Fighting the Good Fight

With Independence Day a few hours away here in the US, I was thinking about what that day means and what it’s all about, and a big part of it is the battle that the new nation (the US) went through with Britain to separate from them. Often we think about our spiritual lives in terms of things like hope, peace, patience, love and eternity. But there’s the other side of it that we don’t like to think about but often is our reality: the challenges we face on a regular basis. Sometimes those challenges are fairly innocent and easy to manage, but others really test us, maybe even causing us to metaphorically ‘go to war.’

The good news is that God goes with us whether we’re enjoying a walk through His creation or fighting for our lives. God is just as capable of fighting as He is the loving and the healing. The Bible is filled with many stories of battles, in fact that’s a big part of what the Old Testament shares, whether it’s of the Israelites in battle or of other battles and conquerings that affected them. There’s certainly reference to the military in the New Testament with the centurion and his servant that Jesus healed as well as Cornelius (also a centurion) who had a memorable interaction with Peter.

And then there’s one of the more famous passages in the Bible, the Armor of God, which talks about God equipping us to fight against the devil and the evil that he would throw against us. It’s a reminder that as much as we humans fight a physical war here on earth, we’re also fighting a spiritual one up in Heaven.

So this Fourth of July, Independence Day, do something to help the good guys win the fight, whether donating to a veteran non-profit, praying with someone who is struggling, donating to the local food pantry or even something as simple as sharing encouraging words on social media.  What will you do?

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The Hope of Possibilities

Can you believe we’re almost at the end of the month? Almost one month down in this new year. Before we reached the end of this month and the topic of this month, possibility, I wanted to take some time to talk about a very important topic: hope. One of the biggest reasons I love possibilties is because when you’re able to think about and come up with possibilites, there’s always hope.

Jesus was all about the possibilities and about having hope. He experienced some situations and people He had to walk away from during His years of ministry on earth, but most of the stories in the Bible about Jesus share the creative, surprising, and different ways He approached the situiations and people and their challenges that He met. If more people were open to Jesus and the possibilities and hope He could bring to their lives, I think we would have even more incredible stories recorded in the Bible.

What if the challenges you’re facing in your life are there not because you’re walking through a dark path or because God is letting you learn something? What if the challenge is because you’re not open to having hope in regards to it or open to seeing other ways that it could work out or be played out? What if God is waiting for you take a step in a new direction? What if God is just waiting for you to have a little faith in Him and what He can do?

Today I encourage you to open your heart and mind to hope. Look for another opportunity, another way to work, another connection, or take the time to stop and listen and look and see what you may have been missing lately.  Don’t give up yet, I have hope for you and God has a plan for your life.

“Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”” Matthew 19:26

The Revelations of Christmas: God in Christmas

I hope that you had a blessed Christmas with family and friends and that you were able to experience even just a little of the First Christmas many years later whether in your own personal quiet time or in church services. As we wind down this year and this Christmas season, today I want to talk about what Christmas really is: it’s a reflection on who God is.

God is big and bold:
It’s kind of hard for the shepherds to miss the big announcement regarding Jesus’ birth. With the stars and the angels and the heavenly chorus you would have to be an excellent sleeper to miss that. The wise men who also knew what they were looking for were able to track the star that God put in the sky to announce the birth as well.

God is in the little things:
God chose to send Jesus to earth as a baby, not as the ruler/master/king as some expected. God also chose to send an Angel to Mary so that she would know exactly what was going on and reassured Joseph in a dream that Mary (and the baby she now carried) was the right choice for him. These are pretty clear indications that God isn’t just about the big showy revelations, but is present in the little things, and attends to the little details.

God makes everything work out as it should:
A big part of the Christmas story is the journey to Bethlehem. The census journey that Augustus, the emperor, forced everyone on was a huge inconvenience for everyone, including Mary and Joseph. But it happened and fulfilled what was predicted many years before Jesus was born: that the savior would be born in Bethlehem.  Without the census that’s not where Jesus would have been born.

God has a plan for the future:
The book of Matthew shares the genealogy of Jesus. It’s a bit tedious to read through, and all it is is just a list of names. But what it says is that there were some pretty important people that we read about through the Bible who had a direct connection to Jesus. While anyone could have been in Mary and Joseph’s ancestral line, God planned that each of these special people brought the Bible a step closer to Jesus.

As we finish out this Christmas season, I would encourage you to spend a little more time reflecting on someone who wasn’t really the focus of the story, yet can be seen in every step of the journey: God. If God could line all of this up to lead to the birth of a baby, what miracles could He do in your life?

“Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.” Psalm 46:10

Christmas Light

You really can’t miss one of the main ways that people show they celebrate Christmas, whether secular or religious; the lights. They’re on houses, trees, businesses and light poles.  People drive many miles just to see what a particular house or street has created this year.  For people of faith though, light means many things.

Light helps us see our way:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.”  Matthew 3:1-12

Light should fill our lives:
“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.”  Colossians 3:16

Light is meant to be shared:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

Light means hope and promise:
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

Light begins with Jesus:
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.””  John 8:12

As you look around you and enjoy the sights of the season I encourage you to take a look at your life.  Are you shining light with the words you say and things you do? Are you teaching your kids what it means to be a light, even if that light is just about being a kind, considerate and loving person?  Are you focused on the darkness around you or on what the light shows?  Are you sharing a kind smile, a helping hand, a little love or even a little hope with someone?  Are you giving someone a reason to smile? Are you smiling at the surprises and holiday cheer that you see?  Are you sharing the message and story of the First Christmas?  Are you hanging lights and decorations to bring a smile to someone?

Yes, the holiday season has created many a grump, and there are plenty of reasons to be grumpy. But I believe that being grumpy is a choice, as is being filled with Christmas cheer.  Will you choose to spread light or darkness this Christmas season?

Ask, Seek, Knock: Success Steps

In thinking about one of our topics for the month, success, today I want to talk about a passage you’re probably familiar with, Matthew 7:7-8: “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” This passage about asking, seeking and knocking establishes a great guideline for us to consider throughout our days and what goes on in our lives.

Ask:
“‘No one has ever seen, no one has ever heard, no one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.’ But God has shown us these things through the Spirit.” I Corinthians 2:9-10
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” James 1:5
“Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.” Proverbs 12:15

First, asking is important because it means we’re willing to admit that we don’t know everything and are willing to learn. However we’re not always great at asking questions. Too often we ask the wrong questions, questions that don’t give us the answers we need because they’re not the right questions. We can get too busy asking things like “why me” and “how could you” instead of asking questions that will help us get the necessary answers and find solutions and help for our questions. Second, James 1 makes a point of letting us know it’s good to ask questions. God doesn’t criticize us for asking questions, only for thinking we know more than He does.

Seek
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Romans 8:35
“Your laws please me; they give me wise advice.” Psalm 119:24
“The Lord gives his people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace.” Psalm 29:11

Asking questions is important because they give us directions to learn and move in. If we don’t ask questions we’ll never be able to figure out what we don’t know and what God wants us to do with our lives. Once we’ve asked the questions we hopefully receive some wisdom and knowledge to use. We start our search with the knowledge that God will not be separated from us by the challenges we face and will give us the strength and peace to learn what we must.

Knock
“May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed.” Psalm 20:4
My father taught me, “Take my words to heart. Follow my commands, and you will live” Proverbs 4:4
“It is very sad that people leave the world just as they came. So what does a person gain from ‘trying to catch the wind’? They only get days that are filled with sadness and sorrow. In the end, they are troubled, sick, and angry.” Ecclesiastes 5:16-17

In the very action of knocking we’re going from learning to doing. You can’t knock without taking action. There’s not much good to asking the right questions and getting advice unless you do something with it. Throughout the Bible God encourages us to be wise and live lives that reflect the wisdom we’re given or find. Don’t waste your life, your lessons and your abilities, choose to make something of it all if not for you but because your lessons and your willingness to knock may be the difference between life and death for someone.

What questions will you ask, learning will you do and actions will you take this week?

Spiritual Labor

As we look ahead to this weekend and Labor Day here in the US, I thought we’d take a look at a few verses from the Bible about work and what God says about work.  A few of the results caught me by surprise, so as we head into the new month we may take time to dive deeper into a few of them.

Work:
“He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:37

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” Colossians 3:23

“The Lord will send rain at the proper time from his rich treasury in the heavens and will bless all the work you do.” Deuteronomy 28:12

“Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty!” Proverbs 14:23

“I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned.” Ecclesiastes 2:18

“Whatever you do, do well.” Ecclesiastes 9:10a

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” Zechariah 4:10a

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9

“Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval.” 2 Timothy 2:15

“When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned.” Romans 4:4

“Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.” Romans 12:11

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” Hebrews 10:24

God and work:
“But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.”” John 5:17

“On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.” Genesis 2:2

“Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.” Psalm 127:1a

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” Psalm 8:3-4

“For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” Isaiah 64:4

“For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.” Romans 1:16

“God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.” 1 Corinthians 12:6

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

What are your thoughts on (spiritual) work?

Choosing Compassion

I always find it interesting that the Bible is so full of topics that challenge us if we take any amount of time to really study them. From love and war to relationships and faith, the Bible is filled from cover to cover with unique situations, emotions and unique people who lived real lives and faced real challenges; many of those challenges, emotions and situations are things we face in our lives today. While most of us don’t have to walk to a well or river to get water and buy bread or flour at the food store, we still have to navigate relationships, governments, war, love, hate, jealousy, death and birth just like they did.

One of the things that comes through really clearly in the Bible is how people worked through the challenges in their lives. It’s something we study in history books as we look at historic presidents and leaders and famous inventors, but we read about more of the “normal” people in the Bible. We see how they navigate through potentially thorny relationships (think about Mary being pregnant with Jesus and Joseph initially planning to divorce her in the New Testament), we learn how they deal with bad news (Eli learned that his sons weren’t good and that God was going to judge them in 1 Samuel 3 and accepted it as God’s will), and we learn how they work hard because they love their families (Ruth worked hard in the fields to care for her mother-in-law Naomi).

The question is that we’ll all face challenges, but how will we choose to work through them? Will we work through them with frustration and anger, bashing things around, shoving others and pushing just because we’re unhappy with how things are going? Or will we choose to be compassionate to yourself and the people in your life? Because even if you’re facing a challenge and you didn’t ask for that challenge or put yourself in a position to receive that challenge you’ve still got a choice with how you’re going to deal with it. Will you choose compassion and patience like Jesus so often did or will you get angry at the world for what they’ve forced on you?

“The clearest and prevailing reason why Jesus did what he did and said what he said was because of his compassion for others, his tender loving mercy. Pray for the people whom you could be glad you are not like. Pray for them until you are ready to receive them knocking at the door of your heart.” Br. Curtis Almquist