To Be Forewarned is to be Forearmed – Be Prepared for the Trap

In any battle, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Knowing the strategies of the enemy gives us a fighting edge to be prepared for any traps ahead. Though I would rather focus on the victory Christ has already secured, wisdom is necessary to fully attain that position.

The enemy doesn’t have any new battle plans. He isn’t smart enough for that. However, his old tactics of ensnaring people continue to work as well as ever. Paul encouraged the Corinthian church to remember

“…we are not ignorant of the enemies schemes.”
2 Corinthians 2:11

Paul is referring to the trap of unforgiveness.

Solomon warned his son about certain life issues he might face. Within these warnings, we find the familiar but deadly pattern the enemy uses to entice us to sin.

Solomon’s downfall eventually separated him from God’s blessing. Perhaps, he speaks here to his son from his own negative experiences. During the course of my life, I too have followed a few paths of entrapment and gained wisdom through the experiences.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. We all need wisdom to be prepared to overcome these traps of the enemy.

Boundaries

My dad often said, “Good fences make good neighbours.” This old motto reinforces the need for boundaries. Boundaries create a positive dividing or demarcation line — separating healthy from unhealthy, positive from negative.

“I saw among the simple,
I noticed among the young men,
a youth who had no sense.
He was going down the street near her corner,
walking along in the direction of her house”
Proverbs 7:7-8

Not only the young, but everyone, benefits from having healthy boundaries. “Simple” could mean naïve or someone who lacks understanding and experience. Failure to establish boundaries of protection usually starts innocently enough. But we have probably all heard someone say, “I can handle it! It won’t affect me!”

Pride still goes before a fall!

So on he walks. Straight into the enemies trap! “Going down…”

“at twilight, as the day was fading,
as the dark of night set in.”
Proverbs 7:9

The cloak of darkness offers the illusion of secrecy. The wise walk in the light. Those with evil intention, however, attempt to hide their actions under cover of darkness. At least in the beginning.

False Promises

The devil promises big as he comes with “crafty intent.” ( vs 10)

“Sin will take you farther than you want to go,
keep you longer than you want to stay,
and cost you more than you want to pay.”
R. Zaccharias

Solomon wanted his son to be prepared. Truly, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Sin’s path can be found “at every corner.” It is only one step away for any one of us.

“now in the street, now in the square,
at every corner she lurks.”
Proverbs 7:12

Honestly, we don’t need to look down “the street” or into “the square.” The sinful propensity lies much closer than that. It is within us. Within us all. Appealing to our human nature — our flesh.

“She took hold of him and kissed him
and with a brazen face she said:
Today I fulfilled my vows,
and I have food from my fellowship offering at home.”
Proverbs 7:13-14

The enemy promises a feast but delivers a famine. He promises pleasure but inflicts pain.

Prowling

No one needs to deliberately go looking for trouble to find it. Trouble watches and waits for us!

“So I came out to meet you;
I looked for you and have found you! ”
I have covered my bed
with colored linens from Egypt.
I have perfumed my bed with myrrh,
aloes and cinnamon.”
Proverbs 7:15-16

The devil perfectly prepares each trap — appealing to all our senses. He makes sure it looks and smells good. Too good!

Be prepared! And alert! Knowing the schemes of the enemy enables us to steer clear of his traps. Peter encourages,

“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

Persuasion

Like he did in the garden with Adam and Eve, the enemy continues to entice us all with forbidden “fruit”. He offers sex and calls it love. He presents greed and calls it blessing. Or selfishness and calls it empowerment.  Satan lures us

outside the boundaries of godly authority,
over the threshold of desire,
to eat stolen food —
seductively poisonous —
into the place of death,
locked behind doors of secrecy
and evil intention.

The pathway of deception is predictable,

“With persuasive words she led him astray;
she seduced him with her smooth talk.”
Proverbs 7:21

With words, many words, too many words, we attempt to rationalize the irrational.

Heart Issue

The enemies tactics appeal to every aspect of the flesh, but the real issue lies within our hearts.

“Do not let your heart turn to her ways
or stray into her paths.”
Proverbs 7:25

My little grand-daughter recently reminded me, “What you say is what you are because what you say is what is in your heart.” She is short in years but long in wisdom. Words and actions flow from our hearts.

The heart turns before head. The heart strays before our feet. Since sin is actually a heart issue, how can we keep our hearts pure and steadfast?

“How can a young person
stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.”
Psalm 119:9

The psalmist asked the same question. Then answers it. “By living according to your word.” Living according to God’s word prepares us for any trap the enemy might have waiting “on the path of purity.”

The Word

The word of God isn’t an endless series of dos and don’ts. It gives practical advice and perfect wisdom for young and old, for male and female, and for every and any situation.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed — honestly! God’s warning isn’t to create hopelessly or fear. Rather He shines a light on the way to victory against our adversary.

Resist him, standing firm in the faith,
because you know that the family of believers
throughout the world is undergoing
the same kind of sufferings.”
1 Peter 5:9

God enables us to be prepared to fully “resist” the devil. He offers solid principles for “standing firm” against every deception or temptation.

We start by establishing boundaries of accountability with others. Avoiding secrecy and living truthfully before God and others moves us one step closer to overcoming. No one is immune to attack! When we sense temptation or hear the lies of false promises, stop and look around. The enemy lurks close. God establishes levels of authority for our protection, so whenever we feel tempted to circumvent authority, we can be certain the bait has been set!

God has clearly exposed the enemies strategies to give us the victor’s advantage.

But let’s go one step further. Let’s help others avoid entrapment, too. When we become honest about our own struggles it creates a door of opportunity. It gives them permission to seek the support and accountability they need to rise in strength and overcome.

Be prepared! Let’s guard the gates of our hearts and homes together!

Proverbs 3:5 – Trust In The Lord With All Your Heart

What does it mean to “trust in the Lord with all your heart?” These seven little words may take a life time to accomplish. Why? Because they require moment-by-moment, day-by-day, surrender — all encompassing surrender.

The problem started for us all in the Garden of Eden a long time ago. Self-reliance began the unceasing battle against surrender. Since that time, every individual has witnessed this relentless war. Even the youngest of us asserts, “I can do it myself.” 

Positive determination has produced amazing results. It has led mankind to explore, invent, engineer, create and break preconceived limitations. Through this compulsion we have

stood on mountains,
walked in space,
explored ocean depths,
developed cures,
conquered fears,
and challenged the impossible.

But such exploits have also created an over confidence in our own ability, ingenuity or intelligence. So how do we turn about face and kneel before the Lord God, Creator and Sustainer of all?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on
your own understanding.”
Proverbs 3:5

Jenna Loveridge Photography

Trust

As a mother, I find it uncomfortable to watch a young child being thrust into the air by its father. The child may scream in fear, while simultaneously delighting in the game of dangerous reliance of its father. The father trusts in his own strength to catch the child. However, the child trusts in the father’s loving character to not allow it to fall.

Sometimes, I honestly feel like that little child tossed skyward by my Heavenly Father — gasping for air and screaming. Not always in delight! Usually, I’m not wanting more!

Trust conveys a sense of security or calm assurance.

“May the God of hope fill you
with all joy and peace
as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow
with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Romans 15:13

Such explicit trust, of necessity, requires that we know the One we are trusting in. Do I trust Him as the God of all hope? Do I know Him to be trustworthy? Or do I question His character and His love for me?

How I perceive God’s character will ultimately determine my level of trust in Him.

The LORD

The name for God used here is “Yahweh” — “I AM.”

“God said to Moses,
I AM WHO I AM.’…”
Exodus 3:14

Perhaps it takes so long to trust God, because it takes time to understand who He is. Self reliance declares, “Trust only yourself.” However, history has shown how faulty that reasoning is!

By reading the bible, we begin to develop insight into God’s nature. Experience also teaches us that He is completely trustworthy. His character is constant and good — indescribably good.

God
eternal, self-existent,
omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient,
Alpha and Omega, without beginning or end,
independent and unchanging,
absolute truth, beauty and goodness.

Jenna Loveridge Photography

The more we come to accurately know God for who He truly is, the more we sense the security and calm assurance that comes with trusting Him.

“Those who know your name
trust in you, for you, LORD,
have never forsaken those who seek you.”
Psalm 9:10

Can we trust God when our prayer seems to go unanswered? Can we trust Him when He appears distant even though we needed His Presence? How can we trust Him when His ways are so much different than ours?

These are honest questions. The only honest answer is, “Yes!” Yes, because His love never fails. Yes, because He is immeasurable good. Yahweh is redemptive in all He does. He remains trustworthy.

With All

If seven words present a problem, seven letters create an even bigger one — “with all.”  Perhaps, we can trust God “with a little”. We might even trust Him “with some.” But “with all?”  Now that’s different. And difficult!

Dare I trust Him with

my family and relationships,
finances and possession,
dreams and desires,
restoring my past or securing my future,
providing not just what is good,
but the absolute best?

It has been over 40 years since in hopelessness I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. With faltering prayer, I simply said, “Lord, I have nothing worth giving you. But if you want me, I am Yours. Take the broken pieces. I give them all to You.” With that, I gave Jesus “all.”

Amazingly enough He took me up on the offer. He still holds me to it!

Through the years, God has been persuading me about the inclusively of “all.” Some things I have clung too resistantly. Other things, I have gladly tossed His way. “With all” really does mean everything. God cannot be Lord, if He is only lord of some. Lordship encompasses “all.”

“You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfact,
because they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD, the LORD himself,
is the Rock eternal.”
Isaiah 26:3-4

Yet with such yielding comes peace — “perfect peace.”

Heart

The heart signifies the centre — the core of all feelings, will, and intellect. The heart makes me, me and you, you. It determines our values, how we perceive the world around us and  how we respond to others. The heart is the central part that makes every aspect of our lives “tick.”

The human heart is made up of many chambers. So is our heart of hearts. Trusting Him must flow through “all” the centre of our being.

“I will say of the LORD,
“He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalms 91:2

Do we foolishly think we can trust our feelings above His goodness? Are we in any way resistant to surrendering our will? In what ways do we believe we know better than God? Writing these question makes them sound unreasonable. Perhaps because they are.

Yet, in my littleness, I cling to them with childlike determination. God pulls at my small hand with persistence, wanting my little, so He can grant me His big more.

Trusting in oneself “with all your heart” proves futile. On the other hand, “trust(ing) the Lord with all your heart” brings his security and calm assurance.

Blessings

Many promises await fulfillment as we trust the Lord — in everything and with everything.

“But blessed is the one
who
trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree
planted by the w
ater
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:7-8

Trust and blessing co-exist — inseparably bound together. As fragile as our trust might seem, it powerfully links us to innumerable benefits. The security and calm confidence derived from trusting in the Lord replaces fear and worry. Trusting God demolishes the vulnerability of uncertainty.

So today, I trust again, afresh and more fully. Moment-by-moment, day-by-day, I choose totrust in the Lord with all (my) heart.”

God faithfully invites me closer, while creating new opportunities to trust. He also rewards my efforts to trust with confidence.

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Greater Things than These – The God of Greater and Greater

God exceeds all expectation. What if greater things than ever before are coming our way? Greater than anything experienced to this point in history. The bible reveals sufficient evidence to cause us to believe that what lays ahead is far better than anything in preceding times.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me
will do the works I have been doing,
and they will do even greater things than these,
because I am going to the Father.”
John 14:12

The disciples witnessed Jesus perform many miracles, heal the sick, raise the dead, calm storms, cast out demons and feed multitudes.  He taught scripture with indisputable authority, confounding His strongest opponents. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven, His followers continued to teach and perform supernatural miracles. They were ordinary men doing extra-ordinary works through the Holy Spirit.

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John
and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men,
they were astonished and they took note
that these men had been with Jesus.”
Acts 4:13

The only explanation for the supernatural works of God moving through natural man was they “had been with Jesus.”

Glory to Glory

The Kingdom of God refuses to remain stagnant. In fact, “The Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing in spite of great opposition. (Matthew 11:12) Everything originating through God contains the seed of reproductivity and increase.

Entering the Presence of God caused Moses’ face to radiate with God’s glory. All who looked at him were overcome with fear and awe. Paul tells the Corinthian church even greater glory is coming.

“And we all with unveiled face,
beholding the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image
from one degree of glory to another.
For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 3:18

Far greater things — expressions of God’s glory — awaits us. Why? Because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross.

Strength to Strength

One of my favourite psalms talks about the people of God triumphing over adversity as they continue to pursue His face. Even in the Valley of Baka (Valley of Weeping), they leave behind places of refreshing for others who have found the journey difficult.

“They go from strength to strength,
until each appears before God is Zion.”
Psalm 84:7

Only God provides us with that kind of momentum, ever-increasing levels of spiritual strength. capable of propelling us to finish well. Listen closely to these words,

“He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
…walk and not faint.”
Isaiah 40: 29-31

Although my running days are over, walking is one of my favorite pass times — especially when I can stroll outside the city limits. The truth is, however, these frail bodies have a propensity to wear out and fail us. We all face varying degrees of personal limitation.

Yet, God gives His people a capacity to exceed any natural boundaries. He gave Elijah the ability to outrun a horse and chariot (1Kings 18:46). Moses endured two back-to-back forty day fasts — something humanly impossible. Samson with supernatural strength wrestled a stone palace to the ground with one mighty push. The feats of David’s top warriors (2 Samuel 23) remain unparalleled in history.

But even in our mundane day-to-day activities, for “those who hope” in their God, He grants us the capability of exceeding normal limits. Though my personal examples don’t compare with these biblical counterparts, I have experienced times when beyond a doubt, God, and God alone, carried me through.

Faith to Faith

After Jesus had established His ministry in the surrounding territory, He returned to His hometown.

“And he did not do many miracles there
because of their lack of faith.”
Matthew 13:58

On another occasion, He was astonished by a centurion’s “great faith” — a faith greater than anyone else in Israel! (Matthew 8:10) The disciples asked Jesus to “increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5)

“For in it (the Gospel) the righteousness of God
is revealed from faith to faith,
as it is written,
‘The righteous shall live by faith.'”
Romans 1:17

The Good News of the Gospel awakens within believers an increasing progression of faith. The kind of faith that expands and deepens to even greater faith. Paul commended both the Corinthians and the Thessalonians for their faith that was “growing and growing.” (2 Thessalonians 1:3). Their ever increasing faith became evident in the increase of love displayed toward each other.

Latter Is Better

I enjoy reading about the great revivals that have awakened and transformed the church over the generations. Faith sparking reading to be sure! However, even these remarkable revivalist were aware that what they experienced did not yet measure up to what is yet to come.

Whatever supernatural God encounters mankind has witnessed in the past pales in comparison to what is ahead!

“This is what the LORD Almighty says:
‘In a little while … I will fill this house with glory,’
says the LORD Almighty.
‘The silver and the gold is mine,’
declares the LORD Almighty.
‘The glory of this present house
will be greater than the glory of the former house,’
says the LORD Almighty.’…”
Haggai 2:6-9

The Lord God Almighty continues to be the God of greater and greater things. Our difficulty is

visualizing beyond former paradigms.
believing past the natural,
receiving God’s truth as infallible,
and responding to Holy Spirit incentives.

Isaiah declares

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it…”
Isaiah 43:18-19

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.”
Isaiah 44:3-4

As much as I am inspired by past revivals, they are but a foreshadow of what is ahead — a taste test of the main course to come. God promises such a mighty outpouring of His Spirit that the world cannot fathom. All things are possible for the “LORD Almighty!” 

Greater Things

I pray for an increased, faith-filled expectation for more. The world, my own flesh and the devil creates a gravitational pull that attempts to ground all such heavenly vision. As God begins to pour out Holy Spirit in greater measure, these counter forces work to diminish the effects of God’s live giving flow.

“Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”
William Carey

God is prepared to pour out far more than even our greatest expectation. This greater glory will require even greater faith to lay hold of the promised out-pouring. Greater strength, wisdom and sensitivity will be needed to steward well what God is about to do.

“I also pray that you will understand
the incredible greatness of God’s power
for us who believe him.
This is the same mighty power
that raised Christ from the dead and
seated him in the place of honor
at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.”
Ephesians 1:19-20

Let’s get ready! Greater things are coming!

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5 Little Steps To Walking With Our Big God

Vibrant Christian faith includes a series of intentional little steps. How can these little feet walk in step with such a big God? Only with God’s help! God promises to walk beside us. He also welcomes us to walk with Him.

Today a family of three generations walked past our house. A preschooler recklessly led the entourage while riding his bicycle. The father pushed an empty stroller, while the mother kept the little biker from running over grandpa’s toes. Grandma held both hands of a toddler encouraging its every step.

In a similar way, God walks beside me

holding my hands,
guiding my steps,
providing protection,
and encouraging strength.

God joined Adam and Eve for a daily walk. I imagine happy chatter bounced between the three of them as they walked and talked — that is until the fall.

“Then the man and his wife
heard the sound of the LORD God
as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day,
and they hid from the LORD God
among the trees of the garden.
But the LORD God called to the man,
“Where are you?”
Genesis 3:8,9

“Where are you?”

God still calls to us, “Where are you?” as he waits for us to walk with Him. The same intimate relationship Adam and Eve experienced with God before the fall has been restored to us through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ parting words to his disciples were,

“…Surely I am with you always,
to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:20

Where am I? Too busy or preoccupied? Hiding like Adam or blaming like Eve? Feeling overwhelmed or discouraged?

Where are you? Have you struggled to develop a consistent faith walk?

Every journey, including our walk with God, contains a series of little steps. “S-T-E-P-S” form an acronym for reliable practices that have proved beneficial for generations of Christ followers:

Scriptures
Take away
Early
Prayer
Sacrifice

Scriptures

God’s Word creates a solid footing. Like that Grandmother holding the toddler’s hands, the bible establishes sure principles for us to walk in and live by. Its eternal truths endure through all seasons, for all generations.

God’s Word is perfect in every way;
how it revives our souls!
His laws lead us to truth,
and his ways change the simple into wise.
His teachings make us joyful
and radiate his light;

his precepts are so pure!
His commands, how they challenge us
to keep close to his heart!

The revelation-light of his word
makes my spirit shine radiant.
Every one of the Lord’s commands is right;
following them brings cheer.
Nothing he says ever needs to be changed.
The rarest treasures of life are found in his truth.
That’s why I prize God’s word
like others prize the finest gold.

Nothing brings the soul such sweetness
as seeking his living words.
Psalm 19:7-10

This small passage illustrates just a few of the benefits God’s word provides. Reading, mediating and studying the bible deposits immeasurable “treasures” within us. God holds our hands as we read, protectively guiding our faltering childlike steps —little steps with big God.

If consistent bible reading is new to you, start small. Choose a “quiet” spot where you can keep a bible, a small notepad or journal, and a pen handy. Establishing even a modest goal of 15 minutes a day will reap benefits.

Take Away

As you read the bible seek Holy Spirit’s help for a practical “take away” — something you can begin to incorporate into your life. Ask yourself several questions as you read,

“What application can I pull from this passage?”
“How does this relate to my circumstance or relationships?”
“What can I learn about God’s character?”
“Is there a point of growth for me to pursue?”

The bible documents God’s journey with people from eternity past to eternity future. Though the bible was written by over 40 different authors over a period of 1500 years, its relevance never diminishes.

“Such things were written in Scriptures
long ago to teach us.
And the Scriptures give us
hope and encouragement
as we wait patiently
for God’s promises to be fulfilled.”
Romans 15:4

It’s helpful to record the daily “take away” in a journalGod’s voice to your heart for that day. He may reveal something new or affirm an old lesson in a new way. Recording the “take away” helps us retain His truths. It propels us, through little steps, as we consistently walk with our big God.

Early

A day quickly becomes cluttered with activity or clouded with responsibility. Taking time early in the morning gives God our priority. Jesus said overcoming the pressures of life becomes possible by putting God first.

“But seek first his kingdom
and his righteousness
and all these things
will be given to you as well.”
Matthew 6:33

For some people, early in the morning may be the hardest but most important step. Jesus consistently patterned the example for us.

“Very early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
Jesus got up, left the house
and went off to a solitary place,
where he prayed.”
Mark 1:35

Prayer

That leads into the next “little step” — prayer. Reading the bible allows God to speak to us. Prayer is our response in this ongoing conversation.

After spending time reading the bible and considering a “take away”, prayer flows naturally from our full heart. Aspects of prayer may include:

  • coming into agreement with God’s word
  • committing oneself to follow Him
  • thanksgiving or praise for who He is and what He has done
  • presenting the needs of others
  • laying personal requests before Him
  • or silently waiting in His Presence.

Rejoice always, pray continually,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you
in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Consider writing a prayer in your journal as you confirm this little step with God.

Sacrifice

Jesus called his followers to count the cost of discipleship. Walking with God means abandoning our way and desires. Little steps yield to God’s direction.

When you fast,
do not look somber
as the hypocrites do,
for they disfigure their faces
to show others they are fasting.”
Matthew 6:16

The word “when” implies followers of Christ would fast. Fasting goes beyond dietary restrictions. All the previous steps focused our attention toward God, fasting turns our hearts away from other attractions and distractions.

Food is the most basic need of humanity. The conscious decision of fasting professes God to be our highest essential requirement. Though few Christians in North America fast regularly, fasting acknowledges God as sufficient.

God out-measures any sacrifice we might make. With eternity in mind and joy on our faces, He empowers our little steps of sacrifice.

Five Little Steps

Anne Graham Lotz  writes about two basic rules needed for anyone to walk together:

“The first rule is that we must walk in the same direction.
The second rule is that we must walk at the same pace…
If we want to walk with (God),
we must walk in His direction…at His pace.”

Many generations of followers have incorporated these five little steps in their walk with God: reading of Scriptures, finding a “take away”, seeking God early in the day, prayer and sacrifice. God walks with us encouraging our every step. So let’s keep walking with him. Step by step we will reach the finish line!

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Trust is the Greatest Compliment We Give Each Other

Trust is the greatest compliment we can give each other. Trust securely glues every kind of relationship we experience together: parent and child, husband and wife, teacher and student, friend to friend, leader and disciple, employer to employee. We know the security of trust when it is present. Yet, trust is difficult to define. 

Every newborn baby comes explicitly trusting others to care selflessly for its needs. Yet, broken trust requires extra measures of responsibility, grace and time to restore.  

Love, honour, servanthood, and humility are just a few of the non-optional attributes we owe to each other. But not trust! In fact, Jesus didn’t trust everyone!

“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.”
John 2:23-24

What is this valuable asset, we call trust, in relationships? What allows trust to thrive? How can trust be restored once broken?

Five key elements must exist to create trust: empathy, motivation, ability, character, and history. 

Empathy

The dictionary defines empathy as an “ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. Far too often, our need to be understood exceeds our desire to truly understand others. 

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition
or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility
value others above yourselves,
not looking to your own interests
but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Philippians 2:3-4

Instinctively, we sense when people are more concerned with themselves than with others. Developing positive communication skills, including listening well, has been a process for me. We can learn to hear beyond people’s words to their hearts.

I honestly have to ask myself, “Do I listen well?” So far, the response is “Not good enough!” I am learning, albeit slowly, how to listen with more than my ears. 

Often words mask the real message of the heart. Will I look into people’s eyes and honour their unspoken longing — taking the risk, though messy and uncomfortable? Will I focus on their circumstances, their struggles, and their needs?

“Nobody cares how much you know
until they know how much you care.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

Motivation

Motivation, the reason why someone acts or behaves in a certain way, usually conceals itself in wounded caverns of the soul. We may be ignorant of our own “real” motivation behind our words or actions. 

Dr. Henry Cloud says, “Whenever we meet someone — especially a stranger but also a friend, a boss we see every day, or even a family member — we unconsciously scan the face, read the body language, and assess the tone of voice to determine whether the person is with us or against us. It is just what humans do.” 

“But I, the Lord, search all hearts
and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
according to what their actions deserve.”
Jeremiah 17:10

By allowing God to search our hearts, we become people others can trust. The only way to effectively invest in the lives of others, championing their causes and helping them to succeed, is through pure motives.

When someone has “dropped the ball”, failing us in some way, will vengeance cloud our vision of them? Do we value them and the relationship enough to seek restoration? Will we stand by them until they walk strong again?

Restoring trust is the greatest compliment we can offer. Trust says, “I want you to succeed.”

Ability

It is amazing to me, how Jesus drew His incompetent disciples into ever increasing levels of ability. They floundered and fought. Yet Jesus trusted them enough (after only three years of training) to launch the Christian Church off their backs. Astounding!

Ability unlocks trust.
Trust empowers ability.

We often chose people for positions of trust based on credentials, certification or even the recommendation of others. Jesus chose The Twelve in a different way.

“One of those days
Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray,
and spent the night praying to God.
When morning came,
he called his disciples to him
and chose twelve of them,
whom he also designated apostles.”
Luke 6:12-13

Would any of us have chosen to trust this team? Would we have considered any of them upper level leadership? As Jesus sought the wisdom of God, He saw in each of them potential. 

Relationships require trusting the ability of others to bring what is needed into the situation. Trust says, “This is no gamble! I know that you can do it. You will do well.”

Trust is the greatest compliment we can offer someone who questions their own ability.

Character

Character resembles the steel structure in a skyscraper. It is the invisible strength that sustains a person through time and adversity. As fire forms steel, suffering molds godly character.

“Not only so but we also
glory in our suffering,
because we know that suffering
produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Romans 5:3-4

Character includes far more than the moral aspects required to be trustworthy. Trust grows best among those 

who are optimistic,
know how to persevere through trial,
refuse to act impulsively or defensively,
are unstoppable by fear,
secure and tenacious.

People with these attributes possess character mature enough to trust.

“Character inspires others to trust them.”
– Dr. Henry Cloud

History

Past successes and failures historically map our lives. Paul and Barnabas, after much prayer and fasting, were sent off to preach the gospel. I’m not sure anyone was at fault, but soon we see the team divided over John Mark. 

“They had such a sharp disagreement
that they parted company.
Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,
but Paul chose Silas and left,
commended by the believers
to the grace of the Lord.”
Acts 15:39-41

Paul’s impression of John Mark was clouded by previous experience — “history.” Mark once deserted him “in the work.” Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, embraced Mark in spite of past failure. Paul refused to trust again.

 

Later, Paul considered him a valuable brother. Obviously something changed, either in Paul’s heart or in Mark’s attitude.

“The best predictor of the future is the past,
unless there is something new.”
– Dr. Henry Cloud

Broken trust necessitates change before it can be restored — often on the part of both parties. Such restoration develops over time, forming a new history. Trust is the greatest compliment we can extend to each other. It is the confidence to say, “I believe in you!”

Only One

Trust varies depending on the relationship. God is the only One we can completely trust all the time.

“Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.”
Psalms 62:8

For people, trust is a work in progress through grace and vulnerability. 

Though we might struggle to move past times of broken trust, it is far more beneficial to focus on how we can become trustworthy ourselves. Let’s allow God to reveal our empathy and inner motivation. May we increase in our ability to facilitate trust with strength of character. Then, over the duration of our lives, we will develop a “history” of trust.

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Recommended Read:
Dr. Henry Cloud – “The Power of the Other” 

 

Reputation – What Do I Want to Be Remembered For

One of the most valuable things we can obtain is a good reputation. Call me a little crazy, but sometimes I wonder what people will say in memory of me, when I am dead and gone. Perhaps it is a good thing to keep in mind while I’m still alive and have an opportunity to make life-style adjustments.

Awhile back, I attended a funeral that had been entirely pre-orchestrated by the deceased, from the floral arrangements, to the pictorial history, right down to the obituary and eulogy. This concerned person wasn’t leaving anything to chance.

I don’t enjoy going to funerals, but I do enjoy listening to the revelations of those who knew the individual the best. Usually a person’s life is abbreviated into a few short paragraphs of humorous stories, positive attributes, and outstanding accomplishments.

Amazing, isn’t it? Decades of living condensed into a “Reader’s Digest” version. What is even more interesting is that within a few short years, we begin to remember loved ones not by paragraphs but in single sentences.

“She was a stubborn as the day is long!”
“He was the best teacher I ever had.”
“That man could make anything work.”
“I felt sorry for anyone who tried to stand in her way!”

Oddly enough even the one liners quickly evaporate into single words that capture an entire lifetime: kind or mean, generous or cheap, caring or selfish, thankful or complaining.

Reputation

Reputation deserves more thought than we perhaps give it.

“Choose a good reputation over great riches;
being held in high esteem
is better than silver and gold.”
Proverbs 22:1

It is often the daily things, the little things, in life that blend the colours forming the full picture of our character. From front row seats, our spouse and family witness it all. They watch us navigate the highs and lows of life. They know how we respond when the kids are sick, we hit our thumb with a hammer, get cut off in traffic or stress pulls us like an elastic band to breaking point.

Solomon points out that reputation matters. How God evaluates our life, however, counts the most.

Paul advised Timothy to carefully examine the lives of people before choosing his leadership team. Positive attributes like “faithful … temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, and able to teach” started the long list. Negative qualities to be avoided included “not violent, not quarrelsome” and “not a lover of money.

“He must also have a good reputation with outsiders,
so that he will not fall into disgrace
and into the devil’s trap.”
1 Timothy 3:7

God is looking for the evidence of exemplary character at home, church, work and in the community.

“You can fool all the people some of the time,
and some of the people all the time,
but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.”
– Abraham Lincoln.

God’s View

I must admit I have trouble with God’s viewpoint on a few biblical personalities. But then, a broad gap separates human perspective and God’s.

The church in Sardis had “a reputation of being alive,” but God called them dead. (Rev 3:1) How is that for differing viewpoints?

When a worshipper decided to break an expensive flask of perfume and dump it on Jesus head, everyone in the room turned on her in anger and screamed, “Why this waste?”  Jesus saw the gesture as beautiful.

“Truly I tell you,
whereever this gospel is preached
throughout the world,
what she has done will also be told,
in memory of her.”
Matthew 26:13

Did you catch that? Her act of worship would never, ever, be reduced to a single line or word. Her reputation as a lavish worshipper would be told, in full, throughout time.

God says, “Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt.” (1 Kings 4:30) Anyone who thinks he needs 1000 wives and concubines (who by the way turned him away from God) isn’t all that wise, to my way of thinking. Anybody could predict trouble in that scenario. Actually God and I agree on that one!

Too quickly, we summarize King David’s life to a single word — adultery. God expands it to

“…I have found David son of Jesse,
a man after my own heart;
he will do everything I want him to do.”
Acts 13:22

The Challenge

So here is my challenge. People have identified me with some surprisingly good attributes and many equally not-so-good ones. You probably have experienced the same. How do we live in a consistently honouring and godly way to develop a reputation that is above reproach with God and man?

I know it is possible.

“And the boy Samuel continued to grow
in stature and in favor with
the LORD and with people.”
1 Samuel 2:26

Jesus also “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52) I don’t know about you, but I consider Jesus in a class all His own, even though he was fully man.

Solomon offeres concrete advise for us, however.

“My son, do not forget my teaching,
but keep my commands in your heart,
for they will prolong your life many years
and bring you peace and prosperity.
Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.”
Proverbs 3:1-4 

In one of Solomon’s smarter seasons, he recognized the connection between following not just the “commands” but also the heart of God. This reproduces a godly character that wins “favor and a good name” on earth and in heaven.

In Memory

Those who diminish the bible to a long list of “dos” and “don’ts” miss the mark. The bible reveals God and His great love for people. Yet, reality exists. In our own ability, we are powerless to create good and godly reputations. We need help!

As we commit our lives to Jesus Christ and cooperate with Holy Spirit to re-form us, change happens. The Word of God is powerful to transform lives. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is redemptive, creates hope and opens our destiny to lives well lived.

We identify Peter as the “rock” who helped establish the fledgling church. Rarely do we remember him for his betrayal of Jesus. We remember Paul for being the great apostle to the Gentiles and writer of much of the New Testament, not his persecution of the church. Everyone remembers John as “the beloved”, not as a son of thunder.

By the grace of God, a reputation can change! Perhaps Paul said it best,

“But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me
was not without effect.”
1 Corinthians 15:10

I know that I have a long way to go to build that godly reputation. I also know God is improving on the original version of who I once was. If there is hope for me, honestly, there is hope for everyone.

God is an amazing Master Builder, Redeemer, Re-Creator, and Restorer. He is ready and willing to lead us into that new reputation.

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Your Promise is Waiting – Do Something!

Earth’s resources may be diminishing, but heaven’s never do. Your promise is waiting, but you may have to do something illogical to receive it. However, these God opportunities sometimes have expiration dates.

I read the other day that over $800 million remains in unclaimed bank accounts in Canada alone. A $60 million lottery ticket currently sits unclaimed in Alberta. That sounds ridiculous to me. Somebody do something!

How many even more valuable promises sit in God’s hand waiting for somebody — anybody — to do something? God’s prompting to motivate us may hit a road block in my over-rationalizing mind or carry a risk I’m unprepared to take. Possessing our promise may take courage.

“And without faith living within us,
it would be impossible to please God.
For we come to God in faith knowing
that he is real and that he rewards the faith
of those who give all their
passion and strength into seeking him.”
Hebrews 11:6 TPT

Courage requires faith. Faith demands courage.

Risky Faith

Peter had given up everything to follow Jesus, including his family, business and security. So when the tax collectors came knocking Peter’s pockets were empty. Jesus instructed,

“…go to the lake and throw out your line.
Take the first fish you catch;
open its mouth and you will find
a four-drachma coin.
Take it and give it to them for my tax and your.”
Matthew 17:27
 

Sounds little “fishy” to me! (That’s Canadian for unbelievable.) I like fishing, but the most unusal thing I have found in a fish’s mouth is another fish. Peter trusted Jesus’ words and took a risk. He did something perhaps no one else would have done. He obeyed.

You would think everyone who saw the day’s catch would go fishing. But they knew God gives a specific word to a seeking heart that is unique to that time and situation. 

What if Peter chose not to listen? What if he failed to respond? Frankly, I don’t know why God often relies on the obedience of people. 

It’s Absurd

Familiarity gives the absurd directives within bible stories almost a “normal” appearance. The way of us earth-walking humans and our infinitely minded God present distinct and contradictory opposites

God recruits Moses, Egypt’s most wanted criminal and fugitive. When an entire nation cries out in panic as a fierce army corners them against the Red Sea, God tells Moses to point a stick at the water. Seriously?

“Why are you crying out to me?
Tell the Israelites to move on.
Raise your staff and stretch out your hand
over the sea to divide the water
so that the Israelites can go through
the sea on dry ground.”
Exodus 14:15-16

Who would you rather be? Moses or the first person stepping into the ominous depths? As absurd as the instructions appeared, victory came as everyone moved forward in obedience. Moses knew the voice of God. His confidence rested not in himself, but in the faithfulness of the One speaking.

A promise is waiting for all who will obey.

Hearing Well

Rebellion blocked Israel’s ability to hear God. Twisted attitudes and calloused hearts continue to affect our ability to hear clearly and respond fully to God’s leading.

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left,
your ears will hear
a voice behind you, saying,
‘This is the way; walk in it.'”
Isaiah 30:21

Responding bridges hearing with receiving:

  • Wash seven times in the dirty Jordan River and the leprosy will disappear. (2 Kings 5:10)
  • Step out of the boat and you will walk on water. (Matt 14:29)
  • After we make mud from spit and put it into blind eyes, go wash for healing. (John 9:6-7)
  • Feed the starving crowd of thousands with a boy’s bag lunch. (Luke 9:13)
  • Throw your nets on the other side. A great catch was waiting! (Luke 5:4)

If we ignore the prompting of the Lord, insisting on doing things like we have always done them, we will miss many miracles and divine encounters. Perhaps a promise is waiting today. Is anyone willing to move in a radical way to find out? Will we hold back looking for a risk-free formula to claim the blessing?

Obeying

Though the bible is filled with such illustrations, none of these men or women moved in presumption. A sure word from God preceded each miracle.

“I will instruct you and teach you
in the way you should go;
I will counsel you
with my loving eye on you.”
Psalms 32:8

Biblical examples abound of those who “presumed” they heard God and missed the mark. Others hesitated and decided too late to respond, with disastrous results. 

Maintaining close relationship with God (through prayer and bible reading), while being in authentic relationships with mature Christians, creates a safe guard helping us discern God’s voice and respond appropriately. Having a mentor, coach or accountability partner will help us access God’s best for our lives.

But ultimately, the choice is ours. Will we trust God and risk?

Trust in the Lord
with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.”
Proverbs 3:5-6
 

I have this verse etched on the wall at the foot of my bed. I need a constant reminder to resist the tendency to trust in my own strength, ability or wisdom. 

Promise

When my husband and I took over the family farm, my father responded, “What a relief! I never liked farmer.”

It was sobering to think that my father continued, for over 50 years, to do a job that he didn’t find fulfilling. As I questioned him further, I discovered that he kept doing what he always did because he lacked the confidence to risk change. His creative ingenuity remained largely untapped.

It can be the same with us. It isn’t easy to trust God in the unknown. Fear held my father back. Fear paralyzes many.

The psalmist declared, 

“I will hurry, without delay,
to obey your commands.”
Psalm 119:60

Those who accessed the promises and miracles of God hurried “without delay.”  Those who say “Yes!” to God, continually and radically create pathways for the supernatural. They may leave families, businesses, securities and predictable lives in their obedience. These aren’t absent minded decisions. They have

sought God with all their hearts,
listened intently to His voice,
tested and weighed the word against scripture,
and listened to the counsel of others,
before moving toward God in obedience,
knowing a promise is waiting.

Who Knows

God alone knows the result. Will we shake cultural norms? Will we allow His Kingdom to come to earth in surprising ways?

“But when he,
the Spirit of truth, comes,
he will guide you into all the truth.
He will not speak on his own;
but he will speak only what he hears,
and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
John 16:13

So if you ask me what I’m doing these days, don’t be surprised if I answer, “I’m walking with a stick.” “Going fishing.”  or “Making mud with spit.” God alone knows the outcome. I don’t intend on holding back. A promise is waiting! Hopefully, there will be no unclaimed balances left in any of my spiritual bank account.

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Security – Safe in Our Father’s Hands – Never Lost

Sometimes we are given reminders that everything is safe in our Father’s hands. Whatever we commit to our Heavenly Father remains secure — never lost. Security ranks among humanities highest needs.

Although fathers are worthy of honour everyday, we set aside a specific day each year to honour both natural and spiritual fathers for the influence and impact they have. God used this Father’s Day to demonstrate how vast His father heart is for us.

One of my favourite verses declares the security we have in God, our Father.

“I will not in any way fail you
nor give you up nor leave you without support.
I will not. No, I will not.
I will not in any degree leave you helpless
nor forsake nor let you down,
relax My hold on you.
Assuredly not!”
Hebrews 13:5b AMP

Now that is security!

Never Lost

My father passed away 24 years ago. Shortly after, I inherited a necklace he had given my mother untold years before. The delicate gold chain suspended a small heart with the letter “V” nestled at the base. Since my father had accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour a short time before his death, that little necklace became a personal reminder of God’s faithfulness. The “V” symbolized both the power of prayer and the victory we have in Jesus.

Whenever pressures, disappointments or discouragement clouded my life, I would wear that little necklace as a prophetic prayer act, declaring God’s victory over my situation.

In October 2017, I travelled to Calgary, Alberta to receive accreditation for ministry — a significant step in my spiritual calling. But somehow that necklace and a pair of gold earings went missing in the hotel room. 

To no avail, I searched through every pocket and fold trying to find my keepsake. Several times over these last 20 months, I have released my loss to God, but confessed, “Lord, I really want my necklace back.” 

On Father’s Day, I had prepared for church adding a pair of butterfly earrings as a final touch. Just before leaving the house, I felt compelled to return to the little jewellery box. When I opened the lid, I noticed a fine gold chain looped across the top of the contents. 

“What is this?” I asked as I reached for the chain. Gasping through tears of disbelief, I held again my “lost” keepsake in my hand.

“Of Daddy,” I said to my Heavenly Father, “You have given back what was lost.”

Kept Safe

Was it lost? Or was it kept safe just out of sight? I have no idea how that little chain appeared in my jewellery box. Was it always there? Concealed, waiting to be revealed? If so, how did I miss seeing it for so long? I may never know the answers.

One thing I know for sure, God used this little token of my earthly father’s love, to touch my heart in a new way. I became immediately aware that nothing is ever lost, but rather kept safe in our Father’s hands.

God who holds all creation by the power of His Word, on Father’s Day, gave His little child back a special gift inherited from her father. Everything is held secure by God. Everything!

God’s greatest gift came in the form of a baby, Jesus Christ. He was given to live holy and blameless, to die for sins He never committed, and to rise again to give life to all who would believe.

“For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16

Later when the Jews attempted to discredit and slander Jesus, He said about those who would follow Him, 

I give them eternal life,
and they shall never perish;
no one will snatch them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me,
is greater than all;
no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
John 10:28-29

What security! We are safe in our Father’s hands!

Security

The most precious thing of all is the human soul. Gold or silver holds no value in comparison. Wealth and power are meaningless in contrast.

Yet this little incident reminded me how great and amazing God is. How He sees us — knows us so intimately, caring about even the simplest and most insignificant aspects of our lives. Why did He choose Father’s Day to return this little treasure that holds little value to anyone but me? 

In it He revealed something deeper about His character. I have known Him as

Protector and Provider,
 my Refuge in the storm
the One who sustains and delivers,
the Shepherd who leads me,
my Healer and Restorer,
the Strength of my life.

But in a fresh way, I see and know Him as the One who loves personally and cares deeply about every “lost” part of our lives: lost years or opportunities, lost love or relationship, lost hope or purpose, lost dreams or desires.

“I keep my eyes always on the LORD.
With him at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad
and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure.”
Psalm 16:8-9

Safe in our Father’s hands.

Safe

Real safety cannot be found in this twisted, shaking world. Yet, God offers us the assurance that our security is sealed in Him.

“…When you believed,
you were marked in him with a seal,
the promised Holy Spirit.”
Ephesians 1:13

“Marked in him with a seal!” A seal verifies and validates authentic identity. It figuratively means to secure to someone, make sure, and deliver to safety.” 

Safe, secure and protected! Nothing remains lost with God. All that we entrust to Him is kept infinitely secure. 

Psalm 91 begins with a declaration of dwelling, resting and trusting in God. The last half of this psalm is God’s response to such confidence in Him.

“Because he loves me,” says the LORD,
“I will rescue him; I will protect him,
for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honour him.
With long life I will satisfy him and
show him my salvation.”
Psalm 91:14-16

An unusual word for “love” appears here. It presents the idea of “holding close to or hugging tightly in love.”

Holding Close

These promises are for those who “hold close” to God, “hugging” Him tightly in love. His love for us is incomparably more than any holding close or hugging tightly we may offer. Yet, He sees, values and rewards our reach toward Him — reaching even in loss.

The return of my little heart necklace symbolizes many “losses” I continue to pray will some day be restored in my life or the lives of others:

lost health while battling cancer and disease;
lost trust through adultery or betrayal;
sons and daughters lost to addictions;
dreams lost through unforeseen circumstance;
lost innocence or hope.

At the same time, the return of my necklace reminds us that nothing is ever fully lost, but kept safe in our Father’s hands. He waits for the perfect time, the exact day, the premise moment to restore to each of us all that was lost.

But now, we position ourselves,holding closely to Him, hugging tightly in His love” and praying, “God, I want my lost back.”

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Giving Thanks – Sustaining an Attitude of Gratitude

Sustaining an attitude of gratitude may seem difficult for many people. However, it is an attribute that we can develop no matter what our circumstances.

In my limited travels to developing nations ministering to the very poor, I have noticed thankfulness in the midst of great lack. Here is North America, we often struggle with being thankful while accumulating “more”, “better than we had before”, or “different than what someone else has.”

Consumerism pervades not just closets but hearts. If we aren’t careful, a sense of entitlement creeps in. “I’ve earned it!” or “I deserve better!” becomes the unspoken but underlying thought pattern.

Paul encourages us,

Rejoice always,
pray continually,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

The Passion translation says, “in the midst of everything be always giving thanks.” It is impossible to sustain an attitude of gratitude in all circumstances” if we haven’t developed a prayerful lifestyle of giving thanks.

People

An assignment recently required me to write a few notes to those who have inspired, motivated or encouraged me along my spiritual or occupational journey. I had no trouble thinking of multiple people who

taught me new skills,
created opportunity for growth,
advocated for promotion,
allowed me to be vulnerable and authentic,
or picked me up after a major setback.

I am blessed! Does that mean life has been easy or people always treat me fairly, with honour and respect? Absolutely not!

“Healthy cultures embrace people where they are
but they also nudge them
and sometimes even push them to get better.”
– Dr. Henry Cloud

I am thankful for those who have “nudged” and “pushed” me “to get better” even if it wasn’t comfortable at the time.

Paul wrote to a very unhealthy congregation at Corinth, yet he said,

“I always thank my God for you
because of his grace given you
in Christ Jesus.”
1 Corinthians 1:4

As I mentor women living under high-pressure, dysfunctional and even abusive situations, I exhort them to search for the “straws of good” in others. I’m not expecting them to ignore the reality, but rather inspire an attitude of gratitude.

Gratitude includes displaying thankfulness through words and actions. It isn’t long before these women come up with several things they can genuinely give thanks for.

Circumstances

It is unreasonable to give thanks “for” everything that is thrown our way, but completely possible to maintain an attitude of gratitude “in” everything we are facing.

I have never experienced extreme persecution for my faith, like millions of others. Paul did. He gives a brief summary: “hard pressed, crushed, perplexed, in despair, persecuted and struck down” (2 Cor 4:7-9). Add to that, in prison, flogged, exposed to death, lashed, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, and constantly in danger (2 Cor 11:23-28)

My life looks easy in comparison. Yours probably does too. Yet, listen to his perspective.

“All this is for your benefit,
so that the grace that is reaching
more and more people may cause thanksgiving
to overflow to the glory of God.”
2 Corinthians 4:15

God’s grace works through every circumstance for His glory. That alone is reason enough for overflowing thankfulness.

I have enough years behind me to view life’s hazards through the lens of grace and thanksgiving. The tough times exposed ungodly attitudes and tendencies in me that otherwise would have continued to cloud my character. God uses the pressures of life to reveal and then refine. For that I am thankful.

God

A true attitude of gratitude rests in thankfulness toward God. The writer’s of scripture continually penned their recognition and appreciation for God and His great mercy and kindness.

“Praise the LORD.
Give thank to the LORD,
for he is good; his love endures forever.”
Psalm 106:1

Thankfulness naturally flows out of relationship with God. Yet, even though God gives us ample reason to sustain an attitude of gratitude, David knew thankfulness comes from a decision of the will.

I will give thanks to you, LORD,
with all my heart;
and tell of all your wonderful deed.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name,
O Most High.”
Psalm 9:1-2

The people of Israel experienced God’s blessing yet they adopted an “entitlement” culture as well. Paul encouraged the Colossians to remember it is all about Christ.

“… Be thankful.
Let the message of Christ dwell among you
richly as you teach and admonish one another
with all wisdom and through
psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit,
singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,
do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Colossians 3:15-17

Sowing and Reaping

Sowing and reaping works in every dimension of our lives — natural and spiritual. If I want to reap thankfulness, I must plant seeds of gratitude in the ordinary activities of my day. Here are a few examples:

  • Speak – Tell people how thankful you are for them and the impact they are having on your life. Don’t assume they know.
  • Journal – Challenge yourself to journal one thing you appreciate every day for a hundred days.
  • Pray – Like David, make the decision to praise and thank God for His goodness and grace. Don’t let your prayer time slip into a list of selfish wants. Recognize God’s presence and His grace in your life.
  • Memorize – Search out key verses of scripture about thankfulness and “hide them in your heart” through memorization.
  • Rethink – It only takes 3 seconds to change a negative thought into a positive one. So lighten the gloom by re-programing your mind toward appreciation.
  • Accountability – Ask two or three friends to hold you accountable as you reshape your character into one of gratitude.

Even small steps go a long way in creating an attitude of gratitude. The reward will be a new perspective on how you view people, circumstances and even God. As you plant the seeds of gratitude in your own life, don’t be surprised if you hear those around you express their appreciation more freely as well.

“…Express your thankfulness regularly.
If you pray, offer prayers of gratitude.
Second fall more in love with the Giver
than you ever do with his gifts.
Third, never claim full credit for your story.
Acknowledge the role of grace and providence
publicly when you talk.”
– Carey Nieuwhof

Thankful

My paternal grandmother died of cancer leaving her young children behind. My grandfather was a rough man who found it difficult to express kindness. Yet my father and all his siblings developed a contagious sense of humour and an ease in conveying appreciation. Living with a mean-spirited father in the absence of a nurturing mother did not hinder them from creating and sustaining an attitude of gratitude.

My father generously passed on the heritage of thanksgiving to his children, of which I am a beneficiary. Though giving “thanks in all circumstances” is not always easy, I am thankful for the example he established.

Those seeds of thankfulness my father planted in me, I now want to invest in my children, grandchildren, and those I influence. Let’s pass it forward!

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Two Options! Win or Lose, Which One Will You Choose?

In a world packed with almost unlimited opportunities, at the basest level we are left with two options, win or lose. Which one will you choose? Whether we realize it or not, the multitude of choices we make each day determines the final outcome.

What one thing will you give your life for? What one thing will you expend you energies, your time, and your resources to pursue? That one thing will dominate, dictate, and determine the course of your life both now and for eternity?

My sons enjoyed drag racing. Wins and losses were often determined in milliseconds. Warming tires, response time to the light tree, multiple smooth shifts, conscious and subconscious adjustments through the short course, all played a huge role in wins or losses. Literally thousands of decisions preceded a single race.

Competitors don’t go through training and preparation to lose. They prepare to win.

Dominate

The thrill of a win, bragging rights and a bit of cash, propels many to the short term glory of drag racing and a multitude of other endeavors. As a Christian, the target we aim for is much smaller but far more critical.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run,
but only one gets the prize?
Run in such a way as to get the prize.
Everyone who competes in the games
goes into strict training.
They do it to get a crown that will not last,
but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly;
I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.”
I Corinthians 9:24-26

Corinth, an extremely wealthy city, consistently hosted a huge international athletic festival called the Isthmus Games. It ranked second only to the Olympics. The Corinthians clearly understood Paul’s illustration of running and competing.

Though running to improve one’s health is beneficial, Paul wanted Christian’s to know faith is no casual run. “Isn’t it obvious that runners run to win? Run that kind of race.” Paul says, “I don’t run just for exercise. I train like a champion athlete.” Paul’s goal was to dominate.

Serious competitors know you either win or lose. Rather than seeing two options, however, winning dominates their focus. Champions set their target to win. Losses become learning mechanisms to gain traction for the next win.

To train and compete for a loreal wreath that would soon fade was applauded in Corinth. Yet a frail endeavour in comparison to the rewards of living all in for Christ.

Dictate

Hebrews Chapter 11 lists the alumni of great men and women of faith. Few if any compare to the high standard of their legacy.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded
by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders
and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
For the joy set before him he endured the cross,
scorning its shame, and sat down
at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured
such opposition from sinners,
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Hebrews 12;1-3

The athletes in Corinth were willing to press themselves beyond normal human capacity for something temporal and fleeting. That propensity to excel resides in us all to some degree.

There is a “race marked out for us” bearing more significance than any Olympic gold medal, a president’s chair, or celebrity status. The choices we make will dictate the outcome.

Those who have gone ahead of us into eternity watch our “race.” If only we could see and hear that great throng standing in joyous anticipation — applauding, fist pumping, cheering, and urging us on to the finish line.

Determine

Unfortunately, we too often wander aimlessly, unaware of the choices — the two options — that stand before us. Rather than regarding the Christian life as a strategic and high stakes athletic event, we sloth through days with ambivalence.

Just as in a race, milliseconds matter, so in our lives. Today holds a whopping 86,400 seconds. Seems like a lot right? But what if this was our last day? Then milliseconds matter!

I, and probably you with the same awareness, would treasure those milliseconds determining what matters most.

The applause of multitudes,
or the company of loved ones;
selfish indulgence or legacy building;
accumulating more or giving what I have;
reaching for the top or sharing success;
checking investments or talking with God;
temporal or eternal;
death or life.

A drag race from start to finish occurs in less than 10 seconds.The Christian race also passes far quicker than we realize. Compared to eternity, time here is short. Everything we see and know today will soon be gone. All will pass away.

Two Options

Short and long term goals may or may not be fulfilled. The planned meetings, events, and family celebrations that fill our calendars may or may not occur. Each are minute choices in a much larger canvas of time — a canvas too broad and high for narrow human view.

“Since everything will be destroyed in this way,
what kind of people ought you to be?
You ought to live holy and godly lives
as you look forward to the day of God
and speed its coming…”
2 Peter 3:11-12

I hope you are not discouraged thinking our feeble efforts are futile. Quite the contrary! Even little moments potentially carry eternal significance. The way we spend our milliseconds determines eternity, both for us and many others we have the opportunity to influence.

For which of the two options, the temporal or the eternal, are we in strict training for? Focusing on eternity, with Jesus Christ as Lord, is the one thing worth giving our lives for. Expending energy, time and resources for that pursuit will gain eternal reward. 

When the one thing that dominates, dictates and determines the course of our lives is Jesus Christ, the disciplines of running the Christian race will fall into rhythm. Winners keep eternity in focus.

Only Two

I wish there were more than two options and that there wasn’t so much to lose. Eternity is just that — eternal! The stakes are high. The consequences broad.  The little choices, those millisecond decisions, carry serious repercussions.

There is eternal heaven and eternal hell. The only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ. He said that eternal life is to know Him. (John 17:3)

“Jesus answered, “I am the way
and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father
except through me.”
John 14:6

Strict rules and regulations govern the parameters of any race. The spiritual race we have entered is much the same. We all run. But how will we run? We all compete. But are we competing by God’s parameters or are we attempting to run this race by our own faulty set of rules.

The choices we make in our milliseconds reveal the eternity we are presently living in and aiming for. They are critical not just for the “by-and-by” when we die, but for the now in which we live.

Champions weigh both options and choose wisely!

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