Believing is Seeing

Birthday 2Until the recent past, shopping existed as therapy and a way to for a least a little while forget about life’s struggles. I loved finding good deals and saving money on unplanned purchases. Loved the image I showed from being stylish, though I’m not sure how much others actually noticed.

For whatever reason, the feel of some new thing energized me and gave me a sort of high. A high I forgot and needed again as soon as the new became old.

I’m not sure when, but the same sort of fading of newness happened with my physical self too. I find myself wondering…

When did the physical weariness begin to rear its ugly head?

When did the groaning and sighing become so commonplace?

When did my desire to recuperate replace my desire to be active?

I’m not talking a negativity, really, but rather an increased awareness that feeling new and energized — like I used to in a new outfit — happens a lot less frequently in the physical sense now than it used to not too many years ago. My body simply doesn’t respond and renew physically like it did even 5 years ago. At the same time, my desire to focus there exists more for maintenance purposes now anyway.

When I read 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, I gain a better understanding of what’s likely happening. I’m becoming more aware of my earthly tent and its weaknesses. At times, I focus there and allow the number of my life as it increases toward finality to consume me. If I stay in that thinking, I get increasingly discouraged. But if I choose to dwell instead on God’s truth, I find tremendous encouragement once again. Specifically, I am renewed in my knowledge that…

I will have an eternal home in Heaven one day, one God Himself made.

The body I will have will be like wearing heavenly clothing, like putting on a new outfit but knowing the newness will never fade.

Not only did God prepare this eternity for me, He guarantees its reality through His Holy Spirit.

This reality — one more real than the physical one we live in now — not only encourages me, it gives me great confidence too. And this confidence…

Always exists even though I’m not yet in my real home.

Focuses on believing rather than seeing.

Provides motivation to always please the Lord.

The encouragement and confidence instilled by God’s truth in my heart through His Holy Spirit helps me turn my birthday focus from a melancholy perspective that feels overwhelmed by the current reality to one that aims to please God rather than self. One where the earthly weakness still exists but that matters less and less as eternal life draws increasingly near.

DISCUSSION: How does “believing is seeing” play out in your life?

Happy Birthday to Me

Birthday Cupcake with CandleMiddle age struck three years ago, and I muffled through the passing as quietly as possible. Since then, I prefer not to even talk about my age most of the time. (Okay, not at all, actually.)

Approaching my last day in this life doesn’t really bother me. The steady decline of my physical state between now and then bothers me. My body already shows signs of it happening, and I hate feeling helpless knowing it’s going to happen no matter how much I resist. Exercise. Healthy eating. Adequate rest. Anti-wrinkle cream. And still the signs of aging multiply.

The forehead crease between my eyebrows bothers me the most of all the signs of aging, probably because of its prominence. Without major intervention via Botox or going under the knife, the crease will likely continue to stop conversations. “What’s up with that crease in your forehead?” (Seriously happened.)

When I focus on my physical aging, a gaze that happens in August more than any other month, the mental and spiritual aspects of my self seem get wrapped up in the obsession too. And this all-inclusiveness of the aging process bothers me more than the forehead crease.

Anti-Aging Scripture

One portion of Scripture brings me not only amazing peace within my struggle over my physical aging but also tremendous encouragement and even guidance.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

What’s that about “eternal glory”? Just this…

“…because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.” (2 Corinthians 4:14)

As I celebrate (which basically means pretending it doesn’t happen) my third year past what many consider life’s halfway point, I am drawn to focus on the part of me that isn’t “wasting away” but is “being renewed day by day” (means I’m actually not aging, right?)… the part that gets to experience this “eternal glory.” I’m definitely up for that!

This change in focus certainly gives the physical decline (and I may be exaggerating its severity only slightly) less attention, which then allows my attentions to find their way toward God’s desires. And that renewed focus — the one bent toward eternity — completely changes my perspective by helping me to…

  1. Refuse to give up and become a couch potato.
  2. Focus on renewal instead of on that which will continue to fade.
  3. Look past the physical of this life and toward the reality of eternity.
  4. Maintain a forward focus instead of a downhill one.
  5. Seek eternal joy in place of temporary happiness.

And while I now feel motivated to continue making progress because of the truth of the Scripture given above, what follows in the next chapter of Corinthians ices the cake (and I don’t even eat cake, not even for my birthday). We’ll look at that portion of Scripture — at the new body we’re promised — in next week’s post.

DISCUSSION: Where does your focus lie?

A Pleasant Aroma?

Coffee

Coffee Snob

Sauteing onions. Anything tropical. Blankets dried outside. All smells I enjoy. Each one brings to mind a pleasant thought or memory. My favorite aroma, though, is coffee. It draws me in, and I find great comfort in its fragrance.

Those closest to me, and even many not so close for that matter, know I love coffee. They know it makes me a happier person, especially in the morning. I blame my mom. She began the addiction when I was 13 by bringing it to me every morning when she woke me up for school. (I’ve never really been a morning person.)

My youngest son likes to bribe me to take him places by promising to buy me coffee (It often works.) My husband knows the best way to keep in my good graces (and to romance me) is by having coffee with me regularly. In fact, he often lets me know when he’s having coffee even when he travels or is at work, and I’ll brew a cup just so we can have coffee “together.”

My husband and others closest to me also know the coffee must be high quality. Don’t waste my time with the cheap stuff or if the coffee’s been sitting for a while and has that burnt, bitter smell – and putrid taste – to it.

My pickiness with the coffee led my husband to affectionately label me a “coffee snob.” If coffee doesn’t smell fresh and isn’t of high quality, I want nothing to do with it. (Actually, much of the not-so-cheap stuff doesn’t meet my standards either.)

A Sweet FragranceCoffee 2

I wonder if my fragrance as a Christian draws people in like I’m drawn by the smell of good coffee or if it wrinkles noses like when I run into the aroma of sub-par or stale coffee. Are people repelled or drawn by my fragrance? Am I a “sweet, life-giving perfume” or a “hukster” unconcerned with quality (2 Corinthians 2:14-17, NLT)?

Even more importantly, what does God think about my aroma? He certainly desires to use every detail of our lives to illustrate His truth, to let His glory show through us (Colossians 3:17). He also uses that which we find appealing and that which repels us to help us better understand His desires for our living in relationship with Him and with others, to help us understand the impact of our aroma.

Even coffee, which a person usually either loves or hates, can show Scripture application in a way that not only sticks but that finds us regularly. For me, coffee provides a daily reminder to check my aroma, to determine whether or not I am appealing to others, to ask myself, “Do I have an aroma that pleases God and draws others to His grace and mercy or that repels them toward the world?”

DISCUSSION: How would you characterize your aroma?

Thanksgiving in August?

TitleEver heard of Christmas in July? Well, how about Thanksgiving in August? Seriously, the whole kit and caboodle… turkey, dressing, green bean casserole. Whatever your family traditionally does for Thanksgiving, why not make it happen this August too? While we’re at it, bring on the pre-Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales at the same time!

No? Okay, maybe not. But at least let’s consider the spirit of Thanksgiving as we approach the back end of summer. For that matter, why not think about how to move from the yearly pilgrimage celebrating Thanksgiving as a holiday to a year-long “Thanksliving” frame of mind? (Thanks for the term, Steve Miller.)

In moving from Thanksgiving to “Thanksliving,” we must take a deliberate and intentional approach to thankfulness. In doing so, the actions of gratitude — the ways we show the thankfulness hopefully existing within us — become increasingly and continually visible.

Moving from simply knowing that I should live out thankfulness to actually following through in tangible ways is a struggle I’m not proud to admit exists. But, I’m learning to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving and to slowly but surely transition my life to be more consistently one of “Thanksliving.”

Changing my attitude to a more positive, thankful one is not going to happen by me wishing it. I must deliberately choose to pursue “Thanksliving,” and this happens by taking the time to regularly verbalize thankfulness — even when not encouraged by any holiday — and to also stop blocking God’s work in my life.

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Colossians 3:17)

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Ephesians 5:18-20)

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

We’re designed to show gratitude. Every part of us longs to give thanks, not just sometimes but continually. Everything we do exists as an avenue for living out this part of our spiritual DNA. We simply must take the time to pay attention to God’s workings in our lives. Doing so grows that desire and moves our focus beyond just celebrating Thanksgiving and into a mindset of “Thanksliving” all year long.

Question: What steps can you take live a life of “Thanksliving”?

Lessons from a Blind Man

Bartimaeus

Blind Bartimaeus

Somehow, Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) knew about Jesus. Knew enough to call out to Him even when those around him discouraged his doing so. In fact, their urgings to “Be quiet!” met only louder pleadings on his part. He wanted to be healed, he knew Jesus could heal him, and he probably realized this chance may not pass by him again. So Bartimaeus cried out for mercy, and Jesus heard him, saw his faith, and healed him. In Jesus’ response, we get a picture of how He handled — and how we should handle — interruptions.

But that’s not the end of their interaction because Bartimaeus then followed Jesus. We don’t know how far he went with Him, but Bartimaeus’ immediate response involved following Jesus. In Bartimaeus’ response, we receive a poignant view of how to respond to the presence of the Lord in our lives.

Responding to the Presence of the Lord

The presence of the Lord compels us to recognize our desperate need for Him. And in that need, we hopefully cry out to Jesus as Bartimaeus did. When we do, our lives become profoundly altered. Our perspectives change. The way we think changes. As a result, our actions change. When we respond to the presence of the Lord in our lives, we…

  1. Refuse to let circumstances stop us from calling out to Him.
  2. Refuse to let others deter us from calling out to Him.
  3. Realize that Jesus welcomes our interruptions.
  4. Realize that Jesus often asks us to play an active role in His ministry to us.
  5. Become willing to throw aside whatever might hinder our going to Him.
  6. Learn that interruptions often bring the most effective ministry opportunities.
  7. Learn to speak honestly to Him about our needs.
  8. Continue to respond by following Him even after He meets our most immediate needs.

As the way we think changes, our approach to loving others — to ministry — changes too. In essence, we become more like Jesus in attitude, action and word. One way that becomes evident is in how we deal with the unexpected happenings in our daily lives.

Viewing Interruptions as Ministry

The story of Blind Bartimaeus, as with many of Jesus’ interactions during His 3-year ministry, also shows how to handle interruptions as we live in ministry. When they came from people who sincerely sought Him, Jesus always stopped and gave his time and attention to the interruption. Actually, I’m not sure He even saw these interactions as interruptions. Others certainly did, but Jesus seemed to view them as part of ministry. Should we view them any differently?

With this thinking, the interruptions of life take on completely different meanings as they change from interruption or irritation or even frustration to ministry:

  • My teenage boys wanting to talk while I’m working
  • My husband wanting to go for a walk while I’m studying
  • A friend asking to meet for coffee when a project deadline looms
  • An extra trip to the grocery store when the food pantry needs stocked

Interruptions turned ministry create some of the most powerful interactions of love in a person’s life. Had Jesus not viewed interruptions this way, a large part of His earthly ministry — and some of the stories with the most impact for us still today — would not have happened.

The lessons in the story of Blind Bartimaeus not only indicate a counter-cultural path but also a forget-the-flesh path if we are truly to benefit from the presence of Jesus in our lives. Hearing and obeying His voice, letting it take precedence over what others say and do and even over our own circumstances not only gets us closer to Him, but it also creates an increasing desire to remain in His presence and to live ministry in the everyday events — planned and unplanned — of our lives.

DISCUSSION: How do you respond to the presence of the Lord? How do you respond to interruptions?

Active Remembering

When we “Don’t Forget to Remember” and live with “Purposeful Remembering,” we keep God’s activity and character throughout history and in our own lives fresh in a way that fuels our faith. This active remembering results in going well beyond recalling and to letting our remembering affect our lives in visible ways. In other words, others will see the impact remembering God has on our lives. With that, our active remembering actually becomes a testimony.

But what does this active remembering look like? How do we know that we aren’t just recalling but are letting our remembering affect our lives in an active way? Maybe a better question is, “What are the results of this active remembering?”

“Remember not the former things, neither consider the things of old.” (Isaiah 43:18)

We don’t dwell on the past. As I tell my boys when they make a mistake, “Learn from it and move on.” Too many people live in the past. They live with unforgiveness and bitterness. They tell the same stories over and over again, and a backward focus keeps them from living in the now or from ever moving forward. While we want to remember God’s activity throughout our lives, we don’t want to dwell on our depravity — on ourselves — in any way. Instead, we want to focus on what God has done to increase our faith about what He is doing and will yet do in our lives.

“Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.” (Deuteronomy 5:33)

We serve Him faithfully in the present. This speaks to obedience. Serving God faithfully in the present means knowing and doing what He desires because we know from our past that He always does what’s best for us and simply asks us to trust him in that journey. Serving God faithfully right now also speaks to faith, which often grows out of obedience as we gain more experience living in His consistently full grace.

“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)

We trust God for the future. Our culture says to create our own future. It says to take control of our lives. But God says to trust Him and let Him control our lives. He always outdoes anything we can think or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), and some of us can think of and imagine quite a lot. But as we remember His work throughout our lives, we’ll see that His way often took us through the impossible, that it often created paths through the worst terrain, and that we came out stronger as closer to Him as a result. And because we know He’s done it before, we can know He’ll do it again.

Active remembering helps us trust God now and in the future because He’s always the same, and we can count on His consistency of character. We know He is just, that He will honor His promises, and that He forgives endlessly. Remembering helps us know how to live our everyday lives, how to treat people & how to live our lives focused on Him based on His instruction for doing so in Scripture.

DISCUSSION: How is active remembering evident in your life?

Purposeful Remembering

Don’t Forget to Remember” looked at the thread of “remembering” found throughout Scripture. Understanding this thread helps instruct us in why, what and how remembering should take place in our lives. In other words, a Scriptural understanding helps remembering become real and take on a living purpose as it goes from mere belief to activity in our lives. Let’s look at what this activity might look like in a practical way in the life of a Christian.

1.) Remember God, His activity & character, in spite of our activity & character.

The point of remembering as a thread throughout Scripture involves a focus on what God has done and continues to do in spite of what man has done and continues to do (human nature has not changed, after all). The Old Testament chronicles God’s character interacting with man’s character, and studying it helps us remember His forgiveness, faithfulness, promises & deliverance in spite of man’s continual pattern of rebellion.

Great Commission

2.) Remember Jesus words and actions, and let them shape our words and actions.

After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples remembered what He had said and done (John 2:22 & John 12:16), and this motivated them to do what He had called them to do, to fulfill the Great Commission. Reading Scripture can do the same for us still today.

3.) Remember & use the tools we are given to keep our remembering active.

Those tools include the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), who helps us remember Jesus’ teachings, God’s truths and God’s will as well as God’s working in our lives. The Holy Spirit dwells in us beginning at salvation and remains active in the life of the believer whose job is to simply not quench Him. (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

Another tool, Scripture (2 Peter 3:1-2), brings us the words of the prophets, Jesus’ teachings and Spirit-inspired instruction through Godly men. Regularly remembering and studying these words gives us valuable insight & instruction for everyday life.

A third tool, communion (Luke 22:19) reminds us of atonement and redemption. It reminds us of Jesus’ love & friendship to the point of His willingness to die for us. This remembering hopefully helps keep us humble.

4.) Let God direct our remembering.

We must sort through the mess of what our culture has done with remembrance and instead deliberately choose to let our remembering be directed by truth. To do that, we must let God direct our remembering (Proverbs 16:30). If we don’t, we too easily get overwhelmed & tend to forget to remember Him and what He’s done in our lives.

5.) Forget self. Remember God.

The book of Deuteronomy tells God’s people to remember their slavery and their rebellion, to remember where they were before God’s intervention. Paul takes this idea further in Philippians 3:13:

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.”

Much of the OT Scripture about remembering focuses on remembering man’s rebelliousness for the purpose of again remembering God’s faithfulness, His promises and His leading. Paul amplifies the point by telling us not to dwell on our past as we do this recalling, but to instead focus on God’s activity in our lives in spite of our mistakes and rebelliousness.

This purposeful, or maybe deliberate is a better word, remembering helps us take remembering from being just an activity of recollection to being an avenue through which we grow closer to God by learning to depend more on Him as we realize he will never fail us even when we fail Him.

In next week’s post, we’ll complete this series with a look forward as we talk about “Active Remembering.”

DISCUSSION: How does remembering God’s activity in your life — and being purposeful about this remembering — impact you today?

Don’t Forget to Remember!

In “Remember?!” we talked about the importance of remembering our history as a culture, as individuals and in our faith. We also presented the idea that remembering, especially as Christians, exists not simply as an act of recollection but also as a habit that propels us into action. In this post, we’ll explore several examples in Scripture to help take our understanding of “remembering” even further.

Forget 1

In Old Testament Scripture, the directive to “remember” often comes phrased as “do not forget.” The concept runs throughout the New Testament as well, and both direct our attentions within our remembering. Pulling out just a few examples helps grasp the importance God places on not just remembering but on allowing that recollection to guide our activity.

Deuteronomy — Often called a “book of remembrance” by Bible scholars, the phrases “remember” and “do not forget” come frequently enough to spot during even a casual reading.

Psalms — Presents the words “remember” or “do not forget” about 70 times, depending on the version used. Take Psalm 78 as an example to help direct your thinking on the concept.Forget 2

The Gospels — In many places, the disciples remember what Jesus said & did, and this remembrance drove their activity (John 2:22 and John 12:16). In addition, Jesus himself even directed them toward remembrance (John 16:4).

Studying this thread of “remembering” in Scripture gives tremendous instruction as to why, what and how that activity should take place. It also helps discover significant purpose in remembering, and this is the focus of next week’s post. For this week, please take the time to read through the above Scripture on “remembering” instead of reading a normal-length post.

How do the above Scripture speak to your heart about God’s ideas regarding remembering? What other Scripture fit within this study?

Remember?!

RememberIs Remembering Enough?

From holidays to monuments, memorials commemorate and preserve a significant person, place or event. We can think of memorials as “direction markers” in history, showing the people and events that shaped cultures and individuals. Consider the following examples, most of which are likely familiar:

Labor Day celebrates the American labor movement and commemorates the social and economic achievements of workers.

Veteran’s Day honors people who served in the US Armed Forces. It coincides with Armistice Day and Remembrance Day celebrated in other countries. All of these mark the anniversary of the end of WWI.

Independence Day commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 when the United States declared independence from Great Britain.

The Statue of Liberty, a gift from France in 1886, is a worldwide symbol of freedom & democracy.

Castle Clinton, the most visited national monument in the United States, sits on the bottom of Manhattan Island and was originally built to protect New York from British invasion during the War of 1812.

Memorials aid our memory and help us preserve what we cherish most as a culture. We have many types of memorials throughout history such as stones, prehistoric drawings on cave walls, grave markers, tombs, pyramids, obelisks, and statues.

Memorials also exist on a more personal level. We have special days like birthdays and anniversaries to commemorate the most important people in our lives and objects like wedding rings and photographs to help that remembrance to go beyond just a single day a year.

While remembering certainly exists on a variety of levels in our lives, is simply remembering and recalling enough? Is just bringing to mind these people and places and events enough to serve the purpose for which these memorials exist? If we just remember, are we doing justice to the event or person or place?

Active Remembering

To help answer these questions, consider the theme of “remembering” that runs heavily throughout Scripture. Looking in depth at the word used for remembering can help us understand how we are called beyond simply recalling or remembering.

Azakarah (n) “memorial” = a sacrificial term describing the act “which brings the offerer into remembrance before God, or which brings God into honorable remembrance with the offerer.”

Zakhar (v) “to prick,” “pierce,” “penetrate”

These definitions help us see that the idea of “remembering” in Scripture goes well beyond just recollection by combining it with action and sacrifice.

You see, remembering or recalling by itself isn’t enough. Without action, we just have a day off work or a reason to eat or spend too much. When a call to action accompanies our remembering — which it does throughout Scripture — we find ourselves changed, hopefully for the better, as a result of that active remembering.

In the coming weeks, we’ll explore this idea of active remembering with the goal of discovering the true purpose remembering should have in our lives. And with that purpose, we’ll see the results that active remembering can bring to the life of a Christian.

DISCUSSION: How does remembering exist in an active way in your life?