Sunday, December 18, 2011

Prophets...who knew they still had something good to say?

Wow, I can’t believe it’s already Christmas break! It’s crazy to see that a semester has already flown by and I’m halfway done with the Institute. Looking back over the past semester, I can’t even begin to describe how much I’ve learned. Compared to what I’ve learned so far, I feel like I knew NOTHING about the Bible before, even growing up in church. I guess what I mean by that is, yes, I knew the stories, the facts, and the head knowledge, but never before have I understood it like THIS. I feel like I have a better “big picture” understanding and belief in the Bible and, as a result, increased faith and excitement about who God is.

For the past two weeks, we studied the Old Testaments prophets. We spent one week focusing on Daniel and the next week looking at an overview of all of the prophetical books of the Old Testament and the Messianic prophesies found in them. Blew my mind! Never before had I learned about any of those things in that way, to the point where I could see the purpose behind the prophets. All of them point to Christ and all of them have a meaning that is applicable even today!

If I had to pick one thing that I took away from the past two weeks, it would have to be the overview of the prophets as a whole. Like I said, I had never before looked at it in that way, where the information was so concise and straightforward. As I was in class that week, I made a chart of the different points that our teacher was making about each of the prophets, including the audience, date, purpose, key image, and a practical application for our world today. I was so surprised at how applicable each book actually is! They apply to real issues in a real world that, even though it has changed a lot over the last 2000 some-odd years, is essentially still the same. We deal with the same sin and life issues that the people of the Bible did, just in a different way. How cool would it be to be able to study how God responded to each of those issues through the prophets and what came as a result of it!

For example, living in America, especially in the churches, many people are living in complacency in their faith. That’s the state of America right now. To me, it seems like there are three distinctions among the “Christian population” in out nation: either you really don’t believe in God even though you say you do, you claim to be a Christian but don’t really walk it out, or you are a believer who is seeking the Lord and living it out on a daily basis. Unfortunately, many of us in America (especially in the Bible belt where I have lived the majority of my life) fall into the second category. We are familiar with the ideas of Christianity and many of us have been to church at least a few times and may have even “accepted Christ into our hearts” at one point. Somewhere along the way, though, we lost it. We became apathetic in our faith and turned to gluttony, idolatry, materialism, and isolation as our new “gods”. This is exactly what the book of Amos is addressing!  It was written to the kingdom of Israel before they were conquered by the Assyrians. The Lord was working through Amos to wake Israel out of her complacency and to warn her of her coming judgment. In essence, you can take the message from Amos and use it to see God’s truth for this issue today.

                The book of Haggai is also very applicable today. Haggai was addressed to Judah after they returned from the exile in Babylon, to encourage those who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. It called for the people to check their priorities and make WOSHIP their priority over everything else. Before they could rebuild the walls, their homes, or anything else, the Lord wanted them to rebuild the Temple. He wanted Him and His worship to be the central part of their lives, the source of their strength and livelihood, before homes and protection. He wanted the people to realize that HE was to be their source of strength and safety above anything else. This message from Haggai is applicable to us as well! How many times do we look to other things to satisfy us and fulfill our needs when, in reality, Christ is the only one who can?  I know that this is a challenge for me as well; both of these things are. I am guilty of being complacent in my faith and putting other things before Christ. Who knew that you could find such truth and conviction in the prophets today? My view of the prophetical books has definitely changed and I’m excited to see how the Lord continues to open my eyes to His truth in them. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Why would we not share?

                Wow, friends and family, what an incredible week! Coming back from Thanksgiving break, it was such a strange feeling having been in such a bubble, then out in the real world, then back in the bubble. As for class, it was an unusual week in that almost half of our class was gone. They are the students who are enrolled in graduate classes at John Brown University. Every now and then, they have to actually go to the JBU campus and this was one of those weeks. At first, it was a little strange missing half of our friends, but it ended up being SUCH an amazing week. Since so many of us were gone, we did something a little different than normal class that week.  

                Our focus for the week was evangelism, so instead of sitting in class on Thursday, those of us who were left on campus were to use that time to go into the community and evangelize to those who we came in contact with. I knew this going into the week and, honestly, was really nervous about it. Let’s just say that when I take those little spiritual gifts tests, evangelism is NOT my strong suit. I’m more of a shepherder and encourager. I thrive on relationships. So, the idea of just walking up to a random person and beginning a conversation about the most deeply controversial subject was a little intimidating.

                As I was driving to work on Tuesday afternoon, I was expressing my concerns to God and asking Him to open my eyes to an opportunity to share my faith in a way that I felt comfortable and natural. Although I know that the Lord does not often let us operate in our comfort zones, He was so faithful to answer this prayer! During dinner at work that day, I sat down across the table from one of my co-workers. We struck up a conversation and somehow, the topic of church came up. And when I say somehow, I mean through the power of the Holy Spirit. We had a great conversation, but I kept thinking that what she was telling me seemed a little sketchy and I was interested to learn more about her faith and beliefs. As we got up, she said that we should get coffee sometime soon. Bingo! There it was! Needless to say, we ended up having coffee Thursday morning during the time of our scheduled “class evangelism”. What an incredible time! We talked for hours about church, faith, and life and it was so good. From the impression that I got that day, I think that she knows the Lord, but I am excited to continue this relationship with her and encourage her as she grows in her faith with the Lord.

                Leaving my coffee meeting, I was so pumped! The Lord had been so evident in the conversation and it was such an encouragement for me. The Lord showed me that evangelizing to those around me and sharing the most wonderful news that has ever come to the world was not only more natural than I thought it was, but so NECESSARY. How can I say that I love and care about people, but NOT tell them about Christ and His salvation that He has to offer all those who believe? 

                Not only did I have an incredible meeting with my co-worker, but the Lord continued to work throughout the day. Work that afternoon was incredible. I direct an afterschool program at one of the local middle schools and help out with the elementary program as well. Many of the students in our program come from broken homes or families who are struggling financially. There are three siblings in particular who I have really enjoyed getting to know and you can tell need a lot of love right now. It has been fun to interact with their mom as she comes to pick them up every day as well. Anyway, as I was leaving work that day, I noticed that this family was walking home from the school. Take note that it was already dark at this point and very cold. Boom! Another moment! What an incredible, divinely-appointed moment to minister to this family. This is a family that I know and felt completely comfortable offering them a ride home. Especially as a girl, offering a ride home to people is rarely a safe option. What a blessing this was! Getting to pack those kids into the back of my car, ask them about their day, and talk to the mom as we drove the few minutes to their house was one of my favorite experiences all week. The route that we took would have been really dangerous for those kids to walk on and it would have taken them at least thirty minutes at the pace that they would have had to take. Our conversation was great and, as I dropped them off, my heart just went out to them. That family has been on my mind ever since and I am praying for an opportunity for further encounters and opportunities to minister to them. So, if you want to join me in that prayer, than that would be much appreciated. 

                As if I didn’t have enough of an incredible day already, the Lord continued to blow me away! That night, as I was finding suggestions to add to my Christmas list online, I came across a question on a website where I needed to ask one of their “on-line” experts. So, I ended up chatting with one of their representatives about the product. As we were talking, a thought crossed my mind: “I wonder if this guy will cut me off if I bring up Jesus?” I was nervous at first but, then the Lord just spoke to my heart. Why would I not? Why would I miss this opportunity just out of fear of rejection? So, through a lovely segway of Christmas in the conversation, I brought up Jesus. We ended up talking for over an hour! It was awesome to be able to talk about Jesus in such a real way with someone I didn’t even know and then, at the end, be able to ask him how I could be praying for him. So cool! 

                When it was all said and done, my heart was on fire and so excited about what the Lord had done that day! I couldn’t sleep at first because my heart was so burdened for each of these people that I had encountered that day and their stories. I had so many prayers on my heart: for my co-worker and her faith, for this family and their situation, and my helpful online expert and his prayer request. What a wonderful day! The Lord is so faithful. He is so faithful to answer our prayers. When we are willing to listen and have our eyes open to what He is doing, we get to see some incredible things! That was the biggest lesson that I walked away from that day with: that when I am in prayer and expectantly waiting for a response, the Lord will work and show us what He has prepared for us to do.