Monday, May 11, 2015

Repost: Bible College Survival Handbook; Yourself

I saved this one for last, and I think it's the most important.You can get along with the authorities, love the classes, and have great friendships, but still fail completely at college.  But I've seen people who fought the authorities and acted like a snot to their roommates and acquaintances, but then God got hold of their heart, and He changed them.  Your heart, and how much of it God has, is the single most important factor to spiritual success. 

Remember that the devil is actively trying to discourage you. That is, he's trying to remove your motivation, your courage.

1. Don't go thinking of plan B, if this doesn't work out. You should be determined to finish what you start. If God wants you there, and He's confirmed it in your heart, plan B is just rebellion. Go with that faith that God is leading you, and determine to let God show you that it's His job to get you through. My husband and I both had seemingly insurmountable financial challenges, and I got pretty sick two years in a row. The sickness caused me to fail some classes! I remember asking God what I was doing there, when I couldn't have success. That year is one of my most precious memories, and the things I learned about God's presence in my life are with me today. God can use anything that happens in our life, as long as our faith line remains connected to Him. Unplug it, let doubts come in, and they can ruin what God wants to do!

2. Modern day me again.  Hannah, your mom told me this one. Read your Bible every day, and touch the throne of God every day, just to pass time with Him, and not to pass a class. Study for classes is good, but it does not ever, ever replace time set apart to be in God's presence. You need it. Make it a priority. Find your place to be alone and do it. (My place was in one of the upper classrooms of the North Auditorium, and this very annoying young male student liked the same room, so he beat me to it, and I had to go find another room. In auditorium part of the building, a student would worship God and pray while he played the piano, so my devotions were usually accompanied by this music. He is now serving God on a mission field on the other side of the world, and the guy who stole my prayer room is now my husband.*) You will hear a hundred times this year, "Bible college is the easiest place to get backslidden."  ad nauseum.  Because it's true.  Well, any place is easy to get backslidden if you are relying on yourself.

3.  Modern day me again.  Morgan, your dad told me that "doing" was not nearly as important as "being".  Working for God vs. being His child and loving and knowing Him.  I kind of understood him, but it took some time for that truth to hit me fully.  I'm still learning it!  Activity does NOT equal God is pleased with you!  Anywhere you think that God is pleased because "I'm doing _____" or "I'm getting this blessing_____" or "everyone thinks ________ about me."  is a dangerous, dangerous place to be spiritually.  You are right with God when you get on your face in His presence every day let Him change you.  When you die to the flesh and carry your cross.  Activity is good, but it's only a product of our walk with God, and sometimes when we get comfortable doing certain things for God, we think we can swing it without Him.  Actually, my flesh is always confident in this manner.  And it's the thing that makes me want to quit when I make a big mess of things doing them without God's Spirit.  Hypocrite, isn't it?

This isn't as long as my other posts, but I hope you take it to heart.  If you went to Bible college because you believe God wanted you to, then give Him liberty in your life to do what He wants with your life!  The "big secret" to spiritual success (and you will hear tons of sermons on this) is very simple-being full of the Spirit, walking with God, and getting out of His way.  It can't get old to you-it's your lifeline.  It takes day-by-day checking, tending, and repair.

My love and prayers are with you!

Oh, one more thing.  If, for some odd reason, you find yourself sitting in chapel, and exhausted.  maybe your blood sugar levels are, hypothetically, weirded out by too many strange snacks and not enough sleep, and you might find yourself having a very hard time keeping both eyelids open.  Let's say you might have a pack of Listerine Pocket Patches in your purse, and after fruitlessly pinching yourself, chewing on your tongue, squirming and trying everything else you know of to stay awake, it occurs to you that it might be a good idea to use one of those little strips to "wake yourself up".  Refreshing and all that.  If such a thing happens to you, and I'm not saying it will, or that it happened to me or anything like that, I'm just saying it might, you know.  Don't put it under your tongue.  Just don't.
*For the record, my husband wishes it to be known that his version of this story is that some cute girl periodically stole his prayer room.  Whatever.

Repost: Bible College Survival Handbook: Other People

My friend, I hope you aren't tired of my unasked for advice yet.  It's not because I think I'm smarter or more spiritual than anyone else, just that I've done what you are going to do, and this is a collection of things wise people told me, and things I would want someone to tell me.  Today I'm going to focus on other people. I didn't have any nightmare roomates, and I hope they can say the same of me. :)  That is not to say there were no differences, because I know we are all sinners, so differences are inevitable, especially when you are sharing living space with someone.  You can stuff your weaknesses down enough in front of most people, but someone who can't get away from you is going to know who you are at the end of the year.

1. ) Don't despise people who are different.  If you are living in a dorm, you will be sharing space with people who are different then you. Here are some ways they might be different:
* Different style of education; public school, Christian school, homeschool
*Different ways of bill paying; you might have to go get a job, someone else might have their parents pay their bills.
*Family structure; some will be from Christian families with generations of faithful Christians-what a blessing! Some got saved out of the world, and no one in their families are saved, but they want to start serving the Lord, what a blessing! (My husband fell into the last catagory, and I'm a third generation Christian.) Some had a hard life before college, there will be young people there with scars most of us can't imagine, some with rough edges because they came from a rough home.
*Cleanies vs. Messies-you know that's gotta cause some conflicts!
In any case, let me tell you that you will not understand everyone, and a good many of them will not understand you. Don't start out with a chip on your shoulder, and don't be drawn into conflicts. You really can learn from every one! God just might want you to minister to and help someone who is different from you, and if you start out despising them, He can't! Don't whine about other students.
We also are humans here, and humans naturally despise others.  You might say that you don't, but you have a tenancy inside, called pride, that wants to look down at others for any of the above mentioned differences.  If you get a roommate who snores loudly, is really overweight, has smelly feet, or never learned to clean the bathroom at home, is this going to be the topic when you are with your friends? Most people don't think twice about mocking others for their stupid problems, but we know right away that it's wrong if someone does it to us!
Please don't make big deals out of minor things, and don't get all sarcastic about people who are easy to despise. God loves them as much as He loves you.
2. ) That was a lot of "don't", so here is a "DO!"  Look for David and Jonathan type friendships.  Jonathan saw David serving before his father, and his heart was knit with David's.  Why?  Because Jonathan saw a love for God in this scruffy lad that mirrored his own.  When you love God, you love others who love God.  I thank God for my friendships from college, many of whom are just as strong today as then, even though we don't have a lot of contact with each other.  All we have to do is get together and all of the same things we shared in before are still there to enjoy, even though we are all in different stages of life now.  Ask God to lead you to people that you can be a blessing to, and who will be a blessing to you.
3.)  Another "Don't".  Avoid whiners.  Ryan  cornered got to interview missionary Rick Martins once at a mission's conference we were in together.  One of his questions was, "As a young missionary, what kind of things should I try to avoid?"  The immediate answer?  "Negative missionaries!"  Negative whiners are everywhere, even at Bible college, even in the ministry.  Although it's easy to develop friendships with folks who share the same whine as me, it doesn't help me to grow spiritually.  Jonathan's heart wasn't knit with a whiner.  These people will happily share their rotten attitude with you and anyone else, and then walk away and gripe about you!  Here's a clue, if you notice that most of your conversation with a particular friend is in discussing problems, try to change the subject and put an encouraging spin on each thing, giving glory to God.  A true whiner will get frustrated quick and have nothing left to talk about.  Someone who is growing spiritually will feel convicted and want to be around you more because you encourage them to do right.
Here's modern day me, with a note on this point.  While the method I suggested does work,  I've found it's better just to ask the person if they've talked to the other person, and kindly but frankly say they should talk to them and not to me.  The other method makes the person not want to talk to you, and this one might just help them with their problem. 
4.)  Make godly friendships with people of the other gender.  Freshman often enter their first year with romantic notions that they will make eye contact with some stranger and their future will be set.  Newsflash!  God doesn't use Disney protocol!  Just let God work in your heart and keep your friendships godly and honorable.  The Bible tells young pastors to treat the younger woman as sisters, because they are.  Our kinship, however, is a spiritual one, and not a physical one.  In the physical world, we must protect the honor of our brethren with modest dress, behavior, and speech.  I'm thankful for my friendships at school, that I've nothing to be ashamed of with the husbands of other women.  They treated me with honor and respect and I did the same with them. So keep your relationships pure, including conversation.
5.)  DO give other people the benefit of the doubt.  I Cor.13:5 says that Charity, or God's love, does not think evil of others.  In other words, it doesn't make negative assumptions of others.  This is easier to do than you would think.  As a rule, give the benefit of the doubt when someone says something, or does something you could be offended over.  In matters of open sin, or abuse, the Bible tells you what to do in Matthew 18.  But most of our problems with others (especially between ladies) involve hints and grouchy comments that can be taken in a number of different ways.  Look, if someone has a problem with you, and they aren't willing to come out and tell you openly, give them the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe they are struggling with something spiritually, or homesick, or just having a bad year.  Compassion and love in such a situation will give God liberty to touch a heart like nothing else.  Patience.  You need it for others, and for yourself; not just to bear your burdens, but to do it joyfully.
 6.)  Finally, study Matthew 18 and commit to deal with all differences and offenses that require action in accordance with God's command.  Also, watch out for others who want to dump their problems in your ear.  If you aren't part of the solution or part of the problem, kindly but firmly ask why you are being involved.  In my experience, this is a new concept for a lot of young people in college. Look out for whining (it will be called "burden sharing" or "getting it off my chest")  Look out for slander.  (It will be called a "prayer request")  Look out for information swapping.  (I tell you how so-and-so hurt me, you tell me something just as juicy-this information will usually be used against you at some point.)

Your friends in school can be a great blessing to you, and you can be used of God to help others who are hurting.  In a dorm with all kinds of girls, I promise you that each year there will be someone in close vicinity that is hurting in ways you can't understand, and God can use you to encourage them!  They can also draw you away from the Lord, as there are some people there for the wrong reason.  Pitfalls come when we start to get sarcastic and look down on others.  So let the Lord have His way!  Remember I'm praying for you.
This is the second part in a three part series.  The first part is here.

Repost: Bible College Survival Handbook: The School

In 2011 some of my friends from church went to college, and I wanted to send them some loving words.  This is what I would tell myself if I could go back to when I went to college.  Now a couple of my precious nieces are headed out to various Christian colleges, and I wanted to share those thoughts with them.  I love you both!  I'm stunned and thrilled to see what God is doing in your hearts and lives, and I can't wait to see you again.  I'm reposting these because Grandpa requested that I do so.

Hey you! Getting ready to go to Bible College! I want to talk to you! Are you excited? I remember getting ready to go, and I was excited, a little nervous, a little fearful. Once I got into the swing of things, that first year, I had so much fun. I hope you do to! I talked to my husband (Who I met that year, by the way.) and asked him that if he could talk to himself from back then, what would he say to himself. I know I would like to have a couple words with myself from that year! Here are a few tips we came up with, and my post was getting long, so I organized them into separate posts with tips on the school, tips on myself, and tips on other people.

1. If you are going to the same school I went to, try to start out with a hair do that can get blown to smithereens and look decent with a finger-combing. I started out with a pom-pom shaped perm'! Big mistake. (No, I will not be posting pictures of it.) You may whine about the wind. Everyone is going to be doing it, just don't overdo it. And don't overdo the hairspray. You'll regret it every time. Also, memorize Proverbs 30:4, and every time you go out there into it you will get an object lesson on the power of God. And when you go into a building, hold your skirt. Just sayin'. (Wind going sideways hits the building, and then blows up right next to it.)

2. Get over the rule book. It's a Bible college. They have to have rules, and some of these rules make certain folks uncomfortable. If God wants you to go there, then it makes sense that He will want you to follow the authorities. Even if the rules don't make sense to you, you should just do it as long as they aren't asking you to do something wrong. Who knows, you might learn that some of them have actual reasons behind them. Don't whine about the rules.

3. The cooking will be different than your mom's. Your mom doesn't have to cook for hundreds of people.

4. You will get preached at. A lot. Enjoy it! You'll never have a time like this again. Just don't forget to bring your heart to the altar before the service. If God impresses on your heart to make some changes, write the changes down in the journal you will get. If you are struggling in an area spiritually, write that down too, as a prayer, in the same journal. Later, you will be amazed at how faithful God is to answer and teach you just what you need.

5. If you never struggle spiritually, and never feel God pushing at you to make a change here and there, there are only two options. Either you are so very far away from God that you have no idea what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell you, or you are not saved. Get that matter fixed! This is a spiritual battle, and it is no place for half-hearted Christians, or lost people. I remember coming to that question during a lukewarm time at school, and God showed me that I wasn't anywhere near where I thought I was, spiritually. The decisions I made that day gave God the freedom in my life to lead me to the place I am today, and I believe firmly that if I had continued to resist Him, I would be out of His will today!

6. If there are conflicts between you and an authority, go read Hebrews 13:17 and think about how God wants you to deal with it. He does not want you to tell all your friends. He does not want you to quit. He does not want you to self destruct because you are fuming over it all the time. He wants you to A.) Pray for them, because their duty is to God, not you. B.) Obey them. If they aren't asking you to sin against God, why not? C.) If someone is abusing their authority, the school authorities ought to be notified. If you don't think it's that serious, then it's not serious enough to gossip or get bitter over. Ok, it's never serious enough to gossip or get bitter over. That will just make their problem ruin you, which is unprofitable for you, my friend.

7. You are there to study and learn. Have fun, but apply yourself to the subjects. Get everything you can from them. You will need it later. Prepare your projects ahead of time, and make time to study. You are learning to balance work, recreation, and ministry. If you are like me, you will probably fall out of balance in each of these areas from time to time. The important thing here is knowing when to correct the problem, not being perfect all the time.

8. Take a typing class the first year, if you don't know how to type, not the third year like a certain young lady I knew. Duh? (that was me.) It will make some things much, much easier. Also anything else that will help you prepare projects, like computer courses; first year!

9. Also take time to develop your soul winning skills. You need first to depend completely on the Holy Spirit. A formula, or list of verses is useful, but the Holy Spirit knows the need of the heart, so get connected with Him. Also you need to know your Bible. Prayerfully studying the Word, just so you can have an answer for anyone who asks is vital. Don't depend on classes to do this, or your church background. If you are from my church, I know you have a solid understanding of doctrine, but you still need to study for yourself.

10. Enjoy the school! Enjoy the ministry, the church services, the spirit, the work. No place is perfect, but soak up all the blessings God has for you there. I've known some young people who do nothing but whine when they go to school. Honestly, most of the whiners drop out, or stop whining. You need those blessings to make it through, and if you are complaining all the time, they will pass you right by. So have fun, and enjoy yourself!

I've got a couple more posts on this topic up my sleeve. I hope it's a blessing to someone! I sure did enjoy my time at Bible college. God used it in too many ways to count so He could put me where I am and shape who I am today.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

How to Get the Most Out of Church

I have to start by saying that the title of this post is way off base.  The point of going to church isn't for us to get an emotional lift, but the fact remains that if you go for the wrong reason, you will miss out on what God prepared for you. If you go with a consumer mentality, you will be looking for a church that gives you more of what you want.  (Here's a tip, if you want to go to one of God's churches, the leadership will be more concerned with what God wants than what you want.)

So without any further ado, here are some things to keep in mind the next time you step into church that will help you to optimize your experience.
*note;  In all of these remarks, I am talking about a well balanced church with a pastor who loves God's Word and is faithful to the doctrines of the Bible.

1. Remember your pastor doesn't deserve your faithfulness.
Gasp.  I know that sounds terrible, but stay with me.  The Bible says (Heb. 10:25) Christians should not forsake the assembly.  It also says that some have the custom of doing just that, but Christians should, instead, assemble more and more as the day comes that Christ will return for us.  The Bible also says (Matt. 18:20) that Christ is present in a very special way anytime the church comes together. (More on that later.)  If you go to church because you think your pastor deserves that kind of faithfulness, there will come a day when you notice that he is, in fact, not Christ Himself.  He is human.  He does, occasionally, sin.  And you will not want to come to church.  When you do, you will sit there and think, "Why am I here listening to this sinner bloviate for an hour?"  It isn't worth it!

We don't attend church for the sake of our pastor.  I have had six wonderful pastors in my life, and will say that each one was a holy man of God. Regardless, sometimes I was misjudged or misunderstood.  (Not that often, really, but we can obsess over one bad day and destroy all the joy God has for us in His church.)  If we go to church because we love Christ, leadership being human will not discourage us.

2.  Church is for broken people, and you are one of them.
When God's Word is preached, and the Holy Spirit moves without hindrance, something wonderful happens.  We see ourselves without the self-righteous veil that we often place over our motives and actions.  While needful, this can be super uncomfortable.  One of the most common responses we make, is to misdirect the conviction of the Word of God by saying the pastor has it out for you.  I remember once when I was about 10 that a church member brought his brother to church, and after church his brother was furious, convinced that the pastor (my father) had been told everything about his life, and had prepared everything just for him.  My dad didn't even know the church member had a brother. I have noticed that this is a go-to response for many people, so it must be part of human nature to deflect feelings of guilt by making accusations against the messenger. (Yes, it is, I catch myself doing it from time to time.)
Go to church expecting God to work on purifying you, your heart, your motives.  If you don't, you will wind up sitting there thinking, "Why am I here listening to this guy who hates me bloviate for an hour?" That's a lie, friend.  Chances are, if you have pastors like I have had, you have a pastor you weeps over your name in prayer in the watches of the night, and it hurts him and his family deeply when people assume they hate them.

3.  Ask not what your church can do for you...
  Instead of saying, "This church is not friendly.", BE friendly and fill the need you notice.  I've heard people complain about their church like it's some organization they have nothing to do with. It's not the local grocery store, my friend, it's the Body of Christ, of which you are a member. If it's your church, and you feel left out or lonely, don't blame everyone else.  Do something about it!  You might be the one God has planned to make a difference, but if you react in a selfish way, you will wind up sitting there thinking, "Why do I even go to this church? No one cares about me!"  Get involved, and instead of criticizing failings, make the difference yourself.  (Note:  I am not talking about doctrinal problems or problems with open sin that is not dealt with.  I assume you are not going to one of those churches, and if you are, find another church.)

4.  Go to church expecting to have an experience with Christ. 
Jesus said He would be present in a special way when His church met in His name.  In Revelation 1, we have a wonderful description of Him, and He is walking in the middle of the candlesticks representing churches, watching them.  In Eph. 5 we are given a vision of Christ as loving husband to the church.  His church is special to Him, and you being there is important to Him. I can't stress this enough.  When you scorn the church, or just go because you have to, you are disrespecting something that is of great price to our Savior.  

5.  Prepare yourself and your family for success.
Your stuff:  You don't need to be scrabbling under the kid's bed on Sunday morning in your church clothes, desperately searching for matching socks or someone's shoe.  Bless the heart of those people whose stuff is always where it's supposed to be, but if you are like me, and your kids struggle to make sure their shoes go where they belong, and they struggle to get their socks into the laundry hamper to be washed, please hear me.  Satan will use that little bit of disorganization to full advantage on Sunday morning to create havoc before you arrive to church, frazzled to your last nerve.  Make a checklist if you have to and do the under the bed scrabbling on Saturday night when you are in your pjs and ponytail, not nylons and hairspray. (Both perform poorly when worn under the bed.)(Don't ask me how I know this.) Get it all out and ironed from the shoes to the hair ribbons.  You will sleep better.  Promise.
Your heart:  Prepare your heart with an invitation before you go out to the car.  You know what the invitation is for right?  You ask God what He wants to change, and submit yourself to His will.  If you know He wants a commitment, you make it, not waiting till you are "ready".  Do this before you go!  I am willing to bet that you will have fewer conflicts and discontent with your church.
Your family:  They need to be rested, and so do you.  Get them and yourself into bed at a decent time, and be ware of life-draining conflicts on Sunday morning.  Remember Satan wants you to miss church, but if he can't get you to do that, he will try to get conflicts going.  Try to encourage your kids to be more patient with each other, and keep the tone light and joyful.  Music can help!

Finally, be thankful for your church.  We often focus on the negative, and we are critical by nature.  This can destroy our spiritual life by cutting off the fount of blessing between the church and church member.  We should never sit in the pew wondering why we bothered to come.  There is a good reason; obedience and love of our Lord.  There is a reason for Him to show up as well! He loves  this assembly full of broken, needy people who have been washed and are in the process of being formed into His likeness. See you in church!