Posted in Book Review, Devotion

Identity

“The truth is you have been made perfect and are wholly loved. Chosen simply because you breathe, because you exist, because of who created you. I know this world has led you to believe that your worth is measurable. Life has always told you that lie–that you have to work for love or change to be accepted. But the truth is different.” The Choosing by Rachelle Dekker

This novel contains a life-giving message about our identity in Christ. Told through the perspective of a rejected young girl in a society where women’s sole purpose is to be chosen by a man and then to be his wife, The Choosing teaches that while God did lay out certain gender roles he did not mean for those to be our identity as humans. Let me explain by getting a bit more personal.

I’m almost 26, and I’ve only dated a handful of times. I’m not married, and it’s not as if I have guys knocking at my door wanting to get to know me. Sometimes I look at myself and wonder, “what’s wrong with me that guys don’t want to get to know me?” I can imagine I’m not the only girl or woman to ask that question. In fact, Stasi Eldredge describes it as the “am I enough?” question asked by every girl or woman (see Captivating if you’re interested in this question more). Her idea is that women are designed with that question inside; hopefully their father answers the question at a young age by loving and valuing the girl. She admits though that often the question is not fully answered, leaving many woman wondering why they’re not enough. Ultimately, it’s God who must answer that question for women. God says to me and all women, “yes, you are enough. There is nothing wrong with you because I created you just the way you are. My Son’s blood covered all of your sins and guilt. You are beautiful, chosen, and loved, my dear child.” Hmm…take a moment to drink that in.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you. Song of Songs 4:7

Even though this novel has a futuristic dystopian setting, the world in which Carrington finds herself mirrors our world in many ways. In this future world after a disease wipes away much of the population, the Authority has set up rules for living according the Veritas, which is essentially the Old Testament.  At a certain age, girls participate in a Choosing ceremony in which they are either chosen by a young man to be his wife or sent to the Stacks to work manual labor. Families are assigned social status based upon where they live. Basically a person’s worth is determined by his or her social status, or a woman’s worth is determined by her ability to attract a male of higher social status than the one in which she was born.

The “truths” in this world match our world in that we are told our identity and worth are dependent upon what we do for a living, our social status, or sometimes even our marital status. Culture preaches that my life isn’t really started as an adult until I marry and start a family. As Carrington discovers in the novel, that’s not the truth. Our identity is not based upon any of these worldly aspects. Simply because I live and breathe, God sees value in me. He chose me as someone worthy of his love. He thinks I am beautiful and worth pursuing. Once we each accept his unearned love, we are free from the bonds of the world.

What if you could abandon all of the labels the world has placed on you? Who would you be then?

Sometimes we forget God’s truths though. We start to chase after a higher paying job, a more esteemed social status, or a relationship. We forget that God has already established our identity, and we do do not need any of these other factors. That’s when we must remember again. As the character called Aaron, who functions as the speaker of God’s truths, says,

Life is a journey of remembering and forgetting one’s true self.

Thankfully God is always there to welcome me back into his arms just like the prodigal son’s father welcomed him.

I am loved, chosen, pursued, and cherished by God.

Posted in Movies

I’ve got something Rory Gilmore doesn’t have.

If you know me, you know I enjoy the TV show Gilmore Girls. I’ve seen the original seasons 3 times, and I’m on my second viewing of the remake. Every time I relate just a little more with Rory, so it naturally follows that I wonder if I’ll face some of her same trials.

For the majority of her life, Rory Gilmore got what she wanted. At 32 years old Rory Gilmore has a breakdown because her life seems to be falling apart. She has no job, no home, no prospects, and no marriage. Her mother turns down her idea for a book, and the man she might love is engaged. Basically her life is in a deep rut, and she can’t see the sunlight.
For a brief moment I wondered if I might ever have that same point in life. Life has been pretty good to me so far, so it’s possible that some day everything could come crashing down. The world isn’t very nice at times.

Then I remembered God. Even if everything else around me falls apart, God is still on my side. There’s no need to panic. I can breathe easy because I have something Rory Gilmore doesn’t have.

*I do want to take a slight digression here. As I watch the series, there always come moments when I remember that the Gilmore paradigm is completely different than mine because they don’t have God in their lives. It saddens me if it’s possible to feel sad over the spiritual status of fictional characters. Many of their trials and worries could be overcome if they had a relationship with God. In fact, they might not have had many of the trials if they’d been following God’s will for their lives. The show probably wouldn’t have been as popular, but it would have been much more joyful.

Posted in Devotion, Holidays

Spiritual Hangover Remedy

I’ve never had a hangover, so this analogy will be based upon movies and hearsay. This week has been particularly busy for me with organized “church” events. I attended a church service Sunday that spoke to me, and then at school this week, we have special evening services for Spiritual Emphasis week. I’ve been preparing for a Bible study that I’ll attend this Thursday. Much like many others, I’ll attend Good Friday and Easter services and maybe some other services. I’m feeling very spiritually full; it’s as if I’ve sat down to a Thanksgiving feast this week when, if I’m honest, I’ve been metaphorically eating on the Atkins diet for the past few weeks.

Now I don’t know a whole lot about alcohol, but the general idea seems to be that when people imbibe a lot in a short period of time, there tends to be consequences the next day. Right now if I was comparing my intake of God’s Word with alcoholic intake, I would say that I’m imbibing the amount that could lead to a spiritual hangover.

All too often it seems that churches and Christians have these great revival times or mission moments where people feel full of God and excited, but the next day when they return to “normal life” the high starts to wear off. The excitement lessons, and then they start to feel guilty for losing the high. That’s a spiritual hangover, and I foresee the potential for such an event in my life simply because it’s happened before.

So what happens Monday when all of the Easter holiday is finished? I don’t want a spiritual hangover. I want my relationship and communication with God to remain just as alive and vibrant as it is now. So what do I do now to prevent such a fall?

What did Jesus do? I look to his last few days for answers. He had this awesome sweet time with his disciples at the Last Supper, telling them of things to come and encouraging them. After that, he went to the Garden and prayed. Even until the moments before his death, he was in communication with God the Father. Bam. There’s the answer. If I want to avoid the spiritual hangover, I keep imbibing the spiritual drink. Unlike alcohol, continuing to take in God-time and his Word won’t produce negative effects in my life. It’s okay to keep drinking in his Word, so after this weekend I’ll do my very best to fight against the temptation to slip back into the ordinary. I feel most alive when I’m in communication with God, so I’ll just stay in communication with him.

Happy Easter weekend, folks. Be sure to keep your eyes focused on the true reason for celebration and to keep drinking in the Word of God even after the celebrations die down.

Posted in Music

My Own Pocketful Of Sunshine

I don’t think Natasha Bedingfield meant her song “Pocketful of Sunshine” to be a song of praise to God, but I’m going to take it that way anyway.

The song begins by saying “I’ve got a pocket, a pocketful of sunshine”, and the overall message of the song is that one can escape her sorrows and stress by going to a hidden place. Well, I’ve got a pocketful of sunshine in my soul as well because I have a relationship with God. That hiding place she talks about? Well several Psalms talk about God being our hiding place.

You are my hiding place; you preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Psalm 32:7

She says “I’ve got a love and I know that it’s all mine”. Oh yes! I do have a love from God and I know that nothing can take that love away from me. It’s a love that I still haven’t fully comprehended, but just to give you glimpse, it involved a completely innocent man dying because God knew I wouldn’t be able to have a relationship with him otherwise. This love surpasses anything I can do wrong or right, and it is completely free to me. It causes me to sing, dance, and smile. It urges me to love others just a bit more because I am so so thankful for the love God has given me.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 35-39)

Bedingfield’s claim is that “you’re never gonna break me, sticks and stones are never gonna shake me”. As a Christian, I know that to be true because God has armed with a full armor of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the sword of the spirit (Ephesians 6). With that kind of armor, mere sticks and stones don’t stand a chance. With God, I am stronger than any army.

I can do all things through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

To her enemies, she proclaims “wish that you could but you ain’t gonna own me, do anything you can to control me”. That’s what I yell at the Devil. When the devil tempts me and tries to control my mind or actions, I can rebuke him with scripture just like Jesus did in the garden. Because of God’s reign in my life, the Devil has no place in my life. God is bigger than the Devil.

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:4

The bridge to the song says “There’s a place that I go that nobody knows, Where the rivers flow and I call it home, and there’s no more lies and the darkness is light and nobody cries; There’s only butterflies”. My place that I go? Into the arms of God. I can hide in his words and his comfort. In that place there are rivers of life (John 7:38), no lies (Numbers 23:19), and the darkness is made into light (John 8:12). There may not be butterflies, but the fact that Jesus is there is greater than anything. The presence of God is truly somewhere I can call home.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

As I walked home this afternoon listening to this song, the line “the sun is on my side, I smile up to the sky, I know I’ll be alright” caught my ear (and led to this post). I’ll take a little liberty here and replace the word “sun” with “Son” referring to Jesus. That Son is on my side, so on rough days or good days I can look up toward heaven and know it will be alright because God has a great plan that ultimately ends in my eternity with him in heaven. Praise God!

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

So if you see me walking with my earbuds in bobbing along with a smile on my face, I just might be thinking about how I have a pocketful of sunshine. For me, this will be a song of worship.

Posted in Life

Church

In the past month, I’ve been in four different churches because of various circumstances such as flooding and travelling. All of them are teaching the Bible, and there are people in each one who are genuinely seeking God. None of them, though, leave me feeling completely content with how I imagine the perfect church to be. The music is too slow or too loud; the lights are too bright or the building too cold; the people are too old or the crowd is too large; the drive is too far or I don’t want to go alone. These are just a few of the complaints that run through my head as I leave a service.

I know being plugged in to one church is what I desire, but the grass looks greener on the other side. Lately it seems as if there’s always something better somewhere else. That’s not normal for me, so I started praying. After some heart-searching, these are the answers that God gave to me. Maybe these thoughts will help someone else in a similar circumstance.

What I need to remember is two-fold. First church is not about all of the frills, which I’m honest is where most of my complaints lie. The most important part of church is God. God can speak with old hymns, new rock, bright lights, a yelling preacher, a long sermon, or a quick devotion. God is not bound by any circumstances. The only thing that binds me from hearing his words is myself.

Secondly, all of these churches are run by people. Granted, I think all of the churches I’ve been at lately are led by people seeking God. Still though, I find myself wanting certain circumstances to worship. Rather than looking for perfection in the man-made aspects of church, I should look for perfection in the God-driven aspects of church. My focus should be on praising God and leaning toward him rather than examining the layout of service.

Lastly, even with all of the imperfections I can find in churches, I still find church to be very important to my faith in God. Yes, all of the answers I need for my relationship with God are found in the Bible and through time with Him, but God made us for fellowship. When Jesus left the Earth, he left a group of believers and told them to stick together. God didn’t design me to navigate this world alone. He intends for me, and others, to meet together regularly to worship Him and study his Word. While I can, and should, worship and study all week long, there’s just something special about gathering with other believers no matter which building I do it in. I have no answers about what the perfect church service or atmosphere looks like, probably because it doesn’t exist, but I do know that no matter where I end up on Sunday, my one focus should be to worship God and learn more about Him.

Posted in Devotion

Chocolate Box

Forrest Gump said “life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get”. That’s true to some extent in that we can’t predict our own life. Most of the time we also don’t know what’s going to happen in life either. Life is often like eating bites of chocolate: sometimes we get the really good pieces with the whipped chocolate truffle, but other times we get the nutty chocolate or the piece with the half dried cherry.

Sometimes though, we get a box of chocolates that has the label on the inside of the box. To me, in the metaphor of life, that’s the guidebook God has given us, aka The Bible. If we read the Bible and have conversation with God, our next steps will be clear. What happens though is that we get so excited about the chocolate that God has to offer that we forget to consult the guidebook for our next steps. Then we end up eating that rotten piece of chocolate with all of the nuts.

Other times maybe our chocolate pieces are out of order, and we end up with a piece that isn’t what we expected. That doesn’t mean the guidebook misled us; it simply means that we have to trust God even more for grace to deal with unknown situations.

My encouragement to you and to myself is to take time daily to spend time reading the guidebook for life and talking to the author of the guidebook.

Posted in Devotion

Brokenness Restored

Last night at the concert, I kept noticing the family in front of me. The entire time either the mother or father had their arms around the teenage daughter. There was such love in that family. Coming from a broken family, that image always brings up mixed emotions for me. Through the image of this family, the words spoken, and a memory, God did something in my heart.
Earlier this year I graded essays for the academic team. The prompt was to argue whether the media should adjust their image of the modern family due to the large variety of family types. Most students argued that media should represent more broken, single parent, or same sex families, but one student argued that the media should portray a solid family with a mother, father, and kids because we shouldn’t portray something less that what God intended. I recognize that brokenness in families exists because of sin, but I think that student had a point to make in that God intended families to be a certain way.
Towards the end of the concert the band manager came to the stage and spoke of how he felt God leading him to pray for the families in the room who were breaking or hurting for one reason or another. As I prayed for the broken families at the concert, God began to shift my perspective just a bit on the “perfect” family in front of me. The pain and jealousy eased, and I felt hope. Families that represent God’s plan still exist. Brokenness will still happen as long as sin still reigns in hearts, but there’s hope that God can produce and mend whole and perfect families.