Growing Intimacy Despite Our Differences - Intimacy, Part 3

 When we pour out our hearts to others, sometimes we discover they’re very different than we are.

When we pour out our hearts to others, sometimes we discover they’re very different than we are.

My husband’s name is Ted. Yes, and my name is Teddi. We always joke that our marriage, between two people with the same names, is because God has a sense of humor.

Well, the humor doesn’t stop with the similar names.

What really must have got God chuckling in that deep Charlton Heston voice of His is that He found two people with the same name AND with wildly opposite personalities that He could put together and watch the sparks fly. (Okay, just kidding, I’m pretty sure God doesn’t sound like Charlton Heston, but you know what I mean!)

Over the years, our relationship has been through many phases. I can’t speak for what Ted was feeling or thinking, but things for me have included the following:

  • “I’m so in love with this man, we think so much alike!”

  • “How did I ever think this would work? We are so completely different!”

  • “It’s a good thing we’re both so patient and willing to overlook flaws. Otherwise…”

  • “What was I thinking? He’s stubborn, I’m stubborn, we both think we’re right. How will we ever agree on anything?”

  • “There are just some topics we can’t talk about, but that’s okay. We’re solid everywhere else.”

  • “He always turns out to be right. I’m an idiot.”

  • “He thinks he’s always right, but he’s obviously not. It’s so frustrating!”

The scariest moments for me are the ones where I wonder if we’ll ever be able to work through certain differences, or when it seems like there’s a topic we’ll never be able to talk about again and resolve. During these times, it feels like the distance between us will never be bridged, and those gaps will keep us from enjoying the sort of unified hearts that God intended for marriage.

(If you’re not in a marriage right now, don’t tune me out! This applies to friendships, too! Especially if you want to find, develop, or keep the sort of best friend that will stand by your side through all the thick and thin times of life.)

Obviously, my life is still a work in progress, but two things I’ve learned in the crucible of marriage have transformed my relationships significantly. First, I came to believe the truth about myself. Second, I came to believe the truth about the other person. And when I say “truth” what I mean is God’s perspective. He’s the Originator of life, the Creator of mankind and each of us individually. He calls the shots, and how He sees it is how it truly is.

Let’s take a moment to talk about how feelings are connected to our beliefs.

We walk by faith, not by sight (or hearing)

For we walk by faith, not by sight. - 2 Corinthians 5:7

Everything you do in life is based on what you believe. When you brush your teeth, it’s because you believe that if you do not then your teeth will eventually rot out of your head. When you sit in a chair, it’s because you believe it has the ability to hold you up. When you receive information, you decide whether or not you believe it. It affects how you feel, what you say, and what you choose to do.

You follow Christ because there was a moment when you heard the salvation message and you decided it was true. Hopefully, when you received salvation, it brought joy and a feeling of relief and hope and purpose. Which exact feelings you experienced is directly related to what you came to believe in that moment.

  • “My sins are forgiven, and I’m not going to hell.” (What a relief!)

  • “God really loves me, and wants a relationship with me personally!” (Amazement, gratitude, excitement.)

  • “I don’t need to feel ashamed anymore. I’ve been washed clean and born anew.” (Relief, comfort, joy, hope.)

Many of us were so overflowing with these feelings that we shared them with others, telling them what we experienced and what God did for us. Feelings like this don’t stay bottled up for long. And we weren’t only moved to speak about our newfound belief, we started acting on it. We started reading our Bibles so we could get to know God better, we started making choices that lined up with our new identity as followers of Jesus.

This same process applies to our relationships with other people. What we believe about ourselves and about them will affect our feelings. Our feelings will prompt us to speak and to act in accordance with what we believe.

Believing the truth about ourselves

When we open ourselves up to someone else, the risk is that they will judge us, misunderstand us, condemn us. Because we have a powerful inner drive to belong, to be accepted, to be loved and understood, how people respond to us can hit hard. We can easily get upset, defensive, or angry if someone disagrees with us, because it’s like a rejection of who we are and what we believe.

But no matter what someone else says, or how they respond to us, there is something WE can do to eliminate the fear of rejection and the sting of disagreement. We can stand firm in this: God’s opinion is the only one that matters. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong. Maybe they reject me, maybe they don’t. What they think carries only as much weight as I allow it to, and I can avoid so many emotion-based conflicts by remembering that I am loved and understood by God, and that’s completely enough for me.

Think about it. When you’re defensive about something, it’s often because you feel the need to justify yourself.

“Taking on this project is a bad idea. You have a history of not following through.”

“No, I don’t!”

“Tell me one project that you’ve finished in the last year.”

“You just haven’t noticed. I finished plenty.”

“Like what?”

“Stop it! You always attack me, and just because I can’t think of something in the heat of the moment, you think you’re right. You think I’m a failure. Go ahead, just say it…”

In the conversation above, maybe I realize they’re right, and I haven’t finished any projects. Maybe it’s true that I haven’t been any good at follow through. I defend myself and start accusing them because I’m afraid it might mean I’m a failure, I’m irresponsible, I’m going to be denied an opportunity because of past mistakes.

But when I remember that I’m a work in progress, and that God is my judge and my defender and my loving Father, and that His opinion is the only one that matters, and that He can help me overcome where I have failed in the past. . . then I can respond like this instead:

“You have a history of not following through.”

“It’s true. It’s still an area of weakness for me. But I haven’t given up on improving, and I’m hoping this time things will go better.”

It may take work to come to a place where this truth is so deeply ingrained that you don’t take offense and aren’t hurt no matter what someone else says or does. But it’s worth the effort.

Believing the truth about the other person

The second truth that is so important is this: the other person is also God’s child. They answer to God, not me. It’s not my job to correct them, to convince them, to fix them. They are a work in progress, just like I am, and if we don’t agree at this moment, that’s okay. Something I say to myself a lot when in difficult conversations:

“I trust God’s work in them.”

I may feel like I’ve hit a brick wall. I may feel like this disagreement is the end of the world. I may feel like the other person will never change. But regardless of the frustrations or emotions of the moment, it does no good to blame or judge them. I may walk away from this conversation having failed to accomplish whatever my goal was in talking with them, but I don’t have to walk away without hope. Faith sees things that aren’t there.

God called Abraham the father of many nations before he’d ever had a child. God called Gideon a mighty man of valor while he was hiding and afraid. The best thing we can do for our relationships with other people is to see them through God’s eyes. Whether they are a Christian or not, God is working with them (to draw them to Him) or in them (because they’re born again and have His Spirit), because that’s what He does. All I need to do is my part in the relationship, and it’s important to pray and ask God to show me where my part ends and His part begins.

TAKING IT TO HEART: Assess your emotions during (or after) interactions with others. How much of how you feel is based on how you see yourself? How much is based on how you see the other person?

CHALLENGE: Ask God for help. Not just once, but before every encounter and conversation that you know might hold conflict. After every encounter that doesn’t go well.

“Help me see myself — and others — through Your eyes. Help me to rest in Your grace, and to walk by faith. And when things aren’t going well, help me to remain patient and find wisdom for dealing with the situation without reacting out of my own insecurities or my judgment of the other person.”

Intimacy Is A Risk - Intimacy, Part 2

 When we pour our heart out to someone, we wonder — how will they receive it?

When we pour our heart out to someone, we wonder — how will they receive it?

It has happened to me more times than I can count. I told someone how I felt, and my feelings were ignored. Dismissed. Rejected. The first time it happened is lost to my memory, but I know I was just a child because I looked at my parents differently afterward.

After scraping my knee, my father must have put some kind of stinging antiseptic on the wound. “Daddy, it hurts!”

“Oh, stop it. It doesn’t hurt.”

But it felt bad to me.

I was telling the truth. I was hoping it would make a difference, that he would do something that would make the pain stop. But instead, I was told it didn’t really hurt.

It was startling, really. I could feel the pain. The pain was real.

And the man who always looked out for me, the father I loved and trusted, said he didn’t believe me. That I was wrong. “It doesn’t hurt.”

But the pain was real.

I could feel it.

Therefore, I had to accept a fresh realization: my father didn’t know everything. (Come on, guys, it was a shock at the time!) He could be wrong about something. In fact, he could be wrong about me.

Unfortunately, such a simple moment caused a deep divide between myself and my parents. Trust was lost that was not regained for a long time. And yet this story is so very small compared to the kind of betrayal that has been experienced by people I know and love.

Relationships are hard.

Trust is precious, and so easily lost.

Intimacy is a risk.

The Great Divide

Honestly, I don’t actually recall whether it was a scraped knee or the pulling out of a splinter or some other typical childhood experience. What I remember clearly was looking up at my father and being stunned by the idea that he completely denied the pain that I so keenly felt. Later, when I was a young adult and trying to understand my relationship with my parents, God brought this incident back to my mind, showing me that there was a moment when I decided that my parents didn’t know what I was going through, didn’t understand me, and clearly couldn’t be trusted to make decisions related to what I thought or felt.

It put a distance between us.

When you meet someone new, that distance is already there. You know nothing about this person. Depending on past experience, each of us automatically keeps a certain distance with new people. Some of us draw them in quickly, opening ourselves up to see if they will accept us. Some of us keep them far away and only slowly allow them closer.

In the ten years we’ve been at LCLC, I have met some people who are trustworthy companions on this journey of faith. And in the 25 years that I’ve been married, I’ve learned the hard way (because I’m stubborn, I admit it) some things about loving, respecting and trusting someone who doesn’t share my perspective on every topic. As we continue this series on intimacy — knowing others and being known — I hope it will encourage you to close the gap, cross the divide, between yourself and others. Deepen an existing friendship, or start a new one.

So, how do we develop intimacy?

The Great Exchange

Intimacy involves an exchange. An exchange of ideas, an exchange of emotions, an exchange of opinions. We share things about ourselves, our past, our dreams. It’s inevitable that we will share some things with some people who don’t agree with us, or who even don’t like what we reveal about ourselves.

I have shared many things with people in our church. I’ve shared where I’m from, what kind of work I’ve done over the years, what kind of music I enjoy, where I like to vacation. I’ve shared heartaches from my past, and testimonies of what God has done for me. People here know some of the mistakes of my past, as well as some of my most closely held dreams for the future.

And there has been an exchange in many of those conversations, where I hear others’ stories, too. Some of the stories I’ve heard were upsetting, or sad, or disturbing. Some of the things other people share with me make it clear that I don’t share their opinions or conclusions about life and living it as a Christian. That used to make me hesitate to get close, but not anymore.

Building intimacy — a deeper relationship — with another person requires a willingness to share something about ourselves, and to discover things about someone else. As Pastor Bill encouraged us to develop these relationships with each other, I began to wonder: What will happen when we share something, and we don’t get the reaction we were hoping for? What will we do if we open up to someone here and experience conflict or rejection instead of agreement and acceptance?

The Great Risk

The deeper the emotion attached to what we share, the more vulnerable we may feel when we share it. This vulnerability is rooted in openness, and the potential for rejection. We open the door to show what’s inside, we invite somebody in, and we give them access to our inner self.

It is natural to want approval and validation for who we are, what we’ve done, what we believe. It’s instinctive. When we open up to someone else, we’re hoping for acceptance, acknowledgment, understanding. Empathy. Agreement.

It’s easy when we open up about surface things. “Hey, want to join us for lunch? We’re going to this local taqueria. They have the best street tacos!”

“Oh, we don’t really care for Mexican food. Do you like Chinese?”

It may be a disappointment that someone else doesn’t share your food tastes, but it’s not a big deal. It doesn’t usually break the relationship.

But what if it’s something that means more to you? “I’m really upset about this Colin Kaepernick thing. It just seems like human lives are more important than a piece of cloth.”

They frown. “You’re right, human lives are important. That’s why it’s disgusting that he doesn’t have the decency to honor the lives that were laid down to buy the very freedom that he enjoys in this nation today. It’s not about the cloth, it’s about respect.”

Hoo, boy. So much for having a deeper friendship, eh?

But this risk can be even greater when what you share is deeply personal. “I know God is supposed to be everything I need, but I’m really struggling right now. If God is so great, why hasn’t He healed me? I’m just so tired of this pain, and I can’t find the motivation to even get out of bed some days.”

Or perhaps, “I’ve been thinking about going back to work. My husband’s job covers our monthly expenses, but if anything extra comes up, we just put it on a credit card. That debt has been stacking up, and it’s on my mind all the time. I don’t want to leave the kids in daycare, but we just can’t keep going this way.”

How someone reacts to something we share (and how we react when someone else shares with us) will either deepen the relationship and build trust, or will drive a wedge between us. It will either dissipate the fear of rejection or confirm our fears. If all goes well, intimacy grows and the risk shrinks. But next week we’ll talk about what happens when things don’t go so well.

TAKING IT TO HEART: Where are you with your willingness to pursue deeper relationships? Are you keeping your distance? Afraid to risk rejection? Open and willing, but disappointed in past failures to connect?

Recognizing where you are is a good place to start.

CHALLENGE: Ask yourself what you really want. Are you happy as you are, or are you hungry for a deeper relationship of some kind?

Take some time this week to imagine what life would be like with a few more people in your life that you could confide in, that you could share hobbies or victories with, that you could turn to when you need support. Ask God to show you a step you could take in the direction you want to go.

Intimacy Isn't The Same With Everyone

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This past Sunday, Pastor Bill encouraged us to pursue the intimacy that we were designed for: a closeness and unity with God and with other people. This got me thinking about my own relationships.

All my life I’ve craved deep relationships. When I was a student, I desired friendship with my teachers. I looked up to them and wished I could spend more time with them. When I was working in the corporate world, I saw people who seemed to have it all together. They were effective, professional, confident. I wanted to know them better, to become like them.

But it wasn't just people I admired that I wanted to know better. Everywhere I went, I met people who walked around in a cloud of sadness or despondency, anxiety or angst. I longed to spend time providing comfort and listening to their stories, to understand why they felt that way. 

And always, always, I yearned for someone to understand me, to accept me with all my quirks, to see things the way I saw them and to share my interests and passions.

Intimacy. To know someone, and to be known.

So simple, and yet it doesn’t seem that way in practice. Today it occurred to me that part of the reason it isn’t easy is because it’s not the same for all relationships. The Bible gives us a lot of principles that we are to apply to everyone: love everyone, seek peace with everyone, pray for everyone. But when it comes to intimacy, it varies depending on the relationship.

God

Jesus and the Father are “one” (John 10:30). He modeled for us the sort of relationship we should seek with God. Your heavenly Father already knows everything about you, but it’s when you acknowledge it and invite Him into all the corners of your life that transformation can happen. It’s when you chase after God, searching the scriptures to see how He interacted with people, getting to know how He feels about different topics, that you have a chance to know God and learn to think like He does. 

There is no one on earth that will ever know you as well as God does. Treasure this relationship, and make the most of it!

Spouse

God gave humanity a special arrangement when He designed us to be male and female. He created the opportunity for us to “become one flesh” with another human being. The unity we experience in marriage is unique and precious in all our human relationships. The pursuit of that unity provides a crucible in which many of our imperfections are brought to light and given a chance to change.

Family 

And as a result of God’s design for marriage and reproduction, families were born. (You see what I did there? Hee hee.) The closeness we have in families is a product of the time we spend together growing up and living life daily together.

Friends

Friendships are another special relationship, and the book of Proverbs tells us that friends can be even closer than family. Friendship is an intentional choice to invest in another person your time, attention, empathy, vulnerability, and other resources. This investment produces a loyalty to that person and adds weight to their opinions. Friends can have a huge impact on our way of thinking, and this can provide tremendous strength or cause distractions and setbacks. Choose your friends wisely.

Other Believers

Fellow believers are another category of relationship the Bible talks about. In Galatians 6:10 it says we should do good to all, and especially to other believers. Throughout the New Testament, we are encouraged to be of “one mind” with other believers

Given all of this, understand that you will not have the same level of intimacy with every person in your life. Some you will get to know very well, and some you will not. Some you will share your heart with but they will not open up to you. Expect some variation.

TAKING IT TO HEART: Have you ever been disappointed that you wanted to know someone better, but they didn’t feel the same way? Or perhaps you got to know them, but discovered that you didn’t have enough in common to become good friends?

Do you crave deeper relationships but don’t know where to start?

CHALLENGE: Start by going deeper with God. Wherever you are with Him, push deeper in. Spend a little more time, do something a little differently than you have before to share time with Him.

At the same time, keep your eyes open and look for opportunities to open up to someone else, or to get to know them better. 

The Connection Between Strength and Joy - STRENGTH, Part 9

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Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the LORD GOD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation.
— Isaiah 12:2

I was making some coffee this morning and I reached in the cupboard for a mug. I picked one up that had a scripture on it, and the word “strength” caught my eye, since I’d been writing on the topic. “The Lord is my strength and song,” it said.

Not just strength. But song.

A “song” implies joy, and it sent me on a search for more information. Was it possible that God could provide not only enough strength to fight a battle, but even the sort of strength that made it possible to fight with joy?

Where did the joy come from?

The Joy Comes In God’s Presence

You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.' (Acts 2:28)

Do you have someone in your life who does this for you? Can you remember a moment where they walk into the room, and it just lights you up inside? 

Maybe you’re waiting for a friend to show up for a coffee or lunch date. You arrived earlier than they did, and even though you know they’re coming, there’s still the loneliness of being there first and waiting for them to show up. 

And then — there they are!

You stand up, a big smile takes over your face, and you give them a hug or handshake of greeting, and the joy of their presence spreads through your chest.

Do You Associate "God" With "Joy"? You Should!

How much more joy would we feel if we were waiting in that coffee shop for the King of Creation to show up? How much more anticipation, knowing that the Mighty One, full of All Wisdom, the One who adopted us as His own and who loves us unconditionally, was coming to meet with us?

How much greater could our expectations be, if we would remember Who it is that we’re waiting for, and what He has promised to do for us?

The One who created sunrises and sunsets, rainbows and giraffes. The One who used a shout to bring down the walls of Jericho. And what about the things He has already done in our lives? He's the one who saved me from marrying a man who is currently in prison for life in Idaho for domestic abuse. He's the one who told me what to name my son before I was even pregnant. He's the one who found my son's lost toy when he needed it for a project with a deadline.

He Shows Up, And He Keeps His Promises

And then, that moment, when we are seeking him with all our hearts, searching His word and listening for His beloved voice,

and then,

and then —

He arrives.

Light blossoms in our minds as our reading of His Word becomes Him speaking it to us. Sometimes we even feel warmth spread through our chest as His presence manifests in our prayer time. Visions of how our day will play out unfold as we imagine being armed with His power and patience and supernatural ability to walk in love.

Joy.

Such joy in His presence, knowing that He is HERE. Knowing that whatever comes, He is WITH US. Knowing that nothing else matters, because no matter what happens to us in this life, our eternity is secured with Him. And not only that, but He says that with faith, nothing will be impossible for us even now in THIS life.

There Is Great Strength in Joy

Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.
— Nehemiah 8:10b

May we learn to find strength in His presence. May we learn to seek Him, and find such joy when He arrives that we are filled with boldness and praise. 

Jesus found strength in joy. That joy was strong enough to empower Him to face the Roman soldiers when they came to arrest Him. That joy was big enough that He could answer the questioning of the Jewish leaders and of Pilate with peace and self-control. 
Jesus found enough strength in joy that He was able to endure the mocking and brutal flogging of the soldiers, and even to endure the agony of death by crucifixion.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The Father showed Jesus the end of the story, and the joy of that future was strong enough to carry Him through the worst suffering that anyone could endure.

That’s the kind of strength I want. That’s the kind of strength I need. How about you?

TAKING IT TO HEART: There is strength in joy. More than enough for ANYTHING we face. And we receive it, like everything else we receive from the Lord, by seeking Him with all our hearts, receiving His words, and believing what He says — by faith. 

CHALLENGE: This week, ask God to show you the power of joy. Seek His presence, and the joy of it, and look for ways to carry it around into every situation in your daily life.

Strength In Numbers - STRENGTH, Part 8

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And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.
— Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NASB)

We’ve been talking about strength here on the blog, and it’s a multi-faceted topic. So far, we’ve focused on conforming our thinking to how God looks at strength, and recognizing the source of strength we have in Him. But God has given us another form of strength, because we aren’t alone in our relationship with Him. When we become a child of God, we gain a whole new family and a whole lot of siblings.

Like any family, and any siblings, this isn’t automatically a great thing. People are human, we’re flawed, and we have our issues. Even sometimes issues with each other. But Father God desires for us to find strength in each other.

There Is Strength In You Designed To Help Others

God has placed gifts within each of us that are meant to be shared specifically for the benefit of others in His church.

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant... There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all… - 1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-7 (NKJV)

Both here and in Ephesians 4, we are told that these gifts and ministries are given to us by God for building up, encouraging, and strengthening each other.

Imagine it! Sunday mornings full of deep conversations, laughter and prayer. Coffee dates during the week where we encourage and counsel one another. A phone call or text to let someone know that you were thinking of them. A YouTube video shared on Facebook with a great worship song or a timely message.

Does this sound too good to be true? It’s not. It’s already happening, here and there. I've seen it. And if you haven’t seen it yet, you can be the one to make something happen. Start a conversation, exchange phone numbers with someone you enjoy talking to, invite someone over for dinner.

TAKING IT TO HEART: Do you already have a good support network of fellow believers? Are you supporting others? If not, what is getting in the way?

CHALLENGE: We are starting up Life Groups in a couple of weeks. This Sunday, sign up for one. If your schedule won’t allow it, start looking for someone you can connect with outside of Sunday mornings. If you already have a solid strength network, ask someone else how you can support them.

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT)

It Will Take All Your Strength - STRENGTH, Part 7

…greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.
— 1 John 4:4b (NASB)

Facing the challenges of life takes strength. Strength of heart, strength of mind, strength of body, strength of character. As we’ve studied the topic of strength, we’ve been encouraged that even if our own strength is small, God’s strength is more than enough for everything we will ever face.

The Greater One Lives In You

There is such comfort in knowing that the Greater One dwells inside of us, that Jesus promised to “never leave” and “never forsake” us (Hebrews 13:5).

Sometimes just knowing this is enough to get us through a tough time.

And sometimes it isn’t.

What about the days when knowing God is great and knowing He is with you doesn’t seem to help? What about the days when you have to get in the car and drive to work, knowing that persecution and conflict are awaiting for you, and you just want to curl up in bed and call in sick? What about the days you find yourself crying in the bathroom, the hurtful words of your spouse ringing in your ears?

Small or Great, It Will Take ALL Your Strength

Whether our strength is “small” or “great”, God asks us for everything we’ve got. Here’s the key, though: we don’t need to expend our strength trying to fix the problem. We gather what strength we have, and we use it to seek the Greater One who is inside us.

Did you catch that? Use your strength (your time, your attention, your energy) on seeking God, and don’t hold back. Especially when things are so tough that you don’t feel you have any strength at all. 

"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5, Mark 12:30)

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13, Deuteronomy 4:29)

Often we don’t access all these resources because we don’t take the time and effort to seek Him with all our hearts, to spend time reading the Bible and praying, listening for His direction and receiving His strength. 

God’s presence and power is more than just “comforting knowledge”. It’s more than just knowing He’s there. God has ANSWERS for your situation. He has POWER for calming your emotions, walking free of intimidation, strife, anger, fear. He has WISDOM for tricky situations, and PATIENCE for enduring difficult ones.

TAKING IT TO HEART: Have you ever thought, “I’m too busy to spend time reading my Bible”? Or maybe you fall into bed exhausted and think, “I’m too tired to pray.” Where are you spending the strength you have?

CHALLENGE: Let’s agree together today: the next time we’re low on strength, we will take what strength we have and spend it all on seeking God and plugging in to the limitless strength that is available as we are filled again with the Holy Spirit. Wash, rinse, repeat, as often as needed.

And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. ... And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.
— Acts 4:31, 33

More God = More Strength - STRENGTH, Part 6

If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.
— Proverbs 24:10

Living a victorious life requires strength. As we’ve examined the topic of strength over the last five weeks, we’ve seen that God has given us His Spirit, which is the true Source of our strength. We can do all things through the Spirit of Christ which dwells in us.

It also appears clear that we can have “less” strength or “more” strength, and we can “grow” in Christ and in the strength He gives us. One of the ways we grow in strength is by making more room for the Source of our strength.

The More Room We Make for God, The More Strength We Have

When my heart and mind are full of the problem, there is little room for God and His strength. When my thoughts are filled with my plans, desires and ideas, I’m missing out on the wisdom of God and His divine path through the maze of life.

When I instead focus on what God has done, what He has said, what He has promised, I’m making room for Him.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
— 2 Corinthians 4:7

Let’s empty our vessels of our own ideas, our own limitations, and make room for the power of God. When hardship comes, let’s not be afraid of fainting, but go to God in humility and declare to Him that He is our strength and invite Him to fill us up.

But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6)

One of the ways we make room for God is by giving him the driver’s seat. The more we practice yielding to His lead, leaning on His strength, the more of His power will be able to flow through our lives.

Strength to love, to give, to be kind, to persevere in the midst of trial — all these things will come as we seek the will of God and yield to the lead of the Holy Spirit, drawing close to Him and drawing on His limitless strength.

TAKING IT TO HEART: How often do you think of God or His principles during the day? How much of your thought life is consumed by your problems, your entertainment, your relationships with other people, in comparison with the time you spend thinking about your Source?

CHALLENGE: Start making more room for God. Ask Him to show you one way or one area that you can make space for Him. Write it on a sticky note and post it on your bathroom mirror. Touch it every day and declare, “I’m making more room for You today, Jesus.” 

Strength Has A Name - STRENGTH, Part 5

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Last week we talked about the difference between doing things in God’s power, instead of our own limited strength.

If I think of strength as “mine”, what I can do with “my own” abilities, then I’m like someone operating on batteries. “My” strength has limits. “My” love, joy, peace and patience are finite. 

But once I’m born again and filled with the Spirit of God, the batteries are irrelevant. I’m plugged into the wall outlet now. No limits. No running out.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
— Philippians 4:13

My strength has a name, and that name is Jesus Christ.

In Him, and by His Spirit, I can do “all things”. And the way I increase my capacity is by yielding more to Him. Jesus said he sought the will of the Father, and that’s where the miracles occurred.

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:17)

TAKING IT TO HEART: How often during the week do you call on the name of Jesus for help? Do you live daily with the reality of Who is living inside you by the Holy Spirit?

CHALLENGE: Pray each day this week and ask God for a better understanding of what it means to "do all in the name of the Lord Jesus". When you are faced with a problem, look to Jesus for the strength you need, and give thanks to God for it.

What Is The Source of Your Strength? STRENGTH, Part 4

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This may seem a small shift of focus, or a subtle distinction. “Who cares if I’m using my own strength or God’s, as long as it gets me through?”

But it’s a huge difference.

One kind of strength has limits, and the other does not. When I am in a situation and think, “I’ve got this!” then when I run out of steam, I faint. 

“I’m out of patience!” 
“I’ve reached the end of my rope.”
“I can’t take it anymore!”

Recognizing the Source

The truth is, anything good we are able to achieve is a gift from God. Any patience I have is from Him. Any love and kindness in my heart is there because He created me and gave it to me.  

Even Jesus said, "I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” (John 5:30)

Isn't that astounding? Jesus said He could do nothing on His own. He recognized that the source of His wisdom and power was in listening to the Father and operating in the Father's will, the Father's power. And because of that, miracles happened all the time.

With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
— Jesus, in Matthew 19:26

Let's Level Up

When we think it's something we are doing in our own strength, we naturally expect limitations, based on past experience and how we feel at the moment. When we look at a situation and judge it based on our own thoughts and feelings and abilities, we limit what is possible.

Even the things we do well could be far better in God's strength.

TAKING IT TO HEART: Is there something that you think you’re good at? A challenge you face and overcome regularly? It’s time to take it to the next level.

CHALLENGE: If you’re ready to see the difference between your strength and the power of God, ask God to bring to mind a situation where you can begin to draw on His strength instead of your own. Ask Him what the next level looks like and step forward boldly to walk in it.

Example: Perhaps there is a person or situation in your life that tries your patience. Even though you have developed strong patience for dealing with that person or situation, what would the next level look like? What if, instead of merely succeeding in keeping your temper, you were able to offer kindness, as well? What if, instead of walking away victorious but drained, you were able to walk away feeling energized?

God has something special in mind for you, specifically. Seek Him and find out what it is!

How Can Strength Come From Weakness? STRENGTH, Part 3

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Last week I shared this scripture from Proverbs 24:10: “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” 

I ended last week’s blog with a reference to the apostle Paul and how when we are weak, God is strong. How do these two things fit together? Am I supposed to work on getting stronger, or embrace my weakness? 

Are Bigger Muscles Really The Goal?

An athlete prepares for a race by building up their muscles. So if we are to prepare for hard times by “working out”, what needs to get stronger to avoid “fainting”?

I’ve heard many sermons about growing in patience, growing in love, putting off the old man, crucifying my carnal desires. The implication seems to be that if I just pray and study enough, and use enough self-discipline to practice these virtues, I will grow in them.

Well, yes. There is value in this. There are scriptures that speak of it.

But reject profane and old wives' fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. - 1 Timothy 4:7-8

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. - James 1:2-4

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. - 2 Peter 1:5-8

What are we really exercising when we practice these things? What is the Source of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and all the rest? 

Too often in the past I’ve assumed I’m to build up my own personal love-muscles, kindness-muscles, godliness-muscles, so that I don’t “faint” and need to ask God for help as often. But when God asks us to grow in these virtues, His goal isn’t for us to be “so strong” by ourselves that we don’t need Him anymore. In fact, that’s impossible.

What We Really Need Is The Holy Spirit

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
— Galatians 5:22-25

These virtues spring from the Spirit of God. And the Spirit of God is inside of us.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? - 1 Corinthians 3:16

Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. - 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 

TAKING IT TO HEART: Are there some areas where you’ve been trying to get stronger on your own? Dealing with problems in your own strength? Are you ready to lean into God and shift your striving to drawing closer to your Source of strength?

CHALLENGE: Pick one thing in particular where you need God’s power. For the next 5 days, make this your morning declaration: “God, I’m ready to see Your strength where I am weak. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Instead of pushing myself harder, I’m going to yield to Your prompting and stand firm in Your strength.” 

When Your Strength Is Small - STRENGTH, Part 2

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If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.
— Proverbs 24:10

Newflash: you aren’t perfect. Neither am I.

(I'll give you a moment to get over the shock.)

(All better? Deep breath? Brace yourself for the next bit.)

There will come a day when we are tested by our circumstances and we fail the test. We may say heated words that hurt a relationship we value. We may fall to temptation and take actions that we regret. We might be treated unfairly and fail to handle it with patience and forgiveness. We may be disappointed and give up on a dream.

And on that day, the failure will try to take up the entire viewscreen and block our ability to see a path forward. But we mustn’t let the failure dominate our thoughts. There is One who is greater than ALL our failures.

Sometimes we may faint, but our weakness is not the end of the story.

The apostle Paul shared a strange thing when he wrote his second letter to the Corinthian church. God had told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Paul really wanted God to remove something from his life that was repeatedly challenging him, but instead God basically said, “Paul, with My help you overcome it each time. Be content with that victory.”

Once he realized that troubles — and even his own natural inability to overcome them on his own — gave God an opportunity to release power in his life, Paul declared, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

TAKING IT TO HEART: Have you ever experienced a moment of weakness? An ongoing area of weakness? The first step is being willing to face the truth.

CHALLENGE: Take your weak areas to God (remember, it’s not news to Him!) and ask Him to show up in those situations. Confession of failure isn’t failure: it’s the first step to future victory.

Pardon for Sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
— “Great is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas Chisholm

 

 

Are You Ready For The Challenge? STRENGTH - Part 1

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If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.
— Proverbs 24:10

Life is full of ups and downs, but sometimes long periods of time go by where nothing much seems to happen. It’s easy to fall into a sense of complacency. But then, when something finally comes along that challenges us, we may find ourselves floundering. What then?

When life puts us to the test, we want to shine, to pass with flying colors. This proverb can sound like a condemnation, pointing out that failure is the result of “small strength”, but it sparked a series of thoughts that I want to share with you over the coming weeks.

Days of adversity will come, and we can be prepared for them.

If you knew that you’d be running a marathon in six months, what would you do to prepare for that? If you knew that you would need to climb a rope over a 20-foot wall, how would you strengthen your body so you would succeed? 

Pretending that the test isn’t going to be difficult won’t make it easier. Ignoring it until the day it actually arrives will not bring success.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. - 1 Peter 4:12 (NIV)

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. - Jesus, in John 16:33 (NLT)

We shouldn’t live in fear of the future, but if we want to do well when challenges come, we should plan for them. God never deliberately sets us up for failure (James 1:13), and if we pay attention to His lead, He will prepare us to succeed. Looking back over my life, I see time and again where He gave me chances to practice something or prepare for something that I didn’t know was coming.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
— Hebrews 4:15-16 (NKJV)

TAKING IT TO HEART: What has God been nudging you about that you may be ignoring?

A change of diet, a call to spend time in prayer and study, a prompting to call a friend? These little things may not seem like much, but nothing He does is meaningless, and sometimes the stakes are higher than we know.

CHALLENGE: Next time you think God may be giving you a nudge to do something, do it. Even if you aren’t sure it’s Him. Even if it seems like something so small it doesn’t matter.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
— 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NKJV)

If I Am A New Creation, Why Don't I Act Like It?

"New life."
"Born again."
"A new creation in Jesus Christ."

These are all beautiful concepts to sing about and hear in a sermon on Sunday, but how does it help us day to day? If this question has been nagging at you, I have some really good news.

New Abilities

This new creation that I am now is not limited in the same way my old self was limited. Before, I was at the mercy of my body and brains, stuck in my habits and addictions. Now, my re-created spirit is free and able to do what was impossible before.

New Authority

Before God set me free, I could be held in deception and shackled in sin, sickness, depression, and anything else the devil wanted to use against me. Now, I have the authority of the name of Jesus that trumps any demon or power that tries to attack me (and I’ve had a few run-ins!).

New Power

You and I share this new life as Christians. Before, our minds were hostile toward the things of God and unable to receive the fullness of His knowledge, understanding and revelation. Now, the very Spirit of the living God dwells in us and teaches us, reminding us of what He has said, showing us the way.

And yet, if you’re like me, you can look around your life and see areas that are not yet totally free, old habits that haven’t been broken, circumstances outside of your control (and within it) that are oppressive, painful, or otherwise difficult.

Why Hasn’t It Happened Yet?

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t miraculously become perfect when I accepted Jesus. Actually, I do know about you because NONE of us are suddenly perfect when we become that “new creation”.

So what does the Bible mean by “new creation”?

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NKJV)

Human beings are made in three parts: we have a spirit, a soul, and a body. Some Bible teachers outline it like this:

  • My SPIRIT is the very essence of me, the individual that God created to be uniquely myself. 
  • My SOUL is made up of my mind, my will and my emotions. 
  • My BODY is the earthsuit that my spirit and soul live in that allows me to interact physically with the world around me.

When we are born again, our bodies don’t suddenly change, do they? The Bible makes it clear that we are still waiting for the “glorified bodies” that God will give us after we are resurrected (2 Corinthians 15:42-53)

Our souls aren’t completely made new, either. While some people experience sudden freedom from addictions or seeing things in their lives differently, we all discover pretty quickly that there are old habits that need to be broken, old ways of thinking and reacting that still need to be changed. The apostle Paul said, “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:2), so it’s clear that our minds are not already perfect.

Therefore, we conclude that it is our spirits that are born of His Spirit, made alive, made new. And not only “new”, but just as God made humanity “in the image of God” back when He formed Adam of the dust of the ground our new spirit-selves have been “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 NIV).

TAKING IT TO HEART: Start thinking about yourself in terms of spirit, soul and body.

When you fail to resist temptation, ask God to show you what part was at play. Did your body’s craving influence your decision? Did emotional baggage kick in and prompt you to respond in ways you regret? Is your mind believing a lie instead of God’s truth?

CHALLENGE: As you identify the areas in need of freedom and renewal in your life, exercise the authority God has given you over your own soul and body. 

Even non-Christians have discovered “mind over matter” and learned to discipline their bodies’ cravings. You have even more strength available to you through the Spirit of God.

TIP: Talking to yourself is surprisingly effective. “No more coffee today. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is right here in me, and if he can raise the dead, then he can get me through this afternoon!”

Building Deep Friendships in a Shallow Culture

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True friendship is priceless. I don’t need to convince you of this, you know it already. It can be difficult to establish and keep real friends. Our fast-paced, highly demanding modern culture has become toxic to the sort of relationships that most satisfy the human soul. But that doesn’t mean it cannot be done.

3 Pillars to Building a Good Friendship

1. Keep God first. This may not seem to follow with what we’re talking about, but it’s actually vital. We often expect too much of others, hoping they will fulfill our need for companionship, meaning, contentment. But if our relationship with God isn’t fulfilling us, there isn’t much chance a human being can do it, either. 

Look to God first for what you need, and you will be able to enter relationships with other people with confidence, knowing that they may fail but God won’t. And on the flip side, keep yourself accountable to God to be a good friend to others and other people will be drawn to you.

2. Be trustworthy. How can you ask of someone else what you won’t offer them? Commit to being the sort of friend you want someone else to be. Show up on time, keep the things they share confidential, forgive mistakes and overlook imperfections. Be encouraging, invest time in the relationship, think of the other person and not just yourself.

3. Take your time. Nothing good and lasting is built overnight. Even if you desperately desire a deep, meaningful relationship, go one step at a time. Have lunch together and talk. Text them something during the week now and then. Invite them over for dinner with the family. Make a list of things that are important to you and bring these topics up in conversation, one at a time.

Explore this person’s values, priorities, personality. Get to know them. Nothing can replace the bond that is developed by spending time with someone and sharing life over many experiences.

TAKING IT TO HEART: Which one of the three ways above is most challenging to you? As you work on developing stronger friendships, don't neglect the hard parts.

THE CHALLENGE: Pray about which friendship to develop, and take steps in the next seven days to put God first, be trustworthy, and spend some time with your chosen friend.

There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.
— Proverbs 18:24 (NLT)

Knowing God through His Word

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If God is a spirit, then how do we experience Him? I keep returning to this question, because it’s central to having a relationship with God, and it can seem like such a mystery to our modern minds. 

First of all, God still does show up tangibly, audibly, even sometimes visibly. There are testimonies around the world and throughout history since the Bible times that tell us this is true. So don’t count it out.

But that’s not the usual. God most often speaks to His people. That’s how God operates in the Bible, too. The prophets of the Old Testament say over and over again, “The Word of the Lord came to me.”

New Person, New Ears

When we were born again, we were given brand new spiritual ears to hear God. Jesus assures us that his sheep (that’s us) can hear and recognize his voice (John 10:27). Although the Bible is written down, we still “hear” what it says when we read it to ourselves, whether silently or out loud.

But it’s not the words themselves that have the greatest importance. If it were, then there could be major issues with translations and languages. What if God only spoke in ancient Hebrew? That would make it very difficult for most of us to hear and understand Him. So it’s not the words themselves, not exactly.

It’s what God shows you as you read them.

The Living Word

The Bible is called the Living Word (see Hebrews 4:12) for a reason. For one thing, when we read it, there are parts that will stand out to us. Those are the parts He is speaking!

When we spend time reading the Bible, we’re giving God a voice into our lives. We’re giving Him a chance to speak.

TAKING IT TO HEART: How much time do you spend reading the Bible? What’s stopping you? 

CHALLENGE: Tackle the obstacles that stand in the way of consistent time reading the Word.

Start small, if necessary: five minutes a day. One chapter a day. Five verses a day. Pick something and stick with it until it becomes a habit.

5 Ways to Show Yourself Mercy

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We’re talking about mercy this week over on the LCLC Facebook page. Mercy probably isn’t a word we use a lot in daily life. Yet the need for mercy is all around us.

  • That person in the 10-Item Express lane in front of us with fifteen items? She needs mercy.
  • The child who neglected to start the dishwasher, leaving you without a clean coffee mug this morning? He needs mercy.
  • Did you miss a deadline, or offend a friend (or spouse!) with a careless comment? You need mercy, too.

It can get really personal, this need for mercy. Here are five ways to show yourself mercy.

1. Accept your faults.

It can be very damaging (mentally, emotionally, and physically) to maintain a state of frustration, anger or unforgiveness towards oneself. Remember that God has forgiven you through Jesus. If God has forgiven you, you should extend mercy to yourself while you continue to grow and overcome.

2. Don’t give up hope.

It’s tempting to declare failure and decide, “This can never change. I’ll always be this way.” But just because you have struggled with a sin or failed at a relationship for a long time doesn’t mean things cannot change. Give yourself another chance.

3. Give yourself a break.

If you’re feeling like you don’t deserve anything good because of your failures, don’t believe it. Stop pushing away the love of others, stop denying yourself a day off, stop punishing yourself. God loved you and gave His greatest gift to you before you ever qualified for it. If He thinks you're worth it, you are. 

4. Let it go.

When something isn’t right, it’s tempting to keep pushing hard to fix it. Remember that Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you, and I will give you rest.” Put the problem in God’s hands and trust Him with it until He brings it up to you again.

5. Appreciate your good points.

Thinking about your successes can lead to pride, but when you need mercy it’s a good time to rehearse the things you’ve done right. Are you a good friend? A reliable employee? Did you show up for someone when they needed you? Thank God for the times you got it right, and next time you look in the mirror, give yourself a smile.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
— Matthew 5:7 (NIV)

Becoming More Aware of God

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Last week I was talking about why it’s good news that Christians are created anew when they accept Jesus. While all humans have the potential for hearing from God (after all, how else could God get the attention of someone who doesn’t believe in Him yet?), when we are “born again” we have new opportunities.

  • New eyes to see what God is like, and to notice what He is doing in our lives and others’.
  • New ears for hearing His voice.
  • A new spirit for experiencing His touch and receiving His peace.
  • A new tongue for speaking His words and spiritual languages, and for tasting His goodness.

And although I don’t recall a scripture for it I doubt God left us without spiritual noses.

Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.
— John 14:21 (NLT)

Learning to Use Your Spiritual Senses

Newborn children grow, and we too must grow up in the use of our spiritual senses. Spiritual maturity, unlike physical growth, doesn’t come automatically with the passage of time. How do we grow in the use of our spiritual senses?

But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
— Hebrews 5:14 (NASB)

We practice. We train our senses. We watch those who are more mature in the faith (as a child watches her parents) and we do what they do. And above all, we believe the Word of God. Our faith is how everything happens. Faith is how we grow.

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. (Romans 10:17)

Faith is hearing what God is saying to us, and then acting on it. Sometimes it’s something we read in the Scriptures. Sometimes it’s something we hear in our hearts. God has given us the perfect teacher, and part of “faith” is believing that and trusting the teacher.

…the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (John 14:26)

…the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him. (1 John 2:27)

Paying Attention

If you want to increase your ability to hear from God and become more aware of what He’s doing in your life, it starts with giving Him more attention.

TAKING IT TO HEART: What will you do this week to give God more of your attention?

CHALLENGE: Practice exercising your senses. When you think you’ve noticed something God is doing or saying, pray about it. Ask Him to confirm whether it’s Him. 

This song says it well: “Let us become more aware of Your presence. Let us experience the glory of Your goodness.”

Good News: You Are A Brand New Person

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Pastor Bill talked about good news on Sunday. It wasn’t the main focus of his message but he mentioned how part of our response to sin (in our own lives and that of others) is to share the good news.

I want to share some good news today: you are more than the collection of muscle, skin, bones and blood from which you are constructed.

When a person hears and believes the gospel — the good news about Jesus — something miraculous happens. You may or may not feel it or see it in a tangible way, but here’s the way the Bible describes it:

  • You are born again, this time born of the Spirit (John 3:5-8)
  • You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • You are a child of God and a co-heir with Jesus, God’s firstborn (Galatians 4:7, Ephesians 1:5)

HEY, DON’T TUNE OUT IF YOU'VE HEARD THIS BEFORE. Think about it again, and ask God to show you a deeper level than you already know. There is always more to discover about this new life.

New Life, New Opportunities

This new creation that you have become, this inner reborn spirit person, has some fantastic advantages over your old physical self. This new person is:

  • …reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18)
  • …free of condemnation (Romans 8:1)
  • …renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him (Colossians 3:9-10)
  • …walking after the spirit, not the flesh (Romans 8:1)
  • …created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:24)
  • …dead to sin, dead to the law, but alive to God (Romans 6:11, Romans 7:4)
  • …free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2)
  • …renewed day by day, even though our outward bodies are fading (2 Corinthians 4:16)
  • …able to do all things through Christ who provides strength (Philippians 4:13)
  • …hears and recognizes the voice of God, your shepherd (John 10:4-5)

(^^ Not a complete list.)

Babies Grow, And So Should We

When a baby is born, they aren’t complete. They have some growing to do. They grow physically larger, stronger, and also their brains grow and allow them to coordinate the control of their bodies better. As their brains develop, they also gain the ability to think about things in different ways. They gain the ability to control their emotions and keep their emotions from dictating their actions.

Even after our bodies stop growing, there’s a maturing process that continues as long as we’re alive — if we let it. Can someone be 50 years old and still immature? You bet. In fact some of you might be thinking, “Teddi, do you really have to ask? Just look around!”

The same thing happens with our reborn spirit. We have the ability to hear God and recognize His voice, but unless we practice it, we miss a lot. We have the ability to master our carnal impulses, to overcome the emotional wounds and baggage we’ve collected over the years, but it doesn’t happen automatically. Jesus even said that we have the power to do “greater works” than he did, so the possibilities are pretty amazing.

TAKING IT TO HEART: Do you see room to grow as a reborn child of God? Where do you feel the need for growth most keenly right now?

CHALLENGE: Think of one thing you want to do differently or one area in your life where you want to see a different result.

Make the decision right now that you will believe what the Bible says you are capable of, now that you are a “new creation”.

Now pray and declare your decision to God and ask for His help and the wisdom to see your next step.

A Taste of Heaven on Earth

That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the LORD swore unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth.
— Deuteronomy 11:21 (KJV)
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I spent five days in heaven last month. 

Oh, wait, that wasn’t heaven. That was the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. And the thing that made it wonderful wasn’t really the conference (although it’s without a doubt a very good conference). Here’s what made those five days like “days of heaven upon the earth”:

  • Sharing with my blossoming writer daughter her first writing conference
  • Having our first multi-day mother-daughter getaway ever
  • Having deep conversations with like-minded Christian writers that I only see once a year
  • Making new friends with people who share my passion for words
  • Partnering with God to bring encouragement, provision, and timely counsel to fellow Christians
  • Admiring the natural beauty of the coastal redwoods in spring
  • Spending time alone with God
  • Soaking in the spiritual atmosphere of a place that has been steeped in prayer and God’s presence for over a century
  • Not having to clean house, do dishes, or make meals (let’s just be real)

Not Everyone Has The Same Experience — But They Could

But not everyone at the conference had the same experience that I did. Some people may have been lonely, attending for the first (or even third) time and too shy to open up to those around them. Some of them may have experienced repeated rejection and disappointment, each time hoping to be noticed by an agent, to have their story accepted by a publisher. Some may discover after critique that their book isn’t ready for publication, and feel that they’ve wasted their opportunity.

The people who find this conference a blessing year after year have some things in common:

  • They come expecting to meet with God, and keeping their eyes fixed on God as their source
  • They come with hearts of thankfulness for all God has already done in their lives
  • They come knowing they are imperfect, and so are the others at the conference, and yet they value the community of faith anyway
  • They come looking to encourage others, and willing to accept encouragement from others
  • They come willing to learn, and willing to let God direct their steps

This Could Be Us, This Sunday

I look forward to Sunday each week. It’s not because I’m perfect. It’s not because the people there are perfect. It’s not because our worship band is perfect, or our pastor’s sermons infallible (wait, Pastor, don’t take that the wrong way! Just saying that since you’re human, it’s likely… well, anyway, never mind).

I look forward to Sunday because it’s a chance to meet with God’s people, with fellow pilgrims and believers. It’s a chance to meet with God like I do at home, but with the added opportunity to minister to others or to receive a word from Him through another part of His body. I look forward to Sunday because I get to hear about what God has done for others and what He’s doing through them.

TAKING IT TO HEART: How do you approach Sundays? What makes a “good” Sunday, and what makes one “meh”? Do you come with something to give, as well as a desire to receive?

CHALLENGE: Let’s examine our expectations, and what part we can play in making this Sunday (and the next, and the next) a day of “heaven on the earth”. 

So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the LORD swore unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth.
— Deuteronomy 11:18-19 (NLT), 21 (KJV)

Running Well When Life Puts Up Roadblocks

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Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!
— 1 Corinthians 9:24 (NLT)

You may be wondering where I’ve been for the past three weeks. There was a death in my extended family, and the day I should have been writing this blog I was instead driving east with my two kids to get through the mountains before the big snow storm hit.

What a disruption of my routine! What an unexpected turn of events! What a roadblock to my daily life!

Or was it?

Most of my life, I’ve been what you call a “Type A” person. Driven to get straight A’s in school, determined to do things with excellence, to be the best, to knock every item off the to-do list. This approach seemed to work pretty well at first. Schools and colleges reward those who study hard. The corporate world promotes those who are diligent workers. Success in the freelance world comes to those who get results for their clients.

But there’s an area of life where being “Type A” doesn’t help at all: relationships. Being driven to always be right makes for more arguments than reconciliations. Elevating getting things done over the emotional needs of my family and friends results in disappointment and dissatisfaction, not success. Clinging to my schedule and goals instead of making room for helping others in need actually leaves me empty instead of fulfilled.

To run my race well as a Christian, I need to see things differently. I need to measure success the way God does. How does God define “running well”?

If you don’t know the nature of the race, you’re sure to lose.

What if Jesus believed, as some of his disciples seemed to, that he was supposed to gather an army, overthrow the Roman government, and establish a physical kingdom on earth? Even if he had accomplished this task, and lived as a righteous king for 100 years, he would have failed at his race. His race was to be a living example of Father God, healing and speaking truth and offering grace to the repentant sinners around him. His race was to mentor and teach an inner circle of disciples who would spread the good news after he was gone. His race was to live a sinless life, lay down his life at a young age as the sacrificial Lamb of God, and to return to the right hand of Father God so the Holy Spirit could be released to work in God’s people for centuries after he was gone.

Was the cross a roadblock, or a finish line? The answer is obvious to us, now that the story is done. But only by relying on God moment to moment, and obeying the Father’s will, did Jesus finish his race and win it.

Do you know the nature of your race? 

Our greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts, and the second greatest command is to love others like we love ourselves. But what does that look like, exactly? Life can be full of challenges.

  • Being passed over for a promotion at work
  • Being hurt by the betrayal of a friend or loved one
  • Losing weeks or months to injury or illness
  • Seeing someone in need when you have needs yourself
  • Dealing with the consequences of a mistake you made

What does it look like to run your race well in these situations? Are these roadblocks, or opportunities?

The race isn’t to the fastest, but to the faithful.

I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all.
— Ecclesiastes 9:11 (NASB)

King Solomon was making the point that “time and chance” — the unexpected — can happen to anyone. It’s a wise observation, but Jesus tells us something even better: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

Guess what? For every example Solomon uses in that verse there is a situation where relationship with God made all the difference:

- Elijah on foot ran faster than King Ahab’s chariot by the power of the Holy Spirit
- Young shepherd David beat the giant warrior Goliath with one stone and his faith in Israel’s covenant with God
- A humble widow was given oil and flour that never ran out during a famine because of her obedience to provide for God’s prophet
- The Israelites leaving Egypt were given wealth by the Egyptians, not because of their wisdom but because of God’s power
- Gideon was full of fear and doubt, hardly qualified for leadership, and yet God chose to grant him favor and lead him to success

The race is not to the swift — it is to the faithful. When we keep our eyes fixed on God, drawing close to follow the prompting of his Holy Spirit, we discover that there are no roadblocks, after all. There are only opportunities to trust God in fresh ways.

And my trip east to help my family bury a loved one? I learned that God can get me across 1,700 miles of highway in the winter without a drop of rain, much less snow. I discovered that I needed to improve my attitude and stay focused on the love of God if I am to truly bless those I love with my “help”. I saw God empty an apartment full of furniture and “stuff” in one day, and sell a used car in an afternoon. The trip wasn't a roadblock, but a learning opportunity and a chance to bless. I didn’t do it perfectly, but I’m thankful that with God’s help, it was a blessing.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
— Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT)