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)

Elijah: An Example of the Power of Prayer

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The book of James tells us,

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
— James 5:17-18, NKJV

So let’s look at Elijah’s life and see what it tells us about how to pray. The book of 1 Kings records this part of Elijah’s life as a prophet of God to the nation of Israel. King Ahab was a terribly wicked ruler, and because of his disobedience the curse of drought was brought upon Israel. As God’s faithful prophet, Elijah had the job of informing King Ahab about it.

And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.”
— 1 Kings 17:1 (NKJV)

As you can imagine, this made Elijah something of a target. Talk about being the king’s Least Favorite Person! Later, Ahab’s servant Obadiah says to Elijah, “There is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to hunt for you!” (1 Kings 18:10, NKJV)

God Provides In The Midst of Hardship

During the three years of drought, God did amazing things for and through Elijah.

God told Elijah to camp by a creek for a while, and ravens brought bread and meat to feed him! This obscure hiding place kept him out of King Ahab’s clutches, and when the creek eventually dried up from the lack of rain God told Elijah to go to a certain widow in a neighboring country who God had commanded to provide for Elijah.

Even though we’re looking at Elijah’s life for inspiration, I find the example of the widow inspiring, too. She was scraping the bottom of the jar to make one last biscuit for her son and herself, and then had resigned herself to starvation. She couldn’t see a way out. There was nobody to provide for her, there was a multi-year drought, which meant poor crops and probably a famine.

Then this guy comes up and asks for a drink of water and her last biscuit.

After she tells Elijah her situation, he encourages her.

And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.’ So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days.
— 1 Kings 17:13-15 (NKJV)

Wow.

Because she chose to believe God’s prophet when he said God would provide for all of them, she was blessed! 

Faith Isn’t Foolishness

It’s important to pay attention to what’s happening here. Elijah didn’t just pick someone at random and demand that they take care of him because he was God’s prophet. Being sent by God doesn’t give anybody the right to demand things of others. 

And the widow didn’t just decide to do something reckless because she thought that it would cause God to have pity on her. She didn’t just give a stranger the last of her food because she’d heard somebody teach that sacrificial giving will move the heart of heaven.

1) Elijah asked the widow to feed him because God told him she would.

2) The widow gave away her very last bit of resources because God’s prophet assured her that God wouldn’t let her and her son starve.

Romans 10:17 tells us, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” True faith is in response to something God says to us.

That’s why it works.

When God speaks, He fulfills His word. When we respond and take action based on what God has said to us, that’s faith.

The Effective Prayer Is The One That Agrees With God

Every step along Elijah’s story where God tells him what to do and what to say, God fulfills His word. When we look at Elijah’s life, we find out how a “man with a nature like ours” can have such power: by obeying what God told him to do and speaking what God told him to speak.

CHALLENGE: When you come to God about a situation, listen for what God has to say about it. Search the Bible for examples of God’s will in similar situations, and be attentive to your heart as you read. Watch for God impressing you with the specifics to pray about. When we pray in agreement with the Father’s will for a situation, that’s when we see miracles

If you read the rest of Elijah's story, you'll find even more miracles: a boy raised from the dead, fire from heaven consuming a water-soaked offering without a match being lit, outrunning a horse-drawn chariot, being fed with angels' food, being taken directly to heaven without dying a natural death. Read it all in 1 Kings 18-19 and 2 Kings 1-2.

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.
— 1 John 5:14-15 (NKJV)

Picture credit: Public domain image of Elijah provided under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License by La Vista Church of Christ.

Prayer: It's Not A Last Resort

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“I’ve done everything I can think of. It’s still not fixed. I guess all we can do now is pray.”

Sound familiar? Too often, we only think of prayer after we’ve expended all our other options. Whether this comes from a sense of pride (”I can handle this!”) or a misguided sense of responsibility (”I don’t want to bother God with this”), we always lose out when we leave prayer as a last resort.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
— Philippians 4:6 (NLT)

“I wish I could help, but all I can do is pray.”

I used to feel this way a lot. I’d hear about situations that friends and loved ones were going through, and there wasn’t anything I could physically do to fix their problems, heal their bodies, resolve their situations. I felt helpless.

And I felt like prayer was such a small thing. A mere gesture of support. “I’ll be praying for you.” What a nice, Christian thing to do.

Prayer Is No Small Thing

Prayer isn’t merely a polite gesture, an admission that someone is beyond your help, or a shot in the dark. Prayer is the entry point for God’s power to flood into earth’s atmosphere and make things happen

Think about it this way: Prayer — your prayer — is how God’s will gets done. Isn’t that how Jesus taught his disciples (and us) to pray?

In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.
— Jesus, in Matthew 6:9-10 (NKJV)

Wow! This instruction from Jesus should stop us in our tracks.

First, because it tells us something shocking: God’s will is not automatically done on earth. If everything that happens on earth was already according to God’s will, then why would Jesus instruct us to pray for His will to be done?

And second, we should be struck with wonder: you and I have the awesome privilege of partnering with God to see His will be done here on earth. We get to participate in the best things to ever happen to people: healing from pain and sickness, reconciliation between loved ones, miraculous provision when all seems lost, restoration of joy after long struggle, even deliverance from hell and being reborn to eternal life!

The Power of Prayer

Look at what the Bible tells us about the power of prayer:

“I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you.” - Jesus, in Matthew 18:19 (NLT)

"And these signs will follow those who believe: …they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." - Jesus, in Mark 16:17-18 (NKJV)

And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. - James 5:15 (NKJV)

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. - James 5:16-18 (NKJV)

The example of Elijah fills me with so many exciting thoughts that he’s going to get a whole blog post of his own. Keep an eye open for that.

TAKING IT TO HEART: Have you considered prayer a last resort? Felt helpless and uncertain about whether your prayers do any good?

It’s time to renew our minds to the truth: prayer is powerful. It’s not small, and it shouldn’t be the last thing we try.

CHALLENGE: No matter how many times we’ve prayed and felt that it did no good, our experience is not to be trusted more than the Word of God.

Pick a verse in the Bible about the power of prayer and write it out. Put it somewhere you will see it every day. Say it out loud. Imagine it happening to you.

Prayer: Doing It Right Is Risky

Have you ever heard people pray in church? It’s usually very reverent, very proper. If you learn to pray based on prayers like these, prayers made in situations where the speaker knows everybody is listening to them, you’ve probably gotten the wrong idea about prayer.

Christian prayer isn’t a formal petition in a medieval king’s court. It isn’t a marshaling of our reasons why we should get what we want. It doesn’t need to be calm, cool and collected. It’s not groveling and insulting yourself and saying how great God is.

I really like the “simple math” concept that God showed me a couple of weeks ago. Here’s a similar approach to illustrate the simplicity of prayer:

Prayer = Talking to God

God = King, but also Friend, Counselor, Comforter, Daddy

Don’t let religion complicate a simple thing. Prayer is a conversation with God. Yes, God is the awesome, Almighty Creator of the universe and King of everything and everyone. But he also calls himself a friend of Abraham, the Counselor, the God of all comfort, and Jesus (whom the Bible calls the firstborn of many brethren — our big brother) called God “Daddy” (well, it was in another language, so it was “Abba”, but that’s what it meant).

We Gotta Be Real

Prayer, the kind that we do when it’s just between us and God, starts with one thing above all else: honesty. What’s the point in holding back how we really feel? God knows it already. And when we say it to him, we are expressing our trust. We are letting him in, baring our souls, being vulnerable. This is important. This is intimacy.

And it can be scary.

If we aren’t sure how God will react to how we really feel, being honest is a risk. Will he judge me? Reject me?

Let’s deal with that.

We Gotta Be Brave

When we talk to God, there’s good reason to be confident that he’ll listen. Take a look at this:

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." - Hebrews 4:14-16 (NASB)

Remember, you’re not alone in life anymore.

Jesus is right there with you, every step of the way, including when you pray. He’s called our Advocate and because of him, God will never again hold our sins against us. 

Real Feelings, Even Wrong Feelings, Belong In Prayer

The Bible is overflowing with examples of people who were blunt with God about how they felt. And guess what? God didn’t strike them with lightning, ignore them, or go find someone else to do his assignments. Take a look at these examples (some paraphrased to modern lingo):

  • “I wish I’d never been born” - Job 3:3 (Job)
  • “I hate those jerks with a perfect hatred. God, I wish you’d kill them!” - Psalm 139:19-22 (King David)
  • “I’m nobody.” - Exodus 3:11 (Moses), Judges 6:15 (Gideon) 
  • “I’m just a kid. Nobody listens to me.” - Jeremiah 1:6 (Jeremiah)
  • “Give me whatever I want, God! I want special recognition and reward.” - Mark 10:35 (James and John)
  • “I can’t do this, God. I’m not qualified.” - Exodus 4:10 (Moses)
  • “What I’m going through is too hard, God. Please make it stop.” - Matthew 26:39 (Jesus)
  • “This hurts so much I could die! I’m so sad…” Psalm 116:3

We can be completely wrong, and yet be honest, and it does us more good than praying something “right” but holding back how we’re really feeling. You’d be amazed what happens when we’re honest with God.

Doesn't God Already Know? Why Do I Have To Say It?

Of course God already knows how we feel. But like anyone in a close relationship, he wants to hear us say what’s on our minds. He wants an exchange of thought, and he designed humans so that putting things into words changes things — mentally, emotionally, and even physically.

Have you ever noticed that just saying your fears out loud sometimes takes away their power over you? Have you ever explained a problem to a friend and right in the middle of talking realized the solution? 

Prayer makes a difference not only because God answers prayer, but because the act of praying changes us. Gives us a fresh perspective. Gives us a chance to dump the negative thoughts out and get rid of them.

TAKING IT TO HEART: How is your prayer life right now? Are you talking to God every day? When you pray, are you holding back how you really feel? 

CHALLENGE: Assess your prayer life and make a decision to be real, be brave, and let God hear what you’re really thinking.

Don’t stop there, though: Listen for his answer, his assurance, and allow the Holy Spirit to change your heart where needed.

What Wonders Will We See in 2018?

Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”
— Joshua 3:5 (NASB)
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At the beginning of the year, Pastor Bill asked us to write down how we want to “experience the wonder of God” in 2018. The Bible is full of stories of the encounters people have had with God and the miracles that happened. The same God that parted the Red Sea for the Israelites and caused the Apostle Paul not to be harmed by the bite of a poisonous snake is alive in us today. So let’s stir up our faith by remembering what is possible with our God.

There are so many wonders to consider among the treasures in God’s storehouses. The list could go on for pages and pages.

But God is not a snack machine into which you can just “insert a prayer” and “get what you want”. Jesus explained the miracles that he did like this: “I can of myself do nothing… I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent me.” (John 5:19, John 5:30, John 12:49)

As we draw close to God in prayer and bible study and fasting, God will draw near to us, and he will show us what to do and what to pray. It's when we are praying and acting on our heavenly Father's will that miracles happen.

TAKING IT TO HEART: Are there miracles you want to see in your life and the lives of those around you? Write a list of the wonders of God you are hoping to see this year. Post it somewhere you will see it every day.

CHALLENGE: When you read about a miracle in the Bible, begin picturing how that could happen in your life today. Start expecting God to move in supernatural ways, both big and small. Ask God to open your eyes and ears to see what he is doing and hear his voice.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…
— James 4:8 (NKJV)

More of God Is Simple Math

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During worship this past Sunday, we sang these words: “I want more of You, God, I want more of You!”

And I heard in my heart: “More of Me is simple math.”

MY LIFE - [NOT GOD] = MORE TIME FOR GOD

What astounded me (because hearing from God never gets old) was that as Pastor Bill unfolded the sermon, it became clear that his message was the same as the one I heard in my heart before he preached. The topic was the spiritual disciplines, and he spoke about prayer, bible study and fasting.

If we want more of God (more tangible evidence of His presence, that is, because He's always there), we need to add more prayer and bible study, which usually involves making room for these activities by taking something else out.

MY LIFE + PRAYER + BIBLE READING + WORSHIP = MORE GOD

If we desire more of God in our lives, it truly is as simple as taking out something we currently spend time on and replacing it with time focused on God (in prayer, in bible reading, in worship).

The real trick is being consistent with it. Skipping a TV show to spend time with God or have a family bible study one night per week will bring a little bit more of God. Replacing our 80’s music playlist with audio sermons, worship music, or audio bible reading, during our 1-hour gym workout every day will bring a lot more of God.

TAKING IT TO HEART: How badly do you want “more of God” in your life? Are you willing to make a change to your daily habits?

CHALLENGE: What can you set aside in your life and replace with "God stuff"? Pick one thing and be consistent for the next 30 days.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…
— James 4:8 (NKJV)

Let's Be Real (Otherwise What's The Point?)

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You may have seen me at church this Sunday. I was the overweight, curly-haired lady with the twinkling eyes and the blue jacket. You may not know it, but I’m something of a computer geek. I dream of publishing books that touch people’s hearts, I make fantastic family-style tacos (just ask Pastor Bill), and when I look happy to see you at church, I really am.

But I need to confess something. I’m two weeks behind on this blog. Everything was going so well until the holidays hit, and then after three months of faithful weekly blogging, I slipped up. I missed a week.

“No problem, I can fix this,” I thought.

Another week slipped by, and no blog.

Yesterday I thought, “It’s fine, I’ll just write three and backdate two of them, and nobody will ever know I hadn’t published them on time. After all, who’s reading these things, anyway?”

Hiding Our Imperfections = Shallow Relationships

I was tempted to cover up the lack of posts. But my conscience was hearing from the Holy Spirit, and I started asking myself: What’s this blog really about? What’s our church about? Is that really the kind of online relationship I want to have? One where I hide my mistakes and pretend that I’m perfect?

No. Absolutely not. 

So today this blog is coming out Monday (oops! make that Tuesday) instead of Wednesday, and we’ll probably have two posts this week. Because I’m not perfect, and that’s okay. 

This is real life, lived out Between Sundays.

Is Your Church A Family, Or A Perfection Contest?

If you attend here at LCLC, we hope you’ve seen by now: we want church to be family. Family members are real with each other. We cry together, we celebrate together, we dedicate our children and get baptized together. (And have you noticed the way people tease Pastor Bill about his love for the Rams football team? You should get in on that action.)

Life is too short (and too challenging) to live it alone. We need each other. God designed community to give us all a better life. We can share successes and help each other through failures.

(Speaking of admitting failures: I had to do an Internet search to verify that “the Rams” was a football team. Oh, and did you know? They’re based in Los Angeles! I learn something new every day. Yeah, I’m the type of geek that doesn’t watch sports. See? I’m being real with you.)

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Let’s Be Real

(Introduce Yourself in the Comments)

If you’re reading this blog, whether or not you attend our church on Sundays, I want to get to know you better. I’ve shared a few random things about myself in this post, both positive and negative. (Sorry, Pastor, I’m just never going to be a Rams fan like you. I hope the tacos work as some form of consolation.) 

Please drop a comment below, introduce yourself, and tell me one or two random things about you! If you see me on Sunday, tell me something real. Something about your week, your family, your dreams, your struggles. 

Because real is where it’s at.

For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.
— Jesus, in Matthew 18:20 (NKJV)

Diamonds Out of Dust

Do you ever feel like you’re under pressure and life won’t give you a break? These times of trial can do one of two things: 

1. Weaken us.
2. Strengthen us.

Some people fall apart under pressure, and others really start to shine when the heat is on. What makes the difference between the two?

We can call it “attitude” but it really comes from perspective

When your outlook is grounded in uncertainty and the suspicion that you’re on your own in the midst of hardship and God is just watching and judging your performance, then it’s easy to despair. When things get tough, you take the easy way out. When problems pile up, you give up.

But when your outlook is grounded in the knowledge that God is with you, he loves you and is there to help you get through every challenge, then your attitude is going to be positive. When you fall, you’ll get back up. When you’re tired, you’ll draw on strength from God and keep going.

Diamonds Out of Dust (a song by Hawk Nelson)

This song is so encouraging, because it reminds us that good things can come out of great pressure. Coal when squeezed in the earth becomes diamond, and when polished it’s a sparkling reflection of every ray of light.

Next time you’re facing something difficult, make the choice to see it as your next victory. Remind yourself, “This is exactly the sort of thing that God can help me overcome! And when I come through the other side, I’ll be shining.”

That’s Why The Promises Are There

The Bible records for us many things that God said, so we can be sure how he feels about us and about the troubles we face. Here's a few to brighten your week and strengthen you, whatever you face:

…be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’
— Heb 13:5-6 (NKJV)
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.
— Jesus, in John 16:33 (NLT)
So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.
— Jesus, in Luke 12:32 (NLT)

The Gift of Choice - Giving, Part 5

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The new year is around the corner! Last week we said love is the greatest gift, and it is out of love that God gives us the gift of choice. Even though it comes at great risk to ourselves, the people around us, and to God himself, he gave us the freedom to choose good or bad, forgiveness or bitterness, love or selfishness.

The gifts aren’t always between two things (good or bad), but also between many things: where to put our time, our attention, our money, our energy. There are so many choices in life!

We may wonder whether this gift was really a good idea, but if we trust God then we trust that he knows what he’s doing. Somehow, free will is his best for humanity.

Sowing and Reaping: The Circle of Life

Giving and receiving (sowing and reaping) is the circle of life. It’s everywhere. Trees receive sunlight and nourishment from the earth and they release oxygen into the air. Dead leaves fall and put nutrients back into the earth. In all parts of nature, some things are consumed and other things are contributed, and a balance is established that keeps the world from falling apart. Built into the natural world are cycles that perpetuate that balance.

But unlike nature, which operates by physical laws and pre-programmed instinct, humanity has a choice.

Parents take care of children when they are young, and children take care of parents when they are old. Or they don’t. We breathe in air and sing out praise to our Creator. Or we don’t. Of all the parts of creation, mankind has been given a choice about how and what he gives back from what he’s been given. 

Thankfully, God didn’t leave us in the dark, ignorant of the consequences of our choices. He gave us a road map, an instruction manual, a record of God’s early history with humankind that illustrates how the world works.

Making Good Out of Bad

In the Bible, God tells us to care for the poor, to love those who are unkind to us, to watch out for each other’s best interests. These aren’t always the obvious choices, which is probably why he spells them out.

He knows how his universe works. The Golden Rule is designed to help us sow good seed, because God wants us to live in a harvest of good. And when Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you,” He’s saying sow good seed even in the face of bad seed, because if you return evil for evil, it only brings more pain to your life. 

Doing good to someone who does evil to us is one way we can turn a bad thing into a good one. Giving to someone in need when we also have needs is one way to bring provision into our lives.

It goes against the grain, doesn’t it? It is often the opposite of what we feel like doing, but it breaks the cycle of the negative and opens the door to blessing.

TAKING IT TO HEART: What choices do you face right now? Set aside your emotions for a moment and consider your choices in the context of today’s post and the others about sowing and reaping. What choice NOW will sow the kind of seed you want to harvest LATER?

God wants to see you blessed in all areas of your life. Choosing what you eat today will sow seed for (or against) your future health. Choosing how to respond to teachers or employers (remember, both attitude and action are seeds) sets the stage for your future success. The cycle of seed and harvest applies everywhere.

CHALLENGE: Find a way to remind yourself of this principle. A sticky note on your bathroom mirror (”Choices are seeds”), a pop-up on your weekly calendar app — find what works for you.

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
— Galatians 6:9 (NKJV)

What Is The Greatest Gift? Giving, Part 4

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It’s almost Christmas. Do you have your shopping done?

Many find this season stressful, and not least because of the high expectations set by those around us. Advertisements assault us from every direction: TV, radio, social media, flyers and catalogs in the mail. Children submit wishlists and spouses slip hints into conversation. The pressure is on to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list.

The Best Gift

Let’s be honest: life is often messy, and Christmas is one of the messiest times. There’s no way I’m going to solve your Christmas problems in today’s blog post. But whatever you’re facing this year, whether it’s blended or divided families, whether it’s loneliness or overwhelm, there really is one gift that makes everything better.

LOVE.

Wait, wait, WAIT — don’t tune out. This isn’t a Hallmark commercial, and love isn’t just a warm, fuzzy feeling. Here between Sundays I am committed to giving you only the most practical and useful of tips for living real life in the trenches until Jesus comes back or we make it home to see Him face to face.

When I say “love” will make things better, give me time to show you that love is a powerful force, and one that truly makes a difference.

The Power of Love

Are you out of patience? “Love is patient and kind.” 

What about envious of others who appear to have endless resources to celebrate Christmas with gifts and toys and new things? Does it hurt your pride when everyone wants to spend Christmas at your brother’s house instead of yours? “Love is not jealous or boastful, proud or rude.”

We often read 1 Corinthians 13 (the “love chapter”) as if love is something to aspire to, something that we should “work on” and “improve ourselves” so that we can be like that, too. I’m not saying you can’t look at it that way. But what if we look at it this way:

When Love is in us, it gives us the ability to do what Love does.

Love is what empowers us, allows us to achieve the desired virtues of patience, kindness, humility, courtesy. Love is the fuel. Love is what transforms our perspective and powers our engines.

When you’re frustrated with someone, don’t say, “I should be more patient. God is love, and I should be loving, so I need to be more patient to be like God.” 

Try this instead: “God is love. God lives inside me, and provides an endless supply of his love. What if I look at this person the way God does? God loves this person. God was there when they were born, watched them grow and saw every moment of pain and shame and sadness they’ve ever experienced. I don’t like the way they’re acting right now, but when I think about how God knows everything about them and still loves them enough to suffer and die for them, I see that I can be a messenger of God’s love by being patient even when they’re rude.”

Instead of seeing love as something to strive for, see it as a gift already given that we need to exercise. Love lives in us, because God lives in us.

God Gave It First

You don’t have to wake up with enough love to make it through the day. If you feel like your reserves are empty, don’t worry! God has provided everything you need.

The apostle John says, “We love God because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

God loved us enough to give us Jesus, and when we accept this gift we become children of God, re-made in his image. It doesn't happen automatically, but is something that we can grow in, like a newborn child learns to walk and talk. 

TAKING IT TO HEART: What is your greatest challenge this Christmas season? Whatever your challenge, think about how love can transform your situation.

Deciding on a gift to give someone? Struggling to make ends meet during a time family members are expecting gifts? Lacking someone with whom to share the holiday?

Have you thought about making a gift that reflects how well you know them and how much you love them? What about the gift of your time, and just taking each family member out individually for a simple ice cream cone where you can listen to their hopes and dreams for next year? 

If you’re alone, maybe you can find someone else who is lonely to share a meal with and share God’s love by your presence. Or maybe you could have a “date with God”, light a candle to represent his presence in the room, eat a special meal and watch a movie with him, talking as if he’s there. Because he is.

CHALLENGE: Start practicing love in practical ways, using it as the motivator for each relationship interaction. “I have love inside me. How will I exercise it in this moment, with this person?”

P.S. Don’t forget to exercise love on YOURSELF. You can’t “love your neighbor as you love yourself” unless you apply God’s love to yourself first.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
— 1 Corinthians 13:7 (NLT)