Fearfully & Wonderfully Made

Apparently, the Bible tells us we are terrifying and amazing all at the same time. I’ve heard this said too many times to count in sermons, bible studies, books, and conferences. As a Youth Pastor I have even said this to my students so they would not examine themselves in a lens that Christ disagrees with. “You are fearfully and wonderfully made! … You are so complex and dangerous to the mundane and evil things of this world! You are able to accomplish terrifyingly awesome feats! …. You are not ugly and disfigured, but wonderfully made! You are not socially awkward or annoying, you are wonderful and if others make fun of you then they just don’t get it! Because God says you are fearfully and wonderfully made.”…

But let’s look at what scripture really means: We are fearfully and wonderfully made, but not for any of the reasons mentioned in the paragraph above. This is a classic way we can often read scripture out of context to benefit our self being.

Psalm 139, written by King David, and is an amazing piece of scripture. To paraphrase it:

God knows all the future, past, and present things about you, including your thoughts and feelings. God made you in your mother’s womb. God’s power has no limit. I will love who God loves and I will hate who God hates. Search my intentions and lead me away from any evil that I may live well for you, God.

When the scope of the entire psalm is displayed we can clearly see the intention is to express the superiority and limitless nature of God and His grace and mercy over our lives. When we read scripture, I believe we forget two important things. Not just two, but for the sake of me writing a blog post I’ll stick to two.

  1. Someone wrote it

  2. Read scripture to know God, not to glorify yourself

Who the author is matters. Take this example, if I receive a text that says “You’re so funny and handsome, you deserve all the kisses!” and I think it’s from my friend David Reyes, there are going to be some immediate issues! But if I think it’s from my wife, this is the best text I’ve received all day! Now, I know my wife’s and David’s intentions when they communicate to me. So, for scripture we should note who wrote it and what were their intentions. This defines what the scripture is about. Now we can start discovering the fruitfulness of it and what we need to know!

Often, we have a bad habit when we hear Biblical teachings because everything boils down to: “What does it do for me?” In a way we are trained to think this way. If you think about all the ways we receive information most of the drive behind seeking it, or even paying attention to the information, is based on the value you get out of it. But with the Bible we forget that it’s not a newsfeed or a “Best Of” quotes from God and His inner circle. 2 Timothy 3 says scripture is breathed out by God. The Bible is not a vending machine of encouraging thoughts or ideas tailored for your life. It’s a communication of God with mankind that we could know God and His intentions. Meaning, there is indeed encouragement and uplifting thoughts for you, but there is also correction, lessons, and stories meant to lead you closer to God and the truth of Christ that you could walk according to His call.

All this to say, God did fearfully and wonderfully make you! But my intention for this blog post is for you to know that it is not that you are fearful or wonderful. Rather, God, the one who made you is! Let your life reflect the scriptures in it’s intention! I pray God will search, lead and refine us into the person He is calling us to be!


Confession and Healing

All of us have battles. It is a universal certainty and nobody gets a free pass. These battles include recovery from the injuries inflicted by others, profound violations of trust, betrayal, abandonment as well as terrible things we have done to ourselves and others. Every person you ever meet has a few items from their past that they hope nobody ever discovers about them. All of us have ongoing battles with sin habits, personality disorders, personal quirks, and deficiencies of character or strength. We all want freedom, but something keeps us enslaved.

Consider this truth: You are only as sick as your secrets.

Because that is true, this is also true: The pathway to genuine freedom includes confession.

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” James 5:16

Often, when we muster up the strength to confess, we limit our confession to God and do not involve other human beings. We do this because we know God is gracious, forgiving, and redemptive - that He will continue to move us forward toward our future rather than be trapped in our past. We are not so sure about people in this regard.

But another reason we confess only to God is that it allows us to protect our reputation and avoid humiliation before others. Have you ever confessed something about yourself to God only to quickly have someone accuse you of the same thing you just confessed, and you reacted in defensive hostility?

Here is the secret of true freedom and healing: Until your hatred for your sin exceeds your desire for self-protection, you will never confess. And if you never confess, you will never find true, genuine, and powerful freedom.

Note: it is wise to carefully choose the ones to whom you confess - people who love God, who are redemptive, and trustworthy. But don’t limit your confession only to pastors, priests, and professional counselors, who are vowed to secrecy. This is still a self-protective maneuver.


Want freedom? Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

Practicing the Presence of God

I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that Jesus doesn’t care how busy you are. He really doesn’t. He wants you to be healthy, fulfilled, and obedient but he is not concerned with your business. The bad news is the same: Jesus doesn’t care how busy you are. If you were banking on the idea of working your butt off for Jesus, your out of luck. There is no quantity over quality formula to take advantage of here. What you need to focus on is how well you can practice the presence of God. Get this: being with God is the most profound act of discipleship, service, and obedience you can ever choose to do.

Our church just completed a 40-day biblical journey that lasted eight weeks. Each week consisted of five daily devotionals with scripture readings, reflection questions, and thoughtful writings. Many of us were stressed out over how much work was required. Some dominated the task and strategically contemplated each of the 40-days. Others flew by the seat of their pants, catching bits and pieces as the days and weeks flew by. Who grew more over the past eight weeks? Those who learned how to practice the presence of God had the greatest opportunity for growth. Completing any number of readings or tasks does not guarantee closeness to God. There is no task you can check off to transform your heart into His likeness. But don’t read this insight as a license for laziness. Practicing presence requires great discipline and focus.

Practicing the presence of God requires each of us to draw close to God for each and every moment of our normal lives. This is not a devotional, a worship song, or a podcast; this is everything, everywhere, for all the time. Start by praying all the time. That’s right, just start praying and don’t stop. You don’t have to talk out loud like a crazy person, just run a constant dialogue in your mind between you and Jesus (yes, this counts as prayer). Ask Him questions, praise his awesomeness, express true humility, and request to see people and situations how He sees them.

What is step two? Listen to what God tells you and have the guts to do it. This may be a conversation, a gift, or an act of service. The quicker you obey the easier it is. Don’t overthink it and remember that you are doing it for Jesus. We often get hung up on the hook of self-righteousness and resist helping someone who we think don’t deserve it. Get over yourself. Do it because you love Jesus and trust Him with the outcome.

There is no step three.

The good news is that you can begin practicing the presence of God right now. You don’t need to buy a book, a bracelet, or attend a conference. Start the conversation right now, close this tab, and then be ready to respond when you feel God leading you to do something uncomfortable.

Fasting: A Spiritual Discipline

Psalm 42:1-3

“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When shall I come and appear before my God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, “Where is your God?””

Last month, I had the honor and privilege to spend a little time with our leadership college students. Every week they have a class of sorts where they get up to date on the weeks ahead, have a devotion and then a teaching on that week’s topic. I was asked to come teach a little bit on the spiritual discipline of fasting.

If you’ve ever tried it before, it is very possible that you’ve failed before. I remember when I was 18 and my church asked the entire congregation to participate in a fast, which was great! However, my friends that I was hanging out with at the time were all about at the same level of spiritual maturity as the rest. We complained of hunger together, about how hard it was together, and then we ate the brownies my Mom made… together. We didn’t do well, but I certainly learned a lot about myself in that experience.

The very description of fasting being a spiritual discipline reveals that it isn’t necessarily going to be that easy to pick up and go with. It takes focus, work, and practice in repetition to develop it as a strong discipline in your life.

My purpose in sharing this with you is because it is something important we as believers should do but not something all of us do very often or perhaps very well, but don’t let that stop you from moving forward with it!

There are a lot of examples of fasts with different purposes that I would highly encourage you to read up on (Samuel leading the people to fast and pray, trusting in God when the Philistines are coming to attack, Daniel fasting everything but vegetables and water, Ezra fasting when he needed wisdom from God on how to get the Israelites home after the Babylonian captivity had ended).

This quote helps summarize well what I think is of great importance in understanding when we ask the question what is fasting and why should we do it?

“Fasting confirms our utter dependence upon God by finding in him a source of sustenance beyond food. Through it, we learn by experience that God’s word to us is a life substance, that it is not food (“bread”) alone that gives life, but also the words that proceed from the mouth of God. We learn that we too have meat to eat that the world does not know about. Fasting unto our Lord is therefore feasting—feasting on him and doing his will.” (The Spirit of Disciplines, Dallas Willard, p. 166)

Fasting is feasting. It is simple but dangerous to over-simplify life to merely being filled lungs and a beating heart. Our lives are completely dependent upon God alone.

Matthew 4:4

-        But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’

I pray that God speaks to you regarding this. Maybe you’ve been fasting regularly for a life time, maybe you’re just getting started, or somewhere in between the two. Wherever you stand currently, I encourage and challenge you to thirst for God, to hunger for Him where you recognize your need for God is greater than any other thing that you can try and fill your life, heart, mind, or stomach with. The reality is this: We need Jesus and I am so glad He is there for you and I. 

Finding Yourself In The Wilderness

Have you ever found yourself feeling as though you are in a desert or wilderness?  You might describe it as a dry, lonely place.  You may not know how or why you arrived there, and you certainly don’t know how long it will last.  You wish it would end soon though, because it’s just not much fun!  If you have ever found yourself there figuratively or spiritually speaking, you are not alone.

 

The word wilderness is translated 300 times in the Bible. In the Old Testament, it refers to a desolate, often sparsely populated, generally dangerous place - where an individual may face wild animals or hostile nomadic people.  In the New Testament it’s simply an “isolated place.”

 

There are a lot of lessons that can be drawn from observing people in the Bible and their experiences in the wilderness.  As we look at just a few, perhaps you’ll be able to identify with one or more of them.  These really are in no particular order except for the first one, because of it’s prominence.

 

Perhaps the most famous wilderness experience is that of the Israelites as they wandered around in it for forty years.  God initially directed them there for their own good, but after developing a lack of trust in God it became a place of punishment.  It all started with their murmuring and complaining, but it didn’t stop there.  As is often common with us, a critical and complaining attitude, if we’re not careful to repent of, can develop into a heart of fear that makes it hard to trust God.  When that took place with the Israelites they found themselves wandering in the wilderness as a place of punishment.  It’s important however, not to get stuck thinking that every wilderness experience is a place of punishment.  There are some really good purposes for the wilderness.

 

The second is that of protection.  David is the primary example here.  He was being hunted down by Saul.  At one time he was a servant in the palace of King Saul.  But when Saul’s heart turned away from him, the desert was a place of refuge and protection. He never appeared to have a home, and was always on the run.  The wilderness was the place he found protection from Saul.

 

The third is that of preparation.  We can find a number of examples of this in scripture, but Moses probably exemplifies how this worked.  For forty years Moses was hiding on the backside of a desert.  He had given up on what he thought God had called him to do.  He lacked confidence to exert himself as a leader.  Yet, God found him faithfully tending sheep and those forty years were not a waste.  It was a place of preparation for what was ahead.

 

In the life of Elijah, we find the wilderness to be a place of provision.  In 1 Kings 17, we find God directed Elijah to hide out in the Kerith Ravine.  It was after Elijah obeyed, that God had ravens bring Elijah both food in the morning and at night.  It’s worth noting that miracles will often happen in the wilderness. 

 

Finally, the wilderness is a great place to experience God’s Presence.  In each of the prior examples we know that to be true, but we are definitely reminded of this when we read of Hagar in Genesis 21.  Hagar was sent away from Abraham and found to be lonely and afraid in the Desert of Beersheba.  Yet God was already there.   All looked lost, yet when the presence of God appeared everything changed.  How true that can be in our own lives.

 

Regardless of what type of wilderness we find ourselves in, or how we arrived there, God is near.  Don’t lose hope or focus, God has a way of revealing Himself and reminding us of His Love in the dry seasons of our lives.

Following Jesus is a Commitment to Being Misunderstood

One day, when I was a young Pastor, I spoke on a particular Sunday about wholeness and emotional health through Christ and received, that afternoon, an email from a guest who attended that day that rattled me to the core. She said she was a professional counselor and could never attend a church that did not believe in the power of the counseling environment or that thought counseling was a waste of time. This rattled me because I deeply believe in the power of the counseling process and have encouraged hundreds of congregants and friends to pursue it - and have pursued it myself.

It hurt so bad to be so badly misunderstood.

On that Monday, I was whining to our Youth Pastor about my offense and how badly it affected me. He said, “Well, if you don’t want to be misunderstood or criticized, you better quit being a Pastor. In fact, you should probably quit being a Christian.”

Boom! He was right. And that was 1990!

Today it is even more accurate to state that, if you plan to follow Jesus closely and see the world the way He does, you are going to face criticism and be misunderstood.

Now some Christians are just mean jerks, and cry foul when they are criticized. I would criticize their attitude or approach as well, but it is true that even if you have great people skills and love all human beings, you will be criticized and misunderstood, like Jesus was.


So, don’t be a jerk. And don’t shy away from following Jesus closely and embracing His view of the world, even when you are misunderstood and criticized for it.


Trust in the G.O.A.T

Proverbs 3:5 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

You want to know something interesting? We have an amazing God! That’s why I like to call Him the G.O.A.T. - the greatest of all time! He’s all-powerful, all-knowing, everlasting, literally limitless in everything…. and time and time again, we choose to exclude Him in our lives. We pick the worst possible moments to do it too. Like when all hell is breaking loose, when our carefully crafted plan starts to fall apart, and when things get out of our control. That’s when we decide to tell God, “Thanks, but no thanks! I got this!”

Why do we do this? Well, we’re control freaks. Me personally, I like to know that I have a good grip on the things I’m responsible for. I have a budget, I know what comes in and what goes out. Every dollar has a name and it’s as organized as I can get it. I like that! Makes me feel like I’m in control. Makes me feel all warm and toasty inside.

Our reality is that we’re very talented at some things. Some people are very organized, some are able to “wing it” without it looking difficult at all. Others have amazing talents, insight and tons of experience. All around us there are very talented people in finance, construction, epic chefs, great parents, coaches, teachers and the list goes on and on. We’re good at doing stuff! And with all this talent, we’ve built up this illusion in our minds that we can trust in these abilities, we can put our faith in what we can do.

Yet God calls us to lean on Him, to trust in Him. The truth is, we want the control, we want our hand on the wheel! That’s why when things don’t go the way we planned, we freak out and exclude God. When we do that, what we’re really saying is, “I’m not sure if God will come through so I’ll just do it myself.” Or maybe, “God’s not interested in this meaningless problem so I’ll just help Him out.”

Our lack of trust in God has tremendous repercussions. When we lean solely on our abilities, our talents, and/or our understanding, we cut God out of the picture. That’s crazy! We lose out on being backed up by the greatest there is - God Himself. As crazy as that sounds, it’s true for a lot of us. We just find it so difficult to “trust in the Lord with all our heart.”

There are so many times when we’re killing ourselves doing something that is almost impossible, and we’ve got God sitting on the sidelines (figuratively speaking, of course). But it doesn't have to be this way. God doesn’t have to be this backup player who’s sole purpose is to close out the game at the end. No, He’s so much more! He’s an everyday God! He’s not waiting till the end to rescue you, He’s here now, ready to go through it with you.

Here’s the truth, as talented as we may be, God is better. You could have the most amazing plan, but God’s is way better. You may have gone to a great school, and you’re probably filled with tons of knowledge from books and blogs, but God is smarter. We can’t outdo God, and we don’t need to - it’s not even a contest!

So if you have any faith, it’s best to place it in the G.O.A.T., God Almighty, the GREATEST OF ALL TIME, and you’re not Him!

What Is Love?

“Love is patient, Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails….”

 

February is called the month of “Love” by many. This is largely due to that Valentines Day is celebrated during this month. All across the world especially in America, Americans go “Ga-Ga” when it comes to showing people and things they love are care for how much they mean to them.

 

I did a bit of research and here are some amazing “stats”:

 

  • 61.8 % of consumers celebrate Valentine Day.

 

  • An average of $130.21 per person is spent on Valentine’s Day.

 

  • 145 of women buy flowers and send them to themselves.

 

  • 73% of flowers that are bought are by men.

 

  • 58 million pounds of chocolate are bought.

 

  • 224,000.000 this is the number of roses that are produced.

 

  • 19% of consumers buy gifts for their pets.

 

  • $26.00 is the average a consumer spends on their pets.

 

And this last stat made me stop and ponder “…why?”.

 

  • 53% of women said they would end their relationship if they didn’t get a gift on Valentine’s Day.

 

I have to admit I do love giving flowers and gifts to my loved ones and I do love getting gifts myself. However, when I look at these stats and compare them to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. I feel that the best way to show one’s love to someone is by living and walking out 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is far the best and is everlasting.

 

The Greatest Gift of Love that you can give is “Giving of yourself, all in” and being an example of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

 

Three things that will last forever---Faith, Hope and Love--- and the greatest of these is Love….

                                                                                                                                      1 Corinthians 13:13

 

Invite Him In

Last night at 24:6, our Worship and Prayer gathering, Jim challenged us out of Romans chapter 8 to live free of condemnation. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” is a reality that most of us struggle to fully embrace.

As I stood at the front praying over our church body I kept seeing a barrier between our body and the freedom in which is described in Romans 8. It was unclear to me what that barrier was. I went home that night with a heavy heart for our church. I woke up the next morning with the same heavy heart. I kept asking God “what is the barrier? What is preventing us from fully embracing this freedom offered in you?”


This morning I heard God say to me, “I stand at the door and knock.” They have let me in but they are keeping me in their entryway.”


“I’m a guest in their entryway not a cohabitant in their home”, was the statement I heard loud and clear. Then this followed…

“They haven’t invited me into their kitchens. They are hesitant because their kitchen is a mess and they are unsure of how to prepare a meal for a King and Savior. They are fearful that they won’t have the right things or knowledge to prepare the meal. What they don’t’ know is that I will cleanse it and prepare a meal for them. I have everything they need.

They won’t invite me into their dining rooms because it’s cluttered and unused. They haven’t been in there in years. They avoid intimate conversations and vulnerability which has caused them to feel isolated from me and those close to them. I will bring new life to this room if they will let me in.

They won’t invite me into their bedrooms because they are ashamed of the things they have hidden in there. It’s a place of intimacy that has been mishandled by some and neglected by others. They don’t realize I can bring complete freedom to that room if they will just let me in.

They won’t even invite me into their living rooms because of what might be brought up in conversation. There are hurts, thought patterns, illnesses, and addictions that they don’t believe I can or want to help with. I can set them free.”

If any of this rings true in your soul I’d encourage you to say this prayer with me.

Jesus, I apologize for keeping you isolated in the entry of my soul. I invite you into every room of my life. There is no place that is off limits to you. No area that is too private for you to enter. I invite you into those places in my life that need new life. I invite you into those places that I’ve been ashamed and embarrassed of. Bring your healing and cleansing presence into my whole being. I ask this in no other name than Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen!


Two Parts of Prayer

Prayer is made of two distinct parts.

The first part is when we speak to God. We believe that God listens to us and cares about us. Honesty and modesty is an essential characteristic of this part of prayer. We often pray for others, our church, and for ourselves. The Bible tells us that we can confidently bring our concerns before God.

The second part of prayer is when God speaks to us. This is the part that we often skip; it is also the most difficult part to learn. Most of our prayers sound like this, "God thank you for X and please help Y and Z, amen." The gap between our final request and amen is non-existent. We need to learn how to pause and listen. 

“Listening to God requires us to silence our hearts.”

Listening to God requires two things. First, we need to stop talking. Second, we must learn how to become silent. To stop talking is an act of humility. In a world where the loudest person wins, shutting up can seem counterintuitive. You can do it. Just shut your mouth and put down your phone. The second act of listening is far more difficult: you must learn how to silence your heart. This is not about external noise as much as it is about internal noise. Be still and know that God is in control. Let the Holy Spirit speak to you; don't take control of your inner-dialogue. Trust God and listen.

Practicing the art of listening in your prayer life will change it dramatically. Begin by silencing your mouth, your mind, and your heart today.

The Powerful Effects of Encouragement

My wife and I have a 6-month-old boy named Cooper. Cooper is our first child and we love being parents. Last week, he did a few new “tricks.” He started holding a sippy cup by himself, he learned how to clap, and he figured out how to crawl. As far as my wife and I are concerned, Cooper’s new abilities are the most incredible thing to ever happen. We get so excited each time! If you’re a parent, you can relate.  

But here’s what I love the most, when we encourage Cooper and celebrate his victories, joy washes over him.

Encouragement leads to greatness. Celebration of others brings Glory to God.   One of the challenges of humanity is that we compare ourselves to others and, in turn, tend to envy other people’s successes and times of growth; however, we are called to rejoice with others. Paul says it like this in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.”   

Imagine how different our world would look if every believer took the time to encourage one another in our endeavors and celebrated them with on their accomplishments. Joy would wash over others. We would be united with one another. And peace would follow. All of this and more, brings glory to God.  

Who is someone that you have been holding back encouragement from? Encourage them today!

The Power of the Pack

I have become convinced that the worst thing in life is being alone. There are tons of terrible things that can and do happen to people, but nothing is worse than being alone. Even when things are amazing, we long for someone to share the news with and to help us celebrate or rejoice.

Loneliness sucks.

That means that one of the biggest strategies of our enemy is to isolate us - make us feel like no one understands, cares or can identify with our situation or condition. Predators always look for strays - those left behind because of weakness, injury, or lostness - and those are the first to get attacked.

That also means that one of God’s greatest strategies for you is to live in community. This is the first problem He solved after creation. It was not good for man to be alone, so God went to work to solve the problem. One of God’s greatest gifts to you is community.

“The strength of the pack is the Wolf and the strength of the Wolf is the pack.” (Rudyard Kipling)

A lone wolf has no protection. And neither does a lone you.

If I could wish one thing for you today, it is that you would prayerfully and intentionally form a pack. Pick some candidates and invite them to consider forming a pack or squad with you - a small group of 3-8 people who will get together at least once per month, have honest conversations, commit to praying for one another, fight for each other and process their lives together.
This is an incredible gift to your life and to theirs, and it rarely happens organically or naturally - it requires effort, choices and commitment. And the rewards far outweigh the risks!

Go ahead - get started talking to God and processing potential candidates today. How about right now?

FINDING PEACE

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

This is a verse we love to quote around this time of year. These are the various titles given to Jesus. These are the promises of what He came to do. There is one in particular I want to focus on: Prince of Peace. 

I’m sure you’re like me and have a lot going on. There’s work, family, church, volunteering, baseball games, soccer games, piano practice, and on and on it goes. We’re almost obsessed with our busyness. We love to talk about how busy we all are, and wear it as some kind of badge of honor. But deep down we feel overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious. And all we want is some kind of calm, some kind of peace! How do we find peace? 

Well, maybe you need to clear your schedule a bit (I’m joking, but for real). It can be challenging to find peace when there is so much going on. Maybe finances are a struggle, a family member is sick, or there’s just too much pressure, how do I find peace? Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. What does that mean? Jesus says in John chapter 16 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus speaks this to his disciples as encouragement during his last meal with them. This is just before he is crucified, and the disciples are scattered. Talk about a chaotic situation! 


But Jesus encourages them, He has overcome the world. Jesus is the source of peace. Jesus is our complete source of peace. He has completely overcome this world, and He has victory over all the troubles of this world. In Philippians chapter 4 the Apostle Paul gives us a lesson on how to partake of this peace that Jesus gives:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

So I leave you with this. Rejoice in the Lord in every circumstance. Whatever is troubling you, bring it to God. Lay it at His feet and find rest in His presence. And if life is just too busy, find the quiet moments to remember that He is your God who loves you and cares for you. Spend time with your Savior. He is the Prince of Peace, and you will find peace in Him. 

DO YOU SEE YOUR OIKOS OPPORTUNITY?

Don’t miss the easiest opportunity you will have all year to invite your Oikos to church!

Have you taken a moment to observe the opportunity Christmas provides us with to share the hope of Jesus to our friends and neighbors in our Oikos? Think about it, no other time of year is there a holiday, let alone a religious holiday, that the majority of people embrace, celebrate, and participate in. People from all walks of life, nationalities, and religions celebrate Christmas with enthusiasm and vigor. I know it’s commercialized and the true meaning of Christmas has been lost - but what a huge open door that we could use to present the gospel if we are willing.

Lifeway conducted research of over 1,000 people in 2016. These were their results:

  • 61 percent of people attend church at Christmas time

  • Of those who don’t attend, 57 percent would be open to attending if invited by a friend

  • “Even among the “nones” (people with no religious identity) nearly three in 10 (29 percent) “had plans to go to church.” 

  • 77 percent said their primary reason for attending church during the Christmas season is “to honor Jesus.”

  • Even among the “nones” (people with no religious identity) nearly three in 10 (29 percent) had plans to go to church

  • 47 percent of “nones” who attended church named Jesus as their primary reason for attending in the holiday season

This shouts an Oikos opportunity to me. No other time of the year provides such a natural non-threatening opportunity to extend an invitation to church.

So I have one question for you. Who you are going to invite from your Oikos to our Christmas Eve gatherings?

I pray that God gives you divine insight on who to invite and provides a divine opportunity to extend the invitation. Do your part and trust the Holy Spirit to do the rest. I’ll see you, and hopefully those in your Oikos, on Christmas Eve.

DOES HEARING ABOUT MAJOR EVENTS MAKE YOU AFRAID?

Do you see stories about people dying, and get filled with worry that something similar might happen to you?  Recently we heard about a shooting at a Jewish Synagogue, a nearly new airplane crashing into the sea, and three kids getting struck by a vehicle as they attempted to cross the road to get on a school bus.  This world can be dangerous.  If you avoid activities because they might harm you, consider Psalm 139:16; All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Oh yes, our days are numbered.  We don’t know the number, but God does. 
 
So how should we proceed with all these dangers lurking?  Matthew 10:29-31 gives us some assurance; Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 

God doesn’t even allow a nearly useless bird to die before he’s ready.  The Lord has us in the palm of his hand, and he won’t allow any danger to happen to us before our appointed day.  Being of more value than many sparrows illustrates how dear God’s children are to Him. How can we be anxious and fearful, knowing of such care and protection by our Heavenly Father?
 
So, go to church, get on that airplane, and cross the road when you need to (but look both ways)!  Regardless of whether you live life to its fullest, or stay home out of fear, God will be ready to take you home to be with him on your appointed day.  And not a moment sooner!

DO YOU TRUST GOD WITH ALL?

WHEN YOU SAY ALL, DOES IT REALLY MEAN ALL?

Proverbs 3:5-6 (AMP) TRUST in and rely confidently on the Lord with ALL my heart.

And do not rely on my own insight or understanding.  In ALL my ways know and acknowledge and recognize HIM, And HE will make my paths straight and smooth [removing obstacles that block your way].

Blaring truth is flashing before me right now as I read these couple of sentences. This verse that I have called my life verse for over 50 years.

TRUST, ALL, UNDERSTANDING, ALL, ACKNOWLEDGE, ALL, LORD, ALL, HIM, ALL, HE, ALL, my.

Trust ALL my understanding to the Lord; acknowledge Him in ALL things and He will lead me!

What about you, any specific words flashing at you? Are you asking the same question?

Does all REALLY mean all? When I begin to filter ALL things, ALL decisions, ALL emotions, ALL thoughts, ALL my finite understanding, through my TRUST in HIM; The ONE who has never failed me and never will! Who is always on my side! AND, when I ACKNOWLEDGE HIM as the never changing, always loving, ALL knowing person of the trinity, who gave HIS life for me; AND I ACKNOWLEDGE that HIS Word is true, dependable, proven both by His followers and historians, then, I can and will ACKNOWLEDGE HIM and TRUST HIM to lead me on ALL my paths, to lead me!

COME WITH ME ON THIS JOURNEY OF TRUST

DOING TOO MUCH WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH

I have good news for you: doing too much will never be enough.  We try to improve the qualities of our lives by working harder. If you are not good at reading your Bible, then you schedule morning devotions. If you are bad at serving, then you volunteer at the food bank. If your marriage is struggling, then you register for a seminar. But doing more does not make us better people.

Our culture places great value on hard work. We draw straight lines between business and productivity. But does this work when we are trying to improve the quality of our soul? Can we become better followers of Jesus by booking more Jesus-activities?

God is less worried about the work that you do than the person that you are. People often ponder the relationship between our actions and our character. Does being Christian cause us to do Christin things? Or does doing Christian things cause us to be Christian. The answer to this question: yes. Our being and doing have a profound impact on each other. But don’t get twisted, the character of your heart is the primary concern of God.

I give you permission to stop stressing out about doing enough “Christian” things. The ancient poets remind you to, “take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). You can’t work your way into God’s good graces. And you can’t build trust by taking more things into your hands. Make your shining accomplishment the ability to constantly love the things that God loves. And remember: doing too much will never be enough.

"HOW ARE YOU DOING?"

“FINE.”

In Pastoral Care, I hear this word used often when I ask someone, “How are you doing?” At times I find this perplexing, especially when I am with them in the ER, or visiting them in the hospital awaiting surgery, or struggling with a deep personal issue. On the flip side, I also hear this word used a lot in everyday passing. We say, “How are you doing?” to start off conversation. I just finished reading a book on Pastoral Care. One of the chapters is called, “Creating a Safe Place.” This chapter talks about how we spend time creating a safe place when we are hurting, and the high cost it takes. For the one who is hurting or struggling, it takes a lot of energy to hide those feelings and to put on a “happy face.”


It got me to thinking and reflecting: How often do I ask people in passing, “How are you doing?” And how often is the response I get, “Fine?”


I decided to do a survey myself and see how true this was. Over the last month, I have stood in our church hallways, observed in our classes, and listened to people talk to each other. I heard them ask each other, “How are you doing?” and the overall response I heard back was, “Fine.” What is surprising and amazing is that I know these people, and I know what they are going through.


When people respond politely to questions like, “How are you doing?” or “How’s it going?” I can only imagine how many are actually wondering, “Do they really care? Are they really interested in what is going on in my life?” They might say, “Fine” out loud, but they are thinking, “You really don’t care,” “You don’t have the time to really listen,” or “You are not interested.” These are just a few of the real thoughts that go through their heads.


My intent is not to sadden you, or get you to stop asking people in your traffic pattern, “How are you doing?”. You have it within your power to create a safe place for those who are hurting and suffering, whether it is physically, emotionally or spiritually.


As I said earlier, hiding feelings takes a lot of energy, more energy than it takes to be straightforward. Hurting people don’t have a lot of energy, because they are spending their energy coping with the circumstances and pain. In the end, hurting people just tell you what you want to hear.


My encouragement to you is this: Don’t stop asking people, “How are you doing?” especially those you know who are doing great, that is just being friendly. However, to those you know who are struggling and hurting, ask them, “Have you had anything good happen to you this week?”. Ask in a way that shows them by your voice inflection and body language, that you really want to know, and are prepared to spend some time with them talking and praying over them and their circumstances.


Our ability to take the bad news as well as the good is such a gift to a suffering individual. This openness gives the suffering permission to be honest, to share freely and save valuable energy. Sharing openly and honestly about being “not so fine” can actually be energizing.


1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us: “Therefore let us encourage one another and build each of up.” I would also add to pray for each other.


THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN YOUR LIFE

What if there was one thing that had the power to calibrate every other thing in your life? One thing that, if you got this right, would drive, empower and produce everything about you in the right direction? Maybe not a silver bullet, but rather the secret sauce that made everything about you to be powerful and attractive?


Turns out there is. And not only does its presence in you align everything else, but its absence is more defining than any other positive, beautiful, or powerful thing in your life.


“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)


According to God’s Word, if I don’t have love, I am nothing, I gain nothing, and I have nothing to say.


Love truly is powerful and defining. It defines the kind of person we are, the kind of relationships we will have, and the value we will add to the world. It reveals God.


What is love? Well, love is primarily a decision that creates an action for the good of another person. Just try to practice making these decisions and see where they lead your actions today.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (vv4-8a)


We are most like God when we love like God.

SEEING THROUGH THE ROUTINE

But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I Give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”

 

Scripture: Acts 3:1-10

 

Routines. They aren’t bad as they provide practical ways for us to plan our day and navigate our often-cumbersome schedules with a little less stress and a little more ease.

 

Most of us probably take the same paths to work, stop at the same places for coffee or breakfast, get up at the same time, you name it. I am sure as soon as you read the word routine that you started thinking about things that are part of your daily path.

 

My mornings are fairly routine, to the point that the employees at the place I stop to grab ice water and a quick bite to eat all know me by name!

 

Again, nothing wrong with routines like that, however, what could we be missing in our routines? Perhaps we get so used to the same thing every day that we may not see opportunities that are staring us in the face!

 

Here, in Acts 3, we see our friends Peter and John doing something they did all the time, it was the king of routines. Jews and devout Gentiles went to the temple daily to pray. This was a common practice and took place 3 times a day: 9 AM, 3 PM and sunset. This specific occurrence was 3 PM. #routine

 

There was a man that was never able to use his legs, ever. This man was carried EVERY DAY to the temple gate. #routine

 

As people went to the temple, the majority of people preferred to go through the gate called Beautiful. People like this man caught on and realized they could sit there and ask for money because the Jews are constantly walking past it to go pray. Lucky for these beggars, Jews thought it was an act of praise to give money to them, so they cashed in!

 

Now, that really only works when the people passing by have money to give. Peter and John, they didn’t have that to offer.

 

What we have here are two people whose daily routines are intersecting. They probably passed by each other multiple times! They probably both focused so much on their daily routine that they didn’t think much of what else was going on around them. It wasn’t new for Peter and John to be going to pray at the temple and it wasn’t new for this man to be begging for money. It probably wasn’t new that they would pass by each other either.

 

The beautiful thing that takes place here is that Peter and John yielded to the Holy Spirit here and used the routine as an opportunity to bring the miraculous to the mundane/ordinary. They had no money to offer but offered something far greater: the use of his legs (and ultimately, gave them a powerful, personal experience with God)! Peter said “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”.

 

What a powerful moment! What’s greater is the way the man responded. He didn’t grab a railing or ask people to help him up to see if he could walk, no, HE LEAPT! Not only did he jump to his feet but he jumped up and leapt around praising God!

 

And ALL the people saw him walking and praising God. Since he was there every day being carried in, most everyone knew who he was! To see him walking, jumping and giving all the glory and credit to God, what a testimony!

 

So, I will end this with a simple question: How does God want to use what you may write off as just an ordinary part of your day or perhaps just a necessary path to get where you really want to go to bring something greater to the world around you? This man being healed was only a fraction of the miracle here! The most amazing part of it all is that he praised God and revealed God’s glory, power and goodness to those around him!

 

Therefore, let us live ready to yield to God’s guidance throughout every part of our lives, even the parts that we may just think of as mundane and ordinary, because God can do amazing things at any time!