Monday, February 27, 2012

God is Good, All the Time

My Monday posts are stories that I just have to share. Today's is about my amazing God.

You see, my God has done some amazing things in the last couple of days. He has shown His Word to a young girl who decided to put Jesus on in baptism. He has shown His Word and His love through wonderfully capable servants like Dan Winkler and Tom Holland. He has touched hearts and made them turn back to Him. And, as recently as a couple of minutes ago, He's answered my prayers.

I received a call from my sister this morning that my dad had to have emergency surgery to put in five stints because of severe blockages in his heart. That's a scary call to get. My sister said she was going to visit him and that she would let me know immediately after she knew anything else.

When we got off the phone, I knew what I had to do. Not just what I had to do, but what I am oh so privileged to be able to do. Though I was in the car traveling with some people, I was able to pause and pray that my Heavenly Father would take care of my earthly one.

It was not by accident that I titled this post "God is good, all the time". You may be thinking, well of course you say He's good because He answered your prayer. The thing is, God always answers my prayers. Yes, this time it was the answer I wanted, but He always gives me what is best and I am so thankful for that.

My God isn't only good when good things are happening. Yes, great things have been happening all weekend, but that isn't what makes God great. God is good because He loved me and blessed me even when I was a sinner. He loved me enough to send His Son to save me at a time when I was the ugliest. He provides for me when times are hard, comforts me when times are sad, and loves me when others don't, Even in the worst of times in my life, God is there and He is loving me.

While I am beyond thankful to my wonderful Father at this time, I am thankful He's there in the bad times, too. I'm even more thankful that he has provided an eternal home for me that will be free from any pain.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

I missed Friday's free for all, as I was busily preparing for East Hill's Christian Servants Day. And so, now that the day has concluded, I have a bit of free time before bed and I simply must get this post on "paper". Why? Well, Friday was a very special day that I cannot overlook.

Friday was February 24th, and since 2008 that day has been a special one. You see, on February 24th, 2008, I had just finished up my first weekend in Pulaski* with a group of friends and a boy I was very interested in. When we got back to Freed-Hardeman late that Sunday night, we parked in front of Hall Roland and piled out of our friend's Tahoe, unloaded the girls' suitcases, and all said our goodbyes. After reminiscing for a few minutes with my best friend, AP, inside our dorm room**, I decided I just couldn't take it anymore. I had to talk to that boy.

He willingly drove back from his dorm and picked me up in front of HRH, and we drove around the small town of Henderson discussing the weekend and all of the events contained therein. Finally, after much deliberation and conversation, we decided (very matter of fact-ly) that we should just officially label what so many others had been labeling all along: we were 'together'. He was my boyfriend, I was his girlfriend. Once that was settled, he drove me back to HRH, and I skipped up the stairs and into my best friend's room where we giggled and squealed until it was time to go to sleep.

I will always remember February 24th with fond memories. Though mine and Robert's anniversary is on July 8th, the day I became his girlfriend will remain a special day for the rest of my life. February 24th is a day that changed my life completely, and I am so thankful for our last minute, spontaneous drive around Henderson. Without that weekend, and that night in particular, things might not have worked out the way they did. I am so thankful, every single day, that four years ago my best friend decided that we should be more than that.

God has blessed me with many things, but the greatest blessing of my life is Robert. He makes me a better and happier person than I have ever been, and I am looking forward to an eternity with him.

*Technically, my first weekend in Pulaski was in 2006 when I was on Freed-Hardeman's volleyball team and we played Martin Methodist, but I didn't take my picture with any turkeys so it hardly counted.
**Technically, my best friend and I weren't roommates at Freed, but we might as well have been since we were next door neighbors and spent all of our time in each other's rooms. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Bat, a Scream, and a Lesson

On a particularly warm Sunday afternoon toward the end of January, my husband commented that we really needed to take down the wreath on our front door. We'd been talking about it for weeks, but we never seemed to have the right place to store it. So, it continued hanging on the door, the red and green deco mesh reflecting a Christmas that had long-since passed.

That Sunday evening, Robert had an elders-deacons-preachers meeting, so I went home by myself. I walked up to my door as I always do, took my keys from my purse, then unlocked the door. As I turned the deadbolt, I heard a faint rustling. When I dangled my keys free from the door, that was enough. Enough for what, you ask? Enough noise to startle the BAT that was living inside the wreath to emerge from his abode and scare me half to death.

I screamed, but stood still. The shock had nailed my feet to the ground. I watched as the bat flew out of the wreath and into the night sky, no doubt irritated that I'd interrupted him.

Robert called me on his way home and I told him about the incident. He asked me to beat on the door right before he got home, so that the bat wouldn't try to attack him when he came in. I did just as he'd asked, but apparently the bat had turned a bit more territorial this time around and stood his ground as my husband approached. Robert, aware that the bat had set up shop, was looking for the bat as he approached, and seeing the bat still inside the wreath, he came in the back door.

The next morning, I left out of the back door. I did not have any desire to see that bat. I would not even go close to where he was, even though by that time he'd left. We promptly removed the wreath that afternoon, not wanting to house any more bats on our front door.

It's a silly story, but I feel like we can learn a lot from it.

When we let sin hang out on our doorstep, it isn't long before it attacks us. God said to Cain in Genesis 3 that sin was at the door, desiring him. At first, sin can seem harmless. What does it matter if I leave my Christmas wreath up a few weeks after Christmas? It doesn't really matter. It doesn't look too Christmasy. What does it matter if I listen to that kind of music? It doesn't really matter. It isn't that bad. And so, day in and day out, you pass the wreath but you don't see it. You let yourself become acclimated to it, and before you know it, you don't even realize that it's almost February and your Christmas wreath is still on the door. You can listen to those words, day in and day out, and you don't realize that those vulgar words are penetrating into your heart.

One day, though, the wreath makes noise. There is a rustle, a stir, and out comes the bat. You're in an argument, you're frustrated, and the word slips out. Immediately you're filled with regret and shame. Why didn't I take the wreath down earlier? Why did I think it was okay to leave it up until February? Why did I think I could hear those words and not end up using them eventually?

Once you know that sin is there, you avoid it. You take every precaution to avoid it. You go through the back door even though it's inconvenient. You change the radio station when you hear the song, you throw out your CDs, and you change the playlists on your iPod. You don't want that word to slip out again.

Why do we wait until sin makes noise to take the sin our of our lives? Why don't we do what the apostle Paul commands us and "flee from sin" in the first place? Stay away from things that will separate you from God. Don't wait for the separation to take place before you realize it's wrong. Don't wait until you get drunk that first time to realize that you shouldn't have been drinking in the first place. Don't wait until you've gone "too far" with your girlfriend or boyfriend before you realize you shouldn't have been in that situation in the first place. Don't wait until you've been caught on that website to realize you shouldn't have visited it. Let us see sin for what sin really is. Let's not try to disguise it and pass it off like it has redeeming qualities. Sin is sin, and it camps out at our door and waits for us to just grow accustomed to it. That's when it gets it. We become too comfortable, to close of friends. Seek out the temptations in your life and remove them. Take your wreath down before something sets up in there for good.

"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." 1 Peter 5:8

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tough Stuff Tuesday: Sinful Lifestyles

I suppose that nothing should shock me anymore. We live in a world where sin runs rampant. People aren't ashamed of their sinful behavior, but instead flaunt and make excuses for it. One such instance has made its way to the campus of my alma mater, Freed-Hardeman University.  A group of students and alumni have created a blog that features their stories--stories of the struggle of homosexuality, and the issues they have encountered throughout their lives. The thing is, the fact that this was published isn't the only thing that shocks me about the situation. I have seen multiple tweets directed at this group of people, by "Christians" that are some of the rudest things I've ever seen. Given, I have seen many positive and loving comments as well, but I am appalled that people claiming to live as Christ lived would react in such a hateful way.

 I am not here to condemn anyone, nor am I here to express my opinion. Instead, I want to look at the Bible, and focus on how Christians should respond to people who are practicing/struggling with homosexuality. I know that the overwhelming majority of people who view my blog are not homosexual nor do they have that struggle, which is why I think it's so important to focus on how we should treat these people--these brothers and sisters of ours. First, though, I will express some Biblical viewpoints on the subject of homosexuality, because I think that's an important starting point.

Let's ask a question first: Does God love homosexuals? We all know that the answer is yes. A harder question: Should Christians love homosexuals? That answer again should be yes. The problem is, some "Christians" don't. Some people bash the sin of homosexuality AND the sinner, instead of reaching out to the lost like we are commanded to do. Don't get me wrong, though; I do not agree with the lifestyle of homosexuality because the Bible does not (1 Cor. 6:9-10). However, I don't agree with any sin at any time under any circumstances, because the Bible does not.

Here's the thing, though; I'm a sinner. All of my life I have been a sinner. I will continue, throughout my time on earth, to struggle with sin. I am thankful every single day that the blood of Jesus has cleansed me and continues to do so when I fail.

But here's another question for you: does the blood of Jesus cover all sins? Yes and no. Can it? Yes. Does it always? No. Why? Because only the sins that we repent of are the ones that will be forgiven. Does Jesus want all of our sins to be forgiven? Absolutely. That's exactly why He died for you and for me. Does His blood have the ability to cleanse any and every sin imaginable? Yes. But, will those sins be forgiven if I do nothing about the sin in my life? No.

Hebrews 6:4-6 says this:

"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame."

When you become a Christian, your sins are washed away. When you continue to live in sin, though, you are crucifying Jesus again. When Christians, who have tasted salvation and freedom from sin, decide to continue (defiantly, might I add) living in that sin, they are worse off than they were when they simply lived a sinful life (2 Pet. 2:21). Now, what kinds of sins are washed away when we become Christians? All sins, even the ones listed in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 (look it up: yes, homosexuality is included in sins that can be forgiven). Because you see, in verse 11, the apostle Paul writes these words:

"And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God."

There were people living with the temptation of homosexuality in the first century. There were people practicing homosexuality in the first century. But those people, upon hearing the Word of God and submitting to it, put off homosexuality and repented of it, and their sins were washed away.

After stating these words, Paul goes on and says the following: "the body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord (v.12)", "flee sexual immorality (v.18)". How then can we say that it is ok to practice homosexuality? Unless we pervert the gospel of Christ, we cannot.

Now here's the part I think a lot of Christians miss: It is not a sin to be tempted. Jesus was tempted by Satan and yet we know the Jesus was sinless. It is not sinful to be tempted with homosexual feelings, and yet, how often do Christians condemn, look down on, and shun people who struggle with this sin? Most adolescents struggle with sexual temptations of some sort, be that the temptation to have premarital heterosexual relations or premarital homosexual relations. It becomes shameful and sinful when we dwell on it and act on those temptations and urges. But you see, I'm not calling out homosexuals here. I'm saying that it is sinful and shameful to act on ANY temptations of the sexual variety before marriage, because marriage is the only place God has sanctioned such actions. We should be telling all people (straight and homosexual) to guard their hearts and their bodies, not only bashing those with homosexual feelings. It is just as wrong to act on heterosexual feelings before marriage (something we don't get up in arms about nearly enough!). For homosexuals, though, the struggle may be a bit more severe, because God did not sanction marriage between men and men, women and women. God says marriage is one man and one woman, so if you struggle with feelings of homosexuality, that will be a struggle you have to overcome throughout your lifetime. Now sure, heterosexuals also struggle with reigning in their temptations even after they get married (that's why adultery is also prevalent in our society, and mentioned numerous times in the Bible), but at least there is the option for marriage and the subsequent sexual freedom therein. For homosexuals, no such thing exists.

I say all of that to say this: all sexual impurity outside of God-ordained marriage is wrong. All sin is created equal. However, homosexuals don't have a license to excuse themselves from what Scripture clearly states. Too often, I see homosexuals who want to "have a voice" and "be heard" and "be accepted for who they really are". I cannot and will not be tolerant of something that God is not tolerant of.

A lot of "Christians" stop there. They say, "Amen! I will not be tolerant of such things!" To you I say, keep reading.

Am I to still love homosexuals? Yes. Will I SHOW that love, not just claim it? Yes. Will I welcome them to study God's word and come to a true understanding of what He requires of them? Absolutely. Will I welcome them into the assembly and worship side by side with them? Yes, so long as they are not practicing homosexuality and living in a way that God says we cannot. Will I shun them when they express their struggles, even though they want to do right? Absolutely not. Will I be empathetic, since I myself struggle with sin on a daily basis? Yes. Will I even be sympathetic to the celibate lifestyle they will have to lead the rest of their lives and the constant struggles they will go through? Yes. Will I tolerate, accept, and promote their agendas? No.

Would we EVER think it was okay for a group of single Christians to start a blog/website/twitter account about why they should be accepted even though they regularly practice sexual immorality by having premarital sex with the opposite gender? No. Because it ISN'T ABOUT THE GENDER. It's about being sexually immoral. It's about doing things that God says are out of bounds. We wouldn't accept what they do, even though they struggle with it, because we know how God feels about it. Yes, we know that God loves them. Yes, we would tell them so. We would also tell them that they need to repent, and abstain from that lifestyle, otherwise they aren't in a right relationship with God and ultimately their salvation is in jeopardy. And shouldn't that be what we, as faithful Christians want for them: to be in a right relationship with God??

As Christians, we need to stop being biased toward homosexuals. Please stop and reread that sentence. We have to stop being biased toward one kind of sin. We need to tell the world that we think ALL sexual immorality is sinful. We think premarital sex is a sin. We think adultery is a sin. We think practicing homosexuality is a sin. We think rape is a sin. We think beastiality is a sin. And then, as a whole, we need to STOP PRACTICING and TOLERATING THESE THINGS. At the same time, though, we need to all start helping and encouraging people, not pushing them out of the church. The church isn't just a place for those who have been washed to come and gather, it is a place for those who are still sin-stained to come and get cleaned.

I love God with all of my heart. I know that I fail Him day in and day out. It is my hope and my prayer that I am not failing Him by writing this post. I want to love all of the people He loves. I want to help all of the people Jesus would have helped. However, I don't want to excuse someone or something that God wouldn't excuse, because that isn't doing anyone any favors, and it's putting my salvation at risk also.

*Also, I know that I'm late on this one, but with such a sensitive topic, I wanted to be sure the post was 100% ready. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Tale of Vanity

It was a Thursday afternoon. I had summoned up enough courage to get a hair cut, something that has been a traumatizing event in times past. I had even decided on a new (for me) hair style, and was almost excited to see how it would turn out.

That feeling lasted approximately two minutes, also known as the time it takes to shampoo your hair at the salon. Once the first cut was over, I realized I'd made a mistake.

Post-haircut Emily is not someone I'm proud of, and on that day I definitely wasn't. I called my husband, basically sobbing, going on and on about how short and how ugly and how stupid my hair was. I kept thinking of all these things I had to do (drivers license photo, trip to my alma mater) and how embarrassing it would be to be seen in public with this new hair style that wouldn't even go into a ponytail (!!!).

I spent the entire afternoon in a tizzy. I cried again when I got home and faced my husband, ashamed of how I looked. Since I didn't get home until late, it wasn't long before bedtime, and I crept upstairs for a moment to myself.

As I laid in the bed, it hit me. Emily, I thought, you are being so vain. I was so caught up in the physical appearance of myself that I hadn't focused one ounce of energy on how I looked to God, or if I looked like Him. Immediately, shame came over me again, only this time a very different kind. I was ashamed that I had spent the better part of my day acting like a child, and being completely caught up in the  physical. I spent the next few minutes in prayer to my Father, thanking Him for giving me such a needed lesson. While I still long for ponytail-length hair, I am thankful that it is short, because I needed the lesson in vanity.

My hair had been super long for a really long time. In October, I cut off 11 inches for Pantene Beautiful Lengths. The last haircut, I got about 3 1/2 to 4 more inches cut off. It wasn't until those last 4 came off that I realized I'd been using my hair as a source of vanity for a long time. I was so attached to it. And while there is nothing wrong with having hair, when you choose to place so much emphasis on the length or color or style or whatever else, you place less importance on God. The more I held on to something that was physical--something that would one day return to the dust, the less I focused on spiritual things. It was a much-needed lesson that I hope to never forget.

"Do not let your adornment be merely outward--arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel--rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God." 1 Peter 3:3-4

It is my prayer that I will spend the rest of my life more concerned with making my inward self beautiful and precious to God, and less concerned with "arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel".

Friday, February 17, 2012

What to Expect

I created this blog for a purpose. I didn't want it to be the same thing, day in and day out. I also wanted to make something that would challenge me, encourage me, and do both of those things for other people as well. That is why, my dear readers, I have come up with a blogging system that I hope will work. You see, I'm going to have a blogging regimen. Mondays will be a certain type of post, Tuesdays a different one, and so on. The first month of these posts will be a trial run, and at the end of that month, you can tell me what you thought about it. You can say:

 Emily--pleaassseee change what you were doing on Mondays



While I don't want you to lie to me, ever, I would prefer the latter, but that's just me. Honestly, though, give me your thoughts and I'll see what I can do.

All that being said, here is the tentative list for things to come:

Monday: Must-Tell Mondays, where you get a ridiculous story about anything random that has popped into my head. 
Tuesday: Tough Stuff Tuesdays, where I write about something I'm struggling with presently, something I have previously struggled with, or a problem that seems to be running rampant around us.  
Wednesday: Wordless Wednesday, where you can expect pictures of places, people, baby giraffes, or anything else that's crept into my crazy mind. 
Thursday: Think on These Things Thursdays, where you can expect a devotional thought.
Friday: Free for All!, where everything will be completely unexpected. It could be something like a Monday-Thursday thing, or it could be something completely different. You'll just never know. 

What I want, more than anything, is to have a blog that centers around God. I want to be pleasing to Him above all, and while my little personality quirks will be thrown in here and there, I mostly want my blog to focus on my life as a Christian. We'll see how it goes, but I am really excited about it and hope you will be as well.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Why I'm Here

I love to write. Since I was little, I've scribbled all over nearly every kind of paper writing short stories, poems, essays, or just long notes to my middle school friends. Writing has been a part of me since I was very young, and that is ultimately why my mom and I decided I should major in journalism at Freed-Hardeman University.

While at Freed, I learned a lot about writing all different kinds of things, such as press releases, news stories, term papers, and everything in between. I wrote my first full-length novel there and also started my first blog (and chronicled my four years there with immaculate detail). Through all of my lessons and writing classes I learned the ins and outs of punctuation, sentence structure, and word choice (though I have by no means retained it all). While all of those things were (and still are!) fascinating to me, they weren't the lessons I really needed to learn.

During my junior year I studied abroad in Italy for three months. They were the most magnificent, life-changing months of my entire life thus far. Sitting on a bench overlooking the Tuscan countryside, I was privileged to take creative writing classes taught by one of my now dear friends, Jenny Towns. I learned so much from her in those three months, but perhaps the greatest lesson I learned came when class was dismissed.

Multiple times throughout the week, a few girls would go running down the hill that our ancient little city was nestled upon. During those mile-long journeys, we spoke candidly of our lives back home and our relationships with God. During one such run, I remember talking about certain problems I was facing, and Jenny told me that God had a plan for my life. She told me that I could only try and choose what was right and best for me in the moment, but ultimately I needed to leave it up to God.

The problem I was facing doesn't matter anymore, but Jenny's answer echoes to me even still. God has known me and had a plan for me since before I was born (Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139). All this time, I've been so focused on writing all of my own stories that I never stopped to realize that God had been writing it all along.

That brings me to today. While I love writing and piecing together thoughts, I am not the author at all. God is the Author, and His story is the most beautiful that has ever been told. I am simply a tool, one of many, that God uses to spread the message of His love. That is why I am here.

I don't have an agenda for this blog. Instead, I only want to be a tool in telling the story that God penned so long before I came into existence: the story of love and redemption for man.

I love to tell the story. Twill be my theme in glory. To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.