Rewards

Over the years I have discovered that many people see God’s Word as a rule book. When they read it or when it is shared with them, they perceive it as a long list of “do’s” and “don’ts”.

I guess in some ways the Bible is a list of good behaviors to practice and bad habits to quit. However, when we see it as a rule book, our human nature approaches it like a warning sign. Warning signs create two types of reactions:

1) A person accepts the warning sign and follows it out of fear or agitation. They feel that if they ignore it something bad will happen. Logically that may be correct, but I don’t think this is the way God wants us to read His Word. Moral and spiritual bullying does not bring about a healthy, fulfilling relationship with Christ.

2) A person perceives the warning sign as a dare. They look at it and think, “I’ll show you. I’ll do what I want.” Or, maybe they see the warning as an infringement upon their personal rights. They say, “Who is God to tell me how I should live my life?” These individuals end up ignoring God’s word because it offends them. Without the revelation of Jesus Christ as found in the Word of God, this person is doomed to be separated from God.

God’s Word does have warnings, but it is not a warning sign. God’s Word is more like a reward sign. Reward signs communicate that if we do something right, we will be rewarded.

In Psalms 19:7-8 we are told four rewards we will receive if we will follow God’s Word. (I have put in bold print the rewards.)

The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living.

I don’t know about you, but those four rewards are in high demand. Would you like for your soul to be revived during this challenging time? Would you appreciate some wisdom for the decisions you need to make? How about some joy in the midst of all hardships we are enduring? What about insight for living in a Covid-19 world?

All of this is available for you and me today. It is found in reading and applying God’s Word to our lives. The psalmist goes on to say in verse 11…

They [the Scriptures] are a warning to your servant, a great reward for those who obey them.

The Bible has warnings, but more importantly it promises relevant rewards to anyone who puts into practice its instructions, decrees, and commands.

Many of us are learning to live with the Shelter-at-Home orders and discovering we have some extra time on our hands. It is a prime opportunity to read God’s Word, apply it, and be rewarded.

I double-dog-dare you to try it.

Here is a song I’ve been listening to that encourages me. I hope it does the same for you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KLQ2AXQmtA

Annoying Second Cousins

One of my sons was hired by a local grocery store chain. He came home last night and told me the new restrictions being implemented at the store because of COVID-19.

After listening to him, I got anxious and frustrated. I went to bed with those two emotions swirling in my head and poking at my heart. I woke up with them. They were like the bad taste morning breath produces.

Anxiety and frustration. They are becoming common feelings. They remind me of backward thinking, poorly educated, second cousins that show up at the family gathering. Everyone is having a decent time until they pop in with all their obnoxious comments and attention grabbing behaviors. People from Alabama always have second cousins like this. I’m sure it happens in other states.

The question is, “How do you get rid of them?” I’m talking about the emotions not your second cousins.

For me, I turn to God’s Word and lean on the faithfulness of my Heavenly Father. As I was reading this morning, I came across this verse:

I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. (Psalm16:8)

I do know the Lord is ALWAYS with me. How do I know this? How can you know it?

The simple answer is…because he said so. It is a promise he made to everyone who calls upon his name through Jesus Christ. You and I can take God at his word. He is trustworthy. He is with us…right now! It does not matter how anxious or frustrated we might feel. He is still with us.

His presence with me is easier to accept than the next part: I will not be shaken. Truthfully, on any given day I can feel shaken. Fortunately, this verse is not talking about an individual day. It is talking about my future. Because God is with me, my future is bright.

When Jesus is your friend, the future is also your friend. Our moments of anxiety and frustration will push back against this reality, because anxiety and frustration can not see what the future holds. They can only see fear; and fear exists to drown faith.

We serve a living God who keeps his promises and holds the future. He is with you. Your future is secure. Do not be shaken.

Here is a song I’ve found encouraging and fun. I hope you enjoy it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d17hi1s6Tgg

A New Way to Think

I believe the following three things are simultaneously possible during the current medical threat:

  1. We can be socially responsible and still be social.
  2. We can live without being controlled by the fear of being infected.
  3. We can do both of the things mentioned above in a way that pleases God.

Look at what God’s Word says:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

If we are going to be socially different and remain both medically responsible and God-honoring, we must let God change the way we think. We have all been thrust into a world we did not see coming. It has taken us by surprise, but God knows how we should respond. He knows what we could and should be doing today in our COVID-19 world.

To let God change the way we think, we must stop copying some of the behaviors that are considered normal in our world. Here are just a few to consider:

  1. We must stop being knee jerk reactive. This happens when individuals and social norms intensely react too bad news with negative, anxious, angry, and fearful emotions. Without an inner compass driven by biblical values, we become reactive with no forethought to what we are saying, planning, or doing.
  2. Let’s quit herding. When society reacts to a situation in an unbiblical manner, God’s people can unknowingly herd along. We begin to act like everyone else instead of remaining the salt and light of the world. (I am not talking about social distancing practices. Social distancing is not unbiblical, but if fear causes us to be uncaring, unloving or unresponsive to the needs of others then we might want to check ourselves. We might be herding.)
  3. Don’t play the blame game. Rather than taking a proactive, creative approach to challenges and seeking to discover the underlying issues that create knee jerk reactions and herding; we can fall into the toxic game of blaming others for our hardships. All the energy that could be used to help overcome is instead used for unhealthy blaming.
  4. Forget the quick fix mentality. Unfortunately, our success and affluence as a society has created a low pain threshold that discourages us from persevering through hardships. Due to this, we are prone to miss the freshness of God’s Spirit on the other side of discomfort.

Ouch! I know those are stinging observations. I see them in my own life each time I look in the mirror. I am striving to overcome these norms of American culture. Please join me.

Here is some good news. Each day I am hearing stories of people who are letting God change the way they think. They are spending time with Him. They are learning God’s will to discover what they can do today “which is good and pleasing and perfect.” It is possible to be socially responsible, not under the thumb of fear, and please God. This is not beyond our reach.

Here is a song I’ve found encouraging. May it encourage you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3k6BLu_q4k

Bigger, Better, Smarter, Holier, Higher

Have you noticed that people sometimes find God while facing a difficulty or suffering a loss? Even those who already have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ have communicated they felt God was “closer” to them when they went through a dark season.

It is interesting, we seem to have a heightened awareness of God’s presence when we are facing a struggle that is bigger than we are. During difficult times God can be found. However, rarely do we ever truly understand what God is trying to accomplish. And, even if we get a glimpse of what God’s goal might be, we can’t grasp how he is using current circumstances to reach the goal. His plan does not look like a plan we would make if we were attempting to reach the same goal.

God is just bigger, better, smarter, holier and higher than us. You can tell humanity wrestles with understanding the greatness and majesty of God because every time we start to talk about it, we use big words that are hard to pronounce and spell. Words like omniscient, anthropomorphism, transcendence, omnipotent, immutability, immensity, and trinitarian.

When we try to explain the character of God that is above our pay grade, we are prone to experience one of two outcomes:

  1. We grow frustrated and obstinate trying to grasp the parts of God that are beyond our reach. This leads us to either not believe in God at all or to only believe in the God that is limited to our understanding. Which means we are believing in a false god because we refuse to accept a God we can’t understand.
  2. We accept God is greater than our ability to understand and we humbly trust him. We speak and act on the truths we understand and by faith live with the parts we do not. We trust the character of God more than we trust our ability to understand God.

As we wade through the global crisis of COVID-19, people will either run to God or run away from him. Those who run to him will accept by faith that God is loving, helping, and revealing himself to people. Those who run away from him will discredit his existence by making claims that if there is a God he would surely end the crisis. Some people will “faith” their way through what they do not understand. Others will not.

Why is God allowing this to happen? What are the reasons God might have for letting this pathogen attack our planet? How could this disease be something God uses as a tool to accomplish his good purposes?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. But I do know this, the greatness of God should humble us not frustrate us. We are not the first generation to wrestle with God and his ways. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Even as I read those words and look at what is going on in our world, I must scratch my head. I simply don’t understand the ways of God. Fortunately, I don’t have to understand. I just have to accept God is bigger, better, smarter, holier and higher than me. I trust him. Please consider joining me?

Here is a song I’ve been listening to that encourages me. May it encourage you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yBzIt_z8oY

My Ground-Zero

Over the last two weeks I have made this comment: “I do not personally know anyone who has officially been diagnosed with COVID-19 or anyone who knows someone who has been officially diagnosed.” I can no longer say that.

Last night, I received a text from a close friend who told me someone in his extended family has been hospitalized and officially diagnosed. As I processed the information and said a pray for my friend’s cousin, it dawned on me: This is ground-zero in my life for the Coronavirus. I have no idea how many people in my personal world will contract the illness or be the family or friend of someone who gets infected.

Until I received that text, Coronavirus, the actual illness, had not really touched my world. I mean, I have been dealing with the social distancing challenges we all have had to embrace, but the illness itself still felt far away. Last night, I realized it is creeping closer. The shadow of the virus is now going to cast itself over my friends, church, co-workers, neighbors, and family. It was a sobering thought.

Anytime I experience anxiety over circumstances I cannot control, I can find hope and peace in God’s word. Today is no different. As I humbled myself before the Lord this morning, I came across these wonderful words:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity,…or threatened with death?…No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us…I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life,…neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love…indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Chances are good that someone in your personal circle is going to contract COVID-19. You may even have to endure the illness yourself. Whatever the case, I want you to know Christ’s love for you will meet you there. Nothing can separate us from Christ’s love…NOTHING!…that includes Coronavirus.

Christ’s love will not turn your heart into emotional teflon keeping you from feeling sorrow, frustration, confusion or fear. Instead, his love will infuse your heart with the courage and compassion needed to face those nasty feelings.

His love will not always give you the perfect words to say to some hurting soul or provide a forcefield that will make you physically immune. Instead, his love will give you the capacity to care without using words and the resolve to serve others in spite of the medical risk.

Christ’s love is practical and it will help you practically. It will meet you where you are with what you need, touch places in your heart that only God can reach, and give you the bandwidth to love others even when facing your own doubts.

He is faithful! You will see.

Here is a song I’ve found encouraging. May it encourage you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2IvHbXZp-I

The Promise

One of the most popular Bible promises to be referenced during times of trouble is Romans 8:28. I’m sure you are familiar with it, but just in case, here it is…

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

It truly is an amazing promise.

The Coronavirus has created many new challenges for our social structure and individual social habits. Few hardships in my lifetime have affected so many people at so many levels simultaneously. When I look at what is happening (and at what is feared to happen) this promise fertilizes me with hope.

To begin to understand the hope promised in this verse, there are a few words we must look at…

1. “we…who love him” – The promise is specifically made to people who have placed their trust in Christ by receiving the grace offered when Jesus died on the cross for personal sins. The promise is not for everyone. However, those who have not received Christ can benefit from the promise because God’s people are in the world. When God is good to his people, then that frees them to be good to those around them who may not be receiving His grace firsthand. If you have received God’s saving grace, this promise is for you.

2. “in all things God works” – Well, this is pretty inclusive. It means God is engaged in everything we might encounter in life. That includes our current COVID-19 challenge. God “is present” in the present. He is present globally, but he is specifically present in your life. In all of the challenges you are currently facing…God is working there. If you are alone at home…God is working there. If you have lost your job…God is working there. If you are being required to be in public spaces…God is working there. If you are confined with your family…God is working there. If circumstances are altering your future plans…God is working there. You, as a child of God, cannot face a single day in your life without God working there.

3. “for the good” – God is not just working. He is working for your good. Now let me tell you. The good God is working out doesn’t usually come together on the same day that we are going through a struggle. I can’t say that is how it is all the time, but it seems to be that way more often than not. And, the good that we might encounter while going through the struggle never seems to be in proportion to the hardship we are facing. While the struggle is active, the good God provides feels minor in comparison to the ache of the challenge. You have to see God’s promised good like a sprinter approaches training for a race. The sprinter spends hours practicing for his race. Each day he is getting stronger and faster, but no one sees it. In fact, he might have moments when he doubts all the effort. But then one day, he runs the race in the stadium. Everyone is watching. He wins. He then realizes all the trouble he went through was for his good.

4. “who have been called according to his purpose” – This basically means that God’s promised good comes most quickly to those who are fitting in too God’s plan. In other words, are you responding to the hardship the way God has called you to respond? If you’re not, it doesn’t disqualify you from receiving God’s good promise. It just means it may take longer for you to see the fulfillment of the promise in your specific situation. Trust me, I know how challenging that sounds. But either way, whether we are cooperating or not, God has promised good will come…and it will.

Here is what I know, God is working out something good in all of this for you and me. Let’s be found faithful in trusting Him and following Him through this current challenge.

Here is a song I find to be encouraging and fun. May it encourage you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSWnSFPrPI4

Wordless Prayers

Not everyday is an easy day to pray. At least, not for me.

Some mornings I wake up with worries that will not let my mind go. I try to give them to God, but they just boomerang back into my mind. The worries can be so overwhelming it becomes useless to try to concentrate.

It is not only worries. I have had times when fear is so strong that my prayers almost sound like heresy. Like the One I’m calling out to isn’t really listening. It is disturbing how fear can so fill my mind that the faith it takes to utter a prayer is almost snuffed out.

There are also the days I wrestle with unbelief. The words of my prayer come together, but a whisper in my mind says, “God will not do that. God will not help. God will not rescue.” I pray my prayer again, but the whisper gains volume. If I keep praying, the whisper becomes a shout winning the moment.

The worst days are those when I am so confused that I can’t even put words together to make a prayer. I find myself speechless not because of awe or wonder, but because confusion and frustration leave me with an inability to put words together. I feel ignorant and low. I have no words to pray when I need words the most.

I don’t know if you have ever felt these types of things when trying to pray? Something tells me you probably have. I have some good news. All of it is normal. There is nothing wrong with you or me when this happens while praying.

In my walk with the Lord, I have discovered what to do when worry, fear, unbelief, or confusion rob me of my ability to pray. I simply quit trying to speak. I do not leave the attitude, moment, or posture of prayer. I remain praying. I just stop talking. In the moments of those wordless prayers I lean on this promise…

Also, the Spirit helps us with our weakness. We do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit himself speaks to God for us, even begs God for us with deep feelings that words cannot explain. God can see what is in people’s hearts. And he knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit speaks to God for his people in the way God wants. (Romans 8:26-27)

In those moments when my prayers become wordless, God’s Spirit takes over speaking the words I cannot find to put together the prayer I need the most. I rest in that.

God will do the same for you. If you find yourself without words because of worry, fear, unbelief, or confusion; just be quiet before God. Let His Spirit do the talking and let yourself rest in His promise.

Never be discouraged with a wordless prayer. It may be the best prayer.

Here is a song I’ve been listening to. May it encourage you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHp585tdIjQ

Harvest of Good Deeds

Well…I’m still reading Romans. I read this verse today and immediately thought of sharing it with you.

“…you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God.” (Romans 7:4)

If you have received the grace God offers through Christ from the cross, you are united with the One who has conquered death. Get this…He died. They buried Him. He was in the grave three days.

What do we do three days after someone has died? Most of us get back to our normal routine. We are probably still sad, but we have come to grips with the fact the person is no longer with us. We have no anticipation of seeing them, talking with them, eating with them or laughing with them. We begin the process of moving on.

But, that is not what happened with Jesus. On the third day, resurrection power filled the corpse that housed the Son of God. The corpse was changed. It came to life by overcoming death and is still alive today! If you are follower of Christ, you are united with same power that raised Jesus from the tomb.

As a result of that power flowing in your being, you are now empowered to produce a harvest of good deeds for God…even in a Coronavirus infected world. I realize the good things you have been energized to do today may not look like the good things you did two weeks ago. That’s okay. God’s creativity to use His people as a force for good is not limited by the restrictions of health and state officials. “You are united with one who was raised from the dead” and released for this moment.

Call someone…Write a note and mail it…Volunteer at your local food bank…Deliver groceries to someone…Deliver someone’s medication to them…Pray with someone on the phone…Give someone who lost their job money…Prepare a meal and leave it on someone’s front porch…Walk through your neighborhood and pray for each house you pass…Help a neighbor with their yard work. Doing good in the name of Christ is still possible! Let’s be found producing “a harvest of good deeds for God.”

Here is a song I’ve been listening to that encourages me. May it encourage you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrb1MHU37E4

A Booster Shot of Hope

My habit is to wake up in the morning and spend some time with the Lord reading the Scriptures and praying. Today, while making my way to the couch, my mind was praying, “Lord, what can You say to me today that will encourage me so that I can encourage others?”

Recently, I have been reading through Romans. As I opened my Bible to pick up where I left off, I came across these words: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:3-6)

It dawned on me, “What if one good thing God is doing through the Coronavirus is to build the endurance, character, and hope of His people?” Technically, I guess that is three things.

Endurance…it is a great quality we prefer to admire in others. We never choose to practice endurance because it is hard, but endurance apparently does something to develop our character.

Character…it is what we assume we have, but it can only be proved through hardship. We expect other people to have it, but apparently God is intentional about using “problems and trials” to develop it in his people. According to these words, character is developed through endurance.

Hope…who knew…comes from endurance being practiced and character being developed in our lives. We are not talking about any run-of-the-mill hope. We are talking about a confident hope that comes from our saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Right now we need a booster shot of hope, but to get there we need to endure these current trials. As we endure the trials, our character needs too morph into the character Jesus displayed when he went through hardships. As this happens, our hope in Christ is strengthened.

I know this is not easy (hence the whole enduring thing), but our Lord is using this to make us better people…His people. What would happen if we embraced God’s plan of using hardship to change us in the midst of this trial?

Instead of us just thinking about when the virus will be over, maybe we should be thinking about what kind of people we will be when the virus ends? These do not have to be wasted days. Let’s endure. May we be found letting God change our character. May we have hope instead of frustration or worry or sorrow.

Here is a song I’ve been listening to. I hope it encourages you as we endure together.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muExGvAsdvA

365 Days

The next presidential election is 365 days away. It looks like the race to the White House in 2020 is going to be one of the ugliest displays of American politics my generation has ever seen. How the candidates speak of each other and to each other reminds me of the social skills of middle school children.

Middle school students are old enough to express their opinions, but unfortunately many of them are too immature to communicate their values. So, instead of debating differing ideas, they resort to arguing over opinions. The argument always lowers itself to the tactics that require the least amount of intelligence: name-calling, lying, exaggerations, twisted facts and even hand gestures. Eventually, egos start writing checks they will never be able to cash.

In a weird, but sad kind of way, I have always found the circus of presidential politics to be entertaining. I remember the debates of previous elections being heated, argumentative and tense, but also civil. In 2016, the tone changed. At least that is how I remember it.

Today the process is not entertaining. It’s dirty. It’s juvenile. Partisan politics override the issues. Personalities focus on dismantling the credibility of opponents. Spin makes the truth almost impossible to know. The real human need for leadership and cooperation gets lost in the fray. All candidates and our current president now behave this way. Not one distinguishes their values as being different when it comes to how they pursue being elected.

That, my friend, speaks to character. I am straining to find a candidate from any political party who is displaying good character in the process of the pursuit of the office.

What is good character? What does it look like?

Generally speaking, good character is when a person displays integrity, honesty, compassion, loyalty, humility, fortitude, and courage. Good character will make a sacrifice for the good of others and not call attention to it. A person of good character inspires others to have good character. The Bible says, “Character produces hope.” Based upon what I have seen from the personalities involved, I have a difficult time finding good character.

I realize this sounds judgmental, but I don’t mean for it to sound that way. I am no judge of the people seeking the office or the person sitting in it. I am simply forming an opinion based on what has been reported to me, the comments I have heard in debates, and personal research of the personalities involved.

I’m thankful the election is not today. Not because of any particular stance the candidates have made, but because I don’t see any of them displaying good character in the process. None of them have yet to inspire others to have good character. None of them offer hope through their behavior.

Where does this leave me?

The madness creates an opportunity for me to trust: not the president, the candidates or even the process. No it gives me an opportunity to wholeheartedly trust the character of God. When it comes to civil leaders, Christians are quick to point to Romans 13:1…

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.

People really like this verse when the person they support wins the election, but what about when the opposing candidate wins? How could God place a person who lacks character in the most powerful position in the world? News flash: God does not dole out authority based on a person’s character. If He did, there would be no bad leaders, bosses, coaches, pastors, teachers, or parents—ever! He gives authority to those whom will best fulfill His plan of redemption. Think of the government and religious leaders who had authority when Jesus was nailed to the cross. Why did God give them their authority? To fulfill His plan.

I know. It is hard to accept this, but that is why it is called trust. Over the next 365 days you will be tempted to doubt, fear, rage, despise and despair. Don’t give in. Trust the character of God.

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