I officiate lots of weddings. In my time as an ordained minister we're talking somewhere in the neighborhood of close to 45. I have already officiated 1 in 2019 and this Summer and Fall will yield another 7 by my best count. Part of my role in addition to the actual officiating of the ceremony is to meet with couples to help them better understand what they're getting into with marriage. I'm not by any stretch of the imagination a marriage counselor but I've adopted the same philosophy in meeting with couples as I have with my writing, blogging, video, devotionals, etc. It's the quote attributed to C.S. Lewis:
"Think of me as a fellow patient in the same hospital who, having been admitted a little earlier could give some advice.”
I tell couples, I don't really know what I'm doing but I've been in the game for a while so maybe I could offer a little advice. So we walk through some marriage material and talk through the ins and outs of what a successful marriage looks like. The final responsibility that I have after the ceremony is over is to ensure that the couple's marriage license is properly filled out and mailed in to the correct people so that last names can be changed, social security stuff is taken care of, etc.
I keep a copy for my records and I send a copy away for the official record and as a result, I have a folder in my bottom desk drawer stuffed full of marriage licenses. Just a few weeks ago I officiate the wedding for a great couple and like always I filled out the paperwork, mailed away the correct forms and dropped my copy onto my desk to be filed away with the others. That copy laid on my desk for a few days and during that time I noticed something that appears on the top of most every marriage license I have in my folder. It's simply the words, "Be It Known".
I stared at that phrase for several days as that marriage license lived on my desk waiting to be filed. As I lived with that phrase I was challenged by what it truly means. "Be It Known" means:
I was reminded of the importance of that phrase in my relationship with Jesus. Do those whom I've never spoken to about Jesus already know that I follow Him because of the way I live my life? Do they know that I live for Jesus based on the way I treat them as they check me out of the grocery store, or take my order at the restaurant? For those whom I have already spoken to about Jesus: do my actions confirm my words? Do I say one thing and do another?
We often speak about making a public profession of faith in Jesus, what if that public profession wasn't a one time thing? What if our public profession of faith was supposed to happen on the daily? Do I live out my faith with a "Be It Known" mentality? Am I shouting from the rooftops that I follow Jesus? Is how I conduct myself on a daily basis reflective of the importance I say my relationship with Jesus has in my life? Is it evident to the people I come into contact with each day that I am choosing to pattern myself after the person and teachings of Jesus Christ?
These are the questions I'm asking myself today. Join me. Be encouraged and keep moving forward. -Andy
Spring has sprung! As I write this, my window is open, the breeze is invigorating, and I am soaking up the beautiful sound of Spring! This is the season of new life, the season of fresh air and long walks. The grill comes out of the barn, the swing cushions come out & I start thinking of vegetable & herbs I want to attempt to grow this year. (I was not born with a green thumb, but I do not concede easily, so a-planting I will go!)
The best part is, we have not even made it to my absolute favorite part of Spring. My absolute favorite part of this season is a good old Spring storm! It literally makes me giddy to see storm clouds rolling in & hear the low rumble of thunder in anticipation of a good storm. Bring on the lightning, the big claps of thunder, the electricity flickering, & the downpour! I am looking forward to our first big Spring storm of the season.
I am looking forward to this because an actual storm brings me a sense of peace. In the midst of the chaos of a storm, I sense a calm in my soul. This is how I feel in a real storm, however when it comes to the figurative storms of life, I usually feel anything but peace and calm.
I think there are a few different types of storms we can go through in our lives:
An example of a storm we bring on ourselves can be found in the book of Jonah. Jonah was a man of God, sent by God to give people a message, but Jonah didn’t want to go where God told him to go, and Jonah wanted to do his own thing. He got on a ship and headed in the other direction of where God told him to go. Because of Jonah’s disobedience God sent a storm, and you all know the rest of the story (Jonah 1).
Sometimes we can create our own storm by poor decisions or poor judgement. We get impatient and we don’t want to wait on God, or we disagree with God’s calling or His answer. We take things into our own hands and have to weather some tough storms as a result. I’ve had quite a bit of experience in this area. Many of the storms of my life have been brought on by my own doing. God calls us to obedience. He knows what is best and we need to be people who are chasing after his calling for our lives, not our own.
In the book of Matthew we read about a storm meant to teach and grow the disciples. Jesus & the disciples were sailing on the sea of Galilee. Jesus was asleep and a terrible storm started tossing the boat around. The disciples were terrified and questioned if Jesus cared that they were going to drown. Jesus woke up, calmed the storm and said to this disciples, “Where is your faith?”
I’m pretty confident, when I get to heaven and see Jesus, he is going to say, “Sarah, how many times did you need to hear me say, 'Where is your faith?'” I am the disciple on the boat, in the first minute of the storm, that ran to Jesus, ripped that cover off and said, “What the heck dude, you don’t care if we die!” Dramatic much.
There are storms we experience that are meant to teach us and grow us in our faith. It’s hard to identify a storm in your life as a growth opportunity when you’re in the middle of it. You just want the storm to end and hopefully come out in one piece. If you're in a teachable storm right now, I encourage to go to His word, spend time in His presence. Allow yourself to hear from him and seek out what He wants to teach you, how He wants to grow you!
In the book of Acts, chapter 27, we read about a storm brought on my someone else and how the apostle Paul used it for God’s glory. Paul was a prisoner on a ship on his way to Rome. Paul, even though he was a prisoner, kept warning the guards and giving advice but they would not listen to him. As a result they ended up shipwrecked on the island of Malta for 3 months. The people of Malta were very kind to Paul and the hundreds of shipwrecked passengers. Paul spent this time on Malta ministering to the Island Chief. Paul didn’t walk around saying, “I told you so, you should’ve listening to me”. No, Paul continued the calling the Lord laid on his life, he continued to tell others about Christ. Because of this unplanned stop, Christianity was brought to the people of Malta. Sometimes storms are brought on because of other peoples actions. We can turn these storms into blessings, if we allow the Lord to use us in the middle of unexpected & unwanted storms.
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; Your rod and your staff they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
I hope as you watch our first spring storm roll in you will be reminded of God’s promises. It doesn’t matter what kind of storm you find yourself in, brought on by yourself, brought on by someone else, or maybe its a storm of life meant to sharpen, grow and teach you. You don’t have to weather this storm alone and your storm will not last forever. Not for one minute of your storm has God forsaken you, He is present with you though it all. I pray you can find the peace and calm in every storm. -Sarah
Below are some lessons that God has recently been reminding me of that may be of help to some. These are in no particular order of importance or relevancy.
1. Consistency creates momentum.
2. Inconsistency breeds distrust.
3. Forgiveness allows you to move forward in both your head and your heart.
3a. Your head can't truly move forward without your heart.
3b. Your head will always follow your heart but your heart will not always follow your head.
4. Unforgiveness places you in a never ending loop of rehashing the same arguments and offenses.
5. Accountability is a necessary part of life. You need it.
5a. Hold those you are responsible for accountable or else you create monsters.
6. Even small steps in the right direction create progress over time.
7. Say what you're going to do and then do what you say.
7a. Only saying what you did after you did it robs you of credibility and the opportunity to truly celebrate.
8. Remember things as they truly were, not what you hoped they were.
8a. Remembering only what we want to remember prevents us from seeing where we screwed up.
9. The world doesn't revolve around you.
10. Be faithful to complete your part of the job and trust that God will take care of the rest.
Be encouraged and keep moving forward. -Andy
Have you ever had a long day at the office, stressful day parenting, or a disagreement with a friend that seemed to knock you off your feet? Steal your happiness? There are very few things as disorienting as flying over a speed bump that you didn't even see coming. Simply put, it is just plain frustrating when inconveniences arise. What's even more frustrating? When we know that we are doing everything right, to the best of our human abilities, and things still aren't adding up.
As we take active strides closer and closer to Jesus, we too often fall into the trap of believing that it's going to be an easy journey. We think that taking away the temptation and adding in the devotionals equal the perfect and seamless life. But as you may have realized several weeks into our journey together, more of Jesus does not always mean fewer speed bumps.
It doesn't take more than a few minutes studying Scripture or talking with friends who have paved the spiritual way for us, to realize that our happiness is not guaranteed while living a godly life. However, we can find peace within this truth knowing that God has not called us to a happy-filled life, but a joy-filled life. Big difference, friends.
Two prime examples of men living godly lives, yet still struggling with suffering, pain, and rejection stick out to me as foundational to our understanding of eternal joy over momentary happiness.
Job is an Old Testament fellow, who more or less, went through it. To say Job sped over a few speed bumps would be an understatement. To catch you up, Job was an outstanding man of God, denying himself daily, and seeking the will of the Father above all else. It goes without saying that Job's character was quite disturbing to the Enemy, and Satan decided to take this up with God. Satan was positive that it was only due to the lavishing of blessings upon Job that he maintained such a faithful countenance, but God knew his good and faithful servant Job. God assured Satan that Job would continue to make a choice to follow him, come what may. God had so much confidence in Job that he allowed Satan to have his way with him, going as far as to take away his own family through brutal measures.
Let's now shift gears (this car theme is really sticking...) and talk about Paul. Unlike Job, Paul's history was not rainbows, butterflies, and obedience to God. Before Paul was Paul, he was Saul, a fierce persecutor of the Christian church. However, after a miraculous and nothing-but-divine encounter with Jesus, Saul became Paul, one of the fiercest missionaries of all time. As if the tables hadn't turned enough in Paul's life, while just a few years prior he was hurling bullets of hate into the hearts of Christ followers, Paul was now the one continually bound in shackles for his devotion to Christ.
Real inspiring, I know. Follow Jesus and end up with no family and a prison sentence or two. But these stories don't end here!
These men made a choice.
Every. Single. Day. Job and Paul decided their Savior was worth it. All of the emotional, physical, and spiritual suffering and tormenting could not compare to the joy found within their Father. Job and Paul's constant refocusing on the things of Heaven, and consequently the removal of their eyes from the things here on Earth, allowed them to get over any speed bump man or the Enemy himself put in their path. Don't believe me?
Job said it himself, in Job 6:10... "Then I would still have this consolation-- my joy in unrelenting pain-- that I had not denied the words of the Holy One." (New International Version).
Joy in unrelenting pain... I'll have a dose of that, please. Just another notable element of this story is that like all of Scripture, it is practical and applicable! We don't just read the book of Job to learn about a faithful dude who went through a season of hurt. We read the book of Job to learn about a faithful dude who went through a season of hurt and how we can model his example and tap into that joy in unrelenting pain. Job stayed faithful to the words of the Holy One, being careful that he deny himself, not his Lord. This was a choice, no doubt a painful, sacrificial choice, but I believe that if Job were here with us today, he would tell us it was the best choice he ever made.
As for Paul, in one of his most adored letters to the Philippian church, words like "rejoice" and "joy" are used 16 times. If that's not enough to encourage us to a life of choosing joy, Paul wrote Philippians during one of those aforementioned prison sentences! Once again, here within these four chapters, we have a practical example of choosing joy in all circumstances.
Let's practice making that choice. Let's strive to no longer be burdened by the bumps along the way, but slow down, decide where our eyes are going to fall, here in the pain or above in the joy, and actively choose to pursue joy. Through a relentless pursuit of Jesus and the truth of his word, we have access to an unshakable, unspeakable, joy. Live in it. -Taylor
Do you ever have one of those days? I had one of those days this week. We found out we own a vehicle which needs a new engine. Fun stuff. Of course, this was after doing the work to remove a fuel tank to install a new fuel pump. If you have never had the joy of doing this work you know it is hard, greasy, smelly, and heavy. The vehicle just wanted to add insult to injury.
I did learn a few things while working on the vehicle though. Things that never move are much harder to move later. We had to undo a few hoses connected to metal parts. Those hoses had not moved in at least 15 years. They were unpliable. Those hoses and I had a few words together: cantankerous, obdurate, unyielding, pertinacious, unruly, perverse….Well, you get the idea.
My disappointment with the vehicle led me straight to my old habits of anger, jealousy, and rudeness. Thankfully, none of these things came out too much to other people. But I certainly felt them.
It is not wrong to feel disappointed when things go wrong. Morality comes in when we choose how to deal with feelings. We have an opportunity to be faithful to Christ, or to give in to our old selfish desires. The hoses reminded me about how Jesus could form me in the middle of my disappointment. Was I going to remain unpliable or was I going to look to Jesus?
Proverbs 18:15 says, “Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights.” (The Message)
If we want to be good followers of Christ, we need to be life long learners. In Lent and Easter, it can be easy to fall into old habits. We can easily go through religious motions. Sundays can be this way too. Repetition is easily found in exterior actions of faith.
How do we avoid the trap of just going through the motions, especially when we are doing things which are outwardly repetitive? We must become people of wisdom. People who are wise know how to live. We know how to live because our lives are full of Jesus.
Jesus fulfills all the scriptures in such a way to breathe new life into them. We memorize scripture not because it is powerful as a book on its own right, but because it brings us to the person of Jesus. As we know scripture and apply it, we come to know Jesus in each of those instances. The knowledge of Jesus is internalized and then externalized through our actions.
Going back to my week, and my disappointment- how would I apply this insight when finding out about the vehicle?
First, I would take a second and realize my disappointment. This is an important step. Usually, when we act out externally, we haven’t taken the time to assess what is really going on internally. If I don’t know why I am acting, whether internally or externally, I am only dealing with symptoms and not root causes.
Second, after realizing why I am feeling disappointed, I take a few minutes to talk to God and let out how I feel. This is where scripture often speaks to us. If you have ever heard someone speak of scripture reading us, this is one of those places where scripture reacts with our inner selves in this way. If we haven’t taken time to memorize scripture, we may miss out on a chance for God to speak to us in these times.
Next, it is time to review how my feelings can be directed in a way to honor God. In this case, it could be taking the time to look for ways that I can be a blessing to others even though I am disappointed. My internalization of the failure of the engine can now be turned into an external act of faith.
This whole confusing process must be lived in the Holy Spirit. We internally admit and live out our need for Jesus. The Holy Spirit embodies us to live and learn in a new way, rather than reverting to our old habits. This faith is what makes the difference in acts which are indistinguishable externally. My heart has been submitted to Christ.
A simple prayer, “Jesus, help me to learn from you in all circumstances. Teach me your word, so that I may know you more and share you in my life.” -Christopher
Straight from Wikipedia so take this for what's it worth: "The phrase "anchors aweigh" is a report that the anchors are clear of the sea bottom and, therefore, the ship is officially under way. "Anchors aweigh" is often misspelled as "Anchor's away," leading to confusion of the terms and the misunderstanding that it means "to drop anchor."
I'll admit that I was unaware of the different spellings of this phrase and I was certainly more than unaware that "anchors aweigh" meant that an anchor was free of the sea bottom. I, perhaps alone was still saying "anchors away" thinking that it meant, "drop the anchor". Regardless of the spellings or the meanings my thought for today is still the same and both actually apply quite nicely to what I sense God has been speaking to me over the last few days.
If you've followed along in my journey for any length of time then you know that I'm a planner. My days, weeks and months are largely driven and mapped out according to a specific calendar of events and an even more specific to-do list for that particular day. To make it more manageable I've actually broken my rather lengthy to-do list down into four separate to-do lists based on the nature of the tasks and with regard to the specific event. Within some of those to-do list, dates are assigned to allow for a quick glance at what needs to be priority for a given day, week or season.
In addition to my multiple to-do lists is a calendar that is pretty packed with staff meetings, pre-marital counseling sessions, student ministry events, young adult events, larger church events, planning meetings for several different organizations I work with, my son's sporting events and concerts, meetings with students and volunteers, weddings, funerals, various writing deadlines and of course the all important reminder of when my library books are due back...come on, I'm not a monster.
I don't take advantage of it as much as I'd like, but one of my favorite times of the day are those quiet moments in my house, well before dawn, before anyone else is active. The house is still, a few birds can be heard chirping outside in anticipation of the soon to be rising sun and I'm left to my own thoughts. A few days ago I found myself in that moment running through the list of to-do's, upcoming calendar and schedule of my life over those next few days. Anxiety crept in pretty quickly. I became overwhelmed with thoughts of how all of this stuff was going to get done. Too many meetings, too many items on the to-do list, too many commitments.
Suddenly an image began to emerge in my thoughts. The image that God kept running through my mind in those moments was one of a boat being tossed around by the waves. The waves were made up of my calendar and to-do lists. I was experiencing the same feeling I get when I spend a day in the actual ocean, swimming and repeatedly being pounded by the waves, feeling my body being pulled to and fro by the power of the constant current. I felt like I was being managed by what I was supposed to be managing.
In my mind's eye an anchor appeared. The anchor dropped from my tiny boat into the massive waves and suddenly I was stilled. I was all at once reminded that God desires to serve as that anchor for my life. The long list of to-do's, the endless meetings, the teachings, the counseling appointments, the face to face time with people, all of it was only serving to throw me around unless I was anchored to something or rather someone, who was the very definition of stability, peace and surety.
I quickly searched the internet for a list of Scriptures having to do with God as our anchor and foundation and began reading through verses like...
You will keep in perfect peace
all who trust in you,
all whose thoughts are fixed on you! - Isaiah 26:3
Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem,
a firm and tested stone.
It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on.
Whoever believes need never be shaken. - Isaiah 28:16
In that day he will be your sure foundation,
providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.
The fear of the Lord will be your treasure. - Isaiah 33:6
My busiest days and seasons, my most effective and efficient days when I crank out the most activity are all worthless without me starting that day by connecting and committing myself to the Source of Stability. When I fail to make this connection, when I fail to drop anchor and ensure that I'm first connected and grounded in what God has for me I run the risk of allowing all of my meetings, to-do's, appointments and interactions to become nothing more than checking off boxes.
Our anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed are sourced not in the hectic pace of our lives, they are sourced in our failed connection to the Source of our stability. Get connected. Drop anchor. Be encouraged and keep moving forward. -Andy
"On a wing and a prayer." Have you heard this expression?
The other day Andy and I were driving and discussing an upcoming event. We had mapped out a plan and we were discussing the last minute details. I looked at him, shrugged & said, “Well, on a wing and a prayer.” I’m not sure this expression fit right there in our conversation, but for some reason it just felt right to say. Later, I looked it up to find the real meaning behind this phrase. I definitely used the phrase appropriately.
The meaning of on a wing and a prayer: you do it hoping that you will succeed, although you are not prepared enough for it.
This phrase, On a wing and a prayer, originated from an old WW2 movie called the The Flying Tigers. The Captain was asking about the status of one of his pilots. The clerk tells the Captain, “Yes sir, it was attacked and fired on by Japanese aircraft. She's coming in on one wing and a prayer.”
This is how I feel I am living my current life - I’m coasting on one wing, hoping to land unharmed. Fingers crossed right? My nature is to plan and to prepare. I love to organize and plan trips, vacations, & parties. One of my responsibilities at the church is to plan big events, organize trips, make reservations, order food, tents and entertainment for these events. I love planning and organizing a big event, watching it come together, relishing in the enjoyment of people attending the event and then basking in, what I call, an “accomplishment high”.
So lately, feeling as if I am living slightly unprepared, hoping things go well, I feel completely out of sorts. I am feeling forgetful and overwhelmed. I look at my to-do list and it feels like it's never ending. And when I finally mark a few things off, it seems a few more items are added.
I share all of this with you, not to make you feel sorry for me. I’m not looking for anyone to call me and offer to clean my house. Wait. Anyone is welcome, at anytime, day or night, to come clean my house….seriously.
I share this because even though I am in this current state of being overwhelmed, I am so thankful for this season. I feel more present with Jesus now, than ever before. I am walking in a season of humility. I have sent more humbling prayer requests out to friends in the past few weeks than I care to admit. I have been more transparent about my weaknesses and short-falls. I believe in the power of prayer, but I haven’t always been the one asking for prayers.
In this season of humility, I have relied on the grace, wisdom and peace of my Savior. I have had to stop relying my own ability to juggle everything. I’ve had to stop relying on my own wisdom to fix something or make something work. I’ve just had to stop. Literally, just stop.
This is so hard. I don’t mean nap. No, napping isn’t hard. I have had to stop and spend time listening and hearing from the Lord. Spend time in scripture, reading, studying, praying, petitioning. Understanding and growing in knowledge and wisdom that only comes from Him. And it is sweet.
Spending time soaking up Truth, does not erase one item from my to-do list. But it makes me whole. The out of sorts feeling is filled up and the Lord restores my soul. I all too often forget the need to humble myself and to allow Him to restore me.
Christine Caine says, “The truth you store up in silence comes back to you in the storm, and it lifts you away as on a life raft from the fears and disappointments that would otherwise pull you under. When you abide in his word, He abides in you.”
Abiding in Him is not flying in on one wing, hoping for a safe landing. Abiding in Him is you, placing every bit of what you have in front of you and placing it at His feet. I am so thankful for these weeks of Him filling me with His peace, filling me with His truth so I can continue to do what He has called me to do.
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” John 15:4
To kick things off today, I want to express how excited I am over all that God has done these past few weeks. I know, personally speaking, that God has exceeded my expectations through teaching me, steadying me, and spurring me on to want more of him and his will. I've also been encouraged through testimony from family and friends who are knee deep in this journey alongside me that they have been growing spiritually as well. But let's not grow too familiar and comfortable yet, God still has so much in store! Even though we've reached April, and our journey together will be ending soon, I believe that God is just getting started.
Last week I had the chance to lead the greatest group of teens I know as we continued in a teaching series centered around the final days of Jesus. As a ministry student and aspiring pastor/writer, I jump at any opportunity I have to roll up my sleeves and dive into experiences like this one. However, while still very much a ministry baby, I am still trying to figure out the ropes like outlining, pacing, how much Scripture to incorporate, how much of that rope I should throw out to the kids, allowing them to give input. And while all these things are of tremendous value, and will benefit my ministry, I think the most crucial rope I'm unknotting right now is the one God is dangling in front of me, telling me to grab so he can drag me out of the way.
As I was praying over the various thoughts God led me to share last Wednesday, I kept hearing the phrase, "Not you. Not you. Not you." powerfully reverberating through my heart. I may have been the one asked to speak, or the one studying how to string together words to form a coherent and truth-filled message, but my heart's cry is that my lips would never share and my fingers would cease to type my own sloppy, chaotic thoughts and feelings. Instead, I long that it would be the Spirit of the Living God directing each syllable, punctuation mark, and probably-not-that-funny joke I crack to make a group of 12-18 year-olds laugh.
Proverbs 22:4 tells us how it is... "Humility is the fear of the LORD; its wages are riches and honor and life." (New International Version).
Just one of the countless passages of Scripture that touches on the topic of humility, Proverbs 22:4 paints a quick, natural cause-and-effect relationship between fearing the Lord, and a humble spirit. Now, of course, "fearing the Lord" does not mean fear in the sense of terror, suspicion, or crouching away, but rather, being full of awe at the power of our Lord, realizing what He alone is capable of, without our help. The author of Proverbs, the so-called "Wisdom book," is telling us loud and clear that as we seek to glorify God for who he is, placing him above all else, ourselves included, humility will be a natural byproduct.
If the Spirit's constant whispering of "Not you. Not you. Not you." didn't wake me up, the technical difficulties that made a sudden and aggressive appearance literally not 10 minutes into our Wednesday night gathering sure did.
It seemed to be a domino effect. It's amazing how much faith we place on a mere sound system on a Wednesday night. Without a sound system, worship struggles, our recording is audio-less, and the speaker can't use a mic. Heaven forbid.
I found myself standing in the back, gathering my thoughts just moments before sharing and thinking, Okay. This is fine. This doesn't mean tonight isn't good and God isn't here.
The reality is, we probably won't figure out what went wrong, so I'm choosing to focus on what went right. Worship continued, in the most stripped-down fashion, I was able to push through mic-less, and God was able to teach all of us a lesson on humility.
At the end of Wednesday night or Sunday morning, it's not the impressive sound we leave in awe over and contemplate throughout the remainder of our week. A mic isn't what conveys the truth of the gospel. A mediocre-at-best video of our night shared on social media isn't going to save souls. But the Holy Spirit will. And as difficult as it is to swallow, His power isn't determined by our weakness. Or our strengths.
Being a vessel is an honor. But God doesn't need impeccable. He doesn't need lights, music, or honestly? Even a sermon. I know, mind blown. The sense of satisfaction we leave with at the end of a long day at work or church service cannot serve as an indicator for all that God has done and the abundance of seeds planted in fertile souls.
So, simply put, get off your high-horse. It's not us; it's not our productions, schedules, or plans. It's all Jesus. Let's make a conscious effort this week to acknowledge that, even when things go right! Even in our flawless services, brilliant presentations, and nailed essays, it's his power at work. Fear the Lord, and know that our rewards are eternal and glorious. -Taylor
This is twice now. The first was about 6 years ago when I was jus beginning the process of getting my Master's Degree at Cincinnati Christian University. As a new grad student I was still wading through the ins and outs of the library rules so I made my way to the counter to ask a question about how many books could be checked out at once. The conversation went something like this:
Me: "Excuse me, how many books am I able to check out at once?"
Girl behind counter who looked like she was nine: "Uh, the limit is 12"
(long pause, unsure of how to proceed)
"...if you're a student."
I laughed to myself, assured her I was a student and then proceeded to check out my books. This should have been my first glimpse into the reality that I no longer looked the part of college student. Instead, I shrugged it off as a case of "clueless girl at the library" syndrome and moved on with my life.
Fast forward to yesterday at Cedarville University. My sons are considering Cedarville as a possibility for college and my older son was spending the day in a soccer ID camp as he considers playing at the college level. As a result, I found myself with ample time to write, read and wander about. I spent the morning writing and reading and after lunch I found myself browsing the bookstore looking for a small "Cedarville souvenir" to purchase for the boys. I eventually settled on window decals that they each have several of from the various schools and tourist attractions we have visited in the past. I made my way to the counter, delighted to see someone who looked older than pre-teen working the counter. I handed over my items to be scanned and waited for my total. Since my library experience 6 years ago, I've always known in the back of my mind that I was past the point of being mistaken for a college student but the next words out of the Cedarville clerk's mouth sealed the deal, "Are you faculty or staff?"
Whatever doubt there was lingering in the corners of my mind about my appearance had now completely evaporated. It is now obvious to everyone that I am significantly older than college age.
As I left the bookstore and made my way back to the library to spend the balance of my day reading and writing I was struck by a spiritual truth. God expects us to look different as we grow up. Not so much in the physical realm but rather in the spiritual realm. I've been a Jesus follower for close to 30 years now and as a result I should look, act, think and respond differently than I did 30 years ago. People should no longer mistake me for a new believer. Scripture makes clear through direct mandate and countless examples that we should grow up spiritually.
As I've reflected on these and other scriptures I've asked myself the question, "Is it obvious to those around me that I've grown up spiritually?" Am I still being mistaken for a spiritual infant?
In the physical realm, my thinning hairline, graying beard and crows feet are sure signs that I am no longer of college age. In the spiritual realm my actions, thoughts and responses should be indicative of someone who's been walking with Jesus for many years. God forgive me for falling back into spiritual infancy from time to time. May I learn to consistently walk in the fullness of spiritual maturity that I was created to walk in through Christ. Be encouraged and keep moving forward. -Andy
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…. Hebrews 12:1-2a
A “great cloud of witnesses” is all around us. This is such a great image. Can you picture it? We are in a stadium. People from the past who have lived out their faith – without quitting – with perseverance are in the stands cheering and encouraging us to keep our eyes on Jesus and finish the race.
There is a child in my elementary class whose favorite Bible story is the life of Joseph. I totally understand why she feels that way. Joseph’s story is fascinating; it covers 11 chapters in the Bible (Genesis 37, 39-50), and he lived to be 110 years old. I encourage you to read his story. But, here is my quick version…Joseph is his dad’s favorite son and everyone knows it. One day, his brothers have had enough and take matters into their own hands – they fake Joseph’s death and sell him into slavery. Joseph is taken to Egypt where he works for Potiphar. He works hard, is falsely accused and is sent to prison. God stays with Joseph and continues to help him grow in wisdom and faith. In the end, Pharaoh takes Joseph out of prison, appoints him to be the second in command of Egypt; Joseph is reunited with his family, and his wisdom and work saves people from starvation. Joseph is a part of the “great cloud of witnesses.” Hebrews 11:22 says, “Joseph had faith.” But, it would have been so easy for Joseph to feel sorry for himself, become bitter, and quit.
To join in the “great cloud of witnesses” we will need to find our own stride, finish our own race, and “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” What gets in the way of finishing your race? Think about the things that you might be carrying around that are keeping you from finishing the amazing things God has planned for you. What holds you back – bad attitudes, selfish motives? When are you most tempted to give up and quit – when things look impossible, when they don’t go the way you think they should go; when something takes a lot of time, when you feel criticized? Do you take your eyes off of Jesus and try to go on your own?
Several years ago, I led a Vacation Bible School that featured various sports heroes. One such hero was Derek Redmond. To be honest I had forgotten his story, but I was so glad to be reminded; maybe you will be too. In 1992, Derek Redmond was a runner who was favored to win the gold medal. During the race he suffered a terrible injury – a torn hamstring, and he fell to the ground. There was no chance he would win. Even so, he got up and starting limping to the finish-line. His dad saw what was happening, came out onto the field, and helped Derek walk to the finish-line. With the help of his father he finished; he persevered. You can watch it here; it is completely inspirational. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2G8KVzTwfw
Like Derek and Joseph we have a race to finish. God has a race for each one of us. He has marked it out for us to run here and now. And God is there to help us every step of the journey. The stadium is full of people cheering us on. People like Joseph who ended up a slave in a foreign country and found himself being falsely accused. And yet, he put aside all of his anger and excuses and ended up rising to second in command and saving the entire nation from a famine!
Don’t let anything hold you back from finishing your race nor from trusting in God. Remind yourself that God can help you let go of what is holding you back. He did it for the heroes of the Bible who were just regular people living a life of faith, and He will do it for you. He will help you persevere and finish. -Lia