Everyone wants their world to be better. Everyone has dreams and ideas they see as transformative - even innovative - yet the vast majority of us never do anything about those dreams and ideas to bring them to reality. Why the lack of effort? Because it is hard, because it takes thought, energy and determination and most of us are not convicted enough by our dreams and ideas to be willing to commit all of that effort. Occasionally someone stands apart from this typical reaction and actually thinks, acts, leads and accomplishes their dream or idea. Today we will talk about a little known man in the Old Testament who did just that. His dream was laughable, his mission was ridiculous and his enemies were determined to stop him, yet he focused and fought with all of his being and changed his world in the process!
Gratitude makes the good in our lives longer lasting. It is a basic building block and ingredient for finding ways to cope with tragedy and difficult circumstances. We need to understand how gratitude can be alive and well in our daily lives for ultimate peace and wellness.
Every so often someone comes along who stands out from the crowd, someone who distinguishes themselves from their peers by their manner, their motivation and their mission. They don’t seem to fit into any comfortable category, for theirs is a mission that has world-changing implications and such missions are not common and least of all comfortable. With such a description we would typically and rightfully envision Jesus as its object, but today we will focus on another. Today we focus on John the Baptist, the man who prepared the people for Jesus, the man who stood alone as a powerful voice that pointed to the Redeemer of all men. John the Baptist uniquely epitomized greatness – where did he come from, what did he do and how did he do it?
Everyone has had and will have the experience of being wrong, of making mistakes and of not understanding something well enough to properly represent it. Everyone! The question is not about what to do IF these things happen; the question is how do we handle it WHEN these things happen? Making mistakes and being wrong are never comfortable experiences, but they are priceless in their value if we allow them to be. So, how do we allow them to be priceless? When we are wrong, do we face it or ignore it? When we make a mistake, do we 'fess up or bury it? Further, how can we identify the thought and behavior processes that bring us to wrong conclusions and actions so we can avoid repeating the same old mistakes over and over again?
You hear the word "temptation.” What do you think of? For some of us it might be best to NOT answer this question out loud. For others it might be dark chocolate or getting even or pushing the envelope or wanting to take what is not ours. In every case, temptation is directly built upon our human desires, and our human desires left unfettered will continually fabricate webs of attraction, entitlement and deceit. These webs are binding, sticky and tenacious, and once we allow ourselves to touch them we may find ourselves too close to walk away, too weak to resist and too willing to try it out – you know, "just this once!" Temptation has shattered many relationships, disrupted many positive pathways and broken the contentment of many lives. Temptation is unfortunately not only alive and well, it is being fed, fostered and flaunted by our present society! What do we do! How do we get that temptation genie back in its bottle?
In many ways we are daily in a fight for our lives. There are so many choices that present themselves to us each and every day, many of which can distract and derail us from what is most important. The biggest factor that determines whether we stay on track with life or go down some rabbit hole of distraction and disruption is simply...me. Yup, I am the decision maker - the gatekeeper of my own mind and body - and I alone have final say as to what kind of victory or what kind of defeat I will experience. Now, wait a minute! As a Christian shouldn’t I be subject to the will of God through Christ? Absolutely! Then why am I saying that I am in control? It’s simple! I decide how much influence the will of God will exercise in my life at any given moment and that makes ME my worst enemy! Great! Now what do we do? What do we do? We learn how to identify, fight and win the battle!
We all would like to think that we are special in some way before God. We want to be sure of His love for us and His guiding hand in our lives. For most of us, being special translates into a feeling – an emotional response that produces a sense of security. But is that all there is to being special? For the Christian at least there is much more to it. We know that everyone is not called to follow Jesus and we also know that according to the Bible, God does specifically call some to follow. How does this work? How does God get your attention and touch your heart and mind? What makes us want to respond to God and what might make us shy away from responding to Him? Is it easy to recognize when God is seeking us out and trying to touch our hearts?
Last week we began our conversation by saying that pride can be a tricky thing and prejudice can be an awful thing. We focused our attention on the pride side of the matter and its insidious way of taking over our lives. Now it’s time to talk about prejudice, and this is a hard conversation to have. For most of us, we can observe what we think is prejudice in others. We see a skewed view on some group or approach and we think about how unfortunate it is and wonder why they cannot see a bigger picture. Well, the bigger picture begins with these questions: How prejudiced am I in my view of the world and of others approach? Am I willing and able to recognize prejudice in my own thinking, and when I see it am I willing to attack it with the same passion that I feel about the prejudice of others? Prejudice needs attention and eradication, no matter where it’s found. How do we do that?
Pride can be a tricky thing and prejudice can be an awful thing. Let’s focus on pride right now. On the one hand we are told to take pride in our work – well, at least when I was a kid that’s what I was told! We want to be proud of our children and to be proud of our country. We want to take pride in the things we own and we want to leave a legacy that we can be proud of. So, pride is good! Well, on the other hand, we can see how pride comes before destruction, how pride can skew our view of others and how pride creates temptation to be dishonest. We can see pride becoming obsession, and we can see how pride can create a lack of trust in others, a lack of compassion for others and a lack of credit to others. So, pride is bad! Obviously this is a subject that needs not only clear definitions but clear principles to establish clear thinking. There is only one solution – let’s see what the Bible says!
Failure as everyone knows is an unlooked for and unwelcome commodity in life. It disrupts our plans, impedes our progress, upsets our feelings and is generally intrusive to our lives. As a result of failure’s glowing resume, we often do whatever we can to avoid it, and when we experience it we often try to soft-pedal its impact or even hide its presence. All in all, these descriptions of and reactions to failure are really quite unfortunate. Failure gets too bad a rap. It is judged too harshly. A few weeks ago we began a journey towards a better understanding of failure. In that journey we began to see the place that failure holds in our lives and the value that it can bring us. Let’s get back to it, for success begins when we understand our failures!