Friday, September 24, 2010

My Plank-Filled Eye

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Matthew 7: 1-5

Being a Christian is strange sometimes. It is so easy to miss the mark and with naive intentions, take everything in the wrong direction. I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes people dislike Christians. I realize that darkness cannot live with light, and Jesus told us the world will hate us. I can accept that. But I'm wondering about those who maybe would be interested in hearing about Jesus, would find the true foundations of Christianity appealing, those who God wants to save and wants to use us to reach. How many of those people won't even give us the time of day because they have had bad experiences with proclaimed Christians? It's fine to understand that the world cannot accept us, but if we never try to reach people, if we stop loving people because of this, that's a problem. It makes me sad to think there are people out there who could know the love of Jesus but won't seek it or accept it because somewhere along the way they were disgusted with a Christian and now claim to dislike them and their whole belief system.

I started thinking about big examples of people turning others off with their faith. The most recent example that came to mind is Westboro Baptist Church protesting a soldier's funeral. They were taking their beliefs in the sin of homosexuality and other sins committed by Americans (and everyone else, for that matter) and using it to condemn others. They feel that they are called to correct the sins of others to perhaps shine light on it and cause change. At least, I'm guessing that's what they're doing. Another example is something that was a huge topic of conversation in the first few weeks of my counseling classes this semester. A girl in the Augusta State University counseling program refused to work with homosexual clients. She even went as far as to try suing the school. The case was dropped and I believe she left the school and transferred to a Christian-based school. She believes homosexuality is a sin, and because of that, she feels she cannot help them or work with them in a counseling relationship. And lastly, Scott recently applied to seminary at Liberty University. After applying, he did some research on the founder Jerry Falwell and realized that he too had caused a lot of problems in his lifetime by condemning others based on the fundamental beliefs of Christianity. (Scott has since decided to not attend Liberty after all)

So, what's the problem with all these examples? Well, it seems like they know sin. They are well versed on what is wrong according to the Christian faith. These all have a lot to do with condemning homosexuals, but it goes beyond that as well. It's the idea of condemnation itself that is the problem. Are these people wrong about these things being sins? Not if you believe in the Bible, which I strongly do. But I believe the message of the Bible is NOT one of condemnation. These people have missed the biggest mark of all. Jesus tells us (and I know I've said this many times before, but that's b/c it so important!) that we're called to love God and love others. That is the greatest commandment. So, we have the 10 commandments that tell us all the things we shouldn't do. But Jesus tells us, more important than all that, we should love God and love others. If someone is condemning others (in other words, telling them they are sinners and going to Hell), they are not loving them. And since they aren't doing what God has called us to do, they aren't being very faithful to Him either.

Those are extreme examples, but most people encounter Christians like this fairly regularly. They aren't necessarily protesting funerals or suing universities, but they are acting on these same principles. There are so many Christians who are judgmental. It's hard not to be because we are inevitably going to have an opinion on pretty much everything. But with hearts of love and mercy, Christians should be able to look past that opinion and see the situation for what it really is. But I think we all have planks in our eyes, and we're all zeroing in on that speck in someone else's eye. Why? And how can we start to remove that plank?

I think new Christians often have the biggest planks. It's almost undoubtedly going to happen. Because this is generally what happens when Christians become Christians: Most of us had to be completely broken before we were humbled enough to seek the Lord. Usually we all have one big thing that provides security in our lives and it's often to do with relationships and/or money. So a lot of salvation stories start off with losing someone, ending a relationship, losing a job, or having a financial crisis. Once we find that we cannot place our security in these things anymore, we feel broken, lost, and confused. We end up being humbled...realizing our own lack of control in our lives. Somehow or another we end up being saved by God. We may have turned to the Bible, had someone talk to us about Jesus, hear a particularly enlightening sermon or song, just try out praying, etc... But we are usually at a low point, empty of ourselves, and therfore ready to be filled with the Holy Spirit. After this happens, after we're "saved," "born again," "transformed," "get a new heart," whatever you want to call it, our eyes are opened to the truth. We better understand who God is, who we are, and what the world is like. We often see sin for the first time. Things that didn't seem like a big deal anymore b/c they're so accepted by the world now seem bad. We know that God has saved us and is working within us to make us righteous by His name, and we see all these lost people out there. It would be pretty difficult to not in some way think you are better than those people. It might not seem like we would think that. After all, we were just like those other people...lost, broken, sinful. Even though we're saved, we still have the sin of our flesh tempting us constantly. Nothing actually makes us better. But it's so easy to feel that way, at least a little. We look around and are disgusted with the sin of the world. We think, "These people are awful! They are going to Hell!" I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I've definitely thought that before, especially when I was first saved.

So, it makes sense that there are a lot of Christians out there turning people off from the faith because of their judgmental statements and actions, turning up their noses at others, or going as far as verbally condemning them. There are also people out there who claim to be Christians who, quite frankly, aren't. The world looks at these people and thinks they are such hypocrites, claiming to be Christians but gladly continuing to sin. I'm not saying Christians never sin and make mistakes, but if someone is happily continuing in sin after claiming to be saved, they are simply not saved.
"No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God." 1 John 3:9

I think these plank-eyed Christians in combination with people who profess salvation but do not possess salvation are really making Christianity look bad! And unfortunately, we've probably all done it at some point. We focused on that speck in our brother's eye without even realizing we had a plank in our own! So, how do we avoid this?

The best advice I can give is to return to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Constantly remind yourself that you are righteous because of Jesus NOT because of how good and great you are. Remind yourself of where you came from. Don't dwell on the past, but never forget that you too were once a lost sinner, and remember that you still struggle with your own temptations today. And remember that sin is bondage. Sin makes people slaves. And these people are SLAVES to sin, they don't know the love of Jesus, and they are JUST LIKE YOU WERE. You may not have sinned in the same ways. Sometimes it's hard to say a murderer is as bad as a gossip, but it's all sin and it's all apart from God and it all leads to the same place. And you were just as lost. And remember what Jesus calls us to do. LOVE!! It is not our job to condemn anyone. It never gives us instruction in the Bible to tell someone they are going to Hell. We should love these people. If we truly love them and wish for them to be saved, should we tell them to change their ways or they're going to Hell? Would that make you want to change? No! It would make you angry! But if we love these people, we should care for them, not pass judgment, and form meaningful relationships. We don't have to go preaching the gospel right away, but we should show them the love of God through our actions. Eventually, as a relationship forms, Jesus will inevitably come up because He's so a part of who we are. And then, once the person trusts you and knows you, they are much more likely to listen. I'm not saying to form fake relationships to convert people. I'm saying form real, loving relationships. Pray for people. We don't know who will be saved and who won't. God can save the worst of sinners. So, even if their current actions could send them to Hell, we don't know if God will save them in the future or not. So, we really have no business playing fortune teller and telling them they are going to Hell anyway. But beyond that logical point, love should resonate within us and every relationship we form. That goes beyond friends and family. That goes for neighbors, coworkers, classmates, and people you see on the streets. Even a simple action can show love. And that's what we're called to do.

Lord, remind me of your grace and what salvation and sin are really all about. Help me to look past the sin of someone and love them. Convict me of moments that I may become self-righteous or start to condemn. Remind me that acceptance doesn't mean approval; that I can love someone as you love me without loving everything they do. You loved me while we were still enemies, help me to love like that! I'm sure my eye will be filled again and me continue to remove it. Amen.

Monday, September 13, 2010


I have several praises to the Lord today. Often we as imperfect humans spend much of our time asking God for things. Sometimes we ignore him completely until we want something from Him. Many of us, myself included, fall into the habit of coming to God in prayer with our needs and desires. This is fine to do, but we should never forget to come to him with our praises, thanking Him for all He has done. So, today that is what I want to do. I have already thanked God for much of this, but I wanted to share my praises in blog form to really show how He is working in my life.

First of all, He helps me with school. I started a graduate program this semester, and I've wanted to stay ahead and use my time wisely. Being 20 minutes away from home, I stay on campus between work and classes. This has given me time to do homework, work out, etc... God has worked our circumstances out in such perfect timing that I've been able to really utilize the time in each day because of the location of our new house. It has been important to me to try my best to get things done during the day so that I can limit the time I have to spend away from Scott doing homework at night and on weekends. This is my first semester of school as a saved Christian, and I have approached it in such a different way from my past. I used to let things pile up and wait until the very last minute. If I felt overwhelmed, I usually continued to put things off until I was panicked and sick with stress. This time around, I'm praying through things. With each assignment, and this is at work and school, I first pray that God will give me His wisdom to complete the assignment in a way that is pleasing to Him. I pray that He will guide me and encourage me to use my time wisely and plan accordingly to get things finished in a timely manner. I pray that He take all my stress, worry, and anxiety from me during the process. I pray that He not let anything draw a wedge between first myself and Him and secondly myself and Scott. I also pray that I do not get so bogged down in work that I don't allow time for fellowship with family and friends, service at church, or simple rest and relaxation time for myself. Now, you could argue that the difference in program, the difference in my schedule, or even my natural maturing as I get older is making the difference in my school habits. But I know who I am apart from God, and it's not pretty. I'm a wreck half the time, and I allow myself to put things off without remorse. I can tell perhaps in a way that no one else could, that I am now stronger, calmer, more diligent, and put more care into my work. I can say that I'm further ahead with my projects and assignments than ever before, and I feel like I can approach each of them with more certainty than before. If only I had this relationship with God during undergrad or the MAT program! But it's also comforting because I feel like God approves of this path since He is guiding me along it so well! :) And, as I said, this applies to work as well. I've been helping with marketing more and more and have no background in it! I'm learning as I go. I often am presented with an assignment that I really don't know how to handle. I pray about it, and then I manage to get through it. Usually God clarifies it for me so I better understand what I'm doing. Sometimes I feel directed to seek help or knowledge through a specific source. But whatever it is, the things I've been doing at work have already started producing fruits for my office! Just this week I had someone from Civil War News contact me in regards to an email I had sent and they want to run a story on our museum and the Camp Lawton findings.

This past week I had a few scary things happen. They may not seem like a big deal, but they are things that really made me praise God for His protection! There were two bank robberies last week. One of them was our credit union! I had planned out my afternoon schedule and was planning to be there at 2:30, after finishing my lunch. As I was eating, I thought I would watch a show online. I was only going to watch the first few minutes until I finished eating and then leave. Instead I ended up watching the whole 44 minutes of it and got to the bank around 2:50 instead. As I pulled in I saw that it was closed, but there were cars and people inside. I pulled up to see what was going on and realized there were police officers there. One pulled into the spot beside me, and I left. I found out the next day that it was the bank robbery and that it happened at 2:30! I could have easily been there if I had followed my schedule better. I'm not trying to promote watching TV and procrastinating, but I believe God altered my plans in the simplest way possible to keep me from being there when it happened. Could be a coincidence, but I don't think so. Either way, I praise Him for me not being there when that all went down.

Another crazy thing, Friday night Scott and I decided to bake a cake. We allow ourselves to bake one dessert a month, and we decided to cash in our Sept. treat. We were watching a movie and I had a view of the kitchen from my spot on the couch. I looked over and saw that the inside of the oven was lit up and flashing! I said, "I think the oven's on fire!!" Scott ran in and the heating element inside the oven had a short and was sparking and flaming. We tried pouring water on it, but that didn't help. Not knowing what else to do, we pulled out the fire extinguisher and emptied it in the oven. Neither of us had used one before and didn't realize that it would fill the entire house with this powdery substance. The air was full of it and we had to open all the doors and windows. Every surface of our house was covered in a thick blanket of powder. We called Jeff (our neighbor/land lord who is also a fire marshall) and he came down with a box fan to help us air it out. Today someone was supposed to come out to see if the part can be replaced or if the whole oven needs replacing. I'm sure we'll find out from Jeff this evening what the call was. Anyway, though it was scary, ruined our cake, and resulted in about an hour and a half of cleaning the house around 9:00 at night, I am so thankful that nothing worse happened. If I hadn't seen the fire, it could have gotten out of control. If we didn't have a fire extinguisher, it could have gotten worse. If we didn't have nice and caring neighbors nearby, we would have hard time getting all that out of the air. I praise God for protecting us and watching over us at all times! Things that may seem bad often have reasons to be thankful, too!

And finally, God has put it on Scott's heart to go to seminary to pursue ministry! He applied today to Liberty University for an MA in Pastoral Counseling. For those who don't know, Scott has always lacked clear direction in his life. For more details, you can read his blog about it. But it's a HUGE deal that he is feeling strongly called to ANYTHING, and it is such a blessing that it's ministry! I couldn't be more pleased and excited for him! I can really see him in this role and I know God has big plans for his life. I thank Him for speaking to Scott and guiding him to this degree. We often have to wait for God's timing to work out, and often this can be frustrating. Scott has been waiting and praying about this for about a year and a half now. I believe God wanted him to be content with what he had and also seek first the Kingdom. Once Scott stopped worrying about it, starting seeking God and not obsessing about his future, God opened the doors for him. He used other people to share and encourage Scott in this direction, and though he has received some opposition, we believe that ultimately, God's will is what is important. Scott believes he is being called in this direction and so do I. I have prayed about this countless times, and I've always felt in my heart that ministry and seminary were in his future. I couldn't force that or try to convince him of it. I have been supporting him no matter what his thoughts, ideas, and plans are. I'm excited that he now seems to have a clear vision and it's something that I understand, agree with, and am proud to say he's pursuing. Many of his other aspirations were okay, but not something I would have necessarily wanted for us. This feels right in every way! Praise God! :)

That is it for today, though I could go on and on forever! I love that I serve such a good God who loves us, walks with us, guides us, and protects us every step of our lives! Thank you, Jesus! :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Going Mobile

Last month Connection Church, my & Scott's home church, did a series titled, "Going Mobile." Brandon, our pastor, based the sermons on the fact that the whole world seems to be going mobile. Everyone is connected and mobilized by technological advances such as the internet, lap tops, cell phones (now with all kinds of crazy abilities, or "apps"), iPods, iPads, etc... But the church generally doesn't seem to be very mobile. So many of us happily go sit in church once a week, maybe do some fellowship with other church members, maybe invite someone else to church, and that's about it. But the Body of Christ (the church) is about much more than that. We're meant to be the hands and feet of Christ! We're called to do His work, serve and love others, and help build the Kingdom. Attending a church service is a great way to learn more about God, worship, and fellowship with other believers. But if we want to really serve others and build the Kingdom, we must be willing to do more. We have to go mobile. After 3 sermons on this topic, we were challenged to preach the message for the 4th Sunday by actually doing what we had been talking about. We took the day, and went mobile with our church. We shared the love of God with our community by putting roofs on houses, cleaning apartments, doing yard work, building wheel chair ramps, painting dumpsters, visiting residents of nursing homes, and having our kids fellowship with kids from the community who may not know God or have the opportunity to go to church. We took the day to take the focus off of ourselves and a typical church service and we worshipped and served God by serving the community. And really, this is what being missional is truly about. Yes, going to other countries and sharing the love of God is important, but a missional church will also share the love of God with people right here in our own neighborhoods. We should be a walking mission for God...wherever we go and in whatever we do. This video does a good job illustrating this. This is not a video made by Connection Church, but I thought it explained the idea very well.

This is what we should be doing everyday, but our church specifically took a day to work on this idea and to help reach out to our community.

We arrived at church at 8:30 in the morning. We then broke up into groups, each going to a different place and doing different work. Scott went with a roofing group, but he mainly helped with the yard work. This particular family had a house built by the husband, but he had left the picture. He didn't do a great job with the house, and the roof was never finished. He just nailed plywood up and put a tarp over it. Needless to say, this caused lots of leaking. The son, not knowing what else to do, would just nail another piece of wood over the wholes. This was essentially causing more holes and worse leaks. In addition to the roof problem, no one had taken care of the yard. It needed to be cut and there was garbage, debris, and lumber scattered about. They filled 4 whole dumpsters full, and Scott and one other person cut all the grass. The rest of the group worked on getting a roof put on the house. I volunteered to work with the kids as we still needed child care and we believe it's important that the children are also learning to serve others. I was in the 1st-5th graders group. We took them to Gentilly Gardens Nursing Home to do arts and crafts with some of the residents. It was incredible watching these young children fellowship with these older adults. They were so kind, patient, and loving towards them. It was such a blessing to witness! I think the residents greatly enjoyed the experience as well. Then, after lunch, we took the kids to Little Lotts Creek Apartments to play with some of the kids there. Some of these kids live in very unfortunate circumstances and may not have parents who tell them about Jesus. We played games and hung out with these kids. It was amazing to see the diversity of all the kids happily playing together. That's what the love of God looks like. It was truly moving to see how these children from strikingly different circumstances could come together with the love of Christ to play together and have fun.

I know I was deeply moved, as was Scott and many others from our church by this service day. I feel so blessed to be a part of this church that reaches out to others, does not judge, but acts in love and service to others. Our mission wasn't one of going out and trying to convince people to believe a story...we were going out and demonstrating the very thing we believe in while helping them in ways they could not help themselves. I believe that is the very best way to witness to others and spread the message of the gospel. Beyond myself and the community, I know this encouraged our church members to move forward in a missional and loving attitude. Jon Irvan made this incredible video to share some of the testimonies that we all shared after returning back to the church that evening, paired with some footage from the service day. Check it out, it's really inspirational!

I challenge each of you to move forward in your lives with love and kindness towards others. The best way to worship and serve God is by loving and serving others! Thank you, Connection Church for helping us all witness this first-hand!

Friday, September 3, 2010

What do you do?

Scott and I were having a conversation about work the other day. He's still hoping for another job opportunity as he doesn't feel like he's reaching the potential God has set for him at his current job. We discussed that while your job is certainly important, it's not the most important thing in our lives, and what really matters is serving God and bringing Him glory.

This got me thinking about work in general and how it really consumes our lives! I know it's important and we have to do it in order to have the money that it takes to survive. I know after the fall, God cursed Adam with having to work for his food, and we still carry that curse today. But I don't believe God means for it to consume us. The only thing that should ever consume us is love for God!

But just think about it. When you're little everyone asks you what you want to be when you grow up. Then as you get older, people start talking about college majors, which are intended to prepare you for a future career. We spend all this time and money on school so that we can get a job. Then we spend the rest of our lives in said job. When we meet someone, what is the first thing they generally ask you (aside from your name)? "What do you do?" And of course, they mean, what is your occupation, where do you work, what is your job description, etc... When you start a new class or join a group of some kind, there are usually round-table introductions. When it's your turn, what information to you give (assuming it's not a decided set of questions to answer)? Usually you say your name, where you live, where you work, major/degrees, if you're married with kids, etc...

What this tells me is the world largely identifies us with our jobs. It's what we do and who we are. But is our job what really defines us? Granted, some people have jobs that better define them than others. Certainly a counselor, minister, teacher, doctor, etc would be able to justify how their job illustrates their values and personalities better than someone working at Wal-Mart or McDonalds. And it's not just about the quality of the job. Someone could be a lawyer, have a great paying job and lots of money, but be completely miserable because either the job isn't fulfilling their potentials and/or because they are placing too much importance on their job. Jobs will never fulfill us, even jobs that we love, that are perfect fits for us. No job alone can provide constant joy and security. Only Jesus can do that.

So, whether or not you are currently in a job that is well suited for you and whether or not you are pleased with your career, should it be your defining attribute? Think about the questions. What do you want to be? Most kids answer with job. Firemen, police men, teachers, baseball players... And that's what the person asking the question is actually looking for. But if you think about what the question actually is, is your job all you want to be in life? Do I just want to be a student affairs personnel? No. I want to be a servant of God, a loving wife, a mom, a friend... And aren't those really more important than a job anyway? And then the question we all get asked, What do you do? What do I do? Taken very literally I would say, I hang out with my husband, I read, I worship God, I go to church, I do Bible Study, I go to school, I watch TV and movies, I sing (a LOT), I dance (badly), I laugh, I pray, and yes, I go to work. But looking at that list, which of these things is most important or most displays my personality and values? The things related to loving God and loving others. That's what is most important in life because those are the two specific things that Jesus calls us to do. Those are the things that most define what type of person we are and what we value in life. Yes, our jobs could and should reflect that because we should be loving God and others in every area of our lives. But are our jobs so important that we should let them completely define us? That we should let them get in the way of loving God and loving others? Certainly not.

And just a fun fact that I actually picked up from another blog title "Life in the Fast Lane," The average American works 122,400 hours of his/her life. Now I don't know if this is accurate and I really am not mathematically gifted enough to know the percentage of our lives this is, but I know that's a BIG number!

The world is often so backwards from the truth. The world places the majority of our purpose in life on our jobs. Yes we should work, yes we should strive for jobs that fulfill our potentials, that make us happy, and that illustrate our personalities, but jobs are NOT the majority of who we are or what we do. I hope I never lose sight of my real values and priorities in life. What am I? A Christian. What do I do? Love God and love others!
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