The funny thing about people is that most don’t say what they really want; what is really on their minds. Especially if it is about themselves. There do exist those few rare souls who bare all and would tell you any detail about their life without so much as a hint of a questioning glint in your eye. However, the majority of people will not share details of their life – unless you ask them directly.
The thing is, despite this seemingly closed-book façade, most people are desperate to be known by others – to connect on a deeper level. Just as books exist solely to be opened and read, people exist to be searched out and be truly known by others. Community is the way people were originally created to live. That is just the way humans are. Within relationships, people desire, to borrow the phraseology from Moulin Rouge, to know and be known intimately. Each person is merely waiting for someone interested and bold enough to come along and ask the right questions to open the book.
It is not so much that every person you meet is NOT an open book, but that books do not open themselves and read their own contents to you; they require someone curious enough to open them up and read them in order to discover the vast contents within. Every book is a mystery when viewed only by its cover. But within each is a unique world which exists entirely separate and distinct from that of any other. Some books sit on a shelf all their lives waiting patiently for someone to stop and notice it’s significance, brush off the dust from years of neglect and unlock the hidden stories, mysteries, adventures that have been sealed inside.
Is there someone you know who you’ve only known by their cover or are you in need of some dusting off yourself?
The cover you need to crack may even be your own.
Take the leap and open a book today; really get to know the contents rather than just the exterior.
It is interesting how as college students, and even graduate students, we characterize each other by our majors. I think we put each other and ourselves into the box of our major; we major restrict ourselves, in a sense. I do it constantly; it’s sort of the culture of our time, I suppose. We see an English major and decide that all she is is brainy and nothing more; a math major is constantly referred to whenever mathematical issues come up, even if it’s something simply like dividing the bill between a few people; and a person with a science major must be Asian because only Asians are smart enough, right? I think this stereotypical thinking limits us in how we see others’ potential, and inhibits our perspective of our own abilities. I am not just a literary scholar; I love music and singing, art and accents, world travel and camping in my backyard, the physiology of sight, etc, etc. I could go on forever about my interests, because they are wide and numerous. But for some reason, the college generation today boxes themselves in by talking about and thinking of people as only one thing. We let our major give us our identity, rather than allowing our major to contribute to our already full and diverse identities. Everyone has many interests, but unfortunately for us, the college culture trains us to see only one: whatever we majored in. I’m sure these constraints fade as time goes on, perhaps you get a job in a completely different field than what your degree is in, or you begin a family and become even more distanced from studies that were relevant to you in college, or maybe you just cultivate a full life as an adult that is filled with many hobbies and interests, rather than being tied to one thing in general, as college students typically are. Nevertheless, this constrictive thinking exists in our culture, and I think it’s hindering our ability to branch out and try new things!
If the culture and my friends say that since I’m an English major, I should do something concerning writing, that’s all well and good. However, nowadays, the message we receive is not “you majored in English so you’re equipped for a job in the English field” but rather “you majored in English so that’s all you are good at and if you try to do something different or anything else besides that, you will fail, because you’re an English major.” This message is crazy in light of the fact that every year people graduate from college and get a job that has nothing to do with their major because the economy sucks and they can’t get any other job or because they’re interested in that thing in addition to what they majored in. The point is that we should not limit ourselves, and thus set ourselves up for failure before we have even begun, by thinking that our majors and college degrees define us. No, they shape us, teach us, grow us, and certainly open our eyes to new things which interest us (hopefully), but our major is not all that we are! Especially since we as Christians have Jesus, we need to find our identity in Him over anything else, and then out of that core identity, we have interests and desires which flow into our personality and shape/hone who we are over the course of our lives. Your identity is not all about your major, and we shouldn’t make it so. Our culture needs to break the bonds of this closed-minded type thinking to allow for growth and change in the individual members and the society as a whole.
When I originally was thinking about the idea of why God made us with the need to focus on one thing at a time to be effective and productive back in July 2012, the boy band called One Direction was not really popular, at least not among my college-aged friends. But I put it on hold to post because I knew I had more to say about this topic, and could probably write forever about lots of things in the Bible. However, I figure now is the perfect time for this, because this issue is so relevant and this band is totally dominating the teenage-girl music charts right now!
So, join me as we concentrate on our One True Direction: getting closer to the heart of Jesus.
Just like we can only physically look in one direction at a time as a result of how our eyes are set in our heads, so spiritually, we can only look one way at a time. In this sense, we have one-track, or tunnel-vision. Some say moms have eyes in the back of their heads, but the reality is that they really only have one pair of eyes and are just very observant concerning the safety and conduct of their young children.
What would it be like if you could see multiple things – look in multiple directions – at the same time? I think it would be not only confusing, but very unfocused. Your life would lack clarity as your intellect and attention was constantly split in two (or more) places.
I think God made us with limited physical vision to not overwhelm our senses (of which he gave us an overabundance in FIVE of them!) but balance our awareness of the world around us. Sight is clearly important to Jesus in the New Testament, like when he heals two blind men in Matthew 20 and the blind man in John 9. Jesus even says in Luke 4:18-19, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.”
Jesus turns his sights (pun intended) to our spiritual eyes as well. In Matthew 6:22-23 he says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Clearly, eyes are incredibly important to our spiritual health! God purposefully gave us spiritual tunnel-vision so that would could focus and put all our efforts, determination, faith and trust in Him as we seek that one thing. One goal at a time is not a narrow view of life. I think it is a very wide view: it allows one to complete the task at hand adequately by focusing all energies on that one thing without distractions. Thus, just like physically, if you are looking down, necessarily by definition, you cannot see what is above you. Now the question comes: if we have only one point of view, where do we look?
My answer is to God, the One who sees all and knows all! Where better to find the right direction to look than by asking the One who knows everything?! We are called as Christians to make prayerful and wise decisions concerning the direction we pursue in our lives. And sometimes, even if we think it’s the right one, God might tell us to go a different way. I personally take comfort in the fact that if I’m not going in the right direction, He will gently guide me to the right one.
Yet one place where we often get stuck as Christians is when we think we know better than God does about where we should be heading. Since He gave us the ability to choose which way we want to go, we always have the freedom to run in the opposite direction than where He intends for us. But one of my favorite things about God is that He is relentless. He will never, never, ever stop pursuing you, and he certainly will never give up on you. So when we stumble upon the wrong way on accident or run away from God out of rebellion, the good news is that He won’t ever leave you and is going to tenderly guide you back in the right direction, no matter what. And the good news is that if you get lost, there is only one right direction to turn your focus towards: Jesus. He’s the guide post to focus your life around, and He’s got the map and directions to life, since He created it all!
[but as you begin your journey towards our Savior Jesus Christ, enjoy more photos of the One Direction boys. At the very least, they can harmonize and don’t have acne.]
Jesus has got that “One Thing” for you: Salvation!
A few months ago, I sat around a campfire staring at the flames while toasting marshmallows with 14 friends at our last Growth Group (Bible study) meeting of the school year. I have always loved fire. I grew up camping with my family and am used to having a camp fire nearby to cook over and keep warm, but mostly to toast marshmallows to a perfect golden brown for s’mores (a small but passionate hobby of mine). However, I have not been able to go camping with my family or anyone for a long time. Thus, sitting around a small fire in Steph’s backyard with these few friends with whom I had started to get close was an immensely pleasurable experience for me. We talked and laughed, played a few worship songs and enjoyed each others’ company one last time as a group before finals brought the school year to a close, before seniors graduated and moved on to the next phase of their lives. All the while, I studied the flames as they gradually waned from the strong, bright yellow-white flames into smoldering, red-hot coals, and finally died out, leaving cold grey ash in the bottom of the pit.
Just as gradually as the flames diminished, I began to think over my past struggles and the different phases of pain and growth I have gone through in the recent past. As we talked, I thought over the entire process of the fire, from dry wood lit by a small spark, fanned into a blazing flame that gradually got smaller, yet somehow hotter until its fuel was finally depleted and it died out. As I turned this metaphor of the flames as a representation of trials in our lives over in my mind, I thought of how my struggles with self-harm started innocently enough – an accident provided the tiny spark which would ignite a long, raging battle inside and outside of me.
Yet once the spark was established, the winds of adversity and the enemy’s lies fanned into flame that which without further provocation might have easily fizzled out into nothingness.
Things steadily got hotter – my battle with lies from the enemy, self-hatred and cutting incrementally got worse until one day I woke up to discover how far deep I had already gone – without realizing it along the way. Like the flames, things increasingly got hotter and hotter; when the outer flames of self-injury seemed to die down, that was when the fire was in its hottest state: burning-hot coals. During that time, encountering torturous thoughts of temptation, extreme insomnia, and experimentation with other forms of self-injury occurred daily. I cycled through hateful thoughts towards myself, my life and everything about me, hurting myself while abhorring it, and then loathing myself for allowing myself to do it once again, finally coming full circle to harm yet again.
From my life and upon hearing other peoples’ testimonies of living through hardship in their lives, I have come to the conclusion that the cliché “the darkest hour is just before the dawn” is actually often true. It certainly was in my case. The coals are the hottest stage of the fire, and everyone knows that after they cool down, they are reduced to a dull gray ash. Some may argue that the smoldering coals would be the “darkest hour” part of the fire; the time when hardship is at its height, temptation at its strongest, and pain at its most intolerable. Yet in my experience, although hardship, temptation and pain are inevitable truths in the coals stage, it is not the stage containing the “darkest hour.” Perhaps surprisingly to some, the darkest hour is in fact the ashes stage which immediately follows the coals.
After the heat has tempered and smoke signals the demise of the fire, what remains in the fire pit are the cooling ashes. This is the point at which ambition, courage, and most importantly hope begin to die out. Whilst the literal fire dies and turns to ash, defeat replaces dreams, pain overcomes faith, despair conquers hope. In short, this is the dying stage. For me, it was a literal death. After enduring the hell-on-earth experience of the coals, I lost all desire to live and decided death was the next and only option for me. This was my ashes stage. But the amazing fact that I am here writing this means that my life didn’t stay in the ashes stage. Obviously, I didn’t die, though I tried so hard, at best I only came very close.
But guess what: there’s good news.
According to the Bible, what rises from the ashes is not dead at all, it is Beauty. As in my case, it takes a lot of time and hard work to rise from the ashes changed, made new, and beautiful. But it can be done, when you give your whole heart and control over to Jesus accept His forgiveness and allow him to break your chains, bind up your wounds and bring His brilliant light into your dark life.
Jesus takes your ashes upon himself and in return gives you His crown, His joy, His strength and His beauty. His love overwhelms everything else if you only let it.
The Year of the LORD’s Favor
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
The whole journey of transformation has many stages, but the Ashes turned to Beauty step is, in my opinion, the most vital. You can choose to stay in the ashes stage, miserable, broken and bound. Or you can choose freedom. Only Jesus can break you free from your past and make you totally and completely new. All you have to do is choose him. I did; and He has changed my heart and given me life again. Will you choose him too?
Everyone at some point in their lives has read or heard of the 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 passage on love being patient and kind, not envious or boastful, etc. It is often included in wedding vows, movies, and is a prominent topic of church sermons. But what is love, really? I am endeavoring to dig into this word and its implications for living life successfully a little deeper. I wish I could cover all the things the Bible says about love, but there is simply not enough time or room here. So I guess for now you will just have to be content with this small sampling, and eagerly await the publication of my book. To begin, take a look on your own at just a few places in the Bible that love is mentioned:
*Note: If you don’t have a Bible, biblegateway.com is a great online resource to look up any verse in the Bible, and multiple translations are available to choose from. My favorite is ESV*
- John 15:12-17
- Romans 12:9
- 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
- 1 Corinthians 13:13
- Ephesians 5:1-2
- Colossians 3:14
- 1 Peter 4:8
- 1 John 3:16
- 2 John 1:6
These are only a small sampling of all the Bible has to say about love. But I want to take a closer look at what love looks like in a practical way by going over the definitions of love and its meanings in Greek.
So what is love, exactly? Since I am an English major, I love definitions. My natural inclination was to look it up in my Merrian-Webster Collegiate dictionary, which says that love is:
- (n) A strong affection for one another arising out of kinship or personal ties; attraction based on desire; tenderness felt by lovers.
- (n) Unselfish, loyal, and benevolent concern for the good of another person
- (v) To hold dear, cherish
- (v) To feel passion, to caress, to feel affection or experience desire, etc…
But these are all very broad definitions, because the English language has only one word for all types of love! Greek, the original language of the New Testament, however, has at least 4 words for love: Eros, Storge, Phileo, and Agape. Over and over in the New Testament Phileo and Agape are used, which makes me think they are pretty important. Let’s take a look at their definitions as well.
- PHILEO (verb): This is brotherly love in a sense of kinsmanship with those who you are not blood-related because love is from God (Romans 12:10, 1 John 4:7, 20-21). This is the “friendship” kind of love (Titus 3:15). However, like Jesus describes how the Pharisees love being noticed for their loud prayers in Matthew 6:5 (23:6) it can turn into a selfish love.
- AGAPE (noun/verb): This is God’s kind of love! It is His nature, unconditional love. The interesting thing is that it is a conscious decision, a choice. As Christians, Christ calls us to love others with this kind of love, even our enemies, as Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-44 (Love God, Love yourself, Love others). Jesus commands us to love one another (Luke 10:27, John 15:12, 17) and exhorts us to “abide in love” so that our joy may be full and complete (John 15:9b-11). Yet since we are imperfect humans, we often don’t do this very well. The only reason we can love at all is because God first loved us because He is love (1 John 4:7-8, 10, 19). The truth of God’s love for us is proved by Jesus’ sacrifice, death and resurrection to pay the greatest price for our freedom from sin (John 15:13). That is HUGE!! Christ is the ultimate example of the unconditional agape kind of love. And God calls us as Christians to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1-2) and to be known as Christ-followers by others because of our love for one another and those outside the body of Christ (John 13:34-35).
The 5 Love Language:
(definitions ©TheFiveLoveLanguages by Gary Chapman)
#1: Words of Affirmation
Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important—hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten.
#2: Quality Time
For those whose love language is spoken with Quality Time, nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby—makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.
#3: Receiving Gifts
Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous—so would the absence of everyday gestures.
#4: Acts of Service
Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most want to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.
#5: Physical Touch
This language isn’t all about the bedroom. A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive.
Paul writes out in various letters in the New Testament that each of us has received different spiritual gifts which we can uniquely use to further the kingdom of God and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, 1 Peter 4:10-11). Similarly, there are various ways to express love with which each of us is uniquely gifted. There is an official love languages quiz from the book by Gary Chapman that is available on the book’s website (5lovelanguages.com). However, my theory is that some people may have a different dominant love language for receiving love versus giving love to others. So I took the model of the online quiz and rewrote the two different versions of it to test my theory. The first quiz is to determine in which love language you most like to receive love, and the second is in which language you most like to give love. Remember, this is not by any means an all-inclusive test, and your results can vary due to various factors such as your current relationship with God, your self-esteem, your position in life right now, your perceptions of what love should be or look like, and even your past experiences with love or the lack of love. Keep this in mind and know that loving is a life-long process; we will never love perfectly like God does, but we can always strive to learn to love better. That is the point of the quizzes.
What is your highest scoring (dominant) love language?
Do you agree with the results? Why or why not?
Do you agree that love is the most important thing in the world? Why or why not?
Some questions about love for you to ponder on your own:
- How can you follow the commandment to “be imitators of God” as Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1? How can you model your love for God, yourself, and others after the example of Christ’s love?
- Do you agree with 1 Corinthians 13:13 that when faith, hope and love remain, the greatest of them is love alone? Why or why not?
- Why are these different types of expression of love important and relevant within the body of Christ?
- How can you show agape love through these love languages to those not part of the body of Christ (non-christians)?
- What are some settings in your personal, professional or public life where you need to grow in or practice agape love?
Been friends a very long time, but
Even that didn’t stop your crime
Trust broken into nothingness
Reeling from the shamefulness of
All your rejection that leads to my pain
You lied and placed on me the blame
And turning to comfort in a knife, I take my
He was betrayed just like me
Every one of His friends left Him to die, but
Already He has paid the cost.
Remembering His sacrifice and
Trusting in Him is my only lifeline. My
Beating heart I have because of Christ, so
Even when all seems lost, I know
After He has cast my burdens far behind
The King stands in redeeming victory.
Is Medication REALLY the Best Solution?
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but in order that the world might be saved through him. – John 3:17
Our souls are inherently sick in this world, manifesting in the spiritual symptom of sin. Most people try to cover it up. They will try anything: pretending their sin doesn’t exist, lying to themselves to convince themselves that their sin isn’t really “that bad,” spending their whole life trying to atone for their wrongdoing, trying to drown out their remorse by using various coping mechanisms such as alcohol, drugs, self-harm, sex, eating disorders, and the list goes on…the ultimate solution is an “escape” – suicide. And suicide rates have been drastically increasing in the last 50 years.
As of September 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that each year 16 in 100,000 die due to suicide worldwide; that is about 1 death every 40 seconds. The organization also noted that in the last 45 years, suicide rates have increased 60% globally (www.kaieteurnewsonline.com). Fortunately – or maybe unfortunately – according to the American Association of Suicidology, there are 25 attempts at suicide for every 1 success. Yet all these are vastly inadequate means of medicating an indelible sickness that has only one True remedy (see Isaiah 45:22, Acts 4:12 and 1 Timothy 2:5). The prescription to cure our sickness is always and only Jesus Christ. He is the one who suffered on your behalf; he took your sickness upon himself and in return gave you a permanent cure: eternal salvation. But you can only have the antidote if you choose to take it. Translation: Jesus has already cured your disease, but he requires one thing from you: Trust in Him. That’s it. (see Psalm 13:5, Psalm 22:5, Psalm 37:5, Isaiah 26:4, Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13).
But it’s your choice. Is trusting in Jesus really so much harder than self-medicating with things that never work – in order to be healed permanently from a sickness that has persisted since Adam and Eve? One method could cost you your very life; the other will save it for eternity. Which will you choose?
Everything Jesus endured; He endured for me so that:
a) I don’t have to go through condemnation, death, suffering, or damnation, because he took care of that for me. He took all the guilty verdict in my place and died the worst kind of death possible for it, bled profusely and suffered immensely for me, then went to hell and kicked Satan’s ass(!) and finally returned from the dead victoriously.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:1-4
b) When I die, I won’t go to hell, because Jesus already went there for me and won my salvation by his suffering, death and triumphal resurrection; I get to go live in Heaven for all eternity with my loving Savior instead!
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” [Cited from: Isaiah 25:8] “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” [Cited from: Hosea 13:14] The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-57
a) If I depend solely on Him, He gives me the strength to persevere through and overcome any and all temptations, offenses, trials, lack, poverty, tribulation, condemnation, stumbling, oppression, adversity, etc.
In this [inheritance of eternal life] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him.Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:6-9
Through [Jesus] we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. – Romans 5:2-5
b) Weathering the storm, be it difficult and seemingly impossible sometimes, in the end will grow my faith and make me that much stronger to withstand the next hardship that comes my way – because I am more than a conqueror through Jesus Christ! (Romans 8:37).
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. – Hebrews 10:39
Jesus doesn’t want me, or you, to suffer – ever! (Romans 5:8). He wants us to live an abundant, victorious life in Him – no matter what devices, schemes, tricks, lies, traps, or circumstances with which our enemy (Satan!) attacks us. Satan is a schemer and will try every minute of every day to entice you into self-medicating once again. But Jesus died an excruciating death to pay (literally with His blood) for, and then eliminate (forever), all your shame, guilt, condemnation, fear, anger and feelings of unworthiness, worthlessness, and inadequacy! (Galatians 5:1).
He took our illnesses and bore our diseases, and by His wounds we have been healed (Matthew 8:17, Romans 4:25, 1Peter 2:24). If all your sickness has been eradicated by Jesus, why are you still trying to medicate it?
*Una nota para Christian Guth: escribo en Español para ti. Espero que el mensaje obtendrá es que Jesucristo murió para tu salvación, pero necesitas elegir confiar en Él.