Make 2015 A Year Of Incremental Growth In Christ

Incremental GrowthIf you’ve never seen the 1994 movie, The Shawshank Redemption, there’s a good chance you don’t own a tv or at least have never turned it to TBS or TNT.  It usually plays there at least once a day.

It is the story of a man, Andy, wrongfully convicted of murder and the experiences he faces in prison.  In spite of the unfairness of his circumstances, he brings hope to his friends.

One of the best quotes from Andy in the movie is this one:

I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.

Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption

I thought about this quote as December turned to January and 2014 ushered us into 2015.   It’s a new year with a chance to make new choices and new changes.

I’ve never been one to go crazy making New Year’s resolutions.  They never seem to really stick.

What I am proposing this year is something that is so simple, so manageable that anyone can do it with great success.

What Lifting a 100 Pound Beam Taught Me About New Year’s Resolutions

If you have ever seen the movie The Money Pit, with Tom Hanks, or Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, with Cary Grant, you will be able to relate to what I am talking about here.

mr-blandings-builds-his-dream-house-movie-title

In these movies, the main characters decide to do some renovations to their homes.  They start small, but as with most home improvement projects things spiral quickly out of control.  Costs rise along with hidden problems and hilarity and frustration ensue.

Alas, you have the Barnett house.

I love my house.  It is extra special to me because my Dad and Grandpa built it about 25 years ago.  It is a simple three bedroom, two bathroom ranch house on a crawl space.   A few years ago I had the opportunity to buy it.  One of the things that I planned to do was to build an upstairs master bedroom and master bathroom for my wife and I.

Perhaps you’ve read the quote by Robert Burns:

The best laid schemes of Mice and Men
oft go awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

What A Duck Toilet-Paper Holder Taught Me About Christian Fellowship

Last Friday night, my wife and I went to a Christmas party.  It was for our small group at church and there were about eight couples there.  Our teacher’s parents opened up their home to us and we had a wonderful dinner of lasagna, salad, garlic bread, and cheesecake for dessert.  It was a great time of fellowship with friends.

For our gift exchange we went with the white elephant format.  This is basically where you bring a gift of less than five dollars in value (bonus points if you are able to “re-gift” something that you don’t need) to give away.  Each person takes a number and then chooses a gift in numerical order.  As the gifts are opened, you have the choice of choosing an unopened gift or stealing a gift from someone else.  There are many variations, but we played where a gift could only be stolen 3 times and on the third time it was out of play.

The gifts were as varied as the personalities in the room.  Some of the gifts included a box of records, clothesline and clothespins, an air powered plunger, serving dishes, and a singing pig.

But the best gift of all was this beauty, now standing like a sentinel on my mantle:

Fellowship Duck

Your eyes don’t deceive you;

it’s an 18″ tall, toilet-paper dispensing mallard.

I didn’t even know they made such a thing, but if I had, it would have been right at the top of my Christmas list.  Well, maybe not at the top.

I was number 7 and had received a lovely serving bowl set.  Unfortunately for my wife it was stolen from me.  However, this opened me up to be able to steal this iconic and wonderful gift from someone else.

The duck was mine!  (Along with a sideways glance from my bride as if to say, what are you going to do with that?)

We all enjoyed a good laugh and had a wonderful night and this reminded me how important fellowship is to the Christian life.

The Power of Fellowship

Fellowship is an old-sounding word.  You may be more familiar with small-group, life-group, home-group or some other word.  But the end result is the same.


 Fellowship is the gathering of like-minded individuals that lift each other up, study the word of God, and disciple one another toward a holier, more godly life.


 

It is easy to go to church and anonymously sit in the big service and never engage in fellowship.  I’m glad you are in church, but if that is all you are doing you are missing out on so much more.

So here are three reasons  Christian fellowship is so important:

Fellowship is vital for our soul-condition

Each Sunday morning I get to gather with a group of other believers that encourage me and lift me up in prayer.  They walked with us through the dark times of my Dad being sick.  They are faithful in prayer and support. They encourage me. My soul is literally lifted up when I am in the company of other believers.

In addition, fellowship with other believers strengthens us to withstand spiritual attack.  When we try to walk our faith alone it is easy to get picked off and go off course.  Fellowship with others gives us a safety net to fall back on and a support system to keep us going.

Fellowship is necessary for growth

While the message that a pastor brings speaks to the needs of the large group, a small group setting allows you to dig deeper into the Bible and apply it to your life in a very specific way.  When you have a group of individuals that you respect and trust you are able to gain more application for your life.  We share our struggles together and work through them with direction from the Word of God.

Fellowship strengthens our walk

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

Have you ever tried to use a dull pair of scissors or a dull knife?

When things are dull they cease to be effective.  It is true of a tool and it is true of a person.  Fellowship with other believers causes us to become stronger and sharper.  We are more able to carry out the mission that God has given us and we are better equipped to fulfill it to completion and success.

Fellowship gives us the ability to bounce our ideas off of one another and craft them into action.


 

If you aren’t plugged in to a local church I would encourage you to seek one out and visit some small groups.  No one likes walking in to a new group, but it is vitally important to do it anyway.

When you find the right group you will know it and it will transform your walk, your faith, and your life.

Deep Calls to Deep: The Crashing Waves of God’s Love

Deep Calls To DeepMy happy place is sitting on a white, sandy beach listening to the sound of the ocean waves crashing against the shore.

I guess it is rooted in my memories of vacations as a kid.

My dad was a carpenter who struggled to get by most of his life, but each year he would scrape enough money together to take us to the beach for a week in the summer.  It was a double sacrifice for him because he would be missing a week of work and paying for a family vacation.

It was on these trips that some of my best memories were made.  My mom, sister, brother, dad, and I would rest from the stresses of work and school.  We would go out to eat.  We would build sand castles and take long walks.

Later, when I fell in love with my wife, she joined these trips and she and I would take long walks on the beach planning our future.

There is a special kind of magic for me when I hear the ocean waves.

Deep Calls To Deep

Psalm 42:7 says:

Deep calls to deep in the roar of all your waterfalls;  all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

I was reading my bible this morning and this verse was underlined.

The 42nd Psalm is really about loneliness and feeling down.  In context, this verse can refer to sorrow and troubles being poured out on us.

But it struck me a different way.

If you have ever stood at the edge of the ocean, or seen a crashing waterfall you have witnessed the mighty power that is contained in that water.

It’s continual crashing can be deafening at times.  As wave after wave crashes onto the sands the relentless pounding rearranges each grain of sand over and over and over.

Isn’t that imagery a beautiful picture of God’s love for us?

The very next verse, Psalm 42:8 says:

By day the Lord directs his love,  at night his song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life.

God’s deep love never stops.

Whether we are near or far from him, His love for us never ceases.  I am about 350 miles from the beach I went to as a kid.  I can’t hear the ocean from my house, but I know that the waves are still crashing on the beach with unending fury.

Sometimes God feels near to me and other times he feels farther away, but I know that the fury of his unending love is washing over me at all times.

“Deep calls to deep” reminds me that God calls out to me on a deeper, less superficial level than mere words can express.  He reaches into my very soul with his love and care for me.  There is a depth to God’s communication with me that cannot be explained unless you have felt it yourself.

The Lord Directs His Love

At the same time, “the Lord directs his love” to those deep places within us that need it the most.

When our soul is parched and weary, his love washes over us like a crashing waterfall.

When we feel like we can’t go on, his waves pick us up and carry us toward the shore.

When we have sin in our lives that blocks fellowship with him those waves of love relentlessly crash against that sin and break it up and wash it away.

Deep calls to deep.

What are you struggling with today?

Can you hear the ocean’s waves?  Do you believe that God is waiting to pour that unending love over you?

Sometimes we need to step away to a place where we can hear God reaching out to us.

The love that God wants to lavish you with will knock you over and submerge you and carry you away.

Will you let God love you like that today?

Empty Yourself to be Filled Up

What if Empty is Actually a Good Thing?

When Is Empty Good?

We don’t like it when things are empty, do we? If our gas tank is empty we aren’t going anywhere. If our wallet is empty it is hard to pay the bills. If our spirit is empty it means we are doing too much or we aren’t filling ourselves up with the right things.

So is it ever a good thing to be empty?

Consider the following verses from  Philippians 2:5-11 .

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

This is a well-known passage about Jesus putting off his “divine privileges” and assuming the mantle of a suffering servant.

The Greek term for this is “kenosis” and it means to empty something out. There have been many deep theological discussions about this and how Jesus was able to empty himself and still remain fully God. However, that is not what I want to draw your attention to.

Rather, it is good to look at what this passage can teach us about our own emptiness and how it is not a bad thing, it is actually a necessary thing to allow us to live the life God desires us to have.

Jesus didn’t need to empty himself for any other reason than to show us how to be a servant.

He could have come as a king and commanded his disciples to do his bidding, but he didn’t. In fact, it was like he was under cover. He decided to empty himself of all his divine attributes and rights and be a fully filled vessel whose one purpose was to do the will of the Father.

So what about you and I?

In contrast to Jesus, we must be emptied of ourselves in order to be available for Him to use us.

We can accumulate sin and debris in our lives that tarnishes our ability to be used for God. You and I need to be empty so that he can fill us up. When we are so full of ourselves and our sin we make it awfully difficult for Christ to fill us up.

In my own life I have found that when my tank is bone dry, it is then that I am exactly where God can use me the best.

When all of me is out of the way, then all of God can come in and do His will.

So is there a time when is empty actually a good thing?  As it turns out, yes, anytime that it allows us to be filled to overflowing with the goodness, grace, and mercy of God.

Then next time you find yourself being emptied out don’t fight it. Consider it a necessary part of the process of growing into the image of Christ. He wouldn’t empty you if he didn’t care about the outcome of your life. Be willing to let go of those things that may be holding you back from his best and get ready to be filled up.

I promise you that the blessings he wants to fill us up with will be far better than the junk that we often allow to clutter our lives.