Saturday, August 23, 2014

It Begins

Yes, school is here, ladies! Whether we like it or not, it has arrived. Some of you I'm sure are still in school, while others of you may have children starting school. Whatever the case, summer is over and it's time to get back to work.
This is me. I didn't actually take this on the first day of school; I forgot, hehehe. Fortunately, my second-day outfit worked just as well. Since my lovely friend CJ cut my hair short last March (and my mother has so kindly continued to trim it for me) I've been wearing headbands and scarves a LOT. They're so much fun! I like this scarf; it's colourful and unusual, and it draws just a little bit of attention. Do you wear scarves? Do you have a different favourite type of accessory? Tell me about it!
With school comes a big personal challenge for me: how to walk openly with God when public school and the people around me are often pushing the opposite. It always has been and always will be a challenge, and as the year progresses I'll probably look into that a little more. Right now, I would appreciate your prayers for myself and all of the students and teachers who are trying to shine a light in a public school system desperately trying to extinguish it. Pray that God will give us the strength to battle temptation and the courage to stand up for the Truth and tell people why we refuse to compromise.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” -1 Peter 3:15

Have a great week, guys! I'll keep praying for all of you as well!


Friday, August 15, 2014

Beauty’s Core | Generous, Merciful, and Loving

Last one! I’m not giving a full week for this one, because I want to get it out before school starts! I’m really excited for school and how God’s going to use and guide me this year, and I’m excited to share all of that with you guys!

Okay, so “generous” is a bit of a weird term to apply to God. He gives good things to those who ask. It is us who should be generous with what God has given us. Clarification, in case anyone was confused.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
 Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” –Matthew 7:7-11
This is kind of a weird way to explain how we should be like God, but I don’t believe in doing things the normal way. J This is part of the Sermon on the Mount; it’s Jesus talking. He promises essentially that if we seek God and ask things according to His plan, He will give them to us. He gives good gifts to those who ask.
Unfortunately, truly giving gifts requires one thing: selflessness. That’s not something I have in great supply. For my part, gift giving is largely restricted to birthdays and Christmas. But what about the simpler gifts; the ones we should give on a regular basis? Love and encouragement are two that I often neglect to give freely. We all love to be complimented, but if none of us take the time to give compliments, how can we receive them? Sometimes, I think we need to pay attention not to what is asked outright-“can I have the salt, please”-but what is asked indirectly. Have you ever just felt really low, and suddenly someone just out of the blue came up and said “wow; your hair looks really fantastic today; how in the world did you get it to stay like that?” or some similar comment, and they’ve somehow managed to say just the right thing to make you feel a little better? Maybe it’s because they listened to what your heart was asking, even if you didn’t voice it.
Of course, this goes to giving actual gifts, too. You never know what will happen when you give up your self-centred concerns in favour of generosity until you try it. And it goes FAR beyond our circle of friends. We can give innumerable gifts to people in third-world countries, people who have been begging for help for decades. And though I’ve never done this myself, I’ve heard that people who really take that step and fulfill that need are viewed as absolutely beautiful by the people they have helped. And the more you become like Christ, giving to those who ask and reaching for the poor, the more beautiful you become on the inside.

This goes back to the whole being hurt thing I talked about in my last post. I on my own am a very vengeful person. “Forgive and forget” doesn’t come naturally to me. But what if someone came to me and asked my forgiveness for something they’d done to hurt me? Would I be merciful?
I want to say yes. Really, I do. But it would be hard. The New Oxford American Dictionary (courtesy of my iPhone) defines “mercy” as “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” God is certainly merciful. He extends His mercy and grace to all of us, because we are all sinners who deserve to be punished, and God is more than capable of doing so. Sometimes it’s hard to forgive. For me, mercy has to come first. I have to decide that I’m not going to attempt to “punish” a person, but it may be weeks before I have truly forgiven them in my heart, and the Lord is working in my heart to change me into a more forgiving person, but the point is that we are to extend the same mercy that God has extended to us, just like in the parable of the unmerciful servant, as it is labeled in my NIV. I happen to know from meeting a few that girls who are always out to get you, who refuse to be merciful or forgive, are rarely well-liked or admired, and while the admiration of other’s isn’t necessarily what we should aspire to, it plays a role. You can’t be beautiful if you’re always out to get someone; spreading rumours and gossiping and trying to steal her boyfriend. It just makes you bitter. It won’t fill you. But Christ can.

Always save the best for last, and I think I have. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we might be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1) “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” -1 John 3:14-20
That was a long passage; sorry. I love 1 John. Love is the greatest commandment; the entire New Testament is about love! Love your neighbour, love your enemy, love your brother as yourself, love the Lord your God above everything else. Love, love, love. And yet every day I see and hear of people who claim to be in Christ and yet are not loving toward each other or toward those who do not yet believe. “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” The Bible doesn’t skirt around this at all. Jesus loved us. And we are called to love one another. If we don’t, we’re no better off than anyone else.
Let’s boil it down: it’s not about the rules. In 17 ⅔ years of living on this earth, I have had so many people throw so many rules in my face that I don’t even know what to do with them all. But Jesus didn’t come and die to convince us to follow the rules. He came because of love. If we truly believe in His sacrifice, shouldn’t we also do the same? I talked about giving gifts to those who ask; does not every human heart cry out for love? What greater gift could we then give but to love them and share with them the love of God, so that they will know and be satisfied?
Please allow me to clarify. Having a boyfriend who holds you and tells you you’re beautiful is not love. I’m not here to judge your relationships; that’s between you and God. But the world defines love all wrong. Love is sacrifice; it is selfless. And it is beautiful. We are beautiful when we choose to love. God made us to be beautiful and he made us to love. The first is dependent on the second. It doesn’t matter what you do or how you look or what you wear or who you are; without love we are nothing.

Thanks everyone for letting me go through these. I enjoyed it, and I hope God has used me to speak to each and every one of you individually. I’m hoping to keep with a regular posting schedule during school, so expect to hear from me next week sometime! I’ll be praying for you all. Have a great day! J

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Beauty’s Core | Faithful and Forgiving

(I know, I know; I didn’t list forgiving in my original post. Oh, well; I’m covering it anyway because it ties in here.) Over and over and over in the Bible it is mentioned that God is faithful; if anyone wants some of these verses, feel free to ask, because I’m not going to use them all here. One verse I do want to focus on is 2 Timothy 2:13
“If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for he cannot disown Himself.”
I know I’ve been hurt. I know we all have. But I want you to think for a moment. When you were hurt or betrayed by someone, how did you react? I lash out. I go out with the intention of punishing this person for the hurt they’ve made me feel. But this isn’t what God did. As he was dying on the cross, one of the most painful deaths a person can experience, Jesus doesn’t shout out curses or ask for God’s wrath to descend upon the perpetrators of his agony. He cries “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Do you have any idea of the strength it would take to look beyond that much suffering and pray forgiveness upon those causing you to suffer? I can’t even comprehend that.
Not only is God forgiving beyond comprehension, but He is faithful no matter what. Go back to the verse I mentioned earlier. Not only has He forgiven us completely, but when we walk away He stands and waits for us to come back. Isn’t that amazing?

Think about a time when you felt you were betrayed or hurt by someone close to you. I’m willing to bet you weren’t friends afterward. But that’s exactly how God treats us, and how we are then supposed to treat other people. It takes an amazing amount of willpower to look betrayal in the face, say “Father, forgive them”, and then to wipe the slate clean and continue to love them and reach out to them, even if they hurt you again and again. Seven times seventy times.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Beauty's Core | Constant, Just, and Righteous

I'm going to see if I can get my whole list from last week into three posts, so we'll see how this goes. If any of you want me to go deeper into one of these, or if you have something to add that I've overlooked, please leave a comment in the comments section! :)

Constant and Just
James 1:17 tells us that "Every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, _who does not change like shifting shadows." In other words, God is always the same. He doesn't deal differently with Americans versus Russians, and he doesn't have random mood swings that change his judgment. No; He is always the same! Unfortunately, I don't think any of us can truthfully claim that for ourselves. I know I sometimes behave differently depending on who I'm with. And I can be very temperamental at times, randomly changing what I think and feel. This also heavily affects my judgment, meaning that I hold people to different standards.
I think a lot of us can relate to that; it's a pretty common human affliction. For us girls, I think this can weigh heavily in the judgment category. I, for one, feel like I'm always judging other girls, and holding myself against them to see how I measure up, and trying to make myself feel "superior" in some way. But God commands is not to judge this way. We often judge other people by appearances, but 1 Samuel 16:7 says that "'The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'" In this way, we know that God's judgment is always true, because he knows and sees everything about us. We, then, should strive to withhold judgment about people we don't know of understand, because our judgment can be incredibly hurtful.
Being different depending on our company really goes into this whole judgment thing, except it places us on the other side. Afraid to be judged poorly by our peers, we try to mould ourselves to fit whoever we happen to be with at a given time. Often, this sort of double-standard leads to gossip and hurtful behaviour, and not only is this far from God's intent for our lives, but it's a glaring smear in our lifestyle of beauty. I know that when I do things like that, I don't feel beautiful; in fact, I tend to feel pretty awful. The same is true when we judge people unfairly. We are called to be a reflection of God, but a mirror is no good if it has big black smears across it. That's not a very good example, but I think it makes the point.

“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” –Galatians 2:21
The Bible calls us to be righteous; that’s something I’m not really going to cover, because it’s made pretty clear. If you want something more specific, let me know and I’d be happy to send you some verses. What I want to focus on is how we’re called to be righteous. In the Old Testament, righteousness was living an upright life and following the Commandments. But now that we have Christ, everything’s changed. We recognize that we are sinful people and upright living won’t get us anywhere (go back to Galatians 2:21 at the top of this section). We need Christ to get there. 1 John 3:7 says “he who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous.” God is righteous. As children of God, we are called to take part in His righteousness.
So how does this tie into beauty? Let’s start with a more modern definition of “righteousness”: reflecting God and rejecting the world’s influence everywhere in our lives. The worldly influences that are most likely to afflict us are pretty obvious. Immodest dress and impure relationships are two of the most prominent. (If you’re curious how I define those, don’t be afraid to ask via email or the comments section.) Proverbs 31 talks about a woman, describing her as hardworking and dignified; in many ways, righteous. “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30) I encourage you to read this whole chapter, but for now I’m just going to point something out: of all the things to focus on, Proverbs 31 focuses on her character, and the way she fears the Lord, not her looks. Not only that, but it says “she is worth far more than rubies” (Proverbs 31:10)
Finding righteousness in the Lord is beautiful, and people will see it. It’s a struggle, but hey; someday someone might describe you like the wife in Proverbs 31. I know I would be honoured by such a description.

Next week, Lord willing, I’m going to cover Faithfulness and Forgiveness. Have a great week!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Beauty's Core | God's Children

Hi again! I’m back and I want to expand some on my last post. The first thing I kind of thought I should hit is that we really are children of God. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1, NIV) John certainly isn’t trying to make this concept hard to understand. We are children of God, which means that we should bear resemblance to our Father.

This is the image of God in Michelangelo’s painting “Creation of Adam”, painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican sometime between 1508 and 1512. Well, I for one don’t have a beard, nor do I have little curly-haired angels all around me, so I think it’s a safe bet to say that when we are called to be like our Father, this isn’t the kind of “resemblance” we’re supposed to bear. Starting with this post, I’m going to hit a few of the major characteristics of God that we, as His children, should mirror. Of course, God is perfect and we are not, so we can’t really be any of these things the way God is. The focus is on being a reflection of God; on letting God work in our lives and shape us to be like Him, because we can’t be any of these things by ourselves. 
The seven traits of God that I want to look at (this may change depending on the Spirit’s leading) are:

  • God is constant
  • God is loving
  • God is righteous and holy
  • God is compassionate and merciful
  • God gives good things to those who ask; he is generous
  • God’s judgment is true and just
  • God is faithful

The reason I’m calling this set of posts “Beauty’s Core” is because these traits help form a foundation for the lifestyle that will really make us beautiful. I for one don’t want to just be noticed for being “pretty”; I want to be beautiful in God’s eyes, and that can only come from being a reflection of the only good thing: God.

Praying you all have a good week, and I'll talk to you soon! :)