God disciplines His children

Scripture: “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” Hebrews 12:10

Observations: Although our fathers discipline us for a short time as children, God disciplines us for life. Because we are disciplined by God, we can be assured that we are His sons and daughters whom He loves. Also, we must be disciplined if we want to share in God’s holiness.

Application: I need to view hardship and difficult life circumstances as discipline from God–looking for opportunities to learn from God even in the most difficult times. I should check my attitude when things don’t go my way and focus my mind on God, remembering that He disciplines those He loves. If I fix my eyes on Jesus (see 12:2) and remember His work on the Cross for me, it will help me to keep my life in proper perspective and see how God may be teaching me.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being good and holy. Thank you that you are a God of tremendous patience and grace. Lord, help me to remember who you are and that I am your child, whom you love. Help me to see you at work even in the worst of circumstances and let me see how you are disciplining me and helping me grow in holiness. Give me patience, Lord, and help me to discern your will in my daily life, honoring you in both good times and bad times. Help me to fix my eyes on my Savior each and every day. Amen. 

SOAP: for best results use daily

If you have been around “church people” most of your life like me, you have probably heard thousands of catch-phrases and sayings that are unique to the language of Christian-ese. Not least among them are various acronyms to help you be a better Christian. Some of them are complete nonsense and most are at least a little corny, but I came across one a while back that has actually been quite helpful. Its a simple acronym intended to help people with personal Bible study. The idea is to journal about a portion of your daily reading, connecting it to your life through reflecting on Scripture, Observations, Application, and Prayer (SOAP). I had been doing this consistently throughout much of 2014, but have gotten out of the habit (I know, I really should use SOAP daily!). I have decided to revisit some of my previous journal entries and share them with others. My hope is that you (my readers) will be encouraged in your faith by my personal thoughts and reflections.

Scripture: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:23&24

Observations:  As believers, we can confidently hold onto our faith and hope because we know the source of this hope is trustworthy. Believers also need to encourage each other into love and good deeds through thoughtful consideration. These verses stood out to me when I read them recently because they are an encouraging call to action as a response to God’s faithfulness.

Application:  Knowing that my faith and my hope are in a faithful God, I need to hold firmly to this hope–hope in the work of Jesus for my salvation, hope for the future of my own life and that of my family, and hope in God’s redemptive work in the world. As I hold onto this hope and trust in God, I ought to encourage other believers to do the same. The Lord did not call me to trust in Him all by myself; He called me into a community of people He has chosen to be His children–to love and trust Him and to share His tremendous gospel message with the world through their words, deeds, and entire lifestyles. Therefore, as a result of the grace, patience, and mercy shown to me by my Savior Jesus, I should in turn show grace, patience, and mercy to others as I consider how my influence may spur them on toward doing the good things God desires them to do. I should willingly enter into the process by which God is preparing them to accomplish His purposes, while recognizing that God is simultaneously using other people to prepare me to carry out His will in my own life.

Prayer: 

Lord, you are good and faithful and true. Your ways are higher than my ways and your thoughts are much greater than my thoughts. Though I see my life only as from below, you see everything from above, making perfect sense of all the pieces to your tremendous puzzle. I am thankful that I don’t have to know and understand everything about my life, but that I can confidently put my hope in you through the grace extended to me through Jesus. Lord, help me to see my life from your perspective and to consider how I can help others do the same, placing their trust in You. Amen. 

Love is a Choice

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.”

(1 Corinthians 13:1-7 MSG)

When I read what the Bible says about love, I am always lead to the same conclusion: love is a choice. After reading the four gospels recently, I did not come away with the idea that Jesus just fell in love with His followers because they were so wonderful and charming. As a matter of fact, many followers were only enchanted by His miracles and what they thought He could do for them. Most of the tremendous crowds that clamored to hear His teaching did nothing to love Him in return. Even His closest friends and most devoted followers continually doubted Him and failed to understand the important things He was trying to tell them. When He was betrayed by His friend Judas and arrested, all of His disciples deserted Him. Peter even denied knowing Him three times. Jesus was beaten, tortured, and brutally executed on a cross while His friends and followers looked on. Yet He loved them through it all. Not only did He love His followers, but He also loved His enemies. In His tremendous suffering on the cross, Jesus went as far as praying for them saying, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34 MSG). Jesus willingly died on the cross to save His friends from the power of sin and death and give them the opportunity for eternal life.

Everyone knows Jesus was (and still is) awesome at this whole sacrificial love idea. But He is Jesus, after all, so that is to be expected. What about the rest of us? Can we really love like that? Do we have the capacity to truly love others even when they don’t deserve it, don’t want it, or don’t accept it?

If we take a look at our world’s cultures, it’s not difficult to see that humans are doing a pretty terrible job at loving each other well. From family feuds and domestic violence to sex trafficking and international terrorism, people are clearly better and more practiced at hate than they are at love. Even within the Christian culture we can see many examples of selfish and destructive behaviors that obviously place “me” above all others, bringing grief to the heart of God. It seems to me that self-focus and general apathy toward others are the most pervasive and subtly destructive attributes of this love-lacking culture.

Marriages, which are intended to be life-long covenant relationships, are flippantly abandoned in the name of self-preservation. Nationally, somewhere around 40-50% of all marriages will end in divorce. Subsequent remarriages have an even higher rate of failure. Christian marriages tend to fail just as badly as that of other non-Christian marriages. But how can this be? How can someone who has believed in Jesus as their savior and received the gift of the Holy Spirit actually break their vows and give up on their marriage? It’s not necessarily lack of faith or wrong beliefs about God that allow this to happen. Although there are numerous reasons people cite for getting divorced, I believe they all essentially come down to one common cause: choosing not to love. I know that may seem oversimplified, but if you think about it, how many broken marriages could have been saved if both partners chose to simply love each other unconditionally? I am not saying that nagging wives, unappreciative husbands, liars, and cheaters don’t deserve to be punished and alone. They do deserve the consequences of their actions. But so do you and me. Love, as Jesus gives, does not simply return to someone what their actions deserve; a husband who really loves gives when he doesn’t receive, and a wife shows appreciation when she is not appreciated. True love holds on when all others would have already let go. My point is this: love is a choice. We must all choose love every day, in every circumstance, in every argument, in every relationship. Of course we will fail at times, but we must persevere. Those of us who are married are called to love our spouses unconditionally and forever. But we are not called to do it alone; we are given God’s Holy Spirit who fills us and empowers us to live holy lives. Love is a choice that we can really only make when we first choose to surrender ourselves to God and rely on Him to sustain us. 

What are some practical ways you choose to love your spouse? To love others?

Please share your thoughts and comments on Facebook or in the Comments section below.

You Are

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  John 8:12

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

You are Light in the darkest places.

You are Hope among the hopeless.

You are Love when all others are filled with hate.

I am so small, but You, O Lord are so Great.

You are Truth when I’m surrounded by lies;

You are Real, seeing through my every disguise.

You are Strong, when I am weak;

When I am proud, Lord, You are Meek.

You are Good, but I am evil;

You are a Strong Foundation, in a world full of upheaval.

You are Whole, when all else is broken;

You are Sincere, with every word that You have spoken.

You are Peace, when my heart is at war;

When I am less, Lord You are More.

You are Mercy, when I stand condemned;

You are Grace, when I am staring judgment in the face.

When I am empty, You fill me up;

When my cross I could not bear,

It was You, Lord, who gladly took my cup.

You are Rich, Lord, when I am poor;

You are Generous, though I always want more.

Your grace is sufficient for me,

My Lord, My God;

You are Enough.

–Tyler J. Brooks

The Easy Life

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:13 & 14 ESV)

It’s so easy to strive after personal comfort and security. Our culture bombards us with messages, ideas, and products that promise to make our lives easier and more convenient. The obsession with getting rich feeds off the lie that more money and more stuff will make you happy—that having many nice things and being comfortable is directly correlated with living a good life. However, it is not difficult to see the evidence of the deception we have been fed. Broken marriages and families, addictions, affairs, and insecurity afflict many of the people who have the most stuff. If the “gate is wide and the way is easy,” that is, if most people are living a certain way and it seems easy, then that should be our first sign that they are headed for destruction. Often times, going with the flow of our culture also means compromising truth and character, getting washed over the waterfall with the rest of the unsuspecting swimmers. To swim upstream, against the current, is obviously the more difficult option, but also the only way to survive and find true life. I believe our modern American church is plagued with Christians who have bought our culture’s lies about the easy life and have simply mixed in some Jesus to make themselves feel better. They see Jesus as a means to an end—a way to make their lives easier by giving them a sense of spiritual security (think fire insurance) and occasional reassurance when they are faced with the realities of suffering and death. They seek what they consider blessings over and against spiritual growth and the well-being of others. They expect a supernatural ROI (return-on-investment) from their “modest” giving. When things in their life get difficult or undesirable, they not only expect, but demand that God simply fix their problems and make their life easy again.

Are you one of these people? I used to be one. In some ways I still am. It is so easy for me to get caught up in my culture’s expectations of success, wealth, and personal and family comfort. I don’t want to be uncomfortable; who does? I don’t want to be poor, or hungry, or inconvenienced. That’s normal, I know. But when I read the Bible and look at Jesus’ life and teachings, I don’t see normal. I don’t see someone who is calling people to take up their beach umbrellas and sunscreen and just relax; He calls His people to take up a cross, which is definitely not relaxing. It is a calling to be servants to others, to be humble, to love and forgive and do what God says is right even when it hurts or doesn’t make sense. Jesus calls us to lay down our pride and self-focus and take up a desire to elevate His will above our own; to work to build up His kingdom and His people over and sometimes against our own.

What are some practical ways you can elevate God’s will and desires above your own? How have you seen others do this?

Please share your response via Facebook or in the Comments below.

Dead Man Walking

Have you ever watched someone die? Have you ever seen or touched a cold, lifeless corpse? It’s not fun or comfortable to talk about death; morbid is the term people use to describe this kind of talk. But many people have witnessed death firsthand and some have handled bodies after their life has left them. Some do this professionally, but it doesn’t take an advanced degree to recognize when a person is dead. There is no breathing, no movement, no beating heart; there is simply no life. The single most notable and terrifying attribute of death is its finality. Everybody knows that death is final and irreversible. There are no second chances, no do-overs, and no going back. When a person is pronounced dead, they are dead and are no longer living life as we know it. (By the way, zombies aren’t real in case you were wondering).

When Jesus was crucified on a cross, some of His disciples watched Him die. At least one saw a soldier drive a spear into Jesus’ side as a proof of his death. Two men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, took Jesus’ body and prepared it for burial according to customs, and placed it in a tomb. The tomb was then closed and sealed shut. Jesus was dead and everyone knew it, especially His followers and closest friends.

Therefore, as you could imagine, when His disciples saw Jesus alive again—walking, talking, even eating and drinking—they were completely astonished. Some didn’t recognize Him at first, while others doubted and needed to see physical proof (holes in His hands and side) to believe He was really Jesus. (see John 20). Can you even begin to fathom the joy they must have felt when they saw Him? The raw emotion that flowed from their hearts and their eyes must surely have been spectacular. To lose someone so dearly loved and so innocent in such a violent manner was absolutely devastating. The voices of fear and doubt and hopelessness likely rang loudly in their ears. But then to suddenly have this loved one restored to life and returned to His friends and family—that had to instantly shatter those voices! The tears of joy surely overflowed and overshadowed their former tears of grief.

Do you think Jesus’ disciples treated Him differently and even lived differently after His resurrection? I’ll bet they did. I’m sure they had a tremendous increase in faith and hope for the future. Their fear and doubts melted away as they looked forward to the promise of God’s kingdom. They probably appreciated every minute they had with Jesus all the more because they actually knew what it was like to lose Him. I can also guarantee they listened more attentively than ever before when Jesus talked. I’m sure they obeyed His teaching and commands far more passionately after seeing Him literally raised from the dead. But what about the rest of us? As Jesus said to Thomas, “have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29 ESV).

Jesus didn’t just raise Himself from the dead to prove something; He overcame the power of sin and death in this world and thereby gave us the opportunity to be given life—real life with Him—that will never end. Jesus has often been referred to as the new Adam, meaning that He is the first of a new generation or a new kind of human. As sin and death entered the world through one man (Adam), so salvation and new life entered the world through Jesus. His resurrected body gives us a glimpse of what our resurrected bodies will be like. Notice that He didn’t burst out of the grave with a pair of newly grown wings and a halo over his head, flying off into the sunset like a corny John Travolta movie.

He walked. He talked. He ate and drank. He taught and had conversations. He did many of the same things He did before His death, yet He also seemed to circumvent some physical barriers like showing up in a house with locked doors and ascending into Heaven.

For those who put their faith in Jesus, we have real, improved, resurrected bodies to look forward to after we die. We don’t become angels and surely we won’t morph into some kind of half-bird, half-human creature with ridiculously large, feathered wings. (I also hope I don’t have to learn to play the harp). We will have bodies that resemble our present bodies, but without all the blemishes and flaws. We will walk but without limps, sore feet, or other impediments. We will eat food, but not too much and we won’t have to worry about carbs and sugars and calories. We will live without the fear of bacteria, disease, injury and death.

You see, Heaven is like the very best things of this world without the corruption of sin and evil. After all, every good thing comes from God who created it. Imagine spending your entire life in the presence of God, living in harmony with Him and everyone and everything else in a redeemed body. For the redeemed sinner, death has lost its sting. It is no longer a tragic end of existence to be feared and avoided, but a welcome gateway into the beginning of a new life in a new world spent with the Creator of the universe. This life will be familiar, yet so different from our current lives in this corrupt and sinful world.

Question: What do you think we will look like in Heaven? What will we do when we get there?

Please share your comments below or on Facebook

For more on this topic, see Heaven by Randy Alcorn.

What will Jesus’ feet taste like?

Have you ever thought about what Jesus feet will taste like when you get to Heaven? I know, that’s a really weird thing to ask and I’m sure most people have not spent much time pondering this question. However, the other day while I was driving, this odd question popped into my mind. For some reason, thinking about this question brought up strong emotions in me and brought tears to my eyes. Here’s why.

I imagine passing from this life into the next and suddenly being in the presence of Jesus. Standing face-to-face with my Savior, I can feel my knees weaken as I am overwhelmed by His glory, bowing down to worship Him. I can see my hands grasping His ankles as my head lowers to kiss my Lord’s feet. I’m sure I will taste mostly my tears as they stream down my face. They will be tears of overwhelming joy.

You see, I can’t imagine myself coming into the presence of my God and Savior and simply giving Jesus a high-five, fist-bump, or even a “bro-hug” (whatever that means anyway). I consider Jesus my friend, but He is so much more. When I see him I cannot think of a more humble and appropriate response than bowing down before Him in worship and kissing His feet. I know this is all very spiritual talk, but I really do wonder what His feet will taste like. I believe I will actually taste, smell, see, and hear Jesus, along with so many other heavenly, yet tangible things.

When you think about Heaven, do you think mostly about highly spiritual, intangible ideas? Do you think of yourself as weightless in the clouds, playing a harp and singing praise songs constantly? Or maybe you use words and phrases like worship, praise, the presence of the Lord, the throne room of God, a place of no more tears or suffering, pearly gates, etc. to describe the heavenly realm. Personally, I have often imagined myself bowing before Jesus on His throne in a great white room, with a white floor, and walls and a ceiling that seem to have no end. The details are rather vague and I can only recall a few people in the periphery standing by to make sure my name is on the list. But in reality, I think that picture is much closer to a low-budget TV commercial set than it is to Heaven. How is this possible? I asked Jesus to be my Savior when I was a child, I grew up going to church and to Bible school and to Bible study and youth group and I even studied religion and the Bible at a college level. So how could I possibly have a narrow and inaccurate view of Heaven? The answer is painfully simple: I have allowed the popular culture around me to influence my ideas of Heaven more than the Bible itself. Maybe you have too. Here’s a quick test:

Think of 3 movies, tv shows, or songs that have something to say about Heaven or the afterlife…

Now think of 3 verses or passages from the Bible that have something to say about Heaven…

If you thought of something for each question, which one was easier?

Unfortunately, I am not alone in my vague, unclear vision of Heaven that makes it out to be a mysterious, dull, and even unattractive place we only talk about when someone we love is dying. Inaccurate and unsettling conclusions about Heaven plague modern Christians, including pastors and other church leaders. Throughout my life, I’ve spent so much time thinking, talking, and worrying about this temporary life that I’ve been missing out on something far greater. It’s so much easier to think about my job, my house, my family, my stuff, my money than it is to focus my mind on heavenly things. After all, I live in this world, not in Heaven. I’ve been in this world my whole life, but I’ve never been to Heaven. It’s also very easy to make excuses as to why I have not had a more complete and accurate understanding of Heaven. The Bible actually has a lot to say about Heaven; we just have to intentionally look for it. It tells us that Heaven is a real place with real tangible, physical attributes. There are multitudes of people there now who have a conscious awareness of what is going on in this world; there will be a great city with streets, buildings, people, and culture. We will eat and drink and work and love as we do now without being subject to the curse of sin and death. The barrier between sinful people and a Holy God will be forever shattered and we will live in the glory of His presence.

Over the next several weeks, I would like to share some thoughts and ideas on Heaven you may not have heard before. I will be drawing from credible sources and will make sure to share them with you. My goal is to get others thinking more deeply about Heaven as I have been lately, as this subtle shift in focus can actually change your life. When Heaven is on my mind, it keeps daily problems in the right perspective; I think more about people and relationships than getting ahead or keeping more for myself. You see, thinking about the afterlife informs our present lives in the here and now. Thinking about what happens when we die does not have to be a dreadful, uncomfortable topic that needs to be avoided. As a matter of fact, many people live their lives more fully after getting a terminal diagnosis because they actually believe they are going to die, so they better get ready. I hope that sharing my thoughts and the ideas of others smarter than me from a Biblically-sound framework will challenge, educate, and encourage you with the hope of Heaven.

QUESTION:

What ideas have you heard or believed about Heaven that came from pop culture (movies, tv shows, music, etc.)? 

Please share your response on Facebook or in the Comments.