Challenge, Children, Encouragement, History, Identity, In the news, Issues of the Day

We Do Love Independence!

I was thinking about independence and how much we love this word and all it represents. We can move to become independent rather quickly. After all, isn’t that what we spent 18 years training our children to become? Then one day they attempt to be independent of us and we want to hold them back because we don’t like their attitude or some such thing.

I can still remember my teenage boys pushing to become independent of their mother. They actually practiced not listening to her or at the very least looking like they were not listening as she followed behind them telling them what she thought they ought do. 

There is something inside of us that speaks to not desiring to be told what to do because that’s not independence. It feels like hovering or maybe even smothering to us. So we say to our wives, “Yes, yes, yes, I hear you.” Or to our husbands, “Are you listening to me?” Or to our wives, “I’m serious when I say this.” Or to our husbands, “You must be joking.” We’ve been longing for independence since Genesis chapter three. Our fallen nature thinks we can do it; we can be self-dependent, not needing others. 

But the actual truth is every day we need others. We need our mechanic to fix our car. We need our boss to keep us employed. We need our church family to help us lead. We need our spouse to look out for us and to help us find things we’ve lost. Daily, we need others.

But more than anything or anyone, we need God. We are wholly dependent upon the Spirit of God to lead us, cover us, answer our prayers and speak God’s direction to us. We are never really independent of others. We certainly do not want to be independent of God. So let’s truthfully acknowledge our need for Him and of those He has placed in our lives. 

I saw this “need” pictured in a scripture I read the other day. “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother (Philemon), have refreshed the hearts of the saints…that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.” Philemon 7, 20b

Be refreshed this Independence Day and bring refreshment to others by loving them!

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Challenge, Encouragement, Identity, In the news, Issues of the Day, Parents, Singles

Those Words and Deconstruction

“Do you also want to leave?”

Those words spoken by Jesus and recorded in John six give me pause. Many of Jesus’ disciples were walking away, no longer desiring to be associated with Him. Jesus then looks at the twelve disciples and asks them this poignant question. 

Can you visualize yourself standing with Jesus, watching some of your friends, maybe relatives and neighbors who were walking closely with you just pick up their things, turn their backs and walk away? Now He’s looking straight at you waiting for an answer. He was, in fact, giving you a pass to walk away with them, no questions asked as you shift from foot to foot, nervously, waiting for others to respond.

Finally, Peter speaks up, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves.” 

Is that your final answer? Are you staying with Him? It’s going to be difficult. It won’t get any easier.

For those who are “deconstructing” their faith, examining their roots and finding it difficult to remain with Christ, He is waiting for your answer. Do you want to leave too? Will you walk away from the One who loves you, saved you and gave His life for you? 

There is no perfect church, pastor or godly parent. There is no perfect Christian leader, mentor or counselor. Not one of us has a perfect foundation. We will be disappointed by others who have spoken faith into our lives. But there is One that will never disappoint, never leave you and never sin against you: Jesus. 

It’s easy to criticize and deconstruct; it’s far more difficult to jump in and be a part of the solution–the construction crew. 

If walking away from faith is walking away from Him, then you’re going to have to dive deeply into self-trust, self-sufficiency and self-belief. 

But here’s the thing about that. Even you will disappoint you. There is no perfect you. I would encourage you to stop holding others up to perfection who were imperfect in your life. Give them the same grace you give yourself. 

The enemy of your soul is handing you deconstruction. Jesus is handing you life, words of real life, words of eternal life.

Pay close attention, friend, to what your father tells you; never forget what you learned at your mother’s knee. Wear their counsel like a winning crown, like rings on your fingers.

(Proverbs 1:8, 9)

The Message

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Challenge, History, Identity, Issues of the Day

Dead Before Her Time

It was repeatedly stated that the Mortenson girl would end up dead way too early. 

She never knew her real father and she was placed in foster care at age six while her mother entered a mental institution. She was shifted from one home to another. 

She was molested in one of her homes, abused and mistreated in others. Her full name was Norma Jeane Mortenson and her only goal in life was (in her words), “I want to be loved for myself.”

Her first marriage was at age sixteen. Her second marriage was to a name we all recognize – Joe DiMaggio. Then another marriage and then her Hollywood name of Marilyn Monroe was given to her at age twenty-seven while working as a model. She became a national pastime, a star, certainly in the minds of many, one to emulate.

But inside Norma Jeane felt dirty, unworthy of love following molestation, foster home after foster home, marriage after marriage. She engaged in romances with some of the most famous men of her time. 

At age thirty-six, desperate for love, she reached out to talk to a friend, looking for affirmation and understanding, someone to care. But what she got was hung up on. She then swallowed a large number of pills and was found in her bed the following day dead, the phone hanging there beside her. How many more desperate calls did she make?

Loneliness is all around us. There is the widow down the street. There is the senior care home in the next town. There is a co-worker who just went through a divorce. 

So many people are looking for love. Tell them about the Someone who stepped down from heaven to be their Savior and their friend. Who needs a word of affirmation or of encouragement from you today?

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. (Jeremiah 33:3)

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Challenge, Encouragement, History, Identity, Just for fun

A Shoe Salesman of Notoriety

Recently I was reading I Corinthians chapter one and came across these profound verses: 

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

I also learned a new word lately – orthopraxy. It means to practice good or correct orthodoxy. The above verse is really good orthodoxy and great to practice conscientious orthopraxy. However, good orthodoxy will save no one. But, it doesn’t mean we do not practice righteous or correct orthopraxy. 

Let me take you to a story about a man named Lyman from Northfield, Mass who possessed neither good orthodoxy nor practiced good orthopraxy. His father died when he was 4. At 17 he could barely read or write. He left home to work for his uncle in his boot shop in Boston. There he went to church with his uncle, didn’t understand the sermons so he slept through them. A Sunday School teacher took an interest in Lyman and led him to the Lord. The leaders of the church said he’d be of little use to the kingdom of God. 

Lyman moved to Chicago to sell shoes, and he really sold shoes. He went to a church in Chicago where they found him to be “irritating with his unpolished zeal, butchering grammar and theology.” So Lyman went to the slums of Chicago to speak to children who were unschooled street kids. Abraham Lincoln once noted that this man Lyman could take “legions of ragamuffin kids and study the Bible.” 

Then the shoe salesman started his own church. The church building was destroyed by the fire of 1871. He became a traveling evangelist. He spoke 230 words a minute, so fast that few could even understand him. He was, however, doggedly determined to spread the gospel. 

This salesman who weighed over 400 pounds went on to lead one million souls to Christ and started America’s largest Bible school and one of the world’s largest publishing houses. He trained and sent over 5,000 missionaries to overseas assignments in his lifetime. 

You might remember him by his full name, Dwight Lyman Moody. Wow, what can God do with those of us who were called but not the wisest, not the most noble, not the most influential and maybe the “weakest of our clan” like Gideon? 

Even though God chose the weak things like us, He still chose us to bring His good news and to make our boast in Him alone.

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Challenge, Encouragement, History, Identity

How Do You Handle Failure?

Harland was five years old when his father passed away. When he reached the ripe old age of 14, Harland dropped out of school. He was first a farmhand, then a streetcar conductor but fired from both jobs. He lied about his age and joined the army at 16. Being pushed out of military service early he moved to Alabama and attempted blacksmithing.*

This job didn’t last either and he landed a position of locomotive fireman. Harland fell in love, married and the day he lost this job his wife announced her pregnancy. In fear of the future, his wife left him and returned home to her parents. 

The Great Depression hit and Harland decided to study law. He was licensed and soon thereafter lost his cool, got into a fist fight with his client in the courtroom and was chased from that career. He then was managing a gas station but lost that job when he decided to shoot his competitor while arguing over a sign.

Finding himself in Corbin, Kentucky, he landed a job as chief cook and bottle washer. He found success there but the plan for a new highway bypassing the town caused him to sell the restaurant for a small portion of its actual worth. Now at age 65 he was once again starting over.

Harland signed up for Social Security and his first check arrived. It was a grand total of $105.00. Having failed or struggled most of his life, he took that check and deposited it into the bank. He would eventually start a new venture with his savings.

The new adventure caused Harland to have one of the most successful food chains in U.S. history. You remember this man by the name Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken. That idea started with $105.00 and became so “finger lickin’ good” that today there are 20,000 restaurants in 125 countries generating over $23 billion.

Is there failure beyond having hope? Have you ever felt like giving in and giving up? Honestly, no failure is a final failure. Maybe it’s finding out what doesn’t work or perhaps it’s a lesson toward the next venture. Never give up; never quit! Harland didn’t.

*Adapted from the book Amazing Stories

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Challenge, Encouragement, Identity, Prayer

It’s An Unfair Advantage!

As believers, we have an unfair advantage! 

God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. I Kings 4:29, 30

Proverbs 2:1-6 – My son, if you accept my words
    and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
    and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight
    and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

With God on our side, watching our backs, going before us, behind us and beside us, we have an unfair advantage as believers. The Holy Spirit is always working on our behalf in us and through us. Jesus loves us, saves us and heals us. He goes before the Father in intercession for us. 

We live in a world of favor, mercy and blessing. Our minds, controlled by the Spirit, always have the potential to think His thoughts, have His insights and walk in His wisdom. We are never without His presence, His going before us and His protection of us. We walk throughout life in an unfair advantage.

We serve and have daily access to the best lawyer, banker, mortgage agent, doctor, dentist, counselor, scientist, financial manager, retirement planner, head hunter and boss. He opens doors before us and closes those which we are not to enter. He has the answer to every question and insight into every problem. He is the inventor, innovator and creator. All wisdom and all insight reside within Him and He freely shares this wisdom with us as He did with Daniel, David, Moses, Solomon and Esther.

We are never alone, never without hope and never without a friend. He is our safe place, our comforter and our lover. We are never without an answer to a question; we have a fulltime advocate and we walk with the Teacher of teachers. We clearly have an advantage in serving Him, loving Him, placing Him first in our lives and pursuing Him with all of our heart. 

This unfair advantage is given to us freely but we must take hold of it. We must call upon Him first and foremost. We look to Him before anything or anyone. He is our source and our explanation. He is the Good News and He longs to give every one of us this advantage. 

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Encouragement, History, Identity, Leadership

I’ll Be Turning Fifty!

Those of you who know me also know I personally reached that age some time ago. This month, a little closer to Christmas, it will be 50 years since I made Jesus Lord of my life.  

Fifty. That’s half a century of doing my best to live life in a way that would honor God. Fifty seems like a lifetime of learning, growing, changing, forgiving, repenting and transitioning. 

I have discovered that I cannot change history, but history has changed me. I discovered that failure is almost certain in areas that are not surrendered to my heavenly Father. And, I realize that if I want to hear “well done” in heaven, I need to say “yes, Lord” on earth.

Maybe you’re beyond 50 or nowhere near that number. Either way, faithfulness is the key. Remain faithful to your King; He never disappoints. He will never leave you and He will provide for your every need, even some wants. Be committed to love Him with all of your heart, mind and soul. Know that He has your best interest in mind. Pray about all things and continually thank Him, for a grateful heart is a full heart.

Never compare yourself with others; it’s unwise, Corinthians says (II Corinthians 10:12). There are two end results to comparison: insignificance or pride. Continually work toward a pure heart and mind, forsake sin and forgive quickly.

My life verse has been Galatians 2:20 which says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” That verse says it all for me. 

Fifty years. I haven’t accomplished all I desire to, but there’s plenty of time left for that. 

Merry Christmas!

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Challenge, Encouragement, Identity, Insecurity, Issues of the Day

Bonus Devotional: Day 31, Final Words

“There are two great days in a person’s life ­– the day we are born and the day we discover why.”  William Barclay

It has been the goal of this thirty day devotional for you to discover why you were born and to never let go of those truths. Thank you for joining with me and allowing me to be a small part of your devotional life. I pray that every day has been a blessing to you. Enjoy this final blog on identity and don’t forget to purchase your own book.

In the Scriptures, God chose to call Himself “Abba” or “Daddy.” It has always intrigued me that He used family language. Jesus repeatedly said that He only did what He saw His Father doing. If Jesus, the Son of God, looked to His Father, how much more do we need to get lost in His approval, esteem, identity, and love? The following verses describe this relationship so accurately.

The mature children of God are those who are moved by the impulses of the Holy Spirit. And you did not receive the “spirit of religious duty” leading you back into the fear of never being good enough. But you have received the “Spirit of acceptance,” enfolding you into the family of God. And you will never feel orphaned, for as he rises up within us, our spirits join him in saying the words of tender affection, “Beloved Father!” For the Holy Spirit makes God’s fatherhood real to us as he whispers into our innermost being, “You are God’s beloved child!” (Romans 8:14-16 The Passion Translation).

No one will force you to receive your security and identity in the Father’s love and acceptance, not even God Himself. According to the verses above, He says you are already good enough. He desires that you receive the “Spirit of acceptance” and approval. You are part of His family, never an orphan. Allow His Holy Spirit to make His Fatherhood real to you as He whispers in your innermost being: “You are God’s beloved child!”

It is unknown who first said these words, but I think they are so relevant as we close this book. “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” Together, let’s change the ending and commit to starting that change today. 

It is said that we become like those whom we spend time with. We will pick up their language, their mannerisms and sometimes their attitudes. Spending time with God is never wasted. As we learn His language, His word, His mannerisms and His attitudes, we will find ourselves becoming more and more secure in that identity. You will no longer be who you once were or thought you should be. You will become the distinctiveness of you!

It has been a pleasure to connect with you on a daily basis. You can sign up for my weekly blog at: calledtogether.wordpress.com

To obtain a copy of the book Identity: The Distinctiveness of You just click here.

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Challenge, Children, Identity, Insecurity, Marriage, Parents

The Heart of a Child

A Thirty Day Devotional adapted from the NEW book: Identity: The Distinctiveness of You – Day 30

My children will stand firm in their faith. Isaiah 7:9

My children will not turn to the right or to the left; they will walk in the way of the Lord, that they may live and prosper. Deuteronomy 5:32-34

Even as newborns, children recognize smells and the voices of those around them.  While my children were still in their mother’s womb, I would talk to them, pray over them and let them know who I was and how we anticipated their birth.  We would even read stories to them in utero.  From the womb we wanted our children to know their worth and value within our family.  When born, each of my children recognized my voice, as though they knew me and had met me before.  

Children also know and recognize who strangers are very early on.  They will typically not go into just anyone’s arms if they do not recognize the smell or the voice.  This new voice may feel strange to them and they may resist.  Even tiny babies recognize differences, as well as similarities. 

It is said that children are not born with identities; those identities are formed over time from belonging, acceptance and affirmation, safe relationships with family, community (like extended family or church family) and environment.  Children receive messages concerning their identity that are spoken and unspoken.  Most children recognize a response of shame, rejection or disapproval without one single word being verbalized. 

Further, a child’s identity relates to a number of other contributing factors like their own personal self-concept built by long-term relationships, their memories of life events that help to build their life stories, being listened to, their opportunities to explore, making decisions for themselves, experiencing failure and even how conflict is dealt with around them.

God has expectations of His children, but it is not our performances or our accomplishments that gain His approval. God is perfect, yet He is not into perfectionism. In our mere existence, He approves of us. 

The answer to a child’s healthy identity is not a high-esteem originating from some form of performance. The answer is a God-realized love and approval along with your love, acceptance, and approval of your child.  These two main ingredients are foundational to your child’s healthy identity.

I must correct and reward my children. It’s a part of life. However, I must differentiate that while reward and correction have to do with behavior, it is never a question that I love and accept their personhood. In their mere existence, they are important to me. I always approve of them as individuals. They can never do anything to not be my children. 

Strong and affirmative encouragement and approval from parents and grandparents will help your child to feel safe, capable, optimistic, well-adjusted and positive.  In reality, most role models that are positive, encouraging and life-giving to a child will help to build a positive identity.  We must take action to keep our children from negative, demeaning or destructive influences in their lives.

In Galatians 4:19, Paul the Apostle wrote, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”  Paul’s goal was to form or to build Christ, not himself.  I love the picture this presents because all the security and all the identity your child needs are not found in you, his/her parent, but in Christ Jesus.  

Finally, parenting requires a huge level of humility.  If we learn to approach our parenting with a spirit of humility, we will be able to admit when we are wrong.  We will also be able to apologize to our children allowing our children to change us.  Pride will certainly not help us in our parenting.

Question for refection:

How can you more effectively build Christ in your natural and spiritual children?

Watch for a bonus blog tomorrow!

To order the book for yourself, a friend, your family or a group click here.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Identity, Insecurity

Your Destiny II

A Thirty Day Devotional adapted from the NEW book: Identity: The Distinctiveness of You – Day 29

We have been justified by His blood. Romans 5:9

We have redemption through His blood. Ephesians 1:7

I blamed my father for most everything negative in my life.  After all, aren’t parents supposed to be kind, generous, loving and placing their children first?  Yes and no.  Not every parent is whole enough to be all those things to their children, as each one is in a different stage of healing and growing up themselves.  But still, I expected perfection from my father.  He was older, wiser and stronger than me.  I held him up as the one who should take all the blame for my messed-up life and for a while that worked for me.

Then one day I heard God whisper these words, “It is true, Steve, you did not have a perfect father, but you were never a perfect son and you, yourself, are not a perfect father.”  God was confronting me, kindly and with His truth.  I decided that day the blame game was over and that Jesus’ prescription to me read, “Forgive as you have been forgiven.”  It was the only way forward and it would be the only way I would really find God as my heavenly Father and not project upon Him that imperfect image of my earthy father.

God is the perfect Father.  He loves us perfectly.  He forgives us perfectly.  He disciplines us perfectly.  He has our best interest in mind.  God created a perfect garden within a perfect world.  He created mankind and placed him there with the perfect job.  He then created the perfect life mate and by Genesis three they were walking away from Him.  Not long after that, in Genesis four, Adam’s and Eve’s son committed murder when in a fit of rage Cain killed Abel. 

If we find ourselves becoming hurt over and over, we are very effectively creating a cycle of hurt and pain within ourself.  We must, according to God’s word, “put off” this “earthly nature” from the ways we “used to walk,” receiving hurt after hurt, and “put on” our “new self…the image of [our] Creator.”  “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”  (See Colossians 3:1-14.)  

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!  But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.  Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears.  But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.  And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.(I John 3:1-3)

Our identity must guide who we are becoming and with this new identity we have new authority, so that everything we say and do flows out of our identity in Christ.  This is the goal of God in our lives and the goal of our life in God.  This then is where it all ends, “But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”  (I John 3:2,3)  

We shall be like Him.  We shall walk in His identity, His life and His purpose.  There is no greater life to be lived than the one life in which we know who we are and Who we serve, Jesus Christ Son of God.

Question for reflection:

In what ways have you cast blame on certain others for your imperfections?

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