A Fresh Perspective

perception, blessings, thankfulnessThese days I make it a habit to stop by my favorite coffee shop at least once a week on my way to work.  The coffee is excellent, the service is friendly and I can pick up a bag of freshly roasted coffee beans while I am there.  For a coffee lover such as myself, it’s a great place to shop and that has as much to do with the product they sell as it does with the people who work there.

During my visit this past week, one of the regular employees opened the door for me as I entered the building.  As he opened the door he said, “Hey Matthew!” which was not only nice and appreciated but also quite surprising in that he remembered my name.  After I concluded my business at the counter I walked over to where he was working (he was in the process of roasting a fresh batch of beans which not only smelled amazing it was quite fascinating to watch) and struck up a conversation with him.

It turns out that he remembered me not only because I am a frequent customer but also because I drive my Mazda MX-5 Miata to work and he, being a fan who was thinking of purchasing one in the future, had noticed it.  Of course any time someone wants to talk cars I am more than happy to oblige in that conversation, being an enthusiast myself.  And the fact that this happened inside my favorite coffee shop with a fresh cup in my hand just made it all the better.  Here were two of my favorite things happening at the same time in the same place and I remember being very happy and thankful for the encounter.

We spoke for just a few minutes about the Miata and why he liked them and I have to say his enthusiasm was catching.  I walked back out to my car at the conclusion of the conversation with a big smile on my face, not only because I enjoyed the chat, but because it allowed me to see the Miata with a fresh perspective.  All of a sudden, I remembered all of the reasons that I had sought the Miata out and it was like I was sitting in it again for the first time and appreciating what a fun and and interesting car that it really is.  Seeing the car through someone else’s eyes and listening to their enthusiasm for it helped to rekindle my own.

Later that day, as I was thinking back on my experience, the Lord brought something to my mind.  It is part of our nature as human beings to take good things for granted once we become accustomed to them.  We do this not only to material possessions  (like I did with my car) but also to our relationships with the people around us.  And then there is that most important relationship, the one between us and God, that I fear we also tend to take for granted.

I know that I do, if I am not careful.  Unless I am vigilant I tend to take so many of the blessings in my life for granted and I know that it’s easy to just skim the surface of how awesome our God really is and all that He has done for us.  I know that unless I take the time to slow down and ask Him to give me a fresh perspective on who He is that I am likely to miss much of who He is and what He is doing.

For that reason, my prayer lately has been that God would allow my heart to grow and my spiritual eyesight to sharpen so that I might better perceive Him and His handiwork.  I want to know Him better and to be a better friend to Him because He has been such a great friend to me.  I can see how I was beginning to take some things for granted and I am so glad that God loves me enough to correct me and to show me a better way.

Sometimes, it takes an object lesson from life experience in order for God to teach us something.  Our responsibility is to be teachable and to be listening for when and how He speaks.  God is so amazing that He can use seemingly normal, everyday circumstances in order to reveal Himself to us.  My prayer is that we would be on the lookout for Him and be actively seeking to know Him better through it all.

 

 

Why Do You Believe?

1 Peter 3:15, apologetics, faithA recent sermon I heard was based around the question “Why should I believe in God?”

If you are reading this blog I hope that you have already answered that question; even so it bears repeating.  Why do you believe in God?

15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15 NKJV)

If we are to be able to give a defense to everyone who asks us, as 1 Peter 3:15 says, then we need to be very sure about our belief.  We need to have that answer ready at hand, not as a scripted response but as a heartfelt statement of faith.  The world desperately needs men and women who are standing firm on their belief in their savior and are not afraid to verbalize it when called on to do so.

On a personal level, I believe in God because I have experienced His presence and because He has changed me from the inside out.  When I was at my lowest I cried out to Him and He came and found me.  His touch was not physical but it left an unmistakable impression on my soul and since then my desire has been only to serve and to love Him with my whole heart.

I have a personal relationship with Him.  I talk to Him all of the time.  I tell Him about my day, confess my fears, worries and mistakes and thank Him for His goodness.  I ask Him for His blessing and protection and His will to be done in the lives of many.

I gave my heart to Him and in exchange He has given me hope for the future, peace in the face of trials and love for myself and my fellow man.  While I am still far, far from perfect I rejoice in knowing that little by little, He is making me like Him.

That is why I believe.  I am passionate about my defense of the gospel and my hope for all believers is that they would be able to give a similar type of answer to the question “Why do you believe?”  And beyond that, I am of the opinion that all believers should be passionate about their belief and the God who saved them.  Not that we should be bullies or insensitive, because that is not the essence of true love, but that we should be ready to firmly and wisely defend the reasons for our faith.

Project 2020

goals, plans, dreamsI started a new writing project recently, one that is quite different than anything that I have attempted before.  I don’t want to go into to much detail just yet.  Many things about it could change before it is completed but at this point there are a couple of things that I know for sure and can share.

  1. It will be one of the longest pieces that I have ever written if not the longest.  It won’t be anything like book length (at least I don’t think it will) but it will be much, much longer than the weekly blog posts.
  2. If things go as planned it will take around three years to complete and there’s a very specific reason for that length of time.
  3. I will be releasing it in stages as I reach certain milestones.
  4. The genre will be loosely “documentary” and I plan to mix my writing with photos and video.
  5. When all is said and done it might only be interesting to me but that is the kind of risk you take with something like this.

It’s hard to say exactly when the seed for this project was planted but the process that I will be documenting is based on a decision I made a couple of months ago.  From the beginning I’ve wanted to write about this particular topic but until I really thought and prayed about it I didn’t really understand how I could incorporate it in to Matthew515 properly.

That praying, thinking and planning process is continuing and will continue because this will be an on-going project with a definite goal at the end.  I said earlier that I thought it would take around three years time to fully complete and that is because I have a specific goal of age 45 for completion and I will be 45 in March of 2020.

Although 2020 is my target I always, in everything I do, want to be sensitive to God’s will and His plan for my life.  From the beginning I’ve let it be known that I give God full authority to change my course and alter or do away with the project and the goal completely.  This project is human initiative but I want it to be human initiative under God’s direction and in a way that would be pleasing to Him.  That might mean that the goal gets pushed back (if it moves at all it would be more likely to be pushed back than to move forward and those reasons will be discussed within the project itself) because ultimately the timing is in God’s hands, not mine.

On a personal level, thinking about and planning for something that is several years out is difficult for me to do.  I have always been a “right now” person (which is both good and bad) and I’ve not given the future as much thought as I probably should have.  I am not a visionary or someone who tends to set grand goals and I tend to stay focused on the here and now.  That’s not to say that I never think about what is to come (I am very excited for what God has in store for His children!) but just that I don’t tend to spend much time thinking about what happens next here on earth.  For me to have set a goal that is that far out is something brand new and feels as exciting as it does daunting.  It’s something that’s not really in my nature so I know that in order for it to be completed the focus, inspiration and energy will have to come from the Lord.

That’s all for now and I hope to have more to say about this in the very near future.  My God bless and keep you as you go!

The Privilege And Pleasure Of Proclamation

important message, praise, God is goodI’m doing this because I told the Lord that I would.  Let me explain:

Last month was a difficult one.  There were several things that I was praying specifically for but one in particular really burdened me.  I prayed that it would come to pass nearly every day and sometimes more than once a day.  Not only did this thing have the potential to effect me positively but it also had the potential of lifting up and encouraging everyone that I work with on a daily basis.

But even as I began earnestly praying I recognized that it was more important that God’s will be done than this one thing come to pass.  So as I prayed I told the Lord that I would praise Him and make it known if He allowed this thing to come to pass and if not, I would praise Him anyway.  Publicly.

The fact is, He is worthy of my praise and even when things don’t go according to my plan they will always go according to His plan.  Job said it like this:

“I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)

God’s purpose will be accomplished and His plans never fail.  So as I prayed I did so with the knowledge that God’s will was higher than my plans and I yielded myself to His will for my life and waited to see what the outcome would be.

Today I can tell you that the thing that I was praying for did not come to pass.  I was disappointed  and saddened but also encouraged that God had a higher purpose beyond what I could see.  Do I wonder why God did not allow this thing to come to pass?  Of course I do.  I wanted it for myself and for my co-workers and as far as I could see, it would only be a good thing.  But I can only see a fraction of the whole.  God sees it all.  I wanted what I thought was good but God wants to give me what is best, always.

I give thanks to the Lord because He is good.  I make it known to any who would read this that I trust in the Lord even when things don’t go exactly like I want them to go.  I recognize that His will and plans are perfect and that I am not.  And I say that it is a privilege and a pleasure to be able to write about how good God is and how blessed I am to be called one of His children.

Thank you Lord, for being so good to me!

The Difference Between Strive And Strife

strive, strife, Matthew 6:33It is interesting to me how one word can, over the course of time and through the interaction of diverse people groups, take on different meanings or connotations. Take the words “strive” and “strife”.  As near as I can tell they both derive from the Old French word “estriver” which originally meant simply to quarrel or dispute and the Old Norse word “stritha” which meant to fight.

From those words we now have two English words, one with a positive connotation (strive) and one with a negative connotation (strife).  In our modern vernacular, to strive for something is to work through adversity or to overcome obstacles on the way to a goal or in the process of betterment.  Strife, on the other hand, usually means actual conflict (which can be internal or external in nature) that causes anguish or suffering for the participants.

Why is this worth discussing?  And more importantly, does it have spiritual application for us?

It is important and it does have spiritual application and here’s why:  Anytime we set a goal for ourselves we have the choice of doing things God’s way or trying to do them our way and in our own human power.  It could be a promotion or a raise at work, a target healthy weight, a certain amount of money saved up, a test score or anything else that we could conceive.

Ideally, we would set our goal and then commit that goal in prayer to God and then set about achieving it in a Godly way.  We would do the best we could but ultimately we would be trusting in God’s provision (and implicit in that trust is not taking short-cuts along the way or trying to speed the process along by worldly means) and setting our hope on him.  We would have peace in our hearts and joy in our minds because we know that we would be choosing God’s best for us rather than just guessing what might be best or what might satisfy us for only a short while.

Going back to our title, we would be striving in the best way possible.

But what if, instead of committing our ways and thoughts to the Lord, we decided to go it alone?  What if, instead of acting like born-again believers we decided to act like those who do not acknowledge God?  Sooner or later, we would find ourselves in the midst of strife.  We would worry and anguish over what we wanted and we would not have the peace that comes from fully trusting in the Lord.  We would also, most likely, not achieve our goal in God’s timing or in God’s way and that would lead to dissatisfaction and a sense of emptiness and loss.

Internal strife would be our constant companion until we repented and turned back to God and we would know no peace until we made things right.

The exhortation is this: We must examine where we are and where we want to be.  We must make sure that we are committing our ways and thoughts to the Lord and then repent and turn away from those places where we are not.  Only God can do what needs to be done and it is only through His power that we can achieve all that He has for us.  Working towards a goal is good so long as we are doing it in a way that pleases the Lord.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Matthew 6:33 (KJV)

 

 

When Enemies Threaten

Psalm 11, evil, wickedness, threatenThere seems to be a pervasive sense of unease and insecurity in our land.  It is true that we are threatened by evil men who want to do the world harm and to to destroy our country but we need not fear or spend our time being worried and anxious.  Evil men and those who threaten the righteous are not a new occurrence and good people have had to stand up to bullies (with God’s help) for all of recorded history.

In King David’s time, he and his people were similarly threatened and it is useful and instructive to look at the prayer that David offered to God in Psalms 11 as a model response to threat.

In the Lord I take refuge;
How can you say to my soul, “Flee as a bird to your mountain;
 For, behold, the wicked bend the bow,
They make ready their arrow upon the string
To shoot in darkness at the upright in heart.
 If the foundations are destroyed,
What can the righteous do?”  Psalm 11:1-3 (NASB)

In the first three verses, David asks a couple of questions and makes an observation about the situation that he and his people are in.  At first we get the sense that David is responding to those who have already given up hope and who are running for the hills.  David says, (paraphrasing) “How can you ask me to give in to despair when I have chosen to trust in God’s plan and find my refuge in him?” and that is a good reminder for us as well.  There might be a time when we need to physically retreat from a situation that is dangerous or unfeasible but that doesn’t mean we do so because we have given up hope or have forgotten about God’s provision for us.

David goes on to acknowledge that his enemies were getting ready to make war (they make ready their arrow upon the string) but then asks the question that we must all ask and answer: “if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

These “foundations” refer to places of security and can mean the very fabric of society.  In other words, if my people, my country and my way of life are removed from me, what is my response?

The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven;
His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.
 The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,
And the one who loves violence His soul hates.
 Upon the wicked He will rain snares;
Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
 For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness;
The upright will behold His face.  Psalm 11:4-7 (NASB)

For David, his response was to look to God and to assure himself and those around him of who God is and what the fate of evil would ultimately be.  God sees and knows all that is in the hearts of men and regardless of how present circumstances might look the one who afflicts the righteous and practices evil will receive their due.  God is righteous and loves those who practice righteousness and his promise to them is that they will see His face.

Seeing the face of God implies being held close by Him such that we both feel his presence in the here and now but will also, one day, see him face to face with all barriers removed.  We are assured of God’s presence and protection and need not fear evil men or their schemes.  Continue to trust in the Lord, no matter what happens, and remember to praise Him at all times and in all seasons of life because He is worthy.

 

The Right Way To Ask And Receive

prayer, Philippians 4:6, supplicationWhat is our first response to a problem or need?  When an obstacle appears, what do we do?  Do we worry?  Do we apply critical thinking and try to come up with the best plan?  As children of God, our first response should always be to approach our Heavenly Father in prayer.

Consider Philippians 4:6.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  Philippians 4:6 (NASB)

Right away, we can see that the best response to a problem or need is to take it directly to God in humility and thanksgiving.  I believe that many Christians have been taught that this is the right way but often fail to follow through with it.  We let the worry and strife occupy our thoughts instead of using our will to focus on God and His provision.  Thankfully, this can be learned and part of the process of becoming a mature believer is to learn to take it to the Lord as our first response.

Once we have given our focus and our thoughts to the Lord and have placed our petition at His feet, what comes next?  In my mind, this is where trust and obey becomes most important.  We can learn to pray all day but until we do so in faith and trust then we are just as likely to fall back into worry as anything else.  And because it is God who increases our faith, part of our daily walk with Him should be to continually ask Him to increase our faith and to help us learn to lean on Him more and more.  If we can do this during the times of relative calm then when the next storm comes we will be that much more prepared to stand firm in Him.

Finally, if we are praying about a need and we are looking for an answer to our prayer then we must stay in a place where we can see and receive that answer.  For example, even if I have laid my petition at His feet and have trusted Him to bring about the answer in His time but then go and engage in sinful practices then it is likely that I will miss God’s answer to my prayer.  If I am watching a movie or show that I know does not please the Lord or if I allow my temper to get the best of me and I quarrel with a brother or sister then my greatest need is repentance and I will not be in a place where I can really see or understand what God is doing around me.  I call this “being out of position” and because we are still human beings living in a fallen world it is a very easy thing to do.

Being out of position does not mean that God won’t answer my prayer.  Our sinfulness has never been an impediment to God’s will being carried out (praise God for that!).  But it does mean that I may not be able to perceive how God has answered my prayer and I will certainly miss the blessing that comes from being intimately involved with God’s work here on Earth.

I also want to emphasize that God works through human hands and human minds.  It is a good thing when we make a plan, commit it to the Lord and then follow through in a way that would please Him.  Taking a problem or need to God does not mean that we then sit on our hands and do nothing.  Part of trusting and obeying is to continue to do those things that we know are right and to do our very best to solve problems with what we have already been given.  Trust God to work while we are also working.  He will always take what little we have to offer and multiply it to great effect.

I Mean You No Harm

fruits of the spirit, Quiet time, Galatians 5:22Talk about a movie phrase.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually say “I mean you no harm” in real life before.  It’s a phrase devised by Hollywood script writers and is analogous to “I come in peace” (also a phrase I have not heard in real life).

With the way our world and our nation seems to be going, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better if we all started our conversations with “I mean you no harm” as a preface or preamble to our human interactions (I’m kidding, mostly).  Fear is at an all time high.  Mistrust and suspicion have become our de facto mode of interacting with one another.  Social unrest, racial inequality, hate speech and bigoted ways of thinking seem to be defining our current reality and as Christians I wonder how we should respond.

Let’s go back to “I mean you no harm” for just a moment.  Is there a way that we can model gentleness of disposition and such a peaceful spirit that it can’t help but show through us?  I believe there is.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV)

The Bible shows us that yes, we can show forth peace in a visible and remarkable way.  As we surrender our old selves with our selfishness, fear, anxiety, anger and all of the old things that used to define us God replaces those things with the defining characteristics of His Spirit.  This does not happen instantaneously but is a gradual, day by day process as we learn to love the Lord and walk with Him.

This is why daily renewal is so vital to our growth and maturity as Christians.  Without that time to reconnect with the heart of our Lord we will gradually fall back into our old ways of acting and thinking and the fruit that we produce will not be the fruit of the Spirit.  If you’ve ever wondered why some Christians look and act so much like the unsaved, this is why.  A Christian who is not walking in renewal and who is not making personal Bible study and prayer time a priority will not grow in the Lord and will not be able to live and speak the right kind of message.

Our response to our unsaved family, friends, co-workers and neighbors will in some way determine their path through this life and where they ultimately spend eternity.  Are we showing with our attitude and actions the fruits of the Spirit or are we perpetuating the cycle of selfishness, anger and fear?  It will be one or the other.  There is no middle ground.

Whose Power?

power, authority, Acts 17:28What kind of music listener are you?  Are you more of a left-brain, analytical listener who primarily focuses on the words and lyrics of a song?  Or are you more of a right-brain listener who hears the melodies and harmonies while the words and lyrics seem to fade into the background?

Usually, I am a more of a right-brain listener.  I can enjoy a song for months or years and simply not notice or pay attention to most of the words.  This may sound like an odd trait but it does lead to some surprising moments when I do finally discover what those lyrics in that song that I enjoyed actually were.  I try to stay away from artists and bands that I know stand for promiscuity or violence or other undesirable topics so usually my lyrical discoveries are harmless.

But sometimes, very rarely, I will notice a lyric and it will stick in my brain and cause the wheels to start turning.  Recently it was the phrase “and love will come around if you want it enough”.  I heard that and my immediate thought was “that’s not true at all!”  Why?  Because logically, just wanting something really hard does not, in and of itself, cause something to happen.  And it is dangerous to think otherwise although there is an entire school of thought dedicated to just this process.

It is called the “Law of Attraction” and it is completely and unequivocally false.  From the official definition: It is the Law of Attraction which uses the power of the mind to translate whatever is in our thoughts and materialize them into reality.  There are self-help books, magazines and entire websites devoted to teaching you how to use the so-called “law of attraction” to make whatever you want into reality.  (And if this is old news to some of you, I apologize.  I am aware that the law of attraction has been around, in some form or other, since ancient times.)  Disturbingly, many people today still believe that the law of attraction is a real thing and that some universal cosmic power is working through their thoughts and energies to bring their desires to fruition.

As Christians, it is our duty and responsibility to remind (sometimes gently, sometimes more directly) those around us that the only true power that exists in this universe is the power of our creator who is God eternal and everlasting.  All other power is derived from Him and is only exercised insofar as He allows it to be used.  I go back to Acts 17:28 which says “for in Him we live and move and have our being” and Colossians 1:16-17 which says For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things, and in Him all things exist.

It follows that if He created all things and in Him all things exist then the only life, the only existence and the only power that we have is that which He allows us to have.  It is not given unto us to be able to use the power of our minds and wishes to get what we want.  But what we do have is a God who loves us and gave His life for ours. We have a God who delights in giving us good gifts and not just the things we want but the things we really need to be whole and complete in Him.

All power belongs to Him and Him alone.

 

The Hopeful And Persistent Prayer

prayer, persistence, Matthew 7, Luke 18Has God ever given you an exclamation point?  Has He ever emphasized something so strongly to you that it was just as if He had sent you a personal message that ended in enthusiastic punctuation?  Recently, God did that for me and I want to share the story with you.

Throughout my week I focus on the current Sunday School lesson and I also use a couple of daily devotional guides.  These materials are from several publishers and written with different goals in mind and come in various formats.  I might be in the book of Genesis in my Sunday school material while my prayer guide may have me reading out of the book of Romans.  And because it is God’s word (that is living and powerful) no matter what I am reading it is always timely and effective.

But this one day was a little bit different.  My Sunday school material took me to Matthew chapter 7 and to these verses:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!    Matthew 7:7-11 (NASB)

These verses in Matthew serve to remind us to be persistent in our prayers because we have a God who loves us and desires to give us good gifts.  I pondered these verses for a few minutes after I read them and I felt thankful and encouraged.  And then I flipped over to my prayer guide and it focused on these verses:

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’”And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge *said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”  Luke 18:1-8 (NASB)

In Luke 18 Jesus tells a story about a persistent widow and a secular judge.  The theme is persistence in prayer,  just the same as it was in my prior reading from Matthew chapter 7.  At this point, I felt the exclamation point coming on and I felt very strongly that God was encouraging me to keep praying and to be encouraged and hopeful in my prayers.

I find it interesting and impactful that Jesus ends verse 8 with the question “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”  Does it not show our faith when we are persistent in our prayers and hopeful in our expectation of an answer from our heavenly father?  And does it not show a lack of faith and when our prayers falter and we begin to lose hope?  In my mind, Jesus is asking us to remain faithful, hopeful and prayerful up until the very end.  He’s just told us that He is bringing justice “quickly” but it remains up to us not to lose heart and to exercise our faith in God in the meantime.

In case you need it, here is the exclamation point spelled out for you (actually, here are a couple of them): Keep praying!  Keep hoping!  Keep on believing in the God who desires to give you good gifts and will see you through to the end!