Journey For Relationship

David Roller, the bishop at my church, gave a message at a conference. He told us how he and his wife have been married for years and the two of them sometimes walk together holding hands in public, to which people go “awww” because love is such a rare find in our American culture. People are lonely and searching. As he said it, “Every love experience in your life has led you towards Jesus, who stands there arms open and waiting for you.”

The problem is Jesus isn’t always a popular subject. Neither is God.

You’ll remember that God doesn’t love you like your girlfriend, but He cares for the well-being of His creation. He gave you the complete freedom to sin, and He also gave you the choice to follow Him. He still wants to see each and every one of us make the most out of life, so it worries Him when you reject His teachings to go off on your own and make poor choices. The Lord is the first to call us into a relationship.

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I remember a few years ago I was just starting out at a new college and I went on my first real date with a young woman my age. The relationship only lasted a few months and it was hard when it ended because I had feelings and she didn’t feel the same way after a while. I failed all my classes out of my own struggles, and I had to rebuild. I went two semesters on academic probation followed by one semester on the dean’s list. I eventually graduated.

You’ll forgive me if I write about that sometimes, but she was the first person I went on a date with in college. We’re not friends today. I was very timid back then but she per-sued me. Just like working at Walmart has taught me how to work with people, and how to stand up for myself against unruly customers. I no longer have some of the crippling anxiety I used to have. I came to realize it wasn’t entirely my fault things didn’t work out, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made by the Lord and I am here to do great things. You, as the reader, are also fearfully and wonderfully made.

I went on a dating site and I ended up talking to a new person every month, most of them I never got to meet in person despite getting their numbers, attempting to make plans, which for me felt very shallow – I knew all the questions they answered about themselves but other than that we were just browsing through random people.

I decided the past few months that meeting women online wasn’t working for me, and if I was going to find the relationship I was looking for, it was going to be with someone I met in person and we had time to grow together and share experiences. You know, it’s too early to say but I asked a friend out for coffee the other day and she seemed excited. And in that case, we don’t have to rush into anything we can just take time to get to know one another better and see what happens.

So one thing that got me through my college experience is a Christian community that is active on the college campus and occasionally does outreach. We don’t want to be, like, praying in a closet somewhere, haha. The college group is a different kind of relationship because we are a community that supports one another through faith, and if one of us is struggling we help them along the way or we confront them on issues.

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What should we be doing with our lives while we are waiting for something to happen? Someone once mentioned that God calls us to a process, He sends us on a journey and He wants us to learn through the process and make us the person He needs. I find in a lot of ways I have changed from the person I was a few years ago and I owe that to my experiences, and to my college group, and the book series by James Bryan Smith, and to everyday at Walmart.

But I’m always single. I have a family full of divorce, re-marriage, and arguments. I have friends who are struggling with different things. One of my friends who is married once told me that marriage is like a ministry, you have the opportunity to minister to your spouse on a daily basis and look after their needs. You won’t really get far with your marriage or your relationships with friends and family if you are just looking out for your own interests, as many people seem to do.

“Rebuilding walls requires sacrifice. Reconciliation is costly because it is the way of the cross. We kid ourselves if we think we can enjoy restored relationships without paying a price. We have been reconciled to Christ but have we been reconciled with our neighbor, our family, our friends, even our enemies? What are you willing to pay?” -Jill

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My aunt passed away recently and she was very family oriented. My uncle and her threw large parties on the holidays. At her funeral, my cousin came up and said that success is not measured by your wealth or your possessions, success is measured by the people you have in your life who support you and stand by you through the good and the bad. My aunt and uncle did that for him. I hadn’t seen my family in a while, and her funeral gave my family a chance to re-connect for a change.

The Lord always has a plan for you and your life, and I have found He looks to fulfill His plan when the time is right. Not just when you want it to be right. Many of my friends get into the worst relationships. Two of my friends recently started dating, but neither of them were in a good place two years ago where they would have been good for one another and able to hold down a successful, Christ-centered relationship. Their love came when they were ready and The Lord could see it too. And so I’ll say the right person will always find a way. And I’ll say I’m 24 now and single, but my friends are 28 and better for the journey.

If you have Christ at the center of your life, and you have a kind and humble heart, then I think the right relationships will find you and bless your life.

– James –

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Learning To Bless Those Who Curse Us

In “The Good and Beautiful Life” by James Bryan Smith, the author brings up a friend who learned to bless the people around her as she was being cursed by them.

The author says the dominant narrative of our world is if someone hits you, to hit back harder, kind of the eye for an eye mentality that Gandhi once said would make the whole world blind. The legal system of the time was based on the idea that it was logical to punish others the way they have hurt you.

“38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a]39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your (cloak) as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matt 5:38-42)””

In Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus uses his sermon on the mount to show that there is a better way of doing things. We should never allow others to abuse us, but in some cases, we can yield to a situation, as the author says, “Jesus is not giving a universal law but a kingdom principle that offers an alternative to the way people react to

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each other in the world. When we are in a stable place (the kingdom) with a solid identity (one in whom Christ dwells and delights) we can choose to respond to attack by not attacking back.”

 

 

Matthew 5:43-48. What does Jesus say next? To love your enemies! The author remembers there was a basic expectation for people to love their neighbors and their family, but it was perfectly okay not to like anyone else. Jesus asks them to take it a step further and love their enemies. So the book does mention that loving your enemies does not mean you always have to like them, rather that you should “will for their good and demonstrate it through action.”

The Soul Training exercise for the chapter deals with praying for the success of our competitors. Since most people don’t have too many real enemies out there and we are not being sued or beaten, a competitor can be anyone we measure ourselves against or anyone who makes our lives difficult.

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Valentines Day. I feel very alone right now. I have been trying to get out and see friends. I struggle to find good relationships. I spent the past six months trying to go on a date with someone and she kept having to cancel on me. I did that with someone last year too. We gave up and stopped speaking to one another.

This is important because it can make me confused and angry, but I also have to remember not to curse the people around me when life does not go my way. The Lord might have something better for me down the road.

I think the closest thing we have to enemies growing up are the bullies from school. There were a few kids who were really bad, and one of them ended up becoming a peer mentor in college. Something changed in his life that qualified him to be responsible as a mentor. And that’s the thing about bullies, we may be struggling with our imperfections… but bullies who taunt us and follow our daily lives are dealing with something greater than that and through grace, they may need our prayers.13-cowboy-january-week03

There are a few bullies out there who I never want to come in contact with ever again, but on a lighter note things can be tough working in retail. 99% of all customers are kind and just want to get through their day. We sometimes have to stand up to the other 1% and their demands and we get treated badly. We still have to bless those people somehow.

You’ll hear of adults looking to fight each other outside over the wait time on an expired coupon, but that never works in real life. You’ll also have thoughts of revenge for past mistakes made which affected you. I think that learning to bless those around us even though things are not perfect is a slow process and takes time and effort.

– James –

 

Learning To Live Without Lying

In “The Good and Beautiful Life” by James Bryan Smith, the author not only recalls a time he lied to get out of an embarrassing situation, but he also wants to discover why lying is so common in our lives and what Jesus thinks about it.

“According to a study conducted by Robert Feldman, in a ten-minute conversation, we tell an average of 3.3 lies.” And typically most lies take the form of deception or cheating a social, legal or financial system, which is tough because we value honesty to create trust in our relationships with one another.

The author shares stories of people and their wrong behaviors, more than I want to paraphrase, but he brings us to a central idea for the chapter, “Since Jesus dwells and delights in us, we strive to put an end to deception in our life.” Yes, Christ would be looking to have us build positive relationships with one another and the above-22d08b5mentioned forces of lying, cheating, and deception; these things which are fueled by our desires will only tear us apart.

“The kingdom is not in trouble. And we who stand in it are never in trouble. Therefore, we can risk telling the truth. We can handle the consequences of the truth. In the kingdom, we strive for more than merely not lying. We want our speech to be acceptable not only to the people we address but also to God. The bar is set high. Our words need to be honest and true, but they flow from the heart, so our heart has to be honest and true. At present, it may not be, but as long as we keep ‘pickling’ in the kingdom of God, it will be increasingly true.”

The soul-training exercise for the chapter talks about silence and going a whole day without talking. It’s a tough idea, but monks have been known to do this in order to gain greater control over their tounges for when they do speak. Find a day when you won’t be so busy and you can manage not talking.

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I went through a point in my childhood where I used to lie a lot. I think part of that is I was caught up in my sin and I wanted to seem better than I was, at least until someone found out the truth. People also told me I was too talkative and energetic. Sorry.

And I think before I became a Christian and even in my early days, I did struggle with a lot of things. I made up lies and I hung out with childhood friends who stole things. I would say that if you ever want to stop lying, cheating, deceiving – remember how much it’s going to hurt the other person. If you lie to your spouse, to your parents, to your children, to your friends, to someone on the street, you also have to measure how much the lie is going to hurt them. Use common sense though, as you can also be too truthful and cause the same harm, like calling someone fat. The person knows they have a weight problem.26733881_10208911186571830_8398447786301408302_n

I will never forget a time in third grade I went to a kids group and we did a partner exercise with a tube of toothpaste. The teacher wanted us to completely empty out the tube of toothpaste. Then, she wanted us to try and get all the toothpaste back into the tube, and anyone who was able to do so got a prize. The problem was it wasn’t easy putting that toothpaste back in the tube and no one was really successful. The overall message is that you can never take back your words once they are spoken, no matter how hard you try. You can only apologize and ask the person to forgive you.

My church pastor mentions he has always had a quick tongue and he stole from people. That was a life he left behind, but to leave that life behind was a process for him. I like to think of building your life on the rock. Once my pastor, and I as well, decided we were going to build our lives on a more solid foundation, the change didn’t happen overnight. It took time and effort to make ourselves more honest and truthful.

– James –

Character

I don’t normally write about my personal life, but hey I see that the bloggers who do often get more likes, haha.

I went on a couple of dates with someone the past few weeks and they told me they just wanted to stay friends. I took that and asked her to list out some reasons why she felt that way… out of thinking I could use her advice to improve myself.

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However, I realized that while I could maybe work on a few things, I also saw that the things she came up with were characteristics that made me who I am as an individual. I want to make myself a better person every day, but it wouldn’t be good to change myself so that no one recognizes me.

I see this as another example of finding our identity in Christ. I have to tell you I struggle with this every so often, but I also know what I want my life to look like and what it shouldn’t look like. And I think some of my spiritual growth helps me with this.

I wanted to find work with my college degree the moment I graduated, but it hasn’t happened that way. That is okay because I have had a lot of housework to get done, but I’m still submitting job applications. Sometimes the Lord puts us in a place for a reason. I get frustrated from time to time, but I also have to remember that making it to work every day at has blessed me with everything I have.

The one day I was working cashier when a group of Mormon girls came through my line. The one girl asked me if I had met missionaries like them before, and I told them yes. I went to my own church though. I reminded them that despite our differences, all these faiths practice finding salvation through charity, or idol worship, or sacrifice, but Jesus Christ is the only one who asks us to follow Him as He is the way to salvation. The girls agreed, and one of them gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon with the church phone number.

I went through a period of studying the history of the Mormon faith. Even though I do not agree with their history and literature, I find they are always very kind, very family-oriented, and very generous with what they have. I do not usually meet people who express their Christian faith this way. Remember, Black Friday and Christmas are coming up, and people are going to be materialistic – lots of pushing and shoving!

 

 

 

IMG_0388A pastor at my Methodist church recommended the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, a thick book that takes you through the scriptures and explains the history and context behind it for a modern era. As a result of the past few months, I decided to take a few steps in my faith. First, I bought the study bible and I am looking to read the entire bible from start to finish, even if it takes a while. Secondly, I went to a membership class and I went through a ceremony to become an official member of my Methodist church.

I had a pastor from another church tell me he gives special attention to registered members of his congregation…. I want all the same blessings as when I was just a regular attender, but the choice to become a member represents me officially making a commitment to my Methodist church as my home, and getting involved with community and outreach.cowboy-facebook-photo8

I was at a group when the speaker asked the audience if anyone knew who Ruth and Naomi were, or Jericho even. There was silence. The word is important too, because knowing scripture as a Christian helps us to give intelligent advice to those around us.

– James –

 

 

Learning To Live Without Lust

Chapter 5.

In “The Good and Beautiful Life” by James Bryan Smith, the author talks about the lust in our lives. He brings up how our society is obsessed with sexuality, as it is the main focus of our music and our television content. The advertisement industry markets to people under the idea that sex sells.

The church has attempted to stand against this sexual culture and place the highest importance on sexual purity, but this is hard because of the content people go home to. Most churches are afraid to talk about sex and prefer to write it off as taboo and sinful, but the church is still struggling. Every person struggles with lust and sexual desires.TL005

Modern culture takes on a more welcoming approach. It tries to say that everything we want to do is completely acceptable. The media shows random people hooking up with no strings attached. There is very little you don’t find either online or on TV these days. Does this really reflect reality?

The bible has God telling Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, so our sexuality is a good thing. You can notice an attractive man or a beautiful woman, but when you look up and down and only care about them for their bodies, it builds a lot of lust in your heart and that is sinful.

Our lives become stale, and lust always causes us to go searching for the next best thing. The problem is a satisfying the flesh is only temporary, the author wants us to take steps towards living in God’s Kingdom, “Living in the kingdom is like an adventure. I never know how and when God is going to work in my life, but God always seems to do something at the right time, in the right way.”

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The soul-training exercise for the chapter is called Media Fast, and it asks us to take a break from all media (television, internet) for two days in order to experience reality a little more. Maybe read a book, go for a walk by yourself or with friends, help someone in need. Our minds are filled with false narratives of who we are and how our lives are supposed to be, and we need to replace those with something better.

I’m barely able to explain the chapter, but the lust is something that deeply applies to me as a young person. I have gotten caught up in pornography before, and every time I go through something it brings me to a dark place and in my mind, I stop seeing women the way I should. Many of the guys I know are much farther along with it than I am. I hear about people sleeping around, and Christian couples wondering why they must wait until marriage to have sex.

The idea is appropriate physical intimacy, as represented by a triangle diagram. The base of the triangle represents a relationship with no physical intimacy or commitment. As commitment rises, we have more intimacy.

shape_triangleFinally, sexual intercourse represents the final stage of commitment – marriage! So its good to have our relationships, but we have to do them in ways that reflect our level of commitment. I remember hanging out with a girl who insisted we were just friends, but she treated me too much like her boyfriend. After a while, I decided we could still be friends, but we had to set up some boundaries because we weren’t committed to each other like that.

I find escaping the lust aspect to be important because it determines how we treat people. I watched a video showing a woman being cat-called as she walked around the city. None of those men were going to get anywhere with their mindset, yet they found it was acceptable to act like that. When you only care about someone for their body, man or woman, it changes your perspective, and sooner or later you become willing to act on those impulses. The lust turns into many of our sexual assault and “No Means No” campaigns.

– James –

Learning To Live Without Anger

Chapter 4.

In “The Good and Beautiful Life” by James Bryan Smith, the author recalls a time his brother picked him up from the airport and drove him to a youth retreat where he would be speaking. As they were stuck in a traffic jam on the expressway, the author became overwhelmed with anxiety at the thought of running late, yet his brother was calm and assured him everything would be okay. He ended up making it to the retreat with plenty of time to rest up before his talk that evening, but at the same time, he was embarrassed at how angry he had been over nothing.

The author says our anger occurs internally due to unmet expectations and fear, and some of it happens instantly in a way we cannot prepare for while other parts happen over time. A waiter spills hot soup on you. The anger is instant. You are frustrated at a friend for showing up late. The anger builds up with every passing minute. What if the friend was in a car accident? The anger changes to remorse. We have these fears and we believe we must always be in control, and this need to take control causes us to sin and hurt others. We are not being led by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus talks about murder as the main sin in his sermon on the mount, but he also holds anger built up in the heart to the same standard, because a person with anger in their heart is the most likely to commit murder. “When Jesus commands his apprentices not to be angry, he is showing us the way to a good and beautiful life.” Jesus made the commandment because he knows we are capable of it, but it is not someIMG_1912thing we can accomplish on our own without the Holy Spirit at work in us.

“We may lose sight of God, but God never loses sight of us. God gives us space to experiment, grow and mature; God never intrudes. But this doesn’t mean God is not with us, is not watching us, is not ultimately familiar with our comings and goings.”

There is a thing called keeping the Sabbath, a spiritual exercise for taking a day of rest from our anger and need for control, and so the soul training exercise for the chapter asks us to take a day of rest and let God be in control. Rest is very important for us spiritually, physically, emotionally.

IMG_1581As I work in retail, I work the most on weekends because that is the only time customers have to shop, and as a result I have pretty much made Tuesday my day of rest. I get out of class and I make the day carefree. I take a long tap.

I graduated from college a few weeks ago. I made it. We grouped together in our caps and gowns and we walked the stage. The next thing I have to do with my life is to find work in my career, which is tough sometimes. Many of your jobs don’t know what to do with the applications. The week after graduation I went on a retreat with my college group to a camp in Albany where I took a workshop on social justice. Many of your homeless face tough conditions living on the streets. Many of your refugees flee countries where there is no going back and they struggle to become part of American society. Many women in the United States and across the world are the victims of sex slavery. What are we to do? Up until this year, I wouldn’t have been up to taking that workshop. I wish I could tell you about all my adventures, but things are so different now.

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I too have been struggling with anger. I get frustrated with people while I am driving, and I get frustrated with customers at work, and in the long run it’s not worth it for us as a community and a society. The one customer attempted to beat up the other customer, and then he attempted to beat me up because someone knocked over a soda, and sometimes the answer is we have to have self-awareness for our anger and how it affects others. I was angry today. A friend canceled plans on me, and it’s hard because that is an area where I give up control and I accept the circumstances no matter what. I have to show Christ to them every day and I don’t know what the future will hold.

– James –

The Grand Invitation

Chapter 3.

In “The Good and Beautiful Life” by James Bryan Smith, the author talks about a young man who was called up to give his testimony at a church. The young man won many medals from competing in the special Olympics, and he might have won a few more if he did not stop to help the other runners who were struggling. The young man attributed his happiness to God, and to Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. He struggled with a disability, but at the same time he found himself welcome in Gods kingdom. He saw no need to compete because he knew everyone was on the same team, where everyone wins.

The author uses the chapter to explain the Beatitudes. The blessings listed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3–11).

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
  • Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
  • Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
  • Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The author first thought the Beatitudes were meant to impress God, however, Jesus actually used these to bring the kingdom of heaven to Earth. Originally, “Those who would enter the kingdom of God comprised an exclusive club: they were Jewish, male, religiously upright, healthy and wealthy. Jesus’ ministry ran counter to this narrative. Jesus blessed the poor, touched lepers, healed and forgave gentiles (even female gentiles).”

The Pharisees criticized Jesus for associating with known sinners and non-jews. Mathew 21:31 quotes Jesus, saying “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Jesus was able to make those statements because he is a living expression of the kingdom. At the time of his teIMG_1469_Legacyaching, he was dealing with a large number of people who were oppressed and persecuted because they lacked the opportunities that would make them part of the ideal group.

Jesus is saying “well off are the people who feel marginalized from God, and have nothing going for them spiritually – for they too are invited into the kingdom.” The people are not blessed for their circumstances, but because of Jesus. There is a comfort in the kingdom because God is in control. At the same time, God also accepts the rich, but there is a point where wealth, power, and possessions can numb us to our need for God and make us overlook the needs of others. The wealthy are encouraged to live out the fruits of their labor, but they must also have a concern for the poor. The divide between people was very strong during that time, as it is today.

The Soul Training Excercise for the chapter talks about how living in the kingdom involves loving others, forgiving others, and practicing hospitality. Each of us makes decisions on who will be included and excluded from our lives, and so the aim is to venture outside your comfort zone and open yourself up to another person, maybe connect with someone you have never met. The results are surprising.

It’s the week of my 23rd birthday in March and I am home coughinIMG_1493_Legacyg during a snow storm. It took me a while, but I made it to work in the blizzard yesterday. The cash registers were down for a while and customers were upset. One thing I took away from yesterday was I reached out and helped a blind associate make his way to the computers where he worked. I escorted him anywhere he needed to go. The store was empty and freezing. He was not difficult to reach out to, but you’ll remember that I have done Flower City Work Camp the past few years, and it can be very scary for the students to reach out to strangers on their prayer walks. We never know what will happen, but at the same time we often end up reaching out to people who need something in their lives.

A member of our church passed away a month ago and a big televised funeral was held for him, commemorating his generosity and humbleness in the face of his Christian faith. Despite everything, he was still remembered because of his works. I hate to say the money was brought up over and over. He was a true friend, and he gave lots of money to education. We do not all have the sort of money and influence he had, but at the same time there are many small ways we can reach out and make a difference. You can volunteer for a few hours a week instead of watch Netflix, or smile and say hello to someone in passing. The only thing we have to do is be willing to reach out and take a chance.

– James –