Happily Ever After

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Recently, while watching Shakespeare’s famous play, Romeo and Juliet, I found myself anxiously wanting for there to be a way for the two young lovers to escape their ill-fated ending.  When it concluded in the usual way, with their tragic deaths, I started to question my response.  I have read and seen this story countless times.  I know the ending won’t change.  So why do I always long for the happy ending?  I think it is because we were made for happily ever after!

When God created man and woman, He placed them in the Garden of Eden, a paradise.  His intention was to spend eternity with them, carrying out a perfect relationship based on respect and obedience.  However, Adam and Eve’s disobedience changed all of that.  Sin entered into the world, and God sent them away in exile.  But, this is not the end of man’s story.  

Intent on fulfilling His plan, God created a way to redeem His creation through the sacrifice of His son, Jesus.   Through the shedding of Christ’s blood, man was restored.  Furthermore, God promises that Jesus will one day return and a new kingdom, a new paradise, will be created.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” (Isaiah 65: 17-18)


You see, as believer’s in Christ, we know that something better is coming. No matter what our current situation holds, we don’t have to despair. This knowledge gives us what Romeo and Juliet didn’t have: HOPE.


Today, let’s share that hope with a despairing world.  Through our actions and attitudes, we can show others that happily ever after isn’t just a fairy tale, but a reality.

Choosing the excellent over the good

A sunny summer day with bubbles!  I’m glad I slowed down enough to catch this moment.  You see, for those familiar with the Enneagram, I am a 3.  This means I always have a running list of “productive” things that must be done.  I was right in the middle of cleaning out yet another closet, when this little man asked me to go outside and blow bubbles with him.

To be honest, my first reaction was to say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have time.  I have a million things to get done”.  But, I am in the middle of reading The Path Between Us, by Suzanne Stabile, and she suggests that 3s too often sacrifice relationships for achievement.  Convicted of this tendency, I decided in this moment that the better choice was to put away the mental “To Do” list and engage in a frivolous moment of childhood pleasure.


Paul writes to the Philippians, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you”. (4: 8-9)


What could be more true, honorable, lovely or commendable than spending a lazy summer day chasing bubbles in the backyard?  Because I chose people over productivity, the “God of peace” was certainly with me, and my afternoon was unexpectedly excellent.


Today, no matter what your Enneagram number, let’s take the advice of Paul and Suzanne and slow down, sometimes choosing what is excellent over what is good.

The struggle between what we want and what we need

For the past week, I have been cleaning out and clearing out my house. The garage, the pantry, the cabinets, and I can’t even begin to tell you about my closet! How is it possible that we have collected so much unnecessary stuff? As I sit here writing this post, I am dreading the thought of the next room that needs to be tackled. So, what lesson Am I learning? Excess is enslaving!

Think about all the areas where this statement is true: possessions, weight, debt, just to name a few. As Americans, so many of us find ourselves trapped in the cycle of consuming. As we get more, we want more. All the while, our stuff just keeps piling up, creating monuments to our insatiable hunger. Now, please don’t stop reading. I’m not bashing the ownership of material possessions, after all, I am a product of the YUPPY, 1980s culture, and Madonna’s, Material Girl, still echoes in my head. However, there is a balance between what we want and what we need.

Titus 2: 11-14 states, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Paul explains to Titus that living a life of self-control is part of the Gospel message. Our choice to live out our new birth, as followers of Christ, shows the world that we have the power to overcome our fleshly desires for excess. When you and I create boundaries of moderation and consciously choose to live within them, we demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

Today, let’s examine our motivation for consuming. Is it what we want or what we need? Through your choice to consume or not to consume, are you showing those around you a life of satisfaction that is found in Christ, or are you mirroring the message of the culture that says you can never have enough?

Do your words align with your actions?

Do as I say, not as I do. How many of you know this phrase? If you are like me, you heard it often from the adults in your life, and I have to admit that I have uttered it all too often in my adulthood as well. This sounds like wisdom.  Isn’t that why we say it to our children?  

However, if we think about the situations in which this phrase is used, we see that it is not wisdom, but instead a way of rationalizing whatever we are doing that we know we shouldn’t do!  

The book of James tells us this, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)   James explains that true wisdom will be given by God when we approach Him with spiritual integrity.   This means that we have to ask as God gives, with a single-minded and honest intention.  God acts as He speaks.  His actions always carry out His perfect promises.

When we act with spiritual integrity, aligning our actions with our words, then we are laying the proper foundation as we approach God with our requests.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that God is like a vending machine, dispensing good things to all who do good.  Rather, we can’t expect God to honor our requests if our actions and our words aren’t honoring to Him.  

Today, let’s begin to create the ground work for receiving God’s wisdom by monitoring our words and actions. As a parent, I don’t reward my children when their behavior is dishonoring to me.  Why should I expect anything less from God?

Finding God in the Storm and the Silence

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A few days ago, my city, Dallas, was hit by a sudden and violent thunderstorm.  Within minutes, the skies changed from blue to black.  Wind speeds were clocked at above 70 mph.  I stood by my windows watching as the rain pounded and the trees were twisted and torn by the torrential gusts.  The aftermath of the storm looked like a war zone as thousands were left without power for hours and even days.


Today, as I once again look out those windows, the debris is cleared and a gentle breeze rustles through the same treetops.  I am reminded of Elijah’s experience after the spectacular display of God’s power in defeating the prophets of Baal.  Then, Elijah immediately suffers a setback due to the retaliation of Jezebel.  Feeling disillusioned, Elijah hears God’s voice, and He tells him to “’Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.’” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” (1Kings 19:11-13)

The same events that God used to show His mighty power against the enemy, now were found to be without His presence.  Instead, God comes to Elijah in a whisper.  So what is God trying to teach Elijah and us?


The God of the storm is the same God of the silence.  The events of a few days ago captivated the attention of everyone in Dallas.  I have no doubt that I was not the only one reminded of the presence of God in those moments.  But today, when the weather is clear and almost everyone has returned to their normal, daily patterns, are we aware that God is still right here?  His presence hasn’t changed, just our attention to it.


Today, let’s stop and recognize His presence in every detail of our lives.  Like Elijah, let’s be reminded that God can be found in both the wonder and the whisper.

How Does God See You?

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“In the beginning…”, God created all the heavens and the earth, and it was and still is awesome!   However, secular society wants to equate us (humans) with the rest of God’s creation, as if we are on an equal plane with the animals and plants of the world.  This is not our correct position. 

Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are his masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” 

I love this image of you and me, as a masterpiece, the greatest expression of an artist’s work.  Just think about some of the greatest works of art by de Vinci, Van Gogh, or Rembrandt.  Today, the estimated price of the Mona Lisa is worth more than $1 billion.  If the work of a man is worth that much, then your worth, as The Master’s final and greatest creation, is priceless! 

Now, imagine a frame around every individual face that you see, including your own.  How different would our families, our schools, our nation, our entire world be, if we regularly gazed with true wonder at all that is around us?

Today, as we look in the mirror or at the face of those we come into contact with, let’s realize that we are looking at a masterpiece!

Why Choose Shadows over Light?

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Have you ever thought about how shadows are produced?  When an object comes into contact with the rays of the sun, it interrupts the light, producing a shadow.  Therefore, a shadow is the absence of light.  


Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Ephesians, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),  and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Eph. 5: 8-10)


When you engage in actions or conversations that are worldly or sinful, you interrupt the light from the Son of God and produce shadows that look like the fallen world.  When people look at you, do they see the light of Jesus’s love, compassion and gentleness, or do they see the shadows of hate, jealousy and bitterness?


Today, let’s remember that we are called to be the “children of light”.  Our purpose is to project the light of our Savior so that when people look at us, what they see is NOT a shadow of our fallen, former self, but instead a beacon of Jesus’s love!

Platforms of Praise

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An estimated 2.77 billion people will use social media in 2019.  Everyone who posts on social media is given a platform, a place in which to begin to influence others.  So the real question we have to answer is, what do we want our influence to do?  As Christians, God has already given us the answer.

“O my people, listen to my instructions. Open your ears to what I am saying…. We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about this power and his mighty wonders…. He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them – even the children not yet born- and they in turn will teach their own children. So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands.” Psalm 78:1, 4-7.

The average person spends 24 hrs/week on a Smart phone. That’s a lot of time to influence and to be influenced by others. Your words and pictures are sending a message.  So, what are they saying, “Look at me”, or “Look at God”?

Today, let’s use our social media platforms to grow a following, but not for ourselves. Let’s strive to be social media influencers that proclaim the greatness of God, not the greatness of Me! 

Sacrifice of Self

The outer covering, the skin, is created as a barrier to protect the inside of an organism.  For example, the skin of a grape, protects the valuable juice that is contained within it.  However, in order to retrieve the best part of the grape, the skin must be broken. Afterwords, it is discarded, because although necessary for one purpose, the outside is not the thing of most value.

The same is true of our lives.  God creates our skin, the flesh, to protect the things contained inside.  Our blood, organs, and bones are vulnerable if exposed.  Moreover, for the Christian, when we receive Jesus as our savior, the Holy Spirit also comes to dwell inside us, already manifesting the valuable fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

While God created both things, the flesh and the Spirit, for a purpose, He places a higher value on the Spirit and its fruits.  Hence, our daily struggle between the flesh and the Spirit is born.

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.  “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2: 14-16

Perhaps we can better embrace the mind of Christ, who also faced the struggle against his flesh, by looking at his battle strategy as he gained His greatest victory.

Luke paints a vivid picture of Jesus during his most difficult time while in human flesh. 

As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, Luke records, “And when he came to the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’ And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke 22: 40-44

As Jesus was forced to face the ultimate battle against his fleshly desire to avoid the physical pain of his execution and God’s plan for his death to bring atonement for the world, the force of that struggle made Jesus’s skin to sweat blood!  

Just a few hours later, as Jesus hung on the cross, his body was pierced, and the blood of his sacrifice was fully released.

What fleshly battle are you facing right now?  What is your flesh craving… satisfaction, acclamation, domination?  Fulfilling these desires will only lead to making your flesh grow thicker.  In actuality, striving to accomplish the will of self, reduces the fruits of the Spirit. 

Just as the skin of the grape must be crushed to release the sweetness of the juice, so must the desires of our flesh be crushed and pressed down, so that the sweetness of the fruit of the Spirit within can be exposed.

Today, may we offer the desire to act in the pursuit of our will and desires as a sacrifice to God, through the crushing of them.  So that, through our sacrifice of self, others may taste the sweetness of Jesus that freely flows from the fruits of the Spirit within us!

Confidence

Monday.

As I greet the day, already the weight of everyone’s world seems to be upon my shoulders.  The To Do list, the uncertainties, the fears, and my list could go on….  Then.

God, I open your word and this is what you say,
“My heart is confident in you, O God; no wonder I can sing your praises with all my heart!  Wake up, lyre and harp! I will wake the dawn with my song.  I will thank you, Lord, among all the people.  I will sing your praises among the nations. For your unfailing love is higher than the heavens.  Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.  Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens.  May your glory shine over all the earth!” Psalm 108: 1-5

Father! Thank you, that my confidence is NOT found in me, but in You!

Today, let’s face the battles, both big and small, with the truth that He has already given us the victory.  We don’t have to wonder or wander, all we have to do is worship!