Please join us at clifec.com/live Sundays at 10 a.m. for worship and teaching! If you are unable to participate at 10 a.m., we will replay the service at 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.!
You can join us in person by reserving your seats online.
To view campus service times and make reservations, click the button below!
Does anyone remember the game that we used to play as kids, MASH? You know the one. You choose three cars, three jobs, three pets, three numbers of children, three names of people you might marry, etc. Then your friend does tally marks on your paper until you tell them to stop, and that’s how they start the elimination process to show you what your future will be. Ha! Wouldn’t it be crazy if that’s truly how life worked? If the things that you wanted to become and the places you’d live and the cars you’d own were tossed in the metaphorical hat of life and just drawn at random? Crazy, for sure! Have you ever had to draw straws? I always seem to draw the short straw, so I really don’t care to leave my life up to chance.
I know that the concept of our lives being drawn out of a metaphorical hat seems silly and definitely laughable. But I think that, sometimes, it feels like that is how life has been dealt to us. It seems random. It seems unfair or cruel. But we base these feelings and understanding of our situations on what we can see and what we can feel, not necessarily what we know.
When I focus on the things that I know because of promises from God, my circumstances look and feel different. When I focus on God, saying that he will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6), I no longer feel so alone. When I focus on the knowledge that his word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105), I can trust him to help me make wise decisions. When I focus on his declaration that he knows the plans he has for me, plans to prosper me and not to harm me (Jeremiah 29:11), I can rest in knowing that, no matter what is going on, God has a plan. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by uncertainty and petrified of terrible things, but when our eyes are focused on God and his promises and character, the path forward becomes more evident and less frightening.
I know that we all wish that things could go differently. I know that we hope for change. I know that we want to provoke kindness in others, that we desire freedom and want a more peaceful world. I know that, often, our lives and circumstances seem insurmountable. And to be honest, they often are. But my hope is not in this world, in change, in peace, in kindness or in freedom. All those things are wonderful, and we should want those things. But friends, my hope is in Jesus. Someone once told me that perception is reality to the perceiver. So I challenge us to be a people that looks to God for how we should perceive our situation, so that our perception becomes his reality. My hope is in Jesus. Let’s look to him!
When it comes to struggles in our lives, we often try to find the easy way out. As soon as we feel any resistance while living our lives, we panic and begin searching for the quickest and easiest way out of the situation. As a result, we often miss out on lessons that God is trying to teach us because we do not go through what he has set in front of us.
They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.”
— Numbers 13:25–31
God told the Israelites that the land was fruitful and would be theirs, but they were afraid to walk into what they didn’t know. They sacrificed what they were promised for what they could see. Don’t we fall into this trap so often in our own lives? We give up great things in our future because we are afraid of the tribulations that come with growing and of the pain that comes with it.
Another instance of this in scripture is in Genesis 25 and 26. We see two brothers, Jacob and Esau, the sons of Isaac. Being the older brother, Esau had the birthright to his father’s possessions once Isaac passed away. One day after a long hunt, Esau was starving, and Jacob had some stew cooked. Jacob told Esau that he would trade him a bowl of the stew for his birthright, and foolishly, Esau accepted.
Don’t we often trade away our eternal calling for temporary comfort? We exchange what’s coming to us for what we’re already in. My prayer for you today is that you would not sacrifice what’s in front of you for what you’re in right now. By faith, you are going to get through whatever you are going through, whatever it is.
On Thursday, January 7, 2021, I posted (jokingly, of course) a meme on my Facebook wall that read, “I’d like to cancel my subscription to 2021. I’ve experienced the free 7-day trial, and I’m not interested.” If you follow the news at all, you would probably say that my humor was at least a little justified that day. I was definitely frustrated with humans as a whole last Thursday after watching the big news story of the day unfold on Wednesday.
But, as I listened to and reflected on Sunday’s sermon, I noticed I wrote the word perspective in my notes about 20 different times. Two people could probably look at last Wednesday or Thursday and have completely different perspectives.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.”
— Numbers 13:1–2
Much like the twelve chiefs sent to check out the promised land–different sets of eyes saw different visions last week. While some saw political strife, some foolishness and embarrassment on all sides, others perhaps saw something very different. Maybe they saw a loved one for the last time that day. Perhaps they laid eyes on their new baby for the first time. Maybe it was the day a prodigal son came home, or maybe it signaled the day someone got to ring the “end of chemo” bell. Perhaps it was the day someone accepted Jesus as Lord of their life for the first time. While the perspective of ten of us might have been on the things of this world, somewhere there were two that were looking beyond what is going on here.
I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you.
— Exodus 23:27–31
Perspective isn’t just about hindsight. Perspective is about being present in the journey. Journeys are never easy. And honestly if the journey was always easy, would it really be worth it? Obstacles have purpose. They bring lessons, and grow character and integrity. They breed appreciation and gratitude. When obstacles are out in front of you, it is sometimes hard to envision the rewards on the other side. I think that is probably something we have all felt in 2020, and now in the first ten days of 2021. But God’s delay is not his denial. Instead, It is his plan. The obstacles on the journey grow us, stretch us, and build our faith.
“The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”
— Numbers 14:7–9
Which brings me back to the beginning of my story. I realized that as a Christian, we have to consider ALL of these things. We are to be set apart. Our perspective has influence in our circles. What are we putting out into the world? Is our faith shining through, or hiding behind our keyboards? Is God’s love shining through, or are we cowering in fear? Do people see the cross when they see us, and does what we say and do show them that the gift of the cross was for them, too? Let’s put our FAITH on display for the world to see, and show them that God is for us, never against us, and he WILL win! Don’t cancel your 2021 subscription–instead let’s put some perspective and purpose into 2021. As Christians, let’s make it a year of being set apart, rather than blended in. Let’s be sure they know us for our faith and love!
Footnote: A year ago today, Nick Edwards challenged us in a staff meeting to put the following prompt in our calendar, and date it to remind us on January 11, 2021: ” What am I praying for and what am I trusting God for?” This reminder popped up on my phone as I was proofreading this Devo. I couldn’t resist sharing this with you. I am guessing my answer on January 11, 2020 was quite different from my answer today. Perspective on the journey. I am going to reset that reminder for January 11, 2022. I will get back to you in a year!
Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart, as working for the Lord.
— Colossians 3:23
As a career teacher, administrator and coach, I always loved the start of a new school year. It was an exciting time. Each new year brought fresh opportunities for growth and success to students, teachers, athletic teams and districts. No matter what last year was like, either good or bad, this new year can be better.
I think we are all glad a new year is here. 2020 was weird. 2021 can be better or worse. How do we make our new year better? One day at a time. One decision at a time. One extra rep in the weight room each day or one extra donut for breakfast. Ten more minutes a day working on your free throws, or fifteen more minutes a day watching TV. A great year is built one day at a time.
What makes the difference? We could name a few qualities that would be helpful. But I want us to think about just one today: passion.
As this new year starts, everyone wants it to be better. There is no trick in wanting a better year. The true question is how badly do we want it? How passionate are we about it? The difference between winning and losing teams, companies and individuals is often passion. A passionate focus is needed to move forward and get better.
As people of God, the Word calls us to have the same passion.
“Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and mind.”
— Matthew 22:37
What about right now? What level of passion do you have — do I have — as we start this new year as children of the King?
As Christians, we have a high and holy calling. We are a part of the family of God. That should give us a passion today as we approach whatever our earthly tasks might be.
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all to the glory of God.
— Colossians 3:17
Once again, I am committing to grow physically healthier this year. And once again, here comes that naysaying voice in my mind: “You tried before, and you failed. You went back to your old unhealthy ways. Why would this time be any different? Your tendencies to overeat and avoid exercise are never going to change. This is just something you’re going to have to live with for the rest of your life.” I wonder if anyone else can relate to that level of discouragement, bordering on defeat?
If another person talked to me that way, I would walk away. But it’s harder to walk away from myself. You see, I’ve broken my own trust over and over again. Every time I’ve started healthier habits and then stopped, a little more self-trust has eroded away. At this point in my life, I’ve amassed about 20 years of failure on this particular issue.
What I know in my head is that relapse is a part of recovery. Logically, I notice that each time I have relapsed, I’ve learned something new about myself or about healthy living. I’ve found a new piece to the puzzle, which means I’m getting closer and closer to finally overcoming. My rational side knows this is true. My emotional side fears disappointing myself yet again. My emotional side tends to shout more loudly in circumstances like these, and so a battle wages within me. “I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate…For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want…So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:15, 19, and 25). I’m so sick of the battle!
Here is the new puzzle piece I am adding. In order to start fresh, I need to forgive myself for the times in the past when I failed. The truth is that I did try, and trying matters. The truth is that I did fail, and that stinks. But I have also found the courage to try again, which is no small thing. The truth is that in those very moments when I was guiltily shoveling processed food into my mouth, when I rolled over and pulled the covers up over my head instead of jumping up and putting on my workout clothes, in those moments I was deeply loved. Jesus saw me hiding out in the pantry, opening the fridge for the umpteenth time, and He had compassion for me. He still has compassion for me, even now. And that will never change, no matter how many times I let myself down.
This year, I’m going to work on cultivating a fresh habit of compassion. I’m going to come into agreement with the Lord, that the way He feels toward me is correct. I’m going to work on reminding myself that “there is now no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). I’m going to allow my Savior’s words to permeate my self-condemnation: “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Now go and sin no more” (John 8:10—11).
If a person talked to me that way, I would run toward Him and never leave!
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I want you to know something extraordinary. Whatever your hurt, habit, or hang-up, however many times you’ve tried and failed, Jesus looks upon you with compassion. Today, you can choose to come into agreement with Him and forgive yourself for those failures. Today, you can begin to establish a fresh habit that honors God and embodies the person you desire to be. Take hold of the compassion that Jesus offers you, and move forward toward a transformed life!