I think as a Christ follower I often times feel overwhelmed by the logistics, rules, regulations, and expectations laid before us. However, lately I have had the feeling that we are over complicating the process.
God has just one rule and calling for his children: to show love.
Jesus says in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
That’s it. That’s all we have to do. That’s all he asks of us. That’s all he wants to see ALL the time and to EVERYBODY.
Loving one another is easy enough, right? Well, if you really consider your day to day interactions, I doubt most of us can say we demonstrate love all of the time. If you’re like me, the people God calls us to love can be very irritating. Not only that, but the body of Christ is made up of imperfect people. How do imperfect people demonstrate perfect love?
How do we love others as Christ has loved us?
Lucky for us, Christ was not only an amazing teacher but a perfect guideline and example for us to follow.
Jesus, The Example
Jesus truly loved everybody. He loved the untouchables (Mark 1:40-45), he loved the hated (Mark 2:16-17), he loved the lost (Luke 7:36-50). He even loved those he disagreed with (religiously, politically, morally, etc) no matter how angry they made him or how much they persecuted him (Luke 23:24).
He showed each individual the same respect regardless of their status or past sins. He even loved those he KNEW would betray him. That is truly incredible.
He Loves Me?
Reading these truths are difficult to comprehend, but then I look at my own life. I know God loves me. Even though I know I have made him angry. Regardless of what my sins have been and are going to be. He loves me even though my vision of my life isn’t always the desires He has for my life. He loves me even though I don’t always show love.
Lately, I have been very convicted on how to demonstrate love. After praying about it, I have noticed small little opportunities to show love.
Through this process I have come to these questions:
- What would it look like if, instead of trying to run into the restaurant to make sure you get your table before somebody else, you run to grab the door for them?
- What would it look like if, at a four way stop, you wave on others before you go?
- What would it look like if you told the person you disagree with the most (i.e. politically, religiously, etc) that you hope they have a good day? What if you told them that,no matter what, you respect them?
- What would happen if, when there was the last of something in your house, if you offered it to your loved ones?
These few little practical thoughts have helped me not only feel closer to Christ, but have helped my day to day frustrations seem a lot less important. The more I put others first and show love to loved ones and strangers alike, the happier I seem to be.
And in a world that seems far too dim far too often, what better way to offer a little light?
Todd Clark Jr. is a long time attender at Trinity Wesleyan Church and a recent graduate from Indiana University Kokomo.
Do you want to know what I’m really good at?
Making things difficult.
Don’t believe me?
As a kid, I couldn’t figure out how to use the brake to stop my bike. So I just jumped off. Every time.
As a teenager, it seemed simpler for me to learn how to wash, dry, and fold my own clothes than to follow the family’s schedule for laundry.
As a teacher, I’ve rewritten lesson plans for eighteen years rather than repeating those already developed.
As a graduate student, I once halted progress on a lengthy research report two days before it was due. Why? The results of the study didn’t sit well with me. So I reconfigured the entire research project, scrapped the original, and rewrote the twenty page report.
I routinely over commit. I volunteer for tasks I don’t know how to do. I agree to projects I’m unqualified to complete. And whatever the challenge — I will be sure to complete it in no less than the greatest number of steps imaginable.
It occurs to me that I could offer a unique service to the world: anti-hacks. Rather than quick tips and tricks for making life simpler, anti-hacks make life infinitely more clumsy and complex.
It’s not as miserable as it sounds. After all, I’ve been me for my whole life, so I’m pretty used to it.
When it comes to life’s little things, I basically look at myself as an amusing experiment in progress. (I mean, obviously it’s pretty entertaining to watch a person refold a fitted sheet three times until it’s satisfactorily flat and compact.)
I usually get a real kick out of watching myself trip myself up.
That is, until I don’t.
Eventually I reach a point when I bump up against a deadline, or someone else’s expectations, or the necessity of completing a task.
It’s fine to play around and overthink the little things. But in the things that really matter to me — like investing in my family, impacting my students, and connecting with others through my creative writing — I’ve watched this weed of overthinking strangle my intentions, grip my efforts in a choke-hold, and prematurely spoil the fruit I might have born.
In these matters, overthinking delivers true devastation, keeping me from doing what feels destined to be my most important work.
MADE FOR MONDAYS
In his recent sermon series “Made for Mondays,” Pastor Johnnie Blair reminded us that God created each of us with a very specific purpose in mind. Even on your worst Monday, the truth remains that there are tasks only you can complete, projects only you can develop, and people only you can uniquely impact.
For me, that work is communicating.
I’m a teacher, so I spend my days talking with young people and doing my best to encourage their growth.
I’m a writer, so I spend my nights reading and writing and exploring ideas — looking for ways to encourage others and prod them on toward pursuing Jesus.
But when the overthinking gets bad, the tangles in my head keep me from saying the things I need to say — out loud or in writing.
I can’t plant seeds if I’m too busy inventing new ways to rearrange them.
I can’t bear fruit if I’m too focused on creating a detailed mental map of what it all means.
It’s usually at this point my thoughts start throwing shadows on the walls of my mind, casting bloated and expansive layers of meaning begging to be explored, teased out, and shared. And an hour later I’ll look back over my shoulder to realize I haven’t written a blog post — I’ve constructed the outline of a book proposal.
SO HERE’S THE CLIFF NOTES VERSION
We can’t bear good fruit if we let lies or distractions kill it on the vine.
We can’t bear that fruit without God’s help anyway, but we sure can kill it quick if we let the wrong thoughts camp out for awhile in our minds.
Yep. There’s a whole book in that idea somewhere. Maybe someday I’ll get it out.
But for right now, what this means for me is this:
I need to focus on God.
And I need to stay on task and do good work.
What does it mean for you? What things are distracting you from your life’s most important work? What lies are you believing that keep you from doing what God has placed in your heart to do?
Reflect on the words of John 15:5 and bury them deep in your heart.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit . . .”
Remember this important truth — God created you with a purpose in mind.
Stay on task.
Do good work.
And hold on tight to the Vine.
“I’m a wife, mommy, teacher, writer, reader, and child of God.”
When I was little, before Facebook and cell phones, when things seemed to be slower and mean more, my grandpa would take me cat-fishing almost every weekend. We would go out in the early evening before dark, anchor the pontoon, and get our chairs and poles ready. After we had put our poles out, my grandpa would tell me stories — of his childhood, service in the military, and life with my grandma. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was doing more than telling me stories– he was passing down life lessons, giving me wisdom, and forming who I would become as a man.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 instructs “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”
My grandpa always pointed back to where God was in the story, how God had blessed him or spared him from something. At the time I was more concerned with his story than his message, but it left something on my heart and mind I can still feel today. There was no technology, no gadgets, just a fishing pole and lantern. But in those nights my grandpa wove a tale that has impacted a lot of aspects of my life. He was never one to be overbearing about his faith, but he also didn’t hide who he was or what he believed. At home or in public, he had a word for God and a heart to share his faith.
So often we have our phones, tablets, or TV’s front and center in our lives. Netflix has talked to our kids more than we have. YouTube is now more of a companion than actual friends are. And we are risking life and limb to post that perfect selfie on any number of social media sites. Recently with a group of friends, I started — like my grandfather — telling stories of when I was younger and when my wife and I got together. My daughter, who normally watches YouTube like it’s life, soaked all those stories in and started recounting them to her friends and family. It struck me how the simple act of sharing a story with her impacted her so deeply she had to tell others.
I wonder what it would look like in our lives if we took more time to tell stories, to relive memories, and to show our kids what life was like before them. What if, instead of Facebook, you just gave them face-to-face talks? Could you start substituting Youtube for just you? Don’t take more selfies with your kids; rather, give more of yourself to them.
At Trinity we are all about connecting people with Jesus. That includes connecting families to Jesus and each other. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about friends, family, spouses or self — the first step to anything healthy is having God in the center.
So let’s all take a step back, unplug and unwind for a little while. Reconnect with family and friends; not over social media — but over burgers on the grill or campfires in the backyard. Show your kids that friends and family are best in person, or show your spouse you really care– not by liking their status on Facebook, but by loving the status of their heart. Enjoy a cool breeze, laughter and lightning bugs, and maybe even some pontoon wisdom.
“Avid fisher…Father…Husband…Musician…Actor…Follower of Jesus!”
I had been standing behind her in the check-out line at the gas station for five or six minutes as she painstakingly made her selections. She tapped her pointed finger against the plastic display case, indicating on item after another.
I’d witnessed similar demonstrations of agonizing indecision — typically with young children when they are presented with the delicious dilemma of selecting a favorite candy at the movies or a donut at the bakery.
But she wasn’t a child. She was an older lady with a worn canvas bag slung over her shoulder. The front of the bag was covered with pins and buttons — photos of family, perhaps her grandchildren.
And she wasn’t selecting candy or a treat; she was purchasing lottery tickets.
She had two ten dollar bills clutched in her hand, and she seemed intent on spending at least half that amount on the tickets. Nearing the ten dollar mark, she worried aloud about the fact that she really wanted to buy another Gold Rush Doubler scratch off, but it was two dollars; adding that ticket to her purchase would push her total beyond the ten dollars she apparently had intended to spend.
As she muttered a bit under her breath, my heart lurched in my own chest.
The price of her hope hung in the balance.
Shifting her weight from foot to foot, she finally sighed loudly, shoved both crumpled bills across the counter, and exhaled, “Ah heck. Here’s hoping!”
The cashier carefully stacked and counted the lottery tickets and slid them across the dirty counter back towards the lady, who quickly snatched them up.
As she turned to leave, tickets clutched to her chest and cheeks flushed, our eyes briefly met.
And my heart ached.
The Claw Machine
It’s nearly the same feeling I had when my kids were very young and they would beg to take a chance on my least favorite invention of all time: the dreaded claw machine.
It’s always so enticing: a giant glass case filled with fluffy stuffed animals and trinkets. Treasures just waiting to be acquired. And that claw — so big, so strong — what couldn’t that claw grab onto?
The situation looks promising. It oozes hope.
And that hope often gains strength as your child enters the coins, shifts the lever this way and that, presses the button to drop the claw. All eyes riveted to the silver claw, it squeezes around a stuffed animal and lifts, and slides . . . slides . . . slides. . . carefully toward home.
Yet, inevitably, just before reaching its destination, the claw weakens, the stuffed animal slips and finally plops back into the pile of similarly just-missed prizes.
When my kids would ask to try to claw, I would always refuse, telling them that those machines were broken or rigged and would never, ever, reward their hope in them.
But my husband, maybe a bit more optimistic than I am, a bit more of a risk-taker, and not so overly dramatic and serious about life, would sometimes intervene and allow them to take a chance at it. In these instances, I would hold my breath and actively (though secretly) wish against their success.
And most of the time, I was happy to be proven soundly right. See kids? Lesson learned!
But once, when my son was four or five years old, my worst fear was realized, and the worst of all possible outcomes occurred:
The claw machine actually rewarded his hope with a toy.
From that point on, not only did he ask to try every claw machine he saw; he also had a seed of hope planted deep in his little heart, the belief that the claw machine could reward him. After all, it did so “that one time.”
But, if you have ever encountered a claw machine yourself, or any arcade game, really — you know that this was false hope. Though he was successful once, he has never been successful at beating the claw machine again.
I’d like to smugly enjoy the satisfaction of being right about this . . . but I can’t.
Because mostly what I feel when I see the claw machine is the pain of misplaced hope, the ache of broken promises.
I realize I’m blowing this silly childhood game way out of proportion, but the part of my brain that tries to make sense of the world grabs ahold of moments like this one and constructs a belief like this:
Our world teases and breaks us, every one, with empty promises and false hope.
And this feeling came rushing back in upon me as I watched the older lady walk out of the gas station. Scratching her lotto cards as she walked across the street and down the sidewalk, her shoulders slumping a bit lower with each defeated step.
We so often clutch desperately to false hope. We so often pay dearly with our currency, our energy, our self-worth, to purchase hope in the form of promises that will never be fulfilled.
“Here’s hoping my luck will change.”
“Here’s hoping my family will be restored.”
“Here’s hoping he’ll finally love me.”
“Here’s hoping this will prove I’m good enough.”
This kind of hope, like tossing pennies in a well, is the cruelest hope of all. We can picture a need met or anticipate a desire reached — it’s right in our line of sight, right there ready to be grasped.
But it is just as likely to flit away or dissolve altogether as it is to rest in our hands.
Nothing in this world can give us true hope.
It’s all lotto tickets and claw machines.
It’s all false advertising and empty promises.
We may even realize that our false hopes are counterfeit, but we cling to them because somehow we believe they are all we have.
Everything — every possession, every circumstance, every relationship — is a propped up replica of true Hope. Like a cardboard cut-out of a person, these things look like hope. They look like they have the power to save us. And every once in a great while, just like the tricky claw machine and like games of chance — every once in a while, our possessions, circumstances, and relationships appear to make our lives better and seem to make us secure.
But it doesn’t take very long on this earth to learn that our self-made versions of hope will not sustain us. Our possessions will rot or be destroyed, our circumstances will bring us difficulties or leave us without recourse, our relationships will tangle into knots or fall inexplicably apart.
Jesus. Changes. Everything.
Coming to see that no possession, circumstance, or relationship can promise lasting hope may leave us feeling lost and desolate. But the Bible tells us over and over that we DO have hope — and His name is Jesus.
1 Peter 1:3 declares, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Paul speaks of hope in Romans 15:13 when he says “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
And again, in Titus 1:1-2, Paul identifies himself as a “servant of God and apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith in God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.”
The book of Proverbs assures us that we can have lasting hope: “Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” Proverbs 24:14.
Scripture is deliberate in distinguishing the Hope offered by Jesus from the false “hope” offered by the world. Hebrews 6:19 says “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.”
The writer of Hebrews expressly characterizes the hope offered by Jesus as an anchor. An anchor is heavy and its purpose is to plant and remain unmoved. An anchor will not be dragged away from its designated position. It will not drift or be destroyed.
Anchors are also often placed away from the ship, securing a position and ensuring that the vessel moves in the right direction. Jesus not only secures us as an anchor would, but the hope we have in Jesus “enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.” Behind the curtain of our mortal life, in the spiritual realm, Jesus saves a place for us.
In referring to our hope in Jesus, scripture is exquisitely particular:
I have THIS hope.
Not some other hope.
Not just any hope.
Not an empty hope.
I have THIS hope.
The hope of Jesus entering into my sin, breaking my chains, and setting me free.
The hope of Jesus changing me and making me brand new.
The hope of His grace permeating my life,
cleansing and rebuilding it from the inside out.
The hope of eternal life in His presence.
The hope of sharing in His unending goodness & glory.
Hope beyond any hope we can imagine, and Hope more sure than any certainty we have ever known.
Find His Hope
Friend, please don’t settle for flimsy, counterfeit hope.
Jesus purchased something so much better for us when He died on the cross for our sins. At such a high price, he didn’t purchase for us a shoddy hope, a sometimes or once-in-awhile or most-of-the-time hope. We do not have to go through life with a “here’s hoping” attitude, tossing our pennies into a well, crossing our fingers or holding our breath. We do not have to purchase false hope for ourselves through life’s games of chance.
Rather, our Hope has already been secured and at a high price:
The blood of Jesus purchased for us this one, particular HOPE —
the hope of salvation and sanctification,
the hope that he would save us and change us and make us like Him.
Don’t lose a moment getting your hands on that kind of hope.
This is my prayer: Dear God, please help me to open my hands and release all my counterfeit hopes. Please break me free from the bonds of any belief I have in false promises made to me by this world. Make the radical and certain hope of Jesus Christ more and more clear to me. Please open my heart and help me to grab ahold of the truth of salvation and the work of sanctification available to me through the blood of Jesus. Thank you for Jesus; thank you for true and lasting hope.
“I’m a wife, mommy, teacher, writer, reader, and child of God.”
As we celebrate Father’s Day, we often think about the wisdom our fathers have passed on to us. My own dad has shared this life lesson with me many times through the years, but fittingly, he hasn’t always shared it in words. He has led by example.
I know what my dad believes because of how he acts:
My dad believes it’s important to be punctual. He doesn’t always speak the words, but when he consistently leaves the house fifteen minutes earlier than he said he would, we are reminded that he truly believes “Early is on time and on time is late.”
My dad believes gossip is wrong and hurtful. He doesn’t lecture or scold on this issue; he just turns and walks away if talk turns to gossip.
My dad plays to win. In games and in life, he invests himself in ways that matter. He’s not just hanging around to pass the time; rather, he wants to spend his time on things that make a difference in this world.
Invest In What Matters
American pastor and writer A.W. Tozer claimed, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” In other words, what we believe about God matters. Our beliefs matter because they fuel our actions. Our words may say one thing, but it is our actions that reveal what we truly believe.
Tozer’s statement echoes scripture. Proverbs 4:23 says “Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts.” (The Message). Another translation of this verse says “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (New International Version).
So, what beliefs do my own actions reveal? If I’m being honest, I’m afraid my actions often reveal my tendency to be anxious, my desire to control everything around me, and my confusion about exactly who I am.
When I fear the future, my actions reveal that I believe that I must solve all my own problems, that no one is watching over me to offer provision or protection. When I panic when suffering comes, my actions reveal that I believe my life is supposed to be perfect and easy, that someone has left their post and is not taking care of me as they should.
When I hurry as if the whole day will collapse without my efforts to sustain it, my actions reveal a belief that I am on my own to make this thing work. When I strive to control others and situations, my actions reveal that I believe I am in charge of the world, that my way is the best way, that other people need me to watch out for them.
When I seek the praise of others, my actions reveal that I believe my worth comes from what other people think about me. When I compare myself to others, my actions reveal a belief that I have been short changed, that I am missing out on something, that I’m not getting what I “deserve.” When I feel discouraged and disappointed in who I am — in my physical features, in my personality, in my weaknesses and flaws — my actions reveal that I believe I somehow deserve to be more than human, that I should not have to deal with the messes I make, that I should not have to endure the inconvenience of having human needs and moods.
When I focus on my needs, desires, and flaws, my actions reveal that I believe in myself and my own efforts; these actions do not reveal a belief that I was created by a Creator.
But, scripture tells us that we are, in fact, created by a Creator, and that this Creator invites us to be not only his creation, but also His children.
Galatians 3:26 says “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” And this truth is emphasized further in Galatians 4:7, “Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” Isn’t this good news? We were created by a God who loves us so much that He desires to call us His own children. He wants us to call him our Father!
I might say I believe in God and His love for me, but sometimes my actions make me wonder. I either believe God loves me and has good intentions toward me, or I don’t believe it. And that makes all the difference.
If I believe I am a child of God, this belief changes everything.
From Fear to Peace
Instead of fearing the future, I can trust God and have peace. 1 Peter 5:7 instructs us to “Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you.” We are assured that He will not overlook our needs. Philippians 4:19 states, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
Instead of panicking at the first sign of suffering, I can have hope and expect God’s best for me. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12).
Even those things that come into our lives and look like disasters can be used by God to our benefit. Instead of despairing when things go wrong, I can lean on the reassurance of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Learning to Trust
Instead of hurrying, I can wait and rest. “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord,” (Psalm 27:14) In Isaiah 26:3 we find this promise: “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in you.” Rather than stressing over my to-do list and scurrying around trying to make everything happen according to my own plan, I can heed the words of Proverbs 16:3, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.”
Instead of striving to control others and insisting on my own way, I can “Trust in the Lord with all [my] heart, and lean not on [my] own understanding; In all [my] ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct [my] paths” (Proverbs 3:5-7). It’s a lot of pressure to believe that everything depends on me; scripture reminds me that I can relax my grip and trust that He knows what He’s doing.
Instead of seeking the praise of others, I can delight in His approval of me, clinging to the truth that “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man” (Psalm 118:6-8).
- Instead of comparing myself to others, I can believe God’s promises to bless me: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) In the book of Psalms, David describes God’s care for us as a shepherd caring for his sheep. He says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:1-2). I lack nothing. Comparing myself to others is a bad habit that grows out of a belief that God is holding out on me and not giving me something that I need, but David’s imagery here reminds me that this simply isn’t true. And instead of feeling discouraged by my weaknesses and flaws, I can lean into the promise of Romans 5:20: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more.”
Instead of focusing on my needs, desires, and flaws,
I can fix my eyes on my Father’s strengths and His goodness and His faithfulness.
Ways to strengthen your belief that God is your Father:
- Read the Word.
- Notice and remember God’s love for you and daily accept His invitation to live as His child.
- Watch your words.
- Are you putting yourself down? Are you complaining about yourself or about your circumstances in life? Use your words to remind yourself of your true identity in Him.
- Treat others well.
- Remember that each person you encounter has, like you, been created by a Creator and has been invited by grace into a relationship with their Father.
- Pay attention to your thoughts.
- Watch your attitudes and actions to see how deeply your identity as God’s child has taken root in your heart. When you hit a tough time and need the reminder, go back to step 1 and get into the Word.
Your Father God will meet you there and
remind you that you are His child.
“I’m a wife, mommy, teacher, writer, reader, and child of God.”