In the fall of 1995, I was living in Egypt. My family had sent me a care package with goodies from home. I got some Dr Peppers, VHS tapes of my favorite TV shows, a tape recording of my favorite radio station and a stack of CD’s from the local Christian bookstore. As I shifted through the CD’s, one in particular caught my attention, “Jesus Freak” by DC Talk. It had been a few years since they released an album, so I was excited. I immediately put it in and hit play. When it got to song 4, I heard the words of Brennan Manning for the first time as “What If I Stumble?” began to play. The quote said, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” It shook me to say the least.
I had been raised in a church with a pastor whose slogan for the church was, “Christianity isn’t a religion…it’s a lifestyle Jesus commanded us to live.” I had been disciples to live that lifestyle, but for some reason when I heard the words on that CD, it hit me that I wasn’t supposed to live like a Christian just for Jesus. There is a world of people all around me who don’t know Jesus and are basing their opinion of Him based on how they see me live and act. My faith couldn’t be just something that I talked about. I didn’t want anyone to turn away from the cross based on the things I did, so I determined to live a life that would point people to Him rather than to push them further into unbelief.
Colossians 4:5 says, “Walk in the wisdom of God as you live before the unbelievers, and make it your duty to make him known” (TPT). As we mature in Christ, our lives begin to change as we are made new from the inside out. The way we think, behave and speak begin to change the more we become like Him. Each of us have to come to a point though where we choose to undergo that chrysalis so that our lives on the outside reflect what we believe on the inside. We will never arrive at living for Him perfectly, so perfection is not the goal. Getting a little bit more like Jesus every day is. We still have to contend with our flesh and we will still stumble, but as we mature, we learn to rely on His grace more. Our lives become living examples of the freedom and change God brings and that’s what will help an unbelieving world find attractive.
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I went to a pretty small high school where if you were athletic, you pretty much played every sport. If you ran track, you didn’t just run one race, you ran several which meant several heats for each race. We had to be in great shape. I remember my running coach teaching me to breathe a certain way so that I wouldn’t get that pain in my side. She also taught me aerodynamics so that my body would channel the wind. Then there was the conditioning to get my body in shape to survive so many races. I put a lot of miles on my shoes so that I could win the races I ran. After high school, I decided had ran enough miles for a lifetime, but in the course of it, I had won many races.
Running takes discipline and mental strength to push through when your body wants to quit. It’s a lot like living out your faith. It takes being dedicated, being mentally focused and being disciplined. Your flesh is always fighting against you and is trying to slow you down so you have to be prepared mentally to push back. It tries to play against your sympathies to get you to stumble and fall. You have to be disciplined enough to catch it early so you can stop that line of thinking. You also have to keep your eyes on what’s at stake in your life and in the lives of others. It’s not a 5k Fun Run. This is more like a marathon or an Iron Man. Every part of you must be disciplined so that you’re making determined progress and are be becoming more like Christ every day.
1 Corinthians 9:24 says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run [their very best to win], but only one receives the prize? Run [your race] in such a way that you may seize the prize and make it yours!” (AMP) Each of us are running the race God has called us to. No one can run your race for you. It’s up to you to run your race in a manner that you’re not just providing traffic for the other runners, but that you’re running in order to win. When you’re running to win, you push yourself to stay in the front of the race. You lean on lessons you’ve learned from the past and ensure that you’re spiritually fit. You use the discipline of reading and applying God’s Word to keep you on track. You continually seek God and His presence so you can endure. You invite the Holy Spirit into your life to encourage you daily to keep going. If you’re going to live a life of faith, be 100% committed and give it your all.
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Several years ago, I went through some very dark times in my life that I wasn’t sure I’d make it through. They left some very deep scars that I thought would never heal. Instead of going through a true healing process, I decided that it was best to treat that portion of my life as if it were a dream. I covered the wounds and vowed to never speak of them again. I thought that if I pretended it never happened, then I wouldn’t feel the pain of it. That seemed to work for a while until Dave Roever spoke at our church one Sunday.
Dave is a Vietnam veteran who had a phosphorus grenade blow up in his hand near his head as he was throwing it. He survived the explosion, but as a result of the explosion, he has a very disfigured face and hand. He told his story of his recovery and how God has used that terrible event to help him reach so many vets for Christ. Then he wrapped up his sermon by saying, “Don’t hide your scars. For in them, others will find their healing.”
I knew at that point it was time to unwrap my wounds to let them heal. I had to dig down inside, bring up all that hurt again to deal with it properly so God could use my story to help others find their healing. That’s how this site began actually. It was a way for me to process the hurt, but also a way for others to find their healing too. II Corinthians 1:4 says, “He (God) comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us” (MSG).
I don’t know the pain you’ve been through or are going through, but I do know that God has never left your side. He wants to help you heal your wounds so that He can bring others along side you who are going through something similar. He wants to use your scars to bring healing to others if you’re willing to let Him. Their situation may not be identical to yours, but the pain is the same and so is the healing process. Don’t hide your scars. Let God use them to help someone else who desperately needs your story.
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Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
Have you ever been driving and had someone in the vehicle comment constantly on your driving telling you what to do and how to do it? Did you like it? I’ve never met anyone who likes a backseat driver. According to Miriam-Webster online, a backseat driver is a passenger in a vehicle who is not controlling the vehicle but who excessively comments on the driver’s actions and decisions in an attempt to control the vehicle. We’ve all experienced it from someone in our lives. They make comments about your driving, especially when they feel like you’re taking a risk that they wouldn’t take. What they don’t realize is that backseat driving increases the risk of having a crash because of the added stress and distraction.
When you and I accept Jesus as our savior, we put Him in the driver’s seat of our lives. We, in effect, step out of that role and become a passenger. The church phrase is, “surrendering your life to Christ”. Yet how many of us have truly surrendered our lives to Him? We don’t mind surrendering the parts of our life we struggle with, but being a Christian is about surrendering everything. Remember the old hymn “I Surrender All”? Somewhere we have lost what it means to surrender our entire life to Him. When we are both trying to control the outcome of our life, we become a backseat driver to Jesus and increase the risk of messing things up. We start telling Him what we think He should do when we don’t have all the information He has as the one in control.
Jesus said it best in Matthew 16:24, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am” (MSG). You and I have to surrender the driving seat to Him. One way I do this is each morning before my feet hit the floor is to pray, “Lord, I open myself up to you. Fill me with your Spirit until I’m overflowing. Speak through me, love through me and live through me today. Let my words and actions be reflections of who you are. Use me in anyway you see fit. I surrender to your will.” Surrendering the driver’s seat isn’t natural. It has to be a daily and sometimes hourly. God is good and has a plan for your life that is greater than your own plan. Getting out of the driver’s seat and allowing Him to take over is the best thing you can do for your life.
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I’ve had some very different bosses throughout my working life. Some of my bosses could be referred to as micromanagers. They would give me an assignment, then breathe down my neck the whole time. They wanted it done their way or I would get in trouble. It was stressful and not very fun to work for them. Contrast them with some other bosses I’ve had that were overseers. They would hand me an assignment then back up and let me work. If I needed anything, they were always available to answer questions or give me feedback. I always felt like I thrived in that environment. I knew what was expected of me and I was able to do the work in a way that made going to work fun.
When Jesus walked on the earth, the religious leaders had made following God a lot like those micromanagers. They had a set of rules you couldn’t deviate from or they would call you out and embarrass you. They had their interpretation of living for God and forced everyone else to try to live that way too. It was burdensome and difficult. Contrast that with Jesus who took all their regulations and said they could be summed up by loving God and loving people. If they did those two things well, the rest came pretty easily. He removed the burdensome yoke of the law from our necks. In Matthew 11:28-30 He said, “Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. Simply join your life with mine. Learn my ways and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me. For all that I require of you will be pleasant and easy to bear” (TPT).
God is not a micromanager giving you a heavy load of regulations that’s impossible to bear. Christianity is not a bunch of “Thou shalt not’s”. Instead it is a spiritual oasis where we join our life to His and learn to love Him and others. He forgives your past and has given you permission to heal from it. You don’t have to live under the constant condemnation of you you were. In Him, you are a new creation. The old life is gone and He has created a new life in you. I love that He said in these verses that He’s easy to please. You don’t have to live under the stress of constantly fighting for His approval. He loves you, approves of you and has lifted your old burden that was weighing you down. It’s time to live in that approval and enjoy the relationship with Him that He offers.
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If you’ve ever been around a two or three year old, you know how independent they can be. I wonder if we call them “terrible two’s” because they are trying to do things on their own and act like they no longer need our help. It’s the start of a lifetime of trying to be self sufficient. The problem is that they lack wisdom in doing the things they’re trying to be independent at, and as adults, we’re constantly trying to make sure their independence doesn’t get them hurt or allow them to break expensive things. They’re constantly saying, “I can do it!” While they can do many things, they often need help and an occasional rescue whether they believe it or not.
As we grow up, we carry that independent spirit with us. We feel accomplished when we do things on our own like get a job, make a major purchase or graduate. As our hair turns gray, we seem to have to prove we are competent and still able to do things on our own. The independence God placed in us is strong, but so is our dependence on Him. We were given this independent streak and a desire to do things greater than our abilities. The latter was designed to create a dependence on God for help, but our selfish pride often prevents us from seeking Him when we need help.
Isaiah 46:4 says, “I am your God and will take care of you until you are old and your hair is gray. I made you and will care for you; I will give you help and rescue you” (GNT). It doesn’t matter how old you get, God still has great things for you to do. He’s also right there with you through life’s accomplishments helping you along the way. Like a watchful parent, He stands by us, encouraging us and rescuing us when we need it. There’s no shame in asking for His help when we’ve bitten off more than we can chew. God takes pride in helping us out all throughout our lives, and He loves it when we reach out to Him and say, “I can’t do it. Can you help?” We need to drop the independent pride we’ve been carrying since our terrible two’s and let God help us. When we do, we will accomplish infinitely more than we thought possible.
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Part of my personality type is that I do really well with a to-do list. If I don’t have one, I tend to live my life jumping from one squeaky wheel to the next. The problem with that is that I can find myself living crisis to crisis, but never do the day to day things that need to get done. Another problem on the other side of the coin is that I can reduce Christianity and my faith to a series of to-do lists. Read my Bible daily – check. Spend time in prayer – check. Give my tithe – check. It can easily become very sterile or even about my works when I do that. So when I read Micah 6:8, in my head, I create a check list of things to do so that i make sure I’m doing what God requires of me.
That verse says, “No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God” (GNT). If we dig deeper than the surface on these, they are more than things you can easily check off of a box. These are a way of living that flows out of a forgiven heart. I can’t just give justice according to man’s laws and ways. We must treat people and protect them according to God’s ways. To show constant love to others is nearly impossible in my own strength and selfishness. It flows out of a heart that has been shown what true love is from the One who is love itself.
All three of these really hinge on the last one. We must walk in humble fellowship with God if we are going to live out the other two correctly. Fellowship with God cannot be checked off a box as a duty. We’ve all had people in our lives that we were forced to be friends with. Love doesn’t grow in that type of relationship. When we learn to make our relationship with God less about us and our needs and focus on Him, we’ll have that fellowship that heals our brokenness instead of feeding it. These three things that God requires are not about us (which should remove the to-do list). They are about others and their needs. When we begin to live life for Him, it becomes less about us and more about seeking justice for others and showing the love and compassion He has for the world. Look around today and see the people He’s placed around you that need justice and love. Ask Him to use you to in their lives and to help you put down the to-do list.
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