Categories
grace

It’s OK to Give Yourself a Little Grace

You’re doing better than you think…

The criticism we heap on ourselves is often worse than any criticism we receive from others. We want to be the perfect husband or wife, the perfect parent, the perfect person. We long for the unattainable goal of perfection.

But we find ourselves making mistakes. We use bad judgement. We fail. And, sooner or later, we must face the truth: We aren’t perfect.

When someone else makes a mistake or fails, we are inclined to offer grace, understanding, and encouragement. But when we’re the ones who messed up, we can be very hard on ourselves. Instead of beating ourselves up, maybe we need to give ourselves a little grace.

It’s OK to analyze our mistakes. We can almost always learn something from a mistake or a failure. But it’s not OK to be so hard on ourselves that we doubt our worth, our purpose, or God’s love for us.

Romans 8:1 says, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” We are free from guilt. We are forgiven. No punishment awaits us. We have been set free—free from shame, free from guilt, and free from the tyranny of our own thoughts.

God’s love for us is unconditional. God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to die for us. He loves us so much that he calls us his children—his sons and daughters. We are heirs of God’s glory. God isn’t disappointed in us when we mess up. In fact, he isn’t even surprised. His grace, mercy, and love are abundant, and they don’t disappear in the midst of our mistakes.

In God’s hands, our mistakes and failures do not equal defeat. They are just another step on our journey. “The steps of the God-pursuing ones follow firmly in the footsteps of the Lord, and God delights in every step they take to follow him. If they stumble badly, they will still survive, for the Lord lifts them up with his hand” (Psalm 37:23-24). We may fall down, but we won’t stay down. We may stumble badly, but God himself will lift us up with his strong hand.

Friend, you’re not perfect, but you’re perfectly loved. Your mistakes and failures don’t define you. You have permission to give yourself a little grace. You’re doing better than you think. Let go of those things that are behind. The past is past. Instead, reach for your future, confident of God’s love, goodness, and faithfulness.

Dear God, I’m amazed at your great love and forgiveness. Thank you for forgiving my sins, mistakes, and failures. Help me forgive myself. Give me wisdom to learn from my past and then to let it go. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
Psalm 23

Empty or Overflowing?

How much we get is up to us…

Isn’t it awesome to go to a restaurant, order an iced tea, and know they’re going to refill our cup over and over, as much as we can drink? One sip or five refills plus a to-go tea—it’s up to us.

In Psalm 23:6, David says, “…my cup overflows.” Not, “my cup has a little in it.” Not, “My cup is full.” No—our cup actually overflows! Luke 6:38 also promises overflowing blessings: “…Abundant gifts will pour out upon you with such an overflowing measure that it will run over the top! Your measurement of generosity becomes the measurement of your return.” Our generosity determines our blessing. Just like iced tea in a restaurant, how much blessing we get is up to us.

The fullness of our cup isn’t limited by God’s generosity, but by our own. How much blessing do we want? How full do we want our cups to be? Here are five levels of filling. Where are we now? And where do we want to be?

  1. The Empty Cup: The Miserable Christian. We all get empty once in a while, but God never intended us to live continuously empty and miserable. A broken cup leaks. Jesus understands brokenness. He was broken so we could be made whole.
  2. The Least-Filled Cup: The Minimalist Christian. The minimalist lives from storm to storm, from struggle to struggle, constantly battling. Jesus didn’t come to give us a minimal life; he came to give us abundant life.
  3. The Half-Empty Cup: The Pessimist Christian. Even when things are going pretty well, this person dwells on the bad, focusing on the negative and ignoring the positive. Flip that attitude by focusing on the good God has done in the past and the amazing work he’s doing right now.
  4. The Full Cup: The Selfish Christian. The selfish Christian has a full cup but focuses only on their own wants and needs. Answer my prayer. Meet my needs. Bless my children. Ask this question: If God answered all my prayers, would the world change? Or would only my world change?
  5. The Overflowing Cup: The World-Changing Christian. As we continue to say “yes” to God, as we continue to be generous and obedient, he continues to pour into our lives until we overflow with his love and grace. As God’s goodness spills out of our lives, it touches those around us, changing the world one heart at a time.

When a server in a restaurant asks us if we want more iced tea, we choose to say “yes” or “no.” Our answer determines how much tea we get. We can’t blame the server for not bringing more tea if we said “no.”

In the same way, God’s great mercy, grace, and love just keep on flowing…as long as we keep on saying “yes” to his leading. Each next step, each obedient action, each act of kindness and generosity keeps our cups full and overflowing, leaving a trail of salt and light that changes the world.

Dear God, thank you for being the Good Shepherd. And thank you for offering to fill me to overflowing with your goodness. Help me be obedient to your instructions. Help me say yes to your leading. Let me be a vessel the overflows with your goodness and changes the lives of those around me. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
Handling Life's Problems

We All Need a Little Rest

When’s the last time you really rested?

They were travelling from town to town, preaching, casting out demons, and healing the sick. It was a busy time of ministry for Jesus and his disciples. Crowds followed them wherever they went. There were so many people with so many needs that Jesus and his disciples didn’t even have time to stop and eat (Mark 6:31).

In the midst of preaching repentance, performing miracles, and changing lives, Jesus said something that sounded crazy. Something unexpected. Instead of doubling down on the work, Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31).

Even Jesus recognized the need for rest. In our super-busy lives, we may find ourselves exhausted, depleted, empty, and grumpy. To be effective, we need time to rest and refuel.

When is the last time we really rested? Do we feel guilty when we take time to rest and recharge? Do we think someone is going to outdo us if we disengage from work?

Rest refreshes our energy and increases our ability to stick with our work over the long haul. It also makes space to bond with our family. Stepping away from work to relax with family is one of the most important things we do in life. It creates an essential bond and breathes life into our relationships.

Remember, after God created the earth and everything in it, he took the seventh day off to rest. In the Old Testament, God instituted the Sabbath, one day each week when everyone took a break from their work. While we are no longer under Old Testament law, the principle of rest remains.

Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest” (Matthew 11:28). Psalm 23:2 says, “He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love…”

In the midst of our many tasks, appointments, assignments, and obligations, when we are worn out and exhausted, let us hear the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calling us to rest a while with him. He promises to show us how to relax, how to experience quietness and peace. He will show us the way to recover our joy and our lives.

Resting isn’t being lazy. It isn’t wasted time. Resting is an investment in our physical health, our mental health, and our spiritual health. So, take a deep breath. Slow down. Think about the goodness of God. Enjoy your family. You’ll feel better. You’ll do your tasks better. And you’ll please God.

Heavenly Father, give me wisdom to value rest. Help me recognize when I’m exhausted and when I need some quiet time to unwind and rest. Give me strength to work hard and help me balance hard work with seasons of rest. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
God's presence

A Shepherd and a Best Friend

We literally lack nothing…

A cliché is a phrase that once was thought provoking but became boring or ineffective because of repetition. A cliché isn’t necessarily untrue. It may be just as meaningful now as when it was first penned, but we stop being impacted by it because we’ve heard it too many times.

Psalm 23 is a good example of a Bible chapter that could become a cliché. Many of us have heard this chapter over and over. It’s been read at hospital beds and funerals. It’s been a favorite memorization assignment in Kid’s Church. It’s so well known we could easily stop feeling its impact.

Let’s turn fresh eyes and an open heart to the first verse of Psalm 23 and move past the cliché to the richness of this verse.

“The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1). The word translated as, “shepherd,” is from the Hebrew word, “raah.” It actually has two meanings. The first meaning is shepherd. We like to think we’re smarter than sheep. We like to think we can shepherd ourselves. But we’re prone to go our own way, get lost, get injured, or get in trouble.

We desperately, urgently, constantly need a shepherd.

John 10:14-15 says, “I alone am the Good Shepherd, and I know those whose hearts are mine, for they recognize and know me…I am ready to give my life for the sheep.” When we lean into the guidance of the Good Shepherd, we have everything we need and absolutely nothing to fear.

We needed a shepherd. And we also needed a friend.

The second meaning of “raah” is, “best friend.”  A best friend is someone we value above other friends in our lives, someone we trust, and someone in whom we confide. Our best friend is the first person we call when we get good news or bad news. When we just want someone to hang out with, we look to our best friend.

Jesus is not just our shepherd. Yes, he leads us and protects us. Yes, he provides everything we need to thrive. But he’s also our best friend. He can be trusted and can handle all our secrets. He rejoices in our good news and comforts us in our bad news. He’s always available and he always cares.

How blessed are we? Our shepherd is also our best friend. We lack nothing. Every physical need—supplied. Every spiritual need—supplied. Jesus is a companion who will never leave us or forsake us. He is our redeemer, the forgiver of our sins, and the one who conquers sin, death, and the grave.

Jesus is both our Good Shepherd and our best friend forever. We have nothing to fear. And we lack no good thing.

Dear Jesus, you are my closest friend, always with me, always listening, and always caring. And you are my Good Shepherd, leading me, protecting me, and providing for me. I am abundantly blessed. I know I will lack no good thing. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.

Categories
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The Definition of a Winner

Does someone have to lose for someone else to win?

I like to win. You probably like it, too. When I was in fourth grade, I won a writing contest. When I was in middle school, I won a spelling bee. When I was in college, I won a freshman essay competition.

I never won a race, a gymnastic meet (I could barely execute a forward roll), or any sort of athletic competition. I never won the lottery. I never won an art competition.

It’s not surprising that I avoid athletic competition, lotteries, and painting. We tend to avoid venues in which we are likely to lose.

We like to win. We live in a competitive world. We want the best jobs, houses, talents, kids, and, most importantly, the best hair. Worldly winning requires comparing ourselves to someone else. It also requires someone to lose.

The kingdom of God doesn’t work that way. We are not competing with each other. Galatians 5:26 says, “Let us not become conceited, competing against each other, envying each other.” We don’t compare ourselves with others and puff up with pride. We don’t compete with each other to feel good about ourselves. And we aren’t jealous when someone else does well.

Winning, as a disciple of Christ, means showing kindness, love, and forgiveness. It means serving others. It means putting the needs of others above our own. It means walking in faith. We don’t have to compare ourselves to anyone else. And no one has to lose for us to win.

When I won in fourth grade, I got a silver dollar and I have no idea what happened to it. When I won in middle school, I got the to go to the district spelling bee, where I lost on the word, “matrimonial.” When I won the essay competition, I got a small scholarship to a college I only attended for one semester.

Those wins, in the grand scheme of things, meant nothing. I have nothing to show for those so-called victories. Not so with spiritual victories:

“If your faith remains strong, even while surrounded by life’s difficulties, you will continue to experience the untold blessings of God! True happiness comes as you pass the test with faith and receive the victorious crown of life promised to every lover of God!” (James 1:12).

Our “wins” as a Christian are eternal. Every kindness is recorded. Every difficulty we endure is noted. Our faith is recognized. And when we receive our reward for those things, it will be an eternal reward. It will never fade, it will never disappear. The ultimate victory is the crown of life we receive in heaven–and hearing the Lord say, “well done.”

No other victory compares to the victory of a disciple of Jesus who crosses the finish line and makes it home. And that, my friend, is the definition of a winner.

Dear God, give me grace to run my own race without comparing myself to others. Let me not be conceited or driven to prove my value by competing with others. Help me remember that winning means faith that endures, patience during difficulties, and perseverance in all circumstances. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
choices

What We Feed Grows. What We Starve Dies.

What are you growing in your life?

Yesterday I ran into an old story about the two wolves within us. Some people say it is a Native American parable. Others say it came from Billy Graham. I’m not really sure where it came from, but it’s a story that makes me think about how I’m living. It goes like this:

A grandfather told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “The battle is between the two wolves inside us all.

“One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

“The other wolf is good. It is joy peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked “Grandpa, which wolf wins?”

The grandfather replied, “The one you feed, child. The one you feed.”

The battle between the two wolves is a lot like the battle between our sinful nature and the nature of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:17 says, “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other…”

The sinful nature results in a harvest of evil—things such as lust, idolatry, quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, envy, drunkenness and other sins. The nature of the Holy Spirit brings a beautiful harvest of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

We all would probably say we want the harvest brought by the nature of the Holy Spirit. But which one are we feeding?

What are we watching or listening to? What sort of thoughts fill our minds? We choose which “wolf” we feed by how we live our lives, how we guard our thoughts, how we spend our money, and how we spend our time.

Matthew 7:13 says, “Come to God through the narrow gate, because the wide gate and broad path is the way the leads to destruction—nearly everyone chooses that crowded road!” Permission to paraphrase? Yes? OK, good, here goes: It takes effort to feed the good wolf but it’s easy to feed the evil wolf. The evil wolf will eat anything, and most people give in to him. But his goal is our destruction.

What we feed grows. What we starve dies. Which wolf are we feeding?

Dear God, examine my life. Am I choosing to give in to my sinful nature? Or am I choosing to yield to the nature of the Holy Spirit? Show me ways how I can feed my spiritual nature and starve my sinful nature. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
Handling Life's Problems

Shake It Off and Move On

Sometimes trouble doesn’t want to let go…

I’ve never been shipwrecked, but I watched a lot of Gilligan’s Island when I was young. As far as I could tell, being shipwrecked was delightful. I couldn’t figure out why they kept trying to leave the island, and I kind of understood why Gilligan kept foiling their rescue plans.

Turns out, being shipwrecked is not as fun as they made it out to be.

Paul, falsely accused, left a Jerusalem prison and boarded a ship headed for Rome. After 14 days of storms and violent seas, the passengers were forced to abandon the ship and swim for their lives in the stormy ocean, ending up on the island of Malta.

It was cold and the castaways and natives were gathering wood to keep a fire going. Paul was doing his share, carrying a load of wood to the fire, but as he put the wood into the flames, a viper hidden in the sticks latched his fangs onto Paul’s hand.

Paul’s journey went from prison, to a storm, to the dangers of the ocean, to being bitten by a venomous snake. That’s a long string of trouble.

Acts 28:4 says the viper, “…latched onto Paul’s hand with its fangs.” Latched on means it’s fastened there, it’s hooked there. It’s locked on and doesn’t plan to let go.

Sometimes trouble seems to latch on and doesn’t seem inclined to let go. Paul was doing everything right. He was trusting God. He was gathering firewood. He did nothing to deserve an imprisonment and a ship wreck. He certainly didn’t deserve a viper latched onto his hand, but there it was. Life can be that way. Sometimes we do nothing to deserve trouble latching on to us, but there it is.

Here’s what Paul did about his trouble—he shook it off. He shook the snake off into the fire. The snake didn’t choose to let go. The snake didn’t apologize. No, Paul had to deliberately shake him off. With that viper hanging from his hand and viper venom burning through his body, Paul shook it off into the fire and he went on about his business.

Friend, maybe it’s time to shake the snake off and go on about our business. We may need to to shake off abandonment, discouragement, betrayal, fear, pain, or anger. We may need to shake off a situation we’ve been stuck in for too long. Our next step may be to shake it off.

Paul went through some stuff and we will, too. We will face opposition. We will encounter troubles. But God always has a plan. God’s plan turned Paul’s snakebite into a revival. The imprisonment, the storm, the shipwreck, and the snake may have been meant to harm Paul, but God used all of it for good. And God will do the very same thing for us.

Dear God, replace my fear with faith. Replace my pain with peace. Help me walk through my troubles as an example of what it means to serve the God most high. Let me reflect your love and glory to everyone I meet. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
Handling Life's Problems

Difficult People: Our Response Matters

Our response determines our growth…

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, survived three years in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He endured starvation, disease, and constant violence at the hands of prison guards. In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Dr. Frankl says, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing—the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

In the face of dehumanizing violence, Dr. Frankl chose his attitude. He realized that between stimulus and response, there is space. In that space is our power to choose how we respond.

How we respond to difficult people matters. Those we consider “difficult people” can range from the guy who cut in front of us at the DMV to the person who treated our child unfairly to the one who destroyed our marriage. Whether the offense is small or great, the space to choose how we respond is always there. Choosing that response wisely can make a world of difference.

We choose our thoughts. We control what we think about. Philippians 4:8 says, “So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.” When we focus our thoughts on those who hurt us or frustrate us, we feed the hurt and frustration and encourage it to grow.

We choose our words. My mom always told me to take a breath before I spoke. I’ve never regretted that pause before speaking, but I have often regretted not waiting and saying something stupid or hurtful. “My dearest brothers and sisters, take this to heart: Be quick to listen, but slow to speak. And be slow to become angry” (James 1:19). What we say can escalate or diminish a difficult situation. Take a second before speaking—and remember that sometimes saying nothing is the best response.

We choose our attitudes and actions.  Consider these instructions from Jesus in Matthew 5:44: “…Love your enemy, bless the one who curses you, do something wonderful for the one who hates you, and pray for the very ones who persecute you.” We choose whether to love or to hate, to bless or to curse, to be kind or to be mean. We choose to seethe with anger at those who persistently mistreat us, or to pray for them instead.

Dr. Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Friend, there are some people and some situations we may not be able to change. But as we carefully choose our responses to those people and those situations, we will see God use those things to change our hearts, grow our character, and bring good into our lives.

Dear God, give me grace to control my responses to people who hurt me or make me angry. Help me choose uplifting thoughts, words, attitudes and actions. Bring all of my life under your perfect control. Protect my heart from becoming bitter or resentful through troubles. Instead, let me grow kinder and stronger through the difficult people and situations I encounter. I ask these things in Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
Handling Life's Problems

Difficult People: They’re Everywhere

They’re at the supermarket, at work, at school. They’re in our families and in our churches. They’re even in the Bible. David had Saul. Nehemiah had Sanballat. Elijah had Jezebel.

Difficult people are everywhere.

If difficult people are a very real part of everyone’s life, how do we deal with them? How do we handle a person who annoys us, criticizes us, and drives us a little bit crazy?

Jesus probably dealt with more difficult people than any of us. The Jewish religious leaders were constantly angry with him. Judas betrayed him. Peter denied ever knowing him. Jesus had it so bad that after his very first sermon, people were so furious they wanted to throw him off a cliff (see Luke 4:28-30).

Here are three tips for dealing with difficult people in our lives the way Jesus dealt with the difficult people in his life:

  • Know who you are. Jesus knew who he was. In Matthew 3:17, God spoke these words about Jesus, “This is the Son I love, and my greatest delight is in him.” Friend, we are a child of God. We are his beloved and favored. Let’s walk in that identity. What others may say or think about us isn’t important when we know who we are.
  • Know what God called you to do. From childhood, Jesus knew he had a purpose given to him by God. Matthew 20:28 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come expecting to be served by everyone, but to serve everyone, and to give his life in exchange for the salvation of many.” Negative, angry people didn’t flummox Jesus because he was focused on his calling and his purpose. We also have a God-given calling and purpose. We’re here to bring glory to God. Negative, angry, difficult people become less difficult when we keep our focus on our calling.
  • Look at difficult people through God’s eyes. People who frustrate us look different when we look at them through God’s eyes. In Matthew 9:36, Jesus looked at a crowd with compassionate eyes: “When he saw the vast crowds of people, Jesus’s heart was deeply moved with compassion, because they seemed weary and helpless, like wandering sheep without a shepherd.” When Jesus looked at these people, he saw how tired they were, how powerless and weak they were, and how lost they were. Sometimes, the people who hurt us, who make us angry, and who seem determined to judge and criticize us are actually weary, weak, and lost. When we see them through God’s eyes, we become less annoyed and more compassionate.

The bottom line is to treat people, even the difficult ones, the way Jesus did—with love and compassion, with a steadfast determination to fulfill our purpose, and with a heart of prayer for those we find difficult. Isn’t that how we would want others to treat us?

Dear God, draw me closer to you. Give me such intense joy in the work you have for me to do that I’m not easily distracted. Bless those people in my life who frustrate me. Give me a heart of compassion and wisdom in dealing with difficult people. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Categories
God's presence

More Aware of His Presence

He’s always there, but are we aware?

Why has anyone today heard of Brother Lawrence, a man who died over 400 years ago? It’s because he actively pursued an awareness of the presence of God. He looked for God’s presence not just when he was in church, but when he was working in the kitchen, running errands, repairing shoes, or talking to people.

As a result, he was genuinely filled with joy and peace. He was sought after for spiritual guidance from those in his community and church leaders all over France.

Ordinary people become extraordinary when they focus on the presence of an extraordinary God.

“The most holy and important practice in the spiritual life is the presence of God—that is, to take great pleasure in every moment because God is with you.” – Brother Lawrence

God is always with us. It is our awareness of his presence that is lacking. When we open our eyes in the morning, God is present. When we close our eyes to sleep at night, God is present. And during everything that happened in the hours in between, God was right there, waiting for us to notice his presence.

How do we increase our awareness of God’s presence? Here are three suggestions:

  • Schedule quiet time. Take five minutes each day to sit still, be quiet, and rest in God’s presence. Psalm 46:10 instructs us to, “be quiet and know that I am God.” Busy lives and constant distractions move our focus away from God. Five minutes of silenced phones, no activity, and resting in God’s presence can change our lives.
  • Speak one-breath prayers. We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to, “pray without ceasing.” A one-breath prayer is a short sentence we repeat throughout the day. It may be, “I love you, Lord,” “Jesus, give me your peace,” or whatever is in our hearts. Just speaking his name throughout the day keeps our minds on God and increases our awareness of his presence.
  • Soak in the Scripture. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the word of God is, “alive and powerful.” When we read the Bible, we are encountering the living, breathing, active presence of God. A Bible verse makes an inspiring wallpaper on our phones or magnet on our refrigerator. We can listen to the Bible while we do chores or errands. God’s word moves us into his presence. Let’s immerse ourselves in it!

We are seldom aware of the air we breathe, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The same is true of the presence of God. God is always with us, always there to strengthen and guide us. It’s up to us to pursue a higher awareness of his presence.

Father God, I know you are always with me. Whether I’m happy or sad, whether times are good or bad, your presence remains. Help me focus more on your presence. Let me lift my eyes to you, where my help comes from. Give me the peace and joy of living with the awareness of your presence. In Jesus’s name, amen.