The Freedom To Love

This past month I’ve been looking into a lot of church marketing, growth, health and support topics and seminars. It’s got me thinking again about how people see the Church (any faith organization that fits under the ‘Christianity’ heading), and the people who attend. The world around us has done some serious changing over the past few decades and the Church hasn’t fully caught up. I can understand because it raises fears and questions of healthy boundaries and what is/isn’t secular/spiritual and how it all works together, if it does. But in many ways these fears and the slow and lacking transformation that have accompanied them have held the church back from embracing and investing in the digital mission field.

So going back to how people outside of the church view those inside of the church as well as the church itself, many see it as a restrictive and boring thing, with serious walls between church people and those outside the church, where you can’t do anything wrong (even though forgiveness is a discussed topic). And there is some truth in all of this, especially in churches that have a very old school culture and aren’t interested in making changes. For those of us in the church, the limitations and rules sometimes may feel restrictive, but often they result in bigger and better freedoms than those outside the church ever experience.

One of the most notable is one that’s very prevalent this week, and that’s the topic of love. One of the things we’re called to do, and free to do as much as we want, is to love others with the love that God teaches us about and Jesus modeled for us during His ministry. The word love is used throughout the Bible over 600 times depending on the translation, and is something that Jesus specifically challenges us to do. So as you work through the rest of this week including Valentine’s Day, I would encourage you to pick up that challenge and show love to those you interact with, in both big and little ways.

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Galatians 5:13

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Asking for Wisdom

Something that’s challenging for some of us is asking for help. Sometimes we know we need the help and ask for it but then try to place all kinds of conditions and limitations on the help or micromanage the person or people that we have helping us. All of that quickly turns into frustration for everyone involved, because the helper doesn’t feel as though they’re appreciated or able to truly help and the person who needs help gets frustrated by things not getting done to their limiting requirements.

I recently read a Bible verse that spoke to the topic of asking for help, James 1:5: “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”

First and foremost this verses say that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or a failure or bad, it means you recognize you’re in too deep, out of your areas of expertise, struggling, overwhelmed or just unsure. You don’t have to be or know everything to be an amazing person, the person God created you to be.

Second, this verse doesn’t say how God will respond, only that He will respond. He may send you an article, video, social media post, radio show, bit of inspiration, random stranger or any of other countless answers. Sometimes it will be the wisdom you need to take the next step, other times it will be a revelation of several steps, sometimes it will be a firm no, and other times it may just be the reassurance that God is going with you on the path you’ve chosen.

This week I would encourage you to ask for help and release some of the rules, limits, pressures and requirements you may put on that help or the answer.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the way that God and people answer and support you.

Conquering Fears

This week I read an interesting Bible verse, it was Psalm 112:7 NIV which says: “They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” Let’s unpack this verse a bit.

The first thing this verse talks about is not having fear. I don’t think we can truly escape fears or not experience them, fear is part of the human experience whether we’re talking heights or spiders or of broken hearts or cancer or drowning. I think it’s one of the things that’s hardwired into us. It’s also a learning experience and warning indicator for us: when we feel fear we know that we need to take a step back and evaluate what’s going on.

But the difference is that fear doesn’t have to take over our lives or make us incapable of moving through the fear. God gives us the strength to experience the fear, recognize what is scaring us and move on. Sometimes moving on means a new path or new plan (you’re making changes as a result of the fear you’re experiencing), other times it just means we recognize the fear and move on (for example not jumping into the pit of alligators but rather walking past or around).

Fear can absolutely control us, so it’s up to us to choose not to let it have the final say in what decisions we make. Instead when you’re faced with fear I would encourage you to take a deep breath, take any immediate actions necessary and/or evaluate next steps before taking action knowing that God will be with you every step of the way, and then move on to continue in the plan He has for your life.

Believe God Can

Recently the phrase came to mind “believe God can.” I like the phrase because it’s empowering and encouraging at the same time. It is a reminder for us to have faith in God, to believe that God can, to believe in God’s power, and to believe in His engagement in our lives. It’s a hopeful phrase that gets us thinking beyond where we are and whatever we may be stuck in, to a healthier place hopefully with a better attitude which will help us keep going through our challenges. The phrase “believe God can” is a challenge to us, to trust in God and His plan, that He’s got it all under control even if it doesn’t seem that way to us with our mortal and limited ability to see and know.

With Martin Luther King Jr. day yesterday we were reminded of a man who inspired many others to believe, to take action and to hold out hope for a better tomorrow when we all work together. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man of faith, beginning his work in churches and among faith communities. He was able to speak to the lives of many outside the church as well, but his work started with the belief that he believed God could do great things.

Psalm 20:4 says: “May He grant you your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed.” While God can and does do many things, including things we never see happen, most often we come to Him with a specific desire in our hearts and minds, hoping that He can (and will) do something for us. If you haven’t lately, I would encourage you to find time this week to check in with your heart and think about what you desire in your life, and if you’re working and praying to get to that point, or if the course you’re on is not going to take you where you truly want to go. God may be able to and plans may come to pass, but if they’re not truly what you desire you’ll be disappointed in the end.

Living with Compassion

I love subscribing to verse of the day emails because they often send that little reminder that you needed that day, and didn’t even know you needed. Reading through the Bible is important because it’s an important part of your spiritual growth, development and relationship with God, but sometimes the Word you needed that day isn’t in your current reading, which is where the verse of the day emails come in. They’re also a great opportunity to hear the Bible in different translations than you typically read, giving you new perspectives on what’s in the Bible.

In a recent email came Ephesians 4:31-32 which says: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

We’re just over 2 weeks into the new year and already some new year’s resolutions are being let go (although I hope you’re still working on yours!). I know, it seems a bit of a waste to take the time to make them if you’re not going to keep them, right? Well, what if instead of trying for a full year you just worked on doing better today? What if you chose to work on one of the tasks Ephesians 4 lays out in the verses I shared? What if you worked this week on being less bitter, or reducing your anger, or being kinder to those you meet, or learning to forgive others or yourself?

Those may sound like big goals to accomplish (maybe even bigger than your new year’s resolutions), but just like new year’s resolutions they’re achieved one step at a time, one day at a time, one choice at a time, one interaction at a time. You may even find that working on the tasks of Ephesians 4 to be more helpful to your life than the new year’s resolutions you picked for this year.

Will you choose one of the tasks in Ephesians 4 to work on this week?

The Day the Lord Has Made

As I was working on my weekly devotional this week, one of the verses that came to mind was Psalm 118:24 (ESV):

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

I think it’s a great verse to start the year off with, because it reminds us up front and center that this day, with whatever goes on in it, is a day that the Lord has made. I don’t say this to make light of whatever challenge you may be facing today, some days are absolutely brutal with their expectation of you and what they throw at you. Some days all you can do is make it through with as little damage as possible, and some days even that doesn’t go so well. As much as we might like to hope that because it’s a day God made that everything would be great, that’s just not the reality of living here on Earth.

So what can we be glad in when we face one of those days? I’d focus on the fact that there’s a day after today that hasn’t happened yet. As long as you keep living and pushing through, you’ll get to the next day, a day that is a blank slate and you can do almost anything with. You can’t erase the past, but you can build a different (better/bigger/quieter/healthier etc.) future. Today may not be a rockstar day, but it can teach you what you need going into the future. It may give you an experience you can use to help yourself or someone else in the future. It may be the motivation you need to make changes in your life.

What will you do with this day the Lord has made?

Hope and New Beginnings

We’re just days away from the year, some of us have already packed in this year and are eagerly trying to urge the days to move quicker and get out of 2018. I’ve got a couple more blog posts in store between all my blogs before the end of the year with some reflection, anticipation and hopefully words of wisdom before we get there.

In Philippians 2:4 it says: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” In 2018 (and 2019) I don’t think it’s possible or right to not consider yourself and your own importance, but I don’t think that it’s right to only focus on yourself and never on how your life impacts or could impact others. Everyone, from the biggest leaders to youngest children should consider the impact they can have on the world, and on the feelings, hearts and minds of others.

Today I read an article about the Queen’s annual Christmas message, she spoke about the Biblical Christmas story: “I believe his message of peace on earth and goodwill to all is never out of date. It can be heeded by everyone; it’s needed as much as ever.” and about how to navigate this world of uncertainty, change and differences of opinion: “Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding…”

We could try and conquer world hunger in 2019, and honestly I think solving world hunger would be fairly simple to do if a few people would put their minds to it and more people stepped up to the plate to follow through on their directive. As impressive as it would be to do that, there’s something that I think is more important and as as big or bigger of an impact, and that’s doing our best to be at peace with and have respect towards each other.

It’s easy to make a snap judgment about someone, but it takes a little more care, compassion and heart to stop for all of a moment and really see them and really listen to them. It’s my hope that 2019 is a year of beginnings of respect and goodwill to all mankind.