Saturday, January 31, 2015

When the Light Meets the Dark | Guest Post By MimeforJesus

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This would be so much easier if my eyes were still used to the dark!” I muttered to myself as I crept through the dark downstairs of my home. I’d unwisely turned on the light in my bedroom just before leaving to go get a drink, and I was regretting that decision because I couldn’t see clearly anymore.

Light changes things – you can be perfectly happy seeing in the dark, until someone turns the light on for a second or two; then you can’t see anything when the lights go out again. God’s light affects how we see in the darkness around us, too; if you live in God’s light, whenever you’re in the darkness you’re not gonna be as comfortable as the folks who’ve lived there all their lives.

Like it or not, we’ll never see well in the darkness – we’ve been accepted into the service of a God who is described as Light, and His light has permanently changed how we see things. It’s also true that we’ll never blend in when we’re in darkness, and whether we try to or not, we’ll be shining a light wherever we are, and people will not like that.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve sometimes wished that I could be more comfortable in the darkness – I’ve wanted to be able to listen to the same songs as my co-workers, and not be turned off by the lyrics. I’ve wished I blended in with the darkness, too – I’ve wanted to be a part of the only teen group at my church, which is almost entirely made up of nominal Christians.

 But then I realized: that’s not my job. As followers of Christ, we are called to be the “goody-two-shoes”; we’re not supposed to blend in. Folks should wonder what’s wrong with us, why we aren’t like them. That’s how we will reflect God’s light into their lives.

I know, they’re not probably going to like the way we live, they are likely to talk behind our backs about how we’re uptight - but we weren’t called to be friends of the world.

When we live lives of light, people will notice, and they have two choices – they will either be interested and ask why we act like we do, or they’ll brush us off as legalistic, fundamentalist Holy Rollers who need to get a clue about the real world.

The second response is more common – people who are in darkness “will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. (John 3:20-21)” In my experience, we make people feel guilty without even trying, because we’re living relatively clean lives, and then they look at their lives and they see everything that they justified for so long because they were no worse than the other people they knew. They will try to push away any light that makes it into their area.

But there will be people who wonder what makes you different, and who will want what you’ve got. They are the ones who will be drawn to your life of light, even if seventy-five percent of people think you’re nuts. So for the sake of those who will be affected by our lives, let’s go out there and let our light shine!
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) 
“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16)

MimeforJesus (otherwise known as Grace Owens), is a homeschooled sophomore from the East Coast. She is the third-youngest of eight children, and she loves every minute of it! When she's not doing schoolwork or working at her part-time job, she can be found speaking Spanish, reading, or writing.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Paradox of Invisible Pride

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We all know that pride is dangerous.  “Pride goes before destruction,” the Bible says.  The problem with pride, though, is that it’s so easy; it almost comes naturally.  In fact, pride is incredibly common – so much so that everyone struggles with it.

However, we tend to have a very limited concept of pride.  Sure, we can spot the obvious forms like arrogance and boastfulness, but when it comes to finding the deep pride within ourselves, we often completely miss it. 

In this way, pride is ironic.  The more pride you have, the less you see.  There are a myriad of manifestations of pride that seem to escape our sight; take an honest look at your own heart as we discuss three of the most undetectable:

1)  The Pride of Hardship

James 1:2-3 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”  The Lord allows trials in our lives to test our faith, producing in us the fruit of the Spirit, such as patience and joy.  For this reason, we are to rejoice in times of hardship, because we know that God will work everything together for good (Romans 8:28).

However, the temptation for Christians when we suffer, whatever the means, is to become pleased with ourselves.  While it may very well be true that we are under trials for a good reason, we assume that it is because of our own faithfulness, looking at those around us who are not experiencing such testing and subconsciously claiming ourselves to be the “better Christians.” 

And worse yet, we feed off of the sympathy of others, actually desiring hardship so that we can bask in the pity we receive!  This is a far cry from “boasting in our infirmities” (2 Corinthians 2:9).

The reason why we so often fail to recognize this type of pride is because we make pride practically excusable in such situations.  When brought low by suffering, who would dare to think that pride would even be possible?  Yet it is in our lowest moments that pride has the greatest appeal and the subtlest appearance.

2)  The Pride of Holiness

Sometimes, however, we seemingly have every right to think ourselves more righteous than the rest.  In fact, maybe we are more righteous than the rest!  I’m not talking about those of us who only think we know it all or are “holier than thou,” but those of us who may indeed believe so justly.  We read our Bibles daily, we quote scripture, we volunteer, we dress modestly, we don’t cheat, lie, or steal – we truly feel that we’re not too far away from where the Father wants us to be!

Maybe that’s true.  Maybe we’re closer to the Lord than any of our friends.  Maybe we’ve gotten just about everything right; we can check off the Ten Commandments and Fruit of the Spirit like a grocery list.  But realize this: we are never so close to God that we are out of the reaches of pride.  As we become holier, pride becomes equally sly.

In fact, those of us in whom pride has taken residence can be the very ones who appear to be humble!  We dismiss compliments, but do not direct that praise to God; we are simply pleased in the fact that we are not boastful.  We become prideful in our humility.

3)  The Pride of Passion

Often in our walk with Christ, we can become discouraged and upset when we see those around us not living as Christ desires.  Many of us have a specific message we want others to hear.  Maybe we want them to feed the hungry, save the lost, or give to the poor.

The problem is that, as our passion grows to help others understand what the Lord has revealed to us, we can develop a deadly, prideful habit: the “if only so-and-so could hear this” mentality.  It’s a pride of passion, so to speak.  I’ll be the first to admit that this is a difficult one for me.  Even as I type this post, it’s easy for my mind to drift to others who might “need to read” it.

Of course, many times this is acceptable – even necessary.  But the pride comes when we are so focused on teaching others that we don’t search our own hearts in humility and apply truths to our own lives – whether they are from a sermon, article, or just an everyday conversation.

The truth is that pride is tough to find and even tougher to remove.  It’s shady, but it’s comfortable.  We quickly spot the pride in others, but we fail to see how much it is controlling us.  To put it in Jesus’s words, we are too busy removing the “speck from our brother’s eye” that we forget – and even tolerate and embrace – the “plank” in our own.

Nothing in this article can remove your pride or mine.  That is up to each of us and the Lord of Hosts Who is in us.  Pride is dangerous.  But the price of allowing it to remain in our hearts is even more so.  Let us all cast self aside and walk in a mindset of humility, just as Christ did (Philippians 2:5-11).

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Giving Opportunity to God

Sin is a powerful force in the lives of God's children.  It entered humanity as a result of choice; first by doubt, then by distortion, then by outright denial of the Creator's words.  Since then, each person is born into a sin nature - an innate desire to please ourselves and disobey the Lord.

Because sin is so destructive, it is obvious that we must avoid it with everything.  After all, sin is everything opposite of God's nature, and darkness can have no presence with light (1 John 1:5).

However, oftentimes we approach sin in the wrong way.  We think of it as a decision to make only when we are faced with it - a "cross that bridge when I come to it" mentality.  But if this is our approach to sin, we will constantly fail.

Ephesians 4:27 tells us to "give no opportunity to the devil."  You see, the devil tempts us when we give him an opportunity.  We give it to him.  Freely!  We give him opportunity when we put ourselves in a position that makes it easier to sin.

We can put ourselves in a position to sin in many ways.  For instance, it could be in switching the TV to that channel that we know can sometimes be inappropriate or even hanging out with friends whom we know can be gossipy.  Whether through friends, media, or even time management, we can often put all the pieces in place that will make it hard for us to avoid sin.

Thus, in order to avoid putting ourselves in a position to sin, we must avoid any opportunity that might make it easy to do something contrary to the Father's will, even in practical ways.  But there's even more than that.

In 2 Chronicles 12, we find that the king of Judah, Rehoboam, did evil "for he did not set his heart to seek the Lord" (2 Chronicles 12:14).  From this and many other instances in scripture, it is clear that in order to avoid giving opportunity to the devil, we must first give opportunity to God.

In other words, the best (and only) way to avoid a position of sin is to purposefully put ourselves in a position to honor the Lord - to put all the pieces in place to make it easier to avoid the temptation of sin.  This, of course, implies that in all of the practical ways we mentioned previously (media, friends, etc.) must be used to seek and honor the King of kings!

Sin is a powerful force in the lives of God's children.  But even more powerful is our Father in Heaven!  Let us use every opportunity - every venue - to put ourselves in a position to bring glory to the One Who gave us salvation!

Do you have practical ways in which you put yourself in a position to honor the Lord?  Tell us in the comment section!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Surround Me Not, Oh Lord!

During our church service today, we sang a song entitled "Surround Me, Oh Lord:"
"Surround me, oh Lord.
Surround me, oh Lord.
Surround me, oh Lord.
Let Your presence fill this place."
Perhaps it's not the most doctrinally enriching of songs in history, but I give it credit.  As I stood with the rest of the Praise and Worship team singing, a thought hit me and resonated throughout the rest of the service: Do we really want God's presence?

Sure, we love the idea of the Lord's presence surrounding us.  We want to feel empowered, uplifted, and filled with joy and zeal.  And indeed it is right that we should desire these things!  But if this is what we expect from an encounter with God, many of us will be woefully disappointed.

Think of Jesus in the temple (John 2:13-22).  I'm sure that, when the religious leaders looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, they expected a similar feeling to ours.  But what did they find instead?  The Christ drove out the merchants and animals, poured out the coins, and flipped the tables in righteous anger.

Are we ready for this same Jesus to surround us with such holiness and power?

The truth is, this Jesus wants and is ready to surround us with His presence.  But, because of our desire to dwell in our mediocre comfort-zones, we actually push Him away at the moment He tells us something we don't want to hear!

Don't get me wrong, our Father will fill us with joy and zeal; He will empower us and uplift us.  But He will also change us.  Any experience of God will undoubtedly result in a change.  Worship is the realization of who God is - in all His might and majesty - and therefore, it is a realization of how small and unworthy we are.

If we are truly surrounded by the presence of God, we will seldom be comfortable.  He will tell us things we may not want to hear.  We will be convicted and pushed out of our comfort-zones.

Do you really want to experience such a God?

I do.