Friday, November 28, 2014

Art that I Want to Emulate

Rose With Thorns- This girl makes me so excited because I get to know her. I get to live across the hall from her and take classes with her. I am inspired not only by her amazing writing and her success and ambition, but her content never ceases to encourage me and inspire me. She writes with terrific honesty and insight. She delves into subjects most people ignore and says the things I never knew I needed to hear, but now I can't imagine how I could live without out them.

Chatting at the Sky- You guys! Emily Freeman e-mailed me! I sent her an e-mail over spring break letting her know her writing has inspired me and I had almost forgotten about it when one day I checked my e-mail and there it was. I stood up and did a happy dance and plan on printing it out as a reminder of how I want to write and who I am serving. There may be critics, I will probably be my worst one, but I am living my art for God, not myself so I cannot give up out of discouragement.

Sarah Katherine- Happy Birthday, friend! I am sooo thankful for having the opportunity to know her! She moved to Des Moines last fall and went to my church helping with youth group and leading a Bible study for the girls. She showed me that even in a brief time, you can make a substantial impact if you make yourself available. She has encouraged me in what I do and taught me so much. She is full of wisdom and willingness to be honest. 


Susan Hunt- I have only read on of her books so far, but I learned so much! I love her commitment to explaining and applying the Word of God. Her writing is one of the main reasons I changed my major to include biblical studies. I have no interest in encouraging or inspiring people if my words are not echoes of what God says and do not point to my readers to the value in their life as it fits into God's story for redeeming the world. She also showed me the dignity in women's ministry. A year ago I was constantly wrestling with the fact that, as a woman, I am limited in who I can address with authority in my writing. But after doing her Becoming a True Woman While You Still Have a Curfew study, I am discovering the beauty and importance of being a female and uncovering a desire for my writing to speak directly to Christian woman. 

I am so thankful for the part these woman have played in my life. I hope on day, by God's grace, I will be able to touch, teach, and inspire others how in the way they have in my life.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Prayer, part 1

According to U.S. News and Beliefnet, only 68% of Christians say they pray more than once a day. This should be a big concern for believers as prayer is our direct link to God. It is the most powerful tool we have, yet very few Christians utilize it.

1. Pray to know him better.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Northfield 
A main goal of prayer is to know God better. We do this through the very act of praying and also by asking God to reveal himself to us.

As his creation, we have nothing to offer God except our desire to know him and have more of him, so these requests are our best form of worship. It is also a request he promises to fulfill. "But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deuteronomy 4:29). Richard Foster says, "Real prayer is life creating and life changing." When we enter into constant conversation with our God, change is bound to occur. Foster explains this best when he says, "In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God's thoughts after him: to desire the things he desires, to love the things he loves, to will the things he wills." Prayer is our invitation for God to invade our lives, our thoughts and our hearts to do his will and bring change in us.

Since prayer is just is God pouring into us through our requests, be ok with silence in your prayer. God wants to use those moments of stillness. We rarely take time to pause in our busy lives so prayer is a perfect opportunity to do so. Since prayer is a way to learn to think God's thoughts after him, it is a good idea to pause from our thoughts, even mid-prayer, so we can pick up on what he would have us pray and what he wants to do with our requests.

2. Pray for his blessings to be poured out on ourselves and others.
 Not only should we ask to know God, but knowing him allows us to ask him for other requests. Often times our lack of prayer is a gospel issue because we do not see ourselves as wholly dependent on God for all we want or need. However, we are told in Matthew 7:7, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." Our heavenly Father is overflowing with good gifts, we just need to confidence to ask for them. If our motives are pure and we have aligned ourselves to God's desires, no request is too great.  God delights in our large requests because it shows we believe in his ability to fulfill them. "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you" (John 15:7).

As we make requests, we must not neglect praying for others. Not only does it expand the scope of what we expect God to provide for us, but praying for someone can show our love for them. Foster says, "If we have God-given compassion and concern for others, our faith will grow and strengthen as we pray. In fact, if we genuinely love people, we desire for them far more than it is in our power to give, and that is our cause to pray."

Finally, in all your prayer, be yourself. "God is looking for a relationship with us, not whomever it is that we are trying to act like when we come to him," says Stephen Miller. There is no need to put on a lofty tone or alter your language in prayer. God does not want a fake, over-spiritualized version of you. He wants you. Your desires, your love, your will, your needs, your requests. The greatest blessing we can glean from prayer is a raw, genuine relationship with God.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Meditation, part 2

Last week we had "Sacred Space" in chapel. This is where there is no chapel speaker, no worship team, just a time of quiet reflection and prayer. The only guidance was two different chapters of scripture being read and some prompts for prayer on the projector. I let this time of reflection kick off my week of practicing the discipline of meditation.

The first chapter we were supposed to focus on was Psalm 51. It instantly caught my attention and I focused my meditation for the week on its words.

First, I familiarized myself with the chapter. I read and re-read it. I copied the whole chapter into my journal. Next, I picked out the sections that that stood out to me by underlining words and phrases and writing out specific verses. I discovered I focus on scripture best when I can process it through more than just my thoughts. I need to write it out.

Apart from my daily devotions in the word, I attempted to ponder some of the verses or words during my day. This was definitely the hardest part for me. Part of meditation is disciplining the imagination to be caught captive by the wonders of God. Meditating trains the heart to dwell on God all the time so that the idle thoughts, the typical daydream, the usual flow of ideas all go to Christ. Being aware of where my imagination took my on a daily basis revealed that I need a discipline like meditation to intentionally realign my thoughts each day.

This awareness of my failure to mediate on God's law and works throughout my day soon made me discouraged. I wanted Psalm 51 to dictate my imagination, but it didn't. But I saw something else emerging through my failure. Whenever I realized my thoughts were wandering and were not caught captive by God, I called to him to bring them back. I repented for my lack of discipline, I expressed a desire to know him better and find joy in who he is, and I asked him to take my thoughts. It was a humbling experience to recognize that it is not that I need better control of my thoughts, but I need God to have control of my thoughts.

This is when the words of Psalm 51 really started to have an impact:

 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight...
 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice...
 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit...
 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise...
 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
- Excerpts from Psalm 51

Through practicing this discipline I discovered the impact the Word of God can have over time. My initial reading of Psalm 51 was interesting, but the words did not start to transform my thoughts or actions until I had dwelt on them for a week. Meditating on scripture allows you to take it with you to live with it. Just as we do not truly know someone after one conversation with them but by living life with him or her in the daily grind and mountain-top moments, we do not know the Bible from just one reading but by coming back to it day after day gaining new insights and letting the Holy Spirit work it into our hearts and lives.

After my week of practicing meditation, I decided I want to integrate it into my life on a regular basis. Partly for what I gleaned in this week of practicing the discipline, and partly because I realize I need a lot more practice in order to reap the full benefits of what the discipline has to offer and one week is only scratching the surface.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Resolving the Debate on Christian Courtship and Dating

Walking around a Christian college campus, it is easy to spot the couples. They hold hands on their way to class, he puts his arm around her in chapel, and they sit in the campus coffee shop studying their Bibles together. Just glancing at them you can’t tell the difference between those who consider their relationship a courtship and those who would say they were dating, but this was no doubt a weighty decision for them at one point.

There is an ongoing debate among Christians about which is the best way to secure a spouse: courting or dating? Courting is seen as a more conservative option characterized by the guy asking the girl’s father for permission before pursuing her romantically. The whole relationship is closely monitored by chaperones and there are strict rules limiting physical contact. Dating, in contrast, is less restricted. The boy asks the girl out how he pleases, the couple spends one on one time together, and there is less intensity and intentionality. Both have the same goal, marriage.

Christians are becoming increasingly obsessed with marriage. "Conservative Protestants, especially churchgoing conservative Protestants, [are] particularly attached to the married state," reports sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox. There is no doubt courtship, dating, and marriage are all hot topics for Christians today. Katelyn Beaty reports there are 25,000 titles under "Christian marriage" at Amazon.com. We host conferences and plan youth group lesson series on how to court and date as a Christian. At the center of all this discussion is the question of courting versus dating.

Many Christians have adopted courtship as a more intentional alternative to dating. The motive is to respect parents and avoid heartbreak. Advocates of courtship say the inclusion of parents in relationships allows for more accountability for the couple on the physical and emotional level. Also, chaperones serve to shield the couple from temptation. Courtship is designed to protect the couples’ hearts by setting up boundaries and accountability.

However, some Christians are not sold on the courtship idea. In his article “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed,” which received over half a million views and over 100,000 shares on Facebook, blogger Thomas Umstattd said courtship has been unsuccessful in producing marriages. He is not the only person who believes traditional dating more effective than courtship. Many argue it is easier to identify people you may be interested in if the first step is going on a date to get to know each other not entering a relationship leading directly to marriage.

Both relationship styles have their own advocates with different reasoning to back them, but their followers have the common goal of more marriages.

Marriage is an amazing institution which should be protected and treasured; the problem comes when it is our ultimate goal and purpose. Many young Christians can get caught up in the pursuit of a spouse, and they become more focused on themselves and their person of interest than where God fits into the equation. If you are pursuing a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, marriage should be somewhere in the plan, but every Christian’s goal—single or married, young or old, man or woman—should be to glorify God, not to get married. Instead of arguing about whether courting or dating will produce more marriages, we should focus on how we can best glorify God and love one another in courtships and on dates. Including parents in the beginning of the relationship is only a formality, a sign of what you believe about your parents. However, the sign does not make the respect any more valuable.

If we immerse our guy-girl relationships in grace, purity, respect, and selflessness we will find better results in both courting and dating. Those results may not necessarily be more weddings but something more valuable: loving, God-glorifying Christians.

The Bible tells us what healthy marriages look like, how to relate to the opposite sex, and how to respect and love other people. All this can be accomplished in both dating and courting. However you chose to build a relationship, if you let marriage be your goal you are aiming at the wrong target. If you put your hope in God and glorify him in your relationship, you are more likely to build strong personal character and a healthy relationship than if your motive is marriage.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Meditation, part 1

Only to sit and think of God,
Oh what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the Name
Earth has no higher bliss.
-Frederick W. Faber


Meditation is a lost art in the Christian life. The practice has been overtaken by Eastern religions seeking to detach themselves from present reality. Yet we have countless calls to meditate in the Bible. The Christian version of meditation is not an emptying of the mind, but it is filling the mind and heart with God's word. One of the greatest passages on mediation is found in Psalm 119 where the psalmist says he meditates “on your precepts” (Psalms 119:15, 78), “on your statutes” (Psalm 119:23; 48), “on your wondrous works” (Psalm 119:27) and this meditation is his joy. 

Meditation is a sinking into who God is and what He has done. In meditation our main goal is not to know more about God, but to let what we know penetrate the deepest source of our being and draw us into communion with and utter adoration of God. David Mathis describes the goal of meditation as making God’s words "saturate [our lives], give [us] direction, shape [our] mind, form [our] patterns, fuel [our] affections, and inspire [our] actions." Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline says that in meditation we are aiming to "think God's thoughts after Him, to delight in His presence, to desire His truth and His way."
So how do we meditate?

The primary tool of meditation is scripture. Meditating on scripture helps us internalize God's word so it is part of our very being and flows out of us whether we are conscious of it or not. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Col. 3:16).

We must set aside a time for focused meditation. Meditating on the works of God is something that we should be doing 24/7, but it is also important to dedicate a time to more intentional meditation.  Set a time to directly turn your heart and mind to God and allow Him to penetrate it with His word.

Setting a place and posture is also necessary. Foster recommends finding a place you can return to with consistency. You might also choose to meditate somewhere where you can be surrounded by the magnificence of God's creation. Finding a place that stirs your awe and affections  will make your meditation that much sweeter. However, Foster reminds us that "regardless of how [meditation] is done, the aim is to center the attention of the body, the emotions, the mind, and the spirit upon 'the glory of God in the face of Christ'" (2 Cor. 4:6).

As modern Christians bombarded by desires of the flesh everywhere we go, we must not neglect the practice of pausing to let God's word inform our hearts and minds. At the core of meditation is the desire to be closer knit to God. All Christian should crave this closeness to the heart of God and seek it through meditation, for He will not hide Himself from those who  seek Him. "I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver" (Proverbs 8:17-19).

Additional Resources:
Meditating on God's Love