Be Better

The words Be Better on a dry erase board to tell you to improve in your health or in skills to help you succed in life

Do you want to be better?

In a few days, the local gym where I work out will be packed. There will be a whole new set of people sincerely trying to follow through on their New Year’s resolution. They want to get into to better shape. They want to feel better, look better…they want to be better. It is a worthwhile endeavor. It really is.

But there is another set of people that also want to be better. But they are not as interested in their physical health as they are their spiritual health. They know that their soul is in rough shape. They know their thoughts are not like their Master’s thoughts. They know their character is quite a bit out of sync with the character of the One they have pledged to follow. They know their lives don’t look the way they should look. They want to be better.

Maybe you are one of those people. Maybe you want to be better, but you aren’t quite sure where to start. I can tell you where to start. You need to spend some time with the Lord and in His Word every day. Every day. If you aren’t sure how to do that, here are some suggestions to get you started.

Of course, I can’t help but suggest you read (or re-read) Run in Such a Way. It was written to help explain in more detail how to be better by becoming more and more like Christ.

May the grace and peace of the Jesus Christ Himself be with you as you set out to run in such a way as to get the prize!

Be better!

Idols

Idols

My family is incredibly important to me.

I love the Buckeyes.

I love good food.

I appreciate faithful friends.

I can get lost in a good book.

I even love working out, which is very strange!

And yes, I love the Christmas season!

All of these things…football, food, family, friends…they are all good. They all provide elements of what it means to live a full life. I wouldn’t want to live life without them.

All of these things are good…but they aren’t God. They are good things from the Father to his son, but they aren’t meant to replace the Father. I know that, but sometimes I forget. It’s perfectly appropriate to appreciate these things. And in the case of people, it’s even appropriate to love them. But it is never appropriate for anything on this list to replace God as the focal point of our love, affection, trust, and faith. When that happens, they become idols to us. We find ourselves focusing on them to the exclusion of God. We expect these good things to help us instead of relying on the One that provided these good things to help us.

This isn’t new. People have been making idols to replace God for as long as anyone can remember.

Who but a fool would make his own god – an idol that cannot help him one bit? The person who made the idol never stops to reflect, “Why, it’s just a block of wood!”- Isaiah 44:10,19

So often, I am a fool. I make idols out of my family and friends, counting on them to help me when I should be counting on God to help me first and foremost. I make idols out of the Buckeyes, and can even make idols out of how many miles I put in or how much weight I can lift. It is all so stupid, but so very, very common.

So let’s stop hoping that people or things will give us what only God can provide. And let’s stop devoting our best time, energy, and talent to building up idols, and start building up God’s Kingdom.

What are your idols?

What is the Gospel?

I just ran across this short video clip from author and pastor David Platt on Facebook. Take a few minutes to watch it…

This reminded me just a little bit of chapter 1 (The Good News) of Run in Such a Way. Here is an excerpt:

Living the life God wants for you begins with a better understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel (or good news) has traditionally referred to the fact that Jesus came to make it possible for people to have their sins forgiven so that they could get into heaven when they die. In order to be saved then, a person needs to agree to this arrangement and invite Jesus to be a part of their life. There are many different terms for this, including things like accepting Christ, praying the sinner’s prayer, being baptized for the forgiveness of sins, or just simply becoming a Christian.

This is an absolutely essential part of the gospel that Jesus came to proclaim. It is necessary and good. But it is not the whole gospel. The complete gospel includes the whole story of the Bible, starting with Adam, progressing to the Israelites, and culminating with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 13: 32-33). Jesus clearly and repeatedly proclaimed this. He came to finish things. He came to complete the story. He was (and is) the good news! Yes, Jesus came to save us. But He also came to change us. He came to give us an abundant life (John 10: 10; 17: 3). He came to make a new life available to anyone who would surrender their kingdom and enter His Kingdom (Luke 9: 23-24). He came to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew tells us that throughout His ministry, Jesus preached, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Matthew 4: 17). He used parables to describe what the Kingdom of Heaven was like (Matthew 5: 20; 6: 9-10; 13: 3-52). He preached the good news of the availability of the Kingdom of God, and He preached it everywhere to the people that were least likely to believe that it was possible. When directly asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of Heaven was coming, Jesus told them it was in their midst (Luke 17: 20-21).

It is the Christmas season. It is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of the Good News. Let’s celebrate it for real this year, and let’s not stop short of declaring the whole Gospel that goes along with it.

Let’s invite people to run in such a way as to get the prize!

The Word

The WordThe Bible is the Word of God. It is not a self-help book. It is not a book written and re-written by a bunch of random people over many centuries. It is inspired by God Himself, and is the  primary tool He uses to change us.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. – Hebrews 4:12

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

I can’t say it in enough. I can’t stress it enough. You have to figure out a way to get into the Word. You have to!

  • Read it. Regularly.
  • Listen to it. There are 1,001 ways you can listen to it these days.
  • Study it. Buy a study Bible and learn from others.
  • Write in it. Take a pen and underline, circle, and jot notes in it.
  • Believe it. It is true. All of it. Don’t pick and choose what you want to believe.
  • Pray it. Turn it into a prayer for yourself or the people around you.
  • Memorize it. Store it inside so you have it with all the time.
  • Meditate on it. Spend time rolling it over in your mind.
  • Journal about it. Write down what hits you or confuses you or inspires you.
  • Wrestle with it. Argue with God over His Word. It’s ok, He can handle it.
  • Obey it. Obedience is the ultimate evidence that you believe it.

I know it can be difficult to do get in the Word, stay in the Word, and get something out of the Word. So here are a few suggestions that might help.

  • Pick a different translation. If you have trouble understanding what you are reading, pick a different translation that makes more sense to you.
  • Surrender. Before, during, and after you read it, make the decision that you will respond to what you read.
  • Pray. Before you start reading, pray for God to move you through His Word.

However and whenever you can, get into the Word so the Word can get into you.

Praying Scripture

Psalm 91.9-12Sometimes I just don’t know how to pray for people. Sometimes I get tired of praying the same thing for the same people over and over again. Sometimes my prayers can get dry, boring, and monotonous. Not good.

If that ever happens to you, let me give you a simple way to keep the soul exercise of prayer fresh and real and alive: Praying Scripture. It is simple really. Find a piece of Scripture that speaks to you and turn it into a prayer for people.

For example, this morning I read Psalm 91. When I was done, I took verses 9-12 and turned them into a prayer for people. It looked something like this:

Lord, help _____ to make You his refuge and shelter. Help him to run to You and not to anything or anyone else. I pray that no evil or sickness would overwhelm him or even come near him. Order your angels to protect him from _______________.

For me, this becomes even more personal and heartfelt if I close my eyes and picture the person seated on the steps in front of the throne of God. My heart becomes more engaged in the prayer if I picture myself sitting there with him, pleading with the King on his behalf.

Try it. Turn God’s Word into a prayer back to God on behalf of yourself and the people around you!

 

Unplug

unplugWe live in a “plugged in” society. We are constantly listening to the radio, iTunes, or Spotify. We send and receive text messages all day long. We have the TV on in the background. We post on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and even something called Snapchat. We watch YouTube videos. We spend time on social media scrolling through pictures of food, sports scores, political rants and bad jokes. We check email, write papers or proposals on the computer. We even read blog posts :-)!

Let’s face it: we are constantly plugged in to some sort of media, and most of it is electronic. Even when we are tired, we turn on something so that we can just “veg” for a while. And now its even when we sleep! We wear a wrist band to tell us how well or how bad we sleep. We are always plugged in. We are on sensory overload.

Here is my challenge for you and me: Unplug.

Maybe it is for an hour. Maybe it is for a day, or a week, or a month. Turn off the computer and the TV, close up your tablet, put your phone on the desk. Unplug. Why? Because as long as we are plugged into everything else, we will struggle to plug in to God. We won’t see what He is trying to show us because we will be too distracted and exhausted by all of the cool stuff the world is trying to show us.

There weren’t electronics in Jesus’ day, but He and the apostles still suffered from sensory overload. Jesus knew best. He knew the guys needed to unplug.

The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. – Mark 6:30-31

Unplug from the world so that you can plug into God.

  • Take a walk in your neighborhood…without earbuds in. Look for the people that God puts in your path. You might even want to stop and talk to them :-).
  • Have dinner at home without any media playing anywhere. Pray before you eat and genuinely ask God for your family to plug into Him.
  • Sit on your front porch and enjoy a beautiful evening.
  • Pray with your family or a group of friends.
  • Go sit by a pond or lake and quietly ask God to join you.
  • Take your (paper) Bible with you on a walk at a park. Read. Walk. Stop. Pray. Repeat.
  • Write a letter to God. Tell Him what’s on your mind and heart.

A LOT of people tell me that they feel distant from God. They are half right. God isn’t distant. He just feels distant because we are too distracted to notice Him.

Unplug from the world and plug into God.

You’ll be glad you did.

God is with me. Really?

Jesus-Yoke

“I could never do that.”

  • Run a mile.
  • Lose 20 pounds.
  • Forgive that person.
  • Be honest with my friends about who I am.
  • Love that person that trashed my reputation.
  • Understand the Bible.

These are all things I literally thought I could never do. And I was right. I could never do them…alone. But I’ve done them. Other people helped me. Most importantly, Christ Himself helped me. I still put in a lot of effort, but I wasn’t alone. God was with me.

Some mistake Christianity as a religion that involves no effort. Actually, Christianity is a relationship that requires a lot of effort. But our effort is grounded in His power, not our own. God is with us. Literally. In fact, He is in us. Literally.

Here are just a few places we are called get to work, along with His promise to be working in us:

Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:18-20

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. – Philippians 2:12-13

Since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. – Hebrews 12:1-2

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

Don’t be deceived into thinking that Christianity requires nothing of you. Just as importantly, don’t be deceived that Christianity requires you to do anything on your own. Do you really believe that it is possible to be yoked with Christ? Do you really believe that He is with you? Really? Then go out and do the thing He is asking you to do even thought it seems impossible. If He is asking you to do it, you can be sure He isn’t asking you to do it alone! Remember: “God is with me.”

God is Powerful. Really?

supermanWhen I was a kid, I was never a big Superman fan. He wasn’t that interesting to me because he was too powerful. I mean really, he had super strength, super hearing, and super vision. He could fly and he was invulnerable. I know the whole Kryptonite thing was hard for him, but in general he just seemed too powerful. It didn’t seem realistic that anything or anyone could stop him. I couldn’t really believe that there could be a being that powerful. I couldn’t buy it.

Plus, he always seemed so serious. Smile Superman!

Today, I think we often have the same attitude about God that I had about Superman. On one hand, we say things like:

  • God is the Creator of all things!
  • God is all-powerful!
  • Nothing is impossible with God!

But I think we struggle to believe that He really is that powerful. We can’t relate to Him in that way at all. And since we can’t really understand it, I think we struggle to really believe it. We may say we believe that God is powerful. We may think we believe God is powerful. But we often don’t really believe that He is powerful. Our lack of belief is revealed when we say things like:

  • I could never forgive my spouse for that!
  • Our family will never be whole again!
  • There is no way that person will ever find God!

But Scripture is bursting with descriptions of an all-powerful God. A God without limits. A God that can do anything He wishes to do!

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. – Genesis 1:1

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. – Philippians 2:13

Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen. – Jude 1:24-25

So here is a challenge for you today.

  1. Think about that situation that seems hopeless. Consider that person that seems unreachable. Think about that problem that seems beyond repair.
  2. Wrestle with the reality that with YOU these things are impossible, but with GOD they are possible. YOU do not have the power, but HE does.
  3. Pray for wholehearted, genuine belief in His power and trust in His goodness to do what is best.
  4. Pray for that situation, person, problem. Hand it over to the One for Whom all things are possible, and then trust Him.

Superman is a comic book character. God is real-world Creator. He really is that powerful. He’s got this. Really.

God is Good. Really?

GoodGod is good!

I hear it all the time. I hear it when the house sells, we get the promotion, someone gives us free tickets, we ace the test, the test results are negative, she says “yes”…the list goes on and on. God is good. And I agree…He is!

I hear it all the time, but I’m not sure we really believe it. I think what we often mean is something more like “God did what I asked Him to do!”

Don’t think so? Well, what if no one buys the house, we get fired, we lose the tickets, we flunk the test, we need surgery, or she says “no”. Is God still good? Does His goodness depend on how situations turn out? Does His goodness depend on our human understanding of happy endings? Is God good because He seems good to us, or is He just good? 

The next time you notice life going well, shout out “God is good!”

And the next time life leaves you hanging, shout out “God is good!” Try it. See if you believe it!

Keep Looking Up!

Keep Looking Up!Keep looking up! It is often the last thing I say to people (including myself). Let me tell you why…

You may be confused, scared, angry, or incredibly sad. You may feel forgotten, abused, misused, or mistrusted. You may be full of pride or swallowed-up with self-pity. You may be full of lust or devoid of feelings altogether. You may be letting the world suck you in and tear you up, or you may be sheltering yourself from everything and everyone. In a word, you may be having a problem with “focus”.

You and I can only focus on one thing at a time, and most of the time it is on the things of this world. We allow ourselves to focus on the things of this earth and not the things of God. The good, the bad, and the ugly captivate and overwhelm us.

It was no different 2,000 years ago, which prompted the Apostle Paul to write this reminder that we still need today:

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. – Colossians 3:1-2

So the next time you find yourself focused on the realities of earth, let Paul’s reminder be a reminder to you. Stop looking at things from the world’s perspective, and start looking at them from Christ’s perspective. Shift your eyes from the things of earth to the things of heaven.

So keep looking up! Christ is seated securely on His throne! His Kingdom is secure! His rule is absolute! If you have chosen to follow Christ, you are free! You are God’s adopted son or daughter! You have been washed clean! You have within you the fullness of Christ Himself! You can honor Him in everything you do…you can!

You might consider writing these two verses on a note card and taping it to your dashboard, your mirror in the bathroom, or your desk. Memorize them. Meditate on them. Figure out a way to remind yourself of them as often as possible, and consider actually looking up when you remember these truths.

And the next time you see me (Tom), remind me to keep looking up! I probably need the reminder too:-)