Saturday, November 21, 2015

Let's be Real

It all comes down to a choice.

     Every second of every day, you make a choice. You cannot escape making choices, and you will not always know what those choices will bring. Sin is a choice. So is redemption.
     I heard a story once about a woman who threw a pitcher on the ground and then spent all night putting it back together piece by piece. It was tedious and occasionally painful. When we are presented with the choice to give it all up for God, it is not an easy-ride ticket for the rest of life. It's going to hurt at times. It's going to be hard. It's going to be way too easy to invent a million excuses for why we can't or won't. But it is worth it.
     Some of the hardest nights we will ever endure are the ones where we begin to question why we've chosen this path. Every little insecurity becomes a whisper in your mind asking you is this really worth letting go? Can I make it? Am I enough? Is God enough?
When you look at your face in the mirror, just your face without any makeup or anything on it, what do you think about? What makes you decide to reach for foundation, blush, mascara; what fuels this need to cover, conceal, hide what we really look like? Why do we photoshop and retouch and still feel unhappy about our photos? And ultimately, what are we so afraid of?
     God did not create us to be afraid. "For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV). We are haunted by our insecurities and fears of what other people will think and we are so absorbed that we forget how much greater God is than all of this. Our fears prevent us from being real and honest with people. How many times have you told someone "I'm good" even when you're a half-step away from breaking down? We lie because we are afraid of looking and feeling weak; because the thought of how other people might react to our honesty is frightening. But it shouldn't be. God created you with exactly the flaws and strengths He wanted you do have. Nothing you endure is without the guidance and presence of God. We are the children of God and we were made for more than this. 1 John reminds us that "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18, NIV).
     Like I said at the beginning; it all comes down to a choice. We can let ourselves drown in our insecurities, or we can choose to let God cast them away. We can surrender to our fears or we can choose to fight them with God's help.
     Put down the makeup brush. Stop with the retouch tools. For just one day, stop telling people you're fine and admit to them that you're struggling. Remember that God lets us go through troubles so we can grow, and there is nothing to be ashamed of in admitting that you are not perfect because neither is anybody else. When we lie to ourselves and others by concealing our hurts and our faults, all we do is isolate ourselves and make ourselves feel alone with our fears and failures. God gave us community to build on each other. So today, maybe for the first time in your life, try reaching out. Step outside of your insecurities and remember that God's love is enough to overcome your fears. When we are able to be real with the people around us, we start to bond through our struggles and our relationships with each other and with God are strengthened by it. It's a terrifying choice, and it's probably going to hurt a little or possibly a lot. But no matter how much it hurts, God will not let it kill you. Sometimes the hardest decisions to make are the best ones when we're able to take that leap.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Prayers and Comfort--Reaching out to Paris and Beyond

     What is prayer? I mean, we know the theory, that praying is talking to God and all of that. But really, that's a very vague description. If I say that I'm #prayingforParis , what does that mean?
Especially in times of disaster and trouble, prayer seems like a good way to do nothing and hope the conflict all blows over. But I think this is such a painful misunderstanding of what it means for us to join hands and pray.
     Not all of us can fly to Paris to track down terrorists. Not all of us can travel as relief workers to all the places impacted by hurricanes and wildfires and other tragedies. Not all of us can afford to donate to agencies trying to help refugees in Syria and Turkey. But that does not mean we are useless!
     When we are weak, He is strong. When we are helpless, He has a plan. Though prayer may seem a pathetically small offering in the face of such trials, remember that it is so much more than simply a wish for peace. God is listening to our prayers. When it feels like there's nothing we can do, we look to the One who can do something and we ask, we beg Him to touch our world with His healing. When we cannot comfort the grieving, we ask Him to hold them close.
     One of the big things on social media following the incident is to draw attention to other disasters that have not received nearly as much press as Paris has. I won't tell you who or what to pray for. If God breaks your heart for Paris, pray for Paris. If He's directing your focus to somewhere else, let Him be the one who guides you. Don't shame people for praying for Paris; if that is what God has convicted you to pray for, follow His leading. God gives us all different purposes so that we can reach out to the whole world.
     So pray. Pray for Paris. Pray for the world. Don't ever stop praying, or letting people know that you're praying. Prayer is not useless. Prayer is the best thing we could be doing right now. It is through this communication with God that He will prompt our hearts to whatever action we are capable of. But while the world sees our actions, the basis of them should always, always be prayer. Please, join me tonight wherever you are in praying for Paris, for Syria, for Lebanon and Mexico and any and every place God lays on your heart. Reach out to God. If you are in any of these places, know that God is still with you. God is still present even in the most hopeless and heartbreaking disasters. He is our protector, our comforter. And it is He to whom I lift my eyes in prayer tonight.
     May God bless you all and keep you safe.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

I'll Title It--wait, someone liked my status!

     I never used to be big on social media. I didn't even have a Facebook until about six months ago. I have since discovered that what they say is true: social media really does start to take over your life. I tried to document the amount of time I spend scrolling through my Facebook feed, checking notifications, and replying to messages. but I couldn't even keep track. And I think it's a problem. I'm sure you've all heard a lot about how "social media is bad for us, it's taking us away from real meaningful relationships, people aren't interested with the real world.", etc. All true, but what I started to find is that Facebook wasn't just eating up time; it was killing my motivation to do anything else.
     When I moved here to New York, Facebook became my primary means of keeping in touch with people back home. We'd chat via Facebook messenger, share funny pictures or videos with each other, comment on each others' posts. Scrolling through my feed helped me feel like I was connected with the people and the events going on at home, something I really needed as I made a very dramatic transition.
     Or at least, something I thought I needed.
What I've actually been finding (and I'm sure my roommates can corroborate this statement) is that I'm always talking about home, talking about my friends, about what's going on, everything from my family to the weather. In fact, I've spent so much time thinking about home that I started comparing everything here to the way things are at home. "It doesn't rain like this at home." "We don't have traffic like this at home." "Why won't it snow already; it's snowing in Colorado!"
     I do want to say briefly that this is pretty normal for a person who's just moved halfway across the country. You miss what you've left and you try to understand where you are now by comparing it to what you already know. This is normal. But the more I thought about home, the more I missed home; the more I missed it, the more I wanted to feel connected to it, and my Facebook and social media time skyrocketed. I spent more time trying to stay in touch with my friends from home than I did putting in a conscious effort to make new friends here.
     How much time do you spend on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or other social media networks? Do you notice the impact this time has on you? I know I started getting frustrated with Facebook the more time I spent on, but I just kept getting on, posting, sharing, pretending to talk to people. It distracted me from my loneliness, sure, but that isn't the point. God didn't call me to pack up and move so I could spend all my time ignoring the people He'd put around me, people who I know are desperately in need of Him.
     I think sometimes we substitute a sort of "social media revival" for actual, relational evangelism. We act like posting "I believe in Jesus", "God loves you", or following the classic "type amen and share" is enough. People see it on our wall, we're standing for our faith, and we're encouraging others. Full points for effort, right?
     Humans are naturally relational creatures. It is made so clear in Jesus' ministry that relationships were what mattered to him. He spent time with people. He dined with "tax collectors and sinners" (Matthew 9:11). He taught people and stayed in their homes and reached out to them. The early church saw this and they followed this example. We don't bring people the love and mercy of Christ by putting #jesuslovesyou as our Facebook status. I'm not saying these things are necessarily bad; I'm simply says that this is not the extend of the ministry to which God has called us.
     Social media is distracting us from the world that's actually physically around us. Do you want to know how many times I actually stopped to check Facebook or messenger while I was typing this post? (The answer: too many). We need to tear our focus away from these pointless distractions and realise that the real world has so much more to offer us. There are real people with real needs and real struggles living all around me; why did I feel like Facebook was my only connection to the world?
     I'm not going to tell you you should bail on Facebook and all social media entirely; I actually think it can be an incredibly useful tool for us to connect with people who may never hear the Word of God any other way. What I am going to challenge you to do is be aware of the amount of time you spend on social media, and the impact it's having on your life. Are you constantly frustrated as you scroll through pages of people posting their political opinions just to get people riled up? Maybe you need a break. Does the amount of time you spend online exceed the time spent in meaningful conversations with the people around you? Try talking to people. There's a lot more to a person than what they post online. Be careful as you allow the internet into your life, because it's scary and time consuming and often not worth the trouble we go through for it. *News Update: I've officially deleted both Facebook and messenger from my phone; it was taking up too much storage space and WAY too much time.*

     What are your thoughts on social media? Have you tried giving it up? What did you find? Always love to hear from you!