Feeling Strong Today?

What makes a person strong? What makes you feel strong? How do we even gauge strength? Is there only physical strength? How about emotional strength? Maybe even spiritual strength? I used to measure strength by bench-press numbers and will power. But as time goes on, I realize there are much more accurate ways of understanding the strength of a person.

The book of Nehemiah details the return of Jewish exiles to Israel. It is a story of a struggle. A temple is rebuilt and a wall has been reconstructed around Jerusalem. But there is a lot remaining before life can possibly resemble normal. In this midst of the rebuilding process, the scriptures are rediscovered. A man by the name of Ezra will stand before the people and read from it. As he comes to a conclusion he sends the people out with this message:

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Nehemiah 8:10 ESV

There it is. The answer. Our strength can be found in the joy that comes from the LORD. He is our strength. Being His, makes us strong. Being reminded of His goodness and favor throughout our lives makes us strong. We gain strength by knowing we aren’t abandoned, that we’re unconditionally loved, that we’re accepted and belong to a bigger story. Our strength comes in the joy we have in being free and cherished…always.

Uncertain times can’t shake us. Illness won’t destroy us. Financial struggles can’t break us. Discrimination won’t define us. The culture won’t alter us. We are His. There is no greater joy found in this life. And in that joy, we are strong to face the world. Are you walking in the joy of His salvation? Are you feeling strong today?

Peace and joy in Christ brothers and sister!


Time to Train

Growing up as an athlete, it was ingrained in me to train hard in order to achieve the goals I set to accomplish. I would lift, run, change my diet, get more rest, watch film, study my opponents, and more, in order to reach peak performance. It became a lifestyle. Sure, it intensified during seasons and built up to seasons, but there weren’t many days and weeks that fell outside that time period. It was devotion. And the level of devotion determined, in large part, how successful I was. All of that was for what? A title? Medals? Acknowledgment?

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV

Eating healthy and physical training are good things. Athletics are beneficial. Pushing ourselves and being dedicated are great qualities. However, I think it would be safe to say that most people, even most Christians, don’t put in the same level of devotion to spiritual training that athletes put into physical training. I know I certainly don’t. And I am convicted of that. If I was willing to spend so much energy and change my life habits so much, in order to win a championship that doesn’t matter one lick in light of eternity, I should be far more willing to put in equal, if not greater, effort, in spiritual matters. And so should we all.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12-14 ESV

Our spiritual lives deserve the attention that we fail to give it. Paul says it’s like straining towards the goal. It’s a battle against literally everything in life that seeks to distract us from Christ. How do we ‘press on’ as Paul said? How do we train ourselves spiritually? I believe it consists of setting up habits, much like an athlete, that commutatively, will help us reach the goal. So, what’s the goal? Paul says it’s the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. He is the prize. Our impact on the lives around us is the prize. A heart at peace is the prize. A beautiful legacy is the prize.

I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I am promoting earned salvation or works-based doctrine. Jesus already earned salvation for everyone who puts their faith in Him. But anyone who has tred the ground of the Christian life for long, knows that it takes work and consistency to maintain. There are so many ways to fall off the path. Just think about how differently we respond to things and treat people when we haven’t been tending our spiritual life. Our thoughts and words are even different depending on the amount of time we’ve put into building up our faith. To train spiritually can be summed up in the words that Jesus spoke during His earthly ministry.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:4-5 ESV

All the things we do, the habits if you will, are meant to keep us in connection with Him. I know January is a time that a lot of people use to evaluate how they are spending their time and setting new goals for the coming years. So why not set the goal of creating more life-giving habits? Not as a checklist, but as an intentional training ground for the heart and mind. More habits of prayer, reading the bible, studying the bible, meditating on bible, meeting with other believers regularly, Christian counseling, regular acts of service, increased church attendance, becoming more involved in the church, giving more, etc…Spiritually, we are all somewhere. And we can all go deeper. We can all add new habits. We can all train harder. Not to the point of burnout, but to the point our cups are overflowing with God’s goodness and character and those streams of living water are pouring over everyone in our lives.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20 ESV

The spiritual habits of the Christians are not just part of their life, they are their life. To live, is to live for Jesus. To live, is to live with and in Jesus. If He is our prize, our daily habits should reflect that. For me, as a husband and father, my spiritual habits are not just about me, but about my wife and kids as well. Even for those who are single, people still need you to train…to abide in Jesus.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my 8 year old daughter about being a light and having a positive impact on people. She has this little glow in the dark cross. The longer it is exposed to light, the longer and brighter it will glow. You can see the spiritual illustration. I was trying to help her see, understanding that she is only 8 (but habits start early), that the more we do to be close to Jesus, the more we’ll be like Jesus. The same simple illustration works for me and you. Time to train!

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.

We need to need Him

One of the hardest things people have to learn is that we can’t, nor should we, make it through life on our own. This is especially hard for the independent sort (me among them) who have picked up self reliance and self motivation as the sources of making their way through the world. But everyone battles with this. It’s as old as the garden of Eden. The original sin itself was rooted in a desire to become like God…to take control of one’s life and make a way for oneself. No one likes to feel like they lack sufficiency. But we all do. And that is okay. In fact, we are designed that way.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

‭‭John‬ ‭10:10-11‬ ‭ESV

Our lives are a mix of lies and truths that we believe and set out to construct our framework of viewing reality. There are two very real opposing forces that want to help in our journey to understand both our place in this world and our very identity as humans. On one hand, there is the message that we can make it on our own. We too can become like God. Life is about “getting mine” and pursuing my every desire, regardless of the wake I leave behind. It’s about me being whoever I choose to be and truth being subjective to whatever I want to believe. It’s a message that promotes the best life now, with a heavy focus on materialism and self promotion. Ultimately, its a message that leads to pain, stress, frustration, loss, and the actual death of who we were created to be.

There is another message. One that promotes surrender. One that says the source of life doesn’t begin and end with you. That joy and meaning aren’t found within us, they are bestowed to us. It’s a message that keeps us rooted in where we came from and where we’re headed. It’s a message that helps us rise above all the striving and self centeredness that the world promotes. It’s a message that says our life is meant to be spent in the betterment of those around us…that wealth and prosperity are not found in bank accounts but in the lives we touch.

It may not seem this simple to many. But it really is. Life is about making choices. And those choices lead to life or death, in us and those around us.

When we separate ourselves from our source of knowledge, peace, joy, love, grace, power, etc…we are going to feel hollow and empty. No matter how hard we work, or how much we make, or how many likes and followers we get, none of it will satisfy. It’s not meant to. The more we try and make it through life without needing anyone else, the more we’ll veer off course.

The Bible gives us a somewhat unflattering comparison. We are like sheep. Animals that are extremely dependent on both the guidance and protection of their shepherd. Those who don’t follow the shepherd end up getting lost and most likely consumed by predators. But we are sheep with a shepherd Who wants to give us the pastures with the greenest grass and purest water. And only He knows where they are. A problem enters when the sheep think they know where better pastures are and promote their interests above the rest of the flock.

“”For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”

Ezekiel 34:11-16 ESV

Not only is it okay to need Jesus, we actually need to need Him. He is the source of our life and the only place we will find true life. Even those of us who have ventured off course through self reliance, Jesus is pursuing us. Life is knocking at the door. And that life has a name. Some of us who have been following Jesus most of our lives can even fall susceptible to wandering away from their flock and their Shepherd.

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:12-13‬ ‭ESV

Life is too hard to try and make it on our own or in our own way. We need to learn to let go and allow our Good Shepherd to lead us to the good pastures and the still waters. Because in all of our striving, we will never find them apart from Him.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters!