Monday, April 25, 2016

Summer Camp: Death to Self and Abiding in Christ



            As much as I am excited for the busy upcoming summer season at Oakridge and everything that comes with it, I also have a sense of dread concerning its quickly-approaching arrival. You see, summer camp means long days and short nights of sleep. It means quickly eating a meal before going off to run the power bouncers in 90-plus degree weather. It means having to share living space with the summer staff and having to work out a shower schedule. It means staying late to finish up dinner dishes and to clean the dining hall. It means having to run snack shack at 11 o’clock p.m., when I would have rather been in bed two hours earlier. In short, summer camp means death to self—death to what I want and my desires, so that I can serve God and others. Certainly every day of the year presents opportunities for one to die to one self, but the summer season definitely multiplies those opportunities. With less sleep, the flesh, or the sinful nature, is more likely to act up, and it is easy to just think about oneself instead of thinking about others. Well, I’m sick and tired of washing dishes, so I’m just going to take a fifteen-minute bathroom break, and maybe they’ll be done with washing dishes by the time I’m back. That is the way that the flesh thinks. Unfortunately, that is how I’ve sometimes thought.
            How can one trade selfish thinking for unselfish thinking? If the natural tendency is to think only of oneself, how can one succeed in thinking about others? The answer is to abide in Christ. What does that mean though? It is easy to throw out “Christian-ese” terms, but not really know what they mean. Abiding in Christ means spending intentional time alone with God. It means spending time reading the Bible and letting its words soak in deeply, so that one has God’s mind on things as one goes through the day. It means spending time in prayer, both speaking to God and allowing Him to speak.
            I always used to hate it when people would quote Isaiah 40:30-31, since it just seems to be overused. Yet, its words ring true: “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (NIV 1984). The only way to be able to effectively serve at summer camp and die to self is to find strength by hoping—by abiding—in Jesus. I am preaching to myself here. It is easy to make excuses and think, “Well, I’m tired, so I won’t spend time with Jesus tonight,” or “We read the Bible as a staff. Plus, I heard the message at chapel tonight. I’m good.” But DO NOT be convinced by the excuses. Those are just lies trying to pull one away from what one really needs in order to die to oneself and have success in camp ministry—an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.
            So then, when one is confronted with the thought of going to the bathroom in order to duck work, one can pause and pray. One can think about what he or she read in the Bible that morning and use that to fight against the temptation to indulge in the flesh.
            Yes, the approaching summer season will mean that I will have die to myself everyday and instead live to serve God and others, but God has granted me the way to do that via an abiding relationship with Jesus—a relationship that is built through time spent in the Bible and in prayer.

“I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:31).

“But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (Philippians 2:17).

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?’” (Matthew 16:24-26)

Saturday, January 16, 2016

How I Won the Lottery



            For the past week or so, my Facebook feed was filled with posts and memes about the Powerball lottery. I couldn’t help but think about how I’ve already won the lottery. Yes, you read that right. I’ve already won the lottery. I won the lottery when I was “chosen according the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood” (1 Peter 1:2). I won the lottery when I responded to the Holy Spirit’s work in my life and said, “Yes, Lord, I choose to serve you instead of myself.” Okay, hopefully the one reading this has caught on to the fact that I didn’t actually win a money lottery; but I won Jesus, and that is the best lottery to win. In this post, I would like to continue to explain the similarities (and some differences) between winning a money lottery and winning the Jesus lottery. (I acknowledge that this is just an analogy, and it is an imperfect one. Take whatever wheat there may be in it, and let the chaff be blown away by the wind.)
            In the first place, not many people in this whole world will win a money lottery. It is the same with the Jesus lottery. Matthew 7:14 says “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Knowing this, I appreciate having won the Jesus lottery all the more.
            Next, in terms of the way that the money lottery is won and the way that the Jesus lottery is won, there is one key difference, but some similarities. In order to win the money lottery, one has to go out and buy a ticket. There’s effort needed. Not so with the Jesus lottery. In John 3:1-21, Jesus has a conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Jesus says to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (v. 3). He goes even further in verse 5 to say that “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” [emphasis mine]. Think of a baby that is born naturally. Does he have anything to do with his birth? Does she control when she will come out of her mother’s womb? Of course not! Jesus summarizes this thought in verse 8, saying, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Instead of one having to go out and buy a ticket for the money lottery, the Jesus lottery just happens. It is like walking along the street and having the winning lottery ticket blown into your hand.
            Yet, what happens when one has the winning lottery ticket? Does one automatically get money in the mail? No, one has to either mail in the winning ticket or go in person. What if one doesn’t redeem the ticket? That person does not get any money. The Jesus lottery is similar. When a person senses the Holy Spirit working in his life, he has the choice of saying, “Yes, Lord, I want You to rule my life. I want to die to myself.” Or he can go on with his life and throw away Jesus. When the Jesus lottery ticket blows into your life, will you be the one to redeem the ticket or the one to throw the ticket in the trash?
            Another way that winning a money lottery is like winning the Jesus lottery is how it affects all of life. When one wins the lottery, one’s life changes, in that one can now afford a new house, a new car, new clothes, etc. It wouldn’t make sense for someone who just won the lottery to have a nice house but be unable to pay his doctor bills. (This assumes that the person who won the lottery is somewhat responsible when it comes to money management.) Just as lottery winnings overflow into all areas of life, the Jesus lottery winnings do so as well. The Jesus lottery doesn’t make bad people good, and it doesn’t make good people better. No! It makes dead people alive, and this aliveness ought to flow into every area of one’s life. If it doesn’t, I must be frank: I don’t think that you’ve actually won the Jesus lottery. If the Jesus lottery only makes it so that you go to church on Sundays and so that you’re a “generally good” person, you need to rethink whether or not you’ve actually won the Jesus lottery.
            Because of the Jesus lottery, I have peace that comes from following God’s commands and that comes from knowing that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Because of the Jesus lottery, I have victory in mental health, whereas before dark and suicidal thoughts had a stronghold in my mind. Because of the Jesus lottery, I have a huge spiritual family, so I don’t have to be lonely, even if my own family members were to ever reject me (Mark 10:29-30). Because of the Jesus lottery, I have purpose in life and can give generously of my time and resources to others. Because of the Jesus lottery, I have never-ending joy, even when trouble comes. (And expect trouble if you win the Jesus lottery, because Jesus declared in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble.” But Jesus also goes on to say, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”) Because of the Jesus lottery, I work at Oakridge Christian Camp in Anadarko, OK. Because of the Jesus lottery, all of my life has changed.
            At this point, I wish to make one last clarification. I am not talking about Jesus as the lottery ticket to heaven, although John 14:6 makes it clear that Jesus is “the way, the truth, the life” [emphasis mine]. Heaven as a place would not be great by itself. It is great because Jesus is there. Heaven isn’t the lottery winnings; it is Jesus! And God so graciously lets us taste the goodness of Jesus here on earth as we submit to Him in response to His love demonstrated for us on the cross. That is how I’ve won the lottery!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Call to Singleness



            During the past few years, I have always joked that I could picture myself anywhere from being a nun to being the next Mrs. Duggar with 19 kids. During the past few months, I have sensed a leaning more towards being a nun. Well, maybe not that extreme—but single and working at Oakridge or whatever Christian ministry God has for me. I do not believe that this new leaning is rooted from an “oh, pity me; I’m still single; no guy is ever going to marry me” type of attitude. Instead, I believe that God is leading me down this road.
            During my first few years of college, if I liked a guy, I would try to be discreet about it and hope that he would ask me out, but then I would eventually come right out and tell the guy, even though there was no indication of interest from him. This led to a lot of brokenness (and I also read I Kissed Dating Goodbye), so I toned it down a bit and just had a lot of crushes on guys who never asked me out, and I never told them that I had an interest in them. This was really hard for me to practice, but it led to less brokenness.
            In the last year, however, singleness has been less difficult for me. During the last year, I have still had a lot of crushes on guys, but I’ve also been content with singleness. My attitude has been, “If God wants to bring a man to pursue me, that’s fine; if not, I’ll enjoy the benefits of singleness.” Maybe this shift in attitude occurred because I have thought more about marriage and all that it includes. I thought about it, and I realized that I am probably getting the best sleep of my life right now as a single person. With marriage, I’m sure there come fights about how cold to set the thermostat at night, snoring, sides of the bed, etc. I am glad that I don’t have to deal with that at this point in time.
            Be that as it may, I have felt an ever-increasing desire for singleness during the past few months. My attitude is no longer “if God wants to bring a man to pursue me, that’s fine; if not; I’ll enjoy the benefits of singleness.” On the contrary, I am not sure that, even if a man started to pursue me, I would be interested. I have seen several instances during the past few months where I was able to serve because I am single, and that brought me a lot of joy. I appreciate the opportunity to serve the Lord and not be “concerned about the affairs of this world—how [I] can please [my] husband” (1 Corinthians 7:34). I can only imagine how torn those who are in ministry sometimes feel. I’m sure they look forward to going home at the end of the day to be with their families. If I remain single, I do not have to feel torn.
            In addition to all these things, in having conversations with other women, I believe that I do not “burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9). So that element of singleness really works out in my favor. :)
            It could be that I am just being selfish in my desire for singleness. Like I said above, I am probably getting the best sleep of my life now as a single person. In addition, I am introverted, so I cannot imagine having to share a house with someone after a long day’s work. I would want a quiet place to come home to in order to rest. Also, there is more freedom in singleness, in that one can come and go as one pleases and does not have to plan too far in advance to go somewhere. Plus, I like being a part of other people’s families, and that isn’t very practical when one is trying to build a family of one’s own. As I said at the beginning of this paragraph, I might be selfish in my desires to remain single, but I think that it is more likely that God has been changing my desires, due to how “natural” it is to want to marry and then due to how I used to want to be married so badly.
            This is not so say that marriage is bad; it just may not be something that I am called to. It is also not to say that I may be called to be single for the rest of my life. Maybe God will one day rekindle the desire for marriage in me. Maybe He just wants to get a lot of use out of my “early” adult years, and He doesn’t want me to be distracted by crushes on guys or anything like that. However, until God so changes my desires back to marriage, I will enjoy singleness and the work that I am able to do for God.