How to Love Others More

Have you ever had trouble loving people? Is there a co-worker who just grinds your gears? Or an in-law (or blood relative) that knows how to irritate you beyond comprehension?

We all have been there. I know I have. I remember someone I used to work for, and this individual would purposely do some really hurtful actions. I never murdered this individual, but I can sadly say I had so not-so-fond thoughts.

Most people know some of the Ten Commandments, one of which is, ‘You shall not kill.’ (Exodus 20:13, NAB) I’m working on a sermon that addresses this verse. Initially, I was intrigued. I have spent more than half of my life in church and have heard this command numerous times. The excitement of a new study excited me.

So, I set to work. Initially I began with a note pad and pen (which is my custom). However, about five minutes into my research I realized this job required something bigger. So I borrowed a white board from another room and set to work. In about ten minutes I had recorded most of the important material related to my study.18588963_10208822612382542_2713873779717572604_o

It was during this time of research that I found something incredible, and one that, I hope, will enable me to be more faithful in my love of others.

The word used for killing in Exodus 20:13 is רצח. I began looking for other usages of this, and once completed I summarized it with a basic definition of “to deprive of life.” Now, this is a very basic definition, I know. For in some instances, depriving something of life may save others. Or, it could provide the necessary sustenance for continued life. But for my study, I began to look at life in Scripture. Of course, life began in Genesis 1:20-28 with the creation of animal life and ultimately crowned with humanity. (You can check out my thoughts on the creation of האדם in a previous post.) Life, or נפש, is the key to our appreciation and ultimate love for humanity (and animal life too!).

Humans, however, are different. We were created בעלם אלוהים. And so, because humanity is the image of God, our lives are intrinsically valuable. That is, we matter because God matters. Or, God’s image in us makes humanity intrinsically worthy.

Now, it is possible to simply gloss over that. Chances are, you already did. But in the off chance that you are reading this contemplatively, humanity is intrinsically valuable.

It is not a particular religion, a sexual orientation, or a political party that makes humanity worthy. It is the fact that they are human.

It is not a particular religion, a sexual orientation, or a political paevelyn-paris-33498.jpgrty that makes a human being excellent. It is the fact that they are a human being.

It is not the color of one’s skin, the level of intelligence, or the physical or mental capacity that makes a human being invaluable. It is the fact that they are a human being.

Because “When God created human beings, he made them in the likeness of God; he created them male and female.” (Genesis 5:1b-2a, NAB) That is what makes a human being worthy.lechon-kirb-25696

Now, how does this help us love others more? When we stop looking at people in categories, we start to what is really there: people. She is not a Muslim, she is a human being created in the image of God. He is not queer, he is a human being created in the image of God.

When you and I begin to see God in others, our ability to love them is transformed. That is why Paul could write, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NAB) There is humanity, gloriously and wonderfully bearing God’s image.

Do my words convey my belief that people are created in the image of God? Unfortunately, not always. But I am reminded of the weight of such ill-used words in Matthew 5:21-26. The Rabbis of Jesus’ day had broken the law down to manageable loads. In fact, the commandment regarding killing was boiled down to simple murder. As long as you don’t murder anyone, you’re good! (If these were the true standards, we would be much better off!) But Jesus wouldn’t let that slide. God’s standards are infinitely higher than we could ever imagine. Murder, as expressed in Exodus 20:13, does not involve just the literal taking of life. It goes beyond that to our words, the very basis of our communication to others. Whether it is Raqa or fool, if it does not proceed from the view of love and value, we are in trouble. (By the way, this does not absolve us for confronting errors, for in the next few chapters Jesus does just that, as well as recommending it in Matthew 7:1-5.)

So, are you having trouble loving others? Just see them the way God sees them: image bearers. I am amazed at what I can overlook when I see someone as a person, uniquely, incredibly, and fantastically made בעלם אלוה’ם.

P.S. I do not mean to convey that our own sins and shortcomings do not need to be addressed. When Jesus was speaking with the woman caught in adultery, his words were, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11, ESV) While Jesus saw her humanity, he did not simply condone her sin. Likewise, it would be a mistake in the desire to love others that we would ignore sin in our own lives.

How Journaling Transformed My Prayer Life

About five years ago my prayer life was changed. I mean radically changed. I’ve always read books about men and women who had thriving prayer lives. These wonderful people would report a closeness with God that, to be honest, baffled my belief. I began to ask, ‘How could I have that kind of prayer life?’

There were so many mornings I would get up early, before work, and try and pray. I would fall asleep, get distracted, or simply get involved in preparing for work that I would remember three hours into my shift that I had failed to pray. I was frustrated at my own lack of self-discipline and my weaknesses.

Then my lovely wife offered a simple suggestion that would transform my prayer life, ‘Why don’t you journal your prayers?’

How do you journal prayers? If you are of a crafty bent, check out Sparkles of Sunshine.

Journal my prayers? Journal? I admit, I was incredibly doubtful. I grew up in a church where long prayers were seen as spiritual prayers. Added to that the over usages of ‘God’, ‘Father God’, and ‘Lord’ and you had the right formula for a good prayer. But Journaling? How would that even work?

Regardless of my doubts, I went out and purchased a small journal. I am of an aesthetic bent, so I wanted a rustic, older

A journal and pencil. I use a pen, but this gives you an idea of what I use.

looking journal. It was a brown, faux leather journal of about 180 pages.

And then I started. It was weird at first. Instead of speaking verbally to God I was writing to God. What do I write? Is God going to read my prayers? In my mind, however, I was speaking to God. The pen and paper were simply a means to help focus my thoughts.

I cannot overestimate how helpful prayer Journaling has been.

Almost over morning (I pray in the mornings!) my prayer life changed. I was amazed! After years of being a Christian, years of failing, I had finally found a perfect avenue for speaking to our Father. The longer journal my prayers, the more beautiful it becomes.

What has helped your prayer life? Have you ever journaled your prayers? I’d love to hear about it!
Also, be on the look out for my thoughts on the benefits of prayer Journaling!

Brandon Adams replied with a great thought, “Journal entries become altars to God’s faithfulness in our lives.” In addition, Brandon has some great helps on prayer. Check him out!

Jesus is Better: A Series through the Book of Hebrews

(Image courtesy of Riverside Community Church, http://www.riversideconnect.com/sermons/sermon/2012-03-25/hebrews-12 Accessed 25 January 2017)

 

This morning marked the beginning of my series through the book of Hebrews. We have a mid-week service at 11 in the morning on Wednesday. I get to preach about every three weeks, which enables me ample preparation time. I began praying about which direction to take, and since I follow a more topical approach in our student ministry, I chose to work my way through a book.

I love Judaism and the Jewish faith. As a Christian, I honestly do not understand how one could not love it. The entire Christian faith is built on a Jewish Nazarene. The pictures presented throughout most of the New Testament are ripe with Judaism. Following my love for the Jewish context of Scripture, I chose the book of Hebrews.

Rather than load all of my study notes, I am going to present my sermon notes as I take them to the pulpit. Please forgive the grammar as I typically attempt to write the way I will speak. I hope that as you work through it and the Scripture that you will fall in love with Jesus. He truly is better.

 

25 January 2017 Hebrews Sermon Number One

Jesus is Better

Introduction to the book of Hebrews

The book of Hebrews is one of the most fascinating books in the New Testament. The beautiful pictures painted of the exquisite religion of Abraham, Moses, the priests, the sacrifices, the covenants, deck the halls of its corridors. The highs and lows rival that of the most majestic of Bach’s or Beethoven’s musical compositions. Mystery surrounds the book, much like a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle case of Sherlock Holmes. The author is unknown, and while some information can help piece together a snapshot, it does not yield any conclusive evidence. We remain ignorant of the recipients, while most assuredly are Jewish, in regards to their location: Are they from Rome? Are they from Jerusalem?

But the mystery of what we do not know should not rob us of what we do know (an oft recited quote from one of my former pastors). We do know that the author of Hebrews was very familiar with the rituals, sacrifices, and rules of the Jewish faith. He was also familiar with the struggles that the recipients were faced with: accept a new religion or what looked like a new, an outlawed religion, or remain and return to the legal religion of Judaism. “Is Jesus really worth it?” They may ask. And with a resounding YES! the author of Hebrews gives reason after reason, matched with sober warning after sober warning, of why Jesus is better. You see, the Jewish people felt safe in their religion. It was legal, respectable in the esteem of their friends and colleagues. It cost them nothing to remain in the religion of their fathers. Judaism, though certainly not loved by the Romans, at the very least was tolerated by them. And in contrast Jesus is seen as a risk. Here this Nazarene was rejected by both Jews and Romans. He was, in the eyes of the Romans and Jewish people, a complete and utter failure. But to the disciples who witnessed His resurrection, He was Lord, God himself wrapped in human flesh. But what were they to do?

It cost them nothing to remain in the religion of their fathers.

So the writer was aiming at two groups: completed Jewish people, or Hebrew Christians; and Jewish people who were riding the fence on whether to accept Jesus as their Messiah. The author of this letter sought to encourage the Jewish people who accepted Jesus as their Messiah to stay faithful. He or she borrows many stories found within the Old Testament of how the people of Israel oft failed in their faithfulness to God. Each story is accompanied with the disastrous results of that failure. The writer also seeks to illustrate how Jesus is better than the reasons many sought to remain in Judaism. And to the individuals who were on the fence, so to speak, the author presents a very stark contrast. Over and over again we find warnings of the severest kind.

At first glance this book may seem to be for others, not for us. We don’t have the background and baggage of Judaism to battle with Christ. We have never been to Temple, never observed the sacrifices or engaged in the many feasts. We never celebrated Passover with our forbearers rejoicing in our freedom from Egyptian slavery. But oh how pertinent it is to our lives! For you see, you and I are in a constant battle every day of whether Jesus is better, or whether Jesus is worth it. Is that piece of gossip more appealing than truth that is found in Jesus? Is that impure thought, that negative word, that harsh action worth leaving for Jesus? Are friendships worth keeping? Is my financial situation bigger than Jesus? You see, in our lives we may not have to battle against returning to Judaism, to Abraham, or to Moses. But we are struggling with returning to our previous, sin-darkened lives. We are burdened of leaving Jesus over…you fill in the blank. That is why the author writes today. It was a present battle for the Jewish people; it is a present battle for us.

Overview of the book of Hebrews

The book of Hebrews is a fascinating book filled with types from the Old Testament. It is a testament to the many contributions to both the Jewish and Christian faith. The author mentions the prophets (1.1) as being the spokesmen for God, calling his people to repentance and sole allegiance to him. But he also mentions that Jesus is better, because Jesus is the express or exact image (representation of God) (1.3). He mentions the angels (1.5), those who carried out the will of God on numerous occasions. Our time could be filled this morning looking at all of the service rendered by the angelic hands and feet of God. But Jesus is better, he is the Son, not merely a messenger (1.4). And while the angels are ministers for us (1.14), Jesus is better, in that he calls us his brothers and sisters (2.11-12).

The author of Hebrews then moves on to the religious history, focusing specifically on the sacrificial system. He mentions perhaps the greatest man in Hebrew history, Moses (3.1-2). One rabbi speaks of Moses in glowing terms when he writes, “Along with God, it is the figure of Moses (Moshe) who dominates the Torah. Acting at God’s behest, it is he who leads the Jews out of slavery, unleashes the Ten Plagues against Egypt, guides the freed slaves for forty years in the wilderness, carries down the law from Mount Sinai, and prepares the Jews to enter the land of Canaan. Without Moses, there would be little apart from laws to write about in the last four books of the Torah.” [Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History (San Francisco: William Morrow, 2001), 28] It is a mistake to underscore Moses’s importance to the development of both Judaism and Christianity. As the writers of Hebrews describes him, “Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant…” (3.5) But Jesus is better, and “counted worthy of more glory than Moses” (3.3). John 9.28-29 addresses how the Jewish people revered Moses. The Pharisees are arguing the Jesus has broken the Sabbath by healing a man of his blindness. And they say to the man born blind, “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where he is from.” (John 9.28-29, NKJV)

We are then taken to view the High Priest, the only one who only once a year could enter the Most Holy Place (9.7). He had to offer sacrifices for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus is better, he is infinitely aware of our weaknesses (4.15). And because Jesus never sinned, his sacrifice provided salvation for everyone who would believe (5.9).

We see Abraham, that Great Patriarch, is presented in the book (6.13). The “three founding fathers of Judaism are Abraham, his son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob.” [Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History (San Francisco: William Morrow, 2001), 11] As with Moses, the importance of Abraham to the Jewish people is insurmountable. We have a glimpse of how revered Abraham was in the interchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. (Read John 8.33-59) Jesus is greater than Abraham, because he has provided “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (6.19).

The priesthood, the way Israel knew God and offered to him praise and sacrifice, is brought up (7.11-19). These who knew the law and the intricacies attached to the sacrificial system were essential to the Jewish faith. But Jesus is better, because whereas “the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” (7.19) Jesus was better, because death prevented other priests, especially the high priest, but “He continues forever” (7.24). “Therefore, he is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (7.25).

The covenant, that Mosaic covenant upon which the entire religious system of Israel is built, is brought up by the writer (8.1-5). The significance of the covenant is described by a Jewish Bible scholar, “Because God’s commands cover both ritual and ethical spheres, ‘any crime committed is against God, whether it be ritual or civil.” [Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History (San Francisco: William Morrow, 2001), 39] But Jesus is better, because unlike the first covenant that failed due to the inability of the people to keep it, this new covenant will be a complete and awesome work of grace. (8.7-13, quoted from Jeremiah 31.31-34).

The sacrifices, meant to atone for the sins of the people (see Leviticus 1.4; 4.20, 26, 31, 35; 5.6, 10, 13, 16, 18; 6.7; 7.7; 8.34; 9.7 x2; 10.17; 12.8; 14.18, 19, 20, 21, 29, 31, 53; 15.15,30; 16.6, 10, 11, 16, 17 x2, 18, 24, 27, 30, 32, 33 x3, 34; 17.11 x2; 19.22; 23.27, 28 x2; and 25.9). But the author of Hebrews reminds us how limited the atonement offered by the sacrifices are (9.12-14) and how Jesus is better than those sacrifices, because his sacrifice was made once and for all for all who believe.

The author moves toward the ‘hall of faith’ where character after character of Hebrew history is brought to describe the amazing benefits of simply faith in God. But even in the midst of that, Jesus is better, because we look to him who is “the author and finisher of our faith” (12.2).

The ending section again reminds us that Jesus is the Great Shepherd of the sheep, who makes us complete in every good deed and at the same time is the power through which we do it (13.20-21).

Conclusion

My hope and prayer as we journey together through this incredible book is that we leave no doubt that Jesus is better. It is my goal, as we enter the halls of Hebrew history, that we see the perfect picture of Jesus and relish in our footing. I want our love for Jesus to explode as we gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Messiah.

 

3 Strategies for Parenting

‘Three Strategies for Parenting Teens’

It has been a while since I have provided some parenting encouragement from Paul Tripp. As I was looking through the incredible book Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, I came across something that I needed and thought I would share it with you today.

One of the most important aspect of Tripp’s book is the intentionality with which he approaches the parenting of teenagers. (It is, in fact, the whole idea behind the ‘age of opportunity’!) In this chapter of his book he discusses three strategies, or methods, that will help parents be more successful in their parenting endeavors.

Strategy 1: Project Parenting[i]

The first strategy that Tripp discusses is project parenting. In this chapter he discusses the foolishness of beginning a project without procuring the right tools, materials, and plans. No one in their right mind would attempt such an endeavor! And yet with parenting we often do this. Can I confess something? I do this! I approach parenting in the now. I do not put nearly as much thought into the conversations I will face with my two children the next day. I do not dwell on the heart issues affecting my daughter and son. But when it comes to planning a trip, I’ll spend time researching gas prices, places to stop, and most important, places to eat.

But this is a terrible way to parent and one that will most assuredly lead to failure and frustration. Tripp writes, “The phrase, ‘project parenting’ implies being focused, being purposeful, being goal-oriented in our daily encounters with our teenagers. When we are parenting with a sense of project, we will know why we are going after what we are going after….It means we will parent with prepared spontaneity; we will come to those unexpected, spontaneous moments of parenting with preparedness and purpose.”[ii]

So what does this look like practically? Well, for me, it looks like character development for a four and two-year-old. It means learning how to cultivate my daughter’s heart to be willing to share because she loves others. For my son it means developing his understanding of situational control and the management of his anger. But what about teenagers? This is where you come in the picture. It depends on you and your teenager. What are his or her struggles? What difficulties is he or she currently facing? Determining this information will help with reactive issues. But there are also proactive items that you will want to address. What character qualities would you like to see developed? What type of work ethic would you like to instill? Discussing these type of questions prior to an interaction will be similar to the project manager gathering materials and supplies and drafting a plan. This will not guarantee success, but it certainly will help make it more obtainable.

Strategy 2: Constant Conversation[iii]

The next strategy Tripp offers is that of conversation. The Cambridge Dictionary Online defines conversation as, “an informal, usually private, talk in which two or more people exchange thoughts, feelings, or ideas, or in which news or information is given or discussed.”[iv] Conversations are intentional, meaning they simply do not happen by accident.[v] We, as parents, must be deliberate in our desire to communicate with our teenagers. Tripp made it a point every night he returned from work to spend time with each of his children. If you currently do not hold conversations with your teenager, it may be awkward at first. But keep pursuing it! It is so necessary for your own relationship with them, but also for the development of their relationship with God.

There are many spaces within our daily lives to create conversations. During a trip in the car, while waiting for the food to get to the table, during a game time. One lost art of our busy society is the family meal. My wife and I recently purchased a table for our new dining room. Up to this point, we did not have a dining room or a table at which to eat, so we would sit in our living room and the kids usually would watch a cartoon. But when we moved to a larger home and added the table, we began to eat meals together. We cannot stress enough what a blessing it has been! We have seen a different side, albeit a goofier side, of our kids. It has been amazing. And I imagine that having one family meal a day would grant a prime opportunity for conversation.

Strategy 3: Leading Your Teenager to Repentance[vi]

And here we have our ultimate goal as parents or guardians: restored relationship with God. Tripp gives five steps to help carry this out, but I want simply to elaborate on the idea behind this as opposed to offering another list of ways to accomplish it.

If we are more purposeful in our parenting then we will (or at least should) come to this goal. We want, desire, yearn for our teenagers to be in a thriving relationship with God. With each struggle they face, temptation they to which they yield, angry word they utter, etc., restoration should be our primary goal. This also requires us to be transparent. We need to own up to our own shortcomings. We need to apologize and ask forgiveness of our teenagers. And we need to show them what happens when we repent and God forgives.

Conclusion

Parenting is hard work. It is day-in and day-out, stressful work. But it is also fun! It is exciting when you see your child reach a point in their life when they begin to reason, when they make the right decision, or avoid that certain situation. Imagine if we put as much thought into our own parenting as we do vacations, projects in the home, or the purchasing of a new vehicle. I can picture a different teenager, a wholesome home, and a thriving church.

May God help us to be more proactive in our parenting!

[i] Paul David Tripp, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2001), 215.

[ii] Tripp, Age of Opportunity, 215-216.

[iii] Tripp, Age of Opportunity, 222.

[iv] http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/conversation Accessed 13 January 2017.

[v] Tripp, Age of Opportunity, 223.

[vi] Tripp, Age of Opportunity, 226.

“How is God present?” A Great Question for Parents and Guardians and Student Ministers

I have written a blog about the book Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus prior to this post. But the more I read this book, the more I am just impressed with the philosophy of Mark Yaconelli. The following is a section where he encourages student ministers (parents, guardians, etc.) to simply ask students, “How is God present?”

One way in which we can help in our discipleship is to ask questions. Jesus loved asking people questions. It is a great way to engage in conversations that are natural and reveal the actual thoughts and feelings of an individual.

The simple question, “How is God present?” is a great way to help students begin to look for and acknowledge him in their everyday lives.

Mark Yaconelli, in his book Contemplative Youth Ministry, gives four reasons why this is so helpful.

  1. “First, I’m reminding them that God is present and available.”

    This gives the students the reminder that God is actually with us (as the name Emmanuel is defined) and that He is intimately interested in our lives. Whether it is a soccer match, volunteering at the rescue mission, or simply taking a walk down the street, God is with us.

  2. “Second, the question also communicates that youth have the capacity to notice God.”

What an incredible thought! Your student has the capacity to notice God. This is the Creator we are talking about. The one that said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. Sometimes adults can give off the impression that students cannot understand God and the awesome privilege we have to relate to Him. By asking that simple question we affirm our belief that they have the ability to see God at work in their lives.

  1. “Third, I am helping them reflect on their real-life theologies and religious biases.”

    I’ll use Mark’s words to describe this one. He writes, “When I ask a young person, ‘How is God present in this moment?’ she may respond, ‘I don’t think God has anything to do with my school; God is just about praying and church.’ To ask youth to notice God is to invite them to reflect on their beliefs concerning God’s relationship to the world.’

  2. “Finally, when I ask young people to notice the Holy Spirit in their midst, I’m helping them develop their sensitivity to God.”

And what better goal as those to whom God has gifted us with the training and rearing of these wonderful students, than to help them ‘develop their sensitivity to God’? This is, and should be, our heart beat, to draw the hearts of our students to a deep love of our Father.
I am praying for you, as you have the most influence, the most time, and the most potential, that God would open your eyes to the many opportunities we have to point our students to ‘the Name’, as the Jewish people call Him.

“So, You Want to Be Like Christ?”: Five Sources of Mind Clutter

I’ve been reading through Chuck Swindoll’s “So, You Want to Be Like Christ? Eight Essentials to Get You There”. I’ve been using his section on prayer as we study this in our small groups on Wednesday evenings.

It is a relatively small book, numbering 188 pages. But this morning I came across an excellent chapter on simplicity. Toward the beginning of his chapter he wisely states, “Christlikeness is a journey, not a destination….” [Swindoll, 2005]

I think that we often forget that our journey is one of a lifetime. In our society our goal is efficiency, productivity, the mastering of each and every second. I am wired this way. I miss so much because I feel as those I am wasting time if I am not doing something. I can’t just sit and rock in the rocking chair. I have to read, write, plan. And while there is definitely wisdom in capturing every moment (Ephesians 5.16) there are times when we simply need to sit. Just sit and listen. 


Imagine yourself as the individual in the picture. Hear the birds chirping, the cicadas as the sing to each other, the wind rustling the leafs, and the waves lapping the shore. This is simplicity. Imagine hearing that still, small voice of God speak peace to your heart (I Kings 19.11-13, cf. Mark 1.35).

So what keeps us from this simplicity? What “clutters” our minds, as Swindoll discusses? He offers “five sources of mind-clutter common to the twenty-first century.” [Swindoll, 2005]

  1. First, most of us today say yes to far too many things. -How often do we say no? I mean simply say no? We almost think it is rude to turn down that lunch invitation, that movie request, that hang out time with a friend. But it’s okay to say no. And in order to simplify our lives, we must become more accustomed to saying no.
  2. Second, most of us do not plan time for leisure and rejuvenation. – My wife is one of the most organized individuals I have ever met. She schedules everything. And once she has made a schedule she sticks to it. I love that! I was fairly organized before we got married, but I’ve learned so much from over over the past six years from her. And one thing she schedules is down time. Now I used to think that was insane. Like, why do you need to schedule that? Don’t you just simply take a break? But the problem is that we don’t take breaks. We find more tasks to be completed, more projects that need starting, and so on. So, if you are a planner, plan time to rest.
  3. Third, most of us rarely experience the joy of accomplishment.– Swindoll references Proverbs 13.19. How true is that? When was the last time you completed a project? Finished a book? How many times have we started something only to leave it to begin another? Simplifying our lives means focusing on a given project, assignment, or desire to its completion. 
  4. Fourth, most people living in wealthy countries owe more than they can hope to repay. –This is something a vast majority of Americans struggle with, including myself. The desire for more and the ease of credit cards has helped create a society built on covetousness and greed. We work to pay bills for items we purchased to have no time to use or enjoy. Simplifying our lives means enjoying the things we have, taking time to enjoy that cup of tea, watching the sunset, or simply sitting in stillness. 
  5. Fifth, most of us fool ourselves into thinking that with out modern technology, we have simplified our lives. –Swindoll writes, “In an age when, thanks to technology, most everything requires a tiny fraction of the time it did just a century ago, we have less unoccupied time than ever!” [Swindoll, 2005] I often lament this fact. My wife and I love watching Andy Griffth, and one of the things I love about that show is the pace of life. Now certainly they were busy, and assuredly they had busy seasons of life. But in more than one episode you find Andy reading a newspaper while drinking coffee, Opee sitting in the floor playing with a toy, and Aunt Bee knitting. It seems so peaceful. Now we are all on our smart phones, multitasking between emails, texts, the latest breaking news, planning that trip to the parents, paying that electric bill, all while binge watching the popular show on Netflix. What a vast difference! And while I love many of our advances in technology, I often wonder what we have lost for the exchange of convenience

So what needs to be eliminated? How can we simplify our lives? Life is a journey. Don’t become so bogged down on the road map that you miss the amazing people, places, and perspectives you come across.

God’s Presence…When You Can’t Feel It

That feeling is all too common to the believer. That feeling, where once a closeness with God was enjoyed, that God’s existence is questioned. If you have been a believer for any length of time, you know exactly what I am talking about right now. Perhaps you are even experiencing it at this moment.

If you are like me, you go through seasons where this is the case. Something that I have found encouraging is the fact that many individuals in the Scriptures also have the same experience. In Thomas A Kempis’s work, The Imitation of Christ, he speaks on emptiness. He describes it as “When you no longer feel the comfort of God’s presence…” [Thomas A. Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Notre Dame, Ave Maria: 1989), 74]

I love what he writes next. Though it is long, it is well worth your time to read it.

“This is nothing new or strange to those who know God’s ways, for the great saints and prophets of old often experienced such changes; whence, the Psalmist, feeling grace present in him, declared, ‘In my prosperity I said I shall never be moved.’ But when grace was withdrawn he added what he felt inside, saying: ‘You hid your face from me, and I became troubled.’ Yet, in the midst of this, he did not despair but prayed to the Lord all the more earnestly and said: ‘To you, O lord, I shall cry and shall beg forgiveness of my God.’ Finally, his prayer was answered, and he testified that he was heard by saying: ‘The Lord heard and has had mercy on me: the Lord became my helper.’ But how? ‘You have turned my sorrow into joy,’ he said, ‘and surrounded me with gladness.’ If it happened in this way with the great saints, we who are weak and poor should not despair if we are sometimes burning with desire and sometimes not. The Holy Spirit comes and goes according to his good pleasure; whence, blessed Job says: ‘You visit him at daybreak, and you suddenly test him.'” [Kempis, 74.]

Job says it this way,

 

But if I go to the east, he is not there;
    if I go to the west, I do not find him.
When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
    when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
 But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
Job 23.8-10 NIV

So take heart today, though you feel not His presence, He is there. His name, after all, is EmmanuelGod with us!