Thanksgiving as God’s Will

Let’s face it: we don’t always agree. But I think if we slowed down long enough to look at the big picture, we might find it in ourselves to agree that we have gotten a lot of things wrong. When we decided to claim our independence, our founding fathers said that the United States would be a place where we could fulfill our God-given destiny and right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When I consider what those words have come to mean, I am led to question whether the basis on which a nation was founded is really what God intended for us.

What is happiness, really? There are a lot of things that would make me happy, such as new electronics, a nicer wardrobe, the best car, et cetera. In general, I don’t think that there is necessarily anything wrong with having nice things, or with being happy. The thing is, though, happiness depends on what happens. When circumstances fail to ebb and flow the way we want them to, we find that not only are we not happy any longer, but we become ungrateful and rebellious. Is this really what the Lord wants for us? I must hazard a guess that a selfish sense of happiness is quite nearly the opposite of His desire and will. Instead, He requires that we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly, loving Him and our neighbors.  The Creator wills that we would become like Him. Catch this, friends: Scripture says that God’s will for us is that we would be thankful in all circumstances. Could it be that acting justly, loving mercy, walking humbly, exhibiting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control begins with thanksgiving? This is more than happiness.

If we look back to the Garden, we see that Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect harmony with each other and with the Father. They were told to be fruitful and multiply, encouraged to drink in and find fulfillment in everything that their Creator gave them. God made one lone tree off limits to the naked couple. As you can imagine, this may have been the origin of much curiosity and conversation between the two. What about this tree somehow separates us from God? The serpent Satan knew his only chance was to tap into this curiosity. He must have told Eve that God was holding out on her.  If he could pick the lock by compromising her gratitude, the door would swiftly open, allowing him to corrupt everything that had been created and declared good. This new lack of gratitude within Eve’s heart prompted her to partake, and lead her husband to partake. Thus, the Fall.

The Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus healing ten lepers in chapter eleven. It is difficult for me to imagine living in a state worse than leprosy. The disease was cause for casting out those it afflicted, the loss of family and livelihood, and ultimately, the loss of connection. The text says Jesus was traveling between Samaria and Galilee when he was met by ten men who had fallen victim to leprosy. They asked Jesus to have mercy on them and heal their ailment, restoring their standing in their families, jobs, and society as a whole. Jesus told them to go to the temple to show themselves to the priests, who were responsible for declaring people to be clean or unclean, and on their way, they were healed. After this miracle, only one of the ten, a Samaritan no less, returned to express his gratitude to Jesus. I love that Scripture makes a point to tell us who this person was. If you do even a little bit of research, you will find that Samaritans were not part of God’s chosen people, nor did they have any claim to fellowship with God. Jesus, taking note of this, replies “has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” He then tells the man “your faith has made you well.” Other translations of Scripture say that he was restored, whole, saved. The one who was thankful was made whole. Could it be that simple?

In Romans, Paul writes that though humanity was aware of the presence of God, we did not glorify Him, nor were we thankful. Because of this lack of glorification and gratitude, Paul goes on to say that our thinking has become futile, and our foolish hearts were darkened. I have to wonder why Paul wouldn’t choose another virtuous characteristic above thankfulness. What is it about gratitude that proves to be the saving ingredient? What is it about ingratitude that proves to be so dangerous and destructive?

Back in the Garden, God gave Adam the task of continuing creation through naming the animals. Power might be defined as the ability to assign meaning. Since the beginning of time, humanity has had the ability to speak worth over God’s creation. When we are thankful for something, it means that we have placed a high value on it.

Perhaps a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control, humility, and justice would not be possible without thanksgiving. If you do not recognize the worth of salvation, grace, mercy and the character of God, the likelihood that you will live and walk according to those gifts dramatically declines. If you’re finding it difficult to be thankful, look back to the place you were a year ago, three years ago, five years ago. Chances are you’ve grown a lot. You’ve made a lot of decisions about the course of your life; some of them good, and maybe some of them not so good.  If you are haunted by those bad decisions, please know that you have been declared more than a conqueror through Christ, whose blood was shed so you could experience the kingdom. If you’re struggling to figure out what God’s will is for your life, do not fret. It is revealed in the most simple of words in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says “rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” The Israelites didn’t build altars because God needed them. They built them to have a monument by which they could remember what the Lord had done for them. They built them as reminders to give thanks.

Yes, it is the will of God that we would give thanks. Bless the Lord in times of plenty and in times of want. This seed, this attitude of gratitude, will grow up. It will blossom and become fruitful. You will find that you are less anxious about God holding out or getting your story wrong when you trust that all things work together for good. Perhaps we Christians throw around that verse too often, subtracting words until it reads “all is good.” Maybe that response has made you bitter toward fellow believers. If this is the case, I pray that God would soften your heart once again; that the hard soil could be plowed and made fertile for His righteousness. Because all is grace.

Explosions: An Ellie Goulding Review

After much consideration, I chose to review “Explosions” by Ellie Goulding. She is not a Christian artist, but she is popular in today’s culture and it seems wise to understand the music we listen to.

The song starts with a cappella voices that sound very much like they were recorded on a record. There is a melancholic feel that fits perfectly with the theme of the song. This whole song is about the memory of an ended relationship: she is reminiscing about a man she thought she loved. Here are the lyrics to the first verse:

 “You trembled like you’d seen a ghost, and I gave in.
I lack the things you need the most, you said where have you been.
You wasted all that sweetness to run and hide. I wonder why
I remind you of the days you poured your heart into, but you never tried.
I’ve fallen from grace, took a blow to my face.
I’ve loved and I’ve lost. I’ve loved and I’ve lost.”

He is trembling because he saw something from his past that he thought was over. This girl that he sees reminds him of a past relationship, and he never tried to pour his heart into this relationship because he is afraid. He hurts her in the process because he is not mature enough to commit to her; the pain is so intense that she equates it with a physical injury.

The chorus is short but says a lot:

 “Explosions on the day you wake up
Needing somebody and you’ve learned it’s ok to be afraid
But it will never be the same. But it will never be the same.”

The explosions when he wakes up refers to an awakening of sorts. He realizes that his life is shattered from a past experience and needs that one special person. But he hasn’t quite learned that it is alright to be afraid: this causes him to run away. The next verse and chorus give a little more insight into what happened:

 “You left my soul bleeding in the dark so you could be king.
The rules you set are still untold to me and I’ve lost faith in everything.
The nights you could cope, your intentions were gold.
But the mountains will shake. I need to know I can still make
Explosions on the day you wake up.
Needing somebody and you’ve learned it’s okay to be afraid.
But it will never be the same.”

He left her soul in the dark because he was being selfish. He wasn’t thinking of her and again she equates the feeling to physical pain. His “rules” were abstract and unclear: she didn’t know what he wanted or what he was doing. This caused her to be insecure because the relationship was unstable. On the days when he could cope (meaning he could deal with the threat of commitment), he proved to be a tender, loving gentleman. The shaking mountains symbolize the ground under his feet moving out from underneath him: even though he is able to be mature occasionally, it isn’t enough to bind the relationship together. This time, the word “explosions” refers the passion between them. She wants to know that there is still a mutual fire burning in them. She knows that he needs someone there for him even if he is afraid of the relationship. But he still hasn’t learned that it is ok to be afraid: he still cannot trust her. And that is why it will never be the same.

Here is the bridge:

 “As the floods move in, and your body starts to sink
I was the last thing on your mind: I know you better than you think. 
Cause it simple darling. I gave you a warning. 
Now everything you own is falling from the sky in pieces. 
So watch them fall with you in slow motion. 
I pray that you’ll find peace of mind.
I’ll find you another time. I’ll love you, another time.”

The floods are symbolic of the end of this relationship: the weight of all the conflict has finally come crashing down on him and he begins to sink. As soon as this starts to happen, he realizes what he had and how great it was. The old adage “You never know what you have until you lose it,” is very applicable here. She tried to warn him about this outcome, but it is too late now. His life is shattered and it is crashing down around him. It is as if his life is flashing before his eyes in slow motion: everything he thought was good just can’t compare to this woman that he just lost. Even though she has been hurt by him, she still wants him to find peace. She wants him to resolve the conflict in his life so he can begin to trust again. But she realizes that he needs some time to do this so she lets him go and says she will find him again at a later time. She will even love him again, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be a romantic love: she will simply forgive him for the pain he caused.

Finally, the chorus is repeated:

“Explosions on the day you wake up. 
Needing somebody and you’ve learned it’s ok to be afraid. 
But it will never be the same.”

This time, the explosions when he wakes up is referring to the realization that washes over him each morning: the realization that he has lost one of the best things in his life. He finally understands that he needs that special someone and even that he needs to trust them, but it is too late. His chance with her is gone. But I hope that he remembers this in his next relationship; it would certainly be less painful.

Human Desires Over Righteousness

Let us put ourselves in a tough situation. You have to do some reading assignments for one of your classes and after reading them, your professor has a sheet you sign to say you have read what was assigned to you before the due date. Now that makes it all too easy for us to just skip from reading what we are supposed to read and just sign away and say that we read everything that they required us to read. We know we should not sign it and say we did not read it, but part of us really wants that good grade and do not want our grades from slipping and pass the class. So, what do you do? To be honest, the easy answer that I would be compelled to do is sign that I read all that they had assigned me so I can get the good grade instead of being honest. But that is the problem; I was not being honest at all and did not even read on single word on those pages and yet I get a grade I do not deserve.

I used this as an example of how we go about our everyday life as human beings. Not just in how we use our resources do we put ourselves first, but also time and relationships with people. So why do we continue to justify why we want to do certain things when deep down we know God is not wanting us to do so? Psalm 37 speaks really well in how we should live for our Lord. In verse four, in that chapter, it states “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart”. When we desire God first, our desires in this world will not be of our own, but of God which flows out righteousness for He is righteous and holy. Now, that was only one verse from Psalm 37 but I encourage you to read all of Psalm 37. This Psalm really hits home on who God is and how His characteristics can overflow in us when we open our hearts to Him and let His power and love flow in us.

So, next time you are in the situation in any circumstance in life where you are tempted to do one thing over the other, think and pray really hard; even in the smallest of things. Many of your life choices make a difference for God’s kingdom and God calls us to be holy for He is holy.

Book Review on “Erasing Hell” by Francis Chan

Francis Chan is one of the most famous and favored authors in the Christian circle today. Not only is he a writer; he is also involved with church planting and is currently doing ministry up in San Francisco after leaving the church he started, Cornerstone Church, and worked in for over eighteen years in Simi Valley, CA. His first book, which brought him popularity, Crazy Love was a revolution to Christianity and their lives. He then worked on a second book which gave us a refreshing image of who our God is called Forgotten God. Just recently over a year ago, he and Preston Sprinkle worked together and compiled a book on a very deep theological perspective on Hell.

Erasing Hell is, in my opinion, the best one he has put together. The main reason for that is because this really touches more on what I think is the most importance on the great commission to build disciples and reach the ends of the world preaching in the name of Jesus. Too many days we go on with everyday life like it is normal. But do we truly pay attention and actually focus on the possibility that the person who took your order at a fast food restaurant might not truly know Jesus at all and has not given their lives to Christ is in danger of spending in eternity of full separation from God if they were to die today? This book challenges us to live a radical life for our Savior.

What is also a big plus on this book are the theological studies on Hell. This book was also written and finished after the controversial book Love Wins by Rob Bell came into the bookstores. This had many questioning about their faith and whether it was relevant to follow Christ because many believed in the lies that it does not matter because they would eventually get to heaven anyway. In Erasing Hell though, Chan and Sprinkle touch on all Scripture and the context of the writings and what it actually teaches on Hell and who goes and who does not.

Not only does it touch on who is destined to go based on personal decisions, it also touches on the cultural context during that time the scripture passages were written and helps us to view the whole spectrum of what Hell is without making the assumption on any theological viewpoint. Some things that were presented were the literal view with full fire and brimstone to the symbolic view without the literal fire and burning but still holding on to the view that it will be a place of full separation of God. They do not make full assumption on which theological view is correct in the evangelistic circle but they look at these different views on hell to help us focus that hell is a real place that many on this Earth will go if they do not hear the Gospel and accept Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives.

So, if you want something to really challenge your faith, I challenge and encourage you to check this book out and read it. It is a good read and it will surely help give insight on who we are in Christ and what we are called to do in spreading the Gospel.

Choosing a Class Schedule

Like everyone who’s planning on going to TFC next semester, I’ve been getting my thoughts together about which classes I need to choose. I decided that instead of trying to guess my way through things, I would think up a process for determining which classes to choose. I shall now share this process, and I very much hope it is helpful to you.

I think the way most people do this is by simply imagining the ideal semester—a semester which helps them accomplish everything they need to within the constraints they are allowed, and in the most preferable manner, and then describing the way that would play out. So let’s do it like that.

Step One: Determine your Goals and Values

A choice of classes at TFC (or any college, really) can only be described as good or bad by how well it helps you meet your goals and values. So, the first thing that will be important is making a list of things that are important to you. For example, if you’re a Counseling Major, it is important to you to take classes which will help you obtain a Counseling major. Duh!  On a more practical note, if avoiding the horrible suffering of waking up before 8 AM is important to you, then you should probably make it a value that waking up before 8 AM is to be avoided. If you have a job, you’ll want to remember that actually making it to your job (and thus getting sleep) is a pretty important value to add to the list as well.  Another important thing to remember is that you should list your goals and values in the order of their importance. Clearly the necessity of obtaining your major is more important than not waking up before 8 AM, and for me, generally, having time to spend with friends is more important than having time to nap during the day. So remember which things are more important to you so you’re prepared to give up less important values when they conflict with themselves or circumstances (and they will).

Here’s an example list of my goals values:

Completing the Philosophy Major by next December.
Completing a Counseling Minor
Having time to spend time with friends
Having time to read the gargantuan amounts of reading that Dr. Elkins assigns/ other stuff
Having time to eat (yeah!)
Getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night
Not making my course load unnecessarily difficult
Generally taking Classes which will challenge me
Having time to nap during the day
Generally not waking up before 9:30 if possible…
Do a Student Ministry
Generally getting to spend time in Nature
Having time for trips with friends

Step Two: Take Circumstances into Account

You’ll never meet your goals if you don’t take into account potential obstacles or opportunities that lie in your path. For example, if you’re trying to major in Counseling, it would be important to keep it in mind if a certain counseling internship is available next semester, or if you’re planning on leading a certain ministry, it will be important to know if your work shifts overlap with it. To make it simple, take into account the details about next semester which are going to affect you.

An Example list of my Circumstances:                                                   

Higher level philosophy classes are generally only available in the afternoon.
Dinner is at five.
I live in the Terraces
I have a car
I have no reason to leave early on Fridays
None of my class-choice options conflict with one-another in regards to time.
Philosophy Classes require a lot of reading.

Step Three: create a course-load which best takes into account your goals, values, and circumstances. 

Now it’s time to take your priorities and circumstances for the semester and merge them together. Take your list of goals and values, and your list of relevant circumstances and start laying down a schedule which best fulfills your priorities in a realistic way.

For example, since I need to complete the Philosophy major, one of my priorities is to take whatever Philosophy classes I haven’t taken yet.  But a relevant circumstance is that only three philosophy classes are available next semester, and also, generally if you take more than three philosophy classes, you die.  Also, I need to complete my Philosophy practicum and my Senior Thesis. If I wasn’t aware of the relevant fact that doing both of these together with other classes probably implies death, I would sign up for both of them. But I won’t, because I know that it would violate my priority of spending time with friends, getting sleep, having time to read, and etc.

Once you’ve done this properly, you probably will have a good idea of what you need to sign up for next semester. As an upperclassman, I think I have enough experience to offer a few pointers that may help:

1)     Sleep really is important. Don’t neglect allowing time for it.

2)     Anticipate failure. We often plan our schedules like a superman/woman will take our place and triumph over all laziness and short-sightedness during the semester. It’s not going to happen. You’re going to fail, oversleep, not finish some homework, be tired, want to be alone, etc. Deal with it.

3)     Friends really are important. Learning isn’t limited to Scholarly studies—friends can teach you some of the most important things about life. Don’t neglect time for your friendships.

4)     Give yourself free time. You’re going to want time to literally do whatever you want, apart from a schedule. You must have this time, or stress will crush you.

5)     Adjust your schedule to your personality type if you can: If you can’t handle working on homework for long periods of time without any class interruptions, you should probably space your classes out in such a way that you get breaks. If you’re good at focusing, you should allow yourself long time periods to do work.