Having Faith

Why do bad things happen in waves? I mean, I know sometimes bad things happen for a reason, but why all bunched up, one after the other?

Just this past Saturday morning, for example, I needed to drive my son to his part-time job. We woke up early, ate, and we were out the door right on schedule. I clicked the remote several times and there was no response from the car. I even tried to use the physical key to get in, but the car would not cooperate. It was dead.

My son ended up taking the bus, while I ended up on the phone with the rental car company trying to sort out the roadside assistance call. I am thankful for the insurance company paying for all the expenses until we received our car back from the repair shop for the accident my wife had had two weeks ago. Still, I was left scratching my head trying to make sense of it all.

Sometimes God allows things to happen in order to test our faith.

I cannot help but think of Hebrews 11. This chapter of the bible is often referred to as the faith chapter, and the one scripture that pops into my mind, when I think of all that has happened these past few weeks, is the one scripture that demonstrates absolute faith in God:

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb. 11:17-19 ESV).

I find it inspiring that even though my family may feel the burden of multiple trials, I have yet to hear God’s voice asking me to sacrifice my son as a means to test my faith. In other words, I would gladly suffer these minor setbacks to relieve myself of the responsibility of deciding between life and death.

I know, it sounds extreme. But God is an overwhelming God. He strengthens me when I am weak. He picks me up when I have fallen. And, most of all, he shows mercy to me when I cry out to him in repentance.

Oh, how I wish I could come into his full glory now.

What a wonderful God I serve.

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Giving Thanks Always

As I type this, it is Saturday morning, raining, and we are preparing for tonight’s Thanksgiving dinner. I am Canadian, so we have our Thanksgiving one month before.

When I think about this year, I suppose I have a lot to be thankful for. Family comes to mind. That is always on my mind. I am thankful for the closeness we have, the joy we experience together and the peace. That is important. Peace. Even with the health scare we went through with my son, I know it brought us closer, and that is all that matters to me.

My wife had an automobile accident recently, too. She walked away from it, but it could have been worse. I am thankful for the insurance company and of how quickly we were able to put in the claim. They were so readily available to help us get back on our feet. Yet, I cannot say it was entirely in their hands, as I know God was there protecting my wife and working out everything for his glory. I am so thankful for that.

Then there are all the little things that took place this year. I cannot list them all, even if I tried. I just know that I am so grateful for everything. None of it, really, is because of anything I did. It was all God and his wanting to extend his grace on me and my family.

I am thinking about the Apostle Paul right now, and what he wrote to the Corinthians, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4 ESV).

The Corinthians were going through a lot of problems at the time (1 Cor. 5:1). Paul was even wondering if he ought to have written such a sharp letter to them to correct them of their behavior (2 Cor. 2:4). But in all things, in spite of the trials he faced with that church, regardless of the anguish he felt when writing words of reproof and correction, through the tears, and with Jesus’ spirit within him that strengthened him, he was thankful.

I am now realizing, as the years go on, my appreciation for trials has increased. As strange as that sounds, trials make me a better person. I wish it were not so, but it is true.

I guess what I am trying to say is this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for God taking the time to make me a better me.

Be Strong and Courageous

With summer being over and fall slowly showing its colors, I have had a trying month. I realize God does things for a reason, therefore I am not bothered when trials happen. If I am to partake in Jesus’ glory, why should I not partake in his suffering?

So when my son landed in the hospital for a week, and my wife and I took turns to stay by his bedside while the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with him, I prayed. I knew God was doing something great in our lives, but I did not know what it was.

Thankfully, we did end up finding out what was wrong with him, and we did end up taking measures to fix the problem.

Now that I have had the chance to think back on everything, I know for sure God was there every step of the way, guiding doctors and nurses to provide the utmost care my son needed in the short time he was there.

I remember reading when Joshua succeeded Moses, and Israel was about to enter the land of Canaan. Moses said to the assembly, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6 ESV).

For Moses to have said that, Israel had to have been in a dark place. From their perspective, Moses was old in age and about to die, they had Joshua as their successor, but still, could they prosper as God had said under his new leadership? Then there was the incident where forty years earlier God had promised the land of Canaan to the previous generation, but because of their disobedience, he had caused that entire generation to die. Who was to say God would not do the same to them?

Yet instead of allowing the darkness to penetrate their fortitude, Israel turned around and took those words Moses spoke to heart. They gathered their courage, followed Joshua and entered the land of Canaan, fully trusting God that he would vanquish their enemies.

I did not know how God would resolve my situation with my son, but I did know that whatever happened, it would be his will and it would all work for the greater good.

I am grateful for God’s intervention last week. I do not think I could have made it through without those words of encouragement spoken by Moses thousands of years ago.

If you, too, feel discouraged at times, fear not. For God will never leave you or forsake you.

How to Practice the Golden Rule

When I asked my friends the other day, what they thought the golden rule was they looked at me bewildered. I do not believe I was speaking another language, so yes I was surprised to discover they really had no clue what I was talking about.

The golden rule states:

“Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31 NIV).

Where I grew up though, it was more like, do it to others before they do it to you. A rough neighborhood and kids being kids, we did not have any sense of what was right and wrong.

All joking aside, another translation is: do to others as you would have them do to yourself.

But what if you hate yourself? What then? Does this mean you ought to hate others as you hate yourself?

The golden rule is not talking about that. It is not saying, first take care of your self-esteem then look after everyone else. Because it would be easy to duck responsibility, to sit in a dark hole somewhere and wallow in misery while life passes us by. On the contrary, the golden rule promotes active participation in the lives of others, and a byproduct of that participation is happiness.

A lack of self-esteem comes from guilt. Guilt causes depression, which then leads to thoughts of doing unimaginable things to the self. The fallen angel of light knows this and wants God’s children to live useless lives contemplating on the sins they have committed.

However, we do not need to worry about any of that. God has sacrificed his son Jesus so that we do not have to pay for our own sins (John 3:16). Now when we commit sin, we experience short-term guilt, which leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:8-10). And that is an awesome thing. No longer is worthiness an issue. Nothing we can do can earn us salvation. God has given it to us freely through his grace (Eph. 1:7).

Knowing this, practicing the golden rule then becomes part of our nature.

It would be easy for us to share of our blanket with someone who is cold. We would not have a problem rationing half of our dinner with someone who is hungry. And we would be happy to provide a portion of our drink to someone who thirsts.

The homeless would have homes. The sick would be well. And the poor would have a share to give. For as we see others in their time of need, we would see ourselves.

Small acts of kindness change people. If everyone practiced the golden rule, the world would be a changed place.

How to Stay Focused

We have developed the attention span of a hamster. It should not surprise anyone. After all, a typical movie at the theater cuts to a new angle or scene in roughly 0.5 seconds. Is it a wonder not all of us suffer from ADHD.

Yet, our short attention span does affect us, such that it prevents us from concentrating effectively.

How can we remain focused without sacrificing our time while doing it? How can we not feel threatened by the passing of time and accomplish our goals?

Put blinders on.

Ignore everything that goes on around us. We may be on a train or a bus reading our favorite novel, when someone sits next to us who is blaring music from his or her headset. As hard as it seems, we can either move to another seat or simply ignore the interference.

It does take some practice, but it is possible to sit next to someone who is incredibly disruptive while working through a goal.

Is there a secret?

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful” (Col. 3:12-14 NLT throughout).

Follow the plan.

Obstacles have a way of showing up at the most inopportune time. Our main concern, though, should be about how we respond to the challenge. Do we complain to those around us? Or do we pick up from where we fell and move on?

Once a plan is in place that points to a specific goal, we ought to forget everything else in order to achieve that goal. Of course, in some cases, this is not possible. Circumstances beyond our control will cause delays. That is life. And that is okay. However, as long as we keep to the plan, we will achieve whatever we set out to do:

“Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise” (Prov. 6:6).

Despite its enemies, an ant will continue to accumulate food during the summer and autumn months as a means to survive during the winter.

That is what an ant does. Consider the ant.

Imagine the reward.

When all else fails, an image of receiving the reward, after we have achieved what we set out to do, is a great incentive to remain focused.

We can think of the journey being over. We can think of the relief, that after all the hard work, all the diligent study, all the trials we had to endure, all the sarcastic remarks from others, if any, all the late nights, all the early mornings, all the long treks, we can finally say we have successfully completed the work. Imagine what it would feel like if it took place tomorrow or the next day. Would that not be the most incredible feeling ever?

Hold on to that feeling. Keep it close to the heart.

“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win” (1 Cor. 9:24).

There is one more thing.

With God on our side who can be against us? Every hero has an enemy. Moses had Pharaoh. Samson had the Philistines. David had Goliath. In every case, though, God was there making the way clear, fulfilling his promises and showing his love for those who followed his lead.

As long as we remain focused on the reward, we can achieve anything.

And with God on our side, the fight will be forever in our favor.

3 Techniques to Avoid Envy

It never fails. You buy a brand new car, house, boat, phone, coat, and then you notice the neighbor next door has a better version of it than you have. That wonderful feeling of pride you experienced owning that new item suddenly plummets to anger.

There is a way, though, to avoid these feelings of despair.

1. Never compare ourselves with others.

Comparing ourselves with others is a losing game. Everyone is different. We all have different tastes, different styles and different goals in life. When we look to others, and compare what we have, let alone, what we do not have, and wish our lives were different, we set ourselves up for failure.

We need to appreciate our own circumstances in order to appreciate our own value.

That is hard to do when society does nothing more than compare people with people all the time. Disengaging is not an option either. We cannot go a day without having contact with another person.

Yet, when we look into the mirror, we ought to see how wonderful a creation we truly are, and that there is no one else like us in this entire world.

2. Forget about coveting what others have.

The bible is quite clear when it talks about coveting:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex. 20:17 ESV).

The idea that God knew what we would be like before issuing the tenth commandment should inspire a pause. Envy has a way of eating at our hearts, promoting fear, and lingering long after we come to the realization of its futility.

Coveting does one thing well. It convinces us we are inferior to those of whom we covet. We ought to know better. We ought to toss covetousness aside. God believes we are better than the things we desire that are not ours.

God wants us to be strong in spirit and strong in character.

Envy cannot grow in a person who avoids comparing oneself with others.

3. Engage in activities that will build self-esteem.

Ultimately, the cause of envy is low self-esteem. Being secure with who we are and what we do raises our satisfaction with ourselves and with what we have. If we do not like who we are, then logically, we would want to be someone else. What better way to be someone else than to want what others have.

Purging the need for validation is the first step to building self-esteem. Finding activities that will allow us to grow in that direction is the second step.

As someone who aids others with the direction of their lives, I tend to ask questions that promote discussion. One of the questions I ask is this: what makes you happy? Many of the people of whom I speak with do not know what makes them happy. Some cite money. Some say a beautiful house and car. But no one really talks about satisfaction with their lives. There is always something missing, which they believe is something material in nature they need to possess.

Possessions do not make people happy.

Money makes life easier, but it does not make people happy.

However, the simple activity of flying a kite, or walking a dog, or stomping our feet in the rain may bring incredible joy that cannot be compared with anything else.

Simple activities such as these are what define happiness for us, and we would not need to succumb to envy to build our self-esteem.

What more is there?

Perhaps it is time to see things from a different perspective. Perhaps it is time to love others rather than want to become them. Only then would we feel compelled not to envy them.

Only then would we become whole.

How to Simplify Our Lives

Have you ever seen a baby drive a car? Of course, not. Do you know why you have never seen a baby drive a car? It is because driving a car is not what a baby does. A baby eats, sleeps, and coos. It lives a simple existence. It is only when a baby develops an intimate sense of self does its life become more complicated. Before then, life is good.

Be as children.

Going back to the simplicity of when we were born may be difficult, but we can certainly aspire to live our lives as if it were so.

Jesus explains it this way, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 ESV throughout).

Children’s lives are lives filled with hope, joy and playfulness. From one moment to the next, children may not know what lies ahead, but regardless of what anyone may think, they will allow their imagination to lead the way.

If we can recapture the humility of a child and remember what it was like to be a child, the simplicity of life would return.

Get rid of the clutter.

Let us admit one thing: depending on the family, a child’s room is a disaster. Toys lie strewn on the floor. Books hang from the shelf. The area next to the hamper is a mess. Nothing comes close to what a child’s room looks like during those endearing preschool years.

Yet, beyond the clutter lies creativity and song. When children have a vision of what they want to do, there is no stopping them. They have a knack to ignore distractions.

The apostle Paul says, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33).

Imagine how simple life would be if we did not have to stare at stacks of bills, dirty dishes and laundry.

Whatever clutter might exist in our lives, as children of God it is up to us to move past the ordinary in order to make progress in the extraordinary.

Focus on one thing at a time.

As mentioned, children have an incredible ability to tune things out when it is in their best interest.

Noticing a child with a coloring book is one of those precious moments for a parent, or another observer. There is nothing more important to a child than to pick the right color for a drawing and watching it fill the page.

Likewise, when we have too many things on our to-do list, we ought to focus on one thing and do it well.

Many times, what we think is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.

How simple is it?

Once we look at things from a child’s perspective, everything else will fall into place. Simplicity will return, and that playful attitude we had growing up will reappear.

So have fun with life. Enjoy the moment. And give God the glory for all his marvelous works (Ps. 96:3-4)!