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Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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God is Greater- What Love Is Week 4

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Remember learning math in elementary school? Teachers would use all sorts of visual and tangible things to help us understand the different concepts. One I’ll never forget was learning the symbols for “greater than” and “less than.” Although the symbols were simple, it was hard for the kids in my class to remember which side of the “<” and “>” symbols represented the larger and smaller numbers. So my teacher cleverly told us to imagine a hungry alligator eating the number. Of course, his open mouth would face the greater number so that he had more to eat. I thought about that visual recently as I read 1 John. It’s reassuring to know that God is greater than some of the most powerful influences we face every day.

 God is Greater than Our Hearts

We often hear the phrase “follow your heart,” but if we heed this advice, the results aren’t always positive. In Scripture, the heart is used to represent thoughts, reasoning, understanding, will, judgment, affections, love, hatred, fear, joy, sorrow and anger. As a result, the heart can often lead us to make decisions based on our feelings instead of on truth. Sometimes it leads us down the right path, but sometimes it doesn’t. The prophet Jeremiah describes the heart’s fickle nature this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)

Our hearts can deceive us when we let them influence our faith too much. They can cause us to be too harsh or too lenient in our views of others and ourselves. If we’re feeling disconnected from God, this might cause us to doubt his love for us. And if we get stuck in a rut of sin, we might feel like we no longer deserve God’s love. Thankfully, “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20, NIV) Our salvation is not based on our feelings about God, but upon the grace, love and mercy he showed to us by sending Jesus to die for our sins on the cross. If you’ve accepted Christ as your savior, that is a truth you can believe, whether your feelings agree with it or not.

God is Greater than The Evil One

John’s letter also emphasizes that Christians are spiritually stronger than spirits of evil. He says, You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:3-4, NIV)  The “one” John refers to here is Satan, the prince of this world.

The evil one loves to distract believers with difficulties to prevent them from advancing the kingdom of God on earth. He wants to deceive us into believing we are powerless to fight his schemes. Sometimes he lulls us into apathy or self-absorption. Regardless of the methods he uses, his aim is the same: to take our eyes off of God and to make us forget that we have already claimed victory over him because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So the next time you’re facing discouragement, distress or any other negative situation, stop and pray.   Thank God that he is greater than the enemy and claim the Lord’s power over whatever difficulty you are facing.

God is Greater than the World

It doesn’t take much to realize that living for Jesus means living contrary to the majority of the world. Christ followers spend their days swimming against the tide of popular opinion and worldly philosophies. And just like physical exercise makes our bodies stronger, this “spiritual exercise” makes our faith stronger. It can also make us a little weary sometimes.

Although the world often sees following God’s commands as impossible, Scripture makes it clear that obeying God is within our grasp:

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:1-5, NIV)

We are victorious whenever we choose to reject the world’s influence on our thoughts and actions and follow God’s ways instead. This happens when we seek his direction for major life decisions instead of following worldly wisdom. It also occurs through daily decisions about the way we spend money and time, the company we keep, the pleasures we pursue and the ways we treat others. There is no need to feel burdened by these decisions. Doing things God’s way frees us up to grow closer to him and to discover more of the abundant life he has for us.

Claiming God’s Greatness

Maybe you need a reminder right now that God has overcome these areas in your life. Are your emotions influencing your thoughts more than the truth found in the Bible? Be encouraged that God is greater than your heart. Is Satan toying with you by causing you to believe lies or to wallow in self-pity? Be empowered knowing that God has overcome the evil one. Are the hollow philosophies and sinful choices of our culture wearing you down or lulling you into complacency? Be energized knowing that through Christ, you have overcome the world.

There are two great songs based on these truths that always encourage me. Click on the link to hear “Greater is He” by Blanca and “Greater” by Mercy Me.

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Authority Lost and Reclaimed- Women of the Word Part 2

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Squaring my shoulders, I tried to smile, hoping no one could see my heart thumping wildly as the teacher spoke, “Class, this is our new student teacher, Miss Callahan. She’ll be taking over for the rest of the semester and I expect you to show her some respect.”

One or two expressionless sophomores made eye contact with me; the rest slumped in their chairs or talked with their seat mates. No one acknowledged the teacher’s announcement. As an unseasoned student teacher ready to start my first classroom assignment, the scene in front of me was hardly encouraging.

That semester of student teaching was one of the most challenging times in my life. The two classes I taught behaved in almost opposite ways: the sophomores were disengaged and disrespectful while the seniors were open and willing to learn.   It wasn’t that my teaching methods varied from one class to the other or even that the kids were different ages. The issue was the way the students viewed my master teachers, the ultimate authorities in the classroom. One teacher had lost the attention and respect of her students in September, so by the time I arrived in January, her authority meant nothing. I was fighting a losing battle to win their respect. The other teacher, however, was both feared and esteemed. Her authority meant something, so as her student teacher, the class took my authority seriously too.

This memory surfaced recently as I pondered the concept of authority reading the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-3.   Just after creating Adam and Eve, God blessed them and said: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28, NIV)

God created the world and then gave Adam and Eve authority to rule over it. They had the free will to choose to do things His way or to follow their own path. Although everything He had given them was good, it wasn’t long before Satan came in the form of a serpent and enticed Eve to doubt God. By tempting her to disobey Him, the snake implied God might be withholding something desirable from her:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’

 You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:1-6, NIV)

By choosing to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve gave away the authority God had given them at creation. They were too naïve to understand that everything under their authority would fall when they fell. Their actions brought a curse on all of creation and gave Satan authority over all that God had given them.   Although God remained the ultimate and sovereign authority, He allowed Adam and Eve to exercise their free will, even though it went against Him. But they also had to live with the consequences of their choice.

This is why many years later, when Jesus was just beginning His earthly ministry, Satan could legitimately claim authority over the earth when he tempted Jesus: “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’” (Luke 4:5-7, NIV)

Fortunately, Jesus retraced Adam and Eve’s footsteps to the point of temptation and succeeded in obedience where they had failed. Although Jesus was fully God, he set aside that part of Himself so that He could function completely as a human:

“[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 2:6-8, NIV)

When God resurrected Jesus from death, Satan was defeated and stripped of his authority: “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive… Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 24-25, NIV)

Jesus gave us the same Holy Spirit that empowered Him, making it possible for us to be obedient to God and to have an intimate relationship with Him (see John 14:11-21). Jesus returned us to the original place of authority for which we were created. He said to His disciples: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20, NIV)

Our Master Teacher commands ultimate authority and respect and as His “student teachers” we have access to that same authority. It is ours to claim, if only we will recognize this and act upon it.  Satan was defeated at the cross, but he will continue to wreak havoc on the earth until Jesus returns.  He pushes boundaries, preying on weakness and taking advantage of people who don’t know or have access to spiritual authority through Christ.  “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV)

There is no need to fear, however:  “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:20, NIV)

Do you understand the authority God has given you? Are you using it to combat the enemy and to unleash God’s rule and reign in your spheres of influence?

If you want to learn more about these concepts, consider reading Charles Kraft’s book I Give You Authority, which provided the inspiration and content for this post. The information here is a brief overview of this important topic for anyone that is serious about following Jesus.

For a musical reminder of this important truth, click on the link to hear Blanca’s song “Greater is He.”

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Godly Sorrow

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It was a brisk fall evening when the sport utility vehicle sped down our street, careened around an unexpected curve, lost control and mowed down our neighbors’ mailbox. Despite flattening the sturdy wooden post, it was going fast enough to plow through our front hedge and hit our parked SUV, spinning it backwards before slamming it into the corner of our house. The speeding car finally came to a stop on our front lawn. Despite the sturdiness of the vehicle, its front end was a crumpled mass of metal. The sixteen-year-old driver emerged from the mangled car without a scratch. He had been racing his buddies down our street and misjudged the turn in the dark.

As the teenage boys sat on the curb waiting for the driver’s parents and the police, they discussed the incident with great enthusiasm, seeming to revel in the excitement of having totaled not one, but two, eight passenger vehicles. Although this incident happened ten years ago, I’ll never forget the behavior of the driver and his friends. At the time of the accident, my own boys were only six and four. I can remember making them study the smashed cars carefully so that they’d remember it when they were old enough to drive (one of them now is).

A few minutes after the accident, the driver’s father arrived on the scene. We exchanged insurance information and he muttered, “I’m sorry this happened.” He never had his son look us in the eye and apologize. The boy didn’t return the next day to help clean up the mess in our yard or to replace our neighbor’s mailbox. I’m not sure if he learned any valuable lessons from that incident, but I know my boys did.

I was reminded of that accident this week as I studied the concept of repentance and godly sorrow. These aren’t very popular topics in today’s culture. It seems we’ve become a society averse to accepting responsibility for our mistakes, let alone labeling them as sin and seeking forgiveness. We shift blame whenever possible. Or even worse, we try to rationalize why the wrong things we’re doing are actually justified.  Many in our culture want to excuse or even condone sinful behavior altogether.

No one likes to admit they’re wrong, but for those who call themselves followers of Jesus, this needs to be something we do regularly. When we humble ourselves, admit our sins and seek God’s forgiveness, He offers it freely. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV) Here’s the catch: we can’t be forgiven if we don’t acknowledge our sin.

King David provides a great example of one who tried to avoid responsibility for his sins.  You might remember when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, got her pregnant and then tried to avoid the the truth by ensuring her husband would be killed in battle (see 1 Samuel 11 & 12 for the story). When the prophet Nathan confronted him, he finally admitted his sin and sought forgiveness, prompting him to write Psalm 51.

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, NIV)

David finally accepted responsibility for his actions and admitted he was broken by his sin. He acknowledged that what he had done was wrong. He approached God with humility and sorrow over his grievous behavior. And God forgave him.

We see a similar theme of the “contrite heart” in the apostle Paul’s writing:

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NIV)

Godly sorrow involves repenting–literally and figuratively turning away from our sins and going a different direction.   It is sorrow over the wickedness of our sins. It expresses grief, understanding the hurt we cause our heavenly Father when we engage in sin. Coming to God with a contrite heart enables us to experience the tremendous grace and forgiveness He offers us through the blood of Jesus.

Conversely, worldly sorrow is self-centered. It is focused on the painful consequences of sin, not on the offense it is to God.   It is sorry the situation happened, but accepts no blame and has no intention of changing. (Sounds like my opening story, doesn’t it?) Worldly sorrow is an apology with words, but with no heart behind it.

It’s easy to get swept up in the attitude of our culture—to want to avoid responsibility for wrongdoing or to explain it away. We receive this message subtly, but constantly.  If we follow Jesus, we must be on our guards lest we get lured into this way of thinking.

When was the last time you came before God with a contrite heart, deeply troubled by the hurt you’d caused Him through your sin? It’s never too late to get down on your knees and humbly ask for forgiveness. God has so much more to offer us than the world does. The first step to discovering that is our humble repentance.

Casting Crowns wrote a song based on David’s words in Psalm 103 that describe how God sees our sins once we confess them. Click on the link and be encouraged by “East to West.”

 


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Old vs. New

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There is a person in my life that causes me great angst at times. She’s critical of everything about me, always noticing my flaws and mistakes. When I don’t measure up to her standards, she’s ruthless in her criticism. No matter how many positive things I’m doing, she always notices what I’m not doing or what I could be doing more. She’s impatient, jealous and judgmental. She constantly compares me to others.

As much as I’d like to cut this person out of my life forever, I can’t seem to shake her completely. By now you’re probably wondering: who is this awful person?   Well, I call her “Old Me.” She’s the person I would be without God’s saving grace; she is my fleshly, worldly self.   Sadly, “Old Me” looks a lot like “New Me” on the outside, but her interior life is another story.

“Old Me” seems to show up when I haven’t been spending time with God consistently and renewing my mind in the truth of His Word. She deceives me into thinking I can perform for God to win His favor.   She focuses a lot on doing for God and not much on simply being with Him.

I was thinking about “Old Me” recently while reading Tim Chester’s book You Can Change. In it, he points out that many people change their behavior but are still not pleasing to God because their motives are impure.   When I think about the person I used to be (and that I can still be at times) I see that many of the things I did seemed good, but my reasons for doing them had more to do with proving myself or pleasing others than anything else. Chester explains: “We don’t do good works so we can be saved; we are saved so we can do good works. ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith…not a result of works… For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’ (Ephesians 2:8-10).”

“New Me” experiences joy by doing good things God has prepared for me– it’s about responding to His love, not dutifully checking a box to feel good about myself or to gain approval from others.   In this frame of mind, my eyes are on God, not on myself. My desire is to please Him because I love Him, not because I’m trying to earn His favor.

One of the best passages that illustrates eliminating “Old Me” so that “New Me” can flourish comes from the gospel of John. In this passage, Jesus speaks to His disciples saying,

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:5-9, NIV)

Remaining in God’s love impacts our perspectives and enables us to grow and thrive in our faith. The fruit He produces in us blesses and benefits others. (One of my pastors recently pointed out that a tree produces fruit for others to consume, not for its own benefit). For those abiding in God’s love, joy comes from growing deeper in our walks with Him and helping others to do the same. Conversely, when we don’t remain in His love, we’re not producing fruit–we’re trying to do things through our own effort to prove ourselves. For me, this is when “Old Me” tends to rear her head. In Jesus’ analogy of the vine, the withered branches represent “Old Me” and the only thing they’re good for is kindling.

This battle between “Old Me” and “New Me” happens more often than I’d like to admit. Maybe you can relate. We have a choice every day to abide with Christ, to remain in His love and to let Him renew our minds. The alternative is to do things our way.   It boils down to a standoff between living in our flesh and living by the Spirit. Let’s not be deceived by our “Old Me’s” anymore. God has already won the battle and we can embrace the truth that we are living under His grace. We are holy, righteous and redeemed, no matter what our old selves may try to tell us.

Mercy Me has an amazing song that speaks this truth. Click on the link to be encouraged by “Greater.”

Chester, Time; You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions; Crossway, 2010, p. 28


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Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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Thirty-nine years into their desert wanderings Moses and the Israelites were on the brink of entering the Promised Land. Just when it was finally within their grasp, Moses and his brother, Aaron, committed a sin so grievous that God barred them from leading the people into Canaan. They were doomed to die in the desert. It all started with a familiar problem: the Israelites were grumbling because they had no water. Once again, Moses and Aaron sought help from the Lord:

Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord said to Moses, ‘Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.’

So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, ‘Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?’ Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.’” (Numbers 20:6-12, NIV)

In this week’s study Priscilla Shirer asks: “How did Moses offend the Lord? Why do you think the Lord withheld entry into Canaan rather than assigning a lesser punishment?” (One in a Million p. 116)  For me, these weren’t easy questions to answer. If you’re feeling the same, continue reading to see what I learned from consulting different teachers and commentaries.   It may help you understand the reason for God’s severe punishment of Moses and Aaron in spite of their prominent positions.

Disobedience to God’s Clear Instructions

God gave a simple direction to Moses and Aaron. They were to speak to a specific rock while the community watched. God promised that water would pour from the rock as a result. However, Moses chose to respond to the people’s grumbling with exaggerated anger.   Instead of simply speaking to the rock, he struck it twice with his staff. Psalm 106:32-33 provides some commentary on this:

“By the waters of Meribah they angered the Lord, and trouble came to Moses because of them; for they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips.” (NIV)

Pinpointing What Went Wrong

In his anger, Moses over reacted to the Israelites’ complaints about having no water. He let his emotions take control and spoke rashly to the people. “It was not God but Moses who was angry at the people. Therefore, the pronoun we was a form of blasphemy… If Moses had merely spoken to the rock, as the Lord had directed, the miracle would have pointed to the power of God. As it was, Moses took God’s place both in word and deed. Moses’ sin was a willful refusal to point away from himself to God’s power and thus sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the people. Moses and Aaron shared the chastisement for this sin.” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 138)

Several things stand out to me in this explanation:

1) Moses let his emotions get the best of him–his anger led him to sin

2) Moses characterized God inaccurately to the people

3) Moses spoke for God when he was not instructed to do so (the commentary labels this as a form of blasphemy)

4) Moses demonstrated pride in his “willful refusal to point away from himself”

The truth is, we’re not much different from Moses:

-There are times when we let our emotions take control and lead us into sin.

-We all have moments of inaccurately portraying God to others. It’s called hypocrisy. (Have you ever encountered someone who wants nothing to do with God because they’ve previously had a negative experience with a hypocritical Christian?)

-There are times when we’re tempted to speak for God or to bend His Word to fit our agendas.

-All of us also struggle with pride. It’s human nature to place us in the center of the universe and to want everything to revolve around our personal wants and needs.

God’s Grace

One thing that is easy to overlook in this story is that despite Moses and Aaron’s sin, God still provided water from the rock to meet the people’s needs that day. In fact, the fingerprints of God’s grace are smeared all over the Israelites’ story. Jesus is present throughout their wanderings even though He’s never mentioned by name. Consider this: God’s daily provision of manna and water give tangible examples of what Jesus does for us spiritually as the Bread of Life (John 6) and the Living Water (John 4 & 7).

The apostle Paul links Jesus directly to the Israelites:

 “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4, NIV)

One commentary explains the rock mentioned in Numbers “was the visible means of the supply of water which came ultimately from Christ. Since people of Israel obtained this water in the opening years of their wilderness wandering (Exodus 17:1-9) and in the closing years (Numbers 20:1-13), it is only natural to infer that he, Christ, the Supplier of the water, was with them all along the way.” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1245) Sometimes we forget that as a member of the Trinity, Jesus was with God from the beginning:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:1,2,14,17 NIV)

Looking at the story of the rock from Numbers 20, God’s punishment to Moses may seem harsh. However, the stark reality is that we are all sinners in a fallen world who deserve to be barred from entrance into the Promised Land of heaven. In the same way God’s grace provided water in spite of Moses’ sin, His grace provided Jesus to pay for our sins when we didn’t deserve it. Because of this, we’re freed to receive God’s grace so that we can enjoy His abundance in our present lives and spend eternity with Him.

Moses first encountered God in the burning bush at the foot of Mount Sinai. He returned with the Israelites to worship there later. From the heights of Mount Nebo, he had sweeping views of the Promised Land that he would never enter. Because of this, it seemed fitting to include a song describing the spiritual moments that happen in our mountain top experiences. Click on the link to hear Crowder’s “This I Know.”

Pfeiffer, Charles F. and Harrison, Everett F.; Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Editors; Moody Press, 1962, 1990.

Shirer, Priscilla; One in a Million: Journey to Your Promised Land; Lifeway Press; 2010, 2014.


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A Fresh Start

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Our car gleamed in the early morning light as we pointed it north and drove up the freeway. Freshly washed and waxed, the sun’s first rays reflected off the sleek surface as we began our ten-hour trek. It’s become a ritual in our family to begin a driving trip with a clean car. We even have a saying for it: “Clean cars run better.” It seems best to start a long road trip keeping this practice in mind. It’s never failed us yet.

Crossing the border from California into Oregon, a light dusting of snow began to fall. By the time we reached Portland, the grime of the road and the wet weather had dulled the sheen of the once-clean car. It was bound to happen, so why did we bother? Maybe it’s because there is something that feels good about starting fresh.

It could be the reason these words resonate with me:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23, NIV)

Yes, the car got dirty after we washed it, but it was much easier to clean when we got home because the layers of dirt weren’t thick and hadn’t been there long. The same thing is true of our spiritual lives: every morning we get a new day to start again. God’s compassion for us is renewed and He shows His faithfulness. No matter how messy the day before was or how much we messed up, God lets us push the re-start button.

Maybe that’s why we celebrate a New Year. It’s why January First marks the day people resolve to start over and try again. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s never futile to begin anew. Each time, we learn and grow in new ways. Plus, it’s a chance to clear off the grime of past sins before they consume us. When we take time to do spiritual spring-cleaning, to examine our hearts and to receive God’s compassion afresh, we stay more closely aligned with His Spirit. The longer and further we stray, the harder it is to re-engage.

The beginning of a New Year is a great chance to regain lost ground and claim new territory in our walks with God. It’s the time to open a new devotional or to begin reading our Bibles daily. It’s a blank page, just waiting to be filled with new possibilities. If you’re a part of CPC’s Focused Living, you’ll be hearing much more about that as we begin our new study by Priscilla Shirer called One in a Million: Journey to Your Promised Land. If you’re a regular reader from beyond the group, I’ll be sure to keep it relevant for you.

I can’t wait to start fresh, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Click on the link to be inspired by Lincoln Brewster’s song: “Made New.”


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The Pros and Cons of “More”

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Crossing the floor of my younger son’s bedroom sometimes feels like navigating my way through a bed of nails. When he is deep into his creative mode, colorful plastic Legos with hard edges and sharp corners cover his carpet. He can sit for hours surrounded by a pile of his favorite building materials. Vehicles, skyscrapers, spaceships and mini figures have overtaken much of the real estate on his bedroom floor. Although I often point out that he has more than enough, requests for new Lego sets regularly appear on his birthday and Christmas wish lists. He sighs at my lack of understanding when I use words like “gluttony” or “hoarding” to describe his obsession with Legos. It’s a good-natured disagreement over a fairly minor issue.   He thinks he needs more and I think he has more than he needs.

It turns out the Bible has quite a bit to say about the concept of “more” but the issues have much higher stakes. Sometimes abundance is positive, as we see when Paul, Silas and Timothy urge the Thessalonians to please God and to love one another more and more:

“As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more…  Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1,9-10, NIV, bold print added)

There are other times, however, when Scripture shows “more” as not necessarily positive:

-Hatred: “Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.” (Genesis 37:5, NIV, bold print added)

-Corruption: “But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways. (Judges 2:19, NIV, bold print added)

-Fear: “Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.” (1 Samuel 18:29, NIV, bold print added)

-Sinful Behavior: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” (Ephesians 4:19, NIV, bold print added)

Beth Moore explains the tension between positive and negative abundance in our lives: “Something is going to grow. Something will get ‘more’ of us. Will it be hatred? Coldness? Addiction? Sensuality? Perversion? Devotion? Affection? Belief? Blessing? Ask yourself this question as I do the same: knowing the propensity of things to grow, which way do I want to go? ‘More and more’ one direction will force its antithesis into ‘less and less.’ We get to decide which we want to feed and which we want to starve.” (Children of the Day, p. 93)

Sometimes it’s wise and healthy to take a step back and evaluate the things in our lives that are influencing us “more and more.” Use the questions below to consider how each area impacts what grows “more and more” in our lives:

The company we keep:

-Are our typical activities and topics of conversation honoring to God?

-Does alcohol play a prominent role in our times together and would we still have fun without it?

-How are our personal attitudes and outlooks affected after spending time together?

-Are our worldly friends rubbing off on us more or is our Christian faith rubbing off on them more?

The social and extracurricular activities in which our families participate:

-How do they impact our schedules and ability to have healthy time margins?

-Does involvement in them still make it possible to go to church and be involved in Christian community?

-Are they defining our self-worth or our children’s self-worth?

-Are they bringing out the best in our families or making us more prone to comparison and unhealthy competition?

The entertainment we enjoy:

-Do the movies, TV shows, magazines, books, websites, social media, blogs, games and other past times we like influence us more toward worldly viewpoints or godly ones?

-Do we make time for entertainment, but struggle to find time to spend with God daily?

The material things we acquire:

-Do we talk about, look at and shop for material things continually?

-Are there any material things that have captured our attention and become the central focus of our lives?

-Are we willing to make needed changes when we recognize that material objects are mattering to us “more and more”?

The personal comfort we crave:

-Do we spend a significant amount of time arranging for and focusing on our own personal comfort?

-Is an emphasis on our physical, emotional and relational comfort causing us to become self-centered?

-Is being comfortable more important than letting God stretch us in new ways?

Finding a healthy balance with these things is a lifelong endeavor that requires constant prayer and vigilance. Not all of these issues have black and white answers–just like my son’s view on the quantity of his Legos differs from mine. The Bible is one of the best places to find clear answers.  Determining if you have more of something than you should is between you and God.

If you’re feeling convicted after reading through the questions and consulting Scripture, do not be discouraged. This is a great step toward healthy growth and shows that you have a teachable heart. God is ready and waiting to help you when you admit your struggle to Him. In addition to praying, you may need to ask for help from a wise friend, counselor or pastor.   There is no need for guilt or personal condemnation.   God’s Word promises us: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23a, NIV)

The good news is that there are things that we can pursue “more and more” without worrying about negative effects:

The Bible: The more we study it, the more we can be amazed by how God’s truth is woven together from start to finish. The more we learn, the hungrier we become to know more.

Prayer: The more we lay at the feet of God, the more we see Him working in our lives. This leads to more trust in God and more peace in all circumstances.

Jesus:  The more time we spend with Him, the more He reveals Himself to us and the deeper our relationship with Him grows.

The Holy Spirit: The more we ask Him to fill us, the more He gives us wisdom and enables us to impact the lives of others.

Christian Music: The more we listen to Christian music, the more we’re drawn to the heart of God and to seeing the world through a biblical lens.

A Godly Perspective on our Time and Finances: The more we see our time and money as belonging to God, the more willing we are to put aside our personal agendas in order to pursue Him, give generously and serve others to further His kingdom.

For more inspiration, click on the link to hear Colton Dixon’s song “More of You.” Make it your prayer as you listen.

(quote from Moore, Beth; Children of the Day; 2014; Lifeway Press; http://www.lifeway.com)