Monday, March 12, 2018

Too Hot to Handle

Today we had a freak snow event that dropped a little bit of snow in our area. Of course as the weather started deteriorating the school system cancelled school and sent students home. On days like this I go by the school and pick my boys up. As I drove to the school I found myself sitting in traffic less than a half mile from where I needed to turn into the school. While sitting in traffic I looked out my window at the road beside my truck. The snow was falling in huge flakes and landing in the lane beside me. As I watched, I couldn't help but be mesmerized by the snow falling on the road. I guess what was so mesmerizing about it was that the snow was not sticking to the road but melting almost instantaneously. As I watched I found my self routing for the bigger snowflakes to make it and be the one that started the chain reaction that would make my trip to the school worth it. Time and time again the snow simply melted causing the road to be wet. Sure the bigger snowflakes held on longer but they too were ultimately overcome by the warmth of the road.

As I watched the snow, I found myself thinking about how this unfolding drama with snowflakes is characteristic of how Christians can sometimes be. Times become difficult, life happens, sickness creeps in, finances fall apart, or apathy takes hold and this once flourishing Christian starts to melt under the pressure. Like a frozen flake of snow landing on a warm road, the Christian starts to melt under the stress, anxiety, and pressure of their circumstances. Eventually the once vibrant and pristine Christian is nothing more than a puddle in the road.

But what if things could have been different? What if the Christian had a way to avoid this fate? What if there were a way for them to feel the heat but come out no more worse for wear? Wouldn't that be a future worth pursuing? There is a way. It isn't easy, but it is possible. It isn't a matter of changing the temperature of the "road" we are falling on or avoiding it all together. The way to avoid the fate of so many Christians who have succumbed to the problems of this life is to take a different path and do things altogether different. 

First, you have to stay close to God (James 4:8). One thing I have noticed in my years of ministry is that most of those who face struggles and then fall away from their faith, they did not stay committed to pursuing God through their struggles. It could be that they weren't disciplined to begin with, so praying, studying God's Word, worshiping Him, and serving Him were things they didn't continue to do as the temperature rose around them. If you find your self facing a struggle or maybe you find yourself in the middle of the storm right now, what you need to do is make your top priority your relationship with God. Pray. Study the Bible (don't simply read it). Worship with believers in God's house on His day. Serve Him with your spiritual gifts. If you do, you will find yourself much better equipped to deal with your struggle. 

Secondly, stay connected with other believers at church. If several of the snowflakes I watched had landed in the same place on the road, then the one that hit first would have been able to ultimately withstand the warm temperature of the road. This principle plays out in the life of a Christian facing trials. Too often, rather than seeking strength, comfort, and other forms of help during a struggle, many Christians try to go it alone and withdraw from fellowship with other believers. The end result is the proverbial puddle in the road I described earlier. They end up being a Christian not in practice but in name only. When we face times of trial, God uses other believers to strengthen, encourage, uplift, and sustain us. Why throw to the side one of the greatest earthly resources God has supplied us with for making it through our times of struggle?

My encouragement to you today is this. If you are struggling under the pressure of one of life's problems, stay close to God and stay in fellowship with other believers. If you will do these two simple things, although they won't be easy, they will ultimately pay off for you in the end. One result will be you going down a different path than the one that has destroyed the faith of so many before you. The other result will be a strong and vibrant relationship with God that will prepare you for the next struggle you face.

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Monday, March 5, 2018

The Integrity of a Stoplight

There has been several months of road construction on the route I normally take from my house to the church. The construction has resulted in delays at times, but nothing too severe. One change I have noticed since construction started is the adjustment of the stoplight in the construction area. I believe the timing of the light has been adjusted to compensate for the construction and to allow a better flow of traffic on the road that goes directly through the construction area. The road I use to get to church intersects this main road at this newly adjusted stoplight. I have noticed recently that it takes longer for the light to change when I am sitting in traffic. This isn't because of my impatience but instead a careful examination of how long it takes for the light to turn. Needless to say, the additional time required to sit at this light has caught my attention.

This past Sunday when I was headed to church I pulled up to this light and I was the only person in line. I thought since I pulled up that hopefully a sensor would cause the light to turn green and I'd be able to head on to church. Well, that isn't what happened. I sat there at the light for what seemed like an eternity waiting on the light to turn green. The part that frustrated me was that there was absolutely no traffic on the road besides myself. I sat at the light for a very long time waiting on the light to change and it seemed like it never would. I thought to myself, "There isn't a soul around. No one would know if I turned left on red and went on my way. There isn't any danger of causing an accident because no one else is on the road." Reluctantly, I stayed the course and eventually this light turned green and I was able to go.

Now I could have safely turned left on red and no one would be the wiser, right? Wrong. I would have known and God would have known. But would it have really mattered? I mean come on, it was a stoplight with absolutely no traffic around. Of course it would have mattered. It was ultimately a test of my integrity. When no one would know about our choices but us, what we are faced with in those moments is a matter of integrity. Integrity is defined as a "firm adherence to a code of moral values." It is the idea that something is incorruptible. I think the famous basketball coach John Wooden's quotes on character help to define integrity even better. He said, "The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching." The things we do, the way we act, and the things we say when no one is around is a real test of our integrity. If we are willing to compromise our integrity in the small things of life (a stoplight), then what will happen when major events (persecution for your faith) require us to stay the course and be a person of integrity? Chances are we'll buckle under the stress of the situation because we haven't disciplined ourselves to be men or women of integrity. In a society that is constantly putting more and more pressure on us to compromise our morals and our values, we need men and women of integrity that will not compromise, but instead hold firm to their integrity. If we want to see a change in this world we need to model for our children and those following us, what it means to be a person of integrity, regardless of the situation. It means doing what is right, not what is easy. It means committing to a life of integrity long before you pull up to the stoplight. It means pleasing God by living a life that adheres to His standards in an unwavering manner.

I will close with this. Commit today to living a life of integrity. Regardless of how easy it is to compromise at times, commit yourself today to living a life pleasing to God by living a life of integrity. You'll be glad you did when you can look back on your life and see that you were a man or woman of integrity when no one else was looking.

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