How do we View Success?

This world defines success in a number of ways, but these all seem to center around accomplishments, achievements, power, clout, and other outward gains.  All too often these same ideas form the basis of what we think of as “successful” in the church as well.  We can be overcome by the pressure to move up the rungs of the leadership ladder, desiring more recognition for our service, wanting more atendees than that other church down the road, or a bigger paycheck at the end of each month.  Truly it is difficult to keep clear of what our culture deems necessary for success.

We who are in Christ have a different definition of success laid before us.  The Gospel shows us this in our Savior, Jesus.  He was a homeless man, who was hated by the religious leaders of His day, was falsely accused of many crimes (chiefly blasphemy), and died a criminal’s death.  This is NOT exactly what we think of when we think of a successful person.  No employer would pick this man to be the next president of their company.  Yet Christ accomplished His Father’s will on earth.  He did what He came to do- what He was born to do!  He finished His work on earth completely, leaving nothing undone or unfulfilled which was spoken of Him through the prophets.

In light of this reality, we must decide how we will define success.  Will we define it the way the world does or think of success as we see it in Christ and His Kingdom?  Will success become for us something we can measure on paper or with temporary pleasures, or will we embrace a view of success in which the chief aim is obeying God regardless of the outcome?  This approach to success may bring us ridicule and may not be glamorous, but if we are being obedient to our King it is worth it.

I would rather be successful and faithful in the eyes of my God, than successful and having all the money and acolades this world can offer.

In the words of an old hymn:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace”

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Believing Others Value You

One of the greatest lessons to learn, regardless of when, is believing other people when they tell you that they care about you, love you, and value you.  This is also one of life’s hardest lessons when you have to believe people when they say these things, not for anything you do or give, but simply for being you.

This is one of the things that I tend to struggle to believe.  Life tends to demand so much of us and it is tempting to think that people only hang around us because they want something from us, something in return for their friendship.  It is easy to become a relational cynic.  At one point in my life I was stuck in that place.  But God continues to break down the walls and the remnants of my cynicism.  He continues to teach me how to love people for who they are and take joy in their friendship just because they are who they are, rather than because of something I can get out of it.  Not only that but He continues to show me that others can feel the same about me.  Others can love me for who I am and take joy in my friendship because of who I am, not just because I have something to offer or give them.

To some of you, this may sound like a no brainer, but for others this may be something you have faced before or currently face.  For all of us, being loved and appreciated and considered a blessing just for who we are is a great gift.  Even if we don’t see this in our lives presently, or in the lives of those around us, there is one who always loves us.  Our God loved us enough to save us from our sin even when we were utterly lost in it.  He sent his son Jesus to take the punishment we deserved.  He freely gives us the gift of salvation if we believe in Him.  My prayer for you, reader, is that even if you doubt the love of others for you, that you would begin to grasp the great love that God has for you and that in understanding God’s love for you your doubts concerning the love of others would fade as well.

I am still learning this lesson, but by the grace and mercy of God I am learning it and believing it more and more each day.

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The Changing of Seasons

There are times in our lives when the Lord calls us out of one area or situation and moves us to another.  Like the changing of seasons, heralded by changing temperatures and weather, changes in life come as seasons—here for a while only to fade into the next thing God brings along our way.

This brings a mixture of excitement and sadness—excitement for the season that approaches and sadness for the season being left behind.  Spring brings with it the joy of new life and blooming flowers, while seeing the beauty of snow-cover fields and mountains melt away.  Summer has the excitement of outdoor activities and longer days while the coolness of spring passes away.  Autumn brings glorious colors to trees and cool, crisp air, but the green of summer and warm evenings disappear as the days shorten.  Winter has the glories of snow and time indoors to warm up with blankets and warm beverages, but also brings bare trees and biting wind to replace the colors and air of fall.  So too, our seasons of life bring a mixture of excitement and sadness.

As I come to the close of another season, I find myself all too well acquainted with these feelings again.  The worst part of the closing of any season is saying, “goodbye” or “see ya later” to those I have connected with throughout the season.  But the blessing of being part of the family of God is that no matter where we go, we get to carry with us the unity and bond we have together in Christ.  We may have seasons when we are physically absent from those we love, but in Christ and His Spirit, who unites us, we can be present spiritually.

Whenever I have a season that comes to a close, I carry a piece of that season with me forever.  I can say with confidence that I will carry a large piece of this season with me as God takes me into the next season He has in store.  I will remember you all and the memories I have here with fondness.  Being here for this season has been such a rich blessing and I thank God for it every day.

Thank you, Grace Church, for welcoming me with open arms and letting me be part of what God is doing here for three years.  Thank you for being my friends and a family to me as I have been away from mine.  Thank you for supporting and encouraging me.  Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives and for being part of mine.  It has been a true blessing to serve the Lord here.  Thank you so much!

To Christ Jesus be the glory!  Blessings on you all!

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When the Going Gets Tough…

The saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”, is a common one; however, when the going gets tough it can also create opportunities to reflect on our true motivation for doing what we do.

When life gets tough and I’m thrown “curve ball” after “curve ball” and I feel like I’m in over my head, two things tend to happen:  1)  I don’t sleep because my mind tries desperately to process everything. 2) I have several conversations with the Lord which tend to go something like this:

Me: Lord, Why did you call me to THIS?  I can’t do this!

The Lord:  I know.  Trust me.

Me:  But God, I don’t know what I’m doing!

The Lord:  I know.  But I do.

Me:  But God, I’m so incapable of dealing with this.

The Lord:  I know.  But my strength is made perfect in your weakness.

Me:  God, it hurts so much to see what people go through.  Why did you call me to THIS?

The Lord:  Because you love them.  You will them, like I love them.  Because you care for them.  Because they are MINE and you love and care for them because they are mine and because I love and care for them.

Me:  Oh, yeah…

Many times I find that God just calls me to love people, not necessarily to use all the gifts and abilities He has given me.  There are numerous situations that arise which do not fit the skills and knowledge that I have, but God still calls me to those situations to love people any way I can.

I do not have all the answers or solutions for Children’s Ministry or Family Ministry, I have a mind and I have a love for people and a passion to see them walking with Jesus, which propels and motivates me even when I don’t have answers or the going gets tough.

It is the love of Christ which compels me, and motivates me to keep going, through good times and bad,  and to keep saying “Yes” to the call He has placed on my life.  Love which moves me with compassion, which causes me to give of myself.  He has called me because I love deeply and care greatly for those entrusted to my care.  This love is what motivates me and keeps me going.

For me:  When the going gets tough, the tough get LOVING!

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Thoughts on Acts 27,28 & Romans 10:14-15

I’ve often been amazed by the life of Paul.  His transformation was so complete and his ministry so vast, yet he claimed glory only for Christ.  Paul knew the work he did was pertinent and pressing to the Kingdom of God.  Everywhere he went he was prepared to speak about Jesus.  Paul also cared about those he was around, even when they are the ones responsible for holding him captive.

Paul warned the people he was with about the disastrous voyage that awaited them if they left Fair Havens, but they would not listen.  Even in the midst of the storm and during the shipwreck, he encouraged the others on board and encouraged them to eat when they needed to—this gave them the sustenance they needed to survive.    God kept them all safe in the shipwreck and used it as an opportunity to help the people on the island of Malta.  Paul was used by God to heal people on the island and the people of the island gave Paul and company the supplies they needed.  When Paul finally reached Rome, Paul was allowed to live under house arrest.  This gave him the opportunity to preach while he was there.  Acts 28:31 says “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

It’s probably safe to assume that Paul was not silent about Jesus on the island of Malta either.  It seems like Paul was always ready to talk about Jesus wherever he went.  This is both challenging and inspiring.  So many times, I find that the name of Jesus is not on my lips, He is not the one I am always ready to talk about.  I want to audacity of Paul when it comes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  May I not be ashamed of it for truly it is the power of God for salvation for those who believe!  (See Romans 1:16)

For the past few weeks, and throughout the summer, the themes of serving and of missions have not been far from my mind.  The words of Paul to the church in Rome have pierced me time and time again:

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15)

Paul’s words here echo that of his Master’s before him.  (See Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8)  Paul understood that as followers of Jesus we are meant to be His witness wherever we go and to whomever we are with.  Granted, this will look different for different people, but I can’t help but feel convicted that this is not on my radar in my day to day activities.  Every day people are perishing not knowing the Lord Jesus Christ!  What are we doing as individuals and members of the body of Christ to introduce people to the living Lord, so that they might call on the name of the Lord and be saved?

May the Lord loose our mouths to declare the truth about Him to those around us and may they know we are Christians by our love!

Let us use our service as a means to declare and live the Gospel!

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Thoughts on Acts 3

This devotion comes from Acts 3 (quotations are from the NIV)

In Acts 3 we see that Peter and John were still going to the temple for prayer. They did not disconnect from their own people, but were still trying to reach them. Beggers would have been a common sight outside the temple, counting on the giving of devout Jews to be able to survive. The begger in Acts 3 does what we would expect: asks for money. Though Peter and John did not have money to give this man, they did not just go on their way ignoring him. Instead, Peter stopped and said (in verse 6), “Silver or Gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” The man was healed by the power of Christ. Peter used the authority of Jesus- in His name- to ask in faith for healing for this man.

The man, who had been crippled since birth, received many wonderful blessings that day. Not only was he able to walk, but because he was healed he was able to enter the temple courts for the first time. He also heard Peter preach about Jesus.

The crowd was amazed by this healing. Peter was sure to deflect their amazement and wonder to the one to whom it was due: the Lord Jesus. It was God who healed this man and by His power, not anything Peter or John did, but by “Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him (3:6b)”. The situation became an opportunity to glorify Christ and to share the Gospel with all who were there.

Our service should not only use what we have to give, but be done through God’s power, by faith in Jesus Christ and His power to save. Even if we have “nothing” to give, like Peter and John with the crippled man in Acts 3, we who are part of God’s family have Jesus and the Gospel that we can share. We can use our service as a way to share the Gospel with others—to share the love of God and hope we have as God’s children, forgiven of our sins. The gift of Jesus and through Him the forgiveness of sin is the greatest gift ever, but many times people will be more ready to listen if we serve them in other ways as well.

May we all be challenged to give what we have and use what we have to share the Gospel with those we serve.

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Thoughts on Judges 6-8

This devotion comes from Judges 6-8 (6:1-16; 7:9-21)
Gideon Leads God’s People

When Gideon is called to lead the people of Israel he is hiding and scared—threshing wheat in a winepress!  This is not our picture of a “mighty man of valor” as the angel calls him.  Gideon even considers himself the least in his father’s house.  Yet the angel of the LORD still commands Gideon to go save Israel, saying to Gideon’s objections, “But I will be with you”.
God often calls people we would not expect to do amazing things.  We may be nothing of ourselves, but when God call us to a task He enables us to fulfill that through His power! With Gideon, God took a once scared man and made him into a warrior and leader.
By the power of God, Gideon and 300 men defeated thee Midianite army.  If it were not through God’s command and His power, Gideon and his forces would have been easily destroyed.  When we do the things God calls us to do, and we do so through the power of God, even the smallest things can become big things.  Numbers matter little when God is in control!  301 men, with God’s help, routed an army of over 120,000!  God can take us and show His greatness through our weakness.  He can take our fears, and transform us into His bold servants.
Gideon served his community by doing what God called him to do, even though he was afraid.  God can use any of us too, even if we’re afraid!

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Thoughts on Luke 19:1-10

Jesus and Zacchaeus:

Zacchaeus eagerly wanted to see this man Jesus and he found a way to see Him.  Zacchaeus found a way around his problems to see the Lord.  When Jesus stopped to invite Himself over to Zacchaeus’ house, Zacchaeus didn’t hesitate, but received Jesus with joy!  I am humbled by Zacchaeus’ eager excitement to see and host the Lord.  He was determined to see Jesus, but Jesus was determined to spend time with Zacchaeus—and to know him.
Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus changed his life radically.  AS a tax collector, Zacchaeus was considered one of the “worst sinners”.  He defrauded his own people taking more money than necessary for their taxes and making himself rich in the process.  Yet, after encountering Jesus, Zacchaeus went from taking from his community to giving back to his community!  Zacchaeus not only made things right with those he stole from, but also gave half of his possessions to the poor.
Zacchaeus’ radical turn around stands as a challenge to us—not only to make right the wrongs we’ve done to others around us, but to give of what we have to meet the needs of others in our community.

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On Saying Goodbye

Goodbyes are never easy, no matter how they come, but this is especially the case when it comes to what some may call “the final goodbye”.  Yet when the “goodbye” is directed to someone who has had a long battle with cancer and to a fellow believer, the “goodbye” can become bittersweet.  It seems like that time is near once again for my family as we prepare to say “goodbye” to a beloved uncle.

We grieve, but not as those without hope (see 1 Thess 4:13-14).  No indeed, for we have the greatest hope of all–that because of Christ we will see my uncle again in heaven.  My uncle gets the best part of it because he gets to see Jesus before the rest of us.  He gets to go where God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).

Our goodbyes will not be final, for we will see my uncle again, and when we do, there will be no more goodbyes.  One of my favorite applications for “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”  (2 Pt 3:8) is one that the pastor at our church has said, “no sooner than when he gets there and see Jesus, will he turn around to find us all standing there with him.”  What a glorious thought!  It calls to mind lyrics from an old hymn:  “When we all get to heaven what a day of rejoicing that will be!  When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory!”

Indeed, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, death has been swallowed up in victory.  In the words of another song, “The victory is won and the grave is overwhelmed”.  We can have joy, we can have hope because of Christ!  He has conquered sin and death, making a way for sinful men and women to be made right with God.  For this reason, my uncle, indeed all us who are in Christ, may say “‘Death is swallowed up in victory. / ‘O death, where is your victory? / O death, where is your sting?'” (1 Cor 15:54b-55)

Yet even with all of the joy and hope we have in Christ in the midst of this, it is still hard on those who will remain on earth to tarry a while longer here.  Perhaps the death of a loved one is hardest on those who survive them.  They feel a pain of searing loss.  I think that these people are very near to the heart of God.

I consider the cross of Jesus.  God the Father had to bare the loss of His one and only begotten Son.  He had to turn His face away from His own Son because of the sin that Jesus took upon His own shoulders.  The Father bore the loss even as it was the will of God to crush Him (see Is 53:10).  But because of the loss that occurred at Calvary, followed by the resurrection, we can have confidence that my uncle will go to be in heaven with his Lord, Savior, and Master–Jesus Christ.

Yes, I do think that those going through the pain of loss are near to the heart of God.  “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted / and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps 34:18).  For those who survive my uncle, I pray that this will be an overwhelming reality in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.  I pray that God would make His presence evident.  I pray that God would continue to receive the glory in all of this.  Such has been my prayer from the beginning of my uncle’s battle with cancer: that the Lord would be glorified in the process as well as the outcome.

It seems that God has chosen to call one of His faithful servants home to be with Him in glory.  He has fought the good fight, he has run his race well, and he has kept the faith (see 2 Tim 4:7).  He has honored his Lord with his life and advanced the Kingdom of God here on earth.  I hope that in my lifetime I can follow my uncle’s example in following Christ and be more like them both.

I will miss him greatly, as many will, but I’ll see him on the other side.  For this reason, I do not say “goodbye”, but rather, “see you later”.

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[Note: I wrote this on 10/2/12 but have not had an opportunity to post it until today]

The conference was amazing and God provided in so many ways!  Not only did He bless me with many contacts, some of which I regard more as friends than simply “business contacts”, but he also provided me the energy I needed to get everything I could out of the conference.  I feel much more equipped to do the task that lays before me.

My weekend rest at my family home was a rich blessing to me as well.  It is always edifying to spend time with them and speak of the Lord’s work in our lives.  It is also a blessing to worship the Lord together!  For this I give Him many thanks and praise His name.

Now that I’m back to school and catching up in classes, I’ve realized how depleted I still am from the conference.  Though I do not feel like I’ve recovered from last week, I know the Lord continues to provide everything I need to accomplish what He would have me do.  This week is proving to be difficult, but I know by His grace I will get through it and bring glory to His name.

I look forward to the weekend, hoping to find time to find true rest that only comes by abiding in Him!  To those of you who also feel exhausted and depleted, know that God will give you strength to get through whatever you’re going through and know that peace and rest can be found when you abide in Him!  Take the time to drink deeply of the Living Water!

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