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#ThrowbackThursday — This post was originally posted April 2, 2010

Each day we write another page in the story of our life. If you stop now and examine the pages that have accumulated, how does your biography read? When we first meet Saul of Tarsus in the Bible, we read about a man who grew up in a wealthy seaport; studied at one of the best universities in the world; and was trained by the best religious leaders. In his own words, Saul described himself as “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6).” He was a “Hebrew of Hebrews (Phil. 3:5).”

In the eyes of the world, Saul’s biography was about a man with everything going for him – riches, a career and very religious. He personally wanted to stop this new movement centered on this man Jesus. Acts 8:3 describes Saul as being on a mission to “destroy the church,” a man who was hunting down the followers of Jesus and putting them in prison.

But Saul turned a new page when Christ intervened in his life. While on his way to Damascus to find more followers of Jesus to imprison, “a light from heaven flashed around him (Acts 9:3-4).” Jesus confronts him and asks “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” From that point on, a new chapter is written in Saul’s life. His story is transformed to someone totally focused on Jesus.

It took a major intervention by Jesus Christ to change Saul’s biography. He becomes filled with the Holy Spirit and from that point on he is called Paul (Acts 13:9). The power of Jesus Christ changed his life story from one rich in the ways of the world to one rich in the Kingdom of God. Paul describes his new life in Phil. 3:7, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus (NIV).”

What about your life story? As you look at each day, each page and each chapter, what is being written about you? Will your life story end as Jesus describes in Matt. 16:26, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” Or will your story be more like Paul in Philippians 2:17: “But even if my life is to be poured out like a drink offering to complete the sacrifice of your faithful service (that is, if I am to die for you), I will rejoice, and I want to share my joy with all of you (NLV).”

Throwback Thursday – Originally Published March 18, 2010

If you asked someone to write down what they think of you in 140 characters or less, what would they write about you? Would Christ come through loud and clear or would it be a mixed message? Would they write more about you or about Christ? What would you write about yourself?

Sometimes the opinion we have about ourselves is different than reality. An article in the Feb. 18, 2009 issue of Scientific American, “Think You’re Good Looking? Think Again” detailed a study that showed people often over inflate how they view their own physical appearance. Study participants were asked to identify their face out of eleven pictures that were actually modified images of themselves. Most of the time, the person chose the more attractive image, even over an actual picture of themselves.

“It is perhaps of little wonder, then, that people so rarely seem to like the photographs taken of themselves,” remarked the authors of the study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Our selfish desires can paint an image of ourselves that makes us think we are better than others. Even the disciples fell into this trap. In Mark 9:33-35, Jesus asks them what they were talking about as they walked along the road. The disciples don’t answer “because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest.” (NLT) Jesus then tells his disciples, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and servant of all.” (NIV)

Christ helps us see the sinful image of our life that we do not want to look at. He gives us the Spirit to help us serve Him instead of ourselves. Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.”

Throwback Thursday: This post was originally published March 4, 2010

John the Baptist was a master at editing his life down so only Christ remained evident to others. He wore clothes made from camel hair with a leather belt and ate locusts and honey (Matt. 3:4). He did not worry about having a nice building to accommodate the crowds that came to hear him preach. His message cut to the point: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 3:2 NIV) – simple words that easily fit into a text message or Twitter post.

John’s life was not cluttered with things that confused his message. He did not try to impress people, rather he tried to impress upon them the need to repent of their sins and prepare for the coming of Jesus. In Matthew 11:8-10, Jesus points out that the people did not come to see John dressed in fine clothes, they came to see a prophet. People traveled into the hot and dusty desert to hear John’s message, not to see his outfit, sit in a beautiful building with air conditioning, or dine on locusts and honey with him.

Many of the people that crowded around John in the desert were tired of trying to impress others with their deeds and appearances. They were hungry for a message of true repentance that would free them from the burden of their sins. John focused on their spiritual need for a savior. He pointed them away from himself and toward Christ. In Matt. 3:11 he explains how one is to come who is more powerful than him, how he is not fit to carry his sandals. John’s life was edited down so only the message of Jesus came through each day.

As a follower of Jesus your greatness and your identity is not in this world. John continues to show us true life is in Christ. Jesus commends John saying, “There has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” He goes on to say that we have the potential to be greater than John, that “he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matt. 11:11 NIV)

I stood there a moment in my mom’s old apartment looking at what was left of her possessions. I stared at the room full of furniture and other items. Each one seemed to have a story, a memory; each item a treasure. It was hard to focus on the task at hand and not let my emotions get the best of me.

The previous week we had moved my mom into an assisted living facility because she was no longer able to live on her own. Because her room in the assisted living facility was significantly smaller, we could only move a small portion of her belongings with her. This meant we had to sift through her remaining possessions and decide what to do with them. It was a poignant moment that reminded me of how quickly time passes and what is important in life.

For a moment I paused in my mom’s old apartment and noted how my family had come together to help with my mom’s transition to assisted living. We were together for this moment, pulled together by my mom’s need to make a change in her living arrangements. It was a reminder to me of the importance of family relationships. This was the real treasure in the room.

Jesus reminded us in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (NIV).”

As I look to a new year, I wonder if I have grown closer to God in the past 12 months. I examine my life and contemplate if I am any better at truly having a heart for God; any better at truly trusting him. The struggle remains in how much I am willing to follow the Spirit of God over my selfish desires.

Psalm 119:1-24 is instructive as I look at how to align my life more with God’s desires. Verse 2-3 encourages me to “keep his statues” not just out of compliance, but because I desire to seek God with all my heart — to follow his ways. That desire is expressed in verse four, “Oh that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!”

Verses 9-16 give us practical advice to guide us to “the path of purity (9).” This passage encourages us to live “according to your word (9);” to seek God with all our heart (10); to hide the word of God in our heart (11); to be open to God’s teaching (12); and to not grudgingly follow God’s decrees, but to rejoice “in following your statues (14).”

Verses 17-24 remind me to be teachable and to learn from my mistakes. Asking God to “Open my eyes that I might see wonderful things in your law (18);” to seek to be “consumed with longing for your laws at all times (20);” to not just read the word of God, but to “meditate on your decrees (23).”

I praise God that he is a loving God filled with compassion and grace. I am thankful that he continues to pursue me as a counselor (24), pointing out my faults and working to shape me according to his laws. I pray we can all be resolute in the new year to seek God with all our heart.

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I have always admired the way Joseph kept his focus on God even though his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Throughout Genesis 39-45, from the point Joseph is sold by his brothers to when he is reconciled with his brothers, Joseph continually lets his devotion to God guide his decisions. Yet there is one passage of scripture in all these chapters on Joseph that is easy to miss yet very thought-provoking.

In Genesis 41, after Pharaoh has placed Joseph as second in command of all of Egypt, he has two sons. When the second son is born Joseph remarks in verse 52, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering (NIV).” Even though he has become a powerful ruler of Egypt, he still calls it “the land of my suffering.” He is beginning to see how God has used his suffering to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.

Joseph’s statement in verse 52 causes me to ask if I can see God’s fruit in the land of my suffering. Too often I am focused on the agony and not on what purpose God might have for my pain. In the midst of our enslavement and imprisonment in the land of our suffering, be mindful of the fruit God is ripening for his glory.

I am a self-made man. I relish my achievements because they endorse how great I am. From job promotions, to bank accounts, to awards, to the accomplished lives of my children, I constantly seek endorsements that I am better than those around me. This arrogance is what elevates me above God. This is not an attitude that brings me closer to God.

It is in the hard times that I am brought closer to God and his purposes for my life. We do not welcome the struggles in life. As Paul writes in 2 Cor. 12:6-10, we plead for God to take them away, to remove the thorn in our flesh that continues to torment us. It is difficult for us to see that the challenges we face in life are there to help prevent us from becoming conceited.

It is so very hard to think that God places a thorn in our sides to prevent us from becoming arrogant. For months, even years I have prayed for a young soul to return to Christ. I have helplessly watched as this person’s life has spiraled out of control. I desperately try to help, but it seems all my efforts are in vain. I feel weak and humbled. Paul’s words in verse 9 resonate, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It is not in my own abilities that I find the strength to manage hardship, it is in humble reverence to God that I find strength through Jesus Christ. When I am beaten down and worn out, that is when I am most open to the power of Christ within me. It is what Paul writes, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Jesus sacrificed himself to demonstrate the power of God to the world. On the cross He looked weak and defeated to the world. But through his death and resurrection, God’s power was made evident. Our ability to make Christ evident rests in our ability to die to self; to remain humble and not conceited. Paul’s words in verse 10 should encourage us: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” It is our acknowledgement of how truly weak we are to control this life that we find our true strength in Christ.

When it comes to giving, often we think of it in terms of donating things like money, food, or clothing to those in need. But how often do we think of giving in terms of time? Do we think of people starving for time or as being rich with available time?

Paul writes in 2 Cor 8:14-15 of having equality in resources so that those with excess can give to those lacking, and likewise when they are lacking they can obtain from those with plenty. If we apply this to time, we can think of those in our community who are time poor or time rich. Perhaps it’s the time poor single mom attempting to raise her kids on her own while working full-time, or the new retiree who is suddenly rich with available time. Imagine if the church could help provide time equality to both of these people.

Let’s play out Paul’s teaching in this example. Let’s say the new retiree becomes aware that the single mom is time-starved so she offers to do her cleaning and grocery shopping with no obligation for repayment. The single mom suddenly has time available in the evening to play or do homework with her kids. That in turns means her kids are less starved for time with mom.

Fast forward 15 years. The single mom’s kids are now graduated from high school and are off on their own. Now the single mom has an excess of time available. Meanwhile the retiree who gave her excess time over the years now has a disabling disease that now makes her time-starved due to rehab, doctor visits, treatments. and physical limitations. So a youth from church who is on summer break with available time helps the ailing retiree while the single mom helps out at the food bank.

You may have expected me to say that the single mom started helping the ailing retiree. But that would make it appear that the single mom was repaying a debt to the retiree. The bigger point here is that we all have seasons in life. We should simply give to those in need when we are able and receive in our times of need, no strings attached.

As Paul writes in verse 14, “Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal (NLT).” When those who had excess find themselves with little, others with excess give to maintain equality. In this way one of the most valuable resources we have, time, is also given freely to those around us.

After a year of neglect, my old garden plot was overtaken by weeds. Remnants of corn stalks and brown, brittle garden plants were barely visible in the sea of green weeds that now dominated the plot of earth.

“How did this happen?” I asked myself. It amazed me how the weeds now dominated the garden to the point where it choked out the fruitful plants. I asked “how,” but I knew the answer to my question could be found in 1Thess. 5:16-18 where Paul wrote, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks…”

The question is that if we are not filling our lives with praises for God, then what are we filling our lives with? The gaps presented by our inattention to God create opportunity for discourse and discontent with God. They become the small weeds in our fruitful garden that will eventually choke off the good plants if left to grow.

Praying without ceasing keeps us connected to God. It puts us in right relationship with Him. By rejoicing in all things; by giving thanks always; we are able to choke off the weeds of bitterness and anger that try to take hold when bad things happen in life. Praying without ceasing is like weeding our garden so that it will be more fruitful and filled with the joy of the Lord.

I stepped into the attic of our house and was amazed at how much stuff had accumulated in this small space. As I went through boxes and crates filled with things from my past, I kept telling myself, “It’s time to get rid of some of these things.” Suddenly I was struck by the discovery of an old Bible buried deep inside one box. It was a vivid reminder to me of how clutter can sometimes conceal God’s word in our life.

James 1:21 encourages us to “get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.” (NLT) Like that attic full of stuff, we can fill our lives with things that are not good for us. That in turn can hinder our ability to accept God’s word inside of us and our ability to live our lives according to God’s will.

It’s an imagery that Paul presents in 2 Timothy 2:20-21 where he describes the different utensils and their use in a household. “If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.”

If that Bible buried in a box had been the only thing in the attic, it would have been easy to find God’s word and his purposes for my life. It’s a vivid reminder to remove the clutter from our life and to focus on God.

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