Read: Jeremiah 29:11-13
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven…I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)
As I was diving into the Word during my morning quiet time with God, the ‘beep’ sound signaled a text had just came in . Then a ‘ding’ alerted me of a new email. Then a vibration sound to remind me of an appointment later on in the day. As much as I tried to keep focused on connecting with God, my mind began to drift to the unread messages on my phone: I wonder if it’s something important…don’t forget to send that email later…I should call so and so to see if…
That’s when the small still voice of the Holy Spirit interrupted me, “Turn it off.” Without a moment’s hesitation, I obeyed. I turned the darn thing off and haven’t brought it into another quiet time since. I was suddenly so convicted by my behavior. How would you feel if you were spending quality one-on-one time with a close friend and just as you were about to say something really near and dear to your heart, the person interrupted you with phone calls, texts, and emails? Can you think of anything more rude?
This is the age we are living in. The beeps, bells and whistles of our nifty gadgets have made a home in our daily conversations and we don’t think anything of it. But God does. No matter how modern and digital our world gets, He is still yearning for our undivided attention. We don’t want to be one of those unfortunate ones who Jesus looks at and says, “I never knew you.”
Bringing our gadget habits and addictions into our spiritual lives can take a toll on our spiritual health if we are not careful. And what’s worse is that it’s downright offensive to our Lord. So let’s check our phones at the door before entering God’s throne room of grace this week and give Him nothing less than the undivided, uninterrupted attention He deserves.
Dear Lord, forgive me for putting other things before You. Forgive me for going through the motions of religious activity and failing to give You my full attention. Show me where I have picked up bad habits that are offensive to You. Help me change Lord, I want less distraction and more of You. Amen.
*Take-away Treasure: Out of 24 hours in a day, how much time do you spend one-on-one, alone and quiet with the Lord? Make a commitment to spend time with Him each day, and make sure you give him the undivided attention He deserves!
Family, food, fireworks, fun in the sun… I particularly enjoyed this year’s 4th of July celebration, as it was the first time in a few years that I was actually in the country to celebrate!
In the midst of my hotdog eating and succulent watermelon indulgences, I began to wonder about the lives of our country’s so-called ‘founding fathers.’ What were the conversations that went on around the table as they signed their names to the document on that fateful summer day that would forever change the world?
To quench the thirst of my curiosity, I did a bit of digging around on the internet and discovered some words written by John Adams in a letter to his wife Abigail, a day before the Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress in 1776:
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more…
Prophetic words indeed eh? Over two hundred years later and Independence Day looks (almost) identical to his prediction:
- Celebrated as a great anniversary festival? Check.
- Solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations? Check, check, check. (My family actually managed to squeeze in all of the above over this past weekend. Yes, even guns. And throw in a hoola-hoop contest!)
- Commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion? If you mean deliverance from work by solemn acts of devotion to hotdogs and cold beverages, then maybe.
All kidding aside, the third point–devotion to God Almighty–hardly characterizes the All-American holiday celebration in most homes. It was so clearly a core value of our founding fathers and the culmination of the signing of the Declaration. Check out the original documents of the universities where the majority of our forefathers studied…
Harvard for example, which churned out a number of our founding fathers–including John Quincy Adams, John Hancock, John Adams, Samuel Adams–had this statement of purpose for incoming students:
“To be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of your life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ….” and that “Everyone shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day that he shall be able to give an account of his proficiency therein.”
Yale, which produced founding fathers such as Noah Webster, William Samuel Johnson, and Abraham Baldwin, had these requirements for its students:
“Seeing that God is the giver of all wisdom, every student, besides his private and secret prayer, will be present morning and evening for public prayer.”
Princeton produced people like James Madison, Benjamin Rush and John Witherspoon and had this founding statement:
“Cursed is all learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ.”
These faith-based statements played a pivotal role in shaping the hearts, minds and values of our founding fathers and the foundation on which our country was built, and yet our celebrations and commemorations of this country are null and void of any mention of God?
This is not a political rant, but a mere observation. Our country is clearly headed in a certain direction and I just wonder if it was the direction our forefathers had in mind. At the end of the day though, it is not up to our forefathers, as they were mere humans just like us. Rather, it is up to the sovereign will of our Father in Heaven, whether or not we agree with the moral, political, economic and/or spiritual state of this country. All we can do it trust that God knew exactly how America would take shape as a nation and He knows every moment of its future from here on out, for as the Scriptures say:
“From one man, he made all of the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” -Acts 17:26
He has marked out the appointed times in history for each and every nation. He has marked each and every boundary, each and every dividing line and it is all for one, very specific purpose:
“…so they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him…” -Acts 17:27
God created different nations so that we would draw closer to Him. How cool is that? No matter how far our country has come, or how far in whichever direction it has gone, may we always keep the big, eternal picture in view, choosing to seek Him and reach out for Him in the midst of a chaotic world that is impossible to fully understand. And may we also seek to honor our founding fathers by recognizing our nation as one grounded and founded by ‘solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.’
*Challenge Question: What is your favorite way to celebrate July 4th? How can we better carry on our forefathers’ legacy of devotion to God?
Read: Hebrews 12
“…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
I was jogging my normal route and suddenly I was stopped by a huge barrier in the road. I couldn’t see the way around it and started to become frustrated, until finally a construction man came to the rescue and signaled for me to take a little narrow path on the opposite side. I was relieved I could continue on my run.
Barriers often keep us from moving forward in our spiritual journey. Things like anger, unforgiveness, pride and self-sufficiency hinder us from staying on the path God has paved out for us. Or it could be more obvious behaviors like lying, stealing or sexual immorality. The Scripture verse today instructs us to “throw off everything that hinders” so we can continue to run our race to the best of our ability.
How do we “throw off” hindrances? Just as I had to look to the construction worker for guidance around the roadblock, we must look to Jesus. If we are willing, He will show us if there is anything that is hindering our ability to see and hear Him clearly. He will show us behaviors and attitudes that are entangling us and keeping us from walking out His plans for us. But we must be willing to do what it takes in order to remove the roadblocks once we know they are there.
Are you willing?
Dear Lord, please help me see any barriers that might be blocking my ability to see You and Your plans clearly. Give me the wisdom and strength to do what it takes to remove any road blocks so that I can continue on the straight path You have marked out for me. Help me to keep my eyes on You, trusting that You will show me what I need to do to keep running forward in this race of life. Amen.
*Take-away Treasure: Are there any roadblocks preventing you from experiencing the fullness of joy and peace in Christ? What are some hindrances you might need to “throw off” in order to be where God wants you to be?
I love Father’s Day because it gives us the chance to tell our dad’s how much they mean to us. One thing I like to do every year, is pick out the funniest card I can find and write a heartfelt letter verbalizing all the things I love about my dad. I want to take a few moments to honor my dad by sharing an excerpt from this year’s letter (with his permission!):
The older I get the more I realize what rare gift it is to have a dad that so selflessly and endlessly provides and actively guides his children through the various seasons of life. I know things haven’t been perfect between us, but there is no such thing as perfection when it comes to relationships. I want you to know that no matter how grown up I become I will always see you as my dad whose strength, provision and leadership are so needed to bring safety and comfort to my inner child self. I am truly grateful to God that He assigned YOU as my dad during this precious and short time we have on earth. The standard you have set in your loyalty to mom, dedication to your work and active involvement in our lives all these years are influences that have shaped me in positive and profound ways–more than you’ll probably ever know….
Honoring our parents is the 5th of the ten commandments in the Bible, but the first commandment with a promise attached to it: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12, see also Deuteronomy 5:16).
This is basically saying that there is blessing from God that comes to us as a result of honoring our parents. But you might be saying, “Yeah, but what if my parents aren’t honorable?” Perhaps you are like my friend who recently shared with me her struggle in how to honor her dad, whose moods and hot temper were difficult to handle. She said, “I know God commands us to honor our parents, but how do I do that when his behavior makes me so angry all the time?” Perhaps you can relate in having a father who is difficult to get along with, abusive or even absent from your life. What then?
One thing I am learning with my own relationship with my dad, is that God’s commandment still stands regardless of who our dad’s are, how they treat us and how well they have fulfilled their ‘father’ role. It is a hard truth to swallow, especially when there is abuse and/or abandonment involved. But when we truly seek to obey God in honoring our parents, I believe He will show us what that looks like in our own situations.
It may sound from the letter above that my dad and I have got the whole father/daughter relationship thing figured out. But let me assure you, we have had our ups and downs just like anyone else. There were years of distance and frustration between us due to things like personality clashes, different emotional needs, unrealistic expectations of what our relationship should look like, among other things. I often was tempted to throw in the towel and give up and I am sure he was too. Honoring someone from whom you feel worlds apart is not easy.
But over the years God has shown me the tremendous impact and power honoring our parents can have in our lives for years to come and even on into continuing generations. And here is a little secret: honoring our parents has nothing to do with them! No matter who our parents are and what they do (or don’t do) to us as parents, we are called to honor them anyway out of obedience and reverence to God.
Here are a few keys to unlocking the honor due to our dad’s, regardless of how well they have fulfilled their father duty. They have had a transformational effect on my relationship with my dad and it is my prayer they will on yours too.
Five Keys to Unlocking ‘Dadly’ Honor:
Choose to Forgive. If you are an adult reading this, you will inevitably be able to recall past hurts, mistakes and shortcomings related to your father and your relationship with him. If not, well, congratulations on being perfect! All kidding aside, the offenses we have experienced may be keeping us from offering forgiveness because we think he doesn’t ‘deserve’ it. But what I have learned is that forgiveness is not for the other person involved; rather it is for us. There is a release of freedom and peace that comes from forgiving those by whom we have been wronged. Forgiveness is absolutely crucial in our ability to honor our fathers. Pray and ask God to reveal any unforgiveness you may be harboring against your father (anger, bitterness, resentment etc may be signs of this). Ask for God’s help in leading you in the process of forgiveness and involve a trusted friend or counselor if need be. Freedom to love and honor your dad is sure to follow! As Paul says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom“ (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Choose to let go of Expectations. One reason I spent so many years frustrated with the relationship with my dad is because I was comparing him to everyone else’s dad. I had created in my head what I thought a father should be and when he didn’t meet my standard, I became angry and discontent. He was an introvert, I wanted an extrovert. He was a thinker, I wanted a feeler. He was a silent leader who led by example, I wanted a charismatic leader who gave specific guidance and instruction. I finally realized I had made up my own definition of what it meant to be a “good dad” and it wasn’t fair to him. Once I let go of my own expectations, I started seeing the unique blessings in my relationship with my real dad, not the dad I wanted him to be.
Choose to See through God’s Eyes. This, I have found, is a major key to being able to extend fatherly honor. As I mentioned earlier, I spent many years focusing on the ‘human’ side of my dad. All of us have weaknesses and flaws and it is often where we wrongly put our focus. I did. But once I started praying this prayer: “Lord, help me see my dad as you see him…” everything changed. Seriously. I began to see my dad with new eyes–God’s eyes–of love and compassion. Suddenly God softened areas of my heart that had been hardened over the years and allowed me to see my dad, not only as a child of God, but as a broken man who needed Jesus as much as I did. Choosing to see others through God’s eyes, no matter how difficult they are to love, changes everything. And it paves the way to wanting to honor our dads despite their shortcomings.
Choose to Give them the Benefit of the Doubt. Often times our relationships with our dads are less than perfect. We long for more communication, more affection, more affirmation and deeper connection. But I have learned that in most cases, dad’s are doing the best they can. They really are. No one is ever fully equipped to be a parent and few are ever formally trained. I look at my own dad with four daughters. How in the heck was he supposed to be prepared for that kind of estrogen overload? Whenever I am feeling discouraged in my own relationship with my dad, I always remind myself to give him a break! We can always ask God to fill any gaps and give us the grace to trust that our dad is doing the very best he can. When we give our dad’s the benefit of the doubt, we can show him the honor that is due.
Choose to SAY “I love you Dad.” When I lived in Singapore, I participated in an awareness drive about Love. We went around the city of 4 million, asking them how often they told their parents they loved them and vise versa. The results were staggering. The majority of both kids and adults reported they “rarely” or “almost never” said the words “I love you” to their parents, and I don’t think this is just a cultural thing. Now you might argue that while God commands us to love, He never commands us to actually say the words. But the Bible does talk a lot about the power and blessing that come from the spoken word, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet for the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24). Saying “I love you” to our dad’s may be uncomfortable and awkward at first if we are not used to saying it. But I believe that there is healing and restoring power in actually speaking it out. It is saying, “I love you dad” not because of the kind of father he has or hasn’t been, but because God first loved us. Choosing to love our biological fathers is putting our faith and trust in God and His divine order for the family, no matter how good or bad it has played out. When was the last time you said the words “I love you” to your dad?
Whatever your relationship looks like with your dad, choose today to set your relationship right before God and receive the promise of blessing that results from honoring our earthly fathers. I understand this is not easy and I in no way intend to condone abusive behavior or belittle the pain of those who do not have fathers due to abandonment, death or other reasons. God knows our hearts and He knows every detail of our circumstances and He promises to work all things together for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28). Father or no father, good father or bad father, good relationship or bad relationship, rest assured that God will work it ALL together for good because you love Him and He–our Heavenly Father–loves us. Very, very much.
*What are some tricks you’ve learned in being able to honor/respect/love your dad and improve your relationship with him? Leave a comment and join the conversation!
“Are you alright?” My sister, who knows me well, asked. “You seem kinda blue.”
My first instinct was to feign a smile and pretend like everything was fine and dandy. But deep down, I really wasn’t fine. In that moment, I was feeling anxious about my future, not to mention lonely, sad and confused. I couldn’t really explain why. I just felt…down. And clearly I wasn’t doing a good job of hiding it. But why was I even trying to hide it in the first place?
Somewhere along the lines I adopted this notion that being a strong Christian meant that you had to be happy and cheerful all the time. While it is true that God gives us supernatural portions of joy when we know Him personally, there are times in life when we will inevitably experience pain and heartache, suffering and trials of many kinds. The Scriptures give us more than enough evidence of this fact as well. Just read the Psalms, or study the lives of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Paul, Jesus or any other major figure in the Bible. They didn’t live lives free from suffering or struggle, but they endured and persevered through them by the grace and strength of their God.
As I struggled to give my sister an honest answer that day, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper, “It’s okay to not be okay all the time.” I repeat the same statement to you: It is okay to not be okay all the time.
Here are a few things I have learned to help me through the ‘not okay’ moments and seasons of life:
Pour Your Heart out to God. Psalm 62:8 says, “…pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” Whenever I am feeling down in the dumps, I literally imagine God lifting me up into His lap like Santa would an eager child before Christmas to listen to me as I empty myself of everything that is troubling my heart. Sometimes we assume God knows everything so there is no point in voicing it to Him. But when we truly trust God and look to Him as our refuge in times of trouble, we will go to Him and share everything that is in our hearts–the good, the bad and the ugly–like we would a best friend. This fosters closeness and intimacy with our Heavenly Father, which then brings comfort and healing during our times of need.
Learn to be Vulnerable. Yikes, this is the toughest one for me. In fact, it is terrifying. Who wants to admit to feeling down, defeated, discouraged or depressed? But as I am learning (slowing but surely) to let down my guard and let my loved ones into my inside world, I have felt the most free I have ever felt. As Paul says, “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). When we are living in the fullness of His Spirit, He will give us the freedom to be vulnerable, without fear of what others might think. We will be able to admit we need others to sustain us on this road of life and in turn, we will be able to receive strength and love from them. A true blessing that I missed out on for so many years!
Have the Courage to Cry. These past several months, I have probably shed more tears than I have at any other point in my life. Not because I have more things to cry about necessarily, but because I have learned to cry. I always thought crying was a sign of weakness so I held back my tears. But I now realize crying is a sign of our true humanness. It shows we are capable of feeling and expressing our feelings in a way that God created them to be expressed–through tear ducts! Jesus was a prime example of expressing His heartfelt emotions as they arose. John 11 records how his “soul was deeply troubled and moved” and how he “wept” after Mary came to him about her dead brother. That one always gets me: Jesus wept! If the son of God had the courage to cry, we should too. And we can be assured that while “…weeping may remain for a night…rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Shedding tears can be a healthy release of emotion that can bring refreshing and renewal, turning our momentary sorrow into joy once again. Go on, let it out and cry like a baby!
Persevere through the Valley. Jesus says, “Every valley shall be filled…” (Luke 3:5). He brings us assurance in our lowest times that he will fill us with a fresh fullness of His Spirit and exalt us to a higher plain with Him. I have experienced that it is often in the ‘valley’ that God wants to do a deeper work in us. Though it might be tempting to shut God out during these times, we must persevere and continue to seek His face even when we don’t feel like it. Be ready to receive fresh revelation of who He is and what He is doing. Perseverance is the key to greater intimacy with God!
Are you feeling blue? A little down and out? Depressed or Discouraged? Whatever it is, take heed my friend because you are not alone. We all have times of feeling less than our best and sometimes there is no good explanation why, which can be frustrating. What we do know is that God doesn’t want us to stay in that place forever. But we also shouldn’t be too quick to run away from it or shove it under the rug either. Sometimes God allows moments of moaning, groaning, suffering, struggling, trials and tears to achieve His higher purposes in us, such as character growth or learning greater dependence on Him. But Paul says we should do nothing other than rejoice in our sufferings, “…because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
So let me say it one more time: It is okay to not be okay today. May you have the willingness to pour your heart out to God, the humility to be vulnerable in front of your loved ones, the courage to cry a river of tears, the strength to persevere through the valley and the hope that God is doing a deep work in you and He will bring it to completion!
*Share your thoughts and join the conversation! How to you get through the valley?