Some Thoughts on Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving as a holiday is many things to many people. It might be little more than a day off to one or a significant and profoundly meaningful day of reflection to another. It could be about turkey and football or the end of fall and the beginning of Christmas. Perhaps it is a day for family gatherings, parades and Charlie Brown specials. Whatever your Thanksgiving entails, I’m guessing that in the midst of it all there will be a time of reflection and giving of thanks. For the Christian, this should be a special day filled with worshipful gratitude to our heavenly Father, but even for those who are not a part of the family of faith it is generally a special day filled with greater than usual gratefulness.

It’s about more than more.

Though gratitude should be a constant companion of every Christian, we generally find ourselves putting forth greater effort over the holiday season to “be thankful” and “count our blessings.” Along with everyone else, I usually focus on the quantity of my thankfulness. You know the drill: more thankful for more stuff more often. While this is certainly good and commendable, I have found my thoughts going in a little bit different direction this year. I’ve been thinking more about the quality of my thankfulness.

Don’t forget quality!

I don’t mean how good I am at being thankful, but rather the quality or substance of that for which I am thankful. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I should be thankful for everything. However, I recently read a statement that caused me to consider the types of things for which I am most frequently thankful. The quote by D.A. Carson is this: “…by and large, our thanksgiving seems to be tied rather tightly to our material well-being and comfort. The unvarnished truth is that what we most frequently give thanks for betrays what we most highly value.”

While a general attitude of gratefulness and thanksgiving is important and becoming in the life of a Christian, it can also be an effective gage of where our priorities really lie. This realization has led me to consider whether all or most of my gratitude is focused toward material things, possessions and physical blessings. There is much to be thankful for that is outside of the scope of the material realm.

Expand your thankfulness.

Here are some areas to consider as you offer thanks this holiday season and the rest of the year.

  • Spiritual blessings and not just stuff. Are you as thankful when you are shown grace, mercy and patience as you would be if you were given cash or some other material gift?
  • Meaningful relationships. Do I value people or am I merely thankful for I get from those relationships?
  • The Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence. Are you truly grateful for God’s direction in your life and His Word that is available to you?
  • Spiritual growth. Do you feel as grateful when your children manifest Christ-like character as you do when they excel in school or sports? Are you as thankful for personal spiritual growth as you are for career or personal success?
  • Trials and difficulties. Are thankful for the hard things God places in your life or are you only grateful when life is easy?

Be thankful for your treasure.

Obviously we should also be thankful for material blessings and personal comforts, but that isn’t world that we should be most preoccupied with. After all, Jesus tells us in Matthew 9:19-21 that we should “…not lay up … treasures on earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Make it your goal this season to evaluate what is truly most important to you. If necessary, make some adjustments and be sure to offer thanks for your real treasure.

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The Path to Joy

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difficulty and uncertainty of life. There is great turmoil in our nation surrounding political and social issues. There are serious questions about the future for those of us who are people of faith. Looking around, I see a great deal of pain and suffering. I know many people that deal with chronic and constant pain. Many others are struggling with pain from relationships or some other emotional pain. The reality of life is that it can be difficult and painful and often can leave one discouraged.

In contrast, I also know that the Christian life is meant to be a life of joy. Peter writes that believers in Christ are “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” (1 Peter 1:8-9). Paul prayed for the church to be filled “with all joy…” (Romans 15:13). The psalms talk about singing and shouting with joy. Unfortunately, there are times that I wonder, “How exactly is that possible?”

Though life’s experience may cause me to question the reality of having joy despite the difficulties in life, my understanding of God’s Word leaves me confident that it is indeed possible. The Apostle Paul provides a multitude of examples of this through his own experiences and it is a common theme in much of his teaching. One of the common threads that form the foundation for a life of joy is that we must turn our attention away from ourselves.

Selfishness is a plague that we cannot seem to escape and far too often it worsens when things go wrong and life gets tough. We turn inward and become so focused on me; my problems; my trouble; my pain. That just makes us more miserable. You can be certain that if you focus on your problems, you will have very little joy.

Instead, we must turn our attention outward. We must look for opportunities to use our difficulties to advance the cause of Christ and bring God glory through our problems. We must look for ways to bless, encourage and serve others. I can assure you that through choosing to look outward you will find a renewed joy in your own spirit. You will find that one of the fastest way to bring a little joy into your own life is to focus on others instead of yourself.

If you are struggling to find joy in life, I challenge you today to stop living life for yourself and begin living it for God’s glory. The crazy thing you will discover is that when you live for yourself and your own happiness, you never actually find joy. It is a blessed paradox of following Christ that when you begin to live for His glory above everything else, you find immense joy.

Thoughts For My Fellow Christians on Election Day

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Today is an exciting and potentially historic day for our great nation. It is a day in which we once again have the privilege of exercising our right to vote and it is a day that many on both sides of the political aisle feel will have monumental impact on the direction of our nation. It is also a day that many believers have been anticipating with great fear and anxiety. While I have absolutely no idea what the outcome of this election will be today, I do know that God cares far more about how His people treat each other and represent Him than He does about a particular political party winning or losing. With that in mind, I have a few brief thoughts for my fellow believers that I hope will be considered on this election day.

You Are a Christian First

If you a follower of Christ, that identity supersedes all others. Before you are an American; before you are a democrat or republican, conservative or liberal; you are a Christian. You are a child of God and as such you are His representative. You a citizen of His kingdom with temporary citizenship here in this world. Your obligations are to him before they are to any political party or social cause. Many Christians are approaching this election with the claim that they are voting based on their faith and their beliefs, all the while acting in a manner that is absolutely contrary to Christian behavior. I urge you to consider not only the rightness of your stance (because you just might be right), but also the manner in which you are taking it. Christians cannot be mean-spirited, nasty, dishonest, fear mongers. It is sad to see so much hatred, ignorance and divisiveness among the body of Christ. Remember, today and every day, that if you bear the name of Christ than you must live in a way that honors him.

We Are All Americans

Somehow this particular election seems to have gotten even more divisive than usual. Those of us who are Christians must remember that while it has been a great privilege to live in a country that has largely supported our Christian values and lifestyle God has nowhere promised that it should be so. Being American is not about faith or specific political positions. In fact, the beauty of America is that we are a diverse people unified under the belief that we are all free to believe, like and live however we want. Those who stand across the political divide from you are just as American as you and likely love their nation just as much. Wherever we end up after this election, I can promise you that our nation will be much better off if we get over the “us and them” mentality that has dominated this election cycle and get back to being a unified nation of diverse beliefs and preferences.

God Is Still In Control

Regardless of who is our president or what political party is in power, God is still sovereign over this nation and His world. I want to urge my fellow believers to stop acting in fear as if God cannot handle it if certain people or parties are in power. God is in control, and the simple truth is that He might not want what you expect Him to want. There is no guarantee that he wants you to have religious liberty. There is no guarantee that He wants you to live in a nation that makes it easy to worship Him. There is no guarantee that he wants you safe or wealthy. We just don’t know. What we know is that He is in control and we must accept that His ways are not our ways. Trust Him. Rest in Him.

Prayer Is Our Weapon of Choice

With many Christians taking to social media to fight it out over their political views, I think we need to be reminded that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places(Ephesians 6:12).” The way we fight that battle is not through clever arguments or nasty rants on the internet, but by “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:18).” I urge you today to be in constant, persistent, selfless prayer. Pray for your brothers and sisters who are voting and pray for your brothers and sisters around the world who never get to vote and are living in persecution for their faith. Pray for your current president as well as for the next one. Pray for your nation, communities and neighborhoods. Pray for your church family. Perhaps most importantly, pray also that God will give you a spirit that is in line with His; pray for a heart that sees this world and the people in it the way He does. Pray! Pray! Pray!

You Have Been Given Peace

Too many Christians are walking around these days worried and in a panic. They are troubled over the state of our nation and all worked up over who will be the next president. I can tell you this: if you as a believer do not have peace now, you will not have it when you get your preferred president either. That is because genuine peace cannot be dependent upon circumstances. Peace is an untroubled heart because of faith in Christ regardless of circumstances. Jesus said to His disciples, “I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid (John 14:27).” Peace is a gift from God, but we have to choose to experience it by trusting Him, refusing to dwell on the circumstances, and by being grateful for the blessings He has given us.

God is a Big God Who Deserves to Be Honored

My biggest concern is not for the outcome of this election, but for God to be glorified by His church regardless of what happens in the election. My heart’s greatest desire in all of this is that the church would stand up for what is right, while also acting right; that we would represent our Lord in a way that will make Him happy and not ashamed. While many people will be discussing the election and its potential outcomes and problems and so on throughout the day today, it is my desire to simply remind you that you serve a big God who is in total control. Don’t worry; don’t be afraid. In the words of Paul, “May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way 2 Thessalonians 3:16).”

 

Photo By Harley Pebley (Flickr: Prayer for USA) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Game 7 by My Numbers

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Even the most disinterested of individuals is probably aware by now of some of the numbers involved in last night’s World Series Game 7. Numbers like 108 years since the Cubs last won the World Series or 174 years combined since either team had won it all. 37 years since a team had come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win. First ever leadoff homerun in a World Series game 7. 2 curses that Theo Epstein has erased. It truly was a terrific game and all the talk of numbers made me think of the numbers involved in my own personal World Series experience. So here is game 7 of the 2016 World Series by my numbers:

0 – Baseball games prior to game 7 I had watched in their entirety this season. Also, the number of times any of my children had ever shown any interest in watching a baseball game with me.

3 – The generations watching the game together around my little laptop at the kitchen table. It was fun having my Dad here for the experience.

1 – Of my children who stayed up until 1:00am watching baseball. What an awesome experience for me and my 9 year old! (Also the number of children who whined incessantly until almost the same hour because she couldn’t stay up with her brother. Also the number of children who could care less that baseball or any sport was being played and just wanted to read his book.)

4 – Innings gone by when I chose to tell my son about the curse of the billy goat. With the Cubs up 3-1 it seemed as if they had a reasonable shot at breaking that curse and I wanted him to understand the enormity of what was about to happen.

2 – The number of times I told my son during the 5th inning that he would probably have to go to bed when it was over.

5.5 – Innings passed when my son decided he felt sorry for the Indians who were down 5-1 and wanted them to win.

2 – The number of runs the Indians scored in the bottom of the 5th that had my son mocking me with goat noises.

4ish – How many times I changed my mind about sending my son to bed before the game was over.

17 (give or take) – Warnings to my son that he had better be on his best behavior the next day or he and I would both be in big trouble for him staying up so late.

3 – The number of times that I have since explained to my wife the value of a 9 year old staying up all night to make once-in-a-lifetime memories with his dad and grandpa.

1 – Great big hug I received from my son along with expressions of gratitude for letting him stay up.

0 – Regrets for the late night of baseball watching with my family.

Though I watch far less sports than I used to and have hopefully matured a bit in the way I prioritize them, I still think that moments like last night can provide a unique opportunity to bond. As parents we have a massive responsibility in the raising of our children and if we aren’t careful we can become so focused on the seriousness of this responsibility that we miss out on moments to simply enjoy our kids and let them enjoy us. We should make sure to make time for constructive and meaningful fun together with our children. These opportunities can provide a foundation upon which future opportunities for instruction and character development can be built. If you don’t believe me, just consider the numbers!

Encouragement for the Election Anxious

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With the presidential election less than a week away, many Christians and conservatives are frustrated by their options and are planning to either vote for a candidate they do not believe in or just stay home on election day. These decisions in themselves are very personal and really are of no concern to me. However, what does concern me is that the frustration involved in this decision seems to be fueling an ever increasing sense of despair and desperation from many Christians.

Do Not Be Afraid!

Even beyond frustration, there seems to be a significant amount of fear over the outcome of this election. This is a real problem! Regardless of the uncertainty surrounding the election and regardless of the potential consequences, there is absolutely no reason for the Christian to fear. Fear is really nothing more than doubt that God can handle a situation and since that is never a possibility there is no legitimate reason to fear. After all, God is not surprised by world events nor does anything take place apart from His sovereign will. Furthermore, nothing can harm us unless God allows it and He promises to protect us from all that is not in our ultimate good. Even in regard to government, it is He who appoints kings and world leaders. We must rest in the knowledge that He is in full control. Consider His Words to Isaiah and know that they are as true now as they were then: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Hope in God Alone

One of the biggest reasons for all the fear and anxiety is that American Christians long ago began to place their hope in a nation and a government rather than in God alone. Instead of being Christian first, we identified as American. Instead of trusting God to care for us, we trusted a government to provide and protect. While it is absolutely appropriate and important to appreciate the great nation that God has gifted us with, we must never place our hope in that nation. As the psalmist said, “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue (Psalm 33:16-17).” No nation can defend us; no government can deliver us; no political system can provide for our truest needs; and no human leader can save us. Rather, it is God that delivers us and protects us and “He is our help and shield (Psalm 33:19-20).” It is He that determines our future, not an election. We must hope in Him rather than in a political system that at its best is inferior to Him and at its worst is corrupt and failing.

Remember Your True Home

No nation, no matter how great, should have the sole allegiance of the Christian. Though that reality may strike a blow to the blind patriotism that many evangelicals have embraced, it is nonetheless true that Christians owe their allegiance to a heavenly kingdom; this world is not our home. While it is proper and just to be good citizens of this kingdom, it cannot become our primary focus – our home. Our freedoms, comforts, laws, preferences and finances, and even safety should be no more than minor considerations to the believer whose heart is firmly fixed on the heavenly kingdom. Our true home is in heaven and our purpose in life is not to make a nice comfortable home here. Our purpose is to spread the gospel to all people and advance the cause of the heavenly kingdom during our temporary residency in this earthly one. We must always be mindful of our true home. In the words of a song by Building 429, “All I know is I’m not home yet. This is not where I belong. Take this world and give me Jesus, this is not where I belong.”

Stay Encouraged

For a genuine believer, there is plenty of reason to be encouraged despite all that is taking place in the world around us. We have nothing to fear with a sovereign God at the helm and a home in heaven waiting for us. Now is not the time to doubt, but to take heart and to be bold. No matter how the election turns out and regardless of the tremendous cultural shift in our nation, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” No need to worry or be anxious because God’s got this. You need only to stay faithful, stay focused and keep looking up.

What Are You Looking At?

5kidsComedian Jim Gaffigan says, “You know what it’s like having five kids? Imagine you’re drowning. And someone hands you a baby.” Today I brought home my own 5th child and I’m sure that those moments where I feel like I’m drowning will come. But today? Today I feel nothing but joy as I consider the many blessings that God has given to me. Five healthy kids, four of whom already show interest in following Jesus. An amazing wife that does an incredible job taking care of all of us. Wonderful friends who have sacrificed to be a blessing and help to us and a church family that truly cares about living out the love of Jesus in their lives. I have a job I love, a comfortable house to come home to and more than I need in terms of stuff. I am truly a blessed man.

Despite all the blessings in my life, I can be tempted to look past the blessings and see only the negative. Even during such a special weekend as this one has been it would be easy to focus on the sleepless nights, the hard chairs, bad hospital food and the stress of finding people to watch our kids. Isn’t it amazing how we can do that? Despite tremendous blessings, all we see are the problems. Sometimes all I see are the messes my kids make and the things they break. It’s easy to focus on the bills that have to be paid, the projects yet undone and the things I think I need to buy or do.

When this is what I see, the joy and gratitude give way to stress and frustration. This undoubtedly has an affect not only on me, but on those around me. The longer I focus on the difficulties, the more critical, negative, and stressed out I become. Before long, my personal attitude begins working against the blessings I do have as relationships deteriorate and consequences take effect. The saddest thing about this process is that it is nothing more than the consequence of a simple choice.

I’m not saying that you can choose the difficulties of life any more than you can choose the blessings. The reality is that much of life is simply beyond our control. However, what is within your control is the perspective you will have. Consider the instruction of the Apostle Paul – “Rejoice in the Lord always… (Philippians 4:4).” You can choose to focus on the negatives and difficulties of your life or you can focus on all of the blessings God has given you. Even in the most difficult of circumstances you can turn your eyes to Jesus and rejoice in Him. I urge you to take a moment to evaluate your life and consider this question: What are you looking at? May you find great joy and peace as you look at Jesus and all the blessings he has placed in your life.

Vote Biblically

While temperatures are cooling off around the country, political drama is steadily rising in anticipation of Election Day just around the corner. With another presidential debate in the books and less than 30 days until the big day, many voters still find themselves undecided if not outright conflicted over the choice that is facing them. Certainly there are some on both sides of the political aisle who are pleased with their party’s mainstream candidate and are excited to cast a vote in their favor. Likewise, there are some who don’t really care about the individual candidate, but are merely determined to cast their vote for the party of their preference. However, in this election perhaps more than any other, I sense that there are people with genuine interest in improving their world through the political system who feel absolutely confused and overwhelmed by the process of determining who to vote for.

It is to this group that I would like to offer a bit of guidance. I have no desire to tell you who specifically to vote for nor do I have any particular interest in changing the mind of a determined voter. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I am not even close to a political expert. In fact, I have very little interest in politics. What I do care about, however, is people; and right now I see many of my fellow believers in Jesus who love both their country and their God conflicted as to how to reconcile the two in regard to their vote. My desire is not to provide political council, but simply to provide some biblical perspective as it may apply to one’s decision in the voting booth.

  • Do not make a decision out of fear. In recent days I have seen and heard so many good Christian people saying, doing, defending and supporting things that are unchristian because they are overcome with fear. I repeatedly hear the justification that “we have to vote for ‘candidate B’ because we just can’t let ‘candidate A’ become president. That would destroy our nation.” As a child of God and follower of Jesus, you should not be making any decision out of fear. God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Tim 1:7) and we must resist the urge to cast a vote based on fear of the consequence of not doing so. Set your mind to do what is right and let God worry about the consequences.
  • Make your choice out of love. In 1 Cor 16:14 we are told to “do everything in love.” That doesn’t mean loving a particular candidate. It means that the love God has for us and the love we ought to have for him should always be a factor in every decision we make. Rather than disapproval and hatred guiding our choice, we must let God’s love lead us as we choose how to vote. That means considering whether a particular candidate loves and promotes the things that God loves: humility, honesty, justice for the innocent and less fortunate, good and righteous actions, peace, reverence and obedience (Malachi 2, Proverbs 6:16).
  • Make a decision that is consistent with the pursuit and promotion of holiness. God’s desire for us as His children is that we mimic His holy character. This should be far more important to us than any political or social issues. When considering who to vote for, do not compromise personal morality or holiness for the sake of a desired outcome. It is deplorable that many Christians and even prominent evangelical leaders are rationalizing away despicable behavior and all manner of evil “for the sake of the greater good.” A candidate who flaunts immorality or unholy principles and beliefs is not an acceptable option for a follower of Christ.
  • Make a decision that elevates justice and mercy. These are two issues that lie close to the heart of God and are central to our interpersonal relationships (Micah 6:8). Though there are a variety of issues and interests affected by a presidency, we must carefully consider how an individual’s election will impact justice and mercy in our world. We have reached a critical point in regard to race relations and poverty in our nation and we need to choose a leader who is willing to fight for justice for all. There is no room for the promotion of racism, bigotry and plutocracy.
  • Make a choice that prioritizes kingdom values. As we evaluate a candidate’s qualifications and worthiness, we will inevitably have to prioritize these principles in some way. Jesus said to seek “first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33)” and this is how we must approach every decision, but especially the decision of how to vote. We cannot prioritize our own desires, comforts and rights above God’s Kingdom and His standards. Many Christians have aggressively voiced a willingness to sacrifice Kingdom values such as holiness, decency , justice, mercy, love and peace for the sake of maintaining freedoms and rights such as fire arms and religious liberty. While there may be nothing wrong with some of these social issues, they cannot supersede kingdom values in your decision.
  • Make a decision that manifests trust in God. This is ultimately the crux of the matter. It is not, after all, a vote that is going to decide our next election: it is God. “For there is no authority except that which God has established (Romans 13:1)” and it is “He who removes kings and establishes kings (Daniel 2:21).” Yet many evangelicals are prepared to walk into the voting booth and demonstrate a total lack of faith because they believe that God needs them to be ok with the “lesser evil”. We have rationalized away despicable character and behavior because we believe a certain outcome is best. This kind of compromise is nothing more than a lack of trust that God can and will accomplish his purposes. It is the logic of Sarah who told Abraham that God must need his help to fulfill his promise, thus promoting an adulterous relationship for the sake of producing a child. God does not work that way. He will not ask you to sin and violate your faith, conscience and morals to accomplish His plan. He will not ask you to vote against His principles and values to achieve His plan. Instead, we must cast a vote that reflects total trust in Him. That just might mean voting for a candidate who statistically cannot win or even not voting at all. We must obediently do what is right and trust Him for the outcome.

As you prepare to vote next month, I hope that you will take these biblical principles to heart. It is my sincerest desire that you will arrive at a decision that you can be at peace with and that is in harmony with your commitment to follow Christ. Additionally, I hope you will remember that your true citizenship as a child of God is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). You are merely passing through this earthly kingdom and should not let its cares drag you down. Keep looking up and live your life in a manner that will bring glory to God. In the words of Paul, “Respect everyone, and love your Christian brothers and sisters. Fear God, and respect the king (1 Peter 2:17).”

Disagreement Is Not Hatred

As father to 4 young children, it should come as no surprise that I often find occasion to discipline one of them. Not infrequently, one of them will respond by trying to turn the tables and accuse me of “being mean.” They will angrily scream things like “You don’t like me; you hate me. You’re so mean.” Now as a parent of small children, I don’t take these remarks personally. I merely take them as an indication that repentance hasn’t occurred and proceed to work toward that end.

These kinds of remarks, though, are also a reflection of the culture in which we are currently living. We are living in a culture in which no one can offer correction or criticism without being considered mean; a culture in which you cannot disagree without being intolerant and unloving.

We see this mentality play out in current events on a daily basis. Christians cannot teach that homosexuality is a sin without being called hateful. Law abiding citizens are unable to criticize violent protests and mob riots without being considered a racist. Concerned minorities cannot criticize the actions of law enforcement without getting called anti-police. Athletes cannot peacefully protest without being called un-American. Good people cannot disagree over politics and presidential candidates without calling each other names and questioning their spirituality or patriotism or both. It is time that we addressed this wrong perspective.

Contrary to current popular opinion, it is possible to love someone and disagree with them. There is indeed a proper place to lovingly correct someone. Now correction and disagreement can certainly be done in unloving or hateful ways, but the correction or disagreement itself is not unloving. In fact, sometimes the most loving thing we can do is point out to someone that they are wrong. In Proverbs 3:11-12, the Bible offers this advice: “My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD or loathe His reproof, for whom the LORD loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.” These verses are speaking specifically of God’s correction, but I think they provide some insight into how we should view criticism. We should not reject it or resent it. We should accept it as an expression of love.

When done in the proper way, criticism or correction and disagreement can be a very loving thing. While we may not be able to change the world’s perspective on this, I hope that the church can learn to view correction and disagreement in a more biblical way. We must stop the name calling and accusations every time that someone disagrees with us and we truly need to learn to accept correction. We must endeavor to live out the truth of God’s Word while also accepting the differences in those around us. As important as it is that we demonstrate love in our actions, we must now also strive to manifest love in the way that we accept correction, criticism and disagreements.

 

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

On Two Deer, Personal Conflict and God’s Word

Driving home from church in the dark one evening I came upon 2 deer in the road. In the rural stretch of road I drive, this alone is not that unusual; in fact I was prepared for it. I was driving cautiously with my high beams on and attentively watching the road when I came over a rise and saw them. I came to a stop as 2 big bucks stood head to head pounding each other with their antlers. There heads were low and moving side to side as their bodies were each braced by their hind legs firmly planted on the pavement. They were so focused on their conflict (and impressing their lady friends that were surely hanging around somewhere) that I thought they must have been oblivious to everything else around them. It was magnificent! These two beautiful creatures with impressive racks seemed so engrossed in their battle (and perhaps tangled in each other’s antlers) that I hoped they didn’t notice me. However, as I scrambled to pull out my phone to capture the incredible moment they both stopped and stared directly into my headlights. I guess the lights and sounds of my vehicle were too much for them and they disengaged and both headed into the field on opposite sides of the road.

For the rest of my ride I was just overcome by a feeling of awe as I considered how cool (and rare – at least in my experience) that brief encounter was. As I continued to contemplate what I had seen, I began to sense a parallel to the reality of our everyday lives. Much like those two deer, we often find ourselves engaged in conflict of some kind. We feel trapped or entangled by some circumstance. Perhaps we experience conflict in a relationship. Whatever it is, we generally recognize that conflict is a part of life.

However, much like those 2 deer who disengaged their conflict because of my lights, often the solution to our conflict lies in the light. I don’t mean someone’s high beams or even actual light. I’m talking about the light of God’s Word. Many scriptures such as Psalm 119:105 refer to God’s Word as a light because it has the ability to illuminate our situation in a unique and special way – a divine way. We may feel trapped or overwhelmed by conflict, but if we take the time to look into God’s Word and apply it to our circumstance we might just find the conflict resolved as quickly as it began. I encourage you today to begin the important and rewarding practice of searching the scripture and applying it to the everyday situations you face throughout your life. It might not fix everything, but I can assure you it will begin the process of healing and peace that God desires for you.

 

Photo by Brian Stansberry – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30389408

The God of All Comfort

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My wife’s sisters were visiting recently and they each have a baby that came with them. It was a lot of fun seeing our kids play with their baby cousins as they don’t get to do that very often. While all of the kids seemed to have a great time, their visit really seemed to draw out the compassionate side of my seven year old son.

I was on the couch one night and one of the babies was in the floor crying. Now, standard operating procedure for me around a crying baby – particularly one that doesn’t belong to me – is to wait it out as long as possible until the mom comes and takes over. This, however, was not an acceptable solution for my son who decided to help. He has this very special blanket that we all call buggus. It used to be bug blanky, but now it’s just buggus. He’s had it since he was a year old and he loves it. And when that baby cried, he did the most caring, selfless thing that anyone could do. He lay down on the floor with the baby and wrapped his blanket around him and just comforted him until he calmed down.

It was such a sweet thing to see and in that moment I was extremely proud of my son for being so sensitive and compassionate. Later, as I thought about it, I realized that it was really the perfect picture of what God does for us.

In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 we are told that God is “…the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction…” The Greek word for comfort here is paraklesis and it literally means “a calling to one’s side.” It is giving strength and encouragement while alleviating grief. That is comfort and that is what most of us are looking for. We just look in the wrong places. We look to relationships and self-gratification and all kinds of other selfish means.

But we should be looking to Jesus for the comfort we need. Jesus is calling you to his side. He loves you. He cares for you. He is waiting to come alongside your mess and help you and encourage you. That’s the God we serve. A God of comfort. A God who, like my compassionate son, crawls down into our problem with us and wraps the blanket of his love around us to provide strength and encouragement and relieve suffering.

If this kind of comfort sounds appealing to you, I want to encourage you to stop trying to chase it down on your own and simply rely on God for the comfort you need. He may not remove the difficulty or the cause of suffering, but I can promise that He will deliver you from the hopelessness that comes with trying to face it alone.