Muscle Building

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 
1 Corinthians 9:25

I’ve been a member of various gyms over the years.  Each time, after that initial enthusiasm of “this time I’m going to become a flat stomached, toned armed, no jiggle mama” I fell into a boring workout routine.  And then I found excuses to not go to the gym – I was tired, I worked late, I didn’t sleep well, my kids needed me for something, etc.  Next thing I knew the gym was making money off a person that wasn’t even using their services.  

For some of us, at one time or another, our faith life and studying and living out His Word fell into that same pattern.  There were times when my on-line giving to my church showed up a heck of a lot more times than my physical body.

Running is a fitting pace for a believer. Jesus Christ deserves that we should run for him. 

Charles Spurgeon, The Unwearied Runner

How many of us got up this morning and thought, “I need to get in my God workout today so I can be ready to win that race!”?  We may not see our studies of His Word like a workout but that’s what it really is.  The “prize” is the ability to carry through the days of our lives as Christians who take full advantage of the fruits of His spirit.

Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  
1 Corinthians 9:26-27

There are a few keys to successfully training for a big race or event and those same keys work for keeping our faith life active and effective.

Have a Plan

A plan is not, “I’m going to study the Bible” or “I’m going to be a good person today.”  A plan IS something that is measurable and specific.   For awhile I thought the Bible was something I just opened up to a random spot and expected to be told all the answers to a problem.  And although God does set before us scripture we need we also need to be able to figure out the true meaning.  A specific plan might be to pick one book of the Bible and find a five week study on it and do the study at a certain time each day.  Another plan might be to commit to one God-directed behavioral change like smiling and saying “have a great day” to 10 people each day for the next month.  Ask God to help you with your plan and He will surely answer!

Be Consistent

Any devotee of fitness will tell you that consistency, consistency, consistency is what builds endurance.  So even when you go on vacation you find a way to stick with your plan.  Just last year I started packing my devotional book when I travelled.  I brought my Bible study booklets on the plane to keep up with the chapters.  Each time we want to make an excuse for falling off our plan we need to remind ourselves of the benefits.  When I don’t want to go for a walk I remember the feeling I have when I am done – happy and satisfied that I cared for my body.  When we don’t want to take the time with God we must remember how that centering time helps us throughout the rest of our day.

To run is to be diligent. We should hardly call that running in which a man starts and stops, and starts and stops again. In some Christian works we are painfully conscious that the persons undertaking them, if they ever run, run only for a very short time.  

Charles Spurgeon, The Unwearied Runner

Shake it Up

When I was training for the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day I walked five to seven miles a day five days a week.  Occasionally, I would throw in a 14 mile walk.  I set aside most of a day to accomplish that walk.  And in our faith lives we need that same occasional change.  It might be that we go to a different church that has different music.  Maybe we move our morning devotional to the outside and watch the sunrise.  Or we write out our prayers for the day on sticky notes and put them around the house.

Don’t Try to Do It All at Once

A good overall workout plan focuses on different parts of our body on different days.  My daughter once was on a swim team.  Some days were “land days.”  On those days they ran.  In the pool they practiced endurance on certain days and others it was technique.  I have a lot of behavioral changes I need to make to align myself closer to Christ.  And if I think about fixing them all at once it’s overwhelming.  So, I ask God to help me with just one thing at a time.

Rest

There are always rest days in a workout routine.  Time to let our muscles re-group.  The same is true with studying the Word.  You might think that’s Sunday – but that’s another day of study, isn’t it?  Hearing the Word from our pastors, taking notes, and being challenged to go out into the world is part of our workout plan.  For me, my rest from study is Saturday.  I’ll read a devotional to get me focused for the day and that’s it.  Yes, I put into practice the different lessons I’ve learned for the week.  But I also just rest in the beauty of God.

So run that ye may obtain. So run that the great cloud of witnesses may applaud. So run that the King may say, “Ye did run well.” 

Charles Spurgeon, The Unwearied Runner

Our days here are short.  If we chose to lollygag and be distracted by the world we miss out on all the glorious wonders of God.  If we strengthen our spiritual muscles through a consistent plan we can be God’s instruments for the day.  He will look upon us as fit warriors, ready for any heavy burden, ready to stand firm, ready to be his standard bearer.

I Call Him “Lord”

From the west, people will fear the 
name of the Lord, and from the rising 
of the sun, they will revere his glory. 
Isaiah 59:19 

I admit it.  I have a difficult time with authority.  I don’t like being told what to do and when to do it.  I’m not sure how this developed in me.  It’s not like, as a child, my parents encouraged me to question.  In fact, we weren’t to question at all for fear of punishment.  I’ve heard it said that we either grow up to be like our parents or work so desperately to be the opposite.  For me, I think I so wanted to be heard and to be “right” for once that the desire became my personality.

This desire has helped me in many ways.  At work I was always seen as someone with new solutions and ideas.  I could cut through red tape and simplify processes.  And until I garnered some maturity, I did all that like a bull in a china shop.  But this way of living life can make it difficult to submit, especially to a force that is unseen.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of 
knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and 
instruction.  
Proverbs 1:7

When you read Proverbs the very first words are about wisdom and instruction.  And sure, we can study our Bibles, listen intently to our pastors while scribbling notes in our Bibles but true submission to our Lord is more than that.

For a long time, I really just didn’t understand the concept of “fearing the Lord” and submission.  Of course, given my nature it wasn’t like I was interested in the first place.  I also wonder how many pastors these days even talk about “fearing God?”

If God is love, then why does He command us to fear Him? The fear of the Lord isn’t about being afraid of God; it’s about revering Him above all else. When we do that, we position ourselves to receive all the benefits that come with putting God first in our lives.

Dr. Charles Stanley

We humans are afraid of a lot of things – some of which we don’t even realize.  We fear being made fun of, we fear being left out, we fear being unloved.  I saw a movie that really brought this concept home called Defending Your Life.  The main character, played by Albert Brooks, is a worrier.  His fears become so overwhelming that he is stuck in a never-ending loop of inaction and regret.  And then he gets hit by a bus.  He finds himself in a waystation of sorts where he needs to defend the pitiful life he had on earth.  And he meets a wonderful woman played by Meryl Streep.  She’s opposite of him – jumped in on all that life had to offer.  

It struck me that our days are filled with decisions that are made either based on fear of the world or fear of God.  Do we go about our lives trying to keep our head down so the world and people around us won’t take issue with us?  Or do we acknowledge that our Lord is sovereign over all and He has behavioral and moral requirements of us?  Do we submit to the flesh or to the spirit?

Jesus calls us to his rest, and meekness is His method. The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort. 

A. W. Tozer, Pursuit of God

I’ve come to acknowledge that while it is okay to call Jesus, “Rabbi,” or teacher I also need to call Him, “My Lord.”  Because when I do it places Him above me, above all.  When I call Him, “My Lord,”  it means I need to submit to His will.  My fear comes in as a concern that I want to be sure to serve Him and Him alone.  Am I living a life that would please Him, not the world?

I don’t want to be like that Albert Brooks character when I face my Lord.  Full of regret for having missed opportunities to place God as my life director.  

I have a friend who is fascinated by all things British royal family.  She knows just about everything you’d want to know about the monarchy.  Shouldn’t we be that way about our one true Lord?  Sitting in awe at His feet.  Anxiously awaiting His orders.  At the ready to do His bidding.  Hoping to please Him at every turn.  And fearing His disappointment.

By faith Noah, when warned about things 
not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark 
to save his family.  
Hebrews 11:7

If there were ever a man who had a lot to fear when it came to being judged by the people around him it was Noah. I mean, what a lunatic! Building a giant boat with no water to be seen. His “holy fear” kept him aligned with the will of his Lord.

It’s so easy to fall into a humdrum world-centered life.  And it’s easy to make our prayer and worship life be rote.  But if we can just picture that each morning when we rise, we step into our Lord’s magnificently built palace.   Are you ready to approach His throne and submit to His Holy authority?  Are you sitting in awe at His feet today, marveling at His awesome power and might?  Let’s all sing at the top of our lungs today in worship of our Lord — and let the world tease us. We know who is smiling.

Fight or Flight

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the 
fiery ordeal that has come on you to test 
you, as though something strange were 
happening to you.  
1 Peter 4:12

I’d wanted to get my motorcycle license since I was 16 years old.  For any of you counting that’s about 37 years ago.  Back then, my mind and body were young and better equipped to handle the fast moving issues surrounding the dangers of riding.  So, when I finally made a lifelong dream come true, I decided to take a motorcycle safety class.  In order to pass the class, we were required to learn and practice a few emergency maneuvers.  In one situation we were to swerve, at a fairly fast speed, to the left and to the right in a tight “z.”  In another we had to learn how to safely make a quick stop.  In both, the decision had to be made in a blink of an eye to stay in the fight to be upright or to take flight from the bike.

The key to both safety maneuvers is where our focus lay – straight ahead.  Our tendency, as new riders, is to look down at the front wheel.  This is a sure fire way to crash, as I found out during one quick stop practice.

I’ve now been riding for about four years.  But it is in the back of my mind at all times that I’m not sure how I will react when faced with a real emergency.  I have the knowledge but not the wisdom of experience.  Will I stay in the fight or take flight?

Isn’t our faith journey a lot like that?

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, 
whenever you face trials of many kinds, because 
you know that the testing of your faith produces 
perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work 
so that you may be mature and complete, not 
lacking anything. 
James 1: 2-4

We, through our faith teachers and reading the Word, gather up our knowledge of God and how His son, Jesus, loves us so much.  But until we have faced an emergency, a faith testing, we cannot truly know how we will respond.

I think one of great crossroads in the New Testament is when Peter professes to Jesus that he will always stand by his friend.  And when the faith trial came, he fled.  Not once, not twice but, three times.  And we ask ourselves, what would we have done?

Peter had the knowledge of Jesus but not the wisdom of a faith tested.  And even after he realized the truth of the situation and witnessed Christ’s death, he still turned away for a time by going back to his old life of fishing rather than carrying out his friend’s commission.  

I’m so grateful that the one player in the story of humanity never takes flight from us – God.  He is the “long sufferer” in our thousands-year old journey.  At each turn where we have either forgotten or abandoned Him, God has stayed the course and given us grace.

I once was so angry with God that I made the decision to stop believing in Him.  I remember yelling up to the heavens, “I don’t trust you and I don’t believe in you anymore!”

I spent the next few weeks in a tug-o-war of sorts.  At one moment I would find myself arguing with God and then another reminding myself not to talk to someone I didn’t believe in.  And He never left me.

And let us run with perseverance the race 
marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, 
the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 
Hebrews 12:1-2

I’ve had minor emergencies while out on my motorcycle – cars swerving in front of me, lights quickly changing from green to red – where I’ve accessed that knowledge from my safety class.  It’s wisdom building.  And God has given me minor trials along the way.  With each opportunity to decide whether I stay upright, keeping my eyes firmly fixed on Jesus or to take flight, I build up my wisdom and faith muscles.

Peter, who although had the blessed opportunity to stand alongside Jesus for three years, had to face his own trials in order to fully mature from knowledge of God to having the wisdom and faith of His character and ways.  When he took his eyes off Jesus, he was given grace. Jesus returned to him over and over.

As Christ followers, we know the entire story from which draw upon.  And at every life emergency my hope is that we continue to stay upright with eyes fixed on Him.

Out of Our Minds

If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, 
it is for God; if we are in our right mind, 
it is for you.  
2 Corinthians 5:13

There’s a lot of criticism of Christians these days.  We get called any manner of names from freaks to racists and dumb to science deniers.  And we shouldn’t be surprised.  No one ever said this would be easy.

I wonder if that’s why so many people, including parents, choose not to share their faith?  Yes, I said including parents.  A friend of mine grew up with a mother who considers herself a Christian.  Yet she never shared her faith with her two daughters.  Never encouraged them to come to church.  Never explained what her faith meant to her.  I’ve heard parents say, “I’ll let my kids decide when they get older as to what they want to believe.”

But think about all the things in life we are either willing or even feel compelled to share and teach others.  I, for one, have a lot of advice in me to spread about the world spanning any number of topics!  From a parenting point of view do we “wait till they decide” when it comes to teaching our kids about healthy eating habits?  Do we wait for them to figure out on their own how to read or write? 

How did we get to this point in our faith journey where we are so hesitant to share our faith out of fear from what the world would say about us? Out of fear we will get called crazy and “out of our minds?”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him 
stand on the highest point of the temple. 
“If you are the Son of God,” he said, 
“throw yourself down from here. 
Luke 4:9

Right out of the gate, before Jesus can even start gathering up disciples, our friend, the devil, comes along and tries to tear down Jesus’ confidence.  He tests Him multiple times to see if Jesus is who He says He is.

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not 
put the Lord your God to the test.’” 
Luke 4:12

I always love Jesus’ responses to those who would say He was “out of his mind.”  He never fails to give me a Perspective Change Moment.  He doesn’t argue with the devil about the dangers of jumping off a cliff.  He doesn’t present genealogy charts and Old Testament verses from Isaiah about His coming.  He just says, “Don’t even test me.”  He doesn’t sound angry or offended.

Ah, to be like Jesus.  When I was contemplating this post, I got convicted of something I had done the night before.  My husband and I were flying home from a visit with family.  As we sat in our seats on the plane my husband dropped one side of his mask while trying to adjust his hat.  A woman was making her way into the seat in front of us and turned and stared at both of us.  Then she looked at my husband and said, “Sir, put your mask on.”  

And boom, my hackles (whatever those are) started to rise.  I laughed at her.  I had all manner of comments I wanted to make but some supernatural force shoved me back in my seat and clamped its hand over my mouth.  I sat there steaming, irritated.  Very un-Jesus like.

I could’ve used the opportunity to be a peacemaker, a practicing Christian.  A Christian who shows what Jesus is about rather than what the devil is all about.  I could’ve been “out of my mind” with grace and apologies rather than defensiveness.  I didn’t act like I would’ve a few years ago but I didn’t act like the person I want to be. Imperfect progress as my friend Betsy likes to say. Yes, my husband had removed his mask for just a minute.  But this woman was clearly fearful and needed a bit of Jesus, not the world.

I told my BSGs the other day that if there was one thing I could try to erase from Christians’ minds it is the idea that “sharing our faith” doesn’t mean standing on a street corner screaming about Jesus.  It means that when, given the opportunity by God, we behave like Jesus.  We speak like Jesus.  We seek peace like Jesus. We teach like Jesus.  And we stand firm like Jesus. We step out of our own worldly minds and into Jesus’ mind.

But we have the mind of Christ. 
1 Corinthians 2:16

God will give you opportunities today.  It may be with your children.  It may be with your neighbor.  It may be with a stranger on a plane.  And yes, we need to act as though we are out of our minds with the love of God.

Fan The Flame

For this reason I remind you to 
fan into flame the gift of God, 
which is in you through the laying 
on of my hands. 
2 Timothy 1:6 

I remember the day I got baptized.  I was 34 years old and at the same time my one year old and 5 year old received the Holy water.  I remember standing on that stage full of the spirit of God.  My heart was full.  I was ready to jump in with both feet.

As a person trained in marketing and public relations, I decided a good place for me to volunteer at my new church was on the growth committee.  The church membership had shrunk over the years and they were looking to reach out into the community.  After four months of detailed work, we finally had the plan.  And by “plan” I mean the plan and bylaws of how the committee would work.  I was so dispirited.  

My friend invited our family to come worship at her church which was the same denomination but was very large and vibrant.  We loved it!  My spirits soared again as I watched my kids get involved in various church groups and my husband volunteered as an usher.  And then I flatlined.  Attending church became something we tried to fit into our schedule.  My faith life outside church was non-existent.  

We gotta get our faith stirred up again!  If I was just running on excitement, I would’ve run out of gas a long time ago.  Once the excitement of God is over, real men and women of God kick into faithfulness.

Joyce Meyer

We get tired of the “doing” in our everyday lives – making the bed, doing the dishes, going to work, brushing our teeth.  But we still do it or else we become destitute.  Some of us have become destitute in our faith because the excitement is gone. We all probably remember when we accepted Jesus as our savior or were baptized.  It was exciting!  And now, the day-to-day life has settled in.  We need to keep “doing” our faith because we are assigned the work of God. 

When I was thinking of this concept, I thought of my favorite college basketball team (Go Aztecs!). In March 2020 they were a powerhouse team, set to go to the NCAA tournament.  My husband and I had gone to a lot of the home games.  The SDSU Aztec games are well known for the influence of their fans.  We can really rock the Mesa and spur our boys on!  And in March 2021 we couldn’t go to any games.  It felt weird watching on tv without the excitement of being able to high five strangers when one of the players hit an amazing three-pointer.  It just wasn’t the same.  So, our faithfulness of watching games waned.  I’m sorry to say we didn’t even watch their NCAA tournament game.  We had better things to do.

But the difference between being a fan of a team and follower of Jesus is the Aztecs, once a game was over and we all went home, didn’t know my name.  They didn’t care to know me at all.  Sure, they appreciated the support but they didn’t ride home with me.  Except for the mailing list our name is on to ask us for money, our favorite team, that brings us so much fun and excitement, goes about their own lives not thinking of me once.

But after we commit ourselves to the Lord and experience that wave of excitement, He stays with us.  He is with us when we don’t think about Him during our busy day.  He is with us when we forget about Him completely.  He is waiting for us to go to work for Him.  He is waiting for us to turn to Him.  

Guard the good deposit that was 
entrusted to you—guard it with 
the help of the Holy Spirit who 
lives in us. 
2 Timothy 1:14

Last year I found myself a Christian without a church.  And at first, I thought that meant my faith would become destitute again.  I turned to God and said, “What now?”  And He answered, “It’s time to truly grow.”

I had been relying on outside entities to stir up my excitement for God.  To fan my flames for Jesus.  When all along He was sitting there next to me waiting to build a bonfire together.

A few studies ago my BSGs were tasked to draw their faith journey as a graph.  I’m happy to report we have all had steady growth.  It was amazing to see how, in the time where we were all without “church,” our charts showed an upward movement.  When we were stripped down to our lives being so simple because of the Covid pandemic God invited us to His campfire.  And we all accepted the invitation.  

For many of us our churches have re-opened.  And the celebration of the beauty of the resurrection is in our rearview mirror.  We need to ask ourselves are we expecting an outside source to fan our flames for God or will we turn and join Him at the campfire?

Awaken

So then, let us not be like others, 
who are asleep, but let us be awake 
and sober.  
1 Thessalonians 5:6

I just finished a study on the book of Numbers.  It finds Israel wandering about the desert grumbling, complaining and disobeying God at every turn.  And God gives mercy over and over at Moses’ pleading.  Until He doesn’t.  There’s so much death in this book because of the unfaithfulness.  Some because God allows the Israelites to try their own path, leading to deaths during wars.  And some because God rains down His punishment with plagues.

It’s so easy for us to read what happened thousands of years ago and judge the Israelites.  They were asleep to God’s ways and character.  

At the end of one of my commentaries was the statement that from God’s point of view there are only three locations in the Israelite journey and only three locations in our own journey.

  1. Egypt: the land of bondage
  2. The Wilderness: the land of unbelief, doubt and falling short
  3. Canaan: the land of inheritance

The question for us is, which location do we currently find ourselves in?

Throughout the Bible we find an underlying message about growing in our faith.  The sooner we recognize where we are and why we are there, the sooner we can move along on our journey.  

For I know that good itself does not 
dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. 
For I have the desire to do what is good, 
but I cannot carry it out. 
Romans 7:18

This statement by Peter is so self-reflective.  He has one foot in the wilderness while reaching with the other into the land of inheritance.  He actively searches his heart and soul, asking God to reveal the blemishes and the blind spots.

We can spend a lot of time, like the Israelites seeing what God is and does.  We can hear the good work He does in others.  But do we, like Moses, truly understand God’s actions?  Do we still ask “why” and wishing we could go back to Egypt?  Or do we ask God to do even more work in us so that we are constantly changing, stripping away our old selves for His glory?

We want to be awake, vivacious, alive in our faith journey.  We need to not just know “of” God but truly know Him – His character, how He works and how much He loves to see us grow.

You either obey, ignore or resist.  

Warren Wiersbe on the will of God

We humans like to blame the outside world for being stuck.  For not reaching our full potential.  We blame our church for not inspiring us.  We blame our circumstances for not having time for God.  We blame fellow Christians who have hurt us.   But the Holy Spirit resides in us.  It is a personal journey lived out for all to see.  King David, in Psalm 51 does some deep reflection on where he is in his faith journey.

For I know my transgressions, and my 
sin is always before me. Against you, 
you only, have I sinned and done what 
is evil in your sight; 
Psalm 51:3-4

The Israelites blamed Moses and God for not quickly and without hardship reaching the Promised Land.  They lacked David’s self-reflection.  They sat for so many years in the Land of the Wilderness.  It took me almost 20 years of wandering to finally wake up and begin understanding God.  So, I have no place to judge them. 

If you are stuck it’s time to look inward.  It’s time to shake off your sleepiness and do a deep dive with God into your own heart.  Only then can He lead you to the Land of Inheritance.

Our New Identity

Do your best to present yourself to 
God as one approved, a worker who 
does not need to be ashamed and who 
correctly handles the word of truth. 
2 Timothy 2:15

When I quit working full time about 25 years ago, it was hard for me to accept that I no longer contributed financially to our little family.  My identity was wrapped up in working.  I had earned money since I was a kid collecting cans and newspapers and turning them into the recycler.  In college at one point, I had a job, a paid internship, a full load of classes, and was the president of a professional-based club.  Work was what I knew and work was what defined me.

Not long after I decided to stay home with our 2-year old daughter I found myself face-to-face with my identity problem.  My daughter and I were walking home from a neighborhood park.  We had to cross a very busy street.  When we got the “walk” sign we made our way across in the crosswalk.  In one of the cars waiting for the light to change was an obviously very angry and impatient man.  He yelled out the window to me, “Hey loser, why don’t you get a job?”

Instead of being angry I was mortified.  You see, I agreed with him.  I wasn’t seeing myself as first a mother and wife then someone who could, if I wanted to, get a job.  I saw myself first as a jobless loser.

What do you see yourself as first these days?

As my faith journey has progressed my answer to that question has evolved.  Once my second daughter came along, I threw myself into motherhood.  I even placed being a wife much farther down the list for a bit.  Being a Christian was way down on the list.  In between I was a “coach,” a “PTA president,” a “school volunteer,” a “Girl Scout leader.”  And now, looking back, had I placed “Christian” as my primary identity I would’ve made a number of different choices along the way.

Just because you go to church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. I can go sit in the garage all day and it doesn’t make me a car.

Joyce Meyer

I love this quote by Joyce Meyer because it speaks to the heart of this issue of identity.  We may say what our identity is but how do we act?  What do we base our decisions on day in and day out?  Do we decide what’s best for our kids based on their happiness or based on God’s direction?  Do we treat our spouses based on where we place our marriage on our identity list or on God’s expectation of us?  Do we hold dear the income from that job more than we do our relationship with our Lord?

It’s taken me awhile to truly accept the identity hierarchy God wants for me – 1) Jesus Follower 2) Wife 3) Mother 4) Whatever else He directs me to.  And in our verse today the priority for us is to be a “God Approved Worker for Him.”  Not ashamed of following His Word as best we can in every decision we make.

I used to listen to the famed Dr. Laura quite a lot.  One day she was talking about divorce.  She said that if you go into a marriage with the option of getting divorced you will always find reasons to not work on your marriage.  But if you go into it (having made a healthy choice of spouse) with the priority of staying together no matter what, you will always find new and creative ways to work out problems.  Our faith is a lot like that.

When we place our faith as our primary identity it changes who we marry, who we spend time with, what type of job we want, how we use our money, how we treat our families and friends, and more. We are God’s co-workers.   And we are tasked with being proud of that identity.  

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, 
stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always 
give yourselves fully to the work of the 
Lord, because you know that your labor in 
the Lord is not in vain.  
1 Corinthians 15:58

So again, I ask, what identity have you placed at the top of your list?

If it’s not “Christian” why not?  What’s holding you back?  God is waiting for you to put Him first.  Because when you do then, I believe, He claps His hands and says, “Great, now let’s get down to business!”

This is a great except from C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity that might help spur you on to your new identity. 

“Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.” 

Closer Than A Brother

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is 
my helper; I will not be afraid. What 
can mere mortals do to me?” 
Hebrews 13:6

There’s been a number of times in my life when I felt all alone.  In high school the neighbor girl who I had been friends with since I was in fourth grade rejected me.  The kids I hung out with at school always treated me as an outsider, never inviting me over to game nights and other fun group activities.  I wasn’t a nerd, athlete, druggie, ASB, drama, or whatever type person we think of when we remember our high school years.  I was friendly with people in all groups but never a part of a group.

I could’ve really used Jesus.

I was listening to a great podcast recently called, “Talk It Out.”  It’s an offshoot of the Joyce Meyer Ministry where three women of various stages of life take Mrs. Meyer’s teachings and work on applying it to their everyday lives.  On that day they were talking about different times they’d felt alone.  And I realized that probably every single one of us have felt that way at some point or multiple points in our lives.  Some of you might feel that way right now.

One of the ladies spoke of when, in high school, she kept Jesus close to her at all times.  Her only true friend.  She would even talk to Him in the car as though He were a constant companion in her passenger seat.

One who has unreliable friends soon 
comes to ruin, but there is a friend 
who sticks closer than a brother. 
Proverbs 18:24

I can’t tell you with 100% accuracy that this proverb speaks of God.  But I can tell you that God is 100% that friend who is “closer than a brother.”  And when we feel alone and as though our faith journey is stuck, we need only turn to Jesus and say, “Hello.”  If you are in a season that you feel alone, left out, far from any quality friendships – including God– it’s time to call to Him with all your heart.

It reminds me of when Mary, having seen the empty tomb, stands outside crying.  She must’ve felt very alone at the time.  When Jesus appears to her, she thinks He is the gardener and demands to know where he moved the body.  And Jesus simply says to her, “Mary.”  She turns to Him and suddenly recognizes Him and grabs hold of Him, crying out “Rabboni!”  My favorite part of this is the fact the text is written like this in the NIV and King James version – “Mary.” No exclamation.  He doesn’t yell out to her.  It feels so quiet and gentle and personal.  “Mary.”  

Now imagine yourself standing there thinking God has let you down.  He’s allowed the worst thing that could ever happen to actually happen.  And you cry out.  He responds.  Standing right in front of you with a gentle, loving word.

Instead of saying with proud lip, “Well, if He leaves me I must do without Him, if I cannot have His comfortable presence I must fight on as best may be,” the soul says, “No, it is my very life, I must have my God.”

Charles Spurgeon

And with that renewed friendship we can add to our request of God, “Help me to find reliable friendships here on earth.”  He may convict of you of your own sins or thinking.  Rest assured when you sit with Him over coffee, while on your commute, or at a quiet lunch at the park, He will be the most honest friend you could ever desire.

The righteous choose their friends 
carefully, but the way of the wicked 
leads them astray. 
Proverbs 12:26

For me, I needed Jesus for a friend in high school as a companion – I was an oddball, a square peg and all the holes were round.  And later, I needed Jesus as that friend who would speak truth into me to show me why I didn’t have close friends, why I’d been rejected so often.  He showed me that my need to control the people around me was not a desirable attribute in a friend.  I was quick to anger and judgement.  And selfish ways pushed people away.

Sometimes when I think about what our lives are like today, I like to imagine what it would’ve been like living as a pioneer woman.  Living a lonely life with just my husband and two kids out on the prairie.  No texting, no Instagram.  Barely any mail even.  Where would I find friendship?  In my days of harvesting and cooking and cleaning I would need to seek out the only person my Bible told me would be with me always – Jesus.

That was true then and it’s still true today.  Friends we had 10 years ago may not even be part of our lives.  Friends we meet today may fade away.  So, it’s imperative we hold close to our hearts our one constant, our friend, our counselor, our Rock – our Lord.

A Teaspoon of Salt

Season all your grain offerings 
with salt.  
Leviticus 2:13

About a year ago my husband and I decided to combine our plans of getting fit at the gym with changing what we ate for dinner.  We decided to try out a couple meal delivery services.  Now, let me first say my husband is an incredible cook – creative and eager to try new dishes.  So whatever plan we chose would have to meet his high standards.  

As we made the various meals we discovered some of the “tricks of the trade” of how to make meals have that extra “pop” of flavor.  And the most basic trick was seasoning with salt and pepper throughout the cooking process.  It was amazing how much better our food tasted when we seasoned at the beginning, middle and end.  Salt is so simple yet it somehow releases the intricate flavors of whatever dish it’s added to.

Do not leave the salt of the covenant 
of your God out of your grain offerings; 
add salt to all your offerings. 
Leviticus 2:13

And throughout the Bible we are encouraged, or as in Leviticus, admonished, to add salt to our offerings to God and to our work for God.

Let your conversation be always full 
of grace, seasoned with salt, so that 
you may know how to answer everyone. 
Colossians 4:6

But what does this mean in our daily faith lives?  Adding salt to our conversations means making sure our work of sharing the gospel is pure and properly seasoned – with grace and love.  In other places in the Bible we see salt as something added to make our lives more pleasing to God.

My BSGs had a conversation once about memorizing scripture and prayers – an admirable activity for sure.  But when our faith life becomes a series of memorized verse or monotonous prayers we can lose our saltiness.  We lose the passion and uniqueness of our special relationship with God.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, 
how can it be made salty again?" 
Luke 14:34

So how do we regain that beautiful flavor in our relationship with Him?  Ask.  It’s funny how so often when we struggle with faith issues we forget to do the one thing that works the best – ask Him.  “Show me, Lord, how to reignite and bring passion to my relationship with you!”  He might show you a new way to pray, a new book to read, a new song to sing, a new Christian friend, or a new place in your home to mediate.  

The Holy Spirit is waiting to be tapped for answers.  It’s like He is jumping up and down with His hand up going, “Oooooo!  Ask Me! Ask Me!”  

Average is very acceptable in our society but I don’t think the angels are applauding. If you are determined to be excellent, to not back out of it, you will reap a harvest in your life.

Joyce Meyer

Let’s start flavoring our faith life at the beginning, middle and end of our day with salt, with passion, with grace, and with intentionality.  Let’s dine with our Savior and feast on the grace He gives us.

Battle Strategy

Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who 
trains my hands for war, my fingers 
for battle. 
Psalm 144:1

I have a very strong personality.  I’m a fixer and a doer.  I’m a creative problem solver.  So, for me to sit back and let God take control or direct me has been one of my greatest challenges.  A few years ago, I was working in a school counseling office.  There were two of us with essentially the same job.  When my co-worker left for greener pastures, we hired a new, young woman as her replacement.  She was fun and interesting.  And then she stopped showing up on time for work.  And at times not at all.  Then she started spending what time she was in the office on personal phone calls or social media.  The bulk of the work fell on me to accomplish.

I jumped into fix it mode.  Trying to help her figure out a better work style.  Talking with our supervisor about how to discipline her.  Each morning as I headed into work, I created all the conversations I wish I could actually have with her.  I became angry and bitter.  I might or might not even jokingly asked God to take her out with a bus.

Fortunately, my faith was maturing.  One morning during my commute, the Holy Spirit whispered to me: “This battle needs a different approach.  Try praying FOR her.”  And so, I did.  For one week, every morning I prayed that God would intervene in her life to help her be more successful at work.  And that whatever was happening in her home life would not deter her from doing a good job.

And after one week she stopped showing up completely.  Two weeks later it was determined she had “abandoned” her job.  Essentially, she had fired herself.  And in the next hiring process I was able to recommend someone else who was amazing!

He is my loving God and my fortress, 
my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, 
in whom I take refuge, who subdues 
people under me. 
Psalm 144:2

You see, I was fighting the battle all wrong.  I focused on myself rather than God.  It was an in-your-face lesson delivered by the Holy Spirit.  

Since then, I have faced other battles.  I’m remembering to pray before I enter the battlefield for God to direct me and protect me.   Because I recognize that I can be a bull in a china shop with my “Miz Fixit” personality.  

“When I release my weaknesses and blind spots to God, He uses them to help me grow up spiritually.” 

Crystal McDowell

I love the visual from 1 Peter 1:13 to “gird your loins.”  The saying comes from the concept of tucking your tunic up into your belt so that it doesn’t get in the way while running.  

Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, 
be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the 
grace that is to be brought to you at the 
revelation of Jesus Christ; 
1 Peter 1:13

And in this verse, it specifically reminds us to pull our thoughts together and have a disciplined mind so we can rest our thoughts on the grace of the returning Christ. We escape from the perils of the worldly mind – trying to fix everything ourselves — with the teaching and guiding hand of God.

Before we make that difficult phone call, head into that important meeting, sit down with the wayward family member we need to “gird our loins” and seek God’s battle plan.  Stand confident in prayer and listen to what He really wants you to say or do.  For me, He reminds me I need to be silent at times and let Him do His good work.

Most of us are “can do” people.  And when it comes to conflict or issues in our lives we so often want to take back command of the battle.  But like Joshua before us we need to be fired up and bold in our faith that He will be our deliverer.