Football Banquet

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In our family, we like football.  For some of us, that is definitely an understatement.   Take Jack, who is basically all football all the time.  He takes his stance and runs plays up and down the hall, plays Madden ‘19 like nobody’s business, and wears nothing but his Ohio State jerseys to school.  He even called me for delay of game one morning because I was cooking breakfast instead of hiking the imaginary ball.  Then there is Marco, who just wrapped up his 8th grade football season, coming back after a clavicle fracture to play four of his best games yet.

Last Sunday night was the junior high football banquet, where we dined on pizza and celebrated the season.  The coach spent some time talking about each player, and as I mentally recapped his comments last week, some life advice jumped out at me.  Mind if I share?

Be a leader.  If you heard coach say anything at the banquet, you heard this.  He praised several of the players for their leadership and told more than a few that they need to be better leaders.  He said he wants all the players to be leaders, and he explained that he means learning the skill of encouraging their teammates and inspiring their best efforts, especially when things aren’t going very well.  That’s something we all should be reaching toward.  We need to be the voice of kindness and encouragement that lifts others up.  This is important all the time, but vital when hard times hit.

Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Hebrews 10:24 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on to love and good deeds…”

Jesus was very clear that if we want to lead, that means serving, and He was the perfect example of servant leadership.

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Get strong and put your time in.  Our boys spend a lot of time working out during the off season. The coach emphasized this over and over, pointing out how the effort invested in getting stronger translated directly into more confidence and success on the field.  Once again, we can apply this to our own lives.  As we discipline ourselves to “put our time in” developing spiritually, we get stronger.  That always pays off in better performance in the “game of life,” and even yields rewards that last for eternity.

Paul wrote to Timothy, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. … be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.”  I Timothy 4:8,15

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Grow. One thing about 7th and 8th grade boys is that they are growing.  Some of them feel pretty small, and the coach just encouraged them that they will grow.  People grow at different paces, but we all grow. When we feel frustrated by lessons we are still struggling to learn or areas where we need improvement, sometimes we need to remind ourselves to be patient.  We are still growing.

2 Peter 3:18 “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To him be glory both now and forever!  Amen.”

 

Stick with it. It is important to the football program that the kids keep on playing.  The coach pointed this out, and made it clear that everyone had value on the team.  Here again, what great advice for us!  Don’t give up or drop out.  You matter!

Romans 12:4-6 “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”

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The coach personally spoke to every player at that banquet, congratulating them on their accomplishments and telling them where he wanted them to focus their efforts.  It was so fun to watch!  It might be a little picture of how it will be for us one day when we meet our Coach face to face. Let’s keep our focus and seek His kingdom so we can hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Matthew 25:23

God, may all these things be true of us. Teach us how to be leaders, especially during difficult seasons. Let us be diligent and disciplined to spend time in prayer and in Your presence so we can be strong.  When we get discouraged, remind us that we are still growing.  And may we stick with it as we follow You.  You are our reward.  

-Leah

Marked by Mercy

As many of you know, I have the honor and privilege of being married to a pastor. (Shout out to my sweet husband, Aaron, one of God’s very good gifts to me!) He has been preaching through Luke and just finished chapter 6 – Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. If you ever get to thinking that you’re doing pretty well in your Christian walk, take some time to read through the Sermon on the Mount, and you will find yourself falling so short of the high standards that Jesus laid out. Much could be and has been written about that one sermon, but I want to share with you the verse that most grabbed my attention and challenged my heart.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

Eight words that stop me in my tracks. “Be merciful” is a pretty high standard on its own, but wait – there’s more. “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” In my own words, “When it comes to mercy, be just like your Father.” Wow. Talk about setting the bar high. In order for us to really understand what that means, we have to take a few moments to investigate and understand our Father’s mercy. 

Just to make sure we’re all thinking in the same way, here’s a quick overview of what ‘mercy’ means as given to us by Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary – 1) compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power; 2) a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion; 3) compassionate treatment of those in distress. Basically, it is choosing to extend kindness and forgiveness to someone instead of punishment or harm. It’s a decision to forego the revenge that someone deserves in favor of showing compassion to that person.

So, what do we know about our Father’s mercy?

God’s mercy is endless. It is impossible to use up all of God’s mercy. It doesn’t have a limit. As sure as we can count on the sun rising tomorrow, we can count on the continued existence of God’s mercy.

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1)

“Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. (I Chronicles 16:34)

“And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the LORD, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: ‘Praise the LORD, For His mercy endures forever.”’ (II Chronicles 20:21)

(These are just three of MANY verses that say this exact thing. That tag line “His mercy endures forever” is all throughout Scripture.)

God is rich in mercy, and His mercy abounds. God is not stingy with His mercy. He freely lavishes it on us.

“The LORD is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.” (Psalm 103:8)

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7)

God’s mercy leads us to salvation. It’s because of His mercy that He saves us. Instead of giving us what we deserve, in His mercy, He draws us near and gives to us the free gift of salvation.

“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7) 

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (I Peter 1:2-5)

God’s mercy is new every day. Every single day, we get a clean slate. God is not keeping a record of our wrongs, but He promises new mercy for us every morning.

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”  (Lamentations 3:21-23)

This is surely not a comprehensive list of all the facets of God’s mercy, but hopefully, it provides us with at least an overview. In the words of Charles Spurgeon –

“God’s mercy is so great that you may sooner drain the sea of its water, or deprive the sun of its light, or make space too narrow, than diminish the great mercy of God.”

Now that we have pondered some of the truths about God’s mercy, let’s consider again the imperative that Jesus issued to us. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Let’s look at just a few more verses that issue similar challenges.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

“For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35)

The question we’re left with is this – What is our mercy like? Is our mercy just like the mercy of our Father? When I search my own heart, sadly I can’t always answer that in the affirmative. So many times, I’m just like that servant we just read about. I’ve been shown so much mercy and then I find myself so impatient with others and unwilling to dole out even a little bit of mercy to them. Oh, how I need the help of the Holy Spirit to carry out this simple command from Jesus to be merciful. 

When I sat and listened to my husband preach about this little 8-word verse in Luke, I wrote in the margin of my Bible, “His mercy is new every morning. Is mine?” As I ponder those traits of God’s mercy we just reviewed, I have to ask myself, “Do I live in this way? Do I extend mercy that is abundant, that is without a limit, that gives a clean slate to others, that points others to salvation?”

In my own strength, this is an impossibility, but by God’s grace at work in me, my life can be marked by the mercy I show to others. When I let God’s Spirit flow through me in acts of mercy to others, I am putting the Gospel on display and pointing others to the greatest Source of mercy we will ever know.

“The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales.” John Stott

Dear Father, Your mercy is beyond our ability to comprehend. It humbles us and leaves us lost in gratitude that You have chosen not to give us what we deserve, but to extend Your kindness and forgiveness to us. Please help us to live our lives in the light of Your mercy and to be extensions of that mercy to those around us. Forgive us for all the times that we have fallen so short and have begrudged others of mercy when You have been so rich in mercy to us. Help us, by Your Spirit at work within us, to be merciful just as You are merciful. May our lives be marked by mercy, and may we show ourselves to be Your true children by the way that we live out the truths of the Gospel. Amen.

-Dana

Clouds Rest

Want to go hiking with me?  My husband and I had the incredible experience of doing what was described as the “quintessential Yosemite hike” this week.  14 miles round trip, 1,775 ft of elevation gain, culminating at 9,900 feet with breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley and the Sierra Nevada mountains.  We were actually looking down on Half Dome from above!  The hike was long and definitely arduous at times, but well worth all of the energy we expended.

Of course, me being me, I spent much of the trip (at least the parts when I wasn’t huffing and puffing) pondering how what I was experiencing was analogous to my faith journey.  Come along with me as I share some thoughts from an unforgettable day.

The name of the mountain, “Clouds Rest,” immediately lends itself to comparing the hike to journeying through life to get to our eternal destination.  Perhaps even more striking than in our lives, the path to Clouds Rest depends very much on the work of those who have gone before us.  Think of the early explorers of this beautiful part of the wilderness who identified spots that were both amazing and reachable.  And the many people who worked for the Civil Conservation Corps building trails that cut around mountains and cross streams and utilize stone stairs, not to mention the people still working to maintain the trails and clear fallen trees and spot potential hazards.  I truly couldn’t have reached Clouds Rest without people preparing the way for me. 

Jesus is the ultimate Way Maker.  He is the one who did the vital and costly work of making a path for us to get to God.  None of the journey is possible without Him.  And imagine all the benefit from those who have walked this path before us, from thousands of years ago to last year.  I love the picture we see from these verses in Hebrews, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us [or hike the trail cut for us], fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  (Hebrews 12:1-3)  How important it is to be thankful for Jesus and those who have led us in our faith, and to use their examples to maintain our energy and keep on trucking. 

In turn, we have a responsibility to pass on that gift to others and help prepare the way for them.  Being honest and real about the obstacles we have faced and overcome (or are facing and are in the process of overcoming) can be such an encouragement to our fellow travelers.  You notice this when hiking.  Often those who are descending will be heard saying things such as “You’re almost there,” or “it is so worth it!” or “you are almost through the hard part.”  Especially if they know that you have “been there,” your encouragement along the faith journey might be the thing that keeps someone pressing on and prevents them from missing the beauty ahead.

Before we started our hike up Clouds Rest, we read about it.  We read about the ups and downs, the strenuous climb between miles 1.5 and 2.5.  We read about how great the views were.  We knew there were times we would be crossing streams (and we knew that they would be dry this time of year).  Knowing what to expect was especially helpful during that 1 mile of steeper climbing, because we knew that it wouldn’t last forever, and that encouraged us to stick with it.  Similarly, we are blessed in life to be able to read about the journey as we are on it.  The Psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”  God’s Word has so much to say about what to expect in our lives and how to best navigate the trail.  We do immensely better if we read it.  There’s no need to go at it blind.  In fact, think of the Holy Spirit as your own “trail guide.”  Pay attention to how He leads and rely on Him to illuminate the Bible and cause it to illuminate your path through life. 

On our day hike, we brought along plenty of water, and we brought food for a mountaintop lunch.  Yes, as we journey through life we definitely need to stay nourished, but I bring this up for a different reason.  Jeff carried our supplies in a backpack, and although it wasn’t super heavy, it made climbing more difficult, especially since we had not acclimated to the higher elevation.  As hard as I was working, I realized that he was working much harder, and I wanted to share the load.  I kept asking him if I could carry the pack, and chivalrous (and wise) man that he is, he kept declining.  I’m kind of stubborn though, and one time when we had stopped for a break, I grabbed the backpack and put it on, despite his protests.  I just wanted to carry it a little while and give him a break.  I am sad to say that I couldn’t.  I made it maybe 0.02 miles before I had to admit that I couldn’t carry it.  I joked that “my spirit was willing, but my flesh was weak.”  You recall this reference-Jesus asked His disciples to stay awake and pray in the garden of Gethsemane, and they kept falling asleep.  Those were his words, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  (Matthew 26:41).  As I hiked and thought about a willing spirit and weak flesh, I realized that the best way to change that situation is exercise.  If I want to be able to carry a pack up a mountain, I am going to have to increase my strength, preferably by practicing climbing and carrying.  When it comes to spiritual living, spiritual disciplines if you will, I often find that my spirit is willing but my flesh is weak.  Rather than just resigning myself to that, let me practice and exercise and get stronger.  I want to be able to “watch and pray” like Jesus has asked.

While descending, we passed people that were just starting out on their climbs.  The trail we were on connects to several other trails, including some used by backpackers going on hikes that will last for days or even weeks.  Several of the people we had seen were doing the hike alone, the most notable of these was a woman carrying gear for back-country camping.  Jeff remarked that it wouldn’t be very fun to go backpacking alone, and I responded that it didn’t seem very safe either.  Same with our life hike – it is far better to do it in community than alone.  Don’t let yourself be isolated.  Find people to walk with – it will make the trip more fun and safer.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Thanks for letting me share my hiking musings.  My prayer is that in some way they will help you as you journey.

God, thank You for sending Jesus to make a way for us.  Thank You for all the faithful servants whose paths we can follow on our life’s journeys.  Thank You for the amazing guidebook we have and for Your Holy Spirit Who guides us.  Teach us to practice doing the things You ask us to do.  Please provide a community of believers that can walk beside us.  Grant us endurance as we make our way to the destination You have for us.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

-Leah

A Matter of Perspective

What do you see when you look at that picture? Some will see the side profile of a well-dressed young woman, but for others the view is very different. They are seeing a sad-looking older woman. It’s all about perspective. (In case you don’t believe me, here’s some help. If you are seeing the young woman, let her chin become the nose of the older woman. If you are seeing the older woman, her nose is the young woman’s chin.)

Perspective – it’s the way that we see something, our point of view. Unfortunately, our perspective doesn’t always tell the whole story. We see things one way, when others see them differently. Sometimes, our perspective is skewed, and we don’t see things as they really are. 

This brings to my mind two accounts in the Bible where someone’s perspective needed some adjusting. The first is found in II Kings. Let’s check it out –

So one night the king of Aram sent a great army with many chariots and horses to surround the city. When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. ‘Oh, sir, what will we do now?’ the young man cried to Elisha.  ‘Don’t be afraid!’ Elisha told him. ‘For there are more on our side than on theirs!’ Then Elisha prayed, ‘O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!’ The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.” (II Kings 6:14-17)

Elisha’s servant saw the situation one way, but he needed a change of perspective. He needed to have his eyes opened to the truth from God’s perspective. What seemed like an impossible situation from a human standpoint was no match for the resources of Heaven that were at Elisha’s disposal.

Can you relate? Have you ever found yourself in a situation that seemed absolutely impossible? Have you felt completely surrounded by the enemy? If so, repeating Elisha’s prayer is an imperative. “O LORD, open my eyes and let me see!” The truth is there are more on your side than on theirs, but you need a heavenly perspective to see it. God never leaves his children defenseless and alone. He has made all of the resources of Heaven available to us, and He promises to answer when we call out to Him.

The second account in Scripture that comes to my mind when I think about perspective adjustment is found in the New Testament. No one spent more quality time with the Savior (in the flesh) than His twelve disciples. Because of that, we might think that they had an advantage when it came to seeing things correctly. As a matter of fact, on one occasion, Jesus asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, in one of his more shining moments, answered, “You are the Messiah, Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:15,16) He got it right, and Jesus went on to say to him, “You are blessed, Simon son of John,because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19) Awesome, right? 

However, the very next thing we read in that chapter shows us that even Peter needed a perspective adjustment sometimes.

From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. ‘Heaven forbid, Lord,’ he said. ‘This will never happen to you!’ Jesus turned to Peter and said, ‘Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.’ (Matthew 16:21-23)

Peter wasn’t seeing things from the right perspective. He was seeing with a human point of view when he needed God’s point of view. And in doing so, he was ‘a dangerous trap’ to Jesus. What sounded like a terrible situation to Peter was part of God’s perfect plan of redemption. He just didn’t understand that because he wasn’t seeing things correctly. 

Can you relate to Peter? Is there something you or someone you love is facing that seems terrible from a human perspective? Is your reaction to the circumstance ‘a dangerous trap’ for others because of your point of view? Could it be that the circumstance is part of God’s providence and plan?

We can be so short-sighted at times. We tend to long more for comfort, safety, and ease than we do for God’s sanctifying work in our lives. When I think about my perspective (or lack thereof), I am encouraged and challenged by the words of the Apostle Paul. He tells us –

“But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, ‘I believed in God, so I spoke.’ We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (II Corinthians 4:13-18)

Oh, how these words speak right to my heart and help me to know when my perspective is all out of whack. When my gaze is fixed on what cannot be seen and on the things that will last forever, my vision becomes so much clearer, and I can see that my present troubles are small and won’t last very long in the light of eternity. I hear the cry of my own heart in the cry of a blind man named Bartimaeus that Jesus encountered. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” and he said, “My Rabbi, I want to see!” (Mark 10:51)

Dear Father, we are in need of Your help. We want to see! Open our eyes, Lord, and let us see! We confess that we have spent time looking at the troubles we see now from a human point of view, and we need You to adjust our perspective. I pray that You will help us to fix our gaze on what will last forever and that Your work in our lives would matter more to us than our comfort, ease, and security. I pray for those who are reading this and are feeling completely surrounded by the enemy. Would you open their eyes to see that all of the resources of Heaven are with them? Would you give us the grace to see things from Your point of view, and would you help us to know when we need a change in perspective? Thank you for the truth of Your Word and for Your very great love for us. May we live in the light of Your glory and grace this week. Amen.

-Dana

Soccer, anyone?

Jack gets the soccer ball from his opponent, dribbles a little as he scans the field, and then passes the ball back to one of the defenders. That player turns the ball and passes it to his own goalie, as the other team rushes toward the goal, looking for an opportunity to take the ball back and score.  You can hear a few gasps and even a chuckle from the sidelines.  The parents cheering for the other team think our team has made a mistake and are hoping their boys can turn it into a goal.  Our goalie passes to a defender, and on goes the game.

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This is a scenario we have seen before. When our U9 soccer team has a good lead, our coach has the players pass and make sure everyone has touched the ball before they try to score.  We weren’t sure if we should expect to see this during a tournament, though, since the total points scored helps determine the tournament ranking.

But, we weren’t too surprised. Coach has let us know that he cares more about developing skills and teamwork and sportsmanship than about winning games, even tournaments (!).  He is looking at the bigger picture.  Sometimes the instructions he gives to the players don’t make obvious sense from the perspective of a moment in a game, but those players do what he says.  They trust that he knows best and that he has a plan.

So you can see where I’m going with this. We have a Coach Who sets up plays and gives instructions.  He knows far more about the game than we do.  He sees beyond what we can see as we battle through the moments of this present game.  He cares about developing a team, not just individuals.  He cares about our character and that we learn to play well.

’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ “ Isaiah 55:8-9

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Sometimes we question the wisdom of how we are instructed to live, paths we are directed to take, decisions we are led to make. They don’t make sense in the light of our goals, and sometimes they even seem like going backward.  It is at those times that we need to remember the communications we have received from the Coach and remember that He knows best and that He has a plan.

I think of the often quoted words from Jeremiah 29:11, “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’ “   Remember to whom Jeremiah was delivering this message from God-a people who were in exile.  They were the losing team, down with no obvious chance of catching back up.  Their Coach said, “Don’t worry.  Trust me.  I have a plan.”  Look at the  verses that follow verse 11, “ ‘Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity…’ “

Another story to help us get this message…

One day I planned to take our dog to walk at a local park. I loaded her up in the back of my mini van and headed out.  The drive was less than 10 minutes, but that dog cried and whined the whole time she was in the van.  She didn’t like being there.  I think if you could have asked her, she would have wanted to head right back home.  But the thing I was doing that she didn’t like was the way to get her to something she really enjoyed-a long walk in a new place.  She had to endure a little discomfort to get to the joy.

Thankfully, we are not dogs. But there are definitely times we find ourselves in uncomfortable and even painful situations, unsure where we are headed.  We have the benefit of being able to hear from the Driver and to know that He is trustworthy.  He has told us we are heading somewhere good.

Paul knew it. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  Romans 8:18.

Peter knew it. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To him be the power forever and ever.  Amen.”  I Peter 5:10-11

You can know it. Trust the Coach.

By the way, the only way you got on the team was because He paid the fee. You couldn’t afford it.  He wanted you on His team, so He paid a crazy high price to give you the opportunity to sign up.  (“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”  I Peter 1:18-19)

He gave you that uniform to replace your dirty clothes. (“I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…”  Isaiah 61:10)

He has promised to supply all that you need to play. (“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”  II Peter 1:3)

Jack’s Coach Travis doesn’t yell at the team. They know what he wants them to do because they spend lots of time with him at practice, and they are familiar with his voice.   We need to be spending time with our Coach, reading the messages He sent, letting Him teach us along with the team, listening and learning His voice.  He loves us.  His plan is perfect.  Let’s follow His directions and trust that He is taking us somewhere amazing.

 

God, thanks that You are so beyond us. Your love is incredible.  Your sacrifice for us is more than we can comprehend.  Help us to be committed players on Your team, practicing, listening, trusting, obeying.  Help us to work together with our teammates, and help us to encourage them.  Teach us to look beyond this moment and live with our eyes on You and on eternity.  Pour Your grace on us.

-Leah

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Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Captive Thoughts

Have you ever read something that resonated so much with you that it became something you’ll never forget? A truth that just stays with you? That happened to me one day as I was beginning to read a book that a friend gave me, The Jesus Code by O.S. Hawkins. This analogy is too good to keep to myself, and I feel compelled to share it.

“Our minds are like a hotel. The manager can’t keep people from coming into the lobby, but he can keep them from getting a room. It is the same with our thoughts. It is not a sin when an impure thought goes through our minds. The sin comes when we give it a room and let it settle down there.”

Selah. Pause and consider that. 

Not long after reading that, I heard Dannah Gresh, one of my favorite speakers, teaching about our thought patterns. She said, “Are you taking your thoughts captive, or are they taking you captive?” What a great question, right? It is based on the following passage of Scripture –

“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Every. Thought. Captive. I don’t know about you, but throughout the course of a day, my mind is filled up with thoughts. The lobby has a lot of visitors. Again, the problem isn’t necessarily when the lobby is full. The problem comes when I decide to give a room to a thought that shouldn’t get one. So, how do I know which thoughts to entertain and which thoughts to take captive and expel from my lobby? The Apostle Paul gives us specific directions.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

There’s the list. Pretty straightforward, isn’t it? If the thought I’m entertaining doesn’t align with what’s on that list, it needs to go. This is powerful, life-changing truth. So many big problems arise when we dwell on thoughts that we should be taking captive. It’s so true that those thoughts can easily take US captive.

Here’s a real-life example. Several years ago before I was married to my wonderful husband (who is one of God’s good gifts to me), I was outside mowing my lawn. Now, to fully understand this, you need to know that I hated being single, and I completely resented having to mow the lawn. I know that probably sounds silly, but I’m just being totally honest. It wasn’t uncommon for me to have a negative attitude while mowing. So, this particular day, I’m out there mowing, and all of a sudden a single, simple thought came into my mind. “No one cares about you.” Well, I was a hotel manager with a negative attitude, and I said to that thought, “Here’s your room key. Enjoy your stay.” As I continued to mow, that one little thought grew into more thoughts like it. “If anyone cared about you, they would come help you mow this lawn. You know, no one even appreciates the things you do. If you were gone tomorrow, no one would even notice.” As I entertained it, the original thought took on a life of its own. Guess what happened next? My feelings got involved (thoughts tend to have that effect on feelings). Before too long, I was frustrated, angry, and depressed. 

Then, by the grace of God, I stopped and realized that my mind had been completely assaulted. What I was entertaining was a lie that had been whispered into my mind. I was able in that moment to send that thought right back out the door. I had to remind myself of what God’s Word says and also of what was really true.

Have you ever been there? Have you entertained a thought that just took on a life of its own? A thought that was not based in truth that got a luxury suite in your hotel? Are you taking your thoughts captive, or are they taking you captive?

Paul says something profound as he continues on in Philippians.

“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9)

Practice these things. This is powerful. We can actually practice taking our thoughts captive. First, we measure the thought up against the truth of God’s Word. If the thought passes the Philippians 4:8 test, it’s a keeper. It gets a room. If it doesn’t, we find and meditate on the truth from God’s Word that counters that thought, and we take the thought captive and refuse to give it a room. Here are some examples –

Thought – No one cares about me (sounds familiar, right?).

Biblical Truth – “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand.” (Psalm 139:17-18)  “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39)

Decision – This thought doesn’t make the reservation list. It has to go.

Thought – I hate the way I look.

Biblical Truth – “For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:13-14) “What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim ‘How clumsy can you be?'” (Isaiah 45:9)

Decision – This thought doesn’t align with God’s Word, and it can’t stay.

Thought – I am so thankful that I’m forgiven.

Biblical Truth -“He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12) “Lord, if You kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? But You offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear You. (Psalm 130:3-4)

Decision – This thought aligns with Scripture, and it can have a room in our hotel.

Thought – I can’t stand her because she drives me crazy.

Biblical Truth – “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (I John 4:20) “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Decision – This thought doesn’t match the truth of God’s Word, so it has to go.

Practice these things. We know the thoughts that tend to come back around over and over again to the lobby. If we can practice, we’ll be ready for them the next time they come. We don’t have to give them a room anymore. We can choose to fill our minds with what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. If we do that, there won’t be any vacancy for the thoughts that don’t belong. 

Notice what Paul said at the end of Philippians 4:9. “…practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” The end result of taking our thoughts captive is peace. Peace. What a beautiful truth. 

This is my challenge to us all for this week. Let’s practice taking thoughts captive, even if it sounds a little silly. Let’s especially practice with those thoughts that tend to trip us up. Let’s arm ourselves with the truth of God’s Word, and be ready for them. And let’s see if we experience more of God’s peace as a result.

Father, thank you for the practical truth that is in Your Word. Thank you for showing us how to walk in victory even over the thoughts that bombard our minds. Help us this week to practice these things. Give us the grace to measure our thoughts against the truth in Your Word and to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. I pray that this will be life-changing for all of us as we apply Your Word to our lives. Amen.

-Dana

Opportunity Knocks

Have you ever wished you could be two places at once? I have. In fact, I find myself wishing that fairly often. A few weeks ago I was trying to decide whether to go away for the weekend with my husband and son #3 or to stay home for the weekend with son #1. (Son #2 had other weekend plans.) I was pretty torn. I really did want to be both places, and I kept going back and forth in my mind, finding it difficult to make a decision. What made the difference for me was remembering something I had read more than a year before in Bob Goff’s book, Everybody Always. Bob said that “some opportunities come with expiration dates.” I grabbed hold of that at the time I read it, and it inspired me to stop waiting until I had everything caught up and together and to start writing. 

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The phrase had popped up again when I impulsively stopped at Suter’s produce stand on their last day of business and came home with 15 dozen ears of corn. I explained to my startled husband that this was an opportunity with an expiration date. If we wanted corn in the freezer, we needed to make time and act.

 
And then it hit me! The answer to the dilemma of what to do with my weekend. Son #1 is a junior in high school. Spending time with him is definitely an opportunity with an expiration date. When I looked at it from that perspective, the decision was clear and I felt confident.

 
As I was seeing things as “opportunities”, and I noticed them cropping up all around. Because I stayed in town that weekend, I had the opportunity to connect with a family that had recently moved here from Guatemala, welcome them and assist their 8th grader with getting started in school. I knew of them from Anteneh, a Bluffton University student from Ethiopia who I had had the opportunity to meet several years ago at a fundraiser we were having after a trip to Ethiopia. That trip was quite the opportunity, and I had almost missed it because I thought I was too busy and couldn’t leave my job and family to go.

 
God gives us so many opportunities. He wants to use us to live His love, to touch people. Unfortunately, sometimes we get so caught up in the demands of our days, work and stuff management and keeping up appearances, that we let the expiring opportunities slip by.

 
The Apostle Paul had some advice that applies here, “Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” Ephesians 5:15-17

 
We need to live each day with our eyes open for God-given opportunities. We need to choose what is important over what feels urgent. Could I even suggest that we be praying for opportunities? Paul had this prayer request, “At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ…” Colossians 4:3.


Another thought that has helped me over the years when I have tried to sort out how to best spend my time, is a saying of Pastor Jim’s. “People before projects.” People matter. And frankly, all people have expiration dates.

 
God promises that what we invest into people will reap a reward. “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” Galatians 6:9-10

 
Some opportunities come with expiration dates.

 
People before projects.

 
Join me in looking for the best way to spend the opportunity called today.

 

God, You amaze me with how You weave stories together and place people in just the right places at just the right times to carry out Your work. Thank you for the opportunities You have given us, and for the ones You will be giving. Help us to see them and make the most of each one. Give us Your perspective as we live each day.  I re-pray these words for myself and everyone who reads this:

And this is my prayer that (our) love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help (us) determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ (we) may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”
Philippians 1:9-11

 

-Leah

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