Who do You Really Represent?

When I remember my role as ambassador to Christ, the good name of Jesus will be showcased in all my associations; my family, my marriage, my job and my church. Before and above all else, I represent Jesus and endeavor to live in such a way that His name be made famous.

My thinking was myopic and faulty. I had fallen short. While it was true, I represented my church and the desire to represent well was a good objective, it was secondary to my ambassadorship of Christ Jesus. As a believer and follower of Christ, I am sent out as ambassador to represent the one who sent me and to demonstrate His character in the manner by which I live and speak. As Christians we are called to represent Christ in words and actions. Acts 1:8, 2 Cor. 5:20

As I was making a reservation for a women’s retreat I determined, as a representative of my local church, to be especially kind, polite and patient. I had resolved to live out Colossians 4:5-6, Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of time. Let your speech always be seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

As it turned out, there was a bit of confusion on the part of the hotel representative as to who we were and there appeared to be no block of rooms available for our group. A short phone call became long, filled with questions and long pauses of being on hold.

When the confusion was eventually cleared up, the hotel representative thanked me for my kindness. As I hung up the phone my heart swelled with gratitude for the grace to represent my church well by exercising patience and kindness. That momentary sense of victory turned to piercing conviction and joy turned to sorrow. I had fallen short of the mark.

Though I had set my mind to represent the church well, the object of my representation was wrong. My goal is not to make my church look good. It’s to showcase my Lord to the praise of His glory. How quickly and easily I forget that while we live out our lives before human-kind, we live for the good name above all names, Jesus Christ and for His glory.

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify God in heaven.

Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and faithfulness!

When I remember my role as ambassador to Christ, the good name of Jesus will be showcased in all my associations; my family, my marriage, my job and my church. Before and above all else, I represent Jesus and endeavor to live in such a way that His name be made famous.

Psalm 45:17 I will cause Your name to be remembered to all generations; therefore nations will praise you forever and ever.

Above and before all else, I represent Jesus.

Should not my every encounter be an opportunity of mindful representation?

The Low Whisper

The amazing, miraculous, and astounding are seen because their presents disrupts, unsettles and overshadows the ordinary. What of the daily whispers? How do we recognize God in the common?

I had forgotten that hearing God in the ordinary everyday moments of life was a practiced ability. It is a skill to be honed as a tool, tuned as an instrument and sharpened as a blade. It requires conscious, continuous practice to hear the low whisper of God in the ordinary; to recognize His presence in the smalls, the bigs and everything in between.

Recently, I asked a 10 year old if she ever remembered a time when she had asked God to help her do something that she knew and believed he had answered for her. It took a bit of thinking but her answer was a spectacular back flip into the pool. That was not the answer I was fishing for. I had cast my net out hoping for a simple, “I prayed for God to help me study for a test.” or “I prayed for courage to talk to the new girl at school.” I was hoping for a simple prayer in an ordinary moment in life.

But of course she thought of that particular moment! It was a hallmark feat in her life! She really knew and believed God was her helper. She called upon Him and He heard her. He was her helper. And a wonderful moment it was! It was personal and important to her. I was blessed to hear her story.

That moment made me think of how often we miss the low whispers of the God of the details. The same God who parted the seas also knows when one sparrow falls to the ground. While, as believers in Jesus, we want to be seen, heard and known by God, God desires to be seen, heard and known by His people. The invisible God is made known to us through His Word and creation. He is experienced as we diligently seek him even in the routine, common areas of our lives. He acts on our behalf as we wait for him (Isaiah 64:4).

Elijah was prophet running for his life from the wicked Jezebel. In a cave on Mount Horeb the word of the Lord came to him.

1 Kings 19:11-13 And he Said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord Passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And After the wind, an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire, and After the fire, the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in the cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?’

God was not found in the spectacular; the wind, the earthquake, the fire. God was found in the low whisper. There were no flashing lights, sirens, ground shaking announcements or heraldic proclamations. A low whisper. When Elijah heard it, he drew closer to it and positioned himself to hear. Elijah desired a personal moment with the Lord. Only those who are near, with an ear tuned to the voice can hear a low whisper.

The amazing, miraculous, and astounding are seen because their presence disrupts, unsettles and overshadows the ordinary. What of the daily whispers? How do we recognize God in the common? How do we come to realize that God helps us in our strengths as well as our weaknesses? It is He who gives us gifts, talents and abilities and who helps us in our struggles. He is still there directing and delighting in the details. Psalm 37:23 tells us that “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” And yet, so often we miss Him in the common, everyday, ordinary moments of life.

Psalm 37:5 Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him and he will help you.

Recognizing God in the whispers of life takes practice. How did Elijah listen? He drew closer to God’s voice and positioned himself to hear. Elijah tuned his ear to the voice of God. One very simple but profoundly important way to hear God in everyday, ordinary moments of life is to pray about those very things. Praying positions us to wait and watch for the Lord. Praying heightens our awareness of God’s presence in those moments. Praying affords us a platform for gratitude and thankfulness and multiplies blessings and glory back to the giver of all good gifts. Praying and giving thanks in all things reckons us to say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper.” (Heb. 13:6)

Loving Father and Attentive Lord, I pray to you that I might see you this day in the whispers of life; that I may seek to know you in the ordinary and recognize your handiwork and fingerprint on the details of my day. Give me the grace to recognize and acknowledge, in those moments of accomplishment, that in my own strength and apart from you I can do nothing. May your spirit open my eyes to see you in all things and give me a listening ear to hear your still, small voice. Amen!

Influences and Identity

It is so easy to be weighed down by comparison and thoughts that tell you you’re not enough, but when they become the only voices that you listen to, you are choosing to ignore everything that God says about you over and over again in Scripture.

In this guest post, Cate Richter shares her personal experience and calls us to be shaped and influenced by the truth of God’s Word above any other voice, either internal or external.

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27 NIV

When I was younger, maybe 3 or 4, I would spend HOURS (no exaggeration, we have videos) staring at myself in the mirror and posing. I loved my reflection and I couldn’t get enough of myself. Call it arrogance if you want, but I was confident for sure! At some point in my life, that all changed, and I began to hide from my reflection, ashamed of what I looked like and who I was. What changed? As a child, my primary influences were my parents. They were constantly telling me I was beautiful, smart, and strong. They built me up and made sure I knew who I was and how they saw me. As a teenager, I was bombarded with thousands of influences telling me how I could be better- how I could get skinnier, grow longer hair, have nicer shoes, get better grades. Eventually, I started to view myself the way I was convinced everyone else viewed me- never enough

As we grow up, we grow further from the influence of our parents, becoming immersed in the world outside of our home. This isn’t always a bad thing, but in my case, I chose to ignore what my parents said about me and believe what the world said. Furthermore, I ignored who God said I was, living in shame of what I looked like and who I was. As I moved further from Him, His influence over me faded, giving way to my growing insecurity and shame. At some point, I got so sick of being insecure and unsure of myself that I decided to make some changes. I started limiting all influences in my life that I couldn’t trust completely (social media, mean girls, tv, marketing). Instead, I turned to God. I begged Him to show me who He created me to be, and He did. I spent weeks searching through scripture and finding evidence of my identity in Christ.

It is so easy to be weighed down by comparison and thoughts that tell you you’re not enough, but when they become the only voices that you listen to, you are choosing to ignore everything that God says about you over and over again in Scripture. Why would you want to live in lies, rather than living in love? You are an image bearer of the Almighty God! When God created mankind, He declared that they were made in His own image. This means that we act as a reflection of God here on earth. Furthermore, in 1 John 3:1 God calls us His children, inviting us to become like Him while Colossians 3:12 describes us as chosen, holy, and beloved. 2 Corinthians 5:17 calls us a new creation, free from past mistakes and shame, and 1 Corinthians 3:16 calls us God’s temple. Romans 5:8 describes the pinnacle of God’s love for us; the death of Christ on the cross for our sins. Who are we to ignore the greatest act of love in history and continue living in our shame, self-doubt, and self depreciation? The God who created the Universe loves you so wholly and so personally that He offered up the ultimate sacrifice in order for you to live a life free of the burden of sin!

So, make the conscious effort to surround yourself with the truth of who you are in Christ. The closer you are to Him, the easier it will become to discern the truth in the midst of so many lying voices. As 1 John 4:16 says, if you are abiding in Him, you are abiding in love, and if you are abiding in the love of Christ, you will begin to see yourself the way God sees you- as His child, unconditionally loved and unfathomably cherished. Draw near to Him, allowing Him to be the greatest influence in your life, and choose to believe that your Creator knows you well enough to tell you who you are.

By Cate Richter

The God Who Sees

While none of us are servants or slaves in a Biblical narrative, we too, have the faithful eye of the Lord upon us. He is not unaware of our circumstances. He is a God who is near and not a God who is far off (Jer. 23:23). He knows our name and has promised to be with us wherever we go and protect us in all circumstances (Is.43:1-3, Josh 1:9). He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). His is grace is sufficient for us and His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

While it might be easy to envision that God sees the world, it is sometimes difficult to conceive that God sees us; that His eye is upon us. He is not only aware of our circumstance and has compassion for us, but he acts on our behalf. He has purposed our circumstances for our benefit and the praise of his glory. He is the God who sees you. He is the God who sees me.

He is the God Who Sees

Psalm 33:13-22

13 The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; 14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, 15 he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. 16 The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. 18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, 19 that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. 20 Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 21 For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. 22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.

He is the God who sees.

The Psalmist takes us from the big picture oversight to the specific and to the personal. He gives us the overview: He looks down from heaven and sees all the children of man. He gets specific and speaks of the King and the warrior. And then he gets personal. His eye is on those who fear him and who hope in his steadfast love. He uses personal language; our, we, us. The eye of the Lord is upon us. Not only does God see us but he acts on our behalf. He is our rescuer and our deliverer – He is our help and our shield.

God sees us. He has eyes for us. He sees us in our affliction and distress. We have His attention. Do we see Him? Do we have eyes for Him? Can we recognize Him when He reveals himself to us? Does He have our attention?

The God who sees, sees you. The One who sees, sees me. The One who sees, saw Hagar.

Genesis 16 gives an account of Hagar and her personal encounter with the God who sees; the God who saw her.

Hagar was a servant given by Sarai to her husband, Abram as way of “helping” God fulfill His promise of an heir. Hagar found herself pregnant, mistreated, miserable and hopeless. When Hagar could take no more she ran away.

The Angel of the Lord finds her in the wilderness. He speaks her name and knows her status as a servant of Sarai. He asks her questions. He listens to her words and hears the cries of her heart. And then he tells her she must return to her mistress and submit to her.

The Lord did not promise to rescue Hagar out of her circumstances. He did not condemn her oppressors. He did not bring punishment on those who treated her poorly. He called her to a hard thing. He made himself known to her in the midst of her circumstances. She knew at that moment that she was not alone and that The God who sees, saw her and was caring for her. He gave her a glimpse of the future and strengthened her for the path he laid out for her. His eye was upon her. She had confidence in Him.

The Lord had Hagar’s attention. She had eyes for him. She recognized her messenger as God and gave him the name, a God of Seeing. Her words, “Truly I have seen him who looks after me.” reveal her confidence and hope in the Lord. She named the well Beer-lahai-roi (a well of the living one Who Sees Me).

Hagar had the promise of God’s eye upon her. She submitted to the counsel of the Lord and returned to Sarai. The Lord saw; the Lord listened; the Lord acted on Hagar’s behalf.

The Lord see; the Lord listens; the Lord acts on our behalf.

While none of us are servants or slaves in a Biblical narrative, we too, have the faithful eye of the Lord upon us. He is not unaware of our circumstances. He is a God who is near and not a God who is far off (Jer. 23:23). He knows our name and has promised to be with us wherever we go and protect us in all circumstances (Is.43:1-3, Josh 1:9). He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). His is grace is sufficient for us and His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

It might make sense, in human terms, to imagine that God sees the “important” people of this world but overlooks the average, invisible nobodies such as ourselves. But Jesus ministry tells us a different story. He sought out and ministered to the poor, the needy, the scorned, the insignificant, the abused, the afflicted and the marginalized; the woman at the well, the woman with the issue of blood, the woman caught in adultery, the crazy guy in the tombs, the blind, the sick and the lepers. He saw them. He knew their circumstances. He knew their names. He acted on their behalf.

Know this: He is the God who sees. He is the God who sees you. He is the God who sees me.

He is the God who sees.

Fresh Start

Sometimes we just need a reboot. Just as rebooting requires a shut down and a moment of rest before a restart, something must end and pause before we can begin again.

God has gifted us with necessary endings in order that we might not be overcome with despair and discouraged to the point of giving up. Just as the day and the week and even the year may end in weariness of heart and mind and spirit, there is a time for rest between the end of one and the beginning of another. We lay our heads down, close our eyes and take refreshment in the sleep of restoration.

Life is a lot like rebooting a computer. Rebooting is the thing I do when my computer acts up and everything else has fail to remedy the problem. Turn it off, shut it down, disconnect it’s power source; let it rest and plug it in, turn it on and voila! Problems and issues resolved and I am back on line.

Sometimes we just need a reboot. Just as rebooting requires a shut down and a moment of rest before a restart, something must end and pause before we can begin again. A difficult day may end in a fog of despair and gloom but after a good night’s sleep morning dawns with fresh hope, battle-readiness, and a grace-strengthened, renewed mind and spirit equal to whatever the day brings. There must be rest for the weary in order to revive and restore the fatigued spirit, mind and body.

While each day promises a new beginning, on a larger scale, each week has a Monday. How many times have we decided that we would begin a new thing on “Monday?” I have started many a self-improvement plan on “Monday.” Monday is a pivot day. Whatever new plan I have initiated and failed at can always be reinstated on the following “Monday.” There is a curious hope is the power of Monday reset.

The year 2020 came to a close with resounding cheers and jeers. People find hope in a new year. We look forward to and anticipate blessings in the year ahead. God created us needing a fresh place to begin again so it only stands to reason that people look to the calendar for endings, rest and new beginnings.

Those of us who have put our faith and trust in Jesus recognize that morning is not our savior; Monday is not our savior; January 1st is not our savior. Jesus, who is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end (Rev. 22:13) gave us, in perfect wisdom, beginnings and endings that we might not faint or grow weary to the point of despair but that we might be renewed and strengthened with the hope of new morning mercies. Jesus, in whom strengthening grace sufficient for the day is found, is our Savior, Redeemer and Deliverer.

How easy it is to forget that our hope does not lie in a moment in time but the One created time! I must be reminded that my hope, my confident assurance, is rooted in the promises of God stated over and over again, throughout His Word; He will never leave us or forsake us; His steadfast love endures forever and His mercies never end.

Philippians 3:14 But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

And so disciplining our hearts to focus on Jesus; not looking back to the past, counting the cost and bemoaning what was lost but forgetting, in a sense, that none of it matters or has genuine value compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. With eyes riveted on the prize, reaching out for what is yet beyond us, straining forward, pressing toward that which our eyes behold.

As we begin afresh the year 2021 let us look to Jesus, the anchor of our hope, to the praise of His glory, and cast a blessing to one another with a resounding Happy New Year!

Great Joy

In the center of this season there are many hindrances to distract us from the reason for our hope and joy but we are not rendered powerless.

While Christmas should be a most joyous celebration of the heart, for some, the cares of this world are many, rendering them unable to access this joy. There is much hardship, pain, sorrow and sin overshadowing the joy of our salvation. We lose sight of our joy in the fog of confusion. The echo of the resounding joy becomes silent and lost amidst the worries and cares of this world.

Luke 2:10-11 And the Angel said to them, fear not for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you this day is born in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord

This good news of great joy is the news of a Savior. Jesus, the second person of the Godhead became a man; a baby no less…a helpless babe needing nurture and care. He left his heavenly home and came into this world to save mankind from death and eternity without God. Jesus was born to die that we might live (1 Tim 1:15). He is God’s gift to a lost and dying world. This act of greater love is our good news of great joy!

This plan of salvation was not only our joy – It was His joy. Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him; our salvation (Heb. 12:2). Jesus withstood temptation, hardship, persecution, abuse and death because of the joy set before him. He looked beyond his circumstances and fixed his eyes on the glorious victory that was His for us. Our salvation was His great joy!

Satan, true to his nature, endeavored to rob Jesus of that joy by tempting Him to give it all up (Luke 4:1-13). Satan hoped to appeal to Jesus’ human senses and cravings by enticing him to avoid the cross and shipwreck God’s perfect plan of salvation. But Jesus joy could not be stolen.

Satan tempts us with the same snares for the same purpose. He is known as Tempter, Accuser, Father of Lies, Deceiver and Thief whose mission is to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10) all that is good and rob us of the Joy of our salvation. We, too, are in the crosshairs of the thief of glory and joy.

And yet we are not left alone in our struggles to recapture the joy of this season. We have been given the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us. He is our Comforter, Counseler and Guide. We have the written Word of God revealing God’s character, steadfast love and unending mercy; a love letter to the church. We have the testimonies of brothers and sisters in Christ throughout all the ages declaring the love and faithfulness of God. We have the hope and joy of our salvation revealed in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

In the center of this season there are many hindrances distracting us from the reason for our hope and joy but we are not rendered powerless. Might we choose to fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith? We can boldly refocus and take back that stolen joy. We can take thoughts captive (2 Cor. 10:5) and replace them with truth (Phil. 4:8), allowing our thoughts to inform our emotions. We can shake off and lay aside ever weight and sin that mires us and every obstacle that impairs our vision of Jesus. Might we pray as David in Ps 51, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and renew a right and willing spirit within me?”

“Let me hear good tidings of great joy, and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore, my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose, my eyes up lifted to a reconciled Father:”

Excerpt from O Source of All Good – Valley of Vision

Give Thanks

On this day, let us be reminded to give thanks for the good and bad – the beautiful and the ugly – the easy and the hard – the full and the empty.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

Today is Thanksgiving. As I sat down this morning to consider the blessings of this year – some enjoyed, some endured – I realized I do not have words that adequately express the fullness of the bounty that has been poured out upon me and my loved ones. August L. Storm beautifully expresses thanksgiving in everything with words that speak for me and to the deepest places in my heart.

Thanks to God

Thanks to God for my Redeemer,
Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a memory,
Thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,
Thanks for dark and stormy fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten,
Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,
Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered,
Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,
Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure,
Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside,
Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,
Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,
Thanks for heavenly peace with Thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,
Thanks through all eternity!

On this day, let us be reminded to give thanks for the good and bad – the beautiful and the ugly – the easy and the hard – the full and the empty. Because of God’s great love for us, he has brought us low and high that we might rejoice in His faithful presence giving thanks for His inexpressible gift.

In everything give thanks!

In Appreciation of Fall

As each season brings with it its own brand of artistry and appeal, fall brandishes its own unique beauty.

Psalm 74:18 You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter.

Fall, the common name for the season wedged between scorching summer and frigid winter as a boundary separating the extremes. Autumn is its formal name. Most of us prefer its common name, as common is comfortable and without pretense. Fall is quite unpretentious.

Unlike summer and winter which bring with them their hot and cold temperatures, fall is moderate in temperature. Yes, moderate temperature, but not without a few warmer days peppered among the moderate to cool. We bask in those days, face to the sun, eyes closed, with the expression of full enjoyment on our faces.

For many who struggle with the heat of summer, fall has become a favorite season. They look forward to this in-between season as one looks forward to a cool drink after a long walk. Others see fall as a short slide into a long, cold, harsh winter. Fall cannot be enjoyed simply for itself because the anticipation of next season is like a black cloud of impending doom looming largely over them. Fall’s joys are stolen by the worry and dread of the future.

As each season brings with it its own brand of artistry and appeal, fall brandishes its own unique beauty. No other season produces such a spectacular array of tree color. Leaf peepers flock to the north to view fall’s reds, yellows and oranges displayed as a blanket across the landscape of hills, mountains and countryside. It’s glory satisfies the beholder.

But alas, as even the fairest of women, fall’s beauty wanes as its season draws closer to winter. Fall rains and winds strip the leaves from the trees. Acorns and pine cones drop to the earth leaving a harvest of provisions for tree and forest dwellers. The last vegetables have been harvested and the apples have been plucked from the trees. Its comfortably predictable.

Fall; Moderate, colorful, fruitful, predictable and seemingly sage. Such admirable attributes! If I were a season I should like to be fall.

 

For Such A Time…

While we are not Paul, we too, have a designated space and time in history. The Lord lovingly and faithfully has chosen our circumstances.

Boundaries change things. Boundaries give us a perimeter within which to remain. Just as a beaver dam changes the course of water, new boundaries refashion our lives and force us to pursue new avenues of living within the new restraints.

Many of us find that Christian community and ministry as we once knew has been suspended. Sunday school teachers, nursery attendants, greeters, ministry team leaders and members have been challenged with the difficulty of finding a place to meet and serve within the walls of the church. Organized ministry has been turned on its head and come to screeching halt. We have new rules of engagement and gathering that limit our ability to assemble and interact as we once did.

We struggle to find our role; to use our gifts to build up the body. It is harder; it requires more thought and takes a bit of creativity. It takes respect, good communication and a solid you-before-me theology to navigate it all while maintaining peace and unity of the body.

While we may blame the Chinese, the Republicans, Democrats, state and local officials or church leaders for our plight; is it not God, who has willed our current circumstances as part of His good plan? And can we agree that His plan is always perfectly executed in wisdom?

Acts 17:26-28a And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place that they should seek God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.

Far beyond our thinking and planning abilities, God created the world with boundaries that kept each created thing within it’s assigned role. Boundaries give our world and our lives order, safety and freedom.

Boundaries keep the oceans and seas within their allotted space. They keep the stars in the sky. The sun was made for day – the moon for night. Those boundaries keep them in their place and keep them within their designated role.

God created Adam and Eve and placed them within the walls of the Garden of Eden. While the walls of the Garden defined their dwelling place, they had freedom. God also gave them boundaries of eating. They could eat from every tree but one. Those boundaries kept them in perfect communion with God. Boundaries gave their world order and protected them from whatever was outside the Garden.

Paul was a man who knew the loss of freedom. His imprisonment created new challenges to his God-given ministry. Paul did not bemoan the loss of what he could no longer do. He did not become so discouraged by his inability to speak face-to-face with the churches that he sat within the walls of his confinement idle and immobilized, longing for the days of freedom he once enjoyed. He did what was in front him. He focused on what he could do which was to write letters to the churches and send them by way of faithful messengers. While he could not see them he could still speak to them.

The voice of God, through his servant, was not silenced. Paul’s imprisonment was the avenue by which God brought to the world the New Testament books Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Phileman. Prison walls could not stop the gospel. God had planned Paul’s confinement for the purpose of spreading the gospel and encouraging the saints not only for the first century believers but for believers thousands of years in the future. Though Paul had a specific place in time, his letters to the churches were eternal. Did Paul know the significance of his time in prison? Was he aware of the magnitude of the work that God was doing while he was incarcerated? Could he possibly have imagined the eternal weight of glory brought through his inability to carry out his calling in typical ways?

While we are not Paul, we too, have a designated space and time in history. The Lord, lovingly and faithfully, has chosen our circumstances. God has placed us where he wants us and given us resources. These resources may not be the ones we would choose but they are the ones God has chosen for us. He is most magnified and glorified in them.

The year 2020 is one that the world will not soon forget. It has brought with it boundaries that limit our contact with people and yet it is God’s good pleasure to allow them to be imposed. These boundaries challenge the way we think and do ministry. These boundaries confront our idols and expose our heart’s true loves.

So here we are, we still have breath; in Him we live and breathe and have our being (Acts 17:28a). How are we to proceed within the walls of our current boundaries? Are we able to acknowledge the privilege of living in this space and time and run the race that was marked out for us? The trail markers may have changed but the race is still the same and our inheritance it beautiful!

The gospel of Jesus knows no bounds!

Life Is Difficult – Thank You M. Scott Peck

As we are about the business of recreating a better “me” through self awareness and the power of best practices, God is about the business of transforming; creating a new person in Christ, by the power of His Word and the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit.

Life is difficult. Most of us muddle our way through trying to escape the difficulties, patch up the wounds and fight against the things that continue to cause us discomfort and pain. Often times the running and kicking back only causes more distress and deepens our discouragement. We are left battle weary and no more trouble free than when we began.

Perhaps, we have imagined life differently; an easier and smoother ride. Matthew 6:34 reminds us that there is always hardship and each day has it’s own trouble. Just as the changing seasons bringing their own blessings and problems, our daily circumstances may change but life is never trouble free. There is always something we would love to avoid, deny or escape.

I read M. Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Traveled, back in the early 80’s. Just as he was on a spiritual journey of making sense of life and people and God, I was on my own similar trek. I struggled to understand the purposes of life, relationships, love, difficulties and pain; the connection between God, myself and real life. I was torn between outwardly pretending that life wasn’t difficult and internally weeping under the weight of it. As a twenty-something, separated and nearly divorced Christian woman who didn’t know her Bible well, this book was revolutionary. It had given me new perspective.

He had me with the first two paragraghs of chapter one.

Life is difficult.”

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

I found truth in these few sentences. Reading on, he highlights the necessity of suffering and the value of experiencing pain. He lays out disciplines for experiencing pain and meeting it head on rather than avoiding it. These personal practices were good, wise and helpful. Who would disagree with taking responsibility for your choices or delaying gratification? These are choices that differentiate the proverbial children from adults. My need to grow up, face difficulties head on and do hard things became clear.

And now some 40 years later with many trials and difficulties behind me and a fuller knowledge of the Word of God, I can see that while The Road Less Traveled may have set me on a better track of thinking, the ability to actually walk it well was made possible only by the grace of God. I have seen his hand in even the most painful of times. His love for me has transcended pampering and moved toward perfecting. 

I recognize that the issues and solutions presented in Peck’s book were centered on self and although the idea of grace, a greater power, and God were present, they were not prominent and foremost in his philosophy. These are good personal practices but they are not the embodiment of freedom, pain management, or transformative living. What seemed sensical lacked the fullness of truth and the power to transform the one who was broken by life’s difficulties or battered and bruised by their own poor choices. Though acceptance and surrender are a part of Peck’s spiritual equation, surrender to God is the only solid solution for the human condition.

As we are about the business of recreating a better “me” through self awareness and the power of best practices, God is about the business of transforming; creating a new person in Christ, by the power of His Word and the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit. Pain, difficulties and disappointments are His tools, by which He shapes and forms us into the likeness of Jesus. How we process difficulties determines the condition of our heart toward God, others and ourselves as well as our ability to surrender to God and be changed into the image of Christ.

Yes! Life is difficult. Life’s difficulties are not without purpose.

Romans 5:3-5  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love have been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

James 1:2-4  Count it all joy, my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

2 Corinthians 4:16-17  So we do not lose heart . Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Facing trials head on, accepting circumstances as they are and not as we have hoped them to be is a lesser traveled road. Surrendering our lives, our circumstances, our will and our control to our Loving Father who keeps us sheltered under His wing is the pathway to peace, contentment, joy, renewal and a transformed life.  We will never be as we once were. We will be tempered and humbled.

Life is difficult. There is eternal purpose in our difficulties.

The last line of an interview printed in Psychology Today, quotes M. Scott Peck as saying, “I’m somebody who often, like so many people, preaches what he needs to learn.”

I echo your words, Mr. Peck!