The Whole Package

David was a man who got things done. If there were sheep to tend, he protected them from anything that might harm them. If there were giants threatening his nation’s army, he killed them. If there were battles to fight, he won them. God’s glory was his primary motivator, and David accomplished great things for Him. The only times David got into trouble were when his ambition went ahead of God’s directions. The Ark of the Covenant was not in Jerusalem where it belonged and he became determined to get it there. But God had given specific instructions as to how His dwelling place was to be moved and David didn’t follow them; as a result, a man named Uzzah died. David’s heart was in the right place, but his procedure was wrong and that made the difference between success and failure. Here’s what he had to say afterwards when he had stepped back and evaluated his actions and their results:

“It was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that the Lord our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of him about how to do it in the prescribed way.”

This turning point on David’s endeavor came after He had taken the time to evaluate what went wrong and how to fix it, and the lesson I’ve learned from this is that I need to take the time to fully hear and understand God’s directions before I act. God has requirements that are for my good and His glory, and there are negative consequences when they are not followed. My heart needs to be in the right place and my actions need to line up with them. I cannot be successful when I am only partially following God; I need to completely follow His directions.

This crazy world wants to carry us along at a breakneck speed, trying to convince us to act before we think. Follow your heart and do what feels good, they say; but that philosophy never ends well in real life. The only way to successfully follow Christ is to be too deeply rooted in Him to be moved by anything else. In the words of the Psalmist,

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

 Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.
 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

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Giving to Receive

In the past few weeks, God handed me an incredible blessing that I am beyond thankful for. He went above and beyond my limitations to achieve something I could not have on my own, and He grew me tremendously in the process. But this blessing came with a challenge; I need to give some things up to take it because I cannot receive anything when my hands are full.

Why is it so hard to let go of things, even when I know that I’m only exchanging them for something better that God has for me? Because My point of view has been distorted. Even though I know that life is a series of seasons, I automatically expect that things will stay the same for a lot longer than they do and I let certain things become a security blanket of sorts. This happens when I take God’s blessings for granted and forget that they are His to take and give whenever and however He pleases. My Heavenly Father only gives good gifts, and He only asks me to give something up if it will be to my benefit.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this particular struggle I’ve been working through is that it feels so dumb. I need to give up some things to take a job, and the thing I’m struggling to give up most it the majority of my vegetable garden. Yeah, I told you it was dumb. But I realized that the struggle is because my garden had become an idol to me. It is something I love doing, something I am fairly good at, and a lot of people know me for it. Also, it has been a way for me to deal with stress because it was a great place to escape. I could think, pray and physically work the stress out of my body – and I could do so in solitude because my family knew that I would try to put them to work if they came close enough. I could work hard and tire myself out enough to sleep well at night. In short, it was an easy way to deal with life. Letting go of my big garden is not easy because of what I allowed it to become. It filled a need I had during the time I had it, but I took it for granted and in my mind forgot that God can fill my needs in different ways as He takes me different places.

God has given me an incredible opportunity with my new job, but He is just asking for trust in exchange. Trust that He can take care of my stress and be my refreshment. Trust that He alone can take me where I need to go and keep me there for just as long as I need to be. Trust that He is more than able to sufficiently fill my needs.

Stop Living Fake!

Saying that I don’t like fake is an understatement. It’s a lie to the people around me, and it’s also my way of trying to convince myself that I have my act together. It’s a game I played for a long time before something clicked and I realized that it’s okay to be myself. There is nobody else like me, and owning that reality was frightening; but I have found that while it may be difficult and uncomfortable to truly be my own person, I’m a lot less miserable and a lot more free then I was. Why should I clutch a security blanket when I can hold my Father’s hand?

But along the way, there are the days when I feel like I’m backsliding into a fake version of myself again. Similar to trying to be somebody I am not, going where God leads feels unnatural and uncomfortable at first and that is only because I am not used to it. When I try to be like everybody around me instead of being the person God made me to be, I am settling for a fake version of the real person I could be. Figuring things out takes time and failing along the way is a part of the growth process, but I need to constantly be evaluating who I am trying to be. When I am the real version of myself, I recognize that God has given me strengths and I strive to use them. I still struggle every day to be confident in my God given abilities, but if my focus is on Him and who He wants me to be I cannot go in the wrong direction. There are times I feel that I am being cocky – and I do constantly need to keep myself in check to avoid that – but there is nothing wrong with being confident in my abilities if I fully acknowledge where they can from and where they should ultimately be directed.

I’m not saying that I’ve figured it all out and am never fake, just that I’ve discovered the joy and fulfillment of being the person God created me to be and that it becomes more natural as I spend more time in this place. Letting go of fake is like cutting dead weight, and it is truly a relief when it is gone. After all, I don’t serve a fake God. He is real with us about who He is and who we are, and there is no chance of ever faking Him out. He calls me to be like Him, and that includes being real and honest with myself and others about who I really am. I’ve found that I get disoriented until I look to Him to tell me who I really am. Who can know me better than my Maker?

Respect: A Product of Perspective

In my opinion, one of the biggest issues characteristic of my generation is simply this: we are so self centered that we have lost almost all sense of respect. We are so wrapped up in ourselves and our agendas that we fail to step outside of ourselves long enough to see and acknowledge the value in other people. We want respect from other people but are unwilling to give it to them, because that would require time and effort on our part.

This lack of respect that characterizes us stems from the fact that we’ve failed to understand and respect our Maker, and in doing so we’ve swallowed the lies from the world. We are here by random chance, they say; so fight to make the most out of what you have. The only way to make a lasting impression is to fight to the top of the ladder and stay there as long as you can, no matter the people you trample in the process. So they say; but that’s not what God says. No, He doesn’t say to be a pushover, but He does tell us to prefer others over ourselves – and there is a difference. One bows in fear and the other bows in love. He says to treat others the way we ourselves want to be treated, and He lived this out during His time on earth to leave us an example to follow. When we show people respect, they will generally show it back – and even if they don’t, we are still responsible for our part. But why can and should we do this? First, because God says to, and second because each person has value given to them by God. Satan has tricked many into believing that he can take their God given value, but nothing can take what God gives, and God’s gifts are the only things that will last beyond this earth.

The fact is that we are no better then the people around us, because that is not how God works. He gives us each different strengths and weaknesses, but these things should pull us together instead of pushing us apart. This life isn’t all about me and it’s time I stop acting like it is.

New Seasons

There have been significant changes in a few areas of my life over the past few months, and there are also a few other areas of my life that I don’t know exactly where I am or where I will end up. It is making me squirm, it is making me stretch and grow, and it is just uncomfortable in general. I stress out because I don’t know what’s coming, then I realize later that God was taking care of the problem while I was worrying. Transitioning from one season to the next is never easy, but it’s just a natural part of the growth process. The number one thing that I’ve been learning in this time is that it really is possible to have peace in these times, but only when I am cultivating my relationship with God. When I truly know God, He will be a part of my everyday life and my words will be more than noise because they have something solid backing them up. When He calls me to the next season of life, He is just asking me to lean on what I say I trust.

There is something to be said for ‘owning’ whatever season of life I’m in because I cannot be fruitful if I am not inwardly certain that I can really trust God. But it’s so easy to take it to the extent of making my season a part of my identity, and I think that is one reason why God has different seasons for us. Being in the process of entering new seasons of my life makes me stop and evaluate so many things, such as, where do I find my identity? And why do I do what I do? I am forced to depend on God, because when I don’t know where I am going, there is no room for self dependence. But while it may seem like I am giving up things I’ve worked for, God is only asking me to trade it for something better. After all, anything I have is ultimately from Him. What right do I have to hold onto anything? I can’t win the battle if I have shortsighted vision; this earth is not my ultimate home, so there’s no sense in focusing on getting comfortable.

Everyday Faith

In a conversation with a friend the other day, she said something that stuck with me; “I hate it when people say good things about me to my face. I just wish they’d say the bad things!” “Yes,” I replied, “because those are the things we know are really true about ourselves.”

But why is it so hard believe that there are good things about ourselves? Why do I have so much trouble trusting God when He tells me how much He loves me and how much worth He has given me? Why is it so hard to believe that over the voices in my head that remind me of all my shortcomings and disabilities? Because my focus is often in the wrong place. I trust myself more then I trust Him, because I have a tendency to believe what I see instead of making the choice to live by faith.

Yes, I have flaws; but the God I serve is bigger than them. I am not so flawed that His grace could not cleanse me of my sin, so why do I think that it is too hard for God to use me in spite of my flaws? When He formed me in my mother’s womb, He made me a unique individual unlike anybody else who has been or will be on this earth. That means that I have a distinct set of abilities that nobody else has, and with that I have a responsibility to use them. But the fact that I am a unique individual can be taken in one of two directions; I can be petrified into inaction, or I can be completely free to truly be myself. Satan tells me that there is nothing new under the sun, so could I possibly have to offer? He tells me that if I am unable to accomplish __________, then how could I possibly accomplish anything of importance for the glory of God? But God is telling me not to be afraid because He will never leave or forsake me. He is telling me that He has an incredible plan for my life, and His plan is for my good and His glory. And most of all, He tells me of His love that I can neither earn nor lose.

I cannot completely be myself and fulfill my purpose while I am trying to be like other people. I cannot play the comparing game and effectively fulfill the role He has given me to play. After all, God is my creator; shouldn’t His opinion matter more to me then anybody else’s? It is my choice which voice I will listen to. It is up to me to decide if I live in fear or by faith.

Power: A Weapon or a Tool?

Life is full of change and unpredictability, and things are always changing for better and for worse. Power constantly shifts from person to person because everybody is hungry for a piece of the pie. But sadly, the power we want isn’t real power at all because man’s perception of power was one of the things that was distorted when sin entered the world. The power man has is nothing like the power that God has. God’s power was never used for His benefit, and it has always been motivated by His perfect love for us. Human power is rooted in pride, but God’s power is rooted in love. Human power is oftentimes a brute force that accomplishes things in the present moment, but in the end leaves great scars on the people affected by it. God’s power acts only for our good, even though it leaves Him with scars from our rebellion. Jesus has scars to prove His power that was rooted in His love for me; can the same be said for me, or am I the one leaving scars on other people? God’s power is manifest in me when I have the self control to submit to Christ and make effort to be more like Him. This is perceived as weakness in the eyes of the world, but it is real strength because I am weak until I allow His strength to dwell in me.

People and cultures change just as surely as seasons do, and there is nothing we can do to control it. The only thing we can control in any situation is ourselves. We are responsible for our words and actions; but more importantly, we are responsible for our beliefs that control our words and actions. The most important decision we are responsible to make on an everyday basis is if we will trust that God has as much power as He says He does. Then, we are responsible to act upon our decision. Real power alive in us is to recognize our lack of power and rely on the only source of real power. He has it, and we have access to it!

Fight Forces, Not People

As Christians, we are a part of the family of God, but I can’t help but notice just how dysfunctional of a family we are. When our focus strays from Christ to ourselves, we fight all the wrong battles, and the end result is chaos that hinders God’s work. We shun people just because we don’t agree with them, but bickering and fighting with one another is not what we were put here for. We are called to unity through humility, and that is only accomplished when we shove our agenda aside and pick up Christ’s. Our fighting should not accomplish pulling one another down; it should end with the evil strongholds in this world being destroyed.

Our biggest source of conflict seems to be simply due to the fact that we are all so different, but diversity is a really beautiful thing and we are so much stronger and effective when we embrace this God given reality. He made us all differently so we can 1) be drawn to Him through His creation and 2) learn from each other. I’m not denying that there is no time or place for challenging one another in the Lord, but why are we so divided by minor differences? Why can’t we focus on the areas we agree on more instead of being so offended because we disagree in areas that really aren’t all that important? We’re just shooting ourselves when we behave like this! God gave us each other for support, but we won’t have that backup support if we push each other away. We have been called to fight together, not against each other. Satan’s strategy of ‘divide and conquer’ is all too effective in keeping us from the real battles. It breaks my heart to see the church so divided by this issue, but the only thing I can do is pray about it, and pray for strength and discernment so I can fight the battles of real importance. Because I know that when I get caught up in fighting my own battles, I am too busy to fight the spiritual battles that are of far more importance.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  Ephesians 6:12

Our Eternal Gift

Christmas is over: the gifts have been unwrapped, our bellies have been stuffed with those special treats we only enjoy once a year, and another year of memories are in the books. Christmas decorations will soon be taken down and be put in storage until next November, special family recipes will be put away, sentiments of joy, peace and kindness will be packed up to put on a dusty and soon-to-be-forgotten shelf in our hearts, and some of us will also pack away the wonder of the season and live as though Jesus’ birth is little more then a date on a calendar instead of an even that changed the course of history.

But why?

If Jesus is the greatest gift, why do I give in to the temptation to only celebrate Him for a few days of the year? If my life is supposed to be lived for His glory, why is it so easy to live selfishly for all but a few days of the year?

I think my problem is that I take His sacrifice too lightly. I don’t study the big picture long enough to be impressed properly by it, and all too often I stop short of the real miracle. I go back to the manger without thinking about the journey from Heaven’s glory to the barn He was born in. What is so awesome about this gift is that that our eternal God took off His eternity for a brief period of time and entered His creation as if He was a part of it. He didn’t consider His glory something important enough to hold on to because He loves us more than He loves Himself and every privilege that He rightly deserves! That is the real miracle of Christmas – and of Christianity in general – that it is all too often overlooked because I am shortsighted. God became man, but God is also eternal. He entered time and space for us, and all I tend to focus on is the time He spent with us and not the rest of the story. I am so quick to forget what He gave up to save us. I am old enough that certain things have become routine, but there is nothing routine about my Savior and what He did for me and I cannot put Him in the same category as the things of this world.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

-Philippians 2:5-8

What Made The Magi So Wise?

It’s that time of year again when we see nativity scenes everywhere, and while we know a lot – or at least can speculate – about most of the figures in these sets, there are are three characters who are clouded in mystery. These men, known to us as the ‘Magi’, simply appear in the story following a star, find and worship Jesus, then disappear back where they came from. There is no background story, no record of what drew them in the first place, and no record of how their journey affected them. Nobody knows much about them, and I think the reason for that is to help us see a bigger picture. From the records we do have, it seems plausible to say that they were the intellectuals of the day and it is very likely that they had extensive knowledge in the field of astrology.

However, the thing about human wisdom is that it is obsolete soon after it is declared to be true because God and His wisdom are the only things that are eternal; they alone have stood the test of time when all other wisdom has gone out of date. This isn’t to say that human wisdom has no purpose – it has its limits, but it points to God and His eternal wisdom. God leaves His fingerprints everywhere, but we make the mistake of stopping short of God to admire His creation instead of allowing our gaze to follow through to the Creator.

God gave the Magi the capacity to understand many things and the desire to search matters out, and while that didn’t save them, it paved a road to the ultimate source of wisdom; they followed a star and found their Savior. They were faithful to follow their road to its destination, and it is up to each of us to decide if we will follow ours.

 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness” and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” ”    1 Corinthians 3:18-20