Faith must be tested because it can only become your intimate possession through conflict.
Our society glorifies singleness. The world shouts, “Now is your opportunity to live as selfishly as possible. Make the most of it!”
But God calls us to a totally different lifestyle. The Bible says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24, ESV). And Jesus’ entire life on earth was about fulfilling God’s redemptive plan — not serving himself with countless spa treatments and the latest iPhone (Mark 10:45).
God calls us to self-sacrifice because it’s what’s best for us. Consider this: One of the biggest factors in divorce is selfishness. If we want a happy marriage in the future, we need to take selfishness seriously now — not eventually when we meet The One.
If we’re in the habit of living for ourselves, it’s hard to change. We’re not going to automatically transform into a sacrificial person when we change our Facebook status from “single” to “in a relationship.” To become selfless, we have to practice getting rid of “me.” And it’s never too early (or too late) to start.
I squinted at the ocean in disbelief. Did that lady really just flip out of her kayak? There were absolutely no waves! In fact, the water looked more like a lake than the Pacific Ocean. Why did she suddenly fall in?
I carefully rocked my kayak a bit, testing its stability. Feels pretty sturdy to me. Glancing back to the woman “overboard,” I understood why she was having trouble. Rather than calmly pulling herself up in the center of the craft, the poor lady—obviously not much of an outdoorsy person—was flailing around as she struggled to get back in her kayak. The tour guide—trying hard to hide his smile—paddled over to help steady it, and the lady was soon back in proper position.
She lifted her paddle with an I’m-going-to-show-this-kayak-who’s-boss expression on her face. She looked so determined, I thought she would surely out paddle me! But, as soon as she plunged it into the water, she flipped over again.
I stifled a laugh.
The tour guide again assisted the lady back into her kayak, but she still didn’t wait for his instructions. She fell out yet again!
By now, the other kayakers were staring at her, so the tour guide told his assistant, “Why don’t you take the rest of the group to the next spot while I help Mrs. Smith back into her kayak. We’ll catch up with you in a minute.”
As I paddled away, all I could think of was poor Mrs. Smith. She must have been so embarrassed. If only she had sat back for a minute and listened, maybe she wouldn’t have ended up soaking wet and humiliated.
Don’t we all tend to rush ahead? Overly self-reliant, we think, “I’m gonna get to the other side no matter what! I can do this!” Then we plunge our paddle into the water and promptly tip over.
When we don’t wait for God’s instruction in any area of our lives, we end up in a big mess. Click here to finish reading The Danger of Self Reliance
This is a thought-provoking and fascinating book. Once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. Paul Washer dares to talk about things that few other pastors will address. I love how he starts the book with humility and transparency:
Now I know that I am a frail man, buffeted by many weaknesses, but I have an indictment. I can’t call it my indictment, because who am I to indict anyone? And I dare not call it God’s indictment, for how can I presume upon His name? But I will say this: As I look around at the Church and compare her to Scripture, I see that there are certain things that must change. I am not Martin Luther. This is not 95 declarations nailed to Wittenberg’s door, but this is a burden on my heart and I must share it. I must share it! What I am going to say will anger some of you, but let me warn you. It may be true that you will be able to accuse me of arrogance. It may be true that you do not like my delivery. I have many times been arrogant, and I have many times delivered truth in a wrong way; but don’t allow that to be an excuse for you. The question is this: Is what I am saying true, whether it is delivered through a faulty messenger or no?
Brother Paul’s words convicted me, not because they were witty or clever (which they were), but because they flowed with the truth of Scripture. So often now we interpret the Scriptures through the lens of our culture and worldly psychology, but that is leading us down a very crooked path. I urge you to download the sermon or the book for free or watch the video on youtube. You will be challenged by his words.
You know the way! I silently reassured myself. Arms extended I bumped my way around the pitch black hotel room, trying to find the bathroom. I didn’t want to turn on the light and wake up my sister. So I shuffled one foot in front of the other as I made my way to the other side of the room. Almost there! I felt the wall, rounded the corner, and strode forward with sleepy confidence towards the bathroom.
So, the door was not wide open as I had assumed.
Yes, I ran into the door (and had a bruise the next day to prove it). This is definitely not the most glorious story, but it’s what came to mind when I read the verse “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Light is important—and it doesn’t take a lot. In my dark hotel room, a little bitty night light would have made a huge difference and kept me from 1) a painful lump and 2) this embarrassing story!
It doesn’t matter how small you feel your light is; it’s important. You never know what your faithfulness, your availability, or your love could do for another person.
Sometimes I think: I don’t matter. Why am I walking the narrow path? I’m just one person; can I really make a difference?
Then I remember that a teeny weeny night light would have saved me from the unfortunate consequences of a bruised head. Similarly, my little light can make a huge difference in someone else’s life.
Mrs. Grant, my flute teacher from elementary until high school, is a wonderful example of someone who faithfully let her light shine. Although she had encountered tremendous obstacles in life, from losing her husband to crippling health issues, this elderly lady never quit illuminating the lives of others with Christ’s love. She was a woman you could count on. A woman who would pray. A woman who would be there for you. A woman who always cared. I saw her little light pointing to Jesus and so did everyone else around her. I saw fellow students take refuge in her comfort when their parents were having marital problems. I saw friends receive confidence from her gentle coaching. I experienced her loving encouragement as I traveled through middle school, high school, and college. Although she’s in her mid-nineties now, her light still inspires me to shine brightly and faithfully.
Have you ever considered what a difference your life makes? You might not feel like you’re doing anything exciting or noteworthy. You’re not ending wars, discovering the cure for cancer, or ending world hunger, but your small bit still counts! Your little good deeds. Your faithfulness. Your devotion. They all work together to light the way to Christ’s overwhelming love. Don’t underestimate the power of your little light.
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do people light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it gives light to all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16).
**This article appeared on ibelieve.com
“I have a tough life,” my five-year-old cousin said.
“Really? Why is that?” I asked.
Folding his arms, he looked up at me with his big blue eyes as he rattled off his complaints. “Well, I get spankings, I get time out, and I have to clean my room!”
I couldn’t help bursting out in laughter. In return, he just looked at me quizzically as if silently asking, “Why are you laughing? I’m serious!”
After regaining my composure, I shook my head and said, “I don’t think that’s too terrible, buddy. I think you’re gonna be okay.”
Later that day my cousin’s complaint made me wonder: How often does God smile down at us and say, “Everything is going to be all right, my child”?
In our fallen world, we’re constantly bombarded with situations that tempt us to complain about how tough our lives are. Sometimes our troubles are miniscule (like traffic or a cranky boss), but other times they are genuinely difficult and can be quite discouraging (like an abusive spouse or a dying loved one). Our worries can weigh us down and cloud our perspective, causing us to forget:
- that, since we are citizens of heaven, our problems on earth are only for a season (Philippians 3:20).
- that God works out everything—even tough situations—for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
- that we can trust God with our lives (Psalm 55:22).
When trouble hits, we tend to see only challenges. So, how can we get a fresh perspective on life when discouragement is weighing us down?
“The girls sleep on the bunks on the right wall and the boys sleep on the left,” Jessica, the volunteer coordinator of the teen shelter explained as we walked through the room and into the hall. “Sometimes we have sixteen kids, but usually it’s ten or twelve. The volunteer on duty sits in this chair to make sure everyone stays in their own bunk.”
“Most of the kids take the bus to school in the mornings, but right now we have one girl who can’t leave campus. Her former pimp knows where she goes to school, she’s been giving the police information to help them apprehend him. So, for her safety, she is only allowed to leave with a staff member or the police.”
“That’s so sad,” I replied.
“Yeah.” Jessica turned to face me. “All of the kids have a story, and each story is uniquely tragic. Jon’s parents are homeless, and he’s here because he doesn’t like being at the adult homeless shelter. Robert’s brother is in jail, and he doesn’t have anyone else to live with. Pauline and Priscilla are sisters that were horribly abused by their parents. They’re here temporarily, waiting for grandparents from another state to come sign papers and pick them up—”
When the tour ended, I walked back to my car with a heavy heart. I unlocked the door, sat down, and cried.
These kids were too young.
Too young to be abused.
Too young to be abandoned.
Too young to be prostituted.
Too young to be homeless.
Often we associate child poverty with other countries like India or Uganda. But all of this goes on in a normal, beautiful city in the U.S. Everyday, children in AMERICA—in my state!—are hungry, lonely, battered, and on the streets. And, until that moment, I never knew.
My entire life, I had lived my happy little suburbian life while teens only thirty minutes away didn’t know where they would sleep. My biggest decision each morning was whether to get up a little earlier to stop at Starbucks. These kids had a whole different set of questions: Would they eat that day? How would they shower and look normal at school? How would they do their homework? What if their friends found out they were homeless?
Yikes! A pretty stark contrast.
But what would I do with all this new information?
Honestly, part of me didn’t want to do anything.
I didn’t want to go back; I wanted to curl up and hide. I wanted to run away from the sadness and pain, run back to my comfortable home and forget such misery existed.
But Jesus didn’t stay comfortable. He sought the hurting, sick, and homeless. He sought the people with burdens and scars. So, shouldn’t we seek to minister to those people too? Why don’t we?
Why don’t I?
Frankly, I think it’s because it’s hard. It’s messy and inconvenient. It’s dirty and uncomfortable. And it hurts to see people in such difficult situations. Besides, I typically try to stay as far away from trouble as possible.
But when I signed up to be a Christian, I signed up to be crucified with Christ.
I agreed to serve, to love my neighbor—homeless teens and anyone else—as I loved myself (Mark 12:35). Since I don’t ignore myself when I am hurting, I shouldn’t ignore them.
Jason Carr in his book, Orphan Justice, shares:
“The gospel always calls us out of ourselves and our self-constructed world. It calls us to care, to sacrifice, and to reach out to orphaned and vulnerable children and become the face of Jesus.
Jesus came and died for those with HIV/AIDS, no matter how they got the disease. He died for those living in poverty. He died for the teenager who is selling her body tonight so she doesn’t starve. He died for the young woman facing an unplanned pregnancy. He died for every little boy and girl who is orphaned. He died for every angry, confused, and scared boy and girl in foster care whose earthly possessions fit inside one black trash bag.
Not only did Jesus die for these orphaned and vulnerable kids, but he also defeated death, hell, and the grave to rise again. He now offers them the glorious gift of the gospel through us.”[i]
If we just look around, we will find children everywhere who need to see Jesus through His servants. So the question is: Are we ready to get out of our comfortable lives and be the hands and feet of Christ?
[i] Johnny Carr. Orphan Justice: How to Care for Orphans Beyond Adopting. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2013.
“And then in five minutes we’ll trade, right?”
Sitting on a nearby bench, I smiled as the two little boys rode off, each on his respective “vehicle.” Their conversation reminded me of all the deals I’d made with my brother and sister as a young child. Sometimes we’d swap chores or bargain about who’d play the new computer game first. Bargains were a big part of life—and they still are. As adults we might not be making contracts about Legos, Barbies, or scooters, but we’re definitely still using our bargaining skills. Isn’t that true for us all?
Just the other day, my friend shared some details about her terms of employment at a new job. Another friend discussed his negotiations with a Navy recruiter. We all make deals in our lives. Many occupations revolve solely around negotiations—from sports agents to government officials. Bargaining is woven into the fabric of our society—it’s part of who we are. And, unknowingly, we apply it our relationship with God.
- “Okay, God,” we think, “I’m giving you this many hours this week, so you’ll help me do well on my project, right?”
- Or, “Okay, God, I’m serving the homeless this week even though I have a cold, so you’re going to heal me quicker, right?”
- Or even, “Okay, God, I’m being obedient to you, so you’re going to bless my life, right?”
I know those thoughts often go through my head. But they’re all wrong! God doesn’t make deals. He isn’t our boss or our friend. He’s GOD! Not only is He the creator of the universe, He sent his only begotten Son to die a gruesome death in our place so that, if we believe in Him, we could have eternal life (John 3:16).
God didn’t have to send His son, but He did. God owes us nothing. We owe Him everything.
So our obedience to God shouldn’t be based on what He’s going to do for us.
Of all the people in history, the apostle Paul would probably be considered worthy of making a deal with God. Paul performed signs and miracles, he took the gospel to the nations, and he obeyed God in every way. Not only that, he endured terrible things for Christ. Paul declares:
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger form bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches… (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
Phew! Paul’s list is a bit overwhelming. Imagine if that happened to you? If I were in his shoes I’d be thinking: “What, God? I did all these wonderful things in Your name, and you still let me get stuck in jail! Come on now, why do I keep getting beat up and shipwrecked? Isn’t there someone else you could bestow these ‘privileges’ on and give me a break?”
But Paul didn’t base his obedience on the fact that God was going to do something great for him—or that God was going to make his life easy. He knew that living a righteous life didn’t guarantee that he would be healthy, wealthy, and wise.
He didn’t say, “God, if you do x, y, and z in my life, I’ll obey.”
Instead he said, “I will obey.” Period!
Wow. Isn’t that amazing? Paul’s obedience was his response to salvation. He had a right standing before God, and nothing else mattered. Whether good things or bad things happened to him, his faith was immovable. He believed God when He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
This is the attitude we need to have. After all, God rescued us and made us holy. He saved us from eternity in hell. We should follow Paul’s example and obey the Lord because we love Him, not because we expect worldly blessings in return.
Faith based on our actions, on what God “owes” us, is very shaky. So, while we can make deals with our co-workers and siblings, we’re better off to leave our bargaining skills out of our prayers. I constantly have to remind myself: Stop making silent deals with God. Obey the Lord because He is God.
I met Alphonsine last year at a writer’s conference in Chicago. She is a wonderful woman of God with a powerful testimony. I am honored to have her share her story here on my blog. I hope you are inspired!
My name is Alphonsine Imaniraguha. I was born and grew up in Rwanda, a country flowing with honey and milk in the heart of Africa. “Alphonsine” is a French name meaning “a noble warrior,” and “Imaniraguha” is a Kinyarwanda name meaning “God gives you.” I was the second-born of five siblings.
My family was very happy in the early years, and my parents were the best people I have ever known. I recall very well the parents I knew only a few years. My mother Colette was a brave woman with a big heart. It took me many years to understand how she could pray for and love people whom I knew didn’t, like our family. I clearly remember some of her in-laws who were jealous because she married a financially stable man. Perhaps they wanted to be the ones benefitting from my dad’s small business. You see, where I come from, when someone makes a good living, they are expected to be responsible for their immediate family and all other relatives as well. It’s no wonder they were jealous. I may have forgotten some things about my mother, but the way she loved and treated people equally gripped to my heart for good.
My mother was an amazing mom. She was everything to us, caring very deeply and being there to listen, advise, and console us. My father was my best friend. He was sweet and his smile and the beauty in his eyes revealed his kindness and humbleness to everyone who saw him. I still think that my dad was the most handsome man that ever lived. My parents taught us to pray, to love all people and treat our neighbors as family. They also did their best to keep my siblings and me from knowing all the details about the history of violence in Rwanda, their past and the ethnic tensions. Perhaps in hopes of helping us to grow up treating everyone like a family. Whenever we saw or heard anything bad on the news, their answer was the same: “Everything will be okay. Don’t listen to those people.” I could not dream anything bad would happen to them.
But on the night of April 6th, 1994, we were to witness a new page in the history of Rwanda.
My whole family was at home during the Easter school break, with the exception of my sister Claudine who was visiting her godmother nearby. Suddenly, we heard the unusual sound of big guns and explosions not too far away and saw flames in the sky. We rushed to our radio receiver only to learn that the plane carrying the then Rwandan president had been shot as it was landing right outside the capital city Kigali, in Kanombe.
Within seconds the horrifying genocide began.
Statistics estimate that at least a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in 100 days.
Ironically, it took more than two months for the United Nations and the international community to rule the systematic killings of the Tutsi at a rate of 10,000 per day a genocide. This staggering number includes those dearest to me — my parents and two of my siblings, close friends and classmates, neighbors and fellow citizens.
A stranger saved my life.
By the grace of God, three of my younger siblings, who were all under 10 at the time, also survived. Initially orphaned and separated, we were eventually reunited and able to return to school. Providing for my siblings was not an easy task. They were so young and required more than a teenage girl could give, but I knew I had to grow up quickly. I soon became their mother, especially to my youngest sister Mireille who cannot even remember the faces of our parents.
As for me, I have never been young. I never knew what it was to buy fancy clothes or wear pretty shoes. I never spent money on trinkets or jewelry like other girls. And I never dared to shop just for the joy of it. The awareness that I had to save every coin for the well-being of my siblings was always with me. I never had the freedom to complain or whine like more fortunate children. I was grateful to just have something to eat, and a place to lay my body and close my eyes.
Many wonderful people have helped me along the way, but God has been the “crew chief” on this journey.
He revealed Himself not only in times of joy but in the most devastating of situations. Although I struggled to pay for food, clothes, medical expenses, and find a place to live, I was able to win a full scholarship to college in Rwanda where I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronics Engineering, and in the United States where I earned a Master’s Degree in Telecom Engineering.
Although the genocide left many scars that I still carry to this day, my gratitude to God is immeasurable. For years I struggled with stomach problems that started shortly after the Genocide ended. After being treated with every stomach drug available in Rwanda between 1994 and 2004, a doctor at Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Kigali (CHUK), where I was transferred as the only option left, shocked me with news I wasn’t prepared to hear: “You have an ulcer. It seems like you have been drinking alcohol and smoking for many years.” I could not help but laugh. “But doctor, I’ve never smoked or drunk alcohol,” I replied.
A surgery that was then scheduled didn’t take place for reasons I don’t remember. I was instead prescribed more medication which was by then my daily diet. Then one day in the beginning of my senior year (2004), I noticed I was pain free. At first I thought it was just a break from the pain. Then more days passed and before I knew it, my stomach problems were completely gone. No more sickness, no more hiccups, and no need for a special diet. After many years of stomach pain and abdominal burning, God had listened to my cry and put an end to my sickness. Several years later, I consulted an American Gastroenterologist to be on the safe side. The results showed there was nothing wrong with my stomach.
God is the great I Am. Not only has He been my protection, healer, father and a friend, He is also our provider.
I will never be able to explain how my siblings and I got where we are today. At this writing, my brother Eric and my sister Alice are both expecting master’s degrees in 2014; and Mireille is a junior in college. I have no doubt these three are the reason I am alive today.
One night after the genocide ended, trying to grasp what just happened to my short-lived life, I had a dream. In it, I was talking to my father, Alphonse, and I promised him I would love and care for his surviving children as he would if he were alive. I am grateful to God who has instilled in me the love I have for my siblings. I will never be able to put it in words.
I have one answer for those who ask me why I am not bitter or why I forgave those who made me an orphan.
Knowing that my parents are in heaven with God, I will do whatever it takes in this life to please the Lord, because I live with the sole hope that I’ll again see Colette and Alphonse, my life’s inspiration, in the new life that knows no sorrow or separation. I love my parents deeply and often wish they could see what their little girl has become. They would have been proud. For all that’s worth, I’m willing to sacrifice everything to please the God who has my parents and two siblings with Him.
I have not only been a parent, but God blessed me with people who call me their daughter. Bob and Glori Lovall, whom I met shortly before graduating from college in Rochester, New York, have nothing in common with me through flesh’s eyes: skin color, background, lifestyle, social or economic upbringing, but they call me their daughter. For many years, no one extended such an offer, not even my relatives in Rwanda. No one had called me daughter since I lost my parents.
“Wherever you will be in the world, remember that you have a home here,” my new mom said. While I was forced to become a mother as a teenager, now at last I have a place where I feel young and spoiled, a place where I am constantly told that I am loved.
This is my story: how I was not only able to survive the loss of my parents and a country torn apart by genocide, but to succeed and become the woman of faith I am today – and the promise of the person I hope to become tomorrow.
Alphonsine is a Network Engineer with Cisco Systems in North Carolina. She was born in Rwanda where she lived until moving
to the United States in 2006. She is also a Motivational Speaker through her
Non-Profit Rising Above the Storms (R.A.S) with a goal to teach Forgiveness,
Love and Hope. You can find out more about R.A.S on the website or follow us on Twitter
A few weeks ago, one of my eight-year-old students handed me this letter.
Dear Miss Felicia,
Thank you for being such a nice teacher. You say “good job” or “that’s wonderful” when I dance well. When there’s something that’s going on in my family you always listen. You make things fun and we still learn. You make things funny. You never get mad. You teach me well. I will remember what you teach me forever.
Not only did this sweet letter bring a huge smile to my face, it also reminded me that I have a sphere of influence.
“I will remember what you teach me forever.”
Sometimes I forget that every ordinary day counts. So often we get caught up in the big things of life that we forget to enjoy and maximize the little ones. It matters how I go about my work and it matters that I take the time to listen to my students. The ordinary day-to-day things matter.
So, what little moment can you enjoy today?
Who can you influence positively?
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” Colossians 10:31