A Day in Ezra: Chapter 5

A Day in Ezra: Chapter 5

EZRA CHAPTER 5

Key Verses:

2 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.

Central Truth:

When we are doing God’s work, He protects us and sends others to guide us.

Fifteen years have passed since the Jewish people were told to stop rebuilding the temple. The Lord provided prophets to help guide and encourage His people, reminding them that they are doing God’s work. There has been a phrase floating around the Christian world lately: “God will never give you something you can’t handle”. Many Christian leaders are pushing back, explaining that this statement isn’t true. God will often give you things you can’t handle but he will always provide help. Not only does he never leave you, but he sends others to encourage you and provide wise counsel. I don’t know how many times I have walked into church on Sunday and heard the exact message I needed to hear that day. Or been at my community group and been loved on and encouraged to fight the good fight. Things may seem dire or even impossible but God never gives us an impossible quest. We always win His battles, whether they look like wins in our eyes or not. Just as the rebuilding of the temple was hindered, we must remember that the setbacks in our lives are just platforms for God’s perfect plan.

Today’s Prayer:

Lord, thank you for never leaving my side and always providing a helping hand in my time of need. Please help me not to be discouraged by the seemingly impossible tasks that lay ahead. Please help me to keep my eyes and heart set on you and your promises. Amen.

A Day in Ezra: Chapter 4

A Day in Ezra: Chapter 4

EZRA CHAPTER 4

Key Verses:

4 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build 5 and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Central Truth:

God doesn’t promise us easy lives. He promises that we will be persecuted because of Him. But take heart, for He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

In Chapter 4, we see the Jewish people being ‘discouraged’. We see men determined to keep the temple from being built. My small group leader in college once told me that Satan will try anything he can to stop us from following Christ and doing His will and that we often know we are doing the right thing because things get harder. Matthew Henry writes, “Every attempt to revive true religion will stir up the opposition of Satan, and of those in whom he works”. As daunting as this sounds, God promises that he will be with us every step of the way. He never leaves us or forsakes us (Deuteronomy 31:6). And He never leaves the Jewish people either. So despite the hard times and trials we go through, we know that God is with us and that HE WINS.

Today’s Prayer:

Lord, thank you for never leaving my side, even in days of trouble and weakness. Thank you for giving me your strength. Please help me not to be discouraged when Satan attacks, for it is my tendency to doubt your plans. Amen.

A Day in Ezra: Chapter 3

A Day in Ezra: Chapter 3

EZRA CHAPTER 3

Key Verses:

12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses,old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.

Central Truth:

Don’t let the memory of past troubles drown out the knowledge of current blessings.

In Chapter 3, the Jewish people are laying the foundation of God’s temple. Many of overjoyed at the prospect at having a place to worship their God again. However, there are some who remember the old Temple and the old days and weep because they are gone. The Temple will never be as glorious as the first. We often do the same thing today. At least, I do. I focus on the negatives and blind myself to the blessings God gives me NOW. At THIS moment. It is easy to get caught up in how rough you had/have it. I’ve gotten pretty good at picking out how sinful I am and how messed up my life is. I forget to be thankful. I forget to worship Him for all the things he has given me. He has even given me His son so that I can live in perfection with him forever. And I find that once I stop concentrating on all the bad things and focus on the good, my attitude toward life, others, and Christ changes! I am happier and hopeful, knowing full well that this world is not my home. God loves me and He love you and we will see His glory. That’s a promise (Psalm 27:13-14).

Today’s Prayer:

Lord, thank you for all your blessings. Thank you for who you are. I confess that my mind is clouded with the past and I tend to dwell in these thoughts. Please help me to focus on your love and truth and not myself. Amen.

Working For The Weekend

Working For The Weekend

workWe’ve all had those seasons in life where we really could care less about our work or school. For my friends about to graduate, senioritis has kicked in and all you can see is the open road to freedom. For all us post-grads, we are working for the weekend or 5:00 pm. I know too well how easy it is to check out, to coast through responsibilities and projects. Eye on the prize. But we really do miss a lot by not giving our all to the moment at hand. God has given us each life stage, each season, for a reason. These times are opportunities for personal growth and God promises that they are for our ultimate good (Jeremiah 29:11; James 1:2-4). Whatever we do, we are called to work diligently with all our heart, as if working for the Lord and not for man so that our actions can be a testimony for Christ (Colossians 3:23). The world is desperate for Christian accountants, Christian copywriters, Christian grocery store clerks, and Christian college students. Be present where God have placed you.

But work and school aren’t everything.

“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (John 6:27)

It is when work and school start to consume our thoughts and define our worth that we’ve lost sight of their true purpose. God calls us to live in the world but to not be of the world.  So yes, the purpose of work and school in ‘the world’ is to provide income and stability. But in the eternal world, these are just mediums for spiritual growth, whether it is our own or the growth of others through our interaction with them:

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

When our work is hard, we are called to endure:

“We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it.” (1 Corinthians 4:12)

We are even called to work in general!:

“He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, But he who pursues vain things lacks sense.” (Proverbs 12:11)

“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. ” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-9)

And everything we do, be it filing, that research project, or your business trip, should be done for Christ:

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

so whether you are in a job you love, a job you hate, or your still waiting for graduation, think of your work as an opportunity. Who knows what God will make of it?

Remember the Ladies?

Remember the Ladies?

For the past couple months, I have been reading posts about the supposed “War on Women”, how current politicians are so out-of-touch with the modern woman, and how women’s rights are being threatened. The primary concern at the moment is healthcare and the woman’s right to control her own body. What the world doesn’t realize is not all woman are on the left side of the argument. I for instance, do not support abortion. Yes, I have the right to my own body and my life but the life inside my womb belongs the little boy or girl I will carry one day. By giving me the right to abort a pregnancy, you are denying the right of the future generation to their’s. So please stop grouping me into your “War”. But let’s put the pro-life/pro-choice issue aside for a second. I think we, as a culture, are missing an even greater threat to women: the growing animosity between us. Women were designed by God with attributes and talents that differ greatly from our male counterparts. He made us relational, loving, and nurturing beings. Now not every woman feels like she encompasses these qualities, but whether you think so or not, it is at your very core. Women throughout history have raised the heroes of wars and the leaders of nations. We’ve banded together in support of Patriots and rallied together for the right to vote; but recently, we’ve been creating a divide between us that will have a detrimental effect on the next generation, if it hasn’t already.

We’ve suffered abuse and discrimination in the past and desperately want to be seen as the equals we are. We want to prove to the world that we are valuable. So we created the feminist movement in an attempt to show the boys that we’ve got what it takes, demanding to be taken seriously. But instead of cultivating a society of women in support of each other, we’re tearing each other apart. As we try to ‘beat the boys’ and prove our worth, we put each other down in the process. We call each other ‘ugly’ and starve our bodies to fit into some made-up image of the ideal woman. Inside, we’re empty shells of femininity. Instead of praising the uniqueness and beauty that every woman possesses, we point out each other’s flaws in our race to the top of the list of America’s Hottest Women. We chastise the world for objectifying woman and we turn around and use our bodies for personal, financial, and political gain. We play ‘stupid’ for attention and laugh at the women who study hard. We prey on the weak to make us feel strong. What has happened to us?

We’ve risen through the corporate world with much success, which is truly something to be proud of. We have women CEOs and entrepreneurs, even Secretaries of State. But while successful in that realm, we’ve put down the ladies who have chosen to stay at home, caring for our children. We call them ‘traditional’ and blame them for keeping us back instead of affirming them as they toil day after day in arguably the toughest job on the planet. All we gain from this is a larger divide between us. We’ve even botched the term “feminist”. We’ve perverted a word that was intended to bond us together and turned it into a word that divides us, tearing a hole in our collective heart. Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down”. Our ‘house’ is the world we live in and we’re tearing it down brick by brick.

We’ve lost sight of who we are: a being designed by God. Perfect in every flaw. We’ve let our insecurities rule our lives instead of finding our security in our Heavenly Father. And we’ve tried to find our value in temporary things and based on mortal standards instead of recognizing our value lies in Him alone. Let’s stop the real ‘War on Women’ and start loving each other. Let’s become something our daughters can be proud of.

You are Remarkably Made

You are Remarkably Made

Growing up, I always had great self-esteem. I knew I was cute, smart, and well-liked. I worked as a teen model for the likes of JC Penny’s and Dillard’s and, due to being a twin, was constantly being told I was “ADORABLE”. I considered myself a contrarian, my mind firmly set against being a “normal teenager”. In fact, my Nana repeatedly tells the story of me announcing this to my family. In high school, I was a huge nerd and PROUD. I loved school and the dramatic arts and flourished in them. I was well-known (again due to being a twin) and joked about being the ‘popular nerd’. Being a late bloomer, my body really didn’t start changing until late highschool/early college (making my ‘awkward stage’ exponentially more awkward). I began to gain weight in all the normal places for women and, in the beginning, never paid it much mind. I embraced my body! I didn’t care. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, and looked down on those who counted calories and watched their figure. “How silly and vain!” I thought. Then college happened. Everyone warns about the ‘freshman 15’ but amazingly, I lost 10 pounds. This encouraged my horrible eating habits that lead to weight gain and a blatant disregard for the importance of exercise. But again, I paid it no mind. Until one day, I started noticing. I honestly couldn’t tell you what started it. Maybe it was the fact I lived on a campus located in one of the prettiest and richest cities in Dallas. Or the fact that girls at SMU wear heels to football games and sundresses to class. All I know is something happened and I started caring. I started realizing that I didn’t have the body that was in the magazines, on TV, and on campus. Why now? Why did I decide to notice this NOW? The next two events that stand out the most on my journey down a slippery slope are my parents separating and my trip to NYC. I remember flying to NYC the morning after a very traumatic family event (I’m choosing not to discuss the event so as to respect the privacy of those involved.), seeing a musical that almost exactly represented my family’s current situation (Next To Normal), and sitting at Junior’s stuffing my face with a slice of the best cheesecake I have ever had in my life. I was sitting there, eating this cake, feeling completely full and disgusted with my inability to stop eating. That moment changed my life. I wish I could tell you that it was a positive change. Perhaps, it started out that way. Unfortunately, my control freak nature combined with a lack of control of my family situation and me being slightly overweight, turned into an eating disorder. I wasn’t anorexic or bulimic, but had an unhealthy relationship with food and my body. Though I did in fact need to change my diet and start making healthier choices, I took this to the extreme. Being an impatient person, I decided to cut almost all fat from my diet. I ate iceberg lettuce with only vinegar as dressing and gave up all fried food and most kinds of meat. I said ‘no’ to dessert and started working out daily. I would go to bed hungry most nights simply because I was afraid my body was ‘faking it’ and that I was in fact just giving in to my old “eat for the sake of eating” habit. All this sounds super unhealthy, which it was, but to be honest, I felt great! I had more energy, I was losing weight, and I had something to focus my mind on. But what started as an innocent attempt to get into shape turned into an obsession with attaining the ‘ideal’ body. Despite all my hard work, I wasn’t happy with what I saw in the mirror. If I could only lose X number of pounds or fit into “insert size here” pants. If only I could weigh under X amount. I ended up losing 25 pounds within a matter of months. I think the lowest amount I weighed was 111, which by health standards was the minimum on the spectrum of a healthy weight for my height and age. I was tired all the time and constantly worried about food. I had become one of those girls I had made fun of in high school. Throughout this whole process, I didn’t think I had a problem. I figured since I never skipped meals and was making ‘healthy’ choices, I was ‘ok’. I could control this. I could CONTROL this. I wasn’t starving myself or purging. I simply was hyperfocusing on my eating. Throughout all this, my family situation was getting worse and ultimately ended with a divorce. But I was ‘ok’. Or so I thought. Thankfully, the Lord brought two people into my life who cared enough about me to ask me some tough questions. I am equally thankful that the Lord humbled me to a point where I was eager to listen. A part of me was waiting on someone to call me out. Waiting for proof that someone cared about me and my life. After the confrontation, I opened up to my small group and shared my struggles. With accountability and the determination to be healthy, I adjusted my diet to a healthy one and began to teach myself how to value my body. Not by the world’s standard but by the only standard that truly matters: my Father’s.

Growing up in church, I was constantly fed the line “God made you special”. This is fact. No bells, no whistles, no fluff. God did, in fact, make me special. But sadly, this profoundly beautiful statement has become cliché. We hear it so many times we stop believing it. So about 2 years ago, I started re-teaching myself about the beauty and wonder of God’s creation: Me. I, Alexandra Braunwyn Faith Gatewood, am like no other. I was crafted in my mother’s womb before she even knew I existed (Jeremiah 1:5). I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-16). God crafted every inch of my body with an artist’s eye and a Father’s love. He designs for a purpose. He designed my height, my weight, the length of my arms, and the color of my eyes. He added special details to make me unique, different from any other person on this planet, even my twin. But the Lord made something even more beautiful. He made my soul, my spirit and being. And no amount of dieting, exercise, or plastic surgery can alter His masterpiece.

One of my all-time favorite Bible verses is Proverbs 31:30 which says that “charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” I love this verse because it reminds me that everything is temporary, even my body. In the end, we all wrinkle, we all gain weight, and we all ultimately pass away. But the single most important thing in our lives is our relationship with the Lord. We are not here to please man, who is fickle. We are here to know the one true God.

I think the hardest part about struggling with food and exercise is the fact that, in moderation, it is necessary to live a healthy life. It’s when you find your happiness and self-worth in these things that the problems start. The Bible even addresses this in 1 Timothy 4:8 saying, “Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next”. The gym will only bring me temporary happiness but my quiet times, scripture memory, and fellowship with other believers will keep me eternally ‘fit’. My body is a temple and should be treated as such (1 Corinthians 6:19). It is not to be used for my glory but for His. I mentioned before that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”. I recently heard a different translation, saying ” we are remarkably and wonderfully made”. I love this translation because it is true. It it truly remarkable how we’re made. The human body is complex, intricate, fragile, resilient, and made in His image. We have the fingerprints of God on every cell in our bodies. We are a miracles by every definition. Take some time to dwell on that.

Sadly, I can’t say that I am cured. It is a daily struggle and, with the omnipresence of the media, it is nearly impossible to escape the World’s view of beauty. But I am equppied to handle attacks from all sides. I have my sword of Truth and have surrounded myself with people who know the true value of beauty, loving me for the woman God designed me to be.

So for those of you out there, men and women alike, who struggle with something like this, you are not alone. You have a Father is Heaven who loves you and has put you exactly where He wants you to be, looking exactly how you look, and with the talents you possess. And He said, “It was good”.

Let’s Hear it for the Boys

Let’s Hear it for the Boys

You’ve probably seen or heard the phrase, “I’d rather have a Proverbs 31 woman than a Victoria’s Secret model”. This little campaign sparked out of Baylor University and caught fire. I am a huge supporter of this biblical campaign for many reasons. However, it has started me thinking why there isn’t a male-equivalent campaign. Yes, culture is attacking women, telling them they need to be rail thin, have big boobs, perfect skin, etc. etc. But culture is lying to men, too. The media is full of images of men that encourage sexual promiscuity, laziness, passivity, and other worldy passions. Any man on TV today fits this image. If I see another “family” show where the father is stupid and the wife rules the household, constantly repimanding her spouse for his laziness, I’m going to throw my remote out the window (or exit my Hulu window). This is percieved as “humor”. I don’t think there is anything humorous about a stupid, lazy man. That is not attractive and that is not ok. The other extreme is the “man’s man” who is tall, built, and highly sucessful. His success is determined by the clothes he wears, the car he drives, and the number of zeros in his salary. He controls his life by the credit card in his pocket and is admired by all. This image teaches men that money and success is the answer to all their problems and defines his worth. This leads to husbands and fathers who would rather provide for their families financially than emotionally. They would rather work overtime than spend time at home with their children. Now this doesn’t mean they don’t love their families, they have just been taught that this is the ‘right’ way to do things. The media also encourages sexual promiscuity in men of all ages. Boys are taught their worth is derived by the number women they sleep with (Just watch any show on ABC Family or even How I Met Your Mother, among others). Character’s lives are defined by the constant attempt to get laid and how to manipulate women to do so. To make matters worse, men who have chosen to remain sexually pure are portrayed as weak and are the butt of all the jokes. Staying ‘pure’ is seen as unrealistic, undesirable, and unmanly. Just like women, men are told they have to look a certain way to be handsome: big muscles, tall, athletic… Newsflash ladies, males models are airbrushed, too. Beauty is fleeting in men just as quickly as in women. Ryan Gosling is not always going to look that way. What is more important is the way he acts; His character. One’s character never fades.

As a women striving to be a Proverbs 31 woman, I can only wonder why there is such an emphasis on women. Men should be equally encouraged to pursue a Christ-like character: A man who loves his wife as Christ loves the church, giving himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). A man who is faithful and loyal, giving honor to marriage (Proverbs 5:15, Hebrews 13:4). A man who doesn’t take advantage of the women in his life (Col. 3:19). A man who stands firm in his beliefs and who is courageous (1 Cor. 16:13). A man who is not passive, but subdues his world (Genesis 1:28, Psalm 8:3-8). A man who is merciful, just, and humble (Micah 6:8). A man who rules his household in a way that earns respect, not with laziness and passivity, and not in a way that engenders fear (1 Timothy 3:4-5). And, above all, a man who fears the Lord (Psalm 128:1-4).

These are the qualities and characteristics we should be encouraging in our sons, our fathers, our husbands, and our guy friends; encouraging men to be who God calls them to be, not this world.

If men would rather have a Proverbs 31 woman than a Victoria’s Secret model, then I’d rather have a godly man than a man who defines his worth by worldly standards and worldy pursuits.

A Beautiful Redemption

A Beautiful Redemption

My family has been through a lot over the past 2 years. I have been constantly reminding myself to consider my trials pure joy (James 1) and that God is in control. Though I’ve told myself this many times, it didn’t really sink in until tonight. Not only does God have a plan, but he knows our sinful nature. He knows all. Nothing is hidden from Him. He knows its our nature to sin and has planned ahead in order to bring about His glory and the glory of His Son, Jesus Christ.

“For we know all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

It is truly a comfort to know that though the trials we go through are caused by our sin, our sins are not too big or too messy for God. He has already planned ahead and made everything work out in the end. No matter what happens, nothing can stop God’s children from being redeemed through Jesus Christ. That is God’s plan: an eternal relationship with us, His children. All we have to do is accept His gift.

So God really does have a plan. God has planned to use these trials I’m going through to bring me closer to Him and make me a stronger daughter of Christ. As hard as it can be at times, I’m going to take every day as a gift from God, no matter what happens. Despite the trials we face daily, each day is truly a joy and ultimately brings us one day closer to an eternity with our Heavenly Father.

And knowing that brings me pure joy.