Thursday, December 3, 2020

Principled living

 Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin. John 19:10-11


Over the years and of course in our present climate, I have watched and noticed politicians, preachers and business leaders wield power and authority in a way that belittles others and inflames selfish pride in the process. These leaders we at times find being very self serving and disrespectful to those who disagree with them, so much to the point that power becomes an ugly show of dismissing principled leadership to justify preferred outcomes. It makes me want to holla and throw up both my hands. This blatant abuse of power and authority should grieve and convict those who fear and want to honor God in their life and leadership as all of us lead in someway. There is an assurance that helps me and that is this: One day He will call the abuser into account, which is how the Lord works. 

When powerful people dishonor honorable people, people of principle must do something. Choosing principled living over a power play of narcissistic living is a believers calling.

I look Jesus calls out the government leader of His day who wrongly and arrogantly thought he held all of the power because of his political position. Assigned by Tiberius to be governor over Judaea, Pontius Pilate presided over the trial of Jesus and gave the order for our Lord to be crucified. While attempting to wash his hands of his decision to dishonor and kill an innocent man, he was reminded by Jesus that all power is from God, on loan to leaders on earth. If that divinely given power is abused there is and will be consequences, as God works through the misuse of power to bring about His will for principled living, and through Jesus, the salvation of humanity.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:9-10).

Do you see the use of power delegated to you by God to be used for the Lord’s purposes? Or, do you subtly use power to advance your agenda, wrecking relationships in the process? The lie is to think that the outcomes seen as positive are justified, even though they are the result of unprincipled, even illegal methods used to make things happen. What a short sighted, self serving approach to life, to dismiss the divine in order to achieve my agenda, my way, in my power. Humility waits on God in principled living, while pride powers through on a destructive path.

Or, maybe you feel the pain of another’s abuse of power. Perhaps your home, work or community does not have a culture of servant leadership, but rather a fear based environment facilitated by faithless, fear based leaders. If so, have the hard conversations and risk feeling ignored and dishonored when you disagree or suggest waiting to make the wisest decisions. A bully in power needs a bold taste of reality by your vulnerability in delivering the truth. God overcomes power with your principled living.

“Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way” (Hebrews 13:18).

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Under Armor

 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

Ephesians 6:11

Hopefully the title perked your interest to read today's blog.  Since you have already started reading contine as we armor up in a different brand of under armor known as God's armor.  God’s armor is required for disciples of Jesus to defeat the enemies of Jesus. Spiritual surprise and intentional attacks increase for those serious about their walk and service unto the Lord in accordance with the Great Commission of Scripture who decrease their status for the sake of the gospel. The devil is determined to deter disciples of Christ who wage spiritual warfare on their knees in prayer. However, the armor issued by God has never lost a battle, and keeps us well equipped to win. Like wooden arrows striking titanium, Satan’s schemes are no match for God’s under armor. 

Have you, by faith, put on the full armor of God? Or are you exposed to suffering wounds by wearing half the world’s armor and half God’s protecting under armor? Indeed, the armor of the world: financial security, status and autonomy all seek placement in our spiritual protection. However, these are pseudo protectors of our mind, body, soul and spirit. Temporal trust facilitates a false sense of security, but only trust in the Lord’s protecting armor provides eternal security. So stand firm in Him.

“But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder” (Luke 11:22).

Spiritual battles require spiritual resources. Furthermore there are evil forces behind our fractured relationships and the conflicting desires within our heart. Beyond the surface of our struggles are demonic spirits with evil intent. Therefore, we intentionally and prayerfully put on the full armor of God, so we are equipped to engage the enemy. We speak the name of Jesus and fluster Satan’s foray to get us to doubt. “In Jesus’ name,” fuels our faith and frustrates the devil.

God’s defense for you is an armor of light. Yes, His protecting under armor exposes and expunges the devil’s deeds done in darkness. The light of the Lord’s armor shines on our path, so we are well able to confidently take our next steps in His will. We are a children of the light, thus, walk in the light as He is in the light. Awaken to God’s ability to resource you with His weapons of righteousness. Destroy and leave behind any worldly armor and cover your whole being in the full armor of God.

“So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12).

Monday, November 9, 2020

What's your troub

 Elijah was afraid… and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. 1 Kings 19:3-4

The title of this may seem strange to you, as it is a question when I was young that my grandfather used to ask me when my countenance had fallen.  He would see me coming and ask the question "What's your troub"? This question was used as an intro to get out your feelings and out of the dumps so you don't find yourself seeking a pity party.

As the truth is life will present situations where we can feel sorry for ourselves when our faith has been frazzled and fear intimidates us. Sometimes these moments make us want to cry out, ‘Lord I’ve had enough!’ or make your act like Marvin Gaye and just want to throw up both your hands and holla. We may even host a pity party in our heart, but not so surprisingly we are the only one who attends. Health issues, financial frustrations, relational conflict, spiritual disappointments and circumstances like a global pandemic out of our control all contribute to self-pity. Has our confidence been crushed? Have we gone from a spiritual high to a new low of anxiety? Have hope; there is a righteous road to relief.

Great men and women of faith are not immune to severe insecurities. Elijah is calling down fire from heaven one day, and soon after is huddled, frightened and depressed in a cold cave. Isolation feeds our insecurities. It is in our struggles that we need the prayers and support of God’s people. Maybe you have always been the one on the giving end, but now it’s your opportunity to receive. You bless others when you accept their sincere love.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

You can depend on God’s protection when you do God’s work. His resources are never reluctant to get involved with a humble heart. So lift your focus from yourself and your situation, and seek Him. He has the grace you need to get through tough times and people, our weakness is an opportunity for Christ’s power to rest on us.

Above all, make sure mental, emotional or physical fatigue have not flattened your faith. Get away and rest in the Lord. Take long walks and take in the wonders of Christ’s creation. You may need to play before you can pray. Perhaps you engage a Christ-centered counselor to help you process your angst and anguish. Lastly, volunteer in service for Jesus and your self-pity will transition into love for others. Thus we pray, ‘How can I love my way out of my lamentations?’

“Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints” (Philemon 1:7).

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Feast of love

 The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. Matthew 22:2 (NRSV)

What comes to mind when you think about the kingdom of heaven? If I’m honest, for most of my life I thought of disembodied angelic spirits floating on clouds, or a church service that lasted for eternity, neither of which sounded all that compelling! However, thankfully our Lord in Scripture gives us an image that we can all immediately relate to: heaven is like a feast.

In many ways, it is easy to get our heads around the idea of feasting. Yet in other ways, the heart of this passage is elusive and evasive. Why? Because we live in a culture of excessive consumption in which feasting is neither unique or special. As an American, I know this all too well. In fact, my country is famous around the world for our portions and “super-sized” culture! When you and I accept gluttony as our default rhythm, we will never truly know what it is like to feast.

In the ancient world, a feast was a rare occurrence, something longed for and aspired to as a beacon of joy and delight in the midst of a dark and difficult existence. It is this type of feast that Jesus speaks of, telling a story of a feast to end all feasts! And we must not miss the fact that this is a wedding feast, one in which we are reminded of the tender compassion and intimacy of God. As St. John Chrysostom said in a sermon on this passage, it is a marriage feast in order “for us to learn God’s tender care, His yearning towards us, the cheerfulness of the state of things, that there is nothing sorrowful there, nor sad, but all things are full of spiritual joy.” In short, a wedding feast at the table of the Lord is where all joy and happiness is to be found, and you and I would be crazy to miss it, right?

“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).Though our Lord sets a table before us, he does not force us to dine with him. Though he shines the light of his love into our hearts and lives, the sickness of sin can blind us to what is good and true and we dismiss the invitation to feast with the King, preferring instead to tend to our own interests and desires, assuming them to be far worthier of our time, attention, and devotion.

For love to truly be love, it cannot be coerced or forced upon us. It is a free response and we are free to respond or reject that love. Our king loves us and invites us to the wedding feast. Will you accept his invitation?

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Faith unsettled?

 After this he went out and saw a tax-collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up, left everything, and followed him. Luke 5:27-28 (NRSV)

Though we are still very much in the midst of a challenging pandemic season, over the past few weeks I’ve found myself reflecting upon the early months of this year, especially the first few weeks of the pandemic. I recall reading a headline or two about a virus that was rapidly spreading in China, yet seemed so distant and removed from my everyday life that I must confess I paid little to no attention to it. Yet within a matter of days our entire world was upended and we all found ourselves quarantined and sheltered in our homes, afraid for our own health and those we love. Added to this was the economic impact of this pandemic, with millions unemployed overnight and financial markets crumbling everywhere we turned.

While you may have experienced the exact details of these events differently, the remarkable thing about this pandemic is that I am fairly confident that, on the whole, you can immediately resonate with this sense of confusion and disruption. And so, here is the question for all of us to ponder today, especially with a bit of distance now between us and those early days of this pandemic: how did you respond when your world was threatened and even turned upside down?

One of the best questions I’ve been asked in recent years is, “What comes out when you are squeezed?” If I am being honest, when I was squeezed this spring, a desire for stability and self-protection came out. My thoughts quickly turned to my employment, my mortgage, and my children’s school and extracurricular activities. On and on the list could go. And with each of these threatened I found myself feeling helpless and unable to control the outcome of the situation. Was this response motivated out of love for my family and a desire to protect them? Of course. Yet in that response I also discovered a deeply rooted sense of self-protection and self-sufficiency. While these may be great American virtues, they are not inherently Christ-like.

When Jesus calls Levi, he upends his entire world. Though hated by his Jewish peers for working with and for the Romans, Levi would have had significant economic and vocational stability. When Jesus says, “Follow me,” He invites Levi out of his comfortable and predictable life and into the joyous adventure of following Him. How does Levi respond? “He got up, left everything, and followed Him.”

As a deliberative and calculating person, Levi’s response is unsettling to me. Yet increasingly I wonder if “unsettling” is exactly what our Lord is aiming for with each and every one of us? Jesus longs to unsettle us from our self-assured complacency and reliance upon things of this world for our sense of comfort, protection, and self-worth. What would it look like for us to hear and respond to this invitation, and like Levi, leave everything and follow the call of Jesus upon our lives?

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Love will win

 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith. 1 Peter 5:8-9

There are times in life when God’s love for us doesn’t seem real or obvious. It seems out of reach. But the devil is completely aware that you are Christ’s beloved. That’s the reason he wants to come after you and me. Christ is shouting His love for us from the Cross, through the wonder of creation, and through the pages of Scripture so that we’ll know without a doubt that He loves us madly.

• In John 15:9 Jesus announced the depth of His love for us when He said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” You are loved by Jesus as He is loved by His own Father!

• In Phil. 1:8 Paul noted that Christ’s love is deep when he told the Philippians, “I long for all of you with the affection of Christ.”

• In 1 John 4:10 the Bible says that God demonstrated His love by sending His son to die on the Cross for our sins. Do you know anyone else who would die for you? Now that’s real love!

Numerous other scriptures describe God’s love. Think about the significance of this for a minute. If a woman has an enemy she loathes and wants to destroy, would she attempt to ruin what her adversary didn’t value? Of course not.

To cut to the deepest part of her opponent’s soul, she would want to ruin what her rival cherished most. In God’s world, this is you. You top His list. God is in a battle for your affection because of His affection for you.

This battle is described in John 10:10—"The thief [Satan] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I [Jesus] have come that they [you and I] may have life, and have it to the full.” The semi- colon indicates that the battle is going on between Satan and Jesus. What’s all the fighting about?

You and me.

That’s right. We’re the object of the battle. We’re the prize. This means that we must choose who we’ll side with when Satan comes scratching at the door. Will we agree with the Adversary’s lies, or trust and follow the Lord?

A decision has to be made. Jesus never said, “I want to give you life, and Satan wants to destroy you—but you can remain neutral if you want.” Instead, he said as Joshua said, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). Because we’re the battle prize, we don’t have the privilege of standing on neutral ground. There really is no neutral ground in this matter.

I spoke with a young man who said he didn’t want to choose a side in the battle. “I don’t like thinking that I’m the object of a battle; I like the idea that I’m just on my own—I’m in control up here,” he said, pointing to his head with his index finger.

“Right,” I thought. “Why won’t he acknowledge his part in the battle?” Then it hit me: when we know that God cares for us, believing that we’re the prize in such a significant battle is a marvelous revelation of love. Imagine—God loves us enough to fight for us! We have extreme value to Him! However, if, like this man, we don’t want to submit to God’s authority, then admitting that we’re the battle prize is uncomfortable, because it means that we must be accountable for our actions, our attitudes, our lives.

In God’s economy we find not one independent human on earth; we all answer to someone—either God or Satan. Even though we may ignore the battle, it won’t go away. We can’t wish it away, and we can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist.

The question is—Whose side will we choose?

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Follow well

 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him. Matthew 4:19-20

Why did Jesus call fishermen to follow Him? Maybe because of their diligence and discipline, or their ability to connect with most people with a humble heart and modest lifestyle. Whatever the reasons, they left their respected and successful vocation to follow a man who would change the world for God’s glory. When Jesus called, they listened and obeyed His special invitation. With their call came a promise to show them how to love and serve people. Faithful followers leave their comfortable circumstances and cleave to Christ’s call to know Him, through the unknown.

“If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39, NLT).

To be a good follower of Jesus is to be coachable, adaptable and faithful. Coachable, so as not to forget there is always a truth to better understand when growing as a follower of Jesus and lover of people. Or learning to totally let go of control may be your next step to a closer walk with Christ. Adaptable disciples do not complain about sudden change, but instead look for where the Lord is at work and join Him. Transitions at work may require a new set of skills to be successful in the new normal. Your child may not be a child anymore, so he needs for you to give him more freedom to fail and learn from his mistakes. Trust Jesus by remaining faithful to first follow Him.

The end goal of following Jesus is helping others follow Jesus. Fishing for people is the picture of an attractive life full of love that invites others to be curious to know why you do what you do. Our fishing guide was very perceptive to change flies based on the weather conditions, season of the year and time of day. In the same way, our love that flows from following Jesus will take on different applications based on a person’s perspective and receptivity of heart. Love is the Lord’s lure to draw hungry hearts to Himself, so the Spirit can “set the hook” in their soul. Lift up Jesus with your loving life to show the Father’s love. Follow Jesus, so others can come to know him!

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35).

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Listen well

 You do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 

John 10:26-28

I confess, sometimes as a husband I drift into selective listening when my wife says things that I either don’t want to hear or my mind becomes deaf when I am preoccupied with a project or a problem. The consequences of my unwillingness or inability to listen well, or not at all, is at best being insensitive to my sweetheart and at worst being disrespectful and unloving. When she calls me out of my fog I’m wise to not lamely defend myself and say, “I was listening”, but to confess my folly in checking out while in her presence and ask her forgiveness. Listening requires attention!

Jesus illustrates very clearly that I am truly a sheep in His flock if I believe. If I believe in Him as my Shepherd who leads me, I listen to His voice and follow. All types of voices compete for mindshare, but it’s the voice of my Lord that deserves my undivided attention and discernment. Do I listen intently to His directives to beware straying into the danger areas of temptation and disobedience? Am I seeking my approval from the One whose acceptance matters the most? Jesus says, if I truly love Him I will listen to Him, learn from Him and follow Him wholehearted.

“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:21).

Are you in tune with the Lord? What is He saying that might be counter-cultural, but best for you and your family? Courage to say no or faith to say yes, both require the Holy Spirit’s leadership and Christ’s peace that surpasses all understanding. Don’t dismiss the example of other faithful followers in the flock of God. Look to those who have labored to listen, who know how to hear the voice of their sympathizing Shepherd, who feast with delight in green pastures of His provision and rest by still waters at peace, secure. The Lord’s voice becomes clearer in quietness.

Get quiet, focus and learn wisdom in the secret place of the soul, where only your Savior dwells. Your Father finds great pleasure in sharing His ways with the humble and upright of heart. Your integrity is an instrument of God’s will—He uses it to bless you so you can bless others. Whatever success you experience, offer it to Jesus as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. You are the most vulnerable to temptation when you are triumphant, so stay surrounded by those who will tell you the truth. Listen to their godly advice as you listen to the one who spoke in your mother’s womb!

“She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (Luke 10:39).




Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Rule of life

 All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:44-47

Do you live by a rule of life? If you’re honest, the only answer to that question is “yes.” However, whether it is an intentional rule of life is another question altogether. While “rule” may have certain negative connotations, at a basic level it simply points to an ordered way of life, a rhythm that we live by day in and day out. In this way, we all have rules of life that order our days. The “rule” of morning coffee. The “rule” of making lunch for your kids. The “rule” of Netflix in the evening.

We all live by a rule of life, yet the question to ponder today is this: what rules do you live by? Sometimes, these rules are seasonal, and by design should be. For example, necessities at work and commitments at home look different in various chapters and seasons of life. Yet these rules of life also change through outside forces that press upon us whether we want them to or not! If you’ve been betrayed by someone you love, that betrayal affects your rule of life overnight. If you are diagnosed with a severe allergy or medical condition, your rule of life as it relates to food and wellness also changes overnight. Interestingly, this pandemic season is in its own way an outside force that presses upon us and is disrupting our rule and rhythm of life in ways most of us have never seen before.

As a pastor, I talk daily to people about life’s joys and sorrows, and as I’ve processed over the past months the impact of the pandemic on people’s daily lives, the thing I’ve heard over and over again is the loss of all rhythm and people grieving the loss of what they knew before. However, as noted above, we never truly lose rhythm, we just begin living by different rules. We aren’t necessarily grieving the loss of rhythm, we’re grieving the loss of redemptive, healthy, and life-giving patterns of life.

Acts 2 paints a picture of the early Christian community thriving as they live a rhythm of life shaped by the life of Jesus and obedience to his commands. Yet as idyllic and compelling as this picture may be, we must not miss that it was also in a time of great persecution, suffering, and trial. These early followers of Jesus were saying, “How do we live and order our entire lives around the life of Christ even while we navigate the sorrows and sufferings of this world?” Their faith was not something they could easily take on and then put off. It was not shaken when life was hard or disrupted.

The faith of the early Christians not only survived but flourished, growing and expanding even in the face of pandemic and persecution because men, women, and children lived every aspect of their lives ordered and oriented to a different kingdom and a different king. Will you and I do the same?


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Disciplined Life

 But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite my statutes, or take my covenant on your lips? For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you. You make friends with a thief when you see one, and you keep company with adulterers. ‘You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your kin; you slander your own mother’s child. These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was one just like yourself. But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you. Psalm 50:16-21

For most of my life, especially my early life, to be disciplined meant to be punished. At least, to be fair to my parents, that’s how I viewed their discipline. Likely it was done in love and meant for my good, yet in the moment I simply saw it as punishment inflicted for my disobedience or failure to live by the rules of our household. As such, I never welcomed or wanted their discipline. It was to be avoided at all costs! In the words of the psalmist, I “hated discipline.”

In addition to the Psalms, the book of Proverbs speaks a good deal about discipline. Two verses in particular come to mind. “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them” (Proverbs 13:24). “A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother” (Proverbs 29:15). When read through my childish lens, these verses seem to only confirm my assumption that discipline = punishment. However, now living life on the other side of the discipline relationship as a parent of three young children, punishment in and of itself is never my intention or desire towards my kids.

The most loving thing I can do for my children is to direct them to the source of true love. Discipline, at its best, is an invitation into the life and light of God, not a punitive response to poor decisions. A disciplined life is one that has learned which ways lead to life and which lead to death. As it says elsewhere in Proverbs, “Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray” (Proverbs 10:17).

While this vision of discipline clearly applies to the parent/child relationship, its application is much broader. Wherever you find yourself in life today, you are invited by the Lord to live a disciplined life. In fact, a true sign of your love for God is your ability to receive his discipline with joy and to believe it is for your good. Furthermore, discipline is not simply something God does to us but is just as much a way of life that we, by faith, choose to walk in.

A disciplined life is a life ordered by and oriented toward the kingdom of God. It is an integrated life that considers, not only what we say, but how we live and what (or whom) we love. In fact, the psalmist is so bold as to say “the wicked” are those who have the words of God on their lips but the ways of the world on their hearts and hands. As St. John reminds us, “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling” (1 John 2:9-10).

Choose today to see the way of the Lord as light that leads you out of the darkness, and may he give us each the faith and courage to lead a disciplined life

Thursday, August 13, 2020

All about we

 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27


There is a larger context to life than just living for self. A self-focused life is chronically frustrated and unable to reach its full potential. Its demanding marginalizes wise counsel and only attracts insecure individuals. However, those who pray for what’s best for the whole, become whole. Everyone is honored in an environment where individual contributions are valued. “We not me” is the vocabulary of those who honor each other.

Every disciple is stronger when they are connected to other disciples. Isolation contributes to spiritual impotence, but community gives spiritual life and strength. Encouragement and accountability are exalted in relationships that serve what’s best for the group. A leader who serves the team sees other team members serve well. A man who serves his family experiences a family that serves each other. “We overcomes me” with unselfish service.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10

Our spiritual birth engrafted us as a member of Christ’s body. We cannot detach an appendage of the Lord’s any more than a member of our physical body can be disassociated from the other body parts. So, we pray for those around us who know Christ and we get to know each other. Oh the joy of being known and knowing others who love Him. Life that is truly life is lived in the margins with those submitted to Jesus.

Are you motivated first by “He”, second by “we” and lastly by “me”? If so, you are set up for relational fulfillment. The sequence for successful thinking is Him, them and you. “Me” will try to squeeze in and monopolize relationships, cannibalize conversations and hijack heaven’s agenda. Thus, by God’s grace, put to death the “me monster” and replace it with love for the Lord and people. “We not me” is the motto of mature disciples.

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Managing Change

Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. 

Daniel 2:20-21

Change can make us uncomfortable and uncertain about the future. If we ignore change, we lose our opportunity to influence the process. If we embrace change, we treat it as a friend who wants to help, instead of a foe who wants to hurt us. The reality of change requires a Spirit-led response, not a naive dismissal. Change can manage us or we can manage change. 

In the same way we are confronted with change we find that Daniel experienced the radical transition of moving into a new country with its unique culture and demands of godlike loyalty to its king. Daniel was a person of prayer and principle, thus he would not worship anyone but his one and only sovereign King, the Lord God Almighty. He did not cower under the pressure to compromise his convictions. He managed change by rejecting expectations of political and religious expediency. He challenged the status quo by offering dietary options that yielded better outcomes. Managing change requires courage.

“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).

What change do you face that requires great faith? You may feel your body has betrayed you. Ask the Lord for wisdom in how to leverage these new physical limitations for His purposes. Work associates may have transferred, laid off, resigned or terminated. You are left carrying the load of their job responsibilities. By God’s grace be a team player. Do your best and trust the Lord with the rest. Be a problem solver, not a chronic complainer. Perhaps a relationship has gone rogue and you feel alone. Use this season as an opportunity for solitude with your Savior.

Managing change takes a magnitude of wisdom and discernment from your Heavenly Father.

Almighty God is unchanging. He is a rock of reassurance and stability. Just as the weather can be sunny one day and cloudy another, so life has its dramatic changes, curves, and turns. Therefore, we are wise to let life’s drama draw us closer to Christ. Our dependable Jesus wants us to go deeper with Him. He is especially near when we face the pressure to compromise our beliefs for the accommodation of an unjust authority. Prayerfully, we manage change so it doesn’t manage us.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Omnipresent God

In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Psalm 18:6

One of the earliest Christian prayers affirms and reminds us that God is “everywhere present and filling all things.” I say reminds us because we are prone to forget this foundational truth. So often we act as though God is “out there” in the great beyond, distant and unknowable, and as a result uninterested and uninvolved in the intimate details of our lives or the evils that plague our societies. This deistic faith has worked its way into our collective psyche, often in subtle and unnoticeable ways, yet when left unchecked the results can be disastrous.

Even in the Psalms, like Psalm 18 for instance, we see glimpses of this view of God. When our hearts are heavy and we feel a deep need for the nearness of God, we believe that we must cry at the top of our lungs, send our prayers as high as we possibly can, hoping that in our strength and great effort they will shoot high enough and launch far enough to reach him in his distant, unapproachable glory. Yet what if that ancient prayer is actually true? What if God, the one who is merciful and loves humanity with an all-consuming love, is present in every place, every time, and intimately involved with the cares of the world and the longings and desires of our hearts?

The incarnation of Jesus forever transformed our view of God and how we relate to him. Rather than being the distant and unknowable God, God in Jesus draws near to you and me in our weakness and frailty in order to make us whole. The love of God finds us when we are unable to find him. It finds us when we are unable to find ourselves. Our ability to encounter this love is not based on how loudly we cry to heaven but is first and foundationally built upon God’s nearness and kindness to us.

In light of this truth, you and I face a daily invitation into a life of attentiveness. It is entirely possible to go through life without an awareness of the activity of God in our midst. In times of great uncertainty, political division, and social unrest, this temptation is only amplified. Our attention is demanded by countless forces, some worthy of our time and energy, many not. Yet the great tragedy in this present moment would be to give our time, our resources, and our attention away without first realizing how our lives are sustained and upheld by our Lord, moment by moment, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year. And so, focus your body, mind, and spirit today on the God who loves you, the one who is “everywhere present and filling all things.”

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Refuge

I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want. The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Psalm 34:4-10

Over the past week I like you most likely have read several articles on the state of the Coronavirus pandemic, each more or less saying the same thing: while case rates continue to grow exponentially around the world, more and more societies seem to be saying “enough is enough” and moving on with some version of "normal life". And while I undoubtedly understand the sentiment, and understand many of the arguments in favor of this opinion, I do want to point one thing out: weariness with the burden of a situation and the exhaustion it brings is not the same thing as relief or true refuge.

It seems that this weariness from the burden of sickness has left us as a society desperate for relief. Especially if you live an affluent middle-class existence, likely suffering (or the threat of suffering) at such a scale is something you’ve never encountered prior to this moment. Yet as the demonstrations and protests of recent weeks have reminded us all, there is a voice of the oppressed that has been marginalized and devalued for centuries, and if we have ears to listen, that voice can teach us all what it means to long for the salvation and refuge that God gives.

In this psalm, David finds himself in need of God’s intervention. He speaks with raw vulnerability, acknowledging that his heart is filled with fear and worry. And yet, in the midst of his doubts and confusion he wills himself to take a step forward in faith, moving towards the Lord in his time of great trouble.

Just because the Lord is a refuge and salvation of trouble does not mean it is automatic that we will enter into the safety He offers. While David speaks objective truth about the mercy and compassion of God, he also realizes he must actively enter into the rest of God and intentionally pursue places of peace. As he says in verse 10, “Those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.”

The abundant life with God requires that we not only believe that He is good but that we act upon that belief with faith and obedience. In times of weariness, sickness, and social unrest, the temptation is often to turn inward and hope the storm will soon pass. Instead, we must have the clarity of heart and mind to look into the chaos of the storm, and pass through it in peace as we look to the Lord for our deliverance.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Take full delight

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. Psalm 37:4-5

Three ways we can delight in the Lord:

Delight in His Perfections

“The one thing I ask of the Lord— the thing I seek most— is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple” (Psalm 27:4).

Delighting in a Holy (perfect) God means we can take comfort knowing His will for our lives is just what we need. We can trust His perfect love to lead us through dark valleys with His light of peace and to help us scale mountains of fear in the strength of His Spirit. His perfection also protects us from our imperfections. When our impulses compete with what’s best for us, His Spirit reminds us of a better way. A heart that delights in perfect love is a heart at peace.

Delight in His Precepts

“Praise the Lord! How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands” (Psalm 112:1).

Joy is the fruit of those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying His commands. His commands are not burdensome when we see obedience as an expression of our love for the Lord. Delighting in Him is to obey Him. Knowing and doing His Word invites intimacy with the Word, Jesus Christ. What a delight to grow in knowing and understanding the heart of our Savior, so our heart can align around His.  A heart that delights in following Christ’s commands is full of praise and joy in worship and praise.

Delight in His Provision

“How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them” (Psalm 111:2).

Every day God’s provision is an opportunity to celebrate His faithfulness. When we ponder on His provision, salvation, health, food, clothing, shelter, friends, family, our soul erupts in thanksgiving. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound is our Lord’s greatest gift. Grace to get us to heaven and grace to get heaven to us. The cross, the empty tomb, what great deeds the Lord has done. Forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, finances and favor to love well, all reasons to be grateful. When we delight in God’s good gifts, He trusts us with His gifts.  

“O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today” (Nehemiah 1:11).


Sunday, June 28, 2020

Hear ye, hear ye

But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22

When you have opportunity read all of 1 Samuel 15 as it is in many ways a case-study in what not to do. Early in the chapter we are alerted to the fact that something has gone terribly wrong. As God says in verse 10, “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.” This verse shows us two things. First, the failure of man. Saul, like leaders who came before him and countless others after him, failed to do what he said he would do and turned away from the way of the Lord. 

Second, the compassion of God. In using the language of “regret”, we see the compassionate heart of God and the way in which He is grieved and pained when He sees His children use their freedom to walk a path that is leading to self-destruction. This was His posture towards Saul, and it is His posture towards us every time we turn away from Him and His word.

This grief and sorrow is also rooted in Saul’s failure to join God in His will of healing and restoring His creation, as when we get saved we are to join God in the ministry of reconciliation. As it says in verse 18, “The Lord sent you on a mission.” God in His kindness longs to see us participating in the growth of His Kingdom on earth. Yet this invitation requires of us a faithful response, and if we are not intentional and proactive in tending to our spiritual lives we will, like Saul, fail to live out the plan and will of God.

How, then, do we learn from Saul’s mistakes and begin to truly watch over the health of our own souls? This, I believe is where verse 22 is so important for us. The answer is not in doing more and more stuff for God. No, the delight of the Lord is first and foremost rooted in our ability to hear and obey his voice. And for us to learn to listen, we must ensure that every part of our life is open to the guiding hand of the Lord, including our intellect, our emotions, and our bodies.

in the book "Emotionally Healthy Spirituality" Pete Scazzero reminds us that, “Ignoring any aspect of who we are as men and women made in God’s image always results in destructive consequences-in our relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves.” This is the challenge before us today, to take time and look for the signs of emotional unhealth in our own lives, the places where we have been given a mission by God but our own inattentiveness blinds us to our failures and renders us ineffective, empty, and worn out. As we do this, we learn to listen afresh and allow the Lord to lead us from places of immaturity and brokenness into true freedom and peace.

Friday, June 26, 2020

In the present

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

Now more than ever we need to understand how to live in the present moment. I know you might say, "Which one? The present moment of protecting myself against the threat of Covid-19? The present moment of waiting and wondering if today will bring a stop to the racial and civil unrest in our country? or the present moment of watching a total disregard for life?
Yesterday I let the news continue to roll and I became more and more morose. Agitated, nervous, distracted, conflicted, and unproductive, caught up in the past and the future.... and then the day was lost.
Today is not much better. Even spending time lifting at the gym, meditating on my favorite scriptures and reading books don't seem to fully lift my spirit, because of the constant flood of news, and concerns of my family, friends and members I am responsible for as a husband, son, and pastor. 
Even with that I find I must simply obey the instruction of Philippians 4:6 which says to not be anxious about anything (viruses, civil unrest, racial tensions, disregard for lives), but to present these concerns of the day to God in prayer, with a grateful heart to the One who knows all things, and then the peace that we will never fully understand will come to us. I know that passage to be true for I claimed it during the darkest days of my life. I will never understand it (like the scripture says) but it is true.
It's the waiting that is so hard. I can say the verse over and over, list my prayer requests before God, but then I must trust, watch, and wait. But this is when we need to be on guard, for this is where we lose it and become fearful of all the unknowns. Betty Skinner, in her book "The Hidden Life", says this about waiting:
"Waiting is one of the most difficult pieces of a deep, inner spiritual journey. We want to outrun God, but our growth depends on consciously letting go of our fear and allowing our circumstances the space to teach us what God intends....As long as we wait in fear and anxiety, we will not experience growth."
She continues, "This way of waiting requires we understand that the spiritual life can only be lived in the present moment. Living in the future produces anxiety, worry, and fear. Living in the past produces guilt, bitterness and regret. Many of us never get out of the past or the future and miss the gift that is the present moment."
So today, what will it be?
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8).

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Provider

Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food? Job 38:41

 

A passages of scripture I really love is found in Deuteronomy 8:2-5; 10-11 in which God tells His people, the Israelites:

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.”

The story of the Israelites during their 40 years in the wilderness is invaluable because it reminds us that God disciplines us for our own good by allowing us to experience what feels like lack, or He presses us to the edge of our need so we are dependent on him for help and provision. In this, we discover His love, His faithfulness, and that He is our true Source.  Simply put God has a way of reminding us that He is our provider.

This passage is also a reminder that without struggle we can become entitled, ungrateful and forgetful about the origin of our provision. We may somehow think that our goodness has earned us blessings, our hard work has granted us favor, and we can become complacent about our trust in the Lord. But when trials precede blessings, we’re more likely to recognize the Provider of our blessing. We become more grateful for the blessings we’ve received, and we no longer think we earned them. We know they came from God’s hand; we fool ourselves if we think they have come from our own.

The humility that comes from being forced to cry out for the Lord is a good thing, even though we’d really rather avoid it. Even though it’s often been uncomfortable, in my own life, the times when I have been forced to rely on His care have been some of the most spiritually fruitful times of my journey in Christ, and they have also been the times when I have grown the most in character and faith.

No matter what material possessions we attain, the wisdom and humility that come from learning to trust and rely on God are priceless. Are you currently going through a time during which you have to trust God for your provision? Just as He was with the Israelites, He will be faithful to you. He will care for you. This is not the end of your story.

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Friday, June 19, 2020

Trusting when it hurts

Trust God in the Midst of Pain

There is a myth in Christianity that I often hear people say:

 “God will not put more on me than I can bear.”

 

Let me challenge this nice church made cliche. In 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote that we are “burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life” (1:8). Sounds like more than we can bear doesn't it?

 

If ever there was a painful and hurtful situation, Paul was in it. Paul hadn’t done anything to cause it. In fact, he had followed God’s leading straight into a place of despair. If you share similar feelings today, you are in good company.

 

God sometimes allows situations to be painful for His greater purpose. He wants you to learn the power that comes from living a life that depends on Him. If you can learn and apply that truth throughout all of your life, you will be able to accomplish all that God has for you to do. 

 

In order to take Paul deeper in faith, God put him in a situation that his resume, abilities and connections could not change. Why? So that Paul would learn to trust God at a deeper level. No amount of money in your bank account can buy your way out of it. You can’t soothe your way out of it by drinking, eating or taking drugs. You can’t educate your way out of it, or adrenaline-rush your way out of it. Because when each of those momentary pleasures have subsided, you’ll still find it there gnawing at you like an unwelcome nudge in your back over and over again.

 

Keep in mind that it is not the trial, the offense nor the pain itself that takes you to your point of growth. The trial without the accompanying trust doesn’t take you to the point of spiritual maturity that God was trying to take you. It is only when you trust in God in the midst of the pain and align your heart, actions and thoughts under His Word and truths that you discover the deeper meaning behind it.

 

Just like a caterpillar must struggle to exit a cocoon once it has transformed into a butterfly, spiritual maturity and growth comes as a result of persevering within pain. It is there where our spiritual muscles become strong enough to live the life of faith that God has called each one of us to as believers in Jesus Christ