Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A New Home

I will no longer be posting to Semplistic Thoughts - come to www.SnapshotsAndMyThoughts.com to read more of my ramblings :) Thank you for your support!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Encourage One Another

"Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."
-Romans 10:24
I love this verse, as it speaks to one of the most powerful aspects of Christianity: community. I consider myself truly blessed, because I am surrounded by an incredibly strong group of best friends, the majority of who are believers. Whenever I begin to struggle with sin or become disconnected from God, I know that I can go to my friends and give an honest confession of my feelings, with the understanding that they will take heed of Matthew 7:1-2, which says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." One of the most beautiful things about close, Christian relationships is that we know we are all sinners and that since Jesus died for our sins, we are no better than one another - it is a completely level playing field.

More importantly than the compassion and lack of judgment that my friends continuously exhibit is the fact that I can rely on them to help restore me through conversation and prayer. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells Christians to "encourage one another and build each other up." Although listening to each other's feelings and struggles is important (reference James 1:19), we can be even more proactive in helping our Christian brothers and sisters. Praying for your friends is one of the best ways that you can build them up.

Christian community is also fostered outside of our "immediate friends." At the Austin Stone, the Bible studies are referred to as "Community Groups." It's always good to stretch yourself and meet new people, as 1 John 4:21 tell us that God has given us the following command: "Whoever loves God must also love his brother." I think that loving new people who we haven't sought out as friends is outside of how we are tend to function. Finding people whom you can foster and who can encourage you is a key part of our spiritual journey.

I meet with a few friends (coincidentally my coworkers) in Oklahoma City, and we have what I would describe as "solid accountability." When we meet, we will describe things that are going on in our lives, talk about things we are struggling with or problems we are having, and one of us will write down our prayer requests - which all seems simple enough. I know that these individuals care about me, and vice versa, and I love the fact that they are ready to support me if needed. I am looking forward to finding a good, solid Community Group in Houston, so that I can emulate that relationship in my own hometown.

If you do not feel like you have close friends whom you can talk to about your most intimate feelings, perhaps you need to get out of your comfort zone and seek these types of relationships at a nearby church. However, everywhere you go and in everything you do, you are to be living on a mission, so don't just look for Christian friendships inside the church walls. Spur these types of conversations in the most unexpected places with seemingly random people, and you may be pleased with what blossoms.

My prayer for you is that you will continue to foster these types of relationships and come to value the accountability that your friends can offer. If you ever want to talk to me about anything, please call or email me at any time of the day.

In His name,

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Handing Over the Reins

There is no better word to describe my life right now other than the term 'interim.' Defined as an "intervening time; interval; meantime," this noun perfectly summarizes my feelings about my day-to-day routine. I spend 4 to 5 days in Oklahoma City, and the rest of the week in Houston or whichever city I end up traveling to on the weekend. My role on my current project may last until November, or it could go until next July: only time will tell. 'Should I keep living at home and continue to save money, since I'm on the road so often?' I wonder often, 'Or is this just a temporary home, and I need to move out and establish my own place and create a sense of stability?' I also question which city I would like to live in. Is it Sydney, or perhaps Los Angeles? Maybe San Francisco? Or am I just daydreaming? Should I stay close to my family and friends in Houston? 

I imagine many other people feel similarly about their lives, questioning what their purpose is, if their job is a good fit, or if they need to look elsewhere for a more fulfilling position. I have this battle from time-to-time, but at other times, I seem to just float by, not bothering to question my current state of life. "It's all in God's hands," I tell myself. Of course, this is true, but am I just being passive, or am I honestly putting my faith in the Lord? I fear too often that it is the former, not the latter. 

I find that one of the most common inner conflicts with people nowadays is that of letting God take the reins in life. We are a society of control freaks, and I am guilty as charged. It is far too prevalent that we make plans according to our own desires, and forget to pray about the decisions we make. Proverbs 16:9 says, "We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps." I love this verse, because it serves as a reminder that while we make small choices, it is God who has the whole picture view of our lives, and it is important that we ask him to help us with our plan-making. Another Proverbs verse that speaks to consulting God in our prayers is in Chapter 3, verses 5-6: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." 

My new prayer comes from James 4:14-15, which reads, "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little, and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.'" I need to stop worrying about what I want my future to look like and need to refocus on what the Lord wants to do with my life. In the book of Luke, Jesus prays to God on the Mount of Olives, and says, "'Father, if you are wiling, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.'" (Luke 22:42) Every time I read this, I think to myself, 'What a beautiful prayer. How uncommon it is nowadays to ask God for His will to be done?' I know I am guilty of this, as my prayers sometimes sound like a checklist of requests for God. Emulating Jesus' prayer, I am reminded to ask God for His will to become my own.

God has wonderful plans for us, as promised in Jeremiah 29:11. It is the ultimate test of our trust in the Lord to take a leap of faith and do whatever you feel He is calling you to in life. Maybe that means packing up my things and moving right now, or staying put until God opens a new door for me here -- I cannot know right now. One thing is definite though, I will be more diligent in praying that God will help me to put all of my trust in Him, so that He may "make my paths straight." 

Lastly, my favorite worship song of the moment is sung by Chris Tomlin and is something I listen to every single day. This song is such a good reminder that we need God every second of every day, and I highly recommend you download it: "Lord I need You, oh I need You, every hour I need You. My one defense, my righteousness, oh God how I need You." However, since this song is not on YouTube, I can't link to it; therefore, I suggest you watch another of Chris' videos for "I Will Follow." It is very relevant to this post!

As always, I am praying for everyone who reads this. Send me an email or comment on the post if you want to talk more about this topic. 

In Jesus' name,

Sunday, February 27, 2011

God's Calling and the Freedom to Choose

A topic that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is that of the omnipresence of God and free will – the idea that He both precedes us and knows all that is to come. It is impossible for us as humans to fully understand the dynamics of a holy God who melds and shapes the will of man. However, the Scriptures are very clear that God knows the future, and that He has complete sovereign control over all things that happen on earth. King David wrote in Psalm 139: 4-6, “You know what I am going to say, even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!”

The Bible also says that we must make the decision to follow God or be eternally separated from Him. Again, the coupling of God’s all-knowing nature and our free will to choose is almost impossible for our finite minds to grasp. Romans 11:33-34 speaks to this incomprehensibility: “How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?”

A close friend of mine and I were writing back and forth on this topic, and she presented this thought: “The follow/precede idea… kind of states God's timelessness and omnipresence. I think it illustrates well the idea that His linear sequence and time progression is so far expanded than ours. It's like we only know time and chronology in the first dimension, and he knows the third dimension. Sometimes I feel like when I get to heaven it'll be like the feeling they had in the 1500s when they realised the world wasn't flat. How shocking.”

I love this idea of God knowing the third dimension. I’m not sure why we as humans try so hard to understand God’s ways, when the Bible explicitly tells us this is not possible.

People tend to have one of two extreme viewpoints on the question of free will versus God’s control. There is the argument that God is in complete control of everything that takes place on earth, which diminishes us to robotic beings. The second argument is that humans have 100% control over their lives and future events, and that God does not play a role at all in the happenings of the world. According to the Bible, neither of these stances are accurate. God does not violate our right to make our own decisions; rather, He changes our hearts so that our will is to choose Him. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love Him because He first loved us.”

This Biblical finding then led me to ask the question, “Does He not love everyone? And if He does, why do we not all choose to love Him?” While pondering this topic, I remembered a message from over three years ago at the Austin Stone, and searched through iTunes until I found it. The sermon is titled “God’s Choice, Our Calling,” and in it, Pastor Matt Carter covers 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, which says, "So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense." This is because "the Jews... ask for signs from heaven... [and] the Greeks... seek human wisdom." However,  the Bible says that "to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

The key phrase is found in the last verse: “to those called by God to salvation.” The idea that some people are "called" and some are not instinctively makes me want to recoil, because it is contrary to so much of what we have been taught about God. We often hear sermons about loving our neighbors, having compassion on others, avoiding sin, etc., but the idea of God’s election and calling and choice is something we shy away from discussing. Nonetheless, this idea is written all throughout the Bible – in both the Old and New Testament. We simply cannot believe in a God who fits our personal definition of what a kind, loving God should be like. If we do this, we become idol worshippers, because we are trying to fit God into our own box which makes us feel most comfortable.

To those who are "perishing" (as the Bible calls them), the Word of God will be foolish, but to those who are called by God, we will be physically and emotionally moved by our faith. So why would a loving God be selective and allow some people to be chosen and some to rebuke Him? This question ties back to the free will argument from before: God loves every single human on the planet, and He wants everyone to chose Him as their Lord and Savior. However, since God can already see the future, He knows who will choose His ways and who will choose to ignore His sovereignty. It is not that God is handpicking us, He just knows which of us will follow Him.

One of my favorite verses is found in the book of Romans, and says, And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them. For God knew His people in advance, and He chose them to become like His son, so that His Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, He called them to come to Him. And having called them, He gave them right standing with Himself. And having given them right standing, He gave them His glory.” (verses 8:28-30)

The reason we have faith is a direct result of God speaking into the nothingness of our hearts. Hallelujah, praise the Lord.

I hope this post causes you to think… please comment or message me if you want to talk more about this topic. As always, I love hearing others’ standpoints.

Lastly, I heard "One Thing Remains" by Jesus Culture last week at the Austin Stone, and I fell in LOVE. Listen to it!

In His name,

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” – Hebrews 11:1

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Don't Be a Sheep

You are walking up to the check-in desk at the airport, and there's nobody in line, yet there's a maze of ropes you need to walk through to get to the front. What do you do? Go under the ropes, or follow the rules and walk in a zig zag pattern to get there just a few seconds later? This is just one silly, trivial example of a topic that has been weighing on my heart lately: questioning why we do what we do and believe what we believe. A good friend of mine, Sasha, tells me that I am too much of a rule follower, and he is always encouraging me to question the reasoning behind why certain conventions are in place, instead of abiding by them mindlessly, like a sheep.

Another one of my best friends, Whitney, and I recently had a great conversation about this same topic, and I loved hearing her perspective on why we, as Christians, act in a certain way, given that our goal is to live in a manner which pleases our God. We do not only have be accountable for ourselves, family, and close friends, but we also know that we will face God on Judgement Day, and that all of our actions, both good and bad, will be taken into consideration. I can hardly face myself when I feel like I've failed in an area -- what would it feel like to look at God in the eyes and know that He is disappointed in your choice of actions? In whatever I do, I want to bring glory to my Father's name. There are numerous Bible verses that speak to honoring God, but the following are some of my favorite:

"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Colossians 3:17

"So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." 1 Corinthians 10:31

"Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce." Proverbs 3:9

The Bible also speaks about finding the reasoning behind our beliefs and actions. In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul writes, "Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good, and stay away from what is evil" (verses 16 to 22).  My favorite section of this passage is verse 21, which is: "test everything that is said." I do not think that being overly cynical is a positive characteristic to have, but I find that the people who challenge and think deeply about what they are asked to do or believe in are far wiser and more interesting than those who take everything they're told at face value.

A good example of me challenging my beliefs was asking why I had decided to wait until marriage to have sex with a guy. Was I doing this just because it says so repeatedly in the Bible? Because it also says to cover your hair and not to drink alcohol, both of which are rules I don't abide by. So why did I choose this particular sin and focus on it? The answer is so clear. I made this decision not only to appease my own conscious, but also because I understand the significance of having sex with someone outside of a marriage. God created humans, and He made us perfectly to be able to have sex, and for this act to produce more human life. We are the only creatures on earth whose primary sexual position is face-to-face, and it is a wonderful thing that He created, but it distinctively says in the Bible that sex is for two married people. If you want to listen to some incredible sermons on sexual purity, download the Austin Stone podcasts from 1/25/09 and 7/6/08. They are both so good -- I truly encourage you to take the time to listen to them, you won't regret it!!

Along the line of me questioning why I act in a certain manner, I had to think about the cost-benefit analysis of this decision. What am I giving up when I don't have sex? What is the benefit of this act vs. the cost of doing so? Disappointing myself? Disappointing God, my family, my friends? The possibility of getting pregnant? The same decision process can be used for nearly all choices we are faced with in life. Perhaps you are annoyed about the rule of high screening at the airport security area, but I would happily give up 10 extra minutes of my time if it helps to reduce the risk of terrorism. The cost-benefit analysis of a law/rule like this makes perfect sense, whereas in some other cases, this trade off is not so evident.

Obviously abstaining from sex is not the only decision I make in my life. Before I follow the speed limit that the government has dictated, or choose to tell the truth in situations where lying would make everything much less awkward, I need to know why I am doing the things I do. I think that when people have strong convictions about their beliefs, they are so much more interesting to talk to - regardless of whether or not I share the same thoughts and opinions as them. Why is it that I don't lie to people? Is it because someone has told me to? Or is it because I've been lied to in the past, and I know how it feels to be betrayed? Personally, I think it is a combination of past experiences, personal values/ethics, and obedience to authority. Is it so bad to be a rule follower? No, I don't think so. Sasha once asked me,"If someone told you to hop on one foot for an hour because it was a law, would you do it?" My reply was centered around the question: what is the purpose for doing so? What is the punishment for disobeying? Who wants me to do it, and am I, or other, going to benefit from this constant hopping? These are important questions to ask yourself, because at the end of the day, you have to be able to live at peace with yourself and glorify your Creator -- and trust me, you don't want to regret the decisions you've made along the way.

I would love to talk more about this topic if you are interested. I love hearing what others have to say about the content in my posts! I appreciate you all very much :)

I'll leave you today with a song that my friend Whitney reminded me of -- I love it! Click here to listen to Sonicflood's "Before the Throne," which is so good. "When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see Him there, who made an end of all my sin."

In Jesus Christs' precious and holy name,

"With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26

Friday, December 24, 2010

His Law is Love, & His Gospel is Peace

Merry Christmas everyone! It really is the most wonderful time of the year. Everything about this holy season makes me feel joyful, from the smell of peppermint to the sound of Christmas music playing all around my house. I went to Kingsland Baptist's candlelight Christmas Eve service tonight, and as always, it was beautiful. The sight of a dark room filled with candles representing Jesus bringing light to the world once filled with darkness never ceases to amaze me.

"I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life." John 8:12

This will be a short post, as Santa may just be on his way to the Semple household and I know I'll be woken up bright and early by the youngest member of the family, but I just wanted to share my feelings about this special day. It's easy to lose the meaning of Christmas in the commercialism that surrounds the holiday, but the reason that this day is celebrated is to remember the birth of our Lord and Savior. Christmas has been celebrated for around 1,700 years now in countries all across the world, all as a remembrance of the Son of God who was sent to bring hope to the world. When being questioned, Jesus told the Pharisees, "Since you don't know who I am, you don't know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father." (John 8:19) To believe in the God of Creation, you must also believe that He so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life (John 3:16). God loves us, and Jesus is a symbol of this truth. One of my favorite Christmas carols is O Holy Night, and I especially love the following lines: 

"Truly He taught us to love one another, 
His law is love, and His gospel is peace."

Being a Christian isn't a political thing, there shouldn't be formalities and fanciful traditions and rituals tied to the religion. Christianity is about believing in a loving God - a God who, over 2,000 years ago, set us free from the Kingdom of Darkness. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus, our Lord." (Romans 6:24)

Merry Christmas y'all. As corny as this sounds, remember that Jesus truly is the reason for the season! Have a blessed day! 

In Christ's Holy name,

Click to listen to Glee's version of O Holy Night - so good!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Spiritually Renewed

It has been entirely too long since my last post, but it was this lull in my "Semplistic Thoughts on Life and Faith" (corny, yes) that inspired me to get to typing again. The past few weeks have been chaotic, with work assignments, traveling, Thanksgiving, and entertaining (albeit, lovely) guests. The result of this fast-paced life is me feeling spiritually distant from God -- never a good place to be. I have been reading through the New Testament, and in the past week, hadn't picked up my Bible until yesterday. I got some good reading in yesterday and today, and with a little inspiration from a friend, I am feeling much more connected with God -- spiritually renewed, if you will. 

Why do we have this times when we drift apart from the Lord? Does it happen to everyone else too? I always feel so guilty when I let life get into the way of my spiritual connection to God. He is the reason I'm living, and I should be living for Him, not for other wordly reasons. Without God at the forefront of our thoughts, other things begin to distract us further, and we become susceptible to other temptations.

One of the most encouraging things about Christianity is that our God is a God whose love knows no limits. Even when we shun God, disregard His word, or act in a manner that doesn't glorify His name, the Lord never, ever stops loving us. In Luke Chapter 15, verses 23-24, Jesus tells a parable about a father whose son disobeys him, leaving the family to go and live selfishly. This story is typically told as the "Prodigal Son" -- but I prefer to think of it as "The Story of the Loving Father." When the son decides to return to his dad, the man does not reprimand him for his actions, he instead is full of joy and runs around saying, "We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has returned to life. He was lost, but now is found." God is that father, He loves us unconditionally. I honestly don't think we can fully wrap our head around that fact -- it is honestly very helpful to be blessed with two earthly parents who have been loving to me my entire life, but God loves us infinitely more. I know that the following verse is one of the most quoted in Christianity, but it is so applicable and inspiring: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) Love it.

This post isn't the most thought out or spiritually provoking, but I just wanted to remind everyone that it is never too late to turn back to God if you find yourself feeling distant and making decisions you normally wouldn't make. Chris Tomlin's song "Unfailing Love" is so beautiful. The lyrics move me and I thought I'd share some of them:

You have my heart
And I am Yours forever
You are my strength
God of grace and power

And everything You hold in Your hand
Still You make time for me
I can't understand
Praise You God of Earth and sky
How beautiful is Your unfailing love
Unfailing love

Unfailing love, what a truly magnificent concept. My last comments for the post are to offer some tips for how I get spiritually reconnected with God if ever in a "rut."

  1. Go to church
  2. Listen to an Austin Stone podcast
  3. Talk to a Christian friend about your feelings and invite inspiration
  4. Read your Bible
  5. Write/journal
  6. Go to a spot where you feel most attuned with God -- for me that's anywhere serene and outdoors
  7. Read Christian novels ("Same Kind of Different As Me," "Redeeming Love," and "Blue Like Jazz" are my top picks)
  8. Last, but not least, pray!
We all have those times when we feel distant from God, but turn back to Him -- He is waiting with open arms. I pray that you will be inspired to take action after reading this blog, whether that be in your own spiritual life or in someone else's around you. You may never know what is going on in someone's walk of faith unless you ask them. 

In Jesus' name,

"So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most." 
-Hebrews 4:16