Prepare to be inspired!
Articles are written by the ministry staff at ATC and added regularly.
Prepare to be inspired!
Articles are written by the ministry staff at ATC and added regularly.
When I was a kid, my dad and I used to watch The Twilight Zone all the time. The show originally aired in the late 1950s to early 1960s, but as a kid I probably saw close to every episode through reruns. I just loved the show and how raw it was compared to contemporary shows.
The Twilight Zone was way ahead of its time. Rod Serling, the creator, host, and main writer of the show, was a genius at mixing imagination, science fiction, real life circumstances, and the heart of the human being into a half-hour story that took viewers into the world of the unknown. I even loved the cheesy introduction to the show, where they would show a giant eyeball blinking out in space, a door opening, a window breaking, and “E=mc2” moving across the screen—like it’s just so deeply mysterious.
And then Rod Serling would come on and say, “There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call ‘The Twilight Zone.’”
And then boom—we were off into the Twilight Zone. What I loved about the show was that anything could happen. Whatever took place in this predictable life that we lived in did not apply in the Twilight Zone. All bets were off. The impossible became possible.
What’s even more fascinating than this ancient science fiction show is that as an adult, I realize that a world does exist where the impossible becomes possible. It’s called the realm of Faith. This is not a world of fantasy but a world of reality. If you look at the world around you today, you’ll see that it really is quite amazing—and supernatural. Nature, space, the human body, the idea of emotions and relationship—it’s really like something out of The Twilight Zone.
The truth of the matter is, the same Creator who dreamt it up and brought it all to life, can also intervene at any time and make real what seems to be an impossibility. He did it two thousand years ago when He became a man—Jesus of Nazareth. What seemed too impossible suddenly became a reality. God became a Man. As a man, He opened deaf ears and blind eyes. He healed incurable diseases. He preached words of absolute truth, words that this world had never heard before.
Today, that same God invites each of us to a supernatural journey of faith. Romans 1:17 tells us that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. This means that in each step of faith we take in following God, He reveals more of Himself to us, more of the supernatural, more from the “twilight zone.”
Every time God speaks to you, He is inviting you to take a step of faith, which in turn will reveal to you a world that is beyond this world, a supernatural realm where the impossible becomes reality. Let me ask you: What is God saying to you today? Are you willing to take that next step of faith? There’s a dimension that is beyond that of sight and sound and other natural senses. It’s a dimension of faith. It’s a dimension of grace, mercy, love, and eternal life. Are you ready to step into that next dimension of faith today?
We would do well to remember our world doesn’t need a definition of Christianity as much as it needs a demonstration of Christianity.
As a pastor, I’ve had the unpleasant experience of receiving screen shots of a church member’s social media posts. The screen shots were forwarded to me because there was a concern that a line had been crossed and the member’s witness was being compromised. The posts were primarily related to politics, social issues, or the pandemic. In many cases, they were also sarcastic, insulting, and cutting.
My stomach turns when reading such posts. I often have a hard time imagining the Spirit-filled individuals in question posting such offensive messages, because I know them to be kind and thoughtful people. In all honesty, I’m not immune to the front-page issues in our charged world. I’ve been known to grumble in frustration and talk back to my computer screen when catching up on the news. It seems we all can be incited in some way by the many battles and skirmishes in our world.
We are living in a drought of compassion in our current climate; our national reservoir of patience is shockingly shallow. No matter how misguided or maddening our world becomes, we cannot forget that when Jesus looked upon the multitudes, He saw their imperfections; and yet, He was still moved with compassion for them. Compassion, not frustration, should be driving us. Sometimes I wonder if we are more obsessed with mask mandates than Jesus’ mandate to preach the Gospel. His mandate has not expired; it is His number one global concern and must be ours.
Do you see the problem? The world we are called to reach is getting under our skin. We are struggling with mercy fatigue. We are becoming temperamental and easily triggered. Consequently, we, the church of the Living God, might be getting under the skin of the very people we are trying to reach.
How do we reach a world that is getting on our last nerve?
I suggest that we rediscover the spiritual practice of longsuffering. Longsuffering is a part of God’s divine nature. “But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, long suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth (Psalm 86:15). We have no idea how many times we offend God on a given day. He is so holy and we are so clueless; yet God is patient with us and slow to anger. Where would we be if God lost his cool with us three times a day?
For believers, longsuffering is divinely regulated patience for the frustrating episodes of life. Longsuffering is a God-crafted lubricant that protects our Christian witness from going up in smoke. God’s Spirit empowers us to not do what our flesh wants to do. (Sometimes not doing what our flesh wants to do requires an act of God.)
The ability to be longsuffering in adversity is supernaturally imparted to us through the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul describes longsuffering as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Paul calls us to longsuffering in his letter to the church of Ephesus. In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul challenged the Ephesians to walk worthy of their calling by being humble and gentle with longsuffering. He told them to bear with one another in love. Paul was calling on the saints to hold their Christian posture no matter what.
How can I allow longsuffering to work in my life?
1. Have a prayer life. A weak prayer life will betray us. We can’t bear the fruit of the Spirit if we don’t walk in the Spirit. A prayer life fuels Christlikeness. With prayer, we will be empowered to be patient and gracious, even in conflict. We might be angry, but we won’t sin in your anger.
2. Stop thinking about the irritation, start thinking about God! When we are provoked, let’s ask ourselves: What does God want me to do in this moment? How can I honor God in this moment? What would bring God the most glory? Remember, what brings God the most glory might not bring us the greatest satisfaction—this is why it’s called longsuffering.
3. Take on the role of a helper, not adversary. Remember, Elijah did not criticize his servant because he failed to see what he, the prophet, could see. Rather than criticizing, Elijah prayed that his servant’s eyes would be opened. The prophet became a helper; he didn’t hurl insults. When people can’t see what you can see, and a disagreement arises, lovingly shepherd the situation or conversation. Redirect instead of correct. Love people more than you love being right.
4. Remember that grace plays a role in longsuffering. Grace factors into the equation of longsuffering. Grace is treating someone better than they deserve. When someone does something that makes us feel irritated, we must remember that we’ve most likely done the same kind of irritating thing to someone else.
God's grace is displayed in His patience toward us; patience we don’t deserve. Though someone else may not deserve our grace and patience, we can give it because God has given it to us.
Without longsuffering, we will be defined by frustration, not compassion. We will fail to reach our world. We must not alienate ourselves from the people we are called to love and serve. With longsuffering, God’s divinely regulated patience, we will cut new swaths in the fields of harvest. We will reach the very people who got under our skin.
Originally published in Pentecostal Life magazine, July 2021 issue.
God has given us the Bible, and when we utilize it to help our decision-making process, we are always best informed. God has given us a brain with the ability to research and reason. It’s amazing how often people forget to just logically think, reflect, and analyze before they make an important decision. It all started with the first man and woman, as told in Genesis 3:
“Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, we may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat . . . And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life . . . Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.”
If you make poor decisions, then you set in motion a series of consequences that ripple through the fabric of life, and these ripples affect you and others, sometimes tragic ways. Consider our Scripture text: A perfect man in a perfect place had a perfect God to be his Counselor. And in one moment, he makes a wrong choice that would affect the whole world.
In addition to the Bible, God has given us many more resources to help us. God has given us prayer as a resource when making decisions. God has given us parents and close friends we can turn to for guidance. God has given us professionals that we can consult, like counselors, pastors, teachers, and doctors.
God has given us all kinds of resources to help and empower our process in making decisions, and when we use those resources, our decisions are good and fair and godly. Let’s make good decisions and be more intentional to listen and use the resources around us.
Eve was not the only problem; it was Adam who failed to save his wife when they both stood at that tree and heard the serpent speak. As soon as the serpent opened its mouth and spoke to his wife, Adam should have said, “Get out of our garden and don’t come back,” and the serpent would have had to leave. God gave Adam authority over the garden. To every man who reads this message, God has placed you over your “garden,” which is your home. Be a man and lead and protect your wife, and your children.
And to those who have made poor decisions and are suffering the consequences, you can begin again. You can learn from what has happened. You don’t have to be trapped, for you can make new choices that will bring hope and renewal and set in motion good consequences rather than bad. Our almighty God wants you to protect your garden.
Question: What do you think Adam would say today if he could see the condition of the world and realize it all stated because of the decision he made that day? Let’s make a difference today for our family’s sake in future.
This is one of the many stock replies we employ when we are asked, “How are you?” No complaints. And yet we do. A lot. Complaining seems to be built into our nature. We don’t have to learn how to complain; it just comes naturally. Complaining has a negative connotation, and we often regret sharing our complaints, but sometimes it is just a habit, as I discovered when trying to refrain from complaining for twenty-one days.
I took on a no-complain challenge for the first time a few years ago. The object is to go twenty-one consecutive days without complaining. Simple, I thought. I am a positive person—let’s do this!! But it wasn’t just no complaining: it was twenty-one days of no complaining, no criticizing, no gossip, no sarcasm. Okayyy. I started on Day One. Every time I complained, gossiped, criticized or used sarcasm, I had to go back to Day One. I thought it would be easy! But I found I complained more than I thought I did. Much more. To the point where I wondered if I would ever get off Day One! It was awesome experience, because it made me aware of my words. Uncommonly aware. Uncomfortably aware. Disconcertingly aware. It took me more than twenty-one days to get to twenty-one consecutive days without complaining. It took me many days to even get beyond Day One!
Weirdly, complaining is one of the primary ways we forge connections with people; we talk about the weather with each other and complain about how hot it is, or how cold it is, and it’s not even a negative thing, it’s just a kind of an icebreaker. At the beginning of my quest for a complaint-free day, it got a little uncomfortable for me. Someone, maybe a parent at school pickup, would complain about the weather and I had no reply; there was just an awkward silence. I didn’t say “Yeah, the weather is terrible,” because I wanted to get past Day One, and really, the weather didn’t bother me. And I also didn’t want to be like a Pollyanna, “Oh, you know, God’s grace is all we need to warm us; the sun is shining somewhere.” So I just smiled and endured the awkward silence. Once I got beyond that, I learned that some people (including myself) are just in the habit of complaining. And I discovered I could let them, without doing it myself. It is not my responsibility to cover up that awkward silence with agreement. Especially if we’re not talking about the weather; we’re talking about our pastor. Or our boss. Or our parents. Or our children. Or the Packers. Or Covid guidelines. Or elections. Or speed limits. Or anything. My job is to let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in God’s sight. So, I learned (and continue to learn) to sometimes dwell in an awkward silence. Maybe once we get beyond complaining about the weather, we can fill that awkward silence with a real conversation and find a better topic together!
We will never be able to eradicate complaining from our world; it is challenging enough to maintain control of our own words! But in the Bible, we find a way to train ourselves to complain properly. Yes, there is a right way to complain! So many of the psalms are psalms of complaint. David, former shepherd, songwriter, and king of Israel, has given us a master class in complaining, particularly in Psalm 142. In the first two verses, David says, “I cry out to the Lord with my voice; With my voice to the Lord I make my supplication. I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare before Him my trouble” (emphasis mine). David goes on to rant about how overwhelmed he is, accusing God of not coming to his rescue soon enough, that nobody understands, that nobody gets it, and that he can’t handle it anymore. But it’s important to note David doesn’t stop there. David shifts his focus in verse 7 and says, “Bring my soul out of prison, That I may praise Your name; The righteous shall surround me, For You shall deal bountifully with me.”
David pours out to God sorrow, anger, fear, longing, confusion, desolation, repentance, disappointment, depression, anxiety. Sometimes his feelings change midverse and he goes from fear to faith. From confusion to clarity. How? Why? Because he doesn’t end with the complaint. Once he got his complaints out of his system, David remembered who he was talking to! And he encouraged himself that God would take care of Him, and that however things turned out in his life, God was still the author and finisher of his faith. He remembered God’s faithfulness, and he remembered His benefits.
God wants us to pour out our complaints to Him and tell Him our troubles, but sometimes we get it wrong, and we pour out our complaints to anyone who will listen. We post rants online to get support for our complaints. We find connection in our shared offense. We do need to have people who accept us and love us no matter what we are going through, but we make a mistake sometimes in how we frame our struggles. And to whom we frame them. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to talk to a trusted friend. That doesn’t mean we don’t have uncomfortable conversations. It means that we do need to be intentional in how we approach it.
David is also known for his psalms of praise. In Psalm 103:2, David says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” He then goes on in that psalm to enumerate the many benefits of knowing God and living for Him. Why does David tell us to remember His benefits? Because as humans, we have a tendency to forget. We see what is in front of us, and often forget there is a bigger picture, and a benefit from God even during our struggle. We need reminders, and David provides them.
Wisdom is being slow to speak. But wisdom is also quickly seeking the Source of all wisdom. God invites us to take our complaints to Him, and in doing so, we learn to see our complaints from God’s perspective. Like David, we can not only take our complaints to the Lord, but also encourage ourselves in the Lord. Let’s remember His benefits, and proclaim them to the world.
Over the past few years my wife and I have had the privilege to lead several Life Groups teaching others about the damaging effects to our lives when we hold on to past offenses. We use John Bevere’s book The Bait of Satan as our primary resource. Second to the Bible, it’s a must read if you want to get Heaven. (Okay, perhaps I’m overstating it a bit.) Nonetheless, it will give you a new perspective that will help you live a more enjoyable life.
In The Bait of Satan, we learn that the word “offense” is the Greek word skandalon, which is the part (the trigger) of a hunter’s trap that holds the bait. When we take the bait of offense, we trigger the enemy’s trap and (knowingly or unknowingly) become captive to his will.
Holding on to past offenses impacts every aspect of our lives, especially our relationships with others. When looking through the lens of offense it distorts our view towards other people. We tend not to trust others. Our attitude towards others becomes more critical. We tend prejudge others. In the end, a person who harbors past offenses often becomes a difficult person to be around. Nothing good comes from holding on to past offenses!
Proverbs 18:19 A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.
The principle of this verse tells us that when we hold on to offenses, we build up walls in our minds and hearts that make it difficult for others to speak into our lives. It will hinder our relationships with others including, and most importantly, our relationship with God. The word “contentions” speaks to a person’s beliefs or opinions. This means that holding on to offense not only builds walls in your life but also leads to you developing beliefs/opinions that can hold you captive. Distorted beliefs and distorted opinions which become mental and emotional strongholds that do us more harm than good.
Matthew 24:10-12 speaks of what the “signs of the end times” will look like. Look carefully at what these three verses say: And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.
Holding on to offense activates a progressive chain of pain in our lives. Offense leads to betrayal, betrayal turns into hatred, hatred gives way to deception, and deception opens the door to lawlessness.
In these last days before Christ’s return, offense will become widespread, specifically among believers. We must be on guard and careful not to fall into this deadly trap. DON’T TAKE THE BAIT!
One of my favorite classes in high school was choir. There are an infinite number of reasons why, but one of them was because of fire alarms. Whenever it was fire alarm testing day, it always seemed to happen while I was in choir. As we all walked out single file, try to imagine one hundred students all harmonizing with the fire alarm. All of us #ChoirNerds were singing in the same key as the fire alarm, knowing it was just a test and that we could happily move along with our day after the “get out of class for fifteen minutes” segment was over. However, the reason testing was done wasn’t to give the kids a break, but because these alarms needed to work if they were to identify a real fire.
In his book Redefining Anxiety, Dr. John Delony powerfully explains how anxiety is like a fire alarm—it is not the problem; only alerting you that there is a problem. Let me say it again: anxiety is not the problem. It is alerting us there is a problem. In our culture, anxiety has never been higher and anxiety diagnoses are through the roof. Could it be there’s a deeper problem than our surface anxiety? Could it be that it’s time to take a look at the psychotic ecosystem we call “normal”? A normal where work is consistently prioritized over family, where debt is the community standard, where façades and social media perception is more desired than honesty. This “normal” has continued to evolve over the past decade, and we’ve adapted. But have we really? Or did we just get used to living with anxiety?
We tend to buy into the myths that culture screams at us about this dragon named Anxiety. We accept the myths that this is just how it’s going to be because of XYZ, the myth that you’ll always be like this and there’s nothing you can do about it, and the myth that the only way out is medication. I am not anti-medication. Working through anxiety is hard work. If someone sees medication as the “way out,” instead of examining what else could be wrong, there’s a systemic problem. Think diet pills versus changing lifestyle in order to lose weight. I know, it’s a bit oversimplified, but this is just a blog post and not a conversation.
You’re not broken. There’s not something inside you that is so off that can’t be fixed. In fact, if you’re dealing with severe anxiety, there are about forty million Americans that are on this journey with you. The reason I can offer hope is because I’ve experienced it. I’ve journeyed through seasons of severe anxiety. I have had to navigate exceedingly difficult situations and conversations that caused my body to say, “Whoa, buddy. Something is wrong.” Elevated heart rate, shallow and quick breathing, sweaty palms, restlessness, headaches, muscle tension, and panic attacks. The reason I choose to be open and honest about my experience is because I want to offer hope in a God that cares deeply about us. He is Alpha and He is Omega. He is the Beginning and the End, but He is also with us in the messy middle.
“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” (Proverbs 12:25)
What Christ offers is an unfair, uneven, ridiculously awesome exchange. I can choose to cast my anxiety on Him and He will lift me up (1 Peter 5:6-7). I can make a conscious decision to present my feelings and my emotions to God; and in turn, He can give me peace (Philippians 4:6-7). I can. I can rest in the fact that the Spirit of God helps me in my weakness (Romans 8:26). This uneven exchange is the beauty of the Gospel. I can present the ashes of my life in exchange for beauty. I can take my sadness and present it to God in exchange for the oil of joy. I can acknowledge the spirit of despair and give it to God in exchange for a garment of praise (Isaiah 61:3).
So, anxiety is never the problem, only alerting you that there is a problem. I offer hope in Christ. He has been my joy and my strength in the most difficult seasons of my life. Is it a life without the presence of anxiety? No. But it is a life that when the anxiety alarms ring loudly, I can acknowledge them as something that notifies me, not destroys me. I can allow God’s grace to truly be sufficient for me, as I learn and grow.
For more information about dealing with anxiety, and some practical tips that you can apply immediately, check out the book Redefining Anxiety by Dr. John Delony.
I’ve been thinking lately about the value of a human being, and where it is that we find our personal value or our personal worth. I think the experience of this year’s quarantine was a good test for us to discover the truth of where we actually find our personal worth. For a lot of us in this culture, we’re accustomed to the “go go go” lifestyle, and it’s in all our running around that we feel our sense of accomplishment. That’s where we feel a sense of purpose and feel that we belong; that we’re needed in this world. Well, if you are someone who’s stuck at home right now, that lifestyle may be temporarily absent.
So . . . am I worth anything now? I’m home all day; I can’t produce and move and operate like I was. Will anyone appreciate me anymore? Do I have any value anymore? Am I worth anything anymore? You know, these are great questions.
What are you really worth? Let me ask you this: Why are you here? Why do you think you are still walking on this planet? Why did you get so many years of life up to this point? Well in a nutshell, it’s because God loves you.
Now hold on a second: don’t click on to the next thing just yet. I know we’ve heard many times: “God loves you.” But we have to consider how important that truth really is. Out of all the humans God could have created, and has created, there is a you. You, with all your weirdness and strangeness, your unique sense of humor, your little quirks. The distinguishable traits of your personal profile; all of what is known as you, the oddity that is you. (And yes; we’re all odd in our own ways.)
But when God looks at you, He sees a project that He started designing before you were even born. You are a creation that God has invested His energy into. Just like the precision and accuracy and thought the Lord put into this planet and the stars and the galaxies, He’s put that same precision and thought into putting you here as well!
And why did He do that? Why did He want someone like me to be here? Revelation 4:11 says “thou hast created all things…and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” Did you hear that?
“You mean I don’t exist just for my job?”
“You mean my ultimate purpose is not just to be productive, and to stay busy until it’s time to go to sleep?”
“But there’s work to do around the house and there are bills to pay off and there’s retirement to accumulate and we’re supposed to go on vacation in a few months…”
Hold on. Slow down! Is that the reason you’re still here right now? Go ahead and breathe right now and ask yourself why were you allowed that breath?
Is that list the reasons why you were allowed that breath? No, you are still here because it pleases God to have you here. It’s His great desire that you come to know that, and that you view your life thru that lens. Let me tell you how valuable you are apart from a job, apart from your social status, apart from how many people are following you or unfollowing you on social media. Can I just tell you your real value? It’s in Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
If you analyze all your flaws and weaknesses, and take them out from what makes you you, how many people would look at that list of flaws and say, “Yes, I’d like to give up my life for that person?” Not too many. But you know what? That’s exactly what God did.
He knows you at your best and He knows you at your worst. He knows you when you’re working, He knows you when you’re at home, when you’re socializing, and when you’re all alone. He knows you when your house is perfectly clean and orderly and also when it looks like a tornado came through your home and your kids are driving you crazy.
He knows you through all of it! And guess what? Your value doesn’t change, and the reason you’re still here doesn’t change! It’s all because God loves you. I hope you believe that today. I hope that thought is the driving force that helps you to stay positive, to rejoice always, and to stay close to our Heavenly Father.
Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.” Proverbs 14:4
King Solomon, blessed with divine wisdom, said that a stall with no ox stays clean, but there is profit from having an ox in the stall.
In Bible times, owning an ox was like owning the biggest John Deere tractor that money could buy. The ox could do the heavy lifting, it could plow more fields, and it could maximize your harvest. This is why Solomon said there was much to be gained by the strength an ox. But Solomon also observed that if you have the benefit of owning an ox you also have the burden cleaning its messy stall. I will not elaborate, but a big ox will make big messes.
What if a farmer in Bible times only obsessed about the mess his ox made? Day after day he would complain to his family and friends about the inconvenience of having to clean up the ox’s mess. After a while, his friends might be tempted to say, “Hey, we can fix that! We know how to permanently ensure that you have a clean stall every day: Get rid of the ox!”
The farmer would quickly remember, “If there’s no ox, there’s no harvest!”
Solomon’s proverb is profound. It gives us a positive context for messes. A mess means there is something valuable in the stall.
Living a good and productive life can be messy. Training our children, serving others, and keeping our faith on track on top of school and work can be chaotic and challenging. The active Christian life may never have that immaculate showroom look; we may have smudges of frustration and cluttered calendars. Being a true Christ-follower, leading a family, and serving others can be a bit messy, but there will be much gain from those things.
It’s far better to have messes because you are living a productive life for God than to have a perfectly tidy life because you are isolated and uncommitted. Yes, I’ll take the mess.
Luke 12:32 Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Life is filled with uncertainties, and this last year has had many uncertainties. I believe God is trying to get our attention, and is soon coming back for His bride, the Church. We can’t let the distractions around us cause us to be fearful. God is on the throne; He is the same today and that will never change.
Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
David reminds us that God is the only One who is able to meet all our needs, especially when we’re overcome with feelings of doubt and fear. He writes in Psalm 23, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” When David penned these words, he was struggling with a very real sense of fear.
Tony Evans once said, “Many times, fear comes as a result of loss we’ve experienced or a desire that we have yet to see fulfilled. We also can become frightened as a result of something we were forced to face as a child. Thankfully, God knows all there is to know about us, and He has a remedy for the fear we feel—a personal relationship with Him through His Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Fear is the feeling of anxiety, dread, or terror caused by the nearness of danger, and it can impel us to flee our immediate situation. Everyone experiences fear in one form or another throughout life. Fear wears many faces - being worried about what others may think of you, or being anxious about being accepted by others, or being nervous while performing in public or refusing to speak in public.
Fear is the knot in the pit of your stomach that makes you wish you could just disappear. In a world filled with danger and uncertainty, one thing is certain - we cannot escape fear. So as believers we want to understand how we are to respond when we feel afraid. The Bible uses over eight hundred and fifty words related to fear, including afraid, terror, dread, anxious, tremble, shake, and quake.
The first mention in the Bible of fear is found in Genesis 3, right after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. Moses records that “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”
When sin entered the perfect environment of the Garden of Eden, mankind died spiritually, Adam and Eve were alienated from God, and their nakedness and alienation resulted in fear of God. The God of love had become an object of terror. Note their first reaction as the result of fear was to hide! God never meant for mankind to live in fear. But when sin entered the world, so did guilt. And guilt produced fear, and fear made Adam want to hide. Fear was related to the introduction of sin into the world. Here is the problem; believers still live in bodies of flesh and in a world that is corrupt and fallen, so fear is a reality we must deal with until the day we are glorified and free from the contamination and corruption caused by sin.
This is no time for the church to go into hiding because of fear; this is our hour to shine. The darker it gets, the brighter the church will shine; the greatest revival is still ahead. Let’s take advantage of 2021 and declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to say, “Fear, you will not have control of me, for greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.” Let’s take the Gospel message to the fearful. Who will go with me?
“Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
The Bible says that we are to give thanks in everything. Really? Everything? Shouldn’t there be some exceptions? I mean, when I taught kindergarten, it would not occur to me to thank God for a lice outbreak in the classroom. But please: let’s talk about something else, anything else! How about fleas?
Earlier this year I read the book 7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxes. One of the seven was Corrie Ten Boom, and an event in her life gave me pause. She and her sister Betsie were prisoners in the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany during the Second World War. They suffered inhumane living conditions and the guards were brutal to the prisoners. The sisters were moved to an overcrowded barracks with no beds, just piles of rancid straw that were swarming with fleas. The sisters and other inmates met for Bible study each night in their barracks and had been reflecting on the verse in 1 Thessalonians that commands us to: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Corrie refused to give thanks for the fleas who were sharing their bed, but her sister insisted it was necessary as “an act of purest obedience to God.” Corrie reluctantly thanked God for the fleas and thought no more about it.
The prisoners were forced into backbreaking physical labor and were beaten if the guards didn’t think they were working hard enough. But the guards never prevented them from holding their late-night Bible studies and worship services in the barracks. The reason? The fleas! They realized the guards would not set foot in the barracks because of the fleas! The prisoners were safe in their barracks and could pray and worship every night in relative peace.
That was a miracle, albeit it a small one. The Bible talks about miracles, signs, and wonders. Some miracles are public, like the loaves and the fishes. Thousands of people witnessed that miracle, and we can be sure that many more heard of it in the days after. But some miracles, signs, and wonders are personal, meant only for a few, like when Jesus walked on water toward the disciples in the boat. It was meaningful and faith-building moment to Jesus’ friends in that moment. The world doesn’t need to validate your miracle, Jesus did it just for you!
Many of us, even most of us, are suffering due to causes seen and unseen. Can we thank God that a brother died, that a beautiful baby girl has a heart issue, that a friend’s mom is on a ventilator, or that a son’s friend suffered a fatal overdose? We can, though it costs us something. We can offer gratitude in all things even when we don’t understand; especially when we don’t understand. I don’t pretend to understand everything that happens, or everything that God does. But understanding the reason isn’t my job; we’ll leave that to Him. My job is to give thanks in all things.
What are we learning from things that annoy us, or give us anxiety, or hurt us? Like the fleas in that Ravensbrück barracks, very thing that we can’t thank God for could be what protects us, saves us, or at the very least causes us to turn more toward Jesus. We can thank God in all things, if only from “an act of purest obedience,” and that act puts us into position to witness—be it large or small—a miracle, our miracle.
Of all the rivers in the world, the Amazon River has the largest volume of water. This mighty river forms a network of water channels that permeate nearly half the continent of South America. At its mouth, the Amazon is ninety miles wide. In fact, the fresh water discharge of the river is so great that it noticeably dilutes the salinity of the Atlantic’s waters a hundred miles offshore.
Interestingly, this great river begins as millions of seemingly insignificant raindrops fall into hundreds of tiny streams high in the Peruvian Andes Mountains. Collectively, the tiny threads of water rush down the slopes into streams. Streams merge to form larger and larger tributaries. Finally, secondary rivers flow into the Amazon.
Every tiny raindrop that falls in the Andes contributes to the greatness of the mighty Amazon River.
The prophet Zechariah asked, Who hath despised the day of small things? (Zechariah 4:10) Remember that your life is built one decision at a time. The seemingly insignificant choices of everyday life culminate into major outcomes.
John Maxwell wrote a book entitled Today Matters. Yes, indeed, today does matter. Today matters because we make choices today and every day. Our choices are the raindrops that forge the flow of our lives and determine our identity and destiny. Give your best to today because today matters.
Often the words faith and trust are used interchangeably, as if they were the same thing. I can tell you with confidence that faith and trust are two very different things, but they are not contradictory. A common explanation of faith is “the substance of hope” and little or no evidence is required that what you believe in actually exists. That being said, trust is the core conviction of judgment based on knowledge, instinct, and experience. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This would be the most concise biblical definition of faith. But what else does the Bible say about faith?
The Greek word used most often in the New Testament for “faith” is pistis. It specifies a belief or conviction with the complementary idea of trust. Faith is not just an intellectual stance, but a belief that calls us to action. As James 2:26 says, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” James talks about demonstrating his faith by his works. Often what we do says more about what we believe than what we say.
The idea of faith and trust have come full circle for me in 2020. Apart from all of the craziness happening in the world, my wife and I are pregnant with our first child. Our precious baby girl is the light of my life already and she’s not even born! In one of our early doctor appointments, we were informed that she has some heart deformities that will require surgery. The news was devastating and immensely terrifying.
As a man of faith, a youth pastor, a disciple of Jesus, and a husband wanting to honor God and lead by example, I prayed. I have faith that God can heal her in the womb. I’ve seen what He can do. I’ve seen what He has done. But, then there’s the flip side of this coin. What if He doesn’t heal her? That’s the scary question that the enemy has used against me a number of times in the past few weeks. However, this is where I’ve learned a deeper understanding of trust.
When contemplating all He would have to bear when being crucified, the man Jesus Christ prayed, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he talked about the “thorn in his flesh,” and he prayed to be delivered from it. God’s response to Paul was that His grace was sufficient, and His strength was revealed in weakness. I believe in our Western culture, we think it’s always God’s will to heal, deliver, provide, and “fix.” What if the trial we’re going through is working patience, or revealing God’s perfect strength and plan? This is where I live out what I’ve preached. I have FAITH that God can heal my baby. But I also TRUST that if His will is to do something else, His plans are greater, and His ways are not my ways.
Today, I encourage you in this: we must look at our lives through the lens of our Savior. HIS WILL above anything else. Above our desires. Above our weakness. Above our plans. Have faith He can do anything. Trust that His plans are sovereign.
Acts 1:1-2 “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up…”
What an appropriate place to start talking about the importance of recording the works Jesus does in your life! There is a reason why the Holy Spirit shifted the ministry of the disciples from “action” to “recording.” The work of Jesus was not to be limited to a single generation. It was meant to be talked about throughout all generations.
Where would we be today without the written record of Scripture?! Think about how much of a blessing to mankind it has been to have the written Word of God. So much of what we know about Jesus and His power comes from our understanding of Scripture. But in order to obtain a lasting written record, someone had to slow down from the hustle and bustle long enough to write.
Take the disciple Luke, for instance; he was both a physician and a companion of the apostle Paul. This meant his work was probably never ending. And yet he breaks from the “action” of meeting immediate needs to meet a future need that would reach thousands of years beyond his current day.
Why does Luke place so much value on creating a record of the works of Jesus? He tells Theophilus in Luke 1:4 that it’s to make certain that Theophilus knows what he believes.
Having a written record serves as a reminder—a testimonial of sorts—of who Jesus is and what He is capable of. How many of us have been in seasons of questioning God: What’s He up to? Why are we where we are? Will He come through for us? What a great blessing it is in those moments to revisit a written record of the past faithfulness of God! What a help it is in making us certain of what we believe!
So, follower of Christ, I’m not suggesting you try adding to the words of the Bible, but I am recommending that you stop from the heat of the action periodically and make a written record of what Jesus has done and is doing in your life. You’ll never know when you may need to revisit those notes. You never know how much further beyond your own life those testimonies can reach. You only have from today until the day you’re taken up to do God’s work; but if you pause long enough to write it down, your written record could inspire the generations to come.
The sixteenth chapter of Acts records a difficult moment in the lives of two early Christians, Paul and Silas. By God’s authority they deliver a young slave woman who was demonically possessed. Because her demonic powers are now lost, her masters, who had made a great deal of money through her fortune telling, become enraged.
The girl’s masters drag Paul and Silas before the community leaders and bring false accusations against them. The leaders, infuriated by these lies, command that they be beaten with rods and cast into prison. After a severe beating, Paul and Silas’s feet are fastened to the floor. It is in this setting of a cold Philippian prison that we read one of the most inspiring verses in the Bible: “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).
At midnight. We all know that midnight isn’t just a time of day, it can also be a metaphor for a dark time in our lives. At one of the lowest moments in the disciples’ lives, they began to pray and sing hymns to God. (Evidently there is never a wrong time to pray or worship.)
The narrative of Scripture tells us that Paul and Silas had an audience; the other prisoners were listening to their song. It’s a good thing the disciples weren’t singing a sad country song about how they lost their girlfriends, their hunting dogs, and their chariots. Instead, they were singing songs of praise.
Sometimes when I listen to Christian people during this pandemic or read their online posts, I wonder if they realize that spiritually imprisoned people are also reading and listening. These believers are upset about mask wearing, social distancing, and pandemic politics. Sadly, they are manifesting to the world how mad they are instead of how good God is. They are singing the wrong song. Paul and Silas, rather than surrendering their voices to angst and agitation, turned their prison cell into a cathedral of praise. It is important that we are singing the right song in our world of chaos and unrest, now more than ever.
Many years ago, I read an article written by worship leader and songwriter David Santisteven, entitled “Why I May Never Sing Your Worship Songs.” The article was intended for aspiring Christian songwriters, but it can also help us refine the song we sing. Let me share a few of his points. “Your song is about too many things.” Santisteven suggested that a song needs to be about one central thing, or the meaning would be lost. Paul and Silas chose to focus on one thing in spite of their pain: Jesus, their Savior. Nobody wants to listen to a song that recounts everything we are upset about with a few token lines about God getting us through. Is your song about too many things?
Santisteven says, “Your melody is boring,” and continues, “…your songs never mention Christ and have no Gospel in them.” Nobody wants to hear our song if our mantra and message is about masks and pandemic problems; blah, blah, blah. Boring. What about the wonder of Jesus and His profound influence upon our lives? Now that is an interesting melody!
Finally, Santisteven says, “Your song hasn’t been tested.” He recommends making sure a song is proven by running it by a few people. Good advice. Let’s all make sure that the song we release into our world is tested by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Before you post your thoughts, run it by a spiritually minded person. If it’s true and lovely and of good report, go for it; sing your song.
Paul and Silas had an audience. And when the earthquake came and shook the doors open, not one prisoner left. The power of prayer and praise was more attractive to the prisoners than physical freedom. Our world needs true believers to sing their best song in spite of what they’re going through. It proves the authenticity of our faith and the real power of Jesus Christ.
The following Bible story tells about Jesus’ encounter with a woman at a well. It is a well-known story, and for good reason! It is found in John 4: 5-10:
“So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’”
There were elitist groups at that time who would scorn the type of woman Jesus talked to at the well, and that hasn’t changed; we still live in an elitist society. Knowing the right people, carrying the right card, or having the right credentials will qualify you to be a part of more desirable groups and establishments in life.
What I love about this story is the fact that Jesus is no respecter of persons. He was speaking to a woman who most likely was rejected by most of her peers. Jesus treats all people equally. No matter where you have come from, no matter what kind of failures you have experienced, you and I get the same opportunities with Jesus as anyone else. Jesus used words like “whosoever;” no prerequisites or requirements, just “whosoever.” He used phrases like “any man;” regardless of race, age, social status or even their past, “any man!”
As a matter of fact, Jesus, quoting from the book of Isaiah, said in Luke 4:18-19: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captive, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”
It is hard to grasp how much we mean to God! Look at the words Jesus said…poor, broken, captive,blind, and bruised. Jesus was willing to take the unwanted and make them the most desired. I may be poor in my spirit, broken hearted from my own mistakes, captive to things that I never should have opened the door to, blind to the obvious truth, bruised by circumstances. But there is an invitation given by Jesus Christ that we still qualify for. I may never be a part of elite society, but I have an invitation to walk on streets elite society never walked on; transparent streets of gold when I enter Heaven. I may never be part of the elite, but I have an invitation to have my name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. That is a privilege, my friends. I wouldn’t trade that privilege for any honor this world could bestow on me.
If you are interested in this kind of experience, God has come to rescue you from the prevailing perception that only the privileged get the breaks. He wants you to know that while you were yet a sinner, He died for you.
Someone might keep us out of their group, but they can’t keep us away from the privileges God has given us to be saved.
You might be thinking, how can I have that opportunity? There is only one way, and Jesus said the gate is open. Our part is to walk through the gate, not climb over some other way. Jesus made it very clear in the third chapter of the Gospel of John, “to see or enter into the kingdom of God you have to be born again of the water and the Spirit.”
God has brought so many of us who have had the born-again experience to a higher level of relationship and commitment, but He’s in charge of the door and He is keeping it open for you. No one can close the door on you because God opened it in the first place.
Jesus said, “whosoever will, let him come, if you are thirsty I’ll fill you with living water, if you are weary I will give you rest.” We are not part of the elite, but we are the forgiven! We are in this place because Christ opened the door to us one day and we said yes! Would you like to come in?
Jesus is offering a gift that cannot be purchased, not because it’s unavailable, but because it’s priceless. The life of the woman Jesus met at the well was changed from that day forward, not only her life but all those who came out see for themselves.
So, what are YOU waiting for?
Nobody’s perfect. When looking at our Bible heroes, truer words were never spoken. Abraham, the father of the faithful, was actually unfaithful. David, “a man after God’s own heart,” committed crimes of the heart. Peter, the rock-solid disciple, crumbled in denial when Jesus needed him most. There was a moment of weakness in each of these lives, coming directly from what God Himself had identified in them as strong.
It’s ironic, isn’t it? You can be that close to God and still get it wrong. Your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness. The apostle Paul addresses this very matter in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (emphasis mine): “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
We sometimes forget these men from Scripture were human beings who had to make daily decisions just like we do. Mind, body, soul, and spirit are all connected. We need Jesus all the time in every area. To live our purpose in Christ, we need to constantly surrender our weakness to God’s strength. Not only does surrender allow God (rather than us) to shine, but our weaknesses serve two important purposes: they keep us from judging others too harshly in their weakness, and they keep us going back to God to seek His strength. God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. On my best day I am nothing without Him. If we are having a power struggle with God (don’t laugh, we all do it), He will let you win, but our unsurrendered strengths will become our greatest weakness and we will lose more than we think.
God has no limits, but we do. If I surrender my weakness to Him, His strength will be made perfect. The apostle Paul actually boasted about his weakness, so that the power of God could shine through! Can we trade our weakness for His perfect strength? We are not perfect, but He is! We need to seek Him, even when we think we know the answer. But there is a way back if we have gotten off course. The reason we still talk about Abraham’s faithfulness, David’s heart for God, and Peter’s unfailing courage is because they all got it right in the end. They humbled themselves, they spoke to God, and they made it right. They received fresh mercy and discovered that God’s grace was enough. Do you sometimes feel like you’re not enough? Do you sometimes feel like your gift is also a curse? You’re in good company! God’s grace was enough for Abraham, David, and Peter, and God’s grace is enough for you, too. It’s perfect, actually.
Early on in this Covid-19 crisis, when I sensed fear creeping into my thoughts, God blessed me with a verse; Isaiah 59:19, which says, “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” Looking at the Covid-19 map every day, it appeared the virus was spreading like a worldwide flood of biblical proportion. I couldn’t help but think this virus was a tool of our enemy Satan. However, after meditating on this verse, God revealed that the enemy’s tool was not the virus, it was fear. While the virus was spreading across the world, it was equally evident that fear was spreading as well.
One of the dangers of fear is that, left unchecked, it has the power to negatively change our perspective. Let me illustrate it this way. Years ago, I read a survey that listed the top ten fears of people. I don’t remember the whole list, but I do remember the number one fear was public speaking and number five was the fear of death. Just think about it for a moment: many people would rather be dead in their own casket than doing the eulogy at someone else’s funeral. What’s wrong with this picture?
Fear is like a virus. And like viruses, fear is contagious. Unlike the days before the internet, fear is much more quickly and easily spread through social media. On the positive side, we are learning that done right, social media and online church services are an effective platform for knowing, growing and showing the love of Jesus Christ. However, we have also seen the negativity that can come from social media.
Let’s not forget that many friends and family members are feeling isolated, alone, and afraid. As Christ followers, our social media accounts can provide evidence that we are people of faith and not fear. Let’s share words of comfort and compassion, not conspiracy and confusion. We are called to impart faith, not fear.
While the world has yet to find the cure for Covid-19, I’m happy to tell you we can find the cure for fear in 1 John 4:18, where it says, “perfect love casts out fear.” Let’s not forget that love is the answer to most, if not all, the world’s problems. While we are quarantined and practicing social distancing, let us use social media to spread the love of Christ. Let’s share words of encouragement to a lost and hurting world who is desperately looking for hope. Let’s use social media to invite friends and family to our online services and weekly devotions.
In the world of politics, it’s been said “never let a crisis go wasted.” For whatever reason, God has allowed this crisis to happen and He doesn’t want His church to waste it. Let’s be a standard worthy to lift up God for all to see, for such a time as this. Let us be the light in a time of darkness.
Last January, I had a skiing accident that shattered my right leg. My tibia and fibula were broken in multiple areas, and my entire year changed. I’ve spent the last 14 months getting stronger and getting back to “normal.” Months of therapy, home exercises, and daily stretching have taught me that “no pain, no gain” is 100% accurate. In order to get stronger, I had to endure pain. After more than a year of recovery, I tried something that I hadn’t done since the fall of 2018. I went for a run. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t long, but it was definitely a run. I was in pain, but as directed by my surgeon, I needed to start pushing the boundaries and put stress on my bones to continue the healing process. It is my personal goal to start running again and train for a half marathon as my comeback from this injury.
This first run, though not impressive by anyone else’s standards, was monumental for me. I had to get out there again. I had to try again. Even though it had been a long time since I had last run. Just like Nike, I needed to just do it. Micah 7:8 says, “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; when I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.” The prophet Micah knew something about being a follower of God. We will not be perfect. We will make mistakes. We will have life-altering moments that might knock us off our rhythm. But we MUST have a comeback. We MUST try again. Especially in this COVID-19 season, we MUST recommit some areas of our lives that perhaps we’ve lost sight of.
I didn’t get out there and run a half marathon on my first run. In fact, it was about a quarter of a mile. Likewise, it’s not likely you’ll start up your walk with God with reading copious amounts of His Word, or spending hours in prayer, or fasting days on end. Sometimes, it’s that quarter of a mile run that gets the joints moving again. It’s that 5-minute conversation with Jesus that gets you back on track.
You can do this.
I’ll never forget my first experience on a recreational climbing wall. Before I began my ascent, I had to put on a harness that was attached to a rope. Since I chose to climb the easiest route on the wall, getting to the top was easy. The problem happened when I was told to push away from the wall and let the rope drop me down. I hadn’t tested the tension of the rope; I wasn’t confident that it would hold me. It seemed like my hands revolted, they simply would not let go of the wall. The situation became quite hilarious for the people below. This big guy is holding onto a wall and won’t let go!
Eventually, my grip started waning, my forearms started burning, my feet began shaking from fatigue. Eventually, I lost my grip, the pulley system slowly lowered me back to earth… like sloth slow. Talk about embarrassing!
The moral to the story is this: The strength of a rope is of no consequence until you are in a life and death situation and you have to trust your life to it.
Sometimes our faith is like that rope; it hasn’t been tested yet. We’ve harnessed ourselves to it, but it’s never been a matter of life and death. People who never really press into what they truly believe are vulnerable when painful seasons come into their lives.
It is necessary that our faith is tested. Untested faith will not be trusted. Yes, it’s okay to have doubts. In fact, a faith without some doubts is like a human body without an immune system. We should acknowledge and then process our doubts, not avoid them.
The apostle Paul made this statement in 1 Corinthians 10:15: “I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say.” In other words, go ahead engage your brain, see for yourself if what I am saying is true.
Don’t quit on your faith because you have doubts. There was a man who walked with Jesus for three and a half years who was famously skeptical. His name was Thomas. Jesus didn’t criticize Thomas; he invited him to come investigate his doubts further. God and His Word can handle the test of careful examination. Go ahead, test the rope. It will hold you.
Genesis 32:27-28 – And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
How many sermons have you heard praising the lives of men like Abraham, Job, and Peter? Those three men all had moments in their lives where their obedience to God and faith in God serve as an extraordinary example to us as Christians. Yet it’s easy to forget that those men were—well—just men. Abraham lied twice and got ahead of God’s plan. Job questioned God and was reprimanded for it. Peter denied Christ, utterly failing a test he was even warned was coming. But time tends to elevate the positive and eliminate the negative.
How many sermons have you heard on Jacob? And how many people do you know who have named their son Jacob? Probably quite a few, on both counts. Yet Jacob was a deceiver. His name literally means “supplanter.” He tricked Esau out of his birthright, he obeyed his mom’s orders to connive Esau out of a blessing, he served God only for what he could get out of it, he manipulated his father-in-law Laban, and he even used his least favorite wife as a shield when he feared for his life against Esau. What a loser! But you know who DIDN’T think Jacob was a loser? God. We know this because in Genesis 32, God shows up in Jacob’s camp and tells him, “Your name isn’t Jacob anymore. It’s Israel.” You know why? Because God doesn’t demand perfection FROM us in order to continue working ON us. Every step of the way, God was working on Jacob–not accepting his sin but accepting him despite his sin. And God never gave up on Jacob, even when, after the name change, Jacob still reverted to his sinful tendencies.
I’ve heard so many sermons trying to guilt-trip people into perfect behavior. “God won’t use you if you’re dirty.” And certainly, this principle can be found throughout the Bible–God’s blessing follows the righteous (Proverbs 11) and God wants to use a clean vessel (2 Timothy 2:20-21). Jacob made a lot of mistakes but God still used him for something big.
Guilt is not what God uses to motivate us; goodness and conviction are (Romans 2:4). If you have a hard heart that is indifferent to God’s desires for your actions, then beware! God may do something drastic to get your attention. But if you have a desire to do right yet find yourself often failing, don’t allow guilt and shame to defeat you. Get up and ask God for the strength to live for Him His way because He hasn’t given up on you. He has promised to consistently work on us to accomplish His purpose.
If God can use me—and He has—He can surely use you.
Merry Christmas everybody! We are now squarely in the middle of the holiday season; every family celebrating with their own special traditions. Often this includes watching their favorite Christmas movies year after year, saying the lines along with (or a split second before) the characters. One of our favorites is Miracle on 34th Street (the original film with Maureen O’Hara, obviously). It’s the story of a little girl who has been raised to be practical, and only believe what she can see. Her childhood included neither imagination nor big dreams. As the story progresses, we see the reason why: her mother was disillusioned by someone who didn’t live up to his promises, and she wants to protect her daughter from this same hurt. But then they meet someone who encourages the mother to renew her faith in human nature and the daughter to use her imagination and believe something that is unlikely, if not impossible. The little girl decides to take a chance and puts herself out there. She shares her dream—the one she thought was too big and ridiculous to ever tell anyone. She now believes it can come true, and she will receive it as her Christmas gift. But alas, she looks under the tree Christmas morning and it isn’t there. Everyone presses her to have faith and keep believing, but she knows better now. There’s a scene in that movie I sometimes think about, and not just at Christmastime, where the disheartened little girl is in the back seat of a car, murmuring to herself, “I believe, I believe, it’s silly, but I believe.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have said those same words at church, in my car, and at home. “I believe, I believe, it’s silly, but I believe.” Although sometimes I say it like a man in the Bible said to Jesus: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”
I have some dreams of my own, and I have some prayers I need God to answer. I am believing God for some pretty big things, but they have not yet appeared under my tree. If you look at some of my dreams and prayers, statistically and realistically they are unlikely to be answered anytime soon. But I am praying to a God who is able to do exceedingly and abundantly above all that I ask or think. So, yes, I pray big prayers, not little ones. And I do believe they will be answered, although I have surrendered to the fact that the timeline is not up to me. (I believe, I believe, it’s silly, but I believe.)
Are you asking God for anything big? Are you starting to wonder if it will ever happen? Maybe it’s a financial struggle, a fracture in your family, a loss in your life, or something too personal to acknowledge to anyone but God. Maybe it’s something that you gave up on and don’t even bother praying for anymore. But send those prayers up where they belong, in the palm of God’s hand. Your life, your dreams, your family and your future are all in good hands. Because they are His hands, and He will treat you and your dreams gently.
And yes, the story had a happy ending. It’s a Christmas movie; how could it be otherwise? There was a miracle on 34th Street. And I am believing for a miracle on my street. Are you ready for a miracle on yours?
Our God is able to do exceedingly abundantly ABOVE all we ask or think. Our hard is His easy. Our impossible is His possible. So have faith in God. Meanwhile, let’s spread His peace, hope and joy to our world.
“Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.”
Over the last few decades, there have been people that have tried taming wild animals with varying rates of success. From pigs to bears, there has been a full spectrum of attempts to tame the wild. Over a half century ago, a biologist named Dmitry Belyaev gathered a team of researchers and took 130 foxes from fur farms. They began breeding the foxes with the goal of re-creating the process in which different breeds of wolves adapted to their environment, thus changing their physical appearance to dogs. Ultimately, they wanted to see if they could tame the foxes.
With each generation of foxes, Belyaev and his colleagues tested the foxes’ reactions to human contact, selecting those most approachable to breed for the next generation. By the mid-1960s, the experiment was working beyond what they could have ever imagined. They were producing foxes that were not only unafraid of humans but also actively seeking to bond with them. Selecting which foxes to breed, based solely on how well they got along with humans, seemed also to alter their physical appearance, not just their dispositions. After only nine generations, the researchers recorded foxes born with the floppier ears and spotted coats often found on domesticated pets. At this point, the foxes were already whining and wagging their tails in response to a human presence; behaviors never before seen in wild foxes.
In 2 Peter 1, we see that God’s divine power gives us everything we need for a godly life. This Scripture also says He has given us great and precious promises – so that through these promises we may participate in the divine nature of God, escaping the corruption caused by evil desires in this world. Could it be that with each generation, the enemy wants us to adapt a little more to the current culture; pushing away the truths of God’s Word? Christ has called us to avoid being conformed to the patterns of this world, instead, being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
God has a plan for you: to stand up, change this culture, and be a difference maker. The enemy has a plan for you as well: to sit down, be quiet, and blend in. We learn through Scripture that Satan is crafty, and he desires to destroy you. Beware of subtle changes in your convictions. The more accustomed to culture we become, the more desensitized we can become to media, relationships, and desires that don’t glorify God. A final thought about the foxes mentioned earlier: the more they became domesticated, the less natural instincts they had to hunt, find food, and protect themselves. The more we become desensitized to sin, the less spiritual instincts we have to witness, make disciples, and guard ourselves from spiritual attacks.
You were designed to thrive in the wild. You were designed to rehabilitate culture. Don’t allow your identity to change simply for the fact that it’s easier to blend in. Stay vigilant. Stay humble. Stay full of God’s Word and be a difference maker.
I have always been intrigued by the mystique of hard work. The athlete who stays on the field later than the rest in order to strive for a championship. The businessman who wakes up earlier than his competition in order to get an edge on the market. The musician who locks himself in a room until he achieves his perceived level of mastery. The soldier who trains in pain, denying himself comforts, so he can outlast the enemy.
In our American culture, many of us have been trained to work hard in order to pursue a dream. In fact, many other nations look at America as an oddity because of our work ethic. As a country, we average more annual work hours than Japan, Britain, and Germany. They actually think it’s funny that we do things like work from home, work through lunch, and skip our paid vacations.
But the truth of the matter is hard work really does pay off. The “grind” often does separate the great from the average. This is a fascinating concept. Hard work is waiting in front of all of us and it’s simply our choice whether or not we want to step into it.
But what’s equally fascinating is that the same things that are true about hard work can also be said for rest. The Lord God set the standard for work in Genesis 1 when He created the heavens and the earth. For six days straight the Lord worked, and His work produced something amazing. But on the seventh day, Genesis 2:2 tells us the Lord did something interesting—He rested from work.
What?! How could He do that?! If He would have worked one more day, imagine what else could have been added to this world that we live in! Yeah, maybe more could have been added to the creation, but God didn’t think it was necessary. Instead, He thought it was necessary to set apart a time to stop. To cease from work. To rest.
As Americans, we manipulate time to be more productive, but God takes time for rest. He did this to set a standard for us. Work is necessary. Work is good. Great things can come as a result of work. But rest is also necessary. In fact, you can’t be the complete and finished product God designed you to be without it!
You may be wondering, “Why should I rest if dreams come true through my hard work?” Because there is one dream, one supreme destination, the greatest dream God has placed in man’s heart, that you and I cannot achieve through hard work—it’s the dream of perpetual paradise. Sure, you can get up early, stay up late, be the first to arrive and the last to leave, and after years of that, maybe have the opportunity to enjoy a time of rest. But those efforts will not transfer to erasing your sin and giving you entrance into a perpetual paradise.
“So how is this dream reached?” The answer to that is through rest. Believe it or not, God designed you to rest in Him, and to be in a continual paradise! Read the second and third chapters of Genesis. There is no mention of time or days or months. In fact, there is no mention of a conclusion to the seventh day, which was the time to rest. Man was simply allowed to rest in God and enjoy a perpetual paradise with Him.
Today, Jesus offers us the invitation to come back to that place of paradise and rest. When looking at the Bible in its entirety, we learn that rest can be found in two places: Time and Person. First, rest was time (the seventh day). Then rest became a Person (Jesus Christ).
Hard work is right here, in front of us. It’s free for whoever wants it. But so is rest. Rest for your mind, rest for your heart, rest for your soul. Take some extra time today: have a talk with Jesus and rest in Him.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
I recently undertook the difficult task of losing weight. I had been kicking the proverbial “can down the road” for too long, and it was time. I have lost twenty pounds to date. Although I have more work to do, I am already enjoying the results.
What do you think was the hardest part about losing weight? Counting calories? No. Not eating after six o’clock in the evening? No. Putting those glazed doughnuts from the gas station down? Not easy, but no. The hardest part of losing weight was STARTING. Starting is often the hardest part of finishing a big task.
What is your big task? Is there something you have always wanted to accomplish? Better yet, what is your dream? Dreams are powerful. Dreams often stretch us and call us to do more and to be more. Dreams pull us out of our complacent and ordinary existence and chart new courses for our lives. Everyone ought to have big dreams, especially when it relates to their relationship with God, their family, and serving others.
Here is something we should know about dreams. There comes a point in life where dreams stop being a future possibility and become a past regret. There is an expiration date on dreams. For this reason, you must give your dream the gift of a start. Some people cringe at the idea of being “that person” who doesn’t finish what he starts, so he never begins. But we must remember that we can’t ever finish what we don’t start. When we start, we give our dream a chance to transition from hope to reality.
We can become creative with our reasons for procrastinating: we tell ourselves we are too busy right now; we’ll wait until things quiet down a bit. Unfortunately, we pay a high price for delaying needed upgrades in our lives. When we delay, our walk with God becomes more distant, our kids miss another year of meaningful connection, we lose more traction in our marriages.
In truth, the guilt and frustration we feel from not starting is often worse than the pain of actually doing the hard work. Yes, starting may be daunting! It will be an uphill climb; but once we get over the hump, momentum takes over.
The devil wants you to continue your life in a holding pattern. He doesn’t want you to begin the journey of a better you. But Jesus is beckoning you forward, as His word encourages us, “the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” (Zechariah 4:10, NLT). What do you need to START today?
During a recent airport layover, I tuned into a news show which was covering a congressional hearing. The primary purpose of the hearing was for the senators to ask questions of a witness. It was frustrating, however, as I watched each politician not really ask questions but instead spent most of their allotted time expressing their own views on the subject at hand. I could sense my attitude changing as I began to align with those that were expressing my espoused views. But I was quickly reminded of an experience I had not long after I committed my life to the Lord.
During the 2004 presidential election cycle I attended a men’s conference. During his sermon, a preacher yelled into the microphone “We will never change America if we elect a Democrat to the White House!” Just about every man among the fifteen hundred stood up and cheered.
The preacher didn’t acknowledge the cheers, but instead continued on with his sermon and a few minutes later he yelled back into the microphone “Listen to me, listen to me! We will never change America if we elect a Republican to the White House!” The applause was sparse and the room was, for the most part, silent. He then said something that changed my view on politics. He said, “Listen to me, if you put your faith in a political party, it is idolatry.” Ouch! That was clearly a rebuke to God’s people becoming wrapped up in the divisive world of politics.
Many of us too strongly identify ourselves as conservative or liberal; Republican or Democrat. Politics, by its very nature, divides us, and often our misdirected passions force us to choose sides and create enemies. Unfortunately, these misdirected passions have a tendency to find their way into the church. As Christians, we must be careful about aligning ourselves politically. We were not formed by our Creator to be Democrats or Republicans. We were formed and created in the image of God to be His children and ambassadors, with the primary goal of leading others to Him.
Politics distorts our perspective toward others. It divides us by causing us to focus on our differences and puts us in danger of demonizing those with differing views. While I may have my own political leanings, I’ve come to understand that no one has been won to Christ by sharing political views. People are won to Christ when we exemplify His love, grace, and mercy in our everyday lives.
Let’s challenge ourselves: What would our perspective be towards others if before we grab the newspaper, turn on our favorite news show, or tune into our favorite talk radio station, we opened our Bibles and sought the kingdom of God? In Matthew 6:33, Jesus said to seek the kingdom of God first. It is only when we seek the kingdom of God before anything else that we are able see everything through the lens of Christ. As Christians, seeing others as Christ sees them is the only perspective that really matters.
Summer is upon us with all the busyness that comes with it. This is the season of church camps and vacations and Fourth of July, where we the people remember and celebrate our independence as a nation.
The Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This was the basis for our quest for freedom from the tyranny of the British kingdom, and as rich and powerful as these words are for the freedom we now enjoy, they pale in comparison to the words of King David found in the Word of God. You see, it is not our declaration of independence that will save us in the end, but it is our declaration of dependence; our dependence on God for deliverance from the tyranny of Satan's kingdom; from the sin that so easily ensnares us.
David expresses his dependence on God in Psalm 18:1-3:
“I will love thee, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer;
my God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.
I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised:
so shall I be saved from mine enemies.”
David passed the importance of this declaration on to his son Solomon, who penned Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart;
and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him,
and he shall direct thy paths.”
These verses of Scripture are important to me in my current season; there were decisions to be made and it was imperative that I hear from God. I cannot trust my heart; the Bible teaches us that it is “deceitfully wicked.” To make the correct choices I needed the Lord to direct my path.
So, every morning in prayer I would begin by bringing my declaration of dependence to the Lord. I would speak it out loud before Him and confess that I can't do this without Him. The Lord is faithful and meets us in prayer and without fail every concern that I brought to Him was addressed, not always the way I wanted, but always what I needed to move forward. He just let me know that “He’s got this,” and I knew that I just need to trust Him and continue. I have come to the understanding that I need to do this daily no matter what season I am in; every morning making my declaration of dependence and then managing that decision by walking in obedience to His will. This is true freedom.
Last summer, I was running down Huron Road and a car slowed down and rolled down its window. I stopped, took my headphones out, and went over to the car. There was a carload of people and they needed directions to the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center. I told them how to get there, made them repeat the directions back to me, wished them well, put my headphones back in and went on my merry way. A few days later, I was on a bike ride down a country road and a car slowed down, rolled down its window and the driver asked directions to a church. I knew where it was, told them how to get there, they thanked me, and I was back on the road. A few days later when I was running, it happened again. Three times in about a week. I smiled and said, “Okay, Lord; got it.” I could get annoyed that all these people were interrupting me and keeping me from reaching my goal, but — why wouldn’t I gladly stop what I was doing to give guidance and directions to someone who was lost?
Our world does not look fondly on interruptions. We need to have a goal and a purpose, make a commitment; we need to focus, and avoid distractions to reach our goal. So many books have been written and systems are in place to help you reach your goals, get organized, be efficient that it’s an industry of its own. Now, I am all about reaching your goals, just ask my kids: “You can do anything, be the best you can be, learn as much as you can, you can do hard things, I believe in you, you can do this.”
But: Jesus. He had a purpose second to none, He was focused on a pretty high level goal—saving the world—and yet; He allowed Himself to be interrupted. There are some absolutely beautiful words in the Bible. “Jesus heard. Jesus stopped. Jesus turned.” He never said, “I’m kinda busy here, I’m about to raise someone from the dead, I need to focus.” I know it sounds ridiculous when we say it about Him, but that’s exactly what we do. He never did. Read the Gospels. He heard. He stopped. He turned. How many times was Jesus on His way somewhere and was interrupted by someone who needed something? More often than not, the miracles that He performed happened when He was interrupted and inconvenienced. Children were blessed because of an interruption. The blind could see again, the lame walked, the woman stopped bleeding, the dead were brought back to life. What we call distractions and interruptions, He turned into miracles.
We say we want to be like Jesus. If we really want to be like Jesus, we need to allow for and even welcome interruptions and inconvenience. That comes more naturally for some than others. Living in the moment can be learned, however. Life has a way of teaching you to be flexible. Children have a way of getting you used to being interrupted. And Jesus is our example of how it’s done. Maybe you can’t give up every Tuesday night to teach a Bible study right now. But we can all spare fifteen minutes a day to give directions to someone who is lost and needs direction. You can teach a frustrated child how to tie his shoes. You can offer an encouraging word. You can give a cup of water in His name.
Sometimes we are so focused on working in God’s church, praying for miracles, signs, and wonders, that we miss this moment right here. Right now. Get up from your desk, put away your phone, drop your agenda, and look around. Let’s really follow Jesus. We need to hear. We need to stop. We need to turn. We need to help. It could be that a miracle is about to happen. We can welcome that interruption.
—originally posted May 2016—
A story is told about a factory burning down December 9, 1914. It had been owned and managed by the great inventor Thomas Edison. As the factory burned, great geysers of green flame, fueled by the laboratory chemicals, shot into the air. Fire departments from eight towns rushed to the scene, but the building was leveled. Much of Edison’s work was destroyed in the process. Many friends and well-wishers, expecting Edison to be devastated, sent messages of condolence and support. This was his reply: “I am 67; but I am not too old to make a fresh start."
Within three weeks, the Edison factories were restored to a semblance of order. Soon after that they were again running two shifts. The speed of the recovery, one observer said, was almost as spectacular as the disaster.
Could it be that Edison’s bold words reflect the desire of your heart – the desire to make a fresh start? Maybe you’re tired of the way things are going and you feel like it’s time to make some adjustments in your life. Or perhaps you feel trapped by harmful habits, behaviors, and attitudes that keep you from being the man or woman of God you desire to become. It doesn’t matter what age you are or how long you’ve been on the Christian journey, fresh starts are for everybody.
Feeling a little stuck is normal. Sadly, many people give up too quickly, or don’t put real thought or effort into starting over. God is calling you to a life that is more abundant than the one you’re experiencing right now! It’s time to clean up our messes and make a radical commitment to a fresh start.
The key ingredients for a fresh start will be available to you as your look for strength to begin anew; the Word of God, prayer, focused fasting, and spiritual guidance. Let us harness the time God has given us and desire for improvement and make a fresh start.
When I was in high school, I was home one day cleaning out my basement (like the perfect 16-year-old I was), and I found something extraordinary: a keyboard. And not one of those plug-into-a-computer old keyboards. An electric piano. Who in the world finds a keyboard -- much less loses a keyboard? How in the world had I forgotten it was down there? How in the world had I been so oblivious to the fact that it was in the basement all this time?
In reality, I hadn’t been in the basement for a long time. Back in the day, my brother and I would play music down there for hours. We would play pool, foosball, watch movies and goof around. When he left for college, I spent more time in the main level of the house and in my room. There was a piano in our living room, after all. The basement became a place to throw things that weren’t needed anymore.
In the Bible, there was a young king named Josiah. His father died at a young age, so he was named king at just eight years old. He had a choice to either live like his previous ancestors and not honor God, or to turn over a new leaf and worship the one true God. He chose wisely, cleaning out the temple to re-establish worship as a priority. In doing so, something extraordinary was found: the Book of the Law. The Word of God. Who in the world finds the Word of God…much less loses the Word of God? How in the world had they forgotten it was in there? How in the world had they been so oblivious to the fact that it was in the temple all this time?
The reality of these two stories show us something insightful: we can forget about what we don’t spend time with. I forgot about the keyboard in the basement since I stopped spending time there. Josiah’s generation forgot about the Word of God since they stopped spending time in the temple. When our hearts are disconnected from God’s presence and we aren’t intentional about letting God’s Word direct our steps, we wander away from what we know is true north.
To stay connected to God’s presence this week, we can pray two very simple yet profound prayers that David prayed:
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer." Psalm 19:14
"Your Word, I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You." Psalm 119:11
“I can’t wait till I turn 16!”
“I can’t wait until this weekend!”
“I can’t wait to retire!”
“I can’t wait until summer!”
Does any of this sound familiar? How many of us have made statements like this? Okay, everyone can put their hands down. Playing the waiting game is not an easy part of life, is it? None of us enjoys being ‘in-between’ stages of life, or projects, or jobs, etc.
However, the problem with having an ‘in-between’ mentality is that we often lose the significance of the present moment. Instead of being productive and enjoying every day, we just stand still until the day we’ve been waiting for finally arrives. While big moments in life seem to mark the years of our life, it’s all the little moments in between that lead up to those big moments.
The Bible is full of people who were living ‘in-between’ big moments of their life, but they didn’t allow their present moment to go to waste.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. Think about the things God has promised to you. Think about the plan for your life. The upcoming events, education plans, career plans, family plans, ministry plans: Are you so focused on those future moments that you’re stuck... in between?
Hebrews 12:1 “...since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
Each race is won not by big leaps but by individual steps. Little steps in between the starting line and the finish line. Let me ask you a question: “What are you doing with your in-between time?”
Jim Collins wrote a business best seller, Good to Great. The book highlights the common practices of companies that had a long track record of being great companies, not just good companies.
Millions of people, including myself, have carefully read each page looking for opportunities to grow the teams we lead in our respective lanes of life. I recommend the book; it’s an enlightening read. And when you read your Bible, you might notice that Jesus Christ has His own version of the Good to Great principle.
We are introduced to a ‘good’ man in John 3 who came to Jesus under cover of darkness. The man’s name was Nicodemus, and he was a Pharisee. A Pharisee was essentially a career theologian who knew the Jewish laws and could quote most of the Old Testament by heart. Pharisees were known to go to great lengths to not only study the law, but also to obey the law in the most stringent of ways.
One more item for Nicodemus’ resume, he was a member of the Sanhedrin. This was a group of seventy men who collectively had jurisdiction over all the religious affairs of Israel. Sadly, most of the Pharisees were spiritually bankrupt; Jesus certainly said so in Matthew 23:27. The Pharisees were unabashed adversaries and antagonists to Jesus’ ministry. Together they often confronted Jesus, falsely accused him and vainly tried to ensnare him in debates.
Nicodemus was an exception. Nicodemus was what we would call one of the ‘good guys.’ He was one of the rare Pharisees who had a strong hunger for truth.
Incredibly, out of his spiritual hunger, Nicodemus reached out to Jesus with sincere questions and an open heart. The fact that Nicodemus came at night clues us in to that fact that he was not completely comfortable having this association known. Nicodemus pressed through his reluctance and took a big risk to have an ‘off the record’ encounter with Jesus.
Nicodemus is a case study of someone who was as good and sincere as one could ever hope to be, yet Jesus was preparing to have a Good to Great conversation with him. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Very truly I tell YOU, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3, NKJV).
Jesus was telling a good man there was a greater experience that was necessary in his life. Jesus was essentially saying, “Nick, you’re a good man, but good isn’t enough to get you into heaven. You need to let go of good and step into great.
Many people with far less impressive credentials than Nicodemus are living with the assumption that they will go to heaven because they are a good person. Jesus was speaking to all of us when He talked to Nicodemus about being born again. To be born again is to repent of our sins, to be water-baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). When we are born again, we become a new creation; we are not turning over a new leaf, we are stepping into a new life (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Are you ready to transition from good to great ? To be born again is the greatest experience this side of heaven and ultimately gives us entrance into God’s great and eternal Kingdom.
My two favorite times of the year are September and January. Back to school and Happy New year; both times of beginning and fresh starts. I usually take the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day to debrief my yearly goals and set new ones for the upcoming year.
I have a lot of goals. I always do. I have prayer goals, Bible study goals, memorization goals. Running goals, writing goals, reading goals, travel goals. Health goals, marriage goals, family goals, friendship goals, cleaning goals. Work goals, mentoring goals, kindness goals, gift-giving goals.
It’s ridiculous, I freely admit it. But I love it. I go through a lot of Post-it notes in my deliberations! My desk is currently cluttered with half-finished lists and Post-it note suggestions for myself. In fact, I am leaving for vacation next week and I have a goal to finish the three books I am currently reading by then so I can start fresh with my January booklist when I settle in on the plane. I have given myself today and tomorrow to curate my lists to see what will emerge for my 2019 goals. O happy days!
This is a great big beautiful world and we have a great big beautiful God. There is so much to experience, and we have a limitless capacity to learn and grow and help and love! I have started learning a new language; maybe I will see how fluent I can get this year. I saw on Twitter someone’s goal was to read all Shakespeare’s works. Sounds fun! I want to turn one of the upstairs bedrooms into a library. Maybe a good goal would be to read every book in my house before I buy any more! Full disclosure. I even have a list of goals that I don’t put on my formal list. But I still want to low-key accomplish those, too, because really, we only get one life; so why not?
But this year seems different somehow. Last fall, in my thirst for knowledge, growth, and sense of purpose, I severely overcommitted myself. My schedule was relentless and exhausting! It was bad, even for me! I have a sort of pathological optimism about what I can accomplish in a day, a week, a year, a lifetime. And I am (finally) learning that I have limits. It’s a lesson I have been avoiding most of my life! I accomplished many good things and expanded my skillset. And I believe I have made a difference in some lives this year. Although I do celebrate that, I find myself looking more closely at what I did not accomplish, which is the tax I must pay for overreaching. Amid my sea of Post-its, I sense a recurring impression that fewer goals might be the way to go. I tried at first not to acknowledge it, but it was persistent.
Yesterday was our first day back at church with regular office hours. The pastoral staff kicked off the year with an hour of prayer. Afterwards, we lingered, basking in the afterglow of prayer, and everyone began sharing their focus and goals for the year. I was caught off guard, and was slightly panicking, because tomorrow is the day I am goal setting; I’m not ready today! Had I known we were having this conversation today, I would have been less relaxed with family over the break and separated myself from them to diligently set my yearly goals so I would be prepared! Oh. Ah.
I have been studying the life of David for the past few months. David: I love him. I admire him and I relate to him. His passion, his accomplishments, His faith, his poetic spirit, even his flaws. Especially his flaws. And oh, to have God say to me like He said to David, that I have a heart like His! We celebrate the story of young David defeating the giant Goliath with a slingshot. We encourage our children to have faith like David, and to remember God is always with them. But there is another story about David fighting the Philistines later in his life, and I never before related it with the first time. The first time David fought the Philistine Goliath, he was full of faith and youthful energy and he did it alone. No one stepped forward to confront this giant mocking their God and their nation, and no one stepped forward to help an untried non-warrior, whose only company before this was sheep, not soldiers. David crushed it. Literally.
David encounters the Philistines again, much later in his story. In between these two battles, David has both comforted and fled the former king of Israel, fought many battles, led a nation to serve and defend the name of their God, survived a kingdom overthrow by his own son, as well as enduring (and causing) many personal troubles. This time, however, it was different. Listen to 2 Samuel 21:15: “Once again there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel. David went down with his men to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted” (emphasis mine). This time David was not alone. He had spent his life faithfully serving God and faithfully serving His people and at this point he had faithful men by his side when the battle started. Four Philistines were slain this time, slain by four of David’s men! His life, faith and commitment inspired them to believe in this cause.
And did you notice the exhausted part? Yeah, that got me too. Serving your purpose is exhausting! It takes everything! David’s men, well-trained, stepped in and did the actual fighting, but at the end of the chapter, it shows the Philistines fell at the hands of David and his men. Letting others step in helped David accomplish his goal. Read to the end of the chapter when you get a chance. But don’t stop there! The next chapter is a mind-blowing song of praise by David that may very well be his best work! He doesn’t sound exhausted here when he says “You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn” (2 Samuel 22:37). As a runner, I can appreciate the thoughtfulness and safety of God broadening David’s path. A broader path also allows runners (and warriors) to travel side by side. What better way is there?
So there I sat on the first pew with my cohorts, not sure what my goals were specifically, but having a sense I needed to listen to the promptings that less is more, when next to me Pastor Dustin shared his goal for the year: to become more obsessed with the Cross. That’s it. The Cross, nothing less and nothing more. Genius in its simplicity, but holding everything inside of it, as the Cross does. Stunning.
My turn came, and I did have the courage to say less goals to accomplish more. It sounded foreign to my ears, but still rang true. I want what I do to feed my purpose, not slow my purpose, and I walked pretty close to the edge of that this past year. I believe my true purpose is to help others find their individual purpose in God. I want to get better at that. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” I believe that and I try to live that. I know it’s a luxury to spend my days as I choose to reach that goal; not everyone is so fortunate, and I do not take it lightly. I can choose to be exhausted in the work I believe worth doing! But my goal is to choose more wisely; to not miss the forest for the trees, to not miss the people for the lists, to not miss the purpose for the Post-its.
I will still spend the next day or two planning my year, deliberating and organizing, getting it all down on paper, because that’s who I am. Who knows? I may even tackle Shakespeare! But I resolve in 2019 to let God broaden my path, so that if my destination ever veers off to a different fork in the road, I will have shown others how keep walking in their purpose, so the work worth doing gets done, whether it’s on my list or not.
Jesus said to the apostle Paul in Acts 26:16, “But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.” These are words that speak to us as well. We have purpose, God wants us to understand our purpose, and our purpose can be expressed in every area and season of our lives.
What is our purpose? The Oxford English Dictionary defines purpose as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists, a person's sense of resolve or determination.” And Jesus said, “I have appeared to you for this purpose.” So our purpose is tied to His purpose, our purpose is a bigger idea than just doing something for Him.
This summer I was challenged to define my purpose, and this process was very revealing to me. I have lived as a Christian for 24 years but I have never sought out to try and understand why the Lord made Himself known to me personally. What is my Acts 26:16 revelation? My adventure has been very rewarding, and I encourage you to reflect on this for yourself. What is your purpose? Why were you created.
Jesus has revealed Himself to us so he can make us ministers. One definition of minister is an under-oarsman. I have often watched the Lawrence University rowing team out on the Fox River. I am drawn to the sport of rowing; the team is amazing to watch. Oarsmen must be in sync for forward movement. The oarsmen don’t determine the direction or the speed of the boat. As ministers, or under-oarsmen, our greatest purpose in church ministry is to be in sync, in unity. We need to row together s a team.
Remember the children’s song?
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream,
Merrily merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream
I was reminded of a sermon by the same name “Row, row, row your boat” preached by my late pastor, Reverend Jack Yonts II, relating to this song. He said:
Remember to keep
Your focus on the goal
Heaven is reality
Life is but a dream.
Ultimately Jesus is leading us and gives vision and direction. He has made us ministers, so let’s row, row, row our boat. Let’s live His purpose for us in unity with the church body. Merrily I might add, because there is joy in service, and our eyes are on the goal of reaching Heaven. Heaven is the reality, life is but a dream. This life lasts but a moment; so in this moment live your purpose. In the words of Jean-Paul Sartre, “Only the guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat.”
You are wonderful! The Bible says you are fearfully and wonderfully made. See? You were created to be wonderful! I love human beings! They are just wonderful. It’s built right in! That’s why people go to the moon and write songs and climb mountains and run marathons and paint landscapes.
You have it in you to be wonderful whether you acknowledge God or not. It’s built in to everyone, as kind of a common grace. We have intelligence, sensitivity, the will to overcome; so many traits that God created right inside us.
As if that isn’t enough, you are created in God’s image. Don’t ever forget that! So everything that He is...well, you can be, too. He is a creative God; therefore, you are a creative being. It’s what and who He is so it’s what and who you are. You have the capacity for wonderful, creative works.
You are awesome all by yourself. But when you add God to your own wonderfulness, the results will astound even you. You will literally be able to change the world. Why wouldn’t you try? So let’s think big. Pray prayers that scare you. Dream dreams so big they are impossible. You need to live a story only God can tell. Because when you and God fuse together in purpose and power, together you create an uncommon grace. It will change your life. It will change the lives of those around you and it absolutely will change the world.
But here’s the danger. Sometimes we get so focused on this, and getting it right, and call it God’s Will for My Life, that we put goals, ministry, and even people into the future. Instead of asking what is God’s will for my life, ask: What is God’s will for the next ten minutes? Or tonight? Or this weekend? Then do it. Instead of asking God to send you to another country, look around. Who needs you today? Go there. Through these acts, your future will appear, sooner and better than you would have thought. How wonderful.
To calibrate means to:
In other words, to calibrate means to get back to the standard. Calibration happens all the time. We recalibrate our clocks, thermometers, scales, printers, ovens, etc. When we “recalibrate” something, it means that it has already been calibrated, but has gotten off the standard. Some items can be dangerous if not properly recalibrated.
Summer is a time that should be relaxing. However, if you’re like most of us, your schedule needs to be recalibrated come September. Maybe you’re used to staying up late watching movies, and maybe you’ve been working less. For the students out there, severe recalibration must take place to get back in the habit of doing homework.
No, this isn’t just a feel-good blog about getting ready for fall with pumpkin spice lattes and “trying to do better”. Recalibration is all about getting back to the standard. So, what is God’s standard?
Target employees wear red shirts. That’s standard dress for a Target employee. That’s how they are known. But what do disciples do? What are they known for? According to John 13:35, the “red shirt” of discipleship is loving one another.
When we read God’s Word, it should change us. When is the last time you’ve read the Bible and been convicted about something?
That’s exactly what recalibration is.
Nobody is expected to remember every verse they’ve ever read. So, when we read the Bible, we should open our hearts and pray God, let me read Your Word with an open heart and I ask You to convict me in any area that I’m not trying to be like you. Recalibrate my heart to align more closely with your Word.
We’re terrible judges. If setting the standard was up to us, individually, we’d all have different standards. That’s why the Bible is the necessary standard for us to recalibrate our hearts. Our hearts, the Bible tells us, are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Ouch. If only we had something that could discern our hearts. Well, according to Hebrews 4:12, we do. Aha! The Word of God! It’s quick, it’s powerful, and it DISCERNS the thoughts and intents of our hearts. There’s the standard.
We must use the Word of God as our standard and align our lives with it.
If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, there are a lot of things that He teaches us in His Word; here are a few examples:
If you’re not reading SOMETHING in God’s Word every day, you’re missing out on a prosperous life. (Joshua 1:8) We have a great opportunity here.
There is great power when we humble ourselves daily and pray. 2 Chronicles 7:14 tells us God will forgive and heal when we do this! In addition, Matthew 26:41, Jesus encourages us to pray so that we don’t enter into temptation. The reasoning? Our flesh is weak.
Bible reading and prayer are essentials in our relationship with Jesus. If we let it, it can become cliché. There is nothing, however, that is cliché about a compass that points north. When calibrated correctly, we expect a compass to point north. If it’s not pointed that direction, we call it “broken”.
If you feel like your life has been pointing a little “northeast”, and you know your relationship with God could use some recalibration, start with His Word and talk with Him. Carve time out of your day to realign your heart with the Bible, and the standards we find in the Scriptures. There is great joy and great opportunity to be used as a tool of God when we pattern our lives by His instructions!
In the second chapter of Titus, we read: "Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance… Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, not enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good."
This message is obviously addressed to older men and women. It is a fitting subject for our time and place in history. America is now the oldest society in the history of the world. Does this surprise you? It’s true! There has never been a society with as high a percentage of older people. Material comfort, medical care and a low birth rate have led to what is called the “graying of America”. In our country, the number of people over 65 has passed the number of teenagers. There are about 23 million teenagers in America. (I know sometimes it seems like much more!) But America’s current population boasts close to 35 million people over 65.
What’s more, in 25 years one out of every five people will be over 65, and one out of every ten will be over 80. The graying of America truly is here. We see it all around us. Sometimes we even laugh at it. Bob Hope said, "You know you're old when the candles cost more than the cake." And Agatha Christie wrote on one occasion that she married an archaeologist. Someone asked, “Why would you marry an archaeologist?” to which she replied, "Because the older I get the more he'll appreciate me."
We can have a humorous approach to this. You know, they say there are only three stages in life: youth, adulthood, and "my, you're looking well." And when they start saying that to you, you know where you are.
When I was young teenager, I had an aunt who took care of elderly people, I remember one day in particular, an elderly gentleman was sitting in a rocking chair. As I passed by, out of the clear blue he said to me something that has stuck with me all these years. “Remember, when you have children, be sure you spend time with them.” I was kind of surprised. Was he saying that in his life he didn’t give his children the time he thought he should have? Did he mess up and was saying don’t do what I did? Or was he just trying to give a word of encouragement about raising a family? I guess I will never know.
Now I have come to that place in my life when I find myself looking back thinking of the blessed journey I have had; serving God with my wife, children and grandchildren.
The book of Ecclesiastes gives us insight. The writer says in the first verse of the final chapter, "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth." Enjoy God while you're young; know God while you're young. Let God be the central figure in your life while you're young.
The aging of Christians is a blessing. It's the aged people in the congregation that provide its strength, its stability and its wisdom. Older believers, should they be in great numbers in the future in the church, are going to make the church a better place, a richer place. The mature godliness will be a benediction to the body of Christ. The aging of America means the aging of the church; the aging of the church is a great, great blessing.
The psalmist says in Psalm 71:17, "O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth, and I still declare Thy wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Thy strength to this generation, and Thy power to all who are to come." Give me a ministry in my old age because I can talk about Your strength, and I can talk about Your power because I've seen it for so many years - I've lived it. In Psalm 92, a very similar prayer rises from the heart of the psalmist, beginning in verse 12, "The righteous man will flourish like a palm tree, he will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; they will be full of sap and very green, to declare that the Lord is upright." Those who can best declare the character of God are those who have walked with Him longest.
In 2007, America was developing an appetite for “fail” videos, and Fox News posted a video of a waitress falling through the plate glass window of a restaurant. A security camera captured the waitress cleaning a table after the restaurant had closed. In most fail videos you can guess how the fail is going to happen; you can forecast the moment by observing the risk. In this video however, there is no way to predict how or when the accident will happen. In one moment the waitress is standing in the middle of the room putting dirty glasses on her tray and without warning, she trips, stumbles, and careens through the window in epic fashion.
This story reminds me of the Apostle Peter on the night he betrayed Jesus. In Matthew 26:31-35, Jesus told the disciples they would all stumble and then scatter when he was taken away. Peter took offense to the very idea and told Jesus that while he could see the others failing, he would never fail Jesus. Jesus corrected Peter and told him he would deny his Lord before the rooster crowed three times.
Later in the evening, Peter seems to be holding his ground; his resolve is strong to stand with Jesus. The eighteenth chapter of John records that during Jesus’ arrest, Peter brandishes his sword and cuts off the ear of one of the captors. Peter is just like that waitress standing in the middle of the room, far from the plate glass window. And yet, by the end of the night, his stumble happened and Peter’s fall is nothing less than spectacular: it was an epic fail moment. Peter denied Jesus, not once, but three times. (Luke 22:54-62)
I’m so thankful the story doesn’t end there. The resurrected Savior went out of His way to restore not only the severed relationship between Peter and himself, but also Peter’s purpose as a preacher and leader. (John 21:15-19) On the inaugural day of the church age, Peter was the keynote speaker. He delivered one of the most important messages regarding salvation in the entire Bible. (Acts 2:38) Later, the people had such high regard for Peter’s ministry, they would lay their sick on the streets when he passed by, hoping his shadow would pass over and God would heal them.
We’ve all careened through the proverbial plate glass window. We’ve all had epic fails, and longed for a redo. The big truth for today is this: even our worst mistakes can be redeemed. Jesus put Peter back on the path to his calling. He didn’t define him by his worst decision. In fact, Jesus died to remit Peter’s sins and restore his soul. Jesus did this for all of us. Yes, some people may memorialize your fail and never let you forget when your life was broken, but God has more for you. Instead of shame, God will give you a life of double honor. (Isaiah 61:7)
1 Peter 5:10 But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (NKJV)
A few years back, there was a story about a couple, who were casually walking around their property, when they noticed what looked like some metal sticking out of the ground. As they began to dig and get a closer look, they realized that someone buried eight metal cans in what was now their yard. Even more fascinating than the cans that were buried was what was inside of the cans: 1,400 gold coins dating back to the mid 1800s! It turns out that the coins were worth approximately ten million dollars!
What an amazing find! It’s the stuff of fairytales; something we may have dreamed of coming across. Imagine what we could do with ten million dollars!!
This couple stumbling upon this hidden treasure makes me wonder. How long did they live on their property before they found the hidden treasure that was right in their backyard?
How many times did they look out their kitchen window into that backyard and not even know the treasure was there? Maybe they had difficult nights when they stared out that window wondering how they were going to pay their bills and make ends meet. Maybe they mowed their lawn right next to or above a treasure that would change their lives. If only it wasn’t hidden from plain sight.
It’s amazing how many of us go through life everyday, trusting only in our own ability to accomplish our goals. We trust in our own ability to visualize our future; our own ability to ‘take care of business’, our own ability to CONTROL THE UNIVERSE...and yet we lack the ability to recognize the hidden treasure right in front of us.
What hidden treasure am I speaking of? A hidden treasure that’s much more valuable than ten million dollars worth of gold coins. “What?! How can that be?!”
The hidden treasure I’m speaking of, the one that if we’ll recognize it, will forever change our lives. The one that truly is the answer to all of our problems, needs, and desires. The greatest hidden treasure I’m speaking of is Jesus.
There is nothing more valuable in this world than having a relationship with Jesus Christ. “What does Jesus offer me?” you ask. For starters, He guarantees peace that surpasses understanding. He guarantees an unconditional love regardless of your past. He guarantees provision for your basic needs. And the greatest guarantee He offers is eternal life: the kingdom of heaven.
What could be better than that?! Without the guarantee of the kingdom of heaven, what good are all the other treasures of this world? What good is ten million dollars if I don’t have anything to look forward to after this life?
In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 13 and verse 44, Jesus said this about the kingdom of heaven: “...the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
The value of the kingdom of heaven is priceless. The kingdom of heaven is worth more than all the treasures in this world. So much so, that when you find it, it would be well worth it to trade in all other dreams of finding buried treasure, and just focus on the kingdom of heaven.
In comparing the man Jesus mentioned in Matthew 13 to the couple who found the gold coins, I wonder how many times that man passed by that field with the hidden treasure in it, and never even noticed it? I wonder how many times he had passed that field in his life before he finally found the hidden treasure of the kingdom of heaven? How many times had he dreamt of finding something more in life? How often was he beaten down by life, worn out, confused, struggling just to get by? And here he was, walking right past the very thing he needed....the answer to all his dreams.
What about you? Have you discovered the hidden treasure that Jesus offers? Has the kingdom of heaven been revealed to you so it’s your primary focus in life? The one thing you value more than any treasure of this world?
Life happens quickly. Life can be demanding and challenging. You don’t have to do it alone. Don’t move too quickly. You might be moving right past a hidden treasure.
There’s something wonderful about catching up with a friend over a cup of coffee. You’re both so busy these days, but elated you can spare an hour to get up to speed about each other’s lives: the job, the kids, the spouse, your mutual friends and so on. Your friend actually cares about the things in your life others might dismiss. You can vent your frustrations to her without being judged. He may not be able to solve your problem, but you feel better just having talked it over. You give and receive advice and pats on the back, and before long, you’re finishing each others sentences again. By the time your cappuccino is nothing but a few drops of foam and all that’s left of your scone is crumbs, you’ve managed to solve most of the world’s problems together. You say goodbye with hugs and promises that it won’t be so long next time. You leave the coffee shop with a spring in your step, satisfied in this well-spent hour. “Why don’t we do this more often?” you think to yourself.
If you are reading this, chances are God is important to you. People are important to you. But amid our to-do lists, schedules, jobs, classes and volunteer work, it is easy to overlook the importance of spending time with a friend, and even spending time with God. Prayer can get mundane if it’s just one of your daily chores, and it can be intimidating to pray if you don’t have much experience. You don’t need experience to talk to a friend over a cup of coffee; you just have to make the time. You don’t need a special vocabulary to talk to God, either. You just have to start a conversation. Talk to Him about your life: the job, the kids, the spouse, your mutual friends and so on. God actually cares about all the little things in your life that others might dismiss. You can vent your frustrations to Him, and He is able to solve your problems! You give Him praise, He gives you advice, and you start your day with a spring in your step, satisfied in this well-spent hour. So grab a cup of coffee and catch up with the one Friend who always has time for you: Jesus!
While shepherds kept their watching
O'er silent flocks by night,
Behold, throughout the heavens,
There shone a holy light.
The shepherds feared and trembled
When lo, above the earth
Rang out the angel chorus
That hailed our Savior's birth!
Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere.
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.
Although it might not seem like a huge detail, have you ever wondered why… the shepherds? Why not people of power, like kings? The shepherds were dirty, forgotten people that didn’t have much influence on society. However, the angels appeared to them. Perhaps it’s because God has always been fond of shepherds (Abraham, Moses, David). Perhaps God wanted to foreshadow that He would be the Great Shepherd. Perhaps he wanted to show society that social status wasn’t important. Regardless, Jesus was born and the angels came to the shepherds. Although some of us undoubtedly will go on to make our mark on the world, most of us will live a life outside the spotlight, one that will be considered insignificant by society at large. But we are not insignificant to Jesus. If Jesus reached to lowly, forgotten shepherds, we can be sure He’ll reach to us. It doesn’t matter to Him how unworthy we appear to be on the surface. If we humble ourselves before Him, He will reach to us.
What is most powerful about these shepherds is what happened afterward. One encounter with Jesus changed them forever. They couldn’t help but share with others all they saw and experienced. One encounter with Jesus will leave us changed! There is no way to fully repay Him for visiting us and for pouring out His mercy and grace upon us. All we can do is share the message of that love and mercy with as many people as possible.
Christmas is one of the few times of the year when people are more likely to accept an invitation to church. Whether it’s a special service or a children’s musical, invite your friends and family to come! Be the hands and feet of Jesus by doing something special for someone in need. Share the gospel while you are there. Volunteer at a shelter. Bring a meal to a hungry family. Visit the elderly in a nursing home who may not have family around. There are many ways to give back! If you can’t find someone willing to join you for church or you don’t have an opportunity to volunteer, you can still share the gospel with someone. Share your testimony! Tell a friend (or two or twenty) about the many ways Jesus has blessed your life. You may help them discover the true meaning of Christmas, too.
When Sam and I were first married, we lived in an upper apartment on Chicago Street. It was an old house with cheap rent, in a neighborhood that has not fared well over the years. We lived next door to a a single mom with four children. They were on public assistance, and their grandma lived with them off and on. We all became friends and we brought the kids to Sunday School with us every week.
Valerie, one of the girls, was in my class at the time, and I remember her bike got stolen one summer. Every week in Sunday School we prayed that her bike would be returned to her. Every week. Now, don’t get me wrong: I believe God can do anything, but as time went on, it seemed pretty unlikely this prayer would be answered. The family didn’t have money to replace the bike either.
One Sunday, it must have been several months later, we were bringing the kids home from church and we pulled up in front of our house. Next door, Rose (the mom) and Grandma were sitting on their porch steps, and on the sidewalk in front of the house was a brand new bike with a bow on it. There was no question who it was for! Valerie saw the bike, jumped out of our car and ran up the sidewalk. She made a beeline for...her grandma. She flew right past the bike and almost knocked her grandma over with sheer delight. “Thank you, Grandma, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
That was the best illustration I have ever seen, before or since, of thankfulness. What a moment! I’ll never forget it. And it taught me a greater lesson: God is the giver of all good gifts. I need to remember the Giver and not just focus on the gift. I have so many good things in my life, and God has made it possible for me to give freely. Can you imagine the delight the grandma felt on being appreciated and loved so much? I want to be the giver of good gifts, not to receive thanks, but to give joy to another.
I also want to remember to say thank you, like the one leper out of ten who Jesus healed. Ten were healed; one went right back to Jesus to express his gratitude. Maybe the others went back to Jesus later. Maybe their mother had to remind them to go back and say thank you. But nobody had to remind Valerie to thank her grandma for the bike; it was the natural and spontaneous reaction of her heart. I want to be so exercised in gratitude that going to Jesus first in praise and thankfulness is my heart’s default mode. Not just one Thursday in November. Every day.