The Importance of Character

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5a)

It’s time to take a test. Don’t worry this test will not affect your GPA. But this test is far more important than your academics.

I have one question to ask you: Where are you in your faith?

Now be honest with yourself, don’t lie saying you are doing just fine. For me to truly answer myself this question, I break it down into multiple questions:

What is your prayer life like? Are you praying often? And if you are, what are you praying for?

Are you attempting to enlighten others through the gospel? Are you trying to win an argument for the sake of yourself and the argument? Do you look at others and tell them why they’re wrong and you’re right? Are you providing this person comfort in the Word of God? Is your goal to boast your intelligence or to point others to God?

Do you seek help? My last blog I mentioned that you need someone like a Paul and a Timothy in your life. Do you have a Paul-like friend who can provide you wisdom that continually points back to Christ? Do you have a mentor that can help you mature more and more spiritually?

Can you take criticism from others? When your friends point out your wrongs, how do you respond? Do you respond humbly? Do you turn the other cheek? Or do you respond in outrage and in anger?

What is your motive? What are you aiming for? Is your goal to further yourself in the gospel or is your goal for self-centered?

Finally, are you always focused on God and His glory? Is what you’re doing glorifying God or is what you’re doing for selfish reasons?

 

Pondering through these questions, I would assume that you would say that you’re not in a place that you want to be in as of right now. And that’s okay. Our relationship is not going to ever be perfect or what we want it to be ideally. But we can grateful that Christ’s faith is perfect. He is good and fulfilled the covenant that God said in the Old Testament that He would do when the Messiah came. For the Bible tells us, “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

So, why am I asking you this exactly? Well for many reasons. One being that it is good to reflect on your relationship with God and focus on the areas of sin in your life that need to be attended to. Another reason being that our relationship with God and our spiritual maturity our reflected on our character.

Character is what defines you. It is what you are and how you choose to live your life: the good, the bad and the ugly. Now, no one on earth will never really know our true selves, but the scary thing for me is: God also knows who I truly am. He knows everything about me, every memory, every thought, everything that I have said and done. He knows all and sees all (Psalm 139:7-8). So, if you are hiding your true character from others, you aren’t hiding anything from God.

Good character is an important quality to have not just as a person but as a Christian as well. Solomon defined character as something better than our own appearance (Ecclesiastes 7:1a).

God designed us specifically to glorify and proclaim His name in everything we do. I’m sure that everyone at Cedarville usually correspond to character to Boaz from the book of Ruth which is good, but how can we specifically improve our character? One of the many areas in the Bible that gives us a good illustration is in Colossians where Paul commands the people of Colosse:

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 whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these things put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 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 word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 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 3:12-17).

It is hard to do, yes, but my mission for you is to continue to strive for perfection, become more like Jesus. We are going to continually fail but let’s not forget why we do this: to become closer with God and to allow our lives to be a glimpse of who He is and His glory to others. So I hope that you may continually ask yourselves those questions I gave to you earlier so that you, may flourish into greatness.

Convictions – What Are They and Why Do They Matter?

 

two man and two woman standing on green grass field
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Basically, convictions are your personally-held beliefs that guide the way you live. 

In the Bible, there are definite rights, ie. love God, love your neighbors, treat others the way you want to be treated.

And there are definite wrongs, ie. don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t be jealous of what other people have.

The Bible is 100% accurate and perfect in every way and is the ultimate guide to life. But it does not always spell out exactly what to do in every situation.

It’s like the U.S. Constitution. Everything in it is true and relevant, but it requires interpretation in cases not specifically covered in the law.

Sometimes church denominations will hold certain convictions that they expect their members to follow, like abstaining from alcohol or requiring women to wear dresses and have long hair.

But I truly believe that convictions are personal.

The ultimate purpose of convictions are to keep yourself in a place where you are best able to worship God.

Convictions can help you set boundaries to keep you from situations where you would be more likely to make wrong choices.

For example, let’s say Bob gambled for many years. He lost his wife and family because of his addiction and ended up deep in debt. Eventually, he gave his life to Jesus and decided he wanted to leave gambling behind him.

So Bob decided to quit going to casinos and playing card games all together. It’s not that he thinks Solitaire is a sin, but he knows that being around cards could trigger his former desire for gambling. His choice to stay away from cards is helping him focus on living for God, and not dwelling on his past.

Now, Bob doesn’t expect everyone to quit card games and he doesn’t judge anyone that plays them. He just personally chooses not to.

Growing up, my family had 2 major convictions: 1) we didn’t go to movies and 2) we didn’t go to restaurants that served alcohol.

The movie conviction actually used to be part of the Nazarene church’s member covenant. My grandma never went to movies growing up, nor did my mom, nor did my brother and I. It’s not that the movies themselves are inherently evil, but rather the fact that there was no control over what commercials would play and no way to skip over objectionable content.

We usually watch movies on Netflix or Prime, or get DVDs from the library. So while I’m not always current on the latest movies, I end up seeing them eventually. 🙂

I personally am apathetic on this issue. I don’t feel strongly about NOT going to movies, but I don’t really desire to go either. In all honesty, I’m not a movie person. Give me five billion episodes over a movie any day (unless it’s Marvel). Movies are long, expensive, and some theaters have bed bug issues (no thanks!). And, I want to respect my family’s convictions.

However, I do agree with my parents’ conviction about not going to restaurants that serve alcohol. This comes from a very personal place. My dad’s biological father was an abusive alcoholic. My dad and his nine brothers and sisters were placed in foster homes from a young age and there have been so many health and mental problems among my aunts and uncles that came from his drinking.

Alcohol is literally in my family’s blood and one drink could lead to a lifetime addiction. So my parents always felt strongly about staying away from it as much as possible. There are still several excellent restaurants that don’t sell alcohol and we’d prefer to go there than be exposed to something that destroyed my family.

But here’s the thing: not everyone has to agree.

Growing up, I always thought that we didn’t go to movies or restaurants that served alcohol because that was the “Christian” thing to do.

I always wondered how people at church and school could be Christians if they went to those restaurants and theaters. I didn’t understand what convictions were at all.

And then, I read Romans 14. I highly encourage that everyone reads this chapter. It completely changed the way I viewed convictions.

The Apostle Paul wrote Romans during a time of major change for the church. After Jesus died and rose again, salvation became possible for Jews and Gentiles. The Jews were still used to the law and their traditional customs. Gentiles didn’t have these same customs.

There became major debates as to what was necessary for faith and what didn’t really matter in the long run.

One huge issue was food. Under the Jewish law, there were many foods considered “unclean”. It was also common that meat was sacrificed to idols in those days.

So some believers only ate vegetables. They knew it was kosher and there was no idolatry connected to it. Others argued that God made all food and it was fine to eat whatever.

Paul basically tells the Romans to not condemn others for their beliefs. In verse 6 (NLT), Paul says, “…Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God.”

Paul goes on to say that we shouldn’t condemn other believers.

“Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.”
~ Romans 14: 12-13 (NLT)

Another important part of convictions is sometimes doing or avoiding certain things to help other believers. Let’s say you invite Bob (in the example above) over to your house to hang out one evening. Instead of playing Hearts, you could opt for Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit. You are 100% free to play Hearts any time, but choosing another game that night out of respect for Bob would help him stay true to his convictions.

Ultimately, here’s what Paul has to say about convictions:

“…Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.”
~ Romans 14:22b-23

What are your thoughts on convictions?

What convictions do you personally live by?

Thanks so much for reading,

RaeAnn

Why Your Testimony Matters

 

The purpose of a testimony is essentially to tell others how you made the decision to follow Jesus.

Chances are, if you’ve grown up in the church, you’ve heard these a lot.

Over the course of my 19 years, I’ve heard a fair share of testimonies.

I remember going to see Candace Cameron Bure at a women’s conference when I was ten. I was so impressed with her story and how her faith impacted her career. Hollywood and Christian morals don’t often align, so it’s been interesting to see how she’s staying true to God and making a difference in Hollywood at the same time.

In the back of my mind that day, I wanted to run away from home, “live”, and come back so I could have an incredible testimony too. I thought my testimony was too boring and insignificant.

Maybe you’ve felt that way too?

I was raised in a Christian home. I attended a Christian school from Pre-school through 8th grade. I was saved when I was four years old. I don’t even remember the exact date.

I’ve heard so many people in church talking about how their lives were so radically changed when they became a Christian.

I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. There was nothing radical about my faith. I don’t remember who I was before then.

One night in youth group, there was a lesson on testimonies. I initially rolled my eyes. It wouldn’t apply to me at all. Who would care about my boring testimony?

But the lesson basically explained that everyone’s testimony matters. Being a Christian is a lifelong process. It doesn’t stop when you ask Jesus into your heart. It’s a commitment to follow Jesus all the way. We’re all prone to sin and being “saved” doesn’t mean we’re perfect or exempt from temptations.

From a human perspective, we often try to rate sins. We may try to justify our actions by saying, “A little white lie isn’t so bad, but murder, well that’s just wrong!”

But that’s not the way God looks at sin. All sin separates us from God. All sin is wrong. No matter how harmful or innocent it seems to us, sin is sin.

As a four year old, I had sinned. I had fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). The wages of my sins were death, but through Jesus, I now had access to eternal life (Romans 6:23).

It can be easy to take salvation for granted sometimes, but think how incredible it truly is! Whether you were 4 or 94, the moment you chose to follow Jesus and accept forgiveness of sins, you were saved from eternal death. You now have hope of living with Jesus forever!

You were no longer defined by your mistakes, but by God’s grace.

Growing up, I was far from perfect. I would lie and manipulate to get my own way. I would hide the truth from my parents, wait a couple of years and then tell them. That way, the punishment wouldn’t be quite as bad.

I also back-talked quite a lot. I always felt compelled to give my two cents, even when it was obviously the wrong time to do so.

From the ages of 4 to 8, I probably asked Jesus into my heart at least 20 times. I wanted to make sure that Jesus would forgive me every time I sinned. I hated being in trouble, but I still loved lying and talking back. When it was less painful to lie than tell the truth, I usually did. On the outside, I was always a “good kid” at school, but very stubborn and strong-willed on the inside.

I guess you could say the perk to being saved from a young age is growing in Jesus as you grow in age. By seventh grade, I finally understood what a relationship with Jesus was all about. He wasn’t just someone we learned about in Bible class, but someone who genuinely wanted to know us personally. It wasn’t about how well I kept the rules. It was about how much I loved Him.

When my goal was to love Jesus, doing the right thing became easier. I wasn’t as much concerned with “getting in trouble” as I was with disappointing God.

Everyday is still a journey. I try to do what’s right, but inevitably mess up from time to time. That’s what makes following Jesus a lifelong process that is so worth it.

Every Christian has their own daily strengths and struggles. We can be encouraged to keep running the race (Hebrews 12:2) by hearing stories of what others have overcome with God’s help.

That’s why your testimony matters.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on testimonies.

How did you come to know Jesus? Have anyone else’s stories of salvation impacted your life?

Thanks for reading,

RaeAnn

Even If We Fall… Devotional from Proverbs 24:16

“For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.”

-Proverbs 24:16 (ESV)

 Have you ever had those times that were so embarrassing that you just wished you could be invisible?

I’ll never forget the summer before 4th grade. I was in 4-H and had won 1st place in the scrapbook division, so I was invited to an award show at the local fair.

There were so many honorees from various categories and we were all crowded together in the back of an open-air tent.

I was nervous and claustrophobic. I also have this horrible habit of judging people before I know them and was scared of the person next to me. I was just ready to get my trophy and leave.

After shaking hands and accepting the generous award, I forgot about the three steps at the bottom of the stage and completely wiped out!

There were hundreds of people there and I had fallen on my face!

In all honesty, it served me right. Judging someone without cause is never right and I truly didn’t watch where I was going.

It’s amazing how many times the Bible talks about falling.

It’s not really about being clumsy, but about being burdened by hardships or falling away from the faith.

In Proverbs 24:16, I love the fact that the righteous falls 7 times and gets back up.

In times of hardship, the wicked stumbles and that’s it.

But for the righteous, God gives them the strength to endure hard times and forgives mistakes.

Falling once at the award ceremony was humiliating. I can’t imagine doing it six more times.

Yet, God’s forgiveness is able to cover us no matter how many times we mess up.

God loves the wicked just as much as the righteous, but He will only help those who ask Him to.

Asking for God’s strength requires humility, but it’s so worth it.

So whatever difficulty you’re facing – illness, difficult assignments, job situations – remember that God is there.

Even if you mess up seven times in a row, He will give you the strength to rise.

“I turned around and God was right there…”

Your Story Rae

When looking back on your life and the trials that have been stepping stones in your faith it becomes clear that God has been preparing you for this all along. The things that may have been learned because of good times or even bad are all ultimately used by the Lord for His story. It’s funny that at the time of the trial or the “prep” for trial we don’t see how intricately the Lord weaves himself into our lives.

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When we finally open our eyes and catch a glimpse of what the Lord is doing we can’t help but be filled with adoration of a God who pursues us relentlessly.
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If you heard Rae’s story last night you can see how true this is in her story. However, if you did miss it I can give you a quick rundown. Rae shared three important things: the foundation of her faith, how that foundation helped through a trial in her life, and how God continually pursues. Rae accepted Christ in her life at a young age, but it wasn’t until the age of 13 that she actually understood what a relationship with Christ included.  She realized the first step to really get to know God was to dive into His word

God’s Character. How many of us can truly say we know much of who God is? I mean to be very transparent with you, I did not exactly spend a lot of time in the Word learning who God truly was. There is a reason why in my story I pushed God away, believing that He could not help me. I believed that because I did not truly understand how great He actually is. If you do not take the time to figure out the God who you are supposed to have this deep, intimate relationship with, how are you supposed to allow him to do what he needs to in your life?

At the age of 19 Rae had to watch her parent’s marriage crumble and ultimately end in divorce. She had to watch all of this from afar, and the advice she got from home was just to pray a little bit harder and hopefully things would get better. This helplessness and sadness lead to doubting if God really was who He said He was. However, the words that had been engrained on her  heart from the time spent in the Word resurfaced to remind her that God was there. A verse that she mentioned multiple times was Psalms 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Words that she had forgotten showed themselves again. The Lord was reminding her of His goodness.

As I mentioned before the lack of that foundation in my life caused disasters during trials that came. The Lord gave us in His Word the things to keep us going when everything around us is falling apart. So, those of you who are going through trials take heart, God has you. 

I think that last thought honestly comes from the idea that God pursues. The amount of times I have given up and just said, “To heck with it all” has been a lot. However, God continues to seek me out and remind me that, “He loves ME. He wants ME. He will help ME.” Rae was reminded of this when she went to Peru trying to run away from her problems, but God used the loss of her appendix to remind her that He was there and that He would chase after her because she was HIS. How beautiful is that? The love God has for us honestly makes me speechless and makes me want to sing and dance and do all sorts of things for HOURS. Honestly I cannot express to you how much I love God pursuing us so I am just going to leave it at that.

Actually I lied. I want to end on the thought of God pursuing us. God has given us a great tool to help us in our trials. That tool, the Bible, is sort of his pursuit manual. It explains how He is faithful and why we should feel free to just fall into His arms. God is not leaving you alone during your hard time. —> Even when you feel like you are all alone, and trust me I know that feeling firsthand, God is right behind you asking you to let Him in and be who He says He is.