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Saturday, August 19, 2017

No Where to Turn

I recently had an unexpected bump in life, in which a family member of mine was faced with the possible prognosis of cancer. And although I knew that a day like this would eventually come- health problems for me or my family- I never expected it so soon. It was so disturbing to me that my anxiety over the situation wouldn't rest until I'd let my friends know I needed prayer over this. I knew I'd feel much better if only I could be certain that others were praying for me. So I made my request known- with no answer. Initially, upon first request, nobody said they would pray for me.

All that anxiety soon turned to anger. Anger at the fact that my "friends" were obviously not very good ones and I had not ever noticed until then. Anger at the fact that "Christians" are supposed to be trusted, but they can't be relied upon at all. Anger at the fact that I was seemingly all alone. There was nobody to turn to for help. I had a right to be angry, but there was nothing anger could do for me, except to point me in the direction of the one whom I can always turn to- God.

Yes, we all know that we can rely on God, but have you ever been placed in a situation where no one could get you out of it except God? It's only then that you realize who to run to first when hard times come, and it was then that I realized that fact too. It's not your spouse, parents, children, or close friends that you turn to first- it's God. My illustration above explains why you never turn to humanity first. Humans are sinful beings with many failures, and they will inevitably fail you. Why risk failure when you can always be taken care of 100% of the time when you turn to God first? 

I slowly began to realize that nobody else's prayers were necessary, because as a believer, God hears my prayers just fine and can still answer them, despite that I might be the only one praying. It's my faith that matters, not the amount of times a prayer is sent out. I was also drawn to the fact that God is always ready and waiting to hear from us. As the Bible says, He never leaves us or forsakes us. That's a powerful thought, because as human beings, we are disgusting sinners who tend to neglect God regularly, and yet, He's still there ready and waiting. Humans can't lift anyone out of a dire situation, only the power of God can, and we have access to that power just through prayer. God was all I really needed, and still do, and I didn't seem to recognize that until humanity had completely failed me. And in all acutality, it's one of the best things to have happened to me because it taught me that God is my best friend. He will never fail me or pass away like humans do. I can rely on Him no matter what. And because I know that, I've learned not to value human relationships as much as I used to. If a friend comes and leaves, so be it. If my family members were to pass away, I would not be helpless. I still have God, and He is my comforter and helper. My reliance on Him has allowed me to be happier, knowing that if everyone were to forsake me, I still have Him, and that is enough. I would not be sad, because I have Him. 

As humans, we tend to rely on people to get us through the rough times. We expect them to be there for us when something bad happens, and when they are, we tend to rely on them too much, to the point where we forget God and go to Him last. When we learn to rely on God instead of others, we will learn not to be so easily disappointed when they fail us and learn to be truly happy without the presence of friends, as God is the completer of our happiness.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Are You Like Pharaoh?

Sometimes when we read the Old Testament, we forget that the stories contained within them aren't meant for sheer enjoyment- a good story to be told- rather, they are there for our instruction. And even recognizing that can be hard to see when reading what seems like just another story.

I think that's how most of us read the story of Moses and Pharaoh, when Moses had to ask Pharaoh multiple times to let the Israelites leave to worship God. It appears like an ordinary story, but it's so much more than that. There's a lesson to be learned from this passage, one that is so important, it could end up sparing you great heartache down the road.

In Exodus, chapter eight, we see that Moses tries various different plagues to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. When Pharaoh has had enough of the plagues, he begs Moses to end the annoyance caused to him, and once the issue stops, he goes back to his old ways, ignoring his decision to let the Israelites go. I think that when we read this passage, we tend to think about how wishy washy he was, and we forget that many of us are exactly like Pharaoh in our relationship with God.

When tough times hit, and daunting events occur within our lives, we tend to act like Pharaoh and beg God to make things back to the way they were, when there was no hardship or future riddled with difficulties. And sometimes we bargain with God, knowing full well that's not appropriate, yet we still try it out. When God gives us our way, out of his goodness and grace, we forget all the promises we've made or even just the fact that He was gracious enough to ease our burden, and we immediately go back to living our old lives, neglecting God and only remembering Him when we need Him. It can be a vicious cycle, much like Pharaoh's cycle. God kept relenting when Pharaoh begged, but we eventually learn that there was a point in time when God finally had enough of Pharaoh's games and punished him by breaking his spirit in the death of his son. Being wishy washy and neglectful of God had its consequences.

 The same applies to us. God is a wonderful God full of grace, but that does not mean we should test Him. We need to remember that when we were first saved, we promised to devote our lives to Him. When we keep that goal in mind, we don't have to worry about being like Pharaoh, for we will always be leaning on Him in the good and the bad times.

Perhaps you're pulling a Pharaoh right now. Remember the end result for him. What can you do right now to intentionally live for God on a daily basis? If you have to set alarms, give yourself reminders, or create a schedule in order to make God a larger part of your day, do so. God is worthy of our constant worship and nothing less. We must do our part as servants and devote all of our time and energy into honoring and glorifying this God who saved us when we didn't deserve it. He deserves no less than our best. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

My Story

I recently featured my mother's story on the Stand for Life page on Facebook, and was asked to post it here. I decided that in addition to that, I would elaborate further on the story, from my mom's perspective. So although this is an unusual post in regards to my normal posts, I hope that my mother's story, which has become my own as well, is a blessing and encouragement to the discouraged, for those who are struggling financially, for those who don't think they'll make it, and for those who have been told to take a different route in life.

My parents were nineteen and unmarried when my mother found out she was pregnant with me. Both of my parents came from broken homes filled with poverty and abuse. My mother didn't know where to turn to, so she consulted one of her sisters about what to do. Out of my aunt's concern and kindness, she directed my mom to a Planned Parenthood, not realizing issues that might arise from that advice. My mom was asked a lot of questions pertaining to her pregnancy, and even though she planned on parenting me, she was still asked if she wanted an abortion, to which she responded, "No." I'm very fortunate to have a mother who wanted me from the beginning, and that no one persuaded her otherwise when others brought up the abortion option.

After mom's trip to Planned Parenthood, she never went back. Instead, she and my dad decided to raise me together. Dad took on multiple jobs to provide, as he only had a high school diploma, and mom worked right up until she had me, as she only had a high school diploma as well. Dad was there for my birth, and six months after I was born, mom and dad married. It took so long only because mom had refused dad the first two times!

Although it seemed like a happy ending to what could've been a bad beginning, that was far from the truth. Because mom and dad didn't have college degrees, they struggled financially. It was just like when they were younger and went hungry as kids. Mom would pretend to be full and sometimes skip meals because there wasn't enough food for everybody. She felt that me and Dad needed the food more than she did, especially because dad worked so much. When they felt like they couldn't get out of the struggle with poverty, Dad went into the military to provide well enough for us.

While in the military, Mom experienced health issues and ended up having a hysterectomy shortly after. I was her first and only child. I sometimes wonder if she would have been childless had she ever decided to abort. Mom feels blessed to have one child, even though she wanted many more. That contentment with just one child though was something that only occurred after she became a Christian.

Once Dad got out of the military, he began working in the chemical plants, working his way up until we were at a good place financially, but spiritually we were not. My mom finally felt it was time for us to go to church together as a family when I was nine. It was through that attendance that my mom came to know Christ and my dad followed. Eventually I followed in their footsteps too, not because it was the thing to do, but because I knew it was the truth!

Mom and Dad have been married for over two and a half decades and have not had to worry about finances like they did when I was little, despite the fact that they only hold high school diplomas! And I have been raised in a home where the cycle of abuse ended. There was no alcoholism or violence within my home, only love, even before my parents were Christians. Although I didn't have the added addition of being raised in a Godly environment until I was nine, that doesn't hinder me spiritually at all today. I feel as if I grew up in a Christian home anyway, and knowing about God as an older child never hindered me from coming to Christ.

What I would say today to young couples who are experiencing an unexpected pregnancy today is this: Adoption isn't always the best option, abortion is never a good option, and sometimes parenting can actually be the best option. Today, women in the same situation my mom was in are told that their child would be better off in homes where the parents can provide well for the kids. They are told that the cycle of poverty and teenage pregnancy will continue with their children. They are told that the future looks bleak for their children because they as parents don't even have degrees to provide well enough. That was not true in my parent's case. A child doesn't need wealth to know he or she is loved. My best memories of when I was little are of the copious amounts of gifts I received Christmas day, something my parents had to save up for all throughout the year. So despite the poverty, all I remember is having an abundance. My mom has told me the story of when we would go shopping as a little girl and how I would point out the things I wanted in the store and ask for them. Mom said that she always told me, "Ashlea, we can't afford that. We don't have the money for that." I would look at her with a blank stare and say no more. I honestly have no recollection of that. I don't even know if I knew what that meant, but I certainly know that I never went without. My parents got out of that hole through my father's hard work. I received my master's degree last year and work as a Professor of English. I beat the odds. My parents beat the odds. God has guided us to this good place, and we owe it all to Him.  

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Full Suffering

In my last post I discussed the importance of accepting suffering because Jesus suffered for us, but I think that most of us tend to forget just how much suffering He went through. It's one of those things where we go, "Oh yeah. I know He did." And then the next moment, we go off and live our lives as if we don't even understand His sacrifice for us. Because tomorrow is Easter, I wanted to remind us all of just how much Jesus suffered, so we can realize its implications and walk accordingly.

Jesus didn't just suffer on the cross. Yes, that was a lot of agony, and I'm not minimizing that suffering, but I think we tend to think that was the full extent of His suffering. Here's a list of things Jesus had to go through

  • Endured constant loneliness (Isaiah 53:3)
  • Endured rejection (Isaiah 53:3)
  • Endured sorrow (Isaiah 53:3)
  • Endured constant weariness (John 4:6)
  • Endured constant danger of being murdered before the appointed time (Luke 4:29)
  • Endured being misunderstood (Luke 6:2)
  • Endured being mocked (Matthew 27:31)
  • Endured constant disrespect (Luke 6:2)
  • Endured temptation (Luke 4:1-13)
  • Endured hunger (Luke 4:2)
  • Endured poverty (Luke 9:58) 
  • Endured being beat (John 19:1)
The verses listed are just some of the verses that point to these things. There are many other verses not listed.  Jesus went through the same emotions we go through in order to save us and redeem us. Jesus understands our turmoil in life because He has been there, and it's been far worse than whatever we're going through.

There's something even greater though that Jesus endured and that was something that happened as just before He died on the cross.

"they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it." Matthew 27:34

Jesus had just been beat and mocked by the soldiers. As he was on His way to be crucified, some people, gave him this odd mixture. Have you ever wondered what gall was? According to Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers, gall was a "poisonous herb . . . given by the merciful to dull the pain of execution." I'm not sure about you, but I always thought Jesus refused to drink this odd concoction because it was disgusting. It actually symbolizes Jesus's deep love for us to take on the full suffering God had planned for Him. He instantly knew what it was when he tasted it, as poisons are bitter, and knowing that it would numb the pain to a certain extent, he refused to drink anymore. Instead, He chose to endure the full amount of pain he would receive on the cross. 

This is His great love for us! If Jesus purposefully endured all of the pain and didn't bail out and try to ease the suffering, then how much more should we as Christians? He drank the full cup, and so should we, in honor of our Lord who gave up so much for us.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Accept Suffering

We know that Jesus suffered for us, but a lot of times we don't correlate that Jesus's death and resurrection was an example for us to emulate.

Our culture tells us that it's important to get a good education, having a nice job, and make a lot of money in order to live in a big expensive house, drive a luxurious car, and buy other luxuries. There's nothing about suffering that bit. Oh sure, it's accepted that sacrifices in college will be made for a future life of luxury, but that's about it. After that it should be smooth sailing and life should be enjoyed to the fullest, cramming it with every whim and desire. Because of that mindset that is blatantly against God's will for the life of a Christian, we tend to mix that with our Christian mindset, not even realizing it. We know it's wrong, but it becomes intertwined with our viewpoint when we complain about not getting that job we want, that relationship, that promotion, that degree, that house, that car, etc. We grow weary when we can't have that child we so desire or a clean bill of health. We're sick of not being happy and having that cloud hang over our heads. If only we had that one thing, we'd be happy. And it's this attitude that comes literally from Satan.

This is what Jesus said about his future suffering:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." - Matthew 16:21-23

Jesus accepted that it was God's will for Him to be killed, though he was innocent and had done nothing wrong. He did not fight it. He accepted it and treated it just as if it were a normal activity. Peter couldn't accept God's will for Christ though and encouraged Christ that this was not a good way to think. Jesus's response revealed that Peter's denial of submitting to God's will was an attitude that only came from Satan.

Satan wants us to believe that we deserve to be happy and shouldn't have to suffer. He wants us to feel miserable until we get that one thing we desire and the misery is over with. But that's not God's will for us. His will is to accept that times of suffering will come to every believer and to accept and endure it, just as Jesus did. This is God's will for us, and anyone who opposes this doctrine or who resists submitting to God's will of suffering for their life is acting against God.

Suffering isn't enjoyable. It's not supposed to be, but it's supposed to draw us even closer to God. During times of suffering, it's hard to accept it and continue to bear the burden, and sometimes we just can't muster the strength to do so. It's in these times that we remember that Christ accepted suffering though He had done no wrong. He was perfect. He didn't deserve it. In a way, we deserve any suffering that comes our way as we are still sinners who sin on a daily basis. On the other hand, we can take heart that oftentimes suffering doesn't come because we have committed a certain sin that deserves suffering as punishment; rather, if Jesus had to suffer punishment He did not inflict upon Himself, then so must we.

So what will your attitude be when suffering comes? It's coming, and you should prepare to accept it with a humble attitude, which pleases the Lord.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Through the Psalms Part III

Sometimes people wonder what the purpose of the Old Testament is if we have the commands God has given to us in the New Testament. We take our beliefs from the New Testament, so what's the point of the Old Testament?
Psalm 78 gives us a good reason why God wants us to pay close attention to the Old Testament. This Psalm is a Psalm of Asaph, and in it, Asaph says this:

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have hard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell them to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

Asaph then explains why the generations to come must know about what God has done for the past generations:

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

Asaph gives four reasons on why it was important for his generation to recite the works of God to the younger generations. First, recalling to mind the things God has done in the past helps us to trust in God. The ability to call to mind all the times God helped us in the past gives us hope that God will do the same, even when the future seems bleak. These reminders help to direct our focus on a truth that God will come to our aid, just as He has done in the past. So the first two reasons go hand in hand, recalling to mind the works of God helps us not forget what He has done for us.

The third reason Asaph gives is so that we will keep God's commandments. This might seem like an odd reason for recalling the past, but there are two ways this can be viewed. The first is that remembering how God worked in the past ellicits a response of wonder at God's power. When we remember who we are and who God is, we are better able to keep God's commands, recognizing God deserves our obedience to Him. The second reason could be taken that in recalling what God did for Israel, they also remembered what God did to their enemies. It's a scary thought to think about what happens to those who oppose God.

The fourth reason Asaph gives is to ensure that the younger generation will not repeat the same mistakes their forefathers made. There was a purpose behind knowing all of this historical information.

So if Asaph urged the Israelites to recall the deeds of the Lord from the past, how much more should we as Christians do the same? It seems like that's the reason for the Old Testament. It serves as our guide of how we should not behave, how we should fear God's punishment upon the Israelites, and it also gives us hope of how God led His people through the wilderness with the promise of an even greater hope of the Messiah to come. They couldn't see the fulfillment like we can; all they could see was one side of the picture, and yet God still led them.

That's the way it is with us. We can only see half of the picture, this side of Heaven. We cannot see the fulfillment of our eternal life in Heaven yet, but we know God is guiding us toward that. We are better able to understand this when we see how God led His people and still continues to lead us today. So take some time to reflect on the Old Testament. Don't dismiss it as pointless information irrelevant to today. It's very relative to today, serving as a reminder for all of us!