Life Themes, Part 2

Life Themes

This is a long post. Evaluating a year should take some time. Does for me anyway.

Not only do I need to go through this process for myself, I want to help others in their processes too. I found mine through trial and error. I read a lot about what others did and tried. I kept what worked and threw out what didn’t. My prayer is to inspire you to do the same.

Rather than looking at goal setting, though I do set goals, my focus for making progress revolves around Life Themes instead. Over the years, five themes have emerged and infiltrated my life. I use them to continually evaluate my progress and reset my focus.

These themes serve to help me understand where I’ve been and what I’ve come through in a way that builds toward progress. They help me see my struggles in ways that allow me to focus on victories. These themes also help motivate me to continue moving forward.

Year In Review

Looking regularly at these life themes helps me review my life in a way that sort of hits a reset button on my focus. I don’t believe a true reset is possible in a person’s life. At least, not in the way one can reset a smart phone. It’s impossible for life to start over from a factory default state. A new start, sure, but not a complete do-over.

However, resetting one’s focus is possible. Life themes help me do this. I look at how I’ve applied them in the past, how active they are presently, and how they’re directing  where I’m going.

While I do this periodically throughout the year, I usually look at them more intimately at the beginning of every new calendar year. What follows is a large part of that process.

Life Theme Application

Allow me to share these life themes with some detail and to attempt to provide application points. Use them as motivation for considering your own life themes, whether or not they exist and if you want to adopt any new ones or simply modify the ones you have.

1.) Focus determines reality.

Midlife and empty nest both descended on me this past year. Too often and for too long, I focused on what I was losing. When I reset my focus, I again became grateful for all that I’ve done and experienced.

I’m reminded of the importance of my focus often. Sometimes it’s simply in the movies I watch and books I read, two of my favorite pastimes. Continually, the Holy Spirit whispers this truth back into my life in many creative ways.

No area of life escapes this truth. Where we choose to focus determines the reality of our lives. And, we all get to choose that focus — the place where thoughts dwell and motivations begin. No matter the circumstances, we can always decide to focus on progress over perfection, blessings over trials and protection over limits.

2.) Refuse to quit.

Physically, my body cannot do what it used to do. Take running, for example. No matter how much I decide to do it, my body simply says, “Uh uh.” At least, I can’t do even close to the extent I used to or that I see others my age still doing. I wanted to just stop trying many times. Instead, I adapted. I turned to other types of exercises, lots of different ones. I refuse to quit pursuing physical health.

I wanted to quit in other areas many times too. When a loved one broke trust to a point I thought beyond repair, I verbally said, “I give up.” Multiple times. But, I didn’t follow through. I kept moving. Backwards then nothing for a while, then finally progress with still lots of back and forth. Not the same as before, but I’m finally glad I didn’t follow through on what my feelings directed me toward far too many times.

Perseverance becomes more natural when fueled by obedience to God’s will. Quitting ceases to exist as an option. I wear reminders of these truths daily. Literally, my necklace has two charms: “Persevere.” “Never give up.” Living this has kept me alive more than once, and it’s kept relationships alive too. It overrides feelings and gets me through the afternoon slumps that even now taunt me toward the couch.

When the struggle gets to be too much, I cry out to God to “Help!” I should cry out before this point, I know. His reminder is the same every time: “Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Keep moving. Refuse to quit.” I hear the words over and over in my head. They push me forward, and I’m always glad I listen, especially when progress finally appears. And it always does.

3.) Take small steps.

Progress frustrates me. A lot. It does so because I too often don’t see it until I’m ready to give up. Also because I usually don’t see any progress until all of a sudden… there it is! Progress happens in such small increments that I just don’t usually see it right away. Most progress in my life, perhaps all, has happened this way. I simply need to remind myself of this often so the frustration doesn’t completely derail me.

This is where I find traditional goal setting most comes into play. Yes, it fits in the other life themes also, but the idea of small steps creating progress are what I need to often remember when I’m working toward a goal. Weight loss. Raising my IQ. Both goals of mine this year. Both will only happen with small steps taken consistently.

Regardless of the specific goal, educate yourself on the steps needed for its accomplishment. Then, keep taking them. Even if you don’t see or feel progress. Keep taking them. Even if you go backwards. Keep taking them. Pull in the other themes… stay focused and refuse to quit. You will make progress. I’ve experienced this truth enough that reminding myself of it convinces me to take the next step every time. The same will happen for you too.

4.) Keep it simple.

I was once an expert at complicating my life. Over-thinking. Over-committing. Over-emotionalizing. I was so good at this that it still often creeps back in unnoticed until it’s so glaringly obvious that I have to pay attention and do something about it.

Almost every time I start a new project, I venture toward the complex in the beginning. Actually, I do so throughout too and have to reset a simple focus periodically until the project is complete.

Whenever a problem arises in a relationship, I often make it worse than it really is too. Or, I create problems that don’t exist. I’m very creative, you see. I can imagine a lot about a person or situation and make things horribly complex all by myself.

Opportunity falls by the wayside when my life is complicated. I lose focus on Christ when I venture away from simplicity. I cannot keep on track with any of my life themes or goals when I complicate life. Neither can you. No one can.

Simplicity creates a better way to use our energy. It allows for maintaining focus more consistently. Keeping life as simple as possible results in increased productivity. This is true for all of us.

At the same time, simplicity is relative. What’s simple for me may seem boring to you. What’s complicated to me may be your best focus zone. Knowing what simplicity looks like for you and then not comparing it to how others live is key.

5.) Wait on God.

When I push for something I think I want to happen before I know for sure it’s right for me, my life gets complicated. Every time. I’ve done it enough to know it will happen. But I still do it sometimes. Okay, often. But, I don’t get as far as I used to before I hear “Stop. Wait.” And I’m pretty good at actually listening, especially if I do so sooner rather than later before emotions hijack my decision-making ability.

When I don’t wait and instead rush ahead based on emotions or superficial information or even what others think I should do, I end up with regrets. Like, every time. I also get overwhelmed and over-committed along with losing my focus.

When I wait, that means I’m trusting God’s timing. I’m believing He will make clear when I should take a certain step or make a commitment. It means I’m exercising patience, knowing His timing keeps me from overwhelm and overload. At least, the type of overwhelm and overload that runs me down and ushers in depression.

Waiting on God instead allows for the overwhelm that comes with realizing He cares for me more than I can even imagine. It brings me to a place where I am overloaded with His blessings in a way where I cannot out give Him. That’s a great place to be, by the way. That’s the place I seek and aim for every day.

Where Themes Meet Goals

The best way I’ve discovered to tell how I’m doing in any one area is by looking at how all of them are doing individually and how they’re interacting with one another. In other words, if I’m keeping my life simple, I’m better able to consistently wait on God and keep my focus. If I’m strong in my determination to not quit, I’m likely making solid progress with the small steps that I’m taking. Each life focus is intimately intertwined with the others.

What’s more, progress with more traditional type goals tells me how I’m doing with these life themes too. If I’m steadily working toward weight loss as well as toward raising my IQ, for example, I know I’m likely staying focused on my life themes too.

This whole idea of how themes and goals work in my life makes sense to me. It may not to you. If you’ve read this far, though, you’re probably looking for something — anything — that will work for you too. Let me encourage you to simply keep trying different approaches.

Read more about what has worked for others. Try those. Throw out what doesn’t work for you, and keep what does work. Above all, let the Holy Spirit guide this search and lead you to a place where you feel you are making progress too. That place is out there for you. I promise.

Life Themes, Part 1

Effective and Productive

Lots of people make New Year’s resolutions. In fact, about half of Americans make them. Unfortunately, according to Norcross & Vangarelli as reported in Psychology Today, most people fail to stick to their resolutions. Specifically…

  • 22% fail after one week
  • 40% fail after one month
  • 50% fail after three months
  • 60% fail after six months
  • 81% fail after twenty-four months

Reasons for this failure involve…

  • Unclear and vague goals
  • Failure to gauge one’s progress
  • Weak self-control and self-regulation

Honestly, not at all surprised by these numbers or by the reasons for them. They’ve certainly proven true in my life over the years.

What I have found to be effective instead is having life themes that integrate into every facet of my life. They have to be biblically-based, though, or even this approach fails to be effective over the long term.

These themes developed gradually and were born out of adversity and failure. And I’m grateful for this process because they now help direct me to being effective and productive in ways goal setting never did.

Focus & Motivation

You’ll may look at the themes I’m about to share and think they are simply positive-thinking mantras. And to some extent you’d be right. But they’re more than that. They also remind me of where I’ve been and what I’ve come through, and they motivate me to continue into where I’m being led.

Two passages in Isaiah not only encapsulate these ideas but also help weave these themes together.

“Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:27-31)

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

These, and other, scripture serve to remind me of the themes of my life. I need the reminders too. Without them, I just get overwhelmed by life. This is one reason I need to consistently study Scripture. Doing so helps these themes continually come to the surface not just in what I’m studying but in every facet of my life from teaching to talking to a friend or my kids to when I’m alone and working.

My Life Themes

Let me simply share these themes with you now. In next week’s post, I’ll go into some detail on each of them.

  1. Focus determines reality. (Isaiah 26:3; Galatians 5:16-18; Luke 12:34)
  2. Never give up. (Isaiah 50:7; Hebrews 10:35)
  3. Take small steps. (Hebrews 12:12)
  4. Keep it simple. (Colossians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 11:3)
  5. Wait on God. (Isaiah 30:18; Psalm 27:14)

If you were to spend much time with me or even to just read through a handful of posts on this blog, you’d run into each of these themes over and over again. In fact, there are quite a few people you could talk to who could name a few if not all of these since they’ve heard my say them so often. And that’s a deliberate goal on my part.

Which brings us back to the idea of goal setting. The Holy Spirit directs me to goals all the time. And when he does, He also lays out the plan for achieving them. Sometimes the plan comes all at once, but often it comes in just one or a few steps at a time. Always perfectly. And always, these themes saturate the plan.

This approach serves to eliminate unclear and vague goals because I’m following the Holy Spirit, not pushing for progress in my own efforts. As for self-control and self-regulation, that comes through a combination of Bible study and accountability, which both serve to remind me of the life themes planted in my spirit.

No, I have not eliminated all of what keeps most people from achieving goals. However, I do realize my inability to set and achieve goals in my own effort, so I try to continually turn that work over to the Holy Spirit.

As 2018 approaches, I am taking time to review these themes and to remind myself of the Holy Spirit’s continual activity in my life. This week’s and next week’s posts are reflective of that renewal. Including others in more of my life is a goal the Holy Spirit has recently shared with me, and these posts are, hopefully, reflective this too.

“Be a Scrooge!”

“Don’t be a Scrooge”

It’s a line we hear really all year long but certainly more during the holiday season. But what exactly does it mean?

Scrooge (skro͞oj) n.

A mean-spirited miserly person. (The Free Dictionary)

Most of you realize this reference is from “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. In the story, Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserly, mean-spirit man who refuses to spend any extra money, not even for what many consider necessities (coal for a fire, for example). Contributing to charity to help the poor is abhorrent to Ebenezer, as is accepting his nephew’s kindness toward him.

After visits from three spirits (the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future), Ebenezer realizes how much of a skinflint he has become. He vows to change his ways because of what his future looks like if he does not.

None of us like to think we are a Scrooge, of course, but we often don’t have a problem throwing that term toward another person. I’ve even uses the term when someone simply isn’t being as free with their behavior and/or money as I think they should be.

Watching the movie (the one starring George C. Scott) again this Christmas, I realized that Scrooge has gotten a bad reputation and to some extent undeservedly so. In fact, I believe we all could benefit with instead using the phrase “Be a Scrooge” instead of “Don’t be a Scrooge.”

Be a Scrooge

“Scrooge” is usually used with negative connotations. Yet, he is an uncomfortably relatable character too. Everyone struggles with selfishness to some extent, and we’ve all certainly had to fight through a mean spirit from time to time. If nothing else, we certainly know and must interact with someone else who epitomizes a “Scrooge.”

In the story, Ebenezer becomes a “Scrooge” gradually. He wasn’t always that way. Life circumstances combined with his own choices created the person he became. We all can relate to this idea of gradual change.

But remember…  he didn’t stay that way.

While we don’t want to forget that aspect of Scrooge in the sense that we want to remember not to let ourselves become that way, there’s also inspiration to be found in this character who completely changes his ways. After all, by the end of “A Christmas Carol,” this is what was said of him…

“He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the old City knew, or any other good old city, town or borough in the good old world.”

Instead of being an icon of what not to become, can we instead think of Scrooge encouragement of what can happen to anyone?

People Can Change

We’re all likely guilty of thinking someone can never change. Maybe we’ve even felt that way about ourselves. Yet, I’m certain every one of us can also find someone who has changed dramatically for the better. And, likely, many of us have also experienced personal transformations along those lines too.

I’ve seen it happen recently in someone I love very much and who I thought lost to the world. He had an experience with the Holy Spirit and became a completely different person almost overnight. I’ve experienced it in myself too. After 25 years struggling with depression, I no longer live under its vice grip because of the transformative power of God in my life.

Unfortunately, while we see people change and are glad for it, the memories of what used to be — broken trust, abundant lies, negativity, depression — don’t just go away. In fact, fears of these coming back often linger for quite a long time if they ever go away. Because this happens so easily and even naturally, we have to determine not to focus on how the person used to be. Instead, we can choose to focus forward and enjoy the person they are becoming.

Let’s determine not to miss the fact that people can change and to remember to include ourselves in that possibility too. Determine to have this hope. Refuse to give up on yourself or on anyone else. Pray more than preach, and trust that God is working in their — and your — lives.

Ordinary to Extraordinary

In His Majesty’s Secret Service

Mention of the British Secret Service brings to mind images of James Bond. Age probably determines exactly who Bond looks like… Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, etc. Regardless, Bond is always well-dressed, has cool cars, gets to use cool gadgets, and even has cool enemies.

In all likelihood, picturing a British Secret Service agent does not generate an image of C.S. Lewis. This is why fans of Lewis’ — whose most well-known works include The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity — are surprised to find out that Lewis actually was part of the British Secret Service during WWII.

WWII Turning Point

The details of Lewis’ recruitment to the British Secret Service remain a mystery. However, some interesting facts exist regarding the unique role he played.

  • Lewis’ public speaking prowess made him better-suited for his assignment than his contemporary J.R.R. Tolkien, who actually had a better knowledge base for the job than Lewis.
  • Lewis was tasked to “help win the hearts of the Icelandic people” and thus secure Britain’s presence in Iceland for the remainder of WWII.
  • With a speech to the Icelandic people, Lewis “provided a touchstone between the Norse people and the English” that essentially accomplished this goal.

Knowing a little background about Iceland’s role in WWII is helpful in realizing the significance of what Lewis did as a Secret Service agent.

  • April 1940 — Germans invaded Norway and Denmark. British troops counter the Germans in Norway but were too late to do so in Denmark.
  • May 1940 — Germans invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
  • May 1940 (Same morning of above invasion) — British troops invaded Iceland, a strategic location for a naval and air base in the Atlantic region.

The British needed to remain in Iceland in order to help defeat the Germans, but they needed the cooperation of the Icelandic people to accomplish this.

“Though British control of Iceland was critical, Britain could not afford to deploy its troops to hold the island when greater battles loomed elsewhere, beginning with the struggle for North Africa. Holding Iceland depended on the goodwill of the people of Iceland who never had asked to be invaded by the British. If Britain retained Icelandic goodwill, then Churchill could occupy the island with reserve troops rather than his best fighting forces.” (C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent)

Lewis’ speech, “The Norse Spirit in English Literature,” to the Icelandic people helped turn the tide of war. Britain won their favor and were able to remain in Iceland. This presence was critical to winning the war.

Unexpected Service

Personally, I love the idea of this great literary scholar and lay theologian — and one of my favorite authors — also being an agent for the British Secret Service. Not only does it make for great conversation, it also provides a terrific illustration of Scripture.

“A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.” (Proverbs 18:16)

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” (1 Corinthians 12:4)

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” (Romans 12:6)

Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

Lewis put his literary talents to work in an unexpected way and ended playing a major role in defeating the Germans in WWII. Yet, Lewis never touted this involvement that we know of. It appears he simply allowed himself to serve the greater good.

The work Lewis was given to do as a Secret Service agent, was directly in tune with his talents and abilities. In fact, his well-known voice is once of the reason he was likely chosen for the task since it would increase the likelihood of the Icelandic people listening to the message.

Uniquely Crafted

Learning that C.S. Lewis was a British Secret Service agent encourages me. It tells me that God can and does use the talents and abilities He gives us in obvious as well as unexpected ways. On the days when I wonder about my own usefulness, stories like these remind me to always be ready for any type of service.

Stories like this one also remind me that God uniquely crafts and genuinely calls every person. Like Lewis, I get to spend my days applying the gifts and abilities God gave me and at the same time staying ready for a call out of my ordinary and into the extraordinary.

Knowing God, Part 2

In “Knowing God, Part 1,” we discussed the need all people have to know and value themselves and to be important to others. We also looked at how only God can fulfill that need and how only He fully knows us. Let’s now explore the journey we get to take toward knowing God.

God is Knowable

God knows each one of us intimately. He formed us and planned our days (Psalm 139:13-16). He gave us purpose (Jeremiah 29:11). All of that is truly astounding, but there’s more.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)

God is unfathomable, beyond measure, infinite and unending. At the same time, He is also knowable and approachable.

“I too… do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” (Ephesians 1:17)

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)

Even though God is far too big for us to fully know Him, He invites us to journey toward knowing Him more. He also tells us how to do it. Even more astounding, He actually reciprocates our efforts.

How to Know God

Our faith lives revolve around an increasing knowledge of God. And while it truly is impossible to fully know Him, every day is an opportunity to know Him more than we did the day before. We don’t have to figure out how to do that either. God tells us.

Jesus is the only way to know God.

Any other proposed path to God is preposterous and leads to eternal destruction.

“Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6)

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

Only after we admit our sin, believe Jesus died to save us from that sin, and confess Him as Lord and Savior can we begin the journey of knowing God.

Scripture is God’s word and His revelation of Himself to us.

A love for God’s Word is essential in knowing God. The Bible tells us who God is and what He desires of us, what He promises and what His will is. In that, it tells us how to know Him.

“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is Jesus Christ. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:14-16)

Reading the Bible fully and regularly is essential for knowing God. It’s akin to how we know our spouse or best friend by spending time with them. Scripture is our training manual for living how God desires. It does this both through clear instruction and through the examples given in the stories about how He interacted with His people.

Obedience shows we know God and leads us to knowing Him more.

Obedience is also crucial to our knowing God better and better. In fact, obedience is proof that we know God and at the same time leads us to knowing Him more.

“He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought to Himself walk as Jesus walked.” (1 John 2:4-6)

The more we know God, the better able we are to do what He desires. At the same time, when we act in obedience without understanding, out of that flows knowing God more too. In other words, knowledge and understanding of God both fuels and results from our obedience.

All Worthwhile Knowing

The only times I’m ever satisfied with knowing and being known are when that knowledge flows out of knowing God. My marriage and friendships only bring real satisfaction when they exist based on what God desires. When my life’s focus remains on knowing God first and foremost, all other knowing gains tremendous value, purpose and motivation.

  • The only way good works have meaning is by knowing God and doing what He desires (Ephesians 2:10).
  • The only way I can consistently be light and salt in this dark work is through obedience to what God wants (Matthew 5:13-14).
  • The only way to truly love others, regardless of their attitudes, actions and words, is to first love God (Matthew 22).

Knowing God motivates us to live for His desires rather than our own. Knowing Him changes our want to; it changes our focus. Knowing God is the only way to meet the need we all have to know and be known.

Knowing God, Part 1

6 Degrees of Separation

Know anyone famous? Want to know anyone famous? According to the theory “6 degrees of separation”…

“All living things and everything else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other.”

That means, the famous person you want to meet is only six steps — or degrees — away from you. So, Harrison Ford or John Travolta (or whoever it is you want to meet) are connected through five or less other people. Not sure you buy into the theory?

Consider this…

I met a guy in the grocery store a while back who is friends with Harrison Ford. Had I been able to get the guy’s name and number, you would be connected to Harrison Ford through just two people.

Here’s another example. I worked with a guy years ago who is friends with John Travolta. Had John’s number in his cell phone. So, that means you are connected to John Travolta through just two people.

Don’t take my word for it, though, the theory actually has scientific merit too.

“Assuming everyone knows at least 44 people, and that each of those people knows an entirely new 44 people, and so on, the math shows that in just six steps everyone could be connected to 7.26 billion people — more than are alive on earth today.” (Are We Really All Connected by Just Six Degrees of Separation?)

Experiments have been carried out to give the theory even more credence. Not only that, but the shoot-off game “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” provided additional scientific data to strengthen the theory.

Who You Know Matters

Let’s personalize this a bit. When someone wants to find a job today, how valuable is it that they know someone at the company where they’re applying? Almost all of my own work right now exists as the result of knowing someone, not of me actively seeking the work. Even in the Bible we see that who you know matters. Consider Moses and Daniel as examples of this.

Who we know matters. It matters to us in a variety of ways from personal and professional to satisfying a need within us to connect with people who make us feel important.

A Need to Be Known

All people have a need to know and value themselves and to be important to others. Psychologists call this the Relational Value/Social Influence need. Being known is important to us because of how it connects with our individual experiences, private thoughts and public image. This knowing has a tremendous impact on our character structure and well being.

Timothy Keller in The Meaning of Marriage makes a poignant statement about the power of this need.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is… a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

This statement is even more profound when we remember that Scripture uses marriage as a metaphor for Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-32). Those of us in Christian marriages understand the value of that relationship for better understanding how our relationship with Christ is to exist.

Yet, no matter how good our marriages or any other relationships are, we never have 100% knowledge in them. We aren’t fully known, and we don’t fully know others. The fact is that any knowing outside of God never fully satisfies.

Everyone desires to know and be known because God created us for relationship. More specifically, he created us for relationship with Him.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:16)

And as our creator, only he can know us fully. In fact, he knows us better than we know ourselves.

God Knows Us Intimately

“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” (Attributed to Socrates)

As Christians, we believe that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). However, we can still agree that knowing yourself does bring a depth of wisdom essential for living life in a successful way.

Psychologists say that knowing yourself brings the following benefits:

  • Happiness.
  • Less inner conflict.
  • Better decision making.
  • Self control.
  • Resistance to social pressure.
  • Tolerance and understanding of others.
  • Vitality and pleasure.

Yet, we can’t even know all there is to know about ourselves. The Johari Window illustrates this truth well.

Only God can truly know all there is to know about each one of us. And He can do this because, well, He did create us after all.

“For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance. And in Your book were written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

God created us. He knew us before we had physical form and even orchestrated the days of our lives before one of them began. He knows us intimately. It stands to reason, then, that the best way to knowing ourselves better is to know God better.

Next week we’ll explore exactly how we can know God.

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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Living Stones

“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5)

Being described as a “living stone” seems odd. After all, stones are hard, dead and cold, and not alive. Builders use stones, sure, but that connection to our spiritual lives is difficult to grasp.

Perhaps that’s because while we may have respect for our church buildings, our reverence pales in comparison to that of the Jewish Christians (Peter’s audience). They were driven out of Jerusalem and scattered through Asia Minor. So, his original readers understood this analogy at a deeper level since they were unable to even go to the temple because of persecution by the Roman Emperor Nero.

Peter’s words presented a paradigm shift for the Jewish Christians in AD 63. For them, the temple provided a place to offer sacrifices and make atonement. Then Christ came replaced this system.

Peter’s analogy helped the Jewish Christians make that shift in thinking. They could go from the system of sacrifice handed to them through their Jewish heritage to understanding how Christ fulfilled that system so completely that physical sacrifices became unnecessary.

Because of this heritage, they fully understood the significance of the stones creating the temple building. They held an immense reverence for the temple building itself as well as an understanding for what Peter’s analogy meant. (See Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14 & 28:16.)

Barnes Notes on the Bible explains the Jewish Christian’s view in this way.

“The Jews prided themselves much on their temple. It was a most costly and splendid edifice. It was the place where God was worshipped, and where he was supposed to dwell. It had an imposing service, and there was acceptable worship rendered there.”

Regardless of the time in history, the application is no less significant or relevant. Consider the following 5 points in terms of applying the “living stone” analogy to our Christian walk.

  1. You are being built up in Christ. While individually every Christian represents Christ, Christians collectively – each “living stone” placed one upon another with Christ as the cornerstone – are being built up together in Christ. In other words “all true Christians are a chosen generation; they make one family, a people distinct from the world: of another spirit, principle, and practice.
  2. You are part of a spiritual house of God. The house of God is not built with stones or wood but with “living stones” that hold the breath of God. As such, these “living stones” (Christians throughout time) have an immensely greater value. They give His house significantly more value than any physical temple or church building built by man. Together, in unity and community, all Christians create the temple of the Lord.
  3. You are a holy priesthood. With Jesus’ final sacrifice on the cross, the old system of sacrifice for atonement of sin was abolished. Blood sacrifices through priests at the temple are no longer required. Christians exist now as a holy priesthood and offer sacrifices of a different kind.
  4. Spiritual sacrifices are the result. Since blood sacrifices are no longer required, what are we to sacrifice? “The sacrifice of prayer and praise.” (Hebrews 13:15)
  5. Our sacrifices must be acceptable in God’s eyes. Fortunately for us, God looks at our sacrifices through Jesus. Through the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice, our prayers and praises become acceptable. They come through imperfect lips and hearts, but they go through Jesus as the “author and perfector of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Every Christian today exists as part of the temple of God. Prayer and praise exist as sacrifices when we offer our whole selves, holding nothing back. This happens as we realize that nothing we do or say is sufficient, but we instead offer what we have…

“…with pure hearts that with the intention to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly.” (Micah 6:8)

Note: This post was inspired by “The Building Project,” a sermon given by Rev. Steve Miller at New Hope Assembly of God.

Give In To The Craving!

Chocolates and sweets. Alcohol and soda. Salty foods like potato chips. Tobacco. Oily/greasy foods like French fries and hamburgers.  Coffee.

These foods and drinks make up the top sources of cravings for many people. And when the craving strikes, the often irresistible and uncontrollable urge to fulfill that craving usually overtakes any existence of willpower.

Give in too often to these cravings, and the calories and fat eventually turn into extra pounds. We know this, yet we still often find ourselves unable to resist a craving when it hits.

Some experts say we crave certain foods because they offer comfort by bringing back positive memories, calming us in some way or somehow helping relieve stress.  Other experts believe food cravings indicate some sort of vitamin deficiency or chemical imbalance. For example, a chocolate craving can indicate a serotonin (feel good hormone) imbalance, and craving salty food can indicate a mineral deficiency.

Regardless of their source, we all understand the power cravings hold over us. We also understand the need to limit giving in to those cravings in order for our bodies to be healthy and strong.

While food cravings carry negative connotations, there exists a craving that not only benefits us, but giving in to this craving also carries eternal reward and blessing.

“As newborn babies, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Almost everyone has seen an infant ready to eat, and no one but momma can fulfill that need. This insatiable desire that we see in babies is the same type of craving that we need to have for God.

A Craving for God’s Word

A craving for God’s word exists in a desire for growth that, when fed, shows itself as a relentless passion for God.

Food cravings don’t just happen all by themselves. We train our bodies to desire these foods when we eat them too often and fail to place healthy foods at the core of our diets. We can also train our bodies and spirits to crave God’s word.

As we walk with God through all that life hands us and as we expose ourselves to His goodness and to the wisdom of His word, we develop an increasing passion for Him that can turn into a positive obsession. Being obsessed with God and craving the growth He offers through His word leads to joy, something that only comes from Him.

Imagine craving morning devotion and prayer time like you do morning coffee.

Consider a life motivated by an obsession for worship and praise like it is for chocolate.

What about expressing love to the family of God like we do for our favorite desserts?

What changes would you need to make in order to deliberately grow this type of craving for the living God?

Someone with an irresistible and uncontrollable craving for God finds comfort not through the temporal but through the eternal blessings offered by the Savior. A life obsessed with God is one that receives positive feelings and a sense of calm like none ever before known.

God can relieve stress and make up for any deficiency, and He can correct any imbalance.

Food cravings satisfy only temporarily, but the satisfaction that comes through a life obsessed with the Creator of the Universe provides a motivation that involves obeying God’s Word in a way that allows values to change. As values change, choices change, and as choices change, lives change.

When this transformation takes place, a new person emerges. That person focuses on building up and encouraging others, pursues love, mercy and grace, and seeks to meet needs rather than have needs met. This life obsessed with God is one that learns to trust Him more and more each day.

Just one taste of a life obsessed with God, and the craving starts to grow because it takes only once…

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8)

Tasting that goodness begins the only craving that can truly transform a life in a way that will last forever.

Aliens Among Us

Entertaining Aliens

Movies along with a slew of books provide a seemingly endless supply of entertainment involving aliens.

Sometimes aliens invade Earth to annihilate humans and take over the planet (War of the Worlds and Independence Day). Sometimes they come to take back what another alien stole and that they need to survive (Men in Black). Sometimes they just get lost here (E.T.).

While here, aliens sometimes take over human bodies and sometimes just eat them. Sometimes, humans and aliens become friends. There are also stories about humans flying to alien planets, which makes the human become the alien (Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis).

There are many individuals who truly believe that aliens exist, have already come to our planet, and that the government is conspiring to cover up that fact (think Area 51). We are fascinated by the idea that other races and worlds may exist outside of our own.

We Are The Aliens

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

As Christians, we know that we are in fact the aliens in this world (1 Peter 2:11). We are strangers here, and this is not our permanent home. Knowing this should change the way we live our lives.

Because we are strangers and aliens, we should stand out. Standing out isn’t exactly about appearance though. Standing out as Christians refers to the way we live our lives in contrast to our culture.

4 Ways Christians Should Stand Out

As aliens and strangers in this temporal world, we have a variety of ways we can and should stand out.

1. Gifts/Abilities

Every individual has unique qualities that set them apart from others. I am naturally organized. My youngest son is pretty athletic. My oldest son has an amazing ability to memorize. My husband has an unusual amount of constant energy. Some people have a unique fashion style, some have amazing musical talent, and still others have natural leadership or teaching ability.

These qualities in and of themselves are not what should bring notice to a Christian though. The way in which a person uses the gifts and abilities given them should be the focus.

Does God receive credit for the ability? Does the church, His body, benefit from the ability? Does the individual operate in the ability or gift for personal fame or to glorify God?

While only God knows the heart, actions often provide an accurate gauge of what’s happening inside of a person.

“Would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart?” (Psalm 44:21)

2. Perspective

Christians stand out because we realize that this world is not our home. We become comfortable with being uncomfortable in an ever-changing and increasingly hostile world.

With one eye always on eternity, the Christian perspective exists as one that focuses on the eternal rather than the temporal. A Christian’s focus on eternity provides motivation and energy for living a holy (set apart) life.

“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)

3. Motives

The question of motive gets at the reason a person does anything. When the motive is for personal glory, the reward may be immediate and temporarily satisfying to the flesh. But when the motive exists for the glory of God, then the reward endures for eternity.

Asking “Why?” in every facet of life helps keep a Christian focused on the surpassing reward of pleasing the Father in Heaven. Being driven by this “Why?” sets a Christian apart in a world where selfish motives abound.

“We have been set apart as holy because Jesus Christ did what God wanted him to do by sacrificing his body once and for all.” (Hebrews 10:10)

4. A Focus on Truth

Empty promises fill this temporal world. Being sure exists only as an illusion in a culture of relative truth. What’s wrong for you is right for me, and both are okay. Right? Wrong!

As Christians focus on the unchanging truth of God’s Word, they become set apart because they refuse to focus on the ever-changing truth of a temporal world. They focus on truth that satisfies the spirit instead of that which satisfies the flesh (and does so only temporarily).

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

Do you look like an alien?

As aliens, Christians live in this world but focus on eternity. They take the gifts and abilities God gives, makes sure their motives and perspectives line up with His Word, and then choose to focus on the truth He places in their hearts.

This temporal world is one of roller coaster realities with highs that quickly plummet into valleys. But a Christian living as an alien uses those highs to rejoice in God’s goodness and the lows to depend on His mercy and grace.

God wants His children to stand out, and He provides the tools for doing so. When we consider our gifts and abilities, our perspective and our motives and as we live those out with a focus on His truth, we see that God has truly given us a myriad of ways to be and stay set apart