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A Call to Order: Unboxing Faith

Back in March, I was asked to help with an event for the youth at my church. The whole idea behind this thing was to show the youth that as Christians, we are the church. The church isn’t confined to a building; rather, we, as the church, are supposed to carry our beliefs into every aspect of our lives. As I was leading my small group, which consisted of about 25 girls in their junior year of high school, the girls presented their concerns about going back to school on Monday. A resounding chorus of voices saying “It’s easy to live for Jesus when you’re on a camp high” and “How can we take this back and talk to people who don’t care? Half the people here are praising Jesus but then tweeting about partying when they get home” filled the sanctuary’s lobby.

Not going to lie, I had the same concerns that the girls did. After all, it’s easy to do anything as long as it feels good.  As KB sings in one of my favorite Jesus jams called “Crowns and Thorns” (listen here! ), “Are you the safest when the world’s loving you or had enough of you? Who’s in more danger: the persecuted or the comfortable?” Christianity isn’t supposed to be confined to four walls on Sunday; and newsflash: Christianity isn’t just about us. Yeah, I know, that’s not popular, but that’s true. If Christianity was just about us, then we might as well all be swept away and taken up to heaven now. We’re put on this earth to glorify God, to engage the culture, to win the lost. We are a part of God’s grand metanarrative.

So why, then, do we shove our faith into little boxes? What’s up with our holy huddles, where we discuss our faith with people who believe the same things we do, but refuse to reach outside the church doors because we don’t “feel led”? If we’re going to sing “Oceans” by Hillsong (listen here!) in a church pew on Sunday and ask Jesus to take us “deeper than [our] feet could ever wander,” then shouldn’t we actually be willing to go deeper with our faith, letting our Christianity permeate our entire lives? We have a problem, and it’s time to start addressing it. It’s time to stop putting our faith inside a box.

Evil and Suffering: Answering the Person

Okay, take three. Evil and suffering.

When I was a baby, I was diagnosed with a medical condition called hydrocephalus. I’m going to make this a Reader’s Digest Version to the best of my ability. The receptors in my brain didn’t work, so cerebrospinal fluid just built up. What happens if you have hydrocephalus is your brain acts like a sponge, and soaks up that fluid if it doesn’t circulate out properly. I had a shunt put in, which is basically a tube that goes from the top of my head, to the back of my head, down my neck, all the way to my abdomen.

The first shunt never worked. The second shunt worked for a long time, until I was 9. When I started having vision problems in both eyes, I went to the eye doctor, where I was diagnosed with papilledema. Basically, cerebrospinal fluid started choking out my optic nerves and it was messing up my vision. After some appointments at Duke, we were able to credit the excess cerebrospinal fluid to a shunt malfunction. Two more brain surgeries. I was 9.

I remember when I was younger than that, riding in the car and asking my dad why evil exists if God is good and loves us. “Why would he let Adam and Eve sin in the garden?” I  wondered.

When all of this stuff started happening again in my life, I started struggling with that question again. It wasn’t an emotional struggle. The fire to my logical doubt was fueled. I really want you to understand that in a time of suffering for me, I didn’t want an emotional doubt answered.

I’ve heard questions about evil and suffering asked a lot during street evangelism, and during these times, it’s absolutely necessary, maybe more than in other situations, to address the person and not the question. Figure out what they need to hear. And if you’re struggling with evil and suffering, know what you need to hear.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying the emotional are illogical necessarily. Can they be? Sure. Are they always? No. What I’m saying is that the answer to emotions is true and sufficient and logical argument is true and sufficient; but if a person is looking for comfort in the form of emotional support, they might want one answer, and if a person is looking for comfort in the form of understanding how their situation is happening, they might need another answer.

Before I explain the answer to the question I was asking myself when I was doubting (that’ll be my next blog), I want to explain what I mean about answering the person a little more.

C.S. Lewis wrote two books. Well, he wrote a lot more than two, but he wrote two that deal with evil and suffering. The first book he wrote was called The Problem of Pain. This book attempted to answer why evil and suffering exists in a logical, intellectual way. After his wife died, C.S. Lewis wrote another book on evil and suffering called A Grief Observed.

He wrote, “One is that the Eternal Vet is even more inexorable and the possible operations even more painful than our severest imaginings can forebode. But the other, that ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’” Lewis understood his faith and what Scripture said about suffering from a logical stance, but during a time when he was grieving, he went back and forth between suffering and understanding. He needed both perspectives. People need to hear different things, so we have to get that to talk about a topic like evil and suffering.

I’m turning this into more blogs than I initially intended, whoops. I felt the need to explain both sides though. The next blog actually will cover the logical side of evil and suffering this time; I just thought this would be important to go first.

Context, Context, Context! Part 3

I’ve written several blogs on context. Start reading them here!

Since we’re nearing Christmas break, I’m cutting my series short for now. I’ll reconvene a little later; I just won’t be doing three blogs a week.

So far, I’ve covered symbolic context, relational context, and cultural context. All of these contexts are important to understanding different situations in our day-to-day lives, but also in understanding passages of written works, like the Bible. I’ll talk about how context helps in a future blog.

For now, I want to explain another two kinds of context that are important.

The first one is situational context. Situational context is what a person thinks  they are involved in. If I think a situation is horrible, obviously, I’m going to talk about it differently than I would if it was good.

And that leads us to the second kind of context for this blog: inner context. Inner context has to do with how a person feels. This kind of context ties in with the first one. Our moods and emotions sometimes change the way we we feel about situations. In other words, the emotions and moods of people can directly affect the situational context.

I’ll pick up here after break, and we’ll apply some of these kinds of context to several scenarios.

Context, Context, Context! Part 2

Last week, I started talking about context. Check that blog out here. 

Last time I wrote a blog on context, I talked about how there are several different kinds of contexts that we have to keep in mind when it comes to Scripture. Not all of the kinds of context are as relevant as the others in regards to how we read the Bible, so I’m going to focus on the most important ones, and then brush over the other ones for your personal knowledge.

I covered symbolic and relational contexts before, so let’s look at a new kind of context: cultural context. Cultures are very different and diverse now, but can you imagine comparing American culture today to different cultures in Scripture? You have different locations, time periods, languages– just a lot of things are  different. The way things were communicated and understood in that culture might be understood and communicated in the same way today, or they might not at all. For example, if you were a rabbi’s disciple, you were supposed to follow him very closely. In a Biblical culture, if a person said to a disciple, “How dusty are you?” or something to that effect, the disciple would know the question meant “Are you following your rabbi so closely that you can be covered in the dust of his feet? Are you following in his footsteps the way you should be?”. If I said that to a Christian here in North Carolina, however, I have a feeling I’d probably get an answer like, “Well, I showered, so not very” or “What kind of a question is that? What do you mean?”.

In other words, to fully understand the context of a situation, we need to know about the culture. Cultures dictate how people talk, carry themselves, and interact with others a lot of the time, so we need to understand cultural norms to get the full meaning and impact of what is going on in a situation.

 

Encouraging Each Other

“Therefore, encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” 

1 Thessalonians 5:11

That verse is one I memorized at a young age. I remember being in Upward basketball and memorizing the verse because it was on one of the CDs they gave us. How can we encourage each other?

I know some girls who like to be complimented on a facial feature or their hair. Some of my friends like to be complimented on their clothes or their makeup. But those little compliments aren’t what Scripture is talking about when it says to build people up.

In context, we can see that this verse is telling us to encourage people in their spiritual walks. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 says:

“Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you.  For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.  While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.  But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief;  for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness;  so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.  For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night.  But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.  For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing”

The scriptures say that we are supposed to be set apart from darkness, and that we’re supposed to act differently. When times are hard and we are overwhelmed in our walks with Christ, and when it’s hard to act differently then the world around us, we are supposed to encourage each other to live like Christians are called to live.

Furthermore, the passage goes on to say that we should appreciate the people and highly respect the people who “have charge over” us in the Lord.

So we know that Jesus came to save us, and we know that Jesus came to testify to the Truth, right? Check this out:

Col. 4:8

“For I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts;”

Jesus came to save us and to testify to the Truth and that’s encouragement. That’s what we’re supposed to do. We testify to the Truth and help each other in our walks so that we can grow closer to God. We are supposed to try to look like Christ and we are supposed to encourage others when they’re trying to do that, and that’s how we encourage each other.

Don’t Judge! Or, Should You?

One of probably the most common Scriptures to be taken out of context is Matthew 7:1. You’ve heard some variation of it. “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” You hear that? We aren’t supposed to judge. And if we don’t judge, we won’t be judged. No judgement.

A lot of people take the verse to mean that we can’t judge, but can you imagine a world in which nobody could ever make judgments about anything in regards to morality? We would have no justice systems, we could do whatever we wanted, and we couldn’t really make judgments about whether consequences of actions were fair because deciding whether or not they were fair would require one to make a judgement about a person’s actions. A world without judgement starts to sound like relativism, doesn’t it?

Then, we have to consider the source. I mean, Jesus said not to judge. In the Bible. But the Bible has things it says to do and not do. It has standards of what is right and wrong. And Jesus, well, he didn’t flip tables in the temple for nothing. The whole not judging thing doesn’t really go with Scripture. So why does it say that? What does it mean?

Context, context, context.

Let’s look at the next few verses.

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and [a]by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

“[T]ake the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” So Scripture did tell us to judge. What’s that about?

Although many people seem to think Matthew 7:1 is a ban on judgement, it’s more of a guideline of how to judge. The following verses explain it. People are going to judge you in whatever way you judge people, so don’t be a hypocrite or you’re going to find yourself in hot water. If I have this crazy bad lying problem, and then I try to tell my friend that her lying is a problem and needs to stop, she probably won’t take it as seriously, first of all, but secondly, what’s she going to say?  She’s probably going to say that I need to cut it out just as much. My way of judging is going to be thrown right back.

The point of the passage isn’t judging, but how we judge and our hypocrisy.

I get that we are all sinners, so I see how one could say that it’s hypocritical to judge other people for being sinners because we’re sinners. But that mindset creates an “anything-goes” way of handling things and it’s not Biblical. We are supposed to repent of our sins though, which means to turn from them. What this verse is really saying is we should try to fix our actions. We should turn from our sins and let our eyes be on God. We can’t perfect ourselves, sure, but it’s a Biblical idea to repent and turn from our sins and try to live like Christ. It makes sense that we should do those things before judging people and trying to help people turn from their sin, as well.

Context, Context, Context!

As important as the question of evil and suffering is, it’s kind of a heavy topic, don’t you think? Instead of writing three blogs on evil and suffering in a week, let’s talk about context. There are actually a few kinds of context, and they’re each important so what I’m going to do is explain a few kinds of context over the course of a few blogs, and then I’ll show you how some of these kinds are important when reading Scripture.

Context is important because it gives you a better grasp of situations and meanings behind different things. Without context, there’s a lot of room for misinterpretations and errors.

Here’s a pretty cool link to a website that talks about different kinds of context.  When we read a text, the first kind of context we might think of is the text that comes before and after what you’re reading that could affect how you understand what you’re reading. That’s called symbolic context.

But there are lots of other kinds of context.

If I’m writing to a professor at school, I’ll probably start with “Hello, Dr. _______” Have a short body, and then conclude with a “Thank you for your time” or something to that effect, and sign off. I have a lot of respect for professors, and I want to have some professionalism in my emails. I also have a lot of respect for my friends, though, and I don’t talk to them in the same way. The way I know my friends is different than the way I know my professors, and we talk differently and more colloquially to each other in messages. My message might start of like, “Yooo g I gotta tell you about this thinggg that happppenneeeed.” My grammar is weird, there’s slang… I just talk differently. I could be conveying the same message but the way I say things would change with who I’m talking to. If I sent a message like that to a professor or an employer, they might think it was a little weird, or maybe even disrespectful. If I sent a message like what I send to a professor to my best friends, they’d probably hop in the group chat and be like, “Girl, are you okay?” The relationship between the sender and receiver, or the author and the audience, is called relational context.

Are you starting to see the importance? Good. We’ll keep looking at context, and we’ll apply some of these kinds of context to actual literary examples, including Scripture, too.

 

Finding Comfort in Hard Times

Yesterday, my grandmother passed away.

Like I said on Thanksgiving, I thought this would be a good time to talk about suffering. So let’s talk.

Today, I’ve eaten pie, shopped, went to a favorite restaurant, cried over some chocolate cake that someone gave me as an early birthday present, watched some of the Gilmore Girls reboot and teared up because I felt myself relating to Lorelai and Emily a little too much as they grieved over the loss of Richard, slept, cried again, ate again, listened to some worship music, and started writing a blog.

So there was a lot of crying, eating, retail therapy, worshiping, and napping today. These are things I do when I’m sad, I guess. Yeah, I know I said I’m rejoicing in suffering. And I am. I know my grandmother is in heaven because she was a born-again Christian, and that brings me joy, and I know what great things come about through tribulations. I’ve never heard of a Scripture thought that says “don’t ever be sad and don’t cry ever”, and heck, Jesus cried, so I think I’m justified.

Even so, how does one find comfort in the hard times? We’ve all heard someone say, “It’s okay. God has a plan.” When you can’t see the plan from where you’re standing, I think it’s a lot harder to find comfort in that thought, even if it is true.

Through street evangelism and various conversations I’ve had about pain, evil, and suffering, I’ve noticed that people tend to approach things from two ways. The logical side of “how Christians can believe God is loving if there is evil” and the more emotional side where “I’ve been through something, and I don’t get why it’s happening to me.”

Since my grandmother just passed and since I know holidays are hard times for a lot of people who have lost loved ones, I want to address to the hearts in this blog.

First of all, if you’re going through something this year that’s difficult for you, whether it’s the loss of a loved one or otherwise, my heart goes out to you and my prayers are with you.

Secondly, I want to introduce you to a passage that has comforted me, Romans 8:22-28:

“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.  For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;  and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

My mentor helped me to understand this verse. He explained it to me by using that “Footprints in the Sand” poem. You’ve probably heard it or seen it. The guy is walking on the beach with God and he sees the footprints in the sand and there’s two sets where God is walking with him, and then there’s only one set. So the guy asks God where He was during those hard times when there was only one set of footprints, and God tells the guy that that’s when He was carrying the guy.

That’s a beautiful poem. I love it. But it’s even better than that. It’s not just that God is walking alongside us and he could stay or go whenever. When we become Christians, the Holy Spirit enters our hearts. He dwells in our hearts. Romans 8 tells us that God uses all things to work together for good, but it’s not just that either. We groan and want things to be better and have hope, and God isn’t just a bystander, seeing us go through something, patting us on the back and saying “there, there.” He is going through every bit of it with us because He is in us. When we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit is groaning and interceding for us. He intercedes according to God’s perfect, wonderful will. We are never alone, and we are never without help. Our prayers do not go unheard. The Spirit Himself is interceding and feeling the reason for our prayers. He searches our hearts and minds. Knowing that God really gets it and intercedes for me, even though I’m a messy sinner, is one of the most comforting things in the world.

If you aren’t a Christian, please read this and consider this. When you ask God to come into your heart (and all you have to do is repent and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead), God will never, ever leave you. Really. All you have to do is ask.