God doesn’t pick anyone because they’re special

During the end of the year, people start talking about everything they’ve accomplished. I do it. Most people I know do it. And it’s really easy to hear about everything that’s going right for people and feel a little bit left out. Do you ever get that feeling? Like you haven’t done as much as you could have? Or that somehow God is doing more for someone else than you?

It’s okay to admit it. That’s a normal feeling. Not a true feeling but a normal one.

When you start looking at people and comparing yourself to them, it’s easy to start thinking that God loves someone else more than you, because all you’re looking at is them rather than God’s work in your own life. I take God’s work in my own life for granted. It can seem small and insignificant to me. And I begin to wonder why other people are so special that God would show up in their lives when He doesn’t in mine.

33E58C5499Today’s verses are Deuteronomy 7:7-9.

The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.

The truth is, you aren’t that special. Sorry to break it to you. But God didn’t pick you (or me) out of a crowd because we had some special skill or unique talent. The only thing that makes us special is God’s work in our lives. It has nothing to do with us.

Sort of like Israel. It wasn’t even a country. It wasn’t even a family to start out with. It was just Abraham and his wife, and they weren’t even able to have children. But God made them a promise. And He kept it. And He’s still keeping it to this day. Israel wasn’t special. It was God who was special, who chose to do something miraculous. That’s how it works with us too.

Now don’t misunderstand. We are loved and unique and priceless. God made each of us, so by that token we are special, individually crafted by God Himself. So that by itself makes us special in comparison to the rest of creation, even in comparison to each other. But I don’t have anything that would make God love me more than someone else. Neither do you. We’re all poor and weak and powerless, and it’s God who comes along and gives us strength and success and victory.

God promises to be our salvation, our rock, our healer, our guide, our light. He promises that when we’re weak, we’ll be strong through His power. He promises that even in our darkest moments, He has a plan that He’s working out for our benefit. That’s not on us. That’s all on Him.

God doesn’t play favorites.

So don’t get into the habit of comparing yourself with other people. When the year-end accomplishment letters start coming in and the personal goals for the year grace your inbox, choose to rejoice with your friends instead of comparing yourself to them. Choose to marvel at God’s workmanship in people and realize that God is working in your life too. It just looks different than it does with other people.

God doesn’t pick anyone because they’re special. He picks people He can use. So if you want God to be visible in your life, if you want His blessings to be obvious, be the kind of person God can use. Be humble. Be honest. Be genuine. Trust Him. Follow Him. Honor Him. And if you’re doing all that, He’s probably more visible in your life than you think.

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God is the source of hope for the New Year

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. Lots of people are gathering food and party supplies to ring in the New Year with snacks and togetherness. Some folks (like my family) are planning a quiet evening of movie watching. And then? Well, the New Year will begin, and we’ll all get back into our routines. And, if previous years are any indication, the momentum we gathered at the beginning of the year will run out about a month into it.

And there are all sorts of explanations. It might be a lack of discipline. It might be general laziness. It might be too much stress or too little sleep or both. Many factors play a role in derailing resolutions. But in my experience, there’s nothing that can derail me worse than a loss of purpose or direction. If I don’t know where I’m going or if I don’t have a goal to reach, I wander. I hesitate. I second guess myself. I give up. And I don’t think I’m alone in that.

 

nature-flowers-plant-springToday’s verse is Romans 15:13.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

People have to have hope. You can’t live without it. Love lasts forever, yes, and your faith can fail. Mine does often. But if I ever lose hope, I’ll stop completely. I’ll lose faith if I lose hope. I’ll stop loving if I lose hope. My hope in the Lord gives me the strength to have faith, to love people who don’t love me in return.

When we get home and receive everything God has promised us, we won’t need our hope anymore. But while we live on earth, hope is a necessity. And fortunately for us, God has given us everything we need to cling to hope in Him. He’s demonstrated His goodness. He’s proven His Word. He’s shown us that He never makes mistakes and He always keeps His promises.

When you know God like that, you trust Him, and when you trust Him, He gives you joy and peace. At that point, your hope becomes something confident, something unbreakable, something unquenchable. And that’s how I want to face 2016, with unquenchable hope.

Don’t mistake hope with naivete, though. I think a lot of people do. Just because you hold on to hope doesn’t mean you’re living in denial. It doesn’t mean you’re ignoring the facts. It just means that you’re placing your trust in Someone who is big enough to make all the negative facts work together into a positive result.

2016 is going to bring a lot of challenges, but you know what? God is bigger than the challenges I’m facing, and I trust Him completely. So the hope I have in Him can be confident, because He is where hope comes from.

Learning when you look back

The end of the year is a time when everyone starts looking back over the weeks and months that have passed. At least, it is for me. I think about where I started at the beginning of the year. I think about all the great things that have happened, but I also think about all the bad stuff too.

I love life. I love following Jesus. I love doing what God has called me to do, but it’s a foregone conclusion that life isn’t always happy. Sometimes bad things happen, and they often happen to good people. But the world isn’t perfect, and we’re all just doing the best we can to get by in it. That being said, I screw things up. I make decisions in fear or insecurity or anger. I hide when I ought to speak up. I speak up when I ought to shut up.

But no matter how many times I mess up, one thing is certain–I learn something.

PTJNJ5LZLAToday’s verse is Deuteronomy 4:9.

But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.

I don’t like making mistakes, and I don’t like difficult situations. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like it when people are unhappy with me or with others. But many times I end up in a circumstance where I’m facing one or all of those things, and many times it’s because of something I did or said (or because I failed to do or say something I needed to).

I noticed that gasoline was really low the other day. Like less than $1.50 per gallon, and I should have filled up. But I didn’t. I decided to put it off. And the next day, it was up around $1.75, and I had to fill up because I was almost out. When you make a judgment call about anything, you have to face the consequences. And whether the consequences are good or bad, you can still walk away with a lesson learned.

God cautioned the Children of Israel to remember what they had been through in the wilderness, how He’d taken care of them, how He’d guided them and provided for them. He wanted them to remember so that they’re children wouldn’t forget. And that hasn’t changed today. It might be thousands of years later and we may be living in a different culture, but the concept is still the same.

When God brings you through something, remember it. Remember what you learned. Remember how you got into it. Remember how God got you out of it. And take steps to keep remembering it. Tell your family. Tell your friends. Tell anyone who will listen. Write it down, because you will forget, and you shouldn’t.

So take stock of where you are and how you got there. Take a moment and look back on your life and the choices you’ve made that brought you to where you are today. Then learn from it. If you made a choice and good consequences followed, remember it. If you made a choice and bad consequences followed, remember that too and don’t do it again.

The New Year is approaching with more speed than any of us realize, and many of us will try starting over. That’s all well and good, but if you don’t remember how you got here to begin with, you are destined to make the same mistakes all over again.

You don’t have to wait for Friday to start over

The idea of starting over isn’t always appealing. When I finished my freshman year of college, I changed schools. I went from a super-conservative, unaccredited college in Florida to a public state university in Kansas, and it was looking I was going to have to start over again. I had 33 credits and for all intents and purposes, it didn’t seem like they would be accepted. In that instance, starting over wasn’t going to be fun.

The Lord opened some impossible doors, though, and all 33 of my credits transferred (even my Bible courses) to Wichita State University, and I finished my degree there and had a great experience. I was thankful that I didn’t have to repeat my freshman year. So in that case, beginning again wouldn’t have been my preference. But there are plenty of times in my life that I wish I could have a Do Over moment.

I say something or I do something I shouldn’t say or do. Or I come to my senses later on and wish I could have the moment to do over again. Those are the times when you wish starting over was easy.

explosion-firework-new-year-s-eve-december-31Today’s verses are Lamentations 3:22-26.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly
for salvation from the Lord.

This is the time of year that we all start thinking about new beginnings. A new year begins this week, and lots of people will be initiating new ways of living. New diet plans. New budgets. New clothes. New jobs. New everything.

New years mark the time to start over again, and everyone around the world usually embraces the idea whole-heartedly. I mean, after a year like last year, who wouldn’t want a fresh start, right?

But oftentimes, new years are just a rehash of the old year, aren’t they? Not to be a doomsayer. That’s just the truth. Most people who make New Year’s Resolutions end up stuck in the same rut all over again in two or three weeks. That’s a generalization, sure, but it’s not an untrue one.

And that’s okay. You know, we all deal with that. Everyone faces troubles like that.

But what if you need to start over? What if you really do need a new beginning? Well, that’s where God comes in. See, new starts with God really are new beginnings. Every morning, His mercies are new. That means He doesn’t hold sins from yesterday against us. If we’ve confessed them and repented (which means we’ve determined not to live that way anymore), He forgives us and moves on.

God doesn’t hold your sin over your head. He’s forgotten it. There’s no guilt, no shame, no pointing fingers, and no baggage.

Do you need to start over? You don’t have to wait for the New Year to get here. You can start over now, and God will give you fresh start. You just have to turn to Him. Start living your life to please Him. Search for His will in every situation.

The world will remind you of all the wrong you’ve done. The world will condemn you because you aren’t strong enough. The world will give up on you because you don’t have the power to change. That’s not what God does. God makes you into a new person and gives you the power to live a new life for Him.

Don’t wait for Friday. You can start over today. Just ask.

Gifts aren’t always what they seem

I love giving gifts. It’s one of my favorite things in the world. I don’t like to shop, really, but looking for just the right Christmas present is one of the highlights of my year. And the only thing better is wrapping it up and giving it away, anticipating how much joy the receiver will experience, the way their eyes light up and their faces lift.

In the past, I’ve always been able to find exactly what I wanted to give, mostly because I could afford it. But this year is a little different. This year, finances are much tighter than they have been in the past, and that’s to be expected. When you cut your income by more than 50%, you tighten the belt. And that includes Christmas presents.

The gifts I’m giving away this year are a far cry from what I gave away in past years. They’re certainly more personal because there’s so many more homemade gifts rather than purchased ones. But I always hear that niggling little voice in the back of my head that tells me they aren’t good enough. I mean, how could a cheap little hand-made present communicate how much I love someone?

But as I was arguing with my stupid inner-self a few days ago, I had a thought. Or maybe the Lord gave me a thought. See, Christmas is the time we celebrate that Jesus came to earth, and when He was born, shepherds and wise men and all sorts brought presents and had a great big party. And that party continued for like 30 years, because everyone was so excited that God had sent someone to save them from Rome.

Yeah. That’s the gift people were celebrating. But that wasn’t the gift God gave.

gift-present-christmas-xmasToday’s verses are Isaiah 9:6-7.

For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!

See, the people of Israel believed that God had sent them a political Messiah. Someone who would toss the Romans out of the land and restore freedom to their people. But that wasn’t the reason Jesus came. Jesus came with salvation, yes, but salvation for our souls. Not salvation from a government people didn’t like.

We had to be saved from our own selves. That was the gift God gave us when Jesus came to Earth. But nobody saw that. Jesus came and that’s worth celebrating, but the most precious gift He brought wasn’t what everyone expected.

Don’t make the mistake of seeing a gift at face value. Don’t assume you know its worth. God gave His most precious gift to us when He gave us Jesus, but that gift isn’t what people wanted right at that moment. They wanted salvation from Rome immediately. They wanted a ruler to look impressive, sound impressive, be impressive, but God knew what they needed, just like He knows what we need now.

 

We should always be thankful for the gifts we receive, but even if you get a gift that you don’t understand or don’t know how to use, don’t automatically discount it in your mind. A gift isn’t always what it seems at first. After all, Israel thought Jesus had come to rescue them from Rome, but Jesus actually came to rescue them from sin. Which do you think is worth more?

Christmas doesn’t have to be stressful

Nothing is more stressful than the holiday season. Don’t get me wrong. Christmas is my favorite time of year, but it’s also when a lot of stuff happens. A lot of things go wrong. A lot of people come to visit. A lot of things need to get done. And when you add all that up, it can amount to a heaping helping of stress and anxiety.

But the more Christmases I live through, the more I learn that my stress and anxiety during the holiday season doesn’t stem from family and friends visiting or expectations of others or needing to bake and cook and clean. No, anything negative I experience happens because I’ve got my focus in the wrong place.

christmas-xmas-santa-claus-adventToday’s verse is John 15:4.

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

The world is complicated and stressful without the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and it’s always a temptation to step away from God’s way and do things ourselves. But when we try to accomplish anything in our own strength, we will ultimately fail.

Like a branch can’t produce fruit if it’s severed from the tree, a Christ-follower can’t accomplish much without God’s power in his or her life. And that relates to everything we do. At our jobs. In our homes. In our churches. Among our families.

So as you gather with family and friends today and tomorrow, don’t let stress dictate how you feel. Don’t let the craziness of the season tempt you away from remembering what it’s all about.

Christmas is about Jesus. It’s the day He came to save us from our sins. It’s the day God kept His promise. Who cares if the pie burns or if your in-laws are being rude? So what if you couldn’t get the exact present you wanted? Whatever is bothering you today, shelf it. Let it go. Instead, focus on what really matters, and find your strength and patience in Christ’s love and grace.

It’s a stressful time of year, but it doesn’t have to be. With God, anything is possible. And if you’re a Christ-follower, you have free access to His power, and God is just waiting for you to sit down at His table.

Following Jesus isn’t about emotional exhaustion

I’m a fairly emotional person, but I decided at a young age that I didn’t trust them. So I always try to make decisions based on what I know rather than what I feel, and that has served me pretty well over the years. There are some biblical precedents for living that way too. But what do you do with all your emotions? Because we all have them, even if we’d like to deny it.

God created us with emotions for a reason, and maybe we can’t always trust the way they make us feel, but they’re a part of our lives, for better or worse. The problem I run into is that I don’t take care of my emotions. I ignore them. I push them down and cover them up. And that might work for a limited amount of time, but eventually they’ll get out of hand. When my emotional batteries drain down to zero, that’s when I implode, and I usually take a few people down with me.

Managing emotions isn’t about ignoring what we feel. That’s just asking for trouble. Instead, it’s learning to recognize what is worth investing in emotionally, and it’s taking the proper time to rest after you’ve been through an emotionally draining experience.

6T45YAK7M1Today’s verses are Matthew 11:28-30.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

This passage has a couple of different meanings, all of which are probably relevant to the average 21st Century Christian’s life. Jesus is mostly talking about the weight of religion and religious rituals that cause stress and exhaustion. Following Jesus isn’t religion. It’s not jumping through hoops or putting on a show so that God will be pleased with your performance. Jesus just asks you to come as you are and follow Him, believe in Him, trust Him, and live like He did. And it’s not a matter of performing or getting a perfect score or wearing the right clothes or knowing all the answers. None of that stuff matters.

Trying to do everything right all the time is exhausting. Trying to keep up appearances all the time wears you out. It’s a never-ending dance that you will keep trying to do for the rest of your life, and you’ll never succeed. That’s not the life Jesus has called us to.

But the meaning of this passage goes beyond just freedom from religion. In the Amplified Version, where it says that “you’ll find rest for your souls” it actually means “renewal and blessed quiet.” Following Jesus means that your soul will be refreshed. You’ll find peace in following Jesus, far beyond what any perfect performance can bring.

Jesus knows that we’re emotional creatures. We were created that way, and it’s not wrong to feel. Yes, our emotions can get the better of us when we stop focusing on what God says is true, but as long as we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, we can manage our feelings with wisdom. But even then, you’re going to wear yourself out. The emotional stress of the day is going to take it’s toll, whether it’s a good day or a bad day, and if you don’t take the time to recharge your batteries, you’re going to be running on empty when the sun rises tomorrow.

It’s okay to feel. It’s not wrong. Just be sure that what you’re feeling aligns with God’s Word, and if it doesn’t, take steps to make it right. If what you’re feeling doesn’t match up with what God says is right, shut it out. Don’t think about it. Don’t focus on it. Do what you can to change the way you think, and you will change the way you feel.

Following Jesus isn’t about emotional exhaustion. Jesus never asks us to work ourselves to death. That’s the farthest thing from what He wants. Yes, there are hard choices to make. Yes, following Jesus sometimes means you’ll go through dark times. But you can go through darkness and challenging circumstances and still be emotionally healthy.

So are you feeling rundown today? Run to Jesus. Go tell Him what you’re feeling and let Him take that heavy burden off your shoulders. He’ll replace it with one that’s a lot lighter, and He’ll show you how to find rest and peace in Him.