Do you like getting family pictures taken? I don’t. Facebook is a wonderful place to post family pictures. We can keep people in the loop without having time-consuming personal conversations with everyone about everything. We get to see a snapshot of their family and then scroll down to the next newsfeed. It’s a great way to feel connected without actually being connected. This might sound shallow, but it’s true, so you can admit it.
Honestly, I like to see all the family pictures that people post. Pictures of families jumping into a pile of leaves or standing hand in hand, walking down a scenic path, make me smile. Some families even wear matching shirts and jeans. In the Braland family picture, we wore matching white shirts and jeans while posing in front of a variety of summer scenery. I even have one pic on my Harley with my sweet bride sitting behind me.
The truth is that I hate picture day. I always have. When I was a kid I hated dressing up, combing my hair, and traveling to the Sears Portrait studio to pose with my annoying sister (she felt the same way about me). By the time we left my mother was usually in tears and my dad was ready to smack me.
Our family photographer is a good friend of ours and unfortunately our family pictures were about as pleasant as my parents’ annual experience. Kids fighting, dad irritated, mom wishing everyone would just get along for ten minutes. Even my dog Hunter insisted on walking in the mud then dropping his ball on our clean clothes. For every good picture there were a dozen more where someone was having a meltdown or complaining about having to wear white shirts. But you would never know it if you only looked at the pictures.
It’s a good thing God doesn’t scroll through our family pictures to get a snapshot of what is happening in our life. If he did, all of us look like we are living the dream. Rather, God looks straight at our heart. When I’m depressed, he knows it. When I’m prideful, he knows it. God doesn’t care about my glossy photos with the perfect filter; he cares about the condition of my heart. That is what is so cool about God. Regardless of what I have done or who I am trying to fool or pretend to be, he loves me just as I am. This is undeserved grace at its best.
If God has a fridge, your picture would be on it. Not some polished family photo, just a picture of you in your everyday attire. If God is on Facebook, you are his friend. He keeps up with you and he has the time to care. When I see my family picture, I know the real story and I still love my kids in spite of how they act on picture day. When Kathi sees our picture, she loves me in spite of how I act on picture day. When God sees me, he loves me regardless of how I may have been acting lately. Knowing this helps me to authentically communicate with God because I don’t have to project myself in a phony way. Since he loves me as I am for who I am, I never have to fear that he might discover my life isn’t really as pretty as my pictures.
Don't Be a Pharisee
In the ancient world, Pharisees were powerful religious and political leaders. If you were to walk through any ancient city where Jews resided, you would have seen Pharisees, especially in Jerusalem because of the temple. They would have been found conversing with one another on the street corners and at popular social gathering places in every city. They were easily identified by their dress and daily habits. Their white robes, enlarged embroidered border, a pointed turban, and mantle (the outer garment worn as a covering and also used at night as a blanket) clearly distinguished them.
Pharisees were the most affluent, most zealous, and most closely connected religious fraternity on the planet. A Pharisee’s devotion would never have been questioned. If you had followed one, it would have been a rather long, interrupted trip. After a few steps, a Pharisee would stop and recite a portion of his prescribed prayers, take a few more steps and recite the rest. In addition to his prescribed prayers he would stop for benedictions, reciting one when entering a village and another upon exiting. He would do the same when passing through a fortress, upon encountering any danger, meeting anything new, strange, beautiful, or unexpected. The longer he prayed, the better. And the more often he prayed, the more merit he gained. A pious Pharisee considered 100 benedictions a day adequate. Even his posture showed his devotion to God. A Pharisee would draw his feet together and bend low in reverence while praying.
At first the Pharisees were devoted to God and emphasized piety. But over time they developed their own distinct habits and traditions. In their devotion they were very careful to avoid breaking God’s commandments; so careful that they added laws in an attempt to keep them from breaking God’s commandments (think of it like putting a fence around your entire house). They added 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions to ensure they did not come close to breaking the original ten. As time went on these additional commandments and rules were written into their tradition and taught as the best way to honor God. Gradually, there was a shift away from the spirit of God’s law to the letter of the Pharisees’ law resulting in legalism. Godliness was now measured with external compliance to their laws rather than internal heart compliance with God’s laws.
This bugged Jesus. He told them they were so focused on the letter of the law, they missed the point. They measured faith by compliance to their man-made rules and prohibitions while Jesus was concerned about the heart. The Pharisees looked good on the outside, but their hearts were not in the right place.
There are times when my heart is not in the right place either; like judging someone based on their language rather than listening to their story, or wanting to keep three dollars for coffee rather than giving it to the beggar on the street. I think we all are guilty of this. The point is that we need to be concerned about keeping our heart in the right place more than keeping up some religious facade. Don’t be a Pharisee. Don’t focus on what you are doing more than who you are becoming. Experience God in worship, through prayer, silence, reflection, scripture reading and the application of what you learn. Be authentic with others and strong enough to admit you are still a work in progress. This is the type of person that non-Christians need to see and that God desires us to be.
The Land Between
Have you ever found yourself to be in the land between? The land between exists somewhere after what was and before what is to come and you have been there, are there, or will be there in the near future.
Josh was a happy go lucky 3 and a half year old when he started getting bruises on his body. We took him to the doctor and they said he probably had a virus. The doctor said that if his bruising didn’t go away in a week that we should bring him back in. Two days later the small bruises on his legs grew into huge black spots so we took him back to the doctor who took a blood test and determined that something was abnormal about his blood. I could tell by the look in her eye that something was wrong, very wrong. That was the moment I stepped into the land between.
The next morning Children’s called and admitted him. Six hours later the doctors held a meeting with us and said that Josh had leukemia and 95% of his blood was cancerous. Without immediate treatment, he would not survive. Kathi and I were devastated and confused. One day we were a happy family, the next we were fighting for our son’s life. We spent the next 3 years in the land between trying to raise our young girls, get Josh to his treatments on time, and pastor a young growing church.
The land between is a place where your faith will either grow deeper and stronger or wither and die. The land between might feel barren, but it’s not. There are three types of crops that can grow in this land.
The first crop is complaints. We cry out: “I’m sick of this. I’m sick of living from paycheck to paycheck. I’m sick of going to bed at night wondering if my teenager will come home. I’m tired of waiting to find out if the cancer is in remission.” Complaints grow in the absence of direction or purpose. The land between is tough even for the most spiritual people.
The second crop is fear. Fear grows in the absence of security. We wonder: “Will I be able to get another job? Will I ever find someone to love me for who I am? Will I ever have enough money to retire? Will I ever have kids?” When fear grows it chokes out faith and impacts everything. Even biblical heroes like Elijah and Jesus’ own disciples had moments of fear.
The third crop that can grow in the land between is faith. About a week after josh got sick with leukemia I remember feeling like I was faced with a decision. Every part of me wanted to quit and stop talking to people about how I was feeling and stop talking to God because I was angry and hurt and worried. One person I met with told me my son was sick because I didn’t pray for him enough. Another said that if I really had faith I would just pray for him and God would heal him. Their statements caused me more pain and confusion than anything else. So in that period of time I decided to lean into Jesus with everything that I had… and I did. I look back on that terrible time in the land between and what sticks out to me more than anything else is just how much I grew in my faith.
When you are in the land between, you have to trust God because God is all you have. You are ready to listen to God and are more than willing to follow Him wherever he leads you. It can be an incredible place to grow closer to Christ. It will take faith and faith is trust. Trust is built over time and God has proven himself trustworthy again and again.
If you want your faith to grow in the land between, you must plant the promises of God in your heart. Here are six promises that you should plant in your life right now to help your faith grow.
1. Promise of salvation and eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. Stop doubting if you are saved or not. If you have asked Jesus to be the LORD of your life, confessed your sins, and believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, you are saved, period. You don’t have to wake up every day wondering if God saved.
2. Promise of forgiveness. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven’ ” Luke 5:20. God said it, I believe it, that’s all there is to it.
3. Promise of freedom from addiction. Jesus says: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36. You don’t have to let an addiction run your life into the ground. You don’t have to hide it or be embarrassed about it, and you can gain victory over it. Jesus will help you overcome your addiction.
4. Promise of comfort. Paul writes: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. God promises to be with us and He is. It’s our job to trust Him and let him guide and comfort us. God can bring supernatural comfort if you ask Him to. God will hold you up when everything else is pushing you down.
5. Promise of peace.
Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27.
6. Promise to provide. Paul writes: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:19. God promises to provide for you and He will. God loves to provide so ask him to meet all of your needs right now.
If you are in the land between, plant the promises of God in your life and watch what God does. Keep trusting, keep believing, keep your eyes focused upward, and keep listening for God to lead you and guide you. He will. He promises to. In the land between God always provides exactly what you need, exactly when you need it. The cross is our sign that God will fulfill all of these promises in your life if you trust Him.
Ever wonder what the top ten New Years resolutions are? I did, so I Googled it. Here is last years top ten list. See if any of your resolutions made the list.
1. Lose Weight
2. Getting Organized
3. Spend Less, Save More
4. Enjoy Life to the Fullest
5. Staying Fit and Healthy
6. Learn Something Exciting
7. Quit Smoking
8. Help Others in Their Dreams
9. Fall in Love
10. Spend More Time with Family
I think that every one of these resolutions are noble and I wish that everyone who made a resolution achieved it, but did they? Well, it turns out that most people who have really good intentions don’t actually reach their goals. Check out these stats:
45% of Americans make New Year's resolutions
17% of Americans infrequently make New Year's resolutions
38% absolutely never make New Year's resolutions
Of the people who do make New Year’s resolutions, 49% have infrequent success. In other words, if they set five goals they might hit two. Twenty-four percent set goals and never achieve them. Last resorts rarely become lasting results. But there is good news! Apparently 8% of the people who make New Year’s resolutions actually achieve them. What blows me away though is that people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don't explicitly make resolutions. Did you catch that? People who make specific and clear resolutions are TEN TIMES more likely to attain their goals. So what does this mean to you? It means that if you make a resolution, it gives you a goal and goals are good. Historically I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but this year after learning that people who make New Year’s resolutions are ten times more likely to achieve them, I’m going to set five right now and share them with you. Here are my top five personal goals for 2017.
1. To spend a portion of each day worshipping God for who He is.
2. To collect more great memories and fewer material things.
3. To spend quality time with each family member every week in some form or another.
4. To continue exercising several times a week.
5. To love people like Jesus in every situation both personally and professionally.
I challenge you to make at least one New Year’s resolutions this year. If you do, you are ten times more likely to achieve it than if you don’t make any resolution at all. So take a deep breath, get out your notepad, and write down at least one resolution. Then share it with a friend or family member so you are accountable for it. This year will be the year you accomplish what you set out to do. I’m rooting for you!
(resources: http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/, accessed 30 December 2016)