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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Speak Out

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect"
(1 Peter 3:15).

Peter explains clearly that there would be days when blending in and denying faith in Christ would be more convenient and certainly more comfortable.  And, he of all people would know, as it was a road he had traveled.  But, he emphasizes the importance of being ready, able, and willing to share the faith that we have in Christ...and the reason WHY we have the faith at all.

In this passage, we are called to "preparedness" - to be fit, active, and ready at all times; to "confidence" - the anticipation of something better, a hope and an expectant faith; and "humility" - not allowing our emotions to count against us, but with gentleness, and a holy fear of the Lord, trusting Him above all for every answer we need.

It's definitely more intimidating than it sounds.  Of course, most of us reading this would have no problem saying, "yes...I believe in Jesus.  He's changed my life.  I'm saved!"  But to then take that and translate it into defending why I believe, or even presenting to someone why I believe, completely rips me out of anything that remotely resembles "comfort", not to mention "easy."  With that being said, we should always purpose in our hearts to be ready - ready to give an answer for the reason we live; to share what Christ has done in our lives and why we have a hope that doesn't make sense.

What God has done in my own life makes me think different, act different, talk different.  If that's true, why?  I know that He has forgiven me, changed me, restored me, and is using me for His glory.  I realize that God has done too much in me for me to keep to myself.  I have to share it, speak it, and shout it!

Think about this words of this song.  Allow it to become the cry of your heart:
When I think about the Lord and how He saved me, how He raised me
How He filled me with the Holy Ghost, how He healed me to the uttermost
When I think about the Lord, how He picked me up and turned me around
How He set my feet on solid ground

It makes me want to SHOUT! Hallelujah!  Thank You Jesus!
Lord, You're worthy of all of the glory, all of the honor, and all of the praise!
It makes me want to SHOUT!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Insults, Criticism & Lies

"When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats.  Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him Who judges justly"
(1 Peter 2:23).

Growing up, I was usually one of the smaller guys in my class.  I remember starting the 8th grade being 4'8" and weighing 77 pounds.  And, to add "insult to injury," my head has always been the same size.  It's just taken 30 something years to grow into it!  I was the model by which "bobble head dolls" were fashioned!  I'm still waiting on royalty checks.  I was a constant source for school yard fodder.  I was an easy target, and definitely didn't have the physical stature to defend myself.  But make no mistake, I was fully aware of what I did have.  I had a quick wit and a sharp tongue and wouldn't think twice about ripping quickly through my unseeing attacker.

There's not usually much lag time in between someone hearing an insult and returning one in like manner.  That has become an instinctive response and has become the expected norm in our culture.  People feel the need to defend themselves and to avenge themselves.  Jesus' example, however, presents a very different angle in dealing with insults, criticism, and lies.  He did not defend Himself.  He knew who He was.  He was confident in who He was.  He knew He was already defended because He had entrusted Himself to the One who judges with righteousness, not immaturity, malice, or bias.

There are and will be many days when you will encounter opportunities to give back what has been given to you.  You might even feel validated and justified in your own eyes to do so...vindicated, even, after doing so.  But, remember these two key truths:
1) God does not hold us to the same standard as we seem to hold others.  He's more gracious than we are.  He's more forgiving than we are.  He's less offended than we are.
2) That was not the example of Jesus.  He didn't retaliate.  He maintained His focus on God.  He knew that, in the end, God would be His defender.  You can't have a better defender than that!
As you begin, or even continue, your day today, there may be instances when someone insults you, criticizes something you've done or said, or perhaps they may even lie in regards to you.  Your first inclination may be to react in like manner.  It's a "quick fix" and it seems justified.  Ultimately, you're just wanting to know that someone feels pain like you do.  Remember today, that someone does know how you feel.  Jesus.  He's been there.  Commit today to not retaliate, not to give back the insult, but to stay entrusted to the One you have surrendered.  And, surrender to Him fully and with confidence that He will be your defender and your avenger.  The battle is not, never has been, and never will be yours.  It's the Lord's!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Perfect Plan

"He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake"
(1 Peter 1:20).

When my children were younger and in diapers, anywhere we would go we would always bring one of the most important things to a parent of infants and toddlers.  The diaper bag.  In that diaper bag were the necessities: diapers, wipes, creams, bottles, toys, and a change of clothes...sometimes two.  Why?  We were prepared for great catastrophic events just in case they decided to grace us with their presents.  Many times they did, and a few times we got caught without having put the plan into place and practice.  The plan was designed for the "changes" that were inevitable in the lives of our children.  Having that bag meant great peace, not just for mom and dad, but for the living treasures we call "our kids."

Jesus was no accident.  He was not random.  He was not on an emergency last minute call.  Sin has never taken God by surprise.  He's always been one step ahead.  Because God is all-knowing, He knew that sin would be mistakenly received as truth.  He was prepared to send Jesus.  he has always known our need for Jesus.  But, it was never revealed until we were open to see it and to receive it.

What confidence that should give us in this great God that we serve!  He's always known of our need we have of an all-powerful, all-knowing, always God in our lives.  He has loved us and longs to open our eyes to the reality of that love.  We, now, must choose everyday to live in applying that knowledge.  This knowledge will lead how we trust Him, how we obey Him, how we live each day for His glory.

He is my Lord.  He is ruler of all things, and in Him I can truly trust.  For even before the creation of the world, He already knew of the plan that would be necessary for me to be restored into blessed relationship with Him.  He's never been caught off guard.  His plan was in place.  The enemy is again defeated.  What an awesome God I serve!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Clean Out

"I gave orders to purify the rooms, and then I put back into them the equipment of the house of God, with the grain offerings and the incense" (Nehemiah 13:9).

This was Nehemiah's response to the discovery that an enemy had been occupying sacred space.  Upon that revelation, he had this enemy who had been seeking his destruction expelled, and then began the process of reconciling and restoring that space back to how God had intended it.  The same is true in our lives spiritually.  There is an enemy that seeks to halt the purpose of God in our lives.  Whatever that vice is, it must be recognized, repented of, removed, and begin to move towards to restoration.

We cannot afford to aid and abed the enemy of our God in any way, form, or fashion.  We cannot compromise or justify any deviation from the path God has called us.  And when we do, we must be quick to recognize whatever struggle or sin that abides, then remove it without question.  We cannot afford to justify, make excuses for, or to continue to coexist with anything that is contrary to the purity of Who God is.  Then, we must repent, reconcile with God, and be restored by God.  Our lives is the sacred space that God longs to indwell.  He is a passionate God and will not share that space with another.

How's your relationship with God?  Is there a space in your life that has been compromised?  Are there areas within you that have gone unchecked?  Have you begun to justify attitudes, make excuses for actions?  Don't allow what God has created to be sacred, you, to become soiled.  Allow Him to redeem it.  Recognize those areas.  Repent before Him.  Remove them by expelling all links to that which holds you back.  And, move towards the restoration God desires for your life.  Don't wait.  Don't settle for less than freedom.  It's time to clean out.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It Comes Down to One

"When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the walls" (Nehemiah 12:30).

Before they focused on the walls, symbolically how they were seen by people, the gates, which was their access to what was beyond, or even their own people, those who would follow them, they first focused on their own relationship with God.  When that became their priority, then they would have both the integrity and the right passion to proceed.  No matter how many people they would lead into relationship with God, it all came down to one: their own relationship with God.

Is the same not true in our own lives as well?  How can we lead, when we're not first following?  Our first priority relationship is with Jesus - to purify ourselves before Him to give Him the whole of all we are going through.  THEN, we are able to truly receive all He has for us in our call to be Godly influencers.

Everything we are depends upon this truth.  It all comes down to one, one relationship with God - our own.  We must remain so passionately and intimately close to Jesus; always measuring ourselves to His standard, allowing Him to purge us and prepare us for who He's created and called us to be.  THEN, we can lead.  But first, we will follow.  We will never be able to lead until we learn to follow.  We must follow Jesus.  He is the author and perfector of our faith and all that He has purposed, designed, and destined for our lives.  Choose Him today, to follow Him, to surrender to Him, to live in obedience to Him.

Maybe you'd like to pray with me today a prayer that I'm constantly praying myself: Lord Jesus, I surrender to You.  This day is yours.  Live through me.  I pray that every word, attitude, thought and deed would honor you.  I choose to follow You.  Amen.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Road Less Traveled

"Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem.  The rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten of them to live in Jerusalem, the Holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns" (Nehemiah 11:1).

Growing up in a time where religious television has experienced a boom much like the Gold rush in the 1800's and the Oil boom in the last century, tuning into a television channel that was broadcasting a preacher on TV didn't take much luck at all.  There have been many that have preached the Word of God in an applicable, challenging, and convicting way.  But there have also been those that have preached a gospel that says that if I just believe and obey Christ, that I will never experience sickness, pain, death, financial hardship, relational difficulties and so much more.  Many believed.  Many have been disappointed.  God blesses as He desires in a timing that is perfect...at least in His eyes.  Our lives, many times, takes on a journey down a road that is not popular, but no less God's calling.  It's a road less traveled, but it is one that we don't travel alone.  God is with us.

Jerusalem was a city still being built.  There was a lot of hard and demanding work still to be done, and it would take great amounts of blood, sweat, and tears to see it through to completion.  Through the casting of lots, what would seem all by chance, one tenth of the people were selected to do the work as per God's calling.  They were selected by the Spirit of God to do what seemed more dangerous, less preferred, and would require a level of commitment that would, at times, seem daunting and overwhelming.

The other nine out of ten went back to their own homes.  The "one" had to forge ahead with no home, no comfort, and not much to work with.  All they had was their own devotion to the vision that the leaders had for the rebuilding of their homeland, and a passion to see God's purpose fulfilled.

We are called to live this out so many days in a great diversity of ways.  We're not always going to have the easy road with all the comforts, convenience, and confidence that others sometimes "seem" to have.  We may not know how it's all going to turn out.  We may be very uncertain, insecure, and greatly confused.  But, we do have the opportunity to allow God to speak into our lives, and reveal His vision, purpose, plan, and promise to us.  We must depend upon Him and develop a passion to see God's purpose fulfilled in our lives, our families, our jobs, and every other purpose He's destined us for.

Today, choose to go and follow Him.  He might call you to go down a road that is less than preferred.  Go.  He's with you.  The promise is just a bit further down the journey.  Don't give up.  Don't stop.  Be the one out of ten.  God has called you.  Trust Him to provide for you everything you need.  The road less traveled is often the one that holds the greatest promise in store for your life!

Friday, April 22, 2011

You are the Temple

"...we will not neglect the house of our God" (Nehemiah 10:39).

Driving through any large city, and sometimes some small ones, your eyes might catch the sight of a beautiful edifice that you discover is a temple of religious worship.  Some of them can really be incredible to behold.  So much care is taken to maintain the look and the appearance of such a place.  To honor the temple is to honor the god who is the object of worship in that temple.  To allow it to even have the appearance of being not taken care of would reflect poorly, not only upon their worship of their god, but upon their god as well.

This had been Israel's problem.  They had been so focused on thier own wants, desires, and passions, that they neglected to honor God and His temple.  Here, they were making a new and renewed committment, both individually and as a anation to not repeat that same mistake.  How similar it is in contemporary times.  Although God no longer dwells in temples contructed by human hands, He lives you and I.  We are His temple.  But, so much focus is still spent on pursuing our own aspirations that we fail to focus on worshipping Him with the whole of our lives.

You are a temple.  You are the house of God.  You can't afford to neglect that temple.  You have to make a priority of keeping it strong physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Each day, I, must reexamine my own heart and check again on how I am taking care of that temple.  Am I honoring Go by how I am maintaining this temple?  Am I spending time with Him, allowing Him to invest in the strength of this temple?  Israel neglected the House of God.  We are the house of God.  The more we remember that, the more challenged we are to live our whole lives as a song of worship before Him.  He is our God, the God of this temple, the object of our worship.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Unstoppable Love

"But in Your great mercy, You did not put an end to them or abandon them, for You are a gracious and merciful God" (Nehemiah 9:31).

Throughout its history as a people, Israel had followed God, grown comfortable, stagnate, sinful, and followed their own way.  Inevitably, life spun out of control, they would repent, return to the LORD, and He would restore them.  Of course you'd think the process would then reach its conclusion.  Instead, the circumstance became a cycle, so God allowed them to be taken over.  But even then and there, His love for them hadn't changed.  His grace and mercy were still intact.  He hadn't allowed for their complete destruction, because He was faithful to His promise.  His love for them was unstoppable.

Even during the times when we know our thoughts, the words that escape the barriers of our lips, and the actions that attempt to define us for the moment are not honoring to God, His love for us is unstoppable.  He may not approve, but He has not abandoned.

Do you realize the greatness and the vastness of His unstoppable love?  His love for you is greater than your disobedience, than your struggle, than your failures, than your sin!  He sees in you a heart that He has created, a heart that He desires not just to change, but to exchange.  His love for you is truly unstoppable.  Allow His love to overtake you, to overwhelm you, and to redefine you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Celebrate Again!

"The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them.  From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this.  And their joy was very great" (Nehemiah 8:17).

Have you ever felt that you were in a season of life where you saw your greatest celebrations in the past rather than in the present or the future?  Have you experienced a time where it seemed as though your experiences were limited to pain, discouragement, loneliness, worry, and the like?  You're not alone.

The Jewish exiles, exiled due to their grave disobedience to the LORD, had now been led back to praising, worshiping, and hearing the reading and teaching of the Word of God.  Hearing again the statutes and precepts of God, they were reminded of how far they had fallen.  This, along with their hearts of brokenness and longing to be reconciled with God, led them to repentance and great mourning.  Nehemiah, however, instructed them to rejoice!

In response to his instruction, and in accordance to what the Law prescribed during this season of the Feast of Tabernacles, they constructed shelters.  These shelters were a part of this great feast celebrating God's divine deliverance of the Jews from Egyptian bondage.  Instead of being discouraged about where they were now, they began to rejoice of what God ha done before, in faith, believing He would do it again.  They had NOT celebrated like this!

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to get discouraged about how things can be?  What's not so easy, but necessary, is to remember what God has done in our lives: how's He has delivered us; how He has come through for us; and the fact that He is faithful, unchanging, unending, and unstoppable.  He is our joy, ant that joy is the strength that keeps us walking the steps that He has already paved the way for!

Remember this today: This is the day that God has made!  Choose to rejoice and be glad in it!  Celebrate Who God is, what He has done, and that He is still right there with you.  That's reason enough to celebrate again!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Guided by Integrity

"I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do" (Nehemiah 7:2).

Nehemiah understood the importance of delegation to good, strong leaders.  his criteria was simple, yet profound: integrity and the fear of the Lord.  This is the type of person who wouldn't push their own agenda.  They would honor God by honoring their leader.

As a pastor of a growing church, I am blessed.  I am blessed by the people of I serve.  I am also immensely blessed by the people I serve with.  God has given me the great opportunity to have hired two of the greatest pastors in the world to serve along side of me.  As a leader, I have learned (and to continue to) that I cannot do everything.  I can't serve everyone individually.  I can't come up with all the greatest ideas.  I can't meet with everyone that has a great idea.  I can't be at every place at the same time.  Yet, I have this awesome responsibility to lead, and the expectation to lead well.  How can I possibly do that?  I have to have people that I trust.

The two pastors I have that work for me are not the smartest, their not the most skilled, and they may not be recognized beyond our community.  But they are the greatest! Why?  I trust them.  They have integrity.  They fear, honor, and worship God.  They honor God by honoring me.  They don't squander the opportunity they have by trying to push what they want in spite of where we, as a team, are headed.  I trust them.

Are you trustworthy?  Are there people that speak of you as I have spoken of people that I trust?  If not, why not?  What have you done, or are you doing, that would enforce the claim to you being someone who is a person of great integrity?  Are you a person that honors God in all that you do?  Do you honor those that are in leadership above you?  How you honor them is a reflection on how you honor God?  Are you guided by your ambition, logic, your own agenda, or are you guided by an integrity that is grounded in a passionate relationship with Christ?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Strengthen My Hands

"They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, 'There hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.'  But I prayed, 'Now strengthen my hands'"
(Nehemiah 6:9).

I have a confession to make.  I've been there.  I've been at the end.  I've been tired.  Felt abused.  Used up.  Empty.  Ready to trade God's call for...anything else.  Pushed to my limits.  Beyond my limits.  Fed up.  Discouraged.  But, something inside of me, deep inside of me, began to war against this nagging, rapidly moving cancerous desire to quit. My discouragement quickly turned to desperation.  Not to quit, but to hang on.  I began to pray and ask God for the strength to continue to engage in the journey He had called me on.  Though it was one that, at the time, I could not understand, I trusted Him.  Though I had asked many times for release, He had chosen to leave me where I was.  If He wasn't to release me, then I was desperate for His strength.  If I was to hang on, then I needed Him to strengthen my hands.  He did.

Nehemiah modeled the greatest method of dealing with personal and negative attacks.  He prayed.  There were those voices that consistently spoke negative and discouraging words, seeking to get inside his head, to battle against his mind, with a goal of self-defeat.  They were seeking to intimidate so that Nehemiah would lose focus and fail to achieve the goal of completing this wall that had long since been destroyed.  Rather than give into discouragement, Nehemiah prayed.  He prayed that God would strengthen his hands.  To strengthen is to seize hold of, to encourage, and to establish.  He was saying, "OK God.  It's getting tough over here.  I need some encouragement.  My mind wants to quit, but my heart is hanging on.  Take my hands and don't let go.  I'm refusing to let go of you."

How tempting it is, and easy, for us to return an insult with an insult to return sarcasm with sarcasm, and to play our own cards in the game of negativity.  But, like Nehemiah, in order to stay on the course God has charted for us, in spite of the attacks, the negative words, the discouraging thoughts, and the overwhelming fatigue that fights to set in, we must pray.  Pray that God holds on to us tightly, establishes our grip, and encourages us as we continue to hold on to Him.

Don't give up.  Hold on to the dream He's given you.  Hang on tight to the promises He's spoken over you.  Don't let go, even though at times it seems that you have nothing left within you to hold on with.  As your strength comes to an end, tap into the reservoir of His unending strength.  He will not let go of you.  Remember the words of the apostle Paul.  "His strength is made perfect in my weakness.  When I am weak, then I am strong."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

More Than Just A Job

"Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall.  All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land"
(Nehemiah 5:16).

Many times in leadership, the leader uses their authority for personal gain, whether it's for self-esteem, power, financial or otherwise.  In the movie, The Proposal, Margaret Tate, a New York City editor of a well known publishing company, is a wheeler and dealer.  At the same time, she is rude, self-serving, manipulative, and greatly disliked.  People fear her but they do not respect her.  She works over her people, but not with them.  She likes power and doesn't mind letting people know about it.

Nehemiah, too, had attained position.  The king had appointed him as governor over the area they were now rebuilding.  But rather than taken advantage of his people, he chose to lead, not by edict, but by example.  He was devoted to the work of rebuilding the wall.  It was not just a job.  It was a passion.  It was a deep-seeded conviction.  He fastened himself to see this city that been destroyed, revived.  He worked alongside his men together to see this come to reality.  He wasn't worried that they would see him as in charge.  He was confident in position, but he was motivated by his passion.

Personally, I was not called to a job.  I was called to a purpose, and one that is so much bigger than me.  What I do is not for financial riches, self-fulfillment, or for status in anyone's eyes.  I am devoted to the vision that God has called me to.  My purpose in life is to lead by example and to honor God in all that I do.

Are you happy in what you do?  Maybe you're not excited about going to work each day.  Perhaps you can't stand your boss, your position, or your pay.  OR, maybe you're one of those who has a great paying job and you have position that entitles you to a certain amount of authority.  Either way, understand this.  What you do does NOT define who you are.  You are a servant of Almighty God.  In all that you do, do as unto HIM, to glorify HIM, as a reflection of HIM, and as worship to HIM.  What you do is more than just a job.  It's an opportunity to shine the light of Jesus.  It's a season in which He is shaping you in spite of the weaknesses He sees in you.  Allow what you do to be a worship song to the Lord, not because you enjoy it, but because you are committed to honoring Him wherever you are and in whatever you do.

Discouraged

"Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, "The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall" (Nehemiah 4:10).

Have you ever been so excited about something, throw yourself into it, and then find yourself so overwhelmed at how far away you really are to achieving the goal you had set?  We all know what happens next.  Discouragement sneaks in when no one else is looking and begins to take over where ambition had once been.

With Nehemiah and his team, discouragement was beginning to set in.  Discouragement has a unique and strategic way of crippling a dream.  It causes you to see what you once saw as an opportunity, now as an obstacle, and not just one.  It causes you to be more aware, not of what you've done, but of all that is still left to do.  And you begin to realize how tired you, and the stream-lined focus you once had has begun its rapid descent from the hopeful and limitless skies into the depths of the valleys of despair.

Everyone faces discouragement.  It happens.  It's not the discouragement that becomes the greater issue, but how we deal with it.  When we face discouragement, we have to remember that there is an enemy that feels threatened by what we're about and Who's kingdom we're working to advance, and what that means to our enemy.  We may get discouraged, but we are not defeated.

You must believe that you are more than an overcomer.  You are victorious in Jesus Christ, when you have chosen to allow Him to be the master and ruler over your life.  You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.  You don't have stay discouraged.  You are called.  You are His.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It Takes A Team

"The men of Jericho built the adjoining section, and Zaccur son of Imri built next to them"
(Nehemiah 3:2).

To do anything of great and lasting value, it must be bigger than you!  To do so will take more than just you and what you have to offer.  In the book of Nehemiah, the focus is on building this wall that symbolizes the strength, the security, the pride of what once was a great city.  Now, they face great opposition.  The work is vast, and can be largely overwhelming.

This verse in Nehemiah is one in a line of many that reflect one main idea: everyone was doing their part to accomplish what needed to be done.  No one was overwhelmed with the idea of the "entire" project.  They each had a section to do, and it was connected to someone else's work.  Everyone was connected.  In order for there to be a great and lasting success, each person had to realize that there part mattered.

Face it.  It's true.  Sometimes we can get so overwhelmed with the big picture.  The expectations that we can put on ourselves to try and figure everything out at one time can be quite debilitating.  Instead, we need to break it down, divide it up, and delegate it out.  Life is about relationships.  It's about being a part of a team, and realizing that a team is more than one person.  We need to see that when everyone has their own part and they know it's connected to each other AND the bigger picture.  That is when success becomes possible.

You're not in this alone.  If you feel alone, check your heart and see if you have sold yourself short, that your part doesn't matter.  It's not important what others think.  It hurts when you feel undervalued, but you must realize that you are important, and that God has a place for you.  But, knowing that is only part of the process.  You have to stand up and step out and take your place on that wall.  Be a part of a team.  If people aren't reaching out to you, start reaching out to them.  In time, you will begin to see what God can do, not just through an individual, but through individuals that realize the power of being connected to a team.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lined Up Against You

"When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about his, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites" (Nehemiah 2:10).

In my late twenties, I was asked to do something that I was for sure I wasn't able to do, ready to do, or experienced to do.  I was asked to leave being a youth pastor, which was a job I loved, to apply at a church for the position of senior pastor.  I was only 29!  I had never done this before.  I prayed, and believed that this was what God had called my family to do.  I soon realized, as the process was drawing to an end, that not everyone was excited as I had grown to be.  On the day the congregation voted by an overwhelming majority on whether to extend to me an offer, more than a dozen people stood up and walked out.  Several more left in the months to follow.  As discouraging as that initially was, I began to realize that my purpose was bigger than the opinions of other people.  God had called me.  I had answered.  I also began to realize how much greater it is to focus on those that are with you than those that are against you.

Nehemiah had been given permission to go and rebuild the broken walls of a destroyed and desolate people.  But, there were dissenters who were greatly disturbed and distressed at seeing this people of God being restored.  When God is doing something to restore His people to the purpose and calling they were created for, the enemy is threatened.  He wants people to believe that they can never rise from the ashes.  But Nehemiah knew that God was the great rebuilder, refresher, redeemer, and restorerer!

Don't get discouraged when you face opposition, or when it feels as though people are lining up against you.  Not everyone will get excited about what God wants to do through you.  The enemy will use people, good people, even "church people" to try to discourage you or to deter you.  Stay focused on HE who has called you and rejoice that the power of God in your live has made the devil a bit uneasy!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Promise.

"'...but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name'" (Nehemiah 1:9).

One night, at least an hour or so of putting all three of my children down to bed, I sat down in my recliner, picked up guitar, and began to play.  No sooner had I started, my four year old little princess comes out of her room and into the living room, speaking very matter-of-factly, trying hard to be respectful, while holding back her tears.  "Daddy," she began, "...you said you would play your guitar for us tonight and you forgot.  You promised."  She was right.  I had.  The hour didn't lend itself to fulfilling that, but my daughter had reminded me of a promise that I had made, and I can assure you the next night I wasted no time in fulfilling that promise!

Nehemiah was like the child, running to his Father, reminding Him of a promise.  Israel had been exiled, and Nehemiah, who now had been elevated to service for the king, was moved to brokenness over the condition of exiles who had returned and the condition of the walls and the city.  He went to God in prayer.  He reminded God what He'd said to Moses.  What an awesome reminder of the love of God.  Nehemiah wasn't giving up hope on his people or his nation.  His heart broke and it motivated him to cry out to God, and to remind Him of the promises He had spoken.  Nehemiah's heart was not to manipulate or to use God's words against Him, but, in faith, calming and proclaiming those promises on behalf of a people for whom he was crying out.

Personally, I think of the years of praying for my dad and for one of my sisters, praying Scriptural promises back to God, believing that He would restore the relationship between my dad and me, and between my sister and Himself.  My heart was broken and I was determined not to give up.  And, I did get to see both restorations take place.  But, I am challenged to continue to cry out to God for what continues to break His heart - and to not give up, but to pray with real faith that truly expects to see Him answer.

Don't give up.  God hasn't given up on you.  He is true to His Word, though His timing supersedes our own.  What He said He will do, He will do.  And, when He doesn't come through the way you hoped or thought He would, He will show you, in His timing, that His way is far better than anything you could have ever come up with on your own.  He loves you and is with you no matter what.  Why?  Because...a promise is a promise. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Loyal to the End

"'Saul said to his armor-bearer, "Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.'  But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it" (1 Samuel 31:4).

Saul, the first king of Israel was in the fight of his life.  It was a fight that he already knew he would lose, but here it was.  His sons were dead.  Any hope that he had clung to that his sons would succeed him as king was now gone.  He had been critically wounded and his insecurities had risen one last time as he pleaded with his armor-bearer to kill him. The armor-bearer refused.

An armor bearer's greatest skill was that of loyalty.  He was the closest to the king in battle and could easily take advantage of him when his back was turned.  The king trusted the armor-bearer with his life, to always protect him and to the best of his ability, to preserve his life.  What the king was asking was contrary to who the armor-bearer was to be.  Even in the end, the armor bearer was loyal, refusing to take advantage of an insecure, already defeated king.  No matter what graces he might have found in the eyes of David, the anointed successor, he knew he could not betray his king.

Loyalty has become a decreasing character trait in our society.  People tend to look after themselves more than looking out after others.  God has called us to not only submit to those that are in leadership above us, but gift them with our trust, our respect, and our loyalty.  Our bosses, our teachers, our parents, our spouses, should never have to worry about looking over their backs to see if we're going to take advantage of a situation.  Even when they're wrong, our loyalty is to be with the one that God has put in leadership over us.  The Bible gives clear direction and instruction on how to confront those who are living outside of Godly principles, but we are never to take that as blank check to be disrespectful, disloyal, or divisive.

How would you rank your own loyalty?  Would those that you are loyal to, or should be loyal to, agree?  Do they feel as though they can trust you?  Have you communicated to them that you can be trusted, that you "have their back," that even when you disagree, they can still count on you?  Are you an armor-bearer that would never take advantage, even when it might appear to advance you?  And, when you are in an environment of a non-God honoring leader, or one who is given to insecurity, or one that you have a hard time respecting, don't underestimate the power of prayer.  The greatest act of loyalty, is to lift them up in prayer.  For God still has the power to soften the heart of a 'king.'

Sunday, April 10, 2011

In This Together

"But David said, 'No, my brothers!  Don't be selfish with what the LORD has given us.  He has kept us safe and helped us defeat the enemy.  Do you think anyone will listen to you when you talk like this?  We share and share alike - those who go to battle and those who guard the equipment'" (1 Samuel 30:23-24).

This had been quite a few days for David and his men.  Their camp had been raided, their valuables confiscated, and their wives and children kidnapped. As David led the men, with some help from a captive of the raiding party, some of his men, who were exhausted, remained behind to guard the equipment.  The campaign was a success.  David and his men fought valiantly and victoriously from dusk until evening the next day and, with few exceptions, allowed no one to get away and took no prisoners.  They recovered all that was taken, including their wives and children.  Some of his men complained and moved that they share all that was recovered only with those that were there fighting, excluding those that stayed behind.  David denied such a request.

It's so easy to be selfish.  Selfishness is on our blood - it's in our nature.  It's so easy to compare ourselves with other people and to expect that we deserve more than they.  Be aware of yourself the next time you go to an all-you-can-eat buffet and head over to the dessert section.  It's amazing how we usually end up looking for the biggest piece, not even thinking about anyone else, including those standing behind us in the line.

Selfishness is contrary to the love and generosity that Jesus modeled.  We were put here with others...to help others and to be helped by others.  We were not added to the population of the world in order to fight it out for "top dog"status.  We are in this together.  Some of us may do things that get more attention, but we can never discount the value of other people.  We are in this together.  It's not about titles, positions, quantity, and popularity.  It's about how we can most like Jesus.

How is your heart?  How is your ability to share?  Forgive?  Encourage?  Love?  Come along side?  When it all comes to down to it, not one of us, by ourselves, are really that important.  It takes us all.  Think about it.  The president of the United States, considered the most powerful, important person in our nation, and to many, in the world.  But no president of the United States exists without the millions of others that stood and stand with him.  To discount them would mean...well...unemployment!  The point - we need each other.  Allow God to show you how to let generosity, ridiculous and hilarious generosity be one of the noticeable trademarks of your life!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hidden Picture

"As the Philistine rulers were leading out their troops in groups of one hundred and one thousand, David and his men marched at the rear with King Achish.  But the Philistine commanders demanded, 'What are these Hebrews doing here?'" (1 Samuel 29:2-3).

When I was in elementary school, we used to be challenged with pictures like the one you see here.  At first glance, you see a woman dressed in a coat walking past a large tree in what appears to be a park.  But as you look close, really close, you begin to see what really is there.  You see a face.  Once you see it, it's hard to miss.  No matter how many times you like at the picture, that face is still there.  Even though it's "hidden" and it's a part of so much else that's going on, it still remains.

So it was with David.  In trying to take matters into his own hands, he had "crossed over" to the other side.  Even there, he was still seen as a threat.  Though he had pledged his allegiance, it was still evident as to who he was.  He was David, the anointed one of God to be the next king of Israel.  He was the one who had cut the head off of their infamous champion and led the Hebrews to defeat them.  There was still a call and anointing on his life.  Though he had lost some of his faith in that calling, it was still valid and was recognized by the Philistines.  David could run from the situation, but he was still saturated in the calling that God had placed upon his life.

If there is an anointing on our lives, God is faithful to pursue us.  We are a threat to the enemy.  There are times when we get discouraged and don't recognize that calling anymore.  We see the obstacles, we feel the pain, we feel lost in the confusion, but the enemy still sees us as a threat.  Even when we feel that we've lost it all, as long as we are hanging on to Jesus, we still have a power that is within us that is greater than anything that can stand against us!

In 2009 I had the awesome privilege of meeting an amazing man, Nick Vujicic.  He's giant of a man, though you may miss it with your eyes.  He is a man without any legs and without any arms, yet he is one who has refused to allow discouragement to redefine who God has already called him to be.  No longer a "hidden picture," he makes it clear who he is and who God has called him to be.  In spite of his physical limitations, his heart's cry is unmistakably heard: "I want to be the guy who finds the gates of hell, stands there boldly, and redirects traffic!"

Don't let discouragement, depression, fear, your current situation or state of mind try to redefine who God has already called you to be.  Inside each of us is a hidden picture.  There's what WE see, and there's what God sees.  Allow Him to bring out in you what He sees rather than you focusing on what you see.  Don't run from the calling God has for you.  Your life in His hands will go further, be more blessed, and march more victoriously than in your own hands.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dealing with Anger


"And don't sin by letting anger control you.  Don't let the sun go down while you are still angry..."
(Ephesians 4:26).


Anger is something that we all face.  It has the ability to motivate us to stand up and do the right things.  However, it can also, if not controlled, infect relationships, destroy confidence, break hearts, and be the source of great regret.  So, what are some practical steps that we can take to properly deal with our anger, not allowing it to take us to a place where sin gets the upper hand?

Purpose Your Perception - We see what we want to see. So many conflicts are a result of people fighting for the other person to see what they see, rather than trying to see what the other one sees. It's a matter of pride vs. humility, and when pride wins, everyone loses.

Tame Your Temper - It's true that some people know just how to push your buttons, but you have the choice what is released when those buttons are pushed. When anger is control, God is not.

Monitor Your Mouth - It's easy to respond out of our hurt, our disappointment, our bitterness and our rage. However, when respond out of our hurt, it's hard for anyone to really hear. Words can bless and words can curse, but they can't do both and honor God at the same time.

This IS an impossible task...on our own. But God gives strength, He gives grace, and He forgives when blow it and need to start again!

The below video is funny, and a great example of one who has allowed pain, bitterness, rage, irritation, and disappointment to infect their ability to rationally deal with conflict.  As your considering how to properly deal with your own anger, enjoy a laugh!



Thursday, April 7, 2011

Consequences

"But Samuel replied, "Why ask me if the LORD has left you and become your enemy?  The LORD has done just as He said He would.  He has taken the kingdom from you and given it to your rival David"
(1 Samuel 28:16-17).

OK.  This may seem silly, but perhaps you'll catch something powerfully important.  One of the things that my wife and I have greatly enjoyed in our lives is our microwave oven.  YES!  It cooks, it warms, it defrosts, it softens.  We have had a microwave oven our entire marriage.  As a matter of fact, we received three microwaves for our wedding.  "How ridiculous," we thought.  Almost a decade later, we're second guessing just how ridiculous that thought was...or wasn't.  Our microwave has waved all of its micros "goodbye!"  It's gone.  How we miss something we never really thought about, something we thought would always be there, something we took for granted.  Sometimes it's true that you don't truly know how much you value something until it's not there.

Saul was dealing with a similar concept on a much grander scale.  It's not that God had left him, but that the decisions and choices that Saul had made had caused a great chasm between he and God.  Saul was equating God's "absence" with the consequences of his choices to disobey.  God didn't remove His presence (for God is omnipresent - He's always everywhere at all times), but he did remove His favor.  Choices render consequences, whether good or bad.  Saul allowed this consequence to drive him into a further panic, engaging a path that would continue him on a journey of separation from the favor of God.

We must realize that every choice will result in a consequence - good OR bad.  These consequences don't just affect our own lives, but those that we live with, live around, lead, or have influence.  It's vital that we are quick to hear the voice of God even when it seems He speaks in silence.  We must allow the silence to lead us into repentance, and into a greater closeness and intimacy with His presence and His favor.

Have you or are you now questioning the favor of God?  Does He seem so far away?  It's not that He has left.  He's still right here, but your ability to sense His presence has waned.  Talk to Him.  Turn over every obstacle, burden, sin, struggle, or whatever else that's in your life that you know is contrary to His absolute best.  He loves you.  He longs to restore you to even greater realms of His favor.  His favor, too, is a consequence.  It's a consequence of an open and repentant heart and a surrendered life.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Feeling Trapped

"But David kept thinking to himself, "Someday Saul is going to get me.  The best thing for me to do is escape to the Philistines.  Then Saul will stop hunting for me, and I will finally be safe" (1 Samuel 27:1).

Really?  Doing the wrong thing will get us the right results in the eyes of God?  Is God really so inept that He would honor us doing something that goes against His word, His character, His promises?  But isn't it true that sometimes we feel so trapped between what we know should be and what really is?  If we're not careful, that's when the enemy comes in and begins to work our natural mind against the mind of Christ that's within us to be consider other "alternatives" to how things are going to work out.

How current this mindset is in our own spiritual culture!  People thing that they have to help God accomplish His plan for their lives by going outside of His path.  David saw no other way to escape his enemy but for escaping to another enemy.  David ran to the Philistines; the same Philistines that God had given him victory over.  David had defeated their giant, cut off his head, devastated their national morale, and now they were the ones he was running to.  God doesn't calls us to backward to where He's already called us out of.

The only solution to feeling trapped is to TRUST.  Trust God to do what God said He would do.  Trust God to deliver you.  Trust God that He's big enough, and that He doesn't need the help of someone who got themselves into the situation they need HIS help to get out of!  Trust God that HE's got a plan.  Trust Him that He loves you more than you possibly know, and that He's going to take care of you!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Valuing People

"Now may the LORD value my life, even as I have valued yours today.  My He rescue me from all my troubles" (1 Samuel 26:24).

"Breathe.  Just breathe."  This is what we teach and do our best to lead by example to our children when we begin to get stressed out, upset, or angry.  When one of them gets hurt by the other, whether physically or emotionally, there first inclination is to "get 'em back!"  Our goal is to teach them to value each other so much, that they honor each other as ones that were created in the image of God.  It's OK to get upset, hurt feelings, and even angry, but it's how we respond to that that gets us in trouble.  It's a lot easier to go off and hurt someone in retaliation when we forget that they, too, are valued of God.  We must live to value people as God values them.

This was the heart of David.  He had motive and opportunity, again, to take revenge on an insecure king that seemed to stop at nothing to destroy David.  He, again, chose to honor God by valuing the life of HIS king.  David prayed that God would value his own life on the merit of his valuing the life of someone else, especially one who was out to attack David.  So many times, people live life for themselves, avenging themselves, defending themselves, and looking out for themselves, and they don't value others in the way they want to be valued.

How do we value people?  Not just in our personal lives, but people in general?  Our aim should be to live in a way that we can stand with confidence to ask God value our lives based upon the standard of how we have valued, or how we value other people.

What is your "natural reaction" when you feel threatened or attacked?  Do you want to 'get em'?  Before the waves of anger drown you in bitterness and then, perhaps, regret, stop.  Take a breath.  Realize that they, too, are created by God.  Just because they don't seem to value themselves doesn't let you off the hook of valuing them.  You don't have to be a doormat.  Ask God, today, how to respond in a way that honors him and acknowledges the value that He has placed within them.  It's not easy, but trust Him to give you the strength.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Boiling Point: One More Time

This is the audio for the message preached at CrossWay Church yesterday morning.  What a powerful morning!! I pray that you are blessed by this recording!

Live Secure

"Even when you are chased by those who seek your life, you are safe in the care of the LORD your God, secure in His treasure pouch!  But the lives of your enemies will disappear like stones shot from a sling!" (1 Samuel 25:29).

David's life to this point was testimonial evidence to God's sovereignty.  David was anointed to be king.  Nothing and nobody would be able to stand in the way.  Not a bear or a lion, not an overgrown bully, and not a jealous, bitter stricken king. Though David was chased down, there is something that he hadn't forgotten.  God was on his side.  God had made a promise.  There is a security in that promise, because David had seen time and time again how God had kept His promises.  As long as David was walking in obedience, it didn't matter who did what, said what, or thought what.  David, though chased, could live secure.

Not too long ago, there was someone who began to tell me about what they thought someone else had said about me.  They told me in a way that was semi-secretive, assuming there was full truth, and that there was a power that that assumed truth had over me.  Eventually I figured out what was being alluded to.  My response was simple.  God has shown me, in my life, that I don't have to defend myself to everyone or anyone when something about me past, present, or future is said.  If you know the truth, and you know that God knows the truth, then you can live secure in that truth.  Life will never hold a shortage of people who will say something about us that is negative, deceitful, condescending, slanderous, or the like.  It's a not a matter what people call you, it's what you answer to that begins to define you.

David was secure, because he knew who he was, who called him, and that the One who called him was faithful to stand by Him.  He was chased, but he was chosen.  He was secure.

Do you ever find yourself trying to defend yourself to some of the same people over and over?  Don't give someone else the power of control over your life.  Know the truth and the truth will set you free!  It will set you free from living in the bondage of everyone else's opinions.  Know the truth, walk in the truth, and in that truth...you will live secure!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Last Word

"The LORD will decide between us. you  Perhaps the LORD will punish you for what you are trying to do to me, but I will never harm you"
(1 Samuel 24:12).

David had the opportunity and the justification, and Saul certainly had it coming.  Saul had been unfaithful to God and now, his family was going to lose the kingdom that it had so pridefully squandered.  He had tried to have David killed, chasing him down, betraying David's loyalty, only to further alienate himself from God.  Now revenge was within David's grasp, but he chose to let God have the "last word."

People, all people, yes, even Christians, feel that if they are "justified," then they have every right to go out to destroy in order to avenge their pain, their own pain.  Going after someone, or trying to be a part of proving a point at their expense is more about boosting the pride and the bruised ego of the offended than hurting the one who was initially at fault.

We need to continue to learn that God will get the Last word.  We don't have to prove our point at all times.  We don't need to get the last word in, and we don't need to try to humiliate others because we have been wronged.  God will get the last word.  He always does.  Our challenge is to let Him to do so.

Are you in a situation today, right now, where you are struggling over how to handle an offense?  Are you mulling over all of the things that you could say in response to all of things that have already been said or done?  Are you hurt and angry?  Don't let your emotions dictate your next move, or your next word.  Give it to God.  He always says the right things at the right times.  Trust Him.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Prioritizing the Battles

"...just as Saul and his men began to close in on David and his men, an urgent message reached Saul that the Philistines were raiding Israel again" (1 Samuel 23:26-27).

Saul, infected by his own insecurities and blinded by his bitterness and rage, was seeking to destroy David, both his life and his chances of ascending to the throne.  Saul was close to his chance of taking David out of the equation when he received word that his nation was under attack.  All the time that Saul could have been observing his nation from a real enemy, he was wasting his time, energy, and efforts trying to take out an enemy that was only one perceived in his mind.

What happened to Saul has become so common in our culture.  We begin to worry about things that are not our concern.  When we get so wrapped up in what we can do nothing about, we lose focus on what we can do something about.

Life is so much about prioritizing...EVERYTHING!  There are times that is easy to get sucked in to things, situations, and drama that are not a part of the destiny journey that God has called us to travel.  When we spend time investing in something that should not be our priority, we're actually robbing from the areas that require and deserve our focused attention.

What battles are you fighting in your life that are actually taking you away from focusing on the areas that are really under attack?  Even if the area that you are focused on right now is important, is it the most important?  Is it the area that, if left undealt with, would wreak the most havoc?  Take some time to seek God, asking Him to show you the battles in your life, surrendering those battles to Him, asking Him to reveal to you the ones that are standing in the way of the victory you were destined for.  Don't fight a battle that will keep you from actually winning the war.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Leading Them All

"So David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.  Soon his brothers and other relatives joined him there.  Then others began coming - men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented - until David was the leader of about 400 men"
(1 Samuel 22:1-2).

David was called to be the leader of a great nation.  But here he was, surrounded by a group that consisted of outcasts, those that were overwhelmed with bitterness, distress, discouragement, and grief.  This may not have seemed like the all-star cast he may have dreamed of the day he discovered that he was "king-in-waiting."  But, this is who God gave him.  What he did from there would determine what kind of leader he would be.

What David realized, is the same truth that exists today.  People are crying out for a leader that can help show them something good that is at least as real as the pain in their lives.  They've been shut out, neglected, and rejected because of their lack of "having it all together."  They are desperate to see that they DO have a place of security and stability.  And they are longing for someone to see that in them.

It is so easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed with certain people when it comes to those that need a leader.  Certain ones seem to drain the very life out of you, and at times, you can find yourself cynical, sarcastic, and completely opposite of what God has intended.  Sheep need a shepherd and not all sheep are perfect.  We still have spots and blemishes and are in need of love.  Some days, as shepherds/leaders, we're going to smell a bit more like sheep!  And that's OK!

Who has God put in your life?  It may not be the ones you would have picked.  But think of this:  GOD PICKED YOU!  Embrace the opportunity for God to use you in the lives of others!