Dad Priorities

Father’s Day is coming soon and I just want to brag on the incredible power of Dads for influence in the world. In fact, when you just study the tragic statistics of this world, you see the high cost of the loss of dads. For example, 90% of homeless and runaway populations and 80% of psych hospital patients are from fatherless homes. There are many more, but let’s not focus on the negative.

Here is what I know - there are no perfect dads! We are all flawed, but we can make a monumental difference for our kids and the world. I have friends in their 60s and older who still talk about their dads when they were kids - for good and for bad. Your influence is astonishing.

Here are three tips I got from Doug Clay at a recent Men’s Conference:

1. Give your best energy to your most important relationships.

Don’t let lower-priority relationships steal your highest-priority energy - protect it and give it to your family.

    2. Give your best resources to your highest priorities.

Time, money, attention, and energy are your most precious resources. Many of your resources are non-renewable and once you’ve used them, they’re gone. Preserve the best of you and your resources for your highest priorities.

    3. Give your most positive creativity to your deepest disappointments.

Focus your attitude in your pain toward positivity and creativity. Keep asking what you can do to move forward positively and how you can give your best to your recovery from deep wounds.


Short story? Bring your best, protect your best, and prioritize your best for the people and things that matter most. Call on your Heavenly Father to equip and empower you for this critical task and lean on Him.


No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.


My Daughter Taught Me Hospitality

My daughter taught me something about hospitality last week. I brought her to the gym for a kids-workout. This was her first time attending so she was a bit nervous and very excited. In preparation, she asked me questions about what they would do, if they had snacks, and of the other kids who might attend. My daughter never travels light and she packed a bag with extra clothes, water bottles, and a little pink med-kit.

The med-kit caught my eye and I asked her about it. “It’s for the kids if they get hurt,” she explained, “look.” In this toy designed for make-believe, she had prepared for every medical disaster imaginable. She presented two Band-Aids, hand sanitizer, a cough drop, and several small toys. My daughter continued to explain the significance of each item.

“What are the toys for?” I asked.

“The toys are there to cheer kids up.” She replied as a matter of fact.

She had a great time at the workout, running and jumping with the other kids, until a young girl fell and skinned her knee. My daughter instantly jumped into action. She retrieved her pink medical kit and bound for the young girl. She applied both Band-Aids, gifted a toy, and offered her patient and cough drop for good measure. Instantly the two girls were best friends. They exchanged hugs, plastic jewelry, and held hands for the rest of their time together. At the end of our time, my daughter offered medical advice on the removal of Band-Aids and they said their final goodbyes.

I was so proud of her.

She came prepared to love the little girl with a skinned knee. She anticipated a need and took the necessary steps to help. This hospitality required anticipation, anticipation empathy, and empathy compassion. No, my daughter didn’t know this girl but she knew that someone might need her and she planned accordingly.

Richard Gula wrote about this type of caring in his book titled, To Walk Together Again. He writes,

“Jesus’ command of love is tough. People throughout the ages have tried to make it work. Some people had vied for it, almost all have known the discouragement of failing to make it work. What does this love demand? Of all the attempts to bring some insight into what love demands, I have found those who explore the notion of “hospitality” to be the most helpful. The New Testament word for this kind of love which is commanded, and which is the love that reconciles, is agape. The Greek word, however, does not seem to work for most people today. Who knows what it means ‘hospitability’ works. Everyone seems to have some idea of what it means.”

Agape love is hospitality love. It is a love of anticipation, a love of compassion, and a love of empathy. Who are you anticipating today? Who needs your love in a new and compassionate way? Imagine the impact that your internal predictive compassion can have on the heart of another. I hope you can see it and plan accordingly. My daughter did and taught me how to practice agape in the doing.

 

The Chronic "Hurry Sickness"

“You must ruthlessly eliminate worry from your life.”

Dallas Willard

 

            Many people a battling a sickness and they aren’t even aware of it. This disease is called “Hurry Sickness.” In today’s society and culture, people are constantly trying to check tasks off of their to-do list at lightning speeds. We are living in a world where we are dreaming about the end result, even when the end result keeps moving.

            John Ortberg wrote a book called “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” where he shares several disciplines and practices that help align us with God’s plan for humanity. One of these disciplines is the “Discipline of Slowing.” I know what you’re thinking… slow down? Who has time for that? Slowing down is not only important, it is necessary.

            When we slow down and eliminate hurry from our life, we find ourselves enjoying life, enjoying others, being more intentional with our time, and focusing on what really matters. We are also able to really tune into our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health as we hear from God.

            We all need rest. We all need slowing. We all need time with friends, family, and Jesus that isn’t bound by time limits. Mark 6:31 says it like this, “Come with me, by yourself and get some rest.” May that be how we operate each day. May we slow down and share a meal with our kids, or pause to remind our spouses why we love them, or just hit pause on life to get away with Jesus.

            Time is a big deal, but eternity just happens to be a bigger deal. How are you spending your time?

Do You Hear What I Hear?

God is talking to us all the time through so many channels! Frequently, what I hear is very different than what you hear. Have you ever wondered why that is? Why what may apply to you does not apply to all people? Or, why we think that if God tells us something we should do or can’t do that it must apply to everyone in our traffic pattern? And the whole wide world for that matter!

The truth is, often it simply does not apply to anyone but the individual HE is talking to. We know that the 10 commandments apply to all, they are black and white. However, there are things that only apply to you or me, because God knows us individually. After all HE created us and HE knows the beginning, the end, and all the chapters in between of our story. He knows what is good for us and what is bad for us. That applies to us for protection, for prevention, and because it will bring glory to HIM.

There are times that I clearly hear from God! Sometimes it is through His Word, sometimes through other people; other times through creation or meditation. One of the many things I’ve learned is that recurrently HE is speaking directly to me and me only. Before this occurred to me that sometimes HIS message was for my information, conviction, correction or affirmation, I would hear HIM and make what HE said a new law for ALL to hear and to abide by. Just ask my poor husband, he can attest to this fact! This became a place of judgment for me; not my being judged, but my judging others based on what God was saying to me.

One example was being at church every time the doors were open. I could even line this up with scripture, (Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching,”). I would scan the audience on Sundays and any other event and think, “hmmmmm, I wonder why…..” and my mind would come up with judgey scenarios of why ‘ole so and so was not there, which in turn would make me miss the whole reason I was there. Then one day, I clearly heard God say something like this, “it’s really none of your business why they are not here, I asked you to come, and that’s all you need to worry about.” That cured me. Anytime I’m tempted to place my convictions on someone else, I hear, “it’s really none of your business.”

I learned that everyone will not hear what I hear.


If you experience such things, try this: Next time God speaks to you, bask in the realization that HE is talking to you! Thank HIM for taking time out of HIS busy schedule to bring life to an area of your being that needs HIS voice. Feel free to ask HIM if this is something to share or if it is a secret or mystery that He is sharing just with you. (Daniel 2:28"However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries…”) He will tell you. You see, HE is a personal God. He knows you by name and one of HIS greatest pleasure is HIS relationship with you as HE watches you become more like HIM and sees your character changing to HIS image. This will bring glory to HIM, and intimacy to your relationship with HIM.  Remember that we each have a personal relationship with HIM, which sometimes simply means, it’s just a you and HIM conversation. Finally, if you feel compelled to place your convictions on others consider this, HE also speaks to them!

Jesus and the Referee

I love watching sports events.  While I certainly concentrate my viewing on the big three (football, basketball, and baseball), my wife will tell you that I delight in observing almost every competitive sport.  The athleticism that some people possess really amazes me.  And like most people, I have my favorite teams.

One of the things I’ve noticed more and more lately is how quick we sports fans are to blame officials when our preferred team loses a game.  This is rarely true, but I admit I’m guilty of doing this myself!  A big part of this is due to the incredible instant replay we can view on our massive television screens.  We now have multiple camera angles, stunning picture clarity, and announcers and fellow fans to reinforce what we already knew.  If that official hadn’t screwed up that OBVIOUS call, my team would’ve won!

This reminds me that we have an enemy always pointing out our sinful behavior.  The replay evidence is clear and he has the proof.  The bible reminds us in Romans 3:10-12, There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. 

But if you’ve accepted Jesus as your Savior, he’s there turning the table on the referee.  Jesus calls us safe when we were obviously out at the plate.  While it’s clear that the football hit the ground, Jesus is there to announce that we caught it!  And that shot that we took after the buzzer, he says it left our hands prior to the horn sounding and it counts!  Hebrews 8:12 tells us the Lord will forgive our wickedness and remember our sins no more!

I’m sure glad my Jesus is running the replay booth, aren’t you?

Miraculous Expectation

I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?
Jeremiah 32:27

What are your expectations when it comes to God and His miracles? I think we all can get stuck in certain incomplete stances when it comes to our expectations of miracles. People land all over the spectrum of faith here. Some people may choose not to believe in the miraculous. Some may live on the opposite side blindly expecting every good thing to come their way as long as they just believe while others may find themselves somewhere in the middle, struggling to know if they should let their faith extend in various circumstances to trust for a miracle.

I think there is potential for a flawed outlook on the miraculous if we are simply looking for miracles just to make life be what we want it to be or to be what we think our life should be like, as if we should have a standard of what life “should be like”.

Here is what I want to challenge you with: Expect God to be true to His character. You know what we can always expect? We can ALWAYS expect, count on, and depend on God to be God. He will never not be Himself!

Now, to be clear, I am not going to promise you a life of ease and smooth sailing ahead without any surprises, bumps, cliffs, or mountains along the way. In fact, I can pretty much promise that hard times will come.

So what’s the point? How does our expectation for God being Himself and doing miraculous things in our lives tie into this? Simply put: God is going to be right there with you in the midst of those hard times. We can place our hope in Him not because He makes life blindly navigable but because when hard times hit, He knows how to help us take the right steps and make the right turns on the road of life.

Consider the nation of Israel. They were enslaved to Egypt. It was miserable, they were mistreated, they were unhappy. God brought Moses up to advocate to Pharaoh on their behalf. God brought multiple plagues to get Pharaoh to release Israel from slavery and bondage. Pharaoh would give lip service and say “OK, OK” but as soon as the plague was lifted, he would go right back into being the way he was previously. One day, God took all of the first born of Egypt but passed over the families of the nation of Israel and spared their lives.

Pharaoh finally stepped back and let them go. Later, though, he changed his mind and chased after them. Cue the Israelites complaints: “We would have been better off slaves in Egypt than to be dead in the desert.




Then came the miraculous. Moses had an expectation for God to be God here and that is exactly what happened.

13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Exodus 14:13-14


The nation of Israel here was faced with a seemingly impossible situation: death or death. Either Egypt catches up and kills them all or brings them back as slaves or they hope the road ahead doesn’t lead to their demise either.

What does God do? He makes a way. It surely isn’t what any of the Israelites would have noted as their expectation. But Moses knew God would make a path. And He did, right down the middle of the sea.

Moses demonstrated some amazing faith here about trusting God for a miracle. He didn’t step out and say “This is what God has to do in our situation”. Nope, instead His heart said “I know God will do something.”

Simply put: Moses trusted that God would be… well, God.

My point here isn’t to try and say that everything turns out to be something beautiful, good and rewarding in the moment. Some things are just plain hard and painful. While that pain is at times inevitable, what’s beautiful about it is that God is right there to comfort us and guide us through any and all circumstances.

So whatever you’re facing or struggling with, remember that you can count on God to be Himself, true to His character. He will always deliver on that promise. He’ll comfort you in painful times, give you vision and wisdom for how to navigate the road your on and will ALWAYS be there, right by your side.


My Soul Is Troubled, What Shall I Say?

In John chapter 12, there's a really powerful scene that many people, including myself, seem to skip over. This passage comes right after Jesus rides into Jerusalem, and right before he washes his disciples' feet. Where I really want to focus is on verses 27-29. Jesus is predicting his coming death as he's teaching, and the passage says this:

Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!"

Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.


This is so cool! I mean, did you read that? The voice of the Father came down from heaven. People thought it was thunder or an angel. Jesus explains after this that the voice was for the benefit of the people, not of him, so that they could see God's glory.

Jesus was about to be crucified. He shows here that he has two options. He can ask for the Father to save him, to deliver him from what he is about to endure, or he can choose to glorify the Father! I believe that is something we all face in our lives. We endure struggle, we endure hardship, and we just want God to take it away. We want deliverance! But Jesus shows, we can choose to glorify Him instead. What struck me is that when Jesus chose to glorify the Father in his suffering, God's power showed up in a huge and immediate way! A voice from heaven literally thundered around the crowd.

So, here's my encouragement for you today. In the midst of whatever you're going through, whether that be financial troubles, sickness, or family sorrow, you have a choice in your prayers. God loves you, and he is with you in the suffering. Choose to glorify Him. Choose to say, "Lord, I am in pain, and it almost feels like more than I can bear, but I glorify Your name!" God's power will show through in greater ways than you can imagine.


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.