Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thoughts & Goals for the New Year

This past year was one of real suffering, of physical, emotional and spiritual weakness, but it was also a display of God's faithfulness and ability to bring healing to my body and soul. As difficult as the first half of this past year was I am thankful for the experience and for all that God taught me through it. It's been a really amazing last few months with me heading to seminary in September and it will be exciting in this next year to see how God leads me as I graduate this spring!

There’s a lot being said about now about New Year’s resolutions and if/how we should make them. I do think it is good to periodically evaluate your life and see where you need to grow and change, and this takes humility. You have to be honest and willing to admit where you have failed or where you are weak. But we also need to realize that it’s not always enough to just “resolve”. There needs to be true commitment and a plan towards the changes you want to make. And let us echo the words of Elisabeth Elliot below and seek to make our growth into the likeness of Christ our primary goal!
But as we make resolutions or set goals the first step towards change must be prayer. We cannot change apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, at least it won’t be real, long-lasting change. I’ve been thinking and praying over the last week about areas in my life where the Lord is showing me that I need to grow and change and came up with the following four. I have committed to daily praying specifically about each of these and evaluating my progress. To my close friends, as you are able please do pray for me and assuming you are able to offer constructive criticism (see my posts on that maybe if you're not sure!) then you have my permission to ask me about these areas and how I am doing… as Christians we are part of a body for a reason; we need each other.

So, four areas where I need to and want to grow and change this year:

I want to be more focused on the Lord and on the present in my thought life.

I put this one first, because the truth is if you want to change in ANY area, the first thing that needs to change is your thought patterns. But thinking patterns are hard to change and there are limits to practical steps you can take towards change. But I am seeking to try to be more aware of my thinking patterns and be more spiritual minded and focused on the present (as opposed to thinking about things that aren’t relevant or helpful or are distracting or where I’m over-thinking the future that I have no control over). Prayer is going to be crucial here, and I will be seeking to have more of an attitude of prayer.

I want to quit eating sugar and “extra” sides or snacks.

Oh boy. I cannot tell you how many times I have tried to do this and failed or not lasted very long. Quite honestly, I am not strong enough which shows me even more that I need to press towards growth and change in this area. On the other hand, there have been times where I have been successful so I know that it IS possible – especially since I have the Holy Spirit and a new nature within me that enables me to resist temptation! But this is a difficult area for me because I have SUCH a sweet tooth and it’s hard for me to resist things that I like. It can be small like a piece of bread with dinner or snacking on nuts when I’m not hungry. Or it can be bigger like wanting some ice cream or chocolate. Also, how often do we eat just to be social when we really don’t need to and it’s not really helpful to our bodies?

So… (here it goes, Lord help me!) I will be seeking to not eat sugar and avoid unnecessary snacks and “sides”. But to be realistic sugar is in almost everything so it’s acceptable to have things like salad dressing or if it’s in something that I can’t really help.

I want to become more grace-filled in my speech.

To put it negatively, I want to be less negative and critical in my speech (and my thoughts too). Most people that know me probably would say that I don’t have a problem with this at all, but still the Lord has convicted me about this. I do find myself being critical of others and I desire to grow in graciousness and love towards others.

I want to spend less time with social media/entertainment.

It can be super easy to take a break from school work and “just check Facebook” or watch a movie. This easily becomes a bad habit and a big time waster. To put this positively, I want to pray more and read more. This is also a matter of self-control and saying no to something I want to do at a given moment. This will be a difficult one as well, but it’s an area I do want to work on.

Specific goals in this area are that I will seek to at most, watch 1 movie per week and that only on Friday/Saturday (although exceptions may be made if I’m with friends/family). In regards to limiting my time on Facebook, I’m still not sure how to best do this so that it will be most effective for me. I probably need to get a timer to keep track of my time. Also, I will seek to not be on at all in the morning hours.   

I decided also to pick a verse for the year, Psalm 19:14: "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD my strength and my Redeemer."

Thanks for reading my blog this year... I don't really know who all does, but I wish you all a very happy and blessed year ahead!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Is Anxiety Sinful?

This post is based on a session given at the 2015 CCEF National Conference. This particular session was titled “Six Ways to Help and Anxious Person” and was presented by David Powlison. For more information please visit

The reality is that in this fallen, uncertain world we have good reason to be afraid. We should not be surprised of the abundant reasons we have to be concerned. However, there are better reasons to not be afraid, the main one being that we have a God who is in control of the world and every detail of our lives. But despite this hope-giving truth, I for one have struggled with anxiety. There was a time where my body and mind were both working against me to overwhelm me with feelings of stress and anxiety. At times I didn’t even have a good reason to feel anxious, but I still was. Sometimes I couldn’t even explain how I was feeling or why I was feeling that way. How is one to understand these feelings? Are those feelings of anxiety, as some preachers and writers have said, sinful in and of themselves? Do I need to repent of what I feel?

The answer, I would argue, is no. Feelings of anxiety are not sinful. Feelings and thoughts of worry are not sin and one should not feel guilt concerning them. Feelings cannot be sinful in and of themselves, for they are just indicators of what is going on in our mind, body and heart. Feelings and thoughts are not sinful, but they may be a temptation, and it is the response that can be sinful. This is a very important distinction; those who are anxious are not necessarily sinning! There are bodily weakness that can contribute, or it may be the result of other suffering. Those struggling need others to ask questions and understand their struggle. They need help to respond well to this temptation. There is usually much more going on below the surface that even they realize.

As we seek to help those who struggle with anxiety David Powlison gives us four questions we can ask. First we should help them ask “What’s going on with me?” We need to help them understand what they are feeling. This was such a great point because when you’re feeling anxious often you are not really sure what you are actually feeling. Also, they need to get to the root of their feelings – what is underneath their anxiety. Often there is fear, and they need to realize and face that fear. Second, “Who’s here with me?” They need to be reminded that God is with them and they can trust Him. Often in times of suffering it is hard to feel loved by God and they may need to be reassured of this truth. During my own personal struggle with anxiety and depression something that helped so much was people reminding me over and over that God loved me - because my circumstances and feelings were telling me otherwise. Third, “What’s pressing in on me?” Anxiety reveals what’s important to us, what we can’t control. We need to face those things and bring them to God. This leads to the fourth question which is “What’s hijacking my heart?” We easily forget who God is and fear man or circumstances more; we need to realize what is ruling our heart.

Then there are two action steps we can present to those who are struggling with anxiety. First, we need to help them have an honest conversation and be transparent about their struggles. Their feelings are not just going to disappear, they need to deal with them! We cannot hide, we need to be open. I love how he talked about how our prayers are worries, but they are God-oriented. We take our concerns to God in prayer, and to others to help us. Secondly, we need to help them focus on doing what needs doing today. God has things for them to do now; He has a mission and a purpose right now, even though life seems really overwhelming. Often we just need to focus on taking small steps of obedience and not on the bigger, distant things that we have no control over anyway! Repentance indeed may be needed. We may need to repent of our desire to control or of our self-centeredness. These are the actual sins that need to be dealt with; feelings of anxiety are simply the overflow.

For some anxiety may be a long-term struggle. This is a trial and a suffering that God has allowed in your life but He is in the one in control and will carry you through. But also remember that in it He also calls you to seek to persevere through it in faith. Throughout Scripture we meet men and women who were beset by circumstances that left them overwhelmed, anxious and weary. But they also give examples of how we should respond -David wrote the words on the picture below as he sought to bring his anxieties to the Lord. By all means seek medical counsel and remember that just because you feel anxiety doesn't mean you are sinning. But you do need to pay attention to how you are responding to those feelings. The beautiful thing is that anxiety can be a door to faith; it’s an opportunity to trust God. In fact, you have a responsibility to seek to trust God no matter what you feel. You are not a victim of your feelings, they do not have to control you; they do not define who you are. Also, this is an opportunity for the church community to love and pray for others. We need to be open and honest about our struggles, and we need to seek to know how people are really doing. As we learn to really get to know others and what’s going on in their heart we can better minister and love them. That is what the Church is supposed to be all about. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Seminary Update: Finals Week!

I finished up my classes last week, which was rather bittersweet. I so enjoyed being a student and taking the classes this semester that I'm sad it's over. But I start again in January (I'm taking 3 credits over the J-term). And hey, I made it through the semester still a New Covenant Baptist! :-)

Finals start this coming Thursday and I have 6 of them so I'm trying to focus on studying, which is rather tedious. I like writing papers better!!! Some of my classes were challenging but I feel like I learned so much through them! Most were application or case study response papers so really practical. I also wrote a research paper on the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament which was really interesting to study.

I'm super grateful for this whole semester and for all that I've experienced and learned. I'd appreciate your prayers now through next Tuesday as I study and take my finals. I really want to do well! Thank you to all who have been so supportive, encouraging and who have prayed for me through this time. I wish you all a very merry Christmas! May the Lord richly bless you in this season and in the new year ahead!