Thursday, May 28, 2020

Overcoming struggles

The battle to overcome your emotional struggles is a battle for your mind. If you are worrying, stressed out and depressed, it is because you are thinking things that are not true.
In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, Paul writes,
“…for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
It is not our flesh that we fight but rather our minds and what Satan tries to do to our minds. One of Satan’s favorite strategies is to plant his thoughts in your mind so completely that you come to believe they are your thoughts, so you will begin to act on these thoughts.
This strategy of Satan may get you to ask the question, “Well, how can I be blamed for acting on these thoughts if they are not mine?” Friend, you are not responsible for every thought that comes into your head. But you are responsible for how you act on it. This is why we are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
When a thought comes seeking to lure you deeper into worry, doubt, anger, hatred, shame or more, you have two choices. You can reject it, or you can adopt it and make it your own. When you reject these thoughts, you free yourself to focus on the Spirit.
If you will set your mind on the things of the Spirit, you will have both life and peace. You will also have purpose, meaning and joy. With the Holy Spirit governing your thoughts, external circumstances do not dictate your responses. If you want to overcome your emotional struggles, change your thoughts. If you seek to be set free from that which holds you hostage, then set your mind on God’s truth.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Freed

The battle to overcome our emotional struggles is a battle for our mind. If we fine ourselves worrying, stressed out and depressed, it is because we are thinking things that are not true. In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, Paul writes,“for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
It is not our flesh that we fight but rather our minds and what Satan tries to do to our minds. One of Satan’s favorite strategies is to plant his thoughts in our mind so completely that we come to believe they are our thoughts, so we will begin to act on these thoughts.
This strategy of Satan may get you to ask the question, “Well, how can I be blamed for acting on these thoughts if they are not mine?” Friend, you are not responsible for every thought that comes into your head. But you are responsible for how you act on it. This is why we are to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
When a thought comes seeking to lure us deeper into worry, doubt, anger, hatred, shame or more, we have two choices. We can reject it, or we can adopt it and make it our own. When we reject these thoughts, we free ourself to focus on the Holy Spirit.
If we will set our mind on the things of the Spirit, we will have life, peace, and joy. we will also find and have purpose. With the Holy Spirit governing our thoughts, external circumstances do not dictate our responses. If you want to overcome your emotional struggles, change your thoughts. If you seek to be set free from that which holds you hostage, then set your mind on God’s truth and be free.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Stay with us a while

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. Luke 24:28-29

I don't know about you, but at times I find myself uncomfortable with the messiness of life. This is true of relationships with other people, and it is especially true of my relationship with God. I have a high appreciation for order, reverence, process, and clarity. However, when I read the well-known story of Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it shakes up my preference for neat and tidy spirituality. The road to Emmaus is a story of messy faith. Jesus enters into a very raw and vulnerable space, and heals people who are filled with doubts and confusion and aren’t even clear on who He is.
It’s easy to miss this fact. We assume by this point in the story they know that it is Jesus walking with them, but that clarity doesn’t come until they share a meal together. Yet even in their confusion, their hearts begin to burn within them, they are coming alive as they spend time with this man, so they “urge him strongly” to stay. I wonder what it might look like for us to urge Jesus to stay with us a little while, even when we lack clarity?
You do not have to have all your questions answered in order to have a meaningful encounter with the Lord. Rather than being troubled by this fact, I’m learning more and more to embrace it and receive it as a gift. When I see the truth in this, it frees me to have and give grace to others, and grace for myself. It is liberating to realize that I don’t have to have it all figured out in order to follow Jesus. In fact, if I’m honest, my heart is often filled with doubts, and uncertainties, and if I wait until they are all gone, I may never actually know the joy of being with Jesus, and experiencing His power, provision, and hand in my life.
Can you be so bold as to invite Jesus into the unruly and uncertain parts of your life? Undoubtedly, you are more aware of these than ever before. Over the past few weeks and months, you’ve likely had to confront your own failure to trust God with your present and your future. You’ve failed to love your spouse, kids, or close friends the way they long to be loved. Maybe you’re wrestling with a general sense of shame and guilt, wondering why you’re not as productive and fruitful as you want to be?
Whatever your struggle may be, it is easy to say “Jesus wants nothing to do with me until I can sort this thing out.” Yet here’s the problem with that line of thinking: Jesus is the only way you’re going to sort it out, so to exclude him from the problem is to remove any hope for a solution! Jesus enters into the messiness of our lives and speaks peace and freedom. And so, like these first disciples, today we boldly pray, “Stay with us a little while”

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

He cares

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

God cares about you. He cares about your job; He cares about your fears; He cares about your spouse; He cares about your children; He cares about your parents; He cares about your worries; He cares about your finances; He cares about your car and your house; He also cares about your character, and He cares about you caring about Him and caring for others. He is a caring God.

You cannot out-care God. His capacity to care is infinite and his competence to care is matchless. You can care because He cares. There is no care of yours that God does not care about. If it is important to you, then God cares about it. Yes, you will experience misdirected cares, but God’s desire is to come alongside you and realign your cares with what He cares about the most. He cares enough to bear your anxieties and to replace them with His peace and assurance.

When you give God your worries, you in turn, receive His calming presence. God’s system of care is countercultural. God transforms your cares into what He cares about; so cast your cares on Christ. Equally spiritual people may cast their cares on God in polar opposite ways. One may find release in a quiet written prayer, while another may feel cared for by God through raucous worship. Let another’s processing of anxiety be a guide, not a guilty comparison.

“Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall” (Psalm 55:22, NLT).

You know God cares immensely. So how do you cast your cares on Him? By faith, you let Him care. He cares and can be trusted. Therefore, allow Him to do what He does best. You allow Him to care for you. This takes humility on your part. You are acknowledging a desperate need for God. Your declaration of dependence is two-fold. You admit you are anxious, and can’t handle your worry alone.

You submit to the fact that only God can handle this level of concern. Hence, your submission to God allows His care to consume your anxieties. Your care-giving to God is recurring. Over time, He helps bring your feeble faith and misguided mind into focus on Him. What started out as a burden, He transforms into a blessing. Your pain becomes productive.

You become free to care for others because He has freely cared for you. Your perspective takes on a heavenly flavor. Do not wait until matters get worse before you offload on the Lord. Go to God first because He cares the most. Let bad news travel fast because He already knows. An all-caring God cultivates a carefree attitude. The more you allow Him to care about your worries, the less you have to care about. Then you can focus your care on people and eternal issues.

Let God be consumed with your cares so you are not. Then you can lead others to your all-caring Christ. Care for them as Jesus does. Your care will lead to His care. This is the beauty of the circle of care. You do it right, and they will want your God. You care for others, and they will want the God that cares for you. Keep your caring Christ-centered. You care because He cares. You can care because you have let Him care for you. Keep the circle of care rotating.

Do not grow weary of caring; He doesn’t. He cares for you. Therefore, give Him your cares and experience His care. Christ is your number one caregiver.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

His table of provision

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:5-6, ESV

I’m reading this verse over and over. God provides for and protects me in full view of my enemies.

For a shepherd, the table was a high plateau, or mesa, where the flock would spend the summer months. It took some preparation and the shepherd would go several times to remove poisonous weeds, clear away rocks, check out water supplies and resting places. The preparation was done with the full knowledge the wild predators were watching the movement of the flock, just waiting for the time to attack.

We are always in danger of attack – something is out to get us. Who among us will not remember COVID 19, or the terms "sheltering in place" or "social distancing." We are being attacked. Our world is under attack.

The word of God refers to Satan as a “roaring lion” always looking for someone to devour. Despite this news, I know a “table” is prepared for us in the presence of our enemy. Oh, the enemy of our soul is real and present, but the feast of God’s presence overpowers any and all attacks. 

You might say it was the daily anointing of oil that slowly healed us. The shepherd would apply oil to the noses of his sheep to keep away a certain, dangerous fly. If this fly was not deterred, the inflammation could cause the animal to go blind or even kill itself by thrashing its head on the ground. I can relate to the sheep here as there were many thrashing days when I needed a double dose of God’s anointing oil.

Staying close to our heavenly Shepherd is the only way to overcome the attacks of the roaring lion. Staying close is the only way to remain at the table and be nurtured by God’s provision.

L.B. Cowan who penned "Streams in the Desert" wrote, “We often pray to be delivered from afflictions, and even trust God that we will be. But we do not pray for Him to make us what we should be while in the midst of the afflictions. Nor, do we pray that we would be able to live within them, for however long they may last, in complete awareness that we are held and sheltered by the Lord and can therefore continue within them without suffering any harm.”

Here’s one more thought…we are all invited to the prepared table because God gave us His only Son. (John 3:16) We have been invited to the feast of His fellowship. And if we receive that fellowship and accept it in gratitude and humility, we then can continue in our afflictions.

May we walk with Christ to the Cross in gratitude for his invitation to the table. God, help us to live within our afflictions, knowing we are sheltered by you. Help us to embrace them, trusting that by doing so, they can be transformed into something that gives you glory.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

God with us

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

As millions around the world have spent weeks in isolation, sheltering in place for the good of their vulnerable neighbors and society as a whole, many of us have undoubtedly battled feelings of loneliness and isolation. We feel cut off from those we love and the normal life-giving daily rhythms that we once took for granted. And as true as this may be, the Lord wants us to remember that we are never alone.

Now, some of you reading this will say, “Trust me, I know that I’m not alone! In fact, all I want is 5 minutes to myself without a child climbing on me, or attacking their siblings, or telling me they can’t get their school lessons to work on the computer.” For many, this pandemic has forced us into close proximity with those we love, learning to honor and respect one another in close quarters and with increased anxiety. Yet others of you feel the exact opposite, desperate for human touch and connection. Whatever your reality is right now, in the truest and deepest sense of the word, we must cling to the truth that we are never alone because our Lord is always with us, driving out fear and giving us courage.

In Romans 8:14, Paul reminds us, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” This verse is both a statement of identity and direction. We are beloved children of God, yet we are also led by the Holy Spirit, especially in times of great need. This is good news for us today! The Holy Spirit is with you in your exhaustion and isolation. And not only is he with you, but he is leading you and will continue to lead you in the days and weeks to come.

In fact, we must remember that the entire movement of salvation is a journey from isolation into community, community with God and with one another. If God in Jesus can heal the ultimate isolation that results from our self-imposed exile, he can and will lead us faithfully through this present storm. With great confidence we cling to Joshua’s words, “The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Ever present love

There they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous. Psalm 14:5

God is present in your predicament. You do not have to pray, “God be with us”. He is there already. He is there because He cares. He is there because you are extremely valuable to Him. God’s cherishes His children. He loves to give His own good gifts (Matthew 7:11). His presence alone is a present. He is present to give wisdom. He is present to give you direction. He is present to give you courage. In His presence there is peace. He is ever present.

God’s presence is there to calm and convict us. His peace is what propels us forward by faith. Do not give up on doing the right thing. Sinful compromise for short term satisfaction never ends well. Why put your family at risk by running after forbidden fruit? God has not left you. He does not wink at wicked deeds. He is right by your side to see you through this sinful temptation. Indeed the fear of God is the fruit of His presence. He reminds us to remain pure.

“How then could I [Joseph] do such a wicked thing and sin against God” (Genesis 39:9)?

His presence is made manifest in a company of Christ followers. It is in community that the Body of Christ is in full expression. Sin pushes us to seclusion. It is an illusion to think we can isolate ourselves from Almighty God. But in authentic community there is nowhere to hide. It is in the presence of committed Christ followers that we feed our faith. Do not fight temptation alone. Tell someone. Reengage with the righteous. This is the presence of God personified.

Stay in the presence of God-fearing followers. This time of engagement with others facilitates our alone time with our Heavenly Father. Stay hard after your Heavenly Father in solitude and prayer. His presence is inviting you into intimacy. Design your life around a daily retreat into His presence. Look into His face and feel His love. In His presence He provides just what we need in the moment. Persevere in prayer without ceasing—be present in God’s presence!

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Humble wisdom

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. Proverbs 3:7

Humble wisdom does not hint at a holier-than-thou attitude. On the contrary, it is contrite before Christ and modest before men. Humble wisdom is very grateful to God for His blessing of insight and understanding into eternal matters. Wisdom is not a badge of superiority to be worn with pride, but a blanket of security that humbles the heart.

Wisdom without humility becomes conceited and is accompanied by a condescending attitude. It is ugly as it disfigures the soul. It is like star athletes who are so full of themselves they fail to reach their potential for lack of team support. However, humble wisdom says, “I am a fellow learner of the Lord’s ways; I am a work in progress just like you.” It is to a heart of humility that God entrusts His wisdom; so stay desperate for divine direction.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13).

The more wisdom increases in your heart and mind, the more pride needs to decrease in your persona. It is the fear of the Lord that keeps you from thinking you can be anything special outside of your Savior Jesus. The fear of God does not forget that wisdom comes from above. Yes, your experience enhances wisdom, and your pain can produce wisdom, but ultimately wisdom resides with God and His Word.

This is why in humility you hunker down and pray:

Heavenly Father, I bow in awe before you and ask for insight and direction. You are the author of all wisdom.

It is submission to Christ and His command that squeezes out selfish, worldly wisdom and replaces it with the humble wisdom of heaven. Therefore, request wisdom for His glory, and never cease to learn from those whom the Lord sends daily into your life.

“Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty (snobbish, high-minded, exclusive), but readily adjust yourself to [people, things] and give yourselves to humble tasks. Never overestimate yourself or be wise in your own conceits” (Romans 12:16).

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Armored up and ready to go

Now my beloved ones, I have saved these most important truths for last: Be supernaturally infused with strength through your life-union with the Lord Jesus. Stand victorious with the force of his explosive power flowing in and through you. Put on God’s complete set of armor provided for us, so that you will be protected as you fight against the evil strategies of the accuser! Ephesians 6:10-11, The Passion Translation

A little testimony to get us started today.  My son Tyler sometimes likes to try to race outside in the dead of winter dressed in a short sleeved shirt, no long sleeves, no gloves, no jacket, no scarf, no hat (OMG) Scratching my head in disbelief, I tried to listen to and understand his young minded reasoning. In one case it was a fashion statement, not wanting to burden himself with the baggage of an unappealing coat in tow, bowing to certain peer expectations. Another line of reasoning was a rush to the next exciting activity, anticipating fun outweighed unnecessary preparation to fight the outdoor elements. Either way, my wife and I helped him to slow down and dress appropriately.

Paul used vivid imagery of the day, as his readers knew well the dress of Rome’s military. A wise soldier would not engage in battle without weapons, nor would he fight the enemy with only part of his resources. A sword without a shield, a head without a helmet or feet without sandals would give an unfair advantage to the adversary. In a similar fashion, the Lord calls us to prepare for our protection against our antagonist the devil. By faith we suit up in God’s spiritual armor. The Lord’s holy weapons are lethal and through prayer all work together to resist evil strategies.

“We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NLT).

I lose perspective when I try to reason my way through a rough patch in life. Instead of leaning into the Lord’s weapons of faith, truth, righteousness and His loving salvation—in fear my heart and mind fall captive to the human weapons of logic and self-preservation. God’s will is not always a logical linear step in the easiest direction, often the Spirit humbles me in the wilderness to prepare me for the promised land. In addition, self-less service is the Lord’s tactic to grow my trust in Him so as not to obsess over losing possessions or privileges—He is my provider.

Have life’s battles brought you to your knees? Are you exhausted over not knowing what to do? If so, stop listening to the lies of the enemy telling you there is no hope and you are not worthy of love. Rest in the Lord’s compassion, allow His Spirit to infuse you with strength and comfort. Eternal energy is available for you to tap into with trust in God’s goodness. Lift your eyes off your circumstances onto Christ, for He will lead you to take captive rebellious thoughts, and engage in love’s obedience. Use all the armor of God to defeat the accuser’s lies. In Him, we win!

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Living that generous life

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:16-18 

If you’re like I have been in the past, perhaps you have thought of generosity strictly as the act of giving money to a person or organization in need.
But generosity is more than giving financially. It’s an attitude of love that flows from our hearts into our actions: It comes through our hands to hug and give. It comes through our bodies to give time and talents. It flows from our mouths to grant grace, tenderness, and kind words.
Like most people, I have had the humbling honor of giving in various ways over the years. But the generosity I have experienced as the result of being a part of a blended family has literally transformed me.
Prior to marrying my wife, the thought of becoming a bonus Dad definitely wasn’t on my bucket list. But what I didn’t know was how God would joyfully expand my heart and capacity to love through being a part of a blended family. In ways I could have never imagined, the Lord has used my two bonus kids to teach me how to be more generous with love, talents, time, and money.
“No one can have too many people loving them.”
In that one sentence, God invited me to shift from being selfish and thinking about my own emotional safety, to thinking about giving generous love. He was inviting me to love them because He loves them.
This statement from the Lord helped me see that although I am not the biological father, I still have an important and vital role to play.  
I have learned that the ability to be generous in love and action is deeply rooted in the truth that I am not an extra family member that no one wants. I am a son of the King who is on an assignment to love generously and to let that love show in a variety of ways: through finances, talents, time, patience, and words of encouragement and wisdom.  I have honestly discovered that in all my life there has been no greater honor. Giving generously has been a huge gift to me. It has expanded me and brought me so much joy to be generous daily, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).


Thursday, March 12, 2020

A gentle whisper

Have you ever been desperate for an encounter with God?  Anxious for Him to show up and give you some sort of grand, extravagant revelation about His purpose for you on Earth?  
          The next time you feel that way, remember this...Don't blink.  You may miss it.
 
The statement I just made is from a look I took into the life of Elijah.  His story reminds us that whether we hear Him or not, God still speaks.  And whether we feel it or not, we all of us still have a divine purpose.  
 
Elijah was the boldest of God's prophets.  But in First Kings 19, we find him on the run, in fear for his life, and in desperate need of a revelation.  Here's how the Lord responded.   

God sent a mighty wind that broke the rocks into pieces on Mount Horeb.  But God was not in the wind.  He sent an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. He sent fire, but God was not in the fire.
 
God was in none of those things.  Instead, His revelation came in a whisper...  a still, small voice that reminded Elijah he still had a purpose on Earth. Be encouraged today beloved.  When we are seeking the voice of God or an encounter with God, don't fixate on the next grand thing or huge sign.  Be on the lookout for the next small one or simple thing. I have discovered that God often does His best work without fanfare.  He always has let me give you a couple examples:

Look at Moses.  A baby found floating down the Nile River becomes a prince in Egypt, and later a fugitive living a quiet life on the backside of the desert. But that child, that fugitive from justice, became a mighty deliverer after a meeting a simple burning bush.
 
Look at David, an inconspicuous shepherd whose brothers were bigger and seemed more qualified to govern a nation.  But Samuel listened to the still, small voice of God and chose David.  And that sheep-watcher became a giant-slayer and a king who led God's people. By being confident in his ability and a simple sling-shot and God-confidence.
 
 God had a purpose for Moses and David that no one would have ever seen coming. I know you may sometimes feel as though you no longer have a purpose.  I know life gets hard and things go sideways and you may begin to think your best days are behind you.  That is nothing but the lies of the enemy talking, not God.  Find your own Mount Horeb, listen closely to what God says about His purpose for you on Earth, and then set out to do it.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

love ripples

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5


Have you ever considered that every person alive is significant because we are all connected to one another through a giant thread of influence—or what one of my friends calls, “ripples?” Just like a rock ripples when thrown into water, all of humanity is connected.

Think of it this way: The “ripple” effect of my choices, words, beliefs, and attitudes affect the lives of others, even when I don’t realize it. A friend affects my life, and I affect someone else’s life because of my friend, and that person affects someone else and on and on it goes. We are all connected to one another through our actions, thoughts, words, and beliefs.

We are never islands unto ourselves.

Both the good and bad ripple. Sin ripples. Hurt ripples. Pain ripples. Injustice ripples. Meanness ripples. But good news. . .love also ripples!

My wife and I recently discussed this when considering a particular injustice we have endured. We talked about our choices: We can either pass on the ripple of sin and pain by being cynical, angry, hateful and unforgiving, or we can stop the negative ripple so that we experience joy and others aren’t also negatively affected by our sin. We can cooperate with God and thereby bring redemption into the situation.

What we do with our hurt is never just about us and the other party. How we choose to respond can either continue the ripple of pain, hurt, anger, and unforgiveness, and we’ll pass it on to others, or we can turn that ripple into love, forgiveness, and grace. We can choose to be a blessing or a burden to others around us simply by handling the negative ripples of sin that come to us, God’s way.

The pain that we feel can be used for good or used for evil. One important thing to remember is that how we handle our lives will ripple for generations. To understand this truth, all you need to do is look at what’s been passed on to you from your parents. And, what was passed on to you from your parents was passed on to them from their parents, and so forth and so on. For good or evil, you have been affected.

But the good news is that it only takes one choice from you to stop a ripple of sin, hurt, negativity, anger, or unforgiveness so that you don’t pass it on.

So, what does this mean for you today?

Choose to turn whatever has happened to you into good. Choose wisely, for the blessing—not the burden—of others. How you handle your life can affect generations to come, even some people you will never know this side of heaven.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).