Friday, December 28, 2012

Happy New Year 2013!

Change Occurs on th Inside
True change occurs on the inside

What happens outwardly in your life is not as important as what happens inside you. I was looking for an image that captures the passion and motivation we all seem to share at the beginning of a new year. I read these words and knew that was what I could sense God wanting to speak to me.

Outward Change is Easy:

Lose weight? Take a pill, join a health club, change your diet; even liposuction is an option. Today, options abound in the area of one’s physical appearance. You can change eye color, the shape of your nose, eliminate that unwanted double chin, increase your breast size, decrease your breast size, or get rid of that extra baggage around your waist.

Outward change can affect how you feel about yourself, but it doesn’t alter the reality of who you are. A liar can get facial reconstruction, but it won’t stop him from lying. A person driven by greed can have their stomach stapled to lose weight, but shrinking one’s body by one hundred pounds will not reduce one’s craving for more.

Inward Change is Difficult:

Changing how I think, believe and behave is far more difficult because I must see myself as God sees me. Think about the rich young man who openly professed his desire to follow Christ by asking:

Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus told him:

Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.

The bible then says,

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Inward change occurs when there is a change of heart, mind and spirit.

Change of spirit occurs when I see myself the way God sees me. Often we’re like the character in the story of Snow White. Each day she asked the same question:

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?

Although the mirror revealed the truth of what was visible, it never revealed that inside her life was a vain, selfish, evil woman.

I am no different when it comes to God’s word. The bible, unlike a mirror is not simply a reflection of what I want to see, it is a revelation of who I really am.

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

Change of mind occurs when I line up my thinking with Christ. Christians are not immune from being judgmental, spiteful, jealous, causing factions, seditions. Like modern day Pharisees, we can place ourselves in the lofty position of being so much better than them. I must continually renew my mind with the truth that I am saved by grace and not by what I’ve accomplished.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…

Do I really show others the forgiveness, love and grace I so often need in my own life?

Change of heart occurs when I commit myself to following Christ in all areas of my life. I can attend church service with regularity, but on Monday, I’m cursing my boss or a co-worker. It’s so easy to judge others behavior, words, or life; but I often give myself a pass.

As the New Year draws closer, I want to ask all my Christian brothers and sisters for some intercessory prayer assistance. Not only do our nation’s political leaders need prayer and guidance, but some in the community of Christ, need to stop complaining and start kneeling.

What kind of spirit has come over us when we openly speak of secession? Where is the unity of the body of Christ in that attitude? I have seen images of the President of the United States morphed into a Hitler-like character. He has been called many things which people feel openly courageous to say, but I shudder to think of some things that are being said in secrecy.

Has God somehow been usurped from His authority? Is He still God or not? Can one man, the Democratic Party or the Republicans overthrow the will and divine purpose of God so easily? Has God been sleeping during the past election?

Like many, I am disturbed with the direction our country appears to be heading, but for far different reasons. This coming 2013 New Year, I will pray more for our leaders, for the people of this nation, and I will seek to be a better Christian man than I have been in 2012. I’ll do this by changing my heart, mind and spirit.

I once heard Edwin Louis Cole say, “Everything is subject to change”, but he also said, “Error is when truth is taken to an extreme”. In our desire to change, I pray we don’t take truth to the habitude of error.

by MTJ

A Note of Thanks: I would just like to say that I appreciate each of you who during this past year visited My Thought-filled Journey. You've taken time out of your schedule to read a post on this blog and often shared words of encouragement to me. Whether you leave a comment or choose to just read is not important. What is important, is that you came here. I do hope you find encouragement and inspiration in these words. Please know I will pray with you regarding any circumstance you may be facing. Feel free to write me to say "Hello", request prayer, or share what God is doing in your life. I have not said it enough, but thank you for the light of Chist in your life which illuminates the way for us all.

Spiritual SundaysNote: This post is linked to Spiritual Sundays (hosted by Charlotte).

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A True Christmas

Spirit of Christmas
Spirit of Christmas

A Christmas Greeting: I would just like to say that I appreciate each of you who visited My Thought-filled Journey during this past year. I want to extend my heartfelt desire for God's blessing upon you and your family as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I also would like to say that my hope is that you find even greater satisfaction in Christ during the coming new year. This has been a year of change for me, but it has also meant that I've come to appreciate even more the grace which has been given to me. I'd like to think I've grown spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually; time will reveal that. Please know I will pray with you regarding any circumstance you may be facing. Feel free to write me to say "Hello", request prayer, or share what God is doing in your life. I have not said it enough, but thank you for the light of Chist in your life which illuminates the way for us all.

Christmas lights and decorations are everywhere. As I walk by, smiles instinctively appear of the faces of strangers. There is something about this time of year that allows everyone to feel a spirit of joy in their lives. In spite of this feeling of joy and elation, there are people in America today without home or shelter. There are people who are all alone and feeling a sense of desperation. We don’t think about it unless it affects us personally, but people even die during this time of year. I remember the night my brother was murdered. Christmas would never be the same for my family.

Christmas bargains, sales, gifts, Santa Claus, ornaments none of those things seem to matter anymore. Time has given me the cushion needed to heal from my grief, but still, I don’t look at Christmas with the childlike eyes of my youth.

Years ago when I was married, my wife asked me what the tree had to do with the birth of Christ. I thought about her question and gave several technically correct answers but none of them answered her basic question. I realized then that a Christmas tree, colored lights and ornaments had absolutely nothing to do with the Messiah.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Why?

There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

Christ was born to institute redemption for all humanity.

We can sing songs of His birth, watch movies of the little baby born in a manger, but we must not forget that He came for the express purpose of dying for our sins.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

This is the true Christmas we must celebrate.

I once heard a preacher jokingly talk about his childhood and how even then he was preaching. Each morning, he would stand by the school bus and say to the children boarding:

You need Jesus!

I smiled when I heard him share this but he is right; we all need Jesus!

Yes, unto us a child is born, a son is given…

Let’s not forget that Christmas shouldn’t be celebrated once a year, but every day! Let our hearts rejoice with the joy and gladness of redemption. Christ came for us!

Whether we have a tree in our home, lights all aglow, presents beautifully wrapped, allow the spirit of Christ to touch our hearts in such a way that we see the beauty of grace and God’s love. Let’s share that love for one another and be a little more forgiving; giving to all the grace we have received through Christ.


Written by MTJ

Note: This post is linked to Spiritual Sundays (hosted by Charlotte).Spiritual Sundays

Friday, December 21, 2012

Finding Grace

Image Courtesy of sharinggodsgrace.org
Finding Grace (Image Courtesy of sharinggodsgrace.org)

I had a conversation with a friend about my post last week (Seeing Grace).

[Friend] Where is the grace there?

[Friend] Is God graceful to those (salmon) who succeed to jump upstream?

[Me] When you fully understand grace, you realize that no matter what happens in life to me, God still loves me.

[Friend] God loves you! How do you know that?

[Me] The point I am trying to make is that if I look at God solely on the basis of how he blesses me with things or protects me from harm, I don't understand the necessity of having a meaningful relationship with God.

How do I know God loves me? Because He says he loves me. That alone is enough for me to trust His word.

Good doesn't happen to the most intelligent, or beautiful, or the better race, ethnicity or religious group. God is sovereign so there is nothing I can do to influence him to benefit me. If God chooses to bless my life, it is not because I am better; it is because he chooses to.

The children who were shot today, who sinned; them or their parents?

Could He have intervened? If that is what He wanted to do, but when things occur outside my level of expectation or understanding, I remind myself of that truth. I believe that "all things work together for good", so no matter what happens in my life, God is not shocked, surprised, or caught off guard. He will use circumstances in my life (whatever they may be) to bring about a greater purpose. I cannot see what He sees, so I may not understand why something happened. I may not have wanted it to happen. But I have a choice to trust that He will use it for my good.

[Friend] Do you see Him as .....as somebody out there who protects you from any harm?

[Me] Do you remember the biblical story of the 3 Hebrew boys thrown into the furnace?

[Friend] Yes, a little.

[Me] Do you remember what they said to the king who threatened them if they refused to worship his image?

[Friend] No, I don't remember.

[Me] Nebuchadnezzar was king of all Babylon. He commissioned a statue to be made in his image. And every day when the trumpets sounded, everyone in all Babylon was required to get on their knees and bow in the direction of his statue. Anyone who did not obey would suffer execution by being burned alive in a furnace. When he was informed about the 3 Hebrews, he ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than normal. He then had them brought before him and he asked them:

When I throw you into that furnace do you think your God can save you then?

One of the Hebrews spoke up and said:

Our God is able to save us, but even if He doesn't, we will not exchange our trust in the Living God for an image of you!

So to answer your question, “Do you see Him as .....as somebody out there who protects you from any harm?

I would say, whether God protects me from harm or doesn't isn't relevant to whether I choose to trust Him with my life. Things happen in my life, both good and bad, but I will not waver in my belief that God loves me.

The question I asked earlier about who sinned is how humans tend to look at tragedy. When a woman is raped, the rapist will be defended by the premise that the woman somehow was at fault. The men who killed those children today, maybe they have families, parents, a wife, possibly children. Each of them having a relationship with the murderers will be faced with the question of guilt. But they did nothing wrong. Only those who choose to do evil are wrong. In the mind of all evil doers, there are always valid reasons to do what they do, but reasons why do not matter, in the end, innocent lives were still stolen.

But even in this tragedy, God can use it for the greater good, if we choose to learn from it. Knowing what it's like to see a life stolen by another human, my prayers are extended to those in Connecticut affected by last week's tragedy. It is a very difficult road to travel when a parent outlives their child. My mother has outlived two sons (one from childhood illness and the other murdered), but faith in God's love carries her on the road to heaven. For now, she remains alive with a purpose. She will go to them one day as I believe I too will see them again. But for now, in this moment of pain, sorrow, and sadness, I will look to the hills where my help comes; my help comes from the Lord!

I pray that many of us in this country see that tragedy is the price we must pay, for the right to bear arms. To me, it is a silly notion that we hide behind a statement made hundreds of years ago when this nation fought for freedom from tyranny. Where is tyranny today? It is in the minds of those who manufacture weapons in this country. It is in the minds of those who sell weapons to individuals who are irresponsible citizens. It is in the minds of those who do not comprehend the meaning of love, grace, and peace. It is in the minds of those who will come out and say, “Guns don't kill, people kill”.

What will it take for us to see the need to demonstrate Christ in our lives? If any man comes after me, he must first deny himself. Why would Christ say, I must first deny myself? Deny myself of what?

It is not a question of “what” but “whom”. I must deny myself of “me”. I want to please “me” above pleasing God. This is what grace reveals, my utter selfishness. But the bible wants each of us to learn of a more excellent way, the way of grace. My life needs to be encompassed with the grace given me by God.

Finding grace is not so difficult. Otherwise Christ would not have said, “Ask and it shall be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” Finding grace (even in the midst of tragedy) is not difficult. All I need to do is open my eyes.


A Note of Thanks: I would just like to say that I appreciate each of you who visit My Thought-filled Journey. Taking time out of your schedule to read a post on this blog is encouraging to me. Many of those who visit, will from time to time leave a comment. Whether a comment is left is not important. What is important, is that you came. I do hope you find encouragement and inspiration in these words. Please know I will pray with you regarding any circumstance you may be facing. Feel free to write me to say "Hello", request prayer, or share what God is doing in your life. I have not said it enough, but thank you for the light of Chist in your life which illuminates the way for us all.

by MTJ

Spiritual SundaysNote: This post is linked to Spiritual Sundays (hosted by Charlotte).

Friday, December 14, 2012

Seeing Grace

My Grace is Sufficient (Image courtesy of optimisticjourney.com)
Image courtesy of optimisticjourney.com

Song writer John Newton (1725-1807) wrote these words in the song Amazing Grace:
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

Anyone who has experienced the power of God’s grace in their life will easily identify with these words. For many, the challenges of life can be like the obstacles salmon face swimming upstream. I once watched a documentary on salmon and the Black Bear. The Black Bear will wait upstream for the migration of salmon. As the fish hurl their bodies through the air in an attempt to navigate their way home, the Black Bear with a swipe of its huge paw smacks salmon after salmon onto the shore. There on the shore as the salmon flop helplessly out of water, the bear will gorge itself on the omega rich eyes of the salmon; that’s all the bear craves!

No matter where I’m going in my life, the direction for me is upstream. Like the salmon, I’m on a path that leads me home. Along the way, there may be dangers, toils and snares, but like the song says, “I’ve already come…

That’s the magnificent quality of God’s grace, no matter the circumstances we face in life, grace leads us home. Some lack confidence in redemption because they don’t understand or know the scriptures, but even a blind man can see that “Jesus saves”. I can say, “I once was blind, but now I see” because I know I lacked vision to see the truth illuminated by the light of Christ. I lacked the ability to recognize the goodness of the Lord.

When I hear someone say, “God is good”. It isn’t some catchy cliché; it’s the revelation that acknowledges how God works all things together for good…

We’ve all been shocked and surprised at various times in our lives. I read some of the blogs written by Christians after the national election that indicated shock, dismay, and discouragement. But the truth is that God is never shocked, dismayed or discouraged; God is never caught unaware of events that occur in life.

To every man is given a measure of grace.

That’s what I need to know. That God has extended Himself in such a way that He is easily capable of reaching me and measuring the exact amount of grace my life so desperately needs.

My grace is sufficient for you.

It’s more than you’ll ever require! That’s what those words say to me. Should I pray for more grace? Why? I've already been given enough grace by Almighty God to get me through anything I face in life! I should utilize the grace God has given me and rejoice that I have more than enough to conquer the Black Bears in my life.

I’ve seen enough hatred, bigotry and racism in a lifetime of living. I could easily say, “I’ve had it up to here with that stuff”, but I realize that just as Jesus said we would always have the poor, there will always be sin in this world until He returns. Like those who condemned the woman caught in adultery, we can just as easily be ready to stone someone because of our own self-righteous attitudes. But the truth is there is a very thin line between salvation in Christ and self-confidence.

I pray that in this season of Christmas we Christians actually turn a corner and walk in a manner that befits being called the sons of God. I pray that we give grace as easily as we have received it. That we actually demonstrate to the world our capacity to love and forgive; that we remember that Jesus said, “You are the light of the world”.

If I see grace as it really is, I will see that it will lead me home.


A Note of Thanks: I would just like to say that I appreciate each of you who visit My Thought-filled Journey. Taking time out of your schedule to read a post on this blog is encouraging to me. Many of those who visit, will from time to time leave a comment. Whether a comment is left is not important. What is important, is that you came. I do hope you find encouragement and inspiration in these words. Please know I will pray with you regarding any circumstance you may be facing. Feel free to write me to say "Hello", request prayer, or share what God is doing in your life. I have not said it enough, but thank you for the light of Chist in your life which illuminates the way for us all.

by MTJ

Note: This post is linked to Spiritual Sundays (hosted by Charlotte).Spiritual Sundays

Friday, December 7, 2012

December Grace

Aurora Over Iowa
Aurora Over Iowa, Copyright Stan Richards (NightSkyEvents.com)

December is the last month in the year. In many ways it symbolizes finality, and yet for the Christian, it is the beginning. In December, we honor the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. For unto us a child is born is one of the most memorable statements in this life.

Many see December as the month which ushers in winter. In northern climates, winters mean snow, ice, less sunlight and cold, cold days.

For some, December is their birth month; a day of celebration.

For others, it can mean a time of great loneliness, depression and futility. While many celebrate December, others will mourn the loss of someone close. Some will choose to end life rather than celebrate it.

For me, December is always special. It is special because I was born in this month, so I have always welcomed it. As a child, it was special not just because of my birthday, but because of Christmas, snowy days in Chicago, playing with my brothers, and huge meals prepared by my grandmother.

My grandmother loved to cook. Cooking for her was an honorable endeavor; she relished in the traditions of cooking for our family.

I can look back now and see that she did this by grace. For me, cooking was and still is an effort. I am (as Paul would say), “Under the law” when it comes to cooking. My grandmother cooked under grace. It was a grace that gave her the freedom to cook with her whole heart.

I realize that it is far better to live by grace than the law. The law does not impute life. It is tedious, and exhausting. At some point, we become tired of the law, but grace never tires us.

Paul writes, “Whatever you do, do as unto the Lord.

I realize that what Paul is saying to me is that my attitude in whatever I do should be to please God with my life. This has often come into conflict with my need to please and gratify myself. Yet God still calls to me to walk in the grace given to me.

Grace is such a marvelous gift that we often overlook its significance. I was talking with someone recently about forgiveness. In my feeble attempt to explain it, I asked, “When is a person forgiven by God? Is it when I ask for forgiveness? Is it when Christ died on the cross? Is it when God sacrificed animals in the garden to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve? Or was it before creation itself when in the infinite knowledge of God He knew we needed redemption?

For me, all these are true. But I realize that God is not a sequential being like me; He is infinite! I need to follow a set of protocols, but God has no protocols that direct Him.

So, I am left with grace as my answer. To bask in God’s grace is beyond words. I cannot describe or explain it in a way that makes sense to someone who has never experienced the grace of God. To that person, grace is simply a word we banter about.

To me, it is what holds me firm in my belief of redemption, salvation and eternity. Grace is what leads me into prayer. Grace confirms for me that the Invisible God lives! Grace reveals to me that Christ rose from the dead and paid the penalty for sin in this world. Grace leads me to embrace the gift of life and inspires me to be better than I was; I want to please God because I want to hear the words,Well done.

Each day as we draw nearer to the celebration of the birth of Christ, it is my hope that we recognize and appreciate the grace which has been given to us.


Special Note: I would just like to say that I appreciate each of you who visit My Thought-filled Journey. The individual comments have been both insightful and encouraging. I had no idea when I began this journey where it would take me or when it will end, but I find myself inspired by the many thoughts others express here and on their personal blogs. Please know you are in my prayers. I have not said it enough, but thank you for the light of Chist in your life which illuminates the way for us all.

by MTJ

Spiritual SundaysNote: This post is linked to Spiritual Sundays (hosted by Charlotte).