Intentionality Redux

You know that feeling when you write a very quick email, hit “send” and immediately regret it?  Yeah… I’m feeling that right now.

I rushed through my last post.  I started out right, with the man at the coffee shop pointing out the importance of intentionality in following Jesus.

But then I got all dry.

And impersonal.

Not a very good examp!e of intentionality for a piece about intentionality.

Maybe if I repeat the word “intentionality” enough in this follow up post, the message about intentionality would come through clearer.

Maybe I should just get a bit personal here.

When I’m not being intentional in my wa ok with God, I know it.  I feel it.  I feel overwhelmed by life.  I feel empty.  My mind is certainly not renewed.  I feel a great burden – the burden of not following Christ as I should.

You see, following the Lord brings us freedom.  It’s like any other relationship in that, if you do nothing to nurture it, it will atrophy.

Wither.

Shrivel.

And while God will never let go of His children, it sure is a better life when we’re intentional about our relationship with God.

Which means being intentional about seeking Him first.

Which means being intentional about time in prayer and the Word.

Which means being intentional about remembering t hat God works all things to the good of His children.

Which means being intentional about remembering I am God’s child.

Which means being intentional about loving others.

Which means being intentional about letting go of the junk that keeps me from God.

Being intentional means keeping your focus on what’s important.  Think about Peter’s instruction about anxiety: cast all your cares on God because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).  Casting is an intentional act.

You see your target.

You aim at said target.

You launch.

God takes care of our problems.  But we have to be intentional about casting our worries on Him, choosing to believe in – trust – God over our own perceptions.

That’s what living intentionally in God is: choosing to follow Him even when it makes you uncomfortable.  Even when it makes no sense. Even when it feels too hard.

In Christ, living intentionally = loving intentionally.

Loving God.

Loving others.

Seeking God first requires intentionality.  It means following Him, not our own selfish desires. Even when it makes no earthly sense.

Intentionality – seeking God’s kingdom first – reminds me God is God and I am not.  In fact, it shows me the depth of my need for the Lord in all things, at all times.  It makes me grateful for His forgiveness, which I do not deserve and cannot ezrn.  It makes me grateful for His love, which I could never ever repay.

Intentionality.  There.  I had to say it one more time.

Intentionality

cross

19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. – Matthew 4:19-20 [ESV]

A dear friend made a cross necklace for me.  I wear it not only because it is a gift from a brother in Christ, but because it is a great conversation starter, and a much needed reminder for me.

As I was doctoring my overpriced cold press decaf with cream and sweetener this morning, a gentleman approached me.  “I like your cross”, he said.

Conversation open.  “I find it’s a great reminder”, I said.  To which he replied, “You have to be intentional in your walk.  If you’re not intentional, He leaves.”

The Bible is full of quiet little reminders of our need to be intentional about following Jesus.  “Follow Me” we are told.  “Listen to Me.  Heed My Word.  Love God first and love other as yourself.”

We each have a roll to play, and it is simply this: be intentional.  Make a point of practicing putting God first.  Jesus told us to seek first  the kingdom of God – His will, His ways, His leading – and all we need, all the stuff we needlessly worry about, will be taken care of.

In other words, be intentional in your walk.  Unfortunately our default is sin.  That is part and parcel of the fall.  And, if we stand and follow Jesus, we will certainly trip and fall.

Following Christ is simple.  But isn’t necessarily easy.  Still, nothing of any value is easily obtained.  So be intentional.  Seek the Lord for, foremost and above all else.  Pray. Stay in His Word.  Love others.  Love God.  Share your faith.  Realize your freedom comes from His sacrifice  – it is a gift!

Be thankful.

Be faithful.

Be intentional.

A Quick Thought for the Weekend

​Growing in God and knowing Him better is a great daily pursuit.  

However, don’t ever think anyone can know God entirely.  Never think we can figure Him out strictly through human logic.  

We each come to a point where we have to take Jesus on faith, and trust in The Lord and His Word – despite what we think and feel.  To do otherwise – to think He is anything less that Who He claims to be – is to proclaim ourselves above God.  

And that’s never good.  

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

    so are my ways higher than your ways

    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

    and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

    it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.n

– Isaiah 55:8-11 (ESV)

Going Sideways – for Chris Cahalan

Yab_BBCr_atSlpGlch_072012_p6U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Art Bookstrom

Today’s piece is dedicated to my friend Chris Cahalan, who recently won his three year battle against pancreatic cancer.  While the outcome may look like a loss to most folks, those of us who knew him understand this is a major victory for him.  We know where our brother in Christ is right now, and Who he is with.  I am blessed to say I knew the man, and saw his tenacity – both in fight and faith.  He endeavored to be a man after God’s own heart.  And, by grace, I believe he was.  Chris will be – indeed, already is – greatly missed.

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” – Matthew 7:24-27 [ESV]

I heard this yesterday at the funeral for my friend Chris, and it has burrowed into my mind.  The eulogizer said Chris told him the trick to studying the Bible is to go sideways.  In other words, when you’re building a firm foundation through studying God’s word, there will be times you’ll hit a boulder – a blockage keeping you from going deeper in your study.  When that happens, don’t stop there.  Don’t build on shallow ground.

Go sideways.

Dig around the blockage.

Then continue to dig deeper.

The idea of going sideways got me thinking.  This is such a wonderful metaphor for our lives in Christ.

Think about it.  We’re seeking the Lord.  We’re doing our best to follow Him.  We’re living life as best we can.  Perfectly?  No.  Not on this side of Heaven.

As we dig deeper, we hit a big rock.

Clank!

Not the solid rock on which we can build a sound foundation, but an obstruction.  Maybe it’s a personal tragedy, or job loss, or a health problem, or the fruit of our own foolishness.

How do we get around and through this problem in life?

GO SIDEWAYS

Jennie and I really like to watch Fixer Upper.  Yet we’re always astounded at the fact that, in pretty much every episode, Chip and Joanna are taken aback when they pull up a board and discover rotting pipes.  Or way-out-of-code firetrap electrical wiring.  Or termite-riddled shiplap.  (And, be honest: how many amongst us had heard of shiplap before Mr. and Mrs. Gaines arrived on HGTV?)

Our lives can take some wild turns.  Pull up a floorboard and, voilà, mold.  Termites. Or, look under the house and find unstable rock, a threat to our very foundation.

First, don’t panic. What we need to do is assess the size of the problem.  If we’re digging and hit a boulder, we need to go sideways to determine how big this rock really is.

Often problems appear far larger than they really are.  Because appearances can be deceiving, we need to have a realistic perception  of what we’re facing.  Not a negative, fearful, worrying view.  Just an honest assessment of what we’re looking at.

GO FOR THE BACKHOE?

I hate problems.  And, I will admit, I am prone to stewing, then jumping in unprepared to start “fixing”.

Excavation is not on my resume.  I cannot operate a backhoe.  Still, my first thought would be, “I need to rent a backhoe and get that rock outta here.”

If I start digging with a backhoe, I’m going to make a mess of things.  I’ll probably break the bucket in two without ever removing the rock.  Or forget to put out the stabilizer legs and end up pulling me and the digger back over tea kettle into the hole.

Clearly I need help.  I need to swallow my ego and ask someone who can operate a backhoe to help me.

However, some boulders are so big – problems so tough – no backhoe can dig out for us.

GO TO THE LORD

Take a moment and think about God.  He is not bound by flesh.  He is not tethered to time.  He is above all things for He created all things.  Every star, every planet, every universe.  Every blade of grass, every animal, every human.  Right down to the most infinitesimal quark, God designed, created, set in motion and continues to sustain all.

In heaven there is no sun, for God is the light.

On earth, there is no mountain too big, for God can move anything at will.

Ponder the Lord’s unlimited power and wisdom and love.

Selah.

Now compare His greatness to your boulder.  Do you think God can’t handle your situation?  Do you think He can’t save you?  Think again.

God will provide your clear sideways view – an honest assessment measured by His own plumb.

And, I can hear some of you saying (and you know who you are), “God doesn’t always remove the boulder.  What do we do then?”

We do what Paul did.  When the apostle was agonizing over the thorn in his side, he sought the Lord:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 [ESV]

We rely on God’s grace – His unmerited, unearnable, total gift of favor given to us through His love.  We trust God with the outcome, even if the outcome is not how we envisioned it.  We cling to God’s love and know He is wiser than any of us.  We understand that our thoughts are not His, our ways are not His (Isaiah 55:8).

And, despite popular American belief, we are not our own.  As children of God, saved through the shed blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, we are free.  Yet we are also slaves to God:

22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. – 1 Corinthians 7:22-24 [ESV]

In other words, we are where God has us.  He is in control.  He knows the number of our days, for He set them – according to His purpose, which is far higher than ours.

Here is my point: it is the Lord Who sets our foundation – Who is our foundation.  Whenever we hit a boulder, a blockage we can’t work through, we need to go to the Lord, get an assessment of the problem, and trust in Hs grace and wisdom and strength and love to see us through.  Even if we have to go sideways to do it.

Be Thankful! You’re Not a Giant Disembodied Eye Ball

20170818_201130 (2)

I woke up at 4:00 this morning thinking about a lot of things.  Not very pleasant things, mind you.

I got out of bed, went to my office and opened the window.  The sun was just beginning to light the night sky.  Birds were singing loudly.  And I began to consider all I have in life to be thankful for.

I am thankful for this beautiful morning.

I am thankful for my beautiful, still sleeping family.

I am thankful for God’s love and grace.

I am thankful I am not a giant disembodied eye ball being chased before a crowd of spectators at a sporting event.

Sometimes you have to be thankful for the stranger aspects of life as well as the obvious.

The truth about our lives is often difficult to see clearly.  When life gets stressful, or troubles plague us or we just end up depleted from everything going on, it can be very easy to believe nothing will ever improve.  Nothing will change.

But that’s just belief based on what we see.  Our perceptions are based on what we sense: feel, touch, taste, smell, see.

For example, when we smell a skunk, we perceive a disgusting, pungent odor.  The skunk perceives security, as this is his protection.  (Unless, of course, you are the already-dead road kill skunk I somehow managed to run over some years back, fifteen minutes into a four-hour long drive on a very, very hot summer day.  While skunk spray may stop a huge brown bear from mauling it’s potential prey, it is no match for a speeding Pontiac.  For that particular member of Genus Mephitis, the car was mightier than the stench.  My perception of the ordeal was not one of security, but nausea.)

Perhaps a twice-flattened dead stink otter isn’t the best illustration here.  Let’s consider the well known – and well worn – example of the iceberg.  When we see one (and, trust me, here in Minnesota they are a very rare sight) we think, “Look at that giant mountain of glacial ice!”  (Of course, having never seen one, I can only imagine my response would be something akin to “Look at that giant mountain of glacial ice!”)

But, what we see – what we perceive with our limited mental faculties – is only a small piece of the total picture.  Indeed, only about 10%, as the remaining 90% of the iceberg is submerged.  If what we believe about the iceberg is based simply on what we see, we miss the majority of it.  We also have to consider what we cannot see – a fact any survivor of the Titanic could have corroborated.

If we look at our situations, our lives, ourselves, and all we see is hopelessness, or failure, or despair, or sorrow… we are basing our beliefs of faulty perceptions.

Don’t misunderstand me.  We need our brains to discern the 10% of the iceberg we can see.

But perceiving the remaining 90% requires faith, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV).  If all we live by is what we see with our eyes, what our feeble brains can figure out on their own, we’re going to hit an iceberg.  And we won’t have ample lifeboats to survive the frigid waters.  Another fact any Titanic survivor could have attested to.

However, when we have faith in God – when we begin to see who Jesus is, and who we are reflected in Him – we find hope, and strength.  And we begin to see that the troubles and pains of this life are not the whole story.  Not even close.  In fact, they only count for about 10% of our story.  The remaining 90% is still under water, waiting to be revealed.

Don’t look at the troubles you see and believe that’s all you have in life.  There is a deeper purpose for your suffering.  I cannot tell you what that is.  I will tell you that the Lord can take every situation and use it to grow us, to strengthen us, to help us bring hope and empathy and joy to others.  Heck, you may even come to embrace your hardship with gratitude!

And if you can’t start there, well… be grateful that you’re not a giant disembodied eye ball being chased before a crowd of spectators at a sporting event.

 

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

 Photo by Warren K. Leffler
Billy Graham got it right.  He didn’t get caught up in the murky waters of theological debate.  He didn’t hoist high the banner of any one Christian denomination.  He simply wanted to ask each of us the most important question on earth:

Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

When one studies the life of Christ, you see very quickly that He went about saving people, serving people, loving people.  Jesus is, quite simply and powerfully, the answer to all life’s questions.  He is the resolve to all our troubles.  He is our peace; The Way, The Truth and The Life.  Nobody comes to the Father except through Jesus.

And Billy Graham dedicated his life to making sure we knew that.  His message was also simple yet powerful.  

And for that – for being a very public, very strong, very vocal lion of our faith – I am thankful.

I’m sure we’ve all heard references to this pastor or that evangelist being “the next Billy Graham”.  In truth, there will never be another Billy Graham.  Which is okay.  What we need are more people on this earth to follow Dr. Graham’s example of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ without apology, without holding back.

So, let me ask you: do you know Jesus Christ as your personal eternal savior?  Do you trust Him with your whole heart? If not, let’s talk.

What (Not) to Give God

Give God praise.

Give God thanks.

Give God your heart

Give God your mind.

Give God your time.

Give God your talents.  (You know, the talents He gave you.)

Give God your life.

Give God your all.

Give God the credit.

Do not give God the blame.

The simple fact is we live in a sinful, imperfect world.  Everybody fades hard times and bad things and sorrow and pain.  Understand that means, at some point, each of finds ourselves wondering “Why God?  Why did You let this happen?”

We may never understand all the whys and how’s behind life’s tragedies.  But each of us can rest easy knowing that God is love, God is always with us, and God is in control.

Give God your focus.  Your full attention.

Love God.

Love others.

Seek Him first.

An Ash Wednesday Valentine

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. – John 3:16 (KJV)

Cupid appears to have won.

As I checked out my Facebook feed tonight, there were lots of hearts and roses and romantic Valentine messages.

This year Valentines Day fell on Ash Wednesday.  And it got nary a mention.  

But, if you consider what Ash Wednesday commemorates – the beginning of forty days fasting time that mirrors the forty days Jesus spent in the desert – we quickly see what real love is all about.

Very simply, live requires sacrifice.  We sacrifice for our spouses.  For our kidlets.  For our parents.

But what we give up pales in comparison to what God gave us.

His Son.

The Perfect, Sinless Son of God came to live a perfect life and die a horrific death as the only possible atonement for our sins.

Jesus sacrificed His life that we may live.  Forever.

No box of chocolates can compare to the gifts from our Loving Heavenly Father.

Think about that.  Think about the love the Lord has for you.

For you.

You.

And love one another as a means of reflecting the love God gives us.  Not only on Ash Wednesday or Valentine’s Day, but every hour.

Every minute.

Every second.

Without ceasing.

Be joyful.  Be thankful.  

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I Hear the Train A-Comin’ (or a Priest, a Pastor and a Comic Walk Into a Blog)

Crossing Gates

Photo from https://maxfaqs.wordpress.com/

There seems to be a perception amongst some people that I haven’t been writing lately.

I understand this perception.  I assume it’s because I haven’t been writing lately.

You can blame my wife.  (Or, you can thank her – it’s all in your perspective.)  She pointed out a fact to me some months ago that had been painfully – painfully – obvious to me: “You’re writing the same message over and over.”

She was right.  I was writing the same message over and over.

And over.

And over and over.

And over again.

Needlessly repeating myself again and again.

And again.

And again and again.

Ad nauseam.

I have spent a lot of time trying to write.  I would stare at the computer screen, the cursor blinking at me.  Taunting me.  Daring me.  I felt like Billy Crystal in Throw Momma From the Train, unable to type anything beyond “The night was…”

Even now, as I’m writing about the writer’s block (boulder is more like it) I’ve been staring at for such a long time, I find myself riddled with self doubt about writing this piece.

Sitting down to write started feeling like waiting at a railroad crossing.  Usually I could see my train of thought in the distance, but it never seemed to make any progress.  On occasion, the train would come speeding across and be gone before I could get a good look at it.

After much prayerful consideration and reflection, I realize the problem isn’t the train.  The problem is the crossing arms – or, rather, my sitting at the crossing arms.  I can’t drive through the barrier.  It’s illegal and extremely dangerous to try driving between the lowered arms at a railroad crossing.

However, I can circumvent the impasse by turning around and finding another crossing.

Which is what I’m doing.

Sort of.

I’m driving the same vehicle (writing).  And I need to cross the same set of tracks (my train of thought).  I just need to find a somewhat different road from which to cross – a different approach to writing.  A style that is more aligned to me – to who God Himself created me to be.  More personal.  More humorous.

My goal is ultimately the same: help people through depression and anxiety through faith in Jesus Christ.  I can show you Scriptures all day long about peace and joy and fear and worry and quote Matthew 6:33 until I’m blue in the face.  But I need to demonstrate more faith and joy.  I need to widen the aperture a bit to let out more light.

It’s one thing to write about it.  It’s quite another to write with it.

I have a very nebulous idea of how my writing is going to look.  It will be more humorous in approach.  It may even be irreverent (gasp!) than some may like.  But maybe a little irreverence is what some of us need.

Maybe we need to lighten up and quit taking everything so serious.

Please stick with me as I seek my voice in writing.  Input is more than welcome – it is encouraged.  PM me or e-mail me (bouvillediarist@gmail.com) or message me via carrier pigeon (although you may want to wait until the spring thaw – send a bird up here now and he’ll end up more freezer burnt than that bag of baby peas buried in the bottom of my freezer).

I have to go.  Got a train to catch!

bouvillediarist@gmail.com

 

 

V

Not All Good Things Come To An End

It’s been a wonderful weekend in the Courtney house.  I hope your weekend was wonderful as well.

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end.  Including the weekends.

However, that old phrase doesn’t really reflect the truth of the matter for those who place their trust in Christ.  While Jesus we can have mountaintop experiences that cause all others to pale in comparison.  

No mountaintop experience will last forever.  But the presence of the Lord never ends.  He is always with us.

He may not take away every pain, but He let’s no bad situation continue in vain.  It is when we are tested – in pain, in hardship, in sorrow, in guilt – that the Lord instructs us, strengthens us, guides us out of the darkest valleys and into great fields of light and joy and peace.  Peace not determined by circumstances (which are fleeting and every changing), but by faith in our Father through Jesus Christ His Son (God, Who never changes but is always steadfast and faithful).

Whatever you’re going through, you’ll be fine.  However stormy your life is, the clouds will break.  No matter how dark things may seem, we have a Light to guide us.  

Do not worry.  Do not doubt.  Do not stare at your trials.  Seek the Lord our Father, the Giver of all good gifts.  He will either pull you out of the storm, or He’ll see you through it.

And that’s one old saying you can cling on to tight.