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?

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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.”

 

 

 

5:55

“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

and

“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  

 

 

Signposts

“Seek His will in all you do and He will show you which path to take.”  Proverbs 3:6

The verse quoted above was the first that I had committed to memory after truly beginning my walk as a Christ follower at the age of 24.  From relationships to career moves to where I would serve in volunteer and paid ministry positions, I would ask Him to open the doors that He wanted me to walk through, while simultaneously closing the others.

Growing up in the suburbs of San Francisco and later living in both Los Angeles and San Jose, I was used to a more urban style of existence and grew accustomed to the resources that the big cities had to offer.  If someone would have told the 25 year old me that I would end up living in the relatively rural Rogue Valley in southern Oregon in my 30’s and 40’s I would have said there was “No way!”….

God has a good sense of humor that way.

I was newly married and my wife was going up from California to Oregon on a regular basis to visit her parents and her sister’s family.  Every time she came back home in tears, telling me how much she wanted to move up there so that she could be with them.  I was resistant for the first year or so as I tried to figure out how it could really work career wise.  I would pray about it and had no peace.  There were more visits and more tearful returns.  I kept seeking the Lord and then one day…. I had a very real peace about it that was quite unexpected.  ‘Are you sure, Lord?’  The peace never left my heart.  I remember telling her the news.  She was over the moon.  I probably had a slightly more bewildered expression…. think Chandler on “Friends”….”I’m going to Yemen….”

I remember the drive into the valley and seeing a double rainbow as I pulled into Ashland, OR.  I took this as both an “atta boy” from God as well as a confirmation, a signpost if you will, that I was where I was supposed to be, to be used by God for His purposes.  Looking back it’s easy to see the how God has placed me in different roles and relationships.  I’ve lead worship at multiple churches in the valley and come alongside some great pastors who I now consider great friends.  With all that said, there are two moments that stand out to me more than others….

One was a call I received from a young guy early in his college career.  I had gotten to know him when I had first moved into town and was helping with a high school youth group.  I was leading worship and he would play with us from time time.  He reminded me a lot of myself during my late teens/early 20’s.  Long haired, edgy, guitar playing kid who was looking for something more….who didn’t want to get caught up in the “boring” traditions and trappings of religion but knew there was something deeper out there in the ways of God.  I considered us kindred spirits, just separated by a generation or two.  Over the course of about a year he endured the unexpected loss of both his Dad and his sister.  I had seen him at both memorial services and I ended up getting a message from him after his sister had passed, saying that he really needed to meet with someone.  That initial meeting turned into weekly meetings that went through his college years.  We talked about the UFC, 80’s heavy metal, faith, workout programs, Jiu-Jitsu, family, countless heavy, deep and real questions and most importantly, Jesus.  We dove into the scriptures and read various books together….”The Barbarian Way”, “The Way of the Wild at Heart” and other “spiritual discipline” related themes.  We tackled each week like a spiritual workout and I truly believe that those sessions refined us both.  He went on to the University of Washington and received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy.  We still keep in touch on a regular basis and I know that without a doubt, in God’s loving sovereignty, that relationship was one of the reasons I was transplanted here exactly when I was.

The second that really stands out to me happened just a few years ago.  I had become friends with the owner of one of the establishments I frequent multiple times per week for food and drink.  Over the course of knowing him, he had gone from one not interested in the things of God to really beginning a solid walk with God.  Then one day, I picked up a voice mail on my cell.  He was in tears…. ‘Hey man.  I’m at the shop.  She left me.  I’ve got a gun and I’m finishing my note….I don’t know man…I just really need to talk to someone….I don’t know…’  I called him back and told him to promise me that he wouldn’t do anything until I could get there.  I walked into the shop and he was crying at a table with the note in front of him.  He was determined to end his life when I arrived.  His mind was made up.  In  a very matter of fact way I told him that it simply wasn’t going to happen and that I would not allow it.

There was a battle that day…not between my friend and I but between the demons and I.  I could feel it in a way that I had never felt before and I was righteously enraged at them.  I felt an enormous amount of power and spiritual strength inside of me that I knew was coming from God.  While my friend spoke I listened and prayed…. ‘I come against you in the name of my GOD, the mighty Warrior and King!’  I bristled inside my soul.  My enemy was not going to take my friend out.  Not on my watch.  We talked and prayed for four straight hours.  I reminded him of his boys who needed their Dad and that I knew he wouldn’t want this to be the legacy that they were left with.  By the end, we were both mentally exhausted but he was no longer on the ledge.  The demons were crushed and driven away.  God had battled, taken me along and won the day….

If nothing else significant were to happen during my season here in southern Oregon, those two instances and relationships were more than enough of a reason for my being summoned here.

What about you?  Are you seeking Him to direct your path?  What signposts has He put up for you to remind you of your calling?  Remember the scripture, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” (Matthew 9:37)  If you’re seeking His face and His purpose for you in this life, there will by plenty to do…. and it’s a great adventure.  Rise up, Warrior Soul!  The battle awaits.

“But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior.”  Jeremiah 20:11

Strategies For The Battle Weary

“Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”  Psalm 43:5

Earlier this week I had come across an article that described how hundreds of children were executed by Isis, by being fed into an industrial style bread kneader….

Reading about such cruelty and depravity repulsed me to such a degree me that I let out an audible groan while my heart sank.  As I pulled back from my computer monitor, I turned to God and honestly expressed myself with the following, “You know Lord, I’m so tired of hearing about all of this wickedness in the world….I’m totally okay with you taking me home early….”  A moment of weakness.  A moment of longing.  It’s in these moments that I truly recognize that ultimately, I really don’t belong here (in a “this is my home” sense) and am here to fulfill God’s purpose for me, in such a time as this.  Peter reminds his reader of this as well:

“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers….”  (1 Peter 2:11)

Aliens and strangers….that is what the faithful are, in this place and in this age.  We can feel it at every turn.  The things our culture celebrates…how often do our hearts cry out, “No, you’ve got it wrong.  If you could only see the end of your path….”

Yet Jesus calls us to a victorious mindset and life:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  (John 10:10)

This fullness of life doesn’t only happen once we pass into eternity.  It is meant to begin here, in the midst of the battle.  The question is, what can we do?  What plan can we implement that can help pull us back up and continue to fight the good fight to which He has called us?

Now before we dive in, I think it is of utmost importance to recognize that the battle is the Lord’s, not ours.  Any strategy we may come up with here or otherwise will never be effective if based in our own strength alone.  It is only because of His grace, mercy, strength and love that we have the opportunity to play a role.  With this in mind, let’s get started:

  1.  Guard your heart.  I believe we need to start here.  “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  Proverbs 4:23  Be aware of your heart and spiritual condition.  You do need to, nor should you, take “ownership” of everything that is presented to you without first asking God for the wisdom to discern it (and then to act on that discernment).  This takes regular sessions of introspection and while this may come more natural to some, it may be more of a practiced discipline for others.  Nevertheless, I would encourage you to do this, at least every now and again.
  2. To piggyback on point #1:  As you “guard your heart,” be purposeful in your love.  “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold….”  I don’t know about you, but I can easily see my heart taking the path of least resistance when faced with the growing darkness, if I allow myself to do so.  Take a spiritual inventory. Ask God to reveal and weed out any lingering malice, anger, indifference, bitterness, unforgiveness or cynicism that has taken root.  I believe that if these particular elements are left unchecked, that is the path by which the love within us can slowly and subtly grow cold.  Be determined not to be one of the “most” that scripture has pointed out!  If any of these elements are brought to light in your life, combat that mindset with acts of love towards those around you.  Look for those that might need a kind word, need help with a task or could just use some quality time over coffee.  These seemingly small acts of friendship can help keep the hearts of both you and the other person, pliable and usable by God.
  3. Unplug.  About a year or so ago I had read through a book about the purpose of fasting.  One of the things the author brought up is that when we fast physically, it can heighten our awareness of and our focus on God.  She went on to say that we are less distracted and can hear God more clearly as we seek Him, while in a state of fasting.  While fasting is often focused on food/water, she brought up something new that I took to heart.  Fasting from media.  If we’re honest with ourselves, many can probably attest to how hooked we are to our media, especially our social media.  How many times have you awakened at 3 a.m. and figured that you would just check your Facebook or IG account?  Without getting into the whole dopamine/addictive/compulsive side of the equation, how often do we allow this to get in the way of potential quality time with God?  Fasting from media can also take you away from the flow of negativity you may see in your newsfeed or on television.  How often you “fast” in this regard is up to you.  You might consider limiting the time you spend on your FB/IG accounts per day.  You could potentially take one day a week, log out for the day and set aside a “refresher” time with God instead.  The options are many.  Take some time to think about this and set up a plan.   Whatever it is, make the “fast” a regular part of your schedule….and then post about it on FB in order to encourage others to do the same….#kiddingnotkidding
  4. Surround yourself with positive and encouraging people.  This can come in many unique and possibly overlapping forms.  Teammates, work colleagues, classmates, fitness groups, weekly Bible study or reading groups…whatever it is, the key is to seek out people that are either on the same or a similar mission as you are and spend time with them.  Invest in those relationships!
  5. Approach the throne with humility.  When was the last time you took up a humble position during prayer?  Maybe it was on your knees when you prayed with your kiddos before bedtime? (this is a great example to your kids, by the way….if you do this then <high five>)  In my own prayer life I have learned that my physical approach to prayer truly effects my focus and heart.  I have found that one of the  best times for me is after my son has gone to bed.  I will go downstairs, turn the lights off and either kneel, sit or lay prostrate on the floor, in front of the window….Warning:  this can unintentionally FREAK your child out if they happen to wander in….but I digress.  Seriously though, try this and see if it doesn’t have a positive effect on the quality of your prayer time.

Continue to battle but do what you need to do to take care of yourself as well.  A healthy warrior is much more effective on the battlefield than a wounded one.  Stay in the fight….

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  (Jesus speaking in John 6:33)

 

Breaking the Gray

“The first place we lose the battle is in our own thinking.  If you think it’s permanent then it’s permanent.  If you think you’ve reached your limits then you have.  If you think you’ll never get well then you won’t.  You have to change your thinking.  You need to see everything that’s holding you back.  Every obstacle, every limitation is only temporary.” 

Living in the Pacific Northwest you learn to expect the clouds.  Here we are on June 11th and this morning it was 46 degrees and overcast.  For a California native this took quite awhile to get acclimated to when we moved up here.  In fact, when we first moved here I distinctly remember searching the gray sky for little patches of blue just to remind myself that it was still up there, hidden behind the clouds.

Much like searching for patches of blue sky on a dreary afternoon to help lift our spirits, how much more important is it to search for God’s light and presence when we’re going through a storm of our own.  Here are a few tips that we can apply that can help us refocus our perspective:

  1.  This particular season of your life might be a surprise to you but it’s not a surprise to Him.  He wasn’t caught off guard like you may have been.  I heard a wise pastor say recently that if you reach this storm and you frantically say, “God help me, God help me, God help me,”  this isn’t necessarily faith but more of a panic attack.  Instead if we can exercise our faith by taking a deep breath, slowing our minds down and calmly saying, “God I know that I can’t do this alone and I need your help.  I don’t know how You’re going to do it but I’m looking forward to seeing what You are going to do!”
  2.  Remember that this season will not last forever.  In the whole scheme of eternity, this time of struggle is merely a breath.  The enemies’ attacks are often unrelenting during this time as he will try and take you out while you’re down.  Pray that God would crush the purposes of the enemy and that God’s purposes would be fulfilled as you make your way down this path.  Also look for God to show up through encouraging words from strangers/friends, during your time in the Word and during prayer.  Arm yourself with simple reminders like a “verse of the day” app on your phone and go to it throughout the day.  Keep the conversation with God flowing.
  3.  You are not abandoned.  God is a good Father and He is with you.  It may be a time of testing and you may not be able to discern His presence (the teacher is always quiet during a test) but He is always there.  There may also be ministering angels sent by Him to protect and strengthen you.  Continue to look up to Him and be on the lookout for those “patches of blue.”  Let them be reminders that beyond the gray clouds is a majestic, bright beautiful blue sky.  Even when we can’t see it, it is a constant.  It is always there.
  4.  Reach out to friends and family.  Don’t just text, IM or email.  This type of communication lacks the intimacy that you may need.  Some studies show that electronic communication may even make you feel more isolated and disconnected.  Call them on the phone and grab a beer or cup of coffee.  Plan a fun night out.  Break up the ordinary and surround yourself with positive people!
  5.  Break a sweat. Lift weights, learn martial arts or some sort of combat sport (boxing, jiu-jitsu, Krav Maga, etc.), go for a run, bike ride or swim.  Play basketball, do yard work or do a yoga style workout.  The important thing is to find something that you enjoy and get your heart rate up.  Get those endorphins flowing!  This may be very tough to start but once you finish you’ll be glad you did it.
  6.  Make a “to do” list.  Fill it with “micro” goals (ex. 20 minute jog before work) and “macro” goals (ex. read one chapter in the Bible every day that week). Plan your day/week in advance and crush those goals!  The list will help keep you dialed in and focused.
  7.  Stay positive and practice positive self talk.  Say to yourself, “This sucks but I know that it is not the end of my story and God will get me through it,” or “What the devil meant for evil, God will make something good from it.” (see Genesis 50:20)  Also remind yourself that your spiritual enemy is a defeated enemy and that he can only try and make your life miserable for a time.  With respect, you can tell him that he has no real power over you, that you belong to Jesus and that their time is short.  I always like to remind them of that.

Stay in the fight, my friend.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”   Romans 8:28