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

IF ONLY I HAD…

The four words, “if only I had” are often said by me, and my guess is by you too.  If only we had $100.00 for every time we said those words.  Whoops, I said them again! J As we look back over our lives and the many interactions we’ve had with others, we can see how we should have responded.  We then tend to rehearse what happened and what could have happened, “if only I had…”  How does God’s sovereignty play into these words?  How do these words cause us to regret?   More importantly, how can God use our regrets for his purposes in our lives?  Let’s explore how looking back over our lives can be a good and bad exercise.

Exploring what’s good and bad about looking back

  1. Looking back can cause us to get stuck in a cycle of regret.  The idea is that of a carnival pony who goes around in the same circle over and over again.   Parents like this because they know their children will be safe.  The truth is these ponies put their feet in the same place as they continue to go around.  They don’t escape the circle until someone pulls the reins and directs them out of it.  That’s what happens to us.  We go over the same thing again and again. This is not really safety for us however, because the product it produces can be anger, worry, depression, or anxiety. For our safety, we need someone to pull on our reins and direct us.  Paul does this in Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”   We must take the reins of our thoughts and turn them upward, rehearsing who God is and what He’s done in our lives.  This will keep us from getting stuck in regret.
  2. Looking back can cause us to blame ourselves for the situation. This happens when we say things like “if only I hadn’t brought the subject up” or “if only I had said this or that” or “if only I had just let her have her way”, etc.  We replay conversations over and over until we think the resulting outcome lands fully in our laps.  But that’s not the truth in the situation.  There are always two sides to a story and we can’t carry someone else’s part.  We can only take care of our own.  “The soul who sins shall die.  The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son.  The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”  Ezekiel 18:20   The Lord makes it clear here that we carry our own sin.  We have to believe the truth of the situation.  The “if only I had” is not a true statement.  Belief in the truth will keep us from blaming ourselves.
  3. Looking back can cause us to live life as a victim. Our minds can be so absorbed with the circumstances of disappointment that we begin to see ourselves as a victim.  When this happens the victim mentality can become our identity.  Our life begins to run through that grid instead of God’s grid.  We are unhappy all the time, because if we’re a victim in this situation, we’ll probably be one in the next situation.  Life becomes about all the wrong that was ever done to us.  Our thinking may be “if only I had stood up for myself”, or “if only that person was not so mean”, or “if only I had told her how I really feel”, etc.  When we won’t let the hurt go but continue the blame game, the hurt is raw and will continue to be so.    “…This I know that God is for me.” Psalm 56:9b  Whatever has happened to us doesn’t take away from the fact that God is for me.  I’m not a victim of the things of this world but am victorious.  “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the word of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:57-58    As followers of Christ, we are in Christ and that’s our identity.  We need to live in belief of the victory we have in Christ.  Living and working for the Lord will keep us from living as a victim.

In the future when you and I say the words, “if only I had”, I hope we will remember these things and look to the Lord for help.  So what’s the good about looking back?  It gives us the opportunity to trust God with our past and our hurt.  We can learn from our past to practice a greater trust in the future.  All life is about God and his glory.  This is very important for us to remember so that we don’t say, “if only I had been more aware of God.”  Let’s change now– looking forward without regret!

WHEN OUR DREAMS GO UP IN SMOKE!

Don’t you just love how God has given each one of us a brain!  The brain is a magnificent creation.  Learned doctors can’t figure it out.  The more they study it, the more amazed they are at the capacity of it.  The following definition for the brain is from the mayfairclinic.com.

“The brain is an amazing three-pound organ that controls all functions of the body, interprets information from the outside world, and embodies the essence of the mind and soul. Intelligence, creativity, emotion, and memory are a few of the many things governed by the brain.”

Our brains have a lot to do each and every day to keep us alive and functioning in this world.  God created them to do just that, but that’s not all.  Notice that the definition includes creativity.  I’ve never been one to claim I’m creative.  In fact, my first homemade Christmas cards were made of construction paper!  Who does that?  But I digress.  Anyway, this creativity, along with our intellect is used to dream about our futures.  We can go over and over in our minds where we would like to be in five, ten, or twenty years.  However, these dreams don’t always become reality.

David writes in Psalm 37:25a, “I have been young, and now am old,”

When we are young, we dream about the future.  Some of our dreams may include college, career, husband, children, a home, finances, etc.  Of course, every category we dream about has sub-categories within it.  Dreaming and planning for our future is not a bad thing.  In fact, to plan is a good gift God has given us to use our brains to do.  But, the problem comes in when those dreams don’t become a reality.  If we have idolized our dreams and they don’t come to fruition, how do we handle it?

Notice that David tells us that now he is old.  It’s when we get older that we have a tendency to look back at our dreams and see how many of them failed.  There are many of us who can look back and marvel at the things the Lord did in spite of us.  I consider my position at the church to be a gift of God that I never dreamed would happen.  There are personal dreams for me that have missed the mark, some of my own choosing, and others are the results of someone else’s choice.  But in all of these shattered dreams, there is hope because God is at work.  As we take the time to look back, we need to consider the other things David says here.

“I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.  He is ever lending generously and his children become a blessing.” Psalm 37:25-26

In these verses we see how we are to look back and observe God’s care of us regardless of our dreams.  God is faithful and true; our dreams are not.  Our perspective needs to have God at the center, not our dreams.  There can be a tendency to regret and mourn over what we’ve missed in life or didn’t accomplish.  Honestly, we can’t spend too much time doing this because our focus needs to be on what God has done in spite of everything else accomplished or not accomplished.

As we grow older and watch another dream go up in smoke, what will help us?  “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:17 These verses were the inspiration for a poem by C.T. Studd.  He wrote, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”  Our accomplishments of fulfilled dreams in this life will not be placed in our grave with us.  However, all that we do for the cause of Christ and the gospel will go on and on.  My dreams are normally about what I can do or what I would like to have happen for me!  I need to change my dreams to have more to do with the gospel than with me!  That’s the challenge for all of us, isn’t it?

Planning and dreaming are not a bad thing, but we can’t put all our hope in them.  Our plans and dreams will fade but the gospel never will!

Let’s start today to prepare to make every day count for Christ!

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”  Ephesians 5:15-16

 

CHURCH FAMILY – PART THREE – PRESSING ON TOWARD MATURITY

Paul to the Philippian church: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” Philippians 3:14-16

As the smoke clears, the battlefield comes into view.  It’s littered with shell casings, rifles, barbed wire, and dead bodies.  As we walk around this battlefield, we see two men who died together.  We know this because the one is holding the other’s head to his chest.  They fought together and died together.  These men were brothers in arms, fighting side by side for a common cause.  Their goal was not to die together but to celebrate a victory together.  It’s a sad thing to see, but it gives us a glimpse into the seriousness of war.  The other thing we see is the devotion these soldiers had for each other.  My mind now wanders to the church family and the devotion we are to have for one another. I’m reminded that we are in a battle daily against the devil’s schemes and our own evil desires.  The third verse of “Onward Christian Soldiers” addresses the church. This verse puts into perspective the devotion we are to have for one another.

Like a mighty army, moves the Church of God:

Brothers, we are treading, where the saints have trod;

We are not divided, all one Body we—

One in faith and Spirit, One eternally.

Onward, Christian soldiers!  Marching as to war,

With the cross of Jesus, going on before.

(Lyrics:  Sabine Baring-Gould  Music:  Arthur Seymour Sullivan)

As Paul writes to the Philippian church and to us, he calls us to press on together.  In thinking about the battle we are in on a daily basis, we need to come to an understanding of what exactly it means to “press on” toward the goal.  Let’s look at some synonyms of “press on.”

  1. To proceed – As followers of Christ, we are to move forward in our lives toward Christ-likeness. We can’t allow the circumstances of life to stop us from moving on toward the calling God has given us.  This means we are to continue to be faithful in obedience to God’s Word by keeping our eye on the finish line, eternity.  The church family is called to help one another to move forward in their lives.  This means we have to enter into the life of another to encourage them when it’s hard for them to “press on.”
  2. To endure – There’s probably not one person who wants to have to endure the suffering this life has to offer. However, we are called to endure in suffering.  Sometimes we think it may be better to suffer alone, but that’s not church.  We are to share in the sufferings of others by weeping with them, comforting them, and providing practical needs.  Once again, it’s about entering into someone else’s suffering.
  3. To hold on – The ups and downs of this life and the relationships that come with it are hard to face. If we are to “press on” then we have to face them by proceeding and enduring, but how?  We hold on to our God and what we know about him.  Understanding God’s promises and his character needs to be what we grab onto when life is hard.  If we don’t know where to turn, we can remind ourselves of the truth we know about God.  Church, we are to help others to remember the truth about God.  The one who is suffering may need to hold on to you as you point her to the truth.  What a wonderful thing that God gave us the church, the body of Christ, to hold on to.  Be willing to be held by someone or even to carry someone in the effort to “press on.”
  4. To stand firm – Paul reminds us that we are to stand firm in what is the truth. As we “press on” in this life, we are to stand firm in the truth knowing that the truth doesn’t falter.  An important thing we need to do is to be sure of what we believe and walk in that belief.  We can stand firm because Jesus went before us and gave an example of standing in the midst of suffering and conflict.  We can look to his life for help to stand firm.  Remember the church is also a place to look for examples of those who are standing firm in the truth.  We can learn from them by watching how they stand firm and “press on” in the midst of adversity.

Church, we are a mighty army fighting the devil’s schemes and our own evil desires.  We need to be united in the battle.  One day the battle will be over, and we will enter eternity together.  Picture this:  as we leave this life, our head will be held by Jesus close to his chest.  We won’t die alone.  Then when we enter eternity, Jesus welcomes us with open arms.

PRESS ON, DEAR CHURCH—ETERNITY IS COMING!

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” Revelation 21:3-4

 

CHURCH FAMILY – PART TWO – ABOUNDING IN LOVE

Paul to the Philippian church: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11

The holiday movie begins with the small dog bounding through the snow as his owner watches from the picture window, drinking a cup of coffee.  The dog disappears in the deep snow and doesn’t come out.  The owner runs out to save her dog, and, at the same time a man who was walking down the street, saw the dog disappear.  They both ran to save the dog and ran into each other, falling in the snow with the dog licking both their faces.  The plot then thickens as these two both love the dog, but dislike each other.  By the end of the movie, they are getting married and living happily ever after with the dog.  This is not what Paul is praying for the Philippian church to experience.  What does it look like for the church to abound in love?

Paul prays here that the love of the church would abound with knowledge and discernment.  He is wanting more for the church than just a “feel good, mushy feeling” for others.  The love he is praying for is one that is deep and wise.  What part do we have in fulfilling the answer to this prayer?  As the church of Jesus Christ, we need to learn more about what it means to follow Jesus.  We can’t just think that all things will fall into place for us because we believe in Christ.  There is work we need to do in the gaining of knowledge and discernment.  As followers of Christ, we may look at the following list and say, “yeah, yeah, yeah!”  But let’s take some time and really look at it because what we know to do and what we actually do are two different things.

  1. Read God’s Word regularly. We are in a much different place than the Philippian church.  We have the complete Word of God to help us to grow in Christ-likeness.  This reading is one that can be done as a matter of habit with a mind occupied by other things, or as a time to learn.  So many times we treat the Word of God as a check on our list for the day.  God’s Word doesn’t work that way!  It is alive and active!  The Words of God are powerful!  If we truly believe these things, then the words will make a difference to us.  Do we pray before we read?  Do we read enough to learn but not so much that our mind wanders to other things?  It’s important for us to gain knowledge so that we can love well.
  2. Pray for others and yourself. This is a funny thing to have to write down, but so often, we pray for other people but not ourselves.  We need to pray for God’s leading in our lives and bring before him all our feelings and concerns.  He can handle it!  Our dependence on God is shown in our prayers to him for our next step.  Why is it that we are hesitant to pray for our own lives?  It’s because we’re prideful and think we can handle our lives without any help from God.  Maybe we feel our situation is not such a big deal to bring before the throne of grace.  The truth is God cares for every part of our lives, and he wants us to depend on him.  As we seek him to help us understand our own lives through the knowledge of him, our discernment will grow.  Decisions will be easier to make when we put ourselves before God and rely on him to help us.  As we pray for ourselves, our goal is for God to change our hearts, drawing us closer to himself.  As we live closer to God, we will be freer to love others well.
  3. Be a part of a church body. The purpose of the body of Christ is for the proclamation of the gospel and the encouragement of one another to grow in Christ.  “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  Hebrews 10:24-25  We are here for one another.  The church body is one way our love will abound more and more in knowledge because we will be challenged to learn from others.  Our fellow believers will also challenge us to love each other well.  Our existence in Christ is not a solo thing.  We need each other.

The bottom line is that when we grow in our understanding of what it means to follow Jesus, we will be able to discern excellence and be obedient to God with joy.  Paul reminds us that Christ is coming back, and we are living for that day.  Let’s face it, we want to be found pure, blameless, and filled with righteous fruit when Christ returns.

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!”  Revelation 22:20