Thanks Giving

We slept late and didn’t start moving around until almost 7AM, but the beautiful sky was still there when we woke up this morning. I love how it is uniquely and beautifully painted each morning.

This morning, the blue greys of a cold winter morning behind the naked limbs of all the trees wasn’t flashy or striking — yet it made me slow down and consider how unique and beautiful it is. Like fingerprints and like people, each sky is unique — it even changes moment by moment throughout any given day. And depending on where you are standing on the earth, even at the same moment, we will see a different yet lovely sky.

We may not love every type of weather that comes from the sky. The rain might spoil our outdoor plans for the day. Or the snow might create shoveling work for us. But it all serves its purpose, even while the sky is doing its work dressed quite stunningly.

Today is a day about giving thanks. So I thought to myself and I wondered about folks who don’t believe in a creator, an architect, a painter of the skies. If they have decided it is all chaos, then what room does that leave for thanks? Do they thank themselves? Do they thank their friends, or the parents that birthed their closest friends? Or thank the individual clouds that might in a moment later be raindrops and later be a puddle on the ground? Or thank the sun the moon and the stars? Or is it a thankless life because “it just is the way that it is”? Or are they blind to the beauty of it all? Or do they thank chaos itself?

It was a curious thing for me to think about, so I was thankful to be able to consider and try to understand and appreciate what their perspective might be this Thanksgiving morning. For me, thanks giving isn’t just a one out of 365 day event — it is a way of life. And thanks giving isn’t an obligation as if my God demanded my worship. No, I can see so much blessing in my life that I can’t help but give praise.

In fact, when I’ve missed out on praise and thankfulness and worship, it isn’t God who has lost out on receiving anything, it is me because I didn’t even recognize the blessing so that I could appreciate and learn from it and grow. Blessings aren’t just a bright and sunny day of prosperity and my desires fulfilled immediately. Even the dark, stormy challenges in life bring us blessing, whether or not we are willing to see it and appreciate it.

My God has done all these wonderful things, and I am grateful. And that gratitude — that closeness to Him — is even more of a blessing than the things He gives throughout my life in order to reveal Himself to me.

I pray that you have so much to be thankful for every day, my friends!

When “Obey” and “Listen” Aren’t “Bad Words”

When I was young, the words “obedience” and “listen” were like bad words to me.
I thought that rules existed to keep us away from the fun and the good stuff.
I found that naughty “felt good”, and I wasn’t wise enough to understand that things in life had very real consequences.
I didn’t trust adults, or the law, or religion, or history to teach me anything valuable “in real life” — it was just “the way you’re supposed to behave”.
And I didn’t know God in any real and tangible way that would have me desiring to seek wise and healthy things in my life.
Even as an adult, I can sometimes fall back into those old, foolish, wasteful, harmful habits. But life experience continues to teach me (the hard way) how truly valuable it is to:
1) listen to wisdom
2) obedience isn’t a bad word
3) truly seeking God personally is so very different from “religion”

Harold “Hop” Ballinger

Good News

God doesn’t hate you.

God doesn’t want your life to be boring, religious, and fit in a box.

Much of what you’ve heard about God from people who don’t actually know Him personally has been a lie.

No matter who you are, no matter the color of your skin, no matter your place in society, no matter where you live, no matter your political affiliation, no matter the mistakes you’ve made, no matter the people you’ve hurt, no matter the intentionally bad things you’ve chosen to do — God loves you and He is not in the business of measuring and weighing these things in order to determine your worth or worthiness.

God wants your life to be filled with awe and wonder. He wants to fill your life abundantly with the best. And He wants everything that is unique and beautiful about you to shine for the whole word to see, because You are made in His image.

He is not far away from you, He has always been with you, and He has never left your side. If you seek Him yourself, you will find Him personally. He doesn’t want you to just know ABOUT Him, He wants you to know Him personally.

The life and teachings of Jesus Christ have revealed this to the world, and we are invited to believe and follow in The Way.

So come, follow Christ and be freed to new life.

How it Is versus How It Would Be

Loyalty reflects our commitment, and dependability reflects our priorities.

Rich Gorecki, God-Buddies.com

Loyalty and dependability aren’t feelings or opinions — they are demonstrated actions.

The words trustworthy and reliable are also similar.

And Proverbs 17:17 ties specific noun titles (friend, brother) to these descriptive adjective traits (loyal, dependable) so that we can know “how it is”, not just “how it would ne” or “how it should be”.

I realize that statement might not immediately make sense, “how it is” versus “how it would be” or “how it should be”. But I want to talk about it because perspective is key on this topic.

If I were to say “I’m a bird”, you might immediately say, “But you have a mouth instead of a beak, you have hair and not feathers, you have and and not wings, you walk and do not fly.” It should seem obvious to us that one set of items are about “how it is” for two different things. “Mouth”, “hair” and “walk” are about how it is to be a human mammal. While “beak”, “feathers” and “wings” are about how it is to be a bird.

“How it is” is the truth and the reality. Any time we step into language like “how it should be” or “how it would be”, we have left the realm of reality and entered into the realm of non-truth and imagination.

Just as it would be stupid for a mother to let her child believe he is truly a bird when they are standing atop a skyscraper, it is equally as stupid for us to say that we are a “friend” or a “brother” if the terms “loyal” and “dependable” aren’t “how it is”.

Hear me again, if “loyal” and “dependable” aren’t “how it is”, we are NOT a “friend” or a “brother”. If you feel like you just got stabbed by a sword, stick with me. I’m not here to hurt you, and you don’t want to give up half way through a surgery just because a cut has been made.

When it comes to truly being a “friend” and a “brother”, the following are cop outs and excuses that are used to avoid repentance — the “how it should be” or “how it would be” perspectives are enablers for continued unhealthy behavior that reveals something about “who we truly are”. We can make excuses and try to pretend, but the evidence is clear if we are not a “bird”, a “friend” or a “brother”.

Most of us know that it would be silly for us to try and transform ourselves into a bird. And quite honestly, if you are not a friend or a brother, if you are not loyal, dependable, trustworthy and reliable — no amount of self-help teaching is going to change who you are at your core. We might hide it and pretend (like a child at Halloween), but that doesn’t make it so.

There is an Almighty God who speaks things and makes it so. He not only creates, but He transforms. It is His will that we truly desire to be a friend and a brother. He can and He will change a person at their core. I have experienced it myself, and those around me can confirm this outwardly visible evidence of a true inner transformation.

Yet, I too have to repent and surrender daily when I see that the truth of “how it is” starts slipping into any excuses of “How it should be”.

Let’s surrender and ask God to heal us in these areas, my friends. Let’s not just commit to striving and trying to be better — Let’s rely upon and trust God in this, so that everyone might feel awe and wonder at what God has accomplished.

Let’s not lie when we say, “I am your friend and your brother.”

Where does it come from?

Depending on who we believe is responsible for the good and perfect things around us, we will either be grateful and appreciative when good things come to us — or we will be demanding that they must come to us.

If we believe that we are the source of “good and perfect” work, we will expect and demand “good and perfect” work from others — and gratitude or appreciation might be absent or extremely infrequent.

If our praise is only ever given to ourselves in this way, and if we stroke our own ego and allow others to do the same (or even demand and expect it) — we will create (inside ourselves) a stagnant pool of dead water where nothing good can live.

If we find that with our family, friends, spouse, coworkers, vendors, customers, or with our circumstances that we are much more often demanding or grumbling rather than appreciative — we probably have an imbalance in our flow that needs correction. But just like water will eventually find its way through a mountain or man made dam that stands in its way, taking intentional steps to “Say thank you more often” or setting ourselves reminders to “be nice” isn’t changing the flow of our stream, it’s just putting things in the way that builds up pressure over time.

If we are not grateful and appreciative towards others, it usually runs in parallel that we are not truly grateful or appreciative for the gifts, talents, health, security, and blessings that we have. Me might have an expectation that we “deserve” them or that we have “earned” them. And while it is very good and healthy to work hard and provide for ourselves and our families — it is detrimental to live in an attitude of demand and expectation, instead of gratitude and appreciation.

But the only victory to be won over this disease of the heart and mind, over this “powerful demon of the spirit realm” comes through surrender. You cannot strive harder to be grateful and somehow “win for yourself” the ability to actually be grateful. Sure, you can get more consistent or frequent in your mimicry of gratitude and appreciation — but that just fosters a greater inner resentment over time towards those our mind tells us “don’t deserve the appreciation we are showing them”, not any real improvement.

Isn’t it clear that we aren’t the source of the air that entered our lungs with each breath even as we slept through the night?

Isn’t it clear that the sun rising this morning consistently to usher in another day this morning did not happen at our beckon call?

Isn’t it clear that the plants and animals that have their lives in order to nourish us today were not architected and manufactured by our own hands weaving their atoms and molecules together in patterns that bring them to life in order that they grow and that even in their deaths, they sustain our lives?

Isn’t it clear that our having traits, abilities and talents in order to provide for ourselves and our families was not something that we ourselves wrote into our own genetic code and fostered and mentored to bring us to our current state in life?

When our eyes are opened to see that there are blessings flowing to us that are not our own doing — it will either offend our ego and we will dismiss this “other source” as foolishness — or we might let it pierce through our heart of stone so that our ego is defeated and that a new wind guides the sails of our vessel.

So I’m not going to give you practical advice of go out today and act grateful and appreciative — because that law might make us even more resentful and bitter and unspecified than we were before.

No, open your eyes and see that God is merciful and that every God and perfect gift comes from Him — and let it change you from the inside out. Amen.

Thank you My Friend

This morning’s verse is:

Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.

Luke 6:28 NLT

As I read it and considered how I might share this in common (non-religious) wording, I started looking for synonyms of the words like “bless”, “curse” and “pray” since those have clearly religious connotations within normal, everyday conversation.

But it dawned on me that the best way to teach is not to just say something, but it is to demonstrate it. Just like yesterday’s verse taught us that our behavior demonstrates what we truly believe, I realized that to share today’s precept, I simply needed to demonstrate obedience myself.

Thank you to everyone who has opposed me, talked about me behind my back, made fun of me, put obstacles in my way, treated me unfairly, hurt me, or abused me in my life.
You have made me stronger. You have helped me learn and practice patience, forgiveness, kindness, gratitude, love, hope, faith and self- control.
These gifts are some of the most precious and valuable, because they fill my life with joy even when my circumstances don’t look happy.
Thank you. I hope that God blesses you and rewards you — whether you thought it was for my gain or for my loss.

Harold “Hop” Ballinger

Are we willing to obey this precept, not just in a single social media post in order to signal our virtue — but in our walk today when we encounter opposition?

Lord, open our eyes to see how your victory is revealed. Help us to usher your Kingdom into the world one surrender at a time. Thank you for the beautiful way that your light overcomes darkness every time. Amen.

We Behave However We Truly Believe

Behavior reveals what we truly believe and what we truly love.

Harold “Hop” Ballinger

We know that we lie. Sometimes we even lie to ourselves.

A man can say that he believes X is the right thing to do, but if he always chooses to do Y, then isn’t it obvious that he actually believes that Y is the right thing for him to do?

People will conflate this with self- justifying concepts of “choosing to be bad” or “choosing to be naughty”. But what is truly good and right isn’t just some rulebook to follow in order to please or displease someone else. What is good and right is what is best for us, and anything else is choosing less for ourselves. And our own lives have told us time and time again that we do not always know our believe what is truly best, good and right for us.

Behavior is not about “disappointing others” or “disappointing God” or “following rules” (that we don’t truly believe). Behavior is the outwardly visible symptom of what we truly believe and value in our innermost.

So, if someone chooses to maintain a hidden relationship with another person while they are also in a committed relationship or marriage that trusts them to honor and respect their partner — it is clear that they believe that cheating is the best choice for them. People will try to play word games with this and say that they know it is “bad” as if they could just lump “good” and “bad” into a religious or moral category and divorce themselves from those things actually applying to them. But what they are actually doing is making decisions based on what is “good for me right now”. So, in fact, how we behave truly reveals what we believe.

People can participate in churches and religious practices and learn what to say to appear good — but what they truly believe always comes out in their behavior.

Hardened criminals who have chosen to behave in atrocious and vicious ways will tell you “I’m not a bad guy” and can easily explain how they justified their behavior as “good for me in that moment”.

So when we encounter something in our behavior that we can see is not healthy for us and others, if we only set up guardrails and measurements to keep our behavior in check — but we continue in our hearts to crave after and believe those things are “good for me right now” — then we are still bound in the chains of what we truly believe. We may continue to struggle and even break free from them at times, but if we continue to return to those habits and behaviors, somewhere deep inside we have decided that these behaviors are “good for me right now”.

Dead religious practice doesn’t change hearts and behaviors — it just keeps them behind closed doors. Laws and prohibition do not get rid of the dangerous behaviors — it just keeps them hidden behind closed doors and provides punishment for those who aren’t good at the game of hide and seek.

So you see, a change in heart, a new creation, a life changed to walk in The Way is not about rules and guardrails and checkbooks to live up to. It is about believing Jesus’s example — his behavior and teachings — truly are best for us to follow.

Jesus is the one figure that I can look at the example of his behavior and imagine how beautiful the world might be if everyone lived as He lived. If I look at other religious leaders, figures, and philosophers — no matter how high minded their ideas might be — if every single person in the world behaved a they behaved, it is easy to see there would be problems.

So, if behavior is the true revelation of what one believes, maybe we should spend at least as much time standing beside those who live as servants as we spend sitting around those who talk about things like holiness and law and right and wrong? Maybe our focus shouldn’t be on just trying to curb our appetite for temptation, but should be on figuring out what we actually believe in our hearts.

If we are struggling in habitual sin, we either do not have the power of the Holy Spirit in us that is able to overcome sin, or we have convinced ourselves that it is not a big deal and it’s isn’t really bad for me right now. We need to repent in our hearts and truly believe, not just “try harder” to follow rules. Our behavior will follow what we truly believe.

Authority

If authority is loud and active — used unfairly and without mercy ever chance there is for it to exert itself — it will be a horrible monster and burden to the people.

But if authority is usually quiet and patient, fair and merciful — revealing itself when truly necessary — it can be a source of peace and a comfort to the people.

No wonder we have different reactions depending on our personal experience of how those in authority have either benefited us personally or opposed us personally.

It isn’t hard to understand why people all over the world who hate another group for who they are, what they do, what they believe, or how they are different — that given the opportunity and the authority, they will likely wield authority against that group they are opposed to. When authority is wielded from places like hatred, fear and selfish motives, it causes pain and suffering for one group for the unfair benefit of another.

So it seems that wars and history have taught us that authority in the hands of men and women must be somehow kept in check, right?

But has warring nation against nation, and tribe against tribe, and man against man ever actually been the source of authority being wielded once and for all fairly, justly and mercifully?

There is a beautiful precept about Authority that I’m learning from the life and words of Jesus Christ.

He promises us a Kingdom of Heaven “on Earth as it is in heaven” (not just an evangelical hell insurance ticket to “someday get into heaven”) — and He doesn’t go to war against earthly authorities in order to take it by force the way they do. In fact, His victory came though what they would have understood as His defeat, His torturous death on a cross, His burial in a tomb.  And even if they don’t believe that he arose bodily to life (as promised and as we know to be true) — the world cannot deny that the spirit of His victory has lived way beyond the defeat of those particular authorities in His people who continue walking in The Way.

If ever there was a God, or a Man (or as we believe He was both) — wouldn’t we want the ultimate authority to be in the hands of a servant who willingly gives up his own life for all people — rather than in the hands of any man who would choose favorites and oppress some for the benefit of others?

A stupid man might say that they would rather be the chosen favorite benefiting while others suffered, but what happens if your spot as favorite is taken by another?

And an even more stupid man might say “give me the authority myself” thinking that he would use it only for his own benefit. But how many in power have destroyed themselves, and how many has fame and wealth and power led into absolute personal misery (even while they subjected others to misery as well)?

Let me pose a hypothetical to the wise atheist philosopher out there or the curious non-believer that might think that I am utterly foolish in believing in a God that in their words “doesn’t exist”:

If there was no God and no Jesus, what harm would a man do in surrendering authority to something or someone that didn’t exist? Will you willingly in your heart and aloud in your words profess belief and surrender and see for yourself whether His promise is true or not?

My belief would hold out hope that your one act of genuinely seeking Him might prove to be a greater benefit than any decades of denying Him, because He has done it before in my own life.

And if there is a God and He is worthy of Authority (and He is the only one able to wield it properly) — would you rather be cooperating in handing over the authority to Him or leaving in the hands of men?

I realize that Authority is hard to willingly hand over if we have seen it misused. But as Christians, we should respect authority, even wicked men who are put into places of authority — because it is God who has put them in those positions of authority for His glory and for our good.

Even those who are in place temporarily to oppress us give us the opportunity to endure faithfully as a testimony that our faith does not trust in one man or another being in a position of authority — but that we know that God has placed that man there.

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.
Romans 13:1‭-‬7 NLT

You who are slaves must submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.
1 Peter 2:18‭-‬25 NLT

Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other.
Titus 3:1‭-‬3 NLT

Remember Generosity and Sacrifice

I’ve found that if I’m not intentional and consistent about it, I can over time forget to be kind to strangers and forget about helping those in need. One set of new circumstances can throw me out of rhythm, I slip into a different pattern, and before you know it — the days of my life are singing a different song.

What practical steps do you take to encourage yourself to generous (or even sacrificial) living in ways that don’t necessarily come naturally to you?

I’m wanting to improve and grow in this area of my life. Thanks!

Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.
Hebrews 13:15‭-‬16 NLT

An attitude of generosity, along with a willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of others and for the glory of God — is the type of “worship in spirit and truth” that pleases our Heavenly Father.

NOTE:

I’m trying to communicate precepts clearly in 100% non- religious language that everyone can appreciate whether they are a believer or not.

Afterwards, when non-believers realize that the precept itself comes from the Word of God, they might want to understand the precepts and seek to know my living God — rather than “sign up” for so many dead, man-made churches or religions.

In a world full of religious people making demands on others based on their own personal dogma, doctrine, and theology — I’d rather share the sweet precepts of my God in something even a child can appreciate as wise and helpful. So they might choose to taste for themselves and see that He is good.

Part of being genuine is admitting our own weaknesses and our need to be reminded of these things — confessing our sins to one another so that we might be healed — and encouraging and building each other up. God bless you, friends!

Wonderful Things

Today, let’s think about wonderful things — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Let’s turn our back on things that are bad for us and that hurt others. We all know where we have made our mistakes before, but let’s look forward and commit to the wonderful things instead.

Harold “Hop” Ballinger

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.
Colossians 3:1‭-‬17 NLT

Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.

Colossians 3:2 NLT