Power in Focus

Living in AZ we sure get our share of sunshine!

On average there are 299 sunny days per year according to one study. Now that’s a lot of sun! And even though we get hit with some extreme heat in the summer, I am not complaining one bit!

Having 299 sunny days certainly gives me and my boys plenty of opportunities to spend time outdoors playing baseball…kickball…basketball…collecting bugs, rocks you name it…and not to mention…trying fun experiments.

Recently my boys and I did one such experiment…burning a hole in a piece of paper using the powerful rays from the hot AZ sun and a magnifying glass. FYI…burning a hole in paper…not burning ants… though the latter appeared to be a much cooler idea to my boys!

Anyone else recall trying this experiment as a child too? Not the ants part…

What’s so cool is that it really works! My boys got real excited when they actually witnessed a burning hole in the paper. The sun rays literally burned (yes fire!) a hole in the paper! (Kids should do this with adult supervision of course.)

And so this simple experiment began to peak my interest as I recognized a great spiritual parallel.

When the rays of the sun passed through the magnifying glass, the lens caused the rays to focus on one spot on the paper. When these rays converged…concentrated…focused on one spot on the paper…there was enough power…energy…and strength to burn a hole.

There was…Power in Focus.

Now when my youngest son didn’t keep his hand as steady on the magnifying glass, the rays of sun no longer focused on one spot and it took much longer to achieve the end result of burning a hole in the paper. Why?

Because all the rays were not focused…some were deflected…distracted…and directed in another direction thus decreasing the power…energy…and strength needed to burn the hole.

Sure sounds a lot like our lives…when we are not focused on Jesus…doesn’t it?

When we are not focused on Jesus…we will be distracted by life’s busyness…deflected by life’s temptations…discouraged by life’s challenges…dejected by life’s worries…directed by life’s problems…and dependent upon our own power, energy, and strength…which never proves to be enough anyway!

Where is your focus today? Is it on Jesus? Our all-powerful Jesus?

There is…Power in Focus. There is…Power in Jesus Focus.

If we focus our eyes…our hearts…our minds on Christ…we most certainly will experience this power in our lives…no matter what tries to distract us…derail us…discourage us…and eventually devour us!

The word “focus” in this context is defined as “to direct, set, fix your attention; to converge, concentrate.”

I love how the scriptures reflect that our focus should be on Christ! Now they do not actually state the word “focus” but instead use such synonymous words as “fix” or “set” to depict this concept of focusing.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith… Hebrews 12:2 NASB

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1 NIV

Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, set your minds on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. Hebrews 3:1 BSB

Fixing…setting…focusing our eyes, hearts, and minds on Jesus! There is so much Power in Jesus Focus!

Why is this so important for us?

Whatever we focus on…we give power to.

Good or bad.

If we focus on everything around us and upon us, we give power to everything around us and upon us…we give power to our tough problems…our challenging circumstances…our negative feelings…our unhealthy thoughts…our crazy busyness…everything but Jesus.

If we focus on Jesus, we give Him the power to empower us through the Holy Spirit so that we will have the power to live this Christian life which isn’t always easy!

We will have the power to do what is right…power to say no to temptations…power to forgive…power to guard our hearts…power to control our minds…and power to be disciplined in our relationship with Him.

There is…Power in Jesus Focus.

And there are no limits when you focus on a limitless God!

Just as the rays of sun passing through the magnifying glass is powerful enough to burn a hole in the paper…so too is the Power in Jesus Focus powerful enough to produce miraculous results!

And we can no doubt see that this miraculous power in focus was experienced firsthand by individuals just like you and me in the Bible.

Daniel focused on God while in the lion’s den…not the lions. The miracle? He survived the mouths of these lions! (Daniel 6)

Peter focused on Jesus while stepping onto the water…not the water beneath him. The miracle? Peter (the only human I know) walked on water! (Matthew 14:22-33)

Paul and Silas focused on Jesus while praying and singing worship songs in prison…not the chains that bound them. The miracle? Their chains literally broke off and they were freed! (Acts 16:16-40)

There is great power…miraculous power in this concept of focus…Jesus focus.

What is getting in the way of your focus?

What is distracting you…deflecting you…discouraging…dejecting…directing your focus away from Jesus?

There is Power in Focus. When we focus our eyes, hearts and minds on Jesus, We will have greater power to live as Christians in a world that focuses upon and glorifies everything and everyone…but Jesus!

Reflection Points:

  1. Where is your focus today? Is it on Jesus?
  2. Why is it important for us to fix…set…focus our eyes, hearts, and minds on Jesus?
  3. What is getting in the way of your focus?
  4. What is distracting you…deflecting you…discouraging…dejecting…directing your focus away from Jesus?
  5. Do you see why there is Power in Focus? Especially Jesus Focus?

 

Action Points:

  1. When we are not focused on Jesus…we will be distracted by life’s busyness…deflected by life’s temptations…discouraged by life’s challenges…dejected by life’s worries…directed by life’s problems…and dependent upon our own power, energy, and strength…which never proves to be enough anyway! There is Power in Jesus Focus!
  2. It is important for us to focus on Jesus because whatever we focus on…we give power to. Good or Bad. If we focus on everything around us and upon us, we give power to everything around us and upon us…we give power to our tough problems…our challenging circumstances…our negative feelings…our unhealthy thoughts…our crazy busyness…everything but Jesus. If we focus on Jesus, we give Him the power to empower us through the Holy Spirit so that we will have the power to live this Christian life which isn’t always easy! We will have the power to do what is right…power to say no to temptations…power to forgive…power to guard our hearts…power to control our minds…and power to be disciplined in our relationship with Him.

 

 

 

 

The Other Side of Grace

Not too long ago I was trying to find a parking space at a nearby shopping center. I pulled into an aisle and up ahead I saw the lights of a vehicle beginning to back out of a space. Score! So I quickly put on my turn single to secure my spot.

And then…can you believe that another car snuck in and took my space! I am quite sure this has happened to you as well!

There was no possible way that car got there before me because the aisle was all clear when I turned on my signal. And because of the way this vehicle pulled out of the space, the other car had an advantage over me in turning into the space…even though it wasn’t their space to take!

So needless to say…I was not happy. Seriously? The nerve of people. I actually found a parking space a few cars back and pulled in to park.

As I got out of my car, these ladies were just getting out of theirs. They saw me and turned away quickly. You better believe I walked faster to catch up to them.

I can tell they were trying to ignore me. I was so ready to give them a piece of my mind but instead I…actually the Holy Spirit inside of me… nicely said “Hello!”. One lady looked at me and flat out said “We got there first!”

Ok Lord…now can I give them a piece of my mind…cuz they are straight lying ya know?

As we all continued to walk, I…again the Holy Spirit (because Lord knows I would have said something much different!) …proceeded to say “Well, it seemed that maybe we got there at the same time.”

She glared at me and said… “No we got there first!”

Ok Lord…now can I fight? So then I said, “Well it seemed to me that maybe we got there at the same time. No worries. Have a great day!” And I walked ahead of them and into the store.

Would you believe that the one lady ended up right next to me in the shoe department of the same store! I smiled. Funny Lord!

Then I walked over to the next aisle and the other lady ended up right next to me. I smiled again.

Then she began to say to me “You are such a nice person. I am so sorry for the way my sister is acting. I told her she needs to apologize to you. She is going through a lot in her life right now and is having a really tough day.”

Wow! I was completely caught off guard! Just then her sister came over to me with tears in her eyes and apologized. I gave her a hug and said it’s ok. We all have our days! I will pray for you and pray that your day gets better! She smiled and said thank you very appreciatively.

The Lord showed me the other side of grace that day.

Now don’t get me wrong…my flesh was ready to come out and give these ladies a piece of my carnal mind and some days this does actually happen! Not recommended of course.

But today was different. Today God was on a mission to very intentionally show Himself to me.

I didn’t initially want to extend grace to these ladies…but because I did I was able to see the other side of grace.

I was able to see a woman who had a lot going on…a woman who was clearly troubled and discouraged… a women burdened with life…instead of a woman who was inconsiderate…mean…rude…and a straight liar.

What about you? Have you seen the other side of grace lately? How often do you extend grace to others?

As Christians we must extend grace…not because someone deserves it…not because we get something in return…but because it is one of Christ’s virtues…because it is who Christ is…and because we are to model Christ!

Grace is commonly defined as “unmerited favor or pardon; undeserved mercy; unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.”

And that’s exactly what Jesus showed us on the cross! And that’s exactly what Jesus shows us every single day. Grace! We can’t earn it and we don’t deserve any of it…yet we receive it freely as a gift from God!

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 NIV

By grace are you saved by faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8

As we approach Easter this year…what a great reminder of God’s grace towards humanity. What a great reminder of God’s love, mercy, and compassion towards us…our very reason of having eternal life!

Christ’s death on a cross is more than just an event in history or a symbol of Christianity. It represents the very foundation of God’s grace.

I am reminded of the commonly coined acronym for GRACE.

GRACE= God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense

But grace means much more than that!

In Hebrew, the word “grace” comes from chen and the root word chanan which is translated as “to bend or stoop in kindness to another as a superior to an inferior.”

In Greek, the word “grace” comes from charis and has the idea of graciousness in manner or and the root word chairo translated as “to be cheerful, happy.”

When [Grace] is used in reference to God, it is the benevolent action of Him stooping down to us in His kindness to reach us in our need, and convey upon us a benefit. His grace has been termed ‘unmerited favor’ but it is more than an attitude of favor or mercy. His mercy is an expression of His compassion toward us, but His grace is an extension of benevolence translated into action that releases His enabling power into our lives.

I just love that!

And how interesting that one of the definitions for grace is “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.”

Look at this for minute…God’s grace is given to us for our sanctification. It gives us the power to live for Christ! It gives us the power to grow stronger in our faith!

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:11-14 NIV

What exactly does extending grace to others look like?

Extending forgiveness…. extending love(ie. not keeping a record of wrongs)…extending patience…extending kindness…extending gentleness…extending goodness…extending self- control…extending compassion…extending mercy…to others and especially to others who don’t deserve it!

I love these tips from Richard Blackaby in Putting a Face on Grace

  1. Speak words intended to build up, not to bring down.
  2. Focus on the needs of others, rather than your own.
  3. Freely forgive.
  4. Swallow you pride and say, “I’m sorry,” and “I was wrong.”
  5. Live your life with a goal of “no regrets.”
  6. Don’t keep score of what is fair.
  7. Don’t condemn or give up on people.
  8. Emphasize mercy, not justice.
  9. Read 1 Corinthians 13 regularly.

This is how we can reflect Christ and be an example for others to see Christ in us!

This Easter…let’s focus on the other side of grace and reflect on God’s grace to empower us to live our lives each and every day to show grace to others.

Happy Easter to all my Sweeter Than Honey Blog subscribers! Thank you for your support!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Identity Crisis

When I was a child I remember being asked by my parents… “Taleen…what do you want to be when you grow up?” And I remember saying “I want to be a doctor!”

At the time, I am not quite sure that I knew much about being a doctor or the amount of schooling it required, but one thing I do remember thinking was… “Doctor’s make great money and it sure seems to be a pretty prestigious occupation! So doctor it is!”

Some of you may recall your childhood answers such as an actress…a lawyer….a singer…or a nurse.

Well, now that you are all grown up, what if I were to ask you… “Who are you?” How would you respond?

You may answer I am a stay-at-home mom…or a teacher…or a doctor…or an accountant…or a designer…and the list can go on.

But what if I were to ask you “Who are you?” and add that your answer cannot include what you do. How would answer then?

This challenge was posed to me while reading an awesome book on Christian leadership called “Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence” by Jenni Catron.

We have been taught to define ourselves by what we do rather than who we are. Jenni Catron

Isn’t that so true!

I found this so eye-opening because we can see that at a very young age, we have learned to define who we are by what we do…our occupations…our roles…our responsibilities. And this has carried into our definition of who we are into our adulthood.

Why? Because we quickly learn as a child that we receive praise for this role that we are expected to live up to. “Wow Taleen…a doctor! That’s wonderful!”

And this is further encouraged when so often we received praise as a child for what we did…not necessarily for who we are.

My 5 year old son recently recited Psalm 23…word for word…all by himself and he received great praise for doing so. Of course he should! Why shouldn’t he? That is a great accomplishment right?

Now I am not saying there is anything wrong with praising our children or even receiving praise as an adult…praise is certainly important! But consider the confusion this creates when it comes to defining who we really are and where our identity lies.

Our identity is…what defines us…what gives us our value…what gives us our self-worth.

And even as Christians we can experience this confusion…what we may call an “identity crisis.”

The term “identity crisis” is defined as “a feeling of unhappiness and confusion caused by not being sure about what type of person you really are or what the true purpose of your life is.”

Where do you find your identity? Is it in what you do…what you have accomplished…who the world thinks we are…who we believe we are?

When we learn to define ourselves by our roles, titles, responsibilities, accomplishments, mistakes and failures…when we allow our identity to be defined by everything and anything other than the very God who created us…we will have an identity crisis.

Your identity is in this constant state of chaos and change and influenced sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. What this leads to is a very inconsistent emotional and spiritual life. These are the things that may explain you, but they do not define you. Mark Driscoll

I love that he says that these things explain us…not define us!

Allowing our identity to be in anything other than Christ will leave us disappointed. Because everything in this world is subject to change…and only Christ and who He says we are is unchanging.

So who exactly does Christ say we are?

Well, for starters, we were bought at a price! (1 Corinthians 6:20)

What price? At the price of the blood of Christ being shed…At the price of Jesus dying on the cross for us! God sacrificed the life of his very own son for us…if that doesn’t make you feel valuable I am not sure what will!

Psalm 139:14 also states that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

The context of the word “fearfully” here refers to the respect and reverence God has for us when He created us! This also demonstrates the value we have in God’s eyes!

Check out these scriptures to really grasp who God says we are!

We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. 1Peter 2:9

He chose us in Him before the creation of the world…Ephesians 1:4

He predestined us to be adopted as his [daughters] through Jesus Christ…

He gave the right to become children of God… John 1:12

We should be called children of God…1 John 3:1

You are all [daughters] of God through faith in Christ Jesus… Galatians 3:26

You are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household…Ephesians 2:19

Our citizenship is in heaven…Philippians 3:20

He set His seal of ownership on us…2 Corinthians 1:22

We are God’s workmanship… Ephesians 2:10

God made you alive with Christ… Colossians 2:13

God has made also an heir… Galatians 4:7

I have called you friends… John 15:15

If anyone is in Christ, [she] is a new creation…2 Corinthians 5:17

We are therefore Christ’s ambassador’s… 2 Corinthians 5:20

[God] seated us with Him in the heavenly realms… Ephesians 2:6

Doesn’t that just blow your mind?!! To be chosen…to be God’s daughter…to be considered royalty…to be an heir…to be seated with Him in heaven…just to name a few!

And not only can we can see who we are…but whose we are! Who it is that we belong to! (To truly understand whose we are and who God is…refer to previously posted blogs called “I Am” and “Seek His Face…Not Just His Hand.”)

Our identity can get entangled in our jobs, performance, talents, accomplishments, relationships, experiences, mistakes, failures, our own views, and our perceptions of what others expect or think of us.

As I reflect on who God says I am…I realize that I am not defined as a women’s pastor…or a wife of a professional baseball coach…or a mother of 2 boys.

I am chosen…I am royalty…I am a princess in God’s Kingdom…I am the daughter of the Most High God…I am valued…I am cherished…I have purpose…I am destined for greatness!

No matter what I think…or the world thinks!

The next time you begin to have an identity crisis…the next time you begin to doubt in yourself…the next time you don’t feel valued or worthy…remember Who Christ says you are and remind yourself Whose you are!

Remember who defines you and where your value comes from and begin to praise God Your Creator! …Because thank goodness we aren’t defined by our jobs…relationships…our mistakes…our shortcomings…who we think we are or should be…and most definitely not who others expect or think we are!

That’s a  load off your shoulders…isn’t it?!

Reflection Points:

  1. Who are you really?
  2. Where do you find your identity? Is it in what you do…what you have accomplished…who the world thinks we are…who we believe we are?
  3. Is your identity in Christ?
  4. Who does Christ say you are?

Action Points:

  1. As Christians, it is important that our identity is in Christ. If we put our value and self-worth in anything other than Christ we will be disappointed.
  2. We can easily put our identity in other things but by understanding and studying what God says about us, we can accept who we are in Christ and whose we are.
  3. Always remind yourself that you were bought with a price and the next time you don’t feel valued or worthy review the scriptures listed to gain a better understanding of who you are…and whose you are! And always praise Him!

 

Can You Take Him For His Word?

We live in a world where unfortunately trust among people seems to be diminishing. We used to be able to take someone for their word and trust that word which was spoken.

“Taking someone’s word for it” is an idiom defined as “believing that something is true because someone tells you it is, without making sure that it really is true.”

Hmmm…sure sounds a bit like it parallels the definition of faith which is “confidence or trust in a person or thing; belief that is not based on proof.”

Taking someone for their word can be quite challenging these days…wouldn’t you agree?

We may be challenged in taking someone for their word because of our lack of trust for one reason or another.

Due to this lack of trust we tend to look to signed contracts…binding documents…witnessed agreements to provide us with a sense of security and to satisfy our desire for integrity, honesty and truth.

John 4:46-54 is a great passage that truly exemplifies what it means to take a man for his word…and not just any man…but Jesus.

46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.”

53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.

Through careful examination of these scriptures we can see a man’s faith growing right in front of our eyes…a great example for our own faith and what it really means to trust Jesus!

Beginning Faith

Verses 46-47 demonstrate the beginning faith of this royal official. He had a desperate need…his son was very sick to the point of death.

What do you do when you have a desperate need? Do you have a desperate need today?

This royal official must have heard that Jesus had healed people in Jerusalem and learning that Jesus had returned to Galilee…the royal official went to Him. Oh and FYI…this man had to walk approximately 20 miles to see Jesus! Talk about demonstrating not only his desperation…but also his faith…his beginning faith.

47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him…

Persistent Faith

Vs 47-49 demonstrate the persistent faith of the royal official. He begged Jesus to come and heal his son.

…he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” 49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

The imperfect tense of the verb “begged” (erota, from erotao, to “ask” or “request”) implies repeated or persistent action. The request was not casual but insistent.

Look at Jesus’ response to the royal official’s request! The royal official interestingly continued to beg Jesus to come and heal his son because he had faith in Jesus’ healing power.

Are you persistent in your faith? Or do you begin losing faith when you have not yet seen your prayers answered…when you have not yet seen a miraculous sign as a prerequisite to believing…like Jesus claims in vs 48?

Trusting Faith

Vs 50-51 illustrate a remarkable example of the royal official’s faith growing to a trusting faith. Even though the royal official begged Jesus to physically come to his sick son…Jesus did not go to the sick boy…He just stated that the boy will live and told the royal official to go home.

50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living.

The royal official was challenged in his faith…who wouldn’t be? Jesus doesn’t go with him and instead simply states “Go your son will live.”

But the royal official clearly demonstrates a trusting faith because he took Jesus at his word and departed. He trusted that Jesus could do what He claimed. He didn’t ask questions…he didn’t doubt.

Do you take Jesus for His word? Or do you question and doubt Him?

Not only did the royal official believe Jesus could heal…but he demonstrated obedience by returning home. He showed trusting faith by his actions.

Do you show trusting faith by your actions?

The royal official first believed…then he saw the miraculous healing of his son!

We may often say we believe Jesus can do this or do that…but we need to act as if He can! Jesus’ word alone is enough for us to trust Him!

Confirming Faith

Vs 51-53 confirm the royal official’s faith. Note that vs 51 says while he was still on the way.

51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.”

53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

This is so profound! The royal official was in the act of obeying Jesus when he received the news that his prayer was answered. Thus proving that belief and obedience are both necessary and important in our growing faith.

Note also that the royal official confirmed the supernatural vs. the natural. He asked the exact hour his son recovered (1pm in the afternoon). He wanted to be certain…he wanted absolute confirmation…he was reaching out for stronger faith in Jesus.

Have you ever experienced confirming faith? Do you want a stronger faith in Jesus?

Witnessing Faith

Vs 53 demonstrates the witnessing faith of the royal official. He witnessed to his whole house and they all believed!

53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

Do you demonstrate a witnessing faith when Jesus answers your prayers? Is it hard for you to witness your faith to others?

Now I am quite sure that witnessing for Jesus was not easy for this royal official. He was a high official who would definitely face ridicule and persecution…and perhaps loss of position and even loss of life.

But his faith was a witnessing faith. He loved Jesus for what Jesus had done for him and he wanted others to know Jesus’ glorious salvation.

Where is your faith at today? Is your faith growing?

This passage about the royal official’s faith truly exemplifies the kind of faith we should all desire. And if you noticed…the royal official’s faith grew as he used his faith.

No matter where we are at in our faith….no matter what stage of faith we are in…we must use our faith to see it grow…we must put our faith to action to see it grow.

And in a world where taking a man’s word can be challenging…we can most certainly count on taking Jesus word…because His word is always be true!

Let’s be encouraged today to have greater trust in Jesus and take Him for His word!

Reflection Points:

  1. What do you do when you have a desperate need? Do you have a desperate need today?
  2. Are you persistent in your faith? Or do you begin losing faith when you have not seen a prayer answered?
  3. Do you take Jesus for His word? Or do you question and doubt Him? Do you show trusting faith by your actions?
  4. Have you ever experienced confirming faith? Do you want a stronger faith in Jesus?
  5. Do you demonstrate a witnessing faith when Jesus answers your prayers? Is it hard for you to witness your faith to others?

Action Points:

  1. Whatever needs we may have today, we should first turn to Jesus. Our family and friends can provide comfort but Jesus not only provides comfort and encouragement…but also provides the answers.
  2. Jesus wants us to be persistent in our requests to Him. When we look to Him persistently it shifts our focus off of our problems and ourselves …and on Him.
  3. Jesus can always be taken for His word and we can show how much we trust Him through our actions.
  4. Belief and obedience are both necessary and important in our growing faith. We must believe first…then we will see the miracle! Not the other way around!
  5. Jesus wants us to demonstrate witnessing faith. He wants us to share our faith with others. We can show our gratitude and thanks to Jesus by witnessing what he has done in our lives with others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lighten the Load this New Year

My boys love “hiking”…“hiking” in apostrophes because my boys like the idea of “hiking” but not the amount of walking it entails.

On one particular “hike” a couple years ago…my youngest Bryce was intrigued by the rocks along the path. He frequently stopped to examine rocks in all shapes and sizes…consequently slowing us down quite a bit.

And soon enough…as expected…he complained of being tired stating that he couldn’t walk anymore.

I really didn’t want to pick up my 30lb Bryce…but thank goodness we were already on the way back.

So I lifted him up and to my surprise I was immediately confronted with an extreme weight change…Bryce was much heavier than usual. And that’s when I realized he had placed some rocks…many rocks! …in his pockets…every pocket!

No wonder he was so tired of walking! If only he knew how much these rocks weighed him down making it difficult for him to continue walking.

With the New Year approaching….many of us are looking to set new goals…begin new resolutions…start new beginnings.

I know we are quick to begin fresh each New Year but what about what we left behind the previous year? As much as we would like to forget the struggles…the challenges…the pain from the previous year…they just don’t really disappear or go away. Do they?

What burdens are you carrying into this New Year? Like Bryce…are you carrying some heavy “rocks” that are weighing you down?

Maybe you experienced difficulties in your family relationships this past year whether it be with your spouse or children…

Maybe you received a diagnosis that had you so worried you haven’t been able to function on a daily basis…

Maybe you are emotionally drained from suffering a painful loss of a loved one…

Maybe after having tried and tried, you can’t seem to find a job and you are now struggling to pay your monthly bills…

Maybe you have been carrying multiple challenges in your life that have weighed you down leaving you feeling tired…weary…flat out exhausted!

What about the by-product of these life challenges such as unforgiveness…or anger…or bitterness…or worry…or anxiety…or fear?

These burdens…whether we realize them or not…weighed us down this past year and will continue to weigh us down in the New Year…because a New Year doesn’t just erase our problems.

These life challenges are real and can be very stressful…I am certainly not denying that.

But how can we lighten the load so these burdens don’t continue to weigh us down in the New Year?

We just celebrated the birth of our Savior Jesus on Christmas…Did you catch that?

Our Savior…Jesus…who just so happens to be our Deliverer…our Restorer…our Healer…our Comforter…our Provider! And our so much more!

The very Jesus that the Bible says to cast our burdens upon…so that He will sustain us!

Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you… Psalm 55:22a NASB

There are so many burdens that we are just not meant to carry…and Jesus wants us to cast them upon Him…Why?

Because His shoulders are broader and stronger than ours…Because He can carry much more weight than we can…because He can handle our burdens much better than we can…because He is meant to carry a greater load…our load!

So how exactly can we lighten our load…especially as we head into this New Year?

Psalm 55:22 says to “cast” our burdens upon the Lord.

The word “cast” comes from the Hebrew shalak and is translated “to throw out, down or away; hurl, pluck, throw.”

This means that we need to intentionally “cast”…“throw”…“hurl” our burdens upon the Lord.

Interestingly, doesn’t the word “throw” imply a more forceful connotation? …I mean it’s not saying to merely “give” our burdens to the Lord. Think about “giving” something to someone versus “throwing” something to someone. There is a difference…right?!

Furthermore…when we cast our burdens upon the Lord…it doesn’t mean that instead of carrying them with 2 arms that now we continue to carry them under one arm.

It’s like with anything that you would throw out or throw away…you don’t go back, grab it and continue to hold onto it…do you?

I absolutely love this quote…

To those who have had no agony Jesus says, “I have nothing for you; stand on your own feet, square your own shoulders. I have come for the man who knows he has a bigger handful than he can cope with, who knows there are forces he cannot touch; I will do everything for him if he will let Me. Only let a man grant he needs it, and I will do it for him.” Oswald Chambers

When we do our part…God will do His!

When we cast our burdens upon Him…He will sustain us!

The word “sustain” is defined “to provide what is needed for (something or someone) to exist, continue, etc; to hold up the weight of (something); to give support or relief to”

Casting our burdens upon the Lord doesn’t necessarily mean our challenges are over or our problems are solved.

To cast our burden upon God, is to rest upon his providence and promise. And if we do so, he will carry us in the arms of his power, as a nurse carries a child; and will strengthen our spirits by his Spirit, so that they shall sustain the trial. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary

Casting our burdens upon the Lord does mean that Jesus will sustain us…It does mean that Jesus will strengthen us so that we can have hope…peace…even joy…as we face our challenges.

And the key to experiencing this peace and joy is…Trust. Trust Jesus.

Many times we place our trust in everything else…everything but Jesus. Think about that for a minute…

We place trust in people…

It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. Psalm 118:8 KJV

We place trust in things…

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help And rely on horses, And trust in chariots because they are many And in horsemen because they are very strong, But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD! Isaiah 31:1 NASB

We place trust in money…

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 1 Timothy 6:17 NLT

We place trust in understanding…

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; Proverb 3:5 NIV

When place our trust in Jesus…Jesus alone… and cast our burdens upon Him…we will get through life’s challenges with less stress…greater hope…greater peace…greater joy! And we will experience God’s greater care and love for each of us.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1Peter 5:7 NIV

This New Year…let’s begin afresh trusting Jesus more than ever and believing that when we intentionally cast our burdens upon him that He will sustain us.

So that we may enter the New Year free of the heavy burdens that we were never meant to carry! And free to move forward and ahead into the plans and purposes that God has for each of us!

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 NLT

 

Reflection Points:

  1. What burdens are you carrying into this New Year?
  2. Are you burdened by the by-product of life challenges such as unforgiveness…or anger…or bitterness…or worry…or fear?
  3. How can we lighten the load so these burdens don’t continue to weigh us down in the New Year?
  4. Do you trust Jesus…or everything else to get through life’s challenges?

Action Points:

  1. Life’s challenges can be heavy burdens to carry. And the by-products of life challenges such as unforgiveness…or anger…or bitterness…or worry…or fear…can weigh us down more than we know.
  2. We can lighten our load as we enter the New Year by casting our burdens upon Jesus because His shoulders are broader and stronger than ours…because He can carry much more weight than we can…because He can handle our burdens much better than we can…because He is meant to carry a greater load…our load!
  3. The key to casting our burdens upon the Lord is Trust. Trust Jesus. Let’s not place trust in people…things…money…understanding. These things are unreliable. Jesus is fully reliable…fully trustworthy! Let’s trust Him more this New Year and experience greater hope…greater peace…and greater joy knowing He is in control!

 

The Advent Tradition

Traditions. Traditions are those little rituals passed down from generation to generation that help shape our families by creating a sense of unity…warmth…and closeness. They create memories that fill our minds with peace…love…joy…and security.

Do you remember any family traditions while growing up? What are some of your current family traditions?

Maybe you grew up with certain family traditions that you have now passed down to your children and grandchildren….Or maybe you grew up in a difficult and challenging family environment and traditions were non-existent.

Whether we grew up with traditions or not…we can still create traditions for us and our families…at any time!

And Christmas is a certainly a great time of year to create family traditions.

The word “tradition” is defined as “the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice.”

One of our Christmas family traditions began with the birth of my first child Connor…and we have continued it with the birth of my second child Bryce. Every Christmas we set out a small lighted Christmas tree for each of our boys. And each year they pick an ornament…or make an ornament…to place on their own tree.

Well as you can imagine…the first few years the trees were quite bare with only a few ornaments. But now with the boys 7 and 5 years old the trees are beginning to fill up!

Now if I can just keep my youngest son Bryce from taking the ornaments off his brother’s tree to make his tree look more full and prevent this situation from escalating into a common brotherly fight…I am off to a successful start preparing for this Christmas season!

This year my husband Billy and I decided to create another tradition to help our children in understanding the true meaning of Christmas. We began the tradition of celebrating Advent and lighting the candles in the Advent wreath.

Many have grown up in churches who practice the Advent services…while others may not have had similar…or any…Advent season experiences. Whether you have experienced this Advent season in your life or not…there are many Christians who haven’t fully grasped what Advent represents and the relevance of this tradition.

Advent is one great way for us and our families to keep Christ at the center of Christmas and provides another perfect opportunity for us to teach our children the true meaning of Christmas.

Advent is the season 4 weeks before Christmas in which we prepare for the coming of Christ. It begins on the Sunday nearest to November 30th. (So as you are reading this today…we are actually approaching the 3rd Sunday…but it’s never too late to begin a new tradition…or to learn something new! Right?!)

The word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus which means “arrival” or “coming”

Many Christians celebrate Advent not only by thanking God for Christ’s first “arrival” or “coming” to Earth as a baby…but also for His presence among us today through the Holy Spirit…and in preparation and anticipation of His final coming at the end of time.

This Christmas, we introduced the Advent season tradition to our boys through the Advent wreath. The Advent wreath has much symbolism and by the Middle Ages, Christians adapted this tradition and used Advent wreathes as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas.

The Advent wreath is a circular garland of evergreen branches representing eternity…the eternity of God which has no beginning or end…and the everlasting life found in Christ.

On this Advent wreath…5 candles are typically arranged.

During the season of Advent…one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday as a part of the Advent services. Each candle represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Set on the actual branches of the wreath are 4 candles: typically 3 purple candles and 1 pink candle. In the center of the wreath sits a white candle. As a whole, these candles represent the coming of the light of Christ into the world.

A tradition is that each week represents one thousand years, to sum to the 4,000 years from Adam and Eve until the Birth of the Savior.

In my research, there is varying symbolism in the 4 candles between different denominations such as Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Protestants, you name it!

I have selected to discuss the interpretation that the 4 candles represent the virtues that Jesus brings us…Hope…Love…Joy…Peace. The order of lighting each candle representing a specific virtue on each Sunday can vary slightly according to different religious denominations but there is agreement that the pink candle symbolizes Joy and is lit on the 3rd Sunday.

HOPE

On the 1st Sunday of Advent, the 1st purple candle is lit. This candle is typically called the “Prophecy Candle” or “Candle of Hope” in remembrance of the prophets…primarily Isaiah…who foretold the birth of Christ. This candle represents HOPE or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah.

And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:12-13

We can have hope because God is faithful and will keep the promises made to us. Our hope comes from God.

Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him. Psalm 62:5 HCSB

LOVE

On the 2nd Sunday of Advent, the 2nd purple candle is lit. This candle is typically called the “Bethlehem Candle” and represents LOVE. Some traditions call this the “Bethlehem Candle,” because it symbolizes Christ’s manger.

The angels announced the good news of a Savior. God sent his only Son to earth to save us… because He loves us!

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV

JOY

On the third Sunday of Advent the pink, or rose-colored candle is lit. This pink candle is customarily called the “Shepherds Candle” or the “Candle of Joy” and it represents JOY.

The angels sang a message of JOY!

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:7-11 NASB

We can have joy today because we can rely on our Savior and receive strength from Him in every circumstance!

Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!” Nehemiah 8:10 NLT

PEACE

The 4th and last purple candle, oftentimes called the “Angels Candle” represents PEACE and is lit on the 4th Sunday of Advent. This candle reminds us of the message of the angels…

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2:14 KJ

We can have peace knowing that God is in control of every circumstance and that even though we may have some battles to face on this earth…the war has already been won!

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

LIFE OF CHRIST

The 5th candle…the white center candle…is traditionally lit on Christmas Eve. This candle is called the “Christ Candle” and represents the LIFE OF CHRIST that has come into the world.

The white candle reminds us that Jesus is the spotless Lamb of God…sent to wash away our sins! Those who receive Christ as Savior are washed of their sins and made whiter than snow.

His birth was for His death…His death was for our birth!

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29)

The Advent tradition has given me and my family a great opportunity to keep Christ at the center of our Christmas.

Whether you celebrate Advent as a family tradition or not…it’s never too late to begin a tradition!

Traditions help shape our families…develop greater family unity…and create beautiful memories to pass on to our next generation…and the next generation!

Reflection Points:

  1. Do you remember any family traditions while growing up? What are some of your current family traditions?
  2. Did you grow up learning about the Advent season?
  3. Do you have any Christmas traditions to keep Christ at the center of Christmas for you and your family?

Action Points:

  1. Whether you grew up with traditions or not…you can still create traditions for yourself and your family…at any time!
  2. Traditions are those little rituals passed down from generation to generation that help shape our families by creating a sense of unity…warmth…and closeness. They create memories that fill our minds with peace…love…joy…and security.

 

Small Things…Big Opportunities

With Thanksgiving approaching this week…and much talk centered around the big Thanksgiving meal (which certainly does make my mouth water by the mention of it!) …I wanted to focus my children’s attention on the real meaning of Thanksgiving…giving thanks.

As I drove them to school this week…I asked them each to name 3 things they are thankful for.

My 7 year old shouted out… “The garbage truck!” Ok…not my first choice but yeah sure why not? I mean garbage trucks are important right? What a modern day convenience to have your nasty smelly trash picked up curbside every week?!

My 5 year old blurted out… “Spiders!” Ok…again not my first choice but let’s see…They are God’s small creations…and they do eat other small annoying insects. Ok sure!

I will spare you of the further answers I received but let’s just say they would most likely not rank high on your list of thankfulness.

As I absorbed my boys’ child-like and maybe to some insignificant answers…I was reminded of the importance of being thankful for the “small” things in life.

Are you thankful for the “small” things in life?

How quickly we offer our thanks to God when he comes through for us in our finances, our relationships, our health…the “big” things in life.

But what about the “small” things? How important are the “small” things? And just how do the “small’ things create “big” opportunities? And “big” opportunities for what?

A great story about the importance of small things…and big opportunities… is in the Bible passage about Jesus feeding the crowd of 5,000 in John 6:1-15.

Now many of us may be familiar with this story and the miracle Jesus performed by feeding a huge crowd of people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish…the Bible states a crowd of 5,000 but many Bible scholars have referenced that number to be greater as women and children were not usually counted.

But you got to check this passage out again…because there is much more to grasp through this amazing story!

5When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

7Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

8Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. John 6:5-13

First of all…it is important to note that the “boy” is actually a “little” boy (ISV)…a “young” boy (NLT)…as referenced by different Bible translations.

Furthermore…this little boy had 5 “small” barley loaves and 2 “small” fish…clearly a “small” amount of food.

Finally…this little boy gave his “small” amount of food…what little he had…to Jesus.

What is so interesting here is that …this “small” amount of food created a “big” opportunity…to give thanks!

Verse 11 says Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks… He did the same with the fish.

Jesus gave thanks for the 5 “small” barley loaves and 2 “small” fish…before he multiplied it into abundance!

He gave thanks for the “small” amount of food…the “small” things.

He didn’t wait to give His thanks afterafter he multiplied the food…after everyone had enough to eat…after the leftovers were collected…after He performed the miracle…after the “small” thing became a “big” thing!

What a wonderful example for us to follow!

Small things are big opportunities for us to give thanks!

Oftentimes…we give thanks after God pulls us through our difficult circumstances…after He provides what we need…after He heals us…after He delivers us…after He restores us…after He makes the impossible possible…after He performs the miracle…after the “big” things. And rightfully so…we certainly should be thankful to God for all of these “big” things.

But what about the “small” things? Are the “small” things in your life “big” opportunities to express your thankfulness and gratitude?

God wants us to be thankful for all things…in everything which includes the “big” and the “small” things!

Giving thanks at all times for all things in the name our Lord Jesus Christ to the God and Father. Ephesians 5:20 BLT

In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB

Note the use of words here…God also says to give thanks…for all things…and in everything! For the big and the small things…in every life season! (So that means right smack in the middle of life’s challenges too)

Thankfulness should not just grab our attention on the Thanksgiving holiday each year…but should be in our daily life…and should be a way of life!

God wants us to be thankful for all things because it demonstrates our faithfulness to Him….and our faithfulness in the small things will open the door for God to do bigger things in our lives!

Whoever is faithful with very little will also be faithful with much. Luke 16:10 BSB

Don’t wait for the big things to give thanks to God…Jesus didn’t! Give Him thanks today for the small things.

Allow the “small” things to create “big” opportunities to give thanks this Thanksgiving. And let this holiday reflect thankfulness as a way of life…each and every day.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and thank you to all my subscribers for supporting Sweeter Than Honey Blog!