Resolutions

It’s that time of year again – when we resolve to do things differently. This year’s resolutions are much the same as every other year: save more money, eat healthier, exercise more, stress less. And the year started out well. At least for the first week or so, then the wagon ride started to get a little bumpy. And by now I have not only fallen off of the wagon, but gotten run over by it as well. You would think I would learn. Every year I do the same thing, and every year I fail.

Each year I resolve to change something about myself or my life and I plan and I prepare and I do what I can to solidify my willpower to make these changes. But isn’t it this same will of mine that doesn’t want to cook supper, so I go out and buy it instead? Isn’t it this same will that wants to eat the cupcakes and sleep just a little longer instead of exercise? How can I expect to be successful when I am empowering the very thing that causes me to do the actions in the first place? Didn’t Jesus Himself say that a house divided can not stand (Mark 3:25)? It makes no sense to ask my will to go against itself to affect change. I can no more change my will than I can change my skin color. So do I just give up then?

I may not be able to change myself, but there is One who can. He has already miraculously changed many parts of my life. I know that. He has saved me from destruction and set my feet on a straight path. He has given me access to His mighty power. And He has instructed me that if I am faithful in the little things, then I will be faithful with much (Luke 16:10). Is it possible that God has given me access to His resurrection power and asked me to use it in these little things? Wouldn’t we all like to see someone raised from the dead? God has given us this power, but we must practice using it. In every other area of my life I am trying to become less so that Christ can become greater (John 3:30). I surrender my will to Him. But here in this part of my life I am still holding on tightly to my will. My way. I have not surrendered it to Him. It is still dead in sin. It is like this part of my life is Lazarus, buried in the tomb, and I can hear the voice of Jesus calling me out, but instead of heading to the light I am stuffing the cracks at the door with cupcakes. I am happy here in the dark, with my cupcakes. But while I may be afraid of leaving my cupcakes behind, I must remember that God has never taken me from something that He hasn’t replaced with something so much better.

And isn’t it just like the enemy to keep us down in these little areas? After all, he makes us think that they don’t matter. God didn’t really say that I could never eat a cupcake did He? But perhaps he works so hard at keeping us from accessing God’s power to see miracles in these areas of our lives because he knows that if we would be faithful here, he wouldn’t be able to stop us when we access God’s power in the bigger things!

Perhaps then I must change my resolutions. I resolve to know Christ and the power of His resurrection (Phil 3:10a). I will press on because He has so much more ahead for me. I will surrender to Him in this area too and experience His power changing my life again. I will meditate on His word for encouragement:

Phil 3:7-14: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

 

Joy Killer

I am sure that we are all familiar with those situations when something bad is taking place and we hit our knees in desperation, crying out to God, and then He answers and the situation is solved and we go back to our happy lives. But what about those situations that linger? God may be working, but the answer is not immediate. How do we feel then? When our loved one takes another bad turn in their illness, when our child comes home only to clean us out for their next fix, when our own pain makes us question all aspects of our lives – how do we feel then? Don’t we have the right to be upset? Angry? Discouraged? Depressed? Our complete lack of control in these circumstances sends our emotions into chaos. Maybe life has dealt us a nasty hand – it would only be natural to harden our hearts and pile on the layers of self pity and cry, “whoa is me!”

That is the natural reaction of our flesh to these situations. But we are not alone – we have God. Does knowing God mean that I am going to feel happy instead? Wouldn’t that seem like I am saying that I am happy that my loved one is sick, or my child is lost into the world of drugs, or that I am in pain (emotional or physical)? Perhaps I am not using the right words here. I don’t know that anyone could feel “happy” in any of these situations. But must we be defeated? It doesn’t make sense that the God who promised us “abundant life” would want these circumstances to leave us wallowing in the mire. What is the answer then? It is found in who we believe God to be. If God is not capable of intervening in your life, and allows the world to evolve without His influence or purpose, then perhaps you are out of luck. But since we know that God is powerful and present and purposeful and passionate about His people, then we have hope. We can trust Him in these situations to bring about His greater purposes. We can experience joy even in the worst of it.

Psalm 33 speaks of the works of God. How He created the world and watches over His people. It reminds us to praise Him. And to trust. Verses 20-22 state, “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.” We hope, we trust and our hearts find joy. Doubt and fear and despair are joy killers. They all come when we take our eyes off of the Lord. But when we place our hope in Him, we have joy – even in the ugliest circumstances.

Joy is not feeling “happy.” Rick Warren defines joy this way: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all of the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” Even though we may want to just stop and bury our heads in the sand, we can go on living. We can trust God. We can choose to keep our eyes on the One that is in control. Today I will praise Him for what He has done for me, and what He will do. My story will be about Him and His kindness, not about me.

 

The Buzz

I get included in group chats fairly regularly on social media. Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out how to leave a  group chat. This means that every response from every person results in a “buzz” on my phone. This can become really annoying after a while! I have grown to dislike being included in these conversations for this reason.

Recently, I was included in another group chat that was a prayer request. The phone was “buzzing” so much it nearly fell off of the counter. I was shaking my head at it when I realized something: each “buzz” represented someone who believed that God could intervene! Each one had had at least one experience with God that proved His power and His love! What a testimony! And it would include more than just those responding, as there are some, like me, who don’t respond but do actually pray. All of a sudden the “buzz” which a minute ago I was finding annoying, was now a beautiful song of praise to our Almighty God! As I marveled at the realization, I began to praise God for all of the ways He has impacted those respondents; thankful that He is so generous with His mercy and grace and miraculous power. God is good!

It underscored again the simplicity of our faith. We are in a relationship with a living, caring, powerful Being. Our faith is not based on rules and religion, but on experiencing the love of God through a relationship with Him. If knowing God results in a “buzz” praise song, then religion would be a “buzz” kill. Jesus came because He loved us. He died because He loved us. And He lives because He loves us! It need not be any more complicated than that.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

The Storm

It has always been my experience that as soon as I step out to do something for the Lord, I seem to suffer negative consequences. This week has been no exception. Not long ago I shared a part of my story and what God has done for me with a large crowd. This past week I have experienced issues with my health, my extended family have been affected and even my dog!

Sometimes I wonder if it is like those prophets and preachers of old that would go to a city to proclaim Christ and be dragged out and stoned for it. Now, my battle is not against flesh and blood though – it is definitely a spiritual assault. While I can feel the sting of the storm as it sprays in my face and the darkness can give the illusion of being alone, my feet are still firmly placed on the Rock. I couldn’t imagine walking through this without the peace and strength that comes from knowing Jesus. And I am so grateful that I don’t have to! God is bigger and more powerful than any storm that comes my way. And no matter what happens, the storm cannot move me from my Foundation. The fact that this happens at all makes me think that I must have done something right! Otherwise the enemy wouldn’t feel the need to bother me. So, I can also take refuge in that.

I am not sure that I would say I am joyful though as the following passage states:

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”(James 1:2-4)
It is funny how I automatically think of “lacking nothing” as being wealthy. But worldly wealth runs out and does not automatically come with wisdom. However, having a firm and clear connection to God Almighty will grant me endless access to everything and anything I could possibly need, including power, wisdom, peace, strength and provision. It seems that in these storms I am more likely to access these things from my Heavenly Father. Perhaps if I were more proactive in the calm, I would experience less storms? Just a thought.
No matter where you are today, know that God is all you need. Reach for Him. Hold on tight. He is your anchor in the storm.

The Mustard Seed

I spent some time praying with and for some wonderful women the other night. But it wasn’t long before I was overwhelmed by the idea that my prayers weren’t good enough. I remember those thoughts from before: I am not a good enough wife; I am not a good enough mother; I am not a good enough friend. And here I am with the words ringing in my ears: I am not a good enough Christian to be helping anyone. My prayers aren’t powerful; they aren’t eloquent; they aren’t very “fervent.” All I could do was give a little love and call on the name of Jesus.

While I was berated by these thoughts the Lord broke through. He reminded me of the mustard seed. You remember it from Matt 17:20 when Jesus tells them, “if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” So then I say, “But God! What if my faith isn’t enough to move the mountain?” Then He said, it is not your faith (and the size of it) that moves the mountain. It is that little speck of faith that brings you to Me. I move the mountain!

When I am faithful to bring others to Jesus, it is Him who moves in them to heal and to deliver and to save. It is not my awesomeness that does it. It is His. I am only an extension of His hands and feet. I demonstrate His love, and He does the rest. Thank God! If peoples deliverance and salvation was dependent on me, we would all be in trouble! But it is not. I do not save. The Saviour saves. If I can do nothing other than cry out the name of Jesus,  I have still opened access to the Almighty God!

There is power in the name of Jesus. There is no more eloquent, powerful or fervent prayer than to simply call on His name.

 

 

Unfinished

I have been facing a new challenge these days. Over the last few months there have been hints of its presence but this past week it reared its ugly head. There was no more denying it. My reaction was typical: “Why me?” I went through the usual emotions – anger, grief, depression, desperation. And then it occurred to me that clearly I was not getting anywhere on my own. I headed to my room and bowed my head. I laid it all before the Lord and cried. I prayed that God would help me to accept what was happening. Almost immediately I was surrounded with an immense sense of peace and was assured that this was not happening TO me, as if I were being punished. Instead, it was simply happening. And God was going to use it to make my life better. He said that even though it seems bad, He is in it. He has a greater purpose. It was weird to go from crying about something to joy, but I did. God loves me enough to keep making my life better! He isn’t done with me yet! I am so grateful for His hand!

He encouraged me with His words:

Romans 8:28

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
Phil 1:6
“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”
and sealed it with a song,

Contentment

I own a 2007 Nissan Altima. I have had it a couple of years because we needed a second car to get us to the places we need to go. My primary car is a 2005 Toyota Corolla. I bought it new in 2005 and have never had an issue with it. Occasionally, we look at the website for a new car thinking that soon we will likely need to replace the old one, but have always postponed the decision. Recently the Altima has started to act up. It has automatic windows (one of which has never worked) and one night two of the windows spontaneously put themselves down (including the broken one). We had an awful time trying to get the broken one back up as it doesn’t work. But thank God for duct tape! We started to wonder if now is the time to look for a new car. We looked over the new Corollas online and even planned to go see some in person. But we didn’t. The issue is that because of our current financial priorities, we can’t afford a car payment right now. And I knew that if we went, we would buy. Instead, we presented the situation to the Lord and have asked Him to keep these cars working until our commitments are completed.

God reminded me of Paul’s statements about contentment in Phil chapter 4:

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (11-13 NKJV)

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (11-13 NIV)

I looked this up in both versions to understand verse 13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I have often used that verse for strength in difficult circumstances, but never really connected it to contentment. Here Paul tell us that I can be content because Christ gives me strength. Usually I am begging God to change my circumstances and fighting against them. I pray for strength to endure. I don’t generally pray for strength to be content in it.

God most certainly has the power to change my circumstances. But perhaps He delays for a reason. How would my perspective change if I asked Him for the strength to be content? How then could He use me in this present situation? The money that I am saving from not having a car payment I plan to use to God’s glory. But what about everyday things? What if I were content at my job? What if when that guy pulls out in front of me on Salisbury Road and then proceeds to drive 48km/hr, I take this extra time that I have to pray for him instead of curse him? Maybe God put him there for a reason.

Where do I need strength today to be content? This is the place and the day that God has given to me. There is a reason. God is always at work. If perhaps I could get my mind off of all the ways I am unsatisfied, God might be able to start to use me. God promises to supply all my needs. I don’t need to be anxious about anything. So today I ask for strength to be content exactly where I am. I will rejoice in the Lord, my heart will be thankful and I will be willing to be used for His glory. Let His will be done!

Retainers

My daughter got her braces off yesterday. The dentist showed her before and after pictures of her teeth. She was amazed by the difference. The rest of the day she went around with a big grin. She was so happy to be free of the braces and the pain associated and she knew that she looked good. Such a beautiful smile! The dentist gave her a retainer to wear at night. It is important to wear it everyday to keep the teeth where they are. I have known many adults who have had braces in the past and many of them eventually stopped using their retainer. As a result, their teeth slowly began to shift back to their original places. Now they didn’t go back entirely, but the difference was far less dramatic. And all of them regret it.

The same can be said of us. We come to salvation and the Lord does a mighty work in our lives. We are filled with joy and praise for God is always on our lips. In order to retain our lives in strength, joy, and victory, we must be diligent to use the tools the Lord has given to us: prayer and Bible reading. We start out well, but over time, we get distracted and eventually we begin to believe that this new life is our norm and we really don’t need to keep using our “retainers.” Slowly our lives start to shift back, old habits start to creep in, and our light dims. When we are faced with difficult situations, we don’t have the strength to fight, we can’t find our joy and victories turn to defeat.

We are taught in Colossians and 2 Peter, that there is work to do after salvation:

“As you have therefore received Christ Jesus as 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.”. (Col 2:6-7)

“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.” (2 Peter 1:5-9)

Sometimes, we need to dig out the “before” and “after” pictures of our lives and remember what God has done for us. Then, we will recognize that we need the “retainers.”  My life was fraught with fear, depression, chaos and desperation. Now I have peace, joy, and contentment. Do I want to slide back or do I want to continue in victory? God has given me the tools that I need to be victorious everyday. He has no desire to see me fail, but will meet me as soon as I dust them off. I am so grateful for His faithfulness! What has God done for you?

The Cheerleader

I went to the park today to watch my son run in the first practice of the district meet. There were lots of kids running from lots of schools. As I waited for my son, I sat in the shade of a tree near the last leg of the course. As I watched, you could see the kids coming. Some were exhausted, some discouraged, some strong, but all were confused when they got to this point of the run. Here the track turned and was marked off by little pylons to go through a grassy knoll before they reached the finish line. The problem was that the kids hadn’t run this course before and they didn’t know that they had to run a little farther. Many of them saw the crowds of parents hanging about and thought that the race was over. They would slow down or even stop running. As one lady saw what was happening, she took it upon herself to direct them as they came by. It didn’t matter if it was her child coming or the kids from her favorite school, she simply stepped out as she saw any child and started cheering them on. She would call out, “You’re almost there, just a little further! Run through the pylons, keep going!” As I watched her I couldn’t help but cry. I felt foolish tearing up in a public park while I was just sitting there waiting, but I was overwhelmed by the idea that we all need that cheerleader in our lives.

Some of us have run strong and are simply confused about what direction to go from here. Some of us have the energy to carry on, but not the will as life has left us discouraged and hopeless. Then there are the rest of us, who have given the race our all and have simply run out of steam. All we want to do is stop so we can toss our cookies along the side of the track. Without the cheerleader, none of us may actually complete the race or win the prize. It reminded me of the encouragement we find in the scriptures:

Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

And Paul’s charge to Timothy:

2 Tim 4: 2-3a, 5-8: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.  For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

We all have been given a race to run. We must gather the strength now to press on and sprint to the finish. As my son was coming up to this last leg of the course, his friend, who had finished the race ahead of him, ran back to find him and run with him to encourage him to press on. Can’t you hear the voice of the Spirit calling out, “You’re almost there! Keep going!”? Don’t you feel Him running with you when you are about to give up? There is an urgency is His voice to pick up the pace. But sometimes we don’t hear Him. Sometimes the negative thoughts or the noise in our heads or the cookies in our tummies drown out the voice of the Lord. Sometimes we need God to speak through someone who will hold our hair back on the side of the trail.

Paul admonishes us in Hebrews 10: 23-25 and 36-37:

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.””

Time is limited. There may not be second chances or opportunities to pray for someone, to reach out to someone, to encourage someone to keep fighting, or to tell someone of the good news of Christ. Seize the day. Lift your eyes to Jesus and press on. The finish line is in sight. Don’t give up! You’re almost there!

No Room for Jesus

When we were in prayer last week, the Lord brought to mind a song that I sang many years ago in church at Christmastime. It was called, No Room. The second verse and chorus go like this:

No sweet consecration, no seeking His part, No humiliation, no place in the heart; No thought of the Saviour, no sorrow for sin, No prayer for His favor, no room in the inn.

No room, no room for Jesus, O give Him welcome free, Lest you should hear at Heaven’s gate, “There is no room for thee.”

He also reminded me of a recent conversation where someone was stating that all religions are the same, we all believe in God, etc. And my response was, “But you are forgetting about Jesus!”

Paul in 1 Corinthians 15: 1-8 tells us:

“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

This is our gospel – our good news!

He also goes on in vs 14 and 17-19:

“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

Christ is the crux of our faith. There is no hope without Him!

In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 he says:

“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”

I find it remarkable how quickly I can lose sight of Jesus. Whether through laziness, distraction or deception, my life suddenly seems to run out of room for Jesus. I start to operate in my own human wisdom and fall back into religious tradition. As a result, my faith has no power, and when I am attacked by the evil one, I am unable to stand.

I am grateful to our pastor who, this past Sunday, delivered a passionate message reminding us that our battle is not against flesh and blood, and appealed to us to wake up and take up the fight!

I must determine to push through the haze that blinds me to my need for Jesus and God’s power every day in my life. I must fight to make room for Him and the time to cultivate my relationship with Him. Without Him I am weak, my focus becomes misdirected and my compassion for others and their salvation disappears. Satan would like nothing more than to keep me in this stupor.

Just think – if the church at large is under the same spell, what would happen if the sleeping giant awoke? What magnificent demonstrations of God’s power might begin to be seen by the world? Time is running out. The battle is on. We must take up the fight and it begins by making room for Jesus!