When It’s Hard To Find Hope

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God is invisible (usually).

Faith is intangible (mostly).

The future isn’t here yet (obviously).

The very nature of our Christian beliefs can be rough at times, especially when we are in these physical bodies, surrounded by a culture that exalts everything you can see, hear, taste, smell and touch.

When you wake up in the morning and your body aches, that’s real. When you get to work and your customers start in on everything you haven’t done right, that’s real. When you turn the key and your car doesn’t start—again—that’s real. When you get another call from your kids’ school and have to leave work early to meet with the principal, that’s real.

But when our emotions are crazy, Jesus saying, “I will give you My peace,” may seem out of reach. We may wonder how God will “supply all our needs” when we need so much. When God feels distant for weeks, months or years, we start to wonder how we’ll ever feel close again.

The evidence of our five senses will try to overwhelm our belief in the invisible.

We Still Believe, But…

We follow Jesus because we believe the Bible is true. We know that God is really there, and He really cares about us, and He really promises to take care of us. But at some point in our lives, we will experience an opportunity to lose hope. There will be a time when hope is hard.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble..." - John 16:33 (NIV)

See? Even Jesus acknowledged trouble as a fact of life. He didn’t say, “You might have trouble,” or “some of you will have trouble.” He said, “You will have trouble.”

In my own life, I’ve had trouble. I’ve been let go from jobs, I’ve been in the hospital for emergency surgery, I’ve been depressed, I’ve lost friends and gone long stretches without any friends, I’ve struggled to find meaning and direction. There are times when even though I believe, even though I know God is with me, I still feel very distant from Him.

How I Found My Way Back to Hope

When God (and everything else in life that I’m longing for) is far out of sight, there are two things that consistently have provided a lifeline leading me back to a place where I can see the invisible again.

GOD’S WORD

It may get old hearing this, but I find hope in reading the word of God. When hope is hard, I look to the accounts of people who had hard times, and I take encouragement from seeing how their stories worked out. I read about David, knowing that he was chosen as king and yet hunted and persecuted for years by King Saul. I read about Esther, a girl taken from her family to be part of the king’s harem and then finding out he was going to wipe out her people. I consider her days of agonizing and fasting before risking her life to ask for the king’s help to overthrow his own edict. I find hope seeing that their difficult situations eventually resolved.

When answers and hoped-for events seem long in coming, I read about Abraham, who waited 25 years before his promised heir showed up. I read about Moses, who spent forty years living apart from his people before God called him back to deliver them from Egypt. And though God miraculously showed up and did amazing things, that didn’t mean the fulfillment of Moses’ calling was going to be easy. What a struggle he encountered, leading a rebellious people for another forty years before they finally were ready to enter the promised land.

I remind myself what Jesus said immediately after He warned about the troubles of life. “But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33 again)

TAKE IT TO HEART: If you need hope, take the time to search for it in the testimonies of others. When your own landscape is empty of hope, borrow someone else’s!

GOD’S PEOPLE

Even when I’ve been isolated from others, out of church or friendless, I found encouragement reading testimonies of God’s people. Articles online, books from the library or on my own shelves, and nowadays, YouTube videos and preaching videos available freely on the Internet and social media. Encouragement is available if we just choose to look.

Thankfully, there are also many times that I have had at least one good friend or family member that I could reach out to and talk to when I need encouragement. Looking back, it was more often that I simply didn’t reach out than a case where there truly wasn’t anyone available to me. Having someone willing to listen, and willing to share their own experiences makes a huge difference. So does a hug and a hand on my shoulder while someone prays for me. Huge. Difference.

TAKE IT TO HEART: If you have any other Christians in your life at all, try reaching out when you need encouragement. If you attend our church, I’m certain there are plenty of good people to choose from who would be a great encouragement to you. Don’t miss out on the chance to have someone pray for you.

SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE

What has helped you when you found it hard to hope?

I Can Do It Myself: A Story of Pride

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Pride and I go way back. Way, way, waaaaaaaay back.

I hardly know where to begin this story, so let’s start with the fact that I’m the oldest of five children. I was an only child for nearly 4 years. Three years, seven months, and 25 days to be exact. Plenty of time to become convinced that I was the biggest, strongest, fastest, smartest and therefore most qualified to boss around my two younger brothers and two younger sisters (as they each came along).

And then there was my experience in school. There are times when a gift that God intends as a great blessing can be a stumbling block, and this was one of them. Somehow, I ended up in a second grade reading class — while in kindergarten. I excelled in every academic area. (Let’s not talk about my disciplinary problems. This is about how great I was. In fact, when given a timeout and told to count to 100 in the corner, I could do it in less than 30 seconds. I was that good. Ask me at church, and I’ll tell you my secret trick.)

In later elementary or middle school grades, I recall a special aptitude test that was supposed to determine my strengths and suggest a direction for my future career. The results? I did above average in all the subjects and way beyond average in several of them. Sheesh. So much for the test that was supposed to help me decide what to do with my life. It didn’t help me one bit.

Things got worse. I entered the adult work world around the same time that PCs were becoming widespread in offices. Microsoft Word and WordPerfect were replacing typewriters and obscure high-end professional publishing software like FrameMaker. A little while later, email started replacing fax machines. Because I was young and quick to learn, I ended up teaching many co-workers who were older than I was. Then I started writing curriculum to teach them. Then the World-Wide Web came around, and I was writing web pages to help people.

Always, always, I found myself in a position of greater knowledge, professionally, than most others around me. I was always the expert with a ready answer for any problem. And if I didn’t know the answer, I would research it and show up the next day with a solution in mind.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? “What’s the problem, Teddi? Why are you telling us how great you are?”

Exactly.

I thought I had all the answers.

The Downfalls of Pride

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. - Proverbs 16:18 NKJV

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. - Proverbs 11:2 NIV

We’ve all heard the proverbs. It’s easy to acknowledge that pride is a bad thing. For a long time, I worked really hard to be humble. Because I thought humility was something you did, like saying, “Oh, it’s not that great,” when someone admired my artwork. And not taking credit publicly when I fixed something or solved something (of course, the people involved all knew it was me who saved them).

But despite all this “hard work” at “humility”, I still experienced many of the downfalls of pride:

  • I over-committed and burned out, because I felt I was the best person for the job, every job.

  • I didn’t notice when my attitude offended others, because I was blinded by my certainty that I was right.

  • I missed the chance to learn from amazing teachers, because I was satisfied with what I knew and didn’t ask questions.

  • I denied others the chance to exercise their gifts, because I took assignments that should have been theirs.

  • I shut down the chance to receive feedback from others, because it was obvious that I wasn’t open to hearing it.

  • I sacrificed things that were important in order to make sure I didn’t fail at something that I shouldn’t have been doing in the first place.

Oh, yes, the list could go on. I’m very thankful to Jesus that my life didn’t go worse than it has, given the amount of pride lodged in my heart. And despite my determination to be humble, even that was tainted by the fact that I wanted humility because I couldn’t stand to be less than perfect.

God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. - James 4:6

God sends no one away empty except those who are full of themselves. – Dwight L. Moody

How can we receive help in our weakness when we won’t admit we have any?

What Is The Antidote to Pride?

The proud person always wants to do the right thing, the great thing. But because he wants to do it in his own strength, he is fighting not with man, but with God. - Soren Kierkegaard

As Pastor Bill shared this past Sunday, true humility is seeing ourselves through God’s eyes. But I was afraid to look at myself honestly, because of all the flaws I knew were there. Surely if I was flawed, then I was “bad” and not worthy of God’s approval, or anyone else’s. This way of thinking misses the entire point of the gospel! I’d heard it over and over again: that Jesus had died for my sins, that God saw me as perfect through the blood of Jesus. But for a long time it didn’t click into place. I wanted so much to have God’s approval because of something I did, because I earned it.

Too bad, Teddi. God’s approval isn’t something you can earn.

There’s no amount of effort on my part that will erase my flaws or make me perfect. The real “good news” is that whether I do something great or not, whether or not I’m perfect, I have my Father’s love and approval. And if I truly want to see that smile on Daddy-God’s face, then I ought to admit my weakness, and take the strength that He is holding out to me, and use that to accomplish my task.

How much greater is God’s joy when we are partnered together, working in unity, than when I am stubbornly trying to do it all by myself?

I don’t need to impress anyone. There is no opinion on earth greater than the opinion of Creator God. And God isn’t impressed by me doing things on my own.

We Are Made For Communion, And For Community

Finally embracing this truth, seeing myself through God’s eyes, was step one. And step two was seeing others through God’s eyes (if this sounds familiar, it is — I mentioned it a few weeks ago when I talked about dealing with our differences). When I look at everyone around me through the eyes of love and through the eyes of our mutual Father, then I realize something else amazing: Not only does God want me to partner with HIM, but He wants me to partner with THEM.

God didn’t design me to do these things all by myself. He placed gifts in me so I could do my parts, and gifts in you (and you, and you), so you could do your parts. And when we all work together, and the unique strengths we each bring come together in the power of God’s Spirit, BAM. There’s a synergy and a multiplication of effectiveness that is out of this world!

P.S. A lot of wise people had things to say about pride. Here are a few:

Pride is at the bottom of a great many errors and corruptions, and even of many evil practices, which have a great show and appearance of humility. – Matthew Henry

Most of the trouble in the world is caused by people wanting to be important.- T.S. Eliot

No one enjoys feeling weak, whether it is emotionally, spiritually or physically. There is something within the human spirit that wants to resist the thought of weakness. Many times this is nothing more than our human pride at work. Just as weakness carries a great potential for strength, pride carries an equally great potential for defeat. – Charles Stanley

Pride comes from not knowing yourself and the world. The older you grow, and the more you see, the less reason you will find for being proud. Ignorance and inexperience are the pedestal of pride; once the pedestal is removed – pride will soon come down. – J.C. Ryle

If I had only one sermon to preach it would be a sermon against pride. - G. K. Chesterton

I’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU

What are your tips or observations on the topic of pride? What do you think of my story, and what’s yours?

Intimacy At Its Best - Intimacy, Part 6

 When we let the Holy Spirit flow through us into others’ lives, we experience abundant, overflowing life!

When we let the Holy Spirit flow through us into others’ lives, we experience abundant, overflowing life!

Do you ever wonder, “What does God want from me?”

The Bible makes something clear, in story after story, commandment after commandment, instruction and rebuke and proverb: God wants our obedience.

Hold on, don’t leave! This can be a big turn-off, even when we want to follow Jesus. Human nature is ingrained with a desire to decide things for ourselves and to do what we want to do instead of what we’re told to do (thanks a lot, Adam and Eve).

So an important companion question is this: “What does God want FOR me?”

It was a life-changer for me to realize that God’s motivation for ALL those instructions is His love for me, and His desire to see me (and all His other children) blessed. God doesn’t just “have” love for us — the Bible tells us that God IS love (1 John 4:8, 16).

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

When it comes to intimacy (which we’ve been investigating for the last few weeks), God’s design is consistent with every other area of life: He intends for us to be blessed and to bless others.

So what would a life of abundant, rich relationships look like?

Closely Connected: Members of One Body

…So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. - Romans 12:5

The apostle Paul uses the metaphor of a body to describe how we are connected to others who believe in Jesus. We aren’t just family, we’re members of one another. When your finger gets slammed in a door, your whole body stops to deal with the pain. When you take a bite of warm chocolate lava cake and vanilla ice cream, your eyes close and your whole body stops to appreciate the flavor. That’s how close we can be with each other.

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. ... For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” - 1 Corinthians 12:4, 12

When I go to church, I admit I don’t usually think about being “one” with everyone there. I don’t usually look around the sanctuary and think, “Oh, look, it’s the members of my body.”

But what if I did? What would change if I started looking at my church family as vital parts of my life?

I might begin to care about their lives as much as I care about my own. I might start to see their accomplishments as something to celebrate. To see their pain as something that affects me. I might want to share my resources to help them succeed. Is this a scary thought? Sometimes it is. But is living that life worth it? You bet it is.

So let’s look again at the equation for intimacy I shared last week.

Awareness + Shared Experience x Commitment (- Risk) = Environment for Intimacy

When I look around the sanctuary at church, I am now aware that God has placed seeds in me that will benefit my church community. And for each face I see, there are seeds inside of them that were intended for my benefit, too.

I share the local area where I live with the people I attend church with, and we all see the same sights around town: the apartment buildings full of people, the parks full of dog owners and families with children, the schools, the grocery stores, the hardware store. We see the people walking around the old town area visiting restaurants and shops and gathering for the farmer’s market and summer music in the square. This shared experience gives us a chance to share the passion that Jesus (and Pastor Bill) has for reaching these people with the gospel, the good news about God’s Kingdom.

The people I see at church every week are people who share a commitment to meeting together with other believers. As we get to know each other, we reduce the risk of being rejected and begin to share the things that God is doing in our lives.

That’s why meeting together outside of Sunday mornings is so important. The discussions at Life Groups, the fun activities at our Friday night monthly outings, having coffee during the week with someone, texting each other, interacting on Facebook, inviting each other over for dinners: these things are a chance to build each other up, encourage each other, and experience the full benefits of intimacy at its best.

True Intimacy = Best Life Ever

I want to have friends that I can trust. People who know who I am and love me anyway. I want my encouragement and enthusiasm to matter in someone else’s life, too. I want to be able to handle tough times, to be tender-hearted towards those in need. I want my love for my friends to overcome my selfish desire to do what is convenient and easy, because putting a little effort out there to help someone and bond with someone is WAY more enriching in the long run than running the rat race and staying too busy to build relationships.

  • This won’t happen if we’re too busy to make time for these relationships.

  • This will fail if we try to take on too many intimate relationships at once.

  • We’ll miss out if we pass up a relationship God intends for us because it looks like too much work.

  • Our relationships will bear bad fruit if we don’t have good seed to plant in them.

True intimacy comes when:

  • We make room for the relationships that matter, starting with a relationship with God.

  • We watch for the right timing for pursuing deeper relationship with someone, praying for them while we wait.

  • We listen for God’s direction on which relationships to pursue in which ways.

  • We fill our hearts with the incorruptible seed of God’s word, and then we share it with others.

  • We don’t give up when things get difficult.

  • We practice forgiveness and seek to understand as much as seek to be understood.

When we let the Spirit of God flow through us and into the lives of others, that is intimacy at its best. That’s the kind of exchange that makes this life richly rewarding and also bears eternal fruit.

CHALLENGE: Ask God which relationship He wants you to focus on right now. Ask Him for wisdom in how to pursue that relationship. Take the first step towards intimacy in that relationship this week.

A Powerful Equation For Creating Intimacy - Intimacy, Part 5

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In the book of Genesis, way back at the beginning of time and the beginning of the world, God established some basic principles in the universe. One of those principles is the cycle of seedtime and harvest. We call them “seasons”, and it’s not just spring, summer, fall and winter. There are seasons of life, seasons in your career. Churches have seasons, too.

Lincoln Christian Life Center is in a season of planting. Planting the Word of God. Planting our presence in the community. And specific to this series of blog posts are our efforts to plant seeds of friendship and intimacy to grow stronger, healthier relationships.

Whether you think you want “intimacy” or not, you need it. You are uniquely made in all of God’s creation to require intimate connection with God to fulfill your design. That “God shaped hole” inside you? God’s idea. But even more, He made us to fit together with the rest of the God-family like puzzle pieces. Or, as the Bible puts it, we are all parts of one body with Jesus as the Head.

…So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. ~ Romans 12:5

…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ… ~ Ephesians 4:15

That’s why understanding the mechanics of intimacy is worth our time, and worth a little study. The way God made my brain, I like to boil things down and make them as accurate as possible while simplifying them so I can remember them. The “equation” I’m sharing here isn’t “everything you ever needed to know about intimacy”, but I hope it’s something that will help us in our journey to “grow up” in Jesus together.

Awareness Comes First

Last week I shared how intimacy (knowing and being known) is an exchange of seed (words) that has the potential to bear fruit (good or bad). Understanding what’s happening when we take in ideas and let them take root in our minds and hearts is the first step. You can’t guard against something you don’t know is a problem. You can’t create environments that encourage intimacy if you don’t know what it involves.

Now that you’re aware of the constant exchanges of ideas that are happening in your life (when you watch TV, when you chat with a co-worker in the break room, when you’re with family around the dinner table, when you’re talking in the lobby before church), let’s look at two other things that heavily influence intimacy.

Shared experience

It can be hard to relate to someone who doesn’t seem to have anything in common with you. Have you ever met a stranger, and every topic you introduce you’re met with, “No, I don’t do that,” “I’m not a fan,” “Never been there,” “Haven’t heard of it,” “Not much into that scene”, “Can’t stand it”? There’s not much to build on there.

But there are many situations that provide a chance to know each other because you’re already sharing the experience of the situation:

  • School classroom

  • Shopping

  • Standing in line somewhere

  • Workplace

  • Church

  • Gym

  • Hiking trail

  • Movie theater

  • Concert

  • Conference or convention

Depending on the amount of time shared or the depth of passion for the shared activity, this can create a wide possible range of intimacy. Shared experience can be used as an opening to share good seed (God’s love, grace, and truth). Shared experience can also open up the risk of getting entangled through exposure to bad seed (immoral suggestions, crude jokes, addiction, bitterness, complaining, harassment, insults).

How much time do you spend in one of these scenarios? Is that time overall positive or negative, based on the seeds that are being planted?

CHALLENGE: Look for ways you can be more intentional about sowing good seed into others. At the same time, watch out for bad seeds that are landing in your heart’s garden. Do a little weeding, if necessary.

When it comes to something like a church Life Group (also sometimes called a ”small group” or “cell group”), it’s an opportunity to share an experience over a period of weeks or months. As we read God’s word and plant that seed together in our hearts, as we discuss how it applies to life and share past experiences, we have a chance to develop strong, healthy relationships. People we only briefly see at church on Sunday morning may become people who will see us through life’s tough times and help us overcome the issues we’ve been struggling with for years.

We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God's Good News but our own lives, too. ~ 1 Thessalonians 2:8

Commitment

Commitment is motivating. When paired with a shared experience, it multiplies the results. Going to the gym is one thing, but joining a team sport and playing games where your teammates rely on you deepens the relationship a lot. There’s motivation to help each other through rough spots, lend a hand when someone needs a ride or share a babysitter during practices.

In a friendship, you may feel that you can opt out of the relationship when things get tough. You can say, “I don’t want to talk about it”, and move onto another subject. But in a marriage, the shared commitment — to each other, to your children — creates pressure (in a good way, usually) to work things out, to wrestle with the hard questions until you find unity.

In a marriage where both are Christians and both are committed to the relationship, there is a miracle that happens when both people keep their eyes on Jesus and keep trusting God with their hearts and with the other person. Things are still tough sometimes but because you both know that you’re not going to give up and that God isn’t finished yet, you continue to open up to each other and to God, to let the seed planting and pruning and pulling of weeds do what’s necessary to bear fruit.

But this sort of commitment isn’t reserved only for marriages. I’ve had a similar relationship with a woman friend where God said, “Stay committed to this person”, and God told her the same thing. And because God is at the center of that relationship, calling on us both to stick with it, we’ve both grown a lot. I think this is similar to the bond that David and Jonathan had in 1 Samuel 18 before David became King of Israel. Even when Jonathan’s own father King Saul was trying to kill David, they remained friends despite the risk.

Awareness + Shared Experience x Commitment (- Risk) = Environment for Intimacy

Okay, so am I a nerd for coming up with some kind of equation here? To be honest, I originally thought it would be something simple like Shared Experience + Commitment = Intimacy, but the more I’ve explored this topic, the more we’ve discovered about it.

START WITH AWARENESS: Knowing others and being known involves an exchange of thoughts. These thoughts are seeds that will either take root and grow or not, depending on various factors. Awareness of the exchange and recognizing the seeds is the first part of the equation.

ADD SHARED EXPERIENCE: Shared experiences give us common ground with others and tends to open hearts.

MULTIPLY BY COMMITMENT: Commitment multiplies the motivation to invest in each other even when it isn’t easy.

REDUCE RISK: When you are settled in your understanding of your identity in Christ and God’s work in the other person, using discernment to see if they are someone to open up to or not, you reduce the risks of a negative experience.

= GOOD ENVIRONMENT FOR INTIMACY: Now you have a situation where you have the best possible chance for the kind of relationship God designed you to have with another human being. A Godly intimate relationship is one where both your strengths will benefit each other, where you can help each other overcome difficulties and pray for each other’s weaknesses, and where the Spirit of God can flow through each of you to build up the body of Christ.

But more on that next week!

Intimacy Is Not The Same As Familiarity - Intimacy, Part 4

 You can spend time together with someone, but that doesn’t automatically mean you’re connecting deeply.

You can spend time together with someone, but that doesn’t automatically mean you’re connecting deeply.

It’s possible to be around someone for years, to be familiar with their quirks and their personality, and still not truly know them. It happens all the time in the workplace, at church, and especially in online communities.

“Look, there’s Harvey. He’s so predictable, always here early to greet people.”

“Uh-oh, here comes Gina. I wonder what she’ll complain about today?”

“You gotta see PlushChibi2008’s post today. She’s at another anime con. Can you imagine having the freedom to travel like that?”

Frequent, regular exposure to the surface of somebody’s life is familiarity. If they share a lot of details about their surface life, it can feel like intimacy. You can know what they ate for lunch yesterday, which movie they watched last night, hear all about their last date with their latest fling. You can become very familiar with some of the details of someone’s life.

But intimacy is something else.

There’s Knowing, and Then There’s Knowing

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain… ~ Genesis 4:1

Yep, I went there. The Christian Standard Bible version says Adam “was intimate with his wife Eve.”

“Whoa, Teddi, whoa! Why are you talking about sex now? I thought we were talking about relationships with family and friends and fellow church goers!”

Settle down. Let me show you.

Even when we’re talking about growing deeper relationships with others in our church Life Groups, this distinction between familiarity and intimacy is important. You see, true intimacy involves intercourse, an exchange of something. Of course (biblically speaking) this knowing is only a physical, sexual intercourse when it’s between a married couple. The rest of the time, it’s a spiritual closeness and a spiritual exchange.

Spiritual Seed (The Good Kind)

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever ~ 1 Peter 1:22-23

This truth is fundamental to the Christian experience: When we are born again, it is because God’s Word — that incorruptible seed — is planted in our hearts. “With the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation.” (Romans 10:10)

Your salvation, and mine, is a reality because God was intimate with us. And we were intimate with Him. We can hear the gospel message again and again, but it’s the day that we receive it, that we believe it as true and take it into ourselves as a reality that the exchange happens. And new life is sparked.

But the intimacy doesn’t stop there. If that first seed lands on good ground, it grows up into a fruit-bearing tree that then spreads more seed. God has many words that operate as seeds, and these words also bring life and bear fruit. (Mark 4:14-20)

Seeds grow into the type of plant that they came from, right? This is why when you do a bible study on healing, and continue to be intimate with those words, those seeds, you will experience healing in your life (and in the lives of people you pray for). The word of God about healing produces faith for healing.

When you do a study about forgiveness, that seed will produce forgiveness. When you do a study about God’s principles for handling money and resources, that seed will produce wisdom and positive results in your finances. Roman 10:17 explains, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” It doesn’t use the word “seed”, but now that you understand that God’s word is a seed, you can see the connection, can’t you?

Spiritual Seed (The Bad Kind)

Remember how Adam and Eve chose to eat of the tree of “the knowledge of good and evil”? This is my own speculation, but when you look at the metaphor (and spiritual reality) of words as seeds, you realize that the good seeds and bad seeds point right back to that tree. God said, “Don’t eat this one, it holds death,” and the serpent said, “Go ahead and eat it, because it will make you wise, like God. You should have the chance to know and decide good and evil for yourself, just like God does.”

The first couple were told two things. Given two seeds. God’s word-seed is life, pure good. But when they chose to know intimately both good and evil, they loosed on the world both kinds of seeds.

Bad seed works the same way as good seed. The serpent whispered to Eve, “Look at that fruit, doesn’t it look good?” That is what we call temptation: a bad seed is dropped on you.

At this point, NOTHING HAPPENS unless you take that seed into your heart, intimately. If you walk away when tempted, the bad seed is left behind. If you walk away, but then later come back and put the seed in your pocket to look at again later, you’re at risk.

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. ~ James 1:14-15

God’s seed gives birth to good things. Corrupt seed gives birth to death. Sometimes it’s the death of your conscience. The death of your integrity. The death of your confidence. The more fruit the bad seed produces, the more the death spreads. Death of relationships and intimacy with God, death of your health and your hope. Ultimately, the enemy of our souls wants to steal everything good that we have, lead us down a path that ends in physical weakness and death, and even to destroy our legacy and anything good we ever accomplished.

But there’s a way to stop that downward spiral.

Just Hearing It Isn’t Intimacy

The good news about bad seed is that just being tempted, just hearing those thoughts in our heads, is not enough to plant the seed.

The bad news about good seed is that it works the same way.

You can sit in church for decades, and hear the Word of God preached again and again, and still experience no change in your life. The Pharisees studied the Old Testament until they had it memorized, and yet Jesus condemned them for being empty vessels (dry ground). The seed was there, but it had not taken root because it was not received into the soil of their hearts through believing obedience.

Don't just listen to God's word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don't obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look intently into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then you will be blessed in what you do. ~ James 1:22-25

Intimacy With Each Other

“All this talk of seeds and giving birth, but I thought we were talking about growing intimate relationships with fellow Christians! You sure got off track.”

Did I? Let’s bring this back around. Familiarity is not intimacy. Familiarity is relationship at a surface level. No seeds are exchanged, nothing is planted. Or maybe you plant a little patch of green grass and it looks pretty enough. You smile and talk about how your week went over coffee. But the grass roots don’t go deep, and as soon as you stop watering it, it withers up and dies within days or weeks.

Intimacy means you both open up more, you expose the soil of your hearts to each other. And then — this is the important part! — you make sure that you’re planting good seeds, incorruptible seeds, the seeds that matter. Healthy Christian intimacy is planting the seeds of God’s words into the hearts of those around you.

Intimacy Isn’t For Everyone

That is, you don’t need to be intimate with everyone. In fact, you shouldn’t be. I talked about this a little bit in the first post in this series. Now that you see the ways that seeds work, I hope you see the danger of letting “bad seed” land in your heart and take root there.

  • Find people who consistently speak word-seed that comes from God. They don’t have to quote scripture all the time, but their words should be based on sound biblical principles. You’ll recognize it better when you’ve become familiar with God’s word yourself.

  • Because of the nature of intimacy (it develops close emotional bonds), it’s wise to save your close friendships for people of the same gender as you are. This isn’t a legalistic thing (”Thou shalt not”) or an old-fashioned thing (”Friendships between men and women isn’t a big deal these days”), this is about seeds and their undeniable nature. When you open your heart and seeds are exchanged, things are born. Making those exchanges with someone of the opposite sex carries some extra risks that should be considered.

  • When you’re with people who throw bad seed around like confetti, keep your heart guarded. Sweep the bad seed off the soil of your heart by countering the bad with good. If there’s a way within the context of your relationship to offer a good word, do it. But you don’t have to argue with them or address them at all to preserve your heart. Just find a chance to tell yourself something good when they’re not around.

    If they complain about constant problems (”Murphy’s Law!”), just remind yourself, “The law of liberty is at work in my life, and I’m blessed in all I do” (James 1:25). If they are bitter toward their circumstances or others you work with, guard against that attitude infecting your outlook with “God, you surround me with favor as with a shield and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me — even deal with this toxic environment” (Psalm 5:12 and Philippians 4:13).

CHALLENGE: Prepare yourself for intimacy with others by filling yourself with good seed to share. Be ready to receive good seed from others, too, and everyone will benefit from the fruit that grows!

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

intimacy01-not-the-same-with-everyone.jpg

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.