Dropout

For we are God’s masterpiece.
He has created us anew in Christ Jesus,
so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Ephesians 2:10 NLT

I hated school, so I decided to quit.

Elementary and middle school, I enjoyed, but when I got to high school, a sudden distaste evolved. By the time I reached my senior year, I’d had all I could take. I had no interest in learning, didn’t see how any of what I was learning would benefit me, and wanted out. So I pranced up to my parents and said, “I’m quitting school.” Dad didn’t take the news well and politely told me if I quit I would be going to work. I was okay with that. I had no plans to sit around and do nothing.

After three or four months, my high school dropout status wasn’t fun anymore. The job I found ended, and I was on the unemployment line. I decided I’d return to school. I couldn’t graduate with my class, but I did graduate that summer.

The statistics for high school dropouts are alarming. More than one million students drop out of school annually—one leaving every 26 seconds. An additional 25% don’t graduate on time. But school isn’t the only place people drop out from. Church follows on its heels. Among 18 to 22 year-olds, around 70% drop out. The reasons vary: life changes, move to college, work, judgmental Christians, changes in their religious views.

Dropping out of church, however, isn’t relegated to this group alone. Others do as well. Some burnout. They take on too much—perhaps because others aren’t doing their part. They try to pacify guilt over past mistakes or because they misunderstand salvation and think they can work to get it or keep it. Some drop out because they atrophy, like unused muscles.

God doesn’t intend or want us to drop out of His work. He saves us by His grace and mercy, creates us as His masterpiece, and wants us to do good works that will disseminate His love across the world. These works don’t save us initially or keep us saved thereafter, but they are proof of our faith connection with Him.

When asked, God will give me wisdom to balance my life so my chances of dropping out of His service diminish significantly.

Don’t drop out on God. With balance, serve Him faithfully to the end of your life.

Advertisements

Healthy Habits

Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin? Can a leopard take away its spots?
Neither can you start doing good, for you have always done evil.
Jeremiah 13:23 NLT

Old habits are hard to break.

For four years, we lived in a small townhouse. Our Chihuahua, Twix, was accustomed to the way the doors to the bedroom and outside opened and would stand at the appropriate side of the door to enter or exit. Then we moved. Although the townhouse we moved into had the same floor plan, it was a mirror image of our previous one. Our dog was confused.

On Twix’s first trip outside, he stood at the left side of the door. That’s what he had been accustomed to. But now the door opened from the right. He repeated the same action for the bedroom door and had to change sides when I opened it. After a week, he managed to break his old habit and stand at the proper side for entering and exiting.

Being born with dark skin was a genetic habit for the Ethiopian. So was having spots for the leopard. An Ethiopian has no power to change his color, nor can a leopard become spotless. According to the prophet, humanity has a genetic flaw of sorts as well. We can’t do good because we’ve all done evil. The reason is the sin nature we’re born with which leads us down the wrong path to sinful behavior and attitudes.

My dog’s habits were neither morally good nor bad. They were just habits. I’ve had a few habits like that myself. Among them, biting my fingernails. It took my grandmother giving me $20 and one finger getting infected for me to break that habit. But I’ve also had some habits that were morally wrong and difficult to break. Those habits emerged from the sinful nature I was born with. By myself, I was helpless to do good.

In my own power, I can’t break the habit of doing bad and adopt the habit of doing good. But it is possible when I appeal to a Higher Power. Christ in me enables me to change the color of my skin and lose my spots. He enables me to consistently do good things instead of evil things. Accepting His offer of forgiveness opens up new possibilities for an abundant life.

Accept Christ into your life so you can break the old bad habits and adopt new healthy ones.

God’s Safe Place

As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock
and cover you with my hand until I have passed by
.
Exodus 33:22 NLT

She had been abused and needed a safe place.

Johnnie was in a situation of her own making. For 13 years, she had endured an abusive marriage—one she entered to escape the harsh atmosphere of her upbringing.

When the opportunity came for Johnnie to move out, she took it. Jim seemed like a good guy when she dated him, but his true identity revealed itself shortly after she said, “I do.” Abusive words, demeaning remarks, bruises. They all became the norm. Johnnie tried to fend them off but had to admit they were taking their toll on her self-esteem.

Eventually, Johnnie decided she’d had enough, but she needed a safe place. She didn’t turn to a home for abusive women but rather contacted her parents. By this time, her dad had mellowed. She thought she could endure life with them until she could make other arrangements.

Moses needed a safe place too. While he was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people were below partying as if they had no God they were accountable to. When God told Moses to leave the mountain and take the people with him—but that He wouldn’t be tagging along, it was more than Moses could stand. God decided to give them another chance, but Moses needed reassurance. So God placed Moses in a crevice and let him glance at His presence as He passed by.

Life is tough and filled with many experiences I’d rather not repeat. Wallowing in self-pity or in the memory of the event only keeps me smelling the toxic nature of what I have experienced. A better course is asking God to put me in His safe place.

When God places me in His safe place, He reassures me of His presence. If separation has taken place, it’s because I left Him—not because He left me. He promises never to abandon His children. In God’s safe places, I’m also reminded of who He is and who I’m not. He is the all-powerful Creator who is qualified to lead me through any and every circumstance, protecting me in the process.

Moses had nothing to fear; nor do I. And neither do you. When life gets tough, ask God to put you in His safe place where you can find grace, reassurance, and peace.

Swallowed by Sorrow

He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.
Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Matthew 26:38 NLT

Sorrow can be a bitter pill to swallow, and I felt as if I was being swallowed by it.

Days stretched into months. An act of betrayal by another had turned my family inside out and headed it straight for dissolution. Though the situation could have been fixed, it wasn’t, and the shadow of depression soon hung over my head like a thunderous cloud.

Unemployment followed on the heels of everything else that had disintegrated. Months passed as I sent out hundreds of applications to various places, looking for anything that would help me support my family. Finally, a job opened, but the depression hung around. My outward appearance and actions seemed normal, but my insides churned.

Various trips to the emergency room for chest pains alerted my family doctor that something was wrong. “You’re depressed. Take the medication I’m giving you, and stay out of the emergency room,” he said. I followed his advice, and slowly the depression receded.

One translation has Jesus saying, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow.” I suppose He felt that way. He was overwhelmed by what was ahead, but His disciples couldn’t keep their eyes open to comfort Him. He felt alone…that He was fighting the battle by Himself. And He was. They could not go to the cross and die for humanity’s sins. Only a perfect person could. He wasn’t sorry He was doing it, but the weight of what was ahead had the power to swallow His soul in sorrow.

Situations that cause grief and intense sorrow aren’t easy to face, but they are faced in a healthier way when others support us. Trying to face sorrow alone often leads to depression, whereas having a support system tends to ward off the dark clouds of depression. If Jesus needed companionship in His time of sorrow, I do too.

Of course, my greatest support system is found in my relationship with Jesus. I can’t physically experience Him with my senses, but His presence is felt through my spirit. This spirit-to-Spirit relationship surpasses anything I might feel with my senses.

Don’t try to face times of sorrow alone. Depend on God and godly people to help you through your trying times.

Stir up the Gift

Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God
which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

2 Timothy 1:6 NKJV

I sat in the ladder back chair, wondering what I should do and feeling a bit useless.

The day prior to our move had arrived, but my wife and I were already at our new residence unpacking boxes. At least, she was. With no internet or satellite, what could I do? If I unpacked, I’d have to wait for her to tell me where to put it. So I sat.

“Is there something I can help you do,” I asked.

“No, just sit there,” she replied. So I did.

A few minutes later, she yelled from the next room, “See if you can find me a magic marker.”

Finally, something I could do. I walked in each room, perusing the boxes. No magic marker. How she expected me to find such a small item among the mounds of boxes and bags sitting in every nook and cranny, I didn’t know, but I wasn’t going to waste this opportunity.

“I don’t see one,” I finally surrendered after searching in vain.

“Well, it won’t jump up and grab you,” came her curt reply. “Look in the boxes.” I searched again. No luck. I failed at my one chance to do something.

Tomorrow would be different. I’d have something to do. Move in the large pieces of furniture and hang pictures.

Paul was Timothy’s spiritual father and had commissioned him into the ministry. Now he reminds him to stir up that gift of pastoring a church.

Sitting around in a ladder back chair twiddling my thumbs isn’t the way to discover God’s gift to me. God has things for all of His children to do, and He gifts and talents us accordingly. There have been times when I’ve wondered what my gift was—or if I had one, but each time God showed up and showed me what it was.

Through prayer and effort, I can discover God’s gift. When I wondered if He had gifted me to teach, all I had to do was try. Had teaching not been my gift, I would have quickly discovered it—or someone would have kindly let me know. Some gifts all believers have—such as serving, but God gifts all believers. Gifts are His presents so we can accomplish His kingdom work in this world.

Don’t sit around wondering what your gift is. Ask God to show you, and then stir it up.