Millennials' Biggest Problem: Comparison

I appreciated this piece on RELEVANT today by Paul Angone. It was convicting in a striking way, but it was a healthy reminder.

Obsessive Comparison Disorder is the smallpox of our generation. Nine out of 10 doctors agree Obsessive Comparison Disorder is the leading cause of devouring a whole box of Thin Mints while watching reality TV.

So what exactly is Obsessive Comparison Disorder, what are the side effects, and more importantly, is there a cure?

Obsessive Comparison Disorder

Obsessive Comparison Disorder is our compulsion to constantly compare ourselves with others, producing unwanted thoughts and feelings that drive us to depression, consumption, anxiety and all-around joyous discontent.

Now, obviously the lure and danger of comparison didn't just start. Comparison started when sin did.

The first murder recorded in the Bible was a byproduct of comparison. Two brothers brought God an offering. God approved Abel's and disapproved of Cain's. So in Genesis 4 Cain invites his brother out to the field, and he attacks and kills him.

During Jesus' last supper with his disciples, he tells them shocking news that will forever change history—one of them is going to betray him. How do the disciples respond? Do they do whatever it takes to find and stop the culprit? No, in Luke 22 they start an argument about which one of them is the greatest disciple.

Comparison has always been around. But now with the internet and social media it's taken our comparison problem to global heights.

Just a few decades ago, you used to have to wait until your ten-year reunion to look each other up and down to see how much worse or better off you were than them. And all you had to do was fake it for one night.

Rent a BMW. Borrow a spouse and a few kids. Go on some insane weight-loss program you bought on an infomercial, along with that machine that shakes the fat out of you. Do whatever it takes. Just pull off some fabricated version of your life for one night to show everyone that your made-up life was obviously better than theirs.

Comparison has always been around. But now with the internet and social media it's taken our comparison problem to global heights.

Then you could leave your reunion and take that rented BMW straight to Little Caesar's. Two Hot-N-Ready pizzas later, life could start going back to normal.

Now with the joyous invention of online social media, who needs a ten-year reunion? We now have the opportunity to compare ourselves to everyone. Every. Single. Day. What a blessing.

Every day we are trying to pull off a branded, dazzling, filtered, edited, impossibly epic and other worldly life that no one could possibly be living.

"My job doesn't even feel like work!" "My kids couldn't be cuter, they never misbehave and they are the only ones on their team to ever score a goal!" "My spouse and I constantly walk around cheek-snuggling like we're doing in this photo!"

Yet, what effect is Obsessive Comparison Disorder having on us?

An 18-Year-Old First Time Attendee Recaps TGCW16

This time two weeks ago I was sitting near the back of a very full room. Two moms and a baby sat on one side of me. A girl with glasses in her twenties sat on the other side of me. Sandra McCracken stood on the stage with her guitar and led 7200 women in worship. It was day 2 of The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference. 

Two weeks ago I attended my very first big conference, and it was marvelous. The only thing lacking was the circumstances. At the beginning of the conference, D.A. Carson commented how delightful it was for him to see so many moms and daughters attending this conference together. That stung a little, because my mom was supposed to be at the conference but was instead at home, sick. So I attended the conference by myself. While Dad drove me down to Indy, walked me to each session, and was basically Superdad, I actually went to the conference by myself.

And in the midst of unfortunate circumstances, I was overwhelmed with great joy.

The Joy of Hearing Women Teach
I frequently read books by Christian women but infrequently have the opportunity to hear them teach in person. To soak in the faithful exposition of 1 Peter by so many godly and articulate women was an immeasurable blessing. Kathleen Nielson, Jen Wilkin, Carrie Sandom, they were all rich with insight and grace. (I unfortunately missed Mary Willson, but I heard she was one of the best.) 

Coming to God's Word hungry to be fed with over seven thousand other women was a delight. 

The Joy of Hearing Women Sing
There's not much like singing praise together in a room of thousands of women. Keith and Kristyn Getty led worship like I've never seen done before. What gifted and humble and lovely people they are. There were moments I was led to tears by the utter joy of the gospel on display in the songs we sang. It was magnificent.

The Joy of Tasting Heaven
Since I went to each session alone, I tended to make friends with people I sat by. There was the young mom from Georgia, the single lawyer from Manhattan, the sweet Texan named Kelly, the foster mom from Iowa, and so many others. It was one of them who said to me, "Don't you just love this? All these Christian women together? It's like a taste of Heaven." And it was. The place was ripe with encouragement, with unity, with worship, with teaching, with growing, and with fellowship. 

But even more, I knew that image of Heaven was incomplete -- because a part of me longed for the diversity of both men and women worshiping together. Dad and I are making plans to attend CROSS conference in Indy in December, a missions conference for college students, and I'm eager to join with a great group of diverse young people of both genders. I'm eager to learn and worship together

I dearly hope I get to attend the next TGCWC, especially with my mom. TGCW16 was a treasure and a gift. I was fed full and came home fit to bursting. It was a privilege to be edified by women and with women and enjoy sweet fellowship. It was indeed a throbbing blot of joy in the midst of this life. I am grateful.

What It's Like to Be 18 And a Writer

This not a braggy post. It's just sort of matter-of-fact.

I am 18, and I am doing the one thing in the world I want to do more than anything else - I am a writer. People pay me money to do that (some days I don't know why, but it's true).

I'm trying desperately hard not to take it for granted. I know that I landed this job through the luckiest set of circumstances in the world (if I believed in luck, that is). I met a pretty famous writer who decided to mentor me, invited me to take over his website, and then secured a book deal for me.

When I signed the contract with Crossway, I remember asking Mom, "How many 18-year-olds can say they just landed their dream job?"

Writing a book is a consuming passion for me. I work on it almost every day, think about it all the time. This dream job doesn't have set hours, nor does it have an office or a cubicle and I don't wear hot-shot business suits. As many days as not, I write in my pajamas, with no makeup, my hair in a ponytail, lying flat on my stomach on the floor in front of my laptop.

It's a good life.

I read lots of books, more now than ever. I check out piles of books from the library and download dozens onto my Kindle. I read books to help me in my book, but I also read books that are totally unrelated. I read mostly great books (though I can't help that a few not-so-great ones occasionally trickle into the flow).

I run a few times a week, sometimes to think and sometimes to clear my mind. When you spend a lot of hours lying on the floor in front of a computer, you need to get up and move around.

I'm not sure if I believe in writer's block, but I believe that some days it's harder to write and harder to think and words just don't come as easily. Other days I can write for hour upon happy hour with no thought to time or word count or whether this book will be the worst book ever written. Other days I can't.

I spend about 90% of my time editing. Re-reading, re-writing, re-wording, fixing, changing, searching the thesaurus, hacking through dense writing, trimming flabby writing, deleting great chunks of text and scratching my head to replace it. That isn't always fun.

But the worst part of being a writer is receiving critique. And I receive a lot of it. It's teaching me to have tough skin and better drafts. It's always painful but it's also one of the best parts of being a writer.

I think I had this vision of me alone all the time, holed up with my laptop, writing in solitude until I emerged one day with a masterpiece in my hand. Ha. Again I say, ha. It takes a village to raise a child and a village to write a book. I need people to read my words and hate them and teach me how to make them better.

That's how a good book is written.

Being 18 and a full-time writer is pretty weird. Most of my friends are in school or working part-time and trying to figure out what to do with their lives. That was me literally four months ago. Now I'm here. God moves in mysterious ways.

Being 18 and having your dream job is also pretty weird, pretty amazingly wondrously fantastic - but also a little weird. When people ask me what I want to do in the future I get to say, "I'm doing it."

I am so blessed, it's hard to describe. I am so grateful to the Giver of dream jobs and opportunities. I'm so excited that in this dream job I get to study God's Word to be better at it, to write about His glory and wisdom and powerful, life-changing truth.

This moment in my life, being 18 and a writer, is indescribably good and I am grateful for it.

How Do Atheists Observe Thanksgiving?

This is a really excellent piece by Dr. Albert Mohler on Thanksgiving and atheism. The only problem is, in Canada, it's not Thanksgiving.

But for all my American friends, this is worth sharing.

Thanksgiving is a deeply theological act, rightly understood. As a matter of fact, thankfulness is a theology in microcosm — a key to understanding what we really believe about God, ourselves, and the world we experience.

A haunting question is this: How do atheists observe Thanksgiving? I can easily understand what an atheist or agnostic would think of fellow human beings and feel led to express thankfulness and gratitude to all those who, both directly and indirectly, have contributed to their lives. But what about the blessings that cannot be ascribed to human agency? Those are both more numerous and more significant, ranging from the universe we experience to the gift of life itself.

Can one really be thankful without being thankful to someone? It makes no sense to express thankfulness to a purely naturalistic system. The late Stephen Jay Gould, an atheist and one of the foremost paleontologists and evolutionists of his day, described human life as “but a tiny, late-arising twig on life’s enormously arborescent bush.” Gould was a clear-headed evolutionist who took the theory of evolution to its ultimate conclusion — human life is merely an accident, though a very happy accident for us. Within that worldview, how does thankfulness work?

What I'm Thankful For: 2015

If you've been following this blog for any amount of Octobers, you know that it's my practice on Canadian Thanksgiving to compile a list of things I am grateful for.

Obviously, gratitude is not a once-a-year event, but what a golden opportunity for a Christian to take this time and reflect on how God has blessed her in so many ways. Here goes.

Life. I am grateful for a beating heart and mobile limbs and lungs filled with fresh air and the simple opportunity to wake up to a new morning and see and smell and act and do and dream and experience living in God's world.

Octobers. I am grateful for changing seasons and especially Octobers in Nova Scotia (if you've never experienced one, you seriously need to Google some pictures) and skies that are deep, deep blue and crunchy leaves and fuzzy socks and hot tea and blankets and air that smells like cold and smoke and spices.

New opportunities. I am grateful that God is opening doors for me and giving me wisdom as I pursue my dreams and allowing me to meet new people and go new places and try new things and encounter new ideas and work hard to achieve goals.

People I love. I am grateful for my dad and my mom and Travis and my extended family and my church family and simply that God has given me a whole beautiful mess of people to love me and text me and laugh with (and occasionally at) me and make me cookies and study God's Word with me and disciple me and loan me movies and pray with and for me and teach me and encourage me and counsel me about the scary, wonderful world ahead.

Purpose. I am grateful that God has created me and this earth with a purpose and that He adopted me as His child when I did nothing to deserve it and in fact did everything to deserve death. I am grateful that I have been given life forever and a moment on this earth to make an impact for God's glory. I am grateful that everything around me has meaning and motion and God is with me.

What are you thankful for?

What Is Jesus Doing Right Now?

Some people think that Jesus does nothing.

Sure, He did something. But that was long ago when He walked on our earth. Now He is far away from us, ascended into Heaven, isolated on a throne among clouds in the sky.

They think that He's not really doing anything today. He's just sort of waiting around to return to earth.

But nothing could be further from the truth. So what is Jesus doing right now? Steve Lawson:

Christ is risen, ascended, enthroned, crowned, reigning, interceding, receiving, saving, hearing, answering, building, and preparing.

Jesus, our Sovereign King and Creating Savior, is actively working and operating in our world.

He is saving people.

He is receiving people into His kingdom.

He is answering prayer.

He is building His church.

He is reigning over every aspect of our lives and the world around us.

He is interceding for His people's prayers.

He is constantly receiving honor and glory and praise.

And He is preparing a place for His people.

Jesus is busy. Jesus is alive and working actively daily.

Don't think that when Jesus left us, He stopped being involved with us. The empty tomb was not the end. It was only the beginning.

With full hearts of gratitude, let us reflect on the work of Christ in our lives - and the world - today. 

You Will Be Known By Your Squiggly Lines

Our fingers are really rather fascinating.

Look at the tips and marvel. There are little mazes inscribed on them, squiggly lines that spin in circles.

Our identity is in those squiggly lines. I still remember my elementary school trip to the police station and pressing my thumb onto a wet pad of navy ink. And then I got to stamp it onto a piece of paper.

"There is no finger print like that," they told me.

I am unique. The squiggly lines make me like no other. 

The infinite creativity of an omniscient God strikes me anew. Our finger tips bear an indelible mark of our individuality. I am different than you, and my fingers - my fingers - display that.

God's creativity is unspeakably imaginative. Have you ever looked in a mirror at your own eyes? How can my eyes look so similar to yours, yet our faces look totally different? How can two browns be so alien? How can our eyes be unique?

God formed us for His glory, to display His greatness. He knit us together in our mothers' wombs. He made us as individuals.

That's why I can't change my gender.

That's why I can't change my race.

Thank God for the way that He made you - totally unique, yet fashioned in a way that reflects His creative beauty. And even when the world mocks, laughs, and rails against you, celebrate it.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Dale Martin.

things I want

Once upon a time, yonder back in the ages, in 2010, a social media platform was created. It was called Pinterest. It was all about pictures. You created a board and then you searched and pinned pictures onto this board.

I occasionally poke my virtual head onto this platform and get to wear a variety of hats. I play novice wedding planner, interior decorator, chef, travel agent, fitness guru, and shopper. Picture boards have themes and there is pretty much a board for everything. It's fun to set a time limit and sift through interesting boards.

Once a week or so, Pinterest sends me an email. "Hi Jaquelle," they tell me. "Here are new boards to follow." This week took me to a board with a relatively simple title: things I want.

There were some pretty neat items - things ranging from pretzel-shaped earrings to funky blenders to popsicle-shaped phone cases to enamelware bowls to golden sneakers. But as I scrolled through the many pins, I began to think: is this godly?

To make a list of things that one wants - unrealistic, outrageous, expensive non-necessities - does that foster gratitude?

For me, it would not. I know my heart's proclivity to greed. I know how I can become obsessed with all the things I don't have instead of reflecting on all the things I do. Sure, the board was made in good fun, and it was a silly escape to scan through it.

But then it hit me: I do this too.

Not on Pinterest, but in my heart. I keep an internal list of things I want. And it distracts me from gratitude. Not all the things on my list are material but there are always things I want.

I want a great GPA.

I want to be done school.

I want more money.

I want to go on vacation.

I want satisfaction in all of these things. Satisfaction apart from God. I look to these things to make me happy, because I think that they will. things I want. They can become idols.

So the remedy to my greed, to my idolatry, to my ingratitude is to fix my eyes on God. Take all of my heart's wanting and let that swelling desire in my heart be swallowed up in gratitude to my Maker. Worship to my Life-Giver. Hope in my Saviour. Praise to my Lord. Humility to my King. Joy in my Redeemer.

And service to my God.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and John Bullas.

Wondering at the World

Do you ever wonder at the world? Not in a tired way. Not like you're upset and frustrated. Like you're in awe. We live in a world of marvels, glorious complexities and breathtaking beauties. Every day we are surrounded by them.

Yet we drink them all in without a shred of wonder or an ounce of awe. We are bored. How poignantly G.K. Chesterton assesses our condition:

We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.

Consider with me just for a moment the sky. One day it's grey and cloudless, the next it's deep blue and crowded with puffy whites. Then it's black. Then it's red. Then it's pink. Then it's yellow. Then it's orange. Then it's navy flecked with silver stars.

The sky is cloudless. Then there are millions of clouds. Then they drop rain, billions of pellets of water. From the sky. Though really, this was actually condensation from the earth that was somehow sucked up into the clouds which hung onto it until they got too heavy and dumped it back on the earth.

When it gets cold, it snows. Every snowflake is unique. Right now trillions of snowflakes are outside my house. There is a nine foot snow bank facing my front door. Every snowflake in that bank is different.


What about the mechanics of the human body? The playfulness of our pets? The taste of food? God didn't have to make food taste so good. We didn't have to have taste buds. But He created them, and He gave them to us for sheer pleasure - to bring the glory back to Him. For good food.


Look around your house. Look closely at whatever technological device you're reading this on. Computer, smart phone, tablet, iPod - how amazingly inventive this technology is. How gratitude should flow out of us for a fridge or a microwave. How blessed we are for the people God has used to create. Looking around my living room alone I am awed by not one but three laptops, a beautiful Heintzman piano, a cat perch, an electric fireplace, a coffee table, two coffee mugs, books, a phone, a rocking chair, three electric lamps, picture frames, fake plants. and speakers.


Daily we are surrounded by wonders. Pine trees and sunsets, running cars and coffee, pillows and thunderstorms, hand cream and chicken nuggets - don't waste them. Take a moment to truly wonder at God's glorious creativity and the marvelous, intricate world of beauty He has created.

It is wondrous.

Just a Little More

Someone once asked John Rockefeller how much money he wanted. The richest man in the world replied, "Just a little more."

Christmas has a propensity to bring out our ugly side. It has a tendency to draw out our sin like blood. The mass consumerism that bullies us and bowls us over offers us opportunities for greed like a flawless slice of cake. And we eat it like we have no choice. Like kids in a toy store, greed feeds off us like a parasite. What do we want? Just a little more.

Greed is directly linked to ingratitude, and ingratitude is the enemy of Christmas. This is the one special, spectacular time of year where we all just stop together and, in unadulterated worship, give thanks for the incarnation. Christmas is all about gratitude, all about our gratefulness to God for giving us the best gift of all - His Son.

And we shrug it off in the name of the holiday spirit. We distract ourselves with gifts and goodies until we've dulled ourselves to Christmas' right reality. We want, we want, we want.

Just a little more.

We - I - need to take a deep breath this December and ask for forgiveness. Most of us are guilty of greed this holiday, whether it's greed for ourselves or greed for others. Greed is sin, sick and vile. But there is mercy for our sin this Christmas. There is mercy in a manger, mercy that culminates in a cross, and mercy that comes alive in a tomb.

Lay aside the weight of greed this Christmas in favour of mercy.

My Thankfulest Thanksgiving

On Monday I took a few moments to share with you some of the good physical gifts that God has blessed me with and for which I'm grateful, like family and sweatshirts. But all of those gifts pale in comparison to the weight of eternal things which I have been blessed with. These are the things I am the thankfulest for - that is, if "thankfulest" was a word.

My justification (Ephesians 1:7-10). Through the eternally effective blood of Christ, my depraved heart was cleansed of all unrighteousness. I was forgiven, and my redemption was secured. In a magnificent process that began before the foundations of the world, God planned the justification of His people (Eph. 1:4). And I am one of those people because of the amazing grace of God and the compassion He had on me.

My adoption (Ephesians 1:5-6). Not only have my sins been erased by the Lamb, but I have been welcomed to His family. God has adopted me and promised to love and care for me. Sometimes we focus so much on the frown of God, we forget that, because of Christ, God delights in us. God loves His children.

The Word of God. Living, active, beating, sharper than a two-edged sword, the Word of God gives life and imparts new, wondrous truths. It is a book that is alive. This book is the mouthpiece of God, through which He speaks to us. He teaches us through a Book, a marvelous, magnanimous piece of literature, a rich collection of narratives and history and poetry and prophecies and letters. This Word is our lifeline.

Hope. Without hope, love wouldn't exist. Life would be a paltry existence of meaninglessness. I look around every day and see a world choked with suffering but I have hope. I have hope that because of the work of Christ, one day He will redeem this bloodied, broken world, dash the tears from our eyes, and welcome us to a new home. There will be no sickness or sin or broken hearts. It will be eternally good. That hope sustains me through even the bitterest of days and worst of news. I am thankful for hope.

What are you thankfulest for?

What I'm Thankful For (2014)

It has been my practice in recent years to compose a list on (Canadian) Thanksgiving that contains a few things that I am very grateful to God, the giver of good gifts, for. This has been beneficial to me in numerous ways, giving me a proper perspective on Thanksgiving and being an excellent way to start another week. Here is my list of a few things that God has blessed me with:

My family. They are constantly teaching me, loving me, growing me, showing me, making me a better person every day as we share good meals and good conversations and read books together and talk theology and TV shows and everything else together and laugh together and do devotions together and play games together and watch movies together and become more sanctified together.

My education. I'm grateful that I got to start college two years early while still at home, I'm grateful for the credit hours I've accumulated, for the good feeling of tests passed and books put away and that clean, refreshing feeling of opening a new one, for fun courses and even the not-so-fun ones because they taught me perseverance, for getting to watch lectures in my pajamas and take tests with a cup of tea next to me, for passing Western Civilization II and Information Systems and Computer Applications, for growing as a student and as an individual.

New opportunities. I'm grateful for my license and the availability of my mom's car, for my new job and my fun co-workers, meeting new friends, going new places, reading new books, and all the new and exciting opportunities the Lord has seen fit to give me this year.

My other family. My church family really is like a second family to me, made up of a group of people who love to serve and love and care for each other and worship together and fellowship together and eat together and have fun together and pick up trash together (only five more days until our biannual church road cleanup!) and hang out at each other's houses and laugh together and play games together and get closer to Christ together.

Tea (among other miscellanies). I'm grateful for a hot cup of vanilla rooibus on a cold day, sweatshirts, my books, my cats, over a dozen copies of the Word of God sitting in my house, Spotify, cream soda in a glass bottle, living in Nova Scotia in the autumn, our piano, my grandparents both close and far, good friends (also close and far), the children's lit course I'm studying, running water, chances to write, soft beds, and new days.

God has given me a lot of physical things to be thankful for, things I take for granted every day. What are you thankful for?

Learning Contentment in the Saviour's School

This poem by William Cowper both convicts and encourages me. May we look to Christ for contentment every day.

Fierce passions discompose the mind,
As tempests vex the sea,
But calm, content and peace we find,
When, Lord, we turn to Thee.

In vain by reason and by rule
We try to bend the will;
For none but in the Saviour's school
Can learn the heavenly skill.

Since at His feet my soul has sate,
His gracious words to hear,
Contented with my present state,
I cast on Him my care.

"Art thou a sinner, soul?" He said,
"Then how canst thou complain?
How light thy troubles here, if weigh'd
With everlasting pain!

"If thou of murmuring wouldst be cured,
Compare thy griefs with mine!
Think what my love for thee endured,
And thou wilt not repine.

"'Tis I appoint thy daily lot,
And I do all things well;
Thou soon shalt leave this wretched spot,
And rise with me to dwell.

"In life my grace shall strength supply,
Proportion'd to thy day;
At death thou still shalt find me nigh,
To wipe thy tears away."

Thus I, who once my wretched days
In vain repinings spent,
Taught in my Saviour's school of grace,
Have learnt to be content.

-- "Contentment" by William Cowper (1731-1800)

Image Credit: 

Gratitude: True or False

Gratitude is a trait that, even in our morally wishy-washy culture today, is looked positively upon. Gratefulness, whether from a boss, employee, teacher, student, salesperson, friend, family member, or just about anyone else, causes culture to give a little thumbs up. And do I even need to mention the sea of pithy, spiritualized quotes that wash over social media?

"The vibration of gratitude attracts more positive things into your life."

"Gratitude is the heart's memory."

"Gratitude is the open door to the power, the wisdom, the creativity of the universe. You open the door through gratitude."

Everyone agrees gratitude is good - from hardened atheists to well-taught toddlers. But especially Christians. We laud gratitude as a spiritual fruit of faithful religion. And it is. But false gratitude is not. And sadly it's false gratitude that pervades our society today, including our pithy spirituality. But what do I mean by that phrase, "false gratitude"? I'll let Jonathan Edwards, a brilliant eighteenth century Puritan American pastor, explain. In his book, The Religious Affections, he wrote of the difference between true and false, or "natural," gratitude.

True gratitude or thankfulness to God for His kindness to us arises from a foundation laid before, of love to God for what He is in Himself; whereas natural gratitude has no such antecedent foundation.

In other words, true gratitude is rooted in worship to God. So false gratitude is not really gratitude at all. It contributes to self-love, not love of God. And so the non-Christian cannot be truly grateful, because they fail to recognize that everything they have to be grateful toward is because and for God. They fail to recognize the glory of God, and so their gratitude is rooted in pride. Because they are not grateful to their Maker, any attempts at gratitude they have are false.

But for the Christian, our gratitude is laid on the foundation "of love to God for what He is in Himself." Because of His good and glorious and holy character, we can be grateful to Him, and from that arises gratitude to others, only because of our gratitude to God.

"I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever." - Psalm 86:12

Image Credit:

Modern Youth Culture and the Plague of Affluence: Part 1

I have never seen a movie that portrays modern youth with such vain and shallow character as the movie Bratz (based on the line of girls dolls of the same name). Besides being a poorly done movie (with a paper-thin plot and one-dimensional characters), it is the depth of moral character and selfishness of affluence that really stunned me. The movie follows four best friends, all girls very well-off, starting high school and attempting to overcome the peer pressure of splitting up to join other cliques.

To the best of my knowledge, Bratz intends to send a deep-ish message - the bonds of true friendship defy the pressure to conform to a made-up social order. Unfortunately, that message gets swallowed up in the weakness of moral character of the girls presented, both in their affluence and their shallowness. Today I'll briefly highlight this plague of affluence:

The Plague of Affluence
I wonder why the writers of Bratz wanted to portray the four main girls in the way that they did. My guess is that it had nothing to do with sending a cultural message. Yet that's exactly what happened. Like I said before, these girls all live in nice suburban homes, and as the movie opens, are all video chatting on their computers about what to wear on their first day of high school. They each survey their walk-in closets jam-packed full of clothes and pick their outfits. So yes. They are your typical affluent youth.

But later in the movie, we get a "twist." They're invited to a big party and decide that they naturally all need new outfits. So they go shopping at a designer clothing store when suddenly, one of the girls, Cloe, whose mood has all-too-quickly sunk to the floor, gloomily announces,

I'm not going to Meredith's party, okay? I can't afford to buy anything new. You guys need to go without me.

We later find out that Cloe is raised by a single mom who is a caterer and is not even sure if she can put Cloe through college. Thus Cloe is now pitted as the sympathetic character. When I watched this for the first time, I actually wondered if it was supposed to be a joke. Now, granted, I have never been raised by a single mom, nor have I wondered if my parents could put me through college. I am not undermining that that is a difficult thing. But still. Cloe lives in a nice house, goes to a nice school, has a computer and a video camera, a walk-in closet full of clothes, and can't afford to buy a designer outfit - and she's supposed to be the mark of poverty?

This is the plague of affluence. We in North America have so much that when someone else has something more than us, we feel less-than. It is the hunt for materialism that consumes us - especially us teens. From the magazine covers to the Disney Channel, clothes and styles and toys and things grab at our attention. And though some of those things may not necessarily be bad, when they become our focus, they become idols. When our eyes widen with wonder at the gifts and close in boredom at their Maker, our affluence has suddenly cheated us.

In the end of Bratz, the girls perform in a talent show in order to win a college scholarship for Cloe, a valiant action that should be praised. Yet based on their actions throughout the rest of the movie, their obsession with shopping and clothes and parties and material goods, this action doesn't seem so genuine. The plague of their over-abundance of affluence has made this kindly act seem fake. And now perhaps the deepest point of the movie culminates in that another one of their affluent friends gets to go with them to a wealthy college. This is supposed to warm my heart?

But this post isn't really about Cloe or the rest of the "Bratz." It's about me, and it's about you. Though perhaps not as shallow in character as these girls (stay tuned for part two), we can be just as materialistic and consequently cheated by our affluence. We have so much, yet we want so much more. Why is that? It's because we're discontent with what we have, and we lack thankfulness to God. It's a stinging truth. We look at pictures of the slums in India, and we say, "Boy, am I thankful for all the stuff that I have!" But are we really? Or are we just so consumed with goods and dictated by social polity, that we feel obligated to say that? And now the guilt is alleviated.

But then we look back to those Indian slums, and we see Americans or Canadians wading through the muck, giving up all of their affluence to serve the poor and the weak, and they are singing hymns, full of joy. Are we really better off than them? Is our affluence a blessing or a curse? That's all a perspective. God has placed you where you are for a specific reason, and He has given you what you have for His glory. Is your attitude toward Him one of gratitude and worship? Or is it selfishness? And perhaps maybe you are called to give up more. Maybe you're called to sacrifice affluence for India. But maybe not. Maybe you're called to use your affluence right where you are to further the kingdom of God.

Is affluence a plague? It can be. But it can also be a great blessing. Look to God today with gratitude, seek His will, and use what you have for His glory. Reject the message of the Bratz, and embrace the hope of the gospel.

The Cycle of Seasonal Discontentment

It's almost March. Yet where I live, snow still clings to the dead trees and lumps together in awkward patches over brown grass. I was talking to someone in Minnesota yesterday, and she too testified to the fact that winter is far from over. But for goodness' sake! It's almost Daylight Saving time again! When will winter go? I'm ready for spring, for flowers, for green grass, to shed my boots and mittens, for Easter, and butterflies, and songbirds!

Does that sound familiar? This is me at the end of winter. And then near late May, early June, you'll hear the "summer rant," about how I'm soo ready for the weather to just warm up already. Seriously, will summer never come? But by mid-August, I'm already complaining about the heat and the humidity and too many bugs and, excuse me, when are the leaves going to change? Naturally, fall is no different, because by the time November rolls around, I'm practically glued to the window, looking for snowflakes. Sure, snow can cause some problems, but isn't it pretty? And winter just might as well get here now. But, oh wait, now it's the end of February, early March, and I hate winter again.

I call it the cycle of seasonal discontentment. We hate it, we love it, we loathe it, we complain about it. It's what we do. All of us - not just Christians or non-Christians. It's almost like a culturally-mandated thing. It's not too often you hear someone actually happy about bad weather. You probably give them that look that says I-think-you're-crazy-but-I'm-too-polite-to-say-so. But that's because we just don't look at weather in the right way. Sure, it can muck up our plans, but all of it is from God - ordained by Him and decreed by Him.

Yours [God] is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter.

So says Psalm 74:16-17, when it was just as true as it is today. All weather is from God, so when we choose to complain about it, we're complaining about the gift God has seen fit to give us. You say to me, "How can this snow be a gift if it causes us to cancel our church services?" Because it gives glory to God, and testifies to His greatness. We can choose to embrace it or complain about it. Not all the weather's pretty or easy or comfortable or conducive to prearranged plans, but it is all under the sovereignty of God. Not a snowflake falls, not a leaf turns green that is not under the providence of God. 

Will you choose to break the cycle of seasonal discontentment? Take joy in each day God gives you, each breath, whether you breathe it in winter or spring, among dead trees or blooming ones, under grey skies or blue ones. For He has given us this weather - who are we to say we don't like it?

12 Ways for Teens to Find Joy Right Now

Why is it that teens seem plagued with restlessness? More so than other age groups, teens especially feel like they're living in a transition stage - and they want out. I can relate. Sometimes we teens get caught in this horrible trap of longing so much to "grow up" that we forget to find joy right now. But perhaps the restlessness is good. C.S. Lewis once said, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another one." Christians should be restless, for they are longing for a world better than this broken one. But I fear teens' restlessness lies not so much in dissatisfaction with this world but with an ingratitude toward its Maker. We lack joy because we are ungrateful. So how can this change? Here are twelve ways for teens to cultivate joy right now:

1. Stop thinking about these years as a transition. Thinking that life hasn't started yet (but will once we're "grown up) is a terrible distraction from things that matter. It causes us to lose responsibility for our time.

2. Cultivate ministry right now. Ministry is not just for adults. Now is a perfect time to find a place to start serving in your church. See what your unique gifts and talents are and use them to minister to others.

3. Don't waste your education. As much as we'd like to think of high school, and even college, as time-wasters, there are few ways we could spend our time better. These years of education are tools that are equipping us with many powerful weapons for life.

4. Don't restrict education to a classroom. If we think that the only things we can learn are found in a textbook, we're sadly cheating ourselves. Opportunities to learn are all around us. Find a mentor. Get an internship. See life as the greatest textbook there is.

5. Read good books. Books are instruments of enjoyment, entertainment, and most importantly, edification. Read well, and read widely. Don't merely inhale all the saccharine fluff the YA section of the library has to offer you. Read theology books. Read good novels. But most importantly ...

6. Know the Bible. Don't just read it to make your parents happy. Read it to discover the meaning of life. Read it to know God, and read it to know yourself. But do more than read it; know it. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. Hide it in your heart. I've been told our memories will get worse with age. Use youth to your advantage.

7. Be a godly example. You are watched. Know that. Those younger than you think you're the coolest person to walk the planet and they will imitate you. Know that you are setting an example, consciously or unconsciously, and others will mimic you.

8. Don't let romantic relationships distract you. I don't date. And I'm not pursuing a romantic relationship. I won't until I'm ready to pursue marriage. The main reason is that I don't want to be distracted. Having a boyfriend (or girlfriend) takes up a lot of time, so that means other things lose time, other important things. I can't tell you not to date, but I do want you to always keep first things first. Don't get distracted.

9. Count your blessings. Don't just do it on Thanksgiving. And don't just do it tritely. We are greatly blessed. Go to websites like Voice of the Martyrs or Compassion International and just read and watch. Then count your blessings.

10. Know what you believe. Now is what people often call the most important time of our lives in relation to worldview. Claiming our faith for our own or disowning it because it was our parents' happens right now. Don't call yourself a Christian because your parents are. Call yourself a Christian because you are following Christ.

11. Make plans. Just because our teen years are an important time doesn't mean that we can't plan for the future. Make plans about college and careers and dream big, but entrust everything to the Lord and rest in Him.

12. Don't lose your restlessness. Ingratitude is not good, but restlessness is. We are not made for this world, so don't get too attached. Keep pursuing the kingdom of heaven, and you will find joy on this earth.