Wednesday, November 24, 2010

enter His gates with thanksgiving

"Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise, give thanks
to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindess is everlasting
and His faithfulness to all generations."
- Psalm 100:4-5

In a day and age when depressing is what sells newspapers and where complaining is easier in conversation than a positive outlook, it is so easy to forget the apostle Paul's encouragement to "give thanks in everything" (1 Thess. 5:18).

As Christians, I think we often quote scriptures such as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 without truly applying it to our daily lives. I wish that I could say that my attitude was one of continuous thanksgiving.

If you think you are a thankful person, I challenge you to sit down and write out 10 things you are thankful for. It seems simple enough, but it definitely humbled me as I sat and tried to identify things that I was thankful for. What are you thankful for? What should you be thankful for? What has God done for you this year?

I'm thankful for...

  • My Savior - How amazing that even in my lowest moments, when I didn’t deserve to be brought out, all I had to do was cry out to Him to rescue me. So many things could have gone wrong, so many more mistakes could have been made, but in grace He reached down and opened my eyes. Thank You, God, for sending Your Son to take my place. Thank You for saving me.

  • Family - We've been through quite a lot this year and are still pushing through. My parents have been a constant, always guiding us with their love and faith, showing us with their actions what it means to trust God. Each of my siblings has been to me the best friends that I could ever ask for. Honestly, I am so thankful to God for each member of the family and am truly blessed to be a Moonen.

  • Friendships/ LOCC family – After reaching a point in church where my heart for serving became no longer a response of love to God but turned into a matter of obligation, He was faithful to give me a fresh start with encouraging friends. It is such a blessing to have found a group of people who live out their beliefs and encourage me to do the same. I am so thankful for this group of people!

  • Graduation/ Time at USCB – The four years that led up to my graduation in May were four of the most amazing years of my life so far. God brought so many opportunities my way and there is nothing that I regret. I was able to achieve so much in my time at USCB, and I am so thankful for the support of the faculty and staff that I received while in school and on graduation.

  • No student loans – This goes along with graduation, but I am so thankful to God for His provision for me in my time at school. I was so blessed with scholarships and stipends that I was able to work my way through college without taking any loans.

  • My job – I have been given so much favor at the university, that at times it is overwhelming. Although this is not where I feel I will be long-term, I know that God has provided me with this job and I am thankful for it. I feel blessed to be able to say that I had a full-time position open for me after graduation.

  • The worship team – Yes, at times there was confusion and hurt, but looking back I can say that I am thankful for the opportunity to be on the team. Although I have so much more to learn musically, I am glad that God allowed me to be there for the time that I was. I loved it and it was a great experience.

  • SGM – In some of the dry times and the trying times, Sovereign Grace Ministries was only a few clicks away. Whether with a sermon from CJ Mahaney to challenge me, or just the right worship music to encourage me, SGM has always remained a pivotal piece of my spiritual walk. I'm thankful I grew up with such a solid background and that the pastors there are still able to encourage me.

  • Elya – I planned on keeping this post as anonymous as possible, but I am so thankful for my best friend. Although I’ve only seen her once or twice in the past 5 years, she is always there with the perfect encouragement when it is needed. I am so thankful to God that He not only gave me her friendship but that He has continued our friendship through the years and distance. I would not trade her for the world!

  • Constant provision – This is the only way to effectively sum up the fact that I’ve made it through this year in one piece, always with more than enough. Even in the moments when it seemed like things would fall apart, I can see that I had no reason to worry because God was always there, providing for me, lifting me up, and taking me forward. There were days this year when it seemed like life slapped me in the face with questions and situations that inevitably let to “why me” moments. Even in those moments, my Savior was by my side, holding me up. I can truly say that I am blessed.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

defining love

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. - 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

It is so easy to look at this scripture and say "Praise God! He loves me so much to be patient... and never fail me!" But if this is the definition of love, and we ourselves claim to love him, what should that look like?

We would... willing to wait for the things we ask of Him, knowing that His love for us is more important than anything else; speak highly of Him to those around us and not get upset when others do better or prosper more than we do; acknowledge that without Him we are nothing; conduct ourselves in a manner that glorifies Him at all times; seek to serve Him and others rather than serving ourselves; not become angry when things do not go "our way"; not complain when we suffer for the sake of our testimony in Him; not give ourselves to fleshly lifestyles, but rejoice in the truth of the gospel and a life lived for Christ; accept all trials and tribulations, know that it is for Him; believe in His word; hold on to the hope that He give us; and never give our time and energy to a pursuit above Him but hold Him in highest regard as the true love of our lives.

Does this sound like your relationship with God? While it is true that God demonstrated his love for us by first loving us and sending His son for us, when we claim to love God, do we understand what that means as we relate to Him?

Monday, May 31, 2010

devastating hopelessness

Never before have I come face-to-face with the hopelessness of a life without Christ. No matter what happens, no matter what comes my way, I have always known that I could turn to my Savior, cast my worries at His feet, and live with confidence in His grace. We become so complacent there, losing the awe having of a personal relationship with God among the daily trappings of life, not realizing the treasure we have in Christ. If we truly saw the gospel of grace as a treasure, wouldn't we be more quick to share it?

A student at the school who I led at orientation and helped throughout the semester committed suicide last week. When I heard the news and let it sink it, I slowly became sick as the emotion overwhelmed me. When the tears started, I immediately opened my mouth to pray and then realized, what could I pray for? Ricky took his life, and is gone. I could pray for comfort for his father. I could pray that his brother doesn’t make the same choice. I could pray that somehow lives could be saved out of the tragic situation. But helplessness and hopelessness soon enveloped me when I realized – I couldn’t pray for Ricky. He made his choice, and his destiny is now set in stone. Never before have I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t turn the situation to God, because Ricky had already made a choice and sealed his fate.

The hopelessness that I felt when I realized there was nothing anyone could do for Ricky is what nonbelievers live with every day. What incredible emptiness it must be to face life’s trials and not be able to rest in the grace and mercy of a Savior! I can only imagine how this hopelessness surrounded Ricky as he gave up on his life.

Hearing of his choice, I became overwhelmed with guilt for not sharing the gospel with Ricky in the time that I had with him. Our purpose as Christians is to glorify God with our lives, sharing the hope of the gospel with those around us. How tragic to get caught up in the daily trappings of this life to the point that we forget by whose grace we are here!

When they say that death haunts you with questions of “what if”, that is an understatement. What if I had slowed down enough to see beyond the sadness in Ricky’s eyes to minister to him, and share the treasure of the gospel that I have been given?

I pray that we all learn to value the grace found in the blood of Jesus, not as a ticket out of Hell, but as a treasure to be passed on to those who are hurting around us.

Lord, let me never ignore an opportunity to share Your love.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sanctuary Lives... is He enough?

I recently had 10 hours to kill in a car and listened to an old sermon I found in my center console (it was one of the few CDs which didn't suffer from an explosive ranch packet... thank you South Carolina heat). The sermon was from Josh Harris and reminded me of the hope that we have through Christ.

Living surrounded by non-Christians, or those who claim to be Christian and yet do not live out their faith can become discouraging. So many times I've looked at the lives of those who do not even seem to care to follow the will of God for their lives, and they appear happy, even blessed with many things that I can easily become jealous of. How is that I spend time each week pursuing God, often giving up opportunities because I know that it isn't what He wants for me, and yet they seem to live stress-free, easily going after and getting whatever their hearts desire?

Asaph expresses some of these feelings in the 73 Psalm:

"For I was envious of the arrogant
As I saw the prosperity of the wicked
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure,
And washed my hands in innocence" (v. 3, 13)

Particularly recently I've found myself in Asaph's shoes, struggling to accept the fact that by choosing to keep myself pure I have come face to face with not only ridicule from others, but envy within my own heart.

Asaph quickly reminds us, however, that these struggles shouldn't matter if Christ is truly enough for us.

"Nevertheless I am continually with Thee;
Thou hast taken hold of my right hand.
With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but Thee?
And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."

Asaph tells us that he "came into the sanctuary of God" and was there reminded of the fact that the wicked will receive their judgment in the end. Until then, why does it matter if they exalt themselves with pride? If God is truly all that we desire on earth, we should rejoice in the fact that He is reminding us daily of our need for Him.

Something to take away from the sermon is that we need to lay aside our envy of others and stop living in our own imagined future. Discontentment would not have such a strong reign in our hearts if we didn't create our own future in our minds. We become disappointed when life does not turn out the way that we want, but if we laid those desires aside for Christ, we would find our hope fulfilled in Him. If we fix our gaze on Him, we are able to step into His sanctuary. But we need to choose to draw near to God.

I desire to live a "sanctuary life", daily in the presence of God so that I am reminded and encouraged of the fact that He is all that we ought to desire on earth. No matter what happens within our physical surroundings, may He be the strength of our hearts... our portion forever!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

leaving the student behind

It's been one week since my graduation, and I've struggled every day to sit down and write something stirring to sum up the past four years of my life. Every time I try, nothing comes to mind that will do it justice. I've thought to make a list of all the things I was involved in, write out all the opportunities that came my way, or sufficiently describe how my life has changed, but nothing captures the feelings that are overwhelming me as I leave the title of "student" behind.

Last week, I stepped onto the makeshift stage outside the Hargray building of USC Beaufort, and accepted congratulations from the President of USC in the conferring of my degree. Four years of hard work, little sleep, memorization, and all-out commitment culminating in an hour long ceremony, two minutes on stage, and a few scattered pictures. Summa cum laude, and various other honors in tow, I stepped on the stage and stepped out of the role of a student once and for all.

So here I am, USC Beaufort's Student of the Year, winner of the Business Program Award, and the equivalent of valedictorian. Was it worth it?

The experience has been unbelievable. I have seen and done so many things that I could not have dreamed of when I graduated high school. And yet, my greatest hope is that I was able to touch others through the positions that I was given.

As I move forward, I pray that God takes the talents, knowledge, and abilities that He has stirred within me these past four years and that He molds them to His purpose. After the incredible experiences of college, I refuse to settle for a mundane existence, and look forward to the place He has prepared for me!

"...that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects..." - Colossians 1:9b-10a

We made it! Soli deo gloria.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Knowing He is God

"Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."
Psalm 46:10

For years, I've read that verse in multiple versions and have been told "Be still and know that I am God." Usually, as Christians, we use this verse to encourage ourselves to sit quietly and patiently, awaiting the voice of the Lord. While it is certainly true that we need to be quiet and stop the voice of our mind from crowding out the voice of God, I believe that the psalmist is going a step further in this verse.

The word "striving" makes me think of someone who is working hard to produce something, to try to accomplish something. As human beings, we are prone to take matters into our own hands, to envision a future and do our best to make it happen. But where does this striving get us?

In the verses leading up to this particular one, the Psalmist describes God's power in breaking the attempts of man. He says that God "makes wars to cease...breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two...burns the chariots with fire."

On a practical daily level we may not be personally waging war and conquering the earth, but we battle daily for the desires of our own hearts. We are so quick to fabricate our own version of the future, cutting our way through life and doing our best to ensure that we come out on top.

This has become a personal battle for me. I deal with the prideful issue of striving for perfectionism on a daily basis and find myself constantly calculating the best possible way for my day, week, month, or even year to turn out, and then attempt to manipulate it in to place. Thus far, all I have gained is a stack of failed plans, lost sleep over worrying and striving, and a humbling reminder to know that He is God.

The Psalmist, and God, asks that we remember who is in control. Instead of spending our time calculating, worrying, and planning, He asks us to throw aside our meager attempts of striving for our visions of the future, and instead trust that He is in control. This isn't to say we are to squelch ambition. Rather, our ambition should follow His plan, not our own striving.

We don't just cease our own striving because we hope He is in control. We are to know that He is God, Creator of the Universe, capable of orchestrating His perfect plan within our lives.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Freedom for What?

Earlier this week, a friend of mine told me that he "worries about me." Assuming he heard I had just become editor of the school newspaper, I immediately figured he would give me the all-too-common speech about how I need to prioritize my life and stop getting involved in so many things.

"...I worry that you're missing out on so much." He continued.
"Missing out?" I replied, "I love my life! Theres nothing else I could even fit in to my life right now, and I'm happy."

He proceeded to tell me that by saying "I love my life", I was probably masking an emptiness that I didn't want to admit. When I asked him to explain himself, here's what he told me:

"You're so focused on God, and faith, and your standards, I just really worry that you're missing out on the real things of life!"
"What could I possibly be missing?"
"Romance, for one."
"Oh, so I'm missing out on romance because I can have fun AND still remember what I did on Friday?"

This same friend has argued with me for some time over my faith, always trying to prove to me that I'm close minded or that I'm not as smart as I think I am because I "settle" for God.

Time and time again, the world insists to us that we're missing out on life because we set standards, because we choose to live our lives for Christ instead of for our own fleshly desires. Is it really so hard to believe that we're at peace, that we're happy in these times of chaos, without chalking it up to blind faith?

So many people view religion as a rulebook that fences you in from experiencing all that life has to offer. But saying that following Christ is holding you back is like saying that the railroad crossing barriers are holding you back from experiencing all that railroads have to offer, or that the warning sign on an electric fence is preventing you from enjoying the true essence of electricity.

"All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:8-10)
He came and gave us life. Not a life bound by rules and regulations, guarded with legality. But a life of freedom, a life abundant!
"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)

My life is a life of freedom and joy in Christ. I don't feel held back because I'm not out living carelessly, I am free because I know my future is secure in Him!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Exemplary Purity

Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. - 1 Timothy 4:12

Spend a few years in church and you are bound to hear at least one sermon on this scripture. Often it is uttered as a word of encouragement to young people to not be discouraged by your age and to go out and do great things. Other times it is used to point out that often revivals start among the youth with the words "set an example..."
Rarely is emphasis or even recognition given to the end of the verse. That small word that easily slips away from our gaze as it fades into the verse that follows. But there it is. Purity.
Set an example for the believers... in purity. Wait, did Paul say this about young people? It almost seems to be an oxymoron. Young people are the ones with the crude jokes, right? Isn't it young people who are expected to let their minds dwell on lust and sex? How could young people possibly set an example for all other believers in purity? Take one look at your college campus and you will find anything but purity being lifted up as an example. If college student behavior was to set the example, wouldn't our world be even worse than it is now?
But what if we had a few young Christians who were willing to stand up and carry the banner of purity? What if we had a few young people so devoted to Christ that they determined to live a life that shines an example of purity not just for believers, but for all people?

We'd change the world, that's what.

Standing firm in purity in a world that is sinking further every day into impurity is quite a challenge. Everywhere we look the world is presenting our young people with the "cool" way to do things. The world mocks abstinence, looks down on modest clothing, and at every opportunity presents our Christian young people with images of what very teenager should want to do. The voices of the media whisper in the ears of Christian young men, insisting that it is natural for all guys to think primarily about sex and that it is ok to dwell on it. The skinny models beckon to our young Christian women, flaunting their bodies and insisting that we should too.

As Christian young adults, we do not have to and should not buy in to this! Paul says that we are to not let anyone look down on us for our youthfulness. Do not let the world squelch your passion for the things of God. Do not let the world drown your purity in the ideals of a "now now now" generation. Set an example. Allow Christ's truly transforming power to shine through you as you set an example and stand firm in your standards.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Make No Provision

11Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12The night is almost gone, and the day is near Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. ~ Romans 13:11-13
Are we putting on Christ, or are we feeding the flesh?
The Greek word used for "provision" in verse 14 means forethought, or provident care and supply. When you take a trip, you typically make "provisions"- packing the food, securing a place to stay, and ensuring you have plenty of clothes, etc. As a Christian, we are to fill our lives, thoughts, and hearts with the things of Christ, starving the flesh and not making provisions for it. By allowing compromises in our lives we allow openings for the flesh and for sin.

The Bible offers clear warnings that we should make the effort to live with purity and to have the mind of Christ. When we ignore these and rationalize worldly things we open the door for the flesh. Once the door is open and "provisions" have been laid, temptation creeps in. The more provisions, the less temptation it takes to lead us down the path of sin.

What are our alternatives? Instead of laying provisions out for sin to grab hold of, we are to "put on Christ." This particular expression is used throughout the new testament to describe how we are to clothe ourselves in righteousness. We are to literally wear the character of Christ so that when others see us, they instead see Him. When we begin to dress our intentions and thoughts in the righteousness of Christ, the flesh will find fewer and fewer opportunities to take root and spread throughout us.

Allowing fleshly compromises, or making provision for them, takes forethought. We can't pretend that we are helpless to the temptation of sin, powerlessly led in that direction, because feeding it takes just as much intentional action as starving it. Choosing to watch or listen to something that is damaging to your witness is no less a choice than choosing not to.

When walking this Christian path, don't carry with you provisions to feed the flesh, take up your cross and feed your spiritual self. Choose to put on Christ.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

So That We May Not Grow Weary

"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary, and lose heart."

I'm not sure about you, but as I have read the Bible in the past and formed for myself the picture of Christ, perfect God in human flesh, I assumed that this scripture was read differently. When Paul tells us "who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame" struck me though. For years, I interpreted that as "With joy, He endured the cross and shame." I envisioned His perfection coming into play and bringing Him complete joy as He hung on the cross, knowing that He was fulfilling the perfect will of the Father. However, this scripture paints a bit of a different picture.

The joy in the scripture is set before Him. Not joy that he was bearing the shame of the world, but a hope and a promise of what was to come. He knew that His death would redeem the human race, and as His last breath seeped out, He had faith that this joy would one day be His. The state on the cross, however? Despising. That's a word that we don't often associate with Christ. Sure, He despises sin. But despising His state? Surely not! Yet there it is for us to read. Despising the shame of holding the sins of the world, reduced to no more than a mere criminal, beaten and bruised, handed the most humiliating death, bearing the shame of the world in front of His holy Father. He did not hang with a smile plastered on His face, rejoicing in the humiliation. He despised the shame. He endured such hostility from sinners.

How many of us would take the fall for someone else's actions that we considered worse than our own? How many of us would take the fall for people who hated us?

Christ's example, as Paul says, remains. He endured so that we too may endure and not lose heart; so that we may not grow weary. We may have difficulty finding joy in our situation. However, we have joy set before us. We are redeemed from a condemned life and promised eternal life. We have been given promise after promise in God's word of His faithfulness to sustain us. We know that He will bring His perfect will to bear in our lives.

We can have joy, because we have the hope of what is to come.
Run the race with endurance. He did.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Reflecting the Son's Light

As someone who could spend hours looking into the night sky, I often find that God chooses to reveal things to me about His character and the vastness of His power through the expanse of the heavens.

As humans, we see everything around us only when light is able to bounce off of the object and reflect the image to our eyes. The greatest example of this is the moon, which we can see almost every night shining brilliantly in the sky with bright white, yellow, or orange depending on the season. The beauty of the moon often causes us to forget that on its own, it is no more than an asteroid, a lifeless rock floating in space, until the light of the sun transforms it into the shining light of our evenings.

As Christians, we are like the moon. On our own we are no different than the millions of humans on the planet, but when we allow Him to transform our lives, we become a beacon in the dying world, shining with His life and love to those around us.

The moon rarely looks the same every night as it changes through its phases. While the moon moves through space, the sun shines on it in different angles causing it to shine anywhere from its full potential to barely even appearing to our eyes. When we stay diligently in the presence of God and accept His plan for us at the "perfect angle" we are able to reflect Him best. But when we move out of His presence and stop allowing Him to flow through us, our light slowly diminishes until we are no longer reflections of His glory.

The greatest tragedy comes when we as Christians allow either our own selves or the world to eclipse God in our lives. When the moon comes between the earth and the sun, the world is no longer able to see the light of the sun. The moon is darkened and stands in the place of the sun. As Christians, when we see the talent and works that God does through us we are tempted to look at everything He has done through us and say "wow, look what I did!" forgetting that we are merely vessels and reflections of His power. When this happens, we lose our ability to reflect Him to others. and the world around us is no longer able to see Him in us, but instead sees a selfish and prideful human being.

The other thing that can happen is when the earth moves between the sun and the moon. This lunar eclipse causes the moon to not shine properly because the earth is blocking the light from the sun. When we allow the things of the world to creep into our lives and when we let sin appeal to our fleshly desires, we find that they overcome Christ's importance in our lives. We soon find that our fleshly desires have eclipsed our hunger for God and we no longer reflect Him, but rather the trappings of society.

We are created in God's image. Are you allowing Him to transform your life and shine through you, or are you mimicking the things of the world instead and attempting to reflect the world's standards? (Romans 12:2) Don't allow sin to darken your potential. The moon is a testament to the greatness of the Sun, showing none of its own glory but magnifying the glory of our Sun. Make your life a testament and expression of glory to the Son. What are you reflecting? 

Bebo Norman expresses something similar to this in one of my favorite songs, called "Disappear". Before I go on stage in the theatre or even before Sunday morning worship, I have to remind myself that the applause and reactions are not a testament to me or because of anything I have done. On my own, I do not shine at all. Allow yourself to disappear as people see His reflection. Here is the chorus and second verse.

I want to hide in You
The Way, the Life, the Truth
So I can disappear
And love is all there is to see
Coming out of me
And You become clear
As I disappear

I don't want to care about earthly things
Be caught up in all the lies that trick my eyes
They say it's all about me
I'm so tired of it being about me