The Messed-Up World: Having a Realistic Perspective of Life

IMG_20180522_182606897Will it hurt? Will I be afraid? Will I be lonely? Will I mess up? Will I hate it? Will I be bored? Will I want to die?

It’s no secret I struggle with fear of the future. Recently I’ve seen dread stealing joy. Memorial day weekend was a beautiful three-day weekend; but some of the bliss of an extra day off from work was masked by dread of starting work again. If I get to bed on time, I can have the peace of knowing I can sleep for the next eight hours; but sometimes that peace is stolen by the dread of waking up. I love school and enjoy so many aspects of being at Cornerstone University; but sometimes the blessings of school is darkened by my dread of what happens after I graduate.

How frustrating it is to so often not be able to appreciate the joys I have right in front my face. But what I realized recently is that I actually don’t even have to ask these haunting questions anymore; I already have the answers: yes, yes, and yes to all of the above.

Honestly folks, don’t try to tell me otherwise. In the future, I will hurt, I will be afraid, I will be lonely, I will mess up, I will hate life, I will be bored, and I will want to die. After A shattered flowerpot on a windowsillall, the author of Philippians put it well, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” We live in a sinful, broken, painful but temporary world. We who are sincerely pursuing a relationship with Christ are called to be soldiers in the battle on this world. That means we’re going to get hurt, we’re going to get tired, and we’re going to go through some really rough patches. But, after the Fall, this is the way the world is and–in a manner of speaking–it’s quite the way it’s supposed to be.

The significance of this may not be clear at first. After all, how can such depressing news lead to anything but dread of the future?! But see, perspective is powerful.

The first thing this realization does is remind me that life on earth is temporary and it’s not the worst thing that could happen if it doesn’t go great. I mean, if my entire life–every second of it–were to be wholly rotten, as soon as I was resurrected, the temporary pain would be completely past and absolutely nothing in comparison to eternity.

Secondly, this realization helps me to reorient my expectations. If I expect that happiness and ease are owed me, then it makes sense for me to fear their leaving. Today I might fear tomorrow’s happiness being stolen because I am deserving of that pleasure tomorrow, but I know I don’t always have it. Therefore, I fear being cheated. However, to recognize that pleasure isn’t something I can expect means that I don’t have to fear it not existing tomorrow.

Image result for lawn mowerConsider this: if you were to borrow your neighbor’s lawn mower, would you, whilst mowing your lawn, dread the moment you have to return it? I would hope not. Instead you’re likely to be grateful to have it in the moment. Indeed, if pleasure is not something guaranteed, but is, instead borrowed in a way, then it becomes a pleasant surprise when offered. It is easier to enjoy the extra day off from work, the eight hours of sleep, or the current situation in school, because these pleasures are not guaranteed, so we don’t try to possess them. At the same time, they aren’t inherently expected–so they are also a beautiful surprise.

C. S. Lewis in his book, The Screwtape Letters, points out that man, expecting his free time to be wholly “his,” becomes upset when something is required of him during this moment. But, how narrow-minded this is! God has gifted each man with every breath he breathes. If we, instead, expect to use our time for God’s glory, the times that he provides for our individual rest will be accepted in gratitude instead of demanded in selfish pride.

Therefore, going through life expecting it to be painful and hard and, sometimes, wretched, in an ironic way, opens my eyes to the beauty and joy and pleasures that I am offered in the present. 

I feel I ought to note also that having this realistic perception of the fallenness of the world doesn’t inherently mean we cannot always be joyful (1 Thessalonians 5:16) or cannot always sense God’s peace that surpasses understanding (Philipians 4:7). I wholeheartedly believe that, because we know how the story ends, we can still experience these blessings, even without being blind to the painful situation Earth is in. Faith is not a feeling and feeling lonely or scared or like a failure is inevitable sometimes. However, these feelings need not define us.

Overall, then, I call Christians to a realistic perception of the world: it stinks. “Smile, Jesus Image result for smile jesus loves youloves you” isn’t inherently wrong by any means, but we also can’t expect that all the time. We should live fully aware that we are soldiers fighting a bloody battle, aware that we’ll often lie sleepless at night bearing the burdens of the world, and that there will be days where we’d much rather take the gain of death than the life of Christ.

But, in all of this, there is a peace and a joy that comes with the release of the “American dream.” Enjoy every blessing that God offers you right now. But don’t worry about what will come tomorrow. Your pleasure isn’t expected tomorrow, it’s expected in the next life.

 

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Together in Solitude: The Importance of Spending Time Alone with God

IMG_20180518_162805791Last Friday I went out on a date and it was so refreshing. We sat in my hammock out in the warm, sunny woods alongside Hamlin Lake, enjoying the steady breeze, talking, and just hanging out (get the pun?). The funny thing is, if anyone had walked by, they would’ve thought I was hammocking by myself, because they couldn’t see that my date was with God. Judge me if you want, but if you don’t think a date with God is legit, you’re obviously missing out.

The week before had just been my first week of a new job and I was quite wound up. I was a little stressed and anxious and had been running around like absolute crazy helping my family pack up for a vacation that week. Finally sitting down, I told God all about it. It was great. I didn’t have to put on a face to pretend it was all okay. But I also didn’t have to reassure God that I was not intending to complain. He already knew. I could admit everything and know that he still loves me–like crazy. Unlike looking to a human relationship for satisfaction, I also knew that everything I put into this relationship really could satisfy me. One hundred percent guaranteed.

As I talked to God, he talked to me. It wasn’t verbal, but I could definitely sense his IMG_20180506_165424607_HDRpresence in the creation all around me. Who created the beautiful sunshine? The bright green leaves? The warm weather? The breeze? Our time together also gave me a chance to remember all the things I know but forget in the business of life: God is in control no matter what; I have no need to worry, he loves me so much he’s delighted to hang out–no matter where or how, I’m so blessed to have the job I have, even if I don’t love it every moment.

My last blog post spoke of the importance of people. Here I’d like to address the importance of solitude and silence before God. In a raffle last semester I won a book titled, “The Celebration of Discipline.” Woohoo! Right? Admittedly the book is a little dry, but still has some really good points. The author, Richard Foster, explains that when we never take time to be silent, we miss out on hearing from God: “The preacher is such a bore. The hymn singing is too weak. The worship service is too dull. We may begin to look around for another church or a new experience to give us ‘spiritual goose bumps.’ This is a serious mistake…rather than chafing and fighting, become still and wait.” Have you ever considered that your spiritual walk may feel so boring and like a chore simply because you’re completely ignoring a passionate conversation that God wants to have with you?

God rarely, in my experience, speaks verbally. But there are so many times when he’s spoken to me through my surroundings, other people, and my thoughts. I forget about my blessings, I forget about other people, and I forget the joys of growing in a relationship with God when I never take the time to be silent.

Therefore, to approach this goal of giving God some silent alone time to listen to him, I have some achievable ambitions:

  1. I am a HUGE fan of music. When I have access to music and am working on an activity that allows me to, I’m listening to music about 90% of the time (my family can attest!). Most of the time it’s worship music, too. But I’ve come to realize that, even if it is a good message, that doesn’t mean there can’t be something better. Tyler Joseph, leading singer in the band 21 Pilots, wrote a song titled “Car Radio” after someone stole his car radio. In his commentary about the song, he stated, “It was interesting to see how when I removed the distraction of music from my life in my car, where my brain would go…thoughts that would go through my mind… I still encourage people to take some time to just sit in silence every once in a while. A lot of things can come out…a lot of things that need to come out.” For a week, I’m going to try not turning on the music on my commute to and from work. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe something will.
  2. Lying in bed at night can be a perfect time to reflect on what happened during the day and to reset your attitude. Similarly, the morning is a great time to consciously pick your outlook for the day. My goal, then is to, for just one week for starters, not be on my phone or computer for half an hour before bed and half an hour after I wake up. That will give me a little time to have a conversation with God before I converse via text with my friends.
  3. A third option, is to simply take prayers before meals seriously. How quick we are to state, “Thanks God, for the food and for my family. Amen.” But, while God appreciates the short prayers, they are often spoken thoughtlessly. Take a moment to transform a thoughtless process into a genuine conversation with the God of the universe.

These activities provide a perfect time for prayer–a most powerful, overlooked spiritual discipline. How do you expect God to work in your life if you aren’t speaking to him? Just talk. Seriously, he wants to be in a relationship with you and talking is a great way to kick that off!

Or read your Bible! This is another spiritual discipline which is completely thrown aside so often. But we Christians base our faith off of this book, shouldn’t we be actively digging into it?

If both of these suggestions intimidate you, start with something as absolutely approachable as using this time to reflect. At school, a group of us would meet for dinner on Fridays and go over highlights and lowlights of the week. So often when trying to find highlights and lowlights, we would state, “Geez, I don’t really remember what happened this week!” My friend mentioned that this was all the more reason to intentionally reflect. You only have one life; you might as well be aware of what you’re doing in it! When I reflect, it reminds me of how blessed I am, which leads to my praising God.

In closing, I want to warn that silence and solitude is a discipline and, like everything 30428831301_436bb2c60e_belse in life, it takes effort (cliche, but true!). In order to practice what I preach, today I turned off the music for an hour while I worked out by myself and took at shower. I think it’s a sign I need more focus when I find myself singing in place of the music or pretending to be a Spanish-speaking fitness trainer…or both (I have a pretty good imagination…).

But faith is not a feeling and relationships take work. But if you ask me, having the chance to go on a date with the Creator of the universe who is passionately pursuing us is worth a little effort…

How to be Happy, Seriously.

IMG_20180509_142441718_HDR-EFFECTS.jpgI sat on the edge of my little brother’s bed as I said goodnight to him. “How much money did you make at work today?” He questioned, somewhat randomly. “Sometime could you give me just $2,000 so that I can buy a nice 4-wheeler?”

I chuckled a little, but was completely opposed to the idea. “No.”

“Why not?”

“I love you and I want you to be safe, buddy.”

“But the $2,000 4-wheeler has a seat belt! Please!”

“No, I need the money for school, kiddo..”100_0795 - Edited

The discussion went on for a while as he tried to acquire the cash and I discouraged him. He kept asking “why?” and I had to think of an answer that was good enough to stop the pleading. Finally I realized the actual reason I was most opposed to him pursuing this 4-wheeler: “Buddy, the reason I don’t want you to get this is because it’s not going to make you happy.”

It’s the truth. Sure a 4-wheeler would be a ton of fun, but he’s got a lot of other (cheaper) toys that he’s bored with; a 4-wheeler would eventually amount to the same. But my 11-year-old brother has a hard time believing me.

In fact, don’t we all have a hard time believing that things won’t make us happy? Culture is ready to “satisfy” our needs with possessions. But if we look to possessions to be happy, we won’t ever be satisfied. This is something I have a feeling we all know with head knowledge, regardless of where our hearts are. So I’m not going to try to beat you over the head with it. While it’s important to remember that possessions cannot provide joy, the idea isn’t really new and it’s harder to believe than we’d like.

However, an idea that is slightly more novel, and thereby useful, would be something that Andy Stanley said in his sermon serious “What Makes You Happy.” He stated that IMG_20180511_160258995you need a “who or two” to be happy. While spending time, energy, or money on things does very little to satisfy long term, spending time, energy, or money on people is a thoroughly rewarding pursuit.

Over and over I have found this in my daily life. Reading my brother a goodnight story, helping my mom make dinner, folding laundry with my sister, cleaning the bathroom for my siblings, buying someone a surprise doughnut, have left me feeling fuller than anything I could ever do by myself. What are you doing to spend your time, energy, or money on people?

Even just being more thoughtfully aware of others does much to help my attitude. For example, the thought of going to work this morning wasn’t the happiest thought I’ve ever had. However, if I break for just a minute to realize that going to work can be a way to serve others, I suddenly can find meaning and purpose in it–because then I’m making work about other people instead of myself.

There are some simple and entirely reasonable methods for applying this perspective.

  1. Okay, first things first: our God is the God of joy. In order to be content and purposeful, the first thing you need to do is to connect with God!
  2. After having done so, though, there are ways to be more intentional about our attitudes. When I think I’m having the worstest day ever, remembering that other people have problems too is like a taser shock reminding me of my blessings. A recent goal for me is that, when I’m having a bad day, I reach out and ask how other people are doing. Turning my thoughts away from my pity party is not only helpful for me, but encouraging to the others.
  3. img_20180506_143341873_hdr.jpgMy psychology professor, Dr. Geoff Kramer, once informed me of research he’d found which stated that money spent on activities with people as opposed to possessions for oneself were far more rewarding. This is so easily applicable; it’s worth considering. If you had the choice between spending $40 on a day trip with friends or on a new pair of jeans, the former will provide a better sense of fulfillment.
  4. I’d like to encourage you to spend time with other people. Maybe make it a daily goal to intentionally serve someone else–even if it’s as simple as intentionally opening a door or putting away dry dishes from the rack or even just hanging out, honestly. These can take less than two minutes, but this focus can be enough to get your head out of your own little world and to start thinking about others. Whenever I do this, I’m that much closer to “be[ing] joyful always” and living with the hope and love that we, as Christians, should aspire to.

If you want to be happy, start looking for ways to make others happy. How beautiful is it that our wise God set up life in such a way that making others happy makes us happy as well 🙂 Trust me, we all know it’s not always peachy. You definitely won’t always feel delighted about serving others or spending time or money on them. But I can entirely guarantee that it will leave you happier than if you left humans out of the happiness pursuit.img_20170708_153402971_hdr.jpg

Finding True Love: To the Girls Who Want to be Pursued

We girls can be so stupid. We want love. We want to be pursued. We want to be somebody’s. In Christian circles especially, we often feel that finding that kind of love is a significant goal in our lives. Therefore, we put so much effort into dreaming of and looking for such a successful, loving relationship.

But how blind we are! Each and every moment of every day we are already being relentlessly pursued. We have a lover standing just behind us, trying unceasingly to get our attention, calling to us lovingly, longingly waiting, yearning to be everything that we desire a lover to be.

There are a number of songs that express so beautifully the relentless longing that the Lord, our true Lover, has for us:

“The scar that’s in My side saysImage result for heart in sand
As the sea is wide, My love is more so
I’m everything you need
Don’t you know the blood I bleed is for you, don’t you know?

I bridged the gap you see
And I’ll supply your every lack and need
To bring you back to Me
You’re so valuable.”
“I would run to your rescue
But you can’t see through your painSo I’m reaching across the Grand Canyon
Hoping you will take my hand
Wondering why you’re just not listening.
So for the time being
I’ll just keep on reaching for you”

“My hand is the only hand you needImage result for reaching hand
Why do you keep on
Holding on to everything but me?
Why do you keep on
Looking up to find a sign
It’s been right here all this time?
O Can’t you see?
My hand is the only hand you need”
Sometimes we get caught in the ways of the world and assume that romantic love is the end all be all. But girls, the kind of love a man has to offer is only the shadow of the kind of love that the God of the universe is longing to pour out on you. If we first learn to turn to the Lord our God for our fulfillment and purpose, I guarantee, we will NOT be let down.
So yes, we long to be loved and pursued. We are created to desire this. But it is not an empty longing. Try giving some focus to the One who is just aching for some of your attention, who is offering his hand, patiently reaching across the Grand Canyon, who was willing to die to win your heart.
If, after that, you are also provided a man to love, consider yourself blessed. But, until then, I honestly believe we can feel fulfilled, loved, and pursued by opening our eyes to the One who is pursing us already. In this way, we can “be joyful always,” even when we don’t know what’s ahead, and can make right here right now count.

 

Weighing in on the Value Scale: Humbly Looking to Christ

img_20180308_151333378_hdr.jpgWhen I was a kid, I was told I was fun-loving. This is a compliment–except when you’re told you’re fun-loving instead of hard-working. And when you’re told you can’t make it through life unless you learn to work hard. Then, when you’re told you’re fun loving, it ends up meaning, to you as a child, that you don’t know how to work hard.

So as a kid, I was convinced I was not a hard worker and that I was not going to make it through college–or life. But I ended up at the community college anyway. And, by some miracle, I started receiving As on my assignments. Slowly the world became a different place as my teachers encouraged me. They told me I was smart, intelligent, dedicated, and competent. They believed in me.

Slowly I believed in myself. I grasped the idea that, if I was a good student, I might be able to work hard (even if I wasn’t inherently a hard-worker). So I kept it up and put in great amounts of effort to define myself as a good student, as a conscientious individual, as a hard worker. It’s great to be confident, to believe in oneself, because we all are valuable. But recently it’s dawned on me that there are different ways to define value.

0303170743 - EditedThis semester I was offered a great opportunity with Cornerstone University: I got picked as one of a handful of students to present in front of the school in a “Celebration of Scholarship” event. It was an honor, and I was honestly delighted. I would have the opportunity to put forth a great deal of academic effort and then share something I was passionate about with others. I was excited to be granted a role in this event. It was another way to prove to myself my academic ability.

But as I prepared for the presentation, things didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped. My research got delayed, my results came back late, and I couldn’t interpret the responses. I was in turmoil. I spent hours trying to figure out the statistics part–most of which was spent figuring out how to get Excel online to work with me. I downloaded add-ons, I watched YouTube videos, I read “how-to” instructions Googled online. This was dedication. I can’t stand doing any of these desperate measures I was going to. But I was willing to put forth great effort to do well in this honorable opportunity.

But after a few hours of this, I still wasn’t getting anywhere. On occasion, actually I was making mistakes that messed up my data and required me to spend time re-entering the data. While I wasn’t moving forward, some of my effort moved me backward.

Hence I did what any desperate girl would do: cried for a few hours.

It was through all of this that I realized my pain and stress related to this project was so intense because I was using this project to define me. In fact, lately I’ve been using my academic strength to define my worth. I’d been finding value in my academic success. I didn’t think I could do well in school. When I received the pleasant surprise that I could, I put too much value in that.

While it’s great to take a healthy pride in my strengths, to let my academic strength define my worth is to cut myself short. God loves me with a relentless love regardless of anything I do. Sure, I can delight him by using my gifts and talents for his glory. But my A person's hand holding up a roll of dollar billsvalue does not come from these things. My value comes from his unchanging, unbreakable, uncomprehendable, infinite love for me. When I can learn to rest sure in this constant love, I can have his peace that surpasses understanding for nothing that the future holds can affect my value or my worth in his eyes.

What are you using to define your worth?

When Time is Irrelevant: An Analogy of God’s Perspective

jan-kahanek-184676-unsplashWhen I was in high school, I attempted to write an adventure novel. Admittedly, it was quite cliche; the King died, and this peasant boy discovers he’s actually the prince (hidden in a foster family to preserve his life in the time of war). He doesn’t inherently want to, but for the sake of the nation, he must fight for his rightful place on the throne. I had lots of struggles and even more fun writing it, even though, honestly, it’s pretty darn bad.

However, it was this experience–of being an “author” and creating characters–that enthralled me in another analogy, one that I found in C. S. Lewis‘ book MiraclesI cannot fathom how God can care about each individual out of the millions and millions who have lived, can listen to each of our prayers, and can know my name before I was born. alessandro-cavestro-559170-unsplash.jpgDude, God has a lot on his hands. Even if I dismiss all the other people who have ever lived or ever will life, right here and right now there are more than 7 million people alive. That’s a lot of people for God to be intimately, constantly working with.

But C. S. Lewis said it like this: life is like an adventure novel with a complicated plot and many characters and with God as the author. To the characters in the novel, everything seems to happen in time, in succession, and without breaks. We wake up in the morning, go to work, keep house, interact with others, eat, and sleep with no breaks. Even if we take breaks, life is still going on.

But the author of the book doesn’t see time at all the same way. The author of the book is free to be working on a script for BethAnn and to stop, put down the pen and think. He can think for “hours” about this one sentence of BethAnn’s life. He can pause time for her and plan a great many specific details. He can decide where she’ll work, who she’ll interact with, what she’ll say three chapters from now.  For as long as he desires, he can consider his character, what she thinks and how she feels, even though the book has so many other characters. He can do that because he’s the author. She’ll never be aware of this pause in time, but the author can make it last for as long as he desires.

And the author isn’t restricted to working through the book sequentially, the way the18424132_1209085189217242_3477933893854710313_n.jpg characters are in the finished project. He is welcome to skip from the fourth chapter to chapter 22. He can move ahead or behind and life for the characters will never be changed in the published book.

Quite obviously the way time works on earth is not at all the same as the way time works for God. This is a very abstract concept, but imagining God as the Author of the book that we’re living right now helps me to start somewhere.

Friends, our God is so great, he is beyond understanding. Let us praise the God of the universe who, in ways still unknown to us, is always with each and every one of us–his dearly beloved.

Where do I belong?: Defining Our Purpose on Earth

Image result for hummingbird

My boss is like a baby; he screams and wakes me up every half hour.

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

She was like a magnet: attractive from the back, but repulsive from the front.

I like analogies. They can significantly clarify things that would be otherwise excessively complicated to understand. One thing about being a Christ-follower is that the God we seek after is way beyond our understanding. When I come across a good analogy related to my faith, I like to savor it. While reading Francis Chan’s Crazy Love this week, I came across an analogy worth sharing regarding how we should see ourselves in the world.

Chan said to see the whole of time as a film. Not the whole of time as in your lifetime, but the whole of time as in pre-Genesis 1:1 to post Revelation 22:21. In this film, any Christian would have to agree, God is the main character. The film follows the story of His creation Image result for billy grahamof the world, the Fall, and the conflict following. Slowly the plot builds to a integral part where God sends His own son into a deprived world where His son eventually sacrifices His life because of His love for His creation. Although we’ve not yet reached that point, we know how the film ends as well.

In this whole movie of life, each and every individual created gets to play a part. Some people get more screen time: Moses, Joseph, Paul, even Billy Graham and Martin Luther, others are no less important, but most don’t get to spend as much time on screen. So we’re all extras in a big film about God. But that’s it. We’re extras.

If you were an extra in an actual film, you would undoubtedly play the film for your family and friends and exclaim in excitement for that 2/5ths of a second when you can see the back of your head in the corner of the screen. Your mom or your best friend might get excited with you, but, for the most part, nobody is really going to care about your “big debut.” Similarly, in life we often get waaaaaay too caught up in ourselves, convinced that those 2/5ths of a second was what the film was made for. But it’s not.

David says it well in Psalm 39:clock-3179159_1920.jpg

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
    and the number of my days;
    let me know how fleeting my life is.
 You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
    the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
    even those who seem secure.”

This is the attitude we need to retain. We are not the main character and we should not live as if we were.

But, at the same time, that shot needed extras to be complete. The whole story of good and evil on the earth couldn’t be played out without characters–without the extras. While we need to, in humility, remember how small we are, we also need to remember, in awe and the same humility, that we were created with a purpose. We need to remember that, though our life is so short, every breath we breathe is valuable. We matter to God. He sent His son to redeem us. Even extras have specific parts to play.

But even then, our parts as extras are always to bring glory to the main character.  If we do not serve our purpose of directing audience attention to God, we are useless within the film. But if, through living our everyday lives and doing our minor tasks, we point people in Pocket Watch, Time Of, Sand, Time, Clockthe direction of God, how perfectly we are fulfilling our 2/5ths of a second on the film.

So friends, you matter. You have a purpose. But life is short. Use your 2/5ths of a second to bring glory to the Hero of the show. In doing so, you will be faithfully making your 2/5ths everything that it can and should be.