Friday, July 7, 2017

Trusting God When Bad Gets Worse

Eight weeks ago, I broke my ankle and needed a plate and seven screws put in. I temporarily moved back with my parents because I can't put any pressure on it. I thought, "OK, maybe God wants to build my relationship with my parents. Or, He's wanting me to trust Him with my finances. At least I work from home! I got this. Trust God more!" Three and a half weeks later? I lost my job-the job I was praising God for because my broken ankle didn't hinder my work. I cried and prayed and cried some more. "Wait... I thought I was trusting God before. Am I not trusting Him enough? What's going on?"

I thought my prayers were answered when, two weeks later, I started unpaid training for a new at-home job. "Yes! God does hear my prayers! He does want what's best for me!" In the midst of all this change, I grew hopeful as I answered a call to ministry, so I began writing an extensive 5-year life plan. Things were finally looking up. My trust in God paid off! Or so I thought.
Another two weeks later and my laptop broke. The laptop that allows me to work from home. The laptop I've had for less than two years. "What. The. Heck?! Was my trust not good enough for God? Do I lack enough faith in God for Him to want to help me through my struggles?" These were real questions rooted in real pain and fear. I couldn't comprehend why I kept running (or in this case, hobbling) into a brick wall. Every time I tried to move forward, I collided again and every time, another bruise appeared. My fists were clenched and I was all but ready to shake them in the air.

The next day, my mom texted me a part of a Bible study and that's when it hit me square in the face:

my faith in God is fickle. 

It comes and goes as easily as the tide on a full moon. And when my faith focuses on what's wrong with me instead of what's awesome about God, I steal the spotlight from Him. Not in a "no longer God of the universe" kind of way, but definitely in a "no longer God of my universe."

Here's what I'm realizing, though...

God wants to make Himself known to us whether we trust Him or not. Just look at Paul on his road trip to Damascus. He wasn't even looking for God. Moreover, he was heading to Damascus to arrest and persecute Christians of the early church. So, sometimes God reveals Himself in a blinding light. Other times He speaks in a soft whisper, like when He spoke to Elijah in 1 Kings 19. We don't control how He chooses to reveal Himself. All we control is our response to His revelation.

Also, our faith and trust in God don't always change our circumstances. Sometimes they do, but in most situations, they don't. Job is the quintessential example of how, many times, we must trust God no matter our struggles simply because He is God. We may not understand why we're going through things, but that doesn't mean God is in any less control. He is still God and He still deserves our praise.

The study my mom shared posed these thoughts:
"Mother Teresa once said, 'I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust.' Which do you find yourself expressing more consistently to God - your need for clarity ("what do I do?") or your expression of trust ("I'll follow you")?"
So many times I find myself begging God to reveal my next step, my next "quest," if you will. I focus on what I'm doing for God instead of actually following God. Don't get me wrong; there are certain things that we must do as Christians no matter God's personal call on our lives. They're given to us in the Bible. But when was the last time you prayed, "God, wherever You lead, I'll follow" or "I trust You no matter my circumstances"? I know I don't. It's an ongoing struggle every Christian endures. We're bombarded by a world that claims we must be independent and strong and never ask for help but the truth is, we're meant to rely on God. We're meant to trust Him through every aspect of our lives, good or bad.

I have no idea how my struggles will be resolved because I'm still smack-dab in the middle of them. I don't really even know why I'm going through so many things at the same time. Maybe it was all for this one lesson, but I may never know on this side of heaven.

But I do know
There are countless stories throughout the Bible of how God brought His people through fires, wars, exiles, famines, genocide, and so much more. Not out of, but through. And the best story of all? God brought His Son Jesus Christ through the cross, through the grave marked by death, and brought Him back to life victoriously! If He can conquer death, my God can surely bring me through unemployment, disabilities, and broken technology.

My prayers are changing. Maybe yours are, too. No longer do I want to cry out, "Why?" but declare "Yes!" Yes to wherever, whenever, and however God leads me. I want my trust to last during the highs and lows of life. Because if my trust disintegrates at the first sign of struggle, is it really trust at all?

What about you? Do you tend to pray for clarity or declare your trust in God? What are you trusting God through now?

NOTE: Bible study is Exploring Your Gifts by found on the Bible App.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Do Worship Preferences Really Matter?

Worshiping God with fellow believers is a beautiful experience. For nearly 3,500 years, congregational worship has gathered believers all around the world with one purpose: to praise the Lord of all.

In today's 21st century, there are insurmountable ways the church worships together. For instance, the Ethiopian church that worships in mud houses is vastly different from the Southern Gospel church that worships in Alabama.

One group of believers worships through drum beating and dancing; the other through four-part harmony and organs. Culturally, they're polar opposites.

Yet they worship the same God.

So, do worship preferences really matter?

Much of today's congregational worship habits are based off cultural taste. Whether we like it or not, culture shapes the world around us, and in turn, shapes our choice of food, clothing, speech patterns, and music.

Overall there isn't anything wrong with preferring one type of music over another. We are individuals created to be unique, after all. Most preferences are based solely on materialistic value, though, and it's easy to let those material preferences invade our spiritual worship. One example of this is when a Christian has such strong stylistic preferences that he or she is unable to worship outside those preferences.

John 4:24 says that "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." Anything outside the realms of the spirit and truth are dispensable.

But what exactly does that mean, "in spirit and truth?"

The Ryrie Study Bible explains in their notes that "the English word 'worship' was originally spelled 'worthship' and means to acknowledge the worth of the object worshiped. We should acknowledge God's worth 'in spirit' (in contrast to material ways) and in 'truth' (in contrast to falsehood)."

Let's break this down a bit.

First, we cannot worship God unless we recognize that Jesus is the "way, the truth, and the life...
" (John 14:6). We must realize that we are all in dire need of a Savior, and that Jesus became that Savior when He defeated death on the cross.

Second, to fully acknowledge God in spirit, we can't be focused on the things of this earth. This doesn't mean we shouldn't use music to worship. It simply means we have to give every aspect of ourselves to Him. We have to accept that whatever is here on earth is temporary, while God is everlasting. If we allow the kind of music we use in worship to take precedence over God, then it is no longer worship. Instead, our focus turns to our preferences rather than to God.

Dr. John Duncan, a professor on the theology of worship at Truett-McConnell College, penned this definition: "Biblical worship is the believer's sincere and spirit-empowered response to the redemptive action of God in Christ Jesus."

When we acknowledge God in spirit and truth, and respond to His mercy and grace in Christ Jesus, our worship becomes deeply personal and beautifully bittersweet. This is not reserved for congregational worship once or twice a week. No, this kind of worship is something God wants of us every second of our lives.

Believers can and should worship under all styles of music. Whether it's with a full band, flashy lights, and fog machines, or with bongo drums and interpretive dancing, true worship always leads us to the cross.

What are your thoughts on the subject? 
What ways have you worshiped outside your normal preferences? 
Comment and share your stories below!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Social Saturdays

Let's take a minute and imagine it's Saturday morning. You just woke up to the sun shining on your sleepy face. How you spend the next 12-15 hours can tell a lot about you. If you're anything like me, a typical Saturday morning means pulling the sheets up to your chin, fluffing the pillows, and obsessing over a good book. Or you're the mom wondering how you'll survive 3 kids playing 5 games on 6 different fields (trust me, it gets that crazy sometimes...). How about this: do you take a jog around your favorite park? Do you work in your garden? Walk the dogs? Binge on Netflix?

Here's another question for you, though:

How often do you engage 
with people with the end goal of 
showing them 
the love of Jesus?
Saturday mornings are spent in many different ways. Whether you rush around with a To-Do List or sleep in after a hectic work week, life is hard. And it can be even harder incorporating an Acts 1:8 mentality into your daily lifestyle.

Here are 3 simple steps toward using moments in your everyday life to share the love of Jesus.

1. LOOK -
Look for ways to open up to people. In a world surrounded by technology, people are conversationally starved. The neighbor mowing his lawn probably won't mind you offering him a cold bottle of water. The couple playing fetch with their dog in the park probably won't think twice about you asking to throw a couple rounds. And believe me, that mom cheering loudly at the baseball field would love it if you asked her which player is her child. Life presents unlimited chances to ask the simple question, "How are you today?" All you have to do is start looking for them.

Engage with people. One 5-minute conversation can create opportunities of camaraderie and openness to the Gospel. How exciting is that? Be honest and sincere, though. If you ask someone how their day is going, listen to them. They may not say much or they may tell you every little detail. That's okay. Look them in the eye. Get to know them a little. Getting a chance to share Jesus may not happen on a first encounter. That's okay, too. Try to see them again within the next week or so. Start up another conversation at the next sports game, or knock on your neighbor's door for a quick visit. Instead of texting your friend about your newest book obsession, pick up the phone and call. Engage!

3. PRAY -
Of course, always start with prayer. Pray specifically that the Holy Spirit reveals ways you can engage the people around you. Sometimes it takes having the scales removed from your eyes before you realize how blind you really were to the opportunities presented to you. Also ask God for courage to speak up when the right time comes along. It's so easy to retract to a personal bubble. But remember: things happen when you step outside your comfort zone.

The beautiful thing about this is it fits into your schedule. You don't have to put hours of your Saturday into it. Whatever you're doing, you can engage with people, too!

So, what are you doing this Saturday?