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Sunday, 17 July 2016

Being A Christian Doesn’t Make You Spotless, But A Perfect Vessel For God To Fill

It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years since I first stepped foot on the stage of BET’s Sunday Best Season 2. It seems like yesterday when I received the call that I made it through the auditions and was on my way to Atlanta to compete nationally.  As I look at how far I’ve come, and how different I am now from the girl that stood on that stage, it reminds me just how long it’s been and how much I’ve grown in my music ministry and as a woman.
I was afraid then and I struggled to function amongst all of the new people that were in my space. It was difficult for me to be in a new environment away from the things that made me feel safe because I was holding a big secret. The whole time I was hiding that I suffered from social anxiety disorder.
As a woman of faith, it was difficult to talk about suffering from this disorder because I thought the non-believer would think my God wasn’t real because he couldn’t or wouldn’t heal me and that other Christians would tell me to pray about it because it’s the devil. Even now, as a mom, it’s scary when I have a panic attack as it causes me not to think clearly. During those moments, it’s easy for me to slip into a space where I have to shut myself off from my son because I’m too overwhelmed.
These days I have to push myself to keep from focusing on the negative side effects of my condition. I spend every day educating my son about it and incorporating it into my testimony to show people that as a Christian it doesn’t make you spotless, but instead it makes you the perfect vessel for God to fill.

God’s Sanctuary: The Substance and the Shadow

To confound Beijing with Paris, or Bogota with Tokyo would appear bizarre to most people; after all, the differences in location and style set them far apart. Nevertheless, when it comes to Christian experiences such mistakes may occur without raising too many eyebrows.
It is generally accepted that the first rule of orientation is to know where we are in relation to a known location—the North Pole being generally the point of reference. If this rule is accepted, a significant number of evangelicals must have lost not only their compass but their map as well, for fantasy is often mistaken for substance and virtuality for reality.

Discerning the substance from the shadow

The problem can be traced back to the way material entities usurp the place of their spiritual counterparts. Too often the shadow is being mistaken for the object or the contour for the substance.
This is by no means new. Jesus had to clarify such misconceptions a long time ago. The Samaritan woman for instance was confused about the acceptable place of worship. “Our fathers worship on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” This sounds like a modern evangelical debate doesn’t it? Is it here, there, or in both places?
The answer Jesus gave didn’t provide mere information. It reached deep into her spirit and ministered life: “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem worship the Father. … … But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:21&23). This is not empty spiritualizing. It is a call to reality, a reality being recurrently eclipsed by material substitutes and mental simulations.
In the days of Jeremiah the same thing was happening. People thought everything was fine because they were worshiping in the temple (Jer. 7:3–8). In many ways they were the equivalent of traditional churchgoers. They stood in their emblematic sanctuary unaware that the real one was as far from their heart as paradise from their eyes.
The apostle Paul had to tackle the same problem. While writing to the Colossians he points out that several things are but the shadow of things to come (Col. 2:17). Obviously, some Christians in Colossae were entertaining themselves with umbras while forgetting the substance. Paul had to remind them that the body is of Christ (Col. 2:17). The word he uses for body is σῶμα, which means in the context: That which casts a shadow as distinguished from the shadow itself (see Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). The Orthodox Jewish Bible reads: Which are a shadow of the things to come in the Olam HaBah; but the reality, the substance, is Moshiach”.
I believe shadows are still confusing several well-intentioned Christians today. The line between appearance and substance is so thin that to discern the one from the other is not always easy, yet the former is lifeless while the latter is life imparting.
For instance Jesus declares in John 6:63: “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” But then Paul draws the line between the mere reflection and the object being reflected: “who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). It is this existent duality that can engender confusion and lead to what has been called a stagnant Christian life.

The Shadow: earthly sanctuaries

There are still plenty of earthly sanctuaries surrounding us today. Tabernacles are found on street corners, offering opportunities to enjoy the smell of heaven on the pulse of hymns or rock beat, and this, with the best intentions in mind.
Now please! Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying such places should not exist. I am only pointing out the deceitful presumption existing in many minds that the temple justifies the experience, which often falls short of spiritual reality. For if clothes don’t make the man and a book should not be judged by its cover, evangelical experiences should not be canonized by the stones of a building or the name of a preacher. But regrettably what should not be done often is, and books are being bought at first glance and religious practices evaluated on their evangelical tint.

Substance: the true tabernacle

“Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man” (Hebrews 8:1,2).
This is the tabernacle justifying the experience, the true and eternal sanctuary where spiritual reality strikes the mind and enlightens the heart. Therein stand the seraphim with their faces covered with two wings, one crying to another saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). In that temple there is no grumbling, no backbiting and no arrogance. There is only reverence and everyone says: “Glory!” (Psalm 29:9).
When we cavil or belch out resentment, when we utter falsehood or scoff at our neighbor we are not in His temple. We might be inside an earthly sanctuary amidst hymns and prayers, but surely we haven’t crossed the everlasting doors. Maybe the woman next to us has crossed them; maybe she is beholding the throne of glory. If she does you can be certain her life is experiencing a transformation. She is being changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18). But are we?
Why do we run after earthly goods so much? How is it that through consumption society has succeeded in hypnotizing such a large sector of our evangelical world? Maybe the old song has the answer: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of the earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” If these words mean anything at all, much of His glory must be hidden from many evangelical worshipers, for what is being observed provokes the question: Where are we standing? Can we say with Jeremiah: “A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary” (Jeremiah 17:12).

Changing perspectives in the sanctuary

I believe there is something of great importance to be learned in Psalm 73. The psalmist narrates how he was envious of the boastful when he saw the prosperity of the wicked. His heart was full of questions and doubts. What he observed disturbed him/ He was soaked in frustration and exasperation. But suddenly we see him waking up. His meditation is abruptly transfigured. The veil of deceitful appearance is lifted up and truth appears in all of its glory.
How did it happen? Verse seventeen explains how: He went into the sanctuary of God. This made the difference. Amidst angelic hosts and rays of divine light he reached the place of understanding. The question of Job had finally been answered: “But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?” (Job 28:12 & 20). At last the psalmist knew, and knew with certainty, where the place of understanding was. One single entrance into the Ancient Tabernacle was sufficient to captivate his entire being and enlighten the eyes of his understanding.
Isaiah experienced the same thing. Inside the heavenly temple his life underwent a restoration. There was a sudden change at the level of the mind. He could now discern between the profane and the holy, between the clean and the unclean. At once he realized he was unfit for the Master’s use: “Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:3).
Inside these gates virtuality cannot breathe. All shams are laid bare and smashed on the floor of factuality. The conscience is shaken and the thoughts exposed.
What I am saying is that nothing has changed. The place of understanding still exists and we can enter and dwell there.

Entering the true tabernacle

Brethren! Let us not be at ease in Zion (Amos 6:1). Let us strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees (Isaiah 35:3; Hebrews 12:12). “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:22–25).

The Power of the Holy Spirit

World-renowned gospel singer of the early 20th century, Mahalia Jackson once said, “The mind and the voice by themselves are not sufficient.”
For a woman known as “The Queen of Gospel” who spent her life building one of the greatest musical legacies of all time by the power of her voice, this is a massive statement.
Rather than being hypocritical, Jackson’s statement reveals the heart behind her music: a heart devoted to and reliant upon God.
The Spirit of Gospel Music
In many of her quotes, Jackson is contrasting gospel music with blues music. “Gospel songs are the songs of hope,” she said. “When you sing gospel you have the feeling there is a cure for what’s wrong, but when you are through with the blues, you’ve got nothing to rest on.”
Her point, I think, is that there is something more to gospel music than the human voice alone. God’s truth, actively proclaimed and actively heard through the avenue of gospel music, gives the songs meaning and power that other types of music lack. Similarly, the Holy Spirit gives meaning and power to our lives that we would otherwise lack on our own.
Romans 8:26-27 says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
The Holy Spirit and Us 
One of the most miraculous truths of the gospel is that God, through the Holy Spirit, comes to dwell within our hearts. Because of this our old, dead bodies are given new life and purpose through the sanctifying influence of the Spirit of God within us. Now, with the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the hope of growing to become more like Christ every day.
The beautiful thing about gospel music is that, ideally, it has the power of the Holy Spirit in it, just like prayer. As the Spirit intercedes for us during prayer, so too does the Spirit carry the truths and the heartfelt cries proclaimed through gospel music up to the ears of our Heavenly Father.
Without God, we are nothing. Without the guidance and sanctification of the Holy Spirit, we are empty and powerless. Thank you, Father, for the redeeming presence of Your Spirit within us. Help us to submit to His stirrings more each day, humbling ourselves to Your Mighty Grace.

On Attitudes

There are elements of our personality that have the power to make us or destroy us. They can cause us to ascend to awesome heights or descend into the depths of misery. I am referring to our attitudes. Every member of the human race has them, yet we are often unaware of the influence they have on the formation of our character.
What is an attitude?
An attitude is a mental position one takes in relation to someone or something. The mental position can be related to prayers, trials, people and more. Attitudes can be good or bad, constructive or destructive, edifying or discouraging. On the aesthetic scale they range from beautiful to repellent, and although they might affect people around us, they mostly bear on our own development and identity.
Attitudes never become part of us accidentally. We are not born with them, but they are the result of a progressive creation we have willfully fed. They might have been prompted by society or perhaps triggered by a third party, but ultimately they are the product of our individuality.
As much as the formation of attitudes depends on us, once we accept them they have the power to form or deform our very character. Attitudes are like molds. They have the power to shape us.
Specific attitudes are often related to a definite object. When the triggering object is not present the attitude might be latent, but the moment the object returns the attitude is revived and the person’s actions or reactions become conditioned by it. The only thing that can make us free at this point would be a change of attitude. Using the words of Paul we can say, a mental transformation is possible since our mind can be renewed (Romans 12:2). But this demands humility and a certain amount of spiritual perception.
Our attitude towards trials
How do we face tribulations, trials or difficulties? Do we get impatient, frustrated and discouraged, thinking that such ill fortunes should never be part of our life? Do they have the power to demoralize us, leading our soul to the periphery of depression and misery? Do we look at them as enemies attempting to destroy our peace and happiness? Or can we say, with the apostle Paul in Romans 5:3-4, that “we also glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope?”
Could it be that a large percentage of evangelical Christians prefer to avoid tribulations altogether, seeing little meaning or value in them? Our attitude towards tribulations will determine the way we are going to face them. Paul and Silas were able to sing in prison because their mind had been renewed (Acts 16:25). It had passed from worldliness to heavenliness. It had experienced a demolition leading to a reconstruction. So they were rejoicing and praising God where many of us would have been depressed and disorientated.
Revising our attitudes: Knowing the truth
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
Attempting to revise our attitudes while conforming to this world is an undertaking that has little chance of success, because the worldview of our society opposes the one held by God. They are not only different; they are in opposition to each other.
We have seen how the attitude Paul had towards tribulations was related to knowledge. He knew tribulation produced perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3,4). He was not talking about mere Christian information, nor was he referring to theological data. Paul was making reference to what he knew by revelation.
Nothing can take the place of this sort of knowledge. One might have graduated from three bible schools and yet curse any tribulation coming his way. It is so because human information bears little on our conduct. In contrast, the knowledge coming from above exposes and challenges our character. It calls into question some of our attitudes and provokes revisions. In the long term it has the power to beautify our character.
Writing to the Colossians Paul says: “I now rejoice in my suffering for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24). Here we see the attitude the apostle had towards suffering: he rejoiced in it.
Peter had the same attitude. In his first epistle he writes: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12,13).
Let God transform your attitudes
These men had fellowship with the One whose attitudes express beauty and perfection. They were, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, and were thus transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is glory and exalted beauty.
As you grow closer to God, seek out ways in which He is trying to transform your attitudes. Whether it is through trials and tribulations that cause you to be humble and lean on Him, or through seasons of plenty that give you the opportunity to bless others, be attentive to God’s hand and the working of the Spirit in your life

Correct Protocol

The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines the word “protocol” as “a system of rules that explain the correct conduct and procedures to be followed in formal situations.” When meeting any high ranking dignitary there is an understood etiquette that needs to be learned and adopted or else there could be dire consequences.
Correct Protocol: Meeting the Queen
At London’s Buckingham Palace, should you be given the privilege of an invitation to have an audience with her Majesty, you cannot just walk in to the Palace unannounced. A time and date is scheduled, and it is extremely offensive to be late for your meeting.
Before the actual meeting takes place, you would be escorted into a room where for several minutes a Palace official will explain correct procedure and protocol. These include the following:
When the Queen enters a room, all in attendance are to stand.
Men are to bow, women are to curtsy.
When first meeting the Queen, she should be addressed as “Your Majesty” and then afterwards as “Ma’am.”
If her Majesty is accompanied by her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, he should be addressed as “Your Royal Highness” rather than “Your Majesty,” because he is of a lower rank than the Queen. After the initial greeting, the Duke of Edinburgh may be addressed as “Sir” and then, when departing, as “Your Royal Highness” again.
Should you be eating a meal with the Queen, everyone should stop eating when she does.
Furthermore, you must wait until the Queen extends her hand towards you before you can shake hands with her. You are not to initiate any physical contact. There are to be absolutely no hugs, kisses on the cheek or touching of the shoulder.
Always wait for her Majesty to initiate any conversation with you.
And, never, for any reason, turn your back on the Queen.
If this is the protocol for interaction with an earthly ruler, what does the Bible say regarding protocol for God Himself, the King of kings and Lord of lords?
Correct Protocol: Coming Before God
God could have stipulated that we come before Him with a plate of exotic fruit found only from the tallest tree in the Amazon jungle, which would make receiving an audience with Him extremely difficult for most of the world’s population. He could even have requested that we bring a certain measure of gold or silver or precious stone. But He has done no such thing. Instead, He gives us these instructions in Psalm 100:
1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
2 Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
Psalm 95:1-3 also says: “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods”
From the Scriptures we learn that the correct protocol for approaching God is simply to come by grace alone through faith alone. Through His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, we have the ability to come before God with glad and thankful hearts as we make a joyful noise and sing His praises.
Selah (stop, think, pause, meditate)

Learning Humility Through Disappointed Expectations

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:3-7)
For the most part, I live my life in expectation: sometimes in expectation of all the good things that I hope God will bless me with, but more often I live in expectation of all the trials and punishment I fear He will send my way. Both of these mindsets are wrong, because I am putting my focus on God’s actions, rather than His character. Whether I am proudly expecting God’s blessings, or living in fear of His judgment, I am still failing to live a life of humility before God.
Living a life of expectancy
Expectations are scary things. Nobody likes the feeling of putting their faith and confidence in someone and then being let down. I learned a lot about expectation and humility during my most recent season of collegiate swimming.
During my freshman year of swimming, I experienced a lot of success. I did the work and at the end of the year I saw great, immensely rewarding results. Naturally, I went into my sophomore year expecting that if I put in the same work I would see the same results. So, sophomore year rolled around, our season began and I trained my heart out. I did everything that was required of me and more. I gave it my all. But, when the championship meet finally arrived and it was time to reap the fruit of our months of toil, I got sick. After an entire season of avoiding illnesses, I finally got one. I spent the last two weeks leading up to the big meet wrapped up in bed, surviving on Dayquil and vitamin C.
If I had trained so hard and put in so much effort, why did God let me get sick during the most crucial part of my training? Weren’t my faithful efforts to my team, all of my hard work and dedication to this sport worth anything? Didn’t I deserve to do well and succeed?
Discovering humility in the midst of disappointment
I’ve come to believe that all of the months of hard work that I put into that season were for the purpose of getting me to the national competition. However, it wasn’t because it was my chance to be the shining star. At the meet I had the privilege of supporting my teammates, celebrating with them, praying and cheering for them, even comforting them. In a way, I viewed my role at Nationals not as an opportunity for personal success, but, in the way that I held my head high despite my disappointment, as an opportunity to humbly serve my team. Even though the success wasn’t as tangible this time around, I still feel like every second of hard work and every ounce of sweat that I put into that season were completely worth it, because I was a part of something bigger than myself.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul calls the believers to submit to one another out of a Christ-like humility and love. He teaches that the unity of the Body of Christ is dependent upon the humility of its individual members.
Expectation in the face of disappointment
Alexander Pope once said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” While this statement is true, I can’t help but think about how much joy and contentment we are wasting in life by refusing to expect anything because we are afraid of being disappointed.
Life is extremely unpredictable, and, more often than not, it lets us down. But, we serve a God who is so much more omniscient than our temporal little minds can understand.
We can be brave because of who we know our God to be. Dare to expect great and beautiful things, but be prepared to not understand them immediately. Most importantly, humbly submit to God’s plan, not only for your life, but also for all of His creation. As you put your faith in God, have the confidence to live a life that proudly proclaims the truth that His divine plan will always be accomplished. I’m not ashamed to admit that I am often disappointed by life. However, I will never stop believing that God is greater.

Desiring Change

And so I insist—and God backs me up on this—that there be no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd. They’ve refused for so long to deal with God that they’ve lost touch not only with God but with reality itself. They can’t think straight anymore. Feeling no pain, they let themselves go in sexual obsession, addicted to every sort of perversion.
But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to Him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces His character in you.
– Ephesians 4:17-24 (MSG)
Discovering the need for change
It doesn’t happen overnight. You make a choice here, a choice there. You linger a little longer than you should. You let yourself focus on what should be ignored. Suddenly, you find yourself off of the path you started on, lost in a tangle of thistles. You didn’t intend to go there, didn’t intend to stray so far.
Distraction happens to the best of us. We get lazy, lax, and perhaps a trifle arrogant. We think that we don’t have to keep up the vigilance. Whatever pain or problem that drove us to fling ourselves fully upon the grace of God has faded. We are forgetful. Something temporary catches our eyes. We pull away from the Father and reach out our hands to grasp whatever it is that promises satisfaction and fulfillment. How surprised we are when it turns out to be fleeting and hollow, how shocked to find that we can’t sense the presence of God. Fearfully, we try to push through the stinging thorns and make our way back to where we last saw Him.
Our bodies are covered in scrapes and bruises resulting from our efforts at escape. Our clothes are torn and tattered. We’re as stuck as we ever were. Giving in to despair, we sit among the brambles, wincing at the pain. We can’t do it. We can’t get back to that place of light and life, so we might as well settle.
Looking down at our hands, we notice that one is balled up in a fist. Closed tightly around something precious. Slowly, one finger at a time, we ease the clenching to gaze at what’s held. It’s the thing. The temporary thing. The thing that once looked so bright and shiny. The thing that is now dingy and ugly. The thing that cuts into the soft skin of our palms, sending a trickle of blood down our wrists.
What do we desire more than change?
The cost of straying from that narrow way is high. Even a moment off of the road can end with us entangled, entrapped. We don’t want to be there, in that darkness, and so we try to flee. But we don’t realize that we cannot get out until we let the thing go.
Truth is, sometimes we just don’t want to.
No matter how dearly it comes, no matter how much it hurts, we want the thing–the job, the relationship, the money, the power, the fame, the drug, the clothes, the body. We think we can have it and a healthy relationship with God. We fool ourselves.
God has a plan for each of our lives. A good plan. A plan that keeps us safe. We know this. We can recite Jeremiah 29:11 in our sleep.
But, we don’t believe it.
Not really.
If we did believe it, we’d be done chasing the things. We’d turn our eyes upon Jesus, as the song instructs, and let everything but Him fade away. Somewhere in the back of our minds, in those parts we haven’t submitted to His Lordship, we hold back. We long for something else, something more. As if there could be more and better than God. As if we are wiser than the fount of all wisdom.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of tangoing with that prickly bush. I never win. I think I’m going to control it every time, but every time it controls me.
I need a change. We need a change.
Desiring Change
It starts with our “want to.”
God, grace us with the want to change. We’re not smart enough to simply do as You command. Our very desires need reworking. Right now, in our cores, where it really counts, we don’t want to. Give us the ability to want to. We can’t be the people You created us to be as long as we hold on to these old habits. Help us, Jesus. Help us to let go.
When we do let go, when we drop the thing, it’s as if our vision is immediately cleared. We see the thing for what it really is. We cry out to God with sincere repentance, begging Him to come and rescue us. We wonder if He will hammer us. The tears pour down our cheeks at the shame of disappointing Him. We think He’ll never look at us the same way again.
How strange it is to find ourselves enveloped in His arms, welcomed back onto the path with no words of condemnation. He cleans up our cuts and binds our brokenness. It hurts. The soreness will linger as a reminder, a consequence. He gives us new clothes to wear. We look down at our feet, encased in new shoes of gleaming white. The tears don’t stop. They dot the canvas, the laces. We are too afraid to look up at Him.
Tenderly, lovingly, He touches our chins with His fingers. We can see the holes in His hands, blurred by our grief. His voice, soft yet commanding, bids us to meet His gaze.
Wonder of wonders, there is delight on His face.

How to Love a Friend Who is Struggling with Their Faith

Recently, I have watched one of my closest friends struggle to hold on to her faith. As a result of family conflicts, school stress, medical problems and more, she says she has lost the ability to feel God’s joy and peace. I hear her hurting and I’ve seen her cry, but what can I do?
  1. Pray
I have learned that the most important thing to do before I ever approach my friend is to pray. When I pray, I ask God to soften my heart towards her, to help me feel her pain and empathize with her. I ask Him to help me set aside my cares and to prepare my heart to listen to her well.
When I pray I also ask for God’s wisdom so that I can respond well to my friend, but, more importantly, I ask God to speak through me. Ultimately, any love, encouragement or guidance that I can offer to my friend stems from the spring of God’s Spirit living inside me. As I seek to love my friend I am not taking God’s resources and using them of my own accord, but I am humbly submitting to God’s will as I give myself to the service of my friend’s needs.
2. Listen
Besides praying, the most important thing I can do for my friend is simply to listen. Oftentimes, people don’t really want any advice; they simply want to be understood. Listening is also crucial for my ability to respond well to my friend’s needs. If I don’t listen well enough to understand her, how can I help her?
Listening well can look differently in various situations. Sometimes, listening means shutting your mouth and letting the other person verbally explode as all of the thoughts, words and feelings they’ve been bottling up come flooding out. Other times, listening looks like being ready to ask the right questions to help someone along as they process their emotions. Listening can even look like complete silence. Sometimes, just being physically present with another person is enough to make them feel like you are listening and empathizing with their situation. Depending on how well you know the person, it may take a little trial and error before you figure out what listening posture they respond to best.
  1. Speak
Deciding what to say can be hard depending on the situation. With my friend who is feeling extremely soul-tired and worn down, the most important thing I can do is remind her of how constant God is. I’ve learned from my own experience that one of the most powerful truths to cling to during times of darkness is the truth that, despite how lost we may feel, we can never lose God and He most certainly never loses us.
When people say things like, “I just don’t feel God anymore,” it is probably a sign that reciting Bible verses and spiritual statistics isn’t going to work. Instead, remind them that God called them for a purpose, that He chose them, wants them and that He is not subject to change in the same way their emotions are.
  1. Pray again
After taking the time to listen to any new thoughts or feelings that they may have to share, it is so important to pray again. Whether you pray with the person, over the person, by yourself, or in all of these ways, devote what has just happened to God. Thank Him for the opportunities He gives us to share in each other’s burdens and ask Him to bless what has just happened, all that has been said and shared. Pray that the Spirit within your friend would be renewed and that they would once again be able to feel the presence of God within them. Pray for emotional healing, pray for wisdom and guidance if decisions must be made, pray for patience…just pray. Lift up your voice to God with peace and confidence knowing that he hears.
  1. Say and live ‘Amen’
The Heidelberg Catechism defines Amen like this:
“What does that little word ‘Amen’ express?
‘Amen’ means:
This shall truly and surely be!
It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer than that I really desire what I pray for.”
Encourage your friend that, as the Catechism says, the power of prayer lies more in the reality that God hears us than in our ability to articulate ourselves well or say the right things. Rather than waiting for your emotions to change, maybe deciding to have confidence in God’s truth despite your emotions will generate the emotional change you’re waiting for.
Thank you, Father, that you bend down to hear us. Thank you that you call us into community with one another and do not ask us to bear our burdens alone. As we interact with people around us who are hurting, help us to listen well and to love them well. Use us, Lord, to draw your people back to faith in You.

Keep the Leash On: Loving Obedience

Walking my neighbor’s dog is such a pleasure! She’s a good dog, and usually we enjoy spending an uneventful time together. One day I was surprised when she was particularly resistant to going in the direction I wanted to go. While she was pulling and I was encouraging her to go my way, she suddenly slipped her collar.
About the time I realized it, I saw understanding dawn in her eyes too. Then she was off at a run. My first thought was oh no, she’s outside my control! What if she gets run over or lost? What if she doesn’t come when I call? Then I wondered if our relationship would be strong enough to woo her back to me.
Slipping our collars: a lack of love
As I walked in her direction I realized an important truth. When we, God’s children, walk away from Him, we are essentially slipping our collars. We remove ourselves from under His authority by an act of our will. It is an act of disobedience and demonstrates a rebellious spirit and lack of love.
Then I saw her run toward the woods, where it would have been difficult for me to follow. I called “no!” in an authoritative voice, thankful when she turned from her intended destination. Hope dawned in my heart, for I had trained her in basic commands. It seemed the bond between us was strong enough after all.
Obedience out of love
I was reminded of God’s wisdom in the book of Hebrews.
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief:  for that is unprofitable for you.”  Hebrews 13:17 (KJV)
I stood watching as she rolled in the grass, waiting for inspiration on what to do next. A quick prayer was lifted up. Suddenly she stopped, and looked at me from across the field. I crouched down and called her, holding out my hand. She seemed to smile, then ran toward me. I thanked God for her decision to obey.
I was so thankful for the strong bond between us. I would have a story to tell to her mistress, but I was glad it was a happy one.
Keep the leash on
This stressful incident reminded me of some important truths about God:
God is good and worthy to be praised! He is not a harsh master. His “leash” protects, directs, and leads us homeward. His “leash” is never burdensome, but is an act of love helping me to lead a good life. He receives the repentant one with joy and gladness. Relief comes from being on God’s “leash,” under His authority and leadership. His Word serves as a guide to how to live a righteous life. The power of the Holy Spirit brings understanding. His direction is always trustworthy. Happiness comes from being under submission on His leash!

Why is it so hard to speak up?

Recently I was caught up in the dilemma of knowing that someone had cheated during a final exam, and not knowing what to do about it.
Why is it so hard to speak up?
In general, I shudder at the thought of being labeled a “tattle tale.” As a kid my favorite phrase was, “but that’s not fair!” and, over the years, I saw how those words created distance between me and my family and friends. Recently I have drifted in the opposite direction, becoming hesitant to say anything at all.
I wasn’t the only student that this person cheated off of. So, not only was I angry and hurt that I was his victim, but I was also burdened with the knowledge that others were too. The main question I kept running into was what would telling the professor even do? It seemed to me that it would only hurt the cheater by creating the opportunity for him to be disciplined, and it’s not like I was physically hurt by his cheating or anything.
To be very honest, I still don’t know whether or not telling the professor about what happened was the best thing to do. However, one good that came from the whole incident is that it forced me to ask myself the question: “Why is it so hard to speak up?”
As I pursued this question, I realized that many of the reasons I am hesitant to speak up about injustice in situations like the one I just mentioned also explain why I am hesitant to speak up about my faith when given opportunities for evangelism. All of the reasons pointed to the same thing: I was afraid.
What are you afraid of? 
The primary fear that kept me from immediately reporting the cheating incident was my pride, or the fear of being wrong. I was afraid to report the cheating because I was afraid that doing so would be childish, inappropriate or pointless. I don’t think that I am afraid to share my faith because I doubt that it is true; rather, I am afraid that it will be inappropriate.
My anxiety about the appropriateness, or inappropriateness, of both situations reveals a deeper fear that I have: the fear of man. Undervaluing God’s opinion of myself and overvaluing man’s opinion has made me more concerned about breaking a social taboo than about faithfully sharing the truth.
What do you value the most? 
One of the main reasons why people (myself included) experience a disconnect between the things that they believe and their willingness to speak up about them is because their day to day actions do not testify to what they value the most. If I’m not living like Jesus is my Lord on a daily basis, then of course telling a stranger that He is will feel inappropriate. In a similar way, if taking a stand against injustice isn’t something that I have to do on a regular basis, then, naturally, it will be kind of scary when I finally have to.
Matthew 10:32 says, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (ESV)
In this passage, Jesus is very frank about the importance of acknowledging our faith, both by our words and through our actions. Since understanding is foundational to belief, one step you can take towards better proclaiming the truth is meditating on who Christ is in relation to who we, and the rest of the world, are.
Christ is the incarnate Son of God who, through the great love of the Father and by the power of the Holy Spirit, humbled himself here on earth, suffering and dying on the cross in order to pay the debt for our sins. This is the miraculous truth that has saved us. This is the miraculous truth that we have the privilege of proclaiming. We are the treasurers of this glorious truth, which the rest of the world is in desperate need of. Before we can proclaim what we believe, we must first understand what we believe and, then, live in accordance with those beliefs.
Given the love of our Heavenly Father, the goodness of our Savior, the miraculousness of the truth we possess, and others’ undeniable need to know it, how can we possibly keep silent? The next time you are given the opportunity to share your faith, take a look at your life and see whether or not your actions are proclaiming the same truth.

Facing Temptation

All of us face temptation, in one way or another, practically every day. There’s really no point in being ashamed of it. After all, it’s not the temptation itself that is the sin, for even Jesus was tempted (Hebrews 4:15). We have a real Enemy who seeks to devour us (1 Peter 5:8), and while he’s not especially creative, recycling the same lies over and over  again, he is relentless. We should expect temptation and we shouldn’t feel bad about ourselves when that thought crosses our minds, for it is part of living on this broken earth. At every moment we have a Lord who is willing and able to help us learn how to take those thoughts captive and destroy them with truth (2 Corinthians 10:5). We do not have to live in defeat and habitual sin.
Nevertheless, we’re left with some questions: What does it look like to overcome temptation? How do we destroy false, unrighteous ideas? Most of us imagine that it would require 10 hours of daily, concentrated prayer and Bible study. Honestly, maybe it does during certain seasons. But in the day-to-day living that most of us experience, when the attacks are random, how do we respond?
Facing temptation on a daily basis
I have not departed from Your judgments,
For You Yourself have taught me.
How sweet are Your words to my taste,
Sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through Your precepts I get understanding,
Therefore I hate every false way.
– Psalm 119:102-104 (NKJV)
Over and over again the author of this longest of psalms shares his love for God’s word. Really, he shares his love for God Himself, for it is impossible to love Scripture without loving the voice found in every phrase. He delights in the commands of the Lord. He revels in them as if he’s preparing a dinner party for God.
Delighting in the Lord
Can you picture it? He’s cleaned his house from top to bottom and has decorated it in the way he knows the Guest of Honor will enjoy. Sweating glasses filled with refreshing ice water drip on the crocheted white tablecloth. Polished silverware glints in the soft light. Steam rises from heaping plates. He adjusts the magnificent centerpiece filled with fresh flowers as the doorbell rings. He can’t help himself; he rushes across the house, yanks open the door and weeps with delight.
The King has come and he cannot wait to hear what He has to say.
They sit together at that table, the author pulled as close to the King as he can get. He doesn’t want to miss a single word. He takes notes because he knows how forgetful he can be. He asks questions. The King is happy to give him all the answers he needs. Not always what he wants, but what he needs.
The dinner passes all too quickly. The candles have burned down to their wooden holders and wax drips over the sides. The food is gone, the glasses refilled and drained again and again. The host knows the King must go, but he also knows that, somehow, the King never truly leaves. He bows, trembling, as the King places a hand on his head and speaks a word of blessing. Tears blur his eyes as he dares to take one last look at the dear face and sees that the King is smiling.
If only he could remain in that holy moment! But there are dishes to do. And he’d best get to bed, for the alarm will be buzzing soon, carrying him off into another workday. Before he knows it, the next day has arrived and he’s sitting at his desk, biting his cheek to keep from screaming at the coworker who, yet again, is late.
He chooses, in that moment, to turn his mind back to what the King had said. He takes a deep breath and extends grace to that coworker, the kind of grace he knows he himself lives in daily.
As the days pass, he cannot forget that dinner. He spends time with his family. He does yardwork. He watches a television show. He finds that the glow of what he used to focus on has dimmed. Nothing is as good to him as the words. Nothing finer.
He gets up earlier than usual and opens the King’s book. He puts an app on his phone so he can turn to the words when he’s on his lunch break. When he wakes up in the middle of the night, thirsty, he knows he longs for more than water.
Overcoming temptation
Really, there’s no great secret to overcoming temptation. Victory is wrapped up completely in the Lord. The more we nurture our relationship with Him, the more we will be able to say “no.” The more we dig into His word, the more we will be able to distinguish the false from the true and choose accordingly. Oh, it will hurt. There will be sweat and tears. It will seem like agony to turn away. We are shortsighted people bent on immediate gratification. Sanctification is a long, hard-won process, never fully completed this side of eternity.
But we can choose. We can say “no” to temptation. Satan likes to try and make us believe that we’re helpless, and sometimes we like to pretend that we’re helpless as an excuse for our bad decisions. The truth is that, in Christ, we can have victory.
The more we learn from God, the more we understand how very small and silly we really are. We are confronted with our weakness and, if we’re smart, we embrace it. We fling ourselves upon the grace and mercy of the Lord. We beg Him to give us what we need for the battle. He teaches us how to turn to Him when tempted, even if we’re turning to Him every few seconds over the same issue. He doesn’t get tired of helping, encouraging, strengthening.
Little by little, we begin to understand. We begin to see that any way that’s not His way is false – and we start to hate it. Because we know that those false ways will take us from Him, and that’s a fate worse than anything we can imagine. He has become our prize, our very great reward. All else pales in comparison, no matter its shiny packaging.
In this journey to overcome temptation, we will fall. We will have days when we’re arrogant and think we don’t need Him. Or days when we’re tired and Satan takes advantage. Whatever the case may be, we’ll take a little dip in our upward progression and we’ll be tempted to stay there and dig a little deeper. In those moments, we must remember grace. God forgives, always.
So we can get up and begin anew, wiser than before, and more determined to stay within His shadow, following as He leads.

For Everything There is a Season: Saying Goodbye

Because I grew up with a father in the military, most people would assume that saying goodbye is second nature to me—I even find myself assuming that sometimes. However, as the years go by, I’ve found that saying goodbye never really becomes any easier. If anything, you just get more used to it.
Why is saying goodbye so hard?
Saying goodbye is hard because it requires letting go—of friendships, of futures, of plans. When we’re no longer able to interact with friends on a regular basis, it’s easy to feel like we have no control over the relationship anymore.
A lot of times, it can seem like you’re saying goodbye forever. You may not know if or when you will ever see this person again. Saying goodbye can feel unjust, like something of yours is being unlawfully taken from you.
Goodbye is also hard because, despite its frequency, each time involves new contexts, new people, new relationships, and even new words. Every goodbye feels unique and hurts like the first time all over again.
When faced with something so painful and, at least for me, so frequent, it’s easy to despair. But, one thing I rest in during such times is knowing that goodbye is not the end.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 “ For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”
For everything there is a season
These verses from Ecclesiastes help me to find comfort in saying goodbye by reminding me of the seasonality of life. There are seasons in life that are devastatingly hard, and there is often nothing we can do to avoid them. But, the hard things in life are often necessary parts of the good things.
As Ecclesiastes shows: we cannot have peace, unless we have had war; we cannot sew if something has not been torn; we cannot build something up if it has not been broken down. Not only do hard things in life create the opportunity for good and joyful things, but hard things also help us to more fully appreciate and cherish the good things when they finally arrive.
Painful means to a better end
Rather than proclaiming a backwards, upended sort of prosperity gospel that suggests the more grief you experience, the more joy you’ll be rewarded with; I mean to suggest that sometimes life’s hardships can be the means to a better end.
Every time I say goodbye, my heart breaks a little bit more. But, as my heart heals, which it always does, I find new wisdom and thankfulness in my scarred heart than before.
The next time you are faced with a painful goodbye, allow yourself to feel the hurt, but don’t let your journey end there. Run to our Heavenly Father who understands the grief of the moment and allow Him to change the way that your eyes see and your heart feels for the future.

What Kind of Legacy Should We Leave Behind?

If life was a relay race, and if you were one of the runners on the track, wouldn’t you run as fast as you can, to the best of your ability, within the time and distance you have, to pass the baton to the next runner in line?
Well, legacy is such. It is best when it is passed on.
In the Christian context, leaving a legacy behind means fulfilling the purpose(s) of God during your allotted time here on Earth, for your generation and possibly for generations to come, according to His sovereign will.
Biblical legacies for us to follow
There are many Biblical characters that have left outstanding legacies behind. Joseph’s legacy of being sold as a slave by his own brothers also extends to him becoming a Governor of Egypt. Abraham has a legacy of being a father of faith. King David served the purpose of God in His own generation by establishing the Lord’s Word, His Justice, and His Kingdom here on Earth. Jesus Christ, being the son of the most high God, left a remarkable legacy of conquering sin, death and hell through his resurrection to eternal life; so that whoever believes and follows Him will not perish but have eternal life.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 exemplifies an ideal legacy. It says, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” (KJV) Why does the writer call it ‘the whole duty’? In other words, could it mean ‘the whole purpose of a man, including all people? When we rephrase that sentence, it could be something like this: “The whole purpose of mankind is to fear God and to do what He wants us to do, nothing more and nothing less”.
When you study world history, there are plenty of human beings who have lived sacrificial lives, leaving behind legacies to follow for many generations after them. But, what is the difference between their legacy and a godly legacy? Have all of them fulfilled the purposes for which they were originally created or called to fulfill? The answer is surely “No.”
A legacy of godly obedience
The purpose of life for every human being comes from God. It is not self-made. What you do is solely accounted to you. There is no system of proxy for your life. Whether you mess with it or produce meaning from it is your responsibility. Let’s face it: we’ve got to fulfill the purpose for which we were created in the first place. God alone knows the blueprint of our lives. The more we delay and disobey, the less of a godly legacy we will leave behind.
As followers of Christ, leaving a godly legacy is important. As we read on further, we will see the kind of godly legacy we can think about as an individual, as married couples and as parents.
As an individual, what legacy can you leave behind?
A legacy of fearing God and doing His will is every individual’s protocol. Love the Lord with all that you have. When you love God sincerely, you may end up spontaneously doing all that He wants you to do. When you love God, you will fear Him and obey His words. It becomes easier for you to love people as well. Give Him the best. The only way you can know Him is to spend time with Him. Enjoy the choices God allows you to make in life. Be thankful to Him for everything.
It’s no longer a secret that people observe the way you live your life and make their judgments based on that. Create opportunities to direct people to God, who is the source of all life. Help your fellow human beings to become better stewards of their gifts and abilities. Trust me, the legacy you leave behind with God will be truly amazing and eternally rewarding.
As a married couple, what legacy can you leave behind?
God works His ways through the family in an unimaginable fashion. The fact is – there are no perfect couples; at least not in the context of marriage. However, with the imperfections of the husband and the wife, it is still possible to live in harmony within a relationship. Marriage represents the relationship Jesus shares with His Church, in the context of him being the bridegroom and His church being the bride. It is important to love your spouse as Christ loves the church. When you love God uprightly, He will inspire and help you to love your spouse uprightly. In difficult times and in merry times, respect your spouse and honor God.
Placing God above all else within your family will bring blessings beyond our imagination. Help your spouse recognize what God has for him/her in this life. If both of you have different callings to serve God, it is recommended that you compliment and pray for each other’s calling and ministry. Stand with each other in prayer and genuine love. That is a legacy that you can leave behind as a family.
As parents, what legacy can you leave behind?
Children look up to you as their role models. They observe and imitate what you are and they love to see you as their examples. Set the example of the character that you want them to carry or practice throughout their lives. The best example of this is Jesus. Place before them the benefits of obedience and the consequences of disobedience. The values you plant in them are the ones they will nurture and pass on to their children when they are older. Respect them as much as you discipline them. Either extremes of love or discipline can be an unwise method for nurturing your child. Teach your children to make appropriate choices. Above all, seek God to inculcate a healthy balance in your relationship with your children.
When you learn to run to God for everything, your children may do the same when they grow older. Pray that God will give your children a sense of purpose, direction, and mission. Leave a godly legacy that your children can absorb and pass on to their children.
When we analyse the apostle Paul’s legacy in the New Testament, we see three powerful statements that he makes at the end of his discipleship journey – “fought the good fight,” “finished the race,” and “kept the faith.” What an excellent testimony to talk about. What an admirable heritage to pass on. The best legacy is when God acknowledges you and says “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I doubt if we can find anything better than this.
Our opportunity to leave behind a godly legacy is already one day shorter than it was yesterday. Aren’t we all running out of time? Recognize the world’s need for compassion and allow God to lead you in His ways

14 Questions Christian Leaders Should Ask Themselves

The story of William Wilberforce fascinates me.  Born in 1759, Wilberforce became the youngest member of the House of Commons at just 21. Thanks to the influence of his mentor John Newton, the former slave ship captain and hymn writer of Amazing Grace, Wilberforce’s life changed radically. He became a born-again, devout Christian. Inspired by the Scripture’s teaching on the foundational equality of human beings, he spent his entire life leading the anti-slavery movement in the British Empire.
Behind the remarkable legacy of this leader, I discovered the greatest secret to his personal life:
His commitment to weekly withdrawals form the wild scramble of public life so that he could engage in worship, connection with a small circle of close friends, and quiet reflection.
Today, we live in a world blinded by the intoxication of consumerism. Every day, we are inundated with a litany of to-do lists. There’s simply too much “pursuits” on our plate (albeit all for the “glory” of God).
What defines us isn’t what we do, rather it’s what we stop doing.
Gordon McDonald challenges leaders to ask the following questions to engage our inner conversation.
1) What have been the beautiful moments in which God may have been revealing himself to me? And what have been the evil moments when the worst in me or in the larger world showed itself?
2) What happened this week that needs to be remembered, perhaps recorded in a journal so I can return to it in the future and recall the blessing (or the rebuke) of God? Making such a record is like those monuments and altars God had the Israelites raise up when great things worth remembering had happened.
3) What have my prevailing feelings been (and what are they at the present)? Has there been a preponderance of sadness, of fear, of anger, of emptiness? Or has it been a time where joy and enthusiasm has been the dominant mood
4) What have been the “blessings,” those acts of grace that have come through others or—as I perceive it—directly from God himself? Can I express praise and appreciation (sometimes even written in a thank-you note or journal)?
5) Have things happened for which I need to accept responsibility, perhaps leading to repentance? Why did they happen? Were they avoidable and how can they be prevented in the future?
6) What have been the thoughts that have been dominating my leader think-time? Noble thoughts? Escapist thoughts that woo me away from more important or challenging issues? Superficial thoughts that lead to nowhere?
7) Is there a possibility that I am living in denial of certain realities? Painful criticism, sloppy work, habitual patterns that are hurting me and others?
8) Are there any resentments or ill feelings toward others that remain unaddressed, unforgiven?
9) As a leader visualizing myself in the company of spouse, children, friends, colleagues: am I a pleasant person to be around? Are people challenged, elevated, enthused when I enter the room? As someone has observed, “Some people bring joy wherever they go; others bring joy when they go.” Which am I?
10) What is God trying to say into my life today? Through Scripture? Through other readings? What has he been saying through those in my inner circle of relationships? Through critics? What insights swirl up and out of the deepest parts of my soul? Which of them needs to be repudiated, and which needs to be cultivated?
11) What are the possibilities in the hours ahead? Where might there be ambushes that would challenge character, reputation, well-being?
12) What are the things I might do and say that would make the people in my inner circle feel more loved and appreciated?
13) Am I mindful of the socially awkward, the poor, the suffering, the oppressed in my local world and in the larger world? Am I in tune with appropriate current events in the world and perceiving them through the lens of biblical perspective?
14) What specific steps will I take today to enhance growth as a follower of Jesus?
Question: Which question challenged you most, and how?

Faith You Can’t See

Atoms are defined as “the smallest building blocks of matter and everything in the observable universe is made of trillions of atoms.” In other words, the keyboard I am typing on is made up of a whole lot of atoms just like the tablet or handheld device you are reading this on. So, indirectly we can see what atoms can become but there is no way to see one, or even a few million, with the naked eye. We have faith in the fact that atoms exist because we can use, touch and feel the countless things that are made up of atoms.
Having Faith in Atoms
In my world I believe that God created atoms. Let’s think about that for a moment. If He is the Creator of all things in the universe, He would have also created atoms. As everything that we have in our daily lives is made of atoms, it makes sense that God was involved. You can argue about science if that is where your head is but what changed my thoughts on that was the realization that God would have created science as well.
God, Science and Faith
Science is defined as, “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation.” Okay, then. If God created the “natural world” science is studying things of God. I love that. There is nothing that exists now or has ever existed in the past that God wasn’t connected to in some way. The invention of television? God created the inventors, the tools they used, etc. So believing in the fact that atoms exist, although I can’t actually see them, is faith. If I believe in atoms it’s not all that hard to come to the realization that God also exists.
James 1:6 (NIV) “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”
My faith in God is strong and continues to get stronger the more He communicates with me. It is from this strengthening of my faith that I can stay on track. How does your faith assist you with following God?

12 Leadership Lessons Everyone Should Learn From Jesus

Jesus is the quintessential leader. During His life on earth, he turned three years of ministry into a worldwide movement that changed history. Today, more people follow Him than any other leader in the world. As a model leader, Jesus practiced the most vital principles of leadership—and he provides an example for us to imitate. In the spirit of Christmas, I’d like to share 12 powerful life lessons every leader must emulate:
1. To Serve Is To Be Great
“Whoever wants to be great must become a servant.”
Here is the secret to great leadership. Leadership is not about rulership. It is about serving others. And in giving to others you will never lack for any good thing in your life.

2. There Is A Cure For Worry
“Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds. Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving.”
To live a worry free life is a joy. Anxiety is a killer. So to be able to face each day, knowing that if the world can exist in such beauty and splendor, there is nothing that you need to be concerned about. Take a fresh look at nature and get the point.
3. Love Conquers All
“Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?” Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself.”
also…
“…if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’  I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.”
When it comes to love we are given three directives: Love God. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies.
The first step forward to develop this love in your life is to learn to pray. I have found prayer to be an incredibly energizing practice. Now if this is not familiar to you, let me explain that this is not the point where you get all holier than thou on me. Prayer for me is simply sharing my heart with one greater than myself. You will often find me talking out loud as I pray, or sometimes I’m simply speaking quietly in the depths of my mind to one greater than myself.
I was actually up at 3.30am this morning praying. That happens to me from time to time. But I also pray while I’m at work. I pray while I stroll beside the ocean. I pray in the car. I pray as an individual, and we pray as a family.
But what is prayer? Simply handing over life’s good and bad that we’re handed to one far greater than ourselves – and that even includes our enemies. Seems back to front to conventional thinking – but I have seen many an enemy turned around 180 degrees through the power of simply praying that good happen in their life.
4. Follow The Golden Rule
“Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behaviour: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.”
This is such a wonderful principle. Simply, do as you want to be done. Often the good turn won’t come back from the one you did it for – but it will come back from somewhere in this amazing universe that we live in.
5. Ask For What You Need
“Here’s what I’m saying: Ask and you’ll get; Seek and you’ll find; Knock and the door will open. Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in.”
Go on, I dare you. Ask. In sales I learned very quickly that if I never asked for the sale I would never get the sale. The power is in the asking. Now I’m not saying that you are going to pull a sales strategy on God. But ask, and in your asking expect to receive. When my children ask me for something, as their father I cannot resist the pull that it invokes on my fatherly heartstrings to give them the best that I have to offer.
6. Judge Not
“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, and criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.  It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbour’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own.  Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt?  It’s this whole travelling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbour.”
Point one finger in the direction of another in judgment and you have three pointing straight back at you. Not good. Resist the slippery slide towards judging others.
7. Keep Your Word
“Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.”
If you can say yes. If you can’t say no. Don’t muck about by telling a lie when you know that you cannot do what you have promised. The word ‘no’ can be your most liberating friend if used wisely. You can’t do everything, so start practicing the use of it. And if you say ‘yes’ ensure that you do what you say – even if it is inconvenient. This builds a depth of character in your being and trust from those around you.
8. Give In Secret
“When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively.”
There is nothing worse than someone blowing their own trumpet. Practice the art of giving in secret. Your reward will be great.
9. Forgive Others
“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.”
To forgive others is to free you from the disabling chains of unforgiveness. Sorry is sometimes the hardest word to say, but once said it is liberating. Don’t wait for others to apologize. You lead the way and be the first to offer the hand of forgiveness. This is not about wrong or right, but rather living a life of freedom.
10. Speak Good Words
“A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.”
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, so use words wisely. Put a watch over your mouth and analyze the words that leave your lips. Are they positive? Or are they tinged with negativity and judgement? This is serious business, so pay heed to the advice given. It is truly the difference between salvation and damnation – here on earth – let alone throughout eternity.
11. Nothing Is Impossible If You Have Faith
“The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.”
Faith is a small word, but a powerful one at that. Faith is trust in a greater one than yourself, trust in the abilities that have been placed within you, and trust that with every step forward you will find your way towards your dreams and your goals. With a sprinkling of persistence added to the formula you can do but one thing – win!
12. Use It Or Lose It
“It’s also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money. After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’ The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’ The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’ The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest. Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this ‘play-it-safe’ who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’”
Every one of us has been endowed with a specific gift or natural talent that requires use. If you fail to lose it you will lose it. Whatever you do, don’t compare yourself with the other guy or girl who seems to have been given a bunch of talents. Use the one that you have and develop it. These represent your personal strengths, and like any muscle, the best way to develop a strength in your life is by strengthening it. So at every opportunity use it – and that way you will never lose it. You will in fact enhance it and position yourself to become a leader in your chosen field of endeavor.
If there is one of these life lessons that you have developed in your life with great results, comment how it has helped you.

About Temptation

There is one thing among others that will shake all that can be shaken in us and confront us recurrently throughout our Christian life. I am referring to this belligerent force called temptation. Even the Lord had to face it time and again as it came against Him in all sorts of disguises and manners.

The temptation of Jesus

To think that Jesus’ temptations were confined to the three classic examples found in Luke 4:3-13 amounts to a belief conflicting with the testimony of the Scripture. Luke makes clear that these three temptations were only the culmination of what had lasted forty days:
Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil” (Luke 4:1,2).
Only when these forty days of temptations had ended came the three well-known occurrences in which the Son of Man’s holiness was challenged.
It is interesting to notice also how Luke ends the narration of this event: Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). The words until an opportune time” seem to imply more temptations came afterward. I doubt the Spirit would have inspired Luke to add these meaningful words if such opportune time was not going to come at all.
Be that as it may, one thing is certain: Holiness doesn’t protect a person from temptation.

Our temptations

Now if the Devil believed he could make Jesus fall, what about us frail, vulnerable and helpless mortals?
Happily, there are promises in the Scripture that have the power to fortify us at the point of absolute resistance; promises expressed through words that are spirit and life (John 6:63), for their origin is in God.
I think all of us have read that God’s word works efficiently in those who believe (1 Thess. 2:13), and that faith can be an effective shield for all who trust in Him (Eph. 6:16). All this means there is substantiality in the Scripture. It is not hanging from the clouds. It is anchored in God’s very character at the point of oneness.

God’s promises in the face of temptation

One of God’s promises that should strike the believer is found in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is  faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it”. Here we have a well of fortitude. These words are solid, authoritative, and reliable.
This is the sort of scripture the meditative mind should ruminate on, for it imparts expectation, courage, and true grit. It attests that God, in his faithfulness, will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to handle, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape to make sure we are able to bear it. This promise is as true as God Himself. It is more solid than the rock that has survived the clashes of the ocean waves for millenniums. It is trustworthy, and as such, should fill our hearts with hope.

Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses

As I have already mentioned, Jesus was in all points tempted as we are. This particular aspect of His life makes Him apt to identify Himself with our state:
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
This divine commiseration should comfort us and assure us of His present help, for He doesn’t look down on our weaknesses as the devil wants us to believe. Instead, he sympathizes with them.
Actually, the difficulties we face in time of temptation move our High Priest with compassion to the point of intervention. As the psalmist declares: As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13,14). Understanding that the Son of Man is emotionally involved in our struggle should motivate and strengthen us.
These wonderful truths seem to have gotten lost in several evangelical milieus. Many seem to believe that the sheep should fight with the lions and bears at the best of their ability as if the Good Shepherd would be on a sick leave. But nothing could be farther from the truth. The Shepherd who keeps us doesn’t slumber or sleep (Psalm 121:4). He is on the alert 24 hours a day and is eager to assist those He loves dearly.

Hope in the midst of suffering

“For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Heb.2:18).
True temptations always entail suffering, for they reach the deepest fibers of our humanity. It is precisely this characteristic that made an impression on the author of Hebrews. His observation should engender hope in us, as well as a vivid sense of expectation.
Yes! The One who has undergone the sufferings of temptation has the ability to aid us. Let us proclaim it from the pulpit and from our rooftops. For in the heat of the storm the glorified Son of Man is at our side. He is not passively here as a mere observer, but He is here with might to shame the devil now as He did in the wilderness more than two thousand years ago.
Indeed, He is our shield, our glory, and the lifter up of our head (Psalm 3:3).

6 Portraits of a Godly Leader

Countless trees have been consumed in the name of advancing leadership. Every month, scores of leadership books are published by so-called leadership experts. This tells me two things. First, leadership is a hot topic. Warren Bennis said, “Leadership is always in the air; it’s a topic that has no shelf life.” Second, the deluge of leadership books beg the question Which leadership model or style Christians should embrace in the sea of leadership principles, theories, and model that compete with each other. For many, the bombardment of leadership books is honestly confusing.
Well, in that case, my suggestion is to always go back to your foundation. For Christians, that’s the Holy Bible. The Word of God is “sharper than a double-edged sword.” There is enormous power in the Scripture – it’s not merely the world’s best-selling book. We are talking about spiritual forces here.
What does a godly leader look like? In 2 Timothy, apostle Paul identifies six portraits of a godly leader. Here, Paul is writing to his protégé, his young son in faith, Timothy who is in his thirties at this time. Timothy is given the responsibility to carry on the work in the churches Paul began himself and in this particular book, Timothy is struggling. First, apostle Paul reminds Timothy to “fan into the flame the gift of God which was in him.”

1. Teacher

 “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
The operative word is “teach”. The first and foremost priority of godly leadership is the imparting of truth, divine truth, transmitting the truth to others. In fact, in Hebrews chapter 13 verse 7 says, “Remember those who led you,” and then immediately it defines what that meant, “who spoke the Word of God to you.” By dispensing the Word of God, we are called to be teachers and preachers of God’s truth and to produce teachers and preachers for the next generation. It’s important for godly leaders to “desire the word as a baby desires milk that you may grow by it.” (1 Peter 2:2) When Jesus was restoring Peter in John 21, He asked him three times if he loved Him, three times Peter responded and three times Jesus said, “Feed My sheep.” Man does not live by bread alone but the very Word of God.

2. Soldier

“Suffer hardship with me as a good solder of Christ Jesus, no soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of every day life so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” (2 Timothy 2:3-4)
Godly leaders are know how to win the warfare. Paul uses this metaphor view leaders as soldiers who are engaged in war. God’s leaders fight this warfare, not with fleshly weapons but with divinely powerful weapons, and with those weapons we are literally demolishing fortresses. (2 Corinthians 10). It’s interesting to note how we wear the full armor of God where the sword of the spirit is the Word of God. In verse 3, Paul says we are to suffer bad treatment, mistreatment, maltreatment.” Paul warms Timothy to be ready to suffer.
So many leaders wash out of leadership here. Many see it as a path to glory and aren’t willing to see it as warfare and take their share of pain.
God is not interested in prima donnas but true soldiers who are willing to suffer.
When you ask Paul his credentials for leadership, he doesn’t given a list of his academic accomplishments, but rather his list of credentials is interesting. He says that I’ve been in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death, five times I received from the Jews 39 lashes, three times I was beaten with rods. I have been in labor and hardship through many sleepless nights in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Those are my credentials.
In verse 4, Paul says godly leaders are full-time soldiers who does whatever he can do please the One who enlisted him as a soldier. You can’t be a man pleaser. That will paralyze you. Paul was a man pleaser for a long time. In Galatians 1:10 he says, “Am I now seeking the favor of men or of God? Am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” We have to answer to the Commander and to Him alone.

3. Athlete

“An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5)
The next picture of a godly leader is one of an athlete. Games were an important part of the Greco-Roman life as they are of our life in this time. The key verb is “compete” which means to strive and agonize. It is a word of devotion, discipline, and passion. Paul is saying that you have to look at your ministry like an athlete who looks at an Olympic event. An athlete needs to abide by the rules and give his all in win the competition. You must compete lawfully.
The second part of the verse is “not crowned.” An athlete always competes with a prize in mind that he wants to win. What separates great athletes from good athletes is desire and self-control. The talent level is much the same when you get at the pinnacle of the athletics. It’s the passion and drive that makes all the difference.
John MacArthur once heard from a professor long time ago who said to him, “I never met a powerful preacher, a successful preacher in my life who wasn’t competitive.” The professor said, “I don’t’ mean competitive against other preachers. I mean competitive against his own weakness, his own ignorance, his own sinfulness, his own lack of priorities, his own laziness. If you can’t win the battle there, you can’t win the race.”
Summing up, the godly leader must be one who is willing to complete all his strength, must be one who really wants to win motivated by future reward not present pleasure, must be one with strong self-discipline, willing to conform to God’s standards without letting up.
In Part 2 of the post, I’ll be sharing the next three portraits of a godly leader. Stay tuned!