Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Connecting with Creator & Friend

Read: "Answer me when I call to You, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress. Be merciful to me and hear my prayer" (Psalm 4:1, NIV)

Think About it: "Why should I pray?" was his question. "Prayer just seems like a lot of asking for things. Seems a bit selfish." For many people, this is the question that poses much internal conflict around the topic of prayer. "Why pray?" "Prayer appears a lot like weakness." "If I need something done, I'll just do it myself." "Seems a little strange to just call out to God every time I need something." Prayer has become an increasingly uncomfortable habit or discipline because its simplicity has become lost in the routine and ceremony. Prayer is talking to God. It is a communication with the ONE who created all time, yet is not limited by His creation. God stands before the first tick of the clock and will continue to stand unshakably strong when the last tick has tocked and the alarm has sounded the end of all time. Prayer is not an obligation, but rather an opportunity to talk, to tell, to ask, and to listen. 

Going Deeper: Psalm 4 is a song of David that was sung to the music played on a stringed instrument. David was a musician. Music was the language in which his soul connected with the realms of Heaven. David cried out to God. No matter how alone he may have felt during the isolated seasons of shepherding sheep, serving the king, or being king himself, he called out to God. Even during the moments when he became overwhelmed by the run-a-way train of his emotions, he still recognized that God was still with him. He trusted that God would respond. From the tone of his prayer it is easily seen that David didn't always receive the evidence of his prayers being heard by the immediate answers he hoped for. Yet, he continued to pray. He continued to call out to the One he depended on. He was confident in his relationship with God. His reliance upon God would be the key to unlocking the relief he desired from the trial he was in. His communication wasn't solely founded upon "needing something," but rather on the trust that his connection with God was built on a solid relationship, not just between Creator and created, but between Friend and friend.

Next Step: When you are feeling as though your own ropes are being rapidly unraveled, fight the temptation to "work it out" in your own way. Cry out to God. Pray. As though you might text a friend in the middle of the day, take a moment and connect with the Creator, the Father, and the Friend. It has been suggested that when you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot at the end and hold on. Prayer is not having to worry about tying the knot in the quickly unraveling rope. You are tied to God through a relationship with Jesus. When you get to the end of your rope, LET GO. Call out. Trust, as a friend to a friend, and a child to a father, that He will regard you, respond to you ,and grant you the relief you seek and the peace you require. No matter what you face, know that as long as you trust Him, your relationship with Him is secure. He is your God. He is also your Friend.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Welcome Home

Read: "Jesus answered him, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise'" (Luke 23:43, NIV).

Think About it: Today was a day that began like many others. The electronic buzz of the alarm clock brought me into the reality that a new day had begun and that it was time for me to join and be a part of it. I showered, dressed, and left the house while it was still dark for an early morning breakfast meeting. At the conclusion of breakfast, I received a phone call that soberly reminded me life's brevity. "Dad has fallen and we think he has died" was the broken voice on the other end of the line. "I'm on way" was my reply as I left the cafe and joined the grieving family. The story that is to be told, however, doesn't begin with today. It is a tale of a faithful and pursuant love of a passionate and compassionate God that existed before the life that ended ever began! One week before, this man breathed his last breath and had taken his first breath as one who confessed Jesus Christ as his savior. Only having met him for the first time two and a half weeks before his death, I was blessed to be welcomed by him to sit and talk for hours like two friends who had known one another for ages. There was no judgment, no accusations, and no "hard sells" as though I was a vacuum peddler desperate to fulfill a quota. There was a love and a grace that gripped his heart and convinced him that the love of Jesus was real. As I would share about the amazing grace of a loving God that longed to offer him a true peace that transcends all understanding and logic, tears of pain and tears of joy mixed together streamed down a face that had grown weary with life, sickness, and time. As I left the house from my last visit with him only a few days ago, I was overwhelmed with admiration. Seventy-six years old, a man of great stubbornness and persistence, and one who had honestly earned the label of being "stuck in his ways," had seen a great change. His countenance had changed. His heart had changed. His eternal destination had changed. Yet, the love of God for him had always been the same. When he closed his eyes for the very last time this morning here on earth, he opened them to the glorious sight of the face of Jesus smiling upon him. I can only imagine that as he returned the gaze of Jesus, beheld the beauty of heaven in all of its splendor, he heard the only words that have ever truly mattered. "Welcome home. I love you. I have always loved you."

Going Deeper: There have been many over the years who have debated the idea of someone coming to Christ at the point of death as though it is somehow invalid. How great is the grace of our God that sees beyond the judgment and the conditions that people have placed on others. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, there was a criminal on either side of Him. They both deserved to be there as they had committed deplorable acts deemed worthy of such a punishment. Jesus hung there as the embodiment of perfection, with the weight and the sin of the world on His shoulders. The one mocked and cursed at Jesus. The thief to His other side acknowledged, there on the cross and only moments away from certain death, that Jesus was the Son of God. He asked Jesus to remember him. Jesus responded that "today you will be with me in paradise." No one deserves the grace that God has given through the work of Jesus. If it could be deserved, it couldn't be called grace. 

Next Step: Never underestimate the power of the grace of God through Jesus to soften and impact a person's life at ANY age. Resist the temptation to look at yourself in anyway other than one who has been saved because of the compassionate love of Christ to apply His amazing grace to your life that was lost and without hope. Take a moment and thank God for that grace that sought you and eternally changed you. Ask God to reveal to you others who may feel as though the accumulated years behind them has somehow disqualified them from receiving all that God has to offer for the present, and for an eternal future. Let the grace of God live through you so that others may be forever changed and live to hear the words of the Savior, "Welcome home."

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Determine Your Pursuit

Read: "Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it" (Numbers 13:30, NKJV).

Think About it: "What if he says 'no,'" was the thought that ran rampant in my mind as I sought to serve eviction notice to the swarm of spastic butterflies that were turning my stomach into an amusement park on a summer afternoon. "But this can't be a coincidence," I thought. "I know that God has worked this out for me to being going over there at this very moment." At seventy six years of age, his lungs plagued by an infestation of scarred tissue and a feeding tube that had been determined it was time to pull it out, he was a man with a clock whose ticks were quickly running out. Never before really being open to the idea of the love and grace of God, the circumstances that God had orchestrated made all of that seem silly and inconsequential. Here we were. He and I. Face to face. Stressed over the idea that death had yet to take him, we talked about the grace of God through Jesus and the power of prayer offered up on his behalf by a family that cared about his place in eternity. The determination to pursue the path that God had divinely placed me on that day, in faith, was more powerful than the fear that stubbornly tried to stand in the way. At seventy six years of age, at the end of that day, he was ready to stand and be counted as one who had confessed his belief and surrender to Christ. 

Going Deeper; Caleb, a man of forty years, had a determined faith that he, along with the others, could lay hold of every blessing God had called for them to have. He believed there was nothing that could stand in the way of what God wanted for them, if they would only believe. He declared with a courageous faith his confidence of what they should do, what the results would be, and that they were undeniably overcomers. Fear had infected the faith of the ten who focused on obstacles, while the faith of two had overrun that same fear as they focused on the God-given opportunities. Each day of life is about purpose and pursuit. Your purpose doesn't change. It has been given to you by the One God who formed the very idea of you in the creative genius of His limitless mind. What you pursue, however, is based upon the faith you have in the purpose He has authored. You will either pursue a path that has been determined by a fear that zeros in on the impossibilities of a Divine Destiny, or you will pursue a journey by faith that has been determined by your purpose. Determine your pursuit.

Next Step: Don't allow fear to lead you. Don't let your conversations with those closest to you be guided by a fear of how they will respond, how they've reacted in the past, or how you've played out the scenario in your mind as though it was already the reality of your present. Before you respond to anything today that attempts to appeal to your emotions, determine your pursuit. Determine to walk down the road that has been paved by God, navigated by God, and is led by God. Know that He has a purpose for you. Don't allow fear to lead you astray because of the hurts of the past, the frustrations of the present, or the uncertainties of the future. In faith, know that God is in control. He sees the giants, and yet His purpose for you hasn't changed. Trust God. Determine to pursue in faith over fear. Enjoy seeing how God works it all out!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Hold Your Peace

Read: "Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said…" (Numbers 13:30b, NKJV).

Think About it: Like a prowler in the night, cloaked by the secrecy of the darkness, he slowly approaches his seemingly unsuspecting target. The eyes of his prey have not shown any indication of detection, so the mission proceeds as intended. As he rounds the last protective barricade that separates him from the glory of his goal, he rounds behind, reaches up, and prepares to shout Twith deepest and loudest battle cry that a 9 year-old little boy who's trying to scare his dad can muster. Just as he is about to lay claim to his prize, his dad, having been completely aware of the undercover mission from the moment he heard the rumbling in the hallway, turns around and says, "Hey buddy...whatcha doing??" In regards to scaring his dad, epic fail. Dad holding onto his peace in the midst of unknown circumstances? Mission accomplished!

Going Deeper: Take a closer look at the last two words in the first part of Numbers 13:30. "And said..." Often overlooked as simple words of insignificant value, they provide a clear view through an open window into the reality of Caleb's mindset. Believing that the reconnaissance mission from which he had just returned with Joshua and ten others to be a grand success with opportunity to lay hold of the land promised by God, he had just endured a negative report teeming with reasons based on fear and intimidation as to why such a mission would be impossible. Caleb's response, after quieting the people, is noted as "...and said." Notice that it didn't say, "and shouted," "and lost his temper," "or became defensive and emotional." Caleb held his peace as he grabbed hold to the promises God had already spoken. When you are holding on in faith, you can hold on to the peace that passes all understanding when the fears of doubt and uncertainty rage around you. Don't give into the temptation to react in fear. Choose to stand, slow down, rest in God and respond in faith.

Next Step: You don't have to lose your peace to the fears you face. When you hold on to Jesus, you are holding on to the Prince of Peace, to the One who has the authority to speak peace into your life and into every situation that attempts to rob you of the peace that He gives. What situations have the greatest play in your life to bring you to a place of speaking before you think? What "grabs your goat," or brings you to the brink of losing your temper? Slow down. Take a breath. Before you open your mouth, running the risk of responding based on the emotions that envelop you, remember the promise that God has for you. What promise? His greatest promise is His presence. He's with you. He's not caught off guard by what surprises you. He's steady. He's faithful. He's wise. He's with you. As you trust the One who walks beside you, you can respond in a faith that is grounded in His promise.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Push Pause

Read: "Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses…" (Numbers 13:30a, NKJV)
Think About it: One of the greatest inventions of the 20th Century was not the light bulb, the automobile, the computer, or even the television. It was the remote control. No more having to get off the couch to change the channels, but the freedom to switch programs, adjust volume, press play, stop, rewind, and yes, even PAUSE. The "pause" button was revolutionary as it gave you the opportunity to think about what you just saw in the cinematic feature that may have just blown your mind. You were able to ask a question, go to the restroom, or run to the kitchen for that "one more" bowl of popcorn. You didn't have to feel overwhelmed by the pressure of time. The "pause" button allowed you to pull yourself together and prepare for all that would come next. 
Going Deeper: Caleb understood the power of the "pause" button long before the creation of such a concept. He learned to apply the "Principle of Pause." During the wilderness days of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage and towards the great land of Promise, there was a team that was dispatched from the camp and sent out to scout the land of which God had spoken. Twelve men left their families with great anticipation to see this "field of dreams" that would become their homeland. It boasted of agricultural wealth and vegetative splendor. When they gave the report back to Moses, however, 10 out of 12 focused on the obstacles, the excuses, and the logic of why their exploration and possession of the land could never work. Caleb "quieted the people." He pushed pause. Rather than allow himself to become angry or to feel threatened, as he had seen the same land, but held a different passion, he quieted the voices around him. There will never be a shortage of negative voices when you are seeking out a positive direction. The loudest voices are the easiest to hear, but just because they're loud doesn't mean they come from God. Fear shouts with emotion, yet God many times will shout in the silence. Unless you "push pause," you may never hear the voice of peace that holds the power to quiet the voices of fear. 
Next Step: Remember the story of Jesus and His followers on the boat during a fierce storm? The Disciples were losing their cool as Jesus rested peacefully in sleep. After being awakened abruptly by their fear, Jesus rose and spoke confidently in faith three words that still command the attention and compliance of all commotion. "Peace. Be still!" When the voices of fear are causing chaos in the arena of your mind, call on the words of Christ with a faith that stands in defiance of that fear. "Peace. Be still!" When you are overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the future, the insecurities of the present, or the regrets of the past, "Peace. Be still!" When your fear attempts to place its hold of darkness over the eyes of your soul and anxiety rises up because you can't see the light, "Peace. Be still!" Don't let fear rob you from the promise to which only faith can lead you. When the voices get loud, don't fear, just push pause.