Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

What Choices Do We Have?

20 Mar

So much in life is beyond our control and choice. Flood, fire, earthquake, tornado, hurricane—each powerful and demanding. We’re forced to kneel before Nature’s fury. Other situations may trap us and deny our power to choose.

Consider other people’s choices. Children have no choice regarding frequent moves due to a parent’s occupation or military service. Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse rob many of dignity and hope. Thieves “choose” precious possessions in the dead of night and hijack our treasured security. A spouse decides he/she no longer wants to remain married consequently jeopardizing our financial and relational world. Someone drives drunk on the Interstate, creating orphans and heartbreak.

Another category:  choices we make but can’t choose resulting consequences. We abuse our sedentary bodies with food, alcohol, and tobacco despite the doctor’s warning. We now face hospitalization, perhaps long term care. We practice shopping therapy—clothes hang in our closets still wearing price tags, a “keeping-up-appearances car” fills the garage. Yet we’re helpless to control a plunging credit score and high interest credit card bills. We take our spouse for granted refusing support, affection, and attention. Unfortunately, we can’t control the response of “too little, too late” and the divorce that follows.

At these times, life seems to offer no alternatives, no choices.

Don’t despair. We were created to choose. The first thing God did was to give mankind work and a choice (Genesis 2:15–18). He designed humanity with the ability to choose between good and evil.

Choosing God brings life.

Deuteronomy 30:19 Today I ask heaven and earth to be witnesses. I am offering you life or death, blessings or curses. Now, choose life! Then you and your children may live (NCV).

There are several kinds of death other than physical. We can experience mental, spiritual, emotional, and/or intellectual death.

When other people’s choices threaten to destroy us, we can choose bitterness and anger, resentment and revenge. We can ask “why me” and wonder “if only.”

Or we can choose life and trust .

Romans 8:28a We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love Him (NCV).God

This isn’t a promise for everyone; it’s only for those who love and trust God. With His help we can rebuild after a disaster. We can choose to exercise, eat healthy, and give up harmful habits. We can decide to get counseling rather than rely on shopping therapy. We can learn to communicate and cherish loved ones even if we can’t undo past mistakes. We can trust God to bring justice in His time and His way, even if we don’t see it (Romans 12:19).

Most of all, we can choose to forgive—forgive others and ourselves. When we pray the prayer Jesus taught, we say, “Forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors.” That may be the secret to living fully—continual confession and continual forgiveness, accepting and offering the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ. Let’s choose wisely, friend.

Do You Choose Ashes or Beauty?

7 Dec

It’s fireplace weather as the weatherman predicts single digit temperatures. I love rotating in front of the fire like a marshmallow on a coat hanger—equally toasted on all sides. Frequent fires produce abundant ashes.

As I transferred cold ashes from the fireplace to a trashbag, I thought how they no longer resembled the logs originally placed on the grate. No longer sturdy logs, the ash pile was now gray, powdery, and easily scattered by the slightest puff of air. Perhaps, like me, there was a time when your life was in ashes—cold, colorless, without meaning or apparent value, no longer resembling the life you once envisioned.

The Bible uses ashes to symbolize misery, shame, humility, and repentance. Deeply distressed mourners sat on ashes and threw them toward heaven, allowing the ashes to fall as a head covering. That’s why Isaiah’s prophecy was so powerful. He promised “comfort [for] all who mourn, . . .a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3a).

This dramatic transformation would come through faith in God. Jesus Christ later read this passage from the scroll of Isaiah, “‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:18–21 NIV).

No matter what you’ve been through or what you’re facing, Jesus offers understanding and victory. He gave up heavenly glory to be born in a stable. He endured poverty, grief, injustice, rejection and faced every human temptation for our sake. Why then do we continue to cover ourselves in ashes when He offers a crown of beauty? Our freedom comes not through escaping our circumstances, but in accepting the love, power, and joy offered in Jesus Christ.

The fireplace wood we burn is often a mixture of pine and oak. Pine flames quickly; oak burns slowly and provides lasting warmth. God can transform our lives from ashes to oak. As Isaiah says, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3b NIV).

My prayer for us is that we display God’s splendor, as we remain strong in His power and love.

Can I Get By with This?

8 Nov

Confession time: I customarily drive about three miles over the speed limit. I had a highway patrolman friend tell me they usually let drivers get by with driving 3-4 miles over the limit. Then our state raised the speed limit to 75. Cars traveling at least 85 mph often pass me and they usually get by with it.

Have we become a people who merely try to get by? Can I be one or two minutes late without upsetting my boss? If three minutes goes unnoticed, why not ten minutes late? If a subcontractor makes a mistake, does he correct it or leave it, knowing that “it will cover?” There are many opportunities for getting by—mop the center of a floor and skip the corners, inflate billable hours, scarcely study for a test, text instead of supervise the kids you babysit, and more.

Let Scripture guide our work ethic. “ Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23–24 NRSV). When we think we’re getting by, we’re really cheating ourselves of the reward God has planned for us.

But there’s a flip side to getting by—we’re not giving God His due. The quality of our work reflects on Christ. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 NRSV). It’s crazy to think that my service could bring glory to God, but that’s what it says.

We have only One employer, One audience, One supervisor. It’s unrealistic to believe we can do all things well, much less, that we can do anything we set our minds to. However, whatever we find to do, we must do it for our Lord, Jesus Christ. We do our best because He is the best.

Not everyone will understand, appreciate, or even approve our attitudes and actions. Sometimes we’ll be blamed and criticized unfairly. That has to be secondary to pleasing God. “Live such good lives among [unbelievers] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV).

Christ followers aren’t to do just enough to get by. “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:40–41 NIV). I haven’t always lived up to this standard, but it remains my goal and gets easier as I age. I don’t want to get by; I want to make a difference. How about you?

“Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11 NRSV).

Miraculous New Creations

5 Oct

Last post I shared a link to the story about how God “miraculously healed” my camera. This past Saturday I witnessed how God continues to heal minds and spirits. I had the privilege of speaking to group of over 90 amazing young women at the West Texas A&M University Wesley Foundation retreat. The retreat theme was You Are God’s Masterpiece.

So many young women and men feel inadequate—never quite able to measure up to the expectations of their parents, teachers, coaches, or peers. Many experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Anxiety, depression, cutting, and eating disorders often result from such experiences.

God’s word has good news. We don’t have to accept the world’s performance based expectations and evaluations.

“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 NKJV).

We renew our minds by changing the Source of our value. Consider the first Bible verse. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” After each day’s creation, “God saw that it was good.” The earth’s grandeur set a tremendous standard of beauty and functionality. But God topped that when He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over [the earth and its creatures]” (Genesis 1:26 NASB95). After God created man and woman, He “saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31a NASB95). Six goods and one “very good!” God regards people as His best work, His masterpiece.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).

Sometimes trauma keeps us from seeing ourselves as God’s masterpiece, but there are many other ways we receive the message we’re inadequate. It can be a series of circumstances across the years. I remember the skinny 4th grade girl who asked my chubby self, “Why do you always wear the same dress?” I didn’t tell her about riding the bus downtown with a friend and choosing the fabric and pattern. I felt so “mature” as I shopped and so beautiful when Mom finished it. With one sentence and a roll of her eyes, I allowed her to make me feel poor and unattractive.

Everyone wants to feel accepted and valued which sometimes leads to destructive choices and the inability to stand up for our beliefs and our personal value. No matter what our past, no matter the false narratives we’ve believed about ourselves, God provides a fresh start. We can be pure and beautiful, strong and powerful, and greatly loved when we trust Jesus Christ to change us.

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT).

Would you encourage others by sharing how you’ve made a new start? We’d love to hear from you.

New Mind, New Me

25 May

I’ve kept a journal for many years. I sometimes read a page and ask myself, “Did I write that? Wow. That’s good stuff. God was really speaking to me that day.” But more often than I care to admit, I found repeated confessions for the same mistakes, and the same longing to be like Christ. In earlier journals, such longing resulted in new resolve and determined effort to “live the Christian life.” Yet I predictably reverted to my previous behavior.

Two verses helped me understand why resolving to change usually ends in failure.
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. . .” (Matthew 15:19 NASB).
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45 NASB).

Simply put, we can’t experience true transformation by just trying harder. In order to change our behavior, we must first ask God to change our heart. (See post It’s Time for Some Good News, May 18, 2013). I refer to the biblical view of heart—our spirit and our will. The heart is the center of our being, the part of us that’s under our control. God first loves us, forgives us, and gives us new life. Then we must do our part. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and. God’s Spirit offers love, life, and power. We decide what to believe, think, and obey.

On the most basic level, that requires belief in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. When we trust Christ to forgive our sins and give us new life, we receive the Holy Spirit who empowers us to live like Christ. From that moment, we become collaborators with the Spirit, working together to mold us into Christ’s true disciple. In deciding what to believe, it’s our responsibility to learn God’s perspective on any situation.

Let’s take Ephesians 4:31–32 as an example. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (NIV).

Trying to get rid of anger by dogged determination results in short term success at best and failure at worst. Yet Scripture holds that out as the Christian way of life. What then is our strategy? First, we desire change and believe it’s possible. Next, we choose to renew our mind (Romans 12:2) and cooperate with God’s indwelling Spirit. That means finding ways to place ourselves in God’s presence and allow Him to change us. That involves prayer, asking God to reveal what’s inside us that produces anger. Must I be in control or be appreciated? Do I allow others to take advantage of me? Do I need help with an abusive situation? Am I simply exhausted and need sleep? Perhaps, I need more alone time with God or Bible study.

The Holy Spirit answers our questions through Scripture, wise Christian counsel, His still small voice within, and common sense. Then we choose to obey or disobey. Obedience leads to growth and intimacy with Christ; disobedience leads to distance and spiritual immaturity. We repeat this cycle repeatedly in many different situations. Over time, we’re transformed into the likeness of Christ. Our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions flow naturally from His Spirit. At that point, we become unaware of Christ speaking or behaving through us, because such attitudes and actions come from our identity in Him.

I love how 2 Corinthians 5:17 in the New King James Bible describes this radical change.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

A new mind, a new me—-His gracious gift offered to every believer.