Never, Ever, Ever Ending

 

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Most of us have willpower as strong as a wet piece of tissue. There’s something we want to do, a goal to achieve, a place in our lives we want to arrive at. We set our sights on that mark and make plans to get there.

And then our weakness shows up and that carefully planned goal is set aside for another time. Sometimes it’s tossed out the window.

My weakness has always been food. Recently, I held a one day fast. No food, just coffee and water. I stayed at home and did a few chores, but mostly relaxed. I didn’t have too many hunger pains and thought I was doing fine. In the evening, we were watching a show and one of the characters starts talking about her favorite food: Nachos. My stomach grumbled in agreement. Then the character and her husband start eating nachos, ever so slowly. I could smell the salty, toasted tortilla chips. The melted cheese glowed like the gold of heaven’s streets. My mind began to map out the closest food places that sell nachos. How quickly can I get there? Would they mind if I’m wearing pajamas while I order a plate? How big of a plate can I get?

I didn’t go, but the example shows how quickly food could change my mind and obliterate my goals. My example of was on the light side, but we know a lack of willpower can be a serious problem. Some of us can spend money at the drop of a hat. Some of us will eat food for entertainment. Have you ever heard the saying, “You don’t need to be hungry to eat”? Some of us have trouble with motivation to do basic things around the house or at work or in our relationships.

Everyone battles with the dichotomy of weakness and willpower. But is there a way to fix this?

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus an encouraging promise,

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. – Ephesians 3:16

Paul knows all of us are weak. We all have our limits. And guess what? God doesn’t shame us for who we are or what we can’t do. Instead, God wants to empower us with His strength to do what we need to do. And unlike our limited strength, God has no end of resources to give us.

Imagine a company selling batteries that never need to be changed out or WIFI that always provides top speeds or one pill that that always keeps you healthy. My house is filled with LED light bulbs because they last for years. YEARS!

Imagine a God who provides all the strength we need when ours is dried up like dust. Imagine a God who already knows what we need before we even ask. When our willpower leaves us, God remains to strengthen what little we have left.

I think of Jesus on his way to Golgotha. His body was stripped open. Raw and bleeding. He was forced to carry his cross as people jeered at him. What kind of willpower could keep his feet moving towards his own execution?

There’s a song called, Same Power by Jeremy Camp. Here’s the chorus:

The same power that rose Jesus from the grave

The same power that commands the dead to wake

Lives in us, lives in us

The same power that moves mountains when He speaks

The same power that can calm a raging sea

Lives in us, lives in us

He lives in us, lives in us

We have hope

That His promises are true

In His strength

There is nothing we can’t do

Yes, we know

What keeps us from reaching out and believing God will or can help us through our weaknesses? He’s given us His Holy Spirit and wants us to ask, but pride can get in the way. I can only encourage you to practice asking God frequently for His strength and power. Constantly asking Him when things are easy can help when things get difficult.

Using SOAP with the Bible

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I found this interesting acronym while perusing bible study blogs. SOAP. Each of the letters pertain to making the bible more approachable and readable. It’s simple, which I like, and easy to remember. The best part of it all is it brings us to a place where we can understand and grow as we read the bible. This in turn helps us to understand and grow closer to God and that’s a good thing, right?

The bible is made up of 66 separate books written by 40 authors over thousands of years. That sounds a little daunting, but using the SOAP method can help us break it all down into easier pieces to handle.

All you need is a bible, your favorite writing tool (bonus points if you’re using a quill and ink set), a notebook or journal, some quiet time and hot coffee or tea. I guess you don’t need that last part, but I sure do!

As far as bibles go, I recommend the New Living Translation or New International Version, but grab whatever is on your shelf.

Here we go!

The S stands for Scripture.

Find what you’re interested in reading. If you like poetry and songs, then go through the Psalms. If you’re into finding out who Jesus is, then the first four books of the New Testament are for you. The early church is Acts and then letters of instruction and how to live as a Christian are Romans through 3 John.

Find a verse and write it down in the notebook. Writing it out helps us stay focused and we actually learn and remember when we write things down.

The O stands for Observation.

What stands out to you? Who’s speaking to who? Where and when was it written? It certainly helps to know what was written before and after the verse in order to understand the context. Is anything unusual or being repeated? What point do you think the author may be trying to make?

Write the obvious answers first. After some time, you may see some deeper meanings and you could write those as well.  You can highlight or underline words or phrases or the entire verse if it helps. 

The A stands for Application.

This is where you take the scripture and ask yourself how this applies to you. Do this in a practical, simple way. Write what speaks to you. This will sometimes challenge you, but that’s okay, challenges for the better are really good for us. You can ask God, “What does this mean to me? What am I supposed to do with this?” Sometimes it’s obvious, but other times we may not understand and that’s okay! We’re all in the same boat when it comes to God. Some of us are a little further ahead, but we’re all following Jesus (or thinking of following him) one step at a time. 

The P is for Prayer.

After reading and writing, it’s time to pray. This is where we ask the Holy Spirit to help us understand and apply what we’ve learned. If we read something that shows our faults, then this is a great time to confess those sins to him. If it’s something that challenges us, then we can ask him for encouragement. We want to invite him into our lives so he can change us. This is the whole point of being a Christian. It’s one thing to just believe and another to actually put into action what we learned. God wants us in the last category; But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only-James 1:22. 

After all is said and done, it’s best to say “Thanks!” for what God has done, is doing, and wants to do in our lives.

SOAP is easy to use and will go a long way when we open our bibles. This is great to do on our own, but I hope you can find a good bible study and church where you can enjoy friendship and maturity as you grow as a believer.

Please share any bible study tools that help you read and understand the bible!

 

God Bless!

Finding Value in Knowing

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All of us want to be valued.

There’s a little portion in all of us asking, “Do you see me? Am I important to you?”

When we’re kids, being valued should be part and parcel of maturing into emotionally healthy people. But, of course, the world’s not perfect.

Sometimes we receive the validation we’re looking for. Someone at work recognizes our long hours and attention to detail on a project and we get some praise. We may get an ambush hug from one of our kids or close family and friends, the kind of hug without words and all meaning.

When we do get what we’re looking for, we get this sense of validation which feels great. But, honestly, how many times a day or week do we get this kind of credit? Some of us can go for months or years without feeling valued.

And this can be a big problem.

Without this sense of value, we can become less than who we are.

I’ve heard some wisdom that says, “Feelings aren’t fact.” This is true. Feelings are real, but they’re not necessarily true.  If I feel undervalued at work or home, does that mean I’m not of value as a person? If my kids don’t hug me, I may feel unloved, but really, does this mean I’m not loved and valued as a father?

Feelings are powerful. We can get overwhelmed with a sense of not being valued and sink like a stone in a cold pond. One of the only defenses for our feelings is knowledge.

My current profession is a police officer. Under 830.1 PC I have the authority to detain and investigate criminal activity. Does this mean every person I contact responds in a polite fashion and respects the authority I carry? HA! Of course not. Can you imagine if I get my feelings hurt every time someone disrespects me? Feelings of value and appreciation aren’t a consideration when I’m working. Instead, I carry the knowledge of who I am. This is practicing knowing against feeling. The State of California gave me the authority and duty, I know this as fact.

How can we use this in our daily lives?

It’s important to remember who I am in Christ, because let’s face it, if I’m waiting to feel good about who I am as a person, I may be waiting a while.

“in Christ you have been brought to fullness.”-Colossians 2:10

This says I am complete in Christ. I am a completed jigsaw puzzle, there’s nothing amiss about me and I can sleep well at night knowing in Him I’m good to go. I’m a completed bag of treasure to him, with everything accounted for.  

Maybe I may not feel loved by someone, but I know I’m loved by Christ 24/7. I may not feel valued at work, but I know God is pleased with what I’ve been given to do.

Throughout the week, I may run into situations which challenge my sense of value. If you’re like me, we’re going to get our knees skinned when we don’t receive the validation we looking for.  But if I set aside my hurt feelings, I can remember who I am. Using the knowledge God offers can strengthen and encourage us. Or we can have a pity party about our feelings (which we do occasionally).

What are some of your favorite bible verses which speak directly to who you are in Christ?

No Ordinary People

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There was this older man who handed out evangelical tracts. These were small note card sized papers with bible verses and a short message about the good news of Jesus. One day, he stood at a bus stop and handed these out to people exiting the bus. A young lady took the paper and walked a few steps before reading what she had in her hand.

She turned back, walked back to the man, spit in his face and walked away with the crumpled piece of paper.

She was an atheist.

The older man handing out tracts seemed ordinary. I mean, what’s so special about handing out pieces of paper? He wasn’t on a stage delivering a sermon or addressing a crowd of important people. He was just standing somewhere and handing out tracts.

Ordinary, right?

The thing is, we don’t serve an ordinary God. There’s not a thing about him that’s ordinary. Ever look up into the night sky and see ordinary stars? Did the Hubble telescope take pictures of ordinary galaxies? Ever see ordinary Iceland? Hawaii? Sunsets at the beach or sunrise in the desert? Waterfalls in Alaska? Ordinary tropical fish in tropical lagoons? Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, or the Grand Canyon?

How about Jesus? Ordinary former carpenter just milling about between villages. Eating in people’s homes and talking about the true things of God. Maybe healing some leprosy, giving blind people the ability to see. Giving strength to a man’s legs so he could walk. Bringing dead people back to life. A smattering of commanding oration in the synagogue. Casting out a few demons. Ordinary?

Some of us go about our ministries or simply helping people and we may think it’s all ordinary. Some of us sit, stand, kneel, or drive the car while whispering ordinary prayers. Some of us hand out tracts without fanfare at a bus stop.

The young woman who spit in the man’s face walked home and went about her day.  At some point she found the tract crumpled up in her pocket or purse. Didn’t I throw this away? For some reason, she sat and read the garbage in her hand. And for some reason, God revealed himself to her there.

The young woman began going to church to find wrong answers, but she never found them. She found the love of God instead. After time, God put it on her heart to evangelize and she became responsible for spreading the gospel to thousands of people. All because an ordinary man did his ordinary task of handing out an ordinary piece of paper.

Nothing we do for God is ordinary. The older man handing out tracts never got to see what happened to the young woman (yet).  And we may never see what happens after our “ordinary” prayers go up to our extraordinary God.

But I promise you this, there are no ordinary people in the kingdom of God.

Remember this, everything we do for God that matches his character of love, grace, compassion, and mercy, comes out irrefutably extraordinary.

Care to share what (extra)ordinary thing do you do for God?

 

 

 

 

The Night That Started It All

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Christmas decorations are everywhere and I love it! People wear colorful “Ugly” sweaters with blinking lights. Ladies wear Christmas bow earrings and pins that sparkle. Customers and clerks alike get to say “Happy holidays” and “Merry Christmas” with a warm smile. I love it! Hot cocoa and cookies at church. Christmas carols are on the radio. By the way, is it me or shouldn’t there be a permanent Christmas carol station on the radio? Can I get an amen on that? All of these things going on at the same time create an amazing experience most of us enjoy.

But the Eeyore in me says, “It’s all going to be gone next week.”

The kid in me doesn’t want the holiday experience to end. We know Christmas begins during the last of week of October and ends at the first of the year. At least that’s according to the local Home Depot. Instead of enjoying what’s happening right now, I’m looking at the end and shaking my head at the brevity of it all.

But God showed me why Christmas is not a seasonal experience, but an eternal celebration.

I was at our church and our worship team lead the congregation with carols. I’m used to singing along to the carols and I admit, I don’t always pay attention to the lyrics. Like many churches, the song lyrics appeared on big screens so we could sing along. This is where God grabbed my heart. Read these lyrics to O Holy Night (Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, 1847):

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.

Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!

O night divine, the night when Christ was born;

O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,

With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.

O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,

Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.

The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;

In all our trials born to be our friends.

He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,

Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.

And in his name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

With all our hearts we praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,

His power and glory ever more proclaim!

His power and glory ever more proclaim!

These are not the lyrics celebrating a one time event or even an annual get together by the fireplace with nog and sweets. This is a song celebrating a new life being brought into the world to give new life to the people of the world. This song was written onto paper to celebrate being able to know God’s love through the man Jesus, to be able to learn to love one another despite our labels, to know what freedom is through this man’s work on the cross and to be able to proclaim (sing out loud) Christ is lord!

This season isn’t a one time event. It’s an event we get to experience and celebrate starting in the morning and ending when our heads hit the pillow. That one night in church, I learned it won’t all be gone by next week, it will be in our hearts and minds whenever we need. 

Merry Christmas!

 

 

Love in Action

 

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I was going through Facebook and clicking on the button marked, “Add Friend”. As I’m clicking away, a funny thought ran through my head. What if there were similar buttons marked, “Add Enemy”? Well, no one would click that, of course. But I continued with the concept and wondered, who is my enemy? What would our definition of an enemy be? Sure, the natural definition would be someone who is against me. But then we add more to the mix and our enemies become people who vote differently from me, look different, people who like things I don’t like, people who believe different than I do, and the list can go on.

Every one of us has issues. All of us are prejudice to some degree. There’s always going to be a group of people or someone we really don’t like. And I’m not talking about mimes either. We know who it is we’re not interested in being around and we make sure we don’t click the “Add Enemy” button to stay away. But sometimes, we find ourselves in some sort of communication, whether it’s written or face to face, and our blood pressure rises. And then we react or act out. Hopefully it’s not on video.

God, in his infinite wisdom, knows we create our own enemies. Because believe it or not, those groups of people need to eat and breath and brush their teeth just like us. Ideas, moral beliefs and ways of living are the only thing that separates all of us. And so God, being the ever-present loving Father, drops a bomb on the high moral pride of our self-righteousness and tells his kids, “Love your enemies.”  But God! Are you kidding me? They’re with that other political party, I can’t show my love towards them! But God, they don’t even speak my language, are you serious? But God, they’re walking around with rainbow flags, how can you possibly ask me to love those people? Oh yes. I forgot to mention an important point. God is not asking. This is a command. None of what he says is ever a suggestion. In the truest definition, love is an action. God commands us to love in action, not just word. It wouldn’t have been enough for the good Samaritan to have expressed his well wishes to the traveler who was left for dead. “I hope you wake up and feel better, strange person! That’s a nasty cut on your head, you need to get that checked, not by me, but someone else of course! Have to go now, good-bye and well wishes!”

Curiously enough, all of humanity were God’s enemies (Romans 5:10) once. And he didn’t send his well-wishes to us, hoping things pick up in our predicament of being lost. “Hope everything works out with that whole sanctification thing!” No. He acted out his love and sent his only son to be born as a wet, sloppy infant laying in a place where animals eat hay and alfalfa. To grow up in a region of the world where there’s always been strife and his people surrounded by enemies. To bring hope to a dark world. To teach us there’s a better way to live. To bring freedom to those in captivity. To die in our place, so we could know the love of God AND to bring this love to everyone we meet. To bring this love to who? Just to those with similar ideals as me? Nope. Say it with me, out loud so the neighbors can hear it: Everyone!

Let me give you an excellent example of showing love to your enemies.

Miles McPherson is a pastor of The Rock Church, in San Diego. The building is in a really nice part of town and has about 20k members. As such, huge churches are usually the target of protests and the like. During Gay Pride week, a group of people brought a really big rainbow flag and held it up across the street to display what they believe in and protest the Rock Church. Opposing beliefs, yes? The church and homosexuals have always seen things differently, yes? Would these two opposing parties qualify as enemies? Pastor Miles is watching them hold their flag up and listening to their chants. But he also sees something that needs attention and he acts out on two of Jesus’ commands: “Love your enemies” and “do to others as you would have them do to you”. He notices the people with the flag are having trouble holding their flag up. It was getting windy and they didn’t bring enough people. If you’re a Christian, what would your reaction here be? “Haha!” or “Praise God, it looks like they’ll leave soon!”

His reaction was this: Get some of our people together and help them out.

Love is an action. This pastor acted on it. But he wasn’t through. Eventually, the sun came out and it became hot. One the Christians (helping people who held opposing views by waving a huge rainbow flag, by the way!) called the pastor and mentioned their group didn’t bring water and they were getting thirsty. Did the pastor respond with, “Haha!” or “Praise God, it looks like they’ll leave soon!” Nope! Pastor Miles sent cases of ice and bottles of water.

Love is an action. Loving your enemies need to be an action, not a concept. We need to think of this command next time we run into our “enemies”. And believe me, Jesus will make it happen again and again and again until we resemble the love we’re carrying and not the hate we hold on to.

Looking at Tough Situations

 

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I read an incredible story about a newly converted woman in China. She immediately began to share the good news of Jesus Christ with her friends and family. In doing so, she learned the secret police were looking for her. Non-government controlled religion is illegal in China. She knew there was no point in hiding and she would go to jail soon. She prepared herself by digging through the trash to find food. Why would she do that? Because the jails in China are not like here in the US, where the prisoners get “3 hots and a cot”, instead the prisoners get whatever they’re given, which is often leftovers. After a time, she was taken to prison for the crime of sharing her faith. There wasn’t enough room for her to be in a prison cell, so they put her in a broom closet and once a day would shove a handful of rice under the door for meals. Living in those conditions would be rough for anyone, but she never complained. Instead, she looked for ways to share the gospel from her broom closet.

What’s our first reaction when we get into a tough situation?

Mine is usually, “Get me out of here, God!” Or sometimes we hear each other share (or complain?), “What is God trying to teach me while I’m going through this?”  We can get so busy looking at the situation we’re in that we won’t see what we can do for God while we’re there. Both of these responses are focused on “us” instead of God. “When am I getting out of this?”, “What am I getting out of this?” or “How am I getting out of this?” But we don’t ask ourselves, “Who can I reach while I’m here?” 

Read this portion of Paul’s letter to the Philippians,

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.  And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Does this sound like someone who’s sitting in jail and always being threatened with death? “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.” Wow! Paul’s not thinking of himself at all, is he? The Chinese woman in jail had the same mind too. She may have been thinking, “Since I’m going to jail, who can I reach for Jesus?” Believer’s often forgot (pretty much on a daily basis!) we were chosen for good works that God had prepared for us. And we go about our day looking for ways to bless or love others, but that line of thinking usually stops when things get uncomfortable.

So how can we change this?

The simple, yet not easy, solution is to remember we’re not here for us, we’re for God.

Jesus told his believer’s, “You are the light of the world” and we’re to shine bright for the one who gave us this light. This means we get to share Jesus when we’re at home on our computers, when we see the neighbor needs help with something, when we’re in jail and when we’re dying. God always has ways to work through us! We don’t have to be in a position of wealth and health to be used of God, we just have to be in a position of obedience.

I know what I’m saying seems impossible.

I’d much rather God use me while I feel comfortable. Hmm. How many times did I use myself as the main subject in that last sentence? Let’s rewrite that.

God, use me.

There. That’s better isn’t it?