Having Courage in Our Loneliest Hours

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2 Timothy 4:6-18 (NIV)

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 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.

Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. 12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.

14 Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. 15 You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.

16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

 

This passage from the book of 2 Timothy captures a painful time in the life of Paul the apostle.  As he sat in a prison cell, he knew that death was imminent.  He had devoted the last years of his life to teaching, training, and winning souls for Christ, but he now stood alone, unsupported during his trial and time in jail.  The loneliness must have seemed overwhelming to him.

Paul felt abandoned, yet he didn’t blame anyone or pity himself.  Instead, he met the suffering with courage.  I know that if I was in that same position, it would be very hard for me not to want to blame those, who I thought were my friends, for not supporting me.  I would almost certainly be feeling some self-pity.  How about you?  How would you feel if you were in that situation?  The point is that Paul didn’t feel those things.  What motivated him to stand with strength during this trying time?

For Paul, an awareness of Christ’s presence gave him comfort and motivated him to persevere.  Having a copy of Scripture in his cell was no doubt one way for him to find encouragement.  We know this from 2 Timothy 4:13.  Paul knew that God was right there with him in the current moment that he was in, but he also recalled earlier times when the Lord had intervened on his behalf.

An example of this occurred years before, when Paul had a vision from God telling him not to fear during a storm on the sea.  Even though the ship he was on ran aground, all the men on that ship survived.  Here is the account of that tale:

Acts 27:22-24 (NIV)

22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’

For those of us who know Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, strength is readily available to us in His intimate presence.  Our heavenly Father promises that he will never abandon His children, even when everyone else has.

Have your circumstances left you feeling lonely?  When you are feeling this way, try to remember times when God was evident to you- when He clearly revealed His hand in your life.  Also, take the time to read His Word (the Bible) so that the truth of His presence can comfort and encourage you.  As a believer, you are truly never alone.

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We Can All Get Preferential Treatment

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Psalm 30:5 (NIV)

For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.

 

Most of the time, we think, “Oh, God’s got bigger things to deal with than me and my little problems.  He’s not interested in what’s bothering me.”  That is simply not true.  You are God’s biggest deal.  He wants to make you an example of His goodness.  When you keep God in first place in your heart, when you honor Him with your life, God puts something on you that causes you to stand out from the rest of the crowd.  God gives you something that give you an advantage.  It causes good breaks and opportunities to be attracted to you.  It’s called the favor of God!

The word favor means to assist, to provide with advantages, to receive preferential treatment.  The favor of God will cause you to be promoted even though you might not have been the most qualified.  God’s favor will cause your children to get the best teachers in school.  It will help you find the best deals at the mall.  God’s favor will put you at the right place at the right time.

God is saying to you what He said to Abraham, “I’m going to assist you.  I going to provide you with advantages.  I’m going to cause you to receive preferential treatment.”

All you have to do is believe it and receive it for today and for all the days of your life.

That does not mean that God is going to guarantee you an easy life.  No one is guaranteed that.  Everyone is going to go through seasons in the valley, but you have to know and believe that those tough times will not last.  If you have a relationship with God and have faith that He will bless your life, He will.  It is that simple and there is no reason to complicate that.

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What if Jesus Were You?

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What if, for 24 hours, Jesus wakes up in your bed, walks in your shoes, lives in your house, assumes your schedule?  Your boss becomes His boss, your mother becomes His mother, your pains become His pains?  With one exception, nothing about your life changes.  Your health doesn’t change.  Your circumstances don’t change.  Your schedule isn’t altered.  Your problems aren’t solved.  Only one change occurs.

What if, for one day and one night, Jesus live your life with His heart?  Your heart gets the day off, and your life is led by the heart of Christ.  His priorities govern your actions.  His passions drive your decisions.  His love directs your behavior.

What would you be like?  Would people notice a change?  Your family- would they see something new?  Your co-workers – would they sense a difference?  What about the less fortunate?

-excerpt taken from Max Lucado, Just Like Jesus

 

This really makes me think.  I like to think that I live my life in a way that somewhat resembles the way that Jesus lived His life, but do I really?  Do I treat my boss with the same love and respect that Jesus shows towards God, His boss?  Do I treat those around me the way Jesus would?  Do I love others as much as he would?  Am I able to forgive like He did?

Unfortunately, I think that if Jesus took my place for a whole day, people would really notice a difference.  They would see a me that is better than me on even my best days.  People would see me clearly living my life the way I was designed by God to live.  I think people would honestly wonder what had happened to me.  That makes me sad when I realize that.  I want to be more like Jesus, I just have some trouble executing it on a daily basis.

I think if people really look within themselves, they will see that we all fall short of living our lives as Jesus would if he were in our bodies for a day.

Trying to live a life like Jesus would is a goal that can’t be reached on this side of heaven.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t do it.  That can be depressing thought.  But that is not the point.  It is not important that we reach this goal during our lives here on earth.  What is important is that we actively pursue that goal and try to do it.  Over time and through many trials, we become better at it and get closer to the goal.  As a reward, when we die, we get new bodies and we get to be like Jesus.  I would say that is a pretty good reward.

Maybe the next time I see someone in need, I will take the time to stop and help them instead of just going on with my day.  When I do, I can smile knowing that there is a piece of Jesus in me.  Ultimately, that is the point isn’t it?

On this day of this great election, it is really easy for everyone to say that we have no good candidates for President.  Maybe there isn’t.  Everyone can say that our government has failed us.  Maybe they have.  Everyone can say that our country is falling apart.  Maybe it is.

We all want change and we are looking towards a magical President who can bring us that.  It doesn’t work that way.  Change comes from each one of us.  We all have to look within ourselves and see that we can do better, and then go do it.  If you believe in Jesus, then a part of Him is inside of you and goes wherever you go.  We just need to let that light shine out onto others.

I know who I am voting for today, but ultimately, it really doesn’t matter because I know that God has everything under His control.  He will ultimately allow things that are the best for us and I trust that He will protect us and always care for us, even through the very darkest days, which could very well be on the way.

When Jesus lived on earth, he was hated by many people.  If he were running for President today, I highly doubt He would get elected.  Jesus goes against many of the things that this world treats as idols.  Sometimes the more popular choice isn’t always the right choice.  That is something you can decide and that is what makes our country great.

So get out there and vote today, knowing that your voice does count.  Think of all those people who sacrificed so that you could have the right to do that.  Let’s have faith that God will protect us and let’s not be afraid to bring Him back into the public eye.  Lastly, let’s all resolve ourselves to act a little more like Jesus today.  Let’s love openly to all our brothers and sisters.  Let’s forgive others when they do mean and wrong things to us.  Let’s serve each other and help each other up when one of us falls.

If you really want to make America great again, this is what you need to do!  Now let’s go do it!

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I Didn’t See That Coming

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2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV)

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

 

When the Israelites were in the desert, God fed them with manna from heaven.  This source of food sustained them since they would not have enough food in the desert if it was not for this manna.  It was a miraculous provision; yet, they got tired of eating the same thing every day.  They said, “Moses, we want some meat to eat out here.”

On one hand you could say that they were being a little greedy since God was going out of His way to give them the food, which they so desperately needed with such a large group of people and so little resources available in the desert.  On the other hand, everyone wants a steak every now and then.

Moses thought, “That’s impossible.  Meat out here in the desert?”  We are not talking about one dinner for four here, we are talking about meat for two million people.  There were no grocery stores or any place to buy food.

But God has always had ways to give His children increase that they have never even thought of.  God simply shifted the direction of the wind and caused a huge flock of quail to come into the Israelite camp.  The people didn’t even have to go after it.  The meat came to them.  What’s very interesting is that quail don’t normally travel that far away from the water.  If there had not been a strong wind, the quail would have never made it way out to their camp in the middle of the desert.

The main point is that God knows how to get your provision to you, where you are right now.

What do you need in your life today?  What are the desires of your heart?  God is able to make things align so that you have everything you need and even some things that you don’t need, but want.  God’s grace is sufficient.  Trust Him to bring increase to your life in unexpected ways!

If you wish for ice cream and the wind picks up suddenly, I would be sure you have an ice cream-proof jacket on.

 

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The Blinding of Science

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Recently, the Calbuco volcano in southern Chile erupted for the first time since 1972.  The eruption sent billows of ash into the sky and painted the sun red.

The eruption and its intensity caught scientists and government officials by surprise, according to the regional emergency director.  Chile is home to 90 active volcanos and Calbuco is regarded as one of the three most dangerous.  Despite that fact, the volcano was not under active observation at the time of its eruption.

So why in the world would I even be bringing up this volcano?  Volcanos is not really a subject that I talk about in blogs.  In fact, I know for a fact that this is the first time.

The reason I mention this is because stories like this tell us something about the absurdity of scientism.

Scientism, according to Wikipedia, is the belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints.  Huh?  Put more simply, scientism is a worldview which says that science is the ultimate source of knowledge, our best authority, and is able to offer explanations for everything.

 

The day after the Calbuco volcano erupted, researchers from the University of Utah published a paper “Imaged the continuous volcanic plumbing system under Yellowstone.”  What they found was big and scary.  Yellowstone has enough magma to fill the Grand Canyon more than 13 times!  That means that is has 1,000 times the eruptive power of Mt. St. Helens.

What the researchers pointed out is that a better understanding of the system doesn’t bring us any closer to being able to predict if and when the system will erupt.  I think the Washington Post said it best when they said, “Yellowstone is unpredictable.”

Roberto Rivera noted, “For all of our pretense to an increasing omniscience, we are almost completely in the dark about the ground literally beneath our feet.”  The amazing part is that Roberto is not even exaggerating.

A recent article found in the Washington Post talked about the “coming problem when our smartphones are smarter than we are.”  So that makes me naturally ask the following question:

What do you mean by smarter?

For example, a computer can figure out the square root of 3721 a heck of a lot faster than any human can, but is that the true meaning of “smarter than us?”

The answer is yes if you define intelligence, as our culture often tends to do, as the ability to process information quickly.  In the article, computer scientist Ray Kurzweil predicted that we’re only a little more than a decade away from software that can mimic human thinking.  If you add that to the processing speed and internet connectivity with this software, it would seem likely that our smart phones may indeed become smarter than we are.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we need to consider what is missing from this discussion.  Kurzweil’s prediction is based on a particular “theory of mind,” in which the human mind, in all of its awesome complexity, is reduced to nothing more than a pattern-recognition machine.  Most people, including neuroscientists, would reject this view.

Roberto says that the truth is that “scientism, is absurd on its face because ‘science’ isn’t nearly as smart as it claims to be.  After all, settled ‘scientific fact’ today is so provisional that shaping a worldview out of it alone is about as stable as taking a prostitute for a wife without divine warrant.”

Roberto goes on to mention that scientism is dependent on the bogus “fact/value” distinction, that deeply embedded cultural assumption today that considers only what can be discovered through science and reason as facts, while everything else, such as moral judgments, is merely personal opinion.  This distinction leaves us powerless to distinguish some moral behaviors as better than others.

My education was weighted very heavily in scientific based classes so it is very easy for me to look at science as the answer for everything, but it is not.  The fact is that scientism is a very flimsy worldview.  God has created each of us with amazing ability to understand things in our world, but our understanding of these things should lead us to wonder and worship or our Creator, not to a place of arrogance from our own abilities.

Science is a good place to start, but it never should be the complete picture because science does not take into account morality.  It can be very easy to get blinded by science, but we all need to be careful to see science for what it really is …incomplete.

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Is Your Faith Evident to God?

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Luke 5:20 (NIV)

20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

 

Do you know what moves God?  Despite what people might think, God is not moved by complaining and self-pity.  He is not even moved by our own personal needs or agendas.  Yes God is concerned about our needs and He wants to meet our needs, but we have to do our part and invite Him to work in our lives.  The best way to do this is by exercising our faith.

When Jesus walked the earth, He would often make some remark about a person’s faith right before he healed whatever ailment they were experiencing.  As we see in Luke 5:20, Jesus forgave the person after He saw their faith.

So the question we should be asking ourselves is: Is our faith evident to God?

When God sees us doing everything we can to get well; when He can see us getting to work a little earlier because we really want that promotion; when He sees us bite our tongues to keep the peace in our homes; when God see us help others when we really need more help than they do; when God sees our faith, that’s when extraordinary things will begin to happen in our lives.

Faith opens the door for God to move in our lives.  So let’s all work on demonstrating our faith today and watch the hand of God move in every area of our lives.

God, thank You for all the gifts You give us.  Thanks for giving us something that we can believe in.  We know Your promises are good and You will never desert us.  We choose today to exercise our faith and let the whole world see that we’re trusting You.  Keep us close to You.  Search our hearts and remove anything that is displeasing to You.  Lord, bless us today in Your Son’s name.  Amen.

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Hit the “Flee” Button

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Matthew 5:29-30 (NLT)

29 So if your eye—even your good eye causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

 

Perhaps an appropriate 21st-century addition to Jesus’ warning given in Matthew 5 would go something like this:

“If social media causes you to sin, log off.”

In a Washington Post article, Jacob Brogan admitted that he is “ashamed of the way he is on Twitter.”  The way he tells it in the article, almost everything about his experience with Twitter is a source of shame, from the things he writes on Twitter to his insecurity and the way that Twitter reveals his need for approval.  He’s even ashamed of the fact that his mother has four times as many followers as he does.

Here is a link to the article.

His “clearest consolation,” he says, is that he’s “far from alone” in his Twitter-induced shame and he uses the example of ESPN’s Keith Olbermann, who was suspended after a Twitter fight with Penn State fans.

Brogan’s misgivings about himself and Twitter is his springboard to discuss shame and how it relates in the age of social media.  And so, he repeats, he is ashamed of his Twitter persona and then adds “you probably are too.”

While Brogan’s self-examination is praiseworthy, it does make me wonder “Dude, why don’t you just get off Twitter for a while!”  After all, what he’s describing is what moral theologians call an “occasion of sin.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia New Advent describes “occasions of sin” as those “external circumstances…which either because of their special nature or because of the frailty common to humanity or peculiar to some individual, incite or entice one to sin.”

Now, calling something an “occasion of sin” is not the same as saying that it’s the cause of sin.  The cause of sin is human fallenness and the “perverse human will.”

But there are settings and circumstances that make sim more likely than others.  That’s why the Apostle Paul urged Timothy to “flee from youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

On one level this should be obvious, the stuff of common sense.  For instance, a person who struggles with lust shouldn’t subscribe to Maxim or pick up the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.  In the same way, recovering alcoholics shouldn’t visit bars regularly.

But for some reason, it’s just not as obvious that our mass consumer and entertainment culture has become for many one big occasion of sin.  For example, not long ago, the Lexus car company ran a commercial promoting their ‘F’ series saying “that the ‘F’ series will provoke lust, unleash wrath, incite envy, and elicit pride.”  That’s four of the “Seven Deadly Sins” cover in just one commercial.

I’m not saying that buying one of these cars is a sin, but the commercial is just another indicator of how, to rephrase the old saying, “sin sells.”

It isn’t only the advertisers either.  Most of the people and institutions competing for our attention these days do so by appealing to our feelings like fear and anger, as well as lust and pride.  And virtually none of them urge us to think about what is pure, lovely, commendable or praiseworthy.

Now this doesn’t mean that we should automatically shun Twitter or any other social media.  But it does mean that we should be aware of our weakness and be more intentional about how and where we spend our time.

Our adversary is, as Scripture reveals, a roaring lion, a predator ready to ambush us at our weakest hour.  And just as zebras avoid places where lions like to hide, we should avoid those places and circumstances where we are the most vulnerable.

For some of us, that is social media.  For others, it’s something else.  Either way, the solution is the same: get out of there.  Sometimes when we find ourselves on social media and getting into situations that we should not be in, our best course of action might be to hit the “flee” button.

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