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

 

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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