Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Battle Against Complacency

Several weeks ago, the pastor at my church talked about not settling for “good”, and deciding to strive for “excellence”. This is an issue that God has put upon my heart, and I now realize how often I stoop to this worldly concept.

When I was still in public school, I could easily make A’s by exerting as little effort as possible. I never had to study very hard, and I never learned what hard work really was. Thankfully, when we started homeschooling, my mom broke me of that dangerous habit. She realized that I was not being excellent in all my work, so she began to change the way I looked at my schoolwork. I am not saying that I am perfect now in that respect, but I do think that I am much better than I used to be. I no longer say, “How can I get away with as little work as possible and still make a good grade?” Instead, I think to myself, “How can I do this in a manner that is pleasing to God? How can I do this excellently?” My mom is not afraid to tell me when she can tell that I have been slacking, and I am so grateful for it. I do not want to grow up to find that I know nothing about working hard.

Why am I so worried about this topic? Because our world has become complacent. If I am to change the world, than I must not be complacent in the least. What if a missionary to Africa said, “Well, I’ve brought four people to Christ, that should be enough,” and then returned to the USA to be a couch potato? Wouldn’t that defeat the whole purpose of bringing people into God’s Kingdom? I for one, do not want to be in that category of Good-enough-ers (and yes, I just made that word up).

Everyone has settled for “good enough” at one point in their life. We have to realize that we will not ever be respected if we do not work hard to be excellent. I do not want to be known as “lazy” or a “slacker”.

How do we change this? Complacency is not an easy rut to get out of, believe me. It takes determination and perseverance. You must first determine to change your ways and then persevere until you reach your destination. The battle against complacency is ongoing, however, and you will always have to strive to be excellent. Although we will never be fully excellent until Jesus comes back, we must still try while we are here on earth.

It has been said that we should not strive for perfection, since we cannot attain it until we reach heaven, but that is no excuse for becoming complacent. We must still strive for perfection, so that we may glorify God through it. It doesn’t matter if we cannot reach it, we still have to try.

Jesus was here on earth for less than forty years, and He was able to strive for perfection the entire time. Jesus did not settle for “good”. Instead, he strove for excellence. I, too, want to have that reputation. God has put me on this earth for a reason, but He will not be able to use me if I become complacent and settle for less than God has planned.

All of us have to make the decision to resist complacency and strive for perfection, no matter how hard it may be. God did not put us on earth to be “pretty good”. Follow the example of Jesus and pray to Him for strength and endurance. The battle may not be won for many years, but we do know who wins in the end. Make the choice to fight against complacency and not settle for any less than your best.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Presence of Him

It made me shiver. I was awestruck, scared, and yet very happy. I lifted my hands in worship and just stood there for the entire song wondering what I should do. I felt like I had a choice. I could jump from my ledge of security and take that one step into the completely foreign world of wonder, or I could take a step back and hold onto the familiar.

That was the first time that I had felt God’s presence with absolute certainty. There was no doubt in my mind that God was lifting me in His arms and holding me close to His heart. He was trying to tell me something, but He was asking me to first trust Him completely.

I seriously was about to fall over with the amazement that wracked my body. I was in absolute awe at what I was experiencing, and wanted to just stand still and stay there forever. The decision God was asking me to make left thoughts churning in my head. I wondered what I should do, and I once again felt a gentle nudge from God telling me in no uncertain words that He wanted me to leap into His arms with no doubt left in my body.

This decision was one I have been holding back from for a very long time. I was comfortable where I was in my little bubble, and didn’t want anything to change. Lately, though, I have felt God nudging me toward a deeper relationship with Him.
For a long time, I prayed my normal, rote prayer (“Thank you for this day and for everything you’ve given me. Please help this person and that person…”), and even skimmed my Bible instead of studied it. About six months ago, however, I made the decision to try to work as hard as possible to further my relationship with Jesus.
It was not easy for me to make some of the changes that I did, but it has overall been a wonderful thing.

When I went to church and felt God’s all-consuming presence, I knew that He was pleased with my efforts. I knew that God wanted me to keep drawing closer to Him. I knew that God was there, and that He wanted me to leap off my ledge of comfort and fall into His arms. There was no doubt in my mind that God was there, and I felt like God was confirming my faith over and over again.

That experience has changed something inside me. I no longer want to stay comfortable; I want to spread the love of God so that others may have an experience like that, too. If only I could make people feel God in the way that I did, I am sure even the strongest atheist could believe in my Lord.

So jump off that ledge! Don’t take time to analyze what will happen, just do it! God will catch you in the arms that created the universe. All you have to do is take that first step. He loves you, and will not let you fall. I hope one day you can have an experience like I did. It is amazing and scary at the same time, but I would not trade that one moment for all the chocolate in the world. But my story is not over.

There were so many emotions running through my body, making my fingers tingle and my arms shake a little while raised in worship. I decided to take that step toward the unknown, and I was no longer afraid to do it. As I leapt off my ledge, I could feel God catching me. In that amazing moment, I heard the God of the universe say four words that have resonated throughout my entire being since that experience. All He had to say to me was summed up in those four words, and I have the need to find proof that He exists. I am absolutely certain now, that He is there in heaven and on earth. And that amazing revelation was summed up in four words. Those words were, “Molly, I love you.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Level of Commitment

I had an experience this past week which made me seriously examine my level of commitment to my faith. While I will not go into details since that would be gossip, I will say that it was a time in which several people said Christians tend to be hypocrites. It was said that Christians say one thing, but then live their lives in a way contrary to their words.

If you have ever read “The Pardoner’s Tale” by Geoffrey Chaucer, you will notice how Chaucer feels about hypocrisy. To him, it is the greatest of all sins. While I’m not sure what level of sin it is, I do despise hypocrisy with my entire being.

Or do I? Don’t I sometimes give Christianity a bad name when I don’t stop to help someone (such as the story of the Samaritan in the Bible) in need?

I realize now that my level of commitment needs to be blatantly obvious to everyone around me. If I become a hypocrite, I only show people that all Christians may really be hypocrites as well.

Peter in the Bible also had to examine his level of commitment when Jesus asked him this question: “Peter, do you love me?” Peter replied that he was Jesus’ friend, but Jesus asked him twice more if Peter loved him. Jesus was trying to get Peter to examine his own heart and see if he really was fully committed to Him.

Sometimes I can identify with Peter so well! He, like me, was a sinner and struggled with being completely sold out to Christ. I do that every day, and as much as I hate feeling that way, I still don’t take my level of commitment further. For some reason, I continue to sin over and over, turning my back on Jesus and discouraging people from turning to God.

Why do I do this? It is because I am afraid; afraid of taking a leap into the unknown, and afraid to take the plunge into living by God’s word alone. No longer could I fall back on my excuses and safety nets nor could I change my mind if I leapt out of my comfort zone.

So am I ready to take that risk? Oh yes, because eventually it will lead me to the greatest Reward ever known: eternal life. All of the fear inside my body will eventually dissipate because I know Jesus is holding my right hand, ready to lead me on the path He has made! His plan is so much better than mine, even if I think mine is always better.

Peter was only willing to be the friend of Jesus, but I want to go further. I want to say, “Yes Lord, I love you with my entire being!” and not be stretching the truth at all. It will not be easy, but Jesus does not call us to live lives of ease. Instead He says to “take up your cross and follow Me”. Jesus’ cross was a burden and a trial, and yet He faced it with grace and love as His life ended for three long days… If Jesus calls me to be crucified, whether literally or figuratively, I am now ready to do it, not by myself, but with Him at my side.

Are you ready? Then jump off the cliff into His arms, and take your level of commitment further than you have ever been.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

That the World May Know

As Tina walked through the mall, she noticed a Christian bookstore. She figured that it would be good to stop in and see what new devotional books were out. Tina had been a Christian since she was eight, and had always made a point to do a devotional in the morning before she went to school. Walking around to the teen section, Tina noticed Rita (a girl from school) looking at the large array of Bibles. Rita looked up from the table and smiled in Tina’s direction. “Hi! What are you doing here?” Rita asks. Tina answers that she is looking for a devotional book. When Rita looks surprised, Tina asks her what she is thinking. “Oh, I just didn’t even know you were a Christian!” Rita answers.

First of all, Rita and Tina are two figments from my imagination. This is not a real experience, conversation, or encounter. This is not even a story I have been told, so please do not think I am writing about you.

However, I am not saying this won’t ever happen to you or me, because I think it can. That is, unless we do something about it. Our world has taught us to hide our personal beliefs and fit in without causing a stir. I agree that it is harder to be conspicuous, but I do not think that this is necessarily a bad thing.

I often discuss how we need to be different and be world-changers instead of go-with-the-flow-ers (if that’s a word…), but that is not what I’m after today. Although these are still important subjects, there is an even more important issue that I have not addressed much.

Let me start out with this question: If a person off the street could look over the past two days of your life, could they tell that you are a Christian? Or would they be surprised to find this out? I sure hope that in my life, it would take only five minutes for them to see that I am a Christian, redeemed by Christ’s love, and granted freedom from my sins!

I do not go to public school like Tina, but I have plenty of opportunities to reveal my Lord and Savior through the way I live. I have a job that grants me a plethora of instances in which to show the love of Jesus. I dance at a studio where I can openly reach out to those who are hurting or sad. Even going to the store with my family can be a place to exemplify Christ!

I can honestly tell you that if Rita had told me instead of Tina that she was surprised I was a Christian, I would have been utterly heartbroken. I want my life to be a living testimony to the wonders of my Lord, and if I knew that I wasn’t doing a good job of it, I would want to immediately change the way I was living.

John 13:15 says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” If we live like Christ, people will notice. Like Tina, our culture has told us to fit in with the rest of the crowd, not stand out and shout to the corners of the earth what the Son of God has done for us.

If you walked down the street, would people notice that there was something different about you? Or would they just pass you by without even a glance? Rita gave Tina a major wakeup call. Tina had been a faithful Christian inside of her home, but in the world, no one could even tell that she was a follower of Jesus.
Is this not what has happened to us? Have we decided to keep God boxed in at home only? Isn’t it true that Jesus has washed us clean on the inside, and yet we don’t let anyone else find out about this redeeming love?

So, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Let the world know that you are a Christian, and proud to be so! Scream of His glory and power and strength! Make a difference in our dark world! God will win in the end, but we are put here for a purpose.

Are you like Tina? Have you hidden the light that burns so brightly inside you? Or are you going to take off the mask and live like you are a Christian inside and out?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"But it's NORMAL!"

I am actually a very shy person, believe it or not. I often hear someone say something that I think is wrong, but I do not usually give that person a piece of my mind. This blog is the outpouring of my soul in written form. I take all the instances in my own life that bother me, and I correct them for others to see and learn from. I do not back down from my beliefs, but I’m not very outgoing or loud about what I think deep down inside. Even though I’m quiet, however, I have quite a reputation for being abnormal. This doesn’t really bother me, because I do not strive to be “normal”. I strive to be different in the eyes of the world.

I frequently hear the phrase “it’s normal”. Typically, the context centers around something that has been deemed “okay” because it is “normal”. I want to shout, “Just because it’s normal doesn’t make it okay!” but I can’t for fear of offending someone and losing a friendship.

What do you think is considered “normal” in our society that isn’t okay in the sight of God? I can think of many examples, but I will specifically talk about five of them.

#1 – Teenage Attitude
This is one in particular that has bothered me for a very long time. I often hear people say, “Well, he’s a teenager!” or “I can’t wait until she’s out of this teenage phase”. It drives me crazy, because I know that “teenagerism” has become normal, though it did not start out that way. There was no such thing as a teenager back in Bible times! You were either a child or an adult. Because there was no intermediate stage, it forced the children to be mature and competent. Do you think maybe we should revert back to that??? It’s hard for me to hold my tongue when people refer to their teens as “normal”. A normal teen should choose to be a young adult, and not an overgrown child.

#2 – Public Displays of Affection
You almost can’t avoid it. I’ll be walking down the street, and there will be a couple either my age or younger holding hands, hugging, or kissing. I don’t have any problem with married couples doing these things, but it does bother me that nearly everyone my age has a boyfriend/girlfriend and is not shy about showing affection in public. It’s sick, gross, and very “normal”. That does not make it right. I don’t have a problem with dating or courting, but I do prefer it be done when it can actually lead to something. Honestly, I don’t see any point in dating until a person is old enough to get married. I don’t think having a boyfriend just because everyone else does is a very good reason.

#3 – Cussing
I have never understood why using mild to severe language is so “cool”. It does not appeal to me in the least, and even if I wasn’t a Christian, I most likely wouldn’t use bad language. Actual swear words really bother me, but the take-offs of those words (such as “crap”, “suck”, “freaking”, and more) are what really bother me. Who said that one was a curse word, but the other was okay to say? Who makes up these rules anyway? These words frequent most teenage conversations, and are extremely rude. Just because this is “normal” still does not make it “good”.

#4 – Immodest clothing
Sometimes I wonder what fashion designers are thinking. Some of the latest styles are weird and ugly, but that doesn’t stop teen girls from buying them anyway just because they are “trendy”. I am not very fashionable with my clothing (and frankly, I don’t care), but I am especially bothered by immodesty. This problem is rampant among teen girls, and it is mainly because they follow the examples of latest Hollywood sensations. Whatever is “cool” to wear, teen girls buy. I don’t know when this cycle started, but I have a feeling that it’s been going on for a very long time. “Normal” clothing nowadays is provocative and flashy, and I am not going to buy it just because it is “cool”.

#5 – Laziness
It seems to me that if a teenager can do as little as possible and still get away with it, they will. I used to be like that, but then I realized that no one respected my work ethic. I now can say that I do try to work as hard as possible. Don’t get me wrong: I still succumb to laziness, but I’m working on it. I don’t know what happened to working hard and doing your best, but it has obviously been thrown out the window with modesty and clean language. I know it’s “normal” for a teenager to sleep in until 1:00 PM on a Saturday, but maybe the day would be better spent working hard or at least spending time with family. I was complimented by my manager at the place I work for always keeping my hands busy. This made me feel good and bad at the same time. I was glad my manager was pleased, but sad that I was the only one who did work the entire time I’m there. I hope that just because being lazy is typical, that there are still a few souls out there who are not afraid of hard work.

I am obviously “different”, but I am not afraid to be so. I will not give in to the “normal” trends when they are wrong, and I don’t care what kind of weirdo other teens think I am. I’m not afraid of being different, as long as it is right and good in God’s eyes.