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

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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

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