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We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. Romans 5:3

walk“The first 25 feet are the hardest part of a walk.”

These words came from a friend of mine who had recently reached a milestone he was very proud of. Six months earlier he’d suffered a heart attack that nearly took his life. His doctor told him in no uncertain terms that unless he changed his lifestyle he would have another heart attack and that heart attack would most likely kill him.

The main ingredient in the lifestyle change, according to that doctor, was exercise. He told my friend that he should walk at minimum of 30 minutes a day four to six days a week. A sixty minute walk daily would be best.

My friend’s milestone? In the past six months he’d lost 40 pounds and his last health check-up revealed his blood pressure and other vitals were better than he’d had in years. The key was consistent exercise and discipline.

It wasn’t easy. As his statement reveals. There were many days he didn’t want to walk. There were days he was too tired, the weather wasn’t pleasant or he didn’t have time to walk. But he forced himself to walk because he realized his life literally depended on it. “The first 25 feet were the hardest” because that’s how far it was from his easy chair to the door!

Exercise in the physical sense isn’t pleasant for most of us. Some of us have way too many things going on to ‘waste time on that particular activity.’ However, when we realize its importance and we see our lives as depending on it, it makes it easier to make the first 25 feet.

What’s true in the physical realm is also true in the spiritual realm. There are times in our lives when reading God’s word or joining with God’s people in corporate worship simply seems like too much work or a waste of valuable time.

My friend’s heart sent him a message in a very real and blatant way: Change your ways if you want to be healthy. In the same way, God sometimes allows problems into our lives in order to bring us to a point where we turn our focus towards our spiritual health with him.

Life will deal us cruel blows. There will be problems. The Bible talks repeatedly about the fact that we will encounter ‘trials and tribulation’ in life. Those struggles aren’t as important as how we react to them. We have a choice when problems come into our lives. We can either use those struggles to reject God (and thus live in frustration, guilt and anger) or we can use those struggles to learn to lean more completely on God’s power through faith in Christ and the empowerment of his Holy Spirit.

As one write said, character is formed by the following equation: Trials + Endurance = Character. Trials, in a sense are God’s part. Endurance talks of our response to the trials. Character is built when we learn to lean more fully on God as a result of the trials we encounter.

Begin your path to spiritual health by taking those first 25 feet. Get an easy translation of the Bible and begin to read it. Seek out a house of worship where the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ is preached. Don’t take your spiritual health for granted. It takes work that will pay off eternally!

PRAYER: Father God, I thank you for the grace I’ve received through your son. I confess that too often I don’t take my walk with you seriously. Help me to take the struggles the come my way as opportunities to draw more fully on your power. In Jesus name, Amen.

So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you—whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. 1 Corinthians 3:21-23 (NLT)

You’ve seen the commercials on TV. A well-dressed, successful person tells you about themselves. They are smart, good looking and obviously have made the best of life. After telling you all about themselves, their successes and how they have made positive changes in their world, they summarize all the good things by telling you that they are a particular religious group. The next time you see the commercial notice that the person talking doesn’t say they belong to or are a part of the group. They ARE the group. Whether by design or otherwise the message is clear. If you want to know what my religious group looks like or what it can do for you, look at me. I’m the example of what you can be. 

Now, this isn’t a treatise for or against this group. Whether you agree with their theology or not you have to admire the creativity of their marketing. Want to be successful in life? Want to make a difference in your world? It’s as though the speaker is looking straight into your eyes and saying, “Want to have people admire you like you are admiring me right now? Become a ____________. Your world will change!”

Don’t be too hard on them though. We do the same thing. A pastor friend of mine was telling me about one particular church that he served in. Unfortunately this church had a bad reputation in town because of how they treated people in the community and how they treated several of their former pastors. My friend brought a suggestion to the boardroom table one night shortly after he started his ministry. He asked what his church leaders would think of changing the name of the church. The new name he suggested would not have the denominational title included in it. He made sure to tell them the doctrinal statement would not change, the denominational affiliation would not change, and several other churches in this denomination had made similar changes with good success. 

The reaction was pretty much along the lines he expected. No one was in favor of it for various reasons. Horror stories based largely on misinformation and rumors surfaced about other churches that had done something like this and either closed or became a cult. While he expected many of these arguments, the one statement that caught him off guard was given by the most respected person in the church. It was a statement that killed the discussion immediately. My friend later said he was so taken back by this statement that he was speechless to continue. Here was the sincere statement from a man who knew God’s word. “But I get my identity from the ___________ church.”

Character is defined as one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual. This person’s character was based on a set of doctrines and beliefs held in the confines of denominational affiliation. Such thinking isn’t new of course. The Apostle Paul struggled with it too. He didn’t have to mess with Baptists or Lutherans or Methodists or Presbyterians. He had to contend with followers of Peter or Apollos or, (and I imagine he shuddered at this), those who followed him! Paul says, in the book of 1Corinthians, “What are you thinking? Stop following the teachings and opinions of men. You have all you need in Jesus Christ who came from God himself!”

The enemy doesn’t like that way of thinking, by the way. The lie he uses in the battle for our CHARACTER is the subtle belief that ‘Your doctrine is the most important thing to you’. In our effort to love ourselves this attacks us in at least two ways. First of all, the standards of men are sometimes harder to live up to than the standards God has for us. Man’s standards don’t always offer much grace or mercy as is shown by the reaction of some church bodies to differences in a person’s lifestyle or their beliefs. Man made doctrine is often more about making cookie cutter Christians than it is growing in the freedom of grace and mercy through the Lord Jesus Christ.   

In a love relationship it’s always amazing to me how the people involved think so much alike, or at least know what the other is thinking. It’s a process of course. The longer they are together the more they begin to look, think and act alike. Why? Because they have the same set of rules? No. They begin to ‘be each other’ because of relationship.

The second attack that this lie levels on our ability to love ourselves is that when we hold to strongly to man-made principles and doctrine we become legalistic and push people way. The nasty negative spiral comes in again. If I take to harsh a position I push you away. Since I don’t want to push you away I will guard my words. The result is I struggle to decide, ‘Do I hold my allegiance to you and watch you self-destruct, or hold my allegiance to what I know to be right and lose my chance to minister to you and bring you to the freedom I’ve found in Christ.

How does a person whose character is built on Jesus and not man-made rules react to people who are ‘different’ than us? Look at how Jesus responded to people in his day. People who struggled with greed, with lust, with sex, with addictions. How did Jesus respond? With love. “Neither do I condemn thee. Come to me you who are weary.” Paul says, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26 (NIV)) 

The person of Christ-like character is the person that gently accepts people who are struggling and leaves the repentance and life change to the one who does it best, Jesus Christ. This is a huge relief for the follower of Christ because it takes the responsibility of life change out of my hands and puts it in the hands of God’s Holy Spirit.

The Truth Statement in the battle for our Character is: “When others watch you make sure they see Jesus and not a church name!”

PRAYER: Thank you Jesus for the freedom you have shown me through your grace, mercy and forgiveness. As I build relationships around me, help me to show them the patience and gentleness you showed those around you. In your name I pray, Amen.

So put all evil things out of your life: sexual sinning, doing evil, letting evil thoughts control you, wanting things that are evil, and greed. This is really serving a false god. These things make God angry. Colossians 3:5-6 (NCV)

Most of the time people get angry because they aren’t getting what they want or something is being taken from them. Anger is a protection thing. It’s driven by the inner desire of want. For example, maybe you are wrongfully accused, which is an attack on your character so you become angry because the charges simply aren’t true!

Anger can take many different forms and many different styles. It can show itself in physical attack and abuse, or in emotional manipulation. It can lay deep inside your heart and fester like a cancer and grow so hard that even love has a hard time penetrating it. The power of love isn’t hindered very often, but anger can destroy its power.

When we think of anger, it’s important to remember that our anger is completely different than God’s anger. In fact there is no comparison at all. If someone tells you they are angry at you, what they are really saying, in essence, is that you have offended them. Their reasons for being offended may be wrong. Their feelings may be completely without merit, but they are angry at you because they feel you have attacked who they are.

God’s ‘anger towards us’ isn’t because we’ve attacked his character or made him feel bad about himself. God’s anger is towards the sin in our lives, and the reason sin makes God angry is because he sees what the consequences of sin will do.

God sees the ravaging effects of immorality on the soul of a young girl and hates what it does to her. Our Heavenly Father sees the destruction of the human body and of families and children brought on by alcohol and drugs. He sees the sobbing children who are victims of divorce. He sees his name being used to abuse those who are struggling with life and it makes him angry. God’s anger is directed towards any activity that he knows will bring painful consequences into our lives.

Dear friend, no matter what others have told you. Regardless of the teachings of religious bigots and false prophets, God is not angry at you because he hates you. God is angry about the sin in your life because he loves you and knows that painful consequences await you if you continue on the path you are on.

Allow his love to permeate your heart. Let his forgiveness remove the fear and the pain. Let his Spirit empower you to break free in Christ. You may still have to face some consequences, but he will walk with you even during those times.

PRAYER: Father God, I’ve always been told you were angry with me for the sin in my life. Now I realize your anger is because you love me and don’t want me to hurt anymore. I don’t want to hurt anymore either. Please forgive me for my failures. Empower me with your spirit to live free of the power of sin in my life. Keep me from being afraid of you. In Jesus name, Amen.

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15

When we’ve been hurt by someone it can take away a part of who we are. In some cases it’s a relatively mild thing. Our feelings are hurt by some sarcastic comment or a ‘friend’ tells us their opinion about something dear to us and it hurts.

In other cases, the violation of who we are is much more severe. We come home and find our home broken into and several things of emotional and physical value taken. Our spouse or significant other is caught in, or confesses to, an affair. We are the victim of assault, rape or domestic abuse.

These and many other things can attack the core of who we are. For that reason, and many others, forgiveness is tough. Somewhere along the line we’ve come to believe that forgiveness says, ‘What you did to me is okay’ or ‘I probably deserved all I got and more’ or a variety of other self-defamatory responses.

None of these things are true of course. Being hurt is never okay. Broken trust is, in some cases, impossible to mend. But forgiveness isn’t about justifying the actions of another person. Nor is forgiveness about condoning the attack. Forgiveness is about our own personal freedom. Forgiveness says, ‘I will not allow you to continue to control my emotions and my feelings about myself. I’m okay. I’m made in God’s image. Your actions against me were wrong, but I will not dwell on them. I will not allow your pain to cripple me for the rest of my life. I’m releasing you into the hands of God.’

Jesus often talked about forgiveness during His ministry on earth. In Matthew He states that we are to forgive others in order for God to forgive us. Forgiveness of our sins against God is forgiven only because of Jesus. Forgiveness can come no other way and by no action of our own.

Forgiveness of others is a choice. We have the power to make a decision to forgive others. We may not have the power to complete the process, but God’s Holy Spirit will help us with that.

Our refusal to forgive others is our choice. Much as He would like to intervene in the process, God has no choice but to allow us to choose to be unforgiving. He has no choice but to allow the consequences of unforgiveness (bitterness, anger, hatred, broken relationship) to plague us throughout our lives.

Forgiveness isn’t an attack on our personal integrity but being unforgiving is. Lifestyle forgiveness is a character trait that says “I will not allow the hurt you have brought into my life to affect how I feel about myself, others or even you. In the power of the Holy Spirit I am freeing myself of your control.”

PRAYER: Father God. I confess to you that I am struggling with hatred, bitterness and anger over the hurt that others have caused me in my past and present. I ask that your Holy Spirit would empower me to be able to forgive those who have hurt me so that I can live free of the bitterness, anger and hatred that are controlling me. Thank you that you love me just as I am. I’m your child. I will go forth this day free of the control that has bound me. Thank you Jesus. Amen.

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory. Isaiah 61:3 (NLT)

There is an old saying that states “Beauty is only skin deep.” Its meaning dates to that 15th century and has since then stood as a reminder to each of us that how a person looks is not nearly as important as what is inside. The person dressed in fancy, designer clothes may be more socially acceptable in their looks than the person with tattoos and pants hanging below their knees on the outside. However, the tattooed person may be more likely to lend a helping hand and give unconditionally to a cause or to help someone in distress.

The true character of a person is shown by how they react in times of adversity and despair. The prophet Isaiah says that those who mourn will show forth beauty. Mourning is an interior thing. It’s a feeling of remorse and despair that starts well below the surface, but beauty is what is seen on the outside.

Despair is captivates the entire body and can affect how we feel, act and respond to others. Praise on the other hand is obvious to all. Praise isn’t necessarily a physical showing of activity. It is more of a confident assurance that what we believe is true.

The prophet goes on to say that the people who exhibit beauty and praise are like oak trees, standing strong through the storm. Their roots hold fast in any stormy weather because they are grounded deep in righteousness. But that righteousness doesn’t come from themselves, it comes because of the faith they have in God through His Son Jesus Christ.

Standing firm when life attacks has nothing to do with our own strength. It has nothing to do with our past. It has nothing to do with our upbringing or the name of our church. It’s not about being baptized or any other religious activity. Standing firm comes solely through faith in Jesus Christ and His righteousness.

The Bible says that our very best behavior and our most devout spiritual beliefs are like filthy rags to God. Nothing in our past can save us or damn us. No present activities in this present time can hinder us or sustain us. It’s God’s grace and God’s forgiveness the makes us righteous. It is God’s Spirit that empowers us to stand firm.

True character is shown by how a person endures the storms of life, not by how they act when things are going right. Grow your roots deep in Jesus. Study His word. Pray often. Fellowship with like-minded believers. It is these things that will enable your true beauty to show forth in times of fear, anxiety and despair.

PRAYER: Father God, I come to you today confused, angry and afraid. I don’t know what tomorrow holds and I’m afraid what lay ahead. Forgive me for the way I’ve ignored you. Strengthen me with your Spirit so that when life’s storms attack I can rely on the roots of my standing with you. I want to be an Oak tree in the midst of a storm so others will see you through me. Amen.

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