God’s Purpose for Us

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What if that hard season of life – the trials, the detour, the struggles, the hardships – what if it was all needed to make you into who God made you to be?

What if God is actually good and does use everything in your life, even the things Satan or other people meant for evil, for your good? What if it was all needed in order to destroy idols buried deep in your heart? What if He needed you to make those mistakes and have those regrets, in order to mold you and sanctify you into a mature and confident follower of Jesus? What if all these things didn’t happen to you but for you? What if the hard season of life feels never-ending because, instead of growing stronger and better, you’ve shrunken inwards and grown bitter?

What if every season of life – but especially the difficult, demanding, and depressing ones – were all needed in order for you to hold your relationships more loosely, to offer grace more freely, to forgive others more easily, to understand with compassion and kindness more deeply, to stand up for others and protect them more boldly, to soften your heart more humbly, and to love others more unconditionally?

“For this is the will of God for your life, your sanctification.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:3

What if the purpose of your life, isn’t just to figure out what career path to take, who to marry, where to live, or what house to buy? Granted, these are all wonderful things, but what if we realized that God has already told us the purpose of our lives, we just haven’t been fully paying attention to Him. We no longer need to struggle and search because He has already told us our purpose. Our purpose in life is our sanctification.

Sanctify (verb): to set apart to a sacred purpose; to set apart as holy; to purify from sin.

What if our purpose is simply, to day-by-day and moment-by-moment, walk closely with Jesus on our own unique journey in life, and to grow closer to Him, becoming more like Him? This is sanctification – becoming more like Jesus.

Jesus is not the cultural Christians or the prosperity Gospel. Jesus is not the misconceptions people who do not know Him have spread about Him. Jesus is not a homophobe, a racist, or an angry judge waiting to condemn us to death.

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” – John 3:17

Jesus listens to and befriends the social outcast and minority (John 4).

Jesus does not judge, but helps and saves the prostitute from the hateful condemners (John 8).

Jesus confronts and puts to shame the authorities who abuse their power against the innocent people (Matthew 23, Mark 12, Luke 11, Luke 20).

Jesus humbly washes the feet of his own disciples and calls them his friends (Matthew 26, Luke 22, John 13).

Jesus weeps with his neighbors who are mourning a loss of life (John 11).

Jesus heals those who are disabled and wounded (Matthew 4 & 8, John 5 & 9, Luke 5).

Jesus comforts and heals a woman who has been ill and abandoned all her life (Mark 5).

Jesus defends, protects, and elevates women, widows, and children (Matthew 26, Mark 10, 12, 14, & 16, Luke 7, 18, & 19).

Jesus has compassion for and helps those in poverty (Matthew 11 & 25, Luke 6, 8, & 14).

Jesus is the Great Physician. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus is Living Water. Jesus is good. He is kind and patient. He is just, yet humble. He comforts us, protects us, rescues us, befriends us, saves us, and so much more. But above all else, Jesus loves us with an unconditional love – a love that is not based on our circumstances or our performances.

And this is our purpose – to love, know, and become more like this Jesus. And as we pursue Him and become more like Him, He strips us of our selfishness and gives us new hearts that love and serve the people He created.  We are not and will never be perfect in this life; but, we make it our goal to grow into the likeness and perfection that is Jesus Christ. That is sanctification – God’s will for us on Earth.

When It’s Hard to Forgive

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In Matthew 18:21-35, Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone whenever they sin against them, as much as seven times? Jesus replies by saying not seven times, but seventy-seven times. He then tells the parable of the unforgiving servant.

A servant owed a King ten thousand talents – the equivalent to millions of dollars today. But the King had compassion on the servant and mercifully canceled his debt. However, shortly after the incident, the same servant was not so gracious with another man who owed him one hundred denarii- the equivalent to a few dollars.

When the King heard that the servant he had graciously had mercy on did not have the same mercy on another, he was furious. He sought the servant and threw him in jail until he paid every penny.

How often are we the unmerciful servant? We are unable to forgive others the measly few dollars they may owe us, while God is the King who has forgiven us the millions of dollars we owe Him. Not only do we offer little grace towards others but we tend to harbor bitter grudges against them. Sadly, I know I am guilty of this.

But here’s the truth, because of our sin and other’s sin, there is no way to go through life without getting hurt. We will get hurt by others because we live in a fallen, sinful world.

1 Corinthians 13 says, “Love keeps no records of wrong. It is always patient, it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” So to do anything other than that is not love, it is hate- to do Satan’s work. Jesus’ greatest command was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.

If we choose not to forgive and keep records of wrongs, we will grow into old, bitter men and women. Not only is that unattractive, but it is not the way of the Prince of Peace.

I seem to, and I think we have as a culture, forgotten to love people just the way they are. Instead, we demand they change into the people we deem them to be, and if they don’t, they aren’t worth our time or love. We expect perfection in their performance and any flaw or defect is not acceptable.

We refuse to forgive the dollar our friend or coworker might owe us, when God is enthroned in heaven already forgiven us our millions we owe Him. How crazy is that?

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. – Matthew 6:14-15

So whether it’s something you consider small or large, take it to Jesus. He cares about the details of your life. It hurts Him to see you hurt. He is longing to redeem, protect, and rescue you. And He works everything for the good of those who love Him. 

I have been feeling so much freedom lately from doing something Ney Bailey mentions in her book Faith Is Not a Feeling. Reading her book, I realized I held onto a lot of grudges and bitterness towards others in the past. God does not want us to live like this and it was holding me back spiritually.

I wrote down every single person or situation that bothered or upset me. I then went through the list and thanked God and prayed for each person and situation. I can’t even explain the immediate relief I felt. It was truly supernatural. And although at times there have been moments I feel bitterness trying to creep back up, I simply thank God again and pray big, bold prayers.

Doing this also opened my eyes to see areas where I needed to go and ask others for forgiveness. I’ve found so much freedom from the past and joy in the present knowing God is in control of every relationship and circumstance I’m in. He sees when I’m hurt and he sees when I choose to forgive, no matter how hard it may be.

Do I really smother my own joy because I believe that anger achieves more than love? That Satan’s way is more powerful, more practical, more fulfilling in my daily life than Jesus’ way? Why else get angry? Isn’t it because I think complaining, exasperation, resentment, will pound me up into the full life I really want? When I choose- and it is a choice- to crush joy with bitterness, am I not purposefully choosing to take the way of the Prince of the Darkness? Choosing the angry way of Lucifer because I think it is more effective- more expedient- than giving thanks?  – Ann Voskamp

What I’m learning is that forgiveness is just as much for us, if not more, than for the other person. Jesus says to forgive others because He wants to spare us from the chains of bitterness and hatred that will bind us down and keep us from the abundant life He has for us.

There may not be reconciliation or relief, but there can always be forgiveness. We must continually remind ourselves, “ten thousand talents, that’s what I owe, how can I turn and not forgive others one hundred denarii.”

If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. – Matthew 18:15

Maybe you need to ask someone for forgiveness or finally forgive that person from your past that hurt you? Don’t wait another second. Go somewhere private, and pray big, faith-filled prayers asking for forgiveness and deliverance from bitterness and resentment. There is freedom, relief, and favor from God waiting for you when you forgive. And if God graciously forgives our sins past, present, and future, how can we not turn and have the same mercy and grace on our neighbor?  

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

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I have a habit of comparing myself. Doesn’t everyone? Social media definitely fans this flame for the general population, I’d bet. Whether it has to do with beauty, careers, houses, travel, family, friends or just life circumstances; we all constantly compare ourselves to her, to him, or to them. 

Something I, and most women, tend to put a lot of hope and trust in is beauty. And what a crazy thing to hope in? It’s something that is so fleeting; yet, as young girls growing up in this world, we are fed constant lies from advertisements, music, and movies saying that a women has to be beautiful. Because if we’re not beautiful, we won’t ever get a date or mount up to anything in life, right? 

What a complete lie.

There will always be someone prettier, smarter, funnier, more successful, with a better-paying job, nicer home, or more put-together family. And even if we are beautiful or make lots of money, we will always find something we don’t like about ourselves or always want that “next thing.” And why is it that some of the most beautiful people are the most insecure? Or some of the people who travel often are the most discontent? Or the richest people are often the most unhappy? It’s proof that the grass is not always greener. 

The purpose of our lives is to love God and give Him glory. And we can’t give God glory if we’re constantly focused on what other people are doing or completely consumed with our own cares and worries. That’s what comparison does, it gets us to shallowly focus too much on ourselves and our desires. Beth Moore has said, “If Satan can’t get you to worship him; he will get you to worship yourself.” 

We see in John 21:20-22 that even the apostle Peter, whom Jesus referred to as the “rock” on which the church would be built upon, compared himself with the others.

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

Peter is literally walking alongside Jesus in the flesh, after he just witnessed Jesus be crucified, buried, and raised from the dead; yet, even Peter walking closely with Jesus got distracted and compared himself to others. Jesus sternly reminds Peter not to worry about John’s life plan but to instead follow Him. 

Jesus does not want Peter to get caught up in distractions that will interfere with Jesus’ great plans for Peter’s life. Jesus wants Peter to turn his focus onto his own plan and to follow Him. 

This passage is the last passage in the Gospel of John and the last words of Jesus given in the last of the four Gospel books. I think the biggest issue Christians face in this digital age is getting too distracted by our lives and all the worries and cares that come with it. We focus too much on how perfect our lives are, what’s going not as we planned, or what others are doing. 

“For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” – Philippians 4:11-12

So what’s the secret to beating comparison? There are two main things that have helped me learn to be content with my circumstances and not compare myself to others. 

First, it’s by following Jesus and keeping my eyes and heart set on Him. There is no greater love than Jesus dying on the cross for us. Making the most money, traveling to the best places, or being the most successful or beautiful person in the room won’t bring the lasting love and peace that we all crave. Chasing these things and placing them at the center of our lives only leads to disappointment and depression. Not with Jesus, when we place Him rightfully at the center of our lives, He brings peace, life, and abundance. 

Second, with Jesus at the center of our lives, we can thereby enjoy our lives more fully without putting all of our hope in it. God has truly given each of us special gifts, talents, and blessings. What will we do with them? Will we be like Peter and turn around looking at what John is doing, wasting our precious time, or will we make the most of the responsibilities and blessings God has graciously given us? There is so much freedom in working towards being our “best self” and giving God glory in our lives without putting our identity and worth in what we accomplish. 

Do not be conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. – Romans 12:2

There will always be tiny moments when we can give in to comparing ourselves, causing us to lose our joy and peace. Will we choose each and every day to refuse to allow the bitterness or envy a dwelling place in our lives? It takes thoughtful prayer, daily reading the Bible, and worship to rewire our minds to follow Jesus daily and give Him glory with our lives to the best of our ability. 

Jesus Wouldn’t Like my Instagram

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I’ve had a lot of time to reminisce this Thanksgiving break, particularly over the past year. A lot has happened and I’m proud that I (actually) accomplished a few of my New Years goals. But sadly, a few important ones that had to do with improving my relationship with Jesus for 2014 were epic fails.

A big one for me this year was to “divorce my phone.” I’m on it all the time. It’s the first thing I look at when I wake up and the last thing I look at before bed. What am I looking at most of the time, you may be wondering?

Instagram.

I love admiring (envying) the beautiful travel photos Travel & Leisure posts. Which reminds me, I need to go to Italy ASAP! I want every article of clothing Negin Mirsalehi wears in every one of her pictures. How is her hair so perfect? I get motivated to hop off the couch and go for a run after Kayla Itsines posts another rocking bod picture.

Let me preface, Instagram or Facebook isn’t bad, but I’ve noticed lately how unhealthy this has become for myself. I become so consumed with me. Why do we have to remind people of ourselves constantly and bring the attention back to us? Sure, it can be used for good or for inspiration. But it is a fine line to cross.

“The most miserable people in the world are those whom worship themselves, because it is an unquenchable thirst.” – Marian Jordan Ellis

In Genesis, it says God created us to be image bearers where we reflect the glory of God. But Satan deceives us and gets us to focus on ourselves. He makes us want to give ourselves the glory and attention when we are called to give God glory in everything we do. Instead of being a reflector of God’s glory, we become receptors; we want the glory. Satan gets us to turn our eyes to our own lives and wants, and we become so obsessed with self.

Satan at first was an angel created to serve God but the Bible says he fell from heaven due to his pride. He wanted to be God instead of serve Him. He wanted the glory for himself. And the idol of self leads to destruction.

We were created to give God glory, not to give ourselves glory. That’s the problem with Instagram, we make it all about ourselves. If Jesus looked at my Instagram, He probably wouldn’t like it. He would probably wonder why I care so much to post pictures of what I’m doing all the time, what am I trying to prove to people? He would probably ask me what is my hidden motive to posting this picture or that picture?

I probably waste hours upon hours looking at pointless things on my phone. Imagine if I took that time to instead listen to a podcast or sermon, read a book, or just do something that can edify me and actually be beneficial to my wellbeing.

So, one of my New Years Resolutions is to break up with my phone. I’m not boycotting Instagram; you will still see posts from me. I just want to do some things differently, like not be so obsessed with this screen in my hands. So, below I’ve listed 4 things I want to do differently. These are simple things that I think can help you and me break up with our phones. It’s time we take back the power from our phones, am I right?

1)    Instead of reaching for my phone first thing in the morning, I want to pray. I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning without praying to God first.

2)    Instead of looking at my phone before going to bed every night, I want to read a book or listen to a sermon.

3)    I want to limit time on social media. Maybe even delete the app for a few days here and there, just to give myself a break.

4)    I’m going to start “forgetting my phone” when I head to class, to run a quick errand, or to go on a walk. Walking to class looking around at the beautiful campus is so much more relaxing then looking down at a screen anyway.

In Everything Give Thanks

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About 2 months ago, I remember waking up and wanting to complain about literally everything. I had so much work to be done and it was rush week, so I was likely skimping on sleep. I was also sleeping on a top bunk 5 inches away from the ceiling and all I wanted was to be home in my comfortable bed.

Here I am grumbling about sleeping on a top bunk when some people don’t even have a warm bed to sleep in.

So, instead of complaining about everything, I decided to pray to God and thank Him for it all. I thanked God for the fact that I’m alive. I can see. I can hear. I have shelter and food. I have a home filled with a loving family. I have wonderful friends that encourage me. I have clean water to drink and on and on. I even thanked God for that top bunk.

At first, it felt fake and forced; but as I continued to count my blessings and thank God for each and every person and thing He had placed and done in my life, I began to be filled with gratitude and joy.

Anything and everything I prayed and thanked Him for.

It is amazing what a simple change in mindset can do. Through prayer and thankfulness, I was able to open my mind to the Lord so He could place peace and joy in me and reshape the way I was thinking.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  – Colossians 3:15-17

When I think about Paul in his letters to the different churches, his circumstances are almost always bad. He is imprisoned, he is beaten, hated, and mocked; but despite all these things, he is filled with peace and he has learned to be content no matter the situation (Philippians 4:11). Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he has learned to set his mind on eternity and what Jesus has done for us on the cross.

Jesus died on the cross in our place for our sins. He was innocent, yet he gave his life for us so that one day we can stand before God, clothed in Jesus’ perfect righteousness with all of our sins forgiven and forgotten. This is the one true love that is worthy of all of our attention and affections. The best part is that nothing and no one can separate us from this great love Jesus has for us either. And when we remember this daily, and thank God for it, along with everything else we have been given, we can’t help but be filled with gratitude.

What is the secret to staying thankful and content? It is to set our minds and hearts on what Jesus did for us on the cross and to have an eternal perspective. It is the only thing in life that is certain and will never change.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. – Colossians 3:1-4

It sounds obvious that as Christians we should be spending daily time reading the Bible and in prayer. But how often do we forget to or simply choose not to? No wonder many of us are full of fear, anxiety, or complaining which then makes many people turned off by Christianity or lose their faith altogether.

God’s Word and prayer helps to reshape the way we think. It can redeem and restore us and help to stir the Holy Spirit within us. We must seek Him through prayer, reading Scripture, and worship and He will in turn give us a joy and radiance that shines as a light in the darkness.

“The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.” – Psalm 19:7-11

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Jackson Hole Summer Project

This past summer I had the privilege of going to Jackson Hole, Wyoming with Cru for a summer project. Three and a half weeks living in the mountains, growing more in my walk with the Lord, surrounded by great community, hiking, white water rafting, horseback riding, you name it.

 

 

“This is going to be such an EASY summer,” I thought…

Nope. I felt like the entire trip God was slapping me in the face saying, “You’re not as good as you thought you were, you’re still a sinner, and you still need a Savior.”

Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing summer, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. In fact, I’d love to go back soon. But God revealed so many internal sins to me during my short time in Jackson Hole, things I didn’t even think I struggled with. He showed me the worst of myself and it was hard. They were all internal “struggles,” things like fear, anxiety, worry, insecurity, bitterness, hatred, and pride. Honestly, by the end of the trip I was sad to leave but somewhat relieved.

“Maybe when I leave Jackson Hole, I’ll leave all these gross sins behind,” I thought.

Yeah right. I’ve been back home for 4 months and still struggling with some of those sins. Some of them may not seem so bad, but think of jealousy, if you continue to be jealous of something or someone, it leads to bitterness, which eventually leads to hate. You can’t live a peaceful, joyful life if you’re full of bitterness and jealousy. And you can’t love God and give Him glory if you’re consumed with hatred.

One day in Jackson Hole, we went horseback riding in the mountains. We got to one area in the mountains that was surrounded by dead pine trees. The guide stopped and turned to all of us and said, “See all the dead pine trees? Recently, they have discovered a small pine beetle that gets inside of the pine trees and rots it from the inside out, eventually destroying it. It’s amazing because such a small pine beetle can take out forests at a time. It’s crazy, something so small can destroy such a large, majestic tree.”

I saw the irony almost immediately. The Bible repeatedly describes someone who “fears (respects, honors) the Lord” as a large tree.

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a TREE planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” -Psalm 1:1-3 

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, 
whose confidence is in him. He will be like a TREE planted by the water
 that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought
 and never fails to bear fruit.” -Jeremiah 17:7-8 

Those who trust in Jesus are like these trees, and we must “let no bitter root to grow which causes trouble and defiles many” (Hebrews 12:15).

I also got to have some amazing conversations in Jackson Hole, particularly with a Cru staff woman, Nance. She taught me some amazing spiritual truths, particularly about  true repentance. Usually, we repent of the wrong thing (the behavior) we did (ex: forgive me God for getting jealous) but there is actually a deeper problem that we have to root out. We can’t repent of our behavior; we have to repent of the deeply rooted, internal belief. Your beliefs lead to your thoughts, which lead to your behaviors and feelings.

BELIEFS        –>        THOUGHTS       –>        BEHAVIORS/FEELINGS

You are either believing truth or believing lies. You have to pray to God and ask him to reveal the lies you are believing and then replace them with truth. The battle is in your mind.

You see, God wants every aspect of your life. He wants the deep internal things too. Matt Chandler said, “You can’t just mow over weeds, you have to pull them out from the roots. And it’s a lot slower and a more painful process.”

But Jesus knows what’s best for us, when He asks us to surrender things over to Him, it’s because He has something better for us. He wants to spare us of the unnecessary hurts that these things will cause us, because He loves us.

What’s awesome is God hasn’t left us empty handed to deal with our sin. We have a whole book filled with His words. The more we look to Him and His words, the more our thinking will align with truth and the lies we have been believing will begin to fall off. As Psalm 34:5 says, “Those who look to Him are radiant; there faces are never covered with shame.”