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“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

I’ve never really been a big fan of Nicholas Sparks.  His books just do not appease me.  The first time I was exposed to one of his stories was the film adaptation of “The Best of Me” during our mini-honeymoon.  In my opinion, it was not the best of him.  Watching two people go back and forth, going from loving each other to hating each other to loving each other, without any rhyme or reason.  Just…because…drama…

Last year, my wife wanted to see the movie “The Longest Ride” when it came out on Redbox.  Needless to say, I was a bit reluctant since it was another Nicholas Sparks movie, but we watched it together.  It did turn out to be a pretty good movie; it starred Alan Alda, the story was very good, and it didn’t have any unnecessary back-and-forth, love you-hate you, romance drama.

But there was one particular scene that really captured my interest, one that made me think, “Wow!  That is awesome!”  The scene has Ira (played by Alan Alda) telling Sophia about a moment when he was younger, and Ira’s wife, Ruth, left him because they could not have children, due to a severe wound he sustained while serving in World War II.  Both Ira and Ruth loved each other so much, but Ruth was pushing to have children, and Ira couldn’t satisfy that desire for his wife.  So she ends up leaving him.  After many days of being away and alone, Ruth decides to come back, they both embraced one another, and recommit her life to being with her husband, even if it meant not having children of their own.

The scene then brings back to the much older Ira, who proclaimed these three simple words to Sophia, who was going through a rough time with her boyfriend.  The three words he said were, “Love requires sacrifice!”

Love Requires Sacrifice

That was an amazing statement to me.  Love, indeed, is a lot of things and can do all things, but in order for love to truly flourish, it does require sacrifice.  When I got married, there were many things I had to sacrifice in order to better keep our marriage and relationship strengthened.  I knew that a lot of the habits and activates I put forth in my life would need to be altered in order to put more of a priority of taking care of my wife and our relationship.

I would have to sacrifice playing less video games (well, not too much, thankfully my wife does like playing video games, too).  I would have to set time aside for things like travelling to family gatherings and vacation, which I didn’t do much travel since most of my family is in town and I didn’t do too much travelling outside of my hometown.  I had to sacrifice some luxuries that I had before I was married in order to better sustain our finances, like cable TV, Xbox Live, and most of all, my NHL TV subscription (no, I’m just kidding, it’s not the biggest sacrifice).

But probably the biggest sacrifice of all is my unconditional care and service to my wonderful wife.  I am committed to serving her and her needs, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death us do part.  Being of great service to my wife is the ultimate sacrifice I can make, and my life has changes immensely because of it.  I must change so that I can better accommodate her.

Why must we sacrifice ourselves?  Why is giving up ourselves the best way we can show love to others?  In one sense, sacrificing our own desires and wants helps us to better become selfless to others.  It is the ultimate devotion to our loves ones; to say to them “I am willing to give this up for you.”  Our focus is on the other and not ourselves, and it shows how much we care about them.

Have you ever had a loved one ask you, “Would you ever take a bullet for me?”  If you truly loved that person, you wouldn’t hesitate on your answer, though you hope and pray that it would never happen.  In all honesty, when someone asks you that question and you say ‘yes’ to it, what you really say is “I love you so much, that I never want you to get hurt, so I will sacrifice myself and stand in front of you to shield you from whatever harm that may come your way.”  This is true love in action.

God shows us that very same love in the sacrifice He gave to us.  Through His Son, Jesus Christ, our sins, the evil that we do and the good that we do not do, that has kept us from being connected to God the Father, has been washed away through His death on the cross.

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. (Romans 3:25)

Throughout this Advent season, we have focused on four areas that the candles on the Advent wreath mean: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.  But as the Apostle Paul states:

But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

You see, love brings hope for the future.  Love gives us peace of heart and mind living with one another.  Love makes us joyous to be with others.

In this Advent season and soon to be Christmas time, Jesus’ birth brings forth all of these items, not because of his arrival, but the journey He takes to Jerusalem and eventually to Golgotha.  Jesus’ death brings…

Hope: For salvation

Peace: For our souls from sin

Joy: For He is the atoning sacrifice

Love: For God’s loves His people so much, He sent His only Son to die.

Thanks be to God!  Amen!

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“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 14:27)

It’s no doubt that the Advent/Christmas/Holiday season that there would be a lot of stress, frustration, turmoil, and trouble.  Things like last minute shopping, gift wrapping, decorations, all the preparations for the upcoming gatherings and events.  Not to mention trying to keep warm from the inevitable cold weather, the travel angst, the constant planning ahead and coordinating with family and friends.  This time of the year can be troublesome.

In fact, I think we all can agree that 2016 has been quite a stressful and troubling year.  From protests and hate-filled rioting, to an election that seemed out of control, to the deaths of so many loved ones and well-known people in the world.  It seems this year has been filled with nothing but trouble.  Don’t you wish we had some…peace?

Peace

As I was focusing on writing this piece, the above passage came to mind.  I work at a Catholic church as an IT director, and occasionally I will attend Mass for various reasons, whether it’s to take pictures for feast days or to record video for milestone announcements and such (keep in mind I belong to a Lutheran church).  During what is known as the Service of the Eucharist (aka The Service of Holy Communion), the priest will proclaim to the congregation “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to Your disciples, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you…”, followed by the people offering peace to each other.  Each person will shake hands with the neighbors around them offering peace and warm greetings to them.  This is referenced from the passage in John 14:27, as seen above.

We all would love some peace in our lives.  Some quiet, some solitude, some relaxation.  We have so much trouble in this world because of its brokenness both in and around us.  We long for that peacefulness, but how do we get it?  Material possessions, while they can be a good short-term distraction, can’t grant us a longing peace in our hearts.  So, what can?  It’s not so much in the how, but who?  Who do we get it from?

It is in Jesus Christ we find that peace we are longing for.  The Good News of Jesus’ earthly arrival was enough for the angels to proclaim praises to God when they presented the message to the shepherds:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)

As much as Jesus’ birth was in anticipation of that eternal peace, it did come at a price.  Just like we hear the quote, “Freedom isn’t free”, where we usually refer to the sacrifice of the men and women of our armed forces, the cost of peace within our own hearts wasn’t free either.  It cost the life of our dear Savior, God’s only Son, Jesus.  That cost was enough to wipe away the trouble that sin brings on us every day, so that we may have the hope of eternal peace and salvation with God the Father.

In an earlier chapter of John’s Gospel, John 13, Jesus is speaking with his disciples and predicting to them all the troubles that they will endure, all the way through His trial, suffering, and death.  I’m sure the disciples were very upset at hearing this news, that they would betray and abandon their teacher.  How would they find peace in their troubled hearts?

I believe therefore Jesus starts off chapter 14 by saying this:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1)

Jesus was reassuring His disciples that though there is trouble, they know the way to eternal peace.  Thomas, one of His disciples and one who is usually referred to as “Doubting Thomas”, brings up a doubting question, “We don’t know where You are going, so how do we know the way?”  Then Jesus makes, what I think is, the most vigorous statement that many of us heard, one that makes Him and the Christian worldview quite exclusive to all other worldviews:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Thanks be to God, that Jesus is that only way to God our Father, the only way to salvation, the only way to everlasting peace.  Thanks be to God that He sent His Son, not in a grand royal entrance, but as a humble child, born of a teenage virgin, in a lowly stable.  Thanks be to God that Jesus paid the price so that our hearts will be at peace when our sins bring us trouble.

On this Advent and Christmas season, I pray that the words of the apostle Paul will echo in your hearts and minds:

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

Amen!

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The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. (Lamentations 3:25-26)

No one likes waiting…not at all.

Whether it’s at the check-out line at the grocery store, or a red light at the intersection, or on the phone with customer service, waiting can bring a lot of aggravation and angst.  One of the biggest reasons why I am not a huge fan of going to the doctor or dentist is the waiting.  I fill my mind with a lot of questions.  Questions like: “What are they going to do to me?”  or “What will they find wrong?” or “Will it hurt when they do the procedure?”  These are questions that can fill up a lot of anxiety.

But, of course, waiting is not all bad.  Waiting can produce anticipation and hope.  Much like when my wife and I drive to eastern Iowa to visit her family, we think about all the things we could do when we get there, and the joy of good times we anticipate with family members.

When it comes to the virtue of patience, I am certain that many of us are not very good at keeping it.  Patience and waiting temper us to strengthen our hearts and beings, to be built up so that when adversity comes our way, we can face it better than before.

The people of Judah were tested in this way during the time of Isaiah, when the kingdoms of Aram and Ephraim threatened to destroy them.  Their initial reaction was of fear and anxiety:

“the hearts of Ahaz (king of Judah) and his people were shaken.” (Isaiah 7:2)

I’m sure that those in Judah were going through the same questions while they were waiting for the coming attacks from their enemies: What are they going to do?  Will they hurt us?  Will they enslave us?  Will we be destroyed?

Despite all that was coming, the prophet Isaiah gave them hope.

“Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid.” (Isaiah 7:4)

Remember those shirts that say “Keep Calm and…”?  This is what He was telling His people, those that were still trying to be faithful to Him.  He was telling them “Keep calm and I will be with you.”  God promised that they would not be destroyed, and that He would be with them.  He even brought them a sign:

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

In the context of the people of Judah during that time, it meant one way to them, but to us, it was a promise of the coming of the Messiah, the one born in Bethlehem, proclaimed to be the Savior of the Nations.

We, too, are waiting for hope.  Amid our world and our nation decaying in many forms and fashions.  We see such violence, injustice, corruption and malice in our own towns and communities, and now more than ever, it seems when we stand up for our faith in God, we are easily brought down because of the stance the world has taken against our faith.  We are constantly crying out, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”  But God continues to remind us, especially in this time, that He is with us, and He will come to us when the time is right.

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” (Psalm 37:7)

God calls us to be patient and wait for Him so that our hearts are tempered to His Will and Word, so that we can be better disciples of His Word.  Advent is a time of waiting, not in idle, but in anticipation, so we wait to prepare for the coming of the King.  We wait for the arrival for the Savior of the World, who was born to die for our salvation.  And with that we can certainly lament that…

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24)

May our hearts be prepared for the coming of our hope.  Amen!

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#FocusFriday is where I take a thought that has taken my interest for the week and expound upon it, to better get me to write more on my blog.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to run all of the technology components for the Beth Moore Living Proof Live Simulcast event.  Needless to say, though it was a great simulcast with great worship and teaching, it was hard for me to get into…probably because of this thing called “Being a guy”.  I don’t know, I’ll look into it more…

But in any case, I did happen to catch a couple of interesting points, especially one I want to talk about.  In one of the later sessions, Beth had talked about a survey that her group did to get a better understanding of their audience and what they were going through, so that they can get a better idea of how to align their ministry.

At one point in their survey, they asked the ladies to give a one-word description of who they are.  Some wrote abused, some wrote angry.  But the number one overall word that came up was quite interesting.  That word…

Lonely

It was quite interesting that a majority of women who took this survey described themselves as lonely.  Then Beth Moore followed up with this statement:

“We have so many contacts, but very few connections.”

How fascinating an insight!  So many contacts, from Facebook friends, to Twitter and Instagram followers, to Pinterest pinners and such and such, and yet I bet you that you probably don’t have some sort of significant connection with many of those friends or followers, do you?  Look at your social media friends and followers: How many out of the total that you have could you remember something significant about that person?  Many of you probably can’t.

So, what do we do?  We purge out our friends list, we clean up our followers, because we no longer have any sort of relationship with them, do we?  It is true that it does feel good to remove some people off of our friends list that we don’t talk to anymore, but how sad is it that we have grown our technology to reach more and more people, only to just cut ties with them in the end.

When Jesus hung on the cross, the biggest pain He ever felt wasn’t the lashes on His back, or the crown of thorns on His head, or even the nails in His hands and feet.  The biggest pain and fear Jesus experienced was being lonely; cut off from God the Father.  That is the significance behind His statement:

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (Mark 15:34)

The translation of that phrase means, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”  It was at that point Jesus took on the weight of all mankind’s sin, and in doing so was cut off from the Father for only a moment, and then gave up His Spirit.  Jesus was lonely for us so that we no longer could be lonely to our Heavenly Father.

I look at my friends and followers list, and rather than think, “Man, I have too many friends, I need to cut it down.”, I instead think, “How can I pray for these people today, and how can my contact with them bring a better connection with Jesus?”  Whenever I post something on social media, I try my best to express my love for Jesus and what He has done for me.  In doing so, I pray that my words will be a starting point for those that are seeking to no longer be lonely, and to truly find a relationship with God the Father, through Jesus Christ.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (Colossians 1:21-22)

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#FocusFriday is where I take a thought that has taken my interest for the week and expound upon it, to better get me to write more on my blog.

This week, I’d like to take a look at this following passage:

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

Billboards, especially the big ones you see along the highway or interstate, always have some interesting messages, from product advertisements, to event announcements, to even the promotion of social issues or non-profit charities. There are even some that want to convey a message to us from the Lord Almighty:

God Billboard

One of the more interesting things that I am finding with billboards is that many of them are being turned into digital LED boards, rather than the traditional painted boards. These are great for advertisers to get their product or message out there, but in my opinion, it’s probably bad for drivers.

Why, you ask? Well, here’s a question: While you are driving, which should you be focused on, the road or the billboard? I’m not saying billboards are bad, but trying to read tiny print while going 75 MPH down the interstate is probably not such a good idea, isn’t it? While those billboards may look informative, and maybe attractive for the eyes at times, it is a major distraction in an important task that you should be doing in your car: driving, and not crashing into other people.

Life is certainly full of attractive distractions, isn’t it? When we are set on accomplishing something for the day or time, we can easily get distracted and be pulled away from the task that we need to complete. For example: Maybe as a college student, you have a big paper that you need to finish, but can’t seem to find the motivation to write it. So, what do you do? Maybe watch Youtube videos, check Facebook, hang out with friends, go party. While these are not bad things (as long as they are in moderation), they are taking away the focus of you finishing that big assignment that is due the next day.

For those of us that share in the Christian faith, we are told that we are separate from this world, yet we still live in it. Makes sense right? What is meant by this is, through the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the world no longer has a hold on us through death and sin. Yet Jesus commands us to go out to the world to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel, which is our salvation from sin and death through the sacrifice of God’s only Son.

But even then, living in this world is tough. We are bound to face many temptations, trials, and traps. It is why the apostle Paul makes it very clear to us that we should never fall prey to these traps:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

The word “pattern” catches my eye in this passage, implying that there is a sense of structure or method to how the world tests us through sin and temptation. It is not random or by chance, like we could easily spot it and avoid it. But rather, temptation is very methodical. It is cunning and deceptive, it penetrates even our smallest vulnerabilities. Even if we are strong, it can make us weak. This pattern that the world puts on display is very crafty, and it wants to draw us in to partake in it’s pleasures.

We must certainly remember, as fellow members of the body of Christ, that through the power of the Holy Spirit by faith in Jesus Christ, our minds should be renewed to test and question everything that we come across in our lives, and to come to the understanding of what God’s will is for our lives. One thing we can learn is that one cannot serve God and partake in the pleasures of earthly desires.

“Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

A parallel to this can also be found in Luke 16:13, “You cannot serve both God and money.” Money is an earthly thing, and is well known to be the root of all evil. God is eternal, the Alpha and Omega, and His love is everlasting. So really, as the passage states, you cannot serve two masters. You can try, but you’ll end up destroying yourself in the process.

In the same way, those who love the things of this world will turn away from God, and end up being cut off from His blessings and grace. We are then left helpless, and try to find a way to survive ourselves.  My prayer for you is that you realign your focus on what is truly needed: A relationship with God the Father.

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#FocusFriday: Card Game

#FocusFriday is where I take a thought that has taken my interest for the week and expound upon it, to better get me to write more on my blog.

So, the whole point of #FocusFriday is not to come up with another fancy Facebook/Twitter trend, but to further challenge me into writing more about my faith on my blog, since I tend to neglect this blog anyway.  So, let’s see how well this goes…

For my first topic, I figure we’d talk about something simple: Card Games!  Do you love playing card games?  My favorite are Cribbage and Spades…although I do admit, I’m not very good at either game.

Have you ever heard of the term “Life is like a card game”?  I’ve never been a huge fan of the old adage, mostly because it gets mixed around in some logical fallacies when applying the illustration to life.  Many people believe that their life is drawn out in one big hand, and that if they don’t have the right cards in their hand, they can’t have success in life. They end up just folding and giving up on life and everything else.

I have a problem with that kind of thinking, and I have only one question for that kind of person: How come you are focused only on one hand, when the entire game is set before you? You see, my friends, life is not a matter of drawing one hand and trying to make out whatever you can with that hand. Our experiences are made up of many drawn hands, and we must determine what we are to do with the opportunity of the hand we are drawn for that given time.

The enemy wants us to believe that our one hand is the only hand that matters in our life, that we need to make the best out of that hand or we will be doomed. But God tells us a different story: He tells us that our life is much more than just a single hand, but to make every effort of the opportunities we are given through whatever hands we are drawn, and when there are times we can’t make anything happen with that one hand, we fold and move on to draw a different hand; in other words, be given a different perspective or experience on life and how we go through it.

God gives us this great opportunity through His Son, Jesus, who laid all His cards on the table; by giving His life for us all, and paying for our sins and wrongdoings, so that we can be reconnected in a loving relationship with God the Father. So even if we draw a bad hand, Jesus still can help us take that bad hand and make it work to our good, all thanks to His saving grace. As Ravi Zacharias puts it, “Jesus Christ can take a disadvantage, turn it into an advantage, and use it for the glory of God.”

My challenge for you is that you look not only at your one hand, but look beyond it, at the entire game of life itself, and know that there is more opportunities to it than just your one hand. If you’ve drawn a bad hand (say, from an issue in your life, a bad relationship, a struggle that you’re trying to overcome), lay your cards down to Him and our Heavenly Father will give you another hand to work with, so that you are given another chance to work through it. And surely He will work with and through you to overcome it. Robert Louis Stevenson said this, “Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.”

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

 

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