Title, Deed, and Ownership

Title-DeedsWhen I woke up this morning, to the rhythm and words of an old gospel hymn.  The four-line chorus reminded me of a precious truth:

Now I belong to Jesus,

Jesus belongs to me,

Not for the years of time alone,

But for eternity.


Of the 19 words in that refrain, the word belong stood out more than the rest.  It occurred to me that when you belong to Jesus, you should be longing for a relationship with Him.

During a debate with some skeptics, Jesus spoke of the key to this relationship: The one who belongs to God listens and responds to God’s words. You don’t listen and respond, because you don’t belong to God (John 8:47).

When you listen and respond to God’s words it’s evidence that you belong to God, and it’s the first note in a harmonious relationship with Him.  Paul spoke of this relationship, and who you are in Jesus:

  • Ephesians 1:7—In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace
  • Ephesians 1:11—In Him also we have obtained an inheritance
  • Ephesians 3:12—We have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.
  • Colossians 2:9-10—As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving, and you are complete in Him

When the feelings of doubt and despair try to take root in your heart, remember that you belong to Jesus.  His desire is to have a relationship with you, and He will watch over you as a shepherd does his flock.

 

Psalm 100:2-4

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!

Serve the Lord with gladness;

Come before His presence with singing.

Know that the Lord, He is God;

It is He who has made us, and we belong to Him;

We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,

And into His courts with praise.

Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.

The Fruit of the Faithful

lipsIf you’ve ever seen me in the fruit section of the grocery store, you may have noticed that I’m picky when I’m picking my apples.  I’m not a grab-and-go any-apple-will-do kind of guy.  I’m selective; I want an apple that’s red, colorful, tasty, and juicy.

While the fruit section is known by its apples, Jesus said we are known by the fruit we bear.

In Hebrews 13:15 the writer said you should, “continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name.”  This is possible when you realize that God has “put a new song in your mouth, a song of praise to your God (Psalm 40:3).”

What does the fruit of your lips say about you?  Is your disposition sweet or sour? What about that song in your mouth?  Is it a harmony of blessings and compliments or complaints that are sharp and edgy?

After a series of skirmishes and near fatal incidences, David reflected on the presence of God during these difficult times, and he, “spoke to the Lord the words of this song, on the day when the Lord had delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. And he said:

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;

The God of my strength, in whom I will trust;

My shield and the horn of my salvation,

My stronghold and my refuge;

My Savior, You save me from violence.

I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;

So shall I be saved from my enemies.

David was on the Most Wanted Listed, and his enemies hated him.  Even when he was encircled by those who hated him the most, he knew the presence of God was his refuge. In this refuge, he would never be a fugitive from His grace.

God’s presence is an asylum for the assaulted, a retreat for the weary, and a sanctuary of mercy for the masses.

Celebrating the goodness of God when everything is going right is easy, but David knew that God was still present even in the darkest hours of his life.  It was after one of these dark moments and deadly battles that God placed a song in his heart, and David said:  I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised.

When was the last time you paused to give thanks to God and to sing to Him because He is worthy to be praised?  Giving thanks and praise, is the means through which you draw closer to God and increase your joy.

Depression: An Emotional Hole

A-5-Minute-by-Craig-SunterLife would be boringly bland if it were not for our emotions.  I’m thankful that I can scan the horizon of humanity and see faces of innocence framed in smiles that run from ear to ear.  What would a party be if a child never had the gift of joy when he unwrapped a toy?

Emotions are God’s gift to His creation, and I believe He intended for you to have a life filled with gigglicious moments—those times that are delicious with laughter.

When I think of emotions, I wonder about Adam and Eve.  They never had a second of sadness, and they were never disappointed; not, until they sinned and disobeyed God.  Their lives of delight were immediately overcome by fright and despair as they tried to hide from God.

The negative and debilitating emotions that Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden are the same feelings that still afflict thousands of people today.  Some research by the National Institute of Mental Health confirms this:

  • 60% of our fears are over things that will never happen.
  • 30% of our fears are focused on things that happened in the past
  • 90 % of our fears are somewhat insignificant
  • 88% of our fears are health-related (hypochondriacs)

The Anxiety and Depression Society of America has stated that anxiety disorders are the most common forms of mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population). Uncontrolled worry can have a debilitating effect on a person’s appetite, relationships, job performance, and sleep–all of which can be precursors to depression.

While your situation may be different from those of another person, the circumstances of life should not circumvent your emotional health.  Circumstances are external events that trigger an internal and emotional response.  Even though you cannot control all of the externals, you can learn to manage the internals.

The simple truth is that you either control your thoughts or they control you. A key means of controlling your thoughts is to be introspective with a proper perspective. This is a technique that is at least as old as the Apostle Paul, who said: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.”

It takes discipline and practice to make this a habit. This is because many people are born with a negative bias in the way they see life. Research indicates that the brain is more likely to focus on negative feelings instead of positive feelings. This has been referred to as the FUD Factor (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). When our thoughts are left unattended they wander into the wilderness of negativity and stumble into the cesspool of distress.

This is one reason Paul said that we need to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).” Some thoughts can be wonderfully captivating; however, others are so powerful in their negativity a person becomes a prisoner of his own mind.

When you give some thought to your pattern of thinking, you become aware of your self-talk; and, you can begin to identify it as wholesome conversation that builds your self-esteem and glorifies God or an attack on who you are in Christ.  When you begin to recognize the pattern of your thoughts, you’ve taken the first step into transformative thinking that will renew your mind (Romans 12:2).

Big Daddy Bad Day

02There’s no failsafe vaccine for it, and everyone who has ever lived has felt the crushing power of the vice-like grip of Big Daddy Bad Day.  The physical symptoms are nothing like the chills, sweats, and fever that typify malaria, nor the feigned symptoms of malingering. When Big Daddy slaps you down, you feel a nauseating surge of melancholy with its brooding sadness and boiling madness.

The moment you hear Big Daddy whisper in your ear, you need to tune him out, and shake him off before he shakes you down.  If you listen to these mendacious musings, you will succumb to feelings of worthlessness, and you’ll hear him as a voice within that accuses you of being dirty, a failure, a quitter, and unlovable.

These fits of unjustified self-accusing are akin to a-cussing that’s detrimental to your mental well-being.  If you let Big Daddy beat you up and get you on the ropes, he’ll chuckle as you buckle under the weight of his lies.

To beat him, you need to learn to bob and weave, and to counter punch.  When Big Daddy throws a jab that says you are unlovable, give him a stiff uppercut to the jaw with Jeremiah 31:3: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have drawn you with lovingkindness.”

If he tells you that you’re a worthless failure and quitter, hit with a heavy cross.  Your worth, value, and victory is found in Jesus, who is, “the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).”

By now Big Daddy is weak-kneed, so you can finish him off with a massive 4-1-3 hook found in the book of Philippians:  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (4:13).

The next time you hear the whispers of Big Daddy, stop him in his tracks by demolishing his arguments and false ideas, and his worrisome philosophy by taking every thought captive in obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Getting Through The Rough Times

roughtimesI’ve see it happen more than once:  A husband and wife stand side by side as they watch a raging fire engulf their home that housed a lifetime of memories.  I’ve heard them ask: “What will we do now.  How we will get through the loss of everything we’ve worked for?”

And bad news, there have been hundreds of times that I’ve had to inform a family that their loved one has died, and I’ve heard the lament: “How will I get through life without him?

Then, there is the dreaded “C” word.  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve sat in a hospital room and seen a friend sucker punched with the news that the diagnosis is cancer.  They almost always wonder aloud: “Is it rough going through the chemo treatments?”

There’s a key to getting through rough times.  If you focus on just the rough the door of possibilities slams shut and there’s no resolution to your heartache.  If, however, you focus on getting through, you open the door of possibilities and unleash the potential of God’s promises.

Rough times either make you or break you; they either make you better or bitter.

God is in the business of getting you through the rough times: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God (Isaiah 43:1-3).”

The key to manage your rough times is to “enter through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.

There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:1-5).” ~The Message

Closer Than You Think

GodIsCloserThanYouThink_480x340You’ve been there, or you know someone who has.  The sweet nectar of success has been replaced by a bitter taste and bad breath because the corporate carpet has been pulled out from under you.  Your coworkers no longer think of you as a friend, and they’re nervous when they see you.  They’re afraid your bad luck might be contagious.

No one seems to care, the phone calls have stopped, and you feel like you’re alone at the bottom of a dark pit of discouragement.  You hear a voice, but you’re not sure of the words.  Did it ask, “How is the view from down there?” Or, were the words, “It really isn’t too bad a view from down here.”

There’s a world of difference between “down there” and “down here,” and a wave of calm and comfort flows through you as you realize you’re not alone.  You never have been and you never will be.

In Acts 17, Paul said: “God gives everyone life, breath, and everything they have.  From one man he has made every nation of humanity to live all over the earth. He has given them the seasons of the year and the boundaries within which to live.  He has done this so that they would look for God, somehow reach for him, and find him. In fact, he is never far from any one of us.  Certainly, we live, move, and exist because of him.”

The bright lights might get a bit dim; your hope might get a little bruised; and, in the moment the powerful promises could lose their glamor; but, God is not absent.

As a man who was well acquainted with times of sorrow and joy, David contemplated God’s presence:

“Can I go anywhere apart from Your Spirit? Is there anywhere I can go to escape Your watchful presence? If I go up into heaven, You are there. If I make my bed in the realm of the dead, You are there. If I ride on the wings of morning, if I make my home in the most isolated part of the ocean, even then You will be there to guide me; Your right hand will embrace me, for You are always there. Even if I am afraid and think to myself, “There is no doubt that the darkness will swallow me, the light around me will soon be turned to night,” You can see in the dark, for it is not dark to Your eyes. For You the night is just as bright as the day. Darkness and light are the same to Your eyes.” ~Psalm 139

You’re not alone; Jesus promised to never leave you or forsake you.

Fillings or Feelings

Dental_Cleaning_325wGenerally speaking, people have very little trouble distinguishing between fillings and feelings.  I know of one particular incident, however, when the two were confused.  My youngest brother was listening to a discussion on how a person’s feelings had been hurt.  Eager to participate, he gave a big smile and said:  “I have feelings too, see,” and then he pointed to the fillings in his mouth.

The gnawing truth is that both fillings and feelings are directly connected to something that is missing.  In the case of fillings, part of a tooth is missing, so a dentist fills the tooth.  Feelings, on the other hand, can be more of a challenge.  The emptiness related to them are emotional in nature.

A person may feel empty because of grief, a self-esteem issue, or disappointment. The solution involves more than just an injection and the mixing of a composite resin to fill a tooth.  The need is a relationship and not more resin:

  • If your feelings have drained you and you’re running on fumes, it might give you some consolation to think of God as “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles ( 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).”
  • If you’re struggling with a major decision, James 1:5 can be reassuring: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, . . . and it will be given to him.”
  • If you’re worn out, you can find the strength you need because “the Lord will give strength to His people (Ps. 29:11).”
  • If your life seems dry and barren, a relationship with Jesus may be what you need: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
  • If you have a gnawing hunger that you can’t seem to satisfy, you may be eating the wrong bread. Jesus said:  “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more (John 6).”

You may have gone through life as the kid nobody wanted on their team; as the person who could never make it to the first chair in the school band; the singer who was always off key; or, the wilted flower on a piece of outdated wallpaper.  If so, I’ve have some good news for you.  Jesus said: “The Father gives me the people who are mine. Every one of them will come to me, and I will always accept them (John 6:37).”  There are no exceptions: Jesus loves you, accepts you, and He always will.

The Misery Index

close up of a heart shape with bandage on white background

Whether you call them “parting comments” or “footnotes,” Paul makes some interesting statements as he concludes his letter to the Thessalonians.  The first of these statements is, “Be at peace among yourselves (5:13).”  Paul is urging the members of this church to be at peace with fellow members of the church.

If you’re not at peace with yourself, it’s difficult to be at peace with another person; and if you’re not at peace with God, it is difficult to be at peace with yourself.

Paul also urges these people to “rejoice always (5:16).”   Joyfulness is an important component of life, and Paul linked it with love, peace, longsuffering, and kindness when he spoke of the fruit of the Spirit.

The greater your inner joy, the more likely you are to love people, to be kind, and to be longsuffering—Even Nehemiah knew that “the joy of the Lord is your strength (8:10).”

The third statement that Paul makes emphasizes the importance of prayer:  “Pray without ceasing (5:17).”  Obviously you can’t pray continually, but you can go through the day in an attitude of prayer.  There can be miniscule moments of time when you praise God or give Him thanks for a blessing.  There will be times when you find yourself thinking of some person or a specific need, and you can offer a voiceless prayer that only God hears.

There’s another item that Paul urges these people to do:  “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (5:18).”  To understand this verse, you need to comprehend the difference between “in all” and “for all.”  Paul didn’t say that you’re to give thanks for “all things,” but “in all things.

When you give thanks “in all things,” you’re embracing the hope you have in Jesus Christ; and, your focus is not so much on the here and now of your pain, but on the there and then of future blessings.

The path of trials and tragedies was a route that Paul often traveled. If you’re following in his footsteps, you might find some comfort in his practical theology for life:

Thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he is our Father and the source of all mercy and comfort. For he gives us comfort in our trials so that we in turn may be able to give the same sort of strong sympathy to others in theirs. Indeed, experience shows that the more we share Christ’s suffering the more we are able to give of his encouragement. This means that if we experience trouble we can pass on to you comfort and spiritual help; for if we ourselves have been comforted we know how to encourage you to endure patiently the same sort of troubles that we have ourselves endured. We are quite confident that if you have to suffer troubles as we have done, then, like us, you will find the comfort and encouragement of God.  ~2 Corinthians 1:3-5

A Shelter For A Helter Skelter World

birdTo say the world can be a mess is not an understatement.  Life is lived at such a fast pace, you may have gone to bed last night feeling overwhelmed and got up this morning still in a daze.

When you’re seeking a refuge of safety and rest, Psalm 91 is a wonderful passage of Scripture:

He who takes refuge in the shelter of the Most High
    will be safe in the shadow of the Almighty.
 He will say to the Eternal, “My shelter, my mighty fortress,
    my God, I place all my trust in You.”
Like a bird protecting its young, God will cover you with His feathers,   He will protect you under His great wings; His faithfulness will form a shield around you, a rock-solid wall to protect you.

You only have to look at the pages of Scripture to find examples of God intervening in the lives of His children.  Joseph, as an example,  lived through a series of hardships and trials.  At the end of his life he said people had planned things for evil, but God had planned them for good.

Like Joseph, you need to take an eternal perspective on life.  The weight of the present heartache or trial can skew your perspective on the future; however, when you look from the present back through history, you can often see how your life has been more than just the victim of circumstances.

Benefit from the opportunity that you have.  Don’t refuse the refuge–find comfort in the shelter of God.

Daring and Desperate Determination

When you read the Old and New Testaments together, you will find some companion verses.  These Scriptures complement each other.  Even though there are hundreds of years between the times of their writing, they state the same timeless truths.

Notice the words of the Psalmist and the Savior:

  • Psalm 37:4: Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.
  • Matthew 6:33: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Do you “delight” yourself in the Lord as much as you delight yourself in your children and grandchildren?  Do you seek God’s kingdom and righteousness as much as you pursue your passions in life?

I think of these verses when I read the story of a woman in Matthew 15.   She cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is possessed by a demon. Have mercy, Lord!”

customoko-its-time-to-have-bold-faith-kids-tshirt-featured-imageThis woman was persistent and kept on seeking and asking and knocking until she got the attention of Jesus and His disciples.  This woman was daring, desperate, and determined in her quest to request divine intervention on behalf of her daughter.

Because of her faith, Jesus responded and blessed her with the desires of her heart.  How daring and determined are you in your life of faith?