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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Thanksgiving

Throughout the last decade, mental health professionals have urged people to establish thankfulness or gratitude part of their regular routine. A brief search on Google for “mental health and gratitude” results in 58,000,000 websites. The websites are from medical schools, universities, ministries, therapist and countless people who have benefited from the regular practice of giving thanks. Harvard Health lists a paper: “Giving thanks can make you happier.” (https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier) I want to let you in on a little secret. Gratitude is not a new idea for mental health. Gratitude is a foundational spiritual practices followers of Jesus are instructed to practice. “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT) “Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:7 (NLT) “Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. … And always be thankful.” Colossians 3:15 (NLT) “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.” Hebrews 12:28 (NLT) “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT) This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. Amid feasting on turkey, dressing, ham and pie, take a few minutes to thank God for the blessings and the trials. Blessings are wonderful, and trials strengthen us. Thank Him for both. BUT, But, but … Make giving thanks a part of your daily routine. Thank God for the little, the big and the trying. It will bring a new level of peace into your life. Peace “which exceeds anything we can understand.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Though He Falls, He Will Not Be Overwhelmed

I’ve recently been thinking about a song I learned early on my journey of following Jesus. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord … though he fall, though he fall, he shall not be cast down.” The lyrics are taken from Psalm 37. “A man’s steps are established by the LORD, and He takes pleasure in his way. Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed, because the LORD holds his hand.” Psalms 37:23-24 (HCSB) I frequently tear up when I see videos or read stories of a runner who stumbles or falls and gets back up and finishes the race. These stories illustrate the Psalmist’s word in Psalm 37. Every follower of Jesus has tripped and even fallen. The promise of the Psalm is that even when a Jesus follower falls, he will not be overwhelmed. She might have some “road rash” and pain, but she’s not out of the race. I also tear up when I see videos or read stories of someone coming to the aid of a struggling runner. Maybe they pick the racer up and help them to the finish line or run alongside the struggler and offer words of encouragement. Isn’t that how followers of Jesus are called to respond? To pick up a fellow runner and run alongside them in the tough part of the journey? The Psalmist said “he will not be overwhelmed, because the LORD holds his hand.” Every runner has fallen either in training or in an event. Most runners (I wanted to say ALL but that would be exagerating) get up when they fall, brush off the dust and gravel, and get back to running. Every runner has also been helped by a fellow runner and if they are worth anything have helped other runners. I wish I could say the same for every Jesus follower! Some followers have tripped and fallen and then stayed down. Other followers have watched fellow followers struggle and looked the other way. We can do better! If you recently stumbled, get up and put one foot in-front of the other. If you’ve looked the other way when a fellow follower is struggling to get up and continue, don’t do it again! Help the struggling follower. Help her finish the race. “Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith…” Hebrews 12:1-2 (HCSB)

Monday, October 31, 2022

Living the "Christ Like" Fragrant Life

Followers of Jesus find themselves in a world much like the pagan world of the First Century Roman Empire. That, of course, means we have many of the same challenges that the ancient church encountered. The ancient church of the First Century was “pre-Christian” and we’re living in a “post-Christian” world. The message about Jesus’ resurrection, forgiveness, transformation and hope to the “pre-Christian” world appealed to people, and the church grew by leaps and bounds. The message about Jesus’ resurrection, forgiveness, transformation and hope to the “post-Christian” world is less appealing and unfortunately, the church is losing ground in the Western world. Many have accepted the message down through the centuries, but many more have rejected it. Paul wrote about the appeal and rejection of the message about Jesus to the believers in First Century Corinth. “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?” 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 (NLT) The challenge for Jesus' followers, in this “post-Christian” world, is to live a “Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.” Followers should not worry about being “perceived differently by those being saved and by those who are perishing.” Some in your life will appreciate the “Christ-like fragrance.” Others will scorn the “Christ-like fragrance.” How people respond to the “Christ-like fragrance” is not the follower’s responsibility. Living a “Christ-like fragrance” is. Simply put, to some, the smell of the faithful follower of Jesus will smell exceptional. To others, it is putrid. Don’t let people’s response sidetrack you from faithful living. Hopefully, my thoughts encourage you. Let's live the "Christ-like" fragrant life.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Let Go Of Worry

Jesus talked to His first followers about worry and anxiety. It is obvious He spoke to them about these struggles because they were a regular part of their lives. The more I study and understand the world of Jesus’ day I can understand why worry and anxiety were common traveling partners. The average person faced life and death daily. What might be called “medical care” was primitive and mostly ineffective. The woman Jesus healed who hemorrhaged for years spent all she had “suffered a great deal from many doctors” and “spent everything she had to pay them” but she got “no better.” Taxes were squeezed out of people to finance Rome’s quest to increase power and breadth. Those in power grew wealthier, those paying the taxes became poorer. Men with religious authority and power manipulated the people for personal gain. “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” Matthew 23:4 (NLT) Jesus looked at the crowds of people and “had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36 (NLT) Listen to Jesus “… I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?” Matthew 6:25 (NLT) “Why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.” Matthew 6:28-29 (NLT) “Don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.” Matthew 6:31-32 (NLT) As we say, “Easier said than done!” What did Ole’ Baloo say? “Forget about your worries and your strife.” Or, as the Apostle Paul wrote: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT) Take a deep breath, tell Jesus about it, then let go of it and breath in the peace He offers.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Jesus will Build His Church

A pledge Jesus made 2,000 years ago has encouraged me lately. It would be easy to become discouraged by what is happening in our world. Things aren’t looking very bright and cheery right now. The news constantly reports on the failure of church leaders and organizations. Descriptions of people “deconstructing their faith” are regular tabloid type news. The bigger the church, the more famous the leader, the harder they fall and the bigger the schadenfreude. The Apostle Matthew records Jesus’ pledge “I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” Matthew 16:18 (NLT) I’ve been encouraged by the remembering and reflecting on Jesus’ pledge. Let me pull Jesus’ pledge apart by reminding us that the church is the people who follow Jesus! The church is not a building, it’s not a legal entity, it’s not the organization. The church is the gathering of the followers of Jesus. It’s His church. The church isn’t a man-made organization. The church isn’t just something that happened under sociological circumstances. Jesus started the church, loves the church, and has never stopped building it. It is a church. The church isn’t a social club, an eatery, a service organization, a hospital, clinic, or school. At times and in countless ways churches do all those things, but the church’s mission is to introduce the “Giver and Lord of life” to people He loves. The Apostle Paul describes believers as ambassadors with a ministry of reconciling people to God. That’s the mission. Jesus’ flock loves gathering and socializing, eating, and serving. The church cares for the sick and marginalized and educates children and adults. All those things are admirable and good. But the church is the only one who can introduce people to Jesus! The powers of hell hate the church and individual believers! The powers of hell will do everything they can to prevent the church from introducing people to Jesus. The list of ways the powers of hell seek to conquer the church is endless. The powers of hell tempt, frustrate, discourage, persecute, come against in thought, and legal action, get people angry at each other and at groups, etc. infinitum. Jesus won’t let the powers of hell conquer. HE WILL BUILD HIS CHURCH! Don’t let the powers of hell keep you from being the church and introducing people to Jesus! Let’s do the mission – If you are a Jesus follower, you are an AMBASSADOR OF RECONCILIATION!

Monday, October 3, 2022

Double Down on Pride

I’m an avid reader. I have half a dozen or more books started and am listening to a couple of others. I’m also a “news junky.” I read too many blogs and news conglomerates every week. I can’t stop myself! The appetite for words is too powerful for me to resist. Over the last couple of days, some thoughts about pride have jumped off the pages I’ve been reading. I’m trying to figure out the message being sent and what I’m supposed to do about it. “Pride doesn’t die easily.” Jeremy Norton Pride is what creates insecurity and feelings of unworthiness in a person and pride is also what makes a person secure in their self-righteousness and goodness. Then the clincher … PRIDE ALWAYS MAKES A PERSON FOCUS ON THE SELF. (From: What Does It Mean to Be Chosen? - Volume 1 - The Chosen Bible Study Series) That’s it. PRIDE ALWAYS MAKES A PERSON FOCUS ON THE SELF. I spend too much time focused on myself. I’m always concerned about whether I did enough or too much, said enough or too much, or paid enough or too little attention to someone. I worry about what they thought, what they liked or didn’t like. If I say “NO” to them, what will they think? If I say “YES” to others, what will they think? Right there … That’s it … I used “I” in describing how I focus too much on myself. These thoughts have made me realize I need to double down on pride and apply the Apostle Peter’s words: “Humble yourselves under the mighty power of God … Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7 (NLT) and double down on Jesus’ brother, James words: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6 (NLT) Humbling oneself “under the mighty power of God” doesn’t come easy. Like every other person since Adam and Eve, focusing on ME is the default response to life. Jesus, forgive me for focusing on me! Weed out every thistle of pride from my life and teach me to live in humility! Amen

Monday, September 26, 2022

Perception, Reality and the Truth

Earlier this week I heard someone say, “the first casualty of the continual spiritual battle between good and evil, light and dark, God and the Devil is truth.” I can’t get that idea out of my mind. The Apostle Paul wrote, “We battle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces.” (Ephesians 6) The battle is real, but it is not what we usually think it is. The battle is a battle for truth and the truth. When an angry confrontation occurs, it is not just a battle of wills; it is a battle for truth. It’s possible that I’m angry because I believe something that is not true. It’s possible that the other person is angry because they believe something that is not true. Most likely, we both believe things that are not true. The untruth, deception, or distortion we believe leads us to take up an adversarial position. In an angry moment, the appropriate response is to check the story I’m telling myself. Do I have the right story or do I have something out of place. I need to check the story I’m believing before I worry about the story the other person is telling themselves. Often, we’ve told ourselves stories about situations and people that were distorted, imagined or simply not true. The battle is not with the other person. The battle is about perception, reality and truth. None of us can compromise the truth. We can’t back down, give in, or to surrender lies. Jesus’ brother Jude encouraged the early believers to “defend the faith.” “Dear friends, … now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives.” Jude 1:3-4 (NLT) Jude’s words illustrate that the battle for moral purity and integrity is not a battle against flesh and blood but for truth. Stick up for the truth, don’t back down, and don’t give in. Stand firm in the faith. BUT IN EVERY INTERACTION, RESPOND WITH KINDNESS! We can “defend the faith” and stick up for truth without being ugly or unkind! That’s the Jesus way.

From Anxiety and Fear to Peace and Courage

Recently, a panel of medical experts recommended that all adults under 65 be screened for anxiety. The current state of mental and emotional health alarms medical and mental health experts. Troubling mental and emotional health is being played out in alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence, and suicide. It’s not news to any of us that anxiety and fear are affecting the health of every segment of society. Dr. Jim Denison describes 2020 this way. The year 2020 “began like 1973 with impeachment, then became 1918 with a pandemic, followed by 2008 with the recession, followed by 1968 with nationwide civil unrest.” I would add a hyper polarized election cycle to the mix. Everything seems unstable and unpredictable. People are constantly thrown off balance by the shifting ground. Not only is the ground shifting, but there is little around to grab hold of. Uncertainty, tension, and fluidity of life fuels anxiety and fear. Fear and anxiety effects everyone’s sense of happiness and for most people, happiness is the top value in their lives. After all, everyone wants to be happy. Michael Horton has insightfully described the wrestle with anxiety and fear when he writes: “Perhaps all of our anxieties can be reduced to the fear of being unhappy.” Many people are not just unhappy, but they are afraid of being unhappy. Followers of Jesus do not need to live under the cloud of anxiety and fear. Jesus has called his followers out of anxiety and fear into peace and courage! Let these verses find root in your soul. Scriptures like these, when they find root, combat anxiety and fear. “The LORD is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The LORD is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?” Psalms 27:1 (NLT) “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT) “Don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:31-34 (NLT) I encourage you to read and meditate on these verses over and over throughout the days ahead. These truths will nourish and transform you.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Managing Expectations

I don’t know if you’ve given much thought to the idea of expectations. I’ve thought a lot about the idea. One of the takeaways from my thinking and studying expectations is that how a person manages their own expectations and how they respond to the expectations of others is key to being a healthy person and having healthy relationships. The actor Antonio Banderas expressed the irritation of expectations when he said, “Expectation is the mother of all frustration.” Similarly, Derek Harvey said, “Unmet expectations are a deadly venom that flows to the heart and wreaks havoc in relationships.” Most often we become aware of expectations because of the emotion or conflict that happens when someone or something fails us, or we fail others. Someone stated the frustration, disappointment and hurt surrounding expectations this way: EXPECTATION - REALITY = FRUSTRATION We’ve all experienced “FRUSTRATION” because of the difference between EXPECTATIONS and REALITY The greater the difference between expectation and reality, the greater the frustration. We expected them to do X, Y AND Z but instead they did A, B AND C. We are disappointed by their A, B AND C. They expected us to do A, B AND C, but instead we did X, Y AND Z. They’re disappointed by our X, Y AND Z. When confronted with the “frustration” of unmet expectations there are a set of questions I try to ask myself. Was it realistic for me to expect X, Y AND Z? Did I communicate my expectation for X, Y AND Z? Did I understand their expectation for A, B AND C? If I understood, was their expectation realistic? If, in my estimation, the expectation was unrealistic, did I communicate that with them. I try hard to process my expectations, my communication of expectations and my responses to known expectations before I jump on the other person. I try … : ) “Why worry about the speck in your friend’s eye, when you have a log in your own? … First get rid of the log in your own eye.” Matthew 7:3-5 (NLT) Jesus said it, check your own expectations before you judge other people’s expectations.

"Comparison is the Thief of Joy"

"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you...” 1 Thessalonians 4:11 (NIV) Paul’s instructions are contrary to the push of our society. “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” seems like an oxymoron! Ambition and a quiet life don't seem to go together. Society encourages people to have “ambition,” and lots of it. There is little encouragement “to lead a quiet life.” Someone with an ambition to lead a quiet life could be judged a failure. The messages we hear loudest and most often are: Make it your ambition to be famous, rich, powerful, and happy. Make it your ambition to be educated, and better than everyone else. Make it your ambition to be skinny, beautiful, fit, or strong. “Mind your own business” is also contrary to the common practice of most. Society’s expectation is that people “be in the know”. Stick your nose into other people’s business. Make sure you know what they’re up to. Pursuing the ambitions of our current culture creates a life of comparison. But comparison is almost always detrimental to a person’s mental and emotional health. Max Ehrmann cautioned against comparison when he wrote: “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” President Teddy Roosevelt observed that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Teddy Roosevelt and Jon Tyson determined that “Comparison is the root of most of the misery we feel in life.” Comparison dissolves when Jesus’ followers obey Paul’s directive to make it their ambition to “lead a quiet life” and to “mind their own business.” (I guess people would still find a way to compare who had a quieter life and that would spoil the ambition!) Don’t compare yourself to others. It is detrimental to your mental and emotional health. “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, mind your own business and work with your hands.” God smiles at people whose ambition is to live a quiet life, mind their own business, and do what they’re given to do. Make this kind of life your ambition.