Shaping Life  

Posted by Jarrod Spencer in , , , , , , , , , , ,

When I was younger I remember being told that I needed to choose my friends wisely. Those I hung around would have an influence on my future. Occasionally, I was reminded of this when my mom didn't like my ongoing behavior; accrediting it to my peers.

Those who we are around can have a great influence on us. That influence could be toward the negative or the positive. That influence could project us forward, drag us behind, or keep us stagnate. How we choose will make a difference in our life, so the choice is yours. That brings us to this week's quote...

You must constantly ask yourself these questions: Who am I around? What are they doing to me? What have they got me reading? What have they got me saying? Where do they have me going? What do they have me thinking? And most important, what do they have me becoming? Then ask yourself the big question: Is that okay? Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change. ~ Jim Rohn
As you read through that quote, how did you respond? What is your current situation(s) like with those you are around? How are they treating you? Are you challenged to read anything? Do they make you move toward the positive in your thinking or challenge your thinking? What will you "become" because you know them and hang around them?

Are you okay with where your life is going? What do you need to do to make things become better? What changes in a portion of your life must you make?

This challenges me to keep going with people and situations that can make a positive difference in my life, rather than have people that will drag it down.

Now it's your turn...What will your life look like in the next six months after you answer these questions?

Have you ever had one of those projects that seemed to get bigger the more you were further along into the project? I have had remodeling projects which seemed to take at least 1/3 longer time than I expected. Then, I've had art projects which seemed to just become bigger and bigger the more invested in it I became.

Similarly, on Sunday, we looked at Jesus receiving a few loaves of bread and some fish to feed a large crowd, in Matthew 15:29-39. He took those few items and turned it into enough to have leftovers. He multiplied what was given to Him. This is the crux of the message for me, the fact that He took little and made much. Here are some applications to choose from to use this week...

  • Magnetically Therapeutic ~ Jesus seemed to always attract crowds to Him. Whether they wanted healing or to hear Him talk or to "set Him up" they wanted to be around Him. There are people that you know who may have that type of personality. Someone who others seem to just want to be around. What qualities did Jesus or others we know have that is so attractive? May we emulate those types of qualities from Jesus and others we know which is attractive. Maybe we can attract them to Jesus!
  • Act of Mercy ~ If you compare the feeding of 5,000 to the feeding of 4,000 there will be similarities. One difference to note is that Jesus is the instigator of desiring to feed the people. The people had been with Him for three days and now they were heading home. They didn't have any food left, according to the text, so Jesus takes it upon Himself to provide. He is dishing out mercy on the people. As He will provide for us when we are depleted we can recognize that and be grateful. As God is "rich in mercy" (Ephesians 2:4), it is demonstrated through the acts of Jesus. What an awesome God we serve!
  • No Money, No Problem ~ Jesus is the well of abundance. This well may be small in appearance (just one guy) but from it comes forth everything. The disciples seemed to act like the blind that Jesus healed when they were not seeing the possibilities of how this feat was going to be accomplished. They were looking at the "here and now" and also the glass "half empty." You would think they knew they had the "trump card" in Jesus, but their minds took them away from Him and His abilities to the problem and impossibilities. We can be much like that, when we have a problem, we foresee the obstacles more often than the opportunities. When we have a financial setback, do we wonder more about "where the money will come from" or "who will God put in my path which I can show who I am" to? It may change our outlook and may be worth a try.
As Jesus took this small amount of food and turned it into enough to feed around 10,000 people, what will He do with your "small" items? Do you have a "pipe dream" that you see not much possibility in accomplishing? I am guessing the disciples looked out at the crowds with much the same lack of optimism, yet look at what Jesus did in that situation. What will He do in your situation?

Now it's your turn...what "small" thing will you give to Him?

This time of the year is filled with families who are getting together and enjoying time together. Sometime during that time together they will likely share in a meal together. For some people, there may be more than one “Thanksgiving” meal that is shared with more than one family unit. For some families, they will go to Thanksgiving at one side of their family tree and Christmas at the other side.

As you know, with holidays like Thanksgiving we tend to focus on being thankful and gratitude. These are great things to be focused on in a world that tends to focus on problems. Then, all the positive that comes with Christmas and the “most wonderful time of the year.” Who cannot help but to love this time of year? However, there are some that may not be at the pinnacle of the idealistic side of the holidays.

As this time of year is often spent with family, there stands some special population that sometimes seems to be overlooked or shoved to the side. I am speaking of those who have lost loved ones over the past year. I know that there will be those who have already spent their “first” holiday season, birthday, and other special days without their loved one, but there is something about that “first” season away from a loved one.

In the past year, I have known several who fall into this category. Though I hadn’t spent several of the previous holiday seasons with my grandma and uncle, I have lost them both in the recent months. Along with that, a great gentleman who I was close to was suddenly killed on a motorcycle accident this past summer.

As I think about these three individuals, my heart goes out to their families. In the case of my grandmother, my father and his siblings lost their mother. In the case of my uncle, he left behind a wife, two sons and their families, and three sisters, plus other family members. In the case of my friend, he leaves behind a wife, three kids and their families, plus other family members.

As I reflect on these three situations I cannot help but wonder how this Thanksgiving and Christmas will affect them. For several, they have spent several of these holidays with that loved one and this one is going to have a void.

Along with that void there will be sadness and tears. Although this is a season that is normally positive in nature, for those with a void in their holiday season, all positive will be at least a bit clouded by the vacancy of their loved one.

To no longer have your loved one in your life is going to present its various levels of difficulty as you venture into the holiday season. With that void in one’s life this season may not be the “most wonderful time of the year” because you will be missing that person who, a few months before, was in your life.

For those who are experiencing their “first” holiday season without a special loved one, I would like to say I will be praying for you as you travel through this holiday season without them. If you know of someone in this special population, I would like to ask you to be praying for those you know. Pray that God may comfort them as they reflect on their past, which they were fortunate to spend with their loved one. May the Great Comforter fill the void for all of you who are missing something this holiday season.Share/Bookmark


Posted by Jarrod Spencer in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Happy Thanksgiving!

A day to be full of gratitude; appreciating all that one has in their life. Appreciating everything from health to family, house to job, and there will likely be "things" involved in that list somewhere.

Most will be enjoying a meal that is bigger than can be consumed in one setting. Others will be eating a meal with several people that are not their family but they enjoy their company. However, there are those people who will be sitting down to the meal this year who will be saddened because they have lost a loved one whom they miss celebrating this holiday with - maybe a first, but not limited to a first.

Whoever you are eating your meal with, this is a holiday about gratitude, which brings us to this week's quote...

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. ~ Melody Beattie
The other day at my Bible Class at a local nursing home, we all shared some various memories we have had around Thanksgiving. Along with that, we shared things we are thankful for in our life. Then we discussed how saying and hearing things we are thankful for kind of lifts our mood. Even when we are listening to others share their expressions of gratitude, we are still lifted.

Now it's your turn...How has the quote been applicable to you?

One of my first "disasters" in preaching school came within the first couple of weeks of school. I was in Old Testament History I with Richard Rogers. At the beginning of the class, he had mentioned that we would be having quizzes on Mondays. The content of the quiz would be made up of last week's material and some of the previous week's material. That would mean you didn't just remember one week's worth of information, but you needed to be ready for the second week, as well. I remember taking the quiz and being frustrated, knowing I didn't fare so well. I was correct, my score - 61% - OUCH! That was terrible! I felt embarrassed and ashamed. However, it caused me to rebound like I never had done prior in all my years of education. From that point on, I either made a perfect or only missed a couple, always getting a score of 98-100%. It took some persistence to make that happen!

There have been times in my life which I had to be persistent in fighting through obstacles to make something happen. The obstacles take the form of many things. However, persistence is the key.

Sunday, we looked at Matthew 15:21-28 and the scene of the persistent Canaanite woman who had a girl who was demon-possessed. As we reflect back on that lesson, here are some applications to choose from to use this week...

  • Identifying Him ~ The woman identifies Jesus as "Lord, Son of David" when she approaches Him. How do we identify Jesus when we are talking to Him? Is He our Lord? Is He "Hey, you?" Is He "Jesus" (said in a vain, frustrated tone)? Is He our Savior? Whatever we identify Him as, are we making sure He is priority in our life? That is one of the main factors in how we identify Him.
  • Waiting in the Silence ~ One of the most intriguing part of this passage is Jesus' initial response to her plea. His response is silence. Silence is filled with question marks. We may be saying/thinking "Umm, hello...anyone there?" as we wave our hand in front of someone's eyes to see if they are listening. This woman has just come to Jesus with an urgent plea regarding her daughter and he says nothing. Are you good at waiting in the silence? I'm not. As we are waiting, think about this, there may be times in our life that God is delaying our request, rather than denying it. That was powerful to me!
  • Crumbs of Power ~ Jesus initially is explaining to the woman that Israel (this woman is a Gentile) is the privileged people and should be receiving God's choice benefits. Her reaction entails that she simply wants to receive some of the crumbs. She knows that if she were to have simply a little of Jesus it would be enough to save her daughter. How about you? Are you content with just a little of Jesus or do you need Him to show up "big" before you're content? Crumbs are all we need! Enjoy the crumbs of power through faith!
  • Don't Take 'No' For an Answer ~ This woman was not going to let anything become too big of an obstacle to make sure her daughter was healed. We can show those around us how awesome of a God we serve as we are examples of being persistent in our faith. When you see a "no" coming your way, keep never know what will occur as a result!
Keeping on keeping on is a skill that takes persistence to display itself. It would be a skill that would be beneficial for people to understand when it comes to things of the unknown, like how God responds to us. We are going to receive a lot of "silence" when it comes to asking God for help because we simply cannot hear His voice in the audible form. So as we are waiting, how are we going to respond? What are we going to do when God seems to "show" us that He is responding to our request? May we be consistent and persistent in our requests that we make toward Him.

Now it's your turn...when has persistence in prayer or life paid off? When has it not?

Expected Outcome  

Posted by Jarrod Spencer in , , , , , , , , , ,

When I was a freshman in high school one of my classes was called "Beginning Shop I." Almost the whole year seemed like a waste of time. We didn't get to use one single power tool the entire year, even if we learned about them. There was one day which our whole class had been kind of goofing off and our teacher was getting frustrated with us. I don't remember what I did or didn't do, when I heard my teacher exclaim "Spence!" I responded, "What? I wasn't doing anything." He zinged me by saying, "That's the problem."

I wasn't working on my assignment so I wasn't going to have much of a chance of completing the assignment.

When it has come to getting things completed in life, procrastination or distraction can have a tendency to sneak in. I may put things off or choose to do something else instead, for the time being. What is going to happen in that time I am either putting it off or choosing to do something else is nothing. That brings us to this week's quote...

You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result. ~ Mahatma Gandhi
What have you aimed to start in life but you did nothing to get you there. The result is predictable - the end result will be nothing.

What is something you wanted to try to pursue but haven't started yet? If you want to have the outlook you envision you need to begin. Otherwise the result will be predictable. There may be no guarantee that what you pursue you will reach, but there basically is a guarantee that what you don't pursue you won't reach.

What steps do you need to make in order to get yourself closer to your goal?

Now it's your turn...what do you need to start?

You have certain traditions that you've grown up with that may have been surprising when you found out someone did it differently. There may be some traditions which you established when you became married and had a family of your own. Traditions can help moments be that much more special. However we can't expect all to fall in love with our tradition(s).

What about for those of you who are religious, by nature. What traditions do you hold as important, possibly going as far to say the lack of observing them may shake up your faith?

In Matthew 15:1-20, Jesus was approached by the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law to point out that Jesus' disciples were not washing their hands prior to eating. As my lesson pointed out, this was not a commandment, but it was something that had been observed as a traditional activity.

As we reflect back on that lesson, here are some applications to choose from to use this week...

  • What's Important ~ Importance is one of those lovely subjective words. What is important to you may not be important to me. The reverse is also correct. If you view certain things in the worship setting as important and I don't - who is right? You can feel free to see that it is important and observe it all you want, but there are many matters in which I may not see them as important. I fear to make a list, so you can leave comments if you wish. However, may we watch our judgments when it comes to "who does what" in the religious circles.
  • Three Fingers Pointing At You ~ Pointing a finger causes you to have three that are pointing at you. There may be the occasional "good" reason to point out a wrong in someone. However, as Jesus replies to the claim of the Pharisees, they were not doing what is right and needed to watch out!
  • What Comes Out is Polluted ~ We've all likely had the stomach flu. When you vomit all that polluted food that you ate, plus stomach fluids are coming out. The food you took in was not bad, but this partially digested food was bad. Jesus points out that what goes in does not make us defiled, rather what comes out of us is what defiles us. Watch out and make sure that what is coming out is not full of defilement.
  • Dumb Question ~ As a minister, some people have a warped view that I know"everything" about the Bible. I wish that were the case, though it is flattering to have people come to me with questions. I am always in a learning process. In the passage, Peter asks a question that Jesus responds with a sense of a rebuke. Almost giving the thought that this was a "dumb question" that he asked. When you ask God questions that may be "dumb" just know that you are in good company. Peter was a good guy to be paralleled with. Ask God all the questions...He knows we are just "us."
Pointing out that one's tradition is better or that others should be following it is treading in dangerous waters. Keep in mind that traditions are different than commandments. When we see commandments, they are something we should be observing.

Where is your heart when you are pointing out the wrongs of others...traditions or actions? May we look closely at our hear in those situations.

Now it's your turn...when have you been bound to a tradition you didn't agree with? Religious or otherwise...I'm eager to hear!

Work Never Begun  

Posted by Jarrod Spencer in , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You may have seen signs that say something like "Future Home of" and there is an organization or business name associated with it. Have you ever seen any of those types of signs on properties that never seem to change?

These types of properties make the surrounding property look kind of sad because there is no promise of that building or property getting finished. So, it all just sits there - waiting to be developed.

However, as sad as the property looks, at least someone took the time to start. That brings us to this week's quote...
Can anything be sadder than work unfinished? Yes, work never begun. ~ Christina Rossetti
I think there are lots of "works", within people, that are never begun. There is likely a lot of people who have potential for success simply hidden within them. You pass by them on a regular basis without even knowing it.

There could be properties booming all around us, everywhere we go, if they were simply started - if the dream would commit one foot in stepping out to take the first step.

If you could do ANYTHING
in life, would your present life look any different? Even if you are in your "dream" job, would you have something about the present situation that would cause it to look different?

What causes it to not look like that? What could you do to make it start to look like your "dream" position? Think about it and work to develop ways to achieve it! Share/Bookmark

"Come on, you can do it! I dare you! [Pause of hesitancy] What are you, chicken? Bawk, bawk!" goes the conversation from peer to peer as one is trying to get the other person to try something which they are apprehensive about. Maybe the person goes through with it or maybe they back down. Trouble could be on one side, whether it is trouble with authorities or risk being physically hurt.

The invitation is there but the person is reluctant, for whatever reason. Though there could be the potential of being hurt after committing to the challenge, the example fits into Jesus' invitation to Peter in Matthew 14:22-36. Peter is in the boat and Jesus is walking to him and the other disciples on the water. The disciples are frightened when they see Jesus approaching. Jesus identifies Himself. Peter asks a question.

"Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water."

Jesus responds to Peter with the invitation to walk to Him. Peter starts to climb out of the boat and walk toward Jesus. However, let's break this down a bit. Imagine the scene, the winds blowing, the waves crashing, the boat rising and falling and Peter is climbing out of the boat. We don't know how big the boat is to know how far he had to climb down to touch the water from the side. We don't know if he dipped his toe into the water to see what the temperature was like. We don't know if he took off his shoes/sandals. All those details are not known, but the scene most of us picture is probably a guy that is going over with confidence. However, did he have as much confidence as we give him?

Rather, was his confidence level much like the person in the opening illustration that is hesitant to jump? Is his confidence about as high as yours is when you are met with challenges that just seem to shake you up? Sunday we looked at the scene where Jesus walks on the water and invites Peter to do the same. Here are some applications to choose from to use this week...

  • Post-Event Prayer ~ After you have had the opportunity to be involved in an event, maybe one you hosted or simply helped with, take time to pray. Pray for yourself, your guests, those who helped, those who played a part but were not present, etc. Within those prayers you can be thankful, pray for others' week, ask God to continue to open doors, ask God to refill you after you feel drained, or a number of other prayer requests. Typically, it would be a good idea to do this on your own, in a solitary place. It is good to end the day or an event with prayer, we need it!
  • Jesus Shows Up Unexpectedly ~ When you think things are going a certain way, you may define them "as planned" that is likely when Jesus will be there. Similarly to the surprise the disciples received when they thought they saw a "ghost" but it was actually Jesus, we may be totally blown away by His arrival. This won't be a tangible person who will simply "drop in" on your life, rather it may be an opportunity for you to share something of yourself with others and/or the situation. Don't let it frighten you, revel in it!
  • Come... ~ When Jesus shows up and you have the opportunity to respond, you will have to make the choice. Jesus will ask you to respond. Be ready for it and "come on" so that you can meet up with Him and enjoy the time together as you expand the Kingdom together!
  • Get Out of the Boat ~ A book which was released a few years ago was titled "If You Want to Walk on Water, You Got to Get Out of the Boat." I have not read it but I have always liked the title. The title alone is challenging to me to think about how we must be willing to get out of the boat to do what we're asked/invited to do. My question is..."What is your boat?" What is is going on in your life that you are struggling to have the courage to climb over in order to put your foot into shaky ground? Is it something you are procrastinating about, simply fearful, relationship issues, bullies, your weight, etc.? In order to help any of these, we must quit hiding in our boat and climb out so that you can "walk on water."
I believe that we are met daily with at least one opportunity to get out of a "boat." We have the opportunity to respond in faith to something that is set before us. It may only take opening our mouth to climb out of the figurative boat. It may take picking up the phone or writing a letter. It may take walking across the street. There are all kinds of ways which we can look for to get out of our boat.

Now it's your turn...what "boat" are you riding in which you need to get out of?

Limit Your Planning  

Posted by Jarrod Spencer in , , , , ,

Planning in life can have its good parts but also can have its bad. I have areas in which I am flexible, but there are also parts of life which I might be described as inflexible. I have a side of me which I like to have things go a certain way each day. You may narrow it down to "as planned." But there is also a side of me that enjoys some unplanned things. Of course those are subjective so I may prefer some and not prefer others.

Even though a side of me is resistant to being flexible, another side looks forward to the possibility of interruptions. I have had days where God through me a curve ball and I had to switch gears very quickly. Those are the days when I look forward to what He might be sending me. There have been some very interesting curve balls thrown at me through the years. What have you experienced in the "unplanned" department? That brings us to this week's quote...
We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. ~ Joseph Campbell
Trying to hold on to the planned in life can be dangerous and wearisome. It binds us to where we are at. If we have our minds ready for the unplanned, then we have a sense of freedom which we can go about life without being confided or holding on to the plans and seeing what God will bring our way.

As you go about today, tomorrow, or next week, you may have to plan out certain parts of your day but be ready for the interruptions and unplanned things that are going to come about. You never know what is waiting for you up ahead...God might have something super exciting for you!

Now it's your turn...what do you like or don't like about God bringing unplanned things your way?