Created to Love God & Others

Chances are, you already know that Real Relationships are difficult. So how can we go about loving God and others well? 

First, recognize the barriers that are getting in the way of you being able to connect with God and others. While there may be many, here are three that were addressed in a recent message at South Ridge Church.

Question: What’s getting in the way of you being able to connect with God and others? 

Barrier #1: Searching for your identity outside of Christ.

According to Henri Nouwen, the 3 biggest lies we can believe about where to find our identity are: 

  • I am what I do. 
  • I am what others say or think about me. 
  • I am what I have. 

For example: 

I am what I do – My job or my career defines me. I’m good at it. I spend 45-50 hours (or more) a week focusing on that, so I’m really, really good at it. I don’t make time to think about connecting with God and others, because I’m not good at that. But I am good at what I do, so I’ll not only focus my energy there, but I’ll let my work define who I am. Or…

I am what others say or think about me – My family tells me who I am and what I’m supposed to say, think, or believe. As long as my spouse, kids, boss, friends, and/or family think well of me, then that’s where I’ll find my identity. 

I am what I have – Whether it’s a house, car, family, spouse, kids, personal appearance, the nicest golf clubs, a swim membership, another pair of shoes, a new computer, or anything else. We can go to what we have for our identity.

Question to consider: Where do you most go to find your identity?

Practical Application: Find at least five Scripture passages that clearly say who God says you are, write them down, and read them several times a day until you begin to actually believe them.

Barrier #2: Our opinions of others and/or their behavior.

In Everybody Always, Bob Goff writes, “God makes people, and people make issues, but people aren’t issues. They’re not projects either. People are people.” 

Ephesians 6:12 (NIV) For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Matthew 5:43-44 (NIV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

What if you don’t have people you would refer to as enemies? Perhaps the best step is to think of those you often disagree with, or as Bob Goff says, those “who are flat out wrong about more than a couple of things.” Surely we all have others in our lives that fall into these categories. And one way to love them is to truly believe that they’re doing the best they can.

Question to consider: In what ways would your life be different if you believed that people, in general, are doing the best they can?

Practical Application: Write down the names of 1-3 people you don’t understand or often disagree with, and then think of at least one way to love each of them over the next week. Then think of at least one way to love each of them the following week. And then the next. And then the next. And the next. And keep doing that until you get to a point of seeing them as a person, and not an issue. 

If that seems like an unrealistic step for you, then write down the names of 1-3 people you don’t understand or often disagree with, and beside their name write the words, “is doing the best they can.” Try it. See what happens. It may take days, weeks, months, or even years. But follow through with this exercise every day and over time, you’ll find that maybe you don’t misunderstand them or disagree with them as much as you thought you did. You’ll begin to see them a bit differently. You’ll begin to see them a bit more like God sees them. 

Barrier #3: Lack of delighting in others as Christ does.

Author Larry Crabb writes in his book, Connecting, that we connect with others by:

  • Letting people know we delight in them as Christ does
  • Eagerly looking for the goodness in someone’s heart
  • Remembering that it’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance and healing

Colossians 1:28-29 (NIV) He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

Research indicates that for relationships to work well, Appreciations need to outweigh Criticisms by a ratio of at least 7:1.

Question to consider: Do you find yourself sharing more appreciations, or more criticisms?

Practical Application: Keep count this week of the number of appreciations you share. Pick 1-3 people, and see if you can share something you delight in them at least 7 times more than you can share a criticism with them. 

Take time over the coming weeks to really think about the above questions and follow through on the Practical Application suggestions. Chances are, you’ll begin to experience tremendous fruit in your relationships with God and others.

Should I Read the Bible…in a Year?

I’d like to make a confession. I’m guilty of encouraging people to follow a “Read the Bible in a Year” plan. Having read through the entire Bible several times through the years, there’s something about a yearly reading plan that clicks for me. There’s a simple checklist, and I can read through a daily reading while drinking my morning coffee. I’ve even read a daily reading on my iPad while walking on a treadmill. (Though to be fully transparent, I’m much more likely to be listening a Brandon Sanderson novel or another audiobook while exercising.)

But in 2018 I decided to try something a bit different. I started reading through a specific Study Bible on my shelf and wanted to not only read the Biblical text, but all of the commentary notes as well. To make it worse, I tried to convince myself that I could read the whole thing in a year. Truth be told, I probably could have done it. I could have pushed myself and made it through the entire thing. But had I tried, I would have missed out on some other things God was teaching me.

Today, with 2020 drawing to a close, I’m nearing the end of reading through that particular Study Bible. I’m probably 93% through, and should finish it in early 2021.

Why am I sharing this…?

Well, I’ve talked with a lot of normal, everyday, real life, people who have attempted a “Read through the Bible in a Year” plan, and were not able to complete it. When asked why they weren’t able to complete it, the two most common responses I’ve heard through the years include:

  • I started in Genesis 1 and just wanted to read it straight through. I actually made it through Exodus, but a little bit into Leviticus I was so confused I just gave up.
  • Life got really busy for me, and at some point in time I realized I was so far behind that I’d never finish the plan in a year, so I stopped trying.

Because I’ve heard responses such as these many times through the years, I wanted to offer some insight that may help.

SUGGESTIONS FOR ENGAGING WITH THE SCRIPTURES:

  1. Get a good Study Bible.

30 years ago, the Study Bible market was fairly limited in scope. Today, there are a lot (like, a lot a lot!) of Study Bibles to choose from. So many, in fact, it may be difficult to choose.

Personally, I often recommend the NLT or NIV Life Application Study Bible as a good choice. But feel free to read this article outlining some other popular options, and/or do some additional research on what Bible you think may be best for you.

  1. You may not want to read the Bible straight through.

Beginning in Genesis and reading straight through may work for some people, but it probably isn’t best for many. Why? Well, because that’s not how it was written. The Bible isn’t one book written from beginning to end. It’s sixty-six books. And while the timeline of the Bible is mostly in order, there is overlap between some of the books.

For example, if you read 1 & 2 Kings and then 1 & 2 Chronicles in the Old Testament, you’ll quickly discover you’re reading some of the same historical accounts of the same kings of Israel.

One solution to this is to read through the Bible chronologically. There are many chronological reading plans available, but this one is probably the simplest one for those reading through the Bible for the first time. If you read through the Bible in this way, you’ll begin to see some passages tied together in a way you may not have noticed before.

Another possible solution is to use a Reading Plan that doesn’t focus on the entire Bible. The F260 Bible Reading Plan is one that focuses on the foundational passages of the Bible in 260 daily readings. So those passages in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy that may seem confusing…likely aren’t included in this plan.

  1. Don’t beat yourself up if you fall behind.

Picture this. You’re binge watching a TV series such as The Mandalorian on Disney+. You have a goal to finish the first two seasons within two weeks. But something comes up and you’re only able to get through the first half of Season 2 by the end of your initial goal. Do you give up and say, “Well, I didn’t complete it before I wanted to, so I’m not going to go back and watch the final episodes of Season 2”? I mean really, you know you’re going to finish it, right?

Here’s the deal – there is no hard and fast rule saying you have to complete a “One Year Reading Plan” within a year. These plans are simply a guide to help you follow a systematic plan to read through the entire Bible. As I noted above, I’m just now nearing the end of a plan to read through a specific Study Bible and it’s taken me three years to do it. I’ve pushed pause on the reading plan a few times to focus some energy studying out other topics and passages. But I didn’t give up on completing the plan.

So yes, there are benefits to engaging with the Scriptures on a regular basis. And yes, most people I know who read the Bible at least 5-6 days a week can’t imagine not reading it. But don’t give up just because you fall behind on your goal. Keep reading. Get to know God. Get to better understand who He has made you to be. And continue to experience the full life He desires you to live.

  1. Bonus: Journal what you’re learning.

Choosing to journal will undoubtedly extend the amount of time you need each day to engage with the Scriptures. But in my experience, it helps to better process and reflect on what I’ve read and engage with the text more fully.

Personally, I often type my journals into an app called Day One. It’s my go-to software on my computer and phone for journaling. But I occasionally use pen and paper to really slow my mind down, as I can sometimes more fully reflect on what I’ve read when I’m not sitting behind a computer screen.

Outside of reading the Scriptures, I’ve also discovered that journaling helps me reflect on other areas in my life, and to identify the positive things that happen throughout each day.

If you’re not used to journaling, here are some steps you may find helpful as you begin to engage with the Scriptures more regularly.

Do you have another tip that wasn’t covered above? Feel free to leave a comment and let us know!

Light of the World: I Am Who God Says I Am

The following truths have been adapted from Neil Anderson’s Freedom in Christ Ministries. Click here for a downloadable PDF.

I am who God says I am.

I Am Accepted 

John 1:12 I am God’s child. 

John 15:15 I am Christ’s friend. 

Romans 5:1 I have been justified. 

1 Corinthians 6:17 I am united with the Lord, and I am one spirit with Him. 

1 Corinthians 6:20 I have been bought with a price. I belong to God. 

1 Corinthians 12:27 I am a member of Christ’s Body. 

Ephesians 1:1 I am a saint. 

Ephesians 1:5 I have been adopted as God’s child. 

Ephesians 2:18 I have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit. 

Colossians 1:14 I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins. 

Colossians 2:10 I am complete in Christ. 

I Am Secure 

Romans 8:1-2 I am free from condemnation. 

Romans 8:28 I am assured all things work together for good. 

Romans 8:31-34 I am free from any condemning charges against me. 

Romans 8:35-39 I cannot be separated from the love of God. 

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 I have been established, anointed and sealed by God. 

Philippians 1:6 I am confident that the good work God has begun in me will be perfected. 

Philippians 3:20 I am a citizen of heaven. 

Colossians 3:3 I am hidden with Christ in God. 

2 Timothy 1:7 I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. 

Hebrews 4:16 I can find grace and mercy in time of need. 

1 John 5:18 I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me.

I Am Significant 

Matthew 5:13-14 I am the salt and light of the earth. 

John 15:1,5 I am a branch of the true vine, a channel of His life. 

John 15:16 I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit. 

Acts 1:8 I am a personal witness of Christ. 

1 Corinthians 3:16 I am God’s temple. 

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 I am a minister of reconciliation for God. 

2 Corinthians 6:1 I am God’s coworker (see 1 Corinthians 3:9). 

Ephesians 2:6 I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realm. 

Ephesians 2:10 I am God’s workmanship. 

Ephesians 3:12 I may approach God with freedom and confidence. 

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Prayer for Others:

  1. Thank God for the miracle of this person.
  2. Thank God for any way in which this person has changed your life.
  3. Commit his/her future to the Lord.
  4. Ask God for help in figuring out how you may best encourage them to know God and grow into the person God has made them to be.

Prayer for Your Church:

  1. Thank God for the miracle of your church and its ministry.
  2. Thank God for any way in which your church has changed your life.
  3. Commit your church’s future to the Lord.
  4. Ask God for help in figuring out what your part in that future is.

Prayer for Your Spouse:

Heavenly Father, thank You for bringing (spouse) into my life,  and thank You for the person they are. Specifically, I thank You that (spouse) is (growing closer to you, kind, funny, a good listener, etc.) I also want to thank You for the ways in which (spouse) has changed my life for the better. Just today (or this week, or this month), (spouse) has impacted my life in a positive way by (serving me, serving our family, providing, caring, speaking my love language, etc.)I pray that (spouse) would continue to know You better, and that You will continually reveal Your love and grace to them. I recognize that their faith in You is outside my control, but I pray that You would provide me the ability to see (spouse) as the person You’ve created them to be, and that You would provide me wisdom in how I may best encourage them to be that person. Thank You, once again, for bringing (spouse) into my life. 

I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Light of the World: Live as People of Light

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Ephesians 5:8-9 reads, For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

Some things just make sense. For example, the more time you spend with God, the more you know and understand who He is. The more you know and understand who He is, the more you’re better able to reflect this to others. It isn’t rocket science…it just works. 

Other things may make just as much sense, but we still may struggle to actually believe them. For example, we may see ourselves as unholy, ungodly, or unworthy. Because we fail and have our poor moments, we may think, “Who am I to live as a person of light? I’ll mess this up. I always do.” 

But where do thoughts such as these come from? They don’t come from the Scriptures. Instead, God communicates, “You were (past tense) full of darkness, but now (present tense) you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!”

READING & JOURNALING:

ROMANS 13:12, EPHESIANS 5:8

How regularly do you think things like, “Who am I to try to live as a person of light? I’ll mess this up. I always do.”? 

Where do you think thoughts such as these come from? 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, there are times when I mess up, and I’m sure there will be many more of these throughout my life. Today I’m simply grateful for the reminder that these moments don’t define my life. You and You alone define who I am, and You see me as a person who was full of darkness but is now a person of Light. May this truth permeate deep within me, and may I be light to others today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Light of the World: Live in the Light

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Proverbs 4:18-19 reads, The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like total darkness. They have no idea what they are stumbling over.

Each and every day you are bombarded with hundreds and hundreds of messages. Not just text messages or emails. But messages from news media, tv shows, radio hosts, musicians, authors, colleagues, and more. Each and every one of these messages has the potential to either bring you closer to knowing the person of Christ, or potentially leading you away from Him. The question is, what can you do about this? 

In reality, the solution isn’t always easy. Pastor Pete Scazzero, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, has discovered that for him to stay on track, he needs to take intentional time with God not just each morning, but 3-5 times throughout the day. He will take 8-10 minutes to read a devotional, pray, or just be in silence in the presence of God at certain times of the day every day. By living and being in God’s presence regularly, he feels he can then reflect this light into the lives of others. 

READING & JOURNALING:

PROVERBS 4:18-19

Do you have a daily time with God? If not, in what ways would your life be different if you had intentional time with God each day? If so, what ways may your life be different if you scheduled more time to be with Him throughout the day? 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, I confess there are days or moments when I come to You not to know You more, but with a desire that You would simply do what I want You to do. In these moments, I’m looking to You as more of a personal assistant to me than I am looking to You as the compete and total Lord of my life. Today, may I continually reflect on who You are and not my circumstances. May You and You alone be the focus of my thoughts. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

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Light of the World: It’s All About Jesus

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As people, we want others to think well of us. As such, we’ll often do simple things for them thinking that by being kind, they’ll like us more. And through it all, there will be times when our motives are pure and we are living in such a way that we’re reflecting the light of Christ in our words and actions. 

Unfortunately, there will be moments in all of our lives when we slip and fall down. Moments when others see the brokenness in our lives, and not the light. Inevitably, we may then get back into a healthier rhythm of being the light of the world. But that one moment of darkness may lead others to think, “You call yourself a Christian, but you did _________.” 

It’s in moments such as this we can be humble and admit, “Yes, I acknowledge I sometimes mess up in life. And I confess my actions are not always a perfect reflection of Christ. But don’t think poorly of Him because of something I’ve done.”

In other words, we want to live our lives in a way that we’re constantly pointing others to Christ. We don’t want to preach about how good we are, but about how good He is. 

READING & JOURNALING:

2 CORINTHIANS 4:4-6

Have you ever had somebody not want to listen to you talk about the Gospel because of a poor decision you made earlier in life? How did you respond? 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, I confess there are times when I do certain things in order for people to think better of me, and not with a heart to help others think better of You. Today, may my thoughts and my actions be directed to upholding and uplifting the goodness of who You are. May I not preach about myself, but simply that Jesus is Lord. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

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Light of the World: You Are the Light of the World

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Matthew 5:14-15 reads, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.”

Some may read passages such as this one and think that we need to do good deeds in order to be closer to God. But this passage (as well as many others) are sharing a different principle. Because we are Christians and already are close to God, we have the opportunity to be light in the lives of others. As Christ has been light to us, so we get to reflect that same light into the lives of others. 

At the same time, we may try to hide the light of Christ out of fear of what others will think about us. We may not want to speak up about something wrong and instead decide to go along with the crowd. Or we may opt to not share the light with others because we’re afraid of what they may think. 

Admittedly, balancing out when to speak, when to listen, and how to speak hard truths in a graceful way has it’s challenges. But as our constant guide, Jesus will light the way forward. 

READING & JOURNALING:

MATTHEW 5:13-16

What are at least 5 ways you recognize that you already are the light of the world? 

In what ways does this encourage and empower you to be light to others today? Be specific.

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, I confess there are days in which I don’t feel like I’m the light of the world. Today, I’m simply thankful for the reminder that whatever my circumstances may be, You see me as the Light of the World, and truths such as this empower me to continue growing into the person You have made me to be. Thank you! In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

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Light of the World: Let Him Be Light

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Earlier in the week we discussed how we all experience brokenness. And because we all experience brokenness, we all likely have an area of our lives that’s experiencing some level of spiritual darkness. Whether it’s unforgiveness, strife, or any other feelings of ill-will towards others or ourselves, there’s something within each of us that is experiencing spiritual darkness. The cure, of course, is Jesus. But each of us continues to have a responsibility in the process. 

What is your responsibility? In truth, the next for you may be different than the next step for others. It may be that you’re struggling to allow Jesus to shine light in this area of your life. Maybe you feel like you’ll be giving up a sense of control, so you hesitate to let Him work it out. Or maybe you’d prefer to try to “fix” the situation on your own, trusting in yourself more than in Him. Or maybe you feel like you’re not worthy to receive His help. You’ve made some unwise decisions that has led to this darkness, and the shame is keeping you from being able to receive from Him. Whatever it may be – Jesus is the Light of the World. So today, let Him be light in your life. 

READING & JOURNALING:

ISAIAH 58:8-9, PSALM 36:9

In what ways have you tried to “fix” (or maybe cover up) the spiritual darkness in your life on your own? Be specific. 

What is your responsibility in allowing Jesus to be light in this area of your life? 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, I admit there are times in which I try to resolve or fix a situation in my life without fully turning to You to restore, heal, and be the Light that is needed. Today, I simply pray that I give up trying to control this situation on my own, and allow You and You alone to be the Light that’s needed to help me take the next step forward. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

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