Just Do Something!

Did you know that showing compassion has measurable therapeutic value for our lives? Doing good for others does good for us. One of the benefits of showing compassion to others is that it reverses the destructive process of self-absorption, moves us into the healthy arena of seeing the need of others, and ultimately opens us up to the reality of God and His destiny for us.

William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was passionate about showing compassion, especially for the downtrodden of the London slums. One day his son Bramwell entered the room early and found his father furiously brushing his hair, brushes in both hands, as he frantically finished dressing for the day. No time for “Good Morning”; Booth looked at his son and cried, “Bramwell! Did you know there are men sleeping outdoors all night under the bridges?” He’d been in London late the preceding night, and this had been a shocking sight on his way home.

“Well, yes,” said Bramwell. “A lot of poor fellows, I suppose.”

“Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself for having known it and done nothing for them,” answered William Booth,

Bramwell began constructing elaborate excuses. He could never add such a complex project to all the things he had going on in his life, which he now began to name. His plate was full.

His father simply barked, “Go and do something!”

That moment of resolve and compassion was the beginning of the Salvation Army Shelters, a special ministry that changed the lives of hundreds of homeless men during the early days of the Salvation Army work in London.

Have you ever had a Booth moment, when suddenly you saw some person or situation through God’s eyes and developed a fiery determination to see it change?

That is almost always the start of an amazing adventure with the Lord as you move forward out of self-centredness and begin to respond with compassion and meet the needs of others. Reminds me of an old saying I heard when first saved: “Find a need and meet it!” 

So many believers sit and wonder what the Lord has called them to do. They want to know what their ministry is. It’s simple: “Find a need and meet it.” In doing so the Lord can then direct you and reveal to you your unique calling and personal ministry. Just sitting and waiting for a revelation does not work. It is much easier to steer a moving car than a car that is parked. So, “find a need and meet it” will get you moving and then God will steer and reveal. 

Good advice: “Go and do something!”

Before You Were Born – God loved you! (Part Two)

Being somewhat up in age (nice way to say I am getting old) it is interesting to look back and see the subtle but definite changes that have taken place over the past two or three decades bringing us to the place where we live in a day of cheap life and disposable pregnancies. A day when abortions are simply taken for granted as a woman’s right over her own body and a means of birth control. I am not trying to be offensive – just wanting to note the somewhat slow but definite change that has taken place in society in general. 

A generation ago, everyone referred to an unborn child as a baby. And pregnant women had no doubt that what they were carrying was a baby — a human person. It is hard for anyone to think positively about killing a baby. So to get around the distastefulness of the idea, the word baby has been replaced by terms such as “fetus,” “embryo,” or even a “clump of tissue.” These are impersonal, clinical terms easily associated with tumors or growths. These words, completely devoid of the tender emotions associated with baby, have allowed people to treat pregnancy as something like an unwanted disease instead of the exalted privilege it is — the privilege of creating beloved beings with eternal, God-given possibilities.

A side note: It is important to note that Psalm 139:16 contains the only use of the Hebrew word for embryo found in Scripture — translated as “my substance, being yet unformed” referencing a human life being watched over by God because He loves even the unborn and even yet to be formed ‘life’ that has been conceived.

To make matters worse, a new term emerged almost a decade ago in this battle for human life: “after-birth abortion.” Previously known as infanticide, after-birth abortion allows babies to be killed after they are born. According to a World article by Marvin Olasky, “The core of the argument isn’t new at universities like Princeton, where ethicist Peter Singer has long approved killing one-year-olds with physical or mental disabilities. But authors Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva push the argument further by defending the killing of any humans incapable of “attributing any value to their own existence … Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.”

The possibility that this attitude could become accepted presents a peril of almost unmatched significance. One writer explains: “The so-called ‘quality of life ethic’ is deep down more dangerous than nuclear war, for it destroys the very soul of our civilization, not just bodies. It says a human person’s value is not infinite and calculable, that it varies with health, intelligence, and social utility. That is exactly what Hitler believed.”

In my studies in the past few days here is what I have discovered:

    • God loved you before you were born (Job 10:10-12 MSG)
    • Before you were born, God knew your identity (Psalm 139:15-16)
    • Before you were born, God knew your complexity ((Psalm 139:13-14)
    • Before you were born, God knew your individuality ( Psalm 139:16)
    • Before you were born, God knew your dignity (Colossians 1:16)
    • Before you were born, God knew your destiny (Jeremiah 1:5)
    • Before you were born, God knew your possibility (Genesis 1:26-27)
    • Before you were born, God knew your legacy (Jeremiah 29:11)

Wow! God knew and loved you as a fully human person before He even made you. Before conception. He loved you as He prepared you for this world in the beauty of human pregnancy. And all along, He had a life, a purpose, and a legacy planned for you, suited to your unique individuality and personality. ALL life has dignity and value in God’s sight. We need to remember that all things were created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16) so Christ is the source of all life in creation. And, all life came into existence through Jesus Christ and for Jesus Christ. This means every child (baby) conceived is highly valuable to Him and should be to us as well. 

Just part of my journey these past few days. Thanks for listening. 

Before You Were Born – God loved you! (Part One)

I have been reading up on how God loves us even before we are born. And that God has a plan and a purpose that is unique for each one of us, again, planned out before we were even conceived in our mother’s womb. It has led to some fantastic reading in the Bible (like Jeremiah, chapter one) and even some scientific and medical understanding of life, conception, and babies which then led me into rereading some material on abortion. Let me share a true story I reread today sitting outside a medical clinic waiting for someone….

There is a woman named Norma McCorvey. Norma was twenty-one years old in 1969, unmarried, and the mother of two children — one in the custody of the child’s grandmother and one given up for adoption. While working at whatever jobs she could find — including being a barker for a travelling carnival — she discovered she was pregnant for the third time. When she sought an abortion, she found they were illegal in Texas except in cases of rape or incest. So she lied and claimed rape, but the claim was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Two attorneys used Norma’s desire to have an abortion as a reason to file suit against the state of Texas. To protect Norma’s privacy, they gave her the fictitious name of “Jane Roe,” a name immortalized in the now famous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case (“Wade” was the local district attorney in Dallas County, Texas). In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in Norma McCorvey’s favour, and abortions on demand have been legal in America ever since. (Norma’s third child was born before the case was decided.)

But Norma McCorvey had a change of heart. In the early 1990’s, she professed faith in Christ and has written two books affirming her pro-life, anti-abortion position. In her second book, Won By Love (1998), she described her sudden awareness that the life in the mother’s womb is a baby, a child whom God loves:

“When my conversion [to Christ] became public knowledge, I spoke openly to reporters about still supporting legalized abortion in the first trimester. The media was quick to use this to downplay the seriousness of my conversion, saying I typified the “general ambivalence” of our culture over abortion. But a few weeks after my conversion, I was sitting in [Operation Rescue’s] offices when I noticed a fetal development poster. The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them.

I ran outside and finally, it dawned on me, “Norma,” I said to myself, “they’re right.” I had worked with pregnant women for years. I had been through three pregnancies and deliveries myself. I should have known. Yet something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, 10-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, that’s a baby! It’s as if the blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth – that’s a baby!”

As I kept researching for a good part of a day I found that modern technology now allows us to see the astonishing complexity of a developing child (baby – not ‘fetus,’ ‘embryo,’ ‘clump of tissue’ … see Part Two of my processing) with our own eyes. In a 2010 TED presentation titled Conception to Birth — Visualized, Alexander Tsiaras, mathematician and chief of Scientific Visualization at Yale University, presented a series of incredible images of a child’s development in the womb. In his production you can see never-before-viewed videos and photos of the very first cell division, the development of the heart at only 25 days, the development of the arms and hands at only 32 days, and the development of the retinas, nose and eyes at 52 days.

Clearly astonished by what he witnessed in his own images, Tsiaras concluded his talk with these words: “The complexity of the things, the mathematical model of how these things are indeed done, [is] beyond human comprehension. Even though I am a mathematician I look at this with the marvel of, ‘How did these instruction sets build that which is us?’ It’s a mystery, it’s magic, it’s divinity.”

“For You formed my inward parts;

You covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 

Marvellous are Your works;

And that my soul knows very well. (Psalm 139:13-14)

 

Oh, that marvel of conception…

What a miracle of skin and bone, muscle and brain.

You gave me life itself, and incredible love.

You watched and guarded every breath I took.

(Job 10:10-12 The Message version)

More next time…

Sometimes I Am Not Positive

I am working at being much more positive

My personality is not naturally positive … But I am working to change my approach to life and daily circumstances

After all, with God nothing is impossible

I read the other day:

“A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort”    Herm Albright

So, I am working at ‘being a warrior and not a worrier’

‘A fountain not a drain’

A VPP and not a VDP … Very Positive Person / Very Draining Person

I have discovered that it takes a positive attitude to move forward

And, I don’t mean all the self-help, positive-thinking teachings that are out there

Most of the ‘Have a positive attitude’ self-help  preaching and teaching is not biblical

Conceive it, believe it, achieve it

Health and wealth

Name it and claim it

Blab it and grab it

Lots of motivational speakers and self-help preachers make lots of promises without preaching the whole gospel — or any of the true gospel

The self-improvement industry has become a kind of religion that says, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me”

We should guard ourselves against any self-help ideology that pushes God to the sidelines, magnifies human abilities, and doesn’t tell the whole truth

But there is a positive, hopeful, joyful, optimism that is totally biblical in its essence and comes from Christ alone

You can be a Christian and an optimist at the same time — and you should be

Faith adds a positive power to your life

Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

That sounds pretty positive, doesn’t it?

The man who wrote those words was an optimist with a capital O

Read his story in the book of Acts and study his thirteen letters

 

They are packed with optimism

His words reveal to us his powerful secrets for resilience, optimism, and positive thinking and belief

By stepping into his story at critical moments, we can understand how he lived a life of positive accomplishment despite hardships and adverse life circumstances

1> Be Positive in Your Convictions

Paul’s optimism started with his positive convictions

He lived with “conviction”

A CONVICTION is a fixed belief

A deeply held set of certainties that lodges and lives in the center of your mind and heart

It is critical that your convictions be sound and true – in other words, biblical

Pauls’ certainly were!

He wrote his convictions down and his letters are a journal of his life and his belief system – his convictions

Paul’s core convictions were the foundation of his incredible life and ministry and the basis of his positive attitude 

Paul had two very positive core convictions that motivated him and provided directions for his life

A> Be Positive About God’s Love For You

The most basic conviction in life is rooted in understanding the nature of God

Because, without a good, powerful, loving creative, eternal God, there is no basis for optimism 

Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Great reasons to be optimistic and positive in your life

Not only is God real but He loves us

Not only does God love us, but nothing we might experience in life can separate us from His love

The ten things Paul lists in these verses could each be a potential barrier between you and God

But Paul says, with absolute assurance, that none of them can separate you from God’s love

The loss of hope around us today is rampant – especially as we enter the second year of fighting the Covid pandemic

And lack of hope is lethal to a joy-filled, positive life

Added to the pandemic – hope has disappeared in many aspects of life because of a growing ignorance and even rejection of God’s love

Without an understanding of God’s love

Without an experience of God’s love 

Without an encounter with God’s love

There is little to be positive about in every day life

These powerful words in Romans 8 about God’s love are reinforced by a blessing Paul offered toward the end of the same letter

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13)

You can make that a personal prayer by switching a word or two…

“Now may the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace in believing, so that I may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

That prayer, prayed often, can adjust your mindset in any given season of life

Deepen your core convictions

Strengthen your belief

Allow you to be much more positive regardless of what is happening in your life

God loves you and wants you to overflow with hope and optimism!

Never forget that

Let that conviction dwell in the very core of your being

In his book The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning tells the story of Edward Farrell, a man who decided to travel from his hometown of Detroit to visit Ireland, where he would celebrate his uncle’s eightieth birthday.

Early on the morning of his uncle’s birthday, they went for a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney. As the sun rose, his uncle turned and stared straight into the breaking light. For twenty minutes they stood there in silence, and then his elderly uncle began to skip along the shoreline, a radiant smile on his face.

After catching up with him, Edward asked, “Uncle Seamus, you look very happy. Do you want to tell me why?”

“Yes, lad,” the old man said, tears washing down his face. “You see, the Father is very fond of me. Ah, me Father is so very fond of me.”

In that moment Uncle Seamus experienced how much he was loved by his Father in heaven, an overwhelming sense of joy flooded his heart, and he began to dance along the shoreline.

Have you ever had a moment like that?

Have you ever awakened and said, “He really does love me”? 

 

Do you know what it means ti overflow with hope and optimism?

Hope, optimism, and joy – a positive outlook on life – can become a habitual attitude if we remember that God loves us 

A conviction: Be positive about God’s love for you

B> Be Positive About God’s Plan For You

The second core conviction or people who view life and live life positively — they are optimistic about their exciting future

They embrace tomorrow with enthusiasm and anticipation!

That is only possible if you know your future is guaranteed to be exciting, eternal, meaningful, and useful

Only one Person can assure you of that — the Lord Himself

And only one Book can provide the sure and certain details — the Bible 

The apostle Paul constantly referred to the future

He put the past behind him and strained toward what was ahead

(See teaching: Sometimes I Lose My Focus)

Even when he was near death, Paul was excited about tomorrow

Think about it! While waiting on death row for his martyrdom, Paul was eager for tomorrow

The last known letter Paul wrote was to his friend Timothy, and it was written from a Roman prison as he awaited a certain death

Listen to what he said in the final chapter to his final letter (book):

2 Timothy 4:6-8 “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

Paul had an incredible perspective on dying

Years before, he told the Philippians, 

Philippians 1:21-24 NLT “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.”

Perhaps Paul’s remarkable perspective flowed from the time he was caught up to heaven and glimpsed the glories that await us there (see: 2 Corinthians 12:4)

But we have a blessing Paul didn’t have: We have the Book of Revelation

Written after Paul’s death

The final two chapters describe our heavenly home in great detail for us

(See: Revelation, Chapters 21 and 22)

The more we study those chapters, the more excited we should become about tomorrow

How long has it been since you were really excited about the future?

When you went to bed last night, were you excited to see what today would bring?

          • Remember when you were a kid counting the days until your birthday?
          • Or a graduate looking forward to your next step in life?
          • Or engaged to be married and eager for your wedding day?
          • An expectant parent waiting for the baby to arrive?

A psychologist wrote:

“Although we often think the past dictates our behaviour, the future is what really motives most of our actions”

As a follower of Christ, I’m ready to die and willing to live

And in either case I can’t wait to see what God will do next

I live constantly curious about what God will do tomorrow …

Romans 5:2 TLB “For because of our faith, he has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be.”

So, to be positive and excited about life:

1> Be positive in your convictions

A> Be positive about God’s love for you

B> Be positive about God’s plan for you

2> Be Positive in Your Conversations

If you are positive in your core convictions — you will become more positive in your daily conversations

In the book of Ruth, when the landowner Boaz went out each morning to check on the harvesters, he greeted them by shouting, “The Lord be with you!” 

And they answered him, “The Lord bless you!” (Ruth 2:4)

What a positive way to start the day!

Sometimes we have no one to encourage us at the break of day, so we have to speak to ourselves, saying something like: “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24)

Try saying that aloud with enthusiasm when getting up each morning

It will make a difference

Outside of praying, your most important words are the ones you say to yourself

These words are silent but significant

Self-help advocates call this ‘self-talk’ but I want to skip the psycho-babble and go straight to Paul’s words in Scripture

Did Paul ever talk to himself?

He said, he strove to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV)

He said, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law” (Romans 7:22 NIV)

He said, “I am not ashamed for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12)

And, as we have learned, he also said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13)

Paul is saying…. When it comes to negative thoughts:

      • Don’t curse them
      • Don’t nurse them
      • Don’t rehearse them
      • Disperse them

Push out your negative thoughts – worry, anxiety, fear, pessimism

Push out the self-talk tapes from your past – you dad, your family, a friend

A doctor a Christian – who has run double triathlons (two triathlons back-to-back with only a twenty-four hour break) six times … the last time when he was 59 years old

When asked how he did it, he said, “I have learned to talk to myself instead of listening to myself. If I listen to myself, I hear all the reasons why I should give up. I hear that I’m too tired, too old, too weak to make it. But if I talk to myself, I can give myself the encouragement and words I need to hear to keep running and finish the race.”

In Psalm 42 the palmist said to himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (Psalm 42:11)

We don’t know the author of Psalm 42, but it might have been King David, because he knew how to preach to himself when needed

As a young man, a series of disastrous problems had befallen David in a town called Ziklag

His family and the families of his men had been kidnapped, and even his own men were turning on him and talking about stoning him to death

What did David do? 

He preached to himself — He “strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6)

And, in that strength he rose up to tackle his problems with a positive spirit that came from his belief in God’s watchful care for his life

Jeremiah did the same

After watching his city go up in flames and his nation go down in defeat, he said:

“This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-22)

This is what we must do

If we listen to the negative tapes looping around in our thoughts, we will sink into the pessimism of the devil  (depression)

We will hear ourselves saying:

          • How could I have been so stupid?
          • What is wrong with me?
          • Everything is falling apart!
          • This is a disaster
          • Why is this happening to me?

Stop the tape!

Here’s a better one:

“I know in Whom I believe, and I am persuaded He is able to keep what I have entrusted to Him. Why are you cast down? Hope in God. I’ll soon be praising Him again, for He is the health of my countenance. I’m going to recall something and keep it in mind — the Lord is merciful, and His compassions won’t fail me. They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Dr. H. Norman Wright … a great believer wrote:

“Depending on how active your mind is, you may produce more than 45,000 thoughts a day. Whew! It might be compared to a flock of birds flying in and out of your mind.”

To complicate our minds more, noted Dr. Wright, not all these are conscious thoughts, and sometimes they pass so fleetingly we barely notice them

But listen to what Dr. Wright says next:

“Every time you have a thought, it triggers an electrochemical reaction in your body … Each thought sets off a biological process — about 400 billion at once. Because of that thought, chemicals surge through the body, producing electromagnetic waves. Those setoff emotions, which affect how we behave … Science simply confirms what Scripture has been saying all along: We are shaped, in large part, by our thoughts.”

2B> Speak Positively to Others 

Learn to talk to yourself instead of listening to yourself

Learn to encourage yourself in the Lord

It will change the way you speak to others

Your mood and message will be different, even in the midst of difficulties

This was another of Paul’s secrets

Once he was caught in a vicious storm with a terrified crew on a sinking ship

The typhoon threatened to rip the ship into  matchsticks — and even the captain gave up hope of survival

But Paul rallied their spirits, saying, “Keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God” (Acts 27:25 NIV)

Nevertheless the storm grew worse

It was the deadliest storm the sailors had ever seen, and there were 276 souls on board

 

Two weeks of unbearable strain drained the crew of their last drops of hope, and none of them could eat or rest through the wild hours of the worst night

Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. (Acts 27:33-36 NIV).

Do you know someone struggling to keep their head above water?

Think of the power of saying to them — in the right way at the right time — “Kep uo your courage! I have faith in God. Take care of yourself. You’ll get through this storm. Believe God and His Word.”

There is power in an attitude that is positively biblical — and biblically positive

As London recovered from World War II, a prominent minister, Leslie Weatherhead, wrote a book to help his British congregation recover from the emotional trauma of the conflict.

He warned his people to avoid talking all the time about what was wrong with them

We all need a very few close friends, of course, to whom we can unburden our hearts and share our troubles, he said. But telling everyone we meet about our troubles gives our woes “persisting power.”

It’s tempting to share our difficulties, because we crave sympathy

“But we must realize that every recital of our woes and every brooding hour etches on our minds the picture of the weaker, not the stronger, self.”

The more we talk about our troubles, the more we rehearse and reinforce them, and the more we spread the pessimism that’s endemic to our culture

Instead, focus on others.

Spread optimism 

Help those around you to take courage

Help them to believe

“Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)

Our world is wrecked, and as we work to accomplish what God wants us to do — the last thing we need are endless critics

Instead, we need to camaraderie of Christ-centered people who say what is good and helpful so our words will be an encouragement to many

We need people who believe and who inspire belief. 

3> Be Positive in Your Crisis

Only after you have learned to be positive in your CONVICTIONS and in your CONVERSATION can you learn to persevere with a hopeful attitude through CHALLENGES that will inevitably come

During times of conflict and crisis, you can be optimistic and positive — this was true of Paul the apostle

In fact, he was very positive and thus resilient — always getting up after hitting a crisis or a tough circumstance in his journey with Jesus

He said in Romans 8:35-37: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

The apostle lists seven persecutions he had constantly endured

It felt like “being killed all day long”

But, he said he was “more than a conqueror”

The phrase more than conquerors is a translation of a Greek word: hypernikomen. 

Notice the letters “nik” are in the middle of the word — hypernikomen

‘Nike’ is the Greek word for victory, which is why a great company chose it for its name

It means “overcomer”

And look at the first part of the term — hypernikomen

You know the term ‘hyper.’

It means extra, obsessive, over and above, over the top

So the phrase more than conquerors is a super-term

It means super-overcomer

Paul isn’t just overcoming his difficulties

He kept overcoming them again and again through the power of Him who loved him — the Lord Jesus Christ

We can’t control everything that happens to us

We have little say in the affairs of the world

But we can choose our response to what happens

We can mope, cope, or hope

I’m here to tell you that biblical hope is the greatest source of optimism in the world

It is relentless, rewarding, and bring new life to our heart and soul

At this point I want to shout:

On the authority of Scripture and because of the love of Jesus Christ, be an over-the-top overcomer

Believe! Trust Him!

And, be positive in your CONVICTIONS, your CONVERSATIONS, your CRISIS, and #4 – in  your COUNTENANCE

4> Be Positive in Your Countenance

Your mood is always reflected in your countenance

When optimism is in your heart, a joyful countenance is on your face

Someone said, “What’s down in the well comes up in the pail.”

The Bible states:

“Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (Psalm 42:11)

Unfortunately, we don’t have a photograph of the apostle Paul, so I can’t prove his face was radiant

But it would be hard to doubt it

His positive attitude infiltrated all of his writings

For example, he told the Corinthians, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV)

People see your face before they know your heart

Psalm 34:5 “They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faced were not ashamed”

“A person’s wisdom brightens their face and changes its hard appearance” (Ecclesiastes 8:1 NIV)

That inner wisdom comes from believing

It’s not believing in positive thinking or the power of a positive attitude

It isn’t even believing in ourselves

True optimism comes from deep biblical convictions about the nature of God

Knowing He loves you and has an exciting plan that is uniquely yours

It comes from reminding yourself and others of His goodness and of the incredible future He has for those who trust Him

A firm belief in the God of Scripture will bear you through the crises of life and put joy on your face

Your faith will make you radiant.

Some wise advice as we conclude …

A smile is an asset; a frown is a liability

Some people grin and bear it; others smile and change it

Being happy and enthusiastic in life is always a choice

Both enthusiasm and pessimism are contagious

How much of each do you spread?

Story to end the teaching…

In November 2007, a tough old Alaska fisherman named Alan Ryden took a month-long trip at sea in his forty-two-foot boat

The trip became a nightmare when the boat capsized in a terrible storm

Ryden managed to get into a raft wearing his survival suit and fleece jacket, and he got off a Mayday signal to the Coast Guard. But the weather was wicked, and the little raft tossed around like a cork.

Shivering in the buffeted raft, Alan felt himself losing hope. His mind panicked and quickly sunk into deep discouragement and hopelessness. He began wondering if his life insurance would provide for his family. 

Suddenly, Alan realized his own thoughts were pulling him under more than the seas, and he made one of the toughest decisions of his life. He determined to cast out negative thoughts and to toss them out of the raft like weights.

He began quoting Scriptures to himself, speaking God’s Word aloud. He started thanking God for any good thing that came to mind. He said to himself, “Well, at least I am in a survival suit. My suit does have a top-of-the-line strobe light attached … At least I am in some kind of raft, and at least I got that fleece jacket on … I am strong, a good swimmer, and have no fear of the water.”

Ryden’s mental struggle deepened as the darkness set in, but he remained committed to hanging on with all his strength to the anchor of hope. He later said, “There was definitely a grace from God … I had to fight for every inch in my thoughts.”

Ten hours later, Ryden was rescued. Tracie Miles, who wrote about his story in her book Unsinkable Faith, said the real rescue was inward. It had been achieved during the storm when, by grace, Ryden had “anchored himself in God and embraced positive thoughts, which helped him stay buoyant.”

She’s right

Believing and learning to be optimistic requires us to stay positive in our convictions, even in the middle of a crisis

It’s an essential skill you must develop if you want to move forward in life

So, anchor yourself in the hope of Jesus Christ

Cling to the promises of the Bible

Determine by God’s grace to keep your mind buoyant and your soul unsinkable even in the storms — Be positive!

 

Sometimes I Suck At Handling Criticism

The truth is, I suck at handling criticism — especially nitpicking, ignorance-based, selfishly motivated, unjustified criticism. 

Alright, I admit it — Sometimes I suck at handling any kind of criticism. 

At my age you would think I should be able to rise above it. 

I hate the way it always gets to me. 

This confession reveals one of my greatest character flaws: I probably care too much about what people think. 

I know I should be consumed with pleasing God, but I’m often consumed with the impossible – trying to please other people. 

I know it’s wrong, but it’s the truth. 

When people take their shots at me, I find myself wanting to defend my actions, justify my behaviour, or even criticize back. 

As I struggle with this …

I have learned that the more insecure we are, the harder it is to take criticism. 

Because we are insecure in many ways we have a hard time ignoring harsh criticism and those who express them

We are already questioning ourselves, so having someone else apparently find fault with us is pretty hard to take. 

I have also learned that the more secure I am in my relationship with the Lord

The more I am aware of who I am “in Christ” and thus living in the assurance of His love and the confidence that comes with knowing I am loved unconditionally

The more secure I am the less other people’s criticisms bother me and the better I handle them

I can handle them in a more constructive manner

I can pull the truths out of the criticism, adjust my life accordingly, and treat my critic with respect and dignity

There is at least 10% truth in every criticism

One pastor writes:

Years ago, one church member’s dog died of old age. Sugar, the fourteen-year-old mutt, went to wherever dog go when they die. I’m very aware that for many people their pets are a vital part of their family, and the loss can be traumatic. So I sent Sugar’s human a card – the only card I’ve ever sent for the death of an animal — intending to follow up with a phone call. In my mind I was displaying exceptional pastoral care.

To my shock, he called me first, extremely upset. At the top of his lungs he shouted, “HOW CAN YOU CALL YOURSELF A PASTOR? YOU …DIDN’T EVEN VISIT ME IN MY HOME AFTER I LOST A FAMILY MEMBER!”

The pastor goes on to write: A house call for a dead dog? It never occurred to me.

It is a little unlucky for me that tolerating critical people is part of my job description as someone in full-time ministry

Article 7, paragraph 19.2 – if you want to look it up

And, believe me, people can be and are critical … often over the smallest things

Here is one of life’s difficult realities:

Negative people simply won’t go away

They have been around since the beginning of time — Even godly people in the Bible faced constant criticism

Moses married a foreigner, and for that, his siblings Aaron and Miriam criticized him sharply

The man who wrote two-third of the New Testament, the apostle Paul, was called a hypocrite and criticized for being a lousy speaker

Even Jesus Christ, the Messiah, took heat for healing on the Day of Rest, eating with there wrong crowd, and claiming to be the Son of God

And, I am sure you often face critical people

It could be someone where you work

A family member – even your spouse

Someone you respect who jumps on you and is critical – they think that your clothes, your hair, your attitude are all wrong

You don’t measure up

You are criticized coming and going

You are just never good enough

I battle two wrong desires when I’m criticized 

Depending on the day, I’m tempted towards either fight or flight

Both responses are useless and wrong for the believer and follower of Jesus

Most often, my first reaction is to fight — to defend myself and silence the accusers

I feel bitter and I want to retaliate

Experience has taught me that this method usually backfires

My fallback reaction comes when I’m tired for whatever reason … especially tired of the constant battle

When I don’t feel like another fight — I resort to flight

I want to hide

I want to pretend that the criticism isn’t real

I want to quit and move somewhere – anywhere

I want to stick my head in the sand and hope it all just goes away

God’s method is, by the way, better than either of these options

So, I am hoping to give you some useful strategies for dealing with critical people

It is never fun or easy — But it is necessary as critical people are everywhere and in everyone’s life

And we need to learn to handle criticism and critical people if we are going to make any sort of difference in this world

I learned a valuable lesson from one of my mentors — a valuable principle about criticism

They taught me to simply “Consider the source”

In other words, before I focus too much on what’s being said, I should ask myself who’s saying it

The who is often more important than the what

Why is that important?

Well, the who helps me determine my most appropriate response

Instead of fight or flight, the Bible provides three better responses:

        • Listen
        • Answer
        • Dismiss

To choose the best of these three in any given situation, we need to know who’s offering the criticism and why

So here are a few pointers in the art of diagnosing, and dealing with, a critic

LISTEN to criticism when it is appropriate

Proverbs 15:31-32 (NLT) says, If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject criticism, you only harm yourself.”

In other words, some criticism is actually useful and important

Sometimes it’s given by people who care enough about you to risk offending you

Their criticism is constructive

They offer suggestions to help you improve yourself

And, remember:

In any criticism there is at least 10% truth

I try to LISTEN to others when I believe their motives are pure – constructive criticism

When someone you love and trust offers advice, you’re wise to LISTEN and take it to heart

And, this is important, occasionally, someone outside your inner circle may also offer constructive criticism

Outside criticism is hard to receive, but it may help you if you will only LISTEN

So, as my mentor taught me — consider the source

If the source is a mature Christian — someone you can learn from — pay attention

When someone cares deeply about you, the Bible says you’re wise to listen, even if the truth hurts

Even when the criticism is from someone outside your trusted circle – Listen

If you don’t, you are only hurting yourself

Instead of fight or flight, the Bible provides three better responses:

        • Listen
        • Answer
        • Dismiss

Let’s look at the second way: ANSWER

Other times, someone may criticize you without the goal of helping

They simply want to voice dislike for you or something that you said or did

We might call this destructive criticism

In this case, you should answer the criticism and the critic

Question: When it it wise to answer the critic and speak to the criticism?

Whenever you think that offering a response can help the critic understand you and your position

BUT, watch your attitude — simply answering can easily turn into defensiveness

Consider answering critics when they are missing important information that could change their perception

Of course, this is assuming they are open to listening and are not simply dumping and running

Maybe they only know part of the story

Perhaps tactfully providing one or two missing detail could transform a critic into a someone who can support you in fighting the rumour and righting the situation

Gideon, one of Israel’s national leaders, gave us a great model for answering criticism

The delegation from the tribe of Ephraim was upset that Gideon didn’t seem to be paying them enough attention

Judges 8:1-2 recounts the story: “The Ephraimites asked Gideon, ‘Why have you treated us like this?’ … And they criticized him sharply. But he answered them…”

Gideon acts wisely

He gave them more information — in this case, information about the high regard in which he held them

He built up the Ephraimites with encouraging and positive words, and his answer helped them understand his heart and his thinking

“When the men of Ephraim heard Gideon’s answer, they were no longer angry” (Judges 8:3 NLT).

Sometimes a soft and wise answer can silence the critics

Try to choose an opportune time for your response

Think out your answer carefully

Prepare your heart to present your explanation in an appropriate way

Gentle, thoughtful and helpful answers sometimes make sense to the person with an open mind

If they are honestly seeking clarification or are simply confused, it is a pleasure to offer understanding

BUT, if my critic is obviously not going to listen, I have to approach them in a different – and very difficult way

Instead of fight or flight, the Bible provides three better responses:

        • Listen
        • Answer
        • Dismiss

The third appropriate response to criticism when it is not a valid criticism may be simply to DISMISS it

I am convinced that some people see only the bad side of everything

All of their silver linings have clouds

These horribly miserable individuals have the gift of dragging people down — especially themselves

They are what I call “VDP” people – Very Draining People

I have chosen not to let them do that to me

And, if you face someone who can’t be pleased, dismiss their invalid criticism 

Here’s a thought:

Someone said that praise and criticism are windows to the heart

What a person praises and what he or she criticizes tells us a lot about that person

What we praise often reveals what we value the most

If I say that you have a beautiful car, chances are I value nice cars

If I go crazy over your yard, then I value a well maintained flower garden

At the same time, the topics of our criticism often reveal our deepest insecurities

If I criticize you for being overly confident, chances are good they I have a self-esteem problem

If I judge you for living in a nice home, I may battle with materialism or jealousy

When dealing with overly critical people, try to see past the arrows to the struggles that launched them

A striking example of this would be:

A young guy who threw a fit because his roommate was looking at pornography on his computer

With apparently righteous passion, Steve went to his pastor and ranted about his roommate’s lustful sins. He was really critical and wanted to know if he should evict his roommate immediately. 

The pastor was able to cool Steve down a few degrees. They prayed for his roommate and then the appointment ended. However, Steve was still boiling about his friend’s sin

The next day the pastor learned some tragic news

Steve had been having a three-year affair with a married woman

Steve’s anger at and criticism of his roommate was really a manifestation of his shame over his own sin and transgression

As I mentioned: Criticism can be a window into the critic’s soul

Perhaps that is why Jesus asked in Luke 6:41-42

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

Is someone picking you apart, finding fault with everything you do?

You may simply need to take the third option and DISMISS the criticism and love the critic

However, as you do that you should work at understanding who the critic is and why they are bitter and critical

The person may be emotionally unhealthy or wounded

And it is a fact that “hurt people hurt people”

They usually dislike themselves and criticize others in a misguided effort to validate themselves

If one of these injured souls lobs a criticism grenade in your direction, defuse it with understanding

Part of considering the source (my mentor’s advice years ago) is seeking awareness of what that person may be going through

          • Your critic may be struggling at work
          • He may be facing a midlife crisis
          • She may be several years into a painful marriage
          • Weathering some family problem,
          • They may have a dying parent or a sick child

You just got lucky — you were the closest target

Dismiss the criticism and love the person through their pain

A pastor writes:

One time I was praying during worship, a few moments before preaching. Eyes closed, focusing on God, I felt someone slip a note into my hand.

I never saw who it was, but the note was marked “Personal”

I thought to myself, Someone probably wrote a nice note to encourage me before I preach. A warm, loving feeling settled over me as I unfolded the paper

A moment later, I lost that loving feeling.

Evidently, the note was from a woman who had tried to see me on Friday, my day off. She took offense to my absence and blasted me with hateful accusations

This happened literally seconds before I was to stand up to preach

In that moment, I had a choice.

I could internalize the offense and become demoralized and discouraged.

Or I could ask myself, I wonder what she’s experiencing that caused her to lash out?

I chose compassion over depression.

My heart hurt for her

I knew that such a disproportionate reaction must indicate deep pain, so I didn’t take her note personally

My point: Consider the source

And consider that the jab may come from an injured heart

Dismiss it and move on 

Okay … 

      • Sometimes you should listen to your critics
      • Sometimes you answer your critics
      • Sometimes you dismiss the criticism and love the critic

But what if you can’t ignore them?

What do you do you do when people say things about you that are not true and you try to dismiss them (#3)

But, they resurface again and again and again?

There is a forth response to criticism

And it is not, in any way, an easy thing to do

When critical people just won’t go away, I can only tell you one thing to do: endure

Endurance is critical if you want to succeed at anything that God sets before you

Whenever you veer off the beaten path

Whenever you blaze a new trail

You will be criticized — and sometimes it will be relentless

You must endure

In the church world, I’m grateful for the spiritual trail-blazers 

Ten of the twelve original disciples died a martyr’s death spreading the Gospel so that one day I’d hear and believe

The Church Fathers of the first three centuries endured over-whelming persecution for their faith

Martin Luther faced a life-and-death trial for defending God’s Word

Wesley, Finney, Moody, and Spurgeon patiently held up under criticism during the great historical revivals

Modern-day pioneers have endured battles to reshape and renew the church

Someone said you can always tell a pioneer by the arrows in his back

I hope you are a pioneer

Maybe in the business realm, in your family, in your faith, or even in missions

I pray God uses you to break new ground and make an eternal difference

However, when He does, you must brace yourself for more criticism and pain than you might imagine

To move forward in your faith

To succeed at any new venture

To continue to grow spiritually and follow Jesus more fully

To take a stand for righteousness at home or at work

To risk telling a loved one about Jesus

To do whatever it is God is asking you to do

Any area where you need to step out and take a risk will result in someone being critical as you rock the boat or question the status quo

One of the most common pains obedient risk-takers face is the pain of criticism and so we must learn to endure (#4)

Jesus is our greatest model

He was willing to obey His father’s voice no matter what the cost

Hebrews 12:2 tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.”

It’s for the joy and reward set before you that you will often have to endure the critics and the harsh criticism as you move forward in obedience to God

Listen

Answer

Dismiss

(Harder still) Endure

Above all else, never forget

Never forget that you can’t please all people, but you can please God

No matter how hard you try, you’ll never please everyone

It’s an impossible goal

Give up trying to please the unpleasable, and live first of all for God, your Father, who always has a smile ready for you

I love the way Paul says it in 1 Thessalonians 2:4: “Our purpose is the please God, not people” (NLT).

If, like me, you hate being criticized, recognize that the root problem is that we are people pleasers

Once we find freedom from our need for people’s approval, we can focus on the eternal goal of bringing pleasure to God

How do we shake the desire to satisfy and please every human?

The answer is simple: Know who you are in Christ

In Christ we are forgiven

In Christ we are loved

In Christ we are accepted

In Christ we are secure

In Christ we are free to be ourselves

You are who God says you are, not who people say you are

Don’t try to base your life on the unstable foundation of human opinions

Instead, build on the unshakable truth of God

If you have trusted Christ as your Lord and Saviour, the Bible tells you who you are “in Him.”

No matter what anyone else thinks, you are forgiven, loved, accepted, secure, and free

When someone says, 

    • You’re not good enough. 
    • You don’t measure up. 
    • You made a stupid decision. 
    • I don’t like your leadership, 
    • You don’t belong here

God’s Word says that just the opposite …

And knowing and living the truth will allow you to rise above the criticis

 

 

Extra material:

Constructive and Destructive Feedback

ConstructiveDestructive

PrivatePublic

Addresses behaviourAddresses personal characteristics

SpecificGeneral

PromptDelayed

PositiveNegative

Suggests actions to solve the problemNo solutions offered

 

Deference between constructive and destructive criticism

Constructive: Focuses on what the problem is and not the receiving person

Destructive: Lacks specific details about the problem or situation one is unhappy about

Constructive: Explains why the problem or situation is not good

Destructive: Focuses on the individual at fault and not the problem or the situation

Constructive:  Suggests ways in which the problem or situation can be improved

Destructive: Does not offer any suggestions about ho the problem or situation can be improved 

Constructive: Is done with the intention to help with the situation or to solve the problem

Destructive: Aimed at hurting the feelings, self-esteem, and confidence of the receiving person

Constructive: Intends to educate

Destructive:  Intends to embarrass

Constructive: Related to work 

Destructive: Feels like a personal attack

Constructive: Helps build on an idea and encourage a person

Destructive: Tears down an idea or a person 

Constructive: Makes outcome better

Destructive: Makes the person feel down and discouraged

Constructive: Comes along to help

Destructive: Tries to take over

 

Five Tips for Handling Criticism:

1> It usually contains a bit of truth

As for the grace to see and admit it, even if it makes you made

2> Don’t let the negative eat you up

We tend to keep negative feedback rather than positive remarks

3> Say a quick prayer for your critice3

It is difficult, but Jesus asks us to pray for those who hurt us

4> The only opinion that real matters is God’s

He is the One who truly knows us and loves us without limits

5> Criticism might be a sign of your fidelity and faithfulness

Often criticism is part of a life rooted in Christ

Knowing and Experiencing God’s Love

With Covid-19 continuing now into its second year we are seeing more signs of people losing hope. The loss of hope around us today is rampant, and it’s lethal. It touches families all around the globe in ways hard to comprehend; and I believe it stems for a growing ignorance or even rejection of God’s love.

We need, even as believers, to revisit Romans 8: 38-39 which says, 

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Consider the reasons for having hope packed into this passage. Not only is God real but He loves us. And not only does God love us, but nothing we might experience can separate us from His love. Country music singer Carrie Underwood commented on this passage: “I love all the commas in these verses — neither death, nor life, not angels, nor demons. It’s so powerful.”

The ten things Paul lists in these verses could each be a potential barrier between you and God. But Paul says, with absolute assurance, that none of them can separate you from God’s love.  That should bring us hope!

The powerful words in Romans 8 about God’s love are reinforced by a blessing Paul offers toward the end of that same book. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Take a moment to say that verse aloud but make one little change. Turn it into a prayer that’s personal to you: “Now may the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace in believing, so that I may about in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

It might be good for you to pray those words aloud every morning, every noontime, and every evening until you know them by heart. That prayer can adjust your mindset in any given season of life, deepen your core convictions, and strengthen your belief. Might even permanently change your life.

I encourage you to make this a regular prayer — maybe for the next month or maybe for years to come: “Now may the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace in believing, so that I may about in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

God loves you and wants you to overflow with hope and optimism! Never forget that. Let that conviction dwell in the very core of your being.

In his book, The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning tells the story of Edward Farrell, a man who decided to travel from his hometown of Detroit to visit Ireland, where he would celebrate his uncle’s eightieth birthday. Early on the morning of his uncle’s birthday, they went for a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney. As the sun rose, his uncle turned and stared straight into the breaking light. For twenty minutes they stood there is silence, and then his elderly uncle began to skip along the shoreline, a radiant smile on his face.

After catching up with him., Edward asked, “Uncle Seamus, you look very happy. Do you want to tell me why?”

“Yes, lad,” the old man said, tears washing down his face. “You see, the Father is very fond of me. Ah, me Father is so very fond of me.”

In that moment Uncle Seamus experienced how much he was loved by his Father in Heaven, an overwhelming sense of joy flooded his heart. And he began to dance along the shoreline.

Have you ever had a moment like that? Have you ever awakened and said, “He really does love me”? Do you know what it means to overflow with hope and optimism? Paul, did, and you can too. Hope and optimism can become your habitual attitude because you have encountered and experienced the love that God has for you and as a result you live with tremendous hope. 

Guard Your Heart

In this last entry for January 2021 and a look at life as we enter February 2021 tomorrow,  I want to chat about “Loving Who? And Why?”

Life (and particularly Covid-19) has a way of eroding our confidence in the goodness of God. After all, where was God when Covid-19 hit and took away someone we loved or someone we knew – a friend or someone we work with? Where is God now almost a year later? So, we could — and maybe should — question and wrestle with this whole concept of the goodness of God. And, in the process take an honest look at why circumstances and situations beyond our control cause our hearts to question God’s love and care. In other words, work through what we really think and believe about suffering and chronic disappointments of every day life. Both of which can cause us to pull away from God. Not so far as to abandon the faith … but still creating emotional distance between us and God, the Father, as we question (doubt) his goodness towards us in particular.

Life is a savage assault, striking at random, poisoning our heart’s assurance that God is good, or at least good towards us. This makes it so hard to find more of God, to receive Him in fresh and wonderful ways into our being and daily life. So it’s here we must seek healing within our intimate relationship with the Living God.

Allow me to explain an essential dynamic to the soul’s relationship with God. More of God comes to us as we love God. The more that we love God, the more we are able to experience Him. Part of this has to do with the nature of God, and part of it has to do with our own human nature.

You understand from your own relationships, your story of life, love, and relationships, that you don’t give your heart away to just anyone. You don’t give access to the deeper places in your soul to just any idle acquaintance — certainly not to someone who is at the same time keeping themselves distant from you. We know from your own experiences that when someone loves us, we are much more ready to make ourselves available and vulnerable to them. What we keep forgetting is that God feels the same way.

2 Chronicles 16:9 NIV “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”

Psalm 91:14 NLT “The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.’

John 16:27a NIV “… the Father himself loves you because you have loved me…”

I’m really surprised that the human race expects God to pour Himself and His blessings into their lives when He is not even the slightest priority, let alone a close and dear friend. Would you give the best of your life to people who couldn’t care less whether or not you exist? God’s outpouring of Himself is conditional. I know, I know — we’ve all been told all about the unconditional love of God. Absolutely — his grace is unconditional; His forgiveness sis available to all. However, intimacy with Him, the treasures of His presence, the outpouring of His vibrant being into our thirsty souls — that’s for those who love Him. Even in the best friendship, the act of giving and receiving love ebbs and flows with the willingness of the two involved to make it a priority, to invest themselves. God’s heart is very much like yours in this way, for your heart is made in His image.

Now on our side of the exchange, loving God opens our soul up to the presence of God and the gifts that He has for us. Remember — your soul is the vessel He fills. So, we need, as in any friendship, to position our souls into the place whereby we might receive so much more of God. There’s no practice that facilitates the opening of capacity to perceive Him, and receive Him, like the turning of our hearts and souls toward God in repentance and love. Active loving — love as a verb, not a noun. This is what we’re made for, and the soul knows it, even if it’s long been unused. We know it even through we’ve pulled back in sorrow or disappointment. 

So, we need as we continue into month two of the new year to examine our hearts and open them wide open so that we can receive His love and forgiveness and find a time of refreshing in the presence of the Lord.

I love how our wildflowers track to course of the sun through the sky, slowly turning to face the warm, passing brightness from east to west in such a sweet act of humble adoration. Many flowers fold their petals inward come evening, through the chilly nights at seven thousand feet, then open again with the rising of the sun and turn its direction. “Hearts unfold like flowers before thee,” goes the great “Hymn of Joy,” “opening to the sun above.”

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;

Drive the dark of doubt away.

Giver of immortal gladness,

Fill us with the light of day!”

That’s it — we need the clouds of sin and sadness melted away; we need the dark of our doubts driven off like night flees before dawn. We need our heart free of clutter. So that the Giver of immortal gladness might fill us.

Remember: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (proverbs 4;23).

2021 – Focus on God’s Purpose

Bob Weighton celebrated his 112th birthday during the Coronavirus outbreak in 2020, which meant he wasn’t able to have a party or be with friends. That’s a shame, because on that day Bob became the oldest living man on earth. The Guinness World Records organization sent him a certificate, and newspapers hailed him in heroic terms. Friends sang “Happy Birthday” from a distance while Weighton, a former missionary school teacher, listened on his balcony.

“I can’t say I am pleased to hear that the previous record holder has died, but I am pleased that I’ve been able to live so long and make so many friends,” he said.

When asked about the virus, he said, “It’s bizarre. I’ve never experienced anything like coronavirus before. I’m a bit frustrated, but then again I’ve been in situations where you just had to accept what was happening.”

Then he summed up the wisdom of a 112-year-old: “There is nothing we can do about it so you might as well do what you can. Never mind about the things that you can’t.”

That’s the key. Focus on what you can do. There’s plenty you can’t do, but there’s one thing we can all do: we can follow God’s deep desire for us to grow into the image of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “I press on. That I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).

That is God’s ultimate purpose for you and for all of us. Of course, He also has an individual plan for your life and for mine. But seriously, consider God’s ultimate purpose for your life — that you may become more and more like His Son, Jesus Christ. Romans 8:29 says, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”

John Bray was Dean of Chapel at Indiana Wesleyan University. He and his wife were popular with students, and his chapel messages were full of life and truth. Then Bray was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The onset of symptoms led him to resign his position, but he simply continued looking ahead. He continued moving forward.

“Everyone gets a diagnosis of some kind sometime in their life,” Bray told the campus newspaper. “There’s no reason I shouldn’t.”

He told his students he is not asking why. “I can’t change what’s happened to me, so why is not a pivotal question in my life. Now, ‘how will I glorify God in the midst of all this?’ That’s at the heart of almost every major decision a Christ-follower needs to make.”

Speaking of his disability, Bray said, “Even this, that I don’t like, is designed to shape me more like Christ.”

That is the voice of someone who has grasped onto God’s purpose for his life, and no matter what comes at him, he will not let go.

Matt Mooney is a professional basketball player who, like every athlete, tries to excel at his sport, with its victories and setbacks. He’s also a dedicated follower of Jesus. “I know God has a great plan for me. I trust in Him. His purpose for me is to glorify Him playing the game.” 

He said, “I can’t take the game of basketball with me to eternity. The only thing that is eternal is God and Jesus. I realized that years ago. When I started really focusing on my faith, I realized no matter how I played, good or bad, God still loved me and I still had my salvation intact.”

Pastor Rick Warren wrote, “Your spiritual transformation in developing the character of Jesus will take the rest of your life, and even then it won’t be complete here on earth. It will only be finished when you get to heaven or when Jesus returns.”

When God looks at you and evaluates you, He wants you to become more and more like Jesus, to follow Him closely and to emulate His life so that Christ is seen in you more and more. That only happens as you put your focus on Him. 

2021 – Look Around and Meet a Need

Many years ago I heard a phrase that has stuck with me ever since. The phrase was, “Find a need and meet it.” Good advice then when I first heard it and still good advice today. Often in the Church we see people struggling to determine the calling on their life. What is it that God wants them to do? Of course, they are thinking about being a pastor, an evangelist, a teacher of the Bible… But, they have no idea how to really find out what it is God wants them to be doing. 

Well, it is simple really. Live life to the fullest engaged with others and the real world. As you engage with and embrace life you will find a need and meet it. Then, in the process of helping others, you will sense, feel, and discover what it is that God is calling you to do. That one, unique thing that you were created to do. Often you will find this ‘one thing’ almost by accident as you live life and meet a need.

A true story….

One Sunday afternoon in 1771, a man named Valentin Haüy ducked into a restaurant in Paris for dinner. He sat near the stage, and the show that evening featured blind people in a comedy routine. They were objects of ridicule and cruelty. The act was designed to make fun of their blindness. Deeply offended, Haüy began to develop a burden for the blind.

Sometime later he spotted a sightless street urchin who was begging for coins outside a Parisian church. Giving the boy some money, Haüy was amazed to see the boy feel the raised markings on the coins to distinguish the amounts. That gave Haüy an idea. Why couldn’t books be written with raised letter, like images on coins? Why couldn’t people learn to read with their fingers? Haüy took the boy off the streets, offered him food and shelter, devised a plan with wooden blocks and numbers, and taught the boy to read. In 1784, Haüy started the world’s first school for blind children. It was in Paris, and one of the first teachers was the blind boy rescued from the streets.

But that’s just the beginning.

Several years later, another boy named Louis was born in the village of Coupvray, France. His father was a farmer and harness maker, and as a toddler Louis loved watching his father work with leather tools. But tragedy stuck in 1812 when three-year-old Louis was playing with a leftover strap of leather, trying to punch holes in it. His hand slipped, and the sharp tool punctured and put out his eye. An infection set in that spread to the other eye, and little Louis ended up blind in both eyes for life.

A local minister names Jacques Palluy loved the boy and began visiting him to read to him the Bible. Seeing the boy had a good mind, Father Jacques determined he should receive an education. So at age ten. Louis was enrolled in the school Haüy had established in Paris, where he proved to be a brilliant student.

Eventually Louis began teaching other students in the Paris School for the Blind. He studied Haüy’s method of reading, and he also became aware of a system of military communication developed by a French army captain that allowed soldiers to communicate in the dark by running their fingers over a series of dots and dashes. Though still a teenager, Louis Braille began adapting these systems into a program of his own; in 1829, at age twenty, he published a little book on the Braille method of reading.

The school resided in a damp building by the River Seine. It was cold and unhealthy, and the food and conditions were poor. Louis developed tuberculosis, but he continued working on his system of reading, which began catching on and soon was being exported around the world. As his health failed, Louis said, “I am convinced my mission on earth has been accomplished, I asked God to carry me away from this world.”

Think of the chain reaction of that cascading dream. One man developed a burden for the blind when he saw ridiculed actors on stage and a begger boy on the streets. He was just going about his normal, every day life and was impacted by something he experienced and this led him to seeing a need and meeting it. We call that having a ministry. His burden led him to establish a school and attempt a system of reading. Then a local pastor developed a burden for a blind boy in another village (saw a need and met it) and taught him the Bible and longed to send him to a school. That blind child, Louis Braille, developed a burden to improve and to expand Haüy’s work. The world was changed, and as a result, millions of sightless souls have experienced the joy of reading the Bible and other books for themselves for almost two centuries.  

So, as believers we should simply live life to the fullest and along the way be sensitive to the needs of others. When we spot a need, step in and work to meet it. You will then be ministering in compassion as Jesus did and using your talents and skills to meet the need that you encountered. This is real ministry. 

Personal Character in 2021

There has been a shift going on for the last decade or two. It has not always been noticeable but there is a definite shift in the way people today, regardless of the nation they live in, are thinking.

One researcher did a study of American self-help literature covering a 200-year span. He observed that literature written during the first 150 years focused on developing what he called the “character ethic” as the foundation for success in life and in relationships. In essence, success in life was defined according to virtues such as honesty and integrity and the golden rule. In sharp contrast, literature written in the last 50 or so years focuses on what he termed the “personality ethic”; that is, success is defined by a person’s ability to achieve, improve performance, and simply get ahead.

The subtle change in the definition of success caries with it some devastating consequences to our perception of character. If honesty and integrity are no longer highly sought-after values, a shift occurs in our moral and ethical framework. If virtue is no longer the objective, then what you are isn’t nearly as important as what you do. And how you think means nothing compared to how you feel.

Suddenly, the ultimate goals are position and achievement. The first priority is personal fulfillment. So what we’re really saying is that right and wrong are now determined by what helps or hinders our progress. And if we’re totally honest, right is defined in terms of what moves us towards our goal. Wrong is defined as anything that gets in our way.

When achievement takes precedence over character, a new code of ethics has been introduced:

    • If the family stands in the way of someone’s career, then the family is sacrificed.
    • If honesty impedes the accumulation of wealth, then deceit becomes the norm.
    • It’s right to steal if stealing means progress.
    • It’s right to claim another person’s idea as your own.
    • If cheating means winning, then cheating is right.

When personal fulfillment takes precedence over character, a new moral standard is introduced:

    • If it fulfills me, it’s moral.
    • If it doesn’t meet my needs, it’s immoral.
    • Self-control is renamed self-denial and is considered unhealthy.
    • If cheating on my spouse makes me happy, then unfaithfulness is moral.
    • If an unexpected pregnancy threatens my career or social goals, then abortion is not only an option; it is the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, we invent an endless stream of subconscious rhetoric to justify and qualify our actions in our minds:

    • “This isn’t immoral, I need this because….”
    • “How else am I suppose to compete?”
    • “I just can’t seem to stop…”

There was a time in the Church world when men and women made the development of character a top priority. But somewhere along the way, the focus shifted … following the trend that was evident in the secular world. The Church was and still is no longer a counterculture but became a sub-culture of the everyday society and world in which we lived. Almost a mirror-image with a thin ‘Christian’ veneer. We lost our bearings. Christians stopped emphasizing the inner person and began to measure success by what they saw on the outside. So, we experienced this personal war – the inner person against the outer person. And as the outer person has prevailed, the outer person is establishing a new, acceptable way to express the faith which is totally not biblical. 

Choosing in 2021 to take up the pursuit of character – becoming more and more like Jesus – will mean choosing to stand against the prevailing culture. You won’t fit in. Not only won’t you not fit into the society and neighbourhood in which you live. But, you most likely will also not fit into the normal, every day life of the local church. You are simply not going to get much help or even encouragement from the outside. 

But, as you will soon find out, character has rewards that far outweigh anything you may be forced to give up along the way. 

Let’s reclaim “character” in 2021 as something important that we need to focus on and work with so that we truly live life in a manner that is biblical and honours the Lord whom we follow and serve.