Blessed in The Beatitudes

Recently, I was at the grocery store with my kids. (Ok pause for a second…for all you mothers out there with young children…this is not highly recommended because as you probably already know, shopping takes twice as long because your kids keep asking you to buy everything bad for them and then you can barely figure out what you need to purchase for dinner that evening!)

So on this particular trip to the grocery store, I did cave in on a couple of their wishes (I know…lack of discipline on my part) After we checked out with the woman working at the cash register, she kindly said “Good-bye! Have a blessed day!”

My youngest son Bryce turned to me and asked, “Is she a Christian?” I whispered to him that I wasn’t 100% sure but I would guess that she was.

We hear the words blessed/blessing often especially in our Christian circles but do we truly understand its meaning? From comments like “I feel so blessed.” to “What a blessing!” to “You really bless me.” …I find myself saying these statements as well from time to time. I even have cute t-shirt that says “BLESSED”.

What does the word “blessed” mean to you?

I recently asked a few people this question. A few of the comments I received was “feeling favored” … “I feel happy” … “feeling thankful” … and “positive feelings”.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the word “bless” means “to make holy; to praise or glorify, to approve; to bestow prosperity or happiness upon; favor.”

What recently intrigued me about this word “blessed” and its’ significance is its appearance 9 times in one single passage of the Bible (Mathew 5:3-11) which is commonly referred to as “The Beatitudes”. This passage called “The Beatitudes” is the beginning part of the longest sermon Jesus preached called the “Sermon on the Mount”.

The Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew Chapters 5-7 is a collection of Jesus’ sayings and teachings which emphasizes His moral teaching. It is the first of what is termed the Five Discourses of Matthew (FYI…a discourse is a speech, talk, explanation, or thought on a subject) and takes place relatively early in Jesus’ ministry after He was baptized by John the Baptist, had fasted in the desert, and began to preach in Galilee.

According to English preacher and theologian John R.W. Stott…

The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed”.

Jesus preached this profound sermon on a hilltop nearly 2,000 years ago showing his disciples how to live as His follower and serve in God’s Kingdom. And because a large crowd had formed at the base of this mountainside, many others heard this remarkable message too.

If we were to summarize the Sermon on the Mount in a single sentence, it would possibly be…How to live a life that is dedicated to and pleasing to God, free from hypocrisy, full of love and grace, full of wisdom and discernment.

This famous sermon has great relevance for us today because I am sure we all (myself included) could use some help learning how we are to live a life that is dedicated and pleasing to God.

However, if we glance back above at the quote from John Stott, we can see that this sermon is not easily understood and not commonly obeyed. This poses a challenge because, if we don’t understand something, how can we obey it or know what we are to obey?

One thing I do know however is that we all want to be blessed…I know I do!

The beginning of the Sermon on the Mount called “The Beatitudes” gives us 8 promises of blessings.

Scholars have debated the actual number of beatitudes listed in this passage but most have decided that there are 8. And therefore, this brief overview does not include Verse 11 as the 9th beatitude. (For a greater understanding of the Sermon on the Mount in its entirety, I would suggest you read through chapters 5-7 in Matthew on your own.)

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, 2and He began to teach them, saying:

3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.

7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.

8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.

10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:1-12 NIV

Because the word “beatitude” comes from the Latin beatitudo, meaning “blessedness”, a general biblical understanding of the word “blessed” is important in understanding how “The Beatitudes” are relevant for us today.

In the Bible, the word “bless” and its forms such as “blessed/blessing” appear over 400 times. There are several Hebrew and Greek words that are usually translated as “bless” or “blessing/blessed.”

SIDE NOTE: In the Bible, the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament was originally written in Greek.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word most often translated “bless” is barak, which means “to praise, congratulate, or salute” and is even used to mean a curse. (Genesis 12:1-2. 22:16-18, Job 2:9). Another Hebrew word for “bless” is isesher, which is translated as “happiness.” (Job 5:17, Psalm 1:1-3)

In the New Testament, there are two primary Greek words translated as “bless.”

The first translation for “bless” is eulogeo which focuses on “good words” or the “good report” that others give of someone and also describes the blessing that we say over our food (Matthew 26:26). Interestingly, this word is where we get our English word “eulogy,” in which we speak well of one who has passed away. (Ephesians 1:3, 1Peter 3:9)

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Greek word translated “blessed” is makarios which means “happy”. Some say it’s a more nuanced word than just “happy” and means “supreme happiness.”

Notice in this passage that the phrase “blessed are” in each beatitude implies a current state of happiness or well-being. This expression held a powerful meaning of “divine joy and perfect happiness” to the people of that day.

In other words, Jesus was saying “divinely happy and fortunate are those who possess these inward qualities.” Notice also that after each current “blessed are,” there is also promised a future reward.

Because there is such great depth in each of the beatitudes…too lengthy for the purposes of this devotion…a brief overview of each will still give us some perspective and life application so we can better understand and follow Jesus’ teachings.

Verse 3…Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The phrase “poor in spirit” speaks of a spiritual condition of poverty. It describes the person who is humble before God and recognizes his or her need for God.

The promise is “the kingdom of heaven”. “The kingdom of heaven” refers to people who acknowledge Jesus as King and have accepted God’s free gift of salvation.

Paraphrase: “Blessed are those who humbly recognize their need for God, for they will enter into His kingdom.”

Verse 4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Everyone experiences sad and tragic losses at some time or another in this life. But the mourning in this verse is ultimately for a world that is lost and ruined.

“Those who mourn” speaks of those who express deep sorrow over sin and repent from their sins. The freedom found in forgiveness and the joy of eternal salvation is the “comfort” of those who repent.

Notice the slight difference from the previous beatitude. In the last one, the promise was that those poor in spirit have the kingdom. It is present tense whereas here the promise is for the future.

So the promise is that “they will be comforted”. They will be consoled above all when God wipes away all tears, and death will be no more, nor grief nor tribulation. They know that death does not have the final victory.

Paraphrase: “Blessed are those who mourn for their sins, for they shall receive forgiveness and life eternal.”

Verse 5…Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

In the Bible, the “meek” are those who have a spirit of gentleness and self-control. The word meek has been defined as “strength under control.” Meekness and gentleness are part of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). They are produced by the Holy Spirit that dwells inside us as Christians.

Similar to “the poor” in verse 3, “the meek” are those who submit to God’s authority and make him Lord (Lord simply means King, Master, the One in control).

And the future promise is that “they will inherit the earth”. This is more than just a physical possession of land…it signifies a sense of place, security, and an inheritance from God.

Paraphrase: “Blessed are those who submit to God as Lord, for they will inherit everything he possesses.”

Verse 6…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Hunger” and “thirst” speak of a deep need and driving passion. Some scholars believe this “hunger and thirst for righteousness” has 2 meanings.

One would be in our personal life…the strong desire to be pleasing to God, to do what He wants, to live up to His will.

And out of this personal hunger would grow the desire for “righteousness” in our world…for social injustice in a world that is unrighteous and unjust. Righteousness means “right standing” and “morally right or justifiable”

The promise is that they will “be filled” which means receiving complete fulfillment and satisfaction of their soul’s desire.

Paraphrase: “Blessed are those who passionately long for Christ, for he will satisfy their souls.”

Verse 7…Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

One thing that is common to the “poor in spirit”, the “meek”, and “those who hunger for righteousness” is that their life is not self-sufficient but looks outward for help.

Being “merciful” to others includes both forgiveness of the sinner and compassion for the suffering and the needy. They are called “blessed” because they place showing mercy above themselves, showing kindness to others.

It is not that they are merciful by nature, but because they have been shown mercy and live in constant dependence on the Lord.

The future promise is that those who demonstrate mercy “will be shown mercy.” Likewise, those who have received great mercy will show great mercy.

Paraphrase: “Blessed are those who show mercy through forgiveness, kindness, and compassion, for they will receive mercy.”

Verse 8…Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

The “heart” is used in the Bible for the will, the choices. And so to be “pure in heart” means that the decisions one makes, the desires one has, the thoughts and intentions of the will, are untarnished by sin, and that the will is determined to be pleasing to God.

From the “pure in heart” come only good things, acts of love and mercy, desires for righteousness and justice, decisions that please God.

The promise is that “they will see God”. The “pure in heart” are those who have been cleansed from within. This is not outward righteousness that can be seen by men, but inward holiness that only God can see.

The Bible says in Hebrews 12:14 that without holiness, no one will see God.

Paraphrase: “Blessed are those who have been purified from the inside out, being made clean and holy, for they will see God.”

Verse 9…Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

God is the God of peace. His whole plan of redemption is to provide peace with God for those who were formerly alienated from God and ultimately bring peace to the whole world (Isaiah 9:6,7).

Only God can give us peace in the midst of the strife, conflict, and chaos of this world. It is a peace that the world does not understand (John 14:27). It begins with reconciliation with God and extends to reconciliation with other people.

Those who are “peacemakers” are then first and foremost people who understand what true peace is. True peacemakers are those who promote the Kingdom of God.

And the promise is that “they will be called sons of God.” That means they will be true children of God. This adds to what life will be like in the kingdom described in previous beatitudes: possession of land, stilling of hunger, vision of God, and now sonship.

All these begin when people enter the kingdom by faith, but will be fulfilled completely when the kingdom finally comes.

Paraphrase: “Blessed are those who have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and bring this same message of reconciliation to others. All who have peace with God are his children.”

Verse 10…Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Those who are persecuted because of righteousness” means those who try to promote peace, or champion righteousness, or live a life of gentleness and meekness will find opposition.

Just as Jesus faced persecution, so will His followers. Those who endure by faith rather than hide their faith to avoid persecution are genuine followers of Christ. They should rejoice, for their reward in heaven will be great.

But the promise stated here for those who suffer such persecution in this world is that their destiny will be a complete contrast to their present opposition… “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Paraphrase: “Blessed are those daring enough to openly live for Christ and suffer persecution, for they will receive the kingdom of heaven.”

To bring this rather extensive and challenging study of “The Beatitudes” to a close, my hope is that we have a greater understanding of these 8 blessings and the Christ-like characteristics/qualities that lead to these future promises. These blessings are the basic building blocks upon which a lot of our Christ-like actions are based.

And my prayer is that as Christians we would seek to develop these characteristics that Jesus felt was so important to share with His disciples on a hilltop one day 2,000 years ago….and so important for us today in living our lives as His followers and serving His Kingdom.

Reflection Points:

  1. What does the word “blessed” mean to you?
  2. Is your definition different from the definitions/translations discussed above?
  3. Have you previously read through “The Beatitudes” before?
  4. Why are “The Beatitudes” so important?
  5. Do the explanations above give you greater understanding into their relevance for your life today?
  6. How can we develop the characteristics of “The Beatitudes?”

Action Points:

  1. “The Beatitudes” are so important for us today because they give us the true meaning of being “blessed”. They are 8 current blessings that lead to future promises for us as Christians and give us clarity on who God considers “blessed.”
  2. Developing the characteristics of these beatitudes should become a priority because they are the building blocks upon which our Christ-like actions are based. However, these characteristics do not just develop overnight. They develop gradually the more we pursue God and allow Him to completely transform us from within. And it begins with Beatitude #1…humbling ourselves, recognizing our need for God, and letting Him have control of our life.
  3. Pray and ask God to help you in developing these qualities. If you struggle with letting God have control of your life, pray that God will give you the strength and discipline to surrender to Him. Because it is in this surrender that He will transform you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Will Fear No Evil

I remember as a little girl being scared of the dark when going to bed at night. I would see mysterious dark shadows on the wall in my bedroom which made me so afraid of closing my eyes because if I did one of those scary shadows would get me! Maybe some of you can recall a similar experience when you were growing up.

When I felt afraid of these shadows as a young girl, I would always remind myself of a bible verse that I had memorized from the passage Psalm 23…even though I didn’t fully understand what it meant. And yes…I did memorize the King James Version!

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. Psalm 23:4 KJV

Many nights my mother would sit beside me and hold my hand until I fell asleep. Her presence always comforted me and the fear of these looming dark shadows would somehow disappear.

Even though we may no longer be afraid of the dark shadows on our bedroom walls, fear is still very real and can be present in our lives as adults and even as Christians.

Fear has a way of creeping in especially when we find ourselves in the valleys of life. These valleys can be lonely and dark and scary.

Perhaps you’re in a valley today…a valley of physical or emotional pain or a valley of financial loss and difficulties. Maybe you’re in a valley of marital struggles or a valley of great uncertainty of what your future holds.

No matter what frightening valley you may find yourself in, God wants to comfort you and encourage you to not be fearful in and through your life’s valleys.

How many of you know that unfortunately this Christian life is not free of valleys or trials or difficulties or challenges? The Bible clearly says when we face trials, not if we face trials. (James1:2) So trials will come…even if we aren’t in a valley right now.

We can also see this in our key verse today from Psalm 23:4. (I will spare you the King James Version.)

Even though I walk through the shadow of the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; Psalm 23:4 ESV

Psalm 23 is a well-known psalm full of promises…promises of care, provision, rest, peace, healing, guidance, God’s presence, comfort, friendship, protection, hope and our eternal home. It is a beautiful metaphor describing God as a shepherd and God’s people as His flock. It gives us invaluable insights into the character of God and His plan for us, His children.

Psalm 23 was written by David…David the little shepherd boy who killed lions and bears to protect his flock…David who killed the giant Philistine Goliath with just a sling and a stone…David who was the least expected choice to be appointed as King over Israel…David who committed adultery and murder…AND David who despite his flaws and failures is commended as a man after God’s own heart. (1 Samuel 13:14. Acts 13:22)

David firsthand experienced God’s comfort, protection, and hope in and through his valleys of life. And so can we!

Just as I didn’t fully grasp the depth of this verse as a little girl, maybe today some of you, although familiar with Psalm 23, may not have grasped the depth either. I believe a greater understanding of this verse will bring greater encouragement to us, especially when we face fear in the midst off our valleys.

Psalm 23:4 says…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; Psalm 23:4 ESV

This verse begins with the words “even though” which means “in spite the fact that”. Again, reiterating the fact that we will face valleys, trials, difficulties, and challenges in this life.

The verse goes on to say “I walk”. Isn’t that interesting? Because most of us don’t want to walk through our valleys, but would much rather run or sprint through them! I know I do!

So we walk “through” the valley. How encouraging because no matter what valley we’re in, it is temporary because the word “through” is defined as “in one end and out the other; past or beyond.”

Valleys are conduits. They have an entrance and an exit. They have a beginning and an end.

I know sometimes we can’t see the end and we can easily become discouraged if we’ve spent a lot of time in a particular valley, but God’s timing is perfect and we will get through!

The next phrase has great significance. It says that we walk through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

Bible translators agree that the “valley of the shadow of death” can also be translated as “darkest valley.” Some bible translations like the NIV, NLT, and HCBS actually use the phrase “darkest valley”.

The Hebrew word for “shadow of death” is sal-ma-wet which means “darkness” or “dark shadows”. It contains the same root as the Hebrew word for “death” (ma-wet) so we can see why some bible translations include the mention of death.

In addition, this concept of darkness seems to fit much better in the context of Psalm 23 which uses the language of a shepherd and his sheep to describe our relationship with God. Sheep do not understand the concept of death but they do understand that entering a dark valley can be dangerous.

During the winter months back in David’s day, shepherds would take their sheep down into the low land (aka valleys) where there was more grass and it was warmer. But once summer arrived, it was in the best interest to move to higher ground. The only way to get the sheep from the low land to higher ground was to go through the valleys and gorges.

These valleys were deep hollows between mountains. They were low lands flanked on both sides by high lands. Valleys always had deep waters, streams, and wells flowing through.

Shepherds loved valleys because grass was so green and lush… perfect for sheep to feed on.

The fact that it was flanked on both sides by mountains shaded it from direct sunlight; thus covering the valley by the shadow of the mountains. The height of the mountains would impose darkness on the valley.

Although these valleys provided food for the sheep, they were also home to wild animals like bears and wolves down in the lower parts that waited to kill any sheep that fell off the path.

What is so interesting is that the verse says “valley of the shadow of death” and not “valley of death”.

Oftentimes, we feel like giving up in the valleys of our lives because we grow tired and weary and feel like we will not live through it. But it’s so important to see that it is not death but the shadow of death! Shadows cannot hurt us.

Just as I feared the shadows on my bedroom wall as a little girl, they could not hurt me. And neither can the shadows of darkness in our valleys.

In fact, a shadow can only be produced in the presence of light. The darker the shadow the greater the presence of light. This should give us hope that no matter how dark our valleys are, God’s light is still present.

The verse further says “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. We do not need to have fear in our valleys because the light that is present is the light of Jesus. He walks with us in the valley and will stay with us through the valley. He will never leave our side!

And because He is described as the Great Shepherd, He will guide us, protect us, and comfort us. He is in complete control. He knows what He is doing and has our best interest in mind.

I love this commentary…

“God will lead and guide me in the path of righteousness, even though that path lies through the darkest and most gloomy vale through deep and dismal shades … It is still a right path; it is a path of safety; and it will conduct me to bright regions beyond. In that dark and gloomy valley, though I could not guide myself, I will not be alarmed; I will not be afraid of wandering or of being lost; I will not fear any enemies there – for my Shepherd is there to guide me still.” Barnes Commentary.

What great hope for us when we face the valleys, the trials, the difficulties, and the challenges of this life.

Just as my mother’s presence always comforted me and the fear of looming dark shadows seemed to disappear, so too is God’s presence a great comfort to us driving out the fear of our darkest valleys.

Always remember that God never gives us fear and He will never leave our side.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control]. 2 Timothy 1:7 AMP

For He has said, “ I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [ nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax my hold on you [assuredly not]!” Hebrews 13:5 AMP

Be strong, courageous, and firm; fear not nor be in terror before them, for it is the Lord your God Who goes with you; He will not fail you or forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6 AMP

So what should we do practically when we feel fearful as we go through the valleys of life?

  1. Draw Close to God in the Valleys.

Just like sheep must follow and stay close to their shepherd, we too need to draw close and stay close to our Great Shepherd. God will guide us and protect us through our valleys if we stay close to Him.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Isaiah 43:2-3 NLT

  1. Talk to Him in the Valleys.

When David got in the valley, he stopped talking about God and started talking to God. If you compare the first 3 verses to the last 3 verses in Psalm 23, you will notice the pronoun changes. The psalm opens with “He leads” … “He guides” … “He restores” but then David shifts his language and says “You are with me” … “Your rod and staff comfort me.”

David knew the value of crying out to God. And so did Jesus when He cried out to God in his darkest hour in Gethsemane. (Mark 14:35-36)

Don’t equate darkness with distance. You can cry out to Him. Pray and talk to Him in your valleys.

  1. Focus on What God is Doing in the Valleys

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 NASB

God did not say all things are good, but that all things work together for good. God is our redeemer!

Any valley we go through, God will walk with us to bless us and change us so that we look more like Jesus.

These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. 1Peter 1:7 NLT

  1. Keep Walking Through the Valleys

Keep walking through… “through” is the key word as discussed earlier.

When the darkness closes in and you don’t know what else to do, just take the next step…even if it’s with a limp!

For we walk by faith, not by sight. 2Corinthinians 5:7 NASB

We walk by faith, not by our sight…not by our feelings…not by our thoughts.

God never explained the valley to Job…considered one of the most obedient and faithful servants of God…who lost everything…and I mean everything! (If you aren’t familiar with Job check out the book of Job in the Bible for his story)

The phrase “valley of deep darkness” is used 9 times in the book of Job. Job was on the right path, but He never understood why God sent him through the valley of deep darkness.

  1. Praise Him Through the Valleys

Gratitude has a way of changing our attitude!

Praising God will shift our focus off our problem and onto our problem-solver.

…the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NLT

Trust God today in the midst of your valleys and know His presence is always with you to comfort, protect, and give you hope that you will get through!

Remember we may not have His perspective, but we do have His promises!

Reflection Points:

  1. Are you in a valley today? Are you facing a trial, difficulty or challenge in your life?
  2. Are you experiencing fear in the midst of your valley, especially when the end doesn’t seem near or if you have grown tired and weary? Do you feel like giving up?
  3. Read Psalm 23 if you aren’t familiar with this passage. Do you believe God is present in your valley? And that you do not need to be fearful because He will walk closely with you through your valley?

Action Points:

What should we do when we feel fearful as we go through the valleys of life? (Refer back to the numbered steps above.)

 

I Am Better Than You!

“I’m better than you!” declared my 8year-old son Bryce as we were driving to school one morning this week.

He was claiming to be a faster runner than my older 10year-old son Connor. I quickly stepped in as a verbal disagreement began to erupt.

I chimed in saying how it all depends on what kind of running you’re doing and how both of them are gifted by God differently.

Connor is actually a very fast runner around the bases when he plays baseball. Bryce can also run fast around the bases too but he is very good at quick changes in direction like a running back in football and has great stamina for long distances.

Regardless of who is faster or better at whatever…bottom line is that both boys have different gifts and strengths that God has given them. And I stressed to the boys the importance of never putting another person down for not having the same gifts and strengths as them.

How quickly comparison can seep into our lives at such a young age! In fact, comparison really begins in our lives way before we may even realize!

From the day we were born…everything about us is measured!

Our birth announcements with our height and weight …our pediatric appointments with growth percentiles…our athletic ability with our game scores and statistics…our academic ability with our grades and report cards…our SAT scores…salaries…job titles…social status…and the list goes on.

Everything is weighed and measured!

It’s no wonder we get caught up with what the world says we need to look like… what the world says we need to have…and what the world says we need to be!

We can so easily be tempted to measure ourselves up against the world’s standards…and even find ourselves living out someone else’s assignment and not the assignment God has for us.

You do know that God has an assignment for your life…right? If you are a Christian today, God has a specific assignment… a specific plan…for your life and it’s not the same as someone else’s.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

Now…comparison on the surface may not appear all that dangerous…because comparison is the fuel that can propel us forward… …it can push us to be better… it can motivate us to do greater things.

But…unfortunately…this comparison can trigger negative insecure thoughts…thoughts that we don’t measure up…we aren’t enough…we don’t have enough…or we won’t be accepted or liked.

Do you ever compare who you are…what you have (or don’t have) …what you are doing with your life…or in your life…with someone else’s life?

God has assigned us each an assignment in this life… He has assigned us each our own race to run!

For example, before a race, a sprinter is assigned his own lane. And one thing a track athlete is taught is to always stay in their lane…always stay focused…and always look straight ahead…and never worry about what the person in the lane next to you is doing. Because the second you look…it may cost you the race!

And this very thing actually happened in the 1996 Olympics where a sprinter admitted that he peaked at his opponent next to him and it cost him the medal. That look cost him a hundredth of second!

I love Hebrews 12:1-2! It says…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT

It says…let us strip off every weight that slows us down

We need to fist identify what weight is slowing us down.

What weight is slowing you down from running the race God has set before you? Is it the weight of comparison? Because the weight of comparison will slow us down…

If we become too consumed with comparing ourselves to others…If we become too consumed with the race other people are running…we will no longer be focused on our race. And it will slow us down.

The moment a sprinter takes his eyes off the finish line and peaks at the sprinter in the lane next to him…It will slow him down. And it just may cost him the race!

This verse goes on to say…especially the sin that so easily trips us up.

Is there a sin in your life that is tripping you up from running the race God has set before you?

If we become too consumed with comparison…it will take root in our life and will lead to sin.

Feelings of inferiority and not measuring up will produce sins like jealousy…envy… bitterness… hatred.

Comparison can also produce feelings of superiority and being better than others. And this leads to sin as well like pride, arrogance, and even self-righteousness.

We can’t afford to allow comparison to take root in our lives! We have a race to run!

It says…let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

And it goes on to say in Hebrews 12:2 that…We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus…

What is distracting YOU from keeping your eyes on Jesus?

God has a plan, an assignment, a race for you to run in your life and it isn’t the same race as your friend…your neighbor…your mentor etc. It’s YOUR journey…It’s YOUR race to finish.

We cannot let the race that others have been assigned slow us down and trip us up…We have our own race to run!

Let me challenge you with this final question … Whose opinion do you feel pressured to live up to?

Your boss’ opinion…your family’s opinion…your friends’ opinion…your Facebook and Instagram followers’ opinions…this world’s opinion?

Whose opinion do you feel pressured to live up to?

Well we can take that pressure off right now! Because…The ONLY opinion that matters is God’s opinion!

And HIS opinion of you? He says to you…

You are Beautiful (Psalm 45:11)

You are Unique (Psalm 139:13)

You are Loved (Jeremiah 31:3)

You are Special (Ephesians 2:10)

You are Cared For (Ephesians 3:17-19)

You are Lovely (Daniel 12:3)

You are Precious (1Corinthians 6:20)

You are Strong (Psalm 68:35)

You are Important (1 Peter2:9)

You are Forgiven (Psalm 103:12)

You are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made (Psalm 139:14)

You are Created in MY Image (Genesis 1:27)

You are Created with a Purpose (Jeremiah 29:11)

You are a New Creation (2 Cor 5:17)

You are Protected (Psalm 121:3)

You are Empowered   (Phil 4:13)

You are Victorious (Rom 8:37-39)

You are Accepted (Eph 1:3)

You are Cherished (Zech 2:8)

You are Chosen (1Peter 2:9)

You are Valued (1Cor 7:23)

You are Worthy (John 3:16)

You are Enough (Eph 2:4-6)

AND

You are Mine! (Isaiah 43:1)

God says…Stay focused on me…And I will tell you who you are. Don’t compare yourself…OR your life…to anyone else’s!

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. Galatians 6:4-5 Message

If we can focus on becoming who God created us to be…We can experience a sense of peace and security that will enable us to resist focusing on what everyone else around us is doing. And then we can focus on the assignment He wants to complete in us…the race that He wants to run with us…and the plans He wants to fulfill though us to ultimately glorify His name.

 

Reflection Points:

  1. Do you ever compare who you are…what you have (or don’t have) …what you are doing with your life…or in your life…with someone else’s life?
  2. What weight is slowing you down from running the race God has set before you? Is it the weight of comparison?
  3. Is there a sin in your life that is tripping you up from running the race God has set before you? What is distracting YOU from keeping your eyes on Jesus?
  4. Whose opinion do you feel pressured to live up to?

 

Action Points:

  1. If you are struggling with comparison, pray and ask the Lord to help you. Pray and ask Him to show you if there is sin in your life stemming from comparison that you need to repent from and ask for forgiveness.
  2. The antidote for comparison is gratitude. When you are thankful for the way God has created you, you will begin to focus on Him. And when you focus on Him you be filled with peace and security to run the race that He has set out for you to run.
  3. Fill yourself with God’s Word and what he says about you as His daughter. Then you will know and accept who you are in Christ! Then you will know that God has made you fearfully and wonderfully inside and out (Psalm 139:14) …uniquely created you with unique gifts and a unique purpose for your life! …Not to be compared to anyone else!

 

 

 

Filled or Overflowing?

As many of you know, I have 2 precious boys that I talk about a lot because that is the season of life that I am in!

Being a wife along with being a mother to these boys keeps me on my toes…literally…as I try and keep up with their schoolwork, projects, and extracurricular activities.

On occasion when the boys have ½ day at school, I will scoop them up and have a lunch date with them. We have a special Mexican restaurant we always go to…just Mommy and the boys.

And the reason the boys love our Mommy lunch dates is…because of ME! Well OK that’s not totally true…It’s really because we don’t drink any sodas at home and I usually allow them to get one here because it comes with their Kid’s Meal.

The boys love having this opportunity to get a sprite or root beer. They always beg for a coke but no chance I am giving them sugar AND caffeine. God has given me some wisdom throughout the years!

So once they get their empty cups, the boys will sprint to the fountain drink dispensers to fill their cups with some ice and their choice of soda.

And it just never seems to fail that every single time we come to this restaurant, they will try to fill their cups to the very brim!

The problem is they just can’t seem to stop the dispensers in time before their cups begin to overflow!

Now…I think my boys have pretty good reflexes and hand eye coordination…I mean if you have seen them play sports you would think so too…so I actually do believe they allow the soda to overflow on purpose.

They always begin giggling when this happens and if you saw my face…I am so far from giggling. I try to sneak in that courtesy smile for the line of people who are patiently waiting behind the boys to get their drinks…just to let them know it’s all good…I got this thing under control.

And so for the boys…having their cup filled was not enough…they want it to overflow.

As I pondered this I couldn’t help but realize that…That’s exactly what God wants for each of us!

Being filled is not enough…God wants us overflowing!

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 15:13NIV

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. NLT

God doesn’t want to fill us so we can just be fulfilled…He wants to fill us so we can be overflowing.

Fill or Fulfill is defined as “to make full, to satisfy, to bring to an end.”

The word “fill” comes from the Greek word pleroo which means “to be filled to capacity”

Overflow is defined as “to fill or become filled beyond capacity; to fill a space up beyond its limits.”

The word “overflow” comes from the Greek word perisseuo which means “to be over and above, to abound, to exceed the ordinary”

Wow! I found it SO interesting that fulfill has “an end” …while overflow goes “beyond its limits”!

No wonder God doesn’t want us just filled…but He wants us to overflow!

Often times we are looking and desiring to be filled and fulfilled. And there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that desire…depending on who and/or what is fulfilling us.

Who or what are you looking for to fill or fulfill you today? Is it fulfilling you…completely?

Because…even as Christians…we can so easily find ourselves looking for the people and things in this world to fill and fulfill us.

Maybe we’re looking for a spouse, a child, a relationship to fulfill us.

Maybe we’re looking for a certain job or occupation, recognition, an achievement or accomplishment…or even some material possession to fulfill us.

But these things will only satisfy us temporarily and leave us longing for more…They will never be enough.

Complete fulfillment…complete satisfaction…comes from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Complete fulfillment…complete satisfaction…only comes from God…the God of Hope!

Look at Romans 15:13 again…

God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.   Romans 15:13

For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things. Psalm 107:9 ESV

And I will always guide you and satisfy you with good things. I will keep you strong and well. You will be like a garden that has plenty of water, like a spring of water that never goes dry.
Isaiah 25:11 GNT

Ok so before we get too far ahead here…I want you to see something really important.

If we look closer at Romans 15:13…we can see a very important prerequisite for God to fill us…TRUST.

It says in both translations… He will fill you “as you trust Him” … He will fill you “because you trust Him.”

And he wishes to drive home to us this, that the attitude of trust is the necessary prerequisite condition of God’s being able to fill a man’s soul, and that God’s being able to fill a man’s soul is the necessary consequence of a man’s trust. McClaren’s Expositions

Filling begins with trust! Trust unlocks and opens our hearts for God to fill us.

Have you ever tried to fill a vessel or container that is closed? You can try and try but you can’t! Right?!

God can only fill a heart that is opened with trust.

Are you trusting Him today? Are you trusting Him with every aspect of your life?

Because maybe there is an aspect of your life…an empty part of your heart…that God wants to fill but your lack of trust is preventing Him for doing so.

How about this…

Have you ever tried to fill a vessel or container that is already full? Not going to happen…Right?!

Just as God can’t fill a heart that is closed…He also can’t fill a heart that is already full…a heart that is already full of “other” things…

“Other” things can be negative feelings or emotions like anxiety, worry, fear, bitterness, resentment.

“Other” things can be wrong attitudes or sinful desires like unforgiveness, pride, lust, greed, envy, jealousy.

“Other” things are…well really…it’s “any” thing that is not “God’s” thing.

Are you so filled with “other” things that you haven’t allowed God the room to fill you with HIS things? What is keeping you from being filled…completely…by God?

For instance, if you’re so filled with anxiousness and worry in your life…how can He fill you with peace?

But your trust in Him will put your focus on Him which will push out the anxiousness and worry allowing Him the room to fill you with peace!

Filling begins with trust!

Because He can only fill you…

First, if you trust Him and second, if you give Him the room to fill you.

And so what exactly will God fill us with?

Staying focused on Romans 15:13, I found it so interesting…

1st because Paul mentions that God wants to fill us specifically with joy and peace…and 2nd because Paul doesn’t just say God wants to fill us but he qualifies that the GOD OF HOPE wants to fill us.

I included the following commentary to give us a better perspective…

Hope, joy, and peace, form a triad which represents the attitude of the Christian in looking towards the future, and so far as that future is reflected on the present. Hope may be taken as including the other two, as it is upon the certainty of the Messianic promises that they all depend, just as it is through the constant energising power of the Holy Ghost that they are kept alive. Ellicott’s Commentary

God wants to fill us with joy and peace not just to fill us…but for a reason.

He wants to fill you “so that you may overflow”

He wants to fill you so “then you will overflow”

That’s why what we fill ourselves with is so important because what we allow to fill us directly affects our overflow.

But being filled on the inside doesn’t mean there is evidence on the outside.

Are you filled to be fulfilled OR are you filled to overflow?

As Christians, we can become satisfied with being filled to be fulfilled…

But filling is about US…Overflow is about HIM!

God is concerned with overflow…Because He is the God of overflow!

He is the God of abundance…He is the God of more…He is the God of no limits…He is the God of beyond…He is the God that abounds…He is the God of over and above…He is the God of exceeding the ordinary…He is the God of the extraordinary!

We are filled because of HIS overflow!

And therefore…the God of Hope… fills us completely with joy and peace so that WE may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Are you overflowing today? Are you overflowing with hope…joy…and peace?

You can’t overflow with what you haven’t been filled with! You can’t give out what you don’t have!

My desire is that whatever areas of our lives we are not fully satisfied…we would first trust Him and allow him the room to fill us…so that we may overflow hope to others.

And the greatest encouragement we have from Romans 15:13 is that…

We can overflow with hope…by the power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t need to depend on our own strength but the power of the Holy Spirit!

Remember the definition of overflow is…to fill or become filled beyond capacity; to fill a space up beyond its limits.

Going beyond our limits is sometimes uncomfortable…Going beyond stretches us…Going beyond is out of our comfort zone…Going beyond takes time and effort…Going beyond is sometimes hard…

But nowhere in the Bible does it say that we…as Christians…are supposed to be comfortable?

But it does say we can overflow…by the power of the Holy Spirit…through the power of the Holy Spirit!

How can you go beyond today? How can you overflow today?

We are about to celebrate Easter…which I believe is the most important holiday we can celebrate!

It’s because of Christ’s death …burial…and resurrection…that we have eternal Life…that we have Hope…that we have Joy…and that we have Peace! Right?

My heart and prayer this Easter is that we would be so filled…so filled…ourselves that we would overflow this hope to others.

Someone’s eternal life…someone’s hope…may just depend on us “going beyond our limits” …on us overflowing. 

Let’s live a life that is always overflowing! Because it really is about Him…our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Happy Easter!

Reflection Points:

  1. Who or what are you looking for to fill or fulfill you today? Is it fulfilling you…completely?
  2. Are you trusting Him today? Are you trusting Him with every aspect of your life?
  3. Are you so filled with “other” things that you haven’t allowed God the room to fill you with HIS things? What is keeping you from being filled…completely…by God?
  4. Are you filled to be fulfilled OR are you filled to overflow?
  5. Are you overflowing today? Are you overflowing with hope…joy…and peace?
  6. How can you go beyond today? How can you overflow today?

Actions Points:

  1. Complete fulfillment…complete satisfaction…comes from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Complete fulfillment…complete satisfaction…only comes from God…the God of Hope!
  2. Filling begins with trust! Trust unlocks and opens our hearts for God to fill us. God can only fill a heart that is opened with trust.
  3. Just as God can’t fill a heart that is closed…He also can’t fill a heart that is already full…a heart that is already full of “other” things like negative feelings or emotions or wrong attitudes and sinful desires.
  4. God wants to fill us with joy and peace not just to fill us so that we will overflow. As Christians, we can become satisfied with being filled to be fulfilled but filling is about US…overflow is about HIM!
  5. Going beyond our limits is sometimes uncomfortable…Going beyond stretches us…Going beyond is out of our comfort zone…Going beyond takes time and effort…Going beyond is sometimes hard…But nowhere in the Bible does it say that we…as Christians…are supposed to be comfortable. But it does say we can overflow…by the power of the Holy Spirit…through the power of the Holy Spirit!

 

 

 

 

Broken Cisterns

About 6 years ago when my son Connor was about 3 years old, we visited Southern California and spent some time vacationing at the beach.

The moment we arrived at the beach, Connor was very excited to build a sand castle with the toy buckets and shovels we had brought for him to play with in the sand.

He was so ready and fully equipped to begin building!

Connor began this endeavor by walking to the water’s edge to collect some water in his bucket and then he proceeded by walking back to a spot he had chosen to build his sand castle.

He would dump the water to moisten the sand…mold the sand with his little hands…and then return back to the water’s edge to collect some more water.

After some time had passed…I noticed that he was collecting a full bucket of water but by the time he got to the sand castle, the bucket was practically empty!

So I observed him more closely and noticed that the water was leaking out as he walked. The bucket had developed a huge crack in the bottom. No wonder!

Connor was working so hard to build this sand castle and he had no clue how much time and effort he was wasting trying to fill a broken bucket with water!

Filling this broken bucket with water was utterly useless and was never going to satisfy his need for collecting enough water to finish his sand castle.

Oh how this simple story reminds me of a very profound declaration from God in Jeremiah 2:13…

“Indeed, my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and they have dug cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” ISV

God used this illustration of broken cisterns in the message that He communicated to His people through His prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah was a major prophet in the Bible who has also been referred to as the “weeping prophet” because he was so deeply sorrowful for the fallen condition of God’s people in Judah.

In order to better understand the depth of this illustration of broken cisterns and its relevance for us today…an understanding of what a cistern actually is is necessary.

What exactly is a cistern?

In the earliest times of the Bible, cisterns were used to store water. They were usually pear shaped and about 15 to 20 feet deep. The actual opening was only 2 to 3 feet wide and there was usually a stone cover. Cisterns were either large or small…large enough to store water for the community…or small and privately owned.

In ancient Israel, the summer months were extremely dry and so during this time people dug and carved out for themselves cisterns out of the solid rock. These cisterns were like man-made reservoirs attempting to contain large amounts of water from the rain falls.

Ancient workers developed sticky lime plaster which they would use to cover the surface of the bed rock to keep the water from seeping out.

But oftentimes…unfortunately…a cistern would develop a crack and all the water would seep out. Cracked rock could hold only a small quantity of dirty water…or no water at all.

And so just as Connor’s broken bucket was useless in holding water…we can see…so too was a broken cistern!

SIDE NOTE: Empty cisterns were sometimes used as prisons and places of confinement. If you remember the story of Joseph being cast into a “pit,” it was actually an empty cistern ( Genesis 37:22) as it was when Jeremiah was lowered into an empty cistern (Jeremiah 38:6).

So…what do broken cisterns symbolize and what relevance does this illustration have for us today?

Well we can see from our key verse in Jeremiah 2:13 that God’s people had turned away from God… “the fountain of living water” …and they had “dug cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that cannot hold water”.

They were no longer devoted to the Lord or depended on Him to meet their spiritual needs. They had dug their own cisterns of idolatry in the hopes that the fleshly pleasures of those idols would satisfy their needs.

You might be thinking… “Well I am a Christian. I don’t worship any idols!”

Even though we don’t necessarily bow down to physical images of false gods like God’s people in Judah…

Idolatry is worship of anything other than God. Idolatry is anything that takes the place of God in our lives.

Whatever you love most, serve most, seek out most, give to the most, worship the most, and care about the most is your god. Your “god” can be your career, your bank account, the way you look, a particular position or degree, influence, power, or physical pleasure. It can even be something that is considered intrinsically good, yet you allow it to dominate your life more than God. Your “god” is whatever you allow to control you, to be the ultimate guide to decision making, the place of your supreme loyalty, and the source of your self-worth. James Emory White (pastor/author)

…the source of your self-worth? Wow…That’s a good one.

So what exactly can be an idol…or considered idolatry…in our lives?

An idol can be such things as pride…money…popularity…body image…even hobbies.

An idol can be our home…our vehicle…our job…material possessions…a relationship…even our family.

An idol can be our iPhones…what we look at on our iPads…even social media.

An idol can be power…influence…tradition… religion… status…position… control…even success.

An idol can be our own goals…own ideas…own purposes…own accomplishments …even self.

An idol can be alcohol…drugs…sex…or any sin.

An idol can even be all the work you do for the Lord that consumes all your time and energy.

Some of these things may in themselves not be bad. We need money in order to live (Matthew 6:31-33) …caring for our bodies is appropriate (1Corinthians 6:19-20) …God is a giver of good gifts and so we can take delight in the hobbies He has given us (James 1:17; Psalm 37:4).

However, …when we begin to value something above God… … when we turn to other people and things over God…when we expect that person or thing to fulfill us and provide us with ultimate satisfaction instead of God…we have begun making it into an idol…we have dug for ourselves cisterns.

But the people of Judah found that the cisterns they were digging up for themselves were broken cisterns! They were broken cisterns that could hold no refreshing water–not even a little bit!

Ok don’t miss this point!!!

Cisterns did not become broken after some time of holding water. They were actually broken from the day they were built! They never held any water!

This is also true of cisterns of our own making. Self-made attempts designed to find spiritual fulfillment in people and things apart from the Lord will inevitably result in failure and disappointment.

NOTHING will ever fully satisfy us…NOTHING will ever fulfill us…NOTHING will ever completely meet our needs…NOTHING will ever quench our spiritual thirst…But only God Himself …the Fountain of Living Water! (Isaiah 55:1-2, John 4:10-14, John 6:35, John 7:37-38)

God alone is sufficient for ALL our needs! (Philippians 4:19)

So how about you? Are you digging for yourself any broken cisterns?

Have you been turning to people or things…instead of God…to satisfy you?

A broken bucket…a broken cistern…will never hold the water necessary to meet our needs or fully satisfy us.

Let’s not waste our time and efforts digging for ourselves broken cisterns like God’s people in Judah…broken cisterns that were never meant to satisfy our thirst…that were never meant to hold water.

Let’s turn to the only true source of water…the only God…the fountain of living water!

Reflection Points:

  1. What exactly is a cistern and what do broken cisterns symbolize? What did God mean when He said that His people had forsaken him and were digging up broken cisterns for themselves?
  2. What relevance does this illustration of broken cisterns have for us today?
  3. What is idolatry?
  4. Have you been digging for yourself any broken cisterns?

Action Points:

  1. If you feel that you have been digging for yourself any broken cisterns, ask God to forgive you and turn to Him to fill any voids or emptiness you feel inside. People and things will only satisfy you temporarily…God will satisfy you fully and always! He will never leave you or forsake you!
  2. Pray that God’s living water will quench your thirst and give you the strength to resist the temptation of turning to people and things to satisfy your needs. God will meet your every need! Trust Him!

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Running?

As Christmas quickly approaches us, there are many people who are running around…running all over the place… running here…running there…running to make last minute preparations… and running to pick up last minute Christmas gifts for their spouses, children, families, and friends!

We as a society have become quite good at “running” …not only during this holiday season but also in our daily lives. Our “busyness” has taken over our days…really our lives! Oh and I can certainly attest to this as I reflect on my own life!

We tend to run from one meeting to the next…from one child’s soccer practice to another child’s ballet class…from one appointment to the next appointment…from one thing to the next thing!

And as I too have been “running” around this Christmas season, I have had to remind myself of the true “Reason for this Season” …So I began to read once again the story of Christmas and the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ in Luke 2.

And what was really exciting to me was that I couldn’t help but note something quite significant in this story…

In verse 11, Luke records that the shepherds were living out in the fields when the angel of the Lord appeared to them…and when the glory of the Lord shone around them, the shepherds were terrified. (As I would be too if an angel of the Lord appeared before me!)

But the shepherd’s fear quickly turned to joy as the angels announced the birth of Jesus…the birth of our Messiah…the birth of our Savior! So what did the shepherd’s do? Check this out! So awesome!

“Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us”. They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. Luke 16:17 Message

The shepherds “as fast as [they] can” …“left running”…Did you notice that!

I mean these shepherds were so excited…so full of joy…so full of anticipation…so looking forward to seeing their newborn king Jesus! …So much so that they didn’t waste any time and as fast as they could…left running! …Running to see their Messiah!

As I dug deeper into this record in Luke of the shepherds running, I came across a few commentaries that further highlighted this idea.

The shepherds lost no time, but came with haste to the place. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary

And they came with haste…. In the night, leaving their flocks, to see their incarnate Lord, as Zacchaeus hastened down from the tree to receive the Saviour. The wonderfulness of the vision, the importance of the thing related, the eagerness of their spirits to see the thing that was told them, put them on making quick dispatch, and hastening to the city with all speed: Gill’s Exposition

Let us go across the country at the nearest, that we may lose no time, that we may speedily see this glorious reconciler of God and man. All delays are dangerous: but he who delays to seek Jesus, when the angels, the messengers of God, bring him glad tidings of salvation, risks his present safety and his eternal happiness. Clark’s Commentary

These shepherds “leaving their flock”…and many of us know that shepherds NEVER ever leave their flock unless one sheep is lost or has gone astray! Then a good shepherd will leave his flock under the guardianship of another and go off hunting for that one sheep that has wandered.

But these shepherds “leaving their flock”… “lost no time”…. “came with haste”…to “speedily see”…“to see their incarnate Lord’… “with eagerness in their spirits!”

Wow!

So how about you?

Are you running to see Jesus today…like the shepherds….with excitement, joy, and anticipation?

Are you running to Him first when you are facing challenges in your life?

Are you running to Him with eagerness looking forward to meeting Him in prayer and in His Word on a daily basis?

I know from my own experience that it’s sometimes easier to run to my spouse or my friend first when I am facing a challenge… Or sometimes it’s easier sleeping in a little longer…or running to check my emails… instead of running to spend time with Him each morning.

Not that it’s bad, of course, to run to your family and close friends…but where does Jesus fall on your list of people that you go to?…And not that every single morning… 365 days out of the year… you wake up so enthusiastic and eager to spend time with the Lord…but how often do you spend time with Jesus?

Are you running to Jesus like the shepherds were running to see Him? Do you run to Him first?

As we celebrate this Christmas and as many of us are running around, let’s run as the shepherds did that night…with eagerness…with enthusiasm…with excitement…with anticipation…

Let’s run to the One who is the very reason for the season…our Lord…our Messiah, our Redeemer…our Savior…Jesus Christ!

Merry Christmas everyone and thank you for blessing me and supporting Sweeter than Honey Blog! I look forward to sharing with you in the New Year!

Reflection Points:

1)      Are you running around with busyness this Christmas season? As much as you are running for yourself or others…are you running to Jesus like the shepherds did that night they heard of Jesus’ birth?

2)      Do you run to Jesus first when face challenges in your life? Or is it just easer to turn to your spouse or a friend?

3)      With all the time you spend running around in the busyness of your daily life, are you finding time to run to Jesus and spend time with Him?

Action Points:

1)      If you are finding that your focus has been on running around and getting things done and your have lost sight of the significance of this season…stop and remind yourself of the real reason for this Christmas season…the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (Read Luke 2)

2)      When you face challenges in life, before you run to others for guidance or advice, submit your challenges to God first. Pray to Him and ask Him to comfort you, direct you, and encourage you in your challenge.

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. Psalm 55:22

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

3)      Are your days so busy that you blink and the hours have gone by without spending any time with Jesus? Make it a priority to run to Jesus each day and spend time with Him. Pray to Him and read His Word. He wants to spend time with you. And what is so amazing is that when you make time for Him you will see that the things you need to get done that day…get done!

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33

How Sharp Are You?

This past weekend I actually had a few moments to plop myself down and tune into the Food Network while the hubby and boys did some yard work outside. I used to watch the Food Network all the time because I really love cooking and enjoy making new meals for my family!

But these days life is so busy balancing schedules from working my ministry job to doing housework…from helping my boys with school projects to getting them to football practices…from barely having an uninterrupted adult conversation with my husband (not easy with 2 young boys needing our attention) to getting a much-needed Date Night!

And…therefore…I look for quick, easy, and healthy meals to cook in the busyness of life.

The other night I began cooking a family favorite…Quinoa Jumbalaya… (FYI…Not as hard as you think and so yummy!)

The recipe required a chopped tomato. As I began cutting the tomato, I realized how much effort I was using. I was using my favorite knife but it didn’t seem to be cutting as clean and smooth as usual. I was actually concerned that the blade would slip and cut my finger.

My favorite knife had become dull so I grabbed my iron knife sharpener and scraped the blade across it a few times. I tried chopping the tomato again and…Wow! What a difference!

I wasn’t using as much effort this time and I chopped away more quickly! Plus, I felt so much more secure about not slipping and cutting myself!

I know some of you may not really care much about cooking…but stick with me here!

Most cooks know that a dull knife can be more dangerous than a sharp one. Although it seems contradictory…a dull-edged blade can actually do more damage to the cook… than the food! That’s because when a blade is dull…it’s harder to use like I just experienced.

Not only does it take more force to actually cut something…but it’s also harder to control. That’s why a dull blade can slice a finger quicker than a tomato…and why chefs spend hundreds of dollars on a great knife.

Every knife becomes dull with use. The sharp edge wears out and little chips develop. Cutting will render a blade ineffective…and on its own…it will never become sharp again. A knife cannot sharpen itself. Nor can something weaker than iron, sharpen iron.

Just as a knife can become dull…we too…as Christians…can also find ourselves “dull” and in need of some sharpening in our lives and in our relationship with Jesus.

How sharp are you? Are you as sharp as you ought to be?

I am reminded of the verse in Ecclesiastes 10:10….

Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed. NLT

If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed. ESV

Remember: The duller the ax the harder the work; Use your head: The more brains, the less muscle. MSG

There is such great truth for us in this verse!

Just as a dull knife cannot become sharp on its own…We too cannot become sharp on our own. And it is through wisdom and not our own strength that we will succeed.

Being sharp in our walk with Jesus is certainly very beneficial. I love the way this commentary puts it!

…then must he put to more strength; he must give a greater blow, strike the harder, and use more force; and yet it may not be sufficient, or; it may be to no purpose, and he himself may be in the greatest danger of being hurt; as such are who push things with all their might and main, without judgment and discretion; but wisdom is profitable to direct; this is the “excellency” of wisdom, that it puts a man in the right way of doing things, and of doing them right; it directs him to take the best methods, and pursue the best ways and means of doing things, both for his own good and the good of others; and so it is better than strengthGills Exposition

So how can we as Christians become sharpened?

The analogy of sharpening a dull knife paints 2 points for us to consider in becoming sharpened as Christians.

An iron knife cannot be sharpened by something weaker than iron. We too cannot be sharpened by something or someone weaker than us!

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17 NIV

The 1st way we can be sharpened is by other Christians who are stronger than we are.

God never intended for us to live out our Christian life alone…and in our own strength. He is a relational God and is big on relationships. He oftentimes repeats in the Bible the importance of Christians having fellowship with one another…encouraging one another…discipling one another…supporting one another…praying with one another…and building one another up.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. Acts 2:42 NLT

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another… Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11NLT

Another great benefit is that in the sharpening of iron with iron…both pieces change…the sharpener and the one being sharpened.

In the same manner our faith is strengthened when we test and encourage another person. We will be strengthened in helping each other to remain strong in the faith, strong in defending the faith, and strong against the direct attacks of the enemy.

Just as the Bereans searched the scriptures daily to confirm the Word (Acts 17:11) …we can sharpen one another by searching the scriptures together to understand God’s Word.

Who in your life sharpens you? Are you rubbing up against…in close relationship…with other Christians who are stronger than you?

The 2nd way we can be sharpened is by the Word of God.

I love this! The Word of God is actually referenced as a two-edged sword…Talk about sharper and more powerful than your little ol’ kitchen knife!

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Hebrews 4:12 NLT

You can’t get any sharper than that!

Are you being sharpened by the Word of God? Are you spending time studying and learning the Word of God?

If we want to be sharpened, we must turn to God’s Word…not just for strength but for wisdom.

Remember Ecclesiastes 10:10 reminds us that being sharpened is using wisdom. And wisdom comes from the Word of God. (FYI…knowledge is knowing the facts…wisdom is applying knowledge)

For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:6 NIV

This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:25 NLT

When we think of sharpening a blade…or sharpening ourselves… it’s always done for a purpose.

A chef doesn’t sharpen his or her knife so it looks better lying on the kitchen counter. Sharpening is done to make it more effective and efficient. If we sharpen a knife for years and never put it into use…it will eventually be sharpened down to nothing…with nothing to show for all that honing.

So too it is with us being sharpened by the Word of God. God has a purpose in sharpening us…not just for us…but for others as well.

Iron sharpens iron. We cannot be sharpened by something or someone weaker than us. We need relationships with stronger Christians and the Word of God to bring us the Godly wisdom to succeed as we walk out our Christian lives.

My challenge to you today is not only…How sharp are you? …BUT…Who are you sharpening?

 

Reflection Points:

  1. How sharp are you? Are you as sharp as you ought to be?
  2. So how can we as Christians become sharpened?
  3. Who in your life sharpens you? Are you rubbing up against…in close relationship…with other Christians who are stronger than you?
  4. Are you being sharpened by the Word of God? Are you spending time studying and learning the Word of God?
  5. Who around you are you sharpening?

Action Points:

  1. Just as a dull knife cannot become sharp on its own…We too cannot become sharp on our own. And it is through wisdom and not our own strength that we will succeed. Being sharp in our walk with Jesus is certainly very beneficial.
  2. As Christians, we can become sharp by rubbing up and having relationship with other Christians who are stronger than we are and by receiving wisdom from the Word of God.
  3. It is so important that we are connecting and building relationships with other Christians and the best way to do this is through getting involved at your church. Serving and attending bible studies/small groups is the best way to begin rubbing up against Christians who are stronger than us who can sharpen us.
  4. Spending time in God’s Word will no doubt sharpen us. This is how we will gain and receive wisdom from the Lord. And it is this wisdom that we direct us…guide us…strengthen us…and help us succeed in walking out our Christian life.