Who Is Your Audience?

Before social media, the word audience had a specific meaning that was associated with a public gathering of people, such as the audience at the movie. Nowadays the word ‘audience’ takes on a whole new meaning in relation to social media and the vast audience that exists there. Kids aspire to become YouTube personalities, or Instagram influencers, and even if you don’t have thousands of followers, you have an audience. Not only do you have your ownaudience that is seeing your content, you are an audience to someone else, and can constantly see their content as well. This allows us to, for more time than we’d like to admit, either silently judge others for what they posted or congratulate ourselves on what we put out there. 

Our audience extends way beyond plays, concerts, books, music or art. We have all these opportunities, maybe hundreds a day, to peak into the lives of others. We hear their words, see their videos, or read articles that are important to them. In this climate of easily accessible information and media, we as a culture have become EXPERTS at judging. It is no surprise that anxiety is on the rise in high schoolers, and that young mothers everywhere feel more pressure than ever to meet certain standards of perfection. We place unrealistic expectations not only on others, but ourselves as well.  

Self-righteousness creeps in when we see others and think we are better than them. Insecurity creeps in when we see others and think they are better than us. Neither of these attitudes is the posture that God wants for us. Paul tells us in Romans 12:3 “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

God calls us to a humility that is grounded in the assurance of salvation through a faith that is from God and not ourselves. In this humility and truth we can be free from judgement and comparison. In this humility we don’t need to be insecure, but rest in the security of God as our Father in Heaven who has made us each in His image and loves us as we come to him, broken and imperfect and in need of a savior. 

When we think of self-righteousness or insecurities as we compare ourselves to others we must stop and remember our focus needs to be our audience of God.  Instead of spending time on what others are thinking about you, and what you are thinking of them, dwell instead on the gift of faith and salvation that God has given us in Christ. Focus on living a life that is worthy and pleasing to a holy God, in humility for the faith, grace, and love that he lavishes on us daily.  

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down

(Some of you already hear the music in your head as you read this.)Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho…and the walls came tumbling down. 

In keeping with last week’s theme of testing our faith, I want us to consider Joshua and the Israelites conquering Jericho. And when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him. (Joshua 6:5) The shout of true faith stands in direct contrast to the whimper of wavering faith. 

Joshua 6:2 says, “And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have given Jericho into your hand…’” God did not say, “you should seize Jericho,” or “I will give you Jericho,” but, “I havegiven you Jericho.” Meaning, the city belonged to Israel already and now they just had to take possession of it. What the people could not understand was how? This task seemed impossible.

The thing that may be easy to overlook is that it was not simply the shouting that brought the walls down. How poorly was the wall building in Jericho that people yelling at it would make it fall? The shout of God’s people was a claim of the promised victory. It was according to their faith; so that when they shouted, He made the walls to fall.

God declared that the victory was Israel’s and they trusted in that promise. The book of Hebrews mentions this, By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. (Hebrews 11:30) God could have simply leveled the walls himself and let the people of Israel know what he had done, and they can go move in. But that is not what happened. Joshua and the people had to respond and follow the call of the Lord.

There have been times in my life when I needed to make a decision. And in those times I would have to ask, do I sit and wait on God to direct me or move in the direction I feel is right until God intervenes? Often times, God is working His will in our favor, but we have to step up and make a move. These can be scary times, but the ones where we see God do incredible things. 

Kid Tested, Mother Approved…

In 1978 the General Mills company introduced a new slogan for one of their products. That slogan was, “Kid tested, Mother approved.” They were appealing to parents. They were promising that this cereal, Kix, was loved by kids. When you’re a kid your only requirement for food was that you liked the how it tasted. You weren’t concerned about calories or grams of protein. However, if parents just let the kids choose it would be candy breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So, parents must make hard choices even if the kids don’t like it while it’s happening.

In the gospel of John, Jesus is speaking to his friend Martha. Jesus had just arrived at the memorial service for Martha’s brother, and one of his best friends, Lazarus. Jesus had received word that his friend was on his deathbed and that he should come quickly so he could see and hopefully heal this friend. Jesus, upon hearing of Lazarus’ condition, decided to stay longer in the place where he was. (John 11:6) 

By the time Jesus arrived Lazarus was already buried in his tomb and had been in there for four days. Martha, upset that he did not arrive sooner, tells Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus replied that Lazarus would rise again. He ordered that the stone be rolled away. Martha reminded Jesus that Lazarus was dead four days and there would be an awful smell. Jesus answered, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (11:40) 

Jesus looked to heaven, prayed and called Lazarus out of the tomb. John tells us that after this event, many of the Jews believed in Jesus. Mary and Martha knew Jesus had healed the sick and raised the dead. They had seen it first-hand. Yet, when Jesus arrived they thought he was too late! In their minds they believe that Lazarus was fully and completely dead, so they were out of luck. They believed that Jesus missed his opportunity. Their faith had never been tested like this. Jesus could have shown up earlier and healed Lazarus’s illness, but then people could write it off as Lazarus not being that sick. Jesus knew that the glory of God would be illuminated by raising his dead friend. 

We know what Jesus can do. We have seen it in scripture and we’ve experienced it in our own lives. So why do we still have trouble keeping the faith? You really start to see God’s influence when your faith gets tested. If you look back on your life where do you see God coming through in those tough times? When you struggle with doubt, remember that those where our faith gets tested are opportunities to see God moving.

But My Hands Are Full

I remember watching my kids play and learn when they were younger. Watching them interact with their environment brought endless entertainment. One of my favorite things to watch was when one of them would have a toy in each hand and want a third one. Instead of putting one down, they would often try to grab the third item not realizing that they couldn’t because their hands were full. They had to let go of what they were holding to grab something new.

The Apostle Matthew writes in chapter eighteen, “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV) What follows is the parable of the unforgiving servant. Essentially there is a king looking to settle his accounts and he discovers that one of his servants owes him 10,000 talents (1 talent = 20 years’ wages). The servant pleads with the king to not go to prison and the king forgives his debt. That same servant runs into a peer who owes him wages equal to 100 days, he chokes him and throws him in debtors’ prison. When the king learns of this, he scolds the servant and reinstates his debt placing him in prison.

We all have our own debts, our sins, and deserve judgement from God. However, we have also been given the great gift of forgiveness from God. Knowing all the things we have done and how much we have been forgiven shouldn’t we be able to forgive others as well. Too often we are the wicked servant in this cautionary parable. We hold too tightly to the things we need to let go of and forgive. 

So many of us are walking through life with our hands full, burdened by unforgiveness. We know how much we have been forgiven, and that God offered up His Son, Jesus, as our payment. God wants us to be forgiving. In knowing this we need to be able to put down the bitterness and hurt we are holding and pick up the opportunity to forgive others. It’s not easy. When the wicked servant was forgiven such a sum he could never repay, he should have been able to share that blessing with his friend. When you consider all that God has forgiven I hope you are able to share a small glimpse of that to the people that have done you wrong.

Fill ‘er Up

Over the summer I visited some friends in another state. While I was there I needed to put gas in the car I was driving. For a split second I sit at the pump waiting for someone to approach my window asking what I need. The issue is, unless you are in New Jersey (or Oregon), no one cares what you want at the gas station. They might get mad if you block the pump, but other than that you’re on your own when it comes to making sure you’ve got enough fuel in your tank.

Having a full tank in your car also give you a strange feeling of security. You know that for the next few days you have one less thing to worry about. In our lives we have a number of mental and emotional tanks that we must fill and expend to make it through the days. 

You mostly become aware of these when they are starting to run dry. I’m sure it’s easy to point out the last time something like your patience tank ran out, or your working hard tank, or your dealing with other people’s…um…nonsense tank. But the tank I’m most concerned about is your spiritual tank.

If you are new to the faith or dipping your toe in the water checking out church on Sunday or looking into parts of the Bible is enough. However, if you fully believe in the promises made by God through Jesus you are called to do much more.

James 4:5-8 says,
“…do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. When our spiritual tanks start feeling depleted we need to do the difficult work of self-examination. When’s the last time you read your Bible, spent time with the Christian community, or even gone to church. God loves you. God wants to spend time with you. God wants to fill your tank to overflowing so that the joy and fullness you experience is shared with everyone around you. But like any relationship it takes work on both sides.

Draw near to God. Let him fill your tank.

All You Need Is...

There was a cartoon I remember from when I was younger that, in a very 90s fashion, had a cartoon within a cartoon. The cartoon within the cartoon was a parody of the heavy-handed wholesome children’s television of the past and featured a group of bears that were all about getting along. Each episode would have them trying to make a decision, immediately agreeing, and then singing a song which said, “We are the [something] bears. We always get along. Each day we do a little dance and sing a little song. If you ever disagree it means that you are wrong.We are the [something] bears we always get along.”

Many of us act as if we are duty-bound to argue. We see the line above and our gut says it’s ridiculous while our actions make it true. And we feel the need to argue about everything: from the high stakes of politics to the low stakes of toppings allowed on pizza. We want to be right, always.

However, as Christians, we are never called to be right. At no point in the Bible are we commanded, “go forth and make other people feel dumb by proving them wrong.” Instead, we are called to love people, even people with whom we disagree. 1 Corinthians 13 is a pretty famous discussion about love. Even if you’re not a Christian you’ve probably heard it at more than a few weddings, but it’s about so much more than just the love between two people. The love Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13 is the high standard Christians are called to strive for.

1 Corinthians 13:2-3 says, “…if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” We can have and do all these great things for our faith but if we can’t love our fellow humans it doesn’t matter. 

Paul continues to define love in verses 4-8, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends...”

Some people are easier to love than others, but we don’t get the luxury of picking and choosing. We are to share the love of God everywhere we go. It’s challenging, it’s difficult, but how could the world change if Christians were known more for how well they listened than how much they attacked. 

Like the old hymn says, “they will know we are Christians by our love.”

You May Ask Yourself, “How Did I Get Here?”

Esther 4:14- “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Every year on our anniversary Christi and I have a variation of the same conversation reflecting on life, where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. It’s not something we plan, but I think it happens because our anniversary is less than two weeks after my birthday, and I’ve entered into that period of mid-life where every year that passes is another opportunity for me to analyze and question all of my life-choices.

The three parts of this annual anniversary conversation progress in difficulty. Talking about where we’ve been is easy, it has already happened, and we can recount the memories, laugh at the mistakes, and remember not to take ourselves too seriously. Talking about where we are at in the current moment is a bit more of a challenge. There are the objective realities that we can identify: the house we live in, the jobs we have, the organizations we’re involved with, the age of our children, and so on. However, there is also the philosophical task of interpreting all of those things. “Why did life line up this way instead of that way?” “What are we supposed to do with these responsibilities?” “How do we enjoy this season of life more?” These are the questions that fuel the majority of our annual conversation. And of course, that all leads to the question of “where are we going?”

My guess is that there are times where you are unsure how you got to where you are, and times you definitely don’t know where you are going. No matter how wise or hard-working we consider ourselves to be, much of our life and our current circumstances can remain a mystery to us. We know that somethingwe’ve done has contributed to our situation, we just don’t know which part or to what degree. We’re left to wonder not only why we are where we are, for what purpose, and what our future might hold.

Queen Esther faced a similar dilemma, as told in the Biblical book of Esther. She has been chosen by the King to be his Queen, partially because of her great beauty. But there is more to Esther than beauty: she is wise, she is loyal, she is empathetic, and she is also Jewish (a fact that becomes astonishingly important when an enemy of the Jews comes forward and tricks the king into issuing a decree that the Jews all be killed, and their goods stolen). Esther likely wondered how she had gotten to such a privileged position, now she likely wondered what the future would hold, and that’s when she got that encouraging word from her friend Mordecai. He asked her, “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

The implication is, you don’t know, but God does. The application is, be faithful, and stay the course.

When you come to that place where you wonder why you are where you are and where you might be headed, you can have the same type of confidence as Mordecai. If God has been faithful this far, surely, he will continue to be moving forward.

Bad Days and Barking Dogs

There is a dog that has been barking outside my office window all afternoon. And it’s not some big cool dog it’s one of those little yappy dogs. YAP. YAP YAP YAP. I don’t know if it’s barking at something, trying to get someone’s attention, playing with another dog, or just wants someone to call him a good boy. No matter the reason, today it is distracting and annoying. I have work to do, and while I can usually tune out as white noise like this, if I do notice it becomes all consuming. Today I noticed it.

For many of us there is a barking dog that we carry around. It is a thought or feeling that mostly stays in the fringes; we know that it is there, but it usually doesn’t pull us from our daily activity. However, from time to time, it rears its head to take all of our attention. Paul describes his as a thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul has just finished talking about how the only thing he wants to boast about is the great work that God is doing. He has the history and credibility to be well-respected by the Hebrew people and most Roman citizens. However, to Paul the only thing that matters is spreading the good news of the Gospel and using his life to point others to God.

We are never explicitly told what Paul’s personal affliction was, and I think that is a good thing. Once we see that someone else’s issue is X the temptation is to devalue their experience. We all know someone who had a similar issue, but theirs was way worse. Paul should just stop whining think about this group that are even sadder. Whatever this thorn may have been—depression, physical pain, money issues, the loss of a loved one, etc.—Paul used it as a tool rather than an excuse.

Most of us, like Paul, carry a thorn, some may even have two or three. Whatever our weakness or affliction may be I hope that it always reminds us that we can’t do this alone. Even in times when we want to tell God to just take it all away He tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12) It’s not what we want to hear, but usually it is what we desperately need. And Paul responds, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” We may never learn to love that barking dog, but in moments clarity we may be able to see its purpose

Jesus loves me this I know / For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong / We are weak, but He is strong.

Calling

People always ask kids the same question: What do you want to be when you grow up? You’ve probably asked a little kid this question yourself, and their answers are usually jobs like fireman, teacher, astronaut, or doctor. All respectable jobs, but what if we changed the question a little?

Think about the person you respectthe most in the world. This is a person you admire, appreciate, and hold in the highest regard. This is a person that if you grew up to be just like them you would be happy with how your life turned out. What are those qualities that you respect most about them?

I would guess that very little of what you respect comes from their job title. There is so much more to life than how people trade their time for money. We all have a God given calling. No matter what job you have when you finish school and join the workforce, God has put a higher calling on your life.

Paul, who was arrested for preaching the good news of Jesus, wrote a letter from prison to the people of Ephesus. 

In Ephesians chapter 4 he writes:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

 Verse 11 tells us that Christ gave us all these people to help us along the way. These are the pastors, teachers, and leaders that help us grow closer to God and live out the truth of his teachings. These are also positions we take as we guide and mentor others. We are all called to be the people that speak the truth in love and help everyone grow as we have ourselves grown.

So instead of asking, “What job do you want when you grow up?” we start asking, “What kind of person do you want to be when you grow up?”

The Great Adventure

Finish this sentence, the scariest thing I have ever done by choice was____. (This is something you’ve done of your own free will not a presentation you weren’t prepared for.) What made it scary? How did you build up the courage to do it? 

It’s no surprise that life is not always going to work out the way you want it to. Even if you think you have planned things perfectly, unforeseen circumstances can sometimes hit you in the face. You were excited for the cookout but now it’s raining and you’re sad. Life is supposed to go a certain way, but too often we deal with disappointment. 

There is a song that says, “with every broken heart, we should become more adventurous.” The hardest thing we can do when things don’t work out the way we want is to keep pushing forward.

James in chapter 1 tells us2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 

When we hear the word adventure we usually think of going on safari, or exploring Antarctica, or going on some crazy trip with your friends to find pirate treasure. The truth is all of life can be an adventure.

If you call yourself a Christian, then you know that you have joined something bigger than yourself. You are part of the community of believers and we are all in this adventure together. We are called to do challenging things, take risks, and step out on faith. God has a plan for your life and it’s a lot more than where you might go to college or what kind of food you’re going to eat.

In this adventure we are all on, called life, we must recognize that there are things that we cannot control. We can and should make plans. It is good to plan for your future; it’s okay to plan what you will eat or wear. However, when those begin to consume you, when every project is life or death, when you fear your neighbor’s judgment if you don’t have the nicest whatever on the block, when you get angry your post didn’t get enough reactions, you are not on an adventure you are in a cage.

God sent His son Jesus so that we can be free. Too often, we fight back against that freedom. Sometimes it’s because of our own choice sometimes it’s because of choices made by other people that have changed us. No matter what, life is an adventure, and while we will face setbacks, we are called to push through in faith and trust.

Pray about those things that get in your way. 

The Community of Believers

There’s an old African proverb that says, “if you want to go fast go alone; if you want to go far go together.” If you’ve ever gone on a long trip you know this to be true. You could make it in a few hours if so-n-so didn’t have to pee every 20 minutes.

Every party where you’ve had fun, every trip you’ve ever taken, and every church service you’ve attended was better because you shared it with the people around you. How awkward would it be to come on a Sunday morning and have the sermon preached or the band play just for you. In the church, if you want to do it right, you don’t have a choice. If you believe in the saving work of Jesus Christ, you are a part of the COMMUNITY of believers.

The community of believers is more than just the people in your own church. The Christian community spans the globe. Where ever a person is in the world if that person is a Christian that person is your brother or sister. Being a Christian is not something we are ever asked to do alone. In God’s eyes we are all his children who he loves very very much. 

In 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul encourages us by saying:

12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil. 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

As Christians we don’t have any secret power that eliminates the stress of daily life. What we do have is a community of people around us who want only the best for us. When you become a Christian, you join a family. We may not always get along, but when push comes to shove we should have each other’s backs.

How can you inspire others and be inspired by them?

We are in this together.

More Than Circumstance

Philippians 1:20 ESV - Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

This inspirational passage is from the Apostle Paul. He is writing from jail to the church at Philippi. Paul is awaiting trial and left facing the possibility of execution. But rather than feel sorry for himself, he is praying for boldness. 

Paul writes that it is his EAGER expectation and hope that he will not be ashamed. That word in the Greek that Paul uses is APOKARADOKIA(ap-ok-ar-ad-ok-ee'-ah). This is a word that scholars believe Paul himself coined. It is comprised of three different words and when combined, the definition is “to look into the distance with outstretched head.” To paraphrase, Paul is saying, “I can’t move my feet, I can’t move my body, but I’m stretching my head forward to the future and so I will rejoice.”

Talk about confidence! We wrapped up a series in Ecclesiastes a few weeks ago and what we learned was that life ‘under the sun’ is meaningless. If all we can see is our earthly circumstances in this broken world than we should just end it now. For unbelievers, life on earth is all there is. So naturally, society finds itself striving for worldly things. Paul is after the opposite!

Sometimes we are so consumed with our difficult circumstances that we lose hope. Paul reminds us to fix our gaze on what lies beyond this life. As believers, we know where we are going! This makes us free to serve and to focus on what counts without fear of death.

Think about that eager expectation that Paul had next time you feel stuck or trapped. You may not be able to move your feet, or your body, but lift your head up and stretch towards the future and rejoice. Remember that there is more in your life than your current circumstances. God is sovereign over all.

Say a Prayer today,

That Time John Fogarty Reminded Me About Prayer…

A long long time ago, there was a king named Ahab. Ahab, “did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him.” (1 Kings 16:30b) God sends the prophet Elijah to bring judgement in response to Ahab’s ways. Elijah declared that there would be no rain in the land until God gave him the word. No rain, not even dew. The drought that followed lasted three and a half years.

James references this event James 5:16-18, he says,“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” James reminds believers that Elijah was a man, a person, like you and me and he prayed that God stop the rain and He stopped the rain.

In January of 1970, Creedence Clearwater Revival released a song titled, ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain.’ If you have listened to any classic rock stations over the last 20 years, you have heard this song 1.6 million times and it has been stuck in your head just as often. Even as I write this, the chorus is on a loop in my head. Our prayers are powerful. Prayer is our communication to God. If Elijah had a nature just like us and God heard his prayer for the rain to stop, we can do just as much!

When we are able to learn and discern the will of God and align our will to His you will start to see incredible things happen. For that season of three and a half years, there was drought in the land. Everything dried up. Even the creek that God led Elijah to for survival dried up. When the Lord led Elijah out of that place by the brook, Elijah prayed, and God sent the rains. We may find ourselves in a dry place. It may seem that our path has hit a dead end. Be encouraged, when we come together and pray and seek the will of the Lord, He can bring life to that which seemed dead.

Be Careful Little Mouth What You Say

Jesus’ little brother sure has a penchant for convicting me of stuff. In keeping with last week, I want to share from the book of James. In chapter three the author writes about the tongue, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers [and sisters] these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:9-10)

How often have we heard unkind words come out of the mouths of other believers? How often do we hear it come out of our own mouths? Our words carry more weight than we even realize. Pastor and author Craig Groeschel calls it ‘Lethal Language.’ 

However, in the same way James tells us that our words can do damage to ‘people who are made in the likeness of God,’ our words can also be life giving. Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18 NIV) 

I can be quick with criticism, even quicker with sarcasm. It is easy to forget that each person I am speaking with, whether they believe it or not, is made in the image and likeness of God. If I were slower to speak and slower to become frustrated or angry, my words could bring more life. The only thing we are required to do as Christians is love God and love others. Everything else flows from that. All the laws and all the prophets boil down to those two things. Are we quick to encourage or impede? Are we as quick to compliment or cut down?

Being a native New Jerseyans (like myself) cynicism and criticalness comes naturally. What if we go out of our way to compliment when the thought runs across our mind? Early on in our relationship, my now wife would ask me if she looks nice when we went out. My response was always an emphatic yes, but the follow up was, “Why don’t you ever say it?” What I realized was that even though I thought to myself that she looked nice, I never said it out loud. I never shared those encouraging words. Whenever you think of something positive to say, SAY IT! Why rob someone of a blessing by keeping it to yourself?

It’s always the right time to be encouraging.

This Little Light of Mine

Here in America it’s easy to be comfortable, live in excess, and ignore people suffering around us. In James 2:15-17 we are warned against being all talk and no action: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” 

It seems as though we know just the right “Christian” thing to say don’t we? We can rattle off answers to difficult questions, thinking we’ve got this. Or we tell a friend who is going through a tough time, “Don’t worry. God will work it out.” How often have we said something like, “God won’t give you more than you can handle!” We are sure to pray very articulate prayers using the right vocal tone and utilizing dramatic pauses. We say all of these things, but often times our lives do not reflect them.

If we would examine Scripture, we would realize that we do not have all the answers. When a friend in need comes to us we offer them words or simply ‘thoughts and prayers’ or ‘good vibes’ instead of offering help. Our fancy prayers sometimes lack a humble heart. James writes to encourage us as believers to ensure that our words match our actions. He reminds us that a person who is not livingfor God is not alive at all. One of the four things we focus on at Restore is Mission. “We encourage one another to live our lives on mission for Christ.” We are His ambassadors and our singular purpose is to point others to Jesus.

In 2007 the Barna Group did a survey and found that roughly 85% of non-Christians viewed believers as hypocritical. How can we go and make disciples if we are not seen as genuine?  We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live lives that make a difference. What a revolution it would be if we all just walked the walk a little more? We can be the ones that change the world by first changing ourselves. We can live out our faith through our actions. 

Be encouraged, the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8 that the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. 

Remember that as you shine your light in your community.

Comparison, the Thief?

There was an article in Bloomberg Businessweek about recent research indicating that close neighbors of lottery winners were more likely to have financial distress due to overspending, bad investments, and bankruptcy. This real-life example of “keeping up with the Joneses” should cause us to pause and reflect on our own attitudes towards comparison—striving for what others have—and ultimately our well-being both physically and spiritually. 

Theodore Roosevelt is often quoted as saying “comparison is the thief of joy”. This cute little refrain now circulates the internet every so often. Well-meaning people (probably even myself at some point!) post this phrase with the hope that if we all do a little less comparing, we will all have a little more joy. In the social media age, the opportunities to compare are many, but is it just the comparison that is stealing our joy?

It’s pretty easy to break down this argument. Think of someone you love dearly, and for whom you genuinely want the best. Maybe it’s a parent, or a sibling, or even your own child. If you compare their talents, or their success, against your own, does it automatically steal your joy? No way. When I see the gifts and talents of others (especially my children) that far exceed my own, it actually increases my joy! 

It’s wonderful to see people use their God given talents for great things and be blessed in ways I am not. “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” Romans 12:15 says. The Bible also says that we all have gifts, and they are all different! Knowing the ways God has gifted us, or even the physical things we have, should not lead us straight to sadness or lack of joy when we see what others have. What is it then, that makes neighbors of lottery winners, or people looking at social media, strive to keep up with others in a way that strips them of joy and contentment?

The real joy thief is envy. We don’t like that word. No one wants to admit they are envious, but isn’t that the real culprit? It’s not simply comparing, it’s actually wantingor longingfor something that someone else possesses. The bible talks about this attitude often. James tells us it can lead to more sin, “For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16 NIV). Proverbs 14:30 tell us that it actually causes our body to deteriorate, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.”

What do we do? First, we must recognize it for what it is and repent of our envious ways. Name the sin and ask that God will work to rid it from your heart. Identify the culprits that lead to your envy. Is it scrolling through social media? Watching hours of royal wedding coverage? Choose activities that don’t stir up negative feelings. Then count your blessings. Literally, write them down on paper, put them on the fridge, and have them up to see. Even the simple ones - health, a home, family, meals on your table, flowers, waterfalls, and trees (some of my favorite things!).

Remember, it takes work to cultivate a spirit of contentment and joy. There will always be someone for us to envy. But if we recognize that envy is the thief and learn to “rejoice with those who rejoice,” the thief is stopped their tracks. We can live in the joy, purpose, and contentment that God designed uniquely for each of us. 

The Power of Perseverance

James 1:12
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Galatians 6:9
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  

We’ve been talking a lot in our house about sports lately, particularly softball as Jada is playing this year. It’s made me think about my own days playing softball and how incredibly difficult it was when I first started. My very first game, all I wanted to do was impress the older players and do really well. Instead every time I was up to bat I struck out. I choked back tears as my teammates gave me disapproving glares and promised myself to never play again. 

At times the temptation to quit can be overpowering. I think about all the times I’ve wanted to quit over the years, and all the times my kids want to quit now. It seems that it’s in our human nature to not be faithful. Things get tough, we get discouraged, the journey is too hard, and we want a way out.

God doesn’t call us to be quitters. He calls us to remain steadfast and not grow weary–and what’s more, he promises that by remaining faithful there will be a reward. Sometimes we get to see that reward quickly, and other times it may take years and years.

Are you growing weary of what God has called you to? If something is too much of a burden, our default tendency might be to think that it’s not what God has called us to do. Maybe we need to change our perspective, and continue to persevere through the hard times, to get to the fruit of our labor.

This weekend at a mother/daughter retreat I watched Jada get up in front of 100 people for a talent show, all alone, bright lights shining on her, and gracefully play a song on her violin. If I’m being honest, there were times during those first years, as she plucked out notes with her fingers, and her strings squeak throughout the house, when I wonder if she was wasting her time on the violin. Just a few years later, and she could confidently play an entire song. 

It can be hard to see the reward in persevering in things like parenting, or marriage, or jobs, or ministry. But we can be confident of this: when we remain steadfast and do good, we will reap a reward in due season. Take note that James has called this a promise, that in the end, there is a crown of life waiting for those who have persevered.

The Power of Perspective

The newest internet debate struck with a force yesterday as people everywhere debated whether they heard the word Yanny or Laurel in this audio clip (Listen Here).  This was likened to the 2015 Blue or Gold dress debate. This morning I had my whole family listen to the link, and while I heard Yanny clear as day, several of our kids only heard Laurel. How is that possible?!

These little phenomena bring to light a real-life truth, perspective matters. In the case of this audio clip, some simple modifications (type of speakers, frequency level) can change what you hear pretty miraculously. It’s not so different in real life. We may feel so strongly one way about something, but if we shift our perspective just slightly, we have a completely different view. 

The Israelites struggled with this repeatedly after Moses brought them out of Egypt. God did the miraculous through Moses, showing signs and wonders and sending plagues to Egypt and finally convincing Pharaoh to let the slaves go, parting the Red Sea, and even conquering Pharaohs army as they pursued them. Yet the people of Israel quickly changed their perspective as soon as they faced trouble in the wilderness. They began complaining to Moses, they’d rather be back in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh where they ate plenty, than the comfortless freedom they now had. Repeatedly, they grumbled and complained about their circumstances, instead of trusting that the God that led them out of Egypt, would continue to provide for them. Often this distrust led to more than just grumbling, and into blatant sin as they attempted to take matters into their own hands. For this, God kept his covenant to bring Israel into the promised land, but no one in that first generation (save Joshua and Caleb) would ever see that day.

I fall into this same trap of perspective in parenting. For years it was the greatest desire and prayer to become parents.  Everyone seemed to be getting accidentally pregnant around us and for almost 5 years we remained childless. Finally, through foster care and adoption we became parents for the first time. Now years later, those struggles sometimes seem so distant, and I take for granted the gift of parenthood, as I complain and grumble about the daily needs and demands of our children. If I shift my perspective, I can see the gift and joy of caring for little ones, even amidst the hardships. 

Whenever you are tempted to get frustrated about your circumstances, consider the perspective you are viewing them through. Are you trusting in the Lord or feeling defeated? Do you have a sense of hope or despair? Are you acting in faith or fear? Do you have a spirit of joy or discontent? Even small adjustments can lead to a real shift in perception. The bible gives us a perspective that offers joy, hope, and faith in light of our circumstances even when things are hard. When you sense a need for a shift in perspective, consider going to the Lord in prayer or to Scripture to see how you may view your circumstance through a different light.  

They’re Huge and They’ve Gone Sting Crazy!!!

Springtime, when the leaves come back to the trees, when people with allergies can’t breathe because the air seems to be 80% pollen, and all the bugs reveal that they have indeed survived the winter. It was around this time last year that I was attacked by a wasp. I was driving home with the music up and the windows down. I reach my destination turn off my car and reach to unbuckle my seatbelt. It is a motion I’ve probably done thousands of times, but this time it was different. Instead of push button, exit car it was feel something weird on the button then an intense pain in my finger.

I don’t like bugs of any kind, and for one to be in my personal sanctuary I react as anyone would in this situation and freak out! I jump out because, in my mind, the only way a wasp could be in the car is through a covert wasp nest that has gone unnoticed in my car for months. If there is one there must be a thousand more, right? It couldn’t be that she just flew into my car as I was driving around.

I am not being swarmed so I realize that it’s just a one-on-one battle: giant human me vs tiny mean stinger lady. I open all the doors hoping she’ll fly away but she doesn’t so I go on the offensive and defeat my opponent. I generally don’t like killing anything, but she drew first blood so that justifies it. Or does it?

From the wasp’s perspective she was just hanging out, minding her own business when this enormous thing almost crushes her, so she defends herself the only way she knows how by getting all bite-y and sting-y. There are times in our lives that we come across people like my wasp. We are going through life doing our normal everyday actions and someone lashes out. 

When this happens, our reaction is usually to respond in kind. We think, “They yelled at me, so I better yell louder,” or, “I don’t get even I WIN!” Neither of these attitudes do more than raise our blood pressure and cause division. We have been called to bring peace into the world.

Colossians 3 says, 12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

If you should come across someone that reacts like my wasp, take a breath and try to see what they are actually reacting to. Was it you? Or was it a situation in their life that you could help bring peace to with your compassion?

But I Liked The Old Way

Last night at, Theology at the Taproom, a group of guys started talking about how different the world is now than it was in the past—especially in the context of how we do our jobs. One of the more, um, experienced members of our conversation was telling us about how he learned to do basic computer programing using punch cards. You would punch the correct physical holes in dozens of cards, hand them off to someone else, they would physically load your cards in the computer, and it would run your program until it hit an error.

We laugh at how archaic the idea is now, but at the time this was cutting edge technology. It got me thinking about how difficult it can be to accept change. We hear about the laborious nature of this process and think that it would be easier to do your computing by hand rather than mess with this clunky machine’s punch cards, and I’m sure many people chose that option. Hindsight being 20/20 we realize it was the wrong choice; computers and the internet, with their slow and clumsy beginnings have grown to revolutionize how almost every area of our lives.

I’m sure if we think about it we can see a time in our lives when we’ve made the wrong choice. We want to stick with what we know rather than reach for something new. We think, “I’m used to the old way, I liked the old way, and I know how to make it work.” We see this all the time on the internet, your email provider or favorite social media changes their layout and people cry out, “YOU IDIOTS! IT WAS PERFECT THE WAY IT WAS! YOU’VE RUINED EVERYTHING!” Then we use it for a while, get used to it, and don’t even remember the old version.

This is how the Hebrew people felt when Jesus showed up. They thought, “we have Moses, we have the law, and the ‘real’ messiah would be supremely powerful over our oppressors.” To some Jesus was spitting in the face of the old way. They thought Jesus was disrespectful of the law and the prophets. But he told them in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Jesus interrupted their plans. They knew the law, how to behave, and to certain extent how to circumvent those laws. Often times Jesus presents us with opportunities that interrupt our plans. In times like this we must trust in Him even if it means taking a risk. God has called us to be bold followers of Jesus that are willing to do the things even if they scare us.