Time to Lay Down Your Burdens

by Julie Zine Coleman

He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. Psalm 23:2b-3a NASB

The longest river in the world, the Nile, flows 4,130 miles from its headwaters in Africa’s mountainous lakes region to the Mediterranean. Sediments from as far away as Rwanda are carried northward by the force of the water as it plummets over falls and sweeps through channels in relentless movement toward the sea. Near the mouth, the river meets the sea. Suddenly the water slows down, and at the loss of energy drops its sediment to the river bottom. Thousands of years’ worth of these deposits have resulted in the famous Nile Delta, an enormous landform easily seen from space.

Sometimes it takes slowing down before a burden can be deposited. David knew this fact well. He wrote about his Good Shepherd: “He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul.” Before David could be restored, he had to be brought to a place of rest.

I didn’t used to be much on slowing down. As I raced through each day, tyranny of the urgent ran my agenda. We were raising four children, and I was working full time, throwing my energy into my fifth graders. Even my service in the church held the same frantic urgency. The busyness eventually took its toll on me, and I began to experience physical problems related to stress. But even then, slowing down didn’t seem like a viable option.

Then I went to seminary. One of the classes I was required to take was on spiritual disciplines. I was a bit skeptical from the first time I walked in the door. I wanted to do biblical exegesis; I wasn’t big on topical study. I took it because I had to. But I wasn’t going to like it.

As the class dragged on, I began to count the sessions until it would be over. Then one morning, as the class neared its end, we were told to go find a quiet place in nature and sit there for one hour, just listening to what God had to say to us. An hour? Of listening? Seemed a bit ridiculous to me. I reluctantly collected a notebook and a pen to record all of those messages I would supposedly receive and headed out to find a tree.

“OK, here I am,” I begrudgingly informed God. “Fire away.” My mind was full of the papers I had to write, the books I had to read, the Greek I had to translate. I could use this hour so much more effectively. I could hardly sit still. My frame of mind was anything but conducive to listening.

But as the hour dragged on, I tried to relax and at least appreciate the peace and quiet. I began to perceive the Lord’s presence. Not that he hadn’t been there all along, mind you. I was just too preoccupied to notice.

I started to bask in the love and grace he has lavished on me. My thoughts went to his greatness and power and faithfulness, his mercies that were new every morning. I began to thank him for loving me and for the blessings he has put into my undeserving life. Suddenly, my former agenda seemed very shallow. I prayed again, this time with an open heart and mind. “Lord, show me what you desire,” I pleaded.

God began to invade my thoughts. He wanted my heart more than my efforts. I was carrying too many burdens. It was time to put them down. So I did. I gave him my worries about finishing my studies successfully. I gratefully handed over concerns about my fledgling adult children awkwardly spreading their wings. My fears and anxieties fell off my shoulders as he impressed on me his power and ability to handle it all. And when the hour was up, I walked away feeling freer than I had been for a very long time.

We Americans are busy people. In our drive for productivity, we pick up burdens we don’t have time to lay back down. The Covid crisis has temporarily knocked a lot of that out of us. If you haven’t already, embrace the reduction in activity.

Find a quiet corner in your house. Sit down unencumbered by routine distractions and open your heart to him. As we embark on a new year, make it a priority to give God the time he deserves. Don’t go to him with an agenda. Let him set the pace. And as he leads you beside quiet waters, you will be restored.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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About the authorJulie Zine Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or crafting. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: How do you create quiet time to spend with the Lord?

Looking Past Our Imagination

by Julie Zine Coleman

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think…” Ephesians 3:20 NASB

Every Christmas Eve, our kids carefully chose the best Christmas cookies and arranged them on a plate alongside a glass of milk. One year we even left hay for the reindeer. I can only hope Santa brought that hay up on the rooftop to them, rather than invite them into our family room. But in any case, it made the holiday that much more fun while my children were young.

Like it or not, Santa is a big part of the American traditional Christmas. He is pictured as a benevolent old man, working all year up at the North Pole with his elves to prepare for his delivery of Christmas gifts to the children of the world. Unless, of course, you have been naughty. Then it is coal for you.

I personally love Santa. I don’t mean to offend any of you Santa-haters out there. I just had such wonderful memories of rushing down the stairs as a child to discover if HE had come. I wanted my kids to experience the same magic for a least a few of their early years. So we always left a snack and a note of encouragement for the old guy before snuggling under the covers on Christmas Eve. And we were never disappointed when morning arrived.

Where our many ideas of Santa come from? How did the original St. Nicholas, very real and very human, morph into a sort-of omnipresent being who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake? Since when did the benevolent man, known for his generosity toward the oppressed, start making a list on who is naughty or nice? How did he get the magical ability to slip unhindered down the flu into the fireplace below, only to rise back up to the rooftop with a twitch of his nose? I suspect many of our current traditions on Santa have come from the poems, stories, and songs written about old Kris Kringle in the last few centuries. In short, he is a product of our collective imaginations and bears little resemblance toward the original third century character.  

I wonder if we have reduced the meaning of Christmas story details in much the same way. Our remembrance and understanding of a quaint manger scene and angels’ pronouncements can bear little resemblance to what God was revealing about Himself through them.

In reality, the events surrounding the birth of Christ speak volumes about the power of God.

Let’s start with the angels. While we might tend to think of angels as harmless characters, fluttering their wings to hover over the roof of a stable or fields of a shepherd, they are really quite the opposite. For example, in 2 Kings 19, God sends an angel to destroy the army of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, killing 185,000 men. An angel killed the first-born in every Egyptian household the night of Passover in Exodus. Jesus referred to angels as a formidable army when he asked Peter, “Do you think I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 NASB). These are no cherubic, impotent beings. Yet God uses these frighteningly powerful creatures to announce the good news. His very messengers displayed the power of God.

Another power-revealing aspect of the Christmas story is in how God orchestrated circumstances to fulfill prophecy given hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. He prompted the great Caesar Augustus, the most powerful man alive, to require every family to go to the city of their family origin to register for a census. Thus Joseph and Mary were forced to go to Bethlehem from Nazareth, just as she was preparing to give birth, in obedience to this decree.

How did the Wise Men know where the Savior had been born? God placed a sign for them in the night sky prompting their trip to Israel in recognition of the birth of a king. We don’t know if the “star” was a super-nova, planets in alignment, a comet, or even some supernatural event. We do know God performed the supernatural in the heavenlies at other times, such as the day the sun stood still in Joshua 10 or actually moved backward in 2 Kings 20. Whatever it was, God placed “the star” in the sky as an unmistakable sign guiding the wise men to come and worship.

Circumstances of the first Christmas were perfectly arranged by one very powerful God.

St. Nicholas had a real history, but that reality has been replaced by the whims of our imaginations. Let’s not miss the intended impact of the details in the Christmas story. While the quiet manger scene pictured in nativity sets around the world is dear to our hearts, it should remind us of more than the generosity and goodness of God. The coming of Christ was more than a sweet baby asleep in the hay at the edge of town. It was an unmistakable display of the power of God.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: What fun traditions does your family practice around Christmas?

Wear the Uniform

by Julie Zine Coleman

Our family arrived at the Roosevelt Hotel the day of my cousin’s wedding late and flustered. We had experienced great difficulty navigating our car caravan through the busy Manhattan streets. Our cars pulled up in tandem under the marquis, hoping for assistance and directions to get us to the front desk quickly.

Two uniformed doormen stood watching us, but did not come to help with the large pile of luggage we pulled from the cars. They didn’t even hold the doors open for us as we struggled to bring our belongings up the stairs and inside. So much for New York hospitality. Miffed at their lack of assistance, I sent a meaningfully dirty look their way.

“I hope they are not thinking we are going to tip them,” I indignantly told my daughters-in-law.
 
Bethany looked over at the men. “Mom, I think they are airline pilots,” she said.
 
Uniforms identify the wearer with his place of business. For those observant enough to see the difference between a doorman and an airline pilot’s uniform (!!!), there is no question as to where they serve and what one can expect.
 
Jesus wanted His disciples to be easily identifiable in the world. He gave us a uniform of sorts to wear as well. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me,” He said (Luke 9:23 NASB).  What did that mean? How would that identification look when fleshed out in His followers to the rest of the world?
 
The concept of being marked as God’s was not a new one. God directed Abraham in Genesis 17:10 to do this very thing. Every male was to be circumcised, beginning with Abraham and continuing down through the generations of descendants that would follow. It was a physical sign that revealed the people’s covenantal relationship with God. Yet it was not just an outward sign that God desired. “Circumcise your heart,” Moses told Israel, “And stiffen your neck no longer… You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.” (Deuteronomy 10:16, 20) Israel’s “uniform” of trust in and obedience to God would identify them as different from the surrounding nations.
 
To anyone living in the Roman Empire, Jesus’ instruction to “take up his cross and follow me” would have brought to mind a familiar, horrific image. Crucifixion was a brutal form of execution. Once condemned, the criminal would be made to put a crossbeam on his shoulders at the site of sentencing and carry it to the place where he would be crucified. Carrying the cross would be the final act of one’s life. Therefore, Jesus was clearly using this as a metaphor, since He instructed His disciples to carry their cross  on a daily basis.
 
Christ’s first century followers knew crucifixion was a death sentence. Any possessions or wealth, along with rank or entitlement, were also forfeited at the time of sentencing. A crossbeam on one’s shoulders symbolized to the world that the carrier was under the authority of Rome.
 
When Jesus instructed his disciples to “take up [their] cross daily and follow me,” he was describing how his followers would identify with Him and thus be identified by others. Rather than an outward, physical sign, taking up the cross was an inward attitude that considered oneself dead to sin and alive in Christ. No longer would the disciples live for purely self-serving reasons. Theirs would be a life of surrender, yielding entitlement and self-interests to God, willingly placing themselves under His authority.

When surrounded by a world seeking to exalt itself, anyone with a uniform like that would be very easy to pick out of a crowd.
 
Christ calls us to take up our cross daily. It is not a once-in-a-lifetime commitment. Rather, it is a daily determination to put God’s priorities as first in our lives. It happens one small decision, one singular action at a time. We will not always succeed; in fact, we may well fail more than succeed. Yet our goal remains to make the fact we have been crucified with Christ a reality in our lives. Why? Because it is what identifies us as His.
 
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'” 1 Peter 1:14-16

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: What does taking up your cross on a daily basis look like in your life?

Expressing Gratitude

by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman

…Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.  Ephesians 5:18-20 NASB

From the outside, my friend Peter seemed to have it all together. He was a bright, gifted young man, who became a Christian during his college years. Immediately he began to study and grow, and soon discovered he had an incredible gift for teaching. After graduation, Peter spent his first two post-college years in full time work for the Lord, teaching Scripture and mentoring students at several local colleges and universities.

Yet as he progressed in his ministry, Peter began to be plagued with doubts. He may have been a dynamic teacher on the outside, but on the inside, he was a mass of conflict. So much of what he preached was coming back empty for him on an emotional level. He began to doubt about even the existence of God. Finally one evening, after much inner turmoil, he decided he could not live with the doubt any longer. He would abandon his faith for good.

A half-hour later, there was a knock on his door. A young college co-ed stood outside with tears in her eyes. As she entered, she explained that she had serious doubts about the existence of God. “I want to believe,” she told Peter. “Please help me.”

Peter stood in his doorway, uncertain of his response. He knew exactly what this girl was experiencing, since his own struggle had just come to a head. Yet at the same time, he knew Jesus said: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6 NASB).

So he sat down and shared with her from God’s Word. In Romans, they looked at many witnesses who saw the resurrected Christ. In Matthew, they saw how over one hundred prophecies written eight hundred years before Christ’s birth were fulfilled during His lifetime. Too much evidence was contained in Scripture to be denied. It just didn’t make sense NOT to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.

As Peter saw his young friend out the door, he knew he had just talked himself back into believing. By teaching the truths he already knew, those truths became even more compelling for him. There is a power that comes in verbally expressing our faith.

Paul tells the Ephesians that they should live lives yielded to the Spirit (Ephesians 5:17-21 NASB). What he suggests to foster this is to make verbal expressions of their faith: speaking to one another in psalms, singing hymns and spiritual songs, as well as giving thanks for all things. There is something powerful about truth, that when shared aloud with others, it benefits the one speaking as much as the recipient.

Perhaps that is why Paul makes sure to mention giving thanks in many of his letters. We should be faithful to express thanksgiving aloud. And as the words come off our tongues, what they express becomes real to us in a fresh way. When we remind others about the faithfulness of God, we also remind ourselves and are enabled to trust Him more fully.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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Expressing Gratitude – encouragement from @JulieZColeman on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

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About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: Does verbalizing what you believe strengthen your faith?

The Best Kind of Role Model

by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman

Blogger Kathi Mascias told a story years ago about Rosey Grier, the former NFL defensive tackle. She wrote: “A mountain of a man with a heart of gold, he was always aware of being in the public eye.” Rosey once spoke to a group of NFL recruits about this very topic. A recruit protested. “I don’t want to be a role model,” he told Rosey.

Rosey replied, “Son, when you accepted the NFL draft, you stepped into that position. The only thing you have to decide now is what kind of role model you’re going to be.”

That reality has a particular ring of truth for believers in Christ. God has decided to reveal himself in this present age through his Church. We are called to live lives that reflect who we are in Christ to the world around us. Paul urged the Philippians to live as “… children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…” (Philippians 2:15-16).

Paul also wrote the Ephesians: “… the manifold wisdom of God [is] now made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 NASB). It’s not just our fellow man  getting an education. Even the angels and demons are learning about God through the lives of those who believe in him.

Kind of a heavy responsibility, don’t you think? What’s especially sobering is the fact that it is not the words we preach, but our actual lives that are doing the talking.

We often equate our witness to words we speak. There are all kinds of books and programs out there, telling us exactly what to say when sharing the gospel. There’s nothing wrong with studying these things, for Peter encourages us to be ready “to give an account for the hope that is in you.” But if we think our primary witness is in our impressive speech, we’d better think again.

Note Peter urges us to be ready with a response. When others see Christ in us, through the way we are living our lives, they will be intrigued. The genuineness of our walk will naturally raise questions. So we must be ready for when they inquire as to what makes us different.

Actions pre-authenticating words. It really is a genius plan.

In the absence of validating action, words can be mistakenly perceived. I remember a fellow camp staff member who had a requirement to fill during his summer job. He had signed a promise to his Christian college that he would share the gospel at least three times a week. Desperate to keep his obligation, he embarrassed us several times in public places, preaching at anyone who made eye contact. I never did see him lead anyone to the Lord. But I did see him repulse some people. Words come across as preachy judgment when they are not authenticated by actions.

We show God’s love for others by loving them ourselves. Our kind acts demonstrate God’s kind intentions toward them. Humility and brokenness allow them to see our common reality: without Christ, we stand guilty, condemned, unworthy. Extending grace and mercy reflects the cure we’ve been granted: God’s unmerited forgiveness and acceptance.

How we live determines how effectively we fulfill our role as God-revealers. Whether we like it or not, when we believed, we stepped into that position. It’s up to us what kind of role model we are going to be.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 NASB

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The Best Kind of Role Model – encouragement from @JulieZColeman on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

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About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: What do you think is most important in a role model?

Swamp Smoke

by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman

As I stepped out to walk my dog a few years ago, a pervasive smell in the morning air accosted me. Something was clearly burning, but I could not see smoke. It wasn’t until later that I discovered the odor’s point of origin. Apparently, lightning had ignited a fire in Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp the previous week. The ensuing fire was still going strong. The afternoon preceding our walk, the wind began to blow from the south. The entire Washington, D.C. area was now the unhappy recipient of dismal air quality, thanks to the smoke blowing over us. 

You may be surprised to learn the Great Dismal Swamp is not even close to where I live. It is 250 miles away, a good five hour drive from here. We couldn’t see the flames or the smoke. Yet we were suffering effects, just the same. Pollution can be pervasive.

When Moses was leading the people of Israel through the desert, three men, named Korah, Dathan, and Abiriam challenged his and his brother Aaron’s authority. You can imagine how it began: three men sitting around a campfire, discussing the day’s events. Soon careless remarks became angry in tone as they encouraged each other on. Others joined in, and it wasn’t long before the discontentment had infected a sizable group. Bitterness quickly spread, resulting in a rebellion 250 men strong. Sin had infiltrated the camp.

With such encouraging support, Korah publicly confronted the leaders. Who did they think they were, putting themselves in charge? Moses humbly responded by suggesting they assemble at the Tent of Meeting the next day. There God would indicate whom he desired to lead.

God let them know alright, and in no uncertain terms. The ground opened up to swallow Korah and his cohorts, their families, and all their possessions. Then fire came down from heaven and consumed the 250 followers as well.

You would think that would have been the end of that, and the rest of the people would have been scared straight. Not so.

The next day, the entire congregation voiced their anger at Moses and Aaron for the terrible judgment they had witnessed. At this point, the Lord had had enough. He sent a plague; immediately people began dropping like flies. In three days’ time, the sin of three men was now affecting thousands.

Moses, desperate to save the people, ordered his brother to take incense and make atonement for their sin. Numbers 16:48 (NASB) tells us: “He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked.” Sin’s egregious effects had finally come to a halt. (Read the story in its entirety in Numbers 16.)

Yes, sin will spread its insidious swamp smoke every time. But as we face its far-reaching pollution, we are not without hope. The remedy to stop the damage in its tracks has already been provided. Our High Priest Jesus has also taken his stand between the living and the dead. He’s made atonement for our sin. No longer are we helpless under its fierce onslaught of destruction (Romans 7:13-15).

After a few days of smelly air, a cold front went through Maryland. We awoke the next morning to fresh, clean air, all traces of the Dismal Swamp fire swept away by a northwesterly wind. God has offered us the same kind of new beginning. He is waiting for us to invite Him into the mess sin has caused to bring healing and restoration for all involved that place their trust in Him.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Romans 8:31-32 NASB  

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Swamp Smoke – encouragement and insight from author @JulieZColeman on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

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About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: Have you seen sin cause destruction in those who never knew about the original event?

Skip the Checklist

by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman

As a young bride, I determined to be an excellent cook. I collected and experimented with recipes from my mother, magazines, and potluck dinners. There were a few disasters early on: my husband still remembers with fondness a certain tuna casserole we had to choke down.

But over the years, I learned enough to eventually deviate from the recipe cards in my file and create my own. It’s always a little scary cooking without a recipe; I don’t stop worrying until that first sampling bite. I guess I will always be a rule follower at heart.

We, as humans, love our checklists. We yearn for a formula to follow. The internet, books, and magazines are filled with how-to articles listing step-by-step directions to get a job done.

A checklist may work for many things, but it’s not especially effective when it comes to spiritual life. We long for a blueprint that will guarantee our children will follow Christ, give us successful marriages, or make our ministry effective. Just tell me what to do, Lord. I want the A plus B plus C that will guarantee D.

The problem is that even if a formula is perfection itself, the ones attempting to carry it out are imperfect at best. Life is messy, and not much about humans is cut-and-dried. Formulas also tend to put God in a box, presuming that we obligate him should we do the right things. Finally, most lists are inevitably us-centered, which is always a bad place to start. In short, the checklist approach is frequently a recipe for failure.

Mind you, the Bible is not short of instructions. But I find it revealing that Jesus identified the most important command as “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30 NIV). Fellow rule lovers will note nothing specific enough there to accomplish and check off; it’s really a more of a general principle to guide every action.

When the children of Israel left Egypt behind, God led them to Mt. Sinai, where he issued 613 Laws to set them apart as his people. The famed 10 Commandments were just the tip of the iceberg! But God later qualified his expectations by zeroing in on the intent of their hearts. “Now Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you,” Moses reminded the people, “but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul…circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer” (Deuteronomy 10:12-16 NASB).

What God truly desired was an undivided devotion to him. Yet a checklist mentality persisted through many generations and eventually led to the nation’s downfall. God told Isaiah, “This people draw near with their words and honor me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from me, and their reverence for me consists of tradition learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13 NASB). When it comes to God, following a formula or a checklist just doesn’t cut it. He wants our hearts.

Jesus worked to get this across in his Sermon on the Mount. With every example, he revealed the true intent of the Law, how it was always meant to be observed. The Law wasn’t some finite checklist. It was intended to reach deep and affect the very hearts of God’s people.

How can we cultivate that kind of heart today? When it comes to God, the old adage is true: to know him is to love him. The more we learn about God, his nature, his character, and his kind intentions toward us, the more we fall in love. This in turn stirs a desire to please Him, to respond in gratitude to what he has done. Every action is a mere overflow of what we know to be true about Him.

So put down the checklist and pick up your Bible. Get to know and love the God of the Universe. He gave everything for you. All he wants in return is for you to love him back.

The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth, that he may strongly support those whose heart is completely his. 2 Chronicles 16:9 NASB

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Skip the Checklist – encouragement on #FollowingGod from @JulieZColeman on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

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About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: Are you a checklist kind of person? How does that affect your relationship with God?

Entitlement

by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman

The other day, my friend and I were comparing notes on grandparenting. We agreed that being grandmothers can be a journey through uncharted waters. My friend’s adolescent grandson was driving her a little crazy with his attitude that day. Any time she would refuse him what we wanted, he would respond in anger. “The entitlement!” she wrote me. She then assured me: “We don’t respond well to entitlement.”

That got me thinking. Is a child’s entitlement a result of bad parenting or grandparenting? Are we causing this obnoxious trait in our children by giving them too much? Or is there something deeper happening?

To answer that question, we have to go all the way back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve were approached by the serpent, encouraging entitlement was in his plan. Both humans knew that God had made it clear that they could eat from any tree in the garden but one: “For in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17 NASB).

Notice Satan’s tactics: he first cast doubt on the truth of God’s words. “You will not surely die!” he assured them. Then he went after the goodness of God. “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” he said. (Genesis 3:5 NASB) He’s keeping you back because He wants to remain superior to you. His motives are vain and selfish. He’s not for you. He’s for Himself.

Eve “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise…” and took the bait. So did Adam. And the sinful nature of future humankind was determined.

Why did Eve do it? Every other tree had been generously provided. Why did she have to have the one thing that was denied her? I think it goes back to Satan’s challenge; his suggestion that God was not truthful or truly good. She should have more. She deserved more.

Entitlement.

Of course, they didn’t consider the other side of the coin before taking that plunge: that maybe God was protecting them from something, like a life of toil and pain. That their denial of the goodness of God would taint everything, from the physical world to their relationships with God and with each other. That in His prohibition, He truly was being good.

Entitlement is a dangerous thing. One of the ten commandments is “you shall not covet.” I’ve heard people say that the last five commandments (Exodus 20:12-17) are horizontal, governing human to human interaction. They do, but this one is more than that. To covet is to want what you do not have. Who provides what we have? God. Feeling entitled is a statement to God: I deserve more. You have refused me what I need. You are lacking in your goodness.

The opposite of entitlement is contentment. Contentment does not depend on circumstances, material possessions, or successes in life. Contentment is a by-product of something bigger: trust in the God who provides every good thing. Trust in a God who is absolutely good.

Paul wrote, “Not that I speak from want, but I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am…” What was Paul’s secret to living in contentment?  “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely…dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8 NASB).  If there was a list of what Paul felt would fit that bill, God would have been right at the top.

When entitlement poisons our heart and mind, we already have the antidote. We need to dwell on God’s goodness. Had Adam and Eve taken a minute to think about how good God had already been to them, how every good thing had come from His abundant generosity and grace, I’m pretty sure they would have doubted that conniving snake. What Satan was saying was in direct conflict with anything they already knew about God. It would have been a no-brainer to walk away.

Let’s make sure our children and grandchildren understand that everything they have has come from God, including parents who say no for a reason. Let’s help them to understand there are bigger, more important things in life than getting to play video games all day or freedom to roam at will. Encourage them about His goodness, which He limits only to grow us in our trust in Him.

Because God is good…all the time.

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment, for we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.  1 Timothy 6:6-7 NASB

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Thoughts on Entitlement from @JulieZColeman on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

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About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: Do you ever struggle with entitlement?

 

 

 

Godly Disagreement

by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman

Years ago, my teenage son fell asleep at the wheel and sideswiped our neighbor’s parked car. Not huge damage, but an inconvenience to be sure. Since it was the middle of the night, he left a note. I saw my neighbors outside the next morning and walked over to apologize and assure them my son would come over after work to get the insurance details straight. Another neighbor was there, actually far angrier than the neighbor with the damaged car. Incensed at my son’s blunder, he blamed my lack of parenting skills for the incident. “When my boys are teenagers,” he stormed, “I will never allow them to be so careless and cause this kind of trouble.”

Good luck with that one. Obviously, he had not yet experienced the challenge of raising teenagers. Everyone is an expert on parenting… until they actually become parents. It is so easy to judge when you have never walked in someone else’s shoes.

Passing judgment without regard to your limited understanding of someone’s situation has become pretty common these days. On social media, a culture has developed in which judgment on others has become the norm—even within the Church. It’s so easy to leave a snide or angry comment, then move on. But words like that are not from the Lord.

Jesus called us to unity. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:5 NASB). When debate over issues accelerates into mud-slinging, we can inflict serious damage, on more than the other person. God intends to reveal himself to the world through the way his Church interacts. When we judge and condemn our brothers and sisters in Christ, our effectiveness as God-reflectors is seriously compromised.

It’s one thing to disagree with a doctrinal position. It’s another to assassinate character.

Is there a godly way to disagree within the body of Christ? Yes. But it involves a purposeful mindset.

1. Keep in mind how much you have in common with the one with whom you disagree. You were equally guilty and saved by the unmerited favor of God (Romans 2:4). You are both adopted children of the King with the Holy Spirit residing in you as a guarantee of your shared inheritance.

2. The Holy Spirit is at work in both of you to perfect what was started on the day of your salvation. Neither one has reached that perfection yet! (Philippians 1:6) But we can trust that the He will continue His work in us. Paul recognized this when he wrote the Philippians: “…If in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:15 NASB). It is not up to us to convict people–state your position but then trust the Holy Spirit to lead them to His truth.

3. Just as you hope they will do for you, choose to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Jesus told His disciples, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you…” (Matthew 7:12 NASB). You don’t want to be written off because of incorrectly assumed bad intentions or motivation. So extend that courtesy to them first.

Understand, like my angry neighbor, you have not walked in their shoes. We all carry baggage from the events in our lives. This person’s position or actions may well have been influenced by trauma or negative experiences you have never experienced. As Hillel, a rabbi who lived several decades before Jesus, wisely said, “Judge not your fellow man until you yourself come into his place.”

4. Stick to the issue at hand and resist the mud-slinging. We are on the same team! Our spiritual gifts were given to build up others in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:7).When we go for the jugular, we don’t build up, but tear down. It is easy in the heat of the moment to forget the all-important goal of contributing to our brother’s growth.

5. Recognize the possibility you are (gasp!) in error. I’m embarrassed to admit just how many issues I have hotly debated over the years for which I now hold a different conviction. Humility is never a bad thing.

It’s OK to disagree. Iron sharpens iron. But make it a clean “fight”. When we purpose to interact in a godly way, we reflect an important characteristic of our heavenly Father: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36 NASB). And leave it to the Lord to do the judging.

“Therefore, do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts.” 1 Corinthians 4:5 NASB

TWEETABLE
Godly Disagreement – insight and encouragement from @JulieZColeman on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

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About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: What have you learned about handling disagreement in a godly way?

Compelling Love

by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all…that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NIV

Years ago, whenever I came for a visit, my sister, my mom, and I frequently shopped together at our favorite Connecticut venue: Marlboro Country Barn. An old farmstead house and barns had been converted into a group of country shops that sold furniture and other home accessories.

As we were browsing one day, I noticed a cute little boy alone.  He was mesmerized by some magnetic figurines “skating” around a mirror pond. His attention was so focused, he was unaware when his parents moved on to another room. Suddenly he looked up and realized he was alone.  In a panic, he began to whimper, “Mommy? Where are you?”

My heart went out to him. I stooped down and gently asked, “Honey, did you lose your mom and dad?”

But before I could offer to help find them, he looked at me in horror and screamed at the top of his lungs: “NO! GET AWAY FROM ME!  YOU… ARE… A… STRANGER!!”

Embarrassed, I backed away, trying to assure the other shoppers now condemning me with their stares that I was only trying to help. Of course, my sister and mom were of no assistance; they were hiding behind the candles doubled over with laughter. Fortunately, the mother came quickly at the sound of her son’s cry, and the little guy was rescued. 

That boy was so convinced that all strangers were a threat to him, he was absolutely compelled to reject my offer of help. And not a person in that room had any doubt of his conviction!

As believers, we have convictions, too. “For Christ’s love compels us,” Paul wrote the Corinthians, “Because we are convinced that one died for all…that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NIV). 

The Greek lexicon defines that word, compels, as urging or providing impulse for some activity. It can also mean occupied or absorbed, or involved in intensive engagement. You get the picture. What we have experienced of the love of Christ has provided a life-altering insight.

What we know to be true, then, compels our response.

The night Jesus was arrested, the disciples scattered. They went into hiding, afraid for their lives. Yet forty days later, those same men are found preaching on the streets and in the temple, boldly proclaiming the name of Jesus. What happened? They had witnessed the resurrected Christ. They now understood why He had come and what He had accomplished on the cross. There was no doubt in their minds as to what was true. And that truth compelled them to spread the word, even at the risk of death.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear,” Ambrose Redmoon once observed. The disciples stood ready to risk everything, because they knew something more important than their lives was at stake.      

What we know compels a response. Like that little boy at Marlboro Country Barn whose conviction moved him to scream at the advances of a stranger, our conviction moves us to respond just as strongly to what we know to be true. We owe Him everything. The great love that He has lavished upon us demands a response. It only makes sense that we would choose to live for Him.

TWEETABLE
Compelling Love – insight and encouragement from @JulieZColeman on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

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About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: What knowledge compels you into action?