Thanksgiving! I have to admit, I love food and I’m pretty thankful for my mom’s dressing around this time of year. Most of us will probably reflect on a number of things we are especially thankful for during this season; we certainly have a lot to be thankful for to God. But how about the process He has you in currently, developing your character? What is He producing? “If we are ever going to be made into wine we will have to be crushed-you cannot drink grapes.”1
In the Old Testament, the drink offering was one of the prescribed sacrifices offered to God. It represented the gratefulness and appreciation to God in the worship of who He is and what He had done for His chosen. Many times when the drink offering was poured out on the altar, it was after a difficult or stressful time in the life of the worshipper (see Gen 35:14-15; Lev 23:9-13). For many Christ followers, the traumatic events, stressful issues, suffering and hard circumstances that happen to us are questioned and can be confusing. And the process of personal, spiritual growth tests our faith in ways that lead us to doubt God’s goodness and especially His presence in our life. We don’t seem to hear Him, and certainly can’t see an answer to our situation, much less any relief.
You may be familiar with Paul. Definitely a man chosen by God to be His servant, he was instrumental in proclaiming the gospel and building the church. His life was full of hardship and suffering though he was adamantly following the Lord’s lead-right where God wanted him to be. Yet Paul saw himself in the difficulties of his life as being a poured out “drink offering” to God and to the service toward others (see Phil 2:17, and 2 Tim 4:6-8). Paul looked at affliction as addition; his hardships and weakness making him strong (2 Cor 12:9, 10). Christ himself gave thanks for His sacrifice, the pouring out of His blood for our forgiveness (Matt 26:27, 28).
“God cannot make us into wine if we object to the fingers he chooses to use to crush us. What finger and thumb is God using to squeeze you? Have you been as hard as a marble and escaped? If you are not ripe yet, and if God had squeezed you, it would have been remarkably bitter.”2 God is in the process of molding and shaping us into the men and women He wants us to be so that we might truly live and serve. Sometimes it is hard and we don’t understand; but the end result is the perfect fruit. Let him produce the wine he wants. Let’s be open and faithful to allow Him to ripen us in His time. Let’s live our lives like a drink offering- “poured out!”
1 Oswald Chambers
It is almost impossible to go into the Christmas season without thinking about the gift! Most will think long and hard on what they will give to their family, friends and even business associates. Some will plan the budget carefully. Others will painstakingly coordinate their shopping route in order to find the best bargains and be the most productive with their time. Many will put on their creative hats and make an artful present from scratch or even cook and bake the most unbelievable sweets or goodies. Still, others will have great difficulty with the gift! Just what is the ultimate gift this Christmas?
At some point this season, most of us will remember and even dwell on the true meaning of Christmas; the birth of Christ, the savior of the world. We will be generous to others, do good things for others, have a good attitude, be full of good cheer and give heartfelt gifts. Spiritually speaking, the ultimate gift is eternal life, found in the â€˜reason for the season,’ Jesus (Rom 6:23; James 1:17, 18). God’s word is clear. The ultimate gift is the ability to live a “right life” through the power of God’s Spirit living in us (see Rom 5:17; Acts 10:45). Along with the ultimate gift, God has a specific reason for the gift. He told Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) that this ultimate gift would not only be a blessing, but it would empower him, and all who would accept His ultimate gift, to be a blessing to others. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 that because of the gift we have received, we do not lack anything we need to be a blessing to others-we have been given spiritual gifts!
So we see then, we have been given the ultimate gift, eternal life. The source of that gift is God. The recipient of the gift is us-believers in Christ. The reason for the gift is for us to be blessed and to be a blessing to others. There is also a command that goes with the gift. God desires for us to use the gift he has given in order to serve and extend to others His grace. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)
“You have a gift. But a gift is something that is given. You don’t own it; the Lord does. The Lord is asking you to use it.” â€“Oswald Chambers
What’s your gift? How will you use it this holiday season? Hopefully we all will think long and hard about giving it to family and friends; we will plan and coordinate using it; we will be creative and artful in presenting it to others; and we will have no difficulty sharing the ultimate gift!
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The Glory of Man!
That’s who scripture tells us is “the glory of man” in 1 Corinthians 11. But just what does this mean? Webster’s online says regarding glory: “Properly, it is the exercise and display of what constitutes the distinctive excellence of the subject to which it is spoken.” If one looks at the qualities, character and traits of women it is easy to see how a woman can make a man look excellent; probably more than he is on his own!!
I believe God has made women special; after all they are made in his image, and the book of Proverbs says a good woman is worth more than diamonds, and an excellent wife is her husband’s crown. Many have said Christ himself raised the status of women as seen by his relationship in numerous settings with Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Mary the mother of James and in passages with the Samaritan woman and the woman caught in adultery.
My passion in therapy is for marital relationships. However, the most interesting and intriguing part of my practice is working with women. A large number of my clients are individual women who come mainly with issues relating to their relationships, many times regarding men! My intent here is not to disparage men by any means; I have had the privilege of working and being friends with many excellent men. However, the most influential, most enjoyable people in my life have been female. My grandmother was a kind hearted, giving and strong woman; my mother is likely the wisest, most endearing person I have ever known; my wife is a caring, loving, selfless person to everyone; my mother in law is determined and one of the most generous people I know; and my only daughter is passionate about life, loves people and has taken on the characteristics of all four of these women plus others. I am impressed by the women in my life.
As a therapist, I continue to be amazed at the spirit, endurance, stamina, perseverance and toughness of the women clients I have, and have had in the past. What is it that is so powerful about women? To me, the most appealing and intriguing feature or quality of women I continue to see is resilience. Women characterized or marked by resilience have the ability to withstand the shocks and pressures in this life. They can recover and adjust from misfortune and seem to have the capacity for change in order to make their lives more satisfying and enjoyable. They can find the good in people when it is sometimes very hard to see. They share, support, and encourage others; they show their passion, courage and strength in their perseverance.
The women in my life really have shown the measure of a woman’s worth, not by the traditional measure of outward beauty that our society values so highly; but by their character, Spirit and their resilience. “Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades. The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-GOD. (Proverbs 31:30)
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Location! Location! Location!
Business owners and real estate people all believe this is the answer to the question, “what are the three most important things in business”? They know a great â€˜location’ is an integral asset. I think God must think it is pretty important also based on the first question he ever asked man: “Where are you?”
Of course, God already knew the answer. Not only did he know where Adam and Eve were hiding, the physical location, he knew from what, why and whom they were hiding. They were attempting to hide from God because they were guilty, and the sin they had committed had broken and severed their relationship with him. But relationship with God was not all that was broken down. Adam and Eve had damaged the perfect marriage relationship too. Genesis 2:25 said before their offense “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” But now they were ashamed of their bodies, each other and proceeded to play the blame game when confronted by God. Once confident and secure in all their relationships-themselves, each other and in God- they now felt embarrassed, disgraced, afraid, helpless, insecure, and guilty!
But broken relationships are not the end of the story! God asks us about our â€˜location’ because he is pursuing a personal relationship with us. “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). He wants us to examine ourselves, how we are relating to our self, others and to him so we will seek him, find our trust and our hope in him. God is all about relationship and he desires a personal one with us. Christ’s power through death and resurrection was God’s remedy for broken relationships, fear, hurt, insecurity and every other problem we have. We do not have to live with guilt and shame. The Bible is clear: Christ came to give us life, not to condemn us. His reason for coming was to forgive sin, give us freedom, let us enjoy life fully and to redeem us from hiding (Romans 8:1; Acts 10:43; Galatians 5:1)
So, what’s your location? Maybe you are hearing God calling, asking “Where are you?” He is waiting for you to trust him; pursuing and chasing you to have that personal relationship and mend all the others too. I hope and pray you will follow the prophet Isaiah’s advice “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”
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One of things that trips me up the most is the balance between what I am supposed to be accomplishing in my life, and what I am supposed to be relying on God to do for me! This seems to be a dilemma many also share. I frequently hear questions such as “What does God want me to do” or “What am I supposed to do with my life?” “Does God want me to do this job,” “move there,” “date or marry this person,” “attempt this or that?” Good questions! I think these generally come from well intentioned people who want God’s best for their lives, who may be confused about what to do, and certainly don’t want to do something God doesn’t want them to do.
In scripture we see a number of principles to help us in the area of purpose and the questions surrounding “what is my purpose?” In John 5:17, Jesus was clear that God was at work and that he too was always working. He doesn’t just let us wander around with no direction and no purpose; but it is clear the purposes of God will be fulfilled. Our mistakes, wrong moves, even bad decisions will not thwart what God intends to do in your life and mine. He is the one who has the purpose, and the one who will fulfill it for our lives-We Don’t Do It! The Psalmist said it well: “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me” (see Psalm 57:2 & 138:8). In speaking to Christ followers, Paul encouraged us it is God who is working in us for the very intention of fulfilling his purpose for us: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil 2:13).
A number of years ago in a Bible study on God’s will, one of my pastors made a great analogy for God’s purpose for our lives and some of the questions we seem to have. Consider life as being on a cruise ship. God is the captain! We can be certain that ship is going to go where He takes it, and we are going where He directs us! But along the way, we have plenty of choices: to have fun, to work out, to eat, to rest, to be with others in enjoyable relationship. God’s plan, His purpose; yet we have a lot of choices along the way!
So we see then, the purpose we often deem as ours to have to work towards and labor to accomplish, is really God’s purpose for us-it’s not ours at all! For me this gives a sense of relief, and a peace to be able to accept I am not perfect. I make mistakes and take wrong turns in my life; but God will still work it all out for good! Let’s rest in God, and rely on God to do the work He is already busy doing (see also: Isa 46:9-11; Isa 55:11; Rom 8:28; Eph 1:11-13).
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Training the Spiritual Body!
At the beginning of every New Year, a great majority of us once again take a close assessment of ourselves and appraise our overall health. We may eventually get around to considering our emotional and mental health, and some will contemplate their spirituality. But our emphasis will most likely be the health of our physical bodies rather than our spiritual bodies; because that is what we see and evaluate in the mirror every day, and our sense of pain or pleasure and our emotions are intensely felt in the physical. But can the physical and spiritual really be separated? God’s word is clear “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” We live in a natural human body now, but the eternal reality is we have spiritual bodies. We are spiritual beings!
The apostle Paul had much to say about the integration of our physical body and the spiritual. We cannot separate the physical from the spiritual; they go together and constitute parts of our whole being. In Romans, Paul urged us to offer our physical bodies in daily living to God as a commitment to pleasing Him. This submitting of our physical self is seen as a spiritual act of reverence, respect and love to God. Just as we discipline and exercise our physical body to become healthier, we should do the same for our spiritual one. In 1 Timothy 4 we are told to â€¦”train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Some of the ways we train to be godly, to be healthy spiritually, are general spiritual disciplines such as reading the Bible, praying and meditating, praising and thanking God, fellowshipping with other believers, attending a Bible study, volunteering and serving others.
As we emphasize training and exercising our bodies-losing some weight, eating better, entertaining good sleep patterns-let’s not forget training for our spiritual health- our godliness- is even more important in order for us to live satisfied, purpose filled lives right now. And how much more essential for the life to come! (See 1 Corinthians 15:42-49; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Timothy 4:7-8)
Happy New Year
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I have often thought that as humans we have this inherent feeling or desire for things to be good all the time or that we should feel good all the time. We certainly seem to work hard toward fixing and correcting, and being irritated when things don’t go our way. I guess spiritually speaking it is because God’s original design was for our perfection, and we still have that drive, at least at some level, to know and to be like God himself. It seems we work hard towards controlling our situations and expect and want our circumstances to be right.
The harsh reality however is “In this world you will have troubleâ€¦” (John 16:33). It seems as Christians we feel God should deliver us from problems. But I think Oswald Chambers says it well: the Christian life does not mean being delivered from adversity, but in adversity. The Biblical principle we see time and again is God using the tough times and allowing hard situations to strengthen and complete us. We appear to learn more and retain knowledge better when we experience God in times of difficulty. So maybe we just need a mind set change- that tough times are more normal than not, and to have an expectation that God will do something awesome in our life. Even in times of distress we can “be of good cheer” for Christ has “overcome the world.”
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