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.”

Identity Crisis

I read an article recently about identity crisis.  According to google, an identity crisis is “a period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society.”  As we grow older and mature, it is incredibly common for people to experience them.  In fact, we are about to see the Corinthian church going through an identity crisis too.  Today, as we read through 1 Corinthians 1, I wonder, do we know our spiritual identity? Is our identity in crisis?

If you are a Christian, meaning that you are “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (v2), there is a very specific identity attached to you.  Paul explains it very simply for us in verse 2.  He says that we are “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”  Easy, right?  Not so fast.  Satan, and the world often conspire against us, creating confusion, even crisis.  The Corinthian church, just like us, was confronted with situations that caused “uncertainty and confusion.”  In short, they experienced an identity crisis.  Thankfully, Paul, was one man with a clear understanding of his identity in Jesus.  He used this clarity  to remind and redirect the Corinthian church, the Christians, to the identity of Jesus.  So, how do we get that same clarity?

Consider first that Paul’s certainty of identity carried a posture of gratitude and thanksgiving.  It is not by accident that he starts the chapter (v4-9) giving thanks.  There is, however, something special about his gratitude.  Maybe you didn’t notice, but in those five verses, Paul references God nine different times!  Clearly, Paul was clearly understood that if not for Jesus, we would all be lost.  Therefore, his posture was one of continuous gratitude to Him, the giver of all good things.  Contrast this with our own thanksgiving which is often based on our circumstances and materialism.  

In addition to gratitude, Paul continually considered his position, relative to Christ.  Re-read verses 10-17 paying attention to how the church is dividing.  Member’s are attempting to elevate the positions of their favorite pastors, causing fights (v11).  As this identity crisis begins to grow, Paul steps in.  He knows positively where true hope and joy found; the cross of Christ Jesus (v17). He reminds the Corinthians that elevating any person above another will, in fact, “empty the cross of its power.”  Jesus Christ, therefore, holds the primary and only position for Christians.  As Christ-followers, we are all equal, under him.

Finally, Paul’s posture and position relative to Christ allow him to full embrace his purpose.  Consider these three purpose statement from Paul, found in his writings:

  • “that they may be saved” 1 Corinthians 10:33
  • “to make the word of God fully known” Colossians 1:25
  • “that we may present everyone mature in Christ” Colossians 1:28

Paul has such an intimate relationship with Christ that he knows, without a doubt, why he is on this earth.  With this kind of certainty, identity crisis is impossible.  In fact, our certainty and clarity becomes a beacon of hope and love to the world, just like Paul’s.

In the end we are either with Christ, or without him.  When we, like Paul, fully embrace Christ, He is our identity.  In him, there is no doubt, there is no circumstance that can cause us confusion.   Crisis averted!

Abide in our True Vine

Today’s Reading John 15 

Do you love grapes?  I do. I remember as a child as soon as the sun started to come up over the field and glistened through the tree line I would take off outside.  We had an apple tree, rhubarb, and carrots.  My favorite, when in season, was our grapevine. Many meals could be skipped when we hung out by these grapes.  As a kid, this earthly vine satisfied my earthly hunger.  Still my heart and soul hungered for our True Vine.

John 15:1 says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener”. Jesus, fulfills all needs.

Our True Vine, Jesus, provides nourishment to create any and all fruit in our lives. Independent of this vine, our branches can’t produce fruit.  Independent of Jesus, our lives are fruitless. He is the source of nourishment we need.  Are you receiving nourishment? 

5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

The book of John has a series of  “I am” statements for us to remember. He says, “I am the Bread of Life. I am the Light of the World. I am the Door, I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Resurrection and the Life. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He says in John 8:58 I am Eternally Existing, and in John 15, I am the True Vine. Our God is the great I am, and in in John 8:24 it says that we need to believe this.

Since we know that Jesus is the true vine, he says His Father is the gardener. The gardener who planted the vine, and cares for it. There are then branches that bear fruit meaning true disciples; or there are branches that produce no fruit, that are cut off. What is my branch looking like?

The key to knowing what my branch looks like is in the word abide.  Do we abide in Him? This word is repeated eight times in five verses. Starting in verse 4 where abide is used three times.  4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

So what does it look like to abide in Jesus? John 15:10 says,  “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

We need to do all we can to faithfully keep his commandments.  To keep his commandments means to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.  We love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37–39).  Our love for God is in our trust, prayer, and devotion to Him. We abide in relationships, prayers, and in love.

When our lives are intertwined with His, true joy fills our days.  Even in the face of adversity our consistent relationship keeps us able find joy in all circumstances.  So today and everyday, abide.  Stay connected to the True Vine that is connected to Jesus.

John 15:11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 

Dear God,

Thank you for another amazing day where we can praise you in everything we do. God we pray that you give us the strength to stay connected to you from the inside out.  That in the midst of any circumstances that may impact our day we remember who we are connected to, and who are gardener is!  Amen

 

 

I (still) Do

Today is a special day in the Harris family as we are celebrating our 16th wedding anniversary!

Back in the 1900s, I typically only prayed last minute or for shallow stuff that would benefit only me. For the airplane in turbulence to not crash, for a passing grade on a test that I didn’t study for, for money, to win at sports (or to not come in last), etc.

However, there was one prayer that I feel that over time was more spiritual than the rest. I prayed for a wife; that God would send her to me and that I would know that she was the right one. Even though my spiritual life was weak in those days, there were times that I actually got on my knees and prayed. Sometimes it was out of feeling lost with the thought that another person would fill the void. Sometimes it was loneliness or with a broken heart after a breakup. Deep down though even with a lacking relationship with my creator, I truly believed he was listening to me, and he would answer this prayer. And did he ever.

If you know Amy at all, you know she is fun, super cute, beautiful, energetic, a good listener, and a thoughtful, sweet, kind friend. These attributes are what drew me to her and reasons why I vowed to spend the rest of my life with her, to have and to hold, forsaking all others… until death. Wedding vows seem to be the only common place where people say “until death”, so this should remind us how significant the commitment should be. The thing about vows (solemn promises or guarantees) is that they are only as good as what backs them up. A vow made today could easily be broken tomorrow, so how do we address this? We’re humans and unfortunately destined to fail on our own. We can all cite various marriage statistics and share stories about sad endings to marriages, but today I want to share some of the ways that our vows have remained intact and some reasons why there is joy in our marriage.

      1. 916ceremonyThe vow. We made promises that we both intended to keep. We had careful
        consideration and discussed marriage well before getting engaged. I knew Amy’s stance long before we were married; cheat and it is over. We don’t wonder what we’ll do if this doesn’t work out, we focus our commitment in doing what it takes to ensure that it does work out.
      2. Continuously recall why you chose the person in the first place. I love to make Amy laugh and sometimes I forget how powerful it is to make her laugh, it is like all the cares in the world melt away. I love to travel with her, I love dates with her, I love to pause and look into her lovely green eyes. This doesn’t all just happen; neither of us are close to perfect, so we need a lot of intentional practice. I believe many people grow apart because they forget this crucial aspect. It breaks my heart to hear a husband or wife refer to their partner negatively. YOU CHOSE the person, figure it out. Get help. Ask a friend. Pray fervently. You dated the person before you were married. Why did you stop dating? Excuses aren’t accepted; it is your life, your marriage that you chose. Have a dinner date at home when the kids go to bed (and don’t let the inmates run the prison, you are the parent, you control their bedtime). Have a one hour date on the porch, it is free. We’ve found that intentionally and frequently seeking distraction-free time together helps us communicate and refocus on each other.
      3. Putting Christ at the center of the marriage. This is where imperfection meets its match. Meaning, the more we recognize that we’re not perfect and that a perfect, loving God has given us so much grace, the more we realize how important it is to give grace to each other. I’m not the best listener, but Amy gives me grace. I think she does things too fast and she thinks I do things too slow, but we give each other grace. In Christ, our priorities are realigned from “me, myself, and I, then others get the leftovers” to “Jesus, others, myself”. As we grow spiritually, the more visibly we become the “new creation” that 2 Corinthians 5:17 refers to: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
      4. Treating the marriage as an entity or an investment. Is it healthy? Does it need exercise? Is it being built up? Does it need input from others? Do the core principles need to be shared so that other marriages can be strengthened, and perhaps ours strengthened as well? Are books to help my career more important than books that strengthen my marriage and spiritual life?

2 Samuel 12; 2 Corinthians 5; Ezekiel 19; Psalms 64–65

Father God, thank you for the gift of marriage. Today I ask a special blessing on not only our marriage but all marriages. For the readers of this blog. For those who are hurting, lost, or lonely and feel there is no way out. Would you supernaturally pour out your love and show them your way? Would you speak to us and reveal your will? That we may point others to you as the source of all goodness, and to your son Jesus as our redeemer and king. Amen.

The Tornado Effect

Life is uncertain. Some would say it’s a gift from God. And the closer I got to God, the more often unusual things seemed to happen. These statistical anomalies were also happening with greater frequency in the lives of other believers I knew.

I have come to believe that the kingdom of God is a real thing. It exists in the heavens and also in our midst, hidden from those who don’t have the “eyes to see” or “ears to hear.”  Each day it was revealed, and for some it became a new reality. Others glimpsed it’s truth, discovered its power and felt it’s JOY, only to have it snatched away, as Jesus shared in the parable of the sower.

Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. -Matthew 13:18-21

About six weeks ago, we started having our twenty five year old home remodeled. Rooms were painted; new flooring put down; a new roof; and a new furnace and air conditioner. Despite the blessing of being able to repair and replace old failing systems and tired finishes, after a while, the process was starting to add stress to our lives. Furniture was piled up in a several rooms, making them unusable. The ones that were being worked on were also unusable, while dust settled everywhere, day in and day out. As the days turned into weeks, this chaos was increasingly hard to take. And while we knew this wasn’t a horrible problem, it was still frustrating. I needed the contractor to try to wrap things up, so Thursday morning I called.

“Jeff, I appreciate all the great work you guys have done, but we really need you to finish today if possible. Perhaps you don’t know what it’s like to have your house turned upside down!”

“I understand, but we’re probably not coming today. Did you hear about the tornado that touched down in Pontiac last night? Well it destroyed Danny’s home.”

It turns out that the trailer belonging to Jeff’s niece Rachel, and Danny (one of his assistants), was turned upside down (three times) and destroyed. Jeff and his other helper were going there today to help see what might be salvaged.”

“That’s crazy! Was anyone hurt?” I asked, not sure what to think.

He calmly shared the story, “Danny took his six year old son to get a blanket to put over Rachel, who was in the bathtub protecting their two year old, when tornado hit. They’re at the hospital now. Her pelvis is shattered and he broke or bruised a bunch of ribs and was cut up pretty bad. Fortunatly the kids are both fine, though a bit terrorized.”

“Wow” was all I could say. When I shared this story with my wife, she felt terrible too, not only for this young family, but because we had been impatient about the condition of our home. It had taken a near tragedy to re-gain a better perspective! And it was also in God’s grace, that Danny, as he lay in a field surrounded by the debris that was once his home, looking up at the stars in the heavens, saw his life in a new way.

“I haven’t been to church for a long time. I’m going now!” He told me the following Monday.

Amazingly, Danny and I shared transformation and gratitude in his tragedy, both in the grace of my God who was always calling, always teaching, and always present.

Heavenly Father, thank you for Danny and his family! Please grant us the strength and the power to put you above all other things in our lives. In the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.

Joshua 5–6:5; Psalms 132–134; Isaiah 65; Matthew 13

JOY

Today I’m honored to introduce our guest writer, Jennifer LaFrance, my beautiful bride.

Today’s Reading: Numbers 33; Psalm 78:1–37; Isaiah 25; 1 John 

As I lead my small group in Little Kidsview on Sunday mornings I can’t help but to be so thankful to God that He has brought these children to me. The pure innocence and desire to learn more about Jesus just warms my soul. These children have taught me so much and I am forever grateful that they are in my life. I have had these children for the last eight months and am very sad, as they are moving on up to the next age level. Almost every Sunday since August, these children have come to my small group with a great amount of energy….I LOVE their energy. When we first started prayer requests in August I would get things like “pray for the Polar Express” or “pray for my dog”. However, as time has passed we have progressed to “please pray for my brother” or “pray for my neighbor, he needed help mowing because he doesn’t get around very well.”

1 John 3:11 For this is the message that you have heard for the beginning, that we should love one another.

These four and five year olds have learned the importance of JOY (Jesus, Others, Yourself). This is what is important in life. Wouldn’t it be great if we all could think like this? In this world that we live in it is so easy to become self-absorbed. Yet, it isn’t about us….we are just living out the life that Jesus has for us. I am reminded of this acronym daily as it is on a door hanger on three of our doors…my son made them in Little Kidsview; one for his brothers room, one for our room, and one for his room. Psalm 78:5-7 He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.

Ollie is in my small group on Sunday’s…I love everything about him. He has a great sense of humor, a smile that makes me smile, care for others, and an energy for everything we do. My son, Jackson, is also sometimes in my small group. I have shared Ollie’s updates and pictures with Jackson, and every time we stop what we are doing to pray for Ollie. Jackson wants so badly to visit Ollie and bring him toys (because that’s what kids want to do for each other) and wants him to feel better, JOY. Isaiah 41:10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

1 John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

However we can help, we will, because that is what Jesus wants us to do. I want to teach my children, to do for others as Jesus has done for us…..JOY As you go throughout your day today, and the rest of this week, please try to remember JOY.