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January 30, 2013

Perpetual Pursuit

God continues to seek us even after we begin following him.

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Have you ever read something in the Bible that made you wonder why it was ever included? Consider the story of the prophet Hosea: God tells him to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2).

So Hosea marries Gomer, who has a wandering eye—and body. She continually runs from Hosea, who continually pursues her and brings her back into relationship with him.



I don’t know if you’ve been lucky enough to hear a sermon on or to study the book of Hosea, but it really is a beautiful picture of grace—well, beautiful might not be the right word. Hosea’s relationship with Gomer is an illustration for God’s relationship with us. Just like Gomer, we’ve gone astray. And the fact is that just as Hosea pursues Gomer regardless of who she is or what she does, God continually pursues us, seeking a relationship.

So the story of Hosea really is a great story about God’s grace and love for us.

Blah blah blah.

Great.

Hosea and Gomer’s story is a touching one—unless you’ve heard it so many times before, it starts to feel stale. And that’s exactly how I was feeling. After all, I’d been following Christ for 11 years. I already had a relationship with God. I wasn’t Gomer.

So as my pastor spoke on Hosea two weeks ago, I settled in for a sermon I’d heard many times before. You know how it goes: God wants to be in relationship with you. So much that he sent his Son who died a terrible death. And there’s nothing you can do to earn the grace he’s offering; you simply have to accept it.

But that wasn’t the sermon.

Instead, the pastor spoke about how God continues to passionately pursue us—even after we start following him.

We need to be continually pursued. Because each time we sin, we are just like Gomer, leaving our Husband in search of something better. But just as Hosea didn’t stop pursuing Gomer once they were married, God doesn’t stop pursuing us once we’ve entered into a relationship with him.

The true beauty of the story is that God continues to pursue us, love us, cherish us, and seek a deeper relationship with us—even when we, people already committed to following him, continually mess up, choosing other things over him.

As the sermon came to a close, I wept. Here was God making sure I knew that he was pursuing me, that he desires my whole heart—and he desires that I choose him over and over again each day. God didn’t stop pursuing me when I started following him. Instead, that was simply when I decided to reciprocate the pursuit.

Realizing that God is still in pursuit of my heart 11 years after I first committed to him brought new life to my pursuit of him—something I desperately needed.

It’s just like marriage. I don’t expect my relationship with my husband to look the same on our 35th anniversary as it did on our wedding day. I expect that our love will be deeper, our trust fuller, our relationship more interconnected than ever. And that’s because of our mutual pursuit of each other.

How much more do you want to pursue your spouse when you know he’s pursuing you? In marriage, too, we must choose our spouse day after day, renewing our vows in our hearts with each sunrise.

I’m so thankful for this reminder that life with God extends beyond his initial pursuit of us—it’s an ongoing mutual pursuit in an ever-deepening relationship. It’s in this light that pursuing God feels less like an obligation and more like answering a love letter.

When have you experienced God pursuing you? How does his pursuit of you make you feel?

Amy Jackson is managing editor for SmallGroups.com and ChristianBibleStudies.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmyKJackson.

January 28, 2013

Why I Raise My Kids with God

A Christian response to TXBlue08’s popular CNN blog post on rearing children without a belief in God.

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TXBlue08, a Texas mom of two, recently set the internet buzzing with her article, “Why I Raise My Children Without God.” Read by more than 750,000 people so far, thousands are enthusiastically recommending her article, while others find her assertions so offensive they’re asking CNN to take the article down.

TXBlue08 outlines several reasons why she decided to stop perpetuating the “illogical legend of God” with her kids; instead she’s chosen a path of intentional honesty, teaching her kids what she has come to believe about life and religion.

Unlike many of TXBlue08’s internet detractors, I don’t find her article offensive. In fact, several of the “bones” she has to pick with religion are issues that bother me as well. Her questions are good ones, and many of her criticisms are valid. But as a mom of three, I choose to raise my kids with God—to purposefully grow them up within the church and Christian tradition. It’s not because I’ve been fooled by a myth or because I simply need a crutch like God or a fictional heaven in order to feel good about life.

So why do I raise my kids to believe in God?

Because we are more than blood and bones. Atheism offers us this inevitable conclusion: We humans are ultimately nothing more than blood and bones, animated matter, carbon and water and nitrogen. Our sense of “self” is merely a perception caused by the snapping neurons of our brain. But this naturalist view of the world discounts what cultures worldwide, on every continent and throughout the centuries, have all acknowledged through various expressions of religion, mythology, poetry, and art: There is a spiritual side of life. We humans are more than mere matter, and this life is one of joy, longing, beauty, and a searching after truth. I raise my children with God because I affirm what they inherently experience to be true: Life is imbued with meaning that strict naturalism cannot even come close to explaining.

Because of human dignity. I raise my kids with God because I want them to deep-down-in-the-gut know that every human life is sacred. From the fetus in the womb to the physically or mentally handicapped to the elderly and infirm, Christianity affirms the essential dignity and significance of every human life. This pro-life understanding is about much more than opposing abortion; Scripture’s radical assertion that all humans are made in the image of God is what led people such as Martin Luther King Jr. and his fellow civil rights activists to fight against racist Jim Crow laws and Mother Teresa to tend the sores of outcast, “untouchable” lepers. It’s what mobilizes throngs of Christians today to actively combat human trafficking and what unites environmentally-concerned Christians in an effort to fight climate change and its devastating effects among the world’s poor and marginalized. This belief in human dignity is particularly critical as I raise daughters in a world still fraught with sexism. As a follower of the Christ who boldly confronted sexist cultural taboos, I aim to raise my daughters with confidence in their own God-given value.

Because we need to face ourselves. No matter how much we may try to evade or ignore it, the reality is that each of us will experience moments in which we’re horrified by ourselves. We’ve lost our patience, acted selfishly, profoundly hurt another, or done something we’re deeply ashamed of. Though I believe essential God-made good exists in every human being, a worldview that lacks an acknowledgment of what Christianity calls sin is inconsistent with actual human experience. Along with the message I repeatedly share—that God deeply loves them—my kids also need to know that Scripture speaks the truth about the human condition: We’re all broken, prone to self-centeredness, and in deep need of grace.

Because Christianity compels us beyond ourselves
. TXBlue08 rightly critiques narcissistic religiosity . . . but of course so does the Bible! God invites us, over and over in Scripture, to forego selfish ambition, to live in humility, and to focus on serving and caring for the needs of others. In a sickeningly me-me-me world, Christianity demands we see that life is not all about us, or about accumulating the most toys, or winning the rat race. Instead, God calls us to help those in need, to speak out for victims of injustice, to offer compassion to the hurting, to welcome the stranger. And so I aim to keep journeying, with my children, on the path away from self-centered living ever toward a more Christ-like way of being.

Because I love my children, I share my faith life
. I could engage in a tit-for-tat debate against atheism here, elucidating dozens more reasons why I reject the conclusions of secular humanism. But alas, there isn’t space. (You can look to theologians and philosophers such as Plantinga, McGrath, Chesterton, Pascal, and countless others for a rigorous discussion.) But ultimately, just as TXBlue08 has chosen to share with her children what she’s come to believe about this world, I too choose to raise my children with God because it is the truest way of sharing who I am.

I agree with TXBlue08’s rejection of pithy or noxious expressions of religion. I too think that parents should not feed their children a superficial myth or what Christian theology professor Roger E. Olsen, in his book Questions to All Your Answers, calls “folk religion”—a pop Christianity based on cheesy, over-used clichés and feel-good, seemingly spiritual hogwash. Like TXBlue08, I too refuse to pass on to my children a two-dimensional folk-tale-faith that can’t stand up to the test of real life.

There’s more—much more—to Christianity than the folk-religion stereotype perpetuated in the media and critiqued by atheists like TXBlue08. There’s a robust intellectual tradition, a compelling history of profound contribution to the liberal arts and the sciences, and a philosophical and theological canon that does not turn a blind eye to the tough questions (such as some of those TXBlue08 posed), but rather engages them with biblical acumen, rigorous scholarship, and spiritual honesty.

I believe in God in faith, but certainly not blind faith. Unlike the stereotype of unthinking, unquestioning automaton believers that atheists and agnostics rightly reject, the God I believe in welcomes honest human questioning, and is present in this world with divine fingerprints all over it. The God I believe in doesn’t ask us to fear or reject science, but rather to welcome and pursue scientific discovery as an avenue of learning more about God and about God’s world. And the God I believe in does not offer superficial pat answers to the deepest of human sufferings, but rather is present with us in our suffering and offers us a real spiritual hope.

Why do I raise my kids with God? Because in a world of pain and confusion, echoing with questions but also brimming with wonder and beauty, I find Christianity to be the sonorous ringing answer to the deepest questions of the human condition, resonating with Truth where secular humanism rings hollow.

Kelli B. Trujillo is a Midwest mom of three and the author of Faith-Filled Moments: Helping Kids See God in Everyday Life, The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival, and the new Flourishing Faith series for women. www.kellitrujillo.com. Twitter @kbtrujillo.

January 23, 2013

Downton Abbey, My Marriage, and Me

What the popular television series is teaching me about the values of marriage and community.

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I’ll admit it. I’m one of the millions of Downton Abbey fans. The characters are interesting, their clothes are beautiful, and the setting is enchanting. So when I can learn a little more about the way the show is created or about the history of Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed, I do.

To prepare myself for the third season, I read a book about Lady Almina Carnarvon, who was the countess of Highclere at the turn of the century and through World War I. Reading about her life was informative and charming—the best kind of reading!

I found this quote regarding Lady Carnarvon’s marriage especially fascinating: “When they were at Highclere or at their house in London, the Carnarvons were always entertaining. It was a curiously public existence compared to domestic life for most married couples today. They were hardly ever alone, and their house was always full of staff and guests.”

This “public existence” is displayed in Downton Abbey by the marriage of Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley. The newly married couple lives with her family in a house full of staff. Most dinners include at least two guests: Matthew’s mother and Lady Grantham (the inimitable Maggie Smith, who steals the show with her one-liners and facial expressions).

Sometimes I can’t help but compare Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley’s situation with my own. You see, I too recently got married. Though if I’m honest, that’s basically where the similarities end.

Both the Carnarvons of the early 20th century and the fictitious Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Crawley are surrounded by family and servants in a castle, while my husband and I live by ourselves in a modest home. The Carnarvons and the Crawleys are surrounded by family, while we have to be intentional to spend time with our relatives, even though we live in the same town.

While the Carnarvons and the Crawleys spend most of their time with the same 50 people, my husband and I have to consistently pursue deeper relationships with some of the many people God has placed in our lives. Where they have to seek time alone as a couple, my husband and I have to seek time in community.

It’s a striking comparison. Though the large amount of staff is a function of the Carnarvons’s (and Crawleys’s) wealth and status, middle class and poor families also used to live lives in community. Middle class families often lived in the same house or village as their extended families. Sometimes they even worked together in the same trade. Underprivileged families had to squeeze into small homes where privacy wasn’t an option. Community wasn’t a choice.

For my husband and me, we have to choose to pursue community. Because we have privacy and independence, it’s easy to become focused on our own wants and interests. It’s a curious consistency that as you can isolate yourself as a single, you can just as easily isolate yourselves as a couple. We have to fight our self-centered desire to retain control over our time and energy. Joining a small group or being consistent in Sunday worship can seem like a personal choice rather than a spiritual necessity.

However, a community of two is not enough to sustain a marriage.

I love Hebrews 10:25: “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

We don’t give up meeting together because we remember what Christ has done for us. His work is why we can draw near to God, hold tightly to our hope, and meet together to motivate and challenge each other to grow in love and good works.

The Christian life is not just a wedding day where you declare your love. It’s a marriage that is lived out daily. It requires renewed commitment every day. And we need more than just our spouse to push us toward love and good deeds. We need the wisdom of couples who have loved and lived longer than we have. We need the insight of men and women to show us how to persevere in becoming the people God wants us to be. We need community to experience a deeper understanding of God’s grace.

As I preach this truth to myself, it encourages me to pursue community, and not just by default as shown on screen in Downton Abbey. It makes me fight my self-centeredness, and encourages me to participate in a community of believers—both for my spiritual health, and for the health of my marriage.

Beatrice Schoenrock is Today’s Christian Woman’s marketing project and social media manager.

January 21, 2013

Sticking With Love

Here are a few reasons why, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., love should always win over hate.

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It was summer. It was Maine. It was Sunday. So my dad, a U. S. army reservist on a two-week hitch in the small town of Bangor, decided to do what he always did on Sundays. He went to church.

He didn’t know anybody in the small congregation. As a black man, he didn’t expect the few churchgoers to fall over themselves to welcome him. But this was the Sixties. This was Maine. And this was Sunday. So the last thing he expected is what happened.

After the church service—with its hymns and praying and preaching—my father was followed from the church to the parking lot by a knot of agitated men, including the preacher.

Were they following him to invite him back?

Just the opposite. Don’t come back, they told my dad.

Ignoring his military uniform, his spit-polish style, his quiet and reserved nature—and his lifetime love for the Lord—they focused instead on his skin color. That was enough, in fact, for these church-going men to look beyond their own Christian values, such as they were, and turn my dad into a fearsome enemy.

“So don’t come back,” they told my dad. And they didn’t mince words. Outnumbered, my dad didn’t challenge them.

Soon enough his reservist hitch was over, and dad returned home to the bosom of our family. Then the story went into our family’s archival memory: a Christian black man being threatened by Christian white men who warned him never return to “their” church. An odd circumstance, indeed.

Maine has a solid anti-slavery, pro-equality history. Of all places, this little dust-up shouldn’t have happened there. And yet it did.

It’s one reason why today’s national celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. feels so significant. For all the ungodly ways we in America have behaved in our race relations, we still find ourselves on this day officially called to honor, through Dr. King, our ability as a nation to become bigger and better. Maybe even godly.

Dr. King must have understood our potential as a nation when he declared, in the face of unthinkable hatred, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

It’s one of the less lofty of the many memorable statements Dr. King made. The words of the quote are simple and plain. But such simple words get at the heart of the reason why today’s holiday is so important. It’s a day that reminds us that love is something to stick with—even in moments when we might instead feel like balling up our fists to fight.
This day says don’t fight. Instead, just stick with love.

Love is illogical. All love. Romantic love. Parental love. Friendship love. Marital love. Neighborly love. National love. Cross-cultural love. We don’t love in any of these circumstances because it’s easy. We love, says this day, because that’s what God says we must do.

So love your enemies, Jesus said. Do mercy. Let this light called love shine. Even when it’s not easy. Then others will see God because we’re loving like him. In many ways we honor not the man, but the God whose teachings the man sought to promote.

This MLK Day won’t erase every painful racial memory still alive in any hurting heart. It won’t resolve any racial tension still brewing in any wounded American neighborhood, workplace, or town. It won’t transform any one service project into an ultimate solution.
The day offers, however, a reason to pause and reflect on who we can be when we’re being better. Being bigger. Being more. Being like Christ.

In those times, we’re not afraid of people who are different. We’re not controlling or possessive or fearful. We’re not standing in a church parking lot acting as though we don’t know the One on whose blood our church was founded.

On this day, instead, we remember that we can change. Not in one day. Or because of one man. This year we remember that we can evolve. Then the worst of our past fades. The best of who we can be emerges. And the Son comes out. So rise and shine. On today, let’s go love.

Patricia Raybon is a TCW regular contributor and author of My First White Friend and The One Year: God’s Great Blessings devotional. www.patriciaraybon.com.

For more TCW resources on this topic, read about how to teach kids about racial reconciliation in TCW article "Teaching Kids About Race;" about an inspiring couple working to build bridges of reconciliation in their neighborhood in "The Color of Love;" advice for building bridges in the church in "Crossing the Divide;" and about "The Color of Friendship" at this link.

January 16, 2013

Powerful Prayers for Peace and Rest

Life can easily spiral out of control, but not when prayer becomes a priority.

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It was late when I finally finished eating dinner. Tired and bleary-eyed from a long week at work, I opened the kitchen cupboard to put away my spaghetti leftovers and stopped suddenly.

What am I doing?

I shook my head and laughed and put the food in the refrigerator where it belonged. I was exhausted. The past few months had been a whirlwind, and tension was taking its toll. Of course, putting Italian food in the wrong place was the least of it. Most nights I was up late working, folding laundry, or doing “one more thing” before going to bed, wondering why the days were so long and the nights so short.

I don’t think I’m the only one who has too much to do and never enough time. Indeed, we are a generation of busy people; working hard but hardly living. Getting enough rest, replenishing rest, is often at the bottom of our priority lists.

But why?

We all have our reasons why we don’t make rest a priority. Some are self-imposed. Some people stay continually busy in order to avoid pain and disappointment. Others live a life of constant activity because they’re trying to please others or keep up appearances.

Of course, people have busy seasons in life, like a couple with a newborn baby or an accountant during tax time. But for some, being busy all the time seems to be a badge of honor. Have you ever run into someone you haven’t seen in a while and said, “Hi! How are you?” and she replies, “Good. I’m so busy these days”?

In the exhaustion of daily living, we often complain, “There’s so much to do and never enough time,” instead of saying a quiet prayer, “Lord, I am so tired. Please help me.”
And that’s exactly what God will do when you ask him.

You may not always have a large block of time to pray. Some women I know pray as they’re feeding their baby or driving to work. But make every effort to be alone with God in a quiet place, to spend time with the one who loves you most. That’s where you will find the power to live and the peace you crave.

Choose to make prayer a priority every day. Talk with God, trust in him, rest on the inside even as you work. You may even look up, smile, and say a simple “Thank you.”

Your days may be full, but your heart doesn’t have to be empty or anxious. Powerful prayer begins as you release your cares, connect with God, and allow him to work through you. Then enjoy the love and peace, freedom and power that are yours.

Here are some prayers to encourage you from sunrise to sunset:

FEELING OVERWHELMED

Lord, I am frazzled. My hands are full and my mind is reeling with all the things I have to do. Please help me to accomplish all that needs to get done each day and to find rest. As I work, help me to be productive and peaceful. As I love others, help me to be calm and encouraging. I need your peace in every area of my life today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation.

2 Thessalonians 3:16

STRENGTHEN ME, LORD

Lord, it feels like there’s so much to accomplish each day, and sometimes it’s hard to rest. I’m afraid I won’t get it all done. I’m afraid I will fail. Yet you promise to strengthen me. You are the mighty God! Help me to focus on what you can do, not what I cannot. Empower and encourage me. Give me the lasting strength only you can give. Replenish me so I can live life better and stronger. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13

GETTING MY PRIORITIES IN ORDER

Lord, I have my agenda, but what do you want done today? Help me to prioritize all that needs to get done. In the midst of life’s busyness, help me to be centered on what’s truly important and not always get caught up in the urgent. Help me to put you first, for I know that from my replenishing time with you all else flows. I will seek you first. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Matthew 6:33

REST FOR THE WEARY

Lord, I am so grateful for rest. It was your idea in the first place! Instead of tossing and turning at night with eyes wide open, I give you my worries and cares, my lists and schedules. With open hands, help me to release all I cling to so tightly. I need rest for my spirit and my body. Let me live from a calm and grounded center as I come to you each day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

Matthew 11:28–30

Adapted from Powerful Prayers for Challenging Times. Copyright ©2012 by Jackie M. Johnson. Used by permission of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com

January 14, 2013

In the Shadow of Death

To survive I need hope, so if faith and the hope of life beyond the grave is a crutch for the weak, sign me up.

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My grandmother is dying.

When she passes, she will leave my father an orphan, joining my mother who’s been an orphan for 23 years. The “next line of defense” will have passed on, ushering my parents one step closer to eternity.

Ushering me one step closer.

Gram, as I call her, has been suffering. Her 89-year-old, weak body has been starved to the point that it has begun to eat itself, leaving her at 70 pounds. She has a bit of dementia, and when she looks at a photo of my grandfather and her, she claims that she knows them but can’t quite place who they are.

When I saw her the week before Christmas, she still knew me. I held her cup of sweet tea as she sipped it and gently rubbed her hands and silently prayed that she wouldn’t linger.

Death is a terrible reality. And we can do absolutely nothing to stop it. We can only sit by helplessly and watch it speed up the clock, as the future becomes the present, which too quickly becomes the past.

When Gram leaves this earth, everything for those who remain behind will change. The home I used to visit from childhood until two weeks ago will be sold to another. Gram’s sharp wit will be quieted. The plethora of her pig collection will be sold or given away or trashed. We’ll be left only with memories.

Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame wrote of his mother’s death and the grief that accompanies it: “The difference between joyous crying and sad crying is only for the young. . . . I’m old enough to know that I’ll never again really know why I’m crying. . . . I could make [my mom] laugh. I could make her laugh harder than anyone in the world had ever made her laugh. You tell me, am I crying now with sadness or joy?”

I understand that emotion too well. I can think of the Christmases Gram spent with me and how much we both looked forward to them, and the Cubs game we went to, and the times she played grocery store with me when I was a little girl. And I have no idea whether I’m crying for joy at the memories or sadness at the loss.

Penn and I share that understanding of grief. The difference between our mourning, though, is that Penn is an atheist. When his mother died, for him, she simply ceased to exist. And truly all that is left are memories.

Some people believe that faith is a crutch for the weak. You cling to faith when life is difficult and painful so that you can make it through the suffering. There is no God who comforts. There is no eternal home. We all simply cease to exist.

As I’ve contemplated my grandmother’s certain departure, and as I’ve cried tears that were both joyous and sorrowful (not knowing the difference), I’ve realized again that if faith truly is a crutch for those who need help making it through the suffering, then sign me up.

I don’t want to live with the thought that this life is it.

I want to live believing that “the LORD’s loved ones are precious to him; it grieves him when they die,” that he comforts us, that our memories are sweet, but just a promise of the joy that is to come when we will never again be separated from our loved ones. I want to believe. I want to have hope. Because we cannot survive without that gift from our Creator.

And in the depths of the dark night, I want to be able to say, “I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more.”

I want to sing hallelujah—not just when my life is smooth and good and I’m surrounded by family and friends. I want to sing hallelujah when I’m suffering, because it means so much more. Because it’s saturated with hope.

And so as I say goodbye to my sweet Gram, I will raise my eyes to the heavens, to the Maker of heaven and earth—to the One who knit us together in our mother’s womb, who has a plan for us, who loves us, who never forgets us, who has numbered our days, who is preparing a place for us—and thank him that it isn’t truly “goodbye,” but “until we meet again.” And to that I cling hopefully and gratefully.


Ginger Kolbaba is editor of Today’s Christian Woman. Her grandmother passed away on Friday, January 11, 2013.

January 7, 2013

What Are You Waiting For?

I started the new year jobless, and have been learning what it means to wait and trust in the Lord.

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A few weeks ago I made what might be called a careless and foolish decision: in a time of economic uncertainty and at a stage of life that has me screaming for stability (read: mid-20s), I quit my job.

It made for some uncomfortable discussions when family or friends would ask me about my plans for the beginning of 2013.

“Um, to be determined?” I would say sheepishly.

But if it was poor planning on my part, it has been perfect timing on God’s. In propelling me toward an exit, God is challenging me to put my hope back in his promises—promises that begin with the birth of the Savior.

Navigating the early stages of adulthood has me perpetually “in waiting,” praying for a sustainable job, meaningful relationships, and a sense of place and purpose. I’m both an impatient and fretful person. Waiting is difficult for me, and thus, at times, so is hope. I struggle to distinguish that still, small voice of God amidst all the instructions one hears when it comes to the future. In the swirl of imperatives the world offers about living a fulfilled life, I lose track of the real source of it. I start believing that misery, hopelessness, and dissipation are part of the life God intends for me.

Henry David Thoreau wrote about this conundrum in Walden: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. . . . They honestly think that there is no choice left.”

When my job started to encroach on me like a prison, I resigned my whole being to the suffocation. I believed my situation was too small or common to matter, that bringing it before God would make me petty and ungrateful, that I couldn’t ask for deliverance.

We are a people easily enslaved, aren’t we? By fear, anger, selfishness, sorrow, weakness, indifference, and despair. But the feeling of entrapment Thoreau describes is far from the truth of our status as God’s children. Jeremiah writes in chapter 29:11 and 14: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope . . . I will be found by you . . . I will end your captivity.”

The coming of Christ promises us freedom from the world’s modus operandi—we are rescued from death and offered new life. And not just another life, but a transformed life. What’s more—that different, better life need not wait until heaven. Satan and the broken world around us would have us think so, but Jesus insists: “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10).

I think it’s perfect that Christmas is closely followed by New Year’s. With the birth of Christ, all things were—and are—made new. As applications for jobs, internships, and grad schools pile up, my future feels as hidden as ever. I don’t know what’s next. But a renewed sense of freedom has been shooing my fear out of the dark corners. As I stand on the brink of huge change, I feel God reminding me that the transformative power of his incarnation isn’t restricted to a single day of the year, phase of life, or region of my heart.

As we usher in 2013, what are you waiting on God for? Perhaps, like me, you have been pressing on with a weary soul. Maybe you too are seeking freedom from the trap of resignation. What would it mean for you to live in the hope of life that is Christ and his coming? Could you dare to believe in his promise of abundant life, on earth as it is in heaven?

Ashley Gray is a writer and regular contributor to the TCW blog.

January 4, 2013

3 Ways to Stop Human Trafficking at Home and Abroad

Speakers at the 2013 Passion Conference taught me why it’s important to help stop human trafficking worldwide and motivated me to step up.

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When I came on board with TCW in September of this year, our cover story profiled Katariina Rosenblaat, a sex trafficking victim who was rescued and now runs her own organization to help raise awareness and rescue and restore girls trapped in the trafficking industry nationwide (“There Is H.O.P.E. for Me”). Her story both shocked and amazed me—I knew sex trafficking was a problem, but everything changed when I was able to put a face to the issue. I wanted to know how I could help others like Katariina, and the article provided me with several resources to do so.

When I arrived at the 2013 Passion Conference in the Georgia Dome this week, Katariina’s story was repeated to me several hundreds time over from global human trafficking organizations and representatives gathered to motivate the 60,000 college-aged attendees to take a stand to end human trafficking worldwide. International Justice Mission president Gary Haughen, Wellspring Living founder Mary Frances Bowley, and Slavery Footprint founder Justin Dillon were among guests featured as speakers at the conference. They each motivated the crowd to get involved in the fight against human trafficking by becoming educated and donating time, money, and prayer to the fight, and their captivating stories and zeal for rescuing modern-day slaves was contagious.

Here are the top three things I learned at Passion on how to help fight human trafficking:

1) Get educated.

Mary Frances Bowley, author and founder of Atlanta-based human trafficking rescue and restoration organization Wellspring Living, recently wrote a book called The White Umbrella: Walking With Survivors of Sex Trafficking. The book is an account of her work with hundreds of sex trafficking victims in Atlanta since 2001 when Wellspring was first founded, and gives a face to the issue of trafficking in the U. S. Bowley was part of a round-table discussion at Passion 2013, and informed us that even though we may feel like ordinary people, we can make an extraordinary difference in the lives of those suffering simply by donating compassion and awareness to the cause of human trafficking by donating time and resources to organizations already functioning in our local communities.

2) Raise awareness.

Slaveryfootprint.org is a site founded by Justin Dillon to educate Americans on how they individually are contributing to the human trafficking industry worldwide. Dillon’s goal is to raise awareness, and after completing the site’s brief survey, I discovered 65 slaves work for me based on my personal lifestyle choices. Naturally, this concerned me, and led me to want to start living intentionally. As I seek ways to personally become more conscious of how my consumerism may negatively effect those in modern-day slavery, I’m thankful for Laura Leonard’s tips on healthy shopping habits as well as opportunities to donate financially to organizations.

3) Take action.

The Polaris Project, a government-funded rescue hotline available 24 hours a day (1-888-373-7888) is not only a rescue line for victims of trafficking, but is also a resource for those hoping to get involved in the fight against human trafficking in their local communities. According to the Project’s founder, Bradley Myles, with one simple phone call, you can find organizations to plug into locally that are already fighting human trafficking in your communities; give tips on trafficking establishments or rings you may have heard of in your city; and gain advice on how to start a church or community group to help raise awareness in your local community. I plan to call as soon as I arrive home in Chicago.

As daunting as the issue of human trafficking seems, I was encouraged by these worship lyrics at Passion: “Though the need is great, our God is greater” (Chris Tomlin's " I plan to go into 2013 with a renewed sense of purpose and fervor to help fight human trafficking in my local community, inspired by the words of Psalm 147:5—won’t you join me?

Allison J. Althoff is Today’s Christian Woman’s associate online editor. Follow her on Twitter @ajalthoff.

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