Don't let a healthy dose of discernment turn into an avalanche of skepticism! God has good plans for us, but we must stand strong against distraction, discouragement and disillusionment. God will do what he has promised, but we must fight the urge to give up!

Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.
–Philippians 1:6


Staying in Sync

I was starting a class the other morning, about to ask my students for any prayer requests. But I first put the morning's scripture up on the board. Today the verse was 1 Corinthians 10:13, and we chatted briefly about applying it to our daily lives. At about that moment I was reminded of something a friend posted on social media a few years back. I first explained to the students that neither I nor my friend look seriously to the messages found inside fortune cookies for direction in life. But I told them that I was glad he posted this particular message that day, because its words have stuck with me ever since: "Do not mistake temptation for opportunity."

Let that quote sink in fully. I would imagine that this is some sort of ancient proverb, possibly from the Chinese culture. But it wouldn't surprise me if it's some paraphrase of one of the Bible's proverbs. The depth of those few words astounds me! How many times in life have we looked at a situation or opportunity and assumed it was God's best, arriving on a silver platter, when in fact it wasn't what it seemed? Whether it was simply a good thing coming prematurely or whether it was actually something that could bring us eventual harm, the point is that God expects us to discern rightly in these matters.

Do we have to be experts in every area? No! But God does want us to come to him with items that need his wisdom (and don't all the meaningful ones need that?). Let's face it, some things in life are too important to risk skipping God's input about them. The enemy knows this, and will often try more subtle means of getting us off track. The right mate, car, promotion or other life-altering situation may not be a complete blessing if it arrives too soon, and the wrong situation will never be right, especially if we act on it apart from God's will for us.

As we move forward in life, asking God to order our steps and open the right doors at the right time, we need to give him the chance to do exactly that. But sometimes this involves patience on our part, while we watch certain things unfold over time. So often we're trying to create immediate results when God is more concerned about the part of the bigger picture we can't yet see. The good news here is that he isn't trying to frustrate us. Rather, he is trying to bless us in a way that protects us from mistakes (and sometimes from ourselves) as we navigate forward in this journey called life.

Direct my steps by your word.
–Psalm 119-133 (NKJV) 

Strings Attached

You've heard it before. "God is love." While this is a true statement, it doesn't tell the whole story. Usually this gets brought up in awkward discussions about life, culture and the choices we make. By declaring that God is love during these conversations, some of us intend to shut out the thoughts and comments we don't agree with. It's fine to disagree, but let's make sure we're representing God the right way.

During the 1960s, America experienced a new meaning being given to the term "free love" as our cultural traditions were being challenged left and right. Though God's love has always been free and available to us, some people in the 60s sought to teach us that free love meant simply enjoying the moment, with no further commitments or consequences. It soon became common to see and hear about physical relationships with no strings attached. Given that this is part of our cultural heritage, it's not that big of a stretch for some to also see God's love as having no strings attached.

But though some people may get some comfort from a thought like that, it's not reality. And the problem with treating our relationship with God as having no strings attached is that we keep him at arm's length, never allowing the relationship to go deeper than the surface. God's love actually does have strings attached, but the good news is that they're the right kinds of strings. These attachments include grace-driven accountability, healthy boundaries and proper expectations.

I encourage you today to allow God's strings to attach to you fully, in every area of your life. These strings aren't the nooses or tourniquets our culture would have us believe. Instead, these strings are lifelines that keep us rightly related to our Heavenly Father. Remember, though God loves us just the way we are, he also loves us too much to leave us that way. 
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
–Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)


Let Gratitude Be The Attitude

Here’s a quick thought for you today: Our attitude is the gatekeeper of life, impacting how we choose to see it. If the gate stays closed, then you and I will, too. But if we trust God and allow him to grow us and add new things to us, then we can become all he intended us to be. Today I encourage you to choose to be thankful, grateful and open to God’s best, even if that means letting him change your plans along the way.

Each one of you is part of the body of Christ, and you were chosen to live together in peace. So let the peace that comes from Christ control your thoughts. And be grateful.
–Colossians 3:15 (CEV)


Order in the Court!

When I was younger, I couldn’t wait to be out and living on my own, in total freedom! Then eventually one day it happened, and I was living in my own place, away from family, starting school in a different state. The sudden freedom was overwhelming, but in a good way. I did pretty much whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it. I sang at the table if I felt like it. I stayed up all night if I wanted. I even ran with scissors! But eventually I realized that too much freedom has its own issues, and that the freedom we really crave is the kind that comes from having God’s order in our lives. Notice I didn’t say anything about being smothered, quenched or denied. I’m simply saying that you and I tend to have more success when we decide to have the right kind of order in our lives.

Some boundaries in life are good, and are actually helpful. By eliminating certain unnecessary items, I'm free to focus on the ones I'm called to look after and be involved in. There’s a distinct difference between “I can” and “I should” in this life, and wisdom dictates that I learn that difference sooner than later. Just because I can eat ice cream every day, that doesn’t mean I should. And just because I can pursue my own, selfish motives in life, again, it doesn’t mean I should. God’s boundaries for us were never about dulling down life. They’ve always been about freeing us to focus on our relationships with him and with others. I encourage you today to allow God’s fences to become your fences, because there’s no greater freedom in life than the kind that comes from allowing God to set your house in order.

The Lord and the Spirit are one and the same, and the Lord’s Spirit sets us free.
–2 Corinthians 3:17 (CEV)


Do My Words Really Matter?

I’ve been around long enough now to have spent time with a variety of Christians, from various backgrounds and perspectives. Some circles and groups have things in common, while some find things to disagree about. In these times of disagreement I find myself going back to God’s Word in order to find as definitive an answer as I can, so that I can settle any possible question. One of these questions has been the importance of the words you and I say (or don’t say) as Christians. Some people say that our words are extremely vital, while others shrug off this concept and say it’s not that big of a deal. But as I’ve spent time with this, I’ve come up with at least two times in my journey where my own words completely changed my life! Let me explain.

The greatest day of my life was the day that I personally asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. Maybe some lift a hand in a service, and maybe some quietly nod when their turn comes. But I spoke out loud and invited him in. In the blink of an eye my future was instantly changed, and for the better! Another great day was the day of my wedding. When the pastor asked if I was ready to take Christy as my wife, I said, “I do.” To my knowledge, there’s no such thing as a matrimonial shrug. If I had responded to the big question by looking down, shoving my hands into my pockets and giving my shoulders a quick shrug, I doubt there would have been a honeymoon! But I said the right thing that day. And I’ve come to realize that my words have allowed me to change my future. My former trajectory of miserable bachelorhood, headed toward an eternity without God, has been set straight!

I think you can see my points here. Maybe to you words haven’t meant much, and I was that way earlier on. But put into these contexts, I hope you can see how quickly things can change, all by the mere speaking out of what’s in our hearts. It may take some practice, but it’s worth it when we decide to say what we mean, and mean what we say. My encouragement to you for the day: Whenever possible, let it be God’s words, available to us in the Bible, to be the next thing you say.

Your words show what is in your heart.
–Luke 6:45 (CEV)