What are you “attached at the hip” to…

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 9.06.42 AMPrintable15Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 9.06.48 AMAnyone who knows me knows you would never find me without my phone. The “attached at the hip” phrase was probably created just for me. I am pretty sure you would agree also that if someone were to meet me for the first time, the 2 things they would quickly observe are my love for technology and my love for the German language.  Paul challenged me today though to ask the question: Would they as quickly observe my love for Christ?

We read in Philippians that Paul tossed everything else in his life aside by comparison to the priority he placed on “gaining Christ” and “being found in him.” Specifically in this context, he was referring to his credentials as a Jew: taught by the best-Gamaliel, circumcised on the 8th day, best of educations at the time, and so on. He had come to the realization that none of this was of importance if it did not gain him Christ. If he didn’t come to know Christ better through it and if Christ was not an integral part of his entire life. Nothing surpassed Christ being found in him.

Is Christ found in us? Are we inseparable from Christ? Does our love for Christ push other things out of our life? Is He as integral to every decision I make, action I take, word I speak and time I spend as other things in my life? Paul was willing and did put anything and everything aside, whether it was the things he did in the past that he had the “right” to be proud of or the actions he took on a daily basis, for the sake of Christ. The comparable things in my life might mean not proving my worth by my college degree or job I held prior to having children. For you, it might mean not basing your worth in your grades or the sports you may have played in school. Instead, while still pursuing these things with excellence, it would mean being found in Christ would reign above all else. I might include someone giving up participation in a sport if the influence of that team caused them to walk in sin and away from the Lord. It might mean switching jobs to one that pays less if the demands of the current job took us away from our family and church activities too much. It could simply mean giving up sleep to spend time with the Lord. The cost will differ for each person.

The bottom line: “Gaining Christ” does come with a cost. Don’t misunderstand me-you can’t do a single solitary thing to save yourself. But, once saved, a life in Christ will require obedience and some sacrifices.  Gaining something will never come without losing something else-the question you want to ask is: “Is it worth it?” In this case, it most definitely is. These types of decisions are not easy. I don’t think Paul found them to be simple choices, and we too, may struggle as we grow in our life in Christ. But, one thing is for sure-being “attached at the hip” with Christ, or found “in him” is absolutely, positively worth it.

A smile to your face…

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Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 12.44.51 PMWhen was the last time  you said thank you and what was it for? Aaron thanked me for taking him to the rollerskating social on Saturday night. Miriam thanked me for the suggestion of a place to stay over Spring Break. I try to always thank dad when he opens the car door for me. Thanks are said when someone gives you something or helps you with something.

Paul is giving thanks today in Philippians. In fact, he does the same thing in Colossians, Thessalonians and in his other letters too. He is always thanking people for their “sharing in the gospel” or he is thanking God for spiritual growth of some sort that he has seen in his friends. This man is genuinely excited about these things and so much so, I picture it bringing a smile to his face every time he thinks of them. He practically says that.

Is there anyone we have seen become a believer and that is now growing in faith that we can be thankful for? Did God give us the chance to take part in that? For me, when I see you kids growing in the faith it definitely  causes me to give thanks.You are “sharing in the gospel” and I am seeing you start to share that with others. When Jordan recommends a book to his friends, me or even my friends, this causes me to smile and give thanks. When Miriam posts Francis Chan on her FB page, I give thanks-because it means she is interested in that AND who knows who of her friends might hear that one message, and come to know Christ? It could happen. When Aaron attends huddle faithfully every Wednesday, I give thanks, because he could skip and sleep late. I know even this commitment is a self-disciplined decision of the things of God over the things of the world. His friends are seeing this commitment. It makes me smile and causes me to give thanks.

Maybe we should be more like Paul. Maybe we should TELL our friends that we are thankful for them, especially when we see them growing in the faith. I imagine the thought of that for you is a little weird, but just try it. Tell a friend you were really encouraged when you saw how committed they were to getting up for church on Sunday even though they were dead tired. Tell your friend who has become more faithful in attending prayer group or Bible study that this brings a smile to your face every time you think about them. Paul got genuinely excited when others came to know the awesomeness of Christ like He did and then they continued living in that knowledge and faith. He knew their life was changed-it was the equivalent of a terminally ill friend being healed. Who wouldn’t be excited? Keep your eyes open for others growth and “sharing in the gospel” that has reached their hearts. Encourage them. Tell them. Give thanks to God for them and continue in the faith. May we too, give others reason to “thank God every time” they remember us, because they see we are “sharing in the gospel” too!

Grab the sword and use it!

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 9.03.02 AMPrintable15Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 9.04.10 AMHave you helped a friend lately? Mrs. K. has helped me at so many of our parties, and I enjoyed having the chance to help her out last night. I know Jordan helped Anthony apply to Liberty a few years ago. Miriam helped Bri when they were setting up their rooming at Liberty. Aaron is helping his class today as they put Candygrams together. It is a good thing when we help each other and Pastor Curtis even spoke about this in yesterday’s sermon.

Praying for our friends is another way to really help them. Paul gives us some great instruction today with specifics on how to do this. Couched in the section on the armor of God, Paul talks about “praying for the saints [God’s people, Christians]”, and he specifically tells us to “pray in the Spirit.” What do you think that means?

It is always good to use Scripture to explain Scripture, and I think today, we can easily do this. Look back at the verse right before 18. We are told to take the “sword of the Spirit” and this is defined as the word of God. What if praying in the spirit is praying with/in the word of God? Use the word of God, the sword of the Spirit, to pray for the saints, our fellow believers, our friends. When we use God’s word to pray for them, we can be certain we are praying in His will. Let me give you some concrete examples how you might be able to do this.

You all have friends who are seniors in high school right now. You can be praying James 1:5 for your friends who feel they are lacking the wisdom as to where to go or what to major in.  Pray God would give wisdom to them generously and without criticism, which James tells us God will do.  Do you have two friends who are not getting along? What if you pray that they would love one another with brotherly affection? (Rom. 12:10a) Do you see a friend making poor choices or headed in the wrong direction? Pray they would abhor what is evil and cling to what is good. (Rom. 12:9) These are some of your memory verses so you most likely know them already.

Use God’s Word, the sword of the Spirit, to be a help to ourselves and our friends. We need to be praying in the Spirit whenever you and I can as we lay requests before God. Sometimes we may be reading Scripture and we might read a verse that immediately makes us think of someone. That is God’s spirit showing us another sword that we can help them with. “Pick” it up, like you would grab a legendary sword in DESTINY, and run with it! It is of great value and is a very powerful weapon that can accomplish God’s purposes when it is wielded well. But we need to use it, and keep in mind, the more Scripture we know, the more powerful our “swords” will become!

Benefit the hearer…

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Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 10.15.51 AMDoes Donald Trump have nice things to say about Cruz, Rubio or anyone else? What about the things we have been hearing about Hillary Clinton these days? Not exactly positive to say the least. This type of talk will continue for many more months. Watching the debates or the ads for these political campaigns can be discouraging. Do you know why? Because they just tear each other down.

On the reverse side of this type of talk, consider someone who is the opposite, someone who only says nice things about others. Do you know anyone like that? The first person like that who comes to my mind is my childhood best friend’s mom, Mrs. Williamson. I can’t remember her every saying any unkind word about anyone in the entire time I have known her-and that is over 30 years. In fact, I do remember times when it was obvious she was NOT saying something about someone-not because it wasn’t true, but I believe, because she is very careful about the words she uses. Another thing, I can’t picture her without picturing her smiling. I wonder if the two go hand in hand? Kind words and a happier spirit on the inside. Just a thought.

Whether they go together or not, Paul tells us this is the speech that should characterize us as believers. No evil talk is to come out of our mouths, but instead, words that are helpful, that build others up. When these are the type words we use, Paul says we “may give grace” to those who hear. What does that mean? Some  translations word that as “be a gift”, “help those who hear”, or “benefit those who listen.” You get the idea. Whatever we are saying should be of help to the listener.

This is a familiar verse to all of us, in fact, I am certain it has been one of the school memory verses. That doesn’t mean we should just skip it then. It is key to our lives. When do you and I talk? Every day. In fact, is there anything that we do more often than talk? Yesterday we thought about making doing good works our “lifestyle”. Today, I put forth that speaking words that are uplifting to others AND refraining from conversations and comments that tear down are a huge part of that. Consider these things. Speak so that what we are saying (or texting, emailing, etc.) are helpful to the listener. If they are not, then I suggest following in my friend’s example and we just keep our mouths shut as that would be the far wiser choice!

What’s your “Way of Life”?

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 10.40.30 AMPrintable15Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 10.40.10 AMDid you know there is a “Way of Life” app? It is free and is described as the “Ultimate Habit Maker and Breaker.” This could be very useful for creating and tracking any habit. There are many built in habits you can choose from like exercising, taking vitamins, reading, or even getting to sleep by midnight. If they don’t have what you want, it also allows you to create your own. It works by marking each day as “yes”, “no” or “skip” for that habit. Over time, you can clearly see if you are creating or breaking the habit you wanted to.

There is one habit I did not see listed in the options that I suggest we go ahead and add to our lives today. That is the habit of “doing good works.” Paul tells us today that this is to be our “way of life”. It most certainly fits the app, don’t you think? I am sure they just forgot to add it.

Paul reminds us in Ephesians that one reason we have been put here on earth is to do good works. But that is not all, do you see what he says after mentioning the good works? He specifically says, “…which God has prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” God has ALREADY prepared these works for us. I can’t help but think that means, when I woke up this morning, God had already put certain people, places and things in my life today that will be opportunities for me to do good works. Do I see them? Will I do them? Will you? This is what you and I are created for, at least part of why we are here.

If a bottle opener is created to open a bottle, what will it do best? Open bottles. If a lawnmower is created to cut grass, how well will it cut hair? Not so well. If we are created for good works, but are “doing” other things-how well will our efforts succeed in the areas we have chosen? I don’t think very well. What if we pursue and look for every opportunity God has given us to do a good work-something for the good of others?  It could be helping a friend with classwork, saying a kind word, doing some form of physical labor for someone,  teaching a class or skill to a friend, lending something to someone or maybe praying for someone. How well will we be able to do that? I would say we will do it with exceeding success-because that is what we are created for!

What if we got up every morning and started the day by asking God to open our eyes to the opportunities He has set before us to do good works for Him? I believe our days would be full of “successful” activiiteshttp://hollysjava.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/020316.pdf. I also believe we would end our days rejoicing in what God has done through us. So many people struggle wondering what God’s will for them is. Well, here He has told us one direct, easy, clear piece of that. Do good works. Make it a habit. In fact, make it your way of life from here going forward. And if you need a little reminder, feel free to download the app!

Don’t get pulled over…

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Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 9.11.26 AMFortunately, none of you kids know the feeling of having a police car turn it’s lights on behind you and pull you over. Unfortunately, I do. It is a scary feeling. So scary, adrenaline runs through your system the instant the lights flash on. Do you know why? Because you have done wrong, you have broken the law (in this case, speeding) and are now “in trouble” for it. The fear is due to a poor choice, not because policemen are bad and randomly pull people over.

Authorities and rulers themselves should not strike us with fear. We thankfully do not live under a tyranny with a crazy ruler who would randomly punish innocent people. That is not the way our country works. A person only fears the government or law IF they are not respecting authority and not obeying. Let’s bring this down to your level. Think about your classmates who strongly dislike certain teachers or a student who fears a teacher.  Does that student obey and submit to the teacher? I doubt it. More than likely, the student who fears or dislikes a teacher is also the student who is a trouble maker in class and disrespects the teacher. Their fear is due to their own actions and attitudes.  Consider those who fear the police. Why do they fear them? Generally it is because they have broken the law in some way or plan to. Paul speaks to these very things in Romans. Rulers and authorities are only a “terror” to those who disobey. If you don’t want to live in fear-then do what is good. This Scripture is couched in the context of being subject to our authorities. Paul makes it clear all authority has been placed there by God. Those who resist authority are resisting what God has appointed.

Are you fearful of someone or something today? Consider why. Is the fear justified or is there some area in life we need to submit. Paul has reminded us that all authority has been placed there by God. If we do not want to live a life of fear, than choose to do good, obey and submit to authority. Do what is right. There are countless other reasons to do what is right as well, but this is a good place to start. The person who never speeds, never fears getting pulled over. Trust me on this one!

Create harmony-even if you can’t sing!

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Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 12.13.48 PMHave you heard of the group “Pentatonix?” They were discovered on the TV show “The Sing-Off.” The group is amazing because they do everything a cappella. Part of what makes this singing group so amazing is their near perfect harmonies. Their voices blend in an incredible way that I imagine makes them sound better together than if they were solo artists.

Harmony can do that. It can put things together so that the sum is better than just the parts. It is true in music and true in relationships as well. As believers, Paul tells us that we are to live in harmony. We need to get along. One thing is for sure, believers who do not get along are not going to be very useful to the rest of the world, if they are busy bickering or not talking. It is not hard to figure out why Paul is encouraging this.

This is a command from God’s Word to live in harmony, so we need to take it seriously. Paul follows this up with instruction on not claiming to be “wiser” than we are. You know what I hear when I read that? “Don’t always insist you are right.” If we are honest and consider what causes most issues between any relationship, be it siblings, spouses or friends, this has to be right up there near the top. We break the harmony when we get in discussions and will not give up the right to be “right”. The question is, do we have the humility to obey God, or will we insist on the position of our so-called “wisdom?”

As a family, we all fall into this trap in one area or another. This “hits home” and we need to take Scripture seriously. If we are going to read this, and not ask God to change us in an area like this so that we can live more harmoniously, then we may as well put our Bibles away. Reading the Bible and then doing nothing about what we read is compared in James to looking in a mirror, seeing dirt on your face, and walking away without cleaning off the dirt. (James 1:23)

Harmony in our relationships will be a clear light for others to who Christ is and what He can do. Paul gives us tips on where to start: Do not be haughty (so pride is a big piece here) and associate “with the lowly.” Don’t elevate ourselves above others. Be mindful if we are trying to come off as “smarter”. The minute we find ourselves getting louder in a “discussion” and/or interrupting (one of my greatest weaknesses) I suggest we consider this: Are we really battling pride and trying to prove we are right? If so, give it up. Change the habit. Decide now you will try harder to live in harmony “with one another.”  In the end, this is truly the wiser choice after all-and we won’t end up with the “dirt” on our face!

Free Disney tickets, anyone?

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 9.11.58 AMPrintable15Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 9.11.46 AM“Good News…we are giving you and 50 other people a chance to win an all paid trip to Disney.” Ever seen a post like this on social media? Do you know anyone who has ever won this trip-or won any of the free trips, gift cards, $ that these posts may refer to? Me either. You know why? Because they are LIES. They are fakes. There are no free tickets or trips. I am constantly amazed at the people who believe these and repost them. I should not be. This is the human mind. We believe lies easily. It has been happening since the days of Adam and Eve, literally.

In Romans today, Paul is dispelling this lie on a much bigger scale. The lie that what the flesh and the world promises will bring a “fun awesome life”. He is speaking to how a Christian’s life is different from someone who lives life for themselves, with no regard for Christ. He terms this “those who live according to the flesh.” According to the flesh is the natural human. We are flesh and without Christ, we would always live life according to our flesh. Rom. 8:7,8 actually says we have no choice-we are bound to do what our flesh desires and wants. Today’s verse tells us where that actually leads. It leads to fun, great times, true love and lasting memories, right? No, Paul says it leads to death. This is the truth. That life leads to death. Satan is feeding everyone lies. He has written his own verse in everyone’s mind that says “To set the mind on the flesh is awesome, but to set the mind on the Spirit is dull, a drag, all rules and no fun.” (That’s the ‘Holly Amplified version’). Satan’s verse is a big, fat lie.

Test it. Look around you. Look at those who are seeking their own desires at full speed. Are they happy? Is their life peaceful? Are they healthy? Have they found true love that is lasting forever? Or do you see DUI’s with licenses taken away, unwanted pregnancies, destroyed futures, broken families, divorce, suicide, guilt, regret and depression? Those are forms of death, not life. To set the mind on the flesh and seek after these things is death. All we need to do is look around or watch the news. The truth of Paul’s words stare us in the face daily. A mind and life set on the flesh leads to death. The mind set on the Spirit leads to life-peace in the midst of troubles and life in the midst of pain. Just like no one will be receiving a free trip to Disney, no is going to receive an awesome life seeking after the things of the flesh. It may take time, but it will always end in death. Don’t fall for the lie.

Aim to please…

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 11.12.51 AMPrintable15Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 11.12.56 AMToday is the big day for me. As I contemplate another birthday passing, here is my “pleasant” thought for the day-I have less years to live now, than I have lived most likely. This does not bother me, though. The reality is, I still probably have many years, and more importantly, as each year goes by, God shows me a clearer view of heaven. He shows me what I am looking forward to.

Paul spends a good amount of time today in 2 Corinthians talking about earthly bodies breaking down and looking forward to heaven-that’s what he is referring to in the “home” or “away” above.  His point is, we are breaking down (and I will be happy to give anyone proof of that myself if they need it!) but that’s ok, given the end for a believer. Heaven and new bodies. Everything fixed. Oh yes, it will be amazing.

But Paul does not stop there-he goes on to bring us back to our reality: the here and now. He says that regardless of where we are on that time line, all believers should be working with the same aim in mind: to please Him. To please God. Our lives and actions should stem from the desire to please God.

Who do you aim to please right now? Your professor or teacher? To do that you complete your homework on time, you study to get a good grade and I would bet, you are nice to that teacher. If we are honest, we also desire to please our friends (me included) -we dress in a way that is “acceptable” so they won’t make fun of us. We don’t do things when we are with them that would embarrass them. We share our things with them. The question is-what happens when these things come in conflict. What happens when in order to please your friends, it requires you to do, act or say something that does not please God? This is where the “rubber meets the road.” How do you make that decision? How do I? It happens in a split second-I can assure you that. In fact, I don’t think most times we realize we have made a decision in that realm until after the fact. It is habit, our natural tendency.  And this I believe is the critical point-how can we increase our natural tendency to please God over all other “options”?

First, there are many biblical specifics that we know please God-being kind, helping others, being gentle as well as the “do not murder”, “do not steal”, “do not lie” type of pleasing and obeying. We can and should make an effort to make these our natural course of action.  But, the desire to please the world and ourselves (at the cost of others usually) will always be a strong desire, trying to pull us away from pleasing God.  Be aware. Pray for this desire to increase. Pray that we would make it our aim today to please Him above pleasing all others, including ourselves. The more we learn about God, his ways, his workings, his desires, the stronger our desire to please Him will grow. As Paul prayed in Colossians, it is also my prayer for all of us that ”we would be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual understanding and wisdom, so that we may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of the God.” (Col. 1:9,10)

Never “in vain”…

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 11.31.12 AMPrintable15Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 11.31.07 AMThere was a lot of snow shoveling done this weekend, wasn’t there? Some people went out midday Saturday and did some shoveling-but with all the wind and additional snow, it may have seemed to be “in vain” when they got up Sunday morning! To shovel snow for hours, and then come back out to find the driveway completely covered again would be very frustrating.

This type frustration does not only occur with snow shoveling. Sometimes as a parent, training a child can feel like it is “in vain.” Dad and I experienced this with one of you trying to teach you to look adults in the eye when they spoke to you. Our efforts seemed to be in vain. It was very difficult because it went against your nature, and it seemed time and time again you would not do it…for years. But, now you are near adulthood, and we are happy to say, you look all adults in the eye when speaking to them. Our efforts were not in vain, even though it felt like it at times-probably for both of us!

Paul wants us to see the same thing today spiritually. When we are working for the Lord, he encourages us in 1 Corinthians that our labor in the Lord is not in vain. The context of this Scripture is the reassurance that the resurrection of Christ was real, our resurrection will happen-and we will all be transformed. Our faith is not a sham. It is truth and solid as a rock. We are all working for God’s glory until the time comes when He brings us home. The work we are doing is not in vain, but we, as His servants, are working alongside Him, to accomplish His purposes until that time. He will make our work fruitful, even though we may not “see” it right away…or even sometimes for a very long time. Our job? To be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord.

So, what is your work in the Lord at the moment? Is it your efforts to be more consistent in your own time with God? Is it reading through the Bible in a certain time frame? Is it being kinder to others each day? Is it refraining from being a complainer? Is it praying faithfully for a sibling, a spouse or a friend? Is it faithfully teaching a Bible study that no one seems to grow from? Whatever it is, if we are confident it is where the Lord wants us, may we be encouraged to “keep on keeping on.” Our labor in the Lord is not and never will be “in vain.”