Take Nothing for the Journey

The show “Naked and Afraid” is a popular television series. Not only because of the unknown, but also the level of competition between the contestant and the unknown. It consists of two individuals (male and female) dropped in a remote location for twenty-one days to survive in the wild. Combatting elements and nature, each individual without food, water, clothing and only one survival item is left to fend for themselves. Those that make the twenty-one-day trek receive a grand prize of five thousand dollars for their troubles. That does not seem like very much money to put yourself through such a grueling obstacle course with a stranger for almost a month. The participants do this not for the tangible compensation of cash, but for the challenge.

Over these twenty-one days, I can only imagine what they endure and the level of mental toughness necessary to make it. I don’t mind camping out in my backyard for a night, but we are talking about three weeks in the wild. I wonder where along the journey they realize, it will take more than just physical strength, mental toughness or experience to get them through. There is a level of preparation that they must have before embarking on such a challenge.

I have never watched an entire season of the show, but I have seen a few episodes. A lot of what they are up against is a mystery until they find themselves face to face with nature. Just like in the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus is preparing the disciples for a journey. The disciples have no idea what they will encounter. However, he tells them to take nothing for the journey and they obey. The difference between the show and disciples is that one is dependent on self and the latter is dependent on an Omnipresent God.

Calling the twelve to Him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. These were his instructions, Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust of your feet as a testimony against them.

~ Mark 6:7-12 NIV~

Preparation for any journey is hard work and requires much discipline. It will require their faith and trust. The Messiah is not only summoning but is commissioning them with purpose.  Today, we also have been commissioned and purposed with a challenge to reach places and people we have never seen before.

To reach these accomplishments there are a few things that we can learn from Jesus and the disciples.  First, the commandments of God always lead to stretching moments. Stretching means learning how to be bendable, flexible and refined in the hands of God. This does not always feel good. I can imagine the disciples as Christ is summoning them. Jesus never asked them their qualifications. He just sent them out in pairs and gave them authority. This encourages us to be ready to step out into new territory if the Lord is calling.

Unlike the contestants on the show who prepare for the twenty-one-day challenge, we must rely on Jesus Christ as our guide. I wonder, are we prepared? Do we follow the commandments? There have been times where I have said, God what is the point of this? The Lord leaves us to ourselves only to realize our dependency is solely on Him. And only when we are willing to do it His way, do we find and fulfill purpose.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.

~ Matthew 6:33 NASB ~

As I reflect on the disciples and how they lived their lives, I see that they weren’t concerned with the latest cellphone or the how many followers they had on social media. They were not worried with their 401(k), account status or if they were aggressive enough or too conservative with their portfolio. They lived focused lives. I wonder is it safe to say living by faith means leaving the extra behind? Including our thoughts, concerns, anxieties, worries and fears. I think about what Jesus gave the disciples. He freed them to go forward without anything holding them back. He told them take nothing for the journey except a mere staff. (v.8) Here is a question for us. How are we living? Have we exchanged faith for the familiar or fancy?

In Christ we learn the importance of provision on the journey. This begins when we accept the Lord leading us in a faith-based life. The disciples took nothing for where they were going. They simply rely on provision as they enter the nearby towns. There was no salary or benefits package, just the lifetime guarantee of heaven and the gratification of becoming a vessel for Jesus Christ. Talk about crazy faith at work.  Provision in the natural is what most live for, but the disciples relied solely on those whom they testified too.

It is recorded in Matthew’s gospel, when the disciples left a home if it was worthy, they were instructed to give it a peace blessing in Hebrew, Shalom. Shalom was a sign of peace but not just any peace. This peace represents a sense of wholeness and well-being. It identifies all in one’s life balanced and working as should. This peace was not constructed from outward things but internal priority. This was learned behavior and we too can experience this inner peace-no matter what occurs around us. I would say this is one of the priceless gifts we obtain on this journey with Jesus that unless you experience it – we won’t understand the blessing.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace that surpasses all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

~ Philippians 4:8 NASB ~

Friends, significance is not in things that feed our flesh, but in the things that fulfill the plan for our lives. Can we stop looking for stuff to gratify us in the moment and look for our purpose in Jesus? Make the choice to accept the best life that one can only find in Jesus Christ. Not in things that excite for the moment or the latest challenge to be conquered. But when we take the step to take nothing for the journey, except Christ – we open ourselves to the greatest and most rewarding challenges ever.

Is there a Broken Vessel in the Room?

In times past, I can recall how my limited perspective and personal bias in situations of prejudice, racism, or ways in our world skewed my view. It was not until I stepped outside of myself that I could truly see. Friend, we live in a world filled with hatred, envy, and jealousy for one another; but on the other hand, there are glimpses of love and hope that we miss. We encounter selfishness over selflessness. Those stepping over some, the weaker, as opposed to helping to lift one another. The attacking of some because we may disagree personally instead of finding what Christ says about an issue. Let me call it as it is, SIN. As long as we water down the truth or cover it up with band-aids, we will never deal with the source of pain. We will continue to make statements such as, “well, we all have something,” or false justification of right and wrong. With this thinking, we can never operate in humility. This may be why we can see the church and church denominations divided on issues – focusing on some but overlooking others that are just as important. Or we see the government concentrate on some and ignoring others. If we say we are followers of Jesus Christ operating with the leading of the Holy Spirit in humility then our actions should demonstrate this truth. Why preach to those outside of the church if we are not acting within the church as we should?

If we want to see the presence of Jesus released in a dying world, then we all need to be broken. I am not talking about a physical breaking of body parts, but the surrender of our mind, body, and soul. We all need to consider what we are willing to surrender in the presence of Jesus? Again, are our motives selfless or selfish? An excellent example of this is nestled away in the Gospel of John.

Then Mary took a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet, wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

~ John 12:3 NASB ~

There are so many thoughts found in this passage of scripture that is applicable in our lives. I love this scripture for so many reasons, but one is the heart of Mary. She had developed a relationship with Jesus. Mary was so grateful and she desired to express that through her actions. In this chapter, Jesus is preparing to be crucified and endure much suffering and death within days. So there is a desire for Mary to spend time out of selfless love for Jesus. She is operating from a space of humility and wanting to be with Jesus. It was not about what she can get from Him or learn but just being there- a good reminder of an essential truth for us today. We all can get so busy in our day to day lives that we forget to enjoy Jesus. There have been times where I have found myself studying the Word, spending time in prayer or worship –just because I am trying to finish a blog post or hear a word from the Lord. I am caught in the doing and forget about just being in His presence. Not trying to get anything from Him. Not attempting to complete a task but simply communing with a loving Father in a relationship. Mary’s heart helps me reflect on where I am with Christ and areas where I still need work.   

Secondly, Mary operates in humility. At this moment, she gives Jesus her best by serving Him wholeheartedly. Jesus had her undivided attention, and Mary expressed her love for Jesus in those few moments with him. Do we give Christ our attention as we should or when we have time? Such a loving Father, He never complains but trusts and believes that we will get better. Like a Father to an immature son or daughter, He patiently waits for us to catch the lesson. In our world today, the Father desires us to be broken in humility, to place Him above our wants and desires. He is waiting patiently for the world to acknowledge who He is in the room. Have we put science, church edifices, our titles, careers, and needs above the Father? I wonder what would happen if the world ever stopped to acknowledged Jesus Christ wholeheartedly. Not because of what we can gain from Him but just because of who He is in the room. Perhaps Covid-19 would cease, or violence and hatred would subside? If we wholeheartedly served because we would learn to seek the Father first and everything else after that.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

~ Matthew 6:33 NASB ~

Our commitment to Jesus is a sign of our brokenness before Him. I thought about Mary and how she was unwilling to give to Jesus what did not cost her much.A sign of being broken is the level of sacrifice we are willing to make for others. Some commentaries explain, the perfume she gathered required a year’s wages from a common laborer to purchase that ointment. Her sacrifice was great. Some would consider it a sign of disrespect for Jewish women to let their hair down in public, but Mary humbled herself and laid her glory at His feet. (1 Cor 11:15) She laid her best in the presence of Jesus. Those in the room misunderstood her sacrifice, but the One who mattered most felt her commitment. My prayer is that we don’t let people take us away from doing what is most important for the Kingdom of God. It may seem strange or unpopular to the masses, but let us continue to keep our focus and trust on the Lord, no matter what.

Finally, Mary took what she had and put it to use, not just to be seen but felt. Unless the alabaster flask breaks, the worth on the inside (the ointment of pure nard) is not released. Many appreciate the alabaster flask, “the packaging ” – i.e., their career, the appearances of having it together, popularity, financial gain, etc. If Mary only focuses on the beauty of the flask but never releasing or experience what is inside; then she would miss Jesus in all of it. He should be the focus not what appears costly or lavish. Friend, we must be broken for the Lord’s Spirit to come alive. Only then can we truly live on this earth and realize that nothing else in the room matters except Jesus.

Here is food for thought: We are not antique collectors; we are not admirers of the alabaster flask (the packaging). The Lord wants us to release that which is inside – to see the value.

When we allow what is on the inside to be in the presence of Jesus – transformation occurs. I am concerned about those who may never experience being introduced to a Father who desires to transform our lives from hardened pots to broken vessels.

May we remember to encourage all we meet to get to know Jesus Christ. Not only get to know Him but build a relationship with Him. And may those who already know Him never forget the sheer power of His presence in the Room.

Insurmountable Odds

I do not know about you, but I tend to root for the underdog in many cases. Whether in sports, movies or even in real-life situations – I tend to have a soft spot for the one that seems they will not be the victor. Growing up, I use to love to watch cartoons and how it seems that the superhero was losing to the villain, but in the end, I knew the superhero would come out on top. I love watching a good basketball game (especially around the playoffs) when the losing team seems counted out, and they make a final come back in the last minute of the game. But the most remarkable example of an underdog that I can think of is that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who went to a cross and died. He looked defeated by death, but victory came in three days when he arose. Oh yes, the story appeared to be defeat, but that is not the end of the story.

Recently I was studying the book of Second Chronicles and was revisiting the story of King Jehoshaphat. Here is another occurrence that seems to face insurmountable odds.

You need not fight in this battle, station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem, Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the Lord is with you.

~ 2 Chronicles 20:17 ~

King Jehoshaphat is facing an impossible situation that is out of his control. An army has risen against him because he decides to do what was right in the Lord’s eyes. Things are so bad that in the story, it says that Jehoshaphat was afraid, but then it says he turned his attention to seek the Lord. How about that, talking about an underdog. This army consists of various tribes, but they have one thing in common, King Jehoshaphat is their enemy. Sometimes the thing we face is not because of what we have done wrong, but because we have stood up for what is right. Deciding to stand for the right thing often comes with a price that is worth being paid. Did you catch that?

This King that was on a mission from the Lord is afraid. Have you ever been there? Or maybe not scared, but perhaps emotions are running rampant, and we forget that God is with us. This underdog is going through, and it appears that he will lose the battle, but Jehoshaphat fixes his eyes on something more significant than what is surrounding him, His God.

When we stand for what is right, God’s eyes are upon us, and He has proven time and time again that He will fight for us. No matter if your boss is threatening to fire you for standing up against corruption, or maybe taking a stand for being a Christ-follower with friends and family, or perhaps expressing Christian beliefs in a blog and standing for God’s way and not the world’s way. Maybe this is not your story, but if it is, be encouraged by the thought that you are not alone.

It took me a while to learn this, but we will always come out better pleasing God than trying to appease those around us. Do not get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with making folks feel happy and making them feel special, but when this becomes the focus of our lives, we can miss God’s best. There have been numerous times I have missed God in a moment. But I am so grateful for God’s redemptive love and how He redeems the time. When I think about past times I attempted to circumvent God and please people, how far off I ended. It saddens me just thinking about it. God is like a parent watching a child make one wrong decision after another, and it just breaks the heart, knowing that there is a better way if only we would listen. In society today, we have plenty following their way of thinking and making their own decisions breaking God’s heart. From government to community to our households, we have gotten away from listening to the voice of God and turned to what we believe is right, individually. Well, let me say, God is looking for a remnant that is not afraid to stand for what is considered unpopular and not be moved.

Let’s face it, we will encounter situations, but we can prevail as long as we keep our trust in the Lord. Friend, let us remember the example of Jehosophat and the children of Israel. It was not popular, but he did what was right in the Lord’s eyes. I wonder what the king thought when he heard about the multitude that gathered against him? Now put yourself in the king’s shoes. Think about it, you take a stand on your job for being a Christ-follower and decide not to go along with the norm, and the whole office comes against you. They go against you, and they threaten to remove you because you are against what they believe.

I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, in paths they do not know, I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them and rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do.

Isaiah 42:16

I want to encourage us to realize that, like King Jehosophat, confidence in God trumps whatever we are facing. We can meet some pretty tough situations at times, and they can leave us asking, “God, where are you?” But I encourage us that even if we do not see God working, we can always know He is. Remember that God desires to change us, and often that comes through us going through the tough times because standing for Christ is not always easy, but it is purposed. Jehosophat found his purpose through fasting and prayer corporately. With Jehosophat and Judah telling God with transparency, they do not know what to do.

For we are powerless against this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

2 Chronicles 20:12

After reading this passage initially, I had to ask myself, Charles, what do you see? Am I focused on what I see, or am I looking up to the Lord? It is easy to get caught up on what we are going through to the point where it can deafen the Holy Spirit’s whisper that I am here and fighting for you. Dr. Tony Evans often says, If all you see is what you see, then you do not see all there is to be seen. There is much more to focus on, friend. Don’t focus so much on the impossible, but keep your eyes on the Father. Don’t focus on the naysayers and the odds stacked against you; focus on the Father. Don’t focus on the likes or shares (or lack of) on social media posts, but focus on the Father. The Lord loves the underdog because He can do his best work when all appears to be lost. Or when we seem to be standing alone, find solace in the fact, we are not alone. We can find comfort in knowing that when we serve the God that provides, protects, and promises to be with us in every situation. We come out victorious.

Yes, the insurmountable odds are pretty cool.

Appointed Moments

There are times in our lives that are orchestrated events. It appears that time and purpose are conducting a well-choreographed waltz for all to observe. Some may call it, the right time at the right place.

I have experienced a few of these moments in life -that have been nothing short of amazing. I want to confess however, I have not been worthy of any of them. It is only God’s graciousness and unconditional love for me that any of these precious memories were created. This may not be your story, but if you stop and reflect on past times in our lives- we can trace the hand of God leading to a greater purpose. Then there are those times that just seem to appear out of nowhere, where we are left in complete amazement. Asking God, “what did You just do?” I mean literally He just blows our mind. Is there anyone else can attest to the fact? That God knows how to leave us in utter disbelief, but even in these moments God is purposely increasing our faith.

He is able to do so much when we just trust His leading and timing. He is the greatest Architect to build the perfect platform for all to see His handiwork at its best. It is literally His glory being revealed in our lives.

I know the plans that I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you to bring you to an expected end. ~Jeremiah 29:11~

God has created moments for us to experience His glory while here on earth. In fact, we can experience many moments like this when we experience the presence of Jesus. I think it is important to remember even as exciting as this can be, that these are His moments and not ours to control. The Almighty has allowed us to take part in this blessed time. When we allow God to lead us, listen to the whisper of His voice and follow His promptings, He offers us experiences that could only be orchestrated by His Sovereignty.

Perhaps you may not feel your best while reading this but do not disregard the opportunities that occur despite our condition in a moment of time. Things may not be as secure or smooth as we would like, however, if we look for the opportunity for Jesus to meet us in our condition- great things can happen. The hard times you may be experiencing now may not be ideal; but do not miss the opportunity to look from a different perspective. Maybe you are ready to give up, do not.

Amongst a pandemic, rising economic crisis, social injustice across diverse cultures, the silence of the church, political unrest, the break-down of the family unit, prejudice against the marginalized and overlooked -just to name a few of the concerns plaguing our world, do not miss the voice of Jesus, growing louder and louder daily, because of the opposition of others that do not see His truth.

I ask myself this recently and wanted to pose it to you to ponder for yourself. Are we willing to miss our opportunity to allow God to not just show up but change us? I have been reading on Blind Bartimaeus and how he was in the presence of Jesus and asked him to do something about his condition. He did not want to miss the moment in his presence so he did something bold and out the ordinary. He cried out. No one expected Blind Bartimaeus, a man identified by his condition, to do this. Here is a thought – are we defined by our condition as well? Or do we acknowledge who is in our presence, Jesus, and that He trumps our temporary condition? Not only did Bartimaeus do the unexpected, he was not concerned about the opposition in his environment. Those that were around him telling him to be quiet and not waste the Master’s time.

That helps me realize that opposition in our environment should not be our focus. It is just a distraction. All that we consume in social media, the news, our daily reports, our circle of friends should not take our eyes off the presence of Jesus. However, we find ourselves in competition with all of these at times. Bartimaeus was willing that even those around him were telling him to be quiet, he kept his focus on what he was there for, He wanted to experience Jesus. It was Bartimaeus’ appointed time and he was not willing to miss it.

I want to leave you with two thoughts. The first, persistence leads to breakthrough friend. May we never give up when things seem to be hard. We may just be on the cusp of our appointed moment. Do not stop believing and certainly do not stop trusting in the Lord’s timing.

Secondly, Jesus already knows what is needed. When our faith is exercised, Jesus steps in to help and turns our tough situations into blessings. Despite how things appear in a moment when we cry out to the Lord He can turn our situation, he is waiting for us to turn to him.

Keep the faith friend. The appointed moment is just around the corner if we do not lose hope or our spiritual sight- despite what it looks like.

Blessings

The Power in a Trial

The proverbial phrase, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade, is one I am sure we all have heard a time or two.

 It is easy to hear and even smile about but did you know it is biblical? If we follow this essential thinking. What it is saying is, instead of being victims, become victors. No matter what we face, perhaps the trial on the outside or the temptation on the inside, we can experience victory through our faith in Christ.

I will be the first to say it is a challenge to endure some tests and temptations. I believe that the Father knows this beforehand, which is part of the reason He allows the stretching. Jesus’ omniscience has no boundaries and His love for us, in the trial or when we are up against a temptation again. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it hard to solve problems with a smile on my face because sometimes they are hard.

The standard definition of a trial is a process of testing or investigation to prove innocence or guilt in a court of law. If anyone has ever sat through or been the center of a trial, then you know it can get intense. Just the thought of being on trial is stressful from a mental perspective but do me a favor. I want you to think about a trial from a spiritual perspective to test our faith through different ways used to build our inner man.

James 1:2-6 gives some imperatives for us to think on. If I did not know any better, it appears that James (one of the four brothers of Jesus Christ) is coming across a bit testy and so sure of himself but what he is explaining is the blueprint for how to go through the difficult times.

The truth is we are going through some tough times now as humans, a nation, and a world. There are four simple statements I want to point out that James has reminded us all of to stay encouraged through these times.

The first is to count a joyful attitude. Stop and think about this statement, Outlook determines the outcome, and attitude determines action. I had heard this statement from a professor when I was in college, and it stuck with me. Can I tell you something? We cannot expect everything to go our way. Jesus said to us in John 16:33, In the world, ye shall have tribulation. Some trials come because we are human- sickness, accidents, disappointments, even some tragedies. Sometimes this is hard to fathom and understand because God takes care of us through some pretty rough times.

This leads to my second point; some trials come because there is a test that we need to pass.

I know there were some that I failed, and I am not broadcasting or happy about these, but I might as well be transparent with you. Some of the simplest tests that the Lord placed before I failed because I did not study or thought I could handle. Such arrogance and thank God for deliverance and grace.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials. James is telling us the importance of thinking carefully about a thing or evaluating it correctly. Do you know we are to assess our problems in the midst of what we value? Our values determine our evaluation. In other words, if I value comfort over character or if I value material and physical over spiritual, I cannot consider it all joy because what I value is more important than what I cannot see right now.  

The second James tells us it is when you encounter various trials. I know this probably not a new revelation for us, but let us take a look one more time. What James is informing us of is we will; trials are inevitably a part of life, and they are like mosquitos; they keep coming. Some translations may say, fall into. When you least expect and want them, they will appear out of nowhere, but guess what? They are building our inner man. A trial is like lifting weights. The more weight you take on, the stronger you become; the process consists of ripping the very thing you are trying to build (from the inside) first before the growth can appear outwardly. The muscle tissue stretches, and then it repairs, but when it restores, it is that much stronger. Did you catch that?

Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. James 1:2

“To know” means that we are to have an understanding mind. We must know faith constantly is tested. Testing helps to prove something. Remember when we take examines of various sorts, well tests are taken to approve a thing. I watch the show Gold Rush sometimes, any fans reading this? Well, the show’s premise is they are searching (excavating land for gold) and when they find what they call “pay dirt,” they run it through a dredging machine that separates it from the dirt. The separation is necessary to relinquish the gold. The process is not easy and requires endurance. They put in some serious work that sometimes appears to be for naught. After a while, the prospectors reap the benefit of their work, gold ore. The gold prospector brings his ore sample into an assayer’s office for approval. The purpose of the Assayer tests a metal to see how pure it is. 1 Peter 1:7 is the scripture reference of this testing of faith. Endurance is not attained by reading a book, listening to a sermon, or even praying. They help but only going through the difficult situation life presents for us; trusting God and obeying Him is the point. James reminds us not to waver or have any doubt in who or what our responsibility should be.

And let endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete lacking nothing.

The word “let” means a surrendered will or to relinquish control. God cannot build character without cooperation in the trial from us. Letting go of control is hard, especially when the trial appears to be intensifying, whether Covid, political and social injustice of any kind, or perhaps individually the problems we face. This word is for all of us; let endurance have its perfect result. Say that a few times to yourself or write it down today, but remind yourself that God is building our character and strength in the trials we continuously face. I think about times before when something has come up out of nowhere (it seems), and at the moment, it breaks me, but upon closer inspection, God is with me. And he is with you too.

James gives us insider information letting us know God desires to build our character before He calls us into service for Him. That is why the surrendering of ourselves to His will is essential. Ephesians 6:6 tells us we are to be surrendered not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as God pleasers, doing the will of God from the heart. There is the perfect and complete, lacking in nothing because when connected to our Lord, just like a caterpillar to a cocoon, we are equipped and built up for the journey ahead. The trial that we find ourselves in today, tomorrow, or yesterday is all perfecting us, friend.

Last but surely not least, James tells us But if any you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. Why did James say this? Does not he know if we are human, we lack wisdom in many areas? To some, the book of James is a guide for following the path to life, avoiding the way that leads to pain and heartache. And in doing so, it offers us something more, a consideration of the nature of faith. It can only be found in the Son of God and only when we truly desire wisdom or insight to be our goal. Insight helps us understand how to use these trials for our good and to bring God glory. Wisdom is the qualitative factor determining if we have evaluated the trial we are in, just came out, or about to enter correctly. Only when we seek God’s wisdom of handling or approaching even the trial are we able to win.

Maybe you are like me, that I have to remind myself of this very thing. James opens the book hot off the press with the power in a trial. Having to ask God for help, I believed, showed a lack of growth but no friend; that is the wisdom that Jesus wants to give when we ask. That is the accurate measure of our development- when we stop attempting to go through these circumstances alone and depend, even throw ourselves in the arms of Jesus. He knows what to do and will always bring us out more robust than when we went in.

Be encouraged.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

It’s one of the most wonderful times of the year, Christmas – a season I have loved since childhood. For some, this is the best time of the year to show love to family and friends, giving gifts, Christmas carols, and much more. It is a time to receive the items they have asked for and the excitement of Christmas cookies, cakes, and pies to children. In our household, Christmas was special because we knew it was a time for the family to come and celebrate together. I looked forward to seeing my cousins and favorite aunts and uncles under one roof. Although those years have come and gone, I can remember the anticipation of waking up and unwrapping gifts that I had asked for earlier that year. I appreciated the presents for a few months, but soon they would lose their luster, eventually ending up pushed to the side or put in the toy box and forgotten about. I know what you are thinking, how unappreciative. These gifts that I anticipated and talked about all year, in a few months, are forgotten. I was grateful to have parents that did not get upset with us for not appreciating the gifts that they purchased for us those many years ago. Not that we didn’t appreciate the gift, but after the moment had gone, the season had changed, or something new had come along- we no longer felt the value.   

May God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

Philippians 1:2 NLT

I am so thankful for my parent’s patience with us. Even now, with my children, this same behavior has been passed down through the years. Am I the only one? Sometimes we get upset with our children when they fail to appreciate small gifts; however, we too undervalue God’s gifts of grace and peace. Compared to the bold and bright packages of the world that are constantly seen and given, we may not know the package’s value. We may overlook them when nestled next to the worldly gifts that we can feel and see. Sad to say, we seek the tangible gifts that this world offers and overlook the intangible packages marked grace and peace.

When the Father places these gifts in our lives, what a blessing we gain. If only we knew what hides in these seemingly small gifts. Although the Apostle Paul prayed this for Philippi’s people, the value seen carries the same weight today. Once unwrapped, the treasure in a small package will always find significance in our lives, young or old. I don’t know about you, but these are priceless things that I have come to appreciate over the years. Christmas gifts may cost a fortune at one time, but we find ourselves replacing them later on; in my life, the gifts of grace and peace have proven priceless.

My appreciation has grown daily over the years to appreciate the Father’s gifts. Just think, waking up every day expecting to unwrap new grace and peace.  This package trumps the best Christmas gift you could ever possibly have received. Grace is the goodwill of God and Christ exercised towards humanity, that continues to have a purpose no matter where we find ourselves in life. God has given this freedom to all of us who want to accept this gift. That is the blessing of the present, that once we receive it, we can always possess it.

For by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your doing; it is the gift of God.

Ephesians 2:8 ESV

What a perfect gift. When we realize that God loved us enough to send His son, Jesus Christ, to be the ransom for what we could not afford, the only thing we need to open this gift is to accept it. We gladly accept the ones that our loved ones give us during this holiday season. So even more, we should receive the well-thought gift of a loving Lord’s grace expressing how much we mean to Him, daily. The peace we experience by reconciliation.  I realize that God has been with me in some of the darkest moments of my life; that is the real gift. When I stop and think, it is the presence of God in my life that gives me joy. What about for you?

Do you want to experience the greatest gifts that bring the greatest joy every day? Do you have a desire to live every day in peace with our Lord?   

Father, Help us receive the most generous gift daily, which we experience when we accept you as Lord. Thank you for the reminder of how your gifts of grace and peace bring continuous joy. Let us not forget the true gifts that can bring us the greatest joy daily. Help us to remember in this season that you give the greatest gifts for all to receive and not just for a day but a lifetime.

In Jesus Name, Amen

“Dress It Up”

Flip, tuck, pat, rub, Dad seasoned the bird with precision.

Growing up, my dad did most of the cooking in our household. Sunday dinner was the highlight of the week because we knew we would be in for a treat. Throughout the week, dinner typically consisted of smaller portions of our usual everyday meal. But Sunday was my favorite–it would include a whole chicken or a roast with many sides.

I can remember watching him season the bird with celery, onion, and various other seasonings. Dad used to say, “These seasonings are all good, but salt does a little extra. It dresses it up.” At the time, I was not concerned about salt, pepper, or paprika. What I knew was that I was going to eat like a king. Or at least in my mind, this is what I believed.

As a kid, those many years ago, I did not realize the effectiveness of salt not just for flavoring but in many other ways. Salt enhances. It’s one of the spices that can improve any food if appropriately used.

Let your speech always be with grace as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

~Colossians 4:6 NASB

Is this why Paul compared our speech to salt? God gave him an inside tract as to how we, as believers, could influence those in our sphere of influence. He realized that if we sprinkled the light of Christ in how we responded to those around us, no matter how negative or cold their attitudes were, there would be an improvement.

Like the flavoring of our food with natural salt that brings the best out of it, our speech should minister grace to the hearers. Our words should be pure and life-changing. Our words should cause the world to desire to hear more of what we have to say, and bring them to realize there is something different about us and the message we share.

I love Chick-Fil-A French fries. They are the perfect balance of the salt to potato, and the crinkle-cut presentation enhances my desire to eat more. I often find myself saddened, peering down into an empty fry carton as if someone stole the last few morsels from under my nose. On the other hand, if there were too much salt on these slivers of goodness I would have an adverse reaction. What am I trying to say? Salt will enhance, but only if it is appropriately used. But, salt can also hinder when it’s overused.

The spiritual application is this: Our words can enhance, or interfere, when we are speaking to those around us. So we must use discernment as to when and how much to speak. How many of our conversations would be different if we adhered to Paul’s recommendations? Words have the power to build up, or tear down, and that in an instant. Christ always wants us to build up.

There have been pivotal times in my household that I overwhelmed my wife with my words, and she did not want to receive anything from me at that moment. However, there also were times when she has wanted to hear more of what I was saying. This same principle can apply with my children. It can apply with relatives, friends, and even in the workplace.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

~Ephesians 4:29 NASB

Salt also preserves. In biblical times, salt was added to the sacrifices. Those sacrifices were set apart to be given to the living God. It would help us say the right things in the right manner if we remembered that our words also are sacrifices to God. I don’t know about you, but this concept is not easy, and I don’t always remember to do this. Nor do I act like I should.

We should want to maintain our character, conduct, and conversations as holy, so that we represent Jesus Christ appropriately. We should maintain a lifestyle that helps others to desire a relationship with Christ as they listen to our words. When we view our speech this way, the effectiveness of our witness will be tasted by many.

Whether on our job, in our relationships, in our community outreaches, or perhaps even with our enemies, we want others to taste how good our Lord is by observing our speech and actions and how we preserve the presence of God in our daily lives. When we can still smile or give a pleasant word when we are cut-off in traffic, this is a witness. When those around us are complaining, but we bring hope to a negative conversation, this also is the seasoning of grace. When the climate around us is negative, rash, and hostile, we can still sprinkle hope and peace. These are the attributes of salt given for all to experience.

While there are some positives to salt, there are also some negatives. If the salt has lost its distinctiveness and the flavor is bland, it will not fulfill its purpose. Have you ever tasted bland salt? What did you do with it? You probably threw it away. Imagine, if my father had put bad seasoning on his famous chicken–I probably would not like chicken to this day. If salt cannot be tasted in food, then it is not being used correctly. If there is no enhancement or distinct difference when salt is added to food-then it is not suitable for anything good, and must be discarded.

When the Holy Spirit cannot be seen in our speech, we cannot effectively influence those we contact. Or if we do speak, and what we speak is negative and not exalting Christ, is it worth saying. Friend, let’s discern when to speak, how to speak so that Christ is exalted, and maintain lifestyles that shows others we are the Lord’s people.

Friend, examine your words as salt. Allow the Holy Spirit to season your speech with grace, so others can see Christ in you. Be purposeful with your words. Let them be like my dad’s delicious chicken–all dressed up and seasoned to perfection.

Are your words, like salt, precisely and effectively used, and full of grace?

Father God, I desire the distinct presence of Your Holy Spirit to be with me daily. Please help me to share Your good character by covering me with Your presence. Help me when I loose my effectiveness to witness to those I see every day, whether at home, work, or in the community. Allow me to spread Your love to all I meet so that those in my sphere of influence will desire to taste and see how good You are.

In Jesus’s Name, Amen.

“Mirrors” Genesis 1:26

Mirrors come in all shapes and sizes. From elegant to the ordinary. Various shapes and sizes. They leave their mark in foyers of homes, in marble bathrooms on Capitol Hill, and the everyday places of our lives. I don’t know about you, but it is never hurts to have a good mirror nearby. Right before I leave the house for work or to meet a friend, it is good to have a look. Some are grateful for the compact mirror, nestled in a purse or bag, which serves as a necessity.

I wonder in 1835 what problem Justus von Liebig was trying to fix when he created the mirror? The history of mirrors can be traced back to biblical accounts. In times past, natural mirrors were found in lakes and clay pots. The reflection of a mirror can be so magnificent when viewed with our eyes; it helps us fix what may be out of place. I must say I’ve had a time or two when the mirror allowed me to see something that I would have missed if I did not stop to look.  Mirrors serve an essential purpose, but more notably, it is not the mirror that is important, but what the mirror reflects.

Then God said, “Let US make man in our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)

The significance of the reflection on a mirror is two-fold. I recently learned that there is a law of reflection. When a ray of light hits the surface of a mirror, it bounces in a certain way- like a tennis ball thrown against a wall. Can you picture it? The light reflects back and forth, this way and that way, to give us a particular image. The light itself is invisible until it bounces off the mirror and hits our eyes perfectly as an image, creating the reflection from the light by the mirror. So consider the next time we give ourselves a once over, what are you reflecting? The light we reflect, like the mirror, to others.

God created us to reflect the image of Christ. In all we do, we should want the light to shine. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) Our actions, motives, and thoughts should reflect this light. Here’s the question: If God created us to be mirrors for the kingdom of God in His “image and likeness,” how are we doing? I don’t know about you, but that hits home for me. I don’t always reflect HIS light- the light of His truth, way, or life- twenty-four seven. If a mirror has a crack on the surface, the light does not focus in one direction, but many. We can find ourselves just like the cracked mirror, in moments where the light can’t reflect (one way) because of hindering cracks in us, creating an altered reflection.

Mirrors don’t scatter light. With a smooth surface, light reflects without distorting the incoming image. Think about that statement for a moment.

Did you catch that? The light that we reflect should never give someone reason to say that we are not real or represent a terrible image. That would be considered a broken mirror. May we hope that it is not often said of us, “they profess to be representing the light, but the way they speak, act or treat people leaves question?”  They conduct themselves with certain people at times or are always posting on social media, but do not reflect the right light.

Sometimes, my mirror in the bathroom is motley with fingerprints, water stains, and toothpaste residue. I can still see, but I am distracted because it is not a clean surface that I am looking into. I usually have to grab the Windex and wipe the mirror down for a clean surface. How is the surface of our lives? How am I viewed daily by others?  If I do not examine myself from time to time, I could miss out on reflecting my best self. If I’m honest friend, there have been moments that I have not reflected an image of light. There have been too many moments where I did not reflect Christ’s love by His light. My surface has dimmed my reputation, character, and ability to be useful for His kingdom in some critical times. If you are reading this, think back to a time when you have not reflected Christ’s character, commitment, or ideas. What did you do about it?  

This may not be your truth, but I think there are some steps that we can practice to help us be mirrors that reflect light.  Or see where the reflection is not representing the best light and want to do better.

  1. Look in the mirror often. Friends, we are here to reflect Christ daily. What should this look like? And then I remind myself of Christ and how he lived, in humility.  The more we know what we should imitate, the more we reflect. I am striving at this every day, striving to be more like Him in the little things. How I talk, what I think about, even how I carry myself in my everyday dealings. Even where I have failed the Lord, I have to look and see.
  2. Please don’t ignore the little smudges; they lead to bigger ones. The small areas that we say are no big deal; will lead to larger problems if we do not clean them up. If I know my attitude needs work or I have a bitter place in my heart, I need to deal with it before it turns into something that I cannot control or consumes me. Eventually, those streaks will keep the light from shining and create holes of light unable to peek through from time to time.
  3. When you see something, do something. This may be the hardest to follow through with. It is one thing to see a problem, but it is another to work at correcting it for the better. I will be the first to say that sometimes it is tough to change your thoughts or behavior when things around us appear dark. It can be a battle to reflect light, but this is the mirror’s function- to reflect light in various spaces. Friend, nothing is too hard for the One that created us in the first place. Let this be your strength and know that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

Mirrors attract more light from surrounding areas. The light reflects off of the mirror, which brightens the room or atmosphere. If you are picturing this, you can see a warm, embracing room with mirrors that illuminate the light creating an inviting atmosphere that all who enter can feel. Be the mirror for Christ, and watch the light reflect everywhere friend.

Father, help us to reflect your love and your ways in our everyday life. Give us the wisdom to know wherever we are that we represent you. Allow us to brighten atmosphere’s everywhere with your image portrayed on our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen  

Great Expectations

I recently accepted a new position in a different field. As excited as I am, it has left me uncertain of where God is leading. What is certain is that I am feeling a little uneasy.   This new season requires a different level of faith. But that is just like God to stretch our faith. Faith is like muscles, they grow with resistance and pressure. That may look different depending on the situation, but for me, it is: what type of work environment will it be? Is it team-oriented? Will the benefits package be enough for my family? These questions and more began to formulate in my mind. Then God reminded me of 1 Chronicles 28:20.

Then David said to his son Solomon, Be strong and courageous and act; do not fear nor be dismayed for the Lord God, my God is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.  1 Chronicles 28:20

With great promise, comes great expectations. Often, we can’t see the reward until we make the sacrifice to move beyond our fears. Until we make the decision to act.  What makes the sacrifice worthwhile is the expectation of what is to come. That is the reward.  

Sacrifice is always a prerequisite to any upward movement for any area in life. If I only focus on the end, I miss out on what is happening in the process. The process is the road that must be traveled on the way to change. We cannot get there if we are not willing to take a step. Lately, I have felt the Lord has had me in constant process, and to be honest, it is a challenge. There are some days where I ask, “Lord, are you still with me?”

The Bible often gives me or reminds me of what I need to move forward. The reminder here is hidden behind a father (David) encouraging a son (Solomon) to have great expectations in what is to come. The expectation of things unseen. David spoke directly from the Lord. The reminder David speaks over Solomon’s life positions his thinking for an expected end. God wants us to find comfort when we rest in the Holy Spirit, and trust how He leads.  

Great expectation is the confidence I place in God that He has my situation worked out, but not for the reasons I want. It is easy to focus more on where the benefit is for me more times than I should. When this happens, I try to refocus on Christ and say, Lord, what are you saying to me? Maybe he is trying to get me to see where my identity is. Is it in Him or me? I have to remind myself it is not about me. Daily we strive to train our minds to stay faith-focused, especially in these uncertain times. I know this applies personally to me. Accepting a new career path is exciting but nerve-racking. When I think about all the intricate details, it can be overwhelming, but God’s great expectation (not Charles) reassures me.  

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

I found a few things in 1 Chronicles 28:20 that I think we all can implement to help us move forward: Be strong, Be courageous and Act.

When I think about strength, it means different things. Being strong can be applied to life circumstances such as loss, struggle, and confusion. It signifies the power to move past hindrances—the ability to press beyond our ability. Strength is grown by endurance, and this is one area God has been challenging me to grow in- not in my own but His power. When I am strong in His strength, nothing can stop me. It is almost like having a spotter while lifting weights. He assures me I am not alone, and with His help, I lift/handle far more than on my own.

Courage often gets misrepresented. Courage does not mean one is not afraid; sometimes, it is just the opposite. It is not the absence of fear but the ability to continue despite. I wonder what Solomon felt when his father encouraged him to build without experience? He was young and did not know all this process would entail but his father told him to have courage. I have had moments where fear tried to grip me. But friend, we must push through the worry and unknown and believe that we can. If we never do, we never will. If we stay stuck in fear and don’t try to become free—we know our ending. It stares us in the face screaming defeat. If Solomon never moved from fear to want more, great expectation could never manifest.  

I remember an exercise I had to complete while attending an old job retreat. We were asked to climb a rock wall 80 feet up. Once at the top the only way down was to jump and grab a trapeze bar that was suspended in the air, pretty scary, right? I wanted to go first and get it out the way, so I did. I did not think about the consequences; I did not look down; I just climbed up and jumped. Sometimes we have to act when we know the instructions are clear.  

 Have you been holding back? What is something you had great expectations for, and you have grown cold hoping for?

Father, allow us to rest in You when the direction is unclear and the path uncertain. Teach us to trust Your voice to lead us to an expected end. Help us to depend on You in the process and build on that what You have called us to. Give us the courage to trust You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.