Receiving and Giving, and Giving and Receiving

How is it possible for God to keep loving us? We fall short, break every rule, willfully disobey Him at every turn and yet His love for us never changes. Remember the saying “love makes the world go round”. If you think about it, really think about it, there is nothing more true. Not the mushy romantic or brotherly feel-good kind of love, but God’s unconditional, completely consuming love. A love so great that God created the world just for us, so His love literally makes the world go round. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.” Genesis 1:31

I feel like we are running around trying to love others as best we can, unfortunately when we’re just trying to do it all on our own, we’re kind of terrible at it. We’re following the examples and experiences of our own lives which may or may not be healthy. We demonstrate love how we feel and accept love, for some of us it may be that we don’t feel lovely or loveable, we don’t love ourselves, or we believe we only deserve a certain kind of love…the conditional kind that stays at arm’s length. If we are unable to get to a place where we can realize and accept God’s love, and love ourselves as He does, we will never be able to love others as God intends. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10

For all those who grew up not feeling loved. Those who grew up feeling less than, too little, not enough, unworthy, unlovely, or unwanted, we all need a Holy Spirit intervention. As Christians we know we are all called to love others as Christ loved us, we can’t do that until we can accept that He loved us first. Not because we deserve it, or have earned it, but because we are His. It’s a humbling and comforting thought when it finally sinks in. God loves me. Not because of anything I did, but despite of everything I’ve done. He loves me. More than that, it’s the same for everyone. Regardless of what others may say or think…we’re all int he same place, “This righteousness is given through faith in[h] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.Romans 3:22-24. So, we don’t even have to measure up to anyone else’s expectations because we’re all equally sinful and in need of God’s healing, restorative love.

God’s love is so immense that we can’t comprehend it’s depths “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19

So… if we can’t earn it, don’t deserve it and can’t fathom its vastness…how then can we possibly share it with others? Simple answer, we can’t. Not on our own anyway. We are only able to love out of the love that God pours into us. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us”. Ephesians 3:20 We are imperfect images of the original, without His help, without His first loving us, without our cups overflowing from Him onto to others we would not be capable of truly loving anyone…including ourselves.

Each of us spend much of our lives seeking to fill an emptiness within us. We want to be accepted by someone, anyone, for who we are. We are afraid that will never happen, who could love the real us? So, we craft images of ourselves, either a superhero persona or mild-mannered alter ego, anything to be what others will love and accept. However, it doesn’t work, because we know that isn’t really us, they are loving (liking and validating) something else, something other than who we are. So, we keep longing, we keep finding ways to feel loved, lovely, and valued. Nothing works, nothing will ever work. There is nothing in this world that can fill the need within us besides God.

Why is it so hard for us to accept this love, freely given, and without condition? A love that sees us for who we really are and fully embraces us as a beloved child regardless of our behavior? It seems so unlikely, too fantastical, that kind of love doesn’t even happen in the movies. If it doesn’t really exist, why do we crave it? How would we be aware of it, if indeed, it never existed? At some level we’re aware of that love, sitting there waiting for us to claim it. The only thing standing in our way is us, and the power we give to the voices we hear telling us we are not worthy.

There is nothing God loves more than His creation, there is nothing He wouldn’t do to bring us closer to Him to experience that love, not even sacrificing Himself to close the gap that separates us. Dear ones, give yourself permission to be loved. Let Christ’s love begin to permeate your heart, flow into your life and impact those around you. I promise you will not be disappointed; your spirit will be renewed, and hope will fill your heart. “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:5-8

Please help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change your life, and our world!

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Don’t Waste an Experience

I was reminded recently of the impact each of us has on the lives of those around us. Over the past several weeks I’ve lost multiple family members and friends, all of them unexpected and tragic. Looking back on how they each impacted my life, I am who I am partly because of them. Each has left their mark on my life, for better or worse, they are part of me and my memories of them are cherished.

While I spent time wading through photographs, I remembered some things I had forgotten. My Uncle Mark, who passed last month, taught me how to ride a bike. More than that he taught me not to be afraid. He told me that I would probably fall, I might bleed, but would I let that stop me from learning to ride? In fact I did fall, and I did bleed, but I rode my bike and I loved it! Bumps and bruises will happen in life, will we let that fear keep us from living?

One of my girl friends from when I was in high school passed a few days later. She and I were close, then we weren’t, then we were, then we lost touch. Amy and I grew close during our earliest young adult years, and she taught me to see the good in every moment, especially in the small, boring, insignificant moments, because each is a blessing. In the process of reconnecting with a group of our mutual friends, someone shared a moment where I had impacted their life. Then another friend shared, and another. Before long we were each sharing memories of how we had, without realizing it, indelibly left our mark on the others. I guess, I never thought back then that something I did or said would be remembered 30 years later.

Driving home after services that day, I was struck how each of us impacts the lives of those around us. Whether we want to or not, what we say and do, or don’t say or do will leave an impression. I heard it said that non-believers are more likely to watch how professing Christians live their lives, than to read the Bible. In other words, the things we say and do, may be the only experience of Jesus some people will ever have, what do our lives say about us, what do they say about Jesus?

Are we uplifting, encouraging, edifying one another or tearing down? Do our lives point to Jesus or do they only bring attention to ourselves? Are we helping others to become the people God created them to be, or beating them into a mold that best suits our needs and expectations.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:29-32

I was so grateful for the very humbling reminder that God gives each of us, every day the opportunity to positively affect those around us. A smile or friendly gesture, taking the time to speak with someone who feels alone or excluded, reaching out just because, sharing a meal, giving a hug, being a friend, all simple acts with long term impact. It takes no more time to lift someone up than it does to tear them down. It takes no more time to be respectful and polite, than to be rude and demeaning.

Jesus went to those in the world who needed Him most. The sick, broken, downtrodden, and the sinners. He came to the mourners, the possessed, the lost and the outcasts. Jesus didn’t come to  those who thought they were good enough, He provided enough for all to come to Him. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:6-8

One day after I have gone to Glory, I hope that I have lived my life in a way that has had a positive impact on those around me. I pray that I lived my life in a way that pointed to Jesus and drew people closer to Him. I want to encourage people to be brave, enjoy every moment, and to love those that God has called us to love.

Please help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change your life, and our world!

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Consistent watering required

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

I was reminded lately that for something to grow, we must water it. Seems simple enough for us gardeners, water is life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone on vacation and left very (very very) detailed watering instructions, only to come home and find my plants browning and wilting. While watering is important, deep watering is essential. Yes, I’m saying that all watering is not equal. I can think of no better example of this than how many of us approach scripture, and the truths that it permeates into our lives.

The above scripture in one that I wish we could all have tattooed on our hearts. I truly believe that if we could grab a hold of this one truth, we would look at and approach our lives so differently.

I was recently speaking with a woman about some of the challenges she is facing in life. As we sat talking, and she shared with me her difficulties, I’m thinking to myself that if she only knew how much God loved her. She doesn’t know how she’s going to support her family, find a better place to live, get clean, make better decisions. As she cried desperately about all that is happening, I asked her if she had any other support system, family, friends, or a church family? She told me through her tears that she used to go to church and knows she should go back but can’t do it until she gets her life cleaned up. Once her life is more in order then she can go back to church. My heart broke…

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Why isn’t this a bumper sticker? Why isn’t this a T-shirt? Why isn’t this blasted across billboards on every highway across the country? There isn’t ANYTHING that anyone of us can do to clean ourselves up to be presentable to God. Not one of us is ever, even at our very best, worthy to approach Him on our own.

Perhaps if we all accepted and shared that we’re in the same boat, regardless of how it may appear on the outside. We are all just as broken, sinful, and unworthy as the next person. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24

We can’t do anything to be worthy of God’s love or Christ’s sacrifice. We don’t have to clean ourselves up to come to God, we come dirty, we come shamed, we come broken, we come guilty, and no matter He will come running to embrace us, every time, without exception, and without condition.

One of my favorite parables, because of what it tells us about God’s love, is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We are all either the prodigal son or the oldest son, and in each case unworthy of God’s love, but in both cases, we are embraced, loved, provided for and precious, regardless of our own sinful condition. Whether we’re going through the motions doing what we think we’re supposed to do, without love in our heart, or we selfishly threw away all that we were given to pursue our own worldly desires, Christ died for us!

I could go on and on sharing examples from Scripture of God’s unconditional and perfect love. A love that is equally given to each of us regardless of our current, past or future condition. No one is any better or worse than you, and as such no more or less worthy of it.

I hugged this woman who was sharing with me. I shared this passage of scripture with her. Even though she smiled and said, “I know”, I prayed as she walked out the door that God would pierce her heart and allow that scripture to take root and grow. I ask for God to give me more opportunities to share this truth, to live it out myself, to see those around me with God’s eyes as loved and cherished.

We all have sinned and fallen short, but God has good news…it is by grace we have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God!

Please help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change your life, and our world!

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Apostles Eternity War

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“Mom, I want to be spider man”, “mom can I be wonder woman?”, “mom, mom, can a girl be baby Groot?” This is what I hear on an almost weekly basis these days. My children are obsessed with super heroes. They love the idea of heroes; those who are willing to do whatever is necessary for the greater good, despite the personal pain and sacrifice they must inevitably endure. Several years ago, when my oldest son was 8-9 years old he was obsessed with Indiana Jones and dressed up as him for three years running. I still have the cloth whip he carried that plays the Indiana Jones Theme Song. Da da dum dum da da dum! Yea I play with it sometimes too…truth be told it’s in my office and my whole team gets a kick out of it.

He loved that Indiana Jones had a seemingly super power where his whip was concerned however, his real super power was actually that he was smart and cared about keeping people safe. I remember when we watched the last Indiana Jones movie together, Nik kept telling me, “Mom it will be ok the hero always wins.” Then there was the scene where Indiana got a bit of a beating and Nik covered his eyes and began to worry if Indiana would still be victorious…of course he was, and Nik looked at me beaming…”see I told you the hero always wins.” Such faith he had in his hero.

It’s funny how we crave the idea that there are those in the world who are willing to serve a greater purpose than themselves, even to the extent of sacrificing their lives for it. We believe that honor, and nobility are something to be admired and looked up to. It’s almost like we were born with the innate desire to seek out that which is greater than ourselves.

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20

Perhaps it not that surprising after-all. Being made in God’s image we have the ability through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to share in God’s divine nature. We are created to be like Him who is noble, loving, forgiving and full of mercy. It is natural then that we look for these ‘invisible qualities’ here on earth.

The question is, why do we feel the need to create imaginary and fantastical versions of heroes to worship, as opposed to worshiping the one who embodies everything we seek?

In Philippians 4:8 the apostle Paul writes, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Does this list of characteristics sound familiar; true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy? Is Paul describing Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, or Spiderman? The list of characters could go on and on, none of them exemplify all of these characteristics, all of them represent some. The one difference seems to be that each of our heroes is mortally flawed. Whether its pride or vanity or kryptonite or a relationship or greed, we imbue each of our heroes with characteristics that make them more like us. It’s easier to believe that a hero could exist if they weren’t perfect. So, we worship the flawed over the flawless. Is it because we want to make our heroes more like us, bringing us to a more equal footing? Or is it simply because we can truly comprehend flawlessness?

God is flawless, sovereign, omniscient and omnipotent. He is perfect, He is love, He cannot make a mistake and will not cause harm. We can trust Him completely and be confident that He is who He says He is; always has been and always will be.

While heroes remind us of our innate desire to experience the divine in humanity, there is only one true source for that divinity, Jesus Christ. He is the one hero who embodied all that is divine. His flawlessness, purity, nobility is what we truly seek, Jesus was fully human and fully God. Why would we seek something less, why would we worship that which is flawed and broken when we have what is perfect.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

Lemonade is best when shared

You just never know when something happens in your life, how God might use it.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Our troubles, our trials, our temptations, our pain and suffering, all our experiences pleasant and unpleasant, are never wasted…Not Ever!

Every experience we have, God can, and will use – none of them are by accident or coincidence. They are by our choice, the choices others make, or by God’s design. but no matter how they come about they are no surprise to God. Nothing get’s past Him.

My favorite scripture, the one I quote the most is Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Everything in our lives God can, and will work for good, EVERYTHING! There is nothing that has happened, is happening, or can ever happen, that God can not sovereignly craft into good. God is good, He can only bring forth that which He is. God can’t bring forth evil, only good. It’s like the saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” God created the trees the lemons fell from, the juicer you used to squeeze them, and the abundant sweetness of His grace to bring out the flavor.

Sometimes those experiences that bring us the most pain and anguish are the very ones He’ll use to bring us the greatest joy, often by being able to help others. Just as the scripture tells us, Jesus comforts us in all our troubles, so we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God. I was reminded of this recently when I had the opportunity to share some of my experiences with someone walking a very similar path. I was able to share with them what God did for my family in the situation, how He walked us through a very dark and difficult time. I was able to offer comfort to others in their troubles, just as God had comforted me in mine. He comforts us, so we can in turn, comfort others.

God allows us to walk through hard times so we learn to rely on Him, and then to share that experience as a help – a comfort to others. Just as lemonade is sweetest when shared with others, God’s work in our lives is even more of a blessing when we can use it to help those around us. It’s never about us, its always about Him – Him, inviting us to come along for the ride and be part of this incredible Christian journey – a journey we’re on together.

Next time things get hard, instead of asking, ‘why God, why this, why now, why me?’, ask how can this help others, how can you use this God to help me grow, and what can I learn from this? God will not let any of your experiences go to waste, there are people who will be comforted by you sharing with them how God comforted you.

Let God surprise and bless you in this new year as we walk in the path He created for us!

Please help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change your life, and our world!

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Jesus knows your heart

“Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” John 2:23-25

Throughout the Gospels those who both followed and opposed Jesus would clamor for a sign. They wanted proof that He was who He said He was. They wanted Jesus to prove His lineage, authority, divinity, and sovereignty.  They wanted Jesus to somehow demonstrate His fullness to them in a way that would remove all doubt from their minds that He was the Son of God, that He was (is) God.

It makes me wonder, what exactly did they want Him to do? What kind of miracle would enough for them to believe? Is there really anything that He could have done that would have convinced them?

He turned water to wine, made the lame walk, the blind see, loosed tongues, bound demons, healed the sick, and raised the dead. In His final miracle He, Jesus Himself, was raised by the Father. In a world bound by doubt was there actually anything that He could have done that would convince them?

In Matthew 16 the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for a sign from heaven, “He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.” Matt 16:2-4

I don’t know what exactly the Pharisees and Sadducees were hoping Jesus would do. I’m sure they hoped to trap Him in some way or to disprove before the masses who He said He is. Perhaps in their hearts they hoped He would or could do something, anything, to convince them. At the end of the day, they didn’t really want it to be true, they wanted Him not to be the Messiah because that would ultimately mean they were on the wrong side of God. If Jesus had proved to them who He said He was, they would have to give up their power, authority, influence and wealth. They would be forced to accept that they had put the law before love and had failed miserably.

What more could Jesus have done? There is nothing He could have done, because at the end of the day we each have to believe. We have to trust that what we saw, felt, heard, experienced was from God. We can explain away, make excuses, and divert responsibility until we are blue in the face. In the end we have to make the choice to believe, not just in the miracle, but in the power of the one who performed it, Jesus.

In the opening scripture it reads that, “Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people.” Jesus was not going to reveal Himself fully to those who chose not to believe. What would be the point? How can someone begin to understand all thing things Jesus was trying to teach them if they did not believe in the person of the one teaching it? In other words how would they take Jesus at His word, if they did not believe that He is who He claimed? Would you listen and follow the teachings of a plumber who was telling you how to be a surgeon?

Jesus did not entrust Himself to those who were awed by His works but not by His person.

Faith is a choice. If Jesus appeared before you in person, would you recognize Him? If he stood there performing miracles would you believe that He was who He said, or would you continue down the path of the scientific method trying to disprove all that He does and says until no other explanation could be found and still claim the impossibility of it all?

Is there any miracle Jesus could perform in your life that would lead you to believe that He is all the things the Bible states, and will fulfill all the promises that God  has made to His people?

We live in a world of doubt, a world held captive by fear and uncertainty. We don’t know who to listen to and believe. We don’t know if what we see and hear is true or false. We are pulled by voices and images coming from every direction. Jesus tells us, At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:10-14

Jesus still performs miracles and signs today. The Holy Spirit is active in our world. Will our hearts recognize them for who they are and what they are doing, or will we continue to explain it all away as coincidence or our own doing? Will we chose to believe in the person of Jesus and receive all that He intends, or wonder at His miraculous works and never know the person.

The scripture above states, “Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people.” The reverse is equally true, to those who believe in Jesus, He will entrust Himself to them, for He knows in their hearts they believe.

Test Jesus, put your faith in Him, give Him the opportunity to show you His love for you through His promises, provision, faithfulness, and love. He will never let you down, He will never leave or forsake you. Decide today to give into the knocking you hear on your heart and let Him in.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;  we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Matthew 8:31-40

Let God surprise and bless you in this new year!

Please help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change your life, and our world!

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T-Minus 3 Days till 2021 – Lord give me a new heart.

I am not big on New Year’s resolutions, never really have been. Oh, don’t get me wrong I’ve made a few now and again, usually something trite or superficial having to do with the way I look or how I want others to see me. This year however, is different. I think we can all agree that 2020 has been like nothing we’ve ever seen, and we’re all hoping, never to see again.

2020 has brought changes in all of us that require a second look, a moment to ponder our lives, our experiences, and ultimately our future. So, over the next few days, leading up to the close of 2020 and the hopeful ringing in of 2021, I want to share with you my resolutions. Well, they are actually more prayers for intervention into my life. I am expectant for what God is going to do in my life and the lives of my family and my church in the days and months ahead. I am expectant because I believe that these are what God has placed in my heart, and how he wants me to move forward into 2021. I know that when we accept Jesus, it is the ultimate new beginning, as is each day we get up and reconfirm that decision. I also know there are times in our lives that God moves in our hearts to reflect on those decisions and how they are (or are not) being played out in our day-to-day lives. New Year’s seems an almost natural time for us to pray about those area’s that the Holy Spirit has either convinced or convicted and ask God to help us make a fresh start.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36:26-27

Just as God promised his people that he would give them a new heart and a new spirit, and that he would move them to follow his degrees and keep his laws. I am praying the same for myself and my family.

Lord, give me a new heart. Give me a heart to love your people the way you do. Help me to love them where they are not where I might want them to be. Philippians 2:1-3

Lord teach me to forgive and give me a short memory. Help me to remember that the people of this world are not my enemy, Ephesians 6:12

Lord help me to be patient, kind, understanding, generous, and respectful to everyone I meet, regardless of their treatment of me. Romans 5:2-4

This year I have struggled with seeing people through God’s own heart. So much of my struggle and frustration has stemmed from me seeing those around me in an adversarial way. Those around me, although they may have different opinions, thoughts, feelings, habits, reactions, and perceptions than me, are not my enemy. They are God’s children, just as I am. We are all in the same boat and walking through the same world. My prayer for this next year is that God will give me a new heart and place a new spirit in me. I ask him to turn that heart of flesh toward him and toward those around me. Lord fill my heart with compassion and understanding and let my life reflect all that you have done for me.

Pease help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change your life, and our world!

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Easy and hard, we have it backwards

I was having a conversation the other day with a friend who was facing a dilemma. She knows the right decision to make, she knows the wrong decision to make. She knows the wrong decision is going to cause long term pain and suffering while providing immediate satisfaction. This is not an uncommon conversation, someone comes to you, wanting your support for a decision they know they shouldn’t make, but they give 101 reasons why it will make them happier…in the short term.

What struck me was the comment she made, it’s one we’ve all heard, and I’m sure agreed with, for the most part. She said, “Why is choosing the right path always so hard?” The right decision is always the hard decision, the decision that is going to require sacrifice or cause pain. The wrong decision is the easy decision, the one that brings the most immediate satisfaction.

As I thought about this on my way home after the conversation, I think we have this concept of right being hard and painful and wrong being easy and satisfactory, backwards. We believe that to do right we have to suffer and to do wrong we are indulging our fleshly passions. First when I state right and wrong, I’m talking about sin; specifically, when we are faced with choices to love God first, and then others as ourselves, or the choice to place our fleshly wants and needs above loving God first and others as ourselves. When you think about it, those are the only choices that really matter.

We have a mindset, and we share it with others, that to love God first and others as ourselves (that is a very important statement found in Matthew 22:36-40) means we must suffer, it will be a grueling decision that will cause short term pain and maybe long-term gain. I want you to listen to Jesus own words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus tells us that he is humble, we’ll find rest in him and that his burden is light. The reason that we struggle with the right decision (love God first and then others as ourselves) is that we are constantly battling with the world. We are constantly at war with what our sinful nature wants, not what the Holy Spirit in us wants. The battle is self-inflicted. When we chose God, when we chose love then as long as we stand with those choices and don’t stray from that path the choice to love is easy.

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Psalm 16:11

“The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” Proverbs 4:18

“Feet trample it down— the feet of the oppressed, the footsteps of the poor.  The path of the righteous is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” Isaiah 26:6-8

When we follow the path that Jesus has laid out for us; Love God first and others as ourselves, our life, our choices will be dictated by love. The only pain or loss we’ll feel is that of the world, and the more we chose life over death the less we’ll feel that sting.

Doing what is right means we are giving up on the things of this world that lead us to death. Choosing right, then, should be the easy decision. Living for immediate gratification from things of this world that are temporary and will disappear, only leads to wanting more things of this world for immediate gratification from things of this world that are temporary and will fade away. This choice is a vicious cycle of insatiable want that will never end and leads to death. The pain in that cycle is eternal dissatisfaction with who we are, what we have, and how to get more, because it will never be enough.

The simplest way I can state this; love is the easy decision. Loving God first and others as ourselves is the only thing that can satisfy our souls. Truly satisfy, as in we will not want anything else. The hard decision, the one that brings unending pain and suffering is the one that seems to bring immediate satisfaction, but it soon fades and leads to greater and greater need for more to fill the never-ending gaping hole in our lives.

The choice, then, is easy; eternal life by loving God first then others as ourselves. When we are truly satisfied by Christ and that abundant blessing is overflowing from us to others, even when the storms of live are brewing around us, and circumstances are trying to make us forget that we have everything, we can stand firm knowing that the storm will pass, and we will be with Christ victorious. Storms subside, always. Trials cease, always. Christ’s love, forgiveness, peace, patience, kindness, and grace are boundless, unceasing, and eternal.

The hard choice is the one we make that keeps us in bondage to the world of suffering, pain, loss, and confusion, that always leads to death. The easy choice is Christ, that always leads to life.

Pease help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change your life, and our world!

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Altar of Thanksgiving

Close-up Of Gratitude Word With Pen On Notebook Over Wooden Desk

Throughout Old Testament Scripture we read that altars were created to commemorate some act that God performed on behalf of His people. Whether it was to mark the creation of a covenant, celebrate a victory, remember a promise, mourn a defeat, or forge a relationship, altars were created to memorialize what God had done for His people so they would not forget, so they would remember and have something to point to when sharing with their children and their children’s children.

An altar was a sacred place; it was where we came to make offerings and to atone for our sins. It is where we laid down our burdens and our sins and came clean before God. The altar of God was a place without pretense or pride, we humbled ourselves before God and acknowledged our lack, our inability, our weakness, and utter brokenness.

In our churches today, altars are seen much the same. The altar is a place where we come forward seeking forgiveness, provision, strength, guidance, and interceding for those we love. In our churches the altar has become a place where we bear our deepest pain, struggles, desires, failures, and fatigues. It’s not to wonder that the altar has become known as the mourner’s bench or the sinner’s rail, a place one comes to when they’ve sinned or need help, but this is exactly what the altar is for! God wants for us to come to Him with our troubles, He want to be the balm that soothes our weary souls, He wants to offer forgiveness, and discernment, and direction. God wants us to come to His altar with all our troubles and to lay them down.

The altar is a place of release, a place where we can unburden our hearts to the one who already knows everything and loves us regardless. The one who died for us even while we were living in our sin and brokenness. It is no wonder that people are drawn to the altar when they don’t believe they have any place else to turn.

I love Christmas movies! I love the feelgood nature of the, and there seems to be an unlimited number of movies to make you shed tears of joy. I’ve noticed that when it comes to Christmas movies, most of them, at some point, find the protagonist at a church, at an altar, asking God for help, for guidance, for Him to intercede in a miraculous way. In some cases, it is just a plea for a sign to show God is there. The altar is so much more than a place or a thing. It is where we come to meet God. It is where some of us have made life altering decisions, experienced the Holy Spirit in a way that is inexpressible. It is a place where we not only come to meet God, but also a place where we can point to and say, “that spot right there is where I met Jesus for the first time.”

We have a lot of altar calls happening in churches right now. If your church is like my church, we are opening the altars every week as a place for people to come forward and meet God. Whatever the reason, they come with their heads in their hands, tears streaming down their face, knowing that awaiting them are the loving arms of the Father. Each week, people walk forward to seek forgiveness, ask for provision, seek wisdom and direction for challenges in their lives. The altar is part of our public worship and a sharing of our deepest hurts in a safe community that loves and supports us.

While thinking about this today, I began to wonder why our altars are a mourner’s bench and a sinner’s rail, and not a seat of worship and praise? Why do our altars see more tears of brokenness than tears of joy?

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100

While this year has been incredibly hard for millions and millions of people. I have been trying to focus on all the ways that God has continued to bless me, my family, friends, and my church. Trying to see each challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow. God is teaching me patience, grace, and more patience. During all the hardship, fear, anxiety, struggles, and feelings of absolute inadequacy in the face of so much, God has remained faithful. Each day I find something else to praise God for, some new way He has blessed me, or that I just hadn’t noticed before.

I want to go to the altar, not to ask or to receive but to give to God the only thing I have, my praise, my gratitude, my thanksgiving. What an amazing testimony it would be if just one Sunday, instead of opening the altar for people to bring their wants and needs, instead to bring their praise and worship. What a witness to have a church full of people fill the front of the room around the altar to just thank God for all He is doing in their lives, amid their troubles, in the midst of uncertainty, in the middle of the mess, we thank God for all He has done to bless our lives, to show us favor, to provide for our needs, and to never leave or forsake us.

A church full of people, on their knees at the altar of God just giving praise and thanksgiving?

The altar of God is always open, the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts so we don’t actually have to go to a place to ask for forgiveness, provision, peace and direction. We can do that from anywhere. On our knees at our bedside or an altar in the church. The important part is to go there. My challenge to each of us is to remember that along with our requests, along with our wants and needs, we should always remember to thank, in advance and with expectation the one to whom we owe all things.