Archive for March, 2014

I was desperate. I wanted relief from my daily neck pain that I had endured for three years.

I had tried everything that I knew of to find relief. I went to doctors, chiropractors, an acupuncturist, a muscle-building trainer, and a physical therapist. Nothing helped. My pain continued.

In my desperation, I turned to the Internet and began looking under the topic of neck pain. My research indicated that a doctor had written a book that claimed to possibly explain why I had neck pain and how to make it stop.

As I read the book, I thought that what he said made some sense, but it sounded weird. But I was desperate enough and willing to give most anything a try.

So, I tried his approach-and it worked! Within three months the pain went away. That was six years ago. The pain has never returned, except for brief stretches when I applied the teachings of the book and escaped the pain once again.

If I had not been so desperate, I would have been satisfied to go to a chiropractor or doctor the rest of my life and gut my way through life getting temporary relief at best. But I was desperate enough to try something new. Something that many others and I would think was weird. But it worked and I am pain-free today!

And so it is with our relationship with God. He longs to be longed for. But only desperate souls will long for him. Why?

Mainly because we have found false ways to get our needs met without longing for him. However, these false ways never satisfy. “And the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19)

We are not desperate enough. We become complacent choosing to become friends with the world rather than risk relying on God to come through for us (James 4:4).

Look at Israel. When they were desperate, they prayed with all their hearts to God. And he delivered them from their miserable situations.

But when they grew complacent and returned to being friends with the world their pain returned. However, when they became desperate enough to risk trusting God again and prayed earnestly, God delivered them. This cycle was repeated over and over again (Judges 6-21).

So, how do we become desperate enough?

One thing we can do is to pray earnestly that we would “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). We can pray that we would not become complacent with our status quo but be desperate enough to seek a more abundant life that he promises us. “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Not only can we pray to long for God, but also pray that we will make him our top priority in our actions- to learn how to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

May we be desperate enough to trust him to help turn us away from “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16), so that we can embrace his joy, his peace, and his love.

Ask God today to help you become desperate enough in one area of your life to trust him to help you take the next step toward a deeper relationship with him.

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Sadly, for many of us, the fact that God loves us makes little or no difference in our lives.

It made little difference in my life for a long time. I acted like I had to earn his love by achieving, doing good things, and being strong. But God loves me without achieving, doing good things, and being strong.

Paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, God says to us, his children, “I am patient with you, I am kind with you, I act in your best interest, I do not hold a grudge towards you, but celebrate your progress in the faith, and I expect you to succeed. I say these things to you because I love you.”

Relying more on God’s love for me has freed me to be who I really am, a dearly loved child of God.

I am freer to do things that are right for me, rather than what gives the most prestige. I am freer to do things for the right reasons, rather than trying to earn his love that I already have. And I can be more honest about my weaknesses, which do not diminish God’s love for me even a “smidgeon.”

What other differences can accepting God’s love us for us make in our lives?

Accepting that God loves us so much that He died on a cross for us will get us to heaven (John 3:16). What a difference that makes?

Relying on the fact that God loves us will require us to reject much of our prior training and how the world operates. What a difference that will make!

Training such as “There is no free lunch” and “God can’t love us unless we earn it”. “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Yes, it is too good to be true, but it is true that God loves us just the way we are.

Another big difference in living in the reality of God’s love for us is losing many of our fears. Experiencing God’s love for us will drive out our fears and replace them with peace. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1John 4:18).

Relying on God’s love for us will also empower us to love others. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We can’t love others like God does unless his love for us has made a difference in our lives.

May the fact that God loves you make a difference in your life. May you avoid the sad fate of “the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Hebrews 4:2).

Ask God to help you to live in the reality of his love for you today. What is one difference you think that it will make?

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It’s Okay to Fail

I hate to fail. I am also afraid to fail. I have been trained to think and feel that I am less important when I fail.

As a result, I have been reluctant to take big risks. My perceived worth is too tied up with getting good results. If I fail, I will struggle with a loss of self-esteem. So I usually play it safe.

But this is wrong!

This is not true!

This is not how God sees us when we fail. He sees us as “precious”, win or lose. “You are precious” (Isaiah 43:4).

We often rely on the lie that our importance depends on success and meeting some artificial standard.  But it doesn’t.

Our importance is a gift from God, and not something we earn through success.

We are so important to God that he died for us (John 3:16). Failure can’t diminish our importance to him. We are free to fail and not be diminished in any way in God’s eyes. He still values us, accepts us, and loves us the same. “[Nothing] shall be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:39).

So, I have begun to take risks over the last few years. I have stuck my neck out and tried, although failure was a strong possibility.

I have written a book because I believed God wanted me to. “But God, I have not been trained to write. I was trained to be an engineer.”

I went to seminary at 60 years old because God wanted me to. “But God, what am I suppose to do with a degree in my retirement years?”

I started a ministry to help people to connect to God in a deeper way. “But God, people may reject the teachings and you know how sensitive I am to criticism and failure.

By accepting our importance as a gift from God, we become freer to try and sometimes fail. We rely on our importance as something God gives us and not something we earn. “He who did not spare his own son but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

Yes, it hurts to fail. We feel disappointed when others think less of us, or we think less of ourselves for not meeting some goal of ours. But know that God does not think less of us. “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Even when we do God’s will we can fail. Jeremiah was known as “The Weeping Prophet.” His ministry was a big failure. The people would not listen to his words.

But did he fail?

I don’t think so. He did what God wanted him to do. And he suffered for it. He probably did not feel very important at times.

Like Jeremiah, if we fail while obeying God, we have not failed. We have not been diminished. We have not lost a thing of true importance. “You are precious in My sight,.. You are honored and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4).

And if we fail while disobeying God, we have not failed to be important, or accepted or loved. We may be disciplined. “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Hebrews 12:6).

We have been blessed “with every spiritual blessings in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). One of these blessings is that we can fail and still be okay.

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In some ways I am.

I am between two church homes. Nearly two years ago, God led me to leave a church that I had been active in for 31 years.

I had grown accustomed to its traditions and values. I had gotten used to being a respected leader. I had grown to like being needed. I felt like I was a part of a small community, surrounded by cousins, nephews, nieces, and like-minded friends who were living life together with me.

And now it was gone!

Gone was experiencing a lot of respect from others. Gone were many of my friends that I lived life with. Gone were the church traditions and structure that I had grown used to. Gone was the sense that I was much needed.

I felt like I was living in a desert.

When we lose a church, a job, a relationship, our health or anything important to us we can feel dry and empty. We can feel pain and wonder where God is in this desert.

Yet, this can be a great opportunity to grow!

We often become overly dependent on our comfortable circumstances instead of relying on God. We can rely on traditions and structure too much to feel safe instead of,  “[I] am your refuge and your strength” (Psalm 46:1, NAS).

We can rely too much on the approval of friends instead of the approval of God. “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me” (Psalm 27:10, NIV).

We can depend too much on being needed by others to feel important, instead of, “You are precious in My sight, since you are honored and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4, NAS).

In the desert, these idols will do us no good.

We are stuck in our pain of feeling scared, of not feeling as approved of, and not feeling as significant.

What are we to do? Redouble our efforts to fulfill our needs in the next church? Or follow Jeremiah’s counsel:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5, NAS).

The desert gives us an opportunity to turn to God in a deeper way to meet the needs that we were meeting through idols. Idols can be people’s approval, worth through being needed, and clinging to traditions and structures.

God promises to come through for us in the desert. Listen to what he promises:

“Blessed [are you] who trusts in [Me], whose confidence is in [Me]. [You] will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8, NIV).

So, have you lost something important in your life? Are you living in the desert? Ask God to help you to trust him to provide for your needs that are not getting met because you are living in the desert. “I do believe, help me in my unbelief” (Mark 9:24, NAS).

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