I love the idea that church being more than sitting in a service on Sunday and I love that we are being challenged to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our community so that people can hear and see the message of Jesus’ love. But sometimes the thought of trying to help people in need can...
Showing items for 'Christian Living'
It has been said that comparison is the thief of joy. If that is true, then expectations are the root of all heartache. Whether they are unmet, unrealistic, or ungodly, they can break a heart fixed on how things appear and on what others think. Forgetting that the only expectations that matter...
If you look in my jewelry armoire you will find a several cross necklaces. Within that grouping, the crosses vary in size and shape. However there is one special cross. It is small simple silver cross with a thin delicate chain. It means so much more to me than just representing the...
Picture this; Sunday morning, people fill the seats, Waiting on the pastor’s words of happiness and peace. But, instead of a message that brings meaning to their lives, The words coming at them today are somewhat a surprise - Words that remind them of greatness; of something...
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17 You don’t need to read indy-mag.com, to be reminded of the 2007 Britney Spears very public tantrum as she exited rehab, filed for divorce and...
Last week our planet encountered the loss of two well-known celebrities to apparent suicide. Concurrently, rates of depression and anxiety are climbing in increasing numbers in our world today (https://www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20180612cdcsuicide.html). These horrible...
(This post is a follow up to Bonni Mace's thoughts before she left on her first international mission trip. If you didn't read it yet, catch up here!) Well, I’m back in Maryland after a wonderful warm nine days in the Caribbean! Before I left I shared a post about the things that made me...
Quiet? What’s that? The kids are fighting, the TV is blaring, the cell phone is pinging and the washer is running. Down the block a fire truck’s siren is blasting and cars are tearing down the street. And now? The cat is tipping over the dog’s water dish! Sound familiar?...
Most of us use social media to keep in touch with friends, family members, and passing acquaintances; some of us might even have hundreds of ‘friends’ we don’t even really know. Thinking about your friends’ list on something like Facebook, how many of those people do you...
I’m getting ready to leave for the Dominican Republic on my first international mission trip. And actually my first mission trip in a really long time! I’m lucky, because I was asked to go and my trip is paid for generously by the staff budget, but I think if it was up...
After the holidays, I’m finding our home is filled with stuff. There are piles of new things and the boxes they came in. On top of that, we also have a little baby girl arriving soon. There's so much to get and so much to do! This leads to my wife and I planning how we will get rid of the mess, how to organize the chaos, and find some peace again.
My mind doesn't feel all that different from how my home looks. I find myself in a season of transition and cannot help but think about how things will be changing soon and although we try to plan for it, there will always be something to get, or to clean up, or…who knows. These thoughts turn into worries that are all bouncing around in my head like an old computer screen saver.
In the same way we are trying to tame the mess in the house, I’m learning I need the wisdom to discern how to address my concerns and worries. I need to decide which ones I need to learn to live with, with the understanding that our Father is taking care of them.
I find encouragement in the close of 1 Peter where he wrote to the early persecuted church, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
I find peace in this not because I can make everything right (there's always a new mess or a worry popping up), but through the knowledge that everything has been made right in Jesus Christ. I find peace in knowing that even if I do not know the path that I should be taking, God does. And Jesus has showed me who I should strive to be in every area of my life.
If you are like me at the start of 2019, trying to take the first steps towards finding peace after a hectic holiday season, I suggest a shift in focus from what we could do to what has already been done.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. - 1 Peter 5:8-11
Comfort is a great thing. No one wants to sit on an uncomfortable couch, we all want our home to be a comfortable place, and no one wants to wear an itchy sweater. Everyone wants to be comfortable. Comfort means being relaxed, being more yourself, and feeling secure. Comfort is perfectly fine and great in the physical aspects of life, clothes, furniture, and homes, but maybe that’s it. Maybe comfort isn’t supposed to go beyond physical things. Maybe it isn’t meant for how we live our life.
Since I’ve been married I’ve always felt like God was pulling my husband and I away from wherever we were comfortable. We moved 1600 miles away from all friends and family, and the place we were both comfortable and had always called home. We lived in a small apartment that just never really felt like home. My husband was in graduate school working as a grad assistant making very little so we had the smallest, and tightest budget ever--which wasn’t always comfortable to work with.
Then we finally started to get into a rhythm of that life and make what we felt was a great plan for the future, God made us uncomfortable again. My husband didn’t get into the PhD program like we had always planned he would. That meant we had about 6 months to find him a job before the university stopped paying him, and that was very scary and uncomfortable. Then he found a job, a great job and loved it, and after his second week there we found out I was pregnant.
The last 12 months of our lives have pushed us out of our comfort zones of being in control and feeling like we get any say in our future plans. Every day and each month all we could do was make a small plan for the weekly future, and honestly God has blessed us more in this season than I could have ever dreamed of.
This has made me realize that sometimes God calls us to be uncomfortable. Great things don’t happen when you are cozy in your comfort zone. Esther from the Bible is a great example of this (her story is recorded in the Book of Esther in the Old Testament). She was an orphan living with her uncle in a foreign city which I’m sure wasn’t the most comfortable place to be. Then suddenly she’s chosen by the King to be his new Queen just as one of the kings nobles wanted to destroys the Jews, Esther’s people. Esther’s uncle persuades her to use her new position close to the king to try and save her people; again, I can’t imagine how uncomfortable that was. She’s super young, newly married to a king and now she needs to try and persuade him against one of his highest nobles. She did it though, and ultimately the Jews were saved because Esther went where God needed her. She went where she was uncomfortable, and that is where God can do the best things.
As the new year approaches, it’s customary to reflect on your life and look to the future, setting goals about how you want to live the next year. I don’t know about you, but each year setting goals only gets me so far. I have great ideas about what I want to accomplish, but in application, I fall way short. I eventually give up, and then I’m right back where I started with very little to show for it.
I’m tired of empty wishes and goals that obviously don’t really matter to me. I’m tired of living a passive life, waiting for something to happen or scared of what might or might not happen. I’m ready to do meaningful things that make a difference not only for me, but for the Kingdom.
Solomon in the book of Proverbs writes, “A person plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) I would rather have the Lord direct my steps than meet any goal that I set without him.
John, while he is writing about love in the book of 1 John notes, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9)
Do you see the end of that sentence, “…that we might LIVE through him.” I’m betting when we let ourselves live through Jesus that we will really understand what living is.
In reading further in 1 John 4, he tells us what truly living is; “ Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:11-12)
It seems to me that the secret to living through Jesus is love. Loving God, loving yourself, and loving your neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-40)
So this year as you set goals or resolutions or make plans for the coming year, instead of making empty promises to yourself and others, let the Lord direct your steps. Let yourself live through him by loving.
Make the coming year more meaningful by setting your goals around love.
- Show love to God by spending time daily with him in prayer and reading the Bible. Listen to what he wants you to do, and fulfill the purpose he has given you. Meet together with other Jesus followers in small groups and at church on Sundays. Make what God wants also what you want.
- Show love to yourself by eating well, stretching and exercising, and speaking kindly to yourself.
- Show love to others by helping anyone you see has a need. Trust that God will put people in your path daily who need to know his love and are looking to you to show it. Love others in big and small ways…your family, your neighbors, the people you work with, they all need an encouraging word, help with a problem, or a loving gesture that shows there is still some love in this world. Be love to the world.
When you put living through Jesus in love first in your life, you will truly understand that God lives in you and his love is made complete in you (1 John 4:12). This is surely a good way to live in the coming year.
It’s definitely the way I want to live.
‘The weight of the world on your shoulders’ might seem like a cliché phrase, but if we're honest, we've all felt that weight. Whether you're a business executive with 30 employees under you making decisions every day that could make or break company sales numbers; a mother with kids balancing cooking, cleaning, and getting them all to their various weekly activities; an older adult working two part-time jobs past retirement age just to make ends meet; or somewhere in-between, sometimes it really feels like the weight of it all is suffocating. And if this is how we feel off and on throughout the year, it's no wonder that some people feel extra pressure during the holidays. Everyone thinks that Christmas is supposed to be a joyous time of year - and while it can be, it can also be an incredibly stressful and depressing time of year.
So what really is the point of Christmas? If we're going with the world's view of Christmas, we'd probably say things like gift-giving, spending time with friends and family, extra time off work, fun trips, bonuses, New Year’s resolutions, or a plethora of other commitments levied on us. While most of that is all well and good, and on their own aren't inherently wrong, it was never meant to be the point.
The funny (or should we say, tragic) thing is that Christmas has become a time full of high expectations, often followed by differing levels of disappointment. No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to fulfill all that's expected of us. And so, looking ahead to the holidays, instead of cheer, we just see lots of things that could go wrong.
As a father, I've become more intimately familiar with the letdowns during Christmas. We all remember those holidays as kids, when that thing we wanted most wasn't under the tree on Christmas morning. As a kid we get over those disappointments fairly quick, but we still remember what that was like as an adult. It's almost like little wounds that we receive, and though they don't hurt anymore, the scars remind us of a pain we once felt. And while not getting some silly toy or other seemingly trivial item for Christmas isn't that big of a deal in the grand scheme of life, these 'scars' slowly begin to warp our view of reality. And now, as a father who generally wants what's best for his kids, even though I know that they don't need 90% of the things on their Christmas lists, a part of me still wants to do more than I am. And this is coming from someone who lives fairly comfortably. I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like for a parent who struggles to get their kids just one or two things for Christmas.
But, this is how the cycle goes. We fail to meet their expectations, and we fail to meet our own expectations, and when they grow up, they will likely feel the same disappointments. And when we look at ourselves, all we see are more and more scars, forgetting what we used to look like under all the pain. Perhaps for some people this is why the extra time off during the holidays is so exhausting. Maybe this is why spending time with family feels more like a burden than a gift. We place more expectations on ourselves to look perfect – to act perfect – and that usually causes us to try and cover up the scars, trying desperately to hide the pain, but at the same time hiding who we really are underneath.
Oftentimes, when we’re forced to look in the mirror, we don't like what we see. The holidays can sometimes force us to look in the mirror way more than we would normally. The holidays can also expose us to the gazes of others who we feel are more openly seeing all the scars we bear.
So, if this is what Christmas really does to so many people, then what is the point of it all? If Christmas doesn’t bring about hope and new beginnings, then what are we doing wrong?
The question, instead of ‘what are we doing wrong’, should be ‘what are we focused on?’ If we’re focused on meeting everyone’s expectations, then we are setting ourselves up for multiple failures. We will never be able to meet everyone’s expectations, and we’ll struggle even more so to meet our own expectations.
God’s Gift of Hope
If we could focus on receiving then we’d never be disappointed or let down. The kind of receiving I’m talking about here is not in gifts or anything tangible. The point of Christmas was a gift – God’s one and only Son. The point of the holidays is to receive the most precious gift that anyone has ever given, and to reflect on its impact in our lives. It was a gift of hope; a gift of grace. This grace is the one and only gift we’ve ever been given that comes with zero strings attached, and with zero expectations. And all we have to do it receive it.
Naturally, the world will try to trivialize this gift and tell you that there’s a lot of other, better things out there. But the truth is, all those other things come with expectations. We expect that new car to not only get us around, but also make us feel good about ourselves. But, there’s always someone with a nicer car, and one day even this new one won’t get us around as reliably as it once did. This is just one example, but we buy everything because we expect something from it, even if it’s a necessity. We expect food to satisfy us and keep us from going hungry, we expect water to quench our thirst, and we expect toilet paper to, well… keep us clean. But the truth is, there’s always another day. We eat and drink, and soon that satisfaction turns into a sensation urging as to visit the restroom again. The point being that while these simple necessities may have met our expectations, it’s still just temporarily.
And so it goes with everything, except the one gift that doesn’t ever run out.
When God sent his son to this world, he knew full well what that meant. For a million reasons, it didn’t make sense to the world, but for one reason, it made all the sense for the world. “For God so loved the world, that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believed in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16
The real point of Christmas is the cross. God sent his son to Earth so that he could begin with the end in mind. You can’t have an end without a beginning – at least not in a way that we as humans would understand. So, this Christmas we must celebrate the beginning of the life of Jesus, the one person to be both God and human; the one person who never sinned, so that ultimately he could die on a cross and wash away the darkness of all those who would believe in him.
The one problem that we must overcome with this gift is our expectations. Even with Jesus, we have human expectations, and we try to box God into something that meets the needs we think we have. This is why most Christians still feel ‘lacking’ when it comes to their spirituality. Instead of simply receiving and letting grace wash over us, we try to come up with systems that make God ‘manageable’, setting up expectations that if we do ‘X’, then ‘Y’ will happen.
Why is it so hard for us to simply receive?
Perhaps it’s our humanity that holds us back. And while that is a major hurdle for us, I believe the truth of the matter is that our human “limitations” are just our excuse because it’s so hard for us to accept that hope is this easy to find.
This Christmas let go of expectations and try to just receive. God asks nothing in return, and in fact he has canceled all debts. All we have to do is focus on receiving grace and letting it wash over all of the expectations that we’ll never meet anyway. There should be hope in knowing that everything will be okay, even if the world is screaming at us that it’s not.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the holidays this year, try to quiet yourself and just reflect on what it means to have complete freedom from the bondage of all the expectations weighing you down. Let go of the ones that you can, and focus on just living in the grace of a God who loves you beyond measure. Don’t worry about all the things you think you have to do; inviting X number of people to church, reading your Bible and praying 30 minutes daily, or even going to church each week. All of these things are good, but if instead you simply focus on letting God’s grace wash over you, its immeasurable waves will flow into every part of your life and undeniably affect everything it touches. It’s impossible to fully live in the hope that grace gives you without it touching everything around you. In this way, you will naturally invite those who need to come, and you will be drawn to God in Word and in prayer. At that point, it’s no longer about what you have to do, but what you yearn to do.
God has offered to remove the weight of the world from your shoulders through his son Jesus. He took that burden, and all you have to do is put it down and never look back. Consider what the holidays could feel like if you no longer felt weighed down by the chains of expectations that you couldn’t meet. Imagine what Christmas could be if you clung to hope and rose above the darkness of your life’s current circumstances. Imagine yourself completely free, soaring high above the expectations and pressure of the past.
Now stop imagining and receive it.
I’ve had the unfortunate experience of living life with this inescapable feeling of being alone. God in the beginning of the Bible recognized that, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18
Early on in my life, my mother and father divorced, and my father was my primary caretaker. And I know now that there was always something missing in my life by not having a motherly figure throughout my life.
This affected my friendships. I would sometimes connect very well because of my personality, but I had more friendships and less deep meaningful relationships.
One of the ways I self-medicated was by turning to pornography. It didn’t start out that way, and there is certainly more than one reason I chased after pornography. But in the ten years I spent in and out of addiction to pornography, I remember feeling extremely lonely before and after looking at porn.
And one key idea I’ve learned in the past year has proven to be true in so many ways.
Addiction thrives in isolation.
For ten years, no one knew that I was struggling, let alone how much I was struggling with porn. And the enemy loved it. In isolation, I felt despair, disappointed, and unable to resists temptation in my life. I never really had any marked success to brag about.
And when my life fell apart in the form of divorce and losing custody of my son, I was faced with a very desperate need for something to change in my life.
What I was missing in my life, and also what I was missing in my marriage, was having something God was not just encouraging me to pursue but demanding me to take seriously.
I needed a community.
There is the age-old cliché that it takes a village to raise a child. That doesn’t stop because you leave home. I don’t think it ever stops. I believe that God gives us other people to help us grow through our hard times and struggles.
And after six months of success in my own battle against porn and the hard times life has thrown at me, I learned the hard way just how important having friends, mentors, and family in your life can truly be.
Now I know - when I stumble, my friends are there to help me get up. It doesn’t mean that I’m perfect, but it does mean that I can do better. I can be better.
And as it goes, “A burden shared is a burden halved.” The Bible says in Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” This command is born out in community.
The biggest turnaround and change I’ve seen, was the day my close friend and mentor told me that he was praying for me daily.
I didn’t feel judged or ashamed. I felt motivated and encouraged. It was as if someone truly believed in me to become the man God intended me to be.
And if it weren’t for community, I would have never received such a major blessing.
Hebrews also puts it really well in chapter 10 verses 24 and 25. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
If you are struggling with addiction, there is help; in the Word, at the church, and in a small group. You don’t have to be alone. Reach out to a loving, Bible-following community and watch how they will come alongside you in love and help you overcome.