Friendship

One of life’s sweetest gifts: friendship.  The loneliness we feel, isolated within our minds for the extent of our lives, becomes just a little less when you’re with good friends.  With the best and the closest in our lives, we laugh and we cry.  We yell out in rage and collapse in anguish with them.  We celebrate our greatest victories alongside them and are built back up through one another during our lowest defeats.  Friendship is love. Why then are we running from it?

Being known to someone can touch the soul like nothing else can.  Being known can save; it can heal.  Yet even with the life giving power of friendship, we are scared of it. Today, friendship is getting to be surface level.  We know one another’s interests and will text each other from time to time to see a movie or grab a coffee.  We chat about how things are going, what opportunities we’ve been given recently, and what really grinds our gears.  But we stop there.  We say our goodbyes and continue on with our days, further isolating ourselves within.

We must begin to love again and let ourselves be loved.  Our differences are far, far smaller than we believe them to be.  Inside our mind it seems as though we are alone. But outwardly, there are millions of individuals feeling the exact same thing we are.  We have to break the barrier that is preventing us from friendship, from the very thing that can save us.  God has given us each unique personalities and gifts that we are to use for others and for Him.  Let us get out and use them!  Find those that are in need of friendship and befriend them.  Do not let your differences segregate you but rather let your similarities unite each other.  We have to get back to finding out the core of who a person is and journey with that person through thick and thin, displaying Christ’s love always.

However, just as we must love, friendship is allowing ourselves to be loved.  We cannot love but keep our struggles and insecurities behind a wall within our hearts.  Love is a two way street.  Allow those in your life who care for you to penetrate that wall.  Baring one’s soul to another burden-ridden soul is sweeter than any medicine.  It can heal even the deepest of wounds.  We must open our hearts to allow others to open theirs. Colossians 3:12-14 reads, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Let’s get back to loving one another shall we?  Let’s get comfortable with sharing who we are inside rather than focusing on an external image.  Let’s thrust ourselves back into love so that we might experience the love Christ first showed us with one another. Extend a hand to the down trodden, to the hurting, to the broken.  Because when we do that, we allow others to reciprocate.  We let others extend a hand to our weary souls. And living together in Christ-centered friendship, free of judgment and shame, sounds like a world we all desperately need right now.

 

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”  Matthew 25: 37-40

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Grace

Oh sweet and glorious grace.  Saving my wicked heart since ’94.  A grace so wide and so deep that we can’t even fathom the depths of what Christ has done for us.  Deserving of nothing more than death but yet we’re given life.  Can I get an amen?

And yet, despite the realization of this gift, we seem to choose sin.  We choose sin because we like it.  Because it’s safe, it’s comfortable, it’s familiar.  We are born sinners, so it makes sense that we would choose it when given a choice.  Romans 7:15 says, “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”  We know that sin is not where we were made to dwell.  Sin is death.  And yet, here we are, up to our necks in the filth and misery that sin creates.  Searching for answers, we look to good works to save us.  Surely, the amount of good we do on this earth can save us from our wretchedness.  We search and search, high and low, for something that might save us.  Amidst our searching, peace and love continue to become rarities.  Nations crumble, the environment falters, and hope slowly slips away.  Our crowded and busy lives begin to fill the cracks of our minds, turning our focus from Him, to us.  Me and I.  Words that have taken the place of Him and Savior and King.

The ironic thing about defeating sin is that we must die to defeat sin.  Wait, didn’t I just say that sin is death?  That we are crushed due to the heaviness of our sin?  I did.  But we must die to Christ in order to break the chains of our sin.  Christ calls us to die so that we might live.  To forget our former life and step forward into a life of love and grace dedicated to the Savior.  We have to kill our former self, to move forward willing to sacrifice everything for the Gospel.  This is why we choose familiarity and comfort.  Why we search the surface of the earth for something to save us.  We can’t face losing our earthly lives and possessions, even if we gain eternal life.  It is simply too hard and too much.

This is where the insane and undeserving gift of grace comes in.  We are failures, beaten and bloody, with no sign of victory.  Then, Christ stands in front of us with an outstretched hand saying, “Get up, and follow Me.”  There isn’t an asterisk next to Him.  There aren’t terms & conditions we have to sign and agree to.  We must simply follow.  Our past failures, inadequacies, and defeats are wiped off the table.  They are of the past.  The desperate searching is finished.  We must simply lay down our life and follow.  It’s so freeing to know that I’m forgiven.  To know that my past, present, and future failures have been taken care of.  It allows us to follow.  And in reality, it’s a really simple thing to do, to follow.  Yet, I know that I and everyone else will fail.  After we’ve again arrived at rock bottom, Christ’s hand will appear.  “Get up, and follow Me.”

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  Hebrews 4:16

Be Still and Know

Be still and know that I am God.  Psalm 46:10 echoes in my mind as I search for the next distraction to flood my senses.  I can’t help but wonder if I’ve ever been still.  Have I ever listened to the gentle whisper of the one who I say is the identity and lighthouse of my life?  Today we have no reason to be still.  During the day, our physical bodies rush us from class to class, meeting to meeting, and practice to practice.  When our daily routine is finished with, we are able to keep our minds racing with visual stimulation (think Netflix).  But do we ever sit and deal with silence?

Silence scares us.  We make every attempt to avoid it for fear that we might have to deal with the internal demons that haunt the corners of our mind.  Whatever demons plague our lives, we make an attempt to eliminate their noise, filling our days with endless distraction.  But when we are stripped of our distractions, we are left weak and bare.  The material has dissolved and the internal is exposed.  What then?

I’ve been stripped bare, alone and broken, with just my demons to keep me company.  I fear sleep, as I’m forced to confront those demons, questions, and doubts.  They scare me. I’ve gone astray.  Where is life’s purpose and joy?  Who have I become?  Where do I place my identity?  These questions shake my once “solid” foundation.  Who is there to meet me in my darkness and despair but my Lord and Savior.  Who’s voice powers through the darkness and doubt but my heavenly Father’s.  When we are still, we allow God to break through our mold.  We can finally hear God’s voice begin to repair the broken inside.

Facing the tough questions is painful to do.  We don’t want to face the questions and doubts our mind is prodding us to ask and express.  We don’t want to lie down and look into the darkness of our souls.  But without doing so, we continue to live a life that is a lie.  For in that darkness we find ourselves.  We find our true beliefs and the values that make up the core of who we are.  If we don’t search to that depth, how can we discover who we were created to be?  Jesus lives in the depths.  He invited those who were considered to be the worst of society to dine and commune with Him.  He met those individuals in their worst moments, when they were at their lowest, and in their darkest days.  On the other side of Christ, those individuals found life, their thirst having been quenched.

Only when we live in the darkness can we find light.  Have faith that God’s grace will meet you, wherever you are.  There is nothing harder to do.  I do not want to face the questions I want answers to.  But I know that Jesus is waiting for me in the darkness, and that I’m never alone to face any of it.  So face down the silence of our minds.  That’s where the Answer lies.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:7

Lost & Confused

It seemed only fitting that I am feeling just as my Blog page is titled.  I am lost and confused.  For those who know me, I have changed my major 5 times.  My parents moved to the city of Fargo away from my childhood home of 21 years, Indianapolis.  I decided changing schools would fit me best given the circumstances.  Perhaps a school that seemed familiar, as both my parents went to Concordia.  Yeah, that would be a good, fresh start for me.  And here I am.

I’ve changed majors 3 times in my first year at Concordia.  I dove right in to campus activities: tennis team, choir, school newspaper, student ambassador, etc.  I’ve put myself out there and been as extroverted as I can be, meeting fantastic friends and brilliant professors.  Why then am I drifting?  Why am I in a rage during tennis practice and an actor when giving a tour of campus?  I am isolated.  I am alone.  I am spinning wildly, unsure of anything in my life.  I’ve been blessed with so much but have no clue of my next move, in any part of my life.  I miss my true home.  I miss my childhood friends.  I miss the people who knew me when I was six, and who knew me when I was going through puberty in middle and high school.  I can’t seem to shake this isolation.  I can’t talk to friends at Concordia about being beyond homesick, feeling as though Concordia was a mistake.  On the flip side, I can’t talk to my friends from home about Concordia, because they’ve never experienced it firsthand nor did they want me to leave Indianapolis in the first place.  I can’t talk to my parents because I don’t want to tell them that leaving Indianapolis might have been a mistake, that when they moved (which was great for them, and was the smart decision) it threw my entire world upside down.  I am alone or, so it seems.  I look for solace in so much but find so little.  I feel this tugging at my core to listen to the one still voice.  A voice that tells me to give everything I am past, present, and future to Him.  To relinquish the control over my life that was and is rightfully His.  But to be honest?  I don’t want to.  I want to know my plan.  I want to have someone here on earth who understands where I am and to tell me it will be okay.  To give me a plan and a hope for the future.  To help me engage in and enjoy my classes for once in my college career.  To tell me I didn’t make a mistake leaving Purdue.  I so desperately want to find that person.  But alas, that person is nowhere to be found.

It is okay to be angry towards God, I keep telling myself.  It’s okay to express doubt and frustration towards Him.  I find that the more I try to put on a show for God the deeper in regret and shame I fall.  God did not send His only Son to die for my sins so that I might give Him a half-hearted, “everything’s great God” response.  Christ died so that I might be set free from the bondage that enslaved me.  Being free, I can bring my struggles and doubts to His feet.  It isn’t about putting on the perfect show with Christ.  It’s about being so dependent on Him, that each and every one of my struggles is cast towards Him, knowing He is in control and will right the ship some how and some way.  For the times when I’m feeling isolated and alone, for they are many, I might recognize that Christ is always with me.  He’s feeling the pain, the loneliness, and the regret.  Instead of moping around, bottling up these emotions ,Christ is already molding them into something better; and I just need the confidence to step away from the reins I’ve placed over my life and enjoy the ride.

“Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.” Isaiah 26:4

Value

Value is something that is assigned to so many aspects of today’s society.  That T.V. you want is worth $400, the car you just bought was $10,000, and the job you have is worth $60,000 or whatever your salary’s value might be.  We define something’s worth based upon its value to our lives and the lives of those around us.  This works when we are defining worldly objects.  For example, a car is worth more than a pack of gum.  If we kept our definition of value strictly to material objects there would be no problem.  However, value no longer represents the price or worth of materials in this world.  It has now taken form as a way to define our looks, talents, and very being.

One of the saddest betrayals found in the Bible occurs between Jesus and one of his disciples Judas.  It is perhaps one of the most well known stories in the Bible.  Judas betrays Jesus to the chief priests with a kiss for just 30 pieces of silver.  For 30 pieces of silver, Judas was willing to betray the Son of God, Savior to all, and forgiver of our sins to the men who would later crucify Him.  I want to say that many of us would not do what Judas had done.  I want to say that we would have turned away the silver and ran back into the arms of the One willing to die for our transgressions.  However, given the right sum of money, I am sure things wouldn’t have been any different.  There are a lot of things in this world our society is willing to do for a certain sum of money.  Sell our bodies, sell our future, or sell our self worth.  And why?  Because we place value on things.  Judas placed a value on Jesus’ life: 30 pieces of silver.  What Judas ultimately placed a value over was his eternal future.  He thought that 30 pieces of silver was worth more to him as a person than the forgiveness that Christ brought.  What values do we have placed over our own lives?  We live in a world where money can buy anything.  But money cannot buy God’s grace and forgiveness, His mercy and healing.  No price tag can cover these gifts and that is why Jesus came to save our damaged bodies and souls.  When one is sitting in despair and loneliness, no thing he can purchase will fill the gaping hole within his heart.  No amount of money given to him will make him feel any better internally.

When we place our value and worth in Christ over worldly objects, only then can we find the peace that God is offering us.  One is forever lost if they are searching for something to buy rather than something to receive.  The value and worth of our lives here isn’t something we gift ourselves.  It is something we have already been gifted.  Search no longer for meaning within society or within your possessions.  Let us turn towards the cross, for that is where our values are made evident: the Son of Man was willing to die on your behalf, to save you from yourself.

 

“But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8

 

The War Within The Church

The Christian church of today’s world; perhaps a larger battleground then what’s in the Middle East.  Constant bickering, disagreement, and vicious attacks upon and with one another have led us to a church that is so scattered and disarrayed not even the most knowledgeable of historians could piece us together.  And why is this?  Why is the body of Jesus Christ so disillusioned?  The church is supposed to be the rock upon which the world functions, not a group of smaller bodies that only look out for themselves.

Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Non-denominational and Pentecostal.  Just a few of the many denominations found amongst the Christian church today.  Why is a body meant to be one split into so many smaller factions?  One of the biggest reasons is based on personal preference of worship.  Many of us have a preference for how we worship, the way in which we feel closest to God, and how we like things to run in the church.  There is nothing wrong with having a personal preference but when we begin to demand that our way is best and right, that is when the true problem arises.  We have divided ourselves over baptism, communion, and music to name a few.  Each denomination claims to be the right way to worship, the best way to develop a relationship with God our Father.  However, we seem to have forgotten that the way a church is run has absolutely nothing to do with our personal salvation or the love we receive from our Father.  All churches share (or at least claim to share) the belief in Christ as the Savior of the world.  Everything else melts away when we remember the love Christ had for us when He died on the cross for all of our sins.  We become a united body of Christ when we remember our biggest mission on this earth; to spread the Gospel of Love to all those who have yet to hear it.  Because there is no right way to worship, those of us in the church must learn to respect those in different worship settings.  Whether you have a big band performing on stage to thousands or a body of 50 people singing along with an organ, God is being glorified.  Whether your sermon is 50 minutes or 10 minutes, God is being glorified.  And whether you practice infant baptism or not, God is being glorified.  Let our focus remain upon the cross wherever and however we worship, regardless of our own desires.  If we do this, we might just find unity.

As I stated before, the struggle to spread the Gospel is a real problem amongst churches today.  The infighting has led to one of the largest separations between the church and the secular world.  But to be honest, how are we to blame the secular world for straying further from the church when the church is stuck judging themselves?  We claim we have the answer to the worlds’ pain and suffering (which I fully believe we do), but when our focus is on who worships correctly and who is saved, there is no way to truly preach and show the life saving love found in Jesus Christ.  We are supposed to be a beacon to the world, a shining example of love, healing, and mercy to a world lost in turmoil.  We cannot do that when we strike down ourselves.  Abraham Lincoln said it best, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

“You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.”

Matthew 5:14

Forgiveness

It has been called one of the most powerful weapons in history.  It can reduce even the biggest and strongest of men to tears and can solve the greatest of the world’s conflicts.  What is this weapon you may ask?  Forgiveness.  How might something so simple be so strong and formidable?  Forgiveness breaks down walls that no other weapon can do, and it does so with grace, love and mercy.

I recently saw a news story in which a former Auschwitz camp prisoner met face to face with one of the Nazi guards who overlooked her and the other prisoners.  She walked up to him and shook his hand, saying that she forgave him and deeply appreciated his appearing in court to face what he had done.  He smiled and simply gave her a kiss on the cheek (Blaze TV).  What greater example is there of forgiveness then this?  She was at death’s door during World War II, facing the extermination of the Nazi party.  She could have met this man with anger, resentment and physical violence that many would find acceptable.  But rather, she forgave, and allowed his moral consciousness to move past what he had done into a place of love and mercy.  This is exactly what our Father does for us as well.  We are so wrapped up in sin, it’s a wonder that we even wake up every morning, in fact, we don’t deserve to wake up.  The only deserved punishment for our sin would be death, but God reached out through Christ to save us from this condemnation.  He gave us an opportunity for life, not death.  How freeing it is to realize that one can walk in the light, despite living a life that had been in darkness.  No matter the past, whether it be murder, gluttony or addiction, Christ covers our sins and allows us to truly live.  Because the greatest gift has been freely given to us, so we must freely give it to others.  There is a reason forgiveness is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal.  It is because so many expect revenge, so many expect retaliation for the crime they have committed.  Forgiveness breaks down the walls of revenge.  Revenge is a perfectly natural response to someone who has wronged us, forgiveness is not.  So why respond with forgiveness when revenge is so natural?  Because if we don’t forgive, we cannot be forgiven ourselves.  The act of forgiveness doesn’t just apply to forgiving others, but also to oneself.  We maintain our past failures and faults to give us a part of our identity.  We identify with the wrongs we have committed in the past, using them to help us identify the person we wish to become.  And while learning from the past is key to a successful future, we must not cling to our sin, for it is no longer there.  Christ has wiped our slate clean.  We are, in a sense, born again.  Born into a life not being defined by what we’ve done, but by what we do.  One can look far and wide and not find a better definition of freedom than that.  So by the grace of God, go and live a life free from your wounds, faults, and wrongdoings.  Look to Christ as your anchor, for He is the one who died, so that you might live.

“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

Doubt

As the science and technology of this world progresses beyond measures ever thought possible, fewer and fewer will find the need for God.  Society is beginning to move away from God and the ultimate gift He gave us.  We are becoming reliant upon ourselves, looking to God only to blame when something doesn’t quite go according to plan, or to demand shelter when tragedy strikes.  We as a people are pushing God out of our lives in favor of controlling the tiny speck of life that we call planet Earth.  As we begin to make this catastrophic plunge, many of us in the faith begin to question the existence or use of God.  Is society right?  Do we truly need God?  These are very real questions, questions we should not avoid but attack head on.  A strong faith is not strong without doubt.

I often feel as though the church today likes to push the negative out of our lives.  Although this idea may seem positive, it produces negative results.  Whether it be anger, sadness or doubt, many of us today are told to focus on the positive.  If we push the negative out long enough, it won’t be there anymore.  But how must we strengthen our faith without the negative?  When our faith is tested, we cannot ignore it.  Doubt is one of those tests.  Everyday I struggle with doubt.  Is what I’m doing on this earth amounting to anything?  Is there truly a God out there who not only created me, but loves me enough to give up His one and only Son?  These are the questions that mankind seeks to answer in His lifetime, but will perhaps never find an answer.  These are questions that cannot be squelched under optimism, but rather, they are questions that need to be looked at directly.  Our faith is like that of a flower.  The flower needs rain and thunderstorms to help it flourish, to give it the strength to rise to its fullest potential.  Just as such, we must walk through the storms in life before we can rise to our own potential.  So when faced with doubt, do not ignore it.  Accept it, as it is giving you the chance to delve even deeper into your ever-growing faith.  When facing such obstacles, never cease to realize that God is right there with you.  He is there, ready to give you strength and wisdom, even if you never reach a true understanding.  Never give up the faith as a result of not finding an answer.  Some things in life will never be answered, we simply cannot know everything, but that doesn’t mean we do not keep searching.  Remember that we have the greatest truth we could ever possess.  Christ’s death on the cross forgave us of our sins and gave us the chance to live a life with Him in freedom and love and mercy.  Let us never forget that.  Can I get an amen?

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”  Psalm 27: 13-14

“Prayer”

Prayer is such a tricky thing these days.  There seem to be countless ways to “connect” with God, all claiming to be the one and only way to pray to our Lord.  When someone outside of the Christian tradition here’s the word prayer, they often think of the traditional way of praying: bowing of the head, folding of the hands, and speaking softly the words being said.  This traditional way of praying certainly has its place and is in no way an incorrect way of connecting with God.  But who’s to say prayer isn’t throwing your hands up in the air in anger and confusion towards God?  Who is to say prayer isn’t falling on your knees alone in grief and mourning to find comfort in the Lord?  And who is to say that prayer isn’t in recognizing God’s beauty and wonder throughout the world, without whispering even a single word?  I want to challenge those in the faith to seek out their own personal way of prayer.

Prayer is one of the most unique and personal things we have in the Christian faith.  It is how we communicate with the Lord, bringing us into His presence as we seek guidance, strength, and wisdom.  Too often, however, prayer is what can make or break a faith.  We are told that prayer connects us with the Lord, but what if when we pray we feel nothing?  I feel as if this is because we no longer find our own unique way of prayer.  Prayer has become something we mindlessly say before we fall asleep at night, or something we politely listen to in church or elsewhere.  Let us change that.  We need to reexamine ourselves and our prayer lives to find where we personally feel God’s presence.  Not where our friends, church, or society see, hear, or feel God.  But where we alone see His work.  This can be through the beautiful, melodic line of a piece of music.  It can be through the gentle breeze that moves through the trees on a spring day.  Or it can be through the invigorating sense of peace found through community with others. Whatever it may be, discover it for yourself.  Find the place where you see God and live in that.  There isn’t a set list of words that can be used while praying.  We don’t need to go into prayer knowing what we want to say.  If our head is talking instead of our hearts, it isn’t true prayer.  Prayer isn’t about saying the right thing, or even saying anything at all.  It is about being one in the presence of our Lord.  God yearns to hear us just as we yearn to hear Him.  Never stop praying because you don’t feel as if God is there.  He is always listening.  Whether that’s just before the biggest exam of your life, in church worshiping with others, or when you’re alone at home in front of your computer.  He is always there to listen, to love, and to guide.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”  1 John 5:14

Change

Change is difficult.  Change forges new pathways for us to take whether we want to walk those pathways or not.  Change can be a dark alleyway with surprises lurking in the shadows, surprises we could not have foreseen.  Or it can be an open highway of both celebration and happiness.  Whatever your change entails, I assure you it will be both exilerating and terrifying.

In a world that demonstrates change so often, why are we as humans so scared of it?  Even nature displays change on a daily basis, whether it be through seasonal weather or the change of the tide.  Everything around us screams for change but we strike back with complacency.  We enjoy the comfort and consistency that surrounds us.  When a new opportunity is dropped in front of us we run and hide, rather than greet that opportunity face to face.  Why?  Because change hurts.  Change rips our world apart and fills it with something foreign.  It clouds and confuses our previous image of the world.  Change, regardless of how big or small, essentially creates a new existence for us.  A new state of being.  We lose control of what we thought we knew and instead are taken on a new journey lacking any control.  Change has brought me to tears and will surely do so again in the coming months.  It has buckled me over with pain and flattened me with heartache.  But when facing change, one must remember what comes of it.  A discovery of one’s new self is inevitable as change makes you cast your old self to memory.  Memories can be cherished for an eternity.  Self-defining change may come just once in a lifetime.  “When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” (Viktor Frankl).  And let us not forget the ever present consistency with us through all our change.  Christ.  He remains, without change.  A rock among leaves.  His love, mercy and grace are unchanging, and given without being deserved.  Through change, we must cast our eyes upon Him.  Fear nothing, for He is with us.  Fear no change, for He is God.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8