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Hard Pressed, but Not Crushed

Speeding across galaxies, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker set out on a mission to rescue Princess Leia from imprisonment by the sinister Darth Vader. Arriving at the evil Empire’s main base, they free her from her cell but must evade multiple foes on the way back to their ship. At one point, their only choice to avoid enemy pursuers is to dive into a chute that deposits them into a garbage bay on the space station. Standing in stinking debris surrounded by metal walls, they quickly realize that their escape route has led them to a dead end. As they search for a way out, the purr of a motor kicks into gear and the room lurches ominously. Within moments, the walls start closing in on them and they realize they’re lodged inside a gigantic trash compacter. Scrambling atop the heaps of refuse, the characters make vain attempts to brace the walls and save themselves. They are hard pressed on every side and it seems they’ll be crushed in a matter of minutes.

You may laugh when you read this, but I envisioned that scene from the 1977 hit movie “Star Wars: A New Hope” as I read Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Although most of us have never experienced the hardships Paul endured, (or being inside a trash compacter on a space station) I think we can relate to the idea of feeling “hard pressed on every side.” The pressures and demands of life feel crushing at times, especially when we face challenges on multiple fronts.

Lately it seems I’ve encountered a significant number of people who feel hard-pressed by difficult circumstances. Relationship challenges, health issues, struggling kids, aging parents, wayward grandchildren, financial difficulties, traumatic experiences, and day to day stress have left them feeling overwhelmed. However, I’ve also noticed that those who follow Jesus find their strength by leaning into Him for hope and wisdom.

Their examples inspire me and make Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians come to life. He explains “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV) Despite our human weakness, we have access to God’s all-surpassing power. The NIV study Bible explains that our insufficiency as human beings reveals the total sufficiency of God. Rather than focusing on the perishable container (our frail humanity), we choose to focus on the priceless contents (the Holy Spirit).

Doing this requires us to be intentional in our perspective. Our natural inclination is to look horizontally and focus on the walls closing in on us, lamenting that we will soon be crushed. A wiser choice is to fix our gaze on God and maintain a vertical focus, trusting that He will use our troubles  for our good and His glory. Paul explains it this way: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV)

Even hardships that last for many years are light and momentary in comparison with the vastness of eternity. And God promises to be with us, to give us access to His power, and to help us every step of the way.

You may have noticed that I didn’t tell you what happened to our heroes from Star Wars as the walls were closing in. Their attempts to stop them from moving were fruitless because they didn’t have the physical strength. However, they were clear-thinking enough to seek aid from an outside source. Although it took a bit longer than they’d hoped, help did come through for them just in the nick of time. It’s a cinematic example of what happens when we stop trying on our own strength and tap into God’s limitless power.

Just for fun, instead of a song I’ve included a two-minute clip of that scene from Star Wars so that you can get the full visual experience of being hard pressed on every side. You’ll hear Luke Skywalker pleading several times “Shut down all the garbage smashers on the detention level!” If you’re feeling hard pressed today, call upon God’s all-surpassing power instead of trying harder on your own. Shout out to Him, fix your eyes on what is unseen, and watch how God works in your heart, mind, and circumstances.

Kelly Minter, All Things New: A Study of 2 Corinthians, Lifeway Press 2016.

The God of All Comfort

Stepping into line, I clutched my son’s tiny hand and kept my head down as we inched toward his classroom door. The preschool check-in process always took a while, but was usually a fun time to catch up with other moms. Normally I would have been chatting with friends and acquaintances or smiling at people walking by. But on that day, it took every ounce of energy just to walk into the building. Participating in such a “normal” activity felt surreal when I felt so raw, exposed, and vulnerable.

It had been only a few days earlier that I’d sat at my dad’s bedside as he exhaled his final breath surrounded by family. For the two weeks prior to that I’d been consumed with making arrangements, communicating with family, and trekking back and forth to the facility where he was receiving hospice care. I’d been so removed from regular life that it felt overwhelming just being out in public to drop off my son at school. My sagging shoulders and red-rimmed eyes told everyone all was not well with me. It was almost like I had stickers all over my clothes that said, “Fragile: Handle with Care.”

I assumed most of the moms I was standing with knew I’d just lost my dad since one of them had sent flowers from the class. Despite that kind gesture, not one of them acknowledged my loss in person. Some smiled sympathetically while others avoided eye contact. I didn’t fault them for it—most of my peers hadn’t yet experienced the death of a parent and didn’t know what to say, so they took the safest route and decided to say nothing.

After a few awkward minutes, I felt someone’s arms wrap around me from behind. As I turned to see who it was, a mom I barely knew pulled me closer. Hugging me tightly, she said, “I’m so sorry for your loss. My dad died a few years ago– I totally get what you’re going through.” She went on to describe the range of emotions she’d experienced, mirroring mine exactly. What a relief it was to encounter someone who understood my pain. She didn’t try to fix it, she just identified with it.  Her presence and willingness to revisit her own hurt were a tremendous comfort to me.

In the years since then, I’ve tried to be intentional about reaching out to others who have experienced loss. God has regularly prompted me to offer comfort in different ways, whether it is writing a card, providing a listening ear, delivering a meal, or sharing music that has brought me comfort and hope.  It wasn’t until later that I realized that doing these things has been in God’s plan from the start:

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)

Every person on the planet experiences painful situations at different points in life, whether they are visited upon us or self-inflicted. No matter what the circumstances are, we have a choice in how we respond. We can seize the opportunity to let God teach us through hardships, or we can wallow in self-pity and risk becoming disillusioned and bitter. Challenging experiences are conduits for learning and growing spiritually. They also provide fertile ground for receiving God’s comfort. When we lean into Him through them, we also inspire and impact others through the faith we demonstrate.

Difficulties are an opportunity to grow in our empathy for others who will experience similar situations. Our pain can equip us to show God’s comfort to people who desperately need it. We can even be intentional about praying for God to lead us to people we can bless with His comfort.

Sometimes when you’re in a season of pain it may feel like God is distant. However, Scripture promises: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, NIV)  Ask Him to help you feel His presence and to be open to His comfort. Sometimes He does this through Scripture, a song, or written words from someone with godly wisdom.  Other times, He blesses us with people who can walk with us through our struggles.

Occasionally painful chapters in our lives tempt us to pull back from people and to isolate ourselves. While a little alone time can help to ground you, too much can cause you to spiral into unhealthy places emotionally. Even though it’s difficult, try to let others listen and encourage you. Some may have had similar experiences and can be a source of support for you.  In time, you’ll receive comfort and wisdom and you’ll be able to do the same for someone else.

In God’s economy, nothing is wasted, even our pain. All of it can be used for good when we allow Him to speak to us through it.

If you’re in a difficult season or know someone else who is, be encouraged by Jason Gray’s song “Nothing is Wasted.”

Kelly Minter, All Things New: A Study on 2 Corinthians, Lifeway Press, 2016.

Old Made New

You can’t help but smile when you see it. The vintage ice cream truck transports you to a time in history when life seemed less complicated. SLO Mama Sweets touts itself as “an ice cream experience and sweet taste of the past.” I still remember when my brother and sister-in-law first told us about their dream of starting this business. After a lengthy search, they found a beat-up 1954 Chevrolet and began the painstaking process of refurbishing it into the beauty that it is today. When their truck rolls into an event with its music playing and the family members dressed in vintage garb, they create a magical atmosphere.

I admire people like them who can see the potential and beauty in an object that looks worn and tattered to a casual observer. We love to see things that are old and tired have new life breathed into them, don’t we? Makeovers of any kind fascinate us with their stunning contrasts, whether it’s examining before and after photos in a magazine or watching a rundown old house be transformed on a TV show.

I think there’s a reason we’re drawn to this concept of old being made new—it’s because the idea originated with the Author of life. God has always been about the business of re-making what is broken and worn. And that’s why I’m especially excited to spend the next couple of months sharing thoughts on Kelly Minter’s book All Things New: A Study on 2 Corinthians. Its theme verse gives us hope that we can be made new again at any age or stage of life, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

The process of being made new, however, doesn’t happen overnight. Makeovers in glossy magazine spreads and thirty-minute TV shows minimize the hard work behind the scenes. That beautiful truck pictured above took two years to refurbish from bumper to bumper. There were numerous setbacks and frustrations along the way. The process required incredible vision and tenacity for my brother and sister-in-law to see it through to completion. Making that old thing new again also involved a significant investment of their time and financial resources.

As we journey through the pages of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we’ll discover the key ingredient to new life comes from being rooted “in Christ.” We’ll learn that leaving our old selves behind requires commitment over the long haul. There are no quick fixes or easy routes to true life transformation.

With Kelly Minter as our guide, we’ll learn to apply Scripture in practical ways so that we can become new creations in Christ. No matter what your age or spiritual maturity, 2 Corinthians has something to offer. I hope you’ll join me on the journey ahead through this foundational book in the New Testament as we experience the sweet taste of life in Christ.

“Made New” by Lincoln Brewster seems like the perfect way to kick of this study. Click on the link and make this song your prayer of praise today.

Kelly Minter, All Things New: A Study on 2 Corinthians, Lifeway Press 2016.

Top photo courtesy of Kathy Callahan

To learn more about SLO Mama Sweets click here.

Offloading Your Christmas Baggage

I remember the first time my husband and I traveled with our eldest son as a baby. He was only ten months old, but required so much gear that we had to rent a cart at the airport to carry it all. I’ll never forget seeing him perched in his car seat atop a mountain of luggage. Wrangling and monitoring our baggage throughout the day’s travel took a lot of effort. Once we arrived at our destination, fitting the stroller, backpack, diaper bag, portable crib, and suitcases into the rental car’s tiny trunk was another challenge.

Baggage is unwieldy. It takes up a lot of space and makes traveling cumbersome, especially when it is oversized. And yet, most of us carry invisible baggage with us all the time—unresolved issues, emotional pain, insecurity, control issues, fears, and brokenness, to name a few. And somehow, at Christmas time, that baggage gets unpacked at some of the worst moments.

As much as we love it, the Christmas season is filled with stress for many people. Perhaps when I say that you’re envisioning to do lists that include decorating, shopping, cooking, entertaining, traveling, and attending events. But underneath these surface stressors lurk deeper issues. Some of us dread the awkward or painful interactions we’ll have with people in relationships that are strained. Others will feel the sting of being alone when it seems everyone else has somewhere to go and someone to celebrate with. Others will feel anxious about meeting hidden expectations of family, friends, co-workers, or clients. Some will struggle as they are the sole followers of Jesus gathering with others who really don’t care about the true meaning of Christmas. Others won’t be able to enjoy the festivities because all they can see is the empty place at the table where a loved one used to sit.

Whatever baggage we carry, it seems to get heavier and larger during the Christmas season. Hard relationships become magnified and often eclipse the purpose of the holidays. The enemy loves nothing more than stealing our joy as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ. So, here are a few thoughts on how to stop him in his tracks by not letting your baggage get the best of you.

-Label Your Baggage: When something triggers a negative emotion, take a moment to stop and figure out where things went wrong. Take stock of the baggage you usually carry. Being aware of what tends to hurt you or what throws you into a tailspin can help you to head it off before you’ve spiraled too far. Spend some time praying about the things you struggle with, especially before you’re entering a situation that you know might be challenging. “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” (Psalm 68:19, NIV)

-Give Grace to Others with Baggage: We all have it, but not everyone wants to acknowledge it. And sometimes our baggage doesn’t fit well with the baggage of others– sort of like trying to cram too much luggage into a small trunk doesn’t work very well. We can’t fix other people or force them to deal with their issues, but we can do our part to show them God’s love and grace. Sometimes this means being flexible, sometimes it means biting your tongue when you want to lash out, sometimes it means offering a word of affirmation even when you’re annoyed. When you encounter people with a lot of baggage, do what you can in the moment to ease their burden without compromising your own emotional health. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14, NIV)

-Lean into God: Often prayer and Scripture reading are the first things we abandon during this busy season. Yet, when we make the time to draw near to God and to let His Word realign our hearts and renew our minds, we’re off-loading our baggage onto Him instead of letting it weigh us down. When we take time to let Him fill us with His love, strength and wisdom, we’ll have so much more to give others. Spending time in God’s presence refreshes us. It enables us to be less likely to get our feelings hurt, helps us to stop nursing personal grudges, and allows us to give an RSVP of “no” to our personal pity parties. When we start our day with a vertical focus, we’re more equipped to make a horizontal impact on those we encounter. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:1-2, NIV)

It took many years before we could travel lighter with our two boys. I’ll never forget the first time we walked briskly through the airport with each of us wheeling our own bag. My husband looked at me with a triumphant grin and declared, “This is awesome!”

It feels good to travel light, but it does take effort and forethought to make it happen. God is ready and willing to help offload our baggage. He wants us to entrust it to Him.  He also provides wise and godly friends, family members, and counselors to help us along the way. All we need to do is ask. “Trust in him at all times, you people;  pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:8, NIV)

May your days be merry and bright… and may all your Christmas baggage be light.

Click on the link and enjoy some Christmas cheer with Sidewalk Prophets and Francesca Battistelli singing “White Christmas” (without my creative lyric change!)

 

The Weary World Rejoices

 

The familiar words stuck in my throat, unable to get past the lump that had formed there suddenly. Music played and people in church sang all around me as I dabbed my eyes and took a deep breath. How many times had I heard and sung “O Holy Night”? The words of the of the first verse were familiar, but somehow struck me in a new way:

O holy night the stars are brightly shining/ It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth/ Long lay the world in sin and error pining/ Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth/ A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices/ For yonder breaks/ A new and glorious morn

The lyrics share the truth of the gospel so clearly: Jesus came to save the world from sin. But it was that fifth line that did me in: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” Acknowledging our weariness hit a nerve. It’s been a rough year and our world and nation are weary. People seem more angry and afraid than they’ve been in a long time. It’s impossible to glance at the headlines without reading one ugly piece of news after another. And yet, hope remains. The very reason we celebrate Christmas is that Jesus pierced this dark world with the light of His presence. The entire season is meant to point us back to Him.

Fall on your knees/ O hear the angel voices/ O night divine/ O night when Christ was born

As we turn our attention to Jesus, He changes our hearts. The light of His love within us shines into the darkness and changes the world around us for the better.

Truly He taught us to love one another/ His law is love and His gospel is peace/ Chains He shall break/ For the slave is our brother/ And in His Name/ All oppression shall cease/ Sweet hymns of joy/ In grateful chorus raise we/ Let all within us praise His holy Name

 Acknowledging Christ’s sovereignty in our lives opens the door for God’s kingdom on earth to be furthered through us. As we love one another and pursue peace, He uses us to bring people out of oppression and into freedom, whether it is spiritually, emotionally, or physically. Seeing Him change lives causes us to praise Him further. All of these things lead us to celebrate Christ’s birth and to fall at His feet in wonder, awe and humility.

Christ is the Lord/ O praise His Name forever/ His power and glory/ Evermore proclaim/ His power and glory/ Evermore proclaim

Fall on your knees/ O hear the angel voices/ O night divine/ O night when Christ was born/ O night divine/ O night divine

Our world is weary and many of us are also weary on a personal level, so let’s listen to the old Christmas carols with an attentive ear this season. “O Holy Night” isn’t the only song that proclaims the gospel or points us to the hope found in Jesus. Let the familiar words of favorite carols encourage you this December. Focus your attention on the heart of the season and the love of God will naturally flow from you to bless others.

Click on the link to hear Lauren Daigle’s version of “O Holy Night.”

(Note, the lyrics above are the arrangement written by Michael Guy Chislett & Dylan Thomas from Hillsong United)

Finishing Well

Sitting in the auditorium with other incoming freshmen, I listened with dismay as the orientation advisor spouted harsh realities: “Look to your left. Now look to your right. Statistically speaking, at least one of the three of you will not graduate from this institution.” The room was filled with bright-eyed, ambitious high school graduates and we gasped at this disconcerting fact. It was the summer of 1988 and I was experiencing my first cold splash of reality visiting the university where I would start classes in the fall.

The words of that orientation advisor echoed in my mind many times during the subsequent four years.  Each time I heard about someone who failed out, transferred, or chose to leave school for other pursuits I would think about that statistic. I was determined to persevere– especially my first year when I was adjusting to demanding classes, challenging living conditions, and severe homesickness. Putting on my cap and gown for graduation four years later felt like a true accomplishment. It wasn’t just a rite of passage, but a moment to celebrate a hard-won degree. Not only had I fulfilled the academic requirements, I’d persevered through a variety of personal challenges. I was leaving college with a diploma, confidence, maturity, and a much deeper faith

But the challenges I surmounted to finish well seem insignificant in comparison with Paul’s final words to Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8, NIV)

Throughout his years of sharing the gospel, Paul never lost his focus, no matter how difficult the journey became. Earlier in his ministry he’d explained, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:10-14, NIV)

Paul pressed on through an amazing array of challenges. In his second letter to the church at Corinth, he explained, “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-31, NIV)

Paul’s faithfulness to his call despite the hardships he faced inspires me. The lengths he went to for the sake of the gospel humble me and motivate me to persevere in my faith even when it’s not easy. His words to the church in Rome sum it up well: “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3b-5, NIV)

Paul poured himself out like a drink offering so that others could know Christ. In turn, those believers persevered and shared their faith with still more people. Over the years, the good news passed from one generation to the next until it arrived in our lives. Just like Paul, Timothy, and countless others after them, we’ve received the gospel and the gifting to share it with others. Being reminded of that throughout studying Beth Moore’s Entrusted renews my enthusiasm to press on in the faith, to persevere in hardships, and to share the love of Christ with others who will be blessed by Him as well. It’s a lifelong pursuit until the day we meet Jesus face to face and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Whether the idea of being entrusted with the gospel exhilarates or intimidates you, the most important part is to lean into Jesus. We weren’t meant to share Him on our own strength and wisdom, but only through His. Listen to “Jesus I Believe” and make it your prayer today.

Beth Moore, Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy, Lifeway Press, 2016.

Proclaiming Your Thanks

 

A good friend of mine received a voice message from her son the week after he moved into his first college apartment: “Hey, Mom. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you and all you’ve done for us through the years. Thanks for always having stuff available at our house like hand soap and dish towels. Anyway, just wanted to tell you that I love you and I’m thankful for all you do.” Living with a group of boys who weren’t as attentive to the finer details of stocking a household had given him a different appreciation for his mom. Some of the most basic things he previously overlooked suddenly had new meaning for him.  I love that he noticed and took the time to tell her.

And isn’t that just human nature? We take many good things for granted and rarely notice or acknowledge the efforts others take to provide them for us. Only when they’re missing from our lives do we realize what a blessing they were.

As I’ve been anticipating the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve been thinking about the importance of directing our general feelings of gratitude to someone specific. That is, after all, how the holiday came into existence. You probably know the pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving feast to honor God’s provision for them through a brutal winter. You might even know that Abraham Lincoln was the one who made it a national holiday. But, like me, you may not have realized that it was George Washington who made the original Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789.

Washington’s words in the proclamation state: “Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.”

The whole point of the holiday was to pause, look back and thank God for all He had done for our nation. The purpose of the day was not to watch football, attend parades, or even to eat turkey. It wasn’t created to signify the kick off to the Christmas shopping season or to boost the economy with Black Friday sales. The purpose of the national day of thanksgiving was to thank God for His care, provision, and protection of the citizens of our country. It was a time to pause and reflect with gratefulness to someone very specific—the Lord.

George Washington was not the first leader to do this, nor is the United States the only nation in modern times that pauses for a day to give thanks. We are following the examples of those who have gone before us: Moses, David, and Solomon are among a variety of people in Scripture that led others to stop, reflect, and express gratitude to God collectively.

With the many extra things that have been added onto Thanksgiving over the years, acknowledging gratitude to God often gets lost in the shuffle.  And even when we do reflect on our thankfulness, it tends to be about what we’re grateful for instead of whom we’re thankful to. This year, I want to pause to acknowledge and appreciate God in specific ways. I want to stop and notice not only the gifts I’ve received, but the Giver. Rather than just having a general warm fuzzy feeling of thankfulness, let’s direct our gratitude to the One who gave us all that we have. Make it a goal to follow the advice repeated throughout the Psalms:

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

To read the full text of George Washington’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation and subsequent proclamations by other presidents, click here.

Photo of George Washington’s profile at Mount Rushmore courtesy of Pixabay.com

Keep Your Head

Letting out a big sigh, I berated myself silently. I had committed to writing a Bible study focusing on the women in Jesus’ family line for a group at church. The idea seemed brilliant until I started digging into the lives of the characters. Some of the stories involving them were inspiring, but many were disconcerting or downright unsavory.

Weighing my options, I considered leaving out one or two names on the list that seemed too difficult to tackle. But after consulting with my  Bible study’s coordinator and mulling things over a bit more, I decided to push through and see what God had in store. Their lives were messy and complicated but they were all in the lineage of Jesus for a reason.

Further exacerbating the situation, I’d planned on using the lessons I was writing to lead another group of women who were newer to Bible study. I had no idea how I would explain some of the stories we were going to unpack. Still, I knew that leaving out the ugly parts and trying to present more sanitized versions would be inauthentic and dishonest. It would also limit opportunities to grapple with hard topics.

As it turned out, some of the “colorful” characters I dreaded discussing turned out to be the ones that inspired me most. Throughout the months of studying with those two different groups of women, I learned the beauty of wrestling with others through hard questions that didn’t have easy answers. And while we didn’t tie a neat bow on every discussion, we all learned and grew by not avoiding some of those stickier topics.

Melissa Moore puts it this way, “When we are not ashamed of the gospel, we have the freedom to ask good questions and listen to other people well. We are faithful to the tradition we’ve received but the bottom line is not protecting our big egos. We keep reading Scripture carefully, proving ourselves to be ones who carefully handle the word of truth (2:15), and we are not threatened by any worldview or perspective. We do not have to let go of our Christian convictions to actually hear somebody out. We are unashamed in our message; we proclaim it, persist in it, whether it is convenient or not (2 Time 4:2), and we do this with kindness and patience. Generous listening is a revolutionary act of kindness in a world of screaming and competing voices.” (Entrusted p. 153)

For me, the key to discussing hard topics in Scripture is deciding not to feel personally threatened by people whose views differ from mine. To be honest, I am not a person that enjoys a lively debate or sparring with words. In fact, I have a deep aversion to tension and conflict in relationships. But, I have learned the value in listening respectfully and offering a counter perspective. I’ve discovered the freedom in admitting I don’t have all the answers. And each time I have a challenging conversation with someone who asks hard questions, my faith grows exponentially. When I research to find more information about a thorny topic, my knowledge also grows. Sometimes I even get to circle back with the person who asked me about it to shed more light on the issue.

Paul admonishes Timothy saying, Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction… keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:2 & 5, NIV)

Two phrases stand out in Paul’s list of instructions, the first is “with great patience” and the second is “keep your head.” When we’re talking about our faith with believers who differ from us or nonbelievers who lack understanding, these are important components to keep in mind.

Demonstrating great patience usually requires praying for the intervention of the Holy Spirit. If we get offended by someone’s differing viewpoint or irritated by their lack of understanding, we can’t keep a healthy dialogue going. And when we have the patience to see that a hard topic may require more than one conversation, it helps us to relax and not push so hard to overload someone with our opinions.

Paul also says, “keep your head,” reminding us not to takes things personally. When you’re having a hard conversation about spiritual matters, emotions intensify. If you start to feel your face flush or your jaw clench, pause and pray to keep your head. Losing your temper or getting defensive is not going to take a conversation about your faith in the right direction. If needed, put an end to the discussion before you lash out or say something hurtful. Your goal should be to finish on a positive note so that you still have an opening to talk more later.

There’s no doubt we’re living in tumultuous times where the Christian worldview is taking a beating. But if we shy away from opportunities to share the gospel, we’re not fulfilling our call to further God’s kingdom on earth. How can we lament the negative things we see in the world if we’re too fearful to impact others with the truth of God’s Word?

If you’re feeling weary and discouraged living in a culture that doesn’t put up with sound doctrine as Paul describes in 2 Timothy 4:3, take heart and be encouraged by Rend Collective’s song  “More Than Conquerors” included below.

And if you’re interested in learning more about the Bible study I wrote on the women in Jesus’ lineage or want to order a copy, click on the link below.

Click here for more information on Women of the Word: The Family Tree of Jesus.

Beth Moore, Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy, Lifeway Press 2016.

 

Thoroughly Equipped

I remember the first time my family went to the snow when our kids were very young. Taking a toddler and a pre-schooler on a trip to Tahoe in the dead of winter wasn’t something we could have done without significant advance preparation. Not wanting to invest a lot of funds in gear our boys would outgrow quickly, we devoted our energy to borrowing anything friends would lend us: mittens, boots, jackets, snow suits, socks, long underwear, hats, goggles, and sleds (of course). We knew that forgetting just one of these items would have put a damper on enjoying outdoor activities in the frigid conditions. We had to be thoroughly equipped to create a positive experience. Forgetting even one mitten or boot would have ruined the whole adventure.

In much the same way, God knows that we need to be thoroughly equipped to carry out His will. His Word promises us He’ll give us everything we need for spiritual impact: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV)

Just as my husband and I did the work to provide our boys with the gear they needed for the snow, God does all that’s required to equip us for every good work. He doesn’t miss a single detail. Our responsibility is to study His Word so that we can put on the spiritual equipment He’s prepared for us there. We simply receive what He provides and allow His Spirit to work through us. Scripture reminds us of this several times:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3, NIV)

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13, NIV)

Beth Moore explains, “We are equipped and made capable by Scripture even for good works that don’t necessitate sharing the Word. Scripture is just as strategic for equipping the man or woman of God who works in government, stays home with the kids, or fixes car engines. That’s the power of it. The Word of God works wherever the person of God works.” (p. 142)

None of us is exempt from being used by God, no matter what station in life we hold. Looking back over my past, I can see how the Lord used me whenever I made myself available to Him. From college onward, I recognize God’s handiwork–sometimes it was through my actions and quiet influence, other times it was through my words. Each season of my life has afforded new ways to impact others with God’s love and truth. The opportunities to be used by Him have changed with every chapter, but they’ve never ceased.

We’re headed into the home stretch of studying 2 Timothy so it’s time to take stock of what we’ve been learning. “If we get to the end of this study with a good look over our shoulder at the journeys of Paul and Timothy but no clear gaze ahead at the path we’re called to walk with equal tenacity, we will have missed the mission in 2 Timothy’s message. We—common people with common problems–get to carry on the uncommon legacies of Paul and Timothy. To do so deliberately will be to do so most effectively.” (p. 133)

It’s time to pray about how we’ll let this study change us. If we walk away with more head knowledge but no real plan to act on what we’ve learned, we’ll have missed the point. So I’ll ask a few questions to help you clarify your thoughts: How is God stirring in you as you study 2 Timothy? What are you learning about how to turn your vertical focus into a horizontal impact? If you’ve been following Jesus for a while, can you look back and see how God has equipped you previously? Is there anywhere new you sense Him calling you to step outside of your comfort zone? These may be scary questions to answer, but don’t let them intimidate you. Remember that God is trustworthy and He has good things in store for you. All you have to do is let Him equip you. He’s already prepared everything, you just need to tell Him you’re available to receive it.

“Do Everything” by Steven Curtis Chapman gives some good encouragement on this topic. Click on the link to enjoy the song.

Beth Moore, Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy, Lifeway Press, 2016.

Overflowing with the Spirit

Flags around town are at half-mast again. It’s hard to keep up with the string of tragedies that continue to happen in our state, nation and world. Recently I was exchanging messages with some friends in a group text as we lamented a recent natural disaster and traded prayer requests. At one point, someone suggested that the times seemed ripe for Jesus to return.

In Matthew 24:1-14, Jesus uses the analogy of a woman in labor to describe the “birth pangs” the earth will experience in preparation for His return. He describes the wars, famines, earthquakes, and persecutions that will be signs that the “end of the age” is near.

Paul adds his own thoughts to what will characterize the last days before Jesus returns:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NIV)

Reading those descriptions of the last days only magnifies the feelings that they are upon us. There is not one thing on those lists that we don’t see regularly. Sometimes I’m tempted to withdraw into my own little world so I don’t have to confront feelings of fear or defeat. But with the right focus, these dark times can be an opportunity to shine the light and hope found through Jesus in a world that desperately needs Him.

Beth Moore puts her own spin on this idea saying, “The world has gone mad but we don’t have to go mad with it. We are the people drenched by the Holy Spirit, defined by the Son of God and dogged by a hoard of demons. We need God’s wonders. We long for His wonders. We pray for His wonders. And I believe we will see many wonders. But one of the most grown-up realities we will ever accept is that we are His wonders with the greatest potential impact on the lost, the cynical, and the hopeless.” (Beth Moore, Entrusted p. 116)

Let that statement sink in for a moment: WE ARE HIS WONDERS WITH THE GREATEST POTENTIAL IMPACT ON THE LOST. This is not the time to withdraw in defeat, but to ask God to equip us so we can engage our cynical, hopeless world. Through His Spirit, God can use us to make a difference in the lives of people wandering in darkness:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’… So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:13-14, 16, 22-25, NIV)

Our lives look different from the rest of the world when we walk by the Spirit. Just compare the descriptions from 2 Timothy and Galatians above and you’ll see what I mean. The more open we are to being filled by the Holy Spirit, the more His fruit will show in our lives. No believer is exempt because everyone who accepts Christ receives the Spirit. Ephesians 1:13 states it plainly: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”

Being filled with the Spirit is not just a single event, it is an ongoing process.

Imagine a thimble filled with water. It’s at capacity, not another drop could fit inside. Now imagine a drinking glass. It’s bigger, so more water fits inside. Finally, imagine a swimming pool brimming over with water. Each of these containers has a limit and once it is exceeded, it will overflow. The bigger the container, the more the surroundings will get wet when it does.

In the same way, the Spirit impacts those around us as He fills us so full that we begin to overflow.  But unlike a fixed-size container, our ability to receive Him increases each time He fills us and we pour Him out.  I think that’s what Joel 2:28 describes when the Lord says: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”

Paul had an ocean-sized capacity for the Holy Spirit because he invited His filling so often. He prayed bold prayers and asked God to move, and He did. He spoke with authority and acted courageously because the Spirit was flowing through him. The fruit of the Spirit was abundantly evident in his life.

Whether our capacities for the Spirit are more in line with a thimble, a glass, or something bigger, there is always room for expansion. If you want to be one of God’s wonders, then invite the Holy Spirit’s power to move in your life. Try praying something like this daily: “Lord, pour out your Spirit on me. Increase my capacity to receive you and let your fruit be evident in my life.”

As we begin to see the world through the light of God’s love, we not only see His wonders, we become His wonders. Click on the link and revel in this truth listening to “Wonder” by Hillsong United.

photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Beth Moore, Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy, Lifeway Press 2016.