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Monday, September 30, 2013

Becoming Part 3: From the Outside In




Part 3Outside influences. Many different things can happen in the world and in our lives that affect who we become. People can be affected by positive influences, such as the birth of a baby or the receiving of a new job. Negative influences, such as the death of a loved one, crime, or injustice in the world, can also affect who we become. We can allow these circumstances to bring us closer to or drive us further from the Lord. On a large scale, happenings in the world around us take their toll on who we become. I am sure every one of us has vivid memories of where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001. This catastrophe brings up an array of memories for many different Americans. Each year, we turn on the news to see a replay of that fateful September day. We may have been affected by becoming more fearful or anxious about the world in which we live. It may have caused us to reach out to people in need and look beyond our own needs. It may have caused us to harbor feelings of bitterness or anger toward the people responsible for this devastation. And that is just one event that could have affected who we are today. On a more personal level, 11 days ago, our daughter came into the world!  What a huge impact she has already made on our lives!  We are now parents! Even in this short time of being parents, we already have so much love for our daughter. As we became parents, we assumed a whole lot of responsibility. This little life is dependent on us for everything! Our bodies ache from sleepless nights as we are forced to become more selfless so that she can survive. Her smiles and coos encourage us and overwhelm us as we ponder how gracious the Lord has been for entrusting her to us. We will forever be affected by her, and our roles as parents will continue to shape who we are.

There are several examples in God’s Word of people who were affected by difficult outside influences, circumstances in which they had to make a choice in how to respond. The first example that came to my mind was Joseph. Upon reading the narrative of his life, it’s easy to be quick to say how unfair his circumstances were. It wasn’t his fault that he was his father’s favorite child! It wasn’t his fault that God gave him dreams. It wasn’t his fault that his dreams depicted that his family would bow down to him. It wasn’t his fault that Potipher’s wife lied about his intentions. It wasn’t his fault that the cupbearer forgot to mention his service to Pharoah. He followed the Lord no matter the tough circumstances in which he faced. He remained loyal in the midst of temptation. His faith remained strong in the midst of a pagan culture. He feared the Lord and spared and loved his brothers even though he could have killed them as soon as he saw them requesting grain during the famine. He could have blamed God for his tough times, and he could have made a lot of different decisions in order to “get back” at his brothers. I can think of so many opportunities he could have taken to spitefully punish his brothers for the pain they incurred upon him. Out of pride, he could have reminded them of his dreams. Instead, he viewed his circumstances as the sovereign plan of the Lord. He didn’t give his brothers credit for how his future turned unfolded he clearly saw that it was God’s will that he be in Egypt, and God used what his brothers meant for harm (Genesis 50:19-21). What would you have done?

Another example that came to my mind was that of Esther. She was a Jewish girl who was forced to enter the palace of King Xerxes in order for him to choose a new wife. She was chosen as queen, and she hid her Jewish heritage for a time. Once she discovered Haman’s evil plot, she was encouraged and challenged by Mordecai to go before the king uninvited in order to save her people. She didn’t ask to be chosen as queen. And in a quick turn of events, she was faced with the choice to bravely approach the king and possibly be killed or to shrink back and hide her heritage in order to save herself. She was definitely affected by outside influences, being forced to marry a complete stranger. She could have been bitter about her future. She could have been prideful about her new status. She could have forgotten her faith and turned to pagan religions in order to hopefully save herself. She could have allowed fear to hinder her from being obedient. Instead, she remained faithful to the Lord and to her people. She considered the consequences and still chose to bravely defend her people, even in direct disobedience to the protocol of approaching the king (Esther 4:12-17). What would you have done?

Let us be encouraged that no matter what happens to us or affects us, God is sovereign over all things AND He loves us more than we could ever imagine. We can take comfort in this fact whether we are facing joyous or trying situations! The part that we play is simple and crucial how will we respond, and how will we allow our circumstances to affect who we become?

APPLICATION
-              Consider Joseph’s and Esther’s stories. How do you think you would have responded if you were in their shoes? What can you learn from their trust in and obedience to the Lord amidst tough times?
-              Consider what your response usually is when you face difficult times? Do you turn to the Lord? Do you blame him? Are you quick or slow to see God’s sovereign purposes in those situations? Ask the Lord to help you trust Him no matter what situation you are faced with. Ask Him to give you faith to obey.
-              Read Paul’s description of the outside influences that he faced in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. Many of us would classify these sufferings as unfair in light of how Paul served Christ. However, Paul is not complaining when he’s listing his sufferings. In fact, he is boasting in Christ! Let us learn from the many examples of people in Scripture (Remember, they are just ordinary people like us!) who obeyed God and trusted in Him instead of allowing hard times to drive them further away from Him. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Becoming Part 2: Our Heavenly Father’s Role




Last time, I encouraged you to read Psalm 139 and contemplate God’s love for you, so let’s start there! Personally, Psalm 139 is one of the most encouraging and comforting Psalms.  It is filled with promises about how God intricately and personally knows every single detail of our existence because He made us and planned for our entry into the world. How humbling and mind-blowing is it to come to the realization that the God of the universe who created every tree and mountain and planet and galaxy and person who ever lived and ever will live knows us each by name, knows how many hairs are on our head, knows every time we sit and rise, knows all of our faults and still loves us, and knows the details of our every hidden thought. Our great and powerful God loves us enough to be that personal with us. This Psalm adequately portrays the significance of the role God plays in shaping who we become. As I mentioned last time, He set our lives in motion and is involved in every step of the way from conception, to birth, to salvation, and to sanctification.

In each of the next few posts, I want to give a few Biblical examples of how each different aspect (God, circumstances, ourselves) plays a role in who we become. Our heavenly Father the Almighty God is the author of history and holds everything together. He holds the universe in place, and He holds our bodies together. The first example I want to mention is our heavenly Father’s role in His choosing of Israel as a people for Himself.  Israel did NOTHING to deserve for God to choose them. God decided, in His sovereign wisdom, to take a people for Himself in Israel. He set them apart. He delivered them time and time again despite their unfaithfulness (Psalm 104-106). He set up laws for them to follow in order to set them apart. And He promised and provided a way of salvation for them. God played a huge part in Israel’s identity; in fact, they were identified solely as following the Lord while other nations sought after a multitude of false gods. A New Testament example of God’s role in “becoming” is found in Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was a humble teenage girl with no merit in herself to even dream of becoming the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. However, God had big plans for her life plans that would ultimately bring Him the greatest glory. plans for her to be the mother of the Savior of the world!

Whatever role God has called you in, HE is the one who has purposed it and will enable you to bring Him glory in obediently carrying out His plans for you. For example, I am going to become a mother in a few short days!  This excites me and terrifies me at the same time (the delivery part and everything after!). I know that there is no way in the world that this would be possible apart from God ordaining this for my life. The forming of a child is only through His sovereign design. The timing of this pregnancy was His sovereign plan although my husband and I were surprised, God wasn’t! The ability for me to become a godly mother will only be through His guidance and strength.  God has planned for me to become a mother, and He will enable me to do it! 

APPLICATION
-              Read and pray over Psalm 33, thanking God for creating and loving you and asking Him to help you trust Him with the plans He has for you.
-              Read Luke 1:26-56. Try to imagine what Mary was experiencing! Notice her responses to the Lord through this process. How can you learn from Mary’s example?
-              Read Acts 17:24-28. Thank the Father for being wise and sovereign over every detail. Verse 26 even explains that He determines the times and places of where we will live! Then, verse 27 states that His purpose is for us to seek Him and find Him. What are some areas of your life that you need to have greater trust in the sovereignty of the loving God?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Becoming Part 1: When I grow up, I...




Proverbs 19:21
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”

“When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut.” This was my career of choice as a kindergartener. This dream quickly vanished when our teacher brought in an astronaut who, during his presentation, asked us to brush our teeth without water to get a real taste of life on a spaceship with different kinds of limitations. I thought this was the most repulsive thing, and decided that being an astronaut was not for me!  “When I grow up, I want to be a model.” This was my declaration in first grade when I created a “Me Book” in class.  My grandmother always told me that I looked like a little model. That dream lasted for a few years until I entered the painfully awkward stage of middle school, where I decided that I should switch to a new dream. As women, we all have dreams of becoming different things. Many young girls dream of becoming a wife or a mother. Others have dreams of becoming a career woman. I remember as a child driving in my cousin’s power wheels jeep and dreaming of becoming old enough to learn how to drive. I remember dressing up in dance costumes and dreaming of the day when I would become a beautiful teenager who was old enough to date and wear high heels and dresses. I remember learning cheers from my big sister who was a middle school cheerleader (which I thought was the coolest thing ever!) and dreaming of becoming one myself. I remember playing “teacher” with my sisters, cousins, and stuffed animals in hopes of one day becoming a real teacher with my own classroom. As a child, there were many things I wanted to become. And if we’re honest, we also become many things that we are not necessarily proud of. I never wanted to become critical of others or insecure about myself in different areas, but I admit these are two sins that often plague me. I never dreamed that I would become a mother in the same year that I became a wife, but that was what God had in store for me. So all that to say, there are many things we want to become, plan to become, don’t want to become, and don’t plan to become but in the end, all of these things shape who we are. 

So then, what does it mean to become something or someone? Again, according to Dictionary.com, “to become,” means: to come, change, or grow to be; to come into being. The word is a verb, and the definition clearly describes an active process.  We don’t just wake up one day and happen to be the person that we are things have happened to us and by us in order to shape who we have become. God created each one of us through our parents in order to come into existence. We became a person, a daughter. Our personalities have been shaped by different external and internal influences and choices. Who we have become has not happened by accident, and we are not destined to stay the exact same way that we presently are. I find this so encouraging because this means that if we have a goal and a desire of who we want to become, we can have an active part in the process of making that happen!  As a practical example, I wanted to become a teacher; therefore, I went to college to get an education degree and worked at a daycare and summer camp in order to gain experience with working with children.  I played an active role in becoming a teacher.

What kind of things shape who we are? When thinking about my own life and the different things that have played a significant role in who I am, I thought of three main things: the sovereign God, outside influences, and personal choices. God is a sovereign, wise Creator and Father who plays the most significant role in who I have become.  He controls our destiny.  (While I mentioned in the previous paragraph that we are an active part in the process and that we can pursue different goals and make different choices to become who we hope to be, ultimately, God is in control of it all and has created us for His purposes!  We are NOT ultimately in control of our lives.) He created me (I became alive!), He chose to save me (I became His child!), and He continues to pursue me each day that I walk with Him (I am becoming more and more like Him!). Outside influences have also shaped and continue to shape who I am. A few of these influences include my family (I became a daughter and a sister, and I was/am heavily influenced by how my parents have raised me), education, opportunities, living abroad, studying at a Christian school, being a member of a healthy church, experiencing the loss of family members and friends, etc. Lastly, many personal choices have shaped who I am today as well, including pursuing or neglecting my relationship with God in different seasons of life, studying to become a teacher, being in a relationship that led to becoming a wife and a mother, and reaping the consequences of different sins I’ve committed.  All of these different things have played a role in who I am some of which are out of my control and some of which my choices have produced the results. 

I promise there is a point to me sharing all of this personal information. J When I decided to write about what it means to “become”, my brainstorming list extended far past the length of one blog entry. Because of this, the conclusion to Part 1 will not be revealed until “Becoming Part 5”. I’ll hope you’ll stick around to see exactly where all of this is going!  In the end, I hope we’ll be able to see and be comforted by Proverbs 19:21 God’s plans and purpose will prevail in our lives as we become the woman of God that He will us to be through HIS strength and guidance! 

APPLICATION (so that we don’t just read without applying anything we’ve learned!)
-              Read Psalm 139.  Praise the Lord for creating you, knowing everything about you, being sovereign, loving you, and providing a way for you to become more and more like Jesus. 
-              Journal about the different dreams that you had growing up about who and what you wanted to become.  What were your motives behind these dreams? Why did you want to become that person?
-              Make an outline of the different ways God, outside circumstances, and personal choices have positively and negatively affected who you have become.
-              Ask the Lord to show you who HE wants you to be and reveal to you HOW to become a woman of God who is devoted to Him in EVERYTHING.