The Grace Given to Me

We can be harder on ourselves than anyone else would ever be.

We have these standards we wish to live up to each day. Unfortunately, being a Christian can make it worse as the bar is set higher for us by following Jesus.

Every day we rise, hoping that today will be this perfect day.  Today, our attitude will be positive, our words will be sweet, and our actions will be all God desires from us.

And then we fall short.  We get frustrated and even angry with ourselves. Our minds and souls become filled with regret, shame, remorse, disappointment, and guilt.  Our conscience weighs us down, and it comes out in negative emotions toward the people around us. 

As a follower of Jesus, we believe in God’s grace.  His unmerited favor and forgiveness toward humanity.  But do we believe that this grace extends to us?  This is not an attempt to excuse our sins nor dismiss the need to change and grow.  It is simply allowing the sacrifice of Jesus to be enough for everyone.

Many of us punish ourselves for our failures because we know the right thing to do and yet fail to live up to the standard.  We have intimate details on each mistake and shortcoming.  We understand the depths of our depravity, and it fills us with shame.  The good news of the gospel is that God forgives the sins of everyone, including us.  Often the most difficult person to convince they have grace and forgiveness is ourselves. 

Good Work or God’s Work?

Is there a difference?

That question is essential yet neglected. 

It is critical for a Church and Christians to be doing the Lord’s work above all else. Almost everyone agrees that his work is good.  So believers set out into the world doing all kinds of projects that benefit their neighbors and communities.  And everyone assumes that what they are doing makes God happy.  If people feel good about what they are doing, why overanalyze it?

My definition of good work is doing something that blesses other people.  These actions can range from a conversation to a building project to offering a meal. However, the definition of God’s work adds a significant element.  It is doing something that blesses other people and leads them to greater faith in God.  That last part is easy to overlook but is essential.

While there are many good works we can do, not every one of them leads people to God.  Some of them can make us feel good about ourselves and create positive vibes while having nothing to do with God.  All of God’s work is good, but not all good work is of God. 

The Church is a community of people who go out into the world doing many good deeds, but they fail if it ceases to do God’s work.    

Enjoy The World Around You

I stopped my walk for a couple of minutes and watched the sun melt into the horizon and leave an orange glow across the sky.  Soon the colors of red bled from the west, leaving everything as dark shadows against the fading evening.  It was breathtaking in its beauty, and I almost missed it because I needed to get in my workout. 

God never designed life to be an endless cycle of busyness.  It was also never planned for us to be passively entertained by others. Instead, life at its best is meant to be lived with the Godly pattern of loving, serving, giving, and enjoying. 

The first three seem evident to anyone who has ever read a Bible, even in a simplistic way. First, we are called to a relationship with God and others.  There we serve one another and give to anyone who has a need.  The final one, enjoyment, I rarely hear anyone mention.  I do not mean you passively sit at home and spend your days being entertained by your TV.  Instead, I think God wants us to enjoy this wonderful creation where he has placed us.

There is no Bible book, chapter, and verse that says this truth. However, I have noticed repeatedly in the Proverbs and the Psalms.  God made this intricate and beautiful world, and those two books stop to see it frequently.  I want every person to enjoy this wonderful life and creation God has given us. 

Get up before dawn and watch the sunrise.  Walk at night and look for shooting stars.  You can find a quiet lake and peacefully notice the sky as it melts into the night.  Observe nature, hike in the woods, ride a bike or a motorcycle into the unknown.  Travel as cheaply as possible so that you can swim in the ocean or ascend a mountain.  God created this planet with so much beauty, and I hope you can get out and experience it.  If nothing else, go outside today and spend a few minutes noticing something you might have missed. 

This is not the central focus of life and should not take all our time and money. Instead, our relationship with God and others is primary.  But I also think you should take time to notice the world where you are placed and enjoy it. God’s creation is magnificent, and it would be a shame to miss it because you were too busy or trapped inside by a talking box.    

Saying Goodbye

Today I will say goodbye to a wonderful saint who lived his life for Jesus. 

Days like this are bittersweet.  It is sweet to know the end result of our faith.  This is a day that family and friends will cling to the hope of the eternal life we find in Jesus.  The light of the gospel shines the brightest in the valley of the shadow of death. 

Today will also be bitter.  There is emotional pain that comes with saying goodbye.  It is hard to finish the final chapter and close the book on someone we love.  We long for one more conversation, smile, and day together.  Tears will flow and drain the emotions, but it is necessary to bring the closure we need. 

The Apostle Paul tells the Church in the city of Thessalonica that it is okay to grieve but do not do it like those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).  Today both of those realities will come to pass.  We will grieve, but even in our sadness, there is hope because of the work of Jesus. 

Today is not goodbye; it is more like, “We will meet again on the other side.” 

Thank you, Jesus. 

I Could Be Worse

I openly admit that I am a mess.  I struggle with sin every single day.  Occasionally I am victorious, but I fail too often. 

All I know is that I cannot imagine how much worse things would be without Jesus. 

The forgiveness offered through the grace of Jesus has kept me moving forward.  The Holy Spirit empowering me over sin at times has been unnoticed yet beyond helpful.  The fellowship of other travelers on the road of faith has inspired me to keep the faith. 

Because of Jesus, I keep trying to improve, get up when I fall, and strive to be the person God wants me to be.

I am a mess, but I am thankful for the goodness of God that makes today much better than it could have been without him.

Scarred For Life

Some pain never goes away.  It might fade into the background, but someone touches the scar, and pain shoots through your whole body.  You wish you could forget that day and what happened then, but it is burned indelibly into your mind. 

I was once told that time heals all wounds.  While it is true that the wounds will eventually turn into scars, pain can still exist even if it is only occasionally when you are touched in the right place.

This is true physically and metaphorically as well.  The pain of losing my best friend 31 years ago still catches me at times, and I sit silently and cry.  The hurt from my father’s strokes and death can cut through me at unexpected moments, making it feel like it happened yesterday.  The person who said those words to me will never know how they still hurt.  The phone not ringing when I was struggling made the pain almost unbearable, and I cannot forget it. 

Don’t get me wrong; I have learned to forgive, move beyond the moment, and heal in those situations the best way I could.  But I was left scarred for life.

There are days I hurt from the past, and I cannot explain it to you unless you have experienced it yourself.  Honestly, I hope you have no idea what I am talking about in this post. 

What You Do Not See Me Do

World-famous basketball star Lebron James is now in an advertisement for a product called Tonal.  According to my Google search, “Tonal is an at-home strength training machine that uses electromagnetism to create resistance and mounts to your wall for a personalized workout with over 200 exercises, like deadlifts, bicep curls, and overhead presses, and on-demand coaching.”

The company knows that LeBron’s name carries influence with a large group of people, especially those who might be into exercise.  Their product is something that people need to see used by a professional to appreciate it genuinely.  It is a perfect match for both parties involved.    

What sells the advertisement is what Lebron says in a voiceover while it shows him exercising.  He states, “Everything you see me do was made possible by what you don’t see, because when you’re not looking, I go to work.”

The concept is accurate and applicable to most endeavors.  What you see people do is the result of what you don’t see them do.  The guy who is in shape exercises when no one is looking.  The person who is out of shape does not work out. 

This idea can be pushed into every arena of life.  The person who has a great marriage works on their marriage when no one is looking.  A couple with a lousy marriage does not work on their relationship.  The person who has a great relationship with their parents, siblings, and children is working on that connection when no one is looking.  The people who know the Bible well, pray profoundly, and serve selflessly are building their faith in God when no one is watching.

Who you are publicly is the result of what you are doing privately.  So what are you doing away from everyone else to make yourself better? 

The Monsters Inside Our Heads

My wife and I were watching a movie recently, and it contained a scene I have often noticed in dramas.  It is where a person opens the notebook of someone else.  The individual could be a concerned parent, friend, psychologist, or even a police officer. They discover a pad of paper and flip the pages to see these dark, scary images drawn by the owner.  The drawings reveal the person’s struggles with inner demons of which no one knows. 

Well, I have never found a notebook like that, nor have I drawn one myself. (So you can relax a little for now.)  While I have not personally seen one, I have noticed that most of us could keep a journal like those on TV.  A physical demon or monster does not plague us; instead, we are haunted by the voices that speak negatively into our minds. 

Many of us struggle with a fear of failure.  The thought cripples us that other people might see us fall flat on our faces.  Others of us struggle with insecurity.  Our past keeps telling us that we are not worthy of friendship or even love.  Still, others have the monsters of self-doubt, anger, and resentment, the voice of a disappointed parent, and the disapproval of people we admire.  For some, past failures speak with more authority than present successes.  If we were totally honest, almost all of us have some voice in our head speaking from the darkness that pushes us in directions we never wanted to go. 

This is why it is essential to fill our minds with the things of God.  The Apostle Paul tells the Church at Philippi, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8 –  NIV 2011)

We need to fill our heads with the voices of God.  We must listen to the sound of things that are positive and uplifting.  The monsters are always there lurking in dark places.  The only way to defeat them is to draw them out into the light.  Then you can address them with the grace, truth, beauty, and power of God. 

Every Monday we are given a new notebook; the pictures we draw inside are up to us. We must be wise about the voice we listen to while filling it up with our sketches.  It could be a scary notebook filled with depictions of evil.  It could also be page after page of Godly artwork that enlightens the soul.  The choice is up to you what kinds of pictures will come from this week.   

What you train your mind to do

A few years ago, I stopped using notes when I preached. It resulted from using my notes less and less through the years, but it also happened because of some changes I made. I decided to put several patterns in place that helped me achieve this goal. These changes included writing less “catchy” outlines and ones that were easier for me to remember, using the passage of scripture as my guide, and keeping my Bible as the primary focus. It was also much more practical than merely writing differently. It meant that I needed my sermon completed by Wednesday morning. Then I could edit and review it on Thursday. Saturday night, I reviewed the sermon at least four times. Finally, I get up early on Sunday morning and review the sermon notes before walking on the local track and talking through the whole thing one more time in complete form and once as a general outline.

These minor changes and patterns have helped me to remember more and more accurately.

I believe you can achieve numerous life goals and dreams in much the same way. Decide what you want to do and then set up patterns to make it happen. For example, tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. I believe most of us would like to be more thankful. What would happen if you set up actions to achieve that goal? Things like starting the day with a grateful journal, keeping lists of blessings, and changing what you talk about with friends. Perhaps you could keep all the positive comments people sent you in emails, texts, or online and throw away all the criticism. What if you took steps to train your mind to be thankful more than one day a year?

Perhaps one day, you will wake up and find you can be thankful without thinking about it. Maybe it would be the regular pattern of your life. All you have to do is train your mind to do it.

Used for Good

The item was listed as NIB.  That means it was never used, and it is New In the Box. 

It is an excellent way to find an older item when you are searching online.  Then you know you are getting a product that has never been touched and should have a long life. However, it seems like an odd thing to me.  There are only a couple of possible explanations.  First, someone bought this object and put it away on purpose with the hope of selling it later for a profit.  The other possibility is that someone bought it and simply never used it. Either way, the item is unused and in perfect condition.

Whenever you use something, it will get scratches and dents.  It will start to wear and have signs of use.  But that is what the item was made to do.   It was made to be used.  It was never designed to sit in a box year after year looking nice.  Something that has been used is fulfilling the purpose for which it was created.  While I like finding NIB items online, I cannot help but think, “what a waste.” Someone owned a great piece and then never used it. 

The same is true with people.  God created each one of us with unique gifts and abilities.  Everyone has their own special contribution to give to the kingdom of God.  But know that if you try to do something good, you will sometimes get scratches and dents. Things will not go the way you planned, people will get upset, and your feelings might get hurt.  You will watch things fail, people quit, and others ignore you.  It can be frustrating to serve people in the name of Jesus.  But that is what we were created to do. 

We can keep ourselves safe on the shelf, but only in being used will we each fulfill our purpose.