What Do You Believe?

What we believe matters. It determines what we think and how we act. If we believe Jesus is who the Bible says He is, it changes everything. But if the Bible is a lie and Jesus is not real, we are in big trouble.

If it is true and Jesus died for our sins, if we really believe it, and accept Him as our Savior…it truly does change everything. It gives us hope for the future. I do not know about you, but I rejoice in the fact that this life is temporary and that we can have hope for eternity – a better home to look forward to.

I know I cannot save myself or anyone else. This world is broken. But God…gave us a remedy to our sinful nature…his name is Jesus. He died on a cross so we could live.

What know that what we eat and choose to feed ourselves will determine our overall health. In the same way, what we feed our minds will determine our mental health. That is why it is so important to be in God’s word everyday. I have had to eat my own words so many times- they are hard to digest. What the world wants to feed us is like poison to our minds. But God’s word is like honey for our souls.

There is a filter found in Scripture that we can use to determine if it something we should think about. Philippians 4:8-9 gives us a list that we use as a guide. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (bold added for emphasis) According to the ESV study Bible, “the Philippians are to fill their minds with things that will inspire worship of God and service to others. Beyond having a proper spiritual outlook, the Philippians are to practice what they have seen Paul doing. As they make progress in this way, they will find that it is not simply the peace of God but the God of peace himself who will be with them.” As we see in other areas of Scripture, Paul’s life follows the example of Christ.

If we are thinking about such things that are not true, honorable, just, pure lovely, and commendable, let us choose to not think about them. Let us believe in the truth of God’s word and meditate on them instead of the lies and sinful things the enemy wants us to think about and believe. When we wake up each morning, knowing God is with us, and He is still in control and wants what is best for us, our hearts can be full of joy- no matter the circumstances around us. Believe the only One who is worthy of our praise. The One who created us and loves us and wants a relationship with us.

If we diminish what Jesus did for us on the cross or make Him smaller or less than in our lives- we also diminish our hope of salvation. I for one want to believe it is TRUE. May we see others the way God sees us, through the lens of love. Look in the mirror- it starts with that person…you and me. Do not believe in just anything….believe in the saving grace of Jesus!

When we change our thoughts and what we believe – it changes how we act and our character. To change the world, we need to change the way we think and what we believe. Share the Good News. Jesus is real. God is in control. The Holy Spirit lives in us. Do not let anyone rob you of that truth. Start today. Begin again. Believe in someone higher than yourself. Believe in the truth of God’s word; speak truth with grace and love; let our actions show it by loving God and loving others. That is not just a catchy phrase or bumper sticker…it is a command. The most important command.

Do you believe Jesus died for you? Are you living like you believe it is true?

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” John 14:1

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Roman 8:1

Mind of Christ

Sometimes we do not recognize the bad things in our lives until we have something better to compare it to. I alternate running in two pairs of shoes. The other day when running, I noticed my right leg was a little more fatigued than usual. I stopped to stretch it out and continued my run. This week as I was running in the other pair, I noticed how great both legs felt. I realized, after running in the better pair, that the issue was the other shoes. If I had not had a better pair to compare it to, I might still be running in ones that caused the stress and never know it was the shoe causing it.

The best person we can compare everything in our lives to is Jesus. If we try our best to model after the example He set while on this earth in human form, we can know we are living our best lives. It is not always an easy task, but that is why staying in prayerful communication and thankfulness to God is so important. Last week was an emotional week, in a good way. My classes started again, and I am reading a book for class by Gutierrez, 2015, entitled, “Thinking Like Jesus: Understanding the Mind of Christ,” that focuses on Philippians 2:2-4. It has really touched me and given me yet another new perspective on being more like Jesus.

It encourages us to share with our friends and family- so here goes.

In a very relatable, practical application, that simplifies how to live out the mind of Christ within these passages. We sometimes may think that we are not capable or apt enough to apply and explain it, but this book has turned these verses into a simple checklist that we can measure in our own lives to see if we are living out the mind of Christ and if not, how to do just that.

Living out the mind of Christ is a three-fold mind-set: unity, humility, and selflessness. The word ‘mind’ in these passages means attitude or thinking. Which implies ‘action’ is needed. We must change our thinking to have the Mind of Christ. Circumstances never change a heart. They can only provide the environment in which a change of heart takes place.

The checklist:

Unity:

  • Affection
    • Love one another (reflecting the mind and example of Christ)
  • Spirit
    • In one accord (A deep commitment of love and know others)
  • Purpose
    • Keeping our focus on the reason why we are serving (Christ-centered, God-filled work)

Humility:

  • Not promoting self or stealing the Glory of God; The enemy of humility is pride- it is wise to acknowledge the daily safeguards that we must implement to protect us from our flesh.
  • It is not our words that reflect the attitude of humility rather the heart behind the words

Selflessness:

  • Not just one action but a continual/intentional action of support to others through spiritual and physical needs.

I realize I cannot put every great point in this one little blog post, but I hope you are able to take something away that helps you live out the Mind of Christ in your life. I encourage you to take time to meditate on these verses and ask God to reveal any areas in your life that could use some change of attitude towards others and help you think more like Jesus. We can begin by asking for forgiveness of our sins, so we can have a heart that acknowledges our need for Jesus, so we can experience true, God-honoring praise.

“Fulfill my joy by being like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, [being] of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind we in you which was also in Christ Jesus” Philippians 2:2-5

Is Negative Thinking a Choice?

I am an optimist; in case you did not know. I believe the best in people, until I am proven wrong. Even when people have bad intentions, I have seen God change their heart or bring good out of the situation.

I have experienced firsthand God’s mighty power and transforming my lemons into lemonade, time and time again. So, I can have faith that He will do it again, in any circumstance. It brings me peace to be positive. Does that make me naïve? For a very large portion of my life, I would agree. I was very naïve. But, God…you know the rest. Today is a very different story. I came through the fire and I am still positive. I know there are people I cannot trust as far as I can throw them- which is not very far; but I do not dwell on that.

When I see others who lean on the side of negative thinking and pessimistic views, I wonder- is that a choice? Is it in their DNA? Have they genuinely tried (with God’s help) to choose another path? The path of peace. Can they envision the concept of making lemonade? What if they were able to intentionally push out negative thoughts every day and choose to think positive? Would that be a life changer? I am truly curious and ask out of sincerity.

For any pessimists out there- please do not take this personal and respond too quickly without taking time for thoughtful reflection. I do know that I have times of doubt and fear- I do not linger there. I ask God to help me push it out so I can return to a place of peace. I guess I choose to think positive in that way. So as a natural optimist- is it easier for me? Probably. But does that mean it is not possible for a pessimist to do the same thing? It may be more difficult – but I think it is possible. What do you think?

Big ‘G’ or Little ‘g’

I thought I would expand on the Scripture I used in last week’s blog to dive a little deeper into Joshua’s challenge in 24:15 to ‘choose this day whom you will serve’. By this time in Joshua’s journey, he was in the last stages of his life, and he had seen many people be disobedient and the consequences that came from it.

As an assistant to Moses, he saw firsthand the idols and gods the previous generation worshiped in disobedience to God’s commands. He also had the opportunity, as a faithful servant, to succeed Moses to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land.

We can relate the gods and idols of that generation to ours today. Anything we place ahead of GOD is an idol and a god (little ‘g’). I would venture to say we have many gods, although not in the form of a golden calf, but still just as detrimental to our lives if we place them before God and allow them to become the ultimate thing in our life instead of putting Jesus at the forefront.

Joshua was challenging the generation whose fathers had been disobedient. He was setting an example and asking them to choose if they were going to fall back into the patterns of the generation before them or serve the one true God. They continued to choose to serve God as they had seen what He did for them as they overcame many obstacles, saw miracles when God parted the water for them to pass, when the walls of Jericho fell after circling it for seven days, as God instructed, and the land given to them that God had promised, not to mention the many battles that were conquered with God’s help due to their obedience and putting God in His rightful place in their lives.

We may not have the same circumstances, obstacles, and challenges that generation had, but there is still a lesson to be learned. Just as we see the promises fulfilled in the OT in Moses and Joshua’s day, we can trust God to fulfill His promises through eternity by way of Jesus. Joshua and Jesus are the same name in Hebrew- symbolically, by faith and obedience to God, Joshua led Israel into physical salvation in Canaan, and Jesus leads all who believe him into eternal salvation.

The importance of Joshua’s challenge to the people of Israel is still relevant to us yet today- “choose this day whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15 ESV)  

But God…

Today, many of us are reflecting on the past year as we all want a fresh start, a do-over, and an end to the virus, hate, and injustices seen the last few months. In my reflection this morning, I was reminded of all the great things God has done this year. Even during a pandemic, God showed up in a big way to bring good to many. We can rest assured He is with us and still in control.

At this time last year, I had no idea I would be in school, working from home, and getting ready to welcome a new daughter (in law) to our little family. I sit in gratefulness and awe of an amazing God and Father who loves us and wants good for us. I am reminded of Ephesians 2:4-10 when Paul makes what the ESV study Bible calls, “the greatest short phrase in history of human speech”. “But God!” (emphasis added) Just before this, Paul paints a bleak picture of our sinful nature. We are hopeless and helpless on our own, following the devil and his sinful nature that we, as descendants of Adam, inherited at birth. Just when things are the darkest and all hope is lost…God steps in with mercy, kindness, and love; for those who are joined to Jesus Christ are saved from the terrible consequences of their sin and enjoy the benefits of Christ’s resurrection.

Have you ever loved something or someone so much that you set it free? You did not want to keep it, control, or manipulate it into staying with you just because you wanted it to so much. That is the picture of true love. You want to offer a choice to be with you because of love for you. God does that for us. He gave us the free will to choose Him. He sent His Son to die on our behalf so we could have eternal life, but He also asks us to choose whom we will serve. (Joshua 24:15) Do you want to choose this broken world and our sinful nature or the Father who loves us and wants the best for us for eternity?

I look forward to a new year, to see what God will do, what surprises He has in store, as I rest in the knowledge of His love, truth, mercy, and goodness. I invite you to join me in celebration of that truth, not fearing what is next because God is with us. Let us stand on a firm foundation, rooted deep in faith, serving and loving others as He loves us. I choose God. I choose joy. I encourage you to read and reflect on Ephesians 2:4-10 and just what that means for us.

I pray for restoration of relationships, and that God will close the gaps on the many divisions occurring among Christians and family members, the enemy is trying to destroy. But most of all, I pray that you will welcome the intimate relationship God is offering you today.

Happy New Year to all!  May the God of peace be with you in the coming year and beyond.

A Reflection on the Four Seasons

Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. We all know these seasons and probably have a favorite. Most of us would probably say Spring or Fall is their favorite because it is the right temperature, you like when flowers are blooming or maybe the Fall colors take your breath away. Whatever the reason, good or bad, we have a love/hate relationship with them.

Recently, I had a different thought about the four seasons. I believe we also have seasons of life. A spiritual and physical. For the spiritual we could look at it this way:

Fall: We fell into sin (a fallen world)

Winter: Death to self (we realize we should be living for God instead of self)

Spring: New birth (renewed by Christ for a new life)

Summer: Maturity & peace

Now, let us look at our physical seasons:

Spring: We are born

Summer- We mature

Fall- We are aging

Winter- Death

Winter can be like a dry season in our life. But no matter how long we have been in a dry, dark season, God can bring new life and refresh us with living water of the Spirit.

Just like the valley of dry bones, if we listen to the word of the Lord and have faith, He will breathe new life into us. (Ezekiel 37)

Jesus replied, “I assure you no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So, do not be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8 NLT)

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. (Eccl. 3:1-2 NLT)

Be Specific

Our prayers and goals are interchangeable. We pray for the goals we want for ourselves. We may not get the answer we think we wanted, but God always gives us something better. We cannot see the bigger picture or the view from His perspective. We are like a mouse in a maze. Our view is only of the wall in front of us. When we come to a roadblock, we can feel discouraged. But looking down over our lives is our Heavenly Father who sees all, knows all, and can guide us to the right path. He can remove the obstacles and place people in our lives to help us along the way.

I heard a minister on the radio who said our prayers need to be specific and measurable. His belief was that if we just ask for a blessing that could come in the form of a problem. Blessings are little problems that keep you from a bigger problem.

That reminded me of a lady I was in a life group with a few years ago. She always told us we need to be specific about what we want in our prayers. She told of a friend who prayed for a husband. In her words, “that is all she got!”  I had to laugh about that one.

I believe if we are continually pouring ourselves into the Father, He will pour more into us. The closer our relationship with Him, the more we align our desires to what He wants for us instead of what we think we want. God always knows best and wants the best for us.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we do not know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.

(Romans 8:26, NLT)

But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted? (John 15:7, NLT)

The Chosen One

This is another story through the eyes of the character…thank you for allowing me some liberties in the details of his feelings. The story is based on the biblical account of Moses’ brother Aaron.

Moses older brother, Aaron, was an imperfect leader. Even though he was chosen by God for an honorable position, in his disobedience, he died in the wilderness without seeing the Promised Land. As Moses mouthpiece, he spoke to Israelite leaders on behalf of the Israelites to convince Pharaoh to allow them to leave Egypt. He was also chosen to become Israel’s first high priest.

Taking second fiddle to Moses most of his life, Aaron dreamed of the day he himself could lead the people. At this point he only repeated messages God gave Moses. Aaron sat on a stump, carefully carving each letter of his name on a staff that would represent the tribe of Levi. His thoughts racing, he tried to imagine the staff budding and what that meant for him and his family. If he were chosen, everything would change.  This would be a great responsibility. He could feel the palms of his hands begin to sweat, and the tension in his brow became apparent as did his intense grip on the staff. His jaw tightened and then in one extreme exhale of air, he began to relax a bit. He would just have to await until the appointed time.

He delivered the staff to Moses, who took it with the eleven others, representing each ancestral tribe, to the Ark containing the tablets of the Covenant, and placed them in the Lord’s presence. Then they waited. The next day, when they arrived at the Tabernacle, Moses found that Aaron’s staff not only had buds, but it had sprouted, budded, blossomed, and produced ripe almonds, (New Living Translation, 1996,2004,2007, Numbers 17:8). You could not ask for a clearer sign. God had shown the people who will oversee the Ark and the staff was placed there permanently as a reminder.

In amazement, Aaron picked up one of the almonds and touched it cautiously with the tip of his tongue for a brief second and then jerked back. It was real. He chuckled under his breath and popped it in his mouth, relieved and nervous at the same time. Although a bit of arrogance crept in at first, he knew this job could not be taken lightly. If Aaron allowed anyone near the sacred objects of the alter, both he and them would die. God also provided for Aaron and his family, by allowing them to receive a portion of the most holy offerings. He had special garments made just for Aaron and his sons that would distinguish him as a priest set apart for the Lord’s service.

Great skill and care went into making the chest piece that Aaron would wear when seeking a decision from God. He would always carry over his heart the objects used to determine the Lord’s will for his people whenever he goes in before the Lord. The breastplate held sacred jewels representing the sons of Israel with each name engraved on them like a seal, serving as a reminder that the priest represents the people of Israel.

The four rows of gemstones carefully placed were:

  • red carnelian, pale green peridot, emerald, blue lapis lazuli
  • turquoise, white moonstone, orange jacinth, agate
  • purple amethyst, blue-green beryl, onyx, green jasper

The weight of the breastplate rested on Aaron’s shoulders as a reminder of the great responsibility given to him by God. But God also provided everything Aaron needed to accomplish his feat and fulfil his purpose. God has always provided for us, even when we cannot see it. He generously bestows knowledge, wisdom, spiritual gifts, talents and fully equips us with everything we need to accomplish our God-given mission.

Aaron’s story leads him in the wilderness, his impatience with the Lord led him to make a golden calf for the people to worship; and his life was ended before seeing the Promised Land because he challenged God. This should stand as a reminder that even though we are chosen by God for a purpose and He equips us for the journey; we are not to worship His creation, but the Creator Himself. Our disobedience makes us miss out on blessings and joy in this life. Our gifts and talents are not to be made idols in our lives, but we are to always look to the One who generously gave us those gifts and give Him all the honor and glory He so richly deserves.

God’s timing is perfect. When we rush it or try to do it by our own efforts and take control, we are edging God out by letting our ego and impatience take first place. But when we surrender all to God, the Creator of all things, who knows all, sees all and has a plan for our lives, we are blessed beyond measure and everything will fall into place, as God designed. We can trust God with the outcome. He has proven to be faithful and saved us from our own destructive behaviors more times than we can count. His faithfulness endures forever. We when are struggling with something, we can ask God what He wants for us; but we must be willing to listen and make the necessary changes. That is not always easy, but it is worth it. Surrendering to God changes lives.

You are a chosen son/daughter of the King. That is not a heavy burden but an honorable mission that brings delight when we allow God to lead us one day at a time and trust Him with the outcome. It will put you out of your comfort zone into unknown territory, but it is a risk worth taking, every time.

The Precious Gift

Can you imagine what it would have been like to encounter Jesus in the flesh and receive immediate forgiveness? Bear with me as I take you on a journey (with a few liberties) to share a new take on an old story through the eyes of Mary Magdalene and what might have been her perspective.

Mary had never experienced compassion before. Her life had been marked by ridicule and shame. She had no idea she could ever feel the kind of love Jesus offered. Unconditional, relentless, and not dependent on anything she could do for him.

Her life up to this point had been that of a shameful disgrace to her family. She lived out of fear and regrets but did not know how to make changes in her life. Giving herself away to disrespectful men was the only life she knew. Hateful men who made her feel like a piece of meat or a display they could discard after each use; until they yearned for her body and what it offered them.

Yes, the little money she made paid the rent and put food on the table, but at what cost? Her inner thoughts swirled around in her head, making her dizzy, as she stared at the night sky, making a wish on a fallen star, she threw out a question to the listening universe, “how could anybody love me after what I’ve done?” She could not escape these mindful traps or see herself in any way besides filthy in the sight of God.

She had heard of a man, named Jesus, who traveled and preformed miracles. She could not imagine in her wildest dreams that he would have anything to do with her. Albeit an impossible feat, she occasionally allowed herself to imagine a life without shame. These thoughts did not linger as she knew her fate. Then, on one the darkest nights, in the middle of one of the most despicable acts of perverted pleasure, she heard a whisper. “Mary, come with me. You don’t have to live like this.” A cold shiver creased her brow and moved downward through her body, causing a knee jerk reaction, the man on top of her did not see coming. In one lighting sweep, with power like she had never felt, she shoved him off onto the floor and grabbed a blanket to cover herself. She felt as though God himself was standing before her. Through squinting eyes, she tried to focus on the images in front of her. But the room too dark.

She told the man to leave as she handed back the money, knowing he would cause a scene if she kept it. The money was the last thing on her mind. She got dressed and wandered outside to get some air. The cool breeze felt light and airy on her dark skin. Whose voice had she heard? Could it be the man she had been hearing stories about? Her thoughts raced as she tried to sleep. But there was something about that voice; the words he spoke to be more specific, that she could not get out of her head. It was warm, kind, soft-spoken and gentle. She had not heard anyone speak to her in that tone since she was a little girl.

The next morning, as the sun rose above the mountain peaks, she heard birds chirping and a dog bark, before her thoughts caught up to her awakening body; she lay in a kind of dreamy state of mind, enjoying a few extra minutes in bed, before her mind leaped to attention as she was reminded of the voice. Her body followed suite as she felt the cold, damp floor beneath her feet. She got dressed in the most conservative outfit she could find, gathered her belongings, and went on the search for the stranger who spoke to her. She stood at the edge of town, with hot tears stream down her face, she was overwhelmed by a sense of unworthiness and shame. Her throat hurt and her knees felt like jelly as she lost her footing in the dusty street, crashing face first to the ground.

She could feel the creases in the palms of her hands as she covered her face, to hide the tears. A gentle hand reached out to help her to her feet and offered a kind word, in a familiar voice, “Mary, you are forgiven. I love you. Come follow me.” She immediately followed him and was welcomed in the home of one of Jesus’ disciples, where they broke bread together in a most remarkable way.

His words stuck in her mind as she tried to comprehend what all that encompassed. The welcome friendship he offered without conviction. The forgiveness she thought was not possible. She went to her bag and retrieved the most valuable treasure she owned. An alabaster jar, containing nard, an expensive and rare reddish colored perfume she could have sold for enough to pay for a year’s wages. She knelt beside Jesus, overwhelmed by the very thought of being in his presence, she could barely see through the tears as they flooded her eyes, and began to fall on his feet. She gently let her hair down and used it to dry the tears from his feet, then took the jar and broke it open, pouring the contents into the palms of her hands, she anointed his feet; revealing the fragrant, sweet smelling spice, that filled the room with a majestic wonder for the one person who could offer more than Mary could imagine possible. Scolded by the other men in the room for wasting such a valuable oil, she knew the persecution she would face, but chose the act of kindness in a moment of unmeasurable gratitude. (Matthew 26:7-9)

Little did she know, in a few short days, her act of gratefulness would be a symbolic reminder of what Jesus would do for us. His body would also be broken, like the pure white alabaster jar, and his blood, as the rare and precious nard spilled out as a saving grace to cover all our sins. To be forgiven through all our unworthiness, a broken sinner in need of a Savior- a precious gift not to be taken lightly.

Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New Living Translation, (1996,2004,2007) Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Carol Stream, IL:Tyndale House Foundation.

Innocence

I love God’s heart. For a lot of us our childhood memories come with a sense of innocence. I had a ton of great memories on our front porch. It brings back so many images to my mind. A place of firsts. Firsts certainly contain a load of innocence. First memory, first word, first step, laughter, singing, loss, tears, family and friends, music out the bedroom window, swinging, pets, long conversations, sleepy eyes, fireflies, hellos, and goodbyes.

First bike, first car, first crush, wedding day jitters, first house, first job, first baby, singing lullabies. I could go on and on. Even though our front porch saw a lot of these firsts, for me, it also was the place I first lost some of my innocence. But that one memory does not have to taint all the others. I was reminded that God restores our innocence. Through all the things we have done since our more innocent days of childhood; We can rest assured God has redeemed it all through His Son, Jesus.

Not only to our level of childlike memories, but to His superlative standards of innocence. That brings a new level of renewed hope and joy, as we travel the high road, looking to the Rock for our comfort and protection. God loves us that much. His heart is so full of love for us that He chose to save us and restore our innocence so we can be free.

From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2

I look up to the mountains- does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! Psalm 121:1-2

He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun. Psalm 37:6