Friday, October 19, 2012

Simply Jesus

During a recent trip to South Africa a team from our church and I served with a great friend in making disciples of Jesus, God gave me this song. It's simple. It's not fancy. It is a bit of a window into my heart that aches for more of Jesus.

I hope to blog more soon about some of the stories behind the lines of this song. It was birthed out of what God did in our team during our time in South Africa. No matter where you may be in this world, one thing still remains. He is SIMPLY JESUS!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Love God, Pursue Holiness

"Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right" (Acts 10:34-35).

On May 9, 2012, President of the United States, Barak Obama, endorsed the controversial position of homosexual marriage. Upon this unsettling, but not unexpected, revelation, emotions on both sides of the issue were greatly ignited. Supporters were encouraged while those in opposition spoke out over the attack on the sanctity of marriage. Those that took a traditional and more conservative position have been accused of being on the "wrong side of history." Though the president's remarks do not officially change the laws in this nation, it has brought to the surface the need to clarify real Truth from the Source of Truth.

For centuries and beyond, people of a religious and non-religious nature have judged others because they didn't fit in the precise mold of their traditions. How very opposite is the model of the love and grace that Jesus both taught and lived. Our history is filled with examples of the name of Christ being misused under then guise of "defending" Him.

However, God showed Peter the truth. There is a standard of truth, but not what we have made it. The standard is this - to fear God, know who He is, and what He expects.  We are to know that He is holy, intolerable of sin, and is to be surrendered to. We are to learn His ways, live them out, and do what is right.

God's word, though unpopular with the ever-changing tide of "current culture" is still true. Sin is wrong. The Bible clarifies marriage between a man and a woman. This may put Christians on the "wrong side of history." Our focus is not being on the right side of history, but being on the right side of holiness. That being said, the debate and focus cannot be aimed solely on gay marriage. Holiness applies to every aspect our lives. How can we, with integrity, become so heated and emboldened over gay marriage when the divorce rate among Christians is still at 50%. With hypocrisy and pride among the same individuals that were enraged at the president's endorsement at an all time high, how can we become so blind. What credibility do we have when our lives are not focused on living in complete holiness before the Lord?

We must never back down to the pressures of what has become popular. At the same time, we must never compromise on any area that stains the purity of the fabric of holiness. So what, then, do you do? Choose to live with the clarity of your convictions that are based upon the never-changing Word of God, and not the evolving opinions of others. Refuse to live in a manner of divisive bitterness, but united with those who seek to live in the fear of the Lord Jesus Christ and who seek to honor Him and His word in their every day lives. You are not called to judge. You are called to live on the right of holiness, not on one issue, but in every aspect of life.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Focused on His Face

" in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers." (Acts 9:31)

"Daddy, I can see me in your eyes." These were the words of one my children when he was only four as he was intently focused on my face with my cheeks in his hands. "How do you look?" was my question in reply. "Good." His answer to me was short, simply, wonderfully profound.

With his hands firmly on the contours of my face, he was focused. I'm not sure he originally knew what he was doing. But he had a habit. His habit was to do whatever necessary to get into my space. Sitting in my recliner reading a book, I would be suddenly interrupted by this young one. My space was not my own. He wasn't obnoxious about it. He'd get close, slide his head under my arm and some how quietly wiggle his way into my lap. He'd just lie there for a moment, and then he'd turn upward, grab my face, and look into my eyes. When he was focused on my face, he could see himself as I see him. The increase of his own confidence, self-esteem, and sense of how I value him increases with every encounter. His focus is not on himself. It's on me. It's on my face.

Acts 9 gives a glimpse of the Church of the first century. Unlike many churches of our current culture, they were not focused on the latest and greatest programs, gimmicks, bells & whistles, or church growth strategies. They were simply focused on the face of God. They were enthralled in living in the fear of the Lord. He was all that mattered. It wasn't about how they looked in the eyes of others around them. In fact, they were looked with disdain by most people around them. They were seen as a threat, as a cult, as something to be dealt with.

Neither was there focus on how they looked in their own eyes. Pride and arrogance had no place in their goal of living in a way that honored and glorified the name of Jesus. It was not about them. It was about Him. It was about how they looked in His eyes. When there focus on Him was in line and in tune, that's when true growth began to happen. 

When we focus on ourselves, we are limited to what we see. When we are focused on His face, our limits are surpassed and we begin to see what He sees. Living in the fear of the Lord is about being so in awe at His presence and being overcome with a passion that seeks to invade His space. We are no longer content to be self-reliant. Rather, we want to be so close that we find ourselves in His lap, with our hands upon the face of God, and looking intently into His eyes. What we see through His eyes is really all that matters. That's when we begin to see the increase in the areas that we are desperate to see something change.

The question to be answered is simple. Whose eyes are focused on seeing through? Don't settle for being focused on yourself. You are limited. You can only do so much. The more you try to rely only on you or on other "limited" people, the more unfilled and empty you will find yourself. Go ahead. Get closer and closer to the presence of God. He won't deny you. Climb up in the lap of the very definition of "Father." It's OK. Place your hands on His face. Look into His eyes. Do you see you? Now you see what He sees. It looks good. Allow that truth to be the motivation in all that you do. The change you want to see in your life will only happen as you live in the fear and recognition of the awesomeness of God, and when you choose to focus on His face.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hearing the Voice

"In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision. 'Ananias!' 'Yes Lord,' he answered." (Acts 9:10)

I am a complete sucker for seeing dog acts! I've exhibitions on television and I've seen trainers present live their dogs abilities. It is amazing to me see these animals do what we as humans have a heard time doing. Hearing, listening, and obeying. One of my favorite dogs that I've ever had the opportunity to see up close is Tina. Tina is a beautiful Golden Retriever and is an impeccable example of hearing, listening, and obeying.

In one of the "tricks" that Tina does involves strict obedience to her trainer's voice and to none other. The trainer picks a volunteer out of the crowd, usually a child with bursting exuberance. She leads the child over to a laying down, relaxed looking Tina. Tina has been given instruction to lie still and to not move. Her trainer then tells the child to, without touching Tina, do whatever they can to get her to get up and move. The child speaks, shouts, and shouts even louder. Then they begin to hop around, jump around, and wave their arms all around. All the while, Tina lays still, content, and obedient. After the volunteer has exhausted their tactics and their own energy, the trainer speaks gently to Tina, "come here, Tina." Tina immediately perks up, get's up, and tail-waggingly moves on over.

What makes this "act" so much more than an act, is the visible display of intimate voice recognition. Tina and her trainer have spent so much time together that Tina recognizes and responds to her voice. There is no second-guessing, no hesitation, and no delayed reactions. Tina's first and only response is to obey. Any other voice she is able to ignore. As soon as she recognizes the intimate familiarity of her trainer's voice, she is ready to obey. No questions asked.

Ananias had this degree of intimacy with Jesus. He heard a voice calling his name and there was no question as to who it was. His immediate response was "yes, Lord." How much time he must have invested in pursuing a closeness with Jesus! He had purposed to hear the voice of God. He had determined that he would not give into the quick thoughts and inclinations of his mind, but that he would quickly listen and obey every word that God would instruct. It was inconsequential that God would now ask him to do something that contradicted his common sense. Of course, the Lord was not calling him to do something "common." His closeness with Jesus would take him past common.

There is such a temptation to throw our spiritual lives into cruise control and auto-pilot. We say we believe, but the test of obedience comes when we hear the voice of God tell us to do something that goes against the grain of our "common sense."

So, how do you get so close to Jesus that you can not only hear His voice, but recognize His voice? Spend time with Him. Take time to read His word, think about His word, and apply the truth of His word to your everyday life. Pray and ask Him to show you what it is He wants you to see. As you purpose to listen, you will become more and more sensitive to the voice of God. Determine even now that the moment God begins to speak to your heart, that you will hear, listen, and obey. Don't miss out on a closeness with Jesus that will take you past common!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Are You Teachable?

"Then Simon answered, 'pray tot he Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me'" (Acts 8:24).

Life is full of choices, consequences, and the choice to how we respond to those consequences. As a pastor I have and continue to live out the lessons learned from the mistakes that I've made. Sometimes those mistakes are made from carelessness, "prayerlessness," a lack of awareness, or perhaps a combination of all three. Once after becoming the lead pastor of a church, I had the opportunity and responsibility of filling a gap on our leadership team. I was determined that I knew exactly who it was to be. I was equally determined that it should be done right at the moment of the need. In my haste I staffed the position without consideration of various factors. I saw what I thought I needed and filled it based on what I wanted. What I failed to do was to slow down, seek adequate counsel, and wait patiently for God to speak to my heart. The decision was made. The course turned sour. I was left to pick up the pieces. Rather than dismiss it as "my bad" or defensively shift responsibility to other parties involved, I chose to learn something through my own mistakes, through humility, and by taking responsibility for my haste and not seeing the bigger picture.

Acts 8:24 shows another picture of humility and a teachable heart. Simon had been a sorcerer. He had been a master of working within the powers of darkness. Through the teaching and influence of the apostles, he had become a believer in Jesus and was baptized. Still he struggled with elements of his old life and the habits that had defined that life. On the occasion spoken of in Acts 8, he attempted to "buy" the incredible and unexplainable power to "give" the Holy Spirit to people with the laying on of his own hands. He had observed the apostles do this. He was intrigued and was seduced by the "control" that he thought they had. It took him back to a place he had been brought out. He was rebuked.

No one enjoys a rebuke or correction. Simon could have given into the defensive emotions that are were wrapped up in the old nature of his pride. He could have reverted to old habits and place a curse upon them in his anger and humiliation. He could have abandoned this new relationship with Jesus. Rather, he humbled himself and repented. He refused to allow his pride to rob him of a power that was more real than one he had ever known.

God has given you much to share with the world around you. He will strategically cross your path with others around you because He has given you something to speak and to share with them. Don't allow pride and arrogance to convince you that you are the only one who teaches, but accept that you still have more to learn. Purpose to be knows as one who not only teaches, but one who is teachable. Be open and willing to receive a rebuke or correction without taking it personally. Listen and choose not to respond defensively. Regardless of how hurtful the correction or comment is given, ask God to show you the truth that you need to learn. You will never be able to teach well if you're not open to learning well. Be open. Be humble. Be teachable.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Best Defense

"While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit'" (Acts 7:59).

Once while giving a financial report in a meeting that was in, I came face to face with a few challenging obstacles. First of all, I'm not a numbers guy. I don't like dealing with numbers, but inevitably, as I pastor a church, numbers are inescapable. It furthers my love and appreciation for calculators, computers, and competent administrative assistants! After hours of blood, sweat, tears, and decimal points, we had brought to completion this financial report that was a reflection of provision, stewardship, and progress.

The other obstacle I faced was the temptation to become defensive. It is a temptation that we all face. There I was giving a report on the subject of finances, feeling like a twelve point buck in an open field on the first day of hunting season. There were questions. There were good questions. There were comments. There good comments. And of course, a comment that seemed piercing and pointed. In earlier days, I would have "stood up" for my honor, defended my character, and attempted to put the individual back in their place. I would have been the fool. Rather, I took a pause, thanked the gentlemen for his comment and moved along. God, through many of my trips, falls, and personal periods of embarrassment, has taken me on a journey that has challenged me, corrected me, and is causing me to see the better way. He never called me to be my own defender. He is my defense.

The most common response to abuse, especially when it's delivered verbally, is to give it right back. It is easy to give in the overwhelming invitation of emotions to become defensive and to kick in to 'self-preservation' mode. Stephen was being stoned to death. His crime? He believed in Jesus. He spoke the truth. He would not give into the popular opinions of his day. Unarguably, he didn't deserve the treatment he was given.He didn't attack back or attempt to defend himself. His response? He prayed. He didn't argue with God, complain to or against God. He didn't even blame God. He prayed.

It's true. We all face those times in life where we feel we are on the receiving end of what feels like a verbal assault. Of course, we immediately assume and are convinced that we know the motivation behind the words and must stand our ground and fight for our honor. When we let the intensity of our emotions determine the reactions of our words, we are headed for great disaster.

When you feel as though you are being attacked or disrespected, it is so easy to want to 'fight back' or to avenge yourself in some way. The greatest defense that you will ever find is found in Christ. He is your defender. How would conflicts in your life resolve if your first action was to respond with prayer rather than react with passion and pride? Tensions would ease and an openness in to being led in a way that honors God would be more clear. Let prayer be your first response. No reaction outside of prayer will be effective. Prayer will guide you, calm you, and put the conflict in a proper perspective. Your best defense is Jesus.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


"So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7).

Let's get something straight right from the beginning. I am a guy. I am stubborn. I know nothing about cars. The first two statements can sometimes serve as false confidence that tries to fool me and others that perhaps I do know something about cars. To ask for help would be to admit that I don't. It might be a stain on the masculinity that shouts in my ears that "all guys know about cars!"

During my quest for ultimate manhood in learning how to do "something" in regards to the automotive universe, I decided to humble least once. I asked someone to show me how to change the oil in my wife's minivan. This mechanic friend of mine complied and came over one Saturday afternoon and proceeded to show me what to do, how to do it, and gave me some tips to help me along the way. No problem. A few months and several miles later, it was time to do it again. This time I was to do it by myself; the test of my manly skills of auto mechanics. Problem. After I got under the van, I tried to loosen oil plug to no avail. I tried everything I could. Nothing. I went on YouTube and watched videos, but just could not figure out what I was doing wrong. Finally, I humbled myself to the hard-fought against revelation that I could not do all things. I am good at some things, but not at others. Where I lack the skills necessary to complete a task, God has equipped others. I called my friend. He came over, and once again, we changed the oil...together. The lesson was more profound for me than just merely about mechanics of a car, but the mechanics of partnerships. We are more effective when we compliment others and are complimented by the strengths of others. Together. It's powerful.

Acts 6 is the result of the early church leaders coming to a similar conclusion. They couldn't do everything. They were never meant to do everything. If there effectiveness was ever going to grow beyond the limits of them as a small group, they had to learn the power of "together-partnership." The only way for them to truly excel at what they were good at, was to delegate and equip others to do what they could not. It took humility and security to ask the help of others. It took a belief in the common goal. It was the idea that by themselves they would only achieve so much, but together they would multiply in exponential ways that would surpass random explanation. Partnering together kept them gifted, grounded, and God-honoring. Together they created an atmosphere that was conducive for rapid, yet effective and substantive growth.

You can't do everything. Be free from that pressure, because you were never created for such an impossible task. By trying to take on such a burdensome responsibility, you become ineffective, not trusting God, and disobedient Christ's call for us to live as ONE. Don't rob other of the opportunity to partner with you, to be blessed by them being able to bless you with how God has gifted and equipped them. In what ways have you given into prideful stubbornness, not asking for or allowing help from someone else? What effectiveness in your life has been forfeited by your refusal to partnering together? God did not call you to be isolated, self-dependent, or a "one-person show." He called you to be ONE with others, partnering together, complimenting the strengths of those who are pursuing the same goal of bringing glory and honor to the name of Jesus. We do this when we purpose to do it together. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Second Chance

"'Go, stand in the temple courts,' he said, 'and tell the people all about this new life'" (Acts 5:20).

His was a life that had become like an out of control train heading for imminent derailment as a result for his disregard for the consequences of his choices. Alcoholism had cost him self-control, personal dignity, and his job. This disease that was birthed out of poor decision making was determining his destiny. It was beginning to define the man that he was and would be. As this man was getting an up-close view of the bottom of the barrel, the voice of God began to speak like never before. This began a new journey of sobriety, salvation, and second chances.

Fast-forward several years. Through the struggles of endurance and diligence, God continued to show His faithfulness in ways that would blow the mind of this man that was at one time on a fast-tracked road leading to a dead-end. At one point on this road to second-chances, he would surrender to his life to Jesus Christ, be baptized in the church he and his family had started attending together, and become recipients of a love that redefine the direction of their lives. As the economy was spiraling out of control, he found himself unemployed, yet trusting God. As a result of an interview the local paper did with them in regards to a Christmas blessing they received, he was able to share how God had changed his life. After reading this story that was printed in the Christmas day edition, the employers that had let him go three years earlier due to alcoholism called him up and offered him a JUST THE RIGHT TIME. What once detoured him would no longer define him.

The disciples of Jesus had lived out a similar story of failure and redemption. They had deserted Jesus. Even after loud promises and violent demonstrations, they had fled Him, denied Him, and ultimately betrayed Him. Through any angle of observation, they had blatantly put the last nail in the coffin of their relationship with and commitment to Jesus Christ. But, they repented. They humbled themselves. They renewed their devotion to Him. So, as Acts 5 paints  portrait, they find themselves in the midst of controversy, accusations, and abuse. Yet, the angel of God has told them to go back, stand up again, and declare the name of Jesus. He called them to go back and to preach in the very name that had resulted in their trouble, the name they had once abandoned for their own safety. They had betrayed Him, yet God was granting them a second chance. Their previous abandonment did not render them useless. God would give them another opportunity to stand up with Him in complete acknowledgement of the name above all names.

You have made mistakes. We all have. Perhaps you've cheated, lied, betrayed, or have backed down when you should have stood up. Maybe you've compromised some areas of your life that have resulted in guilt, shame, or regret. Don't give up. Don't look at yourself any lower than your Father in Heaven sees you. He sees the destiny, purpose, and promise for which He created you. Look up and see that He offers you another opportunity to do what He's call you to do. Choose not to squander this gift. Determine to stand. Purpose in your heart to persevere through a strength that is only available in Him. Repent of your mistakes. Receive His mercy. Recommit your whole life to live in honor of Him. Your second chance is made available through His matchless grace. Don't give up. Stand up. Move on. He is with you.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Excited & Unashamed

"As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).

November 23, 2004 is a day that will endure in my memory for the rest of my days. It was the day that my first born, my son, would make his debut into this world. His entrance would further propel me to new heights and depths in the roles of my own existence. "I'm a dad!" This bizarre, yet wildly attractive concept flooded my abilities to stay on a single train of thought. I was so excited. I called everyone. I emailed everyone. I used social networking sites to get the word out! My life has once again forever changed!! I wanted the world to know and to share this excitement that had already landed its firm grasp around my overjoyed heart.

In like manner, Peter and John had been given to great rejoicing over seeing what the power of God was doing in the lives of others and how God was using them to see it all happen. Jesus had forever changed them. They began to talk about it. Share about. Their own excitement was becoming contagious and impacting many around the city. Now, they had been told not to speak in the name of Jesus, or of what He had done, any further. There response was unafraid, unashamed, and non-compromising. They had to speak about what Christ had done their lives. It was welling up with in them. They were excited and passionate about what they had seen and heard. They were willing to do nothing less than live it out with all they had. They refuse to be silent about who Jesus was, how He had changed them by the power of His love, and how He was using them to change the world.

There will always be an enemy, an opposition, a roadblock that seeks to silence us, shy us away, or slow us down in our passionate pursuit for Christ that began the moment we realized the authenticity of His love for us. Don't give in! The name of Jesus is life, power, and victory. When we live in a way that unashamedly proclaims devotion to Him, we begin to see the supernatural intervention of God all around us.

What Jesus has done, is doing, and can do is exciting! It's life-changing! Can you think of that moment or any moment when you realized that His love, though it saw the worst of you, still loved the best for you? Have you ever been excited about the fact that His forgiveness frees you from all of the regrets and shame of past mistakes? Has the excitement ever overwhelmed you about the peace that He gives that calms you from all the nagging thoughts and reminders of pains, hurts, and failures? Here's the big question. Are you still excited? Have you forgotten all that God has done in your life? Take a moment and try to recount the many times that God has shown Himself real to you. As you remember, you will begin to be reignited with that same excitement that first grabbed hold of you, and the world won't be able to stop the locomotive passion inside of your heart to share what He's done in you. Choose to always remember and allow the excitement of what He's begun in you to fuel that passion inside of you. Go ahead. Be excited and unashamed. He loved you that much. Let somebody know!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When It's OK to Talk About People

"When Peter saw this, he said to them..." (Acts 3:12).

Time for confession. I like to talk about people. It's true. But before I am accused of enjoying the latest gossip, let me clarify. I like to talk about people like Kevin. When Kevin was 16 years old, he was rebellious, crude, disrespectful and didn't want to have anything to do with God. I remember one evening praying at the bottom of the basement steps in his home as he and his parents were engaged in a shouting match that sent chills up my spine. It wasn't so much the volume of the conversation, but the possible future impact of the words that were being formed and released from within Kevin's heart. He defiantly declared that he didn't need God and remarked that there was nothing his parents could do to prove that God existed. I like to talk about Kevin. Later that summer Kevin reluctantly attended an event with his church youth group and it changed his life forever. No, it wasn't the event, but God used that event to speak to the very core of Kevin's existence. Kevin realized that he was on a path that was leading him to destruction though he had been blinded in the process. He came home that weekend and begin to make radical decisions that many wouldn't understand. He gave up some things that had been very important to him, though they linked him to crowds and circumstances that proven destructive. Since that day, Kevin has served at a youth pastor, associate pastor, and has traveled the world telling of the awesomeness of the grace, forgiveness, and power to change lives that he found in Jesus Christ. I like to tell his story.

In Acts 3, Peter and John were walking towards the temple gate when they were interrupted by the likes of a crippled beggar asking for money. These two disciples did not offer money, but offered to introduce him to the power of God in a way that he would never forget. They reached out and took his hand and the once-crippled man stood up, and began to jump and shout! This was undoubtedly a sight to see and it inevitably attracted great attention. Peter took advantage of the situation in order to further testify about who Jesus is. No, this wasn't his testimony, but was it was very much connected to the heart of who Christ was and what He had done in him. Peter was determined to talk and to tell the story of what Jesus had done, not just in him, but in the lives of others.

It is amazing to think about what God has done in our lives, and we should! Be sure, however, to tap into the reality that what God is doing is not just about you. It is also about what He as done in is doing the lives of so many people around you. It's great to tell your story, and you should. Tell of how He has saved you, forgiven you, loved you, has changed you, and is continuing to change you. But, also tell the stories of other and how God has impacted their lives. Experiences unite us and can help confirm the experiences of others. Your story alone may be the spark that ignites an interest, but combined with the stories of what God is doing in the lives of friends, family, and others will set that spark ablaze. It will further the credibility of what God can do in the yes of those who are still searching for something real.

So how do you know what to share? Open your eyes and see what God is doing in those around you. Ask people. This will open up incredible doors of opportunity for people to share of their interaction with God and His intervention in their lives. You will encourage them by listening and encourage others by sharing. In the process, share your story with them. People love to hear people talk about people. Give them something to talk about that is worthwhile, God-honoring, and will impact their own lives in the process!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Praying Together

"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place" (Acts 2:1).

He was 17 years old and was at a youth service at our church for the very first time. He was apprehensive about coming, but gave into the sense that this was where he was supposed to be. The evening had begun and I had gone to lead the adult service that was taking place in another part of our building. After I had completed speaking, I journeyed back into the area where the youth service was in full swing. The youth pastor was challenging the teenagers to go beyond where they had yet come in their relationship with God. I stood there praying, believing God was doing something incredible in the hearts and lives of these young men and women.

As the youth pastor called the students to respond, challenging them to get up and come down front to pray, this 17 year old who stayed with reluctance got up and approached me where I was standing. "Will you go and pray with me?" "Of course" was my reply. I followed him to an area down front that was already filling up with other teenagers who were on their faces before a God that loves them more than words can express. We knelt, and together, we prayed. During that prayer, this reluctant student eagerly prayed with me a prayer of surrender to Jesus Christ. Yes, he could have prayed by himself. Yes, God would have answered. Yet, his life was powerfully changed in one evening because of praying together. He was not alone. He was convinced.

Before the disciples of Jesus experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, they engaged both intently and intensely in the purpose of the Savior. Jesus' own prayer was that His followers become "one" as He was one with the Father. The disciples were committed to passionately pursuing God and waiting upon Him. They prayed, pursued, and patiently waited on Him...together. They were not alone. They understood that prayer was impacting, but they further discovered the unleashed power of "agreement." When they added "agreement" to their prayer, and unity to their prayer, the power of that prayer increased exponentially. Their was strength in having a united purpose. Their united purpose was to see the power of God do exactly what Jesus said it would do. He said that would receive power, comfort, wisdom, and guidance through the coming of the Holy Spirit. They weren't told to "make it happen." They were told to pray...and to do it together. It wasn't based on the prayer of one person, but of "one people." It's no wonder they experienced the presence of God in such a way that has forever changed the course of history. And yes, it can happen yet again!

It's not enough for your to say "Lord, teach me to pray." Rather, pray "Lord, teach us to pray." As you seek the face of God as an individual, don't lose sight of the importance of praying with others. You are not in this alone. You need others and others need you. Determine that the common goal in life is to worship Jesus with every part of your life. Identify those that share that common purpose. Make a point to get together and pray. Pray for each other. Pray for your weak areas, thank God together for the strong areas, and pray for those around you. When you join in unity and agreement in prayer, you will see the powerful presence of God that reminds you that He is always there.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Powerful Surrender

"But you will Spirit comes on you; and receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

Turn on the television, read the headlines on an internet ticker, or listen during radio news breaks and you can become discouraged. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the hope of the world. His love and is grace are so amazing to change even the most vile of people. When we see that evil's presence seems as much alive as it has ever been, we can begin to wonder exactly how God is going to reach this planet with a lasting change.

Acts 1:8 was Jesus' response to a question that could make one wonder if they had missed the point. The disciples had great hopes in the coming of their Messiah. They presumed that Jesus would come and take the throne by force, ushering in a political and military take-over. They believed with all of their hearts in who Jesus was and what the prophets said He would do. Isaiah prophesied that His would be a kingdom who's government and rule would never end. So, when Jesus died and was resurrected, they were riddled with confusion on how the world would be reached and impacted by this Messiah that many could not understand.

Jesus told them to wait for the "promise." Jesus had spoken about this before, indicating it to be the Holy Spirit. But they still had their ideas, and were trying to fit His instruction into their ideas. In essence, He told them to lay aside their agenda and surrender to His. He had a purpose for them now, and that was to take priority over all else. There was a world to each.

There is a world to reach, and you have been called to be a part of the process. Your agenda, notions, and ideas about how, why, and what God should or is going to do is irrelevant. What is relevant, is that God's heart for the world to know Him involves you. Surrender all you are to Him. When you are fully surrendered, you will see the power of His purpose in your life to impact those around you. Reaching the world starts right where you are, and from there, expands around the globe to the "ends of the earth."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Called to One Other

"Finally, brothers and sister, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you"
(2 Corinthians 13:11).

Human tragedy has a way of calling out to the sense of goodwill that God has created each of us with. September 11, 2011 was a day that changed America as the nation saw the face of evil and the devastation that followed. What also followed was the overwhelming outpouring of love, supplies, volunteer hours, and prayers from across the country. People responded to the needs of another. Differences in political ideologies, religious preferences, the color of skin, and economic classes paled in comparison to the reality of heart's breaking, a nation hurting, and the need to know that someone cared. Since that day there have been further glimpses of goodwill. Hurricanes, tsunamis, terrorist attacks, and the like have provided opportunities to come alongside one another.

We are called to one another. More than in times of tragedy, we are called to be there, to build up, and to belong to one another on a basis that surpasses the circumstantial. There are times to acknowledge the differences we have and to deal with them. Paul stresses that we are to rejoice! There is so much time taken for useless debate, futile argument, and senseless criticism, cynicism, and sarcasm. Paul reminds his readers that each of us have fallen short yet have been redeemed by the restoring love of Jesus. We should seek to do the same. Our aim should be to restore, to comfort, and to encourage. Though it is so easy to major on the negatives within relationships, there is no restorative value, no revelation of God's love, no comfort or confidence in partnership. There is no rejoicing in that.

Paul calls us to agree with one another. No, this is not suggesting that we compromise, water-down, or accept anything less than the standard that God has called us all to. We are going to disagree. In the scheme of God's master plan, however, we must ask ourselves how important some of the things we disagree about really are? Beyond that, there's a way to disagree while still maintaining an attitude of love, encouragement, and unity. In our conversations, our motivation, especially with those that believe in Jesus, should be to allow our words, actions, and attitudes be guided by the agreement we have that the love of Jesus is the greatest catalyst for change we will ever encounter.

In driving, the student is taught from the very beginning that where ever you focus your eyes is where you will steer the vehicle. If you look to the right, it is natural that you will pull to the right, leading your car in that direction. To limit the danger of driving, you stay focused on what it is ahead and most important. Don't get distracted by focusing on the negatives, the differences, and the conflicts within relationship. Ask God to give you wisdom when confrontation is unavoidable. But, ask Him to guide you to aim for restoration, comfort, encouragement, and love. Remember to rejoice in the Lord with everything. Don't wait for tragedy to point out the call that God has placed upon your life to love other people. Agree that the love of Jesus overwhelms the power of all that try to divide. Agree that it is His love that serves as the best argument that will ever be given. When you remember, live out that love in the calling to love one another.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In God We Trust

"But He said to me, 'My grace
is sufficient for you, for my power
is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me"
(2 Corinthians 12:9).

Take a coin out of your pocket, from the console of your car, or from in between the cushions of your living room sofa. Look at it and you will see the words obviously engraved and often overlooked, "In God We Trust." Now, look around you at the culture and society that surrounds you. Do you see it? Do you see the results of a people that are trusting God? Perhaps you see a people who are trying so hard to no avail to pursue the "American Dream," trying to make sense out of economic times that seem to make no sense at all. You find people trusting in Wall Street, Capitol Hill, the White House, their jobs, and themselves. To be fair, take a look at yourself. As one who possible professes a belief in the Almighty, how do you compare? Are you more apt to cling to a hope in the God that you cannot see during the times of trial and uncertainty that you are certain to face? Or do you then cling to what appears to be more real, quick, yet unstable and fleeting in the wisdom from the minds of people that helped to create the mess you might find yourself in?

Have you ever been outside the culture that has become your norm? It's life-changing. I will never forget the first time that I went to nation that has been rocked by communism. Freedom, as has been taken for granted in the 'Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave,' is a dream that seems so unreal. However, what is so real to them is the freedom that they have found in Jesus. To experience a worship service with these dear friends is to encounter the Living God in ways that I've never seen. Why? Why is it so different? Why do they seem so full of joy, so rich in the Spirit of God, though they seem to have nothing. They live in poverty, under persecution, and without the luxuries that have become normal staples of comfort in my everyday life. Yet, they seem happier, more content, less stressed and frustrated, and more at peace. What they really need, they really have. Nothing else matters. They've come to understand the truth that matters the most. When Jesus is all you have, then you realize that Jesus is all you've ever needed.

It is so easy and so common to pray for that perfect life without struggles, tragedies, or pain. But think about this: if that was reality, who would need Jesus? Paul learned the reality of this truth in a manner that required his dependence upon One greater than himself. He prayed. More than once he prayed that God would deliver him from this "thorn in the flesh." Whether it was a physical ailment or some mental/emotional turmoil is a matter for theological debate, but the point is made clear. Paul learned the sufficiency (the powerful "more than enough" of God's presence) of God's grace in his life. It was this strength of Christ that made Paul complete during his weakness.

You face, and will face, moments of weakness in this life. Don't give into the call of your culture to depend on yourself, or the counsel of systems and ideologies that would lead you to believe that all you need is you. In yourself, you have nothing to offer. By now you've probably come to know that truth more than once.  But "IN CHRIST," you have access to more than you've ever known. When you are weak, you are strong...because He is strong. You are weak when you rely on you. You are strong when you rely on Him. God allows things in your life to remind you of your need for His all-sufficient, more than enough, more-than-able-to-get-it-done grace so that in Him you may find rest. Remember, when Jesus is all you have, then Jesus is all you need.

As you begin or continue today, be challenged to take a minute and return your reliance to Him. This is a prayer that is often heard from my lips to God's ears. Pray this with me: "Lord, help me to rest in your peace and in your grace. Oh how I need You. I thank you for every trial, because they all have served to remind me of your faithfulness and love. Amen."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Exit: He Makes A Way

"In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands"
(2 Corinthians 11:32-33).

In the 2012 movie, A Joyful Noise starring the unlikely duo of Queen Latifa and Dolly Parton, a powerful and universal and timeless truth was presented on the silver screen. In a heartfelt and moving scene, choir director Vi Rose, played by the Queen, is having a conversation with Caleb, a member of the choir facing a time of confusion, discouragement, and not "feeling the spirit." Says Caleb, "Seems like God's been using me for target practice these days...makes it kinda hard to feel the spirit." Vi Rose responds ever so quickly, "Caleb, He is God. If He wanted to shoot you, He wouldn't miss."

I remember years ago taking a trip with my mother to Six Flags Over Texas in Dallas. The excitement was intense. We were on the Texas Giant, the tallest wooden roller coaster in the world at the time. The coaster began to move and we began to make the climb towards to first of several falls. My mothers excitement quickly transformed into a cross between fear, anxiety, and uncontrollable hysteria. She began to scream to me that she wanted off, that her heart was failing, and that she wanted me to make it stop, all as we are climbing to the top of one of the most thrilling rides of the times. Of course, as any good son would do, I laughed and prepared to go down as we had come up! The entire ride, my hands were up, I was shouting with great excitement as my mother continued to shout, "Christopher, get me off this thing!" And, I continued to laugh. As we were climbing out of our coaster car, she turned and looked at me and said, "that was horrible...let's do it again!"

Sometimes it does feel as if we are sitting target waiting to fall prey to the shots being fired all around us. For every one step forward it seems almost destiny to take two steps back. There's that moment when we know that God is right by our side. We "feel the spirit" and have this confidence that everything's going to be OK. Then, all of a sudden, the feeling changes from light to dark, and we feel as though we are on some ride that is spinning us in circles that just won't stop. We look for a way out and wonder if it will ever appear.

2 Corinthians 11:32-33 is Paul's way of expressing his own experience with a familiar thought. With Paul, there was a plan to remove him from the effective work God had called him to do. No matter how they tried, God made a way for the furtherance of the Gospel of Truth. Paul faced betrayal, rejection, straight-on attacks. This was all for doing exactly what God had told him to do. Where was the way out? Sometimes the way out is to ride it out. God will use every situation to teach us what He wants us to know.

Ultimately, the lesson is simply this: God makes a way! Look at your life. You may not understand or agree with all that's happened in it. But, look at how God has used, or is using, every moment, every mistake, every wrong thing done to you as a way of teaching you. He's continuing to show you His love, His forgiveness, His comfort, the fact that He can use you no matter who you are, what you've done, or where you've been. Your destiny is still designed by the works of His hands. Hold on to the Truth that God loves you. You don't have to live in anxiety or fear over some fictional target practice or where the roller coaster of life is taking you. God will show you the way. He will guide you and protect you. And if you're still looking for that way out, look to Jesus. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life..." (John 14:6).

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Real Deal

"Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present"
(2 Corinthians 10:11).

Why do people seem to dislike politicians so much? OK...maybe that question is too open ended, and perhaps there's not enough time in a day to give all of those answers! But, one feeling is fairly predominate among many. Politicians are voted in on the platform of what is said, but then live-out on a platform doesn't match what is said. They say what needs to be said, and sometimes even believing it themselves, to be elected. After election, they are viewed as men and women who are saying what needs to be said to stay elected. Politicians today are seen as deceitful, hypocritical, do-anything-say-anything-be-everything-to-everyone type people that have traded principle for popularity.

Paul was accused of being a heavy-weight in his letter and a light-weight in his life. His letters were filled with a power-packed punch that emphasized and encouraged others how to live a life that honored Jesus. However, there were those who tried to bring accusations against him and attacking his commitment, his consistency, and his character. Paul was very much consistent. What he said matched what he did and how he lived. The articles of his life served as the greatest defense to the headlines that were being featured. Paul was living life as the real deal.

There will always be people in your life that will attack you. At times, those attacks will be baseless, out of insecurity, or out of personal pride. The take-a-way from all of this is simple, yet so easy to miss. Be aware of what you say and how you live. What do you believe? Live it out. Let what you believe and what you say you believe match what you live. The fruit will always reflect back on the focus. Yes, you will make mistakes. Learn from them. There will be moments where you might find that you've veered off course. Take notice, check your heart, reach out to Jesus, and return to the path that has been marked for you. How you live is the greatest indicator of why you live. Jesus has given you a reason to live. He was, is, and will always be the real deal. Allow His love for you to change your life for Him. Purpose today, in how you speak, in what you think, in how you spend the moments of your day, to be the real deal.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An Attitude of the Heart

"Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!"
(2 Corinthians 9:15).

"Giving" can become as controversial a topic to discuss with other Christians as can be talking of the differences of political parties leading up to an election. Opinions trump the heart of Scripture, emotions are driven to an all-time high, and perception on what is said serves as a greater gauge for reality than the heart of what was actually said. So it has become, at times, with the topic of giving. There are so many who have become very uncomfortable and somewhat disillusioned when a pastor, evangelist, or the like speak on the top of giving. There is an immediate wall that goes up, cynicism that sets in, and pocket books that close tight. Yes, a lot of it has to do with abuses by those that have claimed to have spoken from God. However, in all that we ever do, let us be brought back to the attitude of our hearts.

Paul, in this letter to the Church in regards to giving, was seeking to enlighten their understanding that their motivation in regards to generosity should be an overflow response of the generosity of God. It was His gift of love, grace, forgiveness, and salvation that had given them the hope to continue, persevere, and succeed.

There's not a single one of us that deserve this gift, this love. Jesus came because of love. He didn't come because we had earned it. He came and He gave because He knew that we couldn't earn it. John 3:16 wraps up the purpose of Christ and the heart of God so perfectly. "God so loved the entire world that He gave His only Son..."  We can love others because He loved us first. We can give because He first gave. When we give, let us be reminded to give in the likeness of the generosity that He gave.

Don't allow cynicism to infect your heart to give. Although it is wise to be a good steward of your finances, your time, and your life, you have been called to generous living. When you give, don't see it as giving to a person, a church, or even a cause. Give as unto the Lord, for He first gave. If God calls you to give, then give. It's not yours. If the gift you give is mishandled, misused, or mismanaged, it is up to God. The gift becomes God's property and God's problem, and He is much better at avenging and setting the record straight than you or I could ever hope to be. Choose to allow your life to be marked by a loving, cheerful, and radical generosity that helps to paint the picture for others to see of the generous, undeserving, life-changing gift we have in the love of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Generous Life

"But since you excel in everything - in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you - see that you also excel in this grace of giving"
(2 Corinthians 8:7).

A friend of mine's wife was once battling cancer and had chosen to take a more natural and holistic approach to treatment. Her therapies included vast amounts of juicing several times a day. My friend, who had taken time off from to take care of his wife, eventually had to go back to work. Immediately, there was a woman named Sally that stepped into the picture. Sally committed her time, her energy, and her heart to helping my friend's wife. Like clockwork, Sally would come over to the house, juice the fruits and vegetables, take her to the grocery store, and liberally give from the heart of love that God had given to her. Her compensation? Gratitude, and the refreshing satisfaction that generous living brings.

Paul's writing in this part of his letter epitomizes the very life of Jesus. Jesus lived to put others first. He modeled the virtue of showing love, selflessness, and generosity. Paul speaks of those who were facing their own seasons of struggle, yet were still passionate about being a part of blessing others. Paul challenges them in their commitment to excellence in all areas, including in the area of living a generous life.

The greatest temptation in life is to think, whether you'll admit to it or not, that the entire universe and all that it holds revolves around you. Perhaps you don't buy into that fully, but as you take an honest look back, you will find it easy to see all of the decisions that have been made that first revolved around you. Taking care of yourself is not wrong. However, resist the strong currents of popular culture to look out for only you. The life you have been given is a gift from God. How you choose to live it and share it is your gift back to God.

Purpose to make generosity a priority in your life. Be generous, not just in a financial sense, but in every way and with every part of who you are. Be generous with your words. Encourage someone. Let someone know that they matter, that you appreciate them, that you were thinking of them. Be generous with your time. Don't allow your "busy-ness" to rob you from the opportunity of showing up in the lives of those around. Choose to connect. Be generous with your money. Do something nice for someone. Do something anonymously nice for someone. Pay for someone's gas, someone's coffee, or pay for the meal for the people in the car behind you in the drive-through that you've frequented more than you probably should have. The point? Let generosity be one of the key identifiers of your life. Be generous as God has been generous to you.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cards on the Table

"Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God"
(1 Corinthians 7:1).

I'm not much of a card player, but I'm very interested in watching other people play. I like to watch their faces and how they strain to keep them from looking strained. Their goal is that there opponent never knows which cards are actually in their hands. The thought behind is that if the "other side doesn't know which cards I'm holding, or not holding, then I might have a chance to pull this off as a win."

How much of life is lived with the same mentality before God. We hold back cards for fear of what those cards might cost us. We are so focused on "winning" on our terms, that we put on our poker face, attempt to bluff our way through with the hopes that we might have a chance to pull this off as a win. What we lose sight of, is that in Christ, we've already won. He already knows where we have fallen short. He sees the cards we have in our hands. We fool ourselves into thinking we're holding back the truth of our lives from Him. In fact, we hold ourselves back from the healing and restoration He desires to bring to our lives. But, we must be willing to lay the cards on the table.

God's desire is to take us through ever circumstance, challenge, and conflict that we face. When Jesus came to die for our sins, He knew the risks that many would chose to reject Him. He calculated that with those He knew would receive Him and deemed it to be worth the cost. However, for us to fully receive what He has to offer, we must be willing to recognize that we are incomplete with out it, and surrender to Him all that has been standing in the way.

The choice to be on the right path with God is left to other person but you. Are you willing to see the areas in your life that are less than God's best for you? Have you been playing a hand that is less than winnable, but attempting to bluff your way through with a poker face that longs for peace, but it so busy trying to hide the pain? Don't fall into the trap of trying to hide what is so painfully obvious. Recognize it. Surrender it. Deal with it. Learn from it. Move on past it. Purpose to let every word, thought, and action bring glory and honor to God. Let it be a reflection of the awesome reverence you have for Him.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Who Do You Follow?

"'Do what you think is best,' the youth replied. 'I'm with you heart and soul'" (1 Samuel 14:7).

In 1995, I was on a ministry trip with our youth group from our small rural town in northeast Texas to the big city of Dallas.  How exciting.  17.  A driver's license.  A car.  No idea where I was going.  These were the ingredients that made up for one incredibly long and interesting night.

Our team was going to be ministering in a church that weekend through music and drama, and we were at the church that evening to practice for the next morning's services.  The idea after the practice, was that we would all caravan back to the house that we were to stay.  Being from a small country spot on the map, I was to follow the lead car for our safe and quick return.  However, I got distracted with friends in the car, forgot that I was following and was driving like I was leading.  When exit after exit began to pass me by, I realized that I was on a major 5 lane freeway, at night, with no idea where I was, no idea where I was going, and no cell phone.  I was lost.

Though this makes for a humorous story at my expense, there is a great truth to be learned.  It matters who you follow.  In addition to who we follow, it matters how consistently we follow.  The power of this verse is rooted in its context.  This was the story of Jonathan, the prince of Israel, passionately in pursuit of God, and to see His victory achieved in the lives of the people of his nation.  Enter the armor bearer.  He was committed heart and soul to one who was committed heart and soul to the One.  It mattered who he followed.  It mattered that he trusted his leader.  His own course and destination rested in who he followed, where he followed, and how he followed.

You are called to and created for living life surrendered to God in Jesus Christ.  Like the importance of following someone who knows where they are going in a large city at night, you are to follow Christ.  He will lead you through the twists and turns, the exits and the on ramps, through the night and the traffic, because He knows the way.  He's traveled the road.  Don't give into the popular mindset of your culture that beckons you to make your own way or to follow your own dream.  Lean on Him.  Trust in Him.  Follow Him heart and soul, from the core of your being, and with all that is within you.

Let today be a day of rest, reflection, repentance, and restart.  Rest - slow down the pace and check your GPS.  Are they His coordinates or yours?  Reflect - who's trying to lead who?  Is He leading you or are you trying to lead yourself?  Repent - ask for forgiveness for not living in the total surrender that He calls for.  Repent for trying to do it your own way, in your own time, and based on your own limited understanding.  Restart - get moving.  He's not done with you.  He desires to lead you in a direction that will take your farther than you've ever known before.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Deep Roots

"...through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as imposters., and yet are true" (2 Corinthians 6:8).

A. Parnell Bailey tells of a story of being given a tour by a farmer of an orange grove during a season of serious drought. En route to the trees of his grove, they passed a grove belonging to a neighboring farmer. The trees were dry, fruitless, and effected greatly by the overbearing sun and the deprivation of much needed water. When they arrived at the right grove, Bailey remembers seeing orange trees that were lively, leafy, and loaded with fruit. "How can this be?" was the question that was asked. The answer was profound. He was told of how when the trees were just young saplings, they were given water in small incremental amounts. Thirsting for more, the roots of the trees pushed further into the hardening ground in search of ground water. Having found that well of nourishment, his trees had survived because they learned what to do in the toughest of their trials. While other trees were wilting and dying under the pressure, his trees were thriving due the life-sustaining reservoir discovered in the depths.

As Paul continues to write this letter in the midst of great trial of personal attack, he expresses his great confidence in and dependence on God. In spite of the external circumstances, he still felt commended by God. He still believed he was approved by God. His goal had been, since the day of his surrender to Christ, to determine his life to be lived to honor Him, to dig deep in relationship with Him, and to depend upon Him through every moment of his life. There is a great temptation in our lives to give up during the most trying of times. We are encouraged to not give up, but press in, dig deep, and continue on. By the grace of God, we can come through the fires of our trials without even the hint, let alone the stench, of smoke.

Have you ever had a tough week that's brought you to the very end of your rope? Sure you have. Don't be discouraged. Don't give into the heat of the sun, the drought of the season, or the disappointment of the situation. Dig deep. Root deep. Commit to being rock solid and deep rooted in Jesus. You will continue to face seasons and situations that will surely put your faith to a test. Though this may seem unfair, uncalled for, unwarranted, and certainly unwanted, this is part of God's gift to you. No, it's not his desire to cause difficult in your life, but he will use it as an opportunity to strengthen you, stretch you, and show you more of Him than you've ever known. Through it all, remember who He is and who you are in Him. Dig deep, tap into Him as the Living Water. You may go through a drought, but you will never run dry!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Goal is the Same

"So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him" (1 Corinthians 5:9).

The story has been told, read, and retold of one night when one of the generals of Alexander the Great had a soldier who was undisciplined and always causing trouble. The officers had tried many ways and for a long time to whip the unruly soldier into shape. On one occasion Alexander was examining his troops. The unruly soldier was pointed out to him and Alexander asked the soldier his name. The soldier responded, “my name is Alexander.” Alexander the Great exclaimed; “Soldier, either change your name or change your behavior.” The point of timeless truth the general intended to make was that where you are does not matter.  Where you are may change and inevitably will change.  Who you are, or rather who God intended you to be, is never to change.

As children, I'm sure most of us can remember of times being exciting to go on field trips, overnights or just visiting a change of location.  One of the common denominators of key advice was always, "don't forget that you represent this family."  The goal of obedience, respect, unity, and good character, though not always flawless, was the expectation both at home and elsewhere.  The location was changeable, but the expectation remained the same.

Paul, in this passage, is speaking of the difference in serving God here on earth of in heaven for eternity.  He makes the bold and sobering claim of truth that there is no difference.  We are to please Him: to live and to have hearts that are acceptable, agreeable, and extremely satisfying to Him.  This is who we will be and what we do for eternity.  It's been often said that life on earth is "Heaven Practice."  What is done on the game field is a reflection of what has been done on the practice field.  The spectators change but the expectations remain.

The truth is plain and simple.  Live for Jesus in all that you do here.  Let this be your heart's aim and your life's daily anthem.  Live for Him now as you will live for Him there.  Yes, you will fall short, but knowledge of that should not give license not to live to please Him in all that you think, say, and do.  Reality check: Are you actions, thoughts, words, and attitudes in full agreement with Him?  Are they congruent with His character, His will, and with His Word?  This is to be the standard by which you measure yourself.  And when you find that you fall short, rely on the power of His grace and love to pick you up, dust yourself off, and to set you back on the track that leads to the best that He has for you.  No matter where you are, the goal is the same: to love Him, to trust Him, to repent before Him, and to walk in the way He is leading.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Strength Through Struggle

"Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart" (2 Corinthians 4:1).

Push ups.  Yes, I do them.  I've done them for years.  While in the US Army, they were as regular a part of my everyday life as the less than delicious food served in the local mess hall.  Periodically, we were required to undergo a battery of physical fitness tests in order to track and gauge our physical fitness so that we would maintain proper readiness and effectiveness.  During the push-up part of the tests, I would pound out a decent number in the first half of the two-minute trial.  That second minute was spent focusing on getting as many as I could in order to maintain or beat the previous mark.  Once hands or feet came off of the floor or knees came to the ground, the opportunity to continue was concluded.  The last ten seconds for me was complete with excessive sweat, focus, and loud grunting.  Though my arms burned and felt as though they had transformed from muscle to mush, I was determined that I would struggle through the pain, not give up before it was over, and gain strength through the process.

Paul, as he writes in 2 Corinthians, endured pain and many personal attacks to both his character and his calling.  His suffering was public and gave much opportunity for dissenters to assert reason for him not being an apostle.  The attacks were baseless, without substantiated evidence, yet were hurtful all the same.  Paul's confidence did not come from his own achievements, accomplishments, or accolades.  His confidence came from God's mercy in calling him to do this work.  As long as he pleased God, pursued fulfillment from God, his strength would be perfected and he would persevere because God through Jesus Christ.

You will face moments or seasons of personal attacks.  There will be days where you may feel that the harder you try, the harder it seems to persevere.  Don't lose heart.  When you seek to pleasure the expectations of people over God, the struggle will get the better of you.  When you purpose to please God, you will find that struggle overcome by the strength that He gives you.  Your purpose is found in Him.  You don't need to be so quick to defend yourself, argue your efforts, or justify who you are.  When your life is founded on loving Jesus, listening to His voice, and living according to HIS Truth, you will be led in a strength that will overwhelm the struggle you find yourself in.  Never forget the words that were penned through the struggles of Paul's life: "His strength is made perfect in my weakness...When I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Removing the Lens Cap

"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

She went through half of the performance of her child's first Christmas program at his preschool before she realized her great gaffe. The pictures had all been snapped with great joy that spilled over from the smiles that shown like a brightly lit marquee. Then she realized. The lens was still on. No matter how beautiful the image would have been, she would never see again. She would never be able to show anyone of this great moment. It was there. She missed seeing the "greater picture" because she never got passed the lens cap.

How true this story is in our lives. God longs for us to see who He is and where He's leading us, and what He wants to show us at any given eyes. Without a relationship with Jesus, we are seeing life through a camera that still sports the cap. With "unveiled face" speak of God, through Jesus Christ, having made a way for us to more fully see, know, and understand the purposes for which we were created. He has provided access and clarity for us to more clearly see the hope we can have, in Him, as we journey in reaching that purpose.

What a knowledge you have access to. In Christ, you have the challenging, yet rewarding opportunity to be changed from degree of glory to another. He sees the potential worth in you so much, that He is constantly working on purging you, purifying you, and polishing you so that He can present you with the highest value possible. He's not done working on you. Open your eyes and see that He is passionate for you, perfecting you, and preparing you for the greatness of what He has in store for you. Don't become so distracted with what you see here and now that causes you to miss what He really wants you to see. You don't ever have to give into discouragement, doubt, or depression. He's still there. You're still being transformed. Take the lens of your understanding off, and begin to view your path through the eyes of faith in Jesus.  His amazing grace has never lost its power.  "For I was blind...but now I see."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sour to Sweet

"But thanks be to God, who in Christ, always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us, spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere"
(2 Corinthians 2:14).

When life offers you lemons, make lemonade!  How cute.  How proverbial.  How cliche.  How annoying!  Sure, we've all heard the phrase, perhaps have been encouraged by its folksy charm and optimistic sentiment.  Perhaps further still, some of us might even be willing to admit that we've used that phrase...or at least have thought about it, when speaking to others about the bombardment of less than ideal situations they might be facing.  What intrigues me, is not the "what" to with taking the proverbial lemons and conjuring up a drink that is both satisfying and refreshing, but "who" supplies the other ingredients.

We don't have to look far to locate and identify struggles, trials, and heartaches.  Their are plenty of them in the present, not to mention the ones that so many hold on to from the past as though they were some treasured memento never to be forgotten.  Though we face them and must face them, we are not obligated to fear them.  Paul reminds the reader that we serve a God who always is leading us towards triumph.  Even the disappointments can bring glory to God.  Does that sound so foreign, unrealistic, or even heretical?  It's not the disappointment itself, but rather, how we respond.  Those times bring to the surface of our lives the true fragrance of who we are.

Allow every situation in your life to bring out the very best fragrance that the reflects the knowledge of Him everywhere and at all times.  Just like the sugar, when added to the lemons and the water, brings about a very different and positive perspective and takes it from sour to sweet, so desires the Lord to work similar in your life.  He takes the sour - the struggles, the disappointments, the fears and regrets of your past and present.  He adds to them the sweet - His love, His grace, peace, and joy, and His promise to walk with you regardless.  He adds what you cannot and what you have not.  If you open your heart and all that's in it to Him, He will turn your mourning to dancing, your sorrow to joy, and He can transform something so sour and bitter into something so sweet and blessed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sweat & Strength

"Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.  But that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead"
(2 Corinthians 1:9).

Basic Training. Summertime in South Carolina. Humid, hot, and harsh. It was the best of times and oh, it was the worst of times. Waking at four o'clock during a time that I never realized was on the clock twice in one day, to assemble in a formation for the purpose of running took me way past fun. It was supposed to. Basic training was a process of breaking me down until all of "me" and who I thought I was into who they believed I could be. I remember writing home one evening half-way through training. I wrote words that resembled the following thought: "There are so many that have given up. It can be discouraging. At times, I've considered calling it quits, too. But not now. It's not that it has gotten any easier. It's just that I have gotten stronger. God has helped me to do what I never thought was possible. And by myself, it wasn't. I can do this. I'm going to do this. Make sure you're at graduation. I'm going to come through this with flying colors."

We've all been there. There are times when we feel as though we might not actually get through. But, for the grace of God. Paul begins his second letter to Corinthian church by encouraging and expressing. He encourages them to endure though they face trials, attacks, temptations, and hardships. He expresses his unity and understanding, for he, at the time of his writing, his experiencing them, too. Who Paul was did not exempt him from the challenges and adversities of life. It was how Paul saw them and responded to them that made the difference.

Former United States Attorney General John Ashcroft once said that you can never have a resurrection unless first there is a crucifixion. He wrote of rises and falls in his public and political adventures. When there was a defeat, there was also a deliverance. Each loss opened the door for a n opportunity that would take him further than what he had foreseen. This is the principle of sweat and strength. God allows us to experience the pain of the stretching and strengthening, because He is preparing us for what are yet able to fully see.

This may be a challenge for you. If so, don't be discouraged. You are not alone. Continue to rely on Him. Realize that it is not by your strength alone that will see you through. Know that He is with you. Rest in His strength. Allow His peace to comfort you during the times where you begin to feel as though you're all alone. Trust Him. Depend on Him. He is the God of all faithfulness. He is the one who can raise you from the hardships and struggles, and He is longing to turn the sweat that forms in the heat of your situation into a strength that is perfected by His power.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Walking Through the Open Door

"...for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries" (1 Corinthians 16:9).

Twenty-four years old, just married, graduated from college with a degree in theology, and ready to conquer the world for Jesus!  Though it was years ago, I easily recall that period of my life.  It was full of great expectations that were all fulfilled, but in ways that did not expect, nor in ways that I had always dreamed.  I had been serving as a youth pastor at a small church plant in a community that was struggling, both economically and spiritually.  I was a volunteer, single, and was putting my whole heart and soul in to what I was doing, who I was serving, and really love most every minute of it.  In college, I had always dreamed of graduating and going to some large church that was full of people, grand salary packages, and benefits!  Shortly before my wife and I were married, the Lord began to show some things that did not compute in the calculations that I had already decided.  I felt as though God was leading us from where we were, but thought and was hoping that He was leading us to one of those places that fit what I desired, and quite frankly, thought I deserved.  God saw it differently.

What God did do, was presented me with an open door.  It led to another small church, a weekly stipend that wouldn't equate taking care of a new wife who was still a full time college student, and an hour-long one way commute that would cost tolls and over a hundred miles at a time.  I was to begin a youth program and assist the pastor with other duties.  A year into it, I tried to leave.  I tried to find another open door, one that God, in His grace and wisdom, would not allow it to open.  I stayed.  There were challenges, struggles, and at times, the struggle was within me and my desire to be there.  But THIS was the door that God had opened.  I began to embrace it.  I was able to see what GOD could when I fully walked through the door He had opened.  Lives were changed.  My life was changed.  Though He would lead me through another open door a few years later, I am forever grateful for what God did in my life then and there.

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth challenging and encouraging them to persevere in the work that God had called them.  He was living out the same call.  He was open with them concerning the reality there will be challenges when we are living out the call of God.  Not everyone will like it.  Paul, however, did not look the other way when an opportunity presented itself, though it was clear that it would include great opposition.  Instead, he stayed.  He remained.  He endured.  He saw opposition as an opportunity.  He refused to give up and quit.

There will be opportunities in your life that are disguised as oppositions.  Don't be alarmed and don't be fooled.  Within each of those oppositions is an open door where God will do amazing things beyond what you can possible imagine.  It's so easy to label people and things as this or that and move on.  With this attitude, we miss out on the discovering of what God may have wanted us to see and to learn.  Take time today to seek God and ask Him what it is He wants you to do.  And while you're at it, ask Him what He desires for you to learn.  Ask Him to show you the open door.  Don't judge it based on its looks.  Judge it based on the One who is leading you to it, through it, and beyond it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Running Uphill

"But thanks be to God, who gives the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord , your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:57-58).

Running is not something that I have always enjoyed doing.  Now, I do enjoying beginning a run and I definitely enjoy finishing a run.  It's all the running in between the start and the stop that begins to wear me down!  One of the areas within running that is a struggle to me, and most people I'm sure, is running on an incline.  When I was stationed outside of Washington, DC in the United States Army, we would routinely run through the historic Arlington National Cemetery, which was attached to our base.  We would run early and the run would be a minimum of four miles.  There were hills that went up and those that took us back down.  It was very solemn and in many ways, enjoyable.

As we reentered the base, we found ourselves at the very bottom of a very large hill.  The hill was daunting.  We had already run almost four miles, and we were tired.  I was tired!  Quitting was the most attractive ideas I could come up with at the time.  Being in a military unit, we ran as a unit in formation and repeated a cadence that was called by the platoon sergeant.  As we approached the hill, he spoke words that would prove to be vital in my reaching the top of that hill.  He would say, "Don't look at the hill.  Stay focused on what's right ahead of you.  Breathe.  Don't repeat cadence.  Be silent and listen to my voice.  As he called cadence, he would include encouragement.  "You can do this 2, 3, 4.  Pick it up 2, 3, 4.  Don't give up 2, 3, 4.  Almost there 2, 3, 4."  Before I realized it, the run became easier because I was now at the top of the hill.  I had made it.  I didn't give into my feelings or to the voices running rampant in my mind.  I listened to the voice of my leader.  He didn't fail me.

How easy it is to get side-tracked on the journey we travel.  We become distracted with the nagging thoughts that remind us how hard it is, or how much easier it would be to do something else.  There is a strategy by the enemy of our souls to use whatever mechanism available to knock us off the straight and narrow.  He uses our emotions, our mind, our disappointments, and our discouragement.  But through Him who gives victory, we can endure.  Victory does not have to be a specific time, place, or even.  We are intended do live victory in everyday life, and applying victory-sustaining principles to every part of life.

Never forget.  You have victory in Jesus and through the powerful work that Jesus completed on the cross.  You are not who your thoughts try to convince you that you are.  You are not a quitter.  You are not useless.  You are not beyond hope.  In Christ, you are more than a conqueror, steadfast, immovable, and abounding in the work He has called you to.  There will be many days where the uphill climb is all you seem to face.  Don't become discouraged by the hill in front of you.  Listen to God.  He's speaking a cadence of encouragement over your life.  Focus on His voice.  He will lead you.  By the grace of God, you will live in the victory that He has already purchased.  You will begin to know that you are what you are - you are His.