Private Health // Public Fruitfulness

In our cultural obsession with celebrities, success, and image, we have forgotten this fundamental principle: Private health precedes Public fruitfulness.

Negligence of this principle results in the kinds of failings that have become commonplace these days: church leaders who live double lives, tragic stories of abuse or sin that becomes public, government leaders who have dark secrets, and more. In fact, it’s becoming almost impossible for people to hold a high degree of confidence in the integrity of anyone or any institution.

The Bible calls it the “law of the farm” which is to say that we will always reap what we sow. When we sow no seeds of continual spiritual formation and character development in the private place alone with God, it is only a matter of time before we see a corresponding famine of character, strength, or courage in the public space.

The simple way to say it is that we have become Christians without an Altar; followers of Jesus who actually spend almost no time alone with Jesus to hear His voice, learn His character, or answer His call.

Following Jesus is a life of both Altar and Obedience:

ALTAR:

  • The place of communion, consecration, and commission for every servant of God

  • The place of private health

  • The place of power for growth and change

OBEDIENCE:

  • The disciplined lifestyle and focus of someone surrendered to the ownership of Jesus

  • The place of public fruitfulness

  • The process of growth and change

We receive 3 Graces at the Altar, which we can find no other way:

  • Authority - over the flesh and the voices of the world

  • Assurance - of our mission from Jesus

  • Anointing - to fulfill our life of obedience with bountiful fruitfulness


I believe God is calling His people back to the practice and priority of the altar, both privately and corporately, and that, as we seek Him in that sacred space in our lives, we will see Him move among and through us like never before. 


The world is starving for followers of Jesus who prioritize their altar time with Jesus and, therefore, carry with them the aroma of Christ.


Self-Preservation and the Mediocre Life

Is there a connection between self-preservation and mediocrity? Does the desire to save oneself impede the impact we have on those around us? Think about our cultural heroes: men and women like Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, and Nelson Mandela. All of these paid a great price to serve others; all of these disregarded the preservation of self in order to serve a greater cause. But we don’t need to look towards such idyllic leaders to see the connection between sacrifice and significance. The boxer who risks his body for the fight, the artist who reveals her heart on the canvas, and the nurse who cares for those who cannot pay give exceptional service to their own detriment. Pain, exposure, and poverty are their reward… unless they are working for something greater than themselves. 

Save yourself and limit the impact you have on others.

Jesus taught that, “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” He draws a direct connection between self-preservation and the loss of life. Our efforts to keep safe, comfortable, and alive result in a spiritual death. However, our willingness to spend our life towards the cause of Christ takes purchase of eternity. 

Are you working to save yourself or spend yourself? Is your desire for self-preservation keeping you from doing something significant? Consider these things as you go about your work. And consider the amount of energy you spend helping others and saving yourself.

The Four Essential Habits of Spiritual Vitality

 

Last Sunday I mentioned in the message on Psalm 133 that having relationships where you attach your heart to others of faith (unity) is one of the four essentials habits of sustained spiritual vitality.

 

I want to tell you about all four.

 

The first habit is having regular encounters with God. I describe a God-encounter as any time I gain revelation or insight about who God is, what God is doing in me, or how God is working in the world. This happens most regularly in Church gatherings and personal prayer/study times. It can also happen in the woods, on a walk, listening to music, and lots of ways.

 

The second habit is transformational relationships. Our faith gets shaped by our relationships and it is essential to have a community of faith where I am having faith-shaping conversations with people I trust. This is best in a mid-sized group, small group or a coffee table with one or two friends, but it is an essential part of ongoing spiritual formation in our lives.

 

The third habit is personal spiritual disciplines. Our faith gets established in our hearts and lives as we wrestle with the Scriptures (hear it, read it, study it, meditate on it, memorize it, and apply it to our lives), wrestle with God in prayer, and deepen our reflection through journaling, fasting, solitude and other spiritual disciplines.

 

The fourth habit is meaningful service to others. Our faith gets energized when God uses us to impact someone’s life. He has given us gifts and experiences and when we use them to bless others, our own faith gets fresh fire. All addiction recover experts know that helping other addicts is a key to ongoing recovery.

 

When you practice these four habits - as a lifestyle - your will still travel through peaks and valleys, but your spiritual vitality will trend up and to the right over your lifetime. It is impossible to live these habits and stay stagnate in your spiritual life for long periods of time.

Until He Comes

Not long ago we participated in Communion and read the passage of scripture from I Corinthians 11:26, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  So often we hear Communion referenced as something we should do, “In Remembrance of Me.”  Often times a Communion table will even have those words inscribed on its side.  While it is important to partake of Communion to remember what Jesus has done, we are also instructed to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  Christ’s return is also important to our faith and hope!  How valuable it is to keep that hope in perspective. 

 

Jesus never promised us a life without problems.  Though none of us should complain when life is going perfect, we know that life rarely does.  In fact, Jesus said in John 16:33 that, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  There certainly is a balance that needs to be held between living God-fulfilled lives in the here and now, and looking ahead towards eternity.  However, if we are not careful we can often find ourselves wrapped up in the present without giving much forethought to the future.

 

Jesus is returning!  And that’s a good word for His followers.  Paul writes in I Thessalonians 4:16-18 that we are to encourage each other with this truth.

 

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

 

May we always keep it on the forefront of our minds that our King is returning!  May we live in such a way that He will be pleased with how He finds us!

Eyes Opened but Still Blind

Have you ever prayed, “God open my eyes?” This is a prayer that often leaves my lips when I am seeking wisdom and understanding in a situation. I do think there is always more wisdom and insight that God is willing to give when asked.

 

The other morning in my daily reading, I was in Acts reading about Saul’s Damascus road experience and something struck me that I hadn’t noticed before.

 

“Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.” (Acts 9:8)

 

This is what struck me: Saul has this blinding- light encounter with Jesus. He is confronted with the truth of Jesus and is now a “believer.” No longer can he deny the deity of Jesus. What stood out to me was the statement “although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing.” My mind immediately was captivated with this.

 

I wonder how many of us have had an encounter with Jesus where our eyes have been opened to the truth of Jesus, but we are still blind to what exactly that means for us and the world around us.

 

How many people sit through worship service after worship service, whose eyes are opened to the truth of Jesus, but are still blind to the blessings, power, and authority of Jesus?

 

They have the truth in their heart but have settled in to a spiritual blindness.

 

Immediately after Saul encountered the truth of Jesus, a series of events took place. He was lead to a safe home, and he encountered an individual, Ananias, who was further along in the faith. God prepared Ananias and used him to speak more truth in order to remove the blinders from Saul’s eyes. From there, Saul went into a season of intense discipleship where his spiritual eyes were opened even wider and his understanding of Jesus and His gospel became a personal, burning passion in his bones.  It was after these experiences that Saul, now Paul, set out on arguably the most important mission the Church would ever embark on.

 

My mind has been captivated lately with this thought: how do we intentionally help those who have encountered the truth of Jesus? How can we lead those whose eyes have been opened to the truth, but yet are still blind to begin a similar growth journey that Saul walked.

 

The reason I bring this to you is two-fold. Maybe you find yourself in this story in one of two places. Maybe you see yourself and your situation as Saul. Your eyes have been opened to the truth of Jesus but you would have to admit that you are still blinded to what all that really means. If that is you, I would encourage you to reach out to one of the leaders here at ECC and let us help you enter that growth journey. I promise an amazing and enlightening adventure awaits you with Jesus.

 

Others of you might have seen yourself more in Ananias, your eyes have been opened and the blinders have been removed. God wants to use you to help others remove the scales from their eyes. Like Ananias, you might be hesitant to do so. Let me just encourage you to move beyond your discomfort and obey. You never know the Saul that God might lead you to will become a Paul.


Why Most Repentance Efforts Fails

Most repentance efforts fail and by failure I mean two things: 1) the repentant person fairly quickly returns to their sin, and/or 2) the repentant person feels continued shame, guilt, and a barrier between them and God even though they have left that sin behind.

Repentance is not remorse. It is not to feel badly about your sin, or to confess and grieve over your sin. To repent means to turn around and go the other way. It includes confession and remorse, but it also includes a renewed commitment to a new order of things. A connecting back to the work of Jesus, calibrating to the Presence of His Spirit in you, and re-entering a daily walk of dependence upon the Spirit of God in every moment.

What is missing in our repentance? I think the answer is in the first two verses of Psalm 51. This is the Psalm David wrote right after being confronted by Nathan and recognizing the depth of his deeds with Bathsheba.

 

““Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”

 

The key? Recognizing that you are a far worse person than even your sin reveals and that you are utterly dependent upon God.

 

David uses three words to describe his problem: transgression, iniquity, and sin. This digging through the layers of our sin problem is an essential part of effective repentance. David begins with his transgressions; a transgression is a willful violation of the law. When the speed limit is 55 and your son is driving 80, he is transgressing the law. And David’s transgressions were brutal. We often call it his “adultery” with Bathsheba, but let’s be clear - it was a rape.

 

While we are not informed of Bathsheba’s feelings, the truth is she had no choices in the matter because the King decided he deserved to have her. He rapes her and then kills her husband to cover his sin. He doesn’t just kill a man, but a man who had been one of his mighty men of valor, risking his life numerous times to save David’s. Not only that, but this murder results in the deaths of other soldiers who’s wives and children lose their husband/father to cover David’s sin.

 

How does a man who loves God so deeply, whom God calls “a man after my heart”, fall so far? The same way I do, and you do - iniquity. “Wash away all my iniquity”, David prays. Iniquity means “perversity” or “bentness” and refers to the broken and sinful depravity that flows in our veins since conception. “In sin did my mother conceive me”, David adds.

 

Embracing our iniquity helps us recognize that our transgressions flow from the contaminated spring of our souls - that not only did we transgress God’s law in this particular instance, but transgression is about the only thing that we naturally and consistently do. Everything about us, even our efforts to love and serve God and others, is polluted, resulting in sin (David’s third confession): “cleanse me from my sin”.

 

Sin is an archery term, referring to our inability to hit the bullseye. Everything we do falls short of the mark of perfection, for it is polluted by our iniquity. We are incapable beings, desperate for God and His help. We are fundamentally broken and it colors everything about who we are and what we do.

 

This confession of complete brokenness and utter dependence upon God is the entry point of effective repentance. Let your sin drive you to this place and to the reminder of your desperate need of God. Learning to live in this space will also empower us to walk more closely with God, leaning into His Presence and power so that we live for Him more effectively.

5 Worship Misconceptions

I have been involved in worship for as long as I can remember. I’m convinced that it’s nearly impossible to define what it means to worship God in a single phrase. Worship is a lifestyle, worship is an attitude, worship is all about God, worship is a form of spiritual warfare, worship can heal the soul. The reality is, all of that is true, worship is all of those things and more.

 

Worshipping God is a bit of a lost art in modern church culture. There are many misunderstandings about worship and I’d like to highlight 5 of them. I hope this list will help you get a better understanding of what it means to truly worship God.

 

 

1.     Singing songs is my worship to God

A lot of people believe that worship begins and ends with music, singing and/or listening to “worship” songs. But music is not, in and of itself, worship. While music can be a very enjoyable part of honoring and loving God, real worship is all about obeying and pleasing God through our actions, attitudes and thoughts. Music is a small (although important) part of a lifestyle that aims to please God.

  

2.     Praise is celebration (fast songs). Worship is intimacy (slow songs)

I remember that is how we defined praise and worship back in the day. You start a gathering with some fast music (“praise”) then you transition into slower music (“worship”). Again, the misconception here is that worship is a “thing” you do. But worship is in fact a desire to obey and please God. Worship is not about fulfilling a religious obligation, it’s about showing God just how thankful we are for His faithfulness and goodness towards us. That is done through our obedience to Him.

  

3.     True worship is when “the glory” is felt in a gathering

The tingles, goosebumps, hair standing up, the “feels.” Many people believe that true worship is occurring when we feel a certain way. But when was the last time you were ridiculed because of your faith but you stood firm in your beliefs? Or when you stood up for God while He was being mocked. Or when you chose to go against the “flow” of this world because you know it dishonors God. Did it give you the tingles? Probably not, it probably hurt and I’m sure it was very difficult. Many times, true worship (obedience to God) won’t give you the “feels” but you know it honors God. I’ll admit though, I love when I hear a well written song that has just the right melody to strike an emotional response in me (gives me goosebumps or the “feels”). But based on that alone, it doesn’t mean it was “true” worship. Maybe I just really like that song.

  

4.     Certain songs and/or styles are considered more “worship” than others

One big misconception about worship is this idea that I get to decide what God likes and enjoys. I remember growing up listening to ministers on the radio and TV saying “y’all playin that devil music in the church!” They argued that true worship was “the ‘ol gospel hymns” and modern/contemporary music was dishonoring to God. Maybe they didn’t know it, but those very same styles of music were also being played at the time in the clubs and bars by famous artists such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Elvis Presley. Thankfully, we now have learned a great lesson because of that, the power of purpose over preference. The purpose of worship through music should get us to acknowledge the goodness and worthiness of God. That purpose should far exceed our preference.

 

5.     Worship is a purely personal experience

“It’s me and God and forget everyone else.” That was my attitude for many years. I truly believed that worship was something that was between me and God and us alone. Then I realized the importance of worshiping God with others. There is a tremendous power in acknowledging God together and encouraging one another at the same time. Worship is personal but it's also communal. In fact, we are commanded to gather and worship together. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV) says: “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.”

“Silence is a powerful Communicator”

Recently I read an article on communication tiled “Four Communication Barriers and How to Spot Them”. At times we all struggle with communication and how do we “get better” at it.

 

This article helped me, so I thought I would pass it on. Who doesn’t need a little help communicating better?

 

“Four Communication Barriers and How to Spot Them”

Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott 

Silence is not the cause of poor communication-the fear of pain is. It’s human nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The truth is people actually avoid pain first, then seek pleasure. And under painful circumstances communication goes away and silence can set in.

 

There are four styles of miscommunication that result when a person feels threatened. Placating, Blaming, Computing and Distracting. By understanding these styles and recognizing when they occur you can ease your tension (and the one you are communication with) and get to the root of the cause before your communication breaks down

 

1.     PLACATING

 The Placater is a “yes” person. This person is eager to please and apologetic. You’ll frequently hear placaters say things like: “Whatever you want!” or “Don’t worry about me, it’s ok.” They want to keep the peace at any price, including feeling worthless.

 

Studies show that placaters have difficulties expressing anger and hold back so many feelings in they often become depressed. As a placater you should remind yourself that it is ok to disagree! If the person you are talking to is a placate try to recognize their actions so you can help them express their feeling when they are holding back,

 

2.     BLAMING

 The Blamer is a fault finder who criticizes relentlessly and speaks in generalizations. You’ll often hear blamers saying things such as “You never do anything right!” or “You’re just like your mother/father.” Deep inside, blamers usually feel unworthy or unlovable and can get angry at the anticipation that they won’t get what they want. Blamers tend to find that the best defense is a good defense.

 

If you (or the one you are talking to) are a blamer try to recognize when you feel the need to be defensive. You likely fear dealing with expression or pain – try to let this go. Once you recognize these behaviors, learn to speak on your behalf, without indicting others in the process.

 

 

3.      COMPUTING 

The Computer is a reasonable, calm and collected person. This person usually never admits mistakes ad expect people to conform and perform. You’ll often hear the computer saying: “Upset? I’m not upset. Why do you think I am upset?” Computers fear emotion and prefer facts and stats.

 

If you or the person you are talking to often find yourself computing, then it’s time to open up the communication doors and express your real feelings. Computers need someone to ask them how they feel and out certain things. If you recognize this trait in yourself or the person you are talking to, having an intentional conversation with them may help.

 

4.     DISTRACTING 

The Distracter resorts to irrelevancies under stress and avoids direct eye contact and direct answers. Distracters are also quick to change the subject. You’ll often hear them saying something along the lines of: “What problem? Let’s go shopping.” Distracters fear fighting and confrontation can bring this on.

 

The solution? Distracters need to know they are safe, not helpless. Problems can be solved and conflicts can be resolved. Encourage yourself (or person talking to) to confront problems head-on with productive conversation, rather than burying them.

 

The next time you find yourself communication with a placating, blaming, computer or distracter, remember that this is likely the result of feeling stressed or hurt about something. And vice versa. If you find you or the person you are talking has resulted to one of these methods, ease your or their tension by being sensitive and trying to get to the root of the issue.

 

By opening up the communication walls before they completely close, you will be well on your way to a solid and productive conversation.

 

 

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.