Tag Archives: Christ

Finding true happiness

This evening, our youth group, engaged in a series that helps examine “What makes us happy?”  It’s a Sean McDowell series aimed at helping teenagers understand the true source of happiness, and helping them explore examples of how we may lose sight of God’s truth as it relates to happiness and how we may let the world define it for us.  It’s been a great series, but tonight’s lesson really struck a chord within my heart.  We looked at how the world defines beauty, and how that standard is nearly impossible to fulfill.  Many of the stories and questions didn’t seem so difficult, but I’m not a 16 or 17 year old teenager struggling with “measuring up”.  It’s easy for an older adult to see how much of what this world throws at us is simple meaningless and non-defining.  As we broke into small groups for more in-depth discussion, we posed this question: “What qualities do you look for in a potential relationship…?”  The meat of that question forced the students to search their heart and mind and think about what they look for in a potential mate.  The easy “Sunday School” answer is to look for inner-beauty, character, etc.  We even acknowledged that we are created with a heart that is attracted to the opposite sex.  Most of the time the first thing we notice in someone is their appearance.  It’s biological and kept in the right perspective, biblical.  McDowell even mentioned it in his video monologue, Adam and Eve took the fruit from the forbidden tree, partly because it was pleasing to the eye.  The challenge in this question was to see if there was more depth than that.  The point was made that if the appearance was all you focused on and that’s what you “sold-out” for, then you were certainly setting yourself up for much disappointment.

What really jumped out and got me though, was the tiny bit of reflection that I had as it related to my own personal life, especially when I was a teenager.  My life was pretty simple.  I was well liked (mostly), not really “great” at anything, a typical kid.  I never really had serious dating relationships, pretty decent moral convictions and an idea that I didn’t need to rush anything.  Somewhere around my 17th or 18th year, all of that started to change.  I didn’t realize it then, but I was going through a bit of an identity crisis.  I was spreading my wings and trying out the world, and searching for “fulfillment.”  I was shallow – not in a way that comes across as superficial, or “better than thou”, but in the fact that I wasn’t rooted in anything too deep.  I went to church, but wasn’t “sold-out”.  I worked, but not really all that hard and diligently.  I was popular, but usually because I blended in with someone else.  Deep down I was searching.  I needed affirmation that I was of worth and value.  That came in the form of my first serious relationship.  It’s normal for young people to “fall in love” quickly, but usually when all the fluff is over and done, you fall back on your roots and self-identity and decide if it’s worth pursuing, or if it’s time to move on.  Not me.  I found a relationship that made me feel important and made me feel like I was “wanted”.  When the fluff blew over, I lunged to keep a hold of that feeling.  I had nothing to fall back on.  What happened was a commitment to do whatever I had to do to keep that feeling and that source of identity.  Ultimately that led to life-changing decisions, and later a failed marriage.

I shared this part of me tonight with the young men in my youth group to make this point and hopefully help them see the importance of digging deep and focusing your life on that which grounds you and gives you identity – in the way you were meant to have it.  My challenge to young people is to be certain you are building your life on the “rock” and not the “sand”.  I likened my life approach to tumbleweed that is completely at the mercy of every breath of wind.  I am reminded of a verse in Ephesians (4:14) “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming”.  Now, I am not accusing anyone of cunning deceit.  My failures were largely because I was a follower without any clue as to where I was headed.  That verse is speaking about spiritual maturity and it hit the nail on the head.  If we don’t develop a deep sense of identity in Christ, we will be blown here and there by whatever wind is moving at the moment.  I can share that my life for the past 10-15 years has been much deeper and rooted  in Christ than all the years before.  I still have such a long way to go, but there is a peace to know whom you belong to and to understand the source of a true and fulfilling happiness.

God, today, I thank you for your love and mercy. I thank you for the grace your salvation provides.  I praise you as the rock and true north in my life.  Thank you for providing that anchor for my heart, mind and spirit.  May I honor you with my life and may I always enjoy and accept the happiness, only found in you.  – Amen.

Leave it all behind

“I have what you need…but you keep on searching”

“I’ve done all the work, but you keep on working”

“You’re running on empty and can’t seem to find the remedy…just come to the well”

Just a few of the lyrics from a popular Casting Crowns song – Come to the Well.  I listen to that song almost every morning, it’s on my running playlist for the gym.  Not really the “pump-you-up” type of tune, but very special to me.  I struggle, more often than I care to admit, with trying to “work” my way into God’s grace.  What can I do?  Who can be?  When the reality of this life is that God’s grace is sufficient and He has done all the work already.  He simply asks us to fill ourselves with Him.  Do what I do, and you’ll be doing right.  That’s the message, yet it seems like a foreign language to me sometimes.  When I get into that rut of trying to do it all my way, on my own without any “filling from the word” I ultimately end up in a place where it’s dark, my soul seems empty and I am sinning more than I’m living.

So how do we avoid that rut, how do we avoid running back to the same broken wells that offer no real hope and can never fill our soul the way that a “right relationship with God” can?  I think the answer to that question is two-fold.

First, most sinful thought and behavior is hidden.  No one wants to air their dirty laundry.  Think about that for a moment.  What if our browsing history, or even worse, all our thoughts for the day were displayed on a billboard on the main highway?  I know I would be mortified.  I think most people would, especially those that have fallen into that repetitive cycle of habitual sin.  So what is the cure for that?  Live each day as if that is exactly what is going to happen.  Live your life so that what is put on that billboard isn’t so terrifying and humiliating.  Even better, place your focus on God’s word and his plan and use that billboard to sing his praises.

That leads to the next point.  What are we filling our heart and mind with?  I heard a message once about starving our spirit.  Basically, we have to treat our inward being as living and breathing just like our physical outward being.  If we don’t eat or quench our thirst, we would surely shrivel up and cease to exist.  The same is true of our inward being…our soul.  The best diet for our soul is none other than Gods’s word.  He even tells us to store up his word in our heart so that we can keep from sinning against him. (Psalm 119:11).  That’s like taking a snack with you to keep “full” throughout the day.  When we are daily feasting on God’s word, we will be filled with his presence and desires.  Will the sinful temptation still be there?  Sure it will, but we have a much better chance of walking away from it and keeping our focus on Christ when we aren’t spiritually starving.
Habitual sin and habitually putting God on the back burner are dangerous things.  When a sin becomes so common place that you stop feeling guilty about it or even worse, begin to justify it, it is a deep rooted path for Satan to tear away at your entire life and all those in it.  Leave it all behind and walk in the light of God’s word.  It is in our relationship with God and His word that we will find victory over our sinful nature.

Lord, today I come to you broken and afraid of the sin patter in my life.  I have often spoken these words only to find myself unable to walk away and do what I know is right. Forgive me for forgetting what you have made simple and clear – your word.  I pray that today I would fill my soul with your truths and that I would make that my habitual pattern to feast on your word and focus on your glory.  In Christ I pray, Amen.

Psalms 19:12-13 (NLT) – Cleanse me from these hidden faults.  Keep your servant from deliberate sins!  Don’t let them control me.


TGIF (Today God is First)

Today God is First.  This should be the first thought in my mind every day that I open my eyes.  So many times, I find myself staring at my work around noon and realize I haven’t spent anytime in God’s word, or in prayer that day.  I was looking for a new online reading plan / devotional and saw this title.  It’s a great little devotion, but the title just stuck with me.

I imagine this was the perspective that Paul had when he was sitting in prison, awaiting a sure execution, but pressing on with everything inside of him to share the gospel.  I was challenged this morning while reading 2 Timothy to have perseverance and to not be afraid to be bold and faithful.  The world is a scary place right now.  Maybe it has always been a scary place and we just didn’t know it because we were young.  I am sure my parents had fears in their time as young adults and wondered what the future held for their children, but now it is a reality in my life.  As I search each day for the right words, and actions to model a christ-like existence to my kids, I am reminded that I have to model boldness in the light of love and peace to them also.  I love the context of Paul’s encouragement to Timothy.  He is basically telling him to be bold, and on fire for Christ, holding nothing back, but be sure to do it with love and self-control.

Christians are being condemned in societies eyes because we are standing up here and there and defending or even just proclaiming our faith.  The world is on edge looking for another opportunity to portray Christians in a light of hate and bigotry.  We are just sitting on our high horse judging people.  I have heard that statement at least a hundred times just this year.  In some cases, I am sure that is how it comes across.  But we are encouraged to realize that the power of God is within us as believers, but also the spirit of discernment and self-control.  We need to rely on the perfection of God’s ability to reach His people through us and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in how we speak and represent.

I will admit, at times, I just sit back and refrain from saying anything, even when I know that God is prodding me to stand up and share his message of love and truth.  I hate controversy and sometimes it’s easier to just sit back and pray that someone else reaches this person or that person.  Today, after reading through the opening parts of 2 Timothy 1, I am encouraged to not hold back.  Even though this world is turning inside out and going against everything I know to be true in God’s word; the work is still there.  God has given us a new day today and the work is there.  I am promised the power of the Holy Spirit and the ability to exercise self-control so that I am bold in proclaiming Christ through a tongue of love and gentleness.

Finally, the last take-away for today is that as a Christian, I have many brothers and sisters that could use encouragement.  Paul’s last focus in the opening chapter of 2 Timothy was pretty clear about how the abandonment of some of his friends was hurtful and discouraging to him.  He knew he had work to do, but he was still a human being that needed the encouragement of a visit or some contact from his friends.  I want to remember that being there for my brothers and sisters in Christ is just as important as reaching the world for Jesus Christ.  We are one body with one purpose and have only ourselves and our faith to depend on as we press forward.

Lord, today, I thank you for another day to live.  I thank you that your love is flowing freely within me and that you have given me the power to be a servant for you in this world.  I pray that I would use that power with an eye for self-control and be bold, yet loving.  Help me to remember that the work is there, and that you have called me to do it.  I pray you would also fill me with the desire to be an encouragement to my brothers and sisters in Christ.  In your name – Amen.

A look back

A nice quiet Saturday filled with laughter and fun with my family defined the celebration of yet another year of life.  37 years.  It is remarkable to me when I start to realize the brevity of life.  I spent Saturday morning  reflecting with a nice cup of coffee on the front porch.  The blessings were too many to count, but I tried to thank God for all that I saw and heard.  In my normal prayer, I asked God to forgive me for my shortcomings (which also were far too many to speak of) and thanked him for the peace in my heart to know that He had already answered that prayer with Jesus Christ.  I prayed that God would shape me, even on this day, to be more like him.  To walk away from habitual struggles and sin and step into His light and drink from the living waters that quench my soul’s desires like nothing on this earth can.  When I lifted my eyes again, I started to let the idea of growing older sink in.  I never really understood what my parents were talking about when they spoke of the fast-paced life and how quickly we were all growing up, etc.  It seemed to take forever.  Today, I understand it with perfect clarity.  My daughter, who was born just yesterday…so it seems is nearly 4 ft tall and running as fast as she can toward adolescence and more.  Sometimes, I simply stare at her to keep from missing a major change.  Corbin is quickly turning into a young man.  He has filled out and I am watching him search for his place in this world.  It doesn’t seem like any time since I met his tiny face at just 6 weeks old.  Then my oldest…my graduate…my adult son.  Hunner is maturing every day and I know that a bright future is waiting for him to take hold of it.  All of this seemed to happen in the blink of an eye.  Through all of this reflection, I could feel the holy spirit working in my heart and I began to reflect on what has happened in the past 16 years since I gave my life to Christ.  Nothing will humble you more than when you reflect on w hat you have done for Christ, especially if you look at it through His sacrifice for me.  Try this “lens” on for size: Jesus Christ left perfection, took on a human body in a fallen world, suffered like any other human being, then went through a suffering that no one can fully appreciate at the hands of those charged with his Crucifixion.  Why?  What was He thinking?  He was thinking about me, sitting on my porch some 2000 years later.  He laid down his life so that I could have mine.  He doesn’t need me, he wants me.  He loves me.  Then I place that filter on how I repay that love and devotion.  Sobering, humiliated, and ashamed are all good ways to describe how this thought process makes me feel.  I have wasted a lot of precious time chasing my own desires and living just for this brief moment called life.

So, I am doing all that I can do on this morning.  All I have control over is how I choose to live my life from this day forward.  Looking back is a great thing to do.  I like to do it often so I don’t forget.  But more importantly, I know that I need to keep my eyes forward most of the time, and I need to keep my mind and heart on Christ so that each year that I am blessed to be able to wake up on my birthday, I can reflect and see that I grew in Christ, and that I tried to live for Him every single day he blessed me with.

Lord, today I commit to you.  All the time you bless me with from this moment on, may I use it wisely and always strive to bring glory to your name through my choices and actions.  I pray for your guidance and discipline in my life so that I can follow you and grow in you.  Thank you for the past 37 years of life.  Your love for me is endless and I pray that it will never be lost on me how much I  mean to you.  I pray that I can honor your love for me with a life of service to you.  – Amen

Praise Him in the Storm

“I will praise you in this storm.  I will lift my hands.  Cause you are who you are…NO MATTER WHERE I AM”

The lyrics from the popular Praise you in this Storm by Casting Crowns, jumped to the front of my mind this morning as I read through scripture.  My reading plan took me to Philippians 4:4-9.  Here, Paul is encouraging the Philippian church by reminding them to Rejoice in the Lord.  He says it twice as to really emphasize the importance of finding joy and peace in Christ.

I started to think through my life and reflected on how easy it is to be joyful when the sky is blue and everything is going my way.  But the joy and peace that Paul is talking about is the joy that is present even when, on the surface, it looks pretty scary and uncertain.  The ESV study bible had this to say, Rejoice. The joy that Paul calls for is not happiness that depends on  circumstances but a deep contentment that is in the Lord, based on trust in the sovereign, living God, and that therefore is available always, even in difficult times.”

God certainly doesn’t expect us to quit caring.  Just the opposite, we are to care deeply.  The rest of this passage reminds us that we are to think about all the good things of the Lord that will cause us to want to worship and serve others because he too, served and worshiped his Father in heaven.  But we should care without worry and anxiety.  God’s hand is in all that we do.  He is never gone, he never “steps back”.  Sometimes we try to run ahead, but we can’t outrun his love for us.  The knowledge that he is there and that His will never fails to come to fruition produces a peace and confidence that lets us serve him.

Service should be the fruit that comes in all our lives.  A total focus on the love of Jesus Christ and his goodness in my life should produce a desire to do what he did – Love others, serve them, build them up,  reflect the Holy Spirit in my heart.  Paul quickly  pointed the believers to this important fact.  It’s great to have the love of Christ in our heart, but what good is it if we don’t ever use that Love and peace to help others?  When we put this into practice we will not only know the peace of God, but the God of peace himself will be right there with us (Quoted from the ESV Study Bible).

Today’s Reading: Philippians 4:4-9