Your Very Life

Living where Life is

Month: December 2015

Seven Questions for the end of the year

imagesPsalm 90:12  says, “teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  Wisdom is the highest character ideal in all the OT. Wisdom means right thinking and right living.  We don’t get there by accident… but by pausing to consider our daily life.  That is, working to “number our days aright”.

At the end of 2015, and the start up to 2016, let’s pause and ask 7 questions to help us number aright and gain a heart of wisdom:

Q1: Is my pace fit for a marathon or a sprint? Is the rhythm of my life sustainable?

Life is a marathon – you gotta slow the pace down if you’re going to make it… Yet so many of us run it at top speed, never feeling like we can take or get a break.  Pace is key.  How do I know if I’m at marathon pace or sprint pace?

  • Are you always tired, but never able to rest?
  • Are you unable to shut your mind off?
  • Do you lack focus when you try to concentrate?
  • Do you look your loved ones in the eyes everyday?
  • Is the word “linger” a nostalgic word that we don’t come close to?

How to pace yourself:  Rest your body, renew your mind, and reorient your life

  • Sleep, relaxation, hobbies, exercise… these all help to rest your body.
  • Scripture, silence, face-to-face interaction, novels, journaling, etc. these all help renew your mind.
  • And what reorients your life? These 7 questions will be a great help in that!

 

Q2: What are my goals & targets?

Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time. At the end of this year, and start of the next, have you thought of how you would like to grow next year, what you would like to learn or experience?

  • About a year ago, I decided I needed to read the Bible start to finish. My routine on workdays is to get up and spend time with the Lord alone – and I took that time over the past year to read Genesis to Revelation. I hadn’t done it for 5-8 years.
  • Last month, I decided I needed to learn more about Islam and radical Islam… and then blog about it for your benefit. I’m in the learning stage. (We’re not going to let Donald Trump define the terms of the debate!)
  • I talked to a friend who said, “our goal is to be out of student debt by the end of this year”…and they are: they worked hard, forfeited some fun, and plowed more money… hit their goal. They are debt free. They worked that goal.

Michael Hyatt says the key to reaching a goal is the WHY behind it:

  • Why get out of debt? The freedom you will have, the peace you will have.
  • Why read Scripture? To grasp more of who God is
  • Why learn about Islam? To understand the world better.

What goals do you make? Spiritual goals, physical, family, relationship, financial goals. If you don’t have any targets, you’re not aiming anywhere.

Goals are Different than New Years resolutions. Resolutions are commitments you make to do better. It all rests on you.  Goals are changes you make in where you are headed. And you rely on God who leads you there.

 

Q3: Am I writing checks on the prayer trust fund?

Stick with me: imagine you have a friend who is chronically short of money, but in real ways: Their roof is leaking, and they can’t fix it. Their car is broken down, but don’t have the $ to repair it.  But, your friend is a Rockefeller – and he’s got a $100M trust fund that he can write checks on any time he wants. What’s his problem?  Why doesn’t he dip into his family resources to carry him through life?

Are you writing checks on the prayer trust fund?  Are you dipping into the family resources? God has given us

  • God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. (Eph 1:3)
  • Since God gave us his son, how will he not also (along with Christ) give us all things? (Rom 8:31)

So, why aren’t you praying?  Do you have a regular prayer routine that ensures you bring your life and loved ones, the needs of this world and community before God?

Keep dipping into the trust fund.

 

Q4: What “foundational things” in life do I need to shore up?

The simple things are the things we all know, but may not address.  Would you buy a house with Extensive Termite damage in crawl space?  No matter how gorgeous the home, you don’t buy it UNLESS you fix the unseen.

When was the last time you considered the foundational things of living?

  • Healthy eating – nutrients, not processed: If it comes from a factory or franchise, it won’t be too good for you!
  • Healthy spending – If more is going out than coming in, you’ve got termites. Sooner or later, the house will fall down.
  • Forgiving someone – the foundation of freedom is forgiveness. Both for the perpetrator and the one wronged. Who do you need to forgive?
  • Being considerate with those closest (how often we treat strangers with greater courtesy than family!)
  • Taking time each day with be with God? Are you reading, studying together with your HC, memorizing the eternal, life-giving word? Talk about shoring up your foundation!
  • The “screens” in our lives need to be dessert, not the main course, of our time.

Just the simple wisdom of life… which of these do you need to shore up?

 

Q5: Have you inventoried how God has worked in your life this year?

At the end of this year, take a sheet of paper (or a page in your journal) and write each month (leaving some space after each), and then go back through the year, and jot down what happened, and how God showed up.  Did he provide miraculously, did he sustain you through something, did he bring a breakthrough in your understanding/acceptance of something…

When we remember what God has done, we’ll trust what he can do!

 

Q6: If God could change 1 thing about your character, what would that be?

When’s the last time you asked that: “Lord, what’s one thing YOU want to change?” Then, sit still and listen.

God says in Romans 8:29 that his intention and activity for every believer is that we are each conformed to the image of Christ:  His character is overlaid on our character!

Ask God, then, “what are you working on next?”  And, ask him again in a week. Reflect on what he’s brought to mind.

 

Q7: Are you increasingly Grateful?

The more we give thanks, the more…

  • We affirm that God is at work, since we are thanking him.
  • We are reminded that everything is a gift from him (even the bad things)
  • We are formed to respond to God – since we’re affirming his activity and reminded of our receiving, we are spending our lives responding to God’s initiatives.
  • We complain less – straight arithmetic proves this: the more of my words are grateful, the less can be murmurings!

Seven questions to help us number our days aright and gain a heart of wisdom… and a life pleasing to God!

The days are getting longer

sunset-over-farm-rural-york-county-pennsylvania-47851689Well, we’ve just passed the shortest day of the year. Not sure if that has registered to you yet. Now every day is longer than the one before. Pretty soon, we’ll all be enjoying a quick 9 holes after work, or an evening cook-out. No more dark at 6 o’clock. And, earlier mornings for a run or a quiet time before work that’s bright!

This week, approaching Christmas, it seems to me that this is a great parable of what all life is really about: the days are getting longer. Scripture so beautifully unfolds Christ as the Light of the World. When we consider the rhythm of increasing light each day, it points to the gracious reality that Christ is shining in more and more places. Longer days on the calendar giving more light to our lives: what a reflection of the divine plan of the Gospel! Christ and his kingdom ever increasing on this earth. It’s interesting to note how so much of God’s work of Creation, Redemption and New Creation is couched in these terms. Look at some of the highlights (pun intended) from Scripture.

Light is the very first element in God’s perfect creation:

  • And God said, “Let there be light!” And there was light. – Gen 1:3

Light is the identity of the Redeemer:

  • I will make you a light for the Gentiles – Isa 42:6, 49:6, Lk 2:32, Acts 13:47
  • In him was life, and that life was the light of men… The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. – John 1:4, 9
  • I am the light of the world. – John 8:12
  • The Son is the radiance of God’s glory… – Heb 1:3

Light describes the experience of redemption and salvation:

  • The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. – Isa 9:2
  • For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. – 2 Cor 4:6
  • For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness… – Col 1:13
  • …that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. – 1 Peter 2:9

Light characterizes the Coming Day when God consummates the New Creation:

  • Arise shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you… For the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. – Isa 60:1, 19
  • There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. – Rev 22:5 (cf. 21:23ff)
  • And [believers] shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. – Dan 12:3

God is light (1 John 1:5) and everything he does (from Creation through Redemption all the way to New Creation) is always light. Look at your calendar: the days are getting longer, more light, more bright. That’s where we come in: We have a wonderful, light-shining part in God’s fantastic plan. He puts his light in us so that through us that light shines everywhere we go: “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14).

Wait! I thought Jesus was the light of the world. Now I’m the light of the world. Does that mean I’m Jesus? Or that there are two lights in the world? You and I are the light of the world insofar as we are IN CHRIST! Because we are his disciples, part of his body, indwelled and made alive by his Spirit, now we too are the light of the world, shining the light of Jesus Christ the Son of God. The Son is the Sun, and we are the moon – reflecting the Son/Sun’s pure, bright, life-giving light.

Let us, as Christ-followers, live as the Light of Christ, the Light in this darkened world. Look back up at Isa 9:2 – “the people walking in darkness…” Ask the Lord to remind you again and again and again that your friends, co-workers, classmates are living life in darkness. Ask God for light-giving compassion towards them (instead of the judgmental attitude that I tend toward!). Ask him to give you words and actions that enlighten their lives.

As a church body let us seek God’s face for the upcoming year that we may bear the Light of Christ into the darkest corners of our friends’ lives, of Eastern North Carolina, and of this whole world. If we could fast-forward 365 days from now, and see God’s absolute best for us, I wonder how many lives would be touched, and homes changed, and people meet Christ through us. How many more people will be added to our Grace family? How many more folks around the world will know Christ because of our mission efforts? How many more areas in your life and mine will be brightened with Christ’s cleansing light, areas that right now are dark with struggling sin? All of this and much more as we walk in the light and shine the light!

Friends, the days are getting longer. May they “get longer” in many lives and places because of us!

In five days our Lord will come to us

imgresThe following is from Chris Rice, on his Reconcilers blog.  Click here to read it there. The picture is Christ in the Breadline by Fritz Eichenberg.

Into the Turbulence of 2015, Christ Comes, Uninvited

December 21, 2015:  Today I was struck by these Advent words in the Liturgy of the Hours:  “There is no need to be afraid; in five days our Lord will come to us.”

Our Lord is coming, in just five days.  So powerfully simple.  So wonderfully reassuring.  How much we need the Lord to come to us and reveal to us the way!

Yet what time is the Lord coming into, here and now, in 2015?  A Washington Post writer recently named the time this way:

My first full year as a citizen of the United States was also the year Donald Trump made nativism a viable political project. It was the year college activists battled racism with their own peculiar intolerance. It was the year Rachel Dolezal was redefined, Atticus Finch rewritten, Caitlyn Jenner revealed. It was the year police shootings became viral, mass shootings became daily and same-sex marriage became law. It was a year America did little else, it seemed, than fight over values, identity, premises.

It’s exhausting, being American. Seriously, do you folks do this every year?

Add to this the year ISIS became a global acronym, migrant became a contested household word across the world, and once-peaceful Burundi stood on the verge of vast violence just 20 years after genocide.

How does the Lord come to us here and now, in 2015, in a year so full of turbulence?

That question brought to my mind the words of Thomas Merton.

“Into this world,
this demented inn,
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ has come uninvited.
But because he cannot be at home in it,
because he is out of place in it,
and yet he must be in it,
his place is with those others for whom there is no room.
His place is with those who do not belong,
who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak,
those who are discredited,
who are denied the status of persons,
tortured,
excommunicated.
With those for whom there is no room,
Christ is present in this world.”

He has come for all of us, every one of us, the whole world.  The question is, where will we find him?  In these turbulent times, are we ready to find and receive this Lord?

The Lord will be here very soon, right into the here and now.  This is the most wonderful news.  And there is no need to be afraid.  [Chris Rice]

Study Guide for 12.13.15

Here is the study guide for today’s text – Matthew 12:15-21. Enjoy.

Study Guide 12.15-21

Study Guide from 12.6 Sermon

 

Study Guide 12.6.15

Here is the study guide from today’s message in Matthew 12:1-14.

Seven Questions if you’re parenting middle- and high-school aged children

imgres1. Do you recognize they belong to God, and you are the stewards of them?

“Children are a gift from God” Psalm 127 says. And we get to enjoy them (most days!). When I borrow a tool from a friend, I really want to take care of it, because I don’t own it; it belongs to my friend. My kids belong to God first. Do you believe this? Consider how it would change the way you snap back at them, what you wish for them, where you take them/let them go. They’re God’s first.

2. Do you know kids spell LOVE this way: T-I-M-E?

Advertisers say they spell love “S-T-U-F-F”, kids think they spell it “F-R-E-E-D-O-M”. But the reality is that every moment you spend with your children invests in their character and your relationship. Do a time audit… for a week or two, note how much time you are hanging, doing, being, talking, eating, driving with your kids. Is that what you want it to be?

3. Are you helping your children sink deep roots?

A skyscraper needs to dig down in order to soar higher (that’s why there are few skyscrapers on Long Island…sandy soil, versus the bedrock of Manhattan Island). First: Be with extended family, tell stories of when you were a kid, develop relationships with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. This deepens their roots. Second: If you are in a two parent home (this includes if you have step-children), those kids need to see you thrive in your married relationship—that you enjoy being together as a couple, that you are affectionate, that when you disagree/fight you know how to make up. Third: Tell the stories of the faith, break open Scripture at dinner or bedtime and help them see our faith is both personal to us and thousands of years old! Three ways to help kids stay rooted.

4. Do you recognize that allowing them to fail and not giving them everything they want are crucial to their maturing?

As parents we want to protect our kids and pave the way for them. This is natural and good. However, part of growing up is learning how to bounce back from disaster and navigating things when their expectations outstrip reality. You are giving your kids a huge gift when you can help them walk through hard corners of real life.

5. Do they know you are their biggest supporter, greatest encourager and that you are always there for them (even if you’ve had to say no, see #4)?

Everything in the world is conditional… except the love God has for us, which is reflected in the love of our parents. This world treads our kids down and chews them up. They need fans & true supporters. Let’s make sure it’s us!

6. Do you know that even though they don’t open up much, they are still listening?

Between their hormones, immaturity and sin, and your own sin and baggage, conversing with our teenagers can be fraught. But, keep loving them with gracious truth, with much time, and with support even when they blow it, and you can be sure that they’ll hear (at least some of) what you are saying! Of course the greatest way to help them hear is to speak when they are ready: If they ask you a question it’s a “drop-everything” moment for you!

7. Do you pray God’s promises for them?

I love the way we have a trump card with God! Yes, that’s supposed to sound cheeky. But, God has bound himself to His Word, and He always accomplishes what He promises. So, pray the promises of Scripture for your children. Phil 1:6 – “I’m confident of this, that He who began a good work will complete it until the day of Christ.” That’s a fact because that’s a promise. God is at work in your kids. Ask God to give you a couple of promises to pray for each child (and ask Him to make sure you are not praying them out of context!).

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