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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

hallelujah-in-hand

Christmas is a few days away, but many may not feel like celebrating this year.  When a family member has died and Christmas is just around the corner, singing and rejoicing can easily feel out of place.

It is natural to feel a deep and prolonged sense of sadness when a loved one has died.  It is also easy for Christmastime to be an emotional roller coaster due to the many memories a family had with their loved one.  If a person is experiencing sadness, crying frequently, or feeling uncomfortable around others, attending a Christmas service may not seem like the right answer.

I encourage you to make time and space for God even in your sorrow.  If it is listening to a favorite Christmas hymn, lighting an advent candle, reading Scripture, or offering prayer share time with God this Christmas. This time can be in a public setting with other believers or privately at home.  Even a cold and broken hallelujah is an offering of love and devotion that God will hear.

In time, your song will change. The healing heart of God is there to strengthen and guide you through the difficulties of today.  Make time to connect with our Heavenly Father.  The peace of God is always there to restore, heal, and provide.

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blank page

Everyone talks about a different kind of list this time of year.  And it has nothing to do with being naughty or nice.  Our New Year resolutions for 2016 are taking shape on apps and lists across the globe.

Most resolutions focus on going to the gym and eating less.  The need for personal improvement can be physical, and it can be spiritual as well.  As you consider items for your list, here are five items that can strengthen your faith in 2016.

Schedule prayer time.  Find the right time of day where you can devote some effort to this.  Prayer is central to our faith. It is deliberate communication with our Heavenly Father. It is an act of worship. It is a spiritual discipline. It allows us to adore, petition, praise, and confess. On several occasions Scripture shows us examples when Jesus made time and space to pray. Follow in the example of Christ and find time to pray.

Meditate on the Bible.  You can read the text, receive a daily email, or listen to it on your smart phone.  Once you have a mode that is meaningful to you, make it a routine.  Spending time with God’s Word is vital to any Christian. It encourages and educates us. It provides direction when we feel lost. It reminds us that God is near.

Take a break. God gave the Sabbath for two reasons.  First, it is a day dedicated to honor and worship Him. Second, it is a day for us to rest.  Prevent burnout by setting aside work for one day out of the week.  Activities and events are always quick to crowd the Sabbath for other purposes. Resolve to use your God-given day differently in 2016.

Talk to your parents on a regular basis.  Set aside time for your family.  It can be on the phone, a video chat, or just stopping by the homestead.  Show them love and respect.  Show them that you care.  Continue to connect with them.  It will serve as a reminder of God’s love.

Try a new act of worship. This may sound radical, but too often we stay in a rut.  We stay with what we already know.  Try something new and different.  Feed your creative side and let it honor God.  Write a poem. Paint a picture. Learn to play an instrument. Create a new song or chorus for church. Volunteer your time at a local charity.  Find a new way to glorify God with a talent you haven’t used before.

As we prepare for 2016, make faith a part of your New Year resolutions.  Make a plan to strengthen your faith today and for the new year.

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snow tulips

Most of America has snow on the ground.  People are inside, trying to stay warm. Recently, I looked out my window at home to see a dozen tulips poking through a snow drift.  I marveled at the strength and power that made those plants grow in such harsh and demanding conditions.  I didn’t want to go outside because of the freezing cold, but the tulips pushed through the layers of dirt, soil, leaves, and now several inches of snow.

We forget it, but people are like those snow covered tulips.  Folks can push through tremendous difficulty and hardship.  We often grow during the most difficult times in life when there is an inner strength guiding us forward.

Scripture provides a picture of this in 2 Corinthians chapter 4.  Paul writes to the church and says, “do not lose heart.”  There is an inner strength in you that the world will not understand.  While it may be confused with personal strength, it is a “treasure in jars of clay.”  This extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  It gives the ability to endure, maintain, and move forward even when life gives us the worst conditions possible.

Paul also shares how resilient believers can be because of God strengthening us in times of sorrow. In verse 8 he shares that God provides so well that “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed . . . .”  The Lord who helped Israel endure the desert sands will also strengthen you during the challenges of today.

God provides a covering that shelters us during the storms of life.  He also allows His Holy Spirit to guide us and strengthen us when we only see darkness.  The inner strength protects us and allows us to move upward, beyond the dirt and soil of difficulty.

Don’t lose heart.  Remember what God can do with snow covered tulips.  He renews their inner strength day by day, allowing momentary afflictions to prepare them for a greater reward and a new season of life.

 

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Costly Christianity

cost

The brutal slaying of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIS this weekend serves as a grim start to the season of Lent.  While Lent is often celebrated as a time of sacrifice and inflection, today it seems more of a reminder that there is a price for our faith.

As our hearts are heavy and our prayers go out to the families of these 21 brothers in Christ, let us also focus on discipleship.  Let the Church hear this message again and again. There is a cost to discipleship.  There is a figure for service to the Savior.  There is a price when one decides to follow Jesus.

These tenets are not new.  Jesus teaches His disciples that they will be ridiculed, reviled, and rejected.  There is a hard road for us to travel as we grow stronger in faith.  Matthew 10:22 shares, “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”

Those are not easy words to hear, but they allow us to focus on what is truly important and to keep our perspective.  While there is a great price to pay in service, one will also find value in the salvation of Christ.  There is something greater than all my hardships and struggles.  There is something bigger than all my troubles.  The value of Jesus.

The point becomes clear in Matthew 10:32, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.”

As hardships, struggles, and difficulties come your way remember the examples we see in Scripture; hold on to your confession, stand fast in the truth, and endure to the end.  The value of Jesus will soon be clear.

 

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ash tree

A Kansas summer can feel horrible.  It often has searing heat, strong wind, and humidity that makes us all crave air conditioning or an ice-cold lemonade.  Our conditions are harsh and demanding every year.  These challenging elements try us and yet there are old trees standing in every community.

The heat, wind, and drought like conditions allow certain trees to develop a strong root system.  One where they dig down into fertile soil and become an anchor when storms, tornadoes, and gales unleash their worst across Kansas.  The trials, torment, and tough times produce strong trees that can survive truly horrible conditions.

People are the same way.  No one desires a season of pain, anguish, or torment in life, but it often finds us.  This tough season of life is often seen in the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a serious illness, financial difficulty, a broken relationship, terrorist attacks, war, and other traumatic events.  These are all examples of very challenging life experiences that hurt when they happen, but can produce stronger roots.

James writes to the Jerusalem church in verses 2-4 sharing:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

While it does not feel good when it happens, trials can ultimately yield endurance and strength to our faith and our life. When life seems dark and difficult, be like David and pray to God for strength.  When you are scared, reach for your Bible and take comfort knowing that God will not forsake you.  When you grieve, know that Christ also wept with hurt and loss as He consoled a community of mourners. Endure.  Stay strong.  Keep your faith.  Maintain your trust in the Lord and you will find a new season of life through Christ.

Science and psychology has finally caught up with this lesson from James.  Study after study now document resilience and post traumatic growth for people who have weathered trauma and a hard season of life.

While trauma can impair people in many ways, it turns out that there is routinely a higher percentage of people who demonstrate the ability to bounce back and learn from a hard season of life.  And yes, they are often people of faith who rely on their religion, faith, or spiritual practice for healing and recovery.  Today, faith is often embraced as a central and beneficial means of coping with tragedy.

Consider how trees survive in England.  The climate is wet, damp, and dreary. Spend a week there and you will pray to see the sun.  The soil is often moist because of the frequent rain showers.  This climate prevents trees from establishing deep roots in the soil.  The root system instead stays near the topsoil, hardly ever going deep into the ground.  A strong wind storm will often topple multiple trees in England provoking a community clean up in villages across the country.  Trees that have not been tested with hardship do not produce deep roots.  They are instead the first to fall when the storms of life come their way.

While summer conditions feel bad now they make deep roots, bring hope for tomorrow, and deliver a new season of life.

 

 

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world-trade-center-9-11-cross

Precious Lord, we seek you out on a day remembered for tragedy, heartache, and loss.  We are a grieving people who lost loved ones and friends.  We are a hurting people who were wounded, injured, battered, and bruised.  Across our land and in our faces, we still carry the horrible scars of that September day.

We are a nation who has lost sons and daughters, husbands and wives, neighbors and friends.  The pursuit of freedom has come with a price at home and abroad. There is pain and suffering from our time of conflict and war.

Redeem us Lord.  We cry out for your presence.  We cry out for your tender mercy. Comfort our grief.  Heal our brokenness.  Restore us anew.  Grant us your perfect peace through Jesus Christ, the Risen Savior.  Amen.

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Enduring Freedom

Most service members think about spiritual matters during deployment.  We take stock of our lives while in the face of death and danger.  This time of examination and spiritual questioning is important.  Rarely do we stay the same afterward.  This time of spiritual searching will frequently send service members in one of two distinct directions.  Many gain a stronger relationship with God.  Others may question their beliefs and feel spiritually empty.

For those who may be in the later category, I want you to know that it is normal to ask questions about our faith.  Spiritual matters are important downrange, when we have returned home, and as we reintegrate into our communities.  Everyone is impacted differently by war.  We have endured different levels of strife and conflict. We also have different levels of spiritual understanding when we enter the combat zone and when we leave.  Regardless of your location or when you served, your faith will be different when you come home.

No matter if your faith has grown or shrunk, it is important that you continue moving forward in your Christian walk.  Do not stand still in your faith.  1 Timothy 4:7b-8 shares, “rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

Every believer, civilian or veteran, needs a spiritual fitness routine.  Like physical fitness, spiritual fitness must be practiced.  While it is different from going to the gym and lifting weights, the concept is the same.   We need to exercise our spiritual muscles in order to grow our faith.

Spiritual fitness can take place in many different ways:

  • prayer
  • reading scripture
  • attending worship services
  • seeking spiritual counsel
  • fellowship
  • meditation
  • journaling

This is a small, but important sample of spiritual exercises that you can try.  Feel free to try one and gradually combine others to your list.   You can also participate in these activities with your family, friends, and a Christian community of believers, adding a greater dimension to your spiritual fitness by increasing your connection to other people.

Spiritual fitness is important to everyone.  It draws us closer to God, forms us in the image of Jesus Christ, and allows us to strengthen our faith.  Your spiritual fitness also affects your ability to deal with stress and times of crisis.  Multiple studies determined that veterans who have an active spiritual practice report fewer and less severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.  Those who struggled with their faith or felt alienated from God had more severe PTSD symptoms.

Spiritual fitness also reduces anxiety, loneliness, and depression.  Studies have also documented how people with a weekly pattern of attending worship services live longer, are healthier, and recover from illness more quickly.

Veterans and service members can take comfort in the transforming power of God. No matter where or when you were deployed, God still cares about you.  No matter what you saw downrange or what you did, you can have a redeemed life.

When life seems full of despair, the Lord shares purpose, meaning, forgiveness, and acceptance.  Continue to move forward in your faith.  Train yourself to be the godly and righteous person you were called to become.

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