Lessons from Abraham: God desires relationship, not legalism

Lately I’ve been in a place where I’m just desiring to hear from the Lord. But to be honest, I’ve been getting stuck in a religious, legalistic mindset. Have you ever been there? Have you ever been in the place where you’re trying to do everything just right to earn the grace of God? It’s a dangerous place to be in because it takes us away from focusing on loving the Lord and growing in relationship with him. Instead we end up in a place where we fear punishment or fear that He will withhold His love from us if we mess up or don’t do everything exactly right every single time. And that’s just not true.

 Legalism takes us from a place of trusting in God to trusting in our own goodness.

When I was praying and asking the Lord how I should use my personal Bible study time more effectively he spoke two things to me. 1. Journal while you go, and 2. Study the men and women of God who had deep, personal relationships with Me. Considering this, I felt compelled to start with Abraham, the friend of God.

Side note: If you don’t already journal while you read, I DEFINITELY recommend it. I’ve only been doing it for about a week, but I already feel like the Word is more real to me and that I’m better able to make connections between topics. Better yet, it forces me to ask myself, how does this part of the Bible speak into my life today.

Anyways. Abraham, as it turns out, is an excellent example of God using all things for the good of those who love him and an example of a man who continually walked with the Lord. Just in the story of the destruction of Sodom it is overwhelmingly clear that the Lord can only help us as much as we are willing to walk with him. Let’s take a look.

The thing is, the story of Sodom, as it relates to Abraham really begins a few chapters before God destroys the city. In Genesis chapter 18 the Lord and two angels visit Abraham to tell him that he will have a son. When the guests leave, Abraham follows. Now, my study Bible explains that this was a custom at the time and a way to show special honor to a guest. According to bible-history.com, the host would travel with the guest until the guest urged him to go back to his home. It also suggests that this may have lasted an hour or more. There is no way to know how far Abraham walked with God, but the action showed his honor for and his commitment to the Lord.

I think we’ve all been in a place like this. We feel the Lord calling us to spend time with him, so we give him 15 minutes, or 30 minutes, maybe an hour. But how many times do we stay with the Lord until he releases us to go back to the other things we need to do? And I’m not saying this necessarily means that we need to dedicate every waking hour to prayer each day (though I’m sure the Lord would love spending that much time with us!) I’m saying we need to walk with the Lord and when we dedicate time to him, we need to patiently wait for him to speak everything to us that he wishes to speak. Let’s read on.

After walking for a while, the Lord says in verses 17 and 18, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?”  He goes on to tell Abraham of what he plans to do to Sodom if it is judged to be evil. You can bet the Lord would not have told Abraham this if he had not gone with him! The benefit of walking continually with the Lord is that it gives him the opportunity to speak to you. If you fail to show him the honor of continually walking with him, he can’t commune with you.

And this isn’t legalism, this is just fact. Imagine if you hung out with someone you wanted to get to know, but you only hung out with them for a few minutes a day. You wouldn’t be able to get to know the way they think! You wouldn’t be able to build the kind of trust it takes to have open, honest conversations about your plans and desires.

So after the Lord tells Abraham what he plans to do, Abraham responds by asking the Lord to save the city for the sake of the righteous people in it, even if there are only 10 of them. The Lord agrees and departs from Abraham. Then and only then does Abraham return home.

In the following chapter we see the angles of the Lord being welcomed into Lot’s home. While Lot acted evilly and offered his daughters to the angry men who came to try to attack the angels, the angels of the Lord still warned Lot to leave with his family so they would escape destruction. Genesis 19:29 reads: “Thus it came about, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.” Abraham’s intercession for the city ultimately appears to have lead to the life of his brother and his daughters being spared, despite Lot’s hesitation to leave and decision to not immediately flee to the mountains as he was instructed. If that doesn’t show the power of intercessory prayer and God’s genuine care for his people, then I don’t know what does. And again, the bottom line is that none of this could have happened if Abraham had not chosen to continue with God until He had spoken all that he desired to share with Abraham.

Now, lest you try to be legalistic with this, Abraham was at this time by no means perfect in his walk with the Lord. Recall in chapter 16 Abraham chooses to try to fulfill God’s promise to him by sleeping with his servant Hagar even though God had promised him a son in chapter 15. In chapter 20 Abraham withholds the truth that Sarah is his wife from Abimelech and almost causes him to sin. In verse 11 we learn that this was because Abraham was afraid Abimelech would kill him because of his wife, even though the Lord had promised that he would make him into a great nation. It’s not that Abraham got it right every single time, but rather because he sought God continually. In fact, you can see a great deal of growth with Abraham. The man who tried to do things his own way in chapters 16 and 20 is the same man who chose to follow the Lord to the point of raising his knife above his only son to sacrifice him to the Lord in chapter 22! Talk about faith!

It may seem like the story of God walking with and talking to Abraham is an impossibility for today’s age, but you have to remember that as a Christian, the Holy Spirit lives on the inside of you (1 Corinthians 6:13). That means you constantly are walking with God, you just have to make your own spirit open to listening to him. Furthermore, the Bible is the direct word of God. Abraham was living at a time when there were no scriptures to provide guidance. We have that advantage, praise the Lord! Learning to hear from God requires us to get to know his character. Abraham did that by walking with him, and we can do that too! But, we can also hear from God by reading the Bible, his true word revealed to us.

So maybe you’re like me and you’re facing a spiritual problem you just don’t know how to overcome. I think the key to growing in spiritual areas is moving away from legalism and learning to hear from God and walk with him a relationship. I urge you, dear friend, seek the Lord’s presence in prayer and in the word. Strive to know him better than you know anyone else. And just like Abraham, when you learn to walk with the Lord, you will trust him with your life. You will trust him enough to be obedient no matter what the world would tell you. And that? That’s a real relationship.

I pray you reach a greater understanding of the Lord today as you seek his presence!

Abigail

Where do you find encouragement?

At the ladies conference this weekend I was blessed to be prayed over by our visiting speaker Nancy Burpee. At the close of the sermon she offered to pray for anyone who had a need in their body or just needed encouragement. I sat in the pew for a while, wrestling with whether or not I needed prayer. I wanted to be firm in my belief that I was handling it, that my own prayer and time with God would be my sustenance, but given the invitation, I decided that I wanted another person to join with me.

Before I decided to pray I closed my eyes and called out to God saying, “Lord, I need to know I’m on the right path. I need to know you’re pleased with me and that you are working for me.” When I confessed that I knew God’s truth about what I was dealing with but that I wanted prayer for encouragement to continue believing that God will come through for me, Nancy  prayed that I know that he is pleased with me and that I am walking in the way he has for me. Little did she know how powerful and encouraging those few words were.

There’s something powerful about spending time with our brothers and sisters in Christ in prayer or in fellowship. Proverbs says that a timely word is like apples of gold (25:11) and a kind word is like honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (16:24).

Yes, there’s definitely something to spending time with our Godly friends! There’s something about hanging out with people who understand where you’re coming from, who understand why you do what you do, and why you love the Lord. There’s something to having friends who will keep you focused on who you are in Christ rather than who the devil tries to tell you that you are.

In fact, I think that many times when we are discouraged it may be because we’re venting to the wrong people. The Bible tells us not to be unequally yolked to unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14), and that doesn’t just apply to dating and marriage relationships! And more so than just discourage you, it can also discourage them. In fact, there are several health and unhealthy ways we can deal with difficult events or situations.

Sharing our hearts with everyone is unhealthy.

Proverbs says “Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit.” (25:28) and “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” (29:11) When we give ourselves over to our emotions we become easily trampled, not only by the trials of the world, but the attitudes of the world. Without the Lord as our defense, we are open to any attack of the enemy or un-biblical teaching that comes our way.Think about how many kings in the Bible were lead astray because they listened to someone else over the word of God (Ahab, Rehoboam, Saul).

It may be temping to run to our friends and family when something goes wrong, but this can lead to unhealthy feelings and words that do not reflect the promises God has made us. By reacting in the moment we open ourselves up to unleashing hurtful words. We make ourselves vulnerable to people who can truly never fill the place God was meant to fill.

Never once does God tell us to vent to other people or look to them to be a source of Joy. The word says that the spirit gives us love, joy, and peace. The kingdom of heaven is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. When we vent our frustrations to people, we are forgetting where our peace comes from, our faith in the Lord.

A verse that is on my mind is from Isaiah and it says that God will keep in perfect peace the person who keeps his mind focused on Him, because he trusts in Him (26:3). Above all else, our first reaction to trouble must be to turn to God. We must pray without ceasing, and cast our cares on him. Anything else will never be enough and will only set us up for disappointment.

Putting our burdens on non-Christians can cause them to see a distorted version of the Gospel.

Imagine someone who always seems like they are going through a tragedy, or someone who will suddenly unleash all of their burdens on you. You can probably imagine someone who fits this description. You’ve probably been in that person at one time or another. Acting like this wrongly represents what it is to be a Christian. When we speak out rashly because we are upset or discouraged, we are projecting the imagine that Christians are just as defeated as the rest of the world. And what will the unbeliever do? They certainly won’t remind you of who you are in Christ, or to cast your cares on Him.

Paul writes, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” (Colossians 4:5). To clarify, he goes on to talk about knowing how to respond to others when sharing the gospel. However, I do not think it’s a stretch to apply this admonition to our every day encounters with people. Surely by taking the time to groan, gripe, whine, or complain we are not making the most of every opportunity! Instead, we ought to have our speech be edifying to the Lord at all times, regardless of the situation.

Fellowship with Christians is a commandment and encourages walking uprightly

Now, once we’ve declared the word of God over our life, that is when we can consider sharing our heart with another person. And not just any person, but a fellow believer who will encourage us. When we share our hearts with a close believer, perhaps a spouse, a pastor, or a close friend, they can encourage us in who we are in Christ. Paul urges us to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Later, Galatians 6:2 says “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

The benefit of speaking to another Christian about what is going on in your life is to be reminded of what the word says and to be encouraged when you are growing weary. Furthermore, fellowship with believers will give you the opportunity to be corrected if any of your attitudes or actions do not line up with God’s word.

So when looking for breakthrough in a certain area, or seeking peace in the midst of a trial, this is the main thing to think about: Is this interaction going to encourage me to trust in God more, or is it going to draw me away from Him? If you are about to vent your heart out to your roommate or co-worker, or parent, you may find yourself speaking lies about the situation, confessing that God isn’t in control. But, if you are seeking the Bible for direction or encouragement, or you are seeking advice from a friend who is more spiritually mature than you, you will find yourself being filled with life-giving words and verses to support your petitions to God.

Friends, I’m not an expert in walking this out, but I promise that as you begin to cast ALL your cares on the Lord, because he cares for you, you will come to have greater faith in his promises and experience greater peace and joy in your life.

Today I’m praying that you learn to guard your heart and in everything, turn to the one who knows you best.

Abigail

At all times, in every situation, STAND

This weekend we had a ladies conference at the church I attend while I’m at college. All I can say is thank you GOD for putting it on these ladies hearts to organize this conference! It was such a blessing to me in the midst of a hectic week. The theme? STAND.

Sister Nancy Burpee gave a sermon on how we can stand firm against the devil by standing on the word of God and adjusting our attitudes. It’s funny how you can know the Word by heart but forget how easily it all connects and how necessary it is to keep every part of your spiritual life in check.

As the sermon opened I found myself thinking, “God? I do stand on your word, don’t I? I read and study the Bible, I pray to you, I believe what you say. God, I watch my thoughts and my words.” And I felt God say, yes, but do you do it all the time?

At first it felt harsh, and I’ll admit, I felt frustrated. My week had drained me. So I replied, “God, my week was hard. It’s hard to guard myself all the time.” And he said, “That’s what you need to do.”

The word I received that day wasn’t new to me. When I was first understanding the power of God and becoming dedicated to seeing it unfold in my own life, I tackled gaining control of my own mind first. Day after day I made the conscious decision not to allow negative thoughts into my mind. Sometimes multiple times a day I would have to reclaim my mind and command the negative thoughts to go in the name of Jesus. And you know how I made progress and achieved complete victory? By rejecting every thought every single time. By forgetting my flesh and how I felt and turning to God every single time.

The Bible says this about obeying the Lord:

“But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” – James 1:25

What I came to realize over the weekend is that I have to treat every area of my life like I treated my own mental health. See, I looked intently at God’s perfect law. I saw the promise he made to be my peace. And I determined that if God’s will for me was peace, I wasn’t willing to accept anything less.

Friends, it’s time we take this attitude toward everything in our life and shut down every lie the enemy tries to speak into our situation. If you look at the Bible, you know it’s God’s will for you to be healed, to prosper, to gain wisdom! But we need to focus on knowing this ALL the time.

The verse above talks about abiding in the law and not becoming a “forgetful hearer” but instead becoming an “effectual doer.” When we think that healing isn’t for us, or when we reject our time in prayer in favor of something else, we are forgetting the covenant we are in with God. And what does the verse go on to say? The doer is blessed.

When we haven’t rooted God’s truth in our hearts, it’s easy to become a forgetful hearer. That’s the importance of staying focused.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

Whatever trial you’re going through, whether it’s in your finances or in your health, this is the kind of trial to which Paul is referring. And the only way to achieve the perfect faith Paul goes on to describe is to never allow ourselves to forget our covenant with God. Even for a minute. Like anything, faith increases with practice. The more you lean on God in every moment, under every situation, the more you will be able to exercise your faith.

You’ve heard the example of a marathon runner. You can’t expect to not train, or to only train when you feel like it, and go out and run a marathon! You also can’t expect to not diet and exercise and still lose weight. It’s the same way with our spiritual lives.

I was doing a reading for one of my college classes about Japanese historical views on the West and one quote jumped out at me. “Don’t trust the enemy not to come, trust your army to be ready when he comes.” This should be the way we approach our spiritual lives. The Bible says we will have trials, weapons will be forged against us. But our Lord Jesus said “Do not be afraid for I have overcome the world.”

By staying dedicating to the things of God, by guarding our mouths and minds, by daily taking time to love on God and fellowship with him through prayer, praise, and the reading of the word, we will be well prepared to declare the word of God and see it manifest in your life.

Nancy put it gently by asking us, “Are you shining brighter than last year? Than last month? Are you shining brighter than yesterday? If not, that’s okay! Now is the time to start.” So today, dedicate yourself to shining brighter, to filling yourself up with God’s word, and not only will you see the difference, but so will the world.

May the Lord bless you as you increase your dedication!

Abigail

4 Reasons I’m not impressed by “Broken Together” by Casting Crowns

“Broken Together” is one of the most popular songs on Casting Crown’s 2015 album “Thrive.” Even in an album ranking medium to low among popular critics, this song has become a stand out. Critics have even called it the best song on the album. And it shows. The song’s popularity made it the 11th most popular song in Christian Airplay in April. My local radio station is still known to play at least once an hour, much to my dismay.

Please believe me when I say that my intent with this blog is not to be a music critic. However. My intent with this blog is to explain the biblical truths that I have been learning, and lately, that’s lead to a lot of reflecting on contemporary Christian music.

As a young person considering marriage, “Broken Together” is important to me, even though I disagree with its message. The first few times I heard it on the radio I caught myself singing along with it, harmonizing where appropriate (Don’t judge my taste. Remember, I’m not a critic). I initially felt somewhat uneasy, but without any solid grasp of what the song was saying, I continued–until I started analyzing the lyrics.

Lets take a look: Read More

What hope is an anchor for our soul?: Understanding what “this” is

One of the verses I hear a lot of Christians quote is from Romans 6. “This hope is an anchor for my soul.” It’s an especially common post for DIY projects or inspirational posters (like the featured image above). I have friends who will quote this verse with a smile and a deep breath. Friends whose eyes seem to be constantly pushing against some inner pain.

THIS hope is an anchor for my soul.

Wait. What hope? What is this?

This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the church of my best friend, David, and the pastor discussed not only this verse, but the verses around it and the concept’s connection to other verses in God’s Word. I try not to get on too much of a soap box about “cherry picking” verses in the Bible, because I think it’s totally possible that one verse can be used to speak to us, but in this case, it is CRAZY important to know what Paul is talking about when he says “THIS” hope is an anchor for my soul.

See, I think the problem is that people who quote this verse are forgetting the word “THIS” in the verse. Without “this” the verse just reads “hope is an anchor for my soul.” And now we sound like we’re really desperate voters hanging on to 2008 campaign posters… Read More

Young adults feel left out, but the real issue is hurting the entire church

When I came back to my home church for a few weeks over winter break of my sophomore and the changes in my church hit me all too hard. The small, tight knit church I grew up in was growing. A new worship leader had started working there, and the congregation was just really beginning to settle in under the leadership of their pastor, a year and a half after he started, and new youth pastor. I guess I never thought that it would feel any different to go back. I had known several people in the church from the time I was born, people who would always say hi and ask what was going on in my life. And when you make those kinds of connections, you hope and expect that they last a lifetime.

At first I remember being really encouraged, as our pastor welcomed all of the college students back by name and gave us a hug and said “love ya!” But as time went on, that seemed to be where the welcome stopped. There were new families who would give me a short smile and maybe a “hi, how are you?” There were older couples that would give me a hug, and then we’d awkwardly part ways. After every exchange I was left thinking: What happened? It’s easy to look at situations like this and ask what the church needs to be doing for you. And while maybe a bit selfish, it’s a good question! A friend of mine recently said that he thinks young adults are appreciated, but not understood by the churches they’re in. And maybe a part of that is because the average young adult becomes so far removed from other groups of church life.

As a kid, there are kids ministries and events. As an adult, retreats and small groups focused on family life. But for whatever reason, young adults don’t have as many resources and often feel disconnected from the people that they are supposed to be growing with together. And let’s face it, it’s hard to express your appreciation for someone you don’t understand. It’s even harder to feel appreciated by someone who doesn’t understand you. Allow me to pitch what I think is happening. Once we leave high school, and consequently the youth group at our respective churches, we are suddenly a part of one group developmentally, and a different group in the church. We go from kids, to adults. We face adult-like problems, like jobs, relationships, and career decisions, but we still have the same desires as youth, to have fun, to be active, to converse and learn, to have our questions answered. We’re not fully kids, because we are facing issues those under 18 usually don’t have to pay much attention. And we’re not fully adults. We think differently, we aren’t concerned with developing our marriage or our kids because, well, we just don’t have them yet. There’s a place for learning about those things and preparing for them, but there are also issues we consider more pressing and less abstract.

So how do we resolve this? It’s easy to tell churches what they can do. More small groups for young adults, more activities for them, maybe throw some money at a pizza night and call it good. Ultimately, these solutions aren’t going to happen unless members of the church show genuine care and concern for the spiritual needs of young adults. Small groups can help, fun outings might help facilitate relationships among people of the same age, but these solutions can only help us on a macro level. The toughest thing about young adult ministry is that we’re all going through different situations. Some of us are in college, others aren’t. Some want to get married soon, others cringe at the thought. Some are paying their own bills, living on their own, others won’t have to worry about that for a few more years. Individual situations means a group solution won’t give young adults the guidance and fellowship they are looking for.

The best thing that can be done to improve the relationship between young adults and their churches, is communication. Church members: Take the time to talk to young adults about what’s going on in their lives. Church Leadership: Take the time to talk to young adults about what they’re believing God for or could use Biblical direction on. Young Adults: Talk to the church. Talk to the leaders, the church congregation. You know by now that to get anything out of a situation, you have to put something into it, so before you go pointing fingers, ask yourself “Am I making an effort to build a connection with my church?”

Of course, let’s be honest. The issue of a lack of communication isn’t isolated to the relationship between young adults and the rest of the congregation; it’s a necessary part of keeping everyone in the church unified. And if there’s an issue in communicating with and establishing a relationship with young adults, there’s probably an issue of communicating and establishing a relationship between church members in general. Read More

What For King and Country’s success at the KLOVE Fan Awards really reveals about Christians today

I’ll be brutally honest. If For King and Country represents Christian music preferences today, then we’re all in trouble.

Last night For King and Country won not one, not two, but three KLOVE fan awards. For those of you who don’t know, KLOVE is one of the biggest Christian radio stations with almost 2 million likes on Facebook and hundreds of stations across the country. The KLOVE Fan Awards are only three years old, but they have quickly increased in popularity and are voted on by thousands of people across the globe.

According to their website: “The K-LOVE Fan Awards mission is to ‘create a fan experience that celebrates and promotes artists, athletes, authors and entertainers, who, with excellence, engage and impact popular culture for Jesus Christ.'”

Okay, I’m all for celebrating Christians who impact popular culture for Jesus Christ. But what does that really mean? We know that as Christians we aren’t supposed to be living as the world lives. We are to be living free of fear, anxiety, worry, depression, and disease. As Christians, Jesus has already bought our freedom not only from sin but also from sickness and any attack of the enemy. KLOVE itself boasts that is “positive and encouraging.” With Jesus, we know there is so much to be encouraged about! We are free! We display the fruit of the spirit! We have love and joy and peace! God is our ever present help in times of trouble!

So, shouldn’t that be the music we’re promoting?

For King and Country brought home awards for best live show, best group/duo, and artist of the year. Pretty handsome pickings. In fact, the group won every category they were nominated for, except song of the year.

I listened to For King and Country a lot the summer after my freshman year, and I still really like a few of their songs (namely “Fix My Eyes”). But during my sophomore year I began to realize that most of their lyrics are just really depressing. Here are a few examples:

Sunset stole the light
That colored in your eyes
And everything in sight
Was lost in silhouette
You’re lost in silhouette – Light it Up

We’ve prayed the prayer with no reply
Words float off into the night
Couldn’t cut our doubt with the sharpest knife
Oh, oh God forgive us – Oh God Forgive Us

Kinda self-explanatory. Everything is lost, it’s dark, it’s hard. We’re doubting you God. Where are you, God?

Not only are the lyrics depressing, often times they are completely un-Biblical.

What do you do when you don’t get better
Strong arms get too, get too weak to hold her
Oh God, give me just enough strength to make it through – Without You

EXCEPT that God is able to do “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.” (Ephesians 3:20) The power that works in us is the power of Jesus, given to us through the Holy Spirit. Additionally, Jesus admonished the disciples in John 16, saying they had not received because they had not asked, but they will receive if they do ask for anything in His name. So if God can do more than we can think, and we can have whatever we ask for, why would we ask for “just enough strength”?

When confusion’s my companion
And despair holds me for ransom
I will feel no fear
I know that You are near – Shoulders

Okay, props to the second half, very Psalms 23, 91. But the first part? Why is confusion your companion? God is not “a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). In His presence there is fullness of joy and at his right hands pleasure forevermore (Psalms 16:11). So when we walk with God, how can confusion be our companion? Confusion never yields joy or pleasure, that’s for sure.

Furthermore, it’s difficult to tell at times whether they’re singing about God or a girlfriend. I think some of their songs are specifically about a girlfriend, but still, not a good sign. I won’t get into it, but check out “Steady,” “This is Love,” and “People Change.”

But okay, For King and Country isn’t all bad, I think I need to clarify that. I’m a lyrics person, I’ve always been a lyrics person, so when I sing a song, I analyze the lyrics and what they mean to me. In the song “Shoulders”, which I criticized above, the chorus is actually really well written–encouraging in a Biblical way:

My help comes from You

You’re right here, pulling me through
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders
Your shoulders
My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue
I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders
Your shoulders

Great! Because yes, Jesus died for our sins, he was beaten for our sickness, his death bought our freedom.

When I look at all that I’ve written above, it makes my heart hurt. The fact that these songs, while some of them DO have positive Biblical messages, start off with lines that sound more depressing than some secular music, points to a bigger problem. It points to the wrong attitudes that Christians have today. It points to the way Christians don’t know the power in the name of Jesus or the freedom which it brings.

As I said, I love lyrics, and for people like me who also love lyrics (I’m assuming this is at least half the population), I like songs best that I can relate to, that speak into my life and understand where I’m coming from. When I liked this band a lot, and trust me, I DID really like this band just two years ago, I was relating to those depressing lines. I was caught into the song by the words that described all of the pain and brokenness I was feeling as a result of the decisions I was making or failing to make. And honestly, instead of directing me to God, these songs were mostly just “feel good” songs. They made me feel like everything was okay because God was accepting me as I was, but, I’m sorry Christians, we’re called to be more than that.

“Be holy as I am holy,” Jesus told his followers. You can try to justify that any way you want, but the fact is, Jesus said it! As followers of Christ, we are supposed to be Christ imitators. We are to continually be seeking to be more like him. Change in our lives can only happen when we learn who are in Christ and actively accept and apply that knowledge to our day to day lives.

But instead of doing this, modern day Christians are caught up by songs like the ones listed above. They are caught up by songs that relate to their struggles and their pain rather than their freedom. Imagine if instead of listening to songs that make us feel like it’s okay and normal to be lost and feel helpless we listened to songs that celebrated our freedom in Christ and declared his love and mercies over our lives.

Proverbs says that the power of life and death is in the tongue, and those that love it will eat of its fruits. Many contemporary Christian songs have words that when sung out loud declare our hopelessness and our struggles more than they declare anything else. As we sing these songs, we are declare that we feel this way. Instead of declaring that we are saved, we are free, we are at peace, we have the mind of Christ, we are declaring that we are hurting, and lost, and broken. God doesn’t want his people to be broken!

Do you believe that? Or would you rather sing funeral songs about your trials and tribulations?

See, this is why the fact that For King and Country won so many awards worries me. I know that their songs have helped a lot of people get through dark moments, myself included. But for me, their music never gave me freedom, it just made me feel temporarily understood. If hundreds of thousands of people are voting for For King and Country’s music, then it’s safe to say that just as many people are relating to the songs they write. Hundreds of thousands of people are relating directly to the depressed and hopeless state they describe in their lyrics.

And if that many people are relating more to a life of distress than to a life of freedom, then far too many Christians today aren’t living in the new life Christ bought for them on the cross. And given all he went through and all the promises he made to us, that is a heartbreaking reality.

Let’s pray for Christians across the world to truly find and understand their freedom in Christ today.

Be blessed today, dear friends. And rejoice in the Lord always!

Abigail

Weeds of the Flesh Part 3: The joy of obedience

Joy.

The word is really familiar in my life. My name, Abigail, means “source of joy.” My cousins Alyssa and Emily both have the middle name Joy, as well as Emily’s mother, Debbie. Not sure how the theme of “joy” got into our family names, but I love it! And I hope to pass on the name Joy to my daughter(s) (Lord willing!) in some way as well.

In my Bible study of the word Joy I found out that the first time the Lord uses the word joy is as a promise. Any guesses where? It’s actually way back in the book of Deuteronomy!

“For seven days you are to celebrate in the presence of the LORD your God at the place where the LORD will choose; for the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in everything you do, and your joy will be complete.” – Deuteronomy 16:15

In this passage, the Lord is commanding the Israelites concerning the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles was a time of worship for the Jewish people when they met in the land the Lord chose for them. Then, in response to their obedience, He will bless them completely and their Joy will be complete.

The feast occurs 5 days after the Day of Atonement, which is the day where the high priest made sacrifices to the Lord for the sins of the Hebrew people. Naturally, there is a lot to give thanks for when you’ve just been absolved of all your sins from the past year!

It’s important to remember that God doesn’t need us to do anything for him. Everything we think we do for him, really has an amazing effect on our own life.

So when God commanded the Jewish people to worship him, he did so knowing that it would give them joy. In taking the time away from their own lives, their own harvests, wars, familial problems, whatever, they were taking the focus off of themselves and giving it to God. Worship is an attitude of surrendering our mind to

In Nehemiah the people of Israel were rediscovering the Law. They had not been following it for some time and did not know what they were to do to honor the Lord. As they were being told, they wept because they knew they had not been following the instructions of the Lord.

“Then [Ezra] said to them, ‘Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.'” Nehemiah 8:10

The feast they were to be celebrating? Easy. The Feast of the Tabernacle, the feast that God promised would result in blessings and fullness of joy.

I know there are a lot of more detailed theological explanations of the Feast of the Tabernacle, but I just want to focus on the connection between this feast and our joy. The people of Israel were commanded to live in tents during this time. They were to be reminded of all that God had done for them and give praise and worship to Him for that! Then the Lord gives Joy to the people, which brings also with it strength.

As Christians there are so many rules we are told to follow, different acts that will, if done correctly, give us a “good” relationship with God. There’s tithing, praying every day, giving, serving, ministering, reading the Bible… And all these things are definitely necessary! But in the Feast of the Tabernacle I see that joy comes from praise. It comes from separating ourselves from all the demands of life and really reaching out the Lord beyond what is required. The Lord commanded them to give sacrifices beyond what they had already vowed, additional acts of worship.

When we neglect to worship the Lord, we are failing in an important area: obedience.

The Israelites were grieved by their actions against the Lord by not following his commands. They were grieved not only because they were not entering into a time of worship, which would fill their spirits and give them joy but also because they were not obeying the Lord.

Jesus emphasized the importance of obedience in receiving joy.

If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” John 15:10-11

So the key to having joy is to be obedient. To love as the Father loves, to abide in him and keep His commandments. Accuse me of oversimplifying, but I know that I’ve found the most joy in my life when I am doing what I am called to do and being who God has called me to be: His Child.

There’s a reason when you’re being disobedient that you feel that nagging voice inside telling you that you’re wrong. I felt it a lot as a child when I disobeyed my parents. That voice keeps me from cheating on tests when I don’t know the answer, it keeps me from going places where I could be pressured to participate in illegal activities. But it’s not just a moral obligation to obey God.

The command to Abide with the Father requires a lasting commitment, a continuous walk. Disobedience inhibits that walk and makes our relationship with the Lord more a matter of convenience than commitment.

I’ve been struggling with what I want to do with my life for the past 6-9 months or so since realizing that my desired career path would take me away from the good things God has for me and has designed me to be. Realizing that gave me great joy because I knew I was within God’s will and I was abiding with Him.

In the Feast of the Tabernacle, the Israelites were required to conduct the feast where the Lord told them, requiring them to know the voice of the lord and obey it.

Realizing that my life is not my own but is God working through me has helped me understand how to have joy in daily obedience and obedience in the bigger plans I’m making. As I make obeying God more a matter of walking with Him, listening to Him, spending time with Him, I find that I am able to live life with far more joy than I was before. I still have worries I am working on giving to God, but that is just a part of the walk that I’m on.

Today, take some time to pray about where you can be more obedient to God, because “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” It could be in a small way, like being more cautious and kind with your words, or a big way like reorganizing how you view your life. Pray that you are abiding in God continually, constantly seeking to be more like Him through Christ. And pray that out of this obedience you will receive the fruit of abundant joy.

Blessings, my friends!

Abigail

Weeds of the Flesh Part 2: Love never fails

Now that I’ve established that self-control is necessary to establish the dedication needed to keep your spirit free of weeds (read “Weeds of the Flesh: Dedicating yourself to the fruits of the spirit” here), we can really get started.

One of the most heartbreaking things in the news right now are the demonstrations, riots, and shootings gong on in our nation’s cities. College students are some of the most affected. Passionate for justice and for each other, they avidly share posts and articles, tweeting #BlackLivesMatter and #PrayforBaltimore. I’ve never seen my college community as shaken by an issue as they have by the recent shootings in Ferguson, Baltimore, and NYC.

While I could never in a million years justify someone’s death, I feel for the police officers involved. Heavy racial tensions have assisted in developing a mistrust of police officers all over the country, and people are quick to attack the very people who should be keeping us safe. I feel for all the people who have been affected by this situation and by discrimination.

Riots have started before the justice system is allowed to do their job. Businesses have been looted and set on fire. And honestly, it hurts so much to look at that sometimes I just want to say “I’m done. I can’t care about people anymore. They destroy each other and themselves, and it is too much effort.”

But the fruit of the spirit is: Love

Well then. Right off the bat I’m convicted. Paul doesn’t waste any time setting the standard for what the fruit of our relationship with God should look like! And the Bible is FULL of references to love, especially in the New Testament. The most famous of these probably is the love chapter:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Clearly, love overlaps with a lot of the other fruit of the spirit. So if love is patient, the opposite of love is impatience. It is selfishness, wrath, mistrust–so many of the qualities that I’ve seen in the news, in my peers, and admittedly, in myself following these situations.

I’ll only speak for myself (it’s not right for me to assume what other people are thinking and feeling in these times) but the two things that God’s been showing me choke my ability to love are pride and apathy.

Pride says I’m right and you’re wrong. Pride says I know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Pride assumes authority and diminishes the importance of others. Pride has caused me to attack the integrity of people involved in these protests and it’s caused me to harbor anger in my heart. It’s as though I’ve made a checklist saying, I can be mad at this group of people because they’ve done x, y, and z.

Pride is often what can keep believers from loving one another. As I said before, pride was a big issue for me last year and kept me from being able to genuinely love the people who I now realize were most important to me. As I prayed that God root pride out of me, I felt love increasing. I became less concerned with how I looked and more concerned about how others felt when I was around. I dedicated myself to serving more and asking less. Listening more, and talking less. As I have done this, I have been humbled to have opportunities to act in service and in leadership and to learn so much about God and myself. As I remove pride, I love people more and more and am blessed with the benefits of positive, healthy relationships.

Apathy. That’s an interesting word to say is the opposite of love. I was once told that the opposite of love cannot be hate because to hate someone means that you still care about them, just not in a positive way. Love is taking genuine concern with another person and their life as a whole, physically and spiritually. Apathy is the opposite; it is dismissing concern for another individual and disregarding what is best for them.

That makes me eat my words. “I can’t care about these people anymore.” I know I never meant them fully, but if I said them, then that idea is in my heart, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. It’s dangerous to be apathetic because we are called to be genuinely concerned for all people.

Jesus said to us: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

So the question becomes, how did Jesus love? Jesus loved by healing the sick. Would you pray for the healing for that person you see on the news cutting the fire hose? Jesus loved by feeding the hungry with the loaves and fishes. Jesus loved by teaching his people to understand righteousness.

John wrote: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

And if God loving the world meant that he gave us His son, then us loving the world means giving Jesus to those around us. It means daily committing ourselves to seeking to understand and apply how Jesus loved through actions, and how we can share the gift of salvation with everyone we meet. My best friend and I have discussed this and have determined that a key part of loving someone is to be willing to share Jesus with them.

But let’s take that a step further.

A key part of loving another person is to not only be willing to share Jesus but to be actively seeking out opportunities to share Jesus in word and in action. If we are not active about this, it shows that we are not following Jesus’s commandment to preach the gospel to all creation.

Let us pray together for the people affected by the recent shootings: community members, police officers, the family of the deceased. Let us pray for our campus communities, our churches, our hometowns and pray that where apathy and pride were once left unattended will grow genuine, Godly love.

Have a blessed day, dear friends,

Abigail

Sorry feminists, mothers are irreplacable

Motherhood, as I understand it, is a full-time job. A career. An incredible, beautiful responsibility.

There are so many definitions and ideas of motherhood today. For young adults my age, kids asserting their independence, motherhood represents dirty diapers, time away from work, cleaning, laundry, giving up your body, giving up your time, giving up life as you know it. Yikes. I can kind of see why women are shying away from this responsibility.

Up until a few months ago, I probably would have agreed. I’ve always wanted kids, but the thought of the mess and the fear of how it would mess up my plans always kept me a step or two away from ever seriously considering what it meant to be a mother.

In fact, I didn’t need to think about it. Modern feminism has taught me that I am not required to do anything. It has taught me that I can (and probably should) do anything a man can do. And my husband, should I get married, can do anything a woman can do (and probably should!). Who could argue with that? Why should women be stereotyped and pigeon-holed? Why should they be pushed into taking on full-time mommy-hood while their husbands get to escape?

I’ve been taught that gender is a spectrum, and I don’t need to fit a certain definition of what a “woman” is.

But what if I want to?

The Bible speaks so highly of women. For all of you who think the Bible is a “bad place for women”, I encourage you to check out the book Fearless Daughters of the Bible, which talks about 22 cases in the Bible where women were elevated and honored. One of my new favorite women of the Bible is well-known to everyone: Mary.

Mary was given the opportunity to carry the baby Jesus! Have you ever actually let that sink in? Her body carried him, protected him, fed him, supported him. He was fully divine, yet fully human, so he needed what every human needs: a mother.

I know several mothers who would talk about motherhood differently. For these seasoned moms it is discipling, it is disciplining. It is both teaching and learning from their kids. It is watching a child learn and grow and find their God-given potential and purpose. It’s a matter of looking at what their children need, and doing what they can to meet that need. It is a lifelong exercise in selflessness that reaps the rewards of sowing into the next generation.

Mary got to be that for Jesus and his siblings! She mothered the savior of the world and many others who would change the lives of everyone they came into contact with.

I won’t pretend to know anything about being a mother, but I do know about my own mother.

I know she played gently with me as a child. I know she disciplined me when I acted selfishly and disobeyed. I know she cried for me as I dealt with issues of self-worth, expression, and faith. I know she prayed fervently through those tears for my deliverance and my return to Christ. I know that I hurt her, and that sometimes she hurt me, but I am who I am today because my mother said “yes” to God, and “yes” to me. Every. Time.

So when I think about what mothers have been in my life and the place of honor God has given women in His plan for families, I cannot help but say: I want that. When it comes down to choosing my own way or choosing God’s way, I know I have to say yes to Him. Every time. And seeing how he has used amazing women of God in my life–seeing how my great-grandmother’s prayers still cover me, how my grandmother continues to shape my parents even in her old age, how my mom encourages me in every situation–I know I want that more than I could want any of the things feminism tries to tempt me with.

Going forward, I’m thankful for my mother, and I am thankful for all the other women in my life who will help me learn to be that kind of mother to my children. Titus 2 puts this responsibility well:

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good,  so that they may[b]encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” – Titus 2:3-5

So in a sense, motherhood is a responsibility to our children, but with that experience comes the responsibility to pass on that experience to other young women.

So, Happy Mothers Day to my mom! Love, joy, and endless thanks to you!

And to all the other mothers in my life, thank you for speaking into my life as well and for leading me to a better understanding of what it truly means to be a mother. Thank you for speaking into the lives of your kids each and every day!

God bless,

Abigail