"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:1-4)
Have you ever bought a new car, and the moment you drive it off the lot you start to see your same car everywhere you look? You go to the grocery store, the same one you’ve been going to for years, and suddenly everyone else has your same exact car! This experience is called the “Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.” Once you have focused on something specific, you begin to see that something everywhere.
Isn’t that how it is in our spiritual lives? We hear a sermon on Sunday about kindness, or giving, and the next week we do a great job showing kindness or maybe we even buy somebody’s lunch. But as the days go by, and we lose our focus, we don’t see opportunities to show kindness or give like we did that first week. We can see this pattern over and over again in our lives. If you’ve ever bought a new house and you’re anything like me, you binge watch shows on HGTV for design ideas. Our thinking becomes a snowball of what we feed ourselves. If we’re not careful, days turn into weeks, turn into years, and we realize we have been filling our hearts and minds with earthly things. And if our minds and hearts are filled only with earthly things, there is no room left for spiritual things.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with cars or HGTV. In fact, that’s the sinister nature of the whole thing. We can easily deceive ourselves with these “good” things because they are not inherently sinful like pornography or something like that. But any time our hearts become consumed with anything other than the Lord, it can quickly become sin. Let us renew our minds, and renew our focus so that we may walk in all the blessings the Lord has prepared for us.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. -1 Corinthians 11:1
I was talking to my brother the other day on the phone, as I often do, and he told me that someone was at his house shadowing he and his wife during their work day to see what they do. This got me thinking, “what would happen if someone followed me all day?” Would they be encouraged? Would they be inspired to be more like Jesus? Would they want to be a better husband and father?
That’s kind of a weighty thought isn’t it? We post the highlights of our lives on Facebook and Instagram and get plenty of likes and loves, but what would happen if we were followed 24/7, 365? Could we say boldly as Paul did, to “follow [our] example, as [we] follow Christ?” Does my life look like Christ’s? I thank God sanctification is a process. I have not arrived, but I’m better than I used to be.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t feel like you quite measure up. We all have highs and lows. We all have days we wish we could do over or erase all together. The point is, are we progressing? Are we growing? Are we becoming more and more like Jesus every day?
My daughter was watching one of those old Hanna-Barbera Bible cartoons this morning. They were showing the crucifixion of Jesus. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out how to be a parent, so maybe showing my 3 year old Jesus being crucified isn’t exactly age appropriate, but nevertheless there it was. She turned to me and said, “daddy, why is Jesus in timeout?” I made a feeble attempt to explain to my daughter that He was going through that because of our disobedience. I’m sure the concept didn’t land. However, it was a good reminder for me today. Jesus went through far worse than “timeout” so that I could stand before the Father one day, sinless, spotless, without blemish…He did that so that I could be like him.
Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
So, for all of you who are in Christ, the next time you get discouraged, the next time you feel like a failure, remember that you have been crucified with Christ. Your old man is dead. You have been raised to new life in Christ… “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” -Philippians 2:13
"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”
God’s timing…have you noticed? It’s different than our timing!
I’m sure we all probably went on ‘road trips’ when we were kids. If you were like my kids the most frequently asked questions were: “How much further?” or “Are we there yet?”
I have vivid memories, as a child, of traveling with my family from Illinois where we lived to N.D. where my parents were from. Mom and dad would load us up in our 58 Edsel and head north. Of course, back then no stopping at hotels or restaurants…a loaf of bread and a pound of baloney and we were good to go! The nagging question always was, “Are we there yet?”
It seems so difficult to wait for anything…in the natural but how about when we are ‘waiting’ for God to speak or move in situations or issues of life? Listen, waiting on God is the rule not the exception. We’ve all offered God some really good plans but when He doesn’t take us up on ‘our’ plans we try to help open the door. When it seems there are no open doors, we many times try to force the lock; ‘our’ wisdom and strategy then kicks in and we attempt to compensate for our lack of trust! Not until history has run its course will we understand how “all things work together for good.” None of us learn this lesson quickly…The Psalmist in Psalm 13:1 cries out, How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? The Message translation puts it this way…Long enough, God— you've ignored me long enough.
We don’t like not being able to control things. We hate the feeling of utter helplessness. We despair when things happen that we cannot manage. We always look for ways to ‘nudge’ the arm of providence. If it seems that you are stuck in some dungeon or that you have been put on a shelf, it could be God saying; hold steady, I am going to be the One to exalt you and lift you out of this prison experience in My way and in My timing. God comes along and works in such a manner that the only thing you can say is “God moves in mysterious ways…His wonders to perform.” Don’t fret, God knows where you are!!! ‘You’ may not know where you are but be assured, He ‘knows’ where you are!
…Since before time began no one has ever imagined, No ear heard, no eye seen, a God like you who works for those who wait for him. -Isaiah 64:4
"…the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good to please God if there is one; or—if they think there is not—at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us…” -C. S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity"
This is the Gospel, is it not? That God has rescued us from ourselves. That we can never be good enough. We can never hope to be blameless in the eyes of the Almighty Righteous One. We were dead in our trespasses and sin, but God has made those of us who believe, alive. This is the good news we preach. We are on a mission and our “missions” work must include humanitarian aide, feeding the homeless, clothing the naked, and all the rest of the activities we would call “missions.” But it can’t just be that. It must include going to our neighbors as well as people in the far reaches of the earth who have never heard. This Gospel, this “Good News,” is just that. God doesn’t love us because we are good, He promises to make us good because He loves us. This is the Good News we bring to the world.
Sometimes our world seems dark and hopeless…it is, but we have hope! His name is Jesus. This message never gets old. So many churches try to be relevant by adding a coffee bar here or doing some new song and dance there. The Gospel is relevant. No machinations of men can add to its efficacy. It doesn’t need to be tweaked. The Gospel is relevant. It always has been. It always will be. Let us not grow weary in telling the world there is hope and that hope is Jesus. Peter says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
In this hour of all-but-universal darkness one cheering gleam appears: within the fold of conservative Christianity there are to be found increasing number of persons whose religious lives are marked by a growing hunger after God Himself. -A. W. Tozer
You probably assumed, when you read those first few words, that I was talking about our own current universal darkness…it certainly could apply.
I’m not sure why but I am drawn to the old WWII movies, the history and the upheaval of that time is disturbing, yet enthralling; not only the horror of the events but of the courage of those who not only survived but later thrived. While most of us may not remember much about WWII, who could forget the violence and unrest of the 1960s? I remember waking early in the morning and overhearing my mom and dad discuss the need to possibly build a fall-out shelter. We had air-raid drills in our elementary school and had to hide under our desks. The message of the church I attended in the early 70s was that Russia was going to invade America at any moment. I believe if we would do a walkthrough of history, we would see each and every generation face what seems to be insurmountable and debilitating circumstances. The circumstances may vary but the answer is always the same…stand strong, do not waiver, trust Him and maintain, as Tozer encourages, a growing hunger after God Himself.
So many quote the scripture from Esther that says she was born for her time and her specific assignment to intercede for her nation. Taken to what I believe is a reliable interpretation I trust we can rightly assign this to each and every one of us that pursue after God’s purposes without fear or intimidation.
We are here, at this time in history, to fulfill what God has given to us as our assignments. Every generation must speak to their generation the hope that we have in Christ…it’s our message…it’s our purpose!
2020 was a year of joy and sorrow for us as we know it was for so many others. Susan contracted COVID-19 in June of this year. Thankfully, she had minimal symptoms and recovered quickly. Angela and I were excited to get the news that we would be having another baby. We were heartbroken recently to find out that our little baby boy had passed away in a late miscarriage. We are still working through our grief, but we trust in the Lord. I cannot begin to explain why things happen the way they do. The only conclusion I can ever come to is that God is in control, and He is good. I know that His word is the only foundation upon which I can stand.
Job 1:10 says, “If we take happiness from God’s hand, must we not take sorrow too?”
The late Henri Nouwen wrote:
To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives—the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections—that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for. Let’s not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.
Thankfulness in times of sorrow is much easier said than done to be sure. But I know of no other place to run than the arms of our Savior and no other place to rest than under the shadow of His wings.
It seems the older I get the more the questions that I’m asked all seem to fall in the same category. Questions like: How have you maintained your faith? How have you stayed focused in the midst of so many trials? What is the main ingredient that has kept your relationship with the Lord intact? All good questions.
I’m sure they were hoping for some magical ingredient that could be easily assessed to assure longevity and victory over all obstacles, but alas, no such magical ingredient exists. It’s not a simple answer I give, but it is a basic response…commitment! I known that is not exciting, and hardly spiritual enough for some, but it is the truth. I made a commitment to the Lord and His plan for my life 50 years ago. That commitment has carried me through. Have there been doubts? Absolutely! Have I questioned God? Oh yes! Have there been dark days? No question! But I always found my path back to God through my commitment and a stubborn decision to press on.
Someone once said, “It is always too soon to give up.” That’s the truth! Hold on, hold steady, engage your stubborn resolve, and walk out that wild commitment you made whether it was yesterday or 50 plus years ago.
“…I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” II Timothy 1:12-14
The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank. -G.K. Chesterton
Thankfulness so often is contingent upon comparison isn’t it? The old lyric rings true…”you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” We know we ought to be thankful for the simple things: eyes that see, ears that hear, lungs that breathe, clothes on our backs, food and shelter and such, but our Facebook and Instagram feeds call to us and shepherd our minds away from contentment for the basic things to wishing we had more. We know intellectually that someone, somewhere in the world, is praying for the things we take for granted and yet we lament our situations. Maybe you’re not like that.
Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” He must not really mean all circumstances though right? Paul never had to deal with an international pandemic. Then again, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 11:25 that, “three times [he] was beaten with rods. Once [he] was stoned. Three times [he] was shipwrecked; a night and a day [he] was adrift at sea.”
Has your life ever felt like Paul’s? You recover from one shipwreck only to be faced with two more! I don’t think it’s always easy to be thankful in everything; it may actually be quite difficult.
In spite of all the struggles in our world today, during this Thanksgiving season, we can and we must be thankful for all He has already done in our lives.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. -Ephesians 6:12
The news on TV, social media, and everywhere is so exhausting isn’t it? When I was growing up I thought that there were people who did what was right and people who did what was wrong. I thought there was basically universal agreement as to what “right and wrong” were, it’s just that some people chose to be disobedient and some who didn’t. Oh how wrong I was. There isn’t universal agreement to what is right or what is wrong. In fact, this isn’t just some issue of nuance, it really is, as Isaiah put it, calling “evil good, and good evil.” Debate and discussion are largely fruitless endeavors in an environment like this because our prevailing presuppositions are so far apart.
We who live in the United States are in a battle for the very soul of our nation. It’s easy to get stirred up, yell at the TV, and argue with people on social media about politics. Trust me, I have experience in this area. But let’s not lose our focus. Don’t get lost in the world of “Oz” thinking that’s all there is. There is much going on behind the scenes. Ours is a spiritual battle.
There is always talk of “October Surprises” in an election year. Undoubtedly there will be. But nothing will be a surprise to Him. We serve a God who holds the heart of the king in His very hands, and He turns it wherever He wills (Proverbs 21:1). Trust in the Lord. Do what is right. He will prevail.
And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
When 2020 began, I thought it would be a year of clarity, vision, and renewed focus. I know, kind of cliche. I think a lot of people were feeling the same thing. As half of 2020 has come and gone, it seems we have had anything but clarity. Confusion, fear, and insecurity seem to be all around us. We wonder, only half jokingly, what chapter of Revelation we will be on this week. We seem to be living it.
The more I’ve thought about it though, I am persuaded that 2020 has in fact been a year of clarity. God is bringing to light things that were hidden. Wolves are being exposed. Organizations are in upheaval. People are losing jobs. People are getting new jobs. There is a renewed focus on what really matters. The chaff is being blown away. We are seeing, as it were, if our foundations were built on the Rock or on the sand.
Be encouraged today. God is moving in the midst of all the craziness we see around us. He IS bringing clarity. So often we pray for things like wisdom and direction, forgetting that God might answer those prayers in ways we may not have answered them ourselves. Just like the blind man Jesus healed who first saw people like trees, vision, even in the midst of God’s healing, sometimes comes slowly, and then all at once.