Archive | February, 2012

He makes all things work together for my “good”

28 Feb

You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it: “He makes all things work together for my good” (Romans 8:28). In fact, I quoted it in my last blog about Colossians 1:17.

When I hear that verse, what comes to my mind is something I think comes to many people’s minds: God is good, he is on my side and he’ll make good things happen to me if I believe in him, such as prosperity, success and happiness. (And I mean, not to start a controversy, but that’s what people like Joel Osteen seem to tell us.) Right?

Wrong.

Romans 8:28 is what I consider to be one of the most commonly quoted (and sometimes misquoted) passages of scripture. It’s kind of a feel-good scripture, isn’t it? And it’s even in a popular worship song that we sing at my church frequently (“Your Name High” by Hillsong). It’s great song and a great message, but only if we understand it the way that it was intended to be perceived. So here’s my attempt at explaining it.

If you read the verse isolated, it’s very difficult to understand what Paul, the author, is telling us. That’s why I want to include part of the following verse (v. 29a). This is from the English Standard Version:

 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.

My first observance when reading this is that the promise of “working all things together for good” is only for those who believe. It’s not for the sinners of the world, but for the sinners who have recognized what Christ did on the cross and become believers, whom I like to call “sinners saved by grace.”

Secondly, this “good” that Paul tells us we are promised is not prosperity. It doesn’t mean that our lives are going to be perfect just because we call ourselves Christians. In fact, life can be even harder because we are Christians.

So then what does he mean?

Well, I absolutely love the Word of God, but it’s true that I am no theologian and I have no biblical degree. I went to college to become a writer, but I can promise you I like to know what I’m writing about. So I did a little research. In fact, I pulled out my dad’s massive ESV Study Bible from under the coffee table and flipped it open to Romans. I found this in the commentary for verse 28:

God weaves everything together for good for his children. The “good” in this context does not refer to earthly comfort but conformity to Christ, closer fellowship with God, bearing good fruit for the kingdom, and final glorification.

This definition of “good” is SO different from what we might naturally think. To me, good things are happiness and wealth. Good things are a new car, the perfect job, a family that gets along, etc. I think that’s a pretty natural way for us to feel. But those aren’t things that necessarily bring God glory or things that are “good” for us when it comes to eternity. Nope! But conformity to Christ and bearing good fruit for the kingdom are things that do bring God glory. Things that are truly good for us as his children, in order to further his purpose.

I’d also like to mention that the commentary for verses 29-30 goes on to explain why we can trust God to work things together for good:

Verses 29-30 explain why those who believe in Christ can be assured that all things work together for good: God has always been doing good for them, starting before creation (the distant past), continuing in their conversion (the recent past), and then onto the day of Christ’s return (the future).

I’m sorry, can I just pause right here and say I LOVE THIS?! God has always been doing good for us and always will. Always! So whenever I am in trouble, whenever I am heartbroken, whenever life is more than I can handle, I can know (because his Word tells me) that he is working ALL THINGS together for good. That’s all things…even the tough stuff. Everything that happens to me, everything in my life…all of it is for my good so that I may become more like Christ. That is extremely comforting and it gives me peace!

Also in my Romans 8:28 research, I found this lovely study by Bob Deffinbaugh called “A Solace in Suffering: The Sovereignty of God” that puts this verse into perspective for when we’re going through difficult times in life. Here’s an excerpt:

Paul turns in verses 28-30 to yet another truth which should sustain the Christian in the midst of the suffering and groanings of this present life—the sovereignty of God. Whatever the Christian sees happening, we may be assured that it is not only under God’s control, but its purpose is to produce what is for God’s glory and for our good. When life’s trials cause some to wonder if God even exists, and others to wonder whether He is in control, the Christian may be assured that God is there. He is in charge of bringing about His purpose for His glory and our good. Let us savor the truth of God’s sovereignty. While His sovereignty brings terror to the hearts of unbelievers, it is music to the Christian’s ears.

I really want to challenge you to consider this passage of scripture the next time you find yourself in a place where life is more than you can handle. Know that God is working all things together for good. For our good! Instead of asking God, “Why is this happening to me?” Try asking him, “How can I become more like Christ through this situation?” It’s a matter of trusting, and it’s also a matter of walking in obedience.

I want to leave you with an example of how Christ himself was obedient to God in times of suffering. Hebrews 5:7-9 tells us that during his earthly life, Christ cried out to his heavenly father to save him from death on the cross. Yet God did not change the course of Jesus’ life; God did not change his destiny. And Jesus was obedient. Oh, and by the way, his obedience is what saves us from our sins today. Please savor that today!

Jen

He holds me together

20 Feb

Our world is filled with hurting people who have lives that are spinning out of control with pain we didn’t ask for or could ever even imagine. And God is making a promise to us, saying, “I am a universe maker and I am a heart former, but I am also big enough to be intimately acquainted with all the circumstances of every one of your lives, and I promise you, no matter what comes in this lifetime, no matter how difficult the road or how dark the night, I will hold onto you and I will literally hold you together.” -Louie Giglio

I have to be honest. Sometimes I think I’ve got it all figured out.

And then something in my life doesn’t go as planned. Nope. In fact, things go the exact opposite of what I wanted. That’s when I get a massive reality check and suddenly realize I haven’t been surrendering my life to God. I’d been trying to do things all on my own. Let me tell you, this experience is humbling.

The truth is that I don’t know a single thing about how the God of the universe works all things together for good (Romans 8:28). What do I mean by that? Well, I understand that good things can come out of a tragic event, but I don’t always get to see the whole story unfold and I definitely don’t always get an answer when I ask, “Why, God?”

But the important thing is that I do know this: In every season, he holds me together. And he holds you together, too.

This is something I learned from a scripture verse that has recently helped me during a difficult time. It’s Colossians 1:17, and it says this:

 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

The first time you read that, you might not really get it. Read it again. Let it sink in. Integrate yourself into that verse: “He is before all things, and in him I am held together.” That means we can trust in God because, first of all, he existed before any of us and he created us. We can also trust in him because he holds ALL things together, meaning that even when our worst nightmares come true, we can know that he will take care of us. He will never forsake us. He will hold us. And he will hold us together. 

Often times when I pray and ask God to help me or someone else, I use the phrase “God, please be with me and/or them.” It was only after a loving friend pointed it out that I realized the silliness of this request. God is always with us. We just need to draw near to him and he will draw near to us (James 4:8)! This gives me SO much security during any storm. All I have to do is draw near and then trust. He will never leave me.

Now here’s the part where things get kinda cool. When I first read Colossians 1:17, I initially thought that it was only referring to the fact that God holds me together in mind and spirit. And he does! But some say it means even more. Watch this video clip of Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta and speaker and founder of the Passion movement. This may be old news to some, but I just learned of it recently. In this clip, Louie talks about Laminin, a protein molecule that literally holds us together. When he first Googled the term, he had no idea what he would find. Check it out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e4zgJXPpI4

Isn’t that amazing? Some say it’s no coincidence that Laminin is shaped like the Cross. And honestly, it should be no surprise to us that it is God who holds us together, even in body. Scripture tells us that he created us and he formed us (Colossians 1:15). He even knew us before we were born and knitted us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139).

While some may argue that it’s just coincidence and that we have no proof of God purposely making this protein in the shape of the Cross, the point is not only that God is powerful enough to have created everything on this earth (including you and me), but also that he cares enough to take care of each of us! No matter what comes our way–the loss of a loved one, a really bad breakup, family drama, physical injury–all we have to do is get on our knees, give our hurt to God and then simply trust. He knows how much our pain hurts and he understands us better than anyone else. He will heal our broken hearts and we will have a story to tell when we’re on the other side of our hard times if we trust him (Please read Psalm 34:18-22 and James 1:2-4!).

As trials come and go in my own life, I have to constantly remind myself that this earth is not my home. And thank God! It is not the end, but it is instead preparing us for eternity in heaven if we give our lives to him. As long as he holds me together–that is, as long as I am on this earth–I will praise him!

If you’re questioning God’s existence or faithfulness in a hard time, just turn to Colossians 1 and any Psalm I have referenced. I pray it would give you the peace that it has given me. During those times when I don’t have all the answers, the best thing I can do is wait, trust and ask the Holy Spirit to fill me with his peace.

Jen

My first love, my identity, my before and after

13 Feb

As I sit here in a dim living room on a cold winter night with one of my favorite Pandora stations playing, I realize we’re just hours away from the most romantic holiday of the year: Valentine’s Day. As I think about this holiday, I notice that some people consider it the perfect occasion to show the ones they love just how much they are loved, while others shrug their shoulders in bitterness and call it “just another Hallmark holiday.”

My original idea for this post was to write an encouraging blog for young women who don’t have a valentine, but honestly, what single girl wants to hear, “it’s okay, maybe you’ll have a valentine next year”? Nope. I certainly don’t. So let me tell you this: you DO have a valentine.

What?

While some of you reading this might think the phrase “Jesus is my valentine” to be tacky, that’s basically what I’m about to tell you, in less child-like terms. So get ready.

I’ll start by pointing out the (to some, not-so) obvious. We should consider Christ to be our first love (guys reading this, this is for you, too) because he gave EVERYTHING so that we could be saved. He rescued us from eternal destruction by dying on the cross. He loved us in a way that no one else could ever even attempt. Ever. While I believe in true love on this earth, I also know that we are to love GOD above everything and everyone else. And he’s the one who holds the characteristics that we should look for in earthly love anyway! Characteristics such as trust and faithfulness (Psalm 40).

One thing I have noticed in observing others, and even in my own life, is that when couples begin to date for long periods of time, they tend to find their identity in the person they are with–the person who loves them. But if we call ourselves Christians, our identity is in Christ alone and how he loves us. (Have I already mentioned that he loves us?) When we put our trust in the One who loves us more than any person ever could, we can be completely secure! Before love–and before Christ–we were just wretched sinners. Because of Christ we are saved and perfectly loved. Check out these examples of how Christ’s love has transformed me and helped me to find my identity (in HIM)  in the process. I hope you will read these before and after’s and begin to see how he has worked in your life, too!

I once was bound, but now I am free.

Before realizing how much my God cares for me, I felt that I had to be a certain way. To look a certain way. Then maybe I would feel a certain way, maybe I would feel happy or pretty or lovable. Just because Hollywood sets an example for how women, and even men sometimes, are supposed to look and act doesn’t mean we have to follow suit. It’s a pretty common insecurity for girls, but many hold onto it for their whole lives and they don’t have to.

Maybe you’re bound by insecurities or maybe you feel bound to a relationship in your life that you shouldn’t be in. Maybe you are even bound by addiction. It doesn’t matter what it is. God is bigger than that thing. Remember in 2 Samuel 11 how David had an affair with Bathsheba and even killed her husband? Later on, the scriptures describe him as “a man after God’s own heart”! He was transformed. He was bound by his sin, but he found freedom in Christ.

I once was worried, but now I have peace.

There have been many times in my life where I have felt the need to plan and control everything I do, especially when it comes to the future. Not knowing where I’ll be working next year or even next week is a scary thought, but trusting God with my post-graduation job hunt has been the biggest burden reliever! I am still actively looking for a job, but I am no longer worrying about how I’ll pay my next bill. He is faithful and he will provide. (Luke 12:22-24 is an example I mentioned in a previous blog, and one worth revisiting.)

I once felt lost, but now I know who I am.

This is the most important before and after of all. Before Christ, I was lost. A sinner headed for an eternity in hell. But now I am a sinner saved by grace! Who I AM is a follower of Christ. Nouns such as “daughter,” “sister,” “friend,” “aunt,” “writer,” and “leader” are just things I DO. They do not define me. I have been found in Christ and HE alone defines me. (John 1:12 tells us we are children of God and Isaiah 43:1 also tells us that we belong to him and he has called us by name!) Everything else is just the icing on the cake and roles I am blessed to be given.

As you think about the ways Christ has transformed you and as you put together your own before and after’s, I hope you realize how much you are truly loved by your creator. It’s better than any Valentine’s Day gift, even a box of chocolates.

I was caged in, then You opened
Every door that held me bound and You gave me the key
No more pressure I can just breathe
The girl I tried so hard to be, has always been me

My strength alone will never be enough
But Your arms keep lifting me up

You tell me I’ve been made free
You give me everything I need to walk in my dreams
You whisper words that free my soul
You’re the reason I have hope
You’re everything I need and more

(Free – Dara MacLean)

By the way, Happy Valentine’s Day.

Jen

When I just don’t feel like loving others.

7 Feb

Today I rediscovered something that I learned the hard way when I was 17 years old and about to graduate high school: first of all, people can be mean. But most important, love and forgive your neighbor, your brother and even your enemies always.

A few weeks before the end of my senior year, I went to a CVS to pick up some makeup. After paying for my items, I went to walk out of the store, but I set off the security alarm. Confused and not sure what to do, as always, I took a few steps back and made sure it was okay for me to proceed. After all, the woman who had just rung me up was still at the cash register and I didn’t think I had any items with security tags on them. To me, it was no big deal.

But this older woman didn’t seem to think the best of the situation like I did. She accused me of stealing and told me that if I didn’t empty my oversized purse, she’d call the manager to come to the front of the store. I told her over and over that I didn’t have anything in my bag, but she continually said to me, “if you don’t just confess now, this will get worse.” Needless to say, it was the most horrible experience of my teenage life. Although I hadn’t stolen anything, I was scared to death that something was going to happen to me! Most of all, I was really upset at this woman for jumping to conclusions and thinking the worst of me, whom she probably saw as some teenage brat trying to steal hair color or something. Anyway, she went through my purse and found nothing, so she let me go. Later that night at home, I discovered that I had a magnetic chip clip in my purse that had set the stupid alarm off.

So why am I sharing this seemingly insignificant anecdote? That night I came home crying and thinking to myself, “why are people SO rude and just plain mean?” I was a naive little high schooler who hadn’t yet discovered how mean the world can be. I, little goody-two-shoes Jen who had never told a lie, would NEVER have stolen anything from anyone, yet this woman thought the absolute worst of me. I just couldn’t fathom it. But then I realized that I myself was judging the woman who had judged me.

You see, she thought I was stealing, so I automatically wrote her off as a cranky, bitter old woman who probably hates kids and teens. She had jumped to conclusions about me, and at the very same time, I jumped to conclusions about her.

I haven’t seen that woman since that day, but today I had an encounter that reminded me of that day. Today at Speedway, I was slowly driving around trying to find an open pump. Once I discovered the only open pump, I had to step on the brakes to allow two pedestrians to walk in front of my car before pulling into the spot. As I waited, a black mustang whipped around from behind me and took the open pump. I didn’t even have a chance to hit the gas once the pedestrians had walked by. He beat me to it. Then, after he pulled into the spot, he didn’t even get out of his car. He sat there, talking on his cell phone. I was pretty ticked, but another spot opened up. However, as I rounded the corner to ease into it, a young woman in her SUV whipped into the Speedway lot from the busy street and stole it right before my eyes. Running on fumes, I decided to give up and risk running out of gas to just get home.

It’s taken me a few hours to really see the whole picture and be able to sit here and write about it. For some reason, this really irritated me more than it should have today. While I didn’t outwardly show my frustration, deep inside I was thinking unkind things about those people, and I certainly wasn’t thinking like a Christian.

You see, we don’t know everyone’s story and we never will. Maybe the man in his Mustang got an emergency phone call after he pulled in to the open pump. Perhaps that woman was rushing to get gas so she could go buy formula for her hungry, crying baby. I don’t know their stories, and I probably never will. But here’s the point: it doesn’t matter. Even if there were no excuses for their behavior, I still have to see them the way Christ does and love them, even though it’s hard.

There are tons of scriptures in the Bible that tell us how much we should love others and put them before ourselves. Philippians 2:4 tells us:

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Another great one is Luke 6:35:

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”

I guess what I’m trying to prove is the importance of not judging others, jumping to conclusions or thinking we’re always in the right. And, even after we are wronged, we must not want to wrong others in return. Instead, it should make us want to show them the love of Christ even more (1 Thessalonians 5:15).

I have to remind myself of this all the time. Even though we all know we’re supposed to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” it really isn’t just some little memory verse from kids church. It really is what we’re supposed to do! Remember that Christ died for your sins and loves you without condition. Don’t you think we have to learn to love and forgive others just as Christ loves and forgives us? (Colossians 3:13)

Our sacrifice is little in comparison to his.

Live it today.

Jen