Does God only Love Us, or Does He Actually Like Us Too?

Lately, I’ve been reading through a book called Grace Walk by Steve McVey.  So far, it’s been a great journey and helping me through a lot of self-worth and self-esteem issues that I struggle with in my life.  In the opening chapter, McVey says this about how he used to feel about God’s feelings towards him, “I knew that He always loved me, but felt that He probably didn’t like me…”(McVey, 2005).

Gosh did that ring true with me.  I felt the weight of that statement very deeply in my soul and took a long while to process it.  So, the question remains, does God just love us, or does He actually like us too.?

I think that this question arises initially from a distorted view of what God’s love is.

This perspective of God’s love paints Him as a disapproving disgruntled parent who obligingly is forced to love His children because it’s in His nature. It’s as if He has no choice but to love us and if it were up to Him, He wouldn’t. He just loves us because He has to. This view shows a God who seems to be constantly disappointed in His children and puts up with them out of pure duty.

The truth is radically different as McVey points out late in the book. God loves us AND likes us.  Psalm 16:3 says, “As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.” Psalm 149:4 says, “For the Lord takes pleasure in His people.”  God doesn’t love us obligingly.  He not only loves us, He takes pleasure in us and delights in us.

Just go back to the beginning of the world. When God looked out over His creation, “He saw ALL that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”  That “all” includes every single person ever born. Later, the Psalmist says in Psalm 104:31, “Let the Lord be glad in His works.” God didn’t make a mistake when He created us. He still looks at His creation and says, “It is very good.”  That includes each and every human on the earth. We are all His creation and not only does He love us (by choice mind you, not by obligation), He actually likes us as well. In His eyes, we are his delight, His pleasure, and we are very good.  That thought, to me, is so encouraging, uplifting, and fulfilling.

 

I hope you’re encouraged by that thought as well.  This is the first part of a series that I’m doing on love stories from the Bible.  If you want to follow the blog and get a notification whenever I post something new, simply click on the pop-up in the lower right hand corner.

 

McVey, Steve. Grace Walk. Harvest House Publishers, 2005.

The Cattle and the Food Shortage

Again, I know that it’s several days after Christmas, but I wanted to share a few more thoughts about the Christmas story and how it relates to us.  Today, I wanted to focus on the cattle in the Christmas story.

“Then they wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.”

 

The cattle are a very overlooked character in the Christmas story. Luke 2 says that after Jesus was born, that they laid him in a manger to sleep since there was no room for them to sleep anywhere. Although you’re probably all aware, a manger is where an animal’s owner would place its food. Most people probably assume that this manger was already full of hay for the animals to eat so it made a decently soft bed for Jesus to sleep on.  

I want to focus on the cattle this week because, although this might be going a little far, they had to give up their food in order to give Jesus a place to sleep. If Jesus is sleeping on their hay and in their “food bowl,” then they can’t eat it. They sacrificed their own physical needs in order to provide a physical need for someone else.

Just like the homelessness I talked about last time, hunger is a huge problem in the United States. According to Feeding America, a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating hunger and poverty in America, over 37 million Americans are currently considered “food insecure.” * Of those 37 million, over 11 million were children (feedingamerica.org).  

You may think that these statistics only apply to big cities with big city problems.  However, the food insecurity rate in Medina County, according to The Akron Canton Regional Foodbank, sits at 9.7%. That means that here in Medina County, one out of every 10 persons has limited or uncertain access to enough nutritional food to support a healthy lifestyle. That percentage, when translated to a hard number, is 17,060 individuals who are food insecure here in our own community. 6,560 of those individuals are children who do not have the means to support themselves at all (akroncantonfoodbank.org).

It’s hard to imagine being food insecure if you’ve never been food insecure before. If 9.7% of Medina County is food insecure, it means that 90.3% is not. So the vast majority of us don’t know what it feels like to be unsure of where our next meal is coming from or if it is coming at all.  

So this Christmas, as we focus on the cattle in the story of the birth of Christ, try to put yourselves into the shoes of someone who struggles with hunger. So much around the holidays is focused on food. And don’t hear this wrong. Food is good. God gave us food to enjoy as well as provide nourishment. However, I would ask that as you try to empathize with being hungry, that you would consider a non-profit or food bank that helps alleviate it. There is so much good that you can do.

 

* Being food insecure is defined as a household that has limited or uncertain access to enough food to support a healthy life.

“Facts About Hunger and Poverty in America.” Feeding America, Feeding America, https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/facts.

“Hunger in Medina County.” Akron Canton Foodbank, Akron Canton Foodbank, 3 May 2018, https://www.akroncantonfoodbank.org/hunger-medina-county.

 

 

Article originally posted on Northside Christian Church’s website.  For the full article and to find out more about how Northside helps to alleviate its community’s hunger problem, head to http://www.northsideweb.org/assistance or just click here

Journey To Bethlehem – Homelessness

So, I know that today is actually December 26th, but I wanted to post a couple thoughts I had on the Christmas story and how it relates to life for us today.  So, here’s my first thought based on Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem and the struggles they encountered there.

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:1-7 English Standard Version

 

Imagine being Joseph in this scenario. You’ve just left your home in Nazareth with your very pregnant wife and journeyed at a minimum 4 days and 70ish miles to get to Bethlehem. As the man of the family during that time, your role is as the protector and provider for your family.  However, upon arrival in Bethlehem, you find that you are unable to provide for your wife and unborn child and may have a very hard time protecting them as well if you are forced to stay on the street. Imagine the panic and anxiety there, the feeling of utter helplessness in having no place to stay.

 

Or imagine being Mary. You’ve spent the past nine months praying over your child. You’ve been worrying about and making preparations for his birth. You want everything to be perfect. You feel an overwhelming feeling of need to protect and care for your child. All that to find that you have no place to stay upon arriving in Bethlehem, the likely place that you will give birth to your child.  The clean home that you prepared for your child to spend the first days of his life is sitting useless and unused 70 miles away. You have no idea where or how your child is going to be born or cared for. Again, imagine the feeling of utter helplessness in having no place to stay.  

 

Homelessness is one of the saddest and most despairing states of life to be in. There is no certainty, no stability, and no feeling of safety and security that can be found within a place of refuge called home. It is disheartening and, to be completely honest, even dehumanizing. And, although the United States ranks second worldwide in wealth per capita, according to data obtained in January 2018, there are over 550,000 homeless persons in our country. Of those, almost 200,000 were unsheltered, meaning that they literally lived with no roof over their head at night…in January. Specifically in Ohio, in the year 2018, there were over 10,000 persons who experienced chronic homelessness and over 29,000 public school students who were homeless at some point.  (Data from United States Interagency Council on Homelessness). These are just a few of the startling statistics that show one very alarming thing. Homelessness is a big problem even here in the United States.  

 

It’s an easy thing to sit back and pass judgement on someone who is homeless. Some people make comments saying things like if someone is homeless in the United States it’s his or her own fault, that there are plenty of fast food jobs or other jobs available, that there’s no such thing as real poverty in the United States if you compare it to other countries. However, as Christians, our job is not to analyze how or why someone is in the position of need that he or she is in. Our job is not to compare one person’s poverty in one country to another person’s poverty in another.  Our job is to see a person in need and care for that person in need. When the Bible commands us to give to those in need or care for those in need, there is never any addendum or addition to the command. We are simply to care for those in need.

 

This holiday season, as we reflect on the Christmas story and the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, we focus on Joseph and Mary’s homelessness. The fact is that someone took them in and gave them at least some place to stay. We are called to do the same. We encourage you to prayerfully consider researching ways to give from your own blessings to care for the homeless in our communities.

 

Article was originally posted in full on Northside Christian Church’s Webstie http://www.northsideweb.org/blog.  Head  here to read it in its entirety.  Merry Christmas.

 

Finding God in the Fall – Part Two: Rest and Rhythm

Rhythm is such an important part of our lives.  Almost everyone’s lives eventually fall into some kind of rhythm.  We generally wake up at a certain time, eat lunch and dinner at a certain time, and have some sort of routine we do before bed.  Even week to week our lives generally have rhythm.  We work five days (most of us) and then have Saturday and Sunday off and back to work Monday.  For children, this is even more ingrained with their daily school schedules.

On the outside, this constant predictable rhythm can seem mundane and banal.   However, I believe that it is also comforting and reassuring to have that rhythm.  I think that living our lives in a rhythm is very important.  It’s one of the reasons that working night shift or working a changing work schedule is so difficult.  Our minds and bodies never get set into the kind of relaxing rhythm we need.

That’s kind of the problem with summer.  Don’t get me wrong.  Summer is my favorite time of year.  I love the heat, the sunshine, the long days, everything.  However, summer also has a way of throwing us off our rhythm. For many people, summer is a time of constant movement.

Life picks up speed in the summer and the rhythm of life that we found over the last 8 months is completely thrown off.  There are always things to do and places to go. There are family reunions, weddings, vacations (that always seem to be more tiring that relaxing), and graduation parties. There is grass to mow, hedges to trim, and flowerbeds to keep.  The kids are playing three sports at the same time while also doing the summer reading program at the library and taking swim lessons.  Friends come to visit.  We stay up late for fireworks.  Our rhythm is completely thrown off in the constant busyness.

Fall is a time to slow down.  The work and busyness of summer is over.  Life goes back to a steady rhythm. Although this can seem monotonous, it can also be peaceful.  Our lives need rhythm and consistency.  Within that rhythm and consistency, we can plan for more meaningful time spent with God.   We know exactly when we need to wake up and can plan on doing that a little bit earlier to center our day on God before we start.  We know when we need to go to sleep so we can pause to reflect on the day a little bit before that and refocus on God.  This rhythm, rest, and consistency enables us to better center our lives and perspective on our relationship with our God.  Connection with God in the fall continues with focusing on rhythm and rest.

With that refocus on God, I find that a lot of the depression, anxiety, and all around malaise of life kind of disappears.  Refocusing on something and someone bigger than myself reminds me that my problems are not as big as they seem and that there is always someone caring about me.  I can find this through finding God in the fall.

 

This is part two of a three part series.  If you would like to get an email letting you know when I post the third part and new series, just click on the link in the lower right corner of your screen to subscribe.  Thanks for reading.

Finding God in the Fall – Part One

If I’m being completely open and honest, I’ve always struggled in the fall.  Depression hits pretty hard for me starting about middle of October and then comes and goes until April-ish.  It’s a tricky thing for me.  For those of you who know me, I’m a person of faith.  I rely pretty heavily on my relationship with God to get me through difficult times.  However, the funny thing is that as my depression gets bigger and closer, God seems to get smaller and farther away.  So it’s a downward spiral generally.  The weather turns, I get depressed, then I lose my connection with God, and it makes me more depressed.

So, this year, I decided to try to shift my perspective on the fall.  Usually, I see fall as a time of death and decay as plants are going dormant for winter.  I see fall as a time when the vivid colors of spring and summer morph and fade into dull browns and grays.  The fun filled activities of summer lull into a slow drawn-out trudging monotony.  However, over the next three posts, I’m going to show how to shift perspective to redeem all these things and to use them to keep my connection with God.

Let’s start with the first, death and decay.  It’s true.  During the fall, many plants die.  The beautiful flowers that are planted in the spring whither and die, the vibrant green grass goes dormant into a grayish brown, and the trees stand lifelessly still.

However, I think the way to change perspective on this issue is to look at fall not as a season of death and decay, but also as a season of harvest.  Yes it is true that plants are dying, but that death is part of the harvest.  It is the completion of what was begun in the spring with the planting.

We can connect with God through this by remembering that He is a god of completion.  God finishes what He starts. This is true in plants but it is also true in us.  Every one of us was put on Earth for a reason.  We are not accidents.  We have purpose for being here and God will bring about that purpose in our lives.  He is going to finish what He started in our lives.  Focusing on that and dwelling on the harvest is the first way that I am shifting my perspective this year.  God is not a god of death and decay.  He is a god of harvest and completion.  I choose to trust in that.

As always, thank you for reading.  If you want to receive and email notification whenever I post something new, click on the “follow” tab in the lower right hand corner of your screen.  Tune in next week for the continuation of how to shift focus in the fall.

 

(This is an abridged version of a piece that I wrote for my church, Northside Christian Church’s, website.  If you want to read the original piece, head to www.northsideweb.org/blog)

 

You Have A Voice. Use It

Hey Everyone,

So, first of all.  I realize it has been a very long time since I last wrote a piece on my own blog.  There are several reasons for this.  First, I’ve been struggling through some issues in my life dealing with anxiety and depression and just the all around manic pace at which my life happens.  Seconds, I’ve begun doing some freelance writing for other blogs.  It’s been super challenging but fun and interesting at the same time.  Last, I’ve actually been doing something that has been exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.  I’ve been working on self-publishing my own book.

I can proudly say that as of about a week ago.  My book is live on Amazon.com to purchase.  Shameless plug, you can get it for 9.99.  Head to Amazon.com and either search for my name, Erik Steidl, or for the book, The First Ostrich to Fly.  If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might have read a poem I wrote a while ago called What is No One Ever Told the Ostrich.  If you want to go back to read the poem again, the link is here . The book that I wrote is based on that poem.

So, you might wonder how publishing a book can be terrifying.  I mean, all in all it’s kind of simple.  You write it, edit it, add illustrations (if it is a picture book), and upload it to Amazon.  Then people can buy it.  However, it truly is terrifying for someone like me.  Publishing a book is putting yourself out there.  A lot of emotion and feeling goes into a book and by publishing it, you’re exposing those emotions and feelings to the world.  For an introverted person, that is a very daunting thing to do.

However, I want this post to be an encouragement to you out there if you are like me and you like to keep things close to the vest and safe.  If you have something, an idea, a book, a poem, etc. in your head that you feel would benefit people, then put it out there.  You have a voice and you’ve been given that voice for a reason.  Someone out there needs to hear what you have to say.

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts and books by an author named Rob Bell recently.  He is a Christian author and one of the things that he says a lot is that “God is constantly looking for people to join Him in the ongoing creation of the world.”  That is something that I have taken to heart.  Bell talks about how the world is still being created, that we have an opportunity to help shape this ever evolving world into how we want it to look and feel.  We all have voices and we all have passions.  If you see something in the world that you think needs changing, voice that.  If you just want to add positivity into the world, do it!

Like I said, I realize that this can be frightening.  For me, it was terrifying.  I constantly second guessed myself as I went through the process of self-publishing.  Thoughts kept jumping into my head telling me that my book was stupid, that I was dumb for thinking that it was actually something people would want to read.  However, after about a week of having my book out there, the response has been so positive.  The number of people who have reached out to me telling me how much they loved the book has been truly overwhelming.  I think that the same will be true for you as well.  People need to hear what you have to say.  Your words, thoughts, and voice have worth and value.  You have a voice.  Use it.

 

The 5 Jedi I Would Take on My Team

Sometimes, I nerd out and ask myself hypothetical questions.  Then I make lists and answer them.  So, As I’m going through the Star Wars saga for like the 11th time in my life, I asked myself, “If you had to assemble a team of any five Jedi to take with you on a mission, which five would you take?”  It took me way longer than I thought it would to answer and the visions of the distraught faces of the Jedi that I left off still haunt my dreams.  However, here are the five Jedi I would take along with my reasoning.  I won’t go super into my nerdness for those of you who aren’t as into Star Wars as I am.

#1 Yoda

Yoda Soundboard

I know. I know.  This one seems almost too easy.  Yoda is one of the most powerful, if not the absolute most powerful Jedi in history.  His skill with a lightsaber is unrivaled as is his knowledge of the Force.  He is extremely wise and quick to see when he is wrong and change course.  He is also very old and has more perspective of the galaxy than anyone else.  Another reason I would take Yoda is that he is always looking for opportunities to teach and train those around him.  This is seen all throughout the Star Wars saga.  Last, Yoda is very small and can fit into very small places if the need should arrive.

#2 Mace Windu

This one was a somewhat difficult decision for me as Mace Windu is not exactly an extremely likeable character throughout Star Wars.  He is brusque and comes off as somewhat arrogant.  Many times he seems closed minded and set in his ways.  However, being so set in his ways brings with it a firm sort of consistency that I think would be invaluable on any given mission.  The one thing that made me choose Mace Windu however, is that he is simply a fighter.  The guy is seemingly always kicking someone’s butt.  He would have even killed Darth Sidious (Something that even Yoda failed to accomplish) had Anakin not interfered leading to Windu’s death.  Also, if you read the novel Shatterpoint, you will discover that Mace Windu has some very unique abilities with the Force.  His chemistry and friendship with Yoda make him an excellent choice for the second spot on my team.

# 3 Kit Fisto

Kit Fisto, even more so than Mace Windu, is somewhat of an oddball to make a list of top five Jedi to take on a mission.  However, I believe he would be an excellent addition for a number of reasons.  First, he is a Nautolan, which means that he can survive and actually excel in water as well as on land.  During the Battle of Mon Cala, he was integral in protecting Prince Lee-Char as well as winning the battle itself.  He is a fierce fighter who survives a duel with General Grievous and always seems to make the right decision.  He also has a good mix of humor and wisdom.  There are many times that he gives sage advice but just as many times that he laughs wholeheartedly.  Did I mention that he can stay underwater without any breathing apparatus?  I think Kit Fisto would make a fantastic third member of the team.

#4 Ahsoka Tano

Ahsoka Tano

I’ll admit that this one is a stretch.  Ahsako never officially moves past the rank of Padawan during the Clone Wars before she leaves the Jedi Order and strikes out on her own.  However, Ahsoka has several traits that I believe would make her a perfect member of the team.  First, from the time she first became a Padawan, she has always been faced with some kind of adversity.  All throughout her Jedi career, she is constantly in the mix of one conflict or another.  She, strangely enough, is at the center of some of the most consequential events in the Star Wars Universe.  Her experiences, give her invaluable wisdom and know-how that would be an addition to any mission and any team.  She also has a penchant for quick thinking and creative problem solving.  She consistently thinks of outside-the-box solutions to many problems.  She is wily and crafty with her enemies, and warm and selfless with her allies and friends.  She is courageous and spunky and knows when to obey orders, and when to think for herself.  Also, she duel wields lightsabers which is pretty BA.

#5 Obi Wan Kenobi

Obi-Wan Kenobi

Obi Wan is a Jedi who is hard to predict.  At times he is wise and level headed, giving wise advice and teaching those around him the deeper ways of the Force.  Other times he is foolish and brash, acting on instinct and whim.  However, I think that this is something that serves him, and would serve the hypothetical team, well.  I find him to be one of the most all-around likeable characters in the Star Wars Universe.  He is witty and charming, both with allies (Duchess Satine) and enemies (Asajj Ventress).  He is a more than capable fighter pilot and is powerful in the Force and with a lightsaber.  He beat Anakin in a duel, beat Darth Maul in a duel, and was the one to kill General Grievous.  Although he is unconventional and awkward at times, Obi Wan would be the perfect fifth member of the team.

Now, here’s a quick list of Jedi who were on the bubble but didn’t quite make the cut

#1 Luke Skywalker

Why I almost put him on the team.

Luke Skywalker is one of the most pure characters in the Star Wars story (at least until Rey comes around that is).  He is extremely powerful in the Force and quickly gains skill in lightsaber combat.  He blows up the Death Star and defeats Darth Vader while pulling off some other cool hero stuff along the way.

Why I didn’t put him on the team

I found that I was putting him on the team mostly because I felt I had to out of respect for the original trilogy.  In truth, he only blows up the Death Star because Han Solo saves him.  If not for that, he would have ended up like the rest of Red Squadron.  He defeats Vader sure, but to be honest, Vader makes a living in the original trilogy by choking out non-Force-sensitive dudes and cutting down people who have no lightsaber.  I dunno, I just felt that there wasn’t enough to put him on the team.

#2 Anakin Skywalker

I know that it seems blasphemous to have a team of Jedi assembled without a single Skywalker amongst them, but Anakin misses the cut too.

Why I almost put him on the team

Anakin is obviously extremely strong in the Force.  His mother even claims that he didn’t have a father and was actually conceived by the Force itself.  (If you get into the novels, it’s kind of suggested that this was a response to Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious messing around with resurrecting the dead).  Anakin is very skilled with a lightsaber, a quick and critical thinker, the “best star fighter pilot in the galaxy,” and a natural leader.

Why I left him off the team

Despite all those accolades, Anakin spends much of the prequels and Clone Wars getting beat.  He seems to be really good at chopping up battle droids and choking people, but never really beats a strong opponent until he kills Count Dooku.  I mean am I wrong in saying that half of his lightsaber duels end with him being reconstructed?  I feel bad leaving him off because I really like him, especially in the Clone Wars, but just feel like others were better for the team.

#3 Qui Gon Jinn

Qui-Gon Jinn

I really really like Qui Gon Jinn.  I know it’s not a huge snub to leave him off the list as he only plays a major role in one of the prequels and is killed in it.  I just wanted to talk about him so that he gets kind of an “honorable mention” award type deal.

Why I almost put him on the team

Qui Gon is strong and wise.  He is a large and powerful Jedi and is willing to take risks and trust his instincts.  As Obi Wan says, he would have been on the Jedi Council had it not been for his stubbornness.

Why I left him off the team.

He obviously wasn’t that strong as Darth Maul kills him in Episode One.

 

Well, I hope I didn’t bore you too much with my nerdiness.  As always, thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed the blog and want to receive emails whenever there’s a new post, please click on the “follow” link in the lower right hand corner of your screen.

All images courtesy of Starwars.com