FULLY ALIVE!

Your life will be as bright as the noonday sun. Job 11:17


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Time to Fret…NOT!

According to the National Cancer Institute, “in 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people will die from the disease. The number of new cancer cases will rise to 22 million within the next two decades.” Cancer is no respecter of persons.  “In 2014, an estimated 15,780 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 were diagnosed with cancer and 1,960 died of the disease.”

The New York Times reports that “for three quarters in a row, the growth rate of the economy has hovered around a mere 1 percent. In the last quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016, the economy expanded at feeble annual rates of 0.9 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively. The initial reading for the second quarter of this year, released on Friday, was a disappointing 1.2 percent.”  Profit Confidential writes that there are “more than enough indicators to suggest the US economy will come under serious pressure in 2016.” Wages are falling, US companies increasingly rely on foreign sales, the global economy is anemic and roughly one third of American adults have no emergency savings; about half of Americans could only cover their living expenses for about 90 days which means that if they are not already at their breaking point, they’re only about three months away.

Headlines tell us that the distance “overseas” is not as far as it used to be.  Our eyes are on Russia, China and North Korea.  You cannot flip one page of the papers without noticing alarming terrorist activity in Iraq and Syria and signs of expansion that indicate that terrorism may present on US soil in ways beyond even the horrors that we have already experienced.

Economy in Crisis reminds us that we “import tons of food from third world countries that have much lower standards than we do when it comes to food safety.”  According to their reports, we get seafood from polluted Vietnamese waters and unsafe meats from China.  Add to that the currently unknown (or at least unshared) risks of genetically modified foods and the underfunded, overworked FDA that has resources to inspect only 1-2 percent of food imports.  We cannot be sure of what we are eating much less of the safety of what we are eating.

And then, there is the recent US presidential election.  I am actually less concerned about the final outcome and more worried about what the process from campaign to election says about our country – the polarization, the changing values, the mudslinging, the morality (or lack of) of our leaders and would-be leaders, the violence, the fact that “we” have not overcome but rather are just as divided across race and ethnicity lines as ever.

Time to fret.

Not!

We are commanded in Psalm 37 to fret not.  Specifically, we are told not to fret the evildoers (verse 1) and not to fret the wicked who prosper (verse 7). If we boil it down to the core truth, those are the two things that cause us to fret the most – the evildoers and the appearance that the evildoers are growing, prospering, winning.

Look to 1 John 5:4-5 (ESV) and be reminded, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Fret? No. Believe? Yes!

Appearances can be deceiving and, if our eyes are upon the world rather than upon the Creator of this world, we will fret. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3, ESV); “his eyes are on the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps” (Job 34:21), and our eyes are to be on Him. Hebrews 12:2a instructs us to keep our eyes on Jesus.

Fret? No!

Believe? Yes!

Trust? Yes!

Rest? Yes!

 


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The WhatIfs

Shel Silverstein, long one of my favorite poets, penned a poem entitled WhatIf.  It begins, “Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear and pranced and partied all night long and sang their same old Whatif song:  Whatif I’m dumb in school?  Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?  Whatif I get beat up?  Whatif there’s poison in my cup?  Whatif I start to cry?  Whatif I get sick and die?”

Instead of breaking up the late night party, we join in, serve refreshment, turn the music up and add our own lyrics!

Our grownup version tends to go more like this:  Whatif I can’t pay my rent?  Whatif all my money’s spent?  What if my spouse decides to leave?  What if my children begin to deceive?  What if the doctor gives me a cancer scare?  What if I lose all my hair?  What if my house is taken away?  What if I die and this is my last day…?  What if my child is born with defect?  What if my teenagers are in a wreck?  And so on…you know how it goes.

I challenge you to change the tune completely and consider these lyrics:  What if God is, as His Word says, in control?  What if God is omniscient?  What if God is omnipresent and is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9)?  What if God has a plan for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and hope (Jeremiah 29:11)?  What if with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)?  What if God’s Word does not return empty but, rather, accomplishes His purpose and succeeds in the thing for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:8-11)?  What if in His hand is the life of everything (Job 12:10)?  What if God is faithful and will provide (1 Corinthians 10:13)?  What if nothing is too hard for Him (Jeremiah 32:27) and what if you can do all things through Him (Philippians 4:13)?  What if God will strengthen, help and uphold you (Isaiah 41:10)?  What if all that seems to be meant evil towards you God means it for good (Genesis 50:20)?

What if you stopped worrying and started trusting?

Silverstein ends his poem, “Everything seems well, and then the nighttime Whatifs strike again!”

When the Whatifs strike you, strike back with the Word of your Lord!  Stop worrying.  Start trusting.

THIS WEEK take captive every thought (2 Corinthians 10:5) including your whatifs!  Replace each with a promise from God.

The Whatifs:  A Silverstein Poem   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plxOibb0L0s


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Something to Worry About

Yes, last post I wrote that worrying was for the birds, but as I continue to reflect upon the teaching of Matthew – and all the Scriptures, I realize there is something that you should worry about.

Your focus. That you have it wrong.  Your thinking.  That it’s misguided.

Admittedly, my own focus and my own thinking may have been off, too.  While I wrote that worrying was for the birds, was I making too light of it?  When we look at the teaching of Matthew 6, we are told several times not to worry.  Specifically, in Matthew 6:25 (CEB) we read, “I say to you, don’t worry about your life…”  Verse 28 asks, “Why do you worry about clothes?” and verse 31 says, “Don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?”  And if we missed or misunderstood any of those, verse 34 makes it crystal clear, “Stop worrying about tomorrow.”

Whether you read the Common English, New International, King James or some other translation, the teaching is the same.  Whether your Bible tells you not to worry, not to take thought or not to be anxious, the command is the same.  No translation offers suggestions; they all offer edicts.  Directives.  Decrees.  Commandments.  And this is where and how we get off base with our thinking and our focus.

Let me be clear.  Worrying is not just problematic.  Worrying is wrong.  Worrying is a sin.  At the risk of offending some readers, I will be bold.  Worrying is a sin just like stealing, killing and adultery.  OMG you say.  But if we disobey God’s word, we sin.  Hmm, you wonder.  Don’t just take my word, let’s consider examples.  Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:2-3).  Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:7 and Luke 17:32).  Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:25-33).  Jonah (Jonah 1:1-3).  While you are reading, read 1 John 2:3-6 which cautions us, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”  Can it be any clearer?  If we do not keep the commandments of God – not just the ten, but all the commandments of His word, we sin.

And worrying is not somehow a little or a lesser sin.  That’s more of our “misthinking.”  Adultery is a BIG sin.  Stealing is a BIG sin.  Murder is a BIG sin.  Worrying is a little sin.  A cute sin.  A “I can’t help myself, and anyway we all do it” sin.  As my pastor says, we think people go to hell for the BIG sins and, perhaps, to an air conditioned hell for the little sins.  No. Sin is sin.  If you’re thinking otherwise, I caution you; your thinking is misguided.

Matthew 6:33 (CEB) tells us that we should “desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.”  In other words, our focus should be God, His kingdom and His righteousness rather than worrying about our lives, our clothes, what we will eat or drink or about tomorrow.  Further, Matthew teaches, when God is first, all those things will be ours, too!

THIS WEEK reassess your thinking and your focus.  What are you choosing to worry about?  Understand that worry steals your strength and buries your blessings.  Search the Scriptures for examples of those who worried and disobeyed God and those who cast their cares upon Him.  Decide which group you want to be associated with.


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For the Birds

Last fall my mother gave me a bird feeder – one of the beautiful, hand crafted ones that had to be erected on a post.  For my birthday, my sweetie had it erected, and I have enjoyed it every day since.  I had him position it outside one of the kitchen windows so that I could watch while doing dishes (might be why I see it EVERY day – smile) and while eating breakfast and dinner (two times I most often sit at the kitchen table).

I’ve spent hours watching the birds.  Cardinals, Blue Jays, Chickadees, Wrens, Robins, Sparrows, Goldfinches, Titmice,  Thrushes, Eastern Bluebirds, Blackbirds, Wood Peckers and Mourning Doves.  And those are just the ones that I recognize!  Now, in case you are wondering, yes, I feed them a variety of seeds and nuts which is why I have so many feathered visitors.  Over time I have noticed the character and habits of some of the frequent visitors.  I thought the Blue Jays and Cardinals were aggressive until those Rusty Blackbirds and Brewer’s Blackbirds came along.  They are larger, louder and quickly take over the feeder – so much so that I’ve since purchased another smaller feeder that I hung from the limb of a tree in my backyard.

Yes, I’ve noticed greedy birds, aggressive birds and persistent birds. But after days and days of watching – morning, night and early evenings, I’ve never seen a bird having a nervous breakdown.  A panic attack.  A pity party.  A worry session.  Even when they have come and found the feeder almost empty because Momma Bird Debbie didn’t refill it yet, they peck at the scraps, fly away and return later – still singing.

What’s my point?  Matthew 6:26 (KJV) tells us to, “Behold the fowls of the air…”  In other words, Stop.  Look.  Learn from the birds.  The passage continues, “…for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.”  They don’t plant, so they don’t harvest.  The Message translation describes the birds as “free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God.”  And while the King James translation of this passage ends with a question – “Are ye not much better than they?” The Message translation concludes with a powerful declarative statement – “And you count far more to Him than birds.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary on this Scripture reads, “There is scarcely any sin against which our Lord Jesus more warns his disciples, than disquieting, distracting, distrustful cares about the things of this life” while Barnes’ Notes tells us to, “Put confidence, then, in that Universal Parent that feeds all the fowls of the air, and do not fear but that He will also supply your needs.”

If we read ahead in Matthew, we find two verses, 33 and 34, that conclude this section of the Scriptures, and we are wise to read them in conjunction with verse 6 for they provide the closure to verse six’s lesson:

            33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

            34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day

is the evil thereof.

Let’s go back to Matthew Henry for the clarification. “Thoughtfulness for our souls is the best cure of thoughtfulness for the world.”

Bottom line, our worries about the world – hair, clothes, shoes, house, vehicles, job titles, degrees, relationships… – all those things that we believe define us and all those things that we mistakenly label as NEEDS rather than WANTS, do us no good.  Those worries only cause us stress and rob us of peace and joy!  And here are two bonus lessons for you.  Lesson 1:  The joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10, NIV).  Lesson 2:  Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10, NIV).  And guess what he wants most?  Your joy!  Not your stuff!  He wants your joy because he knows that that is your strength!

I would say that worrying about the world is “for the birds,” but that’s not even true.  Behold.  Look.  Learn from them.  You count far more to our Lord than the birds.  Seek Him and His Kingdom.  “That’s a good way to starve,” you say.  No, that’s the best, the right, the only way to surthrive this world!  Seek Him first and all “the other” will be added!

THIS WEEK BEHOLD the birds.  Look.  Learn from them.  Act on your new learning!


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Choose Peace

NOTE:  We are still vacationing, so I am posting while I have Internet access!

~excerpted from The Pattern of Peace by Charles Stanley

“[I]t can sometimes seem as if we are victims of our highly stressful world, but in reality, every Christian can choose to live in peace rather than under a burden of anxiety. If we let apprehension rule our hearts, it will interfere with sleep, disrupt concentration, hinder productivity, steal joy, and even cause health problems. However, when Christ, the Prince of Peace, has full authority over our lives, He guards our hearts and minds by building a wall of protection against worry.

Stress may pull us apart mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, but God’s peace will always bind us back together so we can be whole again. And while we cannot control many of the stressful situations in our lives, we can decide which master we will serve.”

If you do not know the inner peace that only God can bring, you can! This is the ideal season for you to meet His Son, Jesus, who came into the world to make peace between you and God. He died on the cross, was buried and rose again to bring you into a right relationship with God, the Father. (Romans 5:1) If you will accept Jesus as your personal Savior, all your sins will be forgiven, and He will give you His peace (John 14:27). Please visit the SALVATION tab above to learn more and to take the first step toward a relationship with Christ and His peace.

THIS WEEK: Pray to accept Christ as your personal Savior and His peace as your way of life then visit http://www.intouch.org/you/sermon-outlines/content?topic=i_am_saved_now_what_outline to watch the I Am Saved – Now What video and to learn more.

If you already have a relationship with Christ, this is a great season to rededicate your life to Him. You might start by reading these Scriptures: 2 Kings 20:3; Psalm 119:44. Read, too, Jacob’s story in Genesis 28:16-18, and begin the habit of rededicating yourself daily. Consider what that might look and sound like.


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Surviving (Part 3)

 “The only difference,” said American Novelist Ellen Glasgow, “between a rut and a grave is their dimensions.”   Yet, when in a rut, we are often hesitant to change – even if our very survival depends on it.

In our last post we talked about changing our thinking because change always begins first in our minds.  Our thinking dictates our feelings which drive our actions.  But once we have made a shift in our thinking, we have to get our actions in gear – we have to change our behavior.  But how?

American pastor and Bible teacher, Warren Wiersbe, says we must “remind ourselves that God can change things.”  He says “outlook,” but I say “uplook” determines the outcome.  Focusing on our situation almost insures failure.  Focusing on God and what is possible through Him insures success.  So, what are the behaviors we should change?  Well, let’s consider the behaviors we typify during stressful times:

  • Blame
  • Worry
  • Devising our own plan and feeling we have to “go it alone”
  • Talking to any and everyone except God
  • Seeking advice from self-help books and other sources such as TV Talk Shows
  • Losing it

And let’s consider Jesus’ example in Matthew 26:36-44 (NASB)

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”

39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” 40 And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.

What do we “see” and what do we learn from these verses?  Jesus was grieved and distressed – to the point of death.  (Can you relate?) No worry, no flipping out, no consulting the TV gurus or the self-help books.  Note five specific actions:

  1. He called upon faithful, believing friends asking them to pray with and for.

Jesus had 12 disciples.  Even if we exclude Judas, who was about to betray Him, there were 11 remaining close companions.  Note, though, that He took only three beyond a certain point.  It is not always about the quantity of friends but rather the quality.  Who are the 2-3 that you can call upon to pray with and for you?

  1. He fell on His face.

In our culture kneeling is commonly accepted as an expression of reverence and is a familiar posture of prayer.  The very image of Christ throwing Himself on His face is powerful showing Him as a suppliant in the face of His distress and in a position of needing to hear from His Father.

  1. He went a little beyond them – separated Himself from them to seek His Father’s will.

Sometimes we need to separate from even our friends and when we need to earnestly seek God may be one of those times.  In solitude, alone with God, there are postures we may assume, petitions we may make, attention we may devote and fervor we may display much more freely than when in the presence of others.

  1. He was persistent and specific in His prayer praying not just once but three times.

Jesus’ prayer was short and specific and He prayed it multiple times.  Do not come to Jesus with shopping lists or Christmas lists.  Come with clear, specific and, when necessary, persistent prayer.

  1. His prayer shifted from Him to His Father.

Note the shift in Jesus’ first, second and third prayer from asking to have the cup removed to asking that the Father’s will be done.  Too often we want to tell God what needs to be done – and when and how.  He is the Almighty, and He is Omniscient.  Whatever is happening in your life is no surprise to Him.  Likewise, He already knows and has a plan for resolving it.  Seek His will through this and all situations.

Remember it is not your outlook but your uplook that will determine your outcome.  In these short verses find guidance for your seasons of high stress.