Sunday, February 26, 2017

Nothing Wasted, 11: Addiction Problems

“Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron” (Psalm 107:15‭-‬16, NIV).

Addictions come in all shapes and sizes, but the one common denominator is the addiction to self-desires and self-will. People have become addicted to doing what they want to do regardless of what they know is right or wrong. Yes, there are those who struggle in ways that are beyond the struggle of others, but everyone who comes to that fateful “door” of “do not enter,” has the same choice in choosing between right and wrong. Once that door is opened, all bets are off. THIS was the story of the Israelites. They knew what to do and chose not to do it. They had encountered great success with God, but they had experienced great pleasure without God. They became addicted to their own will. They became blind in the moments of their pleasure what consequences their choices would render. They walked through doors that appeared as entrances into a domain of even greater pleasure, only to discover them as the gateway into a prison of their own consequence. 

“Let them give thanks…for He breaks down gates…and cuts through bars…” There had come a time when the weight of the chains caused them to open their eyes and see the reality of their existence, and they cried out to God. God heard the cry and the life and opportunity that had seemed to be all but wasted, was now an opportunity for thanksgiving and praise. What they had been through was now the testimony of their break-through. What had been their stain had now become their story. What the enemy tried to use to keep them bound and imprisoned, was now their open door into the lives of others to tell the story of God’s grace, His love, and His power. Their repentance and recognition of their own state gave God the access He had always wanted into their prison to break the chains that bound them from living the destiny for which He had created them.

I have never struggled with addictions to drugs and alcohol, or most of the other “big ones” you hear discussed. But I have struggled with an addiction to my own pride, my own secrets, and my own way of doing things. I have sat in the prison of shame and regret, feeling bound and restricted by an unseen force, not knowing how to change how I feel. But one thing I have discovered, is that when I continue to stay humble before God and cry out to Him, I am rising above everything I have allowed to weigh me down. There really IS power in the Name of Jesus…TO BREAK EVERY CHAIN. Every chain that is broken is another “Nothing Wasted” opportunity in my life to shout out what God has done in delivering me from all that was holding or has held me back. My addictions to self, sin, and shame are broken. I will not sit and meditate on past mistakes because there is nothing I can do to change them. I will call out to Him who is listening, who is able, and who is never changing! I will give thanks for how He has broken chains in the past, because I know that He is the unchanging God. If He broke them THEN, He can still break them NOW. I will live to tell others who struggle that there is a God who lives and who can break every chain that would hold them back from the life of destiny and deliverance He has designed them to live. What has been my stain will be my story. I am not ashamed and will live the testimony of Jesus’ work in me.

Father God, THANK YOU for hearing my cry. Even when I didn’t realize I was praying, You heard the cry of my life. You heard my desperate plea for something to change. You knew what I deserved, but desired to give me the grace that was needed to see the focus of my life changed. I thank You, Lord, for the change You have spoken and performed in me. I know that I am nothing without You and can DO NOTHING  apart from You. Lord Jesus, help me to recognize Your presence in the everyday of my life. Help me to NOT become distracted by the things that I cannot change. Help me not to look back and dwell upon that which is past. Open my eyes to the opportunities that you have preordained for me to share the story of the sounds of chains breaking so that others will know that there is POWER in YOUR NAME to BREAK EVERY CHAIN in their lives, too. I thank You for all of these things in the NAME that is ABOVE EVERY other name. JESUS. Amen.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Nothing Wasted, 10: Hopelesness Problems.

How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you” (Psalm 139:17‭-‬18, NIV).

David’s father never thought he counted when the prophet Samuel asked to see “all” his sons as he was preparing to anoint one of them for something special of God. David’s brother did not thing very well or very much of him when he came out to the battlefield bringing food and news from home during Israel’s conflict with the Philistines. King saw didn’t see much or think much of David when he was brought before him with a determination to what everyone else was intimidated to consider in facing the giant who dared to defy the God and the armies of the God of Israel. The giant, Goliath, certainly had no positive thoughts in regards to David, but perceived nothing more than a little boy coming to face a man on the battlefield, meeting him with insults and mockery. 

The list is even longer of those whose thoughts of David were bent more towards his demise and his destruction, underestimating his value, and dismissing him as useless. Yet, David had learned in the loneliness of the pasture that the God of all grace and hope was with him, and had always been with him. There would be many in his life that would speak against him, think ill against him, and even attempt evil against him. Any of these could work to produce a sense or feeling of hopelessness in the heart and the life of David. David, however, in a moment of “nothing wasted,” chose to see himself through the eyes of God. “How precious to me are your thoughts, God!”

It wouldn’t be too hard for me to allow my overactive imagination to go the way of imagining what others might think of me, about me, or towards me. If I allow my mind to go to such a place where balance doesn’t exist, there will be a greater potential for hopelessness to take over my focus on Jesus and HIM as the hope of my life. The fact is, there will always be people whose thoughts of me are not aligned with the thoughts that God has for me. That is ok. I do not live my life with the thoughts of others, good or bad, as my motivation or my standard. Thoughts and opinions about me, what I do, how I am, what I dream, how I respond to life, will change, because I change, and because people change. I will keep my eyes on Jesus who never changes. I will keep my mind focused on the hope-filled thoughts He has for my life, because they, too, will never change. 

I will stay reminded of all the many times David was overlooked and underestimated by the thoughts of actions of those in his life, yet remained focused on the One who called him forward. My hope is not for sale to those whose thoughts are not for my good. It is God’s thoughts for me that will contribute to me living in the hope of God’s destiny for my life. When faced with discouragement or hopelessness in regards to the thoughts of others, I will keep my thoughts on HIM who is thinking HOPE over me.

Lord God, I thank You for the HOPE I have in You. Your thoughts of my life and the purpose you have for my life are so great and numerous I could never live enough days to count them. Forgive me for all the times I have wasted dwelling on, becoming worried in, reacting to, and losing hope over thoughts, whether projected or perceived by others in my life. I will focus on You, for it is YOU who have created me. It is YOU who have called me. I thank You for the strength I have in Your hope. Continue to remind me when I am in situations where I am tempted to wander off on paths led by my imagination. Call me back so that I may return to the path of Your thoughts for my destiny. I thank You Jesus that in You, I have the mind of Christ. I thank You that in You, I can take captive every thought and imagination that would try to lift itself up over the knowledge of who You are, and who I am in YOU. The hope I have in this life is because of You. Help me to live out each moment of everyday remembering that hope and living out my response to that hope. I ask and pray all of this in YOUR NAME, JESUS. Amen.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

How Love Leads.

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you" (Psalm 32:8).

The key to leadership is not the loudest voice or the best idea. It is a heart that is focused beyond a person and beyond a moment. Many influential leaders have often quoted the phrase, “You teach what you know. You reproduce who you are.” Leadership is the influence within you to see a change around you become more than just an ideal, but real. 

David’s heart was to see care and to see people grow in the potential of the influence that had been divinely placed within them. He was a product of someone seeing in him what no one seemed to see or cared to see. He was overlooked by his size as a boy and his status as a shepherd. God, through the prophet Samuel, saw something different. Samuel saw a heart that was teachable with a potential that would be unstoppable. David saw something very similar in the lives of 400 outcasts that infamously became known as “David’s Mighty Men.” They were the rejects of society and yet were instrumental in the conquests of Israel’s greatest king before Jesus. 

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.” David cared about the subject of his writing. He saw the potential, but he also saw the problem. The solution to the problem was guidance and leadership. Someone needed to be willing to speak like, speak truth, and help show the way. David couldn’t expect someone else to know what he knew unless he was willing to reproduce that knowledge in them. So often, we become frustrated with others for their performance, or their lack of performance, in an area, but we fail to see the opportunity for the disappointment. Take time to teach what you know and reproduce who you are in the lives of those around you who are desperate for leadership. It’s easy to complain, but God has called you to counsel. It is quicker to disparage, but God has called you to disciple. 

Think for a moment. Who are the people in your life that are products of God’s divine placement? Where are they going? What lack do you see in their life that God has given you insight from experiences in YOUR life? Be willing to share it. Be open to being a voice and an ear in their life. Be willing to speak, but also to listen. Talking is good, but when words are spoken without really hearing the heart of someone’s reality, those words are either misfired or misplaced. Be humble. Let them see the imperfect humanity that lives in the same need of the grace of God. 

“I will counsel with my loving eye on you.” David chose a loving eye rather than a sharp tongue or an iron fist. In a world where people are quick to feel judged, be focused on letting them know the life-changing power of God’s love in you and through you. Yes, truth still needs to be shared, but truth without love is not truth at all. Love is defined as patient, kind, never rude or selfish, forgiving, hopeful, persevering, and never failing. Determine to speak into people’s lives with this heart. “…with my loving eye on you…” Look for the best, not just expecting the worst. Speak as though you see the best, just as in Christ, God saw the best in you. Romans 5:8 reminds us that “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were the worst, His love saw the best. Live to reproduce in others what Christ desires to reproduce in you.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

These Things.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you" (Philippians 4:8-9).

Imprisoned when he wrote this line in a letter to the Philippian church, Paul’s message couldn’t be any clearer. He was a man who had experienced much, but refused to allow his experience to change his reality. Prison wasn’t his reality. Jesus was his reality. Prison was only his situation. He had been beaten and bruised with his personal freedoms violated and removed. After having served God faithfully and without complaint for many years, he was being treated and presented as one of the deviants of society. If anyone had had a justifiable cause to become bitter, angry, or even resentful, Paul would have been a prime candidate.

“Think on these things…” Paul wrote that each individual, especially those who have surrendered their souls, their minds, hearts, wills, and emotions, to Jesus, had a choice in HOW they faced or responded to what they experienced. As a man who had become more than familiar with the pains of injustice still chose to think on things that were pure, true, noble, and the like. He wasn’t about to allow a soldier or a sacrilegious Pharisee distract his focus on all God was or had been in his life. Jesus was still on the throne and his thoughts were top evidence to that truth. If he had allowed it, he could have easily complained, protested, stirred up much emotion, and called for a revolution. He had gripes to air, bones to pick, and scores to settle, and yet he encouraged every reader that would ever set their eyes on this letter to consider the greater truth. 

You have a choice in everything you face. Even when all freedom is taken away, how you respond in your mind will always be a choice that only you can make. Paul continued, even in the midst of his own persecution, to discover any and every aspect of his life that would bring honor to God, rather than focusing on the negative. What you focus on will always be reproduced in your attitude. Paul didn’t ignore what he was facing, he only chose not to allow it the power to control how he faced it. He chose to honor Jesus and to trust God in every situation. He showed that by how he responded. 

Trusting God in every circumstance will be evident in your life by how you respond when things go against the grain of your expectations. Are you easily riled up? Do you have to fix everything that seems, at least in your mind, to be wrong? Are you quicker to jump to assumptions and conclusions than you are to pray, release it, and see the best in those around you? Is it easier for your to point out all that is wrong rather than to see anything that is right? If the answer is yes, then your definition of trusting God is less than compatible with the example shown by the imprisoned Paul. 

When faced today with any situation that would try to wrangle your focus onto something that serve as the battle cry to your emotional responses, choose to set your mind fully on Jesus. Let His word of truth be guide that leads you. If Paul could find the positive in the worst of situations around him, isn’t it possible to see the best in what you’re facing? Never allow the enemy to take away a peace and a joy that God has given you, especially with those people He has divinely placed in your life. There will be things that you cannot change, but don’t let them change you. Let God use those things to bring about a change in you that reflects His love, His grace, and His presence. Think on THESE things.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

‘Be It’ Before ‘Do It.’

"For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel" (Ezra 7:10).

Parenting has taught me a lot about life! Many of the lessons I have learned have been through at least as many mistakes as success, if not more! I remember one day in particular when I had an overwhelming encounter of conviction with the Holy Spirit. One of the areas we have always battled as parents in insuring that our kids have kept their rooms clean. “Is your room clean?” would always be the question when they wanted to run off and do something of their own choosing. “Yes, Daddy!” would come a pretty rapid reply. “Is it “Daddy clean?” was my response to insure that a rush job wasn’t being used to achieve the “technical” requirement of my question. “Daddy clean.” Hmmm. Well, that got me one day. By “Daddy clean,” they understood that to mean ‘thorough, complete, and almost perfect.’ The Holy Spirit spoke to me during one of those “clean your room’ exchanges. “Is YOUR room ‘Daddy clean?’” I was stunned and stopped in my own tracks. I had been expecting something I was not emulating. What credibility do I have as a dad to parent what I’m not producing? Needless to say, that day began a renewed discipline in my own life. No matter how busy I am or think I am, picking up after myself, and contributing to my own room being ‘Daddy clean’ became a priority as I modeled to my children the importance of BEING before DOING.

Ezra was a priest and a scribe, a man God had used to live and to tell the story of redemption and restoration. The temple was to be rebuilt in a city that had been destroyed because its inhabitants had been more focused on DOING the people of God rather than BEING the people of God. They had DONE the actions without having BECOME intimately connected with the God in whom they actions had been dedicated. Their actions were a result of OBLIGATION, not TRANSFORMATION. Ezra refused to allow history to repeat itself through his life. He “devoted himself” to the BEING of the work of God more than the DOING of the work of God. His desire was for everything he would DO to be an overflow out of all that he would BE.

“…to the study…” Ezra wanted to know God. He didn’t want to rely on what he had heard, but he wanted to hear it for himself. He wanted to hear the same voice of the same God who had tried to speak to so many with deaf ears. He wanted to learn from the mistakes of his relatives before him. He wanted to know the God that others had chosen not to know. You will never BE who you were intended to be if you do not KNOW the God who always was, is and will be. He created you. He formed you and crafted an original purpose for your life. Study. Get to know Him for who He is. Go to church and be a part of community, but never rely on a once or twice encounter with a preacher or a teacher to be the extent to which you are exposed to the reality of God. Let God be the start and the greatest part of your everyday life. Who you are will become much more clear to you when you discover more and more who He has always been.

“…and observance of the Law of the LORD…” Knowing would never be enough for Ezra. He knew the great failures of the past had to do with knowing what to do and what was right, but neglecting the application. Without application, information will never lead to transformation. Ezra didn’t just study it, he practiced it. He allowed what he studied to transform who he was. He meditated on it. He let it have more than just headspace, but heart space. God desires to move and work in your life well beyond the shout of an ‘amen.’ Do it. Allow Him to transform the being so that you live that transformation through the doing. Do what you say you believe. If DOING it doesn’t follow the SAYING it, it will be unbelievable that you are BEING it. Let the credibility of your integrity be evident in how you apply what you say you know.

“…and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” What Ezra studied and practiced, he also taught. What he required had been exemplified and modeled in his own life. His greatest and most believable lessons were taught out of the pages of his own examples. He taught what he lived, because he lived what he believed. Anyone might have argued Ezra’s theology, but they could never effectively argue his “life-ology.” He learned it. He lived it. He let it be known through his own life. When you have been changed by the power of God and who He is, you want others to know the same. If you aren’t passionate about seeing others changed by the power of God, the question becomes “have you really been changed?” Has YOUR being been changed? 

The most effecting DOING will always be a result of a transformation in the BEING. Start there. Ask God to change you from the inside-out. When God grabs hold of a surrendered being, what He does is more than unbelievable. It is undeniable. 

When Pride Rises.

"Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel" (1 Chronicles 21:1).

Trusting God can feel like a pretty easy thing to do when we are at a place of desperation and know that we incapable of doing anything without Him. But what happens when we start feeling good about ourselves, overly comfortable with our own abilities, and start listening more to the compliments and accolades of those around us than to the voice of God? David was a man who had learned to listen to God. He had cultivated an incredible intimacy with Him while in the pasture overseeing the sheep. Think about it. Sheep didn’t talk to him. They didn’t tell him how good he was. They didn’t ask him about anything. They didn’t verbalize any care for him at all. He had to find his security and purpose in something greater than what he did. He found it in God. He knew who he was and what he could because he had grown close to God in the exile of the pasture. But THAT is where he discovered that he was never alone.

After years of struggle and then years of success, David’s desperation for the Lord began to recede and be replaced by his security in himself and his own accomplishments. He began to look at what he had done more than what God had done in his search for confidence and assurance. He dispatched his general to gather a census of all the fighting men. David’s action was not the sin, but rather the motivation of the action. “Satan rose up…and incited David…” Satan had observed the potential pride in David’s life, the insecurities and buried inadequacies that had not been fully surrendered to the Lord. He exploited the hidden secrets within David’s heart and lured him into making a decision that would replace God’s protection with his pride.

There is not a person alive who has not struggled in some way with the potential destructive patterns of unfettered pride. As God is watching to protect you, the eyes of the enemy are also on you with the intention to exploit you. He is looking for some area of insecurity, inadequacy, or inferiority that has not been identified and surrendered. He is looking to breathe upon those embers of self-pride so that your actions will be cause you to step outside of the shadow of the Almighty and into the open exposure of your own self-centeredness. Recognize where that potential lies in you and refuse to allow Satan and his minions to enjoy the satisfaction of tripping you up and those who follow you. Surrender those areas to God and allow Him to work His humility in and through your life. 

Humility is one of the greatest evidences that God is at work in your life. When someone sees pride, they see you. When they see humility, they see Jesus. Pride never dies easy and when it does, its many nasty relatives come out of the woodwork to come and try to take its place. Be on your guard. Once you think you’ve licked it and it’s over, you might be close to being licked yourself. Stay on guard and keep your eyes on Jesus in all you do and in every response. Let humility be what redirects the focus off of you and onto Jesus.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Hope is Your Miracle.

"Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD" (Psalm 31:24).

The power of hope is very much a phenomena of unexplainable proportion. It is what can drive someone who is at the end of their rope to go one more mile. The absence of it will drive another to throw in the towel. Hope is the miracle that gives those who depend on it strength & courage when the odds appear stacked against them. David was a shepherd boy turned mighty warrior turned famous king who was keenly aware of the life-giving power and miraculous intervention of hope. 

Hope kept David believing in the calling and anointing that God had placed on his life. One can only imagine how difficult it must have been for one so young to believe he would actually be king when so many people seemed against him. His family didn't seem to be in his corner. The king had tried to kill him. Mutiny was attempted in him several times once he became king. His kids tried to have him killed. Yet, hope was what kept him alive and moving forward even when he was trapped in a cave of darkness, isolation, and many questions. Hope was the miracle that reminded him that his purpose was never in how he felt, what he saw, or what others thought. His hope was in the One who had spoken purpose over his life and over his future. That purpose gave him hope. That hope gave him life. That life gave him legacy.

"Be strong..." The prophet Isaiah would later pen the words that have become the anthem of hope and the support that has held many a person who has travelled and travailed through the "impossible" seasons of life. "Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings as eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." When strength seems to fail you, hope is there to lift you. Be strong. You are not done. You are not finished. Satan wants you to believe that there is a vacuum of hope and that what you are going through is no longer worth it. If he can blind you to the hope, he can blind you to the purpose. Be strong. Remember who the Lord God is. He will never leave you. He will never forsake you. What you are feeling right now may be very, very real, but there is nothing in this world that is greater in size, power, or purpose than God. He is your strength. His purpose is your strength. The hope you have in Him is your strength. You will mount up on wings as the eagles, whose feathers are ready to meet the winds that can destroy, yet use them to climb high. Be strong and climb high.

"...and take heart..." In other words, take courage. Hope and courage go hand in hand. Hope is the "what you have," while courage is "how you will keep it." The phrase "take heart," which translates to courage, literally means to hold onto or to continue. It is to be firmly established in such a way that no matter what comes your way, you are not letting go of what God has given you to hold. In fact, He has given Himself through Jesus. Your courage comes from not only you holding onto Him, but from the awareness that He is actually holding onto you. Satan wants you to believe that you are doing all of the work of holding on. If you believe that, then it is easy to feel the fatigue setting in when the weariness of holing on begins to overwhelm. But when you begin to see that your holding on isn't why your staying up, because it is HE who is holding onto you, strength from within begins to rise up. That is the power of hope. You CAN do this. You can stay even longer. You can go even farther. You may feel as though you can't hold on any more, but you are not the reason you are still up. Rest in the arms that are holding you. 

"...all you who hope in the Lord." None of this is possible merely because you can muster up the inner-will to keep going. That might take you a bit farther, but you will find the same result. True hope comes from the One who was there before the beginning and will continue after the "end." The One who is the author of all life is also the keeper and giver of all hope. The word "hope" is a word that means "to trust in, to wait on, and to expect." It's not a "wishful thinking" concept, but one that is built on something very real. If you are believer in the love of God, in which Jesus came to not only die for your sins, but to BE your hope for all that you will ever face, then you can KNOW that you will make it beyond where you are right now. Your hope in Him is your trust in Him. It means you are willing to put the entire weight of who you are, what you're going through, and who you care about in His hands and at His feet. It means that you are ready to wait as long as it takes to see Him do what He has promised to do, even if it looks much different from what you had imagined or thought. Your love for Him is bigger than your control for things to be done in a way that meets your own feelings or desires. It means that you have a faithful expectation that is unshakeable to believe even when you don't see or feel. When your focus is on the LORD, the One who always was, is, and will be, He WILL BE the hope that gives you strength and sustains your courage.