Are You Staying the Same?

I volunteer in the guest services ministry at my church on Sunday mornings. As I stand under a bright orange tent at one of the many entrances of the building, I watch for the people to arrive, looking for first-time visitors. At first, folks begin to trickle in, just a few at a time. At a certain point, usually about fifteen minutes before the service begins, I can look across the parking lot and see a steady stream of people all moving toward me. They come in couples or groups and some come alone. I greet each one with a smile and say good morning.

Today, one man looked at me and said, “You just can’t stop smiling, can you?” He was right. I couldn’t stop smiling as I saw so many of God’s people coming to His house to worship together. It was a beautiful morning, much cooler than what we’d experienced for several months, and many of us were cheerful. But it wasn’t the weather that made me smile. It was knowing that God’s people were gathering together.

After the rush was over and the service had started, there were still a few stragglers who came quickly up the sidewalk; I welcomed them as they hurried into the building.

Then it got quiet, and I thought about the people I had greeted. Some smiled and responded to my words. Others nodded and glanced away. There were also those who refused to make eye contact at all (I don’t judge them, they are probably introverts like me!)

The people going in were of all different walks of life, different ages, and different marital statuses. They were also at different levels of understanding of the things of God. I thought about how God saw each person who had passed my greeting station and I realized something important.

God doesn’t care what we’re like when we walk IN the doors. He doesn’t care how we compare to the people walking behind or in front of us. He cares about what has changed in us and what we’re like when we walk back OUT the doors. His purpose is for each of us to change when we encounter His presence and the teaching of His word. He never stops helping us grow.

Did you go to church on Sunday? Did you leave changed, never to be the same again? If not, God was speaking, were you listening?

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” – Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” – 2 Peter 3:28 (ESV)





Facing the Trials

You’ve probably heard yourself say, at some time in your life, “that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Or “that was a very difficult season (experience, situation, conversation, etc.)”

We all have hard times. Sometimes when we’re in the middle of a  particularly trying time, we can get discouraged about the future. Or maybe we see the changes in our world and know that life is getting more difficult for us and many others. We can begin to dread the future, thinking the hard times that are coming will be too much for us to handle. Whether it’s something tragic or a strong temptation, we know we will face more trials in the future. We know we aren’t done. We haven’t arrived. We’re still on the journey that marks the life of a follower of Christ.

But instead of becoming discouraged, we need to consider where we’ve been. There is a reason God told the Israelites to tell the story of His marvelous works in the Old Testament. We need to be reminded of what God has already brought us through in order to grow in our faith, in our belief that He is still faithful to complete the work He started in us.

How do you react when you face hard times? Maybe it’s the death of a loved one or having major surgery. Maybe it’s a painful divorce or a child who walks away from the family. Maybe it’s that difficult conversation that you never wanted to have. Any of those situations can cause us to be overwhelmed.

Can you think of an instance when you were overwhelmed by life but finally got to the end of the suffering? When you said, “that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”? The key word in that sentence is the word done. It’s over, in the past and you made it through, even though it was hard. God was there.

He’s still there. Right beside you. Ready to take you through the next thing. Yes, there will be a “next thing” but God is already working on getting you through it even as he brings you to it. He already knows exactly how to equip you to handle anything that comes your way.

The reason we dread the future is that we aren’t there yet. We can’t see the way God has planned to get us through. Maybe we can see difficulty up ahead and we know we can’t possibly overcome it now. But when we get to it, we’ll be able to because God will take our hand and guide us through.

“For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear; I will help you.’”Isaiah 41:13

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

Bad Behavior, Gauges, and Jesus








Wouldn’t it be great if we all walked around with little gauges over our heads. You know, like the lighbulb in comic strips?  It could be like the temperature gauge in a car only the C would be for calm and content and the H would be for hurting and life is HARD.

That way, when we had difficult encounters with people we could see that there are reasons behind their behavior.  If that guy who just cut you off in traffic had the needle on his gauge pointing clearly toward the H because he is on his way to the hospital hoping to get there in time to say goodbye to his father we might be more forgiving.

Or maybe the woman who was rude to the cashier, her gauge read H because she just lost her job.

And the young girl who rear-ended you at the traffic light because she was distracted. Not by her phone but because she’s pregnant and her father threw her out of the house this morning.

If we all had gauges we would be more patient with each other. When we saw that needle tipping toward the H we would offer hope instead of judgment. We would encourage instead of condemn.

But we don’t have gauges or any way to know what someone else is facing today. Perhaps if we could realize that we ALL are on H at times we could begin to offer understanding and patience. It’s what Jesus did.

It’s what He still does.

“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:1-4 (NASB)

What Are You Afraid of?








Fear: “A painful emotion or passion excited by an expectation of evil, or the apprehension of impending danger.” – Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

So, what are you afraid of? If we asked people to list what they fear their lists might include, death, poverty, sickness…but perhaps things like public speaking, other’s opinions, failure, and rejection might also appear.

If we use Webster’s definition of fear, the expectation of evil or danger, we would have to revise our list.  What actual evil  threatens a person who fails, or who must speak in public? What danger presents itself in other’s opinions?

What if we revised our list to only include those things that truly brought the risk of danger? Let’s take a closer look.

Do you fear death? John 11:25: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

Do you fear poverty? Philippians 4:19: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Do you fear for your safety? Psalm27:1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” 

And just in case we forgot a few, God has already covered those too.

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4 (ESV)

There will be times when we are afraid but David tells us the simple remedy.

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3 (ESV)

So again I ask, what are you afraid of?

 

 

 

Are Your Prayers Getting Through?








If you have a cell phone you are probably familiar with “dead spots.” Places in your house or in other buildings where you don’t get a good signal. Places where you might be talking and suddenly the call is dropped for no apparent reason.

We might experience the same sort of thing with prayer. You might have heard the expression “I feel like my prayers are bouncing off the ceiling.” Why do we get that feeling and how can we get rid of it?

Scripture tells us many reasons why it seems our prayers aren’t being heard.

We pray with wrong motives: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:3)

We pray without faith:  “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:22)

We pray while we still have sin in our lives: “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2)

If we want the Lord to hear and answer our prayers we must pray the way He requires us to.  We may try to blame our unanswered prayers on God or even on the devil but the biggest hinderance to answered prayers is us. WE are the ones who have to examine our hearts and our lives to remove the things that are blocking our prayers. It’s God’s desire to answer us!

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” – John 15:7(ESV)

Do You Trust Someone You Don’t Know?








First impressions aren’t always positive. Sometimes you can meet a person and be uncomfortable without knowing why. You wouldn’t trust them to watch your children or to enter your house when you are away. But then you spend more time with them and realize they are trustworthy. You can now leave them with your child and your house key without a second thought. They are the ones you can call in an emergency and know they will be there for you. They’ve become friends.

When we moved from Ohio to Iowa many years ago, we had to start fresh in a new place. The friends we’d left behind were people we trusted completely because we knew them well. It took time to build new relationships. We spent time with acquaintances and eventually embraced them as lifelong friends. We did the same thing when we moved to Florida a few years ago. Now we are making new friends again. Learning to trust people to come into our lives.

How does that happen? How to you learn to trust someone? The key is spending time with them. Getting to know them. Watching the way they live their lives to see if their “walk” is consistent with their “talk.”

It’s the same with God. He wants you to trust Him completely. But how can you trust Him if you barely know Him? If you haven’t spent time with Him, how do you know that He will be faithful to His promises? If you haven’t spent time in His word, learning about His character, how can you expect to believe He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do?

The best way to learn to trust Him is to get to know Him. Then you will be able to trust Him with your child, your house key, and your very life.

Paul says it well in 2 Timothy 1:12:

“For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” (NASB)

 

Are You More Like Mary or Zachariah?








We often read the book of Luke at Christmas time. It tells the story of the birth of our Savior. But it also illustrates two different ways we respond to God when we don’t understand what He’s doing.

There are two accounts of a birth being foretold. The first is Zachariah being told by the angel Gabriel that Elizabeth is with child. Zechariah responds in astonishment but he makes a serious mistake as he speaks to the angel. He asks, “How will I know this?” He’s asking for more evidence, more proof.

The second account is of the angel telling Mary she will conceive and give birth to a son. Her response is not “prove it.” Instead, she says, “How will this be?” She’s asking in wonder for she knows she is a virgin. She wants to know HOW God will do it, not IF He will.

How do you respond when God gives you direction that seems impossible? Do you say, “yeah, right. How can THAT happen?” Or do you say, ” Yes Lord, show me how You want to do it. I’m ready to do it your way.”

Big difference.

Zachariah lost his ability to speak for months because of his slip of the tongue. But it was much more than that. It revealed what was in his heart. His doubt was made clear.

When we respond to God, we are to do so in faith and not doubt. What has God been saying to You? And how will you respond?

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” -Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)

 

 

God Wants Us to Pour Out His Love On Others








When God blesses our lives it’s for the purpose of equipping us to share His love with those around us. We aren’t supposed to keep it all to ourselves, we’re supposed to generously pour it into other’s lives. But how can we have enough to pour out if we are constantly allowing God’s blessings to leak out of us?

A while back I wrote a piece called Stopping the Leak where I talked about the remedy for the leaking. But perhaps it would also be helpful to consider the cause of the leaks so we can avoid them in the first place.

Some of the things we chose to do can create leaks. When we leak, the blessings God gives us drain away. When we complain or speak negatively about our circumstances we shoot a hole in our barrel and the blessings begin to leak. Also, being unkind, impatient or judgmental of others can shoot more holes than we can imagine.

If all the things God gives us are to equip us to bring His Kingdom to people, how will we be successful in doing that if we allow everything to leak out? We are to POUR out! When you find yourself exhausted and too weak to cheerfully share God’s love perhaps you should examine your barrel and see if there are too many holes.

“He poured out his Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior  so that, having been justified by his grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life. This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God might be careful to devote themselves to good works. These are good and profitable for everyone.” – Titus 3:6-8 (CSB)

 

What Does it Mean to Live Life Loud?








If you do an internet search for the phrase “live out loud” you will  find a trendy definition along these lines:

“Being yourself , genuine, open, trustworthy, with sass , spice and flare . Living on purpose, loving others and yourself, living passionately for your values, no matter what.” – Urban Dictionary

But what does it mean for Christians to live their lives out loud?  What if you were to become mute today and couldn’t speak another word for the rest of your life? Would your life speak loudly enough that others could still see Jesus in you without words?

Perhaps it would be a good exercise to take some time, especially during the Christmas season, to practice showing Christ’s love without depending on your words to convince others of your relationship with Jesus.

Are you up for the challenge?

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:16(ESV)

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. –  1 John 3:18 (ESV)

You Can’t Follow if You Don’t Move








Ever played follow the leader?  One person leads and all the others have to follow what they do. The kid’s game called Simon Says is the same principle.

If you’re playing either of those games you would get strange looks from the other players if you just stood there. In order for either game to work, you have to move. Either by actually following the leader’s actions or listening carefully to what Simon says and doing exactly what you have been told to do.

So it is with saying you are a follower of Christ.  If you are following… you have to move. You can’t just sit in your favorite seat at church every Sunday and then go home and sit on your couch the rest of the week. To be a follower you have to be DOING something. What is it that you should be doing? And this is not about works. This is about imitating Christ’s behavior while He walked on Earth.

Here is a sample list. There are certainly more things that you can add yourself after searching the scriptures.

Pray when He says to pray

Serve when He says to serve

Love when He says to love

Give when He says to give

Jesus set the example for everything He wants us to be doing. Paul also said, “follow me as I follow Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:11)  Paul made it clear that we are to become leaders to help others follow Jesus.

Are you following? And are you learning to lead so others will follow?

“If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” – John 12:26 (ESV)

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 (ESV)