Tag Archives: Spiritual Growth

The Headless Santa

11 Dec

Read: Acts 9:1-22

 

“And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.”

Acts 9:20–22

 

Decorating a store for Christmas has always been one of my favorite tasks.  There is something wonderful about arranging displays of garland and ornaments, “fluffing” artificial trees, and adorning everything with multi-colored blinking lights.  I feel inspired, even worshipful as I place each nativity on the shelf.  Every now and then, however, someone comes up with a unique decoration idea that may not convey the spirit of the holiday as well as one might hope.

“Are you actually hanging a Christmas tree upside down from the ceiling?”  I asked.  I knew my tone was a bit incredulous, but it isn’t every day that one’s manager is seen trying to strap inverted objects to the roof of a greenhouse.

“Yes,” she replied, as though hardly thinking such an answer was necessary.

I watched with interest for a moment then asked the only question I could think of, the only one that made any sense given the situation, “Why?”  

“‘Cuz I feel like it,” she replied, retrieving the roll of wire which was balanced atop her ladder and beginning to secure the bottom part (and only the bottom part) of a Santa Claus to the tree.

“You know, it’s the wrong holiday for headless things,” I observed.

“I know,” she replied, grinning mischievously. 

For the next hour, my manager worked quietly, eventually wiring on Santa’s head, though it still hung rather precariously from his body.  “You know, that wire won’t hold and Santa’s head is going to fall off in front of some little kid and scar him for life,” I warned.  “He’ll live in mortal terror of Santa Claus!” 

While Santa never did lose his head, I wasn’t amiss in my belief that past experiences, especially traumatic ones, can often affect the way we respond to people or situations in the present.  Scripture, however, teaches that previous experience is not always the best guide.  While we should not be naïve, expecting to see change everywhere, we also shouldn’t be so set in our beliefs that we anticipate the same results in every situation.  God still performs miracles, just as He did with Saul!

 

Challenge: Are you allowing your experiences with certain people or situations to dictate the way you react to similar circumstances in the present?  If you are, commit to weighing each situation honestly and allowing room for God to work.

Today’s devotion was excerpted from “Retail Ready: 90 Devotions for Teens in the Workforce” available in print for $9.99 or on Kindle for $7.99.

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The Page Cage

24 Jul

Read: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

“There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under heaven.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1 NASB

 

Our State House of Representatives had a special office set aside for the pages.  It was an unusually small room (perhaps eight feet by four feet) jam-packed with files and monitors and snacks and backpacks and, for one brief, glimmering moment: pages.  Seventeen of us, as a matter of fact.

It had been a rather slow day and, despite offers to let us leave the Capitol early, we had each elected to stay.  It wasn’t an odd decision given that we were making nearly double minimum wage just for being there, but it did leave us with an important dilemma: just what do with all that spare time.  The committee rooms had been prepared, our errands run, our Representatives prepped and now it was just a group of teenagers left to their own devices.

I don’t remember who suggested it, but someone came up with the idea that it would be fun to see if all of us really could fit into the cramped space affectionately known as “the page cage”.  One by one, we made our way inside, folding ourselves into fetal positions, craning arms, and elevating legs until all of us were cozily tucked away.  It was a poor fit, but it worked – just long enough for the Assistant Sergeant at Arms to wander by and discover the mass of grinning faces peering at her through the door.

While it was fun for a few minutes, I have to admit that I was glad to unfold myself and get out!  I needed space… and so do the activities in our lives.  While it can be tempting to pack our hours as full as possible, the Bible advises against it.  Scripture tells us that seasons in our lives come and go and that there is a time for every activity under the sun.  Instead of trying to jam everything into a few days, weeks, or years, we should allow ourselves the time to enjoy the journey… and to do everything well.

Challenge:  Sit down and take a good, honest look at your schedule.  Are you doing too much?  If so, commit to paring down your activities – giving time to the things that matter right now and letting everything else wait.  There will be time enough in the end!

Kodak Moment

17 Jul

Read: Luke 12:13-34

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Matthew 13:44-46 NASB

 

My first day working for the Senator was an eventful one, to say the least.  Our Regional Director had been having computer problems for a little over a week and had come into the office on that particular morning to find that her computer had crashed.  Completely.  The result was that, instead of spending the morning training me, she spent most of her time on the phone with the Senate IT tech trying to figure out how to restart the system. At one point, this required that she retrieve the computer’s serial number from her CPU.

This was rather a dilemma, since the CPU was neatly and irretrievable stashed behind her desk.  In order to reach it, she had to clear everything off her desk, moving it into the office’s other nooks and crannies.  Then, to get far enough behind her desk to read the number, she had to lean over the top and flip upside down behind it.  I remember smiling as I watched her standing on her head, talking to the tech (who was privy to the entire process via speaker-phone).

“I think this is a Kodak moment,” I said with a grin.

“It had better not be,” she threatened, “or your six month review won’t be pretty.”

As complex as computers are, my boss’ situation was really quite a simple one.  She had something she needed (a computer that worked) and she was willing to do whatever was necessary to get it (hanging upside down behind her desk)… even if it looked a little silly.

Unfortunately, many times, we as Christians are more concerned with what we look like, than with what we need.  Scripture tells us that we should take care when it comes to setting our priorities.  While it is pleasant to have the respect of others, if that becomes our primary focus, we will lose what really matters: the approval of God.

Challenge:  The next time you find yourself asking what others will think, take a moment to ask what God thinks.  Then, act upon the latter.  The rewards will be far beyond what you can imagine!

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: An Introduction

5 Jul

Say the word “evangelism” and what comes to most of our minds is clever technique and skilled responses to difficult questions – the actual acts of sharing and defending the Gospel.  Unfortunately, it’s easy to allow these particular aspects of evangelism to “drown out” others which are equally important if we are to fulfill the commission of Matthew 28:19-20.  If we are to obediently “go” into the world to share the good news of God’s love, we must first take the time to prepare ourselves in spirit, mind, and body.  Indeed, without careful physical preparation, sharing the Gospel may not even be possible.  Imagine what would have happened had the disciples been too out of shape to walk from town to town with Jesus… or, later, across the world to tell the story of His life, death, and resurrection! Doubtless, the Good News wouldn’t have been spread as rapidly or as effectively as it was.

To prepare ourselves only for the mental aspect of evangelism is foolish.  It’s a bit like limiting our preparation for warfare to weapons classes and only weapons classes.  While the rapid fire of machine guns draws our attention, it isn’t just the ability to pull the trigger that wins the war. There is plenty that is going on behind the scenes to guarantee that the battle can take place to begin with.  There are Generals who strategize, secretaries who write down orders, supply officers who provide equipment, cooks who ensure the troops are eating properly, and medical officers who see to the physical health of future combatants.  Each of these people play an important role in ensuring that the battle takes place in such a way as to give the fighting men the best possible shot at victory.

If we’re to fight our spiritual battle (a battle that Scripture tells us in Ephesians 6:12 is not against flesh and blood) in a way that honors God and gives us the best possible opportunity for glorifying Him, we need to pay attention to everything that happens behind the scenes as well.  And this “behind the scenes” activity extends well beyond spiritual disciplines and into the practical activities of our daily lives – study, work, and play.

That’s why, for the next several weeks, we’ll be taking a look at a few of the more practical aspects of evangelism… and what the Scriptures (and common sense) have to tell us about some of these behind the scenes issues.  We’ll examine the importance of our physical health and the vital role that sleep, exercise, and healthy eating play in keeping us at the top of our game; ready to step in and do God’s work any time and any place.  We’ll discuss difficulties that Christians encounter as they try to develop a healthy lifestyle as well as a few of the dangers of overemphasizing our physical needs.  In the end, we hope to provide you with a good primer for keeping yourself “fighting fit”.

Before we begin, however, we’d like to take an opportunity to hear any questions you already have about these subjects.  While we can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to answer every one, we’ll sure give it a try!

Who Will Help?

3 Jul

Read: Proverbs 13:1-25

“Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it, But the discipline of fools is folly.”

Proverbs 16:22 (NASB)

I had been working for the State House of Representatives for several weeks and had to admit that I was enjoying myself.  While I wasn’t a part of the action, I was right in the middle of it and the atmosphere was electric.

As one of several House Pages, I found my days filled with activity.  There were committee rooms to prep and errands to run as I kept my Representative appraised of all the current legislation.  On the occasion in which I found myself with a few spare moments, I’d retreat to the gallery and watch the debate on the floor, dreaming of the day when I’d address the Speaker, myself.

I was happy in my solitude until one afternoon when one of the other pages discovered that I had free time available to me.  Seizing the opportunity, she immediately began prevailing upon me to assist her with her own duties.  She explained that she was falling far behind and was going to be in a great deal of trouble if I did not help her.  Recognizing the truth of her statement, I agreed.

After a week of aiding her in what seemed to be a multitude of reasonably simple tasks, I began to ask myself why she was struggling so hard to finish each job.  The answer wasn’t a pretty one.  While I was busy assembling her committee minutes and gathering papers for bill books (volumes designed to help each Representative keep track of current legislation), she was in the break-room gabbing with the other pages!  As I watched, I realized that she could easily have completed her own work without any assistance if she were only willing to give up a part of her social life.  I was sacrificing my opportunities in order to rescue someone else from their own foolishness!

While there isn’t anything wrong with helping others, the Bible warns about the dangers of repeatedly assisting fools.  The next time my friend asked for assistance, I politely explained that I had something else to do and, after listening to her call me a few names, went on with my day; embracing the opportunities which had come my way.

The truth is that, as a Christian, it can be difficult to consider doing anything other than what appears to be genuinely gracious and merciful at the moment.  After all, what will others think of us if we proclaim goodness, but stand by while others are suffering?  Yet oft times, standing by is the best thing we can do.  In allowing those around us to suffer the consequences of their own mistakes without our interference, we may create exactly the circumstances necessary for their growth!

Challenge: The next time you feel tempted to step in, ask yourself whether you are doing so because there is a Biblical need or because you are caving to the pressure to “be nice”.  Then, let God handle the rest!

Evergreens

29 May

Read: 1 Peter 4:12-19

“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season…”

Psalm 1:1-3a NASB

Watering plants is innately relaxing.  Now imagine that you’re blessed enough to have the job I found myself with: four hours a day watering all the plants for a local nursery.

Of course, not every plant needed to be watered every day.  Some of them (particularly the trees) could go a couple of days without any trouble.  There were, however, a few which would readily have taken water twice a day.  These were the evergreens.

If you’ve ever tried to raise an evergreen, you know that it is an exceptionally needy plant.  If they don’t get enough nutrients, their waxy green needles turn a brittle brown.  If they don’t get enough sunlight, their waxy green needles turn a brittle brown.  If they don’t get enough water, their waxy green needles turn a brittle brown.

If, however, you provide your evergreen with all of these ingredients, it will stay a vibrant green or blue even through the hardest winter freeze, the strongest winds, or the deepest floods.

What’s my point?  As Christians, we often encounter difficulties and find ourselves asking why we aren’t weathering them any better than our unsaved friends.  We know that in Christ we are “ever green”, but we just aren’t capable of demonstrating that level of resilience… and wonder what went wrong. 

The truth is that, much like evergreens, if we get the proper care and nourishment through Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship with other believers, we show forth God’s glory even in the toughest circumstances.  But if we don’t… watch out!  If you want to withstand the storm, you have to take time to prepare for it.

Challenge:  Are you spending enough time with God?  Your willingness to do so now can make a big difference in your ability to face life’s challenges in the future.  Take the time, this week, to carefully examine your spiritual practices and make adjustments where necessary!

Just So You Know

24 Apr

Read: Ephesians 4:1-32

“I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready.  You are still worldly.”

1 Corinthians 3:2-3a NIV

 

I picked up the phone and tucked it between my shoulder and my ear as I began sorting the paperwork management had left on our desk.  “Nursery, this is Anna.”

“This is one of your customers.  My name doesn’t matter,” replied the woman on the other end.  (I was rather taken aback by the spy-like response.)  “I was just calling to let you know that I have a bunch of peach trees that are just giving me a bumper crop this year!”

Smiling, I leaned back in my chair.  “I’m glad to hear that.”

“Yes, well, I wanted you to know because years ago, someone out there informed me that peach trees don’t grow from peach seeds.  I wanted you all to know in case you’re laboring under some mistaken idea that they don’t, that they do!”

“Well, yes ma’am, peach trees do grow from peach seeds.”  I frowned, puzzling over which employee could have made such an elementary mistake.

“Well, someone told me that they don’t and I just wanted to make certain that you don’t go on giving out misinformation to your customers.”  With that, she hung up.

I laughed as I returned the phone to the wall, imagining how the conversation might actually have gone:

“I just planted some peach pits and I need to know what I need to do to get them to grow,” my customer could have explained.

“You probably won’t be able to.  It’s difficult to get a peach tree to thrive in our climate and growing one from seed is next to impossible.  Besides, pollination will affect the variety of peach that grows from the seed.  It may not have the same quality as the peach from which it came,” my imaginary employee would have replied, clearly sympathetic, but less than hopeful.

Either way, the question would not have been one of peach trees growing from peach seeds, but of whether it was possible to grow such a tree successfully in our area.  Unfortunately, the Corinthian church wasn’t much different.  Paul had given them clear instructions regarding God’s plan for His people.  But just as my customer had failed to remember her early botany lessons, the Corinthians had failed to recall the Apostle’s spiritual lessons.  Instead of adding virtue to their salvation, they continued in sin… and the Apostle found himself repeating what should have been quite clear.  The problem wasn’t one of understanding how salvation was obtained (through the seeds of faith), but of nurturing it properly as it grew.

Challenge:  Are you nurturing your faith properly?  This week, take time to prayerfully consider how you are (or aren’t) growing in Christ.  Then, commit to creating the proper environment for your faith to thrive!

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