I’ve been fortunate enough to never feel death. Sure, I’ve known people who have passed away and they’ve had a profound effect on my life. However, I don’t think anything can prepare you to lose someone before their time. That frank and unrelenting grief as you grapple with the fact that you have to keep moving forward alone seems like it could crush you anyday. I didn’t even know this feeling existed until I tried to take my first step into the future.
For me, that means graduate school in another city far away from my home and the people I’ve grown up with and came to love. I don’t know why, but whenever I think about leaving it seems impossible. I can’t shake this sense of foreboding that if I go, then I turn my back on the life I have here. Despite this, I feel compelled to step forward. I know that staying safely nestled in my comfort zone isn’t the goal God has for my life. So, I am torn between the stability and community of my home and the responsibility I have as a child of God with gifts and talents.
Another biblical hero faced a similar dilemma. Abraham had always longed for a son. When God finally blessed his wife with a child, he was overjoyed and loved the child deeply. One day, God instructed Abraham to take his son to the top of Mt. Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice. Despite the immense love for his son, Abraham recognized that everything in his life came and went by the favor of God, including his son. Abraham obeyed, not so much to offer his son to God, but to return to the creator what was his to begin with. Honored by his obedience, God allowed Isaac to live and provided a ram to replace the child.
This is one of the most elementary bible stories, but I feel as though it is taken for granted. The crux of the story is sacrifice. To Abraham, Isaac was everything he ever wanted. To be asked to give him away was the same as asking for his own life. He was in a safe place. Then, God called him from that place and asked him to risk everything. Abraham obeyed without question. In turn, not only did he keep his son, but he was blessed with another sacrifice entirely. The Binding of Isaac is often repeated but seldom understood. To me, it illustrates humanity’s relationship with God, the value of obedience, and the security and peace available when you trust in God.
Perhaps the reason I am having such a hard time moving on is because I pride myself on the relationships I built in my home. However, the truth is that these deep and beautiful relationships would never have come into existence without the grace and favor of God. Furthermore, as a Christian, I have a mandate to use the gifts at my disposal to spread God’s love as far as possible. As long as I am working with that goal in mind, then I must move forward to greater and greater things even if that means leaving people who can’t follow me through that journey. I can move forward with the knowledge that those same people will reap the benefits of my obedience, if not now than in the future.
There is no reason to be afraid of moving forward. In the same way that there was a ram in the bush for Abraham, God sees the sacrifices we make every day. While right now it might seem like your whole life is being put on the altar, these shifts happen with intention and when you submit to the will of God, he provides everything you need and more. Perhaps from this perspective, those goodbyes don’t have to seem so long.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines worship as “to honor or show reverence for as a divine being or supernatural power.” This seems a functional working definition but anyone will tell you that worship means so much more than this. Perhaps your clearest experience has been in church, lost in the buzz of music. Maybe you first felt worship in the deep, sinking envy of celebrity. Worship pushes us to sacrifice everything from time to money to ambitions.It is also an experience highly prized by God. From the Hebrew exile from EgypttoJesus’ ministry on Earth, exclusivity in who we worship has been one of the main themes throughout the Bible. Even Lucifer, who is described as being crafted by God with instruments inside his very being, is described as perfectly fit for worship. So why does God prize this quality so highly and what exactly qualifies as worship?
In Romans 12:1-2, Paul expounds on what worship should mean to believers. He says that we should “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” He calls this true and proper worship, which is a pretty radical and quite frank definition of what worship means in the Bible. It is not just an act of sacrifice or a passionate outpouring of emotion, worship comes from a place deeper than that. Worship is a mindset that comes from a place of absolute faith which motivates one to act mercifully and with empathy. From here, it seems pretty self-evident why God places such a high premium on this quality.
In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says the following while giving his fundamental sermon on the mount: No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. For better or worse, this has become somewhat of a contentious verse within the church.
In a country where capital is very highly prized, it is easy to slip into the total pursuit of wealth and justify the ethics for the quest after the fact. It’s easy to find yourself devoting every minute of your life pursuing more and more wealth for more than the sake of survival but because that wealth gives your life value. This is not a phenomenon exclusive to wealth, however. Fashion, celebrity, public attention, academic pursuit, all of these things can become objects we worship by devoting ourselves to them entirely without leaving room for God in our lives. Instead of bending our lives to fit God in, we sometimes try to bend God.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t have hobbies or interests, or that you can’t pursue wealth in any measure. We are each unique individuals made with specific talents and goals. This is more to say that whatever those talents and passions are, we must be sure that they are being used in service of our creator and not in pursuits of narcissistic self-aggrandizement.
A lot of people are making the switch to becoming vegan, but what does being a vegan have to do with our faith? Here our 3 ways becoming a vegan has helped my walk with God.
The reason that I decided to even attempt this wild endeavor in the first place was to get a better grip on my health. If the last two years have taught me anything, it is not to take my time for granted. For as long as I could remember, food was always more than just food to me. It had emotional weight to it, like seeing an old friend for the first time in a long time. Having to learn to eat for a purpose instead of for comfort has probably been the hardest part of this whole transition. Eventually, I accepted that there was no magic bullet that could reconcile these two different views of food. The key to success was discipline, getting up and holding myself accountable to the standard I had set for myself. This has begun to seep into other parts of my life, including my prayer life. Slowly, I’ve noticed it’s easier to get the motivation to do things that aren’t necessarily the most exciting but are important including reading my Bible and praying.
2. A greater appreciation for nature
Another consequence that I have noticed as a result of giving up meat is that I have a greater appreciation for nature. Before, I recognized that much of my diet was directly disconnected from me either through processing or butchering. Since the switch though, I find that I obviously eat a lot more raw fruits and vegetables. As a result, I have to be intentional about what I’m putting in my body which means learning what food contains which vitamins and minerals. I was actually in the grocery store trying to buy some peppers when I realized just how perfectly God built this world for us. Everything we need to live comes from the Earth, nature is a system built to take care of us. Even animals each have their function beyond just food for us, although they often become food for other things. However, what this means is not that we should take these resources for granted, they are special. God commands Adam to look after his creation mere verses after creating him. Nature is not just something to be manipulated for personal gain. It takes care of us and we, in turn, should take care of it.
3. Greater appreciation for myself
As I said earlier, one of the major motivations for my decision to go vegan is to improve my health. I’ve only been doing this for a few weeks but all of the things vegans say they felt after switching are actually pretty valid. My skin is clearer than it’s been in years, I have a lot more energy, and I’ve actually lost a few pounds too. Perhaps the best change that has happened concerns my relationship with eating. Before the switch, I’d always felt a little guilty after eating something. I’ve never been a small person and that comes with certain hang-ups like being self-conscious about what you put in your body. Since the switch, I haven’t really felt like that. Even when I slip up, I know that I am doing the right thing by getting back on track the next day. That level of self-assurance is nice, it drives me to exercise and to keep going even when I really want to tuck into a juicy rack of ribs. It also just makes me feel more confident in general. Jesus calls loving your neighbor as yourself one of the most important commandments and people tend to latch onto the first part without stopping to consider the second. It’s hard to love your neighbor when you hardly love yourself. I’m not just talking about confidence, but also your physical self. Switching has made me feel like I’m treating my body as a temple for the first time in a long time. I feel more capable of reaching my goals and working to advance God’s kingdom
I didn’t make this piece to win over converts to veganism. If you’re considering it then I think you should give it a try, but the most important goal is to get healthy and stay healthy. Of course, this process is going to vary from person to person but the most important part is the first step. Go for a run, make a meal plan, or just talk about health with your friends and family members. These are all great first steps to a healthier life and you might even learn something on the way.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son follows the aloof youngest Son of a wealthy household. Convinced of his own maturity and confined to his father’s way of life, the Son asks his father for his inheritance early in order to move to the city and create a life for himself. After magnificently failing in this endeavor, the Son returns home to his father and asks for his forgiveness. In response to his child’s rebellion, the father welcomes him back home with open arms and even throws a decadent celebration to commemorate his return.
When reading this parable, most people identify with the Son. The metaphor of the story lends itself to such an interpretation with the father representing the unconditional forgiveness of God and the Son representing the hubris and fallible nature of humanity. However, this story is more complex than it might seem at first glance. When viewed again we can learn a valuable lesson about forgiveness from this parable. One of the main themes throughout Jesus’ ministry on Earth is the idea of forgiveness. In one of his most famous speeches, Jesus talks at length about how you should treat people who have wounded you in the past. For instance in Matthew 5:49-50, Jesus says:
but I tell you, do not resist an evil perSon. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.
Only a few verses later, Jesus goes on to clarify his position on retaliation even further. In Matthew 5:44, he gives his timeless instruction to love your neighbor as yourself, an idea echoed in Mark 11:31 when asked to discuss which commandments are most important. To Christ, the desire for revenge and retaliation in the face of adversity are distractions from witnessing the humanity present in that perSon and treating the conditions that gave rise to the conflict in the first place. Instead of returning force with force, Christian conflict resolution might look more like turning the other cheek or donating your coat to someone who needs it more than yourself. It would also look like the open and loving acceptance of a father recovering his prodigal Son.
The Father in The Story of the Prodigal Son is the true role model of this story, not the Son. It is the Father who provides the listener with a vision for what forgiveness is. Throughout the end of the parable, the older brother begins to take a more prominent role in the story, asking questions that an observer might and second-guessing his father’s choices. He blames his brother for squandering his wealth and grows jealous in response to the warm welcome his brother received from his father. This contrasts with the Father who disregards his Son’s failings and welcomes him back into his household despite them. This distinction is important because it shows us the difference between the love of man and Christ’s forgiveness. Human relationships can be eroded by breaches in trust and changes in character. A relationship with Christ is constant, motivated by love that transcends broken trust and perSonal pain. This is not to say that we should stick by every perSon who hurts us. What Jesus shows in the Parable of the Prodigal Son is to be like the father. Despite all of the time and money wasted by his Son, the father chooses to accept him back when met with a genuine apology.
It is very easy to forgive someone who is close to you or someone who hurt you once in the distant past but forgiveness is not just an action. It is a mindset to treat people with love regardless of your opinion of them. This idea does not just extend to our close friends and relatives. It also applies to race, gender, and even nationality. As Christians, we are called to grow God’s kingdom. That is very hard to do when petty grudges and bottled resentment not only promotes self-righteous gatekeeping but also drives internal divisions within the Church. First and foremost, we must remember that regardless of our history we were all the Prodigal Son. When put in the father’s position we know what we should do, but what truly matters is if we act like our heavenly Father.
Is your relationship with God a transaction? I would be lying if I didn’t say that I find myself praying more when my wallet becomes conspicuously light. Altogether, this reliance on God for support is a positive experience. This level of intimacy with our creator entails a great deal of faith. Since we are only human, the ability to rely on the creator of the universe for support and favor in times of need is a blessing and vital in progressing with your walk with God. However, this intimacy can be a double-edged sword. What is supposed to be a relationship focused on exploring God’s love in its entirety can sometimes become consumed by a desire for more and more favor, status, wealth, and so on. Prayer becomes a routine, tithe and offering become an obligation and not a willful donation, even reading the Bible can seem pointless when one is doing it solely to curry favor with God and not for personal fulfillment. In a sense, when our relationship with God is consumed by a need for greater and greater status, trying to live as an example of Christ’s love becomes hard because we are not operating from a place of love. We are operating from a place of ego. Our relationship with God has stopped progressing because, in essence, when you approach God with the desire for your own self-aggrandizement then the person receiving recognition and acclaim is you, not God.
An area in my own life where I often find myself commodifying is the area of charity and sacrifice. I find myself giving both time and financial support to charitable causes with stipulations, clauses, and addendums to God about what I want out of this act of service. If I could tithe enough then maybe God will open this door or If I go to church every Sunday and stay for both services then maybe God will give me a new car. I find myself striking little bargains like this anytime I feel pushed to give more than what’s convenient. It took me a long time to realize that the reason that it was so hard for me to sacrifice was because I was looking at sacrifice entirely incorrectly.
Sacrifice is not a transaction, it is an exercise. Like all exercises, it has a purpose. Prayer, Bible study, worship, these are experiences that illuminate our personal relationship with Christ. Sacrifice, however, differs simply because it extends that relationship into the physical world. Sacrifice is meant to be used to stretch our trust in God as a provider while also providing an example to the world of the complete love found in Christ. In this sense, sacrifice and charity become necessary mediums through which we can deepen our relationship to God. Trying to consistently live charitably might seem like a huge leap of faith, but the secret is that you have already taken it. In Matthew 6: 25-30 KJV Jesus says the following during his famous Sermon on the Mount:
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink…Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin…Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
As Christians, everything that is given to us is a blessing from God. The pool from which you draw your charity is filled by Him to begin with. Everything from the fruits of your labor to your next breath comes due to God’s grace and favor. If this is true, is charity not just returning to God what was already his to begin with? Furthermore, this means that once we sacrifice, God is still providing. Does this mean that you should give everything you have to charity and join the nearest monastery? No, of course not. However, it does mean that each person should seekGod to determine what sacrifice means to them. A perfect example of what biblical charity looks like also comes once again from Jesus in Luke 21:1-4. In chapter 21, Jesus sits examining the happenings of the Temple grounds when he notices a beggar woman place two little copper coins into the offering box. He gets up, walks over to the lady and tells her that she has given the most out of anyone at the temple. Despite the wealthy patrons filling the offering box with large gold coins, the reason that she had given the most was because she gave from a place of love, not obligation. Jesus specifically notes that she has given all that she had to live on. While this is commendable, the true value of her sacrifice comes from the personal impact of it, not necessarily the amount of money. Another example is the near sacrifice of Isaac at the hands of Abraham. What is being sacrificed in this story is not necessarily Isaac, but Abrahams allegiance and reliance on the physical world . By sacrificing his son, Abraham sent a message to God acknowledging both his complete trust in the Lord and his acceptance of the fact that everything in his life came through the grace of God.
Sacrifice is misunderstood and often neglected due to its immediate and obvious inconvenience. However, it may just be one of the most important commands we are given as Christians even as just an exercise of trust. Sacrifice is much more than simple charity, it allows us to practice certain aspects of our faith that routinely go unexplored. In order to be exposed fully to the character of God, sacrifice is necessary. In order to more fully embody Christ, we must give. On top of that, it is something you can do now. It is never too late to give to someone and spread some of Christ’s love here on Earth.
The late Chadwick Boseman provides words of inspiration to college graduates about finding purpose in life.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11, NIV
Although the above words were initially intended to reassure those that had been carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon that they’d be brought back from captivity, they also provide comfort and encouragement in the present day for anyone that worries about what the future holds for them. And, thanks to all of the recent news stories about the state of the economy, not to mention all the reports of shocking acts of violence and natural disasters, many people are probably not only wondering—but worrying—about the future.
I usually think of myself as an optimistic person, however, I must admit that on more than a few occasions, I’ve worried about how I’d handle a particular situation or how it might turn out. Fortunately, it was during some of those times that I felt as though God was reaching out to me in a special way through the words found in Jeremiah 29:11. This is why it’s become one of my favorite scriptures.
The first time I felt God was speaking to me through this verse was right before I was scheduled to take a trip on an airplane. For some reason, I’d become terrified of doing something I had been doing since I was about six years old. I’d never had any bad experiences while flying, so I’m not sure why I was so scared that particular time. I just was. That’s why I was so happy that I came across Jeremiah 29:11 in the days leading up to that trip. I felt as if God was trying to tell me to go ahead and take the trip and trust that I’d be safe. I did go on that trip, and it was a safe and enjoyable one.
This verse also ministered to me was when I was sitting in a breast surgeon’s office trying to figure out if I should have a biopsy done. As my husband, Vince, and I sat in this Christian doctor’s office listening to her explain how routine it would be and how quickly it could be completed, I couldn’t help but fear she might find something bad or, worse yet, that I might not make it through the procedure. But, before I could tell her I needed to think about it more, she stopped talking and turned around the nameplate resting on her desk and asked me to read the Scripture verse that was taped to the back of it. Can you guess what it was? Yes, Jeremiah 29:11. I had no idea that we shared a fondness for this scripture, but when I read it, I knew everything would be fine. The procedure was uneventful and results of the biopsy were normal.
That same scripture spoke to me again a few years later on the day that my husband and I moved back to Illinois—along with our then-infant daughter—after residing on the East Coast for several years. I was extremely happy about the fact that I’d again be living near my parents and my sister and her growing family. But, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I’d be leaving behind the church family that had showered us with love during the four years we lived in New Jersey.
Since my husband was one of the staff ministers at the church, the other ministers and their wives threw a special farewell luncheon for us. Near the end of the luncheon, they presented gifts to each of us. My husband’s gift—a personalized black briefcase—was a very nice one and came in handy when he started teaching undergrads several weeks later. However, the decorative little plaque that contained a Bible verse that I received was priceless. And, you may be able to figure out why. Yes, the scripture inscribed on the plaque was my favorite one. The gift served as the perfect reminder that, even as I left the amazing church family that I had come to love and made the switch from career woman to stay-at-home-mom, God would be with me. And, since I’d never told any of them about my fondness for that scripture, I saw it as a true gift from above.
So, if you’re going through an unsettling situation or circumstance, don’t despair. Instead, reflect on the words of Jeremiah 29:11 and think about how they might apply in your life right now.
And remember this: God has unique plans for all of our lives. They may not always line up with the pictures we’ve sketched in our own minds or the life plans we’ve drafted for ourselves, but they are special because He created them just for us. And, because of this, He will enable us and empower us to handle any situation and accomplish any task that He places in our lives.
I also hope you’ll remember that we serve a merciful, gracious, trustworthy, and loving God. Sometimes we spend far too much time thinking about all the ways God is going to punish our sin and nearly not enough time thinking about — and giving thanks for — all the ways He has blessed us.
Sometimes God will speak to us by repeatedly placing in front of our faces a particular scripture, and sometimes He’ll use other people to get a particular message to us. But, regardless of how He chooses to speak to you, I pray you’ll never stop desiring to hear from Him. So, don’t spend a lot of time worrying or fretting over how you’ll handle something that you’re currently — or soon may be — going through; God is already handling it for you, His unique and precious child.