Slaying Dragons

“For You have girded me with strength for battle….”  Psalm 18:39(a)

Let me me start by saying that I consider myself, by nature and His grace, the eternal optimist.  If there’s a silver lining in a situation, I will hunt it down and make it my own.  However when I woke up this morning the feeling was quite different.  I was met with a ferocious, internal negativity both in my mind and attitude.  The enemy was at work, preying on my stresses, concerns and other chinks he must have found in my armor.  He had worked his way in and was twisting the knife.

Now I have been around this block enough times to understand and know to expect these moments.  If the enemy of our souls sees a way to get into the life of a believer, he will try and exploit it to the highest degree.  Recognizing my state of mind, I quickly got up, showered and left the house, as I knew I wouldn’t be of any good to anyone until I was able to clear my head.

So….I did my grocery shopping and exchanged pleasantries with people at the store.  Even that helped take the edge off a bit.  I knew I still wasn’t yet ready to “engage” anyone with any depth, so I headed across the street to Starbucks for an iced coffee and to dig into His Word.  As I was driving, I passed a homeless Army vet who looked to be somewhere in his mid 30’s.  He was walking on a prosthetic limb and carrying everything he owned on his back.  My heart went out to him and I thought about how shameful it is that we as a nation somehow allow this to happen….more on him later.

I sat down at the corner table by the window and opened the Bible app on my phone.  What to read….  If I’m being completely transparent with you, at these times it’s often hard for me to find the motivation to pick anything in particular.  Maybe you’ve been there?  So I treated it like I do my exercise program.  I just dug in and did it.  1 Corinthians 13, came to mind.  You know the one?  The famous chapter about love.  The fact that it was so out of left field with how I was feeling at that moment, I was being Coached and I knew it.  Alright let’s go….

“Love is patient and kind.  Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.  It does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”  1 Corinthians 13:4-7 

If you’ve ever done any physical resistance training (weight training, etc.) you will do multiple sets of the same exercise to fatigue your muscles and cause them to get stronger over time.  I often apply the same principle to my “spiritual workouts” and I will re-read the passage multiple times.  Each repetition works it’s way deeper into my heart to do it’s mighty work….and I felt my spirit began to lift.  At that moment I was just grateful to be out of the pit I had awakened in.

I finished my coffee and started back out to my car.  “I wonder if he’s still out here?” I thought to myself.  I looked around the corner of the building and sure enough, the Army vet I had seen earlier was standing on the corner, asking for help.

One of the “weapons” that I find helps in these battles (and helps me get out of my own head), is to focus on somehow being a blessing to someone else.  I highly recommend this for anyone to try.  I’m sure it upsets our spiritual enemy to no end, which gives me further motivation and even greater satisfaction.

I ran back into Starbucks, grabbed a gift card and walked over to him.  A hearty “No way!” was followed by a giant bear hug as I gave him the card.  We shared a great conversation, talked about the crazy hot weather here in the valley….and I managed to complain about our air conditioner being out yesterday…to someone that had nothing….  He and I both had a laugh about that.  We talked for awhile longer and as we parted ways, I prayed for him.  That he would be strengthened and  blessed and reminded of Jesus’ love.  By the end, we both had tears in our eyes….

As I drove away, I recognized that God had completely changed my perspective.  He had slain the dragon in my mind.  He orchestrated a situation by which, I believe, He was working not only in my life but in the lives of two of his kids.  By lining things up just the way He did, He encouraged us both (there’s that silver lining I was talking about)!  I would encourage you to see Him in the beauty of these “smaller” moments and interactions as well.  His ways are beyond our ways and He never fails to pleasantly surprise us, if we pay attention.  Like the song says, “He’s a good, good Father….”

In case you haven’t heard this yet today, He LOVES YOU too!  Stay the course.  Keep looking up.

 

Advertisements

First Step Through The Door

“Seeing that a Pilot steers the ship in which we sail, who will never allow us to perish even in the midst of shipwreck; there is no reason why our minds should be overwhelmed with fear and overcome with weariness.”  John Calvin

My 5:30 a.m. alarm came early this morning.  As I slowly came to consciousness, I picked up my phone and the first headline I read through bleary eyes was “Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell dead at age 52″….  At first I thought that it couldn’t be true.  It didn’t take long to realize that this was no joke.  If you follow him on Facebook, you know that he was often one to talk about his love for his kids.  As a singer and musician myself, I held his unique talent in high regard.  His vocal control and phrasing were absolute gifts from the Creator.  In my humble opinion, he was the biggest talent to come out of that early 90’s Seattle scene.

“Your talent is God’s gift to you.  What you do with it is your gift back to God.”  Leo Buscaglia

As the day progressed and further details came together, more news came, “Singer Chris Cornell’s death ruled a suicide”…. In a video clip taken during the last song of what would be his final show he can be heard saying, “Jesus come meet me….”  So this gifted man, made in God’s own image (as all of humanity is) decided to close the book on his life early.  This will forever be part of his legacy….

I am not as concerned about the legacy left with the fans as I am about the legacy of brokenness now thrust upon his family.  Tragically, the consequences of Chris’s actions will have on effect on them for generations.  In the world’s eyes he had it all.  So what happened?  How are we supposed to make sense of this?  How can it happen to him, or any of us for that matter?  (Note:  What I am about to say is not specific to Chris, as I don’t know what he believed or what he was going through that drove him to make the decision he made.  That being said, I do believe we can learn from this tragedy, based on our common human experience.)

If we are caught up in sin, especially habitual sin we should be very wary of where that can lead.  Though it seems harmless at first, once that seed bears it’s fruit, it will shackle us in darkness.  Pick your poison.  There are many to choose from.  This is a trap that our spiritual enemy has set for thousands of years.  He’s watched our ancestors and every generation afterwards.  He knows who we come from and how we’re wired and he has set the extremely subtle slippery slope before us.  He’s patient.  One choice at a time, he will do his damnedest to lead us where he wants us to go.

“They enjoyed the sweet taste of wickedness, letting it melt under the tongue.  They savored it, holding it long in their mouths.  But suddenly the food in their bellies turns sour, a poisonous venom in their stomach.”  Job 20:12-14

Another poignant warning we read in scripture that we should all take heed of is:

“Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.”  Galatians 6:7

Whether we play with the darkness over time or embrace it eagerly, it will destroy us.  Not just in this life but it will rob us in the next as well.  And that loss will be far worse.  So what are these things to be aware of?  Let’s look to scripture:

“Do not be deceived:  neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, not adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”  1 Corinthians 6:9-10

The end game of those practices is demonic oppression, spiritual bondage and hopelessness.  Now I don’t know about you but in one way or another, that list contains everyone I know, including myself.  In my natural state, without help, I will never enter Heaven.  I’m guilty and I know it….without a doubt.   Again if we look to scripture this is confirmed:

“….for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….”  Romans 3:23

As we can see in the headlines we read everyday, hopelessness is very powerful and it has a tight grip on much of humanity.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  Though our spiritual adversary would whisper that we are worthless and alone, Jesus would counter his lies…. ‘No!  I bought you with my blood and you are not your own, but mine!  While you were still a sinner, I died for you!’ (see Galatians 3:13-15 and Romans 5:8)

You are deeply, deeply loved by Jesus.  Chris Cornell was as well.  Maybe he just never truly knew how much….  If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, recognize the enemy is setting the trap.  He hates God and therefore he hates you.  Don’t let him win and shape your legacy.  You may think people would be better off without you, but again, that is a lie and just the opposite is true.  I would encourage you to write down the following verses and meditate on the truth of God’s very Word to you:

“So do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.  Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”  Psalm 34:18-19

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you (the Holy Spirit) is greater than the one who is in the world (spirits of darkness).”  1 John 4:4

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11

“We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.”  Psalm 33:20

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”  Hebrews 10:23

Commit to fighting.  Commit to allowing God to finish His good work in you and fulfilling your destiny.  If you are caught up in sin, turn your back on it and walk away from it.  Tell Jesus you need Him and ask Him for help.  Ask God to change the desires of your heart so that you do not want to go back to whatever “that” might be in your life.  Tell the devil that you belong to Someone else now and that is Jesus Christ.  Commit to only taking the first step through the door of eternity when He decides your time is up.  Finish the race set before you.  You’re not alone, my friend.  You’re not alone.  Jesus is with you, as are His ministering angels that also battle on your behalf.

You. Can. Do. This.

“The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow.”

May He be your strength and peace.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

 

Evaluating Life, Among The Dead

“What we do in life, echoes in eternity.”  Russell Crowe (Gladiator)

If you’ve ever been interested in psychology then you’re probably familiar with the “Myers Briggs Personality Types.”  I’ve always tested as an INFJ, which has the illustrious distinction of being 0.5% of all males on the face of the earth….I’ll let you decide if that is a good thing or not.  😀  INFJ’s are known as the most social of the introverts.  We love our time with those close to us and diving headfirst into the deep waters of conversation.  However as with all introverts, while being social can be a great time, it is also tiring and we need to take time to retreat to “lonely places” in order to refill our tanks and re-charge before heading out again.

“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and be healed of their sicknesses.  But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  Luke 5:15 & 16

Once I reached the age when my mom would allow me to take off on my bike around the area I grew up in, one of the places I would escape to was the local cemetery.  Before you think “How morbid,” it really wasn’t at all in my mind.  I think that what drew me to that particular place was a combination of my affinity for B movies involving zombies and vampires along with the fact that it was one of the most tranquil places that I could find.

I can remember looking around at the various plots, thinking about how each one of those tombstones and grave markers was a representation of what was once a living and breathing life.  I would reflect on what type of person they might have been and I assumed that if a family was grouped together, they must have really loved each other while they were alive.  For that reason, I would usually choose to sit in the midst of a family, as if remnants of that love would still be hanging in the air around me.  I would sometimes observe the oldest grave in the family plot and imagine the grieving individuals standing where I was, remembering their loved one.  Would they visit daily or weekly?  I couldn’t help but wonder if at those moments, might they have processed their own mortality and made the connection that one day they would be laid to rest in the exact same place?

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  Psalm 90:12

I still visit cemeteries from time to time and I still appreciate the perspective that it gives me.  I recognize that if I live the average life span, I already have more years behind me than ahead of me.  This thought isn’t depressing to me.  I’m grateful and hopeful!  As long as I draw breath, I have purpose here.  You see, the most important mark on any tombstone is that dash between the year you were born and the year you transition into eternity.  That simple dash represents your life and everything you do with it.

“What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  James 4:14 (b)

How are you stewarding the life God has blessed you with?  How are you investing your time, treasure and talents?  Are you spending your days worrying, being critical towards yourself and others and following the crowd?  Or are you setting yourself above the fray, in order to pour into the lives of others and reflect the Hope that is in you (through Christ’s work in your life)?  We may not think about this much but as a Christ follower we are all missionaries wherever God has placed us.  In His sovereign wisdom, He has put us in this specific place, in this specific time in His story to be a part of His work in the world.  The circle of influence we have along with the relationships that surround us in our day to day lives….this is our mission field.  This is our calling.

I am reminded of the scene at the end of “Saving Private Ryan”:

The aged James Ryan (addressing Captain Miller’s grave):  “My family is with me today.  They wanted to come with me.  To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel coming back here.  Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge.  I tried to live my life the best that I could.  I hope that was enough.  I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what you have done for me….”

Take stock of your days.  Even if you’re young (in the world’s definition of the word), your days are fleeting.  Make them count.  Do good for the sake of doing good.  Be kind.  Stay humble.  Practice thankfulness.  Glorify God with how you live your life.  Talk to Jesus.  Give more than you take and if you’re blessed with much, give much!  Not just with your finances but with your time and with your love.  Check your heart, your motivation and intentions.  Don’t just do it for the tax write off.    SHINE….as you were meant and designed to do.

“He has shown you, o mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  Mich 6:8

“Every man dies but not every man really lives.”  Mel Gibson (Braveheart)

Embrace The Grind (III: Staying One Step Ahead)

“It takes discipline to focus only on high-value targets instead of giving in to the temptation of the low-hanging fruit life serves up daily.”  Mark Divine (“The Way of the SEAL:  Think Like an Elite Soldier to Lead and Succeed”)

In our “fly by night” culture it is easy to get swept away by the waves of “busyness.”  When this happens, the days can easily turn to weeks, the weeks to months and the months to years and we can find ourselves dissatisfied with our lack of progress in one or possibly many ares of our lives.  If we don’t press “pause” on a regular basis, we can easily lose our focus and direction.  Below are a few practical steps that we can implement to stay the course:

  1.  Set daily goals (glorified “to do” list).  I find the ideal time to do this is before I get into bed.  I will grab a pen and paper and jot down what I want to get accomplished the following day.  The can be as general or specific as you need them to be.  For example a recent list of mine included:  workout (before work), drop off donations to library and Gospel Mission, enter new business contacts in database, clean desk, clean bathroom (they don’t have to be glamorous goals), follow up call to a particular client, set up email on new phone, quiet time with God and call my brother.  I will try and look for balance in my daily goals (physical, spiritual, relational, practical, etc.)  If I see that I’m too heavy in one area I will add something to get things in balance.
  2. Determine your mental outlook prior to diving into your day.  When you wake up, remind yourself of your blessings (I want you to literally pause and thank God for them by name) and be determined to be a blessing to others.  I often find myself doing this on the treadmill while warming up for my workout that morning….two birds, one stone.  The world is filled with negativity.  Ask God to help you be a light in the darkness and no matter how you “feel,” be positive in your interactions (acknowledge hardships, the reality of a bad day, etc. with others but search for that silver lining).  I have found that most of the time my day will follow my mindset.  This isn’t about being “fake.”  Again, acknowledge and validate yourself if you’re feeling stressed or bad about something but be determined not to stay there for too long.  Get your mind right.  God loves you and is control even when it’s brutally hard.  Set your feet on the Rock.  “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the wind blew against that house, yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”  Matthew 7:25
  3. Be available.  Although we make plans, God may have other ideas.  Be ready for God’s detours because they will happen.  His ways are higher than our ways.  So go ahead and plan but hold onto it with an open hand.  As I tell my 10 year old son:  Keep a “squishy brain” (be flexible and able to roll with the punches and changes that can happen during the course of a day).
  4. Practice grace.  I’ve found that the hardest person to offer grace to is myself.  If we don’t get through our daily goals it is easy to be hard on ourselves.  Give yourself some leeway and just add the item to tomorrow’s list.  Checking off the list itself is not the goal.  The true goal is where the list (the cumulative effect of our daily goals) can take us and what our goals can develop in us.

“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.”  Jim Rohn

“You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to  everyone in the house.”  Matthew 5:14 & 15

 

The Train Ride

“You are not stuck where you are unless you decide to be.”  Wayne Dyer

Last night I had a dream that really rattled me.

I was riding on a train.  As I was standing amongst the other passengers, I began to take notice of all the people that were standing and seated around me.  They varied in age and ethnic background.  There were old and young; couples, students and commuters.  What jumped out to me was the palpable feeling of hopelessness in their faces.  It was as if the entire train was completely downcast….

“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 42:5

I began to walk down the aisle and question the entire train.  “What’s wrong?  Are you okay?”  With a defeated look and and seemingly resigned to their fate, the unanimous response came:  “This train is going to explode and there is nothing we can do about it….”  I responded “Where is the emergency brake?  There is a way to stop this.”  As happens in dreams, I immediately found a cord and pulled it.

Moments later the train pulled into an empty station and the doors slid open.  As I backed out through the doors I pleaded with the other passengers, “C’mon!  The doors are open!  Get off the train!”  Not one person moved or even looked up.  It was as if I had become invisible.  The doors began to slide shut again and I desperately tried to hold them open, while frantically shouting, “Now is your chance!  Get off of the train!”  It was no use and after a few seconds I could not manage to hold the doors open any longer….and they slid closed in front of me.  I watched the train pull away from the station and after traveling about 100 yards down the track, it exploded into a huge ball of fire….

Over the course of my walk with Jesus I have been blessed with the opportunity to talk with many people about the hope of the Gospel message.  I don’t “confront” anyone.  Instead, I just try and engage people in conversation.  My hope is that I would feel approachable to them and that I would simply be able to meet people where they are.  I will often listen to their story and then share the hope we have through Jesus.  A hope that is so far beyond our present circumstances.  Many react with either a passive indifference or a visceral “anti-religion” response to which I gently counter with, “It’s not about religion, it’s about Jesus.” This comment often stuns them into a momentary silence.

Most have never thought about Jesus outside of the religious box that they’ve put Him in and they will sometimes equate Him to their negative or hurtful experiences with hypocritical Christians (not to burst anyone’s bubble but we’re all hypocrites at some point) or failures of the churches.  I politely remind them that it seems as if they’ve put their faith in the institution rather than the Man Himself.  They are not one and the same.  Sorry for the bit of a rabbit trail there….let’s get back on track….(see what I did there….?)  😀

The responses I tend to personally struggle with the most are those that recognize their need…”I know I’m a sinner” or  “I’m lost,” but they don’t want to change their course.  They see the need for a Savior but in their pride they don’t want to turn away from the things that are destroying their souls….so down the tracks they travel….

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  This is the verdict:  Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed”  John 3:18-20

How about you?  The doors of the train car are being held open for each of us but there is a limited amount of time for us to leave our seat and step off of the train.  You don’t have to be “good enough” to come to Jesus.  You can come with whatever past (or present) you drag behind you.  He will not turn you away.  He went to extreme lengths to be able to redeem you and to offer you a relationship with the Father.  He is the ONLY way to the Father.  Jesus Himself said that ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father, except through me.’ (John 14:6) 

Let me emphasize this point:  You have no eternal hope without Christ.  No religious tradition (even “Christianity,” in a purely religious sense)….

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!’  Matthew 7:21-23

….nor doing more “good” than bad will tip the scales in your favor.  Its not about what we can do in our own perceived self-righteousness.  This is the fruit of the “religious.”  It is only about what Jesus has done on our behalf.  We just need to be humble, recognize our need for Jesus to save us, be wiling to get off the train (turn from our sin) and respond to His invitation of salvation.  Picture it this way:

Imagine knocking on a stranger’s door one evening.  The door opens and you ask the owner of the house if you can come in and have dinner with he and his family.  Is he just going to let you in?

Now imagine your best friend inviting you over to his house to have dinner and meet his father and family.  Because you are friends with his son, you will be an honored guest of the father.  It’s who you know that makes all of the difference! 

Now please, please get off of the train….

“People will not be in Hell because God did not want them, but because they did not want God.”