For When You Need Grace to Replace The Guilt

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Sometimes, a day’s worth of writing is made up of a lot of staring at blank pages and waiting for the words to come.

 

And some days, it takes so much energy to do simple tasks, to check things off a to-do list, to convince ourselves to do things we know we need to do.

 

And on those days, the ones filled with procrastination and lack of motivation, we can often let ourselves be overcome with guilt.

 

Guilt. The opposite of freedom.

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The Key To The Christian Life (Hebrews Bible Study: Week 12)

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Welcome to the second to last week of our weekly Hebrews Bible Study, right here on Scattered Journal Pages. It’s almost over, and I can’t believe it.

 

These Tuesdays with all of you, spent digging into the Word of God have meant so much to me, as has your support. I adore the book of Hebrews, and the soul-level truths discussed in it. While I could never do the book proper justice, I have been loving taking the extra time to really study Hebrews and see points I would’ve missed if I hadn’t taken the time to slow down and really read.

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Christians, Other People Are Not the Real Enemy.

Christians, Other People Are Not the Real Enemy.

 

Christians, other people are not the real enemy.

 

In the crazy world we live in, its so easy to think that everyone hates us, everyone opposes us, and we’re the only ones that are “right.”

 

It’s easy to stand back and judge the world, those people who we refer to as our “enemies.”

And yeah, we probably have good reason to.

 

The people that want to take away our freedoms – freedoms to speak and think as we please – those people, well, they’re not our favorite.

 

But those very same people that we’re shouting “You’re the enemy!” at, we’re simultaneously judging. And that’s not okay.

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More of My Book! (Theme: Overcoming Anxiety)

More of My Book! (Theme_ Overcoming Anxiety)

Hi again, friends!

 

Whoa. I can’t believe it’s already Tuesday again.

 

Last Tuesday, I was in Puerto Rico with a really close friend of mine, Gabriela, and our families. It was AMAZING. Gabs and I stayed up really late writing for NaNoWriMo and blogging and talking and baking and watching movies and laughing.

 

So I miss that. A lot. Here’s a picture of us in a coffee shop drinking expensive and delicious latte frappes, all the while pretending like I would never have to go home.

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And here’s us under a nice tree with the ocean in the background, in the SWELTERING sun, trekking through famous forts and ports and such.

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I mention all this because…it was in Puerto Rico where I started writing my book.

 

Hadn’t heard the news? Yep, I’m writing a book! I shared the news last Saturday, and you can read about that here. And then, because I was really excited about it, I decided to share a portion of my first chapter of that book. Want to read it if you haven’t already? Right here.

 

As I said last Tuesday, the format and style is a little different than a regular blog post of mine. Why? Because while writing is writing, blogging and book-writing are two totally different arts. I find books to be a bit more formal, but can still take on different tones based on audiences.

 

 

So apparently, you all liked my sneak peek that I shared (???). I got so much encouragement, and it inspired me so much, so I decided to share another snippet.

 

For those of you who aren’t interested, don’t worry. My Saturday post will be a regular one, and if I continue to share sections, that’ll only be a Tuesday occurrence.

 

Today’s segment of chapter 1 is on anxiety.

 

That is, anxiety over the past, the present, the future, and how to overcome it all.

 

Anxiety Over the Past

 

Have you ever done something that you thought was a good idea at the time, and later realized how stupid it was? And then regretted it for years?

Yes, I think we all have. Whether we’ve done something that has hurt ourselves or has hurt someone else, we all have things we wish we hadn’t done. Things we feel would make life oh-so-much better if they hadn’t happened.

I can only “get” so much of what regret feels like, seeing as though I’m only a teenager, but we all have things that weigh on us because we feel guilty.

And for a lot of us, we can become anxious because of it, and for a few reasons.

We may be afraid that healing is impossible. We may be afraid that we’ll never be forgiven. We may be afraid that we’ll repeat our mistakes. These are valid feelings and fears – but we cannot live bogged down by what is in the past.

Anxious fear, while it is completely legitimate and we should not try to explain it away, is not to be suffered in alone.

God has made us new in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). He does not count our pasts against us, so why should we do it of ourselves?

Why should we live chained to the fear that we’ll mess up again?

Why should we live so caught up in what is over and done that we miss what is right in front of us?

God has forgiven us, and He wants to see us forgive ourselves. To move on, to focus on the greater things He has for us.

Oh, again, this isn’t some easy task that requires the push of a button and three clicks of our heels. Healing from anxiety over the past takes time, but God loves us and His patience never runs out on us. He’s always there for us to come back to and see our worth, to see that we’re forgiven, to see that we’re loved, and to know that He will never leave us to handle our problems alone.

 

Anxiety Over the Present

 

Present anxiety seems to me to be the toughest to deal with.

The panic of, “What am I doing?!” and “Where am I supposed to be?” and “How do I know if people actually care about me?”

Friends, I know what it feels like.

I know what it feels like to sit paralyzed, holding the phone, not knowing if I should call someone because I’m terrified to be rejected.

I know what it’s like to lay in my bed and cry for what feels like an eternity because I’m so afraid I’m going to mess up my life.

I have felt every ounce of pain when I’m convinced I must be doing the wrong thing, or I picked the wrong career path, or I’ve come so far that I can’t be fixed.

It’s paralyzing and petrifying, and that’s when I’m the most anxious.

See, I know the Bible says to be anxious for nothing in Philippians 4, and that by prayer, we should let our requests be known to God and He will give us peace.

I know all the verses. I know I should cast my cares on Him because He really does care for me.

But when I am in the middle of it, I freeze. I forget that there is a solution to my misery. I forget that I am loved and counted righteous no matter what I do. I feel like I have no hope.

But my feelings are incorrect. The feelings – those same feelings that are such a part of my personality – are wrong about one thing: Truth.

The truth that God will never leave me or forsake me, especially when I’m struggling, is never more true than when I feel like I’m alone.

The truth that I am loved with an everlasting love is not conditional, for it does not change when I feel unlovable.

The truth that I can be content and have joy in all situations is not dependent on my material possessions or circumstances, but upon a God who does not change.

When I feel the most anxious over what’s going on in my life, when I’m paralyzed with fear, and when it hurts like it never has before, the promises of God still stand.

 

Anxiety Over the Future

 

I once was utterly panicked over where I’d be in the years ahead.

In middle school and in the years before, I had absolutely no desire to go to college because I was afraid that I’d change my mind about what I wanted to do.

One day, I wanted to be a teacher. The next, I wanted to be a hairdresser. A week later, I decided I wanted to be a writer, and a little after that, I decided writing was much too difficult and I’d like to simply be a mother instead.

Thinking about the future – five, ten, fifteen years in advance – sent me into a bit of a panic. What if I get a degree in something that I decide I hate? What if the first day on my dream job is a flop and I start questioning my existence? What if I fail? What if I never marry?

And the panic-filed “what-ifs” cluttered my mind until my future planning almost became nonexistent.

Of course I knew that anxiety wasn’t really healthy for me. Of course I’d been told that God was in control. But did I believe it? I don’t know if I did.

Somewhere in my mind, and I assume in the minds of others, we think that we have to do everything alone. I think we have it in our minds that God holds the future, but hold in our hearts the burden that we have to handle everything ourselves. While this seems like such a paradox, it’s a prevalent mindset.

In a way, it’s connected to the stress ordeal – we think we must handle everything, know everything, be in control. But we don’t.

The best liberation from anxiety over the future is knowing that God is bigger than anything. He is bigger than our stress, He is bigger than our anxiety and fears. Nothing surprises Him, and nothing is too hard for Him to handle.

But what about our pain? What about the fact that life is really scary and unpredictable, and so many times we really don’t know what to do?

Pain exists. Anxiety is real. But God is more powerful than anything we struggle with, and He is worthy of our trust. He’ll never let us down.

It’s not worth it to live in a state of anxiety, yet in those times, we must cling to God the most instead of running from Him. Can life be terrifying? Absolutely. But nothing is terrifying to God. He wants us to run to Him in our pain so that we can grow in our relationship with Him.

Is it hard? Yeah, it is. And I won’t pretend that I know it all or that I have a perfect life.

But whatever the state of our lives may be, God does not change. He always wants us to look to Him in the midst of our problems. No, we can’t do this life alone – and that, friends, is alright.

*aj

Easter, Repentance, and a Change of Focus

Easter, Repentance, and A Change of Focus

Hey, friends.

 

This post was originally going to be longer than it is now, but the first half of my post disappeared into thin air at midnight. Not sure how, but it did.

 

Anyway, because tomorrow is Easter, I wanted to talk about what it really means, the significance of forgiveness, and how repentance fits into all of it.

 

Easter is my favorite holiday because we celebrate being forgiven. This forgiveness – the forgiveness of sins – gives us eternal life in Christ. I tweeted this yesterday:

 

 

Easter is about life – eternal life, yes, but also our lives now.

 

Furthermore, I wanted to continue the discussion I started on Tuesday about repentance.

 

After reading the post multiple times, and reading the wonderful, thought-provoking comments you all left, I wanted to clarify a few things.

 

I’m not at all against repentance, if that’s what I seemed to imply in Tuesday’s post. For if we deliberately harbor sin in our hearts, we will of course damage our relationship with God. I’m not bashing confession in the sense that I think that we should never come to God about our wrongdoings.

 

In fact, that’s not it at all.

 

I only hope to lead us away from an obsession with repentance, one in which we’re constantly walking on eggshells is the Christian life. I don’t think we should live a life in which we’re so obsessed with trying to do what’s right that we make sure we fess up every single time we think we might have done something wrong.

 

To be totally honest, I don’t believe that’s what God has for us.

 

We are called to freedom and grace, and no longer do we live under a yoke of slavery to sin.

 

Galatians 5:1

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

 

Instead of living trapped to a life of “try hard>>fail>>confess>>do it all over again,” let us live in grace. Instead of legalism, let us listen to the Holy Spirit.

 

Now, that’s all well and good in talking about it, but how do we actually carry it out?

 

What does it really look like to live under grace?

 

1) Get to know God by reading the Bible.

 

I’ve written a few posts on this topic. Post 1, Post 2, and Post 3 (in reverse chronological order). The Bible is a blessing, not a burden. But it takes more than just hearing people say that for it to become true for us. Read the New Testament for a fresh view on grace, starting in Romans. You’ll see things differently. You’ll see the contrast between God and man, and how Jesus didn’t just “wipe our slates clean,” He gave us whole new slates.

 

2) Submit to the work of the Holy Spirit.

 

You know that nudge you feel when you know God’s calling you to do something? Listen to it. Go talk to that new kid and be their friend. Share your faith with that cousin of yours. Go step out in faith to do something that you feel God wants you to do, even if it seems crazy.

 

Do you feel God calling you to start a YouTube channel or blog about your faith? Do it! Do you feel like you’re being called to vocational ministry? Pursue that. The Holy Spirit speaks in subtle ways, but by following His leading, we are following God’s will.

 

3) Continue to pray for a passion for the Gospel.

 

Pray all the time. Pray that you’d have a desire to live for God. Pray that you’d be used by Him. Pray that He’d show you His plan for your life. Pray that He’d use you in the lives of others. Pray that He would equip you to share your faith – even when it’s absolutely terrifying.

 

Prayer helps us to advance in our relationship with God, and through it, we come to trust Him more and more.

 

We don’t need to overemphasize repentance because as we live in submission to the Holy Spirit and our new nature, the desire to sin will decrease.

We don’t need to overemphasize repentance because Jesus’ death has pardoned our sin and given us a new nature.

We don’t need to overemphasize repentance because God does not see our sin when He looks at us – He sees Jesus’ righteousness.

 

When we’re in the Bible consistently, we see the significance of things like Easter. The Resurrection. Forgiveness that washes away every last one of our sins.

 

When we keep our ears tuned to what we feel God is leading us to do, we live a fruitful life, and not one of destruction.

 

When we keep in communication with God through prayer, and see that He answers our prayers, our relationship with Him grows.

 

Simply, a change of focus is what we need. A focus on the finished work of Christ as opposed to the filthiness of our sins. And so often, that makes a world of difference.

 

Happy Easter, everyone. Instead of getting caught up in simple traditions, let us remember the true meaning of it all – of sacrifice, of forgiveness, and above all, of hope.

 

*aj

Dear Reader: You Are Not Your Past

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I’m opening a new category on my blog called “Dear Reader.” This will be a lot like “Dear Christian Teens,” but it’ll hopefully have a more expanded demographic than just 13-19. I love to write in letter format rather than lecture. I want to share my heart as I would with a friend, not just tell you all what you should and shouldn’t do.

 

I’d like to do an occasional post where I can look you in the eyes and say “listen. I know you’re not perfect, and I’m definitely not either. Let’s figure out life together.” instead of writing a speech.

 

I want my posts, particularly my “Dear Reader” posts, to be freeing.

 

Without further adieu, let me bring you the first installment of “Dear Reader.”

 

Dear Reader,

 

You are not your past.

 

You are not what you have done or where you have been.

 

You are not the choices you’ve made.

 

You are not your image or accomplishments.

 

You are not defined by all the sins you’ve committed.

 

You are not your addictions.

 

And I mean it.

 

You are covered by grace.

 

You became covered by grace the moment you said “Jesus, I believe you can and will forgive my sins.”

 

You are covered by grace because you are loved by your Creator. Because He said, “I don’t want to see my child eternally separated from me.”

 

Grace is such that we cannot outrun it. We cannot out-sin it. We cannot get to a point where it does not apply to us anymore. We cannot earn it. Why?

 

Grace is a gift.

 

You do not deserve to be forgiven, and neither do I.

 

But Dear Reader, that’s why grace is amazing. We do not deserve grace of any kind, we do not deserve mercy, we do not deserve forgiveness. Grace is undeserved, and it is beautiful.

 

Grace says, “I have seen your sin and yet I love you. Yet I forgive you. I have seen your filth and yet I call you clean.”

 

God sees us as NEW.

 

He does not see our failures; He sees His Son’s perfection in us.

 

He does not call us on our screw-ups, on our deliberate sins, or on our flaws. He says, “I love you, and what you have done cannot change that.”

 

Dear Reader, you are not your past because God has washed it away.

 

You are called holy and blameless.

 

Titus 3:4-7

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

 

You are justified by His grace. God sees you the same as if you’d lived the perfect life and never did anything wrong.

 

You are not your past – you are a new creation because you are in Christ.

 

2 Corinthians 5:17

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

 

Instead of beating ourselves up over and over about our sin, why don’t we see at as God sees it? FORGIVEN.

 

Psalm 103:12

“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

 

So Dear Reader,

 

It’s alright that we’re not perfect, it’s alright that we’re messed up, it’s all right that we’re sinners, because grace covers us. We are held in the hands of a loving God, not an angry one.

 

You do not have to let what you’ve done define how you see yourself. See yourself as God sees you, and let JESUS define you.

 

You are new.

 

*aj

Why Rules Can’t Change Hearts

Why Rules Can’t Change Hearts

I stood in the middle of the park, taking in the fresh air and glancing at the bench that was calling for me to take a rest on it. I was tired. I had just been walking around and the sun was beating down on me.

 

And then I saw it.

 

That ugly, menacing, obnoxious sign that warned, “WET PAINT. DO NOT TOUCH BENCH.” What was I, an obedient dog? That sign couldn’t tell me what to do. So I took it as a challenge. “I’ll show it who’s in charge,” I thought to myself. And so, I decided to touch it.

 

Of course I did.

 

I don’t remember whether the paint on the bench had dried or not, but as soon as I touched it, I was immediately made aware of the fact that I had disobeyed the sign. Of course I didn’t commit a criminal offense, but I knew I hadn’t done what the “rule” had ordered me to. And thinking back on that experience has given me a new perspective on some things.

 

Rules don’t change hearts.

 

Mom says don’t eat the cookie, and what do I do? Eat the cookie.

 

So-and-so says don’t go here, do this, say that, and what do I do? I go there. I do that. I say whatever it is I’m not supposed to say. Because you know what? Having a list of do’s and don’ts doesn’t change my heart, it makes whatever I’m not supposed to do seem so much more appealing.

 

Now, this may seem messed up. And it is. We’re obviously not supposed to sin, it’s wrong and all that, but it just-so-happens to be in our nature.

 

Romans 5:12-13

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.”

 

Adam sinned and passed that sinful nature onto us. From the day we’re born, we’re doomed to have the instinct to do that thing, the selfish thing, the disobedient thing, the thing that puts us first, that thing that elevates us to think we can conquer life on our own.

 

And even if we feel that pang of guilt when we do what we know isn’t right or good, we tend to ignore it and do it anyway. Even the “good people” do, because it’s not something we can control by ourselves.

 

We are dead in our sins on our own.

 

Ephesians 2:1-8

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

 

I know that’s a very long and dense passage, but it’s so important.

 

We were dead in our sins, chained to a life of immorality and evil. But because of God’s grace for us, He gave us life.

 

The difference between death and life isn’t just the difference between going to either Heaven or Hell someday. As much as that’s definitely part of it, it’s not all.

 

The difference between death and life is the difference between being controlled by the sin nature or being controlled by the Holy Spirit.

 

People have a misconception that when you’re a Christian, you try to live a decent life, be a good person, and be kind to everyone. That it’s all about trying harder. That if we mess up it’s because we did something really wrong, so we just brush ourselves off and try “harder” next time.

 

But that can be just as futile as is trying to live a perfect life while we’re still entrenched in sin. Trying to impose rules does one thing: shows us that we cannot be perfect.

 

Look at this verse.

 

Romans 3:20

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

 

The Ten Commandments were given to us to show us that we needed a Savior, not to force us to be moral people in order to earn salvation. We’ve already established in Ephesians 2 that grace is a gift, and has nothing to do with our trying to earn it.

 

In our recognizing our need for a Savior, in accepting that amazing and undeserved grace of God that FORGIVES US and removes our sin for us, we are made blameless in His sight. We are given the Holy Spirit inside of us to overcome our sinful nature and make us new.

 

2 Corinthians 5:17

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

 

Romans 5:17

“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

 

The law showed us our sin and revealed to us that we needed someone to keep the law for us – namely, Jesus. He didn’t just keep it, but He gave up His life as a sacrifice.

 

Hebrews 9:22

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

 

I’m not advocating disobedience to the law here. I’m really not. I’m not saying we can do whatever we want and it doesn’t matter because we’re forgiven.

 

Galatians 5:1

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

 

We’re free, and by knowing this, we should not want to waltz back into what we’ve been saved from. We don’t need to “just work harder” at being a “good person,” we need to submit to the Holy Spirit working in our lives. In this way, we throw away slavery and embrace our amazing freedom.

 

Making rules doesn’t change hearts. The Holy Spirit does. Live in your freedom!

 

*aj