Today is a Good Day

Have you ever had “one of those days”? I’m talking one of thosesmiles can’t do anything right, your car dies, you’re sick and nothing is going right kind of days? Sometimes, it’s hard to feel thankful when the day seems to exist just cause pain and misery. Today has been one of those days — um — weeks for me. The transmission died on my car. My health has been poor. Fire ants invaded my house by the hundreds (counted by the number I saw/squished as they crawled across the floor). The electricity inside my house went bonkers and has already knocked out a panel in my television, ruined one telephone and drained my smoke detectors. And to add to all of those things, the electrician forgot to show up this morning. I spilled scalding, hot soup all over myself. It seems everything I have touched has gone terribly lately! Sigh…yeah, it’s been one of those kinds of weeks.

On days like these, how do we find joy, peace and grace? As I ponder this question today, I am reminded the blessings in my life far outweigh the bad things. Even if I lost everything tomorrow, I am still the richest woman alive. I have wonderful family and friends. I have a good, stable job. I can pay my bills, and I have food to eat. My health issues, although annoying, are few and temporary. I was born in a country where I can worship how I like and write blogs like this one without fear. I have the love of my God, and He calls me “highly favored.” I have carpet and tile under my feet, a big squishy chair to sit upon as I type this blog entry, heating and air conditioning and fresh, clean running water. Yeah, life is pretty good.

So instead of feeling sorry for myself for the cruddy day/week I’ve experienced, I’m determined to say, “It has been a good day. I’m a daughter of the King, and I’m highly favored.” I choose joy. I think the day is looking up already. 🙂

Who God is to Me

How do you know God is real? Various people in my life havebutterfly-lens-flare asked me this question from time to time. And it’s a good question. I truly respect people who can say they have the faith to believe in a God they never see, hear or experience; however, I struggled occasionally with a certain level of doubt about who God is and at what level He is involved with humanity. This is my open and honest self-assessment.

Most of my Christian life (about 20 years) was based on faith alone. For a while, that was good enough, but it was difficult to maintain. I grew up in a church that claimed to believe in a powerful God, but I never saw Him move. I just knew He saved me, and that was enough. And it truly IS enough based on Jesus’s “mustard seed” statement in Matthew 17:20. But I wanted more, and my whole life was about to turn upside down.

The past three and a half years have been the most transformative years of my life. My life changing journey began with a simple prayer to know God at a deeper level. I told Him I was thankful for saving me, but I wanted to actually know Him as more than my “knight in shining armor.” I wanted a real relationship beyond saving the “damsel in distress.”

A couple of weeks later, I was offered an opportunity to join a discipleship group with two other wonderful women. This was a major step for me as an introvert. I didn’t know either of the other two women very well, and it caused major stress and discomfort for me at the time. However, I decided I would never grow spiritually if I didn’t try something; and, I reluctantly agreed to join the study.

A year passed, and the strangers in my discipleship study became like close sisters. Each of us had our own journeys and struggles, but we perfectly complimented each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m extremely thankful to God and to those two women for those days. I’m not sure I could have made it through the months that followed without such amazing support and love as my foundation. By the end of the discipleship study, I began to realize I didn’t know God well at all. This realization broke my heart, and it pushed me even harder to keep searching. Was it a divine appointment for the three of us to meet? I’d like to think so.

The months that followed were some of the hardest in my life. I’ve mentioned different pieces of this part of my life in previous blog entries. I’ve come to understand that, at least in my story, it’s hard to truly know God if you don’t have a situation where dependence on His provision and divine intervention aren’t required. That story is long; therefore, I’ll simply point you to a previous entry that details a series of amazing events that occurred. Here’s very short summary: In a day, I was pulled out a dire situation and given a new opportunity. I was healed from a crippling anxiety disorder and learned the immensity of God’s love. These events radically changed the direction of my life and a level of understanding God.

For months after that life changing moment, I experienced and witnessed things I couldn’t explain. I was from a denomination that didn’t believe in speaking in tongues, but I spoke in tongues anyway. I watched the emotional crutches (over-planning for every situational outcome) I had been using to cope with my anxiety slowly dissolve away. Even my own family admits I’m a different person. I’m strong and confident (although still an introvert). I can speak in front of large crowds, and I don’t become a quivering puddle of gelatin. Life still has its stressful moments, but I’m not anxious. What a difference!

During the last year and half of my life, I saw two dear friends come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. They claimed some of the events that led to their decisions to follow Jesus were supernatural in nature, and I believe them. They are both normal, logical and sane individuals. How do you explain away things like a car radio cycling through stations with static except for the words “don’t doubt the Word of God” with each word on a different station? My friend’s daughter witnessed the whole thing. If it wasn’t God, but it really happened, then how did it happen?

I’ve also witnessed and personally experienced physical healing. How do you explain away a fever leaving a body or pain and swelling leaving a pair of legs in a moment of prayer? Both occurrances happened. The girl with the fever was one of my discipleship study friends. I was the one with the swollen shins. These experiences as well as being healed from the anxiety disorder have recently stirred a passion to join a local healing ministry to help others find wholeness is Christ.

At this point in my life, I’ve experienced too many seemingly coincidental or unexplainable moments to not believe God is real and deeply cares about us. He cares not just about our final destination but about the person we become and the lives we touch along the way.

An Enlightening Debate with an Anti-Theist

Yesterday, I was conducting research on the writers of the Gospels. Did Bibleyou know that the writers were very likely not the apostles attached to their book names? That is to say, Matthew didn’t write the Book of Matthew and Mark likely didn’t write the Book of Mark and so on. Anyway, that is a discussion for another blog topic.

While researching, I came across a blog written by a well-educated, intelligent astrophysicist with a passionate hobby for using the Bible and his scientific background to attempt to discredit the Scripture. As much as I disagree with many of the points he argued, I appreciated the fact that he was well-versed in his arguments, had the educational and research background to stand firmly on his views of the topics he covered and laid out a clinical, mostly unbiased view of why he did not believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God.

As I finished reading the astrophysicist’s blog entry, I noticed several comments by others who had read the post followed. Some of the commenters were complimentary of his research, style and point of view. Others commenters were Christians who argued defensively as to why the post was fundamentally wrong. In response to the Christian comments, many of whom were unnecessarily obnoxious in the their own right, the writer was extremely condescending and hateful. As a result, the comment thread went from cordial to ugly very quickly — an unfortunately common theme if you’ve read any other open forums on the web (and I don’t just mean open forums related to religion or faith). Obviously, in this case, no one was going to change anyone else’s opinion through a comment thread.

There are a few fly-on-the-wall observations of the astrophysicist’s blog that I’d like to share. First, the writer is clearly an anti-theist with an agenda, but he did his homework. He knows why he believes what he believes. In contrast, the Christian commenters argued their points of view; but, in this case, they did not seem well-versed or prepared for the writer’s in-depth, well-researched critiques on their comments. Shouldn’t we as Christians become intimately knowledgeable of the doctrine upon which we stand? I argue we should be. If I was to use a successful example, I would point to Paul. Detailed knowledge of the Torah was a critical part of his ministry. He was well-educated and knew the opposing point of view of his intellectual, religious peers better than most scholars of the day. Second, the Christian commenters on astrophysicist’s blog mainly used Scripture to prove their statements. I’m not sure arguing scripture with a non believer is productive. After all, the author dedicated his whole blog site to discrediting the Bible; therefore, any “proof” was already invalid in his mind. I would submit if we only use the Bible to argue against someone else’s belief, we’ve already failed the debate.

Scripture is a great thing. I’m not trying to dismiss its importance; however, the core of our beliefs should be based on our relationship with God instead of doctrine. If I had spoken to the writer, I might have provided a personal testimony about my relationship with Jesus and how that has radically transformed my life. I would have told him about the debilitating anxiety disorder that controlled me and generations of my family; but Jesus freed me from that lifelong struggle in a moment of prayer. It is likely the writer would have dismissed such testimony because he didn’t experience my personal transformation for himself, but at least the discussion might have disarmed his defensive stance and the scientifically-based, intellectual argument which he is clearly better equipped to make than I. At this point, after such a vile, out-of-control thread on his blog, I don’t plan to leave a comment. Any well-meaning thought would probably not be well received at this point anyway.

I realized before leaving the blog site, I found myself frustrated with the overall discussion. We as Christians should be prepared for discussions with other people we encounter. People who don’t believe what we believe are going to have different views and values about things we hold as core truths. We shouldn’t be shocked by this fact, and we should be careful not to feed and validate a negative stereotype they may already have about Christianity. Once we validate a negative stereotype, the doorway to discussion with the other person shuts — sometimes permanently. We impact people we interact with whether we think we do or not.

We should also remember not everyone feels what we feel. If you’ve never experienced a relationship with God, you don’t know you’re missing anything. There’s nothing to which the feeling can be compared. Trying to argue with someone who doesn’t know God about faith is a bit like encountering someone who speaks a different language and speaking more loudly in a futile attempt to make the other person understand. This is a silly example that I borrowed from a friend, but he’s right. It just doesn’t work that way.

All that said, it is important to remember it is not our job to change someone’s heart. Only God can do that (Matthew 13). We are simply called to bear witness to the truth of change in our own lives and represent Him well. Be gracious, quick to forgive and always willing to listen before attempting to argue a point of view. The way I see it, God is certainly more capable than I when it comes to defending Him. He doesn’t need my help.

Lasting Happiness

Earlier this week, a friend shared an article with me about maintaining lasting happiness. Since my friend thought the article was useful, I agreed to read it. After all, we can all benefit from learning positive techniques to better ourselves, right?

smilesAccording to the article, psychological studies over the past several years have consistently shown many of us are dissatisfied with our lives and depressed due to daily pressures, stressful life circumstances, money concerns or family strife. The article’s author followed the analysis by giving several suggestions on how to maintain happiness: act happy even if you don’t feel it, indulge more frequently in pampering yourself and focus on the things you have and not on the things you don’t.

An Analysis

The article, although well-meaning, seems to provide little comfort for anyone who has suffered with long-term situational depression or difficult moments in life. I know, at least for me, the solutions the author suggested to maintain happiness rarely ever equal anything lasting. However, I will concede to the fact that feelings associated with experiencing happiness can temporarily relieve mental anguish. I also agree there are benefits to filling our lives with encouraging people and things that reinforce positivity and improve our general sense of wellbeing. But if happiness is temporary, what is long lasting?

Why the Difference between Happiness and Joy Matters

As a follower of Christ, I have learned over the years that happiness is a byproduct of joy and a renewed mind, meaning happiness is a product of what resides in the deepest recesses of our hearts (Romans 12:2). I may seem too picky about separating the terms “happiness” and “joy” which most people swap out interchangeably; however, these terms are starkly different from each other. It’s important to recognize and discuss these differences within Christian circles as well as with non-believing friends to discover lasting fulfillment in our lives.

Like anything we choose to make a primary focus in life, “happiness” can become an idol, which, like a spoiled, needy child, constantly demands attention. I believe this is why so many people who seek permanent happiness outside of spiritual fulfillment in Christ never find it. Life happens. Things go wrong. We experience great sorrows. Suddenly, happiness becomes non-existent.

Just as happiness is a byproduct of joy, joy is a byproduct of the One who lives within me. It is not dependent on my circumstances or emotions of the moment. I have joy so that I may bless others and wear it as a living testament of a life changed by the love, mercy and grace of Jesus. It is my identity in Christ, and when I use the gift of joy to bless others, I find the true meaning of long-lasting joy and fulfilling happiness.

When I use the gift of joy to bless others, I find the true meaning of long-lasting joy and fulfilling happiness.

Personal Lessons Learned

A couple of years ago, I experienced several painful sorrows. Those hard moments defined the weakest and most human aspects of my life. During that time, I forgot my identity. Although my happiness was completely gone for several long weeks and months, I never truly lost my joy and hope in Christ for a new day just beyond the dark clouds.

It is likely many of us have faced or will face hard times at least once in our lives. If you are struggling to find joy in your circumstances, you are not alone. Keep going. There is hope just beyond your clouds of sorrow.

Peace, love and joy to you, dear readers.
The In-Place Missionary

A Respecter of All People

As a Christ follower in the Western World, I amfriends talking regularly reminded Christianity is not the only faith around me. I know people who are Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and some who are nothing at all. I also have friends who are Universalists. In case you are wondering what a Universalist believes, in some religious Universalist circles “religion is a universal human quality, emphasizing the universal principles of most religions and accepting other religions in an inclusive manner, believing in a universal reconciliation between humanity and the divine.” (Wikipedia)

Society frequently demands for me to accept all other faiths and religions as equal to mine. I’m told I’m not loving people if I don’t share the belief of the equality of other faiths, but this is not something I can do. I base this stance on Jesus’s own words: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) In many ways, I feel if I accept all faiths as equal, I’m stating Christ died for some people but not for all. But I believe He died for everyone. For me to deny the importance of His death and resurrection would be a betrayal of confidence in His promise. If I trust Him, I must believe Him.

“If I trust Him, I must believe Him.”

Now, I’m not suggesting at all that my disagreements with the idea of religious equality gives me the free license to bash others or their beliefs. In fact, such behavior is abhorrent because it is not the heart of Christ to behave this way. I base this belief on the teachings of Paul in his writings to the church in Corinth which states: “Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14) and in Galatians 5:22 which states: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” How else do I share the love of Christ with others who do not know Him if I never wear His nature as my mantel?

How do we walk the fine line of sharing the love of Christ with others and offending them? This is a hard and careful line to walk on some occasions. It is important to be a respecter of all people even when we disagree when it comes to beliefs. I believe sharing the love of Christ with others is so much more than witnessing. Love people. Do good and be patient with others. Show compassion and mercy. Exhibit the qualities of Christ. Be a reason for others to see Christ in you so much that people feel the words that Christ spoke about Himself when they look at you: “If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14:7)

What Divides Us is not as Powerful as What Unites Us

The body of Christ is going through a “division crisis.” I call it thepraying_on_bible_red “Sneetches on the Beaches Affect” after the Dr. Suess story about creatures called Sneetches who divide themselves into groups based on who has stars on their bellies and who does not. As a friend likes to remind me, if we continue to divide ourselves into smaller and smaller groups over things that make us different from our neighbors, eventually we will find ourselves alone. There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement because we will likely never completely agree all the time on every issue.

Why do I bring this issue up?

In our culture, it is easy to define ourselves by all sorts of things. We like our niches — customizable digital radio stations, anyone? We like being comfortable around others who talk like us, look like us and sound like us. This seems especially true within the body of Christ. Did you know there are approximately 30,000 Christian denominations? That number is staggering, especially since Jesus and Paul were extremely concerned about unity within the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:12-13; 3:4).

Why are we so divided?

It seems we divide ourselves over just about anything within the body of Christ (Church): traditional vs. contemporary, style of music, formality of clothing, instruments used, preaching style, church adornment, rituals and sacraments and all sorts of other things (In case you’re interested, I’ve also written about this topic from a different perspective in a previous article: “Unity“). However, one topic seems to divide more sharply and cut more deeply than most issues within the Church — social issues and politics.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I think social and political issues are important; but no matter how important these problems/differences are, they distract from the message of Christ. Before we separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters, shouldn’t we consider the impact of such a divide on our non-beliving family, friends and neighbors? Perhaps, our judgmental, unforgiving reputation is well deserved when we allow ourselves to become a disorganized bunch of hypocrites who backbite each other and point out each other’s flaws in a merciless manner. I recognize not everyone fits into this generalization, and there are lot of truly wonderful Christian people around the world. However, based on some fairly common sterotypes I see in the media and society in general about Christianity, I’m standing firm on my view about how we are perceived by many non-Christians. Let’s change that view.

And before it is suggested, I’m not insinuating we should ignore sin. I’m simply suggesting we change our primary focus to be more Christ-centered above all else. If we, the body of Christ, modeled ourselves after Jesus, would society see us differently? Would they see us as less judgmental and feel like they wanted to be part of the Church if we were more unified, less divisive and more welcoming to non-Christians than we are currently?

Christ is Our Model

Jesus’s primary mission on earth was to demonstrate the depth of the love of the Father and to provide the ultimate sacrifice to cover our sins by dying on the cross. He also healed the sick, set free the oppressed and cast out demons. Everything He said and did was rooted in love. He showed mercy instead of judgment. He released grace upon people who didn’t deserve it. Shouldn’t we strive to do the same even if we disagree with our neighbors?

Our Challenge

The challenge to those of us who claim to follow Christ is simple: love without conditions. Welcome others with open arms. Stop being shocked by the actions of people who don’t know Christ — of course they won’t align with all of your values — love them anyway. Throw aside pride and disagreements within the Church. Be the difference. Be a person of substance and character. Watch the world change around you one person at a time as they see the truth of Christ in your life.

Why Does God Allow the Innocent to Suffer?

Introduction

When I watch the news and read persecution stories, I’m bombarded with images of injustice and pain around the world. I likely don’t have to convince you evil exists because we see it all around us, but why? If God is real and He is always good, why do bad things happen? Why does God allow the innocent to suffer and injustice to reign?Staring out the window

As I thought about this topic, I was reminded it is deeply personal and based on experiences. I want to be sensitive to your experiences and not be flippant or over simplify this discussion. I don’t have all of the answers, but here are some thoughts I hope will bring you comfort.

The Debate

If God exists, did He create evil? After all, He created everything, right? This question frequently surfaces in discussions about God and why some people believe a basic flaw exists in the Christian faith. Although this question seems to bring attention to a paradox, I believe it can be answered. My thoughts: God didn’t create evil. Evil and our imperfect world result from our poor choices and a fallen world. I realize this is a highly controversial statement, but let me explain.

In the story of Adam and Eve, we learn God created mankind in His image and gave them the option to maintain a perfect existence without suffering or death; however, He also gave mankind free will. Free will means we have the ability to choose between right and wrong. Just as we can choose love, peace, joy, patience, kindness and other good things, we can choose the opposite. We can choose to reject. We can choose to hate. We can choose to do the unspeakable: destroy, murder and hurt others. Free will exists in full range of good and bad choices from the seemingly insignificant to the most extreme; and there are consequences that result from every decision we make.

In discussions I’ve had with others, I’ve been asked the question, “Why would God even give us the ability to do bad things? Why not just make us perfect?” This idea sounds great on the surface, but would we really be free to be who we are? Would God truly have created us to have a loving relationship with Him if we were forced to love Him back or to make the right choice? Would we be robots? It seems our free will is deeply interwoven with our humanity and who we are individually.
One of my friends likes to use a wonderful analogy about free will. When you choose to have a relationship with another person; but they don’t want to love you back, it is his or her choice to leave. No matter how painful it is to let the person go, if you really love your significant other, you let them go — even if that means your beloved ends up with someone else. You wouldn’t force him or her to stay because you want that person to love you. If you imagine why God gave us free will in this analogy, it seems we were created out of absolute love: given the ability to completely reject the One who created us even as He knew it would cause Him tremendous pain to watch us walk away.

Life and Our Freedom to Choose

Yes, terror and tragedy at the hands of another are terrible things. We are never promised life will be easy; many times it isn’t. We are only promised He will walk alongside us, sharing our burdens and our sorrows; and we know this life isn’t the end of the story. Evil reigns temporarily, but it doesn’t have the final say. Also, we may have no ability to change what others have done to hurt us; but we have free will to make our own decisions about how we will affect others. If you feel paralyzed by the immensity of suffering in this world, remember Jesus’s example. Be the difference. Do what is right. Show mercy and love even when it is hard. Pray. Always do your best to choose to what is right.

The Striking Beauty of Mature Christianity ~ SoS Saturday

This writer has a wonderful sense of humor about Solomon’s descriptions of beauty. This blog post is such a fun read!

Another Red Letter Day

Many Waters - SoS header

So ladies – you just spent the last hour and a half getting ready to head out on a date with your honey, and when he feasts his eyes on you the first words out of his mouth are:

Your hair reminds me of a herd of goats.

But that’s where the Shepherd King goes with our maiden, and not for the first time. As I mentioned last week, these same declarations of her beauty (yes – goat hair is beautiful – you’ll see) are a repeat from Chapter 4, then in anticipation, now in realization.

Your hair is like a flock of goats
That have descended from Gilead.

Song of Songs 6:5 NASB

Hair

What is the Lord saying of His bride?

Long flowing hair speaks of dedication or devotion. We gather this from both Old and New Testament. In the Old we read of the Nazarites who…

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The Plan of Happiness: And why it isn’t always happy

I love the thoughtful posts of this blog writer! This particular post is such a wonderful reminder during times when happiness seems elusive.

all our lemmony things

The Plan of Happiness.

I thought over this phrase as I listened to the heart monitor beside me, beeping with each rise and fall of my chest. My eyes were pinned to the ceiling and the pain medication turned the tiles a sickly green.

Ha.

Sometimes the plan is anything but.

That day–just a few days ago–I spent the day pinned to an I.V., waiting to hear the diagnosis that my Endometriosis is getting worse *hence, more painful* and surgery is the only option if I ever want to live a pain-free life or have a chance at children. I laid there wondering, why in Heaven’s name do we call the Plan of Salvation the Plan of Happiness? How is that synonymous whatsoever? Because goodness gracious! Life has its moments. Some of those moments extend to weeks or months or years. Some of those moments just don’t…

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My Strong and Mighty Tower

If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you know my husband and I have seen our fair share of struggles over the past eight years; however, we’re probably not that different from you or someone you know. Let’s face it — sometimes life is hard. When we face difficult times, we have two choices. We can choose to give up and walk away from God, or choose to rely on Him for strength and believe the struggles do not define us, claim us, nor are they the end of the story.Lighthouse

As our family is facing another scary life situation, I am humbly reminded that I am not in control. Although anxiety no longer plagues me, I am still awake to visceral pain and anger I feel. I must acknowledge these feelings if I am honest with myself and others around me. It would be a lie to say I don’t battle myself and my humanity when facing problems; however, these emotions cannot be allowed to control me. The One who has control gives hope, and I’m called to remain hopeful and place all my cares upon Him.

Some people have suggested we should “give up and curse God” like Job’s wife once suggested to her husband because of all the struggles we’ve seen in our marriage, but why would I do that? God has always been faithful to deliver my husband and me from prior situations and has even positioned us mentally, physically, and circumstantially better than before the trouble started. Why would He change His promise now? The Bible promises His faithfulness is unwavering even though our lives shift like the sands with the tide, and my life can testify to this truth. He is my rock, my firm foundation, and my strong and mighty tower, shielding me from the storm. I am not promised a life without struggle, only that He will be there along the way to protect my heart, mind, and soul.

I have been asked before, “How can you believe in a God who is supposedly good who allows suffering, pain, and evil in this world?” My response is simple: He gives us free will, and the struggles we face are not the end of the story. As promised in Scripture, great suffering is equivalent to great blessings. Also, encouragement, love, and mercy are stronger than ever in the face of adversity. How many terrible events have you witnessed personally or seen in the news only to have stories of heroism, compassion, and love overshadow the negative outcome? Good will always prevail, and God is always for His people. Our personal testimonies of enduring and overcoming situations break the shackles that bind other people who are going through the same struggles. Our testimonies are hope and freedom.

Although the evil forces likely delight in causing or participating in the chaos that surrounds my husband and me, they cannot possibly fathom the depth of immeasurable goodness that has resulted with each trial. Our marriage is stronger than ever because God is at the center and binds us tightly together. Our personal fortitude endures because He sustains our strength. Our foundations cannot be shaken even as our lives shatter around us because He is steadfast and stable. If at the end of the day, all we have is the almighty God, we have all we could ever need.

If you find yourself in a rough situation in life, remember: rejoice in the testimony God will give you to bring hope to others around you! Your struggle is not the end of the story, and God will never let you see the battle withut first giving you the victory.