Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. James 1:12

Friday, December 31, 2010

“New Year’s Resolution: Live to Die & Die to Live”

What a difference we hope one evening will make! December 31 is here. The ball drops at midnight. Toasts are made as we look back on the year that has passed, looking forward to the year to come. A new year begins, complete with new possibilities, new opportunities, new dreams, and a new hope for a new ME – hence the New Year’s resolution. Unfortunately, more years than not, before too long we realize it’s a new year, but the same old me.

Resolutions are usually made with the best of intentions, but most times made without considering how unrealistic and undisciplined we human beings really can be. We set ourselves up to have to cope with guilt and failure when we discover that our momentum has waned (usually by mid to late January). Some of the most common resolutions made each year include losing weight, exercising & eating healthy, getting out of debt, getting a better job,  reducing stress, learning something new, or taking on a new hobby. Some may resolve to spending more time with their family, spending more time with God, volunteering more, or educating yourself more. We begin January 1 with a bang, but as time passes those very things we thought were important enough to pursue seem to fall by the wayside. Old habits die hard!

I’ve been doing some thinking myself about what my New Year’s resolution might be for 2011. The thought struck me, “we’re just livin’ to die”. But what does that really mean? I guess you could say that some people live their days going about their business. They may be happy, but do they experience true joy that life can bring? It’s difficult to be joyful sometimes, especially if the past year has been a rough one. Maybe in 2010 you lost a loved one – maybe you lost a job – maybe you discovered your own health was failing. Those are not “joyful” times – those are hard times. You’re just barely getting by, or just stuck in the same old routines.

There’s a flipside to that coin. My mind is drawn to a country song by Tim McGraw entitled, “Live Like You Were Dyin”. A man in his early forties has discovered a serious health issue. One, we are led to believe, that has not given him much time to live. The man is asked the question, “How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news. What do you do?” The man’s response was clear. He did the things he always wanted to do, but never took the time. He took some risks. He went sky-diving. He climbed the Rocky Mountains. He went bull-riding. But not all of his choices were physically challenging. No, some of his choices were those of the heart. He loved deeper, he spoke sweeter, and he gave forgiveness to those he had been denying forgiveness. He made a point to be a better husband, a better friend, he read the Bible more, and all of a sudden the simple things he didn’t want to be bothered with at one time, were the very things he came to enjoy about life.  His perspective changed when he realized he was not guaranteed tomorrow.

Living to die means so much more than just putting in your time here on earth. Like the lyrics of this song that go on to question - if we have the gift of tomorrow and an eternity to think about what we would do with it, then what would we do with it? What CAN we do with it? I believe that God desires for us to live life to the fullest, to realize our hopes and dreams and to go after them, to slow down and enjoy what He has created and the blessings that He has given, to make a difference in the lives of others. But before we can truly live to die, we must first die to live.

Have you ever thought about dying to live? There is death that brings life. There is a dying that brings fulfillment and blessing. God longs for us to enjoy an abundant life filled with true joy and it’s available to us now. But to die right now? What does that mean? Colossians 3:1-10 tells us to put ourselves to death – not our physical bodies, but the evil ways and habits we have been accustomed to - such as greed, immorality, improper attitudes, the evil desires of the flesh, and anger, just to name a few.  It means dying to self, putting yourself aside for the benefit of others, dying so you may gain life - life more abundant! New life is found when we give ourselves over to the living Christ and allow him to hide us in Himself. Taking off the old and putting on the new – isn’t that really what New Year’s resolutions are all about? No longer the same old me!

My New Year’s Resolution? - Live to die and die to live. 
Living to die – TRULY living – is wonderful, but dying to live is freedom!

"Friday's Favorite"

"Live Like You Were Dyin" - Tim McGraw

He said: "I was in my early forties,
With a lot of life before me,
An' a moment came that stopped me on a dime.
I spent most of the next days,
Looking at the x-rays,
An' talking 'bout the options an' talkin’ ‘bout sweet time."
I asked him when it sank in,
That this might really be the real end,
How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?
Man whatcha do?

An' he said: "I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
To live like you were dyin'."

He said "I was finally the husband,
That most the time I wasn’t.
An' I became a friend a friend would like to have.
And all of a sudden goin' fishin’,
Wasn’t such an imposition,
And I went three times that year I lost my Dad.
Well, I finally read the Good Book,
And I took a good long hard look,
At what I'd do if I could do it all again,
And then:

"I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
To live like you were dyin'."

Like tomorrow was a gift,
And you got eternity,
To think about what you’d do with it.
An' what did you do with it?
An' what can I do with it?
An' what would I do with it?

"Sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
And then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
And I watched Blue Eagle as it was flyin'."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
To live like you were dyin'."

Monday, December 27, 2010

"Monday's Moment"

"Be proud of how far you have come, and have faith in how far you can go." - Richard Springs

Friday, December 24, 2010

"So What's In a Birthday?"

“December 24th” - ring any bells? I’m sure the words “Christmas Eve” come to mind almost immediately. The day before Christmas is a day to finish up the last minute shopping, attend family gatherings, or take part in traditions such as eating a special meal, watching a favorite Christmas movie, or maybe opening stocking gifts. But for me, Christmas Eve marks a separate occasion - my birthday.

Now I could go on and on about how unfortunate this has been for me. Christmas birthdays totally get lost in the shuffle. The anticipation of Christmas has its way of overshadowing a day that should also be special and significant. But like many other things in life, my birth date was not something I could choose. It was totally out of my control. I am sure God had a reason for me to arrive on this day just as He had a plan for you to arrive on the date you were born.

Now consider the date, December 25, which you most certainly recognize as Christmas Day. But once again, a different birthday can so easily get lost in the shuffle of opening gifts, family gatherings, and a ham dinner.

So what’s in a birthday?

Most parents can relate to the feelings of expectation upon the news of a baby on the way. Many thoughts and dreams for the child consume our minds - but fears and worries also make their presence known. Will the baby be a boy or a girl? Will he or she be healthy? Will she look more like her dad, or like her mother? What kind of personality will he have? What will she do when she gets older? I am sure young Mary thought of many of these things when told by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to the son of God. Although she had different questions to ponder, such as, “how can this be since I am a virgin?”

Finally the baby arrives and we are so full of love and joy we can hardly contain it! It’s time to make the announcement! “This is the most precious, beautiful, special child EVER”! Fathers hand out candy bars to co-workers and friends. Baby announcements complete with name, weight and length are mailed to proclaim the grand arrival. Visitors arrive to take their turn holding the new bundle of joy and many times baby showers are given in honor of the precious little life that has entered into the world! Even the baby announces her arrival with a strong cry of disapproval to the abrupt change that has taken place in her environment. God didn’t pull out any stops in the announcement of the birth of his son. The first announcement came by way of the angel Gabriel to Mary and in a dream to Joseph. A complete band of angels appearing in the night along with one unmistakable star painted in the sky to point the way.

Once the baby is here it’s time to give him or her a name. It’s one of the most exciting, and sometimes difficult traditions. A child’s name will identify him for the rest of his life. Many times we pass down a name according to a family tradition - maybe a name in honor of a loved one or a famous person, or holds significant meaning. Other names are completely unique by using an unusual spelling or pronouncement. Mary and Joseph didn’t have to worry about the name of their son. Gabriel told Mary at the first announcement that his name would be Jesus (Yeshua), which means “ The Lord saves”.

A birthday would not be complete without a celebration. After all, a birthday comes only once a year! It’s about celebrating life - a very unique life! It’s a time when family and friends recognize you as special to them, celebrating who you are. Candles on a cake stand in honor of the years gone by. And what’s a celebration without gifts? Giving a gift to someone on their birthday says, “you are important to me”, “you mean something to me”, “you are significant”. Even the toddler Jesus (who literally already owned everything in creation) was given gifts of great value by the wise men to celebrate his birth.

So what’s in a birthday?

A birthday is celebrated in thankfulness of the passing of another year. You may not feel like you have much worth celebrating. The past year may have brought you what seems like only pain and grief. But it’s important to take a look at how God has brought you through and how you have grown in your relationship with him. A birthday is not only pondering on the past, but it also signifies a look ahead at accomplishments and blessings to come. The celebration of a birthday should be a reflection of where we have come from and an evaluation of where we are headed - a look at how well we are living out our life’s purpose. In reflection of Jesus’ birth we find that he was born to restore our ability to fulfill this purpose. He was born to give us life - life more abundant! He was born to give us a hope and a future! He was born to die on a cross which would save us from an eternity separated from him! This was his gift to us - what will be our gift to him? What gift could we possibly give to celebrate his birth?

Romans 12:1-2 says we should offer ourselves as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to him. To not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we might discern God’s perfect will for our lives.

So what’s in a birthday?

A birthday is to be remembered. It’s easy for Christmas birthdays to be overlooked, sometimes even forgotten. I have some extra special people in my life who have gone totally out of their way to make sure I feel very special on my birthday. How must Jesus feel when we scurry about getting “wrapped up” in Christmas, not remembering it as the day of his birth? Tomorrow is Jesus’ birthday! Won’t you consider going out of your way to recognize Him? Won’t you celebrate Him by giving the most precious gift ever? The gift of yourself.

Friday, December 17, 2010

“Pace Yourself”

Life moves at an extremely fast pace, wouldn’t you agree? Too many times there are too many things on the to-do list. I often wonder, how on earth will I accomplish all that needs to be done. There are meetings to be had, kid’s activities to attend, housework to be done, people to see and places to go - all thrown on top of physical ailments, a stressful job or marriage, broken relationships, or financial difficulties. I am no different than the average over-worked, over-stimulated, over-whelmed American.

With Christmas upon us, we find ourselves in the midst of one of the prime fast-paced seasons of the year. Be the first in line for the Black Friday specials. Put your Christmas tree up before Thanksgiving. Tear open the gifts in record time. Hurry from feast to feast and banquet to banquet. Our December days become jam packed with baking and shopping and our December nights with programs, wrapping and more shopping. It’s easy to get so busy that we fail to slow down and enjoy this joyous season.

Sometimes I feel like I need a pace car.

I’m not a huge racing fan, but I recently learned a few facts about pace cars that peeked my interest. In motor sports the pace car (also known as the safety car) limits the speed of competing cars on a racetrack. During a caution, the safety car enters the track ahead of the leader. Competitors are not allowed to pass the pace car or other competitors during a caution, and the pace car leads the field at a pre-determined safe speed. Cars use less fuel while running behind the safety car (usually half as much as under racing conditions), which can allow drivers to run longer on a tank of fuel than originally expected.

We get driving so fast in this race called life. Most of the time competing against people who are supposed to be our team mates. Sometimes we make good decisions about taking a pitstop to refuel and check our tires. More frequently we push it to the limit. We don’t seem to grasp the benefit of having a pace car. If we slow down long enough to ponder the thought, we would realize that driving at a more steady speed allows us to run more efficiently.

Hurrying has dramatic negative effects on us. When we are always running at a fast pace, our energy becomes depleted and our stress level goes up. But we continue to go on and on and on. When will we realize that we are not the Energizer Bunny? Besides increasing stress, rushing from place to place has a way of stealing our joy. The faster we move in life, the less time we seem to have to enjoy it. It’s much harder to pay attention to the detail of the landscape or the beauty of the sunset when racing at 200 miles per hour. We don’t know what we’re truly missing until we enter the caution and follow the pace car.

Artists realize that the faster they go, the less productive they are. Traveling at the speed of light causes us to lose the ability to think and act creatively. I have been known to spend much time scrapbooking and making homemade cards. I know for a fact that if I rush, that’s when I make the most mistakes. But taking it slow allows for a steady hand and a mind open to imagination and the flow of ideas.

Most importantly though, is the fact that when I’m pushing it to the limit, I can’t hear God. It’s hard to listen to anyone when we’re in a hurry. Take for example, you’re rushing out the door just as your child gets home from school. He desperately wants to tell you about his day, so as you are putting on your coat, grabbing your purse and the car keys, you nod your head and say, “uh-huh, uh-huh, that’s nice honey - gotta run”. You may have caught a few of his words, but your mind was not focused on him. In the process, you miss out on the detail and you also hurt your child’s feelings. How do we make God feel when we are so wrapped up in getting from place to place, success to success, that we don’t take the time to stop and listen to His voice?

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

We get to know our God when we slow down, be quiet and become still. Activity creates noise and noise drowns out the voice of God. But how do we slow down in a society that seems to encourage us to be constantly doing - in a culture that promotes fast food, high speed, convenience, and get rich quick schemes?

It’s time we destroy the myth that makes us believe that the more we do the more worthy we become. In other words, the more I do, the more valued, loved, and respected I am. We are constantly attempting to prove our worth. The busier I am, the more important I am - right? No way. This process is just a vicious cycle of constantly trying to gain the approval of others, draining a tank that’s already on E.

It’s time we crush the thought that life is a competition. It’s not. The bumper sticker that says, “He who dies with the most toys wins” is a lie from the enemy. The fact is that you are not in a competition with anybody. You are unique, a one of a kind masterpiece created by God. Everything about you is only yours and no one else’s. Competitions arise when we compare ourselves to others and that in turn only leads to discontentment. Discontentment fosters discouragement, jealousy and pride. Realizing you are not competing against anyone in life is a freeing concept. When you feel free and content, you tend to slow down the pace.

Sometimes we have to cut something out in order to slow down. The things we let go of may be good things, but are they the BEST things. Personally, I have discovered that the more I put on my plate the less effective I become in all areas. I would rather do a few things and make a huge impact than to do many things and impact very few. Focus on your strengths, your passions, the things you enjoy and the areas God has gifted you in. You will accomplish much more when you concentrate on your strengths and your priorities. Any more than that is destined for burn-out.

God thought slowing down was such an important concept that He even made it one of the Ten Commandments - the 4th one to be exact. “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy”. Sabbath literally means “day of rest”. The older I get the more I realize I NEED a day during the week to unwind and refresh. When I don’t, I become irritable and short-tempered, not to mention just plain tired. God knew from the time the earth was created and all living things were formed that we would need to rest - that we would need to set aside a day in our busy week to slow down. Disengaging from a strenuous lifestyle can provide us with the needed mental, physical and emotional break - a break from the “doing” of life. On the other hand - the spiritual hand - the Sabbath is a time to center our focus on worshipping God and worship has a way of placing life in perspective. Perspective helps us to make wise decisions. If I don’t take time to worship and get my focus on God and all that He has done for me, well then my focus remains on me. And if I’m too busy to worship God, well then I’m just too busy.

I truly believe God has a way of using life’s circumstances to slow us down when we don’t do it for ourselves. He may use physical illness and put us to bed. He may get us off the roads due to an ice storm. Or, he may use law enforcement. Twice in two months, I was pulled over by a policeman for speeding. I was appalled at the fact that I shattered a 17-year crystal clear driving record all because I was in too much of a hurry. The most amazing part of it all is that the kind officers took pity on me, only issuing warnings on both occasions. I have no doubt in my mind that God was teaching me a most valuable lesson - slow down. Not just on the road in my vehicle, but in the race of life.  I was spared from the consequence, not just once, but two times. You better believe I’m watching the speedometer much closer these days. I am striving to stay in the caution, safely following close behind the pace car - which will eventually lead me home.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

“Rebuilding the Walls”

It was almost two years ago that I received a call from my sister at 6am. She was in tears and could hardly even speak. You know what it’s like when you get that unexpected call at an unexpected time? You’re heart quivers and a lump finds it’s way to your throat. But I managed to get out the words, “what’s wrong?” She proceeded in the best way she could to inform me that she was standing in her front yard watching her house burn down.

My sister, along with her husband and son, managed to narrowly escape a house fire that had been brewing most of the night. It was by the grace of God that they survived, but most of what they owned did not. It was difficult to imagine how such destruction could ever be restored, but there was no question in their minds - they would rebuild.

This reminds me of an Old Testament story in the book of Nehemiah. I had read the story before, but never truly understood it’s meaning until directed there by a dear friend just recently. I mean, it’s hard enough to just find the book of Nehemiah in the Bible let alone recall all the details of the story.

God, fed up with evil, allowed the Israelites to be overrun by the king of Babylon, who burned down the walls of Jerusalem - killing many people and sending others into exile. Toward the end of this time of exile, Nehemiah returned to a burned out, broken down Jerusalem with a plan and a vision. His intense concern gave him a mission to rebuild the walls of the city. He began by surveying the damage and he confessed his sins as well as his father’s sins and the sins of his father’s father. His prayer immediately led him into a time of commitment to rebuild and restore. But Nehemiah could not rebuild alone. He brought together a whole community. Everyone, including entire families worked together, each building the portion of the wall that was closest to their home.

There were constant distractions - an economic crisis was in progress and many people were starving. Nehemiah encouraged the people to rally around those in need, but they never stopped working on the wall. There were unending threats to progress - Israel’s enemies were not happy to see the walls being built. Again, the community found ways to pull together. They continued to build while defending the city.

Amazingly, the walls were completed in just 52 days - record time. It was almost unthinkable! Their enemies were certain it could not be done and there were days that the people themselves questioned whether it was even possible. But the faithful, combined effort of a community led to unimaginable success.

We can look at this story and believe it’s just that - a story about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. But, it’s so much more. It’s not just about restoring physical walls - it’s about rebuilding the spiritual ruins of our lives. It’s about reclaiming something that was lost, pulling it from the rubble and setting it right again. It’s about reclaiming a hope for the future!

In ancient cities the only real means of protection were the walls. The walls represented strength and defense against the enemy. They were very thick and very high. In our lives, the rebuilding of the walls is a picture of re-establishing strength, restoration to a life in ruins. Do you have a wall that needs rebuilding? Do you feel like you are in exile and in desperate need of restoration? Have the flames of depression, guilt, divorce, joblessness, or physical illness burned down the walls of the place that you once found refuge? You may look at your life and see that your walls are broken down and that your defenses are gone. There is no longer the ability to resist destructive attacks. How can a life in ruins ever be restored?

The first step is concern. Nehemiah surveys the scene and he weeps. He mourns the loss, showing great concern for the city and it’s people. Have you mourned the loss in your life? Have you ever truly grieved the devastation of the hurt you are experiencing? You will never rebuild the walls until you first weep over the ruins.

Second comes confession. Nehemiah’s mourning immediately turns into a prayer of confession. Confession is saying, “there are things that I have done, or things that I failed to do, that have contributed to my life’s ruin”. In some cases, our hurts have been out of our control. But how have we reacted to the suffering? Confession is saying, “I’m sorry for responding in bitterness and anger.”

The next step is commitment. Nehemiah is a man who, out of concern, and after the confession of his heart, commits himself to a building project. We must make a commitment to God and to ourselves to rebuild the walls. Moving forward despite the threats and distractions. Rebuilding takes extreme courage. When we make a commitment to rise up and rebuild, the enemy will rise up and oppose. Satan will do all he can to make it difficult to continue.

Last, but not least is community. Do you really think Nehemiah could have built the walls alone? No way. People were willing to work. Nehemiah set them to work building the part of the wall nearest to them. They worked together as a community. We were not meant to do life alone. We need each other. And yes, we need to make commitments to restore our own devastation, but we also need to make commitments to help rebuild the walls of those closest to us.

Jerusalem remains a symbolic city - used in scriptures as a place God desires to dwell. But as we discover in the New Testament, God’s true desire is to dwell within us - His people. A personal relationship with Him is first and foremost to any restoration project we could ever attempt. You may be in great need of restoration, but it can be done. With the help of a Savior, a great concern, a heart of confession that leads to commitment and the help of a community, a successful rebuilding of your walls can take place. So go, rebuild your portion of the wall - and may God bless your efforts.
 

Friday, November 26, 2010

"Friday's Favorite"

"Life of Praise" - Casting Crowns

I will love You, Lord always
Not just for the things You've done for me
And I will praise You all my days
Not just for the change You've made in me
But I'll praise You for You are holy, Lord
And I'll lift my hands, but You are worthy of so much more
 
For You are awesome, God of the Nations,
Lion of Judah, Rock of the Ages, Alpha, Omega
You're worthy of all praise
More than these hands I'll raise
I'll live a life of praise
I'll live a life of praise

I will serve You, Lord always, for You are my strength
When I am weak
I will never be afraid for You are my rock and You protect me
But I'll praise You for You are holy, Lord
And I'll lift my hands, but You are worthy of so much more

For You are awesome, God of the Nations,
Lion of Judah, Rock of the Ages, Alpha, Omega
You're worthy of all praise
More than these hands I'll raise
I'll live a life of praise
I'll live a life of praise

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"Thankfulness"


I threw a party for myself this week - complete with cake, party hats, and noise-makers. But I wasn’t celebrating my birthday, or any other special occasion, or monumental milestone. The party in which I made myself guest of honor was in fact, a pity party.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever been in the midst of a trial and all you could focus on was YOU? It’s so easy to become caught up in our pain, and when that happens, an attitude of thankfulness is difficult to find among the selfish cries of, “why God?”

I once heard it said that we are too anxious to receive and too careless to give thanks. A perfect example of this is the story of the ten lepers found in Luke chapter 17. Jesus heals all ten of the men with leprosy after asking them to go and show themselves to the priests. All ten men received, but only one bothered to come back to thank Jesus for his healing. We are so quick to hurl our requests at God. Shouldn't we be even quicker to fling a word of thanks in His direction?

Why is it so important to foster a thankful heart regardless of our circumstances?

1.) Thankfulness is God’s will for our lives.
“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
2.) Thankfulness is a result of the goodness of God.
“Praise the Lord! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” (Psalm 106:1)
3.) Thankfulness is a form of worship.
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” (Psalm 100:4)
4.) Thankfulness is a result of spiritual maturity.
“Let your roots grow down into him (Christ), and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:7)

Thankfulness is an attitude. It is never self-serving and always places the focus on the giver. A grateful heart means humbling a selfish spirit to acknowledge that something has been done for, or has been undeservingly received. Thankfulness is what God desires in response to His goodness, mercy and grace. It is an act of worship and should be a direct result of spiritual growth.

But, let’s revisit 1 Thessalonians 5 a bit further. Notice, it says to be thankful in “all circumstances”. Some versions state , “in everything”, or “whatever happens”. WOW! It doesn’t say, “be thankful when things are going well”. It doesn’t read, “have a grateful heart when you get what you want”. God asks us to live a life full of thankfulness no matter what trial, pain, or suffering we are enduring. So how in the world do we do it?

Grasping God’s Grace - I don’t believe Paul is urging us to be thankful in every circumstance to make us feel guilty, or to bog us down with a request we simply cannot handle. I believe Paul is suggesting that we take a look at how big our God is and how much grace He has to offer. His love is unfailing and His grace is abounding - in ALL things and in ALL circumstances. By His grace, God supplies the power we need to overcome.

Grasping God’s Eternal Perspective - Being thankful, regardless of the circumstances, begins with an eternal perspective and hope. I know that my salvation can never be taken away from me despite the trials I face here on this earth. The circumstances of this life will one day diminish. In heaven there will be no pain, no tears, no heartaches, no bills to pay, or people to satisfy. Our lives here are temporary, as is our sufferings.

Grasping God’s Goodness - The thankful Christian looks for the goodness of God in all circumstances. One of my favorite quotes is, “Don’t grumble if you don’t have what you want; be thankful you don’t get what you deserve.” We all deserve an eternity separated from God because of our guilt and sin. But God has saved us with the redeeming blood of His Son Jesus. His goodness provides us with the only way to eternal life. For every pain we selfishly focus on in our lives, there are countless blessings that are overlooked in the process.

Grasping God’s Purpose - “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) We may not always recognize God’s purposes for our lives. In some circumstances, we will never completely comprehend why He allows us to experience the sufferings we go through. True contentment can only be born into our pains when we grasp the fact that God has a purpose. And even though it may not be revealed in our timing, it is a matter of trusting the One who holds us in the palm of His hand. For He who promised is faithful.
 
Thankfulness is so much more than comparing our own circumstances to someone else’s. Thankfulness is so much more than having plenty of food to eat, clothes to wear, a roof over your head, money to get by, or good health. We so easily take all of these things for granted. For in a blink of an eye, any of these things could disappear.

Thankfulness is a state of being and a way of life. Let’s make an effort today to recognize the blessings we’ve come to take for granted. Let’s focus on what we have rather than on what we don’t have. It’s easy to be thankful for the good things in life, but a life of true fulfillment can come to those who are also thankful for their setbacks - despite the temptation to break out the cake, the party hats, and the noise-makers.

Friday, November 19, 2010

"Friday's Favorite"

"Desperate" - by FireFlight

Seek and you will find, they say
but I've been looking everyday
for a way past this wall that's in front of my face.
I'm on hands and knees searching for my faith.

I know there's so much at stake,
but I don't know if I can take one more pat on the back saying I'll be okay.
Can't you see my whole life is in disarray?

You've got me desperate.

I know You hear me,
Would You give me a sign?
Reel me in before I've fallen in line.
You've put me on a path I don't understand
I'm standing on a ledge waving my hands.

You've got me desperate (do You see me?)
Desperate (do You hear me?)
Desperate (will You help me?)
You've got me desperate.

I know You're my only hope
The only One who truly knows how it feels, what it's like when it all starts to fall
You're the One I can trust who hears when I call.

You've got me desperate.

I know You hear me,
Would You give me a sign?
Reel me in before I've fallen in line.
You've put me on a path I don't understand
I'm standing on a ledge waving my hands.

You've got me desperate (do You see me?)
Desperate (do You hear me?)
Desperate (will You help me?)
You've got me desperate.

Some things I'll never figure out
Until I let hope erase my doubt.

You've got me desperate. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Desperate"

Have you ever been desperate?

Maybe back in high school all your friends had a date to the prom but you. In hopes to not stick out like a sore thumb, you asked someone who didn’t quite meet up to your standards. You were “desperate” for a date. Or, those of you who are addicted to that morning cup of coffee may recall how you feel when you run short of time and must go without it. As the day drags on, so do you. You are “desperate” for that pick-me-up your body is so accustomed to.

As humans, we tend to react in abnormal and unusual ways to get out of whatever predicament we are in. We carry a “whatever it takes” attitude to get what we want. Take for example those who are desperate for attention, who dress, talk, or act out of the ordinary to get noticed. Or the teenager who gives herself away because she is desperate for love and acceptance. Or the addict desperate to find the next hit. There are those who have buried themselves so deeply in debt that they cannot crawl out of the hole. They are desperate for money and make choices that could potentially destroy them and their families. There are those who feel their marriage is going no where and they are no longer “in love” with their spouse. As a result, they seek a divorce out of desperation.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? When we feel we can no longer handle the state we are in, we will do literally anything out of desperation to change our situation. Most of the time it is done with many tears and much lamenting. Whatever it takes - including sacrificing ourselves and others. Risky choices are made at desperate times.

What would happen if we were that desperate for God? What if we wanted Him as badly as that morning cup of coffee, or that prom date? What if we took the same desperate measures to seek Him, as the one seeking the divorce, or the one searching for their next drug supplier? What if we sought Him in the same ways we chased after popularity, money, and recognition? What if we fell to our knees with many tears and much lamenting? What if we made risky choices to find the presence of the almighty God? Whatever it takes.

I was drawn recently to the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel chapter one. Hannah was one of two wives and the only one not able to conceive a child. She desperately wanted a son of her own and had to live with the constant taunts of the wife whose quiver was full. “This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her until she wept and would not eat.” (verse 7) Hannah was in the temple pouring out her heart before the Lord. The Word says that she asked God to look upon her in her misery and to remember His servant. I can picture Hannah - her eyes closed tightly, tears streaming down her cheeks, praying in her anguish. Not praying audibly, but only the motion of her lips could be observed. As her body moved in a swaying motion and with her arms lifted to the sky, Eli accused her in front of everyone that she was drunk and was making a spectacle of herself. Hannah defended her actions and replied, not so - I am just a deeply troubled woman praying here in my desperation and grief.

Hannah prayed into the void and the confusion of her situation. Despite the taunts of others and even though she was misunderstood, she cried out to God in her desperation. She cried out to the God of comfort. We can almost envision God climbing down the stairway of her grief into the deepest basement of her heart to touch and heal her. We see Hannah reaching out to God, but maybe God has reached out to Hannah first. Maybe God searches constantly for those moments of desperation where He can be the healing balm that is applied to the pain. Maybe it’s only in those desperate moments that we recognize how truly needy we are for God and His healing.

Psalm 42: 1-2 tells us, “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul pants for you, Oh God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”

What do you picture? Artists tend to portray this verse by painting the picture of a deer resembling the likes of Bambi skipping through the green grassy fields and approaching a babbling brook where he will lap from the refreshing waters. Really? I don’t think this is the picture the Psalmist was trying to portray at all. I picture the creature as one who is dehydrated, skin and bones, on it’s last leg desperately searching for water in the dessert. This animal is ready to die and only water can restore his health. The deer pants, staggers, and finally collapses.

This is also a picture of our need for Christ. We are desperate without Him. We stagger around this wilderness searching for anything that will quench our thirst, but nothing satisfies. There is a yearning within each of us, a void that must be filled and God is the only one who can fill it. Just like the deer pants for the water, as it roams through the dessert searching, it is so with mankind. We may not want to admit it, but without God our lives are meaningless and all our endeavors of fame and fortune are just a chase after the wind.

What does it mean to be desperate for God? It means that following Him will at times require tears and lamenting. It means acting in obedience even when it’s an unpopular decision and despite the ridicule of others. It means reacting in abnormal and unusual ways according to the standards of this world. It means sacrificing time, energy and pride to fall on our faces before Him. It means diving into the Word of God to find the answers to life’s questions and being content when those answers cannot be found. It means fervent prayer, being desperate for God to heal our marriages, our relationships, our finances, our addictions. At times, it means giving up the very things we treasure. It means giving up self and looking to the needs of others. It means realizing that He is the only One who can quench our thirst.

It means an endless pursuit of Christ on a daily basis.

After all, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"I'm In Way Over My Head"

Darkness surrounds me, complete darkness, black as night. I struggle at first and then I just go limp, like the life has been sucked out of me. At first I begin to shiver. Then I feel cold, and then colder until my entire body becomes numb. I am so concerned with the loss of feeling in my limbs that I barely notice I can’t breathe. At that moment I begin gasping for air, but none can be found.


It would just be easier to stop trying, to just allow the darkness and the numbness to overtake me. But something inside urges me on, wants me to fight, fight for my very life. But why should I fight? This darkness is much greater than I can handle, much more than I can bear. You see, I’ve been pushed into the deep end and I can’t even swim!

The trials of life keep pulling me under and I can’t breathe! It’s as if there’s an anchor tied to my feet pulling me further and further down into the deep. I am gripped with fear! But when all seems lost, I catch a glimpse of light at the surface. I struggle to reach toward it but the weight is so heavy, it continues to pull me down! I look toward the light and I begin kicking, kicking as hard as I can… if I could just get my head above the water, if I could only get another breath, I might just make it. I’m running out of air… I’m dying here, can’t you see, I’m dying here Lord? My strength is fading fast.

My throat begins to burn now, and my muscles are weak, and I’m so tired, so tired. I can’t go on, not on my own… I have nothing left to give. So, is this the end? Is this all there is? Are you just going to leave me here, dying and all alone? It seems that as soon as I feel I’m getting closer to the surface, closer to the light, the weight pulls me down once again, dragging me back into the darkness.

Glimpses of my existence flash in front of me. My loved ones, my husband, my children, their faces begin to slowly fade away. All I am and all that I am to be play in my mind like a movie stuck in fast forward. So I accept my defeat, I begin to let go, to give up. But my need for air, for relief, overcomes my desire to quit and I make one last effort of kicking, as hard as I can! Even though I’m exhausted, I fight to survive.

The light is visible again and I strain toward it. My efforts become easier now… like something, or someone is pulling me from the depths towards the surface! The weight seems lighter. I’m almost there… just a little bit farther, please I have to breathe! Then suddenly, I break the surface, gasping for the air, that cool, crisp, life-giving air! You saved me! You pulled me from the depths of my trials, the darkness of my sin! You saved me! I continue to breathe You in! I can’t get enough!
 
But I want out! I have to get out of this water that holds me captive, that almost brought me to my death! I so desperately want to leave, but I can’t see! My eyes… my eyes they are burning and foggy! I have no sense of direction! But they are clearing now… yes, I can finally see… it’s You. You are holding me! But how can this be? The anchors, the weights that were once tied to my feet… I see them now – hanging around your neck!

I’m floating now… inhaling and exhaling, inhaling and exhaling….

Now I understand… I understand that I must remain in the water. At times, in the shallow waters where it’s much easier to tread. And other times, in the deep – sometimes even way in over my head… and it’s very scary. But I know now that I can make it… and I’m learning to swim. I realize that You are my air, You are my life-preserver, You are my everything! And if I just keep kicking…. keep kicking…keep breathing…keep trusting… thankyou!
 
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13-14

**Dramatic reading written by Dayna Schrock

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Monday's Moment"

‎"A bend in the road is not the end of the road...unless you fail to make the turn."-Author Unknown

Friday, November 5, 2010

“God Can’t” - Part 4

A pastor was walking down the street when he came upon a group of about a dozen boys, all of them between 10 and 12 years of age. The boys surrounded a dog. Concerned the boys may be hurting the dog, he went over and asked "What are you doing with that dog?" One of the boys replied, "This dog is just an old neighborhood stray. We all want him, but only one of us can take him home. So we've decided that whichever one of us can tell the biggest lie will get to keep the dog." Of course, the reverend was taken aback. "You boys shouldn't be having a contest telling lies!" he exclaimed. He then launched into a ten minute sermon against lying, beginning, "Don't you boys know it's a sin to lie," and ending with, "Why, when I was your age, I never told a lie." There was dead silence for about a minute. Just as the reverend was beginning to think he'd gotten through to them, the smallest boy gave a deep sigh and said, "All right, give him the dog."

Call it “a little white lie”. Call it “stretching the truth”. Call it “half-truth” or “harmless exaggeration“, but it is what it is. A lie is a lie. It’s “untruth”. It’s deception. It’s misrepresenting reality. The heart is deceitful, above all else. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9) And lies spring straight from our deceptive hearts. We all are guilty!

In looking at the things God can’t do, we have learned that God cannot abandon us. We have discovered that God cannot fail us, and we have been reassured that God can’t want our worst. Learning about God’s true nature is the key. When we KNOW God’s character, we can trust Him even when we don’t FEEL like He is for us. But even more, we must understand that none of the above even matters if God is a liar. We KNOW God cannot abandon us, fail us, or want our worst because we believe God IS truthful and that He keeps His promises; therefore:

GOD CAN’T LIE! - “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19)

Hebrews 6:18 also assures us that God cannot lie. The Lord cannot break His promises of what He says He will fulfill. He is the truth and there is no darkness in Him. God is incapable of going back on His Word and His standard of right and wrong cannot change. God’s nature is truth. If our Father God could lie, what would separate Him from any other sinful being?

GOD CAN'T LIE!

Paul tells us in Titus 1 verse 2 that the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness is a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.

We see that God cannot lie, so how must He feel when His own creation, His children, speak lies? Proverbs 12:22 says the Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in those who tell the truth. He longs for His children, whom He has created in His own image, to love the truth as much as He does. So why then do we find ourselves speaking falsely?

I would suggest that many of our falsehoods stem from insecurity. We often wish to make ourselves look better than we really are, or we attempt to tear another down and tarnish their reputation in order to lift ourselves up. We may speak dishonest words out of a guilty conscience - to cover up something we have done that we are ashamed of. How many of us lie due to denial? We simply cannot accept the truth. Fear is yet another reason to speak falsely, so we lie to avoid any ill consequences we may suffer due to our actions.

Other reasons we are dishonest may include selfishness, peer-pressure and in some cases, unknowingly, we pass on inaccurate information. Have you ever seen a group of children playing the game, “Telephone”? They sit in a circle and the first person leans over and whispers a statement in the next person’s ear. Each one in the circle takes their turn passing on the information. When the statement has gotten to the final person, he or she says what they have heard out loud. Most times, the information has been added to, taken away from, and exaggerated. It’s quite comical to hear the end result. Isn’t this so true in real life? Something gets said and another repeats it, mixing up words and relaying completely different meanings. Then that person repeats it to another, and that person repeats it to someone else. Each adding and subtracting, until the original truth has become a lie.

All of the above is true, but there is one to blame for our hearts being filled with such deception. John 8:44 describes Satan as a murderer not holding to the truth. There is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language. For he is a liar and the father of lies. He speaks falsely in an attempt to make us believe that God is our enemy - that He abandons us in our pain - that he has failed us in our sufferings - that He does not want our best. It’s time we name the devil for who he is. He is against God - the God of truth; therefore he must be a deceiver. So who will we believe?

GOD CAN'T LIE!

Unlike humans, God cannot even be tempted to lie, for He is perfect. “He (God) is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4) Because of His perfection, God is incapable of lying due to insecurity, for there is no need for Him to attain personal gain. It is not necessary for Him to leave a false impression in order to be lifted higher than another. He cannot lie because of guilt or shame, for Jesus is the spotless Lamb, free from sin. He is incapable of denial for He IS truth and is all-knowing. To deny the truth would contradict His very nature. He will not lie due to fear, for He is perfect love and perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). God is not selfish. If He was, He would have found another way to save us. Instead, the Lord sacrificed His only Son for you and me. There is no need for God to cave to peer-pressure, for He is already in control of all things. He is not one to be manipulated by men. And lastly, God could never pass on inaccurate information. He does not exaggerate, for He is complete truth.

GOD CAN'T LIE!

And His Word (the Bible) is the truth. “For the Word of the Lord is right and true. He is faithful in all He does.” (Psalm 33:4) We should be grateful that we serve a God that will never go back on His Word - a God who will fulfill all His promises - a God we can trust to be truthful. He is not like a small child who makes up his own game and then, as he shares it with His friends, He changes the rules to make it more difficult to win. He is unchanging. God is all-powerful and could change if He so desired, but to change would go against His very character.

As we strive to be like God, let us mimic His honesty by being honest with ourselves and truthful with others, even in the realm of our hurts and our sufferings. For when we practice deception, we shame ourselves and the God we serve. We go against His very character by practicing deceit and we make it difficult for others to believe we are true followers of Christ. Praise the Lord for His forgiveness, as we all miss the mark. Forgiveness is assured to us because God promises it to those who believe on Him - for they shall be saved. We can whole-heartedly believe His promises are true because…

GOD CAN'T LIE!

If God cannot lie, then He cannot abandon us, He cannot fail us, He cannot want our worst! For this we KNOW to be true even when we don’t FEEL it to be true.
 
 

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Friday's Favorite"

"Come Home Running" - by Chris Tomlin

Oh heart of mine, why must you stray?
From one so fair you run away
And one more time you have to pay
The heaviness of needless shame

Oh heart of mine, come back home
You've been too long out on your own
And He's been there all along
Watching for you down the road

So come home running
His arms are open wide
His name is Jesus
He understands
He is the answer
You are looking for
So come home running
Just as you are

Oh child of God so dearly loved
And ransomed by the Savior's blood
And called by name, daughter and son
Wrapped in the robe of righteousness

So come home running
His arms are open wide
His name is Jesus
He understands
He is the answer
You are looking for
So come home running
Just as you are

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

“God Can’t - Part 3”

In Part one and part two we discussed two things God can’t do - God cannot abandon you and God cannot fail you. We talked about how our feelings about God in our sufferings are not necessarily the facts about God. Our feelings shape and distort the picture of how we truly view our heavenly Father. But today, I want to take a look at how God views us.
Allow me to set the scene. You are driving down the road in a hurry to get to your very important appointment. Suddenly a vehicle pulls out in front you, slowing down your already speeding car. All you have on your mind is getting to where you need to be on time. Suddenly, the car has not only decided to cut you off, but is also moving at a snail’s pace. There’s no room to pass, traffic is heavy. Your response: You are so excited that this person has most certainly made you late. So you smile, politely wave and play Spock and say, “Live long and prosper.” Right? Wrong! Instead of wishing for their best, you automatically want their worst. Instead of waving, you shake your fist through the windshield, hoping they catch a glimpse of your disdain in their rearview mirror. Or, you lay on the horn while expressing some choice words at the top of your lungs. You want them to know exactly what they have done and that it did not amuse you in the least. You say something to the affect of, “I hope someone does the same thing to you so you know just how it feels. AND I hope when it happens that you MISS your appointment!” You may not say it out loud, but you most certainly think it.

This is a very common example of how we react to hurt. We’ve all been hurt by others. Maybe your spouse has had an affair, maybe your best friend told your secret, maybe your employer is not treating you fairly, maybe someone has stolen from you or lied about you. I could go on and on. Hurt is everywhere and when we are wounded by someone our humanness screams REVENGE! Revenge, as described by Merriam Webster is, to avenge (as oneself) usually by retaliating in kind or degree; to inflict injury in return for; revenge an insult. We simply wish for that person what we think they have coming to them; to get back at them for the wrong they have done to us; to make them pay.

Similarly, we treat God in the same manner, don‘t we? He “hurts our feelings” by not answering that prayer the way we thought it should be answered. He “wounds” us by making us wait for something that we want NOW. He “offends us” when He doesn’t give us what we want, when we want it. So we shake our fist at him and lay on the horn. Immediately, we feel that somehow God is out to get us - that He wishes for our worst.

GOD CAN’T WANT YOUR WORST!


Many of you may be familiar with the story of the prodigal son in Luke chapter 15. Here is an illustration of how God views us as His children. We see a man who has two sons. The younger one asks his father for his share of the estate. Now, where I come from, a child does not normally receive his or her inheritance until the parents have passed away. So really this son is saying, “You’re gonna die anyway dad, and when you do I’ll get what’s coming to me. So just give it to me now!” What an insult! You may as well be dead dad because that money is a lot more important to me right now! The father proceeds to divide the inheritance between the two sons and after the young son receives his money he takes it all and leaves! Can you imagine how hurt the father must have been? Not only did his son basically wish him dead, but then he leaves, rejecting him all the more!

The son sets out for a distant land and blows it all on wild living. After he spends everything, a severe famine comes upon them. The money his dad worked a lifetime to save was wasted on the son’s foolish desires. The entire inheritance was gone. The son was in dire need at this point. He had no place to stay and nothing to eat and no money left to supply those needs. He begins to work on a pig farm. We must understand just how desperate the son must have been. He was a Jew, and it was against Jewish law to eat pork. Pigs were considered unclean according to Jewish custom. So now, not only is he working with unclean animals, he’s so hungry that he wants to eat the pig food! Now that’s desperate!

While the son is feeding the pigs, he begins to come to his senses. He realizes that even his father’s hired hands have it better than he does. Seeing the error of his ways and in great sorrow he sets off for home hoping to become like the hired help. For he knew he was no longer worthy to be a called a son.

The son approaches, anticipating condemnation from his father. He waits to be rebuked, chastised, and turned away. For it would only be the right thing for the father to do after how the son had insulted him. To his surprise, the father comes running, throws his arms around him and kisses him. He tells his servants to bring the boy a robe, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. He orders them to bring the fattened calf and prepare it for the feast.

Does the father’s reaction shock you? His son had hurt him deeply. He basically disowned his father. He disgraced the family name. Shouldn’t the father want revenge? Shouldn’t he be glad that the child had learned his lesson? Shouldn’t he just make him a hired hand after all the son had done to him? This is such a beautiful picture of our heavenly Father. We take God’s blessings and we run away from him. We spend all He has given us on our selfish pleasures and once we have squandered everything we come crawling back to him. Instead of scolding us and disowning us, He places on us His robe of mercy, His ring of forgiveness and His sandals of freedom. The robe, most likely the father’s own best robe, was only worn on very special occasions. The ring was most likely a signet ring symbolizing the restoration of his rights as a son. The sandals were placed on his feet representing freedom from bondage.

Then the father throws a party to celebrate the very one that wounded him. He asks for the fattened calf - the best calf. Enough food would have been prepared to feed a whole village. Many celebrated with the father that day as his relationship with his child was restored. For the son was once dead, but has been brought back to life!

GOD CAN’T WANT YOUR WORST!


If we could only grasp the fact that God wants our best! He cannot wish the worst upon us. He desires for us to be whole - nothing broken from the tops of our heads to the tips of our toes. He is the father in the story of the lost son, and we are that son. The joy of the story is getting a glimpse of God’s true nature - seeing how He views us as His children! It’s knowing that even though we stray, even though we insult Him, even though we disgrace His name, He welcomes us back with open arms and He throws a celebration in our honor. He does not give us what we so deserve. Many times, it’s not until we hit rock bottom that we understand just how much we need Him! But when the Father looks at us in our very desperate need, He longs to shower us with mercy, forgiveness and freedom! He sees no shame. There is no condemnation.

Do you want to know more about God’s character? The story tells us of how when the father saw his son he was filled with love and compassion and he ran to him. Remember, the father was a Jewish nobleman, and running was a most undignified act. But the father didn’t care. He was so happy to see his son’s return that he jeopardized his own reputation. That’s how crazy God is about us! That’s how radical His love is for us! God desires a relationship with us, so much that He actively pursues us - He runs to us. But God is also a perfect gentleman. He has given us a free-will so we would willingly choose Him.
Not only is God crazy about us, He wants a relationship with us and longs to celebrate us! He wants us to come back into the fold so He can throw a wild and crazy party in our honor. And what would you expect to see at a celebration, but gifts? He wants to shower us with gifts! He wants to clothe us with His robe, the ring, and the sandals!

Do you want the best for your life? Don’t find yourself running FROM Him - run TO Him, and He will run to you! God is crazy about you and He wants your best! Your inheritance awaits!

GOD CAN’T WANT YOUR WORST!

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matthew 7:11

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Psalm 84:11

I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us--yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses. Isaiah 63:7

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32