Am I an Exceptional Christian?

gummibarchen-fruit-gums-bear-sweetness-54633The title of this blog is Exceptional Christian, but what do I really mean by that?  Does it mean I’m a great Christian?  Nope not at all!  I’m far from it in fact.  I need a savior, if I was truly great I wouldn’t need one (nor would I be a Christian I suppose).

In that sense, will I ever become one?  Very unlikely.  I find that for every step forward I take, it seems I’ve taken a step or two backwards.  I learn and work on one aspect of my faith, only to falter in another.  Thankfully, I have a God that forgives and sent me a savior to lift me up.

So why the name Exceptional Christian?  Well I think we are looking at the word exceptional wrong.  My first inclination when I hear the word exceptional is just one of the definitions of the word.

Exceptional:  unusually good; outstanding

If we use that definition, then my answers above hold true.  But looking further at the definitions of the word I find this:

Exceptional: unusual; not typical.

I think this definition holds more to what my vision for this blog and for my Christian life is.  One that exemplifies what I mean by the title of Exceptional Christian.

We live in exceptional times.  Here in 2016, we see people around the world slaughtered almost daily, not because of some political war between nations,  no it’s really just a hatred of people who are not like them.  The innocents are killed, just to spread fear.  Just the other day, I read about a video that surfaced showing terrorists beheading a 12 year old boy.

Here in the US, we struggle with an economy that is less than exceptional (using the first definition).  People are out of work or working at jobs below their qualifications.   People live off of handouts because it’s easier to do so than to fight the day to day struggle of working and living paycheck to paycheck (and in some cases they do better with the handouts than they would working).

See every day we live in a world that is less that exceptional (1st definition), so we as Christians should strive to be exceptional (2nd definition).   Lets not be typical Christians (and by no means am I meaning to judge anyone as their relationship between God and themselves is known to God, not to me.)   So how can we do that?

Well first, remember we serve an exceptional God (using the 1st definition), he is able to use our weaknesses and failures for good.  He can take our flaws and use them for His glory.  Despite ourselves and our flaws we are exceptional Christians because we live for him.

Secondly, I think we can be more than typical Christians by letting people know we are and to then live that life out.  No greater harm is done to non-believers and their view of Christianity than that done by Christians  themselves.  I’m a believer that is happy to give a reason for my faith and my belief in Christ and will shout it from the roof tops, but I’m not going to beat you over the head with it.  You’re gonna know where I stand.  Too many times, we see those that expose to be Christians while they are around other Christians or in church, but once they leave that environment, no one would know.  One of the worse things someone could say to me is “I didn’t know you were a Christian.”

Thirdly, what can we do to change the world for Christ?   But before we can change the world, are we in tune with God and his wishes?  God places opportunities in our paths every day to live our lives for him.  Are we ready and willing to obey?  Sometimes they aren’t easy things to do, it will take us out of our comfort zones.  But are we willing to obey if we get that gentle nudge from  God?  It may not be big things either.  I learned a while back, while searching for my purpose with God, that it’s often the little things that God uses for his Glory.  The smile you can give someone in need.  The small gesture of kindness to a passing stranger.  A call to a family member out of the blue, perhaps when they are feeling lonely unbeknownst to you.  It’s those little things that God often uses to make a huge impact in the world.

Are we open to God all day, every day?  Or is that just for the weekends?  God doesn’t exist just on Sundays, it’s a 7 day a week, 24 hour a day thing.   God isn’t confined to the church building.  God should come to work with us, to play with us, out with the friends with us.  Can we live for God always, everyday and everywhere?

See it’s those kinds of things that make a difference in the world, and it’s that version of Exceptional that I mean by the title of this blog.   Lets not be typical, ordinary Christians, let’s be exceptional!

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He is Risen!

Cole,_Thomas_-_Cross_at_Sunset_-_c._1848_“He is risen”…..”He is risen indeed!”  Mostly likely this Easter Sunday you’ll hear those words over and over again.  I’ve seen them multiple times this morning already on social media sites.  Those incredible three words, “He is risen”, have such a profound effect on our lives and our world since they were uttered 2000+ years ago.  I’ve felt led today to think more upon them instead of just reciting them.

He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. – Matthew 28:6

My study Bible points out in it’s notes how this verse is key to the Christian faith for a number of reasons:

  1. Jesus promised that he would rise from the dead.   This would have seemed like an impossible promise to keep by many of his followers, even those that witnessed him raising others out of death.  But, as always, he fulfilled his promise.  We can be confident, therefore, that he will accomplish all that he promises.  This gives us great hope.
  2. Jesus’ bodily resurrection shows us that the living Christ is ruler of God’s eternal Kingdom, not a false prophet or impostor.   There were many that claimed to be the messiah over the years, many whom even had quite a following, and a few that have even been the basis of major world religions.  Jesus has a unique factor among all of them.  He is the only one, who has conquered death itself.  He is the master over death.  He alone reigns over his Kingdom.
  3. We can be certain of our resurrection, death is not the end.  Jesus told his disciples that he was going ahead to make a place for them.  The scripture promises us life everlasting and new heavenly bodies when we join Jesus in Heaven.  We have eternity to spend with Jesus for those that believe.
  4. The power that brought Jesus back to life is available to us to bring our spiritually dead selves back to life.  We as sinners are separated from God.  We are broken spiritually.  The blood of Christ, upon the cross, paid the penalty that we deserve for our sins.  Because Jesus took that sin upon himself and paid the price and conquered death, the debt has been paid and we can now come into the presence of God.  Our spiritual selves have been resurrected with Christ.  He has risen, and so have our spirits been raised from sin.
  5. The Resurrection is the basis for the church’s witness to the world.  Jesus was so much more than a human leader or a great teacher.  He is literally the Son of God.  He didn’t just spend his time hear on earth teaching, or leading, or writing down his wisdom as many other “founders” of major religions.  No he lived a sinless life, paid our debt with his life, then rose from the dead, giving us true hope.  Jesus did what no other religious leader had done before or after.

Remember what those three words, “He is Risen” mean when you hear them today.  Such powerful meaning in such a short phrase.

Everyone have a blessed Easter!

HE IS RISEN!

What are your idols?

The Bible over and over again warns of worshiping other idols.  Back in Biblical times, many people and other nations worshiped other Gods and made idols to them of gold to which they sacrificed to, prayed to and trusted on for their needs.  God warns about this and having idols take the place of him.

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.  -Exodus 20: 1-5

The enemy however is clever.  He has created idols in our lives, not necessarily made of gold or something sitting on an altar that we sacrifice animals too, not something that we bow down and worship (although he still does that also as evidenced by many other religions around the world).  Instead, for Christians he tries to trip us up by giving us idols that are subtle idols, things we may not consider to be an idol, but it does indeed take the place of God in our lives and that is part of the definition of an idol in God’s word.

Recently at our church, we are reading through the book, The Story, as a congregation and really diving into God’s word.  Recently they talked about idols and gave us a  list of thoughts to look at where our idols are in our lives.  It’s quite eye opening to discover things that if you’re honest about, could be considered our idols.  The point is not to live lives where we give up everything in our lives and live a life of poverty without possessions for God wants us to live abundant and fulfilling lives, but we need to be sure that we keep a perspective on God and that everything is a gift from God.  So let’s take a brief look at the list of questions that will help identify where the idols are in your life.

  1. What are you most disappointed with right now?  When I’m disappointed in something, my first reaction is often to try and fix it so I’m not disappointed.  Rarely works, in fact, I most likely make things worse and become even more disappointed, because I’m not following God’s will.
  2. What do you sacrifice your time and money for?  Where we spend our time and money is a good indication of what is really important to us.  Are we sure God wants us to be spending our time and money in that way?  Or does he have other plans for us?
  3. What do you worry about?  What scares you?  Worry is one of the enemy’s major weapons against us.   When we are worried and scared, our mind is not filled with the good things God has done for us.  We waste time and energy on things outside our control instead of focusing on God’s will for us.  Don’t let the enemy win this battle.
  4. Where do you go when you get hurt?  Do you turn to God or do you turn to your idol?  Do you come to God for healing or do you turn to the bottle, sex or some other addiction that “comforts” you?
  5. What makes you mad?  Does your anger get the best of you?  Does it control you, do you say things you wish you could take back?  Don’t let your anger control you, bring you anger before God and let him bring you peace.
  6. What brings you the most joy?  When you let your emotions, whether anger or joy, control you, you will find that it often points to your idol?
  7. Whose applause do you long for?  Do you long for approval from a absent parent?  Or a distant spouse?  How about your boss, do you strive for praise from the work you do?  Trying to get that praise often leads you to focus so much on gaining it that it becomes your idol

Idols don’t always come in the form of an image or some physical object.  They can be anything that get’s in the way of our relationship with God.  Don’t let anything get in the way of your relationship with  the one worthy of our worship.

Meditate on the Word of God – Psalm 119

As I was reading this morning, I came across a chapter in a book I’m working through about how important positive thinking is to our mental, spiritual and in fact physical being.  In that reading, one of the precepts in making sure you have positive thinking throughout the day is to meditate on the Word of God, the Bible.  Not meditation in the sense of some new-age or pagan type of meditation, but to think upon and reflect upon.  I like the first definition of meditate I came across.

meditate – to engage in thought or contemplation; reflect.

God calls us to meditate on his Word, to think about it, to reflect upon it and we should be doing that continuously throughout the day.  Knowing that a key way that God communicates to us is through his Word, I felt it is an important goal to work towards.

I read my Bible and am familiar with most of it, I’m no Bible scholar to be sure, but I felt I could do better.  So what better place to to start is to see what God has to say about the importance of his own Word.

Let’s start at what I think is one of the most telling of the scriptures to remember.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself.   John 1:1

Here John is speaking of Jesus and he clearly states that Jesus is the Word and the Word is God.  When we read scripture, we can have faith that we are seeing the mind of God and that he will reveal himself to us through his word.

Let’s turn back a few pages, to the book of Matthew.

Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will remain forever.  -Matthew 24:35

Why is his word so important to us?  The psalmist in psalm 119, repeatedly tells us why.  I’ll share just a few, but the chapter is very long and is filled with thoughts on the importance of God’s Word.  I like the note that is contained in my study Bible on Psalm 119.

It is thought to have been written by Ezra after the Temple was rebuilt as a repetitive meditation on the beauty of God’s Word and how it helps us to stay pure and grow in faith.

Right from the start, we see how God’s Word can help us mentally.

Happy are people of integrity, who follow the law of the Lord.
Happy are those who obey his decrees and search for him with all their hearts.  – Psalm 119:1,2

How can we help our youth through their trials and temptations that all young people face?

How can a young person stay pure?
By obeying your word and following its rules. -Psalm 119:9

Can the Word help us when we are feeling down and depressed?

I lie in the dust, complete discouraged;
revive me by your word.  -Psalm 119:25

I weep with grief;
encourage me by your word. -Psalm 119:28

Can the Word help us with those that are against us?

Lord, give to me your unfailing love,
the salvation that you promised me.
Then I will have an answer for those you taunt me,
for I trust in your Word.  -Psalm 119:41,42

Can the Word build our confidence?

I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to your commandments.
I will speak to kings about your decrees and I will not be ashamed. -Psalm 119:45,46

Can we have hope in a dark world?

Remember your promise to me, for it is my only hope.
Your promise revives me; it comforts me in all my troubles.  -Psalm 119:49,50

Can we learn good judgement and discipline in our lives?

I believe in your commands; now teach me good judgement and knowledge.
I used to wander off until you disciplined me; but now I closely follow your Word. -Psalm 119:66,67

I could go on and on, verse after verse that shows how important reading, learning and reflecting on God’s Word is.  While a long chapter, it is definitely worth a read as a good starting point.  If all that wasn’t enough, the psalmist comes right out and tells us what we need to do.

Oh, how I love your law! I think about it all day long.
Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for your commands are my constant guide.  -Psalm 119:97,98

Read God’s Word and think about it all day long.  I am working towards becoming better at that each day as I can see the potential changes it could bring about in my life.  I can’t wait to see what happens!

 

Nothing is too difficult….

….for you if God is leading you to do it.

For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.  -Philippians 4:13

As I’m sitting here going through my late Sunday reading (as an aside, I must say I’ve become much more diligent in reading my Bible.  I’ve struggled with that over the years, but the last few weeks I’ve been pretty consistent and I’ve noticed a difference in me even in that short time), I came across the verse above from Philippians 4, that I bet has been misconstrued greatly over time.  It’s interesting to note that this verse does not say anything about doing anything we want through our own power, in fact it leaves no room for human effort at all.  We only can do it through Christ, who gives us strength.  Nothing is too difficult if God is leading you to do it.

I was reading through some more of Joyce Meyer’s book Power Thoughts again and this verse is the focal point of her first power thought.  She suggests that when challenges arise, immediately say to yourself, “I can do whatever I need to do through Christ who is my strength.”  I suspect that if I keep those thoughts in the forefront of my mind, I won’t be as easily overwhelmed when difficult situations arise.

One important point to make, this verse does not mean that difficult situations won’t occur or that they will resolve quickly, but that God will give us the strength and endurance we need, when we need it.

Freedom to Live

For you have been called to live in freedom — not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love. -Galatians 5:13

I came across this verse this morning and it really struck a chord with me.  I’ve talked to a lot of people over the years that thought becoming a Christian would be boring and full of rules and full of restrictions.  I grew up in a church that was very old-fashioned.  We stopped attending regularly when I was a young teen so my memory may not be completely accurate, but I don’t recall a bunch of joy.  I felt that there were too many rules and regulations to being a good Christ follower, that it would cut into my fun.  And to a large degree, the church seemed to encourage that thought.

As I grew older and began a family of my own, I was hesitant to bring that stuffiness into my family.  But as a new parent, a new joy came over me.  A new love for my new young son, a love for my wife as I saw her grow in role of mommy.   I felt what it was like to serve not myself, but to serve the needs of my family.  A new responsibility grew in my very soul.  One that finally made me begin to grow up.

It didn’t happen overnight.  In fact, until my daughter was born two years later, I really struggled with my sinful nature.  When she was born, something switched in me…..I didn’t have time to satisfy my sins….I had no choice but to serve my family.  I also realized the joy that comes from service to my family because of my love for them, was so much stronger and long lasting than the false joy that came when I gave into my own desires.

About this time, I also was becoming a changed man….going from an angry young man, to one that actually began to think beyond my own little world.  I began to care for others…and not just my own family, but others in general.

We joined a church that didn’t emphasize the rules and how our lives would need to change to follow Christ, but instead I learned that by finding the joy of Christ, my life changed and the desires for my sinful ways went away.  Am I perfect, no way….I still struggle with sins, but now instead of seeing my walk with Christ as a detriment to my joy, it is the primary reason for my joy.

God wants us to be joyful.  Knowing Him gives us the freedom to be joyful all the time, not as a slave to our sinful nature, but as the joyfulness of our very being.

I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!  For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness.  -Isaiah 61:10

Renewing Your Mind

Renewing Your Mind

One of the more challenging verses in the Bible I think is Romans 12:2.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.

Reading through Joyce Meyer’s Power Thoughts I came across her section talking about this verse and her comment that I want to share verbatim.

An unrenewed mind is one that is never changed after receiving Jesus Christ as Savior.  The spirit is regenerated but the mind remains the same.  This condition furnishes fertile ground for the devil to operate.  It is for this reason that Christians often have a reputation as being hypocritical.  They say they believe something but their behavior does not match their so-called beliefs.

And then we see one of the consequences of this:

Many people who need Christ in their life are hindered from accepting Him due to the poor witness of others they know who say they are Christians.

That’s some powerful stuff there.