Preach It, Again!

These have been somewhat busy couple of weeks for me, and it’s times like this that I almost need to stop more and remember what’s really important.

That’s why this week, I’m stealing from another tab on this site- “Good News!” I sometimes glaze over the story of how it came to be that I have this relationship with my loving and forgiving, but just Savior. Then keeping that in mind can make a difference during these potentially stressful and snappy times.

~

‘Well, first there’s some bad news. But the good news transcends the bad news by far, so try to hear me out. =)

As you’ve probably noticed, we live in a world in which something has gone terribly wrong. We struggle with so much, we feel so much pain, and we see so much hurt. And every bit of pain we feel is the result of sin- of wrong- in this world.

BUT sin is not the victor. God is still there (He always has been), and He is still working through all the pain and and the tears, and we know that in the end, He will have won and sin will no longer have any hold on us.

You see, God loves us very, very much. We ignore Him, we mock Him, we disobey Him, and we doubt Him. But still, He loves us.

He loves us even to the point of sending His Son, Jesus, to die a horrible death for us so that we wouldn’t have to endure the burden of sin forever. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, but He rose again, and now He offers us the chance to serve Him and to tell Him that we love Him too.

When we take that opportunity- when we tell Him that we believe in Him and that we want to follow Him and love Him forever, we make a 180 turn so that we are facing the Lord of creation and walking toward Him, pressing on to take hold of that for which He called us.

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.

Being a Christian does NOT mean

– that you are perfect
– that you won’t ever hurt again
– that you are better than everyone else
– that you understand everything or have all the answers

What being a Christian does mean is that

– you know you are sinful and that you need a Savior
– you believe that Jesus is real, and that He is the One who has saved you from your sin
– you are part of a worldwide family of believers
– you have a Best Friend who has died for you, and who loves you more than you can fully grasp
– you are willing to trust this Best Friend with your life.

It is my sincere prayer that you get to know this King who has become my Best Friend, and that you may know unspeakable joy and overwhelming love in the midst of this world’s temporary painful state, and that you and I will be able to spend eternity together, with all of our brothers and sisters, singing praise to our glorious God.

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that you may be filled to the measure with the fullness of God.

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”’

~

Amen! Readers, how do you preach the Gospel to yourself? I’d love to hear if you have particular verses or stories that lift you up and remind you of the gift we have in Christ! Or, if you’re not a Christian, please don’t hesitate to ask a Christian you trust open and honest questions about why we believe what we do, or to email me at sumparakaleo@gmail.com.

Traveling

My dear Parakaleo readers, I’ve been traveling, which with the kind of adventures I get into means less free writing time and significantly less Internet access. That in turn means rather porky [edit- poorly, but I suppose the case is in point.  And that silly iPod let an auto-correct get away from me]constructed blog posts, for which I apologize. But in these last few minutes of Thursday, I want to leave you with a verse and a song that well represent the sort of thoughts that have been on my heart lately and will likely manifest into later blog posts. Please feel free to share the songs and verses that you’ve been thinking about lately, too!

First is 1 Corinthians 13, verses 6 and 7: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

And secondly, the song “His Love Can Never Fail,” by E.S. Hall.

“I do not ask to see the way
My feet will have to tread;
But only that my soul may feed
Upon the living Bread.
‘Tis better far that I should walk
By faith close to His side;
I may not know the way I go, But oh, I know my Guide.

His love can never fail, His love can never fail,
My soul is satisfied to know His love can never fail.
My soul is satisfied to know His love can never fail.

And if my feet would go astray,
They cannot, for I know
That Jesus guides my falt’ring steps,
As joyfully I go.
And tho’ I may not see His face,
My faith is strong and clear,
That in each hour of sore distress
My Savior will be near.

His love can never fail, His love can never fail,
My soul is satisfied to know His love can never fail.
My soul is satisfied to know His love can never fail.

I will not fear, tho’ darkness come
Abroad o’er all the land,
If I may only feel the touch
Of His own loving hand.
And tho’ I tremble when I think
How weak I am, and frail,
My soul is satisfied to know
His love can never fail.”

Amen!  Is there a song, poem, quote, or verse that really represents your thoughts or how you feel right now?  I’d love to hear it!

The Ring vs. Who?

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Lord of the Rings series, but let me give you a very brief recap.  Basically, there is a young hobbit (basically a teeny person with hairy feet) named Frodo who is charged with carrying a magical ring to Mordor, where he is to toss it into this huge fiery lake for it to be destroyed.  Simple enough, right?  WRONG.

My friends and I occasionally do nerdy things where we stay up until 3 in the morning at someone’s house watching a long movie series like Star Wars, or as we did in this particular instance, Lord of the Rings (heretofore referred to as LOTR).  Note: We also (crazily) opted to watch the Extended Editions.  We’re talking about three hours per movie, here.

I can say, hands down, that that was the most emotionally taxing movie marathon I’ve ever gone through.  It was taking Frodo FOREVER to get anywhere.  The ring wasn’t magical in the sense that it made everything really delightful and wonderful.  Instead, it was constantly trying to drag itself and its bearer into the clutches of evil, leading poor little Frodo to be bitten by HUGE poisonous spiders, turn on his friends, have his friends turn on him, etc. etc.  And don’t even get me started on the orcs.  The orcs are these terrible creatures that are out to stop Frodo at the order of one of the bad people (again, this is a very rough summary) and because they’re essentially made in a factory, once Frodo and friends killed off a bunch of them and continued on their way, more would arrive!  I was exhausted and angry just watching it.

But part of the toll, I realized, arose from how similar to Frodo I sometimes feel.  Thankfully, no one’s shoved an upsetting ring formed in the fires of Mordor at me and told me it’s my destiny to bring it back to be destroyed and to fight off way too many orcs, but I’ve got my own little ring- sin.

If you’ve ever read my blog before, you’ve probably been forced time and time again to read Philippians 3:12- “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

“Pressing on” seems to be a very different matter than “strolling on” or “skipping on.”  Jesus has already won the battle for us, so we know the ending is good (which is a better deal than Frodo probably had going on), but we still struggle with our sin daily.  I realize that a lot of the time on this blog, I talk about an issue I faced, and how I resolved it, and then kind of move on.  But every once in a while, you’ll notice that there’s some double posts.  There’s got to be at least five about facing fear.  The ring is constantly pulling me back, and I’m constantly pressing on.

Frankly, it’s quite tiring!  The biggest struggles of mine that currently come to mind deal with fear.  Largely with fear of being alone.  I’m very people-oriented, so the idea of having certain specific people leave me either because of choice or death is very hurtful and oppressive, as is the idea of never having someone fulfill certain roles in my life.  I’ll go through a really rough time, feel better about it, and then sink right back in… back into fear, back into pride, back into doubt- it seems so dire.  I’m broken.  The people who are helping me are broken.  Sometimes it really feels like this disparaging, dirty struggle that’s been going on for centuries and it’s not just cognitively knowing “Adam and Eve sinned against God, which led to separation between God and man, and now all of us sin against God as well.”

But, thanks be to God, the message doesn’t end after “I press on to take hold.”  The verse ends so encouragingly: “Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  This immediately calls to mind three things:

1.) Jesus is holding on to me right now.  He took hold, and He did not let go.  Every time I sink down, I can know that His hold on me will pull me right back up.

2.) Jesus isn’t holding onto me with the tips of His fingers and paying more attention to the football game.  He came down from Heaven to live a human life for me, He died a terrible death for me, and He rose again in victory and with a deep love for meHow He took hold of me is amazing and very telling.

3.) He initiated the taking hold.  I didn’t heroicially stick my hand out of the quicksand and grab His.  This has implications, then, for my response that I think are best worded in 1 John 4:19: “We love because He first loved us.”

Dear readers, we get so tired.  I’ve been so emotionally exhausted that it’s exhibited itself physically.  Right now, even, I face some old fears and “Why me?”s.  And I don’t even have it nearly as bad as Christians in places where they face physical persecution, perhaps even to the point of death.  No matter where we are, sometimes it’s just hard to sit and watch what Psalm 73 calls “the prosperity of the wicked” as they seem to have “no struggles” and be “free from the burdens common to man.”   As the Psalmest laments, “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.  All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.”

But we are never alone.  It’s not just us versus the ring or versus our sin.  It’s not just you taking on exams, or you alone taking on the loss of a loved one.  You’re not facing sickness, jealousy, doubt, by yourself.  In fact, God has already won the battle.  And He is always with us.

“Yet I am always with You;

You hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with Your counsel,

and afterward You will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but You?

And earth has nothing I desire besides You.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart

and my portion forever.”

Amen!

HA!

“God also said to Abraham,  ‘As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?'” 

– Genesis 17:15-17

~

In this story, and the similar one about Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who laughed at receiving the same news, the knee-jerk, Sunday-school reaction is just to say “Oh, silly Abraham/Sarah/Israel/whoever’s messing up, obviously God is going to take care of you, what on earth are you laughing about?”

But I’m not so different.  When my campus minister prayed aloud that I would do well on the Psychology Subject GRE, I let out a loud “HA!” in my head before suddenly realizing that I’d put God in quite the box.  I’d essentially said, no, God, I don’t think you can do this.  It wasn’t even that I didn’t think He would.  There’s a number of things that God could do that I don’t think He would– He could have sent me off to the college that was my dream in high school, for instance, but He didn’t.  But in this instance, I wasn’t even acknowledging the can/could side of it.  That’s doubt for you.

Thankfully, the “HA!” that sometimes sneaks into my prayers has become a reminder of this story of Abraham and Sarah.  Spoiler Alert: They had a child, even in their (really!!) old age. God came through on His promise, as He always does.  Spoiler Alert 2: God’s faithfulness is no different for us today.  The promises are different, as God hasn’t told me if I’ll have children, much less when.  He hasn’t promised that grad school will be easy.  He has promised never to leave me, and to always love me.  And it just may be that that’s all that I need.

As God said to Abraham when Sarah laughed, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

When I look at this God who has conquered death, who has showed justice, who, on a smaller scale, has come through for me again and again and with whom I am blessed to have a relationship, how can I say yes?  What examples can I cite?  I might not be able to say that everything He can do He has done, but neither have I.  I could have let the kids I was babysitting eat all of the dessert in the house.  I could have spent all day watching Hulu instead of studying for my midterm.  I could have stayed home for some me time instead of reluctantly (at first, anyway) agreeing to attend my surprise birthday party last year.

So perhaps in response to God’s question to Abraham, this leads me to another verse, this time from the New Testament.

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!

– Matthew 7:9-11

They’re good questions.  It’s my prayer that I’ll keep them in mind and have them so engrained in my heart that the “HA!” won’t even be able to form.

I’m Not As Awesome As I Think I Am

A year or so ago, I spent a lot of time talking with a friend who was struggling a lot with a number of negative emotions and conflicts.  He would become frustrated when I’d give advice sometimes, saying, “Well, that’s easy for you to say, because you’re perfect.”  Despite much urging, he was not to be convinced otherwise.  And if I’m totally honest with myself, I often don’t view myself as all that bad.  I hold doors for people, avoid conflict (Is this a good or bad thing?  To be determined.), and give lots of hugs.  If we’re getting into the stereotypical “good Christian things,” I go to church, read my Bible, and pray.  And I have a very verbal conscience that keeps me out of a deal of trouble.  But I maintain, and I’m often reminded, that I’m far from perfect.

I’ve rolled my eyes behind someone’s back before.  I’ve disrespected my parents.  I’ve put myself before others.  I’ve preferred one acquaintance over another for extraordinarily shallow reasons that I’m hurt by when they’re used against me.

Now for those of you who are making a face and sarcastically suggesting that the police be called to detain this girl who is rolling her eyes behind someone’s back, let me point this out.

The “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, starts out like this: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I posses to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

It’s comforting to read this, do a quick survey of my life and pick up the highlights of missions trips, service to camp, hugging a crying friend, etc. etc.  This is not so much true when looking at these other moments.  When I’m yelling at my sister over something ridiculous, and I showing love to her?  When I’m going against God’s will by treating people preferentially, am I showing love to them?  In either case, am I showing love to God or giving Him glory?

Being a psychology student, you sometimes have the opportunity to hear someone’s backstory.  You learn why they’re cocky, pushy, annoying, or whatever else bothered you.  Often, it’s really sad- either because of something that happened to them or because your eyes are opened to the fact that you completely disregarded something that God said, and you were wrong.  I thought it was okay to give this person a bit of a cold shoulder- maybe all of this “loving your neighbor” stuff was off, because this guy’s a jerk.  And then you find out that he is the way he is because people were first mean to him.  And that you soiled your opportunity to start that cycle over, but with love.

I need to constantly be reminded to leave my premonitions and pride behind- to “consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him,” as one of my most favorite passages in the Bible, Philippians 3, says.

I’m not nearly as awesome as I think I am.  But thankfully, I’m able to ask for forgiveness and tap into the source of true, unwavering love that gives me that second chance.  Hopefully as I grow more like my Savior, this love will become more of an instinct than the rubbish that tries to crowd it out.  I’ve rounded this blog out with Philippians 3 a number of times, but as always, it fits so well.  “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  Amen!