“The map says it’ll take me 15 minutes to get there? Challenge accepted. I can do it in five.”
(Oh wait, I forgot about stuff like stoplights and speed limits. I’m totally late.)
Living my life on the edge causes me a lot of anxiety. I’m usually late, and I usually spend the whole car ride worried about getting there faster and what they’ll think about me when I finally arrive. Life gives daily, sometimes hourly, opportunities for anxiety. Usually, I like to pray on my commute from here to there. But when I’m anxious about my lateness, I spend the whole ride plotting a way to speed my arrival and being angry at anything and anyone who gets in the way of that. My worries fill my mind in the places where I could have had joy and meditative prayer.
Sometimes the joy that anxiety steals from me is of a much weightier kind. During my relationship with my (now) husband, I constantly worried. Am I capable of making a marriage last forever? Am I too young? Am I really qualified to make this huge decision for the rest of my life? How do I know if God approves? And on and on. I asked all these questions and more of God many, many times, even though I already knew the answers. I sought every form of counsel, praying constantly, and deeply reflected on the truths I knew in my heart. I knew, deep down, it was right. But fear stole my joy–fear of the unknown, fear of failure.
How I wish I had trusted in myself and in God! I could have enjoyed so much more deeply that special time Alex and I had during our dating and engagement. Fear takes away all ability to enjoy our blessings; it occupies space where our praise and worship of God once lived in our hearts. It strips our peace and steals our joy. And Satan is very good at using it to cripple us and keep us from the victorious peace Christ died to give us.
My fear crippled me not because the feared outcome was probable, but because it was terrifying. This, I believe, is a very important distinction. For example: many people fear dying on a roller coaster. Their fear cripples them from experiencing the ride because the outcome, death, is so weighty and so terrifying. However, the probability of dying on a roller coaster is about 1 in 750 million. The probability nullifies the fear, stripping away its credibility. If these people could convince themselves of their very probable safety, they’d be free to experience the exhilerating fun of the ride. But their fear keeps them from it.
Most fears we experience will not materialize, and of those that do, still fewer are even remotely life-changing. And for every single fear we experience, God has a promise for us. In my situation, I feared failing at my marriage or making the wrong decision. However, God promised in his word that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and I know his will is for my marriage to succeed. Therefore, I can trust him to show me how to build a lasting and fulfilling marriage. Secondly, he promised me that “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”” (Is. 30:21). He has always led me faithfully up until now, and I can trust that he has spoken clearly, in a way I can understand, and that I have heard him. I conquered my fears and married the man of my dreams, and I couldn’t imagine life without him.
How do we conquer fear? We cannot simply focus on not being afraid. This simply leaves a hole in our thoughts where the fear used to be, and this hole attracts the fear back with an incredibly strong force. We must fill this gap with something else: faith. How do we gain more faith? “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). In order to gain more faith, we must read God’s promises in his word about who he is and what he does. This knowledge will fill the places where the fear once lived, empowering us to live each moment to the fullest, not subjected to anxiety or worry–just like he created us to be. We are not a people oppressed by fear. We have already received the victory from Christ. We can face any obstacle and overcome. FEAR: we can <F>orget <E>verything <A>nd <R>un, or we can <F>ace <E>verything <A>nd <R>ise.
Here is a little glimpse into the moment when I gave my heart to my love, Alex, and our lives became one!
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
And so begins the most epic, important, and inspired book ever written–with a marriage.
At the very end of Revelation, the closing statements of human history as we know it, a voice cries out from the throne, “Let us rejoice and be glad! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready… Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” As the old order passes away, God closes the book of history he has written and welcomes the age to come–with a marriage.
As history unfolds over the pages of the Bible, we see God choosing Abram from all the people of the earth, declaring him the father of the nation He Himself will call his bride. We see God pursuing Israel, calling out to her as she strays from him again and again, committing adultery with idols of other nations. We see God finally leave her to her lovers, who betray her–but he returns to lavish his love upon her once more. Time and time again this cycle continues, until finally, God says, “Enough!” and leaves her in silence–but not without a promise. “I will be silent; I will wait until you are ready to receive me. And then, my love, I will return to you, more glorious and more faithful than I have ever been.”
Each generation whispers to the next, “Maybe this year.”
400 of these years pass in silence, darkness.
But God has not forsaken them, for “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”
Since February is the month of love, I considered writing about the definition of love, or insight on relationships. I got married on December 7th, (Yay!) and I have many discoveries I could share! But in my small group last week, our guest speaker gave such a powerful vision for marriage–for the entire story of humanity, really–that I couldn’t help but share my thoughts on it. I want to bring us back to the “why.” We know the what and the how of relationships: relationships open the door to marriage, and we must love well to succeed in one.
But often we lose the “why” in the everyday routine of life, forgetting what a glorious future we strive towards, and the magnificent husband we will have in Jesus.
Marriage is the ultimate personification and archetype of God’s love for his people. Read once more the verse, “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother…” and let’s pick up where we left the story, where the people walking in darkness have seen a great light. If we rephrase the former verse a bit, we can continue our story with it: “For this reason, Jesus left his father in heaven to be united with his bride, the church, and the two shall become one flesh.” Thus, the first marriage foreshadowed the marriage of the Lamb to his chosen bride. Let’s walk through the human marriage ceremony and see what God is saying about his own marriage ceremony.
The groom stands at the altar, watching the mothers and fathers go down the aisle before the bride. These represent “the great cloud of witnesses” that goes before us as we spend our lives preparing ourselves to meet our groom. Then, as the excitement grows to a climax, the doors open to reveal the bride, her face veiled. She walks slowly through the ranks of those who have gone before, who now celebrate her journey as she prepares to join them. Her father gives her to the groom; then, after an introduction, come their vows.
The groom says his vows, just as Jesus has said his. But at the point where we, the bride, would have said our vows, Jesus said them for us. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez. 23:26). He promised to uphold his side of the covenant, and now he has given us the power to be faithful to our side, so that we uphold our vows through his strength.
At this point in my marriage ceremony, my husband and I took communion together. To remember Christ’s sacrifice, yes, but also to foreshadow the fulfillment of Christ’s promise, that he would not eat or drink the bread and the wine until we drink and eat anew together in the Kingdom of God at our wedding ceremony.
Then the climax of our ceremony–the bride and groom turn around to face the audience, and the officiator announces, “I now present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Alex Frieg!” (in my case, of course.) Jesus has given us a new name, his name–“Christian.” A name is always changed when a covenant is made. God changed Abram’s name, which means “Exalted Father,” to Abraham, which means “Father of Many Nations.” He changed his name many years before Isaac came. Why? Because our God “gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17).
When I took my husband’s name, it signified that we are now one in God’s sight. But yet, this oneness is mysterious: it has a “now” component, but it also foreshadows an entire life of becoming one.
We are one, but we are not truly one yet. In the same way, when Jesus gave us his name, he put his Spirit in us, becoming one with us. Our sanctification is complete, and still it is not complete yet. It is a divine mystery.
Thus, our small lives reflect the greatest love story ever told.
Marriage is a testimony, a way to show the world, “Your Maker is your husband, the Lord Almighty is his name! The Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.” (Is. 54:5) Marriage is not a sum of all it’s parts–security, financial stability, sexual fulfillment, children–and it is greater than its legal status.
Marriage is a vision, a small story telling God’s epic story in its own words.
In light of this, I exhort every person in every stage to remember the story of marriage.
I say to those who wish to remain single: remember your husband! Your husband is called Faithful and True. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written, ‘KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.’ Watch and wait for him, for he is coming soon.
I say to those who long for marriage: Jesus is longing with you! He waits and wishes for the day when he is united with his bride. When you speak to him of your heart, he hears and understands. Pursue him with all your heart–run hard and fast after him, then look to your right and your left to see who is running with you. For among them, you may find one with whom you can share a yoke, laboring for the kingdom and sharing God’s marriage story through your own.
I say to those considering marriage or walking towards marriage: remember, as my marriage counselors encouraged us, “Marriage is not the ballgame: Jesus is the ballgame.”
Life is not about marriage; marriage is about Jesus. Do you and your potential spouse believe and live this reality? Do you see your marriage revolving around God’s story, not your own? Will you both show the same faithfulness to and relentless pursuit of the other as God shows towards his church? Are you both committed to following God, no matter where he takes you? If so, you can proceed confidently into your marriage.
I say to those already married: “Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn” (Is. 51:1). Look to God’s pursuit of his bride to see how you should pursue your spouse.
Live every day with the vision of showing the world, through your marriage, what God’s love looks like. Reflect on the way you treat your spouse: if the world were watching, would they desire Christ more because of the love they see between you? Let this be your vision and motivation for your marriage.
I say to all, happy Valentine’s Day! I pray that each of you receives a new and deeper revelation from God of his relentless, passionate, jealous love for you, and that you share that with those whom God has placed in your life to love.
Before I met Alex, I used to have a hard time believing that I could find the kind of man I was looking for. My standards were very high–too high, I thought. But there he was one day, right behind me in church! The godliest, funniest, cutest–and classiest–man I’d ever met. As I got to know him, I realized that his character and class required a different standard of love than I was used to seeing from my peers.
So I set out to discover: how do you love a classy man well? First, realize that you are the only woman he will ever have (assuming you’re married, or getting there). That reality brings a whole new motivation to the way I live, the way I take care of myself, and the way I treat him. You’re it for him. With that in mind, here are five of the most important rules I’ve found about how to love your classy man.
Rule #5: Dress Like a Classy Woman
Has anyone else noticed that it’s now socially acceptable to wear only half a shirt? This baffles me. And I’m not sure which aspect baffles me more, the fact that these shirts cost the same as a shirt twice their size, or the fact that girls buy them.
If you are with a man of the world, he’ll want to show you off as his prize, a trophy that is more desirable than those of the other men of the world. He’ll want you to dress in a sexy way, showing skin and flaunting your body to make other men jealous. But ultimately, this is objectifying: it makes the woman into a thing to be visually enjoyed by others to the glory of the man.
But a real man–a classy man–knows that a woman is to be won with a ring and the rest of his life. The rest of the men in the world have NOT paid this high price and in no way deserve to enjoy this woman as her husband does. Even now, though Alex does not get to partake in anything of that nature with me at this stage in our relationship, I consider myself sealed for him until the day he ultimately wins me. As a result, I wear clothing that prevents other men (and Alex) from seeing anything reserved for him.
Even if you haven’t found the one you want to marry, you are still sealed for him until you say “I do.” Do you want to give other men a sample of something worth the highest price a human can pay–the laying down of a man’s entire life for you? No! You are valuable. You are classy. The wise Proverbs 31 woman “does her husband good and not evil all the days of her life.” All starts before you meet him and continues until the day you are wed. So dress like a classy woman in honor of your classy man.
Rule #4: Dress Up
When Alex and I first started dating, I began to relax my wardrobe. He loves me for who I am, right? No more need to impress!
It’s true that he loves me for who I am. But one day I asked him his honest opinion: “do you mind when I wear sweats, or would you rather me wear real clothes?” And in the sweetest, most accepting and loving way, he told me that he loves it when I dress up.
So, out went the sweatpants.
This doesn’t mean that I absolutely can’t wear them, or he won’t think I’m cute when I do. But ladies, you’re all your husband (or fiance) will ever have. You’re the only woman he will ever love. Yours is the only body he will see, your outfits the only ones he will admire, and your person the only one he will ever be proud to introduce to all his friends and family. So make him look good! Dress to his taste, whatever style or appearance he likes best on you. And make him feel special by communicating through what you wear: “You are important enough for me to go through all the trouble of getting ready, even if you’re the only person I see.”
Rule #3: Cheer for His Team
I didn’t know the first thing about sports when Alex and I met, since I never grew up watching it. But even though I didn’t understand any of the sports lingo or recognize any big names, I saw that it is an important subject to Alex–so I studied it. I asked questions to understand the games and rules better. I looked up news on LeBron James’ decision to join the Cavs and shared it with Alex. I offer to watch games with him.
Find out something important to your man and show your interest in it. It could be anything: sports, outdoor activities, cars, guns, movies, books. Instead of rolling your eyes or resenting the time he puts into it, find a way to join in. Showing interest in what he is interested in equates to respect. Plus, it creates an opportunity to develop a hobby or interest together that you can invest in and make memories together.
Rule #2: Praise Him in Front of Other People
All men need respect from their women, no matter how old they are. And nothing creates a more awkward situation for everyone involved than the one in which the woman berates, chides, or belittles her husband to others right in front of him. I cringe every time I witness this awful interaction. This habit is a poison to the relationship, destroying the man’s confidence and image to others, not to mention the resentment it creates towards his wife (or fiance or girlfriend).
Ladies, please please please NEVER do this. EVER.
Your man deserves your respect–if you have a problem with him, PRAY ABOUT IT, and bring it up in private. Instead, praise him in front of others. I love praising Alex in front of other people. I can watch him out of the corner of my eye, standing up straighter and smiling at the admiring looks of others as I tell stories of his chivalry or talents. I don’t ever make things up, but I do choose what I bring up or the light I put him in when I talk about him. I’ll say, “Alex said something really impactful to me the other day,” or “I had that problem too! But Alex showed me how to fix it.” Praise = respect = love for men.
Rule #1: Let Him Lead
I was riding in the car with Alex about a month into our relationship, and as we approached a stop light, I became alarmed at the speed with which we approached the car in front of us, and I shouted “Babe, slow down!” He looked over after we stopped and said, “I am in control of the car, I knew what I was doing.”
Obviously, if you’re about to rear-end the car in front of you and your man isn’t paying attention, say something. But I’m a very independent and confident woman, and I caught myself giving him directions and opinions about which way to go all the time. I could tell it bothered him. So I stopped giving directions. I stopped telling him how to drive. I stopped forcing my opinion about which route or order of operations is better, and I let him make decisions instead. Once I stepped down, he has embraced that role and done an incredible job of leading.
Sometimes, we women can be very fast thinkers and talkers. Men are not as verbal as we are, and we can easily steamroll them. But men are smart, and if we stop for a moment and let them think, they will usually come to the correct conclusion. Even if you think you’re right, try saying, “But I trust you honey, let’s do it your way” and see what happens. He won’t always be right, but you will make him into Superman if you allow him to lead you and demonstrate your trust in his abilities.
As women, we have the incredible power to either crush our men into passivity, or elevate them into strong, vibrant leaders of our families. We send messages by how we dress, relate to them, and speak to them. How can you show your man he’s special to you? How can you praise him to others? How can you show him that what’s important to him is important to you? How can you let him lead? You have the power to motivate your man, encouraging and lifting him up to his full potential. Use it wisely!
Stories are powerful. In fact, I’d argue that stories are God’s preferred method of communication, as we can see in Jesus’s parables and ultimately throughout the whole Bible, the overarching story of humanity. My story with my now-fiance, Alex, has taught me an important lesson about trusting God that applies to many different areas of life. I would love to share that story with you, both to share the lessons I learned and to share the beautiful story God has given Alex and me, for his glory!
Officially, our story began August 4th, 2013. But God began working years before, writing a beautiful story that would become a treasure to Alex and me. Come with me on a journey back in time, to approximately three years before the present day–when our story truly began.
My family and I have gone to the same church for about 7 or 8 years, and for the past 5 or 6, we’ve always sat in the same section. (It’s a big church with 12 sections, so unless you pick one, you really don’t get to see many of the same people every week.) One Sunday (three years ago), my dad pointed out a red-haired young man sitting about 10 rows in front of us. “Hey Christie, I think he’d be a great guy for you,” he whispered during worship. “Pshhh, come on Dad, you’ve never even met him!” He smiled wryly, but said nothing. Apparently, he and my mom both conspired together on the matter, because every Sunday we saw him after that (and I do mean EVERY Sunday), they would both poke me and point. My dad even came up with a nickname for him: “Dr Quest.” (If you’ve ever watched the old show Johnny Quest, you’ll remember that Johnny’s dad had red hair, which was why my dad chose the nickname). “You could be Mrs. Dr. Quest!” he’d tell me.
I wasn’t really interested in this whole thing, for a few reasons. One, my dad had never met him, and I thought it was silly for him to know he’d be good for me just by looking at him. Two, I never thought we’d meet, since I’d never randomly approach him, and he probably didn’t know I existed. Three, he looked quiet and reserved during worship, and I was definitely not into quiet guys.
But I should have known about my dad: he’s ALWAYS right about guys. He does not often air his opinion, but when he does, it’s spot on. What was it about this red-haired man that caught his eye? Most likely, his reverence and calm, humble demeanor. My dad’s highest values in a man are godliness, integrity, and humility, and I think he could see all three in this man. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Fast-forward a year and a half, and I was on my way to school out of state. I spent many hours talking with my mom about my lack of a man and my bleak prospects of finding the right one (bleak, of course, because almost every young Christian girl fears she will never find a godly husband). My mom would talk about it with her friends, because their daughters felt the same way. But four or five separate people, within about a two or three month time span, would tell me or my mom, “I wonder if God is hiding him from her?” I was skeptical. “There’s no one that I know who I’d be interested in, there’s no way he could be hiding!” This was a silly comeback, for obvious reasons.
After the year away at school, I returned home rather sad and defeated. School was not what I hoped it would be, and even more, I despaired of ever finding a good man. Singleness was a real struggle for me, even though I was still very young. I wrestled with it all summer, finally putting my foot down and truly deciding that I would not pursue friendships with guys (since they always led to hurt in the past on one or more sides) and seek out a dear girl friend instead. And I certainly found one! I poured into her, and together we journeyed towards contentment in our singleness and trust in God for however long it would take for him to bring us men.That was the time when I decided I would not date anyone else unless I truly believed I could marry him. It was a pivotal decision for me.
Around the middle of July of 2013, for the first time in my life, I reached a point where I could truly say, “Lord, I trust you. I am content, and I will remain content for however long it takes for you to bring my man. I will not settle–I will trust.”
It was as if God said, “Ah, finally. Now you are ready.”
August 4th, 2013: A normal–but truly extraordinary–Sunday. More than usual, my heart entered into a deeply worshipful and grateful state (as did my mom’s), and I worshiped whole-heartedly that day with a thankful heart. When the time of worship ended, the worship pastor gave his usual admonition to, “Turn around and greet the people behind you!” So I obediently turned around and offered my hand–
–My heart skipped a beat.
There he was. Literally RIGHT behind me, this whole time.
I looked at my mom; we exchanged a quick (but meaningful) glance.
I introduced myself, but honestly, I didn’t remember his name or anything about the brief introduction. I sat down and texted my mom:
“I KNOW RIGHT”
“…. he’s pretty cute.”
“I told you he was!”
I don’t remember anything about the sermon, either.
When it ended, I turned around again and re-introduced myself, intent on remembering his name this time. I experienced an inner face-palm moment when I watched my mom grab his hand and pull him in, TOO intent on getting his name. “Mom, you’re gonna blow my cover! Stop being so obvious!” I screamed in my mind.
He was sitting with a lady named Michelle, whose daughter had taken one of my mom’s discipleship classes. She nudged Alex and said, “Christie just went sand boarding at the dunes, isn’t that cool? I saw pictures on her blog.”
I knew at that exact moment, it was a setup.
Those pictures were on my Facebook, not my blog. Stalking had obviously occurred.
We had an instant connection–I knew immediately that he was something special. We began conversing, and I found out he was a personal trainer at LifeTime Fitness, the luxury resort of gyms. My segue into extended contact with him was that I had recently gotten my group exercise fitness certification and was looking for a teaching position–what a coincidence! I obviously had to keep in contact with him, since he had connections at LifeTime. We continued conversing, and I mentioned that me and my friend Macey (who was there at church with me) played ultimate frisbee. He lit up and said that he loved ultimate frisbee. I offered, “Awesome! I can text you when the next game is, and then after that you can give your number to Mike and he’ll let you know when the games are.” “Wait, Mike who?” He asked. “MacIntire?” “Whaaaat? I’ve been going to that frisbee group for almost two years! When did you start?”
We found out that he stopped going to the group LITERALLY the time before I started. Macey had been to the group one time before me, and she had met him. Great timing on God’s part, since I still had work in my heart to be done.
A week and a half later, I texted my friend Macey and said, “I’m totally going to marry this guy.”
I found out a few months later that one of his friends texted him the very day we met, saying, “I have a friend who I’d like you to meet, I think you and she would really hit it off together.” Alex replied, “Thanks for the offer, but I’m currently pursuing someone from church.” Obviously, he saw something special about me, too.
A month later, on his birthday (September 6th, the day before mine), at 12:00 between our birthdays, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I said yes, of course.
Then, 9 months later, he asked me to be his wife. I said yes, of course.
Alex is unlike any man I’ve ever met–everything I could have asked for. He can understand and engage with me on every level of my soul: the God-loving, the intellectual, the musical, the humorous, the adventurer. He loves the Lord with his whole being, and out of that devotion flows his love for me. My family adores him, as do I. We laugh together, play together, pray together, and do ministry together. Everything I barely dared to hope and dream for–everything I thought would be impossible to find in a single person–has come together in a beautiful gift from heaven at exactly the right time.
What’s the point of the story? Well, other than the fact that I love sharing it (haha), I feel like it has a very significant moral. I was worried, afraid, sad, lonely, and despairing of finding a man all the way until two weeks before I found him. I know, it’s silly. I’m only 20. Why was I so worried? I feel like I’ve always desired to be married, and especially to be married young. Sometimes I think God puts that into people’s hearts. He certainly has fulfilled it in mine, anyway.
There are many areas of life where we worry and despair of our circumstances, thinking God won’t provide or that we will be sad, lonely, or lacking until he gives us the thing we need. But what if I had chosen to trust him that whole time? If I’d known I’d meet Alex when I was 20, I would have spent the time before that in a state of joy and contentment, knowing God would provide in his timing. The two weeks before I met Alex were the most happy and content times that I had experienced up until that point. I could have existed in that state for years before, had I let go of my fear and trusted that God would provide over and above what I could have asked for. I’ve learned sooooo much through my story with Alex, and many more blogs are stirring in my heart. But I wanted to tell the whole story first.
Is there an area of your life where you feel resentful or fearful towards God, wondering if he will ever provide? Wondering if he sees, wondering if he knows your needs or deep desires? What if you took this time and trusted him, as though you could see into the future the time where you would receive what you long for? Then you could spend the interim in joy and peace, trusting God as your loving, generous Father instead of a withholding, distant God. The purest, deepest desires of your heart are from the Lord–what if he’s waiting to bless you until you let go and trust him?
As I scrolled through my Facebook news feed the other day, a blog title caught my eye, something about “sexual atheism.” Even though I figured I knew what it would be about from the title, I was intrigued by its phrasing. The article claimed that the majority of (specifically single) Christians are theists in every area of their lives except in the area of sexuality. The author claimed that those who engage in premarital sex are essentially saying, “God, I trust that you have the best formula for a good life… except in this part. I think I know how to live better in this part than you do.” When we acknowledge God in every area but one, we become atheists in that area. We act as though God does not exist and is not sovereign. “… in ALL your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
One of the defining characteristics of our culture’s worldview is inconsistency. We say, “Every view is valid!” until a view contrary to that one is proposed, then all of the sudden, there is only one correct view. We say, “There is no right or wrong,” yet we are appalled at the evil in the world and create a platform from which we look down on evil behavior and say, “My behavior is better.” We say, “You can’t know anything for sure.” … Are you sure about that? Behavior is chronically separated from belief.
As a result, Jesus says in John 14 that “if anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching… He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” When he says teaching, he means ALL of his teaching. I remember a conversation I had with an acquaintance once regarding this. He asked me, “Do you think my friends who are Christians but don’t obey God will go to heaven?” … He didn’t like my answer. While I don’t at all claim to have knowledge of who goes to heaven and who doesn’t, Jesus has given us a clear basis for understanding regarding each of our individual walks with him. He says to us, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love.” Then he says, “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned.” It’s clear from this passage that 1) In order for God to make his home with us, we must remain in his love, 2) To remain in his love, we must obey his commands, 3) If we do not obey his commands, we are not remaining in his love, and we do not love him and have no part in him.
My friend thought I was cruel for questioning his friends’ eternal destiny. But here’s the important fact about this passage: Jesus is not saying that you have to obey to get into heaven. I mean, he is, but he isn’t. He’s saying that your obedience is the fruit of your love. You cannot and will not obey God unless you love him, and if you do not obey him, it is a sign that you do not love him. The obedience is not the root God is interested in: it’s the love. It’s a logical if-then statement with no alternative: ONLY if you obey do you have love. If you do not obey, there is no love for God in you.
Now, back to my comment about our culture’s inconsistent tendencies: our culture believes that you can love without action. It says that you could believe in God but live your own way. Sometimes, as Christians, we catch this contagious mental disease, and it affects the way we walk out our Christianity. Every biblical virtue is inseparable from action, and the authors of the books insist that, if you do not have action, you do not have the virtue. For example, James says that you cannot have faith without actions. John says you cannot have compassion without actions. You cannot simply possess virtue: you have to practice it. If you practice, you possess. You cannot possess if you do not practice. Our culture is all about thinking, but Jesus is all about doing.
There are two sides to this coin. The first is what I’ve talked about so far, which can be scary. “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). We must take our lives and the way we walk seriously, because God is holy, and Jesus warns us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” and “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7). “Does” and “fruit”: both action words. We do not enter heaven simply because we decide that God exists. “Even the demons believe, and shudder” (James 2:19). Demons “believe” in God, but they do not obey him. Belief requires action. Without action, there is no true belief, because the presence of true belief will result in action.
But the other side of the coin is beautiful and full of hope! “It is God who works in you to will and act according to his good purpose” and “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Philippians). The closer we get to God, the more we will instinctively know and desire to do his will. He will convict us and show us the way to walk if we open our hearts to him. But we must respond: “In ALL your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Even though God is willing to do the work in us, he will not force us. We can be “Christians” and be sexual atheists, or monetary atheists, or media atheists, etc.. It’s all about the heart attitude: struggling with sin is normal. We each know the state of our hearts, whether it is in true submission to God or not. Submission does not automatically mean perfection, but it does mean continual growth. We should always be walking forward, because God provides the strength for us to obey him in every area of our lives. And he is gracious and patient; he will never convict us of more than we can handle, and he will always reach out his hand to uphold us with his all-sufficient grace.
Is there any area of your life where you are telling God through your actions that you know a better way than he does? I try to ask myself that question daily. God convicts me often and directs me with his wisdom for how to handle every situation that comes my way. When I listen, he does not lead me astray, and he gives me the strength to obey. I have found incomparable joy in acknowledging God in every way that I can. He fills my heart with hope and life when I say, “Lord, your way is better than mine. I will follow you.” I pray the same joy and life for you. Have a blessed week!
I used to think I was a good person for tithing. Actually, to be totally honest, I decided the other day to find the verses I knew were in the Old Testament about tithing and the blessings that come with it, something about “so much blessing you will have no place to store it.” You know, to pray back to God and ask for blessings and stuff. I flipped through Malachi (I was pretty sure that’s the right book) looking for a section heading titled “tithing” or something equally descriptive. I flipped through the whole book and didn’t find anything. Maybe it was the wrong book? No, I thought. I looked closer. I found the passage I was looking for–under the heading “robbery.” Robbery? Huh? I looked closer.
The book of Malachi, I noticed, is a dialogue between the people and God. God makes a statement, the people ask a question, and God explains what he meant by his statement. In this section, God asks, (and I paraphrase) “Can a man rob God? Yet you rob me.” “How have we robbed you?” The people ask. “By not bringing your tithes to the storehouse.” Whoa! Hold on. Let’s talk about this.
I remember a few Sundays ago, my pastor said, “A girl emailed me this week and told me I shouldn’t tell the congregation about my tithes. But I tell you so you know I’m with you, and I’m not asking you to do anything I’m not doing myself.” I thought he had a great point. I want to know my pastor practices what he preaches. And the passage in Malachi brings new light to the question, “Should we talk about our tithes and offerings?” First, let’s talk about an important distinction.
What’s the difference between tithes and offerings? A tithe was 10% of the traditional Jew’s income, and it went to the temple to support the Levites who served The Lord there, since they couldn’t make a living otherwise. Offerings were different: they were voluntary and not required by law, simply brought to please God or thank him for something he did for them. Nowadays, tithes and offerings are basically unchanged: we support the clergy with tithes and give offerings for other, extra purposes.
Let’s talk about offerings. There are a couple of places in the bible where we are told to “not let our right hand know what our left hand is doing” And that those who give in plain sight of men have received their reward in full. These verses are talking about OFFERINGS, not tithes. This is very important. I’ve heard many people apply these incorrectly to tithing, as well as this well-known verse: “Each one should give what he has decided in his heart to give: not under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” But Paul isn’t talking about tithing here. He’s talking about collecting an offering to support apostles like himself when they come to the church to teach. Going back to Malachi, we see that tithing isn’t about “what he has decided in his heart to give.” We are commanded to “bring the WHOLE tithe into the storehouse.” The whole thing. We don’t get to decide how much or how often. If we don’t tithe, we are robbing God.
Offerings are voluntary. If we don’t give an offering, we aren’t doing anything wrong, we’re just also not doing anything particularly right. But when we don’t tithe, we are robbing God. We sin when we don’t tithe. Why is it sin? For a few reasons:
1) Because God commanded it.
2) Not tithing is showing a lack of faith in God’s ability to provide.
3) Holding back our tithe is hoarding resources that literally belong to God.
We are never told not to talk about tithing, because it’s a duty, not a gift. It would be like talking about how you love your husband, wife, or children, about getting baptized, or about turning away from some sin we’ve been convicted of. It’s something we are commanded to do, not something extra we are more holy for doing. We are only doing our duty.
And yet, though the tithe is a duty, God promises incredible blessing to those who obey. It’s the only time in the bible we are told to test God, to “see if I do not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will have no room to store it.” That’s reason enough for me to tithe!
Here’s a staggering figure: only about 20% of churchgoers tithe. 80% don’t tithe! Do you know how much good we could do in the world if everyone tithed? Do you know how much more blessing we would receive if we all tithed? If we stopped robbing God of what belongs to him?
I can’t help but think that God protects everything I own because I tithe. My phone was stolen last year at school in a sketchy part of town. The odds weren’t good that I’d get it back. But the police station called me and said they’d found it a week later! God protected my belongings, as he has so many other times. I believe it’s mostly because I’m faithful to his commands in my finances.
I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty by saying all this; I simply want to bring important truth to the table so we can change our lives to reflect it. It’s not me admonishing: it is the Bible that speaks. Who knows what discipline we might be undergoing because we don’t tithe? Who knows what blessings we miss out on because we don’t? When we tithe, we are giving in faith to the most generous and powerful being in the universe, the owner of “the cattle on a thousand hills”: “he who gives to the poor lends to The Lord.” He never asks us to give without promising to pay us back more than we invested. He is a gracious God.
If you tithe, take this as encouragement to continue, to trust God and be found faithful always with what he’s given you. I have made a covenant in my heart with God that I will always tithe to him, that I will always obey even when it’s difficult. If you don’t tithe, ask yourself why. What are the fears or apathies keeping you from doing so? Is there something in your heart you need to confront and change? Pray and ask God to help you have faith in him if it’s hard for you to do so. He will gladly help you obey him, and he WILL bless you for it.
There I sat, dumbstruck, my mental jaw dropping lower and lower with every word of the judge: “This jury will meet every Wednesday as long as the case is in session, and you will have several cases throughout the year. You must keep these proceedings secret. You may subpoena witnesses to testify, and you may ask them questions…” What???
Last Friday, I was drafted into the 4th judicial district’s Grand Jury for the year of 2014. The entire year. I was told that I must come to the courthouse every Wednesday from 9-5 and investigate the cases set before the jury. All the cases are criminal, and most of them are violent. Nevermind that I’m a software engineering student in my most difficult year of school. Wow! I couldn’t believe this was happening to me!
I told my parents, and of course, they were just as displeased as I. “Did you tell them you’re a full-time engineering student??” They asked me. “Of course I did! Apparently it wasn’t good enough,” I replied. Over the next few days, the reality sunk in: I was going to have to drop a class this semester, and who-knows-how-many classes would have to be put on hold this summer and fall. My graduation would be delayed a whole year because these classes are prerequisites, and as I saw it, there was no getting around that fact.
I was scheduled to appear again today to continue the case presented on Friday. However, yesterday, my mom called a friend who is an attorney, and he called the courthouse. He told my mom to have me write a letter to the DA and the judge explaining my extenuating circumstances and pray they’d excuse me. Today was my last chance.
I wrote the required letters and took them with me this morning to the courthouse. I held my breath while the DA left the room to bring the letters to the judge and discuss the matter. After a few minutes, he called me back to the judge’s chambers. We conversed for a few minutes about the details in my letter, and the judge said, “The DA has consented to let you go, and I do as well. You are dismissed from the jury.”
I could barely contain my elation. I called my boyfriend, Alex, immediately upon returning to my car and yelled for joy into my hands-free mic, “I FEEL LIKE I JUST GOT OUT OF PRISON!” He laughed and said, “Some poor person in the reserves is gonna get a call this morning, ‘Sir/Ma’am, you’re going to have to report for jury duty for the rest of the year.’ Do you feel bad about that?” I thought for a second, then replied, “I would like to serve, honestly. I’m grateful to live in a free country and it would be an honor to sit on the jury. But I can’t do it with school.” Then I added, “And my mom has taught me an extremely valuable lesson in life: those who ask, receive.”
Just the other day, my mom talked AT&T down 80 dollars per month on our phone bill. I don’t know how she does it.
The whole situation got me thinking: how often in our lives do we sit like the others on the jury, accepting of our fate and unwilling to ask for a better option because we should “grin and bear it”? How many of us live in a place of defeat, a spiritual desert, and a material lacking simply because we aren’t bold enough to ask for more?
When Elijah was about to be taken into heaven by God, he asked Elisha, “Is there anything you want me to do for you?” Elisha replied, “Give me a double-portion of your spirit.” Elijah said, “You have asked for a difficult thing.” But God granted his request. Elisha was bold in asking for blessing, and God was pleased and granted it.
James tells the believers in his letter, “You do not have because you do not ask God.” He does not say, “You do not have because you ask for things like money that God doesn’t promise you.” He does rebuke them for spending what they get on their pleasures. However, I believe that sometimes we don’t ask God for things we want because we don’t believe we can ask God for them or that he’d answer that request. Sure, if we ask for things out of the wrong motive, it wouldn’t be good for God to grant them to us. But God likens his giving to that of earthly fathers. My earthly father often gives me gifts that I don’t need, but that I’d simply like. Why wouldn’t God delight in giving us those gifts as well? Maybe not always material gifts, but spiritual blessings as well?
Christ gave to give us life, and life abundantly. Not life defeated. Not life average. “You do not have because you do not ask God.”
None of the others on the jury got out of the commitment. Why? Because they possibly did not ask. Should I feel guilty that I got to go? No.
Sometimes, I think it’s easy to feel guilty about our blessings, when I think that the Lord would rather us thank Him, and strive to help others as much as we can. To feel guilty about your blessings is to bury the talent; to thank God for them and use them to glorify him is to multiply the talent.
If you need something, ask God. If you want something, ask God. Ask in faith, believing that he is good and wants to give you good gifts. The worst thing he could say is no, and the best he could say is yes. If a child comes to his father and asks for something he shouldn’t be given, such as yet another candy bar or cookie after dinner, would the father ridicule him or be indignant at his request? No! He would gently correct the child and explain why he can’t have any more candy. God does that sometimes, but other times he says yes. “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks receives, everyone who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Have a blessed week!