You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.Psalm 4:7
Have you ever ridden on a carousel where the operator, at some point, drops down a metal arm toward the riders and a brass ring drops toward its end? The riders on the outside stretch and strive to grasp that brass ring. The prize? A free ride to the one person who can attain that ring. I think that’s how I was looking at joy for many years. Not only from a grasping and striving point of view but from a scarcity mindset. There’s only one ring and lots of riders. You have to be on one of the outside animals to even have a chance. And once the ring is taken by a rider, your chance is gone. I searched in earnest many years for joy. How to attain it and how to hold on to it. And what I discovered is that joy, freely given in abundance by God, is right in front of me for the taking.
Praise God that His joy, unlike the joy the world offers, comes freely and is never ending. It is available to all. In the carousel world, as we spin around and around, we can choose the outer seat or even one of the animals constantly moving up and down, never finding rest. But how about instead we pick one of the colorful, stable sleds? And sitting there on the bench as we take our seat is a replenishing bucket full of shiny joy rings. Not just one free ride but endless opportunities for laughter and cooling breezes hitting our face as we go round and round.
God’s joy is available to everyone, not just the chosen few. It’s there for the taking when we sit nestled in the promises and gifts of His Holy Word. We pick up a ring from the bucket each time and hand it to the operator saying, “let’s ride!” All the while we watch the outer edge riders stretching for the measly gifts of the world.
The thing about riding a carousel is we carefully pick which animal or sleigh to ride when we jump up to the main stage. We are drawn to the exciting and the colorful, to the chance to grasp the ring. Isn’t that like the world? The bells and whistles of the flesh pull us to stretch for even more? To search for a bigger and better brass ring? But God says, “Come and rest and I will fill your bucket overflowing with joy.” All we need to do is choose Him.
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Luke 2:46
“The teacher encourages the student morphs – moth to beauteous butterfly soars”
Mala Naidoo, author
When God directed me to start the Emboldened blog He also led me to a few simple quotes to put on the homepage. I didn’t know at the time one day I’d be using those quotes for this week’s study on Jesus and His teaching nature! Of the few quotes He led me to, I included this one by Joyce Meyer:
“If you leave church and are not convicted, asking questions, or emboldened then either you are at the wrong church or you weren’t paying attention.”
How many times have you left church and within an hour couldn’t remember what the sermon was about? You couldn’t even pull up the general topic in your memory?
I recently heard someone say that we don’t go to church to sit and put in our “dues” to God. It’s where we should 1) be rejuvenated for the mission and 2) get more training for the mission. And the second we leave the doors of our “God classroom” we should be at the ready to embark on the commission which Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:19. When church becomes a place where we leave just feeling like that was a “nice” experience, at best, or an obligation, at worst, we owe it to our personal faith progression to re-evaluate the situation.
When I started going to church my family ended up at a large Presbyterian church nearby. The pastor was just what I needed at the time. He was more counselor than teacher. And when I left each Sunday I felt he had really spoken to the problems I was having and reminded me that God loved me. The sermons were light on scripture, maybe one or two mentioned, and heavy on personal stories. But I soon found that sole message to be not quite enough. I wanted to know more. And the “teaching” sermons were what I gobbled up. As my husband can attest, I’m very curious. He constantly reminds me that I like to ask questions that seem to have no answers.
As a developing Christian, we should all be asking questions about God. If this “almighty being” is to be the center of our universe, the touchstone for how we live our lives, and the message we herald, shouldn’t we know everything we can know so we are prepared when sin enters our sphere? So we can be prepared when a seeking, fellow man starts asking us questions?
From learner to teacher. That’s exactly the path Jesus took. Here’s the rest of the scene when Jesus’ parents found him, as a boy, in the temple courts.
"Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers." Luke 2:47
And so, I constantly seek to learn more about this awesome God. At the beginning of this year my husband and I were directed to a new church. My son-in-law and his friend host a Christian men’s podcast called “Supplement the Faith.” They heard on a local St. Louis radio station a show called “Core Christianity.” The main host is Pastor Adriel Sanchez, who unbeknownst to me at the time, is a pastor in my town. They raved about his sound, Christian doctrine and told us we had to go check him out.
And so we went. The music was not my favorite – very simple and traditional hymns. The style of service was more formal than I was used to. But when Pastor Adriel gave his sermon I realized I was listening to a teaching pastor. That day, my church “program” was scribbled all over with notes!
In a brief period of time, I’ve learned a lot from and about Pastor Adriel. He and his beautiful wife have four little children with another on the way. This young pastor, who has led his fairly recently planted church for only about seven years, can be heard on the radio and podcast throughout the world via Core Christianity – which is a question and answer format. His youthfulness stands in contrast to his calm, confident poise. I recently asked Pastor Adriel if he’d be willing, in his busy schedule, to talk about his pastoral style.
And if you are on your faith journey toward learning more about His Word, I encourage you to tune in to either Pastor Adriel’s sermons at North Park Presbyterian (PCA) or the Core Christianity podcast. The questions asked on the podcast might just be something you get asked one day!
Kris: You seem to be drawn toward being more of a “teaching” type pastor than say a “counselor” type. How do you think you developed that style?
Pastor Adriel: I have a firm conviction that from the pulpit my job is to communicate God’s word clearly, and seek to apply it to the folks that God has entrusted to my care. Teaching or explaining the Bible is really important to me because I know that God’s word is the source of life. I do seek to provide biblical wisdom or counsel at times – but often that happens in the context of one on one conversations within the church.
K: Who are your favorite Christian authors/pastors?
PA: I love reading the Christian classics. St. Augustine’s Confessions, Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, Calvin’s Institutes, C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I nerd out on church history, so I really enjoy reading the early church fathers. As far as living authors are concerned, I like books by theologians like Michael Horton, and pastors like Tim Keller.
K: What got you involved in doing Core Christianity and the podcast?
PA: One of my seminary professors invited me to be on a podcast he had hosted for decades called the White Horse Inn. Over time, we started thinking about a new project that would reach a broader audience helping them to understand the core doctrines of Christianity. A lot of research has come out recently highlighting how little Christians know about their faith – so this was a huge need. Our goal has been to answer basic listener questions about the Bible and the Christian life, and in the process to point folks to Jesus and his gospel. As we grow in our understanding of God’s word, we’re enabled to love and serve God better.
K: What do you like most about doing the podcast?
PA: I love the live element. I think it makes the show exciting, because we can’t really anticipate what kind of call we’re going to get. As a pastor, I also love it when I’m able to answer a question for someone and I can tell audibly that they’re encouraged by God’s word.
K: What are the most frequent topics you get asked?
PA: Questions related to marriage, assurance of salvation, finding a good church, and how to properly apply God’s law are common from our audience. Depending on what’s going on in our broader society, we also will get questions on current events.
K: What question have you gotten that “stumped” you? And what was the funniest question?
PA: Never been stumped! Just kidding. Actually, sometimes we get very obscure Bible questions, or questions for which there is no clear biblical answer. I find those questions to be the most difficult to handle. As far as the funniest question we’ve received… not long ago someone asked if there were fish on the ark too. That one made me chuckle.
K: Which book of the Bible do you enjoy teaching the most and why?
PA: I find that whichever book I am preaching through tends to become my favorite book for that season. Believe it or not, I had a ton of fun preaching through Leviticus a couple of years back. I also really enjoy preaching through the Gospels. I preached through Mark early in my ministry, and like to revisit the Gospels from time to time in-between other books.
K: Which book seems to be the most misunderstood?
PA: As I field questions about the Bible, I think one book that’s frequently misunderstood is Galatians. Many believers don’t have a proper understanding of the distinction between the law, and the gospel, and they struggle to understand how God’s law (and various OT commandments) are to be applied today. Galatians is helpful because it speaks to this kind of problem.
K: Do you see value in studying the entire Bible — not just the New Testament — and why?
PA: Absolutely. Jesus said in John 5 that Moses wrote of him, and in Luke 24 that the entire Bible was about him. The entire Bible gives us a glorious picture of redemptive history, and each story in that history is meant to instruct us in one way or another (1 Cor. 10:11). If you don’t study the Old Testament, you’ll miss out on so many of the riches in the New Testament, and you’ll miss out on Jesus as he’s revealed in the types and shadows of the Old Covenant.
K: What are your overall personal goals as a pastor for say the next 5 years? 10 years?
PA: Honestly, I just want to be a good husband, a good dad, and a faithful pastor. My goal is to grow in that for the next 5-10 years.
Thank you to Pastor Adriel for his time! Whether it be through a teaching pastor, Bible study groups/individual, Christian authors, a radio show or Christian podcast, these days we have so many resources at our fingertips to get to know God. As Christians, we must make it a priority to place this knowledge of His ways firmly at the forefront of our lives.
I wanted to leave you today with this quote about being a learning and then teaching Christian:
He who asks will have; what more did he ask for? But he who seeks will go further; he will find, will enjoy, will grasp, and will know that he has obtained. He who knocks will go further still, for he will understand, and to him will the precious thing be opened. He will not merely have the blessing and enjoy it, but he will comprehend it.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”John 15:13
Jesus sees you. The first lesson of this miracle is a welcome one. You and I aren’t invisible. We aren’t overlooked. Jesus spots us on the side of the road, and he makes the first move.
There are three women in my life that I count has having a significant influence on me. Two of the three will probably never know me. That’s the power of having an outlet to reach millions of people either through the radio, books, television, etc. My long commutes as a young working woman were filled with life wisdom dished out with a borderline harshness by Dr. Laura. She made sense to me and helped me to see different perspectives in relationships both personally and professionally. Later, my faith life received a much needed injection of God’s truth from the formidable Joyce Meyer. Her devotional, “Power Thoughts,” was Dr. Laura on faith steroids. But again, these two women and I will probably never cross paths.
The third woman God placed in my path couldn’t be more opposite in personality than the other two. She and Jesus share a beautiful character trait. They love all. They have compassion for all. They know just what someone needs at their darkest hour. When Jesus was asked how the masses would be fed, He stepped up to the plate. And so does my mother-in-law, Bev Shetter.
When I first would visit Bev in her hometown of Longmont, Colorado about 30 years ago, I would find myself frequently annoyed. You see, like people surrounding Jesus on His way to an official’s home, Bev couldn’t get through one aisle at the local grocer without multiple people approaching her. A quick trip for a loaf of bread turned into an hour.
This was so foreign to me. How could one person, not only know so many people, but know so many people so well? She wasn’t some famous tv personality. She didn’t write a book. She didn’t operate the local bakery, or any business for that manner. She wasn’t even head of any organization. She was a housewife who occasionally worked part time at a flower shop here or a dress shop there. And, a faithful member of her church.
She knows everyone’s name, their children’s names, their parent’s names. She knows who is sick and injured. She can share a joke with old and young. She lets people know she’s praying for them regularly. And at the end of a “short” trip for a few groceries I felt a bit like Peter, annoyed that we might be late for our next engagement because Bev needed to say yet another kind “hello” to an elderly woman.
She makes you feel loved, special, remembered.
“It’s funny how God leads us to just the right person to guide us through life. Bev has been that trusted loving spiritual friend to me for some 40 years. She has modeled the commandment of Jesus to love one another putting into action all the teachings of Jesus. We have shared laughter, faith, tears, fears, and all that life gives us and I am so grateful to her for walking beside me and revealing Jesus to me.”
Longtime friend, Jane Nelson
Jesus did that. You knew you were in the presence of someone special because He made you feel special. The disciples knew that when Jesus said, “Follow me” they would be well-loved. They would be remembered. He wasn’t famous when He first called His disciples. He was an unknown. Not a rich businessman or even mildly successful tradesman. Yet He made sure to make people feel known and loved.
“I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” John 17:9
Even in His last physical days on Earth He remembered His friends. Not just the disciples. You’ll notice in the verse above He is praying for everyone that the Father sent to Him – that’s you, me, Peter, John, the tax collectors, the adulterers, the gentile and the Jew. Everyone who has turned their lives over to Him.
When I committed myself to my husband, I was given the gift of moving into Bev’s large friendship circle. It wasn’t easy at first. We are also opposite in personality. I was angry, unsettled, untethered to God. I welcomed outrage in my life, judged harshly and forgave reluctantly. But the thing about Jesus is when He steps into a relationship with a Saul He transforms the Saul into a Paul. And when someone like a Bev enters your life, you can’t help but come out changed.
And so I watched and listened. I saw the peace she had in her life that I did not. I watched her minister to the homeless, the shut in, the sick, the needy, the hurt, the lonely. I listened to her words of compassion and quiet, unassuming advice to her friends. She opens her home to visiting missionaries, childhood friends, family and anyone else that needs a pillow to rest their head. And I said, “I want some of that.”
Isn’t that what we do when listen to Jesus talk to a hurting person? “I want to be able to love like that.” Isn’t that what we pray for when we watch Jesus stop and pay attention to one person on the street whom nobody sees? “I should stop and help them.” Isn’t that what we long for when Jesus tells us He will never leave us? “I want to be loved and be remembered.”
“My grandma doesn’t wait around for approval, compliments or appreciation. She has a keen eye for what people need before they may even know it themselves. She is one to show up with a warm meal before your stomach starts to growl or a blanket before you start to shiver.
Granddaughter, Haley Shetter
Jesus and people like Bev show us how to love and be loved. They show us how to be the faithful and loving friend. They aren’t looking for 10,000 “likes” on Facebook. They stop in the grocery aisle and say, “Hello, friend, how is your mom feeling today?” They give their time and prayers one person at a time. And from that, Jesus and Bev have gained a multitude of loving and faithful friends.
“My sister Bev cared for my blessed mother for many years. Her dedication in honoring God through love and service is selfless and enduring. Many times her faith has been tested but never paled.”
Sister, Kathy Pisano
The people like Bev, who live out this Jesus character trait so well, don’t work hard to make friends. They don’t work hard at keeping friends. They work hard at loving people. They look for ways to show compassion. They know that even doing their little part will mean something for somebody. People like Bev are remembered wherever they go, because the people they touch feel something special.
“From her I have learned to watch and listen to her ways. This is not something you develop overnight but attributes you gain over time. She surrounds herself with people who also have these qualities so they can act as a tribe, a community, to build and share their love.”
Granddaughter, Haley Shetter
Bev and her “tribe” are truly special followers of Jesus’ command to love one another and be faithful to others. I’m a living example of someone who can learn to imitate Bev and Jesus. I may never achieve the level of her success but God knows my efforts.
It’s important for us that aren’t more naturally inclined to be like her to know that Jesus still expects us to work at it. I won’t be Bev2.0 but with her example and the guidance of Jesus I can be transformed into someone new.
I have a good friend who has been a Christian for much of her life. She’s now in her 60’s. It’s been fascinating watching her in her faith progression. For years she sat solidly in the knowledge that Jesus died for her sins. She knew that God loved her. She can quote many Bible verses, she taught Sunday school, and has an active Bible study life. But it was only in the last year that she has firmly grasped the lesson of being a loving and faithful friend to the unlovable. She was led to finally forgive a family member. To show that person love and kindness. And what she discovered was the other places in her heart that were holding out on God’s love for others. Jesus has put out His hand to her and said, “It’s time to move forward.”
“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
When I listen in to a Pastor Max Lucado podcast I find myself in the presence of a man who exudes God’s love. His voice alone invites us to sit with him by the fire. He then gently walks us through the Words of Jesus expressing God’s immense, unwavering love for us. It is truly a gift God has given him.
You and I long for Someone who will meet us in the midst of life’s messes. We long to believe in a living, loving, miracle-working God who won’t think twice about stepping into the thorny thickets of our world and lifting us out. I have an encouraging word: you are not alone.
This message of God’s love for us and His faithfulness is not a small thing to accept. And Jesus’ command – yes command – for us to open those gifts and use them cannot be leapfrogged. Without honing and living out being a loving and faithful friend to God’s people the rest of the message is rarely listened to and accepted. When the Truth of God is wrapped tightly in love we will find ourselves ready to be God’s hands and feet.
“During our first birth we relied on our mother and the doctors to do the work. We were loved and carefully cared for. In our second birth we rely on the loving God to care for us — to help create a new heart and mind for us.”
Have you practiced and perfected the Loving and Faithful Friend mindset? Or are you still stuck in the unbelief that Jesus fully loves you – not realizing your chains are broken? Are you trapped in a world of unforgiveness, judgment, or anger towards people around you or the circumstances in the world? Ask God to reveal to you any hidden places in your heart that keep you from fully living like the loving Jesus.
I’ll be perfectly honest and say that at the ripe age of 56 I still struggle with anger and resentment. I once told a group of Bible study friends I wanted to be more “sparkly.” You know, that woman that seems like she’s living her best life — seemingly floating above life’s strife. Everything not only rolls off the “sparkly” woman’s shoulders but she also dives deep into joyous moments. When my prayer life finally included this plea to God He showed me how my lack of Jesus-type love for others was the chain holding me back.
For some of us that “sparkly” life is easier to achieve. For others our well-honed training from our past and the perils of our everyday environment make it more difficult. And that’s when Jesus fills the gap between what we are able to accomplish and what we cannot. When we encounter difficult people or circumstances, it’s Jesus’ love — for us and others — that is the bridge.
"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:35
I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to re-visit Pastor Lucado’s teachings about love. He reminded me not only that I am deeply loved but God expects me to love the “unlovable” in my life. I encourage you to pick up any of his books or tune into his podcast, Encouraging Word. We all can use the reminders of God’s love for us and how to gift that to others. For most of us we need to be in constant training. Practicing, failing, and practicing again. When we fail we need to make note of how to do it better next time, pray for forgiveness, and ask God to tap us on the shoulder when the time comes to do it again.
I know the old “what would Jesus do” saying has gotten a bit worn out but the question still is powerful. There is no other, more powerful, more consistent touchstone for our lives than Jesus. When I pray for God’s strength, guidance, and wisdom I frequently ask for Him give me that shoulder tap when I’m about to go astray. To interrupt what is about to be my “typical” response to a person or situation and instead turn my head slightly toward Jesus as a reminder.
"And walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." Ephesians 5:2
You’ll notice throughout Jesus’ words and the New Testament it’s not enough to have the absence of dislike, rudeness, unforgiveness, etc. He offered Himself up as a fragrant offering. He brought something to God. We are to bring something of ourselves into our relationships with the people of the world.
There are days that I have only been able to accomplish the “lack” of something bad. And when I do that, I feel incomplete. I lay my head down at night knowing I didn’t run the race well — I just made it around the track. And so I ask Jesus to help me do it as He would the next time. He always says, “I will.”
Jesus always loves us. And He is always with us ready to tap our shoulder. As Pastor Lucado says, “You are never alone.” He is our constant example to look toward. And in my next post you’ll meet an ordinary woman who lives out Jesus’ mindset of being a loving and faithful friend, making her extraordinary to all who meet her.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Matthew 24:42-44
If you are a parent, or even a supervisor of others at work, you can relate so well to Jesus already. You work day in and day out to show those who look to you for guidance how to live, work and even play. Through your love, your willingness to give up other things to serve them, your confidence, counseling and teaching you hope all that you share sinks in deeply.
And then you turn your back for a minute.
I was listening to the Talk It Out podcast the other day. It’s three friends who discuss the teachings of Joyce Meyer. This particular episode found them doing their first Covid-19 distanced podcast. One of the women shared how the day prior, when they were practicing how the podcast would actually work, she set up her two kids in the bedroom with snacks and a movie. She then went to another room for privacy. Everything was perfect. The kids had what they needed and were properly admonished.
Partway through the run-through her daughter interrupted the proceedings. As the mom turned to see what caused the interruption all she saw was a massacre. At least that’s what it appeared to be. Her young daughter had somehow gotten a hold of red nail polish and had painted her entire feet and hands. And the white bedspread.
When asking her slightly older son what happened he replied unabashedly, “I dunno, she needed me to open it so I did.”
Jesus spent three intense years teaching, showing, guiding and yet even His closest disciples struggled to model Him. And we sit here about 2,000 years later, with our red nail polish spilled all over our guidebook. Oops.
The thing about the red nail polish on the sheets is it never completely comes out. It leaves a pink stain, as the mom found out. She sat night after night staring at it. But thankfully, each time we fail to live up to the lessons of Jesus we can come with our stained hands and hearts and ask for forgiveness. We are washed white as snow.
We need to get up off our knees and try it again. We turn to Him and say, “show me, teach me.” Because He will come back into the room with us to see how well we have lived out His example.
Join me for my next series, “Jesus Mindset,” where we break down the different characteristics of Jesus and how we can live them out. We will all get them wrong at different points but God always holds out his hand to lift us up and dust us off.
Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.
Today’s Fresh Fire is our last in this series. It’s been a great adventure finding and studying verses that have helped me bolster my faith. I hope these verses have helped your faith journey as well!
The idea of hearing the voice of God makes me think of my dog, Tucker. When he was just a puppy, I made a commitment to train him much differently than our previous dog. When my other dog was a puppy, I also had two small children to train. And the dog was the last to get my attention! So, with Tucker I’ve made it a point to make him into a good walking dog. At this point in his training, he walks with a e-collar rather than a leash.
There were a few training goals which my husband poo-poo’d at the time. One, that Tucker be trained to only chase rabbits when I allowed it. And two, to only cross the street when he received our approval. When my friends walk with me and Tucker they know that at each street corner we must stop, look both ways and proceed. Tucker, even while walking slightly ahead of me, will sit at each corner and wait for me. A training feat accomplished!
But what does this have to do with the voice of God? You see, my real goal with Tucker was to help him not get hit by a car if say, he were to be in the front yard with me while off leash. So, when we approached a corner and a car was passing by, even if it was going parallel to us, I made him wait. I associated not only the changing texture of the surface he was on but also the sound of cars with his need to wait.
And I can almost swear he now looks both ways, looking and listening for cars. He has learned to listen to something outside his little doggie mind before he can proceed safely.
Isn’t that what God wants from us? To be so well trained to listen for Him that we don’t proceed until we hear what He wants of us?
And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.
Throughout this series through verse after verse we have heard that to stay close to God we must pray, read His Word and listen through silent mediation. And the Bible shows us so many ways which God will speak to us – dreams, visions (like with Ezekiel), burning bushes, through others, signs, and the written word. If we aren’t listening to all His ways then how can we ever expect to cross the street safely? To move forward in our lives along His preferred path?
When Jesus made the statement in our verse today, He is telling us to listen up! To pay close attention! He tells us that a time is coming where when we hear His voice again it’s resurrection time. For those who hear His Word and turn to Him for the first time, that resurrection might mean tomorrow. Their dead souls come to live in new life. For others it will be when the believers are raised from the dead and enter into God’s glorious eternity. While still others will be resurrected and judged harshly.
But if we aren’t listening for Him, what will we miss out on? We miss the opportunity to be made righteous. We miss the opportunities to enjoy peace and grace and forgiveness right now.
This thing I know, that when I have neither heard nor read, I have yet felt the voice of God within me, and the Spirit has, himself, revealed some dark mystery, opened some secret, guided me into some truth, given me some direction, led me in some path, or in some other way has immediately spoken to me himself; and I believe it is so with every man at conversion;
Charles Spurgeon, The Majestic Voice
I was at my first women’s Bible retreat and we were challenged to go find a quiet place to talk with God. I found myself at a rustic, outdoor chapel of sorts. As I sat in prayer, I laid my heavy heart out for God. My constant prayer at the time was to help me find peace and a lightness of spirit. I felt so heavy with burdens. As I finished my prayer a flock of tiny birds flew directly in front of me from one side of the chapel to another. As they raced each other along their path they chirped loudly at each other – a flock of children laughing and squealing in some unseen game. The landed in a tree just above me and kept up their heavenly laughter. And I laughed along with them.
I realized immediately it was God snapping His fingers at me to say, “Wake up! There is joy to be had all around you! You see, even my tiny birds, who have only themselves, this tree and this moment are filled with laughter. You have so much more that I have given you!”
The voice of God is everywhere. It’s in us. He fills our dreams. He thunders with each storm and crashing wave. He gently rocks us to sleep with the croaking frogs. He loves us with the cooing of a baby. He runs laughing with us while getting that kite up in the air. To truly hear Him, to listen to what He has to say today, we just need a bit of practice and some well-planned training. The next time you find yourself needing to cross a proverbial street in your life take a moment to listen. He will guide you safely across.
Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love.
I’ll admit I’ve had a bit of a rough relationship with God the last few weeks. I have an on-going health issue related to my sinuses. For years I’ve suffered through swollen sinuses, infections, allergies, clogged ears, excruciating headaches and more. I’m in my third year of allergy shots and recently had a second sinus surgery. And I feel worse.
A few weekends ago I spent most of the time feeling like my head was either in a tight vise or underwater. Conversations were muffled and my eustachian tubes felt as though a needle was being jammed in them. I got on my knees and started praying desperately for God to heal me. While at church I prayed continuously for healing. And the pain continued.
Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Have you ever felt the way the psalmist did when he wrote that verse? Like God just isn’t listening? That Sunday evening, I sure did. I was in tears. And so, I cried out to God even louder to please heal me. For a brief moment I even felt myself being pulled back into my old way of thinking that God didn’t care about me or worse, maybe didn’t even exist. But my faith journey has brought me too far to let me slide backwards.
There is no relapse where Christ heals; no fear that His patients should be merely patched up for a season. He makes new men of them; He give them a new heart and He puts within them a right spirit.
My knowledge of God has led me to a place of greater wisdom. Instead of asking God to “wake up” I started asking Him if this was to be my thorn, my constant affliction to cause me to rely more and more on Him.
It also led me to put my pain and suffering in perspective. While my issues are painful and irritating, I am not debilitated. I can still rise every morning and serve Him and the people around me. And through a pounding headache I can still go out for a walk and experience a beautiful day. I put my troubles up against my mother-in-law’s, who through a year battling cancer and diverticulitis has managed a smile each time I talk to her. Yes, at her lowest she has cried. But I’ve watched her turn back to God in faith, searching for His hand in all things.
I want God to take away my pain. I know He can. He can heal me as I write this. And it is not for me to know why He doesn’t.
I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:7-9
I would prefer not to be held to the same spiritual standards set by the Apostle Paul. To seek God’s goodness when I feel my worst. To feel His presence when my head is pounding. To do the work required of me when the pain is almost overwhelming. At times I just can’t. That’s when I beg God to help me, to rescue me.
I’m not going to stop asking for healing. But I’ve decided that I trust God that there is a reason He hasn’t. And I know for certain, that in trusting Him, one day we will all be free from affliction and experience His amazing glory.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6
I’ve been thinking a lot about separateness lately. As the world seems to move farther and farther away from the message of Christ, I find myself feeling separated from so much of the goings on. Politics, social and moral issues that the world promotes appear to be so upside down. At times I’ve asked, “Where is God in all of this?”
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
“What on earth is He up to?” is, I suppose, the better question. Since the beginning of time God’s work has been about separateness. He separated the dark from the light. The land from the sea. The heavens from the earth. He even set apart man from beast. And when He commanded that there would be light it also meant He would set apart good from evil. From that day on He started working in our hearts to bring us into the light. The light that Jesus gave direct access to through His sacrifice.
I’ve been visiting a new church with my husband. The pastor is Adriel Sanchez. Some of you may recognize him as one of the duo from Core Christianity – a podcast and radio show heard around the world. His church has begun a new series on Genesis. And he spoke on the creation of light and dark.
God created beauty, order and light and He didn’t need ingredients. He made them out of nothing, darkness.
Pastor Adriel Sanchez
He went on to put the Jewish (and eventually Christian) creation story in to context. The Jews were most likely wandering in the desert when this story was possibly given to Moses from God. Their lives were dark and chaotic. And while other religions of the time, just like today, have their own creation story, those religions created gods out of what was created – the Sun God, Moon God, God of Nature, etc. You’ll notice in Genesis that the sun and moon aren’t called those names. Possibly to avoid man from elevating them to a worshipping status. God created all the things that these other religions made into little gods.
We weren’t created to serve the sun, the moon, or nature. They were created FOR man by God.
Pastor Adriel Sanchez
When you think about what God did for us humans it’s pretty amazing. Think about a gift you received that was the best gift ever. Do you remember how you thanked the person who gave it to you? Now imagine this gift that God gave us. The light, the land, the skies, the animals. How could we ever thank Him enough? All He has ever asked of us is to set ourselves apart from the darkness.
Our hearts are like the wilderness – dark and chaotic. And God says to our hearts, “Let there be light!
Pastor Adriel Sanchez
So let’s go back to C.S. Lewis’ imagery of rebuilding the house. God is working on rebuilding the world. God works on large scale projects while also working on our tiny little bathroom remodel. It’s the same work schedule He has maintained throughout history. There’s a lot of knocking down walls going on. And with that comes a lot of pushback from people who don’t want the light to enter in the room. They enjoy living in the darkness in order to put themselves and their desires at their center.
I’ve heard people talk disparaging about the Bible – its violence especially. Many uneducated about the Bible take issue with destroying whole towns and killing off all the residents. But put in context it was a major remodel taking place. Those cities were rife with termites and rot. Child sacrifices and unbridled sexual exploits all in the name of satisfying some fertility god were rampant. They were just plain evil.
And while God was using other people and the Jews to destroy those darkened places He made it a point to work in each and every Israelite’s heart. He cared about behavior but He cared more for bringing light to their hearts and minds. They were to act like people set apart from the darkness. He cared enough about us, as individuals, to first send His Son and then leave us with the light of His Holy Spirit to dwell in each of us.
It’s hard to live set apart from the world. It may cause our faith, at times, to wane. But I’m finding when I change my question from “Where is God?” to “What on earth is He up to?” it helps me to see His work in me and the world. For when I see my Savior I surely want to be remodeled, a house full of light.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.