The Thief Named Selfishness

“Dying to self doesn’t mean giving up what’s good for us.  It means letting go of what’s not, so that we can accept what is.”

When talking about romantic relationships, especially marriage, how often have we heard or even found ourselves saying that it has to be a 50/50 deal?  With this mindset, we attribute the same equal value to what we “get” as to what we “give” (although the degree of giving is often based on how much we feel we’re getting…. here lies the problem).  The “issues” begin when our expectations about what we “give” and “get” differ from what our significant other may have in mind…. and so, the battles begin.  We start planting flags and claiming territory on the relationship “battleground”.  It’s often not even something we’re consciously aware of but it will go something like this…. “Well you didn’t do this for me so I am going to withhold “            ” from you (insert sex, intimacy, conversation, support, help, flexibility, etc.).  We stew in our anger and brick by brick, we start to construct our walls….

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”  John 3:30

Recently I was talking with a friend who is in the process of going through a divorce from an abusive spouse.  She was sharing about how when she was pregnant with their daughter, he refused to speak with her for three weeks because he had wanted a boy…. I was floored.  This man was blessed with a lovely family, with a new beautiful baby girl on the way.  Instead of celebrating that gift, he allowed the thief in the door.  Without him even recognizing it, he had been robbed of the joy and excitement of that season in his life.  In turn, it also robbed his wife of feeling cherished, loved and supported…. causing her to feel heartbroken, isolated and alone.

While I would consider the example above to be on the extreme side, in our natural “unchecked” state, we are all selfish…. and before we climb on our own high horse, we need to understand that the potential for this type of behavior lives in all of us.

How can we counteract this?  What does Jesus remind us of in Luke 9:23 and John 12:24.  Deny yourself….die to self.  Over and over again, Jesus reminds us that in order to walk the path of “life” as God intends us to, we must first die.  We see this exemplified in the garden of Gethsemane as Jesus, soaked in blood and sweat asks His Father to “remove this cup from me”…. but He finishes His prayer by saying “not my will but YOUR will be done”.  (see Luke 22:42)  Right there, He buries any potential for selfishness.

In our relationship with our spouse, I believe that the root of many of these issues can often be traced back to the faulty foundation that is found in the 50/50 mindset.  At this point, I feel the need to share a disclaimer before we go any further.  What I am about to say is not a license for anyone to abuse you in any way.  You are not a doormat to be walked on.  Let me remind you that you are God’s creation, therefore you are His handiwork…. His masterpiece.  He made you with a purpose and has a plan for you in this time and in this place.  This is the foundation on which the next idea is built.

I believe that the 50/50 model, by its very nature, is broken.  Instead we need to focus on a “100/100” idea.  I need to be 100% about my spouse (as my friend and pastor says, “I am preaching to myself here.”)  It is on me to learn and understand what makes my spouse feel loved, cherished and appreciated and then implement those ideas in real world ways.  If it’s “physical touch” and you’re not a touchy/feely person, it may be unnatural at first but it is your responsibility to get over that hump.  If it’s “quality time” or “giving gifts” you need to make those things a priority (I recommend reading “The Five Love Languages” to learn more).  Remember that it’s not about what you “feel” like doing.  What it is about is “dying to self” and giving 100% to your spouse.

If you happen to be watching “Monday Night Football” and you notice that the kitchen is a mess….and you also see that your spouse has had a draining day with the kiddos, simply pause the game for 20 minutes and go in and clean it for them (without parading around looking for a pat on the back…. I’ve found that you’re more likely to receive a heartfelt thank you if you’re not actually asking for it  😉  ).  I need to remove the burdens and clear the obstacles that clutter my spouse’s path as best as I am able to.  We (husbands and wives) are the “safe harbor” for our spouse.  Yes, God is ultimately our refuge but we have an absolutely crucial role to play in reflecting Christ’s love, grace, understanding and compassion in our relationship.

As partners in a marriage (or those who are seriously dating/courting), this should be our mutual goal and if you haven’t taken the time yet, talk to them about this idea (and even more importantly, please listen).  Will things be perfect?  Not to burst your bubble but…. of course not.  We are still broken people being rebuilt by God.  There will be days when either partner (sometimes both at the same time) can be exhausted, sick, frustrated and impatient.  What should we do when this is the case?   We need to practice, give and receive grace.  Men, if we’ve “sinned” against our wife in those moments, we need to man up, recognize it, apologize (and give ourselves some grace…we’re not perfect) and take care of any fallout.

The world is a battleground and there is nothing that the enemy would rather see more than a family slowly being broken down and destroyed by selfishness.  When you arrive home, take a breath and before entering that threshold, remember to drop your weapons at the door.



The Courage of Compassion

“Sometimes you pray and sometimes you’re the answer to prayer.”  Erwin McManus

While on a flight earlier today, I was fortunate to share a very spirited conversation with a very enthusiastic toddler.  She caught my attention when her little face peaked over the seat in front of me.  She then started pointing out (and telling me about) all of the different lights that she could find in the cabin.  Reading lights, aisle lights, blue lights, red lights, yellow lights.  She wasn’t focused on the shadowy, boring, mundane places of the plane.  She was all about focusing on the bright and colorful spots….on those lights!  What a fantastic reminder about what to focus on in life.  I wonder if that’s how God sees us from His throne in Heaven.  After all, Jesus Himself said to his followers very clearly, “YOU are the light of the world….” (Matthew 5:14a)

And what are lights to do?  Shine!

As we go through our day, watch or read the news and observe interactions on social media, one of the things that becomes very apparent is that is world can be a very cold, bitter, ruthless place.  Negativity could swallow us up, if we were to permit it a foothold in our hearts and minds.  As we experience negative interactions over the course of our lives, we could allow those to pile up and harden our hearts to the needs of others both in a long term (family, friends) and in a short term sense (those that God brings across our path today).  In this soil the seeds of bitterness and anger take root and like quickly growing weeds, drown out the beauty that is found in compassion.  We can see the fruit of this so clearly in the story of the “Good Samaritan”……….

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” 

Luke 10:25-37

What made some pass (interesting how it was the “religious” ones who passed by the beaten man) while one man stopped to not only help but provide for the need of a stranger?  I believe the heart of the matter is rooted in fear.  Fear of what others who will see what we’re doing might think of us…. “Why is helping that loser?”  “Oh, look at that pious person showing off.”  “He’ll never get a job if people like him keep enabling their behavior.”   “He’s just going to take that money and buy drugs anyway.”  It could also be a fear of not having enough time (I’d help but I need to get to work….or home….or to church….).  Fear of not having the resources to help.  Fear and judgement (by others or by what we place on ourselves…humanity loves to judge).

What made the Samaritan different?  He was on his way somewhere as well.  He had places to be and people to see.  The difference is that when he saw the beaten man in need, he stopped what he was doing.  He invested his time and his resources (and potentially his safety) in stopping to help a stranger.  He took courage and didn’t make excuses.  When he saw a need, he acted on it.

My theme verse for 2018 is Matthew 6:33 which says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all of this will be given unto you.”  Every morning, I wake up and almost like a mantra, I repeat to myself, “Seek first His kingdom….seek first His kingdom….”  As I move purposely into my day with this at the forefront of my mind, my focus is sharper and my awareness as to who or what God might bring across my path is heightened.  I am able to see the opportunities more clearly because I expect them.  It may simply be a kind word of encouragement or it may be something more but whatever it is, my goal is to stay faithful.

What needs will come across your path today?  What opportunities to help, or to be kind, or to offer a hug, or to buy someone a meal or a cup of coffee, present themselves to YOU today.  They may be obvious or they may be hidden (sometimes in plain sight).  Will you be the one to show courage and take the step of being compassionate?  Will you be the one to reflect His light into a dark world?  There are few who will take this beyond a conceptual musing but I hope that one of them that heeds the call to action….is you.

May He be your strength, hope, purpose and courage today.


A Reflection on Grace

“Shame says that because I am flawed, I am unacceptable.  Grace says that though I am flawed, I am cherished.”

Here we are, December 26th. The day after the big day.  The shopping is done for another year.  The leftovers are being finished up.  The New Years Resolutions are being written….  I was watching my eleven year old son as he put his latest Star Wars Legos set together while the gifts he had opened the previous morning littered the living room floor around him….and it got me to thinking….

Yesterday was a birthday party.  What usually happens during a birthday party?  The birthday boy or girl gets presents from family and friends celebrating the fact that they were born and now those invited to the party have meaningful relationship with them.  A great idea!  What made yesterday different though?

Yesterday was Christmas day.  The day we remember the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  Yet isn’t it interesting how we’re the ones receiving the gifts…. As I watched my son, I thought to myself, “What a great example of the love God has for humanity and the grace He makes available to us through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the “Lamb of God”.  Here we are as flawed human beings, yet we’re surrounded by “gifts” from the Father that we get to “open” with every new dawn.  The gifts of life, purpose, love, compassion, kindness, provision, sustenance and the chance to be a blessing to others (just to name a few).

I love it when God opens my eyes to the depth of His love for us through such familiar human traditions.  They’re so familiar in fact, that they’re sometimes easy to overlook and miss completely.

“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

This is such a familiar verse, yet like the familiar tradition of opening gifts on Christmas morning, do we really take the time to reflect on the depth and truth revealed in these moments?  Do you ever ponder, “Why am I getting a gift on Jesus’ birthday?”  And if we really think about it, all of the trinkets we can get excited about pale in comparison to the real gift being offered to us.

God would never force Himself on us.  That’s not what love does.  He offers it as a gift to be willingly received.  The gift is this…. an unending, soul saving relationship with Him.  If you’ve never invited Jesus into your heart and life, I would encourage you to do it right now.  You can use your own words or pray something like the following….

“Dear God, thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus.  I believe that He was born, crucified, died and resurrected as an atonement offering on my behalf.  I know that I am a sinner and I need and accept Your gift of salvation made possible only by Jesus.  I turn from my sins and towards You.  Please save me right now from my sins and free me.  Fill me with Your Holy Spirit, help me to live the life that you’ve planned for me to live and help me grow to be more like Jesus every day.  Amen.”

If you prayed this prayer in a sincere manner, welcome to the family!  You have just been “born again” as the Bible says and right now, today is your spiritual birthday!

“In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  Luke 15:10

If you have any questions as you begin this journey, please know that the door is always open.  You can contact me through this blog and I would be happy to walk alongside you as you traverse the path.

May God bless and equip you as you set out.  There are battles ahead but know this, you are now never alone. God bless!

“….in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

Beauty in Disguise

“The mundane and the sacred are one and the same.”  Alan Watts

Last night I was thinking about my visit to the emergency room this past Friday, mixed with the current comings and goings of my symptoms and the thought came to me, “What if you are gone within two weeks of that visit?”  It wasn’t a depressing or dark thought in my mind.  It was simply a “what if” question…seemingly out of nowhere.  The first and immediate answer was that “I’m not ready.  I need to raise Sean and I have more to do here.”   There was no follow up question.

I didn’t think much of it after that and within a few hours, I went to bed.

At about 1 a.m., I found myself in a semiconscious “between sleep” state, at which point I started hearing what I perceived as ethereal stringed instruments.  Like an intricate, interwoven string section creating melody and harmony that I’d never heard before….ebbing and flowing like ocean waves.  This morning, I described it to a friend as “living music”.  At first I thought someone might have left some music on in the living room…that was until I recognized the uniqueness of the sounds I was hearing.  The music grew in intensity a bit and I began to become completely alert.  At that moment, I sat up with a start and heard the beauty of that music seamlessly dissipate into the drone of the traffic noise coming from the highway a mile or two away.  Again my first thought was….”I’m not ready.  I need to raise Sean first.”

Now to be clear, I’m not saying I’m that dying but it did make me wonder about how close the two worlds really must be and what that transition must be like.  I remember speaking with my younger cousin numerous times as he was battling cancer.  As he was getting closer to his own transition, I asked him if he ever saw or heard anything unusual.  Amongst other things, he would tell me about seeing colors he couldn’t describe and feeling a warmth and a “pure love” as he called it.  He was never scared of these things but I believe, strengthened and encouraged.  In fact, he told me that he wasn’t afraid to go, he just felt for his family (it’s worth noting that it was during his cancer battle that he became a believer and put his trust in Jesus for his salvation).

“Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death is your sting?”  1 Corinthians 15:55

What I also thought back on was how the waves of music pulled back like a tide rolling out to sea….back into the sound of the traffic….and I began to wonder…. In the rush of our lives, how much beauty do we miss when it’s hidden in the simpleness of everyday living?  What is really  hidden behind all that we take for granted?  Our kids, our spouse, our friendships, our family, the kind word of a stranger, the homeless man asking for change?  What is lingering there just underneath the surface….just out of our conscious reach….yet is there and could be more real than our current perception of sight/smell/hear/taste/touch reality?

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”  1 Corinthians 13:12 (New Living Translation)

So what could we do with this in a practical sense?  I would encourage you to be on the lookout for those glimpses of hidden beauty.  Be aware that there is much more going on around us than we would realize.  I feel that even with being aware of this reality, I would probably miss more than I would ever take in.  That being said, I also believe God loves to surprise His kids….but we need to be willing to see it.

Are you?

A Season in the Shadowlands

“God has not being trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality.  He knew it already.  It was I who didn’t.”   C.S. Lewis

It has been awhile since I last sat down to write.  I guess I felt like I had nothing of any real importance to share or maybe it was a bit of a pity party as I navigated these dark waters, often introspective.  Trying to draw close to Him while also wandering off the path looking for other ways to self medicate.  In that, the depth of a long buried brokeness becoming ever more apparent to my conscious mind….

A year ago this month, I unknowingly entered a season in what I like to call the “Shadowlands”.  If we live long enough, we all enter her gates at one time or another.  These seasons can often be related to love, loss, work, school, family, marriage, illness and death.  The “what” of my time in this place (I am still here) is not as important as the “why”.  God, in His sovereignty, love and grace has chosen to keep me here, for now.  Some days are oppressive to the point of a real struggle against the spectre of depression, while others I am able to find refuge.  I noticed my prayers have often gone from “big plan” prayers to “Lord, give me the strength to get through the day.”  My simple goal was to get to bedtime and sleep, allowing me a brief respite….that is until sleep wouldn’t come.  God would continue to remove crutches or illusions of security that I had put in things, relationships or individuals.

So what have I been learning through this season you may ask?

Where to begin?

You know all of the concepts that we the faithful followers of the Way will intellectualize lightly over coffee or a beer?  I’ve learned how to implement those tactics in raw, moment by moment ways.  I have voraciously thrown myself into the book of Psalms.  Praying them out loud both for myself as well as a witness to the spirits that might be within earshot.  When I discerned them, I rebuked demons in the name of Jesus.  More often than not though I learned to sit in the midst of it, waiting on the Lord….By His grace, I have never lost trust in Him or what it is He is trying to accomplish through this.

Disrespected, set up, invalidated, unjustly accused.  In the midst of this, no evidence to any wrongdoing ever appears.  God has given me the wisdom and discernment to see traps being set for me.  Even when I’m left to stand alone before those that would plan my exit, like Daniel before the lions, God silences them and shuts their mouths.  I have long declared God Himself to be my refuge and strength.  He fights for me, I just need to be still.  In that, I cannot be broken….

I had lunch with my mom recently while I was in California and she said, “This is the strongest I’ve ever seen you.”  A small but significant validation to me, of His purpose and a glimpse into what He continues to develop in me…in each of us who walk with Him.  The Lord is a warrior after all (see Exodus 15:3).  This is often an overlooked character trait of His and we being made in His image….shouldn’t we also expect to be trained as such?

“There’s a wildness in God’s mercy; I cannot find in my own. 

And He keeps His fire burning, to melt this heart of stone. 

Keeps me aching with a yearning; keeps me glad to have been caught;

in the wreckless, raging fury that they call the love of God.

Joy and sorrow are His ocean; and in their every ebb and flow:

Now the Lord a door has opened; that all hell could never close.

Here I’m tested and made worthy; tossed about but lifted up.

In the wreckless, raging fury that they call the love of God.” Rich Mullins

Depression and struggle combined with understanding and faith.  He doesn’t always calm the seas and bring us right to the shore, but like a coach He’s there through the struggle, developing something deep within us.  It may be something so far down that we would have a hard time understanding, describing or even truly perceiving it ourselves.  So what do we do while we’re here?  We’re honest in our prayers….“How long O Lord?”(Psalm 13:1).  “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.  Turn Your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue…a strong fortress to save me.” (Psalm 31:1a and 2).  We apply those intellectual faith concepts that we have in our heads…in real world ways and we learn to wait on Him.  It may be days, months or years but we trust His ever-loving purpose.  We pray for our enemies.  This is tough but nevertheless we persevere in it.  “Save them Lord.  Create in them a clean heart and renew a right spirit within them.” 

“You cannot comprehend the deepest love God has for you until you realize that He has that same love for the person or people you most despise.” 

So here I sit.  Maybe this season ends tomorrow.  Maybe not.  Through it all, I am not abandoned.  He is with me even when He is silent.  I trust.  I love others.  I refuse to allow bitterness a foothold.  I push on.  I am faithful.  And if you find yourself in a similar place?  You do the same, my friend. 

“The Lord is with me, I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?”  Psalm 118:6

Through The Static

“Still others, like the seed sown among the thorns, hear the word but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”  Mark 4:18 & 19

I’ve learned to love my early mornings.  Up at “zero dark thirty,” my first thought is often, “Good morning, Lord.”  From there I focus on thanking Him for my blessings….the purpose He has for me in the new day, my family, my friends, His provision, my health and the ability to break a sweat each day.  Any negative or self-condemning thoughts from the previous day are purposefully met and diffused with the truth of ‘His grace and mercy are new every morning.’ (see Lamentations 3:22 & 23).

This morning, as I made my way outside to the car for the drive to the gym, I paused to take in the sunrise as it began to paint the sky….

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.”  Psalm 19:1

I continued my dialogue with God as I got into the car and began to think of those that have asked me to pray for them recently.  I turned the key in the ignition and…. “KSCHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”….a blaring radio filled with nothing but static.  I jumped in my seat as the conversation with God was abruptly interrupted….

What a practical example of our lives in this world.  How often do the consuming worries, stresses, fears and emotional ups and downs, the “static” of our lives, cut us off from that intimate fellowship with God?

I believe the first thing we need to do is to be determined to be purposeful in our pursuit of His truth in our lives.  Similar to the example above of being purposeful in countering the lies/self condemnation/guilt, etc., with the truth of His Word, we need to be wary of and be ready to take action against the spiritual schemes being planned against us.  Some of these schemes are obvious but many are very, very subtle.  How easy is it for us to passively accept the negative self talk (or is it really being whispered into your consciousness)?  We don’t fight it.  Like standing at the edge of the sea, we allow ourselves to be pounded by the surf of these lies, seemingly forgetting that many times we can just step back from the water’s edge to regain our focus and perspective.

The habit of practicing positive self talk can help, but only to a limited degree.  This is because the concept is completely self focused and our strength alone, especially over the long haul, is no match for that of our adversary.  What we need to do is apply the Word of God (scripture)….

“To stand firm against the enemy, take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”  Ephesians 6:17 (b)

You might be wondering, “Where do I begin?  How can I apply this in a practical sense?”  There are a number of ways.

  1.  Become a student of the Word.  Pick a book of the Bible and commit to reading one chapter per day.  Prior to each session ask that God would teach and equip you through this process.  The book of John is a great place to start.  In addition some of my personal “go to” books include Romans, James, 1 and 2 Peter, Revelation, Proverbs and the Psalms.  As you come across verses that speak to you highlight them or write them down on a 3×5 card and try and memorize them.  You can then pull these from your arsenal and stand on these truths to use against the enemy.  Also don’t just read the Word but look for ways and opportunities to apply it to your daily life.  This should be a refining process that plays itself out in real world ways.
  2. Familiarize yourself with some Christian worship songs/choruses.  When the attacks come, stop what you’re doing and sing to God in praise, even if it’s only in your head (although I would encourage you to belt it out, if you’re able to).  Sometimes I find that when I feel the darkest, simply joining the constant chorus of praise in Heaven by singing to the King breaks up the shadows very quickly.
  3. Download a “verse of the day” app on your phone (Living Word is my personal favorite) and use it throughout the day for encouragement and insights.  It’s amazing how many times God will bring you the perfect reminder for your situation through things like this.

These are some simple and practical tools but much like a workout program, you need to use the tools daily in order to make the changes you want to see.  The enemy doesn’t want you armed to fight back.  What other motivation do you need?  So arm yourselves, stand your ground, draw close to Him and take back the territory the enemy has stolen from you.  In His strength and honor….Amen!

“The truth is like a lion.  You don’t have to defend it.  Let it loose.  It will defend itself.”  St. Augustine


Spiritual Sheepdogs

“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t be there, eight are just targets, nine are the real fighters and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle.  Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”  Heraclitus

If you’ve ever seen the film, “American Sniper” there is a scene early on that shows Chris Kyle as a young boy sitting at the dinner table with his parents and brother.  After a fight at school, Chris’ father explains that there are three types of people in the world, the sheep, the wolves and the sheepdog….

“The sheep go through life refusing to see evil.  The wolves are the evil preying on the sheep.  But the sheepdogs?  They protect the sheep.  They fight the evil.”

Years ago I had begun to apply this concept to my own spiritual walk and think about what this would look like in that context.  After all, we have a very real, cunning and resourceful enemy.  Poet Charles Baudelaire once said that “the devil’s best trick is to persuade you that he doesn’t exist.”  The truth of scripture shines it’s light and reminds us otherwise:

“Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  1 Peter 5:8

If we open our eyes to the world around us, we can see the path of destruction the enemy has left in their wake.  Lives destroyed by abuse, addiction, despair, neglect, hatred, violence, indifference and cruelty.  While we will usually turn our anger towards those that carry out the wickedness in our physical world, I believe we often ignore the reality of what is going on in the spiritual realm that surrounds these things.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when that day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground….” Ephesians 6:12 & 13(a)

So then, if we desire to be spiritual sheepdogs, what do we watch for?  How do we defend others and fight back when we see that the wolves are on the move or already engaged in an attack?

  1.  First, if you can recognize and discern the enemy, you’re already ahead of the game compared to the vast majority of humanity.  In our western culture, the enemy tends to do his work in the shadows.  I speculate that one reason for this is that if people knew that he existed, then they would also begin to consider if God also existed.  If the enemy can work in silence and keep people asleep in their unbelief, their job is already done.  Ask that God would bless you with this discernment.
  2. Be quick to forgive.  Jesus himself was a perfect example of this for us.  What did he say to those that crucified him?  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  (Luke 23:34)  Holding on to unforgiveness in our heart is a poison to our own soul and creates a foothold for the devil.  You don’t need to be the individual’s best friend, trust them, or even choose to necessarily be around them but you do need to forgive them.  I will often do this by simply saying something like, ‘Lord I forgive anyone who has sinned against me.  I pray that they would learn their lesson here in this life but don’t hold their sin against them in light of eternity.  Use it in their lives in a constructive, redeeming way in order to draw them towards Yourself and ultimately for Your glory and purpose.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.’  Let us not forget that we as followers of Christ, have also been forgiven much.  We are therefore commanded by Christ to do the same by following His example and being ministers of His grace.
  3. Be a student of scripture.  Read it daily.  This achieves multifaceted goals.  First of all, you will become well versed in the truth and be able to discern those things that are untrue (with doctrine and otherwise).  Secondly, you will be able to share and encourage others with the “gospel of peace”.  Thirdly the Word is the “sword of the spirit” and with it you can do great damage to the purpose of the enemy in both your life and the lives of others.
  4. Understand and apply the “defensive” spiritual weapons you have at the ready.  Pursue good and Godly things, make good decisions in your own life and live out your repentance.  When you do fall, be quick to turn back to Jesus.  In all circumstances, no matter how dire, take up the “shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Eph. 6:16)  I am not speaking of a blind faith or faith that ‘the universe will work things out.’  It is not faith itself that is the key but Who you put your faith in that matters.  Your faith needs to be in God alone.  From an eternal perspective, your salvation (helmet of salvation in Eph. 6:17) which comes only through Jesus, makes you untouchable to the enemy.  “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (Jesus speaking in John 10:28)
  5. Be purposeful in praying for others.  This is the essence of a sheepdog.  To protect others.  To be an intercessor.  It has been said that ‘intercession is warfare and the key to God’s battle plan for our lives.’  If we want to establish a spiritual beachhead in enemy territory, this is where we start.  This is how we can can play a role in God’s plan of taking back ground in the lives of others from the enemy….  “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for the Lord’s people.  Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.  Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”  (Paul speaking in Eph. 6:18-20)  You may want to consider asking others how you can pray for them.  Throw the offer up in a social media post and faithfully pray for the needs brought forth.  By doing this you will also reap the benefit of being encouraged by seeing God at work in the lives of others!

Apply these tactics and principles “in order that Satan might not outwit us.  For we are not unaware of his schemes.” (2 Cor. 2:11)

Stand strong.

“I chose to believe.  I believe in the power of a calling.  I believe in honor and sacrifice, in courage through the danger and strength through the struggle.  I believe in Hope.  I believe in the power of will, in justice, in a new day and in making a difference.  I will never stop believing no matter what comes my way.  Some may hate while others turn a blind eye.  There will be hurdles and risks, loss of brothers and sisters and the challenge to keep going.  No matter what confronts me, no matter the danger, I will keep my faith, my hope and my courage.  I am a defender and a peacekeeper.  I am a sheepdog.”





“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.  It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  C.S. Lewis

After a longer than usual drive back home to Oregon from the San Francisco Bay Area last night, my 5 a.m. alarm seemed to come early.  I managed to make my way to the bathroom for a quick shower to wake up, throw on my workout clothes and mix my pre-workout drink to get my all important caffeine infusion before heading out the door.

As we were driving home yesterday, we received word that the back sprinkler had been left on under the trampoline and our neighbor had just turned it off.  It was Thursday evening….we left for the Bay Area the previous Saturday….Sean and his buddy had forgotten to turn it off after playing on Friday….with the way our house is perched on a hillside and without a good visual I had never even thought to check.  So, we had water running for a week….probably not the best time for my eleven year old boy to be trapped in the back seat of the car for a long ride home….

As I drove to the gym this morning and began to feel my pre-workout kick in, I was lamenting about how I could have handled that situation better with my son.  Hindsight is always 20/20, right?  I was doing a pretty good job of beating myself up in my mind over this.  Not to mention that I also was reflecting on the fact that I was so upset and distracted about the water, that I had completely passed up on an opportunity outside of a Starbucks, to help or even share a kind word with some people that really looked like they could have used it.  Needless to say, I was really disappointed in myself and the devil was doing a great job reminding me of all of this….

I got out of the car, grabbed my shaker cup and began to head toward the entrance when I quickly glanced down at my phone to check the time…. 5:55.

In scripture when Jesus was trying to emphasize something, he often repeated it three times.  So here I was with three number 5’s staring me in the face….and I thought to myself, “I wonder what significance the number five has in the Bible?”  Seemingly random, I know but I decided to go with the prompting in my mind.  I googled it and this is what I learned:  The number five signifies the completed covenant of grace.  I paused and then googled Bible chapter/verses that were 55:5 (God ordained, momentary dyslexia, maybe?).  The first and only two that I read were:

“Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.”  Psalms 55:5


“Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.”  Isaiah 55:5

God was speaking and I was listening.

I was discouraged.  He was building me up.  I saw myself falling short.  He was reminding me of His grace.  I was feeling “less than”.  He was reminding me, in a symbolic way, of who I really was in Him.

Recently when I was praying I had said, “Jesus, I really want to be Your friend,” and over coffee with my brother recently I told him, “When I meet Jesus in Heaven someday I hope he calls me ‘Bobby’ (because that is what my closest family and oldest friends still call me).”  I believe this is God answering these very thoughts and prayers.

As I continue to walk with God, I see and hear Him more and more.  I actually expect to hear Him now (but I am sometimes caught off guard by how He chooses to speak).  I expect Him to show up.  I expect to interact with Him.  He continues to develop my faith through these moments and now I can say that I am beginning to recognize how close He really and truly is to us.  In every breathtaking and mundane moment, He is there.  We just need to pay attention.

“You must be willing to suspend what you imagine you already know about God in order to know God as you never imagined.”  Neale Donald Walsch


Rebel With A Cause

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God.  This is the true self.  Every other identity is illusion.”  Brennan Manning

Lately, I have been offering to pray for people through social media.  It has been a huge blessing for me to be a part of what God is doing in these individuals’ hearts and lives.  I hear from both believers and agnostics alike.  While I lift up their specific requests I am also praying that hearts will be softened and ears and eyes to be opened, so that they can see what God is doing in their midst and be transformed by His great love for them.

Earlier this week I heard from a friend who asked for prayer but also mentioned that she was not “religious.”  I loved her approaching me this way.  Of course culturally I understand why people would see Jesus as a purely religious figure.  The way He is portrayed in classical paintings, stained glass windows and statues can take His ” hands in the dirt” humanity away, to a great degree.

Yet, He was and is so much more than a meek and mild, porcelain skinned, man depicted in religious works of art.  In fact, I see Jesus as the ultimate “rebel with a cause.”  He did not come to build a religious system.  He came to “set the captives free,” mend the broken, heal the sick, find His lost sheep, give us full lives, build spiritually focused warriors, fulfill the “law” and shake up those that put their faith in their own self-piety and religion….

“….Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Mark 2:17(b)

This statement should cause pause in each of us.  Are we feeling “safe” in our religious rituals and sacraments or is our security found in the person of Jesus Christ?  If we look back, many of Pharisees (religious leaders of Jesus’ time) put their faith in their religious position alone.  Let’s listen to Jesus describe them:

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to His disciples:  ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  So you must be careful to do everything they tell you.  But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.  They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.  Everything they do is done for people to see:  They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seat in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.  But you are not to be called “Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’ for you have one Father, and He is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You shut the door of the kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces.  Your yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation….Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees….you clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee!  First clean out the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean….you are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”  (taken from Matthew, chapter 23).

Do these sound like the words of a strictly “religious” person?  Not at all!  This is a call-out by a spiritual revolutionary!

Remember when Jesus entered the Temple and the “religious” leaders had turned it into a marketplace?  (see Matthew, chapter 21)  It is safe to say that He went into a righteous rage….overturning tables and casting everyone out….”My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves….”

Jesus never calls us to religion alone (although there are important and critical aspects to fellowship, praying together as a band of brothers/sisters, corporate worship, etc.) but Jesus calls us to Himself.  We need to look beyond the externals of religious systems and instead approach Jesus in our brokenness and sin.  We need to ask Him to help us, to change us….to save us.  He alone paid the price on our behalf.  We don’t have to “get our act together” first.  When Jesus called the first disciples they were fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes.  Come as you are!  Jesus will change you.  While man may turn you away, Jesus never will.

You just need to show up.

“I had a professor one time….He said, ‘Class, you will forget almost everything I will teach you in here, so please remember this:  that God spoke to Balaam through his ass (see Numbers, chapter 22), and He has been speaking through asses ever since.  So if God should choose to speak through you, you need not think too highly of yourself.  And, if on meeting someone, right away you recognize what they are, listen to them anyway.'”  Rich Mullins


Declaration of Dependence

“I have a great need for Christ:  I have a great Christ for my need.”  Charles Spurgeon

Tonight’s offering is a bit off the cuff.  I’ve been thinking and reflecting quite a bit on the culture around me for the past month or so.  What have I seen?  Well, we’re really, really into….ourselves.  Our wants, our feelings, our needs.  How do I get ahead?  How do I get more…more of what, we might not be sure….but nonetheless, we know we need more of it.

The culture has been taught since birth that we need to have high “self esteem” and at a very young age we’re often awarded not for achievement but simply for participating.  Entitlement has become a right and if someone doesn’t agree with our perspective it’s not good enough to respectfully agree to disagree (and realize that we may have something to learn from the other side of the fence).  Instead we feel the need to dehumanize the “opposition” by framing them in “less than” terms…Nazi’s, snowflakes, fundi’s, bigots, racists…all the while elevating our positions (whatever they are) as culturally superior.  Of course we could never be as “evil” as “them”….right?

We have exchanged the truth for a lie.  We have embraced an insidious form of pride that has blinded us to our true state before God.  Where is our reverence for Him?  Our “fear” of Him?  Jesus isn’t my “homeboy”….in His grace He has made me His friend (see John 15:15) but He’s also my God, my Creator, my Rescuer, my Redeemer and everything holy, good and pure.  Not to rain on anybody’s parade (actually yes, bring the storm) but He didn’t pay it all, in the manner that He did, just so that I could have a winking Jesus bobblehead on the dashboard of my car and that my “worship” be contained to 25 minutes of Christian pop/rock or hip hop covers on a Sunday morning….

Our worship is NOT the songs that we sing (….and I’m saying this as a worship leader).  At MOST those songs should be a mere reflection of how we desire to live from Sunday afternoon through the following Saturday night.  If, outside of that hour and a half on Sunday morning, our lives reflect nothing of Jesus and the life He calls us to live…we have a problem, my friend.  And you need to spend some time reflecting on that and asking God for clarity regarding what to do next and how to move forward in the right way….in His way.

This past election we’ve heard an awful lot about how to “make America great again” and I’m all for that.  But do you really want to know how to do that?  It’s not in celebrating our “pride.”  Let me be very clear here:  If we elevate ourselves in that manner God will humble us.  There is no one worthy of that throne in our hearts but God Himself.  If we take pride in anything, take pride in what Jesus has done on our behalf.  Take pride in the fact that we’re adopted sons and daughters of the Most High King.  We’re rescued and adopted heirs.  Saints only because of His grace, not because of anything we have done.  We don’t need to elevate ourselves.  We need to humble ourselves and then He will lift us up, in due time.  In the meantime, how are we loving others (especially those that we disagree with)?  How are we extending an olive branch and reflecting the love that God has so lavishly given us?  How are we using our resources, talents, finances and time?  What are we doing with the life that God has blessed us with?  The true nature of our spiritual condition is reflected and manifested in our physical, everyday lives.  

So, the true secret to making America great again?  I believe it begins here:

“If my people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  2 Chronicles 7:14

Take up your cross daily and follow Jesus.  Ask Him to help you love like Him, encourage like Him, be wise like Him and be strong like Him.  You see, we aren’t called to be like other Christians….our calling is much higher.  We’re called to be like Christ!

So this fourth of July, while we celebrate our historical independence from tyranny, let’s also celebrate our complete and total dependence on God.  For we were once lost but now we are found.  We were once in a state of being slowly digested by spiritual darkness.  Now we’ve been rescued from the pit (both literally and figuratively).

If you would allow me, I’d like to pray for you….

Heavenly Father, thank you for each person that is reading this.  I put them in your care and ask that you would reveal Yourself to them in a way that is unmistakable.  Bless them with humble and soft hearts so that they would be able to follow the lead of Your Spirit.  Convict them in a way that would lead to repentance in areas of their lives where that needs to happen and break any dark strongholds or generational curses.  Fill them with a joy and hope that is beyond both circumstance and understanding.  Please bind up their wounds and brokenness like I know only You can do and give them a greater understanding of Your love for them and the life that You have blessed them with.  This is our declaration of dependence, Lord.  Guide us in every way and help each of us to, in turn, point others to You as well.  You are our great Hope, our Peace and the only One that can bring eternal significance to our time on this earth.  Thank you for what You are doing and going to do.  Let these requests rise as incense before your throne.  In Jesus’ name I pray….and all God’s people said…..Amen!

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32