I will have to say that all of the 2012 Olympic swimming has pumped me up! What an outstanding Olympics for Team USA. I thoroughly enjoyed watching their great achievements, and hearing their stories of hard work and overcoming their obstacles.
I love to swim! I may be a novice swimmer, but I enjoy it just the same. It’s a great quiet time for me. I actually listen to music, or pray while I’m swimming. It allows me to think about trying to reach for the prize.
Recently, I was thinking about Michael Phelps‘ swim coach, Bob Bowman, and how he has understandably put Michael through some trials to train him for the many adversities that might come his way. He was quite successful at doing this. I was also thinking about Hebrews Chapter 12. Both of these things got me to thinking about a similarity between our Father in Heaven, and some great coaches. The similarity of how they discipline…or train us for adversities of life.
Discipline is not always pleasant, but if one trains hard, with their “coach”, then they have the potential to become stronger…bringing about great joy. For Michael, he has become the most decorated Olympian in history of any sport.
In my case, I’m not training for Olympic history, but I’m training for an Everlasting life. I am hopeful that my new found joy will lead me to a greater intimacy with my Father in Heaven, and that will help me reach for the prize.
My pastor had a message a couple of years ago from Proverbs stating that “a friend loveth at all times”. Sometimes those friends have to love with discipline.
I know that others have tried to discipline me in a loving way, so that I may learn to make better decisions. More importantly, I know that they want me to experience the love God intended for me to know instead living in self pity (despair)…due to my past abuse. In knowing that, I will need to make sure that I have a good “assistant coach” (Earthly companions) that may be looking over my “workouts” to make sure I’m on the right pace. I may also have some questions about what “workout” will come next, or be the best for me. I may doubt their knowledge; but, those coaches, full of wisdom, will help guide me to reach the prize.
There will be times that I won’t want to listen to the “coaches”, especially when they are speaking truth. They will try to help me be better prepared for the race that’s set before me. They will tell me that there will be obstacles…even when I can’t see them coming. They will help me learn how to react and/or avoid them.
They will also help me to muster up the skills, and encourage me, to get ready to battle for any adversities that might come my way. I will need to wear good equipment (full armor of God), put my “game face” on (fix my eyes on Jesus), look at the game plan (His word), and really listen to my assistant coaches (Earthly companions) and Head coach (Christ). Together, they will try to help me put on the full armor of God as stated in Ephesians.
Philippians 4:13 states, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”! I know that I can win this battle and reach for the prize of Christ. It will take hard work from myself, and many; but, it can be done.
God can restore my hardened heart, and really strengthen me. God has shown me grace, mercy, and love, and in knowing this, I can become one step closer to being truly healed.
In order to be truly healed, my workouts will need to consist hard work & dedication. The desire to do better. Coaches that have great wisdom to share, and may be able to guide me. Their knowledge will better prepare me for the days that follow. I will have to allow them to do so, and not let my pride get in the way. I will also need strength and courage to love boldly-not just others, but myself. This will allow me to forgive, and be better able to focus on the prize.
I will be honest. It’s still hard for me to believe that I can be granted grace and mercy. I constantly forget this idea, or block it from my memory. Thank goodness God does not forget, and He places others around me to remind me of His grace, and to lift me up when I feel down.
In essence, I am just a beginner swimmer. I have not totally learned to submerge myself into His healing waters. I must learn to dive off the starting blocks to get a great push forward. It will help me to swim as fast as I can to reach for the prize–Christ who strengthens me.
I know that I might get disqualified along the way; but, the good news is that I can start His race over. God is very patient with me, and never gives up-even when I think He has.
Trying to swim hard to reach for the prize! †
Of course, the king Tolkien was talking about in his book was the Ranger Strider who later becomes King Aragorn. There is much symbolism made in Tolkien’s books that refer to Christianity. I love it! Today, I’m going to share my twist of this last line of the poem.
We know that Christ touched many lives (figuratively and literally). I think most people thought that there was nothing special about Him. I have often thought about how Christ did not much look like a King during His reign on Earth; in fact, he probably had similarities to that of a ranger.
Through God‘s words, the Gospel in the Holy Bible, we know that Christ is the truth we should all seek. We also know that while He lived on Earth… few really “knew” Him. Of the few that knew Him…some betrayed Him. In fact He suffered greatly at their hands. In the end, He wore a crown of thorns.
Why was Christ crucified?
The Apostle Paul explains very well for us. Paul says that, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us . . . We are now justified by his blood.”; thus the crucifixion began. Christ endured many painful experiences for us so we could live our lives…the lives we often choose for our self.
As humans, we often choose the life we want to live for ourselves. Although, there are times that we experience pain as a result of those that choose to live their life for them self; such as, physically, spiritually, verbally, emotionally abusing others. This is not always the case; but, it does happen more than we care to know…often times go unnoticed by our self, or others.
…Anyway, in dealing with our painful experiences we must understand that a deep healing can take place, if we allow it. We must desire for this deep healing to take place. We can not begin to understand how this deep healing works, unless we understand His grace and mercy…of dying for us.
We must learn, and try to understand, that there is hope in healing, and His hope leads to freedom. Freedom will come when we have faith to trust in Him. Truth is our hope is found in Christ; but, lack of faith can stand in the way of our passion to heal. Like our doubt, faith must be learned.
How do we learn to have faith?
Having faith is learning His truth. Ultimately the truth is that it is not within our power to heal ourselves. We will fail alone–every one of us. That is why we need the “Author and Finisher” of our faith. The One who is able to keep us from falling. Christ can lift us up. As Casting Crowns song “Who Am I” says, “He lifts me up not because of who I am or what I’ve done; but, because of who He is…the One who cares to know my pain.”
Christ endured great pain on the cross. He died for our sins so that we could live. Christ fulfilled what we could not do.
If the Gospel brings about true freedom, then His message brings us hope. Not just for today, but for the future of His Kingdom. One of my Pastors told me that, “God’s grace gives us freedom from despair and pride.” Truth is, that we can have hope to “carry on”, if we let His grace free us of our idols of our sinful nature…or from our past of painful experiences.
I want to share parts of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s poem. It is as follows:
“…Not all those who wander are lost;
…A light from the shadows shall spring;
…The crownless again shall be king.”
Again, the only crown Jesus wore was a crown of thorns. But through the Gospel we find hope. We learn that the truth of God’s mercy, grace, and justice sets us free. Knowing all of these things, we should be able to have faith that His Kingdom is very real. He has Risen! Yes, the Lord has risen indeed! He is risen in a kingdom where the crownless again shall be King…of all Kings.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~ Galatians 2:20
I would like to have the Lenten Special, please.
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” ~ Psalm 73:25-26
Traditionally people “give up” certain things during the Lent period. Usually a person will “give up” something they really like. It usually is a habit of some sort, and it really depends on the person. I really have a sweet tooth; but, have to have something salty to get the sweet taste out of my mouth…hahahaha!
Lent is not about a deprivation of our selfish habits…the ones we mostly partake for our personal gratification. Lent is a season of self-examination. During this period of self-examination we are called as Christians to examine how we “nourish” our bodies…as members of the body of Christ. It’s about how we nourish our hearts. It’s about how we focus on Jesus, who gives us strength.
My pastor said, “It’s like a spiritual test of where your heart is. Your heart is where your treasure is. Is it focused on “me” [self], or is it focused on Jesus?”
It’s human nature to want to focus on ourselves. I’m extremely guilty of this. In fact, I tend to focus on things that I may have regretted doing wrong or I may focus on good things that I feel have gone unnoticed. Either way, my focus is on “me”, and not Him. I focus on things that don’t give me true life.
There are also some who may focus on the things I’ve done wrong, and are really good at pointing them out to me, and sometimes to others. It’s not like I live in a box. I know I’m a sinner! Most of the time, I actually regret doing a lot of the things I do. But, something that I tend to forget, and need constant reminding of, is that there is no condemnation in Christ! Only others, or my miserable self, may accuse of past, or present things.
Lent can also be a time to be a part of community; to be a part of others–who have a commonality of fixing their eyes on Jesus.
That’s really the goal isn’t it? To fix our eyes on Jesus. To understand that this beautiful gift from God, His only Son, is not just for ourselves but to be shared with others…with no strings attached.
Lent is a time to extend ourselves to others. Extending not to just those who are impoverished, but, those that are older in age, those that may need comforting (for whatever reason), and to the sick and weary. We should extend ourselves to those in our broken world; to be His messengers of love and mercy. Our extension of ourselves should bear the very image of God.
Giving of oneself can be tough; but, there is a high return on the satisfaction odometer. Giving of oneself can be like a ripple effect. Those that take His Light out into the world of others–do so because they take delight in this action, not because it’s “dutiful”. It becomes a celebration that ripples out into the world.
I know that there is a lot more to Lent. I could write pages on Lent. Lent is not only about self-examination, it’s a plethora of practicality of sorts. Some of it’s about focusing on our faults; some of it’s about repenting; some of it’s about extending ourselves to others; but, it’s mainly about keeping our eye on the prize of Christ Jesus. He is the Author & Creator–the Finisher of the story of our lives.
During this season, what will you be serving up for your Lenten Special?
Who determines if one is strong or not? No one should determine other’s strengths or weaknesses. We have our own strengths and weaknesses, knowing that God has a plan for us. Every struggle in your life shapes you into the person you are today. Be thankful for the hard times; they can only make you stronger…strong enough!
Many of us have felt great guilt from the brokenness of our past, and present, struggles. We feel, or have felt, that we just have to live under a dark cloud. Through Christ, He became our answer for our brokenness. It was His sacrificial love for us that gives us strength to carry on past our struggles.
For some of us, the healing and restoration from life’s struggles are needed to rightly see God. This kind of healing is available through the power of God who makes us stronger. It may take some time to let those old idols go; but, one may consider the work of the Holy Spirit to heal those wounds—if we let him.
Despite our struggles in life, we can have confidence in knowing that Jesus suffered and died for us. We can now find restoration and resurrection through him…and all from the hand of God.
We all know that our struggles can wreak havoc within us. They often leave us feeling like we are living in a world of tangled hangers. Sometimes it’s hard to straighten them out without some kind of help. While straightening up the “hangers” in our life, they may allow us to find support and comfort from others. Instead of regretting all of our struggles, we should be thankful when God puts others into our lives to help us.
One important question we may have is…does God care that we suffer? Does He enjoy watching us as we fall down? Of course not.
God knows that we suffer. On our worst day, we are never alone. Jesus is by our side. Our faith declares that God, our Father, sent His only Son to suffer at the hand of others. He came into our world to deliver us from evil and give us a future and a hope.
How then does Jesus know about our path of struggles? Within our faith we have learned how the only Son of the living God encountered real temptations. We know that Jesus overcame those temptations by using His Father’s words…scriptures. We have read where Jesus suffered at the hands of family and friends. We know that His suffering became worse the closer he got to achieving His goal—to save our souls.
God knows that we are weak and He urges us to pray to Him, dare I say cry out to Him, so that we would be better equipped not to succumb to temptation. Something happens to us when we take our struggles to the Father. He transforms us, and gives us strength and courage to do things we never thought possible. Even in the midst of our struggles, we can rise up to most challenges. God would not bring us to our struggles, if He could not bring us through our struggles. Don’t get off the beaten path, take the path to Jesus… often times the path less traveled.
“You must think I’m strong…
To give me what I’m going through…
Forgive me if I’m wrong; but this looks like more than I can do on my own.
…Maybe that’s the point; to reach the point of giving up.
Cause when I’m finally…at rock bottom.
That’s when I start looking up and reaching out.
Cause I’m broken down to nothing
But I’m still holding on to one thing
You are God and you are strong when
I am weak
I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,
and i don’t have to be strong enough
I know I’m not strong enough to be everything that I’m supposed to be
I give up. I’m not strong enough.
Hands of mercy won’t you cover me.
Lord right now I’m asking you to be…Strong enough.”
God does know that we suffer and that we needed someone to give meaning and hope beyond our suffering. Jesus Christ was sent to enter into our world to deliver us from evil. He gives us hope when we draw near to Him. Jesus’ suffering lasts beyond the cross to the wonder and glory of the resurrection. He is the Suffering Christ whose grace and mercy has saved us from our struggles today! He makes us strong enough to carry on.
There is no better gift to get for Valentines than receiving, and knowing, God’s Valentine promises to us. God’s Love for us is greater than anything we can imagine. His sacrificial gift to us was His son, Christ. God is love!
I saw the Hallmark Valentine commercial. I have to admit, I’m a sap for romantic gestures, especially this time of year…ok, I’m pretty much a romanticist all year. I love the idea of someone telling me I’m beautiful. I want someone to tell me they want to grow old with me. Who wouldn’t want to have a super hero rescue them? And, I never grow weary of someone saying they need me, or love me.
After watching the commercial, I realized that God is constantly trying to send me His own “Hallmark” greeting. God tells me He delights in me. I ask Him to never let me go, so He promises to hold on to me. He comforts me. God wants to be my “Super Hero“, if I would let Him.
God has also told me that He loved me so much that He sent His only Son to give me hope by dying on the cross…so I could live.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” ~ John 3:16
His promise doesn’t end there. You see…I was sexually abused as a child. I have harbored lots of pain, shame, and guilt. It took years (almost 30 years to be exact) before I understood that God did not condemn me for what happened. People may condemn me; but, He never does.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” ~ John 3:17
We all have struggles. It’s nice to know that we have hope in the midst of our struggles. There is hope in the very lives we live. Christ’s love is our hope.
There were times I wondered where God was in the midst of my suffering…literally suffering at the hands of others..
My pastor reminded me that God had been beside me every time I have suffered. In fact, He is present in the suffering and struggles of the world today. He controls the suffering, and guides it for His purpose.
God’s promises don’t stop there. Oh no they don’t!
Another of God’s promises totally sweeps me off my feet when I think about it. He tells me that He has plans for me. He says in the midst of my struggles, He has plans for me to prosper. God is molding me to be in the image of Christ. He is not finished with me. He wants me to invite others into His kingdom, so that they may prosper.
I know you are thinking, “What you talking bout?”
I’m talking about what my pastor (Tom Gibbs) said, “We are all walking the road with our elder brother…Christ. The path can and will lead us to glory. Our present sufferings are identified with the struggles of Christ. While we are walking with Him (during our struggles) we are being formed in the image of Christ. We are no longer subjected to the bondage of this world. God comforts us in this world even when we have lost our way. The world offers us meaningless and randomness sufferings; but, God is in control of the suffering. Our sufferings guide us for His purpose in the end.”
So in all of this suffering in our world…there is hope. Hope in the love of Christ.
As Valentine approaches, remember that even during our struggles–God is wining and dining us. He is the true lover of our soul. We should take the time to express that “we love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
This Valentines Day my prayer is that we will remember that God’s valentine promises to us are very real and present in our lives …today and everyday. God is near. God is Love!
Even though I was far from being an orphan as a child, I understood loneliness at times. I was an only child…for real. I was abused by my step father. I alienated myself from others.
As an adult, I have experienced loneliness. I have alienated myself in a very different way. I imagined I was what my pastor describes as being “spiritually orphaned“. But something has changed over the last couple of years. I’ve been adopted…adopted by God.
There was a time that the only father I knew about was one I was trying to forget about. With the help of a few spiritual leaders at my church and counseling, I began to learn otherwise. I learned that God is my true Father. I understand that He is my Father. He chose me. He had plans for me, even before I was born. God adopted me to be a part of His family.
Because of my past, even my present, I have carried a lot of shame and guilt. It has laid heavy in my heart. I tried to keep it suppressed; but, thankfully things are different now.
“I am the thorn in your crown; but, You love me anyway.
I am the sweat from Your brow; but, You love me anyway.
I am the nail in Your wrist; but, You love me anyway.
I am Judas’ kiss; but, You love me anyway.
See now I am the [wo] man who yelled out from the crowd
For Your blood to be spilled on this earth shaking ground
Yes then I turned away with a smile on my face
With this sin in my heart, tried to bury Your grace
And then alone in the night I still call out for You
So ashamed of my life, my life, my life!
It’s like nothing in life
That I’ve ever known
Yes You love me anyway
Oh Lord, how You love me.”
You see, my sins pinned His exposed and naked body on the cross. Despite what I did to Him, He sought me out in the crowd and said, “I love you anyway. I delight in you. I have adopted you for my own. You are mine.”
I’m so glad to know that I am loved. I’m not afraid to follow Jesus, or be with Him. In fact, I look forward to the day I will spend eternity with Him. I’m secure in knowing that Jesus loves me. He has adopted me for His very own. He understands my fears. He forgives me of my sins. He gives me strength.
It’s people who don’t understand. It goes back to the disconnectedness I have mentioned before. It’s people who choose to disconnect. Yes, there are some other circumstances; but, people make time for what they want to do. I know, because I’m a human being who does that very thing…chooses to do what I want to do.
I think that God would like for us to slow down and be a community…to try and reconnect with one another. Last fall I had a friend from middle school who reconnected with me, and it was great seeing her. To share our different journeys with each other. We shared so much, and it meant so much to me to be able to catch up with her. I have to admit that I have also connected with several through Facebook as well. It’s been great reconnecting with so many.
It seems so many have trouble reconnecting. Maybe something happened within the relationship. Sometimes things may have happened intentional, maybe on accident without knowing, or maybe time just slipped away. It’s not easy to reconnect. It takes time and energy. There are some who encourage you to do one thing, and then same people hold it against you for doing the very thing they encouraged you to do. It’s so frustrating, and talk about disconnecting.
There is another type of reconnecting…a reconnecting with God. God desires us to connect with Him. If God had not given me the strength and courage to depend on Him, then I think I would have ceased to exist. It’s because of Him that I’m capable of so much more. I’ve been made new.
God chose me to be a part of His family. God adopted me. I don’t mind being in a single family relationship with God. A community would be nice; but if some can’t accept me for me then there is no reason to be a part of community. Jesus loves me anyway…no matter what secrets I may have from my past, or the person I am now. He chose me. I’m adopted by God. He is the best head of family anyone could ever want. Praise His glorious name!
“…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from…strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He himself is our peace,…For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,…” ~ Ephesians 2:12-14, 18-19
Forgiving doesn’t mean to forget about the pain. It means to no longer let the experience hold you back for another season. Only His abounding grace and mercy allows you to break free and to get back up again. I will not give up!
Even though I may be one, and am surrounded by oppressors, I will never be totally crushed by them. I will never give up, and I will continue to get back up again.
I may suffer embarrassments and become perplexed. Often there seems no way out of my situation; but, I manage to survive. I shall not despair…even if I am persecuted, driven hard, or ignored. God will never desert me, nor make me stand alone. Even though I may have been knocked down to the ground, I will never totally strike out. No matter the difficulties that come my way, I will never give up. I’m stronger than the energizer bunny. Yes, I have breaking points; but, when I recoup…I can get back up again.
I have become stronger and more courageous. I have become persistent, more steadfast, and resilient with my faith. I will try to remain fearless and determined no matter what obstacles lie ahead. I will remain strong in the Lord despite my weaknesses. I have the power of His words and the strength of his sword. Victory will be mine! I will be relentless on those that try to knock me down. I will remember that I’m standing on Solid Rock.
Yes, we all fall short and sin. We can be forgiven by Jesus, yet there are those who can’t seem to forgive. Sometimes we can’t see past our own mistakes. I will be the first to admit that I make lots of mistakes. I was in need of a change. I finally realized that I was desperate for His grace. It’s by God‘s mercy and grace that I, and others, can love and forgive and be able to make a change.
Our world is a broken place filled with broken people. Many often get a front row seat to this brokenness because God sends trials our way. These seasons bring us closer to Him. So why do we feel that we have to grovel for forgiveness from others when Christ has already forgiven us? Isn’t it what God does in the heart of a person rather than waiting for something to happen? Shouldn’t we use some of our experiences to go out and further His kingdom?
There are those who are called to walk with others through this deep personal pain. Gratefully, some have helped me to find my way through some of my seasons to stronger days. It’s through a few confidants that only God gives them grace to persevere and have good wisdom to give counsel. Sometimes counseling can be in the form of encouragement; sometimes admonishment. Sometimes people have to hear things they don’t want to hear…or say things they don’t want to say.
My pastor said that a good entry point into grace is in and through Christ…the One who liberates us. Now we can become empowered by our obedience to live a life that He intended for us.
When we find freedom from our sin through Christ, not everyone allows us to be free from our sin. I don’t feel very liberated when some may hold a grudge from something I have done. I feel there are times that many (including myself) have a disconnectedness from “grace” within our own lives.
In the church we are called to help others understand His grace. Not everyone seems receptive to “reaching out.” If there is a disconnectedness…why not get reconnected? There are a few that seem to ask, “What’s in it for me? How will reaching out to others empower me?”
I like what Robert Munger said, “The Church is the only fellowship in the world where the one requirement for membership is the unworthiness of the candidate.”
If we are a part of the body of Christ, we are called to encourage one another. Don’t say that the community is like a family reunion and then never include some family to the reunion. That’s wrong! People get there hopes up thinking they will be included…just to be let down that they were just words.
Jesus is for everyone…especially His grace and forgiveness!
My new acquaintance, Mark Wilson, wrote, “A long time ago, Christian forgiveness used to be called, ‘the truth will set you free’.” The problem is that not everyone feels that way.
Mark noted that, “It is not possible to become entirely whole unless we are in relationships with the people around us. But as we give love and receive love – or learn to – then we can grow, heal, evolve and heal and become whole. We also can’t come to wholeness if we refuse to be an adult and grow up, take ownership of what happened to us and mature. What happened was not good, but ignoring it won’t heal it and won’t make it go away.”
Mark also said it’s hard to under-estimate how important forgiveness is. If you refuse to forgive…the Lord’s prayer says that you will also not be forgiven. It’s really just that simple. If you refuse to forgive… you are harming yourself, and your own fellowship with Christ.
Try to think about if there is someone you know that produced sour fruit…in the beginning of the relationship. Unbeknownst to you their fruit began to ripen. Maybe you are blind to the changes. Maybe you haven’t noticed the changes, or time has slipped by without concern. For whatever reason, the fruit has become sweeter; but, because of our disconnectedness the new found fruit is not shared with others. Instead, we may only remember being “snake bit”.
If we are truly liberated by Christ and we are members of his body…then maybe try to reconnect with the other member. Try to remember that His grace is abounding with joy. Why not share the joy of the fruit that has been made new and sweet with the one who was once sour. Reconnect. Make a Difference. Show grace.
Being faithful is the work of the Spirit. We can’t do it alone! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Faith is not what we look at; but what we look through. It’s not what we have focused our lives on but that which we should focus our lives on…on Him. If we are God centered, then change becomes evident and we can make a difference in our own life and in others…to try and further His kingdom. It won’t hurt members of the body to reconnect their disconnectedness. What would Jesus do? He would welcome any member to His body. Again, His grace is for everyone!
Stay strong! No matter what is thrown at you…don’t let it knock you down.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” ~ Psalm 46:1
God, my heart is truly, truly comforted by Your promises, by Your love and mercy; refuge and strength. I want to establish myself, permanently placing myself in Your word and in Your works!!! Thank You God for giving me strength and helping me to get back up again!