Don’t Give Up

The Olympics inevitably showcase a number of athletes with truly remarkable stories. You could even argue that the stories themselves are more compelling than some of the events. Think of the gymnast, hurdler, or weightlifter who dedicated his or her last four years for this one moment. Think of the sacrifice this takes on their part. Though their stories differ in many ways, they each have one thing in common: the athlete refuses to give up.

I know – the slogan “don’t give up” is cliché. We hear it every day, and tend to minimize a situation with these words. But our God is a god who does not give up. Micah was an Old Testament prophet who warned the Northern Kingdom of Israel about their impending doom, courtesy of the Assyrians. After describing their misery and destruction, Micah ends his words with a proclamation of restoration and salvation:

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-19).

God will not give up on you. Do you give up on your son or daughter when they make a mistake? Or repeatedly make mistakes? When I find myself in a rut, and struggle to properly wear the “clothes of Christ” (as Paul would say), I remind myself that God will not toss me aside like yesterday’s trash. I’m not perfect. Neither are you. And God knows this. Sometimes we miss the mark quite badly. That’s okay – God knows this too.

God did not give up on Israel. Nor did he give up on Abraham or Moses. Joseph’s own brothers wanted nothing to do with him, yet God used him to further His cause. And what about Peter? He denied Christ three times, but became a pillar of the church.

As we will discuss during today’s lesson, a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown. Perhaps you feel that way right now. Perhaps you are struggling to say or do the next right thing at home, work, or in your neighborhood. Perhaps you are starting to question God’s plans for your life. If this is the case, please know that this does not make you unique. While you secretly (or overtly) criticize yourself at every turn, God continues to chisel out His masterpiece. And that masterpiece is you. We know this because we worship a God who is not finished with us. I’ll give Paul the final word:

he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).

Stay encouraged!

In His Name,

-Matt

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Ever the Learner

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth. – Deut. 11:18-21

Moses is not very subtle here. Yes, this was in reference to the Old Testament law, but we can apply this principle to our lives as well. With school now underway, our children’s minds will be awoken from their summer slumber and re-introduced to math, history, grammar, science, and other academic disciplines. I can hear the excitement!

But even in the months away from school, these students never really stop learning. As adults, we are no different. This is just one reason why it is so important to be in the Word every day. Daily Bible reading is so much more than an item to cross off your to-do list. Immersing yourself in God’s Word is an event where the reader and God interact with one another. Can’t you hear the Lord speaking to you when you study the Word?

I sincerely pray that you choose a book in the Bible to read this week and ask questions about what you’re learning. One question will lead to another, and before you know it, you will be researching web sites (or asking other Christians) for explanations or answers. It is my firm belief that expanding our head knowledge will eventually open our hearts as well. Though we all travel different paths on our spiritual journeys, even the stoic biblical scholar can’t help but be moved as he or she delves deeper into the Gospel of John, Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, or the Book of Psalms.

Thomas Jefferson is said to be the first person to use the phrase “knowledge is power.” If this is true, then how potent is biblical knowledge? It’s no wonder Paul refers to the Word of God as “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17).

Take some time to read one of the Gospels this week. Then read it once more. Let’s get to the point where when we can confidently answer the question, “What would Jesus do?”

In His Name,

-Matt

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Regret

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8

The word regret is defined as “a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.” We all know this feeling, don’t we? Sometimes we express regret over our actions from years ago, while other times we instantly regret the words that came out of our mouth. The tenth step of Alcoholics Anonymous states that we “continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” I think everyone can learn a bit from that step. As you lay in bed tonight, ask yourself if there was something you might have done differently (or said using other words), and then pray to God that He continues to chisel away at you tomorrow.

Perhaps the three most regrettable words in the English language are “I should have.”

  • I should have told him I loved him before he died.
  • I should have let her know how much she meant to me before she left.
  • I hope he knows how much we appreciated his effort.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We live in a world where, in far too many cases, the only time we compliment someone is at his funeral. Why wait? What is holding us back? Are we worried that we will look weak or sound corny if we tell a friend, “I love you?” The sobering fact is that you never know when it will be the last time you’re going to talk to someone. There’s a reason Paul directs us to “not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Eph. 4:26).

Regret stems from resentment. Our resentments take us down the path of bitterness, which in turn leads us to say or do something we will soon regret. It’s inevitable. We’re human, and we rely on our emotions entirely too much. And because the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” we are susceptible to regret.

But don’t give in! Take one situation this week to use as an opportunity to defeat the enemy of regret. Tell mom or dad that you love them. Express appreciation toward that co-worker or friend. And as soon as those unfortunate words leave your mouth, acknowledge the error of your ways immediately.

In His Name,

-Matt

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The Great Outdoors

I must confess: I’m not much of an outdoorsman. I don’t play golf, hunt deer, or catch walleye. The majority of my exercise takes place at the YMCA, I’ve never gone bird watching, and my idea of camping consists of a week at Flaming Pine. Yet I always find something about the outdoors that amazes me. Something that takes my breath away.

Maybe it’s the tranquility of a lake at 7:00 AM. Or the subtle movement of clouds through a late afternoon sky. Or perhaps the winter sun meticulously melting ice on my windshield. And who doesn’t marvel at the soothing sound of a hummingbird?

Take a look at your surroundings right now. How are you experiencing the splendor of God’s creation? It’s easy to take things for granted. “I’m sitting outside – big deal. I do this every day. And there are thousands of lakes in Minnesota. And the green grass at home? That just means I need to mow it later today…”

Don’t get caught in this trap. It’s indeed a beautiful world. And God created it. The universe did not simply show up out of nothing one day. We know that every creation needs a creator, and the Creator of the universe happens to be the same Creator who gave you life. What a gift!

Let us never downplay the significance of the very first verse in the Bible: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. If you don’t believe that, there’s really no point in reading the rest of the book. The next verse is fascinating as well: Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

The earth was full of darkness until God filled it. And He continues to fill it today! Though His creatures have tried hard to ruin this incredible shining ball of blue we call our home, make no mistake: nothing we experience in the “great outdoors” is possible without God. He painted a brilliant picture for us to enjoy. I pray that you take some time this week to intentionally seek His presence as you welcome the summer sun.

To quote Job, “In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind” (12:10). Think about that. Your life is in the hands of God, and every breath you take is granted by Him. The very God who created the heavens and the earth.

In His Name,

-Matt

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Time to Refresh

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. – Psalm 51:10-12

I’ve always considered August a “tweener” month. We’re still in the dog days of summer, but we know the warmest part is likely over. Students everywhere continue to enjoy break, but they also see the start of school on the horizon. The festive spirit of July 4th has come and gone, and September’s Labor Day awaits us. So what exactly happens in the month of August?

As a former teacher, I would use these next few weeks as my time to refresh. To re-connect with colleagues, re-read academic journals, or re-submit lesson plans for the first week of school. In other words, it was time for a re-commitment. As Christians, we sometimes fall into this trap, don’t we? We become so attached to a specific schedule (whether it’s prayer, Bible reading, Sunday particulars, etc.) that we forget the reason we are here. And that reason is Jesus Christ.

We must be careful not to lose Jesus in the so-called “in-between” periods of our lives. Anyone can be spiritually strong at a week-long Bible camp, during VBS, or on a mission trip. But what happens once reality sets in and our jobs or teachers place demands on us? Can we still experience salvation’s joy, as the Psalmist might ask? Can we call on the Lord to grant us a willing spirit and sustenance?

Never forget Paul’s words to the church in Corinth: If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor. 5:17). These words remind us that regardless of the time of year – or season of our lives –we are in Christ. We will always be that “new creation” of which Paul speaks!

If you’ve been going through the motions this summer, let me challenge you to re-commit your time to Christ. Not to re-commit your life (that’s an entirely different discussion), but your time. Let me challenge you to spend at least 20 minutes each day this week reading one of the Gospels. If not that, perhaps 20 minutes each day devoted to time alone with God. Or maybe choose one person from the church to call (not text or e-mail) each day this week, simply to check on him and offer some encouragement.

Do you truly want to feel refreshed? Turn your attention from yourself to your brother or sister. And let Christ create in you a pure heart.

In His Name,

-Matt

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Dare to be Different

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us.  Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” – 1 Sam. 8:19-20

Have you ever watched a movie for a second or third time, only to hope that it ends differently? Maybe a character who made a poor choice would change his mind this time around? I feel this way whenever I read 1 Samuel 8 – the chapter where Israel asks for a king. They don’t just ask; they stubbornly insist on having one. Why couldn’t the Israelites have listened to Samuel, who assured them this was a bad idea?

No, Israel wanted to be “just like everyone else,” as a 4th grader might say. After all, your child’s friends have cell phones, so what harm could it cause if he has one too?

It is ironic that the more original and creative we try to be, the more we end up like everyone else (this isn’t always the case, but often it is). For instance, a high school girl who shuns pop culture by joining the so-called “Goth subculture” usually finds herself with a group of 15-20 other students with the same “independent” interests. You see the irony there, no?

The verse that initially grabbed me by the collar – and has yet to release its grip – is Romans 12:2. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Paul’s advice is timeless: We are to be different by aiming to please God rather than man. Read that sentence again. Our world has it backward. And, truthfully, even as Christians we fall into that trap. The obsession for constant validation is a tool of Satan, and one that will absolutely cripple us if we’re not careful. The blood of Christ is all the validation we need.

There are over 7 billion people in the world. Each one is different. What should always amaze us are God’s words to the prophet Jeremiah: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. (1:5, NASB). Think about that for a moment. The Almighty knew you before you ever set foot on this earth. Psalm 139:13 tells us that God knit you together in your mother’s womb. This is what it truly means to be “an individual.” And to be an individual, you must embrace the fact that you are a unique creation of God.

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

In His Name,

-Matt

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Politically Correct?

“His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” – Daniel 4:34-35

How involved should Christians be in politics? That question may be on your mind today in light of the past week’s Republican National Convention (the Democratic Convention will be this coming week). Politics are simultaneously fascinating and maddening. As a follower of Christ, should you engage in the political forum? As Jesus’ disciple, how much are you willing to publicly say to support or oppose certain hot-button issues?

I believe it is important for Christians to be involved in politics. Our influence, while seemingly insignificant to some, is stronger than we think. For example, take Daniel. Daniel was a true man of God. The brutal king Nebuchadnezzar, who initially wanted to kill Daniel (2:13), made him ruler over Babylon and “placed him in charge of all its wise men” (2:48). What we have here is God calling his people (Daniel, along with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) to counsel a very popular secular ruler.

We should seek to counsel political leaders today. Is it everyone’s calling to be a politician? No, but don’t you think our voices should be heard? Our government is only too happy tearing down Biblical truths while Christians passively allow it to happen. As the election season draws near, we should cast a vote for the candidate – regardless of party affiliation – whose views and values most closely reflect ours.

Don’t sit on the bench while Satan takes America from us. Though we are to submit ourselves to the governing authorities, never forget that it is God who has the final authority.

In His Name,

-Matt

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Pain is not the Final Answer

(Jesus) had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. – Heb. 2:17-18

After last week’s shootings in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, the one word that kept popping up was “why?” Why do these things keep happening? Why is there so much unrest in this country? Why do I feel so scared in this day and age? These questions are understandable, as many of us – regardless of ethnicity, gender, or religion – cannot help but question the escalating conflicts of the last year of so. And the reasons behind them.

I would submit to you that, although these are relatively new problems, 2016 America is really no different from any other time. Sin, death, and pain have always been prevalent in our society. The manner in which pain manifests itself changes, but the results stay the same.

According to Genesis 1:31, God saw all that He created, and, behold, it was good. That means it was perfect in God’s eyes. Then Adam and Eve decided to rebel, and, well, the rest is history.

As Christians, we can handle the adversity that pain provides. We don’t have to enjoy it, but our eternal perspective makes what happens in this world a bit more tolerable. Whenever there is a crisis in the world, Michele likes to ask, “How would you handle something like this without Christ in your life?” That’s a great question. But the good news is we do have a beautiful relationship with Jesus Christ that nobody can take away.

It’s okay to get angry, frustrated, or upset when you lose a job. Or you receive a discouraging diagnosis. Or your country faces extreme tension from within. It’s okay to feel this way when we suffer. But remember that Jesus suffered too. Jesus emptied himself by making himself nothing. He died for us. On a cross. His pain was real, just like ours is. But it was his death that changed everything.

Our pain is not the final answer. Christ is.

In His Name,

-Matt

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Shine as Light

I wanted to take a few moments to recognize all the good that we, the Kandiyohi Church of Christ, have been doing. Though we may be “small” in number, we are unquestionably mighty in power.

On June 11th we participated in Kandi is Dandy Days. What a great way to connect with the community! Not only did we organize the morning games, we rode the streets in our awesome float, all the while promoting…

…our VBS! The following Saturday (6/18) we welcomed kids of all ages to learn about the Fruit of the Spirit, based on Galatians 5:22-23. Led by Jodi Elliot, our congregation taught, sang, played, and ate with eager students from within – and without – our church walls. We received some excellent feedback on this. Never underestimate the power you have as a soldier in Christ’s army!

From 6/26-7/2 I was privileged enough to spend a week at Flaming Pine Youth Camp (along with Eliza). Trust me when I tell you that the presence of our church was felt there. Simply telling people that I served at the Kandiyohi Church of Christ brought a smile to their faces. It seems like we represent our church – and the Lord – quite well when we attend these sessions.

Regardless of congregation size or demographics, we have a commitment. And that commitment is to shine as light wherever we are. It’s a dark world. We have an incredible opportunity to shine through in our community – not just in Kandiyohi, but in the city where you live or work. In Matthew 5:14-16, Christ offers some simple, yet vital words of wisdom:

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Amen! Don’t ever let the size of a congregation fool you. Whether you belong to a church of 1,500 or are part of a group of 15, you are one. Remember that, and remember the power you have as one person. The light that you shine is no different than that of any other Christian.

Be sure to shine it brightly!

In His Name,

-Matt

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Unconditional Love

A man was commissioned to paint a picture of the Prodigal Son. He approached his work fervently, laboring to produce a picture worthy of telling the story. Finally, the day came when the picture was complete, and he unveiled the finished painting. The scene was set outside the father’s house, and showed the open arms of each as they were just about to meet and embrace. The man who commissioned the work was well pleased, and was prepared to pay the painter for his work, when he suddenly noticed a detail that he had missed.

Standing out in the painting above everything else in the scene was the starkly apparent fact that the father was wearing one red shoe and one blue shoe. He was incredulous. How could this be, that the painter could make such an error? He asked the painter, and the man simply smiled and nodded, assuring the man, “Yes, this is a beautiful representation of the love of God for His children.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, puzzled.

“The father in this picture was not interested in being color-coordinated or fashion-conscious when he went out to meet his son. In fact, he was in such a hurry to show his love to his son, he simply reached and grabbed the nearest two shoes that he could find.

“He is the God of the Unmatched Shoes.”

That’s a beautiful story, isn’t it? I happened to come across it the other day and wanted to share it with you this morning. Especially if you had a difficult week. Maybe you feel that you didn’t belong or fit in at work or at home. Perhaps a former “friend” spoke negatively about you. Or you had a bitter disagreement with a family member.

Here’s some good news for you: There is nothing you can do to change the way God feels about you. The Creator of the universe loves you so much. He is crazy about you. Instead of spending time trying to win the hearts of people at home, at work, or in your neighborhood, consider the heart you have already won – the unparalleled heart of God.

The same heart that broke when His son bled on the cross beats for you. If you feel down and out this week, please don’t be too hard on yourself. If God, who loves you so much that you are the only you in a world of over 7 billion people, can accept your flaws, then why can’t you?

He loves you unconditionally. He loved you unconditionally before you were born. Let that sink in.

In His Name,

-Matt

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