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Monday, January 30, 2017

Faith & Feelings.

"In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete" (John 16:23-24).

For those whose main argument of faith is that it is something you can't see, touch, or experience with any of the five senses, are not taking into account another power of invisible and "senseless" proportions. Feelings. Feelings cannot be seen, but the evidence of feelings can be more obvious than words necessary to explain. Feelings are so powerful that they can be confused with reason, overtake wisdom, and drect decisions in a flash. Feelings have been long-time accused accomplices to people of faith, with the accusation that faith is nothing more than feelings. Yet on the flip-side of the coin, feelings haev been a great adversary to idea and the power of faith. Faith stands when feelings would rather sit, crouch, or run away. Faith's power is its ability to be strong in the presence or the absence of feelings.

Jesus addresses this idea with His closest friends. He speaks of the day when He will "go away" and they will look and not be able to find Him. He knows that they are not mentally or emotionally prepared for such a day. As deep as they have learned, there still existed a shallowness of understanding that would be taken over by feelings. "In that day you will no longer ask me anything." Jesus, physically, would not be there and therefore they would have no way of asking Him anything, as far as they understood. Their faith in Him  and their dependence on prayer would be shaken by feelings of grief, disappointment, anger, fear, and discouragement that would seek to overwhelm their focus to stand. Jesus implores them to "ask in My name," and that "...your joy will be complete."

Feelings cannot be trusted to have such a power over your life to the point where you would stop praying because your faith was separated from your feelings. For your faith to be authentic and strong, it has to be able and willing to stand on its own. A faith that is dependent on being able to feel cannot be verified as being faith at all. There are many who do not pray, worship, serve, or give because their feelings are not there to confirm the "conviction" of their faith. Their feelings become their primary source of confirmation and affirmation. If the feelings are there, fine. If they are absent, the decision is final. As Jesus taught, pray and ask "...in My name." He appeals to what they know more than what they might feel. "Name" means character, rank, authority, and reputation. He's charging them to face the feelings with both their faith and the facts. 

So, in like manner, pray and ask based on what you have seen in the character of Jesus. Pray and live according to the heart of Christ. Pray and tap into the authority and the rank of the King of kings. Your feelings are real and you cannot deny their existence. But don't give them an authority in your life that is greater than the faith you have in the REALITY of Jesus. His Name is great. His authority is unbeatable. His rank is unstoppable. His character is untouchable. His reputation is unshakeable. When the feelings are there, enjoy them in your relationship with God. He created them. He created you. They will converge. But when the feelings seem like distant memories or when they become so real they seem like great enemies, keep your focus on the faith that you have in the Name of Jesus. Let your faith act you into a feeling, knowing that your feelings may not always feel you into the faith. When you can't see Him and when you can't feel Him, you can still know that He is there. Pray.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Re-Directed Praise.

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14, ESV).

Considered one of the greatest champions of the faith and of advancing the message of Christ into unreached places, the Apostle Paul held a firm and accurate perspective of reality. It was not about him, his accomplishments, the amount of churches he had started, visited, or how many at which he had preached. Paul had held a position of high esteem before he had surrendered his life to Christ, and in the eyes of many, after as well. Yet, Paul was able to see that before his transformational encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus had occurred, he had been nothing. He had been both lost and condemned by his own blindness to who God really was. Paul seemed to have a sense of the human nature that was all around him and the tendency that it would have to focus its attention on him. He also understood the nature of his own flesh and the potential temptation to enjoy and crave this attention.

Paul's response was as immediate as it was intentional and effective. He aimed to cut the head off of the snake of potential accusation that he longed for accolade or applause for who he had become. This statement was his loud declaration that "This is not about me! I know who I am and what I deserve. Stop looking at me. Stop applauding me. Stop thinking I'm the answer to your problems. I still have problems and need the very same answers as you. Jesus is the answer. Look at Him! Look to Him! It's HIS CROSS that has made the difference in me. And it is HIS CROSS that will make the difference in you!" Paul seemed to be so aware of his own selfish nature that he was determined not only to make his point strong with others, but also for his own nature to understand who was really in charge.

Paul was not playing around. The glory was not his. The notoriety was not his. The fame could not be his. Any attention he received for all he had done would take away the weight and value of the attention that they needed to place on Christ and His work on the Cross. If they placed the weight of their focus on Paul over Christ, then they would face definite disappointment when Paul ceased to exist. But their attention, hope, and faith in that God who came from Heaven to earth, who came to live His life and to give it perfectly and sacrificially for the sins of the world, and who defeated death, hell and the grave and rose again and ascended back to the throne of victory in Heaven, would be forever their salvation.

The cross of Jesus was never a popular concept. The curse of crucifixion was never seen as the pathway to fame and notoriety. Pain and suffering were seen fit only for those who were deserving of such actions. It was never seen as calling or as something to be desired. And yet, it was the very reason that Jesus came. He came not be served, not to be applauded, not even to be appreciated. He came to live His life and gives His life to honor the Father, show the love of the Father, and to direct the attention of the world off of themselves and to the restoration that would come through Him in order to reconcile them in relationship with the Father. Paul received this same call. He gave up what he had to receive what he really needed and lived the rest of his days preaching and teaching that example. He wasn't what they needed, but he held the truth to what and to whom they did need. 

Never lose sight of why you exist in this world. There persists such a culture that trumpets self promotion and self-exaltation to the point relegating all else, even that which is most important. The sound of applause can be deafening to hearing the sound of the voice of God who assures you of wherein lies your true significance and value. This life will be complete with opportunities for you to receive great appreciation and to be applauded for the accomplishment in which you achieve. Celebrate them. Receive them. But always keep your eyes on the reason why God would allow you to be where you are or to receive what you've been given. Rather than be the receiver of praise, be a funnel of praise. Always live to redirect the attention of others to the only One can make the real difference in the lives of others. You can't, but if you allow yourself to be used by God, He can. 

Stay humble and know that your greatest significance will never come from what you can do, but only from who you are in Him. Don't allow the temptation of self-promotion to try and fill an emptiness and a search for significance that will only satisfied when you say that "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me."

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Promised to Pass.

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze" (Isaiah 43:2).

Since the first bites of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, trials have become a natural, or expected, part of life. Rarely are they preferred, yet rarely are they not present. The nation of Israel had known more than their fair share of trials during their own travels through life. Many were of their own doing, yet many were allowed by God at the doing of selfish others. In Isaiah 43, God speaks of a time of Israel being chastised and rebuked for how they had fallen away when they access to the provision and protection of God through obedience. Because of the love of God, there would have to be lessons He allowed them to learn through the consequences of their actions, so that their focus could be restored as their hearts were being restored. Repentance, redemption, and restoration, however, would never serve them as "get out of jail free" cards nor would they inoculate them immune from future trials they would face. 

One of the greatest tragedies among those who identify as followers of Jesus, usually in their early stages, is to believe that the closer you are to Jesus, the more impossible it is to face struggles and conflict in life. Turn on Christian television and wait long enough and you might find some preacher teaching that trials and tribulations are a part of the curse and those who choose to live under the blessings will not face them. God, however, told His chosen people, "You're going to face some stuff, but don't become anxious or overwhelmed. I'm going to get you through it." 

As you choose to surrender fully and follow Jesus, you will find three major promises in life that God gave to His own people in Isaiah 43. 

1. You will face struggles. There is no denying it. You live in a world where natural perfection is no more. Perfection  is now a product of the inner workings of God. He uses the imperfect to work that perfection in you. And so for now, you live in a world where you will face struggles, trials, problems, hardships, and the like. You will face through the waters of overwhelming situations. You will feel as though you are backed into a corner with nowhere else to go. There will be times where it seems as though you are following God but find the ocean in front of you and the enemy army fast approaching you from behind. Facing the struggle does not mean you are not in the will of God. It doesn't mean that His hand of protection or that His Divine favor has lifted from you. It means that you are living in the first part of that promise. But in that, never forget that He is the God that has said that He will NEVER leave your NOR forsake you. He is YOUR faithful God. He is YOUR protection and provision on the road to where He has called you, no matter what you may face on that journey. 

2. You will get through them. There are many times in life where it would be so much more preferable to cry out to God and have Him miraculously reach into the pit of the problem and pull you out. Though that has been the case many times and very well be the method God uses at times in your life, it will not be the norm. Rather, you will face the struggle and He will give you all that you need to push on through. He will give you His presence. He will guard you in His peace. He will provide you with strength. He will point you in every right direction. When you face the waters, you will pass through them. Your situation does not have the legal authority to keep you out of the favor and direction of God. Your problem does not have the legal right to forbid you to pass through what you're going through. If you don't know the truth of that, then you will give into the daunting appearance of the problem. Knowing the truth, however, will give you a Godly perspective and the faith to know that what you're facing is now, but it is not later. You are going through this. You are passing through these waters. They may rise above your head, but you will not be drowned in these waters. You are not going under. You're going though.

3. You have been called. In verse 1, God speaks encouragement that would provide the framework for verse 2. "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine." "I'VE SUMMONED (CALLED) YOU BY NAME." Isolation through discouragement and imagination is a spiritual weapon used by the enemy to overwhelm and overpower you. If he can distract your focus, he can stop your faith. But you have been called by name. You are the chosen possession of God. He is the author of your destiny and He is calling you to some things you'd rather not face, but you are HIS. You are going to get through, pass through, overcome, conquer, and succeed all that attempts to stand in your way. The enemy has no legal right to stand in your way and stop you. Why? Because you have been called by One with greater authority. Your name has been issued by the One who created you and all things. Your calling is not contingent on the struggles you face or those who try to stand in the way. Your calling is irrevocable by human standards and by the attacks of the enemy. Your name has been given.

When you know who you are in Him, You will know the promises of His own heart that will empower you today and throughout all that you face. You will face the struggles. You will get through. You have been called.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Intimidated No More.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bead, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:9-11).

In the mid 90's I had graduated high school and had joined the United States Army. That summer was a complete blur as my life had changed so much and so fast. The emotions I encountered with the mixture of physical exhaustion were more than I had ever anticipated. I remember "giant status" of each of drill sergeants in basic training. They were very successful in creating a fast impression of coming across as strong, brutal, and most of all, at least to me, intimidating. There were a few times that I needed to go to the office of the drill sergeant and approach one of them for some reason or another. We had been taught how to approach them, what position to be in, what words to say, and in what tone to speak. There was certainly more than a respect that would come over me when I came close to the door and begin to knock. I was intimidated. I feared whether or not my request would be considered, would this be an acceptable reason to approach, and would I face some sort of consequence for even asking. The intimidation served on more than one occasion as motivation to "suffer in silence" whatever need or question I may have had. 

How many times have we considered God in the same way? The intimidation is so great as to how He may or not respond that we just simply do not get too close. The pain and fear of rejection or consequence becomes greater than the "suffering in silence" that has become an all-too-often norm. Jesus spoke the light of truth into the darkness of a lie that has shrouded many into believing that God does not care. He does. Intimidation is lie straight from the pit of hell to keep you from approaching God in prayer. The fact, over the fear, is that God loves you and has much better in store for you if you would only trust Him enough to ask. 

"How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!" It is not really even a question, but a statement of truth. The root of the intimidation many times is that we are still holding on to things God wants us to release. There may be somethings in your life that make it harder to believe that you deserve anything good or that you could even earn the right to ask God for anything. God does not treat you in terms of "how much you deserve." Yes, He will hold you to a standard, and yes, there will be consequences according to your actions. But He is not a God with some sheath strapped to His back where He pull out the lightning bolts and hurls them down every time you make a mistake. He is a God of TRUTH & JUSTICE, but He is also a God of MERCY & GRACE. His love for you is GREATER than the sins that have become the obstacle between Him and you. 

Don't let intimidation have power over your life. You can approach God. You are the very reason Jesus came from Heaven to earth. The devil wants to separate you with the weapons of intimidation and isolation. God wants you to know that as a Heavenly Father, what He holds for you is far better than anything you could ever imagine or achieve on your own. All you have to do is APPROACH, ASK, and APPLY. So, what are you waiting for? Take some time now, right now. As you acknowledge who He is and what has been in-between Him and you, ask Him for the help and the "what you need" in your life. His love alone will more than give you the confidence that He will answer.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Secret Sins?

"But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults" (Psalm 19:12).

There is a lot to be said about secret sins. You know, the ones you hide deep in the closet of your mind. They're the ones that are locked up in a box that keeps them from public view. You control the access. You know exactly what is behind that lock and key and there is absolutely, under no circumstances, that anyone will be sneaking a peak in there. It's a secret. But the Bible takes this idea even further into the land of "uncomfortable." Perhaps all secret sins are not those where you know exactly what is wrong and are keeping it secret for that reason. Maybe it's not all that calculated in every area. The reality is, there are thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions that are a part of the everyday life that are sin, but you are the only one that doesn't see it. Secret sins aren't just ones you hide from others, but ones that hide from you behind the pride of denial. Humility opens eyes.

For example, have you ever been in a conversation that became more of a argumentative debate rather than a two-way conversation? The idea of exchanging thoughts and ideas for the purpose of healthy communication has been traded by two people striving hard to be heard and proving their point that the other person is obviously wrong. There is no room to listen to the heart or to consider the perspective of another. It's all about the win. The problem becomes evident when no one really wins. The sin of pride has entered the room, humility has left the building, but there are two people left who both feel they are right and the other is wrong. This has been the catalyst that has seen the start of wars and the end of relationships. The sin of pride will convince you that you are right when it is painfully obvious to others that you are wrong. 

David writes with this theme on various occasions throughout his life. He seems aware of his ability to be wrong while being self-deceived that he is right. Humility will, in fact, open the eyes to the reality of the situation. David's sins were obvious to Nathan, though David had blinded himself to the truth that his position as king was still subject to the reign and rule of God. He had covered something up in secret, but had convinved himself that he had right-ed his own wrongs. His self-denial was confronted. In Psalm 139, David writes with obvious emotion regarding those who have come against him and who have shown their hatred towards God. He follows those lines up with an appropriate showing of humility. "Search me and know my heart, O God. Test my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me. Lead me in the way everlasting."

Are you quick to assume that everyone else around you is wrong? There is a NEWS FLASH that God is wanting to speak to the core of your heart in this moment. You do not have a monopoly on righteousness. Humble yourself before the Lord. Seek Him for understanding and revelation in the areas where you may have been convinced that everyone else around you as a problem. The pride of life will rob you of the destiny God has called you to in being a reflection of Him and an influence for Him. "Who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden thoughts." Only God knows the integrity of your heart, even more than you are aware of yourself. Let Him show you the areas, the moments, where you have pressed on in being "right," but where He wants you to have pause so that He can work the "right" in you. Let God deal with the real secret sins inside of you.

God Wants His Praise Back.

"Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name" (Psalm 100:1-4).

Have you ever woke up in the morning only to wish that your day was already over because the thought of even facing it was more than you wanted to embrace? It is true that we live in a world that is continually speeding up at a pace that can feel so uncontrollable. There are moments when our feelings about what is going on around us appear to be bigger than we are and certainly find themselves in the driver seat of our minds. It is even possible to have a heart for God, an intention for God, and even a desire for God, but will little action to go along with it. There is often so much going in our headspace that our heart space get's overlooked and the feelings of anger, fear, discouragement, or even apathy begin to develop life and legs of their own. 

In the Bible, David was a man that found and connected with God the most in the absence of feelings but in the presence of loneliness and rejection. He was isolated and exiled to the fields of the sheep in a society that expected much from a shepherd's work, but not as much from a shepherd’s life. It was in the fields of loneliness that he discovered the intimacy of worship and the discipline of praise. 

How do you praise God when the feelings of praise are so small, if they exist at all? How do you pray to God in praise when it feels more natural to just think, brood, and get lost in the fog of your own mind? In Psalm 100:1-4, the shepherd David shows how his time in "alone-ness" was never overwhelmed by loneliness. He offers both physical and mental action steps that will bring your feelings into order with your faith. 

1. Shout for Joy. Joy has nothing to do with feelings. Actually, the New Testament will show you that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, so it has little to do with action of your own doing, but is a result of being with Jesus and IN His Spirit. Joy has much more to do with faith than it does feeling. Shout for Joy! You can do this because, not how you feel, but because of who He is and because of the promises He has spoken in and over your life. 

2. Worship with Gladness. Stop allowing all of the negative in your world to stamp out the gladness that you COULD have if you only adjusted the reality of your focus. Look to Him. You have more to be glad about than you have to be mad about. Worship Him with a heart of gladness. The more glad you are in Him, the less power the madness can have over your life.

3. Know He is God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Your feelings will focus your attention on that which will ultimately distract you from focusing on God. Your feelings are real, but they are not the rock of stability you want to build your life on. God is in control. When you know that He is God, you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you will stand in and through all that you face. 

4. Enter with Thanksgiving. Feeling thankful cannot be the standard for being thankful. Feel it or not, look at your life and determine the treasures that deserve and call for your gratitude to God. You may have faced many things, but you have not gotten this far in life without the blessings and provisions of God. Thanksgiving is the access point to praise. Start thanking God even in this moment. When you thank God for what you do have rather than focusing on what you don't have, you'll find the headspace clearing up!

The fact of the matter is simple. There is nothing or no one on earth that deserves your praise more than God. Never allow anything or anyone to have such control over your mind that turns your world negative and angry. He is still God. What you give voice to is what you give praise to. He is God and He wants His praise back! 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Nothing Wasted, 5: Shame Problems

“…in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).

The access the world has given the devil to every crevese of their mind is unbelievable. He comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and not just the body, but ALSO the mind. Paul understood and wanted to the church at Rome to understand that Satan will use anything and everything in your life, especially the past, to drag you down in your present and disparage you for your future. The satanic workings in their minds would tempt them to believe that who they are is a culmination of every mistake and wrong-way of thinking, because people are who they are and who they have always been. People cannot change. Paul, however, was a living example of how people cannot change, but can BE CHANGED by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit of God, through the work of Jesus. What has been is now a “has-been.” 

Paul wanted these new believers in the church to know that they would still continue to fight the shadows of who they had been, but in the power of the Light of Jesus, shadows are only reminders, because they have no real substance. Now, however, was the time to live separate from what was before because of what Jesus had done for them now. Shame held NO POWER over their lives as long as they chose to live separate from those life-choices that opened the door for shame to come in. What Jesus did on the Cross was ENOUGH for the guilt, the shame, and the condemnation to be evicted and cast out of holding ANY spiritually legal right over the one who would choose to believe and live in surrender to Jesus.

In personal reflection, there are a lot of things in my life that if I had to do all over again, I hope that I would do differently. Of course, the obvious reality is, is that I can’t go back. I have already been there, done “that,” and live here. I can change nothing, but how I respond. I know that as a believer in Jesus Christ, my sins are forgiven. Shame has no power or authority over my life, my thoughts, my mind, my attitude, my mouth, or my actions. I will not give into feelings of fear or condemnation over that which I have done, because I now live in a truth that overcomes every doubt. There is NO CONDEMNATION in Christ Jesus. I am a new man. I am a new creation. Old things have been destroyed and the perfect plan of God is being built in my life day by day. Additionally, I will choose today live out in every thought and mindset, and in every word and action, the truth of who I am in Christ. I will not live according the ways of my natural flesh, because I am committed to living in and by the Spirit of God. Today in my job, I will not give into the temptations to do any less than I know is found as honorable to God. I will not dwell on the things that I cannot change, but I will continue to find my hope in the One who continues to change me. I am who I am, not because of what I’ve done, but because of what He is continuing to do in me. 

Lord Jesus, I thank You that You are a God of forgiveness and grace. Thank You for EVERYTHING that You have taken from my life. I thank You that everything the enemy of my soul tries to use against me has already been taken and pardoned by the work You have completed on the Cross. I thank You that Your word says that “death is abolished.” I know that that means as “real” as it still may be, it’s power over me and my eternal future with You has been rendered ineffective. Everything in my past that the enemy wants to use against me is death. And in the Name of Jesus, has been rendered ineffective. I thank You Lord that in You there is NO condemnation. I also thank You for the power You give me in each moment of each day that enables me to live as You have called me, not as I have lived. I am a brand-new man with a mind that is being renewed in the Truth of Your Word day by day. I thank You, Jesus. In Your Name, Amen.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Nothing Wasted, 4: Fear Problems

"So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God" (2 Timothy 1:8).

Paul writes this letter to a young pastor who had become his own son in the faith. He had the privileged opportunity to see Timothy come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He was there to lay hands on this young man and experience his surrender to the call of ministry. He knew of the story of his Jewish mother and grandmother, both of whom loved God and came to know Jesus. The Godly influences that were a part of Timothy's heritage were astounding, yet Paul also had the perspective to see that which was lurking in the shadows.  Timothy's mother was Jewish, but his father was Greek. Be raised in both cultures would be a source of constant contention for him in the religious circles, as he had not followed certain ceremonial rites as a Jew because he was also a Greek. Now that he was pursuing a call to preach and to minister, he also had to reconcile how is dual heritage might stand in the way of his own credibility in being heard and effective among others. To add to that, what if people wouldn't listen to the outrageousness of this Gospel message. He knew what had happened to Jesus, and several of the other Apostles had already had their lives taken. Paul was in prison for doing exactly what he, too, had signed on to do. Paul's words to his young protégé were to not give into fear, to stand with courage, and trust that would use every situation to the benefit of his calling. There would be nothing wasted. All he needed to do was to keep his eyes on Jesus, keep fanning the flame of what had begun in him, and trust God beyond the situation.

I have found myself in this very type of situation time and again. I know that giving in to fear is not of God and really don't struggle in believing that God can do what He said He would do. Where the rubber meets the road for me is to not waste time giving into the "what if" scenarios in between the time of "God said" and "God did." As I read the words of Paul to Timothy, I also receive the truth and encouragement for myself. I will not be afraid or ashamed of what God has called me to do. I may not know how it's all going to work out or come to pass, but I have to understand that that is all part of God's design. He has never called me into something that is going to eliminate my need to depend upon Him. I will still face the moments that will try to play on the fears of the past and the perceived insecurities of the present. I will not give in. I will not fear the "what if's" because I know no matter what happens, God already saw it, knew it, and had a plan for me to get through it. There is no situation that God has not already considered and factored into the plan He has for what will happen. I will trust Him. There is nothing that I have faced or will face that God cannot or will not use. There is nothing wasted. Every doubt and every fear will be transformed into another chapter of the story that God is writing on the parchment of my life. 

Thank You, Jesus for Your faithfulness to me. I think of all the wasted moments of worrying about how trusting you may backfire on myself or my own credibility. I know that in You, that there is nothing wasted, and that it has never been about me. I do not have to fear when living in faith for You. Lord, I have given you my life and therefore I live to give every minute and second of my day to you. It is yours. It is not mine. I ask for Your continued wisdom and strength and courage for every step I walk in the direction you've called. I know I cannot do this by myself, but with You, I know that I can do all things. Thank You for the moments that I've encountered the fear and the worry. They may have been intended to stop me, but they only served to remind me of how great and powerful You are. I love you Jesus. Thank you. It's in YOUR NAME, Amen.

Beyond the "No."

"...Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong"
(2 Corinthians 12:7‭-‬10, NIV).

No one with half a brain with a quarter of sense would argue that the Apostle Paul was a weak man. He was a picture of strength in so many ways. As you read through the New Testament it becomes clear that he was beaten, flogged, tortured, imprisoned in inhumane conditions, yet he never buckled under the pressure. Paul maintained, in his dependence on Christ, a strength that was evident physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Don't get it twisted, however. Paul was not immune from the potential of doubt, discouragement, fatigue, and disappointment. Even in his own seemingly "super human" relationship with God, he had to learn much about what the power of God could do through the power of disappointment. 

Paul was afflicted, in what exact ways, Biblical scholars still debate, with something so great that it is noted that he pleaded with God three times for it to be removed. Paul, a great man of faith, was met with what could have been a catastrophic contradiction to the faith he proclaimed. How could he be a mighty man of God, when his own faith wasn't enough to see him find freedom in his own areas of breakthrough? Nevertheless, the story doesn't stop here. Paul's pleading was never ignored, nor was he given the answer he immediately wanted, yet he was given the exact answer that God knew he needed. 

Think about how the devil likes to try to twist and manipulate your emotions and how you view god's interactions or  the perceived "lack thereof"? He wants you to believe in the core of who you are that you are not going to succeed beyond the point where you are now. This is it. You've come as far as you are going to get. You have prayed and cried out to God for answers that you knew would be key to your coming through this present battle. Your prayers, if answered at all, seem to be done so with a 'no' with no explanation. The enemy of your soul wants you doubting the God who says He loves you, discouraged that you are all alone with the best you have to offer behind you, and disappointed because of failed expectations in a God who claims to be faithful.

"But he said to me..." THIS was how you hear Paul responding to his own potential disappointment. 'He didn't tell me what I immediately wanted to hear, but he said to me what I NEEDED to hear." When God said "no," He wasn't saying "no" to Paul personally, but saying "no" to him situationally. God knew Paul inside and out. He knew Paul beyond the circumstance he was asking to be delivered from. God knew that as Paul depended Him IN the predicament, he would have a greater understanding of God and His power than he would if God brought him out immediately. But Paul would never know this with mere human understanding and natural emotions. Hearing "no" would naturally cause someone to possible shut down, become defensive, and begin to assume every reason why "no" was the answer deployed. Paul kept his heart open and was able to hear God speak beyond the "no."

God will tell you "no" when He needs to. He knows where you are right now in this life, what you're going through, and how every answer He gives you connects to your responses and the effects of "what happens next." His answers to you reach far beyond the present. God never says "no" to who you are. He answers based on where you are, what you are going through, and how His answer connects to what He has for you beyond right now. He still speaks to you beyond the "no." Don't shut down. Don't become defensive. And don't begin to assume the negatives in regards to yourself or God for why He may have given you the answer you didn't want to hear. 

Trust that God still speaks what you need to hear beyond the "no" you didn't want to hear. He speaks beyond the "no," reminding you that His faithfulness has not and will not fail you, that what He has for you is greater than what you've asked for even though you can't understand that, and that He will never stop being there for you. In all things you face, remember this: the God you started loving never started loving you. He just always has! And HE will never stop!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The "Body" Sins.

"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV).

Hellfire & brimstone have been the topics of choice my many pastors, teachers, prophets, and evangelists over the ages of public ministry. Eradicating sin, as it is preached, is the way to acquire and achieve personal holiness with God. Becoming scared about the consequences has become the more favored tactic for making converts than growing more closely attracted to the person of Jesus Christ and making disciples.

When Paul, who cut no corners when addressing sin and spirituality, spoke to the church at Corinth, he let the truth be known. Corinth was the "Vegas" of the day. If it happened there, many would have preferred to leave it there. There was certainly sin in the church and Paul was unafraid and unapologetically prepared to deal with it directly and immediately. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, he deals with the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. His focus is on the church understanding that they are not their own. They do not, nor have they ever been entrusted with the final say over what they do with their bodies. They were created by God and were created so to honor Him in all and with all. 

This is where the imbalance is preached. It is much easier to preach about the sins of homosexuality (and yes, the Bible DOES call the acts a sin, though the struggle with attraction is not), adultery, drunkenness and the like, and avoid dealing with the sins of laziness, overeating, gluttony, and other evidences of living a life with a lack of self-control. Interestingly enough, there is more physical evidence to the latter list than there are in the former list. Rather than dealing with the struggles in which all can see the evidence, many have chosen to deflect the attention onto that which is secret and unseen. Paul, in this passage, deals with all of the above.

This article is not meant to rewrite the Biblical truth on homosexuality, adultery, or other sins of that nature, but rather to level the playing field on the fact that the Word of Truth deals with ALL sins. If it is a sin, it needs to be dealt with. Proverbs 6:16-19 frames it this way, "There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community." Yes, the Bible speaks definitively on many topics of sexuality and the other sins many have labeled as the "big ones." And yet, Scripture has leveled ALL SINS, except for those who die in an unrepentant state, and has shown that each person created has a struggle and needs a savior. 

What are the areas in your life where you are not honoring God with your body? Is it giving into temptations of same sex attraction? The Bible is clear. Is it not being able to stop yourself when sitting at the dinner table with your third desert? Are you lazy? Do you deal with what "other people" are doing rather than focusing on what you need to do? Before throwing rocks and picking out splinters in the eyes of those around you, take some time before God and deal with you. You don't have to be perfect to preach holiness to others, but at least be authentic, consistent, and believable.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Choice Begins in the Mind.

"The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:6, NIV).

Whatever you choose to follow has influence over your outcome. This was the message the Apostle Paul was highlighting to the Roman church. He wanted them to understand that they could not follow one thing, in this context the worldly way of thinking, and get the benefit of of another, that would be a Godly way of thinking. It was a simple matter of considering the realities of choices and consequences. 

The "mind" is many times used synonymously with the heart. It is the core center of the emotions, the will, desires, dreams, and inclinations. It is the place where thoughts are conceived before they are given birth into action. The mind has been many times called both a battlefield and a playground. It is where the enemy has waged battle after battle in the mind with the tactics of fears, anxieties, wild imaginations, doubt, confusion, and the like, all for the purpose of distracting someone from their focus on God to lead them in His purpose for their lives. The playground idea reflects the mind-games that are played at the hand of the enemy. He takes bits here and pieces of truth there, combines them into something that becomes so convincingly real, that future decisions are made on this newfound truth that is still as much of a lie as it ever was. 

The mind is "governed..." The mind cannot be left to its own device. It was created and therefore must have a master. There will always be SOMETHING that governs, rules, leads, or serves as the standard of influence by which it exists. This is where Paul emphasized the importance of choice and consequence. The mind is either ruled and reigned by the flesh nature or by the Spirit nature. The "flesh" is the natural part of who you are. It's that animal instinct, raw emotion, uninhibited, undisciplined human nature with which you were born. It is the same nature that has been the very ground in which every battle has been lost. When human nature is allowed to lead without the discipline and direction from the One who dreamed it and created it, disappointment and destruction is always nearby. Giving into the flesh is allowing the emotions and inclinations, the feelings, have the final say in who you are and what you are doing to do next. What you give into is, in fact, the God in whom you worship. That is a choice. The consequences of that choice are death. Eliminating the Giver of life from having total influence in your life is to eliminate life. 

"...but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace." When Paul wrote the letter to the Roman church, he was keenly aware of both the possibility and the probable reality that he would die before ever reaching the city, at least not as a prisoner. And even though this man had been beaten, stoned, left for dead, prisoned are several occasions, and KNEW that his life would be required of him, challenged this church with the truth that surrendering their minds to the Spirit of God was LIFE and PEACE. Imprisonment and pending execution are two words that did not seem synonymous with the words life and peace in that time, nor do they now in the present. Yet, Paul lived and showed that by surrendering his mind to the Spirit of God, regardless of what he might face, could live the victorious life and with peace for all of the days he would remain on this earth. Just because everything seems to fall a part around you does NOT mean that it all must fall a part with inside of you. There is a peace that is bigger than any prison that tries to hold you captive. There is a life that is greater than the death that tries to suffocate you. The consequence is all contingent on the choice. 

Choose to filter every thought through the Spirit of God. Ask, "does this thought bring honor to God?" "Is THIS how Jesus thought?" "Does this attitude or emotion contradict the truth and example of the Bible?" "What does the Bible say about how to respond to THIS situation?" You have emotions. Fact. You're emotions were never created with the intention of having mastery over you. Don't allow how you FEEL to determine how you live your life. Surrender each feeling to He who both created them and gifted them to you. Choose to submit your mind to be governed by the Spirit, and you will live, and you will have peace.

Friend.

"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15, NIV).

In the days of Jesus, the disciples understood a certain code of decorum when it came to leaders and followers, teachers and students, masters and servants. One was clearly higher than the other, a line was drawn in the sand, and there was no crossing that line. In the religious arena, this accepted cultural truth was made painfully clear and plain to see in the actions and interactions of the Pharisees, the religious ruling class. There was a clear line of demarcation between themselves and those they made sure to know were 'beneath' them. Jesus, however, turned this tradition, as He had with many others, upside down and inside out. Jesus had made it clear that He had come to serve, not to be served. He had even taken off the robe of a teacher and had born the towel of a servant, washing the feet of His disciples, showing them how He had valued each of them. Within the heart of each of the twelve was found a search for significance, a fight for identity, or a defined quest for purpose. 

His heart for those that chose to follow Him went beyond the cultural norms of the day. His words spoke to them more than information, but of transformation. He spoke to their value. He spoke to the core of who they were. He spoke to their potential and released within them the 'OK' to pursue the calling and purpose given them by God. Jesus showed the intimacy side of a relationship with God. It was no longer about ceremony and obligation, as had been modeled in their time. It was about restoration, relationship and responsibility. He had come to restore what was lost, engage in relationship with those who would receive the love of God, and turn to them the responsibility of learning and knowing what God had in store for them. 

There is much intimidation when it comes to the idea of relationship with God. So many are overwhelmed by the perceived notion that it is all about the rules & requirements, the do's & don't's, the can's and cannot's. Relationship with Jesus is just that. it is a relationship. He never left the incredible, 'words can't describe,' amazing, awesomeness of Heaven just to come and wield His power. He already had power and was already in control . He came because of you. He came to come and restore what had been broken inside of you. Since the day you were born you have been on a quest for significance and purpose. Most every action you pursue, word you speak, or dream you dream has something to do with discovering the reason for which you exist. 

Jesus came so that He could call you 'friend.' Christianity, though it has been badly abused and stereotyped because of bad examples, is NOT about the ceremony and obligations of religion, but rather about the restoration and responsibility of relationship. There are principles God, through Jesus, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has established, but not for the purpose of checking off a list of prerequisites to earn yourself out of punishment and into reward. The precepts of the Word of God are so that you are well-equipped to live this life in the full purpose for which you were created, uninhibited by every tactic and scheme that has been devised for your undoing. 

He has called you 'friend,' because His desire is to see you become the most successful individual possible, so that you can become part of the greater 'body of believers' that showcases the life-changing love of God that Jesus came to live. Don't allow the concept of a relationship with God intimidate you from actually having one. He has called you 'friend.' He is a relationship-oriented God. He knows who you are, where you've been, what you've done, and still loves you the same with no regrets. Spend time with Him. Get to know Him. Give Him the total access to every part of who you are. You can trust Him. Be vulnerable. It's ok. He's a friend like you've never known.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

First Things.

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33, NIV).

The days of Jesus held many similarities to the present day. People were overly occupied with the political climate, governmental control, economics, racial issues, and the like. There was great division among social classes, citizen classes, and even religious classes. There was an overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety over the individual well-being of those living in the times. In fact, as Jesus began to pick up steam in the eyes of those who started to open their minds to Him maybe being the anticipated Messiah, there was a growing sentiment about forcing Him into the political spectrum. They saw Him as the answer to their problems, but on terms that they controlled. Their eyes were so focused on what they thought they needed that they were unable to see what they already had. Jesus knew what they needed. He was aware of the hardships in which they lived. Their needs and their desires were valid and were honorable in most cases. 

What needed corrected was their focus. As long as they focused on the needs of the temporal and not the priorities of the eternal, they would live in a perpetual imbalance. Their eyes were on "their kingdom." Jesus said to seek first "God's kingdom." They wanted "their rights" considered. Jesus' teachings were focused on "God's righteousness." When their focus was corrected, and they pursued Godly priorities, then "all these things" would be given to them as well.

As you began this day, undoubtedly many things began to vie for position in your mind. There are things you have to do, bills you have to pay, and decisions you have to make. If that weren't enough for today, there is also tomorrow, this week, next week, the rest of the month, and the rest of the year to consider. With each passing day, the calendar reveals that there are more days, weeks, and months to consider. The moment one project is completed, five more wrestle your attention. What once began as hope and anticipation has now morphed into worry and anxiety. You will never be able to control your way into peace. For every solution you find, there will be another problem to take its place. And as long as your focus is on the problem, you may miss the answer that is right in front of you. Jesus. 

"Seek first." Even right now, with your mind swimming in the pool of all that has to be done, SEEK FIRST. There is an order, a priority for how this day, every day, or every project or situation should be approached. Look to Jesus. This life has never been just about you, your situation, or your ability to resolve problems. It's bigger than you. It's about something that has always been and will outlast all that you attempt to hold together. This life is about a kingdom that surpasses all that you can imagine. The needs you have are important. The "to do" lists are valid. The concerns you have are true and they do need solutions, but when you choose to SEEK FIRST HIS KINGDOM and HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, you will find that HIS SOLUTIONS will overpower everyone of your situations. 

How can you do this? START. SEEK. SURRENDER. STAY. SEE. START each day in the Word of God and in prayer. SEEK God for His direction and for His peace. SURRENDER each situation and the potential anxiety that goes with it so that you will be focused on Him and the peace that He has given you. STAY focused on Him and faithful to do what is right in his eyes. Finally, SEE Him come through with all that you need, for "all these things will be given to you."

Monday, January 2, 2017

Nothing Wasted, 3: Past Problems

"The third time he said to him, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?' Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, 'Do you love me?' He said, 'Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.' Jesus said, 'Feed my sheep...'" (John 21:17).

Peter's hurt was palpable. Any of the disciples within earshot could feel the discomfort of the risen Savior asking Peter repeatedly "Do you love me?" Yes, the words for love that Jesus used were more than one word, but the fact that He was asking a similar question different ways and more than one time was more proof to Peter that he had failed. Peter, the one with the big heart, but an even bigger mouth, loudly proclaimed his undying devotion and a refusal to ever deny Jesus. The volume of his shout was overshadowed by the volume of what he lived out. He denied Jesus not once, but three times, just as Jesus said he would. His denials weren't purposed, but reactive. In that moment, he allowed his fear to overcome his faith. Three times he denied Jesus, and three times Jesus asked him about his loving Him "more than these." 

Peter's hurt may have been because he felt as though his past was being brought up as a disqualifier for any future partnership. It would have been justified. His hurt represented the idea that his intentions had not been enough to carry him through to action, or that had he stepped up and defended the Messiah instead of denying, maybe none of this would have ever happened. Jesus spoke to Peter not in correction, but in restoration. Peter had learned a lesson of discipline in ways no one else could have forced. Jesus spoke redemption of soul, but also of purpose. "Feed my sheep." Peter's past, unless he hung on to it, would not be the determining factor on his future. God would use the failure, wash it in forgiveness, and empower it with faith. In this moment, there was nothing wasted.

It doesn't take me much to look back and see the many more than few times I have let God down in some way. Mark Twain once said of New Years' Resolutions, "Go ahead and make them today, and tomorrow begin paving the way to hell with them." I have had many good intentions that have compromised my integrity, because those intentions lacked the follow through. Failure to follow through can easily bring about feelings of personal failure, regret, and far too many moments of playing in my mind what I should have done and didn't. But I will not allow the enemy to rob me of the lessons I can learn through my personal failures and use them against me. My denials of Jesus through words I've used, thoughts I've entertained, times I've gone back on something I've said, or ways I've reacted out of an emotional response, will either be used as character destroyers or character developers. It all depends upon my choice in how I respond. 

I know that I am called and purposed of God. I believe in the restorative power of God to take what I've messed up and transform it into an opportunity I never could've deserved. I will surrender every failure, every regret, and every missed opportunity to Him who is able to turn it around for my good and for the influencing of many lives. I know that God is not through using me, and I know that He is using that message in and through me to influence others who struggle believing that they've wasted their only chance in failure. I want to be an example of how God can turn it around. He's not finished, because in Him, nothing is wasted.

Lord Jesus, You are the great redeemer, rebuilder, and restorer. I love You and I know that I am loved by You. Despite the many times I have failed You, You have picked me up, dusted me off, and placed me again on the path You have for me. Forgive me for the times I have held on to the pain of disappointment. Help me to know how to release it, let it go, and not take it back up again. I know that there is no good thing in trying to fix something You have called me to give over. So, I give You my past. I give You my mistakes. I give You my disappointments in myself. I will not hold onto them. I will not allow the enemy of my mind to replay what I have released. Help me to know that the enemy is defeated and that I do not have to be influenced by he who is under my feet. I thank You for Your restoration work in my life. I am saved, but I am a work in progress, because I have been purposed by the Creator. I thank You. Give me the strength to live this out in the everyday, so that my life can be used as a "nothing wasted" testimony to others of who You are, what You've done, and all that You can do in and through them. I pray this ALL in JESUS' NAME. Amen.