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“Back to School” – words that cause a flurry of action.  For many, getting ready for the new school year means picking up schedules, meeting new teachers, and filling the annual school supply list.  Did you know that it costs an average of $75 to fill a school supply list for just one student?  For many families, this cost is multiplied because they have multiple children.  As  you can imagine, this can be a significant financial burden for many families in our church and in our community.

Our CG became aware of a household that has five elementary age children.  We obtained their school supply lists, and we provided back packs and filled them with the necessary supplies.  What a blessing this was for us!  We loved shopping for supplies for the little ones, picking out items we thought they would enjoy.  We were reminded of the challenges for families as they send their kids off to school.  And we were able to pray for the students and their parents.  God allowed the body of Christ to work together to give dignity to a family and put smiles on the faces of kids who were looking forward to their first day of school.

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As we ended our study on David, we saw David speak words of blessing over Solomon as he began his reign as king.  In the bible, fathers are often seen pouring words of blessing over their children.  Children are also told to honor their parents, and because only God knows the number of days each of us has, it is important to speak those words as God calls us to.  When my dad was turning 75, I felt a strong directive from God to give my dad a written blessing. We saw from David’s life that no family is perfect, that sin and selfishness plague us as people living in a fallen world.  My family was no exception.  My relationship with my dad to that point was pretty superficial.  He didn’t surrender his life to Jesus till he was in his 60’s, he drank a lot and my parents’ marriage was more of a battlefield than a picnic. And of course, I was no model child. I struggled to write what God asked.  So I began to pray that God would bring to mind what he wanted me to say. I ended up writing down 25 memories of my childhood, many of which I saw God redeem as I processed thru them as an adult, looking at things from God’s perspective rather than my own childish pictures.  Along with that, I wrote down 25 character traits I saw in my dad and 25 scriptures that went along with them.  It was a precious and redeeming experience for me. As God filled my mind with those memories, and the characteristics my dad displayed, and I pondered the scripture verses, my heart changed. I became thankful for all the things God used to draw me to him, including my family and all the hard struggles we have gone through. There was much laughter and many tears as I put the book together.

Some of the memories I shared with him were: I remember when I backed my car out of our driveway and right into a ditch several times early in the morning, and you would get up and pull it out for me. I remember seeing you take care of your aging parents, even when they were hard to get along with or started forgetting what was happening.  I remember how hard you worked with a few other families to keep St. James School open. Now there are waiting lists to get in because you saw the importance of it.

Some of the characteristics I loved about my dad were: Family was very important to you in the difficult times in life. I used Psalm 90:10 with it—“The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” You taught me that hard work is important and if anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Colossians 3:23—“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men, since you know you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” You wanted to protect us by knowing where we were, who we were with and what we were doing, which didn’t go over too well sometimes.  But that didn’t stop you.  Psalm 121:7-8—“The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going, both now and forever more.”

My dad’s birthday came and I had to leave before the gifts were opened, so I asked my mom to give it to my dad after the party was over. I wasn’t sure what his response would be.  My mom called me the next day to thank me for doing that and told me my dad cried when he read it.  A few days later I got a written note from my dad thanking me and telling me how God had used my book to bring peace to his heart, because he never considered himself a good father.  It was the first note I had ever received from him. And of course, my mom made it clear she would be waiting for hers in a few years. My dad turned 85 this year, but those books continue to sit on their table surrounded by family pictures as a reminder of the redeeming power of words of blessing.

In recent weeks, as I head out the door for work, it has become a common occurrence that our 2-year-old daughter has a moment of, let’s just say, “weakness.” That is, as I get ready to leave, she experiences a type of emotional breakdown and latches onto my leg, begging for me not to go. Since this started, I’ve been trying to explain to her that I will come back and she doesn’t have to worry. However, her mind simply does not comprehend what I’m telling her. For her, all she sees in that moment is her dad walking out the door, not knowing if or when he will come back.

Have you ever felt that way spiritually? Maybe you’re in that place at this very moment.

Many times, we go through these chaotic events, or even seasons, of our lives and we look up at God with feelings of hopelessness and we say, “God, where have you gone? I am all alone here. Are you ever coming back?” And we forget, or simply don’t understand, the promise of Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” [ESV] In this moment, Moses is speaking to the Israelites in a moment of chaos. As he is about to depart from this life and Joshua will come up to take his place in leadership. And the Israelite people have a “reputation” of messing up in moments of chaos, of forgetting the loving promises of God. So Moses uses one of his last opportunities to speak the truth in love to God’s people by reminding them, “You are loved and you are not alone. Even though I will die, there is One far greater than me who is always with you.”

Though the morning is a struggle for our daughter, one of my favorite moments is walking through the door when I get home. She drops whatever she is doing, she runs through the house and welcomes me with the biggest smile and hug. Far too often we forget, that we serve a God who does not leave us in our chaos, but rather One who has already gone before us and is always with us.

Be strong and courageous, because you are not alone. Do not be in fear, for you stand in victory. Rest in the promise that we have a God who looks at us with an unending and never failing love.

When chaos ensues we begin to believe whatever makes us feel better. Perhaps you’ve asked this question, “How can a god that loves me let this happen to me?”

Ever been there?

It’s easy to begin to believe that in a time of chaos, God must not be for us. We start to ask ourselves questions like, “Why would God allow such chaos to occur in my life if He loves me?”

Because of sin, we live in a broken world that God is redeeming to Himself, and He’s using us and our circumstances to do it. While God allows time of chaos in our lives, it’s not in vain. He’s using it for His glory.

Jeremiah 29 tells us that God has a perfect plan for our lives. For our good. And for his glory. We must remind ourselves of these promises. But also, we must remember the context of this story.

Often, we forget about the context and focus on the perfect plan and our good. We want the good and the prosperous but neglect His glory.

The Israelites in Jeremiah 29 had been wondering for a long time, feeling aimless, and waiting for God to come through on His promise. For 70 years they had been wondering. Generations have passed. Some may have been asking God the same questions. “If you really love us, why are we going through so much trial?”

How much more sweet is a victory when you’ve been defeated for so long?

It was Christ’s love for us that led him to bear the cross for our sin. To give us a living hope.

We must remember that our lives are part of a greater story. The story of redemption and of God’s glory. The chaos of our life points to the perfection of Jesus.

Consider it all joy brothers (and sisters) as you face trials of various kinds. Consider it an honor to be loved so much that God would include us in his story, both in the good times and in the chaos.

His love never fails.

I love movies about baseball.  Almost all of them.  The Natural, Bull Durham, Major League, The Sandlot, League of Their own, 8 Men out, 42, The Rookie…the list goes on and on.  One of my favorites though is For the Love of the Game, starring Kevin Costner. Costner plays an aging pitcher named Billy Chapel trying to prove he still has what it takes to pitch in the big leagues.

Chapel has a practice that he uses during games called “Clearing the Mechanism”.  This is where he drowns out all the distractions around him and focuses on what is most important, getting the batter out.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Detroit, Chapel’s team, is playing the New York Yankees at  Yankee stadium.  The scene is crazy. Every fan is screaming at Chapel about how he is washed up and no good.  The Sounds are deafening! Then Chapel closes his eyes and reminds himself to “clear the mechanism” then it happens, everything that is not important goes out of focus and silent.  All that is left is what is most important.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could clear the mechanism when our lives get out of control?  When the world is screaming for our attention.  The enemy shouting lies directly to our hearts. “You don’t have what it takes!” “You’re the reason bad things happen around you!” “How could God love someone like you?”  Chaos in our lives gets too loud for us, at times, that we can’t focus on what matters.  What does matter? Isaiah 26:3-4 (ESV) says You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.  Jesus is who matters. He is our way to clear the mechanism of life. He gives life. He gives peace. Peace even in chaos.

Our Prayer as we go together in the Gospel is that we would learn how to “stay our minds” on Christ.  The chaos doesn’t go away. Oh it is still there, but take heart Jesus has overcome all the things that distract us and make us anxious.  Does the thought of peace in the middle of our chaotic lives sound appealing? Open your bible and stay your mind on the one true living God.

Clear the mechanism.

 

2 Corinthians 10:3-5: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

I recently watched several epic TV series on war and noticed a few things about the weapons that were used: I realized that rifles, grenades, bombs, and the other weapons we usually associate with winning or losing a war, are less powerful than the words that are used and the beliefs that are formed in the minds of those fighting.  I just watched the Railway Man and was overcome with the strength that Mr. Lomax found to persevere during intense torture because he believed in the freedom he was fighting for.  In the minds of others, words had instilled great fear.

In the story of David and Goliath, we see Saul and his army paralyzed with fear because of Goliath’s stature as well as his words. Saul’s fear makes him totally self-focused, and self-protective. Then David comes on the scene and sees what is happening. David is more concerned with the reputation of God than he is for himself. He is, as we would say today, Gospel-centered, not self-centered. His picture of God was bigger than the giant that stood before him.  I love how he responds to Goliath after hearing how Goliath planned to kill David:  “You come to me with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts…This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand.” We aren’t told that David is fearful, but my guess is he prayed a lot before he went out to finish Goliath. What strikes me as more important than David killing Goliath is that his relationship with God was such that he allowed the truth of who God was to be the focus of his thoughts rather than allowing his fears to control his thoughts. He focused on the greatness of God rather than on his smallness. He focused on the strength and the power of God, knowing that this was God’s battle. He knew the truth of 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 before it was written. He knew the battle was greater in the spiritual realm than it was in the physical realm. Yes, he defeated Goliath with a small stone, but it was by the power of our great God.

For us, the best way to deal with fear is to surrender to God and rely on his strength, not our own. The giants we face today are the lies we believe that make us react in harmful ways that we “believe” are going to protect us, as Saul did.

The enemy of our souls has counterfeited the Word of Truth from God with lies that seem very convincing. What are the lies that feed your fears?  What are the ways with which you have reacted to those fears that are similar to Saul? What makes those lies bigger in your mind than the Living God, the Lord of Hosts that David knows?  What is God doing in your life to expose those lies so they can be replaced with truth? Who can you talk to about that today?

When someone wrongs how do you respond?

There is an all too alarming trend in our culture and in the church to pursue retribution or revenge – to avenge usually by retaliating in kind or degree.  We justify our actions by saying we are seeking justice – the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals. However, when we avenge ourselves, that is revenge.

One of the reasons we are prone to seek revenge is the mentality that if you seek revenge against someone who hurt or wronged you, it will bring some solace to your situation or make you feel good.  In a crazy paradox, there is research that shows when we seek revenge it makes it worse for our hearts (http://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/06/revenge.aspx).

Jesus actually addressed this issue when he said in Matthew 5:38-39, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.’” Jesus established a whole new law for how we are to relate to others.

Jesus calls his followers to be set free from all desire for personal revenge.  We don’t give up justice, but we can forgive!  The point is that when someone wrongs you, you don’t close the door for relationship.  Our sinful hearts want to say, “I cut you off.  I want nothing to do with you.”  The Christian says “what you did was wrong, and I want justice, but anytime you want to be in relationship I am ready.”

Think of someone that you have a desire to seek revenge against today and spend some time confessing and ask God to move your heart in a miraculous way that would enable you to keep the door open for relationship.

I have thought a lot about friendships after reading 1 Samuel, chapters 18 & 20.  I have the privilege of having a “Jonathan” friend in my life, so I understand the knitted together picture that is seen between Jonathan and David.  I recognize I had little to do with this knitting together; that is was the gracious work of God. There has been much chaos in my life and in my friend’s life since that time, in our own souls, in the lives of children, spouses, work situations, other friendships, and many more.  And we have relied on each other much during those times.  But the biggest truth for me is that in the middle of the hardest things, we have pointed each other to Jesus, our ultimate “Jonathan” friend.   And I believe we prayed for each other as much as we talked to each other.  I understand the wonderful gift I have been given by God and by my friend, and I know that this kind of friendship is rare.

But I also have other friendships that have not survived life in chaos. They either slowly faded away or blew up in a flash.  As I talked about this with several other women recently, we looked at the friendships from our pasts that are buried under little grave markers along the road of life labeled hurt, betrayal, unmet expectations, jealousy, forgotten, and many others.  We recognized that our experiences in friendships past have significant influence on our friendships present and future.  We decided to continue the conversation over the next few months to look more deeply at those influences not only on our friendships, but also on our marriages, and our relationship with God, who calls us his friends.

So here are some questions that you can think through as you look at your friendships:

  • What is your definition of friendship?
  • How are your friendships doing today?  Do you have any real friends today?
  • Do you allow your friends into the recesses of your heart and your sin, or do you have some “No Trespassing” signs?
  • Are you willing to let your friends be truthful with you, or do they have to guard what they say?
  • As you look at your past friendships, what are some of the grave markers that line the road of your life?
  • How did you hurt those who were true friends?
  • How have the hurts of friendship affected your relationship with God?
  • Have you been willing to seek healing in your own heart through the power of the Gospel?
  • How do 1 Samuel 18 and 20 make you long for deeper, Gospel-based friendships?

Have a conversation with a few people this week about friendship.

A few weeks ago, an old friend posted the following on social media: “For parents, realizing that you are not the loudest influence in your children’s’ lives is very hard.” That afternoon her teenage daughter took her own life. My heart grieves every time I see photos on social media as the family mourns, and I’m thrown back in time to when I sought to end the internal struggle that I myself battled.

As regular church-goers, it’s easy to feel immune to the stigma of suicide. Believing that Jesus is the source of all hope, it can be hard to understand how one who knows Jesus can feel hopeless. And when it happens, we are left confused and speechless.

In John 16, Christ reminds His followers that in this world we will have troubles. Life is guaranteed to have struggles: illness, mistakes made, unemployment, infidelity, loss of a loved one…the list goes on. Circumstances we face can cause doubt, regret, insecurity and more. So, how do you find hope in the midst of a chaotic life? How do you cling to the truth that Christ is the source of all hope and strength to help you persevere through hard times?

In this broken world in which we live -the society it breeds- screams lies at each of us. Our sin separates us from Holy God, and the purpose of the lies is to keep us separated from Him. Praise God that He sent His Son to make a way for reconciliation and relationship with God. Not only this, He has called us into family with other believers to live life, speak truth and lift each other up in prayer at all times, both good and bad. When the lies get too loud, we have a tendency to cover our ears and retreat from the world. What happens then, is that we close off the chance to hear truth and love from those around us, and eventually all we will hear are the lies…and start to believe them.

I want encourage you in three ways: first, don’t cover your ears! If you are feeling attacked, depressed, shamed or hopeless, find someone to speak the truth to you! You may have to walk through the noise, but listen for the truth. Community groups, Recovery and Counseling, and DNA groups are great places to get connected to truth. Surround yourself with people who are willing to dig through the mess to find the root of why you believe the lies.

Second, listen. It can be hard to tell if someone struggles with depression. Don’t assume the smiles and happy posts mean everything is good. Listen to others when they talk, question the things they say, and remind them of the unconditional love of Christ.

Finally, speak truth! Iron sharpens iron. Living life together isn’t just having a meal. It’s being willing to press in on each other, to help expose the vulnerability and point others to the strengthening hope found only in Christ.  Be louder than the lies!

In a world full of lies we must surround ourselves with those speaking gospel truth to us, that we can live the life God has called us to live. In a world full of lies, we must listen prayerfully to those whom God brings across our paths. In a world full of lies, we must speak gospel truth to all around us so that others may know and be reminded of their value found in Christ alone. Let the truth be louder than the lies.

Is it hard for you to give your money away?

Most of us would say, ‘it all depends on who wants my money’.  When it comes to paying for something that really benefits us or when giving to someone with a significant need, it is much easier to part with our money.  How about when it comes to paying our taxes, it is  often much harder to give it away,

The writer of the book of Hebrews, wanted to encourage his readers with a profound thought in regards to money: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  Hebrews 13:5.

Have you ever considered that the best way to protect your heart from greed is the experience of God’s presence in your life?  Money, property, things are always going to come in and go out of our lives.  But because of the cross, the promise of God is that He will never leave you or forsake you.

This week, when you purchase something, when you send your taxes in, when your paycheck comes, take a moment to reflect on and thank God that His presence and commitment to you is more valuable than anything money can buy.

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