Life is full of challenges but one of the most difficult times we face is when the bottom falls out and you wonder how you’re going to keep going. It’s easy for people to think, “I just can’t go on.”
But you can.
After all, everyone has trials. Even the big names of the faith whose stories we read in the Bible often struggle.
For Instance, the Apostle Paul found himself alone at the end of an incredible career. He was a prolific church planter. He wrote about 1/2 of the New Testament. But he came to the end of his life alone & discouraged.
How did he respond? The key for him was the presence of the Lord.
Even David in Psalm 23 talks about this when he experienced his deepest, darkest times. He, too, was reassured by the presence of the Lord. His hope is expressed in the phrase, “You are with me.”
It’s life changing to know God is there. He is present in your life.
You may still go through the valleys, but when you have the assurance that God is there, that will make all the difference.
God is with you. You are not alone. The Creator of the Universe is by your side.
What does that look like for you?
Well, you may need to make some adjustments to give God a place in your life. You may need to find a good local church and start attending regularly. You may need to get on a Bible reading plan. You may need to make prayer a part of your thought processes throughout your every day.
You don’t have to become a spiritual giant overnight. But you do have to take some steps to take care of your inner self and give God room so He can be right there with you.
And that will make all the difference.
As we enter a new year almost everyone has high hopes for a better year over the last two. After struggling through 2020 with Covid-19 and all the lockdowns, we are ready to get back to some sort of normalcy in 2021. Then came higher gas prices, supply chain issues, the Delta variant, and rising inflation. As the year ended another variant, Omicron, arrived on the scene wreaking even more widespread havoc.
It’s as if we are being pummeled by wave after wave, one right after another. It reminds me of the time my family was at the beach in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. One day after swimming in the ocean, my grandfather was walking from the water when a wave came up from behind him and knocked him down, burying him underneath the water.
My grandfather resurfaced and regained his balance, but after one or two steps another wave knocked him down and once again buried him beneath the water. Eventually he made his way to shore, but he was done for the day.
Isn’t that life? Lately it seems like we can’t get a break. Have you ever felt like, “I’m done. I can’t handle another negative wave?” If so, you are not alone.
With that said, there is no single answer for those looking for hope and a brighter future. Over the course of 2022 we’ll look at restoring hope through the Scriptures. In fact, we’ll start with the illustrious King David. You may be thinking that a super hero with giant-killer status is the wrong place to begin.
However, at one difficult point in his life Joab reminded David of “the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now” (2 Samuel 19:7, ESV). Even David’s life was one of waves, one after another. Yet he was able to write, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is in him” (Psalm 62:5, ESV).
Let’s make this one of our goals: to remain calm and confident as we rely on the Lord.
Christmas stress should not be a thing. Christmas is supposed to be one of the greatest and most enjoyable times of the year.
After all, if nothing else, everyone gets a holiday from work. Well, almost everyone.
In spite of that, stress at Christmas is real.
And the biggest reason for Christmas stress is money. This is because celebrating Christmas usually takes money we don’t have.
So, like a good American, we simply put everything on credit cards and overspend.
And we feed the monster with days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The pressure is on.
To make it even easier for you to let go of your hard-earned dollars, stores don’t even ask you to visit. You can now shop from your couch at home with just one click!
It has never been easier to spend money. But it’s still money we don’t have.
But if I am a Christian, should my faith impact my spending?
After all, what about that verse that says “God shall supply all my need?” Why does it feel like my needs outweigh my money every Christmas?
What is the problem here?
There is a story in Isaiah that gives a really good picture of all of this.
So let’s go way back to 734 B.C. At that time, Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, was experiencing dark days as they were about to be invaded. King Ahaz was at his wit’s end.
God promised to supply, and He even offered a sign that He would come through. But Ahaz had his own plans.
Ahaz comes across as spiritual and essentially says, “That’s ok, God, I’ve got this.” Because he wanted immediate answers, he went to the king of Assyria for help. But Assyria was not a friend.
Not really what God had in mind.
In our day, we do the same thing. We say, “That’s ok, God. I’ve got this. I’ve pulled out my credit cards. I have discovered how to pay for Christmas, so I won’t be needing your help.”
We forget that credit cards are not our friends.
It didn’t work out so well for Ahaz. And it won’t work out well for us either.
In Ahaz’s story, those same Assyrians came back to bite him just 2 years after this crisis. And the nation suffered. The people were reduced to eating “curds and honey.”
Think yogurt and cottage cheese. Not fun.
This was the diet of a land that has been devastated to poverty.
Just think. A determination to press on with his own plans had King Ahaz taking his people to a place of poverty.
Just like today when families head out the door to spend freely with their credit cards. Then in January the bills start coming in and the kids aren’t too happy about eating beans and rice for dinner.
So why not try something different this year.
You may not be in a place where you can change your habits immediately. But start today to change the way you view about what God has given you and how you manage it.
It’s sad that King Ahaz refused to do things God’s way. His own work-arounds didn’t work.
And it’s just as sad when Christmas rolls around that we fail use what God has provided. We put our trust in Visa, and ultimately that won’t work. Start today to change the way you do Christmas. Ultimately, you will turn Christmas stress into Christmas joy.
Security has become a common word especially in the digital age. Everyone wants to know how to feel secure. In fact, on the back of every credit or debit card is a security code. Yet someone else is able to pick our pocket so to speak, and fraudulently use our secure card. So much for security.
All of us want to feel secure. So where do we find our security? Take your pick. Some find it in their careers. Others look in the mirror for theirs. If something is lacking there are ways to enhance what one sees!
Then there are skills and abilities. If you live in a hot climate and possess HVAC skills you should always have a job, that is, if you maintain your skills.
And of course, there is money. Perhaps that is where most of us find our security.
But think for a moment: how secure are you, really?
Recently Kendrick Norton, a professional football player for the Miami Dolphins had an arm amputated following a vehicle accident. His career is not over, as are the large paychecks which come from playing in the NFL. While many have said in jest that NFL stands for “Not For Long,” the fact is many often play far less than they expected. And none of us know what a day holds when we wake up.
The sad reality is we are only one incident away from losing our security.
Think of all the things we place our security in…that can be taken away…
Sharon Stone, once one of the hottest movie stars in Hollywood, suffered a massive stoke which took her several years to recover. During that time she had to remortgage her house and says she lost everything. So even one’s place and position in Hollywood is dependent on health and one’s ability to perform.
Life is so fragile, and so much is beyond our control, yet we continue to carry around our security blankets.
Cicero was at one time highly exalted within the Roman Republic. But even that didn’t last as he was eventually murdered due to his opposition to Mark Antony. And one day when this world end, his place in history will be gone. So in actuality, you cannot even secure your place in world history.
And then there is social security. Yet, we are told that for many it will not provide much of a future. So much for that security. Don’t look to the government for security.
So where do we look?
Think about it. The ONLY thing you can secure is the eternal destiny of your soul.
“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation,
my stronghold and my refuge,
my savior; 2 Samuel 22:3
And Jesus reminded us in Mark 8:36,
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
So the question is, “How secure is your security?”
My dad grew up never belonging or feeling loved. It may be hard for some to imagine, but his mother never accepted him. In fact as I grew up, I watched my dad continually reach out for his mother’s love and acceptance. It never came.
I still remember when he bought her a new refrigerator. I wasn’t there, but dad replayed her words. Her only comment was, “I don’t need a damn refrigerator.” I often wondered how deep those words went.
My dad was the youngest son of eight kids. In a musical family, he was the only brother not to have an instrument. He was left out of the family business. But it didn’t stop him from creating a successful business of his own later in life.
As I read the story of David and Goliath, it becomes painfully obvious that David also grew up as the youngest son fighting for recognition.
David, like my dad, had to be a fighter from a very early age. Keep in mind that David’s three oldest brothers were all in the army. When you grow up having to fight your siblings, there is no way you are going to out muscle them. You have to get creative in order to win.
As David grew, soon the time came when he was the one designated as the shepherd. As the youngest, you tend to get the dirty jobs. So David found himself alone most of the time. Just him and his sheep.
One thing I have learned about livestock; you get attached, emotionally. While I have only had dogs, cats, chickens, one sheep, and guineas, yes, I must admit I get attached, even to the birds! Sad, but true.
So much so that I get upset when we lose a chicken or a guinea to the foxes, bears, rats, hawks, or whatever else comes along for a midday or midnight meal. Yes, I know that the Bible says that God feeds the animals, I just wish He would feed them somewhere else.
At any rate, David had to get creative when it came to killing the bears and lions that were after his sheep. I’m not sure how he manhandled the lion and the bear, but he did get very good with a sling.
Love and acceptance by one’s mom and family seems like a birthright. Yet, not everyone gets to experience a high level of acceptance. Rather than consider himself a victim, David rose to a higher level. He didn’t give up or give in to the ones who didn’t believe in him. Most of us don’t even know his brother’s names, but we do know David. And his ultimate victory over Goliath. But that’s another blog post…
Perhaps you have a little down time over the next few days now that Christmas is over. This is a good opportunity to read some inspirational stories or biographies. I can recommend several that you may find hard to put down once you begin. The following people have incredible stories that have impacted me, so I want to share my list:
John Wesley – the founder of Methodism in the 1700’s and one of the most influential people in all of Christianity.
John Newton – a former slave trader who converted to Christianity and is best known for writing the hymn Amazing Grace. His ministry was in the late 1700’s.
Adoniram Judson – an American missionary to the country of Burma in the early 1800’s. It took him three years to learn the language, and converts were slow in coming. Lots of fascinating stories.
Hudson Taylor – an incredible story of a man who was totally committed to ministering to the Chinese culture. He spent over fifty years as a missionary in China. Keep in mind what life might have been like during that time period.
George Muller – one of the most inspirational stories you’ll ever read. He cared for over 10,000 orphans in England without asking for money. You’ll read some amazing answers to prayer.
Bill Bright – perhaps the greatest evangelist outside Billy Graham in the 20th century.
Through Gates of Splendor – This book is about five guys and their wives who went to Equador and lost their lives trying to reach a tribe no one else had been able to approach. Note: You may not be able to put this book down. I read it in one sitting years ago.
That’s enough to keep you busy and is way more entertaining than a movie at the local theater. One of these books could actually change your life, while most movies won’t have that kind of impact.
Choose one and enjoy.
In the NFL about this time of year, dreams die. That is, another team loses and is knocked out of the playoff race. Their dream of making it into the playoffs and hopefully getting to the Super Bowl can vanish in a weekend.
However, does that mean that the dream really died? Not at all. Pretty soon every team will begin to strategize for the next season, the next run. And the dream will live again.
Think about Joseph and his dreams in the book of Genesis:
Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words (Genesis 37:5-8).
Then through a series of incidents he found himself in an Egyptian prison. The years passed. As he sat in the prison cell I can imagine his dream continually surfaced in his mind.
I wonder, did his dream ever die? After a series of providential circumstances Joseph not only got out of prison, he rose to an unprecedented level of authority. Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground (Genesis 42:6).
Maybe your dream didn’t die. Maybe its just not the right time. As you get ready to begin a new year, maybe it’s time to dream again.
Think about it. When He was under stress in the Garden of Gethsemane, what did Jesus do?
Mark 14:34 says, “And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful (deeply distressed), even to death. Remain here and watch.”
Three times Jesus came back to his friends for moral support. In other words, when you are under a load of stress, share it with your friends. Do not carry the burden alone.
Stress is going to take a toll on you. It took a toll on Jesus as He admits it was almost killing Him.
And as Luke 6:40 says, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”
Clearly there is a gap between our lives and the life of Jesus. Typically, we attempt to close the gap by increasing our knowledge of the Bible. Or we resort to more time in prayer. Or we attend church more. But have not then unintentionally reinforced the GAP???
When I was growing up there were people who would rededicate their lives to Christ on a regular basis. It never seemed to help.
It’s not about decision making, but about practicing the habits of Jesus.
Here’s some homework that will help: Read through the Gospels, and write down 25 responses of Jesus in various situations. Then start practicing some of them until you work your way through the list.
We have already mentioned one. What did Jesus do when under a heavy load? He went to His friends. If Jesus could not rely on His own inner resources, you likely can’t either.
Here’s another assignment: Find Ten Things Jesus did in His relationships that visualized love…then PRACTICE THOSE.
When Jesus met a woman at the well He turned the conversation to spiritual things. Follow His example. For instance, a common conversation is about what you did with your weekend. How about saying something like, “I had a pretty normal weekend, went hunting on Saturday, and went to church on Sunday…do you attend church anywhere?” See how easy that can be?
Now it’s your turn. What would Jesus do? Live your life purposefully following Jesus’ example.
I worked for my dad’s steel erection company for years, from the time I was a teenager on into my 30’s. Being the boss’s son had its privileges, but sometimes it sure didn’t feel like it.
It was not unusual for some of the guys to hurry on a job, leaving lots of little things undone, so they could head on to the next job. Unfortunately for me, my dad sent me in after them to wrap up loose ends.
This was often very challenging. I may have to burn some welds loose, cut new holes in the roof, or move a roof vent. Sometimes I had to set up a 36′ foot ladder and climb all the way to the top.
Or I may have to throw a huge oxygen tank over my shoulder and hike up several flights of stairs. Only to return and get the acetylene tank. And then return and get the hoses. You get the idea. Sometimes I spent more time getting ready to work than actually doing what needed to be done.
But don’t miss the bigger picture. At one time someone was on the roof with all the equipment at hand. But they chose to move on before they were completely done. It took at least three times as much effort to come behind them and finish the job.
It seemed to be never ending at times. But that’s the job my dad gave me for a period of time.
One day I had just about had it. I needed a break. So at the end of the day I went by my dad’s office. I walked in and complained, “Why am I stuck with all the junk work?’
And he replied, “That’s how you get good.”
Enough said. Now I understood. After all, who doesn’t want to get better, or in my dad’s words, “get good?”
That day my complaints ended. Yes the junk work continued, but now I enjoyed it.
Sometimes you have to look beyond the mundane tasks of life to the real reasons you do what you do. And that makes it all worthwhile. The power of WHY.
Just two decades ago if you wanted to meet someone for lunch you had to plan well in advance. Not anymore. And chances are you will not call. You will text. Yes, you are only a text message away from a lunch date.
We call it a phone, but in truth it’s far more. In fact, few of us actually talk on it. But with all the positives comes the negatives.One downside is that now you can easily find out what people are saying about you. That is, if you are fairly well-known. Sports players regularly check their phones to see what others are saying about them.
Now you know that’s not healthy. After all, if you are famous, the haters abound.
Which leads me to Kevin Durant, unquestionably the second greatest basketball player in the world at this time.
“Second best!” How would you like to be the second best in the world? At anything?
However, as with every other thing on social media, things get magnified. Apparently, Kevin Durant is sulking and emotionally hurt by all the negative comments about him on social media.
So why is he reading those things? Makes no sense.
And he is not the only one. Even NFL players have been known to check their phones during halftime! Things have gotten totally out of hand.
But the only remedy is for players to avoid their phones, or at least the “mentions” about them. Otherwise their confidence will plummet and they will spend needless hours distressed by all the negative comments.
Social media can destroy the confidence of even the greatest stars of our time. So what about the rest of us? Bottom line: proceed with caution. If you sense harmful effects after your time on social media, maybe you need to think about changing how you use it.