Thank God for Your Crummy Car

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By Jason Comerford

Recently my wife and I finally waved goodbye to our 2000 Pontiac Grand Am.

As it drove off securely fastened to the back of a tow truck, the Lord reminded me of what an immense blessing the car had been.

Which is an interesting thought for such a crummy car.

I purchased the car about four and a half years ago from a past college roommate’s wife’s parents. Kind of an interesting connection, but I needed a car and they were selling. Almost immediately, the car started needing constant repairs. You plugged one leak, and a new one formed. Cheap parts kept breaking. I won’t go into all the details, but it was a constant drain on my already very limited resources. One of my clients, a mechanic, laughingly informed me of how legendarily bad my car’s particular engine was among mechanics.

His advice was to sell it as fast as Craigslist would take it.

Despite that, we hung onto it. Between trying to build a business and being a relatively new married couple, we never seemed to quite find time to really get rid of it.

One day, I found myself checking the oil and coolant levels (as had become by twice weekly habit), and, in all the exasperation of caring for this dying hunk-of-junk car, gospel reality hit me like a much-needed ton of joyful bricks.

Jesus doesn’t break down. He doesn’t need parts changed. Oil doesn’t leak. Coolant doesn’t overheat. Fuel doesn’t run low. There are no cheap, plastic parts.

Instead, Jesus is eternal (Hebrews 13:8), mighty (Isaiah 9:6), and reliable (Psalm 18:2). He does not ever wear out (Isaiah 40:28) or cease working right when you need Him (John 5:17). Jesus will never fail or forsake me. He will not grow tired or weary. He won’t leave. And, faced with a car that was on its last legs and hardly having the funds to replace it, this was a deeply joyful reminder. I kid you not, I laughed like a giddy child with the reminder that Jesus Christ is nothing like my junker of a car.

But here’s something else we shouldn’t miss.

Did you notice what that reminder came through? What had a hand in helping me see such a joyful, delightful revelation?

That very same car.

The car that had caused so much frustration and so much heartache and so much worry was now the very conduit through which joy and God’s praise had come. And it hadn’t come through a brand new car or any kind of financial solution — it had come through my car being a frustrating pain.

May we all, with God’s help, remember this the next time we’re tempted to turn to anger or self-pity because of many of life’s inconveniences, frustrations, and expenses. It doesn’t matter one bit if we don’t have the time, the patience, or the money to deal with it. Trust in God, for He is working both your good and His glory!

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Contrasted Joy

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By Nate Champneys

As I reflect back on the Advent season, some thoughts come to mind. Advent is all about reliving the anticipation for the coming Messiah, right? But when you look at the language of the Old Testament, it wasn’t this excited, happy, “Santa Claus is coming to town,” “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” kind of anticipation. It was a desperate longing. A crying out to God in the midst of pain, confusion, and almost even anger. It is interesting how Advent strikingly resembles a lament. If we go through Advent without reliving the lamenting of the people of Israel, I think we miss out on something.

Contrast is a huge part of our lives and really important. In an autumn landscape, if all the trees were exactly the same color, it just would not be nearly as beautiful as the contrast of all the colors. Think of some of your most favorite foods. In food, one flavor, take salty for example, is okay, but it’s multiple flavors together that make food tasty. Salt is fine, but when you put buttery, sweet, and salty together, it makes something amazing—salted caramel chocolates. Mmmmm. Without the salt, though, it’s just an ordinary caramel. In the same way, when we go through Advent, if we miss the lamenting, longing part, the joyful part is just not as good.

Contrast. It gives everything context. How do we really understand joy without the contrast of suffering? The apostle Paul said, “I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 7:4). Kay Warren defines joy as “the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” It’s not that suffering is necessary for us to have joy, but how much more can we take joy in something when we contrast it with suffering. Psalm 43:4 says, “There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God!” Psalm 86:8 says “Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord; Nor are there any works like Your works.” There is contrast again. There is no one like our God. That fact contrasted with everything else makes our God the source of true joy. Joy is really the natural response to the understanding that, in all things, God is god.

So as we finish the Advent season, our final resting place is joy. We have joy because our God is like no other God. Our God, since the dawn of sin, promised to make things right again. Our God kept His promise. And our God will also keep his promise to come again. Because of all these things, we can have joy.

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Strangely Dim

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By Tom Chase

Have you ever felt overwhelmed, burdened, defeated, or just plain stressed out by all life has to throw your way? Hard times, difficulties, and troubles hit us, and I guess we shouldn’t be surprised since God tells us “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33), but somehow I still get blindsided. All these difficulties, hard times, and troubles in life can show up on our doorsteps for a host of reasons. Sometimes it is us succumbing to our sinful nature, sometimes it’s making poor choices, sometimes it’s just life, and still other times I guess we simply have no idea why. We can get a small glimpse of God’s purpose from James: “…because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:3). Somehow, I simply don’t achieve “pure joy” at the arrival of hard times. Lord, help me in that!

It’s funny. I can get stressed on both sides of the same issue. Here’s what I mean: it was not that long ago I was earnestly praying, hoping to get enough work to pay my employees and pay the salary for my partner and myself. While I felt mostly at peace about the situation, I found it real easy to get stressed out about the whole thing. Now a relatively short time later, God has answered those prayers in a big way, we have so much work that I can get stressed out just trying to figure out how to get it all done—working long hours, hoping to make all the deadlines. How is that possible?

As I write this article, my heart goes out to all of you who are experiencing hard times, who are hurting, who feel that life has hit really hard, whether by broken dreams, health issues, struggling relationships, the wrong amount of work, financial difficulties, housing needs, or the loss of someone. So what are we to do? I understand that what I am about to suggest is somewhat simplistic in that there is much for us to consider, but there is hope! The weight of what we carry can at times be helped by changing our perspective to an eternal one.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

If this is all there is, then life would be pretty hopeless. But this is not all there is. Those in Christ Jesus have an infinite amount of time, an eternity in His presence, where there is joy evermore (yeah!).

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11)

This time on earth, though extremely limited in the light of eternity, is our time to live life as a response to God. We (especially I) need to be reminded of the truth of who He is and all He has done. I guess this is how Paul can speak of our troubles as “light and momentary.” Now that is a change of perspective.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

I know that this change in perspective does not make all our troubles disappear. But our focus on eternal things and the eternal One diminishes the havoc that all these concerns create in our life. The song “Strangely Dim” by Francesca Battistelli has been encouraging me to adjust my perspective to the eternal:

I’m gonna fix my eyes on all that You are
‘Til every doubt I feel
Deep in my heart
Grows strangely dim
Let all my worries fade
And fall to the ground
I’m gonna seek Your face
And not look around
‘Til the place I’m in
Grows strangely, strangely, strangely dim.

(for more …)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjmZ2v0niCI

Keep looking up!

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What steals your joy? How do you get it back?

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By Larry Short

Did you know that Jesus wants us to experience joy? In His “high priestly prayer” in John 17:13, as He was getting ready for a torturous crucifixion and departure from this earth, Jesus prayed in the hearing of His disciples: “I say these things while I am still in the world, that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”

Christ’s desire for us is that our lives be overflowing with joy! But we too often allow that joy to be stolen away. In our May 27, 2012 worship service (MP3) we looked at one thing, and a very subtle thing, that frequently steals our joy: distraction.

In the parable of the sower, Mark 4:18-19, Christ warns of the serious danger of distraction: “Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Did you know that “the worries of this life” are one of the distractions that has the potential to choke out the word of God in us and make us unfruitful? Like Martha in Luke 10, we might feel we are only “merely distracted,” but Jesus looks at our fixation on busyness and our worries and our upsetness, calls it what it is, and warns us that it can derail us. Distraction can rob us of the joy that He desires us to experience as we abide in Him.

Those of us with this addiction to busyness might think that happiness comes from much activity. But the reality is the opposite: True joy comes when we learn how to release the “good things” in order to focus on the “best thing.”

So, what’s the alternative to distraction? It’s a choice, according to Jesus, and it’s the choice that Mary made in Luke 10:38-42. Martha was preparing her home for a special guest, and Mary came over to help her. But when Jesus arrived, Mary left her sister working and went and sat down at Jesus’ feet, listening to him.

After Martha complained, Jesus revealed that what she had seen as mere distraction was in reality a far more serious problem: “Martha, Martha! You are upset and worried about many things. But few things are needed — indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better.”

Mary sat quietly at the feet of Christ and let His Word wash over her. That alone had the potential to transform her life.

When confronted with such a choice, what do we need to do? First, count the cost. As with finding freedom from any addiction, there is a price to healing. In order to focus your attention on the best thing, you may have to give up a good thing or two: a hobby, a favorite TV show, three cups of coffee in the morning, perhaps even a ministry task. None of these are bad things. But sometimes we must give up a good thing in order to find the best thing. Jesus told the rich young ruler to “Go, sell all that you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me.” He knew that was the bitter medicine that young man needed to find freedom from his distractions, and to focus his all on following God.

With Christ, it’s all or nothing, isn’t it? The man in the parable who found the pearl of great price, went and sold everything that he had to obtain the field it was buried in. God’s grace to us is free: but it’s not cheap. It cost Him everything to purchase our freedom. We must be willing to give up everything for Him.

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Trials

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by Stan Peterson

No one is exempt from trials! God allows trials to come about in our lives so that we can be conformed to His image (Romans 8.28-9). Trials are not easy or they would not be considered a trial. Trials vary for all of us and come in varying degrees (depth, width, height) and circumstances. Remembering the three P’s, patterns, processes, and principles help us to piece together what God is doing.

Patterns deal with the overall big picture, processes deal with the way and means God uses to move us along in the overall pattern. Principles are the lessons learned (foundational truth’s). God does not move us out of a process and onto a bigger/different pattern unless we are learning and growing in the midst (grasping hold of the principles and running with them). Many test’s have come my way and I have failed many! But I press on toward the goal of knowing God and be conformed unto His image (Philippians 3.12-16).

A recent trial from my life happened when I was studying at the library and I got a call. An unrecognized number, I went ahead and answered the call. It was a company calling to dispatch me for work, which I have been out of since June. I have 4 weeks left of Hebrew, which is taking me at least 32 hours of study a week just to get the exercises completed and the vocabulary memorized. I need this class to graduate in the spring.

The offer was for a partial job, one of 4 weeks. I could not feasibly continue in Hebrew and work full time. I turned down the offer, immediately I thought of our unemployment benefits and how I would have to give them up! Immediately rationalization, justification came in as to how I could answer the questions and have a clean conscience. I wanted to turn to God and ask WHY? As soon as I started ( I told myself are you going to trust God or the government). This happened on Thursday and I call in on Sunday to apply for our weekly benefits.

Sunday came and I sat at my computer in the evening, remembering to file! I sat and knew what to do, I was going to trust in God and answer honestly. I was denied the benefits and was told to call in the following week and be interviewed. I tried to call in on Monday, could not get through. Wednesday came, I prayed and called!

The interview went great and the lady explained to me that I was still eligible for benefits. I was not sure what to do? Maybe she did not understand, so I made sure to explain to her again, and she said that I was still eligible. I hung up and shouted with joy and amazement, at our God’s goodness.

I was at the library again last night and the Lord reminded me of James 1.2 “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” Whether we succeed or fail in a trial is crucial. No one may be able to see or hear or know! but God knows all, sees all and hears all. Our every day decisions have eternal consequences and effects that we may not know about until we stand before our God. The decisions good and bad have impact upon our individual destiny and that of our community’s.

May we fear God and worship Him in every decision that we make. May we be humble, broken and contrite before God and each other in this Journey. May we take upon the same mind as Christ! Philippians 2.5.

May you be strengthened with all might , according to His glorious power, for all patience and long suffering with joy.

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