Tag: encouragement

The Gamble

Each and every one of us is given what feels like an impossible choice. Believe in and obey an all-knowing, omnipresent god. Or don’t. It feels impossible because it feels too big. The stakes are too high. Aren’t they? If God exists, choosing Him entails a lifetime of hardship and service, followed by an eternity in glory. All we need to get there is a) give our hearts and souls over to Jesus Christ, accepting that He is the only doorway to salvation, and b) die. Sounds simple, right? But many people don’t choose this option. They choose other religions or no religion. They say, “Well Jesus isn’t the way after all” and roll the dice.

So faith, quite honestly, comes down to choice. It comes down to our decision to gamble our souls on possible outcomes. What at first seems impossible becomes acceptable as we delve deeper into our faith. Now, I’m very much a person who believes in science. While I personally don’t believe we originated as monkeys, evolution exists. Organisms evolve- have been scientifically proven to do so- to not only survive, but thrive in their environments. Thems the facts. But faith comes down to believing in something not easily quantifiable. We cannot really prove or disprove God’s existence using the scientific method. However, we can take our personal experiences, the times we feel like He is working in our lives, and believe there is a living God.

So what do we do with that?

Photo by lilartsy on Pexels.com

We trust God and put our gamble to work. It’s something called the Great Commission. In Mark 16:15 (CSB), Jesus commands “… Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” We do this with the understanding that we are guaranteed hardship. We are guaranteed adversity. We are guaranteed people who don’t want to hear the message. However, we are guaranteed to have God on our side through it all. See, the world is a dark place.

In John 12:46 (CSB), Jesus said, “I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me would not remain in darkness.” As a Christ-follower, one must absolutely believe that Jesus stepped down into our earthly plane to take on the mantle of sin without being sinful and allow us petty humans to crucify him on that ancient torture device we know as a cross. I am a Christ-follower. I believe in Jesus Christ, even when I’m angry at God. Even when I don’t want to be part of His plan and would really prefer Him to keep his mitts off my life. That’s the choice I make each and every day. 

I like this verse from Job 34:22 (CSB) that says “There is no darkness, no deep darkness, where evildoers can hide.” God sees all. He sees our wrongdoing. He sees our righteousness. He does not need a torch to light the way. He did not need Jesus to die for us. We needed it. Part of the gamble is this: when you choose to become a Christ-follower, you choose to face the darkness. You choose to immerse yourself in it. But, you do not choose to become part of it. It’s ugly and uncomfortable. But hey, Paul did some of his best work in a prison cell.

So here it is. I encourage you to roll the dice and see where being a Christ-follower takes you. I think it’s the best thing you can do for yourself. But. Do so knowing that this faith isn’t easy. You’re going to fail. You’re going to be the villain. You’re going to see ugliness and endure such hardship, you’ll want to return the purchase. If you choose to roll the dice, know you’re going to keep rolling them until the wheels fall off. He’s a living God. He’s a jealous and commanding God. And if you take the risk, when you bet it all, you’re going to know a loving God. I’d say that impossible-seeming choice isn’t so impossible after all.

Hurtful words, Forgiveness Spent

Words matter. When we’re little, with the big ol’ world out there waiting for us to conquer it, we think the bullies are on the playground, that the hurtful words only exist on the television (and come with some meaningful lesson around the 30-minute mark). We grow up hearing “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” and we actually believe it. But isn’t it more likely you’ll hear hurtful words than have someone beat you with sticks and stones? How much more likely are we to see emotional and psychological abuse as normalized parts of our existence? A sad truth is this: far too many people use love as an excuse to spew hateful words.

How about some examples?

  1. “I love you. Now, why don’t you come around anymore? You know how your father gets when he’s drinking. He really didn’t mean to squeeze your wrist. Aren’t you being too sensitive about it?”
  2. “Don’t you know what you’re doing to me? You know how your father is. You can’t change him and besides, you just have to get over it. Like the rest of us do.”
  3. “Why do you hate me? I am sorry that you were offended by that?”

The list could go on. We’re all guilty of saying the wrong thing from time to time. Nobody sees eye to eye at all times. Miscommunication happens. Misunderstandings happen. We’ve all heard the cliches- put your foot in your mouth, your mouth wrote a check your butt can’t cash, etc. The human being is prone to speak foolishly.

Let’s look at some verses.

Ephesians 4:29 (CSB) says, ” Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Proverbs 10:32 (CSB) says, “The lips of the righteous know what is appropriate, but the mouth of the wicked, only what is perverse.”
Ecclesiastes 10:14 (CSB) says, “yet the fool multiplies words. No one knows what will happen, and who can tell anyone what will happen after him?”

During my youth, I tended towards letting my mouth get away from me before I took the time to think about what I said. I hurt loved ones. I scathed folks I disliked. Over time, I’ve learned silence can be (and often is) the proper recourse for others’ hurtfulness. I’ve also realized that bullies find the word “no” very offensive and will often spin the narrative in such a way, you are the villain for saying no. But doesn’t our Father in Heaven tell us no when it’s better for us? Doesn’t He command us to use uplifting language and to seek what is holy and just? Now that I’m older, I recognize that “no” can be a hurtful word, but it is not a hateful one.

And therein lies the difference. Because we are imperfect in our sin, we take denial of what we want as hurtful. As any parent will tell you, a child shouldn’t always get what they want, when they want it, in the way they think they want it. Sometimes, it’s just not safe for them. Sometimes, there’s a reason to wait or they’ve got to earn it in some fashion. To the child, this is hurtful. It’s mean. It’s unfair. It is NOT hateful. Now, as adults, we sometimes need to say no for our own well-being. Rape culture is not okay; once someone says no, what they might have previously allowed is no longer allowable. This does not just refer to sex; rather, it refers to any moment when someone’s decision to say no (about anything) is attacked and they are demeaned, belittled, and vilified. Remember the three examples earlier? Those can occur after someone has drawn the line and said no.

In Ephesians 4:31 (CSB) we’re told to “Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice.”
Matthew 5:7 (CSB) tells us “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Forgiving hurtfulness is hard enough. Forgiving hatefulness is harder still. God calls us to forgive, as we are forgiven. Hate belongs to the devil. Love to God. Forgiveness spent… it’s like currency. The more hatefulness you endure, the more forgiveness you need. The more forgiveness you give, the more peace you enjoy. It isn’t easy and it isn’t always fun. But here’s a little nugget for you. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to go right back to subjecting yourself to hatefulness. No, God doesn’t call us to be foolish, so if doing so will guarantee you will sin, turn the other cheek and walk on out of there.

I’m going to end with this prayer. Join me if you will.

Lord, our God, I cry out against hateful words. I cry out against the foolishness of wasted speech. Grant me the wisdom to be silent. Grant me the strength to show grace when I really don’t want to. You sent your son to endure the hateful and hurtful. And Lord I am grateful that he chose the cross and forgiveness. I pray that when life gets too hard and people just seem so mean-spirited, you make me wise and not the fool. In your wonderful name, I pray. Amen.

Our Stumbling Block

Life presents each of us with a series of events, ranging from the mundane to the extraordinary, that defines who we are. We move from one day to the next, drawing on hindsight for clarity. Humans are incapable of absolute purity, absolute sinlessness, while we traverse this earth. So we get distracted. So we turn aside from the call Jesus has on our lives. The devil’s in the details, right? We are- we should be- better than this.
We are stumbling. As Christians, we know it is likely we will stumble off and on for the rest of our mortal lives. That’s why there is a need for repentance. It is not to provide an excuse- a spiritual loophole if you will. No, it is so we can honestly beseech the Father, our Lord and God, for His mercy and grace. It is our acknowledgement of wrongdoing and the desire to change. Now this is important to keep in mind as we talk about some ugly things.
But first-
Lately, the world has been plagued with a health pandemic that has affected millions, whether through death, economic hardship, social isolation, etc. People have reacted to this in numerous ways, not all of which are good. Regardless of whether you see it as a hoax or as legitimate. Regardless of where your concern for the health and well-being of others lies. Regardless of these, and ugliness has reared its thorny head. Galatians 5:13 tells us “For you were called to freedom brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Likewise, Proverbs 24:16 says, “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he will rise again, but the wicked stumble into calamity.” A much bigger crisis rears its head. It is the absence of human decency and compassion in many forums.
Let’s talk about social media. How often do you read the comments to an article, only to see hateful, angry rhetoric? How often do we see people belittle others because they do not see things exactly how someone else does? I’ll be honest. I have been a member of Christian groups, writing groups, art groups, gaming groups… you expect to see people who only want to stir the pot, just to get any sort of response. We call them trolls in this digital age. But do you know where I saw the most appalling dialogues? Christian groups. From self-professing Christians. I will not discount the good, but there is too much hateful dialogue and rhetoric present for anyone claiming to serve God.
I will not share what I have seen, as it is something you can see for yourself, but there are three things I want to communicate.

  1. No one has the authority to judge the depth of one’s faith. We are commanded to help guide people to Jesus, to make disciples in His name, but we can never know the full depths of someone’s relationship with God.
  2. Hateful rhetoric is not Christlike. Even if you are right, no amount of demeaning talk will make it good. Harshness is one thing. Jesus was harsh. Hatefulness is another. Do all things in love.
  3. We do not know God’s mind. He’s God. We aren’t built to fathom all the threads He holds to bring a given moment to fruition. We can guess. We can take His words that were laid out in the Bible, but we do not and cannot know all.
    James 1:26 tells “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
    Psalm 34:13 says, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.”

Proverbs 10:19 also says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
1 Corinthians 2:15-16 says, “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.
It is not wrong to hold people accountable. Through Christ, we are given more understanding into the mind of God. But we are held to a higher standard. We can disagree. We can discuss more Scripture-centered processes. We can question. We can even be angry. But we are not God and we cannot know every detail of someone. We cannot know just how much harm our ugly words do; whether they repel those who are not of the faith or they drive away those who are. Oh, I know these times are hard. We all deal with it in some way or another.
But if you think God’s body will not suffer because you belittled someone you disagreed with, if you got on your high horse and decided to mete out God’s judgement, well… maybe it’s time to open the Bible and get down on your knees. We are commanded to live lives focused on building God’s church. Not tearing it down. Throughout Scripture we are called to do things with love. Love can be harsh. Love can seem unkind. But love is not wicked. At least God’s love is not. So maybe, as we progress towards an uncertain future, we’ll draw on Him to better engage with others.

God’s Higher Standard

In Matthew 5. Jesus calls us to be better than the world. He says, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever releases one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (17-20 ESV). Moses laid out the laws in the Old Testament. Jesus made it so much harder to keep to God’s law with what he said in the text following verse 20. As sinful creatures, we cannot possibly keep God’s law 100% of the time. That’s where Jesus swoops in and covers us. We are held to this higher standard, but He paid the price when He died on the cross and rose from the grave.

It is infinitely more important to know and accept that Jesus died for us than it is to keep to the old covenant. That is not to say that following the standards laid out for us throughout scripture is not important. On the contrary, it is very important. But Jesus is the WHOLE point. His sacrifice was the fulfillment of prophecy and He is the only doorway to the Father’s kingdom. So don’t you think Jesus Christ is absolutely more important than… well, anything? I’d say so!

Ah, but we live in the world. We have social media and magazines emphasizing toxic self-image. Have we considered the damage things like Photoshop and SnapChat filters have done to our self-esteem? We hear we are not good enough. We hear that we aren’t smart, pretty, whatever enough. These are distractions. Were we not worth the Son of God dying for us? (The answer is yes. Yes, we were and are.) We are better than the world because we stand on the side of righteousness. We stand on the side of the highest standard – God’s standard – and so our individual shortcomings really pale beside the awesome might of our Holy Father.

And yet, we human animals constantly disregard this in favor of the standards we find in the world If we are great at our jobs, we can earn that bonus or higher salary. If we are pretty enough, we can attract that new romantic partner. If we are quick enough, we can get to the store for that last roll of toilet paper. Because the world has its own standard, we lose sight of God’s standard. Ever is the power of rationalization as present as it is when we have another bill to pay. God’s commandments don’t carry the same weight when we have to scramble to make end’s meet just to keep the air conditioning running another month. How about when we have seen loved ones abused by those who should look out for their well-being? The world says we can achieve any dream, but really, most people are merely looking to get by.

We forget the Lord is still with us. He tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Brothers. Sisters. I tell you this. “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV). God has not abandoned us. This world is our testing ground. Until our last breath, we shall find things to distract us from the higher standard that comes by living a Christ-based life. Time will chip away at tour dedication. Not always with that devil on our shoulder either. No, more often than not, it will come in perceived necessity and when all cards appear stacked against us.

Have faith. Recenter daily. Pray for direction. And above all, remember that Jesus Christ died for us, so we do not have to live the proverbial checklist. Just accept Him and allow the Holy Spirit to transform your life. Because God’s standards are worth banking eternity on.

Hope in God’s Domain

It’s important to remember one thing. This is God’s domain. If this is God’s domain, then we know He is in control. Perhaps that is something we all should keep in mind. But we keep forgetting in these trying times. I get it. Times are scary. Some of us are isolated. Some are forced into interaction with others, risking onset of COVID-19. I am sorry for whatever you’re going through, but remember, this is God’s domain.

In Isaiah 41:10 we’re told, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Psalm 46:1 also says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” How about this from Philippians? “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Far too often, we try to put ourselves on tier with God. Hey, I’m guilty of trying to exercise my own sense of control when the world- when life- throws another curveball. We cannot wrest control from our Father’s hands. No matter how strong we think we are, He is stronger. No matter how capable we are, He is so much more capable. Trust me when I tell you I know how hard it is to accept there is anything out of my control. But I am not God and when I submit to His grace, then I cannot truly claim helplessness. Do not be anxious. Do not hold to the might be’s and what ifs.

Many of us have plausible excuses for holding to news reports and social media posts. We need to know what’s going on in the world around us. We are social creatures who feel a compulsion to stay plugged in. I ask you this. Is it drawing us closer to God? Does berating others in the comments section that’s present pretty much everywhere showcase God in our life? God allows the negativity, but He does not condone the sin.

I think during these times we really need to focus on God’s word. We need to think on what is good and true. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). Is God good? Nahum 1:7 says so. Mark 10:18, 1 Peter 2:3, Psalm 86:5- I could go on, but you see, He is so very good! And true. And noble. All these things. Certainly God and His Word is praiseworthy? In Revelation 4:11, we hear, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” He certainly is praiseworthy!

When we start to grow restless and decide to venture out into the world, God is still deserving of our devotion. He doesn’t lose sovereignty simply because we are sick or going a bit stir crazy. We do not give God His sovereignty. It is and always has been His. He hasn’t lost control just because we can’t stand the way things are anymore. And you know what? When events settle down to where they seem less turbulent, He will still maintain just as much control as He does right now. Complete control.

That is what is good and right. He is our constant. He is our North Star. But it’s up to each of us to wade through life’s murky waters and clutch to Him. We’re in His domain, remember?

On burdens and testimony

Do you wake up each day, only to feel the weight of yesterday pressing down on you? Do you feel alone? No one can possibly understand how you feel? Do you wish you could go back to sleep or never wake at all? Do you cry, scream, or maybe just linger in unmoving catatonia? Do your burdens make you older? Do they steal vitality from your body and vibrancy from your being? Are they your shield against God and the rest of the world?

Thomas Watson once said, “The more the diamond is cut, the more it sparkles: the heavier the saints’ cross is, the heavier will be their crown.” At no time has God promised us an easy life without burdens. In fact, life pursuing Christ is- and should be- rife with suffering. Romans 5:3-4 tells us, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope.” 1 Peter 2:21 says, “To this you were called because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” The world hates Christ and, if we are truly afflicted with the desire to follow them, it hates us too. A Christ-follower endures great suffering in His name. Romans 8:17 says, “and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, so that we may also be glorified with Him.”

It is easy to get lost in our burdens, to think we suffer for no reason. Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, everything happens for God’s reasons. It’s far easier to get lost in drink and drugs, television, or any number of distractions to avoid the growth desired of us. Yet these hardships are necessary.

Point 1: Our burdens are necessary parts of our testimony

Our testimonies are important. Understand though, they pale in importance to the Gospel. The Gospel is the point and the message we absolutely must share with everyone. For the longest time, I only saw the testimony as our story. Nothing more significant than that. Yet, what if I posited that our testimonies are tools to forge perspective to the Gospel? Scripture is a wonderful pathway to the heart and mind of God. For many people, they are just words. The nonbeliever struggles to see the gravity in those words. Sure, they can tell the Christian believes- or should be able to see- but it isn’t the same. It’s knowing of without really knowing. 2 Timothy 1:8 tells, “Therefore never be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, his prisoner. Instead, by God’s power, join me in suffering for the sake of the gospel.” The perspective comes when we realize our scars show the depth of our commitment. It is easy to claim faith, to profess love, when life seems so much smoother. But when there are more reasons to give p and run from God, but you still cling to Him… the testimony becomes sharper, the image clears. The testimony is not just backstory, it is the living, the doubts, the joy- all things- that push you from and pull you to God. It is a living thing. And in that way, we may connect to the Gospel as the Living Word. Our testimony is not lessened by the doubt and hurt. No, it is strengthened by us intentionally turning to the Father. Our pain is necessary. It make sour need that much greater.

Point 2: All to the Glory of God

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Philippians 1:12 tells us, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” When things go wrong, people watch how you respond. It serves God when we lay our burdens at His feet. We show our trust. We show our surrender. We show our love. There is more power in belief when we don’t feel reason to have it. Matthew 5:14-16 reminds us “You are light for the world. A city cannot be hidden when it is located on a hill. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket. Instead, everyone who lights a lamp puts it on a lamp stand. Then its light shines on everyone in the house. In the same way let your light shine in front of people. Then they will see the good that you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Christ-followers must take hold of their hurt, lay it at His feet, and adorn the armor so they- so we- can take His word into the dark and set a beacon. We cannot flourish in the shadows; its easy to wallow in our burdens and let the shadows flourish. Nay, we must take the Gospel and let God’s glory batter the shadows into submission.

So, I’m going to end this a little differently. I started writing this with the need for catharsis. My own burdens threatened to overwhelm me. At first, being a sinful human, I wanted to wallow in my own anger. I wanted to wrap myself in the hurt and deal with things on my own. God will let us try, but He has the strength to help us deal. My testimony, my life, my hurt… it’s not for me. I had to acknowledge this before I could really start writing. Turning it over to God isn’t always easy. It’s not second- nature. It runs against our sinful, self-important natures. Life is meant for God’s glory and we never have to carry the burdens alone. So I started writing. And I’m ending with this. We can carry our hurts for as long as we choose to and, in some respects, we will always carry them with us. But, if we are to follow Him, we must stop hiding in our suffering.