Christianity

Christianity or the American Dream?

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This week I am pleased to share a guest post from my friend Kayla Hedin, hope you enjoy!

I am an American Christian. Someone who has been told all her life God has great plans for her. While I believe that God has plans for my life, the plans I hear about in church and from my parents often make me squirm. People talk about prospering in a new year, how God wants to bless our finances, how God wants to heal us and keep us safe. And while I believe God loves us more than we can ever truly comprehend, I think we often interpret His love strangely backwards.

It would be disheartening to say that God wants to put us in danger, wants us to suffer, wants us to be sick, or wants us to live in poverty…but I also believe it would be misleading to say that God wants all Christians to be rich, successful, healthy, and safe all the time. In order to disprove the assertions that only good things should come to Christians, all we need to do is look at the lives of Jesus’ disciples, the apostles, and the early church; they did not lead easy lives, and many died as martyrs. Their lives seem to point to a completely different gospel than the one we so often hear about that tells us God’s promises for our success, health, and finances. I believe the problem with the gospel prevalent in churches in America today is that we have twisted Christianity to support the American dream.

We have somehow interwoven the American dream into Christianity. One of the things that makes America great is the supposed equal opportunity to people from all walks of life to succeed. We have been conditioned to believe that this is part of what God wants for our lives—for us to climb the social and executive ladder, to obtain wealth, to have social influence. We justify these beliefs saying that with our success, wealth, and influence, we can bless others and share the love of Christ.

While I believe that God blesses some Christians with prosperity and success so that they can influence and bless others, I do not believe that is the call on every Christian’s life. If all Christians lived easy lives in which they were healthy, prosperous, and successful, would their talk of God’s goodness mean anything to those who are barely surviving? Do they actually have faith? Or is it simply easy for them to believe in God’s goodness because they have been successful on earth? Does God’s goodness depend on our successes or failures? God did not promise us riches and success on earth…He said “blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20)! We are told not to store up treasures on earth (Matthew 6:19-21). He did not say that we would be accepted and loved by everyone…He said we would be persecuted (John 15:20, 2 Timothy 3:12). He did not say life as a Christian would be easy… He told us that we would face trials (James 1:2).

So with all this in mind, why do we think we are entitled to a blessed life of success and prosperity? Maybe instead of talking about material blessings like job promotions, raises, abundant finances, or a new house or car, we should talk about blessings of eternal impact—the slightest understanding of God’s overwhelming love when we encounter someone deeply hurting and love them even though we do not know them, the reward of seeing a co-worker turn his or her life around after years of you allowing God to speak through you even when it was uncomfortable and seemed futile. Or what about when you give a homeless person a warm drink on a cold day with the knowledge that you are providing for Jesus?

Jesus paints a vivid picture of the judgment day in Matthew 25:34-40. The way he will separate people is by those who fed, clothed, and took care of strangers and those who did not. He says, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.” What a powerful message! Taking care of others on earth as though they were Jesus should change us.

The reality is that there are people all around the world living in extreme poverty that many of us have never encountered or experienced. If people living in poverty, dealing with sickness, or being persecuted can proclaim that God is good, why do we often seem to have trouble proclaiming God’s goodness when we do not get that job we so desperately wanted? When we get a bad report from the doctor? When our co-workers ostracize us because we do not participate in their vulgar conversation or because we live differently? The reality is that Christianity is hard; it does not guarantee us an easy and prosperous life, but it causes us to realize that there is more than just this earth. Our life on earth matters because it affects eternity. Are we living for the temporal believing in “promises” of prosperity that are actually contrary to the gospel? Or are we living with a realization of the eternal and the impact that should have on our lives on earth?

I got the general idea of the mixing of Christianity with the American dream from a book by David Platt called Radical. If what I wrote was of any interest to you, I would highly recommend reading this book.

- Kayla

The problem with phrases like, “You’re Beautiful Just the Way You Are” & “Beauty is More Than Skin Deep”: Part 1

 
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We have all heard the campaigns for women young and old telling them that they shouldn’t have to dress a certain way or wear a ton of make-up or lose weight to “feel good” about themselves. I am all for encouraging women to be comfortable in their own skin and embracing the beauty that God gave them. However, there is just something about this view that is missing the mark. Even though we are bombarded with these messages, women are still left feeling like they are never quite there. The whole, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts” spiel sounds great, and deep down we want to believe it, yet it’s still not enough for us women to feel content with our image.

I won’t really get into how the fact that culture has set an imperfect standard skews women and men’s view of beauty, because that would take too long, but be aware this does play a role in it.

I believe we are afraid to go deep, to get to what’s really keeping us from seeing ourselves as beautiful

I believe it goes deeper than that though. In fact, I believe we are afraid to go deep, to get to what’s really keeping us from seeing ourselves as beautiful. In order to explain fully why I don’t like those phrases, we need to understand WHY we feel like we aren’t beautiful just the way we are and WHY we believe that beauty is more about looks than what’s inside. That’s the reason these phrases even exist because somewhere along the way (way back to when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit) we stopped believing we were beautiful.

So here it is: the fact simply is, we are trying to measure ourselves against the world’s standard. Did you hear that, THE WORLD’S STANDARD, not God’s.

If we say we are Christians, then our approval cannot be found in anyone or anything of this world because we have been told to be set apart. Yet, we have found ourselves, ladies, measuring our beauty against others.

So when it comes down to it our self-image and esteem issues are rooted in the fact that we choose to measure our beauty by the world’s standards and not to see who we are in God’s eyes.

Now that we have that figured out we need to change our way of thinking because we have become wired to think the way the world does, and evaluate ourselves the way the world does.

When we look to the world to see what is beautiful all it really ends up doing is putting us down because we feel like we will never be good enough. For example, we may see ourselves as average or even feel pretty good about our appearance, but we say, “I will never be as stunning as so-and-so.” Comparison is indeed the thief of joy.

But when we look to God and what he sees as beautiful, we are left speechless and amazed by his grace. When he looks at us he sees us without blemish, his wonderful and beautiful creations. He sees us in our worst state and says we are beautiful because we are His. When we are confronted with how God sees us something inside changes and causes a transformation in our hearts.

When we are confronted with how God sees us something inside changes and causes a transformation in our hearts.

When we put all our time and attention into the world we will begin to look like it—a fallen and broken place, but when we shift our focus to God, we will begin to reflect his image—our perfect, gracious, loving, tenderhearted, and beautiful Creator.

Now, I hope to have helped you understand why, despite the fact that people tell us that beauty is more than skin deep, we still feel unbeautiful (yes, I just made up a word), and how changing our perspective is the first step to really seeing ourselves as beautiful. In Part 2 I will share why I think the phrases “You’re Beautiful Just the Way You Are” and “Beauty is More Than Skin Deep” are hurting us more than helping us.

Want to read Part 2? Click here > Part 2

Feel Inadequate? God Wants to Use You

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“O Lord, I can’t speak for you. I’m too young!”

Have you ever said this?  Have you ever found yourself unqualified and inadequate to do the work of God?  These are the very words of the prophet Jeremiah.

In the story of Jeremiah we find a young man who is still dependent on his parents, called by God to be a prophet to the nations.  When Jeremiah says, he is too young he truly is, in society’s view.  He is a young man, not yet living on his own and able to support himself.

But God tells him, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you.  Don’t be afraid of the people for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken! Jeremiah 1:7

The Bible is full a people unqualified to do God’s work, yet he still chooses them. I’m sure there were plenty of men who could speak well that God could’ve chosen, but he decided to pick Jeremiah.

How many times does God give you a heart or desire to reach someone, but you don’t do it because you feel unqualified? I know I sure have felt this way. This passage really struck me because there have been so many times when I chose to not do something because I felt like there was someone else who could do it better than me, or perhaps because I thought it was impossible for a young college student like me to tackle something so huge.

God doesn’t need someone who is smarter, more outgoing, prettier, has a great personality or someone who can lead people to Christ through their popularity or radical testimony. He doesn’t need any of that because God is above all of that.

But God says, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young.’”  He will use us no matter our deficiencies, let's be real, we all have them.  God doesn’t look at who we currently are.  He sees what we can be when we let Him take over.

God doesn’t need someone who is smarter, more outgoing, prettier, has a great personality or someone who can lead people to Christ through their popularity or radical testimony. He doesn’t need any of that because God is above all of that. He simply needs us to say, “Yes, God I will follow after you and go and do whatever you have called me to do.” He simply needs our obedience.

Maybe you’re one who knows that God has placed a calling on your life and you feel super unqualified. Maybe you don’t even know what God has called you to do, but you still feel unqualified to even be a witness for Christ because you’ve messed up so much.

The truth is, yes you are probably unqualified in human terms, but God doesn’t care about that. He took a boy still living with his parents and who could not speak well, and used him to prophecy to the people of Jerusalem.

We need to stop focusing on our own weaknesses and shortcomings and focus on what God is calling us to do because God wants to use you, you just have to be willing and trust in Him. 

Jesus promised in Matthew 28:20, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

 

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You're Worth It All

"But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear." Isaiah 59:2

I have grown up in the church, always hearing the gospel message about why Jesus came and died for us.  The other day I found myself asking the question, "why?" to remind myself what the Gospel message is really about. Why did God choose to send his son for us?  It was all for love!

For some reason I sometimes lose sight of the fact that love is what it was all about.  Our sin separated us from God because He is perfect holiness, and because God loves us soooo much He could not fathom the idea of being separated from His bride, the one He loves.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.  For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.  So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.”  Romans 5:8-11

Lately God has been speaking words of love into my life.  It is impossible to grasp the idea of a perfect love.  Maybe that’s the reason it is so hard for me to understand someone sending their son to die because they don’t want to be separated from me, a sinful human being.

But that is not how God looks at us.  He looks past our imperfections and sees what we can be; after all He is the one who made us.  Jesus died to pay the debt we owed because of our sin, so that God can be with us all the time.

Since I am an artistic person God showed it to me this way.  You are worthy of his love because He created you.  Doesn’t a creator have a right to love their creation?  When you create a masterpiece aren’t you proud of it?  And when you're proud of something, don't you want to show it off?  Doesn’t it bring a smile to your face?  Don’t you love your creations (when they turn out)?  That is how God loves you and even more!

God created and loves you the way you are!  When you are you, and all of who YOU are, that is when you are most beautiful to God.

Then it gets messy because sin is present in our lives.  Don’t get confused because God hates sin; remember it is what causes us to be separated from him.  It is the whole reason Jesus had to die on the cross.

be true to who you are

God loves who he created us to be, not what this world has sadly told us we are.  When we really grasp what it means that God loves us and that we are worthy of His love, we will begin to shape into the person God intended and envisioned us to be.  We will see that because we are worth everything to God, there is nothing more we can do than to let go of our sinful tendencies and give our lives to him.

God could not stand the thought of being separated from us, so he made a plan to make sure that we could spend eternity with him.  He fought for you because you were and are worth it to God.

 

We're on our Way Home

We are all on this journey called life.  Some of us are moving forward head first ready to tackle whatever challenge may come our way, others maybe have taken a few steps backward, or maybe you find that you’re just stuck not knowing where to go.  It’s hard to move forward and take the next step when you don’t even know where you’re headed. The question you find yourself asking is: how do I move forward when I have no idea where I’m even going?  The answer is simple, yet difficult.  It is to step out in faith trusting God.  We’ve all heard the verse in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”  There, it clearly tells us that we cannot always trust our eyes to lead us; sometimes we just have to step out in faith.

Of course there will be times when we have to take a step, not knowing for sure if it’s the right direction or not, and it turns out to be the wrong direction.  In those moments we can trust that God is with us, and know that He will always put us back on the path He has for us.

So you say, “Okay all this sounds great, but I still don’t know where I’m headed.”  Well, we can look at the context of this verse and learn more.  In the first verse of this chapter it says, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”  As Christians, our home is not here on Earth, but in Heaven.  This is just a short detour on our way home.  So where are you headed?  Hopefully home, in Heaven.  C.S. Lewis wrote, in better words than I could ever articulate, about the hope we have of knowing that one day we will arrive at home in Heaven.  All we need to do is keep our eyes focused on the future glory.  Here is what he writes in Mere Christianity:

“Hope is one of the Theological virtues.  This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.  It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.  If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.  The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.  Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Like it says in Colossians 3:2-3, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”  In order to move forward we need to not focus so much on our current circumstances, but keep our eyes and thoughts on God.

What does a life focused on “the next” look like?  That means living out our Christian walk.  The greatest command is to love God and then to love others, and God says that on judgment day He will say to us, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).  The way that we can express our love for God is to love others because when we are doing that, we are actually acting out of our love for God.

So what is the next step?  To start serving others as a response to the love God has given us.  Then you will begin to see that it doesn’t really matter if you don’t know what the next month or year will hold.  As long as you focus on God and living your life for Him, he will continuously guide you through all the ups and downs this life will bring you until you reach your final destination, in Heaven.

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God is sove{Reign}

There are so many moments in our lives that we waste worrying about things that have yet to happen. We bring with us everything from our past. It’s inevitable because our past shapes who we are. We also bring with us our present thoughts, our present actions, and our present words. Those too shape who we are. And we also bring our hopes and fears for what’s yet to come. These too, shape and affect who we are and will become. It says in Psalm 139:4-6, “Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain!

I think something I often forget is that God has been with me the entire time, He is with me right now, and He will go with me wherever I go for all eternity. He has been, and He will be. He has seen, and He will see. (p.s. those are lyrics from a totally amazing song! Click here to listen to it => You Know Me by Steffany Frizzell)

I like the word picture of God hemming us in “behind and before.” We can know that we will always stay on the path He has for us because He is guiding us every step of the way. He already knows what’s going to happen to us tomorrow, so He is the only one who can guide us accordingly. Because of this we have no need to worry. I find myself at moments feeling like I’m wasting time, or that I could be doing something more with my life right now. I realized that sometimes God puts us in a waiting room because we’re not ready for the next step. There are also some things that are simply out of our control, and we have to realize that that’s OK. God already knew we would be where we are now, and He knows where to direct our next step because He already had a plan for our life before the world even began.

It is important, that even if God has placed you in a period of waiting, to not just sit idly by. It can be so tempting to want to do just that, but how can we expect to ever get out of the period of waiting by doing nothing? I know that right now, even though I may feel like the things I’m doing in my life are inconsequential, God is preparing me for greater things, and that encourages me. It reminds me of the verse in 1 Corinthians 15 that says, "So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless." I just have to remember that this period of waiting isn’t forever, and that I can’t just sit around, during my waiting. I need to actively wait, and use this time to grow deeper in my walk and relationship with God because as I do that I will begin to change and become more like Him, and one step closer to the amazing plan He has in store. My Old Testament Professor actually just touched on this subject in class as he was talking about God's promise to Abraham. The three things he told us to remember when we are waiting for God’s promise are that God is sovereign, God is always near, and God has the big picture.

So remember that although it may be hard, and it feels like you’ve been waiting for so long, God has promised to us that His purpose will always prevail because He is sovereign.