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The Power Of Encouragement

 

 

What is encouragement and why is it so essential for maintaining healthy marriages and families. Encouragement represents positive influence, to literally give courage to someone—not waiting until it’s deserved or asked for, but taking initiative when things are difficult and uncertain. There are many synonyms one could use: to give support, confidence or hope to another; to hearten, cheer, uplift, inspire, motivate, vitalize, embolden, or rally. The impact can be far reaching and often makes a difference when relationships begin to falter. Even the neuroscience gives credence to this dynamic. Criticism and negativity release harmful stress hormones, inhibit concentration, diminish the brain’s executive functioning, and tend to create knee-jerk reactions vs. calm and rational thinking.

The Bible provides a wonderful example of a life fully lived under this principle. His name was Barnabas and there are several lessons we can draw from his story. Here are six worth considering:

1.     The first thing about an encourager is that he or she is practical. Barnabas arrives on the scene in Acts 4:36-37. He was just a regular “Joe” (Joseph, a Levite), but his nature was so uplifting and encouraging, that the Apostles changed his name to fit his character—Bar (the Son of) Encouragement. He sold some land and laid the money at the Apostle’s feet. Here were the leaders of the first century church who were trying to take care of widows and orphans, and what they needed at the time were financial resources – so practical in the moment.

While attending to someone spiritually is always appropriate and helpful, we shouldn’t neglect looking for ways to encourage the people we love on practical levels as well. Perhaps you have heard the saying, “We can become so heavenly-minded, we are no earthly good.” Imagine if your nickname was “husband” or “wife” of encouragement… father or mother of encouragement. Sometimes our spouse or child needs a simple hug, an act of service, a helping hand, or an arm around the shoulder that says, “I love you.” Let your encouragement today be practical.

2.     Secondly, an encourager is  a risk taker. In Acts 9:26-27, Barnabas stood up for Saul when no one else believed in his conversion and everyone was still afraid of him. He took a risk when others wanted to reject Saul for his behavior. Love has the ability to look past brokenness and pain, even sinful choices, and still see God at work in the midst of a situation. Loving and caring for someone can be risky and often requires us to be authentic and to move beyond our comfort zones.

Marriage and parenting offer numerous opportunities to forgive when we have been hurt or a sacred trust has been violated. Being open and transparent in a marital or family relationship, especially in sharing thoughts, emotions, hurts, etc., can mean stepping “outside the box.” There are no guarantees that we will be immune from the storms of life on this side of eternity. However, in Christ, risks are frequently overcome with steps of faith. Take a risk today – encourage your loved one by being vulnerable.

3.     Thirdly, an encourager is  committed. When Barnabas was sent to Antioch and got among the people, the Scriptures says he began to encourage them with everything he had (Acts 11:19-24). The words describe him as having a “resolute heart.” In the Greek, this is translated as prosthesis kardia, which literally means, “purposed in the will.” This was part of who Barnabas was and his sense of calling.

In the same way, when we walk down the aisle with someone and pledge vows, or choose to bring a son or daughter into the world, we need to be committed as “all in” when it comes to our own role and responsibilities as spouses and parents. In some ways, success can be defined as falling down seven times and getting up eight. Great marriages and great parenting are not created by 50-50 commitments, thinking this represents a whole relationship, but after two people each give 100%. When Cortez landed in the New World, he burned his ships; it signified there was but one direction in moving forward. Find a way to encourage your spouse or a child that indicates you’re all in.

4.     Fourthly, an encourager is others-centered. Shortly after arriving in Antioch, Barnabas turned his thoughts toward his good friend, Saul (Acts 11:25-26). He knew he had to share this blessing and not be consumed with his own sense of self-importance. Inviting others into your journey underscores the reality that we were created by God in relationship and for relationship. He never intended for us to be alone and take a solo flight through life.

Marriages and families are composed of individuals who each have their own set of expectations, desires, hopes, dreams, and plans. We all need to grow in the practice of “relational gift-giving.” Here, we can proactively choose to focus on our spouse or child and consider what would bless them, please them, support them, and draw them closer to God. Encourage your loved ones and make this moment, this hour, this day, a celebration of who they are.

5.     Fifthly, an encourager is available. While in Antioch, the Lord commissioned and directed the very first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-3). Immediately, Barnabas and Paul made themselves available and were sent out. This implies an ongoing state of preparation and anticipation, a willingness to lay down one’s own ideas, plans, and desires for the benefit of others. Leaders often understand more can depend on a person’s availability before God than necessarily his or her ability.

Making ourselves available to the Lord, as well as to our spouses and children, can open up the doors of opportunity for deeper relationships, ministry, healing, and transformation. For many, time is one of the most valuable commodities in today’s fast-paced world. Sharing it with a loved one is a wonderful gift. It says, “Here I am… for you… for us. To listen, to care, to serve.” The power of presence should never be underestimated. God can accomplish much in a marriage or family through vessels who are fully yielded to Him. Be an encourager and offer yourself in love.

6.     Finally, an encourager is  patient.  During the first missionary journey, Barnabas took along his young cousin, John Mark, who later left them in the middle of the trip. On a subsequent journey when Paul suggested they visit all the churches that were started, Barnabas wanted Mark to join them once again. However, Paul accused Mark of desertion and he and Barnabas had such a significant argument, they parted company. Paul took Silas and Barnabas took Mark (Acts 15:36-40). Barnabas remained patient and longsuffering with his cousin.

There are times when loving someone means standing with him or her in the middle of major mistakes and shortcomings. The first descriptor of love is that it is patient (1 Cor. 13). We have all probably heard incredible testimonies that speak to the power of a praying mother. Who will continue believing in, advocating for, and supporting our spouse, son or daughter? Encourage that family member through your unwavering, patient, and unconditional love.

As I close, let us examine the fruit of encouragement. In 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul is imprisoned and in the twilight of his life on the earth. He says, “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” Later, in 1 Peter 5:13, when writing to the believers who were scattered because of persecution, Peter says, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.”

Even though we hear very little about Barnabas or Mark after they parted company with Paul, these verses reveal that somewhere along the journey, this young disciple “made it.” The one who had failed miserably, moved into a place of responsibility and maturity. Here, we see the two preeminent Apostles of the first century who are strongly supportive and complimentary of Mark—Paul saying he was useful to him and Peter referring to him as a son in the faith. God Himself allowed Mark to write one of the four Gospels. Although Scripture is largely silent on the matter, I believe the fact that Mark was able to work through whatever issues he had, was because Barnabas refused to give up on him and was willing to stick it out during the long journey.

You potentially may be the most influential person in your spouse’s or child’s life… in the best position to support, pray for, believe in, and journey with him or her in all the ups and downs. The gift of encouragement is within you right now. May the outcome be as equally transforming as it was for John Mark.


THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE

 

 

Have you seen the recent YouTube video of the little boy who was lying about eating a cupcake? Here is this totally adorable toddler with bright, blue icing all around his mouth.  When his dad asks if he’s had a cupcake, without the slightest pause, he says NO…repeatedly. Oh my, he is precious. The fact that he is lying with blue icing all over his mouth – screaming his guilt – makes him even cuter. It makes us chuckle. It’s cute. And those of us with kids could all tell similar stories.

Sometimes the antics of children can be, well, cute. But we grow. And we grow up. And we come to see what once was adorable for a child no longer is. Yep. This includes lying.

Lying is nothing new. The Garden of Eden, heard of it? Adam and Eve? Yep, the very first recorded sin involved lying. And lying is bad. I know. Mind-blowing news – right?  Yet regularly we hear of individuals caught in less than truthful moments: politicians, news broadcasters, sports figures, pastors, coaches, doctors. Each story has its unique circumstances, each with it’s unique failure. Yet underneath it all, they share one obvious question…

Why?

If we know it isn’t true, what drives the need to be dishonest? Why do we feel the need to exaggerate the truth or make people think we’ve accomplished something we haven’t?  Why give the impression that we are something we really are not?

We wear masks. We try to hide the real us. We try to gain acceptance from those around us by being what we think they would want us to be, or say what we think they want us to say…whoever they is.  We don’t want to disappoint. We don’t want to feel rejected. So we stretch the truth. We lie.

And we become the little boy with blue icing on his face.

But there’s a better way.

I Corinthians 13 teaches us that love “rejoices in the truth”Stop. Think about how big this is: this is the section of the Bible commonly referred to as the “love chapter”. We’re told that true “God-type” love (agape in the Greek) is a love that is benevolent, willfully delights and finds joy in the one being loved.  It’s the ultimate love, one of deep, unconditional commitment. A love that doesn’t just endure what’s true, or look past what’s true, it rejoices in what’s true.  It recognizes that as a follower of Jesus, your true identity is not found in your wins and losses, or your feelings and circumstances. Your true identity is found in Jesus Christ! And your true identity doesn’t require a mask.

True love, God’s love, rejoices in the truth!  The truth that…

…you are His masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)

…you are His workmanship. (Ephesians 2:10, NKJV)

…you are established. (2 Corinthians 1:21 NKJV)

…you are sealed with His promise. (John 6:27 NKJV)

…you are redeemed. (Colossians 1:14 NIV)

Could it be…that part of why God rejoices in the truth of our messiness and ugliness and brokenness is because the truth of our messiness and ugliness and brokenness gives Him the joy of demonstrating his indescribable, unrestrained, un-earnable love?

Yep! The blue icing is all over your face, and mine. Throw your hands up to a Father who loves you!  He knows and rejoices in the truth: your identity is so much greater than the frosting on your face.

And know this: when we embrace and live in and rejoice in that truth, we’re able to love others the way we are loved. We’re able to rejoice in the truth of their identity as well.  And it’s so much greater than the frosting on their face.

 “Aren’t you glad that God’s acceptance isn’t based on our performance? We have nothing to prove. Cancel the audition.”  – Pastor Steven Furtick, Elevation Church


LOVE ALWAYS FORGIVES

 

 

The church our family attends has an amazing program after each Sunday morning service which children and their families are invited to attend together.  The idea is for parents to hear what the kids learned in class this week and talk through the central teaching – in a super creative, super fun environment.  Our kids absolutely love it. So does their dad!

 

Last week’s lesson was on the Lost Son. It’s the story in Luke 15 that Jesus tells of a rebellious young man who rudely asks his dad for his part of his inheritance (while his dad is still alive – not cool), then goes and wastes everything on big time partying, only to later come to his senses and return to his father, ready to beg for a job. Such audacity!  But before the son can even ask, the father offers him complete forgiveness.

 

If you’re still reading, I need you to pause. Go back and read that last line in the previous paragraph. Seriously. Ok, I’ll just restate it here for you…before the son can even ask, the father offers him complete forgiveness. What a statement! How amazing! But wait, here’s the thing…you may be nodding yes right now at how awesome it is, but never in the passage does it actually say that the father forgave his son. It’s true. Seriously. (Now you’re starting to wonder…is that really true? Go check it out, Luke 15:11:24. See, I told you…no mention of forgiveness anywhere.)

 

But we know he was forgiven, don’t we? So much so that we’ve always assumed it said so.  Why? Because the father doesn’t simply speak words of forgiveness, he demonstrates what forgiveness looks like.  And it’s remarkable:

 

  • The father waits and watches for his sons return
  • As fast as his ol’ legs can move, he runs toward his son the moment he sees him
  • He offers his selfish, filthy, rebellious son a huge embrace. And a kiss. And a coat. And ring. And shoes. (wait…who was the one that was in the wrong in this story?!)
  • The father changes the plans that day for EVERYONE, joyfully announcing a celebration of his returned son.

 

1 Corinthians 13:5 tells us that one attribute of love is that it “keeps no record of wrongs”.  That when we love others the way God wants us to love, we’re too busy loving the one who misses the mark to even keep track of where the mark has been missed. We’re not just saying we forgive, we’re demonstrating it.

 

Back to the post-service children’s program last weekend after church.  After the team finished acting out the story of the Lost Son (which, my goodness are they creative), families were given a couple of minutes to huddle and discuss a question together: “when have you needed to forgive someone else?”Great question! Quickly my mind started running through a list of people I’ve needed to forgive and how I was so kind to forgive them and which example will be safe for me to share with my kids and….hang on….wait a second….Garrett is just sitting there. And he has an odd look on his face…

 

“What are you thinking about, buddy?”

 

With a sheepish chuckle, “Oh, I’m thinking of all the times I’ve needed to ask forgiveness of others.”

 

Oh, man.

 

My nine-year-old, helping his dad understand the correct answer.

 

We do well when our heart posture is one where we truly recognize the long list of ways that we have been so graciously forgiven, over and over, by God and others.  When this happens, it becomes pretty easy to shred up our lists of “how I’ve been wrong”, instead choosing to freely demonstrate love through forgiveness.

 

Just like the father. And the Father.


LOVE ALWAYS HONORS

 

Honor. It’s a powerful word. Along with the word, we all have an immediate thought that pops into our minds based on our life experiences. It’s a word that gets tossed around often and it carries with it many different meanings.

Growing up, religious or not, a familiar phrase that most of us have heard in a heated moment with at least one of our parents   – “Honor your father and mother”.  Every May or June, watch for the Hallmark commercials. They’ll be encouraging us to honor the graduates. Or when you graduate with Honors…now that’s a big one.  Don’t forget the Fourth of July and Memorial Day when we remember and honor those who have served in the military. This one we all like and have heard at our own wedding or those we’ve attended – that the bride and groom, “love, honor and cherish” each other. And, in the end, we all want to honor our loved ones who have gone before us.

The Bible talks a great deal about honor. As Christ followers we’re not only encouraged to honor each other, we are “called” to honor each other; it is a “demand” we see in I Corinthians 13 that is the opposite of being rude. We are to be the kind of person that will put others before ourselves, looking for opportunities to make life easier for those we come in contact with, all in an effort to become more selfless every day. Romans 12:10 NIV says, “Honor one another above yourselves.” The Message version of the same passage reads, “Practice playing second fiddle.” That’s a whole new perspective.

In our society, playing second fiddle comes across as a supporting or minor role…one that you would seemingly tire of. To be less important or weaker in an inferior position. To play second fiddle to your sister. To play second fiddle in a relationship as if you’re the second choice…the backup plan.

Leonard Berstein, the late conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, was once asked to name the most difficult instrument to play. Without hesitation, he replied: “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a problem; and if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony. In truth, if I spent more time second fiddling then my community would probably produce better music anyway.”

Second fiddle. Second chair. No spotlight. Doesn’t seem like you get much glory from that location. And that may be the main point. It seems that most of the time when we get placed in that lumpy, uncomfortable, second chair, we’d much rather be in the first.

But, what if all of us who claim to be Christ-followers decided to be more intentional in this area of honoring others? What if we were content being in the second chair…with enthusiasm and a smile on our face!?  Putting others first above ourselves in everyday life. I bet like the Orchestra, we’d have a lot more harmony and our community would hear the most beautiful music ever.


GOD > ME

 

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.

Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”  – Philippians 2:3

 

 

I love a good “Peanuts” cartoon. This one, in particular, shows Linus telling Charlie Brown, “When I get big, I’m going to be a humble little country doctor. I’ll live in the city, see, and every morning I’ll get up, climb into my sports car, and zoom into the country! Then I’ll start healing people…I’ll heal people for miles around!” In the last frame, he exclaims, “I’ll be a world famous humble little country doctor!”

 

Charles Schultz, the cartoonist, was making fun of how difficult it is for us to be humble.  Often, we start out with the goal of being a humble little whatever, but before we know it, we’re into being a world-famous, humble little whatever!

 

But, can you really blame us? We live in a world that screams, “ME!” Everything’s about me.  Look at my success. Look at my beauty. Look at how good I am at __________________.  I’m all that and a bag of chips!

 

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states the word humble comes from the Latin word humilis which means low or lowly; from humus ‘ground’. Being humble is described as not proud or haughty; not arrogant or assertive; having a spirit of deference or submission; ranking low in a hierarchy or a scale.

 

But, can you even imagine living in a society where being humble is the norm?

 

Aren’t you and I, at times, the very opposite? If we take a look in the mirror, aren’t there probably more times than we’d like to admit that we are proud and pompous…and very proud that we are proud and pompous? We step on or step over people that we disagree with, differ from or are in our way. We make special effort to emphasize ourselves and make our thoughts and opinions known. We spend a countless amount of money, time and energy to make sure that we fit into this hierarchy that we consciously or subconsciously yearn to feel a part of.

 

Shift gears with me and think about John the Baptist. Here’s a guy who could have been proud; and, rightfully so I must add. Who else (apart from Jesus Himself) could claim to have been filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15)? Who else could have the important title of being the forerunner of the Messiah (Luke 1:17,76)?  How about this…who do you know that Jesus affirmed to be the greatest man in history (Matthew 11:11)?

 

Yet, John teaches us an ultimate lesson in humility. He really lives I Corinthians 13 where it says that “Love is not proud.” If we could just get his famous one-liner down. Just think of what a difference it would make.  “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30).


EYES OF ENVY

 

 

 

As I sat down to write about envy this week, I seriously had to ask myself, “What is it about envy that makes it so unloving?” I realized that to properly understand the relationship between love and envy, understanding Paul’s purpose of writing must be grasped—it is the unity of the church and the Church. One could ask many questions at this point, including “why is the church’s unity so important?” or “Really? My envy affects the unity of the global Church?” The church’s unity is vital for the proclamation and spreading of the gospel. That is why love matters. And that truth gets us a little closer to why envy matters, why it’s so unloving, and why it affects the unity of the Church.

James (remember Jesus’ brother?) makes a solid case that envy’s root is pride, that is, our own selfish, pleasure-seeking desires. Envy causes divisions, fights, and wars because one is not satisfied, content, or, dare we say, thankful. There’s the key. Yes, envy is the antithesis of gratefulness.

Envy is the desire for more. If it is the desire for more for one’s own pleasure, then it is a logical (and spiritual) progression to conclude that envy is the desire to be first (Calvin). It cannot merely be the desire for more. Desire is not a source unto itself; desire is always connected to a point of origin. And the reality? The source will always be either God’s glory or your own, my own. Envy is the desire for more and the source is your selfishness and my selfishness. And love, agape love, cannot be about you and me. It is about them.

It would be too easy to simply address our materialism here. No, it’s much deeper than that.

To be clearer, envy is unloving because I am not joyful or grateful that someone else experiences a blessing and I don’t:
-They’re healed and I’m not. What’s my heart response?
-He is financially successful and I am not. What are my thoughts toward him?

-They have five kids and we are struggling to get pregnant. Do we cheer or isolate?
In another letter, Paul tells Christians to “give thanks in everything” (1 Th. 5:18). We like to quote that, but verse 15 often gets left out, which says, “always seek after that which is good for one another.” Give sincere thanks for the good in others’ lives and the power of envy will diminish.


LOVE PROTECTS

We are bombarded with messages about protection and security every day.

The ever-present message of having safe sex…for our protection. TSA at the airport gives us a little love (!)… for our protection. We’re strongly encouraged to get the most up-to-date security software on our computers… for our protection. Install an alarm system at our house… for our protection. Carry a gun or take a self-defense class… for our protection.  You get the idea.

Protection. It’s a version of love we crave and at the same time sacrificially and willingly give to those closest to us. In reality, I’d say the notion that security is one of our greatest fundamental needs is accurate, to say the least.

We long to receive it from our significant other. We briefly contemplate putting our kids in some kind of foolproof bubble and sending them to school just to protect them. We want to receive it from our friends; we want them to have our backs. We hope somehow that our employer won’t screw us over. We naively hold on to the ridiculous thought that our bank account can somehow protect us in some way.

We open our Bibles and they are filled with countless stories of God’s protection many of us can recount from our childhood. David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17), Queen Esther (Esther 1), Baby Moses (Exodus 2), and Daniel in the Lions Den (Daniel 6) just to name a few. All these stories reflect God’s protection over His people in tangible, seemingly impossible situations.

Flip over to the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, mentions four specific attributes of love that are “always” put into action. The first of these is that love “always protects” (NIV). It has been said that the Greek word for “protects” is stegei, which literally means “to cover” and includes the idea of protecting and perseverance. (www.gotquestions.org)

1 Corinthians 13:2 says that if we have all the listed spiritual gifts (solve all mysteries, have all knowledge, have all faith) but we don’t use these spiritual gifts with love, “we are nothing” and it benefits no one. Love must be added to every equation in order to make a difference.

God’s version of love always protects. It’s never about ourselves. It can handle all the pooh life can throw at us. And whenever one of us lays an egg, love has the ability to cover and protect it. (“Love covers a multitude of sins.” – Proverbs 10:12) Which doesn’t excuse poor or abusive behavior because there are consequences for sin. It does mean we come beside and lift up what is weak, defend the defenseless and forgive what normally would be impossible.
We hear and read about God’s protection and yet we sometimes have a slight pause in our mind questioning that provision. If God really protects, why did/didn’t He__________________? How about this…when trying to explain all the hard stuff we’re hearing on the news lately to our kids, how do you explain God not protecting innocent young girls just trying to excel in gymnastics and why does there have to be a movement called #MeToo?

I get that. I’ve had some questions of my own through life’s journey.

We’re so human. We want to see God’s protection as some kind of Star Wars force that is with us keeping us from all harm. We have to pause and remember to remind ourselves that we live in a fallen world where we have free will and people (and we) get it wrong sometimes. And God works in ways we just don’t understand. Sounds cliché-ish, right? But it doesn’t make it any less true.

If love talks, it says words that shield. Words filled with kindness. Words of protection.

Know anyone who could use some protection? Then don’t hold back. Love like Jesus.

“God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in seastorm and earthquake, Before the rush and roar of oceans and tremors that shift mountains. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.” – Psalm 46:1-3 MSG


LIVING IN THE LIGHT

Am I the only one who has lived life out of my idea of truth? My truth about who I am? My truth about who I think God is? No, I’m not the only one? Okay, just checking…

When I think about truth, I think about two types of truth. There are small “t” truths and then there is Truth (big T). Small “t” truths are the things in our life that cause us to hide or feel insecure. Small “t” truths become an all too familiar voice in our head that we begin to listen to. We begin to listen intently and our lives begin to mirror that voice.

“You’re not meant to do this job.”

“Why don’t you look like that?”

“But you had an abortion.”

“You’ve been in prison. God can’t use a sinner like you.”

“But you’re divorced.”

“You caused _____ to happen.”

“If only you had ______.”

“If only you hadn’t ______.”

“You’re a horrible parent.”

Once these so-called truths begin to take root within our minds we unknowingly (or knowingly) begin to put on masks. Masks we so desperately hope will hide our beliefs about who we think we are. We overcompensate and try to appear like we have it all together. We put on the religious mask, the successful mask, the great parent mask, the good wife/husband mask, the good child mask, etc. But deep down inside, we’ve come to believe so many lies about ourselves that we’re barely staying afloat.

Sometimes our masks look like deep depression, fear, and anxiety. Oftentimes, it looks like addictions. Or it’s a combination of them all. You name it, there’s a mask for that.  

In our mess and masks, there is good news. The good news is Jesus. He sees the small “t” truths we believe and offers us real, steadfast Truth. He doesn’t want to leave us where we are, so as we begin to take off our masks, overcome our addictions, and face our fears; he offers grace and love along the way. He begins to speak to us in ways that silence the doubts within.

The Truth is that none of the small “t” truths change what God thinks about you. He is so wildly crazy about you that he longs to show you Himself. Romans 5:8 puts it this way, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” When I read this I can’t help but think about how in the worst of my messes, Christ died for me. Masks and all.

Choose Jesus, friends. Choose the Truth. Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If a truth in your mind leads you to hide, become isolated, or want to escape life, don’t believe it. If a truth causes you to feel anxious, worried, or fearful, know that that’s not from God. God’s Truth leads us to freedom in Christ, not more bondage.

Let’s be agents of Truth. Be real and honest about who you are and your life, seek out others who are hurting and invite them into what Jesus has done on the cross. If you’re not already on that journey, start today.

It’s hard to begin to unmask ourselves, but you don’t have to do it alone. Call a trusted friend, try a support group, start seeing a Christian counselor, begin (or begin again) to pray that God would show you the people in your life who need to hear your story.

Now, let’s purpose to focus on the Truth about who we are in Christ:

Nothing can separate you from the love of God. (Romans 8:38-39)

You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)

You are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)

There is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1)

You are accepted by God. (Romans 15:7)

You are redeemed and forgiven by the grace of God. (Ephesians 1:7)

You have the peace of God (Philippians 4:6-7)

You are an heir of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17)  

You are righteous, redeemed, and holy. (1 Corinthians 1:30)

(And the list goes on and on…)


NEW YEAR NEW YOU

 

Well, we’re only a couple days in. How are things going? You know, with those New Year’s Resolutions that is. Whether you cringe or get an adrenaline rush from speaking those words, it’s inevitable; the new year is here. Have you decided that you’re going to go for it this year and have already made some new resolutions? Or are you not even going to “waste” your time because you feel like you will fail anyway?

Don’t you think that it seems like there needs to be an extra week at the end of the year between Christmas and New Years just to be able to plan what your resolutions will be?  How can it be that we go from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas in what appears to be days? Before you know it, it’s time to watch the big ball drop in New York and there’s nothing written down to accomplish for the year.

Can you relate?

I’d venture to say that we all know the agony of just trying to decide if we really want to make the list.  The long list that is basically acknowledging just how many things you need to improve in your life. Seems so daunting. But, you decide to go for it.

The typical first week, you’re feeling good about yourself.  You’re “on” 7 days in a row; what’s another 358 days, right?! But in reality, we all know week two and week three arrive. Life happens. You miss a day or two. You get behind. You feel guilty. You quit.

Another year goes by. And in a spiritual sense, isn’t this exactly what the devil wants? For us to stay exactly the way we are…not growing, defeated, stagnant, the same. How can we stop this cycle?

What if we shifted our expectations of what “success” is and not be so hard on ourselves? Last year, I wrote down a list of resolutions. No, I did not excel in every area entirely; but, I progressed in a good majority of areas. Even better, I gained some perspective along the way. I got to the point where I asked myself, “Why am I trying to reach perfection in all these areas?” That accomplishment would be too much for the most driven person around.

Are your feet pointed in the right direction? Are you growing and further down the road in an area than you were last year? Give yourself some grace. Call that progress. Jesus does.

So, let that give you courage in making resolutions for this year.  Remember that a resolution is really just a firm decision to do or not do something. Don’t complicate it. Author Francis Chan puts it this way, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter”.

Follow Joshua’s example in having resolve, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”. There’s no muddy area here. Have the same kind of resolve in your resolutions each day.

Go ahead. Grab a pen and paper or a seat at your computer. Make the list.


PRINCE OF PEACE

 

 

Yep, I’m one of “those” people. Around the day after Halloween (or so), I get pretty excited about…Christmas. I’m proud to say our kids are the same way. I know, I know; some of you are doing a big eye roll about now. But those of you who are like me, you understand!

Christmas. The Holidays. This time of the year can bring to mind many reactions and emotions. They’re intended to be times of great joy. Celebrating the birth of Jesus. Catching up with extended family. Time off from work and school. Traditions had. Memories made.

Yet in reality, if we’re not careful, the Holidays can be one word. Exhausting.

Days of travel. The cancelled flights. The long drive with kids fighting.  The surprising unkind exchange of words with your spouse. Family drama. The awkwardness. Late night cupcake baking for your kids Christmas party. Shopping. For gifts that you can’t afford. Wrapping presents. Fighting with tangled Christmas lights. Keeping up with the neighbors. Family pictures. Christmas programs. Work Christmas parties. The trash and cleanup. The stress. Whew!

And, just like that, it’s over. Another Christmas is in the books. We almost feel a letdown. All our good intentions didn’t deliver what we had imagined. Peace evades our souls.

Somehow we get so wrapped up in the chaos that surrounds the season that we miss the season itself. It’s so easily done. We’ve all been guilty of it at some point in our lives.

I’m wondering. With there being such division and unrest within us and around us, maybe there’s a question that we should be asking ourselves? A shift in focus that would change so much. “How can webring peace not just to our Christmas season, but to our own world? Peace to our home. Peace to our relationships?”

Have you seen the recent television commercial that features Microsoft employees and a children’s choir singing, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me to employees at (get this) an Apple store?  It’s worth googling. I mean, this is almost as if the “light side” is reaching out to the “dark side”, right?

This season, don’t miss it. Give the gift of peace to someone’s soul. To your soul.  And, may we focus on the One Who gives peace like no other. Our greatest Gift. Our Prince of Peace.

 

“And his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father.

The Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6