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.
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.
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…
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.
God can turn your life around because He is “The God of Great Reversals.” We can see God work in Hannah’s life in the book of 1 Samuel.
Did you know the story behind the well-known song “It is Well With My Soul”? The song has comforted millions over many years.
How do you handle it when your life is a mess? Especially when it’s not even your fault. Do you hang on or do you bail? The Old Testament story of Joseph gives us a great example of what to do.
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One of the better known verses in the Bible is Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Occasionally we get to see it played out right on our own TV screens.
The opening night of the NFL season was at New England–last year’s winner of the Super Bowl.
Fans were greeted with a huge, over-the-top intro hyping how great the Patriots were.
Not sure who gets the credit for the idea, but let’s just say it seemed odd. It certainly didn’t reflect the attitude of the coach or the quarterback. The intro was clearly out of character.
It was way too much pride in their Super Bowl win. They had already celebrated that back in February.
But then, why not just rub it in. Maybe it will intimidate the opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs. After all, New England was favored to win, and some were already talking about a perfect record all the way to another Super Bowl win.
Let’s just say that the Chiefs didn’t get the memo. They easily handled the Patriots that night.
For New England it was utter humiliation. The celebratory intro made it worse.
To be fair, they could have done a pregame celebration with more dignity.
In fact, pride is not always negative. For instance, we appreciate people who take pride in their work. So pride can be positive.
The pregame celebration could have focused on the fans, the attitude of some of the players, the hard work put in at practice, and a host of other things. Yes, the team was down 28-3 late in the game, but why not take pride in the fact that the team never gave up?
At any rate, the whole thing seemed to promote more arrogance than gratitude.
At the end of the day, you have to wonder if all the pregame hype had not actually worked against the Patriots. We’ll never know. After a few games they are still struggling.
But we do know that it’s good advice to let someone else toot your horn.
Pride in the form of conceit and arrogance is never appropriate. To others it’s always out of place.
Now keep in mind that we are talking about one the greatest sports franchises ever to come along. Even they seemed to be oblivious to their uncalled for boasting and pride.
Which is a reminder to us that pride is never far away and does indeed precede destruction.
His watchmen are blind;
they are all without knowledge;
they are all silent dogs;
they cannot bark,
dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber.
One of my favorite stories working with my dad happened at Andrews Air Force Base. Dad owned a steel erection company, and I was a foreman for one of the crews. One day the crane operator was on vacation, so Dad came out to run the crane. That day I worked as a connector, which means I was up on the building and when the crane operator swung the steel into position, I was waiting with another guy to bolt it in place.
The connector is in constant communication with the crane operator using hand signals to position the steel where it needs to go. Hand signals are the best way to communicate because the distance and the noise of the crane and other equipment make talking or even shouting almost impossible.
But on that particular day my dad shouted at me all day long, trying to tell me how to do my job. To be clear my dad was not mad at me. Loud was simply his normal way of communication, so shouting was not hard for him. Sometimes people thought his typical speaking voice was at a shouting level.
The next day the crane operator came back to work, so Dad stayed in the office.
When I arrived that morning a construction worker from another company on the job asked me, “Who was that man that yelled at you all day yesterday?” When I replied it was my dad, he didn’t buy it until another coworker backed me up that, yes, it really had been my dad. His final words were, “Man, I have never heard a man holler like that in my life.”
My dad could, and sometimes would, incessantly holler all day. But my dad wanted me to be the best. He was my most loyal friend on the job. Without a doubt, my dad molded my life more than anyone else.
In Isaiah’s day there were watchmen who would not bark. Granted most people do not want to be barked at. But prophets were to sound the alarm when the people drifted. Let’s be honest. It’s easy to drift…in our habits, in our eating, in our materialism, in our time on the internet, and even in the way we dress (I could wear the same t-shirt for weeks). Sometimes we need a person who cares enough to bark. We need parents, coaches, mentors, teachers, professors, and pastors who will bark at us when we drift.
You know, that day is one of the fondest memories of my life and of the days working with my dad.
I’m thankful I had someone who cared enough to bark.