What Truly Matters

We had arrived. Where were we? At a children’s home in Kenya, Africa. We were there to paint the schoolrooms and build desks for the abundance of skinny children playing in the dirt around the compound, which was surrounded with 8 Ft walls. We had come from America, the land of wealth, to bless the lowly, these poor orphans in need. We had come to bless them. I had no idea. The next week proved how wrong I was.

The next seven days we did our best mission impression, but the natives out-blessed us at every turn. In our honor they killed and cooked their best food for us, prized rare chicken meat. They also provided expensive soda in our honor. The volunteer workers and teachers at the children’s home were paid very little, they suffered a hard job, trying to parent and manage throngs of orphans coming and graduating from the orphanage. Yet they always looked after us. One woman even washed my cousin’s feet because they were dirty. Every afternoon the children would be released from class and come running to play with us ‘muzungus’ (white people). They would marvel at our white skin and thin hair. We played basketball with them or spun them around by their arms. They never stopped laughing and smiling.

In the evening we would gather inside and sing worship songs together. They would teach us African songs and we would teach them American songs. On Sunday many people gathered together to worship. Different groups got up to sing for us. They were very lively and energetic. They had our mission team get up and sing, admittedly less passionate and lively than they were. The service went on, astonishingly lasting four hours in the heat. They were not going to shortchange God!

We come to bless the Kenyans, but truly they blessed us far more. What struck me the most about them was the joy and peace they contained within their hearts, despite having very little and living a rough life. They did not go around complaining that Americans had much more than they had. They were just thankful that we came; they enjoyed our fellowship. They taught me so much. Joy does not come from possessions or even living a #blessed life. Joy comes from knowing and pursuing God. Joy comes from being thankful for the good things, not focusing on the bad things.

In a culture that has everything, Americans want more. With technology, we have never had life easier, yet we are never satisfied. We are always discontent. Our focus is often on ourselves and how others have more than we do. Whether it be money, fame, beauty, talent, privilege, etc. there is always someone with more and that’s just not fair. We could do with a bigger perspective. Let’s not forget what’s most important: loving God and loving each other.  Let’s be thankful that we live in the top 3% of the wealth in the world and work to spread the blessing to others.

 

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The Character of God

This is the fourth opportunity I’ve been given by my pastor to speak at my church. I hope you enjoy and that it blesses you.

“Good evening. A month ago my pastor asked me to speak and I agreed. I am grateful for the opportunity to give back to this church full of people who taught me so much wisdom and showered so much love on me growing up.

I have been busy with papers in grad school so I decided to adopt this sermon from one of my essays. When I told my pastor what my sermon was going to be about he of course recommended a book for me. The book he gave me, Your God is too Small by J.B. Phillips was very helpful as was another book I read called The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. If you haven’t already guessed, my topic tonight is about who God is and who God is not. When I went to Summit (an apologetic camp) 2 summers ago as a student we recited this Tozer quote every morning during Bible study, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Our understanding of God is important because it guides how we live life. Likewise, it is important to know what God is not so we do not fall into the trap of acting out of a false belief of God. During this Christmas holiday I think it is important to remind ourselves of the characteristics of God in order to foster thankfulness and worship toward God.

God is not-

God does not expect perfection from man. Though we fall short of his glory, he still loves us and encourages us. He does not want perfection from us, but only for us to try our hardest and strive to grow in him.

God is not a God of escapism. God does not hide us away from reality so we can cope, but instead he is our anchor that we rely on, so we can be content and confident in life no matter what happens.

God is not a simple God, He cannot be put in a box – God is not a denominational God, or a God that only works in the church. He does not fit our finite human idea of him. He’s bigger than us.

God is –

Love:

1 John 4:16 “God is love.” In The knowledge of the Holy Tozer is quick to point out that this does not mean literally that God IS love, but that love is an essential attribute of God’s character (98).

God’s other characteristics tells us more about his love. For instance, God is self-existent so his love has no beginning; because he is eternal, his love can have no end; because he is infinite, it has no limit; because he is holy, it is spotless purity; because he is immense, his love is incomprehensibly vast. The very nature of love is active, creative, and benign. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 says. So therefore, love must give of itself, whatever the cost may be (agape Love). “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17).

Just:

God is a just God. God defines justice because he is perfect and sets the standard of morality. We celebrate Christmas because Jesus came to die for our sins because He wanted a relationship with us. Because of His holiness and justice we could not have a relationship with Him without atonement for our sins being made. God is compassionate because he is good.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Mercy:

God is also merciful,

“Both the Old and the New Testaments proclaim the mercy of God, but the Old has more than four times as much to say about it as the New. We should banish from our minds forever the common but erroneous notion that justice and judgment characterize the God of Israel, while mercy and grace belong to the Lord of the Church (Tozer 90-91).”

 

According to Tozer, God’s character is constant so he never changes from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Tozer claims that in order to receive mercy we must first know that God is merciful. We must believe that God’s mercy is “boundless, free and….available to us now in our present situation (92).”

Immutability:

God’s nature does not change. God remains consistent throughout the scriptures. God has no need to change because He is completely mature and perfect in every way. Man, because of his imperfection, is ever changing. Yet he desires the unchanging and mourns the decay of the changing in the world. But, God does use change to work toward a process of perfection. Tozer concludes,

Holiness:

God is Holy. Isaiah understood holiness and his lack of it. In Isaiah 6:5 he said, “Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Isaiah understood how holy God is and how he views his people. Tozer points out that,

“We have learned to live with unholiness and have come to look upon it as the natural and expected thing. We are not disappointed that we do not find all truth in our teachers or faithfulness in our politicians or complete honesty in our merchants or full trustworthiness in our friends. That we may continue to exist we make such laws as are necessary to protect us from our fellow men and let it go at that (103-104).”

 

Tozer believes that man, even while fearing God’s power and admiring his wisdom, cannot imagine his holiness. It is possible to have truth in the mind, but not the heart. Man can only learn about Holiness through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Mystery:

God is mysterious. God is hard to know because we as humans understand what we already know, what is in this world. However, God is not from this world, he is both spiritual and physical. He is greater than us and he is divine. People only know God by what he has revealed in this world. Humanity cannot understand or comprehend what he has not revealed. The writers’ of the Bible use many comparisons (God is like…) to describe him, but these are not descriptions of him. Language cannot describe or comprehend him, for he is beyond words.

“…high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown… (Ezekiel 1:26-28).”

Tozer explains why humans struggle with the concept of God,

“Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control. We need the feeling of security that comes from knowing what God is like, and what He is like is of course a composite of all the religious pictures we have seen, all the best people we have known or heard about, and all the sublime ideas we have entertained (Tozer 8).”

 

The desire to know God comes from something he put deep inside of man, “deep calls unto deep (Psalm 42:7).” This desire can only be satisfied by looking at God’s son Jesus and through the revealing of the Holy Spirit. Tozer contends that God does not reveal his nature through reason, but through faith and love. While man has no answer to the question “what is God like in himself,” there is an answer to “what has God disclosed about himself that reason can comprehend.” These things are what God has revealed to the world, his attributes.

Wisdom:

The Bible declares the wisdom of God: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. … He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him (Daniel 2:20-22).” ‘His understanding is infinite,’ says the psalms (147:5). God gave man wisdom, but it is secondary to God’s and that is the reason that Romans 16:27 refers to God as “only wise.” The Bible defines the wisdom of God as being pure, loving, and good.

“All God’s acts are done in perfect wisdom, first for His own glory, and then for the highest good of the greatest number for the longest time. And all His acts are as pure as they are wise, and as good as they are wise and pure. Not only could His acts not be better done: a better way to do them could not be imagined. An infinitely wise God must work in a manner not to be improved upon by finite creatures (60-61).”

Jealousy:

In Deuteronomy 6:14 God warns the Israelites not to follow false gods or he will destroy the Israelites because he is a jealous God. Jealousy seems like a purely negative emotion, but it actually can be used for good. God’s jealousy is a form of his love for his creation. He wants a loving relationship with everyone and will pursue that wholeheartedly. Anything that becomes an idol or more loved by an individual will be a source of jealousy to God. This is good for man because man will only truly thrive and experience life within a relationship with God. God’s punishment of war to the Israelites wasn’t solely because he was angry and vengeful, but because he wanted the Israelites to wake up. God wanted to remind the Israelites how much they needed him and how important a relationship with him is. God also wanted to remind the Israelites that true life is only found in him and that the temporary pleasures they were pursuing ended in death. God would rather have a short term, punishment here on earth for his creation, than an eternal punishment in the next life.

So in review God is full of grace, guidance, love, justice, mercy, holiness. He is constant, wise, jealous for us, and mysterious. Knowing these things about God gives us confidence that we can weather the trials of life and help others in need as well. Reviewing the attributes of God fosters a spirit of thankfulness and love toward God. Keeping in mind the character of God helps us prioritize life and grow closer to God. I am thankful that we serve a powerful, forgiving, and graceful God. Thank you!”

Persecution in America

What is the definition of persecution in the Bible? The prophets, disciples, and Jesus were mocked, beaten, tortured, and killed for their faith. Can we claim the same in America? No, of course not.
American culture is shifting more and more towards secularism. We are seeing many Christians react in panic and anger. How dare our religious freedoms be taken away?! I’m not saying we shouldn’t fight for these things but we should keep the bigger picture in mind.

We enjoy more religious freedom today than most Christians have had throughout history. We are a long way from experiencing true biblical persecution. But even if we were experiencing this type of persecution would it be a bad thing? Let’s go back to the Bible.

“God blesses those who are persecuted because they live for God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:10

“Persecution can be good because (1) it takes our eyes off of earthly rewards (2) it strips away superficial belief (3) it strengthens the faith of those who endure, and (4) our attitude through it serves as an example to others who follow. We can be comforted knowing that God’s greatest prophets were persecuted (Elijah, Jeremiag, Daniel). The fact that we are being persecuted proves that we have been faithful; faithless people would be unnoticed. In the future God will reward the faithful by receiving them into his eternal Kingsom, where there is no persecution.”-Life Application Study Bible

One of the big reasons nonbelievers are critical of Christians is their lukewarm faith. As the battle lines are drawn out in this country thank God for the oppurtunity to be tested in our faith. Let us not respond with anger and fear, but rather love and truth so that nonbelievers may see us reflecting God and not our own sinful flesh.
Where is Christianity growing the most? You might be surprised to learn that the top 20 countries are in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia where Christiand are being persecuted the most (https://discipleallnations.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/the-top-20-countries-where-christianity-is-growing-the-fastest/ which references global christianigy.org)

I believe God is preparing to seperate the wheat from the chaff in America (Matthew 3:12). Where will you stand? I know where I want to stand. I am striving to live in authentic Christianity. Let us pray that God continually reigns in our hearts and that we would embrace the trials in this life in order to grow in our dependence and faith in him.

Conquering Fear/Guilt & Embracing Faith/Freedom

Note: this is the written down speech I gave to my church.

Good evening, it is great to see everyone one last time before I leave to work at Summit Ministries (a Christian apologetic camp) until the middle of July. I have been blessed to grow up in this Church with this group of people and I feel very loved. Thank you all!

Last year I talked about some of the things I’ve gone through in my life. I realize that some of you were not here then and I don’t expect you to remember my life story anyway, so I want to summarize those events in order to highlight how I let fear, guilt, and perfectionism hold me in chains throughout my life. I believe most people go through bullying at some point in their life and it can affect them in ways that they don’t realize. I hope you can relate to my story and use it to help you in your story as well. I want to share with you some of the things I’ve learned over the past year about how to deal with these feelings and beliefs.

I like to tell people I’m a chill person, that very little ruffles my feathers and I can take life in stride. That statement is true…on the outside, but usually on the inside my mind is churning with thoughts, worries, and judgments. Fear and guilt have held me back in chains far too often in life.

I’ve always dealt with fear, but until recently I did not realize how much it dominated my thoughts and actions. When I was a child was fearful. I was stubborn and impulsive. I had ADHD and my parents will tell you they did not understand what I was struggling with for many years. They loved me and wanted what was best for me. They did what they thought was best. I do not hold any grudge towards them and we have a great relationship. I could not have asked for better parents and I wouldn’t be who I am today without their love and guidance. But when I was young I feared not being good enough. I feared not living up to others expectations. I wanted acceptance and approval, but I believed that those were earned by how good I acted rather than who I was as a person. These beliefs taught me to hide my feelings, to not tell others when I was feeling sick or sad. I did not believe that my personal struggles mattered to others. I felt guilty when I did not live up to expectations. Most people saw me as a well-behaved little kid, but at home I struggled to obey the rules and often acted up.

In junior high and high school I continued to feel fear and guilt. I experienced rejection from some people, apathy from others, and bullying from some. I felt lonely. I feared being myself and retreated inwards. I feared that I would never have friends and no one would like me. In basketball, which was my passion, I did not achieve any success until my senior year of high school. I felt like a failure at one of the things I enjoyed most & worked hardest at in my life. I felt guilty that I was not living up to my ideals of success in basketball. I felt guilty because my efforts as a basketball player was not respected by my teammates, and seemingly my coaches as well. I started to believe the lie that I was not worthy of love, that I was somehow less than others. I let others dictate my worth. Eventually, God blessed me with the opportunity to go back to my old private school. I made friends and became social again. I was given the opportunity to be a leader on my basketball team and achieve success. We were able to reach the final four and I received several honors.

In College I began with a positive experience. However, as time went on, I experienced guilt because I felt different than many of my fellow students. I did not fit the social norm there. I feared once again that there was something wrong with me, that I was less than others. I retreated into myself once again and was unsocial. School also became harder as my classes became more advanced. I experienced a lot of anxiety over assignments. My senior year was the climax of those feelings. My last semester I took 17 hours including senior research in order to graduate. I also worked part-time. I feared the workload. I let the feeling grow in my mind until it crippled me from actually being productive and getting things done. I felt constant guilt for procrastinating, but I compensated by almost shutting off all social interactions and from doing healthy things like playing basketball. I did do two healthy things in admitting my need for a mentor and a community to support me. I began going to a counselor at LCU and a Christian college group at Texas Tech. At the end of the semester, I rushed to complete everything I needed to in order to graduate. I did end up graduating, but not without a lot of grace and help from professors. I’m sure my advisor, our own Dr. Kenneth Hawley, wanted to kill me, but here I am still alive today. I am truly grateful.

The fall semester was a very tough time in my life, one of the low points. But it helped me learn valuable lessons and discover myself. After graduating I did a lot of thinking and reflecting. I realized how much I had let fear and guilt rule my life. I realized how unhealthy and unproductive those feelings had made me. Throughout my life I had focused too much on the past and the future. I had let the past dictate my present. I thought because of past failures and ideas about myself that I could not do certain things in the present. I let anxieties about the future cripple me into being unproductive and not venturing to try new things. I imagined the worst case scenario happening which made me unhappy and unmotivated to complete present tasks. Fear can be a motivator. It often has been in my life. But it is never a lasting agent of change any more than shame is. I’ve noticed that the feeling will fade and my actions will as well unless motivated by something else. That something else is love and conviction 1 John 4:16 & 18, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them… There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear… The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

This spring I have been learning to focus on the present. My counselor told me three powerful acronyms for fear, the first is: Faith Exits And Runs, the second, Forget Everything And React and the third: False Evidence Appearing Real. I am trying to use the past to teach me lessons of change instead of repeating the same mistakes again. I realize that fear is from the devil and that it is a lack of faith in God, and his plan. 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control. “I am focusing less on the unknown future, knowing that I can only operate in the present. I still make plans and goals, but I realize and accept that God could change my direction in life at any time. James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

I also realize that I have let my past affect my relationship with God. I always knew that God accepted me how I was. He forgave me for my sins. I knew these truths in my head, but I had not accepted them in my heart and did not operate that way in life. I operated on the principle of a scale. On one side was idealism/perfectionism, and the other side was impulsiveness/rationalism. My heart told me that God is worthy of wholehearted devotion. So when I built up the motivation and religious fervor I made a huge list of how I thought I should be following God. I would try to complete my list daily, which usually lasted around a week, before I gave up in disgust and guilt that I wasn’t good enough to live up to my expectations. I thought I was a failure as a Christian, as one who followed God. So I would run the opposite way and live for a time in compulsiveness. I would try not to think about how God wanted me near, and justified my actions by telling myself I knew what to do whenever I felt ready to try to follow God wholeheartedly once again. The cycle was exhausting and depressing, but I repeated it over and over again through the years growing up.

My counselor helped me realize that perfect is the enemy of good. God doesn’t want us to come to him perfect, he wants us as we are. Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. God knows I am a sinner and I’m going to fail over and over again. He simply wants me to try to follow him to the best of my ability. When I set the bar instead of letting God I fail, but when I accept his standard and help I live in freedom. Galatians 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” When I try to be perfect I quickly become overwhelmed and fail. But daily trying to be good in Gods strength I succeed and build on the day before. Pastor Scott Sauls says, “We are not called to be perfectly awesome. We are called to be imperfectly faithful, because we have been perfectly loved, liberated, and highly esteemed by the Most High.”

I am daily striving to live with a penitent heart, to be humble enough to admit my wrongs as convicted by the word, instead of dwelling on my wrongs in guilt, I try to be convicted by them and repent so that I may strive to change and allow God to work inside of me freely. Guilt is a toll Satan uses to keep people from being effective. I am also striving to live in faith, not fearing the future or any manufactured fears. Proverbs 29:25 “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.” This pursuit of faith is helping me understand and desire the great leap into the unknown. Madeleine L’Engle says, “We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are.”

Fear held me back from doing what I needed to, but also from enjoying life. When I stopped fearing I thought and considered so many more possibilities that before I didn’t even consider possible such as leaving Lubbock, joining new social circles, and going to Baylor. Once again after a dark period in my life God has opened the doors for me. I have been accepted into Summit Ministries staff starting in May. I have also been accepted into Baylor’s grad school with a full scholarship and TA position this fall. While God has shown me the way, he has not revealed what all will happen. By focusing on the present, striving for good instead of perfection, living in conviction, and having faith in God’s guiding hand, I have found freedom in Christ. Because of this freedom I am at peace with God’s directing hand and whatever life throws at me. Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I hope you have found this same freedom and peace in your own life. Thanks and God bless you all.