Be at peace with one another

 “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18

To start off I would like to state that to truly appreciate this verse and the truth it proclaims one needs to look at the context surrounding it, which talks about loving one another and abhorring evil. Therefore, I highly recommend that you spend some time in Romans 12:9-21- it’s an incredibly encouraging passage.

However, this verse in particular is one that has been on my heart and mind the past few days. I have noticed people in various parts of my life that are at odds with someone; it is quite saddening to see people harbor bitterness and resentment towards another person. I’m sure I do not have to tell you dear friend that to harbor bitterness and resentment affects the person who is holding on to it the most. This bitterness colors how we view others, affects our ability to serve our fellow Christians, and brings difficulty to our being able share the gospel with those who desperately need to hear it. This passage calls us to be at peace with one another as much as depends upon us, because it is a key element of the Christian life. However, this element involves honesty and grace. Being honest about your issues with someone in a way that is full of grace is vulnerable, frightening, humbling, and frankly hard.

However, we are still called to be at peace with one another. I think it is easy for us to stay divided from people in our lives, because we begin to view them as an enemy of sorts. This is a lie; your enemy is not your neighbor. Scripture speaks to this truth in Ephesians 6:12 which states “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Spiritual warfare is real, and we are fighting against the sin that is in our lives and the lives of others. We are not fighting each other, so I plead with you to humbly be at peace with one another through the strength and grace that can only come from the Holy Spirit.

If someone popped into your mind as you were reading this, I encourage you to seek how you can find reconciliation with that person through prayer, scripture, and the wisdom of people who will give you gospel-centered advice. I would like to pray for you if you are seeking reconciliation with your neighbor, so please feel free to private message me.

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Unlikely Circumstances

I had been praying for a mentor of sorts to come across my path. I had been discipled and mentored a few times before, and I was hoping this was a season of life in which I would have another relationship like that. I prayed to find this person for weeks, maybe even months. The answer to that prayer came in the most unlikely of ways.

I met my dear friend Esther during a Zumba class that she led for a semester. She was joyful, full of life, and coordinated. Trying to do those dance steps in front of this insanely talented Hispanic lady were the first of many times in which I would be vulnerable with her. We became friends on facebook and I noticed that she went to seminary. I thought it would be interesting to talk to her about her experience there, so I messaged her and asked if she wanted to get together. We met up and immediately started sharing our life stories, insecurities, and how God was working in our lives. She asked if I wanted to meet regularly and with little hesitation I agreed.

That was around a year and a half ago. I didn’t know when I was making a fool of myself in Zumba and meeting this almost stranger for coffee that I was in the presence of a person that would become one of my dearest friends. We could have so easily missed each other. She’s from Honduras; I’m from Indiana. She went to seminary; I go to a secular university twenty minutes away. If I had not moved home when I did… If she had not decided to take on that extra commitment and teach that Zumba class… If I had not asked her to coffee… If she had not asked to meet regularly when we did meet for coffee… If all of those things and much more had not happened we would have missed each other and the beautiful friendship we have formed.

Sometimes when I think of the uncertainties that I find myself worrying about, I think back to this answer to prayer. I remember how God perfectly orchestrated our lives to intersect at the perfect time and in the perfect way, so that we could share our struggles with each other. God intersected our lives and now we have a lifelong friend that we can cry with, laugh with, dance with, and call out in a loving way when the other is being ridiculous. God, the one who orchestrates every detail of my life, orchestrated that. How can I not trust this God? He listens to prayer. He is creative. He cares for His children. One of the ways He reminded me of these characteristics of Himself was by connecting me with Esther.

This God—his way is perfect;
    the word of the Lord proves true;
    he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

Psalm 18:30

Soap on the Sponge

Fall semester of my sophomore year of college I lived with three ladies who taught me an abundance of what it looks like to serve one another in love. The most memorable example of this happened within the first couple of weeks living with these ladies. My roommate Charissa was washing the dishes in the sink and one of them was mine. I of course thanked her for taking care of the dish and she smiled at me and said “Well, there’s already soap on the sponge.” This spoke volumes to me. Oftentimes we think of serving others as some grand gesture, but many times it is a small gesture that takes less than a minute. Matthew 6:2-4 talks about being low key when we’re giving to the needy.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Next time there’s soap on the sponge or whatever your equivalent is, take the extra minute to serve those around you in a low key way that doesn’t draw attention to yourself. “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” If we are drawing attention to when we are serving others we’re serving to be noticed not to glorify God, so be low key when you’re serving others.

We Are Not Called to Convenience

There’s  a passage in Ann Voskamp’s book be the gift that says “you can be glued to a screen or glued to your schedule or glued to your stuff- and maybe that’s just a bit of lost living. You can be a slave to getting ahead, a slave to the clock, a slave to convenience, a slave to some ill-advised American dream- and maybe that’s a lot of lost living.”

It’s easy to become absorbed in our own life and our own mess. It’s easy to have your world revolve around convenience, screens, and success. Not only is it easy for these things to happen, but it’s expected of us. Take facebook for example: we spend hours scrolling through our newsfeed reading complaints about the latest political issue and one upping people from high school that we barely care about. Why? Because it’s convenient. You could call that friend you miss or you could like their post announcing that they’re having a baby. Liking the post is quicker and more convenient, so oftentimes that is done rather than actually showing another person that you care about them.

Being engrossed in our screens, schedules, and success is ingrained in us to the extent that sometimes we think about reaching out to someone to show that we care about them, but then we don’t, because we’re afraid of it not being received well. How shameful it is that we don’t show others that we care about them, because it’s inconvenient. How shameful it is that we oftentimes are so absorbed in what is going on with ourselves that we don’t stop to listen to another soul that is in desperate despair. Instead we ignore them or let them gloss over their pain. The book of James tells us that faith without works is dead. That’s not to say that works are our source of salvation, rather if we have the Holy Spirit in us we will be prompted to act and show other people that we care about them.

Is it wrong to have a phone or a schedule or success? No, but realize that if you live your life trying to have some arbitrary picture perfect life, you’ll always be one step behind and wanting something else. Yes, there is quite a bit of value in taking care of yourself so that you can serve others well. However, the main focus of our lives should be loving God and loving others and that just does not line up with today’s American dream. We are not called to convenience; we are called to love one another. When you are prompted to show someone that you care about them, actually do it.

30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:30-31

On Being Brave

“All I can think of right now is how much braver you are than me” he said as part of the kindest rejection text anyone has ever received after asking someone out. Brave, it’s a label I have been given multiple times over the past few years. I can’t say that I always feel brave, but I think that’s a part of bravery, doing something even though I’m afraid. There’s a glorious freedom that comes in not letting fears dictate the decisions I make. However, this is not a bravery that I can take credit for; this is a bravery that comes from trust in Christ.

I am reminded of 2 Timothy 1:7 “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” When we are acting based upon trust in God and His plan our actions are full of power, love, and self-control. Frankly, I was able to see this play out beautifully in asking that guy out. It took an insane amount of trust to press the send button on a text that said “do you want to go on a date”. When I pressed the send button on that text I was giving up control of the situation in the form of giving up the ability to protect my precious feelings from rejection. However, in giving up that ability to protect myself I was able to receive the blessed gift of peace even in the midst rejection.

I would be lying if I said I was immediately fine. There were moments sprinkled throughout the next day or two where I was sad, because no one likes to be rejected. However, the even stronger thing that I walked away from that situation with was a sense of peace not because I had done something brave, but because I had trusted God. If you want to be brave trust God. If you want to have a spirit of power, love, and self-control trust God. Indeed, it is a journey. Indeed, it is easier said than done. However, I have found in my rather limited twenty-two years that I have done things I would have never dreamed of both big and small, because I trusted in God. Yes, compared to what I have done and what I will do this is one of the smaller brave things that I have done, but I found beauty and peace in taking a step of faith even though I did not see where that step would ultimately take me. No, it did not take me where I wanted it to, but it took me where God had planned for it to, which is far better than any plan I could make.

But I NEED her!

My friend was teaching a class of three year olds a couple of months ago. One of these children was a little boy who had a special friend in one of the little girls in the class. One night when he was desperately wanting to be with her he asked my friend if he could be with her and my friend said “no”. His quite dramatic yet relatable reply was “But I NEED her! I NEEEEEEED her!” As ridiculous as a three year old NEEDING another three year old sounds we often do the exact same thing. We pick something that we feel we NEED, and when we do not receive it we get angry and frustrated with God.

This topic of desperately wanting something to the extent that we feel we NEED it makes me think of Hannah, the mother of the Old Testament Prophet Samuel. She was barren and probably felt like she NEEDED a child, especially since she was being taunted and provoked by her husband’s other wife. However, in the midst of grief and confusion as to why she was not allowed to have this beautiful thing, she took her pain and confusion to God. 1 Samuel 1:10-14 finds Hannah praying so deeply and intensely that the priest Eli thought that she was drunk, but she wasn’t. She was taking her confusion, grief, and pain to God. She was vowing that if she were blessed with a child she would give it right back to God for His service. What a beautiful example of how to treat things that we feel like we NEED.

In reality the concept of giving something back to God if we are blessed enough to receive it in the first place is much easier said than done. Hannah shows a profound humility and trust when she gives up the child that she has longed for, hoped for, prayed for. However, the Lord blessed her trust and he used that child to further his kingdom in ways that Hannah likely could not have imagined in her wildest dreams. The things that we desire deeply for are not necessarily bad things. Wanting to be a parent is a beautiful thing. Wanting to be married is a beautiful thing. Wanting to get an education is a beautiful thing. However, those beautiful God given desires become ugly when we hope in those things rather than for those things. As hard as it is to admit, when we act as though we need something more than we need God we look as ridiculous as a three year old NEEDING another three year old.  (and we are definitely not as cute)

A Constant State of Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual warfare is something that cannot be seen in the way of physical swords and helmets, but is still quite real. I oftentimes find that when I am most susceptible to an attack is when my life is going well. Take where I am currently for example; I am doing well. Even within this though I find myself losing interest in spending time with God. It seems that we train our minds to go to God when we are in trouble, which is absolutely what we should do, but in times of joy and abundance we become prideful and act as though we can handle what life has to offer us by ourselves. In these moments of peace we become comfortable and forget that we are in a war; sometimes we even lay down our spiritual armor (if you want to know more about the armor of God go to Ephesians 6:10-20) We forget that simple moments can have a profound impact on the course of someone’s life. Something that I have been reminded of multiple times in the past few weeks is that people are watching and potentially being affected by how we live. It’s interesting, because I know this to be true, I have seen the everyday actions of someone in my life affect me in a profound way, when they probably had no idea, but I still manage to forget that the same thing is likely happening with me. Romans 12:1-2 talks about offering our bodies as living sacrifices by not conforming to this world and living a life of holiness. Those verses are a beautiful reminder to live in a way that is pleasing to God all of the time. It is a reminder that this is not something that we are capable of on our own, so we must receive strength from God at all times. We are in a constant state of spiritual warfare whether we want to acknowledge that or not, so we would be foolish to lay down our armor and act as though we are capable of handling life on our own and yet sometimes we do.

Only Love Can Do That

One of my favorite quotes is something that Martin Luther King Jr. said, it’s “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

There have been a couple of things on my mind the past week, and I have to say the more that I think about them the more I realize how connected they are. About a week ago I was thinking about the political climate and how prone people are to say horrible things about another person because they do not agree with their beliefs. That in itself is sad enough, but what is even more saddening to me is the fact that this attitude is creeping into the church. It’s this underlying sour attitude that we carry because Joe thinks this person is qualified to do this political job and Jane thinks a controversial issue is not a big deal. This sour attitude towards others based on their having different beliefs that truly have nothing to do with salvation or how you are living your life is not loving others and seeing them as Christ sees them.

This brings me to the second thing I have been thinking about this week. I have seen a theme of valuing others, seeing them as Christ sees them, and treating them accordingly over and over again recently. The most unique way I have seen this is in the Sunday school lesson I taught this past Sunday. It was based around this theme, but it was about the story of David and Bathsheba. Initially I was quite confused, as I studied though I began to understand it as a cautionary tale. David was so focused on himself, his pleasures, and covering up his sins he was willing to do horrendous things to the people around him. When we get so caught up in how we feel, justifying our sins, and overall being self-centered we are not thinking of those around us. We are likely not seeing others the way that Christ sees them.

Back to the story of David and Bathsheba; my favorite part of this story is God’s grace. David did things that others would find horrendous and unforgivable, but God forgave him. God valued him; God loved him even though and he had messed up in a huge way. God does this for us too, so as we think of the people who get under our skin or we completely disagree with for whatever reason we must remember that they are beloved by Our Heavenly Father. Christ came for them too; Christ sees so much value in them too. This is our example of how to treat others. The Bible calls us to love others (if you want more information on what that looks like see 1 Corinthians 13). That is how we drive out hate; that is the light that we have that drives out darkness. “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.

 

Lonely but Never Alone

I was feeling a certain bout of loneliness this morning; it was the kind of loneliness that you know means nothing, but still will not leave you alone. This loneliness came with the works: crying, questioning my immediate future, questioning my distant future, and feeling isolated. It soon became very apparent to me that I needed to do something with all of these thoughts that were swimming through my head, so I decided to write. I pulled out a notebook and wrote down the title “Lonely but Never Alone”, and then I started flipping through the pages that I had already filled. As I was flipping I came across something that I had written about an awkward date; I decided to read it because I figured that it would be good for a laugh, but what I got was so much more. What I received in reading that was hope, truth, and yes a good laugh. After reading that I realized that God was giving me what I had been praying for just minutes before. He had given me someone who understood what I was feeling and could encourage me; that person just happened to be a former version of myself writing down my thoughts. As I soaked in this realization I felt the title that I had written down expecting the content to be full of despair turn into one that would have content full of hope. This title and its truth became real to me. I will become lonely at times, that is inevitable, but I am never alone. I have a Heavenly Father who will always provide what I need when I need it. What a blessing.

Stop Telling Me

As I have battled anxiety, particularly within the past couple of years I have found a common theme- well-meaning people saying things like “stop worrying you have nothing to worry about.” Or “stop worrying, it’s going to be okay.” I know that those things are true. I know that I’m not supposed to worry, I know that I’m incredibly blessed and comparatively I have nothing to worry about. I know that it’s going to be okay, but in those dark moments it doesn’t feel like it. Please stop saying those things to people who battle anxiety; even though that person likely knows that it’s going to be okay it doesn’t FEEL like it’s going to be okay in that moment. I don’t want someone to remind me of some cliché that God loves me and because of that everything will be fine. I want someone to speak truth into my life. I want someone to say, “Life sucks, but even when you are facing some of the suckiest moments you will face God is there. Even in the moments when you don’t feel worthy of being loved, you are. Romans 8:37-39 says that nothing can separate you from that love.” Hearing someone say that is more real and honest.

When you say things like “stop worrying” or “it’s going to be okay,” you likely aren’t listening long enough or well enough to help the person heal. So many people are searching for the perfect thing to say to those who are grieving or battling mental illness, but oftentimes you don’t need to say anything; oftentimes you just need to listen and physically be there. When I would be in the midst of panic attacks, I yearned for someone to physically be there, not because I wanted them to word vomit things to make them feel like they attempted to help, but because I wanted them to hug me and hold my hand and pray for me. Just being with a person and letting them tell you what would help them most speaks volumes, because it means you are there for them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been with someone who had just lost a job or they were freaking out about something or they were depressed and they would apologize for not being fun to be around. When someone apologizes for struggling and being human, don’t let them apologize. Honestly, don’t say “it’s okay” or “I forgive you”; the people that I feel safest with in this regard are the ones who say “don’t be sorry” because I know that they don’t just tolerate when I’m struggling. They love me even when I am far from lovely. I’m not talking about the emotion love; I’m talking about the action love.

James 1:19 tells us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” This passage focuses on avoiding evil by actually doing what the word of God says, and if you want to look more into that I highly recommend that you do – it’s James 1:19-27. When we take a closer look at why we word vomit on those who are hurting, we find that oftentimes it’s because we feel uncomfortable, so we selfishly fill the silence to make ourselves feel less uncomfortable. It’s not for the other person; it’s for us, and sure that’s not nearly as obvious as the selfishness of someone who has a plethora of riches and is unwilling to share it with the less fortunate, but it is self-serving all the same. When we are so focused on our personal comfort in difficult situations where we don’t know what to do we miss opportunities to show others that they are valued and loved. We miss opportunities to listen to those who feel like no one cares to actually listen.

Honestly, the best thing I can encourage you to do is to look into this concept for yourself. The book of James is a great place to start if you want a biblical view of how to show others you care about them. The main thing to get from James is that we need to be doers of the word, because when your life is changed by the grace of Christ, you are going to do things differently; it’s just human nature. When something life-changing happens, be it coming to Christ or having a baby, we act differently. One of the best ways you can be a doer of the word is by being slow to speak and quick to listen when you are with someone who is hurting. Please don’t say to me “it’s going to be okay.” Please do sit with me, listen to me, cry with me, compassionately take my hurt and burden to Jesus in prayer. Please do any or all of those things in place of awkwardly saying to me, “stop freaking out. You’re going to be okay.” Doing those things shows that you love both Jesus and the person you are comforting much more clearly than simply saying to them “it’s going to be okay”.