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Being the light

 

 

yellow lantern near body of water during night
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“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”-Matthew 5:14-16

Years ago, I worked with this guy who had a crazy foul mouth and crazy foul stories. He was a nice guy and all, but just don’t get on his bad side. One night I hear worship music. I hear someone singing along to Third Day. I walk over and it’s this one guy singing. My mouth was open and I was shocked. I asked what the deal was, did he get saved and start going to church? Nope, he answered, he’s always been saved for years. I walked away baffled.

Our belief in Jesus is the same as walking around with a light in a dark place. He wants us to be careful what we say, how we act, how we react around others who don’t know him. I think most of the unchurched keeps an eye on anyone claiming to be a Christian and carrying around a bible. I also think a lot of the unchurched remain unchurched because they don’t see any difference in the way Christians act and react than anyone else. This quote is attributed to Ghandi-

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

True? Hmmm, hard to argue that one. I recently taught a high school ministry class on hypocrisy. Most of the kids agreed church members can be hypocrites. Sigh.

So how can we shine our light the way Christ intended?

Watch our motivations-Are we ticked off about something? Because it’s okay to be ticked off. Jesus got ticked off in Matthew 21:12 at people taking advantage of others. I get ticked off because I’m not getting my way. See the difference? Jesus gets mad because he’s concerned about others. I can get mad when it’s concerning my selfishness. Why are we acting or reacting a certain way? Is it for us, others or God?

Don’t follow the world, follow Jesus-Every day, we want to follow our own way. We think of ourselves first and what we can get. Jesus wants us to follow him in everything we do. It’s very easy to say, well, everyone else is doing it. Everyone else is watching this series on HBO. Everyone else is reading these books. We kind of want to go along with everyone else, but Jesus was known for going against the grain. “Do to to others as you would have them do to you.” What about getting even? “Blessed are the meek…” What? Shouldn’t I be going higher and farther and stronger and faster than anyone else?

This life really isn’t about us, it’s about God. It’s about how awesome he is, how wonderful he is, how loving and gracious and merciful and forgiving he is. Most of us are not close to being any of what he is, which is why we need to shine a light for him, not us.

 

The Strange, wonderful place of contentment

Contentment

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.-Philippians 4:12,13

I was sitting here trying to find a story about how I wasn’t content with something, but honestly, there’s so many! I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and still have a hat from years ago. But that’s not good enough. I buy a new one every year. Every. Year. In one season of my life, I wanted to be an illustrator, so I bought all the materials I would need to express my creativity. Do you know how many paintbrushes and stacks, STACKS, of paper I have sitting on shelves? I don’t even use them! Someday, but not today. But let’s talk about more expensive items. I wasn’t satisfied with my car stereo speakers. Not loud enough. Sounded tinny. I need bigger, louder speakers and so I bought them. But I wonder if I should have bought the Alpine Type S?

This is most of us. Any age range, any background. Most of us are not content with what we have. And companies count on it! A new phone is available ALL the time. New cars? Check. New make-up and lipstick? Waiting on the counters. What I don’t get is the new shampoos. Just soap and fragrance right? Oh, actually, I bought a new bottle for manly men. It had Charcoal scent, so of course I had to pick it up and toss the other one out.

We know it doesn’t stop with products. Some people look for another spouse because of reasons. Some people wish they had different children. Some of us don’t like ourselves. A lot of people don’t like God, so they make other arrangements in their belief system.

See the problem? Being content sounds like an anomaly, an alien word used by strange people from strange places. But, being content is where God wants us.

When we’re content, we depend on God. We’re happy with what we have. We’re at peace. We’re less selfish and more selfless. And this isn’t an easy thing either to accomplish, really. We want to take care of any issues ourselves. Why wait for God? We may not even like what he has for us! Let’s take care of this the right way. Our way. When we live with discontentedness (that’s a big word), we’re almost never happy or satisfied. We’ll always be looking for more or bigger or faster or better. There’s no rest there, no peace.

So how do we build contentment?

Be thankful-When we’re thankful for what we have, we’re being humble and gracious. This frees us from being immature and asking God, “Well what else am I getting?” One of the strongest examples of this I witnessed was at a memorial a husband had for his spouse. He said, “I want to thank God for giving me such a wonderful wife for all those years.” This man could easily have complained to God for taking his wife, but instead he had an attitude of thankfulness which had a wonderful fragrance of love and humility.

Look up-Depending on God and what he chooses for our provision sounds weird, really. But there’s something about truly looking to God for help that will change our perspective. It puts God in his place on the throne and our place at his feet. Looking up means some prayer time and waiting time. Looking up to God gives us a chance to stop thinking about us and what we want. He cares so much for us and knows what we need.

Wait-Besides wanting the new, bestest thing out there, we’re also impatient. Ever been in line at a Starbucks with a new cashier? Those poor souls. Being patient is healthy. It allows us to back off and be aware of other things that may be happening. Waiting is God’s way of letting us learn patience. God is very patient if you didn’t notice and he knows we need this. Speaking of Starbucks, I’m was standing in line when 2 more people join the guy in front of me. So instead of 3 people in front of me, there’s 5. My blood pressure rose a couple of degrees, but I let it go. I didn’t want extra orders to ruin my day, so I waited a few extra minutes. When it was their turn, one of the ladies offered to buy my drink. I was surprised and delighted. I got a free coffee, yay for waiting!

Contentment is something we all need more of. Our lives shouldn’t be about us and what else we can grab on the way out. If we practice being thankful, looking up to God for provision, and waiting we can let God work in us more effectively. This means more peace, more of his love, and more power of the Holy Spirit to share with others who need it.

Here’s a good challenge this week. Ask God what you need contentment in. Where are you not satisfied with something and need his help being content?

 

Slow to React

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There’s this guy I used to work with, we’ll call him Gerald, and he used to have a distinct reaction when something was said. Let’s say the boss was talking about work policy. I, along with a few others, would look over at Gerald, because we knew he would disagree with what was being explained. His face would change to the color of a ripe plum. His eyes would sink and glower with a special elixir of anger and disgust. This happened so quickly! Then he would use expletives as punctuation’s until someone told him to calm down. His reaction to something he didn’t agree with was immediately turned into hostility and he unloaded.

Are we any different when controlling our reactions?

For some of us (I’m waving my hand here), controlling our reactions sounds like stopping a runaway train. We hear something we don’t like, we read someone’s post which we don’t agree with, someone shares a thing and we react immediately. There’s no control, we just go like a race car waiting for the green light.

In therapeutic circles, these emotional reactions are referred to as “Triggers” and they usually aren’t healthy. Outbursts of anger, unshakable anxiety, fear, headache inducing stress, and similar reactions affect both ourselves and others around us. Walls being punched, hands that won’t stop shaking, stomachs that refuse to calm down, minds that race toward the worst possible scenario are all real reactions to our triggers. Now, let’s be adults and agree that sometimes our emotional reaction is appropriate. I’m talking about those situations in which they are not.

So how can we control our emotional reactions?

James 1:19 has some specific help in these situations: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become ___________” The verse includes the emotion of anger, but how about you fill in the blank. What emotion do you need help with controlling? Think about it for a few and let’s break the verse down into snack size pieces.

Everyone should be quick to listen…

Receiving is the key ingredient here. Let’s listen to what’s being said and what’s happening around us without our guard up. Currently, I’m in law enforcement and listening carefully is the key to success. I don’t care how agitated the speaker is, I listen to their complaints with eye contact and patience. I get paid to do this, but the bible verse is clear “Everyone” means everyone. Quick to listen is letting them speak first. We give them the chance to talk while we’re paying attention. 

Slow to speak….

This means we have taken the time to process what’s been said. We’ve thought about our responses before we open our mouths. Some of us have an unused filter that fits between our brains and our mouths. Let’s use this filter more often! Slow to speak means, I know what I want to say, I know what I usually say, but let me just hold up a few seconds, a few minutes, a few days to answer. Every once in a while, I hear someone say, “You know, I’m ticked off right now, but I’m going to wait until later in the day to respond to this email.” That’s a winner!

Slow to ___________

Anger? Anxiety? Fear? Want to isolate? Get stressed? Don’t get me wrong, some of us are on medication for these and I’m all for it. If there’s a medication that can help us with something we’re diagnosed with, then please continue to take them. But some of us (waving my hand), just need to slow down. Think. Breath. I received a phone call regarding a family member. My belief was this person didn’t want to talk to me anymore. I was crushed. I was angry. I wanted to do something stupid. I wanted to react in an unhealthy way. But I didn’t. I thought about what was said, about how I would normally react and about how I should react. And it worked! I didn’t make that phone call with wild accusations. I didn’t let it bother me all night and let sleep get away from me. In fact, what I had supposed was not true at all! It was a big misunderstanding! Yay!

There’s ways to divert our unhealthy reactions that work. We just have to follow the instructions and practice it. It will work! I pray that you will practice this exercise when needed (in traffic for me!) and follow Jesus to a more healthy you!

What does God see in Me?

sharpie_love_by_onlyashipwreck-d4v1qol

 

When my son was about 3 years old, he tried his hand at graffiti. My wife and I were sitting downstairs with our newborn daughter watching TV. Then came the alerting sound of silence parents dread. Anytime a 3 year old is quiet, you know something’s up. My wife went upstairs and discovered the random, but deliberate freehand artform of our son.

Otherwise known as black Sharpie art.

He marked on the walls, books, doors, bookcase, vases, sculptures and toys. Wow. We let him know we weren’t appreciative of the artwork. We were disappointed in his choice, but we still loved him.

There are many times we act like 3 year-olds. We make bad choices. We hurt people with our words and we live with the consequences of our actions. Through all that, we can have a dark and disappointed view of ourselves. And having this view can start affecting our work performance and mess with our relationships. I know I had an attitude of self-loathing and I would sabotage myself. When we have this mindset of constant disappointment in ourselves, our self-esteem and empowerment drops like a rock in a pond.

But how does God see us?

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!

   How vast is the sum of them!

Were I to count them,

 they would outnumber the grains of sand”-Psalm 139:17,18

When my son had marked everything in sight, he had to know what the consequences were. But this didn’t change how I thought of him. I didn’t berate him for hours and days and weeks, etc. In fact, I held him for a bit and then we played together. I loved him then as I love him now. God is certainly no different. He’s loved you from the very beginning,

For you created my inmost being;

   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

   your works are wonderful,

   I know that full well.”-Psalm 139:13,14

Let me tell you the truth: We can not make God love us anymore than He already does. His love is constant and never grows dim.  He’s knocked out about us. He doesn’t think about the dark words we said and the deeds we remind ourselves of. He doesn’t keep track of our mistakes. Psalm 139 says the grains of sand on a beach gives an idea of how many precious thoughts there are towards us.

God sees in us the potential, full happy life, the strength, the smiles, and the joy He’s built inside of us. He knows we need this constant view of us because we walk in the dark every once in awhile. When we’re getting down on ourselves we can remember and ask, “I know I’m disappointed in myself, but what does God see in me?”

And then read Psalm 139! And then live it out! Walk in that truth so you can help people out of their funk. We’re valuable to God, so let’s keep that close to our hearts and guard those words of God. 

 

When is God with us?

 

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I was pulling into the hospital parking lot with lunch for two. I expected a parking space a quarter mile away, because that’s how it usually works. But then the heavens opened! There was a spot right next to the entrance, just like in the movies! Wow! I thought, God is with me! And then my thoughts went immediately to the person I was visiting in the hospital.

Is God with them?

It’s easy to associate good things with God. Good news, a big raise, an exciting new job, free tickets to a ball game. All of these things put smiles on our faces. They make us believe God is with us and He’s throwing presents at us. Now, while this line of thinking isn’t necessarily wrong, it will trip us up when we receive bad news. A layoff, a bad medical report, getting blamed for something we didn’t do, rejection, loneliness.

Wasn’t God with us during the good things in our life? Wasn’t I in His good hands, getting all the stuff I love? So what happened? Did I do something wrong? Did He forget about me?

There are a couple of reasons we may be going through some tough times and both allow God to be our comforter. One of the reasons is the consequences of our actions. We can always pick our choices, but we can’t pick our consequences. We may be going through a rough patch because of bad choices. But, the other kind of suffering comes from circumstances we couldn’t control.

Either way, this is who God is, He’s the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”-1 Corinthians 1:3,4.

God is always with the believer. He’s always the one who can comfort us in all our troubles. 

It doesn’t matter if the suffering is external circumstances or our fault. He’s going to be the same God who is with us during the cloudy days as well as sunny weather. Jesus is the Son of God, who came down from heaven. The gospels share many stories of Jesus’ suffering. He knows what loneliness is, He knows what exhaustion does to the body, He’s familiar with excruciating pain, the emotional sting of rejection and being blamed for things He didn’t do.  He is intimately familiar with the sufferings of humanity. God knows us.

Here’s the thing that bakes my noodle. God chose to know what awful feels like. He chose to be with us in our sufferings. He chose to be with the weak, both physically, emotionally and mentally. God wants to be with us when we need Him most. Why? Why would an all-powerful God choose to be with lesser beings who suffer?

There’s something else we may not understand about God. Paul wanted the church in Ephesus, “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge..” This love God has for us won’t make sense in the least, yet His love is intensely real and this love He has for us won’t be leave us. Ever. And He comforts us so we can pass this comfort on to others. We get to pass His love and comfort forward, but that’s for next weeks post. 

So is God with me in my amazing parking spot and with the patient in the hospital room?

Yes!

Untangled

Kelpforest-1

The kelp forests in the waters off the  California coast are known around the world and I found them incredible to swim through. There’s tons of Garibaldi, brown sea bass, anchovies, sea lions and the occasional shark living among the forest that sways back and forth with the currents. In some places, the kelp is dense and you have to work your way through it.

On one dive, we were off the tip of Point Loma. Lots of kelp forests! As we approached the forest, my dive buddy turned and twisted and made his way through packed kelp. Then it was my turn.

Of course, I got stuck.

Thick strands of vine had wrapped around the knob of of my dive tank, only I didn’t know that. But, I knew somewhere the kelp was wrapped around something, because I wasn’t moving forward anymore. I looked up and my dive buddy was gone. Probably enjoying the dive and finding Nemo, while I was getting tangled in kelp. The more I twisted around, trying to find the way out, the more I became trapped. Now, a single strand of kelp is actually easy to break apart. You just twist and pull. But several strands….

Well, don’t worry, I made it.

In the book of Hebrews 12:1, the author writes, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” All of us want something. We have goals, which could be just for today or they could be in another 5 years. We have a places in our lives we want to get to. Relationships to build. And, we have something in our lives which easily tangles us up and there’s a probability we never get there. These entanglements could be our fears, our coping mechanisms, anger, insecurities, perfectionism, loss of hope, and a lot of other things. But you know what they are. A lot of times for me, it’s self-disqualification, aka fear. I would receive a task to complete (I actually have a deadline in December for a book proposal I received back in July. Two pages done! Good grief!) and I would get excited. But then I think, Oh gosh, I don’t think I’m good enough. I won’t get this done the way they’re expecting. And I lose momentum, because I got tangled up in my fears. 

God wants us to move forward with Him. He wants to lead us to better places where we’ll end up being stronger people. But, all He’s going to do is say, “Follow me.” And the rest is up to us. Along the way, we’ll get tangled up in something and he’ll help us get untangled. We’ll look back and go, wow, lesson learned there.

But what if we keep going back to that same spot? What if, during my diving trip, I went back into the same tangle of kelp and got stuck again? On purpose? Sounds odd, but this is what some of us do and we may stuck in that spot for along time without moving forward. I want to share a few points to help us stay untangled:

Identify what the tangle is-

What is one thing which keeps you from following God or where He’s leading you. Is it a place you need to stay away from? A person who is unhealthy to hang out with? An activity? Unhealthy thinking? Your internet activity?

Get help-

While I was wrapped in kelp, my dive buddy came back to help me. There’s someone in your life who cares and can see when you get tangled up. Listen to them! God may be speaking through them, because you’re not listening to His voice. If we’re all tangled up in something, we’re going to need help getting out of it. This could be a counselor, close friend or family.

Stay Away!-

This is the difficult part. For some reason, be it our past experiences or brain chemicals, we have a difficult time staying away from what “so easily entangles” us. The next time I went for a dive, I moved toward the open spaces and avoided the tangles. This is what we have to do with our choices, we need to move toward the open spaces where it’s safe. These could be in our own mind and heart. If I get tangled in self-defeating behavior, then I need to think of something else which is more positive about myself.

Just know if we get tangled, it’s going to be our choice. We don’t have to go there. We choose to be there. But, we also have the choice of not being there! We  are able to choose the safer, open places where we can move forward. God is always for you, not against you! 

God bless you and I hope you stay untangled!

 

Selective Hearing

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I was sitting on the couch watching tv or probably playing a video game when my wife would ask if I was ready to go. “Ready to go where?” would be my typical response. She would remind me about going out to eat. “Oh that’s right! We’re going to eat at that place we were talking about!” No, she would remind me we’re going out with some people to the other place. “What other place? What people?” I had no clue even though she would tell me about the plans weeks in advance.

I’m not sure about women, but men have selective hearing. Our ears are tuned into things we want to hear. Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” says it best, “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” We’re tuned into things we like doing and things that are fun, not responsibilities and duty. Not all of us are like this, just 98% of men, in my opinion.

When it comes to reading the bible, we need to be aware of how we read the scriptures and how we respond. The bible is full of instruction, exhortation, encouragement and history.  God wants us to receive 100% of what He’s telling us. But reading and hearing are not enough. God wants us to read and react appropriately. James 1:22-25 says:

“Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.”

High school was like this. There were maybe 2 classes I enjoyed (Both writing classes!) and the rest I would sit and try to stay awake, which resulted in poor grades. Let’s not be this person! Here’s a few tips on how to read and respond to the bible.

When we read the bible, God wants us to:

Listen:

This may be the easiest part. Before opening your bible, you could say a little prayer, like, “God I don’t understand much, but I’d sure like to learn who you are. Can you help me understand as I read?” That’s just an example, but you get the picture. Listen, God “cares enough to respond to those who seek him”-Hebrews 11:6. He wants us know who He is and He can’t wait for you to open those pages. If you enjoy using a tablet or smartphone, I recommend YouVersion. It’s a bible app with over 1,700 different versions of the bible and helpful studies and devotions, all for free

Receive:

When you’ve read something, we need to ask ourselves: What is God saying to me? Sit and think for a bit. Reflect. Chew on it, so to speak. Write something out if it helps (writing almost always does help!). In both the old and new testament, God instructs us to love our neighbor, that is, anyone and everyone in the world. Care for them the way you would want people to care for you. Would that be for us today? God wants us to love all people? Yes. All people. Yes, this would be for us to do, which leads us to…

Respond:

This may be the difficult part. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He wants the best for us so we can be the best for people around us. In order for this change to happen, we have to respond with His direction. There was a rich, young ruler in Mark 10:17 who asked Jesus what he could do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him if he followed the commandments and the ruler replied he did. Jesus then told him to sell everything he had, give the money to the poor and follow after him. Nope. The ruler had too many things he liked and walked away from Jesus. What could he have had that was better than eternal life I wonder? God challenges us with things we’ll find difficult, but it’s because there’s something better He wants for us.

Selective hearing doesn’t really work. We may find it easier, but in the end we’re just missing out on what’s better. What God is telling us in the bible is no different. Don’t miss out on what’s better for you!

Enjoy your day! God loves you!