A Glory Not My Own

I’m really not a sports person.
After moving to the South, I’m learning that you can’t really be here without being a sports person. Especially during football season.
Everyone has their team. They talk about it, follow the scores, buy the merchandise, and boast like crazy when they win.

Boasting can be defined as speaking of or asserting with excessive pride.

Pride? Pride is bad. Pride is a sin. Right? And ‘excessive’ is never good either. So boasting is bad? No. It isn’t so much a matter of whether or not to boast, but a matter of what we boast about.

But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.
(Galatians 6:14 HCSB)

Paul boasts. But Paul recognizes that there is nothing worthy of boasting about in his life except the victory won by Christ on the cross.

One of the most unappealing things to witness at church is broken Christians boasting about their (sometimes visibly) broken lives. To hear a Christian puff up their own victories should be sickening. Regardless of the quality of your spiritual walk, you are weak and helpless to sin outside of the power of Christ.

So lets boast- we have much to boast about! But let’s remember Who is worthy of glory, because I promise you, there is only One.

Lord God,
You are worthy of all our praise and boasting. Let our pride for you be greater than our pride for ourselves or the Georgia Bulldogs. Thank You for Your victory on the cross, and giving us a reason to boast. May we always remember our purpose in You. Amen.

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For the Least of These.

Once a year my church completely shuts down for a whole weekend. No services, no meetings, no bible studies. Everyone is encouraged to go out into the community and serve. More than 800 volunteers serve in areas ranging from home renovations to yard work, giveaways to random acts of kindness. I was blessed to be able to serve on the car wash team this year. We spent all day washing cars completely free- no donations accepted. Just free.

While I believe we live in a society of entitlement and all too often greed, I have found that people have a hard time truly accepting anything for free. Why? Because that requires humilityadmitting that you have a need.

At one point in the day, a very challenging old woman came by. She wanted her car washed, but on her terms. She began bossing around some of the younger volunteers and making demands. She also (repeatedly) expressed her disappointment that we were not vacuuming or buffing the windows inside the car. I am not the most patient person. Really, I wish I was, but it just isn’t my gifting. I so badly wanted to say, “Look, lady, we are doing this for free; take what you get.” But I didn’t. Instead, I stayed quiet and continued to serve. I heard the still, small, patient voice inside.

Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven.
(Matthew 5:12)

As I was detailing the inside of my new friend’s car, she began to share her story. She told me that she was a recent widow. She shared that she was a breast cancer survivor, but was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. She shared some of her financial struggles. It became clear that this was a woman who was in need of some love, grace, and patience. When we finished her car, she gave me a big hug and expressed her gratitude. She said she wouldn’t have been able to afford a car wash on her own or do it herself. Seeing her gratitude was the biggest blessing I could have received!

Reflecting on her testimony and the events of the day, I am reminded of Christ’s gracious sacrifice for us. The same way my challenging friend wanted a free car wash done her way, we often want to accept the free gift of salvation on our own terms. “Jesus, I will accept your grace, but I still want to do this.” “Jesus, I’ll let you save me, but I’m not sure I want to do such-and-such.” We need to remember that grace is free- you don’t get to have it your way. We struggle with salvation because we lack humility. With salvation, just like at the car wash, all you need to do is accept the free gift, no strings attached and no work required.

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Father God,
I thank you for being able to serve today. Thank you for blessing me with enough, so I can give to others. I pray for my new friend. May she find peace and healing in You. Help me to remover that You are offering grace as a free gift. No work required. Give me a humble heart that is willing to accept that grace on Your terms. In Your Almighty name, Amen.

It Doesn’t Even Matter.

Qu’est-ce que c’est le point?

What is the point of it all? Why bother? Is it really worth it? What is the meaning of this?
Life can be a little bit (or a lot a bit) dreary depending on your circumstance. Sometimes its easy to sit back and question the purpose of our motives. Does it matter if I go to work? Why should I finish off this degree? Is it worth getting married? Should I buy a house? Why bother?

I’ve been captivated by Ecclesiastes lately. And like many before me, I’ve been wondering if the Bible screening committee missed that one when they filtered out the books that deserved to be part of the canon.

We’re taken through a vast history of God’s people starting in Genesis, leading into powerful, beautiful books of wisdom like Psalms and Proverbs. Then, we hit a little bump. Before the beautiful woman of Proverbs 31 even leaves our mind, we are smacked in the face with a very Squidward-esque and seemly grumpy author of Ecclesiastes.

He, who is referred to as Teacher, opens up stating that everything is meaningless. Everything is pointless. I think the HCSB says it best: everything is futile.

Futile: incapable of producing any useful result

Go ahead and say it. “Absolutely futile! Everything is futile.” (On a personal note, I prefer the UK pronunciation of fyoo-tai-el to the US fyoo-tul when exclaiming this, but was called a “word nerd” for feeling as such.) Again, I picture Squidward (yes, the Nickelodeon character.. no condemnation!) throwing his tentacles in the air and exclaiming such a phrase as he watches “commoners” such as Spongebob and Patrick enjoying their day.

Could that be so? Would our loving, purposeful God ordain such a statement to be made about the life He created for humanity? Yes. As a matter of fact, I think it is in that realization that we can truly understand and come alongside Christ in His calling to us in Luke 9:23-25:

Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. What is a man benefited if he gains the whole world, yet loses or forfeits himself?

To better understand this, we need to unmask the Teacher. Most Biblical scholars would argue that this is none other than the wise King Solomon speaking. But who is Solomon to make such pessimistic and forward claims? What authority does he have? In 1 Kings 3:5-12 we meet Solomon and see how he receives God’s favor. When God appears in a dream and asks him what he would like, Solomon responds, “give Your servant an obedient heart to judge Your people and to discern between good and evil.” I can see God’s face. Nothing surprises Him- but I’m sure He was nonetheless impressed. After all, Solomon was merely a youth with a powerful dad who held the world in his hands. He didn’t ask for money. He didn’t ask for a girlfriend. He didn’t ask for better abs. This pleased God. So God rewarded Solomon with wisdom- so that there will never be anyone like [him] before and never will be again (v 12).

Back to Ecclesiastes… So Solomon is given this undeniable wisdom beyond that of anyone around him. As he surveys the world and the toilsome efforts of his peers, he exasperates “Absolutely futile!”

This stumped me until I thought of it in the context of a message I heard this weekend. It was on Luke 14, a scripture I’ve studied many times before, but never in this way. Jesus was getting pretty popular. He had started to attract crowds of people following Him, some for different intentions than others. I can best understand this when I think of my Facebook friends. Of the 558 people I can call my “friend”, maybe 100 are people I’d say truly know me, 50 are people I’d invite to a party, 20 are friends I will text on their birthday, and 10 are people I could call in tears. And those numbers might be generous.
So likewise, Jesus had to “de-friend” a few of his followers by laying down some truth and letting them know just what they were getting into. Jesus says in Luke 14: 26:

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be My disciple.

Hate. Whoah. Jesus wants us to hate people? No. I am lead to believe that Jesus uses the term hate to exemplify how vividly we need to love Him, that the amount of love we have for other things pales so much in comparison, that it looks like hate. Then Jesus goes on to say in verse 27:

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

That takes us back to Luke 9. I believe that King Solomon was attune to this wisdom and understanding as he spoke in Ecclesiastes. In comparison to our purpose and commission in Christ, life is meaningless, purposeless, futile.  I think of the popular song by Steven Curtis Chapman “Do Everything”. Our purpose in this life is to glorify God in everything we do and in doing so we both intentionally and unintentionally further the Gospel. That is the key. That is the purpose. That is why its worthwhile. And outside of Christ, everything is futile.

Father God,
Give us your heart for the world, that as we go about our daily lives we are reminded that everything is worthless outside of your purpose. It is in You that we live and move and have our being. Help us to focus on what is eternal- our eternal purpose- and to have wisdom and discernment like our brother Solomon to see the brevity of life and the insignificance of worldly pleasures. Amen.

Need A Hand?

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. But God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.
1 Corinthians 10:13

Life just isn’t always easy. I so wish that it was.
God doesn’t promise we won’t hit rough spots. Actually, He says we ARE going to.
But, I love His promises.

“except what is common to man”
You are not alone in this. God has given you fellowship with other believers and leaders to encourage you through this issue.
“God is faithful”
He will never leave you or forsake you. He has sent the Holy Spirit to be with you as a comforter.
“beyond what you can bear”
It’s not going to be more than He knows YOU can handle.
“He will also provide a way out”
This is not permanent. There is an end to this season. There will be a peak to the mountain you’ve been climbing.
“you can stand up under it”
I always think of the Greek myth Sisyphus there. He is the mythological figure who has to push a huge rock up a hill. Ironically (or purposefully..) he was the son if the King of Ephyra, also known as Corinth. (As in Corinthians….) I imagine him rolling this huge rock (our struggle) up a hill and then getting to the top and picking it up over his head and literally grunting and roaring in victory!

It is never easy on the journey, but the reward is great when you have reached the top. Be strong. You are not alone- God is faithful. This, too, shall pass. Image

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On My Honor.

On my honor I will do my best….

Today Christians are given a beautiful opportunity to show God’s love, mercy, grace, and mildness to others. Regardless of your stance on the recent decision of the Boy Scouts of America, or gay rights in general, you are being given the opportunity to respond.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
Colossians 4:5

Don’t be deceived. What appears to be a source for conflict is really an opportunity to respond. How you respond is up to you. But it is how you choose to respond that will either further the Gospel of love or deepen the lie of self-righteousness.

It really doesn’t matter what you think. Sorry- that sounds harsh, but its true. God’s truth does matter.

Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Philippians 2:3-4

Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8

So God’s truth for us is to regard others as incredibly valuable and precious people- His divine creation, and to love them intensely. I love that the HCSB translation uses the word intense. Something intense is usually skirting the line between joy and pain. How would it feel to love someone so intensely that it almost hurts?

As people talk (and talk they will!) about the latest decision made by the BSA, try to remember that each conversation is an opportunity to share with others that God loves them deeply, exponentially more than He dislikes their sin. Try not to focus on what the people are doing that is wrong and immoral- you can’t change that. Instead, focus on the larger, all-encompassing message of love to all people. Love people, whether they are themselves sinning or supporting something you feel is inconsistent with God’s word. After all, its that intense love that will cover a multitude of sins.

On my honor I will do my best,
To do my duty to God and His people,
And to obey His omnipotent law.
To love others intensely at all times,
To value others above myself,
to be wise and exhibit intense love.

Love is Patient.

I am so glad God gave us relationships to help us go through life. Relationships with family, relationships with friends, and then… romantic relationships. However, relationships are hard. God knew that when he ordained love. In 1 Corinthians 13: 7, He even warns that love would need to “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.”

One of the hardest things I think love can endure is distance. There are so many different circumstances that lead to long distance relationships: military, moving, college, meeting online, etc. As someone who is personally enduring distance in a relationship, I am always looking for wise counsel and good advice. That is why I asked my awesome, strong, and totally adorable friend Brittany to write us some advice. Brittany has been married to her husband for 5 months, and he has been away for 4 of them- talk about enduring all things! I hope her words bless you as much as they bless me on a daily basis!

Ever wonder how to survive a long distance relationship? How to survive the heartache of being away from the one you loved?
I wondered how other people do it and told myself “I could never do that…“; I would never put myself in that position.
Well guess what? I’m in that position. Funny how things work, huh?

Most long distant relationships couples can call everyday, text everyday, and even Skype everyday. In mine, I can’t do that. Why you ask? Well, my husband is a United States Marine. He just finished boot camp almost a month ago and he is still in training now. I’ve been married to him for 5 months and 4 of those months he has been away from me and I rely on the mailman in hopes he has a letter for me from my husband.

It’s hard waking up every single day and putting a smile on your face and acting like everything is okay. Most people can’t do that, but every morning I take time to pray and do a daily devotion. If God was not part of my life I would not be able to do this. I would not be able to be married to someone who is in the military. I would not be able to show the world that I am stronger with each and every day. God is the center of my everyday life, along with my husband. Every time I feel weak and I’m going to break down and cry I pray. I ask God to give me the strength to keep that smile on my face. Sometimes it’s okay to cry. Crying shows that you have emotion and without crying you can’t get stronger.

This verse is everywhere; in my room, my bathroom, and my car. Every time I read it I get a sense of strength and peace.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

God is always with you, no matter what. You may feel lonely being away from your love but don’t EVER forget that God never leaves you and is always there to listen. My husband and I have a verse that we write in our letters.
May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. (Genesis 31:49)

My husband feels very guilty being away from me for so long and not being able to call for months. He says God created man to watch and protect his wife at all times and I can’t do that when I am away from you. So, I found that verse one day doing my devotions and I mailed it to him. He was overcome with so much peace and gratitude the Lord is always watching over.

Being in a long distant relationship is very exhausting. Wondering what they are doing, how they are doing, if he is okay. But with God all those worries and fears subside. I have never had a stronger relationship with the Lord than through being a marine wife. When he first left for boot camp I questioned myself, “Why is God putting me in this situation? Is he punishing me for something by me being away from my husband?” At first I was mad at God, but I needed him in order to be able to survive all of this.

With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)
God brings you through anything He puts in front of you. If you don’t have God, your long distance relationship will not work. Everyday is another day farther than you last saw them but another day closer to the day you will see them.
Stay strong! Always remember: God is on your side.

A special thank you to Brittany Andras, USMC Wife.