Beyond the Ordinary

To the Greeks, the word, charis (grace), was a beautiful precious word.  The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, says of the word, grace, “the whole stress lays on this very point, that it is conferred freely, with no expectation of return, finding its only motive the bounty and free-heartedness of the giver.”  Grace to the Greek was an act that is beyond the ordinary course of what might be expected.  Grace was a gift given from the heart of the giver without a desire of reciprocation.  The recipients’ only act is to receive it.  But there was one problem with this grace. To the Greeks, grace was always given to a friend, never an enemy. 

This is where charistook on a whole different meaning to Christ-followers.  Romans 5:8 described why, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.!”  Jesus exemplified to His followers that grace was no longer a gift offered to their loved ones only but to their enemies also. 

The greatest gift of all time was grace given to us by God Himself while we were stubbornly acting independently even in rebellion of His will“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).  God had only one thought in mind, eternal life for each of us.  He knew that it would take the shed blood of His sinless Son to achieve this.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says it this way, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  

It took the gift of His Son to save us.  As a Greek would tell you, your only responsibility is to receive His gift of charis/grace.  John 1:12 states, Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Paul clarifies this in Ephesians 2:8&9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.”  You can’t work to earn charis/grace, you receive it.

Do you know how we change our world, our communities, and most of all our families especially when you know they don’t deserve it?  We offer them charis/grace, gifts from the heart of God with no expectations.  You love period, end of story.

You may say this sounds like a whipping. Quite the opposite is true. The root word for charis is char which means “joy.”  Experience the abundant life of sharing life with God by offering grace to others even enemies and watch God change lives including your own.

Are You Stuck in Neutral?

God doesn’t want His people to get stuck in neutral whose life is like a “neutral” color designed not to be seen.  How many of us simply blend in without a desire to engage…go along to get along?  We want safe without friction, comfort without confrontation, a peacekeeper who is always agreeable and never a peacemaker who is willing to confront when a situation calls for it.

I remember as a young kid in the mid-1950’s, my dad had an old chevy pickup which he would shift into neutral when going down large hills so that the motor was not engaged saving gas.  Once in neutral, this old truck did not dictate its speed but allowed the steepness of the hill to determine how fast it went.  It’s the same in life.  While in neutral, we do not have to engage in the torque and drama of living, keeping it simple.  However…

Jesus does not want His followers to be stuck in neutral.  He has no desire for our lives to be about comfort, convenience, simple, and easy without drama.  Christ makes His intentions known clearly in Revelation 3:15-16, I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”  Graphically and emphatically, Jesus has no desire for us to be stuck in neutral.  “Lukewarm” is nice and easy but not what God wants.

It reminds me of the old story about how to cook a frog.  When you put a frog in a pot of water, you want the temperature to be comfortable or it will jump out.  The key is to keep the frog comfortable by increasing the heat very slowly.  The frog is having a nice experience enjoying this sauna with a casual yawn or two along the way, eyes slowly shutting feeling drowsy and the need for sleep.  Before he knows it, the water is boiling, and the frog is getting cooked.  Are we not like the frog?

One of Apostle Paul’s spiritual sons was Timothy who did not like confrontation often shying away from it.  2 Timothy 1:6-8 declares, For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.”  Timothy preferred to stay on an even keel; however, Paul disrupted Timothy and told him to jump out of the pot of comfort and convenience and get engaged.

It’s time to shift out of neutral!

Blocks to Becoming a Compassionate Listening

On Wednesday, we discussed becoming “a compassionate listener.”  Today, we will list and discuss the “blocks to becoming a compassionate listener”: 

Mind Reading:  You are mind reading when you disregard or distrust what your partner is actually saying and instead try to figure out what he or she “really means”.  Mind Readers give too much importance to subtle cues such as tone, facial expressions, and posture.  They ignore the actual content of what their partner is saying in favor of their own assumptions and hunches.

Rehearsing:  You’re so busy rehearsing what you’ll say next that you never really hear what your partner is telling you.  Sometimes you may rehearse whole chains of dialogue: “I’ll say, then my partner will say, then I’ll say…”.

Filtering:  Filtering means that you listen to some things but not others.  You may listen for signs that your partner is angry or sad or anxious and then tune out when you sense that your partner is okay and that you aren’t expected to respond to any emotional trouble.  Filtering can also work to exclude things you don’t want to hear like drinking, gambling, etc.

Judging:  Judging means that you have stopped listening to your partner because of some negative judgement, or that you only listen for the purpose of assigning blame and putting negative labels on your partner. 

Daydreaming:  Everyone’s attention wanders.  When you’ve been with someone for many years, it’s especially easy to stop listening and drift away into your own fantasies.  If you find it harder and harder to pay attention to your partner, it may be a danger sign that you are avoiding contact on certain topics.

Advising:  Your partner barely has time to speak a complete sentence before you jump in with your advice.  Your search for the right solution and your urge to fix everything deafens you to your partner’s simple need to be heard.

Sparring:  You listen only to disagree, argue, and debate.  You take a position and defend it, regardless of what your partner says.  In many troubled relationships, sparring is the standard mode of communication.

Being Right:  This block protects you from hearing anything that suggests you are less than perfect.  To avoid suggestion that you are wrong, you will lie, shout, change the subject, justify, quibble, make excuses accuse, or otherwise fight off criticism.

Derailing:  Changed the subject or joke it off whenever the conversation becomes too personal or threatening.  By misdirection or humor, you avoid listening to your partner’s serious concerns.

Placating:  You are too quick to agree.  As soon as your partner expresses doubt, irritation or anxiety, you jump in with, “Yes…you’re right…I know…I’m sorry…I’ll fix it.”  You are so concerned with being nice, supportive, and agreeable that you don’t give your partner time to fully express his or her thought.

Defending:  Quick to feel misunderstood and judged.  Fear drives the defender to be too quick to “explain” instead of fully engaged in listening.

  • Put a checkmark next to the “blocks to compassionate listening” that best fit you.
  • Place an asterisk next to the ones that you feel best reflects your spouse.  How do they differ from the ones that your spouse selected for themselves?
  • Discuss the above with your spouse.  Make sure that you compassionately listen to each other…no condemnation or attacks. 

Become a Compassionate Listener

The large majority of these were created by M. McKay, P. Fanning, and K. Paleg in their book entitled Couple Skills:  Making Your Relationship Work, 2nd Edition.

A Compassionate Listener…

You will never genuinely know another’s values or interests until you become a “compassionate listener.”  Compassionate listening focuses on others…their growth, their healing, their interests, and their happiness.

Philippians 2:3&4 is a wonderful description of a compassionate listener, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”  Notice that true, healthy, safe conversation starts with an attitude of “humility…not looking to your own interests.” Be patient, humble, and compassionately L-I-S-T-E-N.

“Selfish ambition and vain conceit” are relationship killers.  They are about “you” not others.  They are not good listeners and are destructive to solid relationships.

James 1:19 is clear, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”  The old saying is, “You have two ears and one mouth, so use your ears twice as much as your mouth.” This definitely is sage advice.

Notice what the Bible says about the speaker who speaks before he listens.  Proverbs 18:13 declares, To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.”  Listen without judgment and hold your advice until you are sure you know the whole story.  Speaking before listening blocks or delays the resolution of problems.  If you are hasty and judgmental, you can bet others will not want to share anything of significance with you.

James 1:25 may spur you on to become a compassionate listener, Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”

Proverbs 15:14 speaks clearly to us, “The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.”  If you want to be wise, one with a discerning heart, you learn from others which comes from being a compassionate listener

A compassionate listener learns the worth and depth of Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Be still and become an intentional, mindful and purposeful compassionate listener.  Choose to be quiet and in humility value others by listening.

Maranatha

As a Christian college student, I was swept up in the Jesus Movement.  It was a time in our country of great churn.  There was marching in our streets to contest the unpopular Vietnam War, considered by most to be led by Washington D.C. politicians rather than professional officers of our US Military (sound familiar?).  Racial strife dominated the press fighting for freedoms fueled by the assassination of the social champion, Martin Luther King.  Drug misuse was rampant. President Nixon was impeached and removed from office.  Our country seemed to be yanking apart at the seams.  As a result, young Christians started greeting one another with the Greek word, “Maranatha.”  It was a message of great hope.


Maranatha
 is an Aramaic word that means “the Lord is coming” or “come, O Lord.” The early church faced much persecution, and life for a Christian under Roman rule was not easy. The Romans required everyone to declare that Caesar was god. The early Christians knew that there is only one God and one Lord—Jesus Christ—and in all good conscience they could not call Caesar “Lord,” so the Romans looked upon them as traitors, persecuted them, and put them to death.

Living under adverse conditions, the believers’ morale was lifted by the hope of the coming of the Lord. “Maranatha!” became the common greeting of oppressed believers, replacing the Jewish greeting shalom (“peace”). Followers of Jesus knew there would be no peace because Jesus had told them so (Matthew 10:34Luke 12:51). But they also knew the Lord would be returning to set up His kingdom, and from that truth they drew great comfort. They were constantly reminding and being reminded that the Lord is coming (Luke 21:28Revelation 22:12). Jesus taught several parables on this same theme of watching and waiting and being prepared for His return (Matthew 25:1-13Luke 12:35-40).

Today, believers in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ live our lives in the light of the knowledge that He can come at any time. We are to be ready when the call comes. Every day we should expect Him to come, and every day we should long for Him to come. Maranatha reminds us to keep our eyes on the eternal things of the Spirit. To dwell on material things is to be in constant mental turmoil. Looking down, we see the earth; looking around, we see earthly things. But looking up, we see the hope of the soon coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To those who are discouraged today, Maranatha! To those who are worried today, Maranatha! To those who are filled with anxiety over the problems they are facing, Maranatha! Our Lord is coming!

Outside of the initial paragraph, the above content is written by www.gotquestions.org, a website written for the purpose of clarifying the Bible.

Was It Unbelief or Misbelief?

I was buried in anxieties accompanied by depression for 34 years…not fun!  I frequently chastised myself mentally and emotionally that I did not have enough faith. However, that ended up not being true. I discovered that my problem was not unbelief but misbelief.  Misbeliefs or untruths dictated the monologue or the continuous negative chatter that went on inside my mind. These thoughts were lies which were destructive mentally and emotionally.

Your emotions manufacture your behavior, your self-talk dictates your feelings, and the core of your mind (your heart) generates your self-talk.  The foundational beliefs in my heart were misbeliefs/lies which produced erroneous self-talk.  Darkness ensued resulting into behavior that restricted, betrayed, and compromised my walk with the Lord.

During these dark days constantly living life based on misbeliefs, I became a germaphobe which was horrible.  Severe germaphobia was a terrible taskmaster.  It impacted me practically every moment of my life.  The devil used this to shrink wrap my world.  My being was restricted and confined, and I could not break free. 

Some of the diabolical thoughts at the core of my being were, You’re a reject…You’re crazy…You’re stupid…You’ve let the world kick your butt…don’t try anything proactive, you will fail…he/she doesn’t like me…that is so diseased…stay away from that…you forgot you disinfecting wipes…that waitress touched the top of your glass, ugh, I can’t drink from it.   Planes and restaurants were disasters for my mind.  My problem was not unbelief but misbeliefs.

How did I get well?  I came to realize that I was in a spiritual battle that I could not win on my own.  Ephesians 6:10&11 showed me how to win my battle…Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  The armor of God begins with the “belt (or girdle) of truth” which holds other vital pieces of the armor in place.  Everyday was started by putting on the whole armor.

I recognized that the devil was a pathological liar. “The devil does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). 

I came to realize that the way the devil and world snatched my attention was through anxieties and fear.  Philippians 4:6 became very clear about this, “Be anxious in nothing but in everything let you request be made to God…”  I treated every “anxiety” that came my way as a lie and immediately handed it over to God.

I learned to trust God in detail.  Proverbs 3:5&6 instructs us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.” 
I didn’t allow anxieties to become entrenched in my mind and treated each of them as a lie.  Got rid of them immediately.

I saturated my mind with God’s Word…memorized and “chewed on it”. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:31&32.  Psalm 119:11, “Your Word of I hid in my heart that I will not sin against you.”

 I started the day praising Him.  Psalm 100 states for us “enter His gates with thanksgiving and His court with praise.”

Don’t do life by yourself.  You need others.  Be transparent and authentic with one another, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

It’s all about the Truth.  “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long” (Psalm 25:5). Misbeliefs/untruths will take you down. Get rid of them and live in the truth which sets you free…

Way Maker…

A young, dear, mature Christian buddy of mine “commented” to me this week that others have scoffed at him about the song “Way Maker” being “over done”.  Hey, I am 72 years “young” 😊and have this song playing several times a week as I start my day in praise.  Let me assure you that Way Maker will become a staple for years to come.  I have sung “Amazing Grace” from the day that I was saved on October 21, 1962, to this day and experience God’s presence practically every time.  I am not saying that Way Maker will ever reach the lofty heights of Amazing Grace, but it is and will continue to be used by God.  Let’s look at the four titles this song professes about our wonderful God:

Jesus is called “Way Maker”.  First century Christians were often characterized by being “followers of the Way”:

  • Acts 19:23, About that time, there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.
  • Acts 24:22, But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.”

Isn’t it interesting that when describing who He was, Jesus started with “the Way”…”I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, there is no other way to the Father except by me” (John 14:6).  He is the Way Maker.

Jesus is the “Miracle Worker”.  Everyone of us as believers are a miracle.  We have been “born again” (John 3:3-8), are “new creations…the old is passed away, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and are “being transformed by the renewing of the mind” (Romans12:2).  The word, transformed means “to change in composition of structure, in character or condition.” We are like the miracle of metamorphosis from an ugly caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly.  Each believer in Jesus Christ has been fundamentally changed.  In the Bible, the book of Acts, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John present us with one miracle after another.  All of this is performed by the Holy Spirit under the direction of Jesus, the Miracle Worker.

Jesus is the “Promise Keeper”.  1 John 5:13-15 states this so clearly, I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”  He is the Promise Keeper.

Jesus is “Light in the Darkness”.  John 8:12 speaks clearly to this, “Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”  Christ challenges us to be light to this world, “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). He is Light in the Darkness.

Raise your voice, and, if you choose, lift up your hands, in surrender and praise.  He is the Way Maker!  Miracle Worker! Promise Keeper!  Light in the Darkness!  That is Who You Are…”

This Is How I Fight My Battles

In Rick Warren’s devotional about a month or so ago, he challenged the reader to start the very first moments in the day with praise songs, adoring our Savior and Lord, Jesus.  Being ADD, I have never been a big “praise guy.” I am challenged with focusing long enough to remember the words and, most times, being attentive to enjoy the spirit and message of the song.  However, the challenge was thrown to me, and the Bible states that Pastor Rick is 100% correct.  So, I have started my journey.  Each morning, I start the day with a praise song(s) by asking Alexa to play “The Goodness of God, Way Maker, The Jireh Song, Gospel Songs by Allen Jackson, etc.”  Man, have I been blessed!

This morning I woke up with a dear brother on my mind who is fighting through divorce proceedings involving children.  A song came to my mind called “Surrounded…This Is How I Fight My Battles” by Michael W. Smith.  The song focuses on a phrase from the King James Version of Isaiah 61:3, “the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”  Heaviness means being overpowered and weighted down by troubles and anxieties from all directions.  The person is surrounded and can’t break free.  However, Isaiah says to put on the garment of praise surrounding this spirit of heaviness.  Once the encouragement of praise envelops the heaviness of the cares of the world, praise triumphs.

Psalm 100:3&4 wonderfully describes what happens when we surround ourselves with the garment of praise.  You “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”  Once we focus on the Lord God through praise, we enter His presence experiencing His “steadfast love” which “endures forever” enjoying “His faithfulness.”  The problems that surround us are being surrounded by praise giving us lasting joy and steadfast love, trumping the spirit of heaviness.

The fore mentioned song, “Surrounded…This Is How I Fight My Battles” goes like this…

This is how I fight my battles…

This is how I fight my battles…

This is how I fight my battles…

It may look like I am surrounded but I am surrounded by you…

It may look like I am surrounded but I am surrounded by you…

It may look like I am surrounded but I am surrounded by you…

It may look you’re surrounded by worry, depression, anxieties, hate, maliciousness, bitterness, slander, debt, marital trouble, rebellious children, an irrepressible boss.  It may look like you are surrounded, but you’re surrounded by Him.  Put on the garment of praise and thanksgiving which empowers you with steadfast love and faithfulness of God.          

This is how I fight my battles…

Are You Suffering from a “Spiritual Heart Attack”?

Heart attack statistics show that four out of five deaths related to cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are due to heart attacks and strokes. The following are a few critical facts and stats related to heart attacks.

  • One in five heart attacks is silent.  That’s why knowing the signs, like neck pain, chest pain, heartburn, nausea, shortness of breath, or indigestion, is extremely important.
  • The leading cause of death in 2020 in the US was heart disease.
  • High blood pressure causes 47% of coronary heart diseases.
  • 26% of women die within a year of a heart attack.
  • People who have suffered heart failure live ten years less than those who haven’t

Comparatively speaking, heart attacks in the spiritual realm are more overwhelming than in the physical realm.  The physical heart attack impacts us temporarily.  The spiritual heart attack has eternal consequences.

Jeremiah 17:9 states definitively that all human beings have heart failure, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”  Romans 12:12 states, “for all have sinned (heart issues) and fall short of the glory of God.”  Jeremiah 17:10 speaks to the gravity of our spiritual heart condition, “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”  We all are judged by God…each and every one of us. 

Allow me to “triage” each of our unhealthy heart conditions.  Romans 6:23 states that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The way to initially heal your heart attack (fatal heart condition) is to present your heart to God.

Once you have given your heart to God, Proverbs 3:5&6, presents the foundation of spiritual heart health, Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him, and he will make straight your paths.”  Trust the care of your heart in God’s care.  If so, he will guide you away from unwholesome paths and direct you towards healthy, abundant living paths.

The wisest of all men, Solomon, gives us the fail proof maintenance plan from God.  “My children, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.  Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.  Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:20-24).  Spiritual heart health comes from daily, saturating your heart (the core of your mind) with God’s word diligently keeping your heart under His care.  If so, the springs of life” will “flow from it.”

Are You a Load Bearer?

A number of us are caught up with popular TV remodeling shows like Property Brothers, Fixer Upper, Flip or Flop, or Love it or List It.  Old, outdated homes are remodeled to become the dream home for a couple.  Often, the favorite thing to update and beautify a home is to knock down walls giving the house an airy, open big home feel.  However, opening up a room creates a huge issue.  Walls bear the weight of the house and are load bearers.  Frequently, the biggest concern is making sure the new open construction design does not compromise the house.  How will the new layout distribute the load bearing so that the home will be solid? 

Another example of load bearing is found in football. The five big guys up front making up the offensive line are the load bearers.  Their job is to protect their quarterback from big, ferocious defensive players of the other team and banging against the opponent to open up “holes” for the ball carriers. Oh, by the way, there is little to no glamor or publicity for these guys.  The only time you hear about them is when they create a penalty! 

Jesus, the master designer, knew that mankind needed huge support.  Because of sin, God’s original design for man had become a mess.  His new design was to put the weight of sinful mankind past, present, and future on one “load bearer”, the sinless son of God dying on a cross to be our substitute to pay for each of our sins.  He became the “load bearer”.  “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).

In God’s design, those who choose to be His followers are called to be “load bearers” like Jesus to the people around them whether it be a spouse, children, other family members, friends, neighbors, business associates and even their enemies.  Luke 6:35-38 is clear about our calling, “35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. 37 Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you.”  God has called us to be “load bearers”…”Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

The very love that God has called us to is the love of Jesus.  This love, agape, is translated as sacrificial, unselfish love.  The way of Christ-followers is to be a “load bearer” for other people.  Show them Jesus “expecting nothing in return”.  Be willing to be patient and gentle “speaking the truth in love” (Galatians 6:1 and Ephesians 4:15).  ARE YOU A LOAD BEARER?