Bookends of Readiness

Bookends keep books upright. They help keep them organized and in good condition too. Bookends of readiness for sharing the Gospel function much in the same way.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15)

The books in the middle make up the “defense” and “reason” for the hope that you have. Essentially, that is your testimony. The bookends?

  1. Sanctification
  2. Meekness & fear

Sanctification (holiness) keeps a believer ready to evangelize by lending authenticity to his witness. Meekness and fear indicate humble patience along with recognition of who God is and the truth of what the Bible says about Him. The Elliot Commentary explains it this way:

“Recognize, in word and deed, His full holiness, and therefore to treat Him with due awe.”

The bookends of sanctification on one side and meekness and fear on the other hold up our defense – our witness – by keeping the focus on God.

“The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” (Isaiah 8:13)

“When they see among them their children, the work of my hands, they will keep my name holy; they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:23)

“And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 38:23)

Life of Trees

In Spring 2018, I decided to read “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. I still remember the “Why?” looks my family gave me when they found out what I was reading. Essentially, they thought the topic would be boring and could not imagine why I would choose it.

Though not the most exciting read, and in no way encouraging my hope of the existence of Ents or Narnian foliage, realizing how trees communicate was fascinating. Learning about the life of trees, especially why some are so resilient, renewed and deepened my appreciation for how nature shows God’s glory.

Be Like Trees

Learning more about trees also increased my understanding of where the Bible references trees. It gave me depth of understanding about how trees illustrate how we are to grow spiritually. For example, we are to…

  1. Thrive like the olive tree, which can live 500 years even when neglected because its root system allows it to get water quickly. (Psalm 52:8)
  2. Flourish like a palm tree that sheds leaves on purpose before a storm to make it less top heavy and therefore less affected by the force of the wind. (Psalm 92:12)
  3. Grow quickly like the cedar and in a wide range of climates with roots often as deep as the tree’s height. (Psalm 92:12)

How can we be like trees in our spiritual lives?

We can thrive like olive trees by continually seeking living water (John 4:10) and by trusting in God’s love. We can flourish like palm trees by letting go of what weighs us down during life’s storms (Hebrews 12:1). And, we can grow like cedars by establishing deep roots in the fertile soil of God’s word (Luke 8:1-15).

More Course Corrections

As discussed in Course Corrections, a pilot makes course corrections throughout a flight. If he doesn’t, the aircraft will gradually get off course and eventually become drastically so to the point of significant consequences.

Similarly, the Holy Spirit helps us make course corrections to keep us from getting drastically off course in our lives. As we tune in to those promptings, we’re able to make course corrections sooner rather than later. So, we make them when we’re only slightly off track rather than well on our way to being lost.

The Holy Spirit’s Role

Jesus, when explaining why he had to leave his disciples, told them about the Holy Spirit:

“When he comes, he will prove the world to be wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:18)

In other words, he’ll reveal sin (indicate what needs to go) and guide into right living (indicate what needs to be added). One of the Holy Spirit’s main purposes in our lives, then, is to reveal the course corrections we need to make.

Our Role

Our role is to pay attention, make adjustments and let the Holy Spirit work in us. The sooner we do this, the smaller the needed adjustment and the more likely we are to avert tragedy. Life is already full of struggle. Why make it worse by failing to make the course corrections we know are needed?

Knowing this, we can:

  • Be thankful for the Holy Spirit’s course corrections.
  • Pray for increased sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s promptings.
  • Seek connections with others who desire to continuously course correct.
  • Obediently and immediately make course corrections.

“If we are living now by the Holy Spirit, let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:25)

Progress Over Perfection

Partly because I’m a perfectionist and partly because I get easily frustrated over my apparent lack (or absence) of progress as well as the lack (or absence) of progress I see in others, I need reminded of what God says about how we are to grow spiritually.

To that end, this post is simply my collection of Scripture emphasizing the idea of focusing on progress over perfection.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the LORD’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the LORD, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.(Ephesians 4:15)

“Nevertheless, the righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger.” (Job 17:9)

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God.” (Psalm 92:12-13)

“The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Proverbs 4:18)

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” (1 Timothy 4:15)

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2)

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our LORD Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)

Even though I know this emphasis placed on progress over perfection this side of Heaven, I still get discouraged when I fail to see any forward activity. Knowing I have this tendency, I also daily pray this prayer…

“Father, forgive me for my weak faith. Help me to trust You even when I don’t see You working.”

Coupled with regular gratitude for the progress I have seen over the years and for His faithfulness through it, my focus continually returns to the almighty God. And, as always, focus determine reality, and I then see more of him working for progress in my life and in the lives of others.

Stability Within Change

Changing Seasons

While the extremes vary, everyone experiences changing seasons no matter where they live. Even Hawaii changes seasons, though not an extreme difference and only between two different seasons (summer and winter).

If you think changing seasons are unchangeable events, think again. Climate change experts say that the timing of seasons is now changing.

The Earth’s seasons have shifted back in the calendar year, with the hottest and coldest days of the years now occurring almost two days earlier, a new study finds. This shift could be the work of global warming, the researchers say. (Timing of Seasons is Changing)

Yes, even the changing seasons are becoming more unpredictable, though if you live in a place like I do (Michigan) that has always been the case.

Our season changes are extreme, and you simply love or hate it. I’ve actually heard of people missing the extreme changes after moving to a place with less seasonal change. Also, every time we enter a new season, someone (often a person who has lived in the area for many years) expresses surprise over it happening.

If you live in an area of extreme seasonal changes, you have to admit to the beauty of every season. I’ll admit, it’s sometimes hard to see when it’s hot and humid or rainy or bitter cold or there’s a foot of snow on the ground or you experience rain, fog, snow and cold with a 40-degree temperature drop all in one day.

Change – unexpected or not – keeps life interesting.

Life’s Seasons

Our lives have seasons too, some expected and some not. Some people embrace the change, some resist; most do both, and all are at times surprised when change takes place.

Staunchly resisting change is futile as well as unhealthy. We all know this both by observation and experience, but it doesn’t stop us from stubbornly resisting change at times.

Why do we sometimes resist the changing of life’s seasons and other times embrace them? Why do we in our hearts often wish things wouldn’t change?

The answers to these questions are unique to every person. What we all have in common, though, is the need for stability within change.

Stability Within Change

Stability within change is essential for thriving as the seasons inevitably change in our lives. For Christians, this means focusing on God who does not change.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 )

“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.[a He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” James 1:17

As the seasons of life morph in both expected and unexpected ways, I am learning to lean heavily on Jesus. The hope he gives keeps me stable amidst the changes of the many extremes in my life.

“This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.” Hebrews 6:19

Course Corrections

Pilots make course corrections continually throughout a flight. If they don’t, the plane will end up far from its goal, maybe over an ocean and out of fuel.

Several factors cause an airplane to get off course. Wind direction & intensity. Storms. Each one only changes its path a few degrees. If left uncorrected, the degrees add up.

Doesn’t the same happen in our lives too?

We make plans, ones we know God wants, but life often gets us off of them gradually. Degree by degree, we get off track and can eventually find ourselves lost and out of fuel.

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

Fortunately, God gives us regular course corrections. We just need to pay attention and then obey what He wants us to do.

Scripture. Internal promptings. Other people. Physical symptoms. Patterns. Ideas. Revelations. Connections.

All of these are ways God gives course corrections. At least, that’s how He regularly gives them to me. I’ve also found that the more I look for His corrections, the more I’ll recognize them.

The Source

More importantly, I’ve come to realize that the Holy Spirit is the source of all these course corrections.

“But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:13-15)

The Holy Spirit’s activity in my life has been nothing short of transformational. I am thankful for God’s course corrections, especially because I can look back and see how he used them to protect me from so much pain. I invite you to discover this transformation in your own life.

What is Hope?

Fear vs. Hope

“The only thing more powerful than fear is hope.” (President Snow in The Hunger Games)

There was a time in my life when fear controlled me. Fear over what others thought. Fear of failure. Then hope took over.

Hope that what the Bible said about Jesus was true.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:3-6)

Hope that He would bring me out of the pit.

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

Hope that flourished as I returned again and again to grace and let God work in my life for His glory.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-15)

When I struggle still today and feel the pull of the pit, I remember the hope that saved me years ago. Hope always returns and encourages me.

Confident Hope

Hope has a forward focus. It is remembering what I have been through only to remember again what God has done for me. This refocuses me on what He’s going to do in my life in places, people and events where hope seems dim or even absent.

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Living Sacrifice

As Living Stones, we are a holy priesthood. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins and came to life again in defeat of sin, death and the devil, he abolished the old system of sacrifice to atone for sin.

Now, Christians can offer spiritual sacrifices out of love and gratitude for the One who gave everything for their benefit.

The spiritual sacrifices we make do not die (as with the old system) when we offer them. Instead, each living sacrifice we make can become…

“…a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” (Philippians 4:18)

A living sacrifice first and foremost comes from the heart of a believer. It requires taking responsibility for your own sacrifice. No one can do it for you.

Most importantly, Jesus must be the number one priority before an acceptable spiritual sacrifice can even be made. Once that life-changing decision takes place, continue in the journey toward holiness, toward being set apart.

What does God look for our sacrifices?

Consider the following 5 elements when evaluating your sacrifices.

  1. Attitude. God calls everyone to be a living sacrifice in whatever they do in life, yet activity means nothing when offered with the wrong attitude. We must follow Abel’s example and avoid Cain’s. One sacrificed with the right attitude, and one did not. One’s sacrifice was accepted, and the other’s was not. (Genesis 4:3-7) (See The Aroma of your Heart for a related Bible study.)
  2. Love. Loving some people takes little to no effort. Yet, there are those who make loving them difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible. (If we’re honest, we’ve all been difficult to love at some point.) When a person gives nothing in return, loving them becomes a struggle. As living sacrifices, we choose to give expecting nothing in return. After all, isn’t this what Christ did for each one of us?
  3. Balance. Holiness happens in partnership with the Holy Spirit. Every Christian does his or her part through the deliberate and intentional choice to live out God’s will by becoming a living sacrifice. The Holy Spirit is a “helper” who comes alongside us. This is why He was sent to us. (John 14:16, 17, 26)
  4. Discomfort. Convenience often defines us. Yet, sacrifice requires inconvenience and discomfort. We must learn to orient our taste buds toward desiring long-term (eternal) benefit. Doing so allows for intimacy with God, which occurs when we make an acceptable sacrifice. Sweet-tasting convenience is the enemy for an acceptable sacrifice. We must become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
  5. Teachability. A living sacrifice comes from a person willing to learn, grow and change at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. God always provides the appropriate measure of time, talent and treasure to do His will. We hold responsibility for offering ourselves to Him through what He enables and gives us to accomplish.

What’s your heart condition?

An acceptable sacrifice comes through a contrite heart. A sincere and broken heart comes when we spend time at the altar prior to offering our living sacrifices. It comes when we let the Holy Spirit lead us through an attitude upgrade. Submitting ourselves in this way, allows us to…

“…present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is [our] reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)

What role does submission play?

Submission begins by evaluating the status of the heart and asking tough questions.

  • Are you doing good?
  • Does your life involve sharing?
  • What sacrifices are you making for God?
  • Are you too comfortable?

Submission continues as we listen to the answers God gives us to these questions.

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Tough Struggles & Humble Obedience

Thoughtful Planning & Smart Work

“Some structures on Earth and beyond appear so graceful we cannot imagine the complicated designs, systems and procedures that made them possible. Architects, engineers, even astronauts must imagine fearlessly — anticipating problems, planning meticulously and course-correcting with split-second agility. Building successfully takes perseverance, teamwork, courage… and a willingness to try.”

~ Lego Interactive Display, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, IL

Tough Struggles & Humble Obedience

Some people in our lives, or maybe we see people on television or hear about someone in another city or country, appear so together and successful. They seem to be making a tremendous impact for God.

We cannot imagine the struggle, hardship, pain and growth that made being who they are today possible. Parents, pastors and even missionaries must pray fearlessly — confessing struggles, seeking wisdom and learning from mistakes — with continual humility and grace-filled obedience.

Building a Godly life takes perseverance, grace and mercy… and a willingness to die daily.

“When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.” (James 4:10)

“But those who obey God’s word really do love him. This is the way to know whether or not we live in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Christ did.” (1 John 2:5-6)

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

The Only Solution to Worry

Worn Out from Worry

Couldn’t sleep the other night. Worry consumed my mind. Racing thoughts kept me awake even though fatigue pulled at my eyelids.

The next day, worry destroyed my schedule. All-consuming thoughts stole my focus.

As a result, I became completely worn out from worry.

Worry Stones & Dolls

You can buy small, oval stones called worry stones. They’re smooth and just the right size to hold in your hand and stroke with your thumb. The idea is that this activity helps reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.

The Guatemalans created worry dolls as a remedy for worrying. Mayan legend says a person who couldn’t sleep would tell their worries to worry dolls, and then place the dolls under their pillow. The dolls supposedly took the person’s worries away to allow for restful sleep.

I get the idea behind worry stones and dolls. It fulfills the need to release nervous energy. While I don’t have a stone or a doll to easy my worries, I do turn to cleaning and exercising in an attempt to push them away.

Problem is, this activity only puts a band aid on the problem. They help, sure, but they do little to actually remedy my habitually worrisome mindset.

The Only Solution for Worry

When I am discouraged and bogged down by life’s cares, I begin to worry in an attempt to avoid or solve anticipated threats. As a result, I only meet with frustration and uncontrollable negative thoughts.

Eventually, though, I do hear the Holy Spirit’s voice through the noise and am led to the only solution for my worry.

“Do not be anxious (do not worry) about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6, NASB)

“Cast all your anxiety (worries) on him (Christ) because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7, NASB)

“Cast all your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” (Psalm 55:22, NASB)

In both the Old and the New Testaments, we find the only solution to worry (anxiety) spelled out. We’re told time and time again (also see Matthew 11:28-30 and Philippians 4:7) that we don’t have to carry the weight of our problems and cares.

We’re promised…

God will sustain us. He cares for us and will never let us fall.

Scripture tells us that God is able and willing to be our strength and support mentally, physically and spiritually. It also tells us that his care (love) for us is His motivation for doing so.

A Common Struggle

Though we often feel alone in our struggles, especially when worry runs rampant through our minds, we have to realize at some point that this simply isn’t true.

“No temptation has overtaken you but such is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB)

The temptation to worry is a common struggle.  Fortunately, we are given ways of escape and endurance. We simply do not have to succumb to the temptation to worry. And while we can’t directly change how we feel, we can change our thoughts. Our feelings, which are products of our thoughts, then change too.

“Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart]. ” (Philippians 4:8, AMP)

“Set your mind on things above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2, NASB)

We have a choice where we allow our thoughts to focus. We simply do not have to allow them to dwell on negativity and worry.

How to Cast Your Worries on Christ

The only way I know to truly cast my worries on Christ and to direct my thoughts towards that which is excellent and worthy of praise is to…

  1. Pray often. Often means frequently throughout the day.
  2. Read God’s Word. Fill my mind with truth daily, and more so as struggles amplify.
  3. Meditate on God’s Word. Let it become the compass for my thinking.

Worry pulls at your mind the more you give into it and let it consume your thinking. But as you take steps, however small, to direct your thinking toward God’s goodness, mercy and grace, your thoughts transform. And as thoughts transform, feelings do too.

Persevere & Refuse to Give Up

These small steps — praying, reading & meditating on Scripture — add up over time to make a huge — a transforming — difference in a person’s life. Keep taking those small steps.

Persevere through the temptation to worry. Refuse to give up and give in to negativity. Pursue truth and excellence and loveliness and purity and wholesomeness.