Choosing to Behave as a Child of God Regardless of what Society Does

infinityContinued from here.

I hope you have found this series helpful and are determined to live like a child of God during this busy season rather than blend in with the World. We cannot allow society to drive our choices. We don’t have to participate in rampant consumerism and cheapen the celebration of Jesus’ birth to an occasion to sell merchandise. We can choose to focus on the amazing blessing of Jesus coming to earth to reconcile us to God. Don’t allow the pressures and busyness of the Christmas season to take your focus off your relationship with God.

Remembering the sacrifice Jesus made should draw us closer to God, not place a wedge between Him and us as we race through this season to get everything done. The best gift you can give Jesus in gratitude for his coming is to spend more time with him because that was the point of Jesus coming to earth – to reconcile us to God so we could be in relationship with Him. Thanks to Jesus, we can now approach God with freedom and confidence, something that was not possible before Jesus’ sacrifice. Let’s not cheapen this amazing gift by placing our focus on commercialism and racing around. Instead, let’s spend even more time in intimate fellowship with God, enjoying the amazing gift of being able to enter His presence, thanks to Jesus coming to earth.

It all comes down to choice. Each of us chooses how we spend our time. What a travesty to choose doing things allegedly for God without actually spending any time with God. If we really want to show our gratitude for Jesus’ birth, we can do this best by setting aside daily time for close, intimate fellowship God. That was the point of Jesus coming in the first place.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and throwing up her hands behind an infinity sign that says, “I love you x Infinity +1.”  Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Advertisements

Checking that Christmas Attitude: Depression

sadContinued from here.

I previously shared that I am vulnerable to holiday depression. In my case, the root cause is the child abuse I suffered during the Christmas break from family “friends” who had more access to me while school was not in session. I have tried unsuccessfully to navigate the holiday waters for decades, but this year has been different because I have been doing things differently.

One change that has helped (which I have been doing for several years) is to be more vigilant about what I allow myself to take in during seasons of vulnerability. As an example, I am particularly vulnerable to melancholy tunes. It’s easy for me to allow myself to be swept away by the music and plunge into an emotional “hell well” that I have trouble climbing back out of until the holidays are over. Once I realized this about myself, I made the decision to immediately remove myself from listening to songs with melancholy tunes, even those by Christian artists. Some Christian songs have a wonderful message but a melancholy tune, and I know I’m not strong enough to listen to them – so I turn them off or flee the premises.

Another change is to fill up more with God. During seasons of vulnerability, I’m tempted to spend less time with God, which means I need Him even more. I have been actively praying for God to show me the way out when I am tempted to slip into depression, and I have been taking those ways out as God presents them to me.

The closest I have come this holiday season to slipping into depression happened over Thanksgiving weekend. God called to mind an impassioned speech I had given a close friend a few weeks before and had me give myself the same exhortation. Here’s how it went:

Do you believe that God is bigger than your problems? You are going to act upon what you believe, not what you know. It’s easy to believe God when everything is going your way. It’s a whole different story to believe Him when things are falling apart. This is the moment that defines who you are and what you believe. This is when you show God the core of who you are. If you really believe what you say you believe, then you will behave as someone who trusts God.”

I then prayed for God to show me how to behave as if I trust Him, asked for forgiveness for my unbelief, and asked God to help me overcome my unbelief … and He did!

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking sad and shedding a tear. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Checking that Christmas Attitude: Impatience

im_waitingContinued from here.

At no other time of year do I see so many indicators of impatience when I am out and about. I never hear so many cars blaring their horns or see so many cars racing through parking lots, often as they are speeding down the rows going in the wrong direction. People are racing through the stores with tense looks on their faces as they navigate through the crowds. I see tapping feet and multiple checks of the watch while people impatiently wait in long lines. While the Christmas songs speak of the joys of the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, joy is not the word I would use to describe the attitudes I see in the local stores at this time of year.

Patience is one of the fruit of the Spirit. The Bible frequently admonishes God’s people to be patient. When we participate in blaring our horns, racing through parking lots, and bowling other shoppers over in our race to the checkout line, we are not exhibiting the Christian walk. Our attitudes need to be different from the World’s.

Learning patience did not come easily to me. I actually prayed for patience, which I recommend against doing unless you are prepared to wait a lot. After all, how can someone develop patience without having to wait? God is patient, as was Jesus during his time on this earth. If you call yourself a Christian, you need to develop the fruit of patience.

The antidote to impatience is actively extending grace, which happens as you practice humility. (This does not come easily to me, either.) Remember that every person you interact with in a crowded store is someone Jesus loves enough to die for. Thus, you also need to extend love to that person, even when she’s counting out pennies to pay for her purchase with 10 people impatiently waiting in line behind her. Rather than thinking about what you would like to do with that penny jar, pray for God to help you see this person through His eyes. Be the one person in line who smiles rather than glares at her. Communicate through your body language that she is loved rather than an annoyance.

This is a situation where I find it helpful to have memorized large passages of Scripture. As I recite Scripture in my head, I find it easier to extend grace. I also find it easier when I meditate on a Christian song. Get your focus off yourself and the bottleneck in front of you and, instead, place it on God, where it belongs.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her hand on her hip by an hour glass, saying, “I’m Waiting.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Checking that Christmas Attitude: Rushing

Continued from here.

Another prevalent attitude I have notice at this time of year is that most people seem to be in a rush. They are racing from here to there as they shop, attending Christmas parties, and make preparations for the upcoming holiday on top of their already overfilled busy lives. This is not the lifestyle that God has called us to. Just because society has mainstreamed racing from here to there does not mean God’s children should live that way.

God calls us to rest, which is why He commanded His people to take a weekly Sabbath. He knows our propensity to work harder … and faster … and harder … and faster … until our lives become one big blur of trying to get things done. As we do this, we lose sight of the things that really matter – worshiping our God and loving one another. How can I possibly invest time in loving you when my priority is getting 20 things done in the next two hours?

The late Dallas Willard’s answer to how to deepen your relationship with God is to…

Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” ~ Dallas Willard

How ironic that at the time of year in which we are supposed to be celebrating the birth of our Lord, we are actually at the most vulnerable for strangling our spiritual lives because we are too busy hurrying to get things done to take time to worship God and love others.

Don’t tell me you are too busy to spend time with God. At this time of year, you are actually too busy not to spend time with God. It is precisely because you are so busy that you need the discipline of slowing down and praying so you can maintain your focus on God. Don’t let society pull you into the stream of business. Refuse to hurry, and prioritize your prayer life and Sabbath rest. As Bill Hybels says, you are too busy not to pray!

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Too Busy Not to Pray. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Keeping Your Christmas Attitude in Check

bah_humbugI have shared before that the Christmas season is not my favorite time of year. Because of my childhood abuse, the holiday season, from Halloween through Christmas, is filled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) triggers for me. By this time of year, I have typically been in a holiday depression/funk that keeps me too self-absorbed to notice what is going on around me. Thanks to the grace of God and His mighty power, I have not sunk into that funk this year … perhaps for the first time in my life!

Because I have not been in a self-absorbed funk, I have been able to pay attention, for the first time, to people’s attitudes and behaviors during this “most wonderful time of the year.” I would hardly use the words “most wonderful” to describe what I am seeing. I’d like to focus on a few of the attitudes I have noticed to encourage you to take an inventory of yourself and, if you see these growing in you, to take proactive steps to align your attitude with God’s will for you. He did not send Jesus to sell billions of dollars’ worth of merchandise and heap mounds of stress onto people. Don’t let society suck you into taking your eyes off God during this busy time of the year.

One prevalent attitude I have noticed is an increased amount of envy. While I know envy is something that most people wrestle with from time to time, it seems to be out in spades at this time of year as people compare their own personal circumstances (whether financial, relational, or otherwise) with even their closest friends!

Do not covet is one of the Ten Commandments for a reason – coveting keeps our minds focused on stuff rather than on God. Nothing that you can see, whether it’s material possessions or relationships, lasts forever. The stock market can crash, and even the most loving and dedicated marriages end when one spouse dies. Only your relationship with God is everlasting, and it’s yours for the asking, regardless of how close anyone else is to God.

My prayer is that if anyone wants to envy me, he or she will envy my relationship with God because that’s all I have of eternal value, and it’s what I deserve the least. I am not close with God because I earned it – it’s due to the incomparable riches of His grace. There’s no reason to be jealous because God wants a close relationship with you as well. It’s yours for the asking!

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace wearing a Scrooge hat and saying, “Bah Humbug!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Benefits of a Balanced Focus

math_equationsContinued from here.

You will notice that none of the three focuses comes naturally to me. I am naturally self-focused, so an upward and outward focus are not on my radar without intentionality. My inward focus is naturally unhealthy, focused on how I want the world to be rather than on what I need to focus on inwardly to glorify God. I only have this one body to house my spirit during my time on this earth, and I need to maintain it so I can do all that God has called me to do.

Over the last several years, God has led me to a more balanced focus, although I did not view my life in those terms before taking this class on small group ministry and applying the principles to my personal walk with God. The more holistic my life becomes, the more joy, peace, and fulfillment I experience in my walk with God. Not one ounce of this has come naturally – It’s all based on choice.

Why do I choose to make such “unnatural” decisions in my life? Because I love God. Loving God is the key to this transformation. No other motivation would have been enough to get my thoughts off myself and my self-absorbed way of viewing the world and intentionally aligning them with God’s ways as revealed in His Word.

I used to read commands such as love your enemies and forgive those who hurt you and ignore them because I did not believe they were actually possible to do. I am still painfully aware that living the Christian life is impossible for me to do in my own power, but all things are possible with God. I did not forgive my child abusers because it felt natural or came easily to me. I forgave them because I love God more than I hated them. I also did not do it overnight – I prayed for my child abusers day after day, week after week, month after month for over a year until God did the heavy lifting and made it happen. What was impossible for me was possible with God because He is bigger.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace thinking about multiple math equations. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Maintaining an Outward Focus

got_you_on_my_mindContinued from here.

Maintaining an outward focus is, hands down, the hardest component of the Christian life for me. Humbling myself by deferring my preference as I value others above myself feels as natural as lighting a fire in August or turning on the air conditioning during a snowstorm. And yet, how can I be a disciple of Jesus without an outward focus?

One analogy that keeps coming up in divinity school and elsewhere is about the Dead Sea. The reason the Dead Sea is so salty is that there’s no outlet. The Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea, but then there’s nowhere for that water to go, so it becomes extremely salty, making it difficult to sustain life. This is what happens when we fill with God but don’t maintain an outward focus that provides somewhere for God’s energy to flow.

I used to have a strong upward focus but a weak outward focus, which caused my spirit to become a Dead Sea. I filled up with all of this knowledge about God, but I didn’t apply it. I knew I was supposed to love my enemy, but I did not express any love to my enemy. I knew I should be generous but did not give my money (believing it was my money rather than God’s). I received God’s forgiveness but refused to forgive those who wronged me. I hoarded all that God gave me, and it made me salty.

Let’s use another example … this one from the Bible. God sent manna to the Israelites in the wilderness to feed them daily. He told them not to hoard the manna but to trust that He would provide for them daily. What happened to the manna that the Israelites hoarded in the desert? It became full of maggots and stank. What else fills with maggots and stinks? Dead bodies. Hoarding leads to death, so let’s not hoard all of the knowledge that we amass through our upward focus. Instead, incorporate an outward focus so all you learn about God has somewhere to go – to the people Jesus loved enough to die for.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling under the words, “Got you on my mind.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]