Meeting God at the Crossroads

“Destiny is a decision–a difficult decision, a daring decision, a counterintuitive decision.  You fulfill your destiny one opportunity at a time.  Of course, those opportunities often come disguised as five hundred pound problems.”  Mark Batterson

There comes a time (or multiple times) in everyone’s life where we find ourselves at a pivotal crossroads.  Many times I believe this happens without us either knowing it or comprehending the weightiness of our decision (and the heart or true intentions behind the decision).  How we choose to apply ourselves in school, where we go to college, what we study, the friends we surround ourselves with, who we choose to marry, how we respect our parents and elders, whether we remain teachable, where we choose to work and how we decide to spend our most precious investment….our time, treasure and talents.

Each of these decisions shapes our journey and ultimately our destiny.

Life comes at us quickly and many can testify that as you get older, time seems to speed up.  In fact, I’m utterly amazed at how quickly my 12 year old son is growing up yet somehow, I stay the same!  😉  James 4:14 says, “What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  Country artists “Little Big Town” have a song I  love called “Vapor”.  Here is a sampling of the lyrics:

“When I lay my head down at the end of another day; Did I keep it all to myself or did I give my love away; Did I hold who should have been held, so they remember just how I felt; Did I say what should be said; will I wake with no regrets….I wanna live.  I wanna love; like one more day is never too much, never enough….Life is a vapor; fire and paper; gonna make the most of it before it’s gone.”

Life is a vapor.  That’s a given.  The question really is, what are we going to do with this life we’ve been given and why.

I’ve recently been at a crossroads myself.  I’ve worked at a company for 18+ years and about a year and a half ago, a serious stirring began in my heart.  Like the storm clouds rolling in ahead of a tornado….  In fact, if we’re Facebook buddies, you’ve probably seen me reach out a couple of times to straight up ask for prayer because I knew I wouldn’t escape some of these trials without God’s covering and intervention.   I had no crutches left to rely on….only Him.  I prayed out loud through many of the Psalms and found that when the time came, God continually closed the mouths of the lions around me.

During this season, I put my resume together and began looking for other opportunities, looking for an out.  I also had some friends ask me, seemingly in passing, “Have you thought about taking your side business full time?”  I would usually dismiss that idea and continued to think inside the “safe” box that I had made (granted I didn’t think or realize I was doing this).

I would send resumes out and pray.  Reach out to my immediate network in the field I am in and see if there was anything out there that I could easily transition into.  Either my timing was bad, they couldn’t afford me full time or seemingly good interviews went dark.  Time after time.  “Why am I still here?” I would often wonder.  Then the thought came to mind, “Maybe there is one more person you need to be there for or get to know.”  Ah, God’s plans.  ‘Okay, Lord.  If that is the case, I’ll do it….but help me find something better once Your purpose is fulfilled.’

Rather than look to run, I looked expectantly as to what I was supposed to do next (although I still kept my “feelers” out there).

More time passed and I began to think about ways I could get creative and maybe, just maybe, ramp up my business into a full-time gig.  I approached a few companies about doing some business development for them on a part time basis to help with cash flow.  One of the three gave me an immediate “yes” within 10 minutes.  One was a “no” after a day or two and one was a wildcard.  A “I’d like to do it but we can’t right now….”

At the same time another company had flown me out to Charlotte, NC for a day of follow up interviews.  During the interview, the gentleman that would be my boss and I started talking about our faith and walks with God.  “This is awesome!”, I thought.  Maybe God is answering my prayer about working for a Christian boss!  A couple of days after those interviews, the job offer came.  It was a step above where I was currently at salary-wise and I got along great with the boss and the team members that I met….but….you guessed it….I didn’t have peace about it.

I wrestled and prayed through the decision.  I made “pro and con” lists and prayed some more.  When I asked the company for more time to decide, they graciously gave me another week to process everything.  They knew it was a big move for me and for them and wanted to be sure that I was 100% on board.  I was at a crucial crossroads.  Then these thoughts entered my mind….

‘I am giving you two choices.  I will bless either one you choose….but the level of blessing will depend on your level of faith and which way you decide to go.  You can take the ‘safe” path if you like, make more than you have been making and work for the kind of boss you would have prayed about….or…..you can take a step of faith.  You can start up your own full time business.  It will be an adventure with Me and you will have no ceiling on your potential level of success.  It’s up to you.’

So I decided to “go big or go home”!  I turned down the job offer and decided to take the path of adventure with Him.  When I have doubts that begin to creep in, He upholds me and encourages me constantly as I get closer to my kick off.  This happens to be the first week of July….”Independence Day” week!  Don’t think I missed that little nuance from God.  🙂  God leads me to things that I read at just the perfect time, people say things at just the right time, unexpected blessings come from unexpected places and people.  I’ve asked God to help things go better than I ever expected.  One of the companies made me a part-time offer which I accepted….and then they upped the offer….which I accepted…. and then upped it again…without me ever even asking them to.  I can only attribute that to God and His faithfulness and provision.

I have big “God sized” dreams for this.  I want to make more so I can give more and do more.  Yes for my family but also for the Kingdom and God’s purposes.  That is my heart.  I’ve already told Him that He is my CEO (or DEO “Deity Executive Officer”) because after all, I couldn’t have a more “Christian” boss than that!

What God does with all of this is ultimately up to Him.  Let His will be done.  But I’m pumped and ready….Let’s gooooooo!

“Burn sinful bridges.  Blaze new trails.  Live for the applause of nail-scarred hands.  Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshiping what’s right with God.  Dare to fail.  Dare to be different. Quit holding out.  Quit holding back.  Quit running away.  Chase the lion.”  Mark Batterson

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A Father’s Day Reflection

“‘Father’ is the noblest title a man can be given.  It is more than a biological role.  It signifies a patriarch, a leader, an exemplar, a confidant, a teacher, a hero, a friend.”  Robert L. Backman

I’m already looking forward to Father’s Day tomorrow.  My alarm is set for 4:15 a.m. and the very first thing I get to do is get on “What’s App” at 5 a.m. and through a pastor and friend, meet 82 orphans in Pakistan that we’ve had the privilege of helping to support.  As I think about this, I think about how even though they have no earthly parents, their Heavenly Father loves them deeply and provides for their needs.  I can’t wait to meet them!

Afterwards, I’ll head out for an early morning run and talk to God for a bit.  Then I head to church and get to share an encouraging word with the dads there.  Not a bad way to start the day! #pumped

As I think about Father’s Day and what it means to me, I’d like to encourage you and maybe put a new twist on it.  Instead of expecting our wives and kids to wait on us, I’d challenge you to do something different in the spirit of Ephesians 5:25….

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her….”

Instead of just lounging around waiting for breakfast in bed, give some thought to how you can express your gratitude for and to your wife.  After all, if it wasn’t for her you wouldn’t have your kids, right?  Consider getting up early to go out and grab some flowers and/or a card for her and have them waiting on the kitchen table when she gets up.  Let her know how much you appreciate all she does for you, which in turn allows you to be a solid Dad for your kids.  Make sure and let your kiddos know what a tremendous blessing they are to you.  If you’re more of a stoic type in this regard, man up and verbalize it today.  They’ll never forget those words and it will bear fruit in their lives as they continue down their own path.

I believe that the role of a father holds much more weight than our modern culture will give us credit for.  If you really think about it, you’re playing a vital role in raising a lineage of sons and daughters that come after your own kids.  Your words and more importantly, your actions and example, will shape lives for generations.  Whether you’re encouraging, supportive, sacrificial, loving and strong or rageful, neglectful, self serving, disrespectful and bitter….these are the seeds you are planting in the hearts of your sons and daughters and their sons and daughters and so on down the road.  Your leadership in your household is a high calling and God treats it as such….

“If anyone causes one of these little ones-those who believe in me- to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  Matthew 18:6

God doesn’t mince words.

Take some time to reflect on your walk as a father and look at everything….and I mean everything  Pay particular attention to potential “generational curses/spirits” that come through various addictions, marital unfaithfulness, a compulsion towards pornography, etc.  If you’re caught up in this, ask God to forgive you and heal you.  Pray against this type of mindset/behavior and that it would stop with your generation.  Pray for future generations of your family to be free of that spiritual bondage.  This is part of your role as the God appointed leader of your home.  Don’t shrink away from this responsibility or make light of it.  Men, you will give an account to God so take it seriously.

As I write this I have the movie “300” playing in the background.  One of my favorite “dude” flicks of all time.  While Leonidas is definitely my hero in the film, the other is absolutely Queen Gorgo!  With that being said, I’d also like to address the ladies that might be reading this.  You also play a tremendously important role in all of this.  For your husband to reach his full potential as a father, husband and man, your strength, encouragement, love and support are his lifeblood.  In the film, before Leonidas and his band of Spartans push-kick the Persian messengers down the well, he looks to his queen for her approval.  With a simple nod showing that she is in agreement, he attacks and down they go…. While you wouldn’t want your kids in the room during their love scene, it’s a powerful example of how she embraces his role, builds him up and validates him.  Ladies, speak strength to your husband.  Pray for him.  Let him know that you’re trusting him to lead and guide the family and don’t neglect the connection he needs with you physically.   You play such a critical part and I can’t emphasize that enough.  We men are easily built up or broken down by our wives.

Dads, grandads, uncles and mentors….may your day be blessed in unexpected ways and may your relationship with your Heavenly Father continue to grow.  Cherish and embrace the blessing of your family with great joy and enjoy this season of life….it won’t last forever.

“What we do in life, echoes in eternity.” Marcus Decimus Meridius

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”  Frederick Douglas

Rise Above

“My strength will be refreshed within me, and my bow will be renewed in my hand.”  Job 29:20

People will let us down.  Family, friends, colleagues, bosses, pastors.  Give someone enough time and it will happen.  Misunderstandings arise around what is said and sometimes just as importantly, what is left unsaid.  Expectations are not met in a manner that we thought they would be.  Gossip rages throughout churches and youth sports leagues that our kids are just trying to enjoy.  Compassion gives way to cynicism.  Hard hearts often prevail in others….as well as ourselves….we fall on our faces before the cross seeking forgiveness, yet how often do we withhold that same forgiveness from others because well,”they just don’t deserve it”?

I believe it was Ice Cube who once waxed poetic, “So come on and chickity check yo self before you wreck yo self….”

How do we respond when faced with this type of situation in our lives?  When we call a friend multiple times and the phone call is never returned?  When someone near to us all of a sudden begins to avoid us?  When we sense the whispers behind our backs?  I’ll tell you how….

We give it to God and trust Him to handle it for us.

Hurt people hurt people.  So our angle in any situation should first and foremost be compassion.  We don’t need to pretend that we’re not hurt.  In fact, I never want you to invalidate how you feel, even and especially in your own mind.  Keep that “self talk” real.  However, what we do let go of immediately is any grudge we may want to carry, before it has a chance to take root.  Pause and remind yourself of all of the grace that you continue to need in your own life and live through that lens….not the “self-righteous” perspective that the devil will want to sell us, especially in those moments.  Be quick to forgive.  We need to turn our gaze upward toward Heaven and ask God to forgive those that have wronged us.  If we happen to ask Him for a rebuke in someone’s life, it should always be from a root of compassion and with the end goal to be constructive in their own heart and life.    This doesn’t mean you have to be their BFF, but it does mean that the compassion of Christ takes over.  If you’re not there yet?  Get there.  Ask God to help you get there.  I can’t emphasize enough that forgiveness is absolutely HUGE to God.  So much so that he says, if you don’t forgive others, you won’t be forgiven…. (see Matthew 6:15).  How serious is that!  Will you allow bitterness and unforgiveness to keep you outside the gates of Heaven?  Here’s a question for you….Is an unforgiving heart in us actually just evidence of our own potentially unredeemed soul?  After all, the Bible clearly states that “you’ll know a tree by it’s fruit”. (see Matthew 7:16-20)  So, ‘let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven’. (Matthew 5:16)

Even from a clinical distance (a term that I throw around quite a bit), we can and should operate from a place of compassion.  This is how we rise above bitterness, thoughts of “getting even” and our own potential hard heartedness.  We strive instead to keep our hearts soft and malleable in God’s hands….within healthy boundaries that we set for ourselves, in each unique situation.  Have a battle plan in place and follow it when these opportunities come up.  If you and a friend find yourselves at a perceived impasse, you be the first to extend the olive branch.  Leave the door open for a healthy conversation (healthy is the key word here).  You be the bigger man and take the high road.  Even if you perceive yourself walking it alone, God will be alongside you reminding you, “this is the way, walk in it.” (see Isaiah 30:21).

Stay in tune with your mindset and align it with Jesus.  When it’s a struggle, simply ask Him to help you.  He is faithful and will honor that prayer.  These are the moments in our “spiritual workouts” that we need to dig deep and embrace the grind!  These are those moments!  Keep moving forward in love.  Our world might tell us otherwise but don’t become trapped with the masses who take the easy road of cynicism and bitterness.  Don’t drink that poison, friends.  Love one another as He has loved you.  Practice this…day in and day out….repetition, repetition, repetition.  Do this and you will soon find that you are “more than conquerors, through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

Continue to push forward and fight the GOOD fight!  Until next time….

Was Jesus a Socialist?

“I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” -Jesus (John 15:15)

The other night while in Washington, I had the good fortune of grabbing some tasty Mexican food with my brother.  While downing our fair share of chips and salsa, he began sharing about how he had seen someone wearing a t-shirt that said, “Jesus is a Socialist”….probably not a rare occasion here in the Pacific Northwest.  But this sentiment….is it accurate?  Does it have any real validity?

Let’s take a look….

The first thing we can look at is the philosophy of Socialism, which is a nutshell is, “What’s yours is mine.”  Historically this was enforced through coercion and threats of, if not actual acts of violence.  One of the most famous Socialist leaders, Joseph Stalin is said to be responsible for the deaths of between 20-25 million people.  Mao Zedong also a Socialist, can be classified as the largest mass murderer in history.  It is said that he is  responsible for 45 million deaths.

Now let’s take a look at Jesus.

The foundation of His message is “What’s Mine is yours.”  He came to seek and save the lost (see Luke 19:10).  He is responsible for the salvation of millions of people and the deaths of…well, nobody.  While he did encourage the rich man to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor, it was not under threat of violence.  Remember what the scripture says…

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  2 Cor. 9:6-7

Without a doubt, God wants His people to be involved in charity and taking care of those that society often forgets.  However, He wants it to be done from the right heart and with the right intentions.

“We love because He first loved us.”  1 John 4:19

It is absolutely critical that the followers of The Way give and help the less fortunate.  It is in fact, evidence of our redemption in Christ…evidence of our very salvation….

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!  But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?  Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it wasaccounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.James 2:14-26

Forced sharing of resources versus the fruits of the Spirit found in a generous giver.  One brings pain, suffering and death and the other brings freedom.  The conclusion is obvious and self evident.  Jesus was far from sharing Socialist ideals and those that would say otherwise are either naive or ignorant of both Jesus’ character and Scripture itself.

“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron”  Psalm 107:13-16

God bless, friends.

The Impact of a Grateful Heart

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  Colossians 3:17

If I asked my readers by a show of hands, “How many of you are feeling beaten down, depressed and discouraged?”  I would be willing to bet that a vast majority would raise their hands.

This world can be a tough place, right?  Master marketers (or what I refer to as “cultural engineers”) sell us this illusion of how we could be truly living if we just had this or that.  Just like the carrot on the stick, we can see what we “need” but that elusive contentment is always just out of reach.  “If I just had a spouse….if I just had a different house….a different car….a dog….kids….job….”  The list noting the roots of our discontent can be a long one….

Today is my birthday.  Always a good day to take stock.  I tend to look at “macro” goals and dreams on my birthday.  The big picture.  Where are we heading?  How am I leading my family?  Am I allowing Jesus and His Spirit to make me more like Him and the person He needs me to be in this world?

As I sit here at Black Rock Coffee in Medford, Oregon reading all of the texts, emails, Facebook posts and listening to the voice mail messages, I find myself extremely grateful and content.  Some of the messages brought tears to my eyes (but don’t tell anyone….) as those close to me, reflect what they see in me with voices of affirmation.  I pause and think, maybe I’m on the right track here….and there is great satisfaction in that.

I am so grateful for the blessing of these relationships, coming from all aspects of my life.  Family, friends, fitness, ministry, music, travel, church, work…. This is my circle.  These are the people God has put in my path, to share chapters of life’s journey with and I am grateful for each soul.  Somehow God takes a flawed, broken and imperfect “ragamuffin” (to borrow a term from one of my favorite writers, Brennan Manning) like me and then uses me to encourage others and hopefully reflect His light and love to those around me.  What an honor!  If I pause long enough to really think about it, I’m actually floored….and it fills my heart with joy.  Over the course of this journey, I’ve had to learn to let go of a lot of what I thought was important in order to pursue what He has for me.  Call it “spiritual minimalism” in a way.  There is freedom in that…. in not “trying” so hard.  Goal oriented?  Yes, absolutely!  But the fruit of those goals being different than what the world is selling.  Pursuing contentment in God, His provision and often the simplicity of His blessings,… but we still need to take the time to see and take them in.  If we rush or are blinded by “busyness”, we’ll miss them.

To those that have blessed me by their words, laughter and presence, thank you so much!  YOU are a gift and for each of you, I am truly grateful.

As we all move forward, let’s continue to recognize and count our blessings.  Let’s encourage others, wherever they are.  Don’t be afraid to come alongside and ask others the tough questions, if that helps them get over the hump.  Keep pointing people towards Christ, the only One that lasting freedom and joy can be found in.  And pray.  Pray for yourselves, your family and the others God puts on your heart.  Lift them up, even when they don’t know you’re doing it!  Pray that the purpose of the enemy in their lives would be crushed and that God would break through the shadows that can easily blur our perspective.  Every day there is a war raging around us for the souls of humankind.  I believe that in the fight, one of the things the enemy can’t stand is the power of a grateful heart.  Move forward in that truth!

God bless, my friends.  Carpe diem!

Loose the Lion

“The greatest tragedy in life is the prayers that go unanswered because they go unasked.”  Mark Batterson

I want you to go back with me.  Back to a Christmas morning when you were maybe six to ten years old.  The magic of the holiday was still real.  You wake up early and run downstairs and what do you see?  Beautiful packages and gifts of all sizes under the tree!  The shiny wrapping reflects the twinkling lights.  You pause for a second in order to take it in.  Santa came….and thankfully he must have overlooked his naughty list….  Now what do we do next (after we wait for our parents to stumble out of bed, of course)?  We go for it!  We tear into those boxes, excited to see what we’ve been given!

Let me pause here and imagine something different.

Instead, imagine proceeding cautiously to the stack of beautiful gifts that have your name on them.  You pick the smallest gift and carefully take the paper apart and…..white socks….you feign some sort of gratefulness and move to the next small gift….a new Hotwheels car….a bit better than white socks but still.  You gently tear open an envelope….a subscription to “Highlights” magazine.  Cool…kind of.  Then you stop.  Your parents encourage you to keep going.  “Look at all of these gifts for you!” they say.  “C’mon, we’re so excited for you to open this one!” they say as they point to the big box in the corner.  “Open this one next!”

But something inside you makes you stop.  Instead you get up and head into the other room….

I have to wonder if this is how things look from God’s perspective, in regards to what we ask Him for.  He has all of these gifts for us….all of these blessings waiting to be “opened”.  Yet we stop with the small things.  Our prayer life is small….meaning we pray small prayers.  Wouldn’t it make sense that “small” faith yields “small” results.  Maybe there is a part of us that feels that we don’t deserve anything more than the “white socks” of God’s blessings in our lives.  Actually if we’re using our own merit as a measuring stick, we don’t even deserve the white socks….but as a child of the King, we are heirs by His grace and what if He wantsand desires to lavish great blessings on us?

Lately, I believe that I am being prompted by God to up the ante in my prayer game.  I can almost hear things like ‘You’ve been in the minor leagues long enough kid….time to step up!  I know what I’ve put in you and the purpose I have for you!’

You know, sometimes I think we can easily mask a lack of faith as humility.  We might think things like “God knows what I need.  He’ll provide it in His time”.  But could it be that we might not have the level of faith to believe that He’ll actually give us more, if we ask for it?  Let’s hear the words of Jesus Himself….

“You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He may give it to you.”  John 15:16

To be clear, I am not writing a “name it and claim it” message or “health and wealth” gospel.  Many have hijacked that verse and turned it into exactly that and this is not my intention.  You will have suffering, grief and painful experiences in this spiritually war-torn world.  That is like the “x” in algebra.  It’s a constant….a given.  But does that mean we shrink down from the throne of the Mighty One?  No!  But keep in mind that just as important as taking the faith step of praying a “God sized” prayer, of equal importance is the “why” and the “how” behind our request.

“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”  James 4:3

If you just want an easy life and more toys….then that is the first issue (I think most of us start here).  God sees through your request to the heart and character behind it.  If there are cracks in your character, you may not be ready for the blessing that He would make you a steward of.

“When someone has been given much, much will be required in return….” Luke 12:48(a)

So let’s begin by asking God to change our hearts, minds and lives to align with His.  Let’s ask and challenge ourselves with this…. how we can be a blessing to others with our time, treasure, passion and talents?  He has made us with a “Kingdom” purpose.  You were chosen by Him to live where you live, in such a time as this.  Are you living that purpose to the fullest or do you settle for a mediocre level of “going along to get along”?  You were meant for so much MORE than that, my friend!  How often to we keep God on a chain?  “God, You can go here but not here…don’t rock the boat please….life is just fine as it is.”  How often would we (maybe even unconsciously) prefer the “Lion of Judah” to be in a petting zoo rather than being the dominant alpha of our lives (spiritual and otherwise)?

I would encourage you to let the Lion off of the chain!  Invite Him to take back the territory that you have surrendered over the years.  Bring those “big dream”, God sized requests to His feet.  Maybe you want to support a ministry in a persecuted country, or start a foundation that helps kids with special needs, or people battling eating disorders, or give more to your church so that they can do more in the community….or write a book….or tour the world as a musician so God can fulfill your passions but also use you to encourage others.  It is okay to pray for a “better” life and opportunity for you and your family.  You can ask God boldly (but with humility) for that.  Remember though…you aren’t negotiating with God or manipulating an outcome.  “Lord give me that $200K salary and I’ll give 15% to the church…”  Again, it’s all about the heart and motives behind with which you ask.  Try starting by asking Him to shore up your character first so that your motives would be lasting and good….but please don’t stop there.  Set a goal of building a lasting legacy with the plans He has for you.  Expect faith steps and testing and be ready….

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.  But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.”  Luke 16:10

Examine your heart and mind.  Dream big….but pray bigger!  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to see what He has in store!  Let’s gooooo!

Shifting Sands (A Holy Week Reflection)

“Jesus replied, ‘You don’t understand now what I am doing but someday you will.'”  John 13:7

A few days ago (Palm Sunday), we were reminded of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  The adoring throngs of men, women and children laying their cloaks and palm branches before the donkey that carried Him into the capital city.  Cries of praise and hope echoed throughout the region.  All the while they shouted, “Hosanna (a word that translates as an appeal to God for deliverance) to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” (see Matthew, chapter 21).  Four nights later, Jesus is betrayed by one of His own, arrested and set up by a multitude of false witnesses.  What followed in less than 24 hours was humiliation, unspeakable torture and ultimately, His last breath on a wooden cross.

I think we have to ask ourselves….what changed in those few days?

So here we sit….

The midweek point of Holy Week and I can’t help but reflect upon what must have been going on in Jerusalem about two thousand years ago.  Jesus had been in the city a few days now.  Many of the people had welcomed Him as their Messiah….but not from their sins….instead they had hoped He would help overthrow the oppressive power of the Roman authorities. Looking back through the dusty pages of history, we can see how limited and shortsighted their expectations were. God had something much bigger in mind.

They had seen, or at the very least heard the news about Jesus healing the leper and the paralyzed man and how He had raised His dear friend Lazarus from the grave.  Surely He had the power to decimate the Romans with fire from Heaven itself…and they were ready!  So what happened with this particular expectation that they had placed on Jesus?  Nothing.  A few days later and there had been no overthrow.  They had not been “healed” of the disease they saw as the Roman government.  Unmet expectations….and rather than trust God, what do they do?  They turn on Him.  In their pride, they believe that they know better.

Before we judge them, I think that we need to take a look in the mirror for a minute.  How do we treat God after He responds to our heartfelt prayers in ways that are different from our expectations?  The job ends.  The cancer does not disappear.  The spouse leaves.  What do we do?

Just this week a friend sent me a text message asking for prayer for her friend.  She had just lost her fiance in a tragic accident (they were to be married in about six weeks).  He had gotten out of her car to walk home and somewhere between the car and his home, he was struck and killed by another vehicle….

Even as I write this I have to pause at the sheer, gut wrenching devastation of something like this.  She’s angry and bitter at God….and I understand.  There are no answers on this side of Heaven for what has happened.  Figuratively speaking, she is at the midpoint of her own “Holy Week” in the sense that her expectations and her reality are vastly different….and in this darkness the attacks of the enemy are relentless.  In a nutshell they amount to this….  “Curse God and die”, those spirits quietly cackle in her ear.  Seeds of rage and bitterness can easily take root in this soil.

As I continued texting my friend, my prayer for this poor woman is that she would ultimately fall back on God’s love for her, His good character and ultimately be reminded of the reality that no matter the terrible things that can happen to us in this sometimes brutal world….This. Is. Not. The. End. Of. The. Story.

We have a living Hope that is beyond the brokenness.  Beyond the darkness.  Beyond any and all of the tragic events (this is not meant to minimize any particular terrible event….they are absolutely crushing, so let me make sure and validate that right now).  Our Hope has a name.  His name is Jesus and He is the Messiah (on a personal level we have to allow Him to be just that in each of our lives).  This is the hope of the Gospel….of Easter.

Betrayal.  Torture.  Death.  But afterwards…..the stone of the tomb is rolled away!  Resurrection, a living Hope and a Helper that indwells us (see John 16:7).  The head of the serpent has been crushed and when we are in the midst of the shifting sands of unmet expectations, these are the realities that we need to reflect on and consciously, purposefully remind ourselves of.  If we see the “Holy Week” story all the way through, we can see how Jesus actually surpasses the expectations of those at Jersusalem’s gates all of those centuries ago.  Not to mention, He does so in ways that are often very different from how we might have first imagined.  This is the great love of God.

“Even when I hear nothing.  I rest in knowing that He hears me.”

“I am with you always.  Until the very end of time.” -Jesus

Walk in the light of this truth, my friend.  Happy Easter.

A Stirring

“You’re a quiet guy but there is a lot in there.”

I was recently visiting some of my old stomping grounds down in West Hollywood, California.  Back in the day during my brief stint in music school when I was nineteen (and intermittently throughout the years), I used to go the rock clubs on the Sunset Strip.  The Whiskey, The Roxy, Gazzari’s….On this particular night, I was hanging out at the famous “Rainbow Bar and Grill” with an old friend from grade school that I hadn’t seen in a number of years, who also happens to live a few blocks away from their front door.

It was fun and energizing to be back in the area.  With all of the same sights, smells and music playing in the background, it’s so easy to flashback to past moments in time.  As I sat there at the bar, enjoying a fresh IPA, I began to think back on who I used to be.  I’m not embarrassed to say that it’s now so easy to see how lost I was in so many ways.  I had a spiritual foundation but my “anchor” was never holding me in one place, as I bounced around spiritually from one place to the next (which I know is not uncommon for someone in their late teens/early 20’s).  In the midst of the conversations with my buddy that night, I would sometimes see my “old self” in my mind’s eye (almost like an outer body experience in a sense), sitting in that same place but 20+ years earlier.  I could see my past intentions and my priorities clearly.  How I talked, how I thought about others, about myself, about perceived social status….all have changed so much.  So much in fact, that if I could sit down with the young, long haired rocker version of myself, I would give him a hug, tell him that I love him and give him a good talking to…both about what to do and what not to do.  I actually feel a lot of compassion for my younger self.  I guess it would be the same compassion I would feel for anyone that I could tell was broken inside (whether they know it or not).  We’re all broken after all. Thank God for His redeeming grace.

For much of the night, I continued to have parallel conversations.  One with my friend, one with God.  In the midst of this back and forth flow, the following verse flashed through my mind….

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.  The old life is gone; a new life has begun.”  2 Corinthians 5:17

God’s reminder was like someone turning on the light in a dark room.  <click!>

Look how far I’ve taken you…and I’m not done with you yet.

As I felt that initial surge of encouragement, my friend turned to me and said the words at the top of this page….”You’re a quiet guy but there is a lot in there.”  I would say that is definitely an interesting comment to come out of the blue….and even more interesting when coupled with the timing.

God was once again getting my attention.

I was caught up in this….“there is a lot in there.”  He was right.  There is a lot in here.  There is a lot in all of us.

God continued the process….there is a lot “in there” that people need to hear.  Not stemming from my own ego as much as I believe what God wants to speak through each of His kids….coming from our own unique hearts, heartaches, victories and circumstances.  Our brokenness can speak BUT our redeemed brokenness can speak even more clearly….and bring healing in both ourselves and in others, as those thoughts that are spoken (or sung, or written) will connect with and in the lives of those that hear us.   I believe that this, in turn, encourages our “hearers” to become speakers (in time) and to do the same in the lives of others.

“You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” -Jesus speaking to His followers in Matthew 5:14

So find your voice.  Believe what you have to say is valuable, because it is.  Your life is your story and stories are meant to be shared and learned from (if you’re a verbal processor like I am, you may be surprised by how just much you may learn).

And this, my friend, is how the light spreads.

“Come and see what God has done….”  Psalm 66:5(a)

God bless.

The Thief Named Selfishness

“Dying to self doesn’t mean giving up what’s good for us.  It means letting go of what’s not, so that we can accept what is.”

When talking about romantic relationships, especially marriage, how often have we heard or even found ourselves saying that it has to be a 50/50 deal?  With this mindset, we attribute the same equal value to what we “get” as to what we “give” (although the degree of giving is often based on how much we feel we’re getting…. here lies the problem).  The “issues” begin when our expectations about what we “give” and “get” differ from what our significant other may have in mind…. and so, the battles begin.  We start planting flags and claiming territory on the relationship “battleground”.  It’s often not even something we’re consciously aware of but it will go something like this…. “Well you didn’t do this for me so I am going to withhold “            ” from you (insert sex, intimacy, conversation, support, help, flexibility, etc.).  We stew in our anger and brick by brick, we start to construct our walls….

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”  John 3:30

Recently I was talking with a friend who is in the process of going through a divorce from an abusive spouse.  She was sharing about how when she was pregnant with their daughter, he refused to speak with her for three weeks because he had wanted a boy…. I was floored.  This man was blessed with a lovely family, with a new beautiful baby girl on the way.  Instead of celebrating that gift, he allowed the thief in the door.  Without him even recognizing it, he had been robbed of the joy and excitement of that season in his life.  In turn, it also robbed his wife of feeling cherished, loved and supported…. causing her to feel heartbroken, isolated and alone.

While I would consider the example above to be on the extreme side, in our natural “unchecked” state, we are all selfish…. and before we climb on our own high horse, we need to understand that the potential for this type of behavior lives in all of us.

How can we counteract this?  What does Jesus remind us of in Luke 9:23 and John 12:24.  Deny yourself….die to self.  Over and over again, Jesus reminds us that in order to walk the path of “life” as God intends us to, we must first die.  We see this exemplified in the garden of Gethsemane as Jesus, soaked in blood and sweat asks His Father to “remove this cup from me”…. but He finishes His prayer by saying “not my will but YOUR will be done”.  (see Luke 22:42)  Right there, He buries any potential for selfishness.

In our relationship with our spouse, I believe that the root of many of these issues can often be traced back to the faulty foundation that is found in the 50/50 mindset.  At this point, I feel the need to share a disclaimer before we go any further.  What I am about to say is not a license for anyone to abuse you in any way.  You are not a doormat to be walked on.  Let me remind you that you are God’s creation, therefore you are His handiwork…. His masterpiece.  He made you with a purpose and has a plan for you in this time and in this place.  This is the foundation on which the next idea is built.

I believe that the 50/50 model, by its very nature, is broken.  Instead we need to focus on a “100/100” idea.  I need to be 100% about my spouse (as my friend and pastor says, “I am preaching to myself here.”)  It is on me to learn and understand what makes my spouse feel loved, cherished and appreciated and then implement those ideas in real world ways.  If it’s “physical touch” and you’re not a touchy/feely person, it may be unnatural at first but it is your responsibility to get over that hump.  If it’s “quality time” or “giving gifts” you need to make those things a priority (I recommend reading “The Five Love Languages” to learn more).  Remember that it’s not about what you “feel” like doing.  What it is about is “dying to self” and giving 100% to your spouse.

If you happen to be watching “Monday Night Football” and you notice that the kitchen is a mess….and you also see that your spouse has had a draining day with the kiddos, simply pause the game for 20 minutes and go in and clean it for them (without parading around looking for a pat on the back…. I’ve found that you’re more likely to receive a heartfelt thank you if you’re not actually asking for it  😉  ).  I need to remove the burdens and clear the obstacles that clutter my spouse’s path as best as I am able to.  We (husbands and wives) are the “safe harbor” for our spouse.  Yes, God is ultimately our refuge but we have an absolutely crucial role to play in reflecting Christ’s love, grace, understanding and compassion in our relationship.

As partners in a marriage (or those who are seriously dating/courting), this should be our mutual goal and if you haven’t taken the time yet, talk to them about this idea (and even more importantly, please listen).  Will things be perfect?  Not to burst your bubble but…. of course not.  We are still broken people being rebuilt by God.  There will be days when either partner (sometimes both at the same time) can be exhausted, sick, frustrated and impatient.  What should we do when this is the case?   We need to practice, give and receive grace.  Men, if we’ve “sinned” against our wife in those moments, we need to man up, recognize it, apologize (and give ourselves some grace…we’re not perfect) and take care of any fallout.

The world is a battleground and there is nothing that the enemy would rather see more than a family slowly being broken down and destroyed by selfishness.  When you arrive home, take a breath and before entering that threshold, remember to drop your weapons at the door.

#seekfirstHiskingdom

The Courage of Compassion

“Sometimes you pray and sometimes you’re the answer to prayer.”  Erwin McManus

While on a flight earlier today, I was fortunate to share a very spirited conversation with a very enthusiastic toddler.  She caught my attention when her little face peaked over the seat in front of me.  She then started pointing out (and telling me about) all of the different lights that she could find in the cabin.  Reading lights, aisle lights, blue lights, red lights, yellow lights.  She wasn’t focused on the shadowy, boring, mundane places of the plane.  She was all about focusing on the bright and colorful spots….on those lights!  What a fantastic reminder about what to focus on in life.  I wonder if that’s how God sees us from His throne in Heaven.  After all, Jesus Himself said to his followers very clearly, “YOU are the light of the world….” (Matthew 5:14a)

And what are lights to do?  Shine!

As we go through our day, watch or read the news and observe interactions on social media, one of the things that becomes very apparent is that is world can be a very cold, bitter, ruthless place.  Negativity could swallow us up, if we were to permit it a foothold in our hearts and minds.  As we experience negative interactions over the course of our lives, we could allow those to pile up and harden our hearts to the needs of others both in a long term (family, friends) and in a short term sense (those that God brings across our path today).  In this soil the seeds of bitterness and anger take root and like quickly growing weeds, drown out the beauty that is found in compassion.  We can see the fruit of this so clearly in the story of the “Good Samaritan”……….

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” 

Luke 10:25-37

What made some pass (interesting how it was the “religious” ones who passed by the beaten man) while one man stopped to not only help but provide for the need of a stranger?  I believe the heart of the matter is rooted in fear.  Fear of what others who will see what we’re doing might think of us…. “Why is helping that loser?”  “Oh, look at that pious person showing off.”  “He’ll never get a job if people like him keep enabling their behavior.”   “He’s just going to take that money and buy drugs anyway.”  It could also be a fear of not having enough time (I’d help but I need to get to work….or home….or to church….).  Fear of not having the resources to help.  Fear and judgement (by others or by what we place on ourselves…humanity loves to judge).

What made the Samaritan different?  He was on his way somewhere as well.  He had places to be and people to see.  The difference is that when he saw the beaten man in need, he stopped what he was doing.  He invested his time and his resources (and potentially his safety) in stopping to help a stranger.  He took courage and didn’t make excuses.  When he saw a need, he acted on it.

My theme verse for 2018 is Matthew 6:33 which says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all of this will be given unto you.”  Every morning, I wake up and almost like a mantra, I repeat to myself, “Seek first His kingdom….seek first His kingdom….”  As I move purposely into my day with this at the forefront of my mind, my focus is sharper and my awareness as to who or what God might bring across my path is heightened.  I am able to see the opportunities more clearly because I expect them.  It may simply be a kind word of encouragement or it may be something more but whatever it is, my goal is to stay faithful.

What needs will come across your path today?  What opportunities to help, or to be kind, or to offer a hug, or to buy someone a meal or a cup of coffee, present themselves to YOU today.  They may be obvious or they may be hidden (sometimes in plain sight).  Will you be the one to show courage and take the step of being compassionate?  Will you be the one to reflect His light into a dark world?  There are few who will take this beyond a conceptual musing but I hope that one of them that heeds the call to action….is you.

May He be your strength, hope, purpose and courage today.

#seekfirstHiskingdom