Be the Light

The day is finally here! It’s Christmas Eve, hopefully you have all your gifts ready to go, and if not, I wish you luck with the chaos that will be happening today. Christmas is always such a magical time, there is so much going on and it can be easy to grow distracted with all the cooking, family gatherings, and making sure you’ve got the perfect gift for that person who is always so hard to shop for. Christmas can also be a challenging season. With emphasis on family and being joyful for what you have, this can be very difficult for some to cope with loss, heartache and fear of the unknown. For me personally, this Christmas has been a time of fun and uncertainty mixed together as the new year has many unknowns. So, what do we do? What can we do is we find ourselves busy and uncertain all at the same time as having to put on a happy face? I think the key is actually simple, just difficult to fully accept and believe. I say this, because it is something that I have to accept and navigate as well. This isn’t me saying, “this will change your life in a few easy steps,” really, it’s the beginning of how to grow and mature in your life. We have been called to humble ourselves and love others; in other words, we are called to be the light.

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In the Belly of the Beast

Some of my favorite descriptions of words, phrases, and grammar come from Lemony Snicket. I gushed about his books a couple weeks ago, so check it out if you haven’t. One of the descriptions he talks of is the saying, “in the belly of the beast.” It speaks of a figurative feeling one gets when in the middle of an unfortunate circumstance, but in scripture, there is a literal event where one particular individual is in, “the belly of the beast.” Jonah was a man who God called for a great mission, but he trusted his own power and not God’s. Because of this, he believed he could not accomplish it, so he ran. Isn’t that a perfect picture of what we do in our own lives? I’m a victim of it, we have a situation we think we can’t overcome, so we run, we retreat from the promise on the other side of facing great peril. The truth is, we rely too much on our own strength when we should be trusting God. We have a God who created the universe and loves us. You’re right thinking you can’t get through it, but God can. No matter what you’re facing, God can. The calling that looks too big? God can. The mountain in your life? God can. When it feels like the world is against you and there is no hope? God can. We can learn much from Jonah, we can learn how to act in the belly of the beast.

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Pray in All Things

Recently, I’ve been scared. There’s lots of scary stuff going on in my life. End of the semester stress, graduating this year, starting a job to fund raise for a future career of ministry, and simply wanting to do what God has called me for. I’ve been scared, but God is bigger than my fears. This past week had many cool moments occur. I learned that I had the chance to speak at our high school ministry, I had a great conversation with my campus pastor, and I had a chance to pray over people in our city. That’s the moment where it happened, where a simple thing hit me in my moment of feeling weak. Prayer. One of those basic things we have in our walk with Christ. So simple, yet often I overlook the importance of prayer. In my season of fear I have been praying a lot, asking for a sign (some kind of neon lights in the sky to point me) I have been wanting all the answers to my life immediately. God doesn’t work on my schedule. Aww man! But it would be so much nicer, I mean, I know what’s best for me! That’s my human side, and it’s many of your reactions too, well maybe you don’t whine, but you get the idea. In all of my fear, I am choosing to pray, because when I choose to humble myself, then the Lord works.

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Surrendering for Something Greater

We are made for something greater. It’s an inherent aspect of our very being, we want to do and be more than someone who simply exists. One of the biggest questions we ask is, why am I here? My Pastor yesterday spoke about this idea stating, the reason we feel this way is because we were not made for this world. He’s right, we were made for a different world. The concept sounds like I’m writing a comic book, but stick with me. We were made to live in paradise with Christ, but because of a choice that was made, we became separated from God. Isn’t that so crazy? We were made to be perfect living in the world God gave us, but because of a choice we lost it. So that leaves us in the predicament, we were made for something more, but how do we do that? What does that mean? What’s the point? I’ve had these questions so many times in my life, so many moments where I have no idea what to do or how to run after a purpose. When I have these moments in my life, I think of the idea of surrender. To surrender one’s life is to abandon oneself entirely to a powerful emotion or influence. When I think of this definition, it reminds me that when I surrender to Christ, he makes me greater.

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You Make the Difference

Vulnerability moment: Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m making an impact. I love serving and do it each week because I love speaking life into others, but there are moments where I wonder if any of what I do means anything to anyone. I know that this isn’t true, when we serve others we make the difference, but it isn’t always easy to feel that way. I think the same is true for you. In your job, in your home, at the church where you volunteer; you have a hard time believing that people actually see the difference you make and the skills you bring to the table. We can feel unnoticed, wanting to be given a thank you or a simple thought from someone confirming that you do matter, but we don’t always get that. Now before I go any further, I want to make it clear that this isn’t a post for me trying to get anything from, I simply am trying to be vulnerable because I think we get into places where we feel this way. We have an active enemy that is trying to twist your thoughts to make you feel worthless, powerless, and alone. I want to help you win at life because you have a creator that says you are worth it. Your life has value. You make the difference.

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Speaking Truth in Love, Fighting the Curse of the Manipulator

I think leaders have a problem. It’s a problem that is very easy to slip into once anyone steps into leadership. It has many names, the most notable being the “toxic boss syndrome,” but it stems from the problem of being a manipulator. We are all at the risk of falling into this type of behavior because it’s one of the biggest ways the enemy tries to get us to fall. I’m continuing this series on leadership, the past few weeks I’ve been looking at what makes a good leader from the bible. This is designed to help you, because I think that everyone has the capacity and capability to be a leader, and being a leader is hard. We are attacked in every direction, people will start to tear you down to see you fail, and we have the danger of being a manipulator. I think we’ve all at one point in time had to work for a boss or volunteer under a boss, notice that I’m not saying leader. A boss is someone with power over another individual, their primary objective is to use what you have to make them look better. A leader is someone that sees the potential in those under them and provides them with opportunity to rise above, even if it means sending them out of your ministry. This seems backwards, but when we equip leaders that are looking up to us, we help change the world. Imagine what would happen if we never pushed people to do more, to stay complacent in their lives. What a sad world that would be! God calls us to be leaders who speak truth in love, not bosses that manipulate for their own gain.

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Trusting Him with Everything

I hope you all are staying warm and safe from the icy roads! I am currently in a hotel in Lillington after spending a day visiting a friend. It was very crazy having my dad call me to tell me that the roads were too dangerous for me to try and make it, so I made reservations at the hotel. It’s currently raining and freezing from outside a coffee shop here in the town, and this situation, as well as what I’ve been learning throughout this week has lead me to one central idea. Trust. Trust is something that is hard for me, the word itself means to have a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. That’s a pretty big role to fill, yet God wants us to put our complete trust in him alone. For me, it’s hard to trust things and people, because all of us are sinners, people who are not perfect. If we expect imperfect people to be perfect, we will be disappointed. I often make that mistake, I really do mean often. I look to other people to trust in, because I can tangibly hear and see them, but I make them into a higher position than God himself. This is a dangerous way to live, Jesus called out the religious leaders of his time because they similarly put their trust in the law, while missing the son of God who was in front of them. I think that’s the danger of putting trust into someone or something until it turns into faith, and that’s something hard to admit.

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Growing Your Skills

One of the things that I believe effects almost every person, something that holds many of us back, is the idea that we know everything. If you just slightly wanted to disagree with me, you’ve just proved my point. We can easily get it in our heads that we are the best, or that we know all there is to know about life, a hobby, or in your work. This is the thing that causes us to get angry when someone disagrees with our opinion or idea. We immediately jump to conclusions, thinking that the person disagreeing just doesn’t like us as a person (Which can totally be possible) or that they think we are somehow less of a human being than they are. It holds us back, causes us to get easily offended, and stop us from growth. So, what can we do to stop believing the world revolves around us? We learn. A simple idea, and one that God wants to help us do in order to pursue our purpose. When you stop and say, “I don’t have all the answers,” you embrace humility and begin a new journey. This idea isn’t a new one, it’s something that Paul in the bible knew and one that he shared with Timothy. Paul writes in 1 Timothy, directly to Timothy as he begins his own ministry. He essentially tells Timothy, we are all sinners, which means we can never add up to the glory of God, but God had mercy on each of us and he showed us the ultimate grace. Once we live with this mindset, we then hold onto truth, seek after true knowledge, and listen to our elders who have walked before us. Paul is telling Timothy that he may not have all the answers, which means he has the capacity to learn and grow his skills.

When I was reading through this, I was reminded of a verse that captures this idea of growing and cultivating our skills. Ecclesiastes 10:10 says, “If the axe is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is required but skill will bring success.” Or another version in the ESV says, “If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed.” I love the simple example this verse uses, basically if your tool is breaking down, sharpen it. The same is true with our minds, if we feel like we are not learning, search for wisdom and practice your skills. I want to share today about how to press into God and learn from him. I believe that every person was made for a reason, and that every person impacts the world. Don’t sit back and let the opportunities to learn pass you by, take hold, and grow your skills.

You are unique.  

When learning a new skill, or cultivating a pre-existing one; you have to know that you are unique. We all have different styles, different ways of processing things, and different ways we see the world. This is a good thing. Can you imagine if everyone were the same? (Actually many authors have in fact, i.e. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley) It would be pretty boring and new ideas would never be created. Grace Hopper captures this idea when she says, “The most dangerous phrase in the English language is ‘we’ve always done it this way.’” This idea kills new ways of approaching things and prevents you and me from trying new things. You are unique, plain and simple. You were designed by a God who created the universe and everything in it. You may be a skilled communicator, or have musical talent unlike anything else, or maybe you have the uncanny ability for comforting those who are hurting. Whatever it may be, you are good at something because you have individuality that God has given you. So discover what that skill is, try new things. The worst that can happen is you aren’t good at it and you move on, not everyone has the bow staff and nun chuck skills like Napoleon Dynamite. You have skills, because God made you, you.

Live a humble life.

So you are talented, and you have super awesome cool skills; but be careful of pride. So many pop culture icons we can see this downfall with, a person with great talent and ability, but believe the world revolves around them. You have to remember that you are not the greatest, you have the skills, but your attitude is what speaks volumes. When we look back at Timothy, he was a young leader in the church, and he was good. Communicated well, led many to Christ, but always had a mentor. He looked to Paul that had experienced so much, I can imagine that there were times when Timothy had an idea and Paul had to say no. When we live without a humble heart, we take offense easily to an elder telling us no. When we live desiring growth and what God wants, we understand when we are told no. At the same time, if you hold a high position, and someone lower on the totem pole has an idea, don’t be offended if it doesn’t match with the way you would do things. We need to always be open to change and criticism, because only then can we grow and improve. Our lives, or careers, and our ministries can benefit from this idea. All too often ideas are shut out because a younger person wants to try new things. Be open, and be willing to listen. When we let go of our hold onto the way it has always been done, can we experience growth. So live humbly, the world will keep going if you stop, press into the new ideas and listen to the voice of God.

Never stop learning.

I love to learn. I used to hate it in school, not understanding why it was important, but there is so much value to learning. We have opportunities all around us to learn new things. Maybe it’s from a coworker, a new book, or from the wonders of YouTube. The purpose of learning is not to have knowledge or the answers for a trivia game, it is to think differently and act on that. I search for new things every chance I get. I read books to be more informed or to find new ideas, I watch TED talks to be informed about the culture and climate of the world I live in, and I listen to Pastors who speak from their heart about the wonder of God. I never want to stop learning from people with great skills. You can learn from everything, even from people that don’t believe the same things you do. One of the biggest tragedies that believers fall into, is that anything not directly tied to God is unimportant. This is so wrong! Spiritual truths come from the Lord, even when it is not presented from a believer. Now you may disagree, but I’m not saying that you should believe all you hear. What I am saying is that God uses everything and everyone to speak to us, and when we are in scripture, we can discern the truths from the fallacies. Don’t close your mind off from new ways of leadership and new ways to look at the world that you live in. Always have the mindset of learning, and never stop growing your mind.

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Never sit back and let your skills go to waste. The world we live in needs people like you. People that know they have been made uniquely, people that live humble lives, and people that are always wanting to learn more. Live into the purpose you were made for, take the steps that will move you into your passion. Dream big, listen to the people who have gone before you, and do it with an attitude of bravery. Growing your skills takes time, you may even fail one or two or twenty times to get it right, but you were made for more. You were made with purpose. You influence more people than you can even imagine. Sharpen your mind just like you would a dull axe, because only then will you be effective in your purpose. So be unique, live humbly, and always be learning.

Never hold back from growing your skills.

-Joshua Thomas

Destiny Awaits

Everyone has a yearning for something greater, we all have been given a drive to leave our mark on this world. I think about this a lot, like a lot a lot (too many lots?). I know I’m not the only one whose mind is drawn to be something greater, because I know that God made us to be more than where we are. There is a problem that can come up, we look to the wrong things to pursue. Isn’t that the terrible truth, we want to find our passion and purpose, but we lose sight of the path that God has placed us on. While thinking about this, I began to watch one of the greatest movies of all time, Star Wars. The movie is filled with great truths that can be applied many ways, but one theme jumped out to me that had never before. Our main character Luke, in the beginning is a simple farm boy on a distant planet, and later becomes the warrior that he was called to be to bring peace and justice. That’s a pretty great calling, we all want to become great, to save others and bring peace to those around us, but Luke didn’t want to do this. The first time we see Luke, it is apparent to see that he doesn’t want to be a farmer, he wants to be a pilot. Not a bad passion to pursue, but when we see the old Ben Kenobi, he tells Luke that he was made for so much more. Like all of us, Luke is so focused on what he wants, that he almost misses his true purpose. Now I know some of you may have glazed over while I was talking about this amazing movie, but the fact is, the movie reveals something that we all fight.

We all have an enemy actively working against us (See previous post for more on that topic), but we also fight ourselves. So often this thing called pride jumps in our way when we ask God what he wants of us. We begin to idolize our pursuits. This could be the pursuit of a job that may make you more money, but take away your influence and doing what you enjoy. It could also mean pursuing an unhealthy relationship when you really should know better, our idolizing the idea of needing a relationship to be complete. This could be a pursuit of earthly pleasure rather than seeking God for our joy. We begin to believe that our way is better, that maybe this is what God wants me to do. We stop listening to the Ben Kenobi’s in our life that have gone before us and have wisdom we can’t even imagine. Pride makes us want to be a space pilot rather than a hero of the universe. Today I want to talk about some ways that God has taught me to fight against pride, and these are things that I still have to actively press into, because none of us are perfect. I want to help you to find what God has for you rather than your own plans, because God has given me a greater vision for my own life.

It’s not about us.

This is the first thing we need to understand in order to step into purpose. God made you with a specific purpose to be a beautiful man and woman after his image, but you are not the most important person in the world. My mom used to say to my sister and I, “The world doesn’t revolve around you.” Now twelve year old Joshua would get mad, but it’s true, and it’s something the bible says very clearly. Galatians 6:3 says, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Now don’t feel depressed and think that you don’t have a purpose, that’s another lie. The truth is, in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” You play an important role for the kingdom, you were designed from the start for something big. It’s not about us, because it is about Jesus. Once we live into that truth, we are on our way to beating pride.

Humility Brings wisdom.

What we just learned is the basis for living a humble life. Pride hurts us and causes us to be foolish, but when we live in humility, we gain wisdom. Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble comes wisdom.” Wisdom is such an important virtue to apply to your life. When we are living wisely, each decision we make is looked at through a different lens, we choose what will help and what will hurt. So when we live wisely, we think about how that new career will change us, or that maybe this relationship shouldn’t go any further, wisdom reveals what God wants for us, rather than blindly following what we think we know. We get wisdom from God’s word. That’s the reason we have the bible and the reason why people say you should read it, because it is so important for your life! Wisdom comes from the understanding of what God freely gives. Be humble and let God speak.

Listen to wise people.

This is the last piece of the arsenal to combat pride. God has placed people in your life strategically to help you make the best choices. Even in wisdom and humility, it can get hard to see if what you begin to pursue, really is the place for you. When you find yourself in situations like this, stop, look around you, and ask. Everyone, no matter how perfect they may seem, has someone they go to talk about ideas with and ask for help. Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of the fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” In Star Wars, Luke chose to follow his true path and he had Ben Kenobi train him. In any movie, book, or important person in life, all of them have a mentor. Finding one may seem daunting, but trust me when I tell you it will be the best thing you could ever do. Over and over again I find myself in situations where I don’t know what to do, or why the world feels like it’s crashing down around me. In those moments I know I can talk to my mentor, and even if they don’t know the answer, they always join me in prayer to fight against the things I am facing. We are warriors, we all need sensei’s.

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The world is big and filled with unknowns. We are all made for so much more, God designed each and every one of us to do great things. You may feel like you don’t know where you’re headed or if where you’re going is where you know you should be. Don’t fear the unknown, trust on the one thing you can know is constant through all things. You have a destiny that will play a part in things you can’t even imagine. You will influence people in ways you may have never even fathomed, and you may not see the effect of what you have done. Take heart, God will use you, because he made you to be exactly who you are. I know for me it’s hard to believe that you were made for a purpose, because I have had to face adversity and people telling me I’m not good enough or strong enough to do anything important. This is the biggest lie, and if anyone says something like that to you, know this: You are special, you can do all things, you are important, and you are unique. No matter how many people would say things that cut like a sword, and sometimes still do, my family always reminded me that God made me. When you live into your royalty of Christ, no one can ever stop you from achieving your destiny. So be unique, be different, be who God made you to be.

Your destiny awaits.

-Joshua Thomas

The Heart behind Everything

This past weekend I was able to be a part of Daystar Kids’ FX (Family Experience). I love getting to be a part of this event, getting to have fun and see kids and families come together is such an awesome thing to see and be involved in. Each time this event comes up and I have been asked to play a part in it, I get excited. Memorizing lines, helping put together the really cool set, and being able to be around other people that are just as passionate about the next generation as I am. It’s the best, even when technical difficulties happen, the quick speed memorizing of lines before, and any other unexpected issues that happen, I love doing it. The coolest thing to see is everyone else apart of it, people that aren’t doing it for attention or being in front of a crowd, but people who have their hearts in the right place. As I was thinking about this over the weekend it really stuck with me, this idea of where my heart is in all that I do. I know I don’t always put my heart in the right place, pride can creep in, we can start to judge others, and lose sight of the true purpose. This applies to everything we do, whether that’s something you do at your church, how you act in your job, or how you treat the people you call family. Your heart determines the result of everything you do.

In Matthew 6:21 it says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This verse speaks to the point of why our heart behind everything is so important. Whatever it is that you truly treasure, the thing that you need on a daily basis, the thing that you put trust in that is what your heart will be focused on. That could be a career, a relationship, or yourself. I struggle with that last one. It’s so easy for me to want to depend on my own strength and thinking only about what I want. The same is true for many of us. Maybe you are so obsessed with your career that you miss out on time with your family, or that unhealthy relationship you keep going back to. All these things are weak and will only bring pain into our lives. There is hope. Redirecting what you value back to Christ, will allow your heart to be in the best place during all circumstances. So what exactly mean to make Christ the place where I put my value in? Well I’m so glad you asked, faithful reader! I want to share what I have found and what God has taught me on how to have my heart in the right place. My hope is that you leave this blog post with a new desire to have your heart in the right place, no matter what the situation you find yourself in.

Trust in the Lord with your heart.

This is a tough one, saying I give my complete trust to God is not an easy thing to do. So often I find myself trying to fix everything on my own, I try to solve the problems around me that are impossible for me to carry. It causes me to get angry and lose sight of what is important; my heart ends up in the wrong place. Luckily, God knows that I do this and that you do this, Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” What a powerful verse! Not only are we to give complete trust in Christ, but when we do he will direct our every move. When our heart is focused on the one who knows all things and is a sovereign creator, we can walk in confidence knowing that God directs our path.

Guard your heart.

After we begin to put trust in God, the battle isn’t over. This is where pride will start to creep in, we are following what God has for us, but the enemy wants us to fall. We start to get more opportunities to have influence over others as they look to us, and that’s when we need to be careful that we don’t say to ourselves, “Oh yes, hello little peasants, bow before me.” Wait you don’t say that? You get the point that I’m making though, we need to remember that humility speaks louder than your actions. We also have to be careful of the words we say, both verbally and your internet speak (That’s probably the right terminology). Words can cut like a sword, so when you speak to others do it in a way that builds them up, even though you may be judging them for how they act. Online presence is a more recent thing that I have noticed, before sharing that article or composing that tweet, think about how it will make others look at you. This isn’t just a rant, it’s in scripture. Proverbs 4:23-24 says, “Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth from perversity, keep corrupt talk from your lips.” Guard your heart, don’t let pride or foolish talk destroy your ministry.

Even when we screw up, take heart!

You are going to fail, encouraging I know, but we are all humans who suffer from not being perfect. Life will throw storms yours way, trust me I know what that feels like, but the thing we must remember is that our great God doesn’t leave us. Psalm 73:26 says, “My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Everything around us will fail, things will happen that we wish could erase, but even in all of this, God is constant. This part is up to you, will you choose to press into Christ, or will you turn away when struggles arise. Know that no matter how bad it gets and no matter how you screw up, you can be made new again. We just need to rely on the strength of Christ.

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Everything we do has an origin, and that origin is from the heart. When we feed our heart with the frail things of this world, we begin to miss out on what life has to offer. God designed each of us with a specific purpose in mind, he gave us gifts and talents to be used for so much more than our personal gain. We don’t have time for pride to get in the way, nor rely on our own strength in life. Trust in Christ, guard your heart, and take heart as we go forward in our lives. When we do this, our ministries, our jobs, and our relationships will be striving after Christ first. No matter what happens, the opportunities that are big or small, everything will be done with a higher purpose. You and I don’t have time to waste our lives on foolish things. Put your heart in Christ and he will drive your walk.

Pursue Christ, and live with his purpose in your life.

-Joshua Thomas