Friday, February 28, 2014

Use What God Has Given YOU

Read: "Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead…" (1 Samuel 17:49a, NIV).

Think About it: Imagine the scene. It's the original "David and Goliath" story. A young man who has been left out with the sheep while his brothers, bigger, stronger, and more fitting in the eyes of the people as soldiers, have marched off to war. For more than a month, the armies of his beloved country have ridiculed, mocked, and cursed by the armies of a rival nation. One in particular, Goliath, has called hideous curses upon the God of the Jewish nation, attacking the heart of their people. David, without the armor of battle, without the experience of war, and without the genuine support of his country, engages in the fight of his life. He doesn't have what everyone else has, yet he doesn't complain. He's not insecure. He doesn't feel inadequate. Though he may have been underestimated by others, he hasn't underestimated his God or what His God has given him. He reaches into the bag that has supplied him for many unexpected events while out tending his father's sheep. He pulls out one of the stones he had gathered before setting foot on this battlefield. This is where God has led him. This is what God has given him. Let the battle begin.

Going Deeper: David was a young man of courage and honor, but he was also one of humility and obedience. He trusted God. He relied upon the Almighty. He didn't fall into the endless abyss of comparing himself to the thousands around him. Comparison would have left him defeated before the battle ever began! David had heard the voice of God and had been given precisely what he needed to do what he had been called to do. He didn't question it. He knew arguing with the creator of the universe would be to no avail. He recalled how God had always protected him and provided for him. At the core of his being, he knew God to be faithful. David had already been anointed the next king of Israel and was confident that God had a plan to use him on that day. He reached inside of his bag and used what he had been given. Resist the compelling draw to compare yourself with the "spiritual heroes" around you. God has a plan for them and he has a plan for you. He will give each what they need to accomplish the distinct purpose He has for their lives. Don't live your life discouraged, focusing on all that you don't have. Look up to God and inside of yourself, and be willing to use, with full commitment of heart, all that He has given you. He will not fail you. 

Next Step: If you could do everything that needed to be done without God, you would become self-reliant. You'd take the credit, depend upon yourself, and slowly God would cease to be a part of the equation of your life. God will give you what He knows you need, but never making Himself irrelevant. Think again about the giants you may be facing now. Don't be overwhelmed by how you measure up to those around you who are also facing giants. Don't look to people. Look to God. He has given you everything you need to overcome every giant you face. What has He given you? Perhaps it is an analytical way of thinking, physical strength useful to accomplish great tasks, or a heart of compassion for the plight of others. One thing is for certain. He has given you a heart and a mouth. When your heart is focused on Him and your mouth overflows with a prayer of dependence upon Him, the size of the giants in your life become smaller and smaller and the overcoming victory God desires for you becomes a greater reality. So go ahead and reach in. Use what God has given you.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Run Towards Your 'Goliath!'

Read: "As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him" (1 Samuel 17:48, NIV).

Think About it: "I don't know if I'll ever get out of this debt." Like a track that was perpetually stuck on "repeat" was the thought that played over and over in his mind. A father, a husband, and a member of his community, there was an overwhelming pressure that made him feel as though he would never see the light of day. One morning while sipping coffee, reading his Bible, and talking with God, he was awakened to an idea he had never much considered. All the times he had felt like a swimmer underwater with no oxygen, his excuse had always been that he didn't make enough, owed too much, and couldn't save for the future. He blamed the economy, student loans, high-interest rate mortgages, and whatever other excuse that might momentarily shift the the weight of responsibility from him. He began to realize that if it's God's best, there is always a way to receive it. Just because it doesn't look possible doesn't mean that it's not possible. He remembered reading the verse in Scripture that declared that all things are possible to them that believe. It was like placing a fresh cut of red meat in front of a starving dog. The debts were the same, the bills still due, and his pay hadn't grown any larger, but he was determined that with God on his side, he would see breakthrough in his finances. He didn't wait for it to happen. He ran towards the "giant," because on the other side of that giant was the goal he had been looking for!

Going Deeper: Success doesn't just happen. It is strategic and is based on a balance of application, commitment, and sacrifice. You have to be willing to sacrifice what things look like in the present in order to see how they can look and will look on the other side of the "giant." David, smaller, younger, and undeniably considered the underdog by all onlookers around, refused to stand still, stay silent, or surrender in shame. He "ran quickly toward the battle line." He was convinced that what God wanted for him was non-negotiable. He didn't concern himself with the illogical arguments that had been made by those sought to bring him to "reason." The only thing he knew, the only mindset he chose to have, was that God had called him to overcome that which targeted his defeat. He ran forward in faith, with vision, and with total abandonment. Goliath never excepted such great courage from one that appeared to be such a small man. When God gives you a goal, don't retreat when the circumstances look to be less than ideal. If God is with you, there is nothing that can stop you. Run towards your giant and take, by faith, all that God has for you.

Next Step: Procrastination is one of the greatest weapons of warfare the opposition uses to keep you from advancing in victory. If he can keep you waiting, he can keep you from winning. What goal has God put in your heart that you long to see become a reality? What's holding you back? Are you waiting for the perfect timing, the perfect circumstances, or the perfect people to surround you? If it's financial freedom, are you waiting for the mystery check, those lotto numbers you keep sinking money into, or for the credit card companies to vanish into thin air? What excuses do you keep using to keep from putting one foot in front of the other to face the giant that God has already said you can defeat? Stop putting it off. Get on the battlefield. Believe that God has the best in store for you. Stop trying to figure it all out before you trust. Get out of the boat. Start walking in the mystery with your eyes fixed on the One who's called you out onto the waters. Don't wait for everything to fall into place. Do ALL that God has called YOU to DO. You will see Him BE all that He's ALWAYS been!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Call Upon Your God

Read: "David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied" (1 Samuel 17:45, NIV).

Think About it: Anyone who has ever parented children or who has had the distinct privilege of observing them in their formative years of development has also been privy to a few key life lessons. Only five at the time, she was daddy's little princess, cute as a button, and had emotions that could take you on a ride much similar to a Tilt-A-Whirl at a small town carnival. One morning as her dad was drinking is hot cup of joe, he overheard a slight whimpering that steadily grew as the seconds ticked off the clock. He tiptoed around the house, leaning in to where the growing sounds of frustration were emanating. There he was able to assess the situation and the cause of the tears that were already streaming down the reddened face of his little princess. "What's wrong, sweetheart?" he spoke in a calming voice. "Daddy!" she cried with the wrinkle of her nose and the quiver of her lip. "I can't find my shoes and I have to get ready for school." Instantly the dad swept his little girl up into his arms, wiped away her quickly multiplying tears and spoke words of affirmation and confidence. "Princess. When you can't find what you're looking for, just ask Daddy. I'll always answer when you call."

Going Deeper: As David approached the giant that stood towering over him with a look of disdain and spoke words of defiance, he knew that he was in over his head. On his own merit, he was unskilled, unprepared, outmatched, and outsized to go toe to toe with the Philistine army's military champion. For forty days before David was found on the scene, Goliath had taunted, teased, cursed, and defied not only the armies of Israel, but the God of the Israel armies. David knew the battle he was about to fight was more than just a skirmish to be settled. It was a cause to be won. David's response to the belittling lies of his over-sized giant was to rely upon the one weapon that had always been his way of escape and victory. He called upon the Name of his God. The word "name" is one that means "reputation," "character," "rank," and "authority." What he lacked, he knew that his God more than made up for. There are days when you will face the giant of your life. You might feel overwhelmed and underskilled. You might grow weary with discouragement as the barrage of curses and lies are spewed out of the mouth of your "Goliath" and fall upon your battle-worn resolve. As you approach the giants that God has called you face, know that HE is with you. If He called you, He will go before you, and He will be with you. Call upon His Name. Recalling His reputation, rank, character, and authority will serve to strengthen you and your faith to stand before a giant that is ready to fall and doesn't know it's coming.

Next Step: It is very easy to fall into the trap of dwelling on all that you face. News flash: IT WILL NOT HELP YOU. When you focus on your giant, you will always find that you are outmatched. You can't win. Will power is not enough. But, when you remember and focus on who God is, that His reputation is faithful, that his character is loving, that His rank is almighty, and that His authority is absolute, your fear will be overcome by a faith that is bigger than your giant. Take a minute and write on an index card or scrap of paper all that you are facing at the moment. Go ahead and "name" your giant or giants. When you have done that, take a big marker and write down this name on top of it all: JESUS. Don't face your giant alone. Call upon your God. He knows what you need and the battle has already been won!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Identify Your Giant

Read: "Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd's bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine" (1 Samuel 17:40, NIV).

Think About it: "What are you struggling with?" he asked the young man whom he had been meeting with for an early morning breakfast. "What do you mean?" The older man continued, "what do you see as the 'giant' that seems to be standing in between where you are and where you hope to be?" "Well," he began, "if I say it, is that like I'm already admitting defeat? Shouldn't I be more positive about what I'm facing and not focus on the negative?" "That is one way to look at it," the mentor responded with a wise look in his eye. "Or, you can identify what it is that you're facing so that you know what it is you're asking God to help you with. If you ignore it or just try to "positively talk it away" it will remain and grow in strength. But if you acknowledge it, be aware of the dangers, and apply God's truth to dealing with it, you will see the big break-through you've been hoping for." "So what you're saying," the young man leaning forward, intrigued, and excited about this newly discovered strategy, "is that by identifying it, I'm not accepting it, just acknowledging what needs to be dealt with?" "Exactly. When you identify your 'giant,' you can identify your goal." 

Going Deeper: It is easy to get caught up in a mindset that believes that if you only speak only positive words, that only positive results will happen. That is positively untrue, unwise, and unscriptural. David, in his unsuspecting match-up between the military hero of the Philistine army, identified his giant. He knew that he was smaller than the giant-sized Goliath that spoke curses over him. He didn't merely throw words back to the opposition, or positively confess that the giant didn't exist, nor did he ignore the reality of the situation at hand. The Bible says that he approached the Philistine. The word used means that he advanced, stepped up, and got closer. He didn't shy away, run away, or pray away the "bigger-than-life-sized" road block that attempted to keep him and the nation he loved away from the promises God had spoken over them. He identified, approached, and stood in faith that the giant he saw rise, would be the giant he would see fall. There are giants that stand towering over you, calling curses upon you, and are determined to the death to stop you from believing that you can achieve the greatness God has in store for you. Identifying your giant isn't admitting defeat. It is acknowledging that you have a strategic plan in running to an all-powerful God that has already determined that your destiny is the freedom that only He can bring.

Next Step: What giants are you facing in your life today? Is it a giant of fear? Are you intimidated by the giant of depression, out of control emotions, or a discouragement you just can't shake? Are you overwhelmed by the giant of insecurity? Are you losing confidence in your ability to do what God has set before you to do? Go ahead. Identify your giant. When you identify "lack" as your giant, you will know that God's provision is your goal. When you identify "insecurity" as your giant, you will see that confidence in Christ is your goal. Is your giant's name "Pride"? Know that humility is your goal. Name your giant. Step up in courage. Move forward in faith. Let the freedom of God be your goal and determine that NO GIANT is big enough to stand between you and all He has for you! 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Not Finished Yet

Read: "And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns" (Philippians 1:5-6, NLT).

Think About it: "When can I learn how to punch?" Can you reminisce the iconic scene in the 1980's blockbuster breakout hit, The Karate Kid? Daniel had been painting the fence, sanding the deck, washing the cars, and who can forget the infamous "wax on, wax off?" He'd learned so much through ways and means that were less conventional, quite confusing, yet surprisingly convincing in his quest to learn the art of karate. The location of the action had now moved to a quiet calm lake in late fall, with the air pleasant, yet the waters cold. Daniel is balancing on the stern of the fishing boat talking with Mr. Myagi about his desperate desire to learn how to punch. The karate tournament he had been preparing for was fast approaching and he was now more concerned with what he hadn't learned rather than focusing on perfecting all that he had learned. "When can I learn how to punch?" Mr. Myagi, in his light-hearted, straight as an arrow focus, quipped back as he literally rocked the boat, "Learn how punch when learn HOW KEEP BALANCE!"

Going Deeper: The culture of impatience isn't a new concept for the contemporary times. Human nature has often desired the false satisfaction of instant gratification. What is wanted is wanted now. Later is too late, and even now is not soon enough. The Apostle Paul spoke of this in his letter to the Philippian church. "When God starts something, which is evident that He has in you, He is faithful to complete it." It can only be imagined that the inner struggles those new followers of Christ had encountered are starkly similar to the ones you may find familiar today. It is undeniably true that when Jesus was on the cross He cried out, "It is finished." All that He needed to do to provide all that you needed for eternity was finished. How that is applied in your daily life is a continual work in progress. You are a work in progress. Don't become discouraged when you face a season in life when the excitement is less and the hopes and dreams seem to follow suit. You are not perfect and still make mistakes, but are in a perfecting process. Jesus sees you, knows you, and is working in you. He's not finished with you yet.

Next Step: What is an area that you find yourself struggling with? Is it an addictive behavior, maybe eating too much, exercising too little, smoking, excess drinking, pride, laziness, control issues, or lack of control issues? Rather than being your worse critic and living in a funk of perpetual discouragement when you find that, "once again" you've failed, try this. Take one struggle at a time. What's the struggle? What are the sparks, meaning, when are the times that "spark" the struggle as easiest to fall into? What scripture can you find in the Bible that counters that struggle and speaks God's truth to the challenge you face? Depend upon God for the strength when the struggle is sparked again. Finally, stand strong as you let God work in you, change you, and see the change through you. Don't give up. Don't be discouraged, because He's not finished with you yet!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Look Up!

Read: "But you, O Lord , are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high" (Psalms 3:3 NLT).

Think About it: Have you ever felt like this: "I just can't do it. No matter how hard I try, I just can't seem to make it all click. I mean, I know I am not completely incompetent, but making people believe I can do it is something so much more difficult. Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to climb Mt. Everest just to get through a day feeling as though I really do have something to offer. It seems as though I can be surrounded by several or more people and still feel overlooked, underestimated, disregarded, and all alone. I even struggle resenting others who appear to always have it all together. It's like I can feel the laser-burning judgment from their eyes piercing through my layers of fear and insecurity as though they are saying, 'Come on...just snap out of it.' 'Snap out of it?' Oh, I assure you I've tried. I try to believe I'm better than I think others are perceiving me. It's just that some days are harder than others. What more can I do?"

Going Deeper: "But You, O Lord..." is the psalmists reply to his own feelings of inadequacy and dealings with the notion that he was suffocating from the pressures around him. "But You, O Lord" was the stark reminder that it wasn't all about him or what he was going through, as though he really were all alone. God was with him. In focusing on all that he didn't have in comparison to others and being led by his own emotions, he lost focus on all that God already was and wanted to be in his life. There are days when you are going to feel as though you have used all your strength to climb up just to find that you have reached the bottom of the barrel. Don't give into the temptation to dwell on what you see around you. Look up to see the face of God smiling upon you. You are still His creation and He is passionately in love with you and is waiting for you to look to Him for all you need. He wants to be, as the psalmist writes, your shield. He wants to be your security, your sense of protection and stability. You won't find it in the appeasing of others, nor in their wavering opinions of you. You won't find it in yourself, your abilities, or in your own hopes and dreams. HE is your shield. He is your glory. That means, in the Hebrew, He is your value, your worth, your accolade, and your reputation. Everything you ever try to achieve in the eyes of other people, you already have in HIM. When you grab hold of that truth, insecurity and doubt begins to suffocate in the altitude of the heights that God wants to take you! He is the one who lifts your head high. The temptation is to look down when you're discouraged. It's time to look up and see what He has before you. Yesterday is gone, but today, this moment, is right here. Look up and see the new opportunities and the new grace that covers old mistakes.

Next Step: The truth is simple. You are going to face a moment today, or soon, where you attempt to either look at yourself through the eyes of another's opinion, or either through your own eyes of self-aggrandizing  ego. Either way, take a pause, even right now, and have a "But You, O Lord" moment. Let it sink in that it's not about you. Rather, God has a plan and a purpose for you and your life today. Be assured that He has already made available to you everything that you have need of to live successful and prosperous, to make a difference, and to leave a legacy of influence on this day. Trust Him. Look up. Know that all you need is found in Him. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ready. Steady. Secure.

Read This: "Blessed is the person who trusts the LORD. The LORD will be his confidence. He will be like a tree that is planted by water. It will send its roots down to a stream. It will not be afraid in the heat of summer. Its leaves will turn green. It will not be anxious during droughts. It will not stop producing fruit" (Jeremiah 17:7-8, GW).

Think About it: You could hear the bon fire crackling, the smells of an autumn family cook-out were intoxicating, and the evidence could be clearly seen of a back-yard football team taking shape. There was an even mix of older teenagers and young adult guys splitting off in a selection process that would form the two teams. The guys being picked became less and less until they had all been drafted and the teams seemed set and ready to battle it out on the back-yard grid-iron. All except for one. Just shy of nine years old, the one that nobody thought was seriously trying to play with the "big boys," he turned to one of the team captains and spoke with absolute certainty, " which team am I on?" It never dawned on the underaged, underestimated, and overlooked man of junior-size that he wouldn't be picked for a team. As far as he was concerned, he was playing, it just wasn't yet determined who he'd be playing for. He wasn't insecure about the teams being picked. He was confident in who he was. He was convinced that he had something to offer his team. He wasn't concerned about his age, his size, or his experience. He was ready to play his heart out. He knew who he was in his father's eyes and that gave him the confidence he needed to see through his own eyes. They placed him on a team and what an amazing sight to see! These young adults and high school students playing football with a nine-year old! He refused to give into the influences of fear, doubt, or insecurity. Besides, there was too much fun to be had!

Going Deeper: When you know who you are, there is a security and a confidence that will carry you through the moments of doubt and discouragement. The prophet Jeremiah explains that a sincere trust in God is the bedrock foundation for a solidified sell-esteem that produces an undeniable confidence.He uses the analogy of a tree that will face the harshest of climate conditions. Though  there may be a drought of desert-like proportions, that tree will stand firm and flourish. The tree is not dependent upon what may or may not hit the surface. That tree has rooted deep and has made contact with the life-giving refreshment of the ground-water. As long as it is connected to the ground-water, it is convinced that it will not be forced to react to the ever-changing conditions of the climate around it. It is secure. It is steady. It's for real.

Next Step: Rather than focusing on all that contributes to the unwanted feelings of insecurity that you might battle, focus on "digging deeper" and making contact with the "ground-water" of the Holy Spirit of God. That's where you will be able to stand secure and face the doubts that will challenge your faith, your confidence, and your sense of purpose. Connect to Him on purpose and with purpose. Search the Bible for verses that speak to the issues that you face that chip away at your sense of security. Read them. Think on them. Pray them back to God. Receive a renewed confidence in Him. Know who you are because you have made connection and have purposed to know who He is.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Insecurity from a Different View

Read This: Do not worry. Learn to pray about everything. Give thanks to God as you ask Him for what you need. The peace of God is much greater than the human mind can understand. This peace will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).

Think About it: In 2012 I had the breath-taking experience to spend some time in South Africa. During our journey there we took opportunity to get a closer look at the beauty of God's creation. We encountered whales along the coast of the tip of the nation and beheld the glory of the scenic landscape that a high-class work of art would never be able to adequately define. What grabbed and overwhelmed my senses the most was a trek up to the top of a flat-top mountain that gave us a view like I've never encountered. From that vantage point, all that had once seemed so big, so over encompassing from such an "in your face" angle, now appeared so different. It was smaller. I could see more than just one thing. I wasn't taken aback by the enormity of one scene, but by the masterful work of art that connected all the details into the bigger picture I could then see. It was when I was able to take it all in from higher ground, from a "God's-eye view," that I was able to appreciate all that I would once again face on the ground below. 

Going Deeper: Insecurity has the power to grip your face and manipulate your focus. It attempts to force your attention on all that you can't control or on what you begin to believe is beyond your control. Insecurity distorts the reality of the life you encounter by bringing it so up close and personal that you are overwhelmed by the appearance of something more than the reality of what it is. In Philippians 4, Paul writes that worry and anxiety are not part of the packing list that God has prescribed for the journey you are to walk. Insecurity will rob you of your peace. Seeing your life from a God's-eye perspective will allow you to see peace, know peace, and live in peace, regardless of what you see around you. When you pray, or communicate with God, you are beginning to rise up out of the chaos and confusion of everyday life and view it all from a different vantage point. You will be able to see how God can take the situations that seem overbearing and attempt to use fear, worry, and insecurity to isolate you, and use them to bring about the big picture of working "all things together for your good (Romans 8:28). When you choose to see life from higher ground, you will begin to see all that God wants to show you in using you to walk in total confidence, strength and victory. So long, Insecurity!

Next Step: What is it that weighs on your mind that keeps you closer to the ground rather than reaching for higher heights? What causes you to feel less than the best that God has created you to be? Is it something you've been told or even had repeated over you countless times? Is it something you've regretted in the past that you overcompensate for in the present that cripples your confidence for the future? Identify it. Call it out by name. Release it. Let it go. Pray and acknowledge it before God, give it Him, trust Him completely, and begin to walk the journey with confidence and conviction. That's when the peace of God will march around your mind and heart and set-up guard, protecting the work that God is still completing in you. No fear. No worry. No insecurity. You may still face it, but when you see it from a "God's eye" perspective, its power of intimidation will cease to be effective in holding any power over you. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

(40 Days of Focus) Day 40+2: "Tell Your Story"

Read: “The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?’ So the people came streaming from the village to see him” (John 4:28-30, NLT).
Think About It: “I don’t have a ‘testimony’” she told her pastor with a hint of embarrassment. “What do you mean by that,” he countered, knowing very much what was on her mind. “I’ve never been through some of those things you hear people talk about God saving them from.” She had grown up hearing how Jesus had saved people from a life of addiction, promiscuity, and drunkenness. She had once even heard a man tell his story about how he found Christ in prison after having killed someone. She believed in the power of God to all of those things, but didn’t feel as though she could be an effective messenger of that kind of power, because she didn’t have a story to match. “Sometimes,” her pastor continued, “a testimony is giving evidence of what God has brought you out of or brought you through. Other times, it’s what He has kept you from.” “All in all,” he concluded with a reassuring smile, “a testimony is nothing more than your story of what God has done, is doing now, and the plans He has for your future. You tell that. It will make a difference.”

Going Deeper: The woman with the jar was known by the people in her town. She was so well known, that it is believed by many scholars that she chose to the hottest part of the afternoon to go and gather water. There was no one there to notice her, be turned off by her, or to remind her of what she had done. Her story was one of broken promises and a shattered life. Yet, when she encountered Jesus, she encountered grace. She returned to her community at the same time of day she had previously tried to escape. She told her story of how she had met Jesus and how He spoke to her life in a way that changed everything. They heard her story and were moved to discover the One who might rewrite the stories of their own lives. She dared to tell her story. This is what God calls for from those who believe in Him. Whether it is a story of a life saved out of the prison of past mistakes or one that tells of the power of God that keeps them from falling in that same pit, there is a story to be told. It’s a story of grace. It’s the story of Jesus.

Next Step: What is a testimony? It’s presenting the evidence of something that has transpired. No matter what you have done or, perhaps, what you haven’t done, you definitely have a story to tell. Whether it’s when you first gave your life to Christ or the many times God has brought you through situations, you have a story to tell. The question is, are you telling the story? Someone needs to hear it. Take some time and identify a situation that was more than you could handle on your own. What did God do? What did He show you in the process? What did you learn? How has it impacted you? That is part of your story. Ask God for the opportunity to share the story of His love with someone who is aching for a story “re-write” of their own. The more you tell your story, the greater the investment you make in others with the hopes, that one day, they will tell their story, too.