He Runs

he-runsLuke 15: 11-32 is the narrative of the Prodigal Son, a story in which most of us are rather familiar. Many of us have our favorite part of the story, many can relate to a particular character, all of us are blessed by what the account says about Gods character. My favorite part of this scripture lies in Luke 15:20 where scripture says the father ran to meet his son. I love this because it reminds me that God runs to me when I return to Him. He doesn’t sit there waiting for me to journey back to Him. He doesn’t slowly meander my way. He runs swiftly and embraces me as I return.

As a fallible human, I wonder away from God more than I’d like to admit, but every time I come back to Him, He runs to greet me with open arms. Even if I’ve only been gone for a moment, especially when I’ve trailed far from Him, He darts toward me.

Our returning to Him isn’t the only time He welcomes us with open arms. He runs to us when we look away, even for just a second, but choose to stay by His side. It’s when we choose dignity and peace over the ways of the world when He embraces us. When we choose to follow what He sees as best for our lives rather than pursuing our own understanding or desires.

  • God runs to you when you choose to walk away from the party.
  • God runs to you when you choose not to fall into the trap of lust.
  • God runs to you when you honor your parents.
  • God runs to you when you strive to know Him more.
  • God runs to you when you make your family and friends more important than success or your reputation.
  • God runs to you when you don’t post that potentially hurtful comment on social media.
  • God runs to you when you walk away from materialism and give away some of your belonging.
  • God runs to you when you defeat negative talk and speak the truth about your identity.
  • God runs to you when you realize your true beauty.
  • God runs to you when you find healing in Him after a broken relationship.
  • God runs to you when you defeat self-doubt.
  • God runs to you when you set aside drugs or alcohol.
  • God runs to you when you decide to consume a meal rather than throw it up.
  • God runs to you when you love a stranger.
  • God runs to you when you reach out to someone who isn’t very popular.
  • God runs to you when you try to forgive.
  • God runs to you when you go to church rather than sleep in.
  • God runs to you any time you choose Him, His ways or His glory.

It’s in these moments that the echo of feet rhythmically hitting the ground can be heard as God runs to embrace His beloved daughter.

Friend in Jesus

nmi_2011_fashionyear_00829a-1 I was really looking forward to connecting with one of my dearest friends over coffee. It had been months since we both had the time to connect. A lot had happened in my life and tons had occurred in her life and neither of us could wait to share. So, we met for coffee and rather than jumping into conversation, we just sat there in silence. Seriously, neither one of us said a thing for a long time.

At first, this really bugged me because I don’t have the opportunity to spend a lot of time with this particular friend, so I want to fully invest in the time we did have together. It’s not like we didn’t have anything to talk about. I just didn’t know what to say. At the time, nothing seemed as important as just spending time with one another.

As friends, we both want to invest in each other no matter what we’re doing or where we are. This helped me realize – silence is okay. It was nice to just hang out. It’s nice to simply be near her, in her presence. We don’t need to be talking all the time; we can just be present with one another.

As Christians we can be like that with Jesus. He’s always present, always around. But, we’re not always talking to Him, nor is He always talking to us. His presence is nice, and we need to realize His presence so we can rest in it and enjoy it. We can recognize His presence and find peace and comfort with just being near Him. We don’t always need to be engaging with one another, but we can live in enjoyment with the presence of one another.

nmi_2011_fashionyear_00832a-1Now, my friendship would never continue with this friend if we only sat together in the same room, always in silence. The same goes with Jesus. We can’t always be silent with Him and we can’t expect Him to always be silent with us. We have to engage in conversation and we have to listen to Him speak to our heart. However, we never need to force conversation with Him. Plus, we don’t need to force ourselves to hear Him. He will make Himself known – He always does. So instead of worrying about what you’ll hear or what you need to say, just be still in God’s presence and be grateful that you have Him as a friend you can confide in.

Giving Generously

Christmas gifts in vintage styleAmerica is a very prosperous country, but we are far from generous. Yet, we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe that we are generous. We believe that giving a gift to a stranger at Christmas is generous. We believe that giving a 10% tithe is generous. We believe that volunteering at a soup kitchen is generous. We believe that giving money to a third world country in need is generous. But few of us have been so generous to the Lord that we’re willing to give Him all we have because He is all we need (Mark 12:41-44).

This time of year, we hear numerous times, “It’s better to give than to receive.” Here, the emphasis on generosity is in the giving, not the receiving. But, when we’re given something truly generous, we are blessed. The American culture is selling us short because its focus is on the giving and not the receiving.

When we don’t give, or when we refuse a gift, we are refusing a blessing. God desires to bless us every day. He doesn’t ask for anything in return. He never wanted anything in return, and that’s why He’s given to us so generously. There is no way we can repay Him for His gift – the gift of life and salvation. That’s generosity. Doing something for someone without expecting anything in return.

God gives this gift to everyone, but not everyone will receive His blessing. That’s a second element of generosity – giving anonymously or even if your gift is not received. At the very least, we tend to want a, “Thank You” but for a generous heart, that is still expecting too much. Generosity means completely setting our own intentions and ideas aside. It means allowing others the ability to use the gift we give them in any way they choose.

As we translate this concept of giving generously into the Christmas season, it doesn’t mean we should want to receive more Christmas gifts so we can bless the gift giver more. No, that has nothing to do with generosity. It has everything to do with selfishness and pride. Instead, it means we should be encouraged to give of our entire self so we can bring glory to God during His most precious hour, while encouraging those we love to do the same. Generosity doesn’t mean giving so much that our bank account becomes bankrupt, instead it means we should give so much of our talents, time, character and love that our souls become bankrupt. When our souls become desolate, we realize that we MUST lean on the Lord’s support to continue with our daily life. At that point, generosity has become such a part of our lives that we feel incomplete without the Lord’s outpouring in our lives.

As you walk through the mall this Christmas trying to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list, don’t think of yourself as giving generously. Rather ask God to reveal to you how He can make you more generous by impacting the lives of those you love. Pray for His generous Spirit to fill you, making you more like Him.

Becoming a generous person doesn’t come only at Christmas time, it is a lifestyle, met by understanding your own worth and being able to give that value to others, while accepting gifts with gratefulness because you know that they are blessing another. It doesn’t just take practice to become a generous person; it takes an entire mental, emotional and spiritual shift. This change can only occur with the help and leading of the Lord.

The most generous people accept that roll with grace. They know they make a marvelous impact on the world and they’re blessed by their own generosity. 2 Corinthians 9:6 says, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly; whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” God wants you to reap many blessings, but first we must sow with a generous heart.

Minor Things = Major Thanks

nmi_2010_fashionyear_00535aI was working through a devotional on praying with a thankful heart. The devotion directed me to write or speak a prayer of thanksgiving for the object right in front of me. That object was my bed. Now, I’m very thankful for my bed, but it’s just a bed. As I started praying, thanking God for my bed, I realized how much that bed means to me:

Over the years, it has become a refuge or a sanctuary. It’s a place I go to when I’m hurting, frustrated or feeling lost. It’s often where I go to seek personal time with the Lord.

My closest friends and loved ones gather on my bed for some of the deepest, most intimate connections. Companionship is established on my bed whether between my husband and I or between a hurting friend who needs to cry and receive a hug.

My bed is also where I go to gain rest from a weary day.

It’s where I go when I’m sick and need to nurse myself back to help.

My bed is where I discover new dreams and ideas through the Lord’s leading.

My bed is not just a piece of furniture; it’s an item that has brought me closer to God on many occasions.

It fascinated me that my bed could mean so much to me, and that I could be so thankful for this one seemingly meaningless item in my life. So, I challenged myself to find other things that I tend to overlook, but actually bring me a lot of pleasure:

my journal, the pen I write with, the chair I was sitting in, a glass of water, a particular picture hanging on the wall, a window, a light… the list continued. It actually became a little game. As I went about my day, I would find the deepest thanksgiving for the most mediocre item in my world. This game went on for weeks, and I still find new things to be thankful for every day. It’s incredible!

So, now that we’ve entered into the week of Thanksgiving, when many people think of the things in which they are thankful. I challenge you to find the little things in your life that really carry your through. Don’t just thank God for the items you take for granted, but find the true meaning behind these items. Discover what these things actually do for you and how they support you during your journey with the Lord. He has provided you with so much, take time to let Him know how grateful you are for ALL the blessings He’s bestowed upon your life. He is good, and He wants to share that goodness with you. Open your eyes so you can see the purity of His goodness.

Save

Are You Wandering in the Wilderness?

Faith32BlogWanderingWilderness_WordpressIt’s been just over ten years since we published our first issue of niNe. magazine. It’s been eleven years since God gave me the vision of niNe. It’s easy to reflect on all the incredible things that have occurred over the years. It’s wonderful to look at our successes. It’s awesome to zero in on the incredible stories we’ve heard of lives impacted and changed by our content. It’s amazing to examine the many ways we’ve grown. But, it’s easy to gloss over and ignore our failures.

 

There have been many failures. Each defeat has led to a lesson learned and a moment of significant growth. Some of our failures have been tiny flops; some have been huge disasters – all have impacted both individuals as well as the entire organization. There are too many failures to list, but one that continues to loom over our head.

 

What we’re experiencing here at niNe. isn’t a classical failure like many would see. Some would actually proclaim that it’s not a failure at all. Regardless, it’s potentially keeping us from the vastness of God’s vision for this ministry.

 

There are days when we become comfortable in our current state. There are days when we go to work and are satisfied with developing one magazine with the team of people God has called to this ministry. We’re content with the role and position we’re in presently. But, God has not given us a plan of comfort and coziness. No, He has given us a big goal, a long path to walk and a steady journey to strive for. He has great things in store for niNe. magazine, so we must not become complacent with where we are. Instead, we need to continue to focus on the vision He’s placed upon us. We must organize goals and journey forward. We must not fall short of the vision He’s placed on our heart.

 

When the Israelites refused to listen to the Lord’s plan for their lives, they became wanders in the wilderness for forty years (Numbers 14). They denied His purpose, didn’t believe that He could accomplish what He set before them and became fearful of His hopes for His beloved people. They settled for what they thought was comfortable and paid a steep price.

 

When you look at your life, are you settling? Are you fearful of what God has called you toward? The Israelites failed to trust in the Lord, and as a result became complacent. Are you doing the same? Certainly, you haven’t been wandering in the wilderness for forty years. But, if you refuse to follow God’s plan for your life now, you are setting yourself up for that in the future.

 

God’s plan for your future may be big and seem impossible, but if He planned it for you, then He’s planned a way for you to accomplish it. He’s lined it all up for you. It’s your job to focus on Him, listen to His word, follow and obey His leading. He will not let you down. He will not fail you. If you decline His calling and purpose, then you are failing. If you follow Him, then no matter what happens, you succeed and you do so gloriously.

 

Take a Drink

Faith31BlogSalty_Wordpress

Salt is used in nearly every American recipe. It adds flavor, preserves food and enhances how food tastes. When it comes to the popular scripture in the Gospel of Matthew (5:13), we often focus on our role as Christians being about making God look good, preserving Him and increasing other’s interest in Him. We’re supposed to “spice” God up and make Him more “flavorful” so other people find Him appealing.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13)

But, salt also makes us thirsty. And, if we are the salt of the earth, then we’re to make non-believers and believers alike thirsty for the Lord. Our life, speech, actions, etc. are supposed to draw people nearer to the Lord. We’re supposed to lure them in so they want to grasp more of Him. We’re supposed to be a beacon that causes others to gravitate toward the Lord.

When we analyze who we are and look at our life, are we seeing where we have the opportunity to make other people thirsty for the Lord? Do we see where we’re utilizing our God-given gifts and talents to make people interested in Him? Do we know how we’re drawing people closer to God? Are we encouraging people to drink Him up?

Jesus calls Himself the living water. We have an incredible opportunity to make people thirsty for this life-sustaining water. Once they take a drink, they’ll be changed forever.

The Lord gives us the ability, as well as the tools, to draw people nearer to Him. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re supposed to go door-to-door and evangelize. But, it does mean that we are to build relationships with other people and allow Him to radiate outward beyond us, calling people we love toward Him. It means that we’re supposed to be real and honest about who God is to us and what He’s done in our lives. We’re supposed to captivate people we cherish with our life, our story, our actions and our words.

If we aren’t honest with ourselves and with God, making Him attractive to other people, then the saltiness in us is being lost. We need to evaluate our heart and ask God to help us understand more of Him so we can embrace our relationship with Him. If we’re not drawing others toward the Lord, we aren’t failures, but we need to be honest with ourselves. We don’t need to look for opportunities to make others thirst for God. Rather, these opportunities will naturally come as we deepen our relationship with the Lord. As we become closer to Him and learn about Him more, we’ll naturally share our joy and invigoration to those we desperately care about. We must not strive unnecessarily, but we need to be open, available and accepting of God using us to make others thirsty. We too should be thirsty for more of Him. We should always be drinking from His living water.

Summer Body

By Alicia Hayes, Speaker for niNe. magazine200390106-001With summer around the corner, people are talking about getting their “summer bodies” ready. I’m all for taking care of your body and working towards making yourself more healthy and fit, but that’s not what people mean when they talk about their “summer bodies.” What they often mean is that a summer body is a super-skinny body. A summer body is something that people look at, not something that people admire for its strength and natural beauty. Crash diets, over-exercising, diet pills and more are often marketed with this idea of “getting your summer body.” None of these things are healthy. Your body is a summer body because you have a body that’s enjoying summer. Here are some ways to continue caring for your summer body and develop some healthy body-related habits:

Eating

I love eating. I have a massive sweet tooth, my best friend and I constantly obsess over cheese, and most of my pins on Pinterest are on my “Nom-Noms” board. Maybe you feel pressure to not eat much so that you can lose weight and gain that “summer body.” Or maybe you’re underweight but everyone keeps telling you how good you look so you feel frustrated because of your struggle with weight gain. Eating a healthy, well-balanced meal is a key step to keeping your body healthy. Some universal healthy eating habits are:

1.) drink water as consistently as you can

2.) half of your day’s food intake should be fruit and vegetables

3.) a quarter of your daily food intake should be protein

4.) the remaining quarter of our food intake should be starches.

You may have other specific eating habits to keep your body healthy such as doctor-mandated restrictions, religious limitations or little treats that you indulge in to keep you going throughout the day. But breaking your daily diet into the basics may be the best place to start.

Exercise

I used to really hate exercising. I avoided it like the plague. I just wanted to eat healthy and figured that was enough. Not only was I wrong, but I was missing out. My junior year in college I started doing yoga twice a week and I realized how much tension I held in my muscles. I felt significantly better, physically and emotionally, after I started doing yoga. I also walked everywhere on campus so my legs were like a rock. Now that I have a desk job and fitness classes aren’t cheap, I have to make exercise a priority. I walk a mile to two a day, run two to three times a week and do yoga once a week. With school, church, family, extra-curricular activities and more, you also may need to be creative with your exercise routine. Start with something simple and manageable and build up from there.

Skin care

What kind of body care excludes the skin that covers you? There are some global skin-care practices that everyone should utilize (wear sunscreen and apply bug spray). However, I’ve found that the trick to really caring for your skin is to understand that everyone has different skin, so how you care for your skin is going to be different than how I care for my skin. For example, I have dry and sensitive skin. Not only does it often make me feel uncomfortable and tight, but has often resulted in shaving bumps, shoulder zits and very itchy skin. Due to the sensitivity, I can’t use certain body washes and fragranced lotions because they make my sensitivity worse. I’ve learned that simple moisturizing body washes and soap do the trick. Then I have a variety of lotions and aloe that I apply after I shower. I have a few fragranced lotions, but I use them sparingly. With this routine my skin is fairly soft and comfortable. But, my skin care regimen will be different than yours. Start your skin-care routine by noticing how your skin reacts to certain elements and ingredients. Through trial and error, you’ll find the perfect combination for beautiful, radiant skin that makes you feel comfortable.

Check out some of these incredible articles in niNe. magazine regarding safe and helpful skin-care products:

Soft, Beautiful Skin: Top 9 Lotions for Your Body

Fun in the Sun: Prevent Sunburn with the Safest Sunscreens for Your Summer

Loved by God, Loved by You

Taking care of your body comes more naturally if you actually like your body. Due to unrealistic standards set by your friends, family, media and sometimes yourself, you may not really like your body. Starting to really appreciate your body may take some time (it took me years). But, I can tell you from experience – the biggest, best, long-term step you can take is to ask God to show you the love He has for you and the way He made you. God made every person and their body different. Once you understand that God loves how He made you, it becomes easier to love your body and take ownership of it. Take your body insecurities and concerns to God, and He’ll reassure you of His love.

I have found that often, Christians don’t like talking about their bodies. I think this comes from the belief that since we have eternal life in heaven with Jesus that what happens to our bodies doesn’t matter. To be honest, I find this very short-sighted.Our bodies are a blessing and a symbol of God’s creativity. We should take care of all gifts God gave us, and that includes our bodies. This summer, as you enjoy God’s creation, enjoy the body He gave you.

Keep In Mind

I’m not a big fan of scary movies. I get freaked out from the minute long trailer, so there is no way I’d be able to finish a full-length Horror film without having to lock my doors, hide under the covers and pause the movie several times to get my heart rate back down.

A few friends of mine are really into Horror films and they love analyzing the production value of how they are made. A recent release really captured their attention so they convinced me to watch it. Halfway through (if I even made it to the halfway point) I had to stop the movie and tell them that I had enough and I wasn’t getting anything out of the film. The production of the movie might have been spectacular, but I couldn’t even pay attention to the construction because it just simply frightened me. It had no value to me.

Be Mindful of what's on your headThis experience made me realize that I only want to fill my mind with good things. Information that helps me grow into a better person. Information that motivates, inspires, encourages and challenges me. I want to fill my brain with useful information that is honoring to God. Some people can watch Horror movies without being effected, I am not one of them, and I need to behave intelligently by not wasting my time, energy and brainpower on such entertainment.

This blog entry isn’t about whether or not we should watch Horror films; instead it’s about the information in which we fill our minds. Our brain is a valuable asset, and for many of us, it’s one of the most valuable assets we currently have. That means we need to protect it. We need to keep it healthy, vibrant and secure. We need to fill it with fruitful information. We need to be discerning about what content we let enter in and what we allow to be filtered out. Our minds can only hold so much information. If we’re clinging to data that isn’t good, helpful or worthy of our character, then we need to dispose of it to make room for quality information that lifts us up. The Bible says that we need to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. (Philippians 4:8) Our brain should be filled with insight and knowledge that is nurturing, beneficial, and strengthens us as well as our faith.

Our society bombards us with noise. From the moment we wake up until the second we close our eyes, our brain is absorbing information. What are we going to do with all this information? How are we going to respond to certain types of information? What information are we going to allow to influence us? It’s important to start thinking of this while we’re still young, because the information we’re fed is only going to become more saturated as we become older and as technology becomes more sophisticated.

My challenge is that you analyze all the information you receive – yes ALL of it. Consider what is worthy of your attention and push aside anything that doesn’t carry value to you. Information from your teachers, coaches and parents is important and you should always find space for the information they provide. Insight that God gives you through scripture, bible study, church, friends, etc. is the most important data you can receive, and it must be held on to tightly. After this pertinent information, what else do you have room for? Do you have room for entertainment, social media, friends, nature, work? All these things may have a valuable place in your life, so what information is jamming up your receptors, keeping you from filling your mind with helpful information? Ask yourself why certain information is important. Is it relevant because of what you’re facing in life? Is it important because you’re circle of friends are into it and you want to be in the know? Is it important because you’re learning and growing from it? Or, is it just simply filling empty space that could be filled with more valuable content? You have to be the judge.

I’ve learned from this experience that if I focus on all the information that everyone else thinks I need to cling to, then I’m filling my brain with wasteful ideas which prevent me from filling it with what the Lord wants me to have occupying my mind. Interestingly, other people in my life actually admire me for being cognizant of the information I do allow into my mind. It doesn’t take long until one of them comes to me saying, “I’ve stopped watching this, or reading that or following those people and it’s so freeing.” After letting go of some useless information, it’s easy to realize that we have more brainpower to focus on what is really important in life.

There is always information that you want to keep in mind. There’s information that you want to filter out of your mind and then there is information that’s totally irrelevant to your life and your wellbeing that you don’t even want to allow it into your brain.

 

Ephesians 4:29  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” 
Colossians 3:12 “Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” 
 
Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
 
Colossians 4:6  “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
 

Disney Identity

When the Main Character Discovers Who They Are, Their World Changes

I have a goal in life to own every Animated Disney movie. Growing up, I looked forward to the new film release every year. I loved the stories, how they bridged a piece of history, but were still totally relevant to the situations in which I faced in my current life.

disney-princessAs I’ve grown a little older, I’ve realized the same theme resides in pretty much every film. Each has a character who spends the hour-and-a-half timeframe discovering his or her true identity. We watch her deny herself, who she is, her gifts and talents, what she’s capable of, her strength. At some point during her journey she discovers who she really is – what she’s meant to be. It’s when she steps into her true identity that she thrives. In most Disney movies the main character has a loss of identity. But, when she regains her understanding of who she is – it makes all the difference.

We love these films because we can relate entirely. How many of us spend our days and our time denying our identity? At some point, we’ve all denied our strength. We deny what we’re capable of. We deny our gifts and talents. We deny our beauty, wishing we were or had something different. We deny our creator and what we were made to accomplish. We deny who God created us to be, trying to fit into a mold that society has placed before us.

Perhaps, just like the Disney characters, once we step into the reality of our true identity and worth, we’ll thrive. We’ll find success. We’ll find our purpose and our calling. We’ll find where our strength comes from. We’ll understand our beauty and value.

If this is the case, which I truly believe it is, then we should spend our time focusing on our true identity. Learn who God created us to be. Understand who we are as a whole person. It’s when we discover ourselves within God’s plan and accept our role as His beloved daughter that our lives thrive. This doesn’t mean life becomes easy, but it means that life becomes fruitful. It means we make an impact on other people that we didn’t realize we could do. It means we find love in the most obscure places. It means we see beauty through the eye of the beholder. It means we discover what we’re capable of and we know that we can accomplish greatness, through the love, leading and strength of the Lord.

It’s usually through intense hardship or losing absolutely everything she holds dear that helps the Disney character discover her true identity. This can be true for us as well. But, we can learn who God created us to be in a simpler fashion – asking Him. He will tell us and show us who He created us to be. Sometimes it may take us awhile to hear His voice, but with practice, it’ll become clear. On a very basic level, we can take His word seriously and follow the teachings of the Bible. This will help us identify the basic structure and foundation of our life. We can look to our passions, talents and gifts. We can look toward the people we love and who love us in return. We can evaluate the suffering we’re drawn to – what truly breaks our heart. We can analyze our resources, our past, our location and our upbringing. All these elements provide clues toward our true identity and purpose.

God has called each of us to something marvelous, why waste our lives and our time pursuing something other than the best? No matter where we are in our faith journey or who we are on the inside, God is excited to help us discover our identity so we can fully thrive – the way He intends for us to do.

Betray or Deny

Offenses Toward Jesus

This time of year, we often reflect on the story of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus as well as Peter’s denial of Jesus, but we analyze each situation independently. We look at them as two separate occasions and two distinct instances both with differing results. We also see the role of Judas as being a major sin while we look at the denial of Peter as simply being human. We make a bigger deal out of Judas’ betrayal than we do of Peter’s denial. Certainly, we can see how they are both connected in time as events leading up to the crucifixion of our Savior. But, in reality the end result of both occurrences is the same. Both friends left Jesus completely and utterly alone on His journey to the cross. The two circumstances piled on together lay an excruciating burden on our Lord.

nmi_2011_fashionyear_00469a-1But, let’s look at both situations as if they were occurring in our own lives. What is more hurtful, being betrayed or denied? What would scorn Jesus more, us betraying Him or denying Him? We may not see either of these circumstances in our own lives, but in reality, they are sprinkled all over our very existence.

The following are all examples of betrayal. They may seem small in comparison to Judas, but betrayal is betrayal. How many times have we experienced a friend who chooses another group, friend or activity over us? How many times has a sibling downplayed our existence so they can connect with someone else? How many have experienced a romantic breakup just to discover that there was a third party involved? Have you ever had a classmate sell you out on a project or stab you in the back by saying they did your work and that you didn’t do any work at all? Have your parents broken a promise? Has anyone shared a secret of yours? Have you done any of this to Jesus?

What about denial? Have you ever contradicted yourself, said one thing to one person and something else to another? Have you ever tried to hide the truth from your parents or pretended you didn’t know your little brother when you passed him in the halls? Have you ever refused to do something your parents asked you to do? Have you ever rejected a friend to hang out with a boy? Have you ever declined hanging out with your family to go to a party or gathering? Have you ever dismissed doing a homework assignment to catch up on your favorite TV show? How about nixing a friend’s idea because you think yours is better? Have you ever rejected someone because of the way they looked? Have you ever abandoned your friend in her time of need? How often has Jesus experienced any of these excuses or justifications from you?

We do these things more often than we think and we probably do them to the Lord more than we do to the people around us. Certainly choosing our friends, a boy, school, money, popularity or family over the Lord is a pretty normal act. When was the last time you went out of your way to look good or portray a certain image rather than being the genuine person that God created you to be? These are both real examples of betraying Jesus.

Betrayal may seem devastating, but denial is just as painful. When was the last time that you denied being a Christian, going to church or being involved in youth group because you didn’t want to look uncool? How often do you skip spending time with God through prayer, reading the Bible or stillness because you have other things to do? Do you ever sugar coat a prayer request when asking for support and advice from the Lord? Have you ever felt God calling you to do something and you disregarded it because you felt uncomfortable? Have you ever read the Bible and not considered all of it true – just following the parts you agree with and like?

When you look at it for face value and you break it down into practical elements, denial is just as hurtful as betrayal. Do you think Jesus was more hurt by Judas or Peter? Both hurt him, and that’s the point.

We don’t necessarily know Judas’ motive for betraying Jesus. Certainly, his motives may have been the money, but it could have other elements in which we’re unaware. Judas was plotting with others, he knew what he was doing, but he didn’t realize the results. The Bible doesn’t speak of the details, so there’s a lot that we can’t assume when evaluating the heart of Judas. Just because we understand that Jesus was destroying death and sin doesn’t mean that His disciples did – they were in the midst of the chaos, we are outsiders looking in. Jesus would have known the heart of Judas; we do not.

Peter loved the Lord, clung to Him, stood up to express his love and then denied Him over and over again. To have someone so close completely turn your back on you and deny you entirely has to hurt. And, Peter didn’t even know what he was doing. He acted in fear and confusion. Peter was blind to his own actions.

Where do you stand on this spectrum? We’ve all hurt Jesus and He’s forgiven us all – no matter how big the pain caused or how many times we’ve hurt Him. But, we can’t let that paralyze our relationship with Christ. Instead, we must continue to grow. Peter was strengthened and he became a pillar – the rock in which the entire Christian church was found on. Realizing what he had done, he learned his lesson. Judas, however, was devastated and took his own life – the very life that Jesus gave him. It’s the result that makes us think Judas’ actions were more harsh than Peter’s, but in reality, we all have a choice on how we respond to the pain and suffering we cause the Lord. He looks past all devastation and sees our true, pure heart. Rather than denying or betraying Him, grow closer to Him and admire the true character and person He is in our lives and for this world.