Saved!

“Is this seat saved?”

“No.  But I hope you are!”

When I told one of my best friends, a Christian, this joke, she and I busted out laughing.  Another close friend, a non-Christian, was within earshot and either wasn’t paying attention or just didn’t find it amusing at all.  After talking to another friend, I realized that this was because “saved” is one of those words that we so often throw around and think everyone understands.

“Christians are always telling me that I need to be saved,” the latter friend said.

I don’t think that’s a good word to use, I told him, unless you know what you’re being saved from.  He agreed-what’s the point of being saved from nothing?

Well, in order to be “saved” from anything at all, you need two things: 1.) something that you have to be saved from, usually something dangerous or upsetting, and 2.) a savior- someone to do the saving.

1.) You may have noticed that this world is a bit ridiculous.  There are corrupt governments, ruined friendships, broken homes, and millions upon millions of hurting people.  This all happens because of sin, which is the downfall of all of us.  Because God is entirely perfect and holy, He has to punish sin.  It would go against His nature and His promises for Him to let these things slide.  And, unfortunately for us sinners, the punishment for sin is death.  Everlasting death, and separation from God, otherwise known as hell.

You might not know what’s coming after this life.  Death might sound peaceful, even.  But separation from God for all eternity will not be pleasant, to say the least.  “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age,” Jesus explained. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

2.) Things might seem pretty grim and hopeless at this point, since we all do evil.  And basically, the only was to escape the punishment that Jesus spoke of is to not be evil.  To be righteous.  To be perfect, in fact.  Since we’ve already messed that up, we need God Himself to intervene and take this death for us.

And believe it or not, Jesus did.  While we were running around doing what we wanted, sometimes in direct opposition to what He wanted, and saying that He doesn’t exist and trying to run our own lives, He took on every single bad thing you have ever done and ever will do and died a really, really terrible death.  “The wrath of God was satisfied, for every sin on Him was laid.  Here in the death of Christ, I live,” one song says.  When we believe that Jesus is God and that He died in our place so that we are not only saved from a dark fate, but also introduced and welcomed into a glorious eternity with the Lord God, we are saved.

Some have compared it to a situation where you’re drowning, and Jesus tosses you a floatation device.  But others pointed something else out: you’re already dead– you already drowned with the weight of your sin.  We’re “dead in our transgressions,” the Bible says.  What Jesus does is actually resuscitate us.

He brings us from death into a life so much better that we can’t even fathom it.

Then, the dwelling of God will be with men, “and He will live 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 has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Being “saved” isn’t just a religious catchphrase.  It’s actually the difference between life or death, and between eternity with God or without Him.

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What are they saying?!

Sometimes I just get really, really tired of people misunderstanding.

Three of my greatest passions and interests are God, journalism, and psychology.  If I didn’t want to be made fun of or stereotyped, these were the wrong fields to wind up in.

People make fun of Christians and often generalize horror stories of so-called “Christians” to the entire body of Christ, sometimes complete ignoring those who are diligently pressing on to become more like Christ.  I’ve addressed some of the ways that Christians are viewed that they shouldn’t be, and I’ll likely address more in the future, so I won’t write about that right now.

A lot of people don’t understand what journalism is really about, either.  Many people think that journalists have an agenda that they deliberately try to push their bias into and present to viewers, or that being a journalist doesn’t really take much work.  Some people don’t know what it is journalists do, or that reporting is a skill that one has to acquire.  I’ve always felt a deep sense of responsibility in being a journalist.  Before I send an article to an editor, I always reread the piece several times, checking for errors, because I understand the amount of influence that a publication can have.

As for psychology, therapy has been reduced to “how does that make you feel?” and research, such as working in a lab, is very frequently misunderstood as involving inhumane or abnormal experiments that leave participants scarred and crying.

I’ve been in a number of psychology research labs, and they’re very relaxed, professional places that adhere to strict rules from an Institutional Review Board that requires them to be ethically and professionally sound.  Lab staff undergo hours of ethics training and are constantly figuring out new ways to make the study process simpler for participants.  The information that they gather is actually valuable and contributes to our understanding on a variety of topics, from “how much do babies actually know?” to “what’s the best way to get my child to behave in a more appropriate manner?” to “how do we choose our friends?”  (The last question may sound simple, but studies show that it can involve a little more than just similarity.)

So what’s the problem here?  Why are there so many frustrating incorrect judgments?

It really comes down to people not knowing.  And since you wouldn’t expect someone who’s never written for a newspaper before to win a Pulitzer without learning anything about reporting, you really can’t expect non-Christians to interact with the church and know what we’re talking about.

If you walk into a psychology lab, you’ll hear words like “hab,” “stim,” “priming,” and maybe a few creative study names.  I can explain to you that “hab” is short for “habituation,” but that probably won’t help you understand exactly what the researchers are talking about.

So what do non-Christians hear?

I’m guessing they talk to Christians, overhear a televangelist, or go to a church and hear words like “amen,” “be saved,” and “justification” and wonder, “What is going on?!”

So to help alleviate some of the confusion, I’ll spend a few weeks going over a few words at a time and just explaining what they are and why we Christians use them- how they’re applicable to the Christian life.

Let me know if there’s any puzzling phrases that you’d like to know more about!  I’m likely going to have to do some research to find out more about some of these phrases, but I’m excited to take a look at some of these phrases that we so often take for granted.  It’s always good to reevaluate things that seem to be becoming “too familiar.”  We can always learn something new from them.

If there are any words or phrases that you hear from Christians a lot that you’d like to know more about, let me know!  You can comment below or email me at sumparakaleo@gmail.com.  Have a great week!

Purpose

Sometimes Christianity is mistaken as just a list of rules.  Unnecessary, somewhat meaningless rules.

Why should we have to be modest?  To respect one another?  To forgive?   To love?  To suffer?  To dedicate everything we do to someone that we can’t see?

I believe it comes down to a matter of purpose.

There has to be a reason that we’re here.  What a sad, empty life we would live if we were just placed somewhere for no reason.  I’ve spent a lot of time volunteering, and some of the events that I’ve worked for have gotten a few too many volunteers for everyone to always being doing something.  So there are some times when you’re just standing there awkwardly without anything to do.  You have no purpose.

Thankfully, when God made the world and shaped each and every one of us, He had a very specific plan.  Some would believe in Him.  Of those, some would be teachers, some would be apostles, some would be pastors, some would be parents… He knows exactly where everyone is supposed to wind up.

The problem here, as I discussed with a friend of mine, is that we don’t know where we’re supposed to end up.

College is hard.  There are definitely fun times, but it is hard.  I make a bad habit of overloading myself (or “that fun thing where you leave yourself ten seconds to eat and never sleep and do a crazy amount of things,” as my roommate described it) because I want to get a lot of experience.  And it’s good things- of course I should get internships in journalism and psychology if those are fields that I think I’d like to spend a lifetime pursuing.  I should certainly take enough classes to graduate.  There’s no problem with attending extracurricular events, or joining a club.

But sometimes, things get so crazy that I’m just working and not thinking about it.  One semester, I was taking a lot of credits, three of which made up a very hard, frustrating, and time-consuming class.  Freshmen dread it when they enter the school.  Professors don’t hesitate to fail students on certain assignments.  Classmates form a quick bond because no one else can quite understand what it takes to make it through that class.  It was terrible.

But because I spent so much time working and working and working for that class, and my other credits, I realized that I’d become something of a machine.  I would get done (most of) what I needed to, calculate how much sleep I would be able to get, listen to my roommate chide me for forgetting to eat dinner again, fill my planner with to-do lists, go to bed, and then do it all again.

I entirely forgot why I was doing any of it, and that made it that much harder to get through.  Why was I willing to put up with this?

For a time, I wasn’t sure.  So I started to seek a purpose.  A friend and I spent time in a devotional that encouraged us to seek out the purpose of our lives.

To this day, all I can come up with is to glorify God.  I think that there must be something more specific, involving my talents and interests, but I also think that the main theme- the thing that runs through and above and around it all, is that I am here on this earth to glorify my God.

Okay, so I have a purpose.  But I have to achieve it somehow.  It’s tempting to be like the servant in Jesus’ story of the talents (a type of money) who just hid the master’s one talent in the ground.  I played it safe, I stuck to the official rules, and hopefully I’ll be okay.

But instead, we’re called to invest it all.  The servant with the five talents put those talents to work, and he earned five more.  He served his purpose.  The servant with the two talents did the same.

And they got to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I would love to hear my Master say that to me.

I’ve always thought it was interesting that the word for the type of money described in Jesus’ parable translated to the English word “talent,” which holds a different meaning for us.

And it might actually come in handy.  I’m going to try to pinpoint five talents of mine.  (You can try with more or less!)  Then I’m going to think and pray about how I can invest those gifts (without going crazy and overinvesting in all five- at some point, I wouldn’t be investing anymore.  I’d just be doing.) for God’s glory- to serve my ultimate purpose.

One speaker pointed out that if God didn’t exist (well, we’d have a LOT of problems, but more specifically) each person wouldn’t have a pre-defined purpose.  We’d all just have to choose our own purposes, and they might not add up to serve any greater purpose.  In the end, it would be meaningless.

It’s good to know that we have a reason to be here.  To God be the glory.

All the Lovely Ladies!

Hello ladies!  A few weeks ago, my friend Dustin wrote a message to guys.  But God’s lovely daughters are not to be forgotten!

As part of a devotional that I was going through a while ago, I was asked to answer the question: “What unrealized dreams do you have?”  I had some typical and expected answers about family, relationships, and potential careers.  But one response was a little different: “to feel beautiful more often than I feel ugly.”

It seemed almost out of place on the list when I recently went back to check it out.  But there it was, and I’m sure it lies on the hearts of other girls.  We seem to have such low self-esteem.  We feel ugly and unwanted so often, even when we’re not actually “victims” of either situation.  This is likely the fault of our culture, but we internalize it and put so much pressure on ourselves.

As a freshman in high school, I had this vision of what senior-me would look like.  When I was actually a senior, I didn’t have the long, flowing hair, extreme popularity, or disarming confidence that I imagined.  But I had grown a lot, and I was working more towards being beautiful, as I still am.

“Working more towards being beautiful” can sounds like an awfully vain phrase.  But no, I haven’t been doing a whole lot to change or “perfect” my physical appearance.  It has its flaws, some bigger than others, but I’ve decided I wouldn’t want to change anything.  These things that might make me “ugly” in some people’s eyes are the same things that are helping make me beautiful.

When I got my high school senior pictures in the mail, I was excited.  Until I opened the package.  Then I was furious.

They had completely airbrushed my picture.  “This is NOT my face!”  I remember saying.  The “flaws” that I had so often complained about were gone, and instead of being thrilled at the face I’d so often wished I had, I was angry.  I remember, I made a list of things that were missing and wrote down the lessons they’d taught me- self-value, modesty, humility, the value of friendship and family love- I could associate them with memories of times when I felt awful about myself and had learned something instead of just pity partying.

In middle and high school, I was incredibly self-conscious and frustrated with my greatest physical flaws.  I compared myself to the girls around me, annoyed that I wasn’t “as beautiful.”  But as I started to truly discover and internalize God’s definition of beauty, things changed.

Beauty shouldn’t come from outward appearances, the Bible says, but from inside.  And inner beauty shines brightest when it reflects the most beautiful thing we could know- the love, mercy, and very essence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What I’ve learned is this:

–   Your true beauty is not measured by the number of compliments you get.

–   Sometimes it’s when you’re thinking about beauty the least that you’re the most beautiful.

–   People who tell you you’re beautiful all the time (like my family does) are such blessings.  Don’t take their words for granted.

–   The best measure of beauty comes not from a magazine or a movie, but from the depiction of love in the Bible.

–    We don’t have to be afraid of anything.  Why do we crave beauty so much?  The attention from both genders?  The self-confidence?  I think that when we don’t think we’re achieving beauty, we get scared.  We get scared that we won’t measure up or be accepted.  But God tells us, do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

We’re made in the image of God, and through the death of His Son, we can press on to take hold of the goal for which Christ has called us heavenward… we can radiate the most beautiful thing we know.