We are going about our lives doing the best we can when suddenly we are criticized for our talk, dress, actions or beliefs. Now what? Are we immediately defensive? Do we hurl back insults and accusations? Or do we cave internally, feeling really bad about ourselves and finding it hard to recover and move forward? Not wanting to change stops our growth process. Defensiveness might come from either pride or insecurity – both of which need to be recognized and managed. We know we can always get better, so how do we take the pain of a jarring critique NOT as a roadblock or defeat, but use it as a tool to build our Christian character?
This of the most basic manners we teach our kids. We generally start by instructing them how to appropriately make a request for something and how to graciously receive it. How do you ask? “Please!” What do you say? “Thank you!” These two simple communication tools (which incidentally seem to have been misplaced in our social media world) are not merely expressions of good manners, they are declarations of good character! As we approach the American holiday of Thanksgiving, we want to focus on being thankful in a way that goes beyond typical platitudes. How can we be truly and deeply thankful - even when our life experiences are difficult and harsh? How can we make true thankfulness a way of life and not just words of praise?
It’s funny how certain fanciful images make their way into the human mind and somehow become a part of our belief foundation. Case in point – someone dies and the next thing we know, we visualize them standing before those massive and ornate “pearly gates” of heaven. Once issued their wings and harp, we see them as having “made it” into eternal bliss. Or how about the common and comforting idea that someone who has passed is now an angel looking down on us and protecting us? Do human beings REALLY turn into angels when they die? What about angels - can they ever turn into people? Are these ideas based on the Bible or do the Scriptures tell us something else about life after death?
As Christians we follow Jesus. His life story is told in the New Testament of the Bible and we rightfully focus on those books. Sometimes though, our focus brings us away from the rest of the story – the Old Testament. We think, why do we need all of that Jewish history? Why do we need to know who conquered whom and how all the rituals worked that God required of the Jewish nation to show their loyalty to Him? The fact is, we NEED the Old Testament and we need it badly! This need is dramatically illustrated in the Tabernacle – the portable tent and furnishings the Jews carried with them during their 40-year wilderness experience. The story the Tabernacle tells is a breathtaking example of God’s care and His foresight. It is like a treasure map – let’s see where it leads!
Have you ever heard the expression “putting out the fleece” when referring to someone trying to make a decision? Its origin comes from an unlikely biblical hero from an unremarkable tribe. He was the youngest of an insignificant family. Yet, Gideon was chosen by God to do a mighty work – to free Israel from the cruel oppression of the Midianites and Amalekites. Getting such an unnoticed individual to do works of such greatness took providence and patience on God’s part. Gideon needed to develop a God-based confidence to boldly move forward and stand against enemies of immense power. The story of this man’s journey inspired a nation and left a trail of lessons for us to apply in our everyday Christian walk.
In a lot of ways, the world is scary. There is an “anything goes” mentality that surrounds us. This gives us the feeling that there is no buffer between us and the dark worldly or spiritual influences that exist. One of these dark influences is reflected in the rising popularity of Satanism. When we hear that word – Satanism – we may form a frightening, even hideous image in our minds of dark occult and bloody sacrifice-based rituals. This image is most likely a serious distortion of the truth. Does this mean we are defending Satanism as a wholesome practice? Absolutely not! It does mean we want to know exactly what we are dealing with so we can understand exactly how to keep ourselves and others from being manipulated by ungodly influences. Satanism is something to stay away from, but not for the reasons you may think!
How often do we hear of someone who just seems to have everything going wrong in their lives? They suffer loss, they have physical ailments, they are deeply distressed and their life seems to be going nowhere. Sometimes when we are that suffering person, we may begin to wonder, what did I do to deserve this? Is God mad at me? Am I cursed? When in dire circumstances these can be very human questions that actually have the ability to unravel our faith. We can easily allow seeds of doubt to be planted in our hearts which leads to becoming unnerved in our minds. Bottom line, if we weren’t thrown off by our circumstances, we can certainly be derailed by our reactions. Does God really get mad at us? As Christians, does He ever curse us?
Most Christians will tell you that once you are called to Christ, it means you are called to be "footstep followers of Jesus." While this description is easily given, it is not so easily explained. How can we walk in his footsteps when we are really nothing like him? He was perfect, we are not. He gave his life as a ransom for Adam and therefore bought back the human race from sin. We have no such mission or value. Jesus performed miracles and taught profound lessons. We can just appreciate his miracles and spend our time absorbing what he taught. So, what is following Jesus all about? In his own words, Jesus told us to deny ourselves. What does that mean? Are we supposed to live in a way that makes us never do what we want to do? The Apostle Paul said, "I die daily." What did he mean?
Being uprooted can mean a lot of different things. It can be the onset of a disease or disability, the loss of a job or loved one or experiencing a difficult trauma. Maybe it is a change of location - a physical move or perhaps an emotional jolt that makes us reset our thinking. Being uprooted is by definition unexpected, unwelcome and uncomfortable. It messes up our lives! Christians might like to think that because we have God working in our daily experiences, we are going to be shielded from such things. This is entirely untrue. On the surface this might seem disappointing, because nobody wants to go through experiences that mess everything up! The good news is that uprooting experiences, especially for a Christian, can be some of the greatest tools of our lives!
One of the very basic tenets of Christianity is the belief that God does not change. We see him as omnipotent, above the fray and the embodiment of clear vision and intention. As such we believe that when God’s plan has been put in motion it is a universally unstoppable force. Enter the concept of prayer. Not only are we instructed to pray for and about things, we are shown several scriptural examples where prayer seems to have changed God’s mind. How can these things be? Why would we pray if God has already decided and how is it even possible to change the mind of He who is unchangeable? Does prayer change God's mind? The answers, as is usually the case, are not found on the surface. They are rooted in the depth of scriptural meaning and provide profound biblical insight into the extraordinary character of God!