Welcoming Friend or Guard Dog

As many of you know, I run through my town two or three times per week. As I’ve run through town, I’ve seen different breeds and different types of dogs. We all know there are different breeds, but what do I mean by types? I mean their demeanor or attitude toward people.

One type is the dog who is barking, wagging its tail, and looking excited at you. This dog is hoping you’ll stop by, visit with them, play with them. They want to lick you to death and are simply excited to see someone, anyone. We generally get a long quite well with these types of dogs.

The second type is the guard dog. It’s barking, but its tail is not wagging. It has a fierce look on its face. It’s warning you not to come into the yard. If it is not on a leash or there is no fence, it may chase you down the street.

The third type is somewhere in between. This dog is excited to see people it knows. When family or friends visit, they are just like the first dog. Yet, if a stranger approaches, they are like the second dog. So long as we are one of the family or a friend, we get along fine with these dogs as well.

As I’ve walked my Christian walk for nearly three decades, I’ve seen similar characteristics in my fellow brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, I can generally lump them into one of two categories. They are either the guard dog who doesn’t want any outsider coming into the church (and often they don’t even know they are like that) or they are welcoming to members of the church while not so welcoming to outsiders.

Folks, I don’t believe Jesus called us to be either one of these types. I believe He called us to be somewhere in between the first dog and second dog. We are to be welcoming to all who want to join us while remaining just a bit cautious until we get to know them better. This means we let them know we are excited they have decided to join us. We cover them with love and acceptance. We also watch them and are willing to ask them to depart if they are offensive in nature.

Much like Jesus, we must be like the shepherd who guards the flock from the wolves. Yet, we are not to guard the flock from other sheep. If we want to know why we see a decline in our church attendance, we must ask ourselves if we are welcoming.

I pray we all are welcoming to people we meet. I pray we not only welcome but invite people to our churches. I pray each of us will seek to welcome all people, who are created by God. Be glad to see other people. Treat each person as a creation of God. Know that we welcome God when we welcome others. Be Jesus to someone today.

Mark 9:37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomesme does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Alive in the Spirit

Do you want to feel alive? Do you want to be alive?  Are you looking for a reason to look forward to tomorrow? Are you willing to give everything up to gain more than you can imagine?

There are many people who long to feel alive. They are looking for a continual mountain top experience. Unfortunately, they think it is possible to be on top at all times. Yet, that isn’t true. We go through peaks and valleys throughout our lives.

It is because of those peaks and valleys that we know we are alive. It is the changes in our emotions and feelings that we are reminded we are alive. We also experience physical ailments and a high level of physical condition. Whether we are sick or just complete a particularly dauting physical challenge we are reminded we are alive.

Unfortunately, many people don’t recognize indicators of life. They are so caught up in their wants they can’t see the life they are experiencing. Our lives are a continually changing experience of events, a constant reminder that we live. Yet, what if there is more?

We are promised more. We are promised to live forever in the presence of God, when we are willing to give up our lives here and now, the lives of constantly seeking our wants rather than God’s wants.

Paul is not advocating dying physically but giving up all worldly trappings. He states our obligation is to live as God has called us, not as the world would have us live. Rather than chasing after endless worldly possessions, we are to seek what God has in store for us.

There is no doubt following God’s desire for us is hard. However, it is only hard because we are unwilling to give up our own desires. Yet when we do, we gain far more than we lose. It is too bad that we act like the child who has a piece of candy in his hand and won’t give it up to gain the bag that is held behind the parent’s back.

We can’t see the end and that disturbs us. We don’t know the rest of the story, so we worry about today. God knows all that He has in store for us, much like the parent who knows what they bought for their child for Christmas. Ultimately, we gain an eternity of bliss.

I pray we all decide to give up our worldly desires to accept God’s desires. I pray we seek God’s plan for us. I pray each of us will take one step at a time toward doing God’s will for us. Give up the desires of the world. Seek God’s plan for you. Follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. Know the difference between your desires and the Spirit’s leading. Become alive in the Spirit.

Romans 8:12-13 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

Carry Jesus With You

Are you feeling depressed? Do feel like the weight of the world is on you? Does it seem as though everything that can go wrong is going wrong? Are you tired of the constant battle to get through each day? Are you looking for a way out of the chaos?

We face many different challenges each day. We must get the kids off to school, get ourselves ready for work, there are bills to pay, meals to be made, and those are just the everyday tasks. We often face other difficulties like a vehicle needing repair, a sick family member, or relationship problems. Then throw in the pandemic, social unrest, and political turmoil on top of that and we can quickly become overwhelmed.

We hear there is a greater number of people feeling depressed and we might consider throwing our name in that hat, as well. We may see people with the expression on their face as if they are simply trudging through life, and we may think “they look like I feel.”

We all understand there are challenges from time-to-time in our lives. We have faced them before and somehow gotten through them. Yet, at this current time, it seems there are more challenges across our country than we can find the strength to overcome.

We are not alone in feeling this way. Not only are most everyone we meet feeling the same, but the apostle Paul went through the same exact feelings. He wrote to the people of Corinth of his feelings and told them how he carried on. We can learn a lesson from him.

Paul leaned on his knowledge that Jesus was his Savior. He relied on the strength provided by God to continue. He realized that Jesus was being revealed through him to others who needed to know Him. Paul carried Jesus with him wherever he went.

We can persevere through these troubled times in much the same manner. We can carry Jesus with us each day. We can rely on God to provide the strength we need to get through each day. We have a wonderful opportunity to show Jesus to those we encounter, providing them with a ray of hope in a troubled world.

I pray we all choose to carry Jesus with us each day. I pray we rely on God to provide us with the strength we need. I pray each one of us will show Jesus to others, helping them to carry on through their challenges. Rely on God. Trust Him to provide. Be a ray of hope to others. Carry Jesus with you each day.

2 Corinthians 4:8-10 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

Evil Opposes Truth

Are there people who oppose you? Do you oppose others? Who is speaking truth? Sometimes, it’s tough to tell, isn’t it? Are you speaking truth on behalf of God? Are you opposing evil? Is it evil opposition you are dealing with?

We often hear opposing opinions. We also see people hold onto their opinions as though they were truth. Our human nature of preferring our opinions over others creates an overwhelming amount of opposition.

We sometimes call the opposition of opinion drama. No matter what we call it, it seems there is more of it now than ever before. Social media contributes to it like throwing gasoline on a fire. Yet, we continue to feed it rather than squelching it.

Paul knew young Timothy was going to face opposition—opposition to truth. He knew that evil was going to oppose the teaching of the truth of Jesus Christ. He provided Timothy guidance for dealing with the opposition he would face. We, too, can follow Paul’s guidance.

When evil opposes truth, it will stand its ground as steadfastly as we see people stand on their opinions. In order to lead people who oppose the truth we speak to accept it, we must do so gently and with love. Our demeanor must show that we care for the person who opposes us. It is by demonstrating we care for the person that we can break through the barrier of evil surrounding the other person.

Perhaps you wonder why we should care. We are called by Jesus to teach all nations, all people the truth of His Word. The most effective way to do this is through our daily interactions. When we see others as Jesus sees them, children of God, and we understand that Jesus wants to save all people, we can pursue saving them ourselves.

As we open our eyes, ears, and hearts to see this world as Jesus does, we see the overwhelming amount of evil in it. We see the traps the devil sets for us and others. We see how he captures us by luring us into situations that are unhealthy for us and oppose God. It is through our gentle instruction to others that we can lead them away from those traps and into the blessings of God. This is how we lead others to the saving grace of God.

I pray we all gently lead others into the grace of God. I pray we display our love and care for God’s children in our daily lives. I pray each of us will lead a life that others want to emulate and are curious enough to ask about. Be gentle with instruction. Realize opinions are not the same as the truth of God. Desire to lead others to God. Desire to release others from their captivity. Trust God to lead you into truth.

2 Timothy 2:25-26 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

Hope Through History

Do you like to read history? Do you like to watch movies or documentaries on history? Or, would you prefer to avoid history? Do you realize that history, whether event driven or experiential driven, is a major key to our hope for the future?

There are many people I know who will say they don’t like history. They are referring to the narrow subject of history in school. Unfortunately, history has become a label for studying events that took place decades or centuries ago. History is far more than those events.

History includes the discoveries made by inquisitive people. They range from the discovery of how to create fire to cook with to building rocket engines that send people into space—one day to Mars. There have been more discoveries and inventions than we can count.

History is also the key component of our growth. Much of our growth comes through our experiences. We learn to ride bicycles by experience. We learn to cook through experiences We learn by making mistakes. Our experiential history contributes greatly to who we are.

We also grow in knowledge by reading. Even if we don’t think we are reading history, we often are reading the result of history. When we read a recipe, we are reading the result of someone having experimented with ingredients and discovered a tasty combination—history.

We also grow in wisdom through thought. Our thinking is reviewing history and putting together pieces in logical fashion. As we make connections of different pieces of history, we make new conclusions, improving our knowledge and growing in wisdom.

Perhaps we dislike history less than we think when we realize it is history that teaches us new capabilities. It is through the history written for us in the Bible that we learn how to endure the difficulties of life and we receive encouragement. Our hope is built on our understanding of what is written. As we grow in knowledge, our hope increases.

I pray we all open ourselves to learning from history. I pray we see that it is through history that we grow as followers of Christ. I pray each of us will continue to grow in our hope by reading the Scriptures. History is more than events. Understand your experiential history. Open your eyes to your own history. Realize everything we read, see, and do is a result of history. Grow in wisdom as you study history—in all its forms.

Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

Freedom in Grace

Do you wrestle with freedom? Would you rather someone guide you or provide you direction? Do you experience difficulty making decisions for yourself? Do you want to be free and have someone provide you direction? It is possible.

We are often conflicted. We want to be free. We want to be able to make our own decisions. We want to do what we want to do. Yet, when it comes to the details of performing tasks or understanding the sequence of tasks, we often want or need some instruction.

Do you see the conflict? Perhaps it is self-centeredness or ignorance or simply failing to open our eyes to see our own limitations. We need others who have more experience and knowledge to teach us how to do some things. It is how we learn and grow—for our entire lives.

We grow in the same way in our walk with Christ. We have been set free from the law of sin. However, most of us don’t fully realize the meaning of that statement. It means we no longer need to perform sacrifices, burnt offerings on a regular basis. It also means we no longer need to feel confined or restricted or burdened by our sin. We can ask for forgiveness immediately.

Our walk with Christ includes growing in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom for as long as we are willing to learn. We have the option to stop learning. Unfortunately, many choose this option, deciding they don’t want to put forth the effort required to continue learning. What they don’t realize is making this choice starts binding them up again. They become stuck.

As we continue to grow in Christ, our freedom continues to expand as well. We discover new freedoms. We realize there are man-made rules that contradict the grace of God. Our study of God’s Word continues to provide more insights, revealing more freedom.

Our freedom in God doesn’t mean we won’t need to make decisions. It does mean that we can rely on God to be with us and guide us in those decisions. We are given freedom to stumble and the freedom to succeed. The outcome is largely dependent on whether we listen to His guidance or not. The best news is we are not condemned when we are part of the body of Christ.

I pray we all decide to continue to learn about God. I pray we see the freedom we have in Jesus Christ. I pray each of us will choose to experience the freedom while listening to the guidance He provides. Choose freedom. Choose to learn. Choose to be free from sin. Choose to know God’s grace.

Romans 8:1-2 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Submissive Prayer

How is your pride doing today? Are you proud of your accomplishments? Do you take pride in the work you do? Has your pride caused you to look down on others? Are you so prideful that you think you don’t need God?

As we look around us and take notice of others, we see many, many people who look down at those around them. We hear it in how they talk. We see it in their actions and in their eyes. Do we see it when we look in the mirror?

Our culture drives us to think highly of ourselves, to think ourselves better than others. Being human, we like to think we are better than others. Unfortunately, having this type of attitude is not good for our culture nor our relationship with God.

When we have an attitude of haughtiness, we discriminate. Oh, you can argue until you are blue in the face, but deep down you know it’s true. That discrimination will come through in many facets of your life, including your prayer life.

You see, when we come before God with an attitude of being better than others, God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we would like (Luke 18:9-14). Why? Your mind is not in sync with God. Your prayer will not be in accordance with His will.

When we pray with an attitude of submissiveness, when we are willing to accept God’s plan, our prayers are in perfect harmony with God. Having an attitude of submissiveness requires work on our part. It requires us to continually battle the attitude of pride.

We see in today’s passage that Jesus was submissive to the Father’s will. We see the Father heard Jesus’ prayers because of His submissiveness. We also know the rest of the story, that Jesus still had to suffer to fulfill God’s plan. Do we think we are better than Christ?

Folks, I’m not saying we will be crucified, I simply inquire about our attitude. I also point out that our attitude has an impact on our prayers. If we want to see our prayers answered, we must submit to God and leave our prideful attitude behind.

I pray we all become countercultural. I pray we eliminate our attitude of pride. I pray each of us will submit to God, conforming to His will for our lives. Release your pride. Take on a submissive attitude toward God. Be in harmony with God. Be effective in your prayer life.

Hebrews 5:7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

Hope, Patience, and Prayer

Do you often wonder why you face struggles in life? Does it feel as though you are continually having to overcome obstacles? Are you looking for rest? Do you have an anchor to hold on to during the storms of life? There is One who you can reach out to.

We face many struggles, stumbling blocks, obstacles, and downright storms in our lives. Some are relatively small struggles, while others are major storms. When we rely solely on ourselves, those struggles and storms can overwhelm us.

Many want to believe they can handle it on their own. Some will reach out to family or friends to help with the situation. A few will seek professional counseling as they go through a tough time. Those who lean on God are just as likely to reach out to others as well, yet be stronger as they go through the situation than those who don’t.

Paul instructs us in his letter to the Romans to be joyful in our hope. The hope he is talking about is not mere wishing for something. It is a hope that is defined by trust in God, confidence that God will deliver on His promises, and comfort by taking refuge in God. Our hope is much stronger than a wish, it is grounded in faith. It is latched to an Anchor.

He goes on to say we are to be patient in our affliction. This is to say that we can’t rush through the situation. We must wait on God to handle it. Patience is something we have grown to dislike very much. We don’t like waiting. We want the situation fixed right now. Yet God handles the situation in His time and His timing is perfect. As our trust in Him grows, so does our patience.

Finally, Paul says we are to be faithful in prayer. Prayer is our lifeline, our communication channel with God. We must keep in mind that true communication is bi-directional. This means we must listen for God, not just talk to Him. Listening as part of prayer is extremely important. If we are asking God to guide us through a situation, how can we follow His guidance if we aren’t listening for it? God doesn’t typically speak through burning bushes, but He does speak to us. We often miss His guidance due to our failure to listen.

When we pray, we do need to make our requests known. Once we’ve done that, we must wait patiently for God to handle it. He may handle it by providing us guidance or He may work through someone else. However, we must continue to pray, making our requests known and seeking His solution, all while trusting Him.

I pray we all experience joy in our hope. I pray we wait patiently while going through difficult situations. I pray each of us will continue to pray in faith and trust God in all things. Be joyful. Hold on to your hope. Wait patiently. Be strong in your faith. Pray continually.

Romans 12:12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Learning To Do Without

Have you ever gone without something you dearly wanted? How do you view having to do without it?  Have you ever gone without something you needed? How well did you survive that experience? Do you practice doing without wants and needs?

Doing without is something most of us know very little about. We don’t often go without something we want and certainly not something we need. In our minds, it would be absurd to do without. We can’t fathom the thought of not having something we want.

It has become a lost practice to do without. Our culture is ill prepared for any type of disaster that would deprive us of our wants and needs. We are not trained to do without due to a lack of resources or necessity, and we don’t purposely train ourselves. We have become a society of little discipline, and no willingness to prepare for bleak possibilities.

There is a relatively simple training option for us, yet it is also one of the more difficult exercises for us. It is the discipline of fasting. There is research that shows fasting is healthy for us. It is a means of cleansing our bodies of impurities. Did you know it cleanses us in more ways than one?

It is true fasting is good for us physically. It is also good for us spiritually. When we fast and spend the time with God in prayer instead, we are cleansed of spiritual impurities. We learn to lean on God to provide for us.

We typically think of fasting as doing without food and that is the most common fast. But there are many other types of fasts. One that has grown in popularity in recent years is fasting from social media. Many who have done this have discovered the stranglehold social media has on them and the freedom they have when they do without it. They find their anxiety levels decrease and their ability to focus on God increases dramatically.

Regardless of what our fast is, we are called to fast and trust God to carry us through it. We are to replace whatever we are fasting from with focusing on God and spending time in prayer. This is a spiritual cleansing exercise, a discipline, and a training exercise that will prepare us for those times when we must do without.

I pray we all decide to fast. I pray we spend time in prayer with God when we fast. I pray each of us will cleanse ourselves spiritually by leaning on God through a fast. Do without. Cleanse yourself. Spend time with God. Train yourself. Build discipline. Trust God.

Matthew 6:16-18 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Thankful Prayer

How often do you wish you had something you don’t have? Are you continually seeking to fill a void? Are you dealing with first world problems rather than true needs? Do you know what a first world problem is?

We are often dealing with first world problems. We wrestle with technology. Our vehicle needs repair. We can’t find the style of clothes we like. We want a bigger house. You fill in the blank for your wants. They are all first world problems and they dominate our minds.

I can’t say that I’ve been to a third world country, but I have been to a couple second world countries. I’ve seen a 10-year old boy try to sell his sister for a meal. I’ve seen people with PhD’s working for less than our minimum wage. I’ve seen people purchase the minimum food they can get by with for their evening meal and do that day after day, often not sure what they will be able to afford the next day.

Once you’ve seen the second world problems, our first world problems become frivolous. Your eyes are opened to the riches we have that go unappreciated. Honestly, it becomes disheartening and frustrating to see people whining and complaining about what they want and falsely think they need. Yet, I fall into that trap myself.

How can we combat our desire to continually want more and more and more? The key is to be in prayer. We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to pray continually. But what are we to pray? We are to thank God for what He has blessed us with.

When we are thankful for each and everything we have, we begin to realize how much God has blessed us. How often do we thank God for having a vehicle? How often do we thank God for a change of clothes? How often do we thank God for the food we don’t like? How often do we thank God for our homes? I must confess, I don’t thank Him near enough.

We are called to be the example to the world. Part of that example is to be a praying people, a thankful people. We are to open our eyes and see all the blessings we have. I can attest personally that when we start to do this, we begin to see more and more blessings. We see blessings we had not previously recognized, perhaps for years.

I pray we all open our eyes and see the blessings we have received from God. I pray we give thanks to God for our blessings. I pray each of us will spend time in prayer thanking God, listing everything we have one-by-one. Spend time in prayer. Thank God for His rich blessings. Be the example for others. Be a thankful person. Open your eyes and see all that God has blessed you with.

Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.