What Did You Say?

You know how little kids sometimes do things without thinking about the consequences?  Well, this is my story of such a time in my life……I was in first grade; maturing and yet so far from maturity.  I wasn’t the funniest kid, or the most popular, and by the end of this story you’ll realize I wasn’t even one of the smartest.

So, it was just another first grade afternoon, standing in line in the hallway before we walked to wherever we were going.  One of the other First Grade teachers was instructing her class and for whatever reason, I began mimicking her.  She had this way about her, which I found really annoying, so I started portraying her to a friend of mine.  Unfortunately, because of my ethnicity (I’m Italian) we tend to be loud about everything even when we think we aren’t, and I drew her attention.  I knew she had quietly walked up behind me when my friend quickly lost interest in my parody, had a brief look of terror in his eyes, and turned around abruptly.  I turned slowly, and there she was with a finger pointed at me announcing my judgment of detention.  Yeah, that was bad, but it got worse because that day just happened to be teacher/parent conference day.  (Told you I didn’t think this through!)

Round 2 – Longest drive home ever – Mom decided to come after school, have the conference, and bring me home.  That was one day I could’ve really enjoyed a long bus ride home.  The night ended with very little dinner eaten, my mouth was washed out with soap (I know – shocking – it’s called discipline, and it did me a lot of good!) and put me in bed early, missing my favorite TV show, Buck Rogers.  Seriously…..I was crushed!

What does all this illustrate?  People can be incredibly unkind.  Who knows how my disrespect affected that teacher; setting off insecurities she may have had as an individual or teacher.  I know, you want to bring some perspective into this and tell me that we all do stupid stuff when we’re kids……move on Doug, it’s in the past, yada, yada, yada.  I get all that, but this is fact: when we choose to yield to our fallen nature, we never think about consequences in the moment because we’re too busy becoming the center of attention, making ourselves appear better than another, or finding value in devaluing another person – and it’s all done at their expense.

A lack of kindness is a clear indicator of a selfish nature.

The Good Samaritan in Luke 10 gives us some direction on what our new nature should look like, especially involving other people.  Here’s some thoughts:

Some people’s lives are a mess and that mess is so obvious that they are probably known by it.  It has actually formed the opinions of others about them.  Yet, their mess isn’t material for your next gossip session, nor should we label people by their problems.  Jesus never instructed us to analyze the hurts of others, instead, we’re to see what good we can do.  The Good Samaritan saw the man in the ditch, wasn’t repulsed by him in that situation, and went to where he was to do what he was able to do.  It even cost him something to help the man, but he was willing to involve himself – his time and material possessions.  You can either build people up or further tear them down – it’s your choice, so choose godly!

That story also reminds me how I’m not so different from anyone else.  The Good Samaritan could have been the one in the ditch.  He could have come through that way at the wrong time and been the one victimized instead.  What would he hope others would do if he was in the ditch?  We rarely think this way because we feel we’ve done what was necessary to be where we are: “I worked hard, I got an education, I married a good person, I’m employable, or I made the right choices.”  This thinking automatically judges the homeless man, the drug addict, the single mom, or the cashier at the grocery store working for minimum wage who didn’t do what was necessary to be or have better.  Really? How unkind, or better yet, what a foolish thought! We shouldn’t overlook how each of us could be in the same place as any person we’ve been guilty of detesting.  Kindness creates in us a level of compassion and thankfulness.  Compassion on those who have not, or those who hurt a lot, and thankfulness to God for His grace on our lives.

God calls on His people to be kind, and if you’re going to achieve it, you’ll have to meditate on the kindness of God.  Why would God send His Son to die for us when we were still sinners; at a time when we hated God and were His enemies?  He did it because He is a kind God who’s love gives opportunity to those who are rejecting Him, in hopes they will repent and choose Him. He is my Father, and I hope today I can be a little more like Him, and show some kindness to those who don’t even deserve it.

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The Happiest Place on Earth…

Our lives seem so rushed, busy and full of activity.  Maybe you feel like you never have a moment to yourself because it seems like there is always something which needs your attention: work, spouse, kids, bills, a relative’s failing health.  You never get a break.  If I were to ask if you have peace, you may say, “What’s that?!?”

What does it take for you to have peace?  Maybe you need to go to your happy place; a place where you can rest, clear your mind, get away from the commotion of life and then you’ll have peace.  Everyone has a different definition for this place….maybe it is getting your nails done, taking a walk through the woods, reading a book in solitude, spending time with a loved one, or locking yourself in the bathroom.  These examples really area  means of escape, and we think if we can escape people and situations then we will have peace.  Peace is not escapism.  If we envision peace only in a certain set of circumstances then we limit its availability and influence.

To be honest, most people think peace is conditional on their circumstances.  We think, “If I don’t get my morning cup of coffee, I’m going to have an irritable day.”  Really?  Is peace found in a cup, a relationship, or the perfect situation?  This is why we lack genuine peace: because we think of a perfect scenario where peace can thrive, and if we don’t experience our scenario then peace is illusive.

WRONG!

Psalm 34:14 tells us to “seek peace and pursue it.”  Of course, I believe peace can only be found in our God, but there’s another powerful principle of peace: If you lack peace in an area of your life, you need introduce peace into that place.  For instance, you are anxious about the future.  The more you dwell on what you fear, the less peace you have.  How can you have peace when there is so much uncertainty?  By looking to the future with confidence in God, rather than fear.  When you have confidence in Him, you will have peace.  Your trust in Him allows peace to re-enter your life, even though your situation has not changed.  When you know God is in control, you’ll have peace no matter what uncertainties you’re facing.  If you have a heated argument with someone, you’ve lost peace.  To regain peace, you’ll have to bring it back into the relationship by being a peacemaker.  Try offering an apology, forgive the other person, or even lower your voice – now you’ve given peace the opportunity to invade the situation rather than discord and anger.

Peace doesn’t just come to your life, you have to make a choice to pursue it, and God is the giver of peace.  If you trust in Him, you will have peace, but something we forget is this: If we will obey His Word, we will have peace.

The happiest place on earth isn’t a destination.  It is a place of confidence in God to experience His peace, and then to be an extension of that peace through our actions and words towards others.  When you begin to trust God and trust Him enough to do as He says, you may be pleasantly surprised where you begin to find peace – probably in the most unlikely of places.

Where Art Thou, Romeo?

I’ve never been a Shakespeare fan.  He is listed as one of the greatest writers of all time, and I just don’t understand anything he says – or what the characters are saying.  We were supposed to read his works in High School, and I say “supposed” because I didn’t.  I just came to class the next day, sat through a lecture spoken in modern English, and I had all I needed.  I get it – Juliet’s lines sound more poetic as written:

How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?
The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,
And the place death, considering who thou art,
If any of my kinsmen find thee here.

But people like me just wish she said, “Romeo, I don’t know how you got in here, but if my Dad finds out, you’re dead!”  See how easy that was?  In all sincerity, people get caught up with Romeo and Juliet because of the tension between their families, their forbidden love and what could have been.  The joy they shared in loving one another was so fleeting, and we read it with regret – wishing they had more time.

Joy is one of those Fruits of the Spirit we can’t seem to hold onto.  We have it and then we lose it.  We get married and have great joy, and then we lose it at our first fight.  We wish we had more of it, but it seems the tighter we try to hold onto it the less likely we can contain it.  Something is always stealing it away from us.  Or is it?

We all have experienced natural joy, but it comes and goes because things in this life just don’t last no matter how much we want them to.  Vacations are great, but you eventually have to come back home and face real life.  If we want lasting joy, we have to experience a joy which does not originate in what this world can give us.  Hmmmmmm – where can we find such a joy?

One place is your salvation!  Matthew 13:44 tells us we’ve found a great treasure in Christ.  You can find temporary joy in your own personal pursuits and choosing your own way, but you’ll find lasting joy following His ways and pursuing the passions of God.  Salvation reminds us how much our LORD loves us.  He gave His life for ours, so we can find forgiveness when we repent of our sins.  If you want joy, find it in knowing and experiencing what God has done for you!  Knowing you don’t have to pay for your sins with eternal separation from your Creator should spark a joy in you which cannot be snuffed out because it isn’t dependent on anything except for what has already been accomplished and cannot be changed.

Another place you’ll find lasting joy is in God, Himself!  We lack joy because we found it in other people who failed us, left us or maybe are no longer with us.  No wonder you’re so depressed, and we know you’re depressed because you post about how lonely, sad, confused and bewildered you are on Facebook every 15 minutes!  Just realize, you’re choosing to live that way, but you don’t have to.  Get to know the God you serve, how He loves you and how He is more than enough for you in all seasons of life.

Psalm 43:5

Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Misplaced hope is a joy killer, so find joy in the One who never lets anyone down – God!

It’s time you experienced real joy in the work of Christ in your life and the God you serve!  Stop crying about Romeo and Juliet – it’s just a book!

 

I Love You like a Headache!

Headaches are the worst – all the throbbing pulsating agony within your head.  There are times nothing you do can make it better.  You take a few Tylenol, rub your temples, or drink some water, but nothing helps.  You can’t concentrate enough to think straight and everything in your life comes grinding to a halt as your head just aches.

It’s amazing how easily we can be taken out of the action.  We may be able to push through other types of pain and stay somewhat productive and functional, but there is always something which pushes the “off” button in our lives.  When that happens, we can’t do what needs to be done.

Here’s a case in point: your ability to love others.  There are some people you love no matter what, but there are other people you won’t love until some condition is met.  Who are these people you have selectively chosen not to love?  They are the ones who have hurt you, let you down, and couldn’t be counted on when you thought you could.  It’s the people who have stabbed you in the back when you thought they were covering it.  The very people who said they would love you, be devoted to you, and be by your side and they weren’t.  There’s something about some people which gets in the way of loving them, and you are turned “off” by them.  You don’t love them, and can’t; or maybe you just won’t!

Do you struggle with this?  If so, your problem is thinking the fruit of the Spirit type love is a natural love, and it isn’t.  Natural love is selective, and available when someone meets your conditions.  The type of love spoken of in Galatians 5:22 is the same love which puts others before yourself, loves your neighbor, and especially……your enemy.  That type of love is not natural. If you want to love as the Bible commands, you will have to strive for a love above and beyond what you are capable of.  The love of Galatians 5:22 is not attainable through your own personal power to love.

When Stephen is stoned in Acts 7:59-60, he prays for God to forgive those who are hurling rocks at him with the intent to kill him.  What kind of extraordinary man prays for those who are putting him to death instead of praying for himself or for the judgment of God on his attackers?  Jesus did the same thing, and since He is our model, it would be wise to follow the model.

I know, I know.  You want to tell me how I don’t understand what people have done to you, and how you just can’t love them.  Here’s your problem, Christian – your model endured far worse than you will ever know and loved enough to die for the sins of those who unjustly accused Him, called for His death, and even those who loved Him but left Him at His darkest hour……….think about it!

The type of love the fruit of the Spirit speaks about can love anyone, no matter what.  If you have people in your life you need to forgive, then do it.  When you can forgive someone, you are freed to love them instead of harboring bitterness, regret, and the pain of the past.  If you want freedom, then ask your LORD to help you forgive them and love them like He does.  You may be amazed at what THAT type of love can do in others and in your own life.

 

Why Doesn’t Walmart Carry Watermelons in the Winter?

So, you’re reading this right now because you must feel the same pain I do.  I love watermelon; it’s my favorite fruit.  Put a little salt on it (YES – that’s what I said, so wipe that look of disgust off your face and just try it!) and you’re transported to a heavenly place.  So, why doesn’t Walmart carry watermelons in the winter?  I mean, don’t they get it?!?  Watermelon is amazing and should be on-demand at all times, every day, no matter what!  But it isn’t for one simple reason – it’s not in season.

It seems like everything has its season, and we may be fully convinced of this.  There are some things we’d like to enjoy year-round, but it isn’t possible because the season dictates what is available and what isn’t.  We don’t just apply this to fruit, but we view many areas of our lives like this.

I mean, who doesn’t love, love?  Everyone wants to be in love, but we have to admit we reduce love to a particular season because sometimes we love and then other times we don’t feel like it.  We all want joy, but there are certain seasons of life where joy seems absent or even unobtainable.  Peace: who doesn’t want more peace?  Yet peace seems fleeting and in a moment it can be taken due to an unexpected tragedy or simply a shift in your schedule.

So, when the Bible talks about the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – we think it is a great idea, but it’s seasonal.  LET ME TELL YOU THIS……IT’S NOT SEASONAL!  The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t abide by the same natural laws as that tasty, wonderful, water-filled summer treat.

As a follower of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit is not something you experience in a season, but it should be evident in your life no matter what season you find yourself.  Love should be abiding and not fleeting or dependent on how you’re treated.  Joy can be possessed even in the most difficult times.  Self-control can stand strong when temptation comes knocking.

Our problem is this: we try to experience the fruit of the Spirit through natural means in a fallen natural world, and it’s impossible.  If you want to live with each fruit in all seasons of your life, you’re going to have to get closer to Jesus and walk with Him daily.

If you’re wondering how to develop greater consistency in possessing the Fruit of the Spirit and living with it in all seasons of your life, stay tuned for more on my blog!  God’s going to do great things in you this year as you apply His Word to your life!

Give Me the Chips!

salt chipsI like potato chips.  I am in complete agreement with Lays, it is impossible to eat just one.  My personal favorite is the salt and vinegar chips; whoever invented these should have a national holiday named after them.  For now, until we find out who that very special person is, we could just name it, “Salt and Vinegar Chip Guy Day.”  So, the bigger the bag – the BETTER!  I don’t want one of those small personalized chip bags which come with your sandwich in a meal deal……that won’t do!  I’m going to need to have a lot of those chips, or I won’t be satisfied.

I also love Jesus, and if I love Him then the assumption which can be made is I want to know Him, walk with Him, and be like Him as much as possible.  This is no small bag commitment!  Yet, I find, many believers declare their love for Him, but they only want a little Jesus.  When this happens, there is minimal change in their life.  They don’t put off their ‘old self’ (Ephesians 4:22-24), but they try to find a happy balance between their old life and the new life.  Those lives are not compatible with one another, and one will always win out over the other.  Why do we struggle with letting go of our old sinful practices?  Well, its a matter of chips.

When your former ways are the bigger bag of chips in your life and Jesus is smaller, you know what you have?  An imbalance.  You have a desire problem.  You have a devotion issue.  Jesus can’t be your little bag of chips and be enough because anyone who is satisfied with a small bag of chips is not hungry.  If the small bag fills you, guess what?  You don’t care much for those chips.  If you’re content with just a little bit of Jesus then you don’t really believe He is necessary.  If a small bag of Jesus is enough for you then you’re not pursuing Him.  Whatever is greatest in your life is what you are pursuing; its the big bag.  You’d better make sure its Jesus!

Make Jesus your big bag of chips; a bag you can’t get enough of.  I don’t want to be content with less than all of Him, and Jesus doesn’t want me to be satisfied with less, but more.  Do you want more of Jesus or are you content with less of Him?  If you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you, so give Him a greater place in your life – actually, let Him have all of your life!

 

You Want Change? Look no further….

deadlydodgeballIt was fourth grade, and I was the last kid picked for what would turn out to be the most epic dodgeball game in 1984.  I know……picked last, and that should make it clear I was probably the most not-so-valuable player.  I wasn’t that athletic, and I wasn’t incredibly confident, but somehow by ducking, hiding behind other kids, and throwing at imaginary people, so no one could have the chance to catch my ball, I had made it to the end.  It was just me and some totally athletic kid who should pummel me into dodgeball oblivion with ease.  I tried throwing low to hit his feet, but he just kept getting out of the way.  In a brief moment when I needed some confidence, I looked to the sidelines and was met only with looks of humiliation and defeat, and suddenly I wished I could trade places with anyone of them.  Oh, the pressure! Everyone thought I was sure to lose, and I did too.  But in a moment of insanity (cue the Rocky theme song) and just wanting to end it all, one way or the other, I put myself in a position to catch his throw.  The ball came right at my chest, and somehow, just somehow, I caught it – GAME OVER, BABY!  I had won the game for my team, but everyone was too shocked to cheer.  Either way, it was a life-changing moment for me even though it was short-lived.  After-all, you’re only as relevant as today’s news and the next day it was like it never happened to everyone else but me.

You, as a believer need a defining moment.  My moment was just that; a few minutes in time that can only be relived in my memory.  We each need God’s power in our lives, and we shouldn’t desire to have it in a moment which we can only look back on.  We need a power within us which is indwelling, always with us, and continues to propel us forward in our walk with the LORD.

Acts 2:1-5 relates to us what happened on the day of Pentecost to all those in the upper room waiting for the promise Jesus said they would receive if they just stayed in Jerusalem as He’d commanded them.  That moment would be the start of something new, lasting, and empowering.  They were each baptized with the Holy Spirit with the initial physical evidence of speaking in other tongues.  Read the book of Acts and the Epistles, and you’ll witness what this gift upon the disciples and the early church did for them……a gift which was for all those who were far off too (that’s us – Acts 2:39).  Pentecost was a defining moment for each of them.

You need this same defining moment; that’s right, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  If you haven’t received it already, seek God for what He has for you.  If you can start by acknowledging you are inadequate for what God has called you to (living for Him) and you need more from God than what you already have, then you’re on the right track!

God doesn’t want to just reveal His power in moments, He wants to put power into your life, and His Word is clear – it comes from the indwelling of the Spirit.  You need what the disciples had, and you’ll see incredible change come to your life.  Keep pursuing, keep desiring, keep growing!

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