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Daily Devotions

24 Jun

Today I grabbed a devotional book that had been lying around my apartment for quite some time.  I had been intending to read it for awhile, but it was just one of those things that kept getting pushed off.  There always seemed to be something else to occupy my time with.  Don’t get me wrong, I was still spending time with God – praying, reading the Bible, an intermittent daily devotional, and going to church. But truthfully, it has been awhile since I’ve sat down and read through a devotional book.  So what happens when I open up the first chapter and start to read it?  Questions start popping up in my mind like: “What is the author all about anyways?” “I’m probably not going to like his style of writing, right?” and “What if it’s boring and contains nothing profound?”.

That’s when I stopped myself.  It doesn’t matter whether or not the author’s style is exactly to my liking, or if I think it’s brilliant and profound.  Yes, those things might make me like it more.  But the purpose of a devotional book isn’t that I end up liking it.  Its purpose is to open a conversation between me and God.  To spark up a dialogue.  Regardless of what I think of the book at the end, if it got me talking with God – it’s served its purpose.  Furthermore, time spent reading it was anything but trivial.

My point with all this is – whether it’s a devotional book you have sitting on your shelf, or you’re thinking about buying a new one – don’t focus on finding the absolute perfect book.  Just pick one up, and start the conversation.

I’d like to leave you with the very first thing I read in my devotional book, a quote from George MacDonald’s Phantastes:

And a great hand reached out of the dark, and grasped mine for a moment, mightily and tenderly.  I said to myself, “The veil between, though very dark, is very thin.” 

 
 

Holiness as the Great Struggle

01 Mar

I see holiness as the great battle in Christianity these days, no longer are you made fun of for believing in God or calling yourself a Christian. You can believe whatever you want. Its when you start drawing lines in the sand, so to speak, that people start getting upset at your faith. When you say you believe other people are wrong, when you say there is a real hell and even nice people go there, when you start living your life by a different set of standards than the world. Holiness means to be set aside for a special purpose. 1 Peter 1:15-16  says “But just as he who called you is hold, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “be holy, because I am holy”". We are to be set apart, but so many Christians refuse to make the hard choices necessary in order to truly walk with God. Think about the young rich man, whom Jesus told to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor (Matt. 19:16-22). Jesus laid a hard line down before him, and the man didn’t want to cross it – so Jesus told him he couldn’t be His follower. And then there was the man who was going to follow Jesus, but asked to bury his father first (Luke 9:57-62). Jesus said no, you must be willing to leave everything behind. Otherwise you are not worthy of following him.

As Christians in America today, we don’t like hard lines, and hard truths. We don’t like being told a list of do’s and don’ts . And let me be clear, Christianity is about a right relationship with God – about being forgiven because of what Jesus did for you, not because you did anything to deserve it. But at the same time, once you start following Jesus he lays out pretty clearly in the New Testament the standards He wants you to follow. And he doesn’t mince words. “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” and ”Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).

I think this generation struggles to understand the weight that their actions carry, and how important it is to live a life, in thought and actions, that strive to be closer to God no matter the cost or sacrifice. That when your actions/thoughts do not line up with what the Bible says, it DOES matter.

‘I know God says to only have sex with your spouse, but I really love so-and-so and want to be closer to them. Sex is an expression of love, and God doesn’t look down on love, right?’
‘I know God says not to get drunk, but its just a little harmless fun now and then’
‘I know He says to give to the poor, and help the needy, but …’

We have excuses for everything. God never said following Him was easy, or without cost. He said the exact opposite ‘Whoever wants to follow me must pick up his cross everyday‘.

‘The fast and the easy’ – In a day and age where everything is faster, easier, more entertainment and ‘me’ driven – people don’t want to hear they can’t have what they want, how they want it, when they want it. After all, it’s ‘their’ life, right? And they should be able to live it the best way the see fit….

The thing is, when we become Christians, we are commanded to die to ourselves, and to live for Christ. Meaning, it’s really ‘His’ life.  More and more I am seeing a disconnect between what people say they believe,  and what they actually do.  That’s why there isn’t so much a struggle to say you believe in God…but to live like you believe in Him?  That’s a different story.

 
 

Just because it’s not now, doesn’t mean it’s never.

02 Aug

Just because it’s not now, doesn’t mean it’s never.  Just because it is now, doesn’t mean it’s forever.

 

Sometimes I think we need to remind ourselves of those facts.  Our current circumstances need not be our futures.  See all the things in your life that you’re despairing at?  They can be changed.  We often forget that life goes in cycles; there are good times, and bad times, and even in between times when things just…are.  Life is a crazy ride.  It gets better, it gets worse – but one thing it isn’t, is static.  It always moves.  And like it says in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything under the sun.  I know when things in my life start looking down, I sometimes look around and despair.  Because I imagine my life staying that way forever.  Or in the reverse, when things are going great, I imagine that they will only get better, that things will always keep going uphill from there.

But when things are bad, assuming that’s just how it will always be leads to a self-fulfilling prophesy of sorts.  You have no hope that things will change, so you don’t even try to change them, therefore they never do change.  And when things are great, thinking that’s how it will always be is also dangerous.  Because hard times will come eventually, it’s a fact of life.  And when they do come, you’d be caught completely off guard, bewildered, and possibly shattered.  We need to understand that what is, or isn’t, in our lives right now, will not extend forever.  Have hope that the future will bring wonderful things, understand that sorrows will come as well, and know that if we trust in the Lord, pray, and take action – things can, and will, change.  Do not let your visions of today, get in the way of seeing what tomorrow could be.

 

I apologize if this is a little on the ‘self-help’ side of things, but I know when I’ve truly believed these ideas – I’ve had more hope and peace about life, the good and the bad.  So I thought I’d throw it out there in case it would encourage anyone else.  And if you want to think more about this, I’d encourage you to read in the Bible the story of Joseph, in the Old Testament.  Talk about a life of ups and downs and change – and imagine how different his story would have been had he assumed his current circumstances would dictate how the rest of his life would turn out.

 
 

Long time no post

17 Feb

Hey all, sorry I haven’t posted in awhile but I’ve been on an exciting journey! About a month ago I started in the internship program with a group called Convoy of Hope.  It’s three months long and has, and will have, me doing all kinds of fun stuff.  Their ‘mission statement’ is:

“Convoy of Hope is a faith based organization with a driving passion to feed the world through children’s feeding initiatives, community outreach, disaster response and partner resourcing.”

I’ve been doing a lot of training, and a lot of learning.  And I’ve even done some actual work!  I was down in the Dallas area during the time of the Superbowl doing some anti-human trafficking work.  That was some real eye opening stuff.  I’ve also helped out with packaging up food to be sent out to those in need (and helped supervise others to do the same too).

And now, I’m preparing to leave on Monday for the Philippines.  It’s absolutely exciting!  I will be there for about 7 weeks, doing all kinds of different work.  From helping orphanages and churches start gardens and fish ponds, to working with the feeding programs Convoy of Hope has there, to getting to know and minister with the local people – and who knows what else, our schedule is always subject to change, that’s for sure.

Anyways, I wanted to apologize for not updating this blog in awhile – and to let you all know that if you want to follow me on my adventures, I’ve been keeping up on my personal blog at www.JessicaSievers.com and I’d love for you to take a look and see the journeys of a fellow Red Wing-ite (I’m thinking ‘Red Wing-ite’ is not a word, ;) but it get’s the point across -right?)

I will probably do a few blogs while I’m still on this journey too, but I’ll pick up doing more regular posts when I get back home to the states in late April.

Take care, and say a prayer for me!

Jessica

 
 

Psalm 109 and CS Lewis

24 Nov

This post is actually something I had written a few months ago as a note on facebook, but the other night I happened to reread it and thought it would be something interesting to share on here as well…

The other day I was in Barnes & Noble and I bought a book of various CS Lewis writings, most of which I didn’t already own. One of the first selections I read was entitled “The Psalms”. There was one train of thought that really stuck out to me when I read it, and again another night while I was sitting in church. Lewis starts talking about Psalm 109 from the Bible, where the writer of that Psalm wishes wholeheartedly that immense punishment and pain be brought about against those who had wronged him. A few things are pointed out by Lewis which, while good, I’ll not go into here. What I want to focus on is when, after acknowledging that wishing evil on anyone – even your enemies – is bad, this Psalm shows us “‘ This is what you make of a man by ill-treating him.’” This is a pretty common sense idea here, nothing too new or ground breaking. When people (or animals for that matter) are treated badly, they want to lash out at those who are hurting them. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter who they hurt, they just lash out. This doesn’t mean that it’s ok for them to do that, that it’s good or something to encourage. It just … is.  That’s what happens.  Lewis goes on to say:

“Now in a case of what we ordinarily call ‘seduction’ (that is, sexual seduction) we should think it monstrous to dwell on the guilt of the party who yielded to temptation and ignore that of the party who tempted. But every injury or oppression is equally a temptation, a temptation to hatred, and in that sense a seduction. Whenever we have wronged our fellow man, we have tempted him to be such a man as wrote Psalm 109. We may have repented of our wrong: we do not always know if he has repented of his hatred. How do accounts now stand between us if he has not? I do not now the answer to that question. But I am inclined to think that we had better look unflinchingly at the sort of work we have done; like puppies, we must have ‘our noses rubbed in it’. A man, now penitent, who has once seduced and abandoned a girl and then lost sight of her, had better not avert his eyes from the crude realities of the life she may now be living. …… Anyway, it is very wicked of them to hate us. Yes; but the folly consists in supposing that God sees the wickedness in them apart from the wickedness in us which provoked it. They sin by hatred because we tempted them. We have, in that sense, seduced, debauched them. They are, as it were, the mothers of this hatred: we are the fathers.”

When we have wronged someone, the first thing must always be to repent before God and seek the forgiveness of those we have wronged. God will forgive us no matter what, when we sincerely turn to him – and away from our sin – he will forgive us. Always. But we cannot walk away from our responsibility, just because we have been forgiven. Those we have wronged may not forgive us, that is not up to us though.  We must, however, make every attempt to right the wrongs we have caused. When we cause others to sin, we are, in a sense, guilty of their sins as well. “the folly consists in supposing that God sees the wickedness in them apart from the wickedness in us which provoked it”

Before God we all will be held accountable individually for the deeds we have done.  Regardless of how we are provoked, we still are responsible for our actions.  But whether we sin, or push someone else into sin…we still sin.  In Matthew 22:39 Jesus tells us the second greatest commandment is to “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” By pushing someone else to sin, or seducing them to as CS Lewis would say, breaks this commandment and is therefore a sin.

This doesn’t mean we always have to carry around guilt with us for the wrongs we have committed. If God has forgiven us, we are clean. But we still ought to feel responsible. We all know that our actions have consequences, but I think when the consequences fall on others, we sometimes forget the part we played in the matter.

 
 

The Wise Builder

17 Nov

” “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” When Jesus was done saying these things, the crowds were amaze at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

Matthew 7:24-29


I’ve heard this parable many times. And I’ve understood the point that you have to have Jesus and the Word of God as your foundation, otherwise when the storms come – everything will come crashing down. Yet, when I re-read this parable the other night. I saw it in a different light. Jesus said “everyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like a wise man” …. hear his words, and put them into practice. “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man” …. If you hear his words, and don‘t put them into practice…..you are a like a foolish man, and the shelter you think you’ve built to protect you is just waiting to come crashing down.

I, for some reason, always just saw this passage as meaning you had to have your foundation be the Word of God … but that’s not really what it says, is it?  Yes, you have to know it, and it is your foundation, but if you don’t follow through and DO what it says – Jesus calls you foolish and that you have no foundation to speak of.

The Bible says a lot about the importance of action in the Christian faith/life, and I’m still trying to grasp exactly how it all fits together.  The Bible is clear that we are not saved by works – there is nothing we could ever do to earn us our salvation, it is a gift that we receive by faith.  That said, I think the Bible teaches (and the above passage highlights) that knowing the Word of God isn’t the same as believing, and believing entails ‘doing’.

 
 

Life on other Planets?

06 Nov

In reading an article on yahoo ( http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100929/ap_on_sc/us_sci_new_earths ) I started thinking about a subject that has crossed my mind more than once… What would life on other planets mean for me, as a Christian?  Would the discovery of life on other planets shake my faith/the foundations of Christianity? Do I even think it’s possible that God created life on other planets?  Sure, this isn’t a huge moral question :) but I think it’s interesting none-the-less.  What do you all think – is there likely advanced life on other planets? If so, what would that mean for Christians/Christianity?

 
 

Violence

20 Oct

Most people have heard the phrase “turn the other cheek”?

But what does that really mean?


Say a man breaks into my house to rob the place, thinking it was empty, but instead finds me still at home.  Since I’m no black belt, and probably couldn’t put up too much of a fight physically, let’s say I own a gun.  When the thief breaks into my home, I’m able to grab my gun right away.  Gun in hand, what should I do? Start by asking them to leave, seems like a good place, maybe fire a warning shot.  But what if, for whatever reason, he doesn’t go.  I’m not able to tell whether the thief has a weapon or not, but should I shoot him anyways, since he won’t leave – after all, he may or may not try to hurt me…is it ok to strike out with violence then?  What if I see he does have a weapon, is it ok to shoot then?  And is it ok to shoot to kill?  Let’s take it a step further, what if I had a family and I thought the thief was going to hurt my family?  …….


Luke 6:27-29:  “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either.”


As a Christian, what right do we have to violence?


I’m not saying I for sure wouldn’t defend myself or my family, truth is I don’t know how I’d react and it would be instinctual to try and protect them.  But what should I do, is the question. When I look at all the Martyrs throughout history, and even the apostles from the Bible, I don’t hear of them resisting physically, violently.  I’ve sometimes thought that perhaps there is a difference in just being attacked in general, and being attacked because of your faith, and that in the latter case you shouldn’t fight back, but in the former you could.  But I don’t know, the verse in Luke is talking about being treated badly just in general – being mistreated, beaten, and stolen from.  So that doesn’t support my thoughts.


It seems there are two ways of looking at self defense.  One, being that if you use violence to the point of death, you are saying that your life is more valuable than the person you’re killing.  Saying that if one of us has to die, it  had better be the other person.  This makes me think of a quote from the movie The End of the Spear where Jim Elliot’s young son asks him to please fight back if the natives he was going to witness to got violent.  He replied “I can’t do that … I’m ready meet Jesus.  They aren’t.”  That has really stuck with me.  If I die because someone kills me, I’m absolutely ready to meet Jesus.  As it says in Philippians 1:21 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  The person I might be killing in self defense probably doesn’t know Jesus and when they die they will spend eternity in Hell.  But perhaps they would have had a chance to turn to Jesus if I hadn’t killed them.  Perhaps not, but would I take that chance away from them because I simply want more time on this earth?


The second way of looking at self defense is said best by Edmund Burke ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’  I think this is especially true in cases of fighting to protect someone else. Or, if you would be the only one harmed by a person, perhaps that person would go on to hurt more people after yourself – so forcefully stopping/killing them could be a service to humanity.  But where is this found in the Bible?


In most issues, let alone on violence, there is a need to make sure the difference between Old and New Testaments is understood.  In the Old Testament fighting was called for and even applauded.  In the New Testament, you never hear stories of the disciples fighting, let alone killing.  Even though they were being persecuted, tortured, and killed.  Jesus told them they were to expect that kind of treatment, and take joy in it.  When Jesus came he changed a lot about how we relate to God, each other, and the rest of the world.  So when people talk about God being a ‘violent’ God, and that ‘of course God condones violence, look at all the killing he did in the Bible’ … they are really only talking about the Old Testament.  I want to know what the New Testament has to say about the issue.  And what that means for me today.


I don’t have any firm conclusions on this issue, but I often find myself thinking about it.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 
 

UN Resolution Against ‘Defamation of Religion’

13 Oct

Article from Open Doors

The above link is something I got as an email recently.  I thought it deserved some looking into, and figured maybe some of you would have some thoughts on it as well.  I’ve looked over the resolution, and I believe Open Doors had it right when they said “The resolution protects a faith rather than individuals who hold a faith, which goes against the very purpose of human rights in international law.”  It is asking that governments be sanctioned to step in and protect a religion, and Islam more specifically, against people saying bad things about them, mocking their leaders, or even just voicing the opinion that that religion is false.  It is, by and large, an anti-free speech resolution.  At least that’s my take on it.  It is aiming at controlling what people can and can’t say about religion and Islam.  Is that really something the UN should be supporting?

 
 

Foundational Beliefs

03 Oct

“An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy.”

– CS Lewis, The Abolition of Man


For anyone who has read any philosophy, you’ve most likely come across René Descartes and his famous saying “I think, therefore I am.”  This statement came out of a long discourse in his attempt to get to a solid, unquestionable truth.  He started asking things along the lines of  ‘how do I know other people exist’ and ‘does anything in the outside world really exist?’ and finally, ‘how do I know I exist?’.  He came to the conclusion that since he is here to think these questions, then in some form or another he must actually exist.  This is definitely an interesting philosophical ‘experiment’ of sorts, but of what use is it to continually question every basic assumption?  An extreme example could be this:  you’re standing in the middle of the road as a car is fast approaching.  You stare at it contemplating whether or not that car actually exists (in which case you should start running) or whether the car is just an illusion (in which case, why break a sweat running when you don’t have to?).  With that scenario in mind, look back at the quote I have at the top of this post.  I am not saying we shouldn’t examine our assumptions, or beliefs.  I actually think it’s good to look at things and ask – do I really believe that? and for what reasons?  But once you’ve settled on an answer, you have your answer and you don’t need to keep going back trying to justify that belief every time you think about it.  So it’s ok to sit back once in your life and ask, ‘does the outside world really exist?’ (try running into a wall, I’m sure that will help you get your answer).  But once you’ve settled for yourself that the world really does exist – it would be idiocy to question it again and again.  Perhaps neurosis is a better word than idiocy, but the point still stands.  Once you’ve examined this foundational belief, you can then rely on it in your everyday reasoning.  It is a sturdy brick with which you can build arguments (argument is just another way of saying ‘your reasoning for why you think something’s true’).

For Christians, we need to take a hard look at our faith and ask ourselves some questions.  Questions like, ‘do I believe Jesus lived, was crucified and rose from the dead?’ and ‘do I believe what’s written in the Bible is true?’.  Once you come up with an answer, look at why you believe those things.  The reasons why you believe those things don’t have to be proof enough for everyone else, just for you.  If I say I believe in Jesus because I had a personal experience with him, and that is proof enough for me then I don’t have to go any further trying to explain it to anyone else.  Know why you believe something is not the same as saying why you think other people should believe something.  Knowing why you believe is more of personal exploration, than of reasons why everyone else should believe the same things you do.  I believe it’s important to know why you believe something because then you can feel confident that what you believe is true and not just some passing whim to which you haven’t given a second thought.  Once you you’ve thought through what and why you believe, those beliefs can then become foundational ‘bricks’ which you can use when reasoning through various issues.

So when Christian’s use Bible verses to support their position on certain topics, it isn’t just a fall back position of ‘well, it was written in this book and since I can’t think for myself I’m gonna just use what it said’.  It is that one of the foundational truths a Christian holds, is that what the Bible says, is true.  When a person tries to figure out what to think about a particular issue, they line up what they know to be true, and see what kind of conclusion that leads them to.  Christian or not, that’s how we think.  For example, if you were standing next to a friend and out of nowhere they slap your arm very hard – how do you react? It depends on what you know to be true.  If you know your friend is often physically violent, or really likes trying to perform slapstick humor – then you would probably get mad, coming to the conclusion that they either wanted to start a fight, or somehow thought it’d be funny to slap you.  Neither of which would be very amusing.  However, if you knew your friend to be kind and soft spoken, you would probably not get mad – merely confused and asking what that was for, because you would come to the conclusion that they probably had to have had a good reason for doing what they did.  Obviously human behaviour is somewhat unpredictable, and lots of factors come into play, but I hope you see my point.  In life we come to conclusions by taking the true things we know, and building up from there.  The Christian often relies on the Bible, because they know it to be true, and they build up from the foundation of the Bible to reach correct conclusions in different areas of life.  The Bible isn’t the only brick they use, but it is one of the first and most important ones.  Knowing this helps us understand where a lot of friction comes in when Christians and non-Christians are debating things.

As Christians, non-Christians often will not agree with us – and this is mostly because they do not agree with the initial building bricks of our arguments (ie, God exists, the Bible is true and we should try to conform ourselves to what it says, there is a supernatural realm, etc).  And that is ok.  Let me repeat myself, it is ok if people do not agree with us.  We don’t need to get mad because someone disagrees with us, or thinks differently – they are working with a different set of ‘foundation bricks’ than we are.  They won’t accept the ‘foundation bricks’ on which we set up our arguments and therefore won’t accept our conclusions that follow from them.  It is not our job to force other people to agree with us.  However, it is our job to make sure that they understand clearly what we are saying, and that, given what we believe, our arguments and conclusions are valid (make sense).  We should offer up clear explanations and sound reasoning. Like it was said to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 2:7 “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen” and into chapter 3 God explains to Ezekiel that he was not responsible for the actions of the people he spoke to, he was only held accountable to say what he was meant to say, to whom he was meant to say it.  What the people did with it was not in his control.  Although that was on a slightly different subject (that of prophecy), I still believe this message really applies here.  We can’t control whether or not people believe what we say.  That isn’t, and shouldn’t be, our job. We simply need to know how to convey our thoughts in a rational and intelligent manner so that they can be understood.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”

1 Peter 3:15