Take Notice

Today’s reading is Matthew 6 and Psalm 79.

Do you ever have situations where things happen that you know are not a coincidence, and God gives you the right message (usually multiple) at just the right time? So many times, daily devotionals fit right into exactly what you need to hear that day due to what’s going on in your life. I had a couple circumstances this week that all fit together telling me they were not a coincidence.

It started with an unplanned conversation with a successful Christian business owner with much experience and wisdom through years of faithful servanthood. He said many times in his life he became anxious and tried to push and rush initiatives on his own timeline. He said over the years he learned when you trust in God and live life for His glory He will bless you in ways you cannot even imagine, but it will be on His timeline, not your own. We just need to live for Him and trust Him, and He will provide in ways you beyond what you can think of. Does this sound familiar (Matthew 6:25-34)? He compared this to the 2017 Super Bowl. The game looked like there was absolutely no way the Patriots would win.  In fact, it couldn’t have started any worse for the Patriots and their fans. Then, in ways no one could have imagined, everything went perfectly and the Patriots won leaving everyone thinking, “How did that just happened?” If you were a Patriots fan (which I am definitely not) and you knew the ending, wouldn’t you have felt differently during it? Would there have been any anxiety, stress, and maybe even anger in what wa occurring? Absolutely not! Maybe just a thought of, “Did we really wine this game..are you sure?” As a University of Illinois basketball fan, I still feel this way when watching our 2005 game vs. Arizona to advance to the Final Four. As Christians, this gentleman said when you live to glorify God, He will make things fit perfectly to eventually “win the game” throughout life on Earth, and ultimately assure us we will “win” the only game that matters by giving us eternal life. This man is doing some amazing things with his resources with more things in the works to glorify God, and he shared some amazing stories about how God fit the pieces together perfectly leaving me shaking my head in awe.

The second non-coincidental occurence came while traveling with a Christian brother, Patrick Scheina, the same week. I was telling him about this conversation, and we both began to share very challenging situations we had in the last year where God “bailed us out” and fit the pieces together in crazy ways that if you would have given us a million chances to figure out how things would play out we wouldn’t have guessed how they ended up coming together positively. How often do we even slow down to notice how God is working in our lives? If we did, why would we ever worry? It’s really almost silly when you think about it. Not only do we have his Word hear in Matthew 6 which we know is true, but we also have our own experiences! It’s hard to not judge and condemn the disciples when they get stressed about running out of food, a bad storm, and even His death. I can read it and think…”Umm..hello..don’t you guys remember what he just did a few days ago?” Then, I sigh and think, “Am I really any different?” No…we just have to wake up and look for the ways God works and reminds ourselves of them when trials come our way. We need to listen what what He tells us in His word. “Be still and know I am God.” Psalm 46:10. And also in Isaiah 26:3, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

As Patrick and I were discussing things, he mentioned how important remembering and praying the Lord’s prayer is. He said how perfect every statement is and how if we really prayed it every day and reflected on every part, it covers everything we need to remember and request. If we applied each part to what was going on in our lives, it would be all we really need. There’s so much wisdom in Patrick’s statement. When I read Psalm 79, I couldn’t believe how much of it seemed like an Old Testament version of the Lord’s Prayer.

I was left shaking my head when 2 days after my conversation with this Christian business owner and the night I returned home from my trip with Patrick, I checked my next Bible Journal writing and found it was on Matthew 6 which included the Lord’s Prayer and a section on not being anxious. Coincidence? God is speaking and working in your life to write your story, and make it a part of His story. Are you noticing?

 

THIS

Today’s reading is Luke 17 and Psalm 65.

Luke 17 contains messages around temptation to sin, increasing faith, unworthy servants, and the coming of the Kingdom of God, but we will focus our time on the story of Jesus helping 10 lepers from Luke 17:11-19.

In this story, Jesus heals 10 lepers when they yell and ask for help from a distance, but only 1 comes back to thank and praise him. At first read, it’s easy to be judgmental, and think “how could they not come back and say thanks!?” It’s also easy to condemn members of the crowd yelling “Crucify Him!” when he’s on trial with Pilot.  After reflection, I realize when I take Jesus name in vain it’s just the same as someone yelling these words. When I don’t thank Him for answered prayers or completely forget about it a few days later, am I any different than the 9 lepers who didn’t come back to show their gratitude? It’s so easy to quickly forget about the answered prayer for a negative test for cancer, a successful surgery, a new job, retention of your job amidst downsizing, a new home, or a significant other you’ve been asking God for. How quickly do we forget these things!  I’m guilty of forgetting these things within days, hours, and even minutes! What about the answered prayers we don’t even realize occurred? For example, we pray for safety and then get really upset when spill coffee on the way to work and have to go back home in anger to change clothes causing us to be late to our first meeting. We had no idea this situation kept us from getting into a car accident.

Our leadership team, thanks to my brother in Christ Josh Waite’s idea, starts our weekly meetings by “going B.I.G.” That stands for “Begin In Gratitude.” We reflect and tell everyone one thing we are thankful for. When you focus on what you are thankful to God for, the stress and problems are minimalized. I’ve heard it said you can’t feel stress and anxiety at the same time. When we focus on and thank God for what we have and what He’s given us, we don’t get stressed and mad about what we don’t have.

Some might ask how they are supposed to be thankful when they just lost their job or a loved one? Well…it’s hard. But, maybe this will help you find your true calling or give you an opportunity to move closer to, or spend more time with, family. How about giving praise that you had that loved one in your life for the amount of time you did or even at all for that matter? When you praise God when things are good and when they don’t seem to be good, it changes your whole perspective and happiness. You see the world through an entirely different lens. Psalm 65 highlights offering praises as well.

As we go into next week, let’s go “B.I.G!” Let’s remember, thank, and praise Him for the big answered prayers we asked for, for the ones we don’t realize were answered, and for the things we didn’t even request. He gave it all to us. Most importantly, let’s thank him for sending his Son Jesus to take the punishment that should have been ours on the cross. For that, we should always and forever be thankful to Him for the opportunity He gave us to become one with Him and have eternal life! He did for us what we could not do for ourselves.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“Thank God for all I missed because it lead me here to This…”

One Way to the Father

Today’s reading is Luke 3 and Psalm 51.

Our family attends Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois. Our mission statement is, “A fearless church of Christ followers whose ridiculous love and dangerous witness are irresistible.” As we read Luke 3, it’s hard to think of too many people who were more of a “dangerous witness” than John the Baptist. He dedicated his life to preparing the way for Jesus, and we read today how he was imprisoned and it later cost him his life by beheading.

John knew there was only one way for forgiveness of sins and one way to the Father as we read about in Psalm 51. Then, he was committed to giving others the good news of Jesus as Psalm 51:13-15 speaks of, regardless of the risks involved. We live in a world today that tells us to do whatever you “feel” like. Do whatever makes you personally happy. And anyone who doesn’t approve of it is a bigot. However, the Bible tells us there is only one way to the Father in Heaven which by believing in Jesus Christ as our Savior through his death on the cross. John felt it was critical people know Jesus was the Messiah, and we should feel and do the same today. This is the opposite of the society we live in which says you can do whatever makes you feel good, so it would only make sense that are multiple ways to get to Heaven and  if you just do more good than bad you’re in. Wrong. Jesus tells us this in John 14:6 which says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

One of my biggest take aways from a recent mission trip was when we asked people how they get to Heaven nearly every one said “be a good person.” Then, when we shared we believe there was only one way, through belief in Jesus, they would say, “yeah..that’s what I believe too,” because they would in fact call themselves a Christian! Many of them grew up in, and some even still went to, the church. How often do we have conversations with friends and family who call themselves Christians and may even go to church about what they believe? Do they know there is only one way to Heaven which is through Jesus? Do they truly believe what Jesus says in John 14:6? Let us follow the example of John the Baptist by being a dangerous witness, not only internationally and in our local communities, but also in our own homes, families, churches, and personal relationships. Even better news is that we don’t have to wear camel’s hair clothing and eat locusts and honey to do so!

While We’re Waiting…

Today’s reading is 2 Peter 3 and Psalm 37.

I’m always amazed at how God speaks to through His Word to tell us what He wants to tell us right when we need it. As I write this, we are anxiously awaiting our third child with my wife at thirty-eight weeks pregnant. Generally speaking, she is the more patient of the two of us, but she just left for a walk because she is willing to do just about every wives’ tale (except drink castor oil) to get this baby to come out. My grandparents on my Mom’s side were some of the most laid back people I’ve ever known. I have heard my Dad say if they were sitting on the couch in their living room watching TV and the house went up in flames my Grandpa would likely calmly look over at my Grandma and say, “Well..Berniece…the house is on fire..we should probably leave now.” Due to this, my Mom is also a very patient person. Around 3 years ago, she began to have undiagnosed back issues and has been in a wheelchair most of the time since then, not knowing if she would ever walk again. Through this, I’ve not heard her complain once. In fact, instead she will tell you this has brought her closer to God, and she’s been in the Word more than ever. She is amazing and truly an inspiration to me. Just in the last few weeks she walked up to communion and drove for the first time. God is good!

As I mentioned earlier, it is amazing how God speaks to us through His Word.  These last few weeks I’ve become frustrated and impatient with some aspects of my life with things not happening how and as quickly as I would like them. Then, God smacks me on the side of the head with His Word (metaphorically speaking) with 2 Peter 3 and Psalm 37 on waiting for and trusting in Him.

2 Peter 3:4 tells us that others will get us to question Him and His promises, and I would add the we also do so in our own minds. We are reminded in 2 Peter 3:8-9 His timeline is not our timeline. He is not slow, but instead will give us what we TRULY need when we TRULY need it.

He also gives us instruction on what to do while we wait in these chapters. Psalms 37:4-5 says, “Seek your happiness in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desire. Give yourself to the Lord: trust in Him, and He will help you.” THIS is what I’m called to do during this time of waiting. Keep the focus on Him, not my worldly desires, and trust in Him.  More of today’s reading points to this in 2 Peter 3:14-15, 2 Peter 3:17-18, Psalms 37:7-9, and Psalms 37:34.

While God does not promise to give us the worldly things we ask for that we think are in our best interest, He does promise to always be there for us and give us what is truly best when it is truly best (Psalms 37:4-5, Psalms 37:9, Psalms 37:23-24, Psalms 37:34, Psalms 37:39-40, 2 Peter 3:9, and 2 Peter 3:13-15). He delivered on His promise of salvation and gave us the only thing we really need in Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection freeing us from the bondage of sin.  When He allows us to have what we have been asking for, be healed, or walk again like my Mom (the details of this are a whole other story on God’s amazing provision), let us give Him and no one else the credit as Peter instructs us to do (2 Peter 3:18)! Glory to God..glory to God forever!

Check out this lyric music video for “Trust In You” by Lauren Daigle. I hope it can bring you strength and encouragement as it does me.

 

Is God Enough?

Today’s reading is James 1 and Psalm 23 which are two of my favorites in the Bible.

Is God enough? I first heard this question asked a few years ago by a speaker who was giving her testimonial about hitting rock bottom when nothing seemed to be going her way. She was about to lose her job due to poor performance, she was already in a bad financial position, and she nearly died in a motorcycle accident. It was until she asked herself this question and finally decided God was all she really needed that her life began to turn around. When I read Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepard; I shall not want.” I can’t help but think of the question, “Is God enough?” This is a really hard one for me to say yes if I answer honestly. If I lost my family, health, home, money, possessions, and everything, could I honestly say, “I’m good..I’ve got Him, and He’s all I need.” (Psalm 23:4)

I find it very interesting James 1:2 says to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” The use of “when” instead of “if” is not a coincidence. This tells us we will face trials and the question is about how we will react. I don’t believe God causes these trials when you read Romans 8:28, “There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” However, I believe He is watching to see how we will react and if we will trust in Him, and by the way, so is everyone else who knows we are a Christian.

“Count it all joy..” Really?! God can remove our problems and pains at any time because He’s God. We can understandably be mad at Him for not removing them and tell Him He’s wrong for not doing so or we can remember verses like Isaiah 55:9. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We can ask ourselves, I wonder what God is doing in my life and heart right now to turn this into a positive. James 1:2-3 tells us the testing of our faith in Him produces perseverance. It also tells us that perseverance needs to have its maximum impact so we may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing. The question then comes, how do we become perfect and complete? If we look at James 1:5-8, I believe it’s by having faith, asking for wisdom, and TRULY believing He can do whatever you ask and need, but most importantly, I believe it is by the realization that He is in fact… enough. If we are real with ourselves, do we truly believe He can take our illness, financial hardship, broken relationships or whatever pain or problem we have away? If we believe that He can and that he’s enough, it does not mean that He will, but that’s what He’s looking for. That is how His perfect plan is complete, and we lack nothing. ..by trusting in Him fully. James 1:12 tells us that when we have persevered and truly tell Him that He’s enough and when He has all of our heart, we will receive the crown of life. He promises this to those who love Him.

Let’s end by going back to Psalm 23:6. It says, “goodness and mercy” will follow and that we will “dwell in His house forever.” Whatever pain and problem we are going through which seems really bad and is really bad and for however long it goes on which seems like a long time pales in comparison to the joy we will have in Heaven forever. And forever is a long time.

As we go forth today, let us pray and truly believe the following short and sweet prayer that is pleasing to God and shows we are complete and lacking nothing. “God, you are enough, and you will always be enough..no matter what happens in my life.”

How Many Kings…

Today’s reading is Hebrews 1 and Psalm 9.

My bible has the heading “The Supremacy of God’s Son” for Hebrews 1. Both Hebrews 1 and Psalm 9, as well as when God the Father speaks to Jesus in the Gospel, make it clear that Jesus is set apart and supreme above the angels and prophets of the Old Testament. He is God in the form of a man. He was there when the world was made (Hebrews 11:10, John 1:1-4), and He now sits at the right hand of the God the Father (Hebrews 1:8, Hebrews 1:13, Psalm 9:7, Psalm 9:11). However, when I read both Hebrews 1 and Psalm 9, I think less of the supremacy of God and His Son Jesus. We know this to be certain. As I reflect, I am in awe of his love, humbleness, and servant leadership.

I recently returned from the Spread Truth Ministry trip to New York City doing street ministry. It was life changing for me, and I pray that it was for others we shared the Gospel with, too. When you talk to 10-20 people a day about what they believe about God, you get some insight into who people think God is or is not. When do we even talk with our family and best friends about who they think God is and what they believe? Sadly, there were many false beliefs not only from non-believers, but also from many raised in church who also would likely label themselves as a “believer.” This makes me not want to take for granted what I think those close to me believe and not hold back deeper conversations about God that I would have shied away from previously.

One common theme was many did not want to believe God existed because they feel like God is on a throne in Heaven judging us for what we do and condemning us from above like He is a kid with a magnifying glass burning us like ants in the sunlight. If that’s who God is, they didn’t want to believe there was a God. Can you really blame them? This makes my heart ache that this is who they think God is. While God does have rules for right and wrong and condemns doing wrong (sin), He does so for our protection because He knows what is in our best interest. This however, does not define who God is. I’ve heard it said, “If you miss Jesus, you miss everything.” What they were missing was Jesus. They missed the fact that just one sin of not only commission, but omission too, permanently separates us from God and no amount of good deeds can outweigh even one wrong. Romans 6:23 says “The wages of sin are death..” Note sin in singular.. just one sin separates us from God. Thankfully, God did not want us to be separated from Him by our wrong(s) though! He loves us so much that He sent Jesus down from His throne in Heaven to experience all the trials, tribulations and temptations of this life we face and even though He did not sin like us, He suffered the painful death we deserve on the cross for us. Wow! John 3:17 says “God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” While God does judge right and wrong, He is not “looking to condemn us” as many believe. If He wanted to do that, He would have never sent Jesus! He did not have to do that…He wanted to. He wanted us to be saved and to NOT condemn us. 1 John 4:16 says “God is love.” Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…” This tells us we can truly see who God is by looking at Jesus. His most important action to show His love was His sacrifice on the cross but I love looking into it even deeper into His life and other actions. Not only did Jesus heal the sick and the lame, but He spent time with pronounced sinners like prostitutes, adulterers, and tax collectors. He even invited Matthew, a tax collector, to be one of His twelve disciples. He renamed Simon, giving him the name Peter or Cephas which is translated as the rock, and built His church through him, even though He knew Peter would publicly deny Him not once, but three times. Does this look like a God that want to condemn us?… Hardly. Praise God!

I will end this with the lyrics and a link to “How Many Kings” by Downhere which so wonderfully articulates the message I’m trying to convey. As we go into our day today, let’s make sure we don’t miss the love of Jesus, and we don’t let others either. If we miss Him, we miss everything.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zF952rzG3Yk&list=RDzF952rzG3Yk

“How Many Kings” by Downhere

Follow the star to a place unexpected

Would you believe, after all we’ve projected,

A child in a manger?

Lowly and small, the weakest of all

Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother’s shaw

Just a child

Is this who we’ve waited for?

 

‘Cause how many kings step down from their thrones

How many lords have abandoned their homes?

How many greats have become the least for me?

Any how many gods have poured out their hearts

To romance a world that is torn all apart

How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

 

Bringing our gifts for the newborn Savior

All that we have, whether costly or meek

Because we believe

Gold for his honor, and frankincense for his pleasure

And myrrh for the cross he will suffer

Do you believe?

Is this who we’ve waited for?

 

How many kings step down from their thrones?

How many lords have abandoned their homes?

How many greats have become the least for me?

And how many gods have poured out their hearts

To romance a world that is torn all apart

How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Only one did that for me

 

Oh, all for me, oh

All for me, all for you

All for me, all for you

All for me, all for you

All for me, all for you

 

How many kings step down from their thrones?

How many lords have abandoned their homes?

How many greats have become the least?

How many gods have poured out their hearts

To romance a world that is torn all apart?

How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Only one did that for me, oh

 

All for me, all for you

My Father, A Glimpse Into Our Heavenly Father

Today’s reading is 1 Timothy 5.

Please forgive me, as this is the 2nd writing in a row about my family. My family is far from perfect to say the least like all families, but I could not help but think of my Dad when reading this passage. This chapter specifically talks about the treatment of widows in 1 Timothy 5:3 and family 1 Timothy 5:8. For much of the last 15 or so years my Dad has cared for widows. Two of his aunts, who were my Grandfather’s sisters, were widows with no children who lived alone for many years and then transitioned into an assisted living facility and then eventually a nursing home. They have now both passed. My Dad picked them up for church each Sunday, insisted they come to every holiday, and even made sure they had a corsage like all the other women at church on Mother’s Day so they didn’t feel left out.  Not only did he care for their physical needs and managed their finances, but most importantly, he cared about the way they felt about themselves. He cared about their dignity. I can’t help but think of how proud my Grandpa must have been of my Dad looking down from Heaven and seeing his son care for his sisters who had no one else.

It doesn’t stop there though. My Grandma, my Dad’s mother-in-law, was also in the nursing home with dementia at and around the same time. My Dad would stop by mid-morning each day to pick up and drop off her laundry and check in to see how she was doing. Even though she didn’t know who he was and wouldn’t have noticed if he didn’t come by or that her glasses were dirty, he would stop by just to bring a smile to her face and to clean her glasses every day. I know how great this made my Mom feel seeing the love her husband had for her own Mom. I can only hope that I can make him and my wife Shannon that proud someday. Now, my Dad cares for a widow who has no living relatives and is in need of someone to help her after her sister passed. I heard someone once say you can tell the character and quality of a person by how they treat someone who can give them nothing in return. Come to think of it..isn’t that what God did for us when he sent Jesus to die on the cross for us? He gave us something we could never repay Him for and something he didn’t need to do. He wanted to do it though. 1 John 4:16 says, “God is love…” We will never be perfect and that is why we need Jesus. But, we are called to be a shadow of his image for others to see His love through our lives and actions.

I’m wrapping up my 17th unbelievable Annual Meeting in Milwaukee for my company, Northwestern Mutual, and I had the chance to hear Wheaton College legendary football coach Michael Swider speak for the second time in my life. If you ever have a chance to hear him..go! He has me crying and wanting to run through a brick wall for God, my family, and those I lead every time I hear him. He said, “Your reputation is what others think about you. Your character is what God and the angels know.” 1 Timothy 5:25 says, “So also good works are conspicuous and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.” Coach Swider said we all will have a meeting with God someday. We just don’t know when it is. He asked, “What if your meeting with God was tomorrow?” And it could be! What would He say to you? He knows your character and true heart. Although we only need to ask for forgiveness and believe in Him for his grace and good works cannot earn his grace and eternal life, I sure hope and pray that if my meeting is with God  is tomorrow he will say to me, “Well done my good and faithful servant!” I know He will say that to my Dad. What do you think he will he say to you?

 

Imitators

Today’s reading is 1 Thessalonians 1.

Our small group leader and Bible Journal writer, David LaFrance, is currently leading our group through the “Life As We Know It” booklet published by Spread Truth Ministries. The booklet is an exercise where each person writes about their beginning, obstacles, hope, and future. It’s really neat to hear each person’s story and how their story fits into God’s story. One of the things that stuck out to me in writing my personal story was the impact others have had on my life, especially my family and older mentors in the beginning stage.

A few years ago, I read The Resolution for Men which I really feel is a must read for all men (there is also a version for women). One topic the book discussed was that many of us many come from a background where our parents and family have a generational history of addiction, abuse, shunning God or other bad habits, but it just takes one person to be a “chain breaker” to set future generations on the right path to follow God and his will for our lives. Someone must step up. Paul discusses in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 how the Thessalonians became “imitators.” Who is a “chain breaker” or another mentor who’s impacted you that your should give thanks to God for as Paul does in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3?

As I reflect on this question, I’m extremely grateful for both of my grandfathers who were “chain breakers.” My grandfather on my mom’s side was one of six kids. His dad left him and his siblings at a young age and to our knowledge they did not attend church growing up. He became one of the kindest, gentlest men I’ve ever known and was an amazing father and husband. He established a foundation in his family rooted in faith and the Word who would attend church not once, but three times per week. As a side note, I’ve always wondered and would like to thank the person who invited him to church or asked him if he had a relationship with Jesus. My grandfather on my Dad’s side had a father who was only really present in the physical form. He was abusive and left my grandfather to work for even his basic needs as a young boy after my great grandmother passed, despite having the financial resources. My grandfather essentially raised himself, obtained his degree, and was a great husband and father who raised my dad and uncle in a Christian household. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention my grandmothers who deserve a lot of credit for not only helping them get on the right path, but who were also strong in faith and a spiritual rock for their spouses and my parents growing up. Behind every great man is a great woman.

Because of their choices to be great husbands, fathers, wives, and mothers rooted in a foundation of faith in God, my mom and dad chose to follow their example and do the same for my brother and me. For that, I’m extremely grateful to them and our parents. I pray that my niece and nephews and Shannon and my children will stay close to God and continue this relationship with Jesus in their lives and their kids’ lives impacting generations to come.

Let us only thank those who have helped us, but let us not forget that there will be “imitators” of us which Paul mentions in 1 Thessalonians 1:6. These “imitators” may not only be our family as I have discussed, but also could be neighbors, co-workers, or others we mentor by design or default. We must ask ourselves if we are being a good example in our daily lives, and are we inviting them to have a relationship with Jesus? It will not only impact their lives, but also the lives of their friends and family for generations to come!

“For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere…..” 1 Thessalonians 1:8

Mindset

I would venture to say that a fair number of us reading this either played sports or music at some point in our lives. As I read Ephesians 4, I’m so thankful for the playbook or sheet music God gives us as the blueprint for how to live our life. The Word is full of this, but another great chapter that parallels this is Romans 12. In fact, if you are looking for a good resource, our small group did a Bible study by Chip Ingram called True Spirituality on how to become what he calls a Romans 12 Christian and it could have just as easily been about becoming an Ephesians 4 Christian.

Kurt Dorner is the Chief Development Officer with our Central Illinois Northwestern Mutual office, and he is also someone I am blessed to call a mentor and friend. Kurt’s mantra is “Better Every Day” which I absolutely love and reminds me of Ephesians 4. Kurt embodies a “growth” mindset. Just over a year ago I read a book called Mindset by Carol Dweck which changed my life and hopefully will result in changing the life of my family and those I mentor and lead. Carol talks about how most of us have a “fixed” mindset which means we see a limit or cap on things. We think we are either good or bad at certain things. For example, many say, “I’m bad at math.” This holds us back in life. Carol discusses that the highly successful have a “growth” mindset. They believe with practice and focus they can improve at anything. They also view nothing as failure and everything as learning or growth with no fear of the future and believe there is no cap on what’s possible.

Ephesians 4 rings of a “growth” mindset. In Ephesians 4:1, Paul states, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” In Ephesians 4:12=13 he says God gave us leaders to “equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ until we attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” In Ephesians 4:15, he says, “…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head into Christ.” Seriously?! Be like Jesus? He was without sin! I’m guaranteed to fail, right?

I have been a believer my whole life being blessed to grow up with my family raising me in the church (yes..there were still questions at times). However, nearly all my life I would say I still carried a “hardness of heart” Paul speaks of in Ephesians 4:18. Not only was I hard on myself with a “fixed” mindset focusing on my failures, but I also focused on and judged other for their sins thinking they were worse than mine without much empathy for the pain or troubles they may be experiencing now or have experienced in the past. Over the last 6 years, I have developed a relationship with Christ through more time in prayer, more time in the Bible, and in close community with fellow believers in a small group. I can see a renewing of my mind Paul speaks of in Ephesians 4:23 and Romans 12:2. I can see a softening of my heart as my relationship with Christ grows as Paul speaks of in Ephesians 4:24-32. I notice myself being more forgiving of others transgressions because Christ forgave me (Ephesians 4:33). Please take note that the verbs I used all included “ing” on the end of them. I’m nowhere near where God calls me to be, and I never will be. I sin every hour and likely every minute of every day. I desperately need a Savior in Jesus because even just one sin separates me from God without him (Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23). It’s about the process of improving though by striving to be like Christ not to earn grace, but because of his grace. It’s about a “growth” and a “better every day” mindset.

In Ephesians 4:1, God urges us through Paul’s writing to step into this calling to grow to be more like Christ. He knows we will never reach it by our own works on this Earth. 2 Cor 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we may become the righteousness of God.” Here in Ephesians 4:7 he says, “But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”  We will mess up many plays in the playbook of life, and we will miss many notes in our musical performance.  However, 1 Corinthians 15:57 says,“But thanks be to God! He gives us victory (or a we could say a standing ovation) through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

All we have to do is believe in Him. For that free gift of grace I say God is good…wait…no…God is GREAT…all the time!

Is It Worth It?

2 Corinthians 11

What can I physically and emotionally endure? How much pain, stress, and anguish can I take? Well, probably not as much as Paul. He states in this chapter five times he received thirty-nine lashes by the Jews. Three times he was beaten with rods. He tells us here he was stoned which we remember from Acts 14. Stoning is intended to kill a person. Three times he was lost at sea and shipwrecked. He references threats from both his own people, the Jews, as well as the Gentiles, the Romans.

Let’s stop and reflect on that for a second. The two dominant groups at the time were the Romans who wanted to kill Christians for denouncing that Caesar was God and Jews who wanted to persecute Christians as well because they did not believe Jesus was the true Messiah. Both wanted Paul dead. He also references danger from the wilderness, hunger, thirst, the cold, and not to mention false brothers here. Whew! Quite the list!

Let’s revert to Acts 14 where Paul was stoned in Lystra for a moment. They dragged him out of the city thinking he was dead (Acts 14:19). He was not though, and we are told by Luke here in Acts that not only did he get up and go to Derbe to preach the next day, but when he was done there he went back to Lystra where he was just stoned! We are told in Acts 14:22 he was “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

I recently finished a great book which I highly recommend called What Is God Really Like? Each chapter is written by an all-star team of pastors. One pastor gives an analogy by asking the question whether you would tell a surgeon operating on a loved one to save their life to hurry up? I don’t know what you are going through right now, and it may be something very terrible and for that I am extremely empathetic and sympathetic so I hope this is not taken the wrong way. But, whatever pain and anguish Satan is causing you (because it is not God..see Romans 8:1), God is using that which Satan thinks is for his glory to positively shape your heart and soul into the person he wants you to become and to impact those around you. He is performing a delicate surgery in just the right amount of time to make it a perfect and successful one. Although God may not reveal the answer now or even in this lifetime, we must ask ourselves what God may be wanting to do in our lives and the lives of those around us through this to reveal his glory?  Let’s learn from Paul. Would you be ok with your present or future suffering if through it you could help just one person know Jesus and have eternal life in Heaven? If not one, what about ten people…or one thousand… or maybe even ten thousand people?

God is the supreme potter. He is shaping what looks like a mess of sloppy clay which is your life into his masterpiece. Have you ever looked at the backside of a beautifully crocheted piece? It looks like a huge jumbled mess with colors in the wrong places and different size strands hanging off of it everywhere. This is how we see our lives and how Satan wants us to see it. Flip over that crocheted piece, and what do you see? Again, it is a perfect picture, a masterpiece. THAT is what God sees because he sees our entire life and the lives of those around us.

Ultimately, all we can do in tough times is go back to the only truth that exists and that is the Word. Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for the good of those who are called according to his purpose.”  I don’t know what pain and suffering I, or you, may go through in this life and quite frankly I don’t want to think about it. Jesus tells us not to worry about it (Matthew 6:34). But, I know one thing, my life here on Earth of somewhere between 33 and hopefully 80 to 100 years is like one grain of sand amongst all the beaches of the Earth when compared to the length of eternity. Romans 8:18 tells us, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” A week ago we read 2 Corinthians 4:17 which says, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” I struggle with this like most, but I am growing to try to enjoy the precious present of each day, and I am extremely grateful for Jesus’ saving grace on the cross. When we see his face and spend eternity with him and others who the Holy Spirit helped be saved through our earthly lives, there will be no doubt to the answer to the question, was it worth it?