Step into the Fog

I stared out the window one very foggy morning and it looked like my world ended about 100 yards away. One could only see shadows and silhouettes. Going forward I discovered life beyond the fog that I saw.

Our lives can get foggy at times. Pain, loss, grief and heartache cloud over our lives. We could feel like life ends “just out there.”

What do we do? Some freeze in place. Others curse the fog. There are those who withdraw and wait to die. Yet, life is lived only when one has the courage to take the next step INTO the fog.

Where do we find the courage to do so? Several turn to the bottle or a drug. Some others become hard and tough believing that “nothing will hurt me again.” Yet, all these do is numb the fear and increase the fog.

I have learned that my faith in God gives me his strength to take that next step into the fog. God living in our hearts gives us the courage of the Lion of Judah—Jesus. Keeping our eyes on him and off the fog we discover the SON of God burns off the fog of our hearts and that there is an awesome life to be lived beyond what we could see. We really only see “through a fog dimly…” until we walk out our faith in Jesus.

Ignore the scary shadows and silhouettes. Trust in his Sonshine. Take the next step. The fog will clear.

Give Thanks

Psalms 118:1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

​I love Thanksgiving, I really do. As a kid it was because we were going to go to grandma’s house and eat some delicious Thanksgiving dishes. Today I still love the big Thanksgiving dinner and the possibility that multiple extended family members may gather with us to share a meal. These are wonderful moments that become cherished memories, but as I get older, I really begin to look at Thanksgiving for its true purpose to give thanks, to give thanks to the Lord.

​Why do we thank God? You probably think this is a simple question and in some ways it is simple. Of course, we give thanks for God wants us to and because it is good to thank God for the things we have been given.  Giving thanks, however, has a deep psychological benefit for us. God knows that as we thank him, we begin to see how much we need Him in our lives. We break that sinful habit of making ourselves god of our life and of course making a mess of it. We see the brokenness of our life and how the Lord mends those pieces into something beautiful.

​We also learn to detox ourselves from the dangerous sins of pride and greed. In a nation of excess (which is a blessing in some ways), we can sometimes find ourselves competing for the next best expensive thing, anything from a phone to a house. We are bombarded with ads looking for our money. We look across the street to see (covet) the latest and greatest thing that we just can’t live without. Thanking God can put into perspective what blessings we truly have. When we take stock of what God has given us, we begin to appreciate the things we have and are enabled to move towards contentment. Also, as we give thanks to God for the things we have, we realize it’s not truly our stuff, but God’s which allows us to be generous with the things we have. Thanking God is truly good for the soul.

​What ways can we thank God? There are two terms that come to mind when talking about being thankful; thanks (of course) and adoration. Giving thanks is simply the act of seeing what God has done in our lives, to recognize the grace given by Christ and taking in account how much God has given. I will caution against thinking that we are deserving of these things, we must remember it’s not because of who we are or what we have done that God has given us these things, but rather because God is good, and loves us and He gives these things out of His goodness.

​In any relationship, there is always the danger of taking the one we love for granted and with our relationship with God, it is no different. Often if we are not careful in the good times, we may neglect our relationship with Him only to go running back when troubles arrive. Adoration is a way of thanking God for who He is and thus reminding us how important God is in our lives. It helps us remember that God is all powerful, all present, Holy, all knowing, all loving, etc. Adoration is the act of adoring God for all that He is. As we give adoration, this helps us to remember that God is the one in charge of this world, that He cares, and that God is not to be taken lightly in our lives. Adoration helps us to keep our eyes on God through the bad and the good of life.

​How and where in our lives can we start being thankful? We can begin in our prayer lives, instead of jumping into the wants we have, we start by giving God adoration and thanks. This prioritizes our prayers and lives to think of God first not self. Second, we give testimonies. Find places in your day to share with someone how God has been active in your life; give Him the credit for things you have, or things that you are doing by God’s strength, love, etc. Thirdly write a list, journal the things you have because of God and give Him praise. Finally, live for Him, allow your life to be a living sacrifice of thanksgiving. Through your life be grateful, humble and giving God thanks for everything good in your life.

When should we be thankful? All the time. Thanksgiving is a great time to remember that we should be thankful, but it should not end after the meal and before the fighting over Black Friday deals. This Thanksgiving can be the start of a month, year and hopefully a lifetime that is always thanking God. It will lead to a joyous and content life, so why not start today!

The Secular vs. Sacred

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit, Christ when I stand, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. Amen. St Patrick
God stopped me the other day as I was reading a book on the church by Alan Hirsch (The Forgotten Ways). He was talking about the idea of sacred vs secular, in that the way church is set up today it can foster an idea in the individual church goer that church is for entering the sacred space with God and the rest of the week is living in the secular world apart from God. This, of course, made me think about wether we as Christians living dual lives. On Sunday we enter the scared putting on a façade of holiness (intentional or not) while living the week as if God is unaware or absent in our daily life, temptations and even sins. The question becomes then is this the way God wants us as believers to live, a dual life with one foot in the pool of sacred and the rest in the dry land of the world. I would hope your answer is no.
Paul wrote to a church in crisis; the Corinthian church had been plagued with many sorts of sins and divisions. While talking to the church about one sin in particular (sexual sin), he informs the church on how they are to view themselves in light of what Christ has done for them and with whom is now inside of them. Paul states, “19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” Here Paul clearly states that they are no longer their, own but God’s and God (the Holy Spirit) is dwelling in them. In the Old Testament time, the temple was a fixed place in Jerusalem which was a sacred, set apart place for God to come and dwell with His people. Now the temple was/is those who have received Christ.
Logically thinking, if we are now the temple in which God indwells in us, shouldn’t our lives reflect the same. As temple’s of God’s indwelling, we should strive to live our lives in a manner of holiness. The sacred is not separate from the secular because with God’s presence in us the sacred is always around. This means that though we live in the fallen world around us, the scared is in us and God’s grace is transforming the ways and things that used to be in and of the secular world.
In St. Patrick’s prayer quoted at the beginning of this blog entry, we can see the desire of St. Patrick in his life. He prays for Christ to surround his life and to be shown through his life. For St. Patrick. Christ is the key to living a life pleasing to God. Jesus is the key needed to live in the secular world without being a part of that world, to make life not just church on Sunday a sacred thing. Thus, we must know Christ, to have a relationship with Christ and to live out that knowledge every day. It is up to us with the Holy Spirit’s help to turn every aspect of our lives sacred to Christ. Start this week by honestly and sincerely praying St Patrick’s prayer and see where God will lead you this week from the secular to the sacred in your life.

Love

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV) 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
This verse is one of the most recited verses at weddings and why shouldn’t it be; Paul really breaks down for us what love looks like. All newlyweds, and us not so newlyweds, should lean upon these verses as we encounter the daily struggles of married life. Still, these verses were not intended to be an instructional guide for how to show love to your spouse but rather how we as Christians should be with others, especially with our brothers and sisters in the church.
Paul was dealing with a lot of issues in the church at Corinth. These issues included but not limited to sexual immorality (to include incest), abuses of the Lord’s Supper, jockeying for power in the church, misuses and over emphasizing spiritual gifts, just to name a few. Still one of the biggest problems was how in all this the church members were treating each other. Throughout Paul’s letter is addressing the issue of the lack of compassion shown for each other by those in the church (more like churches; for Corinth seemed to have a network of house churches) but comes to his fullest argument against the Corinthians in his explanation of love. Let’s take a moment and look at Paul’s call for love when responding to others.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV) 4 Love is patient, love is kind… We live in a fast-paced society, our daily schedules jammed pack with work, kids’ school activities, errands to run and much more. This, of course, makes us edgy, overstressed and overwhelmed. No wonder why this part of love is so hard to do. We don’t have time or the mindset to be kind and/or patient. Yet it is in our kindness that we show Christ and in our patience that we show those around us their importance and value. If we want to lead people to Christ today, I think showing these two aspects of love will show others something different in us and open the door for us to build a relationship of mutual respect that will lead to us having the ability to share who Christ is to others.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV). This section of the passage deals with putting ourselves over others. Love is about the other person, not what I can get from them (manipulation). When Christ came and died for us, He wasn’t thinking about himself. Jesus knew our need and put it first. To be Christ like, we must put others and their needs first so that we show the love that was given to us to those who need it.
It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 At the heart of love is forgiveness. God is a forgiving God. From the very start when Adam and Eve fell in the garden God has been reaching out with his grace to restore us and our relationship. Anger, resentment and unforgiveness is toxic for the soul. They keep us lock down in misery whereas forgiveness out of love frees us and allows for joy to enter in our lives. If you are holding on to a grudge right now, let go, forgive and move on in the love of your Lord.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. There is nothing evil about authentic love. When love is authentic, it does not try to hide or deceive. Love when authentic will support, will believe and will keep those who are in it from the ways of the flesh. If we truly love, it will build up those around us and seek to do nothing that harms others.
Finally, Paul tells us that love never fails. In church we tend to forget or ignore this fact. Yes, love should be accompanied by truth (no one would ever know about sin and it’s effect in their lives if not told the truth) yet with no love, our truth looks more like us being judgmental versus caring. Paul wants the church to understand that no spiritual gift, no position in the church, nothing in the church is more important than love. Love never fails and it won’t fail us if we act out of love with everyone we meet. Pastor Mart.

Words

Proverbs 12:18 18 The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.  This was the phrase we might have cited when we were kids when we were being attacked with mean and hurtful words. The problem with this often-quoted saying is that it’s not true. Like Proverbs 12:18 says, “the words of the reckless pierce like swords…” The wounds of our words and the words others use against us run deep. This is true for the kid on the playground and it’s true for us as adults today.

In America today, it seems that the word civility is being thrown out the window as we jump on to our social media platform of choice and blast those who stand on the opposite side of our beliefs. No longer do we listen, discuss or are even be willing to agree to disagree.  At the first opportunity today it is about how we can bully the other person to win or at least discredit (sometimes disparage) our enemy. Enemy is a strong word, but in this day and age, it truly speaks to growing gap of competing ideas in our country today (i.e. Republican/Democrat, Conservative/liberal, Christian/insert any other group etc.). It’s not listen first, but yell first and loudest until the other is drowned out.  No wonder Christians today are poorly viewed by other groups because we are no different than the other side.

We can’t change them by harsh and hurtful words or by thinking that using their same tactic against them is justified because it is not (Check out Matthew 5:38,39).  If we are truly children of God, we will be peacemakers and it starts with our words.

Proverbs 12:18 says, “but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Really healing in our nations is going to come when we as Christians stop forcing our beliefs on others, mocking our enemies on social media and finding our real alliance is to Christ, not a cause or stand. Christ came to heal and forgive; that was His mission, His purpose, so should it be ours. We should be smart with our words, use words that bring people together, not tear apart.

So how do we do this, where do we start? It begins with a heart check, listening to ourselves and what we say. What are we saying to our spouse, parents, friends, neighbors, strangers and even those who are opposed to our way of thinking? What are we posting and responding to on social media outlets, are we choosing words or being reckless?  Invite the Holy Spirit to help us by convicting our hearts when we don’t use the kindest of words.

Second comes confession and repentance. When we take inventory of our words and with the Holy Spirit’s help we begin to see where in our lives we have been reckless.  Confession helps us to realize how we have fallen short and how we need God’s grace for change.  God cannot only help us to not use hurtful language, but deal with the deeper pain, anger, frustration, etc. that causes us to be reckless in our use of our words.

Finally comes the part of doing.  This means we listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and choose our words wisely. “Let no filthy talk be heard from your mouths, but only what is good for building up people and meeting the need of the moment. This way you will administer grace to those who hear you.” Ephesians 4:29. 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” As we choose our words wisely our words will become a source of healing, a building up, an avenue for grace rather than a vehicle our hurt and destruction.  Pastor Mart.

Choices

We all have choices in life. Each choice has a consequence. We hiked on a path up a mountain in Colorado. One of the paths went up to the summit of a 14,000 foot peak the other went around the side of the mountain. Which path we choose will determine where we end up.

What determines how we make our choices? Is it personal preference, our comfort or safety, what others are saying or telling us, what our culture says is right, or is it what Jesus tells us in his Word and by the leading of his Spirit? How we choose will determine where we end up – the mountain top or in the forest. The mountain top is not the easiest, the most comfortable nor the safest but it does draw us closer to the One who gave his life for us all. What or who will guide you in your choices?…Pastor Mike

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