I have a new spiritual practice that I hope will help me build spiritual muscle this winter. No matter how bad the weather is, I will not complain, but instead find a way to be thankful.
Recently during my personal devotions I read, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1Th 5:16ff NIV). So, I am beginning a three-month “exercise program” where I will refrain from grumbling and gripping about the winter weather. Because I know this is going to be a challenge, I announced my intentions on Facebook so that I would have public accountability. I not only gave my “friends” the right to point out my failings, I also gave them permission to tempt me into breaking my promise. Every day, in spite of the circumstances that the weather creates, I will try to be thankful and not complain.
A spiritual discipline or exercise is a practice that we can use to build godly characteristics. I have found that when I want to overcome something specific in my life that is not God-honoring, I create a practice that makes me tackle whatever isn’t right in my life. I just concluded a six-month practice to develop patience. What did I do? I intentionally put myself in situations that tested my patience. I found the longest checkout line in the store. I went to the gas pump where the previous driver had gone inside to pay for his gas or to buy Slim Jims. I refused to blow my car horn at the person in front of me who was not going on the green light because they were texting or applying makeup. At the very end of the six months, I used three and a half hours stopped on a closed interstate to work on remaining patient.
Like physical muscle, spiritual muscle isn’t formed without a long-term exercise program. Focusing for six months on building patience was the right amount of time for me. Spending the next three months of winter building thankfulness is the duration set by the seasons of the year. Like physical muscle, spiritual muscle takes an extended time of concentration and attention to grow.
What characteristic or attribute do you desire to acquire? Create a series of intentional actions that will build up that specific characteristic in you.
Everyone has faith or confidence in something for purpose and meaning of life. Everyone has something that they are reaching for, that they are pursuing, that they feel will bring them happiness and satisfaction.
Let’s try a little activity. List what you think are the things people believe will bring them happiness. How would people fill in the following blank? If I only had ____________, I would be happy. If I only had ____________, my life would be fulfilled. How do you think people would answer that question?
Now that you have come up with your answers, allow me to share how I feel people would answer that question. Here are the items that I have noticed people believe will bring them happiness and fulfillment of life.
Money. Most of you probably thought of money.It seems to be the number one answer of what people pursue when seeking happiness and satisfaction in life.However, do you know the problem with money?No matter how much you have, if you believe money will give you meaning and purpose of life, you will never have enough and will always want a little more.
Possessions. Maybe you didn’t use that exact word, but you might have thought of the things people desire. “If I could only drive that kind of car I would be happy.” Or, “If I could live in that neighborhood, wear those clothes, have that toy, etc.” Sometimes, we start to believe our possessions will bring happiness.
Friends. Maybe we think that if we have a lot of friends we will be happy. If I could just be popular, then they will like me. If I could hang out with that group of people, I will be cool.
Marriage. Have you ever caught yourself wishing you could have a spouse like someone else has? Many wish they could be married. They feel that life is not complete until they get married. Then, there is the opposite. Some wish they could reverse their marriage. They feel that if they could just get rid of their spouse, get a divorce, then life will get good once again.
Kids. In the same way, often people will believe that having children will make them happy. Once again, there is the opposite. Some believe that if they could just get rid of some of their kids, they could finally have some relief.
(By the way, have you noticed that most of these items are not necessarily bad things? However, they never really bring lasting joy and fulfillment. Let’s look at a few others.)
Politics. Some people believe the answer to life is a political party or a person. Only if a certain party could be in control, life would be good again.
Life. Some believe if they saturate their lives in a cause, a noble task, a higher calling, then life will be worth the living. They will do whatever it takes to save the whales or save the planet earth.
Death. Suicide. Some believe that if they killed themselves, then people would love them.They believe that if they killed themselves, then all their problems would go away.However, have you ever heard that suicide and a permanent solution to a temporary problem?
Everyone in this whole world has faith in something that they believe will bring them happiness and fulfillment. Everyone in this whole world has something that they are pursuing to bring them satisfaction. However, these eight items will not bring lasting joy or happiness. There is only one true answer; Jesus Christ.
Christ calls for us to pursue Him. All other pursuits will only disappoint us, Christ is the only answer to life. Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me… I am the way, the truth and the life.” John 14:1,6.
What will you pursue this year? What do you believe will bring happiness and satisfaction? Jesus is the ultimate answer to that question.
About The Author:
Jon Vance started as our Small Groups Minister in 2011 and today he also serves as the Outreach Minister, focusing on evangelism and missions. Jon and his wife, Cheryl, bring over 30 years of ministry experience. They have two married children and four grandchildren.
I have a little twist on the reason for this season. It’s Christmas and I love it! But why do we celebrate it with so much joy and celebration? Most Christians, who want to remind everyone that it’s not about all the hustle and bustle, will tell us that the reason for the season is Jesus. And certainly he is the centerpiece of this holiday. This is after all about God coming to earth and being born as a baby…“He will be called Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’. And you are to give him the name Jesus.”
But whereas he’s the center-piece of the season, I think there’s another “reason” for the season. Several years ago a song came out, written by David Meece that expresses my take on the reason for the season. The lyrics go like this:
Verse 1: As little children we would dream of Christmas morn
Of all the gifts and toys we knew we'd find
But we never realized a baby born one blessed night
Gave us the greatest gift of our lives
Chorus: We were the reason that He gave us His life
We were the reason that He suffered and died
To a world that was lost, He gave all He could give
To show us the reason to live
Verse 2: As the years went by we learned more about gifts
The giving of ourselves and what that means
On a dark and cloudy day, a man hung crying in the rain because of love, because of love
To show us the reason to live.
From my vantage point, we are the reason for the season. You and me! God loved us so much that he had to figure out a way for us to live with him forever. One of our favorite statements of Jesus is, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son…” For God so loved us! We were the reason. We were the reason that God stepped down from his ivory palace into this messed up world. We were the reason that he was willing to be born in a barn with his first breath being saturated with the smell of manure. We were the reason that he put up with so much, even death on a cross. We were the reason! And that’s why we celebrate. During this Christmas season, celebrate like crazy. The God of the universe did all of this because of his love for you. He wouldn’t want you to miss that. You are the reason. Merry Christmas!
About The Author:
is lucky to be married to Sarah, and they have three kids, three
in-luvs, and three grandchildren: Marcus, Abigayle, and Judah. Mark loves hanging
out with his wife, loving on his grandkids, communicating the words of
the Bible, doing ministry with Hazel Dell's great staff, exploring the
Indiana forest, driving his restored '73 Vette, and riding his classic
motorcycle. He decries trying to keep up with his sons athletically, but
continues to make the feeble attempt anyway.
We are so thankful that Rick Freed allowed us to share his story with the church. Thank you Rick for using your story to give others hope and comfort right where they are at!
I grew up in a Christian home, in what I call “Old School” Christianity – we didn’t talk much about God or read the Bible in the home; that was the church’s job. And I don’t recall my church emphasizing a personal relationship with Jesus. Sermons were more of the ‘feel good’ type that seemingly had no application to my life. My Dad was a plant manager and in late September, he had been working a lot preparing to open a new plant in Puerto Rico. After a couple weeks of feeling fatigued, he saw a doctor who told him to go home and tell his family he was admitting him to the hospital. He had leukemia.
When word spread throughout the church that my Dad had cancer, some of the adults told me that Jesus said in the Bible that if you ask for anything in his name, it would be given to you. I looked it up and there it was in John 14:14. I began praying for my Dad to get better and come home. After a couple weeks, his condition wasn’t any better. I was beginning to doubt what I had been told and what I had read. So I started to play ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ with God. I bargained for everything I could think of, including changing places with my Dad. All I heard from God was silence. Where was he in our time of need? Why were we being punished?
My Dad’s condition continued to decline, and one day while my mom was sitting with him, he recited from memory Psalm 23:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
A few days later, he slipped into a coma and six weeks after entering the hospital, he died. For the first time in my life, I was in the valley. At the funeral, those who had tried to comfort me by quoting Scripture patted me on the shoulder and said, “Really sorry about your Dad.” I remember thinking, “That’s all you have to say? But you told me the Bible says ….” My doubts about the Bible and trusting those who believe in it would be cemented for a very long time.
I spent a lot of time that winter being alone, usually walking the railroad tracks that ran behind our housing addition. I should have talked to someone about my feelings, but Mom was doing the best she could to cope with suddenly being mother and father to me, my brother and sister and I couldn’t burden her with one more problem. I definitely didn’t feel I could trust those in the church...they had burned that bridge.
One day in March, I was walking on the tracks when I saw a train coming. I decided I wasn’t going to move off the tracks. I was back in the valley. I was fifteen years old and didn’t care if I lived or died. I remember thinking it would only hurt for a second. At the very last moment, I did step off the tracks but remember feeling very indifferent about it.
For the next twenty years, I did my own thing, never attending church unless I was home visiting Mom, but I was only putting in pew time. My mind was closed to anything the pastor had to say. When I was 30, I got married and two years later had a daughter. One morning when my daughter was four years old, I was getting ready for work and my wife told me she wanted a divorce. I was in the valley once again and felt things couldn’t get any worse. But I was wrong. The next day, my boss told me I didn’t have a job.
After leaving my company, I went to work in a retail bakery the owner was considering selling to me. To learn the business, I was working 70-80 hour weeks and seeing my daughter very little. My ex-wife had remarried and the three of them had become a perfect family and I had nothing. I quickly came to hate the both of them: my ex-wife for leaving me and taking away my daughter, and her husband because he was now more my daughter’s father than me. I thought if anyone had earned the right to hate, I had more than paid the price.
The stresses of life and my job were taking their toll on me. In five months, I lost 30 pounds and I became physically ill every morning driving to the bakery. My mind kept taking me back to that day on the railroad tracks and I knew I couldn’t allow myself to go there. I was ready to check myself into a stress center. My life seemed to be one endless and hopeless valley.
Because of the hours I was working, the only way to find another job was to quit. So I was unemployed, broke and alone. I don’t remember exactly when I committed my life to God but I do remember being on my knees in my apartment and telling God I couldn’t do this alone anymore. I wish I could say I became an on-fire Christian that night, but that’s not the way it happened for me. I didn’t realize it then, but I was still carrying all my baggage around with me. My ex-wife remarried and they both eventually accepted Christ as their Savior as well. I met my current wife, Diane, and we got married the next year. Because of her strong faith, and at her suggestion, we started attending church on a regular basis and I even took some classes at a Bible college. I found that as I grew closer to God my hatred was beginning to fade, although I’ll confess...I fought that for a while.
It took another ten years after accepting Christ as my Savior before I became 100% convinced that it was the hand of God that moved me off the railroad tracks that day. That was God’s grace for an undeserving soul. Over time, my heart continued to soften towards my ex-wife and her husband. Eventually, whenever we had blended family gatherings for one of my daughter’s school functions or birthdays, after finding my daughter, the first person I looked for was her step-dad–the guy I had resented for so long. I came to realize that despite the history of our relationship, they were my brother and sister in Christ. God gave me grace again and showed me that forgiveness was possible. Today, I have a very good relationship with both of them.
I try to frequently remind myself that I’m still very much a work in process. I’m active in the church serving as a Deacon and being in a small group and part of the mowing crew. Diane and I sponsor three children in Uganda through Compassion International and have been blessed to travel there the past three years to see them. In June, we will be returning to see them and I’ll be giving three messages in the Kigungu Deliverance Church on two Sundays and a Wednesday evening. There’s no way that kid on the tracks could ever have imagined he would be presenting the Gospel one day in Africa or be active in church, but God had a plan.
You have a story too and although it may be different than mine, it’s no less important to God. When you’re at your lowest, it’s all too easy to tell yourself that your situation is the best it will ever be, but you can’t let situations and circumstances define your life. That’s what Satan wants you to think. He wants to rob you of the hope that is waiting for you in Jesus Christ.
I believe everyone goes through the valley at some point in their life. When you’re in the valley, remember, God loves you, He is with you and will never leave you and He has a plan for your life.