Monday Musings: What’s your story?

Last week, I went to Chicago…

And, I saw lots of different people with lots of different stories.

Young and old.

Rich and poor.

Black and white…

And everything in between.

We all have a story.

A story of where we’ve been…and where we’re going.

A story of who we’ve been…and who we want to be.

A story of what we’ve lost…and what we hope to find.

A story of when our life changed…and when it might change again.

A story of how we became who we are…and how we want to be better.

A story of why we think we exist…and why that matters.

We all have a story that is our unique story.

But, at the end of the day, we are all image-bearers…

Created by a God who doesn’t make mistakes.

Loved by a God who can save you from anything (including yourself).

Forgiven by a God who sacrificed his greatest love to pay for your sin.

Cared for by a God who knows your needs better than you know them.

Rescued by a God who does impossible things every day.

Accepted by a God who knows what it feels like to be rejected.

If you have a personal relationship with God, this is your story.

If you don’t have a personal relationship with God, this can be your story.

So, what’s your story?

Monday Musings: waking up with a case of the anxious Mondays

Woke up today with a bad case of the anxious Mondays.

It’s often what happens when I wake up before my alarm goes off, and my mind starts going through the day (and the week) in front of me.

As I was lying there in bed with the anxiety levels rising, I remembered a dream that I had just had that night.

(I know…super random. But just hang with me for a sec.)

I was in the ocean on a boogie board…and this huge wave was starting to form a little further out from where I was paddling.

And, I realized in that brief moment that I had to stare at the wave that it was either going to come crashing down on me…or I was going to ride it.

If you’ve ever been out in the ocean on a surfboard or a boogie board or even just body surfing, you probably have experienced the difference between a wave crashing down on you and catching one perfectly.

When a wave crashes down on you, it’s a helpless feeling.

You just end up getting thrown around in every direction until the wave decides it’s done with you.

Needless to say, it’s not a good feeling.

But, when you catch a wave perfectly and you are riding it the way a wave is meant to be surfed, it’s an amazing feeling.

The chaos the wave creates is still there, but it doesn’t affect you the same way it does when it’s crashing down on you.

Instead of feeling like you’ve been stuffed into a washing machine, you feel like you’re flying on water…which is probably why surfers risk so much to find the perfect wave.

Anyway, back to the dream.

I had two choices in the brief moment I had staring at that wave.

I could either sit there and do nothing and let it crash down on me…

Or, I could start paddling as hard as I could and try to ride it.

When you put it that way, it’s an easy choice…right?

So, I started paddling and paddling and paddling, but also bracing myself for that wave to come crashing down.

And, the next thing I knew…

I was riding the wave.

Even in the midst of so much force and power and water crashing around me, I was in the perfect spot to ride it out…and it was strangely peaceful.

Okay, so what’s the point?

Life is a lot like being in the ocean trying to catch a wave.

Sometimes, those “waves” come crashing down on you, and sometimes you find yourself riding the “wave.”

This morning, I had a choice to make.

I could either sit there and let the wave of anxiety that I woke up with come crashing down on me…or I could start paddling.

I chose to start paddling.

I started remembering specific promises of God that help me when I feel anxious.

I prayed through Philippians 4:6-7.

I spent time reading God’s Word.

And, the next thing I knew…

I was right where I needed to be…riding the wave, so to speak.

The day is still in front of me.

I still have anxious thoughts about the week.

But, they’re not crashing down on me anymore.

And, I’m starting my Monday in peace.

If you’re like me, and you woke up today with a bad case of the anxious Mondays, you can either sit there and do nothing…or you can start paddling.

Here’s a couple of verses to help you start moving…

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

3 You will keep in perfect peace
    all who trust in you,
    all whose thoughts are fixed on you!
Trust in the Lord always,
    for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.
Isaiah 26:3-4

Monday Musings: where are your questions leading you?

Ah Monday morning…

So much is swirling around in my head right now as I try to focus on one thing to write about…to muse on.

I give up.

There’s just too many questions to focus on just one…

What is truth…or true when I turn on the news or scroll through my social media feeds or talk to my neighbor down the street?

What is normal…is it really just going back to the “good ol'” days of 2019?

What is freedom…is the freedom we really want tied to politics, religion, or personal preference (or is it all of the above)?

When will this pandemic go away?

When will people learn to disagree without making the people they disagree with their enemy?

When will I be able to work in a coffee shop again? (okay, maybe that’s not as big of a question as the rest, but I’m still asking it)

What will the people living in 2070 say about the people living in 2020?

When is Jesus coming back?

What are we as Christians supposed to be learning from the coronavirus, the recent elections, and anything and everything else that’s creating division in our country?

What is God thinking right now?

Does He have a plan or an end game for all of this?

Are we living in an intense (and in some ways, unprecedented) season of suffering as Christians in America or is it discipline…or both?

Is God pulling out the weeds right now…or is Satan sifting us like wheat?

You see, I’ve got lots of questions with no easy or clear answers…and I’m guessing that you do to.

And we both have to choose where those questions will ultimately lead us.

This morning, these questions led me to Romans 11, where Paul says…

33 Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!

34 For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
    Who knows enough to give him advice?
35 And who has given him so much
    that he needs to pay it back?

36 For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.

The truth is, I may never understand the answers to all my questions…

But, I know a God who does.

And that is good enough for me on a Monday morning.

Attitude Check: what our attitudes are really telling people right now

Attitude.

Been thinking a little bit about that word lately.

So last week, I decided to type in “attitude quotes” into my Google search bar to learn a little bit about people’s perceptions of “attitude” and how it impacts our lives.

“Attitude is everything,” is one of the more common viewpoints out there. And, even though it’s kind of an oversimplification of how our attitudes impact our lives, there’s a lot of truth in that statement.

Our attitudes really do impact not just our lives, but the lives of those around us. Two historical figures have summed it up this way…  

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” – Winston Churchill
“Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.” – Albert Einstein

Turns out that our attitudes matter…a lot.

Especially as Christians.

It was Paul who wrote in Philippians 2:5…

“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

If you go back and read verses 1-4 of that chapter, you’ll find examples of what having a Jesus’ attitude looks like. Paul says things like…

Stop being selfish (v3)

Stop trying to impress people (v3)

Be humble (v3)

Start thinking of others as better than yourself (v3)

Stop being proud (basically all of verse 3)

Stop doing only what’s best for you (v4)

Start paying more attention to the interests of others (v4)

Okay, so here’s the deal.

Our attitudes as Christians matter…A LOT.

The people around us (think your family, neighbors, coworkers, friends, etc.) are learning from us. Among other things, they are learning how we react and respond to the things going on around us (good and bad)…in our communities, in our nation, and in our world.

And, our attitudes (and the reactions that go with them) are giving people either a good and positive view of who Jesus is or one that makes Jesus look petty, selfish, arrogant, and condescending.

Clearly, these are difficult, divided days that we are all living in.

Right now, the division and disagreements we have are centered primarily on politics, race, COVID-19, and the economy.

But, even if/when these issues fade away or get resolved, there will be other things for us to divide and fight over. And the people around you will always be looking to you to see how you react and respond to them.  

So, ask yourself, what is your attitude telling people right now?

Is your attitude helping people see what having a Jesus’ attitude looks like?

Are you pointing people to Jesus these days or are you just pointing fingers?

Attitude may not be everything, but our attitudes as Christians say a lot.

May we be a people who have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had and consistently point people to Him.

Even when…especially when…it’s hard.

We are all image-bearers…and why that matters in a divided country.

Divided.

In last week’s Monday Musings’ post, I suggested that that will be the one word that best describes the year 2021…

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

We now enter a week that started yesterday with churches all across the country pausing to recognize “Sanctity of Life” Sunday.

Today, as I write, many people in our country are pausing to remember the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

And, just two days from now, our country will inaugurate a new president and vice president to lead us for the next four years.

Depending on things like your race, politics, religion, socio-economic status, and even family background, each of these days probably mean something different to you.

And, because of this, these days (and this week) may end up only highlighting the division that you already sense and feel in your heart toward those who think or look or act differently than you.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Because, regardless of all that divides us, we all have one thing in common.

We are all image-bearers.

All of us have been created in the image of God.

From the moment of conception, we are His image-bearers.

Whatever the color of our skin, we are His image-bearers.

Whatever our political or socio-economic status, we are His image-bearers.

Whatever our religious beliefs (or even lack of them), we are His image-bearers.

Whatever our family background and history, we are His image-bearers.

We could go on, but the point is this…

We are all born image-bearers of our Creator God.

But, we are also all born broken image-bearers in need of a Savior.

The good news is that God knows that and sent His Son into the world to save us…to redeem us in our brokenness and to give us life to the full. (John 3:16-17 & John 10:10)

The bad news is that the devil knows that too and is doing all that he can to steal and kill and destroy the lives of God’s image-bearers. (John 10:10)

Behind all that divides us in 2021 is a battle far greater than the one’s we wage over race, religion, politics, or anything else.

As Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, this battle is not “against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

We live in a culture right now that has convinced us that those who don’t agree with us are our enemies.

(The polarization and division we see/feel in our country is a product of that).

But this week, I am reminded again that the real enemy of all of us isn’t walking around in human skin.

The real enemy of all of us is the one who has convinced us that it is okay to steal and kill and destroy the life of the unborn image-bearer.

The real enemy of all of us is the one who has convinced us that it is okay to steal and kill and destroy the dignity of another image-bearer simply based on the color of their skin.

And, the real enemy of all of us is the one who has convinced us that it is okay to hate other image-bearers just because they think or act or look differently than we do.

The truth is, we are a divided, image-bearing people.

And, if there was ever a time (and a week) where we need to put into practice the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44, this is it.

May we be image-bearers who don’t just love the image-bearers that love us back.

And, may we also be image-bearers that are always pointing other image-bearers to Jesus.

43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Jesus in Matthew 5:43-48)

Monday Musings: when personal comfort and safety become idols

Comfort and safety.

Let’s all admit that we’re creatures of both.

We live in a culture where a person’s comfort and safety is seen as an inalienable right…something worth fighting for even.

At the core of every person’s views on life, religion, politics, money, relationships and everything else is a deep-down desire for their own personal comfort and safety.

And, unfortunately, this desire has seeped its way into the Church.

We idolize comfort and safety just like everyone else.

We make choices everyday based on how comfortable or safe that choice will make us feel.

At the core of religious consumerism and the “Christian ghettos” we choose to inhabit is our deep-down desire for our own personal comfort and safety.

And, the problem with that is this…

We’re actually surprised when we have to face hard things.

We’re surprised that we might actually have to take risks or to suffer as Christians…either because of our faith or simply because of the fact that we live in a world that is horribly broken by sin.

And, so we end up living risk-averse, low-impact spiritual lives in a world that desperately needs us to “turn from our selfish ways, take up our cross daily, and follow Jesus.” (Luke 9:23)

When pursuing our own comfort and safety become the driving force behind the everyday decisions that we make, we eventually become spiritually impotent people who spend more time whining and complaining about the evils of our culture instead of looking for ways to transform it.

It’s almost as if we’re surprised by the fact that it might be hard, unfair, risky, or uncomfortable to live as Christians in a God-less society.

But, the reality is we shouldn’t be surprised at all.

Suffering is part of the deal of following Jesus…our own personal comfort and safety is not.

We know this is true because Jesus said it is, and His life on earth backed it up…He really was a “suffering servant.”

It was Jesus who said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But, take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

We know this is true because Jesus’ first followers said it too, and they also went out and backed up their words with actions.

It was Peter who said…

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” (1 Peter 4:12-13 & 19)

As we continue to face trials and suffering in this world, may we be a people who suffer well…in a manner that pleases God.

May we be a people who keep on doing what is right even when it requires us to get out of our comfort zones, take risks, and do hard things.

And, may we do these things trusting our lives to the God who created us, always remembering that He will never fail us or abandon us.

Monday Musings: 3 everyday action steps you can take to kill the sin in you

(NOTE: This is a follow-up post to last week’s Monday Musings: the urgency we need in 2020.)

The urgency is real…

If you are not pursuing God every day, you are pursuing death.

So, every day becomes an opportunity for you to say…the old me is gone, and the new me is here.

Every day is an opportunity for you to live with the kind of urgency that seeks to kill the sin inside of you and become who you are in Christ.

Okay, so if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering…

WHAT DO I DO NEXT?

If you are feeling that sense of urgency in your heart that something needs to change when it comes to your everyday sins…

If you’re beginning to understand the gravity of your sin…and how much love that it took for God to send His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, down to this earth, to die for you.

If you’re feeling that kind of urgency right now, and you don’t know what to do with it, let me give you three action steps that you can take today and repeat every day…

Action step one: Confess your sin to God…own it and then repent and turn away from it. (1 John 1:8-9)


Action step two: Tell someone about it…don’t try to beat your everyday sins alone. It doesn’t work. (James 5:16)


Action step three: Cut off the lines of supply to whatever sin you’re struggling with…it’s better to not have to face the temptation to begin with than it is to continually be faced with having to fight it. (Hebrews 12:1)

And, in all of these things, remember this truth written by Paul in Romans 8…

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”

May God give you the will and the strength and the courage to do what you need to do today.

Monday Musings: the urgency we need in 2020

Urgency.

I think we get what it means to live with a sense of urgency right now…at least with some things. Like…

We have a sense of urgency for schools to open back up again IN PERSON.

We have a sense of urgency for the outcome of the upcoming elections.

We have a sense of urgency for more local businesses to stay open.

We have a sense of urgency for all kinds of major cultural issues of our day…everything from abortion to racial discrimination to political and social divisiveness.

Not to mention that we live every day with the urgent feeling that our lives would just go back to normal.

You’re feeling that right now, right?

I think we all are.

We all get the concept of living these days with urgency.

But I’m not so sure that we get it where it matters the most.

Because, while all of the things that I just listed are important and are getting a lot of the attention and angst in our culture and communities these days, none of them address our most basic problem.

The problem of our everyday sins…

Both the obvious ones that are clearly seen and the hidden ones that we do our best to hide.

Both the sins that we commit intentionally and the ones we commit unintentionally.

On our best days, we confess our everyday sins to God and sense the urgency of killing them.

We become what we are…a new creation in Christ.

But, on our worst days, we tolerate or excuse or even ignore our everyday sins and have no real urgency to do anything about them.

And, the danger is that we end up slowly becoming cultural Christians who live our everyday lives more and more like the culture around us and less and less like the God who lives in us.

Instead of becoming what we are, we act like who we were without any real sense of urgency to change.

We get lazy in our everyday faith, while we play the waiting game for things to go back to “normal” or for Jesus to come back and get us out of here.

We forget that the ultimate goal of being a Christian is not just to spend eternity in heaven with God in the future, it’s to become more and more like Him in the everyday now.

And, in order for that to happen, we need to live with the right kind of urgency.

We need to live with the urgency for constant renewal and refreshing.

We need to live with the urgency to pursue God every day, growing in our knowledge of Him.

We need to live with the urgency and understanding that our everyday sin is not something to be excused or tolerated or ignored.

We need to listen to Paul’s words in Romans 8:12-14, when he says…

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.

The bottom line is…if you are not pursuing God every day, you are pursuing death.

Think about it this way…

When you get up in the morning, and you open up your computer…maybe you’re like me, and you’ve left a bunch of tabs open.

So, you go to your Facebook tab or your daily news tab…and you find yourself staring at yesterday’s news.

WHAT DO YOU DO?

You hit the refresh button…and that is exactly what we need to do as Christians every day if we want to become what we are.

We need to be renewed and refreshed every day so that we become increasingly like Christ and decreasingly like who we were the day before.

Every day is an opportunity for us to say the old me is gone, and the new me is here.

Every day is an opportunity for us to live with the kind of urgency that seeks to kill the sin inside of us and become who we are in Christ.

And, that’s the kind of urgency we all need to live with now in 2020…and beyond.

Monday Musings from Colossians 3: We are what we wear

Remember the TLC show What Not to Wear?

The basic premise of the show is that people would nominate their friends to go through a clothing makeover with two fashionistas in a one hour episode for all the world to see.

To be fair, in order to be nominated, you had to have a pretty poor taste in clothing. But, you also had to be willing to listen and take the advice of show’s two “clothing experts” who would literally start by going through your closets and getting rid of most (if not all) of your wardrobe.

Watching the whole process unfold on TV was interesting. People clearly had their favorite sweaters and outfits (for example), and were reluctant to get rid of them. Sometimes, it was clearly painful for them to let them go.

But, they needed to.

They needed to let go of their old wardrobe if they wanted a new one.

And that got me thinking…

What if there was an episode of What Not to Wear based on Colossians 3 and we were all in it?

What if God went through our closets, looking for things that we needed to let go of?

What would He find lurking in our spiritual closets?

In Colossians 3:5-9, Paul gives us a partial list of things God might find…

Sexual immorality.

Lust.

Greed.

Anger.

Slander.

Dirty language.

Lying…

Just to name a few.

The bottom line is that these things don’t look good on us when we wear them. They are all part of our “old nature,” which Paul says we have “stripped off.” (Colossians 3:9)

The truth is, we all need a spiritual clothing makeover.

Because, to the people around us, we are what we wear.

So, we need to go through our spiritual closets and allow God to get rid of anything in them that doesn’t look like Him.

And, we also need to “put on our new nature, and be renewed as we learn to know our Creator and become like him.” (v.10)

We need to “clothe ourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience…and love.” (v.12 & 14)

Honestly, this can be a painful process, and it doesn’t happen in a neat and tidy one hour episode of our lives.

But, it needs to happen…because people are watching.

May God give you the strength and humility to go through your spiritual closets with Him today.

And, may what we wear point others to Him.

Monday Musings: stuck in a rut or in a groove?

Rut or groove?

It’s hard to tell the difference between the two at some levels.

But, when you dig a little deeper, you find out just how different they really are.

I mean…would you rather feel like you’re stuck in a rut or in a groove?

Exactly…

You don’t want to be stuck in a rut.

A “rut” by definition is “a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.”

The truth is we can get stuck in all sorts of ruts…in our relationships, our careers, and yes, even our faith (more on that later).

We’d much rather be in a groove when it comes to all of these things. But, the interesting thing is that a “groove” is not that much different than a “rut” (at least by definition).

A “groove” is simply defined as “an established routine or habit.”

So, what does this have to do with our faith?

When it comes to our faith, it’s easy to go back and forth between a rut and a groove. We can be stuck in a rut for days or weeks (or even years) at a time. But, we can also get in a groove…and that’s a pretty sweet place to be.

You might be stuck in a “faith rut” if deep down your relationship with God has become dull and unproductive.

On the surface, you might be “doing all the right religious things” (going to church, reading your Bible, etc.), but your faith is stagnant.

Your spiritual life is not producing any fruit (in your life or anyone else’s).

You’re going through the motions.

Or spinning your wheels.

Or shadowboxing.

If that’s how you’re feeling right now, I have good news for you…

You don’t have to stay stuck in that spiritual rut you’re in.

You can get in a spiritual groove…you just gotta get your heart right.

The Bible is full of examples of God’s people doing religious things while their hearts are far from Him (see Isaiah 29:13 for one example).

So, how do you move from a place of spiritual dullness to a place of life-giving, spiritual fruitfulness?

I’m not going to give you a simple formula or a 5-step process for that…because it might just turn into another rut for you.

But, I will say this…

If you find yourself stuck in a spiritual rut right now, the only way that you’re going to get out of it is if you really want to.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27…

24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.

This spiritual race that you’re in is life-long, and it’s full of ruts and grooves.

So, run to win…with purpose in every step.

Get yourself in a good, spiritual groove…

And stop shadowboxing.