Remember the Stream

Some days if we are all being honest we will admit that it’s difficult to feel grateful. Yet other times, we’re so moved filled with gratitude we can’t help but feel joy and optimism. These two very different emotions are usually based on circumstances.

But what if we intentionally choose to be grateful in spite of our circumstance?

Researchers describe gratitude as a personality strength: the ability to be keenly aware of the good things that happen and never take them for granted. It’s been shown that individuals who exhibit and express the most gratitude are happier, healthier and more energetic. Grateful people report fewer symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and they spend more time being active. Also, the more a person is inclined to feel grateful, the less likely they are to feel lonely, stressed, anxious and depressed.

All of that sounds great! But… easier said than done. Have you noticed that most things in life worth doing are not done easily? Teddy Roosevelt once said,

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty. . . . I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.

It’s not easy to get a college degree. It’s not easy to develop and maintain a healthy marriage and friendships. It’s not easy to raise children. It’s not easy to keep that job and give your best day in and day out. It’s not always easy to be grateful.

Gratitude is a choice we all have the ability to make. Love is an act of the will. Joy is an act of the will. Peace is an act of the will. Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all choices we make in spite of the world around us and the feelings inside us. We see that all these choices are good and are choices we ought to make. Galatians 5:22-23 says,

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

We must choose to believe, even when doubts flood our soul. We must choose to give thanks, even when our heart doesn’t feel grateful. We must choose to worship, even when our voice doesn’t want to sing. We must choose to serve our Lord Jesus Christ, even when we would prefer to serve ourselves.

Joshua 24:15 says,

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

How about today, we choose to live out 1 Thessalonians 5:18,

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Regardless of what you face right now, choose to give thanks to the Lord for all He has done. Give thanks for His love that surpasses any and every circumstance. Psalm 106:1 says,

Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Gratitude unlocks the door to a heart of contentment, for contentment is never found in abundance alone. Contentment flows from the abundance of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11,

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

There’s an old Chinese Proverb that says,

When you drink from the stream, remember the spring.

We live in a country abounding in resources, prosperity, and freedom. And yet we also experience political divisiveness, violence, a slumbering church, and natural disasters such as the horrific fires in California leaving a wake of death and destruction.

What causes us to rise above the chaos and celebrate the blessings is to “remember the spring” from which we drink. Lets remember the spring of Christ’s love, sacrifice, and honor that granted us freedom from sin. Galatians 5:1 says,

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

John 4:14 says,

But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

If you drink the water of life, remember the spring of His love that never runs dry. As has been said many times, “Freedom is never free.” Our national freedom came at the cost of many lives. Our spiritual freedom came at the cost of the life of One.

Colossians 2:13-15,

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

What are you grateful for today? Let us be grateful for the freedom we have in Christ. And if we drink from the stream of freedom, let us remember the spring from which that freedom flows.

An Unsustainable Pace

Today I was having a conversation with a college student in a grassy area outside the community college here in town. While we were conversing several children ran around playing tag and rolling in the grass. At first, it became annoying and distracting from the conversation that was taking place… but then a question began to nag in my mind. That question was: How are you doing with your playtime?

I couldn’t shake it? The question seemed silly! I’m an adult… I don’t “play.” But as I have thought about it all day the idea has started to unfold and I think there is an underlying importance within that simple question.

How are you doing with your playtime?

Not sure you should even have a playtime? Are you too grown up and mature for downtime, rest, and even… play? Well, maybe this is part of what you’re missing in life, and you like me are beginning to pay the price for the mindset of false productivity.

Research conducted by Dr. Stuart Brown, psychiatrist, clinical researcher, and founder of the National Institute for Play, reveals that a lack of downtime leads to lower work productivity, social isolation, and even depression. In “Dare to Lead” Brown says,

The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression

Through extensive studies, Dr. Brown and his institute have discovered that play increases empathy, creativity and innovation. It actually impacts our brain waves by creating a “cool down” from the frenetic pace of synapses permitting neurons to pass electrical or chemical signals to other neurons.

So in layman’s terms… if you want to be more productive at work, become intentional about cultivating play and sleep!

Dr. Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, puts it this way,

We have to let go of exhaustion, busyness, and productivity as status symbols and measures of self-worth. We are impressing no one.

Practically speaking, this means many of us need to make some lifestyle and mindset changes. We need to establish boundaries by shutting off email and social media at a set time in order to focus on our families and our spiritual and emotional health. We need to stop celebrating people who work eighty-hours per week and stop bragging about how we’re tethered to our work responsibilities, as though that somehow makes us important.

Are you living at an unsustainable pace? If so… you are opening yourself up to some dangerous side effects of depression, anxiety, and burnout. And you are continuing to feed a culture of workaholic competitiveness in which no one wins.

Jesus’ solution was simple. In Mark 6:31 He said,

Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.

Go with Jesus. Find a quiet place. Get some rest for your own sake!

Sometimes I am woke up at night with the worries and schedule of tomorrow. Sometimes I can’t “shut off my brain” as I try to think through a problem at work or in my life… sometimes they are even problems I have created in my mind or things I have no control over! Sometimes I find the joy leaking out and depression and anxiety rushing in to take its place. When these things happen, I realize that my work place and life pace has overtaken my faith, and I need to go away with Jesus, find a quiet place, and get some rest. And sometimes that even includes… play.

You May be Your Own Biggest Obstacle

Do you have dreams? Goals? Aspirations for your life?

I sure hope so! A life without dreams would have a rather bleak outlook. Or dreams, goals, and aspirations may look a little different, or more realistic, now than they did when we children. But… we have dreams nonetheless.

So… let me ask you. How do you turn a dream into reality? One step at a time.

My wife, Alaina, had a dream to be a Doctor and to help people through medicine. For the past few years she has been walking through that journey and she can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and the accomplishment of her dream. It hasn’t been easy! It hasn’t been quick! There have been times where she has been overwhelmed… but her dream has been her determination and she has never stopped pursuing it. One step at a time.

Just like my wife, we all have dreams, vision, aspirations, goals, and desires… but for some of us the real issue comes down to our determination.

No dream, vision, aspiration, goal, or desire comes to fruition without taking the first step.

God promised the Israelites they would inherit the land of Canaan. The promise was first made to Abraham. Genesis 15:18-21 says,

On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

What an awesome promise! But… the problem was, as you can notice from the Scripture above, there were people and obstacles in the way. To receive the blessing of their promise coming to fruition the Israelites had to step across the Jordan into the land of unknown. They had to face obstacles and overcome them in God’s power. They had to take responsibility and put the rubber to the road.

Alaina would not be in her 4th year of medical school right now had she not gone through the application process. Professional athletes wouldn’t be in the positions they are in without putting in the work required. Skilled musicians had to work and hone their craft to make the music we all enjoy.

Every dream is made up of small steps that propel you to see it come to reality.

I wish I could shout from a mountaintop so that all would hear, “YOU may be the biggest obstacle to fulfilling your dream! Not your parents. Not your education. Not your finances. Not where you are from. Not your boss. Take responsibility! Stop whining, blaming, fearing, dreading, and step into the future God has for you.”

Seek help. Don’t go it alone. Find a mentor. Develop a plan. Create a timeline. And then… take the first step. You’ve heard it said before,

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I like the way Tony Evans puts it in his book Kingdom Man,

God’s activity in your life is tied to your footsteps.

Listen, you will have doubts, you will have naysayers, you will face obstacles, but you must push through them by a strength that transcends your perceived limitations. What was the Source of strength for the Israelites to step across the Jordan? Joshua 1:9 unveils that strength with a command,

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

God with us, Emmanuel, is the Source of strength to start moving our feet and taking those steps.

I’m sure at times Alaina has been discouraged and had doubts. We all have! But… if she hadn’t pushed through those doubts and taken her first steps, she would not be where she is currently.

So… let me ask you? What’s holding you back from fulfilling your dream? Maybe it’s not something or someone around you. Maybe it’s something inside you. Pray, seek the Lord, and then start moving your feet.

Receiving a Gift that you Didn’t ask for or Want

Most of us have probably witnessed and kid opening a gift that they didn’t care for. It’s hilarious and mortifying all at the same time. It’s like an accident that you can’t seem to peel your eyes off of. I’m sure that many of you with kids try to condition or prep them beforehand by reminding them not to say that they don’t like the present or that it isn’t something that they wanted or need.

In fact, many of us have received presents from well intentioned loved ones that we do not want or need… but the gifts God gives us are different. They are just what we need! Some of his gifts we acknowledge right away and thank him for it. Whether it’s the good news about a expected child, a job promotion, or a beautiful sunset, we respond with joy and gratitude. Yet there are other gifts He gives that we don’t recognize as good gifts. They don’t come wrapped exquisitely, or even at a time we expect. In fact, we might not realize that God is the sender of the gift at all.

These are gifts that only over time do we look back and see them for what they are.

When I first unwrapped the gift of anxiety in my life, I was not thrilled… I was not grateful. I did not smile and say, “Alright! Just what I’ve always wanted!” But like Joseph, looking back, I can see how God has used something that people see as bad for my ultimate good and development. We see this idea demonstrated in the life of Joseph. Joseph went from beloved son, to slave, to royalty, all for God’s glory and purpose! Genesis 50:20 says,

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Though there is nothing good about anxiety, God had used it for my good. He had used it to draw me deeper into his grace, He used it to strip me of self-reliance and self-righteousness, He has humbled me through it, He used it to show me my great need for Jesus and to turn me toward him, He has used it to show me I am not in control, He has used it to show me the true source of my peace and joy.

The Apostle Paul wrote about suffering as being a gift in his letter to the Philippians. In Philippians 1:29 he wrote,

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.

The word “granted” here means “gifted.” It has been gifted to us to not only believe but to also suffer. We’ll take the gift of salvation any day, but the gift of suffering, that’s another matter. That might be a gift we don’t want and definitely didn’t ask for! That’s the kind of gift that is certainly not received with open arms.

But as James, Paul, and Peter point out, suffering is a gift that is intended for our good. Though the particular trial we experience is not good in and of itself, it is used by God for his glory and our ultimate spiritual good. Because it is in our trials that we are transformed into the likeness of Christ. James 1:2-4 says,

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If you never knew or experienced darkness, you would not know how to appreciate the light.

Suffering is to be expected in the life of a Christ follower, therefor we should not be surprised by it. When we suffer, in whatever form it takes, we are following in the steps of Christ. 1 Peter 2:21 says,

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

But we have the hope that joy lies on the other side of suffering! Eternity with Christ awaits us. And what we experience now can’t even be compared with what is to come. Romans 8:18 says,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

If we are in Christ, may we accept all God’s gifts with open hands, whether they are what we asked for or not. And in due time, as we look back and see what God has done, may we return thanks to him, rejoicing in his work of sanctification as he prepares us for that wondrous day when faith will be sight and all our hopes will be revealed.

Romans 5:1-5 says,

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

How do we hold onto Faith when Life is Hard?

Why would God allow the mass bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka which killed 253 people and wounded 500 others? Why would God not stop a gunman from killing one and injuring three more in a California synagogue? Why didn’t God stop the cyclones in Mozambique that have killed 38 people?

Sometimes I just don’t get it. Maybe you don’t, either. There are no easy answers, are there?

Vance Havner was widely recognized as one of America’s most traveled evangelists and popular Bible conference speakers. When he lost his wife to disease, he was disconsolate. Years later, he was able to write:

When before the throne we stand in Him complete, all the riddles that puzzle us here will fall into place and we shall know in fulfillment what we now believe in faith—that all things work together for good in His eternal purpose. No longer will we cry “My God, why?” Instead, “alas” will become “Alleluia,” all question marks will be straightened into exclamation points, sorrow will change to singing, and pain will be lost in praise.

Did you notice the reference to “years later”? Even for the die-hard believer and a well-seasoned evangelist overcoming pain, grief, loss, and sorrow didn’t happen overnight. Sometimes the pain may never be fully assuaged. Many live with chronic pain or depression that affects them every… single… day.

During the Korean War, Pastor Im was torn from his family and imprisoned for years, locked in a dark cell with only a small bowl of soup to eat every day. He kept his sanity by reciting Scripture, especially John 13:7,

What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.

1 Corinthians 13:12 says,

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Like that passage says we can only see a portion of what is going on. We cannot fully know or comprehend what is taking place on a spiritual level and how things weigh in eternity. We only see through a darkened mirror, but one day we will see face to face. We only know in part, but one day we will know fully, as we are fully known!

So, how do we hold onto faith when life is so hard?

William Cowper, an eighteenth-century English poet, struggled with depression his entire life. On one of his darkest days, he hired a carriage to drive him to the Ouse River, three miles away, where he intended to kill himself. A dense fog enveloped the area, and the driver, sensing that something was wrong with his passenger, purposely lost his way only to return back to Cowper’s home. Cowper realized his life had been spared, and that same evening in 1774, at age 43, he wrote these words:

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm. You fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds you so much dread; And big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.

Believe, trust, and know that God is with you in the pain. He is with you in the struggle. He is with you in the hurt.

Isaiah 53:4 reassures us that He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and in Hebrews we are reminded that He will never leave or forsake us… even in the pain.

Be Still and let HIM Fight.

Dr. Susan Koven wrote in the Boston Globe,

In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.

Being busy is such a staple in American culture, that we have placed a premium on it. I think if we are being honest, we have to acknowledge that Dr. Koven is on to something. Insomnia, anxiety, irritability, and headaches are all common symptoms of an addict. Is it possible that we are all addicted to our busyness and it is making us suffer?

Who else is busy? I know it’s not just me!

Think about the types of things that make you busy. Do they consume you? They do me! I have found that I am an anxious person. I deal with anxiety, and am prone to stress over things that keep me busy and things that I have no control over.

Are you busy? Are you anxious? Take a moment to truly evaluate yourself and be honest as you answer.

As a human being in the day and age we currently exist in there are always a slew of worries and overwhelming obstacles being thrown our way. It seems like everyday you enter a battlefield of work, school, stressors, family, friends, childcare, chores, etc…

Our world doesn’t slow down for anyone and it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if you slow down then you are missing out.

Not to mention the fact that the choices and decisions you are currently making will lead to things in your future! It seems like at times you are picking today what tomorrow will hold!

But… thankfully that’s not the case and those decisions you don’t make alone.

If you are like me then you find yourself constantly forgetting amidst the hectic nature of life that God has made promises to you in Scripture. In fact, the word promise itself occurs over 50 times in the King James Version of the Bible. As you know, the Bible is full of God’s promises to help us in every time of need.

Let’s think about some of my favorite promises for a moment.

Isaiah 41:10,

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 54:10,

For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 54:17,

No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.

James 1:5,

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

1 John 1:9,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The next two promises are promises that I carry with me each and every day as I depart into a world filled with stressors and hectic schedules.

Deuteronomy 31:8 says,

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.

Jeremiah 29:11 says,

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Now obviously I could go on and on with several thousand verses containing promises God has made throughout Scripture to His people, but amidst all those promises we see over and over again that we are not alone! God promises to protect us, lead us, and guide us through each breath and moment in our day.

You know what that means for all of us who might say we are busy or overwhelmed? There is no schedule that God can’t handle!

Ephesians 3:20-21 says this,

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21 states that God is able to do abundantly more than we could ever ask or think. So today, I challenge you to remind yourself to remember (and have faith in) that power and those promises.

Even if you are searching to try to find your place in the world, to meet a close group of friends to support you, having difficulty at work or at home, wondering where the money to pay the bills is going to come from, struggling to decide on a major life altering decision, or battling to overcome a particularly difficult trial you’re facing, just know that God does not ask (or desire) for you to be perfect, flawless, or even strong, for He can (and wants to be) all of those things for you. You need only be still as it says in my favorite verse as of late.

Exodus 14:14 says,

The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.

Our submission is all He needs. We only have to submit and turn God loose! If you’re feeling stressed out about something, in particular, today, I hope you take away one of my all-time favorite verses in times of fear or worry. It’s found toward the end of Chapter 6 in Matthew.

Matthew 6:26-34 paints this picture,

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Each of us are just as loved as each of those birds that Jesus feeds. We are His children, crafted in His image, and worrying will not extend our time on this earth nor change His unique plan in store for us! So instead we need to take our fears to God instead, for He knows our hearts better than anyone else. And He promises to use our brokenness, our messiness, our fears, and our every inadequacy for the better. Even though it can be so easy to forget, He made each of us for a purpose, and He will protect us, love us, and He craves to have a relationship with us forever.