The Power of Margin

Within days after making our recent cross-country move from California to Tennessee, a friend from back in California persisted in calling me. When her number popped up on my caller ID yet again, I thought to myself, “Why does she keep bothering me? Doesn’t she know I don’t have time to chit chat right now?” My negative and ungrateful thoughts immediately convicted me. After all, having a friend who cares about me and wants to know how I’m doing is a blessing! Could I really not take a moment to honor someone by sharing a few minutes of my time with her? What would please the Lord more: taking time to nurture relationship with one of His children, or filling up every waking moment of my time with organizing, unpacking and running errands? It occurred to me that I was making myself so busy with my to-do list that I wasn’t allowing any “margin” in my time.

Margin. It’s a word I’ve been hearing a lot lately, and it’s become my mantra in this unnecessarily busy season of my life. Most of us are familiar with the definition of margin as “the space around the printed or written matter on a page”. However, another definition of margin perhaps better explains the term as I’m referring to it. Margin may also be defined as “an amount allowed or available beyond what is actually necessary”, or “a limit in condition, capacity, etc., beyond or below which something ceases to exist, be desirable, or be possible”.

Though I’d heard the term margin in this context before, I never thought of it as a concept I needed to apply in my own life until I learned about it in Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study, Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath. Then my pastor mentioned margin in one of his messages. I know that when God is trying to tell me something, He continues to bring it up in a variety of settings until I take note.

I admit that there is very little margin in my life at the present time. The lack of margin is apparent in the way my stress level goes through the roof when someone asks me to go out for lunch or coffee or to take on a minor service commitment. I freak out because I just don’t know where I’m going to find the time! Another example of my need for margin presented itself during last week’s church service. Our pastor informed the congregation that the church’s weekly offerings are falling far short of what’s needed to cover weekly costs. I wanted to help, but unfortunately I have nothing to give. Guess why? No margin in my finances. From month to month I strap myself by spending my paycheck before I even receive it. I have left no margin for giving gifts, tithing, or contributing to important and worthy causes. Every month my paycheck is already spent to pay the credit card bill I racked up the month before.

The idea of leaving “blank space” in my life for God to speak to me, guide me, and direct me greatly appeals to me and is a necessary practice in my Christian walk. In order to honor the Lord when He calls me to do something and to love my neighbor as myself, I must leave margin in my time, energy, and finances.

So how can I create more margin in my life? A solution came to me through a woman in my Bible study group. She shared how a friend had reminded her of our need to ask the Lord to order our steps. When we do so, He will help us identify what’s really important and say no to the unnecessary:

The LORD directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
    for the LORD holds them by the hand. (Psalm 37:23-24; NLT)

A fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Boy do I need it! At all times it’s important to pray for the Holy Spirit to work in me to produce all of the fruit of the Spirit, but at this juncture in my walk with God, my need for self-control is paramount. The Holy Spirit began helping me develop restraint the moment I started praying for it! I recognized the Spirit’s work in me during a recent trip to Target. In weeks previous, I had spent hundreds of dollars at the store for things I “needed” for our new house. However, on my most recent Target visit I passed up the $100 area rug I wanted, and with the exception of a $1 Yoda cup for my son, I only purchased what I intended to purchase (a spiral notebook and a sympathy card). Yeah, God!

Notice that there is only one fruit of the Spirit. Though nine spiritual qualities are listed (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), they are not Spiritual “fruits” plural. This is because the characteristics are intertwined, complementing and supplementing each other. For example, as the Holy Spirit grants me greater self-control, the other fruit of the Spirit becomes evident in my life at the same time. If I have greater self-control, I am able to say no to activities that are not a good use of my time. In doing so, I develop peace. When I feel peaceful, I am more loving, kind, and joyful. When I am joyful, I am more patient and gentle. When I exercise self-control with money, I am able to give and demonstrate my faithfulness to God. So the fruit is one, and in order to obtain it I must walk by the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, and keep in step with the Spirit:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:16-26; ESV; emphasis mine)

Lord, may I glorify you in every area of my life – with my time, money, and possessions, and with my body and in my relationships. Help me preserve margin for friends, family, financial giving, and for just being still with you.

Enjoy Switchfoot’s This is Your Life

References:
Dictionary.com, s.v. “margin,” accessed October 31, 2015, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/margin?s=t.

Priscilla Shirer, Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath (Nashville: LifeWay Press, 2014).

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

World Citizen I am prejudiced. I admit it. I wish I wasn’t, I don’t like it, and as much as I hate to see it in myself, it is true.

My husband, son and I recently made the cross country move from South Orange County, California, to Tennessee. We made several overnight stops on our drive. Before departing for our final day of driving, we searched for a restaurant where we could grab a quick and easy breakfast. I won’t name the city or the restaurant, but suffice it to say that the place we went to had a large all-you-can-eat buffet. We were somewhat shocked at what we observed – nearly everyone in the restaurant appeared unhealthy and very overweight. Though I expected the usual breakfast fare for breakfast, I was taken aback by the greasy, fat-laden food. I was so spoiled in Orange County! I was used to having healthy food options that oftentimes included gluten-free bread, organic fruits and vegetables and cage-free eggs. I know, I know, it sounds so snooty, doesn’t it?

This wasn’t my first exposure to other parts of the country, but even though I’ve frequented this region of the U.S. many times before, I was still appalled at the type and amount of food people were putting into their bodies. I know that many people consider Californians “fruits and nuts” partly because of their notoriously healthy lifestyles. Some of this stereotype is true: There is a gym in virtually every neighborhood, and because of the beautiful weather people are often seen outside walking, running, and biking. Though there are downsides to living in South Orange County – the high cost of living, the fast and stressful pace, the traffic, etc. – I have always appreciated the culture of health that predominates in that part of the country.

When I recognized the ugly prejudice welling up in myself in the restaurant, I sensed the Lord asking me, “Just who in the world do you think you are?” I agreed with Him. Who am I to judge what anyone else does, how anyone else looks or how anyone else acts? Who am I to approve or disapprove of anyone?

Unfortunately, harboring negative thoughts about people, whether they are based on race, ethnicity, religion, lifestyle, level of education, socioeconomic status or on any other characteristic we assign to a particular group of people, is dangerous and can even be deadly. Prejudices and stereotypes that are never questioned or challenged but rather nurtured and encouraged can result in discrimination and, in the most extreme cases, marginalization and genocide.

Prior to our move, I confessed my concern about the cultural differences between our old home and our new home to one of my spiritual advisors. She reminded me that if you strip away a person’s exterior – their education, their possessions, their career, etc. – deep down we are all the same and we will all be held to the same standard when we stand naked before God. Intellectually, I know this is true. The Lord has no favorites – He loves us all just the same, and He will judge us all just the same. In light of this truth, how can I change my attitude so that I will see people who may be different from me the way Jesus sees them?

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. Jesus told this parable in response to a question posed by “an expert in the law”:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29)

Jesus answers the man’s question using a parable. In this parable, known as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan”, Jesus describes how a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho was attacked by robbers, stripped, beaten and left half-dead. When first a priest and later a Levite, both supposedly godly men, saw the injured man they passed by on the other side of the road. But a Samaritan saw the man and had compassion for him:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37)

Interestingly, Jesus told this parable knowing that the Jews and the Samaritans deeply hated each other. The Jews considered themselves Abraham’s pure descendants and therefore superior to the Samaritans, a mixed race produced after Israel’s exile when northern kingdom Jews intermarried with other peoples. Nevertheless, the Samaritan was the only one who showed mercy to his fellow man.

I love how Jesus doesn’t pull any punches – it is not sufficient to love and care for only those who are like us or who we are comfortable with, but rather he commands that we love and show mercy to all of God’s children.

I once volunteered for Amnesty International at a U2 concert. AI provided its volunteers with t-shirts that read, “Citizen of the World”. The slogan reminds me that, though we may be proud of our nationality, our ethnicity, our religion, etc., ultimately we are all just human beings created in the image and likeness of our Heavenly Father.

When I perceive others in a negative light, it is my problem and not the other person’s. They are not the ones who needs to work on their attitude – I am. As with any time the Holy Spirit convicts me that my thoughts are offensive to God, I must go to Jesus and surrender my preconceived ideas and prejudices to Him and ask for their removal.

Just as Jesus saw straight into the heart of the “expert in the law” and corrected any false notions he may have had about who his neighbor is, He will work on my heart to help me see all people as my neighbor. In the same way, I pray that others will view me not as a “fruity and nutty” Californian but rather as a sister in Christ, a fellow “Citizen of the World”.

The David Crowder band sings about How He Loves us all.

 

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Popcorn Prayers

“God, if you’re real, I need you to show yourself right now!” my dear friend prayed after giving birth to her second stillborn child.

“God, I can’t take this anymore! Please help me!”, I prayed through blinding tears when I was in the depths of depression.

As he tended to his dying father, my husband cried out to God, “Help me, God! Give me strength!”

Though spending lengthy periods of time in prayer and quiet reflection with the Lord are treasured as well as vital to our Christian walk, there are also times when the luxury of time is not available. And sometimes our needs are so great and so immediate that all we can do is cry out to God, begging Him to allow us to experience His presence and his response to our requests at once. Otherwise, we may fear we won’t survive the moment.

popcornI will never forget listening to a sermon by Skip Heitzig when he was Pastor of Ocean Hills Church. He used a term I had never heard before: “popcorn prayer”. These prayers, like a kernel of corn when it is heated and explodes and pops up into the air, are quick prayers we “pop” straight up to the Lord. Popcorn prayers are those prayers we cry out when we are desperate, when words escape us, and in those times we can muster only enough strength or presence of mind to plead “Help! Please help me, Lord!” Oh, if only I had a dollar for every time I prayed a popcorn prayer! I tend to offer popcorn prayers when I’m frightened, when I don’t know what to do, when I have come to the end of my rope with a person or a situation, or when I just can’t stop myself from repeating some destructive behavior.

King David most certainly never heard the term “popcorn prayer”, yet he definitely understood the concept behind it:

Hasten, O God, to save me;
    come quickly, Lord, to help me.

May those who want to take my life
    be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
    be turned back in disgrace.
May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”

    turn back because of their shame.
But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say,
    “The Lord is great!”

But as for me, I am poor and needy;           
    come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    Lord, do not delay. (Psalm 70)

Notice the terms “hasten”, “come quickly” and “do not delay”. We, like David, experience moments when we are broken and empty, and we beg God to hastily come to our aid. David faced enemies who sought his ruin and wanted to take his life. Though we may not be in danger of murder as David was, we still face any number of enemies during our lifetime, including our number one enemy, Satan, who seeks to destroy us.

In verse 3 of Psalm 70, David asks that those who say “Aha!” to him may “turn back because of their shame”. “Aha!” is something someone might say when they think they are right and you’re wrong, or when they think they’re beating you. When David’s enemies cruelly and haughtily said, “Aha! Aha!” to him, they added insult to injury by reveling in what they were sure was their inevitable victory and David’s certain defeat. Similarly, we may feel that our “enemies” – whether they be actual people as in David’s case, or the enemies of anxiety, depression, health challenges, relationship struggles, loss of a loved one, financial problems, etc. – are metaphorically saying “Aha!” to us. In those situations, we may pray like David that God would confound and frustrate whatever is coming against us.

David asked the Lord not to delay coming to him because he was “poor and needy” (verse 5). When we approach the Lord in brokenness, poverty and neediness, He meets us with mercy. He honors us when we come to Him with a humble heart:

And it will be said:

“Build up, build up, prepare the road!
    Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
For this is what the high and exalted One says—

    he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly

    and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57: 14-15)

Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor. (Proverbs 29:23)

David’s “popcorn prayer” teaches us that even in the midst of our distress, it is still appropriate to praise God. In verse 4, David prayed that all who seek the Lord would “rejoice and be glad in him” and that all who long for His saving help would always say, “The Lord is great!”. David wanted the Lord’s followers to glorify Him in this way. In verse 5, David praised God as his help and his deliverer. I find it difficult to praise God when I am scared, angry or overwhelmed. Nevertheless, finding things to praise Him for (and there is never a shortage!) helps me take my mind off whatever negative emotions are consuming me and re-direct my focus onto Jesus and all He has done.

When Saul sought to kill David, David prayed to God for help and strength. The Lord heard David’s prayer and delivered him from his enemy’s hand. As David recounts:

In my distress, I called to the Lord;
 I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
  My cry came before him, into his ears.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:2, 16-19)

Beloved Warrior, when all you can do is cry out to the Lord, rest assured that He will hear you and answer you. His mighty hand will reach down from on high and take hold of you, and He will rescue you from all that is too strong for you.

This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it – the Lord is his name. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. (Jeremiah 33: 2-3; emphasis mine)

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Choose Life

A few nights ago, I had a very disturbing nightmare. I dreamed I was in staying in a hotel, and my hotel room was infested with rats and snails. As I walked the halls of the hotel, I felt pulled into a channel of darkness. I had been fighting the tug, but I finally decided to stop resisting and just give in to it. Suddenly I started to glide just below the hotel ceiling, allowing myself to be carried along in a stream of black toward what I was sure was a black hole from which I would never return. I was even enjoying the feeling of surrender and non-resistance as I floated effortlessly above all the hotel guests.

Then, in my dream, I remembered Jesus. At once I recognized the seriousness of my situation – what in the world was I thinking? Was I really about to allow myself to be overtaken by the dark side? In sheer panic I declared, “Jesus! Jesus is my Lord!” Immediately, I dropped to the floor and my senses were restored. I went to the hotel dining room where my parents were eating dinner, and through tears of repentance I begged their forgiveness for my evil behavior.

My dream reminds me that I’m always, in every situation, faced with a choice – to follow or reject God, to affirm or renounce my commitment to Him. The decision, for me, is truly a matter of life or death. In the Bible, we read of Moses presenting the offer of life or death to the Israelites. After reviewing God’s laws and the terms of the covenant God had initially made with Israel 40 years earlier at Mount Sinai, Moses called upon the people to choose between life, prosperity and blessings or death, destruction and curses:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20; emphasis mine)

It sounds like an easy choice, doesn’t it? Anyone in their right mind would naturally choose life, wouldn’t they? Who among us would voluntarily opt for death, destruction and curses? Yet I regularly find myself faced with the ugliness within my own heart, and I have a choice as to whether I will take the matter to God and seek guidance, forgiveness and life or whether I will do things my own way – the way that Scripture says “appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 16:25).

At the time I had the nightmare, I was dealing with a situation that left me feeling angry and resentful. People weren’t acting the way that I wanted or expected, and I was focused mostly on what I wanted and needed and not about the other parties involved. The nightmare I had showed me that my “room”, i.e. my heart, was full of “snails” and “rats”, what I interpret as wickedness and filth. The pull of evil and my willingness to go along with it clearly indicated that I was choosing death. Through my dream, I believe that God was revealing to me that I needed to recognize the ill-will I harbored in my heart, and that I needed to come to Him for help and to surrender to Him yet again as my Lord.

Despite Moses’ warning to the Israelites, the people chose death, destruction and curses over and over again. Moses’ caution to “choose life” occurs in chapter 30 of Deuteronomy, yet in chapter 31 Israel’s rebellion is already being predicted. How it must break the Lord’s heart when we turn from Him! And how gracious He is when we return to Him to lovingly take us back time and time again! If the Lord didn’t shower His grace and mercy upon me, I would have been destroyed by my own selfishness and self-will long ago.

What will your choice be today, Warrior? None of us will ever be perfect, but will you choose this day to “love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws” (Deuteronomy 30:16) to the best of your ability? Joshua challenged the Israelites by making them decide, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15a). I pray that we would commit ourselves to God with the same conviction as Joshua, and that we would choose life.

But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15b)

Enjoy Big Tent Revival’s Song “Choose Life”

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Finally, Be Strong in the Lord

My climb out of the valley of depression and chronic illness has been a journey requiring stamina. Many times I’ve been ready to quit and succumb to the darkness. During those times I felt I could not possibly endure the suffering one minute longer, I would sense God’s voice saying “Don’t give up!”

The unfortunate truth is that we do have an enemy who wants to destroy us. Satan will especially attack with force those who threaten him and his desire to replace God in the world in general and in our lives specifically. God was probably telling me not to give up because He had a mission for me and a plan and a purpose for my life that remains to be fulfilled. Satan certainly wants to thwart any plan for good that God may have.

Satan even tried to tempt Jesus away from God’s plan for our redemption and salvation. When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, the Spirit of God descended on Jesus and a voice from heaven declared, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Immediately after this event took place, Jesus went into the wilderness. After He had fasted for forty days and forty nights, i.e. when Jesus was alone and hungry and particularly vulnerable, Satan came to tempt Him. The devil tempted Jesus in ways in which we are all susceptible: with power, pride, possessions and physical needs/pleasures. But Jesus did not give in, and the devil left Him (Matthew 4:11).

I am convinced that, like Jesus in the wilderness, you, too, will survive your times of trial by picking up the spiritual tools the Lord has supplied for us. In the day of evil, you will be able to stand your ground by putting on the full armor of God:

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:14-18a)

The full armor of God emphasizes truth, righteousness, readiness to spread the Good News, faith, salvation, the Word of God and prayer as the keys to victory over Satan’s attacks.

Despite all of the spiritual weapons in our arsenal, we may still at times feel that we’re losing the battle. When we sense impending defeat, it may help to remember how Jesus’ disciples must have felt after they had given up everything to follow Jesus only to see Him arrested, tortured, crucified and buried in a tomb. The feeling of utter defeat must have been overwhelming! But then the resurrected Christ appeared to them, explaining how He was the fulfillment of the Scriptures and suddenly standing among them and greeting them by saying, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36).

How heart-wrenching it must have been for the disciples when it came time for Jesus to again leave them to ascend into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand! But Jesus wasn’t abandoning them. Before His suffering and death, He had promised that He would soon send his faithful disciples the Holy Spirit to be with them to guide them and teach them:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:15-21, 25-27; emphasis mine)

Before Jesus departed and ascended into heaven, He gave His disciples the great commission to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). Then he left the disciples with these comforting words, ensuring us that He is always with us:

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b).

Like the disciples, we are never on our own if we’re in Christ. We may not be able to physically see or touch God, but if we pray for spiritual vision we will be able to see the works of His hand in our lives. And Scripture assures us that the ultimate victory belongs to those who are in Christ:

Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:4-5)

Beloved Warrior, keep fighting the good fight! If you are in Christ, the ultimate victory is yours.

Enjoy some encouragement with this song from Mandisa!

 

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Am I All In?

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

The Bible study group was studying Philippians, and on this particular day we were discussing verse 1:21. We were asked if we would fill in the blank in “For to me, to live is ____________” the same way Paul did. Hmmm, I had to do some soul-searching. Could I honestly say that for me, to live is Christ? At that moment, the best answer I could muster was “maybe”.

Though I turned my life over to God nearly 20 years ago, my Christian walk has been characterized by a series of surrenders to the Lord and a relationship that continues to deepen and grow stronger with each passing day. Still, when the rubber meets the road, am I all in?

Scripture details several accounts of people who were “all in” whatever the cost. A particularly striking example of a life completely devoted to Jesus exists in Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. While Jesus was reclining at a dinner given in His honor, Mary poured a jar of very expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. The amount of fragrant ointment Mary used was equivalent to a year’s wages (John 12:1-11). Mary clearly demonstrated that offering what she had to honor the Lord meant more to her than financial security. How does my attitude toward my King compare to Mary’s? Would I be willing to give my entire annual salary to the Lord without any financial plan B?

When Jesus called his first four disciples – Simon called Peter, Peter’s brother Andrew, James son of Zebedee and his brother John – they not only followed Jesus, but they did so “at once” and “immediately”:

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22; emphasis mine)

Matthew, gospel writer and disciple, also completely abandoned his previous lifestyle and gave his life to Jesus with no way of turning back if it didn’t work out. Prior to following Jesus, Matthew earned his living as a tax collector. The Romans had appointed him, and for this reason as well as because the tax-collectors were notorious for overcharging the people and keeping the profits, Matthew was neither a respected nor an accepted member of society. He probably didn’t consider himself worthy to be one of the Lord’s right hand men, yet when Jesus saw Matthew “sitting at the tax collector’s booth” he told Matthew to follow him. What was Matthew’s immediate response? He readily abandoned his lucrative career, got up and followed Jesus:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9b)

It sounds so simple! Jesus says “follow me”, and regular people like Matthew and the disciples Peter, Andrew, James and John drop whatever they’re doing and give up everything at once to serve with Him. Would I do the same?

For me personally, I don’t believe the lesson here is that Jesus wants me to give up all that I have and all that I’m doing in my life, though that may be the case for some and it may be the case for me at some point. The important truth I take from these accounts is that there is nothing in my life that should hold more value to me than following Jesus – not my job, my possessions, not anything. As my faith in God grows and deepens, and as I nurture my relationship with the Lord, the more I feel better able to honestly agree with Paul: “For to me, to live IS Christ” (Philippians 1:21). I’m all in! But I need to exercise vigilance to ensure that nothing else creeps up to try and take the place that’s reserved only for God.

The accounts of Jesus’ followers leaving everything to devote their lives to Him convicts and challenges me. Some people are comfortable with risk, but I tend to value security and routine. Being a Valiant Warrior, however, means giving up worldly security. Recall the Apostle Paul’s words:

No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. (2 Timothy 2:4)

What about you, Warrior? Are you prepared to follow your Heavenly Commander-in-Chief no matter the cost? Are you all in?

Matthew West’s song “The Motions” says it all. Enjoy!

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Who is in the Battle with You?

Who is in the battle with you imageThere is nothing like a tragedy in our lives to reveal who really cares about us and who we can depend on. When I hit bottom with depression and subsequently got sick, I was too tired to participate in all of the activities I was previously involved in. Therefore, I wasn’t attending events where I would regularly touch base with many of the people in my life at the time. This change alone eliminated many relationships, but I accepted it because many of those friendships were largely superficial anyway. It became clear that I would only have energy to devote to the most important and cherished people in my life, and this presented some difficulty. I was scared to let go of many people, but I had read in a book about living with fibromyalgia that the people that really matter and who are supposed to be in your life will stick around and put in the effort it takes to stay close.

God is so good and faithful to give us what we need when we need it! When my husband and I first started attending our current church after many years at our previous church, I have to admit I had a very difficult time making the transition. My husband Chris was welcomed into the community of men with open arms while I stood by feeling like an outsider. Chris was asked to be an elder, and I saw myself as an invisible passenger just along for the ride. The elders-to-be attended monthly meetings, and the men were asked to bring their wives. At one of the meetings, our pastor asked me not to leave before the group could pray for me. As the meeting drew to a close and the group asked for prayer requests, my pastor brought up my health situation. Everyone then gathered around me and laid hands on me. One of the elders anointed me with oil, and the group prayed over me. After that, my attitude toward the church completely changed. The love of Christ as shown through the actions of others won me over! I have since become friends with a few of the elders’ wives, and I treasure our shared faith and that we pray for each other.

Over the years, it’s also been a blessing to have a Bible study group that cares about me and knows what’s going on in my life. I need the support of fellow believers to help me through my battles. It’s also an honor for me to be there for others both in their times of sorrow and in their joys. The Bible teaches that confession and prayer with other believers has healing power. In addition, we remain accountable by praying for one another and sharing where we are in our faith journey. There is power in the prayers of true believers praying for each other:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.

If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:13-16)

Scripture also encourages us to meet together regularly, as the church needs its members to lift one another up and keep each other from falling into sin:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Furthermore, Scripture declares that believers are much stronger together than they are on their own:

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

The Bible cautions us to choose who we will walk through life with carefully. It’s important to search for people who are wise, who will offer us love and support and who will help us grow in our relationship with God:

Walk with the wise and become wise,
    for a companion of fools suffers harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

Fellow Warriors, may we take comfort in knowing we are not in the battle all by ourselves, but rather that we are all in this together. Let us both receive and give Jesus’ love for us through one another. I pray that our hearts would be open to share the amazing gift of fellowship with another lost, lonely and battle-weary soul who may desperately need to experience God’s love today.

Enjoy “No Man is and Island” by Tenth Avenue North!

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