Represent

 

My son’s 5th grade class went on a field trip recently, and his teacher sent a note home asking parents to prepare our kids to behave in appropriate ways while traveling. More specifically, she asked that the kids remember that they represented Paine Intermediate School, as well as Trussville, and their behavior should be respectful and kind. She was asking the kids to live up to the reputation of the city and school they belonged to. 

Hold up. I have three kids who have been on countless field trips to places nearby and far. Permission slips and parent releases have been sent home for signatures, but never – NEVER – has a note been sent home asking for students to remember the school and city they represent and to uphold a good reputation.

As I read the teacher’s note, I was inspired. Maybe even a little patriotic. Yes, I said patriotic. I liked the idea of holding our community in high regard and encouraging our kids to do the same.

If a school teacher can ask students to live up to a good reputation, how much more should we as Christians live a life worthy of our calling? Check out Paul’s challenge to Christians in the book of Ephesians:

“Therefore I, as a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.” Eph 4:1 NLT

We are God’s representatives here on earth, and we belong to Him. We bear His name. My friends, we have a grand reputation to protect! And look at how Paul says we are to “live a life worthy of our calling”:

“Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace.” Eph 4:2-3

As people watch us, as we represent God, are we humble and gentle? Are we patient and understanding? Are we peaceful? Are we peacemakers?

Moment by moment, decision by decision, we either uphold or diminish God’s reputation. Don’t be intimidated by that….be motivated! 

God chose us to be Christ’s representatives, so let’s live lives worthy of that calling. It’s not about getting our tasks done today. It’s about representing Jesus while we are doing our tasks!

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The One-Two Punch You Should Know

gloveBecause of the never-ending access to other people through social media, Christians today have a real battle on their hands to avoid getting tripped up by the temptations to play the comparison game or to seek to approval of others. Or worse yet, we read about ideas that sound good, and we incorporate them into our lives and belief systems.

It happens all the time.

We constantly see images of scantily clad, super thin women, and we come to believe that defines beauty.

We listen to sarcasm and foul language enough until we, too, think it’s funny.

We read someone’s post about a new car, new phone, or new outfit, and suddenly we are discontent.

We read rants on blogs or Facebook, and we begin to believe ripping others with our words when we’ve been wronged is a good idea. 

Living the Christian life sure ain’t easy. We are constantly bombarded with ideas that challenge our standards and sometimes make us stumble.

But, there is a way to avoid those temptations. To not believe those lies. To stand strong in our faith. 

The secret….the key…to standing strong in our faith and to avoid falling for the lies is found here:

“Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Col 2:7

In this verse, we learn the secret is a one-two punch:

  1. Let your roots grow down into Him: Our “roots” are our understanding of Scripture and our personal, intimate relationship with God. They anchor us in our beliefs! By reading God’s word daily, our roots will grow deep and strong, and our knowledge and wisdom will expand, helping us know lies from truth.
  2. Let your lives be built on Him: Once strengthened, our roots provide us the nourishment we need to live our lives! Our knowledge and understanding of God’s word equips us to make wise, Godly choices and decisions. Our lives are built one decision at a time…..and each of those choices can be made through the filter of God’s Word!

Soooo, as we grow our roots down into Him and then build our lives on obedience to God, we grow closer and closer to our Father and farther and farther away from the enemy and falsehoods. And, friends, close to God is exactly where we want to be!

The next time life takes a swing at you, hit back with your own one-two punch!

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The Sentence That Stopped Me In My Tracks

So I was reading through Romans  the other day when one sentence stopped me in my tracks.

“We must not just please ourselves.” Romans 15:1 NLT

Well, that advice flies in the face of what our society teaches, doesn’t it? Self-help books, talk show hosts, and advice columns all teach that we should never live to please others. Seeking to win the love and acceptance of other people by saying and doing certain things only leads to empty, one-sided relationships, and any counselor would agree.

I agree. And so would Paul, the author of that quote. 

But Paul didn’t teach that we should live to please others in order to win their approval. He didn’t advance a plan for winning friends and gaining popularity. Instead, Paul taught that we should seek to please others out of respect for their view of God. The bottom line is this: what we say and do influences others. So when we choose a particular behavior or action, those watching us are influenced. They have an opinion about us and about God.

For instance, when a group of Christians collects funds to provide gifts for the needy at Christmas, people are blessed and know that God cares about them. When we invite someone to church, they are reminded about God. When exhibit honesty, loyalty, or compassion because we choose to live by God’s standards, we model God’s character for those around us. And, when we choose to avoid certain things or activities out of respect for those with weaker faith, we are displaying love and sensitivity. Check out what Paul said:

“We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.” Romans 15:2 NLT

Living to please others is actually a very good thing…..it just has a vastly different definition in Scripture than it does in our culture! Our goal in pleasing others is to encourage them and their faith in God.

Today, live to please others. Not to win their approval, but to protect and encourage their faith.

Please others by showing love when someone has been rude.

Please others by displaying Godly character which encourages them to raise their own standards of living!

Please others by investing into a friend. Showing unexpected kindness models God’s love!

Please others by being patient with them.

All of these actions help to encourage the faith in others! You might not see the fruit in the moment, but we trust that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. We trust that the Holy Spirit plants seeds in their lives through our actions….seeds that will yield a great harvest!

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Bless Your Heart

blessI live in the South where the phrase “bless your heart” can be a warm sentiment or an insult. More often, it’s a pity-filled insult. Whether it’s the lady wearing the worst outfit ever or the man with the over-the-top personality, we notice. Oh yes, we size people up and judge their attitudes and behaviors.

Guilty as charged. In the last hour, I’ve had opinionated thoughts about a local lawyer’s questionable TV ads and someone’s choice of social media posts. Don’t even get me started on people’s driving habits. In that arena, I always have an opinion.

But Paul challenged us in Romans chapter 2 to take a closer look at our swiftness to judge….and a closer look at what we are judging. Check it out:

“….When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you do these very same things.” Romans 2:1 NLT

While we might be guilty of shaking our heads at questionable outfits, we are probably also guilty of judging others for their actions.

  • “She hasn’t been to church in years.”
  • “He had an affair.”
  • “Did you hear? He embezzled money from his job!”
  • “She is such a gossip. You can’t trust her!”
  • “Wow. He is so sarcastic. All. The. Time.”
  • “She got caught in a lie. It’s not the first time either….”

The truth is it is much easier to tell someone else how to behave than to behave properly ourselves. It’s easier to quote the bible than it is to actually live out its principles. And it’s certainly more fun to point out someone else’s offenses than to deal with our own.

Yet, Paul didn’t mince words. He clearly stated that God will judge ALL of us for our secret lives.

“The day will surely come when God, by Jesus Christ, will judge everyone’s secret life.” Romans 2:16 NLT

YIKES. That put things into perspective. God desires us to be soft-hearted people who aren’t judgemental but are compassionate, patient with others, and kind with our thoughts and words.

And He expects us to turn our pointing fingers back on ourselves. Looking at the list of “judgments” above, we could choose to notice those actions in others but use those moments as a springboard to take an inward look:

  • I might be going to church weekly, but how is my personal love relationship with God?
  • He might have had an affair, but what am I doing to be the best spouse I can be?
  • He embezzled money, but do I take shortcuts with my money? Do I ever take what doesn’t belong to me? Do I steal in small ways?
  • She gossips, but do I protect others with my words?
  • He is insulting with his sarcasm, but do I proactively encourage others?
  • She lies, but am I always honest?

The bottom line, friends, is God is concerned not only with our integrity, but also with our compassion for others. Instead of judging, let’s love. And let’s evaluate our own personal integrity level so that we won’t bear the title of hypocrite.

Here’s our challenge for today: Each time we notice something negative about another person, let’s take an inward look to evaluate if any hypocrisy can be found in our hearts/actions.

This one simple exercise just might be a game changer in our lives!

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My Life Preservers

th“When we arrived in Macedonia there was no rest for us. Outside there was conflict from every direction, and inside there was fear. But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.” 2 Corinthians 7: 5-6 NLT

Have you ever felt like Paul? “Outside there was conflict and inside there was fear”? There are times in life (sometimes those times feel more like seasons) when we face uncertain circumstances or unwelcome conflicts from the outside world which make us fearful of what our future holds. Pay attention, however, to what calmed Paul’s spirit: the arrival of a friend. If you read 2 Corinthians 7, you’ll discover that Titus arrived with a good report on the spiritual well-being of some mutual friends. Although his circumstances had not changed, the encouragement of a trusted friend brought Paul confidence and joy.

Friends, we cannot always change our circumstances. Life will throw us curveballs, and we must deal with them. Yet, if we’ve invested into Godly friendships, the people with whom we surround ourselves can help buoy us! They can help us keep our heads above water.

Are you investing into friendships with other believers? You need it! So do I. God often uses other Christians to motivate us, encourage us, and love us. And, yes, he also uses them to steer us back to the right path when we’ve been knuckleheads.

The next time you deal with conflict on the outside and fear on the inside, confide in a trusted Godly friend. Don’t tread those waters alone. Let your spirit be buoyed by the arrival of a friend!

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Don’t Be A Quitter

Did you know that 2 Corinthians is actually Paul’s 4th letter to that church? Since I’ve been obsessed with Sherlock on PBS, I guess I’ve put on my own detective hat and discovered a bit of Bible trivia. 

Paul spent 18 months ministering in the city of Corinth, a very cosmopolitan city. Both Jews and Greeks lived there influencing one another with their ideas of culture and religion. After Paul left, he learned the Corinthians were struggling with immoral behavior, so he wrote a letter to the church which has since been lost. That was letter #1. The Corinthians wrote a letter in return asking for clarifications on conduct and church rules. Paul responded by writing a letter we know as 1 Corinthians. His next letter (#3) to them was also lost, but his 4th letter is our book of 2 Corinthians. 

In each letter Paul not only encouraged the Christians in Corinth, but he confronted their sin. Time and again, Paul must have been disappointed in their drama and struggles. He taught them, invested into them, and spurred them on….only to travel to another city and learn that the Corinthians were listening to false teachers and struggling with immoral behavior. What’s more is that a few of the Corinthians began to doubt Paul’s authority! I can imagine Paul’s exasperation over their lack of maturity.

If you are a parent, I bet you can relate to Paul. We train our kids to act a certain way, and then we are shocked to see some of their decisions, like running crazily through a friend’s house or making a poor choice at a party. In those moments, we might feel disappointed or even angry. I’m sure Paul felt the same way on some level.

Here’s the kicker: Paul didn’t give up on the Corinthians. He didn’t wash his hands of them when situations grew tiresome. He didn’t stop loving or encouraging or fighting for them. He could have gotten defensive when the Corinthians doubted his authority. He could have become offended when they forgot all that Paul had already done for them. He could have grown tired of their immaturity and chosen to put his attention elsewhere.

He didn’t.

He didn’t give up, give in, walk away, get defensive, or become offended. He kept doing what God told him to do! Even when difficulties – physical AND emotional – made life tough, Paul kept fulfilling the mission God gave him.

Friends, that’s the key to resiliency: KNOW YOUR MISSION. When you know your mission….your purpose….you won’t give up in the hard times! Our ability to recover quickly from difficulties is found in the understanding of our purpose.

What has God asked you to do? Whatever it is, keep doing it. When – not if – life gets tough, when emotions get bruised, remember your calling. Paul did, and God used him to change lives. What could God do through you today?

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Do You Want My Honest Opinion?

honest_opinionWould you like to know one thing I’ve learned after 20 years in ministry? People get defensive easily. And often. Most people bristle when offered unwarranted advice, and they certainly get angry when confronted about some disagreeable act. I’m no different. All is takes is my husband having a different opinion than me, and I’m all abuzz. The bottom line is most of us aren’t very teachable. Oh, we can learn a new social media app or some new fangled math, but we often lack a teachable spirit. What I mean is, we don’t handle it very well when someone calls us out. Rather than assessing the situation and making changes for the better, we usually defend our actions and act incredulously that someone would dare poke their nose in our business.

Are you relating at all?

The apostle Paul held his Christian friends accountable in lots of areas and they were better for it. Because of Paul’s encouragement and admonishment, Christians in Galatia, Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica, and many other New Testament cities returned to their faith when they strayed. They could have balked and been overly sensitive. I’m sure some responded poorly, but the Bible records that many of them were, in fact, teachable. They shelved their pride and make adjustments in their lives to become more like Jesus.

Let me ask you: do you have someone in your life who can ask you the tough questions? Someone who can encourage you to keep running the race? Someone who can call you out when you are straying off the path? More importantly, are you teachable? Do you become defensive, or do you listen and make changes?

Today, let’s be teachable. Let’s shelve our pride and allow a trusted friend to challenge us from time to time. Remember, our goal is to become more like Jesus, not stay like we are!

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There’s A Harvest Coming

reap“You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.” ‭Galatians‬ ‭6:7-10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Our God is the Author of order and justice. The whole world is run by His system of blessing and consequence, and He longs for us to choose paths that lead to blessing rather than pain. Small daily decisions can reap a harvest of goodness in our lives. Check it out:

  • If I plant love, I will reap a life that others will honor and cherish.
  • If I plant joy, I will reap the satisfaction of seeing joy in others.
  • If I plant forgiveness and grace, I will reap a heart that is free of bitterness and pain.
  • If I plant words that are guarded rather than allowing words to roll out of my mouth without thought, I will reap healthier relationships and friends/family who feel valued and respected.
  • If I plant service toward others, I will reap the smile of my Heavenly Father as I model my life after His.
  • If I plant contentment, I will reap feelings of thankfulness and gratitude.
  • If I plant discipline, I will reap a successful life with few regrets.
  • If I plant time in Scripture, I will reap wisdom, understanding of God’s ways/purposes, and I will have a Psalms 1 life (my life will be like a tree planted by streams of water who yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither!).
  • If I plant time into relationships, I will reap friends who deeply cherish and value me.
  • If I plant tithes into the church, I will reap blessings from God as He provides for my every need.
  • If I plant consistency in church attendance, I will reap spiritual knowledge and Godly relationships that will help me remain true to my faith.
  • If I plant time in worship, I will reap a humble, God-centered heart as I celebrate His attributes and goodness (which brings another blessing: God opposes the proud but draws near to the humble).

We harvest what we plant. What are you planting today?

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Sherlock, John, and Paul….and life lessons along the way

sherlockI love TV. What can I say? I’m a child of the 80’s when we watched all the greats: Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Cheers, The Wonder Years, and MacGyver. On summer days, I would wake up in time to watch reruns of The Love Boat while eating Captain Crunch. On school nights, my homework was completed in time for Moonlighting with Bruce Willis. Oh, yes. I’m a TV girl.

Still to this day my TV is on most of the time. But network programming is so yesterday for me. Now, Netflix owns me. No commercials. Binge-watching. Thousands of options. I confess I often spend more time surfing those options than I do actually viewing movies, yet My List on Netflix is full.

My latest binge-worthy find? Sherlock. It airs on PBS on Masterpiece Mystery, but seasons 1-3 are available on Netflix, and I’m hooked. Last night, I watched an episode in which two characters were at complete odds. One had betrayed another, and weeks of confrontations and accusations had ensued.

Then, came the moment. John forgave his wife. He said her past was her’s to deal with, but her future was his privilege to embrace. Tears streamed down her face as she accepted his forgiveness. John embraced his wife in comfort even as he confessed that he was still very angry. Nevertheless, he longed to restore the relationship. Score! That was a great scene.

Now, I don’t want to stretch too far, but we could all learn a thing or two from John Watson. Better yet, let’s learn from the Apostle Paul….he probably has more authority since he was a real person and all.

In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul dealt with a church discipline issue. Previously, the church had united in confronting a man over a particular sin. I’m sure it was difficult and painful. What confrontation isn’t? In 2 Corinthians, however, Paul shared profound wisdom. Check it out:

“Now it is time to forgive him and comfort him. Otherwise he may become so discouraged that he won’t be able to recover. Now show him that you still love him.” 2 Cor 2: 7-8 (NLT)

Wow. That is a practical instruction for each of us today! Paul is referring to the church discipline issue, but the instruction resonates with me! There is a time to confront and a time to comfort. In parenting….in marriage….in friendships….in working relationships…..we need to know when to confront and when to offer the comfort of forgiveness.  

Paul said there was a time to confront and there was time to comfort….otherwise the offender might become too discouraged to recover from his mistake. 

The same is true for people in our lives.

  • We cannot hold grudges against our spouses.
  • We cannot deal too harshly with our children.
  • We cannot ostracize other people.

Friends, let’s hold high standards but be full of grace, comfort, and love. Let’s not use discipline or confrontation in an unforgiving way. Remember, the goal of discipline or confrontation is to restore the relationship, not to destroy the person. When people in our lives repent, let’s shelve our anger and graciously forgive. After all, that’s what God does for us every day. 

What does that look like for you today?

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The Perspective Shift That Changes Everything

The apostle, Paul, never ceases to amaze me. 2 Corinthians 1: 3-11 details the trials and suffering Paul endured as he preached God’s messages in Asia. He and his friends were “overwhelmed” and “crushed” and thought they “were going to die.” Those are real emotions and experiences, not just some quaint story in a book. Paul’s focus, however, was the comfort God gave during those trials. He viewed his suffering as something to be expected in life, and he viewed God’s comfort as the beautiful gift….the supernatural strength…..to help him endure. Shifting perspective from despair to joy is nothing short of amazing.

Ok, friends. Let’s get real. Do we view life and difficulties in the same way as Paul? Do we count it as a joy to suffer in order to experience God’s comfort? Do we then count it as a joy to pass the same kind of comfort to others who are struggling? Our struggles, though very real, pale in comparison to Paul. Most of us aren’t in jail or being physically harmed for our beliefs. Nevertheless, I don’t want to minimize our trials.

  • Conflicts in our relationships can bring emotional turmoil.
  • Financial stress can bring fear and anxiety.
  • Depression can bring isolation and unhappiness.
  • Parenting can bring exhaustion and frustration.
  • Medical issues can bring fear and irritation.

When we face a trial, our focus is often the trial, itself. We tend to pay attention to our pain and become discouraged. Paul was the same way, I’m sure. He wouldn’t have been human to respond any other way. But, Paul overcame his human emotions and put his eyes on God in the midst of frustration, fear, and unhappiness. He looked for the ways God was ministering to him, and he chose to be the man God wanted him to be, to soak up God’s comfort, and to pass that strength and motivation to others.

How can we do the same thing? How can we rise above the trials we face and look for God’s comfort?

  • We can praise God for the love and friendship of our spouse rather than complaining about their shortcomings.
  • We can pause to thank God for the paychecks that cover our bills and provide for entertainment for our families rather than complaining that we don’t have enough.
  • We can meditate on the goodness of God – His unending love, His forgiveness, His strength, His righteousness – rather than the perils of our problems.
  • We can look for the ways He refreshes us daily – through a bible verse, in an unexpected financial gain, in the words of a friend, in a burst of energy that allows us to get more done that we thought we could, in a quiet whisper that He loves you – instead of being blind to His activity.

So here’s my challenge for today: Don’t allow trials to be your focus or bring you down. Focus, instead, on the ways God is carrying you through the trials!

Some of you might have a hard time seeing God at work in your lives, however. If you don’t feel like He is carrying  through your trials, that could suggest you are separated from God. Feeling far from God, not hearing His voice….these are indications that you might have a relationship issue with your Father. The truth is sin causes separation in every form. Can I encourage you to pause right now and talk to God? Confess any sin and draw close to Him again.

Our trials will be difficult, but God’s comfort is enough to see us through. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you!

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