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written by Elder Mike Hosey.
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A Real God in Your Real Life

We like for things in our life to be real.  When we buy a couch, we want it to be genuine leather not fake leather.  When we buy a diamond ring, we want the ring to be an actual diamond, and not cubic zirconia.   And when we are looking for friends, we want them to be real, honest, authentic people. Our desire for something to be real is so strong that it even extends to pain.  When we experience pain, we want it to be from a real source, and not an imaginary one. Afterall, it’s hard to treat “imaginary” pain. This is no different when we are looking for God. We want him to be real, genuine, and authentic.  But this is difficult because we usually test real things with multiple senses. If you’re thirsty in the desert, you might see water on the horizon. But that’s only one sense. Your sight may be a mirage. Until you can see it, taste it, feel it and hear it, it could be a simple perception issue.  So how do we know that God is real? We can’t see him, touch him, or feel him. Or can we?

Throughout the years, I’ve been astounded at how intricate the Bible is.  As a source outside of myself, it testified to something bigger and more honest than me. Major concepts in the Old Testament are exquisitely interlinked with truths in the New. The more I read the Bible, the more real I perceived God to be. I kept finding him among its pages over and over again. Then I began to find the God of those pages in the pages of my life.

Real evidence for his realness was in my very being. When I did something wrong, a pang told me so. If I lied, or lusted, or hated, or stole, the pang messed with my gut, and with my mind.  A standard was being applied inside of me that could have only been established from a source outside of me: a real God had written a code of conduct on my heart that applied to me and to everyone else.

As my relationship with him increased, I began to see him in my own history.  Things in life that I thought were bad, he had been using for my good. I understood why he made me live in one place instead of another, and why he directed my steps to one career instead of another. I began to see him in my marriage, and in my relationships, and in my failures, and in my victories. He was a real God who was active in the realities of my life.

12 Suggestions for This New Year!

The new year is almost here, and it’s that time when people begin to make resolutions. Well here’s a suggestion for 12 resolutions — one for each month. As a means of staying on track, perhaps you can refer back to this list as you move through the year.

JANUARY: Resolve to Celebrate a Real God. Recognize the evidence of him in your life (it’s everywhere) and praise him for it everywhere.

FEBRUARY: Resolve to Love a Real God more. Strengthen your relationship with him by removing sin from your life (we all have it – Romans 3:23, 1 Timothy 1:15). And love God more by loving the people that he loves.

MARCH: Resolve to Do the Will of a Real God. Loving God and celebrating him means that you will want to do those things that are important to him. Make an effort to find out what that is and compare it to your life choices.

APRIL: Resolve to Find Your Real Purpose. God has a purpose and a plan for you while you’re alive. Figure out what that is and make it happen. Hint: It will include making him known to others.

MAY: Resolve to Know Your Real Purpose at Home. Take an inventory of your home life. Is God a part of every aspect of it?

JUNE: Know Your Real Purpose in Community. God has many purposes for you. One of them will include serving his people at church on a regular basis. Make it happen.

JULY: Resolve to Be a Real Person. Embrace that you’re not perfect. Then embrace the fact that God is perfecting you (Romans 8:29).

AUGUST: Resolve to Be a Real Person in Christ. Are you authentic in your following of Christ? If you’re like the rest of us, probably not perfectly so. Are you even trying?

SEPTEMBER: Resolve to Be a Real Person Who Loves. Be genuine and passionate in your love for others. Make it visible in your actions and your words.

OCTOBER: Resolve to Embrace Real Change. God loves you. He doesn’t want you to stay the same, but to always be getting better. It’s going to hurt a bit, but let it happen.

NOVEMBER: Resolve to Affect Real Change in Others. Be a patient, kind, and loving model for others to emulate. Be in their lives — a lot — so that they can see the model.

DECEMBER: Resolve to Celebrate Real Changes. Take a look back at how much God did in your life, and because of you in the past year. Praise him for it, and enjoy the benefits!

Does God Really Care?

Misconceptions about God permeate humanity’s thinking like the holes in swiss cheese. One of those mistaken beliefs is the notion that God is distant, that he does not care about us, and that he is difficult to please. Some of this belief may originate from the Old Testament stories of God where he seems to always speak to his people through prophets who have special access, or through Angels who visit special people, or by directly addressing them in dramatic or mysterious fashion.

This skewed view of God’s character is best balanced by a study of the New Testament’s portrayal of the life of Jesus. Consider how the the Old Testament prophet Isaiah said that he would be named “Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).  And how the Angel reinforces that idea to Mary when he tells her that Jesus will be called Immanuel — which means God with us (Matthew 1:23). When Jesus came to earth as a man, he was God with us — not in a distant, mysterious way, but in a real and close way.  In fact, he he was a real God, living as a real man, forging real relationships, who created the greatest and best real change the world has ever known.

Notice the raw, personal emotion of Jesus in the story of the death of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). In the story, Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, and the brother of Mary and Martha had been dead for some time.  When Jesus approaches Mary and Martha and the people that were part of that social circle, he finds them weeping. Jesus weeps, too. The bible says he was deeply moved, and that his spirit was greatly troubled.  He wasn’t troubled by the death of Lazarus. Jesus knew that he could be raised from the dead, and indeed, brought life back to Lazarus. He was moved and troubled by the pain in his friends.

Jesus is not distant.  He is close to you. He cares for you. And he can empathize with you (Psalm 34:18, 1 Peter 5:6-7, Hebrews 4:15 NIV).

SOME WHYS BEHIND THE PHRASE “GOD WITH US.”

There is something profound about shared experience. This is one reason why successful marriages have so much emotional or spiritual depth. Husband and wife are shaped in the crucible of shared moments – both good and bad.  It’s why soldiers bond. When a band of brothers (or sisters) have experienced together the horrors of war, or the elations of victory, they can’t help but to be welded to one another. When two people who have never met suddenly realize that they share a common history with common elements, they often become fast friends. It is far easier for one person to be counseled by another person if the counseling person shares something in his or her history with the person being counseled.  People respond well to empathy because they believe the person who has it can feel their hurts.

It is partly because of this that the angel told Mary, the mother of Jesus, that her son would be called Immanuel (Matthew 1:23).  The name means “God with us.” When Jesus took on a life of flesh and blood, he took on a life of temptation, and pain, and shared experience. He maintained his Godness, but also took on humanness (Hebrews 4:15 NIV). He can relate to us. But more importantly, we can see him as our living, breathing, and walking example (1 Peter 2:21-25).

But God with us is so much more than us being able to relate to him.  It is also about him fighting our battles. Consider how many times the phrase, “God with us,” or any of its variations occur within the context of God seizing victory or protection for his children (Joshua 1:9, Deuteronomy 31:6, Matthew 28:20, Psalm 23:4, just to name a few).

God is with us so that we can have relationship with him, and he is with us so that we can feel secure that our victory will be won.

3 Reasons Not to Fear Finances

Finances may produce more fear and anxiety than any other element of our world. Otherwise strong men and women awaken in the middle of the night drenched in a cold sweat worried about their money problems.  When they don’t awaken in middle of the night, it’s often because they haven’t yet fallen asleep from ruminating about their bank account. Finances will make people do crazy things, like sell their bodies, borrow money they can’t repay from people who will oppress them for their debt, or avoid fixing necessary things that must be fixed  – like their health, their house, or their car. This is really no surprise. Almost everything in human life intersects with money in some way. The truth is that if there’s no dough, there’s no show. Money is a necessity. But you don’t have to fear finances. Here are a number of reasons why you shouldn’t fear finances:

1) It’s a Matter of Discipline: Proverbs 22:7 spells it out nicely.  The borrower is slave to the lender. If you don’t want to be that slave, then avoid borrowing money.  Be disciplined so you know how much money you have, what you need to survive at a reasonable level, and how much work you need to do to acquire that level.  One of the keys to acquiring such discipline is found in Hebrews 13:5 – avoid a love of money (and shiny things) and be content with what you have, knowing that you have Jesus wherever you go. Keep a budget, stick to it, and know where your money goes. Save and invest whatever you can, whenever you can (Proverbs 13:11). Barring some tragedy or catastrophe, if you do all these things, you won’t have money troubles. If you already have money troubles, doing these things will go far to get you out of them.

2) It’s a Matter of Diligence: Proverbs 10:4 tells us that a slack hand causes poverty, and that a diligent one makes a person rich. If you want to see wealth, you’ll have to work for it. One of the ironies of life is that if you want to be comfortable, you’ll have to sweat and forego some comfort.  Proverbs 21:20 teaches us that a wise man’s house is full of nice things, but a foolish man consumes all of those things. The writer is telling us to be diligent in our savings and preparations, and disciplined in our consumption.

3) It’s a Matter of Faith: Faith and fear exist in an inverse relationship. The greater your faith, the less your fear. The greater your fear, the less your faith. Matthew 6:25-34 tells us that God will take care of us, even in regards to finances. Proverbs 3:9-10 and Malachi 3:10 tell us that when we are faithful, God is faithful.

Fear of Success is a Real Thing

I don’t fear anything but fear itself.  And success – and maybe dark hallways. I’m not alone, either.  In fact, if you’re reading this, you have probably feared success at some point in your life, if you don’t indeed fear it at this moment. That idea may seem crazy to you, but there are psychologists who are committed to studying the phenomenon.

Not too long ago, I applied for a job that would have given me a significant jump in pay, as well as a more prestigious title. But I waited a long time before applying, and at one point, I almost backed out. I will admit that there were some fears of being rejected, but strangely, there were greater fears of success.  I believed (mostly) that I could do the job, so why was I afraid? Well, first, thoughts of success brought to mind uncertainty. How will success affect my personal life? How will it affect my schedule? My job now (and at the time) was very flexible – something I value very highly. Would the new job allow for that flexibility?  These were things I couldn’t predict, and so I couldn’t garner any certainty. Uncertainty, psychologically speaking, is a significant trigger for fear and anxiety. Second, success would bring much greater responsibility. That was certain. Was I willing to sacrifice to meet that responsibility?  My own morality whispered that if they accepted me for the mission, I’d have to complete the mission, and I really had no idea how that mission would impact my comfortable life.

I remember the tension in my body as I awaited the decision. When the news came that I’d been passed over, I felt an instant relief. The uncertainty had gone.  A person in the know told me that I had made the final list of only two people. I had come within a hair’s width of getting the job.

Unfortunately, instead of enjoying the moment, learning, or networking, I had expended a lot of energy in fearing success. I had let uncertainty about my future rule my present because I had lost certainty in God’s provision, grace, and sovereignty (Hebrews 13:21, 2 Corinthians 9:8, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Proverbs 16:9).  As is the case with almost all fear, I had allowed it to supplant my faith.

Know that if God brings you to success, he will equip you for your tasks with everything you require to both grow and to do his will.  He is faithful, and there is no need to fear success.

Failure Is Not An Option

Throughout my Christian journey, I’ve struggled with a lot of different sins. A few of them I seem to never completely defeat, and so I must return to the battlefield over and over again. Lust, selfishness, pride, laziness and a fear of failure periodically conspire to set back my spiritual growth – or at the very least – retard it.  When I first truly began pursuing a spiritual life, I thought lust was my greatest sin. Of course, no sin is a minor thing, and lust certainly is no small force. It is dangerous and intrusive. But as dangerous and intrusive as it is, it isn’t as problematic (for me) as a fear of failure. Sins like lust, selfishness, pride and laziness dampened my relationship with God and made it harder for me to talk with him, but fear of failure kept me from actually fulfilling Godly goals and spiritual duties. The other sins slowed me down, but fear of failure kept me from properly leading in every area in which God had graced me with leadership responsibilities.  It blunted my talents, killed my enthusiasm, kept me from trying, stunted by growth, and made me ineffective. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Fear of failure always denied me the first step. If it was my duty to lead my family, or my coworkers, or my friends in a particular direction, I would sometimes cower at taking the initiative. What if I fail? I will look like a fool. I will be mocked, and so will my family, my coworkers, my friends, and maybe even God! I had failed enough in life (or so I thought) that I knew firsthand the pain and the risk.

And that is the problem with the sin of a fear of failure: it is ultimately just like all other sins of fear. It is a sin because it is born from a lack of faith. Faith and fear exist in an inverse relationship. The greater faith one has, the less fear one has. The greater fear one has, the less faith one has.

This is precisely why it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6).  Faith produces behavioral results. If you don’t have faith, you won’t do those hard things God sometimes asks. A lack of faith is always accompanied by a proportional abundance of fear.

The truth is that a Christian cannot fail in anything he or she tries (Romans 8:28-29).  The only failure is not to take Godly initiative. Even if the intended goal is not reached, a Christian has learned, become more resilient, and his or her character has improved.  For the Christian intent on following Jesus, failure simply isn’t an option (Romans 8:31-39).

It’s a Dirty Word for Some . . . 

Submission is both an unpopular word and concept. No one really likes it, and many fear it.

In fact, in certain strains of American feminism it is as close to a dirty word as one can get.  Much of this feminist unpopularity comes from a terrible misunderstanding of a verse where Paul commands wives to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22). Because they are predisposed to see men as monsters who lord themselves over women by mere virtue of their male gender, feminists believe submission curtails female freedom and well being. This rejection of submission is not limited to gender specific arguments. The same difficulty that feminists have is the same difficulty that everyone has. It is a fear that whoever or whatever one submits oneself to will be unfairly controlling, and ultimately harmful. It is a fear of giving up control.

But while everyone hates the idea of submission, everyone also recognizes that it is necessary.  Submission is simply to yield control to a superior force, or to the will or influence of another. We yield to both traffic, and traffic lights.  We yield to our bosses. We yield to the laws that govern us. We instinctively know that a world in which no one yielded would be a world in which no one would want to live. Ironically, we also frequently yield to those things that control us in ways that are tragically harmful. For instance, we yield to ourselves in our sins.  We yield to bitterness, unforgiveness, alcoholism, pornography, lust, hate, lies we wish to believe, and laziness – to name only a few.

This hatred of submission is what prevents non-believers from becoming believers.  And it is what prevents people who follow Christ from becoming more Christlike. It prevents them both for the same reasons.  Unbelievers don’t want to give up their sinful states. Believers don’t either. Lack of submission is a lack of faith. For feminist wives, it is a lack of faith that husbands will be good.  For unbelievers, it is a lack of faith that God will give them something better than their sin. For believers, it is a lack of faith that God is trustworthy.

But if we don’t submit to God’s way, then we can’t live in peace.  Just like if we don’t submit to our communities laws, then we can’t expect to live with a true peace of mind in our communities.

Who Am I To Judge?

Judgmentalism is an ugly reality in our world. It is everywhere and it hurts everyone. Its poisonous fingers infect human relationships so much that it causes us to put away something that is good and just, namely judgement.  In fact, judgmentalism has caused humans to abuse and misuse one of the most well known sayings of Jesus. In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus tells us not to judge others or we will be judged. He then tells us to remove the giant board from our own eye so that we can go and remove the spec that is in our brother’s eye. Notice that?  The passage is actually a command for us to judge, and not a command to refrain from judgement. Unfortunately, the hypocrisy and judgmentalism of some people has caused many to use this saying of Jesus as a justification for never pointing out error, and never critiquing with needed truth.

Judgmentalism is partly the problem.  Judgmentalism is a kind of hypocrisy. When you are judgmental, you think of yourself more highly than you ought.  You think of others as lower than you because you believe that you haven’t committed the same sins they have. It is a state of pride and a lack of compassion. It is the sin of the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Judgement, however, is simply holding a person to a standard that everyone agrees to be good. Judgment is choosing better over worse, or making a distinction between right and wrong. Think about it.  It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would ask us not to judge. Judgment, good judgment, is necessary in life. How could you choose one religion over another without judgment? How could you choose a good spouse? How could you choose a good social circle?  Those choices require that you judge one potential mate as better than another, or one group of friends as better than another.

Read the words of Jesus carefully in that passage. What he is commanding is for you to judge yourself. If you don’t, he warns, then you are going to be judged too. He is teaching that when you harshly judge your neighbor for sin while you are committing that sin yourself, then you will experience the same judgment with the same intensity.  For instance, judging your friend for his alcoholism and his inability to pay his bills because of it while you are having a difficulty paying yours due to a gambling addiction is a form of this hypocrisy. You are both committing the sin of gluttony. You will be judged by your friend, and probably his friends, and certainly by God.

Jesus tells us to straighten up our own life, then once we can see clearly, we are commanded to compassionately help our brother straighten up his. Judging and fixing ourselves first can give us a great deal of compassion for that task.

Cutting Yourself with Unforgiveness

The man’s anger burned against his sister. He could feel it all throughout his body. Every time he saw her enjoying herself his chest would tighten at her good fortune. His face would scrunch up ever so subtly. Sometimes there’d be a less subtle eye roll. Whenever he heard her voice, he’d feel the anger flow up his neck causing the hairs on the back of his head to prick and his face to flush. All of his friends thought her voice was beautiful, but to him it was like the squeal on a chalkboard or the annoyance of a child’s whine. He found nothing good in it. And he couldn’t stop thinking about what she had done. He had every right to be angry. She had harmed him and his reputation with her lack of consideration. “How can I get her back, how can I harm her,” he thought to himself. In a stroke of what he thought was genius, he decided to cut himself with a jagged knife everyday. “She’ll feel horrible,” he thought to himself. But she never did. In fact, she never even noticed. He had taken great efforts to avoid the sight of her so she never even knew. In the one moment that she had suspected his self-inflicted harm, she felt pity for him and prayed. The only effect his daily behavior had was to cause him more pain, and to remind him of how he had been harmed. Even in moments when he wasn’t consciously thinking about his sister, he now felt pain.

This is what unforgiveness is like. When a person chooses the path of unforgiveness, he or she chooses self-harm, mental anguish, and a lack of peace. For a human being there is very little good that comes from unforgiveness. Forgiveness, however, is liberating. It may not rid you of the pain of the original offense, but it will rid you of the ongoing pain and mental anguish that results from obsession with another person’s wrongs. Here are some ways that forgiveness is better for you than unforgiveness:

It May Cause a Change in the Other Person: Romans 12:20-21 tells us to overcome evil with good, and that being kind to our enemies will heap burning coals on their heads. Perhaps, they’ll be motivated to change.

It Is Glorious: Proverbs 19:11 says that forgiveness is good sense, and a kind of glory.

It Puts us In a Better Standing with God: Matthew 6:14-15 tells us that God rewards those who forgive, and denies those who don’t.

It Makes us More like Jesus: 1 John 2:6 says that if we are Christian, we are to walk like Jesus. And Romans 5:8 says that while we were still harming God’s honor, that he died to make a way for us to be forgiven.

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