Wednesday, June 15, 2016

My First Love

Recently, God has impressed on my heart my relationship with Him. As life gets busy, my time is limited, and my body is exhausted, I start feeling the distance in my relationship with God growing. At times I notice in time to catch myself and update my priorities, making sure I spend the time I need in God’s Word and talking with Him. Other times I don’t notice, and I find myself feeling defeated and lonely, trying to retrace my steps and backtrack to where I was before. As I’ve mentioned this to others, most people are very understanding and empathetic, as it seems to be a struggle for everyone. On the other hand, some people I’ve mentioned it to don’t seem to understand what I mean by relationship with God and have never experienced that close love relationship, and that scares me!

I tend to have three pillars in my life that I do my best to make priorities: Bible reading, prayer, and church. I guess from an outside perspective, this could make my faith seem works based, meaning since I am a Christian I have to do these three things. From my perspective though, I look at my relationship with Christ as His betrothed, and usually what I hear from couples who are engaged is that time together is extremely important. If someone asked me to marry him and then spent no time with me or talking to me, I personally would be extremely offended and would probably break off that engagement, considering it would be an indicator of a weak relationship.

Not to embarrass them, but I remember sharing a room with my cousin, Evangel, who was at the time engaged to Ryan, her now husband. There were days that they seemed to spend every waking moment together. They would FINALLY say goodnight, and then Evangel would run to our room and ask to borrow my phone to text him one more thing (which I agreed to as long as she would delete the texts for me so I didn’t have to feel like a third wheel mediator of embarrassingly mushy conversations). I remember thinking… “WHY???? You just literally spent 12 hours together. Did you not fit in enough ‘I love you’s’ to hold you till tomorrow morning???”

I share this, because it better explains how we should be relating to our Bible reading, prayer, and church. As the bride of Christ, we are experiencing the ultimate long distance relationship imaginable! Jesus said in John 14:2-3, “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” With this kind of long distance relationship, we have to cling to our connection with Him, knowing that our lack of interest, or indifference, must be extremely hurtful to Jesus. There are times when I feel myself drifting, and I immediately start telling Him I love Him and that I’ll come back, knowing that if I were engaged and felt my fiancĂ© drifting away from me, that is what I would want to hear.

One of my favorite songs at the moment to play on my ukulele and sing to the Lord is Simplicity by Rend Collective. Listen to it with the thought that you are singing it as a love song to the Lord.

I come in simplicity,
longing for purity,
to worship You in spirit and truth,
Lord, strip it all away,
till only You remain.
I’m coming back to my first love,

Going back to my cousin and her fiancĂ© trying to get in as much time together as possible, especially since she had limited time with him as they lived in different countries at the time, I then turn around and question those people who are saved, yet don’t read the Bible, don’t pray, and don’t long to be connected with the family of God. It isn’t works based at all to prioritize these things; it’s love based. Christ is a faithful and patient bridegroom, but we have to make sure we are not an unfaithful and indifferent bride. Time and communication are important, and the last thing I want to do is hurt Christ after He gave up His life for me because He loved me.

He is my first love. 1 John 4:19, “We love each other because he loved us first.”

Monday, June 6, 2016

Father of the Fatherless

Psalm 68:5 “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.”

I remember being six and almost losing my dad. I don’t think I completely understood what was going on, but I still remember the fear. My story has a good ending, because my dad didn’t die. He was paralyzed and pushed into an early retirement that basically meant I got to be closer with him than I ever was before. I’m very thankful that he is still here, and has helped me navigate through life during some very crucial years.

Last week, the father of two of my cousins (almost 5 and 3 years old) died suddenly in a boating accident. My heart hurts for them, and I can’t help but think of how different my life would have been if way back when I was six my story had been, “Her father died suddenly in an accident in the US Air Force.” When we realize how important and vital fathers are for kids, how do you move on?

I also think of my friend Sofia, whose dad died of cancer when she was only 3. I think of people whose fathers walk out on them when they are young, or those whose fathers are home but may be abusive or just don’t care. Earthly fathers are not always able to be the stable anchors for their kids or leaders that God intended, and my heart hurts for those who live with these experiences. My first reaction when I see the pain and loss is to question God’s plan, but when you look at Scripture, God never leaves His children without a father.

God’s plan is laid out in many places for the husband to be the loving leader for his wife and kids, but we live in a sinful world where not everything goes with God’s original plan. I think of Job in the Bible, who lost all of his kids, all of his wealth, and his health basically in a day. His response when he found out that all of his kids had died was to bless the Lord, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). He experienced complete wealth and happiness, and then experienced losing it and complete misery. To top it off, he was told that it was his fault because he had made God angry or sinned without knowing it. God finally set the record straight by appearing in a tornado, reminding Job who was in control of the earth and who created the earth. The only one who can answer why something happens is the Creator: not Job, not us.

God refers to Himself as our Heavenly Father. John 1:12 says, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” Hebrews 12:7-8 says, “Remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all.”

The point to God’s message as our Father makes all of the pain and worry of losing our earthly fathers bearable. Not only does He offer us the love and support that we all need from a father, but He also offers us the discipline and guidance needed to become the people we need to be in life. I can’t imagine going through life without a father, but even more difficult would be to go through life without knowing God personally and claiming Him as my heavenly Father. God provides us everything that we need in a relationship with Him, and so many people live life without ever knowing the loving relationship He offers as part of His Salvation plan.

I’m so thankful that my friend I spoke of earlier, Sofia, has found saving knowledge in God, because with her earthly father gone, she now can lean and depend on her heavenly Father!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Created to be Connected

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

One lesson that I have learned over the years is the importance of staying connected with believers. This past weekend I was able to join my church’s youth group on a camping trip, and I cannot explain how excited and blessed I feel to see how connected we all are! All weekend I had the thought of the verses I listed above, except we were a thirteenfold chord...which would be nearly IMPOSSIBLE to break.

I naturally have a very strong sense of independence. I tend to approach ministry and life in general with the attitude “I can do this on my own.” Certain aspects of that kind of stubbornness were good when I was younger, like the fact it protected me from following the crowd, which inevitably is not always good. As I’ve gotten older, I can see the pride that this attitude holds, which stops a growing relationship with God. I’ve also found, there is no true happiness and joy in living life independently. Just like the verses above, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.”

For that reason, when asked for advice I try to encourage others to remember: “Do not isolate yourself. God is not calling you to do this on your own.” A lot of bad decisions and sinful lifestyles are born out of loneliness and isolation. Loneliness can lead to dating or marrying someone unsaved. It can lead to depression and thoughts of suicide. It can lead to drug and alcohol addictions. It can lead to friendships with people that will pull you away from God. Everyone struggles with some weakness, and the moment we isolate ourselves from God’s people, that weakness can take over and destroy us. And the more attached we become to our sin, the more we isolate ourselves from church, our families, and ultimately God.

God rarely calls people into isolation. That goes against the backdrop or bigger picture of the Bible. Even God Himself is seen as one God in three persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The natural set up that God gave us for strength is the family unit, which should add stability, strength, and accountability. Beyond just a family unit though, the Church was created for individuals and families to be connected into the body of Christ. If someone tells me that God is calling them into a setting with no church, no fellow Christians, and no family, I would argue that you may be listening to someone’s voice other than God’s, because the Bible is clearly calling you to be connected.

With all that said, this weekend was so encouraging to see 8 teens and 5 adults enjoying friendships and discipling each other to grow closer to the Lord. It just proves to me that God knows what He’s doing. He created a plan and roles of authority that we can either follow and experience His joy, or kick and rebel against and find continuous heartache and confusion. Being part of a thirteenfold chord is going to positively affect the decisions each one of us make this week, considering if one of us messes up the other 12 would come find that person. In fact, I’ve already noticed a renewed love and connection with the Lord in myself, something that I would have missed out on if I had been disconnected. Just make sure to stay connected and prioritize your church and family time! Guard that connection carefully, because I guarantee the devil will be trying to disconnect you in whatever way possible. Just like the lamb who strays away from the flock is an easy meal for wolves, the person who strays away from the church is an easy target for the devil.