You And Your Attitude

In this age of social media, there is no shortage of access to preaching and teaching. Many well-known pastors and even lesser-known pastors can get their message out through the internet.  When I was growing up, the number of well-known pastors was somewhat more limited. Among them was Chuck Swindoll from California. He had a popular radio broadcast and was a prolific writer. Many of his stories and teachings have stayed with me over the years and made an impact. He had a great ability to take the Biblical text and apply it to daily living. Here’s a quote from Swindoll on the importance of attitude: “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, or a home. The remarkable thing is that we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. Nor can we change the fact that people act in a certain way. We also cannot change the inevitable. The only thing that we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you – we are in charge of our attitudes.” (Chuck Swindoll, Improving Your Serve, 1981) That’s a good reminder during the middle of our week. Unexpected events and problems can come at us from all directions. We can get overwhelmed by all the demands placed on us. In the midst of that, we can choose how to handle it.  The writer of Proverbs said, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22) Don’t let the daily grind crush you this week. Ask the Lord to help you with a joyful heart.

Getting Out Of The Desert

Driving between the cities of Baku and Ganji in Azerbaijan requires crossing a desert. We managed the trip once; it was an incredibly hot day. I was happy we didn’t have any car trouble out in the middle of nowhere. Visiting a desert is kind of fun. It’s such a different landscape from the rocks and woods that I grew up in. But I wouldn’t want to live in a desert – it’s too barren, too empty and too dry. We often use the image of a desert to describe those periods of spiritual drought in our lives. Those times when we feel that we are stumbling around without direction and drying up from thirst. Our first reaction, our impulse really, is just to find a way out of that place; we simply want the suffering to end. Israel spent 40 years wandering around in the wilderness, the desert of Sinai. I can’t image the hardships and discomfort that must have brought. The only way out was to let God guide them. And the only way out of our desert times is to let God guide us.  When we find ourselves in the wilderness, our priority shouldn’t be to get out but rather to draw near to God. If we can draw closer to God then he will lead us out. In Numbers 9 God gave Israel a sign “the cloud covered it (the tabernacle) by day and the appearance of fire by night” (9:16). Whenever the cloud moved, the people packed up and followed. They were following the presence of God. Often in our desert experiences, we long to be rescued and delivered. Our cry is simply, “Get me out of here”. God had a plan and purpose for taking Israel through the desert. Ultimately our Christian life is about following God, our journey with him, through the deserts and the forests. Israel did not wander in the wilderness alone; God was there. The Bible says there is no place where God cannot be found. I think that includes our desert times. You are not lost; God knows exactly where you are. Look for his presence and wait for him to guide you out.

Fast or Feast?

In an unusual occurrence, today is both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. So what should you do? Start fasting or go out and celebrate? Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of 40 days known as Lent. In more traditional churches the branches from last year’s Palm Sunday service are burned and their ashes applied to the forehead of worshippers. Lent is a time for prayer, reflection, fasting and giving to the poor. The season points back to Jesus’ experience in the wilderness. It calls people to repent of their sins and set themselves apart to God. Valentine’s Day, on the other hand, is associated more with fun and celebration. The origins and history of this saint are unclear and somewhat mysterious. The most popular assumption has to do with a priest who helped young soldiers in the Roman army find a wife. Whatever the true story about Valentine is, his day is now associated with romance and, in some places, a wider sense of friendship. It’s a celebration involving candies, chocolates and fancy dinners. These two days aren’t really at odds with each other. They each represent elements of our lives that we need. One focuses more on our relationship and devotion to God while the other highlights our loved ones. Today helps to focus our thoughts on both. Remember Jesus’ words when asked about the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) So as you move through today, remember your creator and those he has given you to love. Your whole day will be richer for it.

The Most Important Question

I was once asked to visit a lady in her early forties who was dying of cancer. She was the neighbour to one of our church members. She had no church connection but was interested in having me do her funeral as she only had weeks to live. I knew her Christian neighbour had shared Jesus with her over the years. During our first visit together, I asked how she was preparing for death. She shared her version of heaven and what she believed it would be like. During our conversation, I asked what she thought about Jesus.  “Please don’t talk to me about Jesus,” she said. “I believe in God or something like him but Jesus, I don’t think I can believe in him. I have my own beliefs. I have been a good person and I plan to be in heaven.”  During her last few weeks, she remained closed to hearing anything about Jesus. It was a hard funeral to lead. Luke tells us that one day Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Luke 9:18) There were a variety of answers like John the Baptist or Elijah. Then Jesus asked them a more pointed question, “But who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20) That’s the question the dying lady refused to answer. Ignoring the question doesn’t make it irrelevant or less important. It is the key question every one of us must answer. Who do we think Jesus really is? What do we believe about him? Eternity depends on our answer and how we act on that. Some people refuse to consider Jesus. Others decide he was only a teacher or a good person and appreciate his wisdom but don’t become followers. Many wrestle with the gospel stories and New Testament teaching and decide that Jesus is the “Christ of God,” the saviour of humanity. If we believe that, then we must put our faith in him for our life here and the life to come. Some individuals have concluded that Christianity is about a lifestyle, a series of moral choices and behaviours that make someone acceptable before God. If they live a good enough life, they will go to heaven. But the real question, the first question, is about Jesus. Who do you believe him to be? If we believe he is the saviour, God in the flesh, and he came to save us from our sins, then we need to accept this truth. This is what makes us acceptable in God’s sight. No amount of good works or moral living will get us into heaven. Instead, as a result of being accepted and loved by God, we choose to live a life that is pleasing to him. Don’t find yourself on your deathbed wondering if you lived a ‘good enough’ life. Jesus did that for us. The important consideration will be whether or not you answered one question correctly and then responded to it. Who do you say Jesus is?