Changing the World

Friday, March 27, 2015
    This world is a dangerous, scarred place. There are things that we see and experience that would not exist without sin. Creation itself is groaning because of the sin we have allowed (Romans 8:22). Things are looking pretty bleak for this world.

      I have found that there are three kinds of people: 1) People who know where this world is heading and are willing to sacrifice their time and effort to do something about it, 2) people who don't want to do anything about it, and 3) people who can't even see what's happening to this world. I would like to think that I am part of the first category, even though I am very young. I want to do something about it, but I am not sure that I am capable. (Do Hard Things is a great book. Alex and Brett Harris challenge the teenage generation to make a difference despite their age.)  All too often I forget that I have the God of the universe dwelling inside of me and "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).
      I watched a video called Living on One Dollar in Spanish yesterday, and it really sparked a desire inside of me to help people. There are billions of people out there that are destined to be poor their whole lives. They want to learn and go to school and really live, but here we are in the great US of A sitting on our smartphones and dreading school and taking all the opportunities we have for granted. I won't hardly even have to pay for college because of the money my grandpa left for me; I have so much potential to really help people, but I sit in geometry class and obsess over Zayn leaving One Direction instead of trying to excel. Yes, the U.S. has developed equal opportunity for citizens, but it has also developed an ungrateful generation who is too afraid to really live and would rather obsess over the latest fad than really put their life into something that is lasting. 
     Y'all, we have an unending hope, something that will never fade and never die. Shouldn't we want to share that hope? Shouldn't we want to put our all into showing others Christ? 
      My challenge to y'all, and to myself, is to live purposefully and sincerely. Take every opportunity you get with an outstretched hand because there are others around the world that will never be  able to reach their dreams. As the author says in Hebrews twelve, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." 
     Yes, this world is miserably flawed, but we can do something  about it. We can show others the glorious, unending hope of Christ. We can change this world one soul at a time because we are on the winning side, the side of Jesus Christ. 

What a (Jesus) Freak

Sunday, March 22, 2015
            It had been a fairly normal week, I thought, as I stood in the carpool line after school on Friday, talking casually with a few friends. As if on cue, though, a guy walked up and started talking to people around me. As he looked at me, he said, “Mary Shelley, you post a lot of Jesus stuff on Instagram. I mean it’s, like, every post. You must love God a lot.”

            I was a bit baffled, to say the least, and on top of that, I completely passed up an opportunity to share my faith because I didn’t really say anything to him after his comment. I got to thinking about it that day, and I told my mom about it after school.

            She said to me, “You should have said, ‘I do love God a lot. I’m a Jesus Freak.’”

            I laughed and didn’t say anything back, but her comment sparked something inside of me. I realized that I believe what I believe for a reason; yes, I have been raised hearing the gospel my whole life, but it took time for God to soften my stubborn heart, and when He did, I was exposed to wonderful, amazing grace. I used to see God as a crutch, like a pain-killer, but over the past few years, I have begun to realize that what I believe is my whole life.

So yes, I am a Jesus Freak. But, wouldn’t you be, too, if you thought that everything was lost, that you were a hopeless, ugly mess that could not be rescued?  

            I believed for so long that I could somehow save myself. I wanted to be that one rebel in the family who didn’t follow in her parents’ footsteps. I wanted to be different, so I tried; I really tried to be good on my own. I always said “please” and “thank you” and called everyone “ma’am” or “sir,” but those were just little, tiny things, and surely weren’t enough for me to be considered good, so I tried harder. Soon, though, I saw my human nature surfacing more and more. All of a sudden, or maybe not so suddenly,  I was lying to get myself out of things, calling people names, and being generally mean.What had happened to me? I couldn’t fix myself, and I had rejected God’s grace. He surely wouldn’t accept me now, after I had openly defied Him.

            I continued to try, and when I was ready to abandon my effort, it was time for my first year of summer camp at The Wilds of North Carolina. I was excited to be away from my family; there would be less distraction. I would finally feel free, not constantly watched by the withering glances of my parents. It was a Christian camp, and I was exposed to so much there. I remember walking through the beautiful trails there and just really feeling God. I knew He was real, because how could this earth have come to be without Him? There was an evangelist that spoke there. I remember him making us call him “Brother Will,” and thought it was funny that he wanted to be my brother when I was only nine. He had to be a least forty. He spoke about God, the One I knew to be the Creator, with such passion and sincerity. I was scared to come to God, though; I think I thought He would somehow punish me for all bad I had done. Brother Will didn’t speak that way about God, though. God wanted me, he had said. Surely it was too good to be true. I ignored the rapid beating of my heart, like God himself was knocking at the door, waiting to come in.

            One night, although I don’t remember the day, something hit me. The message wasn’t even on salvation. (I think it was about bitterness towards God, or something.) I felt a feeling like a blood vessel had exploded in my heart, and the tears began to flow, first slowly, then like a river, the sobs racking my body. I couldn’t hold it in. To think that I had tried for so long, that I was completely convinced that I could do it on my own, and God still wanted me. He didn’t need me; He wanted me. He wanted to cleanse me; He wanted to dwell in my heart. He knocked patiently, not getting frustrated or annoyed, but with a constant, valiant effort. On that warm, summer night, the God of the universe captured my heart. But he didn’t ride up on a white horse in shining armor; He hung on cross, willingly giving himself up for me.

            So yes, I am a Jesus Freak. What more would want to be? God chooses my weaknesses to show His strength. He loved me at my darkest, and if that isn’t amazing grace, I don’t know what is.

Sincerity Part 2 - Love

Sunday, March 15, 2015
              Sometimes, I am very hard to love. In fact, most of the time I’m hard to love, but the thing about love is, unless it’s unconditional, it doesn’t work. Not like it’s supposed to, anyway. We, as Christians, are commanded to love God and others with all our heart and soul, i.e. unconditionally. Unfortunately, we’re human, and unconditional love isn’t exactly possible when we’re as flawed as we are. That’s where God comes in.

                God is perfect and holy, and so is His love. His love was personified through Jesus. A perfect, holy, awesome God who is bigger, stronger, and better than the human mind can fathom humbled Himself to the form of man and lived a perfect life. (Think about that for a minute: Jesus, as a little boy and as a teenager, never complained about doing chores or making His bed; He never had a bad thought about anyone or anything; He never complained about the weather or what He had for breakfast; He was, and is, perfect goodness personified, all for us.) His love was so deep that he was willingto live a perfect life and die unjustly, willing to be scoffed at, mocked, despised, and rejected all because He loves us. When Paul says in Romans 12:9, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good,” he is describing Jesus’ love, and because Jesus first loved us with his sincere love, we should love Him, mimicking His love for us.

                When we love Jesus, we delight in doing good. We despise sin, and love those that commit it despite their sin, because that’s what Jesus does daily with us. We spread His word near and far; we shine His light the best we can; we endure trials and persecution for the sake of the gospel, because that’s what Jesus did. We forgive others willingly and completely; we abstain from foul language and crude jokes; we do this not because it is required, but because we want to. Because when we are in the love of Christ, there is nothing we enjoy more than pleasing God. We “walk in love, just as Christ gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).

                Sometimes there are rough spots. Sometimes it’s hard to do good, but when we come to God, and when we again taste the sweet, loving goodness of His grace, we persevere, knowing that when God is in us, we possess an incredible light.

                When we are in Christ, loving Him is a natural instinct. When loving Him is a natural instinct, loving others is a natural instinct. Oh, how good the day will be that we can love Christ perfectly and completely, forever in His presence.  

                Until that day, we strive to love him sincerely and completely, without fear of our future because it is in God’s hands and without fear of our trials because they will bring Him glory, always seeking to show the sincere, perfect, sweet love of Christ to others because “now, these three remain: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

                This week, strive to be sincere in your love for God. When we put God first, God puts everything else where it is supposed to be.


Sincerity Part 1 - Speech

Saturday, March 7, 2015
               Sincerity is defined as “the quality free from pretense, deceit, and hypocrisy.” So often, I get caught in the trap of saying whatever comes to my mind, good or bad, without thinking about what I say. I think that’s why I enjoy writing so much: I can say what I want without any unnecessary extravagance. I can get right to the point without saying something I regret.

                As Christians, I think we should be sincere in everything we do. In fact, I would even go as far to say that if you are not sincere in what you do, you are better off not doing it at all. When we love, we should love with everything we have; when we forgive, we should forgive with everything we have; when we praise God, we should praise him with all the strength we have. What I want to focus on today, though, is sincere speech: When we speak, our minds should be focused and alert, using everything we say to show people Christ and to bring Him glory.

                As teenagers, we often get caught in the trap of bad language and crude jokes. So many times I have tried to find the grace to tell people what I think about it, too, but I always end up feeling like I think I’m better than everyone else, and that’s not the kind of message I want to spread. What I want to tell people is this: As Christians, we are supposed to spread Christ’s love and show the mark of His grace on our lives. When we use bad language, it does not honor God, and why would we ever want to do anything that doesn't honor God?

                Paul writes in Ephesians 5:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

                When I was really little, I used to wonder what made a bad word bad. I knew all the words I wasn't supposed to say, and I knew I couldn't say them because they were bad, but I didn't know what made them bad. Now, I think I know. I think bad words are bad because they are unnecessary. Most of the time, bad language is inserted into a sentence that would still be a sentence if the word wasn't there. I think that one unnecessary word make what you say no longer sincere.

                Most of the time, start to use bad language as some sort of a “rite of passage” into the adult world. All of a sudden, they feel independent and able to make big decisions on their own. And sometimes, if they start to use the word early enough, they are suddenly cool.

                Not only bad language is the problem, though. We throw around phrases like I’m sorry and I love you when we don’t really mean them. We use flattery and trickery and hypocrisy without even thinking. So, my challenge to you is to be sincere. Be purposeful.

                I’ll end on this note from Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

                XO and God bless,

                Mary Shelley