Enoch’s 4 Keys to Smooth Transitions

An important attribute for having a happy and successful life is the ability to make smooth transitions. Why? Because transitions are one of the most inescapable features of life.

Instead of remaining a baby, we transition to childhood. After childhood, we encounter numerous changes as we shift into our teen years. After that, we’re invited to mature into an adult…a senior citizen…and, after we die, a citizen of eternity.

There are many other transitions along the way, and they’re never stress-free.

While it may be exhilarating to go from singlehood to matrimony, the transition isn’t easy. And sometimes the marriage ends, either because of the spouse’s death or an unwanted divorce, requiring a whole new transition.

You probably have experienced numerous other transitions. Perhaps you’ve been downsized at work and have bounced from job to job. Or maybe you’re navigating the opportunities and perils of retirement. Or perhaps you’ve come to point of losing your independence to assisted living.

Each transition has its own unique challenges. Although we sometimes go kicking and screaming into the next phase of life, there’s no way to keep things the same forever. Like it or not, we must keep moving on in our journey.

Enoch’s Amazing Story

Recently I found myself thinking about the remarkable transition made by a famous man in the Bible: “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24).

The Good News Translation says, “He spent his life in fellowship with God, and then he disappeared.” And The Message paraphrase explains that after he “walked steadily with God…one day he was simply gone: God took him.

Even though we’re not given much additional information about Enoch’s startling transition, the New Testament puts him in the Hall of Fame of Faith: “It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying – ‘he disappeared, because God took him.’ For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5 NLT).

Most people just get old and die, but Enoch was snatched off the earth seemingly in the prime of his life. No reason is given, except that God chose to take him.

Despite the sketchy details of how this happened, Enoch’s story can teach us some very important lessons about handling life’s transitions:

  1. As much as possible, prepare yourself for the transition.

Enoch was as ready as he could be for his sudden departure. He had walked closely and consistently with the Lord, lived a life of faith, and maintained a reputation as someone who pleased God. Perhaps his abrupt passage into heaven could be explained by the fact that he had passed the tests of his earthly sojourn and was now ready to advance to the next phase of his journey.

Nothing prepares us better for heaven than to faithfully serve God’s purposes while on the earth. You’ve probably met people who are living for the devil today, yet plan to give their lives to Jesus on their deathbed. Bad idea! Today is the day of salvation, and if someone hardens their heart now, they’re unlikely to repent “just in time” for heaven.

But Enoch’s story isn’t just about “getting to heaven.” Instead, it illustrates that the line between heaven and earth is actually a lot thinner than we may have thought. Enoch was already experiencing a certain amount of heaven in his daily relationship with the Lord, having so much fun that eternity probably seemed like an unexpected bonus.

Did Enoch experience any trials and tribulations along the way? Undoubtedly so. However, nothing prepares us better for the unexpected catastrophes of life than to follow his example of already having a firm foundation of trusting and obeying the Lord (Matthew 7:24-27).

His example also encourages us to avoid spiritual stagnation or getting “stuck” somewhere in our journey. The description of Enoch “walking with God” implies motion – a life of continual growth and progress. Sometimes Christians focus so much on their “new birth” experience that they fail to do what’s necessary to keep developing in their faith. In contrast, Enoch was growing in intimacy with God right up to the time his earthly life ended.

In recent years, I’ve been intrigued by the “suddenlies” mentioned in the Bible – stories about God giving people a dramatic breakthrough in a moment of time. Enoch certainly experienced one of these “suddenly” moments when the Lord unexpectedly snatched him from the earth. But notice: Years of preparation occurred before this breakthrough moment. Enoch had willingly undertaken the slow, steady process of walking with God before his sudden transition to the gates of heaven.

This is such a great lesson for us. If we’re hoping for a supernatural breakthrough in our health, finances, emotions, or family, God may require us to patiently prepare our hearts and take small steps of faith before the miracle happens.

  1. Experience the next phase in advance.

To the watching world, Enoch’s sudden translation into heaven probably seemed to come “out of the blue” and without warning. He was just out taking a walk, after all! He wasn’t even sick when God decided to take him.

However, maybe the transition wasn’t nearly as sudden as it seemed. Reading between the lines, it’s apparent that Enoch had already tasted of heaven during his daily walks with God. You see, even in this present life, we can experience “the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5).

Once again, the story provides a principle about transitions. Before the day when we enter fully into the portals of heaven, we can have heavenly encounters with the supernatural realm. Remember the ladder between heaven and earth that Jacob saw in Genesis 28?

It’s also interesting that the Israelites tasted some of the fruit of the Promised Land before actually entering into their inheritance there (Numbers 13:20).

So let’s get practical in applying this lesson to life’s transitions:

  • If you’re getting ready to be married, you’re wise to spend time being mentored by those who already have strong marriages.
  • If you’re about to become a parent, it’s important to learn from others who’ve successfully raised their children.
  • If you’re planning to launch your first business, it’s vital to spend time with entrepreneurs who have displayed wisdom in building their own company.
  • If you sense God calling you into some role of ministry, it’s smart to find others who are already functioning in that same calling.
  • If you’re getting ready to retire, there’s much you can learn from those who have already successfully made that transition.

The point is this: Before you transition into a new chapter of life, you should do the best you can to get a taste of that next phase in advance.

  1. Let go of your present circumstances so you can embrace the upcoming stage of your journey.

While we don’t know much about Enoch’s circumstances, it was clearly necessary for him to let go of his earthly life in order to move forward into his heavenly life. I’ve always loved the analogy of a trapeze artist, who must let go of one trapeze in order to transition to the next. But although it may be exhilarating to watch a trapeze artist, the process is much more hazardous than it looks.

Yes, people often cheer when a preacher says, “God is doing a NEW thing!” But let’s get real: Most of the time, we would prefer to hang on to the familiar and the comfortable. Moving into unfamiliar territory is usually frightening, and perhaps that’s why God warned the Israelites, “You have not passed this way before” (Joshua 3:4).

Years ago, I experienced a stunning example of this requirement to “let go” in order to experience God’s next assignment. My Grandpa Fraggiotti had congestive heart failure and eventually passed into a deep coma. This went on for a number of days, and there was no change in his condition. We sensed that, out of sheer determination, he was fighting to stay alive. Perhaps this was caused by fear of the unknown, or maybe he simply didn’t want to leave his loved ones.

Even though he was unconscious, we decided to share with him some comforting words about the transition he was about to make. We reminded him of God’s love and of the fact that he had publically given his life to Christ many years before. We also assured him of our love and of our confidence that we would one day all be together with him in heaven.

Surprisingly, within about an hour of our “conversation” with Grandpa, he simply quit breathing. After many days of fighting to hang on to life, he peacefully relinquished himself to God (Luke 23:46).

You probably aren’t yet facing a crossroads like Grandpa Fraggiotti was that day. However, his story beautifully illustrates the necessity of letting go before you can move on. This principle applies not only when you’re standing at death’s door, but to every other transition along the way.

  1. Pour your life into the next generation.

Many other people in Enoch’s generation outlived him. From an earthy perspective, this may seem sad, or even unjust. Yet this shows that the real question is never the amount of years in our life, but rather the amount of life in years. To be honest, some people live lives that are so inconsequential that it’s as if they never lived at all.

When you dig a little deeper into Enoch’s story, you find that his son Methuselah lived longer than anyone else who ever lived! What a great lesson about raising up kids, grandkids, or other young people who can go much further in life than we ever could.

For example, remember how Elijah mentored Elisha? Although Elijah was an incredible man of God, the Bible records that twice as many miracles were performed by his protégé Elisha.

Likewise, Jesus made an astounding prediction about the impact His followers would have: “He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father (John 14:12).

At first glance, you may not see any connection between equipping the next generation and getting ready for your own transitions. But think about it: Until others are raised up to do what you are currently doing, it makes no sense for you to transition into some greater role. Preparing the next generation for success is a critical component in transitioning to the next phase of your journey.

Fear Not!

If you follow Enoch’s four principles, transitions never again need to be a scary process. You’ll be well prepared for each new step in your journey, confident that God is moving you “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV).

So go ahead and walk with God today and every day. If you do, your earthly life will be filled with “goodness and mercy,” and someday you’ll step into eternity – able to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).

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Ketogenic Spirituality

I recently gained an important spiritual insight from an unlikely source. I was listening to a radio program touting the benefits of a new weight-loss craze called the Ketogenic Diet.

The basic concept of the Ketogenic Diet is that you should only consume calories during 8 hours of the day, such as from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The remaining 16 hours should be spent burning off the calories you’ve already consumed and the fat that’s already stored in your cells.

“Most of us Americans could live a long time just by burning our fat deposits,” the program host confidently pointed out. “Yet because we keep taking in more and more calories, the energy in those fat cells is never utilized.”

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not meant to be an endorsement of the Ketogenic Diet or any other approach to weight loss. I’m just exploring a similar spiritual principle.

Listening to this program, I was fascinated by the parallels between physical and spiritual obesity. Both conditions are the result of taking in more nourishment than we utilize. When we consume more food calories than we burn, the excess is stored as fat – and the same principle holds true when we consume an excess of spiritual calories.

Let me explain…

Me and Ezra

I’ve been a Christian a long time, ever since I was 18. I’ve heard countless sermons, listened to thousands of hours of Christian broadcasting, and read a myriad of books, magazines, and blogs. Not content to with secondhand spiritual nourishment, I’ve also spent a lot of time in personal Bible study.

I guess you could say I’ve been well nourished spiritually. For the most part, that’s a good thing, because I’ve met many Christians who seem malnourished and stunted in their spiritual development. Maybe they’ve been born again, but they’ve never learned the importance of receiving and digesting the truths of God’s Word.

So I’ve been blessed by the spiritual nutrition I’ve received.

Nevertheless, I’m troubled by the fact that much of the spiritual input I’ve received has never been implemented. I can quote a lot of Bible verses I’m still not walking in, and that’s a problem: It’s a prescription for becoming spiritually fat  without becoming spiritually strong.

In contrast, Ezra is a great example of a Biblical leader who practiced “ketogenic” spirituality. Look at this beautiful description of his life:

Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel (Ezra 7:10 ESV).

Notice the 3 key verbs in this passage: STUDY…DO…TEACH. All 3 are necessary for well-rounded discipleship, yet very few of us are following Ezra’s model.

If we study  (or listen to sermons) without doing  and teaching, we will inevitably become spiritually flabby. But if we study with a commitment to put the lessons into practice and then pass them on to others, we’ll become spiritually strong, and our life will have great impact.

One of the reasons Jesus taught with such authority  was that He not only had studied the Scriptures, but He also had put them into practice. In the same way, people will only respond to our teaching to the degree in which we’ve first implemented the teachings in our own life.

Fallow Ground

In addition to Ezra 7:10, I’ve found myself convicted by another Bible passage lately:

Sow for yourselves righteousness;
Reap in mercy;
Break up your fallow ground,
For it is time to seek the Lord,
Till He comes and rains righteousness on you
(Hosea 10:12 NKJV).

What does it mean that we must break up our “fallow ground”?  NIV translates this “unplowed ground,”  while NLT says “hard ground.”

I picture this as fertile ground God has given us, but which we’ve never taken time to plow and develop. Like the unutilized calories described in the Ketogenic Diet, we’re sitting on untapped potential.

So let’s get personal: What are some things God has given you, but which are currently lying dormant and unproductive?

Here are a few examples to consider:

  • Spiritual gifts or natural aptitudes you’re not doing anything with. Peter warned that God has gifted you, and you’re called to USE your spiritual gifts to serve others (1 Peter 4:10).
  • Excess money in your savings account or retirement fund that could be invested for Kingdom purposes. It would be tragic to follow the example of the fearful servant who chose to bury the resources his master had entrusted to him (Matthew 25:14-30).
  • A God-given dream for an invention or business you’ve never set in motion. A vision that isn’t written down or communicated to others is simply hot air, worthless in making an impact (Habakkuk 2:1-3).

It’s time to start burning your spiritual fat reserves!

My 3-Year Plan

Here’s the backstory on why I’m so grieved about this issue of unplowed ground and unutilized vision…

God recently brought to my attention that I have written more than 8 books that no one has ever read. And that’s not counting several smaller booklets that are already completed, nor the books I’ve started but never finished.

Do you see how horrible this is? Much of the “ground” God has entrusted to me still hasn’t been plowed and put into production.

This is unacceptable…even sinful! In the next 3 years, I must do everything I can to break up my fallow ground and utilize these resources the Lord has put in my hands.

Perhaps you noticed that Hosea 10:12 not only issues a challenge for us to seek the Lord, break up our unutilized ground, and sow seeds. It also contains a wonderful promise, that if we do those things, He will send us rain and grant us an abundant harvest.

So what are we waiting for?

In my case, time is already ticking on my 3-year plan. Like any good plan, it will never come to pass without focus  on my part and favor  on God’s part.

What is God calling YOU to do in the next few years? If you hear His voice, today’s a great day to get started toward your legacy (Hebrews 3:14-15).

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Does Anyone Believe in You?

With four seconds left in the game and trailing the Saints, 24-23, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum lofted a desperation pass to Stefon Diggs near the New Orleans 35-yard line. After Diggs went high in the air to snag the pass, coaches yelled at him to get out of bounds so the Vikings could attempt a last-second field goal.

But Diggs disregarded his coaches. When no one tackled him, he decided to head for the end zone instead of going out of bounds. In one of the most amazing finishes in NFL playoff history, he went untouched to a 61-yard touchdown as time expired.

If you didn’t see the play, you may want to check it out on YouTube.

After the game, Case Keenum said it was the third happiest day of his life – behind the day he gave his life to Jesus Christ and the day he married his wife.

Pretty cool…

Yet I was even more  struck by something Stefon Diggs said after the game, as he fought back tears of joy and disbelief. “My coach believed in me…my quarterback believed in me…and God believed in me,”  he explained.

I don’t know much about Stefon’s background. But reading between the lines, I wondered if he was implying that his coach, his quarterback, and God were the ONLY three who really believed in him!

Most of us have faced some naysayers along the way, and it’s a powerful experience when you know someone truly believes in you.

That’s why one of my favorite Bible verses is 2 Corinthians 7:16, where the apostle Paul writes, I rejoice that I have confidence in you in everything.”  Although most people have never given much thought to this verse, it contains a life-changing principle, especially when you realize who Paul was writing to.

You see, the Corinthians were his “problem church.” Paul’s letters reveal that they were seriously divided, with factions supporting various human leaders. They also argued about spiritual gifts, meat offered to idols, and even Jesus’ resurrection. The squabbles were so intense that the Corinthians were taking each other to court before the city’s secular magistrates.

Even the Lord’s Supper had become a problem. While it was supposed to be a unifying practice in the church, it has become a travesty in Corinth, a total embarrassment. Meanwhile, the church was tolerating blatant immorality among its members, and no one was doing anything to confront the misdeeds.

If all this dysfunction wasn’t enough, Paul realized that many of the Corinthians no longer respected his leadership – even though he had been used by God to bring them the Gospel.

How would you  handle a church like this?

Even though you or I may have been tempted to just knock the dust off our feet and have nothing further to do with the Corinthian believers, Paul had a quite different approach…

I rejoice that I have confidence in you in everything.”

Doesn’t that sound ludicrous based on the condition of these wayward Christians? Well, yes, it sounds pretty crazy…unless you understand one of Paul’s most important leadership secrets: His confidence in the Corinthians was based upon His confidence in the Lord.

“Such confidence we have through Christ TOWARD GOD”  (2 Corinthians 3:4 NASB).

Is there someone today you’re struggling to have confidence in? Perhaps you’ve lost hope that anything will ever change with your spouse, a son or daughter, or someone in your church or workplace.

We’ve all come to that place at one time or another, losing hope that those around us will ever change. And to be honest, sometimes they don’t  change.

However, the basis of Paul’s secret was his confidence that God would answer his prayers and turn things around in the people and situations that concerned him. For example, immediately after telling the Philippians of his constant prayers for them, he made this beautiful declaration of confidence in how they would turn out:

“I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus”  (Philippians 1:6 NASB).

I can’t help wondering where Stefon Diggs would be today if someone didn’t believe in him. For that matter, where would you or I be if God hadn’t sent friends and mentors to encourage us and believe in us?

Perhaps you’re struggling today, feeling like no one expects you to succeed. Maybe your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends, or your boss have expressed their displeasure and their doubts – and perhaps you don’t even believe in yourself.

If so, remember Paul’s message to the Corinthians. While things didn’t look very good on the surface, he bet on God to turn things around and complete the work He started.

Even with only four seconds left on the clock, with God’s help you just might score the winning touchdown.

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2018: Your Year of New Beginnings and Discovering the ‘8th Option’

I’ve never spent much time thinking about Biblical numerology. But this year is different.

As we enter into 2018, I find myself thinking about the number “8” – God’s number of resurrection and new beginnings.

If you want a detailed explanation, I suggest a Google search. But here are a few simple observations:

  • Since 7 is God’s number of completion, 8 starts a new cycle of things.
  • Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, which was the 8th day from the start of the week He was crucified.
  • Noah was the 8th person to enter the ark, an event marking a whole new beginning for humankind.
  • Even apart from Biblical events, the world recognizes 8 as a number signifying a fresh start. For example, a week contains 7 days, so the 8th day is always the beginning of a new week. Likewise, musical octaves (from Latin octavus, meaning eighth) go from A to G (7 steps) before starting again at 8.

Perhaps you’re not very interested in Biblical numerology, but here’s a message that can be life-changing:

For many of us, 2018 could end up becoming “The Year of the 8th Option.”

Let me explain, using the story in 1 Samuel 16 of how David was selected among 7 other options …

The chapter begins with the Lord telling the prophet Samuel to visit Jesse’s house to anoint one of his sons as the next king. Seeing Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, Samuel immediately assumed this was the one he should anoint as king.

You and I might have jumped to the same conclusion, assuming that the first option was the best option. However, if we’re wise, we will heed the Lord’s warning to Samuel:

Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

Let’s be honest: We’ve all failed this test at one time or another. We’ve looked at the “outward appearance” of things instead of discerning God’s choice and matters of the heart. We’ve been so eager to resolve a matter that we didn’t wait for the best option to appear.

In many ways, this was how the previous king had been selected. Saul was tall and handsome, coming from a good family and seeming to have a servant’s heart. Yet the choice turned out to be disastrous. This time Samuel wanted to make sure they got things right, so he intently listened to God’s instructions.

One by one, Jesse paraded his sons before Samuel. After Eliab came Abinadab, Shammah, and 7 sons in all. He must have been shocked when the prophet informed him after seeing the first 7 options, “The Lord has not chosen these” (v. 10).

Perhaps this is exactly where you find yourself as we enter 2018. You applied for jobs that seemed promising, but the door was always closed. You dated someone you had hopes of marrying, but things fell through. You found a publisher you wanted to handle your book, but they turned you down. You and your spouse had hopes of being pregnant by now, but somehow it still hasn’t happened.

In the case of Samuel, 7 very promising options appeared, yet the Lord refused to bless any of them. What could the problem be?

As the story unfolds, we see that God turned down the first 7 options for a very good reason: He had something BETTER in mind!   

Samuel probably felt some frustration at this point. He had attempted to meticulously follow God’s instructions, only to reach an apparent dead end. Can you relate?

“Are ALL the young men here?”  he finally asked Jesse.

Jesse replied that, yes indeed, there was an 8th option: “There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep” (v. 11).

Don’t you love how Jesse says this? “There remains…” another option. Even when you feel like you’ve already exhausted all the options, it’s good to know that God isn’t done yet!

However, Jesse played down the qualifications of his son David. After all, he was the youngest of the sons, consigned to take care of the sheep while the older brothers were invited to attend Samuel’s prestigious gathering.

In the same way, perhaps there’s an option you’ve overlooked. Maybe there’s someone who’s not even on your radar screen right now, but they are called to be a vital part of your life or your team. Perhaps they’re an afterthought, not even invited to the party.

After Samuel took oil and anointed David in the presence of his very surprised brothers, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward” (v. 13).

Notice that something changed  for David that day. Although he probably was already a godly young man, no one seemed to recognize any special gifts or spiritual empowerment until Samuel anointed him. This day was a new beginning for David – and ultimately for the entire nation of Israel.

As we head into 2018, I hear many of you saying to yourself, “I feel like I’m running out of options.”  That could be a FANTASTIC place to be!

Remember: Only after Samuel ran out of visible options did he discover the 8th option – GOD’S option. And David not only was the last  option…he also was the best  option.

I’m praying for you today. Although you may be growing weary of “hope deferred”  (Proverbs 13:12), the answer to your hopes and dreams may be right around the corner.

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Avoiding Emotional Roller Coasters in 2018

Roller coasters are for young people. If you’re over 50 and still like roller coasters, I think you’re either crazy, or perhaps you just like going to chiropractors.

People probably like roller coasters for the same reason they like scary movies. There’s an undeniable adrenaline surge when you think your life’s in jeopardy.

But I’m not sure that’s a healthy way to live.

I’ve discovered lately that many people who no longer ride Disney World roller coasters are instead riding roller coasters of a different kind. Rather than pay the exorbitant gate fees at an amusement park, they’ve developed the habit of riding relational and emotional roller coasters.

Even though you don’t have to pay a gate fee for an emotional roller coaster, there’s a high cost nevertheless. So I’m determined to do my best to avoid emotional and relational roller coasters in the coming year.

How about you?

In order to minimize life’s emotional roller coasters, we must recognize how we’ve unwittingly ridden them in the past. This may require a painful walk down Memory Lane, but it’s worth the effort.

Here are 4 tips for avoiding emotional roller coasters in 2018:

  1. Minimize your contact with dysfunctional people. If you’re a therapist, this tip would be detrimental to your career. But for the rest of us, we need to choose our inner circle of friends carefully. Solomon warned, “Do not associate with those given to change; for their calamity will rise suddenly” (Proverbs 24:21-22).

Of course, it’s impossible to completely avoid dysfunctional people unless you become a hermit. And then the only dysfunctional person causing you problems would be yourself…

But let’s get real: Compassionate, caregiving people like me tend to spend far too much time in codependent, unhealthy, nonproductive relationships. Too often, we try to fix people who don’t really want to be fixed. Instead of making them any better, our own lives just become worse.

If you closely attach yourself to people who love emotional roller coasters, you will end up joining them on a jolting ride through life. Yes, if you love drama, it will be hard to give this up. But for me, life is too short for roller coasters.

  1. Make sure your life is built upon rock rather than sand. Jesus warned about this in Matthew 7:24-27, describing the fate of two different men who built houses. I’ve never noticed it before, but the man whose house was on a rock had a comparatively boring life! Hurricanes and floods could come along, and he was able to rest securely within the unshakeable home he had built. In contrast, the other man experienced an adrenaline surge every time a storm came his way. He never knew whether the sand under his house would suddenly give way during a stressful time. He ended up with a roller coaster life, continually subject to the weather patterns of his surrounding circumstances.

As a kid, one of my favorite stories was “The 3 Little Pigs.” Two of the three pigs had houses that could be blown down by the big bad wolf – who was a fitting image of the devil. Yet the third pig was safe from the enemy’s attacks. In addition to building his house with strong materials, there was a FIRE in his fireplace – a great picture of someone whose heart is on fire with passion for the Lord. If I had to be a pig, I would like to follow his example.

  1. Tie your emotions to eternal, unchanging things rather than the transitory conditions around you. If your state of mind is based on the weather or the daily stock market report, you’ll inevitably live a roller coaster life. Likewise, you’ll be a very moody person if you allow your disposition to be determined by how you’re treated by your boss, your coworkers, or even your spouse.

Too often, we’re like the teen girl trying to figure out if her boyfriend really loves her. Picking the petals off a daisy, she says to herself, “He loves me. He loves me not…”

But the good news is that we can tie our self-image to a Someone whose love is unchanging. There’s no roller coaster with His love, for He’s continually telling us, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3) and “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Not only does the Bible say your Heavenly Father loves you, but it also declares that He will never change His mind on that! Realizing this unchanging truth is an essential step in getting off of your emotional or spiritual roller coaster.

  1. Beware of physical factors that cause your emotions to fluctuate. The link between your body and your emotions is profound. If your body rides on a roller coaster of sugar, caffeine, junk food, and drugs (prescription or otherwise), your emotions are sure to follow. Likewise, yo-yo diets and bipolar sleep habits will tend to cause yo-yo, bipolar emotions.

And just as your body affects your emotions, the reverse is true as well. Solomon pointed out that the condition of your mind and emotions will bring either health or harm to your physical well-being: “A sound mind makes for a robust body, but runaway emotions corrode the bones” (Proverbs 14:30 MSG). Even without roller coasters in Solomon’s day, he could see the danger of “runaway emotions.”

Romantic Roller Coasters

If you’ve found yourself on a wild roller coaster ride in recent years, you’re certainly not alone. As I’ve documented in previous blogs, my good friend Ron has been a poster child for the roller coaster life.

Whenever an attractive woman shows Ron any attention, his heart goes flitter flutter. His hormones send his emotions sky high, making him feel intoxicated and strangely invincible. It’s like being an infatuated high school kid all over again.

However, you’ve probably heard the saying, “What goes up, must come down.” I’m not sure that adage is always true, but it surely has been the case with Ron. The elation he feels when he “falls in love” is quickly replaced by depression when the relationship doesn’t work out.

Although Ron’s pursuit of love is inherently hazardous, I’m convinced the romantic roller coaster can at least be minimized…

  • Roller coasters are not as dangerous if they proceed at a slower, more deliberate pace. Although it’s seldom easy to slow down the freight train of love, it’s wise to at least include a few speed bumps on the journey.
  • I keep telling Ron to fix his eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Once again, this is easy for me to say and hard for Ron to do. Yet this is the ONLY way to main God’s perfect peace amid a dating relationship or any other new endeavor in life (Isaiah 26:3, Colossians 3:15).
  • One of the discouraging things about roller coasters is that they never really take you anywhere. After all the ups and downs, you arrive back at the same place where you started. This is a lot like the 40-year circular path the Israelites took in the wilderness. In contrast, God has a plan for your life, and that plan includes PROGRESS toward His PURPOSES. Every relationship or endeavor should be evaluated on whether it’s taking you further down the road toward God’s ultimate purpose.

So, are you ready to stay off unnecessary roller coasters in 2018? Are you willing to minimize the extreme highs and lows, opting instead for a slow, steady, purposeful walk with the Lord?

If you’re still young, I can understand why you might want to treat life like a face-paced, adrenaline-producing video game. But at my age, I’m finding that I must be strategic about how I spend my time and energy.

Let me know what you think! Am I being too hard on the roller coaster life?

Although my blogs and tweets are always free of charge, notice that there’s a DONATE button on my website, a convenient way to make a tax-deductible donation to Crosslink Ministries, my ministry outreach.

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The Happiness Switch

How 2017 Unexpectedly Became My Happiest Year in Decades

Like King David in the Bible, many of my journal entries in recent years could have been titled, “Why am I so depressed…so dissatisfied with life?” This was especially true most years in November and December, when I faced holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

So it came as a surprise when I noticed this month that I’m happier than I’ve been in years – even decades. How could this be, when most things in my life are exactly the same as they’ve been for the past several years?

Strangely, although I still have the same job, friends, and marital status as I did a year ago, somehow my perspective is radically different. This seemed puzzling at first. Yes, God used my sabbatical in May and June to change my outlook, and the birth of my first grandchild certainly helped as well. But I’m convinced that my new perspective has little to do with any external changes in my life this year – the transformation has been almost entirely a matter of the heart.

While some aspects of my new outlook are difficult to put into words, I’ve identified 6 specific adjustments God supernaturally brought to my attitude this year. Perhaps these will be helpful to you as well:

  1. No more striving. During my sabbatical I recognized my bad habit of striving for God’s affection or people’s applause. How stupid! God already loves me – enough to send His Son to die in my place – and there’s absolutely nothing I can do earn more of His love or favor. That’s a life-changing realization! Likewise, there’s no need to strive for more kudos from other people. Those who matter  in my life already love me, and if someone doesn’t  love me, I guess they don’t really matter.

This year I also recognized the unhealthy ways I’ve been striving to make more of an impact. Although it’s noble to desire a greater impact for God’s kingdom, my self-image had become far too entangled with my perception of the impact I was having. God had to take me to the other side of the world – New Zealand – to show me the startling fact that I already am making an incredible impact.

While I was in the process of questioning my usefulness and impact, the Lord reminded me that I’m part of an international ministry that’s recording more than one million salvations through our evangelistic outreaches this year. Also, there have been 30 million views of our daily discipleship videos, and I was directly involved in writing the scripts for those. In addition, I wrote books, booklets, pamphlets, and magazine articles that have impacted thousands of people.

I’m not citing this evidence to boast, but rather to illustrate how crazy it is to for me to strive for greater self-esteem based on increasing my accomplishments. It’s time to REST and REJOICE in what God has done!

  1. No more envy. Until this summer, I never realized the deadly grip jealousy and envy had on me. The final item of the Ten Commandments warns about this: “You shall not covet…anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). God has done a remarkable work in delivering me from envy the past six months, and this has resulted in incredible JOY!

No longer do I envy ANYONE. Others may have a bigger salary, a nicer house, and a faster car, but I don’t envy them. And although I have friends who’ve gotten engaged this year, I’m not envious of them, nor of my friends who already have happy marriages.

In Philippians 4:19, the apostle Paul describes the Lord’s ability to meet our needs, and it’s great to know that miraculous provision is possible during our times of lack. But, earlier in the chapter, Paul spoke about another  amazing secret he had learned – the ability to be content regardless of his present circumstances (vs. 11-12). When we recognize how blessed we already are, there’s no need to envy those around us – and that should be a cause for great rejoicing.

  1. No more regrets. If you have regrets today, I can sympathize. None of us is happy about everything we’ve done in past, nor everything that happened to If we’re honest, there are certainly some things we wish had turned out differently.

However, this year Romans 8:28 has become more than a nice religious memory verse for me. God truly can turn ALL things around for good when we love Him and seek to fulfill His purposes. Without the agony of Jesus’ cross, there would have been no forgiveness. And somehow God always uses our “crosses” to release more of His resurrection power and blessings.

Perhaps you’ve faced some horrendous events you can’t even begin to understand right now. My heart goes out to you. But I believe the day will come when you’ll be able to say along with Joseph, “God meant it for GOOD” (Genesis 50:20). You’ll cast off the regrets holding you captive, enabling you to get unstuck from the traumas that once caused you unspeakable pain.

  1. No more complaining. Like never before, I’m making an effort to replace grumbling with gratitude. Paul had a lot he could have complained about while sitting in a Roman prison cell. But instead he chose to focus on the people he was thankful for (Philippians 1:3-7) and the things in his life that were praiseworthy (4:4-8). That kind of adjusted focus goes a long way toward experiencing a happier and more joyful life.

I’m sure I’ll continue to struggle with this at times. I’ll be tempted to complain about aches and pains, singleness, the traffic in Charlotte, and countless other annoyances. But thankfully God has given me the power to change my focus and choose gratitude – and that makes all the difference.

  1. No more worries. At my advanced age, there are plenty of things a person could worry about. We worry about future health problems and wonder who would take care of us in that event. We worry about whether our financial reserves will run out before we die. We worry about being alone in our latter years. And I’m sure you can think of some other things to worry about as well…

Once again, my circumstances haven’t changed much, but my perspective is quite different than it was last year at this time. Why waste time and emotional energy worrying, when God has consistently proven Himself faithful throughout the years?

When I reflect on my past, I notice that the things I worried about seldom actually happened. Instead, God provided what I needed, even if it was at the last minute. Shouldn’t I trust Him to provide for me in the future too? Hey, during my sabbatical, I lived for six weeks with just the stuff I could fit into a medium-sized suitcase – and I didn’t lack anything.

My concerns about future financial provision gained a better perspective this year when I visited a multimillionaire friend. Once he had lavish homes in several different states, but now he lives in an assisted living center. Although he still has plenty of money, he spends his days in a small, one-room apartment – not much different than the kind of place someone on government assistance would have. Nevertheless, my friend is happy as can be, grateful that he has a bed, a comfortable chair, a TV, his own bathroom, and three meals a day. What else would he really need? At this point, his great wealth has largely become irrelevant.

  1. No more codependence. I’ll admit, I have a long-time habit of trying to rescue people. That may not sound like a problem to you, but sometimes it has caused me unnecessary trouble. You see, those of us who are pastors and caregivers at heart frequently go overboard, forgetting to set boundaries and take care of ourselves.

Recently God reminded me of the beautiful words of Isaiah 9:6-7, “The government will be upon HIS shoulder.”  Too often, I’ve tried to shoulder the problems of the universe on my own shoulders, which is a sure prescription for burnout, if not disaster.

So if you see me trying to rescue a damsel in distress, there’s a good chance you should rebuke me. Instead of trying to solve everyone’s problems, caregivers like me must learn the hard lesson of letting God be God, and pointing people to Him instead of to ourselves (Psalm 46:10). As John the Baptist discovered, we must boldly admit, “I am not the Christ!” (John 1:20).

Imagine the overwhelming joy you’d experience if God set you free from striving…envy…regrets…complaining…worries…and codependence. It would be the best year you’ve had in decades!

I have a few additional reasons for being exceptionally happy this year. My job description at work has undergone some helpful tweaks. My home is also better organized now, because I got rid of some clutter when I moved. It always feels good to get rid of unnecessary “stuff,” doesn’t it?

Looking back on this year, I’m still amazed that most of the significant, joy-producing changes occurred in my heart, not in any of my circumstances. Ironically, these internal transformations probably could have happened in 2016, 2015, or even decades ago. Yet even though I wish I would have learned the lessons much sooner, there’s no time for regrets. Regardless of how long it took me to discover these simple truths, I’m VERY grateful that 2017 turned out to be such a transformational year.

Dear friend, you don’t have to wait until you’re my age to implement these life-changing perspectives. Life is too short to delay any longer. You might as well start being happy as soon as possible.

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6 Secrets from the Magi

We don’t know the exact time frame of the journey made by “wise men from the East”  in search of young King Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). It may have been several months or even a few years after Jesus’ birth when they arrived at Herod’s palace and asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”  (v. 1).

But while some of the details of their journey may be unclear, there’s much we can learn from the wonderful example set by the magi:

  1. Pursuing the Lord was their top priority (v. 1). These men came from a great distance – probably 900 miles or more – to spend time with the Savior. In contrast, King Herod and the religious leaders wouldn’t even travel the six miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The magi showed they weren’t just casual believers, but were committed to seeking a personal encounter with the newborn King. In the same way, shouldn’t we  make it a priority to seek the Lord and spend time in His presence?
  2. They came to worship Him (v. 2). Right from the beginning, the magi made the purpose of their journey clear: “We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”  May that be our  focus as well during this Christmas season. Instead of being distracted by all the trappings of the holidays, let’s take time to worship Jesus!
  3. Nothing could divert them from their mission (vs. 3-8). When God gives us a dream to pursue, we often have to deal with a “King Herod” who tries to distract us along the way. The magi truly proved to be “wise men,” able to discern that King Herod had no intention of furthering their mission. In the same way, we must avoid the influence of toxic people and naysayers during the holiday season.
  4. They had to overcome the discouragement of temporarily losing sight of the star.  If your GPS has ever malfunctioned, you know how frustrating it can be to lose your sense of direction. This seemed to happen to the magi at one point, causing them to seek human guidance when the miraculous star was no longer visible. Yet if we persevere in our pursuit of the Lord’s purpose, His guidance will eventually return. We’ll discover that we’re in the right place after all: “Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!”  (Matthew 2:9-10 MSG).
  5. They not only worshiped Jesus with their words and their time, but they also worshiped Him with a generous offering. “When they had opened their treasures, they presented to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh”  (v. 11). If we have a genuine encounter with our Savior, the King of Kings, how can we not honor Him with our treasure, time, and talents? True worship demands nothing less. Our treasure  and our heart  are always linked together (Matthew 6:21).
  6. They returned home “another way”  (v. 12). Genuine worship will transform us and cause us to walk on a different path than we started on. If necessary, we’ll even be given supernatural direction or be “divinely warned in a dream.”  As you worship Jesus this holiday season, He wants to instruct you, change your life, and give you the miraculous breakthrough you need!

May the Lord give you a fresh revelation of His LOVE for you this Christmas – love that took Him from the glories of heaven to a dusty stable in Bethlehem…to a cross on a Jerusalem hillside…to the right hand of God’s heavenly throne…so that you might enjoy spending eternity with Him.

Take a few moments right now to give God thanks for all He has done in your life. Like the magi, your journey may seem long and difficult at times. However, peace and joy will rise in your heart when you put your focus in the right place this Christmas: “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy”  (v. 10).

That can be your  experience as well.

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The Elusive ‘Proverbs 31’ Ideal Today

When a friend recently asked me to share my thoughts on the “Proverbs 31” woman and man, it unexpectedly was a painful experience. As never before, I realized how cynical I had become on the subject of an ideal marriage. For far too many couples – even Christian couples – the marital ideal of “heaven on earth” has degenerated into something akin to hell on earth.

Solomon (or “King Lemuel”) asks, Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies”  (Proverbs 31:10). Right from beginning, he’s acknowledging that this kind of person is extremely rare and hard to find. And in the previous chapter, Solomon admitted that relationships between men and women were bewildering even to someone as wise as he was (Proverbs 4:18-19).

If it was hard to find a Proverbs 31 woman in Solomon’s day, isn’t the task even more daunting in today’s world? Believers are surrounded by a ME culture rather than a THEE culture. Even in the today’s church, the emphasis is typically on how YOU can have a more fulfilled life, not on how you can lay down your life to honor and serve your spouse or others.

So I ask: Is it even possible  to be a Proverbs 31 woman or man today? With very few observable precedents or role models, has that kind of marriage become something like an unattainable fairy tale?

My cynicism on the subject was compounded several months ago when Lysa TerKeurst, founder of Proverbs 31 Ministries, announced she was divorcing her husband because of his infidelity. Hey, if the head of Proverbs 31 Ministries can’t even make her marriage work, how is there any hope for the rest of us?

I have numerous Christian friends whose marriages seemingly ended through little fault of their own. But while divorce among Christians is certainly a blot on the moral standing of the church today, perhaps there’s an even bigger  scandal: Why are so few marriages happy and thriving, not just surviving?

We all know people who are enduring unhappy marriages, just because they think it’s the Christian think to do. Yet just as divorce is a scandal, so is an unloving, unhappy marriage. Although neither  is a good witness for Christ, we often applaud the martyrs who “hang in there” with unhappy or even abusive marriages.

Back to Proverbs

The Proverbs 31 woman and man are portrayed in quite idealistic, perhaps unattainable, terms:

The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life
(vs. 11-12).

Trust is such a foundational ingredient in any healthy relationship. But who among us is trustworthy all the time? Even if we try our best, we will let people down from time to time. And if our life is characterized by pursuing our own selfish interests instead of dying to ourselves daily, we’re destined to be extremely  untrustworthy as friends or spouses.

She seeks wool and flax,
And willingly works with her hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
She brings her food from afar.

 She also rises while it is yet night,
And provides food for her household,
And a portion for her maidservants
(vs. 13-15).

She is not afraid of snow for her household,
For all her household is clothed with scarlet

 She makes tapestry for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple
(vs. 21-22).

She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness
(v. 27).

What a hard worker this Proverbs 31 woman is, staying up day and night to provide food, clothing, and a beautiful home for her family. She seems like a hybrid of Betty Crocker, Paula Dean, Martha Stewart, and Wonder Woman!

While it’s commendable that this amazing woman “does not eat the bread of idleness,” this statement worries me a little. I’m hopeful she also has the wisdom to take time for rest each week, and periodically to disengage from her many activities by taking a vacation. From the beginning of God’s creation of humankind, he instructed us to both work and rest. Idleness is a good  thing if done in sync with the Lord’s plan and workflow.

Also, when I read these verses, I can’t help wondering about the husband’s role, if any, in the domestic activities of the household. Did he ever do the dishes or help with the laundry? Just wondering…

She considers a field and buys it;
From her profits she plants a vineyard
(v. 16).

She perceives that her merchandise is good,
And her lamp does not go out by night.
She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hand holds the spindle
(vs. 18-19).

She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies sashes for the merchants
(v. 24).

In addition to caring for her family, the Proverbs 31 woman is a successful real estate investor and businesswoman. Wow!

She girds herself with strength,
And strengthens her arms
(v. 17).

It even sounds like she somehow finds time to visit the gym to lift weights and keep her arms toned:

She extends her hand to the poor,
Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy
(v. 20).

On top of her incredibly busy schedule, the Proverbs 31 woman apparently takes time to volunteer for nonprofit organizations and reach out to the poor and needy:

Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come.

She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness
(vs. 25-26).

This woman’s accomplishments and work ethic are fantastic, but something huge would be missing if not for these additional descriptions of her character:

  • She was clothed with honor (which the coming verses point to as an important characteristic of this entire family).
  • She kept an optimistic and hopeful outlook on her family’s future. This is shown more clearly in the NASB translation: “She smiles at the future.”  The opposite of this is to be a worrier, always expecting the worst to happen. Pessimism and worry are traits that not only undercut a person’s relationship with God, but also their marriage and family life.
  • She was kind. This is an enormous character trait for a healthy marriage and family. Many husbands and wives are tremendously successful and productive in their accomplishments, yet they’ve never learned “the law of kindness.”  In contrast, when the Proverbs 31 woman spoke, people knew her words would be filled with wisdom and kindness. Too often, we use our words to win arguments, but this woman knew how to win people’s hearts.

What About the Husband and Kids?

The friend who asked me about Proverbs 31 wanted to know about the Proverbs 31 man too, not just the woman. Hmmm…I wasn’t sure I really knew much about that. The woman is clearly the central figure in the chapter, and I’ve seldom heard anyone comment about her husband.

But we’re given a few indications of what the man was doing while his wife was completing her heroic endeavors:

Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land (v. 23).

The city gates were the place of commerce and government back then, and we see this man sitting “among the elders.”  So, while the Proverbs 31 woman was diligently caring for the household, her husband was out being a leader in the community.

A couple of observations:

  • The husband wouldn’t have had the freedom to hang out with community leaders unless his wife was able to run an orderly household. Once again, we see the importance of the wife’s trustworthiness. The man knew he could safely delegate to her many responsibilities for the family.
  • If the family situation wasn’t reasonably in order, the husband wouldn’t have been able to gain the respect of the community leaders or be recognized as an “elder” (cf. 1 Timothy 3:4-5).
  • A man who isn’t honored and respected by his wife seldom has the self-confidence to successfully lead in the community or the church. As a former pastor, I counseled many men who had been emasculated by the disrespect of their wives. Solomon describes this in several of his previous proverbs, saying it’s better to live on the corner of a roof or in a desert land, than to deal with a contentious woman (Proverbs 21:9, 21:19). The Proverbs 31 man thankfully didn’t have to face that problem.

Although the woman is the hero of this story, the man certainly should be given some credit for helping to create a culture of honor and respect in the family:

Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all”
(vs. 28-29).

Many children today have never learned how to honor and respect other people – not even their mother and father. The fact that the woman’s children in Proverbs 31 can bless her so wholeheartedly is an indication that they first observed their father doing the same.

You’ve probably heard that one of the five love languages is “Words of Affirmation.” While that’s no doubt true, let’s get real: We ALL desire words of affirmation, don’t we? The Proverbs 31 man beautifully modeled this heart of love and encouragement as he openly and enthusiastically praised the virtues of his wife.

Notice that the husband didn’t just tell his wife she’d done a pretty good job. He said, “You excel them ALL.”  In other words, this wise man never fell into the trap of unfavorably comparing his wife to other women. In his eyes, no other woman could ever compare with her.

This story ends with a fitting tribute, summarizing the lasting legacy of the Proverbs 31 woman:

Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates
(vs. 30-31).

This points to an important reason many marriages fail: Often the couple’s romance and marriage began with intense physical attraction, but the rest of the foundation was weak. Although this phenomenon has been true to some degree in every generation, it’s even more blatant and pervasive in today’s world of online dating, social media, and airbrushed magazine ads.

In stark contrast, this passage acknowledges that a person’s outward charm and beauty will ultimately pass away. A strong marriage must have a stronger foundation than that, based on the character  of the partners, not just their appearance or charm. Once again, as he has urged throughout the book of Proverbs, Solomon says our reverential fear of the Lord should be the basis for our character.

What About the Song of Solomon?

If you’ve really been paying attention to the story in Proverbs 31, you may have wondered about another aspect of a happy and thriving marriage: What about SEX – the physical part of a healthy marital relationship? Yes, it’s great to lay a strong foundation of spirituality, character, friendship, and service, but what about ROMANCE – isn’t that important too?

Absolutely, it’s vitally important to nurture the flame of romantic love. Yet, for a number of reasons, this isn’t always easy. Many marriages begin with passion but then fizzle into apathy. Commitment and intentionality are required to keep the romantic fires burning. Physical attraction may have been easy during courtship, but now we must overcome such things as busyness, fatigue, offenses, and simply the deteriorating capacity of our bodies.

Of course, there are lots of excuses and explanations for why a marriage is no longer fun or passionate. Some Christians imply that we just live in a sex-crazed culture, and we should be so spiritual that we don’t need to worry about ongoing romance. As long as they go to church together with their spouse, why should it matter whether they also sleep together?

Well, I believe it does matter. If you’re in your 70s, your physical relationship with your spouse probably will be different  than it was in your 20s, but hopefully it’ll never become nonexistent. Even if intercourse is no longer possible or no longer pleasurable, can’t there at least be hugs, kisses, cuddles, and other physical displays of affection?

That’s why Proverbs 31 shouldn’t be studied without at least some mention of the romantic side of the equation, described in the Song of Solomon. A healthy marriage is not just about food, clothing, finances, and house décor. Right from the beginning, a strong marriage must include a oneness of spirit, soul, and body – and each of these three elements must be cultivated along the way.

Conclusions

It’s not easy. If it was, there would be a lot more marriages that are happy, fulfilling, and lasting.

Marriage must have been easier before sin and selfishness entered the world in Genesis 3. Yet perhaps, even before that, God designed marriage as something meant to be difficult – only possible with His wisdom and help.

No wonder Solomon wrote that a threefold cord is not quickly broken”  (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Without trusting the Lord as the third strand of our marriage, our relationship is vulnerable indeed.

Let’s not forget that in order for a marriage to model heaven on earth, each of the partners must maintain their own heavenly relationship with Christ. Overlooking this key ingredient is why many books and sermons on marriage fall short of their intended outcome.

In order to reflect the atmosphere of heaven, today’s Christian families need a spiritual revolution. And that’s the kind of transformation that would occur if every couple started the day with this simple, heartfelt prayer: Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”  (Matthew 6:10).

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Pencils, Pens & the Mishaps of My Friend Ron

All the way through elementary school, I did my writing with pencils. Each year, “#2 Pencils” were on the top of the school supply list.

But when I arrived in middle school, we were expected to use ink pens instead. The writing experience was certainly better with the pens, but there was one major problem: Ink is difficult to erase.

Eventually, some clever marketers came up with “erasable” pens. But that was false advertising, because they were still  hard to erase. More than once, I ripped a hole in the paper while trying to erase the ink from my pens.

Recently I’ve found myself lamenting the demise of pencils. The pens are now better than ever – and I absolutely love  writing with the new gel pens. But the pens still can’t be erased very well. And White Out usually isn’t a good option either for covering mistakes.

Here’s what I’m going through on this: I miss the days when every mistake seemed easily erasable. Oh for the carefree days of elementary school…

Of course, most people now use emails and social media to do their writing, not pens. But that has made the problem even worse! Have you ever tried to retract  an inappropriate email you sent (such as sending a “Reply All” when you didn’t mean to)? Or perhaps you’ve posted something stupid on social media and then tried to cover your tracks. Good luck on that.

It turns out that once things are in cyberspace, they are even more  difficult to erase than ink pens.

Let me share story about this from my good friend Ron…

A few months ago, Ron met a nice Christian woman on an online dating site. They seemed to really hit things off when they chatted on the phone one night. He could tell they both loved the Lord and had much in common.

Ready to take the next step, a few days later Ron asked her out for dinner that weekend. To his surprise, she sent a text message declining the invitation. The reason? She said he was too old for her!   

Ouch. Yes, Ron is in his 60s and this nice Christian woman was in her 50s. But should that age gap really matter?

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with pencils and pens…

Once again, Ron was greatly surprised when this same woman contacted him a few weeks later, asking if they could keep in touch as “friends.” Although he was open to the idea, there was a problem: Ron couldn’t ERASE the memory of her previous comment that he was too old. Like permanent ink, her evaluation seemed to be forever etched onto his brain.

What a reminder that words are powerful things, capable of imparting “death and life” (Proverbs 18:21). No matter how they are communicated, our words don’t erase easily. And sometimes negative words cause lifelong scarring of the psyche.

However, God can help us heal from people’s words – especially when we spend time listening to HIS words to us instead.

Nevertheless, painful words from people are likely to keep coming from time to time. Right when Ron was beginning to heal from the “You’re too old!” feedback, he met a woman who said he was too fat for her…

Fortunately, your Heavenly Father has a very BIG eraser, capable of removing countless mistakes, flaws, and emotional wounds. As the apostle Paul described, “He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14 CSB). Isn’t it good to know that your debts, liabilities, and blemishes have been erased by the amazing grace of God?

So I encourage you to take time to look into the mirror of His Word today. You’ll discover that you look a lot better than what people have said about you.

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My Boundless Gratitude — in Retrospect

This Thanksgiving was a chance to reflect once again on my “Gratitude Quotient.” I concluded that I’m happier and more grateful than I’ve been in many years.

However, I uncovered a blog I wrote several years ago admitting two disturbing things: (1) I’m still not nearly as grateful as I should be for how God has blessed me; and (2) Many of the things I’m now MOST grateful for are past events I wasn’t grateful for at all  when they were taking place.

I call this second point “gratitude in retrospect,” the phenomenon of being grateful today for situations I once grumbled about.

Perhaps you can relate. Have you gone through difficult times when it was extremely difficult to give thanks? But now, as you look back, you see that God was at work through it all. Gratitude (finally!) rises in your heart as you see how the painful events have been beautifully woven into the fabric of your life.

  • Maybe you had a relationship breakup that tore your very heart…but it paved the way for the Lord to provide someone much better in your life.
  • Maybe you faced a severe trial in your health…but it caused you to make lifestyle changes in your diet and exercise – and now you’re feeling better than ever.
  • Maybe you lost a job you thought you’d have until retirement…but God opened (or will open) a new door that’s a much better fit for your gifts and passions.
  • Maybe you’ve experienced a financial meltdown, such as foreclosure or bankruptcy…but you learned vital lessons that eventually put you on the path to prosperity.
  • Maybe you went through some other difficult experience that has now given you a platform to help others.

These are just a few examples of how “gratitude in retrospect” can occur. I first noticed this in my life a few years ago, when a friend suggested that I write a book about church splits. “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” was my initial thought. “Even though I’m an expert on church splits, who would ever be interested in a book about that?”

But my tech-savvy friend pointed out that 8,000 people every month do a Google search on the subject of church splits. “Wow. There must be a lot of people dealing with this,” I concluded.

As a result of that conversation, I wrote The Complete Guide to Church Splits: Prevention, Survival, and Recovery (which I can send you upon request). This event was a great example to me of Paul’s statement that we can comfort others with the same comfort we received from God during our own times of affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

Working on my book about church splits sparked something much bigger in my heart than just a new book project: I discovered that God had been a lot more faithful than I had given Him credit for. And I became much more grateful for the difficult things I’ve experienced in life – even though my gratitude was too often in retrospect.

I’m still troubled by my struggle to be grateful at the same time as my trials are occurring. The Bible instructs us to give thanks “IN everything,” not just AFTER everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

I’m also sad that although I’ve given lip service to Romans 8:28 for decades, God’s amazing promise there is still not rooted as deeply in my life as it should be. Paul had gone through incredible trials (2 Corinthians 11:22-28), yet he said, “We KNOW that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

As the truth of Romans 8:28 becomes more a part of my life, I hope to become more grateful all the time – not just in retrospect. I want to become increasingly aware that God is always working to “connect the dots” in my life, creating a masterpiece I could never have imagined during my times of adversity.

So I pray you will join me in being grateful TODAY – no matter what the day brings…no matter what you may be going through. You may not understand it all today, but you can be confident the Lord is working out His wonderful plan nevertheless.

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