A Society That Envies Animals

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Advertisements portray a society’s deeper beliefs. One Banfield pet hospital advertisement captured my attention and concerned me because it portrays a deeper worldview which has pervaded our culture. Here is the narration from the video:

“The challenge with being a human animal is we add a whole lot of junk on top of just being an animal who can exist and be happy. We make things more complicated, and when we get to be just at home with our pets . . . it allows us to just get back to the simple, pleasurable things that come with having a small furry animal curled up on your lap . . .  And I think pets really just connect us to who we want to be at our core.”

At first appearance this advertisement seems innocent, but it highlights three lies that our culture has openly accepted. Thankfully, God’s truths are always ready to combat any lie that the world throws our way.

First Lie: “pets really just connect us to who we want to be at our core.”

Truth: Humans and animals were created fundamentally different.   

We are not human animals. We are crafted in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 says to this effect, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” We are crafted by God, for God. We were never designed to descend to a lower, animalistic level. We are to draw closer to God, and drawing closer to God involves moving upwards. God not only originally created us (Psalm 139:13), but for those of us who have accepted Jesus, we are still a work in progress as Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Second Lie: “We make things more complicated, and when we get to be just at home with our pets . . . it allows us to just get back to the simple, pleasurable things”

Truth: We are to cope with stress by casting our burdens on God.

This video did capture one human sentiment very well: feeling overwhelmed. We live in a cooker pressure world. We are constantly told to strive more, achieve more, and earn more. We were not designed to handle the stress of this world- no wonder we just want to curl up with Fluffy or Fido and forget our responsibilities! We are designed to cast our burdens on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7) instead of crumbling underneath them. We can be strong even in the face of stress and trials because God is always with us, helping us in every moment.

Third Lie: “The challenge with being a human animal is we add a whole lot junk on top of just being an animal who can exist and be happy.”

Truth: Our purpose is to serve God and others, even when this makes us uncomfortable or unhappy.

Is the purpose of life simply to “exist and be happy”? Or is there something deeper? The fact of the matter is, humans will always serve something, whether that something is God, other people, or even ourselves. Whatever or whoever we place our affections on will determine the course of our lives. When we live self-sacrificially, serving God and those around us before ourselves, we discover a peace and a joy that could never be attained by serving ourselves.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Our pets do not lead a life that we should envy. Even though being human entails responsibilities, work, and even burdens, it also includes many God given privileges. We have been given the gift of direct connection with God, something our animals will never achieve. While life can seem stressful and chaotic at times, we have an incomparable peace from God that remains constant-regardless of the circumstances.  We have the opportunity to serve God and others, thus finding joy outside of ourselves. God designed human life to be full, wonderful, and purposefully different from the creatures surrounding us.

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Halloween-Let Your Light Shine

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Opinions about Halloween rage within the Christian community. Some Christians believe that practicing Halloween is second only to witch craft and tightly lock their doors. Others fully embrace the opportunity to poor fake blood on their costume of choice and automatically label themselves a zombie.

While my family does not embrace the death aspect of Halloween (no fake blood here!), we do see it as an excellent opportunity to be a positive influence in our neighborhood. Rather than curse the darkness, we strive to be the light. We usually dress up in historically themed costumes. My younger sisters troop around the neighborhood, gathering all the candy they can carry. I sit perched on our couch, eagerly awaiting the sounds of excited trick or treaters.

My friend Anna told me that her family buys large candy bars and tapes Bible verses to the back. I thought that was a fantastic idea, so I spent most of Halloween day finding appropriate Bible verses and sticking them to the backs of chocolate bars.

While most of the trick or treaters did not seem to notice the verses, a few were instantly fixated. One boy who appeared to be around eight/nine years old stopped and read the verse out loud on our doorstep!

We had a huge group of teenagers raid our candy supply (some of whom I knew). One girl who I already knew to be a Christian saw the verse and automatically said, “Oh cool, Bible verses!”. One of her friends responded, “You are so weird.” I felt it necessary to jump in, saying, “She’s not weird!” The friend backpedaled then.  That was the most negative reaction we received.

I will most definitely be taping more Bible verse to candy bars next year. I used 1 John 4:18, Psalm 34:8, and 1 Timothy 6:17 for most of the candy bars. I found Psalm 136:9, a verse that mentions the moon and stars, for the Milky Way bars.

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Fickle Friendships

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Over the last few years, several of my friendships have died regardless of my efforts to save them. I was saddened deeply and confused because there was no obvious reason why. There had been no fight – no fallout. I examined myself and honestly asked if there was something I had done to damage our relationship, but nothing appeared. My friendship was drowning and my hands were tied. This forced me to consider what makes a friendship and what my responsibilities are in a relationship. These questions led me to five truths that have helped me through these situations.

A friendship requires two people in cooperation with each other.

While this fact is obvious, we often fail to apply its truth. One person alone cannot keep the relationship alive. There must be cooperation between the two parties. If our friend or acquaintance is resisting connecting with us, we can still remain supportive and friendly, but besides that our options are limited. With all of my friendships that have dissipated, I was desperate to fix them. I wanted to find a problem so there could be resolution. But after careful examination, I realized there was nothing more I could do and backed off. Later, an opportunity might appear to revive the relationship, but forcing your “solutions” now will only make the situation worse.

Friendship entails risk.

There is no such thing as a perfect relationship. Even the most solid relationships leave us vulnerable to disappointment. As C.S. Lewis said in his book The Four Loves, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.” The relationships Jesus had during His time on earth perfectly illustrate this point. He knew his disciples would mess up repeatedly and Judas would even betray Him, but He still poured His all into these twelve men. To not love is to act selfishly.

Even though relationships can hurt us, we have to realize their value is worth any pain they may bring.

People change for the better.

People change – sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. For instance, my older cousin (who is more like a long distance big brother) got married three years ago and had a baby girl. During his bachelor days, I would text with him nearly every day, but now our messages are slightly less frequent. We still care deeply about each other, his life priorities have just readjusted – as they should! His little family is the apple of his eye, but that has not pushed me out of the viewer. He just has less time to spend on his phone. Seasons of life change. We should rejoice when a friend or family member reaches a new stage in life, not resent it.

People change for the worse.

On the flip side, sometimes people change for the worse. While we still love these people, we are left powerless when they no longer welcome us into their lives. For instance, I had a friend who began to snub me. She was insecure and trying to portray herself as the “popular girl”. I still care about her, but I backed off from trying to communicate with her. Again, you cannot force a relationship. Not every relationship is meant to be a long term one. I have had other friends who have moved, changed schools, and started engaging in questionable entertainment choices. They no longer made an effort to communicate, and I did not think it was wise to fight for our relationship.  I still care about these people too, but we are no longer a part of each other’s daily lives.

We have one friend who is perfect.

Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly. But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” We must be careful not to set unrealistic expectations on our friends and family members. We are all human, thus we will all fail each other in our relationships. However, Jesus is always a steady friend – someone who we know will never fail us in our relationship. No matter how many times we fail Him, He will still stay by our side. When we receive Jesus’ grace, we can more freely give grace to our relations when they fail.

Our friendships brighten our days and add meaning to life. Times of strain can actually make us realize just how much we appreciate the relationships in our lives. Whether a friendship lasts for thirty days or thirty years, whether we communicate daily or once every five years, we can thank God for the people He has given a role in our lives. As we walk with Jesus, we can trust God to help us build stronger, less fickle relationships.

 

Face Your Inadequacy with God’s Strength

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One of my greatest passions in life is writing and researching. However, like all passions, I often discover that my current skill and talent levels are far too inadequate for the tasks I want to accomplish. Recently, I started to work on a writing project that I began last year (and have not touched for months). As I began scanning the document, I felt completely overwhelmed. It was so much more disorganized than I remembered it to be, and I quickly realized that most of the words just repeated my personal opinion over and over again.

Yet, right as I was feeling completely inadequate to the task ahead of me, I remembered the stories of people behind me who were completely unequal to the jobs they were called to. God can use weak people to carry out his work in extraordinary ways. Here are some examples:

1)      Nehemiah-From Cup Bearer to City Leader

Nehemiah was the king’s cup bearer, until God flipped his life upside down. Nehemiah felt called to help Jerusalem rebuild its walls. He obeyed, and the wall rebuilding project was finished in record time. However, he was no master builder.  He did not possess any architectural or project management skills, and his cup bearing skills were obviously useless in this scenario. To make the situation more complicated, enemies intent on stopping the building project were bearing down on all sides, right in the middle of construction! From a natural perspective, Nehemiah was the very worst candidate for this job. Despite his lack of military leadership and construction skills, he still completed the job that God called him to, and it in record time at that.

2)        Mary- An Unlikely Choice

Mary was just a young teenager when the angel appeared to her and told her that she would have a son. Mary was as ordinary as they come, an unlikely candidate to carry and then take care of the son of God. Even worse, she was then unmarried – basically a single mom! In her society, she would have been looked down upon with scorn for becoming pregnant before marriage. In our society, we would see someone like Mary, a young, pregnant teenager, and think her to be completely irresponsible and incapable of raising a child. But God called Mary to do just that, and she succeeded in her God-given mission.

3)      Abraham and Sarah-Facing Impossible Circumstances

Abraham and Sarah were faced with an irreversible obstacle – old age. God had promised them a child, but Sarah was ninety and Abraham was one hundred years old when they actually had their son, Isaac. As time wore on, Abraham and Sarah were forced to either hang on to God’s promise or give up entirely on having a family. After all, it was humanly impossible for them to bring God’s reality to pass on their own. Thankfully, they hung on and God delivered (no pun intended). As God is not intimidated by natural impossibilities, we should face seemingly impossible circumstances knowing that we have a supernatural God on our side!

4)        Josiah-Overwhelming Responsibility

Josiah was only eight years old when he was made King of Israel. Knowing the typical nature of little kids, I can imagine that this reign was rather chaotic. After all, Josiah was starting out with zero experience, knowledge, wisdom, or maturity! But Josiah turned to wisdom that was greater than himself. In his weakness, God’s word supplied him with direction. Josiah knew that weakness is not a boundary; it’s really just an opportunity to ask God for help!

Just like Nehemiah, Mary, and Josiah, God will call us to complete missions that are outside of our realms. We may consider ourselves as being too old, too young, or not skilled enough, but God doesn’t pay attention to limitations. As the end of 2 Corinthians 12:10 says, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

When we are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, we can remind ourselves that we are children of the One True God, who turns hopeless situations into miracles.

 

 

Building Strong Relationships

picnic-1208229_1280High-quality relationships never come about by accident.

Strong friendships and families are built intentionally. The best relationships must have a solid foundation in order to survive times of strain and testing. Here are five practical exercises we can apply to strengthen our relationships.

1)  Compliment freely!

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” According to Dictionary.com, the word “corrupt” can be used to define something that is “infected”1 or “tainted”1.

In our society, we are quick to speak words that are “infected” with condemnation or “tainted” with harsh criticism. We don’t think twice about criticizing but are painfully slow with compliments. Some people try to build themselves up by tearing others down, but this approach only damages both parties. Finding the good in someone else is actually a sign of humility because it forces us to acknowledge that we aren’t the only talented individuals on planet earth.

You don’t have to hand out compliments right and left, but when you notice a positive feature about someone, tell them! You will have to give constructive criticism at times, but as a part of that critique you can mention something positive about the person or their actions.

2) Challenge one another in love.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”
Friendships are supposed to help us grow. We can encourage each other in our pursuits, and gently correct when we notice something that is damaging our friend. Relationships not only give us joy, they also make us face our struggles and weak spots. The best kind of friend will not leave us to face our struggles alone, but will rather link arms with us and walk with us.

Just as iron sharpening iron, sparks may fly in our relationships, but that is not always a bad thing. Conflicts resulting from corrections may hurt, but sometimes a little bit of pain forces us to change. In our relationships, we always must remember to correct and challenge with love. In their discussion of Proverbs 27:17, Jason and David Benham wrote, “if these clashes are motivated by love, then we should embrace them, not avoid them.” (Living Among Lions, page 182)

3)  Celebrate one another’s victories.

Did your friend pass their driving test? Or perhaps they baked a batch of cookies that weren’t burnt to a crisp? Maybe they can’t stop smiling because their cousin just had a new baby. Whatever the joyous occasion, partake in the celebration! As Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice”!

You may not understand how momentous this occasion is, but to your friend, it could be life changing. Besides, when something exciting happens to you, you will want your friends to be eager to celebrate alongside you.

4)  Stay for the struggle.

The second half of Romans 12:15 says, “weep with those who weep.” Many people stick around for the party but quickly diminish when the going gets tough. This reminds me of the Prodigal Son. His friends stuck around as long as he had money, but once the money was spent—and he was left to starve—the friends vanished into thin air.

Being a friend during good times is easy, the real test comes when harder circumstances hit. Celebrating with our friends is a necessity, but we need to remind ourselves to be there when they are going through a rough time. This includes proactively contacting them as well as offering any support we can.

We regularly need to remind ourselves to be a shoulder to cry on as well as someone to celebrate with.

5)  Be quick to forgive and forget.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

We can only offer God’s kind of forgiveness when we are acting in His strength. On our own, the urge to hold a grudge is simply too strong to overcome. Once we truly forgive, we will soon find ourselves forgetting the instance.

Forgetting a friend’s mistake doesn’t mean that you should immediately trust your friend again, but rather give them an opportunity to earn your trust back without holding their mistake over them.

Although building a strong relationship requires time and conscious effort, the friendships in our lives are well worth it. First, we need to remember to use our words to lift our friends up. Then, out of love, we can challenge and even gently correct our relations. We also must remember to celebrate during the good and comfort in the bad. Finally, we can offer forgiveness when they make a mistake, knowing that we will also need forgiveness in our relationships.

 

Beware, Financial Traps Ahead!!!

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Part of growing into a responsible young adult is learning to manage money with wisdom, common sense, and generosity. We set a pattern for our finances from the moment we start making money, even if that money is only from birthday and Christmas gifts. In order to safely survive without incurring mounds of deadly debt, we must first mark the major financial pitfalls on the road ahead.

Despite popular belief, the most important years of your financial journey are your high school and college years. Why? Because the financial philosophy you develop during this time will either make or break the next few decades of your financial future.

If you are not careful, you could spend years cleaning up the financial mess from your high school and college days.

You may think that being a teenager means no financial decisions or problems, but it is possible, even now, to land in huge financial trouble. Once a fourteen year old boy called the Dave Ramsey radio show, because he had $21,000 dollars of debt.

If you make it past your high school years with no financial scares, the college years still await and are ready to devour you. According to Student Loan Hero, “The average student loan debt for Class of 2017 graduates was $39,400*, up six percent from the previous year. . . Americans owe over $1.48 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44 million borrowers.”[emphasis mine] In other words, as soon as you get out of high school, you will have to decide if you want to incur almost $40,000 dollars of debt in only four years.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Many students incur even more than $40,000 dollars of debt, but without the high paying degree to rectify the issue. Financial guru and bestselling author Dave Ramsey regularly has young adults calling into his radio show who have anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 dollars just in student loan debt. While a couple of these individuals have degrees in high paying fields (such as medicine or engineering), several of them have super low paying degrees or even degrees from bogus universities. Just like these people, you could spend years, maybe decades, paying off student loan debt unless you carefully guard your finances during college.

If you managed to survive the student loan debt attacks, then you still have to contend with vicious credit card companies. Credit card companies fiercely target college students, knowing that they are some of the most gullible victims. You must have a plan before you set foot on campus, because if you wait, you’ve already been sold. Newsweek cited a study that showed just how susceptible college students are to credit card marketing:

“Last year, U.S. PIRG compiled the survey results from 40 universities in 14 states and found that more than three fourths of undergraduate students stopped at a marketing table to learn about credit-card offers. Of those, a third were offered T shirts, water bottles, food, even “stress balls” in exchange for filling out a credit-card application. Such tactics work: nearly two out of three students in the 1,500-person sample said they’d signed up for a card.” [emphasis mine]

In another story, one college freshman applied for a credit card purely because she wanted the t-shirt that the marketing table offered if she filled out the application. She incurred $25,000 dollars of debt on that credit card which she is still working to pay off fifteen years later, now thirty-three years old. Your college financial decisions will haunt you long after you graduate.

 

While I cited a great deal of scary statistics about financial danger, the essence of this article is pretty simple (and not terrifying). Money is not a moral force, but rather a tool. If you use it poorly, it will wreak mass destruction on your life and the lives of your family members. But, if you utilize it wisely, it will empower you and your family to live prosperous, generous lives. Choose carefully, because the financial decisions you make now could shape the rest of your future.

Why We Should Obey

ludovic-charlet-544834-unsplash.jpgAt Shelton High School in Connecticut, parents and students were outraged when the high school administration chose to enforce the prom dress code. The dress code banned dresses that were backless, had cut-outs, or exposed the wearer’s midriff. Students who arrived at the prom sporting inappropriate attire would not be allowed into the building. However, for many, respecting this rule was simply too much to ask. Students even started a petition protesting the dress code enforcement. A mass rebellion was sparked, simply by asking people to obey a basic rule that was stated in the student handbook.  

This story reveals a much deeper root of disrespect in our society. Many young adults and teenagers struggle to obey rules and submit to authority.

Submission is never easy. To the contrary, it may be one of the hardest things we ever learn. However, we must practice it because there will always be someone we have to submit to. Right now, we have to submit to our parents, teachers, coaches, and bosses. In the future, we will have to be submissive and humble if we want to sustain a healthy marriage. Successful adulthood is impossible without humility and submission to authority.

I understand that this is a heavy topic. Discussing submission typically does not make people feel warm and fuzzy. However, it is a vital discussion that we must have if we want society to function correctly.

On a side note, this article was never intended as a direct attack against any individual or group, but rather as a discussion of the general attitude of disrespect that our culture fosters. Thankfully, we have complete and full forgiveness for all rebellion through Jesus’ love and grace. However, we can save ourselves much heartbreak and trouble if we choose now to submit to God and those in authority over us.

The severe consequences of adult disobedience

Our regard and respect for rules and authority in our lives right now will foretell how we respond to rules and authority as an adult. If a young person continues on with their immature flippancy and disrespect towards authority, then the consequences will be severe, even life altering or deadly.

Christal McGee is the perfect example of the consequences of disrespect for rules and authority. According to The Washington Post, in September of 2015, eighteen year old Christal McGee was driving home from work. She decided to use the snapchat speed filter to document her speed. She reached 113 mph. Problem is, the speed limit on the suburban road was 55 mph.

Unfortunately, Christal did not see the other vehicle before it was too late. She crashed into Maynard Wentworth, an Uber driver, going 107 miles per hour. Inflicted with a traumatic brain injury, Wentworth was hospitalized for months.

Not only did Christal hurt herself and another driver on the road, she also risked the lives of the friends who were in the car with her, including a friend who was pregnant. According to another source, Christal is now in jail for her offense.

All of this damage was caused by Christal’s blatant disregard for the speed limit posted on the side of the road. Much heartache could have been prevented if she had simply respected the rules.

The Young Christian’s Response to Authority

Thankfully, those who have received Jesus as their savior have complete and perfect forgiveness, and thus the ability to move forward after making mistakes. God helps us overcome our rebellion and turn to humility instead. 1 Peter 5:5-6 paints a picture of what Biblical submission should look like for the young believer:

“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,”

God’s grace covers us when we mess up; and gently turns us around when we are stuck in our own pride. James 4:7 instructs us to submit ourselves to God. The purpose of submitting to God is so that we can be closer to Him, thus experience His love and grace more powerfully. Obedience to authority and to God is actually freeing, giving us the power to move forward in life with a clear conscience. I would encourage you to live as a radical example of submission to God and authority in this rebellious society. We can shine a light for Jesus by simply being humble and obedient.

Sources for the news stories referenced in this article:

Prom Dress-Code Change Sparks Outcry at Connecticut High School

Shelton prom goes on amid dress code controversy

Teen took Snapchat photos while crashing Mercedes at 107 mph. Now her victim has sued Snapchat

Teen driver in Snapchat ‘speed filter’ crash jailed on felony charge