Thursday, April 25, 2013

He Knows Us and Loves Us

Ever had a secret that no one knew? Well, guess what...God knows.

God knows it all. The good, the bad, and the ugly. He knows us even better than we know ourselves. This omniscience is amazing.

And what is even more amazing is that He knows us and loves us. He still cares for us more than we could ever imagine, regardless of our sins, regardless of whether or not we reciprocate this love.

We "know" a lot of people. We've talked to them. We are familiar with their habits. We may even truly love them. All of these way of "knowing" another pale in comparison to the way God knows us, the way God knows you.

He knows your virtues. He knows your sins. He knows you like no other human could never know you. Every thought you think, He hears. Every action you commit, good or bad, He witnesses. And every time you pray to Him, He listens. When you are happy, He participates in your joy. When you are sad, He sees beyond the words, "I'm fine." He sees your heart's true desires. He knows you and has know you since the moment He formed you in your mother's womb (Jeremiah 1:5).

And most importantly, He loves you. Despite your inevitable shortcomings, you are loved. God has the power to give you a blank slate. He has the power to love you unconditionally, even though He knows exactly when, how, and why you have ever turned away from Him in your lifetime. The same God who created everything we know loves and cares about YOU.

God created this entire universe. The planets and stars located light years away were made by His hands. This entire earth and everything on it is His work. Everything that has ever been is His creation. But His most important creation is the human race, His children.

I find it comforting to think about. God knows about the test I'm stressing over. He knows what I had for breakfast. You name it, He knows it. He knows my fears, my insecurities, my doubts. And He continues to love me despite all those times I turn away from Him.

This is one of the many miraculous things about God. He knows us like no human could know us and loves us like no human could love us. His love for us is inexplicably strong, so strong that we cannot even fully comprehend it. We can, however, forget it, an occurrence that happens all too often.

God knows your every thought and your every action. Remember this. Remember to think and act in a way that would make Him proud. God loves you despite your shortcomings. Remember this, too. Remember to treat yourself and others like the wonderful children God considers us all to be.

If you seem to have forgotten about God's deep understanding and love for you, I encourage you to reflect on two songs: How He Loves by the David Crowder Band and You Know Me by Bethel Music.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Beauty Amid Destruction

 Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:19-21).

Destruction. It's been a part of human history since the moment Adam and Eve bit from the forbidden fruit. We see it today. We see it in the corruption of our morals. We see it in war. We even see it on our TV screens today in the form of the Boston Marathon Bombings.

After the Sandy Hook Shootings, I wrote about suffering and the good and bad that comes from it. In the wake of a similar form of tragedy, I now want to focus particularly on how God plays into all this.

God did not cause this destruction. The evil we see is nothing more than a lack of God, for where there God's true love reigns, evil cannot exist.

An urban legend (incorrectly) attributes the following story to Albert Einstein. The story claims that the young Christian student, when confronting an atheist professor, explained the reasoning behind his belief that God did not create evil. He said, first of all, that cold does not exist. It is merely the absence of heat. Next, he claimed that darkness does not exist. It is merely the absence of light. Finally, he stated that evil does not exist. Evil, the student supposedly said, "is what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart."

Regardless of the discrepancies in detail, I believe this legend provides valuable insight into the way we should approach evil as it relates to God. I believe that evil does exist; it is synonymous with a lack of God's love in our hearts. Of course, free will plays a major part, as well. We commit evil out of our own free will and out of disobedience  toward God's commandments. Any choice that opposes God's message of love is evil. Only when we live as God instructed us to can we hope to witness a true abolition of this evil.

Evil is inevitable because each of us has the ability to push God's love out of our lives. God did not create evil. Man did. We create evil every time we push God out of our lives. Every time we choose to harm others and to cause destruction, we aren't living according to God's agenda. Our own selfishness and human weakness has taken over.

God did not create this destruction....BUT He can fix it. This is the light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, evil exists. It is inevitable. But it is not invincible. Jesus, on the other hand, is invincible. Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. Jesus was speaking about Himself. He would be physically beaten and tortured and nearly destroyed. But He would rise again. He would rise again because God has the power to overcome destruction.  Out of chaos, He can create beauty and purpose. Out of destruction, He can mend the broken pieces. He conquered death, the ultimate result of evil. His resurrection reaffirms everything He taught; how, now, could we ever deny that Jesus has the power  to conquer evil?

Jesus can fix destruction. Well, what does this mean for our world right now? The truth is that only God knows. We do not know how God can find beauty in the destruction we are currently facing and the destruction we are sure to face in the future. Nonetheless, we must trust in the Lord and acknowledge Him in  all our ways (Proverbs 3:5-6). His plan is greater than ours. He is greater than evil. And whether we notice it or not, He is at work in the midst of chaos.

I can give you proof of that right now.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, it was reported that some runners continued running straight to Massachusetts General Hospital to donate blood for victims. Less than a day later, the same day as the bombings, the Red Cross tweeted the following Statement: "Thanks to generosity of volunteer blood donors there is currently enough blood on the shelves to meet demand."

On Monday, we saw evil manifest itself. But we also so heroism, bravery, and courage. We saw people give without counting the costs. We saw heroes who emulated our Savior. Though these acts of kindness can't erase what happened, they can give humankind hope. They can remind us that despite the inevitability of destruction, a God-given light exists in each one of us that is powerful enough to dispel darkness and bring comfort in times of suffering.

Maybe you don't believe that beauty can come from tragedy. It is hard to believe in the midst of current events. However, I ask that you trust. Trust in God. Have faith. Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you cannot see (Hebrews 1:11). You may not see the beauty now, but have faith; God, in His own time, will reveal it.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Friends, Family, and Faith

Tonight, my class celebrated its Junior Ring Ceremony, a milestone in our high school careers and an event that signifies our fast-approaching graduation. 

Reflecting upon our past three years together made me realize how truly blessed I am to have the opportunity to be surrounded my friends and family who encourage me on my faith journey. The Holy Spirit truly works through them, both in seen and unseen ways.

I'd like to share a story that I will never forget involving my awesome class. This experience has opened my eyes to the potential every person has to become a vessel of God's comfort, regardless of whether or not they even intend to.

During our class retreat this year, I gave the first student witness involving our retreat's theme, freedom. It was the first time I had spoken to a large crowd with just an outline. It was the first time I had spoken about my faith to a large crowd with just an outline. And, scariest of all, it was the first time I had spoken to my classmates about my faith with just an outline. There were quite a few “firsts” involved.

The entire morning before my talk, I was filled with anxiety. Right before I went on stage, I was literally shaking and shivering. I was so scared that I would freeze or lose my place or ramble. 

When I walked up onto the stage to begin my talk, Jason, the leader of our retreat, asked every member of my class to extend their hands and pray for me. He led them in the prayer, asking God to give me courage and to speak through me. At first, I was too nervous to really pay attention to what was going on. I doubted the prayer would have any effect on my delivery. I expected that everyone thought it was a tad weird to hold their hands out toward me. But then, I looked up from the stage and saw all of my classmates with their arms outstretched in prayer toward me. I can't even begin to describe the feeling this brought me. The fact that they were actually praying for me to do well made me smile.

Before I knew it, I was speaking. I stopped shaking. I stopped shivering. The words I had been so anxious about simply flowed from my mouth. Maybe it looked different from the audience, but at least from the stage, I felt like all my nerves were gone. And the funny thing was that I remember clearly the delivery of this speech. I've participated in a few talent shows in my day, and whenever I get up on stage, I'm so nervous that my performance is a complete blur in retrospect. This was different. This was an incredible sense of peace and clarity. As soon as I exited the stage, the shivering and shaking started up again. But on that stage, with my peers looking up at me with kind faces, I felt unexpectedly at ease. I have no doubt in my mind that it was the result of my classmates' prayers. Even if only one person in the entire audience was actually praying for me, I know that it helped. I felt the inexplicable peace that only God can provide. 

This experience revealed to me just one tiny way God comforts us: through our friends and families. The Spirit is work at us all the time! We are God's hands and feet in this world. Sometimes, it's the things that go unnoticed: the private prayers, the random acts of anonymous kindness. And sometimes it's clear and spectacular, like looking up and seeing 200 girls praying for you!

The people we meet each day, whether we realize it or not, have a direct influence on our lives. If we surround ourselves by those who love us, thousands of doors will be opened to us. Such relationships not only allow us to receive genuine love, but also teach us how to give genuine love. And learning to give and receive love teaches us about the greatest love of all: God's love for each of us.

Every person on this earth has the potential to both give and receive God's love. Maybe He is trying to speak to you through another at this very moment. Or perhaps He is instead attempting to use you to reach out to others. No matter what, He is at work in your life at this very instant. Will you be open to Him? When He knocks on your door, will you answer? 

Because He created every person, God lives in each one of us. In both subtle and obvious ways, He uses His creations--our friends, families, and even strangers--to get through to us. We can be vessels for His love. We can spread His light to all the world. 
No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us (1 John 4:12). 

Thanks to all my friends, family, and random strangers for encouraging me on my journey toward Christ!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Dark Night and a Brighter Light

No matter where you are on your faith journey, I can promise you two things.

1). It won't be easy.
2). It gets better.

Having a relationship with God does not mean you will surrounded solely by rainbows and butterflies for the rest of your life. In fact, expect the exact opposite. Expect trials. Expect mockery. Expect darkness. Expect suffering. Believe it or not, God places these obstacles in your life because they help you grow closer to Him! 

In The Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross explain the necessity of periods of suffering and darkness in our lives. They are unavoidable, he claims, and unimaginably painful. He compares such times of abandonment to an infant that has been torn from his mother's chest. Sometimes we are too preoccupied with the sensual side of faith--feeling God's presence, feeling that heartbeat of His chest against us--that we are unprepared to walk alone. For our own good, God takes us from His chest and places us on the ground so we can learn to walk on our own two feet. The journey is unfamiliar and intimidating. We make poor decisions and stumble often without the security of God's close embrace. When we are in the midst of it, we catch only glimpses of hope that inspire us momentarily to keep going. Then we are once again sucked into the abyss, too focused on our trials to recognize God's presence. We fail to understand that we do not need to feel God to know He is with us. 

If the journey to God were easy, everyone would be eager to jump aboard. But it's not. It is not easy because God requires so much more from us than mere infatuation. We must be committed to trusting Him in good times AND in bad times. Loving God isn't about feeling good. It's about being good. When God empties our impure hearts, we must trust that He does so only to refill it once again with His pure, good love. This is faith.

We must be willing, also, to understand our smallness and God's greatness. He does not need us, but we are nothing without Him. Think about air. We need it to live, but when we're breathing it, we forget how crucial it is. Only when we are drowning do we recognize our dire need for it. Similarly, suffering is sometimes necessary to awaken us to our dependence on God.

Even the Israelites, God's chosen people, were forced to wander in the desert. They suffered, but it was all a part of God's plan. He would deliver them to the Promised Land, but they had, first, to endure this wandering. They had to endure the difficult times and trust that it would get better.

Only through the rough times in our journey are we brought even closer to true union with God. We experience these dark nights for our own benefit, because, according to St. John of the Cross, "God wills to lead [us] higher." We no longer take for granted God's presence in our lives. We no longer ignore our own impurities. Instead, we experience a peace that far surpasses any passion we may have felt before our dark night, before we put ourselves completely at God's mercy. Through trial, we come to know ourselves on a deeper level, and therefore come to know God on a deeper level, as well.

The journey to God is an uphill battle. Each step is difficult. BUT....each step leads you closer and closer to the peak of the mountain--to God, Heaven, and happiness.

"Unless He turned away from them they would not learn to draw close to Him." Remember St. John's words next time the going gets tough. Remember that though the journey is difficult, if you persevere toward Christ and fight the good fight, you will be brought into a more intimate and meaningful union with God. He will deliver you in His own time; you need only trust Him and trust that everything will get better. His light will  overcome the darkness.

"For I will restore you to health, And I will heal you of your wounds," declares the Lord, "Because they have called you an outcast, saying: 'It is Zion; no one cares for her'" (Jeremiah 30:17).

No matter what afflictions you are facing, keep pursuing Christ. The journey is not easy but the destination is worth it.

P.S. I would like to thank Carolina and Maria for very graciously reminding me that today is Wednesday and blog posting day.