Wednesday in the Word

I did not post last Wednesday as I felt I needed another week with my verses. Probably I needed the extra time because instead of choosing two verses I chose one verse and one longer passage. I’ve enjoyed committing these verses to memory, though.

sunset july 19“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 8:1 (ESV)

This verse has been used generously in the book Thin Within, which I just finished going through. I’ll have to write a post about TW later. For now I’ll just comment on how wonderful it is that this verse has come “alive” to me. I knew that I was not condemned for my sins, Jesus paid the price, yadda yadda. But the verse had no personal meaning to me until TW brought it alive, and now I’ve memorized it along with its reference so I’ll always have it close to me! No condemnation. God is not angry with or disappointed in me. His grace, along with his forgiveness, flows unceasingly over me, even while I’m in the midst of doing wrong. He forgives and forgives, often the same offenses over and over and over. With an awareness of that kind of strength of love, it’s hard to continue in sin. It makes me want to change, to do better. It also takes away my need to beat myself up for mistakes. The price is paid, I’m already forgiven, and all God wants is for me to turn from my sins and press ever more into him instead.

“…He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’
So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Hebrews 13:5b-8 (ESV)

The truth about the Lord is that he is unchanging. He isn’t here one day and gone the next, willing to help you and then  leaving you high and dry at another time. He is forever faithful, and he always has been, and he always will be. So for me this means I can trust him and have utter confidence in him. I’ve learned a lot recently about relying on God and his strength to get me through tough times (moments, weeks, or years). How do I know whether I’m acting on my own strength or on his? Well, have I asked him to strengthen me? Has he promised he’s there, never to abandon me? Then I can know he’s there, empowering me. I can know I’m not going at it all alone, and I can be sure that if I falter, he will hold me up.

What can anyone else do to me in light of that? I used the only associate this verse with physical things – such as the persecution Christ-followers faced a lot in Biblical times. I didn’t see how that applied to me because, seriously, who is trying to beat me up or put me in jail? These past two weeks, however, I’ve been thinking about this in terms to other kinds of affects people can have on me. Emotionally? Sometimes people cause me such pain that I lose heart, I feel like I can’t go on, and I want to run and hide in my bed and not have to face the day ahead of me.

But what can man do to me? How can their painful interactions even compare to the goodness of my God? No matter how hurt I am, he is with me! He never forsakes me. He is there, willing to help me through each trial, and this includes my emotional pain as well as any physical calamity that may come. People can’t crush my joy (maybe my happiness, but not my joy) when I’m standing firm in my God and his promises.

Who has spoken the Word of God to me? My mom, Grampa, pastors, youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, some friends… Thos who have taught me from the Bible – when I look at their lives, I see people who have confidence in God. Strong faith. I see them taking things to God in prayer rather than fretting. I see joy. I see patience and other fruits of the Spirit of God. I see contentment. So, the outcome of their way of life, their faith? I want that! Yes, I’m definitely ready and willing to try imitating THEIR faith if I can get that kind of abundant life from it. Bring it on!

Heavenly Hunger & Spiritual Lessons

IMG_2630 I’ve learned this lesson many times: Heavenly hunger is different from physical hunger. But this is a spiritual lesson, and I feel like those (lessons about God) are kind of unique. Why is it that we only have to learn the same lesson once, or maybe twice if we’re hard-headed… but when it comes to lessons from and about God specifically, about heavenly things, we sometimes learn the lesson a dozen times without it ever sticking? Why is it so easy to forget?

For Example:

  • We’ve all learned not to touch fire/stoves. You either took your parents’ word for it, or you had to touch it a couple times to see for yourself how dangerous it is, but after that, you never purposefully do it again. Such is the nature of physical lessons.
  • On the other hand, in the Old Testament we see the Jews utterly amazed at God’s power. Yet some time later, they just forget. Again and again God shows them miracles and wonders, and we read it and ask ourselves how anyone could ever doubt after seeing the things those people saw. The parting of the Red Sea? Hello?! Spiritual lessons just don’t seem to stick!

And I do the same thing in my own life. Again and again I learn how much peace and joy increase when I’m walking closely with God, and again and again I forget and let that relationship be neglected.

Hunger

Hungering after God is very different than hungering physically (after food).

I had a low-calorie day on Monday. I do that sometimes to either make up for some high calorie days or to try to trick my body into moving past a plateau in my weight-loss. It was a struggle on Monday, as it usually is, because the less I eat, the more I crave food! When I don’t eat, I get HUNGRY.

Besides physical hunger, there’s another kind. But hungering after God is not the same. It isn’t triggered as much by distance from God. When you haven’t read your Bible recently, you don’t have increasing hunger pangs as the days pass. Actually, you have fewer. Unlike physical hunger, this kind of hunger seems to decrease when you abstain. In fact, you have more hunger pangs when you’re consuming the spiritual things that you hunger after.

When you’re praying every day, you long for more time – more closeness – more of God. The hunger is greatest when you’re indulging, rather than when abstaining.

Don’t Eat Till You’re Hungry

It’s a shame how I sabotage my relationship with God sometimes by saying “I don’t feel like… (fill in the blank).”  Reading my Bible. Praying. Basically, I’m saying, “I’m not hungry right now.” I forget what I’ve learned over and over through the years – which is that often the hunger isn’t there until I start eating.

Don’t eat until you feel hungry may work for your body, but it won’t work for your spirit. So I guess I just want to encourage myself and others to remember. (And believe me, sometimes remembering requires a lot of effort.)

There are so many reasons to keep up your close relationship with your Lord. First and foremost, he loves you, and he longs to have you close. Secondly, when you’re faithful, blessings come. Third, peace and comfort and joy come from that close walk with God.

There are many things that can come between us and the Lord. Distractions, responsibilities… lack of hunger. Don’t let them. Force yourself to remember, and enjoy the benefits of that loving relationship. The hunger will come, but don’t wait for it. Don’t wait to “feel like it.”

Facing Trials

When it comes to Christianity, it seems that one of the biggest common assumptions is that we will no longer face trials. I don’t think many would admit to believing this, but when you watch the reactions Christians show to adversity, it becomes fairly clear that many of us still believe this somewhere in the back of our minds. The thought lingers there, maybe even subconsciously. But the fact is, it’s simply not true.

Purpose – Trials Will Come

God allows trials to come. There’s no question about that. The truth of the matter is that we don’t always know why trials are allowed to come into our lives. Some believe trials are mostly punishment for sin while others believe trials to be much more random than that. I subscribe to the belief – shared by many other Christians I know – that our trials are meant as lessons. Reading about the trials in the lives of people such as Job and Jesus’ disciples, I think this idea is pretty well supported. I know in my life I’ve faced trials that I was later able to see taught me about patience, trust, and love.

Praise: How to Face or Fail Our Trials

I have a note jotted down in my Bible at the beginning of the book of James. I don’t know anymore who taught the lesson that caused me to jot the note down, but I see it frequently and am grateful for whoever it was. The note in the margins I wrote says that we fail our trials by trusting the world’s solutions over God’s solutions. What this refers to, though, is which of those trusts we act on.

Say, for instance, I’m worried about a test in school. I’ve studied, but I know I don’t know the material well enough to pass, and I’m scared that I may fail the class if I don’t do well enough on the test. I think God’s solution would be to study, pray, and try my best, but the world may say that it’s okay to cheat. Which belief do I place my trust in by acting upon it? Say, for instance, I’ve gotten pregnant when I know I’m not ready to raise a child. The world almost unanimously tells me I have many options: I can keep the child, give it away, or abort it and remove the problem. God, however, clearly disapproves of murder. Whose solution do I trust? Say, for instance, I’m getting pulled over for a problem with the inspection sticker on my car. Understanding the importance God places on truth, I know I would be going against Him to tell the officer I was unaware of the problem to try and avoid a ticket, but will I trust the world’s solution over His?

Our trials can also be more than tests that span a single moment of decision. Sometimes our trials are on-going, day-to-day things that seem never-ending. The challenge then is simply choosing: do we face another day by complaining about the difficulties or by praising God for who He is? A friend of mine posted a link to an article about this very issue recently. It reminds us that when facing trials, God doesn’t ask us to be perfect; He asks us to praise. Do I believe that God is big enough? Do I show it by praising him, or do I show that my true faith is placed in myself by becoming discouraged?

Prepare

I don’t think that we should dwell on the probability of trials to come, living each day with a question in the back of our minds: What’s going to happen next? But I do think that we should prepare ourselves for the trials that will eventually come by simply being aware . I think we should practice praising God in the good times, and thanking Him for those times, while being aware that one day we will be praising him in the bad times, thanking him for still being who He is. I think we should also put on the whole armor of God, as it says in Ephesians chapter six, so that we face every day, trial or no, with His mighty power.

What Are You Facing?

I’m going through some trials at the moment. Some are private, but I can share one of the bigger ones. My husband is gone a lot! Most of last month, half of this month, all of at least one month this summer, and after that? Well, after that, he’ll either deploy or go off for training for a very long time. 🙁 Facing this now, and anticipating the future, gets me down sometimes!

What are you facing in your life? I’d give you what encouragement I can, and I’d offer my prayers, if you want to share. If not, do you have any other thoughts about how to face our trials, or any comments on what I’ve already said?

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything… Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.”
– James 1:2-4, 12

 

(As a side note, I’ve been putting off this post for a long time, fearing my words wouldn’t do the subject justice. I’m glad to finally have written it, though.)

Your Body, Your Choice, According to Paul

The Bible says that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God,” and that “you are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (I Corinthians 6:12-20) As a Christian, I believe the Bible is the Holy Word of God, and thus I believe these statements to be true. But what do these words mean in day to day life?

The (Usual) Application

At many churches, this is a very popular passage from which to pull sermons and lessons to encourage the congregation to abstain from sin. However, many churches also take it further than this.

The application we usually see, that’s not directly written in the text, is to take care of your body. Beyond abstaining from sin, you should also eat right, exercise, not cut your hair, cut your hair, not dye your hair, refrain from getting tattoos or piercings, wear certain clothes, etcetera. The list goes on and on, and it varies from person to person, from church to church.

Obviously, people have different ideas about how it should be applied to their lives, and for that reason I find it a little fishy that we pull this application from the passage in chapter 6. To give some credit, I do believe that people generally have their ideas, either from scripture or not, about what is unacceptable, and they simply use this “body is a temple” passage to drive home their points.

The Question

I believe my question is legitimate: What are the real restrictions regarding what we can do with our own bodies? Where is (are) the line(s) drawn? In the older generations of Christians especially, there is a long-standing belief that God wants us to treat our bodies in a certain way. I would have to agree that God certainly cares about the bodies he made for us, and that he cares about the way we treat them.

But what is the right way? What is the wrong way?

What I don’t find in the Bible is all of these strict regulations I was once made to believe existed. Maybe it’s because I’m young and more liberal. (Don’t laugh, hubby. I’m speaking relatively.) Maybe it’s because of the world in which I grew up. Maybe it’s because I like to think for myself rather than being told what to believe. I don’t know!

I don’t think there is anything to say it’s wrong to change your hair from its natural color or length. I don’t think there is anything to say it’s wrong to wear makeup or unusual clothing. I don’t think there is anything to say it’s wrong to draw on your skin or poke a pretty through a hole in your ear or lip.

Then again, I was taught by my old youth pastor that sometimes, rather than asking “what’s wrong,” one should ask, “what’s right?” This method of decision-making is tricky. If one had to find a useful, positive reason for everything one does, one might not do anything at all.

So the question stands: What are the real restrictions? What is the right way? What is the wrong way?

Not All Things Are Helpful

The very passage that started this whole thing says at the beginning:

“’All things are lawful for me,’
but not all things are helpful.
‘All things are lawful for me,’
but I will not be enslaved by anything.”

In the same book, but in chapter 10, we see a similar text, saying:

“’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things build up….So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God…”

One of my other favorite passages is 1 Corinthians 8, the whole chapter. Here’s how it goes: The Christians to which Paul writes understand that they have freedom through Christ, and that they are now no longer under, or held to, the Old Testament law, but rather they are under grace. Paul is constantly (in this book and others) reminding his brothers in Christ that being under grace does not give one license to sin, knowing they can be forgiven again. Paul is constantly trying to pound into their heads that they still must think about their actions, for there are still consequences.

In chapter 8, Paul addresses the issue of food that was once offered to idols. Paul understands that idols are not real, for there is only one God, and that the food offered to an idol is no different from other food. This food falls under the category of “all things are lawful for me…” But consider the non-believers, those who think the idols are real. One of two things happens to those people, when they see you eating the food.

1. They may also eat it, but since they believe that the food is defiled, they are sinning against their consciences.

2. They may simply watch you eat it, and since they don’t know what you know, their opinion of you and God is damaged, and you are sinning against them, wounding their consciences.

The conclusion is this: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”

This lesson can be applied to almost any area of our Christian walk, though we may not like it. Do your decisions make your brothers and sisters stumble? Do they wound your family’s consciences?

Our nature, my nature, is to simply do the questionable things behind the backs of those who might be offended. I don’t think this is right, but it’s a step in the right direction. I think this is how we determine whether it’s okay for us to fill in the blank. Who in your life would be offended, or who would stumble because of your decision?

I had to face this when I was 16 and decided to shave my head. I wore a hat to church for fear of offending those in the church who believed women must have long hair. I think, if I truly cared for those people, I should have chosen not to do it at all for their sakes, but I admit I was selfish in my decision.

Being a Christian is not always easy. I ponder these things as I wonder at what reactions I will get to my new hair color. I’m also reminded of the reason behind this lesson, the reason behind Christianity to begin with: Love.

“In this world where hatred seems to grow,
True love goes against the flow,
And becomes so hard to show.
In this world where push turns into shove,
We have strength to rise above
Through the power of His love.
Lord, we need to know the power of Your love”

“Love” by Petra

Celebrating Easter

For some reason, I thought all the blogs I read would have touched on Easter. I looked around, hoping to make sure I wasn’t being too redundant, and I found nothing! I can see why that is, now, and it makes sense. (There’s no reason to write about a Christian holiday on the blogs I read.) However, Ocipura.com being the blog that it is, I think it would be strange to skip over the holiday here.

The Super Bowl for the Church

My husband picked up this idea from our church: that Easter is the Super Bowl for Christians. I’m not one for metaphors, so I’ve had to put some thought into why this is so.

1. Easter brings in those who are fans and those who are only slightly interested in the church. Anyone with a bit of football interest will know that the one game they can’t miss is on the Big Day.

2. The traditions around Easter are fun enough to involve even those who don’t have much interest in the holiday, like the snacks, chili cook-off, games, and commercials that drew me to the Super Bowl party this year.

3. At the Super Bowl, two teams that have worked their way to the forefront throughout the season have a final battle against each other to determine a winner. On Easter, we remember the day that good and evil, which had been battling throughout history, finally determined a winner as well.

Meaning

Setting aside the hype around Easter, I do want to point out that it really is the most important day on the Christian calendar. It’s the day when our savior Jesus Christ conquered death. He submitted to crucifixion, a pure life, a perfect sacrifice to pay for the sins of the world. He rose from the dead three days later, giving us all access to abundant and everlasting life. Without the resurrection of Christ, our whole belief system would crumble. Without the resurrection, Christ’s death meant nothing, and even his birth would have done little good despite the messages he taught.

Christ defeated Satan and Death, and while we still have conflicts with evil in everyday life, we know that ultimately the war’s outcome is already settled and determined. Death has already been conquered, the price for sins paid, and salvation already given to those who believe.

If you have a hard time wrapping your mind around the idea of a man rising from the dead, as I did, I would highly recommend reading The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. It was quite a help to me as a fairly new Christian.

Traditions

I grew up in a family that celebrated Easter every year. I can’t remember ever missing a year of dipping real, hard-boiled eggs into cups of colored water. I still remember several of the egg-hunts my mom personally set up just for her youngest girl, the only one still at home, and I remember the year she got me a huge chocolate bunny (heaven).

Now, my tradition for Easter is simply to go to church, but I hope to dye eggs with my kids in the future, and bring back all the fun things that a husband and wife alone might feel silly doing.

 

What are your Easter traditions? And I’m curious – if you participated in egg-hunts, were they done as a small family thing or as a big church thing? What are your thoughts on the meaning of Easter? Why do you celebrate, or why don’t you celebrate?

Sabbath vs. Hand of Rest

The question is, are they they same thing?

The story of creation begins with a God who speaks the universe, world, and all manner of organisms into existence in a week. Kind of. Actually, He creates everything in six days, and, on the seventh day, he rested. (See Genesis 2:1-3)

History

God blessed the seventh day, and the Jews were to keep it holy by resting on that day and doing no work. Sabbath is the name they give it because the Hebrew word literally means rest. We find the word Sabbath for the first time in Exodus 16. The story is about the bread, manna from heaven, which God rained down on the Israelites to feed them in the desert. There was to be no manna on the seventh day, because if there was, then the Israelites would have to gather it. That would be work. God wanted them to keep the Sabbath holy by eating what they had already gathered.

In Exodus 20, we see it mentioned as part of the Ten Commandments. God’s people, the Jews, are told again to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. However, like many of God’s commands or laws, the Sabbath was put in place for man’s good, and man keeps it for his own good and for the glory of God. Jesus said in Mark 2 that the Sabbath was made for man. (I always took that passage as a way of explaining how their legalism was blinding them to the true purpose of the law, but that’s a whole other post.)

Christians Today

Most Christians seem to believe that we are no longer required to keep the Sabbath because we are now under the new covenant of grace, thanks to Jesus Christ. What’s more, the command was given to the Jews, and most of us aren’t of Jewish descent. If Christians do observe the Sabbath, it is usually done on Sunday, which is a combined day of worship and rest. Christians have always observed Sunday as a sort of holy day because it is the day of the week on which Jesus rose from the dead. But even Sundays are no longer kept as much of a day of rest. Christians are as likely as anyone else to have a job that requires them to work on Sunday. Today’s Christians are just as likely to do housework, shopping, and any other chore on a Sunday as on any other day.

Hand of Rest

Hubby and I are part of a Bible study with our friends which, not long ago, spent a loooooong time going through the book of Ecclesiastes. One of the biggest things I took away from that study, and one of the major themes in the book, is the concept of a hand of rest and a hand of toil. Solomon, the author of the book, says over and over again that is it meaningless to work your whole life without stopping to rest and enjoy the pleasures of life because, at the end of your life, what will you have to show for all your work? How long will your achievements be remembered? He argues that one full hand of rest and quietness is better than two hands of work. So, we should have one hand full of work and one hand full of rest. Is this the same as keeping a Sabbath (Rest) day?

Personal Belief

Work six days and rest one… that sounds to me like six days of toil to one hand of rest.

Is the Sabbath meant to give us a day off or give us six days on? Let me rephrase: Is the Sabbath meant to keep us working as much as possible throughout our week, or is it meant to force us to take a break at least one day per week? What if we took more breaks from our work and really had an even, 1:1 ratio of work and rest?

Am I on the right track here, or not? What do you think?

Christianity Part 2

Part one was about understanding what it means to become a Christian. But that was only part one because there is more to living as a Christian than just making the decision. As I said before Christian means Christ-like; therefore, belief is important as a first step, but belief was not meant to be the end. Christianity is less about what you believe than how you live! It’s how you walk, why you walk, where you’re walking to, and who you’re walking with – that’s what Christianity is about.

Why

The reason we walk is our belief. We believe in Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth. We believe in Jesus Christ, who was given to die as a ransom for us, to cover our wretchedness with his blood and make a way for us to approach God. We believe in God’s Holy Spirit, who lives in us and reminds us of His words. We believe that our sins are forgiven us, and that we will live eternally with our God even after this life ends. We believe that the world needs Jesus in order to experience both this life and the next life fully – because the majority of the world currently exists dead in their trespasses (Colossians 2:13), because of the original sin (Genesis 3), and because the devil seeks to destroy us constantly (1 Peter 5:8).

Where

Where we’re walking is on the narrow path, through the small gate (Matthew 7), toward eternal life in God’s presence. We go toward that place where there will be no more pain or weeping, where perfection is restored to God’s creation. (Revelation 21)

How

The way we walk is in love. Love for our family, our friends, our enemies, our authority, our subordinates. Sound odd? Love them? The greatest two commandments God gave us, according to Jesus, are to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbor. (Matthew 22) If we don’t walk in love, all our good deeds are in vain. (1 Corinthians 13) And if we don’t walk in love, we are not Christians because 1) we’re not living like Christ, who IS love (also see John 3:16) , and 2) Christ says that we are known by our fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit. (Luke 6) But the trick is that only through Him is such love possible. Really, it’s God loving through us, and we are willing to let Him.

Who

Our companion is also our savior. We walk with a God who is bigger than all the problems we face, Jesus who faced worse than we ever will, and the Holy Spirit who comforts us and counsels us as we walk. This relationship between me and the God-head is my reason for keeping on going, it’s how I get through, it’s what I’m aiming for, and it’s the whole point. It’s everything wrapped up in one, this relationship, this love.

I’m not saying there is nothing else worth mentioning about life as a Christian, but I wanted to point out these things, at the very least. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts and questions!