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On congested streets filled with chaos

I listen for you

On sidewalks swarming with people and turmoil

I look for you

In a crowded building filled with screens and distractions

I seek you

In a packed train humanity closes in on me

I reach for you

But you are not there

Yet in the solitude of the wilderness, I heard your voice.

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)

In the quiet of the upper room we saw you.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19)

In the crowded building we found you.

Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. (Mark 2:4)

In the midst of the crowd pressing in, I touched you.

She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. (Luke 8:44)

In my deep desire to hear you, to see you, to seek you, to touch you, I came to know you.

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Duet. 4:29)

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I had a friend who had a knack for fixing most anything, particularly electronics. At one point he looked at buying a desktop computer and decided he could make one that better suited his purposes. So he bought all the components and built a computer that was faster and more powerful than any you could buy at that time. He knew that machine inside and out because he created it. In fact no one knew that machine better than him so he was always the go-to person when it didn’t work right. He was also the one to talk to when you didn’t understand its purpose.

I thought of this friend today when I read Psalm 139, particularly verse 13-14: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Like my friend knew that computer inside and out, our creator God knows us inside and out. We are not a generic machine pulled off the shelf, but each one of us is handcrafted by God. We are wonderfully made by the master craftsman.

God knows you inside and out because he handcrafted you. No one knows you better. When things don’t seem to be working out right in your life, he is the go-to person. He understands your inner most being. As 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” When you don’t understand why something isn’t working, seek God. If you’re confused about your purpose, seek your creator and let the Spirit of God reveal his plan for your life.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6

As I read through the hundred-plus verses of Psalm 119 in sections over several days, one verse in particular stood out for me. Verse 164 reads, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.” I immediately wondered if that was possible. It sounds simple, but to take time out my hectic day to praise God and his law seven times each day suddenly sounded difficult to accomplish. As it was, i could barely manage a set devotion time each day.

So the question remained in my head. Could I actually make it work? That’s when I came up with a strategy. I divided the roughly 18 hours I’m awake each day by seven and came up with about two and a half-hour intervals between the seven praises in a day. Then I created seven alarm settings on my phone with that interval between them. The goal was to praise God and his “righteous laws” each time I heard and/or felt my phone vibrate.

I started this approach on a Monday morning. I programmed the alarm on my phone for 6 am, 8:30, 11, 1:30 pm, 4, 6:30 and 9 pm. I used a praise song as the alarm sound to set the mood. This was an intentional way to move toward daily giving praise to God. An effort to, as Hebrews 13:15 tells us, “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise, to “openly profess his name.” I would like to say this approach worked, but I soon found it became more forced with each passing day. While the interruption reminded how distracted from God I would get during the day, it tended to become just another routine — another “to-do” to check off the list.

What I learned from this experiment is that our worship and praise of God and his laws needs to come from an outflowing of our heart. Our love for God should overwhelm us to the point that it is a natural outpouring into our lives each day — a frequent praise of God as we experience him in the moments of each day. Disciplining our lives to align with God and his laws is good, but we must be careful not to force it to the point where it loses its meaning and purpose. 1 John 5:2-3 reminds us that God’s commands should not be a burden: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.”

A dear friend shared this in an email during a particularly trying week. With her permission, I now share it with you.

These verses encourage us to T.R.U.S.T. Him: His unfailing love and His mighty power…

T—TELL HIM EVERYTHING!

Psalm 86:5-7…You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to You. Hear my prayer, Lord; listen to my cry for mercy. When I am in distress, I call to You, because You answer me.

Ps. 34:17-18…The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Matt. 20:29-34…As Jesus and His disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” He asked. “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.” Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed Him. (Lord, we cry out for insight in the current need for decision-making!)

R—REMEMBER HIS PAST FAITHFULNESS!

Ps. 77:5-14…I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart meditated and my spirit asked: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will He never show His favor again? Has His unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has He in anger withheld His compassion?” Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out His right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will consider all Your works and meditate on all Your mighty deeds.” Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; You display Your power among the peoples.

U—(Be) UNAFRAID!

Deut. 20:1-4…When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

S—STAND FIRM!

Ps. 20, especially vs. 6-9…Now this I know: The Lord gives victory to His anointed. He answers him from His heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of His right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the Name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. Lord, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call!

T—TAKE HIM AT HIS WORD!

Ps. 86:11-12…Teach me Your way, Lord, that I may rely on Your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your Name. I will praise You, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify Your Name forever.

Isaiah 30:19-21…People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious He will be when you cry for help! As soon as He hears, He will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. (Praying for vision to determine “who” or “what” those righteous teachers are this week.) Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Praying and trusting with you.

As the woman approached me in the aisle of the store I noticed her long face. I did not know this woman, but the next moment she passed me and I had this sense that she was burdened by something. I took a few more steps and then I felt the need to pray that the Spirit of God would fill her with hope; that she would feel the presence of Jesus Christ easing her emotional load. After that short prayer I turned to look back and she was no longer in the aisle.

This brief encounter made an impression on me. It made me think about how God looks at people — about the love and grace he offers us in the midst of our struggles. To see people as God sees them is to feel their burdens and pain; to experience the hopelessness people feel in life without Jesus Christ. When our heart is oriented toward God our desires become God’s desires. We share a longing for others to know Christ Jesus and the hope he brings.

We see Jesus modeling this compassion in Matthew 14:13-14. In this passage Jesus had just learned about the beheading of John so he climbs into a boat to seek a place of solitude. When he reaches shore he is greeted by a large crowd. He wanted to take time to grieve, but scripture tells us “he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

God knows our hearts and he knows our needs. Jesus reminded us of this in Matt 6:8: “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” God knows when we need someone to touch our lives to ease our burdens and he knows when we should reach out to others in need. He uses the Spirit to nudge us to help one another whether it is a short prayer, a conversation or helping with a need. As a community of believers in Jesus Christ we need be attentive to the Spirit’s leading to help us see people as God sees them.

I recently gave my friend a multi-tool which included a level. After he unwrapped it, he immediately laid it on the kitchen counter to ensure the level was accurate. It may sound strange that he checked the accuracy of the tool against his counter, but I knew that most everything in his house was level. As a craftsman, he would not accept anything less. He was checking this tool against what he knew to be right.

Life in Christ is the same way. Each day we are bombarded with many different belief systems and ideas not always aligned with Christian values. If our life is on the level of the Word of God and aligned with Jesus Christ, we can check the accuracy of these beliefs and ideas. We will quickly know if they are correct based on how they align with God’s truth and avoid using something misaligned as our benchmark.

We should take to heart God’s truth and be vigilant about letting it guide our life. Hebrews 4:12 reminds us: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (NIV). Proverbs 3:5 also reminds us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (NIV).”

It hit me the other night that darkness in this world is not static, that evil is continually on the move. That means our prayers are not a one-time event; our prayers must be constant, continually praying for the Spirit of God to drive out the darkness with His light. We must remember that if we are not vigilant in our prayers, darkness can get a toehold in our lives and the church.

I think this is what Paul is telling the church in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-20. Paul writes in verse 16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” This reminds us that if we lose our focus on Christ Jesus and start grumbling about our circumstances, we leave a door open for darkness to move into our lives and the church. In verses 12-15 he cautions the church to guard against things that cause division. He urges the church to “live in peace with each other” and to “be patient with everyone.”

Continual prayer helps us to focus on Jesus Christ and the blessings he gives us. Prayer helps us to turn someone’s offense into an avenue of reconciliation. Prayer helps us to stop divisive actions and gives us the courage to pursue peace-making. Continual prayer, particularly as a body of believers, helps to stop darkness from seeping into our lives and the church. That is why Paul tells the church in verses 21-22 to “hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” Our prayers help us to tap into the power of the Spirit of God so that the light continues to advance over darkness.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

After looking at my lastest bank statement, I wondered how much faith I was putting in an account balance versus God’s provision. It’s easy to say that I trust God, but another thing to live it. There are too many days where I rely more on myself and the things of this world than God and his church.

In contemplating this dilemma, I was drawn to 1 Chronicles 21:1-17 where David orders a census of his troops. His advisor Joab warns David, “My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel (verse 3)?” Ultimately David is punished by the Lord for the act of counting the troops, just as Joab foretold.

The problem with the census was the reliance on numbers and earthly strength instead of obedience to God. When I read in verse four that David had 1.1 million men who could handle a sword, I was impressed by the sheer size of his army. It’s easy to see how knowing the size of the army could make you more confident in your own ability to engage in battles not ordained by God. Who wouldn’t feel like you could conquer the world with the size of that army?

The same can be true of us. Over-confidence in our own ability or resources can prompt us to make decisions without consulting God. But the Bible teaches us that being humble and obedient to God is more important than having an army of people behind you or a large account balance. Psalm 90:12 instructs us, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” That is a much better number to focus on.

In the last chapters of the book of Ezekiel, Israel is in exile and the prophet Ezekiel is given a detailed vision of the restoration of the temple and Israel (chapters 40-48). In 47:8 there is a description of water flowing from the temple into the Dead Sea. The result is that “the salty water there becomes fresh.” Verse 9 tells us that “where the river flows everything will live.”

This is a compelling picture of how God’s living water brings life to formerly dead things. Because of the water from the temple of God, plants bear fruit for food and “leaves for healing (verse 12).” As believers in Jesus Christ we can do the same for people in our lives. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them (John 7:38).” 

In the course of our day we can let living water flow from the temple within us (1 Cor. 3:16)  to touch people we encounter with the Spirit of God. We can bring fresh water to people who are wading through the saltwater swamps and marshes of life (Ezekiel 47:9-11).

If I boil down the essence of obedience, it usually comes down to a battle of wills — a battle between God’s will and my selfish will. More times than I like to admit, my insistence that I have a right to do something drives me to disobey God. Yet so many of the people in the Bible teach us quite the opposite. 

This is what impresses me about Joseph in Matt. 1:18-24. He had his life planned out for the foreseeable future. He would marry this local girl Mary and they would live happily ever after. Except verse 1:18 tells us that before they came together “she was found to be pregnant.” Joseph responded as any Jewish man might have at that time and decided to act according to Jewish law which gave him the right to divorce her (Deut. 24:1). 

We get a sense that Joseph was a man who deeply desired to follow God. Verse 19 tells us he decided to quietly divorce her to prevent her from facing public disgrace. He planned to follow Jewish law yet he had empathy for Mary. But God had a different plan for Joseph.

In verse 20, an angel tells Jospeh in a dream, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Verse 24 tells us that when Jospeh woke up, “he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Joseph decided to set aside his right to divorce Mary and instead obey God’s command.

Joseph modeled for us what obedience to God looks like in practice. He laid aside his selfish rights, his plans, in order to follow God’s commands. We should be willing to do the same by letting the Spirit of God guide us instead of our selfish will.

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