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

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A Legacy Revised

“When you are forgotten, or neglected, or purposely set at naught, and you don’t sting and hurt with the insult or the oversight, but your heart is happy being counted worthy to suffer for Christ, THAT IS DYING TO SELF.”  Nicoletta Ceccoli

Early yesterday morning, two friends and I were discussing Joseph of Arimathea, over coffee.  For those that may not be familiar with him, he was the man who took the body of Jesus down from the cross and laid it in the tomb.  Often times this is as far as we sojourn when we think about Joseph.  But let’s dig a little bit deeper….

JoA (as I will now call him) was a wealthy and revered member of the high council of Jewish religious leaders there in Jerusalem at the time.  Being in this position JoA would have been exposed to Jesus’ speaking and teaching in the Temple throughout His earthly ministry.  Surely, he had been an eye witness to the set-up of Jesus by the Pharisees and heard the false accusations during the mock trial.  He very well may have stood at a distance as Jesus was flogged, beaten, crucified, cried out to His Father, prayed for those who were torturing Him, encouraged the thief next to Him and watched Him take his final breath.  He also would have been on hand when impending darkness covered the land and the earthquake struck when Jesus gave up His Spirit, causing the curtain of the Temple to be torn in two.  Scripture also points out an interesting tidbit regarding JoA’s heart, “….and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.” (Mark 15:43 b)  So here we have a God fearing man, actively waiting for the Kingdom of God to be revealed AND watching all of these things go on around him….

It is safe to say that God was active and at work in this man’s life.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  ‘I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord….”  Jeremiah 29:13 & 14(b)

Have you ever visited the graves of those that were held in high esteem?  Often times these opulent places represent how the person wanted to be remembered.  They can be a way for an individual to frame their own legacy for future generations.  Being the wealthy and respected religious leader that he was, JoA had done the same.  He had pre purchased his “garden” tomb, which in his mind would make a final and lasting statement regarding the legacy he wanted to leave behind.  That is, until something drastically changed in Joseph one Friday afternoon….

“As evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea took a risk and went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.  Mark 15:  42(b) & 43

While the other Pharisees were most likely gloating over the death of Jesus, JoA decided to break rank and directly approach the prefect who had sentenced Jesus to death just hours earlier.  By doing this, JoA was putting his career and livelihood on the line.

“Joseph bought a long sheet of linen cloth.  Then he took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped it in the cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been carved out of the rock.  Then he rolled a stone in front of the entrance.  Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where Jesus’ body was laid.”  Mark 15:  46 & 47

JoA took the time and made the effort to not only to do the messy work of removing Jesus from the cross but also to give Jesus a proper burial before the Sabbath….using the tomb that he had purchased.  The tomb that would have been his own final resting place, legacy, place of honor and remembrance….he gave it to Jesus.  Why did he do this?

We can only speculate but I believe that he understood who Jesus was.  Being convicted by what he had seen and experienced that fateful day, he recognized that it was not he but Jesus who was worthy of being laid in that place of honor.  It was Jesus that deserved to be remembered not only for the life that He had lived but also because He had willingly laid down that life as the sacrificial Lamb of God.  It was Jesus who deserved what he originally thought would have been his lasting legacy in that peaceful garden setting.  I can’t help but also recognize how God honored JoA by having him specifically included, by name, in this account.  JoA’s legacy, which otherwise would have died within a few hundred years of his own death (or less) is now remembered through the millennia for his humble actions.   

So what can we do with this?

I would encourage you to be honest with yourself as you consider these questions:  How do we treat Jesus in this regard?  If we look at our own lives, is He on the throne or are we?  Are we solely focused on building our own legacy or do we honor Him first?  Do we wrestle within ourselves to put Him in the place of prominence in our lives by how we live, act, speak and steward our blessings or do we just try to inflate our own ego and somehow dominate those around us?

“He must become greater, I must become less.”  -John the Baptist (John 3:30)

It is of critical importance to take stock of where you are.  If you recognize that your life is built to be more about you than Jesus, ask God to forgive you and to help you have the proper heart and perspective, along with the strength to follow through in regards to those convictions.  Ask Him to give you the vision and strength to honor Him each day.  Are you ready?  If so, it’s time to step forward.

“When you plant a seed, it must die before it starts a new life.”  1 Corinthians 15:36

 

Against The Grain

“A lie doesn’t become truth, a wrong doesn’t become right and evil doesn’t become good, just because it’s accepted by the majority.” 

I was working in San Francisco this past week and while it was nice to be “home” (I grew up in the area), the one thing that I didn’t miss was the pretentiousness that permeates the culture there.  I discern it as a sticky sap that covers the spiritual realm.  Our natural human condition celebrates “pride” as a positive character attribute and San Francisco places it on such a high pedestal that I’m even willing to call it idolatry in the form of “self worship.”  If there is a specific territorial spirit of pride then it took up residence in the city of San Francisco ages ago.

“Pride is a corrosive agent that permeates the fallen nature and, if left undetected, will gradually destroy the soul.”  Steve Gallagher

As I was walking towards Market Street for an early morning meeting, I noticed something that struck me….I was walking on the outer edge of the sidewalk and was literally the only person headed in that particular direction.  There was not one individual ahead of me that was going the same way.  Everyone else was headed past me in the opposite direction.  As I recognized this, a verse flashed through my mind:

“Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  Matthew 7:13 and 14

I then really began to take notice of those that walked past me.  I saw the well dressed young professionals, the bedraggled poor and all of those in between, going about their business.  Male and female of all ages and races.  Most had their earbuds in or were dialed into their phones.  In one way or another, all seemed plugged into the “Matrix.”  Then the thoughts flooded my consciousness….They’re not even aware of the path that they’re on.  They have no thought of their eternity or where they’ll spend it.  They are indifferent to God and give no real thought of Him.  Many embrace the culture here that is against God’s very statutes….

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  Romans 3:18 

A couple of years back I had read a book about a gentleman that says he had experienced Hell during a near death experience.  I remember him describing how, while there, he would see person after person after person tumbling through an opening into that place.  A never ending stream of people falling into eternal torment for refusing to be covered by the blood of the Lamb, who willingly and in love, gave Himself as a sacrifice for them….but they rejected the offering made on their behalf.  Instead they chose to embrace their self sufficiency…their pride….

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” (Dante’s Inferno)

So, what can we as believers do?

“….let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

First be willing to be available.  Secondly, pray expectantly that God will use you for His purposes.  Thirdly, “keep your lamp lit” and be mindful and watchful for opportunities.  When they reveal themselves, act!  They may be small acts of kindness or a bold sharing of something that the Holy Spirit has moved you to say to a complete stranger.  Whatever it is, be determined to be faithful.  What you do or say could be the direct answer to their prayer.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self discipline.”  2 Timothy 1:7

THIS is the battlefield on which we fight for the souls of men.

Continue to express and share the love of Jesus with those you interact with and pray for them.  Let God direct your steps in the battle.  He will guide you to be in the right place at the right time.

Don’t shrink away in fear.  Move out in faith.  He has your six.

“I love a commodious room, a soft cushion, a handsome pulpit.  But where is my zeal if I do not trample all these underfoot in order to save one more soul?”  John Wesley