Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Tim. 6:17-18)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Leave Your Expectations at the Door

Photo by Jacek Korona
Great Expectations

We're all guilty of expecting too much from people, spouses, family members, friends, organizations, things, and even ourselves. Perhaps, because of how we were raised as children, how much money our family had or didn't have when we were growing up, or how loving or unloving our families have been, we all consciously or subconsciously wire up our brains with a certain set of expectations.

We anticipate (and even demand) that others act a certain way or do something specific that we would like them to do, and when they don't, we get hacked off. We don't even understand the reasoning behind why we get so upset with people. Most of the time, we don't make our expectations clear. We get upset with others, and they have no clue that they haven't even met our expectations.

Expectations About God

Depending on our spiritual journey, our relationship with our earthly father (or lack of one), and our level of maturity, I think we have a tendency to place a lot of expectations on God. We've heard enough of the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel from the TV preachers that we start believing what these guys are telling us.

How could a loving God allow me to lose my job? How could the God that I serve let my marriage fall apart? Why would God permit me to only make $50,000 a year when I really need to make at least $100,000? Why didn't God heal my husband of cancer?

God is God, and He's going to do what He's going to do. He's going to allow things to happen in all of our lives that don't make sense to our way of thinking and the expectations we have about the God of the Universe. He sees the big picture. Trust Him. He knows best. Don't place expectations on your Heavenly Father.

Expectations About People

Heavy expectations placed on people are real relationship killers. I was recently talking with a close friend about expectations in marriage. My friend had just attended one of those weekend marriage conferences because she is preparing to get married in a few days. The big idea that she came away with from the conference is that when you are dating a potential mate, you need to have both eyes wide open for potential problems. Once you decide to marry that person and walk the aisle, though, you need to go into the marriage with your eyes half closed. You must leave your expectations at the door. The person you are married to will fail you. They will never meet all of your expectations.

The same holds true with all relationships - our relationships with our children, our extended family, our friends, and our acquaintances. Since we're all flawed human beings, we're going to fail each other. If you're going to have any expectations, then EXPECT that we're not going to meet one another's expectations!

Expectations About Our Money

If you are a hard worker and good at what you do in your calling, career, or business, then I think we all have certain expectations that we're going to make money hand over fist. Unfortunately, that's not always how things work out, especially in a down economy, such as the one we now find ourselves in.

All we can do is be the best money manager of what we currently are receiving. If God wants us to have more to manage, then He will bless us with more and see how we handle the additional blessings. If He needs us to learn additional financial lessons, then He will give us what He gives us. We should be content with whatever that amount is.

Does this mean that we shouldn't work harder, do some overtime, or pickup additional work? Maybe or maybe not. It depends on your situation. If you're working hard on your debt snowball or your emergency fund, then that would be a great reason to pursue additional financial resources. But, if you're doing it just to get rich, then that may not be such a great reason.

The Solution For Battling Expectations

I believe that an attitude of contentment and thanksgiving is a great remedy for heavy expectations. When you are content with where you currently are at with people, money, and stuff, then your expectations are lowered, maybe even disappear altogether. When you're living a life of thankfulness and gratitude for who and what God has brought into your life right now, you have lowered expectations.

Most of us are living pretty sweet lives, even during times of difficulty. We get focused on bigger and better, though, and we raise our expectations. When you're battling with high expectations, try switching your focus on contentment and thanksgiving and see what happens. And, by the way, just leave your expectations at the door.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Don't Worry About Perfection

Photo by Sarah Nitt
Attention All Perfectionists

Pssst.... I have a secret to tell you.

For all you perfectionists out there, you're never going to get it perfect. As a fellow perfectionist personality, I know that we don't like to hear that statement. I certainly don't. It stinks. We can't get our little lives in perfect shape.

Imperfect Is OK

Perfection is unattainable. Imperfection is going to have to be good enough. It's just going to have to be OK whether you like it or not. Whether it's being an imperfect person, producing an imperfect product, living an imperfect life, or writing an imperfect blog post, you are going to need to accept the reality of the situation and move ahead.

Imperfect People In The Bible

Because of Adam and Eve's sin back in the Garden of Eden, we are all doomed to lives of imperfection. From Genesis 3 forward to the end, the Bible is a continuous narrative of one imperfect person after another.

Noah and his family were the only one's considered righteous enough to be saved by God from the worldwide flood. After the flood, though, Noah planted a vineyard, made some wine from the grapes, and then got hammered in his tent.

Abraham was God's chosen man to create a lasting covenant that would later be with the nation of Israel. On at least two separate occasions, Abraham misrepresented the truth about his wife, telling the Philistines that she was his sister.

King David was an imperfect person. He screwed up in some pretty major ways. But, he always acknowledged that he messed up, confessed his sin, took God's punishment, and moved forward with God's calling on his life.

Peter, fearing for his very life, denied that he even knew the Lord three times. Later on, Jesus restored him to his place of leadership among the apostles.

Moving Forward In Our Imperfection

Overcoming perfectionism can be a challenge for a lot of people. The key, though, is to acknowledge that you and I are imperfect. We are going to mess up a whole bunch. Once we do mess up, we need to just move forward in our imperfection. Simply acknowledge that we have made some mistakes, ask God to forgive us, and then get back up and keep going.

The people who have been truly successful have made some of the biggest mistakes. The only way they could be truly successful was to learn and grow from their mistakes. They don't get stuck in the past. They simply chalked it up to life experience, put one foot in front of the other, and kept on truckin'.

I don't care how much you've messed up and God doesn't either. Learn, grow, edit, rewrite, and keep going.

In closing, let me leave you with this excellent, lengthy quote that I ran across as I was doing some research on this imperfect post. Enjoy!

Congratulations!  You're not perfect!  It's ridiculous to want to be perfect anyway.  But then, everybody's ridiculous sometimes, except perfect people.  You know what perfect is?  Perfect is not eating or drinking or talking or moving a muscle or making even the teensiest mistake.  Perfect is never doing anything wrong - which means never doing anything at all.  Perfect is boring!  So you're not perfect!  Wonderful!  Have fun!  Eat things that give you bad breath!  Trip over your own shoelaces!  Laugh!  Let somebody else laugh at you!  Perfect people never do any of those things.  All they do is sit around and sip weak tea and think about how perfect they are.  But they're really not one-hundred-percent perfect anyway.  You should see them when they get the hiccups!  Phooey!  Who needs 'em?  You can drink pickle juice and imitate gorillas and do silly dances and sing stupid songs and wear funny hats and be as imperfect as you please and still be a good person.  Good people are hard to find nowadays.  And they're a lot more fun than perfect people any day of the week.  - Stephen Manes, from Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days!

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

We Don't Have Enough! | Scarcity Issues

Photo by Phillip Guyton
Short Supply

Everyone worries about having enough, especially in difficult financial times. We worry if we have enough money to cover our bills. We worry if we have enough gas in the car. We worry if we have enough food in the house to feed our family. We worry if we have enough coffee to make it through the morning. OK, maybe you don't worry about that, but I do at times!

If we're not careful, we can worry if we have enough of anything and everything in our lives. We get into a scarcity mindset. If we claim to be believers in Christ, though, should we really live in a scarcity mindset? Being a believer doesn't negate the struggle of scarcity. We're still going to fight it. This mindset is part of our human makeup. But, there are things we can do to push back against this fleshly nature.

Biblical Examples Of Scarcity

In the Gospels, we find at least two great examples of scarcity and how Jesus handled each situation. In Matthew 14 and 15, we find two very similar stories - the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000. In all actuality, there were way more than 5,000 and 4,000 fed in these stories. These figures are only the number of men that were present. In Biblical times, they typically did not include the number of women and children that were also there. When you factor those numbers in, now we're talking probably 12,000-20,000 people!

So whether it was 4,000 or 20,000, an awesome amount of people were fed with very few resources. In the story of the feeding of the 5,000, the disciples only had five loaves of bread and two fish, and they were freaking out! But Jesus simply took the resources available in the moment and provided for the needs of the people.

The same is true in the story of the feeding of the 4,000. The disciples only had seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. We see Jesus once again taking these few resources and accomplishing amazing things.

Practical Suggestions For Fighting Scarcity In Our Lives

First, remind yourself that whatever the Lord wants to accomplish, He will accomplish. In both of these "feeding the people" stories, Jesus didn't want to send the people away to go find food. He knew that they were tired and hungry already. He wanted them to be able to stay right where they were and eat. The disciples' solution was to tell the people to leave and find their own food. Jesus' solution was allowing God to provide.

Second, look around and see what resources you have available right now. At both the feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000, Jesus asked the disciples what was available right at that moment. Obviously in both cases, only a few loaves of bread and a few small fish were at hand. Whatever situation you may find yourself, use what you currently have as effectively as possible and allow God to provide the increase.

Third, be thankful for what you have right now. In both stories, Jesus took these few available resources, looked up to His Father in Heaven, and gave thanks. You may not think you have enough resources to take care of your needs at that precise moment. It doesn't matter, though. Thank God anyway for what you do have.

Fourth, pray for God's provision. Along with a prayer of thanksgiving, offer up a prayer for God to provide for what you think you are lacking. If you think you're in tune with what God wants to accomplish, He will provide everything that's necessary.

Fifth, watch what God can do! The amazing part I find in both of these stories is that God not only provided enough food to satisfy the people with their physical hunger, but He also provided a bunch of leftovers! Why would He do this? Why not provide just enough to feed the people? Don't leftovers seem like such a waste? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know that God has an abundance of supply. Trust Him. He owns everything in the universe and can take care of your needs and even have leftovers at the end.

In what ways are you battling an attitude of scarcity in your life right now? What do you need to do to push back against this mindset? Live your life, today, with a mindset of God's abundant provision!

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Disciplined Out Of Success

Contentment, the Hard Way

In my last post, I blogged on the process of learning contentment the hard way through a messy divorce and my life challenges over the last couple of years. As a result of this massive mid-life crisis, I discovered a new way to experience satisfaction for where I am, today.

You can't dwell on what happened in the past. You can't worry about what's coming up in your next three life stages. You can't get consumed with becoming a success in your calling, your field of expertise, or your business. All you can do is live in this moment and live your life to the best of your ability right now, with God's help, of course.

Success Does Not Equal Happiness

Before my marriage problems and eventual divorce, I had become consumed with becoming successful, whatever that meant for me I'm not exactly sure. I was obsessed with being able to juggle a bunch of different "balls" in my career. These different career focuses ranged from church orchestra director and stewardship pastor, to small business owner and writer. Honestly, I was pretty much all over the map and my first marriage paid the price.
God may allow His servant to succeed when He has disciplined him to a point where he does not need to succeed to be happy. The man who is elated by success and is cast down by failure is still a carnal man. At best his fruit will have a worm in it. - A. W. Tozer
So, taking from the quote above, is what I have gone through over the last two years a result of being disciplined out of success in order for me to learn that success does not equal happiness? Maybe or maybe not. I won't really know until I reach heaven and can ask the Lord why I had to endure all this junk for the last two years.

But, I do know that I have learned a lot of valuable life lessons in the process of living though the difficulties. I now have first hand, real life experience that trying to be a successful church musician, stewardship pastor, small business owner, writer, father, or husband does not equal happiness. They might help you to be happier, but these things can never equal happiness.

Unfortunately, for some dummies like me, almost everything needed to be stripped away before I could really comprehend this. I needed to be disciplined out of success in order for me to understand that I don't need this so-called "success" in order for me to be happy.

What We Really Need

So, if we don't need success in order to be happy, what is it that we do need? I would contend that we simply need more of God. We need to go deeper in our relationship with Him. Our character needs to be shaped more into that of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The allure of success is a challenge for almost all of us. Don't get sucked in, though. Don't learn the hard way like I did that success doesn't equal happiness. Consider what King Solomon, the wisest man ever to live on this earth, said in Ecclesiastes 12:1, 12-14:

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”—
Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Learning Contentment the Hard Way

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. - Epicurus

Jedi Training Requires Contentment

In the middle of Star Wars, Episode 5, we see Luke Skywalker land on the planet of Dagobah to try to find the great Jedi Master Yoda. After Luke lands his X-wing fighter, he runs across a small creature and they engage in a conversation about Luke looking for this great Jedi Master. As the conversation and evening wear on, this small creature slowly begins to reveal that he is in fact Yoda, the Jedi Master Luke is looking for.

After this revelation, an argument ensues with Yoda, the spirit of Ben Kenobi, and Luke about whether or not Luke is really ready to start Jedi training. He tells him,
Ready, are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained! A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind [to the invisible Ben, indicating Luke]. 
This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things [turning to Luke]. You are reckless!
Yoda's primary concern with Luke was his lack of contentment. Luke's problem was that he was always looking way off into the future. He never considered where he was in the present.

Contentment Is Being Focused On Where You Are Right Now

In all of our lives, it's so easy to get focused three steps ahead of where we're at right now. When you're a kid in grade school, you want to hurry up and get to middle school. When you're in middle school, you want to hurry up and get to high school, because that's where all the cool kids are. When you finally reach high school, you want life to hurry up and speed along so that you can drive a car, graduate, and get into college. When you get to college, you want to find Mr. or Mrs. Right, graduate, land a great job, get married, buy a house, and have children of your own. Then, once you thought you have "arrived," you want your kids to hurry up and grow up so that you can have your "life" back!

I know all of these things to be true. I've been there, and I'm sure you have as well. We all struggle with discontentment at some level in our lives. We have the common tendency to always think that the "grass is always greener" at the next level of life. We think that reaching the next level in life is going to bring us more happiness than what we are experiencing right now. We end up chasing a rainbow that never materializes. The true reality, though, is that if we're still six feet above ground today, then we're living in the rainbow (at least while we live here on the earth). Our lives our blessed, we just don't recognize it in the moment, because we're so intently focused on the future.

Life Problems Can Develop Contentment

Several months ago, I turned forty years old. Some people freak out on the big birthdays that end with a zero, but with everything I have been through in my life over the last two years, I have to honestly say that it didn't phase me a whole lot. So what, I'm forty... big deal. At least in my own mind, I still feel like I'm in my late twenties or early thirties. Some of my friends have told me that I'm a "young" forty. In today's world, perhaps forty really is the new thirty. I can only hope this is true for me!

Before my divorce, I was pushing, kicking, struggling, and just plain not necessarily happy with where I was at. I wanted to accomplish some big things in my life, but for whatever reason, things were just not happening as fast as I would like them. I think I really did lose sight of the fact that there were some really cool things happening in my life, and I never embraced them. I was never truly thankful for what I did have until a good chunk of it was stripped from me. I recognize today that this where I most likely failed my marriage and my family.

So after living through some great challenges in my late thirties and into age forty, I have a different perception on contentment. I wouldn't say I have arrived, but I definitely look at life with a different set of eyes. I would like to think that I am more content with where I am at today. I am definitely working harder at living in the moment than allowing life to simply rush by me as I try to reach the next life stage. I am truly thankful for God teaching me some important lessons the last two years. My only regret is that I had to learn them the hard way.
We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have. - Frederick Keonig
So, are you living a life of contentment, today, or are you three steps ahead of yourself looking into the future? What do you need to do to live this day and every day in a state of contentment?

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

4 Thoughts About Teaching Children To Be Generous

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt
Responsible Parenting

Being a parent is a tough job and a major responsibility. Of course, it would seem that a lot of parents out there don't give a rat's rear end about how they are teaching their children. A lot of them probably don't even really think through how they live their lives out in front of their kids. They make selfish, daily, financial decisions without even giving consideration to how their attitudes and actions may appear to their children.

If you are a responsible parent and really do care about how your attitude and actions are impacting your kids, then consider how you are impacting them in the area of generosity. In this post, I would like to offer four thoughts on how you can teach your children the important character trait of generosity.

4 Thoughts On Teaching Children Generosity
  1. Model generosity. One memory from my childhood that has stuck with me for several years now is remembering my father picking up a hitchhiker or homeless guy on the side of the street and taking him to McDonald's for a meal. In today's world that might not be the brightest thing to do with a couple of young kids in the backseat of the car, but even some 35 years later, I can still recall this act of generosity by my dad. I also recall him regularly placing out my parent's tithe envelope on Saturday evenings to take to church the next day. My parents also gave regularly of their time and abilities to the ministries of our church. Whether we like it or not, kids really do watch and learn from what we do as parents as much as from what we say. If we want our children to be generous, then we need to show them what generosity looks like. Whenever my daughters and I are out and about running errands and we come across an organization that is collecting money, such as the Salvation Army or various veteran's groups, I always try to use these as teaching moments for all of us to give back to those in need.
  2. Teach through money management. Using the old Dave Ramsey 3 envelope system for kids - Give, Save, Spend - this really is a helpful tool for children to allocate their money for these three important areas. Have them fund their Give envelopes regularly and generously. Then, remind them to take their Give envelopes with them to church each week and place that money in the offering plate.
  3. Legislate first, then allow self-governance. When your kids are little, have them divide up their allowance or commission money so that a portion of it does indeed make it inside the Give envelope. As your kids get older, though, relax the conditions of their money and see what happens. Hopefully through modeling, teaching, and legislating, the generosity principle is taking root deep down in their spirit. The only way to test this and find out is to gradually let go of the controls and see if they really do understand what generosity is all about. Let them divide up their money appropriately on their own, monitor the situation, and see how they do.
  4. Take on a family project. Outside of giving regularly to your church, you could consider taking on a regular missions project in which the whole family can participate. These outside projects could range from helping out on a regular basis at a local food bank or homeless shelter all the way to helping build a school in Africa. I would say the only restrictions on your project would be how much time and money you can actually allocate to what you would like to do!
Do you have additional thoughts or ideas that you have used in your family to teach kids to be generous? If so, I'd love to hear your stories. Just leave me a comment below.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Try It, You Might Like It

Food Issues

I admit it. I have weird food issues. I've had them since I was a kid. My family loves to reminisce about my issues with ketchup and mustard on a McDonald's hamburger when I was like five or six years old. To this day, I can barely stand to go into a McDonald's during lunch or dinner due to bad smell memories. I know. I'm weird, but I'm OK with that. I like what I like.

In the past, certain people in my life have tried to change me and my issues with food. Sometimes they have been successful, and other times they haven't. The times they have been successful, I have grown to appreciate a new type of food or even gained a new favorite restaurant.

Just Try It

So, the catch phrase with getting others to try out new food is always, "Just try it. You might like it." We use it all the time on children and even some adults, like me! It's always difficult to judge something such as a new food when we haven't tried it before. My problem is that I judge a lot of foods based on my own previous experiences with similar types of foods. I should do a better job of listening to others' testimonies about the food rather than jumping to conclusions before I try it for myself.

Experiment With Giving

Giving kind of works the same way. A lot of believers have jumped to conclusions about giving based on negative personal experiences in the past. They just know that they don't like the idea of giving consistently and sacrificially. They would rather spend that money on other needs and wants in their life. The non-givers and occasional givers haven't really given the whole giving thing a fair shot. They've maybe taken a little nibble, but they haven't really dived in and really tasted what it's like to be a regular giver. They need to listen more to the awesome giving stories of others who have stepped out in faith and God's blessing on their lives as a result.

The most dedicated, consistent, and generous givers started somewhere. Perhaps, they began with placing extra cash from their wallets in the offering plate on Sunday morning. Then, as they grew in their personal financial management and spiritual life, they began to understand the need to grow in their generosity. The key, though, is to get going and growing. Experiment with giving. What do you have to lose, but maybe a few hundred dollars as you try this giving thing out? God has some really cool stuff planned for your life if you will just live out a life of generosity. Try God, try giving, and see what He starts doing in your life as a result!
"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it" (Malachi 3:10).
Are you a marginal, occasional giver? Have you really dived in and experimented with a life of sold-out financial generosity? Why not challenge yourself to 30, 60, or even 90 days of intentional, regular, generous, off-the-top, and proportional giving and see what God does in your life as a result? I can promise you this, you will never be the same person if you do!

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Are You Obsessed?

Obsessive-Compulsive People

Have you ever known anyone who is obsessive-compulsive? People who have issues with germs, avoiding stepping on lines, making sure the stove is turned off, or checking multiple times to make sure the front door is locked? When I think about these type of people, I instantly recall the classic movie What About Bob, where actor Bill Murray plays the character Bob Wiley who is pretty much obsessive-compulsive about anything and everything. Talk about a guy with issues, sheesh.

While a lot of people in today's world may have issues such as these, there are also a number of people out there who perhaps have a milder form of just plain being obsessed with their work, their calling, their marriage, their kids, or money management. When they wake up in the morning until they go to bed at night, this is what they are thinking about. They constantly obsess about how they can be a better parent, how they can do a better job at work, or how they can build a better product for their business.

Walking A Fine Line

Of course, obsessed people like this are walking a fine line. If they stray a little to either side, they will go crazy with their obsession. They will become unbalanced and out of control. They constantly need accountability from others to keep their obsession in check, otherwise their relationships with others become strained and other important parts of their lives are neglected. There are occasions where it may be acceptable to be a little out of control and most other times probably not so much.

Obsessed People Get Stuff Done

It would seem that the people who have accomplished some amazing things in life have the tendency to be obsessed. I mean, think about it. Thomas Edison was obsessed with creating a number of different inventions, most notably a more efficient electric light bulb. His obsession with an improved electric light bulb led to some 1500-2000 experiments until he was satisfied with his final outcome.

The Wright Brothers were obsessed with the idea of powered, manned flight, and they spent 3-4 years with various experiments until they accomplished their famous flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. In that same year, Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson became obsessed with being the first to drive an automobile from coast-to-coast across the United States.

Sam Walton was obsessed in growing Wal-Mart into the largest discount retail chain. Steve Jobs is obsessed with creating really cool mobile computing products through Apple Computers. Bill Gates has been obsessed with creating amazing computer software products for personal computers through his company, Microsoft.

The list of obsessed people and astonishing inventions, products, and companies could go on and on. All  of these people have accomplished incredible things due to an obsession and focus on great ideas.

Obsession Costs Something

Being obsessed with an idea, a product, or a business has a cost, though. That cost is usually in the form of time, energy, money, and relationships. It takes a lot of time, personal energy, and money to create light bulbs, airplanes, computers, software, and companies.

Unfortunately, many times, relationships are strained as a result of these obsessions. Marriages fall apart. Families are neglected. Children rebel against their parents. Friendships are destroyed. Again, those who are obsessed are walking a very fine line of living a balanced life or one that is completely out of control.

Obsession And Christianity

The call of Christ is a call to obsession. As followers of Jesus, we have been called to love God with everything we've got. Our lives should have a new focus on accomplishing God's Kingdom work. We can't play it safe anymore. We have to go all out for Jesus. It's an all or nothing kind of deal. You become obsessed with your Christian walk or you fall by the wayside. Perhaps, those who abandon their walk are just posers, you know, pretenders of the faith.

This calling to follow Jesus is no easy task. Consider our Lord's own words from the New Testament on the call to follow Him:
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:17-23).
Following the Lord requires a great deal of sacrifice. This sacrifice may include relationships with certain family members and friends. Or, the personal sacrifice may be financial wealth given back to God as a demonstration of an obsession with God's Kingdom rather than temporal stuff. And, some Christians may even be called upon to give their very lives as they follow the Lord.

Are you obsessed with God's Kingdom? Are you loving God with everything you've got? If so, how are you demonstrating that obsession in your Christian walk?

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Thankful for the Journey

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Gratitude is an art of painting an adversity into a lovely picture. - Kak Sri

Thanksgiving Day Was Birthed From Adversity

Our modern day Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States can be traced back to a celebration of thanks to God for helping a group of people through severe problems. In 1621, the Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation held a Thanksgiving celebration to thank God for His help in getting their poor settlement through a particularly brutal winter. Read the following account of their first harsh winter in New England:
Many of the able-bodied men were too infirm to work, and some died of their illnesses. Thus, only seven residences (of a planned nineteen) and four common houses were constructed during the first winter. During the first winter in the New World, the Mayflower colonists suffered greatly from diseases like scurvy, lack of shelter and general conditions onboard ship. 45 of the 102 emigrants died the first winter and were buried on Cole's Hill. Additional deaths during the first year meant that only 53 people were alive in November 1621 to celebrate the harvest feast which modern Americans know as "The First Thanksgiving." Of the 18 adult women, 13 died the first winter while another died in May. Only four adult women were left alive for the Thanksgiving [Source: Wikipedia].
Almost half of this settlement of Pilgrims passed away, and yet the half of the colony who survived the loss of their family members and friends still took the time to celebrate God's helping them through a harsh winter and then His hand of blessing on a bountiful harvest in the following fall season.
The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts.  No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving. - H.U. Westermayer
The Proper Response: Give Thanks Anyway

The real test of thankfulness comes when times are difficult, not when everything is running smoothly. It's way too easy to thank God during the good times. It takes a deeper, stronger character to thank Him for the times of a difficult journey.

Consider these two verses from the apostles Paul and James regarding thanksgiving and joy in the midst of difficult circumstances:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6).
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (James 1:2).
As believers in Jesus Christ, our response to difficulties in our journey through life should be:
  • Peace and calm (not anxious).
  • Pray it through! Petition God for assistance.
  • Thankfulness
  • Joy
An Attitude of Gratitude Has Helped Me

Over the last few weeks, I have shared with you the trials and pain of my own journey in the last two years. While I readily admit that during the majority of these two years, my life has not always exhibited the peace, thankfulness, and joy that we are called to display. I have prayed and petitioned God to work in and through the entire mess, but for whatever reason, He has had different answers to my requests than my own solutions to these problems. I have first-hand experience that "His ways are higher than my ways. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Over time, though, the Lord has granted me the peace, thanksgiving, and joy as I have relied Him. Through the trials, I have attempted to be thankful for everything else that has been going right in my life  as well as the bad. Even though it can be difficult, the amazing thing I have discovered is that it really does work. Embrace an attitude of thanksgiving even during difficult times and see what God can and will do as a result.
If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily. - Gerald Good
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