Resting in the Promises of God

 

One of my favorite artists today is Jon McLaughlin. Most people know him for his biggest single, “Beautiful Disaster” and other people know him as the ballroom singer from the movie Enchanted. But one song I would like to talk about today is his song, “Oh Jesus”.

Listen to the song below before you continue to read the rest of the blog:

 

If you could talk to Jesus face to face, what questions would you ask him?

When I first listened to this, I didn’t exactly understand his purpose of writing this song. It just seemed to me like a one-sided conversation with Jesus. I had to listen to this a few more times to finally get a feel for the song. Jon McLaughlin did an interview a few years back, and the interviewer asked what prompted him to record this song. He replied by saying, “It was a culmination of a bunch of general feelings…how things work, why are there huge tragedies in the world and these small victories. We choose credit for some things, but not other things…There are no answers in the song. It’s just me talking to Jesus about all these thoughts” (Ellen Hawkins, “Interview with Jon McLaughlin”, Relatemag.com).

I would love to analyze the whole song with you, but for now, I want to focus on these questions that Jon asks Jesus:

Can you hear me? How am I doing? Am I proving worth of all the time you’ve spent? Have you decided where I am going?

Have you seen the news? Tell me do we help, or do we hurt?

 

Which questions above have you asked Jesus or have thought about any of these? Have you ever asked for reassurance about yourself? Or about how our nation is doing, and whether are future is still bright?

Whenever I make a big decision, I am in desperate need of reassurance from God, so I know I made the right choice. Or when I go through emotionally draining weeks, I sometimes wonder if I am living my life the way that I should. Am I alone in this, or do you feel the same way?

Jon may have said that there were no answers in his song, but the Book of Hebrews gives us an answer, a reminder of God’s Certainty of His Promises:

 

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek”  (Hebrews 6: 13-20).

 

Just as God fulfilled his promises with Abraham, He will fulfill his promises with us also. God gives us this incredible hope that we can hold on to. It is God’s faithfulness that prompts us to continue to cling on to Him, therefore, our trust should be in God Himself, and not in our own efforts or works. This hope prevents us from drifting away from God as long as we continue to trust Him, hence why the author compares hope as an ‘anchor’. God’s promises are the foundation of our hope that can give us assurance that helps us persevere in times of trials. Since God’s covenant with Abraham is fulfilled in Christ, then this should be our basis for our faith; therefore, rejecting Jesus is rejecting faith.

 

So how can we count on God’s promises? Easy, because He can be trusted. His fulfillment of promises is written throughout Scripture. God’s promises are true and they are certain. These promises will support us in times of struggle. God and His promises are what we should only count on. Not ourselves, not on our works, not our relationships, but God Himself and Who He is. Because He is the only one who will always keep his promises. The difficult part is letting Him in our lives and letting Him have control of it.

 

So when you face uncertainty, rest in the promises of God. He hears your prayers and your thoughts, but God is working in you. But you need to give Him your trust. Now the question is turned to you: Are you going to trust God? Or will you continue to drown yourself in fear and uncertainty?

 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isaiah 43: 2).

I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4).

Don’t Let Doubts Defeat You

It’s that time of year we have all been dreading: midterms. Midterms and other exams can really be draining, especially when it comes to your hardest classes. So this week, I thought I could bring some encouragement for when our work load becomes more than what we can handle.

There is a saying that goes around: “God won’t give you more than you can handle”. Is this a true statement? If we look at 1 Corithians 10:13,

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Is this what Paul is telling us? Let’s look at this as a college point of view.

There will be at least one college course here at school that you will struggle with. You may be consuming all your time studying for that class, but your grades still don’t look so great. This can be really frustrating and mostly discouraging, sometimes you doubt your ability to succeed. College isn’t meant to be easy. Here at Cedarville University, you will be challenged academically and spiritually to be ready for the real world. Sometimes a class seems too difficult, and the work for the rest of the semester seems too much. And the work load before doing it, already puts you down. To me, I want to be self-sufficient, and when getting grades I am not pleased about, I tend to let it bring me down and worry about what the rest of college is going to look like.

But the Bible tells us to not worry about the future as long as we trust in the Lord and not our own ability, God will provide. He will provide you a path to follow:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

So this is my advice: If you are going to be defeated by a college course, then at least give it your best effort. Give it your best shot with the abilites God has given you. Use your free time outside of classes wisely. But don’t be absorbed by what your grades look like too. Grades are important, sure, but your growth in character and your growth in knowledge is more important. And the only way to grow is through the challenges that life throws at us:

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5).

We can’t be successful at everything, and you might face challenges that seem to be too much for you, but don’t work against God’s plans for you and let your doubts defeat you.

So back to the question, does God not give us more than we can handle? Well, this is only partially true. I think at least one class here at Cedarville is going to be a class that we may not be able to handle with our own strength. And this only portrays our weakness and how much we need God’s strength. So it’s not really about if we can handle it or not, it’s more about that God will help us through all we have been given, as long as we trust and have faith that He will provide.

Finding Light in the Darkness

 

 “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

August 11, 2014. I remember the day quite well. I remember looking at my notifications seeing the news appear on the screen. The news blew up quickly. I was in shock, and quite surprised to hear the news: Robin Williams, dead at 63. It absorbed most of my time for weeks, I was all over the internet, going through research trying to find answers and understanding. I had no idea what Robin Williams was going through until after his death. I took it really hard because of many reasons. The first being he was a man with a gift of humor. Whenever I was having a bad day, I knew I could count on Williams to cheer me up through his movies and especially through Mork & Mindy.I recently watched Good Morning Vietnam right before he died for a school summer project. It was sad for me to know that I wouldn’t be able to see his joyous face on the camera anymore.

Another reason I took it hard was the cause of death: suicide. Goodness…it is hard for me to hear that someone gave up the gift of life because darkness took over. Depression. Such a difficult topic to discuss that we are afraid to bring it up. But I feel that we need to know that depression is not uncommon. I did some research for this article. According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America) website, anxiety is affecting over 40 million adults in the United States. “Anxiety Disorders also affect 25.1% of children between the ages of 13 and 18,” (ADAA.org). But not everyone is getting the help they need. On average there are 123 suicide deaths per day according to AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). That is approximately 5 people committing suicide every hour. As I am writing this, I can feel my heart crumble knowing that this is happening across the country, and across the world.

Some people might not really care about these stats and will shrug it off. But there are people who want to help. Most likely, someone that you know is experiencing depression or has experienced depression.

In high school, I experienced deep depression. I struggled to focus on school work and I always had the feeling of desperately wanting to sleep in bed and never leave my bedroom. It was difficult living a normal life. There was a time that I was suicidal, but God saved me from that. I haven’t experienced depression like that since, but there are days where I still feel the darkness surfacing, trying to take over my heart again. But my relationship with the Lord is more powerful than the temptations of Satan.

Flash forward to my first year in college, I get a phone call during spring break hearing that a close family member of mine committed suicide. It has been utterly heartbreaking since then. And the worst part was that not only did I not know that he felt that way, but that I also similarly understand the pain he went through and I had no clue about it. Now that I know how he felt, I can never go back to change the past.

Those of you who struggle the battle of darkness, here is what helped me. First, I reached out to people in my life who I trusted and looked up to. A few people from my church remind me of the Lord’s unfailing love & grace every time I see them. My immediate family, especially my gracious mother, helped me get through this too. I knew I wasn’t alone and that I had an ‘army’ who was willing to pray for me and protect me. Another thing that I did was I reached out to someone that I knew that was very knowledgeable in scripture and knew what I was going through. He gave me scripture that I can use to remind me to continue to trust in the Lord and that He is working through me for a purpose.

It is hard to accept and continually believe that our suffering has a purpose. Our suffering is best described by my Dr. David Jeremiah Study Bible, “Suffering teaches believers to stay under pressuree, like squeezing an olive in a press to extract oil. This pressure results from the conflict of two truths: faith and its enduring benefits versus a fallen world under Satan’s influence”.

This person also reminded me that Jesus felt this very feeling of deep sadness too. In Matthew 26:36-46, when Jesus was in Gethsemane, he said to his disciples that his soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”(vs. 38). If you translated that in this world, it would be like saying you were so sad that you would want to die. Anyone who has felt this way could relate to Jesus at that moment in time. It is relieving to know that our own Savior felt this way too, mainly because He knows exactly what we are going through in our own hearts. David, another man in the Bible who knew what it felt like too. There are many Psalms that we could relate to. Psalms 5,6, 42,43…but my favorite of all: Psalm 13. But is what is so amazing about this psalm is that after he describes his pain, he ends with this:

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:5-6; NIV)

Here, David admits and expresses his emotions to God and even though he struggles in his pain, he still clings to the hope that God because of how God has already worked in his life. David reminds us to continue to run to God for security.

This Psalm also reminds me how amazing and powerful our Lord is:

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.”

(Psalm 121; NIV)

This psalmist reminds us that our help, all of our help, comes from the Lord above. God has unspeakable and infinite powers and abilities to assist us through our own trials.

If you ever struggle with depression, go to the Lord for help. I also encourage you to talk about it with someone you know. Talking about it is helpful to let it out than to hide your thoughts and feelings inside, it tends to be overwhelming. This will be a process, but I promise the journey is worth it. Right now, I know someone I deeply love and care for is struggling with severe depression and anxiety. And it is definitely harder to watch something you’ve experienced happen to someone you love. But I know that I need to continue praying and let God work through this person. To my mentors, you have impacted me immensely and I wouldn’t be where I am without you. And to my family, thank you for always loving and supporting me.

Remember, God isn’t finished with you yet, He has still plans for you, they are just work in progress.

What Being Left Out Taught Me About Valuing People

Girl Alone in Corner

Have you ever had a time where you felt left out?

Maybe you were the only one not invited to a friend’s party. Maybe you didn’t make a sports team or audition, but your friends all did.

Let’s face it, rejection hurts. It’s not fun to be left out.

I’ve had so many times growing up where I was the only one. Believe it or not, my worst “left-out” experiences have been at church.

Ever since I was little, I’ve been the only one my age at church who actually came on a regular basis.

When I was 3, I was in a Sunday School class by myself. My teacher, Miss Sue, was the sweetest lady. She even made a blanket and pillow for my Sheepie, so that we would both be comfortable in her class. In Miss Sue’s class, I felt welcomed. I knew I was the only one and I kind of wanted others to come, but I liked the individual attention.

Fast-forward ten years, and my family switched churches. That was one of the most difficult times of my life. As someone who dreads change, this was a major transition.

At this new church, I was still the only one my age. The majority of the kids there were either two years older or two years younger.

For a while, I was lumped into class with the younger kids, but finally, kids my age started coming. We had a 7th-9th grade class and there were five of us in there on a good day.

Well, after a while, the other four drifted away. And week after week, month after month, I was the only one.

Now, being the only one didn’t bother me as much as the way this new teacher handled it.

She constantly made comments like “Nobody’s here” or “Why doesn’t anyone come to class?” right to my face. Every single class, she complained about who wasn’t there. I was the “nobody” that came.

It was like I didn’t exist.

There was never appreciation for the fact that I came faithfully. Just constant grumbling about how no one ever came. Even to this day, she acts like she did nothing wrong. She never realized how much she hurt me.

Talk about a slap in the face!

So for the longest time, I tried to make excuses so I could avoid going to church. I felt “sick” almost every week and tried to convince my church-faithful parents that we should skip Sunday School. Let’s just say, that didn’t happen.

After a few years, I was old enough to move to another class and new people around my age joined the church. Although no place is absolutely perfect, church became a lot better after leaving that negative class.

But this whole experience taught me a valuable life lesson: Every single person matters and wants to feel valued.

Even in youth group, the leaders would spend a whole night focused on how many people weren’t there and how we were failing to bring friends to church!

Yes, I think it’s important to invite friends. But, I think leaders should be appreciative of every single person who comes.

I’m sure it’s frustrating to put in a lot of effort and very few people show up. It probably makes the leaders feel like their time is being wasted.

But I don’t think it should. God’s message matters the same whether one person hears it or one million do.

In this day and age, I think we’re all focused on numbers. How many likes we get on Instagram, how many YouTube subscribers we have, how many people read our blog posts. I’m guilty of this too.

Trying to get a bigger following isn’t entirely wrong, but I do think we should be grateful for everyone who has been faithful and is choosing to view our content/ come to our class. Successful companies know the value of rewarding faithful employees and customers. If people aren’t being treated kindly, why would anyone else bother coming?

Since I know what it feels like to be treated like you don’t exist, I want to make sure that I go out of my way to make people feel welcome.

I hope to teach Sunday School one day and I eagerly await the day I have one student. I want to pour as much energy and passion into that beautiful soul as I would into a room of 100.

To God, we all matter. Not just collectively as human beings, but as individuals.

He even knows the number of hairs on our head! (Matthew 10:30). 

I absolutely love Psalm 139. If you ever feel left out or like no one cares, this is the chapter for you. You are so loved and valued by God!

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!”
~ Psalm 139:13-17 (NLT)

In all honesty, I don’t always do a good job of making people feel welcome. I get shy, I get comfortable, I fail. But I’m striving to love people like God loves them more and more.

So if you’re feeling left out or like you’re the only one, I want to encourage you that you matter SO MUCH. No matter what hurtful things people have said or done. You are so valuable and wonderful.

And sometimes God uses the most painful times we’ve had so that we can encourage others who’ve dealt with similar struggles.

Investing in the Primary Mission of the Church

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20, NIV)

All my life this passage has been thrown at my face. This very section is what we call The Primary Mission of the Church. Sunday School has taught me that I need to spread the Good News: that while we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died for us, paying our debts, washing away our sins, and we may be born again in the spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:8, John 3:16, Ephesians 2:4-10, 2 Corinthians 4:16,..the list can go on). The problem with this lesson was that I wasn’t really taught how. I am not saying that my Sunday School teachers didn’t teach me well, they are actually people that I look up to spiritually. The true problem is that we allow fear to come inside and we hesitate and draw a blank when it comes to speaking to anyone who doesn’t know the Lord. How do we take on this task? What do we say? How will they respond?

This has been on my heart for a long time now. There is someone that I deeply care about who doesn’t know the Lord and I regret each time I see this person because I am afraid to speak my mind. I am afraid that this will affect our relationship not in a good way and that they will respond in disgust. I shouldn’t let Satan tempt me with fear, for that is not the way we should respond to what God calls us to do. I have prayed about this time and time again and I know now that I need to stop dancing around this and face it straight on.

“Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV)

A good example of being a witness of what Jesus has done in us and for us is none other than the book of Philemon. You’re probably thinking, ‘Philemon? You mean the smallest book in the Bible? What does that have to do with your point?’ Trust me, we will get to the point I am trying to make.

First off, let me give you a little background on the story of Philemon. Philemon is a man of strong faith and is a well respected Christian leader, according to the apostle Paul. Philemon was also a master of a slave named Onesimus. Slavery was widespread in the Roman world at this time. If a runaway slave was captured, they had to be returned and given severe punishment as an example to other slaves. At this time, apostle Paul is writing this letter under house arrest in Rome being always monitored, but he was allowed visitors. Well, Onesimus ran away from Philemon, possibly stole a few items, and stumbled upon Paul. Paul has Onesimus return back to his master and writes this letter to Philemon encouraging him to not punish him and to instead welcome Onesimus as a beloved brother in Christ. Even though Paul needs Onesimus more than Philemon because the runaway slave has been helpful in spreading the Gospel, Paul’s desire of reconciling Philemon and Onesimus was more important to him.

One of Paul’s missions was to see people’s hearts changed by the gospel of Christ. And this letter to Philemon illustrates how attitudes and relationships are transformed in Christ. Notice also here in this letter in Philemon that Paul wanted the relationships between master and slave to be transcended to brother and brother in Christ. Regardless of economic class, societal reputation, race, ethnicity, or gender, we must show Christ’s gracious love to EVERYONE. So, what are the themes in this letter? Forgiveness: Philemon forgiving Onesimus for running away (Colossians 3:11, 13-14), Transformation: Onesimus was born again with the help of Paul (2 Corinthians 5:17), and Sacrifice: Paul giving up Onesimus’s help and also mentioning paying any debts of Onesimus’s former wrongdoings.

I see Paul’s letter to Philemon as an analogy to reveal how far God will go to set any captive in the slavery of sin free. Paul’s investment in Onesimus encouraged and strengthened Onesimus’s faith in Jesus Christ. If we put that much investment like Paul did in someone’s life to open their eyes to the grace of God, imagine the results of changed lives. Think of something valuable to you that you put a lot of time. Now imagine putting that time in fellowship, in the lives of people who don’t know Jesus.

My grandfather is a man of extreme faith. The wisest and strongest man I know. He truly is a man of prayer and dedication to Jesus Christ. He walks up and down the streets with a life-size cross and a crown of thorns, spreading the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness for us, changing the lives of everyone around him. Because of his great love for God, the Holy Spirit works in his life for good works (Ephesians 2:10).

I will not be giving you an exact answer to how you should spread the news to Jesus Christ. But I will say this: take baby steps. Don’t jump to it right away and scare people away, put time and effort into these new relationships. But make sure they know right away that you are a Christian. When you share and summarize the Gospel, I encourage you to use these keywords I learned from the Bible and Gospel class: Need, Grace, Sacrifice, Union, Transfer, Restoration.

I now challenge you to read Philemon all the way through. Don’t worry, it will only take you a minute to read it. But I also want you to highlight anything that Paul says or does that remind you acts of Christ. Think about the meaning of this letter and how you should be a light and an example to others. Think about the steps you are going to take when spreading the love of Christ to others. I leave you with this:

“People pay attention when they see that God actually changes persons and sets them free. When a new Christian stands up and tells how God has revolutionized his or her life, no one dozes off. When someone is healed or released from a life-controlling bondage, everyone takes notice.” – Jim Cymbala

“His voice leads us not into timid discipleship but into bold witness.” – Charles Stanley