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Call Me Israel…

Life has gotten busy.  My newborn and three year-old, time for my wife, and then work takes up most of my time.  It is hard to focus long enough on God everyday just in seeking him, let alone finding the time to put thoughts to virtual paper.

I have struggled to read the Bible every day as I had been for nearly a year.  When I do, I just don’t have the time to dig in and spend in it as I had been.  However, I am back on track, most days.

I am on my second time through the Bible.  I am not saying this to boast.  No, quite the opposite.  It is quite humbling.  I did not see the same things when I read before.  And what I am seeing is not good.

I am reading a chronological Bible this time through.  What this means is that this Bible puts everything in a time order of when they happened and/or were written.  Because of this, I am not getting the Old and New Testaments together each day (unless I do a seperate reading).  Spending this much time in the OT (Old Testament) has been eye-opening.

The first time through, I remember thinking, “Man, those Israelites just didn’t get it.  God was constantly taking care of them, providing for them, and protecting them, and all they do is run away from him.  How could they have done that?”

This time through, I am realizing that I am Israel.  Their lives as a nation mirror my life as a Christian.  I constantly run from God and what I know is right…all the while God keeps providing and protecting.  More than that, God gave the ultimate sacrafice of Jesus to pay for my sins (my turning from him) and to give me life with hm forever.  How could I keep turning away from him?

I am Israel.  I don’t trust God, even though he is trustworthy.

I am Israel.  I offer little as I ask for much.  God offers much and asks for little.

I am Israel.  I run away from God, and all he wants me to do is turn to him…even in my sin…so that his faithful love and mercy can change me and bring glory to his name.

Call me Israel.  That is my name.  We are one and the same.  The point is God’s mercy for the glory of his own name.  I just need to trust him, look to him, run to him, and know him as my source for everything.  This is when I will change.

Israel is the name God gave Jacob because of Jacob’s trust and faith in God.  Not the good that Jacob did, but because of faith and trust.  This is the other side of this coin.  The history of Israel is a mirror of my life…but the story of Israel (Jacob) should be the goal of my life.  To trust God and put my faith in him, even though I am clearly not deserving of it.

Call me Israel…I have nothing to trust or put my faith in but God.

Father, Jesus, and Spirit, please make this message clear to me today.  Please help me to trust you in every moment of the day.  Please help me to look to you.  Please help me to see everything as yours…even my time and energy.  Please use me to show your glory today.  Love, your son, joe.

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Christmas Thoughts: Happy Holidays and the Kingdom of God

A few months ago, my friend and fellow blogger (the one who inspired me to start, actually), Bill Moore, got me thinking about the culture war.  In his post, Conscientiously Objecting to the Culture War, he talked about the American Christian war for the American Culture (which somehow adopted Bill O’Reilly as it’s mascot…or he adopted himself as the mascot…who knows?).  I used to be all about this.  Our need to claim moral authority on our society.  Bill (Moore) challenged me to rethink my focus.

What do we prove to the world at large with our letter writing campaigns to reality shows about questionable “stars”?  What do we gain by refusing to shop in stores that somehow, through the process of being guilty by association, may promote something we disagree with (not talking major things here)?  What do we gain by fighting against gay marriage (I know I may get some backlash on this one)?  What do we gain by only being willing to vote for a Christian into elected office?  What do we gain by waging war against “Happy Holidays” replacing “Merry Christmas?”  I know all of these have room for debate, but I am asking what do we gain by these?

Do we gain sinners realizing that their only hope for life and acceptance by God is through Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection?  Do we gain people battling their way out of poverty?  Do we gain a decrease in children without families?  Do we gain people taking care of other people?  Do we gain the Kingdom of God?  Do we?  These are what we have been called to find important as Christians.  These are the hills we should be choosing to “die on.”

Of these things, I am going to focus on the whole “Happy Holidays” thing…it is, afterall, Christmas.

Is it really that important that everyone says, “Merry Christmas?”  Is it really?  Is there a need for all people, Christian and nonChristian alike to wish everyone a happy Christ’s Mass?  I am not so sure.  Besides, it is being placed with a word that means “Holy Days,” isn’t that enough for us?

The Spirit has really led me to some new thoughts on this recently.  I have been thinking a lot about Christmas, the traditions, and the commericialization of it (thus the Christmas thoughts posts), and something occurred to me.  There really is a Christmas spirit…or Holiday spirit.  Now, I am not saying we should be caught up in the warm-fuzzy Christmas and forget the true meaning of it…another post for another day…but there really is a “spirit” about this time of year that most people get caught up in, no matter how religious or non-religious.

This “spirit” has a way of changing people…there is a reason why “A Christmas Carol” has been so popular for so very long.  It is a true change that people feel.  People become nicer.  They think of others first.  They help the needy.  They feed the poor.  They care for the orphans.  They look out for the widows.  They help the down and out.  Hey, this sounds a lot like the list of stuff that Christians are supposed to be doing!

Christians are supposed to be about the Kingdom of God.  Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology book, says that the Kingdom of God is when the reign and rule of God in the hearts and lives of people.  A part of this is how we care for others.  Jesus himself said that there are two commandments: Love God and love one another.  How we care for others is half of the job.

So, this Christmas/Holiday “spirit” has people all around us thinking and loving their “neighbors” as themselves.  In a way, we are seeing what God’s Kingdom here on Earth will look like, at least a little.  People are caring for each other.  This is important to God.  Look in either the Old or New Testaments.  God wants us to care for others like we are compelled to at Christmas.

I say whether you say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” it doesn’t really matter.  The question is, “Are we taking care of each other, especially the down-and-out?”  Are we?  Where is our focus?  Ourselves?  Or is it on using this “Christmas spirit” as a way to reach out to others and help them see the true meaning of Christmas?  Are we living a life that shows Jesus, even at Christmas?  Or are we busy fighting a battle that should not be fought, while those saying “Happy Holidays” are living out what we are called to?

Happy holidays, everyone!!  Joe

Father, Jesus, Spirit, please help me to pick the right battles this year.  Help me to see that it is about loving you and loving others.  Thank you for allowing the “Christmas spirit” to show us your Kingdom.  Please help me to use this to reach out and tell other people about the source of this “spirit.”  I love you.  Your son and dependent, Joe

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A Christmas Prayer

Father, Jesus, and Spirit,

I feel it starting inside of me.  The temptation to look to myself and the world as the universe around me looks more and more “christmasy.”  You know my heart.  You know my struggles with Christmas.  You know I spent my childhood looking to the feelings of Christmas.  I wanted it to be perfect.  I wanted it to be like TV and movies.  I remember the year that I was in 7th grade and I really wanted it to snow.  I was in a sour mood for days because it didn’t.  It wasn’t Christmas to me.  I wanted the feelings I was told I was supposed to have.

You know the years I spent struggling with this.  You remember the year after college that I gave up on all of the traditions of Christmas because they were not You.  I decided to forsake all that was “christmas” to me in the past because of the commericalism and selfishness that was tied up in it all.  You brought me out of this.  You showed me  how you can redeem anything.  You can bring your meaning to all things.  Just because the Christmas Tree, lights, and even gift giving were all adapted from pagan and worldly sources, that doesn’t mean you can’t have your part and meaning in them.  The Tree is a sign of the everlasting life offered in you.  The lights are the symbol of you and your coming.  The gifts are a picture of the gift of your life that you gave us.

You gave me a plan for Christmas with my own family.  How to take control of the traditions and make them yours.  How I can use the usual customs of the holiday to teach my children about You and the true meaning of Christmas.  You helped my family be okay with this.  You helped me have a son that so far is not caught up in the selfish side of Christmas.  You know all of these things.

And you know that right now my heart wants to go back.  It wants the “warm and fuzzy christmas” that basks in gifts and feelings that are about me.  I don’t want that.  I don’t want that kind of Christmas spirit.  I know it is not a bad thing to be caught up in Christmas, but I know there is something better.   I want to be caught up in You.  I want to be caught up in the reason that you came, Jesus.  I want to be caught up in the story of redemption.  I want to be caught up in the mercy and love that drove you to leave heave, come and live a real life here on Earth, to die a greusomely real death, and then to rise again to prove that your sacrafice was accepted and I am truely free.

Spirit, I want your presence to be what gives me the peace and joy of Christmas.  I don’t want the manufactured feelings that come from lights, happy songs, and hot cocoa.  I want the real thing.  I want You.  Even if it means dealing with myself and my selfish nature and sin.  I want the real Spirit.  The real Comfort and Joy.

Father, I want you to be the reality of Christmas that Santa can not hold a candle to.  I want to look to you.  The real Father Christmas.  The giver of gifts that did not hold back his own perfect Son.  You did not passover your own Son.  You allowed him to come and die.  To come and die for me.  You accept me because you were willing to reject Him.  I want this gift to be the only one that consumes me this year.

Father, Jesus, and Spirit, please be my Christmas.  Please be my focus.  Please make this year real.  Please help me not to hold back your message.  Please let it be the song on my lips.  Help me to teach my son.  Help me to share this constantly with my wife.  Please help me to share it with the world.

Thank you, Father.  Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, Spirit.

Yours, by your grace alone,  Joe.

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Posted by on December 11, 2011 in Faith and Life, Prayer

 

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Oh Treasure, Where Art Thou

All right, time to end the radio silence.

It has been about two weeks since my last real post.  I mentioned feeling under the weather in that post, and this is the reason it has been so long since I have posted.  I have had bronchitis for about a month now.  It took a turn for the worse, and I had almost no energy.  I have been barely getting through the school day and then coming home to crash.  Two weeks of that and a second doctor’s visit later, and I am finally feeling closer to normal.  I finally have the energy to write a bit at the end of the day.

Becuase this all has lasted for weeks, I eventually realized God was trying to use it to get my attention.  No, I am not saying that he smote me with illness (though I do think it is possible that he can use this to get our attention about certain things in our live).  He used it to teach me a lesson about myself.  Where my focus is.  Where my heart is.

The flipside of being a pretty energetic guy is that when I am limited in physical, mental, or spiritual energy, it is hard for me to cope.  I just can’t seem to find the joy in things, patience for things not working, or enthusiasm for things that I am used to having.  This makes me do everything half-hearted.  I just can’t figure out what to do.  My brain feels broken.  This makes it more difficult to follow through on things I set out to do, or makes me just want to stop doing some of the things I would like to do.

This month of feeling this way really took a toll on me.  At school, it seemed like I wasn’t teaching well and the smallest disruptions in schedule or my plans have frazzled me to the point I had trouble adjusting…and I am not used to this happening to me.  My lesson plans were less than I like them to be because I just have not been able to get my brain to make connections and figure out cool ideas.  While teaching or dealing with students in the hallway, my patience was dramactically less, and I had just couldn’t get that to change for me, and this frustrated me to no end.

At home, I pretty much just crashed after spending so much of my energy trying to be “normal” at school.  I couldn’t help out around the house as much.  I was less patient with NB.  Less helpful to LA, and I did have much left in me to spend time with her and persue her.  I just got irratated by the things to be done around the house because I just didn’t have much strength left at the end of the day to tackle them.  On the weekends I have been so worn out that I just pretty much laid around so that I could try to recover from the week and feel well enough to tackle the next one.

My writing became harder because of a lack of time and energy.  Eventually I just stopped trying to write the blog.  Thus the not normal couple of posts and then the silence.  I didn’t even read any other blogs or spend much time online at all.

“Hey, OneCup Guy, you are sounding pretty ‘woe is me’ right now.”  Sorry.  That is not my intention, I just want to let you in on how it has been for me so you can understand the lesson that came from it.

Something pretty awesome came from all of this.  A lesson that I really needed to learn.  And it all has to do with my heart.  It is about trying to fight the “old man” and let the “new man” be who I am.  It was a pretty major realization that God gave to me.

Energy/strength to get through the day and complete tasks and fulfill responsiblilities is a lot like money.  You do not have an unlimited amount.  You have to budget it.  The more you have, the less you have to pay attention to your budget, but in a time of lower income you really have to watch where all of it goes.  I am used to being more “rich” in energy.  I can usually do a lot and put a lot of enthusiasm into what I am doing.  I often have so much that I do not even know when I am wasting energy.  Times that I am using it for things that are not important or not high priorities are not always obvious to me becuase of my excess of energy.

My budget got cut.  I did not have extra energy.  I did not even have enough for the day to day.  I lived and acted like I had my usual budget, but I didn’t.  This wore me out, and it is probably why I have stayed sick so long.

Last week, God really showed me that my energy usage, like my money, showed where my heart was.  In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus was talking about where we store our treasures in life.  He ends by saying, “Where your treasure is, that is where your heart is.”  God showed my how my energy is like treasure, and where I spend it shows my heart.  Am I spending myself on me and my kingdom or am I spending it on others, God, and his Kingdom?

He really sent me into a time of reflection.  I had a limited resource of myself.  The limits showed that I was spreading my energy too thin, and I was not doing anything well.  I was “juggling”” to much at once and looking to my “juggling skills” to keep it going.  I was wasting energy on things that were about me.  About my little kingdom and buidling myself up.  I was not using the little energy I had on other people and on God.  I had to prioritize and drop things of lesser importance.  God, family, and serving others IN LOVE is where I needed to spend my treasure.  Not trying to control my world.  I had to give those things over to God.

The last two days of last week and this weekend were pretty awesome.  I felt closer to normal.  I put my energy towards the things that mattered, dropped what didn’t, and trusted God to take care of whatever was left.  I started storing my treasures in the right places.

What about you?  Does your time and energy budget show where your heart is?

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I Triple Dog Dare You…

Okay, so recently I have been feeling my over-dependence on slothfulness…and my biggest enabler of being a three-toed tree climber is the good ol’ television.  It has become way too much of the highlight of my day to go vegetable on the couch in front of TV’s “warm glowing warming glow” (a quote from Homer Simpson himself).  But it is more than just the laziness invlovled, it is a bit deeper.

It is escapism.  I am trying to lose myself in TV.  Not that there is anything inherently wrong with getting wrapped up in a show or movie, it is just that it can be what “gets you through the day.”  Anything that you need to “get through” something that is not related to God is probably not a good thing.  So escapism is a problem for me.  I admit it.  But as I dig through my growing TV addiction conviction, it seems there are even more issues involved.

I am allowing what I watch to invade my mind.  Not that I am watching anything bad, but I find that my mind is grabbing on to quotes from shows, funny scenes, or just anything from TV (including commercials).  These play through my mind all day.  When a situation comes up, I jump to something I watched recently.  I am spurred on by the created show/movie/commercial…not the Creator of all of everything.  Shouldn’t the Spirit be speaking to me and not Michael Scott?  I am drowning out the movement of the power and wisdom of God in my life with the blaring sounds of the world.  This can’t be a good thing.  It can’t.

I know this is probably linked to something deeper.  Okay, not probably.  The heart is that I am worshipping at the chruch of Joe.  Pride and self-idolatry is the real issue.  I have been reading a lot in the Old Testament about how the Israelites kept turning away from God to idols…even in the desert with the thunder and lightening of God dancing with Moses on the mountain top just down the road where they can see.  How more likely am I to turn to idols?  All throughout the prophets, God is begging Israel to turn away from these, smash them up, and trust him.  I do believe he is wanting me to do the same.  This weekend the Spirit started showing me some of my idols…it is weird but they all seem to have my face.  I do love ME too much.

So how do I start smashing idols?  Discipline and listening to the move of the Spirit in my heart.  This is what led me to the conversation with LA after church that has resulted in our Unplugged Challenge.  We are unplugging from our TV.  We are going to do this for a week.  We will move from there once the week is over and see if it needs to be longer.  No using TV as a way to drown out God.  We are going to seek him and each other this week.  I am looking forward to it.  So far, so good.  (Sidenote…we don’t have cable or anything, so unplugging for us includes Netflix and Hulu online.)

Here is the thing.  Paul said in Philippians 4:8- 9 (NLT), “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”  Basically, what ever is worthy of God is what we should dwell on.  We so often don’t.  We think about things that are fun, entertaining, or interesting.  We don’t think of the things of God as much because sometimes that can be hard and challenging.  Sometimes it means breaking down our pride.  Smashing our Me Idols.   Who likes to do that?

I would like to give you the challenge to pick something you need to unplug from.  I triple dog dare you to take the Unplugged Challenge.  What do you need to give up for a week so you can hear the gentle voice of the Spirit leading you closer to him?  What “Me Idols” do you need to smash or at least get a good look at and allow God to help you smash?  Will you take the challenge for a week and give something up?

What is your “something in the way” that you can give up for a week?  What is it that you are using, consiously or unconsiously, to run away from God in your life in small or big ways?  Do you think you can take the challenge for a week?

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I am Lucy Pevensie

We had baptisms at church last night (our church has multiple services). I was baptized myself this past Easter (awesome day to identify myself with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus!). It is all still very fresh for me, so I tend to still be a bit emotional about seeing baptisms, in a good way.

Last night there was only one. It was a boy who was baptized by his father. This hit home to me because my dad baptized me. It got me thinking about the fact that I hope that my sons will come to know the reality of God, their sin, and their need for Jesus. I hope one day to baptize them. Not because I want to go through the motions of it all, but because I want them to have a real relationship with Jesus. I want them to be believers in the Gospel. I want them to have a true and real faith.

This got me to thinking about the fact that I want all of my friends and family to be awoken to the true reality of the world. That there is more than the physical side of the universe that we understand. God is real. Heaven is real. Jesus really lived. Jesus really died. Jesus really did this to take God’s wrath and punishment on himself. Jesus really rose from the dead as proof that our sins are forgiven. Jesus really did send the Holy Spirit to us. The Holy Spirit really can live in our hearts and lives. We really can truly love and serve others. There really is a Kingdom of God. There really will be a day of judgement. There really is an eternity. We can really have a relationship with God, both now and forever.

This led me to thinking about how hard this is to explain to people. I have friends who do not believe in God. I have friends who not only do not believe, but they are atagonistic towards God. I love these friends. I just can’t get them to understand what I know about the reality of the world. I tried to think about a way to explain to them why I could not explain this to them. I was thought about the “magic” that I know that they do not understand or believe in.

I was suddenly reminded about the book/movie, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. In the story, the youngest of a group of brothers and sisters found a land called Narnia in a waredrobe/closet. When she came back, no one believed her. This is exactly what I am feeling right now.

I want so bad for my friends and family to be able to go and see Narnia. To know what I know. I am Lucy trying to explain the snow covered forests and Mr. Tumnus the faun. They have no concept of what I am talking about. Narnia, to them, is an imaginary land. Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit are characters of my fantasy to them.

I wish they could know Aslan’s world. I wish they could open their eyes and see it. I wish they could know the “real world” that I know.

I guess only the Spirit can bring them there. I will pray. I will share. I will live like I have been to Narnia. I will do all I can do to convince them, but in the end, it is the Spirit that has to open their eyes.

Father, Jesus, Spirit, I pray that you would show my friends and family the reality of the world that you created.  I thank you so much for how you gave C.S. Lewis the understanding to write such a beautiful analogy for your realities.  I pray right now that you would help my friends and family be able to see Narnia.  Help them to know you, Aslan.  Help them to be able to walk through the waredrobe to your world, to your country.  Spirit, I pray that you would help them to see and know the realness of you, our sins, and your forgiveness and life through Jesus’s death.  I do not have words to go on further, so Spirit, I pray that you will intercede for me.  Thank you, Father.  Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, Spirit.  I love you.  I need you.  Amen.

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A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s

I have been checking out a lot of blogs here lately.  One has really caught my attention.  He writes in a very relatable way and still makes you think and challenges you.  Today’s post really got me thinking.  Here is the first couple of paragraphs.  If you want to read more, just click through to it.  Please comment your thoughts to him.  Do you agree?  Do you disagree?

I was listening to the Jackson 5 one day recently.  It wasn’t I’ll Be There or Baby, Give Me One More Chance.  No, it was ABC.  What happened when I heard it?  I immediately thought about the ABC’s of Salvation.

You know the ABC’s of Salvation, right?  It’s A for Admit that you’re a sinner.  B for Believe that Christ is God’s Son.  C for Confess your sins.  It’s a neat little formula for salvation.  There’s just one problem from my perspective.  I don’t see in the Bible what I’ve heard all of my life as the “Plan of Salvation.”

Keep reading…

Happy reading!

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