Clinging to Gospel Hope through Exam Week Stress

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

I took a seat and opened my laptop, feeling a sense of trepidation growing by the moment. Too much homework, not enough time. Two tests, two exams, an essay to write and two chapters to read, but I was stuck on one assignment that wasn't making sense. So much for my ideals of accomplishing it all quickly. Now I had to slow down, call the math tutor, and figure out what on earth I was missing.

During the moments things went as I hoped, it was easy to entrust my life, moment by moment, to the faithful God who created me. When the end of the semester rolled around, I found myself freshly faced with a temptation to cave to fear, anxiety and restlessness. God graciously allowed my sense of stress to reveal a need for further growth in my faith. Did I trust that God is good, in control , and knows exactly how to write my life story? Or was I quick to assume everything was going to utterly fall apart if I didn't take hold of the reins and hustle like mad?

Certainly, I must give my best if I expect good results in school, but there's a difference between a diligent heart that trusts God's hand over it all, and an attitude of fear that acts solely on an impending sense of doom.

I was loving out the latter rather intensely that day.

My soul couldn't manage to find rest until I stopped and poured out my heart before God. "Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken" (Psalm 55:22). God desires for my difficulties to draw me closer to Him; when we go through challenging seasons--in school or something else--He graciously presents the opportunity either for us to look inward or upward. Our situations of stress don't force us to become lacking in character, rather they reveal where our hope truly lies and who we actually are deep down.

I long for my moments of testing, stress, and challenge to reveal a heart that puts its utmost trust in God. That doesn't mean life always goes just beautifully and as planned, but that on both the bright and dreary days, I have placed my hope in the One who never changes.

"So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest after the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:17-20). are five ideas for cultivating a Christ-centered exam week!

1. Begin each day with God

Whether you find yourself easily accomplishing your to-dos, or struggling behind in the day, one of the best ways to keep your focus on God throughout it all is to begin each morning in the Word. Maybe you're like me and hate being overly rigid in your day-to-day scheduling. If that's the case, it may be hard to discipline yourself to start your day with a set aside time for pursuing Christ. But even those with a spontaneous sense about life need the vital refreshment of time with God. If He's worthy of our entire lives, He's certainly worthy of being pursued each day too.

Consider working through a Bible reading plan and reserving time for prayer as you awaken the morning. Though a thousand tasks await us as we prepare for finals, we can turn to the right place for strength, guidance and hope as we begin.

"Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105).

2. Cast your cares upon Him through the uncertainties

God doesn't desire for us to wait until we have it together to come before Him; it's in our brokenness and challenges that we come to know Him more intimately. When you feel overwhelmed, cast that care upon God. When you failed that test you really needed to pass, cast that pain upon Him. When you feel unmotivated to do the next thing, weary from months of study, cast your exhaustion upon Him.

Scripture tells us Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor (Is. 9:6); not only does God listen to us when we lift up our hearts before Him, it's His nature. He is the most loving, caring, kind and wise advisor and counselor we could ask for. His love for us is steadfast (Ps. 52:1b), He hears our prayer (Ps. 65:2), and He will never abandon us (Deut. 31:6).

"For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil" (1 Peter 3:12).

3. Pray through it

It's easy to go through the motions and just get assignments down, one after the next; but what if each bit of homework was the avenue of turning to God in prayer? We are used to searching out solutions to our problems: emailing the teacher, asking a classmate for input, having a friend proofread your paper, etc. and there's nothing wrong with any of those things, but what could it look like to turn to God in the moment of need? More than just asking God to help us with our own trials, though, are we praying for our professors, classmates, and those who attend our school to turn to Christ?

Charles Spurgeon brings some interesting perspective to why prayer is so vital in the moments it may feel impractical: "Not to pray because you do not feel fit to pray is like saying, 'I will not take medicine because I am too ill.'" When your exam has you too stressed? Pray. When you can't memorize one more medical term? Pray. Keep up this practice until it's your default response to bring your requests before God.

"The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective" (James 5:16b).

4. Memorize passages of Scripture that help you resist anxiety

Do you feel more prone to panic during exams? Scripture isn't just for reading, but is also to be used for fighting back against temptation. You've probably heard it said that Scripture tells us not to fear over 365 times--we could use a different verse each day to guard our hearts against fear. Thankfully, exams don't occur 365 days a year, but when we prepare our hearts to resist anxiety in school, we can take this freedom, by God's grace, into other areas of life where we may also be tempted to fear.

Scripture tells us:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7). 

Choosing prayer over fear does not mean our problems in life aren't hard, they certainly are; but in our weakness, Christ is strong (2 Co. 12:9), and that is where our hope lies. From one question to the next, examining our knowledge from the semester, our tests provide the chance to cling to truth and reject fear.

"So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:6).

5. Give thanks in the midst

When I'm head deep in algebraic graphing, the last thing I'd naturally want to do is give thanks! Perhaps if I could incinerate my math book and never have to take another course like it, I'd be compelled to rejoice. But when I'm in over my head in a subject I don't love? I tend to complain. Have you been there too, with mental lists of everything wrong with your class, what you don't like, and all the things you wish you could change? Such a class provides the perfect opportunity to praise God. The Lord doesn't want me to wait until I'm in my desired circumstances to give Him thanks, but right in the midst of everything that feels trying, I have so much to praise Him for! "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:18).

Instead of vaguely mumbling a little "thank you" here and there, think of what you can specifically praise God for. What is the most challenging part of your exam prep? Give thanks to God for how He's growing you through that. What assignments have taught you something interesting this semester? Express your gratitude to Him for providing that chance to learn. Have you met new friends or faculty who blessed your life? Praise God for those He has placed around you.

"I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds" (Psalm 9:1).

Controversial Chatter, the Super Bowl Half Time Show, and the Relevance of Modesty

Thursday, February 6, 2020

I haven't penned a word into this blog in over a month! College is all consuming to the point that, though I surely love writing, I rarely have time to say anything here. But, of course, I always seem to find a way to create a catastrophic post or two on Facebook each year, without intending to do so, and thus I need more space than a Facebook comment to reply to a large-scale conversation I have initiated.

Once upon a time I had an exchange of comments that was birthed of one of my controversial blog posts. This lady and I had known each other for a number of years and I had grown up around her family. It was clear through our discussion that we thought nearly antithetically about the issue; we were opposite in perspective. Our online conversation did not end in either's mind changed, but it did reveal each person's position on the subject. One day, my mother was shopping for groceries when she ran into this lady. My mom--who had no part in our online conversation--gave a friendly, "Hi, how are you?" The individual at first turned to say hello when, suddenly, she must have remembered my mom is my mom. That Cassidy Shooltz she had come to so dislike is related to this woman! She took her shopping cart and abruptly exited my mom's presence.


I share this with you so I can clarify a few things.

Firstly, I love Christian thinkers who speak to culture; people like Allie Beth Stuckey, Rosaria Butterfield and CS Lewis inspire me to try current events and trends of culture in light of Scripture. I find this fascinating and always learn something when we do not avoid the secular world as though Scripture is unable to inform our perspective thereof and give us guidance on how we might most lift Christ high in our modern world.

Secondly, I know that I have many friends on Facebook with whom I do not see eye to eye. (Why else would these posts explode with argumentative comments? I welcome these; it's important to think and ask good questions before drawing a conclusion). I am hopeful that my interactions with you leave you assured that:

-I value you deeply
-I'm so grateful for our friendship
-Even if you do not agree with anything I ever say, I am still thankful God has placed you in my life and I believe there is some purpose for us to have crossed paths

If you think I'm totally loony with my perspective on modesty, I hope we can still remain friends. My goal is to always engage people with the truth in love. If I truly care about you, I'm not going to side with something or tell you something I believe to be untrue. So when we have tough conversations, please know I put a lot of thought into these long before I even hit "post." Truly, I don't love you very much if I'm not willing to speak truth to you. 

And as much as the peacemaker in me wants to remain friends with each person with whom I do not agree,  I also understand that sometimes truth presses and convicts us in such a way that we know we must either choose Truth or part ways with it. No middle path, but a fork in the road; a decision to be made. I do not blame myself when people (like the lady in the grocery store) cut me out of their lives. I am always open to hearing if you felt I was not kind to you or should have spoken to you in another context. But I know there are also times when it's Scriptural truth that people have a problem with. In such a case, can we chat before you hit block? I'd love to hear your story, and I would love to hear why this conversation is painful to you. God's Word is a double edged sword; it cuts the sin and weakness in us deeply, but oh how it brings true healing and freedom when we surrender to Christ. 

On to the conversation you're actually here for.

Why did you share the post about the Super Bowl Half Time Show?

As I shared above, I love analyzing culture from a Christian perspective. That will always be a part of what I share on social media and on this blog. I will note that there are a lot of things I have not commented on recently, but the half time show went to an extreme, knowing millions of families would be tuning in nationwide. I wasn't going to say anything until a Christian individual published their perspective stating it's culturally normative for JLo and Shakira to dance this way, so we cannot speak to this issue. As though it's above Scripture or the ability to discern simply because this may be a cultural practice to dance in this manner. I was concerned with this hermeneutic. More on that in the next question....

If it's culturally normative for JLo and Shakira to dance that way, who are we to say it's wrong?

I'm going to begin answering this question by asking you a question; have you made your relationship with Jesus Christ to be compartmental? Or do you recognize that your relationship with Christ not only pertains to going to church on Sunday, but ought to lead to real change in every sphere of your life, empowered by His grace? Scripture is not only for teaching you how to pray; it is also for teaching you how to think and discern. Knowing your God more fully through His Word should not lead you to a place where you separate your "religious thoughts" from your cultural thoughts, modesty thoughts, family thoughts, or any other kind of thoughts. 

"That in all things He [Christ] might have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:8). "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). 

Allow God's Word to inform your perspective of absolutely everything. We don't find passages on every subject imaginable in the Bible, but our hearts should always be moldable and humble before God, seeing His Word as always True and Right! A great many Christians reveal who they've been spending more time with--culture or their God--when they comment on current events. May Jesus be brought all the glory with every word we speak as we discern current events.

God's Truth reigns. Whenever something is being done in a culture that God's Word defines as wrong, who is more credible? God's Word or that culture's practices? "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:15-17). Culture is not the author or definer of truth; Jesus is. Ultimately, every people group and every culture will answer to God for their lives, "For it is written, 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.' So then each of us will give an account of himself to God" (Romans 14:11-12). Begin discerning an issue with the Word of God. See the culture through the lens of the Word of God, not the Word of God through the lens of the culture.

"We cannot regard God's Word as moldable to human opinions and ideas. We must find out what God says and then build our lives upon that unshakable foundation" (Leslie Ludy).

Isn't it judgmental to call this out as wrong?

After the Super Bowl, a great many voices chimed in on social media to express what they found to be amusing or excellent about the half time show. I saw many of these posts in my newsfeed. These performers were being praised for a show that included a lot of sexualized content; for example, use of a stripper pole, JLo touching her crotch repeatedly, revealing outfits, raunchy dancing, and not to mention that many of the songs preformed had a common theme: sex. Is it judgmental to look at even just that list and conclude that there may have been something wrong?

Are we willing to shine light on something questionable even if that may be uncomfortable? 

We're so afraid of judging everyone that we become people who discern nothing. May I share something with you? This performance occurred publicly, so it is ok to respond publicly with respect. People are fine with "positive" things being shared about the event; they aren't too bothered if you share a meme or blip of a thought on it, as long as you "support" their performance. They do have an issue when we say something was wrong. I believe this is in large part because we live in a world that calls a great many things good, but does not have a moral framework for understanding when things are bad. We can't call anything wrong because we have to make sure we're being empathetic to every possible perspective in the history of the world (other than the Bible because that's prudish and judgmental). 

That's what I discovered in my little Facebook debate. When we dug deeper and deeper into why one person in the conversation found utterly nothing wrong with this performance, the individual admitted to not believing in moral absolutes. I'm not sure that's the case for every person who liked the performance, but Christians with a conscience cannot watch this performance and not be at least somewhat disturbed. 

Shouldn't women be free to dress however they wish?

As a Christian, I know that ultimately my life is not my own. 

"The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body [...] Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes on body with her? For, as it is written, 'The two will become one flesh.' But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:13b,15-20, emphasis added). 

I belong to Jesus! This joyful reality frees me to live, act and dress selflessly 

We are taught culturally that everything about us--our looks, manner of dressing, sexuality, etc.--are forms of self-expression, but as a follower of Jesus, I know I do not primarily exist to express myself and my own individuality to this world, but I exist for Christ to be exalted in and through my life. That doesn't mean we cannot be unique and creative or that we're not individuals, but we don't bank our identity on these things. My looks, manner of dressing, sexuality and every other area of my life exist to bring God glory! How amazing is that?!

Is modesty even relevant today?

A great followup question to this one is what does Scripture have to say about modesty?

"Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with that is proper for women who profess godliness--with good works" (1 Timothy 2:9-10).

"Do not let your adorning be external--the braiding of hair and the putting on gold jewelry, or the clothing your wear--but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious" (1 Peter 3:3-4).

Scripture is relevant to our lives as Christians, and thus modesty is also relevant, even in a society that often does not value or appreciate modesty 

Dressing modestly does not have to be prudish or bland; it can be joyful, colorful and interesting. These passages of Scripture show us that ultimately, though, the emphasis is not on our outward dressing; it begins with a heart that loves and honors God. Don't dress modestly out of drudgery, but out of freedom, knowing this is one more way we can worship our worthy God today. 

Do we dress modestly to prevent men from lusting?

As women, we should be excited about the opportunity to dress modestly first and foremost to bring God glory! We should also care about our brothers in Christ as they fight for purity; they are responsible for their own thoughts, however this does not mean we have a justification for dressing in whatever way we feel like. I would recommend listening to this short message from C.J. Mahaney that has given me some really helpful perspective.

My purpose for dressing modestly--and for living at large--is not for men, but for Jesus Christ because He is worthy of my everything!

What if it's not immodest, I'm just confident?

Our culture promotes self-esteem; Scripture promotes it's antonym: self-denial. "Then Jesus told His disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). My confidence does not come from my looks, accomplishments, clothing, schooling, family, you name it. As a Christian, my ultimate hope is not meant to teeter on the things of earth. Christ-confidence is a hundred times stronger than the haughtiest self-confidence. When your security is found in a perfect Savior who has never failed, ever lives to intercede on your behalf, and tends to all your needs, we discover a selfless confidence that is not out to make self further known, but to exalt Christ more! You, my friend, were not created to look inward to find your worth, but to look up at your amazing God who has taken your place. Jesus laid His very life down for us when we were in the depths of sin; if He had not intervened, we would certainly spend an eternity separated from Him. But oh His grace! Now that we have become His children, we represent Christ every place we go. May we set an example of a Christ-exalting fortitude that finds not its boast in self, but in the One who is worthy of all the praise, all the adoration and all the glory.

In short, I'm disappointed that the Super Bowl half time show was so provocative, but I hope that through this conversation you've been encouraged afresh to live entirely and devotedly for the One who created you. Be bold in conviction and dare to discern the issues of culture against Scripture and bring them before God in prayer. Our Jesus is so able to bring change in our world for His glory. This culture is not beyond His power to rescue.