Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When We Were on Fire (Book Review)

When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman is a personal memoir written with deeply rooted honesty, openly discussing the pain and loneliness Addie felt as she struggled through finding "The One" (her husband) and--at the lowest point in her life--finding The One True Savior who would pull her up from the pits of life and make her feel whole again.

I found the concept appealing, as it is incredibly relevant to Christians in our culture today, a culture of doubt and questions, a culture that doesn't really know what to believe. Especially in the young adult generation. This book opens up the discussion of depression, loneliness, doubt...and brings about an "okayness" to making ourselves vulnerable and sharing the dark pieces of our lives with others. Addie talks about ways she felt burned by the church and by "Church People" and how that deeply impacted how she felt in churches and around Christians. And also how she eventually worked through those feelings to become reconnected with the Church.

This level of relevance and honesty make the book worth reading--for some. While engaged in the story, I found myself a little uninterested at the beginning. It was so focused on her teenage romances, bouncing from boy to boy that she liked or dated in high school, that I eventually thought, Well, maybe this book just isn't for me...but maybe it would be good for younger adults or teenagers, girls who are starting to go through some of these struggles with teenage Christian dating. There are some good guidelines in here that I would probably want my daughter to follow in her dating life as well.

And then I kept reading. I realized I would not want my teenagers daughters reading this at all. Though the second half of the book is where the story really starts to develop and you really start to dig down to a deeper level of this author's character and her struggle (and recovery!), you also find some mixed messages. You find a message that it's okay to curse when you're upset (I disagree), that it's okay to stay out of a church family (I disagree; though I will add that she did go back to church in the end), and that it's okay to remove prayer from your life as long as you are doing something that is "like" prayer for you (I disagree). Though I understand that everyone worships in a different way, and that you can use anything to create an intimate experience with the Lord, nothing takes away from the need to communicate and to really engage in two-way conversation with God. That is a crucial element to having a relationship with this relational God.

Additionally, I found it a little bothersome to follow at times just because of the writing style. It was a very easy read, which was great; but the author often switched between first-person and second-person in her narratives, which seemed completely unnecessary since she was often continuing the same mini-story, just on a different page.

If you are interested in gaining a glimpse of the book before purchasing, read the first chapter here.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Oh, these temptations!

I brought up temptation very briefly in a previous post and I thought it was time to touch bases with you on that a little bit more.

It is a common misconception that being tempted is, in and of itself, sinful. I disagree.
But I can understand why people come to this conclusion. They think that because that drug, lust, movie, or whatever even created that feeling for them--that temptation, that slight urge to do something about it--that they are filled with sin.

It cannot be denied that we are sinful, imperfect people with a tendency to lean toward bad decisions on occasion. But when we don't give in to tempting desires and sin, that can be a powerful thing.

Okay, so let's start with reasons we know temptation doesn't have to be sinful (on its own).

1. Simple logic problem:

    Fact: Jesus was perfect and never sinned.
    Fact: Jesus was tempted, just as humans are tempted.
    Conclusion: If Jesus was tempted in the same way we are tempted, yet He still remained sinless and perfect, then temptation itself must not be the sin.

Matthew 4:1 - "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."

2. We know that we will be tempted.
It's as simple as that. We also know that temptation comes from the devil, not from God...and we are warned to be aware of the possibility of temptation coming our way because the devil is tricky and will take every chance to strike at our weakest moments.

1 Peter 5:8 - "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."

But why are we being warned about this? We are being warned because we have free will--the power to choose, for ourselves, whether or not we will give into those temptations and evil desires. Temptation, by itself, is beyond our control. We can't control what the devil is going to do and what he is going to try to send our way. Temptation is in his hands. However, we can control what we do with that temptation. How do we respond? Free will kicks in here...and that is also where sin takes a role. If we allow that temptation to have its way in our lives, then we sin. If we actively refuse it and avoid it, then we do not enter into sin. And, side note: we are strengthened by that.

James 1:13-15 - When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Now...what do we do about this?

1. Simple: Just say "NO!"
Yeah, I know... that's the speech we all got in middle school when we had to sit through school assemblies and awkward classroom activities about saying "No" to drugs and to peer pressure. But let's be honest: there's some truth to all of that.

The less you do, the less you will be tempted by it later. And the more you say "No," the more comfortable you become with saying it. And the more you say it to the same people (if, unfortunately, you must do so), the more likely they are to stop asking you or trying to push into something you shouldn't be doing. Send the right message to the devil: BACK OFF! YOU CAN'T WIN ME!

2. Pray about it.
God wants us to rely on Him fully. He wants to be our first responder--the very first One to whom we turn we are in trouble. If you are struggling with a temptation in your life, something that continually haunts you and causes you to fall, don't be afraid to admit this to Him. He knows already anyway, but He wants you to be the one to tell Him about it. Allow Him to take the wheel for a while...because we all know it's hard to do this all on our own. Besides, Jesus experienced temptation on a first-hand basis. He knows what you are going through and how it can take its toll on you; and He wants to be involved in helping you through it.

Matthew 26:41 - "“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Hebrews 2:18 - " Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."

And don't be afraid to talk to other people about it. Find someone you can trust. Get engaged in a small group or find an accountability partner. Strive to find at least one person to whom you can pour out your heart, open up the messiest pits of your soul, and really allow into your "buffer zone." Talk about your struggles and about the sins of your past. You may find this helps you reach deliverance. And an extra person or two on board provides for you an extra resource: someone to check in on you, keep you accountable, be faithful in prayer for you, and really help you through the trial.

Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10,12 - "Two are better than one...If either of them falls down, one can help the other up...though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."

James 5:16 - "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

3. Remember there is always a way out.
You always have the option of doing the right thing. And the Lord will never allow the devil to tempt you more than you are able to handle. If God Himself knows that you are able to resist the temptation, make the right decision, and move forward...then shouldn't you have that kind of faith in yourself? GOD--your Creator and Father--knows you can handle this. That's a pretty big deal!

1 Corinthians 10:13 - "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."

And don't think that just because you are able to handle the pressure, you have to do it all on your own. God is with you every step of the way. It's like that old poem, Footprints in the Sand, tells us: when we are weak and can't do something on our own, the Lord will not just walk beside us--He will pick us up and carry us.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Christian Sex:" WHAT?!

[Whoa,'re going to talk about sex? Are you serious?]

Yeah, I'm serious. Let's talk about premarital sex.
I recently heard of a concept called "Christian sex." Apparently this is a term used to describe the premarital sexual acts in which Christians are allowed to participate. Not to get too graphic or anything, but apparently there is a dividing line between "regular" sex and anal sex, so Christians can do the latter before marriage, but not the former...and apparently they can still call themselves virgins afterward, which makes it "okay."

I hope you're on the same page with me as I say this: WHAT?! SERIOUSLY?!
I hate need to break it to you, but: Christians aren't supposed to engage in ANY sexual acts prior to marriage!

I don't care how you twist around the rules and guidelines, any kind of sex is still sex. And you can't slip your way through that truth. Don't believe me? Ask your parents. Ask your pastor. Ask some wise friends. Ask elders of the church. Almost anyone!

It is your responsibility to protect your purity and maintain your virginity until the day you sign that marriage certificate. And it is the responsibility of your significant other to protect your purity in the same way.

Can you honestly tell me that you still feel innocent and pure after engaging in that [SEXUAL] act? Can you tell me that you won't regret it if you do it? Can you tell me that you would be perfectly content with announcing to your family and your church that you did it? And do you honestly (and I mean HONESTLY) believe that Jesus would look you in the eye and tell you that it's perfectly fine to do that?

If your answers to any of those are "no," that should probably be a clear sign to you that you shouldn't do it.
I can tell you right now that the answer to that last question should DEFINITELY be a NO.

Matthew 5:28 "But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

We know that it is sinful to THINK sexual thoughts (to clarify: it is not sinful to be tempted; it is sinful to respond to the temptation and allow it to fill our minds). We know that imagining a sexual situation with a person is just as bad as actually doing it...because if we have committed a sin in our minds, we have also committed it in our hearts. So, how could anyone ever try to draw a line between a so-called acceptable sexual fantasy and a non-acceptable sexual fantasy when you are unmarried? No one could do that. And if you can't draw a line between sexual fantasies, how can you draw a line between acceptable and non-acceptable sexual practices? One TYPE of sex is not different from another type.

I'm thoughts are all over the place on this one because there are just too many reasons this concept of "Christian sex" is off-the-wall and inaccurate! So please excuse the jumbled nature of this post. I guess my main message here is this:

Don't let anyone tell you that it is okay to engage in any sexual behavior before you are married. If your partner isn't willing to wait until marriage--and isn't willing to protect and honor you and your body--then that person isn't worth dating. And TRUST ME: God has someone much more respectful, loving, and Christ-like waiting for you.

Okay...go out and make good choices.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Welcome to the Buffer Zone

When we were kids, my brother always used to say, "You're in my buffer zone!" That was his way of telling us that we were too close for comfort and we needed to back off. Of course, the rest of us were younger siblings, so we always pushed our luck! But the whole "buffer zone" thing was a concept my family adopted and that we still use, just for fun, to this day.

On a more serious note: We all like to have our comfort zones (buffer zones, if you will) and we like to sit inside those magic little areas of safety and contentment by ourselves for as long as possible. In fact, we stay there until a needle pops it and we have to send it to the shop to get fixed or until someone stands outside it for days on end, just rubbing one little spot and a hole eventually develops, so we have no choice but to slowly exit on our own (or let that person inside the bubble, but really, who ever wants to let other people in their own little bubbles? Precious space!).

The scariest part, though, is that we aren't meant to stay trapped in these bubbles, are we? Just as God called Peter to step out of the boat and onto the water, He is calling us to do the same thing. He wants us to step out of our comfort zones and into a place where we can only survive by trusting Him.

And, get this: it doesn't just stop at us getting out of these zones and bubbles...that's only the beginning. We then have to dare to do two more things:

  1. Get inside other people's bubbles.
    We have to want to poke holes and tear down walls if we are going to reach people. There has to be some effort put into it! We have to let people know that we aren't settling for whatever they are giving us on the surface; we want to know who they are at the core and all the things they are afraid to let seep out of those holes. And don't get me wrong...we have to make sure that we aren't going in with axes and baseball bats, but with soft hearts and gentle spirits that will get us invitations inside.
  2. Let people inside our own bubbles.
    Oh, boy. There's a scary thought! But it's the truth. How can we expect others to open up and let us inside their buffer zones if we can't open up and let them inside ours? Besides, this isn't ONLY about their comfort; it's about ours, too. It's incredible what can happen if you allow your space to be invaded just a little bit, or allow a couple pokes.

Your mission? Break your bubble and then go help others break theirs. And most of all: step out of your comfort zone and witness the amazing work God wants to do--and will do--through you!

"Christian cuss words:" What?

Ok, let's have a chat.

There is no such thing as a Christian cuss word.

Seriously, Christian cuss words don't please stop fooling yourself and pretending that they do exist and that it is okay to use them.

You know what I'm talking about, right? All these Christians, especially in their teens and 20s, think that it's cool to come up with these knock-off swear words to replace the words they really want to use. You've heard these words, right?

Do you say them?

If you answered yes...then STOP.

Why? Because if you say something with the purposeful intention of saying it to specifically replace another (bad) word, then you might as well just say the bad word you intended on saying. You still mean the bad word; you just aren't saying it.

Is that clear?

So, the next time you say "fudge," make sure it's because you are craving a piece of delicious chocolatey goodness.

And the next time you get some urge to say a swear word, don't replace it with another word that's just a knock-off version of the real thing. Just don't say anything in that space. Swear words are completely unnecessary...and so are the so-called "Christian" versions of them.