Are you ready?

Are you ready

It’s cool outside with a somewhat eerie whistling wind. Gas stations have their prices zeroed out signifying no more fuel. Store shelves are emptier than the church parking lot at midnight. It’s pandemonium during the day, then a silence descends at night.

Everything echoes: “The storm is coming.”

*     *     *

The United States is in chaos from natural disasters.

The Pacific northwest is literally going up in flames.

Houston is buried underwater from Harvey.

Idaho is being jarred by earthquake after earthquake.

Irma is tearing up the Caribbean and barreling towards Florida as I write this.

Such devastation, and such a paradox that the water the West desperately needs is the very commodity drowning the East.

Over and over, the cry has been repeated in my state this week: Are you ready? GET READY! Be overprepared rather than underprepared!

*     *     *

You never expect it to be you living in a disaster zone. But when things like the events of the past weeks pile up…and there is a storm reported to be the strongest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history…eventually you start thinking about what could very soon become your reality.

Even if only for a moment, some part of you wonders if this time next week, your life will be completely different. If maybe soon is the last time you’ll see someone. If perhaps next Wednesday it will be your church that is flooded, like the ones in Houston that members from your church just went to help. You wonder if the palm trees lining the roadway will soon be blocking it, or if the beautiful big trees on your college campus will be torn apart and leafless when you return.

And when your Bible reading plan brings you to the ending chapters of Matthew, specifically chapter 24, describing the last days…you wonder if Jesus’ return is much closer than you would’ve imagined even a month ago.

As I’ve been writing about here, God has really been driving home the reality of eternity for me this year. And here was my thought as I read His Word and contemplated the chaos across my nation: Am I ready for eternity? Am I ready for the day that will be so unexpected–the day when Christ will come like a thief in the night?

Something one of my classmates in my public speaking class said today hit me. In the opening of his speech, he asked, “How many of you are kinda scared about the upcoming hurricane?” Many of us raised our hands. The next question he asked was like flipping a switch. “But are you really scared of the hurricane, or is it more that you’re scared of the uncertainty of it?” Every single person in that room agreed that it was the uncertainty that was most frightening. Because quite frankly, despite all the talented folks at NOAA, and despite all the technology we have to predict where this storm is going and what it’ll do, we don’t really know for sure. We can’t know for sure.

How do you prepare for something when you don’t know the details of how or when it’s going to happen?

You follow the instructions given. You follow the wisdom of those who have gone before you. And you prepare for all possible scenarios, rather than trying to bet on one “most likely case.”

In short, you don’t try to figure it out. You go off of the information you are given. The good news is, God has given us all we need to prepare. It’s up to us to apply His Word and do the preparing. But more than just preparing one time, we need to be prepared at all times. Hurricane kits in Florida need updating and refilling at least once a year. Our lives need spiritual checkups, too.

And so as I am asking myself today, I also ask you: Are you ready? Not just for what life here on earth is about to be like, but for eternity. Because we do not know the day that we will suddenly be thrust into eternity.

If you’re not ready, won’t you make time to change that? To ask God to help you see what needs to change in your life, and for the power to help you change it?

Coming home

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Coming home.

At the end of a vacation or trip away to camp, you’re supposed to feel satisfied, like you had a wonderful time but are ready to come home. Coming home is supposed to feel like bringing your heart back to where it belongs. It’s supposed to be the comforting return to normal life, normal routines.

But what about when your heart and life doesn’t match up with what is “supposed to be”?

What about when your reality is messier than that?

*    *     *

The last few days in the Netherlands were hard. My return flight was looming and everything in me was crying out “I’m not ready to leave yet!” Of course I missed my family, and wanted to see my church again, but I didn’t want what I’d had to end.

So in a way, I didn’t want to come home.

(“Is it even coming home at this point? Can I have two homes? Because this feels like home.”)

And now that I’m back, I feel like I’m stuck with half my heart on another continent and my head in the clouds dreaming of the future (“bigger and better” than my everyday?).

It feels like a betrayal to my homeland and my family and friends to say that I didn’t want to come home. It feels like mixed allegiances, like sitting on the middle of a rope in tug-of-war.

It wasn’t so much a culture shock either way, at least not in big ways. It’s not like I’m returning from spending the summer in Nicaragua or Uganda. But if you spend enough time living “normal life” in another culture, and loving people there, it starts to become home. And for good reason–it’d be hard to have much of an impact on yourself or others if you spent the whole time in another place comparing it to your home and trying not to get attached. “If you do this right, you’re going to go home different,” David Boyd told me. “You might not be able to put your finger on it, but you will be different and you will notice and others will notice.”

He was right. I noticed.

This is how I know this summer changed my life: I’ve come home and home is largely the same (though I’m positive my siblings each grew half a foot while I was gone, and they changed the hand dryers in the bathrooms at the mall), but the way I see it is different. 

I came home and I still remember how to get around, I still remember how to do 98% of things at work correctly, I can still “do” normal life…

But I see things differently.

Something about me has changed as a result of my time away this summer. I had the chance to step outside of my normal, and live a different kind of normal for a while. I guess living out of a suitcase and a backpack on another continent for five weeks gives you a mental, as well as physical, separation from all the stuff back home. The material stuff, the stress stuff, and everything that keeps you in the rut of routine. Everything that keeps you busy and keeps you running on autopilot. Being approximately 4,595 miles away from everything you’ve ever known gives you the chance to step back and see things “zoomed out”–see things from the perspective of the sky above, rather than down in the trenches.

As you may have noticed, this summer I have gained the perspective of eternity. And that changes things. When you catch a glimpse of eternity, when you witness how God is working in every corner of the world, when you are able to step away from all the things that cloud your focus…you reevaluate things. You make changes in your life. You have to, because now that you have seen, you can’t unsee. And the seeing compels you to action.

Because God is real and He is waiting in eternity for us, we realize this life is, comparatively, a lesser reality and very short. But rather than taking that to mean what we do here doesn’t matter, we recognize that it matters infinitely more than the weight we often give it. Simultaneously, the things of normal life matter so much less and yet so much more than we thought. The choices we make and how we spend our time matters, but we don’t have to get caught up in the petty cares and the ruts of everyday life.

*     *     *

I guess I was warned that coming home would be a challenge, but I had no idea what that would look like. I had no idea that the battle would be in going back to normal schedules and normal jobs, when I had tasted and seen a different life. I didn’t expect the struggle of contentment with where God has me in this stage of my life. Because the reality is, I can’t go back to stay. Not right now. And I know that. I know that, and it’s hard to accept. It’s hard to let those five weeks that I had be enough.

I know I am meant to be here now–in this church, with this living situation, going to this college (although I still find it hard to believe sometimes, I can’t deny that it’s His plan). So I know God has a purpose for me here. Where I am right now is exactly where He wants me to be, and He is the same God here as He was when I was away this summer. That means I can take this perspective of eternity and come home. That house with the twisty spiral staircase and the family with three boys who became like my little brothers can still be home. And I can come home a different person, missing people on the other side of a big, big ocean. But just as He was with me in the going, He is with me in the return.

After all, isn’t this what eternity is about? Coming home. Coming home to be with Him and His people, forever.

At the edge of eternity

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This past week in the Netherlands I was a guest member of the teen Bible camp run by the missionaries. It was a mentally and physically tiring week, but it was so worth it to get to be with these incredible teens and staff members.

Thursday night we ended with a campfire song and testimony service. It was a beautiful time of reflection together, and was also a sobering time as everyone considered the situations they would be walking back into the next day. But for one night more, these teens were surrounded by people who loved and supported them and encouraged them to walk closer with God. For one night more they were challenged to make their short lives here on earth count.

Friday morning after one last breakfast, everyone gathered together for the final quiet time. We finished Romans 13:

“…Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” (Romans 13:11-12)

Together we sang “Er is een dag” (there is a day) with hearts simultaneously rejoicing and longing for that day to come, when we will step into the other side of eternity and see His face. A day when there will be no more difficulties, no more loneliness, no more tears, no more pain. A day when we will be surrounded by the children of God worshiping Him together.

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20)

Soon we will see Him
And forever be like Him
And know Jesus as He is, amen!
No more tears, no more pain
Because we will live with Him
In His nearness, forever.
Amen, amen!

(translation is mine, so forgive any errors and approximations)

It was a beautiful week. It was not always what I expected, and it certainly wasn’t easy. Long days with constant Dutch tended to fry my brain as well as leave me physically tired. Sometimes Dutch would be a breeze, and other times I could barely put together a sentence, or someone would have to repeat a simple sentence three times before I could understand. It wasn’t immediately easy to interact with the teens or join their conversations–I had to go out of my way to start them. And understanding the instructions for the games was always a struggle. But what an outstanding week. I had the incredible opportunity to love these teens and staff and be a part of their lives for 7 special days, as well as to learn and grow, myself.

Thursday night as I was up late laughing with the teens and failing miserably at a card game for the tenth or so time, yet somehow managing Dutch quite well for 1 a.m., I realized that this was a place I felt like I belonged. They made me feel like I belonged. And I can’t even tell you how many people asked if I would come back next year or if I would move there. As I sat on the floor outside my cabin’s room processing the week I wrote these words…

I found my gal. I knew it was her when I first talked to her one-on-one earlier this week and she told me she was not so good with English. I knew she was the one I’d been praying for, the one I’d been expecting before this week even began.

And I held her in a hug tonight after the campfire service while tears slid down her face and she forced out barely intelligible words in Dutch. And when she was finished speaking, I was able to tell her in her own language, “You know what? I was learning Dutch before I even knew I would come here. And I stuck with it, even though almost everyone thought it was crazy. People told me ‘everyone there speaks English and no one anywhere else speaks Dutch, so learning that language is useless.’ And that made me a bit frustrated. You know what I told them? I said that if there was only one person who didn’t in fact speak English, it would be worth it to learn Dutch. I hadn’t met that person yet. I didn’t know if I would or not. But something made me keep learning anyway. And now I’m here. Now I’m here and maybe you were that person God had me learn Dutch for all along. Just so I could come all the way from Florida and speak in Dutch with you here and tell you how much Jesus loves you no matter what.”

“Heel mooi,” she breathed. “Voor mij? Echt?”

Yes, very beautiful.

This crazy kind of love, that God would choose to send His own Son for us. And that he would have a Florida girl learn a “small, unimportant” language for three years before sending her to a small camp in a small country to speak with a small girl.

It’s so…not huge and yet unbelievably wonderful at the same time. It wasn’t a dramatic conversion story. Just a girl who needed a hug and some comfort, and she wanted to hear it from me.

This is missions, I think. I think of Katie Davis in Africa. You can’t change the world for everyone, and in fact, not even for one person. God does that. But you can be there. And you can love them. And in “foreign missions”? You can learn to love their country, their language, their ways–you can learn to eat without using a napkin, and eat all kinds of stuff on bread. You can learn to speak your mind in a very frank and honest way. You can learn to be one of them. And you can love them. I think that is my greatest takeaway from this week–LOVE THEM with all that you have and are, in the best way you can, and in whatever opportunities God gives you. I can see that Daniel loves them so, so much. I’ve watched as he speaks and his heart breaks over them. I’ve listened as he prays and asks God to open their eyes and their hearts. And he enjoys being with them. He is there for them. And he speaks truth to them.

And this is THE mission.

How beautiful indeed. How very worth it all. Worth every speck and drop of life I have to give. Wherever I am. Whenever I am there. For the King who holds the whole world and yet also holds my redeemed heart. 


 

This is what it is like to catch a realization of eternity:

The long long long rope of which you can see only one end. A bit of tape on that visible end that represents life on earth. So much contained in eternity, and compared to that, life here is so…short.

This is what it is like to see a glimpse of eternity:

“Small” moments that are utterly life-changing. Moments you wish would go on forever in their simple existence. Singing softly around a campfire, grateful words spoken, tears dribbling on the dusty ground. Tissues passed around. Togetherness. Moments of silence. Love that is so real, so tangible, you feel you could reach out and grab hold of it.

This is what it is like to stand at the edge of eternity:

To realize that Jesus is coming and He is coming soon. To read with awe and wonder about the moment when He will take us up to be with Him, and to close your eyes to better envision the streets of gold and gates of gems. But most of all to savor the thought of one day seeing His face.

This is what it is like to live in the hope of eternity:

Knowing there will be a day…a day when the end of life as we know it shall come, and all the sorrow and the pain and devastation and striving of this life shall come to a close. To sing with joy and longing about the day we will see Him and know Him the way we were always meant to know Him. To rejoice in the parting, knowing we will see each other again in heaven, if nowhere else on this earth.

We walk. With certainty of knowing the Eternal One is with us every moment.

We sing. With the joy of this eternal hope.

We stand. With eyes gazing upward, fixed on the edge of eternity.

More real to me

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One of the most pressing questions we often have about things in life is Is it real? When we are scared, we want to know if the threat is real. When we are presented with a new idea or a crazy sounding story, we demand to see the evidence before we will believe it is real. When we are awed, we cry in wonder, “Is it real? How can this be?”

When we first decide to put our hope and trust in God for our salvation, we are reckoning on the fact that it is real. We have heard the good news, asked “how can this be” and probably requested some reasoning or evidence for this incredible truth. At the moment we choose to take His offer of life and give Him ourselves, we must trust with every fiber of our being that He is real and so is the salvation He offers. And so, every true Christian, at the very least at this one point in his life, has seen and been convinced that what he cannot see is nevertheless very much reality.

And yet, the plague of forgetfulness reaches us all. We are so used to having our senses assaulted with the reality of this physical world that the absence of such a clear picture of the spiritual world leaves us blind to it. And so, “for millions of Christians, nevertheless, God is no more real than He is to the non-Christian. They go through life trying to love an ideal and be loyal to a mere principle” (this and all quotes from A.W. Tozer).

Reality is “that which has existence apart from any idea any mind may have of it.” It is something that exists, and is going to exist in such a way no matter what you think of it.

The sincere plain man knows that the world is real. He finds it here when he wakes into consciousness, and he knows that he did not think it into being. It was here waiting for him when he came, and he knows that when he prepares to leave this earthly scene it will be here still to bid him good-bye as he departs. By the deep wisdom of life he is wiser than a thousand men who doubt. He stands upon the earth and feels the wind and rain in his face and knows that they are real. He sees the sun by day and the stars by night. He sees the hot lightning play out of the dark thundercloud. He hears the sounds of nature and the cries of human joy and pain. These he knows are real. He lies down on the cool earth at night and has no fear that it will prove illusory or fail him while he sleeps. In the morning the firm ground will be under him, the blue sky above him and the rocks and trees around him as when he closed his eyes the night before. So he lives and rejoices in a world of reality. — A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Clearly, the earth is real, but though we cannot see Him, God is also real. He exists whether we realize it or not. We know this earth is real because we can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell it. But God, and the spiritual world…we cannot use our physical senses to assure ourselves of its reality. This is why we must have faith (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is not our way of imagining the spiritual world, or hoping that it is real. It is the trust we must exercise to live knowing it is real. “Imagination projects unreal images out of the mind and seeks to attach reality to them. Faith creates nothing; it simply reckons upon that which is already there.”

And so, if we know that God is real, and, in fact, far more permanently real than that which surrounds us on earth, this calls for a seismic shift in our focus.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:18

Now, God didn’t create this world to be ignored. We aren’t to go to the extreme of staying inside meditating all the time. The world is where we carry out our lives and how we learn to walk out our faith. But we shouldn’t be living as if this world is all there is. As if this was the goal and end of the story.

If we really, truly understood the reality of what is unseen and how it impacts our lives, wouldn’t we live differently? Wouldn’t we be quicker to let petty squabbles go? Wouldn’t we be more careful not to get caught up in the stress of our to-do lists of things that aren’t going to matter in a few weeks or months? Wouldn’t we choose to spend more of our time pouring into people with eternal souls, and less of it on mindless entertainment?

But more than just how we spend our time, wouldn’t we see God differently? Wouldn’t we be more in awe of Him? Wouldn’t we seek Him as best as we could? Wouldn’t we recognize the war being waged all around us and join the battle with our prayers?

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I think a crucial thing Tozer points out in this chapter of his book is that this “other world” is not in the future. We may not be living in heaven yet, but the reality of it is here and now. And when we do not have the spiritual eyes to see or ears to hear the unseen world around us, we must ask God to give us the faith to know.

I’m in the Netherlands this month, at long last. And I’ve been praying that God will show Himself more and more real to me. This past Wednesday night, at prayer meeting with a few members of the church here, I prayed in Dutch for the first time. My sentences were simple and my voice hesitating, and sometimes I couldn’t find the word I needed so I had to pause. But it left me with a sense of wonder, that I, an American girl thousands of miles from home, could be sitting here on that Wednesday evening praying in another language with God’s people in this corner of the world. And He could understand me just the same. And He was with me just the same.

In that moment, heaven was indeed more real to me than any earthly thing surrounding me. I pray that as I continue to seek God and walk in faith, my “heavenly vision” will sharpen and I will see Him before me each step of the way.

Intentional rest

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A lot’s been going on in my life as of late. (Since that last post, I’ve become a shift leader at Chick-fil-A as well…as you can probably imagine, this adds a fair amount of craziness.) But is that really anything new? Often there’s so much going on that I forget all about resting. Or at least, I forget that it’s important and necessary. Rest? Isn’t that just laziness? I’m too busy to rest anyway. I’ll rest later.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I tell myself I’m going to do something “later”…it’s a long time before it happens, if it even happens at all. But a funny thing happens when I don’t rest: I hit a point in the day or week where I’m just not being productive anymore. I’ve told myself I don’t have time to rest, so I go go go until I burn out. Then instead of doing actual restful things, I crash and end up scrolling endlessly (and mindlessly) through Facebook or following link trails through the internet, meanwhile feeling like I should be doing this, that, or the other thing. And an hour or two later when I emerge from this mind-numbing state, I feel like I’ve wasted time. And you know what? I have. Because I don’t actually feel rested. Therefore, my brain equates “things that are not to-dos” as bad/not helpful, which includes rest.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Several things.

First, I need to realize that I need rest. Rest isn’t for the weak or the lazy. Rest is actually commanded by God (Exodus 34:21). During Jesus’ ministry, while His disciples were busy coming and going everywhere, He told them to come and rest a while (Mark 6:31). Jesus Himself promised to give rest to weary souls who come to Him (Matthew 11:28-30).

Rest is important because we have limits on our bodies. Rest is the way of restoring ourselves. Just as sleep is important for physical rest, we need to rest ourselves emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. There is no such thing as too busy to rest. If you absolutely cannot set aside time to rest and recharge, you are too busy. This is something I’ve had to learn time and time again because my natural tendency is to fill up every second of every day, to be non-stop full speed ahead. Certainly, it’s good to not be sitting around bored or useless. But as soon as all of those things become immovable and unable to be paused, there is too much on my plate and some things have to go.

After realizing I need rest–really letting that sink in and change my schedule–I need to recognize what counts as rest. Remember earlier when I said scrolling through Facebook doesn’t count as rest? It may have been giving my brain a mental break, but it wasn’t beneficial to me in any way. Now, I’m not saying reading your social media newsfeeds are all bad. But using it as your go-to form of “rest and relaxation” isn’t helpful to you.

Activities that help you rest vary from person to person, but the principle is the same. Resting activities should help you change gears, relax, and refresh. They should build you up, restore your energy, and leave you calm. For example, if you’ve been straining your brain at some math problems for the past hour and a half and you’re so frustrated you are getting worse instead of better at solving the problems, you need a mental rest. Time to check out and watch a TV show, right? Um…no. Use the principle of changing gears and do something physical. Take a walk, ride your bike, shoot some hoops. Whatever it is should be something you enjoy that uses your body rather than your brain. Doesn’t this use energy? Absolutely, but it uses a different kind. This helps you rest by refocusing, by taking a break from what was taxing you and doing something else that helps you.

Maybe you’ve had a long hard day at work, on your feet hauling boxes around, climbing ladders, and contorting into strange positions to try to reach things (heh…me on Saturdays at work, stocking, because I’m short). When you get home, the last thing you’re going to want to do is anything involving muscle movement. That big squishy chair is calling your name. Surely now is the time to catch up on your favorite comic, right? Not so fast! When your body is tired, try using your brain. I’m not saying you have to tackle that chemistry homework the second you walk through the door. You’re resting, remember? But now might be a good time to read a chapter or two of a good book. I’m slowly working through G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. It’s a non-fiction book, best read a little at a time. It makes me think, but it’s still relaxing to read.

Getting the picture? Rest is something you do intentionally. It doesn’t happen accidentally. You have to deliberately choose to do it. It’s not something huge and complicated, and it’s not supposed to be exhausting. You just have to pick an activity that is beneficial to restoring whatever “tank” is running on empty at that moment. Also, not all your free time has to be resting time. You can still watch that TV show or read that novel. Just don’t confuse it with rest.

Finally, consider when to rest. God gave His people one whole day a week to rest. Obviously that’s a pretty big amount of time. Our world doesn’t always work that way now, unfortunately, but we can still use this as a guideline. I try not to deal with school stuff on the weekends, since those are filled with work and church events. During the weekdays, I try to give myself time to rest on days I work, and get school and most of the to-do list items done on the other days. But sometimes rest doesn’t always work out to be planned. Sometimes you need to listen to your body and do a check-up on your mind and see what it is you need at that point. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re stressed and frustrated and aren’t making any more progress on whatever the project is, you need a break. Aren’t sure? Ask God. He knows you better than you know yourself. And if rest isn’t convenient for you at that moment, or you feel like you’re too busy? Trust Him. If He commands us to rest, it’s for good reason, and we need to trust that He will work things out.

I’m speaking to myself, here. Resting at the right times and resting well is something I struggle with. Realizing that it needs to be done intentionally or it won’t get done at all is one of the most important things I’ve learned about rest in the past year. The other most important thing I’m learning is that my rest ultimately comes from God, and all the other methods are secondary to the rest from His Word. Neglecting my daily time with Him in the Bible is a sure-fire way to ensure resting is going to be a struggle for the rest of that day and week.

This week, I am working on recognizing when I need rest and trying to make wise choices about what that rest should look like.

What about you? Why is rest important to you, and how do you do it?

2016, the year of peace

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I’m one of those people who enjoys looking back. I like remembering, and tracing the pieces and how they connect. I remember how I felt and what I was crying out to God about at various points in time. And most of all, I love seeing how He grew and changed me, how His hand was working in all the unknowns and uncertainties in my life.

This year, like every year, has been challenging. In many ways, I had to become an adult this year. It was an adventure, all right. Everything from driving to finances to dealing with relationships to college happened, and a lot of it was very overwhelming and stressful. So, so much was uncertain. There was a lack of stability in the things I had always found to be stable before.

But in the midst of all the chaos and the decisions to be made, I found my security and stability in the One who is unchanging. And somehow, in spite of all swirling around me, I found this incredible peace.

I’ve talked about peace here before. But this time I want to go into more personal detail. I want to share some of the many things I’ve walked through this year and show how God has been present through it all.

In January, I began my college adventure through College Plus (now Lumerit Education). I had the opportunity to go through a life purpose program called Navigate, designed to help you determine a direction for your college path, career, and life as a whole. It also walks you through developing a life purpose statement based on who you believe God is calling you to serve and how. Here’s mine:

Realizing that the community of the church is crucial to growth, I strive to build an intentional ministry of encouragement to those around me who are struggling alone inwardly. I aim to challenge them to be more open with others and bear each other’s burdens so they may grow in faith and Christlikeness. By strengthening others’ knowledge of, familiarity with, and trust in God’s truth through authentic relationships and passionate writing, I endeavor to establish young people in the firm foundation of a Christian worldview and open eyes to the hope for restoration found in Christ. My ultimate desire is that through constantly growing in my trust of God and being a living example of Christ’s restoring work, my life will be instrumental in building up others and bringing them to restoration with their Creator.

2 Corinthians 4:10 “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be manifest in our body.”

The very first college class I took was Comparative Worldviews, and it has by far been my favorite. It is a philosophy course, and introduces you to various religions and worldviews, but it was so much more than that. It was a foundation for me. It taught me how to think and question things, especially things people say that reveal their worldview. It taught me how to use questions to learn about people and their opinions, and how to use questions to lead people to the solution. I can’t put into words how important this was to me, but I can say this: It changed my life.

Truth has become something I am passionate about. I always knew it was important, but this year I really learned and saw how it impacts everything. I saw how it changed lives and wanted to share it with others to change their lives as well. Over the entire year, I learned ways to do that–through questions, conversations, writing, speaking, and music. And it made it into my life purpose statement.

In fact, that’s why I began Confident Assurance–to be a home for passing on these things that I have learned. Because I love teaching others things I am passionate about. I’m excited to get that website off the ground this year. It’s only the beginning of a dream God has placed in my heart.

Speaking of dreams…that is one of the beautiful things that came out of 2016, in the midst of all the college/future chaos. I thought I would never know what I wanted to do with my degree or what I even wanted that degree to be. But over the months, God began giving me bits and pieces of these crazy huge dreams. Dreams that combined many of the great number of things I’m interested in. I was left in awe that it was even possible to combine missions, business, apologetics, creative arts, and languages.

At the end of November, I did something crazy. I ended my enrollment with College Plus, quit my dog walking job of two years, and switched to working more day shifts at Chick-fil-A, among other things. All in the course of a few days. It took a toll on me emotionally, but I knew this was what God wanted me to do. And several days later, things started rolling in. I received my first college acceptance and also learned that I had been accepted to my dream mission’s internship–on that very day I had cut all those ties.

So I head into 2017 with a pretty interesting year ahead of me. I have almost no clue how the college situation is going to work out. There is still a lot of details to work out with the Netherlands trip. But I am not worried about what the future will hold. God holds my life in the palm of His hand, and He has been with me through it all.

Here’s to 2016, when the world did not end, despite all the cries to the contrary. And here’s to 2017, which holds still more adventures with the Author of them all.


Sorry for the somewhat disjointed thoughts. Very few things had specific dates attached to them in my head. It was a disjointed kind of year. 

Confident failure

Confident failure.png

So much comes down to confidence.

No, this is not a lecture on self-esteem, or a proposition that you should dig deep within yourself and find self-confidence, or anything like that. Bear with me, here.

Something my Bible Quiz coach said a couple years ago that stuck with me was to stand up and give your answer clear and proud. “Be confident, even if you’re confidently wrong,” she said. Not that being wrong was a good thing, but that you shouldn’t let fear of being wrong get in the way of being confident.

Other things I’ve picked up throughout the years– “What’s the point of making a point if you’re going to hedge your bets on a ‘safe’ one?” “Sell me on it.” “Use strong words when you write. Not wish-washy, politically and socially correct words.” And of course, the old adage “fake it ’til you make it.”

Last Saturday at work, one of my coworkers asked me to pour the lemonade he’d brought up into the lemonade fountain. “To be honest, I just can’t do it,” he admitted sheepishly. I told him it was all right and poured it promptly. Watching, he asked, “How do you just do it?” “Confidence,” I replied. “Confidence and practice.”

I’ve never placed much stock in the “believe and you can achieve” idea, but it’s partially true. While learning how to do something, you need to consciously decide to get over your shaky hands and your fear of inadequacy. Of course you’re going to be inadequate. Of course you’re going to fail. You’re learning! You need the boldness and confidence to keep trying. To be confidently wrong. Not full of pride or being obstinate when someone tells you you have done it wrong. But not being afraid to try and to make mistakes, either.

Confidence and practice go hand-in-hand. The more confident you are, the more you will practice. And the more you practice, the more confident you will become.

Going back to the lemonade, the first couple times I tried, I knew I was going to spill it. The mouth of the machine was way over my head, and the bucket of lemonade was very full and weighed almost 25 pounds. My hands shook as I lifted the sloshing container of liquid above my head, and sure enough, I spilled a ton of lemonade everywhere. It was quite a mess. But you know what? I cleaned it up and went on with life. Another day, someone showed me a different way I could try to pour the lemonade, and I tried again.

That was the key–I wasn’t confident in my abilities yet, because I didn’t have any. I recognized that, but chose not to let fear of failure keep me from learning. Instead of confidence in my ability to pour lemonade, I had confidence in my ability to learn, given enough practice. And eventually, I did it right for the first time. The practice had paid off and given me a huge boost in confidence, which encouraged me to keep practicing and perfecting my technique until I could do it every time. As a result of that, on Saturdays when I’m on stock now, and have to pour lemonade twice an hour, I have the confidence of experience–the confidence that enables me to just pick up the bucket and go every time.

I think we all know confidence is important. We just don’t always know where to find it. A lot of times we think of confidence as only naive arrogance–“I know I can do this perfectly on the first try”–or the confidence that comes through experience–“I know I can do this because I’ve done it before.” But this provides nothing to start from. How do we find confidence in the face of a seemingly insurmountable task? Where do we get the confidence to simply begin?

This is what I’d like to offer you today. I actually already mentioned it in passing earlier. Rather than trying to scrounge up confidence in abilities you don’t yet have, be confident that you can learn them if you will just start. Have confidence that failures will not keep you from your goal. Find confidence in your past experience of starting things with no skill whatsoever, yet seeing them through to fruitful completion. Look to others who have successfully accomplished what it is you’re setting out to do and be encouraged. Seek out their wisdom if you can. Gather tips and information and formulate a game plan.

Lastly, recognize that although failure is at some point inevitable, it doesn’t have to keep you from your goal. Give yourself the freedom to be confident enough to take action, even if it results in confident failure.

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

 

Equipped for action (2 Timothy study week 3)

equipped-for-action

Welcome back to the blog Bible study! If you need to catch up, here is the introduction post and here’s chapter 2 from last week.

Here’s a quick review of last week’s main points:

  1. The word of God goes forth through teaching, and will not be bound.
  2. Truth dynamically impacts the Christian’s life by calling him to pursue righteousness.
  3. Zealously study the truth and handle it with grace, avoiding foolish arguments.

Today we’ll be studying 2 Timothy 3. Take a moment right now to read it before you continue.

Here are the main points I observed in today’s chapter.

1. Perilous times and ungodly individuals

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” So begins Paul’s warning to Timothy in this third chapter. He’s not only talking about the future, but also the present. In verses 2 through 5, Paul describes the kind of people who will infiltrate the church. Here’s a rundown.

  • Lovers of their own selves (selfish)
  • Covetous
  • Boasters
  • Proud
  • Blasphemers
  • Disobedient to parents
  • Unthankful
  • Unholy
  • Without natural affection (not caring about others)
  • Trucebreakers (breaking promises and not honoring agreements)
  • False accusers (slanderers)
  • Incontinent (without self control)
  • Fierce (lovers of violence)
  • Despisers of those that are good
  • Traitors
  • Heady (headstrong and rash)
  • Highminded (arrogant)
  • Lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God
  • Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof

Yikes. What a list. Let’s take a step back and look at these for a minute. Some of the characteristics on this list are a little surprising. Disobedient to parents? Unthankful? We don’t usually think of these are grievous sins. And yet, here they are listed among traitors and despisers of those that are good. And take a look at that last one–“having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” That means going through the motions of religion without allowing the truth to change your heart. Following that last characteristic, Paul instructs, “from such turn away.”

These aren’t people from the world Paul is talking about. He’s referring to people in the church, people who call themselves believers. People who know all the right answers and put on a good Christian smile, but don’t allow the truth to change their lives.

“From such turn away.” In a way, these people are more dangerous than those outside the church’s circle. Why? Because they look like believers. They seem trustworthy and admirable. And they lure true believers away from the truth (see verse 6).

I want to point out one more chilling characteristic, described in verse 7. “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Throughout the book of 2 Timothy (and, indeed, many of Paul’s letters), the phrase “knowledge of the truth” refers to the believing and accepting the truth of salvation. What Paul is saying here is there are people who are constantly learning about the world, and yet never come to recognize the truth of His salvation. It seems to perfectly describe the plight of scholars, scientists, and students who are always learning, but do not accept God’s truth.

As he closes out this section, Paul mentions Jannes and Jambres, the names given to two Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses. Paul compares false teachers to the magicians, and says they are “reprobate concerning the faith” (v.8). However, he offers a word of consolation: “…Their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs [Jannes and Jambres’] also was” (v.9).

Upon examining your own heart, do you see any of the characteristics listed here? Are you careful not to be lead away by anyone and everyone who claims to be a follower of God? Who do you know that always seems to be learning, yet not arriving at a knowledge of the most important truth of all?

2. Continue in what you have learned

After that sober description of people to beware of, Paul begins to paint a dynamic contrast. “But thou”–he begins verse 10. He reminds Timothy of how he has “fully known” Paul’s doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity (love), and patience. All things that should be an example to Timothy. But then he takes a bit of a turn, and mentions how Timothy also fully knows the persecutions and afflictions Paul has suffered. Continuing a theme from chapter 1, Paul states that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (v.12). However, he reminds Timothy that the Lord delivered him out of them all.

In verses 13 and 14, Paul portrays one more contrast: evil men will grow worse and worse; deceiving and being deceived (v.13). But Timothy he urges to continue in what he has learned and has been what? Has been assured of. This assurance is the same used back in chapter 1 verse 12, where Paul declares “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able…”

Paul is reiterating to Timothy that these aren’t just things someone has taught him, and he believes because “why not.” The gospel is something he is assured of, something he has examined the evidence for and knows to be true.

There are always going to be people who say they’re Christians but don’t act like it. The world is going to grow worse and worse. But you. But us. We will continue in what we have learned, what we know to be true. We will continue to be faithful. And that’s what matters.

Are you prepared to suffer persecution? Are you continuing in what you have learned and been assured of?

3. God’s inspired word equips us

Paul reminds Timothy that he has known the scriptures from the time he was a child, and that these scriptures are able to make a person “wise unto salvation” through faith in Christ Jesus (v.15). There’s that “knowledge of the truth,” again. Clearly, we receive the knowledge of the truth we need through the scripture.

Paul continues to defend the scriptures, saying that all scripture is given by inspiration of God. This is a very good place to point someone who claims that only parts of the Bible are true. Not only does Paul affirm the truth of the scriptures here, he also explains the purpose of them. Scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” and for what purpose?

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Those words “thoroughly furnished” come from the Greek word for accomplished, completed. Obviously, we are not going to become perfect in the sense of without sin here on earth, but God’s word has the power to grow us and complete us–to prepare us and equip us for life in this world. 

Are you studying the scriptures God has given you? Are you not just reading the words, but letting their power work in your life? Are you using the Bible like the tool it is?

Let’s recap:

  1. We’re living in dangerous times, and ungodly individuals infiltrate the church. How’s your character looking? What kind of protections do you have in place so that you aren’t carried away by something that “sounds good”?
  2. After detailing the characteristics of those who are false believers, Paul encourages Timothy to continue in the way he has been walking, remembering what he has learned and been assured of. How can you encourage others to keep following God, even when persecution strikes?
  3. Paul clearly states that all of the scriptures are God’s inspired word, and explains how it can be used. Do you treasure God’s word? How has God’s word equipped you to take action?

Share your answers to these questions and what you learn from 2 Timothy 3 in the comments below! See you next week as we wrap up this study!