Not One Night

The world is a broken bone, saturated with death and sadness too deep and terrible to name. Lord, we need you. “Prayers for all involved in tonight’s heartbreaking tragedy.” Not a night will pass where that won’t be applicable, where that won’t receive a bowed head and wet eye in response. Not a night will pass where there will be no voice crying out to their God begging for relief, for forgiveness, for something to hold on to. Not a night will pass where a child won’t wail for a mother who can’t help and a father who is no longer there. Not one night.
But there is hope. Morning is coming. The Son will rise as He said He would. Your heart, so shadowed and heavy with darkness, will at last feel the warmth that sends the demons howling to the depths.

“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” – Romans 13:12

We are promised not one night upon this earth. In a millisecond, what you imagined to be just another night becomes your closing. Eternity awaits, and this simple message of salvation is the one that should be upon our lips every waking moment. It is the only one that matters. With so little time, we have everything and nothing to lose when it comes to sharing God’s love. Take heart, for morning is coming.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Romans 21:4

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The GF Diet

Ten years ago you would be hard-pressed to find someone who claimed to be gluten-free unless you were in the midst of a crunchy granola hippie camp. (“That wheat has some totally bad vibes, man.”) It simply wasn’t a concern for the majority. Food bloggers and Internet “nutritionists” hadn’t picked up on it yet as a diet. Celiac sufferers and others of the gluten-intolerant variety simply had to find their own way and suck it up.

Fast forward to present day and gluten-free is everywhere. Restaurants have gluten-free menus. Store brands carry all sorts of gluten replacements made with nut or rice flour; everything from brownies to pancakes to chicken nuggets. It is uplifted as the new diet, the modern way to lose weight and feel good. The same principle applies to sugar-free, dairy-free, vegan, Paleo, etc. They’re always coming up with alternatives.

One could almost say they’re in the business of it, because they’ve been trying to think of an alternative to God for an awfully long time.

Whether it’s through another belief, a self-help class, spending time with your family, focusing on your career, YOLO-ing your way through life, studying scientific theories, or diving headfirst into your own ribcage because “life is all about YOU being happy”, the world is constantly throwing puzzle pieces at you. “Did that one fix the hole in your heart? What about this one? I swear, this one will fix it.”

No matter how long we sit around a table covered in temporary conveniences and religious building blocks in an attempt to make our own meaning or our own legacy, it will never fill you up. A God-free diet is a failure. The world does not give as the Lord gives. It has no alternative to the peace and love God lavishes on you, and God will never give the same pain or emptiness that the world has in abundance.

That is His promise to you.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

Now, go forth and enjoy your almond-flour cookies.

A New Command I Give You

Let’s not kid ourselves, friends: Everyone has people that they quite plainly and nearly irrevocably do not want to see.

It’s a fact of life that there will be others who rub us the wrong way or get on every nerve possible and some we didn’t know existed. You physically, emotionally, and/or mentally cannot stand them. Simply put, you don’t like them. If you were six years old, they would not be invited to your birthday party.

These people can be anyone. Family members, distant relatives, friends-of-friends, acquaintances, fellow church members, teammates, coworkers, the list goes ever on and on. That wacky cousin. That weird guy at church. That person who you barely know but makes you uncomfortable for reasons you’re not even aware of. The Bible talks consistently on enemies; that we are to love them, and while we may not consider these people to be enemies in the Batman-and-Joker sense, we avoid conversation or interaction with them at all costs. Although we’re running low on Batcaves to hop in when they come near, our aversion tactics are spectacular when it comes to these particular people.

Of course, this is not how God intended us to act. As fun as it would be to blast a hole through the ceiling and escape via helicopter whenever we are imposed upon, Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” A large component I find in my own dislike of certain individuals stems from my pride, believing myself to be better than they are in some mannerism or characteristic. I get snappy, condescending, and brief. While keeping up a facade of politeness, inside I cannot wait to retrieve myself from the situation and get out of Dodge.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34

As the Bible also tells us, love is patient and love is kind, and we are given more than we could ever hold within us through Jesus. There is more than enough to spread around. In some cases, love is a natural action, and in others, it feels like a chore. Regardless of our personal feelings on the matter, love can surpass our pride, anger, irritation, discomfort, dislike, weariness, and weakness.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35

Loving despite of our human failings and petty emotions is a staple of Christianity. It should be how we identify ourselves to the world and each other, although too often it’s the opposite.

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Continue a conversation with someone whose company you don’t enjoy. Treat each other the same. If you are indeed six years old, invite them to your birthday party. If God can love our messed-up sinful disrespectful little selves beyond our comprehension, we can give hugs and shake hands with genuine smiles on our faces.

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” – Romans 13:8

Fashion

Do you ever think to yourself, “Man, I’m glad that Lady Gaga’s meat dress never caught on”? If you haven’t before, you are thinking it now. Can you imagine what would happen? Dogs would be attacking people in the streets, there would always be the smell of rancid flesh in the air, and tasty beef steaks would be wasted.

Yet some of the fashions that have trended over the years are even weirder. Like hoop skirts, for example. What lunkhead thought that a preschooler’s whalebone construction project belonged underneath a skirt? Or corsets. “Let’s make it harder to breath and permanently alter a woman’s bone structure by shoving her into an accordion!” And don’t get me started on high heels.

Thank God those have lost popularity, right? Good riddance, au revoir, and if you please, never come back. But there’s one fashion choice that is dying with shocking swiftness: the armor of God.

Unlike jelly bracelets and ridiculously poofy perms, the loss of this fashion is cause for alarm. The reaction to someone wearing the armor of God nowadays is relatively the same reaction you would get if you wore a green alien zoot suit yelling gibberish out in public: “You need help, what are you doing, and I’m pretty sure you’re on drugs.” Truth, peace, righteousness, faith, and salvation, all things that the armor of God gives you in full, are things that are rejected as the dreams of a madman. To a soul dead in sin, the Word of God is so repulsive you may as well be trying to get a hug while covered in rotting garbage and cacti.

Despite these circumstances, God still fully expects us to put on this fashion choice every day.

“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” – 2 Timothy 4:2

As much as I at times want to put on the spiritual skinny jeans and Converse of teenage popularity, God calls me and everyone else to put on that full armor. We are the underdogs. By the world’s standards, we are the losers. The defeated. The ludicrous. The outnumbered. But I like our chances. As some of my favorite verses say, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8b-9) Whether Christianity is in or out of season is irrelevant: Our mission stays the same. All we can do is continue to spread the Word and love God. God will take care of the rest.

It’s a heck of a trust exercise, that’s for sure. It doesn’t feel like it’s worth the trial and tribulation. I’ve had difficulty talking about my faith lately. My throat closes up and my verbal word bank gets robbed of everything but unintelligible vowel sounds out of fear. There have been moments where all I can think of is the sheer number of teachers, politicians, scientists, philosophers, and average Joes who cast shame and throw shade on the Bible and anyone who believes in it. And I know that I cannot be alone in those thoughts, so to anyone going through the same thing, I say this:

“And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” – Romans 13:11-12

While our fashion choices may draw some interesting glances and judgmental stares, we can be confident in the promises of God that the day is almost here. We don’t have much farther to go. Fight for your faith. Defend it. Share it. Our time is almost over.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” – Ephesians 6:13

Christmas

Ah, Christmastime. When we celebrate the existence of Santa Claus, jingle bells, cutesy songs about snow and presents, and throw parties involving copious amounts of frosted sugar cookies.

The commercialism that has infiltrated the very heart of Christmas (or at least the world’s perception of it) is a horrifying prospect for those who know that there is a much bigger picture to be seen when it comes to this particular holiday. Yet, even with our awareness of the problems plaguing how Christmas is viewed and celebrated, we get caught in it just like any and everybody else. Despite the Bibles on our bookshelves, we feel stressed out and empty around a time intended to commemorate the day our God sent His Son in the form of a baby out of unimaginable love for us.

It’s alarming to feel yourself slipping into it. Noticing with shock that you turned down reading your Bible for wrapping gifts and focused more on Christmas cards than the Christmas history. We pull out the “make time for God” card while still holding onto the short-lasting festivities with a tight fist.

As full and busy as our schedules become during the season, the reality of it all is that God is the only reason we have anything to celebrate at all and that if our days aren’t focused on Jesus, our days are purposeless. The stress that so many people struggle with concerning Christmas is tied to the belief that if the tree’s ornaments break and people don’t like the things you bought for them, you are a meaningless failure.

The blessing that we were given on Christmas 2,000 years ago means that we have a purpose that goes beyond how well received our gifts were. Christmas is one day out of 364 in a year and a moment out of the eternity God offers, but what we’ve been blessed with beyond measure on Christmas is the gift of Jesus and new life.

Even if home isn’t a place you can or want to be in for the holidays, we may be confident that our home in Heaven is well secured by the gift of Jesus.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” – Luke 2:8-11

Leather Jacket Christianity

Rebels, all of them.

What Christians look like on the outside. Would you believe that they’re rebels?

To be a Christian, especially at this moment in history, is an active rebellion against what the world stands for. You’re pretty much some crazy punk with radical ideas standing on a soapbox except minus the blue hair and studded black boots. Every which way you turn, the popular topics of the age (abortion, homosexuality, gender identity, etc.) are uplifted and those who dare to speak out against it are silenced and told to kindly get with the times and stop holding on to their outdated Bibles and leave behind the old-fashioned notions of centuries past. Teachers are forbidden to discuss the idea of a sentient creator or even point out the mistakes and fallacies present in evolution. When children mention God or a Savior there are blaming fingers aimed at the parents for brainwashing.

“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” – Psalm 2:1-3

In short, being a Christian is viewed as a curse.

The oppression of believers ranges anywhere from being attacked and murdered for your faith to nasty looks from people you call friends. Both hurt, just on different levels.

But it’s certainly not anything new.

“Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.” – 1 John 3:13

Can’t say it much plainer than that. John was dipped in a vat of boiling oil because of the faith he had in Jesus, so I’m sure he was no stranger to the hatred against Christians.

Stephen was stoned to death. James was executed by the sword. Peter was crucified upside down. Polycarp was burned at the stake. Hundreds of Christians were brutually killed in the Coliseum for entertainment. Jesus himself was spit on both figuratively and literally by his peers and family before he was crucified. And this doesn’t even begin to enroach on the sobering number of those who have died only recently for their faith. The list goes on and on.

Rebels, every single one of them. Who, instead of denying Christ to save their lives, firmly held fast to their faith and crushed Satan’s head underneath their shoe.

As of right now, the United States enjoys a constantly teetering balance of religious freedom, but who knows if it will stay that way or if we soon will face similar challenges to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and other seriously persecuting areas. Already there is an atmosphere of “Oh my goodness, will these Christians just please be quiet?”

It can be tempting to give up when it comes to sharing your faith or even just acknowledging its existence, especially when the ridicule comes from those we trust and love. The devil is right there, per usual, telling you that giving in is the best possible option, that you are alone, that the pressure upon you is right and you are wrong, that God has left you to deal with the criticism and disgusted looks all by yourself.

And you know what we say to that?

No.

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” – 1 John 4:4

There is no better reward than the one waiting for you in Heaven, so do not set up a tent of popularity on this earth when your true home is yet to come.

PASD (Post-Africa Stress Disorder)

Ever since returning, I’ve been restless at best, downright miserable at worst. I’ve been feeling this tug on my heart, like I’m homesick as I sit in the safety and comfort of my own room. Things that previously interested me seem unimportant and boring. The streets are empty. No one gives me thumbs up as I walk by, not that I’ve done much walking anyway. Everybody shows a shocking amount of skin. Kids look healthy and well-fed. I can talk to people without the fear that I’m viciously murdering their language by mispronouncing “nda” for the forty-sixth time, which is a strange thing to feel homesick about, but I do.

Simply put, I’m missing Africa, or at least what Africa represented. I had a job in Africa, and it was a fairly straightforward one: teach the kids. That was the one thing. That was all I had. When I woke up in the morning, that was my job. Yet in the return process that job number went up. Now, I’m a big sister who does school, practices music, finishes Confirmation homework, memorizes lines for the two plays I’m in, cleans the kitchen, renews library books, etc. All deeply enjoyable things, and I can’t complain about their difficulty because there is none. It’s a wonderful life to be sure.

But it’s not for me. If there’s one thing that Africa has helped me realize, it is that living my life out in the United States is not what God has planned for my life.

What frustrates me is that dropping your life isn’t as easy as it sounds. I’ve already ruled out pulling a Sherlock and faking my death or hiding myself in a suitcase en route to Malawi. Unfortunately, that’d be more likely to get me arrested than start me off on a mission. And, per usual, there’s that pesky Satan, who every darn time you attempt to launch yourself into action decides to be like the blankets in that one Calvin and Hobbes strip.

“You want to leave your comfy life? NICE TRY, SUCKER.”

Popping out of peace, financial security, and cheap pleasure is the path less traveled for a reason: getting on it (and staying on it) isn’t particularly easy. I know for a fact that I will struggle with it for the rest of my life, seeing as I haven’t even gotten on it yet. How does one go about something like this?

My first response is to look at the technical details. The immense cost of traveling, the organizations I would want to affiliate with, finding where my assistance would be most needed, what I can even do in situations I’m unfamiliar with, yadda yadda yadda. But my second response is to look in the Bible and ask God for what he wants me to do. The technicalities are a small fraction of a far bigger picture.

I worry and cry and beat myself over the head with questions and accusations and fear fervently wishing for the things that could be and stressing myself out over what to do, and all the while I’m forgetting that there’s a God by my side and a Bible in my hands that can answer everything.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

I have overcome the world.

Why am I stressing about a battle when the war has been won from the start? Why does my heart tremble in fear of my enemies when they have already been defeated? Why does the world frighten me when my God has overcome it?

Normally at the end of these posts I like to give some kind of closing sentence. A conclusion. An end to the rambling madness that happened above. But you can’t do that when the story isn’t finished. I still don’t know what I’m going to do. God isn’t finished with me and he won’t be until I’m dead. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to make a part two of this post. Something celebratory, even if it’s the minuscule victory of spending my Saturday morning helping people rather than sleeping in.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

Prayer would be much appreciated.