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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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….

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.”

 

 

 

Rebel With A Cause

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God.  This is the true self.  Every other identity is illusion.”  Brennan Manning

Lately, I have been offering to pray for people through social media.  It has been a huge blessing for me to be a part of what God is doing in these individuals’ hearts and lives.  I hear from both believers and agnostics alike.  While I lift up their specific requests I am also praying that hearts will be softened and ears and eyes to be opened, so that they can see what God is doing in their midst and be transformed by His great love for them.

Earlier this week I heard from a friend who asked for prayer but also mentioned that she was not “religious.”  I loved her approaching me this way.  Of course culturally I understand why people would see Jesus as a purely religious figure.  The way He is portrayed in classical paintings, stained glass windows and statues can take His ” hands in the dirt” humanity away, to a great degree.

Yet, He was and is so much more than a meek and mild, porcelain skinned, man depicted in religious works of art.  In fact, I see Jesus as the ultimate “rebel with a cause.”  He did not come to build a religious system.  He came to “set the captives free,” mend the broken, heal the sick, find His lost sheep, give us full lives, build spiritually focused warriors, fulfill the “law” and shake up those that put their faith in their own self-piety and religion….

“….Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Mark 2:17(b)

This statement should cause pause in each of us.  Are we feeling “safe” in our religious rituals and sacraments or is our security found in the person of Jesus Christ?  If we look back, many of Pharisees (religious leaders of Jesus’ time) put their faith in their religious position alone.  Let’s listen to Jesus describe them:

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to His disciples:  ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  So you must be careful to do everything they tell you.  But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.  They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.  Everything they do is done for people to see:  They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seat in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.  But you are not to be called “Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’ for you have one Father, and He is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You shut the door of the kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces.  Your yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation….Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees….you clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee!  First clean out the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean….you are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”  (taken from Matthew, chapter 23).

Do these sound like the words of a strictly “religious” person?  Not at all!  This is a call-out by a spiritual revolutionary!

Remember when Jesus entered the Temple and the “religious” leaders had turned it into a marketplace?  (see Matthew, chapter 21)  It is safe to say that He went into a righteous rage….overturning tables and casting everyone out….”My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves….”

Jesus never calls us to religion alone (although there are important and critical aspects to fellowship, praying together as a band of brothers/sisters, corporate worship, etc.) but Jesus calls us to Himself.  We need to look beyond the externals of religious systems and instead approach Jesus in our brokenness and sin.  We need to ask Him to help us, to change us….to save us.  He alone paid the price on our behalf.  We don’t have to “get our act together” first.  When Jesus called the first disciples they were fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes.  Come as you are!  Jesus will change you.  While man may turn you away, Jesus never will.

You just need to show up.

“I had a professor one time….He said, ‘Class, you will forget almost everything I will teach you in here, so please remember this:  that God spoke to Balaam through his ass (see Numbers, chapter 22), and He has been speaking through asses ever since.  So if God should choose to speak through you, you need not think too highly of yourself.  And, if on meeting someone, right away you recognize what they are, listen to them anyway.'”  Rich Mullins