the Lord teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor.” Indeed, there are no shortcuts to speaking life. We can fake our kindness and gild our words with gold, but our vain efforts will eventually fall through if we don’t match our words with what’s really in our hearts. To sustain a lifestyle of speaking life unto others, we must always start with the heart.

Teach yourselves to respect and fear the Lord by meditating on His word daily. Remind yourselves of His goodness in your lives by reflecting on the many times He has pulled you through. Pray to Him as much as you can so that you will have a deeper relationship with Him. Whether you’re in the workplace or in your bedroom, be aware of His presence surrounding you. All of these thoughtful actions will give you more knowledge of the Lord and will help you to love and respect Him all the more. Once you’ve developed a deep respect for the Lord, you will want to love and treat His children in a godlier way.

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Proverbs 9:12 explains, “If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.” Ironically, in your quest to benefit others by speaking life, you will also benefit yourself. When you consistently pour out honest and good things with gentleness and self-control, people will eventually recognize your wisdom and give respect to God, whom you represent.

This is how you speak life: Speak kindly and truthfully at the right time. Perhaps the most important time for you to speak life is when it’s the last thing you feel like doing. In these common situations, this is how you exercise your newfound wisdom:

·      When you’re angry – "Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so stop before a dispute breaks out" (Proverbs 17:14). Before you decide to give the other party permission to make you angry, remember that it will not be life giving for neither of you to be quarrelsome. Proverbs describes this as “opening a floodgate,” meaning that it will only lead to more harm than good. Hold your tongue to save your energy and dignity. Speak again when you’re both calm.

·      When you’re insulted – "A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted" (Proverbs 12:16). There will be many foolish people in this world that will seek attention and validation by provoking you with insults. Refuse to be quick-tempered. Instead, let them feed off your calmness by restraining your speech. If they’re out of control, explain that you will not engage in a tirade of insults and leave the premise until you’re both ready to speak respectfully.

·      When your pride is hurt – "Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything" (Proverbs 13:3). In a situation where you feel like the other party is attacking you indirectly, refuse to attack back with equally stinging words. Instead, speak the truth calmly and confidently. Don’t let your ego take control. Rather, recognize that you are hurt and respond with kindness. If you can’t give kindness in the moment, just hold your tongue until you’re able to say what is wise and life-giving later on. Spouting off in the heat of the moment can “ruin everything.”

·      When you’re giving advice – "The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray" (Proverbs 12:26). As a representative of God, people who normally aren’t religious will most likely seek your advice when they hit rock bottom. When giving advice, refrain from pouring fuel into the fire (ie. “You deserve to do whatever you want to make yourself feel good!”/“He’s such a jerk—show him that you can do better!”)Although validation is important and necessary, stray from foolish validation that will do more harm than good. Seek first the wisdom of God, and your advice could save lives ("The words of the wicked are like a murderous ambush, but the words of the godly save lives" [Proverbs 12:6]).

·      When you’re tempted to lie – "The mouths of fools are their ruin; they trap themselves with their lips" (Proverbs 18:7). Lies are like knots; they will slowly entangle us and make us trip and fall. When you’re tempted to lie, remember your identity as God’s beloved. Proverbs 17:7 says, "Eloquent words are not fitting for a fool; even less are lies fitting for a ruler." You might not be a ruler, but you are coheirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). As someone whom God regards so highly, should you not keep your dignity by being honest? The honest person will always come out victorious over the liar.

·      When you’re tempted to tell a crude joke – "The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words" –(Proverbs 15:28). The saying, “Think before you speak,” is indeed very biblical. Spontaneity and jokes are both good, but it doesn’t need to be crude or foolish. Think carefully and search your heart before you want to tell a crude joke. If it makes you seem foolish, it’s not worth it. Wise people prefer fitting replies more than the shocking element of crudeness, anyway.

·      When you’re public speaking – "Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time!" (Proverbs 15:23) When it is your turn to speak, use this opportunity to say wonderful things in truth. A wise person will be likeable in front of an audience, and her words will be persuasive because of her credibility. Foolish babble, on the other hand, will only incur more mockery on the speaker.

After you’ve done your homework on what God has to say about being wise, you’ll find that you needn’t do much speaking at all. Out of the eagerness of our hearts, we might want to show others that we are worthy of respect, but speaking too much or too soon could ruin everything we want to accomplish.

Even Proverbs 18:2 says, "Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions." This is why we must never skip on the behind-the-scenes “heart work.” Being even-tempered and having enough self-restraint to use few words takes discipline and maturity. God will grow these two areas in our lives if we surrender ourselves to Him. Get to know Him more and learn to respect His kingship in our lives. Then, you will find yourselves compelled to speak life unto others.

Steadfast

“The mind will give up before the body will."

I’ve found that this quote from one of my favorite fitness instructors has applied to me in areas that go beyond my physical well-being. The mind is a powerful vessel that has the ability to shape how we perceive situations and how we handle times of adversity. The mind has the power to drive us to make a certain decision, to utter a certain statement, or to express a certain emotion. We have the ability to pick and choose what we allow ourselves to believe. Disciplining our minds and owning our thoughts can lead us to having a more positive outlook in sticky situations. It will improve how we perceive ourselves as well as how we perceive others. 

Spiritual and emotional strength requires the same amount of discipline as training our physical muscles because tension and resistance will occur throughout the entire process. Oftentimes our minds will trick us into believing that anything that causes us pain needs to be stopped. Anything that dents our emotions or causes any form of suffering needs to be alleviated. Besides, who likes to feel pain? Yet, in those moments of pain, suffering, and hardship, we will find that a beautiful process will begin to form and dwell within us: character change.

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James 1:4 says, "Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." There would be nothing to persevere through if there is nothing resisting against us, and without resistance, we cannot grow. Without these significant opportunities for growth, we would run the risk of becoming stagnant and complacent. So in the process and in the waiting, and in those moments where we want to give up, let us allow ourselves to take advantage of these turbulent times. These are the blessings in disguise. Take in every feeling—whether pleasant or heartbreaking—and know that God is there to guide and support you the entire way. Once we decide to run forward even in our breathlessness, our characters will become strengthened and we will get that much closer to becoming the best version of ourselves. Through the violent breaking and tearing, and during our times of weakness, persevere through knowing that the resistance against us—though brutal and vicious—is still imperative to the growth of our character.

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After persevering through the storms, we will find that the weights we once thought were impossibly heavy and burdensome can actually be lifted off our shoulders. The run that seemed so long can now be a form of relief and a testimony of our strength. The way to building our perseverance and controlling the thoughts that try to stop us from moving forward is through learning to embrace the resistance. Persevere, knowing that you own your thoughts and you own the strength God has instilled within you with His spirit. Pain really is temporary. It only lasts for a moment, compared to the lasting change that it brings to our character, if we learn to embrace it and not let it make us bitter.

God is still revealing our personal stories to us each and everyday, and will continually mold and shape us into becoming more and more like Him. God allows the enemy to bring resistance against us, but He assures that He will help us along the way. We, on the other hand, must do our job to allow ourselves to embrace the wears and tears that come with the resistance. If we discipline ourselves to persevere and keep the faith in terrible times, we will come out stronger than we were ever before.


This article was written by Maya Lee. Maya is a Care Group leader and a teacher residing in the Greater Los Angeles Area. For all inquiries, please email mayaleex3@gmail.com.

Dear Young Adult, No One Has It Together.

I often spend my days feeling like I’m always on the edge of doing something original and amazing, but I could never seem to get there. Many articles that I’ve read and the friends I’ve talked to expressed the same frustrations.

Do you ever feel like most people around you are accomplishing big things, making good money, or traveling the world—basically everything you wish you could be doing—while you rot in your cramped little cubicle or mope around unemployed at home? Personally, I know exactly what that season is like. That feeling of unproductiveness oftentimes leads to the feeling of inadequacy, worthlessness, and meaninglessness—all of which are toxic build-ups to depression.

Fortunately, having come out of that pitch-black hole alive, I could testify to you that it does indeed get better. God isn’t one to quit on His children, even if He allows us to wander through the wilderness for a few years. And try to digest this: everyone who pursues a relationship with Jesus will encounter his or her own wilderness season(s). It is actually completely necessary in our personal journeys with Christ to have a season where we are left with almost nothing, except to look up and trust in Him.

That is when our relationship with God will deepen—when we’re finally put in the position where we’d have to surrender our ego, self-righteousness, and earthly wisdom, and have no other true options but to just take the next step by faith.

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We usually admit that we’re in the wilderness when we’ve already crashed and burned due to all the different pressures, but the truth is that many times, we’ve been heading towards that direction long before we even realized it. We’re not alone. Even our Christian brothers and sisters who seem like they “have it all together” most likely experienced their own season of wilderness as well. If not, you can be sure that it will come. Think of the wilderness as a rite of passage, so to speak. Everyone, or at least every believer, should be expected to experience the wilderness at one point or another in his or her walk of faith.

However, the wilderness should not be feared because it gives us the opportunity to strengthen our faith in Him, who promises to pull us through. 1 Peter 1:7 says, “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold.” When we feel like we have nothing left, that is when our faith is being tested. It wouldn’t be called “faith” otherwise. If there weren’t any uncertainties involved, how then could we say that we are truly faithful?

I hate uncertainty, and I understand that a shaky future could look really hopeless at times, but I encourage you to endure it when your faith is being tested by fire. If your faith could withstand the fire and the trials, then you will be able to shake the dust off your feet and walk away with a more genuine and unshakeable faith in Christ than before. See, that is the nature of our faithfulness—it must be tested so it could be purified, just like gold. 

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When I looked at myself as God’s daughter rather than just His believer, there was suddenly more purpose behind my painfully tedious waiting season.

It was so incredibly comforting and reassuring to know that God chooses to discipline and shape me because he cares about my character, my future, and my faithfulness. Out of his desire for me to have a genuine faith, a meaningful future, and a godly character, He thought it would be good to allow me to go through the wilderness season.

All of this has been recorded in Scripture. Hebrews 12:7-8 says, “As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn't discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all.”  This passage gave me a tremendous sense of reassurance when I was going through my season of wilderness because it reminded me, again and again, that God was allowing this “divine discipline” to happen out of His astounding love for me.

When we think about the wilderness through the lens of God as our loving and good father, we will grow less and less envious of those who have “more” than us—especially if they don’t love God. Why should we be envious of those who don’t even respect our Father? And if the people who don’t even respect God, let alone love God, could lead “successful” lives (at least on the outside), how much more of a fulfilling life would we lead if we continue to trust God? I’m willing to bet that whatever God has planned for each of us is going to be infinitely better than anything we could ever plan for ourselves—even if it means we won’t ever get a 3 million dollar bonus in our lifetimes. Money can’t buy salvation, anyway.

If there’s one thing you should take from this article, it’s this: God is not punishing you. He is challenging you to grow in maturity, patience, and faith because he cares about you. He sees you as his legitimate child. For this, I say: Praise and glory be to the One who holds our precious souls in the grasp of His hands—the One who provides for the sparrows will provide even more for His own children. You don’t need to worry about your next steps because he’s already paved the entire road for you. Praise be to God!

Aren't You Tired?

In this season of uncertainty and unrest, I often find myself getting burnt out so easily from just doing simple, everyday tasks. Even if the workload might be a little more than usual—though nothing out of the ordinary—I still feel so overwhelmed and unmotivated that I struggle to finish the tasks in a timely manner. Even through all of this, I did not dare to give myself a break. I felt too ashamed to stop. What would people think of me if I took a break? I’d silently ask myself. What if they called me lazy? What if they think I’m not doing enough for my future/my church/my ministry? What if people start to think that I’m a failure? What if, what if, what if… My engine was sputtering forward in violent, hiccup-like increments, with fluids leaking and the gas tank running on empty. Still, I tried to move forward relentlessly despite the obvious signs telling me that I should stop, refuel, and rest.

For those of you who are experiencing this emotionally turbulent and spiritually draining season in your life, I have a question to ask: Aren’t you tired? Aren’t you tired of dragging onward even though your engine has overheated and your wheels are worn? Aren’t you tired of feeling exhausted before the day even begins? Aren’t you tired of trying to live up to the expectations of everyone else instead of living the abundant life that God had promised you? I know for certain that I am completely and utterly exhausted of living this way. Ever since I came back from my short vacation, there hasn’t been a day where I felt rested or at peace with myself.

I thought, Now that I’m back from having so much fun, it’s time to work and prove to people that I’m still capable. That was the source of the problem: I worked to prove my worth to people. Even as a believer of five years, I still contradicted what I’d preach to others and I worked to prove my worth, rather than being confident in what God already thinks of me.

With the constant voice of the enemy ringing in my ears, telling me that I’m unworthy, I pushed my hardest trying to find a job, trying to find my place in ministry, and trying to find my niche in life. I went job-hunting for hours per day, I made commitments I wasn’t sure I could keep, and I forced myself into every event that I could possibly have a role in. I did good things out of the wrong motivation, which soon proved to be unsustainable. I burnt out.

You can avoid all of this wreckage by stopping what you’re doing right now—really, STOP thinking about your next task, put that phone away, minimalize that tab, etc.—and say this prayer with me: Dear Heavenly Father, I commit all my cares and worries into your hands. Thank you for doing the impossible for me. Thank you for taking care of my eternal fate so that I don’t have to worry about my future any longer. I pray for your peace, which surpasses all understanding. I pray for your rest, which will refresh me like living water. I don’t have to prove my worth to anyone anymore because you’ve already proven to me that I’m worth your son.  I can sleep at night not worrying about tomorrow because all the days are in your mighty hands. I can be at rest because I have you. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

Believe those words you uttered. It is okay to put down your worries, your tasks, and your brilliant ideas for one day. Clear your table and clear your mind of the things that worry you or keep you up at night. Like Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

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Did you know that we were not made to work our hearts out until we die? This sad reality was a direct result of the Fall. We were not originally meant to toil nonstop until our last breath. These are cursed grounds, which means that none of our toils will ever bring us everlasting profit; but despite all of that, we are living in the era of Grace.

Now that we’ve already accepted Christ into our lives, shouldn’t we want to live out the holy lives that were intended for us? I think it’s about time that we learn to “let His kingdom come” into this particular area in our lives. Work as though you’re working for His kingdom, and then rest, because in God’s kingdom, every soul is at peace and at rest. There are no burnt out souls in God’s kingdom—He makes sure of it. That’s why He commanded us to rest! There is a magnificent quote that goes, “Rest is not inactivity, but a Holy Spirit directed activity.” Think about that for a minute. Doing the work of God also includes listening to Him when His spirit commands us to rest. Did you catch that paradox? To do His good work, you must also rest.

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I went wrong the moment I started working hard to prove my worth to people, but I crashed and burned so quickly because I had also neglected to rest. I feared too much about what others would say about me. I had utterly forgotten the heart of the Psalmist, which says, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O LORD, will keep me safe” (Psalm 4:8). I didn’t even allow myself to believe that “God gives rest to his loved ones” because I was too prideful to ask for His help (Psalm 127:2). I refused to even go seek wisdom from the Bible because I wanted to get out of this wreckage on my own. And then finally, on a particularly busy and exhausting night, all of the unrest caught up to me at once. The exhaustion hit me like a train. I laid in fetal position, soaking my tears into my pillow. I texted incoherent emotional texts to my loved ones. I even thought of getting ice cream because for a moment, I had blamed the emotional trauma on my irregular hormones. The physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual exhaustion was literally crippling me. Still, even then, I tried to reason with myself (that’s human nature for you). I thought, This shouldn’t be happening. I planned everything out in detail. If I could just move this interview to this day, and arrange this task on that day, and if I could just… I went on and on, wrestling with my own injured heart, until this phrase came to me: Aren’t you tired?

Yes, I was. But there’s no time to rest—

But aren’t you tired?

And the final, no-nonsense, honest-to-God answer was, “Yes. I’m so, so tired.”

That was when He began the healing process in me. I stopped crying, said a thank you prayer, and fell right asleep with the prayer still lingering in my mind. I knew that He was going to take care of me from then on.

In the morning, I felt more confident about not giving into my anxiety or dwelling too much on the tasks ahead. I was still physically tired, but I was not weighed down by the same daunting pressure as before. I felt very much like a child who had just gotten over a violent temper tantrum: puffy-eyed with a slight timbre of peacefulness, and arms clinging tightly onto my patient and loving Heavenly Father.

Looking back on the situation, it was as though He had warned me to rest before I even started, but like a child, I playfully ignored Him. While thinking that I could do it all on my own, I avoided Him at all costs. He, of course, was standing by the whole time, allowing me to learn the hard way, but making sure that I was still in His sight. When I finally burnt out, there He was—not condemning me, not saying, “I told you so,” but in a firm yet empathetic voice, He asked, “Aren’t you tired?”  

I pray that today will be the day you humbly try to answer this same question. Life comes with the weight of expectations and tribulations, so it is understandable to be tired. However, you shouldn’t let those expectations and tribulations run your life. Those things will run you to the ground! Instead of fueling yourself with lies, busyness, and pride, just come to Him and rest. Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). If you’re weary and need to find a way out, your answer is right there: come to Jesus. Come, lay down your burdens and let loose your heavy baggage. Come, and find rest.

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A song to meditate on:

Boldness in the Midst of Persecution

Regardless of personality or personal preference, I can unashamedly profess that everyone who follows Christ is called to boldly follow Him and proclaim His name courageously. Now, that’s easy to say and even easier to write about, but in the midst of an increasingly liberal culture where Christianity is oftentimes antagonized, even mentioning the name of Christ could put you at risk of being ostracized from a meaningful community, like your circle of friends, colleagues, or even your family. I have friends whom, till this day, still struggle with reconciling their faith with their family’s expectations despite being heavily involved in ministry for several years. While it could be extremely difficult to publicly proclaim your faith and devotion to Christ, this important factor should not be taken lightly or brushed off.

To truly be a disciple and not just a church attender or an observer in the crowd, you’ve got to take that necessary step forward and leave the fear behind. You have to tell them, sometimes before they even ask, that you do know the man named Jesus and you are his devoted follower; lest the rooster crows and you’re still biting your tongue so hard it bleeds.

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Imagine what Peter must’ve felt like after the incident when saw his friend, brother, and his God, being forced to carry that heavy cross alone while walking to Calvary Hill to get crucified for his sake. If it were I, I would feel so much regret and self-hatred. I’d feel like the worst human being on the planet for denying such an important person in my life. I could only guess how Peter must have felt.

The deep regret ate at him so badly that once he saw the figure of Christ again after His resurrection, Peter dropped everything and swam to Him unyieldingly. In the end, Peter preached the Good News until he was crucified upside down, by request, in the name of Jesus—the one whom he had thrice denied in his youth.

Discipleship is a Call to Follow

Peter wasn’t the only one who died preaching the name of Christ. James was also in line to be beheaded for his faith, and his accuser was so moved by his courage that he repented and converted on the spot. They were both beheaded on the same day. Further, Barnabas was burnt to death. Mark was beaten to death. Paul was beheaded. Matthew was crucified. Thomas was thrown into an oven. Luke was hanged. Every single one of these martyrs were probably preached in our Sunday services and even quoted on our Facebook statuses, but did you ever take a step back to really look at the fate awaiting these familiar names?

Discipleship is a call to follow and to proclaim the Good News even unto death, because the reward of being in fellowship with Christ overshadows all of the present sufferings. The apostles knew this full well. I know it in my bones that they died joyfully, despite the excruciating pain, because they knew that it was not the end for them. Not really. Like how Stephen saw Jesus sitting at the right hand of God seconds before he was stoned to death, I believe that these martyrs were welcomed into heaven by Christ himself, arms wide open.

Revelations 12:11 says, “And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.” If persecution is what’s keeping you from boldly proclaiming your faith, then you are sorely missing out on your fellowship in suffering with the one who goes before you, walks beside you, and lives in you—Jesus Christ.

A week ago I experienced my first harsh round of persecution in a long time. I’ve gotten a lot of criticism and discouraging messages before when I first became a Christian, but over time I’ve gotten better at choosing friends. Last week, however, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and post my article, Why Pursuing Happiness Will Make You Miserable, in a public Facebook group with over 28,000 Berkeley students to see. I wrote a brief message saying how I hoped it would encourage someone out there, and I left the post alone.

Minutes later, I received the first comment. It read, “Really…?” I laughed it off and replied with, “Yep! It’s free!” (jokingly referring to how the group was meant for things free or for sale). Soon after, other surprising comments started pouring in like ice in a hailstorm. It said things like, “No. Just, no,” and one comment even called the article “harmful.” While I was reading all of this, I was preparing my first discipleship picnic with some girls in my youth group. As I drove to pick them up one by one, at each stop I would see new hateful comments popping up on my phone screen. I felt so disheartened. I didn’t know how to put this problem aside so I could focus on my girls. Even though this was nothing compared to the persecution that the martyrs experienced, it was still shocking and discouraging to see people being so incredibly mean and hateful when you’re only trying to help. In that moment, while my sweet girls were laughing and talking amongst themselves in the car, I experienced a small glimpse of what it was like to be in Jesus’ shoes. He wasn’t just persecuted by strangers—He was sent off to die by the hands of His very own creations.

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For the rest of the time, I was able to put my phone aside and have a beautiful discipleship with my girls. That picnic was one for the books. We had delicious homemade food and wonderful conversations! I left that park feeling so grateful and rejuvenated. Truly, God had prepared a table for me to dine and rest even in the presence of my enemies. Psalm 23:5 explains, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.” That was really what He did for me by allowing me to have an encouraging picnic with my girls, even while I was receiving so much hatred from complete strangers. He gave me protection and made a way for me to praise and worship Him in the midst of the storm.

If you have been hesitating about whether or not you should take that next step and share your faith publicly, know that you will not be taking that step on your own. I thought that I was going through my anxious time alone, but it wasn’t long before God sent His angels to let me know that He was there, listening to my anxious mumblings and quieting my heart when it became too restless. God spared no time to let me know that He was right there with me, and He will do the same for you.

You should be worried if you never receive persecution as a Christian—not because persecution is good, but because it is a great indicator of whether you are boldly speaking the truth, hiding behind your timidity, or conforming too much to stay relevant to the culture. I’m not encouraging you to go out and shove religion down peoples’ throats. I’m challenging you to take that next step in your faith, whatever that might look like.

This is not about you, your insecurities, or even overcoming your fears. The moment you decide to proclaim your faith is the moment you have officially declared war with the enemy. It’s all spiritual warfare, but there is no need to fear because our God is the God of heaven’s armies. He will do the fighting for you and He will lead you through the storm. 

Why Pursuing Happiness Will Make You Miserable

I think I can speak for many of us when I say that we just want to be happy in this life. There’s nothing wrong with wanting contentment, happiness or even joy. These are good things to have. Some people are definitely a little more ambitious than others, though. I remember scrolling through Tumblr a few years back and coming across this typography that says, “It’s going to be okay.” Below, there was a comment that read, “That’s it? Just ‘okay?’” Even if I scoffed at that moment, in retrospect, isn’t that representative of our mentalities most of the time? Judging by our boastful posts and great ambitions, aren’t most of us trying to come off as much more than “just okay”? I know a person who was quite ambitious in his past. He even accomplished almost everything he had set out to get—almost everything, except for the true desire of his heart. Here is an excerpt from his powerful testimony:

“I said to myself, ‘Come on, let's try pleasure. Let's look for the 'good things' in life.’ But I found that this, too, was meaningless…

After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world. I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards…

I made gardens and parks… I built reservoirs… I bought slaves, both men and women… I also owned large herds and flocks… I collected great sums of silver and gold… I hired wonderful singers, both men and women… I had everything a man could desire…

Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.”

Needless to say, this man went above and beyond what most of us could ever accomplish in a lifetime. In his relentless pursuit of happiness, he acquired wealth, popularity, property, and even found momentary satisfaction in all of his hard work. If there were anyone who could say that they “had it all,” it was this guy.

Yet, the same man declared that everything he had worked so hard to get “was all so meaningless.” In fact, it was like “chasing the wind": pointless, lonely, and disappointing. Have you ever wanted something so bad, like a new top or a new game, that you saved and saved and finally purchased it, and two weeks later it completely lost its hype? Well, imagine feeling that way but after you’ve already purchased several houses, cars, and jewelry. Multiply that same dull, disappointing feeling by tenfold. That is called having a King Solomon moment.

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That testimony was actually taken straight out of scripture, in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11. King Solomon was the author. He was the son of King David, who was deemed the man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). God blessed King Solomon with a unique wisdom that we could only get a glimpse of in King David. Solomon was also thought to have written the Proverbs, a book about how to gain wisdom from the Lord. Yet, the same author of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs still struggled with the same pursuit that many of us struggle with today: the pursuit of fulfillment. Something important to remember is that happiness is a byproduct of true fulfillment. Rather than chasing after the byproduct, shouldn’t we chase after the true source?

If we want to take a look at King Solomon’s life, we needn’t look further than the first chapter of Ecclesiastes: “Everything is meaningless.” No, really. This is coming from a person who had tasted and seen all that the world could offer him, and it made him so depressed and exhausted that he said it was all like chasing the wind. How meaningless and disheartening it must have been to be in Solomon’s shoes.

He even says, “Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content” (Ecc 1:8). This is just the reality of human nature—we can never be satisfied for long by filling our hearts with vain idolatry. From money, to boyfriends, girlfriends, hook ups, drugs, wealth, and success, all of these things will never fill the void of our hearts. This is what it means when the scriptures say, “He has planted eternity in the human heart” (Ecc 3:11). After splurging on wild living, Solomon finally figured it out: of course those things wouldn’t bring him fulfillment or even come close to filling the gaping hole in his heart. God had purposely planted eternity in him. In other words, God made a space in our hearts that only He can fill.

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Even more, the great teachings of Matthew 6:19-21 says, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.What treasures are you currently storing up for yourself right now? Are they treasures that you can take with you to the grave? I urge you to be true to yourself and see what you’re currently living for, because that is where you will find the desires of your heart.

When you’ve discovered your hearts’ current desires, evaluate them to see if they are worth dying for. And truly, do all of this self reflection with the understanding that people have already achieved those things before, and were still sorely disappointed by the utter lack of fulfillment it gave them. King Solomon’s father, David, wrote in Psalm 37:4, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I pray that the desires of your heart will be attached to the source rather than the emotional byproduct. The more you shift your focus off material possessions and worldly successes, the more you will be liberated from jealousy and the meaningless toils of life. Do all of this by prayer because Lord knows that we can’t save or fix ourselves for long. I guarantee that once you earnestly pray for God to change the desires of your heart, you will be connected to the source and will be more fulfilled than you ever were while you were huffing and puffing, bending over backwards trying to chase the wind.

I want to pray for you right here and now. While you’re reading this, I’ll be laying hands on your shoulders. Let’s bow our heads. Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that you will reveal to this person the desires of his/her heart. May you send your Spirit unto this person and lift the veil from his/her eyes. Let us see openly what needs to be rebuked, eradicated, and purified by your truth. Let your love and your grace bring comfort to this person as he/she learns to pursue you rather than pursuing emptiness. Let your kingdom come in this person’s life. And may we hear you say this for all of us when we run empty-handed back to you after repenting of our pursuit of emptiness: “Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.” (Luke 15:22-24).

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Nothing Compares

This last year for me was easily one of the most difficult. I was having a hard time keeping up with school and work, I was under a lot of relational stress with many of the people I love and I often found myself too exhausted to pray and read my bible. Pain, suffering, and hardships are experiences that all humans can relate to, which is why for the last several weeks I shared on the topic of pain with my youth group. I concluded our series with a message of hope called, Nothing Compares. It was taken from Romans 8:18, in which Paul states, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” In my message I covered three main ideas: our present pain, future fulfillment and present power.  This message was a huge inspiration to both the youth and myself, and I pray it will be an inspiration to you too.

OUR PRESENT PAIN

One does not need to be religious to recognize that the world we live in is broken and full of hurt. However, as Christians, we believe that there are three main sources of hardships in this world: the sin of man, sin in the world (as a result of the sin of man) and our enemy, the devil. These things result in strife, distress, persecution, famine, weakness, peril and oppression. Even more, our familiarities with these hardships do not simply go away because we are followers of Christ. On the contrary, they are likely to increase because Christ was acquainted with many sorrows.  So keep in mind that hardships are not a sign that God is mad at you, nor are they always an indication that you are doing something wrong. When you’re enduring a season of strife, don’t let your heart be troubled. Instead, meditate on all that God has done and secured for us through his son, Jesus Christ.

OUR FUTURE FULFILLMENT

Romans 8:20 continues from verse 19, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” The word “revealed” is used for the second time in two consecutive verses. The use of this word; along with words like “future,” “waits,” and “expectation;” suggests that there is a reality yet to be experienced by those who are God’s children. The best way for me to explain this reality is through the analogy of a down payment on a house. Imagine you just found the house of your dreams. In order to secure your dream home, you contact the realtor and make a down payment. Now you have a receipt as proof of your payment and the house has been set aside just for you. The house is essentially yours, except you have not moved in yet. At this point, all you really have in your possession is a piece of paper – a receipt. Now you eagerly wait for the day you get to move in. This is kind of like our experience on Earth as God’s children. Our heavenly father has secured our future in heaven and has brought us into a loving and peaceful relationship with him. The only problem is that we are still here on Earth, enduring this broken life. Do we still get to encounter God? Yes. Do we also witness miracles and wonders on Earth? Yes. Does God still hear and answer our prayers? Yes. And yet in comparison to what the future holds, what we know now is but a receipt, a shadow of what is to come.

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So what is our heavenly “house” like? I think that Romans 8:19-21, by referring to creation, tells us two things about our future home: it will be of the physical realm and it will be free of decay. When Jesus returns and establishes his reign, we will not become bodiless spirits floating around in white space. We will walk on solid ground with new, glorified bodies. Just as creation is physical now, so will creation be then – but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Our heavenly home would not be exposed to sin; thus, death and decay would also not be present. The current planet endures agony as a result of sin. Animals, just like humans, are subject to death and disease. If creation was caught in the conflict of human rebellion, how much more shall it be caught in the crossfire of God’s redeeming love? You can bet that plants, animals and all of creation will also share in the benefits of our redemption.  Revelations 21:3 paints a beautiful picture of what it will be like: “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Imagine that - An eternal existence without the all too familiar plagues we spend our lives avoiding and instead an eternity with our loving creator. We should ponder this future fulfillment more often, imagining the colors and beauty of a world that perfectly radiates God’s glory and goodness. This will certainly help us keep our eyes on the end goal and keep life’s lemons in perspective. 

OUR PRESENT POWER

At the same time, Christians are not escapists who live in isolation until the day of our deliverance. We are called to be in the world but not of it, to represent our God even in the midst of our struggles. This is why we must also recognize that our present sufferings do not compare to the present power we have in Christ. This power comes from the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ who lives in those who believe. Thus, if you have faith in Jesus Christ, you can be confident that his Spirit is now living in you!

This comes with a plethora of incredible effects. Just imagine, the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is now living in you and empowering you to live a godly life (Romans 8:9-11). What I find uplifting is that He helps you in your weakness (Romans 8:26). This does not mean that you won’t have moments of weakness; this means that you will have help in your weakness. Have you ever been so overwhelmed that you felt paralyzed in prayer? I certainly have. Fortunately,  the Spirit of God supports us when we are pray and find ourselves at a loss of words. Not only that, but the Holy Spirit actually prays for us! This is good news since the Holy Spirit is all knowing and therefore knows exactly what to pray for (Romans 8:26-27).

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Maybe you don’t see God’s Spirit or power evident in your life. If that’s the case, remember that our emotions can be deceitful. Just because you don’t feel the Holy Spirit’s presence doesn’t mean he isn’t there. Nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with simply asking God to empower you through his Spirit and make you aware of Him. In fact, I would encourage it, especially in times of doubt and distress. If you are in Christ, trust that God’s Spirit is living in you.

While on the topic of power, I want to mention that it also comes from consciously placing your faith in Jesus (which the Spirit also helps us to do). Let’s reflect for a moment on the following verse from Hebrews 12:2, “We persevere by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God's throne.” Jesus has already endured the suffering, initiated the relationship, and will bring to completion our salvation. Jesus has defeated sin and death, so he is definitely qualified to defeat whatever hardships you may be facing. As we fix our eyes on Jesus we will be able to endure our “cross" as he did and run this race called life. Whatever your cross may be; whether it be the loss of a loved one, the consequences of a past mistake, financial or relational stress; fix your eyes on Jesus, rely on the power of his Spirit and trust that he is going to bring you through it.

HOLD ONTO HOPE

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” – Romans 8:24. There will be times when life is so trying that all you can do is hold on to this hope that we have – our future fulfillment and present power. However, it is always worth it in the end. After all, nothing compares to what God has in store for those who love him. I want to leave you with a passage that I pray will encourage you. As you reflect on all these wonderful things God has revealed to us, may He move your heart from a place of sorrow to celebration.

Romans 8:31 - What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

 “For your sake we face death all day long;

 we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39.


Article written by Pastor John Mendez

To read more of John's writings, please visit www.pastorjohnmendez.com

You Are Known

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Let’s get a little personal. When I was in elementary school, I used to be a tomboy. To be clear, I wasn’t exactly sure what a tomboy was, I just felt comfortable wearing my dad’s shirts and socks. It also didn’t help that my parents thought it would be funny to see their little girl scootering around in a giant t-shirt and oversized socks. I once got a comment from my 6th grade teacher a few days before my promotion to junior high, asking, “Hey, Anh. You still gonna dress like that in Garvey [my would-be junior high school]?” I didn’t understand what he was getting at, but I could hear the negative connotation in his voice. I said, “Yeah! Why?” He shrugged and tried to keep his laughter in.

When I hit high school, I started wearing girly Hollister clothes because that’s what all the cool kids did and I wanted to be cool like them. I began dressing “girly” from then on and never got a comment like the one I got in 6th grade ever again. When I entered college and exposed myself to a host of different communities, it became more apparent to me than ever that I have what people would call a “strong personality.” I’m more of a Type A than a Type B. I like to lead. I know I’m a thinker and a doer, so I end up coming up with my own ideas and then I try my best to execute them in the most efficient manner. I only like group work when my group mates are as self-motivated as me; otherwise, I get irritated beyond belief. Some people might point at this and say, “YES!!! Yes, that’s exactly how I feel.” Still, others would think, What’s the big deal? Relax. There will always be both types of people in the world, and they will almost always be on the same team as each other—whether in church, in the workplace, or in school. Anywhere you’re exposed to people, you will run into someone you might clash with. I know that full well. Nevertheless, in my personal experience and observation, I think that a person’s sex also has a lot to do with whether or not his/her personality would be accepted or even praised by his/her community.

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My personality is what you would define as a ‘masculine’ personality. You know those sociology personality quizzes you take to find out whether or not you fall more into the masculine or feminine side? Mine came out almost all masculine. Strong-willed, opinionated, initiator, correcting, and straightforward: that’s what society deems as a good portrayal of a man. Well, I’m not a man. I don’t identify as a man and I’m also not attracted to girls. So what does that make me? In college, I thought that it made me a saucy, insolent lady. I found out very quickly that my personality deemed me as offensive and out-of-line to many conservative communities and individuals. In college, I began hating the fact that I was born a girl because I wanted to be praised for my personality, just like the boys were praised for having an assertive personality. I actually wished I could keep my personality and change my sex, because I thought maybe then they would take my input seriously.

Since I couldn’t wish myself out of being a girl, I decided to make small changes to my personality instead. I would literally bullet things to change about myself in my journal daily, like:

·      Stop talking so much. Only talk when you have something really profound to say.

·      Wear [insert girly outfit in detail here]

·      Be more graceful

·      Don’t get too excited. Stay calm.

·      Don’t talk too loud.

When I first became a Christian, these insecurities grew even deeper. Reading verses that praised the gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4) and personally experiencing some clear injustices made me feel like I was severely misunderstood simply because I am an outspoken, strong-willed girl. I didn’t come to these conclusions right away; rather, they came to me as I spent time reflecting on situations that bothered me from time to time. From my observations, my experiences, and my analysis, I came to the conclusion that my ideas and potentials were shriveling in the midst of an essentially sexist environment. As a result, I became bitter.

I started to secretly harbor this bitterness and became hyper-skeptical of the people around me. I constantly questioned their motives and made negative judgments about them secretly in my heart. For a long time, I was truly hurt from all the negative thoughts that circulated my mind as a result of the few bad experiences I had.

Still, in the midst of all the hurt I was experiencing, I had forgotten how to empathize with others. My bitterness and insecurities made me become indignant and prideful, and I caught myself gradually turning into the judgmental and unjust person that I had hated so much. My insecurities made me extra sensitive to how people treated me in a group setting, which pretty much meant that my antennas were actually looking for flaws and negativities in a person’s intentions. Instead of “taking the meat and throwing away the bones,” I gradually did the exact opposite: I craved for the “bones,” or flaws in the person’s character, and I threw away the “meat,” or the valid points that they bring up in an argument. Most of my interactions became filtered through a “Is this person being sexist?” lens, and this wrong outlook set me up for a bitter load of disappointments and pain.

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Maybe there had been times when you felt the same way. After finding out that someone had gossiped about you, maybe you felt like you needed to be extra careful around everyone—not just the person who backstabbed you. Maybe after someone insulted your weight, you felt like it was as if the entire school was full of shallow people. Maybe after a racist incident occurred between you and a stranger on a bus, you think that the whole society is chocked full of no-good racists. Whatever your experiences may be, I’m sure that you’re not the only one who has ever felt bitter after going through these painful incidents. It’s human nature to guard ourselves once we get hurt. Our brains seem to react to emotional pain similar to how it reacts to physical pain—it does whatever it can to avoid experiencing the same trauma again.

I understand why you might be angry and bitter. In many cases, it’s also completely justifiable to feel that way. But please hear me out on these encouragements, as I’ve finally learned why I should let go of the hurt rather than hold onto it with everything I’ve got.

God loves the gentle and quiet spirit; yes, but that doesn’t translate to “God only loves meek and quiet people.” He loves us all, and he created us with these personalities for his own pleasure. He loves it when we’re silly and when we get excited- there’s nothing wrong with that. It is only when we are inconsiderate of others, or forget to forgive those who speak against us and then hate them in our hearts, that makes the spirit of God sorrowful. Even when people speak against us, even when they deliberately hurt us with their unjustified words and actions, it would still be wise to work towards forgiving them in our hearts. When I continued to harbor bitterness against people who have hurt me, I was doing a massive disservice against both God and myself. I was eventually able to let go of my bitterness, but only after days of crying, praying, and wrestling with the subject. But you know what? Once I finally committed myself to trusting the Lord with my relationships, I felt an immense relief that I’ve only felt twice in my entire life—once when I got saved, and again when I decided to have compassion over those who made me bitter. Choosing to let go of the hatred helped me to become a more genuine and loving person. It allowed me to serve others with the compassionate and empathetic mindset of Christ.

Ephesians 4:30 says, “And do not bring sorrow to God's Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

Just like the verse points out, there will be times when we have to bear with one another. It’s not a matter of whether or not people will slander you; it is a matter of when they will speak and sin against you. As a response, Apostle Paul tells us to have compassion and be tenderhearted and get rid of bitterness—why? Because we would be damaging our own wellbeing as well as bring more sorrow to the Father who had gone out of his way to forgive us. Trust me, I’m also preaching to myself as I write these words. It’s not easy to forgive—and I don’t mean the “out of sight, out of mind” type of forgiveness, but the head-on, face-the-person and truly forgive-them-in-your-heart type of forgiveness. Christ’s type of forgiveness. It takes time, it takes wisdom, and it takes guts, but God is more than willing to bring you comfort and guidance as you decide to forgive those who have hurt you.

It wasn’t an easy road for me to take, but in all honesty, after experiencing time and time again of how much he loves me and wants to restore me, how could I keep running away from him by choosing bitterness? I couldn’t. I want to encourage you to pursue the same route. Choose peace of mind and wisdom and freedom over bitterness; even if you have to face the monster head on to get to the other side. God is paving the road for you, anyway.

Sacred Pathways

A friend has recently recommended a book to me that has since transformed and enriched my viewpoint on worshipping God, and I would like to impart some of the edifying lessons I’ve learned to you. The book, written by Gary Thomas, is brilliantly titled Sacred Pathways. Thomas explains that our “sacred pathways” are simply ways in which we relate to God as unique individuals. They are also oftentimes called “spiritual pathways” or “spiritual temperaments,” all of which point to the same conclusion— (I will quote from the author because he did an amazing job articulating this) “God wants to know the real you, not a caricature of what somebody else wants you to be. He created you with a certain personality and a certain spiritual temperament. God wants your worship, according to the way He made you” (16).

Now, why should all of this be of interest to you? What does this personality-quiz-like article have to do with your life? I am telling you these things because developing a healthier understanding of different spiritual temperaments will:

1) Allow you to understand and accept the amazing person He has made you to be

2) Give you a deeper and more accepting perspective of the people you disciple

3) Keep you from judging other theologies/churches/worshippers because they were created to worship differently than you.

Having walked with Christ for a few years now, one poignant thing I’ve seen rampant in the Church is the lack of acceptance of different worship styles. A Charismatic Christian might look at a liturgical worship service and deem it “lifeless” or “lacking the movement of the Holy Spirit.” A Reformed Christian might look at a Charismatic worship service and think that it is unacceptably emotional and lacks organic mental stimulation. Instead of taking a step back and saying, “This isn’t the way I was made to worship God,” many times, we think, “This isn’t the way anyone was made to worship God.” Hence, further division in the Church. If only we could acknowledge and appreciate the uniqueness of our brothers and sisters, such bitter divisions would be kept to a minimum.

This book teaches us to appreciate the beautiful plethora of personalities that God has created for His pleasure and enjoyment. Thomas uses the analogy of a father and his two different daughters to explain this phenomenon. One daughter might be outgoing and outspoken, while the other is shy and withdrawn. Both express their love for Dad in different ways, and their dad enjoys all of their unique expressions of affection. It would absolutely break his heart to see the shy daughter try to be more outspoken because she thinks that being more like her sister will make him love her more. He would be disheartened! He loves her just the same as the other, and it makes him happy when she expresses her love for him in her own beautiful, gentle ways. The same goes for our heavenly Father. We are his beloved children! He desires us to worship Him according to the unique ways that fit our own design. It would break His heart to see us criticizing each other for not expressing our love for Him in an identical, uniformed way.

The 9 Sacred Pathways:

·      The Naturalist – You feel the closest to God when you spend time outdoors. The thought of having devotion beside a brook or in a luscious, green park appeals to you the most. You often find it moving to see God’s beauty in His creations. Spending time worshipping Him outdoors sounds like a much better plan to you than learning new theologies or participating in formal religious services.

·      The Sensate – You feel the closest to God when a church service allows you to engage most or all of your senses. You love to see His majesty reflected in the beauty of the lighting or architecture. You would appreciate a church service that uses incense to get people into a prayerful mindset. You are vested in the beauty of worship—anything from gorgeous paintings to lighting to sound to architecture would move you deeply.

·      The Traditionalist – You feel the closest to God worshipping Him through rituals and symbols. Traditions and rituals in your church are very appealing and important to you. You enjoy establishing a daily ritual of prayer. Participating in a formal liturgical service would bring you peace and would stir you deeply. You find comfort in showing reverence to God through rituals, symbols, and other traditional formalities because you believe that doing so would show Him the utmost respect that He rightfully deserves.

·      The Ascetic – You feel the closest to God when you are alone. Worshipping God in a group setting isn’t bad, but you would prefer having intimate alone time with Him. Taking a short retreat by yourself at a nearby monastery to fast and pray sounds edifying and appealing to you. You would love to spend two hours or so in a simple room meditating on His word. Being alone with God refreshes you and gives you the life, encouragement, and joy that you need to be spiritually quenched.

·      The Activist – You feel the closest to God when you are working alongside Him in standing up against an injustice (whether that means petitioning against abortion, encouraging people to vote, or even urging the world to become more environmentally friendly). You find it exhilarating to confront the evils that you see in the world. The thought of supprting a humanitarian nonprofit organization appeals to you. You experience the power of God the most when you are in the midst of battle or confrontation.

·      The Caregiver – You feel closest to God when you are helping the poor, the needy, the sick, or the oppressed. It has always bothered you that people who often claim the name of Jesus never actually take the time to feed or clothe those who are in need. You experience God’s power at work when you counsel a friend who is going through a struggle. You would rather go feed the hungry than spend a weekend alone meditating or contemplating in a room.

·      The Enthusiast – You feel the closest to God when you get to celebrate His love and shout out His awesome name. Celebrating your new identity in Him and the unshakable joy that He has given you makes you feel like you truly are a new creation. You believe that we should be excited about worshipping God, not treating church like it’s a lifeless, formal ritual. You would love to worship through dance or through making joyful noise. You always expect God to work in mysterious yet mighty ways.

·      The Contemplative – You feel closest to God when you engage in acts of devotion to Him in solitude. Contemplatives are similar to Ascetics, but are less focused on simplicity and more focused on building intimacy with God through prayer and quality time with Him. If you are a Contemplative, you often feel like He is your closest friend after you spend your devotional time with Him. The most discouraging times in your faith are when you can no longer “feel” His presence.

·      The Intellectual – You feel closest to God when you get to learn something new about Him that you didn’t quite understand before. You get the fullest worship experience out of well-researched sermons that stimulate your mind. You get frustrated when services are overwhelmingly emotional or spiritual. You enjoy absorbing new concepts and truths. Teaching these new truths also help you feel closer to Him because you get to participate in the enlightenment of your peers.

Of course, there are doctrinal boundaries that you should not cross when you express yourself during worship, like the accidental idolatry of nature, statues, and/or having an extreme imbalance of pathos and logos. I appreciate that the book also points out that there are vices to every one of the nine sacred pathways. It is crucial that you do not neglect the temptations of your strongest sacred pathways—all of which are carefully listed in the text. Remember that a wise person would seek to avoid all extremes.

I also believe that any Christian who is mature in his or her faith should aim to explore all the different sacred pathways besides his or her own—not to earn God’s love or favor, but to gain a better understanding of other worship practices so you can lessen your prejudice towards them. It would also be such an enriching way for you to deepen your worship experience. I never knew that there were so many beautiful dimensions to Christianity until I actually made the effort to explore my faith in depth! For this next week, I challenge you to discover your top 3 sacred pathways, and either combine them with each other or explore a pathway that is usually out of your comfort zone. If you’re a contemplative, you can try to do your devotion in a nearby cathedral and take in the beautiful architecture as a form of worship and reverence to God. If you’re a caregiver, take a friend on a beautiful hike and acknowledge the beauty of God’s creations together. I wish you all a wonderful time worshipping our amazing and worthy Father!

 

Warfare

2015 has only been about a month old, but it seems like tribulations are already knocking at many of our doors. Some of you might have lost a family member or a loved one at the beginning of the year; others might have lost a job, and others their sense of identity. If there is one thing that is certain in the midst of all this uncertainty, it is that we are in the center of a raging spiritual battle.

In this article, I will address the ways in which you can claim victory even through the heartbreaking losses you’ve experienced. I know that it gets hard to see how you can win when most things/people you’ve held onto are either gone or against you, but you can’t get through the war if you think that you’ve already lost.

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Before you equip yourself for battle, so to speak, it is important to know what you’re going to be fighting against. Apostle Paul addresses spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesians: “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). At times, I’m able to take joy in the midst of warfare because it is when the enemy is attacking me that I feel that I am a threat to the kingdom of darkness. Our enemies are the “authorities of the unseen world,” headed by the notorious deceiver who you must know is the devil. The Scriptures say that he is here to “steal and kill and destroy” your joy, your calling, and your relationship with God (John 10:10). I urge you to recognize your real enemy so that you will know whom you are supposed to be fighting against. You are not your worst enemy, despite the lies that he has led you to believe. Do not subscribe to the lies of the enemy.

·      You are not worthless—Psalm 139 says that you were fearfully and wonderfully made. You were “fearfully” made because the God that you reflect is the author of the universe. So the next time you look in the mirror and the devil whispers a lie into your ear, like, “You are so unworthy” or “You are disgusting,” remind him and yourself that you were FEARFULLY made to reflect the image of the author of all creation. You are a WORTHY and VALUABLE son or daughter of the King of kings. Genesis 1 says that you were made in the image of God. Imago Dei – that’s who you are. Keep that verse close to your heart and don’t be afraid to say it out loud when the lies start pouring in.

·      Nothing can stand in the way of God’s love for you—Romans 8 says that not even death, demons, fears, or worries can separate you from God’s love. It’s incredible. John 3:16 says that God loves you so much that He gave his only son to be tortured and executed just so He could have a reconciled relationship with you. The thought of hearing you call Him “father” was worth the suffering for Him. In the Old Testament, before Christ died for our sins, people wouldn’t dare call God by his personal name, Yahweh, let alone have the audacity to call Him father. They would replace the word Yahweh with "Adonai," which means Lord. But now that Christ has restored the relationship between you and God, He longs for you to call Him, “Abba, Father,” which is even more intimate. He loves you deeply, more than you could ever imagine, to the point where even death could not get in the way of how much He loves you. Don’t let the enemy convince you otherwise. Your father will love you until the end of time, despite your flaws and shortcomings.

The next step after recognizing your enemy is to equip yourself with the armor of God. Ephesians 6:13 says, “Therefore, put on every piece of God's armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.” I find it completely encouraging that God has even given us spiritual weapons to defend ourselves and retaliate during this time of warfare. He hasn’t left us helpless and alone. In contrast, He gives us:

·      The belt of truth“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist […]” (Eph. 6:14) The “belt of truth” might sound like a Yu-Gi-Oh play card but it’s actually very symbolic. The belt functions as an added security to keep your pants up when you’re working, so in a similar way, knowing God’s truth will keep you feeling secure when you are in battle.

·      The body armor of righteousness—The body armor acts to protect your vital organs, so having the righteousness of God will surely protect against any vital blows from the enemy. Remaining blameless and remembering that Christ has made you righteous before God will keep the enemy from easily taking you down by attacking the weak areas of your life.

·      The shoes of peace— The shoes of peace that “comes from the Good News,” that is (Eph 6:15). Isn’t it beautiful that He tells us to wear the message of peace on our feet so that we will actually go places? Without the good message of Christ to protect our soles [pun intended], we will not go far at all.

·      The shield of faith“In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil” (Eph. 6:16). According to the Scriptures, your faith is actually the most direct armor against the enemy. In times of trouble, remember that your faith is your shield and so your enemy will try to get rid of your faith first. Don’t make the mistake of throwing away your shield. Keep your faith strong and steadfast against the arrows of the devil.

·      The helmet of salvation—I also find this particular symbol to be incredibly meaningful. Why the helmet of salvation and not, let’s say, the girdle of salvation or the sword of salvation? The helmet protects the head—the most vital part of the body. You might still be alive without your limbs, but your head is of the utmost importance. Let your salvation protect you from the devil’s blows against your mind. Be secure in your salvation in Christ and don’t buy into the enemy’s tricks and lies.

·      The sword of the spirit—Ephesians 6:17 directly states that the sword of the spirit is “the word of God.” Every other piece of armor plays defense for your body, but your offense weapon is the word of God. That means that without learning God’s teachings and promises in the Scriptures, you will be unarmed against the enemy. Even the devil knows the Scriptures, and he often twists it to use it against you. How can you fight back if you don’t even know what you believe? Do your due diligence and sharpen your knowledge of the Word, so that your “sword of the spirit” will be ready when the time comes.

Above all, do not forget to pray. Be vulnerable to God like David. Let him know that you’re struggling or that you feel like you’re constantly losing. I guarantee you that regular conversations with God will refresh you and keep you steadfast during times of warfare and hardship. When you talk to your father and tell him the ugly things that you are facing, he will remind you of the victory that will be yours in the end. Romans 8:35-37 says, “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? […] No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” Read that again and let it sink in. Apostle Paul didn’t just say victory is ours, but he went so far as to say overwhelming victory is ours! Indeed, you must know and remember that you will experience overwhelming victory if you remain in Christ. He weeps with you when you weep. He celebrates with you when you succeed. He will be with you until the end of time. The battle is tough and there might be times when you feel like you are on the losing end, but it’s when God comes through during impossible times such as this that make the end victory seem so overwhelming.

If you are going through a difficult time in your life and would like to talk to somebody about it, don’t hesitate to send me a message in the contact section and I will be honored to pray for you or talk you through the storms. For now, I hope that this article will encourage you to keep strong during those times of trouble. There is absolutely nothing to fear because you will never lose the one thing that truly matters—the love of God, who is your faithful father.

 

Kind Christianity

Too many times I’ve witnessed how Christians—that is, people who blatantly profess that Christ is their Lord and Savior—treat their non-Christian acquaintances or friends so remarkably well (perhaps to just get them to go to church, or perhaps you just like them more), but then turn right around and treat their fellow Christian brother/sister like total bunk. I’ve seen this happen time and time over, in people of all ministry statuses, and it makes me sick to my stomach. Christ did not call us to be hypocritical in the way we treat others. You aren’t representing Him well at all if you treat strangers nicely while you treat your real family—your church—like they don’t truly matter. That includes:

1.     Talking smack about them behind their back – In the Christian culture, this is oftentimes expressed as a well-meant concern. Use your best judgment and avoid/gently rebuke those who tend to speak ill of others. Don’t be fooled. Chances are if they talk about the people around you so often, they’re probably talking about you, too. If you’re being true to yourself and you know that it is you who struggle with gossip, please understand that there are healthier and Godlier ways to express your concerns. Some of which includes: prayer and petition, seeking advice from an older and more mature counselor, or just confronting the issue with the particular brother or sister. I know that for many of us, our way of getting rid of our anxieties is to vent, but talking about people behind their backs won’t solve anything and instead will make you seem like an immature jerk. One of the things that God hates the most is to witness his children slandering one another, so just get rid of this habit altogether. The church would be a much more loving and safe environment if only the church family would stop badmouthing each other. I know you’ll agree with me on this principle. It is common decency.

  • Proverbs 20:19 - Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.

  • Proverbs 17:4 - Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip; liars pay close attention to slander.

2.     Taking your church peers for granted – Really, though. After you’ve finished criticizing your fellow leader or brother/sister for something silly they’ve done, did you even bother asking them about their day? When was the last time you’ve genuinely expressed to them that you care about them? When was the last time you went the extra mile for them the same way you went the extra mile for that guy/girl you tried to bring to church? At the end of the day, the brother/sister whom you’re carelessly ignoring is going to be hurt by your unabashed disinterestedness. I sometimes do this thing where I forget that other Christians also need just as much care and attention as my “secular” friends, so I end up taking them for granted and criticize their every action instead of appreciating them for their willingness to serve. Let’s not treat our acquaintances like kings and our family like crap. Go the extra mile for your brothers and sisters. God will honor that.

  • John 13:35 – “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
  • Romans 12:10 – “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

If we, as Christians, actually treated one another like how Christ treats us, the church would surely bring heaven to Earth. It would be a place where I would actually feel safe in, accepted, and loved. Imagine that. Now let’s be kind to one another and put away that dumb, hurtful joke or that next gossip/concern we were going to voice. It just isn't worth it.

Visible Faith

Like many others, I want to be a well-traveled, well-educated, and well-cultured individual. I want to be remembered as a woman who left a positive mark on the world. I even have a list of “Yolo Goals” for myself that includes publishing a book of poems & artworks, speaking at a TED Talk conference, and attending an Ivy League. I want to do a lot because I like a lot of things and I just so happen to have that (crazy?) restless and ambitious personality to complement my long list of goals. I know that all of these goals are inherently good. Being ambitious is also an awesome, blessed trait to have. However, sometimes I just have to stop myself and ask, “Is self-glorification my end goal in life?”

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Is self-glorification your end goal in life? Maybe you’ve asked yourself that question once or twice, or maybe it sort of came to you as a more abstract idea while you were pondering on how to be successful in the future. Maybe you ignored it, like what I did the first couple of times it crossed my mind. Who cares about my end-goal in life? I asked myself to rebut my conscience. As long as I’m somehow making a good or inspiring impact in the end, so what if I glorify myself in the process? Sounds like a real plan, until I drove myself to near depression by trying to chase after success and happiness. I found out the difficult way that I shouldn’t be the center of my world. Self-glorification shouldn’t be my end goal because, ironically, it would just make me miserable in the end. I’m just not wired that way, and here’s the truth of the matter: neither are you.

I believe that God wired us to be social beings for a greater purpose: to bring glory to Him by loving others the way Christ loves us. With that said, I’m not going to preach to you on how to be altruistic. I’m sure you’ve heard all about how you should put others before yourself and all of those inherently good and moralistic principles. I just want to remind you of the revelation that changed my perspective entirely and turned me into a less self-centered person from the inside out. I want to remind you of the calling you’ve received from God to glorify His name through your choices and actions. I choose to call this “having visible faith. Faith is in itself an invisible entity, but it could be manifested in visible ways. A person with visible faith would demonstrate his or her faith through setting life goals that would bring the ultimate glory back to God.

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For me, it was truly not an overnight process, but a highly convicting spiritual journey. I realized that in the midst of my goal-making process, I’ve completely and utterly pushed Christ out of the picture. I had forgotten that he had given me this new life and this second chance. I had forgotten the person who saved my life. He confronted me through His convictions that I was placing myself at the center of my own universe, and it was reflected through my numerous lists of self-glorifying goals. I want to challenge you to change your goals to glorify Him instead. Although visible faith starts with a change of heart, which is something that only God can do in you, you can actually start by asking Him to change your heart. If you want to experience life to the abundance or if you desire to see a higher purpose to your goals, ask God to change your heart. As He softens your heart and humbles you, you will naturally want to revolve your life around His will and His best interests because you’ll know that living for God will bring you so much more joy than living for yourself. When you finally remove yourself from the center of your life and place Christ in that position, suddenly all your goals will be so much more meaningful and fulfilling. You will start living out what you were designed to do, and that makes all the difference.

I could still strive to do a lot of the same things as before, such as publishing an art portfolio or speaking at a renowned event, but now I would do them with Godlier intentions. Trust me, it makes a difference. I would no longer be doing these things simply to cross them out of my notebook or to make myself feel accomplished, but I would be doing them to bring glory to God. If He were at the center of my focus, I would tweak my artworks, speeches, poetic topics, etc., in a way that would somehow glorify Him—and, in turn, I would experience life to the abundance (the way it was meant to be experienced!). When your faith is manifested in your goals and your actions, others will recognize that and God will honor that. Perhaps the most liberating and inspiring revelation is to know that God’s recognition is far better than any glory you could receive from humanity. Even more, having God-centered goals will create a greater impact in the long run because everything we do for Him will have eternal significance. I encourage you to live a purpose-driven, eternally significant life that would bring joy to Him and to those around you.