Every day we make choices that either feed and nourish us or eat away at our souls. The problem is that they are disguised. Faced with the plain option of eating from a garbage can that has been sitting in the hot sun and has a rather pungent odor or enjoying a great meal in a good restaurant with a group of friends, the choice is obvious. But filling our minds with immoral thoughts or angry attitudes doesn’t readily seem to be choosing the garbage. Looking to God when we are weary or discouraged, doesn’t seem to be the banquet table. That is why Paul warns us in Colossians 3 to set our minds on the things above. He follows this up with exhortations to put to death our “earthy members” given to immorality and impurity. Paul tells us to lay aside anger and its companions. Learning to do this make take a little practice. But anything that keeps from eating out of the trash is worth it, don’t you think?
The first two Sundays of 2013 I encouraged everyone to use one word as a focus for their spiritual formation for 2013. I got the idea from a pastor named Mike Ashcraft who has used the idea with his own congregation for a number of years and wrote a book about it entitled, “My One Word”. For my own personal growth I chose the word “joy.” But as I have been reviewing the word choices posted on our word wall in the lobby I have been amazed and excited by the diversity and creativity at work in our midst. In my own life I have found the repeated emphasis on joy has taken me over and over again to some important passages that help me interpret things correctly. More than once I have found the gentle reminder of “count it all joy” going through my mind. So far I have resisted the temptation to say back to God…”really, you want me to count this one joy????” But I am pretty sure there will come something that may test that this year. I have been surprised how often my word has appeared in the scripture I have been reading or in other books and articles.
If you are interested in using “one word” for 2013, (and you don’t want to listen to the messages or read the book) use these guidelines to help you. First of all pray. Ask God to lay a vision on your heart for what He wants to do in your life this year. Secondly, think about what you have been reading over the past months that has touched your heart. What have you been feeling prompted to do, or encouraged to think about, or challenged by in recent weeks. After some reflection get a vision for the positive change possible in your life. This tool, (my one word) shouldn’t be a club to beat yourself up with over past mistakes. It should be a faith-filled focus for the future throughout the new year. If it doesn’t excite you, then you may want to reconsider.
Finally, if you do this, please journal about it. Give yourself the opportunity to look back at the year and praise God for what He has done. Feel free to write me too. I’d love to hear your story of how God has been at work through His word to you.
As an American, it is easy to tout the benefits of democracy. The governed should be able to speak into the plans of those who govern us. “No taxation without representation” was one of the cries of the American revolution. But as good as democracy can sound, what happens when a people vote for laws that are not righteous? Does a society set morality or is true righteousness rooted in something more permanent and solid than the desires of a voting public?
The recent vote in Colorado to legalize marijuana was the original starting point for this thought train. But that vote pales in comparison to some other votes that could face a society such as America in the future. But even serious questions that have and could face a voting public like abortion and same sex marriage aren’t the end of the story.
Which leads me to this realization. We have been invited by God into his KINGDOM. There is a righteous monarch in the kingdom of God. What is right and wrong is not up for a vote. It is etched in the fabric of the universe by the character and goodness of a loving God. That is why the world will never be fully right before the rightful king is recognized and worshiped. There is coming a time when every eye will see him and every tongue confess. This is why we pray Come Lord Jesus, come.
Jesus knows the way we live. He knows that our hearts and minds are quick to find fault in just about anything. There is something about this process that boosts our self esteem or inner sense of our own standing. Maybe we think, “Well at least I’m not like those people.” But Jesus says, do not judge. Really, do not judge. It’s so simple to say. But, hard to practice. Maybe we need to have listened and applied the other things Jesus teaches us about anger and desire before we will master this one. But in the meantime, I keep reminding myself. NVR. NVR. NVR. (No verdict required.) There are so many things I don’t have to concern myself with. All I need to do is keep my eyes on Jesus and love the ones around me. He can take care of the rest.
This morning I wrote in my journal “I am such a wimp”. A few days without electricity and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. Although I am very thankful our electricity came on yesterday, I thought about all the people in this world who live their entire lives without electricity and air conditioning and I felt mildly rebuked for my own impatience. Then this morning in our staff meeting this passage popped up in the mobile Bible app I use. So I read this from Romans 8.
“That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.” (Romans 8: 18-21 The MESSAGE)
Right now, things are not perfect, even for us who are incredibly blessed by the world’s standards. We need to remember that the world is not right. It will never be right until its rightful Lord returns to make it right. Then everything will be amazingly glorious. It will be beyond anything we could imagine. So let’s not lose heart. Let’s remind ourselves that the loss of electric power does not mean we need to lose the strength of God’s power working within us. Momentary difficulty need not defeat us. Let’s persevere in the mission He has given us. He will give us His Grace to do His work, even when the electricity is off.
Over the past 3 weeks we have been studying the Lord’s Prayer. I challenged everyone to pray it for a month. I wrote a guide you can download to help you do this. There is an entry for each day which will give you one thing to focus on during your prayer time. To get it, click on the link entitled Praying the Lord’s Prayer on the right under Other Studies. I hope you enjoy it.
If you have been around Christian circles for very long, it isn’t hard to come across a message that simply leaves you defeated. You feel like a failure. You ask yourself, “will I ever change?” It really doesn’t matter what the area is, your attitude, your thoughts, or your speech. Anytime you compare yourself to someone else, but especially to God’s perfection you know that you come up short. As common as this is however, it is really looking at the life God intends for us from the wrong perspective. Jesus is clear. He comes to GIVE us eternal life, not to beat it into us. We can never earn our way, or work our way into this life. The life God wants us to have is a gift. It is up to us to receive it.
Some of the way we receive it is by thanking God for what He says is true of us. For example, he clearly says that in Jesus we are children of God. God is then our father. We are family. When I begin to thank God for this something happens within me. Subtle shifts take place in my heart. Those subtle shifts lead to significant change.
One of the ways I am experimenting with this in my own life is to keep a list of “I am” statements. Of course there are amazing “I am” statements about Jesus. But there are also ones that I can make too. As I meditate on these in prayer I naturally begin to thank the Lord for His love and care. This is wonderfully encouraging and healing to the soul.
Here are a few of my favorites to get you started. See how many you can add to your list.
I am His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10)
I am loved. (John 15: 9)
I am a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5: 17)
I am washed. (Titus 3:5)
This year as I was reading Luke 2 in preparation for Christmas Eve I was struck by the contrast in scenes. The chapter begins with Caesar Augustus decreeing that a census be taken of the whole known world. This is human authority being exercised at the highest level. A few verses later we read about the birth of a baby in what can only be viewed as an insignificant setting among an insignificant people on the human scale of importance at the time. Yet we know this baby would do something so amazing that it would far outstrip any and every accomplishment by all of the Roman Caesars combined. His mother, Mary, noted this in her magnificent prayer prior to Jesus birth. In it she says “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.” There is incredible beauty and power in the simple story of this birth, this gift of a son who would change the world. I want to remember that the way to bring change to the places it is desperately needed is not by wielding the power of a “Caesar”, but by loving the way Jesus did.
Yesterday I mentioned this prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr. The first few lines of this prayer were adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs. The wording has been changed slightly as it is used and adapted by different groups, it would appear. This is supposed to be the original and unabridged version. As I mentioned on Sunday, I think it reflects a good perspective on running the race before us. There are things God calls us to do. There are other things we need to leave alone. They aren’t for us to fix. I think it is possible for us to place too much of our focus on the wrong thing. When we do this, we are distracted from running the race before us. We become tangled and encumbered. (Hebrews 12: 1, 2)
Why not pray this prayer for a week, and see how God blesses your perspective?
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Here is a quote from the introduction to the book The Divine Conspiracy. Dallas Willard is describing Jesus and his early followers.
“The early message was, accordingly, not experienced as something its hearers had to believe or do because otherwise something bad – something with no essential connection with real life– would happen to them. The people initially impacted by that message generally concluded that they would be fools to disregard it.”
As I read this explosions went off in my head. We try to get people to follow Jesus or else something bad will happen in the future. Jesus invited people into an amazing interaction with God NOW. Eternal life begins now and extends into all eternity. It isn’t something that happens to us when we die. It starts now. If you want to “go to heaven when you die”…try living with God now. Following Jesus is the way. The good news is He is still accepting all who will come to Him.