Learning to be Content with the Fences of Life

Jeune veau dans un champ

The day for building your walls will come, the day for extending your boundaries. Micah 7:11 NIV

Driving down a country road I saw something that reminded me of an important principle in life.

I passed a field full of cows grazing. Close to the road was a large metal gate covering the entrance to the field. At the gate was a little calf, seemingly trying desperately to get through the gate on to the other side of the fence.

It appeared to me this calf had seen some grass that looked better outside the fence. Sure enough, I looked and there was a patch of the greenest grass any calf could hope to find. Just feet outside the gate.

In the meantime, all the other cows appeared to patiently graze among the grass within the fence. I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if the calf would have gotten past the gate.

It would obviously be unsafe. A calf…wondering in the road by itself…I would have probably felt inclined to stop had I seen it in the road. Innocent of the ways of the world. Helpless. I would have feared for its safety. And, I’m sure it would have missed it’s mother when the time came for milk. This calf had no business outside the gate. No business at all. Anyone knows that.

But, then the calf reminded me of how I am at times.

Just being honest, I’ve struggled most of my life with patience…contentment…being satisfied where I am now and waiting until God does something new. I have often thought the “grass looks greener on the other side”. It’s hard for me to be patient within the fences of life at times.

In that discontentment, I often find myself testing the boundaries…the fences…God has placed me in life…trying to create my own “opportunities”…only to find out later that what God had for me was best. A God-ordained wait is always purposeful. His fences are always for my good.

Have you learned some those hard lessons in life?

Have you found out that what you thought you so desperately wanted wasn’t really worth it once you got it?

Oh, thank God for boundaries. Thank God for fences.

Thank God for unanswered prayers.

Thank God for all the trouble and heartache He has kept me from…because I have surely brought enough on myself…by keeping me within the fence.

Lord, help us to find our contentment in life in You! In the fences you provide.

10 Traits of a Great Church Member

Church service

Obviously, God builds the church, but He uses people to build it.

What kind of members does God use to build a great church?

As a pastor, I have noticed some trends among church people who help move the church forward. The following is a list of characteristics of those type of people. Not everyone will have every quality, but it’s the combination of each of them in people that builds a great church.

Great church members:

Believe and love God’s Word.

Joshua 1:8 “Study this Book of the Law continually. Meditate on it day and night so you may be sure to obey all that is written in it. Only then will you succeed.

Great church members let the Bible guide them and the church.

Grow in prayer.

Ephesians 6:18 ”Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere.”

Great church members pray more than worry.

Build on faith.

Hebrews 10:38 ”And a righteous person will live by faith.”

Great church members are willing to walk by faith as God leads, even through the most challenging times.

Put God’s will first.

Mark 3:35 “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.

Great church members put God’s will ahead of every other agenda.

Enjoy meeting with God regularly.

Amos 4:12 says, “Prepare to meet your God,

Great church members look expectantly and often for opportunities to worship God and experience Him with other believers.

Support the pastor and the church.

1 Corinthians 16:10‑11 ”When Timothy comes, treat him with respect. He is doing the Lord’s work, just as I am. Don’t let anyone despise him.

A pastor is always looking for someone to call friend. Great church members are that friend. The pastor isn’t always right, but great church members look for ways to support more than complain.

Encouragers in the church.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 ”So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”

Great church members are a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. They look for ways to help, invite their friends and neighbors, and volunteer without having their arms twisted.

Don’t think everything is about them!

Matthew 16:24 ”Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.”

Did you know everything may not go your way? Great church members are willing to allow the best to be done for the church even when it sometimes goes against their personal desires.

Think outside the walls of the church.

Acts 1:8 “But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me every where‑‑in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

If we are not careful, our churches could be hard to tell apart from a Country Club. Great church members think of those not yet in a church…and support the church in reaching them.

Maintain a friendly church.

2 John 6 “Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.”

Great church members make sure guests never stand around long with no one to talk to. They are welcoming and friendly to everyone, with or without a title to do so.

I’m so thankful to be in a church with so many who make this list easy to write.

What would you add to this list?

4 Reasons to Try a Discipleship App

idisciple-logo

There are apps for almost everything we could physically need or want. I can order a pizza, check my bank account or rent a movie while on my phone standing in line at the grocery store.

But what about spiritual needs – is there an app for that?

Family Christian’s new ministry, iDisciple, is answering with a resounding YES. The new app offers a first-of-its kind discipleship experience, delivering your favorite Christian content from your favorite Christian leaders all in one place on any device. (I was honored to be one of the original contributors of content.)

I received a free trial from iDisciple, and here’s 4 reasons I think you should try it:

Daily Devotions – Three daily devotions are delivered to users from a selection of 20 leading Christian leaders. iDisciple content providers include Craig Groeschel, Andy Stanley, Dennis Rainey, Louie Giglio, Beth Moore and many more.

The content can be custom-tailored to me – Users of the free version have access to basic features including sermons and devotionals, but for $4.99 per month, I can create a personal profile that allows the iDisciple system to suggest appropriate content for my specific preferences, needs and interests, like managing finances or developing my faith.

It’s growing – iDisciple’s library currently features more than 30,000 sermons, devotionals, articles, Bible studies, blogs, podcasts and an in-app Bible. They’re always adding content, and Christian e-books and music will be available early this year.

It keeps on giving – Because iDisciple is a Family Christian Ministry, 100 percent of earnings will be donated to support Christian ministries and causes. Additionally, I can give to my favorite charity through a personal giving account within the app.

For more information on iDisciple, or to check out the free 14-day trial, visit www.idisciple.org.

To encourage you to give it a try, iDisciple will provide a free-subscription to one lucky reader of this blog. You can enter for this drawing by commenting on this post.

A representative from iDisciple provided this article.

7 Ways Christians Should Behave Online

Social media on Smartphone

I have had an online ministry for over 15 years. God has humbled me with the way He has chosen to use this influence He has given me. I try not to take it for granted.

One thing that has changed since I began ministering online…and it’s changed for all of us…is the rise of social media. Whether you believe it’s a good addition or not, we cannot deny it’s impact on culture or even on the church. Personally, I have chosen to use it for good as much as possible.

Still, it disturbs me some of the ways I see Christians respond on social media. I can post one thing…whether serious or not…and I do use humor intentionally as a part of my online presence…and it never amazes me how someone might respond. I have referred to the practice as a slam and run. I just have to thank God at times for the delete option. :) But, it’s an example of a bigger problem. Christians aren’t always behaving well online. What we’d never say offline we have no problem saying online.

Seriously, this isn’t a personal plea. This is a Kingdom plea. Just as the world is watching how Christians respond in public they are watching how we respond online. We must be careful then with what we post. All of us will be misunderstood. But, we shouldn’t be blatantly offensive.

Here are 7 ways Christians should behave online:

No soapbox -We are told to “do everything without arguing or complaining.” (Philippians 2:14) That doesn’t mean we can’t support causes we believe in, but they should be moral and Biblical issues, not personal agendas.

No public bashing – Unless you’ve practiced Matthew 18 principles, and even then it would be rare, don’t address your problems with others online. It’s not helpful and never promotes peace. (Romans 12:18, Hebrews 12:14)

No little jabs – We shouldn’t say things about others that may be misinterpreted as a stab against them. Guard your online tongue. (James 3). I see this especially as a passive aggressive tactic. We feel “safe” evoking insults or cuts to another person online that we would never say to their face.

Encouragement – Social media can be a great way to encourage others. We shouldn’t spam with massive amounts of posts. Few appreciate the person who reshares everything they see, but most everyone likes to read an encouraging word pointed especially to them. (Ephesians 4:29)

Do to others – As we’d have them do to us. We should always think before we post. Pause. Breathe. Think. Post. Ask yourself how you would be impacted by the post before you post it. (Luke 6:31)

Guard against pride – We have to be careful with self-promotion and bragging about ourselves online. Granted, this is coming from one who has built an online platform online and I frequently encourage other pastors to do the same. It’s one of the best ways currently to engage people for Kingdom building. But, this is a reminder for me too. We must check our motives, guard our hearts and never allow our egos to rob glory from what God wants to do through our online presence. (Proverbs 11:2, 13:10)

Not allow it to be a replacement for community – It’s easy to post “Happy birthday” or reply “Praying for you” without really doing so. We shouldn’t trade the functions of the Body for an online presence. (Acts 2:42-47, Hebrews 10:24)

Those are 7 that come to my mind. What would you add?

(Be general please and not specific in your comments, so as not to violate the purpose of the post.)

7 Tips to Read the Bible Through in One Year

Bible

Are you up for a challenge?

How about reading the Bible through this year?

I’ve heard so many people who would love to read the Bible through in a year, but never completed the task. It’s nearly impossible for the pastor to preach through all of it, so you are going to miss something unless you study on your own, but most believers haven’t read all the Bible. Some of the best nuggets of truth I discovered on my own, reading through the Bible in a year.

Here are 7 tips for reading the Bible through in a year:

Pray – Ask God to give you the motivation and strength to accomplish this goal. You can’t read the Bible like any other book. You need God’s Spirit to help you.

Pick an easy to read version – Currently I’m using the Holman Christian Standard. I previously wrote a post about versions. You can read that HERE.

Find a plan – You could simply read three chapters a day and do fine, but I have found having a printed checklist helps keep me disciplined. It may seem mechanical to some, but it will keep you on task. YouVersion has many plans to follow. There are more than you can imagine. The key is to find one. I like the balance of reading some Old and New Testament each day, but choose one that works for you. Here’s a LINK to other options. (Personally, I’ve chosen the ESV Study Bible plan available through YouVersion.)

Find a place - Choose the time and place that works best and that you will most likely stick with through the year. I find mornings work best for me. I travel frequently, so I can’t have just one place, but when I’m home, I have a certain chair. I’m moving this year to the dining room table, because I know I’ll be less distracted. For me, I need to turn off everything else and simply concentrate on the Bible reading.

Document your reading – I’ve found I get more out of my reading if I journal along the way what it’s saying to me. Even if I don’t understand it completely, writing the questions I have down helps me process them later and eventually something else I read seems to help answer my questions.

Discipline yourself – It will likely take you on average about 15 minutes per day to complete this. Once you’ve done it consistently for 30 days or so, you’ll be well on your way to having a habit formed.

Catch up when needed – If you miss a day, don’t sweat it…and don’t quit. Spend a little extra time and play catch up on what you missed. Of course, if you do this too many times you’ll eventually give up, so the key is discipline, but extend grace to yourself as you move through the year. Also, if you didn’t start on the first, start on the 2nd, or the 22nd, and go through the same time next year. You can begin today. There’s no legalism here…just encouragement! You can do this!

Keep the goal in front of you and follow through. This time next year you’ll be glad you accomplished your goal.

Who’s with me?

7 New Year Resolutions that could Change the World

2014

In the new year…let’s resolve.

Whether or not you do New Year resolutions, we could all stand to improve some things in our life.  And, if we do, I’m confident we could also improve the life of others.

In fact, with a whole lot of improving…it might become contagious…and we might just change the world.

7 new year resolutions that could change the world:

Let’s resolve to begin everyday with a prayer, a smile, and a humility check. It will require discipline…but how we begin a day almost always determines how we end one.

Let’s resolve to return evil with good. It won’t be easy. In fact, it will be hard. A grudge or sarcastic remark seems so much more fulfilling…in the moment. But, over time, it causes more harm than good…mostly to us…more than “them”.

Let’s resolve to never let the sun go down on anger. This is true in every relationship…but especially in marriage. Anger emotions grow overnight. They blossom into more intense anger emotions. We may not be able to resolve all disagreements, but we can drop the right to get even and resolve to be at peace as much as it depends on us. We will awake with level ground to build better, healthier relationships with others.

Let’s resolve not use Facebook as a forum to bash others. Or even as a forum period. It divides people rather than bringing them together. Let’s resolve for a kinder, gentler Facebook…rant-free even…where we stalk…I mean check in on old friends. Let’s act like people…real people…may actually see what we write. And care. (This includes Twitter too.)

Let’s resolve to exercise our patience muscle. Wow! I put this one in the middle so that maybe you (or my wife) would skip over it quickly. Just kidding. This is one I need…we all need. I’m not sure we can completely master it this year, but, with intentionality…and Christ’s strength…we can keep getting better.

Let’s resolve to remember it’s not about us. This one alone would change the world. What if we placed into our schema that other people matter…just as much as we do? Does it make a difference when you think someone values you? Of course it does.

Let’s resolve to listen more than we speak. It’s hard to value others when we are doing all the talking. (It’s also hard to hear from God.) It requires an act of humility when we remain silent at times we want to speak. But, it guards the tongue, protects relationships, and we might actually learn something.

Of course, ultimately the change we need is the Gospel, but who knows? Maybe if we change the way we treat others…including other believers…others might want to hear our Gospel.

What resolve do you propose? 

What Is Your Jesus New Year Resolution?

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One of my closest friends and I hosted a Christian radio talk show for 17 years. He was out of town one morning for Christmas break and I had to do the show alone. As I was preparing that morning, I read Mark 5.

The story of the woman subject to bleeding has stuck with me for several weeks and let to a New Year’s resolution I have been mindful of ever since. It became my “Jesus resolution”.

To save you time looking up the story, I have pasted it here:

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

(Mark 5:24-34 NIV)

The story prompted a thought that I shared that morning on the radio.

What am I going to do with Jesus in the New Year?

Here’s what came to me from this story.

Seek Jesus more passionately.

Once this woman heard of Jesus she began to track Him. She became a “Jesus groupie” of sorts. She knew Jesus was her only hope.

That’s the way I want to pursue Him in the New Year.

Cling to Jesus more tightly.

It did not matter to the woman that she was not supposed to be in the crowd. Her physical condition should have kept her away, but she was willing to risk everything to “touch His garment”. Cultural expectations couldn’t keep her from Jesus.

I want that kind of commitment to Christ in the New Year. Regardless of what is politically correct, just give me Jesus.

Claim Jesus more readily.

When Jesus turned to look for the person who had touched him, the woman came forward. She could have left. She had received what she wanted. She didn’t have to stick around for public attention, but she was willing to declare her faith publicly. In times of hardship or times of blessing, she followed Jesus to make Him known.

This next year, I don’t want to miss opportunities to tell others about the faith I have in Jesus Christ!

Experience Jesus more expectedly.

The woman was healed! Her faith was rewarded. She went from being an embarrassment to the crowd to the star of the day. Honoring Christ came with great rewards. He blesses those who place their complete faith in Him, to the point that we are still considering her experience with Christ today!

This year, I want to see Christ bigger than ever before. I expect to see Him magnified greatly, as I place my total trust and faith in Him and watch expectantly for His appearance in my life!

What are you going to do with Jesus in the New Year? What’s your Jesus resolution?

Christmas Poetry, by Ann Weems

Old scroll, pine branches and cones

I’m not an avid poetry reader, until there are seasons like Christmas.

Here are two of my favorite poems by Ann Weems…enjoy:

Yesterday’s Pain

In the godforsaken, obscene quicksand of life,
there is a deafening alleluia
rising from the souls of those who weep,
and of those who weep with those who weep.
If you watch, you will see
the hand of God
putting the stars back in their skies
one by one
Yesterday’s Pain
Some of us walk in Advent
tethered to our unresolved yesterdays
the pain still stabbing
the hurt still throbbing.
It’s not that we don’t know better;
it’s just that we can’t stand up anymore by ourselves.
On the way of Bethlehem, will you give us a hand?

Not celebrate?

Your burden is too great to bear?
Your loneliness is intensified during this Christmas season?
Your tears have no end?

Not celebrate?

You should lead the celebration!
You should run through the streets
to ring the bells and sing the loudest!
You should fling the tinsel on the tree,
and open your house to your neighbors, and call them in to dance!
For it is you above all others who know the joy of Advent.
It is unto you that a Savior is born this day,
One who comes to lift your burden from your shoulders,
One who comes to wipe the tears from your eyes.
You are not alone,
for He is born this day to you.

5 Suggestions for Finding More Christmas Joy

But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. Luke 2:10-11

As I read the Scriptures, the ability to have joy is a gift. We may not always be “happy” with our circumstances, but we can have joy. With the equivalence of hope, joy is a condition of our heart beyond the situations life may bring. It was “good news of great joy” the angels announced at the birth of Christ.

For many, however, living in the reality of joy at Christmas is harder than other times of the year. Memories of loved ones, financial struggles, health issues, and relationship woes often make for a very difficult celebration. How do we find the joy of Chrismas? (You may want to read my previous post 10 Ways to Overcome a Sense of Christmas Loss. This post come from another angle.

Here are five suggestions to greater joy at Christmas:

Lower expectations of others - I see this so many times. You thought others would respond as we respond. We expected them to react to our gift differently. We thought they’d remember us and they didn’t. We shouldn’t hold others to expectation we set for them. People, even the best of people, will disappoint us.

Increase your investment in others - if we aren’t careful, Christmas can become so commercialized, even within our own families, that we unintentionally become selfish towards others. Something supernatural happens when we share with others. We are to give and extend grace, as it was given to us…this includes granting forgiveness to those who disappointed us in the previous point.

Examine your life/Address known sin – You can’t experience complete joy with a holy God if you are living contrary to His desires for your life. Where does your life need a realignment with God’s purposes and plan for you? Chances are good you know. Christmas is a great time to make new commitments, and re-dedicate your life to Christ.

Change your perspective – Choosing to be greatly joyful is not based on circumstances, but comes by perspective. Where we stand always determines what we see. Stand in faith. Joy is a gift. It’s not based on what we have done or could do, but on His grace towards us. Choose joy. Choose again. And again. And again.

Set your eyes on the prize – If you’re struggling to find joy in life, set your eyes on Jesus; the author and perfecter of your faith. Set your sight on the glory to be revealed through your trials and circumstances. God will write the final chapter of your story. You can trust Him. Look again at the manger…Jesus, the One who existed before time began, set the stars in place, lowered Himself in the form of a baby and was placed on a feeding trough, so He may give us access (through the Cross and resurrection) to a Holy God. I can’t find joy in that! Can you?

What suggestions do you have for finding more joy at Christmas?

10 Ways to Overcome a Sense of Christmas Loss

Christmas tree gifts

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. As the song goes, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year”. But, for some people, Christmas can be a miserable time. Many have lost a loved one, suffered the end of a significant relationship, or even had a severe personal loss of income or health and Christmas is a just another reminder of what they no longer have. If we aren’t careful, the joy of Christmas is covered over with the emotions of loss, and rather than appreciating what we have or looking forward to what’s to come, we find ourselves in Christmas misery.

In a recent Christmas message, I shared some suggestions for dealing with the emotions of Christmas loss. I consulted with two professional Christian counselors in our church Jennifer Degler and Elizabeth Ellis. With their advice and some of my own, I’m offering some practical ways to overcome that sense of Christmas loss.

Ideally, Christ is the answer (and in the message I make that clear). Apart from Christ there is no Christmas and there is no peace. These are not designed to take the place of that truth, but rather to give some practical things to help you deal with loss at Christmas.

Here are 10 ways to overcome a sense of Christmas loss:

List your losses – Death, divorce, injury, finances…children moved out this year…whatever they are…write them down. I’ve personally found journaling to be helpful. Admit the pain…write them down.

Share them – Certainly with God, but with a close friend, or with people who have experienced your loss. Don’t be ashamed to see a professional counselor. Find support in a Bible study group or prayer group. We were designed for community, especially for times like this.

Grieve the loss – Every loss must be grieved. The intensity of the grief may be determined by the intensity of the loss. Some form of depression is a normal response to grief. We’ve almost created a culture where we think suffering is abnormal. Don’t be afraid to grieve…even publicly at times. It’s okay to be human.

Resist falling into despair – That’s where you live in a false reality that all hope is gone. It’s not. By the way, you don’t do that by ignoring them.

Take care of your physical body- Eat well, exercise, and get adequate rest. It’s more important during a sense of loss.

Be aware of negative thinking – Catch the negative thoughts and replace them with thoughts that are positive and true. See Philippians 4:8.

Do something for someone else – There are many opportunities during the holidays to help people. Helping other people reminds us that loss is universal and that other people are struggling with you.

Force yourself to participate in social activities – You won’t feel like it, but social support is critical in recovering from loss. No one benefits by becoming a recluse. In fact, you actually increase the likelihood you will become clinically depressed.

Avoid the comparison game – Don’t compare your losses to other people’s losses. Significant loss naturally makes us focus inward, but that never works. And, it’s dangerous.

Honor you losses with new traditions – Begin some new family rituals that will help you reflect on the good things you experienced with the person you have lost or will help you remember happier days to come.

I shared one more suggestion, one I believe is the most powerful of all, in the Christmas message. It’s this: We have to learn to worship in tears. Obviously, Christ is the peace of Christmas, and He can fill your brokenness. You can trust Him. This Christmas, let the Christ of Christmas fill the void and loss you have in your heart and life.

You can find all my messages on my Vimeo page at vimeo.com/ronedmondson. This message is titled Obstacles to Christmas Joy: Loss.