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….

Uncivilized

“The worst thing that happened to you, that can happen to any fighter:  you got civilized.”  Mickey (Rocky 3)

“Radical!”  Growing up in the 1980’s, this was the goal.  To shake up and be one step ahead of the status quo (whatever it happened to be that week).  To be and do “rad” things was the end goal of….well, pretty much everything.  Like most tweens/teenagers, we were looking for our own way.  We saw our ideas as unique.  We embraced the wild side of Motley Crue and Public Enemy tunes.  Even as white kid I looked up to MLK, Jr. and at times, Malcolm X.  Whoever the authority figure was, we wanted to go the opposite direction and do it with attitude.  We wouldn’t be stopped.

Fast forward a few decades.  Nowadays “radical” is often a word used to describe terrorists or those you would never want to be associated with.  Pop culture has a manufactured and artificial sense to it.  We’re not getting young songwriters and poets coming up on their own and “making it”.  Instead we have talking heads placed in front of us to program the general population towards an agenda.  Major news networks are often so brazen in this delivery, it is more than obvious to anyone who has any sense of discernment.

“On the road today, I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac….” Don Henley

As we grow through our teenage years and into our 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and beyond, what happens to most of us?  I’ll tell you what happens.  We become civilized.  Instead of pushing and grinding towards the goals and passions that extend outside of ourselves, we get really, really comfortable.  Our sharp edges round out.  All those years of marketing take root under the illusion of “that” will bring satisfaction….and entwine us like serpents.  Our pursuits become purely self serving.  We embrace “safe” religion and comfortable “popular” churches with all of the amenities, where “everyone goes.”  We want to hear that Jesus loves us but want to ignore the fact that in that love, God wants to break us down and build us back into the long-suffering image of Jesus Himself, holy in all that He does.  When there are troubled kids (or adults) in the church, we might not outwardly shun them but we steer clear of acknowledging their presence.  “Those kids” aren’t good for our kids so we think that “they” shouldn’t be around our precious babies (sarcasm: on).   I believe that it’s this exact attitude and hypocrisy, more than anything else, turns people away from the church’s doors before they ever set foot inside.

This may be a surprise for some….Jesus was a radical.  I don’t mean he was left leaning or right leaning politically.  His message was filled with radical often times furious love for humanity.  Jesus was a fierce warrior and He battled with the devil himself (read about His temptations in the desert or during His passion).  John the Baptist was an outcast and a radical.  The apostle Paul was a radical.  The prophets that foretold His coming….all radicals.  If someone is looking for a safe, water colored religion….true Christ following, Christ emulating, Christianity would never fit that bill.  If you find yourself in a church like that…where it’s more self-help than Jesus….you need to find another church.  If you’re willing to offer prayers but not your resources (time, treasure and talents), you my friend, are missing the boat.  Now to be fair, I am writing this blog in a moment when frankly, I’m pretty disappointed with humanity.  It happens, right?  People let us down.  Let me explain….

I had almost 2,000 hits and 250+ post engagements on a petition to help a family in desperate need of financial help.  People offered prayers (which is important) but out of all of those post interactions….I can count on one hand, those that stepped out to do anything of any practical significance.  So many had the opportunity to be an answer to the very prayer they were praying…and didn’t follow through.  There are plenty of big talkers out there but where were they?  Maybe they were too busy arguing their theological points of why Calvinism is superior to Arminianism….  Soft, fatty, fast food faith….dead faith.  I’m calling out all of us that claim to be Christ followers!  If we’re not going to shine in those situations…if we are going to be passive, sit on the fence and wait for someone else to do it…what kind of disciples are we?  We need to repent.  We have become civilized in the worst possible way.  We should sit on the ground, throw dirt over our heads and tear our garments like Jewish leaders would do when they recognized how they had missed what God had set before them!

Jesus was radical in His love and compassion.  If we follow Him, it’s not an option, we follow His example.  We NEED to be and do the same.  When we see a need we don’t just offer our stinkin’ “thoughts and prayers” in a social media post.  We ACT in faith!  We LOVE in faith!  We RESPOND in faith!  If we sacrificially give in a time of need, won’t God provide for us?  Your answer to this question is a direct reflection on how big you think your God is.

“Blessed is he who considers the poor; The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.”  Psalm 41:1 

“If there is among you a poor man of you brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs.  You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand.”  Portions of Deuteronomy 15

Strip away your “civilized” religion and once again embrace the “radical” part  of your faith….

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”  Revelation 2:4

Wake up, believers.  This is your call to step up.

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.

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

 

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.”