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Relentless

April 7, 2020

A Relentless God

  • A dog with a bone.
  • A young child asking “Why?”
  • A politician talking trash about his rivals.

We see examples of relentlessness every day. We’ve all probably been relentless as well as experienced another’s relentlessness too.

Nothing compares to God’s relentlessness though. In fact, He’s infinitely relentless when pursuing the lost and any who are broken or wandering.

“I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.” (Ezekiel 34:15-16)

No matter their or our story, he invites them and us back. His mercy never expires.

“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Our Relentless Pursuit

God’s okay with us being relentless though. He actually encourages it.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18)

“Pray continually.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2)

The next time you feel like giving up on someone or on yourself, remember what the Bible says about being relentless. Most importantly, remember that while he wants us to be relentless in our pursuit of him, we can never match how relentless he is in his pursuit of us.

Reflection

What does God’s relentlessness say about how much we mean to him?

It’s Nothing Personal

March 17, 2020

People will hurt you. Sometimes the same person will hurt you repeatedly. What do you do?

Do you get angry? Depressed? Bitter? Resentful? Beaten down?

In my struggle to let any of those reactions happen again, God has reprogrammed my thinking. He’s taught me not to let emotions control me but to instead think and act based on his word.

Specifically, five verses have helped me better understand how to not take hurt personally and to instead allow healing and restoration happen.

Scripture Application

“Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:15)

  • No matter what others say or do (or don’t say or don’t do), I am determined to love. This means, I avoid being rude or selfish, and I ask God for the patience and the ability to forgive.

“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15)

  • God’s grace is abundant and far-reaching. It gives me new life, and it can do the same for anyone else. I must never forget this.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm34:18)

  • No matter what happens, God is with me. He comforts me and keeps me from getting stuck in the muck and mire of the pit of despair.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has appointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to build up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and to release from darkness the prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)

  • God takes my hurt and folds them into my testimony. The freedom he has brought me, he promises to everyone who calls on his name. How can I not share this truth?

“Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:26)

  • A thankful heart is a forgiving heart.

Application Through Reflection

I’m a sensitive person. That means that my emotions lead me to care and feel deeply. It also means I can get offended and take things personally all too easily. Add to that my active imagination, and there’s a recipe for discontent and depression.

God is teaching me to not take everything so personally. He’s helping me to instead give my emotions and deep feelings over to him and let him use them for his purposes. As a result, I am experiencing more joy in my relationships.

How might you apply these scriptures practically and personally?

Remember & Reflect

March 3, 2020

Remember the Past

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana, writer and philosopher)

This sentiment came to my attention once again at a recent visit to the Revolutionary War Museum in Williamsburg, VA. We took a walking tour around the grounds during which the guide focused on remembering our country’s history in terms of what various individuals have in common and on how we can learn from their successes and failures. He went from settlement times through the Revolution and the Civil War before coming to the current day.

What would a study of the Bible look like using this approach?

If you go to BibleGateway and type in “remember,” you get over 200 results (Side note #1: I used the NIV. Another version will be slightly different.) (Side note #2: You probably can come up with other search terms to use, but I stuck with just one for simplicity’s sake.)

Many of the references point to God remembering. Others point to what God wants us to remember. Simply reading through these references makes connections among people and events throughout Biblical history much like the connections the tour guide made.

How might we reflect on this?

For me, reflection on this idea is coming through asking myself questions.

  • What does God remember?
  • What does God want us to remember?
  • What lessons do the individuals in these verses teach me?
  • What has God brought me through?
  • How has God blessed me?

From Adam to Moses to Joshua to David to Elijah to the disciples to Paul, reflection on their (and everyone in between) experiences individually and how they connect to one another’s experiences as well as to mine allows for an interesting way to learn from the past.

  • God is merciful even when we don’t deserve it.
  • God is faithful even when people aren’t.

Those are just the tip of the iceberg for me, and this lens for reading Scripture promises to open up God’s Word in new ways.

What is the tip of your iceberg with this type of reflection?

Reflective Practice

February 11, 2020

Connections, Culture & Choice

Sometime during a week-long visit to Williamsburg, VA and many of its historical offerings, a pattern emerged that connected not only the places we visited but also propelled my thinking in some interesting ways.

Connections

The area presents colonial, Revolutionary War, and Civil War history. As we moved from one to another, I realized the connections – and there are many, many threads – linking them to one another.

Various threads make up my own life, and understanding their connections helps understand my own perspectives much like understanding these historical connections helps me understand the various perspectives involved in the history of our country’s beginnings.

Culture

Visiting various historical sites and museums also showed the interaction of culture, both in good and bad ways. African Americans, English, and Native Americans were the major groups, though many others were involved too.

My own culture is unclear to me. Only in a very broad sense do I understand personally what culture means. In other words, I am not sure how to define my culture.

Choice

African Americans fighting for their freedom. English settlers choosing to be Loyalists or Rebels or to remain neutral. A country choosing to war with itself.

Considering how my own choices affect not just me but those around me is important. Further, how does this idea of connections and attempts to define culture impact my choices?

Valuing Reflection

The value of understanding history became clearer to me during this visit. So did the value of self-reflection based on the concepts that stood out to me that week.

As a Christian, I want to make connections to God’s truths as explained in his word. I want to understand what being a Christian means for me culturally. I also want to develop cultural sensitivity in a way that shows love toward all people. Threaded through all of this is the idea of filtering my choices through God’s will in each of these areas.

My Point?

I’ve recently been considering how I reflect on the experiences of my life and how they shape who I am as a person. I’ve begun wondering more about my own culture and the history surrounding it. The above is simply a foray into reflection in these specific areas.

Discussion: Have you ever considered implementing reflective practices in this or other ways? Why or why not?

Shift Your Gaze

February 5, 2020

Understanding Gaze

In critical theory, sociology, and psychoanalysis, the gaze refers to the act of seeing and, in the philosophical and physical sense, how an individual perceives other individuals, groups, or oneself.

Gaze theory describes how viewers engage with visual media. Originating in film theory and criticism in the 1970s, the gaze refers to how we look at visual representation.

In literary theory, gaze is a particular perspective taken to embody certain aspects of the relationship between observer and observed.

(These definitions were borrowed from Wikipedia)

In short, gaze is how we perceive what we see.

Shifting Your Gaze

In a recent visit to the Revolutionary War Museum in Williamsburg, VA, an exhibit focused viewers on the importance of “shifting your gaze” to see the often forgotten and overlooked role of African Americans in the war.

African American slaves had to choose the side – Patriots (colonists) or British – they felt gave them the best chance for freedom after the war. For most, it did not work out the way they hoped. While the slave trade was suspended during the Revolutionary War, it increased again after the war ended. Thus, many African Americans from both sides were thrust back into slavery after the war even though they fought in it with the promised reward of freedom afterward.

In this exhibit, shifting your gaze allowed you to see the war from their perspective. This perspective is one many forget to consider, especially since slavery is such a focus later in the American Civil War.

Christian Gaze

How can we apply this idea of “shifting your gaze” as Christians? Our goal as Christians is to see people as God sees them. We also want to see ourselves as God sees us.

Though there are more, consider the following two Bible verses as you consider how to shift your gaze to be able to see people and yourself the way God does.

“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)

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:28-29)

These verses tell us that God sees us as being in transformation. He also saw us long ago and chose us to become like Jesus.

Reflection Questions

How do these truths change how you see other people? Yourself?

What other verses might help you shift your gaze and see people and circumstances through God’s perspective rather than your own?

Decade Reflections

January 14, 2020

Part of my looking forward and making New Year’s Resolutions involves looking backwards. This year, that backward look encompasses a decade – the 2010s.

In my looking back, I saw both a lot of pain and a lot of joy. I see growth that took place through many small steps added together, and I also see mistakes still waiting to be used as motivation for growth.

While I have regrets, I mostly have gratitude for God’s mercy and grace. In this, I realize once again the value in remembering.

“I remember days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the works of your hands.” (Psalm 143:5)

Isaiah takes God’s people through this process of remembering, but he doesn’t end with looking backward. Instead, he uses looking backward as a point of references for saying that God has bigger things in store.

“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)

This truth holds firm still for us today because God’s character never changes. He’s always outdoing himself. It is through this lens I now choose to eagerly anticipate the next decade – the 2020s.

New Year’s Resolutions

January 7, 2020

Approaches to Making Resolutions

Every year I debate whether or not I should make New Year’s resolutions. This debate involves considering various approaches such as:

It also includes asking those closest to me if they’re making any resolutions. If they are, I ask them to share their goals with me and to tell me what they think of mine.

My debate also involves considering the reasons why many people choose to NOT MAKE resolutions. I don’t mean those who are just too lazy to set goals; I’m referring to people who deliberately choose not to set them and to either abstain altogether or take a non-traditional approach.

One approach is advocated by Pocket Mindfulness who explains Why You Should Not Set New Year’s Resolutions and What to Do Instead. It advocates:

“Rather than rushing forward in a panic to set resolutions or a list of goals you can start on New Year’s Day, forget all that and enter the New Year in a mode of being absolutely present, and absolutely positive, about how great [the coming year] is going to be.”

Another example comes from Tim Ferriss who recommends that we Forget New Year’s Resolutions and Conduct a ‘Past Year Review’ Instead. There’s also the approach of Georgia Bloomberg, professional equestrian and philanthropist, who says:

“I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I think if you want to change something, change it today and don’t wait until the New Year.”

I don’t disagree with Bloomberg, though I do think there’s value in including New Year’s resolutions in the process of change if only as a review as Ferriss recommends. Finally, simply determining to be “absolutely present, and absolutely positive” just doesn’t have enough substance for me.

Why I Make Resolutions

For the last 10 years or so, I’ve decided to make resolutions of some sort for the coming year. Ultimately, I make this decision because I can’t get past the success doing so has brought me. Not a perfect record. Not even close. Yet, far more progress with resolutions than without them.

I also make them because they have brought me closer to God and increasingly into His will. Plus, the Bible encourages the sort of self-reflection and examination that come with the process of making resolutions.

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:40)

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Simply put, making resolutions at the end/beginning of each year just reminds me to:

  1. Regularly go through this process of examination and renewal.
  2. Keep making progress toward perfection.
  3. Remember that I cannot make that progress on my own.

2020 Resolutions

In my yearly conversation over whether or not to make resolutions, I decided to make them for 2020. Doing so this year involves combining the approaches I’ve mentioned above with what has worked well for me in past years. That includes doing the following:

  • I am reflecting and looking for areas of weaknesses as well as strengths to improve upon.
  • My reflections are extending beyond 2019 and into the entire past decade.
  • Each resolution involves focusing on being absolutely present and more positive.
  • The “One-Word 365” approach can be expanded with multiple words that collaborate toward a resolution philosophy for the year.

Perhaps you’ve also noted that this reflection about New Year’s resolutions comes after the new year has already begun. My resolutions are not fully developed yet. This brings in a significant lesson I’ve learned over my many years of making resolutions: Don’t force them. Instead, pray about them. Reflect on them. Let the Holy Spirit lead you down the path of God’s will.

Be Teachable: Taking Advice

December 4, 2018

Learning From Mistakes

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was young (teenager up to age 30) was failing to be teachable, especially in the area of taking advice. I remember my mom encouraging me once to learn from her mistakes. My response, “I want to make my own mistakes.” I know… stupid.

I’ve since realized the immense value of learning from others, of taking advice forged in the depths of consequences. I see reminders of this value throughout the Bible, and they always encourage me to stay willing to receive advice from others.

Taking Advice

Let’s look at a few verses in Proverbs 13 for insight into how taking advice is beneficial. By no means is this all the Bible has to say about taking advice, but it’s a good start.

“Pride leads to arguments. Those who take advice are wise.” (v. 10)

“People who despise advice will find themselves in trouble; those who respect it will succeed.” (v. 13)

“The advice of the wise is like a life-giving fountain; those who accept it avoid the snares of death.” (v. 14)

“If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept criticism, you will be honored.” (v. 18)

My initial observations/thoughts/application points after reading these verses are:

  • Notice the role pride plays in distracting us from receiving advice.
  • We are to respect advice, not necessarily follow every piece of it.
  • Who we receive advice from is important.
  • Advice sometimes comes in the form of criticism.

When I combine these reflections with my experiences in receiving advice along with other Scripture on the topic (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15, 19:20 & James 1:5), I realize the importance of listening to the advice that comes my way. It’s not always accurate, but it is always worth hearing out and storing for future reference.

As a young person, I failed to listen to the advice of those older than me and instead relied on my own feelings or on the advice of those my age who also acted mostly based on feelings. As a result, I ended up making the same types of mistakes that Rehoboam made (1 Kings 12:6-8). Age isn’t always important when it comes to the source of advice; however, experience does matter and can play a tremendous role in the value of advice.

Be Teachable

Taking advice and learning from the experiences of others is just one example of how to be teachable. Being teachable also involves listening, asking for help, and pursuing wisdom.

Are you good at receiving advice from others? In what ways are you teachable? How can you become more teachable? I encourage you to spend time prayerfully considering these questions and determine to cultivate a teachable spirit.

In my eclectic article reading, I came across one that said the likelihood of the existence of aliens has not been ruled out by science. However, if there is intelligent, alien life like what we see in the movies, they likely wouldn’t bother with us. They would be so much more intelligent that it would be like if humans were to invade an anthill for the resources it would provide.

After telling my sons about this article, my youngest said…

“What if we’re the aliens? What if the meteor scientists say came 65 million years ago was really us coming to earth on a space ship from another planet?”

Of course, we don’t really believe this, but enjoy discussing creative ideas like this. The movies we enjoy watching together certainly fuel this activity too.

What’s coolest, though, is how talking about off-the-wall topics like this often fuels discussions about (or at least mentions of) Biblical topics too. It’s happened many times for us over the years.

“We actually are the aliens.”

After my son’s comment, I said something about how the Bible actually calls us aliens. Both my boys knew this already because I’ve said it before, but because they’re teenage boys, I repeated myself.

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

Verses related to this topic include John 15:18-19 & 17:16.

These verses stress that we are not to fit in with the culture around us, living like those who have not make Jesus their Lord. They get at the idea that this world is not our permanent home, and we are not to give in to what the flesh desires because it is often not what the soul needs.

These verses encourage Christians to live Godly lives in a pagan (one that doesn’t adhere to the Bible) society. Such a timely message for two teenage boys, one wanting to finish out his high school years in victory and the other in the midst of adapting to the very worldly culture at college.

Now that I think about it, when isn’t it a timely message?

For more in-depth discussion and application points on this topic,
check out the post Aliens Among Us.

Reset Your Focus

May 8, 2018

What’s Your Focus?

Lost and a wrong focus happens to everyone from time to time. Busyness. Illness. Distraction. Details differ, but everyone struggles with keeping focus on what God desires for their life.

“If you do not change your direction, you may end up where you are heading.” (Lao Tzu)

Think of this quote in terms of focus.

  • What are you focused on?
  • What’s the ultimate goal of your life?
  • Where are you headed?
  • Is this really the focus you want?
  • Is it really the focus God wants for you?

Thinking about focus in terms of a whole life direction and then within each area (personal, professional, physical, spiritual, mental) of life is crucial for determining attitudes actions and words on a daily basis.

Reset Your Focus

Changing the direction in which you’re going (i.e. changing your focus) requires deliberate effort. If you don’t care where you’re going or what you’re focusing on, then do nothing. Something will grab your attention without any effort. But if you care, keep reading.

Focus determines reality. Change focus, change reality.

Resetting your focus in any area of life involves evaluating and then carefully choosing how you focus in three ways.

1. Make sure your actions and focus align.

The direction you’re going is determined by the decisions you make. Identify any misalignment (lost focus) by looking at your daily decisions. Do your actions reflect the focus you want? If not, make decisions that change and redirect those actions.

2. Make sure your words reflect your focus.

Words direct what people think about you. Even more significant, words direct how you think about yourself. If you’re self-deprecating, you won’t think highly of yourself and other people won’t either. How you talk about yourself will be reflected in your actions and decisions. Change the words you use by changing what you allow to influence your thinking (people, what you read, how much time you spend on your phone, etc.).

3. Make sure you’re solution focused not problem focused.

Do you constantly talk and act as if you’re a victim of circumstances? Think of it this way… who isn’t a victim of circumstance? A problem-focused person will focus on what happened to them and probably how unfair it was. A solution-focused person will focus on what they can do and say about their circumstances. They’ll look at what they need to do to make progress. They realize that circumstances may affect them in unavoidable ways, but they don’t have to define them.

Resetting your focus requires focusing on solutions and how they can bring you closer to your goals and keep you focused on what God has set before you to be and accomplish. It means taking action after prayerfully searching for answers.

Every day is full of opportunity. Choose your focus each and every day by using that opportunity to become and do what God has set in your heart.

“A man’s mind plans his way [as he journeys through life], but the Lord directs his steps and establishes them.” (Proverbs 16:9, AMP)

Want to delve deeper into this important concept of focus? Check out these other posts & resources on the topic!