Looking Backward, Moving Forward

Occasionally at church I need to walk though the Auditorium while the lights are off. It’s really dark in there, but if you’re careful, you can get just enough light from under the doors to guide yourself between the rows of chairs, up the aisle, around the stage, and out the other door.

Walking forward in the dark is not easy–unless you really know the path.

It’s like walking blindfolded.walking-blindfolded

Some would say it’s ridiculous to even try!

Similarly, walking forward while constantly looking over your shoulder, or even walking backward while trying to make progress just does not make sense.

Yet, to a large degree, if we are not willing to look at where we’ve been, we may never find out exactly how to get where we’re going. We need to learn from the past in order to move to our future…but we don’t want to get fixated, or ‘stuck’ in our past.

Over the last 12 months, all of us have learned lessons.

Some have been really great ones: lessons about taking care of conflict before it grows old: lessons about self-control in our diet or exercise program: lessons about investing time in the really ‘important’ things (i.e., developing our faith) as opposed to only dealing with the ‘urgent’ things.

Other lessons have not been very enjoyable…in fact, some of them have been brutally tough: lessons about savoring every minute with a loved one because you didn’t know their end would come; lessons about trusting others and forgiving when they fail you; lessons about trusting God who is Sovereign over your life (even when circumstances seem out of control)…

Here’s the point: IF we want to Move Ahead into 2017, we have to take stock of what we’ve learned in 2016…and before that.

If we don’t slow down enough to do that, they’ll all become just a blur…a distant memory. In that case, we may be more likely to have to learn them again!

This would be similar to the ancient Israelites…time and time again God called out to them and sent them prophets to remind them to get on track, and stay on track with Him–and that this would be for their own good. He warned them of what would happen if they rejected Him and bowed to other ‘gods’, or if they trusted in men to rescue them, rather than trusting in Him.

Each time, they listened and followed…for a brief time. Then they started to pay attention to the people around them, and they’d forget the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8: 1-14:

“Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

This happened, time and time again. Each time, God would allow them to experience the pain that their choices brought about. If they turned back to Him, He’d forgive and restore them. If not, then He’d send His discipline in some way…this would cause them to come back to Him in repentance.

For a time.

Then they’d do it again!

We don’t want to be like that and ‘forget the Lord’.

We want to keep the lessons we’ve learned clearly in our minds.

How do we do that?

By slowing down, taking some time, and remembering.

If you have a Journal you’ve recorded in over the year, look back at it. If you have a calendar–either online or a written one–take a look back over your appointments. If you keep notes in your Bible, take a look back.

If you don’t do any of those things, this would be a great time to start!

Just get a spiral notebook and record each day 1) The things that God taught you; 2) The things on your heart, and 3) The answers to prayer you’re asking for.

It is crucial, of course, that you spend some time in the Word of God each day, and in prayer. These are foundational building blocks of faith.

Take 1/2 hour now to do this. Encourage your family to do it this weekend.

If we want to ‘move forward’ into the New Year and make new strides, we need to build upon what we’ve learned, by the grace and mercy of God.

Let’s Go into 2017 in faith, we a renewed commitment to learn from the Lord and record what He does!

It should be exciting! Bless the Lord!

Higher!

Grow Deeper, Go Higher.

That is what I shared as a challenge at KCC last week.

Here’s an explanation, in brief:

If we want to ‘Go Higher’ in our faith, it will only happen as we ‘Grow Deeper’ in our relationship with Him.

I know, it’s not ‘rocket science’, but stop and think about it:

What would it look like in your life if you went ‘higher’ in your faith?

Would you finally be able to have real peace–based in trust in your loving heavenly Father? Would you finally have boldness in faith to make ‘that step’ that He’s been moving you to for some time? Would you go ‘all-in’ with your generosity of time and money, not holding back out of fear or ‘worldliness’?

What would it be for YOU to ‘Go Higher’?

I mean it–stop, pray, and answer that question. I’ll wait…

 

Ok, now, let me ask the next one: Why haven’t you been ‘going higher’ like that until now?

I’m pretty sure it has something to do with your relationship with God.

Some of us are just trying to have a relationship with God on our terms–at our schedule, to the level that we decided, etc.

Others are simply too distracted with the concerns of this life. We’re too busy, too stressed, etc.

Here’s the thing we need to know: ALL of those distractions are examples of us ‘settling for less’ than the beauty, power, impact and holiness that we we designed for.

We are too easily convinced that the short term/temporary ‘stuff’ of this world is the best there is. We ‘know’ it’s not, but we ‘function’ like it is.

CS Lewis wrote, in his book, The Weight of Glory,

cs-lewis“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

You have to know–deep down, in every fiber of your being–this one truth:

GOD wants you to ‘Grow Deeper, and Go Higher’.

He wants you to know Him more. He wants you to worship Him more fully. He wants you to experience His power, His provision, His ability to work miracles, His transforming work, His peace, His guidance…you get the idea.

Your heavenly Father LOVES you and wants the best for you!

The only way you get that is to ‘grow deeper’ in your relationship with Him.

David wrote,

“Oh, the joys of those who do not
    follow the advice of the wicked,
    or stand around with sinners,
    or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord,
    meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
    bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
    and they prosper in all they do.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

God wants you and I to be like “trees planted along a riverbank” (ie, with a continual source of refreshment, nutrients, etc.), “bearing fruit in each season” (ie, continually growing in our faith and producing the ‘fruit’ of that faith in our lives). He actually does want us to “prosper in all we do”.

THIS is part of the ‘Full Life’ that Jesus promised in John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that they might have Life, to the full!”

Today. I mean it–TODAY!

Have the courage and wisdom to ask yourself the question: What does “Higher” look like for me, and how can I ‘Grow Deeper’ enough to get there?

Pray on these things!

‘Issues’, Grace, and the Love of God

I admit it: I have issues.

I’m certain this is not a surprise to anyone, especially my family, but I need to say it ‘out loud’ and confess: I have things in my life which really trip me up and leave me feeling regret, guilt, and a desire to ‘do better’ in the future.

Truth be told, there are several ‘issues’ like that in my life.

One of them caused a problem for me…again…the other day.

I worked through it, but I thought: Maybe others can relate, and my sharing can help you.

Are you wondering what my ‘issue’ is?

Are you trying to ‘fill in the blank’?

The reality is that I could share my struggles with many things, but the one thing I am willing to share publicly–at least right now–is my SUGAR issue.

I love sugar.

Are you disappointed? Did you hope I was going to ‘confess’ something more sinister?

Sugar, for me (and HUGE numbers of Americans) is a SERIOUS issue–with serious health implications.

Here’s just one article on sugar and it’s contribution to many ‘inflammatory’ diseases: https://experiencelife.com/article/sugar-breakdown/

Here’s the thing: This issue has SPIRITUAL implications as well!

 

NOTE: If you’re reading this thinking I need to ‘relax’ about this, think of the     pattern…

In some ways, it’s similar to almost any other temptation: It promises something good, when in reality all it can deliver is bad.

In sugar’s case, it promises the quick taste and jolt of energy, but ultimately it leads to increased cravings for more, a sugar ‘crash’, and a need for still more energy assistance. Thus begins a ‘downward spiral’ that can lead to health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, digestive issues, skin problems, and many others.

In that light, a cookie or ‘fun sized candy bar’ just doesn’t seem worth it, does it?

From a Spiritual standpoint, it stomps all over the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ that is Self-Control (see Galatians 5:22-23)

…and in that sense, it is like alcohol, lust, greed, etc.

In my case, the other day, sugar got the best of me.

October 31st started out strong. I had some fruit (natural sugar) for breakfast, some peanuts as a mid-morning snack, a light lunch…doing fine, despite candy and cookies all around.

Then, as the afternoon progressed into evening and I started to give out candy to trick-or-treater’s, I decided that I ‘deserved’ one of my favorites…then another…then another. Soon, the cookies were out, etc.

By the time I went to bed, I was feeling bloated, discouraged, with irritated skin, upset stomach…and the feeling that ‘I gave in…again!

And as I lay in bed, praying about my day, the one thing I was very happy for was the Grace of God!

“The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

That’s the great news–because of the compassion of the Lord, in His grace, there is always a new day ahead!

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, those who’ve acknowledged Him as Lord and Savior can have sins–any sins (even repeated ones) forgiven and have the slate wiped clean!

1 John 1:9: “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

Again, you might be thinking, ‘Lighten up Dave! You’re talking about SUGAR!’. However, I know that for myself, this is an issue of self-control, which the Holy Spirit convicts me of. I know that, giving into these cravings–like any other kind of craving–is spiritually unhealthy and damaging. For you, it might not be an issue…but for me, it is.

And it’s a relatively ‘safe’ way of illustrating important points.

We all have ‘issues’ that trip us up. Sins that promise freedom, but only deliver enslavement. We have cravings…lusts within ourselves which, when followed, can lead to our spiritual, relational, physical, financial, personal, even vocational destruction.

In contrast to that, Jesus says that He has come to give us “Life, to the full” (John 10:10)…and this is a MUCH better promise than the promise of a cookie!

So, next time you’re tempted to give in to that craving/lust/temptation, think about the implications. Don’t give in, but instead choose to move toward the Lord–His grace, His promises, and His heart for you is much, MUCH better than the promise of your ‘issue’.

Great is His faithfulness!

His Love NEVER fails!

 

Hope…Where’s It Come From?

Where does ‘peace’ come from for you?

From what source do you find ‘joy’?

Where do you get your ‘hope’?

hope

If it is anywhere except the Lord, you are asking for trouble!

It will not last.

It can’t.

 

The truth is that many of us find our peace, joy and hope in our circumstances.

If our circumstances are good, then cool–we’re at peace.

The minute our circumstances change, however, we get anxious, we lose sleep, we chew our fingernails, etc.

We all do this–to one extent or another–at times.

As long as there’s money left at the end of our month, as long as we’re (relatively) healthy, and our main relationships are good, we think everything’s fine.

But if those things are where our trust lies, we are trusting in something that cannot last.

Even on a national or global scale…as long as there’s peace on our borders, the world economy is humming along, and no major natural disasters have hit our area, we think things are fine. That changes very quickly, however–with even one terrorist attack, one threat of cyber-terrorism, or one spike in the global fuel prices.

Even in our current Presidential race…if ‘our’ candidate is in the lead, we think things are fine. If the polls change, or some new scandal comes out, we fret and worry about our future.

We must learn to get our Peace, Joy, and Hope from the One Source that does not change–our God!

 

Psalm 33:10-17:

“The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations
    and thwarts all their schemes.
11 But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever;
    his intentions can never be shaken.

12 What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord,
    whose people he has chosen as his inheritance.

13 The Lord looks down from heaven
    and sees the whole human race.
14 From his throne he observes
    all who live on the earth.
15 He made their hearts,
    so he understands everything they do.
16 The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
    nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
17 Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—
    for all its strength, it cannot save you.” 

Nothing–not our economy, our military, our constitution–NOTHING is as secure as Him!

“But the Lord watches over those who fear him,
    those who rely on his unfailing love.
19 He rescues them from death
    and keeps them alive in times of famine.” (Psalm 33:18-19)

We can rest, trusting Him to watch over us–IF we are trusting in Him and putting Him in His rightful place (#1 above all else in our lives).

“We put our hope in the Lord.
    He is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
    for our hope is in you alone.” (Psalm 33:20-22)

Today, and every day, may You (and I) find the peace that comes from KNOWING that God is watching over us, and may we reaffirtm our trust in the One and Only Source of Hope–HIM!

As Far As It Depends on You…

Newsflash: There’s a LOT of conflict in our world!

Between riots in Charlotte, NC, weekly violence in places like Chicago, Terrorism in New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota…there is no shortage of violence.

Police killing civilians, Civilians killing police, Citizens killing citizens…seems as though we hear a lot more about it now.

Violence, as they say, begets violence.

Add to that the ‘soft’ conflicts that happen in political ‘debate’ and ‘discussion’, Facebook or Twitter ‘wars’ which can quickly escalate to the point that two people who would normally get along…even enjoy each other…even love each other, can be angry and embittered with one another because of their political (or moral, or spiritual) disagreements.

As I observe all this, I tend to think of a ‘downward spiral of conflict’, where we go faster and faster down a relational ‘hole’ that we can’t get back out of.

If something does not change, our families, friendships, churches and communities will be destroyed. Our society is at a bit of a ‘tipping point’, and I wonder if more violence will set the tone for a dramatically bad turn of events, depending on the outcome of the election this fall. Certainly there are ‘elements’ in both Clinton and Trump camps that may react very negatively (and violently) if the other side wins.

…all the while, satan–our spiritual enemy–sits back and laughs.

That’s right…satan.

Once he got us to focus on ‘self’ and ‘what I want, I deserve, it became very easy to go to ‘What I want, I deserve, and anyone who stands in the way of that is my enemy.’

That is the mindset of evil, and our society is being played.

At KCC, we’ve talked a lot about a verse that is a ‘worldview’ verse in some ways…it indicates in many ways, the reason things are what they are in this world…and helps us ask questions that will get us out of that ‘downward spiral’.

“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that they might have life, to the full” (Jesus’ words in John 10:10)

The thief–satan, our enemy, is always trying to destroy. He’s always trying to divide, cause conflict, and incite animosity toward others. IF we let him, he destroys families, churches, communities, and eventually, our society and our world.

It’s what he does.

“He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies”. (Jesus’ words in John 8:44)

This is what is happening in our culture, as people plug their ears to the truth, center on their own desires, and lob accusations against ‘the other side’.

What can we do instead?

Choose to listen. Try to understand. Seek to give the benefit of the doubt.

If you are a follower of Jesus, we must seek peace!

“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”–Psalm 34:14

That is part of the “Life, to the full” that Jesus promised–relational peace and unity.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:9-21)

WE must be those who ‘overcome evil with good’!

WE must be those who leave room for God to avenge.

WE must be he ones who refuse to ‘pay back evil with evil, but to do what is right’.

WE must be the ones who make it our goal to live this out: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone!”

Will there be ‘bad guys’ on the other side of the spectrum? Yes.

Will there be ‘bad guys’ on our end of the spectrum? Regrettably, yes!

YOU and I–as Christ followers–cannot be one of them!

We MUST seek peace and pursue it!

We must listen, love, discuss, share, give grace, and remain committed to the truth–in LOVE!

That is the only hope for our society!

If you’re a Christian, YOU represent Jesus!

Commit yourself to living like it!

Where Is The Love? (Warning!)

Where is the LoveWarning: This post will leave some of you uncomfortable, and others will be offended. I am including a link to a video that uses a bad word, and will definitely step on toes (it did mine).

I don’t share this video to say ‘The Black Eyed Peas have it all figured out’, they don’t.

In fact, they are left asking the same question they asked years ago: “Where is the Love?”

One thing we can all agree on: there is a LOT of hate out there! Violence, Evil, Racism…it’s certainly out there in our world.

However, if anything is ever going to change, we have to ask ourselves a more disturbing question: ‘Is it in me?’

How have I contributed–either in my attitude, my actions, or my behavior–to the climate of hate and division?

For example, when I watch this video, I get offended by the lines about police killing, and the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ false narrative that was so prevalent recently. However, rather than discard the entire song, I have to admit that there are legitimate good things about it, and that the question is one that I need to answer!

The Black Eyed Peas ask this profound question, and I think we–especially Christ followers–need to wrestle with it: Where IS the Love?

Here’s the thing: We–Christians–KNOW the answer!

The LOVE has already come! Jesus came to show it, and He NAILED it!

“God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent His son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, should be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1st John 4:9-10)

Evil–including hate and racism–were nailed to the cross when He willingly went there!

Why, then, does it still exist?

2 reasons:

1) Our enemy, satan…the devil, is still trying to mess everything up (“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that they might have LIFE, and have it to the Full.” (John 10:10), and 2) We willingly play into his hands.

Even in the Church–the family of God–who’ve been brought in by His amazing grace, and through nothing of our own merit (Ephesians 2:1-10)–we continue to justify racism, hatred and division!

How can this be?

If Jesus has paid for all our sin, and brought us all into relationship with the Father–adopted into the family of God–then we, above all people should know how to show LOVE…for all races, denominations, ethnicities, etc.

You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.” (Ephesians 2:12-18)

HE–Jesus–is the One who made peace; HE is the one who brought the LOVE.

Therefore, we–as His followers, within the family of God together–have THE answer to the question,

“Where is the Love?” It’s in Jesus!

Therefore, as Christians, we have a responsibility to believe, think, and act not as members of ‘our’ group–‘White’, ‘Black’, ‘Latino’, etc…but as Children of God!

ALL lives matter–to God! Therefore, all lives should matter to me, as His child!

We must push back from the rhetoric, push back from the headlines, push back from the protests, and consider:      As those who have been extravagantly, graciously, and abundantly loved by God, how can we LOVE each other?

Does it mean we have no differences? Does it mean we can’t teach those who are different some things? Does it mean we can’t learn from each other? Of course not…and sometimes, those differences are important! Even then, however, we must live in the context of love.

“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13)

Stand Up!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Bonhoefferwas a Lutheran Pastor and Theologian in during the reign of Adolf Hitler. While many Pastors in his country were keeping silent, and ‘going along in order to get along’, he would not. He believed that it was the responsibility of those who knew Jesus to stand up to tyranny and oppression.

He said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

In other words, when we–as Christ followers–see injustice, tyranny and evil happening in our world, it is our responsibility–as followers of Jesus–to do what we can to stop it. Not doing so is a decision we’ll have to answer for.

In 1947, Peter MarshallPeter Marshall, Chaplain of the US Senate, said “If we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything”. 

In other words, we must–especially as Christians–stand for those things which reflect the Word and heart of God.

 

So, the question is, ‘What do we stand for, and why?’

In our culture today, the teaching and values of the Word of God are being increasingly mocked and marginalized.

As Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy…” (John 10:10), and he is clearly very busy in our world!

It’s almost as if our culture is daring Christians to stand up and say something.

This is really nothing new, however.

Back in the book of Acts, when the Church was just getting started, opposition arose. Many voices of the culture–especially the religious culture–wanted to quiet this new message–the message about Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Savior and Lord of all.

Stephen, a ‘Deacon’ in the Church, was challenged. He was confronted with a choice. He could either stand up for Jesus, or try to compromise–to ‘go along’, to minimize the differences between those who worshiped Jesus and those who rejected Jesus–in order to survive.

Note–this wasn’t just about some vague pressure to conform. This was a situation that threatened his very life!

If he ‘made nice’, he might survive. If he stuck with Jesus as risen Savior and Lord, he may die!

Fortunately, Stephen’s faith was strong. He stuck with the Lord…and he was stoned to death because of it. However, he knew that eternity was awaiting him. God gave him a vision in the midst of this opposition: “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56) 

All this did was make his opponents more angry, so they rushed forward as one mob and took him out of the city and began to stone him, in order to silence and kill him.

Stephen knew that death was not the end. He knew that Jesus had conquered death–therefore, their threats meant nothing to him! While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:59-60)

Stephen’s faith enabled him to stand against opposition.Stoning Stephen

May we–all who claim to be Christ followers–have the strength to stand up against opposition, even if we have to stand alone.