My quiet times with the Lord are not always quiet. Particularly in those times where the feeling of melancholy seems to be gaining the kind of foothold that shapes my perception of reality; it is time to break out the music with a strong beat and uplifting message, put on my dancing shoes, make a joyful noise and celebrate my life in Christ. I know that every person that reads this knows the meaning of “priming the pump.” We take action that paves the way for more of the same. Are you feeling low? Then it is time to prime the pump for joy. Make this a “rejoice in the Lord, and again I say rejoice” moment! The counter-argument usually goes something like this: “But, I don’t feel like being joyful.” This is a common line of logic that we expect from children and adolescents, but spiritually mature people know better than taking the route of least resistance. We do the unexpected. James 1:2-4 “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” “OK,” I will admit it. I don’t generally count it all joy when things are going wrong. However, when I make the effort to connect with God, I always…did I say always? I always feel God-birthed courage to face the challenges. Time to turn up the volume—put on my dancing shoes and make some noise!
In the world of visual arts, particularly with photography and video, contrast makes all the difference in how a picture looks and is perceived. Turn the contrast down and the picture fades and loses color. Turn the contrast up and the colors of the picture get separation and pop out. It could be argued that the most visual difference between amateur and professional photographers is the understanding of how to use contrast. (Of course, there is more to it than that—but, contrast is a great place to start) Throughout scripture, we have a vivid picture of contrast. The measurable difference between the life of a Believer and the sojourner who has no faith. The Believer and non-believer are both living life, breathing the same air, facing the same daily challenges, living with virtually the same opportunities. With all that the Believer and Non-believer have in common (which is much), the contrast between their lives is marked with profound and measurable differences. The Prophet Jeremiah drew attention to the contrast with prophetic words: Jeremiah 17:5-8 Thus says the LORD: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit. (Is the contrast clearing up the picture?) If you have put your trust in the Lord; you will survive COVID-19 with stories to tell the emerging generations. Stories of God’s goodness, provision, blessing and faithfulness. Don’t lose heart, the heat has been turned up, but you are like a tree planted by the waters…
Regrets: Have you ever felt that along the journey of life you may have taken a wrong turn? Most people feel that way because most of us have made some terrible—awful—crazy—foolish—and certainly, ignorant life choices along the way. We all make decisions, and I have personally discovered (often the hard way) that not all decisions are equal. Some of our choices seem to work out while others fall short of our expectations. (Full Disclosure: I had a few epic failures!) If we ponder our past through the lens of knowing the results of our choices; it can lead to toxic regret. We start “what if-ing” our lives as we scrutinize the outcome of what has brought us to where we are. “If I only would have zigged when I zagged.” “Wow,” that’s really helpful!? If I had married a different person, I would have been happier. If I had just taken that job, I would have been more successful. If I had only bought Dell stock when I moved to Texas, I would have been rich. If only… The possibilities of the different outcomes of regret are simply amazing…at least in my imaginary world. “I could have been somebody!” If you are reading this—you are still alive and if you are “in” Christ you have a future beyond imagination. I have four thoughts concerning regret: 1) Regret is futile because I cannot change my past. 2) Regret is dangerous because it threatens my future happiness with the burden of past failures. 3) Many of my regrets are centered around events that I had no control over. 4) Regret is a waste of my “now” time. I’m alive now—living in this moment—I’m still on the journey through life. Two questions to consider: “Have I learned from the past?” “Can I leave the regrets behind? Armed with hope for the future, I put my trust in God; I grasp the truth that it is time to forget the failures of the past and press on for the prize that is before me. (Philippians 12:12-14)
Psalm 34:1-4 (NKJV) I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the LORD; The humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, And let us exalt His name together. I sought the LORD, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears.
I started out in the ministry as a youth pastor. On a regular basis I challenged the youth group with the following idea: “There are two times to praise the Lord, when you feel like it and when you don’t!” One time, after the youth service was over, a very sharp young woman came up to me with a question concerning my assertion. She said, “Wouldn’t it be hypocritical of me to worship and praise the Lord when I don’t feel like it?” (Now that is a good question that needs to be fully explored)
I paused for a moment and answered her question with a question: “Is there ever a time when Jesus is unworthy of praise?” The 2nd chapter of Philippians tells us that on the basis of who Jesus is and what He accomplished that God the Father has given Him a name above all other names--that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. So, is there ever a time or circumstance when Jesus is unworthy of your praise and adoration?” You could see the light turn on in her eyes. They shimmered with tears as she said with conviction: “There is never a time when Jesus is unworthy; and I plan to give Him the best of my praise, even when I don’t feel like it!”
I have a laundry list of things that I do when I don’t have an emotional feeling driving me to do so. As a general rule I don’t feel like exercising--I don’t feel like watching what I eat--I don’t feel like paying my taxes--I don’t feel like loving my enemies--I don’t even feel like obeying the speed limits… You get the point! Many of my actions are not based on based on the idea of only doing it if I feel like it. I try to live my life according to a higher standard than what my emotions dictate. I try to do the things that I believe are the right things to do.
There is a Bible story that illustrates this point: Paul and Silas were doing missionary work in the city of Phillipi. Paul cast out a spirit of divination from a young woman who was interfering with their ministry. This created a situation that caused Paul and Silas to be arrested; to be beaten with rods; to be thrown into prison and put in chains.
I have often wondered and marveled at the mindset that caused Paul and Silas to pray and sing praises in the middle of a crisis where they are suffering. To be perfectly transparent with you--I would not “feel” like singing if I was in their shoes. I would be humiliated. I would feel righteous anger towards those who beat me. I would be repulsed by the smells and disconcerted by the presence of rats. I would not feel the urge to praise God, much less praise Him with singing.
In the midst of the darkness, Paul and Silas maintained their spiritual equilibrium and began to worship the One who is always worthy of praise. They sang...and the other prisoners and the prison guards listened. It was midnight when the prison was shaken by an earthquake. The doors to the prison were ajar--the chains came loose--and Paul and Silas were free. Rather than taking the opportunity to leave, they stayed and ministered to the jailer who was about to take his own life. “We are still here,” cried Paul in a loud voice. The jailer fell down before Paul and Silas and asked, “What must I do to be saved?”
When Believers make the choice to praise God in the worst of circumstances, they stand out from the crowd. Praising God, when you don’t feel like it is unexpected. It defies the norm of human behavior; but it certifies this truth, Jesus is always worthy of our praise and adoration...when we feel like it and when we don’t.
You can write this down. Before 2013, Gender Dysphoria was known in psychiatric circles as “Gender Identity Disorder.” In order to be more politically correct, the American Psychiatric Association stated: “Gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition.” Although the stigma associated with having the label of “disorder” has been removed, gender dysphoria continues to be treated with counseling and psychotherapy.
That will change. It will start with a politically progressive state, such as California or New York, which (I predict) will rule that the treatment of gender dysphoria is an illegal activity. In the progressive mindset, allowing the treatment of people suffering from gender dysphoria is an indirect admission that a transgender person may actually suffer from a mental disorder.
I have a lot of sympathy for someone that suffers with gender dysphoria, but accepting gender confusion as a normal psychological profile is not helpful. Beyond that, there is a “push” to encourage the person with gender dysphoria to embrace their transgender identity. Gender dysphoria is not a biological issue; with only a few rare exceptions to the rule, people are born as either a biological male or a biological female. We are what we are in terms of our biology. Gender dysphoria defies biology with a pattern of thinking that has entrenched itself into a person’s identity.
What action should a Christian take with regard to this issue? Firstly, love people who suffer from gender dysphoria. (It’s not our job to fix them—it is our calling to love them) Secondly, if you are raising children, help them embrace their biological gender. (Strong gender identity should be established in the home environment, ideally by a mom and a dad) Thirdly, protect your children from having their minds exposed to gender confused ideas while they are establishing their own identity. I believe that gender dysphoria is an issue that must be very difficult and self-destructive to the person who is wrestling with it. Love the suffering--protect the innocent!
Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV) 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Our Mission at Believers Church is straight forward: “We are dedicated to making fully devoted followers of Christ in every generation.” OK…I’ll admit, there isn’t really anything new or earth-shattering in our Mission Statement. It is short. Easily understood. To the point. It also flies in the face of everything we know about American Pop Culture. Pop Culture would have you believe that the generations are separated by what they call “generation gaps.” Since there are new babies being born every minute of every day; there are no discernible gaps. There is a continual flow of people of all ages; some are older and some are younger. Although Pop Culture tries to divide the different age groups by creating different waves of fashion, fades and styles; it is largely done to create buying trends which help turn a profit. The different generations may wear different styles of clothes, listen to different music and be influenced by the cultural narrative aimed at their particular age group; but, the things that really count in life are timeless.
Beauty; Truth; Morality; Family; Integrity; Values; Friendship; Hard Work; Love; Faith; Hope… These “things” have great worth and should be treasured by every generation of people. In the Church, these things are all tied together and found in our relationship with Christ. As we endeavor to make fully devoted followers of Christ in every generation, we are handing the key (Christ Jesus) that leads to an abundant life. A life full of the things that really count. Did you hear me? “A life full of the things that really count!”
Making fully devoted followers out of our children starts in the home. This is not simply taking them to “church” and stuffing their minds full of Bible verses. It is creating a home environment where the timeless values are lived out in real time. As a parent you should take the time with your children to listen to beautiful music; take walks in God’s beautiful creation; play games and put together puzzles around the table; take on family projects (like planting a garden); try out different foods from around the world; build around some common interests (No common interests? Make some!). Do all these things in the context of a loving family that is committed to Christ. At that point…it is OK to stuff their minds full of Bible verses and bring them to church. Most young children view their parents as super heroes—it is your chance to shine and lead your children into being fully devoted followers of Christ.
Proverbs 31:10-31 (NKJV) Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil All the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, And willingly works with her hands. She is like the merchant ships, She brings her food from afar. She also rises while it is yet night, And provides food for her household, And a portion for her maidservants. She considers a field and buys it; From her profits she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, And strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, And her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hand holds the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, For all her household is clothed with scarlet. She makes tapestry for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies sashes for the merchants. Strength and honor are her clothing; She shall rejoice in time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, And on her tongue is the law of kindness. She watches over the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praises her: "Many daughters have done well, But you excel them all." Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, And let her own works praise her in the gates.
A personal word: Do you have a virtuous wife? I was doubly blessed. My mother is a virtuous woman and so is my wife! Since we live in a different time and era than the writer of Proverbs, neither my mom or my wife know anything about tapestry. I should take the time to write a new version of the virtuous wife with updated activities. Never-the-less, the underlining principles concerning the virtuous woman still remain relevant today.
Let me give you some words that describe the virtuous woman:
Talk about a liberated woman who is worthy of honor, that is my mom, and that is my wife. These are the kind of women that we want to raise our daughters to be, and the kind of women we want to represent Christ to the world.
These are the kind of women that we see God raising up in our midst, and we are blessed and surrounded by women who are excellent mothers, excellent wives, excellent employees, excellent people, and above all, followers of Christ.
“We” are blessed because of you! HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:8-11 (NKJV)
From the time of Christ's ascension into heaven until the time of His return, Believers have lived in a cosmic tension created by an ongoing conflict between the Church and forces of spiritual wickedness. In this "real life" battle we take heart from some encouraging words spoken by our Lord. When it comes to the Church He stated: "The gates of Hell will not prevail against it!" Above all else "we" need to believe Jesus and take His words to heart.
In the cultural darkness of our time we often act as if the Church is losing ground. Many point to current trends backed up by statistical data and conclude that our fortress is under siege and about to be overrun. I am not of a mind to hang with the "We'll hold the fort until Jesus comes" crowd, because I believe the words of our God and King. Perhaps the Church is losing ground--but maybe--just maybe things need to get bad enough, long enough, for the Church to wake up and get serious.
I am reminded of a Psalm of David: "The earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein." Let me remind you that this is God's dominion. This turf does not belong to our enemy. The usurper walks around like a roaring lion--which is rather intimidating; but, more often than not, Satan lulls the Church to sleep while seducing the world with hollow promises. Let us not act as if the Church has already lost and throw in the towel. Time to wake up--get up--be courageous--put on the full armor of God and fight passionately knowing that our effort will make a difference. In the words of James: "Resist the Devil and he will flee from you." God will ultimately win in this struggle and His dominion will endure forever!
Author's Note: I don't believe that "we" should give in or run scared even though we are living in a world hell-bent on its own destruction. It is true that we live in crazy times and it seems as if this is the worst that it has ever been... I'm guessing that Christians living in NY City probably felt that way back in the 1850's. Children chained to machines and forced into labor; open prostitution on the streets; gang violence terrorizing neighborhoods; open hostility towards immigrants; drug dealers and addicts on every corner; and a country on the verge of civil war. Maybe we need to take heart and simply be the Church! RJD
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. Prov 3:5-6 (NKJV)
I do not believe that I have ever heard anyone talk about "trust at first sight." "You know, I saw this beautiful girl...her name is Jody...she is really cool...I don't know, it might be trust at first sight." The very idea is crazy; and yet I have found that the surest way for me to avoid buying something that I never thought that I needed before is to make sure that the salesman never gets across the threshold at the front door. (If you know my wife, Jody--ask her about the cookware that we bought while attending Northwest University) Sometimes I surprise myself with how gullible I am, because there have been times when I acted as if it was trust at first sight.
I have lived life long enough to come to a couple of conclusions. Firstly, I do not always make good decisions; therefore, when I make important decisions I try to listen and submit to the wise council of people that I trust. (Group decisions tend to be more prudent) Secondly, I do not automatically trust people. Trust is a commodity that has to be earned. My natural instinct is to trust people; however, it is wiser to trust the people who have earned the right.
There is One that has earned my complete trust and that is the Lord. In my life, God has proven Himself to be everything that He claims to be. He has consistently treated me with grace, with goodness, with kindness, with mercy, with patience, with guidance, with wisdom, with knowledge, with friendship, with peace, with encouragement, with blessings, with confidence, and with His love. I believe...hear me...I absolutely believe in the promise of Romans 8:28: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Trusting in the Lord is perhaps the wisest move I have ever made!
Author's Note: I hope that I don't sound too cynical when it comes to trusting people. I implicitly trust my wife, my parents, my children and a few close friends. (My Grandchildren? Well, they are still young and need nurturing) The point is this: You can absolutely trust in the God that loves you more than you love yourself. RJD
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Phil 4:4-7 (NKJV)
In the midst of a passage that deals with prayer, Paul interjects this thought: "Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand." I think that the word "gentleness" is somewhat misleading and does not effectively communicate the Author's point. In the RJV Bible (Ronald Joseph Version) which does not exist, it would read more like this:"May you have a great reputation, because of your even-tempered appropriate decision-making ability." "Ok, I know...it doesn't flow every well, but at least you get the point." Believers need to be known for their sound judgment. As if the Lord is at hand making said judgments!
How much would I change in my decision-making process if God had a greater voice...no, make that, if God had the final say in all my decisions? How many problems would that solve? How many prayer requests would never have needed to exist in the first place? How much heart-burn and how many head-aches would have been avoided. Maybe it would be prudent to make my decisions as if "the Lord is at hand."
I have observed that many of our prayer requests are a direct result of poor decisions. The Bible instructs us to stay out of debt. To avoid yoking ourselves unequally with sinners. To make an effort to pass down our faith to our children. To pay our taxes and submit to authorities. The list of wisdom to make appropriate decisions pours out of pages of the Bible. Why not obey the dictates of scripture? It will help us make wise decisions. It will help us avoid many a pit-fall. It will remove much of the worry and stress associated with life. Ultimately, you will be recognized as an even-tempered individual who makes great decisions.
Author's Note: Not many people are wise, but they could be. Jesus stated that those who listened to His words and lived them were like the wise man who built his house on the rock. At least in my life--I need to think less and obey more. I need to acknowledge the Lord in all of my decisions--that is how, even I, can become a wise guy...make that, wise man. RJD
RJ Dugone's Blog
This is a blog of devotional thoughts and my "Christian" perspective on a pop culture gone mad. RJ