SPEECH: FOOLISH OR WISE?

The Proverbs have much to say about our speech.  We all know that the words that come out of our mouths can get us into trouble and hurt others.  We all have a problem with taming our tongue.  The book of James spends a great deal of time on this topic.  It is the hardest area in our lives to control.  Let’s take some time and see what the Proverbs have to say about speech.

The Speech of a Fool

“A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.  A fool’s mouth is his ruin and his lips are a snare to his soul.”  Proverbs 18:6-7

  1. A fool stirs up trouble.  We can use our words to be aggressive by speaking out against others.  We may be very defensive when someone tries to help by correcting some of the things we’ve said.  We may speak in an argumentative way in order to get our thoughts heard.  All of these interactions can stir up trouble between people.
  2. A fool speaks thoughtlessly. This is something we can all struggle with as we speak before thinking.  Sometimes it’s because we want our opinion to be made know; so we’ll interrupt and blurt it out.  Other times, we have no consideration for the one who is suffering and may give a pat answer to a complex situation.
  3. A fool is divisive. This happens when we interrupt with rash, irritating comments.  Our opinion is the only one that matters, and we don’t really care about others.  This is an invitation to others to respond in anger to us.
  4. A fool is trapped by his own words. When we lie to others, we can become entangled by our lies.  There comes a point when we can’t keep the lies straight anymore.  Who did I tell that to?  We may lie so much that others soon don’t believe anything we say.

The life of a fool is not one we should be living as followers of Christ.  Our speech needs to reflect our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  Let’s focus on what the Proverbs have to say about the speech of the wise.

The Speech of the Wise

“The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.  Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”  Proverbs 16:23-24

  1. Wise speech begins with a wise heart.  Our desire is to have a wise heart that motivates our speech.  The wisdom we have comes from God as we ask him for it.  We also gain wisdom as we read the Word daily, adding to our knowledge.  The wise heart is so important for us because it causes us to be careful with our words.  The words we say will be more focused on a desire to help others than on ourselves.  A wise heart will keep us from blurting out whatever comes into our minds.
  2. Wise speech persuades others toward truth. As followers of Christ, we are called to give warnings to those who are wandering from the truth.  We are called to speak the truth in love to our brothers and sisters.  We will use pleasant words of encouragement, comfort, and challenge in order to help others.
  3. Wise speech is always about others. We are to speak with the other’s best interest in mind.  This is vital for the growth and benefit of our brothers and sisters.

“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.  Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”  Proverbs 1:27-28

  1. Wise speech will be restrained. As followers of Christ, we are to think before we speak.  We are to engage our brain and consider what we will say.  This will keep us from blurting out hurtful words.  This is the wisdom of self-control.  When we act in a controlled manner with our speech, we will know when and what to speak.  We will also be even-tempered or have a cool spirit as our proverb says.
  2. Wise speech will, sometimes, be no speech. We all need to learn when to be quiet.  It’s interesting that even a fool is thought wise when he is quiet.  It’s important to be quiet, especially in order to listen well to someone.

The life of wisdom is one we should be living as followers of Christ.  Our speech needs to be wise and will be so as we strive to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of the Scriptures.

Let’s take some time and evaluate our speech with the following questions.

Am I a good listener?  Do I really care about what someone is saying to me?  Am I more concerned with my reply to someone?  Do I speak with the other’s best interest in mind?  Do I seek to honor God with my speech?  Do I talk about God?  Do I encourage the truth in others and in myself? What do I need to change in my thoughts and my speech in order to look more like Jesus?

Wow!  What a task God has given us to speak into each other’s lives!  Who are you speaking to?  Who are you listening to?

 

WAITING ON THE LORD

What is it about waiting that drives us all crazy? Waiting means we can’t get what we want when we want it.  Waiting means we have to put patience into gear.  None of us like to do that!  We have so many things we use so that we don’t have to wait.  The microwave oven or the Instant Pot will have our dinner done in minutes.  The internet gives us information after the push of a button.  We don’t even have to watch the opening credits of a movie because we have fast forward.  We hate to wait, but God calls us to wait over and over in the Scriptures.  Does this mean he’s not in the 21st century?  Is he not aware that we don’t like to wait?  What really does he want from us in asking us to wait?  Let’s take a few moments and look at some of the Scriptures which contain the “wait” aspect.

  “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” Psalm 27:14

As we present our requests to God in prayer, we should be anticipating his involvement in the request, always looking for his answers.  However, we get impatient and may even begin to try to solve issues ourselves, rather than waiting on the Lord.  This verse tells us there is a result from waiting – strength and courage.  As we wait on the Lord, our dependency and trust in him will grow, which results in strength and courage to endure.  The waiting on the Lord is not a time of passivity, but one of involvement in trusting the character of God.

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” Psalm 37:7a

Waiting is hard enough, but now the Scripture adds to “be still.” Why is being still so hard?  We only do it when it’s convenient for us, like when we are in front of the TV, or reading a book, or sleeping. The struggle to be still is real and affects us all, not just children.  We have to utilize our self-control in order to be still.  It can be so hard to be still as we listen to a sermon, and yet we can spend the rest of the afternoon on the couch playing video games.  We are very picky about when we are still, aren’t we?  Rather than thinking about our bodies moving, we need to think about our minds.  Our minds need to be still and rest in God’s work in the situation we’ve brought before him.  The racing mind of “what ifs” needs to be still and wait patiently for the Lord to work.

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” Psalm 62:5

Now we’re told to wait in silence, really?  I can’t even complain about having to wait.  It’s easy to complain about being in line at Burger King longer than five minutes because fast food should be fast!  We are not to complain about waiting on the Lord.  The Lord’s time table is different than ours.  He knows best and acts for our best interest.  We can trust him and need to remind ourselves that he is our hope.  Our hope doesn’t disappoint us (Romans 5:5).  The hope we have in the Lord is confidence that he is always working on our behalf.  We can really quiet ourselves and wait on the Lord because this is our hope.

It’s so true about waiting none of us like it, yet all of us are called to do it.  There must be something good about waiting.  In these three verses, we found out that waiting can lead to strength, courage, calmness, trusting, and hope.   So how do we combat the urge to give into impatience?  Once again, we use the Scriptures to give us the answer.

“Be still, and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations.  I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10

We need to surrender our will to God’s will.  We need to surrender what we consider our rights and follow God.  He is God!  We are not!  The idea that most of us live with is that we deserve this or that, but the truth is, we don’t deserve anything but hell.  God, in his mercy and grace, has seen fit to rescue people to call his own.  As a follower of Christ, you are one of those people.  Our recognition of God and his position is key to our being able to wait.  We are called to be still and KNOW that he is God.  This is an intimate knowledge of who God is and what that means to each of us.  The stillness and the waiting will happen when we focus on knowing God for who he is.  We are not to make him in our image, but we are made in his.  He is the creator, sustainer, and deliverer.  The more we know him, the easier it is to wait on him.

As you wait for your Instant Pot to cook your chicken breast, thank God for always hearing your prayers and acting in his time.  The chicken will taste better, guaranteed!

 

 

EVERYDAY LIFE AND GOD’S PRESENCE

It’s just another day with all the ups and downs of life.  As you move through the day, there are so many times you wonder if God is really with you.  Sure, you’ve said you believe he’s always there, but do you?  When the utility sink is overflowing with water onto the basement floor because you forgot to change the lint filter, is God there?  As you are driving down the street trying to focus with screaming kids in the back, is God there?  Maybe it’s the grocery trip when everyone forgot their masks and you have to stop at CVS to purchase new ones for the third time this week.  Is God there?  Everyday life is not always “normal” or “easy”.  Things happen which grab our attention and cause us to wonder, is God really here?  What can we do in order to remember God is here?  What can we do to find peace in the midst of chaos?

  1. God’s presence is relational. 

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

As followers of Christ, we can’t be separated from relationship with God.  When God saved us and made us his – No One – not even we ourselves, can separate us from him.  In John 10:29, Jesus says, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”  God himself, keeps us in relationship with him.  Therefore, we can communicate with him at all times no matter where we are or what we’re facing.  Our communication with him should be constant because he is always with us and is always listening to us.  We need to remember to cry out to God in those everyday moments that are difficult. There are things, even in the difficult everyday moments, for which we can be grateful.

  1. Grace is always present because God is present.

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” Psalm 145:18   

 “My grace is sufficient for you…” 2 Corinthians 12:9a

The Lord is always near because he is all around us.  When we call on him, we are assured he is right there with us.  He hears us and gives us grace.  He always provides the grace we need when we need it.  Grace is always available.  God is everywhere and so is his grace.  We need to ask for grace for the difficult everyday moments we face.  This grace is his favor which actually helps us to endure the difficulty.  Look for his grace.  Be aware of his presence by seeking to see his provision for you in the midst of disaster.

  1. God’s power is always present.

“And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”  2 Corinthians 1:21-22   

“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

God’s presence is with us because we have his Spirit within our hearts.  He doesn’t leave us and we are his temple or his dwelling place.  He is the Spirit of power.  This power within us can be the source we draw on when everyday life becomes too much to handle.  He’s plugged in and we have to turn ourselves onto his power and help.

These are the thing to remind ourselves of so that we remember God’s presence with us.  We need to be thinking about God, and realize that how we handle the everyday things of life is a reflection of who he is.  Are we a good reflection or not?  It’s easy to let the water on the floor or the screaming in the car or the trip to CVS be all consuming.  It’s the tyranny of the urgent that we allow to get in the way of the truth of God’s presence in the midst of the storm.  Maybe, it’s that we think God doesn’t care about these things we face every day.  We can be assured he does care.  Jesus came to live the life we couldn’t live for ourselves.  He faced hardships, relational challenges, discouragements, rejection, and so much more.  He went through these things perfectly because he knew we couldn’t.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Hebrews 4:15

The above verse tells us, in no uncertain terms, that God cares about every part of our lives.  We see that there is sympathy for us in our situations.  He always cares and is always present to help us in our time of need.  So, what can we do?  We can remember the truth about our Lord and Savior.  When he says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” in Hebrews 13:5, we should believe him!

 

 

BOOK REVIEW – A LOVING LIFE – BY PAUL E. MILLER

This is another book review of a book that I read twice.  I enjoyed it both times and continue to be challenged by the contents.  The complete title is A Loving Life, In a World of Broken Relationships.  You can see where the challenge has come from in that our world is full of broken relationships. What part of that brokenness is our part?  The author, Paul Miller, takes time to explore love in the book of Ruth.  The truth he reveals about love is challenging.  It has caused me to ask myself, “Am I really loving well?”

The first chapter begins the same way the book of Ruth does by introducing the subject of suffering.  On page 19 Paul Miller states, “…suffering doesn’t create love, but it is a hot-house where love can emerge.”  As the interactions between Naomi, Ruth and Orpah take place, we are very aware of the suffering these three widows are experiencing.  We see how Naomi has love for them and wants them to return to their people so that they can marry and have children.  But Ruth won’t go and displays love for Naomi which includes a commitment to God.  What kind of love is this?

This is hesed love.  God loves us with a hesed love.  This is described for us on page 24 as a “commitment with sacrifice”, “one-way love”, “without an exit strategy”, and “stubborn love”.  Ruth loves Naomi in this way.  The Lord loves us this way.  I’m to love others this way.  Are you getting the challenge?  Even as I write this, once again, I feel the weight of not doing this well.  We could stop right here and seek to display this in our love but there’s so much more to challenge us.

As the development of the book of Ruth continues, Paul Miller shows how love is part of lament, not based on feelings. The death of ourselves is part of living this love out.  We can see how Ruth continues to display this type of love for Naomi throughout the book.  She continues to put Naomi and her needs before her own.

            “Hesed love is a determination to do someone good, no matter what, to be faithful to a covenant regardless of its impact on you.  It wills to love when every fiber in your body screams run.” Page 34

We see this displayed by Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz in the book of Ruth.  They are a reflection of God’s love to one another.  How can we display and maintain this type of love to others?

  1. Get to know God.

We deepen our love of God not by direct pursuit of God, but through the good work of love, where we enter the gospel and the pattern of Christ’s life becomes our pattern…As we enter a life of love, we get to know God.” Page 138

God wants to be known by his children.  I am so encouraged by this quote, which really is saying to us, it’s not enough to read the Bible and pray every day.  We have to put sacrificial love into practice.  It’s not good enough to just know about it.  As we put this love into practice, we get to know God more.  This is a hard calling but one in which we will grow to be more like Christ who has loved us sacrificially.

  1. Hope in God’s Sovereignty

“If God is guiding the pilgrimage, that gives us the hope to endure in love.” Page 128

God is sovereign.  He is in control of all things.  He knows how hard it is to live the life of love in relationships with people who are just like us.  We are all sinful and selfish but we are called to love.  Our hope is that God is aware of the challenges and uses them to grow us.  When the relationship seems hopeless, we can have hope in God to use our sacrificial love for his glory.

  1. Trust in our Redeemer, Christ

“Redeemers own the problem; the weight of the other person’s life falls on them.” Page 115

Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross.  His blood was the payment required and God accepted it.  As a follower of Christ, he is my redeemer and I belong to him.  Everything I face in this life, he carries for me.  I’m free to love others well because Christ has loved me well.  Christ’s love for me didn’t stop at the cross but continues today as he walks with me down difficult roads.  His loving care for me gives me the ability to love well.

There’s so much in this book to commend.  It’s a great study of the book of Ruth.  The challenge to love well is the weight of it.  At the end of the book, the challenge to love well is still front and center.  It has caused me to think about my love for others again as I read it.  I highly recommend this books to you and pray God will give us the grace to love well.

            “You simply can’t beat love.  You can’t out-humble it.  You can’t suppress it, because you are always free to love no matter how someone treats you.  If others are putting nails through your hands, you can forgive them.  If someone is shouting curses at you, you can silently receive them.  Love is irrepressible.  Faith and hope will one day pass away, but not love.  Love is forever.” Page 156

 

 

2021…THREE WEEKS IN

The experts say it takes three weeks to change a habit and then three more weeks for it to become the new habit.  How are you doing?  We are in week three of making changes; that is if we even bothered to try.  The idea of resolutions beginning in the new year has been around since Ancient Babylon. The following quote is from history.com.

“The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the new year—though for them the year began not in January but in mid-March, when the crops were planted. During a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions. If the Babylonians kept to their word, their (pagan) gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor—a place no one wanted to be.”

The Babylonians were concerned about making changes and keeping promises in order to satisfy their gods.  They were striving toward being who their gods wanted them to be and if they didn’t, they considered that they would be out of favor with their gods.  This idea of resolutions for us is a little bit different.  Most of the time, we make resolutions to better ourselves for ourselves.  Here are the five most popular resolutions for Americans according to the internet.

  1. Exercise more
  2. Lose weight
  3. Save money
  4. Eat healthier
  5. Reduce stress

I’m sure, if you are honest, some of these were included in your thinking for change this year.  We are always talking about striving to make these types of changes.  Now we are three weeks into these changes, and we’re wondering what changes we were thinking we were going to make.  I know that some of you actually do follow through and have accomplished some of your goals.  The majority, however, are probably more like me and allow life to get in the way of changes to habits.  What comes to my mind even now as I write this, is that our resolutions are so self-focused and yet we can’t seem to focus on them.  Does that make sense?  I think it’s time for a change in our resolutions.

The Babylonians were concerned about pleasing their gods for the coming new year.  As followers of Christ, we know God, the real God, the one and only God, the creator of the universe, and the Father of all who believe.  This is so exciting and should encourage us to pursue him in our daily lives.  What if we made our resolutions more God-centered than me-centered?  What if we added Bible reading, prayer, memorization of the Word, or service to others to our resolutions?  If we did, we would begin to know God more.  He calls us to know him and be in relationship with him.

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.  Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18

If we make our resolutions about our growth in Christ, will we fail?  You bet we will!  We are still sinners, saved by grace, but sinners none the less.  We are going to fail, get up, fail again, and get up again.  The wonderful thing about God is that he doesn’t base his favor on our performance.  All of the grace we receive from God is because of what Jesus did for each of us on the cross.  The Babylonians were trying to please their gods, but Jesus pleased God once for all in his death, burial and resurrection.  In fact, Jesus doesn’t give up on us and tell us to hit the road or get away from him.  He says, “Come.”

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

We’re three weeks into January with plenty of time to make some changes in our lives for the glory of God.  What do you need to change?  How can you make the effort to grow in the knowledge of the Lord?  Where can you look when you fail?  You can look to Jesus who says “Come” to each one of his children.  This life can throw lots of potholes at us, which can cause us to stumble and fail, but Jesus tells us to get back up and “Come.”

May today be the day when growing spiritually is the most important exercise you can do!

 

GOOD NEWS OR BAD NEWS…ALL ABOUT PERCEPTION

In this world of social media, news travels fast.  We no longer have to wait until we can make a long distance call or write a letter that will take days to get to our family members.  It’s fun to be able to share the birth of a baby or wedding pictures immediately with everyone on your “the ones who care” list.  We can also share news that is sad to hear, like the death of a loved one.  What makes news good or bad?  Sometimes the same news can be good to one and bad to another.  The determination of whether the news is good or bad comes from our perception.

Everyone has a perception, their own point of view, which is derived from their experiences and knowledge.  It’s because of this fact, we have to be sensitive to others who don’t have the same perception as we have.  One thing to remember is that our perception can be subjective, as we base it on what we believe to be true.  Emotions can play a big part in our perceptions as well.  It’s so easy to base our conclusions on our feelings.  In fact, it makes us feel better to do that!  All of these things are a part of how we interpret news and determine whether it’s good or bad.

Numbers 13 – Moses sent the spies into Canaan

“Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, send a man, every one a chief among them.” Numbers 13:2

God gave this command to Moses and he chose one man from each tribe to go into the land and check it out.  These 12 men went in and found grapes, pomegranates, and figs.  They packed them up to bring back to the camp.  They spied out the land for 40 days and then returned to give their report.

“…We came to the land to which you sent us.  It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.  However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large.  And besides we saw the descendants of Anak there.” Numbers 13:27-28

The news brought by 10 of the 12 men was discouraging. They gave the emphasis on the fortified cities and the descendants of Anak who were very tall, giant people.  This was bad news.

“But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.’” Numbers 13:30

The news brought by two of the 12 men was encouraging.  Caleb spoke for himself and Joshua when he said that they could overcome the people of the cities.  This was good news.

These men had different perceptions of the situation, but these perceptions went much deeper.  The 10 had the wrong perception of God.  He had brought them out of Egypt and he could certainly take them to Canaan.  However, their perception of God was clouded by their fear.  Caleb and Joshua were the only two of these men who made it to the promised land.  The others died before they could get there, as God had them wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.

Does the truth of God inform your perception?

Now that’s a question for us to ponder.  We like our viewpoint, our opinion, and our version of truth.  This question should cause us to think about our perception of the news we hear.  Is it good news because it promotes the gospel?  Is it bad news because the gospel is being squelched?

Some examples

“I’m getting married.”  Good news but then the question, “Is he a believer?”          “I really don’t know but I love him and he loves me.”  Good news has just turned into bad news.  The two perceptions here are different in that one just wants someone to love her. The perception of the other is informed by the truth of God.  She desires her friend to be married to a believer.  Good news – Bad news

“I just got a new job with a substantial raise.”  Good news for this person.  The friend asks, “Full time?”  “Yes, I’ll be working seven days a week.  Lots of overtime.”  Good news has just turned into bad news.  The first has the perception that the extra money will be worth it.  The friend has the perception informed by God’s truth, and knows we need the church community.  Money will not replace love and encouragement from brothers and sisters in Christ.  Good news – Bad news.

Genesis 3:16 – The curse on the serpent.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”           Genesis 3:16

This is good news, bad news.  Good for us because it is the promise of the Messiah, the one who would save us from our sinful selves.  Jesus Christ came, lived, died in our place, paid the price for our sins, and then rose on the third day. This is the Gospel; good news for those who will believe.  However, for Satan it is bad news.  It is announcing his defeat. Satan continues to try to get in the way of the gospel but the end has been written for him and it is very bad news.

“and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”  Revelation 20:10

What informs your perceptions?

 

2021…HERE WE GO!

The bus is just around the corner to take us into 2021.  How strange that sounds!  I was born in 1952 and never even dreamed of the year 2000 much less 21 years past that!  The truth is, I feel old and young at the same time.  My body tells me I’m old, but my mind says, “You still got some oomph left!”  Admittedly, the oomph is more mental than physical.  In light of this, how do I approach this bus taking me into yet another year when aging is inevitable?  When my thumbs don’t want to work, and my knees crack, it’s hard to think of what’s next.  The truth is, that is exactly what I should be thinking about because with every breath I take, God is to be glorified.  There is always a “next” in each of our lives.  Let’s explore what the Scriptures have to say about our “now” and our “next.”

NOW

“So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”  2 Corinthians 4:16

It doesn’t matter whether we are old or young, we are to be renewed day by day in the purpose of God-his glory.  This day-by-day includes our “now.”  What are we doing to renew our minds?  The truth is, we are all very busy with the things of this life.  Some of those things bring us joy and others are just part of what we do because we have to do them.  How can we take our busy lives and include mind renewing to the mix?  Do we have to give up some things?  Well, maybe, but what we’ll gain will far outweigh that.  There is not a new method or a magical thing to do to renew our minds.  It’s an old method that brings about eternal thinking.

  1. Pray to your heavenly Father.  This is necessary for us so that we don’t lose our connection with God.  It’s so easy to lose relationships because we don’t connect often.  Don’t allow this to happen to the most important relationship in your life!  Praying will be part of mind-renewal daily.
  2. Read God’s Word. You are saying, “I know, I know.”  The point is every follower of Christ knows this, but do we make it a priority in our busy lives?  We have to take what we know and put it into practice.  Reading God’s Word will bring about mind-renewal.
  3. Be part of a church body. You may think you don’t have time for church but we all have to remember that the church is people.  We need each other.  We need others to hold us accountable and to encourage us in our walk with Christ.  In the same way, others need us.  To live as a community of believers will bring about mind-renewal.
  4. Listen to sound teaching of the Word.  If you are in a church body, you’re probably already doing this.  The challenge is to ask ourselves if we are really listening.  It takes intentionality to listen well.  We have to control our thoughts which come and go so often in our minds.  Listening to sound teaching will bring about mind-renewal.
  5. Talk about God. There are times in our lives when we’re willing to talk about God, but other times we don’t have the courage to do this.  When we talk about God and what he’s done in our lives, it shows he’s actually on our minds.  Talking about God will bring about mind-renewal.

There are many other things we may be able to do to renew our minds on a daily basis.  Think about what would be helpful to you in the “now.”  As we approach the 2021 bus, we should be already working on mind-renewal.  This will help us as we get to the “next.”

NEXT

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Once again, age is not a factor in the looking ahead to our “next.”  We all are headed for eternity, but before we get there we have to live on this sin-cursed earth.  Suffering will be a part of our lives here, but this suffering is preparing for us “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  The comprehension of this glory is so far beyond us.  This eternity will be ours as we step on the last bus that will pick us up from this life.  For some of us, the last bus may be 2021, but that is in God’s hands.  Before eternity, we have jobs to do here in order to bring God glory.  We all have a “next.”  This bus may take us to a different ministry, or a different home, or bring a child into our family, or a marriage, or the death of a loved one, or a debilitating illness.  But whatever 2021 holds for us, we can be sure that God is driving the bus and will provide all the stops we need along the way.

 “The Lord of hosts has sworn:  As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.” Isaiah 14:24

The bus is almost here, so beginning “now”, renew your mind for the “next.”

 

 

CHRISTMAS…A DIFFERENT FEEL

This Christmas will be a first without a parent for me.  I won’t be sitting next to Dad cutting his meat, or keeping Mom from eating all the chocolates on the table.  My brother will not be offering Dad another glass of tea or giving him another sea salt caramel.  These tasks will be missed this year.  These acts, that sometimes felt like too much, is now a missing part of my heart.  I know that it’s the first Christmas without loved ones for many.  There are also those who are ill or in the hospital and will be missed at the dinner table.  Another difference may be family members, who are bitter for whatever reason, and will not be a part of family gatherings this year.  We are all facing a COVID Christmas which brings with it limitations on how many with whom we can celebrate. So how do we look at the lights, the tree, the gifts, the dinner, and the movies this year?  There are many different responses we can have to Christmas this year. We can cancel it all together, stay home and cry, or we can honor God in our celebration.

Isn’t it tempting to run away from hard situations?  It certainly seems like it would be easier to do that, but is it really?  When we run, it doesn’t change the situation.  In fact, if we run from this Christmas, there will always be next Christmas with the same situation.  It’s better to face it now and know that God will help us through it.

            “Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.” Psalm 54:4

God is our helper this Christmas, when life is different and hard.  He upholds my life.  Wow!  That’s quite a statement.  When I feel like falling, he will hold me up.  When I feel like running, he’ll gently pull me back.  God is always faithful to us and walks with us each step of the way.  How can we not honor God when he’s already sent his son for us?  How can we not honor God when he’s upholding us in our time of grief and confusion?  The way to honor him is to move through each day remembering that he is moving with us.  We are never alone.

I think one of the best quotes I’ve heard concerning Christmas, suffering, and loss is from Paul Tripp in the Surviving the Holidays video from GriefShare.

“If there weren’t pain, suffering, sin, destruction, discouragement and death, there would be no need for Christmas.  This holiday is about suffering.  This holiday is about pain.  Now what we’ve done, and it’s right do that, we’ve made this a holiday of celebrations.  Because we celebrate the coming of the Messiah.  But in so doing we forget why he came.  He came to end suffering.  He came to end death.  He came to end sin and brokenness and pain and destruction and discouragement.  And so this is the sufferers holiday.  Rather than the holiday to be evaded, I ought to run to Christmas.”

See, the focus here is not on what I feel this season, but on what God has done for us.  We don’t need to run from our feelings.  Instead we need to take them to the God who has provided open arms for sufferers.  He is waiting with open arms to embrace us with his love and understanding.  We need Christmas to remind us of how great a Messiah we have.  This year may be different, but God never changes so Christmas hasn’t really changed, only our circumstances.  The true meaning of Christmas and what was accomplished because of it never changes.

My place at the table may have changed, but God knows and I can rest in his upholding my life in his hands.  Life continues on and I know that one day someone will cut my meat, serve my tea, and keep my hands out of the candy.  For that I’m grateful because, even then, the baby born on Christmas day to be the Savior of the world will still be upholding and loving me with steadfast love.

“…Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:10-11

HEART OR HOBBY

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!!  Decorations are up and lights have been strung on the trees outside.  A celebration of light and color has begun in this time of uncertainty.  This tells me that people do love to celebrate this season and one another in the process.  The question that comes to my mind is, what are we really celebrating? As believers, we know that this season is to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Are we really living our entire life as if Jesus makes a difference?  Is God just a hobby to us?  Is God the real motivator of my life, my heart’s desire?  These are hard questions and we need to take the time to answer them.

GOD AS A HOBBY

As I considered the word hobby, I wanted to be sure of the definition.

From Dictionary.com:  an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation

God becomes a hobby when we think that going to church on Sunday is all I need to do in order to live out my Christian life.  We check off the church box and then go on our way.  This is true of so many who think being counted on a Sunday morning is all that is required of a believer.  The goal of hearing a message on Sunday morning that will carry me through the week seems like a worthy one.  But the reality is, we don’t really remember what was said on Sunday by Monday morning.  How can a person become more like Jesus in one hour a week?  The answer is she can’t.

God becomes a hobby when we pursue him only when we’re in trouble, but never when life is going well.  When the disappointments of life hit us, then we think to go to God and ask for his help.  Suffering has a way of driving us to God.  We don’t like to suffer and if he can get us out of it or fix it for us, we’re all about that!  Yet, when life is going along without too much trouble, our minds don’t think of God.  We have a greater dependence on ourselves than we should.  How can a person become more like Jesus depending on herself?  The answer is she can’t.

God becomes a hobby when we put him in the closet for later.  The closet becomes a great place to put those things we’ve started but haven’t taken the time to finish.  If you’re like me you have many things in the closet that you intend to “get to”, but haven’t yet.  These things are hobbies and are not on the list of priorities for daily living.  We can do the same thing to God.  He becomes the Bible on the shelf in the closet that we intend to “get to” but never do.  God is only a hobby because there no pursuit of him on a regular basis.  How can a person become more like Jesus when God is on the shelf? The answer is she can’t.

A HEART FOR GOD

In his book, The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life, Jeremy Pierre gives this definition of our hearts.

“The terms for soul, spirit, and mind describe the same types of function as the term for heart.  In other words, they all do the same thing, indicating the various biblical terms for human experience do not refer to multiple spiritual organs that do different things.  The biblical authors understand human experience as flowing from one, unified heart.” Page 15

Therefore, our heart represents who we are and how we live our life.  To have a heart for God involves our entire life and being.  This takes effort and time to build a relationship with God in which we actually see him as part of our everyday life.

God becomes the center of our life when we spend time seeking him.  We have to take the time to feed our belief of who God is.  It’s so easy to forget how good, great, loving, kind, and faithful God is to us in our everyday life.  We get so caught up in our own thinking or in what is happening, we can’t see him working on our behalf.  The reminders of his character are so important in our seeking of him.  This seeking is more about knowing him than making him to fit the image we desire.  Seeking is important for us.  Jesus said, “…seek, and you will find…” Matthew 7:7b  What will we find?  We’ll find that God is able to take us through each and every part of this life.

God becomes the center of our life when we give him credit for the good.  The temptation to take a bow for success in this life is a huge one.  We want to be successful in our jobs, raise great kids, be good neighbors, be a pleasing wife or husband, or pour into friends lives.  It is a great feeling to know that we have been successful in this life but our success doesn’t come from us.  If God is the center of my life, then I will give him the credit for anything good that happens.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” James 1:17a  Who can we trust?  God who is the author of good.

God becomes the center of our life when we want to bring him glory.  As followers of Christ, we would say that our lives are to bring God glory; but do we really believe that?  The key here is to realize that God is the one who is worthy.  He, alone, is worthy of glory.  We will realize this at a greater level when we take the time to remember all God has done.  It begins with creation but moves on to Jesus.  What the work of Christ has accomplished for us is beyond the scope of our complete understanding!  Jesus Christ in his life, death, and resurrection has provided the way for us to have an intimate relationship with God.  The Triune God’s plan before the world began was to provide this for those who will believe.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”  Galatians 4:4-7

God is worthy of glory!  God is good and gives good things!  God can be found by us when we take the time to seek him!  These are only a few things we need to be aware of in order to have a heart for God.  There are infinite reasons why we should have a heart for God!  The greatest of which is our salvation, orchestrated by God and obtained for us by Jesus’ sacrifice.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! This year may we be reminded about more than just the baby in the manger.  For followers of Christ, the baby in the manger made it possible for eternal life.  If life in eternity will be all about God and his glory, we need to get ready now by having a heart for God.  Let’s ask ourselves what we need to do the make God the center of our life?  Then, let’s do it!

 

THANKSGIVING WITH GRATITUDE

It’s that time of year when an abundance of food is prepared and we stuff ourselves beyond our waistband.  Admit it, you unbutton that waistband or you wear elastic on Thanksgiving!  We enjoy our time with our families and friends, although this year may be different for us.  The name of the day isn’t “turkey day” but Thanksgiving day.  We need to get back to what this day should celebrate.  Not that I’m ready to give up my elastic band day at all.  I love to eat and enjoy food with others.  So what does it mean to get back to Thanksgiving?

I’m sure there have been times when you have gone around the table and asked everyone to share something for which they are thankful.  This is a great exercise and opportunity to discuss what God has done for you during the year.  Perhaps you’ve been at the table and someone takes what you were going to say.  You’re getting nervous trying to think of something else to say.  When it’s your turn you say the first thing that comes in your head.  It may not really be something for which you’ve considered being thankful.  Can you still be thankful for it?  Yes, you can, but this thankfulness doesn’t include gratitude.

Some of you may think I’m splitting hairs here and maybe I am.  I’ve been thinking about what the difference between thanks and gratitude really is.  Each of these words are used in the definition of the other, so they are closely related.  I think that gratitude has more to do with our attitude.  Gratitude is a warm deep appreciation that gives recognition to the value of the gift.  This sounds like an attitude of the heart to me.  I had to ask myself when the last time was that I spent time just really appreciating what God has done and continues to do in my life.  Thankfulness is part of my life but it’s not always accompanied by deep appreciation.  This takes thinking and time.  Most of us move from one thing to another and don’t take time to meditate on those things that give us cause to say thanks.  What am I suggesting?

David says in Psalm 143:5, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.”  To meditate on something means to think deeply and carefully about it.  The result of meditating on all God has done is gratitude.  This is an attitude of our heart.  When we take the time to meditate, what flows out of us is thankfulness motivated by deep gratitude. motivating it.  Our thankfulness becomes deeper than words on a page.  Listing things we are thankful for is both good and needful. The purpose of the list is to get our mind headed in the right direction toward giving thanks.  However, the list can’t change our attitude until we take time to really chew on what God has done for us.

As we are unbuttoning our waistband, digesting our turkey, and watching football, let’s remember one thing God has done for us this year.  Then let’s meditate on it.  As we do this, we will begin to fill a warm deep appreciation for our God.  He knows each of us intimately so he knows what we need and when we need it.  That truth should bring a deep appreciation to each of us as we meditate on it.

“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” Psalm 145:3