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Unchanging Identity in Christ

Perhaps you’re overwhelmed by the insanity in our world or experiencing a personal trial or struggle. This week, I felt burdened to share a post I wrote a few years back that challenges us to stay grounded in our true identity. May it encourage you today.

This world has a warped view of identity. The highest value is placed on having the biggest house, driving the newest car, being or having the trophy wife, earning the biggest buck, and living the “American dream.” People wear themselves out trying to impress and trying to get more.

I think sometimes this mentality rubs off on Christians. We seek to find our value in good grades, a certain job/ministry, or in a relationship. We feel pressure to marry at a certain age or live up to the “perfect family” expectations. Time and time again, we’re disappointed when we somehow fall short of the “Christian standard.” Perhaps even worse, our expectations are realized, and we rely too heavily on the things God has blessed us with – and not on God Himself.

Our identity can’t be placed in a perfect set of circumstances. They simply don’t exist (or not for long). We must learn to consistently find our identity in Christ.

How do we do that? The best place to start is God’s Word and what it says about our identity. The definition I’ve discovered is incomplete – I have more digging to do – but read on if you desire to learn what God says about who we are in Him.

We are made in God’s image.

Perhaps the most fundamental truth about ourselves is that we are made in the image of God.

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27 NKJV)

The implications of this reality are so important but often ignored by our society. Here’s a short list.

  • Life demands dignity. Every life (unborn or elderly) is sacred and has intrinsic value. Therefore, despite what our culture tells us is normal or acceptable, abortion and euthanasia remain morally wrong.
  • God created males and females. It’s one or the other, despite what our world tells us in the new norm. Thefulltimegirl.com shared an excellent article on this tough topic and did an outstanding job speaking the truth in love.
  • Our lives have purpose. We aren’t accidents of time and chance. We have an all-powerful Creator who intentionally designed us and knew us before the beginning of the world.
  • We are loved. Think about it this way. In a physical sense, we are made in our parents’ genetic images. Although our world is broken and sometimes families are too, the biological connection between parents and child was designed to create a unique bond, a special belonging. As our heavenly Father, that’s how God feels about His children. He made us in His image and lavishes His love upon us.

Our bodies are His temples.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (I Corinthians 3:16 NKJV)

Do you really believe that? Temples are designed to be holy places, places of reverence. If you’re a child of God, your body is His home. How should this shape how we see and treat ourselves?

  • We should take care of our bodies and their physical needs – exercise, food, hydration, rest. We should seek to live balanced lives that can enjoy God’s natural gifts.
  • Self-loathing practices like cutting, bulimia, and anorexia dishonor God’s temple. I’m not belittling these serious health conditions; they are real and prevalent in our world today and demand a great deal of compassion. In fact, if you struggle loving what you see as your imperfections, let me recommend my cousin’s blog. Her courageous story may encourage you.
  • Our bodies demand respect. That means how we dress and the boundaries we set (especially in relationships) are essential to honoring God’s temple.

Our home is His heaven.

Sometimes, we grow too attached to this earth. We cling to things that simply won’t last. We wear ourselves out striving for stuff we can’t take with us.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV)

It’s easy to know this truth but sometimes hard to apply… when you interview for that job you really want and don’t get it… when your first car is totaled in an accident that’s not even your fault.

Yet we alone are responsible for choosing our attitudes. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®Steve Covey quotes Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”

I like that. We can’t control circumstances, but we get to choose our response to them. Our responses here can be one way we lay up treasures where they matter most.

What about me

You don’t understand, Kristen. You can’t possibly know what I’m going through.

You’re right; I can’t. That’s why having a relationship with the One who does and cares infinitely for you is so important.

These three pieces of our identity are vital to our self-image but by no means form a complete picture. My challenge to you is to dig deep into God’s Word and discover for yourself what it says about who you are in Christ.

Share with me here what you find. Your discoveries may very well be a missing piece that a friend so badly needs to know.

~ Kristen

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6 Items You Won’t Find on a Supply List, Pt. 2

In college, I was the girl who set two alarm clocks and chose outfits the night before. I stressed over syllabi more times than I care to admit.

Sometimes, I focused so closely on the tangible details that I overlooked the spiritual equipment needed to get through the day.

Ephesians 6 outlines the ultimate Every Day Carry (EDC) list we can’t do without—whether we’re in high school, college, or beyond. Last week, we saw the first three, and today, we’ll examine the final ones.

Item #4: The Shield of Faith

The Apostle Paul underscores the importance of a soldier’s shield. Most of us don’t sling medieval metal over our shoulders, but the idea is one of protection.

In different ways, we apply the same concept today. For example, this weekend, I went scalloping and slathered on SPF 50 (twice). I wouldn’t dream of spending four hours in the sun without it!

Shields (whether metallic or ultraviolet) protect us from dangers. On the spiritual front, faith in the unchanging work of God guards us from hidden hazards.

The Bible says that the just live by faith (Romans 1:17). To live by faith, we first need to live rightly (item 2), which means we must think rightly (item 1).

Item #5: The Covering of Salvation

Coverings or helmets were a big deal for safety in Bible days. Without them, the soldier’s most exposed part of the body was vulnerable.

In his epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul restates the importance of this spiritual armor. He warns his readers to be alert or to “keep awake and be sober” so that they aren’t caught off guard (I Thess. 5:6 ESV). In order to be prepared, he challenges them to don “the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (I Thess. 5:8 ESV emphasis added).

Our salvation should both command our center and give us the confidence to face whatever challenges we encounter.

Item #6: The Sword of the Spirit

Leaving for class unprepared is code for disaster.

Obviously, students need their books (or tablet) to learn. If you attend Christian school or college, the Sword of the Spirit (code for your Bible) will probably be among the items you’ll bring. Regardless, I hope you’ll want to bring it.

It is the best defense for the day. According to 2 Timothy 3:16, it’s good for more than just Bible class. It teaches us about doctrine and righteousness, and corrects us when we mess up.

Download the Bible on your tablet or phone—or better yet, bring a print version. Whatever you do, don’t leave home without it.

A Daily Checklist

After the first day of school, we forget about supply lists (and sometimes, even about the syllabi), but the list from Ephesians 6 is one we need to remember year round. These items should form our EDC even on weekends.

To all my student friends, I challenge you to cut out the list below and tack it on your mirror or in your locker. Look at it every day. Remember it when the day brings an unexpected blow, and cheer through it when God grants you a spiritual victory.

Ask yourself: Do I have my EDC?

Start strong, and finish well.

~ Kristen

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6 Items You Won’t Find on a Supply List

This time of year, stores greet you with shelves of back-to-school supplies, an ominous reminder that summer is almost over. Soon, students and teachers will be saying goodbye to lazy summer days and the snooze button.

Sure, scissors and number two pencils have their place, but students won’t find what they need most on a supply list. If you’re a student, whether new to high school or finishing college, your biggest hurdles this year won’t be mental or physical. They’ll be spiritual, so you can’t afford not to have these items.

Ephesians 6:14-17 provides the list of essentials to start the year right.

Item #1: The Belt of Truth

Growing up, I never had the nightmare my peers seemed to have—of finding themselves undressed in the middle of class. Maybe that’s because I was homeschooled. Regardless, no one wants her pants sagging the first day of school, so belts matter.

The Bible describes truth as a belt “girded” about our waists (Ephesians 6:14 NKJV). We don’t use words like “gird” anymore, but the concept is that belts tighten or bind our clothes about us so that we don’t trip. They’re essential to keeping our outfits together.

Truth keeps us from tripping over lies we’ll be tempted to tell or believe about ourselves. What are some biblical promises that will help your mind stay centered on truth? Jot them down, and memorize them.

Like a syllabus, our thoughts determine the semester’s course. Make sure they’re pointing you in the right direction.

Item #2: The Under Armor of Righteousness

Right living, holy living is not something our culture commends. In fact, the trend is to break the rules, not follow them.

But this world shouldn’t set our moral GPS. God’s Word should, and it makes clear that we are to be holy in our conduct (I Peter 1:15).

Holy doesn’t mean perfect but a striving toward Christ-likeness. I like Paul’s description in Philippians 3:12: “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (NKJV).

Item #3: The Shoes of Peace

Shoes are a big deal, especially since most of us wear them with multiple outfits during the week. We girls like them cute and comfy. Guys tend to prefer comfort over style, but I once had a student, a seventh grade boy, obsessed with LeBron James’ style athletic shoes. I’ll leave it at that.

Regardless of what we want in a shoe, there’s one feature department stores don’t advertise, and that’s peace. However, where we go and what we do when we get there say much about our testimony.

Check your steps against the parameters of Isaiah 52:7.

  • Am I known for being a peacemaker, someone my friends enjoy being around?
  • What do I share more: good news or gossip?
  • Am I ready to tell others my testimony, or do I keep my salvation a secret?

How would you answer these questions?

Next time, we’ll look at the final three items we can’t afford to forget this school year.

~ Kristen

 

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Don’t Throw Paint at a Heart Problem

I feel a little guilty. The other day, I set a beautiful piece of furniture out by the road for trash pickup. However, before the garbage crew arrived, some unlucky person thought it was a steal and snatched it.

What’s wrong with that? Let me back up the story.

When I first purchased the hutch, it was ordinary and old, but with a friend’s help, I transformed it into a Pinterest-worthy piece.

But there was one problem. While I thought it would look perfect in my home, a bug had already made it his home.

I first suspected something was wrong when I moved the hutch from my parent’s garage to my new house. Initially, I dismissed the sawdust inside one of the drawers as a side effect of moving. Someone probably knocked the wood during the haul.

Then, the other week, a fresh mound of sawdust appeared on the carpet, and my skin crawled. I enlisted my family to move it curbside.

I thought about setting out a sign to warn people not to pick it up. But what would I say? “Warning: Bug Living in Furniture”? That just sounded weird.

Besides, people might not believe me. From the outside, the hutch looked perfect.

But pretty is only paint deep. Burrowing inside is something that will ultimately destroy it.

A Heart Problem

That bug is a little like sin. People tend to focus on the external. We have only to glance at a magazine or newspaper advertisement to be reminded that society obsesses over appearance.

On the other hand, God cares about the heart.

  • Proverbs 31:30 – “Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (NKJV).
  • I Samuel 16:7 – “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (NKJV).

On our own, we can add a few layers of paint, but we can’t solve the root of the problem. Only God can. His work transforms from the inside out, making us brand new.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV)

Becoming God’s child is a lot easier than figuring out how to treat an infested piece of furniture. All we have to do is confess that we can’t fix our sin problem on our own and instead trust that Jesus took care of it once and for all when he died on a cross and rose again, victorious over sin and death.

For Reflection

Looking back, I should have somehow warned people not to pick up the hutch. More importantly, though, I need to be sharing with others the good news that Jesus loves them and can give them a clean heart and a fresh start.

  • Has God placed people in your life who need to hear the gospel? What’s holding you back from witnessing to them and warning them about the destructive nature of sin?
  • Is there sin in your own life you need to confess so that it doesn’t hinder your relationship with God?
  • Have you been focusing too much on outward appearances and circumstances? Spend time in God’s Word to learn what He values (I Peter 3:3-4).

Please leave your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

~ Kristen

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AOA Teacher Authors Message of Hope

The following article was featured in my school’s company newsletter, and the editor who conducted the interview graciously gave me permission to share it here with you. I’m so blessed to work at a place that supports my writing! 

***

The genre of dystopian young adult fiction has become highly popularized in recent years with blockbuster novels like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Giver; however, Alpha Omega Academy teacher Kristen Hogrefe knew she wanted the genre to offer more than just entertainment.

“I wanted to offer hope,” the first-year AOA teacher said in a phone interview from her home in Spring Hill, Florida. “Dystopian novels are oftentimes so bleak. Maybe the heroine survives, but the cost is so severe that it hardly seems worth it.”

Published on June 6, 2017, The Revisionary is Hogrefe’s fourth novel and the first of a new Rogues trilogy with Write Integrity Press. The novel’s protagonist is Portia Abernathy, a 19-year-old girl who must overcome a physical handicap to rebuild her unraveling world.

“She’s on a quest for truth, and she’s trying to rescue her brother from exile in a prison camp,” Hogrefe summarized, “but she discovers that what’s going on in her world is actually a lot more complicated than she thinks. She realizes it’s not just about her world.”

Hogrefe estimated that she wrote The Revisionary over approximately eight months. She anticipates that the second book will be released in early 2018 with the final book out at the end of 2018 or early 2019.

“I’m excited to keep working on things,” she said. “It’s a rigorous timeline, but I’m a planner. I know where I want the plot to go, but at the same time, I can’t be too rigid with my outline because as characters develop, sometimes things have to change.”

Although meeting her writing deadlines while teaching has made for some busy days, Hogrefe said she has greatly enjoyed her first year at Alpha Omega Academy.

“It’s been great,” said Hogrefe. “There’s a lot to learn at any new job, but everyone has been so helpful, and the students are wonderfully polite, at least most of the time. I really enjoy the one-on-one teaching at AOA. It’s less like teaching and more like tutoring.”

The Revisionary is available in paperbook for $14.99 through Amazon. The novel is also available on Kindle. Hogrefe said most retailers should also be able to request the novel even if it’s not on a store’s shelves.

In the end though, Hogrefe knows the impact of her writing goes beyond how many copies her books sell.

“The publishing world is a competitive market,” she said. “I try to look at each sale as an opportunity to touch a life. I have received some feedback from readers, and I know I am touching someone’s life. Whether it’s through enjoyment or challenging a reader to think more deeply, it’s a privilege to have that part in somebody’s life.”

– Article by Glynlyon Editor, Reproduced with Permission

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Praise God in Soggy Circumstances

Summertime brings some of this Florida girl’s favorite things: from beach volleyball to stunning sunsets to outdoor adventures.

Along with its golden glory, the season also presents undesirable side effects like thunderstorms that rain out weeknight runs with friends and weekend water plans.

Anyone who’s lived in this state long knows what I mean. While I would choose sunshine over rain any day, the rain has its place. Yes, it keeps the grass green, but it also speaks a needed reminder to my heart.

Rain reminds me to thank God even when I’d prefer sunshine.

Life’s that way, isn’t it? Perhaps you had your heart set on one plan, and God shifts you somewhere else. Maybe that proverbial door just won’t open, or one chapter you’d like to close won’t stay shut.

How do we say thanks in the rain?

  1. Be honest with God. You can tell Him you’re disappointed. He listens and cares (I Peter 5:7).
  2. Commit your soggy circumstances to Him (Proverbs 3:5-6).
  3. Thank Him for being faithful through them (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Though we might be tempted to eye those billowing clouds with contempt, we can learn to thank God for them. Disruptions, delays, and detours are part of life’s journey. If we can recognize God’s design in them, we can praise Him in both sunshine and rain.

His Word makes clear that from dawn to dusk, come what may, we are to thank him.

From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the Lord‘s name is to be praised (Psalm 113:3 KJV).

No one likes soppy socks (or a soppy spirit). Peel them off, and praise Him where He’s placed you.

~ Kristen

 

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Live Wholeheartedly

I love how God connects friends over the years and over the miles. More than a decade ago, I met Lyndsey when she married my older brother’s best friend (a great friend to my whole family). Today, they have a beautiful family of their own and live out west, but I keep up with them over social media.

Lyndsey also works with the Wholly Loved team and invited me to guest blog on their site. I’m so excited she did! This ministry reaches Christian women spanning all walks of life. Their website says:

We’re a group of moms, wives, and professionals who love encouraging women to discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ.

Today, I’m honored to be part of the Wholly Loved blog and encourage my sisters in Christ to do just that. Below is the beginning of my post. Click over to Wholly Loved to read the complete challenge.

***

Whole.

The word indicates completion, even perfection. A whole carton of eggs is one where none are missing or cracked. A whole loaf of bread hasn’t yet been sliced.

Although these things might be perfect and complete, they aren’t usable or enjoyable until we crack and slice. We must first cook the eggs before we can savor them. Slicing must come before slathering butter or jam on a fresh piece of bread.

Afterward, the carton and loaf are no longer perfectly complete, but they’re serving their purpose more fully than they were originally.

Life is a little like that carton and loaf. God has given us gifts and abilities. Maybe we’ve practiced them, polished them, but we hesitate to make the first cut—to share them.

What if we fail? What if no one listens? What if no one appreciates our efforts?

I have bad news and good news. Some people won’t listen or appreciate—or even begin to understand when we seek to live out the purpose God has for us. But they don’t matter (well, not much).

What matters is living obediently to God’s calling.

Please click here to visit Wholly Loved and read the complete post. I’d love to hear your comments!

~ Kristen

 

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