Feeling Far from God

dove 1“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” –Romans 8:1.

I’ve sang this verse a hundred times in an old hymnn at my inlaws’ church. I know this verse, like many others, like the back of my hand. Yet, sometimes I feel very far from God. It’s nothing I’ve done or have failed to do. I’m not going to reveal a deep hidden sin for the world to gawk at, take pity on me for, or condemn me over. That’s not what this is about. It’s about feeling separate. Seeking God and waiting in the silence for the reveal.

There have been seasons in my life where I’ve practically felt God walking besides me. This is not one of them. It’s a struggle spiritual people sometimes face. I remember reading about Mother Theresa and her omission that she too at times, felt far from God. I’m no Mother Theresa, not even close, but it makes me feel a little better to know even someone as remarkable as her has been through it too. It’s a strange place to be. Some would call it depression but I’m not too quick to dismiss the feeling with prejudice in search of a pharmaceutical solution, it’s different.

I should probably just call my mother. She’d tell me that God is Spirt and we are all always connected to him. I love the sentiment but I don’t believe that philosophers like Wayne Dyer and Eckhart Tolle can reason me out of this season of life. My pastor and friends would probably tell me to spend more time at church; to their credit it’s probably good advice but this cannot be solved with fellowship.

What I am experiencing is most likely from God. I know how crazy that sounds. “God is separating himself on purpose?” “You feel far from him and it’s his doing not your own sin?” “Blasphemy!” I know how it sounds. It’s as if I have just reduced almighty God to a woman playing hard to get to make dating more interesting. Hear me out before you judge me. God wants a relationship with all of us. He wants to take priority in our lives.

What feels to me like distance is actually a God given desire to seek him. It’s like a wakeup call to read the bible, pray, and listen. I can be quite chatty sometimes but sometimes God wants us to simply listen: be ready, available and hungry for his word. I’m just a girl from Phoenix, Arizona so it’s not like I’m going to receive a revelation and bring about a new movement, I’m not even a pastor, yet alone, a prophet so don’t think I’m full of myself.

God wants to speak to those who seek him simply to help them. God isn’t picky about who he helps or who he talks to. If you’ve ever heard the story of a Christian successful recovering addict a lot of them will credit their success to a “God saved me from an ______ (overdose, murder, prison, etc.) and I knew I had to change. It’s like he was talking right to me in that moment.” Some would look down their nose and say “God hasn’t spoken to a man since Moses, so who are they to claim a privilege reserved for the pope or someone else worthy?” To them I would say you’re wrong. God speaks to lots of people if they will only listen.

Five Characteristics of Millennial Power Couples

the dipWe choose success over comfort:

You make sacrifices so you can have a better future. That may mean you forgo your honeymoon to get into a space of your own. That may mean you still drive the car you’ve had since high school so you can spend your money on things that matter, more than a nice set of wheels. That may mean that you red box movies, and Netflix your TV, because theaters and cable aren’t in the budget. That may mean you use high/low pricing of grocery stores to your advantage and only buy what’s on sale; planning your meals based on ads.

Education is a must:

That may mean you move in with your parents while you finish your degree. That may mean you have three to four roommates just to pay rent. That may mean you work a job that’s less than ideal just to navigate your way through school. That may mean date night is a little creative and almost always cheap: checking out a free concert, playing Cards Against Humanity with a take away pizza, and only having good wine for special occasions. That may mean you can’t make every social event because homework is a must.

Tragedy can’t pull us apart:

I remember 2013, with my husband. We had been married for two years and together for seven. We both had good corporate jobs in insurance and a great apartment. No joke I probably could have taken out a sublet on my walk in closet and counted it as income property. I remember thinking wow we’ve made it we’re actually doing it. Then I was hospitalized twice that year and for 3 more months the following year. That’s when reality hit. I knew neither of us were happy at our jobs and even though the money was good there was more to life than am 8-5 and going out every night. So we made the choice. While I got well, we’d move back in with his parents and put together enough money to put 20% down on a property costing no more than 150K once he graduated. It’s been hard, but it’s worth it to have a better future together.

We’re looking for a life partner not a trophy spouse:

I’m fortunate we met in high school. This was before “the hookup-culture” and tinder took over the dating scene. Things were simpler for us. There’s an exciting innocence to dating in high school. He’s had great jobs making lots of money and terrible jobs making almost nothing. I didn’t enter into our relationship looking for someone to take care of me financially. I was always ambitious enough to want my own career and financial independence. Likewise, he didn’t marry me because of my bra size or how I look in a dress. At 17 we didn’t care about those things. We were drawn to each other because we stayed up all night debating philosophy, politics, and religion. When we debated it was argumentative not aggressive and in each conversation I fell in love with his intellect.

We’re figuring out our own way:

We don’t know where our lives will take us and that’s the beautiful part. We’re still young enough to dream big, but old enough to consider the consequences. We don’t know what our lives will look like 10 or 20 years from now. We don’t know what city we’ll be in, the type of job we’ll have, or what our family will look like. There’s going to be a lot of changes in these next few years. I can’t wait to see where life takes us.

Relationship Over Religion

wedding ringsI believe there are lots of lost people out there trying to find their way. Religion teaches rules and conformity. Relationship is a completely different way to experience God. When we prioritize a relationship with God, we can transform rather than just conform. Religion changes a person’s appearance and relationship changes their heart.

From the beginning, God has wanted to have a relationship with the people he created. When Jesus walked the Earth he challenged religious scholars because they clung to their rituals and rules rather than seeking God. When a person has a relationship with God they want to do the right thing; not out of fear of damnation, but out of love and respect.

Think about your relationship with your spouse. You wouldn’t say, “What can I get away with? How far is too far before they leave me?” Instead you communicate with them. You go out of your way to let them know you love and respect them. The markers of a healthy relationship are: including them in things like financial decisions that will affect both of you, setting boundaries together to safeguard your marriage, and valuing their opinion and input on a daily basis.

God wants the same type of relationship with you. He doesn’t want you to change your behavior out of fear and obligation, he wants your heart, your love, and your respect. God wants to be included in your decisions and to be counted as a member of your family. Could you imagine what God could do in our lives if we sought a two-way relationship with him? Many people take their relationship with God for granted until something catastrophic happens. Instead of praying for a quick fix when things are tough, seek God to be the Lord over your life. That may mean you lose a boyfriend/girlfriend. That may mean you change your career. That may mean you find yourself outside of your comfort level.

When you let God lead you, something changes. You find a peace that you never knew you could have. There is a comfort in knowing that it’s not your life, it’s his plan. When you accept that, disappointments will still come but our reaction to them is different. There is a certainty you can only have when you communicate with God. There is a confidence he gives you that the world can’t take from you. It has nothing to do with being good enough, or accolades, or self-righteousness; it comes from finding favor with God because you are his and he is yours.

Perfect Love- The story of Ruth and Naomi

heartThe book of Ruth in the Bible is only four chapters but it teaches us so much. In the story Naomi is a Jewish woman married to Elimelech. Together they have two sons: Mahlon and Kilon. Their sons are married to Moabite women: Orpah and Ruth. Naomi’s husband passes and years later both of her son’s die. Naomi urges her daughter-in-laws to return to their families in their homeland. Orpah take’s Naomi’s advice but Ruth refuses to leave Naomi’s side.

Before the current era, the world was not a nice place for widows. Women couldn’t inherit property, they lacked full citizenship rights that were only allotted to men. The road for Naomi was surely to be one of difficultly. She points out in the passage that she is too old to remarry and she worries about her future. She urges her daughter-in-laws to move on with their lives, find new husbands and have a better future than what she can offer.

Chris Tomlin wrote a song called “I will follow you.” It’s about our relationship with Christ and cites the passage from Ruth as the example we should follow:

“Where you go, I’ll go.

Where you stay, I’ll stay.

When you move, I’ll move.

I will follow you.”

If you don’t know the biblical reference, Ruth’s words are listed below. Ruth 1:16 NIV

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Ruth choose Judaism and her mother-in-law over everything she had known growing up. Ruth would rather chose an uncertain path than lose the family she had come to know.  

Ruth and Naomi are examples of the perfect agape (self-sacrificing) love that Jesus has for us. If we are really going to get serious about being Christians, we are called to trust Jesus just like Ruth trusted Naomi. Being a Christian isn’t easy. If anything, when you decide to live for Christ your life will get harder. God calls people to expand their faith and grow as Christians. For many of us that transformation is a difficult process. God allows people to experience trials so that we can grow from them and help others. If you never experience anything, how will you ever relate to the pain of others?

In the New Testament, Jesus calls Christians to “pick up your cross and follow me.” We are blessed to live in America where we have religious freedom. In other countries people die daily for their faith. Very few Americans will be martyred like Jesus’ warning.

Life happens through the things we experience. Some of the experiences are good, some are bad, but all of them make us who we are becoming. People say “you’re not who you’ll become until you’re 25.” I challenge you that you are never going to be a static person. People constantly change and grow from their experiences. At any moment, something you never would imagined could happen will, and it will change everything you thought you knew about yourself.

God Given Abilities and Gifts of the Spirit

super powerThis blog is based off of a message Mark Moore presented in One11 about the gifts of the spirit. There are about 20 gifts all together that many people are naturally born with and God will foster in people. They are as follows:

Teaching, ministry, administration, evangelist, pastor, exhortation (preaching with a call for action), giving, mercy, faith, discernment, apostle, prophecy, miracles, healing, tongues, interpretation of tongues. These gifts are explained in the passages below:

Romans 12:8-10

1 Corinthians 12:4-10

Ephesians 4:10-12

The Old Testament references additional gifts of: counsel, musical ability, humor, and aesthetics.

God gives these gifts to people so that we all together can make up the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul explains how every gift is important and how people shouldn’t be envious of each other’s gifts. The ear shouldn’t say that I am not as beautiful as the eye therefore I no longer want to be part of the body. Each gift is important and it takes people with all of these gifts to come together for ministry. Could you imagine attending a church where everyone was called to be a pastor and no one possessed administration skills? Just because not all gifts are as prestigious in man’s eyes doesn’t mean that they are any less valuable.

I wish I had musical ability. I can’t sing to save my life, but I can write a blog and challenge people to think about things in a different way. I may never sell out a venue but I’ve reached people as far as Russia with my writing. I’m not envious of the success of other’s and I value their contributions to furthering God’s message.

Using Your Abilities for God

help-wanted-web-imageToday at One11 we had a networking opportunity to talk to people that work in industries we would like to get into. We do this about once a year and some people land jobs through connections they didn’t know they had. One of the questions we asked in our circles was, “How do you reach others for God in your industry?”

Most of us didn’t even know how to answer that question. As Mark Moore pointed out to the group, very few people are called into full time ministry, but everyone is called to further the kingdom. So what does that look like? For some people like me it’s in a hobby. I found out (also at One11) that analysis is one of the gifts of the spirit. I won’t claim to be particularly insightful, but I do hope that I challenge people to think about things differently every week with my blog posts.

I look up to writers like C.S. Lewis; he had the ability to explain Christian principles to the masses in short radio segments (a lot were transcribed and compiled into collections you can purchase from book stores.) Everyone who writes social commentary can admire the intellect of C.S. Lewis, regardless of their religious preference. It’s very rare to transcend disciplines like he did. He was a radio broadcaster, author, and professor but never a minister, yet his work has ministered to more people for more years than many pastors. C.S. Lewis explained complex Christian ideas and principles to everyday people. He’s probably the most famous modern day theologian of our time.

So what can we learn from his example? We reach people in the works we produce. By being a Christian we are called to be a light on a hill. That means when someone does business with you, when someone seeks your advice, when someone interacts with you, they should see Christ in you. This is seen in treating people with dignity, engaging in ethically transparent business negotiations, and choosing what’s right over what’s easier or profitable. It doesn’t matter if you answer phones in a pizzeria or negotiate million dollar development deals, people should admire your character because they can see the light of Christ in you.

I’ll never forget a message that Pastor Mark Moore preached in December 2012. He challenged everyone by asking a simple question, “When you stand in the spotlight do people see you, or are you a reflection of Christ?” It’s definitely a challenging question. I don’t know that I quite live up to that but I would like to say it’s something I strive to be. It’s a good aspiration for all of us who identify as Christians.

Jesus is Greater than Religion

Jesus is Greater than ReligionMy bible study is reading “Jesus is greater than Religion” by Jefferson Bethke. It’s a great book, whether you are a seasoned Christian or just finding your faith. Bethke has a Youtube video with 25+ million views entitled “Why I hate religion but love Jesus.”

Jesus didn’t exactly like religious people in his day. He constantly challenged the Pharisees who were religious scholars, Scribes (theologians), and the Sadducees who were the Jewish priests. In Mathew 23:25-27 Jesus tells the parable of the cup written below:

25″Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26″You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. 27″Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.

Religion teaches people conformity: listen to the right music, dress a certain way, speak a certain way and you will be saved. The truth is, there are lots of broken people who are seeking God but they prioritize the wrong things as a measure of their faith. As the passage explains, God cares more about the inside than the outside. God wants to change someone’s heart not their appearance. The bible is clear: a sign of maturity in Christ is the ability to tame the desires of the heart. A person who is over indulgent (in anything from alcohol to food, or full of wrath, or lust, or greed) is just a cup appearing beautiful on the outside and filthy on the inside. These are cardinal sins, they are vices that some people will have ongoing struggles with for years. If we could beat these sins on our own, we wouldn’t need a savior.

The message of the book is to challenge people to stop trying to look like a Christian and instead seek God to change their hearts. People are inherently sinful and all people sin differently. The point of becoming a Christian isn’t to pat yourself on the back and look down your nose at others that don’t fit into your conformist group. The point is to find a community of believers you can grow with. To be real with yourself and your friends, and admit your brokenness and grow with one another while you all work together to seek betterment. I pray that I always attend a church that is more of a hospital than a country club.

Christianity and Social Injustice

Color blindness is the dominant theory in courts, which says that for the law to be fair, it should be blind to race.

Color blindness is the dominant theory in courts, which says that for the law to be fair, it should be blind to race.

I was at my young adults’ group (One11) today and they brought up the topic of social injustice. This can be a very polarizing issue for some people. I believe, as Christians, we have a duty to serve others around us. The Bible is clear, Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”. There is nothing that we can do on our own to be saved because even our purest holiness is nothing but “dirty rags” compared to the example Christ set. But the bible also says, in John 15, that He is the vine and we are the branches, if any part does not bring forth good fruit it will be cut off and cast aside. Harsh, I know, but it makes sense. When people become Christians they essentially say “I’m switching teams. I was once on my own team, living for myself, seeking status and pleasures of this world and now I want to be on God’s team and be a part of something larger than myself.”

We are essentially called to challenge social injustice, but some people have agendas. They want to end abortion or the death penalty in the name of Christianity. These groups have their place but these are not issues that we should focus on and make enemies based on. When we are called to challenge social injustice it has more to do with service than activism. The speaker brought up that you can’t help everyone all the time. He told a story about him and his wife helping a homeless couple get back on their feet. This got me thinking: “What am I doing in my community to be the hands and feet of Christ?” The honest answer is: “A lot less than I should be doing.” Sure, I go to church and volunteer but when’s the last time I did something to help someone I’m not related to? The answer is: “I don’t know.” I guess today I felt a little convicted that my ministry only reaches my family and friends. Granted, I can’t get personally involved in a stranger’s life overnight and change the world because of it.

I guess I feel convicted because I kind of live in a bubble. I see my family and my friends, I share my faith in the safe confines of my One11 circle, or my bible study, or in private with my family, but that’s it. I don’t go places where I’m around strangers. I don’t volunteer in the community like I used to and probably still should. If I’m ever going to be an instrument of change I need to be out where there are hurting people. So if anyone’s interested I’m going to collect donations for #HashtagLunchBag. They are doing a shoe drive for the homeless. They are looking for gently used shoes still in good condition. If any of you would like to help please fill out the form below, PM me, or visit the Married Circle at One11 for more info. I would like to have all the donations by 09/20/15 thank you.

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Unanswered Prayers

MEDION DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s true that God works in mysterious ways. In 2012 I really started to take this whole “being a Christian thing” seriously. I bought a prayer/devotional journal and read the entire bible that year. Every day, I would earnestly petition God for things I was sure he wanted. “God, will you help my family come to know you.” “God, I know some of the most hardworking, responsible people that could really use some help to find a good job.” “God, can you bless me and family with __________.” Don’t think I’m perfect, by any means or even, particularly a “good Christian” by traditional standards. I have my struggles just like anyone else.

Here’s the weird thing. Last week, God answered my most self-severing prayers. Don’t get me wrong I was ecstatic. I am beyond thankful, giving God all the glory in helping me out. But, what about the unanswered prayers? Surely, those were the good prayers. The ones after God’s heart. God just wants a relationship with people. I didn’t just say a prayer and go on with my day. I’ve been actively trying to reach my family for Christ for three years, as opposed to passively evangelizing. I’ve also been actively involved in some people’s job searches, yet still nothing.

So why does God pick and choose what he responds to? I was praying about this the other day and it seems that (believe it or not) God has his own time tables that things work by. It’s his plan. I suppose this is for the best because if it were my plan we’d have every hope of eating a gourmet, healthy home cooked meal, and somehow end up with a Hot and Ready from Little Creaser’s Pizza. So, in a way, I’m glad it’s not my plan. But it is still thoroughly frustrating when God says “not now.” It’s true that God isn’t fair but he is just. Whatever you are praying for don’t lose hope. Everything happens in God’s time. He rarely flat out says no to something in his will, but the answer may come in an unexpected way.

Understanding the SCOTUS Marriage Ruling

gay marriageThe Supreme Court ruled yesterday that all 50 states must now recognize same sex marriages. Many religious organizations are out raged. Some religious people see this as a loss for their side. I don’t want to debate the morality of these unions. My personal believe is that a sin is a sin. Mankind is naturally sinful and everyone struggles with their own sins on a day to day basis. No one is good enough to get to heaven on their own.

As my church points out “it’s easy to hate people that sin differently than you.” There is a long list of sins mentioned throughout the bible. The cardinal sins are: wrath (quick to anger), greed (love of money), sloth (laziness), arrogance (pride), lust (sexual sins), coveting (envy), and gluttony (over eating). My personal belief is that if a person watches pornography they are in as much danger of hell as a homosexual because, both actions are a display of lust. Yet, Christians tend to only forgive the prior while condemning the latter. I’m not perfect, and I won’t claim to be sin free. I have struggles just like everyone else.

The ruling on same sex marriage came down to upholding the 14th amendment which states that all citizens deserve equal protection under the law. Before this law was passed, states decided if they would recognize same sex unions. Being married offers benefits and protection under the law. For instance, you have to be married in Arizona to be on the same health insurance. Married people are allowed tax deductions. Also, car insurance companies provide a discount to married couples. Prior to passing this law, if the state didn’t recognize your marriage, spouses had no legal rights to inheritance, child custody, or assumed advanced directives. This law allows legal protection to all couples. If people want to get upset over the sanctity of marriage they should be outraged over all of the straight couples that abuse their privilege to marry. Many celebrities have married for publicity and quickly divorced.  The most famous example is Kim Kardashian, married 72 days. I’m more threatened by her views and practices than I ever would be from a loving homosexual couple. Even the Pope states that, we have no right to judge the sins of another. Yesterday was a historic day in this country and I believe the ruling was a civil rights issue, not a religious one.